Volume 38 Number 92
                 Produced: Sun Mar 30  6:34:29 US/Eastern 2003

Subjects Discussed In This Issue: 

"feminists"--Gemara for women (2)
         [Douglas Moran, Ari Trachtenberg]
Innovation in Practice (was: women's gemarah learning)
         [Binyomin Segal]
Lubavitcher Rebbe and women learning gemara (2)
         [Leah Aharoni, Avi Feldblum]
         [Michael Rogovin]
Women and learning
         [Evan Rock]


From: Douglas Moran <dougom@...>
Date: Tue, 25 Mar 2003 08:11:45 -0600
Subject: Re: "feminists"--Gemara for women

With all due respect to Daniel, whom I suspect has a higher level of
Jewish learning than me, I feel that there are a few logical points on
this topic that bear discussion:

At 10:18 AM 3/25/2003 +0000, Daniel Wells <wells@...> wrote:
> > Surely any woman who would strive to learn Gemara, in the face of
> > tremendous intellectual and political challenges, is a bat-Torah of the
> > highest degree.
>By that reasoning any goy who would strive to learn Gemara, in the face
>of tremendous intellectual and political challenges, is a ben-Torah of
>the highest degree....

A goy is not Jewish; a Jewish woman striving to learn Gemara is still
Jewish.  This is not a good analogy.  Whether you have a valid point
that women shouldn't strive to learn Gemara (as you seem to imply), you
should probably come up with a better refutation.

>There are certain things in Judaism that are forbidden to women such as
>writing sifrei torah and other actions that are not recommended. Thus
>the SA states that a man should not teach his daughter Gemara, but if a
>girl wants to learn it by herself its not forbidden.

Logically, with this kind of approach, how many women are going to risk
opprobrium by studying Gemara on their own?  And I don't know how many
children Daniel has, but my personal experience is, if I don't support
my children in their learning endeavors, those endeavors either don't go
well, or are given up "when the going gets tough."  How much more so for
Gemara, which is not exactly easy stuff, don't you think?  In this kind
of situation, it is all too easy for women to fail, and then others can
point at these failures and say, "See, they're just not built for it!"

If we are going to "let" women study Gemara, we should either support
them, or disavow the practice, in my opinion.  What Daniel seems to be
implying here is the Talmudic equivalent of "Don't ask, don't tell,"
which strikes me as a bad way to do it.  If women were systematically
taught how to swim, with special swim instructors, with entire schools
devoted to types of swimming, with support from their mothers (who had
been taught swimming for generations), but men *weren't* taught, but
rather were told, "Go ahead, jump on it, but you could drown, and if you
come up choking and gasping and barely make it to shore, don't blame
us," how many male swimmers would you see?

>Some of the more famous seforim such as the "Kol Bo" in the twelth
>century are claimed to be written by women. But women of such calibre
>can be counted perhaps on one hand.

Careful; I doubt sincerely that the women of such "calibre" can be
counted on one hand.  The women of such calibre who learned on their
own, without support from family, risking the negative reaction of
society, against (let's face it) probably strong negative pressures, can
be counted on one hand.  The number of women of "such calibre" was
probably the same as the number of men of such calibre.  I have to
believe that, in the 12th century, it was a matter of opportunity more
than "calibre."  We're not talking raw ability, here; we're talking
opportunity.  Conflating the two is not reasonable.

>Is the girl learning gemorah doing so because she wants to show that she
>can be as accomplished as her male counterpart? Can a person who negates
>the opinions of Gedolei Torah, even if mideoraitha it is allowed, be
>considered a Bat Torah? Perhaps 'Professor of Talmud' would be a more
>Gender discrimination in Judaism is not based on feminine
>sub-intelligence, but on a division of responsibility which has
>maintained Judaism extremely well over the last two thousand years.

A common argument which, in my opinion, has a lot of validity.  However,
it does not address cases such as my family, where it was far better for
my family for my wife to work and *me* to stay home for a couple of
years.  [When I asked a number of people about this, *no one* was
willing to address it, merely saying, "It's not a good idea, and you
should cease as soon as possible," which is not an answer at all.]  I
think that it is not unreasonable to suppose that where the dividing
line is located--where the responsibility should be divided--is a
question that should be examined from time to time, based on changing
social realities.  Please note that I do *not* think that it should be
changed just because of a temporary shift in the wind.  However, this is
an issue that has been long with us (an example cited by Daniel is from
the 12th century, so it's not like we're only talking about the 1960s
here), and it doesn't seem unreasonable to address it.


