Consider a world in which the glass ceiling shelters your rabbi’s tisch, and boys clubs are divinely sanctioned in the form of chavrusa, mezuman, and minyan. Enter Shana Strauch Schick, who later this month will become the first woman to earn a doctorate in Talmud from Yeshiva University, the country’s preeminent Orthodox academic institution.
The same voices that champion Schick as a trailblazer question the validity of her accomplishment. From Rabbi Eliezer’s stance against the female study of Gemara to Ovadia Yosef’s multitudinous misogynistic prohibitions, women have long struggled for freedom of education. The early twentieth century establishment of finishing schools masked as centers for legitimate learning mitigated the need for an egalitarian system but did little to fulfill Jewish women’s pursuit of academic excellence on par with the rigorous text-based curricula of leading men’s yeshivot. Despite Schick’s successful defense of her dissertation, gender disparity in quality Jewish education exists today, perhaps most notably in seminaries for ba’alot tshuva, Jewish-born women who were raised secular and found Orthodoxy in adulthood.