Global Siyum Hashas for Women: Reflections on a Magnanimous Night of Historic Proportions

The experts say to sleep on it because things will always seem brighter and clearer in the morning. And as such, hence my reflections from the morning after a night of most magnanimous historic proportions. The Global Siyum Hashas for women was thoroughly inspirational. That which is so reverberating through my mind after the mere sheer exposure and participation in such an event, could be summed up in this majestic phrase: התלמוד בידינו, התלמוד בידינו! / Hatalmud Biyadeinu! The Talmud is in our hands,The Talmud is in our hands!

This phrase definitely parallels a most famous phrase that has always stayed with me since learning for the first time as a young girl about the miraculous Six Day War. הר הבית בידינו! הר הבית בידינו! The Temple Mount is in our hands! The Temple Mount is in our hands! The Rhetorical response then was- Wow! So now- what do we do about it? And the Israelis did it their way, and the sentiments that carried  it out, were for better or worse to this very day.

But Hatalmud Biyadeinu plays out a whole other way. The rhetorical question repeats- Wow! So what are we going to do about it? Well Sunday night, I among 3300 others heard first hand, from many of the leading women scholars of our time, the answer to just that. I was awestruck to hear what we have been doing about it and what we will continue to do about it.

But first, let us go back in time a bit- to remember that nobody has sole ownership of the magnificent Talmud. The nation of Israel stood as a whole on Mount Sinai over 3000 years ago; men, women and children alike. We all said: ‘Naaseh v’nishma’-We will do and we will listen. And then we did. Ask any youngster or oldster from then until today and they will tell you the bible stories, spew out various laws and customs. Growing up in the home of a Torah reader-my father-A”H- would often quote psukim / sentences-from the written Torah to answer questions and comment on real life situations. I have heard similar from many other avid written Torah learners. The written Torah was drilled into us from the age of about 3 years old. But its counterpart the Oral Torah -containing much of of the best kept secrets and understandings to the written Torah, had been passed down orally in an unbroken chain for generations and ultimately was written down for fear of forgetting and losing it. If that did happen it would dramatically change how we interpret the written Torah. Basically the Mishna and the Talmud became the written Oral Law of the Jewish people. In terms of those learning this Oral Tradition-  the rules were a bit different. It was not as freely learned by all, for all sorts of reasons. It had been administered more sparingly with stricter age and maturity requirements, with different portions studied at different age groups and intervals throughout one’s life as prescribed by many of the leading rabbinic scholars of the times.

The giant of the Oral tradition- The Talmud-seemingly was kept almost under lock and key until one had become of age- assuming the correct gender and all. Again, the prescribed allotted amount was gently administered until in succession, greater proportions flowed as well. When ultimately one became independent and allowed to choose how much of the Talmud to learn- be it chevruta/study partner style- most famously- or in a shiur/larger lecture style, Many spent hours, days, or weeks scrutinizing and really understanding these holy pages. It was about the quality of the learning but never about the quantity.

But then along came the Famed R Meir Shapiro. It was the brainchild of Rabbi Meir Shapiro, who put forward his idea at the First World Congress of Agudat Yisrael in Vienna, 1923. It was him who set into motion the quantitative study of the Talmud albeit it one daf at a time/a page a day. Daf Yomi is an extraordinary phenomenon. But the real miracle as told by Rabbanit Racheli Sprecher Fraenkl Sunday night was getting the acceptance by worldwide Jewry to agree to learn the same daf. Getting all Jews to agree to anything if ever is more like God’s work and here this famed rabbinical scholar achieved it. With some more ‘mornings after’- for the gradual whole wide acceptance. The dream was then put into motion. So it became that way-again for the mostly male gender who was already studying the talmud in other ways.

But, eventually change is starting happening. As Rav Benny Lau so eloquently said. The book that always belonged to the father of the family slowly became the mother’s and the other family member’s book as well. Similar sentiments were  echoed by Rabbanit Michelle Cohen Farber the one who single handedly spearheaded this Hadran project and was so instrumental in this Siyum Hashas as she has taught her all-female class a page a day for the last 7 1/2 years as part of the Daf Yomi cycle. The Rabbanit told the heartwarming tale of the 3 sets of Talmud in her family for her and her husband as a wedding gift, for her son and for her daughter.

As our generations had to understand and overcome the ‘tabooness’ of women first being exposed to Oral Torah learning,- then ‘allowed’ only certain types of Oral Torah learning at all.  Of course there was struggling to make sense out of those famous passages that came down heavily on women’s learning in general. But nobody has a monopoly on exclusivity for Torah learning and many have erred in this way of thought. But thankfully, eventually there was headway marked with  equality in the learning under the tutelage and scholarship of The Rav-Rabbi Yosef Dov Soleveitchik and Rav Aaron Lichtenstein. Ultimately the reins were passed down in succession to the granddaughter and daughter respectively -Harrabanit Esti Rosenberg. And The Rabbanit Esti did her title justice. She  along With Rabbanit Michal Tichochinsky gave over their soulful take on accepting Torah and finding the right direction. It made it even more meaningful quoting from the Rav’s work.

