Women celebrate finishing Talmud study marathon
Matan Women's Institute hold the first ever Daf Yomi class taught exclusively by women for women.
Women study talmud at siyum event Photo: Debbie Cooper
Amid the many celebratory events that have been staged in the past week to mark the completion of the seven-and-a-half-year Daf Yomi (page a day) Talmud study program, one in particular stands as especially distinctive in the generally male-dominated world of Talmud study.
It is the siyum, concluding party, held by the Matan Women’s Institute for Torah Studies on Thursday morning for – according to the seminary – the first-ever Daf Yomi class taught exclusively by women for women.
Matan established its Advanced Talmud Program in 1999 to provide a framework for in-depth study by women of the Talmud. It is the graduates of that three-year course who have taught the Daf Yomi program over the past seven years.
“We’ve been promoting Talmud study for women since Matan opened 24 years ago,” said Matan founder Malke Bina. “When we realized we had grown a cadre of teachers through the Talmud program, the idea dawned that a Daf Yomi class could be initiated and taught by women,” she continued, adding that she herself was skeptical that the course would last the full seven and a half years.
Fifteen women completed the entire course covering all 2,711 pages of the Babylonian Talmud, or Gemara, while several others joined the study session at later stages during the cycle.
Several dozen women turned up to the siyum Thursday morning following the daily lesson in which the last page of the Talmud was studied and the special prayer for its completion was recited.
“To come every day at 8 a.m., for seven and a half years, is an amazing effort, and it is very rewarding that we were the catalysts for this deep Torah learning experience,” said Bina.
Women have traditionally not been exposed to Talmud study and the rabbis of the Talmudic era even spoke out against such a notion.
Bina says, however, that when the idea of the Talmud program was first hit upon, she approached Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Auerbach, one of the most respected authorities on Jewish law of his time, to get his position on the matter. He approved of the course, stating that it would strengthen the commitment of women to serving God.
“Women want to be able to learn the Torah at its very deepest level and have as full a breadth of knowledge about Judaism as possible,” she said.
“To do that one needs to see the process of halacha, the dialectics and the debates recorded in the Talmud, study, understand and acquire knowledge of the Talmud for themselves as individuals and experience all this for themselves as individuals first hand.”
The value of the Daf Yomi program, Bina continued, is that it imparts an experience of “the wholeness of the oral law as a part of one’s repertoire of knowledge.”
Matan’s Daf Yomi program consists of one lesson a day at 8 a.m., five days a week for seven years and five months, in which one double-sided folio page of gemara is covered during the hourlong session.
The lesson is not held on Friday, Shabbat or Jewish holidays, and women participating study the page of the day individually on such days to keep pace with the cycle.
Debra Applebaum is one of the women who completed the entire Talmud with Matan, and explained that the rigid framework of Daf Yomi was and remains an attractive motivating factor in adopting the program.
The fact that thousands of people around the world are also learning the exact same page of Talmud and the unifying aspect of that idea was also something that drew her to this particularly demanding study cycle.
“It helps broaden your knowledge of Torah, during which you also learn how much you don’t know,” said Applebaum. “It is a superficial way of learning, everyone knows that,” she continued, “but it gives you a general overview of the Talmud, and I got to understand and appreciate new laws and principles which I didn’t previously know.
“Hopefully in the second time around I’ll be able to understand it ever better,” she says, fully intending to go through the whole process once again.