Friday, November 12, 2010

Is There a Glass Ceiling in our Text Study Community? – Part II

This discussion is dedicated to my wonderful daughter Talie (presently in Medical School at Ben Gurion University), with whom I discussed the last posting this morning during our pre-Shabbat chat. She was not sure what my point was and that I was inadvertently agreeing with those who say women should not study these texts, so perhaps being subject to the venue of blog writing here, I need to continue this discussion. That same daughter along with her sisters and brother explained that my first entries when I started this venture were too long and that blogging is a shorter format than the publishing venues with which I am more familiar. So in the interest of brevity, I may have sacrificed clarity. Here goes! [Feel free to review the previous posting at this point before proceeding.]

My point was that women and the “feminine side” of all of us --- men and women --- bring with them a different type of analysis of the texts we study. This is not a matter of “women are touchy feely and soft and sensitive” and thus falling into the Rabbinic trap of precisely why women should not study Gemara. RATHER, there is a GREAT DEAL to be said for the SOFTER and more COMPASSIONATE side of who we are. It is this side of the text that women often give wonderful voice to. Remember we are told by our sociology and psychology experts that we all have both a masculine and feminine side to our personality, some more of one and others more of the other. There is NO magic formula that works for all of us.

I know men that DO get this. On the other hand, I know women that “just want the facts.” This is not a delineated either/or matter. My point was that those women who are grabbed and intrigued by the study of these texts and their many layers of meaning bring an “appreciation of the variegated shades of grey” to a discussion that often incorporates so much BLACK or WHITE types of discourse and can add the perspective of the existence of this important continuum.

One way I test this with my students in my text study classes (high school and college/graduate school level) is to present several commentators and ask which ones they prefer. For example, I can use just the choice between Ramban and Rashi to illustrate my point, and of course, they were both males. Rashi is to the point, clear and dedicated to the PROPER READING of the text. Ambiguities are explained, two different tellings of one event interfaced, and details in language and word choice explicated in a manner so that there is NO QUESTION of the Divine Authorship of the text of Torah or Talmud. Ramban on the other hand will consider all of the sides of a given issue, even using language like “it appears to me that” or “on the other hand one could consider that” and so on. This is a process language. Elements of the narrative and their understanding for Ramban feel to me like process, while for Rashi the narrative seems more like events and details to be clarified.

This was the preference of my son – just explain what happened and why. He was not so interested in the many different shades of WHY such and such happened and the different perspectives through which one could view a given chain of events, as is the soul (I think so anyway) of Gemara study. This is where he says “Too much analysis and deep reading, I want to move on.”

Clearly, this is a matter of personal preference. To be sure, I have female students who are the Rashi type personalities and male students that are more akin to Ramban. Of course, when it comes to football….. well, many more male Rambans jump out in my mind’s room of friends and family!

At any rate, we all learn and analyze the texts we learn differently in consonance with our personality. My only point was that I think that many women who are drawn to this study come with these layers of grey possibilities when looking in the text, making our study experience wider and more extensive as well as compassionate regarding the various motivations and circumstances about which we read, while being applicable to our own lives in a deeply personal way. I would hope that these voices add to the landscape of text study for ALL OF US, both males and females.

Any questions?

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