The religious-feministic battle over women's right to study Torah is heating up: Dozens of parents whose daughters study in state-religious schools have appealed to Education Minister Gideon Sa'ar to end what they refer to as "gender discrimination in Oral Law studies."
According to the parents, the fact that boys begin studying the Talmud (the central text of mainstream Judaism) in the fifth grade, while girls must settle for Mishna studies (part of the Talmud consisting of a collection of oral religious laws), infringes on the right to equality.
"Curriculum considerations must be strictly pedagogical," argued the parents' representative, Attorney Naama Safrai-Cohen, implying that the gender discrimination stems from a conservative approach forbidding women to study Talmud for reasons which are neither educational nor professional.
The letter, which was also sent to Rabbi Dr. Avraham Lifshitz, director of the Education Ministry's Religious Education Administration, was signed by dozens of famous religious intellectuals and academics.
"Every woman and man have the equal right to human dignity, including equality in the workplace, education, health, housing, environment and social welfare," the letter stressed, quoting Israeli law.
According to the signatories, the differences in the curriculum may have far-reaching repercussions in creating future educational gaps, as "studying Talmud is basic and is the foundation for junior high and high school studies."
Talking to Ynet, Attorney Safrai-Cohen noted that she had only just become aware of the discrimination when her daughter started the fifth grade. When she herself studied in the religious education system, she said, all curricula were equal.
"There are many classrooms, in which apart from this class and sports education, the studies are completely equal," she added. "This discrimination must end and has no room in the curriculum."
The mother noted that she did not "blindly support" Talmud studies for boys and girls at this age, and that she would accept any professional decision that these studies are not suitable from an educational point of view.
However, she added, she believes that in light of the progress made in Religious Zionism in recent years in terms of women's studies, the issue should be re-discussed – and that in any case there should be no gender discrimination.
"Girls are getting the message that they cannot study Talmud, which fixates their future educational inferiority," she said.
The Education Ministry said in response that "the Religious Education Administration has not made any changes in the Oral Law studies. Administration Director Avraham Lifshitz says any school interested in combining Mishna and Talmud is free to do so."