Women's Torah Study
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Torah Study for Women

Rabbi Aharon Lichtenstein

Reprinted from Ten Da’at Vol. III No. 3 pp.7-8

To my mind it is desirable and necessary, not only possible, to provide intensive education for women even from Torah She’b’al Peh sources, whether resorting to the argument that since women are engaged in all professions, why should they be specifically limited regarding Torah, or because of the words of the Chofetz Chaim (when Beit Yaakov was founded), that if the Rambam can say that it is necessary to teach a convert the essentials of Judaism, an individual who grows up in a Jewish context should all the more so be afforded such an education. That is to say that it is clear that it is necessary to provide a woman with the education and knowledge that make it possible for her to realize a strong and rooted faith and to face reality with dignity. Women today receive a broad general education and many attend universities, and there - as well as within society in general - they come into contact with diverse worldviews and philosophies, to the point that the knowledge and values of Torah are urgently required by women...

When something is well learned, it creates personal commitment. There are things that can be known in a general way, but they are not felt existentially, and therefore they do not penetrate one’s consciousness. For example, one should learn the mitzvot that are dependent upon the land of Israel. A woman ought to know, from a practical point of view, how to tithe trumot and maasrot. But one should not be satisfied with this. The same revulsion felt when confronted with eating pork should be elicited by the thought of eating tevel, and this is not presently the case. The prohibition against consuming tevel Mid’Oraita is more stringent a transgression than eating pork, yet there isn’t a comparable revulsion. Why? A lack of knowledge. Simply, these laws were not properly studied and, therefore, a deep impression has been made neither on the intellect nor on the soul. Therefore, the study of Torah She’b’al Peh must be intensified.

From a practical point of view, it is appropriate to teach the Sedarim of Zeraim, Moed, and Nezikin and the small amount of applicable material in Nashim, Kodashim and Taharot. And when these areas are taught, they must be taught in depth. For example, when one teaches Vayikra, it must be taught properly. This includes of course Rashi, and Rashi cites sources from Torah She’b’al Peh. It is impossible to decide to teach women Rashi but not Mishna when Rashi himself cites Mishnayot. The fact that a particular Mishna filters down to a woman via her studying Rashi does not change its status of being a Mishna. It is impossible to teach “at the tip of a fork.” Either the material is to be studied or it’s not to be studied...

When one speaks about the ability to study a page of Talmud, to understand it and enjoy it, I see no reason to deny these teachings to women. And it is even necessary to establish this as an integral part of the school curriculum, an actual shiur. This is the way I teach my daughter and so was my wife educated. This seems to me to be the recommended approach regarding the women of our generation...

RABBI LICHTENSTEIN is Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshivat Har Etzion in Israel and serves as Educational Director of Yeshiva University’s Gruss Institute in Jerusalem.


Rabbi Eliezer Melamed, Peninei Halakha

Once women have studied the basic fundamentals (Yesodei haTorah), even though they do not have the obligation to continue with the further detailed study of the intricacies of the law (Limud haTorah), if they want to they may exercise that choice. In fact a woman may even study Gemorah in great depth with all the accompanying commentaries (Gemorah beIyun), exactly as her male counterparts would do at an advanced institution of learning.[12]

In fact, if she chooses do to so, our Sages say that she gets a zechut (merit) for her efforts, even though she does not have a halachik obligation to do so.

Throughout our history we have had a number of women who excelled in the Limud haTorah component and became Talmidot Chachamot (venerable scholars).

For the most part, however, historically women did not exercise this choice and were only educated up to the basic level of minimal fundamentals of Yesodei haTorah. This was the cultural norm for most of the earlier generations.

With the advent of the modern era where women began to assert themselves more and began doing things they never were able to do before, the necessity for them to learn more also became more pressing.

In a nutshell, the only halachik difference between men and women apropos Torah study, is that women have the luxury to choose as to how much they want to study, while men have no such choice in the matter.

The ideal therefore is actually for women to choose to study as much Torah as they can, in as much depth as they want.

ומנין שאין אחרים מצווין ללמדה דאמר קרא ולמדתם אותם את בניכם ולא בנותיכם

How then do we know that others are not commanded to teach her? — Because it is written: ‘And ye shall teach them your sons’ — but not your daughters.

