Types of Thought: Gender Differences, part II

In the previous post we spoke of gender difference in terms of extending society’s reach vs developing what we have – R’ Aharon Soloveitchik’s “kibush vs yishuv” (as discussed in this devar Torah for parashas Chayei Sarah), and R’ SR Hirsch’s outside vs inside. (And Dear Abby’s goal vs process.) And in the post before that we started discussing the Hebrew terms for various modes of thought starting with “Atah Chonein” and Ashkenaz’s “dei’ah binah vehaskeil” vs. the Sepharadi (and “Sfard”) “chokhmah binah vada’as“.

Binah and Da’as -

a convergence of the previous two topics

The gemara makes two statements about cognitive differences between men and women.נ

נשים דעתן קלות – Women, their da’as are “light”

בינה יתרה נתנה להן – Extra binah was given to them.

The fact that women are described as being more focused on binah than on da’as in comparison to men ties this post to the previous one. In the following, I take the Tanya’s position on defining da’as, but I use Rav Hirsch to explain binah, since it resembles the Tanya’s but provides more detail.

We described da’as as knowledge. But not simply zikaron, the memory of ideas, but the knowledge that changes how we think. It is thus both da’as, the synthesis of chokhmah and binah, as well as keser, their source. Males, zekharim, with their intimate link to memory, are more prone to da’as.

Binah is deductive and inductive reasoning. According to Rav Hirsch, the word is related to livnos, to build, and bein, between, making distinctions. I would suggest from this that each connotation is based on a different kind of reason:

  • Deductive reasoning builds conclusions from existing ideas. If all people are mortal, and John is a person, John is mortal.
  • Inductive reasoning divides cases into categories about which we can form rules. If we see one duck and it flies, and another duck and it flies, and another, we eventually concludes that ducks in general fly. (Of course, someone could similarly conclude that all birds fly, until his case-collection includes an encounter with an ostrich or penguin.)

In what way is there a conflict between da’as and binah? Da’as limits our modes of thought. In thinking the way one is supposed to for a discipline, one may be more accurately working within the discipline, but one will be blind to an answer if it happens to fall outside the discipline. We saw in the previous post how da’as can cause one to lose sight of their vocation, Rav Hirsch’s “danger that he may completely lost himself in this struggle, that in striving to acquire his means he will lose sight of his real vocation… It is then the woman who leads him back to what is truly human in him.” It is through binah that women

Only men can serve on a court, both for deciding cases, and in the legislative and interpretive capacity of courts of men with Moses-derived ordination. And from there, we have rules about only men giving hora’ah and only men testifying to those judges in questions of guilt. (Anyone can testify about the permissibility of an object, which is why I can rely on my wife in the kitchen.)

Making halakhah is a discipline, following the laws of how to make laws. Thus, it’s relegated to men. The greater creativity and deductive ability of a woman’s binah doesn’t produce a more right answer. However, when it came to aggadic issues, where the criterion is truth, not legal process, it was the women who historically saved the Jewish People from major errors — from their unwillingness to follow the men in building the golden calf until “neqeivah tesoveiv gever“.

A third approach, which I guess could also be the same answer in a different guise, is based on Mishlei 1:8:

שְׁמַע בְּנִי, מוּסַר אָבִיך; וְאַל תִּטֹּשׁ, תּוֹרַת אִמֶּךָ.

Listen, my son, the to instructions of thy father, and do not forsake your mother’s Torah.

To which Chazal add (quoted by Rashi ad loc), “Do not read ‘your mother’s Torah – תורת אמך’ but rather ‘your people’s Torah – תורת עומתך’”. We learn from our mothers things that are deeper than words — our values, our reflexive reactions, our emotional balance. (Again, assuming the ideal world, where each gender has the opportunity to fill the role it is better suited for.) Things we get and transmit culturally.

Textual teaching is an obligation on fathers.

Perhaps even the reason why more male prophets’ vision are recorded than women’s is because men are a better vehicle for the kind of messages that can be textually transmitted in a book. Da’as, formalized thought. While G-d’s covenant with Abraham is recorded in seifer Bereishis, His covenant with Sarah is recorded in our culture, in Jewish values, in who we are.

This cultural knowledge is the essence of Oral Torah. Arguably the entire need for a halachic process that ever increases in codified halakhah is that we need to create formal rules as we lose that natural feel for right and wrong of the Sinai Culture. As I wrote in (yet another) earlier post:

There are two ways to learn a language: The native speaker doesn’t learn rules of grammar before using them, he just knows what “sounds right”. In contrast, an immigrant builds his sentences by using formalized rules, learning such terms as “past imperfect” and memorizing the forms that fit each category. R’ [Moshe] Koppel[, in his book, Metahalakhah] notes that the rules can never perfectly capture the full right vs wrong. A poet has to know when one can take license.

