Women and Talmud Study

by Rabbi Heshy Grossman

[Editors’ Note: As a follow-up to a recent discussion, Rabbi Grossman sent us this article, which presents the oft-misunderstood theoretical framework underlying the traditional Orthodox perspective on women and Talmud study. It was originally published in Tradition magazine (Vol. 28:3) as part of a symposium on women’s education.]

Present-day discussions on this theme often overlook an obvious question: how do men and women differ in Torah’s eyes, and what are their respec¬tive roles in G-d’s eternal scheme? Once this matter is understood, the differences in Torah study for men and women are seen to be a natural, organic outgrowth of the way the classical Jewish tradition views the sexes.

The biblical difference between men and women is literally expressed in their given names, ish and isha. The letters yod and heh mark the differences in these names. The Talmud (Menahot 29b) says cryptically: This world was created with the letter heh; the world to come, with the letter yod.” Maharal and others write that the yod, the man’s letter, represents the metaphysical – a world of pure thought – that which transcends the earth. Therefore the yod, a simple dot, floats above the line of text, for it symbolizes that which is devoid of such physical ballast as time, matter, or space – the letter of the world-to-come. The heh, the woman’s letter, is the direct counter-balance to the yod. It is the letter which is formed only by a breath. Just as G-d gave us life by breathing His breath into us, so every human utterance is formed by human breath. As such, the heh reflects the creation of the physical universe. The yod symbolizes the floating dot of transcendence, while the heh symbolizes maintenance of this earth. (Note that yod and heh in the same word form the name of G-d.)

That this mystical concept is rooted in reality is illustrated by calligra¬phy and biology. Calligraphy: the heh is rooted solidly on the line of text. This is the letter of the woman, not a nebulous dot suspended in space without earthly moorings – as is the yod of the man – but firmly planted with¬in the boundaries of this world, the embodiment of the very breath of life. Further calligraphy: just as the written heh conceals within itself the tran¬scendent yod, so does each woman conceal within herself the ability to combine the physical and the transcendent, and thus to imbue physical life with sanctity.

Biology: while the man provides the initial root of conception, the woman nurtures and develops the fetus into life, providing it with her own heh/breath of life. This pattern continues after birth. Man is the sustaining force behind the home; woman maintains the basic framework which brings the home’s potential to fruition, nursing the children into maturity.

This partnership of heaven/man and earth/woman underlies the famous discussion in Bava Metzia 59a: “He who follows the advice of his wife falls into Gehenna. . . . But people say, “If your wife is short, bend to listen to her”? [The statements are reconciled, because] . . . this refers to heavenly matters, and this, to worldly matters.” That is, in worldly matters, the husband must listen to her, because she alone is capable of carrying out G-d’s plan in the physical world. Once again a careful balance is struck between the male and the female.

(This, according to our classical thinkers, is the meaning of the woman’s blessing, she-asani kiretzono—loosely translated as “Who has made me according to His will.” That is, she acknowledges G-d for having created her with the express purpose of actualizing G-d’s will – kiretzono, literally, “as His will.” That is, she carries His will into the temporal world. The man, on the other hand, whose ideal state is not of this world and whose essence yearns to escape from earthly restraints, recites the negatively worded “who has not made me a woman”. That is, man’s essence is rooted in transcendence and not on earth which is represented by isha).

Thus, traditional gender classification and even biological gender differences are merely surface paradigms for deeper metaphysical differences. An understanding of these different creation-roles should clarify, for example, that if men emphasize Torah sheb’al peh and women do not, this is not due to some obtuse masculine desire for power, any more than the woman’s – and not the man’s – ability to conceive a child reflects a feminine desire for power. In each case it is a reflection of the way G-d structured His creation.

All of which leads to the issue at hand: Torah study has two purposes. Firstly, knowledge of Torah is the basis for living by the Torah and is the source of moral values. An ignorant Jew, man or woman, can hardly live a halakhic life without knowledge. In this regard, we study Torah in order to know what to do and how to behave.

But Torah study, specifically Talmud study, has another purpose as well – to direct man’s consciousness towards transcendent, non-worldly con¬cerns. The oft-heard complaint regarding the impracticality of Talmud study is thus totally off the mark, since the purpose of Talmud study is not merely to know what to do. For this, one studies Shulkhan Arukh. Further, it is not knowledge per se that is the focal point of Talmud study. Rather, it is the act and process of study itself that is the focal point – not this-earthly, but transcendent; not utilitarian, but simply engaging one’s mind and soul in a non-earthly abstraction.

This dual purpose of Torah study – knowing how to live as a Jew on earth, and study as an exercise in non-earthly concerns – reflects the differ¬ent roles of women and men in creation. While the success of the man is measured by the extent to which his mind is fully occupied with Torah, the success of the woman is measured by the extent to which she gives material life to that Torah.

