December 27, 2011 1 Comment
I just got an email with a copy of the most recent community Kollel* program flyer. Anyone who knows me at all knows that I often am an apologist for communal authority, and tend to think that modern society (secular and Jewish) has gone too far in autonomous directions. As an observant orthodox Jew, I’m into the whole “follow the rules and behave” thing.
This is absolutely appalling to me. There are five programs listed, and they are artificially divided into “men’s” and “women’s” programs. Now, there are educational methodology arguments which can be made about separate-sex education, and there are relatively flimsy religious arguments regarding women studying Talmud which too can be made, but that isn’t the worst part of the problem.
The problem here is the obliviousness of the authors of the file to precisely how separate but unequal this looks (and it looks that way because it is that way). Men’s learning is “advanced” or “sublime” – even the “yesodei” (foundations) class is instruction in not just passively receiving teachings, but rather going and getting them from the source. Women’s learning, by contrast, is “highlights.” Somehow, that doesn’t imply either teaching women how to learn or engaging in a multi-directional learning process. And of course, the balance of classes, at 4 to 1, is no balance at all.
Also bad is the implication here that Bible study (parsha = “weekly Torah portion”) is inferior to the study of Talmud (and other “sublime” topics) – if it were, then that class would also be open or offered to men. So women get the cast-off topics, and the rabbinic leadership wonders why so many folks in the current generation are pretty much ignoring their calls for respect.
I’m disappointed, but as I think on it, I wish I were more surprised.
* Definitional note: a kollel is an Orthodox Jewish institute for intensive / advanced religious learning. The current custom is that kollel members do not work and are instead supported by the community, and generally teach communal classes and the like. Most kollel members are not degree / ordination seeking, and the intention of many if not most is to remain in that environment indefinitely.