How do we ensure we have done all we can to imbue our children or students with a strong Jewish identity and religious commitment? Recent surveys have raised major concerns about the growing rates of intermarriage in the US and of “datlashim,” no longer observant Jews, in Israel. I’d like to suggest one part of the solution: Increase the number of girls and women learning and teaching Torah and create more positions for them in the Jewish world. Doubling the number of Jewish leaders means doubling the potential to reach and inspire Jewish lives.
We are privileged to live in a generation with growing numbers of female Torah scholars and leaders. Yet, many still don’t have access to these women. Living in Israel, in the year 2018, I often ask myself, how can it be that many girls’ schools in Israel do not teach girls Gemara (full disclosure: I’m proud that my daughter’s Amit high school now does). Or that a common scene found in an elementary school siddur play is that the boys are davening while the girls prepare the house for Shabbat.
The number of women populating women’s beit midrash programs in Israel today compared to when I first stepped foot into a woman’s beit midrash twenty years ago is impressive, especially, given that 20 years earlier women didn’t have formal opportunities to learn Torah. Perhaps most significantly, what I see is that the more girls and women learn Torah, Talmud and halacha, the more committed they are to mitzvot and the better role models they are to the next generation.
The book of Mishlei (Proverbs) understood that women as well as men had something to contribute to their children’s education: “My son, heed the discipline of your father, And do not forsake the instruction of your mother.” One interpretation offered by the midrash Mishlei, interprets the discipline (musar) of the father to be the written Torah, and the instruction (Torah) of the mother to be the Oral Torah. Based on the next verse in Mishlei, the midrash expounds, that whenever you give voice to these teachings they will be like milk and honey under your tongue. Why is the Oral Torah likened to a mother? Perhaps it is because the Oral Torah spiritually sustains the Jewish people like a mother physically sustains her children. The midrash understands that there are different styles of education for different students at different times, and by listening to both voices, there is double the potential to learn and connect.
The midrash also emphasizes that teachers have to find their unique style and voice so that their teachings are sweet like milk and honey. The entrance of women into the beit midrash has led to new perspectives and sensitivities to how Torah and halacha are taught and applied. This coming Shabbat, more than 80 women will be speaking in communities all around Israel and sharing their unique voices as part of Kolech’s “Dorshot Tov” project. This is an opportunity to showcase on a grand scale the accomplishments of women’s Torah learning and to consider more ways for communities to learn from religious women, to inspire ourselves and generations to come.