This post is the seventh in “Feminist, Orthodox and Engaged,” a series by Simi Lampert on love, sex and betrothal in the life of a Modern Orthodox woman.
When my fiancé, Jeremy, and I were studying in yeshivot in Israel — at the same time, but completely unaware of one another’s existence — we each came to the conclusion that we wanted to marry someone we could learn with. In our extremely text-focused programs, floating on spiritual, religious highs engendered by months spent immersed in ancient and modern Jewish texts, we separately concluded that the ideal marriage would be one where our life partners doubled as learning partners.
By the time we met, years of college and life had changed both of us, and we no longer placed learning together as a major priority; in fact, we hardly thought about it at all. Much more important to us were similar life courses, respect for one another, a shared sophomoric sense of humor — the usuals.
But as the time of the new Daf Yomi cycle rolled around, amid all the controversy and hype surrounding the Siyum Hashas, I realized I wanted to pick up learning a daf (double-sided page) of Gemara a day. I had started this in my second year in seminary, and I missed the regular insertion of Jewish study in my day. I had always loved Gemara and its circular, extreme form of logic. When I mentioned my decision to join the latest Daf cycle to Jeremy, he immediately suggested that we learn it together.
And so began a completely new aspect of our relationship. We had been together for nine months already, and we felt like we knew each other as much as any two people could. (Anyone reading this article who’s been with his or her significant other for years, feel free to smile condescendingly at us.) Going through Gemara together — or, really, learning in any way — was something we hadn’t experienced, and it opened us up to an entirely new side of ourselves as a couple.
Jeremy and I are definitely not the most perfect learning partners. We bicker and have to actively remember that our arguments about what the Gemara means aren’t personal. We even had to spend a few days doing two dafim a day because we had missed so many in a row. But we also complement each others’ learning styles: He remembers things better, and I’m quicker to figure things out (and forget them). We push each other to stay up late to get our daf done, and it’s gotten so enjoyable that when we spend evenings apart, doing the daf loses much of its pleasure.
I was at a friend’s wedding recently where many of the guests were of a more “yeshivish” crowd. (I use quotes because I hate the terms for various Orthodox groups; but at the same time, they’re the only ones available.) I overheard a few women in the bathroom talking about their children who were studying in Israel for the year.
“My Rachelli just left,” said one. “She’s going to this seminary because you know what they say — he’s not looking for a chevrusa (learning partner)!”
“What do you mean?” asked another.
“That’s what they used to tell me. You shouldn’t go to a seminary that’s intellectual because the boys aren’t looking for a chevrusa.”
Okay, so this story makes me a little angry because of the various implications involved — namely, that the point of seminary is to mold the perfect wife; that women shouldn’t think too hard because that’s not what men want; that someone was essentially announcing that she doesn’t want her daughter to think too much. But I also walked out of the ladies room smiling to myself.
What would they say, I wondered, if I told them I was doing the daf with my fiancé? That there was at least one boy who was, in fact, looking for a chevruta? I was tempted to find out, but we had a three hour drive ahead of us and I had a feeling I would just be met with blank stares and confusion.
The hours Jeremy and I spent learning have introduced us to new sides of one another, something that I’m sure will continue to happen as the months and years go by. It’s something that I anticipate and am excited for — the prospect of discovering new things about Jeremy and new ways we interact with each other.
I like to think my relationship with Jeremy is bringing me to higher and better levels of Jewish observance. Working on myself to be a better me has evolved completely naturally from our relationship, and the aspects of Jewish observance that once felt forced or pressured is now something I want to do. This, I think, is what I was searching for in my years in Israel.