Ba’alos Mesorah

In Putting Our Money Where Our Mouths Are, Dr. Rivka Press Schwartz poses an acute challenge to Orthodox communities. The discussion below is not intended to refute Dr. Schwartz, but rather to respond to her challenge and hopefully provide clarity and insight into what has unnecessarily and unfortunately become a quite confusing and sticky issue. In fact, even absent Dr. Schwartz’ article, the issue has reached a critical point and necessitates long overdue public discussion.

To cut to the chase, Dr. Schwartz presents the issue from her perspective:

…I saw young rabbis talking about what their connection with Rav Aharon had meant to them personally—that they saw this Torah giant on a daily basis for a year or three, that he came to their weddings, answered their phone calls, and generally made himself available to them in an ongoing way as a religious mentor and guide.

And I was struck, profoundly, by the fact that no woman outside of his family recounted the same experience. Rav Aharon delivered a weekly shi’ur to the women who were students at Migdal Oz, and there were women who described his availability to speak with them and answer their questions if they approached him with a particular need. (One such story was deposited in my box at Frisch by someone who clearly had heard me discussing these ideas. I never was able to ascertain who shared it with me, but I am grateful all the same.)

But the connection, the sense of rebbe-ness, the lived experience of being mit’abek in the afar of someone’s raglayim—that was not an experience that any woman outside his family described, because it does not seem that was an experience that any woman had.

I should be explicit that no criticism of Rabbi Aharon Lichtenstein is intended here. But the facts under discussion are not in dispute: a great many young men, of varying levels of scholarship and worthiness, saw him as their Rebbe. They were shaped not only by the Torah they learned from him, but by the Torah they saw him live, by their close proximity to his personal example. But few, if any, women, however learned or sincere, had the same access, depriving them of the experience of having their religious personalities, or their understanding of and relationship to Torah leadership, shaped in the same way.

In a recent conversation with a senior Torah figure in our community I raised the problem of the profound disconnect that exists—even on a human level—between the religious leadership of the community and the Modern Orthodox laity it is putatively leading. This Rosh Yeshiva responded that that lack of familiarity and empathy goes both ways—that the laity accept seeing the Torah leadership caricatured in certain ways because they do not know them, and don’t realize how little those caricatures capture the actual character of the men in question. I readily acknowledge the point. The same solution would serve to address both. If we want women to fully appreciate the status of the hakhmei ha-mesorah, to see themselves as subordinated to those hakhamim’s words not only when they pasken halakhah but also when they issue rulings based on meta-halakhic considerations, halakhic values, or halakhic ethos, one way to help that happen is to create opportunities for women to have the kind of exposure to and relationships with those figures that men have taken for granted.

Some of the responses to this suggestion offered by my interlocutors within the Centrist or Modern Orthodox community are deeply revealing. One is the claim that prominent Torah figures have limited resources of time, and have to spend it where it would do the most good: training the Torah leaders of the next generation. Let us, in the Simpsons’ deathless phrase, make the quiet part of that argument loud: women (who, it has been established and reestablished, cannot be rabbinic figures) are not worth Torah leaders spending their time on…

…I spoke at an RCA convention in the summer of 2015 about the future of leadership roles for women in Orthodoxy. An RCA member, in talking about what leadership roles would or would not be appropriate for women, made functionally the same argument: women are not entrusted, he said, with being custodians of the mesorah. Only men are. As such, it would not be appropriate to put women into any roles in which they were assuming responsibility for safeguarding and passing on the mesorah.

I do not claim to have the Torah knowledge or authority to argue these from a text standpoint. I will argue them from a life-on-planet-Earth standpoint. If you are seriously arguing that women aren’t worth the community’s Torah leadership investing its time in, or that women are not entrusted with the transmission of the mesorah, then you will get exactly what you are paying for. Women educators and educators of women in our community, some of whom offered their thoughts, orally and in writing, to the poskim panel convened by the OU, say the same thing, over and over again: our daughters are checking out. Somewhere between the ages of 12 and 18, we lose a lot of them, if not physically then in the fullness of the engagement of their hearts and minds. Telling them that specific halakhic or meta-halakhic considerations preclude their serving as clergy is one thing. Telling them that they are outsiders to the core mission of our community is another thing entirely, one that will accelerate, rather than reverse, their disengagement.

What would it look like to have a community that understands that if it wants its women to act as insiders, it must treat them as insiders? What would it look like for the Centrist Orthodox world to try to ensure that its most capable young women are acculturated to see themselves as talmidot, subordinate to the authority of the Torah leaders, as its most capable young men are? My friend Avi Helfand has suggested that I end my essays with practical suggestions, and so I will be as practical as I can: the YU Roshei Yeshiva, from whose ranks most of the signatories of the OU statement were drawn and who stand as the preeminent Torah leadership of the American Centrist/Modern Orthodox community, must have relationships with the young (and not-so-young) learned and learning and teaching women of our community.

This cannot be accomplished by a freestanding shiur at Stern College about “X and shidduchim” or one-off meetings and conversations. Relationships are built with time. LetRoshei Yeshiva commit to cycling through teaching one semester at Stern, with the opportunities for connection- and relationship-building that would afford. Let Roshei Yeshiva commit to spending time on the Stern campus—over Shabbatot, in office hours—meeting and connecting with the students there. Let Roshei Yeshiva commit to forging far closer connections to the students in GPATS. The relationship between the Roshei Yeshiva and GPATS has been famously fraught. Closer Rebbe-talmidah relationships could go a long way towards changing that, in fostering understanding by the Roshei Yeshiva of the young women and their world, and in fostering in the young women greater connection to, appreciation of, and humility towards these communal leaders. In the absence of these changes, what messages are being sent, still, about whom the Roshei Yeshiva are Torah leaders for? Who will be able to say, one day, that having had a relationship with this Torah figure shaped her life?

