February 22, 2020

Finally, A Women’s Yeshiva in L.A.

Have you ever really studied Torah? Really studying means you take one verse, one legal phrase, even one word, and look up every commentary on it, and then the commentaries on the commentaries, and then you and the medieval and contemporary sages work together to dissect and extrapolate and interpolate until that one word yields a bounty of wisdom that leads to a stunning insight that gives you a spiritual boost like no other.

The best way to do this kind of learning is to have a partner, a chavruta, who can complement your insights and knowledge, and for the two of you to have the kind of teacher who can take you up and around and through the layered levels of discourse.

That’s the kind of learning done in the best yeshivas, the kind of learning scholars spend their lives on.And it is the kind of learning that will be going on at Netivot: Women’s Torah Study Institute, a new broad-based endeavor aimed at bringing high-level textual study to women. (Full disclosure: I am personally active in Netivot.)

Netivot opens this October, after Sukkot, with a schedule of 10 classes that are meant to be accessible and convenient for women. There are advanced and beginner classes, held in the Valley and at the Westside JCC, in the daytime, evenings and weekends, and – since the founders are mostly women who know what it means to take two hours off to go to a class – there will be child care.

The impetus for Netivot, a Hebrew word that means “pathways,” came from Irine Schweitzer. She spent years searching in vain for a program that offered a full schedule of shiurim (classes) where women with either advanced or rudimentary Jewish text skills could directly encounter the biblical, legal and philosophic books. What she found instead were a few scattered classes for those with strong backgrounds in Jewish studies, more for beginners, and a rich and varied pool of lectures where no text was actively engaged.

It is an often-heard frustration that though there might be opportunities for Torah study in school or in Israel, there has been very little serious Torah study available in L.A. for adult women.

Says Rabbi Asher Brander of the Westwood Kehilla, who has been instrumental in getting Netivot off the ground: “We have a whole cadre of women who have been taught to use their minds, to express themselves creatively, and then we tell them to stop at the age of 20. We don’t create institutions for them.”

What has finally emerged – after some negotiating and compromising and hours of hard work by many volunteers – is an impressive faculty that pulls from a broader range of the Orthodox community than is represented in almost any other educational institution.

Rabbis who are at opposite ends of the Orthodox spectrum have put aside their political differences to lend their knowledge, talent and stature to Netivot’s mission.

B’nai David-Judea’s Rabbi Yosef Kanefsky, who has played a key role in getting the project off the ground, says, “What we’re seeing in the broad-based founding of Netivot is the ever-widening recognition that we will be a richer, holier community when we are being powered by the entirety of our creative engine, not just half the pistons.”

Sari Abrams, Kanefsky’s wife, who is heading up the fundraising efforts, says, “So many different educators have put aside their differences, because they realize that in order to have Orthodoxy survive into the next decades, both genders need to receive solid, serious religious education.”

The Westside Jewish Community Center dedicated a classroom to Netivot at no cost, recognizing its significance not just to the Orthodox com-munity, but to women of all denominations who are expected to become part of the student body.

“There is something very empowering about being able to decipher the texts on your own,” says Schweitzer, Netivot’s founding president. “This is the kind of learning that will give women an experience from which they can derive a lot of wisdom and really grow, intellectually and spiritually.”

Netivot is holding an open house on Sunday, Sept. 10, 10 a.m.-noon, at the Westside Jewish Community Center, 5870 W. Olympic Blvd., where faculty members will lead active, text-based classes on the pre-Rosh Hashanah topic of “Hayom Harat Olam, Today the World Was Born.” For more information and a full schedule of classes, contact (310) 286-2346,info@netivot.org or www.netivot.org