My love of Talmud started when I was in eighth grade. I was hooked from the first word of the Talmud, which can be found in Tractate Berachot: “Meeimatai – From when?” I saw that question as a calling. I was lucky enough to attend Ramaz, a coed school in which my Jewish education was exactly the same as that of my male peers. I was shocked when I arrived at my all-girls seminary in Israel at the age of eighteen, and found that many Modern Orthodox girls had never studied Talmud in depth, or never studied Talmud at all.
Over the years, I grew used to being the only Orthodox girl who’d studied Talmud in the room. I grew used to men assuming I knew less than they did. After all, I was a woman, and therefore probably had less of a Jewish education. I grew used to attending Talmud classes where I was the only woman and getting weird looks. I also came to accept that learning with Orthodox women often meant learning with women who had less exposure to Talmud than I did, and that learning with people who had less of a background in Talmud enabled me to learn unique insights about the text that I never would have otherwise.
I grew used to being the only Orthodox girl who’d studied Talmud in the room.
But I grew lonely and I thought, wouldn’t it be great if there were one day when women around the world came together to learn Talmud? Wouldn’t it be great if for one day, women who learned Talmud realized that they are not alone, but rather, part of the women’s Talmud revolution that is taking place across different Jewish communities?
That’s how International Women’s Talmud Day was born. It will take place on Sunday, May 13, 2018.
I hope it sends a message to women who study Talmud that they are not alone. They are part of a movement of women around the world who are demanding access to a text that has served as a foundation of Jewish law for centuries.
I hope it sends a message to women Talmud educators, that we recognize their achievements.
I hope it sends a message to women who have never encountered Talmud, or who might think of it as a men’s domain–it’s not. You too, can study Talmud; it belongs to women and to men alike. This is an important message not just for women, but for men as well.
I hope it sends a message to women who study Talmud that they are not alone.
Recently, I was studying mishnah for JOFA UK’s #YourTorah podcast project. The topic was zavim, which deals largely with male anatomy, and the rabbis were discussing what might cause a man to be sexually aroused. I wondered: How might the text have looked different if it were written by a woman? It was at that moment that it hit me that the fact that I was a woman studying mishnah (which is the basis of the Talmud) was nothing short of a miracle.
For 2,000 years, the Jewish texts have been written and taught by men. Now, for the first time in Jewish history, we have Jewish texts being taught by women, and women beginning to write their own halachik works.
That is revolutionary.
For the first time in Jewish history, we have Jewish texts being taught by women, and women beginning to write their own halachik works.
International Women’s Talmud Day takes a moment to recognize how far we have come. But it also takes a moment to recognize how far we have to go. Most Orthodox day schools, high schools, and yeshivas offer Talmud as one of the major components of Jewish education for Orthodox boys, while still failing to adequately provide Talmud education for Orthodox girls. Or worse, they fail to provide Talmud education to their girls at all. This means that we live in an Orthodox world where it’s acceptable to cut off women from access to a text that is essential to halachic literacy. We ask women to observe the halacha, but we don’t give them the tools they need to understand its beauty and its history.
I hope that International Women’s Talmud Day is one small step to change that equation. It’s one day for women to stand up and say, “The Talmud is ours, and we will claim it.” That’s why the online resources provided by International Women’s Talmud Day, which enable women from anywhere in the world to study Talmud, whether or not they’ve studied it before, are so crucial.
I have gone from feeling like I am the only woman in the room to feeling like I am part of a network of strong women who are passionately committed to Judaism.
Organizing International Women’s Talmud Day has put me in touch with an amazing group of women at JOFA, JOFA UK, and Yeshivat Maharat, who are co-sponsoring this project. I have gone from feeling like I am the only woman in the room to feeling like I am part of a network of strong women who are passionately committed to Judaism and to making the world a better place. And for that, I am grateful.
So this May 13, come join the women’s Talmud revolution. Come take part in International Women’s Talmud Day.
Shayna Abramson is a native Manhattanite living in Jerusalem, where she works as a grant and content writer and is pursuing an MA in Political Science from Hebrew University.
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