Farber students in the Girls Beit Midrash Program had the opportunity to attend the first women’s siyum in Jerusalem and learn personally from their Jewish women role models.
Featured photo by Corrie Colf
At the beginning of January, Jews around the world marked the completion of a cycle of Daf Yomi, the page-a-day study of the 2,711 pages of the Talmud, with a Siyum HaShas, a celebration held of the end of each 7-year-5-month cycle.
This year’s completion had special significance. On Sunday, Jan. 5, Hadran, an organization founded by women who study Talmud together, held the first women’s Siyum HaShas in Jerusalem.
Historically, Talmud study has been specifically for men, but women scholars — like Rabbanit Michelle Farber, co-founder of Hadran — have been trying to change the paradigm and bring Talmudic knowledge to women.
This year’s siyum brought thousands of women Talmud learners to Jerusalem. Among them were three teen girls from the Modern Orthodox Farber Hebrew Day School in Southfield who had the opportunity to travel around Israel for the week and shadow their role models.
Cara Lopatin, 16, Yaffa Klausner, 15, and Sima Stein, 16, were the only U.S. high school students to accept Hadran’s invitation to attend the siyum. The girls, including Shira Schon, 16, who did not attend the siyum in Jerusalem, have been involved with Hadran’s adopt-a-daf program and are the only female students studying Gemara (the rabbinic writings of the Talmud) at Farber — with the same intensity as the boys.
“It was a really special feeling knowing we were pretty much the youngest people there,” Lopatin said. “It allowed us to demonstrate to others that young girls are learning Gemara and it also really showed our devotion to our learning.”
The trip allowed the girls to listen to prominent women in the Jewish community and to learn from them personally.
“While we were there, we had the opportunity to learn from Rabbanit Sally Mayer and Rabbanit Michelle Farber,” Stein said. “We have one woman Gemara teacher at school; this provided us with more opportunities to grow our education.”
Klausner said, “The trip gave us time to learn with other girls in the seminaries. It was interesting to see how they spend hours every day learning Gemara — and it gets us excited to be able to participate in that as well.”
Although Schon did not attend the siyum in Jerusalem, she was able to teach a shiur (Talmudic study session) here to 25 adult attendees and share her learning of Gemara with others in the community.
“It was really impactful to see how what I was saying was educating the people in the room,” Schon said. “A lot of people came up to me who didn’t have the opportunity to learn Gemara as women when they were children, including a Judaic teacher of mine. It was crazy to experience that because it was a like a flip — she’s always been my teacher and someone I have looked up to, but now it was my moment to share my knowledge with her.
“It truly made me feel blessed to be able to have this opportunity and it is something I do love. I’m so grateful for Rabbi Stein and my school for providing me with this opportunity.”
Rabbi Noam Stein, Farber’s high school principal, started the Girls Beit Midrash Program at Farber four years ago.
“The Gemara program for girls started a number of years ago but, for many years, their program was fewer hours a week and less intense than the boy’s program,” Rabbi Stein said. “We changed the program around four years ago and opened this more intense Gemara option for girls where they were learning not just the same hours as boys in school, but also the same extra additional hours of outside-of-class learning.”
Through this program, the four girls have written articles that have been produced into four journals about Talmud topics. The journals include articles from boys and girls.
While many Orthodox schools throughout the U.S. still have strong differences on what girls and boys learn, Rabbi Stein says he never could wrap his head around the idea of not allowing girls to learn Gemara at the highest level.
“The main thing for me was that the Talmud is the central text of Judaism and it is the way in which generations of people’s minds have become connected to Jewish ideas and to a deep love of God by diving deeply into God’s word,” Rabbi Stein said. “For me, it always seemed it didn’t make any sense not to give that amazing gift to connect deeply to Judaism and Jewish life to every student.”
Although Rabbi Stein has met people who have opposed his ideology, he has never let that get in the way of his goals of providing girls with equal opportunity to learn Gemara.
“I have three daughters (including Sima) who are old enough now to learn Gemara and I couldn’t imagine not wanting to share this experience with them,” Rabbi Stein said.
Amy Stein, wife of Rabbi Stein, mother of Sima and a Judaic Studies faculty member at Farber, accompanied the girls to Israel and enjoyed watching them take in every moment of this momentous celebration.
“They were so dedicated and committed while we were there,” Stein said. “They took everything they could out of this opportunity and, although we didn’t do anything really fun, they had so much excitement at all times and applied that to their learning.”
Rabbi Scot Berman, Farber’s head of school, shared his enthusiasm for the girls partaking in the trip but also expressed how much of an impact this siyum had on the Orthodox community.
“We are delighted that some of our high school girls were able to take advantage of participating in the first celebration of completing the Talmud study cycle featuring women that took place in Jerusalem,” Berman said.
“We live in a generation where Orthodox women now have the opportunity to study Torah at the most advanced levels, something that in the not-so-distant past was unimaginable. Our girls can aspire to be accomplished scholars in any and every field of their choice, including all areas of Jewish studies. We believe the power of this experience may be life transforming for them, their peers and the future generations.”
All four girls expressed their gratitude to Rabbi Stein and Farber for providing the opportunity to study Gemara throughout their educational careers. The girls hope their experiences with their education and attendance at the siyum will continue to provide women the opportunities to engage in the study of Gemara.
“I didn’t realize how impactful this was for other women,” Sima Stein said. “I didn’t truly see how special this opportunity was until I was actually at the siyum. For so many women, they never had the opportunity to learn Gemara but now we’re participating in a groundbreaking movement.”