One thing occurred to me, however, after I had written it: In the dispute shown below between Maimonides and Rabbi Joseph Karo on the one hand, and Ra'avad, Tur, Rosh, and Hagahot Maimoniut on the other hand, I automatically assumed a historical sociological explanation for the dispute. That is, it never occurred to me to seek legal or exegetical reasons for the dispute. Compare what Professor Marc Shapiro writes in Professor Marc Shapiro's book review titled "The Uses of Tradition: Jewish Continuity in the Modern Era, Jack Wertheimer, ed. (Jewish Theological Seminary of America, 1992) 510 pp. Halacha in Straits: Obstacles to Orthodoxy at its Inception by Jacob Katz, Hebrew (Magnes Press, 1992) 287 pp." (Tradition 28:2, 1994):
In other studies Katz argues that, in the absence of convincing halakhic sources with which to refute the Reformers regarding issues such as yom tov sheni and metzitza, the halakhists came up with novel ideas and sources, giving the practices an entirely new basis and often classifying what used to be regarded as a secondary detail, e. g. metzitza as a central religious obligation. There is little doubt that, if asked, the nineteenth century pasek would deny that his categorizing of metzitza as central to the commandment of circumcision has anything to do with the Reformers. As far as the halakhist is concerned, if metzitza is shown to be an indispensable ritual, than it has always been indispensable. The halakhist would never agree that he has taken liberties with the sources because of religious or social pressures. However, the historian tries to explain trends and understand why it is only in this particular generation that metzitza assumes such central importance. Furthermore, as Bernard Bailyn has so correctly noted, "the very possibilty of historical explanation lies in the differences between the perspective and range of knowledge of participants and those of the historian." It is the historian who views the halakhist as having been pressured by forces beyond him, and often not even apparent to him, into a sometimes radical reinterpretation of sources, all in order to justify what in his mind is essential to prevent the breakdown of traditional Judaism.
Unlike the historian, the halakhist believes that every decision rendered has always been inherent in the traditional texts, just waiting to be derived. Even when the halakhist admits that he is stretching the sources in order to find some justification for a questionable practice (limmud zekhut)- always a noble endeavor - as long as sources can be found the halakhic system has not been undermined in any way.
This basic difference in outlook can be seen again and again when comparing the approaches of the halakhic historian with that of the pasek and can be illustrated most vividly by looking at Haym Soloveitchik's description of the Tosafist atttude towards martyrdom. According to Soloveitchik, professor at Yeshiva University's Bernard Revel Graduate School, there were occasions when contemporary circumstances led the Tosafists to create a new legal standard and in so doing were responsible for a radical new development in halakha. Soloveitchik's method of describing halakhic development is shared by such leading scholars as Katz, Ephraim Urbach, and Yitzhak Gilat, all of whom identify with Orthodoxy, and it is this method which is rejected as factually incorrect, and even heretical, by those who do not recognize any real history or sociology of halakha. The dispute is, of course, not new and was one of the basic points of disagreement between R. Samson Raphael Hirsch and R. Zechariah Frankel, and to a lesser extent Hirsch and R. David Hoffmann.
 See Gordon S. Wood, "The Creative Imagination of Bernard Bailyn," in James A. Henretta, et ai, eds., The Transformation of Early American History (New York, 1991), p. 41. My thanks to Dr. Edward S. Shapiro for bringing this valuable essay to my attention.
 "Religious law and Change: The Medieval Ashkenazic Example," AJS Review 12 (1987), pp. 205-221.
 Katz, however, has called attention to a difference between his approach and that of Urbach; see Halakhah ve-Kabbalah, pp. 344ff. Whereas Urbach speaks of social conditions forcing the rishonim [Medieval authorities] to issue real heterim [leniences], Katz views the rishonim as doing nothing more than providing a halakhic imprimatur for what was already common practice. Soloveitchik's approach is in line with that of Katz.