Certainly a woman’s mind is capable of comprehending Talmudic analysis. This is not the issue. The issue is that Talmud study – Torah sheb’al peh -symbolizes un-actualized ideas – and is not congruent with the woman’s role of “actualizer-on-this-earth.”

For this reason, the current calls for ‘greater exposure of women to classic rabbinic texts’ strikes an artificial note – not because women should be barred from the texts or because they cannot absorb them. The texts are not the issue. Those calls not only echo secularist concerns; they also reveal an oversight of the most basic aspects of the Torah itself, which is that the differing roles of men and women in creation result in differing roles in the study of that Torah which is the blueprint of creation. The most esoteric and advanced of rabbinic texts will not truly educate women unless this basic concept is understood.

Rabbi Heshy Grossman, former principal of Hanna Sacks Bais Yaakov High School in Chicago, Illinois, is the Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshivas Ohr Yosef in New Milford, N.J. He can be reached at Tel:(201) 921-4921 or via e-mail at: [email protected]

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31 Responses

  1. Micha Berger says:

    Rabbi Grossman’s characterization of gender roles are certainly consistent with current yeshivish thought. In particular, the belief that “the success of the man is measured by the extent to which his mind is fully occupied with Torah”, where Torah study has a dual purpose “knowing how to live as a Jew on earth, and study as an exercise in non-earthly concerns – reflects the different roles of women and men in creation. While the success of the man is measured by the extent to which his mind is fully occupied with Torah, the success of the woman is measured by the extent to which she gives material life to that Torah.”

    In contrast, I offer Rav Shimon Shkop’s perspective on the meaning and purpose of life, as it appears in the opening to his introduction to Shaarei Yosher (translation mine; the hashkafah section of the introduction is available in both languages here):

    BLESSED SHALL BE the Creator, and exalted shall be the Maker, Who created us in His “Image” and in the likeness of His “Structure”, and planted eternal life within us, so that our greatest desire should be to do good to others, to individuals and to the masses, now and in the future, in imitation of the Creator (as it were). For everything He created and formed was according to His Will (may it be blessed), [that is] only to be good to the creations. So too His Will is that we walk in His ways. As it says “and you shall walk in His Ways” – that we, the select of what He made – should constantly hold as our purpose to sanctify our physical and spiritual powers for the good of the many, according to our abilities. In my opinion, this whole concept is included in Hashem’s mitzvah “Be holy, [for I am Holy].”

    Qedushah, holiness, is commitment to this job of “providing good to the many, according to our abilities.” And it would seem that both genders are measured by their commitment to Chesed.

    Isn’t this also a point Rav Dessler makes in his Qunterus haChessed in Michtav meiEliyahu volume I? ” Man has been granted this sublime power of giving, enabling him too to be merciful, to bestow happiness, to give of himself. ‘G-d created man in his own image.'” (tr. R’ Aryeh Carmell, “Strive for Truth” vol. I, pg 119)

    What then is the role of Torah study? As Rav Shimon famously says later in the introduction:

    Although at first glance it seems that feelings of love for oneself and feelings of love for others are like competing co-wives one to the other, we have the duty to try to delve into it, to find the means to unite them, since Hashem expects both from us. This means [a person must] explain and accept the truth of the quality of his “I”, for with it the statures of [different] people are differentiated, each according to their level.

    The entire “I” of a coarse and lowly person is restricted only to his substance and body. Above him is someone who feels that his “I” is a synthesis of body and soul. And above him is someone who can include in his “I” all of his household and family. Someone who walks according to the way of the Torah, his “I” includes the whole Jewish people, since in truth every Jewish person is only like a limb of the body of the nation of Israel. And there are more levels in this of a person who is whole, who can connect his soul to feel that all of the world and worlds are his “I”, and he himself is only one small limb in all of creation.

    The role of Torah is to know the way of Hashem, to realize our role as a “limb in all of creation” so that we can be capable of providing Hashem’s Chessed to others.

    In this worldview, it is not limited to women to measure success “by the extent to which she gives material life to that Torah”, as Rabbi Grossman puts it.


  2. Moshe says:

    This is a nice drush, but there are no sources quoted. Are there any pre-twentieth century sources to back up these claims? Traditional sources forbid women from learning all torah, not just Gemara.

  3. Steve Ehrlich says:

    My daughters go/went to Hanna Sacks Bais Yaakov here in Chicago. This is how this sort of thinking plays out in real life: At last years HSBY banquet, a woman was honored for her immense work for the school. They didnt let her speak because she was a she, and had her son-in-law accept the award for her. This is their notion of tziniut. I was horrified. All this talk about G-d Given Roles is very nice, but in the street, this is what happens, this is what you see. There becomes a complete inablility to see women as peers.

