The study of the Torah (talmud Torah) as a supreme religious duty is one of the most typical and far-reaching ideas of rabbinic Judaism. Talmudic literature is full of references to the mitzvah of Torah study, especially of the difficult halakhic portions which require the fullest application. C.G. Montefiore (A Rabbinic Anthology (1938), introd., 17), though more than a little unsympathetic to this side of rabbinism, observes: "For all these legal discussions, all this 'study of the Law,' all these elaborations and minutiae, were to the Rabbis the breath of their nostrils, their greatest joy and the finest portion of their lives."
An early Mishnah (Peah 1:1), after describing such duties as honoring parents and performing acts of benevolence among the mitzvot for which there is reward both in this world and the next, concluded that the study of the Torah is "equal to them all." A tannaitic treatise, Baraita Kinyan Torah (Avot 6), devoted to the ideal of Torah study, contains the advice (6:4): "This is the way of the Torah: a morsel of bread with salt to eat, water by measure to drink; thou shalt sleep on the ground, and live a life of hardship, whilst thou toilest in the Torah. If thou doest thus, happy shalt thou be, and it shall be well with thee; happy shalt thou be – in this world, and it shall be well with thee – in the world to come." Quoting the verse, "This is the Law (Torah): when a man dieth in a tent" (Num. 19:14), the third-century teacher Resh Lakish taught: "The words of the Torah become firmly established only for one who kills himself (in study) for it" (Ber. 63b). Dedicated students, "toiling in the Torah," were found to number in the thousands in the great Palestinian and Babylonian academies during the first five centuries of the present era. Only against such a background of unqualified devotion does the saying of the second-century R. Jacob become intelligible: "If a man was walking by the way and studying and he ceased his study to declare, 'How fine is this tree!' or 'How fine is this plowed field' Scripture reckons it to him as though he were guilty against his own soul" (Avot 3:7). Of Rava it was said (Shab. 88a) that he was once so engrossed in his studies that he was unaware that his fingers were spurting blood. It was taken for granted that a scholar would be incapable of diverting his mind from Torah study; hence it was ruled that a scholar is forbidden to remain in unclean alleyways where Torah should not be studied (Ber. 24b).
The ideal of Torah study had a twofold aim. First it was believed to lead to the practical observances, since without knowledge of what it is that the Torah enjoins full observance is impossible. "An empty-headed man cannot be a sin-fearing man, nor can an ignorant person be pious" (Avot 2:5). Secondly, Torah study was itself a religious duty of the highest order. This dual function of study is presumably given expression in the discussion said to have taken place in the early part of the second century: "R. Tarfon and the Elders were once reclining in the upper story of Nithza's house in Lydda, when this question was put to them: 'Which is greater, study or practice?' R. Tarfon replied: 'Practice is greater.' R. Akiva replied: 'Study is greater for it leads to practice.' Then they all answered and said: Study is greater, for it leads to practice" (Kid. 40b). Yet study without any intention of carrying out the precepts was seen as having no value. "Whoever says that he has only [an interest] in the study of the Torah, he does not even have [the study of] the Torah" (Yev. 109b). There is evidence of tension between the scholarly ideal and that of extraordinary piety without learning. The famous scholars were committed to Torah study as the highest pursuit, yet they were compelled to recognize the achievements of men of outstanding piety who were in no way renowned for their learning. The scholars yielded only grudgingly, as in the tale (Ber. 34b) of the miracle-working saint, R. Ḥanina b. Dosa, who prayed successfully for the recovery of R. Johanan b. Zakkai's son, whereas the prayers of R. Johanan would have accomplished nothing. When R. Johanan's wife asked him, "Is Ḥanina greater than you are?" he replied, "No; but he is like a servant of the king who can enter his presence at any time whereas I am like a nobleman who is allowed only to appear at fixed times."
