Sisterhood Blog

The End of Women-Only Torah Study?

By Debra Nussbaum Cohen

matan.org
Matan founder Malke Bina

It is a sad week for women’s Torah study, with the news that the Advanced Talmudic Institute at Matan — founded 24 years ago by Rabbanit Malke Bina — is closing its doors.

Matan did not confirm its reason for closing, but I suspect that the approaching sunset of one of its main funders, the Avi Chai Foundation may be part of it.

Situated in Jerusalem, Matan was one of a very small handful of programs that made the full-time pursuit of Talmud study available to Orthodox women. Nishmat and Bar-Ilan University’s Midrasha are the other major programs in Israel (along with Pardes, which attracts a primarily non-Orthodox crowd).

In the U.S., Yeshiva University’s Stern College for Women offers a master’s in Biblical and Talmudic Interpretation, and last year YU awarded its first-ever doctorate in Talmud study to a woman.

And there’s also Drisha, a Manhattan center for women’s Torah study, which offers a Scholars’ Circle for the most advanced female Torah students, but does not grant academic degrees. When visionary Rabbi David Silber opened Drisha in 1979, it was the only game in town for women thirsty for in-depth, text-based Torah study. Today, there are other options, like the traditional egalitarian Mechon Hadar, which also offers full-time learning fellowships.

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Clever Feminist Art, Courtesy of Drisha

By Debra Nussbaum Cohen

Tanya Fredman
Tanya Fredman’s “Keva,” oil on canvas, featured in the Drisha’s exhibit. (click to enlarge)

In the mood for clever feminist art that is at once subversive and respectful of Jewish text? Then check out Drisha’s exhibit and afternoon of performances by its Arts Fellows on Sunday at 2 p.m.

Drisha, a center for advanced Torah study for women right near Lincoln Center, has a fantastic program for artists of every stripe — painters and other visual artists, musicians and dramatists, even writers (I was fortunate to be a full-time Drisha Arts Fellow last year). Some are religiously observant, some are not and many fall somewhere on the spectrum.

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Where Serious Torah Study for Women Is a Top Priority

By Debra Nussbaum Cohen

There were a couple of notable things about the annual dinner held on Mother’s Day by the Drisha Institute for Jewish Education. The dinner celebrated the 30th anniversary of Drisha — a small but influential center for women’s advanced Torah study where I’m concluding a year of learning as an Arts Fellow.

Drisha’s currently most famous alumna is Maharat Sara Hurwitz the in-all-but-name female Orthodox rabbi working as an educator and spiritual guide at the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale. She’s a graduate of the Drisha Scholar’s Circle, a three-year course of study comparable to what men learn on their way to earning rabbinic ordination, and was honored at the dinner along with two Drisha lay leaders.

Drisha’s range of supporters is unusual for a religious American Jewish institution. Lots of men sporting the close-cropped yeshiva guy hairstyle and married women wearing “shul suits” and coordinating hats were there. But there were also lots of women who don’t cover their hair and wear pants and t-shirts when not at a fancy-shmancy dinner.

It was nice being at a dinner where a focus on one commitment brought everyone together, and their differences mattered not at all. It’s a lovely thing to have the luxury of being immersed in Torah, especially in a place where the people seriously believe there is inherent value in women studying all of Torah’s many facets.

And speaking of serious Torah study for women: Rabbi Avi Weiss this week announced the opening of Yeshivat Mahara”t to train women to become part of the Orthodox rabbinic clergy à la Hurwitz.

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