Abstract

A Woman - Her Weapons upon her

Meir Bar-Ilan

This paper claims to explain the aphorism that forms the title, which occurs in the Babylonian Talmud but has caused considerable difficulties for traditional commentators. After reviewing the difficulties involved in the saying, the author cites a parallel aphorism, once common among Palestinian Arabs. The methodological problems involved in explaining a talmudic aphorism on the basis of an Arabic proverb are considerable, but a systematic effort is made to reduce the gap between the two different worlds.

The basic thesis of the paper is that the distance between the popular Arabic proverb and the Babylonian Talmud is smaller than might be thought at first sight, for several reasons:

  1. The aphorism is ascribed in Babylonian Talmud to a folkloric origin;
  2. Popular wisdom, including aphorisms, easily cross over from one culture to another;
  3. The geographical distance between Babylon and the Land of Israel was reduced by the many links between the two countries, both in Antiquity and after the Arab conquest;
  4. The universal nature of the topic - women - facilitated the transferral;
  5. The talmudic aphorism and its Arabic counterpart represent identical cultural backgrounds;
  6. The Arabs of the Land of Israel preserved various cultural elements that came down to them as 'relics' of ancient Jewish culture;
  7. Some Arab residents of the country are descendants of converted Jews who preserved their ancient tradition;
  8. Aphorisms may emerge independently in similar contexts.

These accumulated arguments reinforce the thesis that the meaning of the talmudic aphorism should indeed be sought from the parallel Palestinian-Arab proverb. In sum, the weapons of a woman are: tears, cries, silence and smile.

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last updated: January 6, 1997