October 6, 2022

Happy Anniversary to HBI: A Message from the Director

head shot of Lisa Fishbayn JoffeTwenty five years ago, in a small office at Brandeis, the Hadassah-Brandeis Institute opened its doors to a single scholar, published one book, and gave out 20 HBI Research Awards.

Today, we have more than 60 books still in print, publish a leading journal and have hosted hundreds of scholars, interns, artists, and authors, and funded research all over the world. Most importantly, we are a crucial collaborator in the field of Jewish women’s and gender studies, making important contributions that have supported generations of innovative scholarship by and about Jewish women. Our work also finds its way into popular culture through best-selling books, major museum exhibitions and an upcoming major motion picture.

Former HBI interns and research assistants are now Jewish studies experts, Jewish clergy and Jewish communal leaders, helping to forge a more inclusive Judaism. HBI scholars and artists create new interpretations of identity and belonging from the perspectives of women, LGBTQ and non-binary people, inspiring individuals from all backgrounds to find their own authentic place in Jewish history and peoplehood. 

That’s why I am so proud to celebrate HBI’s contributions and to host a lineup of programs and scholars, artists, and authors that will continue to highlight the importance of HBI’s work and build on our legacy into the next 25 years. This year, we will share new research, new books and new solutions to some of the most challenging issues we face in terms of reproductive rights and domestic violence. 

We will continue to work collaboratively with our campus and community partners. Please visit our current art exhibition in the Kniznick Gallery, Seven Species, Three Generations, before it closes on Sept 15.  The show, which is rich with meaning, gorgeous, and appealing to all the senses, is the product of a collaboration between the Schön family of artists, who clearly take such joy and find so much inspiration for their work in each other, the Women’s Studies Research Center, and CJP.  The mission of HBI, and of Jewish Studies at Brandeis more broadly, is to produce and share new knowledge about Jewish life, traditions and texts. This show is a wonderful example of this, using the frameworks of gender, family relationships and art to find new meanings in these ritual foods and objects. It received rave reviews in The Boston Globe and JewishBoston.com

Please join us tonight, September 8, for a virtual program to learn about all the artists in the Seven Species, Three Generations exhibition. You will have an opportunity to see images of the art and hear the stories behind it in the panel moderated by Adele Fleet Bacow. 

Our opening session of the  Sandra Seltzer Silberman Conversations Series will take place on September 14, featuring HBI Scholar in Residence Rachel Barenbaum discussing her new book, Atomic Anna, a gripping read and powerful exploration of Jewish women’s lives in the former Soviet Union and as immigrants to America. It also deals with challenging relationships between mothers and daughters, spiced with discussions of nuclear disaster and time travel. It received a well-deserved positive review in the The New York Times.

On October 18, HBI Research Associate Tamar Biala will join us for the online launch of her book Dirshuni: Contemporary Women’s Midrash, the newest publication in the HBI Series on Jewish Women from Brandeis Dirshuni book jacketUniversity Press. This collection of contemporary women’s midrash, combining classical literary forms with feminist insights on topics ranging from re-interpreting women’s stories in the Torah to reproductive decision-making to responding to domestic violence, has been praised as a “unique and transformative” contribution to the Jewish canon. Read reviews from The Jewish Book Council, the Association of Jewish Libraries, and The Jerusalem Post.  We look forward to welcoming Biala in person for events later in the fall. 

On October 26, we will welcome HBI Scholar in Residence, Professor Max Strassfeld,speaking on their new book Trans Talmud: Androgynes and Eunuchs in Rabbinic Literature, which explores ways that Jewish texts understand non-binary and intersex individuals and considers how these insights might guide responses to contemporary legal and ethical struggles for equality. 

We welcome a cohort of new and continuing in-person hybrid,scholars in residence: In addition to Professor Strassfeld and Ms. Barenbaum, Dr. Shula Mola will begin her year-long visit during which she will produce an oral history of the women of Enkash, focusing on the phenomena of the Zar and the Mergem Gojo (blood hut) as spaces for resistance to patriarchal oppression in the Israeli-Ethiopian community. 

