Illustration by Anya Ulinich.
From when I was a little girl until I went to college, every Valentine’s Day, I would find a small gift and a card from my parents (or really, my mom) waiting for me at my spot on the kitchen table. Even after I moved out, first to go to college and then into my own apartment, I always knew that as February 14th approached, I could expect an envelope — usually red or pink — in the mail, containing a cheesy if sweet card, promising me that for my parents, I would always be their Valentine.
Despite the dependable hearts and teddy bears, however, I did not grow up in a house where there was an emphasis on love stories and fairy tales. My second wave feminist mother worked full time in high-powered jobs throughout my entire childhood, and if there was cooking to be done, we knew that the person to turn to was my father. Even the story of my parent’s engagement was not exactly the stuff of great romance. Instead of shiny diamonds and sweet smelling roses, my father proposed to my mother in a desperate attempt to get her to stop crying over her perceived lack of job prospects. So while I certainly spent my fair share of time dressing up as a bride or a princess, I don’t remember ever dreaming of my wedding, or hoping that a prince would come sweep me off my feet. Instead, I was going to be a strong, independent woman who built a relationship with a true partner. Love at first sight was nothing but a fantasy.
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).
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.
How badly do women want to be married? This is a question that has been asked from the Talmud to The New York Times, and the answers can be counterintuitive.
Tav l’metav tan du m’lmetav armelu. “It’s better to lie with another body than to lie as a widow.” (Babylonian Talmud Kiddushin 7a) This Talmudic dictate, attributed to the sage and former pirate Resh Lakish, implies that women would prefer to be married to anyone at all than to be single — and it is one of the most controversial policy principles in Jewish literature. The idea that women prefer to be married – even to someone who smells bad, who is perpetually unemployed, or who is obnoxious and abusive – has been used to justify many of the rabbinic laws that make it hard for a woman to get divorced.