We Need to Rethink Girls’ Education

Girls’ study is a means to an end – to imbue in them an appreciation and love for Yiddishkeit. Do our girls leave our school system with a passion for Hashem, His Torah and His people?

By Rabbi Shimon HellingerAnash Magazine

Formal education for girls is a relatively new phenomenon, and it was started for a specific purpose.

For thousands of years, girls grew up under their mothers, where they were mentored and introduced to Jewish womanhood and life. They lived and breathed a felt Jewish experience. Their education was not missing anything.

About a century ago, things began to change. A decline in housework due to the Industrial Revolution, as well as a widespread aspiration for intellectual study, led to a necessary shift in how young girls would be taught Yiddishkeit. Rather than learning by osmosis, they would now study Torah texts.

Many were hesitant to change the status quo and only reluctantly did they agree to the move. There was a sense of urgency: Either we engage the girls, or we risk losing them to outside lures – of which there are many. The results were hugely successful, and generations of girls were engaged in academically rigorous Torah study that competed with, lhavdil, secular courses.

As we ponder the education of girls today, we ought to consider the goal of their study and apply it accordingly.


Torah learning for women is dynamic, not static. Unlike men’s Torah study, which is an inherent mitvza for its own sake, women’s learning is a path to connection. Beyond halachic instruction – which they previously received at home – the more recent undertaking of Torah study by girls was intended so that they be touched by its holiness and inspired to love Hashem.

At a Beis Rivkah dinner in 5704 (1944), the Rebbe – then known as the Frierdiker Rebbe’s son-in-law and director of Merkos L’Inyonei Chinuch – delivered a talk on the priority and purpose of girls’ education. After examining halachic sources on women’s study, the Rebbe said this:

“However, if we consider the present circumstances, the above discussion is irrelevant. Because the education of Jewish girls today isn’t for the sake of knowledge alone, but to ensure that they live as Yiddishe kinder.

“Children today are raised in an environment submerged in worries of parnassa and the pursuit of ‘making a living,’ or when there is abundance, in the desire to ‘have a good time.’ They don’t appreciate at all the superior distinction of being Jewish. From their perspective, Yiddishkeit is associated with restrictions, or even suffering…

“This is the function of the Bais Rivka and Bais Sarah schools, founded by my saintly father-in-law the [Frierdiker] Rebbe: To impress upon the hearts of the students that they are b’nos Yisroel, Yiddishe daughters, to explain this sanctity to them, the virtue and purity that it yields, and the responsibility that each one of them bears.”

In short: Girls’ study is a means to an end – to imbue in them an appreciation and love for Yiddishkeit. 


With this attitude in mind, we can put aside preconceived notions and ask: What is it that will inspire a new generation of youth to devote their life to Hashem and His Torah? What will fire their souls and warm their hearts to be Yidden, Chassidim?

More specifically: Are today’s girls enamored by wisdom, thirsty for information, stimulated by knowledge? Do our girls leave our school system with a passion for Hashem, His Torah and His people?

And lastly: If you knew nothing of the conventional schooling system, would you come up with schooling as the most effective way to inspire girls to love Yiddishkeit?

Indeed, some girls are naturally fascinated with academic learning, but the vast majority are not. Insisting that girls are able and capable of learning in-depth Torah, though true, is beside the point, as the Rebbe said. The question we must ask ourselves is: Are we reaching their hearts and kindling their souls?

A high school girl can repeat a dvar Torah she learned, but rarely is she enchanted by it. A girl looking to deepen her connection might turn to that kind of learning – having been raised in a school environment that lauds academic study – but often it doesn’t rouse her passion.

We can push, coax and offer prizes to try and make it work, but we are unnecessarily pushing a round peg into a square hole. The premise – that this is how girls must learn – is unfounded.


For better or for worse, times have changed, and we don’t live in an academic culture. People aren’t satisfied with learning and memorizing; they want to relate and experience. Torah – which is a “Living Torah” (Toras Chaim) and implies guidance (hora’a) – can and should be learned as a guide to life.