Professor Michal Raucher will join us to work on her new book The New Rabbis, which follows the career paths of women ordained to the Orthodox rabbinate and considers how their work is changing our understanding of what constitutes religious authority. 

Jewish law and tradition affirms a range of approaches to reproductive decision-making that are not reflected in the recent Supreme Court decision in Dobbs vs. Jackson Women’s Health.  Even the most restrictive interpretations of Jewish law identify situations, where the mother’s life or health are at risk, abortion is not merely permitted but must be performed as mandatory religious duty (mitzvah) to save the mother’s life. Other widely adopted ideals within the Jewish community affirm the right to choose abortion for all pregnant people in ways that work best for their lives and their family circumstances. HBI Scholar in Residence Professor Sara Ronis will be spending her term with us studying how rabbinic discussions of the status of the fetus in various contexts shape the construction of notions of personhood. Our spring art show in the Kniznick Gallery will continue this theme, exploring the relationship between religion and reproductive rights through the work of a diverse group of artists reflecting on Jewish texts. 

All of this work is made possible by financial support from donors and friends. Contributions of any size help to fund research positions, research awards, student internships, and public programs. I am grateful to all our supporters, including more than 110 people who became Friends of HBI  last year. I invite you to renew your support or become a new Friend of HBI  this year by making a sustaining annual gift of $180 or more. To discuss gifts in honor of our 25th anniversary, please contact Amy Powell. 

I hope to see you at these events online and in person. Please join us and feel free to spread the word about our work.

Become a Friend of HBI or make a gift of any amount here. 


Dr. Lisa Fishbayn Joffe 

Dr. Lisa Fishbayn Joffe is The Shulamit Reinharz Director of the Hadassah-Brandeis Institute.



The HBI 2022 Internship: Research, Bonding and Wedding Bells

Hossein and Katayoun

By Amy Powell

When Katayoun started the HBI Gilda Slifka Summer Internship program in June, the last thing on her mind was sharing her wedding with a group of people she had  just met. 

When Cheryl Weiner accepted the job as the summer internship’s academic advisor, she was not expecting to host a wedding in a home that she didn’t yet live in. 

Madison Cissell, had recently married another couple by getting a license for one day, but she was not expecting to adapt her service while completing her work as an HBI summer intern. 

And, no one expected to be dying their hair purple. 

But, life has a way of throwing unexpected circumstances at us all. On July 23, Katayoun and her fiance Hossein, both 30, got married in the backyard of Weiner’s house with Cissell officiating and all of the Gilda Slifka summer interns taking various parts. It is the story of a group of young adults who came together to study Jews and gender, and after a few weeks of studying, talking, socializing, cooking, and living communally, created a bond so strong that they shared this special moment.

Gabi in purple tie, Noah and Miranda with purple hair

Noah Marchuck, Miranda Hellmold Stone, Gabi Matus

“We shared the same interests, we went to coffee shops, we studied together, and everyone supported each other. This internship became an incredible community and knowing the others was like knowing them forever,” Katayoun said.  

The Gilda Slifka HBI Summer Internship has a four-pronged approach. The students have an opportunity to create a unique research project in any aspect of Jews and gender with the assistance of a research adviser. At the same time, they support the work of an existing HBI affiliated scholar, take day trips to Jewish sights in the greater Boston area, and participate in a series of talks with scholars and authors on Jewish and gender issues. They live residentially at Brandeis and are paid for their work. For the past two years, the internship has been remote according to Brandeis covid-19 protocol, but was able to resume live this summer.

Weiner noted that Katayoun and Hossein, both Iranian, were searching for a community and this internship became one where they were embraced. “It was so incredible. We had a Muslim wedding with vows in Farsi by a Jewish American of Iranian descent, with a Christian minister for the day under an arch built by my Jewish husband,” Weiner said. 

Both Katayoun and Hossein are doctoral students at the University of Connecticut. Their families are in Iran and not able to come to the U.S. because of immigration policies. They had been looking for venues and ideas for a small wedding and at one point asked Weiner if she knew of any waterfront homes or boats they could rent for the day. Instead she offered to host the wedding herself, just two weeks after moving into a new home.