The qualifications for study were carefully mapped out, 48 "excellences" by which the Torah is acquired being listed (perhaps for rehearsal by the prospective student):
By study, by the hearing of the ear, by the ordering of the lips, by the understanding of the heart, by the discernment of the heart, by awe, by reverence, by humility, by cheerfulness; by attendance on the Sages, by consorting with fellow-students, by close argument with disciples; by assiduity, by knowledge of Scripture and Mishnah; by moderation in business, in worldly occupation, pleasure, sleep, conversation, and jesting; by long-suffering, by a good heart, by faith in the Sages, by submission to sorrows; by being one that recognizes his place and that rejoices in his lot and that makes a fence around his words and claims no merit for himself; by being one that is beloved, that loves God, that loves mankind, that loves well-doing, that loves rectitude, that loves reproof, that shuns honor and boasts not of his learning, and delights not in rendering decisions; that helps his fellow to bear his yoke, and that judges him favorably, and that establishes him in the truth and establishes him in peace; and that occupies himself assiduously in his study; by being one that asks and makes answer, that hearkens and adds thereto; that learns in order to teach and that learns in order to practice; that makes his teacher wiser; that retells exactly what he has heard, and reports a thing in the name of him that said it (Avot. 6:6).
The demands made on the student were thus both of intellect and of character. The successful student acquired in addition to factual knowledge the capacity for skill in debate. Of particularly brilliant scholars it was said that they were able to provide 24 answers to every problem (Shab. 33b; bm 84a). It was not unusual for teachers to encourage their disciples to cultivate alertness of mind by appearing on occasion to act contrary to the Law, to see whether the error would be spotted (Ber. 33b; Ḥul. 43b; Nid. 4b). The debators were compared to mighty warriors taking part in the "battles of the Torah" (Sanh. 111b). Another comparison was that to competent craftsmen. The "craftsmen and the smiths" (ii Kings 24:14) were identified with the scholars and said to possess acute reasoning powers (Sif. Deut. 321). Of a text presenting severe problems of interpretation it was said that neither a carpenter nor his apprentice could provide the correct solution (az 50b). In similar vein keen scholars were compared to builders (Ber. 64a), to pearl divers capable of reaching great depths in pursuit of treasure (bk 91a), and to weavers (Ber. 24a). The purveyor of the difficult halakhic teachings was compared to a dealer in precious stones for the connoisseur, whereas the more popular but less profound aggadic teacher was compared to the retailer of cheap tinsel goods which all can afford to buy (Sot. 40a).
While the saying of R. Judah in the name of Rav, that a man should study the Torah even if his motives were not of the purest (she-lo li-Shemah), was generally accepted because the right motive would eventually emerge (Pes. 50b), the rabbinic ideal was that of Torah "for its own sake" (li-Shemah). R. Meir said: "Whoever labors in the Torah for its own sake merits many things; and not only that, but the whole world is indebted to him: he is called a friend, beloved, a lover of the All-present, a lover of mankind; it clothes him in meekness and reverence; it fits him to become just, pious, upright and faithful; it keeps him far from sin, and brings him near to virtue; through him the world enjoys counsel and sound knowledge, understanding and strength" (Avot 6:1). The Sifrei (Deut. 41 and 48) remarks: "Suppose you say, I am learning Torah that I may get rich, or that I may be called Rabbi, or that I may gain reward (from God) – the teaching of Scripture is: 'To love the Lord your God' (Deut. 11:13)." "Suppose you say, I will learn Torah in order to be called learned, to have a seat in the academy, to have endless life in the world to come – the teaching is: 'To love the Lord your God.'"