אם יש לה זכות היתה תולה לה יש זכות תולה שנה אחת יש זכות תולה ב' שנים יש זכות תולה ג' שנים מכאן אומר בן עזאי חייב אדם ללמד את בתו תורה שאם תשתה תדע שהזכות תולה לה ר"א אומר כל המלמד בתו תורה (כאילו) לומדה תפלות



ר' אליעזר אומר כל המלמד את בתו תורה מלמדה תיפלות תיפלות ס"ד אלא אימא כאילו למדה תיפלות א"ר אבהו מ"ט דר"א דכתיב (משלי ח, יב) אני חכמה שכנתי ערמה כיון שנכנסה חכמה באדם נכנסה עמו ערמומית

R. ELIEZER SAYS: WHOEVER TEACHES HIS DAUGHTER TORAH TEACHES HER OBSCENITY. Can it enter your mind [that by teaching her Torah he actually teaches her] obscenity! — Read, rather: as though he had taught her obscenity. R. Abbahu said: What is R. Eliezer's reason? — Because it is written: I wisdom have made subtilty my dwelling,1 i.e., when wisdom enters a man subtilty enters with it.


כאילו - שמתוכה היא מבינה ערמומית ועושה דבריה בהצנע:

As if - For through it she learns trickery and acts privately.


ואמרו מלמדה תפלות הוא דברי הבאי ודברי משלים.

And they said "teaching her tiflut" - namely, matters of emptiness and words of parables.


בן עזאי אומר חייב אדם וכו' - ירושלמי דבן עזאי דלא כר"א בן עזריה דדריש (חגיגה דף ג.) הקהל את העם האנשים והנשים והטף אנשים באו ללמוד נשים לשמוע ונראה דפי' דמצוה לשמוע הנשים כדי שידעו לקיים מצוה ולא משום שידעו שזכות תולה:

Ben Azzai says One is obligated to teach a person etc. - Yerushalmi: Ben Azazai does not hold like Rabbi Elazar Ben Azarya, who learns (Chagiga 3a): "Gather the nation - men, women, and children" - men came to study, women came to listen. And it would appear that he holds that women have an obligation to hear so that they know how to fulfill obligations, not merely so that they know that merit delays [punishment].


(יג) אִשָּׁה שֶׁלָּמְדָה תּוֹרָה יֵשׁ לָהּ שָׂכָר אֲבָל אֵינוֹ כִּשְׂכַר הָאִישׁ. מִפְּנֵי שֶׁלֹּא נִצְטַוֵּית. וְכָל הָעוֹשֶׂה דָּבָר שֶׁאֵינוֹ מְצֻוֶּה עָלָיו לַעֲשׂוֹתוֹ אֵין שְׂכָרוֹ כִּשְׂכַר הַמְצֻוֶּה שֶׁעָשָׂה אֶלָּא פָּחוֹת מִמֶּנּוּ. וְאַף עַל פִּי שֶׁיֵּשׁ לָהּ שָׂכָר צִוּוּ חֲכָמִים שֶׁלֹּא יְלַמֵּד אָדָם אֶת בִּתּוֹ תּוֹרָה. מִפְּנֵי שֶׁרֹב הַנָּשִׁים אֵין דַּעְתָּם מְכֻוֶּנֶת לְהִתְלַמֵּד אֶלָּא הֵן מוֹצִיאוֹת דִּבְרֵי תּוֹרָה לְדִבְרֵי הֲבַאי לְפִי עֲנִיּוּת דַּעְתָּן. אָמְרוּ חֲכָמִים כָּל הַמְלַמֵּד אֶת בִּתּוֹ תּוֹרָה כְּאִלּוּ לִמְּדָהּ תִּפְלוּת. בַּמֶּה דְּבָרִים אֲמוּרִים בְּתוֹרָה שֶׁבְּעַל פֶּה אֲבָל תּוֹרָה שֶׁבִּכְתָב לֹא יְלַמֵּד אוֹתָהּ לְכַתְּחִלָּה וְאִם לִמְּדָהּ אֵינוֹ כִּמְלַמְּדָהּ תִּפְלוּת:

A woman who studies Torah will receive reward. However, that reward will not be [as great] as a man's, since she was not commanded [in this mitzvah]. Whoever performs a deed which he is not commanded to do, does not receive as great a reward as one who performs a mitzvah that he is commanded to do.

Even though she will receive a reward, the Sages commanded that a person should not teach his daughter Torah, because most women cannot concentrate their attention on study, and thus transform the words of Torah into idle matters because of their lack of understanding.

[Thus,] our Sages declared: "Whoever teaches his daughter Torah is like one who teaches her tales and parables." This applies to the Oral Law. [With regard to] the Written Law: at the outset, one should not teach one's daughter. However, if one teaches her, it is not considered as if she was taught idle things.


