Jewish Women as Learning Different

From Section:
Trends in Jewish Education
Apr. 21, 2008
Spring, 2008

Source: Jewish Educational Leadership. Spring, 2008 (6:3) pages 18-24


A review of the copious literature on the differences between male and female cognitive abilities leads to the conclusion that a there are real and measurable sex differences with respect to certain cognitive abilities. There exists a well documented gender gap at the upper levels of performance on high school mathematics that has remained constant over the years. The differences in educational achievement of males and females in late adolescence depend on the extent to which the assessments are based on cognitive tests and on coursework. Assessments based on cognitive tests yield a male advantage, while those based on coursework yield a female advantage.


There seems to be a clear distinction in the way male and females learn and process information. Given these studies of the general population, it is reasonable to assume that it is true of the Jewish community as well. In fact, in light of the distinct roles for Jewish women in traditional environments (within Jewish culture, synagogue, and religion), socialization theories should account all the more for the learning differences among males and females in Jewish education.


Psychological Perspectives

Women's identity development is tied to interpersonal connections, as they establish ties with others, while men's development is associated more strongly with intrapersonal issues and assertions of independence and autonomy. This gender difference has broad ramifications. For example, occupational identity achievement for men has been related to a competitive attitude about work and striving for materialistic goals. Women’s achievement of occupational identity has been shown to relate to gaining acceptance and approval from others.


Religious Differences
Men and women differ considerably in their religious affiliation, behaviors and beliefs. Women pray privately and attend church with greater frequency than men and are more likely to be involved in church-run groups. Women also read the Bible more often than do men, tend to be more religiously conservative in their beliefs, and more orthodox in their acceptance of the Bible. Females are more likely than males to express a belief in God, in life-after-death, and tend to hold more traditional beliefs in general. Although these studies were done primarily with Christians, the fact that men and women differ in their approach to religion, God, and spirituality is a finding that should remain consistent for all religions.


Educating the modern Jewish Woman
The last decades have witnessed a revolutionary upheaval in women's education both in the secular and Jewish realms. In the early 21st century, nearly 60% of U.S. college students are female. Similarly, in the early 21st century, an overwhelming majority of female Jewish Orthodox high school graduates devote themselves to at least one year of post-high school study of classical Jewish texts.


The redefined role of women, as a result of changes in Jewish society, necessitates a fresh examination of the goals that educators and administrators strive to achieve. The modern Jewish Orthodox woman both plunges deeply into the academic world in pursuit of a successful career, and simultaneously wants to fulfill her traditional role in the family. To meet these needs, the Jewish educator is challenged with the task of providing an academic experience wherein the modern and traditional roles are both addressed.


Of great importance to young Orthodox Jewish women is finding a mate and establishing a family. There is great concern that any misstep may jeopardize the young woman's opportunity to find a suitable mate. Educators need to take a balanced approach where Jewish academic achievement and social concerns are taken into account.


Women in general and Jewish women in particular, can be classified as “learning different.” Identifying the characteristics that distinguish women learners – and specifically Jewish women as compared to their male counterparts – is critical to designing an educational paradigm that will lead to maximum success. Such preparatory study prior will help unlock the considerable talents and abilities of young Jewish women.

Updated: Feb. 07, 2017
Feminist pedagogy | Gender differences | Modern Orthodox