From the rabbinic period and onward great centers of Jewish learning were established. In Palestine there was the academy at the sea-coast village of Jabneh, which came into especial prominence after the destruction of the Temple; at Lydda under the guidance of R. Eliezer b. Hyrcanus and R. Tarfon; at Bene-Berak under R. Akiva; at Usha in Galilee; and there were also centers in Sepphoris, Tiberias, and Caesarea. R. Yose b. Kisma said: "I was once walking by the way, when a man met me and greeted me and I returned his greeting. He said to me, 'Rabbi, from where are you?' I said to him, 'I come from a great city of sages and scribes.' He said to me, 'If you are willing to dwell with us in our place, I will give you a thousand golden dinars and precious stones and pearls.' I said, 'If you were to give me all the silver and gold and precious stones in the world, I would not dwell anywhere but in a home of the Torah'" (Avot 6:9). "Homes of the Torah" rose to a position of importance in third-century c.e. Babylonia. At the beginning of this century two Palestinian-trained scholars, Rav and Samuel, returned to their native Babylonia, the former to found the academy at Sura, the latter to revive the long-established academy at Nehardea. When Nehardea was destroyed during the Roman-Persian wars in the year 259 c.e., Samuel's disciple, R. Judah b. Ezekiel, founded an academy at Pumbedita which existed as a sister and rival institution of Sura for over eight centuries. After the decline of Sura and Pumbedita in the 11th century, new schools sprang up in North Africa and Europe to take their place. The schools of Paris, Troyes, Narbonne, Metz, Worms, Speyer, Altona, Cordoba, Barcelona, and Toledo were renowned in the Middle Ages. From the 16th century, Poland, with its own academies, emerged as the Jewish intellectual center.
Yet it should not be imagined that the rabbinic ideal of Torah study was for the scholar alone. It was binding on every Jew as a mitzvah. R. Johanan said in the name of R. Simeon b. Yoḥai, "Even though a man reads no more than the Shema morning and evening he has thereby fulfilled the precept of 'This book of the law shall not depart'" (Josh. 1:8). It is, however, forbidden to say this in the presence of the ignorant (who would draw the consequence that detailed Torah study is not important). But Rava said it is meritorious to say it in the presence of the ignorant (so that they should not despair of having no part in Torah study; Men. 99b). There is no doubt that the rabbinic ideal was devotion to Torah study on the part of every Jew. Maimonides follows his rabbinic mentors in ruling (Yad, Talmud Torah 1:8): "Every man in Israel is obliged to study the Torah, whether he is firm of body or a sufferer from ill-health, whether a young man or of advanced age with his strength abated. Even a poor man who is supported by charity and obliged to beg at doors, and even one with wife and children to support, is obliged to set aside a period for Torah study by day and by night, as it is said: Thou shalt meditate therein day and night."
The Laws of Study
Three benedictions are to be recited before studying the Torah (Singer, Prayer 5). Since the whole of the Jew's waking life is a time for study these benedictions are recited at the beginning of each day and suffice for the whole day's study. It is considered meritorious to set aside a fixed time each day for Torah study, preferably in the company of others. Each community is expected to have a special "house of study" (bet ha-midrash), the sanctity of which is greater than that of a synagogue. As evidence of this it is ruled that while it is not permitted to run from a bet ha-midrash to a synagogue it is proper to run from a synagogue to a bet ha-midrash. A person unable to study himself should assist in supporting students of the Torah, in whose learning he will then have a share (Sh. Ar., yd 246:1). The Psalmist (Ps. 19:19) speaks of the precepts as "rejoicing the heart." Consequently, it is forbidden to study the Torah during the week of mourning for a close relative or on the Ninth of Av. The rabbis believed in the psychological value of verbal expression and therefore advised that Torah study should not be a purely mental exercise but the words of the text should be uttered aloud, customarily with a chant. Since the study of the Torah is equal to all the other precepts, a man should not interrupt his studies to do a good deed unless there is no one else to carry it out. At the completion of the study of a whole tractate of the Talmud it is customary to celebrate the occasion with a festive meal.
