Granting Proper Respect to the Women’s Beit Midrash

By: Fruma Landa  |  December 18, 2019

By Fruma Landa

The Beit Midrash is a place of learning. Every morning at 8 a.m., I and a sizable group of dedicated women, can be found in the Beit Midrash trying to squeeze in as much seder time as we can before shiur begins at 9 a.m. In the early morning light, the Beit Midrash is aglow with the words of Torah. Throughout the day, many women, myself included, stop into the Beit Midrash between classes to daven or learn. At the evening Gemara shiur, many can be found in the Beit Midrash hunched over their Gemaras, with the sounds of the dedicated talmidot grappling with the text — God’s holy word.

Besides for all the women learning in the Beit Midrash, alone or b’chavruta (with a partner), the Beit Midrash is a revolving door of chaburas and shiurim given by various roshei yeshivot and guest speakers, who attract large crowds. I personally find the chaburas comforting. During the late afternoon, when the Beit Midrash is often quiet and empty, the chaburas bring people and Torah to the otherwise eerily empty Beit  Midrash

Shiurim on the other hand, disrupt the learning of the Beit Midrash. As the tables get pushed aside to make room to set up rows of chairs, women who carved out a portion of time from their busy day to go learn, get kicked off of their tables. Once the shiur begins, the Beit Midrash transitions to a room with a speaker, a room that requires silence, forcing everyone else in the Beit Midrash to stop their learning.

It is exceedingly frustrating to not be able to learn in the Beit Midrash because there is a shiur going on. While I can choose to stay in a corner and learn silently, the speaker is just too distracting. It is not uncommon for women to be kicked out of the Beit Midrash to accommodate the shiurim. I and a few others, usually take up residence in the hallways during the duration of the shiurim, while we wait to be allowed back into the Beit Midrash.

As of now, every Monday night the Beit Midrash features a different rosh yeshiva who travels downtown to give a shiur from around 8 p.m. to 9 p.m., and every Tuesday afternoon Sivan Rahav-Meir gives a shiur in the Beit Midrash from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. While we are very fortunate to have these opportunities, this means that the Beit Midrash is unable to be used for learning during those hours. 

The message this sends is that the learning taking place in the Beit Midrash is not important, not a point of pride, not a factor taken into consideration when scheduling these speakers in this space. Imagine if all the men were kicked out of the Glueck Beit Midrash during night seder to accommodate a speaker; imagine the sheer outrage that would cause. 

Stopping men from learning in the Beit Midrash for at least two nights a week seems outrageous. It contradicts the very purpose of a beit midrash. Why is this okay when it happens on the Beren Campus? Women are kicked out of the Beit Midrash for these speakers, my evening Gemara shiur cannot even take place in the Beit Midrash on some nights. 

The Beit Midrash is supposed to be a place for us to learn in. Women should never have to find an alternate space to learn because the Beit Midrash is occupied. Telling women they can’t learn in the Beit Midrash in the evenings of at least two days a week, is antithetical to the very purpose that the Beit Midrash serves and shows little respect for the Torah learned there. All I want is to go to the Beit Midrash to learn. I don’t want to be constantly kicked out to accommodate a speaker. There are many other classrooms and spaces on the Beren Campus to hold these weekly speakers. They should not be in the Beit Midrash.