Epistemological Considerations of Rabbi Zera’s Reportage [Niddah 66a]

February 21, 2019 0 By Rabbi Drew

In my recent consideration of etiological possibilities for Jewesses enstringing upon themselves (Niddah 66a), I now turn to discuss some epistemological considerations of Rabbi Zera‘s statement.*

In other words: How did this information reach Rabbi Zera?

First, let’s state a working assumption on this question: these “daughters of Israel” actually did enstringe upon themselves in these matters. (As opposed to the [cynical] possibility that they did not enstringe upon themselves, but, rather, that the rabbis (perhaps even Rabbi Zera, himself) came up with this idea and attributed it to these “daughters of Israel”.)

Here are some questions that must be considered upon the question of how he came about knowledge of it:

  • How did he come into contact with this knowledge?
  • From whom did he hear it? Was it a Jewess, or was it a rabbinic colleague?
  • What type of access to women’s discourse in women’s spaces did he have?
  • Did Rabbi Zera report this new practice through having a close woman relative of his relating it to him? Or was it a Jewess who consulted with him on a matter of menstrual impurity and told him about it.

Why did he report it? Had other rabbinic colleagues heard about it, but did not want to report it formally into rabbinic discourse?

Why did Rabbi Zera couch his reportage in halakhic terms? Had his informant(s) spoken about this enstringing in such a fashion, or did he cobble together halakhic language to report it? (Each of the elements of Rabbi Zera’s reportage are a patchwork of elements of halakhic statements, which I aspire to deal with in a future posting.)

While we don’t have a good way of ascertaining the answers to these many questions, they are still, nevertheless, important to consider in seeking to understand this text.

* I originally came up with these in 2006 (I should have shared these publicly years ago, but better late than never).