“I thought it was a great idea. It’s the first time we lived in a place with space. I just felt like we had a beautiful space and I wanted to bring beautiful people into our space together. Being in community with people is so important,” Weiner said.

With Cissell offering to officiate, and Lauren Hakimi, another intern was able to recite the vows in Persian, they had the building blocks of a wedding. Then, everyone chipped in. Michaela Harrel lent her expertise in photography, Mia Hay did the flowers and the day’s itinerary, and Miranda Hellmold Stone and Noah Marchuck served as maid of honor and best man. Miranda’s mother, Margery Hellmold, joined the festivities to lend her beautiful singing voice to the ceremony. Marchuck did the grilling and Weiner’s daughter, Gabi Matus, 15, created all the desserts.

Because Katayoun loves the color purple, the wedding took on a purple theme with many of the guests and participants dying their hair purple and wearing purple clothing. Matus’ desserts featured homemade vanilla blackberry ice cream, purple heart-shaped sugar cookies and purple cake pops. 

Cissell thought the nature of the group and the internship helped to create the close bonds they felt with each other. “We all got so close. There was a bit of diversity in the group – we all came from other places, no one knew anyone before it started. We lived in close quarters. The intensity brings you closer together as we are all navigating work for our advisors, our personal projects and the other programs,” Cissell said. 

Despite the workload, she was thrilled to participate in the wedding. “When else do you get this opportunity in an eight-week program to throw a wedding for your friend, co-intern, roommate?”

Katayoun loved the idea of so many different types of religions mixing into the ceremony. “The kindness felt very holy to us. These friendships are pure and sacred. There are lots of religions here and we are all sharing the same values, respecting each other. I didn’t care if we didn’t share the same religion. In reality we were like family members and our families in Iran were so happy that we found great friends and felt like we had a family.”

Amy Powell is the assistant director of HBI with contributions from Lauren Hakimi, 2022 Gilda Slifka Intern.

Meet the HBI 2022 Gilda Slifka Summer Interns

By Lauren Hakimi

Madison Cissell outside stone building

Madison Cissell

Madison Cissell is an incoming graduate student at the University of Indiana-Bloomington, where she will obtain dual degrees in library science and folklore. She graduated in 2021 from the University of Kentucky, where she majored in psychology. She also helped conduct oral history projects, including the Jewish Kentucky Oral History Project, and served as a research assistant for Jewish studies professor Sheila Jelen. She is working with archivist Surella Seelig in Brandeis University’s Jewish feminist archives while also conducting an oral history project about women who had their bat mitzvahs later in life. Unfortunately, Madison was unable to bring her pet rat to Brandeis this summer.

Katayoun Matloubi by a cherry blossom tree

Katayoun Matloubi

Katayoun Matloubi is a PhD student in French literature at the University of Connecticut. She holds a master’s degree in that subject from Shahid Beheshti University in Iran, and she volunteers at Action Against Hunger and Amnesty International. At UConn, she also teaches French and serves as a senator in the graduate student government. As part of her dissertation, Katayoun’s project this summer focuses on female narratives of the Holocaust. She is also working with Northeastern University professor Debra Kaufman. She looks forward to getting to know fellow interns and work with scholars she admires.

Lauren Hakimi on Brandeis campus

Lauren Hakimi

Lauren Hakimi recently graduated from Hunter College with degrees in history and English. Her work as a writer and journalist has been published in CNN, WNYC/Gothamist, Bon Appétit, the Forward, JTA/New York Jewish Week, Alma, Lilith magazine and more. This summer, she is working with HBI Assistant Director Amy Powell on the institute’s blog, Fresh Ideas. She’ll also be working on a guide to the works of Grace Paley. This is her first time living outside of New York!


