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Is it forbidden for a woman to learn Gemara?

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    Could you add some words of explanation of why one would believe that it is asur for women to learn g'mara? – WAF May 3 '11 at 19:26
  • 2
    Here are some words of explanation. "כל המלמד את ביתו תורה כאילו מלמדה תיפלות" ,סוטה כ"א next one: צוו חכמים שלא ילמד אדם בתו תורה מפני שרוב הנשים אין דעתן מכוונת להתלמד אלא הן מוציאות דברי תורה לדברי הבאי לפי עניות דעתן (רמבם הלכות תלמוד תורה פרק א הלכה יג). – jutky May 7 '11 at 19:41
  • Why does this question even need to be asked? In today's day and age women and men can, of course, study similar subjects, wither together or separate. – morah hochman Nov 21 '11 at 15:02
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    @jutky: Those simply explain why one shouldn't, not that one is forbidden to. And the second one is strongly based on societal norms, which have drastically changed since the time of the Rambam. – Shmuel Dec 18 '11 at 5:46
  • @ShmuelL I don't think that "Bina Yetera" and "Daatan Kala" have changed according to women (subjective). So, what does makes you think that this Rambam is not relevant nowadays. I'm not stating that women are stupid or something like that (has vehalila) but they do leak 'daas' in some way (do not confuse with intellect, knowledge an so on). The same way men leak 'bina' in comparison to women, but it seems that 'daat' is more essential in learning than 'bina'. IMHO. – jutky Dec 18 '11 at 22:21
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The Igros Moshe YD 3:86 says that the Chachamim commanded that women should not be taught Mishna since it is oral Torah and it is like teaching them tiflos(promiscuity) and it should be avoided. However, they can be taught Pirkei Avos since it has Mussar (instruction) and has hanhagos tovas (good deeds).

In The Sefer VaYoel Moshe(Satmer Rebbe) Maimer Lashon Hakodesh 33(page 436) says teaching Rashi to girls falls into the category of teaching tiflos and is an issur chamer Meod(very great sin).

There are those who make a distinction between a classroom setting and learning by oneself. Like Hacham Gabriel pointed out from the Chida Tuv Ayin 4 (read inside how he learnt the Rambam).

For a more in depth anaylasis of this topic see the Tzitz Eliezer 9:2

20

No, it is not assur.

As to your question with regard to a curriculum in a coeducational school, I expressed my opinion to you long ago that it would be a very regrettable oversight on our part if we were to arrange separate Hebrew courses for girls. Not only is the teaching of Torah she-be-al peh to girls permissible but it is nowadays an absolute imperative. This policy of discrimination between the sexes as to subject matter and method of instruction which is still advocated by certain groups within our Orthodox community has contributed greatly to the deterioration and downfall of traditional Judaism. Boys and girls alike should be introduced into the inner halls of Torah she-be-al peh.

R. Joseph B. Soloveitchik, Community, Covenant, and Commitment: Selected Letters and Communications, p. 83

  • 4
    R' Soleveichik's point is shared by the vast majority of bais yaakov schools and is the basis for the study of Rashi and other meforshim, which include midrash and other torah shebeal peh. R' Soleveitchik put forward to extend the application of this principle to gemara as well. On a personal note, while I think R' Soleveitchik's point is well grounded, it is a monumental change from our tradition (note: I didn't say halacha), which is looked upon very warily. – YDK May 4 '11 at 1:34
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    @msh210 Why is the Minchas Elazar more authoritative? Did he run a school for girls where this question was actually practical? – Curiouser May 4 '11 at 5:23
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    @Isaac: if the question was "why is it not prohibited..." then I could see including all sorts of reasoning. But the question was "is it assur?" in which case all that is needed is a gadol b'Torah who answered the question, l'maaseh. – Curiouser May 4 '11 at 14:17
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    @Isaac Every halachic answer is "according to this gadol" -- there are very few (if any) issues with universal agreement. R. Soloveitchik's reasoning is that "discrimination...has contributed greatly to the deterioration and downfall of traditional Judaism". If you don't find his reasoning rigorous enough, that's one thing -- but he is quite clear that the reason for the imperative to educate girls in Talmud is that failure to due so was hurting Traditional Judaism. It's as simple as that. – Curiouser May 4 '11 at 22:26
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    @HachamGabriel I assume you're aware that not only did that book publish recordings of the Rav that he did not know would be published, but it was published against the explicit requests of the Rav's remaining family. I can personally testify that the Rav's daughter complained extensively when it was published. Finally, I'm not sure what david holzer intended, but by all means the Rav was certainly qualified to and in practice did many times issue psakim, so I don't see why this answer is not useful, especially when we see the Rav acted on this psak, so he certainly intended it to be lemaaseh. – Double AA May 24 '12 at 4:45
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According to the Hida (Shu"t Tov Ayin #4) we may not force women to learn Torah (as we do Yeshiva students-see Sefer HaHinuch Behar 343). He says women may learn on their own, but adds we can teach her (not against her will).

