Halacha for Tuesday 13 Iyar 5784 May 21 2024

A Woman Scholarly in Torah

In the previous Halachot we have discussed the laws of rising for an elderly man or woman as well as the obligation to rise before a Torah scholar and the wife of a Torah scholar.

In the previous Halacha we have explained that Maran Rabbeinu Ovadia Yosef zt”l writes that a female student must show honor to her teacher from whom she has studied Torah in the form of rising for her and not calling her by name, for the reason why one is obligated to honor one’s rabbi is because “he brings one into the World to Come” (Mishnah, Baba Metzia 33a) and the same would apply to a teacher who educates her students in the path of Torah, Mussar, and modesty and also brings them into the World to Come. Although the teacher receives a salary for doing so, this does not matter at all, for the student’s obligation to honor the rabbi/teacher is not because the rabbi is not necessarily because the rabbi is performing a Mitzvah by teaching him; rather, it is because the rabbi teaches the student the ways of our holy Torah and has done the student the service of bringing him into the World to Come. Thus, it does not matter whether the intention of the rabbi/teacher at the time they were teaching was in order to earn money or fulfill the Mitzvah of Torah study by doing so. The same applies to a female teacher in that as long as she is granting her students passage into the World to Come, her students are obligated to honor her.

Hagaon Rabbeinu Chizkiya di Silwa zt”l (author of the “Peri Chadash”) writes that clearly, one is obligated to rise before a woman who is erudite in Torah knowledge just as one is obligated to rise before a male Torah scholar, for although a woman is not obligated in the Mitzvah of Torah study (besides for studying the laws of the Mitzvot applicable to her) and even if she studies Torah to the extent that she becomes a Torah scholar like a man she would not receive as much reward as a man since she is not obligated to do so, nevertheless, since she is scholarly in Torah knowledge, one must afford her honor because of the Torah she possesses. Many Poskim, among them Maran Rabbeinu Ovadia Yosef zt”l, rule likewise. He adds that if she is a woman who is active in influencing other women to observe the laws of family purity, Shabbat, Kashrut, and the like and guides them in how to do so, even if she is not as erudite in Torah as a male Torah scholar, there is nevertheless an obligation to honor her, as the Gemara (Kiddushin 33b) states that one must rise before a person of means. The Geonim explain that a “person of means” refers to one who has a good eye and engages in charity, public projects, and possesses excellent character traits. Even if such an individual is not so scholarly in Torah, one must nevertheless rise before him as Maran Ha’Shulchan Aruch (Yoreh De’ah, Chapter 244) rules. The same applies to a woman of means and one must rise before her as well.

Regarding a woman who is scholarly in Torah, we should point out that there were indeed several great female Torah scholars throughout Jewish history, such as our holy matriarchs, especially our matriarch Sarah who was also a prophetess, Miriam the prophetess, sister of Moshe and Aharon, Hannah, wife of Elkana and mother of Shmuel Ha’Navi, Devorah the prophetess, Hulda, Avigail, Queen Esther, and others. Even in later generation there were several well-known scholarly women in the times of the Sages of the Mishnah and Talmud, such as Beruria, wife of Rabbi Meir (see Pesachim 62b), as well as some in later generations, such as the well-known daughter of Rashi, who, in his later years, wrote and signed on some of Rashi’s halachic responsa. Indeed, in the Responsa of Rabbeinu Yaakov Molin (Maharil, Chapter 75), his wife, Rabbanit Leah, is mentioned as having corresponded with several Torah luminaries of the generation about a certain halachic matter.

Furthermore, Maran Ha’Chida writes in his Sefer Ma’agal Tov (page 61) about his wife, Rabbanit Rachel, and praises her to the extent that he writes that she was unique in the generation among women for her extreme brilliance and intellect. There were other unique women who also merited great knowledge in Torah, such as the wife of Rabbi Yaakov of Kurdistan, Rosh Yeshivat Mosul in Iraq, who would teach Torah to students while seated behind a partition. Even in the generation before ours there were such women learned in Torah, such as the mother of Hagaon Harav Yehuda Tzadka zt”l who would actively participate in the Halacha lectures of Maran zt”l and would ask questions and offer solutions with great wisdom. These were wise and righteous women who were extremely modest in the way they dressed and acted and in the merit of such righteous women will the Jewish nation eventually be redeemed from exile (Sotah 11b). (It is well-known that nowadays, there are many men who present themselves to be Torah scholars when they are actually devoid of any Torah knowledge and fear of Heaven. Similarly, there are women who, unfortunately, wish to equate men and women in every which way and in doing so, completely distort the most basic tenets of the Torah. Every individual possesses the choice to seek out genuine Torah scholars who cleave to the word of Hashem and follow such individuals.)

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