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It appears to be assumed by many Orthodox Jews that men and women have different “natures”. Here, the definition of nature would be inherent character differences, personality differences, and other areas of the human psyche.

What is the Torah's stance on the different natures between men and women? This is a general question, looking to cover the topic thoroughly. An ideal answer should cover:

  • Does the Torah view men and women as having different natures?
  • Where in the Torah is this derived?
  • If so, in what ways are men and women different?
  • How strongly do those differences apply (i.e. how much overlap is there, how much variability is there in individual men and women)?
  • How are we supposed to use the Torah wisdom on this subject in a practical way? (this might also cover the issues of stereotypes and clashes with modern views of gender differences1)
  • How binding is this wisdom? (what room is there to argue with it and debate it)

Thank you in advance for your thoughts, and hope the discussion is productive and not a source of machlokes. Some people struggle with this question :)


1 - given the general zeitgeist and modern academic shift that views differences between men and women as minimal at best, non-existent at worst, and takes to task older ("old fashioned") views of these differences as being potentially unfair or oppressive.

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    Please note that asking readers to supply parts of the question ("if you have examples please provide them") is not a good practice on this site. Do your research then post your question, we are not in a rush
    – mbloch
    Nov 25, 2022 at 9:33
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    I think the shortest way to improve this question is for you to very rigorously define what you mean by "nature", as that word is quite vague. It would also be very good if you could then bring a source that says male and female natures are assumed to be the same, and then this will become a very good, valuable question to answer imho.
    – Rabbi Kaii
    Nov 25, 2022 at 10:56

3 Answers 3

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Some laws of halacha are different for men and women. If someone accepts those laws, then I don't see why it's required for them to accept a particular reason suggested later for why. If someone keeps Shabbos but doesn't believe God created the world, we have an issue. The Gemara doesn't say why men have to keep yes-do, time-definite commandments and women don't, only that it is so. Some of the reasons suggested later have to do with different natures (e.g. women don't need as many spiritual gimmicks) ... but those are just some suggestions that came hundreds of years later -- they aren't game-changers.

Now if someone says "I shall be the judge and jury that this law was based on faulty assumptions about gender and therefore the law doesn't apply to me anymore" ... then we've gone beyond the bounds of Orthodoxy.

I'll close with an anecdote: a friend of mine met with a certain well-known rosh yeshiva's wife, talked with her a while, and remarked -- well you're an incredibly learned woman. She replied: *how could you say such a thing? The Talmud says that ..." and, while grinning, rattled off half a dozen citations that (at face value) seemed to claim that a woman couldn't know all that much.

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  • thank you for the response. Can you clarify the time periods you reference: “Some of the reasons suggested later (DO YOU MEAN IN THE TALMUD??) have to do with different natures (e.g. women don't need as many spiritual gimmicks) ... but those are just some suggestions that came hundreds of years later (LATER THAN WHAT) -- they aren't game-changers.”
    – user419691
    Jan 29, 2023 at 15:58
  • @user419691 the Talmud just says that women aren't obligated in certain categories that men are. The basic statement is already in the early stage of the Talmud, so let's say c. 200 Common Era; and it's fleshed out in the later stages of the Talmud, say by the year 500 or so. The Talmud points to verses that imply that the obligation is so, but doesn't suggest reasoning behind it. (Well, we do it because we believe it's the will of God.) The suggestions as to the meaning behind it show up in the medieval period; 1300s or so?
    – Shalom
    Jan 30, 2023 at 0:11
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The Talmud gives many collective judgments on women:

-On the positive side, it mentions their superior compassion [Megillah 14b], their charity [Taanit 23b], their faithfulness [Eruvin 21b], their piety [Sotah 11b], their understanding [Niddah 45b], and their primary role in educating their children and keeping their husbands from transgressing the Torah [Yevamot 63a].

-On the negative side, it mentions their idle curiosity [Taharot 7:9], their excessive talk [Berakhot 48b], their belief in superstitions [Sanhedrin 67a], and their weak will [Shabbat 33b].