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    Do we force MEN to do any other mitzvot aseh (assuming nobody else is affected)? – Baal Shemot Tovot Mar 25 '12 at 15:00
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    There are numerous sources for forcing men to do mitzvos. The same section of Shulchan Orekh forbidding teaching women deals with how and when to force men to do so. – Yaakov Kuperman Mar 25 '12 at 15:08
  • This was the opinion of R' Yaakov Weinberg, based on the Rambam. – Y     e     z Jun 19 '14 at 2:19
  • Could you quote Chida? – mevaqesh Sep 2 '15 at 16:40
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+300

It doesn't seem that anyone attempted to address this in a comprehensive manner, so I will try. There might be slight overlap with some of the other answers here, and with my answer to this question. If you don't want to read through many paragraphs of sources, skip to the summary all the way at the bottom.


It all starts with the Mishnah in Sotah 3:4 which states:

אם יש לה זכות היתה תולה לה יש זכות תולה שנה אחת יש זכות תולה ב' שנים יש זכות תולה ג' שנים מכאן אומר בן עזאי חייב אדם ללמד את בתו תורה שאם תשתה תדע שהזכות תולה לה ר"א אומר כל המלמד בתו תורה לומדה תפלות

IF SHE POSSESSED A MERIT, IT [CAUSES THE WATER] TO SUSPEND ITS EFFECT UPON HER. SOME MERIT SUSPENDS THE EFFECT FOR ONE YEAR, ANOTHER FOR TWO YEARS, AND ANOTHER FOR THREE YEARS. HENCE DECLARED BEN AZZAI, A MAN IS UNDER THE OBLIGATION TO TEACH HIS DAUGHTER TORAH, SO THAT IF SHE HAS TO DRINK [THE WATER OF BITTERNESS], SHE MAY KNOW THAT THE MERIT SUSPENDS ITS EFFECT. R. ELIEZER SAYS: WHOEVER TEACHES HIS DAUGHTER TORAH TEACHES HER OBSCENITY. (Soncino translation; capitals in original)

Here we have a tannaic dispute wherein one tanna asserts that teaching girls Torah is obligatory. He does not specify what forms of Torah he is referring to. The other tanna does not state that teaching girls Torah is forbidden; rather, he states that teaching girls Torah has a negative consequence.

In the Jerusalem Talmud (Sotah 3:4), however, this second opinion is taken to a further extreme, with the assertion that the Torah should be burned rather than given over to women:

מטרונה שאלה את רבי לעזר מפני מה חט אחת במעשה העגל והן מתים בה שלש מיתות אמר לה אין חכמתה של אשה אלא בפילכה דכתיב וכל אשה חכמת לב בידיה טוו אמר לו הורקנוס בנו בשביל שלא להשיבה דבר אחד מן התורה איבדת ממני שלש מאות כור מעשר בכל שנה אמר ליה ישרפו דברי תורה ואל ימסרו לנשים וכשיצתה אמרו לו תלמידיו רבי לזו דחיתה לנו מה אתה משיב

Rambam (Hilchot Talmud Torah 1:13) codifies the law as follows:

אשה שלמדה תורה יש לה שכר אבל אינו כשכר האיש מפני שלא נצטוית וכל העושה דבר שאינו מצווה עליו לעשותו אין שכרו כשכר המצווה שעשה אלא פחות ממנו ואע"פ שיש לה שכר צוו חכמים שלא ילמד אדם את בתו תורה מפני שרוב הנשים אין דעתם מכוונת להתלמד אלא הן מוציאות דברי תורה לדברי הבאי לפי עניות דעתן אמרו חכמים כל המלמד את בתו תורה כאילו למדה תפלות בד"א בתורה שבעל פה אבל תורה שבכתב לא ילמד אותה לכתחלה ואם למדה אינו כמלמדה תפלות

A woman who studies Torah will receive reward. However, that reward will not be [as great] as a man's, since she was not commanded [in this mitzvah]. Whoever performs a deed which he is not commanded to do, does not receive as great a reward as one who performs a mitzvah that he is commanded to do.

