“Each woman is significant in her own right, and is not totally dependent on her husband.”
There is a very small victory in today’s Talmud for women, who rarely appear, and when they do they lack a name and often a voice. Buried in the discussion of what constitutes a person’s place of dwelling is a reference to “each woman”who is “significant in her own right.” This is a bold statement that is attributed to Rabbi Yehuda ben Bava, and it acknowledges the silent wives and daughters and sisters.
It is a small victory after all because it is in reference to a discussion on establishing eruvs. It is pondered if a household with five wives who each live in their quarters, require five contributions of bread in order to establish an eruv, or if one would suffice. A household with five slaves is also considered. Rabbi Yehuda says that in the case of the wives, they do not have to contribute separately, while in the case of the slaves they do. This is because the slaves are considered to reside on their own, while the wives are considered to be part of their husband’s household.
Rabbi Yehuda ben Bava holds the opposite point of view and believes that in the case of the wives, they each need to contribute to the eruv because “each woman is significant in her own right,” while in the case of the slaves, they are dependent on the master of the house. I am saddened to think of a time when a household would employ slaves and wonder about the plight of wives who lived in a polygamous arrangement, some perhaps having to do so because of levirate marriages, but still there is the acknowledgement that “each woman is significant in her own right.”
Today’s Daf Yomi examines in great detail what comprises a person’s home and if it is where he eats or where he sleeps. And in families where there are grown sons who live elsewhere but share meals at their parent’s home, where is their place of dwelling? And if it is where they eat, are they considered a single household with their parents, and is only one loaf of bread required rather than one for each son?
Rav and Shmuel are at it again, with Rav saying a person’s place of dwelling is determined where he eats, while Shmuel says it is where he sleeps. Rav and Shmuel have been disagreeing for all eternity and throughout much of the Talmud, but the discussion on home has started me thinking about where I belong as a single woman in a city that has been both kind and challenging to me over the years.
I have always thought that my small apartment was just a place to live and New York City – block by block – was my true home. Until the pandemic closed down the city, I would eat many meals in my favorite restaurant across the street and sit at a corner table listening to the conversation around me. I would read in the corner coffee shop down the street and linger over a latte, just to be out and about in what felt like my backyard and frontyard and courtyard and alleyway. The restaurant across the street is still hanging on, and I sit at its wobbly tables on the sidewalk in order to support a local business. The coffee shop survived for a while but disappeared overnight last month.
To be honest, I am not a fan of outdoor dining. There are only about ten perfect days a year when sitting on an open sidewalk makes sense. It can be too hot or cold or sunny or windy. And you can’t climb into a big booth and spread out at a table on a sidewalk curb that straddles a subway grate. But it is all we have at the moment and the outdoor dining structures are starting to become more permanent with covered tops and heat lamps and tablecloths and flower arrangements. And if the city is my home, then the sidewalks of New York are my current domicile during these really strange times. In the meanwhile, I have a home.