  4. Micha Berger says:

    Steve Ehrlich raises an interesting issue… According to this formulation of gender roles, shouldn’t it be women more than men who are given roles of communal leadership in their job as “actualizer on earth”? How can tzeni’us take a front seat to their entire reason for being?


  5. Baruch Friedman says:

    Rabbi Berger: Your citation of R. Shimon’s formulation raised the folowing ruminations in my mind:
    1) The formulation of the entire Shaarei Yosher, dealing as it does with the theoretical and philosophical aspects of what to do with the creature which may be either frog or lizard, found in a region populated by two people in the wnter but three in the spring, as well as whether the woman who was assumed to be a virgin but turned out to be anything but that, is eligible to one or two hundred silver coins, as well as the differences in Halacha between these two cases, was all in order to facilitate R. Shimon’s bestowing good upon others in a more elevated way. Are you aware of any significant legacy or contribution of R Shimon in gemilut chassadim, specifically something that would justify thousands and thousands of hours of intensive thought on the aformentioned topics? 2) Presumaby,had R. Shimon spent those thousands of hours visiting the ill, helping widows and orphans, establishing chessed orgniztions, etc., he would have accomplished moe in the way of bestowing of God’s goodness to others. Am I missing something?

    As far as your categorization of R. Grossman’s thoughts as being in line with current Yeshivish thought, you are surely not unaware of the followig, and endless similar, sources: 1) Rambam in hakdama to peirush haishnayot, who states that man’s goal is attainng te highest levels of intellect. 2) Tosafot in Sotah 22a who states that stam Talmid chacham costantly thinks about Trah. 3) The verse in Mishlei abt. “be’ahavata tishge tamid”, as well as 4) the gemar in Shabbat abt. Rava who had no idea what was going on because he was so involved in his learning. I would go on and on, but I am acutely aware that there is not a single source I could produce that you didn’t know by heart – verbatim – before my parents were married…Assuming R. Grossman’s statements do not fit the teachings of R. Shmon (why should they?!), why your cynicism and ignoring of earlier precedents?

  6. David says:

    According to this piece, Rabbi Grossman should be as opposed to women attending Shira Smiles’ classes or reading her book, as he would to women attending daf yomi. As Rabbi Adlerstein discussed in the post that led up to this post, her book discusses Maharal, Shem Mi’Shmuel, and other machshava literature which clearly falls under the theoretical parts of Torah. Why is that different from learning shenayim ochazin be’tallis?

  7. heshy grossman says:

    Thank you, Micha Berger for providing the citation from R. Shimon Shkop. Of course, I agree that ‘Olam Chesed YiBaneh’ and it is central to human existence. My article however deals only with the different nature of male and family in regards to Torah sudy, and not ‘the meaning and purpose of life’M – find it odd that you would cite R Shimon Shkop as a paradigm for one who does not have his head fully occupied with Torah.

    There are numerous classical sources for the ideas I describe, among them: Breishis Rabbah Ch.11:9, where every day of creation is the ‘Bas Zug’ for another. In that context, a female is defined as actualizing and bringing to fruition the original plan of the male partner. The Rambam, in varied places in Moreh Nevochim characterizes the male-female relationship as Chomer/Tzurah and explains the focus of Sefer Mshlei – with the Isha Zara and Isha Zona – as an in juncion against the man losing his identity by submitting to the lures of the physical world. These ideas are likewise expressed by Maharal in Derech Chaim, commenting on the Mishna in Avos 1 – ‘Al Tarbeh Sicha Im HaIsha’.

    While at Hanna Sacks, I certainly did teach the girls Maharal and Shem MiShmuel, a level of thought which contribute to developing an appreciation for Torah and enhanced Yiras Shamayim. No, this type of study in no way compares to Shnayim Ochazin B’Tallis, and there should be no reason to explain this to a learned audience.

    I am not sure if dinner banquet programs reflect any deep ideological truths. Usually, school policies are decided by balancing the views of competing factions and trying to offend as few people as possible. Of course, your daughter will remember that there is no behemoth in the school adminisration called ‘they’, who are the unnamed subject of your critique. Undoubtedly, anyone willing to offset the dinner budget can have sizable influence in determining next year’s program.

  8. Larry Lennhoff says:

    Biology: while the man provides the initial root of conception, the woman nurtures and develops the fetus into life, providing it with her own heh/breath of life. This pattern continues after birth. Man is the sustaining force behind the home; woman maintains the basic framework which brings the home’s potential to fruition, nursing the children into maturity.

