Wednesday, December 25, 2013

But does it matter? Part II- Girls education

There are a number of reasons that I am uncomfortable with yeshivish women teaching in Modern Orthodox high schools. To be sure, what follows is based on generalizations, but they will hopefully serve as the basis for discussion and thoughtful debate.

Level of learning

It is possible to appreciate the Bais Yaakov movement and all that it has accomplished, while taking a critical and honest look at its shortcomings. While the curriculum is much broader than in boy's yeshivahs, the depth of learning at many Bais Yaakovs, is worse. Often, the girls in these schools are taught to memorize facts, as opposed to developing skills and critical thinking.

While one might argue that girls who graduate from Modern Orthodox schools, sometimes have the opposite issue ( a lack of knowledge in many important areas), critical thinking and textual analysis are an essential part of their Torah education. Not only that, these skills must be part of their education. Can one imagine a girl analyzing Shakespeare and doing complicated experiments in AP Chemistry, while being given spit back tests in their Torah classes?

Can anyone imagine hiring a “doctor” who went to high school, and studied biology for a year or two post-HS? Of course not. Why is it acceptable for a 19 year old woman, one year out of high school to be teaching Torah to our daughters?

To be sure, there are some wonderful girls high schools and post-HS seminaries. In these schools, as with girl's schools in general, the curriculum is more varied, and creativity and extra-curriculars are encouraged, with the added benefit of a high level education.

Folk Religion

It should of great concern to all parents when instead of Jewish philosophy or thought, their daughters (and sons) come home with what I charitably call “folk religion”. Included in this are statements about why the Tsunami struck Japan, one-sided statements about the Jewish view of hashgacha pratis, and how dressing the wrong way or wearing the wrong head covering causes cancer. Not only are these views not true, and not backed up by sources, they are very harmful. When our daughters reject these false views, what else will they reject?


I have known situations where girls were told not to ask questions, and, at best, to “ask their father” when they get home. Girls have admitted to holding back on questions for fear of seeming to have philosophical struggles, or the fear of “learning like a boy”. Even a cursory glance through the gemara shows how important questions are to learning.

Often, the morah's discomfort comes from not knowing other views. Thus, she might bridle when asked how Rivkah could have been three years old when she married Yitzchak, unaware that there are other views in chazal, which are peshat.

Role Models

Our daughters benefit from having role models who live in the same world they do. There is value in learning that the valedictorian does not need to be a doctor or lawyer, and might choose to teach Torah on a sophisticated level instead. It is important for them to see women who are makpid on halacha, while espousing the same values they hear at home.


Many of us are uncomfortable with what currently passes as the current view of Jewish modesty. Instead of being a value which both men and women are to live in many areas of life, it has become about clothes and women.

Chazal say “tafasta m'ruba lo tafasta” (one who tries to grab too much, does not grab anything0. At first glance, this seems odd. Why did they think that grabbing too much leads to getting nothing, instead of reaching the conclusion that it leads to getting less?

When our daughters hear extreme views of “tzniyus” that are beyond what halacha demands, and beyond anything they might end up considering, they often don't end up simply rejecting these views. Instead, they might conclude that since they are not “tzniyus” anyway, they may as well fully embrace it. Alternatively, they might reject other things the morah has taught them, assuming it all to be false.


Here I come closer to the suggestion that the only yeshivishe women who should teach in MO high schools are ones who have the proper approach. I do fear that such an approach would be another brick in the wall of division that already exists between the MO and yeshivish community. Still, if we are to create a community where women can learn at the same level in Torah as they do in chol, where women are knowledgeable and “passionately moderate” (to quote Rabbi Lamm), we need the right women teaching them in the classroom.

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