Jodi Magness spoke on the archaeological evidence, specifically on whether there were skeletons of women found in the Qumran cemeteries. She said that there were some skeletons of women, but many more skeletons of men. The next speaker was Larry Schiffman, who discussed the halakhah at Qumran, which assumes the presence of women and discusses such things as laws of marriage, purity, Shabbat, etc. Tal Ilan was the next speaker, who discussed the phenomenon of sects in Second Temple Judaism in general. She compared the evidence for the Dead Sea Sect with accounts in Josephus of the Pharisees and in Philo of the Therapeutae. Her contention is that women tend to be involved in sects that do not have political power, so that women supported the Pharisees, and as we know there were both men and women among the Therapeutae. She cited a few Qumran texts, including one which specified that a woman may be a witness against her husband for transgressions he may perform.
The next speaker, Eyal Regev, pointed out that a central Qumran text, Serekh ha-Yahad, which is usually taken as evidence that the sect was monastic and included only men, in fact never discusses whether only men can belong to the group. He contrasted this with discussions in other communities, such as early Christian monastic groups, or the Shakers, about whether women could belong an what the relations between men and women should be. Since the Serekh ha-Yahad doesn't mention any disputes like this, he assumes that it should not be taken as evidence that the sect only consisted of celibate men.
Adolfo Roitman, the final speaker, who is the director of the Shrine of the Book (part of the Israel Museum, where many of the Dead Sea Scrolls are housed) presented part of a movie that the Shrine of the Book made to show to tourists visiting the site. Originally it included a few scenes alluding to internal conflicts among the men of the community over whether to act on their attraction to women. These scenes were excised from the film because religious people in Jerusalem objected to them. From what he showed, the film seemed to run counter to everything the other speakers were suggesting - it assumed that the entire Qumran community was male and celibate, and run according to the rules of the Serekh ha-Yahad. He said that after the panel discussion tonight, a third edition of the film might include another point of view on that issue.
A number of people asked questions afterwards - most of which were in fact mini-lectures - but the panel members were finally able to address the questions.
All in all, a very interesting evening.