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Devotion to Jewish learning, not tragedy, defines mother of slain teen

For those who only knew Fraenkel as one of the mothers of the murdered teens, whose kidnapping led to a massive manhunt and a national trauma, she was the pious face of a searing and ultimately fruitless “Bring Our Boys Home” campaign.

What defines her is a devotion to Jewish learning — a devotion which has now led her to a new stage: the completion of a six-year program of learning halacha, or Jewish law, in a way largely indistinguishable from the studies undertaken by men who become rabbis. She not only completed the program, but as director signed all the diplomas.

Fraenkel and the other 13 women who graduated on June 12 from the Hilchata program at Matan are all alumnae of the growing number of places providing text study for Orthodox women. Frankel says that many of them have been through daf yomi, the daily study of the entire 2,711-page Talmud that is completed in seven and a half years.

Some of the students are graduates of a three-year program at Nishmat that certifies women as yoetzot halacha, or halachic advisors. This program qualifies women to answer questions of religious law relating to issues around women’s bodies such as menstruation and fertility.

Although the Hilchata learning is as comprehensive as rabbinical school, Frankel describes it as “a non-agenda program.”

While some liberal Orthodox groups have been training women for roles that are explicitly or implicitly that of “clergy,” she explains that the completion of the Hilchata program does not signal any kind of ordination (in Hebrew, smicha). The certificates given out at the graduation read, according to Frankel, that “this person learned this and this and that and we pray that her Torah will give her ability to get people closer to shamayim,” or heaven. The certificates say the holder studied “seriously and in depth.”

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