Women Join Talmud Celebration
As the daf yomi cycle of Talmud learning concludes this week, a Jerusalem study group breaks a barrier
Jacob J. Schacter, a Modern Orthodox rabbi and professor of Jewish history and Jewish thought at the Center for the Jewish Future at Yeshiva University, commended the Matan group’s efforts: “One of the blessings of our generation is the growing number of opportunities granted women for serious Torah study,” he wrote in an email. “Completing daf yomi is an extraordinary achievement for women, as well as for men.” At Yeshiva University there is a graduate program in Advanced Talmudic Studies at Stern College for Women, a two-year program for women to study Talmud; the first woman to receive a doctorate in Talmud from Y.U. completed her degree last summer. Women have been receiving doctorates in Talmud from the liberal seminaries, as well as universities in America and in Israel, since 1982, when Judith Hauptman, currently chair of the Department of Talmud and Rabbinics at the Jewish Theological Seminary, became the first woman to earn the degree.
The Modern Orthodox world is expanding the places where women study and teach Talmud, in single-sex and co-ed classes and forums. At an Aug. 6 Modern Orthodox siyum hashas event in New York, both men and women will speak, including Matan’s Cope-Yossef; Matan is one of the event’s co-sponsors.
There are even some in the ultra-Orthodox world who would agree that women should study Talmud. The late Lubavitcher Rebbe, Menachem Mendel Schneerson, wrote that women should be supported and encouraged to study Talmud, both on the strength of the example of the historical figure of the learned Bruria—the daughter of Rabbi Hanina ben Teradion and wife of Rabbi Meir, cited as an authority in passages of the Talmud itself—and because it is important for women as well as men to understand the basis of Jewish law and the oral Torah. Aaron Herman, the rabbi who serves as principal of the Tzohar Seminary for Chassidus and the Arts in Pittsburgh, and a follower of the late Rebbe, teaches the young women at his school “some Gemara,” the more complicated part of the Talmud, which expands and discusses the ideas found in the Mishna. “I would have felt remiss had I not done so,” he noted. “It would be my desire to teach even more Gemara if time allowed.”
Gail Labovitz, a rabbi who teaches in the Talmud department at the Conservative movement’s American Jewish University in Los Angeles, is also concerned about the role of Jewish women. “The opening of serious, strenuous Torah study to women is, in my opinion, one of the most significant social developments in the Jewish world in the last 50 or so years,” she said. Labovitz decided to study daf yomi for the first time after seeing a colleague give a siyum hashas during the previous cycle of learning; she encourages other women to follow suit. “Women have been shut out of the process by which Jewish texts and learning and practices were shaped for most of Jewish history,” she said. “As they become ever more versed in our textual tradition, however, it will be harder and harder to keep those doors shut.”
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