It Takes Two to Tan Du

We came to a phrase in our perek today that recurs throughout the Bavli. The rabbis are discussing the lengths a woman would subject herself to so that she might remain married. They comment that a woman will always be willing to put up with much more than a man because it would be so much more disastrous for her to be single again than it would be for him. In making this point, they cite a phrase that can be found in five different sugyot in the Bavli, always attributed to Resh Lakish:

Tav l’meytav tan du m’lemeytav armalo.
(It is better to sit as two bodies than to sit as a widow.)

In our sugya in Ketubot 75a, subsequent Amoraim then go on to illustrate this point in a sort of reductio ad absurdum:

Abayey: Even if her husband is as small as an ant, a woman will want to be able to put her chair among the chairs of the married women.

Rav Papa: Even if her husband is just a wool gatherer, she will want to sit with him at the gate of their house.

Rav Ashi: Even if her husband is a cabbagehead, she won’t be lacking for lentils in her pot so long as she is married.

And then the sugya ends rather flippantly with a surprising brayta, the gist of which is, “Well, what the heck, all those women just want to be married so that they can sleep around but claim a father for their bastard children.”

And so once again I have to wonder — what did the rabbis really think about women?! Did they think that women were really so dependant on having husbands for their identity and self-worth? WERE women indeed so dependant on their husbands for their identity and self-worth? Were they really as promicuous as the rabbis seem to think, and if so, were there any efforts to reign them in?

I’m proud to say that I don’t have a husband, cabbagehead or otherwise, yet I still have plenty of lentils in my pot. And I think that my bastard children are perfectly happy to run around fatherless, thank you very much.

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