Scope of Study
"At five years the age is reached for the study of Scripture, at ten for the study of Mishnah, at thirteen for the fulfillment of the commandments, at fifteen for the study of Talmud" (Avot 5:21). This may reflect the actual ages when the young students were gradually introduced to the more complex subjects of study. Elsewhere (Kid. 30a) it is said that a man should divide his study time so that a third is devoted to Scripture, a third to Mishnah, and a third to Talmud. In the Middle Ages, especially in France and Germany, most of the students' efforts were directed to the study of the Babylonian Talmud, in particular to its halakhic portion, with a certain neglect of other topics. Typical is the admission of Rabbenu Tam (Tos. Kid. 30a s.v.lo) that the rabbinic schools relied on the fact that the Babylonian Talmud is full of all matters, containing Scripture and Mishnah. This tendency toward a certain narrowing of studies to the virtual exclusion of all except halakhah became more and more the norm in Russia and Poland. The medieval thinkers, however, not only urged the study of their discipline but tended to identify philosophical investigation with the highest type of Torah study. Maimonides (Yad, Yesodei ha-Torah 4:13) identified the esoteric disciplines known as the "Work of Creation" and "Work of the Chariot" with Aristotelian physics and metaphysics, respectively, and ranked them higher in the Jewish scale of studies than talmudic debates. Similarly, the kabbalists zealously regarded their subject – the "soul of the Torah" (Zohar iii 152a) – as the highest pursuit. The kabbalist Ḥayyim Vital (Sha'ar ha-Hakdamot, introd.) recommended that a man should spend an hour or two each day on halakhic casuistry in order to remove the coarse "shell" which surrounds the "fruit," but should devote the rest of his study time to the true science of the kabbalistic mysteries. In the 16th century R. Moses Isserles (yd 246:4) summed up the rabbinic attitude as follows: "A man should only study Scripture, Mishnah, and Gemara, and the Codes based on them. In this way he will acquire this world and the next. But he should not study other sciences. However, it is permitted to study other sciences occasionally, provided that this does not involve in the reading of heretical works. This is called by the Sages 'strolling in Paradise.' A man must not 'stroll in Paradise' until he has filled his stomach with meat and wine, namely, the knowledge of that which is forbidden and that which is permitted and the laws of the precepts."
The rise of the ḥasidic movement in the 18th century presented a serious challenge to the ideal of Torah study as the supreme religious duty. The early ḥasidic masters accused the conventional scholars of engaging in Torah study for motives of fame, wealth, and prestige. Prayer, in the traditional scheme inferior to study, was frequently elevated by the Ḥasidim above study. In addition, the rabbinic ideal of Torah li-Shemah ("for its own sake") was interpreted in early Ḥasidism to mean attachment to God (devekut), while studying, especially in the sense of intense concentration on the letters of the text, was believed to reveal on earth the divine forces by means of which God governs the world (see J.G. Weiss in: Essays Presented to… I. Brodie (1966), Heb. sec. 151–69). The comparatively large number of classical talmudic scholars among the second and third generations of ḥasidic masters prevented, however, any radical departure from the older ideal. In a statement which combines the older ideal with the new ḥasidic emphasis on attachment to God while studying, R. Shneour Zalman of Lyady describes (Tanya, ch. 5, Likkutei Amarim (1912), 17–19) the religious significance of even the legalistic debates:
Behold, with regard to every kind of intellectual perception, when one understands and grasps an idea in one's mind, the mind seizes the idea and encompasses it in thought so that the idea is held, surrounded, and enclosed in the mind in which it is comprehended. Conversely, the mind is clothed by an idea it has grasped. For instance, when one understands fully a rule in the Mishnah or the Gemara, his mind seizes the rule and encompasses it and, at the same time, his mind is encompassed by the rule. Now, behold, this rule is the wisdom and will of the Holy One, blessed be He, for it rose in His will that, for instance, when A pleads thus and B thus the rule will be thus. And even if, in fact, a case of this kind will never come before the courts, nonetheless, seeing that it rose in the will and wisdom of the Holy One, blessed be He, that this is the rule, it follows that when a man knows and grasps this rule in his mind in accordance with the decision laid down in the Mishnah or the Gemara or the Codes he grasps, seizes hold of, and encompasses in his mind the will and wisdom of the Holy One, blessed be He, of whom no thought can conceive.
