For a few short hours, I felt no tension. Just pure joy, sweetness, love, inspiration and awe. It was the Hadran Siyum Hashas for women in Jerusalem, and the feeling was electrifying and deeply meaningful and fulfilling all at once.
Three thousand women (and some men as well) gathered in Binyanei HaUma last night to celebrate the completion of the Daf Yomi cycle. For the last 2,711 days, Jews all over the world have been learning a page of the Talmud every day, hoping to complete the seven-and-a-half year cycle. As women’s high-level Torah learning has become more mainstream and ubiquitous, many women (myself not included) have joined this endeavor, and last night’s event was the first massive commemoration celebrating the multitudes of women who now study Daf Yomi.
As I have had the opportunity to write about before, I generally believe that it is okay, necessary and even important to sometimes live in tension, especially as an Orthodox Jewish woman. It is not that I always enjoy living in tension or find it easy, but to deny the tensions we feel is to simplify things, to erase the complexity of human experience and to wish away the conflicting values that pull us in competing directions. And so, usually I embrace the tensions that I feel as a Jewish woman who struggles to balance an ambitious vision for women’s avodat Hashem (service of God) alongside a desire to remain solidly rooted in a traditional community that can sometimes be wary of those ambitions.
Treading slowly and carefully each step of the way is also something I see as holding paramount importance so that the changes that follow are solid, stable and sustainable. I spend a lot of time thinking about the broader underlying questions of where we are headed, what it is we want for ourselves and what our ultimate vision is for the women of our community and how best to cultivate halachic commitment in an ever changing and complex world.
But last night, as I stood surrounded by women of all ages, from young to old, and from a spectrum of backgrounds and Jewish communities across Israel and around the world, the beauty and intensity of the moment overcame me and filled my eyes with tears. What united us all was a pure love of Torah and a desire to grow closer to our Creator through our connection to and engagement with His word. The energy in the room was palpable. The excitement contagious. And for a few short hours I could forget about all the difficult questions that hover in the air. All the complexities and tensions could be left for another time. Another place.
Turning to my sister, I remarked, what could be bad about this? How can anything be wrong with a room full of women loving Torah this much?
When Rosh Beit Midrash of Migdal Oz Esti Rosenberg spoke about her father, Rav Aharon Lichtenstein, and grandfather, Rav Joseph B. Soloveitchik, and thanked them for opening the gates of Torah and emunah (faith) to women, she said that she thinks that what motivated them was not so much how much they valued women (though that too), but rather how much they valued learning Torah. They simply could not imagine Avodat Hashem (service of God) without the option of serious Torah study.
There is no woman who chooses to learn a daf a day just to prove that it is possible. The time commitment is enormous, the content is often very technical and difficult to understand, and the topics do not always connect to our day-to-day lives. But we love Torah. We love God, and we want to understand Him and His law as insiders to the system.
I have long felt that, like a doctor reading the medical literature and a lawyer researching judicial rulings, a “professional Jew” must be able to read and interpret Hebrew and Aramaic legal texts. A woman trained to do this can ask questions and research them and enjoy the benefits of literacy and fluency. This experience alone is a game-changer in the life of a Jewish woman. She is not just a blind follower, but an active participant. She is privy to a more sophisticated understanding and appreciation of how halakhah operates, and as such often develops a deeper respect for the halakhic system.
For a few short hours last night, learning Torah as a way of encountering the Divine was all that was on my mind. Torah as a life force that is not only an instruction manual with nitty-gritty laws, but is a wondrous world that one can enter, breathe and experience. Torah as the prism through which one fosters a spiritual identity. Torah as a filter through which one sees everything around us.
For a few short hours last night, Torah was just Torah; and our love for it was just that. Pure, unadulterated love. No politics, no suspicions, no worries, no concerns, no slippery slope.
For a few short hours, I wanted to hold onto that feeling of the tension-free, pure connection that so many of us are capable of feeling.
For a few short hours, I wanted to bask in the power of all the pure souls who just want to engage with our Creator.
For a few short hours, I smiled and cried and clapped and sang and wished that those few short hours could last a lifetime.