From: Ari Trachtenberg <trachten@...>
Date: Tue, 25 Mar 2003 10:39:18 -0500
Subject: Re: "feminists"--Gemara for women

> From: Daniel Wells <wells@...>
> Is the girl learning gemorah doing so because she wants to show that she
> can be as accomplished as her male counterpart?

It's interesting ... I used to have the same types of concerns, but this
response highlights their unreasonableness.  Many men learn gemorah
because they want to be as accomplished as their male counterparts ... and,
in fact, one is permitted to be envious of another's Torah learning.

Ari Trachtenberg,                                      Boston University
http://people.bu.edu/trachten                    mailto:<trachten@...>


From: Binyomin Segal <bsegal@...>
Date: Tue, 25 Mar 2003 12:07:17 -0600
Subject: Innovation in Practice (was: women's gemarah learning)

While I do not want to jump to the conclusion that all (or even most)
women that learn (or want to learn) gemara are motivated by western
ideals of equality as opposed to a true desire to become close to God
through His Torah, I think it might be worth considering that some are.
And in fact, I think it reasonable to suspect that the ones who have and
continue to clamor most loudly for change in the community are often
motivated by less than perfect motives.

Some will undoubtedly argue that I am wrong. That those that clamor have
only the best interest of the community at heart. But I do not think
so. Later in this post, I will suggest two things that properly
motivated people should, indeed would, do.

Others will argue that while I may be right, it should not matter. If
the time has come for women to learn gemara, then the time has come.

However, I believe that indeed the motivation of the innovators is a
crucial issue in the halachik process.

Historically, i think that the orthodox rabbinate (in general) has
required 2 factors to be true before any innovation would be accepted:
1.the innovation had to be defendable on its own merits 2.the person
suggesting the innovation had to be motivated "for the sake of God"

and in fact, #2 has often been the crucial factor

the chasam sofer is perhaps the most explicit example - his famous line
"chadash assur min hatorah" (lit. "new is forbidden by torah law") - is
simply a statement of this rule. he certainly knew that chadash was not
assur (except in the limited sense of new grain before passover) but
chose to use it in regard to any innovation in jewish worship - as a
direct response to reform's innovations to jewish worship.

there have been exceptions, though i think they are evidence of the
general rule. so for example, though rav kook defended zionism that had
some secular roots, even he understood that it was a valid challenge
that required a response.

as a method of discourse. nor am i saying it is even appropriate to
judge individual peoples motivations. however, i do observe that this
does seem to be part of the historical halachik process, and one that
some rabbis seem to have been very conscious of.

For the sake of discussion, assume for a moment that I am correct. Now
then, what does a properly motivated woman do. That depends on what the
motive is.

If the woman is interested in her private devotion, there is no real
issue. No one has ever (seriously) questioned a woman's right to learn.
If a woman truly believes that learning gemara will bring her closer to
God, let her do so. But let her do so privately.

On the other hand, what of the woman who is concerned not just with her
private devotion, but with the development of Jewish women. She seeks to
change the public space because she honestly believes that the change
will be for the betterment of the Jewish people. Sarah Shneir is an
excellent model in this regard. She believed that the time had come to
open schools for girls. She did not simply open one. Rather, she spent
many years trying to convince the chofetz chaim that bais yaakov was
needed. Until he was convinced, Sarah Shneir did not open a school.

In the long run, her waiting for approval sped up the process. She was
able to effect an almost universal change in Jewish behavior in the
course of a single generation. Quite an accomplishment.

For me, the interesting question is not if this is true, but WHY this is
true. Why must innovation in Torah (that can be defended on its merits)
only be accepted if the innovator is properly motivated?

I await comment.



From: Leah Aharoni <leah25@...>
Date: Tue, 25 Mar 2003 23:19:38 +0200
Subject: Lubavitcher Rebbe and women learning gemara

Could someone please, provide the source for the rebbe's support of women
learning gemara?

