Planting the seed of Women's Torah studies in Jerusalem

Rabbanit Malke Bina, founder of Matan Women's Institute for Torah Studies, looks back on 33 years of pioneering work in women's Torah education in Israel. Op-ed.

Rabbanit Malke Bina ,

הרבנית מלכה בינה
הרבנית מלכה בינה
צילום: מתן

Today, it seems ordinary to see religious women study and teach Torah She-be'al Peh, Halakha, and Gemara. Women spend days and nights learning and teaching Torah; they are professional lecturers and inspirational community leaders. The world of women's Torah learning has evolved into is a living, breathing, creative movement.

After three decades of activity in this field, I have recently been presented with the Yakir Yerushalayim award. This award feels deeply symbolic to me, since I have tied my own fate with the fate of Jerusalem from a young age. Even though I was born in the United States, my life's work promoting women's Torah learning has always taken place in Jerusalem – כִּי מִצִּיּון תֵּצֵא תורָה וּדְבַר ה מִירוּשָׁלָיִם

In 1967 I came to Jerusalem for my undergraduate studies and it was there that the seeds were planted which became the foundation for my broader activity in the field of women's Torah learning. It was in Jerusalem I opened the first Beit Midrash for women 33 years ago. Jerusalem has always been my heart, and my home.

When I inaugurated Matan 33 years ago, I could not have imagined what was destined to become of my personal dream to provide a space for women to pursue Torah study. If the reality of Matan today had been presented to me then, I would have laughed with discomfort; at the time, Jerusalem's religious community had tended toward the traditional. I had only begun pursuing the study of Talmud after an extensive Tanakh education in Michlalah and upon completing my graduate studies in Yeshiva University.

Over the years, as I studied and taught Tanakh, I began to explore the wonderful world of Talmudic texts, after receiving the approval of the Rabbinic leadership of my generation. I was enthralled by the breadth and depth of the world I had discovered, and dreamed of creating a vibrant space for women to study all layers of Torah - a Beit Midrash for women.

At that time, it was uncommon for women to devote themselves to these areas of Torah study; Talmud and Torah She-be'al Peh were considered an exclusively male-dominated zone, with no place for women. Along with a small group of women who studied Talmud with me and supported the cause I decided to create a space that would allow women to study Torah in depth. This was the primary model for Matan – the Women's Institute for Torah Studies.

Thirty-three years ago we inaugurated the first Beit Midrash that welcomed women instead of excluding them. The dream became a reality. We started out as a small marginal movement, but three decades later we are in the golden age of women's Torah learning. We continue to see a consistent rise in women's Torah leadership, something that seems more and more natural and obvious as time goes by.

I often muse about the young Malke, studying Gemara with a small group of women around the dining room table, dreaming of all the women out there who might want to join in this pursuit. I want to reach out to her, and encourage her to smile, for her dream has become a reality.

Rabbanit Malke Bina is the founder and head teacher of Matan Women's Institute for Torah Studies