Miranda Hellmold Stone next to a large tree

Miranda Hellmold Stone

Miranda Hellmold Stone is a senior at Smith College, where they major in Jewish studies, minor in English, and serve as a tour guide. They also interned at the Los Angeles Review of Books and Persea Books. This summer, they are working with HBI Director Lisa Fishbayn Joffe on defining get refusal as a form of domestic violence. For their independent project, they will create a website about the history of agunot in the United States. Born and raised in New York City, Miranda’s go-to is an everything bagel with scallion cream cheese and lox. 

Mia Hay sitting on bottom bunk bed

Mia Hay

Mia Hay studies Jewish studies and gender studies at the University of Texas at Austin, where they are also involved in the Jewish Studies Undergraduate Students Association and serve as a resident assistant. They will work with religious studies scholar Jillian Stinchcomb on a reception history of the Queen of Sheba in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, and for their independent project, Mia will analyze Hebrew Bible passages to show why they should not be used to justify transphobia. They look forward to escaping the Texas heat this summer.

Michaela Harrel head shot

Michaela Harrel

Michaela Harrel majors in gender studies and Spanish at Mount Holyoke College. They’re also a photographer at their college newspaper and served as a representative for Girls Learn International at the 63rd United Nations Commission on the Status of Women. Their personal project explores political propaganda aimed at convincing Soviet Jews to move to the Jewish Autonomous Region. This summer, Michaela will also work with professors Jonathan Krasner and Ziva Hassenfeld to analyze the development of gender roles in Jewish children. From California, they look forward to building concrete research experience and getting to know people who share their interests.

Noah Marchuck sitting on a stone wall

Noah Marchuck

Noah Marchuck is a rising junior at Emory University, where he studies psychology and gender studies and is president of the student government. He was also an intern at Hillels of Georgia and the Hillel representative for Emory’s Inter-Religious Council. Noah will work with Jewish studies professor Alexander Kaye on a project about exile and diaspora. He will also conduct an oral history project about how queer Jewish men navigate their queer and Jewish identities. He’s excited to be living with new people this summer. 



Lauren Hakimi is a recent graduate of Hunter College and a 2022 HBI Gilda Slifka Summer Intern. 

HBI By-the-Numbers: The Importance of Counting

By Terri Brown Preuss

My youngest daughter spent the last three months in Israel with her high school graduating class. While she had a wonderful experience, she was so ready to come home near the end of the trip that she was counting down the Shabbats until she was home. As we’re in the period of counting the omer, I’ve wondered what it is about counting that resonates so strongly — just as I found my daughter’s own counting so endearing. To learn more, I turned to the books. 

image of calendarThe literal injunction to count the omer in the Torah relates to agricultural pursuits, as is so often the case: 

Leviticus 23:15-16 states: (15) And from the day on which you bring the sheaf (Omer) of elevation offering—the day after the sabbath—you shall count off seven weeks. They must be complete: (16) you must count until the day after the seventh week—fifty days; then you shall bring an offering of new grain to the LORD.

Rabbi Jill Jacobs notes that as the holiday of Shavuot “became associated with the giving of the Torah, and not only with a celebration of agricultural bounty, the omer period began to symbolize the thematic link between Passover and Shavuot.” 

But still, why do we count the days? What is it about the act of counting that brings meaning?  

There are several reasons, the most well known being the anticipation of a beloved encounter (this one lines up with my daughter’s counting). According to Maimonides, Moreh Nevuchim (Guide for the Perplexed) 3:43: “Shavuot is the time of the Giving of the Torah. In order to honor and elevate this day we count the days from the previous festival until it [arrives], like someone who is waiting for a loved one to arrive, who counts the days by the hours” (emphasis added).

Other meaningful reasons to count the omer have come to include: making the most of every day, practicing mindfulness, and promoting personal and spiritual growth.

It was these last reasons that sparked an idea—along with counting the omer, HBI itself would count its contributions to Jewish gender studies to be mindful of its work, to promote more impactful growth, and along the way to share all of this with our social media community.

Taking a deep dive into the depth and breadth of HBI’s work of the last 25 years has been a humbling and empowering experience. That said, the work must continue as the necessity to explore, understand, question and re-envision the rich and complex interplay of Judaism, women and gender is as great as ever. 

