"Tractate Qinnim: Between Margins and Center" - Abstract by Rabbi Dr. Dalia Marx

Thursday, October 28, 2010

by Rabbi Dr. Dalia Marx,  Assistant Professor of Liturgy and Midrash at HUC-JIR

The notion of "marginality" usually brings to mind thoughts of exclusion and disavowal.  Marginality may, however, embody unexpected opportunities. Tractate Qinnim, the last and smallest tractate of Qodashim order in the Mishnah is such a case.

Tractate Qinnim of the Mishnah deals with the fowl sacrifice, or, to put it more precisely, it deals with special complications that can occur in connection with that sacrifice.  The tractate is marginal in more than one way.

The tractate's laws are almost always set out in terms of women bringing offerings, for example: "Two women, this one has two pairs of birds and the other one has two pairs of birds…" (2:2). One might say that the "Reuven" (the ubiquitous character of Talmudic case law) of this tractate is a "Dinah”.  Many have claimed this is so because the standard bringer of sacrifices in the tractate is a woman, since most of the fowl-offerings were made by women (after birth or because they suffered discharges).  However, I will try to demonstrate that there may be something inherently feminine about this sacrifice itself.

The Mishnah reflects a depiction of the Temple times in which, even if women had a marginal role in the activities of the Temple, and even if their participation in the Temple rites invited mixed reactions, they did have a valid connection with it; they visited the Temple and actively participated in its rites. This is, in fact, the most feminine tractate in the entire Mishnah.  Other tractates (Niddah, for example) deal with topics which are inherently feminine, while here the Sages decided to lay out the rules of the fowl offering (which is obligatory upon both men and women –in different circumstance) almost entirely in terms of examples involving women!

While marginal and theoretical, Qinnim opens a door for the empowerment of women, brings them into the public space and makes their voices heard.


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