But finally with more perseverance, the seriousness of women’s scholarship shining through, became more apparent with women’s learning excelling in all the various Torah subjects.

Then there was Women learning the Talmud -in a more dedicated fashion-with individuals -groups and seminaries taking on themselves to the Study of the daily daf. This amazing feat has been a true breakthrough for Women all over the world. As the Founder of Matan herself- Rabbanit Malke Bina praised the various Women’s Talmud groups of all ages going on worldwide. The sheer joy and Nachat of the numbers and places being praised was so very apparent.  Hatalmud Biyadaynu! SO what does this actually mean to us?

On a practical level with the advancements of Artscroll, Schottenstein and Koren-The actual textual learning has become not only more appealing to so many, but allows for the actualization of the learning. As many refer to these tools as a crutch. It is the only way the Students can walk through the Talmud. This being  a much needed crutch at that. Then with incredible technological advancements from then novel now almost defunct ancient dial a daf, there are podcasts and apps which makes it so difficult to refuse learning the Talmud. On every computer, smartphone and Tablet-’ Hatalmud Biyadeynu Hatalmud Biyadeinu’!

It is there in front of us in easily understandable format in all spoken and readable language. So now all men and all Women can take the plunge and learn the daf in the style that they choose.

The speakers continued Sunday night showering forth their toraidic brilliance explaining what to do now that we have the Talmud within our reach -in our hands- and actually learning from it. It’s not just about the learning itself – but rather how can learning the Talmud help enhance our lifestyles academically, philosophically, emotionally, and halachakically?

Rabbanit Dr Penina Neuwirth explained how the known of the Talmud  is greater than the unknown of the Talmud-especially by incorporating it into our lives in all the aforementioned categories. The Talmud’s knack is just that.

Driving that point home was Rabbanit Channa Godinger who related how one who wants to truly be pious should observe the laws set forth in the Talmudic tractate of Nezikin.

There was an emotional plug for Learning the Talmud by Famed authoress Dr. Erica Brown-who detailed her own journey of the seven and a half years of Talmud learning from a professional and personal viewpoint. She related the heart and soul aspects and the making one complete through having the Talmud within our grasps- in our hands. In Dr. Erica’s case the pull of her Talmudic learning was so great it paved the way for her to actualize her learning and donate her kidney to a complete stranger.

Master of Ceremonies Rabbanit Fraenkel always had the perfectly, delightful and charming anecdotes and explanations in a poetically styled Hebrew to lead into the next speaker.

When it came time to actually end the Siyum with- the dramatic ceremony of ending the last page of the Talmud,  saying the Hadran and Kaddish-the ten’s of accomplished Talmud Teachers took their rightful place on stage and in a dramatically emotional ending completed the Shas together- along with the Leader Rabbanit Farber. There were many moist eyes at this point.

But no end is complete without beginning again as we are the people of the book. And so Talmud teacher Moriah Taasan Michaeli so eloquently taught the new Daf-to the many thousands viewing in the auditorium itself and around the world on screens.

The massive crowd was treated to a Koolalum training session and their own performance of the very alluring song; ‘שהשמש תעבור עלי’. The exciting singing rocked the hall. Hatikva sung by the crowd of thousands was a most befitting ending to such a precious night.

‘Hatalmud Biyadeinu’- and has been so- for generations. In memoriam to those whose lives were taken for being loyal to the Talmud as well as the many Jewish scriptures being burnt.

Hatalmud Biyadeinu- with Anti Semitism still so prevalent in our times, we will only tighten our grip on this Talmud and let our study grow in response to make this craze a dutiful rage.

And so in conclusion: Attention women of all ages: Hatalmud Biyadeynu, Hatalmud Biyadeinu! Grasp onto it  and don’t let it go! It may be a slow process. But it’s here to stay. Let each of us grab on to it in any way we can. Let us heed the lessons,  grow and evolve into better people, better Jews and a better nation. Let us hope and pray and yearn for an even better more fulfilling tomorrow; one when all the homes, schools and communities will grasp on to the Talmud, to a day where it is taught for all ages and all levels, for a day where we can recite by heart various lines and recognize and become familiar with the Talmudic text as well as the written Torah text. Hatalmud Biyadeynu! Let us Share it with our friends and families. Let us explore and expand our minds and see what more we can become. Let the Talmud bring the people together. Perhaps this will help bring more of our nation to our homeland, viewing that necessity through the Talmudic Lens. Let’s not wait! Hatalmud biyadeynu! Grab on to The Talmud. It is in our hands, here to stay. Don’t let it go!

Hope to see you all again in seven and a half years at an even bigger and brighter packed place to celebrate. Venue to be decided! And now on to Daf 3…

About the Author
Phyllis Hecht is living in Chashmonaim with her family since their Aliyah-17.5 years ago from Queens, NY. She is a Judaic studies teacher with an MA in Holocaust studies. Phyllis has a teudat Horaah in teaching English and a license in special education reading recovery. She is also a licensed debating teacher. She has taught business English in Israel and abroad and has taught Holocaust and Judaic studies classes in Israel. Phyllis is currently a High school English teacher and Debating coach at the Zeitlin High school in Tel Aviv.
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