A less mystical approach is advocated in the famous broadside fired against the Ḥasidim by the disciple of the Gaon of Vilna, R. Ḥayyim of Volozhin (Nefesh ha-Ḥayyim). R. Ḥayyim reiterates the conventional view that Torah study even out of ulterior motives is not to be despised and that, moreover, Torah for its own sake does not mean that the student should have God in mind when he studies the texts (such an attempt, R. Ḥayyim argues, would interfere with the intense concentration required for the mastery of the difficult halakhic studies he favored above all else). The student should have a few moments of prayer and devout thoughts before his actual studies and then he should immerse himself in the texts. For R. Ḥayyim (Nefesh ha-Ḥayyim (1874), 4:9, 40a) the Torah student has little need for the moralistic and devotional literature (Musar) in order to become God-fearing. The Torah itself possesses the property of inducing the fear of God in the hearts of its diligent students. A work in similar vein, from the same school, singing the praises of traditional Torah study, is Ma'alot ha-Torah by Abraham, brother of the Gaon of Vilna. The book expresses the ideal taught in the yeshivah of Volozhin and in the Lithuanian yeshivot influenced by it in the 19th and 20th centuries, in which, however, Musar did eventually come to occupy a considerable place.
In Western Europe, from the beginning of the 19th century, more and more time had to be found for secular studies, frequently to the detriment of Torah study. Samson Raphael Hirsch adapted the rabbinic ideal of "Torah and Derekh Ereẓ" ("worldly occupation") so that the latter came to embrace Western learning and culture. Moreover, the critical investigation of the classical sources known as Juedische Wissenschaft posed problems of its own for the traditional ideal of Torah study. In a sense the objective, "scientific" scholarship that is the ideal of this school is opposed to that of study as a devotional exercise, if only because it is far more difficult to treat as sacred texts those that are critically examined, and, conversely, acknowledging the sanctity of a text tends to prejudge critical questions regarding its background and authorship. The achievements of Juedische Wissenschaft have shed new light on many obscure corners of Jewish thought and history, but critics such as G. Scholem (Perakim be-Yahadut, ed. by E. Spicehandler and J. Petuchowsky (n.d.), 312–327) have questioned whether the movement has ever had any real religious significance. There have undoubtedly emerged two vastly different worlds of Jewish studies: the world of the yeshivot indifferent or even hostile to critical scholarship, and the world of modern learning with no formal interest in study as an act of religious worship. To date there has been little meeting between these two worlds.
The ideal of Torah study as a lifelong pursuit incumbent upon all Jews found ample concretization in the course of Jewish history. Indeed, ḥevrot (voluntary study groups) devoted to the regular study of one or another traditional text constitute a significant feature of Jewish social history. Although early medieval sources do not specifically mention the existence of such associations, it is clear from the responsa literature of the period that householders were in the habit of engaging tutors – where required – to give them regular instruction in the sacred texts (see Neuman, Spain, 2 (1942), 293 n. 31, for references to the relevant responsa). The first such study circles, which date back to talmudic and geonic times, appear to have been devoted to the perusal of mystical texts. There is some evidence that the initial impulse toward the formation of organized study groups for laymen originated with the 16th-century Safed school of mystics, who regarded daily study of the Torah in groups as an essential part of their program of mystical exercise; and this hypothesis is confirmed by the fact that the first references to such study circles come from early 16th-century Palestine (see B. Dinur, Be-Mifneh ha-Dorot (1955), 162–63). A visiting Italian rabbi, Obadiah of *Bertinoro, found the sight of such groups in Jerusalem sufficiently novel to warrant noting it in his travel diary. A letter from Palestine dating from the same period describes the local practice in these terms: "Even a hired laborer would not go out to his work or affairs in the morning after services, before studying Torah" (A. Yaari, Iggerot Ereẓ Yisrael (1943), 208).
