Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Talmud

Well. It's a fascinating discussion, although I must confess that I started spacing out before reading all of it. But the general debate is one in which I have participated bajillions of times. First, to establish my own credentials- I am a female who learns Gemara. Not on-and-off, not in a class, not if it comes up in some properly tanach/mussar setting, but on my own, for fun, doing Daf Yomi, searching for chavrutot. Because I absolutely adore it. And feel that it makes me love G-d and Torah and holiness and sharpens my mind and so on and so forth.

So, what does that mean? Well, for one thing, it means that I don't feel that it's forbidden for women to learn Talmud. Which is at odds with the philosophy of my high school, it should live and be well. (I had one teacher who preferred to bring in sheets with a passage from the Talmud written out, rather than bring in a photocopy of the page, because she preferred that we not get familiar with the format of a daf of gemara. Yeah.) Of course, I have never heard any really good halachic reasons or sources for it to be forbidden, or even frowned upon, but then, if you started giving girls solid halachic reasons, that would sort of destroy the whole point, wouldn't it?

Darn. I am sounding bitter, aren't I? I'm trying not to be bitter here. Because really, from what I know of girls, 95% of them are not suited for learning Gemara. Whether this is natural or acquired through environment would make an interesting discussion, but it lacks, I believe, a nafka mina (useful difference) for this particular case. I am actually pretty much in agreement with the statement that females, as a whole, do not think as logically, factually, or analytically as men. I am willing to believe that they (well, 'we', I suppose. Distancing myself is cheating, isn't it?) are collectively worse at math and science, quite probably at Talmud as well.

Well. And where does that leave me? Shrug. As an anamoly, I guess. One that some people find disturbing and others love to rally around as if I were representative of some far larger trend. Really. When I tell friends that I am doing the daf, there are only three possible reactions, depending on their hashkafic leanings and gender: 1) The sideways glance at another Bais Yaakov friend, with the little amused shrug, translated into "Oh, that Tobie. She's a bit...you know, but it's not nice to start fights about people's beliefs" 2) The MO "right on, girl! you're fighting for all of us! Carry the banner proudly!" that makes me want to roll my eyes and/or run shrieking, 3) the (usually male) patronizing smile that says "A girl who thinks that she learns gemara. Adorable!". Well, actually, there are a few people who just kind of accept it, and those are cool and good people, but they are few and far between.

The point is...there was a point, back there somewhere. Ah, yes. The point is, I think that the gemara argument often presents a false choice: Women can't learn gemara vs. women should all learn gemara. I happen to fall in the middle- the desire and/or ability to learn gemara is rare among females. Those that can, should. Those that can't, they should live and be well.

And just because I learn gemara doesn't mean I want to be a rabbi. Possibly, if I were male, I would become a rabbi. But I'm not and I prefer to think that this was not just an oversight on the part of G-d. And the fact that I won't be a rabbi doesn't really bother me, since I happen to believe that women shouldn't be rabbis, both because the majority may not be able to handle the torah-knowledge requirements and for a variety of other reasons that are really too complicated to get into now.

But the point is, insofar as there is a point, that just because I'm a gemara-learning female doesn't describe my entire hashkafa or personality or anything. It's just something that I do, because I can and I think that I should.

22 comments:

Shana said...

1st Comment W00T!

First of all, do you consider me an approriate candiate for learning gemara?

(Paritally a joke partially not)

One very astute comment my ex made to me back when I was in Israel was
"Most Guys should not be learning gemara."

Fact is, it bores most people to death, and most people do not like the legalisticly oriented logic puzzles.

I strongly diagree with "I am actually pretty much in agreement with the statement that females, as a whole, do not think as logically, factually, or analytically as men". There is not enough information to know exactly what the differences are in brain structure and chemistry that would allo you to say that. at the most, you could say that females use a different logic circuit, one that is more language oriented (which would be useful in legal work).

Beyond which, there is not enough evidence to say that women are inherent less skilled in math as well or really inherently that much more skilled in language. Brains are just as much the product og genetics and they are a product of enviroment. This creates an issue with even saying that women or men are inherently better at x or y, and therefore should do z, because it is hard to infer causation from correlation. I could equally make the arguement that women are bad at math, science, and gemara because weomen are encouraged to think that they will be bad at science, math, and gemara. (this might explain why all women's colleges produce more female science/math majors than coed institutions) To say that any person is bad at math is as mucha product of enviroment as gender. (not to mention that gender is somewhat flexible, much to soceity's chagrin)

Look, I recognize differences, but are the differences enough to say that one group is better at x, or just different at x. I have known of many illogical men, and I have known many illogical women. To say that one group is going to be better, welll, you need to provide a stronger arguement to make that claim.