Even though she will receive a reward, the Sages commanded that a person should not teach his daughter Torah, because most women cannot concentrate their attention on study, and thus transform the words of Torah into idle matters because of their lack of understanding.

[Thus,] our Sages declared: "Whoever teaches his daughter Torah is like one who teaches her tales and parables." This applies to the Oral Law. [With regard to] the Written Law: at the outset, one should not teach one's daughter. However, if one teaches her, it is not considered as if she was taught idle things. (Chabad.org)

Here Rambam appears to decide in favor of the second opinion in the Mishnah (as he states simply that "the Sages" said that teaching girls = tiflus). We also see two new points from Rambam's formulation. First, he adds that the Sages commanded not to teach girls (as opposed to the Mishnah which only mentioned the negative consequence but no command against teaching them), and second he distinguishes between the Written Torah and the Oral Torah, arguing that the negative comments in the Mishnah were in reference to the Oral Law. Teaching girls the Written Law was not included, though it is still frowned upon.

However, despite the overall negative attitude displayed in this formulation, we must remember that he started it off by saying that if a woman does study Torah she receives reward, implying that it is in some sense a good thing.

Most of the rishonim/poskim follow Rambam in adopting the second opinion in the Mishnah. Notably, however, R. Isaiah De Trani (the Younger) states that although women are not required to be taught Torah, it is allowed. More importantly, in the second sentence he explicitly rules like the first opinion in the Mishnah, stating that in the times when the sotah ritual was in force one was obligated to teach his daughter Torah:

Piskei Riaz Sotah 1:2

אע"פ שאין האשה מצווה על תלמוד תורה כמו שנ' ולמדתם אותם את בניכם ולא את בנותיכם אם רצה ללמדה הרשות בידו כמבואר בקונטרס הראייות בראיי' ב' ובזמן שהיו משקין את הסוטות חייב אדם ללמד את בתו תורה שאם תשתה ותנצל תדע שהזכות תלת לה

The Tur and Shulchan Aruch codify the law following the formulation of Rambam. (The Tur actually reverses the Written Law and Oral Law but the Beis Yosef attributes that to a printer's error.)

Tur Y.D. 246

כ' הרמב"ם ז"ל אשה שלמדה תורה יש לה שכר אבל לא כשכר האיש מפני שאינה מצווה ועושה וכל העושה דבר שאינו מצווה עליו אין שכרו כשכר המצווה ועושה ואע"פ שיש לה שכר צוו חכמים שלא ילמד אדם את בתו תורה מפני שרוב נשים אין דעתם מכוונת להתלמד ומוציאין דברי תורה לדברי הבאי לפי עניות דעתם אמרו חכמים כל המלמד לבתו תורה כאילו מלמדה תפלות בד"א בתורה שבכתב אבל בתורה שבע"פ לא ילמד אותה בתחילה ואם מלמדה אינו כמלמדה תפלות

Shulchan Aruch Y.D. 246:6

אשה שלמדה תורה יש לה שכר אבל לא כשכר האיש מפני שאינה מצווה ועושה ואע"פ שיש לה שכר צוו חז"ל שלא ילמד אדם את בתו תורה מפני שרוב הנשים אין דעתן מכוונת להתלמד ומוציאות דברי תורה לדברי הבאי לפי עניות דעתן אמרו חכמים כל המלמד את בתו תורה כאילו מלמדה תיפלות (פי' דבר עבירה) בד"א בתורה שבע"פ אבל תורה שבכתב לא ילמד אותה לכתחלה ואם מלמדה אינו כמלמדה תיפלות

This view is also more or less echoed in the Levush and the Aruch Hashulchan.