HBI by-the-numbers:

ONE organization, the Hadassah-Brandeis Institute, was opened in 1997 to fill the gap in research about Jewish women’s history, lives and culture. 

TWO cutting-edge scholarly series this semester: (1) Gender, Reproductive Rights and Jewish law: Israeli and American Perspectives (2-part series), and (2) Using New Criminal Laws Against Coercive Control to Combat Get Abuse: Lessons from the Field (3-part series)

THREE – Now in its third year, the online HBI Sandra Seltzer Silberman Conversations Series has engaged with over 5,000 people to explore Jewish women’s lives through new and thought-provoking literary fiction, memoir and more.

FOUR – HBI’s Scholars in Residence are the backbone of the Institute. Meet our four Spring 2022 Scholars: Bat-Sheva Margalit Stern, Schechter Institute, Noya Rimalt, University of Haifa, Ayelet Brinn, University of Pennsylvania, and Miriam Udel, Emory University.

FIVE – HBI Research Awards make an impact on the world of Jewish literature. Five authors in this year’s HBI Silberman Conversations Series were supported by HBI Research Awards: Judy Batalion, Judy Bolton-Fasman, Marcia Falk, Carole Kessner, and Laura Arnold Leibman. 

SIX – Team HBI’s six colleagues have a depth of experience in promoting scholars and work at the intersection of Jewish studies and women’s and gender studies. 

EIGHT Studio Israel events to date—a look at Israeli culture and diversity through the lens of contemporary Israeli artists and creatives. In partnership with Jewish Arts Collaborative, The Vilna Shul, The Schusterman Center for Israel Studies, with generous funding from CJP. 

NINE books in the Reuben/Rifkin Jewish Women Writers Series of works that embodied Jewish women’s experiences, speaking for many whose names and stories are now lost. Series editors: Elaine Reuben, Shulamit Reinharz, Gloria Jacobs. 

TEN books in the Brandeis Series on Gender, Culture, Religion, and Law (GCRL). This HBI series fosters dialogue about conflicts between women’s claims to gender equality and practices justified in terms of religious and cultural tradition. 

ELEVEN Diane Markowicz Memorial Lectures on Gender and Human Rights. This Lecture Series, created in memory of Diane Markowicz by Sylvia Neil and her husband Dan Fischel, features internationally renowned scholars, judges and activists discussing ways of negotiating the tensions between gender equality and religious or cultural norms. Info: 

FOURTEEN – For 14 years, the HBI Artist Program has provided artists whose work develops fresh ideas about Jews and gender the opportunity to have a solo exhibition at the Kniznick Gallery at Brandeis University. Artists are awarded funds, provided both a physical and online exhibition, and receive an accompanying printed exhibition catalog. 

TWENTY-THREE – HBI has granted an average of 23 Research Awards per year since 1998 enabling exciting, cutting-edge research on Jews and gender. 

TWENTY-FIVE – For 25 years, HBI has emboldened those who seek to explore, understand, question and re-envision the rich and complex interplay of Jews and gender. 

TWENTY-SIX – HBI’S 26 Research Associates carry out projects that support the HBI’s mission to explore, re-envision and develop fresh ideas about Jews and gender. They are provided academic oversight, access to HBI and the resources of Brandeis University. 

THIRTY-EIGHT – HBI has published 38 issues of Nashim an international, interdisciplinary academic journal — the only one of its kind — for innovative work being done in Jewish women’s and gender studies with articles on literature, text studies, anthropology, archeology, theology, contemporary thought, sociology, the arts, and more. 

FORTY-TWO – The HBI Series on Jewish Women publishes a wide range of books by and about Jewish women that fills major gaps in literature. There are 42 books in this series to date.

FORTY-THREE – HBI produced 43 programs this past year in pursuit of its mission to question and re-envision the rich and complex interplay of Judaism, women and gender. 

FORTY-NINE – The Hadassah-Brandeis Institute awards grants to support research or artistic projects in Jewish women’s and gender studies across a range of disciplines. Research Awards are made to graduate students, early career, and established researchers. This year, HBI gave out 14 Research Awards totaling $49,000.