You need to hold your ground better than that Tobie....and I believe you can.

(and I feel really weird knowing all of this from all those years reading Sex Roles: A Journal of Research...)

Suzan said...

it's not forbidden for us, we're just not obligated because it's not something we need to help us grow.

I guess though that if you want to learn it, it's okay to. may you always love torah and mitzvot

Miri said...

I'm not going to make any arguments abt thought process. there's no point. but if I may say to Suzan - why is it only okay for Tobie to learn Gemarah if it's something that actively develops her ahavat and yirat Hashem? I thought the idea in Judaism of why we were put on this planet at all was to come close to G-d - G-d's expression of His middah of Chessed, right? so here's something that brings her so much closer to G-d, why isn't it a fantastic thing for her to learn Gemarah? I agree with her statement that not all girls are cut out for it, that in fact, most aren't; I also agree with Shana's ex that lots of boys aren't cut out for it either. I think possibly the problem here has something more to do with the factory system that most Jewish communities have become - everybody fits the patented mold, except for the few who accidentally come out screwy, and there will always be the screwy ones, so we have to tolerate them and tell them "it's okay" bc it's not actually forbidden. when did the Torah ever have anything against individuality? when did G-d say "you must all worship Me exactly the same way, with exactly the same thoughts and perspectives, bc we all know what might happen if some of you should start to THINK!" Judaism is a religion of education and intellectual development. it's been our pride and glory, not something to be ashamed of. ok, I think I've gotten a little off topic and more than a little bitter. all I'm trying to say is, I don't know why there needs to be a majority doing one thing or the other. is it too much to ask the daughters of the Nation of the Book, the Nation of Words, to use the gray matter that G-d gave them (presumably for something other than looking pretty since after all, no one can see the brain.)I'm sorry if I've ceased to make sense; I guess that's what happens when you think too much.

Richard said...

I think that those who can study gemara should, iff (if and only if) they want to. Since you can, and very much better than several scholars I know (I'm not a scholar (yet?)), I must therefore fall into your category of the "few and far between," "cool and good people." (yea!) And now that I reread parts of your post to clarify what I was about to comment, I realize that this is part of your argument (if I understood it as you intended it).

Oh! And I wanted to ask (in a only slightly mocking manner: what daf are you on? Not that I'm keeping track of where the "official" daf yomi is. I'm still hoping to know enough Aramaic for the next cycle. Would you be willing to help me (again)?

Mike said...

Although I think that boys in general have an edge in learning Gemorrah, I don't think they have an edge in learning high school Yeshivah Gemarah. For the most part they teach you how to read Aramaic and skim over the logic. Furthermore, most of the logic is not harder than that of geometry or algebra. Unfortunately the mindset of the Yeshivot has been, "We cannot understand their logic because they were so much smarter than us." Therefore, they don't teach original thinking skills or even the absic logic. Instead the class is translate, accept, agree, continue.

Maven said...

Yeah! You go girl! Fight the Power!

anonym00kie said...

you wrote : "The point is, I think that the gemara argument often presents a false choice: Women can't learn gemara vs. women should all learn gemara."

i totally agree.. seems like youve got the right attitude..
people love absolutes.. but beauty and truth is usually found in the nuances, and it seems youve tapped into that

Tobie said...

Whee! Comments!

Shana- as I mentioned, it really doesn't matter to me whether the difference is due to natural aptitude or environment. I do happen to think that women are more likely to think intuitively or more abstractedly than mathematically. Perhaps this isn't even a problem for Gemara. That's not the point. Because, thank G-d, my abilities are not determined by averaging the abilities of my entire gender and applying the average to me. It makes no difference to me whether I am typical of my gender or if I'm the only female in the world who can parse a daf, except possibly in the social context. I'm not here to determine general policy or anything like that- just talking about me.

Suzan- got to side with miri here. So happens that Gemara does help me grow spiritually and intellectually. I would love it if the effort that I put into this spiritual growth was approved and not merely tolerated.

Miri- Amen.

Richard- Why only if they want to? Isn't torah learning a mitzvah that should be done because it's a mitzvah?
I'm only like three weeks behind, okay? *looks sheepish and trucalent*

Mike- Interesting. Because that sort of thing davka sounds perfectly simple for females to handle. So what they refuse to teach us is what there is no reason not to teach us, but also what I don't particularly want to learn. Not that a knowledge of Aramaic wouldn't have come in handy in the beginning.

