My colleague Rav Yaakov Blau recently posted on the Lookjed educators list about the current state of girls' Gemara education.
I think that we are at a stage where modern orthodoxy needs to look at the current state of women’s learning and honestly evaluate what has been accomplished. I’m often asked, since I’ve taught in schools with co-ed gemara classes throughout my teaching career, if the girls are as good as the guys in my gemara classes. What I have found (and of course, these will be generalizations) is that the girls are often stronger than the boys in high school, they’re more attentive, hard working and serious. Yet, after a year in Israel with the boys going to a top yeshiva and the girls going to a top women’s yeshiva, the guys have far surpassed the girls.
The gap only gets wider after that. I believe that the reality is that from the point of the year in Israel and on, men are afforded much greater and intense opportunities than women are. This is not meant to disparage the teachers of the post high school teachers, GPATS, Drisha
etc, who are wonderful people and include some top rate talmidei chachamim, I think they would all agree (the males who teach in these programs) that they had opportunities in learning that their female students will never have. I don’t believe that there is anything
innate limiting women. The best proof is the yoatzot halacha. I believe that after intensely learning hilchot nidda, those women tend to have a vastly superior grasp of those halachot than their male counterparts. Sadly, that is the only example of such a phenomenon.
Perhaps as a community we have accomplished what we need in terms of women’s learning, but I think that we have to be honest with ourselves that we have not created real equality.
And here is my response:
My good friend Rav Yaakov Blau raises some excellent points on the issue of women's learning, and concludes with the statement that we have not created real equality between men's and women's learning, specifically relating to Gemara learning.
I think that it is possible to both agree and disagree with Rav Yaki's statement - it all depends how we define our terms.
1) When we say that we have not created equality, does that mean equality of opportunity or opportunity of results? In terms of equality of opportunity, I think that it is possible to say that we are certainly creating it. Two decades ago, a girl who wanted to study Gemara after high school could go to Midreshet Lindenbaum and then to one class in Stern. Now she has several options in Israel, along with several post-college options. While there are obviously fewer options than the boys have, consider that two decades ago there were far fewer Yeshivot in Israel for boys. My point is that the opportunities increase as demand increase - such education for girls began later and thus is lagging behind in numbers. However, there is no question that there are increasingly more opportunities being offered for women.
2) On the other hand, perhaps Rav Yaki's disappointment is misplaced. He seems to assume that we SHOULD be trying to create equality. If equality means every girl - or at least most of them - learning Gemara in some serious fashion into her college years, then we have to ask if that is a desideratum in our community? While once only the top boys were sent to Yeshiva, certainly in the post-war world the norm has been for every boy to continue to learn Gemara, and for them to continue this as men as well, be it in kollel or in a daf yomi shiur on the train. For whatever reason (and there are doubtless many of them), our community has not demanded the same for their daughters. Take a poll of seniors in high school where both boys and girls have been learning Gemara for 6-7 years - I would be willing to bet that far more boys than girls feel that it is important for them to continue learning Gemara for the rest of their lives.
Cheer up, Rav Yaki. We are certainly making progress on this front, assuming that we define progress as more of our girls having more opportunities to learn at ever-higher levels. How many women taught Gemara in day schools and high schools even ten years ago? Now the numbers are growing, and several of them teach coed classes without anyone batting an eyelash. Does a gap remain in terms of sheer number? Undoubtedly, I think that it always will - but there is no question that we are moving forward.