Women’s Daf Yomi: A Deeper Look, Part 1

My previous article raising concerns about the women’s daf yomi movement received a tremendous response. The overwhelming majority of the responses were negative. This proves that many people dislike the views I expressed in the article, but it does not prove that these views are wrong, invalid, or otherwise unfit to be expressed. Truth is not determined by referendum. The purpose of this follow-up article is to address the most common challenges to my views, to clarify some misunderstandings, and to provide concrete Torah support for my views (these will come in the second part).

Once again, I emphasize that I am not a posek, and I am not here to determine Halacha. Thank God, our community has numerous Torah giants who fill those weighty shoes, and nothing would make me happier than for them to speak out on important, controversial issues such as these and guide us. I am also not a talmid chacham, and the Torah sources I will provide are not meant to be an exhaustive list. As I mentioned in the original article, I can provide numerous sources off the top of my head, and these sources, the ones I had in mind then, will be provided and analyzed. I invite others to contribute additional sources and to analyze them through traditional methods of learning.

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Addressing the hate

To my chagrin but not to my surprise, nearly all the negative responses were devoid of any semblance of derech eretz or yiras shamayim. My article was shared many hundreds of times on Facebook, and I saw a few of the threads people started in response. Personally I use Facebook mainly to share my work, and otherwise I avoid it almost entirely. It is not a healthy place for spiritually sensitive people to be, and it is not a company I wish to support. Traditional-minded Jews who are more likely to agree with my views are less common on these Facebook threads.

Indeed, this was reflected in nearly all the discussions I saw, and that’s fine with me. What isn’t fine with me is the way these discussions were overflowing with all manner of vile, vulgar, crass remarks about me, my views, and the Jewish Press for publishing the article. There was hardly a respectful, thoughtful comment to be found anywhere. Numerous Jews who would otherwise appear to be Orthodox were gleefully engaging in an orgy of slander and personal attacks that would have the Chafetz Chaim rolling in his grave.

One seemingly frum woman, taking a cue from Antifa and BDS, even started a campaign to bombard the Jewish Press with negative letters to the editor, with the hopes of drowning out my voice and ideally silencing it completely. Many people who are clearly distant from Torah observance had no compunctions about preaching to an Orthodox rabbi and the Orthodox community, as if this is really any of their business. Even goyim jumped on the bash-Chananya bangwagon, because obviously their views on women’s daf yomi are more legitimate than my own. Makes perfect sense.

For all the people who challenged the Torah basis for my views, there wasn’t anyone who wondered if there was a Torah basis to vilify a fellow Jew, an Orthodox rabbi, for expressing a view that is well grounded in Torah and tradition, simply because they find it offensive. Not in a million years would they speak that way of a homosexual, a transgender, or even an Arab screaming “death to the Jews” – we have to be tolerant and understanding of different ideas, after all. But if one dares even suggest that not everything might be Glatt Kosher about the women’s daf yomi movement, it’s open hunting season, bullies without boundaries. Funny how that works.

The bullies even bullied each other, as typically happens among these tolerant, enlightened folks.  That is the fate of all “progressives” and those who seek their approval; eventually the enlightened mob will come for them, too. They live in constant fear of one another, of being targeted for no longer being progressive “enough”, and will turn on their own parents if necessary to prove their loyalty and save themselves. Some people were kicked out of certain Facebook groups simply for sharing my article, even though they disagreed with it.  One such victim was even brought to issue a half-hearted apology to me for the way he spoke of me as a result of this, though he dared not go farther than that.

Another instigator blocked me from commenting on her thread and deleted my comments, which made complete fools of those who had challenged me there.  She was unable to refute me, unable to discredit me, and unable to successfully slander me, so she simply censored me. Intellectual dishonesty on full display.

I do not engage those who resort to personal attacks, and this article will not address any of them. If a dog barks at me in the street, I do not bark back at the dog. It will not make the dog stop barking, and it will only reflect poorly on me to speak on his level. Indeed, King Solomon warns us in several places in Mishlei not to give mussar to leitzanim or to respond to their taunts, for they will only scorn your mussar and lower your level.

I mention all this only because the level of discourse from those who disagree with me was so crass and hate-filled that sincere members of the Orthodox community should think long and hard about the movement they represent. When it comes to Neturei Karta I say that if your view of Israel is shared by the most ruthless enemies of the Jewish people, maybe you should rethink your views. It’s not proof in and of itself that the views are incorrect, but it’s a strong indicator. Similarly, if the people standing up for the women’s daf yomi movement are so vile and vulgar, and conduct themselves in a way that is completely antithetical to what the Torah stands for, it’s a good chance their views are not in line with true Torah values, either. Be careful who your friends are.

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Addressing the challenges

Filtering out the personal attacks and focusing on the actual reasons for disapproving of my article, the following points were most commonly expressed. I will respond briefly and to the point, as these arguments consist of straw men, distortions, and faulty logic.

1. This guy is against women learning Gemara, learning Torah, being educated, etc. Maybe we should go back to the stone age and women should just cook and clean and serve you?

