Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Does Halacha Understand Women?

As part of my preparations for marriage, I've learning some of the halachos related to nidah. Two specific halachos caught my attention:

1) When the wife is a nidah, the husband and wife are obligated to refrain from doing certain actions, which as defined by halacha, could lead to the incitement of passion. For example, a husband and wife cannot pass each other objects directly, sit on the same sofa, or drink from the same cup.

There are exceptions, however. If the couple is in public and refraining from these actions will lead to everyone around knowing that she's a nidah, some people hold that the couple do not need to follow them. In other words, we take into account her feelings of violated privacy, and those feelings trump the regular halacha here.

2) When the wife is a nidah during the wedding, we make some changes to the ceremony These changes are done privately as much as possible. One question is how the groom should give the bride the ring. Normally he places the ring on her finger. But when she's a nidah, a husband and wife cannot touch, so some suggest he drop the ring in her palm or on her finger. The older poskim usually require dropping.

However, other poskim have found ways to get around the problem and allow him to place it on her finger. This is another example where halacha takes into account women's feelings.

In the first example, the halacha is explicitly based on the woman's feelings. The second halacha only weighs it implicitly. But both of these halachos show sensitivity in the halachic system for women's feelings.

The older poskim or those of last generation did not afford feelings as much weight in these cases (or they weighed other considerations more heavily). Rav Moshe did not even understand why a woman would care if people knew she was a nidah! I wonder if society's greater emphasis on women's feelings (certainly a positive byproduct of feminism) has had a (in my mind) positive influence on halacha.

Even if poskim do not consciously grant greater import to women's feelings, society in general considers it important. Poskim are human and are influenced by society, even if unintentionally. While 20 years ago they might not have even understood why women feel that way, today they not only understand her feelings, but are supportive of them.

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