First mass women’s Daf Yomi celebration to take place in Jerusalem

On January 4 next year, the seven and a half year cycle of Talmud study in which a double-sided folio page of Talmud is studied every day, will be completed.

Michelle Cohen Farber's Daf Yomi women group studying Talmud in Ran'ana. (photo credit: ARDON BAR-HAMA)
Michelle Cohen Farber's Daf Yomi women group studying Talmud in Ran'ana.
(photo credit: ARDON BAR-HAMA)
On January 4, the seven-and-a-half-year cycle of Talmud study known as Daf Yomi – in which a double sided folio page of Talmud is studied every day – will be completed, and huge next-day celebrations will be held in Israel and around the world.
This year for the first time, a large-scale, global celebration for some 3,000 women (and some men) from around the world will be held in Jerusalem to celebrate their completion of the daily Talmud study cycle.
The massive Siyum Hashas event, as the Daf Yomi end-of-cycle event is known, planned for January 5 in Jerusalem’s International Convention Center, is designed to inspire those who attend to look toward the future cycle, to go on to more religious study opportunities and to feel like they are part of a bigger movement.
The event will boast a wealth of the leading female Talmud experts and educators, and will host women and school girls from around the world including the US, Canada, the UK and Australia, who are flying in to Israel to take part in the celebrations.
Although Talmud study was for many years largely restricted to men, over the last few decades the number of educational frameworks providing Talmud study to women, whether in high school, seminaries or beyond, has grown significantly.
Despite this, regular and convenient access to Talmud study for women outside of such frameworks had not been particularly available, especially compared to the wealth of Talmud study programs of all kinds for men.
It was this vacuum that Michelle Cohen Farber sought to fill when she co-founded the Hadran women’s Daf Yomi Talmud study group in 2012. Hadran – meaning “we will return” – is part of the blessing said upon completion of a Talmudic tractate.
“I realized a lot of women in my community didn’t have access to Talmud study, but I thought that the way the modern world was going, it was hard to understand how this could be,” Cohen Farber told The Jerusalem Post on Monday.
She said that most women in the religious-Zionist sector in Israel do not learn Talmud and have never done so, and that most of that community still does not think it particularly important for women to do so.
She noted that even today, most girls’ schools do not have Talmud study as an obligatory or even an optional curriculum subject.
“There is a big gap between what girls and boys are offered in this regard, something which in our modern age shouldn’t be happening. Girls and boys have the same general studies curriculum, so why is it different when it comes to Talmud study?”
Increasingly, however, there are Daf Yomi study groups for women who now want to embrace the Talmud study that was not made previously available for them.
Hadran is one such group. Founded in 2012 for the latest Daf Yomi cycle – the 13th since the project was begun in 1923 – Cohen Farber says that she realized the Daf Yomi framework would be a good way of improving access to the Talmud for women.
There are three other Daf Yomi groups for women in Israel, one in Alon Shvut and the Matan Institute’s Jerusalem branch, which were set up at the beginning of the 12th cycle, and one in Beit Shemesh which was started in the middle of that cycle.
The Hadran group operates in Ra’anana, and has 10 to 12 women participating in her daily Daf Yomi class. Hadran’s program is the only one to be taught every day by the same person, Cohen Farber.
Along with the study-group itself, Hadran also posts a podcast of Cohen Farber’s lessons in English and Hebrew, which now has some 250 listeners from around the world.
“We are trying to take Talmud out of the realm of just the seminary and take it even farther, to where people don’t have Talmud or Daf Yomi readily available,” she said.
“The podcast helps us reach women who don’t have time to go to a lesson, but can listen to it in a car, on the way to work in a more accessible way than has been available before.”
Speaking about the importance of women studying Talmud, she said that the compendium of rabbinic thought was a critical part of the Jewish religion and that in the modern world, there was no reason women should have a different educational horizon than men.
“It’s the center of our religion – and by studying it you gain an appreciation of how religion developed,” said Cohen Farber. “Without it, you can still understand Jewish law, but not why you are doing it,”
“The Talmud has so much richness to it, and women have not been exposed to it for many centuries. And even today when it is more accessible than it has [ever] been, women are still not able to get easy access to it.”
Speaking more broadly, she said that greater exposure to and availability of Talmud study for women would ensure that they can take up an ever greater role in engaging in the dialogue over Jewish law and life.
“It’s about women having a seat at the table – about being involved in discussions about Judaism with the necessary knowledge so that they can shape the future of Judaism and Judaism today,” she said.