Women’s learn­ing is a vi­tal link in the chain of tra­di­tion

The Jewish Chronicle - - JUDAISM - BY RABBI DR ADAM MINTZ

IWALK INTO a shiur, and the 12 stu­dents open their Gemara Git­tin. An in­ter­net con­nec­tion al­lows us to in­clude two more stu­dents, a Lon­doner and a Bos­to­nian, in the learn­ing ex­pe­ri­ence. Asked to read, one stu­dent be­gins with the Gemara and con­tin­ues with a flaw­less read­ing and ex­pla­na­tion of Rashi. The ar­gu­ment be­tween the sages Rab­bah and Rava comes to life in this third-floor class­room in the Bronx as the stu­dents in­ject ques­tions and com­ments into the dis­cus­sion. Be­fore long, we are swim­ming in the sea of the Tal­mud, shift­ing our fo­cus be­tween our page, a mish­nah at the end of Git­tin, and a Gemara in trac­tate Baba Ba­tra. While I still use the tra­di­tional bound vol­umes of the Tal­mud, many of the stu­dents are par­tic­i­pat­ing through the vir­tual pages of Gemara that ap­pear on their com­puter screens.

The shiur that I have de­scribed takes place not in a menonly yeshivah like the one I at­tended al­most four decades ago. Rather, it is a women’s yeshivah in which women study tra­di­tional texts in a style rem­i­nis­cent of the yeshivot of old as they pre­pare for an or­di­na­tion granted by three Ortho­dox rab­bis and rab­binic sages.

The chain of tra­di­tion has been ex­tended for yet an­other gen­er­a­tion, al­beit through a tech­nol­ogy and lan­guage that is much more 2015 than 1981, and one that is more ac­ces­si­ble and un­der­stand­able to a new gen­er­a­tion of Tal­mud schol­ars.

Al­though there is de­bate to­day about the value and ap­pro­pri­ate­ness of Ortho­dox semichah for women, the pro­grammes in Is­rael, Amer­ica and around the globe that teach tra­di­tional texts to women on a level com­pa­ra­ble to the level taught in men’s yeshivot are a vi­tal link in the nar­ra­tive of Tal­mud study that be­gan in the batei midrash of Abaye and Rava, Ravina and Rav Ashi.

God in­structs Abra­ham at the be­gin­ning of his jour­ney to leave his land, his birth­place, the home of his fa­ther “to the land that I will show you”. Ram­ban com­ments that God in­ten­tion­ally did not iden­tify the des­ti­na­tion as Abra­ham had to find the ul­ti­mate rest­ing place on his own. The des­ti­na­tion of women’s learn­ing has not yet been de­ter­mined. Will it be as rab­bis of sy­n­a­gogues, lead­ers of schools and cam­pus Hil­lels, or ex­pert con­sul­tants in ar­eas of Jewish law? Or, per­haps, a com­bi­na­tion of th­ese roles? The des­ti­na­tion re­mains a mystery but the ex­cite­ment of the jour­ney is crys­tal clear.

Re­cently, a pho­to­graph cir­cu­lated on so­cial me­dia show­ing Rabbi Joseph B Soloveitchik, scion of the Lithua­nian rab­binic fam­ily and rosh yeshivah at Yeshiva Univer­sity for over 50 years, teach­ing the first Tal­mud class at Stern Col­lege for Women in 1977.

He is flanked by the pres­i­dent of Yeshiva Univer­sity Dr Nor­man Lamm, Karen Ba­con, dean of Stern Col­lege, and Rab­bis Saul Berman and Mordechai Wil­lig, two of Rabbi Soloveitchik’s stu­dents who have taught for many years at Yeshiva Univer­sity and Stern Col­lege.

In 1977, none of th­ese lead­ing Jewish ed­u­ca­tors could have imag­ined the va­ri­ety of women’s pro­grammes avail­able to­day, and the thought of women lead­ing sy­n­a­gogues or other Jewish ed­u­ca­tional in­sti­tu­tions would not have been taken se­ri­ously.

Just like Avra­ham Av­inu, the chal­lenge of iden­ti­fy­ing the fi­nal des­ti­na­tion creates both chal­lenges and op­por­tuni- ties. The stu­dents, the teach­ers and the en­tire com­mu­nity are richer for hav­ing been given the chance to par­tic­i­pate in this jour­ney.

Women study tra­di­tional texts in the style of the yeshivot of old

Rabbi Dr Mintz is rabbi of Ke­hi­lat Rayim Ahu­vim in New York City and a mem­ber of the Tal­mud fac­ulty at Yeshi­vat Ma­harat. He will de­liver the Shab­bat morn­ing ser­mon tomorrow at Cen­tral Square Minyan, Hamp­stead Gar­den Sub­urb in Lon­don

Tack­ling Tal­mud: Rabbi Adam Mintz

leads a class at Yeshi­vat Ma­harat for women in New

York

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