Why I Learn Gemara

I was in love with Feminism in college. Protests, marches, sit-ins- I was there. Somehow along the way I met an Orthodox Rabbi and my whole paradigm of feminism as the “ultimate truth” was called into question. His contagious positivity and wisdom intrigued me. Feminism was not giving me the emotional and spiritual depth that I was searching for, so I dove into Jewish learning with a passion. Over the course of a semester and after a trip to Israel, I developed a budding interest in connecting to G-d, unearthing my almost completely unknown heritage and finding pleasure and meaning in Jewish rituals. I wondered if I could separate the “women’s issue” from these things since at the time, the Jewish approach ran contrary to many of my beliefs. The next summer I decided to go on a free kiruv trip to Israel to find some clarity.

The Rabbi who ran the organization had prepared a class based on sources in the Talmud for the night of Shavuos. By 3 am the only people who had not gone back to the hotel to sleep were three boys and me. I remember it was an Aggadic section describing Moshe’s ascent to Mt. Sinai. When he reaches the top he sees G-d tying crowns on the the letters of the Torah. G-d asks him, ‘Don’t they give Shalom in your city?’ We spent the rest of the class unpacking this perplexing question using our own creative interpretations alongside the traditional commentators. I craved this type of learning. It incorporated the complex logic and debate that I loved in my Feminist Theory classes but it dealt with the ethical and spiritual dimension that had drawn me deeper into Judaism.