Editors’ Note: The following four part series by Ned Krasnopolsky (‘19) on the topic of women’s Torah education is based on a set of Shi’urim given by Rabbi Daniel Fridman to the Y18C Gemara shiur at TABC in the spring of 2018. Parts I and II can be found on koltorah.org.
In last week’s issue of Kol Torah, we delved into Rambam’s position on women’s Torah education. We cited the Perishah, who stated that women are obligated in learning “Dinim HaShayachin Le’Ishah”, Halachot that are relevant to women. In this portion, we will attempt to further develop this point in light of the positions of Rama, Aruch HaShulchan, and Beit HaLeivi.
Rama: An Issur and Chiyuv?
Rama, Rav Moshe Isserles (1530-1572), authored a set of notes to Rav Yosef Caro’s monumental work, the Shulchan Aruch. In Yoreh Dei’ah 246, the Shulchan Aruch cites Rambam’s Hilchot Talmud Torah 1:13 verbatim. However, unlike the Mechabeir and Rambam, Rama interprets the phrase “Tiflut” in Sotah 20a to refer to an actual prohibition. According to Rama, it is completely prohibited to teach women Torah SheBa’al Peh. Unlike Rashi and Rav Ovadiah MiBartenura’s “Ein Tov SheTilmod Torah” (without Rambam’s differentiation of Torah SheBa’al Peh and SheBichtav), he unequivocally forbids the practice. However, this is not to say that Rama views any and all women’s Torah education in a negative light. Like his contemporary, Rav Yehoshua Falk (known as the Perishah), Rama states that “Chayevet Ha’Ishah Lilmod Dinim HaShayachim Le’Ishah”, “A woman is obligated to learn the laws that pertain to women”.
The scope of this statement is not to be underestimated, as women are obligated in countless areas of Halachah. Although women are exempt from time-bound Mitzvot, their areas of obligation are far-reaching. Even within the context of Mitzvot Asei SheHaZeman Gerama, time-bound Mitzvot which generally apply solely to men, there are many exceptions. As described in Rambam’s Peirush HaMishnayot, women are Chayav in the commandments of Matzah, Simchat Mo’adim, Hakheil, Tefillah, Mikra Megillah, Neir Chanukah, Neirot Shabbat, and Kiddush HaYom, despite the classification of all of the above as Mitzvot Asei SheHaZeman Gerama. Their level of Chiyuv in these Mitzvot is in no different than a man’s Chiyuv. Thus, Rama certainly allows for a large curriculum.
Rav Yoseif Dov Soloveitchik (1820-1892), Rav Chaim’s father, explains (Beit HaLeivi 1:6) that Rama’s comment is not to be understood as a true obligation; it is not learning in the intellectual Talmud Torah sense, but is rather purely instructional in nature. This is based on the aforementioned Gemara (Chagigah 3a), which explains that the purpose of women coming to Hakheil was “Lishmo’a”, “To listen [to the Torah]”, not ‘Lilmod’, ‘to learn’. According to Beit HaLeivi, if a woman is already educated in all of the necessary areas, there is no need for her to continue her education any further.
Aruch HaShulchan (Yoreh Dei’ah 246), written by Rav Yechiel Michel Epstein (1829-1908, Lithuania) also records that “Chayevet Ha’Ishah Lilmod Dinim HaShayachim Le’Ishah”.However, he notes that it was the prevalent custom not to teach women Torah from Sefarim; instead, they should learn any relevant laws from their mother and mother-in-law. Clearly, Aruch HaShulchan agrees with Beit HaLeivi’s interpretation of Rama’s comment: “Chayevet Ha’Ishah Lilmod Dinim HaShayachim Le’Ishah” implies a purely pragmatic type of learning, and while such learning enables the performance of other Mitzvot, it is not a fulfillment of, or motivated by, the Mitzvah of Talmud Torah.
Nevertheless, Aruch HaShulchan describes another role that women can play within the context of Talmud Torah. According to Aruch HaShulchan, women can attain a great amount of Sachar (reward) by helping their sons and husbands learn. He posits that this is especially true if they can earn an income for their families.
Aruch HaShulchan and Beit HaLevi represent the late 19th century view of women’s Torah education. However, the turn of the century brought with it new developments in this area of Halachah and Hashkafah.
In next week’s issue of Kol Torah, we will discuss the changes in attitude toward women’s Torah education following World War I, focusing particularly on the development of the Bais Ya’akov movement in 1917 and the positions of the Chafeitz Chaim, Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik, and Rabbi Aharon Lichtenstein.
 Women are also obligated in all 39 Melachot of Shabbat. Hilchot Shabbat would fall under Rama’s “need-to-know” label.
 In fact, Rav Chaim Soloveitchik held that women are Chayav in Tefillah three times a day.
 ‘Lilmod’, ‘To learn’, is the reason cited by the Gemara for the mandatory presence of all men.
 A similar idea is also mentioned in the commentary of Rabbi Ovadiah MiBartenura to Mishnah Sotah 3:4 (s.v. Yeish Lah Zechut etc.)