Volume 39 Number 05
                 Produced: Sun Apr 27  5:50:57 US/Eastern 2003

Subjects Discussed In This Issue: 

Beit Hilel and Beit Shammai
         [Zev Sero]
Questioning the motivation of women who want to learn (2)
         [Janet Rosenbaum, David I. Cohen]
Women Learning Gemara
         [Janet Rosenbaum]
Women learning Gemarah
         [David Charlap]
Women learning Torah
         [Joel Rich]


From: Zev Sero <Zev.Sero@...>
Date: Mon, 7 Apr 2003 11:10:33 -0600 
Subject: RE: Beit Hilel and Beit Shammai

I wrote, inter alia:

> First, parents from BH, knowing that their child was a mamzer according
> to BS, would not take offense, let alone deliberately try to trick a BS
> follower into marrying their child, but rather would respect BS's wish 
> to follow halacha as they understood it, and would not suggest such a 
> shidduch, no matter how much they loved their child, and how great the 
> child's middot, etc, and how good they thought the shidduch would be for
> their child.  But, as great a demonstration of true ahavat yisrael as
> this respect was, the second consequence was even greater: BS trusted BH
> to respect their position, and not to propose a shidduch that they knew
> BS would regard as forbidden, even though BS knew that BH truly believed
> that there was absolutely nothing wrong with it, and that it was in all
> other respects a good shidduch.  

It should be obvious that in this paragraph I somehow managed to swap BH
and BS.  As I wrote in the previous and subsequent paragraphs, it was BS
that permitted marriages that in BH's view (and ultimately in halacha)
produce mamzerim, while the marriages that BH permitted, which in BS's
view were forbidden, could at worst produce chalalim, and that only


From: Janet Rosenbaum <jerosenb@...>
Date: Mon, 7 Apr 2003 11:06:41 -0400 (EDT)
Subject: Re: Questioning the motivation of women who want to learn

Binyomin Segal <bsegal@...> writes:
> In fact, my point was that we ALWAYS question a person's motives when
> they seek to act more piously than the accepted custom. 

This criterion isn't well-defined in several respects, and I think that
may contribute to people seeming to talk past eachother.

In many cases, "more piously" is well-defined since many cases are
discrete --- e.g., either you lay Rabbeinu Tam's tefillin or not.

Learning is non-discrete.  Women do learn, and all communities agree
that learning is good for women --- in all communities, opportunities
for women's learning have multiplied considerably.

Inevitably, a woman who learns acceptable works in-depth ends up
learning non-traditional material.

In any community, any woman who learns Chumash daily would be lauded.
If she added Rashi, her study would be enhanced.  She might have a
question on Rashi, and might want to consult the Gur Aryeh, Ramban, ibn
Ezra, any of the mishrash collections or gmaras that Rashi cites.

It's also very well-accepted for women to learn halacha compendia which
contain footnotes referencing halachic works.  Even without looking at
the sources inside, one can glean sufficient information from the
secondary sources to get a sufficiently good sense of the essential
issues raised in the primary sources.

In effect, you are proposing a standard which lauds women who take the
first few steps --- learning Tanach, Shmirat Shabbat K'Hilchata, Chofetz
Chaim --- but discourages them from being too interested in their studies.

The social pressure created by the standard doesn't distinguish between
motivations, and in the end you only create a ceiling on intellectual

> I can hear some say - yes, but should the person not be free to choose
> which way to serve G-d? Think about that, do we really believe that we
> have the right to choose how we serve G-d? What are mitzvot after all if
> not G-d telling us how we MUST serve Him.

Your analysis may apply to a single mitzvah, but learning is not a
single mitzvah:  it is a prerequisite to all mitzvot, and everyone
agrees that women are required to learn the mitzvot that they observe.

To be clear, I don't think anyone is explicitly sexist.
A lot of changes have occurred in the past century which everyone is
trying to understand, and there are many difficult questions which do
not have clear answers --- for instance, what explains the rise of divorce
in the frum community?

Nonetheless, we should remember that less than a century ago, the
enfranchisement of women was very controversial within the frum world,
with some gedolim extremely opposed, seeing the vote as potentially
destroying the traditional role of women.  Now, women in all frum
communities vote and no one thinks twice.

Pesach sameach v'kasher.


From: <bdcohen@...> (David I. Cohen)
Subject: Questioning the motivation of women who want to learn

Binyamin Segal wrote:

<<There are ways beside gemara to gain spiritual insight - nonacademic
ways like (you'll pardon the expression) baking cookies for a sick
person in the community. Are you SO sure that gemara learning is better
for that individual and for the community as a whole?>>

I think that Binyamin has hit the problem straight on: the question is
really a sociological one within the community. It is a question of what
does the community hold up as its highest value. The leaders of the
religious community are not those that spend their lives doing acts of
chesed (although they are highly reagrded), but the Talmud Chacham.  It
is scholarship in Torah that is the highest ideal that can one can
aspire to. If that is your ideal, is it any wonder that women have a
desire to at least be included in the course of life that is part of our
highest aspiration, rather than have their expectations lowered to a
noble, but less desirable goal?

David I. Cohen


From: <DTnLA@...>
Date: Sun, 6 Apr 2003 20:25:53 EDT
Subject: Re: Women

I just saw in a sefer that Maharshal writes in a Responsa (Siman 29)
that "His grandmother the Rabanit Miriam ran a Yeshiva for a few years
and with a veil/mechitza in front of her she would deliver Halacha
shiurim to Bochrim"

Also at the end of Masechta Nidah in the Frankfurt edition the printer
gives credit to a single girl "gelah bas moshe" who did some of the
typesetting on the shas.


