What About Daughters?

“Teach your sons” in Deuteronomy 6:7 (Reposted from my previous blog)

Deuteronomy 6 is the beginning of a sixth chapter exposition of the command, “you shall have no other Gods before Me.”  The major idea of the chapter is that learning, remembering, reflecting, and acting upon Torah will keep the community’s heart firmly planted and faithful in their love of God.  If that is the case should “teach your sons” be thought of as “boys” or “children”?

Translations seem to lean toward “sons”.  Some Christian interpreters go as far as to say this is to lay the foundation for male leadership in the home. Although Rabbinic Tradition is split on this (though particularly later commentators and those more concerned with teaching Talmud rather than Torah), some reasons to take this as gender inclusive are givens for the Jewish household. First of all, the Torah itself does not forbid a woman to learn or for a woman to teach. In addition, for these children their first teacher of the Torah would often be their mother. The impact of women of God in the lives of their children is reason that Judaism is considered to be passed down through the mother. 

There is a rabbinic exception for women that serves to reinforce the view that this is gender inclusive. The rabbis taught that a woman could be exempt from the key positive command. So, she could wear tefillin and frontlets and tallit.  She could also study the Torah. But if it was burdensome during pregnancy, or during the care of children, or during menstruation, or for any task that was in her care, she could forgo that positive command as needed since her care for the children was the most important duty of faith.  Since many commands were time sensitive like the Sabbath or the sounding of the shofar, it could be a day, a week, or even a year before a missed opportunity could be re-done.  So, on the basis of “the greater commands override the lesser,” the time a woman needed to care for herself (as after childbirth) or for children was ruled more pressing and important than even the commands dealing with worship!

So why was the duty of motherhood so important? Not only because Israel needed children to continue to be Israel. But just as importantly Israel needed women of God who could teach the Torah in order to continue to be Israel.  To fulfill the commandments Israel needed both mothers who taught and daughters and sons who learned.

Since this speaks directly to the context of Deuteronomy 6, where the continuity of Israel is based on the continuity of the relationship with God, which is connected to the continuity of keeping God’s word, it is natural that it is sons and daughters that are in mind for the study of God’s word.

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