We are taught in today’s daf (Yevamot 100a) how Rava changed his Beit Din prioritisation policy in response to hearing a Beraita discussing the laws of Ma’aser Ani. Specifically, Rava explains that until this point, ‘when both a man and woman would come before me for litigation [each being a plaintiff in their own respective lawsuits], I would resolve the dispute of the man first [and then resolve that dispute of the woman]’. And why was this Rava’s policy? Seemingly basing himself on a broad reading of Mishna Horayot 3:7 (as reflected by the Bertinoro’s commentary on the Mishna), it is because – in the words of Rava: ‘I would say to myself that [a man] is obligated in [more] mitzvot [than a woman]’.
So what happened to lead Rava to change his prioritization policy? Of course, Rava already knew that this same Mishna in Horiyot gives priority of women over men in terms of matters relating to human dignity and when redeeming those being held captive, and he also likely knew the teaching recorded in Ketubot 67a that in matters of charity women should be prioritized (eg. a female orphan is prioritized over that of a male orphan). But what he learnt from the Beraita discussing how women should take precedence when receiving Ma’aser Ani is that such prioritization is not just something that should be done in rare and extraordinary cases, and not just for people who are desperate for money. Instead, this should be the policy of all community institutions addressing all aspects of Jewish life – including Battei Din.
The question is whether, nowadays, Rava’s revised policy – as codified by the Rambam (Sanhedrin 21:6) and the Shulchan Aruch (Choshen Mishpat 15:2) – is followed? And the data, which Chochmat Nashim has recently started to collect on their https://www.ratemybeitdin.com/ website, is certainly very mixed.
Of course, some may say that all forms of prioritisation policies are unnecessary and that Battei Din should operate on a first come first serve basis. To address this question it is important to remind ourselves that hospitals have a triage department, and in the same spirit, Battei Din acknowledge that some people’s needs are greater (which is why both the Rambam and Shulchan Aruch referenced above rule that the needs of an orphan comes ahead of a widow, and the needs of a widow ahead of others).
Yet what is an essential lesson that we can draw both from the Beraita cited by Rava, and from Rava’s own statement, is that our community institutions should never have policies that are a זילותא (i.e. that show a lesser regard) for women. And given the fact that such policies do exist within various communal organisations and publications, organisations like Chochmat Nashim exist and do what they can to remind us that how things are isn’t a reflection of how things should be, and to be agents of change to fix what is broken.