I am writing about the article, “CCC program aims to bolster ‘The Connection,” published in the June 14, 2018 AJP, which promoted a series of events centered around a visit of 12 yeshiva students from The Foxman Yeshiva in New Jersey. I was concerned by the failure of the article to address in any meaningful way the fact that the Jewish Federation and the Tucson Jewish Community Center had made a disturbing choice to co-sponsor a series that excludes women from its core events. Of course, the intention behind bringing top yeshiva students to Tucson is laudable. Studying Talmud with these students is unmistakably the highlight of the program, and I am sure that those who participate will benefit from it. Yet unfortunately, this benefit is not available to all in our community, as it seems that this experience is only for men. In the promotional materials for the series, three events — two “Taste of Talmud” sessions and a “Drop-in Learning” session — are marked “*M,” which is denoted at the bottom of the flier as “*M=Men’s Class.” Thus, the opening night event with the visiting yeshiva students and the actual Talmud study sessions are off limits for women. The opening night program for women is led instead by Esther Becker (a wonderful local teacher, but who is in Tucson year-round). Also, the women’s program focuses on Midrash, which is often seen as a “lesser” form of Jewish text that has historically been offered to women in place of studying the core Talmudic texts of our tradition.
This exclusionary aspect of the program deserved to be addressed in a forthright manner in the article. Chofetz Chayim and the Foxman Yeshiva are, of course, free to make such choices. Individual Jewish men can freely choose to participate. But it is quite another thing that the Jewish Federation and the Tucson JCC chose to co-sponsor and publicize a series that excludes women in such a way, and more so, that such an arrangement was not even considered notable by the Arizona Jewish Post.
I want to be clear that I am not opposing all events that cater only to men or only to women. There is an interesting discussion to be had about when separate events for men and women are constructive and achieve a purpose that is not discriminatory, and can even be empowering. In this case, however, it is clear that these separate classes are not equal. The Jewish Federation, the Tucson JCC, and the Arizona Jewish Post are supposed to be for the whole community, and it is not acceptable for them to acquiesce to treating women and girls as second class citizens.
— Michelle Michelson