Thursday, February 10, 2011

More thoughts on Girls and Gemara

I was thinking of adding in the pressure to get married factor to the reasons why Gemara programs for women get less serious beginning post-high school. The line of thinking would go as follows: Since that is the age when some girls begin thinking about marriage, and within a few years most of them are (a girl who turns 25 with no immediate marriage prospects is generally not seen as a positive development in Orthodox circles, even MO ones), Gemara learning becomes less important for a couple of reasons. First, there are certainly guys out there who see girls learning Gemara as some sort of radical feminists, and therefore some girls try to shed that aspect of their character. Second, and more importantly, if girls are focused on not only marriage but married life, then they may look at their mothers, see that they do not learn Gemara, and conclude that it was a nice and enjoyable subject (perhaps) until now, but now it is time to "get serious".

I was then thinking that this cannot be completely true, as there are obviously plenty of young women who are preparing for careers, including careers that require several years of graduate school, and manage to maintain those pursuits alongside pursuits of marriage prospects.

Then again, it is difficult to take so many things seriously at the same time. Our boys have the luxury of being able to focus on both college and learning simultaneously, firm in the knowledge that they can postpone serious dating for a year or two with no serious injury to their shidduch prospects (I actually spoke with one such individual recently). On the other hand, for a girl to handle career preparation, serious learning, and serious dating may be more than any human should have to handle.

I actually believe that the real difference is one that I alluded to in my previous post on this topic - societal expectations. For whatever reason, we expect that boys who have gone through yeshiva day school and high school will continue to learn Gemara into adulthood and we do not expect the same thing of girls who have had the same experiences. Whether or not this is a proper expectation for boys is a separate discussion that I will address in a separate post. However, the fact remains that either as a result of the explosion of daf yomi (also an interesting topic) or the creation of a system of Gemara for everyone in the post-Shoah world, or for some other reason or variety of reasons, we do expect Jewish men to be involved somehow in the learning of Gemara. By contrast, how many Gemara shiurim for women exist, even in the most modern communities, and how many women even attend or try to attend Gemara shiurim in their communities? How many women learn Gemara at home by themselves or with a chavruta via phone or skype or otherwise?

I am not putting down these realities. My point is to highlight the fact that there are very few role models for our girls when they have to decide how important Gemara is going to be in their lives. Similar to the situation described by Virginia Woolf in A Room of One's Own, where she lamented the lack of female novelists who could serve as role models for girls aspiring to such a career - although I would say that we are moving beyond a dire situation, as there are more and more women who at least continue serious Gemara study beyond their high school years.

We have certainly not reached a tipping point in terms of girls and Gemara, and I doubt that we ever will. I think that certain segments of our society are unlikely to ever place enough importance (if any) on this, and that will keep it a viable option for our girls to decide not to pursue serious Gemara study. However, I do believe that we are succeeding in making it an acceptable pursuit, and to the degree that demand gradually increases, we will be able to continue to provide learning opportunities for these girls.

[One note I did not include in my last post. A small gauge of success can be seen even in Midreshet Lindenbaum. Two decades ago, my wife was taught Gemara by a staff made up almost entirely of men. Now I believe at least half of the shiurim are taught by women. A true sign of success of an educational endeavor is when you train your next generation of teachers who faithfully carry out and execute your mission.]

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