Why Women Don’t Learn Gemara

A Moment with the Rebbe: When a student asked the Rebbe why women’s learning differs from men’s, the Rebbe clarified the specific role of Jewish women.

In the days preceding Rosh Hashanah 5713 (1952), the Rebbe received a group of university students for a joint yechidus in his room. After a few words on the significance of the time, the Rebbe allowed for questions.

One student asked, “Is Torah learning equal for girls as it is for boys? Does Lubavitch offer higher education in Torah for girls, such as Talmud studies?

The Rebbe responded, “No. Men are obligated to study Gemara, but not women.

“The reason for this is not because they are less capable, but because Hashem has entrusted them with a more important, loftier duty, and they are therefore absolved from learning Torah.

“That holy duty,” the Rebbe explained, “is to imbue a spirit of Yiddishkeit in the next generation. In order to allow them to do this, they are exempt from limud haTorah.”

(Teshurah Sandhaus, Shevat 5768)

Discussion
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  1. There’s a yechidus with the Belzer Rebbe that gives a very different message, the importance of women learning and learning gemara. I also recall reading something from the Rebbe that specifically because a woman is raising the next generation that she needs to be learned. The title of this seems a bit misleading regarding the Rebbes general approach to women learning Gemara, and Torah learning in general

  2. Beautiful story but a slightly misleading title, given the fact that many women in the Alter Rebbe’s family learned Gemara (See the stories recorded in the Frierdiker Rebbe’s Memoirs) and the Rebbe encouraged women of our generation to follow in their footsteps (See the sicha from תש”נ referenced below).
    A more accurate title might be: “Why women are not obligated to learn Gemara”.
    Some sources from the Rebbe (and the Frierdiker Rebbe) regarding women learning Gemara that provide a more complete picture:
    – ספר השיחות תש”נ פרשת אמור
    – Yechidus with the Belzer Rebbe, printed in the back of ספר השיחות תשמ”א חלק ב
    – אגרות קודש חלק יד איגרת ד’תתנג
    – ספר הזכרונות of the Frierdiker Rebbe

    1. For the sake of accuracy:
      1) Sefer Hazichronos in not relevant to this discussion. There were great women throughout the ages who wore tefilin, tzitzis etc. They were on a different level, and no one ever thought that a regular women should learn from these hanhogos [let’s use a bit of “gemoro logic”: even if you are to say women are permitted to learn gemoro these days, it’s only (as the Rebbe clearly explained) because today they are open to “tiflus mamesh”. otherwise the original issue stands in place. The family of the alter rebbe were from generations before, when this “heter” did not exist yet, as women where not exposed to “tiflus mamesh” then. So obviously, the heter for these great women was that they were on a lofty level and were permitted to learn even what chazel assered, and if so how can regular woman learn from them?]
      2) I agree that the title is misleading and incorrect, but on the other hand, with all due respect, what Mrs. Slonim is campaigning for is not at all correct either, as is clearly illustrated in the story in this article that this isn’t the primary avoide of a woman.
      3) Many (if not most) bochurim struggle with gemoro learning. it is very difficult and the average brain is in all honesty not really made for learning gemoro. Nevertheless, because it is an obligation for every male to learn torah (which includes gemoro as explained in hilchos talmud torah) we go to great measures to try and teach it to as many boys/bochurim as possible.
      But why include this in the curriculum of girls schools if it’s not something they are obligated to do?
      5) It is true that there are some mekoros that seem to say the Rebbe encouraged women to learn gemoro too. There actually is discussion among rabonei chabad if this means all gemoros or only those relevant to halochos women need to keep. But either way, it is obvious that this means that those women who already excel academically and are drawn towards this kind of learning, should be allowed too. but not, as Mrs. Slonim suggests, that this needs to be incorporated into the regular curriculum.

      One final thought: There are so many tools available today to help anyone who wants to learn gemoro do so. Artscrol, recorded shiurim, slide shows etc. So what is stopping anyone who want’s to learn from doing so? It seems to me that perhaps the suggestions are more about gender equality then helping women learn gemoro.

      1. Regarding your point number one, about zichronos, please see the sicha from Shabbos parshas Emor, תש”נ, in the middle of ois dalet the Rebbe explicitly negates this idea applying only to “special women.” Please see footnote 32.

        Many of your other points are also addressed to the contrary in the sicha.

      2. A few notes:
        1. Sefer Hazichronos is relevant to this discussion because:
        A. The Frierdiker Rebbe does not merely tell stories about individual women but also tells about the Alter Rebbe’s grandmother explaining to her daughter that the reason she learns Gemara is because: “There always existed a marked difference between the mekubalim and the misnagdim… the students of R. Yoel Baal Shem and other mekubalim thought it right to give their daughters a Torah education no less than their sons.” This implies that this was the general shitah of Chassidim, even if it wasn’t made widespread until later generations.
        B. In the sicha in תש”נ, the Rebbe writes that behavior that was once only practiced by yechidei segula is now relevant to all Jewish women and girls. (See אות ד and footnote #32 in that sicha.)

        2. Is Gemara study accessible in theory to any woman who wants to learn it after her formal education is over? Yes.
        But as the Rebbe says in that yechidus with the Belzer Rebbe, the girl who has the questions and was never exposed to the sources, doesn’t know to look there for the answers. So many of the girls for which studying Gemara would accomplish exactly what the Rebbe intended, never think to try it. Instead, they get advanced degrees in secular fields, since that is the only place they are able to find intellectual satisfaction.
        Exposing girls to Gemara study, at least on a basic level, would solve that problem.

        3. As the Rebbe explains in the sicha from תש”נ, a woman’s central  avodah is raising Jewish children, and in our generation, her study of Torah is an integral part of that mission. (See the end of אות ד)

        I think it is important for anyone trying to get a full understanding of the Rebbe’s shitah to read the sicha from תש”נ thoroughly, with all the footnotes.

    1. It is interesting to note that this yechidus is from much earlier in the nesius than the sicha where the Rebbe discusses the issue at length. (Parshas Emor 5750)

  3. The more a woman learns Torah with yiras shomayim, the more her family life is influenced by daas Torah. Like every new phenomenon it must be handled with care and caution. Learning Torah cannot replace or out do a woman role is raising the future Doirois of yidden. Like any real avoida, a woman work of carrying, birthing and raising the child is not as glamorous or instantly spiritually fulfilling as learning a daf of gemorah or an uplifting maamar chassidus. Balance is the eternal struggle. What the priority is, must be clear. There is no one else but the Jewish woman who can bring these holy neshomas here lmaatah and raise with them that their lives are devoted to lmaalah. In our generation with the Rebbe’s guidance and our humility for our integral role as Noshim tzidkonius, we see that this balance can be achieved.

  4. Eliyahu,
    If Gemara is too hard for some/many people, why do all women have miss out? Are you as opposed to teaching women maths or science? Those are also hard for many people.

    Anyway, we are unfortunately not there yet; let’s start with mishnayus. B”H women learn Chumish, but equally important is giving women a basic familiarity with Torah shebal Peh, on which we all base our lives.

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