Saturday, 16 June 2007

Women and Gemara

Originally published 6/16/07, 11:18 PM, Eastern Daylight Time
If you say that women should not study Gemara, what are you saying about the study of Gemara itself? If women can be righteous Jews without the knowledge of Gemara, aren't you also stating that the knowledge of Gemara is not necessary for one to be a righteous Jew?

There is the act of studying Torah -- a ma'aseh hamitzvah that has its own place in the world of Torah. Not every Jew has to do, or even can do, every possible mitzvah.  I thus can understand if one states that this action is only for men or kohanim or leviim or women etc. But beyond the act of studying Torah, there is the knowledge to be gained from this action.
Once you state that one cannot do this action, you are making a statement about the knowledge as well. You are making a statement about the role of the knowledge gained through this action in being a Jew. If the argument is that there are differing definitions of the ideal for men and women, that also needs to be explained.

Rabbi Ben Hecht


Rabbi Richard Wolpoe said...

AIUI - The Rav's relevant positions are:
A)Women must know halachah
B) one cannot know Halacha without the Gemara.

It is arguable therefore:
A) that not ALL Gemara is relevant to womens' Halacha.
B) that Gmara is not directly connected to Halachah

If you hold that Halacha has left the Talmud behind, and is a creature that has evolved its own literature, you could posit the thesis that Talmud is now mere theory and women need learn only the practical aspects of Halachah. Therefoe a study of the Shulchan Aruch - or even Mishnah Brurah should suffice.

In fact there is an entire genre of Sefarim containing Halacha Pesukah that would suffice for women to know what to do.

The Rav was of the opinion - shared by a minority of contemporary poskim - who claim that even practical halachah cannot be divorced from the Talmud.

With the advent of the Rif, and certainly the codes, the need to get Halacha directly from th Talmud has diminished over time.

Bottom line:
The aspect of na'aseh - practical halacha -applies eqaull to women as it does to men
Nishma - the aspeet of theoretical invetigation is the province of men.

Whether women are permitted to engage in the non-required aspects of Torah is perhaps a separate issue.

Where I would AGREE with Chareidim is: women should not be CO-ERCEd to study Talmud. Women should have the option to opt-out of Talmud classes even in Modern Schools.

For that matter, most men are not really ready for Talmud either. They might be better off studying Halachic codes or Midrash or Tanach or Mahcshava or Mussar etc.

OTOH, even Chareidim should not have the right to bar women from learning certain sophisticated texts - E.G. Bet Yosef - because they DO directly impact Halachah.

Rabbi Ben Hecht said...

It is interesting that Rav Eliyahu specifically mentioned the need of women to know, and thus learn, halacha in his pronouncement (as reported). Did he mean halacha pesuka which would really have nothing to do with a ban on learning gemara or did he mean women should learn the sugyas that affect the world of halacha that affects them? This latter understanding would, clearly, still be radical in the charedi world but would make more sense if Rav Eliyahu is referring to gemara.

Still interestingly, Rav Eliyahu is not really a part of the standard charedi world but is a part of the more zionistic Orthodox faction in Israel. This leads to the comments in my other post on the other issue.

It perhaps should be further noted that while the modern understanding (i.e. the past century century and a half) of what women can learn focused on Tanach, midrash and maybe aggadata from the gemara, there is a substantial opinion in the sources over the millenia that argued that any ban on women learning cannot refer to halachic sources as women have to know what to do. Thus there was an opposite opinion that what effectively women are learning today, even in Charedi places, is what they should not be learning and what they are not learning is what they should be learning.

Throw in the famous statement of Rambam that you can't know God, the very purpose of existence and a goal that applies to both men and women, cannot be achieved without first being trained in "the disagreements of Abaye and Rava", the whole issue becomes more complicated. Basically, arguing that a system limits the necessity for its adherents to know the ideas of the system, has an effect on the whole system. That's my point

Rabbi Ben Hecht

Rabbi Ben Hecht said...

Further on this topic, you may want to take a look at

Mighty Garnel Ironheart said...

Perhaps Rav Eliyahu is looking at the act of Torah study from th same perspective as one looks at tefillin and tzitzis. Just as technically speaking women can perform both of those mitzvos, it is nowadays accepted that they don't, to the point where it's considered wrong if they do. Does he consider Torah study to be in that same category?
And if so, what Torah study? I would posit that Torah study for its own sake (because the word lishmah looks dumb in English letters) is what he's thinking of. He's worried that girls will sit there and shteig (another dumb looking word) over gemara like the boys do when they should be busy with the practical tasks Judaism has assigned them as their domain.
Or he's really afraid that they'll show up the boys. Gotta think that's part of it too.

Rabbi Richard Wolpoe said...

My understanding is that women are ONLY involved inthe Na'aseh aspedt of Torah. That ONLY men are obliged to learn the Nishma aspect- the theory for the sake of theroy. Torah Lishma as it were.

You could make a case otherwise but in Halachic literature it seems to hold true re: Birkat Torah -that women are obliged only because they need to learn what is of PRAGMATIC value to them.

The Rav's position - AIUI - is that G'mara is part of the pragmatic Halachic process. I would posit that 80-90% of Jewish poskim, rabbis etc. Would no longer view that to be the case - since the advent of the Mishneh Torah and other 2ndary sources.

Of course women do learn aggadot and you could therefore make a case for women learning En Jacob. You could also make a case -as did some modern Day Schools - that certain Mishnayyot with a proper commentary can be deemed practical.

My position: I'm not in favor of FORCING women to learn Talmud. If individual women need to, then allow them as needed.

My own daughter finds Mishnah and Rambam Mishnah Torah boring. Maybe for her- Talmud is the only thing that will hold her interest.

OTOH, before the last 2 Passovers, I read Hilchot Pesach in the Tur - straight with little commentary - and then followed up with Shulchan Aruch and I got a lot out of it. I find the Tur very readable.

At any rate, it would be good to expose women to a solid education based upon classical texts and that Talmud could be upheld for women who are well-endowed - intellectually speaking.