He argues that halakhah is similarly best transmitted by creating “native speakers”. It is only due to loss of our progressive loss of the Sinai culture with each generation that we need to rely on transmitting codified rules. … Earlier cited cases are the loss of culture that occurred with Moshe Rabbeinu’s death, when 300 halakhos were forgotten, and Osniel ben Kenaz reestablished them – chazar veyasdum. Similarly the reestablishment of numerous dinim by Anshei Keneses haGedolah after the return from the Babylonian exile – shakhechum vechazar veyasdum. Leyaseid, he suggests, is this codification.The informal knowledge of a “native speaker” is limited by the capacity of the human mind. But still, it captures more of the ineffable whole, the true “divrei E-lokim Chaim” than can be set down as formal rules.

See this early post and the first article in Mesukim miDevash for Bamidbar on the notion of Mussar as a conscious teaching and internalizing of that which in the ideal we would have naturally absorbed from our environment. Reducing toras imekha – umasekha, to mussar avikha. The natural, free-flowing binah into a discipline of how to think, da’as.


So far, I’ve made a hash of things. I took ideas from people who contradict on how they define different terms, and blended their ideas together on the terms in which they agree. In the next entry, be”H, I will try to provide a more dictionary-like collection of the words for various types of thought.

Gender Differences

(I had more to say on the each of yesterday’s post’s two topics, so it is being replaced with this and the next post.)

In a post on parashas Chayei Sarah, I included R’ Aharon Soloveitchikzt”l‘s take on gender differences as reflected in halakhah. Men have an overly strong sense of qibbush, to conqure and subsue, women have a better balance with chazaqah, making and developing.

In this post, I would like to add Rav Hirsch’s (RSRH) take, which I believe dovetails quite well with Rav Aharon’s.

First, his translation of Tehillim 45:14 is “But the king’s daughter is all glorious within, more than the golden borders of her raiment.” As Michael Poppers pointed out, this better fits the hyphenation of “kol-kevudah” as well as the use of “kevudah” not “kevudas“. The commentary reads:

“But”, the singer adds with infinite tact and delicacy, “though the princess may appear glorious and splendid in public, she reveals her true glory in quiet, more private circles, and the splendid qualities she shows there are much greater than the exquisite beauty of the gold borders which shine at the hem of her garment.” Penimah “within,” is always used to designate an inner recess as opposed to the outer chambers.

What may better capture RSRH’s position is his comments on “peru urvu umil’u es ha’aretz vikvishuhah — be fruitful and multiply and fill the world and subdue it” in Judaism Eternal, ch 11 (The Jewish Woman).

Vikvshuha is read malei [full, ie with the vav], but written chaseir [deficient]. In other words, while it is read as though both should participate in conquering the world, it’s written “vikivshah“, that only one of them should.
… [T]he command to “subdue”, and with it to procure the means necessary for marriage and for founding a household, is addressed only to the male sex, to whose function it belongs to compel the earth through labour to serve the needs of man. Hence the command to marry and found a household has absolute force only for the male sex. Since, however, these commands are after all addressed to both sexes, it is obvious that for the performance of man’s task of building up the world the Law-giver reckoned on the harmonious and equal co-operation of both sexes. Further, by excusing the famale sex from the hard labour of subduing and mastering the earth, … [H]e left it free to be devoted to the higher and more humanistic task of employing the products of man’s labour for the ethical purposes of building up a house and family, that is to say, in the service of his true vocation and his welfare as a human being.

R SR Hirsch explains this verse as being about the Talmudic aphorism that “man brings in the grain, and woman makes it into bread”. Man conquers and acquires, woman develops the raw material into a finished product. Man builds a society, woman gives it a religious backbone. Ideally it would be man who produces technology, and women who make sure we don’t dehumanize ourselves in the process.

This is akin to an observation by “Dear Abby” (Pauline Phillips, born Pauline Esther Friedman). She wrote that men are goal oriented, while women are process oriented. This is an alleged gender difference from a totally unrelated source, albeit one probably based on anecdotal evidence, that would fit the roles assumed above.

Rav Hirsch speaks in terms of “inside” vs. “outside”, community in service of its members, vs the expansion of the community’s domain, reach, and standard of living. The similarity to Rav Aharon’s dichotomy of qibbush extending our reach vs. chazaqah developing what we have is quite strong, although not identical.

This is the reason Rav Hirsch gives for the difference between the seider, in which we say “women to were in the same miracle” and they share the obligations of the night, whereas they are exempt from most rituals caused by a particular time (mitzvos asei shehazman gerama), including sukkah and lulav. The sukkah is about going beyond the home, and is thus male in a sense that perpetuating the chain of tradition at the family table on Pesach is not.