But the need here goes beyond the YU Beit Midrash, and its Roshei Yeshiva. In every OU community in which we are asking women to follow the guidance of the rabbinic leadership in matters beyond “which-spoon-in-which-pot,” we have to examine whether the conditions that make that followership more likely are being met. Does the shul rabbi meet with every bar mitzvah boy before his bar mitzvah? Does he meet with every bat mitzvah girl, as well? If we want a young woman to have a relationship with a rabbi, to see herself as part of his flock, he will have to find a way, within the boundaries of tzniut and contemporary sensibilities, to sit and speak with her.

Does the shul have teen programming with a rabbi? Is that programming, explicitly or implicitly, geared towards teenage boys? Is there any opportunity for the teenage girls to meet, talk, learn with the rabbi? (Not seudah shlishit or challah-baking with the Rebbetzin. Those are wonderful opportunities for connection, and I write this as a proud Rebbetzin, but they are something else entirely.) What opportunities are we providing for women and girls, who are, after all, fifty percent of Orthodoxy, to forge meaningful, personal, and lifelong connections with their rabbinic leaders?

Underlying the OU poskim’s statement is the assumption that the rabbinic leadership of our shul communities and our larger Centrist/Modern Orthodox community speaks not only to narrow halakhic matters, but to the broader halakhically-inflected policy questions that shape our communal life. The OU statement encountered opposition precisely in part because so many in our community have not been invited into the sort of relationship with its Torah leadership that naturally inclines them to follow its dictates. What are we doing to change that?

The answer to Dr. Schwartz’ challenge is that women are part of a Mesorah (Torah Tradition) in Judaism that is starkly distinguished from Judaism’s Mesorah for males. Rav Soloveitchik zt”l laid this out quite clearly:

We have two massoros, two traditions, two communities, two shalshalos ha-kabbalah – the massorah community of the fathers and that of the mothers. “Thus shalt thou say to the house of Jacob (= the women) and tell the children of Israel (= the men). “Hear my son the instruction of thy father (mussar avicho) and forsake not the teaching of thy mother (toras emecho)… One learns much from father: how to read a text – the Bible or the Talmud – how to comprehend, how to analyze, how to conceptualize, how to classify, how to infer, how to apply, etc. One also learns from father what to do and what not to do, what is morally right and what is morally wrong. Father teaches the son the discipline of thought as well as the discipline of action. Father’s tradition is an intellectual-moral one. That is why it is identified with mussar, which is the Biblical term for discipline.

What is toras emecho? What kind of a Torah does the mother pass on?… Permit me to draw upon my own experiences. I used to have long conversations with my mother. In fact, it was a monologue rather than a dialogue. She talked and I “happened” to overhear… She talked me-inyana de-yoma. I used to watch her arranging the house in honor of a holiday. I used to see her recite prayers; I used to watch her recite the sidra every Friday night and I still remember the nostalgic tune. I learned from her very much.

Most of all I learned that Judaism expresses itself not only in formal compliance with the law but also in a living experience. She taught me that there is a flavor, a scent and warmth to mitzvos. I learned from her the most important thing in life – to feel the presence of the Almighty and the gentle pressure of His hand resting upon my frail shoulders…

The laws of Shabbas, for instance, were passed on to me by my father; they are a part of mussar avicho. The Shabbas as a living entity, as a queen, was revealed to me by my mother; it is a part of toras emecho. The fathers knew much about the Shabbas; the mothers lived the Shabbas, experienced her presence, and perceived her beauty and splendor.

The fathers taught generations how to observe the Shabbas; mothers taught generations how to greet the Shabbas and how to enjoy her twenty-four hour presence.


There is a distinction between mother’s and father’s mission within the covenantal community, since they represent two different personalistic approaches. Father’s teaching is basically of an intellectual nature. Judaism is to a great extent an intellectual discipline, a method, a system of thought, a hierarchy of values… However, Judaism is not only an intellectual tradition but an experiential one as well. The Jew not only observed but experienced the Shabbas, the Jew experienced Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur. He did not only recite prayers on those days. The seder was… a great experiential event. There is beauty, grandeur, warmth, and tenderness to Judaism. All these qualities cannot be described in cognitive terms. One may behold them, feel them, sense them. It is impossible to provide one with a formal training in the experiential realm. Experiences are communicated not through the word but through steady contact, through association, through osmosis, through a tear or a smile, through dreamy eyes and soft melody, through the silence at twilight and the recital of Shema. All this is to be found in the maternal domain. The mother creates the mood; she is the artist who is responsible for the magnificence, solemnity and beauty. She somehow communicates to him the heartbeat of Judaism, while playing, singing, laughing and crying.

(Please very carefully read the entirety of Rav Mayer Twersky’s shiur, Masorah and the Role of the Jewish Womanin which most of the above quotes from the Rav appear. This shiur comprehensively addresses the unique role of women in Judaism, including the notions of women as rabbis and female leadership positions, with great erudition and articulation, based thoroughly on the Rav’s explication of the matter.)  

The Mesorah of women is not imparted by women becoming links in the chain of legalities of Torah She-b’al Peh (the Oral Law). The Mesorah of women is a more sublime, less mechanical one. It is the Mesorah of the heart of Torah and the spirit of our nation. Men cannot properly transmit this Mesorah; it was entrusted exclusively to women, and they are charged and expected to carry it forth.

Rav Soloveitchik’s concept of young women studying Torah She-b’al Peh was a practical one: to impress upon young women, who were typically on track to pursue advanced secular degrees, that Halacha is a highly sophisticated and intricate system – thereby dispelling any illusion that Torah is less complex or rigorous than worldly academic endeavors. Rav Soloveitchik sought not to create legions of female ba’alos Mesorah of Torah She-B’al Peh, and to wit, never did he suggest that Stern College have a mandatory Talmud program, much less roshei yeshiva and multiple levels of Gemara shiurim. If I may quote from a previous article of mine on the subject:

“…If ever circumstances dictate that study of Torah Sheba’al Peh (the Oral Law—Talmud) is necessary to provide a firm foundation for faith, such study becomes obligatory and obviously lies beyond the pale of any prohibition. Undoubtedly, the Rav’s prescription was more far-reaching than that of the Chafetz Chayim and others. But the difference in magnitude should not obscure their fundamental agreement…” (R. Mayer Twersky, “A Glimpse of the Rav” in R. Menachem Genack ed., Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik: Man of Halacha, Man of Faith, p. 113—quoted in Torah Musings, August 2, 2005,

The Rav’s agenda of Talmud study for women was in essence one of pragmatics, for there are Talmudic adages that discourage Torah/Talmud study for women, and furthermore, women are exempt from the mitzvah of Torah study. Thus, women would not study Talmud “for its own sake,” but rather to achieve certain practical religious objectives. This notion is also evidenced by various anecdotal narratives, in which it was clear that the Rav approached Talmud study for women from a utilitarian perspective, as holy, lofty and noble as the Torah learning experience is.