 Yonah Emanuel, in his review of Yitzhak Gilats Perakim be-Hishtalshelut ha-Halakhah (Ramat Gan, 1992), in Ha-Maayan 33 (Tishrei, 5753), pp. 42-49, correctly senses that the latters approach follows in the footsteps of Frankel, and therefore Emanuel disqualifies his book from the realm of faithful Torah scholarship. Gilat, ibid. (Tevet, 5753), pp. 51-57, replies to a number of Emanuel's specific points but does not deny that his approach is similar to that of Frankel. The implication is clear, namely, that the realm of faithful Torah scholarship is much wider than what Emanuel believes it to be.
So, revelation of the century: I follow a non-traditional academic sociological-historical view of halakhic development; my Orthodoxy is of the YCT/R' Avi Weiss/Open-Orthodoxy sort that in the early 20th century century, would have been classifed as Conservative Positive-Historical Judaism. (Isn't life interesting? Nod to Naamah.)
So now, we return to our original topic, namely my friend's request for sources on wife-beating in traditional Judaism literature. I told her:
Hmm...Interjection: In the comments, "Anonymous" directed me here. There, we read
This is something I've never really researched, but here's what I found upon a cursory investigation. (I don't have time to do a full-scale search through the indices of Rabbinic literature.)
Rambam (Maimonides - 12th century Spain and Egypt) in Hilchot Ishut (The Laws of Women) 21:10 saysEvery woman who refuses to do one of the labors which she is [customarily] required to do [for her husband], he [the husband] strikes her, even with a whip.
At that location, however, the Ra'avad (Rabbi Avraham ben David, contemporary of Maimonides in Provence, France) comments in his running criticisms to Maimonides,I have never heard of a basis for [the use of] whips on women. Rather, one reduces her necessities and provisions until she submits [to her husband's authority].
The RMb"M [i.e. Maimonides, Rambam] uses the plural word for force (Heb. Kofin), meaning that THEY, the Bais Din (court) can exercise its authority.
The true meaning of the RMb"M is that the court has the ability to decide whether a person has fulfilled the implicit responsibilities of a relationship that they contractually enter into with another person. If a woman refrains from performing her duties, the Bais Din may choose to use its police (Heb. Shot-rim) powers, including the use of a strap (Heb. Shoot) to compel her to do so.
Similarly, if a man refuses to provide his wife with his responsiblity of food, the court may choose to compel him, even by means of the Shoot. It is also interesting to note that the prevalent opinion is that court should not use its police powers of physical force on women.
Note here the plural ("kofin otah") and the mention of the judge in the last sentence. From this it is obvious that it is not the husband, but the court (the Beit Din) who has the authority to force her to do the required labors.
We see therfore, that no one, not even a Sepharadi (more correctly, a Yemenite), can justify his attitude by quoting the RMb"M. Thus, on this ruling, R. Yosef Qafeh - the foremost Yemenite rabbi today who follows the RMb"M - condemns in the strongest language the husband who takes the law into his own hands to beat his wife.
According to this, Maimonides would not in any way condone wife-beating. Apparently, it is the Jewish court, and not the husband, who whips the recalcitrant spouse - and this ability of the court extends to whipping men and women alike.
However, as far as I can tell, prior authorities understood Maimonides to permit whipping a wife. Ra'avad and Rabbenu Tam both replied to Maimonides to the effect that wife-beating is something Jews don't do. Even if Maimonides didn't condone wife-beating, perhaps later rabbinic authorities misunderstood him and so condoned wife-beating? I don't know. A look here would incline me to be not surprised of some authorities so understood Maimonides as permitting wife-beating.
It'd require a great amount of research for me to investigate all the various historical interpretations of Maimonides's meaning. That is, even if Maimonides did not condone wife-beating, as we have seen, perhaps other rabbinic authorities understood him to be permitting wife-beating? Oftentimes in law, it is less important what the judge meant, than it is what others think the judge meant. It is others' understanding of the judge, not the judge's own intent, that determines what later generations will practice. So how did others interpret Maimonides? Did they interpret him as forbidding wife-beating, or did they, like Ra'avad, interpret him as permitting?
