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Rabbanit Michelle Farber Leads Women’s Daf Yomi Siyum on Yevamot

On July 10, Rabbanit Michelle Farber, a leader of Hadran, a women’s organization she co-founded that promotes intensive Gemara study for women, including Daf Yomi, led a siyum as the group completed Masechta Yevamot over Zoom. The siyum program also included a shiur by Lamdeinu’s Dean Rachel Friedman, a shiur by ITIM’s Rabbi Seth Farber, and a short reflection by Elizabeth Kirshner.

Rabbanit Farber is an American-born resident of Ra’anana, Israel, who received a bachelor’s degree in Talmud and Bible from Bar-Ilan University and leads a widely popular Daf Yomi shiur in Ra’anana, which is listened to all over the world. She reviewed the last discussion in Yevamot to give context for the last bit of the final daf, which addressed conditions of accepting witness testimony.

She discussed the masechta’s “confusing” end, in which she specified that the rishonim determined that “shalom is more important [than truth].” She explained, “We have these things pulling at us at all times—on the one hand, wanting to know everything and realizing that we can’t, and yet not letting that paralyze us but moving on to try to resolve situations,” pointing out that, at the end of the masechta, the rabbis “find a way.”

Next to speak was Dean Rachel Friedman, who contributed to Rabbanit Farber’s late mother-in-law’s project, Tanach Yomi. Friedman, who spent many years teaching at Drisha Institute in Manhattan, is founder and dean of Lamdeinu, a learning program based in Teaneck. Her shiur was titled “Through the Prism of Law and Narrative: Yibum and the Biblical Woman.”

The shiur addressed aspects of yibum (a halachic process in which a widow is married to her brother-in-law following her husband’s death) and chalitzah (a halachic process that annuls the obligation for yibum) from a biblical perspective, specifically in nach. Friedman used the story of Yehuda and Tamar to bring proof that yibum “is a tool of tzedek, or justice, in ancient society,” saying that their story “provides a larger perspective of how the human system of yibum … restores the status quo of a just society.”

Friedman further suggested that the role of yibum and chalitzah in the story of Rut and Boaz was critical to the plot moving forward in a positive direction, which “speaks volumes about the symbolic significance of these rituals in biblical times.” She called these two halachic processes “vehicles for correcting a societal injustice and restoring the desired status quo” and said that the story of Rut is a “literary redress, or tikkun, of the earlier story of Yehuda and Tamar,” explaining that they “are not simply vessels of an ancient system of common law,” but rather they “symbolize the role of the rule of law in organizing Israelite society.”

Following the conclusion of Friedman’s shiur, Rabbi Seth Farber, husband of Rabbanit Michelle Farber, spoke on “Modern Applications of Masechet Yevamot in Israel’s Rabbinical Courts.” Through his work at ITIM, a not-for-profit Jewish life advocacy organization he founded to improve how Israel addresses matters of Jewish life and identity, Rabbi Farber has access to a “unique opportunity of participating in the development of the halachic process that’s playing out in Israel and in the rabbinical courts.” He then gave two examples of case studies in which texts in Yevamot play a role in today’s world.

He first addressed intermarriage, bringing forth a case of a woman with a Jewish mother and a non-Jewish father, who went to the rabbinate with her fiancé, only to learn that they were not allowed to be halachically married due to her fiancé’s status as a Cohen. Rabbi Farber discussed the method in which a rabbi jumped through hoops to categorize her as an agunah—literally, a woman who cannot get married—and thus labeling it as a sufficiently desperate situation for the couple to marry despite the chosson’s Cohen status.

The second case involved a young man in the IDF who walked into the rabbinate with his kallah and was subsequently denied on the basis that he was a mamzer. The case was brought to Rav Ovadya Yosef, and Rabbi Farber briefly discussed the “halachic gymnastics” Rav Ovadya Yosef went through to invalidate the chosson’s mother’s first marriage and undo his status as a mamzer.

After Rabbi Farber’s shiur, Elizabeth Kirshner, a young woman learning Yevamot in preparation for her own upcoming wedding, reflected on how the masechta resonated with her, particularly when it came to “notions of continuity, lasting impact [and] implications and consequences of interpersonal relationships, especially marriage and family.” Despite calling the ketubah “distinctly unromantic”—“It’s this peak moment of a couple declaring their love and devotion, and yet we’re so focused on these nitty-gritty legal responsibilities, monetary guarantees, and fine-print insurance policies,” she pointed out—Kirshner quoted Dr. Ayelet Hoffman Lubson, who stated the opposite in her introduction to Masechta Ketubot: “‘Halacha doesn’t leave emotions as something free-floating, but wants to concretize the emotional relationship through legal obligations, and this is something that’s characteristic of Jewish law as a whole.’”

Rabbanit Farber then concluded the program by thanking the members of the Zoom for playing a part in the Daf Yomi cycle and calling them “talmidot chachamot of the world.”

By Brooke Schwartz

 

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