    This biology is wrong. Man does not supply ‘the root’. Even given an external source for ‘nurturing and development’ the man’s contribution alone will produce nothing. Only the combination of the man’s contribution and the woman’s contribution can create a human being – either one without the other is doomed to sterility. This equality continues after birth – without both a home maker and a provider (although both of these roles can be fulfilled by both parents) a family is doomed to failure.

  9. Dovid says:

    I find the thesis of this post problematic in several ways. Though I recognize the sources and the basic idea of the respective roles of men and women, I believe they are misconstrued here. To begin with, I think it is a mistake to characterize Torah sheb’al peh as intended in part “to direct man’s consciousness towards transcendent, non-worldly concerns…[and is] not utilitarian, but simply engaging one’s mind and soul in a non-earthly abstraction.” I find it especially problematic to suggest that “the purpose of Talmud study is not merely to know what to do. For this, one studies Shulkhan Arukh.”
    Although Torah sheb’al peh certainly provides access to this higher dimension, we are intended to relate to it primarily within the framework of halacha. The shulkhan aruch is far from ideal and is in fact a crutch that was never a part of G-d’s plan – we are supposed to learn torah sheb’al peh ‘l’asukei shmaata aliba d’hilchsa.” That is how ALL the rishonim learned – with a focus not on abstractions but on l’maaseh. For that matter, the sanhedrin itself – described by the Rambam as the presence of Torah sheb’al peh in this world (beginning of hilchos mamrim) – was oriented around l’maaseh. Historically, it is only since the rise of the Brisker derech that so much of learning has leaned toward theoretical and away from halacha.
    L’maaseh does not mean, btw, learning what to do and therefore focusing on what applies to me. Nor does it limit our focus to what might ever happen. L’maaseh means that the nature of Torah b’etzem is that it guides us in this world. That is what the Torah is and that is what the word Torah means. In fact, the Maharal himself explains that if not for this l’maaseh, Torah would be meaningless to human beings (even men) who live in a world of maaseh (nesiv hatorah, towards the beginning).
    Within this framework, the Torah unquestionably leads us to think in the abstract and to connect with transcendent ideas. But the ladder is “mutzav artza” – it is planted firmly within this world. The meaning of the letter yud is not to be “a nebulous dot suspended in space without earthly moorings” and men have no place in an ivory tower. That is not their proper role (leaving aside that some reach a madrega of closeness to G-d that sometimes requires this). Though a full discussion is obviously beyond the scope of a blog comment, the difference between men and women is better described as follows: men bring the abstract closer to the world and women bring the world closer to the abstract. Therefore, men are more occupied with the abstract in their efforts to apply it to this world and women are more occupied with this world in their efforts to connect it to the abstract. But both live lives focused on the connection between the two.
    There is much, much more to say about this but in closing, the weight of the world is on men’s shoulders and the Torah teaches them how to carry it. The suggestion that men are somehow meant to float above this world, engaged in transcendent thought while leaving worldly matters to women is simply in error.

  10. Bob Miller says:

    I hope someone qualified will answer this in detail:

    Are there instances in halacha or meta-halacha where a group of Jews is characterized as having specific capabilities, leanings and proper areas of concentration, but leeway is given to exceptional members of the group to excel in their own best way?

  11. Micha Berger says:

    I’m not sure where Baruch Friedman hears cynicism in my comment. What I was intending to suggest is that while Rabbi Grossman’s formulation is consistent with one derekh, it does not explain gender roles in a manner that is consistent with other concepts of what Yahadus is about. And for that matter, other concepts that were actually common in earlier generations of the yeshiva world.

    It was not my intent to belittle R’ Shneur Kotler’s (eg) approach to life. Rather, to raise the question about how people who do not ascribe to it are supposed to relate to this explanation. AND, given that many Orthodox Jews who do believe in different gender roles do not share many of these assumptions, how do they/we answer the same question?

    That said, I think the Orthdox community could use more fostering of a chessed and ehrlechkeit centered perspective, and not only because Rav Shimon was my rebbe’s rebbe. But in particular to our problem, those who have a problem with gender roles by and large aren’t men who see learning as their central avodah or even sign onto ideologies that say they’re supposed to. This answer only serves as a chizuq emunah for a group of people who in general aren’t bothered by the question.

    Rav Shimon clearly valued learning, as Baruch Friedman and Rabbi Grossman both note. RBF is quite correct in his comment that this is proven by the very content of the book whose introduction I quoted very clearly proves that.

    What I was questioning was not the claim that learning is an essential mitzvah for men, a role that may not be true for women. I was questioning the particular notion that “the success of the man is measured by the extent to which his mind is fully occupied with Torah”.

    Let’s say that man’s goal in life is chessed in the sense of contributing as a “limb in all of creation”, in “sanctify[ing] our physical and spiritual powers for the good of the many”, or as Rav Dessler put it, to be a giver rather than a taker. Or, to actually take the notion that Hillel’s “Ma desani lakh… — that which you detest, don’t do to others” is actually the central goal of the Torah at face value. Torah is then essential, but as an essential tool for becoming a baal chessed.

