Today’s post will examine what the ancient Jewish sources tell us about how women and the legal system.
First, what about Punishments and Judgments? Women were treated absolutely equally in matters pertaining to punishment. Because of Numbers 5:6 (where men and women are seen as equals), R. Ishmael said: “it [the scripture] has thus made it explicit in regard to all the laws about damages found in the Torah that women are to be regarded like men” (Mekhilta de R. Ishmael, Mishpatim 6; cf. also bYebamot 84b; bTemurah 2b; bQiddushin 35a).
However, when it came to punishments (stoning, crucifixion, hanging, flogging), women were given more physical consideration (e.g., though a man was stoned naked, a woman was not; mSanhedrin 6:3). Cf. Jesus and the woman caught en flagrant (John 7:53-8:11).
Second, what about Women as Witnesses?Some evidence prohibits female legal witness: Josephus, Antiquities 4:219; Sifre Deuteronomy 190; bSanhedrin 27b. Other evidence permits female legal witness: tSanhedrin 5:2 – “testimony that a woman is qualified to give….” These included: the origin of a swarm of bees (mBaba Qamma 10:2), the death of someone’s husband (mYebamot 16:5), chastity or defilement of a female war captive (mKetubot 2:9; mSotah 6:2), the elder of twins if the woman is a midwife (tBaba Batra 7:2), and that a specific male was a priest (mKetubot 2:3). Because of this, it is unwise to make the simplistic claim that the use of women as witnesses to the resurrection would never have been believed — though I think it is a fair argument, it deserves to be nuanced.
It is safe and wise to see that there was a general prohibition that had many exceptions.
Third, what about Inheritance? The woman cannot be the legal heir of her husband’s estate and a daughter can be legal heir only if she has no brothers (Numbers 27:8). The wife inherited only her ketubbah (mBaba Batra 8:1). At the time of Jesus, debate ensued about daughters and inheritance and the laws were eventually developed that permitted daughters to inherit. Which led to principles of circumvention: men could write in extras into a woman’s ketubbah (bBaba Batra 138a-b; mKetubot 8:1; tKetubot 9:2) to ensure that a woman was maintained adequately.
And there was the issue of guardieanship: a man could appoint his wife as guardian of his estate after his death (here the wife does not “inherit” the property but benefits from it)(mKetubot 9:4, 6); and she could be guardian as well over the children (tTerumot 1:11; mBaba Batra 8:17).
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Women and Ordination