If you’re not required to learn Torah, you can’t be obligated to teach it. And you can’t be required to teach Torah if you haven’t learned it. Women are not required to learn Torah because it says (in Deuteronomy 11:19), “you shall teach your sons (Torah),” literally meaning your sons and not your daughters. Therefore, women are not obligated to teach others Torah (Bavli Kiddushin 29b). Rabbinic authorities have used this Talmudic rationale to justify male hegemony over Torah study, especially the study of Talmud. Paraphrasing Neil Armstrong’s reaction when he walked on the moon’s surface, the 2020 Women’s Siyum HaShas event, organized by the visionary Rabbanit Michelle Cohen Farber, was “one small step for women, and one giant leap for Everyone.”
This event will accelerate the slowly growing movement to open the study of Talmud to women. While 30 women at the event had completed the 7.5 years daily Talmud or daf yomi cycle, over 3,000 participants, mostly women and girls, were there to celebrate. And, “Three days after the women’s siyum, Farber’s podcast had been downloaded more than 10,000 times”.
I listened as Terri Krivosha, my wife, who started daf yomi over two years ago, shared her feelings of awe after she returned from this revolutionary event. I asked her to write them so that I could share them with others.
Terri wrote, “I have spent my entire career as a corporate lawyer, almost always being the only woman in the room in the work I do. I have also attended many events over the years focused on lauding women’s leadership capabilities. But I have never attended an event whose sole purpose was to celebrate the intellectual prowess of women and encourage them to take advantage of the opportunities before them to learn. The Women’s Siyum HaShas was such an event. Three thousand people, mostly women, had turned out on a cold winter night in Jerusalem to celebrate the historic tipping point that occurred to make Jewish texts accessible to women.
The evening was one of the most impactful nights of my life. Thanks to Rabbanit Cohen Farber for her devotion and daily podcasts that made the texts come alive. Her historical framing of what were sometimes difficult texts for us as women to read helped put into context the effort. I have been thinking about the event, now a week in the rear-view mirror, and each time I tear up as I remember the opportunity I was granted by God to be a witness to history in Jerusalem.”
Terri’s enthusiasm for this event made me think ahead a few decades to how it will transform the Jewish world. We can expect that:
• Girls and young women will learn Talmud from women in large numbers;
• Boys and young men will learn Talmud from women in large numbers;
• Women will produce much Talmudic scholarship and many commentaries;
• Women will reframe Rabbinic Judaism, the Judaism that religious Jews practice today;
• Orthodox Judaism will have confronted full equal religious rights for women;
• and, religious women will feel like first-class citizens in the secular and Jewish world.
Giving full access to Jewish sacred texts to women is an advance for the Jewish world and a milestone of progress in the broader global struggle for a woman’s right to full and unfettered access to education. If Neil Armstrong had been there, he might have said, “That’s one small step for women and one giant leap for Everyone.”