From Palestine the practice spread to Italy. Thus, the ketav rabbanut (rabbinic contract) of a Veronese rabbi of the first half of the 16th century specified that he conduct classes in Jewish studies for laymen. In the last quarter of the century *Judah Loew b. Bezalel (the Maharal of Prague), inspired by the mystic significance which the Lurianic Kabbalah ascribed to the study of the Mishnah, organized groups for laymen to study Mishnah regularly. With the rapid spread of such circles, an early 17th-century author, Joseph Yuspa *Hahn (Yosef Omeẓ, Frankfurt, 1823, pt. 2, Perek ha-Torah (1928 ed.), 265ff.), prescribes the regulations by which they should be governed. Shabbetai Sheftel *Horowitz, the early 17th-century rabbi of Frankfurt, urged every householder to join one of the local circles so that he might devote at least one hour daily to study. At that time such groups included the entire adult male population of the community. In some communities – Prague for example – participation in a study group was an obligation imposed by communal regulation (1611). A similar ordinance adopted in Worms in 1667 made it mandatory for every adult male to devote at least one hour a day to study.
By the end of the 17th century study groups, usually meeting daily, were to be found in virtually every community of any size. Similar groups were established in Poznan (Poland) under the influence of Shabbetai Horowitz, who had moved there from Frankfurt, and their example was soon followed throughout Poland. The community there developed a novel feature in its zeal for learning. In the bet ha-midrash, professional students, supported by the local community, were organized in relays so they might study in turn around the clock. This practice of marathon study, recorded by Jacob *Emden in connection with the Great Bet ha-Midrash of Vilna, was widespread in Poland; and in 1741 it was introduced into the Amsterdam community. The extent to which universal adult study was a matter of communal concern is seen in the minute book of the Lithuanian Council (see *Councils of the Lands) which prescribed that every layman had a duty to study at least one chapter of the Mishnah every day (Pinkas ha-Medinah, ed. by S. Dubnow (1925), pars. 590, 959). Study was not only carried on in societies specifically constituted for this purpose, but also in most voluntary associations, whatever their primary function. Thus, for example, the Ḥevrat Bikkur Ḥolim in 17th-century Mantua required its members to gather for study on Sabbaths and festivals (see S. Simonsohn, Toledot ha-Yehudim be-Dukkasut Mantovah, 2 (1964) 405–7). A similar practice prevailed among the guilds of Jewish artisans in Poland (see M. Hendel, Melakhah u-Va'alei Melakhah be-Am Yisrael (1965), 7ff.)
A curious sidelight on the universal preoccupation with study is afforded by the opposition to it evinced by leading rabbinic authorities of the 18th century. Jacob Emden based his opposition on the grounds that the study of the Talmud was intended for scholars and not for mere laymen who were certain to become skeptics when they read some of the more fantastic aggadic tales found there. He argued, moreover, that these laymen used their own study of the Talmud as a pretext for exempting themselves from the support of those who devoted their full time to it (see J. Emden, Siddur Yaveẓ Ammudei Shamayim Hilkhot Talmud Torah). In a similar vein, Jonathan *Eybeschuetz, a contemporary of Emden, exhorted laymen to study Oraḥ Ḥayyim (the laws of daily religious life) and moralistic texts rather than the Talmud; and still others urged that Baḥya ibn Paquda's pietistic-philosophic text Ḥovot ha-Levavot ("Duties of the Heart") be read in place of the Talmud.
Women and Torah Study
Most rabbinic texts presume that Jewish women are not obligated to engage in Torah study, just as they are exempt from other communal obligations such as public prayer at mandated times (Tosefta Sotah 7:6; Lieberman 7:9; similarly Ḥag. 3a), commenting on the commandment that the entire community must gather to hear divine teachings and so learn to observe them (Deut. 31:12), quotes R. Eleazar b. Azariah to the effect that the men come to learn Torah but women come only to hear. A frequently cited tannaitic Midrash claims that "And you shall teach them to your children (binekhem)" (Deut. 11:19) should be understood to mean, "Your sons, but not your daughters" (Sifre Devarim 46; similarly tj, Eruv. 10:1, b. Ber. 20b; TB, Kid. 29b).
