A Dialogue between a Liberal and an Ultra-Orthodox on the Exclusion of Women from Torah Study
RELIGIOUS REVIVAL IN A POST-MULTICULTURAL AGE, Lavi, S. & Provost, R., eds., 2013 Forthcoming
60 Pages Posted: 3 Nov 2012
Date Written: 2013
This is a fictive dialogue between a liberal and an ultra-Orthodox on the exclusion of women from Torah study. The dialogue begins with a lengthy discussion of the highly intricate preliminary problems of understanding and normatively evaluating the practices of another culture. The Liberal argues that the exclusion of women from Torah study precludes them from fully realizing the intellectual potential that lies within them, i.e., it denies them reaching the height of their human flourishing. It also implies that ultra-Orthodox women are regarded as having lesser moral worth than men.
The ultra-Orthodox argues that whereas modernity is premised on the denial of any status bestowed by tradition in the life of a person, for the ultra-Orthodox tradition has a binding force: it embodies God's imperatives as to the good life, together with the ways these imperatives have been interpreted throughout the generations by Halakhic sages. Torah study is a religious imperative (mitzvah) that under the accepted tradition is incumbent upon men, but not upon women. The ultra-Orthodox also argues that when men study Torah, women study as well, though by proxy, in creating the conditions that enable their husbands to study. This draws on an ancient notion that exists in Judaism – the ‘Issachar and Zebulun Agreement’.
Finally, in the ultra-Orthodox community there are two central values: Torah study and raising children. The community upholds these two values by maintaining a division of labor: men are in charge of Torah study and women are in charge of raising children. The upshot of these arguments, according to the ultra-Orthodox, is that it cannot be claimed that the ultra-Orthodox community violates women's sense of worth, self-respect and human dignity. One understanding that emerges from this dialogue is the need to base normative evaluations on a close examination of the facts relevant to the evaluations.
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