(Courtesy of Hadran) Rabbanit Michelle Cohen Farber wakes up at 4:45 a.m. every day. One cup of coffee later, she powers on her computer and connects via Zoom from her home in Ra’anana to teach her first Daf Yomi lesson of the day—this one in Hebrew. By the time her youngest daughter leaves for school at 7:55 a.m. she has already finished teaching a second class—this one in English. And then her day begins.
Farber is the first woman to have taught an entire Daf Yomi study cycle both in person and via a daily podcast About 3,300 people, mostly women, attended Hadran’s historic worldwide women’s Siyum HaShas in Jerusalem that was streamed to a live audience of more than 10,000 on January 5, 2020. The Siyum HaShas served as a springboard for the launching of an international movement of women studying Talmud. This month marks over one year since the siyum and 365 pages into the 14th cycle of the Daf Yomi.
The last year has been one of explosive growth for Hadran, which Rabbanit Farber co-founded with a group of women to “inspire women to study Talmud and provide them the resources to do so.” Originally from Long Island, Michelle (as she likes to be known), 48, a Modern Orthodox scholar and mother of five, began teaching Daf Yomi in her home for 45 minutes a day to a small group of students eight years ago. The lessons were simulcast via podcast, broadening the reach of the live lessons to include those living outside Israel.
After the COVID-19 pandemic forced the in-person shiur to shut down last March, Hadran quickly adapted. Rabbanit Farber began giving the Daf Yomi lessons on Zoom as well, creating an online community of learners from all around the world. The Hadran Daf Yomi program, Rabbanit Farber said, is about “community and inspiration, but most importantly about gaining access to Jewish tradition through its richest source.”
Hadran’s Daf Yomi classes are broadcast in Hebrew and English on five internet channels, Spotify, YouTube, Zoom, Google Play and Apple Podcasts, and includes over 2,000 subscribers to the daily lessons. There are Hadran Daf Yomi WhatsApp groups and lively discussions in social media groups that unite over 1,600 learners within 52 communities in five countries, creating a unique virtual study hall. The Hadran website has become a hub for womens’ commentary on the Talmud, hosting six weekly women-led Talmud lessons and providing an innovative forum for women Talmud scholars. Many deepen their Daf Yomi experience through in-depth new content on Hadran’s website, which includes hundreds of archived lessons beyond the daily Daf. Hadran also collaborates with Sefaria, Web Yeshiva, Drisha, Makor Rishon and Koren Publications to reach nearly 56,000 users since its website first launched. In the most recent virtual siyum, which celebrated the completion of Tractate Eruvin, over 1,000 people participated together and 950 people completed the tractate, one of the most difficult in all of the Talmud.
Hadran is launching a new course this month geared toward developing skills for learning Talmud, something that many women have been deprived of for generations. The new class targets both women who can’t necessarily study Talmud every day but want to develop proficiency to study on their own, and women studying Daf Yomi who want to have a deeper experience in their Talmud study. Rabbi Meir Shapiro, a hasidic rabbi in Lublin, Poland, conceived the Daf Yomi tradition nearly 100 years ago, setting the order of study as a way of unifying and synchronizing an increasingly sprawling Jewish diaspora by having Jews focus on the same page of Talmud each day. The Daf Yomi tradition continues today as thousands diligently study the same page. With 2,711 pages in the Talmud, each Daf Yomi study cycle takes about seven and a half years. Daily classes dedicated to the study of Daf Yomi can be found in Jewish communities across the globe.
For centuries, Talmud study has been the domain of men. Now women are increasingly embracing it. Talmud was often considered too difficult and less relevant for women than other texts like the weekly Torah portion. In 1977, Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik strove to open all aspects of Torah scholarship to women and gave the first Talmud lesson to women at Stern College. A few women first began to study Daf Yomi several decades ago. Since that time, Rabbi Soloveitchik’s legacy has continued throughout the world and Talmud study has been taught to girls in religious schools and women in seminaries and institutes for over 30 years.