Rabbi Aharon Lichtenstein, a son-in-law of the Rav, noted in a monograph that he did not have a detailed sense of the Rav’s motivation for supporting women’s Talmud study, and that the Rav did not make it a centerpiece of discussion or campaign comprehensively for it, beyond introducing it at Maimonides School and Stern College. Although the Rav endorsed Talmud study for women when asked by Rabbi Leonard Rosenfeld about it in 1953, the Rav’s advice needed to be solicited and was not proactive or forthcoming. (See Ilan Fuchs, Jewish Women’s Torah Study, p. 198.)

This information is essential and critical, as it dispels the perception that Talmud study for women, in the eyes of Rav Soloveitchik, was a hands-down requirement or an inherent and mandatory religious duty, as important a function as he may have believed it served. Furthermore, it is obvious that Talmud study for women differs greatly from Talmud study for men; Stern College, under the guidance of the Rav, did not make Talmud study part of its compulsory Jewish Studies curriculum, nor did it hire dozens of roshei yeshiva and rebbeim to teach Talmud at countless strata, as is the case at Yeshiva College and RIETS. To equate the nature and expected scope of Talmud study for men and women is to deny the facts on the ground.

But let’s sharpen Dr. Schwartz’ question and be very frontal: In some sectors of the Modern/Centrist Orthodox educational system, young women are trained to aspire to greatness in Talmud and intricate halachic analysis; these young women attend advanced Gemara shiurim and sharpen their skills in the context of chavrusa sessions, and they are placed on a course to naturally become the basic equivalent of rebbeim, rabbis, and whatever else. Then, a roadblock comes thundering down and impedes their path, bawling forth: “WOMEN CANNOT BE RABBIS!” – to which some instinctively respond, “Ouch!! What an unfair system!

The above scenario reflects a system that failed to heed and distill the nuanced approach of the Rav and to consider in advance the general, two-pronged and differentiated Mesorah. When the Rav opined favorably regarding young women studying Torah She-B’al Peh, the above trajectory was not at all the vision he had or the path he advised. The contours and objectives of Gemara study programs for young women which were introduced during the last decade or so were frequently not well thought out in the broader sense, which demands that the precise and applicable Mesorah of Torah define the curriculum and intended destination. Running with a generalized catchphrase that “Rav Soloveitchik endorses girls’ learning of Torah She-B’al Peh” and using it to create programs of study that disregard the Rav’s own precedent and presentation of the very different roles of men and women as ba’alei and ba’alos Mesorah is a recipe for disaster.

Dr. Schwartz notes that:

(O)ur daughters are checking out. Somewhere between the ages of 12 and 18, we lose a lot of them, if not physically then in the fullness of the engagement of their hearts and minds. Telling them that specific halakhic or meta-halakhic considerations preclude their serving as clergy is one thing. Telling them that they are outsiders to the core mission of our community is another thing entirely, one that will accelerate, rather than reverse, their disengagement.

It may very well be that it is the placement of young women on an errant trajectory, which is not consistent with Mesorah and is hence bound for mass frustration and mortal collision, that is the real cause for the disengagement as depicted by Dr. Schwartz. We often hear gross generalizations about the OTD (“off the derech”) phenomenon taking tragic tolls in the various Orthodox communities: “OTD former chassidim said they could not live with the extreme restrictions, OTD former yeshivish (now called “Charedi”) people resented the kollel-only/cookie cutter mold, and OTD former Modern Orthodox Jews said that exposure to secular campus life and an often less than serious commitment to Halacha from the start led them to drop Orthodoxy…” But perhaps we can now add one more generalization: “OTD former (and/or not fully engaged, current) Modern Orthodox young women said that they were placed in a dead-end system that denied their expected development into ba’alos Mesorah of Torah She-b’al Peh, alienated them from their assumed rightful place in the chain of transmission of Torah She-b’al Peh that is achieved through prolonged shimush with roshei yeshiva, and deprived them of legitimate career use of their Talmudic studies, resulting in untold frustration and mass disaffection.” These young women were boarded into an unstable seacraft that had not been tested by the waters of Mesorah and would thus inevitably capsize.

Women are encouraged to know Torah and, more importantly, to enrich Jewish life by teaching, living and passing on the life-Mesorah that is unique to them and that men are unable to properly safeguard and promulgate. The compelling veracity of this specialized Mesorah of women, and the incorrectness of the contrived notion that men and women share the same role in Mesorah, are glaringly evident throughout Jewish history and in the educational curricula established in consultation with gedolei Yisrael through the ages.

We close with another quote from the Rav that so vividly captures the distinctive female paradigm in Judaism:

The Biblical woman … was a dialectical personality. She combined two mutually exclusive characteristics. (She) was humble and shy, and yet she possessed an indomitable will and an unshakeable determination. She was simple and tenacious, meek and fearless. The Biblical woman was never at the center, always in the wings. She was never loud, always quiet. At the same time, the Biblical woman was the leader and the head of the household. In times of crisis, the Biblical woman assumed unlimited responsibilities and made the gravest decisions… Sarah was a humble woman, always in the tent, always shy and modest. Abraham sat in front of the tent; she was inside. She was always ready to comply with Abraham’s requests and yet, in critical times, when she was concerned over the destiny of her son, the humble Sarah displayed unlimited strength of will and made Abraham listen to her. She instructed Abraham: “Cast out that slave woman and her son”, and God instructed Abraham to listen to Sarah.