Levush Y.D. 246:6

אשה שלמדה תורה אף על פי שאינה מצווה יש לה שכר אבל לא כשכר האיש שכל המצוה על דבר ומקיימו יש לו שכר יותר ממי שאינו מצווה ומקיימו מפני שהמצווה דואג תמיד לבטל יצרו ולקיים מצות בוראו מה שאין כן במי שאינו מצווה שאינו דואג אלא עושה אותה מרצונו מכל מקום שכר קצת יש לו מיהו אף על פי שיש לאשה קצת שכר כשלומדת תורה צוו חז"ל שלא ילמד אדם את בתו תורה מפני שרוב הנשים אין דעתן מכוונות להתלמד ומוציאות דברי תורה לדברי הבאי לפי עניות דעתן אמרו חכמים ז"ל כל המלמד את בתו תורה כאילו מלמדה תיפלות במה דברים אמורים בתורה שבעל פה שהוא דבר עמוק וצריך עיון רב ואין דעתן סובלתו אבל תורה שבכתב לא ילמוד אותה לכתחלה ואם מלמדה אינו כמלמדה תיפלות

Aruch Hashulchan Y.D. 246:19

אשה אינה מצווה בת"ת וכתבו הפוסקים אשה שלמדה תורה יש לה שכר אבל לא כשכר האיש מפני שאינה מצווה וגדול שכר המצווה ועושה ממי שאינו מצווה ועושה מפני שהמצווה יצרו מסיתו לבלי לקיים והוא דואג תמיד לבטל יצרו ולקיים מצות בוראו משא"כ מי שאינו מצווה אין יצרו מסיתו על ההיפך ואע"פ שיש לה שכר צוו חז"ל [סוטה כ א] לבלי ללמד לבתו תורה ואמרו חכמים דכל המלמדה תורה כאלו מלמדה תפלות כלומר דבר עבירה והטעם דמפני שדעתן קלות ומוציאין ד"ת לדברי הבאי לפי דעתן הדלה בד"א בתורה שבע"פ אבל בתורה שבכתב לא ילמד אותה לכתחלה ואם מלמדה אינו כמלמדה תפלות כן כתבו הרמב"ם והש"ע ובטור כתוב להיפך דתורה שבכתב הוי כמלמדה תפלות ולא תורה שבע"פ ע"ש וכתבו שטעות הדפוס הוא [ב"י] ויש מי שרוצה לקיים הגירסא ואינו מספיק [עי' פרישה

It thus appears that the standard codes follow the opinion that teaching the Oral Law to women is frowned upon. Note that so far we have seen no distinctions between different works of the Oral Law (e.g. that it is okay to study Mishnah but not Talmud).

However, there are a number of exceptions even within this view. R. Jacob Moelin explains that the only problem with the Oral Law is when someone teaches it to his daughter. But if she learns it herself then it is okay, and that is when she gets rewarded:

Shu"t Maharil Hachadashos # 45

ודווקא המלמד לבתו אבל היא שלמדה בעצמה יש לה שכר כאינה מצוה ועושה שהיא מכוונת לטוב

Similarly, R. Joshua Falk, picking up on the words שרוב נשים אין דעתם מכוונת להתלמד ומוציאין דברי תורה לדברי הבאי, explains that a father cannot teach his daughter because she might be of the majority of women for whom learning Torah has negative consequences. But if a woman learns herself, she shows that she is not part of that majority and she gets rewarded for learning:

Perisha 246:15

אבל אם למדה לעצמה אנו רואין שיצאה מהרוב ולכך כתב לעיל שיש לה שכר ורצונו לומר אם למדה התורה על מכונה שאינה מוציאה לדברי הבאי אבל האב אינו רשאי ללמדה דדילמא תוציא דבריה לדברי הבאי כי הוא אינו יודע מה שבלבה וק"ל

Another similar exception is formulated by R. Samuel Ben Elchanan Jacob. He suggests that the rabbinic objection to female study was in a situation where young girls are taught Torah. However, it is okay for a woman to choose to study Torah:

Shu"t Mayan Ganim 5:10

כי אפשר לחלק שחכמים ז"ל לא דברו אלא כשהאב מלמדה בקטנותה שגם במעלליה תתנגר אם זך ואם ישר פעלה דודאי כי האי גוונא איכא למיחש שרוב הנשים דעתן קלות כלות זמנן בדברי הבאי וכרובן כן חטאו מקוצר רוח אמנם הנשים אשר נדבה לבן אותנה לקרבה אל המלכה המלוכ' מלאכת ה' מצד בחירתן בטוב במה שהוא טוב הן הנה תעלן בהר ה' תשכונה במקום קדשו כי נשי מופ' הנה ועל חכני דורן להדרן לאדרן לסדרן לחזק ידיהן לאמץ זרועותיהן לחגור מתניהן לאזור חלציהן

A final important exception is that virtually everyone agreed that women must study the laws that pertain to them. This is most famously codified by R. Moses Isserles:

Shulchan Aruch Y.D. 246:6

ומ"מ חייבת האשה ללמוד דינים השייכים לאשה

This leads to the argument that one cannot properly understand the actual laws without the background discussions of the topics in the Oral Law, primarily the Talmud (see below).