Rav Hirsch writes that male is called zachar, memory, standard-bearer of history, while female is called nekeivah, that which receives — in this case, a vocation. Yirmiyahu writes, “Ki vara H’ chadashah ba’aretz, nekeivah tisoveiv gever — for Hashem created something new in the world, female surrounds man” (31:21). Ther prophet doesn’t contrast neqeivah with zakhar, female with male, but with gever. Gever is a term for man which focuses on the male tendency for qibush. As the mishnah says, “Who is a hero [gibor]? One who conqures [hakoveish] his inclination.”

It is in this sense of neqeivah along with that of gever as a figure of qibbush, that RSRH uses to explain Yirmiyahu. Man does nothing but provide a foundation, the means; woman’s job is to provide the ends. As, as Rav Kook writes, ends are inherently more holy than means. In fact, the entire concept of “secular” boils down to our inability to see Hashem’s ends while dealing with this universe’s means.

At the inception of creation it was intended that the tree have the same taste as the fruit. All the supportive actions that sustain any general worthwhile spiritual goal should by right be experienced in the soul with the same feeling of elation and delight as the goal itself is experienced when we envision it. But earthly existence, the instability of life, the weariness of the spirit when confined in a corporate frame brought it about that only the fruition of the final step, which embodies the primary ideal, is experienced in its pleasure and splendor. The trees that bear the fruit, with all their necessity for the growth of the fruit have, however, become coarse matter and have lost their taste. This is the failing of the “earth” because of which it was cursed when Adam was also cursed for his sin.

Orot haTeshuva 6:7
Translation by B. Z. Bokser, The Lights of Penitence in “Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook,” published by Paulist Press in the “Classics of Western Spirituality” series.

As Rav Hirsch writes, the masculine quest to go ever outward is frought with the possibility of losing sight of the goals for which he was created. Getting lost in the mode of thought, and losing sight of the bigger picture. “And there is a danger that he may completely lost himself in this struggle, that in striving to acquire his means he will lose sight of his real vocation… This is an error which can almost be regarded as the key to all the mistakes made in history. It is then the woman who leads him back to what is truly human in him.” “Neqeivah tesoveiv gever.”

Types of Thought: Progressions

The first of the requests of the Shemoneh Esrei is Birchas haDa’as, the blessing on understanding. We first state “Atah chonein le’adam da’as – You grant humanity understanding, umelameid le’enosh binah – and teach man comprehension.” What is da’as that is chonein, granted freely, whereas binah is taught, and therefore requires that the student participate by learning it? And why is da’as a feature of adam, whereas binah is that of enosh?

The Reisha Rav, R’ Efrayim Levine (HaDerash vehaIyun, Parashas Bereishis), explains that da’as is knowledge of a single fact. Singular, like Adam, an individual. While “adam” means man, it is not pluralized. On the other hand, binah is the ability to combine ideas in order to produce new ones. Binah is most effective in a community, as anyone who studied with a chavrusah experienced. One of the forty-eight ways necessary to acquire Torah listed in Avos is “pilpul hatalmidim – the sharp give-and-take of the students”. (Beraisa Avos 6:6) The usual Hebrew word for people is anashim, plural of enosh. Enosh, Adam’s grandson, was the first generation to consist of multiple nuclear families living together. Adam and Chavah were a unique couple. Their children Kayin and Hevel certainly could not combine into a society, leaving Sheis and his wife as another unique couple. Until Enosh, there was no concept of “society.” Thus, binah was incomplete until Enosh.

Perhaps we can answer our first question by utilizing R’ Efrayim Levine’s idea. Binah requires working at the idea, the give and take. Da’as may be gifted, but binah cannot be fully absorbed that way. This is the need for ameilus baTorah, toiling in Torah, “melameid le’enosh binah.”

The Eitz Chayim, the tree-structure of the 10 sefiros of Qabbalah describing how G-d’s Good flows down to us, is described either with keser, a Crown that is the source of chokhmah and binah, or it has da’as, the synthesis of chokhmah and binah. We can look at da’as either as the product of thought, or as the source for future thought. The da’as of an idea is both what it is upon which binah acts, as well as the conclusion toward which binah works. This might distinguish da’as from the realm of zikaron. It’s not just knowledge, it’s knowledge that shapes thought.

Da’as‘s role in binah is pretty straightforward. They even teach courses in deductive and inductive reasoning; there are lists on line of common fallacies of reasoning (proof by authority, post hoc ergo propter hoc, etc…) Proper reasoning is a skill to be learned. The connection to chokhmah is less obvious. On the right is a famous picture by WE Hill “My Wife and My Mother-in-Law” (published 1915) that might help. Who one sees in the picture is decided preconsciously by what one brings to the experience. See also my earlier essay “Free Will and Environment“.

