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.

And your thoughts...?

  1. MATTHEW WAGNER from the Jerusalem, wrote an interesting article regarding a recent study, released by Hadassah-Brandeis Institute and the Cohen Center for Modern Jewish Studies that “Non-Orthodox Jewish males, from school-age to adult, have fewer connections with Jews and Judaism than their female counterparts”.

    this interesting phenomenon also exists within the orthodox community. Although, orthodoxy doesn’t allow women to serve as Rabbis or lead the prayers, they can serve in other leadership positions. In fact, many Jewish women are very active in their local communities and run respected organizations.

    By High school age teens, the orthodox Jewish girls are much more religious then the boys. Jewish girls are more educated than ever before.