A Daily Torah Habit
As women’s Torah learning has increased far and wide, the question of whether or not a woman may/should learn Torah is becoming outdated. Now the discussion can be taken to the next level: How can women find ways to maintain and continue learning with regularity through different life stages and in addition to the pressures of work and family?
The mitzvah of Torah learning is made up of two layers, the mitzvah to learn Torah (generally) and the concept of “kviyat itim l’Torah,” to establish fixed times of Torah study each and every day.1 What is the place of the second layer in everyday life for women? First let’s explore the two parts of the mitzvah of Talmud Torah:
- The (minimum) mitzvah of Talmud Torah
The first is found in Kiddushin 30b which discusses the basis of a parent’s obligation to educate their children based on two biblical verses found in the Shema:
ללמדו תורה: מנלן דכתיב (דברים יא, יט) “ולמדתם אותם את בניכם”
To teach him Torah: From where do we derive this requirement? As it is written: “And you shall teach them [velimadtem] to your sons” (Deuteronomy 11:19)
תנו רבנן ושננתם שיהו דברי תורה מחודדים בפיך
The Sages taught: “And you shall teach them diligently [veshinnantam]” (Deuteronomy 6:7) that matters of Torah should be sharp in your mouth.
The Talmud teaches that a woman is exempt from the mitzvah to educate her children since she herself is not required to learn Torah. The exemption provides women with a choice, especially given the historical context and level of women’s education before the modern era. The Shulchan Aruch already presents the issue differently when it states that a woman does receive reward for Torah learning (even if not as much as a man would) and the Rema codifies the Halakha that women are in fact required to learn all that is relevant to them.2
- The (endless) mitzvah of Talmud Torah
Elsewhere, the Gemara introduces a deeper fulfillment of the mitzvah of Talmud Torah, based on the verse in Yehoshua (1:8):
לֹֽא־יָמ֡וּשׁ סֵפֶר֩ הַתּוֹרָ֨ה הַזֶּ֜ה מִפִּ֗יךָ וְהָגִ֤יתָ בּוֹ֙ יוֹמָ֣ם וָלַ֔יְלָה…
Let not this Book of the Teaching cease from your lips, but recite it day and night…
The Talmud in Menachot (99b) discusses the scope of this requirement. How much Torah learning per day would qualify as enough to fulfill reciting it day and night? The opinions range from (a) just reciting the Shema morning and night to (b) studying one chapter morning and night to (c) devoting every possible free moment to it. One rabbi suggests (d) it is not a mitzvah but rather a bracha given to Yehoshua, that he should continue to be able to learn Torah as much as possible since he was so passionate about it. The halakhic literature rules3 that ideally the minimum per day is a set time in the morning and night, but at least reciting Shema would fulfill “reciting it day and night.”
The concept of setting a daily Torah learning time each day instills a sense of habit and practice which ensures that it will be maintained. The rabbis understood human nature and prescribed a framework which would help people succeed in continual Torah learning, but also were sensitive to the challenges such a demanding schedule might pose. Women may not be equally required in “reciting it day and night,” and of course, there will be times when the learning is shortened or not possible. Yet, by aspiring for daily learning and by viewing it as a bracha, as one opinion in the Gemara suggests, we can take women’s Torah learning into a new level of regularity and commitment.
- See Rambam, Mishneh Torah, hilchot Talmud Torah 1:1,8 and Shulchan Aruch and Rema Yoreh Deah, 246:1. The Aruch HaShulchan acknowledges the reality that not everyone can fulfill “kviyat itim” daily (Aruch HaShulchan, Yoreh Deah 246:7).
- Shulchan Aruch and Rema Yoreh Deah, 246:6.
- Shulchan Aruch and Rema Yoreh Deah, 246:1.