A central debate between the sages Ben Azzai and R. Eliezer over whether women should study Torah appears in Sotah 3:4, in reference to the ordeal of a woman accused of adultery. While the content of the debate has several ambiguities, the positions of the protagonists are clear. Ben Azzai says that a man is obligated to teach his daughter Torah while R. Eliezer disagrees, opining that "whoever teaches his daughter Torah teaches her tiflut" (obscenity or lasciviousness; sometimes translated as foolishness). And while it is possible to read this passage narrowly, as limited to its particular context, later rabbinic tradition read it broadly, as a wholesale exclusion of women from Torah study. The Palestinian Talmud (Sot. 3:4, Ḥag. 1:1) contrasts Ben Azzai's positive view with the negative opinion of R. Eleazar b. Azariah, cited above. This passage goes on to relate a story about the depths of R. Eliezer's antipathy to women studying Torah, in which he refuses to answer a question posed by a wealthy matron, telling her, "A woman's wisdom is only in her spindle." When his son expresses concern that R. Eliezer may jeopardize the financial support this woman provides to him, he replies, "Better the words of Torah be burned than be given to a woman."
The Babylonian Talmud on Sotah 3:4 (Sot. 21a) takes it for granted that women are exempt from Torah study: a woman who studies voluntarily is said to be meritorious but she does not merit the larger reward of fulfilling a commandment. Ideally, women should garner merit in this area by arranging for their sons to learn Torah and by waiting patiently for their husbands to return from studying with the rabbis (similarly Ber. 17a).
The medieval legal tradition also exempted women from study. *Maimonides (Laws of Torah Study, 1:13) writes that women are not obligated to learn Torah and goes on to say that "the sages have commanded that a man not teach his daughter Torah, since most women's minds are not properly directed to being taught, but rather they turn the words of Torah into words of triviality (tiflut) …" While distinguishing between different levels of Torah study, since it is the "Oral Torah" that a woman will especially fail to understand, Maimonides rules that a man should not even teach his daughter written Scripture. However, if he does so, he has not taught her tiflut. Maimonides goes on to say that a woman who studies Torah voluntarily receives merit, albeit less than a man who studies in order to fulfill the commandment. Joseph *Caro repeats Maimonides' rulings in the Shulḥan Arukh (yd 246:6); in his commentary for Ashkenazi Jewry, Moses *Isserles adds that a woman is, nevertheless, obligated to learn the laws that pertain to women's lives.
Some women did receive Torah education in both the rabbinic and medieval periods. For example, M. Nedarim 4:3 rules that if person A has vowed to receive no benefit from person B, person B may nonetheless "teach his (A's) sons and daughters Bible." Similarly, Kiddushin 4:13 discusses whether women may teach Bible to young children, which suggests that at least some women must have been sufficiently educated to do so. References to female Bible teachers also appear in the Cairo *Genizah and in the responsa of Maimonides (Goitein, 64–65, 69–71). Tosefta Berakhot 2:12 includes menstruants and women who have recently given birth among those who may "read from the Torah, and study mishnah, midrash, and halakhot," despite being in a state of ritual impurity. The Babylonian Talmud includes several stories about the scholarly *Beruriah, whose accomplishments included learning "300 teachings in a day from 300 teachers" over three years (Pes. 62b).
Several medieval Ashkenazi sources rule that if a woman wishes to study Torah, she may do so and should say the appropriate blessing (Maḥzor Vitry 359; Siddur Rashi 267; Rashi, responsa 68). A Jewish school for girls is recorded in Rome in the 15th century. By the late Middle Ages, a literature of vernacular Bible translations, commentaries, and collections of ethical and aggadic materials, directed at a non-scholarly readership that included women, became popular in European communities, particularly following the invention of printing. There were also a few women throughout the medieval period who were noted for their advanced Jewish learning. The 12th-century Spanish traveler Petahiah of Regensburg (Ratisbon) reported that the daughter of Baghdad gaon Samuel ben Ali (d. 1194) taught Scripture and Talmud to men through a window (Goitein, 64). As in this case, such women were usually daughters, wives, and mothers of noted rabbinic scholars. It may be that it was precisely under such conditions that a woman could have access to advanced Jewish learning, or perhaps it is because of their connections to noted men that some such women were remembered to history.
