אל תרבה שיחה עם האשה
Do Not Speak Excessively With a Woman
Mishna Avot 1:5
Interactive Learning Module
fifth Mishna of Pirkei Avot
, R. Yose b. Yochanan says, "Do not converse excessively with a woman".
How are we to understand his words? Do they betray a
view of women, as might be assumed from an initial reading of the Mishna?
What types of conversations are included? With which women? Why does R. Yose advocate
This module will explore several approaches to the Mishna, attempting to understand their differing attitudes towards interactions between men and women.
2. The Statement in Context
Let's begin by turning to
Pirkei Avot 1:5
and examining both R. Yose's statement and the Sages' elaboration.
Does R. Yose explain why excessive talk is ill-advised? What three things do the Sages say will be the
of such conversations? What might this imply about what they find
about the interactions?
types of conversations
does the Mishna intend to limit? Does it imply that all discussions are problematic, or are certain types of interactions legitimate?
The Mishna warns against conversing with both one's
and other women. Does it suggest that the
for the warning is the same in both cases?
3. Approach #1: Prevent Sin
One of the more prevalent understandings of R. Yose's words appears already in
Bavli Nedarim 20a
. According to this source,
should one minimize conversations with women? Does the subject of the conversation matter?
But if this is R. Yose's concern, why should conversations with one's
be limited as well?
Let's return to
to see the version of our Mishna found in
, the most celebrated manuscript of the Mishna. Its text is accessible by clicking on the "Show Additional Commentaries button" at the bottom of the Mishna
How does its formulation
with our printed edition? [Note the line beginning, "מִכָּן אָמְרוּ חֲכָמִים"]. According to this version, under what
must one limit interactions with one's wife?
What would appear to be the reason? How is a spouse's status, while menstruating, similar to that of other women?
According to the above sources, the Mishna advises to minimize conversations lest one be filled with
and come to sin. This applies both to other women as well as to one's spouse when she is forbidden due to her menstruating state. The fact that the conversation is taking place
, with a (forbidden) woman, is itself the problem.
Let us now turn to a second reading of our Mishna, found in
Avot DeRabbi Natan 7:3
. It is similarly concerned that excessive talk will
, but of a very different type.
According to this source, what is the
to which the Mishna refers when it advises against extensive sharing with one's wife?
What types of talk are to be minimized? What does it suggest will
from such conversation?
Need the Mishna's advice be limited to conversations with one's wife, or might it be applied to excessive talk within any group of people? Why, then, might the Mishna focus on a spouse?
5. R. Ovadiah of Bartenura
According to Avot DeRabbi Natan, the Mishna is speaking of a very specific case: the negative repercussions of relaying to one's wife the details of an
Let's return to Avot and compare
R. Ovadiah of Bartenura
, ד"ה "מִכָּאן אָמְרוּ חֲכָמִים". What additional issue does he raise as being a likely ramification of seeking a spouse's counsel after an altercation with a colleague?
How does the Midrash about
Korach and his wife
exemplify his point? [To see the full Midrash, click
.] How might Zeresh's advice to Haman in
be another case in point?
Why might even a righteous wife, upon hearing that her husband has been wronged, provoke him to further argument? Is such a reaction necessarily coming from a negative place?
This approach raises important questions about how to balance the need to share and ease a hurt with the potential problems that might arise from such gossip. When is it healthy to emote and when is it better to be silent?
6. Approach # 2: Ensure Purity of Character
Both Bavli Nedarim and Avot DeRabbi Natan assume that extensive conversations with the opposite sex are likely to lead to sin, be this
A second approach to the Mishna focuses less on the potential for transgression and more on how such conversations themselves impact one's
Let's look at the
, whose comments at first glance might sound similar to Bavli Nedarim above, but actually allow for a very different understanding of the Mishna. See
ד"ה "באשתו אמרו".
What does Rambam suggest is the
of most conversations with the opposite sex?