Maven- Thanks, but gak! Part of the point is that I'm not fighting the blinking power! I'm... trying to get close to G-d in the way that works best for me. It shouldn't be a blinking rebellion!

Anonymookie- Thanks.

Richard said...

did you mean "truculent" ? Because that doesn't fit the context of looking sheepish (and fierce?), but "trucalent" isn't an English word.
As far as talmud torah ... I wasn't considering the mitzvah, just my personal opinion. I know, I'm a horrible Jew because I do what I think is right and then find a reason for it. Well, that might change soon; we'll see.
Congrats on catching up so much on daf. Last I knew (2+ months ago) you were a little over a month behind, so this is an improvement.
Is there a book you would recommend that would teach me Hebrew and Aramaic? or should I tackle one, then the other? It bothers me to no end that I can pronounce the language (Americanly, anyway (yes, it's a word -- or it is now)) but still not know what I'm saying.

Tobie said...

Yes, I meant truculent, and yes, I meant it- it's that combination of looking guilty and tough that only a toddler or teenager can perfect. As for learning Aramaic, I kind of figured it out as i went along while learning talmud. Probably not the best, but it worked. Probably only because I had a good working knowledge of Hebrew first, so I would recommend that you work on that first. I don't quite know how- maybe some language teaching program or Rosetta Stone software or something. My method- twelve largely wasted years of day school and the Harry Potters in hebrew- is somewhat effective, but hardly efficient.

Shana said...

Tobie-bi-leh...
I'm taking issue with the fact that you are asserting I am actually pretty much in agreement with the statement that females, as a whole, do not think as logically, factually, or analytically as men not with your premise aboiut you learning gemara. i diagree with you when you say that it lacks a nafak mina. if we can 100% pinpoint why women seem to be behind guys when it comes to learning gemara, you can make or break an arguement about whether women on principle should be learning Gemara, or any other gendered/seperated by sex behaviors.

In a way Tobie, I'm trying to make a point about how this post relates to your linked post. The conflict isn't going to be resolved in the ideological level unless we establish some ground facts about gender and sex. (which doesn't seem to be happening.)

In replying to Maven, whether you realize it or not, you hit the crux of the issue about the state of Judaism in the United States today. At what point does the individual matter more than the community, especially when that community is a faith community? when should we give each priority?

You're post in context becomes part of the ambivalent attitude we all have towards individualism. In it's current incarnation, Feminism is only one part of that struggle. In reality, while to learn gemara or not learn gemara is a false choice. However seen in the context of the linked post, the choice of community versus the indivdual does not seem false at all.

Giving either the individaul or the group power over the other determines the shapes of its yang, for indivduals are as much defined by thier communities as communities are defined by thier individuals. Placing one defintion above the other weakens its partner defintion.

So Tobie, how are you defined when you learn Gemara? I don't know. It is something you know, and which I think you might be avoiding in this post.

And Richard-
The Yad
The Kitzur Shulchan Aruch

And it is a Mitzvah D'oraita stemming from the Shma
Devarim 6:7

Nice Tidy Little Wikipedia Thing

Shana said...

Tobie-bi-leh...
I'm taking issue with the fact that you are asserting

"I am actually pretty much in agreement with the statement that females, as a whole, do not think as logically, factually, or analytically as men"

not with your premise aboiut you learning gemara. i diagree with you when you say that it lacks a nafak mina. if we can 100% pinpoint why women seem to be behind guys when it comes to learning gemara, you can make or break an arguement about whether women on principle should be learning Gemara, or any other gendered/seperated by sex behaviors.

In a way Tobie, I'm trying to make a point about how this post relates to your linked post. The conflict isn't going to be resolved in the ideological level unless we establish some ground facts about gender and sex. (which doesn't seem to be happening.)

In replying to Maven, whether you realize it or not, you hit the crux of the issue about the state of Judaism in the United States today. At what point does the individual matter more than the community, especially when that community is a faith community? when should we give each priority?

You're post in context becomes part of the ambivalent attitude we all have towards individualism. In it's current incarnation, Feminism is only one part of that struggle. In reality, while to learn gemara or not learn gemara is a false choice. However seen in the context of the linked post, the choice of community versus the indivdual does not seem false at all.

