April 16, 2024
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April 16, 2024
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My Two Cents to the Feminism and Women’s Talmud Discussion

It’s amazing how much one can miss while being away in camp. Nestled away in the mountains (either the Catskills or somewhere in the Middle of Nowhere, Pennsylvania), those of us attending our valued Jewish sleepaway camps gain a wealth of memories and experience… but miss out on a lot of the latest news and happenings while we’re away. We come back to the real world, and BAM! Look at all the stuff we missed… (Like the 56 new Republican candidates who joined the race!)

I’m saying all of this to explain why my article right now will seem a bit “behind the times.” I’m going to be talking about something that happened a few weeks ago; here’s why. I was away doing photography work for Camp Yagilu, a wilderness program run at Morasha, for around two weeks. I had very limited Internet access (translation: restrictive Verizon data plan) and thus couldn’t stay up to date on a lot of what occurred outside of the “bubble.” When I returned, I saw that there were two happenings in the Jewish world that I missed while I was gone.

The first was the fiasco surrounding Jewish singer Matisyahu’s abrupt disinvite, because of BDS, and then re-invite to a Spanish music festival. There’s not much I can say about that except to laud Matisyahu for how he handled it and to slam BDS for, well, being BDS and being the obstructive, unproductive, completely false sham of a movement it always has been.

I can write a bit more about the second happening. Because of writing that was published while I was away, there has been a lot of dialogue surrounding the egalitarian and feminist movements and their place in the Jewish world, as well as new conversation on women learning Gemara. I’d like to respectfully add in my own two cents to all of what’s being discussed.

Some of the dialogue has put feminism and egalitarianism together in the same boat. But feminism and egalitarianism are not necessarily linked movements, especially in the Jewish world. To the best of my knowledge, feminism is a larger movement meant to bring equal rights for both genders—i.e. equal pay, equal education, equal say in things, and so on. In the Modern Orthodox context, it is about giving women more opportunities that are halachically allowed and giving them more leadership roles and opportunities within the larger Jewish community. Egalitarianism—in a Jewish context—is more about integrating the genders together in ritual and prayer (such as egalitarian minyanim where men and women sit together). There are many Modern Orthodox feminists who don’t identify with egalitarianism, myself included; I pray only with mechitza minyanim, yet believe that everyone deserves equal opportunity outside religious matters and inside religious matters to the extent that they work within Halacha.

Conflating feminism and egalitarianism—two separate ideas—thus muddles the conversation and makes this whole debate much trickier.

There’s also been discussion of rethinking Talmud teaching for women. What happens when women’s learning of Talmud is re-evaluated? Will they learn it differently from their male peers? Will they learn less or at a different level? Personally, I attend a coeducational Modern Orthodox school. Boys and girls learn Talmud in the exact same classes; no one gets better or worse learning. (I’m not saying this to promote coed schools over single-gender schools; in our communities, schools for boys and schools for girls fortunately do teach Talmud at equivalent levels. I’m just bringing in my own personal experience here.) Everyone should deserve to learn on the same level and to be able to use their abilities to the fullest, and there’s no compelling reason to stop or re-evaluate that. It simply wouldn’t be fair.

Is there any halachic basis or real anecdotal evidence that seemingly threatening movements have sprung from women learning Talmud? In this day and age, when everyone is an equal member of society in their own way, everyone is responsible for their own beliefs; they’ll believe what they want, I bet, no matter what Talmud they learn. In fact, changing how one gender learns Talmud would insult and push back that gender, and would exacerbate the whole situation. If you feel like your gender is being pushed out of the circle, then why wouldn’t you want to break away?

There is much discussion on feminism and rights that needs to be had in Orthodox Jewry. But re-evaluating and possibly changing Talmud studies for women wouldn’t help anything.

Oren Oppenheim, 17, is a rising senior at Ramaz Upper School in Manhattan and lives in Fair Lawn, NJ. He spends his free time writing and reading, and hopes to become a published novelist and a journalist. He attended the BIMA Arts program at Brandeis University this past summer, majoring in creative writing and minoring in animation. You can email him at [email protected] and see his photography at facebook.com/orenphotography.

By Oren Oppenheim

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