The Boiling Point

Drisha: A summer of learning for girls

SACRED: Twenty girls studied Tanakh, Gemara and other religious texts at the Drisha institute in New York last summer. One was senior Anna Gordon, right.

BP Photo by: Anna Gordon

SACRED: Twenty girls studied Tanakh, Gemara and other religious texts at the Drisha institute in New York last summer. One was senior Anna Gordon, right.

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By Anna Gordon, Staff Writer

No one had to be there, and there were no grades. Everyone on the program wanted to learn.

There were 20 students on the Dr. Beth Sammuels Drisha Summer High School program, which brings girls from all over the world to the Upper West Side of Manhattan in order to study Jewish texts for five weeks.

They had come from Israel, England, Canada and throughout the U.S. Sophomore Nicole Soussana and I were the first Shalhevet students to attend the program in nine years.

I had never been in such a purely learning-for-the-sake-of-learning atmosphere. Classes varied from Tanakh to Talmud to Philosophy. One of the most interesting classes I took was on the mamzer in Jewish law.

A mamzer is a child who is born out of wedlock or from an incestuous relationship. This is a particularly painful topic in Judaism because the mamzer is not allowed to marry another Jew despite the fact that he did not do anything wrong himself.At first, I was very cynical about the topic because of the perceived injustice. I was convinced that the rabbis’ decisions were just cruel and uncaring.

Then I took the class. It turned out the rabbis had gone to great lengths in order to prevent people from being declared mamzers. In fact, some rabbis went so far as to say that babies born to a mother who has been away from her husband for 12 months are not considered mamzers, because babies may linger in the womb for three months.

Though this seems silly and is scientifically incorrect, I couldn’t help but feel a new sense of respect towards the rabbis whom I had previously considered uncaring and skewed. Surprisingly, this class ended up teaching me just how much compassion goes into the process of creating Jewish law.

It wasn’t what I’d expected to learn, but it was something thrilling to know.

Sometimes while I was at Drisha I thought about how amazing it is that we are able to study and comprehend this crucial text that affects so much of our daily lives as Orthodox Jews. Reading the Gemara and connecting with the Rabbis who lived over a thousand years ago is a fascinating experience.

Most girls don’t get the opportunity to learn Gemara and other Jewish texts in such a concentrated way, though it’s normal in the Orthodox community for boys. The program lasted from June 29 to August 1.

Just knowing that there is such an opportunity out there for girls is important, so girls who want to try it know they can. So spread the word. Drisha gives girls a chance to enjoy something rewarding and unexpected.

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Drisha: A summer of learning for girls