There were three disputes for which Rabbeinu Tam is known - one over mezuzos, another over shaatnez, the third over tefillin. I will briefly glide through the shaatnez and tefillin disputes (leaving mezuzot for a possible later post), and then jump into mitzvos she ha zaman grama.
Rabbeinu Tam defined Shaatnez as including cloth spun and woven separately, then sewn together, whereas his grandfather (Rashi, 1040 – 1105) opined that it is shaatnez only if the wool and linen are spun and woven together, his argument being that the prohibition against shaatnez is specifically against garments of mixed materials.
The point that Rabbeinu Tam and Rashi disputed has to do with the prohibition against kilayim (the mingling of things which it is inappropriate to mingle). It says in Parshas Shoftim (Judges) in Vayikra (Leviticus) 19:19 "Et chukotai tishmoru behemteicha; lo tarbiya kilayim sadcha, lo tizra kilayim u veged kilayim shaatnez lo ya'ale aleicha" (My statutes you shall guard; do not let your cattle mix-breed, do not sow your field with mixed seeds, and do not wear a garment of mingled cloth.).
Hence there are four categories of things which should not be mingled: plowing by cattle and asses in the same furrow, grapes and other crops in the same arbor, wool and linen in the same garment, and Jews and Midianites in the same world. According to the Mishneh Toireh, these prohibitions promote peace.
There are two types of tfillin, one containing the rolled up parchments in the order approved of by Rashi, one following the order prescribed by Rabbeinu Tam. Many modern Chasidim when wearing tfillin wear both styles, thus hedging their bets.
[Which, to my mind seems kind of like going to confession before attending shul - if we follow Hillel we should follow ALL of Hillel, if we follow Shammai we should hold with ALL of Shammai.]
Putting on tfillin is the paradigm of time-related mitzvos (mitzvos asei she ha zman grama) from which women are excused.
[Tefillin = two boxes with passages from the Torah – one is tied to the forehead, one to the left arm. The Torah passages are the Shma Yisroel (Devarim 6:4 – 9; hear oh Yisrael, the Lord our G-d, the Lord is One, etc.), Ve Hayah ( Devarim 11: 13 – 21; rewards for observance of the mitvot, consequences of not observing), Kadesh ( Shemos 13: 1 – 10; the obligation to always remember the redemption from bondage in Egypt), and Vehaya ( Shemos 13: 11 – 16; the obligation to accordingly instruct one’s children). Tefillin are worn during the morning prayers (shacharis) on weekdays, not on the Sabbath - which is itself in locus phylacteris. The wearing of Tefillin is a mitzva: Devarim 6:8: u keshartam le’ot al-yadeicha ve-hayu letotafot bein eineicha - and you shall bind them for a sign upon your hand, and as a frontpiece twixt your eyes.]
Women are not excused from all mitzvois asei she ha zman grama – the commandment to eat matza on Peysach applies to both sexes, as does the obligation to hear the shofar at Rosh Ha Shana. And more thus. Bear in mind that what the Talmud states as a general principle (klalim – not to be confused with klala, though subconsciously ver veyst?) will necessarily have exceptions.
The Rambam lists sixty mitzvois (shishim heima malachos – ‘sixty there are that are queens’) which apply to all Jews, of which women are not obligated for fourteen of them. Part of the exemption is based on matters where a man performs a mitzvah that applies to more than just himself, such as blowing a shofar on Rosh HaShana (the commandment is to HEAR the tootling) or waving an angry chicken in the air on Yom Kipur, part of the exemption is inexplicable by any logical standard.
For instance, waving around lulavim ve etrogim, counting the omer, putting on tfillin – in what way do these take time away from any task which women customarily perform (and you might ask why it is that they perform those tasks), and how is that different from the overburdening of women that goes on in the fortnight leading up to Peysach? And regarding those mitzvois which should not be performed during Nidah, by what logic should a woman not perform them at other times if they are regularly occuring?
But tzarich iyun all that, why is the commandment regarding tfillin the paradigm of commandments from which women are excused?
In addition to the clear ritual role which Judaism imposes upon men, and the thus implied contrasting or complimentary role of women, it is because of the commandment to ‘discuss it, and teach it to your sons and sons’ son’. As the Talmud sees a clear connection between the obligation to learn Torah, and teach it to one’s sons and grandsons (this being the underlying theme of tfillin), Chazal stumbled to the conclusion that this mitzvah only applies to men (your sons and grandsons), and to have jumped to the further conclusion that mitzvos which have a time component, like that of tfillin, all share precisely that characteristic (or are thematically related - there are some marvelous commentaries which expand upon this idea), and that women are not included.
Why not teach Torah to one’s daughters?
