Monday, August 21, 2006

on female role models and chinuch

If you have daughters, take a moment and think of 3 contemporary female role models who inspire your daughters with their wisdom, insight, and intellectual acumen in Torah. I would bet you couldn't name three. Now switch gears and name role models for your son(s) and I am sure there is no shortage of names of prominent Roshei Yeshiva which roll off the tongue. I cannot help but view together the reaction of many to the woman featured in this article with the story I overheard on Shabbos from a father bemoaning his teenage daughter’s lack of interest in ruchniyus. I am not entertaining a debate here over the issue of woman as Rabbis – that is a political question and I don’t do politics. But I do take issue with those who do not see the harmful effects produced by the dearth of role models and lack of serious learning opportunities open to young women. Lessons on tzniyus and baking challah don’t make for a serious and profound commitment to Judaism for the intellectually curious any more than knowing how to put on tefillin and wear a kippah would satisfy an intellectually gifted ben Torah. I admit my bias to thinking of Judaism primarily as an intellectual experience - if you disagree, you should probably not bother reading this blog : ) I do not mean to suggest that every girl needs to be thrust into a demanding regimen of learning when she has other interests. Nor do I mean that every girl needs to learn gemara or shach and taz. Even for those who want to learn, there is plenty to go through without ever learning gemara. For those who can excel in limudei kodesh and have a willingness to do so, why should they not be afforded every opportunity to succeed personally, to share their knowledge with other young women, and to serve as role models of avodas Hashem for the entire community? How can you expect a young lady raised in a modern orthodox home to feel good about Judaism when she might be attending a high school and taking AP physics, AP History, studying for the SAT, but has never met a woman who knows more than basic chumash and Rashi and some halachos heard orally which the sources for remain unknown? Judaism without thinking, Judaism without role models who have a deep intellectual commitment and understanding of Torah, seems to me to be a sterile experience and an experience we should not force upon young women who aspire to a deeper and more profound connection to avodas Hashem.
(Yes, I am in a bad mood, which leads to these type posts. I will snap out of it and get back to learning topics soon, I hope).


  1. Anonymous6:28 PM

    I do agree with your concerns and I believe that they are somewhat valid. However, my wife's experience is in some ways the opposite ie. there is too much stress on intellectual pursuits for girls and women. When my wife chose the seminary she would eventually attend in EY, she chose one that was considered less intellectually "rigorous", which was also reflected in its course list. Her reasoning was that the talmidos in the more "intellectual-minded institutions were too focused on acquiring rote knowledge and textual analysis skillset, like analyzing various more obscure Rambans al Chumash and other meforshim, with the primary goal of obtaining good marks. This approach, as my wife observed, took away from a focus on actual personal growth and a devotion to Yiddishkeit later on as wives and mothers. She felt that her seminary experience was beneficial and she came home after renewed and refreshed.

    However, for what it is worth, I can name you some compelling and "inspirational" female rolemodels, who are also very intellectually-minded yet promote personal growth and a love of Torah: Rebbitzen Tzipporah Heller (seems to be quite expert in the kisvei Maharal), Rebbitzen Shira Smiles. There is also a Rebbitzen, I forget her name, who has spoken at the Torah U'Mesorah convention who is not only a fiery personality but shows her broad knowledge of Torah and its application to women's daily lives.

    Just my two cents.

  2. Anonymous7:52 PM

    ושננתם לבניך - ולא לבנותיך

  3. Anonymous8:13 PM

    אשה אינה במצות תלמוד תורה שנאמר ולמדתם אותם את בניכם ולא את בנותיכם ... ומכל מקום גם הנשים חייבות ללמוד הלכות הצריכות להן לידע אותן

  4. As a woman, I don't want to be "compellingly inspired". I want the rigorous intellectual approach. I want the tough debates. I want the umph! that challenges the mind.

  5. And moreover, quite frankly, "women's studies" bore me to tears.

  6. One more thing, I recognize that my personal preferences are linked to my overall personality - I'm an INTJ personality, which is a rather uncommon personality among women. So, I do also recognize that most women DO prefer those things that I DON'T prefer - nevertheless, there are other women with personalities like mine and the religious community really needs to provide options for us.

  7. Liorah, I'm sick of you already, why can't you stop trolling all the Jewish sites with your garbade?

  8. >>>the talmidos in the more "intellectual-minded institutions were too focused on acquiring rote knowledge and textual analysis skillset, like analyzing various more obscure Rambans al Chumash and other meforshim, with the primary goal of obtaining good marks. This approach, as my wife observed, took away from a focus on actual personal growth and a devotion to Yiddishkeit later

    Most boys will end up pursuing some professional career in their lives, yet I highly doubt you would suggest that when in yeshiva boys should not focus on rigorous textual analysis and obscure mareh mekomos and instead focus on personal growth and committment that will help them later in life [actually, that's not a bad idea, but that's another discussion]? Aderaba, the argument is that being immersed in the intellectual depths of torah leads to a life of personal growth and committment. For those doing it for the grades, its no different than a boy learning for a position, for a better shidduch, etc. Shelo lishma is a factor on both sides of the table - that is a personal challenege for each individual to take into consideration.

  9. Most yeshivas don't give out grades starting in the midddle of High school. So in 11th and 12th grade and in bais midrash, there aren't any people learning for high grades, it is purely lishma.

