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The Talmud (Niddah 30b) teaches us that when a child is in the womb, an angel comes and teaches it the entire Torah, which he subsequently forgets.

The simple reading of the Gemara gives no reason to draw a distinction between male and female. However, I am wondering if there are any sources which do make such a distinction. The reason I would think there could be a distinction is because it is possible the angel teaching them the Torah is connected to their mitzvah of learning Torah, and women do not have the same mitzvah as men (Kiddushin 29b), and the Mishna in Sotah (3:4) says that teaching a woman Torah is not such a good thing.

I am looking for sources that make this distinction, or explicitly reject such a distinction. I am not looking for indirect lines of reasoning which would indicate one way or the other. You can ask your own question if you want to find that.

  • I would argue with your interpretation with Sotah 3:4, but it's entirely ancillary to your question. Regardless of anything, women must still "know" the Torah in order to observe mitzvot. So the malach isn't doing anything "untoward." – Isaac Kotlicky Dec 16 '15 at 2:39
  • @IsaacKotlicky That wasn't really my point though, was it? Whether the malach is wasting his time or not wasn't my question - my suggestion was that the mitzvah to learn Torah is what precipitates the malach to teach the fetus, and a woman lacks that. Whatever you want to say טפלות means, it's hard to make it into a good thing... – Y     e     z Dec 16 '15 at 4:19
  • "entirely ancillary to your question" = "wasn't really your point." :) Without additional material to back it up, I question your assumption that this is connected to the mitzvah to study Torah - the fetus has no such obligation, regardless of gender. And especially here, where the act of teaching leaves no knowledge behind. Some interpretations of tiflus are rather neutral - the woman is expending energy toward something entirely unnecessary. The "waste" of time, which is clearly "not good," is distinct from the resulting knowledge. – Isaac Kotlicky Dec 16 '15 at 21:39
  • @IsaacKotlicky "wasn't really my point" was directed at the second part of your comment, not the first. The fact that women must "know" Torah wasn't my point - my point was despite that they must know, they don't have an independent mitzvah to learn. I am not suggesting that the fetus is performing the mitzvah, but that the future mitzvah is part of the reason why he is taught en utero. And neutral is still not good, so I don't know how you are disputing my claim that it isn't good by saying it may not be bad. – Y     e     z Dec 17 '15 at 3:57
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In מריח ניחוח (Issue 10, Nitzavim - Vayeilech), R' Gamliel HaKohen Rabinowitz writes (as quoted in Daf al HaDaf to Nida 30b):

הסתפקתי פעם, אם גם לנקבה מלמדין התורה, או רק לזכר, ופשטתי זאת מדברי ה"נועם אלימלך" זי"ע, הנ"ל, שאם לא היו מלמדין התורה קודם שבאו לעולם, לא היה באפשרי להשיג התורה, והנה נשים צריכים לדעת היטב הלכות נדה חלה ועוד, וא"כ מה שהם צריכים לדעת בוודאי מלמדין אותן קודם ביאתן לעולם, כדי שיוכלו להשיג ולהבין זאת היטב כשיבואו לעולם וילמדו זאת. ודו"ק.

In short, he writes (based on the No'am Elimelech on Chayei Sarah and Vayikra) that the Torah studied in the womb, even when forgotten, makes a lasting impression on the soul, and this allows people to properly learn and understand Torah during their lives. Since women also must learn certain areas of Torah (particularly those areas that have bearing on halachos they must observe), he writes that they also require the experience of prenatal Torah study.

  • The posuk says 'mishpatim bal y'doum'. Someone who is not Jewish cannot learn torah. As far as I know, no non-Jew has ever written a sefer. Even many Jewish people have trouble understanding it. The type of question and answer on here is not real Torah and therefore gives the wrong impression. – preferred May 13 '14 at 3:43
  • I therefore disagree with this sefer you mention. Woman's type of learning is not real Torah and can even be done if not Jewish. This sefer is from a present day mechaber and I am at liberty to argue. – preferred May 13 '14 at 3:48
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    @preferred I can see both sides. Women are not obligated in talmud Torah qua the mitzva of talmud Torah, but their study still counts as talmud Torah to at least some degree (see Rambam Hil. Talmud Torah 1:13). Regarding non-Jews, they are also rewarded for studying certain topics (see Bava Kama 38a - R' Meir compares such a person to a Kohein Gadol). Nonetheless, see Daf al HaDaf (ibid.) who mentions various sources that assume that non-Jews (except perhaps for future converts) are not taught Torah in the womb. – Fred May 13 '14 at 4:17
  • @preferred By the way, my answer was not an attempt to provide a comprehensive survey of opinions on the matter. I was merely adding another source to complement Matt's preexisting answer. – Fred May 13 '14 at 4:24
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    @preferred Torah shebichsav does not require understanding for it to be considered Torah learning (see for e.g. Kad HaKemach, Torah I, קריאת התורה מצוה גדולה היא אע"פ שלא יבין מה שקורא; Sh"A HaRav, Hil. Talmud Torah 2:12, אם מוציא בשפתיו אף על פי שאינו מבין אפילו פירוש המלות מפני שהוא עם הארץ הרי זה מקיים מצות ולמדתם), although reading with understanding is better. And it's not a problem of saying HaShem's name in vain. In fact, skipping HaShem's name in p'sukim may be problematic. In any case, women are required to learn halachos that pertain to them. – Fred May 13 '14 at 20:19
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R. Chaim Kanievsy is quoted as being asked this question, and pointing out that women also have a philtrum, as per this question (though it seems like he uses this as a proof that the philtrum is not created because of the angel's hitting).

Rav Yaakov Emden (Siddur intro to Bris Milah, 15) posits that the reason for making a 'shalom zachor' is to help the baby 'remember' (from the word zachor) the Torah that he has forgotten. He adds that according this reason, it's obvious why we don't do this for a girl, because she is not obligated in Talmud Torah. This might mean that a woman is therefore not taught the Torah in utero (though he might just mean that she is taught Torah, she just has no obligation to re-learn it).

R. Yithak Ratzabi, regarded by most to be the greatest Yemenite talmid chacham today, has an online discussion surrounding this question, and inter alia mentions that if this idea is to be taken literally, than women also learn the Torah in the womb. In fact, the Torah (or some form of it) is even taught to gentiles, as after all, they too have a philtrum. (I'm not sure what he would say about primates)

(Thanks to bein din l'din blog)

  • Much of your answer has bearing on this question. Should this answer perhaps be cross-posted? – Fred May 12 '14 at 20:54
  • Ah oops I meant to link that in the answer. Cross-posting may work better (not sure how to do that) though the wording/emphasis should be changed a bit – הנער הזה May 12 '14 at 21:05
  • Then perhaps change the wording/emphasis a bit and post the variant answer there? – Fred May 12 '14 at 21:09
  • וכבר נשאלתי אם המלאך שלומד תורה עם העובר במעי אמו (בדאיתא במסכת נדה דף ל׳ ע״ב), הוא גם בעובר נקבה, כי מצד אחד יתכן שכן, היות וחייבות ללמוד הדינים ששייכים להן, אבל יתכן היות ואינן מצוות בת״ת לשם מצות ״לימוד״ ־ לא שייך הענין אצלן. ובכלל, למה אומרים שהסימן בשפתיים הוא מסטירת המלאך, שסוטר על פניו של העובר ושוכח תלמודו, הרי גם לנשים יש סימן זה... טיול – preferred May 13 '14 at 3:50
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    @preferred Whatever percentage of the truth is insulting, the percentage of lies which are insulting is greater. – Double AA May 13 '14 at 4:21

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