I don't know.
Now, we return to what I wrote to my friend:
I am not sure where the following is written, but I have read that Rabbenu Tam, a contemporary of Maimonides's in France, reacted to Maimondes with the blunt statement,Such a thing is unheard of in [the children of ] Israel.
Commenting on Maimonides, in the commentary titled "Kesef Mishneh", Rabbi Joseph Karo (16th century Safed, then a part of Turkish Jewry) has a lengthy discussion. He notes that some commentators (notably the Tur, Rabbi Yaakov ben Asher, of 14th century Spain, but the son of a prominent German rabbi, the Rosh, Rabbi Asher ben Yehiel) have been puzzled by Rambam's ruling. They note that according to the Talmud, a woman is obligated to serve her husband only if she demands to be provided for by him. If, however, she declares intent to provide for her own livelihood, then the husband cannot demand that she perform labor for him. (You would be quite correct in deriving that a woman is given complete freedom in Jewish law to own property and to buy and sell and control her own money. Moreover, Jewish law prescribes numerous laws regarding the financial arrangements between husband and wife, but the underlying assumption behind these laws is that the husband and wife made no other arrangements themselves; husband and wife have complete freedom to define the financial aspects of their marriage however they desire. But lacking such explicit stipulations, the baseline laws and customs prevail. Generally, it is assumed that the husband provides completely for his wife, and any money the wife makes belongs to her husband, and she is obligated to labor if he demands, provided the labor is not servile and degrading.) So according to the Tur, Maimonides shouldn't be permitting wife-beating; rather, if the wife refuses to work, the husband should simply stop feeding her, and let her provide for herself! (Cf. the Ra'avad above.) But Rabbi Karo disagrees: he distinguishes between the labors a wife is customarily obligated to perform for her husband (Talmud Ketubot 61a ordains three labors a wife must perform for her husband: mix for him his cup of wine, make his bed, and wash his face, hands, and feet), and any other labors the wife performs (Rabbi Karo says "sewing", but he seems to mean any productive labor not part of the afformentioned three). In other words, Rabbi Karo says that whereas a wife may refuse to sew (apparently meaning sew clothes to sell at the market), she cannot refuse to make his bed, wash his face, hands and feet, or mix his cup of wine. If she refuses to sew, the husband merely will stop providing for her sustenance. If, however, she refuses to perform the three customary labors, she is beaten.
In the Hagahot Maimoniut, an Ashkenazi (European) commentary on Maimonides, we read:The Tur brought the the language of this page* and the criticisms of the Ra'avad, and he [the Tur] raised a difficulty [on Maimonides] and brought the opinion of [his, the Tur's father] the Rosh that one does not whip her [the wife], as Rav Huna [a Talmudic rabbi] said: "A woman can say to her husband, 'I will not be provided for, and I will not work.'"
*[Heb. עמוד - This terminology is unfamiliar to me, and I'm not sure what he means; but the gist seems to be that the Tur quoted Maimonides.]
In the Shulhan Arukh, the 16th century code of Jewish law by the afforementioned Rabbi Joseph Karo of Safed, I did not find anything on wife-beating, but the comtemporary Ashkenazi (European Jewish) gloss by Rabbi Moses Isserles (Rama) reads (Even ha-Ezer 154:3):...A man who strikes his wife, has sin in his hands, as if he has struck his fellow.
To summarize: Maimonides says to whip a wife if she refuses to work, and Rabbi Karo seems to find no problem with this. He says that if a wife refuses to "sew" (i.e. extra labor), then she simply won't be provided for, but that if she refuses to do the three obligatory labors (washing her husband's face, mixing his cup of wine, and making his bed), then she may be whipped.
By contrast, the Ra'avad, Tur, and Rosh (the Tur is quoted by R' Karo and Hagahot Maimonut, and the Rosh is cited by the Tur) say that wife-beating is unheard of, and that the wife may refuse to do any labor, as long as she realizes that concommitantly, she won't be provided for by her husband.