Aside from the inherent exceptions to the law, in more contemporary times a number of leading rabbinic figures have advocated that due to changing circumstances we need to change the policy as well. This most famously began with R. Israel Meir Kagan arguing that the Mishnah was written in an era when people lived close to their parents and the traditions were strong enough to be absorbed in the home. However, in his time he felt that people no longer lived near their parents and the traditions had weakened, creating an environment in which it was necessary to teach girls Torah, and without Torah study they would abandon Judaism.

Likutei Halachos Sotah

ונראה דכל זה דוקא בזמנים שלפנינו שכל אחד היה דר במקום אבותיו וקבלת האבות היה חזק מאד אצל כל אחד ואחד להתנהג בדרך שדרכו אבותיו וכמאמר הכתוב שאל אביך ויגדך בזה היינו יכולים לומר שלא תלמוד תורה ותסמוך בהנהגה על אבותיה הישרים אבל כעת בעו"ה שקבלת האבות נתרופף מאוד מאוד וגם מצוי שאינו דר במקום אבותיו כלל ובפרט אותן שמרגילין עצמן ללמוד כתב ולשון העמים בודאי מצוה רבה ללמדם חומש וגם נביאים וכתובים ומוסרי חז"ל כגון מסכת אבות וספר מנורת המאור וכדומה כדי שיתאמת אצלם ענין אמונתינו הקדושה דאל"ה עלול שיסורו מדרך ד' ויעברו על כל יסודי הדת ח"ו

However, despite this line of reasoning, he did not take it to the fullest conclusion and recommend Talmud study. (While he did not specifically forbid Talmud study) He only recommended the Written Law and very limited parts of the Oral Law.

Several decades later, though, R. Joseph B. Soloveitchik took the argument further and advocated Talmud study for girls. R. Hershel Schachter records R. Soloveitchik as saying that even if teaching girls was a biblical prohibition, we would have to allow it nowadays because now that women are on par with men in other fields of study they will not keep the Torah if they are not allowed to understand it from the source in Scripture and Talmud. He also pointed out (similar to R. Kagan's point) that in prior times women could learn everything they needed to know from observing their mothers in the kitchen, but in today's technological society that is no longer possible, and if we don't teach them the foundations of the Torah from the Chumash and Talmud we might be in danger of losing true Judaism:

Mipininei Harav p. 167 (p.214 in the newer edition):

פעם אחת נסעתי יחד עם הרב זצ"ל מבוסטון לישיבה (בניו יורק).... אז סיפר לי הרב דאפילו אם היה אסור מן התורה ללמד תורה שבעל פה לנשים היום בתקופה שנשים שוות לאנשים הן באקדמיה והן במדיניות והנשים לא יסכימו להתנהג לפי התורה אם הענין לא יהיה מובן להן ממקורו במקרא ובגמרא מוכרחים אנו להתיר להן ללמוד תורה שבעל פה סוף הדבר כמו שהרמב"ם בעיתו מזכיר בהקדמתו למשנה תורה שלו שרבנו הקדוש תיקן כתיבת המשנה והתורה שבעל פה בכתב "כדי שלא תשתכח תורה שבעל פה מישראל" כן תקן רבנו יוסף דוב הלוי זצ"ל שאנו מחוייבים ללמד תורה שבעל פה לנשים הרב המשיך לבאר לי שבימים הקדמונים נערה רק הצטרכה להסתכל בהנהגת האם במטבח ובבית בכל יום ובשבת ובפסח לדעת איך להתנהג לפי התורה הלכה למעשה היום הסביר הרב יש בעיות מסובכות המופיעות בכל יום בעולם הטכני שלנו ואם בנות לא ילמדו יסודות התורה מן החומש ומן הגמרא עם פירושי הראשונים אז ח"ו תפסיק היהדות האמיתית שלנו הגענו לזמן ש"נשים באות לשמע" ואז יתגשם ויתקיים סוף הפסוק (הכתוב בפרשת הקהל) "ושמרו לעשות את כל דברי התורה הזאת" [מתוך מאמרו של דודי הרמ"א מאזעסאן שיחי' בהדרום אלול תשנ"ח עמ' ס"ה-ס"ו והשוה דרשת רבנו שנדפסה בבית יוסף שאול חוברת ד' עמ' פ"ג-פ"ד