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61 Responses

  1. Bob Miller says:

    This shows the problem with poorly thought out half-measures.  If you consciously groom a person for Task A and then remove Task A from that person’s list of life options, what have you done?   Especially when Task B should have been that person’s priority all along.

    Or this can be looked at as a blatant (or at least poorly disguised) attempt to create irresistible pressure to alter our historic priorities, in which case all the negative fallout was part of the plan.

  2. Daniel Edelman says:

    Rabbi Gordimer: 
    I am not quite sure what experience, authority or credentials gives you license to proclaim unequivocally what the Rav’s views are.  Did you ever meet the Rav?  Did you ever ask him a halakhic or any question?  Did you ever attend in person a lecture or shiur he gave?
    Irrespective of what you may have read in a book by someone other than the Rav or in a shiur you heard by someone else about the Rav, what personal knowledge do you have that allows to you pronounce his positions?
    If, however, all you are doing is offering your point of view based on studies and analysis of the Rav’s own words, you may want to factor in some other comments the Rav made which likely have bearing on the issues you raise.  I offer you two such examples:
     1.     In analyzing the famous beraita in Kiddushin about fearing and loving parents in which the father is identified as the one teaching Torah, the Rav stated:

    “I want you to understand: the Baraita does not speak of father and mother, but of types – father and mother types. The real father may have certain characteristics which belong to the mother-type, and the mother-type, and the mother may act like a father. The Baraita is speaking of so called ‘deyoknot,’ prototypes, archetypes.” (Family Redeemed p.161).
     2)   In his public lecture about the covenantal role of Sarah, the Rav taught:
    “Yet, even as we recognize metaphysical differences, we insist that they do not differ axiologically, as regards their worthiness before God. Both bear His image, which is the ultimate criterion of value; both may be ‘called to the colors’ to assume leadership roles as history makers, as God’s messengers. Sarah, Miriam, Deborah, Esther and many others whom Scripture has relegated to anonymity, were elected by Providence as shelihay hakel, His emissaries, when great problems were to be overcome . . . .” (Man of Faith in the Modern World (Besdin ed.) p. 85).

    • Steve Brizel says:

      The above quotes state the obvious-the Imahos Miriam Esther and many others except for Dvorah who was clearly a shofetes during a shas hadchak all served as Shlichei HaKel but not in the same manner as the Avos Moshe Rabbeinu or Aharon HaKohen. It is a distortion of the views of RYBS and a normative understanding of Tanach to state otherwise

  3. dr.bill says:

    The Rav ztl was talking descriptively, not prescriptively.  His comments are penetrating but were not directed at the problem at hand.  I think that women who study intensively with anyone, particularly in a religious environment, can develop a connection like one that develops between rebbe and talmid, which goes well beyond what some call mesorah.  That relationship does not come from 1-2 years sitting in a course/shiur.  It develops with much more intense interaction.  I suspect that generally (and with some exceptions) that interaction is better had between those of the same sex be that student/teacher, rebbe/talmid, or rabbi/congregant.  This argues for a considerable increase in the number of women scholars, teachers, rabbis, etc., a goal that I think need be broadly endorsed.
    This need is a new one.  Some will discount it because their bubbe did not the need.  That is why as the result of the feminist reality, change will never be limited to some circumscribed set of proclamations; they will evolve (significantly and slowly) over time.  Quoting decisions/insights of the past as if they directly answer current dilemmas is as useful as quoting responses to a question that was not asked.  The value of decisions/insights of the past is in extracting ideas that may apply in our changed circumstance.  That is clear in psak; apparently less so in the yet more evolving areas of hashkafa.
    This will not come quickly.  In academic circles there were no/hardly any first rate women scholars in bible or talmud fifty years ago.  (the late nechama Lebowitz was a devotee of the beit midrash.)  today the likes of hindy Najman and Christine hayes have joined the ranks of first-rate scholars.  Orthodox attitudes will have to evolve before we can expect to see women join the ranks of first-rate RY and rabbis.  My guess is that is why a host of orthodox women travel down an academic path in which opposition to reaching the pinnacle of achievement is non-existent.  There is not just a qualitative difference between the BM in Hebrew univ and the Mir; one provides an environment where women can participate.  And they do!

  4. Steve Brizel says:

    Dr Bill noted in relevant part:

    “some will discount it because their bubbe did not the need”.

    Perhaps, MO educators should rethink what is their most important goal-students who have a college ready education and are knowledgeable in Tanach, Halacha , hashkafa and Jewish history  who will be eager to build a Bayis Neeman BYisrael sooner rather than later as opposed to assuming that merely by offering courses in Talmud that will coopt the radical egalitarian feminist agenda which always has been and remains unsatisfied with any gender based differences.

    Sure, many a bubbe did not study Gemara, but to assert that every young woman is religiously at risk because she lacks the  understanding  that men, not women, were given the burdens of Mitzvos Aseh Shezman Grama and Talmud Torah precisely because women remained loyal during the episodes of the Golden Calf and Korah, as opposed to men who led and participated in both rebellions,  on the seemingly “impractical” aspects of Torah is tantamount to a rejection of gender based differences that go back to the Avos, Imahos, Moshe Rabbeinu and Miriam Haneviah. Perhaps , the time has either arrived for underscoring that fact, as opposed to suggesting that there is no difference between the genders in Halacha, Hashkafa and obligations in Mitzvos.

    • dr.bill says:

      as i have come to expect, you confuse the few and the many.  i addressed creating the few, who can become role-models for the many.  you would benefit from reading some of the Rav ztl’s essays cited by daniel edelmen above.  on the other hand, you will read it to conform to your well-established weltanschauung.  again NO one claims that there is “no difference.”  just that some elements of difference are axiological; others are not. and for some elements their nature is disputed.

