12.03.2006

Source Sheet: Teaching Women Torah

I put this post up about two weeks ago, but then I took it down. Now it's back up with some small corrections and additions.
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It's been years since I was last called upon to do this. Actually, less than two years. But, still, I'm rusty. I used to be able to do this in my sleep! How the mighty have fallen...

This time around, it wasn't someone suggesting that women not be taught Talmud, but someone, bless his loving heart, who didn't know about the whole "women shouldn't be taught Torah Sheh Ba'al Peh" thing. As a result, he didn't really understand my conflicted feelings towards a corpus of law that, until a century ago, systematically denied women access to education despite the existence of equally or more compelling halachic sources that encouraged or, sometimes, required it. He hadn't been exposed, at the young and impressionable age that I was (18), to the systematic denial part of the picture.

So I decided to enlighten him. Since I no longer remembered all the relevant citations by heart, though, and didn't feel like going to a library to find a concise and well-organized secondary source, I had to cobble together the relevant sources from memory, the trusty Internet, and actual books I had on hand (namely: Tanach, Shas, Tur, Shulchan Aruch, and Mishneh Torah but only Rambam L'Am, without any commentary). I must say, I had a blast. There is something extremely joyful, for me, in chasing the path of various gemaras and rishonim through traditional reference tools.

So, what am I missing? I'm including both pro and con voices on women and the permissibility of teaching them various kinds of Torah. They're at least roughly in chronological order, and I've included some of the actual texts for some of them. Thanks!

I. Biblical sources
  1. Deuteronomy 31:12
    יב הקהל את-העם, האנשים והנשים והטף, וגרך, אשר בשעריך--למען ישמעו ולמען ילמדו, ויראו את-יהוה אלהיכם, ושמרו לעשות, את-כל-דברי התורה הזאת. 12 Assemble the people, the men and the women and the little ones, and thy stranger that is within thy gates, that they may hear, and that they may learn, and fear the LORD your God, and observe to do all the words of this law;
  2. Deuteronomy 11:19
    יט ולמדתם אתם את-בניכם, לדבר בם, בשבתך בביתך ובלכתך בדרך, ובשכבך ובקומך. 19 And ye shall teach them your children, talking of them, when thou sittest in thy house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up.
II. Mishna and Gemara with Rishonim
  1. Tosefta Brachot 2:12:
    ב,יב ...הזבין והזבות והנדות והיולדות מותרין לקרות בתורה ולשנות במשנה במדרש בהלכות ובאגדות
  2. Talmud Bavli Chagigah 3a, Tosfot there (explication of Deuteronomy 31:12)
  3. Talmud Bavli Kiddushin 29b (explication of Deuteronomy 11:19)
  4. Talmud Bavli Sotah 20a and 21b, Rashi and Tosfot there
  5. Talmud Yerushalmi, Sotah 3:4
    מטרונה שאלה את רבי לעזר מפני מה חט אחת במעשה העגל והן מתים בה שלש מיתות. אמר לה אין חכמתה של אשה אלא בפילכה דכתיב (שמות לה) וכל אשה חכמת לב בידיה טוו. אמר לו הורקנוס בנו בשביל שלא להשיבה דבר אחד מן התורה איבדת ממני שלש מאות כור מעשר בכל שנה. אמר ליה ישרפו דברי תורה ואל ימסרו לנשים.

III. Rishonim (Halachic Codes)
  1. Rambam, Mishneh Torah, Hilchot Talmud Torah, 1:1, 1:13 (1170-1180)
א] נשים ועבדים, פטורים מתלמוד תורה; אבל קטן--אביו חייב ללמדו תורה, שנאמר "ולמדתם אתם את-בניכם, לדבר בם, בשבתך בביתך ובלכתך בדרך, ובשכבך ובקומך" (דברים יא,יט). ואין האישה חייבת ללמד את בנה, שכל החייב ללמוד חייב ללמד.