Faye Schwartz of Teaneck was raised in an environment that excluded women from learning Talmud. “As I watched the Hadran Siyum haHas, I was brought to tears,” she said. “I marveled at the accomplishment of these women, then committed to learning Daf Yomi myself. … The Daf has provided me with an opportunity to broaden my intellectual knowledge by learning Torah every day and as a result has strengthened my spiritual connection to God and mindfulness about my religious practice. … Hadran has allowed me to fulfill a desire that I thought was unattainable, and to embark on a journey that I never imagined would be possible.”
Today, the place of women in Talmud has shifted and the landscape for Talmud study has changed. Due to its success in reaching Jewish women of all backgrounds, nationalities, ages and denominations, Hadran has been called one of the most consequential new Jewish women’s organizations of the 21st century. “I am intellectually starved for the (Talmud’s) insights and thoughtful discussions,” said Rabbi Claire Ginsburg Goldstein of Bergenfield. Studying Daf Yomi with Hadran “is a marathon of learning where I am not being judged, ranked or timed, I can wonder with my own insights, questions and speculations, and study in a safe learning space where students are at all levels and from all paths of Judaism.” Studying Daf Yomi “has helped me find a way to teach my family Judaism and bring my children closer to Judaism and find it more meaningful.”
Notably, with the success of Hadran and the advancement of Talmud study for women, there has been no pushback from groups that previously were more vocal in opposition to these endeavors, but rather a great deal of support. Rabbi Kenneth Brander, president and rosh hayeshiva of Ohr Torah Stone in Israel, said: “If we wish to guarantee the immortality of our people, we must ensure that both men and women have full access to the depth of our tradition. Women can train to be surgeons and judges, can serve as prime ministers and achieve the highest levels of scholarship and professional leadership in any realm. How can they be precluded from achieving the highest levels of Torah knowledge? Adding women’s Torah insights and perspectives to our centuries-old halachic conversation can only enrich the Jewish tradition in guiding the next generation of spiritually and ritually engaged Jews.”
Gail Licht of Teaneck studied Daf Yomi for several years in all-men, co-ed and Hadran’s all-women groups. “I believe the advantage of women’s Daf Yomi groups is that they create camaraderie and encouragement for the women who attend. … Many women who are beginning to study Talmud feel more comfortable learning with women. As women gain knowledge, we need to join the conversation with men so that we will have an impact on all learners, not just ourselves. I recommend to many of my male acquaintances who study Daf Yomi to listen to Michelle, not because she is a woman but because she is an excellent teacher of Talmud.”
Women of all ages have begun Daf Yomi study, including girls in high school. Meira Shapiro of Bergenfield, a senior at Ma’ayanot Yeshiva High School, who only began learning Talmud in ninth grade, was inspired to start this cycle of Daf Yomi after the women’s Siyum HaShas last year. “Doing Daf Yomi for the last year has impacted my life in so many profound ways, and I am eternally grateful for it. Daf Yomi ensures that both on my busiest days, and on the days that I have reserved for relaxation, I always set out around 45 minutes to learn, and hence to connect to Hashem. It guarantees that I cannot go a day without thinking about my higher purpose. … In learning Daf Yomi, I have joined an amazing community within the Jewish people full of members studying the exact same texts. This is such a surreal experience, and one that I plan and hope to continue; I will certainly never forget it. I have also joined the amazing virtual community of women learning Daf Yomi with Hadran. Hadran keeps me motivated, and I always look forward to Rabbanit Farber’s shiurim.”
“It is empowering to see the explosive growth of women’s Talmud study in the past year. It was as if the siyum broke down a barrier that had been put up, one that made women think that Talmud was not for them. Many have already joined the ranks and see the value of Talmud study. It is only a matter of time until it becomes even more common,” says Farber.
For more information about Hadran’s Daf Yomi program and services, please visit www.hadran.org.il.