Recall that Maimonides and R' Karo were living in Egypt and the Ottoman Empire, respectively, both Muslim lands.
The European rabbis seem to say two distinct things:
1) "I have never heard of such a thing" (Ra'avad), "Such a thing is not done" (Rabbenu Tam), "has a sin in his hands" (Rama) - Apparently, they frowned on the very concept of wife-beating.
2) Whereas the rabbis of Muslims land upheld the Talmudic obligatory labors (washing the husband's face, making his bed, and mixing his cup of wine), the European rabbis seem to have devalued these labors. We saw that the Tur (quoted by R' Karo and Hagahot Maimoniut) said that a woman may refuse to work in return for her husband not providing for her, and he (unlike R' Karo) did not distinguish between her refusing to "sew" and her refusing to do the three customary labors. Whereas R' Karo and the rabbis of the Muslim lands seem to have upheld the special character of these three labors aside from "sewing", and forbidden her to refuse to do these labors at all, the European rabbis seem to have granted women far greater freedom in refusing to work, whether in the three labors or in "sewing" (with the concommitant right of the husband to thereupon refuse to feed her). It seems that the European rabbis had a different conception of what a wife was obligated to do for her husband. But this is an entirely separate area of history or sociology, entirely distinct from the topic of wife-beating.
But if my second assertion is correct, we'd have to be careful. Ra'avad says both "I have never seen a basis for this" and "one reduces her provisions"; we know that Ra'avad frowns on wife-beating, but is it because (a) the very concept is abhorrent to him, or (b) because he simply feels that a woman is free to refuse to do anything she wishes to refuse to do, as long as she consents to not being provided for? That is, is Ra'avad's criticism based on a different conception of what a husband is allowed to do, or a different conception of what a wife is required to do? I suspect that both are at play; likely, the same authority who grants greater power to women (allowing them, like the European rabbis do, to refuse to do the three customary labors for her husband) will also grant less power to the husband (forbidding him to ever whip his wife, for any reason at all, as a matter of principle, regardless of how recalcitant the wife is in her duties). But I am not sure; the point is, we must be aware that two factors are at play here in the European disfavor for wife-beating. I don't know enough Jewish history to pass definitive sentence here. With the Tur as well, his criticism of wife-beating is apparently based on the notion that the wife may refuse to work in return for the husband's being absolved of the duty to provide for her. In other words, one does not beat his wife simply because he should rather refuse to feed her. It is not clear whether the Tur has any moral qualms with beating a wife per se.
With the Rama, things are clearer; he equates wife-beating with beating anyone at all, and says the husband is sinning. Obviously, he abhorres the very concept of wife-beating, irrespective of what a wife is or isn't obligated to do for her husband. A wife, no matter how recalcitrant, is not to be whipped.
Now, everyone holds that a wife may forgo being sustained, and thereby forgo the obligation to work for her husband. However, Rabbi Karo evinces a disagreement with the Ashkenazim on a wife's duties and what constitutes "work": the Ashkenazim hold just as a wife may avoid the obligation to "sew" by forgoing her being sustained, so too she can avoid the obligation to wash her husband's face, mix his cup, and make his bed. Rabbi Karo, on the other hand, views the three obligations as entirely separate from "sewing". From a formal legal standpoint, Rabbi Karo's viewpoint seems more correct. The idea behind a wife's avoiding work by forgoing being provided for, stems from the assumption that a husband and wife can make any financial arrangements they desire. Ordinarily, however, a husband worked and the wife was provided for, and therefore the husband was allowed to force his wife to work (with certain conditions, such as that her work not be degrading), and he'd get to keep her income. The idea was that the husband did the real bread-winning, and the wife would knit a few kippot on the side (as my rabbi often puts it) for spare change. If the wife wanted to pay her own way, however, she was allowed to declare such, and she was no longer subject to her husband's financial dominion. But finances have nothing to do with the three obligations, i.e. washing his face, mixing his cup, and making his bed. I personally see no reason why a wife should be exempt from these simply because she is paying her own way; financial arrangments have nothing to do with customary tasks of female domesticity. The Ashkenazim hold that just as a woman may exempt herself from working, if she pays her own way, so too she may exempt herself from the three obligations. However, I see no reason to relate her financial freedom with freedom from the three obligations of domesticity. Therefore, regarding the formal technical law, and its exegesis, I'd have to say that Rabbi Karo's explanation seems more reasonable. Just because I support the Ashkenazi sentiments and conceptions of marriage, doesn't mean I cannot support the Sephardic interpretation as far as formal technical exegesis goes. And likewise, just because I support the Sephardic interpretation on formal legal exegesis doesn't mean I don't prefer the Ashkenazi sentiments.