      • Steve Brizel says:

        Fwiw we live in a community where many women are very knowledgeable in Tanach Halacha and machshavah and very mdakdek Umitzvos and reject and all aspects of feminism as it has been accepted and voiced by JOFA and YCT and their supporters.Why create such role models for women the majority of whom neither need nor desire the same? If you want to look for role models to emulate look no farther than the bios of Rebbitzen Kanievsky Rebbitzen Machlis and R Moshe Twersky the latter of which has many pictures previously not seen of RYBS and R and Tibadel lchaim Dr Twersky . we can all find a midah tovah to emulate in such books as opposed to further allowing the insidious growth and acceptance of

      • dr.bill says:

        sorry, but i haven’t a clue of what i said that provoked your response.  for that matter, i can hardly  decipher your point.  you appear to have trailed off mid-sentence.

      • Steve Brizel says:

        I lost part of that post but my point was that feminism and all of the assumptions and negativity that feminism has always had for the conventional family must always be rejected even and especiallymeans that we emphasize differences and roles between genders. A MO that seeks approval for feminists to put on tefilin without worrying whether every man of post bar mitzvah age does so is at grave risk

      • Steve Brizel says:

        I have read all that the Torat HaRav Foundation has published. Show me anywhere where RYBS assumed or stated that the obligation of Talmud Torah is identical in any manner between the genders.

      • dr.bill says:

        who ever mentioned obligation?  since you brought it up, just for your edification compare the rabbi’s interpretation of ve’shinantom levanecha to the translation of those words in any english bible from jps to artscroll.  you can throw in some christian translations as well.  this point was made by elizabeth shanks alexander in explaining her approach to some of history around women’s obligations to study and perform other mitzvot as recorded in early tannaic literature.

      • Steve Brizel says:

        That’s exactly my point men and women should be educated to maximize their commitment to what they are obligated to do and learn as opposed to bring educated in a manner that assumes a woman has the same level of obligation to learn and observe as a man. It is a recipe for communal disaster to educate and transmit the roles of the genders in any other way. MO has attempted poorly to coop the feminist onslaught and attack on the family and now has been placed under siege by the Trojan horse of feminism which sees no differences at all between the genders

      • joel rich says:

        Wow.  I find myself agreeing both with Steve and with Dr. Bill!

        My humble opinion the elephant in the room is we have  undertaken (consciously or unconsciously) a massive experiment in reallocating Our most precious resource, our time, away from what used to be considered One of our primary goals, raising the next generation. This is true of all elements of orthodox society. The point of  what works for a few versus being an aspirational goal for the masses I think is often lost.   This is true in many respects including a focus on  materialism.

        Kol tuv

      • dr.bill says:

        joel rich, your point is well taken.  neither the kollel wife, slaving to support her husband, nor the woman who is a full time doctor are solely focused on raising the next generation.  however, no one has demonstrated that other approaches to child-rearing are not equally or more effective.  i agree with you it is a large experiment/bet; but it is one where i have not yet seen any outcomes that can be clearly linked to the mother’s choices.

      • dr.bill says:

        read the Rav ztl’s letter dated may 27, 1953 sent rabbi leonard rosenfeld.  he did not talk about obligations, but merely the practical issue of whether boys and girls ought have the same IDENTICAL curricula.  (what one distinguished rabbi jokingly called the halakhic analog to Brown vs. the BOE of topeka.)

        clearly, as noted below reported by RAL ztl, his daughters did not participate in his family study of certain mesechtot.  but the rav also studied privately with rav chaim without his two SIL’s.  the implication that somehow zevachim or baba Batrah is harder than sukkah or beitzah, can only be made if one does not appreciate the innovations the Rav brought to the brisker derech.

        for anyone to presume they can authoritatively speak for the Rav in this complex area, is in my mind CHUTZPAH.  i remember the only time i heard a very, very mildly off-color word from RAL ztl was when asked to explain a certain decision of the Rav with which he disagreed.  when asked, why did you not ask him?  RAL said something i remember as i would not have the chutzpah to ask a gadol such a question using what was for rav aharon pretty colorful language.  i am upset when people who knew the Rav less well can ascribe views to him in situations arising 30+ years after his last ability to convey his exceptional halakhic and ethical insights.

      • Steve Brizel says:

        I have read the letter. You have to have a gift of prophecy to think that RYBS would have advocated anything near the JOFA/YCT OO agenda based on that letter. I remain unconvined that the letter offers even a mahshehu of support for the aforementioned agenda .

      • dr.bill says:

        Steve Brizel, you remind me of what the Rav ztl said after asking a student if arrived directly from the eighth grade?  read your question on the 23rd at 1036, my response on the 26th at 841 and your “response” on the 27th at 654.  if there is continuity in your “response” i missed that class in rhetoric.

        you asked a question, i gave you a source and you told me about???

  5. S.W. says:

    This response (as well as Bob Miller’s) completely misses the point and reads intentions into Dr. Schwartz’s article that are not there. She writes, “What would it look like to have a community that understands that if it wants its women to act as insiders, it must treat them as insiders?” It is telling that you confuse a desire to be part of our community with a desire to be just like men.
    “Fathers and sons travel, and are drawn to Ger, Belz, Alexander, Bobov, all the places made citadels of religious life, dominated by the figure of the rebbe’s personality. And we stay at home, the wives, daughters, and the little ones. We have an empty Yom Tov … the mother goes to the synagogue, but the services echo faintly into the fenced and boarded-up women’s galleries. Outside the synagogues, the girls chatter; they walk away from the synagogue where their mothers pour out their vague feelings … While the men bend and sway in the rhythm tradition has created, and their heads are held aloft into visionary heights, the girls go skipping on their way, along the path of a world which is wide open, unfenced and pitiless.”

    • Bob Millr says:

      You appear to assume that it’s up to male functionaries of the shul or community to pull the women there into their emotional world.   Rabbi Gordimer’s article here suggests that, historically, there has been a women’s world or sphere within our communities that provides support and camaraderie.  So the question then arises: why is the women’s sphere so often atomized and disconnected within itself?    Do the women on up to the Rebbetzin and other female role models have trouble relating to one another?  If so, why?  My wife and I have lived in various places and seen both sides of this.  In some places, the women as a group have real esprit de corps and really care about and support one another.  In others, they’re as cold as ice except within small cliques.

