2.07.2008

Why are separate "web yeshivot" for men and women necessary?

That is my first question about this interesting and exciting new enterprise. I heartily yet respectfully disapprove of sex-segregated web yeshivot, and not because I am dead set against sex-segregated education as a rule,1 but rather because I don't see the need for it in this particular setting and circumstance. As far as I am aware at the moment, the main difference between the men's and women's programs it that women can only teach women, and not men. Men, on the other hand, can teach either women or men. (This is the roster of teachers. ) This is what I object to. I would have to know more about how separate the programs actually are, how different the shiurim are, and how the web-based learning works to know how incensed I should get, but on the face of it, I will give it a great, big yuck! Also, boo on them for not addressing this in their FAQ.

Oh, barf! Now I see the difference between the yeshiva and the midrasha. There is no Gemara for women beyond "Introduction to Torah She'Baal Peh" and then one, basic, introductory class, called "Aspects of Mesekhet Kiddushin" (which is actually "Introduction to Torah She'Baal Peh, part 2") and there is no hasidut or neviim for men. "Aspects of Masekhet Kiddushin" is like "chocolate-flavored" anything, or "fruit drink." It's reminiscent of Masekhet Kiddushin, but not quite the real thing. Do they use photocopies on the web, too? And do you need to certify your sex (or gender, but I think they probably only care about sex) before you sign up? What's to stop a Navi-loving man from sneaking into the midrasha?

First question done. [Update here.]

My first comment is, good for them for having a "beta midrash"! That would a waste of a nice play on words if they didn't--combining the Hebrew beit for "house of" with the Greek/computerese beta for "test version of." (A beit midrash is the usual way of saying "house of study.")

Also, it's a little bit interesting for the etymology-loving part of my brain. Beta (β), of course, is the second letter of the Greek alphabet, after alpha (α). Bet (ב) is the second letter of the Hebrew alphabet. I vaguely recall that the letter bet is named thusly because it looks like a bayit, or house.2 By substituting beta for bet, you aren't really changing the meaning because bet/beta/bayit are all really the same word. Well done, WebYeshiva!

Back to the yeshiva itself. Having dispensed with my first question and first comment, I can turn to the yeshiva itself.

I have had the great privilege of learning from several of its teachers, including:
I have nothing but the highest regard for these educators, and if I didn't know about the separate yeshiva and midrasha aspect of this, I would give my wholehearted endorsement--or as much of a wholehearted endorsement as a person could give without a more thorough investigation. I was really very excited to find out about this project, before the gender issue smacked me upside the head with its idiocy.

I would love to hear a response from any of the above about the need for separate institutions when, as far as I can tell, all of the learning happens online. [Update: Responses here.]

I am also curious to know who, exactly, their target audience is.

Off to daven mincha...

Oh, one more quick thought before I go. I sometimes wonder whether it "pays" to get upset about this sort of thing. At some point, it may just make more sense for me to say (to myself, at least), "Look, this isn't my community, these people do not share my values, I should stop caring." I don't get all that upset about the narishkeit that goes on in the chareidi world unless I feel like severe damage is being done to people (physical, mental, emotional). Even then, I tend to distance myself. I'm not saying that this a good thing, just that it might be necessary for me to continue to feel ahavat Yisrael and like a welcome part of the Jewish people. "It" being a sort of intentional ignorance or feigned disinterest in what goes on in communities of which I am not a part. It's just hard for me to feel that in this particular instance, because these are people I've learned with, I've spent Shabbatot with, I've slept in the living rooms of. (Yeah, yeah, prepositions. I know.) Granted, most of that was 7+ years ago, but, still! Have I changed that much? Have they?

I don't think that, for women who do not desire to study gemara, they are really harming themselves. I feel the same way about men who are similarly kept from studying the Tanya or Nevi'im due to the sex segregation of this program. It could be fine for them. It's not fine for me, and I think it's silly and misguided, but I don't think great harm is befalling anyone because of this.

Other instances where this sort of thinking might apply are, say, when I go to a Shabbat meal (not yours!) and the people there busy themselves with talk of celebrities, movies, other people's dating lives, how many calories are in a particular piece of kugel, or how their husbands feel about them shaving their legs when they're six months pregnant and can't bend to reach. Is all of this displeasing to me? Am I at all interested in any of these topics? Not a bit. But is great harm befalling these people by the way they choose to spend their time? No, not great harm. So when I get mad about these things--and I do--I wonder if I really should. Is it better to just write these people off as "people who don't share my values and with whom I need not associate"? Even though we daven together and observe Shabbat in similar ways (except for Shabbos table conversation)?

What do you think? To get mad or to disassociate? Or is it time to just give up on Orthodoxy as a sociological reality altogether?

______________________________________________
1. Sometimes I am for it, sometimes I am against it, and sometimes I think it's a toss-up.
2. I think that other letters were also named after the figures or images that they resemble, but I can't remember now. Maybe the letter gimmel (ג), from which the Greek gamma (Γ) is derived, looks/looked like a gamal, a camel? I don't know. The point is, though, that beta is called beta because it looks like a bayit. This way of naming letters is called acrophony. (Learn something new every day, eh?) Lots of readers of this blog--including my father--know way more about this stuff than I do, so I will let them chime in if I am totally off. I just thought it was cool.

4 comments:

Yvette said...

I think most of what we call "Orthodoxy" is sociological anyway--"Orthodoxy" was formulated as a sociological divide from the reform movement, not in response to the existence of Jews who flouted halacha (these have existed since time immemorial). So one can be strictly shomer mitzvot while not identifying as sociologically Orthodox (by which I mean living in social enclaves populated by people who identify as such), but still keep one's ties with people who matter to them within that community.

In full disclosure, I think I gave up on that label late 2007/early 2008, not that I ever socialized at all in Orthodox settings or otherwise :P.

Dave (Balashon) said...

I wrote about the origins of the Hebrew Letters.

You can find the posts here:

hebrew letters

HDS said...

With regard to WebYeshiva, I think you have an excellent question. Did you submit it to them?

I did. I am waiting for a response and I'll let you know what they say. Of course, there is no way that I worded things precisely the way you would have, so I encourage you to submit your own question.

With regard to "get mad or disassociate", I would suggest that you clarify for yourself at what or about whom you would be mad, and from what or whom you would be disassociating. "Orthodoxy" for either answer seems to me to be far too convenient and equivocating.

I don't think it's particularly newsworthy to say that people and values don't usually divide themselves up into perfectly delineated sociological groups. It would be convenient, though, wouldn't it?

Participation in a scholarly discussion or enjoyable z'mirot unfortunately does not preclude a person from being disappointingly limited in other ways, and the person discussing the caloric content of kugel may indeed have a whole other interesting and enjoyable side to them. I can’t think of a meaningful difference between these two examples of people other than your first impressions of them.

Yvette said...

I am cutting my membership to the Assn of Orthodox Jewish Scientists because of nonsense like this. There's this conference on health and halacha (focusing on relationship between Dr and Rav) and they have "women's sessions" during chavruta learning. Don't know what's happening during the so called women's sessions, but anything that supposes that female doctors/scientists face different halachic issues with regard to patient care (very mysterious--I never thought I did different work from my male colleagues) is a bit odd...