When you see a panel of Torah scholars, do you count how many women are listed? When you receive a journal of Jewish law, do you count how many articles are written by women? Maybe you think that in the year 2019 it is no longer necessary to check whether women are represented. But it is. There are still newspapers printing photos with women’s and girl’s faces deleted and many journals of Jewish law don’t even allow women to submit articles. Highlighting the importance of women’s presence and leadership is the antidote to the erasing and exclusion of women. Counting women in gives women and girls a sense of value and a place in Torah and Jewish life. Kolech’s Dorshot Tov project, happening this Shabbat all over Israel, is an expression of the growing number of communities which value women’s Torah leadership and participation.
How does the Torah’s perspective on “counting” impact communal awareness about the status of women? The Torah is ambivalent about counting people. King David is criticized for counting the nation, while in this week’s parsha, Bamidbar, God commands Moshe to count the number of men who can serve in the army. Rashi explains that in the case of Bamidbar, The counting was symbolic of God’s love for the people of Israel. When the counting turns human beings into mere numbers, as in the case of King David, it is wrong. When counting emphasizes the individuality and potential contribution of every person it is right. The inclusion or exclusion of women’s faces and scholarship is an expression of whether or not the community or an institution values the contributions of women.
This generation has had the zechut to witness and learn from women studying and teaching Torah and halakha at higher levels than ever before. This has led to the strengthening of women’s commitment to mitzvot and as a result, the strengthening of religious families and communities. Women are choosing this path for a love of Torah study, not always under the easiest of circumstances. When women voluntarily take on more religious commitment it creates new realities in the Jewish world. We know this, somewhat topically, from the Magen Avraham’s comment about sefirat ha-omer (Orach Chayim, 489:1), also relevant to “counting” in Judaism. He wrote that when large numbers of women in his community took on the mitzvah of sefirat ha-omer, it became like an obligation for them. Today, large numbers of women are opting in to serious Torah study, leading to innovation and creativity coming out of the various women’s beit midrash programs.
On many posters in the religious world, women are either in the minority or all together absent. This poster, marks Kolech’s 4th annual Shabbat Dorshot Tov and promotes the faces of 100 female Torah scholars who will teach Torah this Shabbat. One hundred women from Ashkenazi and Mizrahi backgrounds speaking in over 200 shuls in Israel, from the south to the north, representing the growing diversity of this enterprise. Come out to support these women and their dedication to Torah and teaching.