Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Why Learn If You Don't Have To?

A few days ago a came upon some Jewish girls who were discussing the Gemara. To clarify, they weren't talking about something within the Gemara but about how girls aren't "supposed" to study it. It's a huge deal in the darker realms of Orthodoxy that women should not learn Gemara and the Bais Yakovs drill that into the girl's heads that there is even something _wrong_ in women learning Gemara. That a woman learning Gemara is just a silly feminist urge to feel as good as men. This idea is further entrenched as a girl who learn's Gemara probably won't get a good shidduch. To think a man should support a wife in kollel...!

Ok fine, whatever. Obviously I disagree, I think Jewish girls should learn Gemara if they are so inclined. It is as much their heritage as it is the men's. Though I don't support studying Talmud to the exclusion of all else. The kollel drain is a problem too, but that's an entirely different topic...

Anyway, what struck me as terrible was what one girl said about it, "Why would you learn Gemara if you didn't have to?" She was referring to the belief that learning Gemara is a mandated obligation that Jewish men have to perform, but which Jewish women do not. But I thought that was a terrible approach to learning and is what is wrong with so much of the world today.

Why study anything if you don't have to?

It's of the same theme as those who say that subjects like geometry is "useless." No, it may not have any direct bearing in functionality in life, but it adds to your way of thinking, your culture, and frankly, knowledge is meaningful for its own sake. I really can imagine little else of more value than knowledge and wisdom.

Of course one can go through their entire life without ever knowing who Kant was or how the Persians formed their empire or what standard temperature and pressure is, but what a shallow superficial life such people must lead. This type of thinking is what leads to the vacuous nature of popular culture and unending commercialism and materialism.

Gemara is worth learning.

8 comments:

The Hedyot said...

Typically shallow and ridiculous thinking. And what's most characteristic with that worldview is that it's totally inconsistent with their other propoganda. After all, don't black-hatters love to say that we should want to do the mitzvos even if we don't have to? The entire trend of chumra-seeking is itself predicated on the approach of doing more than what one is obligated in!

Additionaly, if she believes that she shouldn't bother doing what isn't commanded, I'd love to ask her where the many women who diligently say tehillim all the time are commanded to do that.

Orthoprax said...

Hedyot,

I don't think the one I quoted was one who would agree with a number of the reasons I mentioned in my first paragraph. She was more into the idea of "I don't have to do this stuff so why would anyone even want to do it?"

It's a classic conception of those people who see Judaism in general as some huge burden and who only do it because they believe it was commanded of them. It's a sad way of living, really.

onionsoupmix said...

I am pleased to come and explain this girl's comments. After filtering them through some basic cognitive dissonance 101, this is what emerges : " I am told that I should not be learning XYZ. I am told that I should be learning ABC. Therefore, XYZ is not as important as ABC. Since it is not important, why bother learning it in the first place."

Many women view learning gemara (and going to shul ) as "unimportant" because to suggest otherwise would make them face reality, that they are left out of important facets of Judaism. So therefore, learning gemara/davening with a minyon is really not important at all and men only do it because they have to.

Sarah said...

grrrrr ... girls like those make me mad! Then again, if those are the majority of females out there, maybe daatan kalot really IS valid. ;)

Mississippi Fred MacDowell said...

Obviously she may be vapid and intellectually incurious. Lots of people are. But its just as likely that she's convinced herself that "there's nothing to see, move along" in the Talmud because it makes the fact that she will never engage with the most important Jewish primary source which a great deal of her lifestyle and beliefs come from a smoother pill to swallow.

exbeisyaakovgirl said...

"But its just as likely that she's convinced herself that "there's nothing to see, move along" in the Talmud because it makes the fact that she will never engage with the most important Jewish primary source which a great deal of her lifestyle and beliefs come from a smoother pill to swallow."

unlikely

"Many women view learning gemara (and going to shul ) as "unimportant" because to suggest otherwise would make them face reality, that they are left out of important facets of Judaism. So therefore, learning gemara/davening with a minyon is really not important at all and men only do it because they have to."

even more unlikely, to downright impossible. They view it as the ultimate obligation of men.

Folks, stop speculating what beis yaakov girls are thinking from afar. ASK THEM> There are quite a number of ex beis yaakov girls in the blogosphere. IME the ones who say "why bother" are airheads. The others say other defensive things, but not that.

Orthoprax said...

Mississippi,

I suspect that it may more be a case of the perception that the Gemara is very difficult to learn, especially to one who hasn't studied it as a child. It can be imposing. It's so difficult, why bother even starting such a climb if you have no desire to even do so.

---

exbaisyaakovgirl,

"even more unlikely, to downright impossible. They view it as the ultimate obligation of men."

Are they completely oblivious to the obvious sexism? I think they justify in their own minds by seeing it as an unwelcome burden that they luckily are permitted not to do.

Sarah said...

The best one is when they justify it with reverse sexism ie. women are inherently more intuitive than men (bina) and this dont need the halachic analysis of the gemara that men do ... we just get it and do it, without needing to sit down with a book drilling it into our heads.

nonesense