    And that, in turn, appears to me to undermine Rabbi Grossman’s gender distinction — for people who aren’t following the derekh he presumes. If the job of every human being is to “give material life to that Torah”, how does one sustain the notion that this is a particularly feminine role, and the man’s role is not only learning itself, but that this learning should produce a more lofty and other-worldly perspective? From within the systems I’m referring to, the point of learning is to better know what “tov” really is so that one can better share it with others, and to become the kind of person more capable of sharing it.

    In other words, if one believes that “great is Torah because it brings one to action” really defines the central goal of Torah, then how can one say that learning in and of itself is a man’s ultimate purpose? It would seem the purpose is the action, the implementation in this world, which Rabbi Grossman’s model relegates to be more feminine.


  12. E. Fink says:

    …still no reason they shouldn’t study if they want to…

  13. another Nathan says:

    I don’t understand the “heh” reflecting breath and thus the creation of the physical universe. Hashem’s breath gave life to otherwise physical dust. I would appreciate a clarification.

  14. David says:

    As between this and the argument that women are psychologically or mentally incapable of learning Talmud, this is probably less bizarre. If a woman wants to spend some time learning Talmud, I don’t see why that shouldn’t be her business. Or is it your position that every waking moment of a woman’s time needs to be devoted to cooking, cleaning, raising children and working to support a boy in Kollel?

  15. Miriam says:

    Gosh all this talk is way too theoretical for me….

    The whole reason women have been encouraged to learn anything over the past century is because the lifestyle has left gaping holes ready to be filled with something more intellectual (now that we don’t have to scrub the wash all day Wednesday, although laundry still does take an awful lot of time….). But the specifics of what to learn depends on many things.

    First it’s worth noting two elements of the learning environment that have bearing on content:

    (1) Frequency of learning
    A one-time lecture, or even a weekly shiur, is not a great place for too much theoretical exploration. Participants will not necessarily connect the content to a bigger picture, or incorporate it within a body of hashkafa they have developed elsewhere. For example when Rabbanit Henken gives a scintillating shiur surveying patterns in psak over the generations, someone who has had a longer-running yeshiva career sees the lecture as part of many beis midrash conversations but another attendee with less background might approach the content ready to make over-arching conclusions. As a different example, Shira Smiles specifically avoids particularly halachic topics in her shiurim, not wanting her ideas to be mistaken for something definitive halachically (but I’ll get to women and halacha later).

    An ongoing program, however, has much more latitude to lead women to bigger intellectual journeys. The students will see how one topic fits into the “sea” of Torah, and they are hearing the hashkafa (perspectives) of their teachers all the time. Sometimes a weekly shiur can achieve this environment also.

    (2) Agenda vs. aspiration
    A program or participant that seems to pursue a sociologically-based goal, when oversimplified might sound like “to learn like the men” or “to give a new face to halacha,” gives most of us an unpleasant feeling. And then there’s the complication that many students and teachers with sincere aspirations to enjoy learning and expanding in Torah have the agenda types in their midst, and maybe even speaking out on their behalf. We need to be careful not to apply the distaste to everyone.

    I have a friend won the Gemara award when she graduated high school. But the boy she originally asked to be her chavrusa for that year said he couldn’t possibly concentrate properly learning with a girl; immediately she respected that at that age someone had such wisdom about himself. These are the beginnings of normal and healthy approaches to women’s learning – learning because we have a desire for it, because we enjoy it; proud of the accomplishment, not a push to break norms.

    I’m not all that interested in a cleverly veiled essay on “Why Women Shouldn’t Learn Gemara” any more than you men would buy a one-size-fits-all answer to what style iyun or bkius or daf yomi should comprise your night seder. I agree with Rabbi Adlerstein that far more Orthodox women go for deep learning that doesn’t happen to be gemara. But if it is gemara – 18 years ago I briefly student taught in a Jerusalem h.s. under Malka Pietrikovsky who described her emphasis in teaching gemara as emunas chachomim, and she frequently explored the personalities mentioned in the text. The halachic process is also a valuable topic to explore and love. There are many emphases that make gemara learning less “abstract and theoretical” and more meaningful.

    I think our interests as a society should be twofold: (1) to encourage women to pursue a thorough path in learning as they are able and interested and (2) to discern and deftly sideline those putting forth an agenda when – but only when – they appear. Otherwise we risk dumbing down all the women – how many times I’ve come across women who are downright fearful to own any knowledge in halacha because “women aren’t poskim,” despite years of halacha classes and many shailas discussed with Rabbanim. And meanwhile the boys who didn’t get the same exposure grow up to posken for us, sometimes relying solely on a gemara sugya they learned (I’m not referring to those with smicha here but rather informal halachic decisions).

