Thursday, January 05, 2006

The Orthodoxy Test #7: Women Learning Gemara

Women learning Gemarah is

a) assur
b) not allowed, although not exactly assur
c) allowed I guess, but not something a normal frum girl would do
d) something that should be supported for anyone who wishes to do so
e) very important to the future of Orthodoxy
f) Leave this question out of my results

I answered (c), because my impression is that it's the truth, both in that it's allowed, and in that the typical frum girl would not want to do it.

Question: does "assur" mean "not allowed?" If it does, what does (b) mean? If "assur" doesn't mean "not allowed," then what does it mean? "Prohibited?" What's the difference between "prohibited" and "not allowed?" Or does "assur" mean something like "You'll go to Hell for doing this," as opposed to "not allowed," which just means "You're prohibited from doing this, but you won't go to Hell if you do?" How can it mean that? Why shouldn't you do something if you won't go to Hell for it, and, conversely, if you shouldn't do it, then why won't you go to Hell if you do? In short, I don't understand (b).

Orthodoxy seems to have survived, and despite all the doom and gloom, to continue to survive, quite nicely without widespread Talmudic study by females, so I don't think (e) can be correct. As for (d): I don't know; I can't say this for sure, but it seems quite possible to me that a lot of females who want to study Gemara want to do it not because, or certainly not principally because, they are genuinely interested in serving God by doing so, but because they have been inspired/bought into feminist ideas to some extent, ideas that, if not antithetical to Judaism, are certainly not Torah-derived. I'm not sure such women should be encouraged to study Talmud; or at least, I don't think that's an attitude that should be promoted.

On the other hand, as I understand it, it is perfectly legitimate according to all major opinions for a woman to study those parts of Torah Shebe'al Peh that are of relevance to her life (i.e., halacha, hashkafa, etc). Gemara is Torah Shebe'al Peh. I highly doubt that most orthodox men ever succeed in properly studying all of the portions of Gemara that are relevant to women, with rishonim, acharonim, Tur, Shulchan Aruch, commentaries, etc. That's a huge body of material; it's a large portion of what you find in any bais midrash. I suspect that any woman pining to learn Gemara be'iyun (or otherwise) can be fully occupied in the endeavour for many years without taking on material that women shouldn't be encouraged to study. So in a way, I agree with (d), even (e); I just don't think that's what those answers are intended to mean.

(Parenthetically, maybe if girls studied more Gemara - whichever parts of it - they'd (on average) be less annoyingly unanalytical, dogmatic, intellectually inflexible, closed-minded, touchy-feely, and prone to outrage or offense when exposed to a bais-midrash-style debate. Or maybe they should all go to law school.)

One more point: why on earth should there be an "h" appended to the end of "Gemara?"

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