Or wit. A witty answer can be a good response to a difficult issue.
For married or otherwise attached-to-a-man women: How would you respond if someone told your husband (or significant other) not to talk too much to you?
Here’s the quote from Pirkei Avot, Ethics of the Fathers, 1:5:
5. Yosi ben Yochanan of Jerusalem said: Let your house be wide open and let the poor be members of thy household; and do not talk much with women. This was said about one’s own wife; how much more so about the wife of one’s neighbor. Therefore the sages have said: He who talks too much with women brings evil upon himself and neglects the study of the Torah and will in the end inherit Gehenna.
Then: OK, I’ll do a little research. Found some idea somewhere that perhaps the “talk” here refers to idle gossip. But the word in Hebrew is שיחה — siḥah. My husband pointed out that “siḥah” in Breishit refers to Yitzchak going out to the field to pray(Genesis 24:63):
וַיֵּצֵא יִצְחָק לָשׂוּחַ בַּשָּׂדֶה So it can’t mean gossip.
There is a story concerning this saying and the one woman highly respected in the Talmud as a scholar—Beruriah, the daughter of Chananiah ben Tradion (see 3:3) and wife of Rabbi Meir (see 4:12). Rabbi Yosse the Galilean was once walking on a road when he encountered Beruria, and he asked her: “By which road do we go to the city of Lydda?” She replied, “Galilean fool!, do not the sages say, ‘Don’t talk a lot with the woman’? You should have said, ‘Whither Lydda?’”(Er. 53b.)
Here is the story behind the story. Divorce was rare among the Rabbis, but Rabbi Yosse the Galilean divorced his wife—who was reputed to be a shrew. Beruriah would have known Rabbi Yosse and his ex-wife, since Yosse and her own husband Meir had both been students of Rabbi Akiva (see 3:17-20). Beruriah was as sharp-tongued as she was brilliant, and may well have sympathized with the ex-wife. This exchange was evidently in public, and in saying “which way do we go to Lydda,” Yosse may have embarrassed Beruriah with the innuendo. Hence her calling him a fool and retorting with the ‘perfect squelch’—ridiculing in one erudite turn of phrase both Rabbi Yosse’s ‘macho’ taunting and this misogynistic saying from Avot.
Years ago I had a Mad Magazine book called Snappy Answers to Stupid Questions. I imagine Bruriah did that naturally. Can anyone offer suggestions on how to develop a sharp wit? Seems like it could be quite helpful in studying Talmud.
Ilana-Davita and I have begun to study Pirkei Avot (Ethics of the Fathers) this summer. It worked well with the Book of Ruth. Who knows what kind of topics might come up… Feel free to do a little studying of your own.
And if you are knowledgeable about Pirkei Avot, any books or commentary suggestions are most welcome. I’ve started to look at Kehati, which is a modern commentary in Hebrew.
Ilana-Davita: Pirkei Avot: The Name