    If the women can’t be fluent in halachic concepts, we (a) won’t know when and how to ask, and (b) we’ll fail miserably at our role in the forefront of implementing halacha for the family. And if we can’t be fluent in some Torah philosophy, we ch”v can fall into the situation Sarah Shneirer was fighting against: we could be highly educated in many areas but still ignorant in Torah. The particular learning program to help one acquire that fluency, in my opinion, is up to the individual.

  16. lawrence kaplan says:

    I find Rabbi Grossman’s reply to Steven Ehrlich very comforting. It’s OK not to let the woman being honored speak at the dinner honoring her, because after all her speaking might have upset some rich donor! That makes me feel so much better.

    It’s also very nice to talk of respect for different derakhim, but note how Rabbi Grossman maligns calls for greater exposure of women to classic rabbinic texts as echoing secular concerns and revealing an oversight of the most basic aspects of Torah itself. So much for the vast majority of Modern Orthodox educators!

  17. Dr. E says:

    While one can understand Rabbi Grossman’s thesis on a theoretical or philosophical level, it has limited practical significance in 2010, especially within the Chinuch space in which he operates. He sets things up as a gender-delimited dichotomy with regard to Talmud or sophisticated textual study. That is, for all males, only. In practice, it has been overly ambitious to expect ALL males to be involved in a Talmud-centric curriculum from pre-Bar Mitzvah age. Many of those who have not thrived in this system lack the fit to be consistent with the male-Gemara stereotype. Even parsing out those boys in Yeshiva who are uninspired, some have (significant) learning issues, some don’t have the “head” for Gemara, and some have the head, but not the interest in Gemara per se. Consequently, a reality that includes a significant number of exceptions to the rule serves to weaken his point empirically.

    Ironically if one were to be totally faithful to traditional gender roles, many more males in the Yeshivish community would be represented in the workplace that has in fact the case over the past 30 years–and the women would not be expected to multitask as they have been. Then again, this multitasking may be what he means by an “actualizer-on-this-earth”.

  18. dr. bill says:

    When the halakha is clear, it invalidates certain approaches. Decidely non-halakhic (albeit even well-founded hashkafic) perspective must be more respectful of alternate views. Otherwise, one is on the same slippery slope where one’s ethical, hashkafic, or moral compass can be relied on to point the way.

    As to women studying abstract areas of talmud, in my very limited experience their practical sense is an asset that often prevents them from architecting conceptual castles in the sky or from the urge to decorate them!

  19. Ori says:

    Certainly a woman’s mind is capable of comprehending Talmudic analysis. This is not the issue. The issue is that Talmud study – Torah sheb’al peh -symbolizes un-actualized ideas – and is not congruent with the woman’s role of “actualizer-on-this-earth.”

    In that case, why not make Talmud available to women? If it is not congruent with their G-d given role, most women probably won’t enjoy learning Talmud and won’t continue doing it.

  20. Moshe says:

    I know that there are all sorts of source that assign different roles to men and women. These are all “aggadic” in nature, and hence, are not binding. Furthermore you still have no sources that connect this to women not learning gemara. This is a recent chiddush, not rooted in classical sources.

    it seems to me that the chareidi reasoning on this issue is no less a chiddush than the MO

  21. L. Oberstein says:

    It is a sign of the dynamic growth of orthodoxy that we can even have this debate. Today, there are , bli ayin harah, so many more Bais Yaakov schools with hundreds of frum girls graduating each year that there is even a populace that actually cares what the rabbis say about womens’s roles. I see a divide in the way the girls relate to this philosophy. Most aren’tthat interested in learning Gemara and are happy not to have gender specific mitzvos that are time related. They daven mincha and go to a shiur and are content with female issues like finding a mate and getting a nicer wardrobe. Many, however, are stifled beyond what the rabbi realizes by roles inposed on them regardless of their own talents, intelligence, and intellectual curiosity. They find a world where a woman can be a Ph.D scientist or a lawyer or a physician but can’t speak at her son’s Bar Mitzvah unacceptable. How much of this is cultural, how much is reactionary, and how much is really Daas Torah? What they call orthodox in Riverdale isn’t orthodox in Lakewood, is only one way Hashem’s way? Is there no room in G-d’s world for smart women who care about more than shaitels, cooking with style and , home remodeling?

  22. heshy grossman says:

    I appreciate the many thoughtful comments.