Terri Brown Preuss is the Director of the HBI Sandra Seltzer Silberman Conversations Series and the HBI Communications Coordinator.

Women’s Daf Yomi: Gender and Talmud Study in Digital Space

By Adam Ferziger

New Year’s Day 2020 saw a crowd of over 90,000 assemble in freezing temperatures at New Jersey’s Metlife Stadium. Rather than the usual football game, they had come for the Siyum ha-Shas of Daf yomi, the ritual “completion” ceremony celebrating study of all 2,711 folios of the Talmud (Shas) over the course of a 7.5-year daily regimen. The nearly five-hour convocation included public prayers, speeches by eminent rabbinical authorities, musical performances, and inspirational films. It culminated with a collective recitation of the final passages of the massive, multi-volumed ancient tome, followed by raucous dancing. Scores of parallel events – some filling arenas and auditoriums and others modest local gatherings in synagogues, study halls and private homes – took place on five other continents. Thousands more joined the Metlife celebrants and other large-scale venues via livestream as well.

Talmud text on a phone.The daf yomi (literally daily page) multi-year Talmud-study cycle was conceived nearly a century earlier as a means to unify Jews worldwide through a common consistent encounter with the foundational text of rabbinic Judaism. Participation has grown dramatically in recent decades. Since its inception, the overwhelming majority of participants were Orthodox men. While this remains the case, the 2020 festivities marked a watershed when over 3,000 attendees congregated in Jerusalem’s Binyanei ha-Umah Auditorium for the inaugural “Women’s Siyum Shas.”

The women’s event was spearheaded by Hadran, an Israel-based organization established in 2018 and led by Michelle Cohen Farber, a veteran immigrant from America and religious educator who has been teaching daf yomi since 2013 at her home in Ra’anana, a suburban town north of Tel Aviv. To celebrate the daf yomi milestone, Hadran brought together a coalition of women’s learning groups from Israel and around the globe, along with an array of institutions and individuals that are at the forefront of advanced Talmud study for women – thousands in person and more via livestream. The evening’s format shared much in common with the Metlife one, but it was orchestrated and led by women, as were over 90 percent of those who joined.

My investigation engages that which unfolded from the conspicuous January 2020 moment onwards, its meaning in the context of contemporary Orthodox Judaism’s enduring struggles over the religious standing of women, and the agency of digital technology in this process.

Such siyum festivities, be they the established men’s ones or newly devised women’s gatherings, are intended to acknowledge the achievements of those who withstood the rigorous day-to-day challenge for over seven years. No less, they are aimed to inspire others to join in the next round. In fact, the new daf yomi cycle that began immediately after has witnessed further expansion in numbers. The signature engines for this growth have been inventive online platforms, apps, and tools that provide comfortable access to live and taped classes, study aids, and supplementary materials. Ironically, these innovations achieved critical value within weeks after the new cycle began, when due to Covid-19 restrictions, face-to-face classes became impossible. Indeed, the move of the main Hadran class from an in-person class setting to a live digital format, has increased participation exponentially. I contend that the emergence of the women’s daf yomi trend marks a pivotal juncture in the history of Orthodox Jewish feminism, a movement that arose in the 1970s and has since become a central source of both renewal and contention. 

Hadran’s stated goal is “to make Talmud study accessible to Jewish women at all levels…in a unique way: by providing a wide range of resources…in the voice of women teachers.” After in-person meetings became impossible, Farber began to teach her daf yomi class twice each morning via Zoom, once in Hebrew at 6:15 AM, and a second time in English at 7:15 AM. These were broadcast live via the Hadran website, as well as Facebook and YouTube. In the process, the live digital platform became Hadran’s core framework. This central live online study session facilitated a novel type of collective daily learning experience; it brought together women (and some men) just starting their day in Israel, Asia, Africa, or Europe, with others ending theirs – whether the previous one in North or South America, or the parallel one in Australia or New Zealand.