How many girls have spent years learning Torah texts but are unfamiliar with the Torah’s values on life? Many don’t even know that the Torah has what to say on social and emotional issues! Classroom conversations on such issues grounded in Torah values are not “a waste of learning time.” These are the issues that are of most interest to them and most relevant for their life ahead!

Fixed on the goal of engaging women with whatever it takes, the Rebbe allowed and encouraged women who wanted to study Torah Sheba’al Peh texts (Mishna, Gemara). Today, we can use that same mindset to make Torah accessible and experienced – beyond the text.

It isn’t a difficult task – once we overcome the fear of deviating from convention. With our goal in mind, we can find ways to make Torah and Yiddishkeit meaningful for our girls. Watch their response, and you will know if you are lighting up their neshama.

Our girls need a captivating Jewish experience that can compete with the lures of the outside world. Chassidus and the Rebbe’s sichos in particular offer us the ideas with which to provide a meaningful Yiddishe life and raise a generation of young, passionate chassidistehs.

This article first appeared in Anash Magazine – published by Anash.org.

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  1. There needs to be a change with the way we educate our girls. We teach them dry text through rote and memorization and then we wonder why they aren’t turned on by yiddishkait.

  2. One of the big misconceptions is that now that girls learn it is the same as boys. Any good teacher knows that girls learn very differently to boys – both in their interest and how they process the information.

    It’s about time to create a curriculum which is geared towards girls learning in an interesting and exciting way.

  3. Girls always learned by watching and doing.
    Watching Mommy cook, then helping Mommy cook, then cooking on the own.
    Many girls love acting, singing and dancing.

    ULY has their 7 & 8th graders performing fantastic Generation Seven productions.

    People talk about it for weeks after. The messages are embedded in everyone’s soul, in an alive and beautiful way.

    Let the girls do that too.
    Act out the Navi, act out kashering chickens and kitchens for Pesach. Act out the laws of this and tznius and anything else.
    Each grade, several times a year.

    There’s added benefits
    Kosher entertainment
    Fundraising for the school
    Happy girls who are excited to live as Jews!

    Anyone willing to give it a try?

    1. Teachers need to be a role model.
      “Do as I say and not what I do” is what a lot of the teachers are doing…
      You can’t impart any role modeling besides for the text you are teaching, if your own life and hashkafas don’t match that.
      School is not about having a fun time, though yes, you need fun for it to be a learning experience and to impart over the information.
      If we had better role models that actually connect and guide the students. With a proper framework of caring and connection from the school staff, anything is possible. Without that, nothing is possible.

  4. Thank you for bringing up this vital and painful topic. An easy problem to diagnose. Who is having success treating this problem?

  5. It all depends on what they get from their parents, especially their mothers, at home. If Mommy loves being frum, etc., then the girl could get the worst chinuch and still become a happy adult, and if the reverse is true, we could have the finest educators and schools, etc. and the talmidos turning out less-than-ideal.

  6. School is school, but beyond school, the Torah, halacha, and chassidus we learned in Bais Rivkah high school – even if at times, it seemed just for the test – is what continues to inspire my life as a wife, mother, and shlucha. It laid the foundation upon which I build my own home and family and community. Discussions and farbrengens are certainly important, they go hand in hand with in-depth learning. May Torah learning for girls become ever stronger, empowering them to continue learning even more on their own, and inspiring the next generation in building their homes steeped in Torah and Chassidishkeit.

  7. Chinuch has always been the achrayus of parents with the schools merely acting as a shliach. That being said, every school has an agenda regarding what expectations it has for their students, and molds its curriculum and extracurricular accordingly. When parents choose a school for their children, they need to ensure that the value system of the school aligns with their own. In rare exception, there could exist a school that lacks a vision of what they’re looking to produce in terms of being mechanich.;this seems to be the case that you describe. An entire system cannot be bashed based on an exception to the rule that exists.

  8. In other communities, it’s normal for girls to learn cooking, baking, sewing (real garment making), and other life skills. The girls enjoy it and leave school with something they will put to use (unlike trigonometry and French).

  9. I had some teachers who brought Chumash to life and made it feel like we were living with them. It’s a matter of being open and not being stuck to the way it was done for the last few decades.

    We can do it better.

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