    Yes, it is ofen difficult to understand how the male/female definitions of the Torah reconcile with the application of those principles in real life. To do so, let us first clarify: each man and woman embodies both male and female aspects of life as building blocks of their humanity. When The Torah talks of male and female, bu the Torah’s description of Maaseh Breishis refers not to any human being that we recognize.Rather, the creation reveals much more: the foundations of all existence, and the traits and patterns of direction by which G-d brings existence into being, and how He continuously directs and maintains all of life.

    In answer to Nathan then, the ‘Heh’ does more than give life to physical dust, instead, it gives life much broader than the physical and material reality that we know (as the Targum explains: ‘Ruach Mimallela’ – man’s speech – his ability to express a world of thought is the definition of human life, an idea bigger than just his body).

    The point of my article was to demonstrate that the traditional gender roles in Jewish life are not male inventions, nor are they the result of social conventions, but rather, they parallel precisely the essential and immutable traits built into creation. (In part, this is why ‘Minhag Yisrael Torah’, for lessons can often be learned from patterns of behavior commonly adopted by society – there are no coincidences).

    Recognizing that each human being contains both male and female aspects also answers the question raised by Micha Berger – though Torah must be brought to life by every human being, the actualization of Torah into Maaseh reflects the unity of male and female in creation. Of course, every man must live his Torah ‘Aliba D’Hilchasa’ and every woman should know what she is doing, but as regards the specific Mitzva of Talmud Torah is more than performance, it is ‘K’Neged Kulam’because Torah study is a sate of being, not merely doing. In that context, the potential of each person is best realized by Avoda that is individualized, and a general rule of Avodas Hashem is that a person is best served by further developing those traits for which he/she feels a natural affinity, and for which they are particularly suited.

    Torah Gadol SheMaivi L’Yedai Maaseh is true because when one’s mind is fully occupied with Torah studied properly, that Torah is bound to spill out and over into the Olam HaMaseh, but it is not a dispensation for one to involve his mind in other matters.

    My purpose is not to defend the Yeshiva system, examine dinner policies,promote gender separation, advocate for Tznius, or minimize the leadership potential of women. Rather, the article points out that Torah describes the essence of all reality, both physical and spiritual, and in most cases, the customs adopted by Klal Yisrael are in synch with these essential and eternal truths.

    Though thse ideas are ‘Aggada’, they are misunderstood when taken as moral lessons, or pithy aphorisms. Chazal are not speaking with hyperbole or metaphor, but utilize this method to express Ikkarei HaEmunah – concepts upon which all of Jewish life is based – in a concealed form. Hence, one should be very wary to dismiss ideas expressed in that manner as ‘not binding’.

    (Of course, with all this, it is quite difficult to be faithful to these principles when attemptingto apply them to real life, but that is a different topic).

    While Dovid is correct, and Torah SheBalPeh should, of course, be brought to the Olam HaMaaseh, the study of Talmud is not the study of text but reflects the process of TorahSheBalPeh. Man excels at the process, and is usually not so good at the finishing touches, and hence so many Yeshiva students are more comfortable with Lomdus and Sevara alone, while asking them to learn in a manner that brings each subject to Halachic conclusion is a feat nigh impossible for even the greatest of Roshei Yeshiva.
    Have a good Shabbos!

  23. Micha Berger says:

    WADR, Rabbi Grossman, in this last reply you retreat back to the yeshivish derekh. I do not think Rav Yisrael Salanter (or Rav Wolbe, but you’re more in a position to speak to that than I am) supported a view of life in which learning takes center stage over developing ehrlachkeit.


  24. Micha Berger says:

    Oish… I hit send too soon… Sorry…

    By answering from within the yeshivish assumptions, as opposed to those shared by other derakhim, the answer itself becomes suspect. If man’s job is not “learning and another 612 mitzvos” in every derekh then why would similar gender differences exist across our multiple communities? But the bigger problem is that it reduces your answer to “… and therefore these gender differences make sense to us” rather than having the power to convince others that they ought to be correct.

  25. L. Oberstein says:

    My point is that “ailu vo ailu”. The issue of females learning texts> in depth has had a varied response over the centuries. Is it now possible that attitudes by decisors of Jewish Law are influenced by the reality of the world they live in.If that is heretical, what can I say.
    As far as contemporary women studying Talmud in depth , there is no “one
    size fits all ” answer.
    Some are not interested in egalitarian issues, others are.
    If you are happy with a certain role in life, it may be because you were raised that way and that is what society expects of you. Jews are greatly affected by the gentiles among whom we live. We have now entered an era where women are equal and have opportunities that didn’t exist previously. It was once rare for a woman to practice law, now it is common. Sociological answers to religious issues only work if the society we live in accepts the assumptions that underly our practices. The role of a female in the Syrian Sephardic community is affected by how women lived in Syria, the Satmar world is based on their culture in Romania .
    We live in the United States of America and are products of this country. You can’t make our daughters into clones of girls who lived in a different clime and time.
    I am greatly distressed taht there is communal pressure to adapt our normative practices to a different standard that was never our;s. E.G. no pictures of females in chareidi publications even if the article is about the woman, they show her husband’s picture. If the Satmar or Gerrer Chasidim want to do that, that is their business but since when did that become my minhag?
    There is an oft told story about two Michalala girls who approached the venerable sage RavShach,zatzal, for an explanation of a difficult Ramban. He is alleged have told the girls that they would be better off learning to bake a cake.
    Is that religious or sociological, the answer defines the issue. I do know that it affected the shiduchim of Michlala girls as they were viewed as “too into
    learning”. I assume that they found more suitable husbands and that the school did not alter its curriculum. With all due respect, that is how I view this whole issue.