R. Soloveitchik also wrote two letters to R. Leonard Rosenfeld (the second one was cited by Curiouser above).

Community Covenant and Commitment p.81

Dear Rabbi Rosenfeld,

I acknowledge receipt of your letter. In my answer to your previous inquiry concerning the permissibility of instruction of girls in Talmud I stressed that unless I am assured in advance by the school administration that my recommendations will be followed I would not take the trouble to investigate the matter. Since such an official assurance has been withheld (your letter did not contain any such commitment) I must decline to consider the controversial problem. The reason for my reluctance to engage in this controversial issue is the unique stand taken by many of our Jews on matters of Law and tradition. We have reached a stage at which party lines and political ideologies influence our halakhic thinking to the extent that people cannot rise above partisan issue to the level of Halakhah-objectivity. Some are in a perennial quest for “liberalization” of the Law and its subordination to the majority opinion of a political legislative body, while others would like to see the Halakhah fossilized and completely shut out of life. I am not inclined to give any of these factions an opportunity for nonsensical debates.

Community Covenant and Commitment p. 83

Dear Rabbi Rosenfeld:

Please accept my apologies for not answering your letters sooner. The delay was due to my overcrowded schedule. As to your question with regard to a curriculum in a coeducational school, I expressed my opinion to you long ago that it would be a very regrettable oversight on our part if we were to arrange separate Hebrew courses for girls. Not only is the teaching of Torah she-be-al peh to girls permissible but it is nowadays an absolute imperative. This policy of discrimination between the sexes as to subject matter and method of instruction which is still advocated by certain groups within our Orthodox community has contributed greatly to the deterioration and downfall of traditional Judaism. Boys and girls alike should be introduced to the inner halls of Torah she-be-al peh.

I hope to prepare in the near future a halakhic brief on the same problem which will exhaust the various aspects of the same. In the meantime I heartily endorse a uniform program for the entire student body.

Additionally, R. David Holzer records a similar response from R. Soloveitchik as well as another argument that he advanced, based on the fact that women are certainly no worse than converts:

The Rav Thinking Aloud p. 121

[DH:] Can women learn Torah she'bal peh?

Yes. You can't really understand chumash or hashkafas ha'yahadus without the interpretation and analysis of Torah she'bal peh.

[DH:] How do you explain "כל המלמד בתו תורה (כאלו) לומדה תפלות"?

Women also have to have the concept of mesorah. In the days of Chazal, women got the mesorah through osmosis without formal learning, so there was no chiyuv for formal learning. It was based on "שמע בני מוסר אביך ואל תטש תורת אמך". Today when our mesoros are weak and they cannot get it through osmosis, they still have two chiyuvim, to know the halachos, to know what to do ללמוד לעשות; and the love of Torah she'bal peh so they can pass it on to their children.

The proof is from a giyoress, who must be taught ikarei ha'das including mussar and hashkafas ha'chaim. Our daughters today are certainly no worse than geirim, who need limud. Why would Rashi and Ramban be OK, but gemara not? They're all Torah she'bal peh.

Another argument advanced by R. Soloveitchik is recorded by R. Moshe S. Gorelik:

Memories of a Giant p. 181

I once heard him [R. Soloveitchik] declare that since women are obligated to study mitzvos which are incumbent upon them, then much of the Talmud is required for study.

Another authority to advocate that the changing times require women's Talmud study was R. Yehuda Amital. R. Reuven Ziegler records the following story:

Tradition 43:3 p.81

In 1995, I was present when R. Amital told a gathering of the kollel that he did not feel women needed to study Talmud; his grandmother and mother had been very pious Jews without it. A year or two later, he addressed a women’s learning program with the words, “You know, I used to think that Talmud study for women was unnecessary, but now I think it is absolutely essential!” Soon afterwards, Yeshivat Har Etzion decided to open a women’s division in Migdal Oz, where Talmud study is a major part of the curriculum.

