Earning Merit: Berakhot 17, 20

Lehrhaus posted a series of essays on Daf Yomi celebrations over the decades, including one on the shift in the latter part of the 20th Century from rabbinical participants alone to inclusion of “balabatim, laymen.” The essay does not focus on women’s learning (others in the series did), but it does discuss how “wives also felt invested in Daf Yomi” in 1982:

If there are men who spend time away from their homes and families learning Torah, then there are women who sit [at] home and take care of that home and of the children to ensure that the men can learn. Whether the limud of the daf takes place early in the morning (when it is then the sole job of the woman to dress, feed, and send all the children off to school) or whether the learning is in the evening (when it is then the sole job of the woman to do homework and send all the children off to bed) a tremendous share of that learning goes to the woman.
— 1982 letter to the editor of the Agudah monthly magazine, from Libby Schwartz, quoted in “The Balabatish Daf Yomi Revolution

This writer’s words reflect the spirit of a passage in Daf Yomi a few days back:

Rab said to R. Hiyya: Whereby do women earn merit? By making their children go to synagogue to learn Scripture and their husbands to the Beth Hamidrash to learn Mishnah, and waiting for their husbands til they return from the Beth Hamidrash.
— B. Ber. 17a

Women’s merit through enabling of men’s learning was, as suggested by Ber. 17a and the letter above, accepted in some circles for at least 2000 years. In recent decades, however, Jews in many circles have been challenging assumptions about women and gender more generally and otherwise changing the conversation in many ways.

My Jewish Learning’s Daf Yomi email on Berakhot 20 speaks of women, time-bound commandments, and “conversation in traditional Jewish circles influenced by the feminist movement.” The post and the additional links provided don’t mention conversations in many Jewish circles (nor does it define “traditional” — whose tradition?!). Of course, each email can only include so much, but this does seem an odd, unnecessary, and serious omission:


Non-linear Learning, Circles

As someone who travels within several Jewish circles, I am struggling with the ways in which these circles do and do not overlap when it comes to approaching Daf Yomi — particularly when it comes to gender and sexuality issues. As a person who is both excluded and included because of my gender — women are not consulted or expected to fully participate in the Talmudic project (or, more generally rabbinic Judaism as the Sages understood it), while my gender IS acknowledged — I am finding myself trying to read from within another complex Venn Diagram. Moreover, as someone new to Daf Yomi learning, I am struggling with how to keep moving when I’m still grappling with or reveling in or just musing on something from a previous page….

…As it happens, I missed the above Lehrhaus commentary when it was published on January 14. By the time I opened it (1/23/20), Daf Yomi had already reviewed and moved on from Berakhot 17, with its teaching about women gaining study merit only through their assistance to menfolk. And we are meant to be even further on from Berakhot 15, which highlights who is not consulted in the Sages’ methodology. But that doesn’t mean I, myself, had moved on….

If anyone has this stuff figured out, or even a few more clues, please share.

A Category Struggle: Source Materials Update

This past Shabbat I included a passage from one of my favorite teachers, Alicia Ostriker, in a dvar Torah. I was asked to share the bibliographic information and maybe some other resources providing women’s commentary on Torah. As a result, I decided to update my source materials. And, in the spirit of my chosen NaBloPoMo topic, I am offering here 30 such resources, with annotations:

Female Scholarship (but not particularly “feminist” or focused on women)
Feminist Scholarship on Torah
Women’s Torah Commentary
Women’s Midrash and Creative Commentary
Miscellaneous Related Resources
My Writing (shameless plug)

Please note that categories here are somewhat arbitrary and do overlap. Nor was it clear to me whom and what to include. Nehama Leibowitz, for example, is a category in herself: She’s one of the few and probably the first female scholars universally cited and taught; her work, however, is not particularly focused on female characters or themes in the Torah, and I don’t think she considered herself a feminist.

Some of these resources are treasures for me, material I that has moved me, shifted my practice or perspective. Some are included because they’re often cited or because they’re part of the whole feminist Jewish history. The list is not even trying to be comprehensive. However, if you have a resource you treasure and want to share, please post it in the comments or contact me, songeveryday at gmail.com, to share a guest blog.
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Nitzavim: Something to Notice

This portion contains oft-quoted verses about Torah’s accessibility:

Surely, this Instruction which I enjoin upon you this day is not too baffling for you, nor is it beyond reach. It is not in the heavens, that you should say, “Who among us can go up to the heavens and get it for us and impart it to us, that we may observe it?” Neither is it beyond the sea, that you should say, “Who among us can cross to the other side of the sea and get it for us and impart it to us, that we may observe it?” No the thing is very close to you, in your mouth and in your heart, to observe it.Continue Reading