  26. Bob Miller says:

    Rabbi Grossman wrote in his comment of November 5, 2010 at 12:02 am that “a general rule of Avodas Hashem is that a person is best served by further developing those traits for which he/she feels a natural affinity”

    Except that this article promotes the idea of a natural group affinity, that does not recognize that an actual individual can feel otherwise! This approach pressures some Jews to submerge the positive traits they really feel close to, in favor of the normative traits members of their group are said to have—namely, those Rabbi Grossman calls “the essential and immutable traits built into creation”. That social pressure to conform may be good or bad, depending on the situation, but it can’t be ignored in this analysis.

  27. Sarah says:

    There have always been individual women whose intellectual or spiritual level drove them to go beyond the norm for women of their time, and there is no reason an individual woman can’t privately pursue more in-depth study today even if not offered in her society. However, as a matter of public policy, teaching gemara to girls is an attempt to impose a feminist agenda.

    On the other hand, in order not to lose the girls in high school, before they have the maturity to forge their own individual paths, it is important to expose them to enough depth of machshava so that those who need that are engaged.

  28. Bob Green says:

    Rabbi Grossman writes, “Though thse ideas are ‘Aggada’, they are misunderstood when taken as moral lessons, or pithy aphorisms. Chazal are not speaking with hyperbole or metaphor, but utilize this method to express Ikkarei HaEmunah – concepts upon which all of Jewish life is based – in a concealed form. Hence, one should be very wary to dismiss ideas expressed in that manner as ‘not binding’.”

    True, Chazal’s words cannot be dismisses as “just” agadah. But surely Rabbi Grossman must agree that the arena of agadah is more vague than that of halakha. There are no guidelines at all for “psak” based on aggadic sources. Who is to say that those statements of Chazal which support R’ Grossman’s thesis are not a minority view? Perhaps there is a competing view that would differ with R’ Grossman’s conclusion. After all, Rambam dismisses numerous statements in Chazal about astrology as nothing more than a minority opinion. At best, aggada can be used to demonstrate the defensibility of the yeshivish position. But it cannot be used to convince others that women should not be learning.

  29. Miriam says:

    Can someone please explain how Rebbetzin David of BJJ wrote her Columnbia Phd analyzing the works of Rav Zvi Hirsch Chajes without learning gemara? (Talmud is all R. Chajes wrote about.)

    Seems to me if you look to quite a number of great women educators today, even in right-wing circles, they have a substantial background in gemara. Not the equivalent of 10 years in kollel with regard to memorized material, but their Talmudic skill sets are very developed.

    What is the issue being debated here – Whether these women have broken tradition? Whether there should ever be an organized women’s class in Talmud? Whether a gemara can be discussed in a shiur for women (watch out Rashi….)? Or is it that we as a society should ensure that gemara remains the man’s domain – if a wife studies in a program with 3 hours of gemara, her husband should learn 6… if 5 girls’ high schools in Yerushalayim include gemara in their curriculum, there should be 10 boys’ high schools doing the same or better…. ?

  30. Simcha Younger says:

    Baruch Freidman’s comment at the begining of the discussion sounds alot like ‘mai ahani lan rabannan’ — “What good do the Rabbi’s do for us” and seems to be a rejection of any value in Torah study? Perhaps you can clarify your point.

  31. emma says:

    “Biology: while the man provides the initial root of conception, the woman nurtures and develops the fetus into life, providing it with her own heh/breath of life. This pattern continues after birth. Man is the sustaining force behind the home; woman maintains the basic framework which brings the home’s potential to fruition, nursing the children into maturity.”

    I don’t see an answer to Larry Lenhoff’s question: what biology are you refering to? It doesn’t sound like the one in which it takes two gametes, one from each parent, to make a baby.
    I also have no idea what it means to be “the sustaining force behind the home” – what kid of sustenance are you talking about? I will grant that women (often female servants, incidentally) have historically been the ones to “nurse the children into maturity,” though I might argue that that makes them “sustainers” too…

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