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  • Yes, and they’re Kalus rosh which undoubtedly some Orthodox women would refuse to apply to themselves. The problems of contemporary secular culture are deep and many and perhaps overwhelming of the positives, but the untying of unfair generalizations is, I believe, quite brave, even if it often throws out the baby with the bath water. Is Halacha perhaps too rigid with applying generalizations even when they are known to be untrue when applied to a particular example?
    – user419691
    Dec 4, 2022 at 19:37
  • I don't get your point. Dec 4, 2022 at 21:53
  • Not all women are kalus rosh. Why would Halacha accept such an offensive generalization?
    – user419691
    Dec 5, 2022 at 23:33
  • It says somewhere in the Talmud that the existence of exceptions will not prevent us from making sweeping statements. I'll look it up later. Dec 6, 2022 at 0:27
  • Is is possible or likely that in fact most women are not kalus rosh?
    – user419691
    Jan 23, 2023 at 2:24
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There is a secular approach to issues, and there is a Torah approach to issues. The secular approach tends to be that if there is an issue, then something is wrong and has to go. In this case, if there is a "war of the sexes", then the idea of "sexes" needs to go to end the war. The Torah approach however is that if something in Hashem's perfect creation is not working properly, it's because we are doing it wrong and need to figure out how to do it right. In this case, we are looking at it too superficially, and the Torah's response is go deeper, and states unashamedly that there is no greater hatred of women than to tell her that her femininity is bad/wrong and must go out the window (same goes for men).

In this answer I hope to bring together the words of many great Rabbis who have taught the inner dimension of male and female, from the kabbalah, and chassidus. For further reading/listening from Rabbonim who say it infinitely better than I ever could, I recommend Rabbi Tatz's Living Inspired, Rabbi Yitchok Ginsburg's discourses, and anything you can find by Rabbi Moshe Miller A"H on the topic. I hope to cover all the points in the question and I note I will not be adding any words or ideas of my own, and in particular I am basing this answer on this lecture "The Kabbalah of Male and Female" by Rabbi Manis Friedman, who is a master of the topic and a student of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, who also covered much of this in his sichot (which you can find on Chabad.org) and I strongly recommend listening to all his talks on this topic. Finally, may I strongly recommend "The Story of Our Lives" by Yaakov Klein, which explores the connection between femininity and Malchut, which will be heavily connected to the themes in this answer of women being the purpose, the end goal, of creation.

I apologise for the length, but these ideas shouldn't be too simplified (which I apologise that I will inevitably end up doing even at such great length... please do take my advice for further reading!).


The Torah explains that God created "Adam", male and female, and said it was "very good". Then a few verses later, he said "it's not good", and he took a part of Adam and made Chava. This requires analysis. Hashem does not change His mind or require adjustments in His plan as He goes along, so what's going on here?

We have to come to an understanding of why Hashem made both male and female, and why female was necessary if there was already male (Hashem doesn't make anything redundant!). Hashem initially made a man, who had a female dimension. He then split off a woman (who has a male dimension). He then commanded them to get back together, something possible because they were once one (there's nothing new under the sun).

Hashem created the world, and a physical universe needs certain things. One of the things that a physical universe needs is a male. When He made that, He said that it was "very good" because it is. A physical, finite universe has what it needs - a male. This is stage 1. Things are not good yet for stage 2. What is stage 2? Stage 2 is to take this finite, imperfect universe, and make it holy, through commandments, Godliness and goodness, so that it should become a dwelling place for Hashem Himself. So for this part of the plan man alone is not good. Not "he is not good alone", it will not be good if he is alone. To understand why this is, we must first discuss the masculine attribute that Hashem created, then the feminine:


The masculine is a process. The finite universe needs to become receptive to good and an infinite God; it is far from complete. Masculine is a step towards a goal - foreskin, the wheat for matza, the wax for shabbat candles, the leather for tefilin - it's all a process that needs to be transformed into Godliness, and when Moshiach comes the world will gain eternity when it becomes one with Hashem. Man is created as part of this side of things - a mortal finite creature, incomplete and imperfect, with a need to transform and become Godly. This is why men have a need to fix and pursue and find purpose and mission. This is why in the kabbalah, the male is linked with time. Time is a process where things "happen", and that's the male (interestingly, this is why there are 14 mitzvot women are exempt from, because they are time bound).