Giving either the individaul or the group power over the other determines the shapes of its yang, for indivduals are as much defined by thier communities as communities are defined by thier individuals. Placing one defintion above the other weakens its partner defintion.

So Tobie, how are you defined when you learn Gemara? I don't know. It is something you know, and which I think you might be avoiding in this post.

And Richard-
The Yad
The Kitzur Shulchan Aruch

And it is a Mitzvah D'oraita stemming from the Shma
Devarim 6:7

Nice Tidy Little Wikipedia Thing

Shana said...

Tobie-bi-leh...
I'm taking issue with the fact that you are asserting

"I am actually pretty much in agreement with the statement that females, as a whole, do not think as logically, factually, or analytically as men"

not with your premise aboiut you learning gemara. i diagree with you when you say that it lacks a nafak mina. if we can 100% pinpoint why women seem to be behind guys when it comes to learning gemara, you can make or break an arguement about whether women on principle should be learning Gemara, or any other gendered/seperated by sex behaviors.

In a way Tobie, I'm trying to make a point about how this post relates to your linked post. The conflict isn't going to be resolved in the ideological level unless we establish some ground facts about gender and sex. (which doesn't seem to be happening.)

In replying to Maven, whether you realize it or not, you hit the crux of the issue about the state of Judaism in the United States today. At what point does the individual matter more than the community, especially when that community is a faith community? when should we give each priority?

You're post in context becomes part of the ambivalent attitude we all have towards individualism. In it's current incarnation, Feminism is only one part of that struggle. In reality, while to learn gemara or not learn gemara is a false choice. However seen in the context of the linked post, the choice of community versus the indivdual does not seem false at all.

Giving either the individaul or the group power over the other determines the shapes of its yang, for indivduals are as much defined by thier communities as communities are defined by thier individuals. Placing one defintion above the other weakens its partner defintion.

So Tobie, how are you defined when you learn Gemara? I don't know. It is something you know, and which I think you might be avoiding in this post.

And Richard-
The Yad
The Kitzur Shulchan Aruch

And it is a Mitzvah D'oraita stemming from the Shma
Devarim 6:7

Nice Tidy Little Wikipedia Thing

Shana said...

gah sorry about that...blogger doesn't like me today...

Halfnutcase said...

i might point out to you tobie that most men are considered incapable of learning gemorah as well, at least from the gemorah's perspective. If memory serves it states that of those who enter for study of the chumash (with no comentaries other than the most basic of basic) few leave who can begin mishnah. Of them, few leave who can begin gemorah, and of them 1 in 1000 becomes capable of actualy delivering a psak.

Even amoungst boys the fraction who where considered capable to learn gemorah where not large. Furthermore we see that women historicaly where learned in talmud from time to time, although i could not comment on the ratio of them to men.

clearly tobie you're following in good footsteps, beruria as well as many many others. Personaly i think it's great that your so capable of learning talmud, hopefully you'll take full advantage of that to learn with your husband when you marry (and he will of course be your equal, someone who can challange you and be challanged by you).

personaly i think any girl capable of learning talmud should learn it, and everything should be well with her, noone should give her trouble for it.

we need all the talmud scholars we can get really. certainly our yeshivot are not producing enough of them.

Tobie said...

Shana- Interesting point of view. The fact is, I am not a sociologist, so I am not attempting to make any general statements about women's physiologies or intellects. I am reacting to a world in which, for whatever reason, my ability and desire to learn Talmud makes me an anamoly. And I agree, this is connected to how it shapes my identity within my community.

What I am arguing is that my personal decision, which I do not feel is in conflict with Judaism nor weakens the communal structures in any way, should be viewed as merely one thing that I do, neither a protest nor a crime. I know how I am viewed- as I mentioned, either as a rebel, a pioneer, or a cute, pretentious little girl. I wish that my Talmud learning could be no more of a statement than "I am a person who learns Talmud". I know that this is not the case, because the community has chosen to associate certain philosophical beliefs with this practice. I think that the community is wrong.

HNC- Thanks. I suppose somebody should be crusading for men's right not to learn Talmud, but I just can't put my heart into it. I mean, who wouldn't want to? It's so darn much fun!

Tobie said...

Although I always get queasy when I hear the Bruriah example. Her story happens to be tragic, confusing, and generally more of a warning than a role model.

Miri said...

