The Matan Women’s Institute for Torah Studies, a respected and popular religious seminary, has announced that it will be closing its flagship course in Talmudic studies due to a shortfall in funds.

Matan’s three-year program, opened in 1999, was the first course to provide stipends to women scholars in order to facilitate long-term study of Talmudic texts, and many graduates have themselves gone on to become teachers at other institutions of religious study.

It is one of the only centers of religious studies in the country that offers an advanced level of Talmudic studies for women.

A statement from Matan said that budgetary constraints resulting from the global economic downturn meant that it could no longer afford to run the course and finance the stipends.

Students on the current course will be able to finish their third and final year of study next year but unless more funds are forthcoming, the program will close after that.

Dr. Tehilla Elitzur, a lecturer at Matan and spokeswoman for the institute, lauded the achievements of the Talmud program, and said that it has been one of the driving factors in bringing women into the discourse on Jewish law within the country.

“Women represent half the population, are observant of the Torah and its commandments and so need to be involved in the debates and discussions of halachic (Jewish law) issues which affect us all,” said Elitzur.

“The more women are involved, the more they can contribute to growth in the love of Torah and observance of mitzvot – and encourage greater interest in religious observance from the non-religious community,” she said.

Elitzur added that after hundreds of years in which women have been excluded from the kind of Talmudic education provided by Matan, there is a need to provide them with the opportunity to enter this realm and receive a high standard of instruction.

Every course intake consists of approximately 12 students on average, with a total of 60 graduates.

Shani Taragin, a halachic adviser in Gush Etzion and Jerusalem and a teacher at Matan and several other religious seminaries for women, said the accessibility of advanced Talmudic studies to women is “intrinsic and instrumental for the advancement of women in Torah learning” and that there must be opportunities for women to delve into study of the Oral Law in a long-term framework.

“It’s essential for women to be able to study the Oral Law at the highest levels in order to afford them the opportunity, if they so wish, to be actively involved in Jewish leadership and education. To do so, women have to know the Talmud inside and out,” she said.

As to the current financial obstacles Matan’s program is facing, Taragin said that advanced Talmud study for women is still not widely accepted, and at present, only a unique group of elite women go on to devote their lives to it.

“People are conflicted – if it’s a [choice between] giving to an institute where 1,000 people are studying Talmud and one where 15 people are doing so, they are more likely to go for the former.

And there is still a lack of appreciation for the value and need of women as leaders and advanced educators,” she said.

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