October 26, 2006
Battle of the sexes reaches Talmudic teachings—why can’t girls learn Gemara?
(Page 2 - Previous Page)But most schools have kept Gemara off the curriculum. At Emek Hebrew Academy, an Orthodox elementary school in the Valley, for example, the school's dean, Rabbi Sholom Strajcher, says the different curriculum is based on the rabbinic administrative board of Torah UMesorah, the National Society for Hebrew Day schools. At around middle school, he said, the boys begin studying Mishna and Gemara, and the girls focus on "dinim" or laws, and Navi, or prophets. They learn different subjects, he said, "on the emphasis of their lives." For example, boys will learn about tefilin and girls will learn about challah.
The separate curriculum is not one of the "top five issues that concerns parents," he said. "The most important thing is that kids get an important experience, an exciting experience, that they get a lifelong love of learning of Torah for the rest of their lives."
But many people say that being denied the opportunity to study Talmud hinders that relationship.
"It's a really important value to teach girls, to give girls access to full and complete Jewish education," said attorney Gail Katz, JOFA conference organizer. "Education is Orthodox Judaism's most powerful force. When harnessed effectively, it can give girls the knowledge base and confidence required of the Jewish women we hope they become."
Learning Oral law will help women become stronger Jews, said Beth Samuels, a keynote speaker at the conference, who graduated yeshiva high school in Los Angeles, then went on to intense Talmud study at New York's Drisha Institute and is now a visiting assistant professor of mathematics at UC Berkeley. "I think that the more significant learning more girls and young women have, the greater it can impact lives, their families, and the larger Jewish community. I think that knowledgeable, committed women can do wonderful things," she said, pointing to women scholars who can now answer other women's questions about Shabbat or family purity laws.
Some educators, though, believe that while girls' Jewish education could be improved upon, the issue of Talmud is not one of the ways that would improve it.
"Generally speaking throughout the yeshiva world, in my opinion, the girls come out with more of a knowledge base than boys do, because boys are learning Gemara so much," said Rabbi Yosef Furman, head of Yeshiva of Los Angeles' girls high school, which does not teach Talmud.
The high school does not intend to change its curriculum in light of the new Talmud program at Hillel, a major feeder school.
"It takes a tremendous time commitment, and it would detract from their ability to study the other subject that they need to learn," Furman said. "I don't feel that they're lacking anything. I think what we're doing is far superior to boys' education. I think that by bringing in Gemara, we would detract from that."
"Teaching Our Daughters: What Can We Expect From Their Orthodox Day School Education?" will take place Sunday, Nov. 5, 9 a.m.-12:30 p.m at the UCLA Hillel, 574 Hilgard Ave. Parking $8 at UCLA's Lot 2 at Hilgard and Westholme. $18 registration, $10 students and educators. Free child care available with advance registration.
For more information visit www.jofa.org or call 888-550-5632.
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