Letter to the Editor: Torah Studies at GPATS and Stern College
I am a proud student of Rabbi Moshe Kahn, z”l, and a grateful beneficiary of the opportunities created at Stern College for women to learn Gemara on all levels.
Through the rigorous discipline of Rabbi Kahn’s classes, I made my way from beginner's Gemara to intermediate, and then to three post-college years learning Gemara and Halacha in GPATS.
In my years as a student, women who learned Gemara faced ideological and pragmatic challenges, but we persevered because our Talmud Torah was (and is) avodat Hashem. We took comfort in the hope that the challenges would eventually subside. We had dreams for our daughters!
On many levels, those dreams have been fulfilled. GPATS is thriving, with its largest ever incoming class — more than double the enrollment compared to my years as a student, a Tanach track (newly featuring Prof. Smadar Rosensweig!) in addition to Gemara and Halacha, a Shana Gimmel (third year) program, the online “Inside the GPATS Beit Midrash” series of faculty and alumnae shiurim and a program bringing our students’ Torah to communities across the country. Women who learned Gemara at Stern and GPATS, Rabbi Kahn’s students, are teaching across North America and proudly perpetuating his legacy. We have so much to celebrate!
And yet, we still face challenges.
This year we suffered the most tragic loss of our beloved Rebbe, Rabbi Kahn, z”l. As noted in the events that YU coordinated in Rabbi Kahn’s memory to recognize the shloshim after his passing, all these generations of women who learn Gemara are a direct product of Rabbi Kahn’s classroom. Specifically, since the inception of GPATS, Rabbi Kahn taught the skills based Gemara class. We are so grateful for all he has taught us, and so proud of the legacy he created.
For this coming year, despite the record enrollments at GPATS, there was a lack of interest in a skills based Gemara shiur, so all 14 students in the Gemara track will learn in Rabbi David Nachbar’s conceptual class. The undergraduate program, in which I have no administrative role, has seen a similar fall off in enrollment in the skills-based intermediate and beginners Gemara courses, causing the intermediate course to be canceled and the beginner’s course to be renamed.
In light of these changes, the most critical question for us to consider is why no one is registering for those classes? Where are the women of this generation who want to build up their Gemara skills in Stern and GPATS? Why has women’s interest in learning how to learn Gemara stagnated and shrunk? Does this reflect a change in our students or in our communities or both?
Not all women need to learn Gemara, but those who wish to should be supported. For example, a wider range of programming might help to increase interest in Gemara study, and GPATS and Stern receive many requests to add more educational programming. Unfortunately, our heroic funders are scarce. Here’s another hard question: Why is there a lack of interest in helping fund women’s advanced learning?
The outpouring of emotion in reaction to the Commentator’s article about the course cancellations gives me renewed cause for hope, because feelings can lead to action.
If you are a student who is upset about the canceled Gemara classes, commit to signing up for them so that they can be reinstated.
If you are a parent, encourage your daughters to learn Torah, and support them if they choose to include learning Gemara.
If you are a community leader, encourage all kinds of Torah learning for all community members.
And if you have the philanthropic wherewithal, please partner with us to enable more Torah programs and additional classes, with more faculty.
To bring back these classes and increase interest in Gemara, we need unflinching commitment to women’s Talmud Torah in all its forms by our students, our high schools, seminaries, community and philanthropists. Stern undergraduate and GPATS students grow into tomorrow’s teachers and community leaders. The vitality of GPATS and Torah life at Stern College should be a priority for us all. We are all in this together!