This post, crossposted from The Times of Israel, is the first in a series on the state of advanced Talmud study for women.
In a world just opening its eyes to the possibility of women’s advanced and committed Torah study, the closing of the Advanced Talmudic Institute at MATAN, an institution which pioneered women’s study of Talmud, is a tragedy.
In the past few decades, the gates of Torah study have been opened to women, tapping into a previously underutilized sector of our community. Our generation has been privileged to witness and experience tremendous progress in the religious education of women, as, one by one, institutes, seminaries, and houses of study for women were established and thrived as centers for learning and teaching Torah.
In accordance with these developments, today’s women have soared to new heights, becoming active participants in realms previously closed to them – as halakhic advisers, as advocates in rabbinical courts, and even as heads of batei midrash (houses of study).
As women who have devoted their time to Torah study, how fortunate have we felt to actively take a part in this world, one which was largely inaccessible to our mothers and grandmothers.
Unfortunately, these advancements are undermined with the closing of our beit midrash, the Advanced Talmudic Institute at MATAN, at the end of this year.
MATAN, the Sadie Rennert Women’s Institute for Torah Studies, was established in 1988. The Advanced Talmudic Institute began its first cohort in 1999, and is a leading program in advanced study for women. The Talmudic Institute offers its students the unique opportunity to delve deep into the world of the Talmud, using both traditional and modern methods to understand this literary and spiritual gem of Jewish tradition. Over the course of the three-year program, students hone their skills and broaden their knowledge, as they strive to impact the world of learning in particular, and society and culture in general. To help build these future scholars, educators, and religious leaders, MATAN offers students a living stipend.
The Talmudic Institute has proven itself over the years, as its graduates have filled a variety of roles in secondary school and higher education, both in Israel and in the United States, and brought sensitivity and knowledge to the religious leadership. This year, 12 fellows comprise the sixth cohort of the Institute.
But, at the end of this year, the Advanced Talmudic Institute at MATAN will be shut down prematurely. Despite the personal obstacles this has created for us, our greater concern is the implication this has for the wider Jewish community.
The Advanced Talmudic Institute at MATAN is one of the only programs for women in Israel that focuses on high-level Talmud study. Closure of the Talmudic Institute will be a huge step back in the world of Torah study for women. Not only will those seeking to learn suffer, but there will be a community-wide impact as well. This powerhouse for training women to be educators in institutions of Torah study will no longer be able to provide the Jewish community with talented and able female leaders. The institutions that have begun to open their doors to women will no longer be able to turn to MATAN to instruct and support aspiring students of Talmud.
Most of the current students at MATAN have studied Talmud in university and will continue to do so. Although we appreciate the important tools that world offers us, do we want to send the message to Jewish women that the only place they can study this most central text is in academia? A university setting cannot replace the beit midrash, which facilitates careful, intensive Talmud study in an environment that allows one to immerse oneself in its reality.
We are in the middle of a unique historical process that is changing the face of religious Zionist society. The women’s Torah-study revolution is not over; it has barely begun. We must not let it fade into the paleness of a face behind a curtain.
Moriah Be’er Chriki, Yedidah Koren and Davida Klein Velleman are fellows in the sixth cohort of the Advanced Talmudic Institute at MATAN.