By: David Schmidt  | 

Beren and Wilf Batei Midrash Re-Open for Undergraduate Students

Yeshiva University’s batei midrash on the Wilf and Beren Campuses reopened for undergraduate students on Wednesday, Oct. 21, after a nearly eight-month closure due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Several new regulations have been implemented to ensure a safe return for many students.

While the beit midrash in the Glueck Center on Wilf Campus was open to Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary semikha students before the holiday break, starting Oct. 21, YU opened it to undergraduate students, as well as opening up several expanded locations. Additionally, the Klein Beit Midrash opened for Wilf students and the Beren Beit Midrash for Beren students. Undergraduate students also moved into residence halls on campus on Oct. 21.  

Out of the 39 shiurim between Stone Beit Midrash Program (BMP) and Mazer Yeshiva Program (YP) for Wilf students, 26 of them are in person for at least part of the week. Due to social-distancing measures, many temporary batei midrash have also been set up across Wilf Campus to accommodate chavrusa learning for all YP and BMP shiurim. Makeshift locations include the Shenk Shul and the Heights Lounge, among others. Some of these additional locations also act as lecture halls for in-person shiurim.   

Along with the mandatory wearing of masks, other unique restrictions have been put into effect, such as plexiglass between chavrutot and not returning books to their location immediately but instead placing them on a cart for two days. These measures come as part of YU’s comprehensive reopening plan that began as undergraduates moved on to campus. 

Rabbi Dr. Yosef Kalinsky, dean for mens’ Undergraduate Torah Studies, shared the process of preparing for this reopening and the challenges that were associated with the planning. “We have been planning for the reopening since June in conjunction with the efforts of the ‘reopening task force committee’ and a number of offices including facilities, events, registrar, housekeeping, IT and others,” Rabbi Kalinsky told The Commentator. “The main objective was to encourage as many talmidim as possible to return safely to campus by providing socially distanced learning in [the] Batei Midrash and classrooms.”

When presented with Rabbi Kalinsky’s appreciation, some roshei yeshiva in turn praised the students. “The rebbeim were inspired by the students themselves who refused to stagnate but grew in their learning despite the challenge and, indeed, by very dint of rising to the challenge,” shared Rabbi Eli Baruch Shulman, a YP rosh yeshiva and the Rabbi Henry H. Guterman chair in Talmud. 

Many students returning for in-person shiur were excited that YU put this amount of effort into reopening the beit midrash. “While the yeshiva did a great job staying connected to the talmidim over the last seven months through ‘bima klap’ and many other programs and shiurim, nothing compares to being back in the kol Torah environment of the Beis Medrash and growing in Avodas Hashem and learning together with Rebbeim and friends,” shared Yoni Laub (YC ’22), a student in YP.

Similar protocols have also been put in place for undergraduates on the Beren campus, where the Graduate Program In Advanced Talmudic Studies For Women (GPATS) had already been making use of the space since Labor Day. 

“It has been very exciting to be back on campus, learning together with students while others watch through Zoom,” said Rabbi Jacob Bernstein, who is the Campus Rabbi at the Beren Campus. “Being back on campus and having the ability to learn both in person and on Zoom has been an exciting experience for all of us. We look forward to continuing to learn together and spend Shabbos together to use the campus for all that it offers.” 

Many students have recognized the bittersweet nature of returning to such a regimented campus. “I don’t think [the safety measures] are great, but I think they are trying to be as safe as they can in a chavrusa learning environment,” said Chemda Weiner (SCW ‘21), a student who is learning in person in Beren's beit midrash. “It has been really nice to see each other's faces and be able to learn together." 

“Hundreds of hours went into planning and implementing our reopening,” Rabbi Kalinsky shared, “and we hope that the talmidim who return will find the experience gratifying and that it enhances their learning — being able to learn in-person again with chavrusas, with their Rebbeim, and with the chevre.” 

Photo Caption: Several new regulations have been implemented to ensure a safe return for many students.
Photo Credit: Yeshiva University