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Do women study Torah?

by Malka Touger based on the works of the Lubavitcher Rebbe

  

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The Short Answer:


For women today to study Torah in depth is not merely a right or a privilege, but an urgent national priority.


The Askmoses Answer: 


Alert to the far-reaching role changes taking place around herself and within her own life, many a woman today is asking: "What is my place in Torah?" "Are there limits to the Torah subjects I should study?"


To begin at the beginning: When G-d first told Moses to prepare the Jews to receive the Torah, He commanded him,1  "This is what you shall say to the House of Jacob and speak to the Children of Israel." 


Our Sages explain2 that "the House of Jacob" refers to Jewish women, and "the Children of Israel," to the men; i.e., G-d told Moses to approach the women first.


This order implies a sense of priority: for the Torah to be perpetuated among the Jewish people, precedence must be given to Jewish women.


This statement may appear questionable in view of several traditional attitudes. These attitudes, however, need to be examined by the objective standard of Torah law as applied to the Torah requirements of contemporary society.


The Practical And The Mystical Dimensions


For a start, the Halachah3 requires a woman to study all the laws and concepts needed to enable her to observe the mitzvahs which she is obligated to fulfill.


This encompasses a vast and varied curriculum, including the intricate laws of (for example): Shabbat, Kashrut, and Family Purity; all the positive mitzvahs that are not contingent on a specific time; and virtually all the prohibitive mitzvahs, whether of Scriptural or Rabbinic authority.


Women would do well to focus their attention on the Aggadic aspects of the Torah as assembled in Ein Yaakov, since our Sages have noted the powerful impact of such study in cultivating one's spiritual emotions
Indeed, many learned men would be happy if their Torah knowledge would be as complete.


Nevertheless, even those who do concede to the above curriculum for women often draw a line between instruction in the bare Do's and Don'ts, and "too much" education - such alleged luxuries, for example, as guidance towards a satisfying philosophy of life; an appreciation of the dynamics set in motion by the observance of a Mitzvah; an understanding of how a Jew connects with his Creator by studying His Torah; and an informed sensitivity to the way in which all Jews are part of the same spiritual anatomy.


Indisputably, however, included among the many mitzvahs which a woman is fully obligated to observe are the cardinal commandments of knowing G-d, loving Him, fearing Him, and the like. (Indeed, these mitzvahs4 "devolve upon us as a constant obligation, never ceasing [for either a man or a woman] for even a moment throughout his life.")


Obviously, one cannot wholeheartedly fulfill these ongoing obligations without a mastery of certain spiritual concepts. This is clearly spelled out in the verse,5 "Know the G-d of your fathers and serve Him with a full heart."


In order to attain this knowledge, as well as all the above manifestations of informed sensitivity, both men and women need to study pnimiyut haTorah, the Torah's mystic dimension.  And this dimension is articulated and accessible in the teachings of Chassidut.6


For similar reasons, women would do well to focus their attention on the Aggadic aspects of the Torah7 as assembled in Ein Yaakov, since our Sages have noted the powerful impact of such study in cultivating one's spiritual emotions.8


Footnotes

  • 1. Exodus 19:3.
  • 2. Mechilta, cited by Rashi on the above verse.
  • 3. Tur Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 246:6; Sefer Chassidim, sec. 313; the Alter Rebbe's Shulchan Aruch, Hilchot Talmud Torah 1:14.
  • 4. See the introductory letter to Sefer HaChinuch.
  • 5. I Chronicles 28:9.
  • 6. See Sefer HaMinhagim: The Book of Chabad-Lubavitch Customs (English translation; Kehot, N.Y., 1992), pp. 192-194, where the detailed discussion of this subject by the Rebbe concludes with the following note: "...Keeping all this in mind, it is self-evident that women too are obliged to study that dimension of the Torah which engenders and gives birth to a love and awe of the Almighty, explaining how His unity is utterly unique, and so on. For it is with regard to every single Jewish male Jewish female that the Torah writes (Deuteronomy 30:14), 'For this thing is very near to you, in your mouth and in your heart, that you may do it.' " The sources which the Rebbe cites in the above-mentioned work are traced in an in-depth study (in Hebrew) by R. Avraham Baruch Pevsner entitled "Limud Torah SheBe'al-Peh LeNashim," in Sefer HaYovel: Karnot Tzaddik (Kehot; Kfar Chabad, 5752), p. 661.
  • 7. See "What is “Aggadata”?" . (http://www.askmoses.com/en/article/157,2069000/Do-women-study-Torah.html)
  • 8. Cf.: "Do you seek to know Him Who spoke and the world came into being? — Study Aggadah!" (Sifri, Eikev, 49:11, 22).

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RELATED CATEGORIES

Torah » Education
Women & Judaism » Women's Issues

Mitzvah
(pl. Mitzvot). A commandment from G-d. Mitzvah also means a connection, for a Jew connects with G–d through fulfilling His commandments.
Shabbat
(pl: Shabbatot). Hebrew word meaning "rest." It is a Biblical commandment to sanctify and rest on Saturday, the seventh day of the week. This commemorates the fact that after creating the world in six days, G-d rested on the seventh.
Torah
Torah is G–d’s teaching to man. In general terms, we refer to the Five Books of Moses as “The Torah.” But in truth, all Jewish beliefs and laws are part of the Torah.
Moshiach
The Messiah. Moshiach is the person who will usher in an era of peace and tranquility for all of humanity when there will be no jealousy or hate, wars or famine. This is a fundamental Jewish belief.
Talmud
Usually referring to the Babylonian edition, it is a compilation of Rabbinic law, commentary and analysis compiled over a 600 year period (200 BCE - 427 CE). Talmudic verse serves as the bedrock of all classic and modern-day Torah-Jewish literature.
Halachah
Jewish Law. All halachah which is applicable today is found in the Code of Jewish Law.
Kashrut
Laws of Kosher (Jewish dietary laws).
Zohar
The most basic work of Jewish mysticism. Authored by Rabbi Shimeon bar Yochai in the 2nd century.
Rebbe
A Chassidic master. A saintly person who inspires followers to increase their spiritual awareness.
Chassidut
The teachings of the Chassidic masters. Chassidut takes mystical concepts such as G-d, the soul, and Torah, and makes them understandable, applicable and practical.
Moses
[Hebrew pronunciation: Moshe] Greatest prophet to ever live. Led the Jews out of Egyptian bondage amidst awesome miracles; brought down the Tablets from Mount Sinai; and transmitted to us word-for-word the Torah he heard from G-d's mouth. Died in the year 1272 BCE.
Adar
The twelfth month on the Jewish calendar. This month (which falls out approx. February-March), is the most joyous month on the calendar due to the holiday of Purim which is on the 14th and 15th of this month.
Jacob
Third of the three Patriarchs and father of the Twelve Tribes. Lived most his life in Canaan and died in Egypt in 1505 BCE. Also known by the name of "Israel."
Psalms
The Book of Psalms. One of the 24 books of the Bible. Compiled by King David; mostly comprised of poetic praise for G-d. A large part of our prayers are culled from this book.
G-d
It is forbidden to erase or deface the name of G-d. It is therefore customary to insert a dash in middle of G-d's name, allowing us to erase or discard the paper it is written on if necessary.
Family Purity
Laws relating to intimacy between husband and wife. The primary point of Family Purity is the woman's purifying immersion in a ritual bath which allows the couple to resume intimate relations after the woman's menstrual period.