On January 1, when 93,000 people stream into New Jersey’s MetLife stadium to celebrate seven-and-a-half years of daily Talmud study, the stadium will be awash with bearded men in black hats, white shirts and black jackets.
But they won’t be alone. As at the previous siyum, thousands of women will also be there. Many of them are wives who enabled their husbands to get up and out at (un)Godly hours for daily study. Those women will be celebrating again this year – as will, for the first time, women who are marking the end – and the restarting – of their own daily study.
Today: Women and the daf.
There were almost 20,000 women at the 2012 siyum “in support of their sons and husbands,” Sheila Feinstein, principal of Shaare Torah, told Jonathan Mark of New York Jewish Week. Because of the time commitment, “I don’t think there would be a Daf Yomi without the support and encouragement of the women.”
Sandy Eller of Mishpacha Magazine spoke to several women whose husbands learn Daf Yomi. “The car pools were really hard,” Estie Gleiberman admits. “Getting someone to watch the kids when you carpool because you can’t fit all the kids in the car wasn’t easy. Sometimes I’d take my kids to a nearby bakery and give them money for cookies and ask the guy there if I could leave them for 20 minutes so I could get the other kids to school.”
But Gleiberman has no regrets. “I think the biggest thing is showing kids that while learning full-time is beautiful, even people who work can be totally committed.”
Adds Shani Eider, when asked about the extra responsibilities she’s taken on for years so that her husband can be part of Daf Yomi: “When you’re doing something you love, it’s not like picking up the slack. If your husband was out making millions of dollars at his job, you wouldn’t think of it as picking up the slack. My husband is doing the biggest thing for our family, and it has changed us in amazing ways.”
The upcoming Siyum Hashas will only be the fifth celebration which women attend. “When the Siyum moved to Madison Square Garden” in 1990, Sheila Feinstein remembers “calling Rabbi Labish Becker [Agudah’s executive director] and asking how could I get a ticket. He said, ‘You’re right, a woman’s ticket, someone else wrote me a letter about that.’ And women have been at the Siyum ever since.”
What about her joining in learning Daf Yomi? “It’s not an accepted thing,” for women to learn Talmud in her Agudah circles, said Feinstein. “But no one would say ‘Oh my gosh, we’ll throw you out.’ It’s not like that. Most of us have so many other obligations. We go to other classes. Any Torah anyone learns in our family is not his or hers but ours.”
Siyum Hashas by the Women of Alon Shvut
This year, for the first time, there will be an opportunity for women to “be a part of history at the global Women’s Siyum Hashas of the 13th Cycle of Daf Yomi.” Organized by “Hadran – Advancing Talmud Study for Women,” 3,000 women are expected at Jerusalem’s Binyanei Ha’Uma on Jan. 5, 2020. And those who have not been involved in daily study (in Israel or around the world) are encouraged to “Adopt a Daf“ – learn one double-sided page of Talmud to be part a collective Siyum.
The Women’s Siyum is being organized by Michelle Cohen Farber who also produces a daily Talmud class podcast at dafyomi4women.org. According to Targum Shlishi, “At the completion of the cycle, [Farber] will be the first woman in Jewish history to teach an entire cycle of Talmud online.”
Daf Yomi One Week at a Time
Learning Daf Yomi has become part of Caroline Musin Berkowitz’s daily routine.
As a kid from Iowa, she grew up in a traditional home along with a few years of day school and many years of Hebrew School. “I absorbed a great deal, but Talmud remained an untouchable thing for me.”
“For a long time, Daf Yomi was both intimidating and exciting to me. The idea of reading one page of Talmud a day, every single day, for more than seven years and actually completing such a colossal text seemed like an incredible exercise for anybody who had the background to understand it – but I wasn’t that person.”
Apparently, she was. With the encouragement of her rabbi, Musin Berkowitz decided to give it a try. “Whether I’m listening to a podcast on my commute or catching up on a daf in the carpool line, reading during quiet evenings or with early morning interruptions by the small children in my life who push their own books (which I obediently read) on top of my gemara, Daf Yomi has quickly become part of my routine.”
As it has for Musin Berkowitz’s friend, Rabbi Robyn Fryer Bodzin of Toronto’s Beth Tzedec congregation. As she told Hadassah Magazine, outside of her 11-year marriage, learning Daf Yomi is the longest-running commitment Fryer Bodzin has ever made. “Why do it? Because I can. Because the congregation sees their rabbi is always studying. Because it grounds me.”
Adds Caroline Musin Berkowitz, “I don’t understand everything I read while I work through the day’s daf. Sometimes it’s frustrating, and sometimes it’s fascinating. But it speaks to me, it adds richness to my life, and it is my birthright, so I will continue my slow and steady trek through the Talmud.”
Next time, how you can be part of Daf Yomi as it restarts with its 14th cycle.