10 January 2012

Double Book Review: women and Torah study, women and Jewish law

I recently re-read two books once lent to me in high school, on the subjects of Jewish women's Torah education, and Jewish women's role in general.
Those interested in such matters should know about these two books' existence.

The first is And All Your Children Shall Be Learned: Women and the Study of Torah in Jewish Law and History, by Shoshana Pantel Zolty, a Torah-observant academic from Toronto.
It is not light reading -- more like a Ph.D thesis.
The first half is a survey of halachic sources on teaching women Torah, or their learning on their own. If there is only one line of thought to follow in this section, I couldn't find it: as the author writes, her purpose is only to gather the relevant references, not to string them together to emerge with a legal decision. Interesting reading; not particularly helpful if you want to know what the halacha is.
The second half is a survey - which seemed to me comprehensive - of Jewish women's education through history.
This is not the book you curl up with to help you space out; it is not even a collection of anecdotes: it is an academic work, and the author tries to stay out of it - mostly. It is a good reference to have on hand if you need to look up who-was-it-that-said or where-did-she-live-again.

The other book, which treats a broader topic, is Jewish Woman in Jewish Law, by Rav Moshe Meiselman (shlit"a), a talmid chacham (Torah sage) of Jerusalem.
This one is a book you can curl up with - it is felicitously written, easy to follow (even when he is detailing the American laws of inheritance), and enlightening.
The first half treats women's role in Judaism generally (including women and Torah study); the second thoroughly addresses specific issues which were controversial when the book was printed (1978) and which in some circles are just as controversial today.
As the author writes in the introduction, the book is not apologetic; it starts by explaining the Torah value system, and treats its subject accordingly -- but the outcome is eminently satisfying even to one who cannot grasp that value system.
I wish more people knew of this book's existence, and would read it.
Excerpts here: http://books.google.co.il/books?id=t3zQAoncEnwC&printsec=frontcover&hl=iw&source=gbs_ge_summary_r&cad=0#v=onepage&q&f=false

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