Nashim: Daatan Kalah

Anyone up for some more Gemara? (Last Talmudic lesson here.)

Have you ever had “daatan nashim kalos” quoted at you? It’s an incredibly irritating line typically used out of context.

I recall one teacher telling us that it means women’s minds flit from subject to subject too easily, and that’s why we aren’t suitable for studying Talmud and such weighty subjects. Part of me hopes she just made that up, because if she was quoting a rabbi, then he was being intellectually dishonest.

Part of me knows she was not, because of articles like this one.

Below is the snip of one Gemara in which it appears, on Shabbos 33b.

The story is the famous one of R’ Shimon Bar Yochai. He spoke badly about the Romans and had to hide out from them in the beis midrash. His wife brought him food every day, but he was still worried. “Nashim, daatan kalah” he said to his son. “Maybe they’ll torture her and she won’t be able to resist and will give away our location.” So they went and lived in a cave instead.

Isn’t context a wonderful thing?

In context, it is clear that R’ Shimon is not referring to a woman’s mental capacity or thinking pattern. He is simply doubting female resilience under torture.  And by that, he doesn’t mean that her mind will flit from subject to subject, and she’ll forget she’s talking to the Romans, and blab out where her husband is. He is probably imagining his wife being forced to choose between grotesque rape and confession.

Here is a translation on the shminternet, since a few people didn’t like my own translation last time I posted a chunk of Talmud.
Shabbos 33b


Moving right along, the phrase also appears in Kiddushin 80b. Here, the Mishna is discussing whether a man can be alone together with two women. It concludes not. The Gemara explains this is because “nashim, daatan kalah aleihen” and then immediately changes the subject with no explanation.

Text and translation: Kiddushin 80b

Translation: Mishna: A man may not be alone with two women, but one woman may be alone with two men. R. Simeon said: even one man may be alone with two women, if his wife is with him, and he may sleep with them in an inn, because his wife watches him. A man may be alone with his mother and his daughter, and he may sleep with them in immediate bodily contact; but when they grow up, she must sleep in her garment, and he in his.

Gemara: What is the reason?—Tanna debe Eliyahu [states]: Nashim, daatan kala aleihen.

Again, the context includes bullying and/or raping.

Or, to quote an academic, the phrase refers to “lacking a strong enough will to resist that which one is being pressed into doing.” (Judith Haptman, Reading the Rabbis)

So, please don’t let anyone tell you it’s about how your brain works. .



Nashim: Daatan Kalah

12 thoughts on “Nashim: Daatan Kalah

  1. momsterid says:

    Riv, the general is not saying that rape is the women’s fault at all.
    I don’t understand how you infered that from the paragraphs.
    Being coerced into doing something absolutely does not make it someone’s fault.

    Also, b4s, I’m sure you’ve heard the pshat of a difference between daas and binah. Its not a difference of capacity; rather, of hardwiring. And it’s not halacha limaaseh, its a generality. Just as males can have more pronounced female attributes, females can posses greater male attributes. So though some females posses great daas, most excel using binah.


    1. Bad4Shidduchim says:

      That still doesn’t make sense in context. Unless you’re saying women are hard-wired to be easily coerced. But that still wouldn’t mesh with the standard definition for “daas.”


      1. momsterid says:

        Daas is a more direct knowledge, while binah is intuitive.
        Intuition contains a percentage of emotion. Daas is devoid of emotion.

        Does it make sense now in context?


      2. momsterid says:

        First of all, daas has a few definitions, so I’m not sure which standard definition you’re speaking of. Daas can mean sexual relations on it’s own; i.e. “vayeda Adam…”
        It also means knowledge.
        In Hebrew, if one word can mean two,things, it must mean they’re interconnected.

        Now, looking at the pshat this way, daatan kalos can mean that women are more easily coerced into relations they don’t want to be in.
        Or it can mean that the female psyche doesn’t have as much of the strong willedness of the male psyche.

        Again, this is not to assign blame. This is a generality, and if someone is coerced into doing something, It doent mean they’re at fault. What I get from this is to be aware of my own weaknesses, so that I should not fall prey to my own follies.
        If I know a stumbling block,is,in front of me, I will try to walk around it.


  2. Was there anyone else there besides me that “didn’t like your translation”? (Although, in truth, I did not dislike your translation; I merely disagreed with one aspect of it. And I certainly did not mean to imply that you are unqualified to provide future translations.)


  3. There are many minahgim, and even many halachos, that are based on a snippet of a pasuk taken out of context and interpreted either too literally or too broadly. For instance, not learning on tish b’Av is based on a pasuk that says the laws of Hashem “make the heat rejoice.” In context, it’s part of a list of praises of Hashem. It’s taken our of context and interpreted to mean that the actual laws themselves cause joy, so one can’t study them on a somber day,

    This is especially true, it seems, when it comes to tznius. The quote about a bas melech from Navi talking about an actual princess. Hair covering is based on a questionable interpretation of sotah. And so on.


    1. I think that’s a bit of an oversimplification. What you are referring to are not aberrations in logical interpretation of the text; rather they are examples of a methodology which is designed to interpret the text according to a set of rules which do not necessarily have any inherent value. In other words, the authors of the Oral Law expounded the Written Law very differently from how one would logically and literarily expound a regular text. But they believed that their methodology was correct, having been received from God.

      However, when people today approach a Talmudic text (or any Judaic text for that matter), it is a different story. Everyone agrees that we no longer use the methodology of the Oral Law to derive new ideas. Rather, we use compelling analysis of the existing corpus to figure out the law. In such an endeavor, context is of the utmost importance; hence, it is a fair complaint against someone if he tries to prove something via an out-of-context citation, yet there is no complaint against the Oral Law itself for doing so, since the very system of the Oral Law is designed to use a different form of interpretation.

      Of course, this supposes that the system was indeed set up this way. You can argue that the Oral Law itself is a farce; I assume, however, that the point of this post was that even granting the system accepted by the rabbis, there was an intellectual crime committed. Debating the merits of the system itself – while, perhaps, a worthy endeavor – does not address the thrust of the author’s argument.

      Liked by 1 person

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