  6. Yehoshua says:

    It seems that you are missing the point entirely. Rav Soloveitchik writes about toras imecha as the mesorah that woman impart. But they impart it to both women and men, not to women alone. The main thrust of Dr. Schwartz’s article is not about what role women will play in the transmitting of the mesora to others, but in the need for them to have exposure to and a kesher with Rabbanim and Rashei Yeshiva, so as to have access to that aspect of our mesora.

  7. mycroft says:

    IMO the current dispute about women Rabbis has unfortunately been escalated om both sides. For what its worth I was opposed to women Rabbis   in the early 70s when I heard Rabbi Riskin first advocate it and am probably still opposed now.    Why the probably, if I were just reading the comments by those advocating women Rabbis I would still be clearly oppose, my doubts come from the dicta that is present   in many  of the statements    opposed. Clearly, the strongest argument I have heard opposed   is the shochet    one. Why those opposed attempt to bring up metahalachik arguments that come down to essence you have trust us for decisions in the fifth Shulchan Aruch because  we know more sources in our mind.     Intended or not the affect is to appear that the parties opposed number one goal is to fight   anything that has the imprimatur of YCT.

    • Steve Brizel says:

      Mycroft wrote in relevant part:

      “Intended or not the affect is to appear that the parties opposed number one goal is to fight   anything that has the imprimatur of YCT.”

      I would suggest that “anything that has the imprimatur of YCT” warrants  very strict scrutiny as to  whether it is consistent with the Mesorah of Halacha and Hashkafa. R E Saffran quotes RYBS as stating that Naaseh vNishmah represents our submision to Dvar HaShen even before we understand the meaning of the same. The question that has always been posed to YCT with no real answer forthcoming is whether its raison de etre is consistent with Naaseh vNishmah or not, which R Gordimer has demonstrated is far from the same in many instances.

  8. mycroft says:

    For what its worth IMO the article by Dr Rivka Press Schwartz reflects  more closely what the underlying thoughts of the Rav would have been in this issue than anything written on either side.

    Some undisputed facts about the Rav-he  taught his girls Talmud way before college age at a very high level.

    Many times we have a record that the Rav believed that one should teach Talmud to girls the same way we teach boys.

    The Rav once invited a female to attend his summer shiur in Boston that he gave to his talmidim from RIETS in NY.

    RIETS during his day did not in general teach the classic “Yeshiva mesechtot” 50 years ago the mesechta was Pesachim for 2 years!Remember something from half a century ago.

    Maimonides always had mixed classes even when they had multiple classes and could have had one boys and one girls class. Decades ago my brothers wife was chavrusa with my wifes sisters husband at Maimonides.

    The Rav started from the assumption that absent specific reasons men and women should do the same thing. In Berlin he noticed women on Yom Kippur doling korim -inLita they didn’t and felt on the surface they should except for his chiddush vham haomdim bazarah hayu korim-women were not in the azarah they were in the ezra nashim and thus no korim. A specific reason not a generalized difference.


    • Steve Brizel says:

      All of the above is fascinating but ignores a simple query-how many male members of a given class at Maimonides put on tefilin on either a Sunday when there is no davening at school or on a daily basis as post grads? I thino that is a far more telling stat than how and when or where or who studies Talmud and an observation that I would pose to many MO school s that boast of women studying Talmud while ignoring what many mchanchim in MO schools and more than a few graduates describe as a basic lack if seriousness about basic shmiras hamitzvos until and unless a student is inspired by a gap year or two to become more committed to such basic Mitzvos as tefiliin Shabbos and the like.

      • mycroft says:

        The fair question is given backgrounds of students what is the outputs received, tfillin of grads is certainly an important stat, but must adjust to student body.

        thus, no proof if Lakewood, or Borough Park have better stats in that area. Fair question to all schools , look at success as percent Shomrei Shabbos, kashrut observing ultimately Tamar’s hamishpacha observance instead f the avowal zarah of textual familiarity. Except for tfilah which is essential, can’t Daven, won’t attend schul and likely lost to Yiddishkeit.

      • Steve Brizel says:

        Not responsive-Your comment is a down the road query and I was not interested in what happens in Lakewood or BP, where the OTD issue is also quite evident. One cannot two very different religious and educational environments. I was focusing on the student body and members of a certain class in a prestigious MO school.

    • Steve Brizel says:

      AFAik RIETS has always followed the derech of Volozhin and many masectos including the classical yeshivishe masectos as well as Berachos Shabbos Nidah  and Pesschim for many years. Every year the RY decide on which masecta except for those Talmidim learning YD will be learned in every shiur

    • Steve Brizel says:

      Fascinating memories. Yet as RAL ZL mentioned in one of his books it remains to be seen what is the core legacy of RYBS.  I think that in this context it is fair to ask whether RAYHK was correct in his predictions about HU and whether REW was correct in his evaluation of Zionism in all of its permutations. The question of whether RYBS would have reacted favorably to the rise of OO YCT and JOFA s agenda cannot be based upon the above or the inaugural shiur at SCW all of which predated the Trojan horse like invasion of radical egalitarian feminism and its ideological partners the LGBT agenda and its supporters and apologists within the LW of MO.

  9. Aharon says:

    FWIW. a description the Rav’s learning with his children by RAL:


    “As it turned out, I managed to learn a great deal of Torah in Boston.  I covered a lot of ground.  Partly, it was the learning itself, since I was learning Torah about six hours a day when I was in graduate school; but the ability to be exposed through the learning to the Rav, in his home environment, was priceless.  He would learn with his three children, his son-in-law, Professor Yitzchak Twersky, z”l, and myself.  In addition to that, he learned with his son, Rav Haym, and to some extent with Professor Twersky as well, and I was admitted to join that group as well.  In the first year that I was in Boston, early in the year we learned matters related to the yamim nora’im and Sukkot; then we learned the entire masekhet Beitza; then we finished all of Berakhot; in addition to which, Rav Haym, Rav Yitzchak and I learned Bava Kamma, up to daf 13 and Zevachim, up to daf 9″

  10. Rob says:

    To suggest a sociological consideration: in this era, some frum women will almost inevitably and certainly seek an education in and to the same depths of texts that the men study in pursuit of and before semicha. Would the “centrists” and “rightists” not agree it better for those women, under the circumstances, to get such training from centrist and rightist rabbis without the women receiving semicha than from the left-wing/OO/Chovevei/Maraharat/Rabba educators who always find a das yachid that to support a foregone conclusion?

