Q. How can the Talmud say that women have no brains?
A. It doesn’t. The statement you must be thinking of is “nashim da’atan kalah alehen” (Shab. 33b, Kidd.80b).
I know that some people who read the words superficially think they mean that women are light-minded, but the better translation is that women are not as obstinate as men and under great pressure they will take a softer option.
It is one of many gratuitous comments about how the human psyche works, and one can take issue with such statements. It does not mean that women are brainless. On the contrary; the Talmud says that women were endowed with a greater degree of understanding than men – “binah yeterah natan haKadosh Baruch Hu b’ishah yoter mib’ish” (Nid. 45b).
THE SHULCHAN ARUCH.
Q. What exactly is the Shulchan Aruch?
A. It is the four volume Code of Jewish Law compiled by Rabbi Yosef Karo in the 16th century.
The name, “Shulchan Aruch”, “The Laid Table”, comes from Psalm 23,
“You lay a table before me”. On Ex. 21:1, “These are the judgments you shall set before them,” Rashi says, “like a laid table”.
Karo first produced a commentary, called Bet Yosef, on the Arba’ah Turim of Yaakov ben Asher who, born in Germany in 1269, wrote his books in Barcelona. His code – the name, “Arba’ah Turim”, “Four Rows”, is from Ex. 28:7, referring to the four rows of jewels in the high priest’s breastplate – has four parts. They are:
• “Orach Chayim”, “Path of Life” – dealing with religious rituals and occasions.
• “Yoreh De’ah”, “Teaching of Knowledge” – on shechitah and kashrut, charity, family purity, circumcision, conversion, mourning, etc.
• “Even HaEzer”, “Stone of Help” – on marriage and divorce.
• “Choshen Mishpat”, “Breastplate of Judgment” – on civil law (the name is from Ex. 28:15).
Karo based his Shulchan Aruch, written 20 years later, on the Arba’ah Turim and his own Bet Yosef.
The work has a timeless quality, though there are many later commentaries and halachic works.
Since the standard editions incorporate the Ashkenazi glosses of Rabbi Moshe Isserles, the work is universally accepted because it incorporates both the Sephardi and Ashkenazi positions, making it applicable to all Jewish groups.
Q. How much should be spent on ornaments for a Sefer Torah? And why do some donors seem to need so much public recognition?
A. Mitzvot should not be carried out perfunctorily but with “hiddur mitzvah”, “adorning the mitzvah”.
Hence an etrog, a mezuzah, a Sefer Torah or any other religious requisite should be as beautiful as one’s means allow, and the mantle and ritual silver that adorn the Torah scroll should be as splendid as possible (Bava Kama 9b; Orach Chayyim 656).
We believe not only in adornment of religious articles but also in gratitude to their donors. Often the gift marks a special occasion, and through recognition of the donation we enhance the joy and share in their sorrow.
Rabbi Apple served for 32 years as the chief minister of the Great Synagogue, Sydney, Australia’s oldest and most prestigious congregation. He was Australia’s highest profile rabbi and held many public roles. He is now retired and lives in Jerusalem. Rabbi Apple blogs at http://www.oztorah.com