ר' שמלאי אתא לקמיה דרבי יוחנן א"ל ניתני לי מר ספר יוחסין א"ל מהיכן את א"ל מלוד והיכן מותבך בנהרדעא א"ל אין נידונין לא ללודים ולא לנהרדעים וכל שכן דאת מלוד ומותבך בנהרדעא כפייה וארצי א"ל ניתנייה בג' ירחי שקל קלא פתק ביה א"ל ומה ברוריה דביתהו דר"מ ברתיה דר"ח בן תרדיון דתניא תלת מאה שמעתתא ביומא מג' מאה רבוותא ואפ"ה לא יצתה ידי חובתה בתלת שנין ואת אמרת בתלתא ירחי

R. Simlai came before R. Johanan [and] requested him, Let the Master teach me the Book of Genealogies. Said he to him, Where are you from? — He replied, From Lod. And where is your dwelling? In Nehardea. Said he to him, We do not discuss it either with the Lodians or with the Nehardeans, and how much more so with you, who are from Lod and live in Nehardea! But he urged him, and he consented, Let us learn it in three months, he proposed. He took a clod and threw it at him, saying, If Beruriah, wife of R. Meir [and] daughter of R. Hanina b. Teradion, who studied three hundred laws from three hundred teachers in [one] day, could nevertheless not do her duty in three years, yet you propose [to do it] in three months!


בדקו מדן ועד באר שבע ולא מצאו עם הארץ מגבת ועד אנטיפרס ולא מצאו תינוק ותינוקת איש ואשה שלא היו בקיאין בהלכות טומאה וטהרה

They checked from Dan to Be'er Sheva and they did not find an ignoramous; from Gevat to Antipatris and they did not find a boy or girl, man or woman, who was not expert in the laws of ritual impurity and purity.


(ו) אִשָּׁה שֶׁלָּמְדָה תּוֹרָה יֵשׁ לָהּ שָׂכָר, אֲבָל לֹא כִּשְׂכַר הָאִישׁ, מִפְּנֵי שֶׁאֵינָהּ מְצֻוָּה וְעוֹשָׂה. וְאַף עַל פִּי שֶׁיֵּשׁ לָהּ שָׂכָר, צִוּוּ חֲזַ''ל שֶׁלֹּא יְלַמֵּד אָדָם אֶת בִּתּוֹ תּוֹרָה, מִפְּנֵי שֶׁרֹב הַנָּשִׁים אֵין דַּעְתָּן מְכֻוֶּנֶת לְהִתְלַמֵּד, וּמוֹצִיאוֹת דִּבְרֵי תּוֹרָה לְדִבְרֵי הֲבַאי לְפִי עֲנִיּוּת דַּעְתָּן. אָמְרוּ חֲכָמִים: כָּל הַמְלַמֵּד אֶת בִּתּוֹ תּוֹרָה, כְּאִלּוּ מְלַמְּדָהּ תִּפְלוּת (פי' דְּבַר עֲבֵרָה). בַּמֶּה דְּבָרִים אֲמוּרִים בְּתוֹרָה שֶׁבְּעַל פֶּה; אֲבָל תּוֹרָה שֶׁבִּכְתָב לֹא יְלַמֵּד אוֹתָהּ לְכַתְּחִלָּה, וְאִם מְלַמְּדָהּ אֵינוֹ כִּמְלַמְּדָהּ תִּפְלוּת (רַמְבַּ''ם וּסְמַ''ג וְלֹא כְּמִקְצָת סִפְרֵי הַטּוּר). הַגָּה: וּמִכָּל מָקוֹם חַיֶּבֶת הָאִשָּׁה לִלְמֹד דִּינִים הַשַּׁיָכִים לְאִשָּׁה. (אָגוּר בְּשֵׁם סְמַ''ג). וְאִשָּׁה אֵינָהּ חַיֶּבֶת לְלַמֵּד אֶת בְּנָהּ תּוֹרָה, וּמִכָּל מָקוֹם אִם עוֹזֶרֶת לִבְנָהּ אוֹ לְבַעֲלָהּ שֶׁיַּעַסְקוּ בַּתּוֹרָה, חוֹלֶקֶת שָׂכָר בַּהֲדַיְיהוּ. (הַגָּהוֹת מַיְמוֹנִי פֶּרֶק א' דְּתַלְמוּד תּוֹרָה וּסְמַ''ג).

(6) A woman who studied Torah receives a reward, but not like that of a man, because she is not obligated yet performs the commandment. And even though she earns a reward, our rabbis have commanded that one should not teach his daughter Torah, because the majority of women are not intellectual prepared to be taught, and remove words of Torah to words of emptiness due to their intellectual limitations. The rabbis said: One who teaches his daughter Torah is as if he taught her frivolity. When is this stated? In regard to the oral Torah. However, in regard to the written Torah one should preferably not teach her, but if he did so it is not comparable to frivolity. Rama: Nonetheless, a woman is obligated to study laws that are relevant to her. And a woman is not obligated to teach her son Torah. Nonetheless, if she assists her son or husband to study Torah, she receives reward along with them.