  11. Steve Brizel says:

    Read the bio of R Moshe Twerski ZL to see how and what RYBS learned with his grandchildren who also attended Maimonides

    • mycroft says:

      Acharei mos kedoshim Emor.

      • Steve Brizel says:

        Ignorance isn’t bliss. Don’t dismiss the comments of  talmidim and family members , the numerous photographs of RYBS , the hesped for RYBS therein and the evidence of a very close zeide-einekel and Talmid-rebbe relationship that is depicted simply because R Moshe Twersky ZL HaShem Yimkam Damo was Charedi and doesn’t and never fit your POV as a talmid of RYBS.

      • mycroft says:

        i sadly was at RMTs levaya , was Menachem Avel,  I spent time in the Boston area and knew the people involved. One would not expect or desire an objective discussion of anyone who was murdered al Kiddush Hashem.

      • Steve Brizel says:

        The stories of Talmidim and family members of any Adam Gadol are always worth reading just for their inspirational value especially for those of us who were not zoche to be at the levaya or be mnahem avel

      • Steve Brizel says:

        Who says that objectivity is a virtue in such an instance?That is why we recite kinos and recount the lives and demise of the

        Asarah harugei malchus burning of the Talmud and Holocaust mzrtyrs to inspire us to live lives rooted in kiddish HaShem



      • Steve Brizel says:

        Would you apply the same comment and POV ( which is a nice but cynical bon motif to any hesped  of an Adam Gadol) to reading memoirs or books about a scientist, political leader or a great athlete, all of which might broaden what you didn’t know about such a person? I saw in the introduction to the bio of R Moshe Twersky ZL HaShem Yimkam Damo in the name of R Yaakov Weinberg ZL ( RY of NIRC) that we read such books because they depict the lives of great Yidden and what we can learn in some small way from their lives to be inspired more in our Avodas HaShem in our own lives.

      • mycroft says:

        Yes! Heapedimare the least accurate. FWIW both my parents in written Zara to us stated no hespedim, only tehillim. As my father AH stated to me on the way to Olam hames I dont want sheker stated

      • Steve Brizel says:

        That is your opinion and that of your parents. To call that a widely followed individual or communal practice especially if a memorial volume is published about the niftar means that the legacy of the life and contributions of the individual have been preserved regardless of their instructions to the contrary.yehi

      • Steve Brizel says:

        Yehi Zicram Baruch

      • Steve Brizel says:

        The book in question is hardly a book of hespedim. It is a fascinating story of how An einekel of RYBS applied himself in a constant manner throughout his life to become a great talmid chacham husband and father.

  12. Steve Brizel says:

    Like it or not every Jewish male is obligated to the best of his knowledge to learn TSBP and especially Gemara. You can offer any external reasons why women should learn Talmud but women are exempted for a variety of reasons first and foremost because men are obligated in Mitzvos aseh shehazman grams because of their spiritual inferioity to women who remained loyal during the episodes of the golden calf and Korach. No amount of feminist rooted rhetoric can or will ever change this.

    • mycroft says:

      For better or worse, some statements of the Rav were quoted, for balance some other statements were quoted. Thus issue is what walls the Ravs attitude be towards various issues involving women. I assume most of bloggers are not nvlved professionally in Yidishkeit, clearly Rabbi Gordimer is. Rabbi Gordimer takes his position and develops in a polite manner. It actually serves his side much better than others who attack much more ad hominem. I certainly never pasken end at most we quote either statements or Maaseh Rav.

    • dr.bill says:

      through an admixture of midrashim about limmud hatorah and the notions of mitzvot aseh sh’hazeman grama you have hit on a critical point made by academic talmud scholars who link limmud hatorah and the mitzvot aseh sh’hazeman grama.  baruch shekivantoh.  now read the early tannaic literature to see how that connection was established and developed.  were it only as simple as you seem to think, rishonim would not have to exercise their brilliance in trying to make sense of the various sugyot.

      btw, how was the mitzvah to learn gemara fulfilled by tannaim?  is learning the yerushalmi sufficient or must one also learn the bavli?  your notion of “especially gemara” flies in the face of those rishonim who explicitly differed!!

      • Steve Brizel says:

        During the tekufa of the Tansim prior to the formulation of the Mishnah as we know it today all of TSBP was studied in an oral manner.

      • dr.bill says:

        wow, even ma she’talmid atid le’chadaish.  even concepts/frameworks that did not exist?

      • Steve Brizel says:

        There are chiddushei Torah in every generation waiting to be discovered by a talmid vasik

      • Steve Brizel says:

        Show me one sugya and the Rishonim thereto not gender oriented contemporary scholars who assume that women are obligated to learn TSBP in the same manner as men

      • dr.bill says:

        no one is talking obligated.  there are other reasons to study.  even r. yosef and bruriah, though not obligated, studied.  even non-jews study a variety of topics some with great hasmadah.

      • Steve Brizel says:

        Obligation is the issue. There is no dispute that a mtzuveh gains a larger scar mitzvah than an aino mtzuveh.R Yosef who was a sagi nahor and Bruriah are exceptional cases  who are not relevant to the discussion at hand

      • dr.bill says:

        to paraphrase the Rav ztl, obligation is the floor not the ceiling.

      • Steve Brizel says:

        There are so many statements by the Tannaim and Amoraim as halachic norms as to the importance of Talmud Torah for men as oppozed to women. What You are referring to are disagreements as to what constitutes the point of emphasis .show me one Tanna Amore or Rishon who defines the mitzvah in a lchatchilah basis as consisting of the first verse in Krias Shema.