A final argument is that there can't have been a full-blown prohibition on women studying the Oral Law, because we find that throughout history there have always been individual learned women. R. Yissaschar Tamar in his commentary (Alei Tamar) to the passage in the Jerusalem Talmud lists off a dozen or so such women.1 Indeed, the Sefer Hachinuch in discussing the prohibition of issuing a halachic ruling while drunk, says that this prohibition also applies to women who are capable of ruling:

Sefer Hachinuch # 152

ונוהג איסור ביאת מקדש בשכרות בזמן הבית בזכרים ונקבות ומניעת ההוראה בכל מקום ובכל זמן בזכרים וכן באשה חכמה הראויה להורות

As it is inconceivable that someone could rule without ever studying Talmud, this indicates that it is at least possible for individual women to study Talmud.

However, other authorities have argued that the ban on women's Talmudic studies is still in force. R. Joel Teitelbaum referred to those who cite R. Kagan's statement as permitting that which the Sages forbade as idiots. He argues that the law can never change, and R. Kagan only mentioned areas of study that were not formally prohibited, but merely customarily not studied by women. But areas of study that were formally prohibited to women (including Talmud and even Rashi's commentary to Chumash) are still absolutely forbidden:

Vayoel Moshe 3:48

ויש טפשים התולים בדברי החפץ חיים ז"ל שכתב בס' ליקוטי הלכות שלו במס' סוטה בהלכות האלו שאסור ללמד תורה לנשים והביא פרטי הדינים ונכתב בצדו ונראה דכ"ז בזמנים שלפנינו וכו' שקבלת האבות הי' חזק מאוד וכו' היינו יכולים לומר שלא תלמוד תורה ותסמוך בהנהגה על אבותי' הישרים אבל כעת בעו"ה שקבלת האבות נתרופף מאוד מאוד וכו' מצוה רבה ללמדם חומש וגם נביאים וכתובים ומוסרי חכז"ל וכו' כדי שיתאמת אצלם ענין אמונתנו הקדושה וכו' והנה תלו סוקי סרוקי והוצאת שם רע על אותו צדיק כאילו ח"ו אמר על הלכה פסוקה שהוא מן הש"ס והראשונים והשו"ע שאינו נוהג בזמננו וח"ו לעקור הלכה פסוקה אבל עינים להם ולא יראו מ"ש ללמדם חומש ונו"כ ומוסרי חז"ל וכל אלה שחשב אין בהם איסור מצד הדין כמו שנתבאר לעיל אלא שבכמה דורות נהגו סילסול שלא ללמד לנשים כלל והי' בזה טעמים או חששו שלא יומשך עי"ז ללמדם אח האסור להם ולכן סמכו בכל מה שצריכות לידע על קבלת האבות כמו שנראה מדברי המהרי"ל וע"ז כתב שלפי מצב הדור שנתרופף הקבלה וא"א לסמוך על קבלת האבות מצוה ללמדם את המותר ללמוד עמהם מצד הדין אלא שהיו נמנעים לכתחילה בדורות שלפנהו אבל לא להתיר ח"ו את האסור מדינא ובמה שאמרו חכז"ל דהוי כמלמדה תיפלות ק"ו ב"ב של ק"ו בדורינו החלש שמזיק יותר יען שנתרופף דרך האבות והנה כתב ללמדם חומש אבל לא כתב עם פירש"י ז"ל שזה ודאי איסור גמור ללמדם כי דברי רש"י ז"ל הן הן גופי תורה ועומק דרשת חז"ל דהוי ודאי בכלל מה שאמרו חכז"ל שהוא כמלמדה תיפלות

R. Yaakov Weinberg also strongly objected to women studying Talmud nowadays, and went so far as to say that it would be better for schools to not teach Talmud to boys either rather than teach Talmud to girls:

Rav Yaakov Weinberg Talks About Chinuch p. 126

In terms of the specific question that was asked, if I had to answer it, I would say that it is better that boys never see a Gemara than to teach it to the boys and girls together. It is far, far better. The boys will survive not having seen a Gemara. B'ezer Hashem Yisbarach, they will come to a yeshivah and will start learning it, with a certain handicap, of course. They would have been able to do better if they had seen a Gemara, but they will survive. But teaching girls Gemara – that they will not survive. If you have to make a choice of either not teaching the boys and the girls or of teaching both, make the choice of teaching neither. You will be much better off in terms of building Yiddishe neshamos.