Shlomo Hamelech writes, “Have you found devash – honey? Eat only your limit of it lest you fill yourself and vomit it” (Mishlei 25:16). The Vilna Gaon explains the metaphor of honey, devash, as coming from its being an acronym of de’ah, binah, and seichel (insight). One’s progress in Torah needs to be slow and progressive. “Eat only your limit” – attempting for too much too rapidly invites failure.

The pasuk does not make sense if it means the cerebral and abstract pursuit of Torah. The Alter of Kelm told a student celebrating his third Siyum HaShas, “It is not a discussion of how many times you have gone through Shas, but how many times Shas has gone through you.” It is of that kind of Talmud Torah that Mishlei speaks. And it is that kind of self-changing wisdom that we ask for when we request dei’ah, binah, vehaskeil – knowledge (dei’ah), developed through reason (binah) to be applied in one’s life (haskeil).

Someone who tries for results without the skills, for dei’ah without da’as, haskeil without seikhel, tevunah without first aspiring for binah, can not retain either – they get vomitted out.

This version of the text recognizes the progression set up in the opening of the berachah. Adam receives da’as, Enosh develops it as binah, and request from Hashem that this progression continue into haskeil. However, it has the clause “chaneinu me’itecha – grant us from You,” which does not fit binah, and certainly not haskeil. Haskeil must be self-developed; people must have the power to shape how they apply their knowledge as action, or else there is no free will.

Perhaps the Nusach Sefarad chose a different progression because this implication is difficult. But it does so at the expense of continuity with the ideas already developed. In Nusach Sefarad, the progression is chochmah, insight, according to the Tanya (Likutei Sichos, ch. 2), the gifted-from-G-d awareness of an idea, raw, undeveloped. This is then developed in binah, and da’as, knowledge, is produced.

Rather than Ashkenaz’s progression from knowledge to action, Nusach Sefarad gives the progression from inspiration to knowledge. Nusach Ashkenaz focuses on how the intellect is used for self-perfection, sheleimus. Sefaradim and Chassidim speak of knowledge as a flow from G-d’s Divine Wisdom, a connection to Him, temimus. (See also the posts on the “forks” topic, the difference between the misnageid‘s quest for perfection in the image of G-d and the Chassid’s life-mission of cleaving to Him.)

Three Modes of Tefillah

From Avodah v24 n215, submitted by R’ Moshe Y. Gluck:

R’ Shraga Feivel Mendlowitz explained the Zohar that says that there are three types of Tefillos: Tefillah L’Ani [the prayer of the poor] is the Tefillah that comes from the depths of the heart, with tears and beseeching, like a pauper begging. This prayer is most accepted before Hashem.

Tefillah L’Moshe is with deep thought, and Hisbodedus [self seclusion] about Hashem and Yichudo [His Unity], until one reaches the level of knowing that Ein Od M’lvado [there is nothing but Him]. Tefillah L’Dovid – who was the N’im Zemiros Yisroel [composer of the pleasant songs of Israel]- is to request closeness to Hashem, Tzamah Nafshi L’elokim [my soul is thirsty for G-d]… When one experiences such a feeling, he wants to and is capable of singing with the whole world in the praise of Hashem. (See Perek Shirah.)

Perhaps all three modes were captured by R’ Eliezer Azikri in the opening line of Yedid Nefesh:

Yedid Nefesh, the Beloved of the soul, was the subject of David haMelekh’s thirst. Closeness to His beloved.

Av haRachaman, the merciful Father, reaches out to His child. The pauper appeal to his Father, begging for His loving help.

Moshe pleas meshockh avdekha el Retzonekha, draw Your servant toward Your Will. The quest is for comprehension of that Will. Hashem calls him “Moshe avdi — Moses my servant” (Bamidbar 12:7), but we don’t want to put too much of a fine point on that, since He also speaks of “David avdi” (Tehillim 89:21), and we find in Hallel David writes “I am your eved, the son of your maidservant” (ibid 116:16). But it is Moshe’s prayer in particular that is one of comprehending Hashem’s will. As in his encounter after the Golden Calf:

וַיֹּאמַר: הַרְאֵנִי נָא, אֶת-כְּבֹדֶךָ.

And [Moshe] said: ‘Show me, please, Your glory.’

וַיֹּאמֶר, אֲנִי אַעֲבִיר כָּל-טוּבִי עַל-פָּנֶיךָ, וְקָרָאתִי בְשֵׁם ה’, לְפָנֶיךָ; וְחַנֹּתִי אֶת-אֲשֶׁר אָחֹן, וְרִחַמְתִּי אֶת-אֲשֶׁר אֲרַחֵם.

And [Hashem] said: ‘I will make all My Goodness pass before you, and will proclaim the name of the Hashem before you; I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will be merciful to whom I will show mercy.’

- Shemos 33:17-19