  13. simon fleischer says:

    Steve, the manner in which you present subjective hashkafic considerations as objective truths is so off putting. Even if that’s how you truly feel, for tactical reasons I would think you would adopt a different tone. Your tone is so divisive, and does damage to Jewish unity, and hurts people who read your words– as it does me. I would assume as a frum Jew this matters to you.

    • Steve Brizel says:

      Simon-I stand by my comments on this thread and related threads  and I don’t think that what JOFA and YCT advocate can be viewed as within the boundary of MO. I do not believe that issues of Klapei PNim in hashkafa and halacha  should ever be looked aside  and thrown under the bus because of  some vague and ill defined notion of “Jewish unity”  that I doubt coexists with that of R Saadyah Gaon. I don’t think  that feminism and its continuous threat to the health of the Jewish family should ever be viewed as a philosophy that can be coopted or rationalized within MO.( In this context, I am reminded of a story involving R Belsky ZL who responded to a query from a doctor or nurse as to why he had such a large family-R Belsky ZL replied that the Jewish People are an endangered species. Like it or not, the family unit and Jewish children who follow their parents devotion to Torah Avodah and Gmilus Chasadim are the key to Jewish continuity. The question remains-shouldn’t thinking about marriage be as equally as important as the APs an Ivy League acceptance and a great professional career?)

      When you say that my comments “hurt”, that IMO is code for a refusal to discuss any POV except your own. I think that comments like yours IMO  illustrate why we are in such a dark Galus in the US-because we are far too comfortable with the Zeigeist of our times even when it poses a clear and present danger to a life rooted in Torah and Mitzvos, and seek rationalizations away from a life rooted in Kedoshim Tihiyu. .

    • Steve Brizel says:

      Simon I stand by my comments on this thread and others related to the same. I think that when you use the term you are calling for silence and acceptance of the unacceptable within halacha and hashkafic norms which clearly was the subject of the forums at the JOFA conference and the peddling of the same a la Pravda in the JW whose objectivity on this issue is as objective as the NYT on Trump. No amount of rhetoric which has its roots on the goals of feminism to destroy the conventional family can mask the fact that alternatives to Kiddushin gay marriage and single women having children are issues which are simply beyond any normative view of Halacha and the importance of creating families who are dedicated to building a Bayis Neeman BYisrael. The fact that this topic makes some uncomfortable should never be an excuse to shrink from the fact that any species that does not replicate ceases to exist. I do think that educating our next generation about the importance of marriage arb an earlier age is a critical issue that needs to be stressed far more than seeing how far we can minimalize the differences between the genders and rationalize away isdurim such as toevah prutza kadesha and shtuki.




    • Steve Brizel says:

      R Saadya Gaon stated that the Jewish nation is a nation only by virtue of the Torah. One cannot call for unity by proposing the rationalization and acceptance of the unacceptable

  14. Sarah says:

    When the Rav describes Torah Imecha, he describes an emotional experience that a mother has the capacity to generate for both her sons and daughters, the Rav being a prime example of a male beneficiary of his mothers form of Torah.  Is it not unreasonable then, that Toras Avicha, the intellectual and moral Torah that a father has the obligation to pass along, is similarly meant to be transmitted to both sons and daughters?  I believe that Avicha and Imecha refer to the transmitters, not the recipients.  Mrs. Schwartz reiterates that this is not a case of women asking to be Rabbis (transmitters of Toras Avicha) but recipients of that Torah.

    Each Jew needs a combination of both Toras Avicha and Imecha.  The Rav expresses the essentiality of the living experience of Judaism to enhance and underlie his “formal compliance with the law”. To deny girls access to Torah Avicha is to provide color without form, tone without composition.  There is no anchor for experiences, no weight to the ethereality. Might there be different proportions of the 2 aspects of Torah that are ideal for men and women? Of course. But you have undermined your ability to separate the 2 paths entirely along gender lines because as men need “the beauty, grandeur, and warmth” of Torah and the “flavor and scent” of the mitzvos, the stark lines have already been erased.

    Furthermore, perhaps in the days of old women were capable of living and believing on scents and ephemera alone, but nowadays, a vague expression of beauty is not going to keep a girl grounded and on a solid path.  In spite of what many frum men persist in believing, a good number of women are intellectual creatures, skeptical of hazy feelings and amorphous emotions.  If “Judaism is to a great extent an intellectual discipline, a method, a system of thought, a hierarchy of values”, how can you ask girls to maintain a commitment to that Judaism if you deny them access to, and invalidate their need for and abilities towards, that very discipline?  The answer is that you can’t.  Since Judaism is, largely, an intellectual and moral body, if you have determined that women have no place in that mesorah, you have have done exactly what Mrs. Schwartz describes, you have told girls that “they are outsiders to the core mission of our community” and you have essentially asked them to leave.  And they (we?) are, some overtly, but many, many more in an orthoprax modality.  And once there are too few able and willing to generate the emotional underpinnings of Judaism, you will lose Toras Avicha too.

    (I do not agree with Mrs. Schwartz’s proposed solution, but the problem is real, and denying its existence will come back to haunt us.)

  15. Steve Brizel says:

    Dr Bill wrote in relevant part:

    “joel rich, your point is well taken.  neither the kollel wife, slaving to support her husband, nor the woman who is a full time doctor are solely focused on raising the next generation.  however, no one has demonstrated that other approaches to child-rearing are not equally or more effective.  ”

    The question remains-who is more likely to raise their children and value and cherish the preservation and spiritual growth of her entire family? I would argue that since both spouses have to work to support the requirements of raising a family, one spouse has to be there to make sure that the huge responsibilities of running the home and being there for the children in their early years and encouraging her husband to learn ( Brachos 17) devolves on the wife-regardless of whether she is a kollel wife or a high powered full time professional

  16. asher says:

    sorry – skimmed through the comments so I apologize if this basic and simple point was expressed – are the modern orthodox not concerned with the potential ill effects of encouraging close relationships between female students and rabbanim?

    • dr.bill says:

      i for one am worried.  fortunately, those who do are more likely to be socially prepared and react appropriately.  in any case, the laws of yichud apply.

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