Darcey Walters

The Living Torah on International Women’s Day

When we quote the gedolim, we should always, after their name write “says”, rather than said. It’s important that we acknowledge that our gedolim are here with us and we should feel their presence when we are learning their Torah. As such, I think it is fundamental to quote Rabbi Eliezer Berkovits (1908-1992) who says that “Judaism commits the Jew to the every-enduring vital partnership with God. The result is Torat Hayyim, a living Torah” (Jewish Women in Time and Torah).

Rabbi Berkovits makes a statement which should be noted in the present tense, due to its relevance and significance in our society today.

The Torah is a living Torah which acknowledges reality, and lives in every generation. It teaches values and guides us internally and externally, and we know that the halakhah does not change. Yet, as Rabbi Berkovits notes, halakhah also recognises the changing human condition, human potential and guides humans in accordance to society in which they live.

Halakhah comes with context, and the context is the society and periods of time. Society always experiences change. For example, at this time, we are seeing a dominant influx and shift in the way society runs on technology. The world is becoming digital, whether that’s through ordering food in a restaurant, checking in at the airport, and the development of Artificial Intelligence.

Society experiences change and it may require difficult conversations and adaptation. Technology is one example of development, but equality is just as significant in terms of change. Equality comes with many different categories of which require their own individual articles, but following International Women’s Day, it’s important we use the context of women’s equality in conjunction with the living Torah we have discussed.

I would like to focus on three different areas to establish the significance of women’s contributions to society, particularly in a Jewish framework: Torah learning, work and the story of Esther which we are soon to read on the upcoming holiday of Purim.

Torah Learning

The gemara (Sota 20a) notes that a father is forbidden to teach his daughter Torah, which is also emphasised by Maimonides (Hilkhot Talmud Torah 1:7) who says this is the case “because the minds of most women are incapable of concentrating on learning, and thus because of their intellectual poverty, they turn the words of Torah into nonsense – vain talk.”

Simply put, women do learn Torah. We are living in a time in which the education we receive is of a high level and is transformed from woman to woman successfully.

Torah education is an essential part to our living. Having no Torah education means we have no kickstart into life, whether that’s our Bein Adam L’Makom and Bein Adam L’chaveiro, and it also means we have no kickstart into anything we do, in the home, experientially or professionally. As Jews, traditional or observant, we have to know what the Torah expects of us in a working environment – men and women. Women have roles in this generation, and therefore must learn Torah for the sake of growth and guidance.

Torah values are essential to human life: equally for male and female. Human beings should be aware of their Jewish identity. Human beings should know what is right and what is wrong, and how to live, according to the words of God. How could a father not teach his daughter that? How could a father not teach his daughter how to serve God and the intrinsic values of Torah that make up oneself as a Jew?

Women’s Torah learning is revolutionary. Women are very capable and are making significant contributions to the world of Torah. We know that thousands of post-high school young women attend top institutions in Israel which offer a full, diverse spectrum of Torah learning and there is an increasing number of which teach Talmud. After this year, women do not stop learning. In America, many graduates of midrasha attend Yeshiva University, of which provides countless opportunities in the Torah learning world, and this continues endlessly.

Furthermore, communities all over the world have top female educators who are changing the Torah learning scene. We have yoatzot halakhah, female Talmud teachers and women who are trained at the highest level, and most of all, are passionate and knowledgeable.

It is a significant part of a woman’s life to attend midrasha, learn Torah, and interpret it properly because she is well educated and she cares. American modern orthodox high schools teach high standards of Torah which women take with them into every other aspect of their lives. Whether it is the text they learn, the values they gain and the connection they have to God, it is significant in making them the best servants of God and most connected to their Judaism.

We have to conclude from these authentic truths that the Torah lives in our generation and must address us in time. The words of the mefarshim, rishonim and amoraim, do not necessarily comply with what exists now. Women do not have a limited education, rather an unlimited, high-level Torah education. Women are fully capable and are making significant contributions to the world of Torah. The Torah is celebrated and is central to a woman’s life.


The midrash (Bereishit Rabbah 18a) says “the way of a woman is to sit in her house; and that of a man, to go out into the marketplaces and thus he learns wisdom from other people.” Women are not, as the Talmud (Shabbat 62a) says, “a people by themselves” and the man does not “have precedence over the woman” (Horayot 13a).

Simply put, both men and women alike have the right and opportunity to work, and to have a professional career in today’s world. Both men and women have the opportunity to go to school, to university and onto a career that allows them to gain wisdom and success, without any form of precedence. The schools they attend and the career path they take can be absolutely anything, with no limitations.

A woman should not be justified to stay at home to be segregated, to cook or clean, rather women have the right, and do have the right to have a world class, equal education and be part of any industry, that bring out the best in them as individuals and intellectuals with skills and values.

Women have professional opportunities intellectually, culturally and spiritually.

A woman today goes to law school, Oxford, Cambridge, Medical School, Ivy Leagues, is a scholar in Art History, economics or mathematics, sheds her creativity through marketing, art or technology and fulfils any other path that allows her to be a free human being with a real purpose.

When reading the story of Adam and Chava, which led to chaos, we see that neither of them spoke to each other. If women do not have a voice, there is no meaning or opportunity. Women should, and can use their voice to do good in this world that is genuine and authentic, not hidden or disregarded.

As reflected in the previous section, These truths are evident and established in our society today; there is no limit. As a result, the words of the mefarshim, rishonim and achronim, do not necessarily comply with the society that we live in, hence why the living Torah does not abandon women’s rights to have real jobs and a real education.


In the book of Esther, which we are to read on the upcoming holiday of Purim, we see something remarkable. We know Esther was someone extremely passive, with no activism until the moment comes.

The communication from Mordechai to Esther in the fourth chapter tells us (Esther 4:14)

“If you don’t at all remain silent at this time, then shall relief and deliverance arise to the Jews from elsewhere; but you and thy father’s house shall perish: and who knows whether you are not come to royal estate for such a time as this?”

This conversation, according to the peshat, is done via a messenger that is being sent back and forth. Yet, this conversation presents a shift and transformation, where Esther wakes up and recognises the reality that this is it; she is commanded not to remain silent.

From that moment on, Esther tells Mordechai, and there is an excitement that she needs to act. She needs to act as a strong woman with rights and she cannot hide who she really is.

Each of us has a purpose in this world and it is about us discovering what that is, and showing it. Every moment of our lives is an opportunity, and we need to figure it out, in the best way possible. In this case, it was the opportunity to be a real Jewish woman, something we should all remember to enhance ourselves.

Something I truly love at this time of the year and, of which I am extremely passionate about, is women’s Megillah readings. We see these taking place increasingly year upon year, and they portray a real sense of passion, openness and positivity; three ideals of which Esther learnt were important to her identity. These three ideals reflect the contribution and status of women in society, on a secular and religious level.

A woman today speaks up for her identity, and who she really is. She speaks up for bias, discrimination and stereotypes; she has a voice and opportunities.

Our Torah is a living Torah. It lives in todays generation, of which creates an open space for women in the Beit Midrash, the study hall, the professional world and all in between.

About the Author
Darcey is from London, where she works in marketing, and invests her time in various Torah education initiatives, working independently and with various organisations. She is the founder of the "Desert Island Torah" podcast which has reached tens of thousands of people across the globe, in over 50 countries. Darcey has written many articles and two books, and is working on several other works to be published in 2024.
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