שו"ת מהרי"ל החדשות סימן מה

שוב תמהת על הנשים שמברכות ברכת התורה וחלקת דלא דמי לשופר ולולב משום דכתב הרמב"ם כאילו מלמדה תפלות, הא לאו פירכא היא ותשו' בצידך. דווקא תורה שבעל פה ולא שבכתב, ודווקא המלמד לבתו אבל היא שלמדה בעצמה יש לה שכר כאינה מצוה ועושה שהיא מכוונת לטוב'. ועוד הרי בהקדמת סמ"ק כתב שיש להן ללמוד מצות הנוהגות בהן ויש לה שכר טובה.

New Responsum Maharil, 45

You have again asked regarding women who recite the blessing over the Torah... this is not a question and the answer is right next to you. It is only the Oral Torah, not the written Torah; and it is only one who teaches his daughter, but if she taught herself she receives reward as one who is not commanded and performs the commandment, for her intentions are positive. And furthermore, in the introduction to Smak he wrote that women ought study commandments that pertain to them, and she receives good reward.


ספר חסידים סימן שיג

חייב אדם ללמוד לבנותיו המצות כגון פסקי הלכות, ומה שאמרו שהמלמד לאשה תורה כאלו מלמדה תיפלות זהו עומק תלמוד וטעמי המצות וסודי התורה אותן אין מלמדין לאשה ולקטן, אבל הלכות מצות ילמד לה שאם לא תדע הלכות שבת איך תשמור שבתוכן כל מצות כדי לעשות להזהר במצות.

Sefer Chasidim 313

One is obligated to teach his daughters the commandments such as rulings of laws. And that which they said that one who teaches a woman Torah is as if he has taught her foolishness, this is the depth of the Talmud, reasons for the commandments and secrets of the Torah. However, the laws of the commandments he should teach her, for if she does not know the laws of Shabbat, how can she observe the laws by knowing how to be punctilious in regard to the commandments?


פרישה יורה דעה סימן רמו

(טו) אבל אם למדה לעצמה אנו רואין שיצאה מהרוב ולכך כתב לעיל שיש לה שכרו רצונו לומר אם למדה התורה על מכונה שאינה מוציאה לדברי הבאי.

Perisha, Yoreh De'ah 246

(15) However, if she studied herself, we see that she has emerged from among the majority. And therefore [the Tur] wrote that she receives reward, meaning if she studied Torah properly such that she did not render it as foolishness...

19 יט

ליקוטי הלכות סוטה כא:

ונראה דכל זה דווקא בזמנים שלפנינו, שכל אחד היה דר במקום אבותיו, וקבלת האבות היה חזק מאוד אצל כל אחד ואחד, להתנהג בדרך שדרכו אבותיו, וכמאמר הכתוב 'שאל אביך ויגדך'; בזה היינו יכולים לומר שלא תלמוד תורה, ותסמוך בהנהגה על אבותיה הישרים. אבל כעת בעוונותינו הרבים, שקבלת האבות נתרופף מאוד מאוד, וגם מצוי שאינו דר במקום אבותיו כלל, ובפרט אותן שמרגילין עצמן ללמוד כתב ולשון העמים, בוודאי מצווה רבה ללמדם חומש וגם נביאים וכתובים ומוסרי חז"ל, כגון מסכת אבות וספר מנורת המאור וכדומה, כדי שיתאמת אצלם עניין אמונתנו הקדושה; דאי לאו הכי עלול שיסורו לגמרי מדרך ד', ויעברו על כל יסודי הדת ח"ו.

Likkutei Halakhot Sotah 21b

It seems that all of this applied only in times past when each individual lived in their father’s home and tradition was very strong, ensuring that all the children would pursue their parent’s path, as the verse says "Ask your father and he shall inform you." In this case we could have said not to study Torah, and one should rely in regard to practice upon her pious parents. But now due to our great sins, that the tradition from the parents has become extremely weakened, and it is common for one not to live in the place of one's parents at all, especially those who accustom themselves to study writing and the language of nations - it is certainly a great commandment to teach them Chumash as well as Neviim and Ketuvim and mussar of the rabbis, such as Tractate Avot, Menorat HaMaor and the like. In this way the truth of his holy faith shall be embraced as true. Otherwise they may totally stray from God's path, and violate the principles of faith God forbid.