Re: Limud Torah

Elliot S. Gordon (elliotgordon@juno.com)
Sun, 16 Mar 1997 01:25:48 PST

>MichaelSal@aol.com wrote:
>>Please lay out the argument why women are not allowed to study Torah?

There are 613 Torah Commandments and many more Rabbinical ones. Women are
excluded from mitzvot relating to Rabbinical courts and Cohanim, and
mitzvot that are physically possible only with men. But with regard to
the hundreds of remaining mitzvot, The Rambam counts only 14, "time
constrained positive commandments" that women are not required to do.
Even so, many of these, women _have_ accepted upon themselves to
perform (Shofar, Lulav, Succah, Reading the Shema each day, to name
some). In the process, they receive much merit in G-d's eyes, respect
and admiration from men as well as other women.

Returning to the question of Torah study, the question is based upon the
Mishnah in Sotah that states, "Rav Eliezer said that he who teaches his
daughter Torah is considered to have taught her _tiflut_" The term
"tiflut", is a somewhat ambiguous term that has several interpretations,
but clearly negative connotations.

However lest anyone jump to conclusions, this is clearly _NOT_ an all
encompassing ban. It is obvious that to be an Orthodox Jewess requires
a thorough knowledge of mitzvot, both negative and positive. This
necessitates studying halacha. Halacha is Torah for sure!

For the sake of simplicity, we can divide Torah study into 3 broad
categories:

1) Torah study to know and understand the Halachah that guides all Jews,
men and women.

2) Torah study that enriches our understanding of Judaism. The goal here
is to inspire ourselves to improve spiritually, to strengthen and
internalize our faith primarly through the study of Chumash, Tanach,
(Written Torah) Mishna Avos (Ethics) and related books and commentaries.

3) Torah study for the sake of it. Delving deeply into the complexities
of Torah, especially the Oral Torah, to attempt to thoroughly understand
the underlying meaning and logic that determine Halacha and Hashkafah
(philosopy).

There is much overlap between the categories, but regarding the first
category, there is no question that women are required to do their best to
study halachah.

Regarding the 2nd category, in the early part of this century, there was
a halachic dispute between the Gedolei Torah (Rabbinical leaders) on how
much to teach girls. Overwhelmingly the current practice follows the
view of the Chofetz Chaim and others, who held that it was vitally
important to teach girls these subjects in our time.

It is only regarding the 3rd category that women are discouraged from
study, and are for the most part not being taught in schools today. (To
any who would like an explanation, please email me directly.)

Even with regard to the 3rd category there are many individual
exceptions. For the operative word in the mishnah quoted above is
_teach_. But a woman who is highly motivated on her own, and wishes to
study to more fully understand the truths of the Torah, and is willing to
put in the time and effort to do it properly, she may _learn_, and receive
reward as for any other mitzvah from which she is exempt.

I question the sincerity of the women who complain about "inequality"
on the issue of Torah study, yet themselves _rarely_ make a serious attempt
to conquer the vast material to be covered under the first 2
categories.

The real issue IMHO, is not what teaching/learning is acceptable or not.
Rather it is, "Who is asking, and for what reason?" Is it an Orthodox Jew
with Feminist tendencies, or a Feminist with Orthodox Jewish tendencies?

Pesha Cohen-Singer, in explaining her somewhat "troubling feelings" about
the International Conference on Feminism and Orthodoxy, stated
the problem in concise terms. (see JP Mar 7th issue, Women's Page):

"Issues such as agunot, women's limited social and leadership roles,
women's learning, issues of tzniut, tefilla and Kaddish may all be parallel
in terms of their degree of noxiousness to feminist sensibilities, but
these are issues which vary widely in terms of the complexities of
Orthodoxy. Any serious comparative study of these issues from an Orthodox
perspective must include a solid basis of halachic understanding."

Passionate, even cogent arguments that ignore this fundamental principle,
are bound to be off base. They succeed only in creating divisive frustration
and anger.