However, Hashem noted that this masculine energy will not guarantee the world reaches its purpose - a holy, complete world. "It" - the plan - is not good. Where will the man get the momentum, the motivation, the clarity of vision, to complete the plan?

A mashal is given, where a group of scientists get together to plan a mission to go explore another star. This kind of mission will take many millenia to see through, so they have to send a whole community, a generational starship. They discuss the issues of the cleanliness, and morale. The issues of wear and tear and degredation. Then one scientist brings up a really big problem. He says "what about the great great grandchildren of the original crew, when they wake up one day and say 'who said we are heading for a star? Has anyone actually seen earth?'. The control room they are not allowed to go into, because only the high priest is allowed to go there, they say 'enough of this, anyone can go in'.... The scientists hit the nail on the head about this same issue we are discussing. How are we supposed to guarantee they won't just say "forget the process, things are fine the way they are, let's make the best of it...".

Hashem made woman to "help" with this.


So what is a woman? When God created man, it was because creation needed a man. But woman wasn't created as a means to an end. Woman is created because He needed her. Female is an end in itself.

Another way to put it, Hashem invested Godliness in man, to be processed and refined and brought to completion. Hashem invested Godliness in a woman perfectly as it is supposed to be, and the goal is to maintain it, nurture it and share it. This is what is meant by the phrase "to work it and to keep it" (Bereshit 2:15) - it is referring to the male and female aspects.

Another way to put it. It is the nature of man to be "aggressive" and the female to be "passive". Let's not understand this superficially or we risk re-igniting the war of the sexes! As I said at the start, let's go deeper. "Aggressive" means, there is something I don't have yet, I go out and seek it. Acquisitive. "Passive", which is often just as much (if not more) work, strength, energy, is the art of defending, maintaining and nurturing what's already precious. A lioness defending her cubs is not weak. This is why the child belongs to the mother (if she is Jewish, he/she is Jewish, if not, not). The innocent child is already good, a Divine gift of Godliness, and the woman is the mother, she is the child, and she is the home. The father is concerned, must provide but it's not the same.

This is also why the 6 days of the week are "masculine", where the work is done. Shabbat is the Queen, it is the destination, the reason and purpose we work on those 6 days. It is also why women make the bracha "who made me according to His will". Men cannot make this bracha because they aren't made a finished product like women are. They must process themselves and the world to become what it needs to be: feminine!

When the process gets side-tracked, confused and direction is lost, women have always saved the day. When in Egypt the men became Egyptianized, the women brought them back and enabled the redemption to take place. When the men became Hellenised by the Greeks, the women brought the nation back on track. No women participated in the Golden Calf, and it was the women who donated to the subsequent Mishkan.

It should be noted, when the world is full of dragons, the dragon slayers get all the attention. However, why would anyone slay a dragon if there was no one to save from the dragon? Why would soldiers go out to war if there wasn't someone precious to protect? Why would a doctor qualify if there was no "lay man" to heal? Without women, men have no purpose (perhaps this is why men can get very touchy about feminism, whose main line is "women need men like a fish needs a bicycle" - when a man hears that, he hears that he has no purpose to exist...). So who is the ikar? The masculine or the feminine?

In Kabbalah, there are two sides, the side of kindness and the side of severity. Which one is male and which is female? It might surprise many to learn that Kabbalah describes the masculine as Chesed, and the feminine as Gevura. Chesed is indiscriminate, everyone can have everything, very open. Gevura, however, is discriminate. It judges, it weighs, it sees value and this power of being able to discern leads to the intuitive ability to see the truth that women tend to have. This is the reason women are not allowed to be judges. They already know who is telling the truth before any case has been made! Men have to go through the process, but women, before they can even get to the process, know who is guilty. For this reason, they are disqualified in the same way a prophet is disqualified! A case must have a process, circumventing it means there is no chance for appeal. Rabbi Meir would consult his wife whenever he would rule on a case!