From: Janet Rosenbaum <jerosenb@...>
Date: Mon, 7 Apr 2003 13:12:51 -0400 (EDT)
Subject: Re: Women Learning Gemara

Michael Kahn <mi_kahn@...> writes:
> >... try replacing "girl" by "black" and "male" by "white", and you find
> >a sentence which could appear in any >Jim Crow-era Southern newspaper.
> According to your logic, how do you differentiate between women sitting 
> behind the mechitza and blacks sitting in the back of the bus?

The context was in reference to a poster's question:
	Is the girl learning gemara doing so because she wants to show 
	that she can be as accomplished as her male counterpart? 

In contemporary discussions of women's issues, there is a frequently
stated belief that there exist some women whose primary motivation is to
"prove themselves" externally.  This belief has taken on a life of its
own, independent of evidence of even one woman who acts for these
reasons, much less a substantial number of them.

It's not possible to confront such a widespread belief straight-on ---
e.g., by pointing out that learning shelo lishma is forbidden to both
sexes or asking for evidence of such women --- because people see it as
axiomatic, so I turned to an analogous statement.  Such analogies can be
overused, but sometimes it is important to step back from one's current

You correctly ask whether my analogy is germane to frumkeit.  I'll
elucidate, and you can judge for yourself.

Group A has widespread access to higher levels of knowledge ---
reasonably well-funded schools of many types distributed around the
world.  Those who seek higher learning are accorded universal respect
for doing so.

Group B has more limited access: fewer schools with less money.  Those
who learn are not accorded universal respect.  To the contrary, some
refuse to recognize their knowledge.  Some recognize the knowledge
privately, but fear the subversive effects on their own community.  They
praise those well-known for their obvious integrity, but hint at the
existence of unidentified subversive individuals who aim to overturn
society.  This attitude spreads socially, so that a member of group B
who seeking higher education encounters skepticism about their integrity
and abilities.

Further, members of group B face the following Catch-22:
  If a member of group B doesn't learn, they perpetuate stereotypes.
  If a member of group B does learn and doesn't persist, they perpetuate 
   the notion that it isn't worth giving them the opportunity.
  If a member of group B does learn despite limited resources and lack
   of respect, but also expresses frustration at these barriers, some say 
   that the learning may only be a protest vehicle.
  If a member of group B does learn despite limited resources, and does not 
   express frustration at the barriers, they perpetuate the limitations
   and do not make it easier for the next generation.

Pesach sameach v'kasher,



From: David Charlap <shamino@...>
Date: Sun, 06 Apr 2003 11:53:33 -0400
Subject: Re: Women learning Gemarah

Carl Singer wrote:
> David Charlap wrote:
>> In this day and age, when boys and girls do all kinds of things
>> together that the orthodox community objects to (including going
>> on unsupervised dates, kissing, sexual relationships, eating
>> non-kosher food, drugs, smoking, etc.) it seems a bit silly to get
>> bent out of shape over them learning gemara together.
> Although this is clever sounding -- I think this is not quite closed
> logic.  The "boys and girls (who) do all kinds of things together ...."
> are not reflective of those young men and women in many communities, and
> any implication that girls (or young women) who learn Gemorah reflect
> these other behavior traits is unfortunate.  Finally, using prohibited
> behavior as a logical reason for accepting permitted behavior demeans
> the latter.

This perversion of priorities is exactly my point.

We have some very serious problems, even in the orthodox communities.
They are real, and I'm sure everybody has personal knowledge of at least
one example.  But we refuse to discuss the problem.  We tell ourselves
that these are isolated incidents, that they are nothing more than
embarrasments, and that we should ignore them.

But when it comes to "problems" that are not really problems, but are
legitimate disagreements by gedolim - like boys and girls learning
gemara in the same classroom with a rabbi supervising - we fly off the
handle.  We get angry about it and start drawing lines in the sand,
telling ourselves that the Jews on the other side of the line are the
enemy.  This happens with many other halachic issues - like kashrut
standards, what kinds of clothes to wear and even over what kind of
fabric a yarmulka is made of.

It would be comical if it was a work of fiction.

-- David


From: <Joelirich@...> (Joel Rich)
Date: Sun, 6 Apr 2003 10:26:11 EDT
Subject: Re: Women learning Torah

Is it possible that the halacha regarding men and women learning torah was 
codified so as to recognize the most benefit for the majority of that 
subgroup (AIUI the  original reason given for women not being encouraged to 
learn "nonpractical" portions of the oral law (vs. being encouraged to 
volunteer for shaking the lulav etc.)is that by nature they don't lean 
towards the "milchamta shel Torah"(strong confrontational give and take))
If so, we would then understand why individual women might be allowed to do 
so (not dealing with how they would get there if they never were exposed to 
oral law in their youth)
We would then have to consider whether this is a fundamental part of human 
nature not subject to change or a condition to be supported as preferred or a 
sociological observation which could change over time.
Assuming no change, we also need to deal with those in both subgroups who 
don't meet "the norm" (i.e. is every man who can't learn oral law effectively 
a failure, is every woman who desires to do so losing a hope of a good 
Obviously there's much to think about here in a halachik way outside of the 
usual "politics."

Joel Rich


End of Volume 39 Issue 5