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Witty Women

Written by Rabbi Yehoshua Alt, 21/9/2019

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Witty Women

Many years ago, there were those who were accustomed that their daughters shouldn’t go to shul prior to marriage. The custom was that on the first Shabbos after marriage the Kalla would go, with immense happiness, to daven in shul. In the Seferשיחת חולין של תלמידי חכמים,[1] he writes Rebbitzen Beila, the wife of R’ Menachem Mendel of Linsk (1740-1803), the mother of the R’ Naftali Tzvi of Ropshitz, was smart and learned in Gemara with Tosafos. The first Shabbos after marriage when she went to shul to daven she said שמחתי באומרים לי בית ה' נלך-[2] I am so happy that my husband said to me הרי את מקודשת לי because now בית ה' נלך, I am able to go and daven in shul. 


The Chida[3] tells us that the sister of R’ Shaul of Amsterdam, author of Binyan Ariel, was a smart and modest woman and would write witty poetic lines. Once her brother, R’ Shaul, caught her on a mistake where she exchanged (החליפה) a ח for a כ. She responded back in jest וקוי ה' יחליפו כ"ח.[4]  


It says in the Sefer שיחת חולין של תלמידי חכמים[5] that Rebbitzen Sarah Rivka Rachel Leah[6] along with Rebbitzen Dina, the wife of R’ Shaul, the Av Beis Din of Hag was once conversing in Torah at a wedding with R’ Tzvi Hirsch, the Av Beis Din of Berlin. R’ Tzvi Hirsch was very impressed and said it’s the way of Torah scholars to say a מילתא דבדיחותא; joke before learning,[7] so tell me a joke. Rebbitzen Sarah Rivka Rachel Leah responded that the reason a joke is said prior to learning is due to the Kedusha of Torah because the sages were concerned maybe the Satan will come and take hold. So a joke is said at the start, to give the Satan his portion, and then the Torah can be learned Lishma. However, women who are not commanded to learn Torah, the Satan won’t come to nourish from the Kedusha of their learning. This is the meaning in פיה פתחה בחכמה[8]- an אשת חיל is able to immediately begin with Torah without a need to first say a joke, and still ותורת חסד על לשונה- Torah Lishma.   


R’ Alt merited to learn under the tutelage of R’ Mordechai Friedlander Ztz”l for close to five years. He received Semicha from R’ Zalman Nechemia Goldberg. R’ Alt has written on numerous topics for various websites and publications. He lives with his wife and family in a suburb of Yerushalayim where he studies, writes and teaches. The author is passionate about teaching Jews of all levels of observance.

[1] Chapter 14, Os 1

[2] Tehillim 122:1. The simple meaning is, ‘I rejoiced when they said to me, ‘let us go to the House of Hashem’.’

[3] In his Sefer מעגל טוב, pg 153

[4] Yeshaya 40:31. The simple meaning is ‘Those whose hope is in Hashem will have renewed strength.’

[5] Chapter 14, Os 7

[6] She was the daughter of R’ Yukil HaLevi Horowitz, Av Beis Din of Gluga and the wife R’ Shabsi, Av Beis Din of Krasny. She authored the תחינה (prayer) ‘Imahos’ which is called so because of her name, the name of the Imahos.

[7] The Gemara (Shabbos 30b) tells us that Rabba would begin with something humorous and the students would laugh. Afterwards, he would sit in trepidation and begin his teachings.  

[8] Mishlei 31:26. The simple meaning of this Pasuk is, ‘She opens her mouth with wisdom, and the teaching of kindness is on her tongue.’ 

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