In sum

Most classical authorities codified a rule that women should not be taught Talmud. There were a number of possible exceptions to this rule, and especially in recent times a number of authorities have argued in favor of Talmud studies, while others maintain their strong objections. In contemporary practice there is a wide range within Orthodox Judaism. The more "modern" groups encourage women Talmud studies, and teach it in their schools. The average "yeshivish/chareidi" groups for the most part discourage it and do not teach it in their schools, but they probably wouldn't stop an individual girl from studying. The more intense yeshivish/chareidi, including many Hasidic groups, outright forbid it.


1. As I could not find anywhere to link the Alei Tamar, I have included the below images of the pages where he goes through the learned women throughout history. The third image is the most relevant one:

Page from Alei Tamar

Page from Alei Tamar

Page from Alei Tamar

Page from Alei Tamar

9

An interesting data point. In Lubavitcher Rabbi's Memoirs describes a woman named Devorah who grew up in Minsk where women were better educated, and she herself learned Gemarra with Rashi by the age of 15 (and had friends who were women who were apparently at a similar level that she studied with).

When she re-married (she was widowed at a young age) and moved to Vitebsk, she was dismayed at the relative ignorance of the women there and looked to educate them. Ultimately she worked to attract many Torah scholars to that city and made it a center of Torah learning, and founded a Yeshiva bearing her (and her daughter's) name.

I believe the time-frame discussed is 17th century.

  • This should be a comment – רבות מחשבות Jun 17 '18 at 19:02
  • @רבותמחשבות Why? – DonielF Jun 17 '18 at 21:07
  • @DonielF because it doesn't answer the question... it tells a nice story about women learning. If it concluded with the lubavitcher rebbe's opinion, or the reasoning as to why the woman acted in this manner, it would be a fine answer. – רבות מחשבות Jun 18 '18 at 2:30
  • @רבותמחשבות The question asked if women could learn Gemara, and this answer tells a story in which women learned Gemara under Rashi quotes by the Lubavitcher Rebbe - is that not a firm yes? The question didn’t ask for a reason, just a simple yes-or-no question with sources. I don’t see how this doesn’t satisfy those criteria. – DonielF Jun 18 '18 at 2:32
  • 1
    It's not a firm yes at all (it doesn't even say that in the answer!) Plenty of people quote plenty of inspirational stories, and they don't necessarily agree with the final Halacha. I feel that answers here about the actual opinion of the Lubavitcher Rebbe are much more fitting to answer this question. – רבות מחשבות Jun 18 '18 at 16:40
7

While few Orthodox authorities openly say that teaching the oral tradition to women is forbidden many do say that the should not be taught Gemara and/or that there is no commandment to do so. Examples include the Maharil and R' Moshe Feinstein, not to mention Hasidic authorities. Modern Orthodoxy , and especially the more liberal streams of Judaism, do not see this as an issur in light of changing societal norms regarding women. For a deeper discussion of this issue and numerous primary sources see this article (Hebrew only)

  • 3
    What if my posek is Rav Ovadia Yosef, or Rav Bentzion Abba-Shaul or Rav Ovadia Hadaya or Rav Yosef Kaphach or Rav Mordechai Eliyahu or Rav Ezra Attia or one of the many many many other poskim I may legitimately follow whose opinion you neglected? This isn't necessarily a psak halacha for me! Why is your answer any better than HachamGabriel's? – Baal Shemot Tovot May 25 '12 at 6:49
4

The Riaz (13th cent.) writes that there is no prohibition in women learning Torah or in teaching them. He does not differentiate between different categories of Torah, and implies that it is all permissible:

פסקי ריא"ז מסכת סוטה פרק א - המקנא

ב. אף על פי שאין האשה מצווה על תלמוד תורה כמו שנ' ולמדתם אותם את בניכם, ולא את בנותיכם, אם רצה ללמדה הרשות בידו כמבואר בקונטרס הראייות בראיי' ב'

Even though a woman is not commanded in talmud Torah, as it says 'And you shall instruct your sons in them' (Deut. 11:19), and not your daughters, if he wanted to teach her, he is permitted as is explained in Kuntres HaRaayot: Raaya 2.

0

No, women should learn Torah. It is important to understand that learning Talmud doesn't make one a rabbi and that women still cannot become rabbis. Learning Torah on the other hand should never be discouraged.

Please see the following articles:

Putting Women in the Picture

The Rebbe’s Clever Position On Teaching Gemara To Women

  • 7
    Adding sources would improve the value of your claims. – Double AA Jun 16 '14 at 22:39

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