How might he be interpreting the phrase
"שיחה עם האשה"
? According to him, what types of conversations are off-limits? Is the concern that one is speaking "עם האשה" (with the opposite sex) or that the discussion is a
, one that revolves around immodest issues?
What does he think will be the
of such speech on the individual engaging in it? How is this concern different from that of Bavli Nedarim?
7. Vulgar Speech
Rambam implies that the Mishna is speaking of limiting a very specific type of conversation, one which is defined as a "שיחה עם האשה", a conversation which revolves only around another's sex, one that is filled with
He is concerned less with the possibility that this will lead to adultery than the negative impact it will have on the person's soul and character.
According to this reading, would
"locker room talk"
, even in the absence of females, be problematic?
Why might such conversation, especially when extensive, be problematic even with one's
? What does it imply about how one views the other's worth?
How might this reading view innocent conversations with the other sex about modest subjects? How, though, does one ensure that the line between
appropriate and inappropriate
speech is not crossed?
8. קדש עצמך במותר לך
Let's now turn to
, who is similarly less concerned with the potential for actual sin than with the impact of "שיחה עם האשה" on one's spiritual growth.
commentary on the Mishna
, ד"ה "באשתו אמרו קל וחומר באשת חברו", beginning with the words "ונראה לפרש כפשוטו באשתו אמרו".
According to R. Yonah, why is it advisable to minimize contact even with a
? How does the statement he cites from
support his position?
How is minimizing conversation part of the larger goal of attaining
? What is the ultimate purpose of such ascetic behavior?
See R. Yonah's comments on
Pirkei Avot 3:13
, ד"ה "נדרים סייג לפרישות" where he elaborates on "מידת הפרישות". What do his words, "מתרחק משרשי׳ ומתקרב אל עיקרי הנפש ויסודה והוא קרוב לעבודת הבורא ית׳ " suggest is the
of distancing one's self from the physical and mundane?
9. Approach #3: Maximize Time
Both Rambam, with his emphasis on modesty in speech, and R. Yonah, with his push for abstinence, assume that minimizing talk will help ensure
purity of character
. A third approach to R. Yose's statement suggests that he had a different goal, viewing minimizing speech as a means to
so as to engage in more worthy pursuits.
Let's turn to the comments of
R. Menachem Meiri
, who suggests that R. Yose's concern is neither that the conversation is "עם האשה" nor that it is a "שיחת נשים", but simply the fact that it is a
Look at the third paragraph of
, which begins: "אמר ואל תרבה שיחה עם האשה". What
does Meiri make between "דיבור" and "שיחה"?
How does he define the latter and why does he find it problematic? [See the sentence beginning "אבל הזהיר על הדבור שאין בו צורך" until "לפי מה שהוא האדם".] What types of conversations are off-limits? Which are fine?
To whom might Meiri be addressing his words? Are they aimed at all laymen or specifically at
How might this approach fit with the Maimonidean emphasis on the intellect, to which R. Menachem Meiri subscribed?
10. Search: שיחה
Meiri suggest that while "דיבור" refers to serious conversation, "שיחה" refers to
, and it is the latter which the Mishna warns against, since this will
from Torah study.
Does this distinction hold up?
the word "שיחה" in the Mishna and from the dropdown menu select
to see how the word is used in both Tanakh and Rabbinic literature. To refine the search, uncheck the box "Full/Lacking Spelling" at the top of the screen.
Scan the results in Tanakh. Does the meaning of the root appear to be limited to small talk?
Now, from the tree menu of results on the left of the screen, click on
to skip to those results. Scan the first few. What does the root mean in these sources?
To what extent do your findings
11. Why "With a Woman"?
According to Meiri, R. Yose advises against engaging in
which might keep one from more worthy deeds such as Talmud Torah.
If so, though, should not such conversations be limited even with those of the same sex? Why does the Mishna single out women?
How might the
and status of women in both the Mishnaic period and medieval times have led one to connect specifically women with frivolity and ביטול תורה?