It is in the modern period that most radical changes in women's relationship to Torah study have taken place. In the 19th and 20th centuries, particularly in Eastern Europe, opinions against teaching women any form of Torah knowledge were dominant. While boys and men could dedicate themselves to intense study of Jewish texts, girls received no formal Jewish education and sometimes attended secular schools. Concerned for the social effects this was having on girls' commitment to Jewish life and practice as they matured, Sarah *Schnirer founded a girls' school, *Beth Jacob, in Cracow in 1917. By 1924, there were 53 Beth Jacob schools in Poland; on the eve of World War ii, nearly 40,000 girls across Europe and elsewhere were being educated in Beth Jacob schools.
Schnirer faced initial resistance from the religious establishment, but received support from a leading authority of the day, Rabbi *Israel Meir ha-Kohen (known as the Ḥafeẓ Ḥayyim). He wrote that Maimonides' ban on teaching women Torah could no longer hold in changing times: "It seems that this applies only in times before us, when everyone lived in the place of his ancestors and the tradition of the ancestors was very strong among all, to behave as their ancestors had behaved… and in such case one could say not to teach Torah [to a woman] and her behavior will rely on [the model of] her ancestors. But now, when our ancestors' tradition has become very weak… those women who are accustomed to learning foreign language and writing, certainly it is a great commandment to teach them Pentateuch, and the Prophetic books, and the Writings, and the ethical writings of the sages…" (Sefer Likkutei Hilkhot Sotah 21a).
The mandate to teach women advocated by the Ḥafeẓ Ḥayyim was limited in scope and excluded advanced subjects such as Talmud or other rabbinic writings; it remains the case that Talmud is not taught in schools affiliated with the Beth Jacob system. A few strict ḥasidic and Orthodox communities continue to refuse to teach girls any Torah subject beyond the necessary rules and customs of Jewish practice. In many other early 21st century Jewish communities, however, opportunities for Jewish girls and women to study Torah have continued to expand. In the Reform, Conservative, and Reconstructionist movements, it is generally expected that Jewish education will be egalitarian, up to and including rabbinic ordination. Similarly, a number of Orthodox Jewish day schools in the United States, Israel, and elsewhere teach Talmud and related subjects to girls as well as boys, either in separate or co-educational classes. A variety of women's yeshivot, notably in Jerusalem and New York City, teach college age and adult students at a variety of levels, including some offering advanced study in rabbinic literature.
[Gail Labovitz (2nd ed.)]
Sh. Ar., yd 246; G.F. Moore, Judaism, 2 (1927), 239–47; S. Zevin, Le-Or ha-Halakhah (1946), 159–64; E.E. Urbach, Ḥazal, Pirkei Emunot ve-De'ot (1969), index s.v.Torah; Assaf, Mekorot; A. Shoḥat, in: Ha-Ḥinnukh, 28 (1957), 404–18; Baron, Community, index s.v.Education. add. bibliography: J.R. Baskin, Midrashic Women (2002); idem, "The Education of Jewish Girls in the Middle Ages in Muslim and Christian Milieus," in: Pe'amim, 82 (2000), 1–17 (Heb.); S.D. Goitein, Jewish Education in Muslim Countries (Heb., 1962); A. Grossman. Pious and Rebellious (2004); T. Ilan, Integrating Women into Second Temple History (1999); S.P. Zolty. "And All Your Children Shall Be Learned" (1993).
"Study." Encyclopaedia Judaica. . Encyclopedia.com. (August 22, 2018). http://www.encyclopedia.com/religion/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/study
"Study." Encyclopaedia Judaica. . Retrieved August 22, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/religion/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/study