Tuesday 22 December 2015

066) Women Studying Torah?

There is much talk today about the role of women in Judaism in general, and their relationship to Torah study in particular. This has become a very emotive matter with everyone weighing in on the issue and bringing their sometimes open, and other times hidden, agendas to the ‘fight’.

It may, therefore, be of value to remove all emotion and politics from the discussion, and instead turn to our multifaceted sources to unearth their definitive perspectives.


The Gemora quotes Ben Azzai who says that it is a mitzvah for a father to teach his daughter Torah. However according to R Eliezer and R Yehoshua it is forbidden for a father to so.[1]


Rambam rules like R Eliezer that is forbidden for a father to teach his daughter Torah.  But this refers to a case where the father takes the initiative and teaches his daughter Torah against her will. However, if she wants her father to teach her, he may do so, and so doing is meritorious.[2]

Others say that Rabbi Eliezer’s prohibition was originally only directed against very young girl children, and not against older mature girl children.[3]

Rambam also writes that the best way a person can come to have a meaningful relationship with G-d is through the study of Torah. This, he says: “ open to all, old and young, male and female...”[4]


Women are obligated to recite the birkat haTorah (blessings over Torah study) and this would cover the learning of the fundamentals of Torah (Yesodei haTorah) which they do have an obligation to study.[5]


The Taz maintains that women may study the written Scriptures but not the Oral Law.[6] And according to Bach this explains why women were present at the Hakel ceremony when the Torah was read out publically.[7]


According to the Chafetz Chaim[8]; “It seems that all of this (prohibition against women learning Torah) applied only in times past when all daughters lived in their father’s home and tradition was very strong, assuring that all the children would pursue their parent’s path...On that basis, we could claim that a daughter need not learn Torah but merely rely on proper parental guidance. But is certainly a great mitzvah to teach them Tanach and ethics...otherwise they may totally stray from G-d’s path...”[9]


According to Rabbi Aharon Lichtenstein; “In my opinion, what is necessary for women to be adequately prepared from a Torah perspective for practical living is far more than what she is being taught today. Torah education for women must be strengthened, both quantitatively and qualitatively, including all aspects of Torah...In the same vein I am not opposed to teaching women Talmud...And it is even necessary to establish this as an integral part of the school curriculum, an actual shiur. This is the way I teach my daughter and so my wife was educated. This seems to me to be the recommended approach regarding the women of our generation.”[10]  


In the 20th century, a historic decision was made by Rabbi Soloveitchick enabling boys and girls to study the same texts and subjects at his Maimonodies School in Boston and at Yeshiva University’s Stern College for Women.


(Once again I present a loose translation and summary of Peninei Halacha who deals with the halachik technicalities very succinctly, and has some profound statements that both men and women may find of great interest.)


We cannot get away from the fact that halacha presents two very distinct approaches to Torah study, required separately of men and women:

While both genders have an equal obligation to study the basic fundamentals and principles of Torah law and philosophy, it is from that point on that the roles diverge.

Once a woman has had a basic education in practical halacha, she no longer has an obligation to further her studies.
Men, on the other hand, even if they know the entire Torah by heart, still have an ongoing mitzvah to continue their study.[11]


Once women have studied the basic fundamentals (Yesodei haTorah), even though they do not have the obligation to continue with the further detailed study of the intricacies of the law (Limud haTorah), if they want to they may exercise that choice. In fact a woman may even study Gemorah in great depth with all the accompanying commentaries (Gemorah beIyun), exactly as her male counterparts would do at an advanced institution of learning.[12]

In fact, if she chooses to do so, our Sages say that she gets a zechut (merit) for her efforts, even though she does not have a halachik obligation to do so.

Throughout our history, we have had a number of women who excelled in the Limud haTorah component and became Talmidot Chachamot (venerable scholars).

For the most part, however, historically women did not exercise this choice and were only educated up to the basic level of minimal fundamentals of Yesodei haTorah. This was the cultural norm for most of the earlier generations.
With the advent of the modern era where women began to assert themselves more and began doing things they never were able to do before, the necessity for them to learn more also became more pressing.

According to the Peninei Halacha, in our times women should be encouraged and assisted to explore more of their Judaism in greater depth and afforded the opportunity to exercise their choice to do, because on so many levels their contribution is more pivotal today than ever before.

In a nutshell, the only halachik difference between men and women apropos Torah study, is that women have the luxury to choose as to how much they want to study, while men have no such choice in the matter.[13]

The ideal, therefore, is actually for women to choose to study as much Torah as they can, in as much depth as they want.[14]

[1] Sukkah 20a 
According to the Yerushalmi , R Elazar ben Azarya says it is a mitzvah for a woman to listen to Torah but no mitzvah to study Torah in depth. (Sotah 3,4)
[2] See Peninei Halacha , Limud Torah LeNashim, Likkutim 1, p.34, Note 3.
[3] Torah Temimah Devarim 11,17
[4] Rambam, Hilchot Yesodei haTorah, 4,14
[5] Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 47,14
[6] Orach Chaim 47,10
[7] Bach, Yoreh Deah 246
[8] Rabbi Israel Meir HaKohen 1839 – 1933
[9] Likutei Halachot, Sotah 20b
[10] Excerpted from ‘Fundamental Problems Regarding the Education of the Women’ 1980
[11] I.e. In technical terms; both genders have an equal obligation to master Yesodei haTorah (the foundations and fundamentals of Torah), while only men have the further obligation in Limud haTorah. See KOTZK BLOG 64) Gemora Playing Second Fiddle?
[12] See Peninei Halacha, Likkutim 1, Limud Torah LeNashin p. 32
[13] “HaShoni bein gevarim leNashim, sheNashim tzerichot la’asok baTorah mitoch chofesh veratzon gamur”
[14] “HaIdial sheKol HaNashim yelumdu miretzonam et haTorah beIyun.”


  1. a question sorry to sound picky. shouldn't it be talmidot chachamim as in the female students of the sages just as talmidei chachamim means the male students of the sages. anyway a very informative post

  2. Hi Mordechai
    I am no expert in Hebrew grammar and simply took the expression TALMIDOT CHACHAMOT from the text in Peninei Halacha. You have, however, posed an interesting question: Does it mean 'wise students' or does it mean 'students of the wise'?

  3. the last three letters mean students of the (F or M) sages.

    the first three refer to the subject being male or female.