Letter to the Editor: Torah Studies in Stern College
The term Torah Studies is not used in Stern College. They are called Jewish Studies, a department of the college like English, Computers or Biology. The contrast to Yeshiva or the male Sy Syms, where the morning is devoted to Torah studies with four options, is stark. Whatever the historical roots, it is time to evaluate the present reality and rethink the level of opportunities available for extensive and intensive Torah studies for students at Stern.
Over fifty years ago the core program of Jewish Studies was introduced at Stern. It combined requirements and a broad choice of subjects. For four years all students studied Jewish subjects in the morning and had secular classes in the afternoon. No one anticipated that after graduation from yeshiva high school women would spend a gap year learning in seminaries in Israel before coming to Stern. Their year of studying Torah covered many of the requirements that were called the “core” at Stern. Over the years the numbers going to Israel steadily increased until at present over ninety percent of the incoming class (excluding the Mechina) have studied in Israel. Growing numbers are staying in Israel for another half or full year. The core, no longer relevant, has been phased out. What remains is a requirement to take two Jewish studies courses a semester without any broader vision.
After the pioneering shiur given by Rav Soloveitchik OB”M at Stern, the world of Talmud opened for women in the college. Mastering the skills necessary to learn a Talmudic text and its commentaries takes time and effort. For those wanting this option, the schedule has to allow time and not conflict with requirements for a student’s major. Studying with a partner in a beis medrash is the preferred method of learning Gemara. In most of the seminaries in Israel the women have experienced learning in a beis medrash. Allowing students time to learn with a partner is invaluable for gaining independence in studying Talmud and all Jewish texts.
For the male students it is a given that students returning from Israel want more and higher level shiurim. The longer they spend in Israel the greater desire for continued growth in Torah knowledge. A Masmidim program exists with increased Torah learning hours. As long as Stern was operating with the core, the opposite was true. Dropping something is the easy part; replacing it is the hard task.
Unfortunately, the response to the loss of Talmud and Halakha instruction following the passing of Rabbi Moshe Kahn OB”M has been disappointing. Instead of a serious search for a full-time person who would become the unofficial rosh yeshiva of Stern, a worthy replacement for his advanced Talmud class was chosen from the existing faculty. But some of Rabbi Kahn’s classes are not even being offered.
Stern College is the primary location outside of Israel for women studying Torah bi’k’tav and be‘al peh (the written and oral Torah). This creates the responsibility to maximize the opportunities for women to grow in their Torah knowledge. Minimally, it should include an entire morning devoted to Torah studies as existed a half century ago, and encouraging students who are committed to greater learning.