One of the defining characteristics of Judaism is that it is (and has to be) transmitted to subsequent generations. That being so, women already have the edge over men, as whoever is born of a Jewish mother is Jewish (because the soul comes from the mother), and if the child is female, she too will have that edge.
[The soul comes from the mother? This implies that the Messiah will have a Moabite soul. Interesting.]
Not so with a child whose father is the only Jew in the family.
So how does a man transmit Judaism?
By instructing, and passing it on to his sons.
ISRAELITE MEN AND THEIR AFFAIRS - AN OBJECT LESSON
[If I had any photos of untzniusdikke Midianite wenches, they would go here. Sorry. No photos. Take a shower.]
Judging by what the Bnei Yisroel were up to with the heathen women (Parshas Balak, Parshas Matos; Midianite wenches), there can be considerable doubt about the outcome of male to male transmission. If the relations with the sluts of Midian had led to offspring, it is clear that they would have been heathen, as would their fathers who leaped at the chance to be mezaneh with the idol-worshippers probably have likely also become.
That children more likely will follow the religion of their mothers is suggested earlier, in Parshas Vayera, with the differences between the destinies of Ishmael the first-born and Yitzchak the son of Sarah.
To hammer home the point, in Sefer Shmos, Parshas Shmos, we read that it was the children of Hebrew women who were considered a danger to Egypt, and again that it was women who sabotaged Pharaoh’s plan – the midwives (meyaldos) who disobeyed the edict, the Hebrew women (Ivriyos) who allegedly delivered before the midwives came to them, the mother of Moshe who kept him for three months, his sister who watched over him along the banks of the river, Pharaoh’s daughter who had compassion for him and provided ‘a nurse of the Hebrew women’.
[This is a very gynocentric section of the Toireh, but it makes abundantly clear that the offspring of Hebrew men were not a cause for any concern, and had it been only up to the men, there would have been no Hebrews, no danger to Mitzrayim, and no Moshe.]
Ironic, then, that Moshe Rabbeinu married outside the tribe. Even more so, that he subsequently gives the command to slaughter his wife’s people – in parshas Mattos, Psookim 31:15 through 31:18, after the men of Midian have been killed, we read "Va yomer aleihem Moshe ‘hachiyitem kol nekava?
" (And Moshe said to them ‘have you kept alive all the women?). "Hen hena hayu l’vnei Yisroel, bi davar Bilam, l’imsarma’al ba Adonai al devar Pe’or, va tehi ha magefa ba adat Adonai!
" (Look then, these caused the sons of Israel, through the words of Bala’am, to rebel against the LORD in the matter of Pe’or, and so brought the plague among the congregation of the Lord); "ve atahirgu chol zachar bataf, ve chol isha yoda’at ish le mishkav zachar ha rogu!
" (Now kill every male among the young, and all women who have known men by lying with them!).
Chazal and obvious conclusions.
That there is a very real difference between male transmission of Judaism and female transmission of Judaism seems, in the case of Mitzvos asei she hazman grama to have entirely escaped the eagle eyes of Chazal. That the Torah presents an extended series of accounts of men failing miserably in transmitting the religion of their fathers, while the narrative takes for granted that women succeed in imprinting their heritage went right past them.
Instead, Chazal explains the distinction as being one of public responsibility versus the home, sacred duties, internal clocks, candles, and the like. While they do graciously concede that even though women are not obligated in certain matters, it is commendable of them to strive towards knowledge and rigid observance, they warn against men teaching women, as the man might fail to impart either lumdus or emunah.
Does this imply that sons are more likely not to ask difficult questions?
Or does it suggest that a woman will likely find more flaws in an argument than a man?
Perhaps one can shper that Chazal wanted their friends to agree with them, and their wives to be stupid. It’s worth wondering about.
These are the same folks, by the way, who blame Chava (Eve) for the fall despite the snake being a salesman like no other, but excuse Adam on the grounds that ‘his woman talked him into it’.
[Perhaps in this they ruefully acknowledge the ease with which some women can henpeck their fathers or husbands, and the limpness with which some men approach important matters.]
Chazal did not know nearly as much as we think they did. The world is round, it rotates around the sun, and it is significantly older than was dreamt of in their philosophy.
Read Darwin, read Alfred Russell Wallace, read Einstein, read Rabbi Nathan (Nosson) Slifkin.
In conclusion, perhaps some of the commandments, and their limitations, need to be rethunk. Which would be a worthwhile thing to do - surely such matters should be re-examined and understood in each new generation? If, b'yad achar, they are not questioned but passively accepted, knowledge and understanding are not furthered, and the Hebrew men might as well still be lying with the Midianite wenches and worshipping idols.
By the way, fossils make Rabbis mad.