Thank you,
Leah Aharoni

From: Avi Feldblum <mljewish@...>
Date: Sun, 30 Mar 2003 06:19:47 -0500 (EST)
Subject: Re: Lubavitcher Rebbe and women learning gemara

The best source is a transcript of a discussion between the Lubavitcher
Rebbe and I think the Gerrer Rebbe. As many people within Chabad are
aware, the "private" discussions of the Rebbe with many of his visitors
were recorded by the Rebbe's secretary. The sefer Betzel HaChochma
contains a excerpts from a number of these, including about 5 such
excerpts from discussions between the Rebbe and my grandfather. Back to
the topic, however, this was a full transcript of the meeting between the
two Rebbes. It was not published, but a copy was available. 

About 10-15 pages into the transcript, the discussion turns to the topic
of education. The two first discuss how to teach chassidus to the boys
in their respective educational systems. The Lubavitcher Rebbe then asks
about the course of study for the girls. The Gerrer Rebbe talks about
what they cover in their girls schools. The Lubavitcher Rebbe then asks
about teaching them Torah S'bal Peh [i.e. Gemara]. The Gerrer Rebbe
responds how can you even ask that, does not the Gemara say that doing
so is Tiflus. The Lubavitcher Rebbe responded that today it is required
as an aspect of the mitzvah of Yiras Hashem - Fear of Hashem, and as
such is not only allowed but absolutely required. The transcript then
goes on to discuss other matters.

This was told in a public lecture in the Teaneck area about 10 years
ago, I cannot remember now who was the Rav giving the lecture, but it
was someone I know and respect. He did say that shortly after he
recieved this transcript and had told someone else about it and they
tried to get a copy, the transcript was no longer 'available'. The
information in the transcript is important not only in terms of the
support of the Rebbe for more advanced Jewish education for girls than
was common in the Chassidic circles of the time, but also for the
Halachik rational behind it.  Especially interesting to me is to compare
the derivation of a current requirement from the mitzvah of Yiras Hashem
and compare that to writings of Rav Soloveichek who derives the
requirement for the same thing from the mitzvah of Ahavas Hashem - Love
of Hashem.

Avi Feldblum


From: Michael Rogovin <rogovin@...>
Date: Tue, 25 Mar 2003 12:23:37 -0500
Subject: Re: Poskim

Michael Kahn's pity is misplaced.

> I pity the poskim. When they protest they are called
> divisive while when  they are silent people take it as an
> indication of acceptance.

My point was that where there are issues of importance in either
observance or violation of norms that are serious enough to be beyond
the pale in the opinion of posikm, they are not shy about expressing
their opinion. For example, one member of the Vaad HaRabonim of Queens
told me in a private conversation that the reason the Vaad spoke out on
women's tefillah groups (I cannot think of a similar public Vaad
pronouncement in recent years on any other issue) is that they
considered it to be beyond the pale of orthodoxy, akin to electric
microphones in shul on shabbat. Despite the reaction, which they knew
would come, they felt that they had to draw the line. (We need not get
into the merits of this particular decision). Similarly, Rabbi
Soloveitchik drew the line on mechitza; he felt that that was essential
to a beit knesset and, despite the reaction of many in the Jewish
community, he spoke out.

The question my statement was addressing was: is it beyond the pale. I
never said that by silence poskim accepted or approved; merely that it
does not cross a line that requires them to speak out and condemn what
is now standard practice at day schools across the country. Those who
disapprove say so and forcefully. But are Rabbis Soloveitchik,
Schneerson, Lichtenstein and the other Rabbis mentioned in other posts
outside the pale of orthodoxy because they disagree?

Michael Rogovin


From: Evan Rock <theevanrock@...>
Date: Tue, 25 Mar 2003 12:42:28 -0800 (PST)
Subject: Women and learning

It seems that women learning Talmud has taken roots and there are now a
generation of female scholars.  How many Orthodox schools in the United
States have programs teaching women Gemara?  Are there such schools in
your towns?  More women are lecturing at Orthodox synagogues as
"scholars in residence" and there are suddle changes taking places
within Orthodox synagogues with the mekhitzas being moved to the middle
of the sanctuary and the ezrat nashim being moved from the upstairs or
the back of shuls.

How common is this shift in your shuls and your communiites?


End of Volume 38 Issue 92