When God gives the Torah to the Jews, He uses the following preamble (Ex 19:3):

וּמֹשֶׁה עָלָה, אֶל-הָאֱלֹקים; וַיִּקְרָא אֵלָיו ה', מִן-הָהָר לֵאמֹר, כֹּה תֹאמַר לְבֵית יַעֲקֹב, וְתַגֵּיד לִבְנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל.

And Moses went up to God, and the Lord called to him from the mountain, saying: “Thus shall you say to the house of Jacob, and declare to the children of Israel...”

Why the repetition? Nothing in Torah is superfluous. The Mishna says: His ‘house’ means his ‘wife’. [Yoma 2a] The Midrash [Pirke de-Rabbi Eliezer 41; also Mekhilta de-Rabbi Ishmael] says:

Rabbi Pinchas said: On the eve of Shabbat, the Israelites stood at Mount Sinai, with the men and the women apart. [God] said to Moses, “Go, speak to the daughters of Israel [and ask them] whether they wish to receive the Torah.” Why were the women asked [first]? Because it is the way of men to follow the opinions of women, as it is said, “Thus shall you say to the House of Jacob” -- these are the women -- “and declare to the Children of Israel” -- these are the men. They all replied as with one mouth, “All that the Lord has spoken we will do and we will listen.” [Ex. 24:7].

OK, but a search of the Sources reveals thousands of occurrences of the phrase "the house of [an individual]" and in most cases it definitely does not mean the women. Why is this one singled out for that meaning? Is there a rule for telling which is which?

  • 1
    אל תקרי בית יעקב אלא בת יעקב (I'm just kidding)
    – ezra
    Oct 12, 2018 at 6:20

1 Answer 1


THis is not an answer to the Bat/Bayt question, but a suggestion regarding various generalizing statements of the Sages (both in the Gemmorah and Midrashim) either on interpreting the Torah or learning Halachah.

The Mishnah in Kiddushin states that the women are exempt from Time-related Mitzvos as a rule. However, the Gemmorah discusses numerous exceptions and arrives at a conclusion of R'Yochanan (Kiddushin 34b כללות means כללים):

"אמר רבי יוחנן: אין למדין מן הכללות, ואפילו במקום שנאמר בו חוץ"

Rabbi Yoḥanan says: One does not learn practical halakhot from general statements, i.e., when a general statement appears in a Mishna and uses the term: All, it is not to be understood as an all-inclusive statement without exceptions. This is the case even in a place where it says: Except, to exclude a specific matter.

Although this specific statement discusses a Mishnaic generalization on the women's Ptur on Time-Related Miztvos, it seems to be applicable to the whole Rabbinical literature (incl Midrashim of course). Another example is the Jerusalem Gemmorah (Terumah 1, Chagigah 1, Yevomos 68):

דרבי יונה אמר, לית כללין דרבי כללין".

R' Yonah said: Rebbi's (R' Yehudah's) generalizations aren't [true] generalizations [to be interpreted literaly].

In other words, all places where a Rabbi (Mishnah or Gemmorah or Midrash etc) says "all X are Y", it is not to be understood as "all" but "there are some".

In fact, many tried to follow the rules and generally failed. One of such examples is Shimeon Ha'Amsuni that tried to interpret all the את in the Torah (see Pesachim 22b, JT Sotah 5,5).

Another example is the dispute about women's obligation or exemption from different Mitzvos as written in the Torah: can it be learned from the way of the formulation or not, such as single masculine (כבד את אביך וכו') or the word איש (איש אביו ואמו תראו) or plural masculine etc. The conclusion here is also that the formulations are inconsistent and can not be learned from as a rule.

The conclusion is that only the verses that are explicitly interpreted in a certain way can be trusted, even if the source states that the rule generally applies to all cases.

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