I realized later that there is another way to interpret the Ra'avad: The Ra'avad says that one does not whip his wife, because he rather withholds food from her until she submits. I assumed the Ra'avad agrees with the Tur, Rosh, and Hagahot Maimoniut that a wife is not obligated at all in the three obligations, if she forgoes being provided for. But it occurred to me that perhaps the Ra'avad holds something else: perhaps he, like Rabbi Karo, holds that a woman is always obligated in the three obligations, even if she forgoes being sustained and thus forgoes the obligation to "sew". But if Ra'avad holds like this, the position of Rabbi Karo, why would he, unlike Rabbi Karo, object to wife-beating? It occurred to me that perhaps Ra'avad has a moral objection to wife-beating; perhaps, like the Rama, he holds that to beat one's wife is morally objectionable, regardless of whether the wife is violating her duties or not. If so, then Ra'avad can hold - like Rabbi Karo, and unlike Tur, Rosh, and Hagahot Maimoniut - that a woman is always obligated in the three obligations, and yet he can nevertheless object to wife-beating, on absolute moral grounds. But to confirm or disprove all this, I'd have to investigate the Ra'avad's writings on a wife's domestic obligations beyond the context of wife-beating. In the meantime, I'll tentatively follow Occam's Razor and assume that Ra'avad holds like the Tur and Rosh and Hagahot Maimoniut that a wife can avoid being subject to the three obligations as long as she forgoes being sustained by her husband.
If anyone is troubled by marriage being discussed as a financial transaction, we should clarify: that is exactly what marriage used to be. To quote myself from here:So? It was the Medieval era! People around the world would marry their daughters off, often to their business partner's son or some such, without any expection of personal combatibility. The Gemara says a woman would rather be married to a schmuk than to no one. I think it is obvious that this fits with the social mores of the time; people married for economic and reproductive reasons, not romantic ones. Of course, people expected different things out of marriage than we do today, so they weren't disappointed. Men expected someone to cook and bear children, and women expected someone to earn a wage. Obviously, today, marriage does not operate like this, and no one will dispute this.
Of course, a few people inexplicably think the Gemara's statement (that a woman would rather be married to a schmuk than to no one) still applies, even as they simultaneously themselves marry for romance and have their children do the same.
One thought that occurs to me: just because Maimonides and Rabbu Karo permit wife-beating, does not necessarily mean it was common. The Torah demands the death-penalty for certain crimes, but Jewish law usually took this as a threat and an idle deterrent, and not something to be ordinarily acted upon; the Talmud declares that a court which executes someone more than once in seven years is a murderous court. So I'm not sure we can infer from the *permission* to whip a wife, that this is something that actually occurred regularly. On the other hand, perhaps I'm being apologetic here; perhaps indeed the permission here implies that it was in fact common in Muslim lands for Jewish husbands to beat their wives. I don't know.
I found the following discussion as well: http://www.myjewishlearning.com/life/Relationships/Spouses_and_Partners/Domestic_Violence.shtml
For a less objective historical/scholarly view, but one that would demonstrate - if apologetically - what the average Jew today would believe, see this essay by the late Chief Rabbi of Britain (died in the 1930s), Rabbi Dr. J. H. Hertz: http://www.come-and-hear.com/talmud/nashim_h.html.