Law, Hierarchy, and Gender
Reflections on the Exemption of Women from Time-Bound Commandments
Why do the tannaim exempt women from time-bound commandments (m. Qiddushin 1:7)? In this paper it is argued that the unequal levels of obligation for men and women in rabbinic Judaism creates a hierarchy of mitzvot between them that mimics and virtually replaces the earlier biblical hierarchy of mitzvot between priests and Israel. In both constellations the rabbis consider the obligation to fulfill more commandments to be a privilege. The similarity between the hierarchies priests–Israel and men–women becomes apparent when the selection of commandments from which the tannaim and the amoraim explicitly exempt women are examined more closely: Many of them – the time-bound commandments shofar, lulav, tzitzit, tefillin, and shema as well as the non-time-bound mitzvah of Torah study – share a common feature, namely, their function as “ersatz Temple rituals.” During the transition from a Temple-oriented, priest-based Judaism to a study-oriented rabbinic Judaism, rituals such as these played a crucial role.