As a high schooler in New York, she studied Talmud without issue. But then she went to Israel for a gap year with a group of her high school graduates.
“The boys I had been studying with went to [Israeli] schools where they were taught women shouldn’t be learning,” Farber said. “They started asking us, ‘Why are you learning?’ And I looked at them and I said, ‘What do you mean, we’ve been learning together all these years – why are you asking me this now?’”
It was a wake-up call for Farber. “I realized that there was this whole world out there that didn’t think that women should be learning [Talmud],” she said.
Now, Farber is a renowned teacher of Talmud who helped bring the tradition of Daf Yomi (reading a page of Talmud each day) to women around the world. On Monday, she will be in St. Louis Park to speak at the 18th-anniversary celebration of Congregation Darchei Noam.
Farber’s work with Daf Yomi is what helped bring her to the Twin Cities. As the founder of Hadran, an organization working to increase Talmud study among Jewish women, Farber has been building community around Daf Yomi – globally online, and locally in-person, including with a podcast.
The in-person groups, convened through Whatsapp, were originally to connect women for a siyum, or a completion of a book of Talmud during the Daf Yomi study.
“It would also be a way for women to continue the conversation with women in their own communities” about their study of Talmud, Farber said. “There’s something just nice about meeting up in person, rather than just digitally.”
But in the Twin Cities, the Daf Yomi group has made a habit of meeting weekly, not just for a siyum. With some members being part of Darchei Noam, and the group wanting to meet Farber face to face, Darchei Noam’s 18th anniversary felt like a great time to invite the Rabbanit to Minnesota.
“These are women whose names I know…there are men also in the group, they’re all people that I’ve communicated with in some way,” Farber said. “But we’ve never met in person, and it’s a very nice opportunity to be able to meet.”
After falling in love with Talmud study in high school, Farber continued to learn and teach Jewish text. As she taught more women, it became clearer how many had barriers to Talmud, from lack of prior knowledge to social stigma.
“You have tons of women who don’t even think that learning is for them,” Farber said. “It’s an outgrowth of a big marketing campaign for many, many years, not to have women in the world of [Talmud]…it’s just so unfortunate that women don’t understand how meaningful this could be for them.”
Daf Yomi was a perfect way to address that. Started by Polish Hasidic Rabbi Meir Shapiro 100 years ago, the practice of studying one of the 2,711 pages of Talmud each day was meant to increase Jewish accessibility.
Just like sports are a way for people to connect that can transcend language and cultural barriers, if the entire Jewish world is studying the same page of Talmud every day, then a Jew can go anywhere in the world and still connect with the local community.
Online, that’s exactly what’s happening. Farber’s Daf Yomi Whatsapp groups and social media are lit up with discussions as women connect each day to Talmud and to each other. One of Farber’s students, Miriam Anzovin, also became a social media star sharing Millennial hot takes about Daf Yomi.
“Many of the groups end up with a range of people, whether it’s Reform, Conservative, Orthodox, Haredi, and then you get these women together, and they’re all communicating about something they love,” Farber said. “It’s an amazing equalizing force.”
Farber will bring a taste of Daf Yomi and Talmud study to Darchei Noam on Monday evening, with a lecture titled “Rabbi Shimon bar Yochi, Rome, and Jewish leadership: What can we learn today?”
The story, coming from Jewish deliberations to find a good leader to deal with the Romans, has lessons about what aspects of Jewish leadership are important, and what makes a good leader.
Farber wants to use the story “as a way to do a piece of learning that can be fun and interesting and kind of analyze it together with the community,” she said. “To talk about Jewish values, and show how the [Talmud] basically is a book that talks about values.”