By Daphne Lazar Price
I’m so excited about the editorial board’s choice to focus on women’s learning in this issue of the JOFA Journal. The timing is hardly coincidental. As we near the end of the seven-year daf yomi cycle, JOFA wanted to honor and to call attention to the proliferation of women’s scholarship in Talmud studies and beyond.
Indeed, throughout the years, JOFA has prioritized elevating and amplifying women’s scholarship, including supporting the publication of the first volume of the Hilkhot Nashim series and Shema Bekolah articles written by women, as well as arranging webinars on halakhic topics and participation in International Women’s Day. To mark the completion of the thirteenth daily Talmud study cycle, JOFA is partnering with Hadran for a women-led siyum hashas. JOFA will be facilitating our own events in New York City in partnership with the Center for Jewish History at the Museum of Jewish History and in the Greater Washington area in partnership with local synagogues and schools.
The topics in these pages reflect the gamut of experiences and viewpoints on the growth of women’s learning. The explosion of online Judaic resources in the last few years—from digital libraries of Jewish texts to webinars to podcasts by scholarly women and men—has helped to fill a need for those who don’t have access to in-person shiurim (classes) and midrashot (seminaries) or who are always on the go. Whether you have been studying Jewish texts all your life or are a novice, the insights shared in these articles will resonate with you. When we improve the accessibility of our core Jewish texts, we create a pathway for increased participation in rituals and personal practice.
On a personal note, I developed a deep appreciation for primary Jewish texts at a young age. In middle school, I volunteered to participate in Hidon HaTanakh, Israel’s national Bible contest. With only moderate coaching and guidance, I absorbed and processed chapter upon chapter from the Tanakh. In doing so, I realized the flaws in my own education that had meshed p’shat and drash. I challenge you to find in the Humash the passage in which Adam gifts King David with 70 years of his own life (Yalkut Shimoni, Bereishit 41), the story of Abraham smashing the idols (Bereishit Rabbah 38), and the attribution of Isaac’s blindness to the angels weeping into his eyes because of Abraham’s imminent sacrifice (Bereishit Rabbah 65:1). Even though we place great value on rabbinic commentaries and biblical texts, it is important to differentiate between the two.
What started as an effort to gain a more firm understanding of biblical texts grew into a deeper exploration of the Shulhan Arukh, Mishna, and Talmud. This study of rabbinic texts helped me interrogate assumptions from an Orthodox feminist perspective,when teachers would make sweeping statements excluding women from participating in rituals ranging from reciting Kaddish and reading Megillah to studying Talmud or touching a sefer Torah.
Our knowledge is our strength and will help to inform ourselves, those around us, and future generations. Ken yehi ratzon.
Ruthie Braffman Shulman
Ruthie Braffman Shulman served as a Devorah Scholar at the United Orthodox Synagogue in Houston, TX. There she held the role of Director of Education and