יג] אישה שלמדה תורה, יש לה שכר; אבל אינו כשכר האיש, מפני שלא נצטווית, וכל העושה דבר שאינו מצווה עליו, אין שכרו כשכר המצווה שעשה אלא פחות ממנו. ואף על פי שיש לה שכר, ציוו חכמים שלא ילמד אדם את בתו תורה: מפני שרוב הנשים, אין דעתן מכוונת להתלמד, והן מוציאין דברי תורה לדברי הבאי, לפי ענייות דעתן.
  1. Tur, Yoreh Deah, Hilchot Talmud Torah, 245, 246 (1270-1340) [quotes Rambam 1:13 verbatim]
  2. Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah, Hilchot Talmud Torah, 246:6 (1500s) [SA quotes Rambam 1:13 verbatim; the Rama adds something new]
IV. Acharonim
  1. Rav Yisroel Meir HaKohen (Chafetz Chaim), Sefer Lekutei Hilchot Sotah 21a (1838-1933), as quoted in Rabbi Arthur Silver, "May Women be Taught Bible, Mishnah and Talmud?" Tradition, 17 (Summer 1978):
  2. “It seems that all this [the Rambam’s law] only applies in times gone by, where everyone lived in the same place and where our forefathers and the tradition of our fathers was very strong for each and everyone one to conduct themselves in the proper ways. As the Sages say, ‘Ask your father and he will tell you.’ In this situation we can say that women may not be taught Torah and she will learn how to conduct herself by emulating her righteous father. But today, when our father’s tradition has become very weak and it is common that we do not have the same living traditions as our fathers did and women learn to read and write a secular language, it is an especially great mitzvah to teach them Bible and the tradition and ethics of our Sages like Pirkei Avot and Sefer Menorat ha-Meor and the like, so that the truth of our holy heritage and religion will become evident to them, for if we do not do this they might, heaven forbid, leave the way of the Lord and come apostate.”

  3. Rav Menachem Mendel Schneerson (Lubavitcher Rebbe), Likkutei Sichot, Vol. 14 (NY, 1978), pp. 37-44 (20th c. USA) (available here)
  4. Rav Aharon Lichtenstein, “Fundamental Problems Regarding the Education of the Woman” published in Halacha V’Chinukha. Edited by Ben Zion Rosenfeld, published by Emunah, Ulpanot Bnei Akiva, Kfar Saba, 1980 (20th c., Israel) (excerpted here)
V. Additional Acharonim that I don't have access to but apparently say something interesting (Many of these are teshuvot written about women learning in specific situations, or in response to the realization that there were learned women in Europe, and “Who had taught them if it is forbidden to teach women Torah?” Very interesting stuff.)
  1. Rav Chaim Joseph David ben Isaac Zerachia Azulai ("the Chidah"), 18th c. Turkey
  2. Rav Samson Refael Hirsch, Sefer Ha’Chorev, Ch. 65
  3. Prisha, Tur Yoreh Deah, 246:6
  4. Rav Eliezer Waldenberg [who passed away very recently], Tzitz Eliezer, vol. 9, sec. 3:2
  5. Rav Moshe Feinstein, Iggrot Moshe, Yoreh Deah, 3:83 (20th c. USA)
  6. Rav Baruch Epstein, Torah Temimah, Deut. 11, 48 (20th c.)
  7. Rav Zalman Tzurutzkin, 20th c., Poland and Israel (teshuva to a Beis Yaakov school)

Oh! Look at what I just found. It's good to know that someone has done this already, and apparently in a more complete fashion than I have. Also, here is a more extensive list of sources in a post to mail-Jewish on this topic from Maidi Katz, z"l, whose tenth yahrzeit recently passed.

(I would say that my efforts were for naught, but they definitely weren't, since I learned a lot, had fun, and remembered how much I used to like to do these kinds of spur-of-the-moment research projects about things that interested me. Which is what this is really all about, isn't it?)

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