Response: Straw man. I stated very clearly in the article that I was not declaring it forbidden for a woman to study Gemara, as I am not a posek and not qualified to do so besides. The article was specifically about the women’s daf yomi movement, and my concerns regarding its origins, marketing, and influence in the Orthodox community. I am all in favor of all Jews having a robust Torah education, and for some women this may include Gemara. I do not believe that completing Shas should be encouraged for women on the public level, as I will discuss more at length later in the article, but to take that nuanced concern and act as if I wish for women to be ignorant maidservants is absurd and disingenuous.

2. You want to keep women down, you want to prevent women from getting closer to Hashem, being better Jews, enjoying a greater connection to the Torah, etc.

Response: Another straw man and an ad hominem attack. The above response applies here as well. Those who believe that there is some conspiracy by Jewish men and rabbis to subjugate and oppress women, apparently dating back to time immemorial, are outside the pale. It does not merit an intellectual response, because it is not an intellectual argument. Those who say things like this are quite literally following in the path of Korach, for that is the exact accusation he leveled at Moshe Rabbeinu: you made it all up so you can take all the power and glory for yourself and your immediate family. Korach brought only destruction upon himself and his followers. Those who claim that “the RABBIS” were just a bunch of MEN waging war on women are heretics, plain and simple. To these people Judaism is nothing more than empty slogans and whatever they decide is right for them. Their war is not on me and my views, but on the very Torah itself, and that needs to be understood.

3. These women are sincere. Who are you to judge them? How can you be against more Jews studying more Torah? Besides, there are worse things they can be doing with their time.

Response: I have no doubt that many of these women are sincere and have good motives in mind. I am also certainly not against more Jews studying Torah. Once again, my concern is that waging a campaign to encourage women to complete Shas is not appropriate and not good for the Jewish people (see Torah sources in part 2). I am all in favor of all Jews learning Torah and growing as Jews, but it must be within an appropriate framework, and the curriculum for men and women is not supposed to be identical. There are surely worse things a woman can do than study daf yomi, but that is not a logical argument to encourage them to study this in particular, nor is it a logical reason to refrain from examining if this is ideal or even proper. The purpose of this argument is to shut down discussion and make everyone dumber, which is contrary to what those making the argument claim to be promoting.

I will also note that more than a few women in the Facebook threads and other places made it abundantly clear that their motivations were anything but sincere. One woman wrote that she started daf yomi because she was jealous of the men, and stopped after a short time because she couldn’t stand the Talmud’s “daily assault on her gender”. Many women made it clear that regardless of what any rabbis told them or Torah sources were provided, they would continue on their feminist march, and quoted slogans from non-Jewish activists about seizing power, taking control, not being stopped, etc., to the mindless cheers of their friends.  When asked what they do when they come to passages in the Gemara that clearly disfavor Talmud study for women (which they de facto acknowledge exist, thereby legitimizing my views!) they replied that they simply ignore them or would rewrite them, LOL.

They also asserted that women should be ordained as rabbis in the Orthodox community, to the cheers of nearly all. There is clearly a lot more going on here than a sincere, pure effort to simply learn more and become closer to Hashem, and I know this because numerous activists for this movement make little effort to pretend otherwise. No Torah authority who may permit or even encourage women to learn Gemara would stand behind such statements, and therefore using these authorities as a justification for their activities is disingenuous and a disgrace to their names.

4. Many things have changed over the centuries. Based on your logic, you would have been against Beis Yaacov, daf yomi for men, Shabbos clocks, electricity, indoor plumbing, etc. Luddite! You even go up to Har Habayis, which some people consider radical. Hypocrite!

Response: Straw man blended with ad hominem attacks and a twist of specious logic. Of course many things have changed over the centuries, but Halacha does not change and Torah principles do not change. Halacha and Torah principles may be applied differently in different times and situations, and this is to be determined for us solely by qualified poskim. For one to suggest that simply because some changes have occurred that any and all changes must be accepted is outside the pale and foolish besides.

As for the specific examples of changes most commonly cited, it is irresponsible to derive from my opinion on one issue what my opinion would be on any other issue. Each issue stands independently and must be analyzed on its own merits. I am heartily in favor of Beis Yaacov, and believe the women of Beis Yaacov more closely represent authentic Torah-true women than most others, even though I disagree with certain aspects of their ideology as well. In addition, it is laughable that those who attacked me and my article in the most vulgar terms would use Beis Yaacov as support. These people have NOTHING IN COMMON with Beis Yaacov girls, who are generally full of yiras shamayim and have sterling middos. At the same time, they consider Beis Yaacov girls to be primitive – like anyone who disagrees with them – and have only scorn for those who send their children to Beis Yaacov.

Beis Yaacov girls never had any interest in daf yomi, never will, and would laugh at the idea of women becoming rabbis. Beis Yaacov teaches girls the areas of Torah that are most vital for their unique roles as Jewish women, and while the curriculum may be tweaked, it will never resemble what these activists have in mind.

Jews have been going up to Har Habayis for centuries, there is a wealth of Torah supporting it, and those who came out against it recently have done so mainly for political reasons or due to concerns about not being 100% sure of where one is allowed to walk – not because they are against Jews being on Har Habayis in principle, which is absurd.  There is no comparison between this and women’s daf yomi and one’s view on one issue has no bearing on the other.  Only a confused Gemara kup could think otherwise.

