letters to the editor

Dear Editor,

I applaud Yochanan Gordon’s eloquent defense of the choice by an expanding group of women to learn daf yomi (Inside Out, “The Third Revolution,” January 10).

While the number of women who undertook this arduous program over the past cycle is uncertain (I have heard that it is anywhere from many hundreds up to several thousand worldwide), every man and woman studying the daf merits high praise. One shiur alone, given by Michelle Farber, draws over 250 women in person and online! I listened to part of the shiur, and Ms. Farber acquits herself very competently.

Yochanan Gordon points to the Lubavitcher Rebbe, zt’l, and HaRav Yosef Dov Soloveitchik, zt’l, as two gedolim who endorsed Talmud study by women. It is critical to note that these are two of the greatest gedolim of our era. I am told that due to the Rebbe, there is an official Gemara class in Beth Rivkah high schools. As for Rav Soloveitchik, at the Maimonides school in Boston that was directed by him and his wife, Tonya, Gemara study has long been part of the curriculum for the girls. The Rav also gave the first official Gemara shiur at Stern College in 1977. Today, women at Stern have easy access to advanced Talmud study. YU’s high school for girls, Central, has, to my knowledge, two Talmud tracks.

Also noted by Yochanan is the influence of the Rav’s esteemed son-in-law, HaRav Aharon Lichtenstein, zt’l. In Israel, many seminaries have followed Rav Aharon’s lead and feature Gemara courses.

In a previous article, Rabbi Yair Hoffman (Halachic Musings, “Women Learning Torah,” December 20, 2019) examined the “two sides’’ of this issue. He is correct that some circles still look askance at women’s Gemara study. After all, there is the dictum that if one teaches his daughter Torah, it is as if he is teaching her “tiflus,” an imprecise definition of which is “frivolity.” This is indeed the Talmudic opinion of Rabbi Eliezer; however, Rabbi Eliezer does not say it is “forbidden” to teach one’s daughter Torah.

Another opinion, Ben Azzai’s, is that one is “required” to teach his daughter Torah! This opinion has gotten lost in the shuffle. I believe that Rabbi Eliezer’s opinion was societal in nature. Women at the time learned little Torah, and it is true that someone ignorant of basic Torah should not delve into Gemara. (It would be equivalent to me, an ignoramus in the sciences, studying quantum physics.) However, today’s women are fully educated in both Torah and in secular studies. Why should they not learn Gemara?

The change for women started dramatically in the early 20th century, when Sarah Schenirer, a’h, opened the first Bais Yaakov school. Years later, she prevailed upon the Chofetz Chaim and the Gerrer Rebbe to endorse formal women’s Torah study. (Yes, contrary to the popular narrative, she opened the schools before receiving the approbation of these luminaries!)

However, what Schenirer taught was limited to the Tanach, Pirkei Avos, halachah, and mussar (as best as I can determine), the goal being to counter the secular influences that pervaded the Jewish street in her time. Schenirer would be shocked to see that today, even right-wing girls’ yeshivos have an expansive and rigorous Torah curriculum. In my daughters’ yeshiva, while Gemara was not learned, teachers would copy pages of Gemara and hand them out when necessary. It is hard to distinguish between that practice and opening an actual Gemara! And I learned Gemara with both my daughters, completing several chapters in Maseches Berachos. I also learned with my mother, a’h.

What, however, of the “tiflus” issue? The answer is that even the right-wing community has whittled away at that dictum, so that the only “verboten” study program left standing is actual Gemara learning. Meanwhile, centrist schools sense the thirst for knowledge among our women, who have proven their ability to study at the highest levels, and these yeshivos commonly teach Gemara.

We should celebrate this revolution, and Yochanan Gordon’s profound words should be treasured. I attended the siyum haShas at Barclays Center, along with my brother, who finished the daf yomi cycle. Many speakers cheered the wives and families of the men who go out to learn daf, often after a long day at work. And yes, they must be cheered. My hope is that at the next daf yomi siyum, speakers will note as well the wonderful women who carve out precious time to study the daf yomi. Kol ha’kavod!

Avi Goldstein
Far Rockaway

 

Dating Forum: My Parents Are Micromanaging My Dating

The Gemara says 18 to chuppah. The modern-day concept of marriage is not daas Torah. You put on tefillin because it’s a mitzvah, not because you’re attracted to it. You get married and have children because you are commanded to be fruitful and multiply. Yes you can choose whom you want to partner with in raising children. Part of the choice is based on finding someone qualified to raise children, imbuing them with fear of G-d. And part of it is choosing someone with whom you will like being in this partnership. But you can’t just say no to every offer, unless there is something really inappropriate with each of them.

When searching for an esrog for Sukkos, you can pick and choose all you want up until the chag, but you have to fulfill the mitzvah. You can’t just delay picking until after Sukkos. Get this mistaken goyishe concept of marriage out of your head — we don’t get married for pleasure. If that’s our motive, once the marriage becomes unpleasant, we can divorce? No. We get married to fulfill G-d’s will, and we make shalom bayis because that’s our duty and obligation and our avodah. So when it gets tough, we work harder and accept the trials with thanks to Hashem.

Yonason Herschlag

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