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The Battle of the Beit Midrash Has Been Decided

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After having fought them for years, now religious Zionist rabbis glorify learned women like Professor Vered Noam and hold them up as a shining example

The welcome and well-deserved awarding of the Israel Prize in Talmud Studies to Noam is another stamp of approval for the success of the religious feminist movement, and a moment of triumph for liberalism in Israel.

Noam is the first woman to win the Israel Prize for Talmud Studies. It’s not surprising that no woman has been awarded this prize before, because there were no potential candidates since women did not have the opportunity to study Talmud. The fight over teaching Gemara to women was the first struggle of religious Orthodox feminism in Israel, and in the beginning, nearly seemed like a mission impossible.

In 1971, my late mother-in-law, Hava Frankel-Goldschmidt, sent a carefully explained proposal to the Education Ministry’s religious education department, requesting that Gemara studies be permitted for girls in the state religious school system. Her letter was published in the journal of teachers of Jewish subjects in the state religious school system and the opposition was swift and adamant: Four letters opposing the idea were published and not a single letter in support. The objectors argued that this idea muddled the distinct roles of the sexes, that it would lead to sin and the ruin of the Jewish home, and that it attested to the foolishness of the person who proposed it. One letter quoted the words of Rabbi Eliezer in the Mishna: “Whoever teaches his daughter Torah, it is as if he taught her tiflut (variously understood as ‘lasciviousness’ or ‘vanities’).”

Her proposal was rejected out of hand and that was the end of that discussion. But a few years later, when........

© Haaretz