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Orthodox Conundrum

May 8, 2023

Last month, it was reported that due to low enrollment, the beginners and intermediate Talmud courses for women at Yeshiva University’s Stern College would not be offered next year, meaning that the only remaining Talmud course would be the advanced class. We also learned that GPATS - the Graduate Program in Advanced Talmud and Tanach Studies - would only have one Talmud track instead of two, as it did in the past; and that YU was not going to hire a new teacher to replace Rav Moshe Kahn z’l, who taught Talmud at Stern and who passed away several months ago. Although Stern has subsequently reversed course and does plan to offer those Talmud classes, the controversy raised important questions about the place of Talmud in the Torah curriculum for women.

Should Gemara learning be a mandatory part of the high school curriculum for girls, as it generally is for boys? Regardless of whether Talmud classes for young women should be optional or mandatory, should they be modeled on the standard yeshiva styles of learning, or should Gemara be taught differently with a different emphasis depending on gender? Was the fact that women were generally discouraged or even prohibited from learning for two millennia  a necessary accommodation to reality or, in hindsight, a mistake? Are there still areas of scholarship that, for political or religious reasons, should remain the exclusive province of men? Do we need new methodologies of teaching Gemara to both boys and girls? How should a Talmud teacher address texts that likely won’t resonate with that teacher’s audience, such as a statement that teaching one’s daughter Torah is similar to teaching her “tiflut” - that is, something trivial or even obscene?

To discuss these and other questions, Scott spoke with Rabbanit Michelle Cohen Farber, the founder of Hadran, the teacher of the first online daf yomi shiur taught by a woman, and the creator of the first international Siyum HaShas for Women three years ago.

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Music: "Happy Rock" by