For over 50 years Rabbi Brovender has taught thousands of students from all around the world. This week we introduce you to Rahel Berkovits, senior faculty member at the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem, where she has been teaching Mishnah, Talmud and halakha for over twenty years.
Rahel lectures widely in both Israel and abroad especially on topics concerning women and Jewish law and a Jewish sexual ethic. She is the Halakhic Editor and a writer for Hilkhot Nashim the Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance’s Halakhic Source-guide Series, published by Maggid Books. In June 2015, she received Rabbinic Ordination from Rabbis Herzl Hefter and Daniel Sperber. Rahel studied with Rav Brovender at Michlelet Bruria from Sept 1989- Jan 1991 and then again from Sept 1992 – June 1995.
How did you meet Rabbi Brovender?
My Jewish day school did not allow me to apply to “Brovender’s” when I was in 12th grade. Instead, they were pushing me to attend Michlalah, an institution that did not teach women Talmud in a serious manner. As that was not a program I wanted to attend, I did not spend a gap year in Israel. However, after starting university I still yearned to study Torah in Israel and so when I heard that Rav Brovender was coming to campus, I was very excited to meet and speak with him.
Although Michlelet Bruria was first started with women who were post college at that time (1988) there only existed a program for students after high school. I really wanted Rav Brovender to start a program for women in college and so I ended up following him around to more than one campus where he was speaking so that I could argue my case.
Luckily for me Rav Brovender agreed to start the Bruria scholars’ program and I was able to spend a year and a half studying at Brovender’s during college and then another three years immediately after I graduated. During that time, besides taking formal classes with Rav Brovender, I also (after some persuading) had the pleasure of coming to his house to learn parshah with him and his daughters.
The institution provided the college women with apartments outside the regular dorms. My roommate had the habit of answering the (old fashioned no caller ID rotary) phone by saying “Brovender’s” and one day Rav Brovender called for some reason, and in response he drily quipped- “I thought I was Brovender’s!
The very fact that despite having an official name that institution was always referred to as Brovender’s – attests to what an important figure Rav Brovender is.
What do you find most important or striking about the “Brovender Method” -his unique way of teaching?
Rav Brovender is the master of the one-hour Shuir. He gave a parsha shiur every week and besides his wonderful Torah content it was a lesson in exemplary pedagogy. He always had one clear question which he would reiterate a few different times throughout the class as he built towards the answer. He never went over the time limit, and he never had to rush- not an easy feat- and most importantly when the shiur was finished one could always reiterate it at the shabbat table because the material had been presented so clearly.
I used to record the classes so that I could listen to them again afterwards just to try to learn how he did it. Of course, throughout he was witty and funny which just added to the enjoyment of learning from him.
When it comes to Torah learning, what were you most drawn to after learning with Rabbi Brovender?
Sadly, for me we didn’t really get a choice of what we learned with Rav Brovender. Originally, he just taught parsha and because we (the Bruria scholars) were thirsty for more we were able to arrange a halakhah shiur with him but unfortunately it only met once a week. My personal learning passion is for Talmud and I would have loved to take a high level gemara shiur with Rav Brovender.
What lesson or specific Torah that you learned from Rabbi Brovender, do you keep coming back to or carry with you wherever you go?
Myself personally and an entire generation of Jewish women have Rav Brovender to thank for making the world of serious high-level Torah/Talmud learning open to women.
With the plethora of women’s learning programs that exist today and the changes that have happened in this realm in the last 30 years many people may forget or not even realize what an important figure Rav Brovender is in the history of women’s Torah learning.
When he started Michlelet Bruria in 1976 it was the first such program where women could learn Talmud in a serious fashion. Rav Brovender once told us that he suffered retribution from the right-wing community – such as having his tires punctured and being put in herem- for his radical actions. Thank God, he was not deterred.
Rav Brovender’s love of Torah and commitment to make the experience of Torah learning accessible to anyone who was interested- regardless of gender- has literally changed the Torah world. Besides enabling hundreds of women to access their own heritage, alumni just from my years at Brovender’s head women’s learning and semicha programs, spearhead women’s daf yomi learning, write books and teach Torah throughout the world.
The fact that women’s learning is considered normative in the Modern Orthodox world today is a direct outgrowth of Rav Brovender’s vision and commitment. Without the opportunity to immerse myself in learning at the Brovender’s Beit Midrash and to receive that solid basis in text study I would not be the person I am today and for that I am eternally grateful to Rav Brovender.