As we move closer to Moshiach, there are fewer dragons to slay, and the masculine trait becomes less and less, and the feminine trait becomes more and more dominant. What do you do with the good things in life? Who knows how to take care of the holy, Godly things in life? The feminine. This feminine trait within man has to become more dominant - they must seek out that which has always been Godly and good, and nurture it. As Moshiach comes, the wife becomes "the crown of the husband". Hashem didn't put men into a world that is purely dark, and purely evil, for us to struggle with on our own. He placed the goodness here as well - hidden for 5000 years - and the time has come to notice it, to cherish it, to savour the Godliness and goodness that Hashem placed into the feminine all along.


Conclusions:

Hashem distinguished masculine and feminine by giving them different energies. They get ta'anug, satisfaction and pleasure from different things. The masculine gets pleasure and satisfaction from fixing the world, from starting out finite and becoming Godly. The feminine gets pleasure from nurturing and savouring that which has always been Godly ever since Hashem said "I will make you a help mate".

As a result, many differences arise between the nature of male and female, but this difference is stemming in a very deep place in the psyche. The way this arises to the more superficial aspects of our psyche can lead to some overlap. Hashem also gave us a share of each others' energies - there is a feminine aspect within a man that he can relate to, and visa versa. However, the differences are deep, and important, and will lead to measurable differences in the personalities and character traits of men and women (on a statistical basis), and the sages captured many of these differences in their writings in the Talmud (some of which are mentioned by Dr. Maurice Mizrachi in his answer, for example). We should be aware of them, as good personal advice to which each person will relate to in a personal way, and we should certainly not mock each other for our differences.

This knowledge is true and therefore binding, it is from Hashem's Blueprints themselves, and if we ignore it or start mixing things up between masculine and feminine, we will end up dissatisfied, confused and depressed, especially if the feminine were to try to become more masculine right around the time the world is becoming more feminine! The Kabbalah is Hashem's deepest wisdom. The fact that it paints these things more deeply and extensively than the Talmud may be due to the fact that the Sages were not allowed to teach the secret part of Torah back then, and the revelation of the meaning of every lesson in the Torah has been a hard-earned slow and methodical process throughout our history of maturing and deepening our understanding... but it is the deepest truth on the matter, an illumination of Hashem's secrets and we should be glad to know our true natures, our inner selves, and where our energy is coming from, and use it, take pleasure in it, and realise that both the masculine and feminine are different expressions of One Godliness. We should use our talents, stay true to our Godly natures, and men and women should feel how valid and vital they are to Hashem's purposes B'EH, and feel empowered by it.

Women are the real treasure of the world, the purpose of creation and the feminine millennium, where we move into our eternal Home with Hashem, and enjoy the hard work of 3000 years, is right round the corner.

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  • Malchut, the 10th sefira which is the feminine, is also the last. I once heard it said like this: The sefirot have an order, first Chochma, then Bina etc. Hashem emanates them one by one, away from Him, towards us. When He got to malchut, He stopped. Malchut is the first sefira to turn around and look back upwards to Hashem. This is another theme that the feminine is the end goal, the point, the Divine relationship, the purpose, the rozo d'shabbat "secret of Shabbat". There is just so much geshmakness on the topic to say, I haven't even covered a fraction of it in the answer!
    – Rabbi Kaii
    Jan 30, 2023 at 11:11
  • What's the source for the italicized part about space travel? Jan 31, 2023 at 0:01
  • @ShipBuilding it was brought up in the shiur that I was basing this answer on, about 11 minutes in. The original source? Probably an awesome farbrengen that I wish I had been at :)
    – Rabbi Kaii
    Jan 31, 2023 at 10:37
  • @ShipBuilding wondering if based on the gemara in Yevamot 63a which states: לֹא נִמְצֵאת מְאִירָה עֵינָיו וּמַעֲמִידָתוֹ עַל רַגְלָיו?! [Is his wife] not found [to be the one who] lights up his eyes and stands him on his feet?
    – Rabbi Kaii
    Feb 12, 2023 at 23:53

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