Daf yomi for men is not really an innovation. Men studied Gemara since the day it existed, and daf yomi is simply a program of study that has certain benefits (though I personally do not do daf yomi and would not recommend it for all men, as it has downsides as well). Conversely, widespread Gemara study for women has no basis in Torah sources or tradition, and therefore suggesting that daf yomi for men is an equally radical innovation is a distortion. A mind that makes such a comparison will not get far with Gemara.

5. People can do whatever they want.

Um, yes they can.  I have neither the ability nor the will to try to control people.  But if we are talking about the Orthodox Jewish community, which exists for the sole purpose of adhering to the Torah in all aspects of life, then it behooves us to take a careful look at changes to traditionally accepted norms.  People will ultimately do whatever they want, but hopefully people will want to do what is most in line with true Torah values, and these must be clarified.  My article was anything but an attempt to take away choice from women; its purpose was to encourage women to think twice — even once — before being lured by the hype and jumping aboard a runaway train to who-knows-where.  I want women to make better and more informed choices, not simply follow the crowd.

6. Rabbi Soloveichik, Rabbi Lichtenstein, and the Lubavitcher Rebbe supported women learning Gemara. I hold like them.

Response: It is true that some Torah giants supported expanding the curriculum for women. Their views must be studied in depth, understood in the proper context, and applied accordingly. Of the three I only personally met Rabbi Lichtenstein, and I am privileged to record in one of my Seforim an answer he gave me to a difficult question I asked him many years ago. I know it was a difficult question because he thought deeply for over ten seconds before responding to me. A debate between me and Rabbi Lichtenstein, Rabbi Soloveichik or the Lubavitcher Rebbe on any subject would consist of me sitting with my mouth shut and trying to absorb every holy word that emanated from them. The idea of me challenging them on anything is ludicrous; I would be outside the pale for even suggesting such a thing were possible. These great men were among the pre-eminent Gedolim and Tzaddikim of our time, and I don’t dream for a moment that I can challenge their views on anything (compare and contrast with the radical feminists who mockingly reject any rabbi who does not march to their beat).

All that said, those who simply drop their names and act as if all is Glatt Kosher with the women’s daf yomi movement are being disingenuous. For one thing, it is not the Torah way to first decide what you want to do, then backtrack and find Rabbinic support. The Torah way is to approach an issue without bias, with the goal of determining the truth to the best of your abilities and reshaping your personal opinion accordingly – not the reverse!

In addition, one cannot simply cherry-pick the most permissive opinion and claim that he is now acting under good Torah authority.

In addition, one cannot, after cherry-picking the most permissive opinion, use that as a basis for pushing the envelope even further.

This is what the proponents of the women’s daf yomi movement have done. The three Gedolim mentioned never indicated that women and men should share an identical Torah curriculum. While they do permit and even encourage women to learn Gemara in some form or fashion, this is generally limited to what is required knowledge, not the totality of Shas. Even this is a concession to perceived needs of the time, and not presented as an ideal for all women all the time – certainly not a righting of historical wrongs. In particular I suggest people read relevant articles on the Har Etzion web site and Sefaria for an in-depth look at their views, which can be found with simple Internet searches. I also encourage students of these respective Gedolim to further clarify their views, as I am not an expert by any means.

The bottom line is that it is a very dubious claim that these Gedolim would be cheering on the women’s daf yomi movement, and certainly not the agenda-driven activism behind it. Even if some measure of support can be derived for women to learn Gemara, possibly even all of Shas, these views are far from universal, and must be carefully considered among all the other views and Torah sources, not cherry-picked and used as a license for anything one wishes to do.

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This brings us to the claim many people made, that because I alluded to Torah sources in my original article but did not cite them, these sources don’t exist and my article should be dismissed. This is a specious approach. Many of the sources discouraging Talmud study for women are widely known to the extent that I consider them common knowledge. In addition, my article was not meant to be a Torah treatise – there was certainly not space for that – but to simply raise concerns regarding a radical change to the Orthodox world in just a few years, without proper examination of the matter. How could anyone be against taking a careful, responsible look at the implications of a major change to the community? How could any decent person find this so offensive?

In the next installment, I will provide and analyze numerous Torah sources to support my concerns about the women’s daf yomi movement. That said, my knowledge is limited and an in-depth research on the subject would require an extended period of time. I therefore encourage true students of the Torah to contribute their own sources to the discussion so they can be discussed in a respectful, truth-seeking manner that will bring glory to the Torah and wisdom to the Jewish people. That is my only agenda.

About the Author
Rabbi Chananya Weissman is the founder of EndTheMadness and the author of seven books, including “Go Up Like a Wall” and “How to Not Get Married: Break these rules and you have a chance”. Many of his writings are available at www.chananyaweissman.com. He is also the director and producer of a documentary on the shidduch world, Single Jewish Male, and The Shidduch Chronicles, available on YouTube. He can be contacted at admin@endthemadness.org.
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