Shira Lankin Sheps and Gloria Kramer studying in the beit midrash at Matan. (Photo: Courtesy)
The Path to Redemption: The Revolution of Women’s Torah Study
BY SHIRA LANKIN SHEPS
I feel lucky to have been born in this generation.
When I reflect on our shared histories and look toward the future, I comfort myself with the ever-burgeoning awareness that we are shifting to a new stage of Jewish history, a pre-Messianic era that is transforming the future of our people. I see the evidence every day.
The world is in a state of flux. Old systems that no longer serve the shifting consciousness of this world are breaking. Ancient prejudices, judgments, misconceptions, and limitations are lifting. We are living in a time of self-actualization, enlightenment, and even possible transcendence.
Not coincidentally for Jewish women like me, a world that has been kept separate is opening up for us: the world of Torah study.
Only in recent generations has there been a widespread initiative to teach Jewish women Judaic studies. We were kept from it, given only the information we needed to know to run our households and raise our children. We were taught in stories, through oral narratives, and kept away from books. We wrote our own techines, prayers in our own mama loshen, because we weren’t taught Hebrew and Aramaic, the languages of our Sages. Language, words, and books have a way of opening up the world. Even when I was in college, my teacher taught the women in his class Gemara from xeroxed sheets, to discourage us from purchasing our own Gemaras.
Luminaries like Sarah Schenirer, Prof. Nechama Leibowitz, and many other female pioneers over the last century believed it was essential for women to learn – that we could enrich the lives of Jewish women and the broader Jewish community by teaching Torah to women. The last hundred years have yielded groundbreaking role models and institutions that have shaped a new path forward.
The community of women I have learned with throughout my lifetime is hungry. They are professionals in their own rights, excelling in all manner of fields and practices, incredible homemakers, wives, mothers, and community members. They are devoted to spiritual growth, to their relationships with G-d, and to their pursuit of knowledge.
For me, there is no feeling like sitting amongst women engaged in Torah study, their minds alight with the love of learning, their voices echoing the arguments of our ancestors, and their eyes bright with joy as they form their own insights.
One of the reasons I moved to Jerusalem was because I wanted to continue my own growth in Torah study. I wanted to have access to a well-spring of knowledge, to teachers who would welcome me in their classrooms. I chose the Matan beit midrash, founded thirty-five years ago by Rabbanit Malke Bina, to be my spiritual home. For five years, I’ve had the incredible opportunity to study from my teachers, Dr. Yael Ziegler and Rabbanit Shani Taragin, who I had learned from when I was in Israel during my year in seminary.
Recently, I had the honor of hosting Rabbanit Shani, who gave a shiur to my community in my home. I had been having many conversations with my teenage daughter about what it feels like to fall in love with Torah learning. She struggled to understand what I meant; the way she had been learning did not spark the same passion in her. I encouraged my daughter to come with me to the shiur to learn from my teacher. It was a halacha shiur; long, complex and utterly fascinating. My house was filled to the brim with women who had come out to learn from Rabbanit Shani, and the house was silent as everyone present absorbed her words. The room was transfixed.
In the middle of the shiur, I received a text from my daughter, who was sitting across the room. “Ima, I understand now.” Afterwards, she remarked to me that she had felt it, that spark. I turned to look at her; I watched her follow the complicated halachic process and the ins and outs of the biblical narrative that was offered alongside it. I saw her absorb the meaning that enriched our understanding of a halacha that was previously taught to us by rote. When it was over, I embraced her and whispered, “This is how I learned to fall in love with Torah, too.”
When the doors are opened for women to engage the Torah with both our minds and souls, we come running. When I sit in the auditorium in a Matan class, I am surrounded by women of all ages. Women in their early twenties sit next to and study with women in their nineties. Women who have engaged in high-level learning over a lifetime study together with women who have come to it later in life and dedicated their golden years to Torah study. It is not only the Torah that is enthralling, but the engagement of the class. The questions, answers, and ideas flowing throughout the room, weaving a web of community between us all. It is a community born from the well of Torah.
We are in the final stages before the ultimate redemption, a redemption which the Torah tells us will come in the merit of righteous women. I believe I have met these righteous women, the teachers, students, and community pillars who will lead us to that hallowed moment in time. They are the continuation of a long line of role models who have opened the doors for women’s Torah study and have brought Tanach, halacha, and Gemara alive for Jewish women.
I feel blessed to be a part of this movement, as we raise each other up in preparation for the return of the Beit HaMikdash and the revelation of the Shechinah. May we merit to see it with our own eyes!
Shira Lankin Sheps, MSW, is a writer, photographer, and clinically trained therapist. She is the creator and publisher of The Layers Project Magazine, an online magazine that explores in-depth insights into the challenges and triumphs of the lives of Jewish women. She is the author of “Layers: Personal Narratives of Struggle, Resilience, and Growth From Jewish Women” published by Toby Press in 2021. She facilitates The Layers Writing Workshops, and has written with hundreds of women over the years, helping them explore their personal narratives, discover meaning in their struggles, and share their stories in a safe and healthy way.