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The next frontier in women’s Torah studies – Kitvuni
Rabbanit Malke Bina and Dr. Yael Ziegler discuss Matan’s latest initiative
‘Ididn’t start with many dreams and visions,” says Rabbanit Malke Bina, president of Matan – The Sadie Rennert Women’s Institute for Torah Studies. “I started with reality.”
Thirty-five years ago, for Bina, reality meant studying Torah – specifically, the Talmud.
“I had a good command of Bible, Jewish law and philosophy, but I felt that I knew nothing about the Oral Law. I had never opened a page of Talmud.”
Bina enjoyed her Talmud studies, and in October 1988, together with a group of five women sitting around a dining room table, began a regular series of Talmud classes. Matan was born. Over the years, it added new programs, ranging from courses in Tanach (Bible) to the Hilkhata program, a five-year, advanced program for halachic studies
Today, Matan has become one of the world’s leading institutions for women’s Torah study, with cutting-edge programs and pioneering institutes in Talmud, Halacha and Tanach. Over 10,000 students attend classes weekly in Matan’s 11 branches throughout the country and worldwide.
Matan’s newest creation is a fellowship for women to write books of Torah scholarship. Titled Kitvuni, the program provides a one-year stipend, workshops and mentoring for authors, who spend at least three days a week writing, one of which is at the Matan Jerusalem Beit Midrash.
Dr. Yael Ziegler, Rosh batei midrash and academic director of Matan, explains that the institute’s new generation of leadership was looking for the next area in which Matan could achieve a breakthrough. “We were thinking of how Matan, with its wonderful resources and 35 years of encouraging Torah leadership among women, could address the next frontier in women’s Torah learning.”
Ziegler continues, “We identified that the contents of Jewish bookshelves don’t reflect the level and the quantity of women’s learning today. We also felt there were many women who had attained high levels in their
fields of Torah learning who had a book inside of them. That book can come out with the right support and the proper environment.”
In 2021, Matan advertised the new program and received a great amount of interest from women scholars. More than 60 applications were submitted, and after a rigorous selection process, six writers were selected. Over the coming year, the scholars will be researching, writing, and fine-tuning their work. In all, six books are planned for release in 2024. Two are on the Bible; one on Jewish law; one on Talmud; one on
Kabbalah; and one interdisciplinary work, examining the Jewish holidays from the perspective of the Mishna and Tanach,.
The authors, says Ziegler, are remarkably well trained in their fields and are very knowledgeable. Bina adds that while the books are being written at a high level, they are intended for the general public. Koren Publishers, one of the leading publishers of Jewish texts, is partnering with Matan in publishing these works.
Ziegler, who herself has authored well-regarded books on Ruth and Lamentations and is directing the program, says that Kitvuni will benefit everyone who appreciates high-quality Torah literature. “We think that filling the bookshelves with high-level books by women about Torah is a tremendous contribution to the entire Jewish community – not just for the women but for Torah learning in general. We want our grandsons and granddaughters to learn these books. Kitvuni can make a significant contribution to the Jewish bookshelf.”
‘We felt there were many women who had attained high levels in Torah learning – and had a book inside of them’
As Matan begins its 35th year of providing innovative and challenging learning opportunities for women of all ages, Bina says that she never imagined that so many Jewish women would be studying in midrashot after high school, authoring high-level books in Talmud, Tanach and Kabbalah, and writing responsa in Jewish law.
“Those dreams came later,” she says, “when we saw the value that the learning could give to the Jewish community, to women individually and to women as a group.”
Bina derives great pleasure from the fact that the students who grew up with the institution in its early years, such as Ziegler and her daughter Chaya Bina-Katz, Matan CEO, are now at the helm, providing new ideas and new directions. “It is a beautiful thing to see students who started with us 35 years ago still learning and connected to Torah.”
Matan will be celebrating its 35th anniversary with a gala concert on October 8 at the Jerusalem Theater, featuring singer Ishay Ribo.