What do the following Rabbinic sources suggest about women's
and how they filled their time? See:
Bavli Yoma 66b
, "אין חכמה לאשה אלא בפלך",
Bereshit Rabbah 45:5
, "אַרְבַּע מִדּוֹת נֶאֶמְרוּ בְּנָשִׁים, גַּרְגְּרָנִיּוֹת, צַיְּתָנִיּוֹת, עַצְלָנִיּוֹת, קַנְאָנִיּוֹת" and
Bavli Kiddushin 49b
, "עשרה קבים שיחה ירדו לעולם תשעה נטלו נשים".
12. A More Positive View
Since, until recently, women were not particularly educated or versed in Torah, it is perhaps not surprising that the Sages viewed interactions with them specifically as time wasted from learning Torah
, living in a more modern era, when the level of women's education had already begun to improve, has a very different understanding of why the Mishna might focus on one's spouse when warning against idle talk.
Here is an excerpt from his commentary, עטרת צבי:
לא נאמר כאן אל תרבה דברים או אל תדבר הרבה עם האשה שכן עשירים דברי החכמים באימרות המפליגות מאד בערכה של האשה ובכבוד שחייב אדם באשתו ובהערכה שייחס לדעת אשתו להשקפתה ולעצותיה... כי שיחה אינה דיבור של כובד ראש, פטפוט וריבוי להג היא... האיש המכבד את אשתו לא יבדר אותה במלל חסר משמעות ובפטפוטי סרק. את משימות החיים הגדולות הוא יגולל לפניה וילבנן עמה וימצא כי יפיק ברכה מחילופי הדעות ומהשגותיה.
How does he manage to not only remove any negative connotations from R. Yose's statement, but even to present it as demonstrating
respect and appreciation
for women's roles?
It should be noted as well that Rabbinic literature is not monolithic in its view of women and many of its negative evaluations are balanced by positive comments elsewhere.
Bavli Niddah 45b
, " מלמד שנתן הקב"ה בינה יתירה באשה יותר מבאיש",
Yerushalmi Ketubot 5:6
, "אין דרך האשה להיות יושבת בטילה" and
Tanchuma Naso 2
, "דֶּרֶךְ בְּנוֹת יִשְׂרָאֵל לֹא קוֹלָנִיּוֹת... וְלֹא פְּרוּצוֹת בִּשְׁחוֹק".
How do these counter each of the negative statements seen earlier?
13. Time for the Other
Let's close by comparing Meiri's reading of the Mishnah with that of
, who similarly suggests that certain conversations might distract from time better spent in other activities.
Scroll midway through his
, to the 9th paragraph, beginning: "ואפשר לי לומר שזכר בכאן ואל תרבה שיחה עם האשה".
How does Midrash Shemuel use the larger
of the Mishna to understand R. Yose's statement? Why should one limit conversations with one's wife?
According to him, what does the Mishna suggest about finding the
between family time and obligations to the other?
We have seen three distinct approaches to the question of why the Mishna advises to minimize conversations with women.
Bavli Nedarim and Avot DeRabbi Natan focus on the need to
, be this forbidden sexual relations or harmful gossip.
Rambam and R. Yonah maintain that the goal is to ensure
purity of character
, either by refraining from immodest, vulgar talk or by practicing asceticism and distancing one's self even from that which is permitted.
Meiri and Midrash Shemuel highlight the need to make the most of one's time, to ensure that frivolous or intimate talk
does not distract
from Talmud Torah or acts of kindness to the other.
Each of the approaches read the Mishna in different ways, with Meiri highlighting the problematics of
itself, Bavli Nedarim being concerned with the fact that it is taking place
and Rambam warning against specifically
"שיחה עם האשה"
, speech marked by sexual innuendoes.
Finally, the various positions raise important questions about finding the proper
in life. What is the line between emoting and gossiping, modest and immodest talk, abstinence and indulgence? How much time should be spent on family and how much on Torah or Chesed?
15. Additional Reading
the beginning of this module
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