In a January 2021 interview, Farber described why she felt that her classes would fill an existing gap, and how she designed her method with this in mind:

When I went online to see some examples of how people taught a whole daf in 45 minutes, I was surprised to find hundreds of daf yomi shiurim by men but none by women. When listening to the shiurim, it was clear that the average woman who comes with little or no gemara background would have a hard time learning with one of those shiurim, not because they can’t learn from a man, but because most of the rabbis teaching assumed the listener had a certain comfort level with basic words and concepts. In addition, the questions that they asked on the gemara or issues they delved into were not necessarily the issues that the women would be interested in pursuing. Also, when a sensitive women’s issue arises, many gloss right over it and move on. It was then that I decided that I would record my classes and put them online to be able to offer a class that could appeal to the broader female audience.

As of November 2021, according to statistics provided by the organization, there were 1,600 daily listeners to her class, and an additional 2,500-5,000 individual downloads of tractates that were already completed.

Hadran home pageOnce they arrived at the Hadran website, a variety of presentations and links were available under the rubric of “Beyond the Daf,” where the female-centric quality of the platform is celebrated. One prominent Hebrew offering is a video blog entitled “Daf mi-she-la-hen” [a page of their own]. It features Rabbanit Hamutal Shoval, a former journalist who holds a master’s degree in new media and teaches advanced Talmud to women, and Rabbanit Shira Marili Mirvis, the first woman to be appointed as the main religious authority in an Israeli Orthodox synagogue. The conversations often gravitate to gendered aspects of the pages studied that week, including exploring how the patriarchy of Talmudic times continues to set the tone for many aspects of Jewish life. As Orthodox Jews, the presenters are committed to traditional Jewish practice and law, but they also acknowledge the many challenges they face as twenty-first century women who have been brought up to assume their rights to full participation in society.

When possible, Farber has further nurtured Hadran women’s network by taking periodic trips throughout North America where she addresses audiences in person, including visits to local women’s daf yomi groups and their supporters. That these women are part and parcel of a global kinship, is emphasized through another component of the website entitled, “Hadran Communities.” Listed there with clickable links are the names of 19 affiliated branches in Israel and 26  around the world. Some of these women meet daily – in person or virtually, while in other cases the local group complements daily study with Farber through private WhatsApp and Facebook discussions in which members present their own perspectives or relevant materials. 

The dedications that are read at the beginning of each session and appear on the digital apparatuses, offer an additional lens for discerning the “reception” of Hadran. They echo the sense that women identify with the gendered foundations of the endeavor. A listing in memory of a woman’s mother, shared a sharp articulation, “As a young girl, she begged her father to teach her Gemara [Talmud] so she could expand her knowledge. She would have loved to know that her daughter and daughter-in-law are pursuing that path.”

The gender egalitarian consensus of the Reform and Conservative movements would seemingly render obsolete the attraction of a predominantly all-women’s setting. Yet, based on direct communications from Hadran site users, 15-20% did not identify as Orthodox. Why do non-Orthodox Jews gravitate to Hadran? Numerous participants expressed that as opposed to most of the other existing online daf yomi options that were Haredi-oriented, they were attracted to Farber’s “non-yeshivish” style. Furthermore, quite a few correspondents disclosed that they began their daf yomi experiences listening to other lecturers but were frustrated by the lack of sensitivity to women’s issues. This dovetails with the comments of a few men who study regularly with male teachers but revealed that when the Talmud addresses gender-related topics, they make a point of turning to Hadran in order to gain exposure to Farber’s perspective. On a pragmatic level, moreover, even if there are many daf yomi portals, none are categorically non-Orthodox. Under such circumstances, Farber’s teaching and Hadran’s overall tenor resonate to Jews who have internalized an egalitarian Jewish approach.

Head shot of Adam FerzigerAdam S. Ferziger is professor in the Department of Jewish History and Contemporary Jewry at Bar-Ilan University, Israel and holds the Rabbi S.R. Hirsch Chair for Research on the Torah and Derekh Erez Movement. He is a senior associate at the Oxford Centre for Hebrew and Jewish Studies, University of Oxford and co-convener of the Oxford Summer Institute on Modern and Contemporary Judaism. He is a 2021 HBI Scholar in Residence. 

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