My wife Dina is a rabbinical student at Yeshivat Maharat. I am often asked what it’s like being married to a rabbinical student and it’s difficult to answer that in a sentence or two. However, I recently joined Dina on a trip to California when she served as scholar-in-residence over a Shabbat and my diary entries over this period really capture the life of a maharat student. I share these below.
The taxi is set to arrive in a half hour and we are busy stuffing and weighing our suitcases. 23 kilos sounds like a lot, but it isn’t really, when you are travelling as a family of four from London to LA. What to take along and what to leave behind? I decide at the last minute not to pack my sneakers. Vacations are for relaxing and overeating. I will resume running when I get back home.
That clears some extra space in the suitcase, but given that the sneakers aren’t that heavy, we still have several kilos to shed. I scratch my head thinking of what else I can jettison to lighten the load. I also can’t figure out why, given how economical we’ve been with the amount of clothes we’ve packed, the suitcases are still overweight. Then it dawns on me. Dina is travelling with a deluxe volume of Tur – Shlchan Arukh, Masechet Gittin, and assorted halachic works so that she can keep up her studies while we are away. If you’ve ever lifted a volume of these large, robust rabbinic texts, you know that they were not designed to be lifted, much less to be transported internationally on an airline’s limited weight allowance. But priorities are priorities and what is the significance of my favourite pair of jeans, an extra pair of shoes, sunscreen and beachwear compared to my wife’s advancement in Torah study?
We’ve checked in our luggage, gone through security and now find ourselves in the recently revamped Terminal 2 at Heathrow Airport. It’s like a giant shopping mall. Fortunately, Dina is not taking advantage of the numerous commercial temptations. She has an online study session in Yoreh De’ah with her chavrutah in New York. She finds a power outlet and WiFi, flips open her laptop and is instantly absorbed in the finer details of Issur ve-Heter. The boys and I are left to fend for ourselves. We eventually make our way to the boarding gate, expecting Dina to catch up. The material she was studying must have been particularly engrossing because it’s the final boarding call and she is nowhere to be seen. Do we board without her? I decide it’s best to get on the plane. Just as approach the boarding gate Dina shows up, sefer under her arm waving to us from down the concourse. We board together as a family. What a relief!
We davened at Yavneh in Hancock Park in LA. Shul was very busy that morning as there was a big Bar Mitzvah. At the Kiddush, we are approached by a man who welcomes us to the community and asks were we are from and what we are doing in LA. Dina says that we are visiting family in LA before going into Irvine next Shabbat, where she will serve as scholar-in-residence at Beth Jacob. “Oh, are you a Judaic Studies professor?” The man asks. “No,” says Dina. “I am a maharat student.” I closely watch the man face and wait for the impact. Given the latest RCA condemnation of female rabbis, this can go either way. He breaks into a wide smile. “Oh, wow” he says. “Wait here a minute while I get my wife. She would love to meet you.” While he darts off into the thick crowd to find his wife, a couple of people in earshot approach us keen to meet a real live maharat student. The gentleman and his wife rejoin our circle and everyone is making very positive noises about the maharat role. I discover that I am married to a celebrity. It feels nice.
It’s 5:30 am and Dina is asking me if I am awake. “I am now,” I grumble rubbing my eyes. “Why do you ask?” “Is it too early to recite Birkat ha-Shachar?” She asks. She is about to start a three-and-a-half hour study session with her chavrutah who is in New York where it’s three hours ahead. In LA, it’s dark outside. I tell her to consult an online z’manim website and snuggle deeper into my duvet, feeling at the same time irked at having been woken at such an ungodly hour and proud of my wife who rises before first light to study Torah. Okay, maybe I’m also feeling a little guilty that it’s not me who is rising early to study Torah…
The intermittent WiFi at my sister’s home, combined with boisterous little nephews excited by the arrival of their cousins, creates less than optimum learning conditions for Dina. My brother-in-law introduces her to an overpriced, hip cafe that is appealingly restricted to adults. She packs up her assorted seforim and laptop and decamps to the cafe. Late morning, I pop by for some coffee and there in the midst of funky music, scented candles and the most pretentious self-styled hipsters is my wife hunched over a gemara and plugged into a shiur that demands all her attention. I get a coffee and sit at another table so as not to disturb her. She doesn’t look up. When the shiur is over, we walk home together, while I carry her books.
Our second Shabbat in California is spent at Beth Jacob in Irvine where Dina is scholar-in-residence. She gives a shiur at a woman’s Kabbalat Shabbat service, delivers a sermon after Shacharit, and a shiur after Kiddush. She leads a woman’s Se’udah Shlishit and gives a talk at a Melaveh Malkah. And she wraps it all up with a final session on Sunday morning. The community is warm and welcoming and deeply appreciative of Dina’s wisdom. I sit back and bask in her reflected glory.
After an all-night flight, we land in Heathrow. We’ve been awake for more than 36 hours and, as we drive through the grey London drizzle (the Beach Boys’ “California Dreamin'” playing over and over in my head), all I can do is anticipate crawling into my own bed and crashing out for several hours. Dina doesn’t have the same luxury. After less than an hour, she pulls herself out of bed because it’s 9:00 am in New York and her chavrutah is waiting for their online study session in Yoreh De’ah. This time, I snuggle deep under the covers and feel no guilt whatsoever….