Shana- you said that individuals are defined by their communities as much as communities are defined by their individuals...and to give the power of the one over the other weakens the definition of its partner. I think you are right in this but I would like to take a slightly different perspective on it....the fact is that the individuals are the building blocks of the community, especially the faith community, in their individualism. G-d created us all differently bc ppl work like puzzle peices - you fit where I'm lacking, therefore we need each other and must work together for the community from the basis of our individuality. this is why the factory system pattern that most Jewish communities fall into is what ruins them - bc they say that we must all be exactly the same, and when we're all doing the smae thing, there's no one to fill in the gaps. when we try to deny or squash the unique strengths and talents that G-d gave us for the sake of serving Him, we do no one a service, and everyone a disservice - to ourselves, our communities, and the world at large. I think that trying to suppress a talent, or discourage it with mere tolerance instead of encouragin it with active approval, we're actually doing somehing to destroy our Jewish community, not save it.

Halfnutcase said...

miri is right, and i've seen it all to often.

we could do with alot less cookie cutter mentality.

Shana said...

Miri:

While I agree with you, one of the possible extensions of that arguement that indivduals build the community as a primary value rather than the community building the individual is that you effectively just oked any statement of the Reform Movement.

A community can't exist without people, but I am inclined to also think that people can't exist without community....

Ehh, I'm only an amature sociologist, and I don't think I will pursue it as anything more than a hobby.

we do need a little bit of a cookie cutter, otherwise we have no community. However, in this day and age, it also means that people have the right to leave and enter fluidly without flack of whatever identities we take on.

For example, Ashkenazim don't keep full glatt the same way sephardim do, but we treat this fake standard as this standard only one possible to be considered to be kosher in the Orthodox community. Whether we like it or not, we do define in and out groups, which does rely on some sort of standardization. In this case, eveyrone who doesn't keep this form of semi-glatt is not kosher enough to be considered Orthodox.

So to say that we are puzzle peices is far to simplistic. AT what point to the standards dissapear to be comidered in or out of a given community?

When women learn Gemara, what kind of statement does that make about the boundry limits of the community? What does it say about the in and out group? WHat do the individuals trying to hold camp in multiple groups think about this?

Isn't life complicated that way?

:-)

Tobie said...

Shana- I'm not entirely sure that I see your point. To create a community, you need an effective set of minimum standards. I have an idea- why don't we try halacha as defined by people interpreting the torah on the basis of the talmud, rishonim, and achronim, in an attempt to reach the halachic result? I don't think that individuality trumps halacha. Nor, however, do I feel that a female learning Talmud is against the halacha. And if the people who look down on the practice do so because they feel that it is assur, rather than for more vague sociological reasons, I am almost able to sympathize with them. Except that I happen to support tolerance of a larger range of halachic positions. Just as nobody looks down on Sephardim for eating kitniyot, I would prefer it if they would stop looking down on people with other differing halachic opinions. Which is part of a much larger argument.

But those who simply tolerate my learning Talmud- that makes no sense. Obviously, they don't think that it's assur. Well, if it's not assur, and according to some opinions it's a positive thing, why on earth wouldn't you be in favor of it? I mean, in a world that's chumra-crazy, why are we discouraging going by the more stringent position? ;)

Miri said...

Shana- you mistook my vague term "individuality" to mean "I'm ok - you're ok- we can all do whatever the heck we darn well please." which is not how I really intended it. I meant that communities are built by using the combined strengths and talents of it's individuals. I'm good at teaching; he's good at baking; she's good at dressmaking - so we all pool together and I'm the teacher, he's the baker, she's the dressmaker. what the inherent implication inside this sort of process is, is that we are all different and that these differences are good and necessary, bc if we were all bakers, we'd have no one to make the dresses or teach the little ones. the larger, national-spiritual side of this is the shivim panim liTorah - there's seventy faces not bc one is right and the others are wrong, but bc without one of those faces, the Torah would be incomplete. therefore, not only is it not wrong to have differing daiot and differing hashkafot within Orthodox Judaism (read- within the construct of Halacha), it's how G-d originally intended it. I'm not so much talking abt actual halachik practice, unless you want to get into a war abt minhagim (per Tobie's example of Sfardim and kitniyot) so much as I'm talking abt the perspective, the outlook, which is what Hashkafa is. and Hashkafa, after all, is what defines every community. why should the fact that I as a female learn Gemarrah put me into a camp which seperates me from other frum Jews? why can't I be that frum Jew that learns bc she can and that's her contribution to the nation? if you want to say that we're all suppposed to do/think exactly the same things, you're robbing the nation of so much Torah - and that's not a mitzvah, that's a crime.