Sunday, October 13, 2013

On Being a Kollel Wife

Since I last posted, I've become a kollel wife.

I'm a married woman who learns full-time in a beit midrash.

I suppose that's not the first image that pops into your mind when you hear "kollel wife." But isn't that the idea behind a punch line? Perhaps it's more appropriate to refer to my husband as a "kollel husband," but I don't think that's as funny.

I never thought I would learn Judaism formally, much less full-time. I hope that'll translate into more blogging here too. I'm certainly full of ideas! But the time to write them...? 

I'm thankful for the opportunity, and it's been a welcome distraction from the less happy side of life. I've spent more time out of state the last few months than not because my mother was diagnosed with a new round of cancer. And this time, she's not going to beat it. (You can daven for the comfort and peace of Judy bat Edith if you'd like to.) It's been a rough few months, as you can imagine.

But learning? That's amazing. But it's also frustrating and tiring, even before considering that I commute four hours a day for the privilege. My brain hurts from reading the tiny script of the old Jastrow dictionary, the grammar, trying to understand the arguments when half the information isn't present, Hebrew without vowels when I can barely read with vowels, and...dun dun DUN...even some Aramaic. Yet the teachers say we'll be learning Gemara by January. That sounds unbelievable for the level I'm at now. But...women learning Gemara? Scandalous, I know. I can't wait. 

Being able to understand Jewish texts in the original language is a necessity in our topsy-turvy orthodox world today. I have been filled with so much misinformation, misunderstandings, and unnecessary chumrot that this learning is like the key to my derech, without having to rely on the second-hand information of halacha books and internet and crazy or misinformed people. That's a powerful skill, one that could change my life.

When the rest of life is so complicated, it's a relief to immerse myself in something so nerd-friendly. It connects to who I am, beyond all the trappings of the world. Being free to think and learn, removed from the pressure of grades, is an incredible freedom.


  1. "My brain hurts from reading the tiny script of the old Jastrow dictionary"

    Just wait till you get to Rabbenu Hananel ... (

    I was once complaining to one of my rabbis how the beautiful Oz ve-Hadar edition of the Talmud, which contains all newly-typeset text, nevertheless declined to enlarge the font-sizes of the smallest texts. I mean, come on, if it's all computer typeset, then you can enlarge the font with the push of one button! My rabbi responded that once, the optometrist said to Rav Tzvi Yehuda Kook's assistant, "Who is this Rabbenu Hananel and why does he keep hurting the rabbi's eyes?"

  2. Incidentally, when it comes time for you to purchase a Gemara, I highly recommend the red edition of the Oz ve-Hadar. Oz ve-Hadar is, as I said, newly typeset. That makes it worth it right there.

    Now, the Oz ve-Hadar comes in three versions: blue, black, and red. The blue edition has only the Gemara itself and none of the appendices. The black edition has all the appendices of an ordinary Vilna shas. The red edition, the best one, has lots of awesome additional appendices, like Tosafot ha-Rosh and my all-time favorite, the Arukh (

  3. I've added Judy bat Edith to my MiShehBerach (roughly, prayers for the sick) list. May she be blessed with a full healing from any pain and suffering, physical and/or emotional.

  4. I really admire your thirst for truth and clarity and cheer you on in your journey!
    You may not want to hear this, but learning the sources will not clear up your confusion.
    You need a Rabbi/Rebbetzin that you trust and understands you.
    Seek him/her out and you will find peace of mind and answers to your questions.
    Good luck!

  5. Tosphot Harosh was a very important tool for me as I was going through the tosphot on ketubot. In fact, I almost never understood tosphot until did the tosphot harosh first. The Rosh has some habit of adding in little phrases that clear up ambiguities.

  6. Wow, that sounds like such a great opportunity to learn! May I ask which institute you attend? I wish your mum all the best - and much love and strength to you and your family!

  7. this is great that you are learning!
    I learn daf yomi with the cds and I love chassidus

  8. This sounds amazing! I absolutely love that you are doing this and that your husband is supportive. As I keep immersing myself in Judaism post-conversion, you continue to be an inspiration!