  10. Anonymous11:03 AM

    On Howorwitz's comments: "...the radical notion that women are people." Some of us are more intellectual, and some of us less so -- you'll find the same division of personalities among men. Therefore, just because your wife found an intellectual text-based approach did not inspire her doesn't mean that it doesn't work for other women. That is faulty induction on your part.
    Point 2: You can only name 2 out of the 3 women you wish to reference, which proves the Divrei Chaim's point.
    I don't know who you have in mind for #3 and I am not familiar with #2. However, I am familiar with Tziporah Heller. She is a dynamic speaker and truly bright woman. In fact, she herself is an intellectual and not focused on her home (despite her 10 or 11 ba"h) children. However, she has to always uphold the charedi party line, which inevitably compromises intellectual honesty. I gave up on her after she presented the male/female dichotomies as literal guides to behavior. That is not what those concepts are about. And if you try to follow Maharal literally, you could find yourself certified insane when you explain that killing an am aharetz does not count as murder.

  11. >>>So in 11th and 12th grade and in bais midrash, there aren't any people learning for high grades, it is purely lishma.

    Reb Chaim, only because you are a tzadik do you associate no grades with lishma. There are lots of shelo lishmas that have nothing to do with grades - e.g. it is more socially acceptable to sit in yeshiva than to go to college or get vocational training. Maybe a little shelo lishma in the form of tests to keep guys honest is not such a bad thing....
    BTW, I can't load your site in IE. Is Firefox l'ikuva?

  12. Anonymous11:40 AM

    I remember now - Rebbitzen Ruthy Assaf. I heard a tape that my sister in-law was playing from her speech at the Torah U'Mesorah Convention. She illustrated a certain broad knowledge of Torah combined with a power and fire.

    In response to the first Anonymous and the quotes - I would not question most cirriculae in Seminaries, as they have received the assent and advice of our Gedolei Yisroel. That is good enough for me and I would hope for you as well.

    In response to Reb Chaim and second Anonymous, I agree that each woman is an individual and so some are more intellectually curious then others. Some women might need that and I agree that for those yechidos, that it what they need. However, I agree with Rebbetzin Heller's gender dichotomy and I think by a large it holds true. Men and women ARE different, possess different goals and interests, and Men generally are more focused on growth through intellect. If you Anon 2, are trying to say that these differences are imposed and artificial, I believe the Torah informs us otherwise.

  13. >>>I believe the Torah informs us otherwise.

    Not sure what you have in mind - where?

  14. Anonymous1:16 PM

    I did not mean any specific source. I apologize for the lack of clarity in my comments. What I meant or mean is that in its application of how boys and girls, men and women, have been educated throughout Jewish history, and even how they are educated today, the Torah promotes and accepts gender stereotypes, if you like, or roles that are prescribed. This application of the Torah, as guided by our Chochmei HaTorah, is of course at odds with our society's view and the accepted premise of the inherent equality and sameness of men and women.
    However, I generally agree with your concern that in observing our contemporary society, and the effects it has on even our Torah observing society, that roles once deemed as expressions of inherent gender differences, might have to be set aside for the preservation of the observance of Torah, if not its promotion.

  15. Try my site again, there were problems with it in IE, so I moved back to the old template which has less problems.

  16. Anonymous3:27 PM

    Ij's comment reminded me of a jpamphlet I once saw on tznius that shamelessly declared that the Gemara devotes major sections to the discussion of hilchos tznius and the evils of too tight clothes. (By the way, this is written by someone who is not at all tempted by these modes of dress.) The point is it is popular in charedi and charedi-wanna-be circles to declare that anything that they wish to declare standard has its source in Torah (or to keep the females in the dark, rather, Gemara).
    To wit: R' Falk declares "What Torah learning is for a man, tznius is for a woman." A seminary student asserted that this statemetn is certainly grounded in the Gemara. Of course, she would never dream of opening one, and boy oh boy, would she not be disillusioned.
    Much of the educational division favored in the right wing circles contributes to this disadvantage of being forced to take people's word for fact b/c you do not have the ability to check the sources for yourself (alas for the feeble-minded female). Surprisingly, many of the males who claim possession of superior intellectual prowess on the basis of their gender alone fall into the same type of passive receptivity of "Certainly, it must say so in the Torah" with no ability to find exactly where and in what context.

    BTW I heard Reb Ruthy Assaf, too. Another dynamic speaker. But I don't enough about what she pushes "hashkafically" to come to a conclusion about her. I do believe that she heads the Manhattan girls' school, which does stress intellectual achievement. So I don't know if you really want to name her a role model, Mr. H.

  17. Anonymous,
    I think you are too hard on chareidi or chareidi-wanna-be (in your words) circles. I think you will find the same phenomenon in many modern circles as well. How many Young Israels offer high level text based shiurim for women? Where in the modern world of women who pursue careers in law and medicine are the role models of women who pursue lives as klei kodesh to bring Torah thought to the rabim? The examples of those who do so are few and far between and they do not receive community support and encourgement.

  18. Anonymous5:37 PM

    You are correct. However, there is a bit more freedom in the less right wing places for women to pursue higher level Jewish learning. That is not to say that the group values will necessarily point them in that direction. On the other hand, if you want to fit in as part of the charedi circles, you will have to conform and not open a Gemara or a mishna if you are female. BJJ girls won't even look up a source in a Gemara lest they see the tzuras haDaf.

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