By: Rivka Bennun  | 

Three Talmud Courses on Beren Campus Canceled for Next Year

The Stern College for Women (SCW) Jewish studies department will not be offering Introductory or Intermediate Talmud courses next semester due to low enrollment. This will reduce the number of undergraduate Talmud courses on Beren Campus from three to one, with just Advanced Talmud continuing to be offered. 

Additionally, the Graduate Program in Advanced Talmud/Tanach Studies (GPATS) will not be running one of the two Talmud tracks it currently offers next year, due to a lack of students registering. 

At this time, the university is also not hiring a full-time replacement for Rabbi Moshe Kahn, who taught Talmud on both the undergraduate and graduate levels before he passed away in January. 

Dean of Undergraduate Faculty of Arts and Sciences Karen Bacon told The Commentator that the decision to cut the introductory and intermediate Talmud courses at SCW was made due to low enrollment in the current and previous semesters. 

“The standard is a minimum of 8 students,” said Bacon, who made the decision in consultation with Rebecca Ivry Department of Jewish Studies Chair Deena Rabinovich. “We can continue low enrolled courses for a few semesters to see if the numbers pick up. When they don’t, we cannot justify the course unless it is a requirement for a particular major.”

Last semester, six students were registered for Introductory Talmud, which was not offered this semester due to low enrollment, and only four students are currently registered for Intermediate Talmud. 

Bacon further explained that courses are generally offered based on student interest, unless they are a requirement for a major. 

“To hire an adjunct just to teach a few students is not in the budget,” she said. 

Intermediate Talmud is currently being taught by an adjunct professor and has shown low registration rates in recent semesters. Advanced Talmud is also taught by an adjunct professor but generally has a larger number of students. 

Traditionally, three levels of Talmud courses have been offered at SCW: Introductory, intermediate and advanced, with Rabbi Kahn always teaching intermediate and advanced, and other instructors teaching introductory throughout different semesters. 

After Rabbi Kahn stopped teaching in late October due to his declining health, Rabbis Joseph Schwarz and Shlomo Zuckier took over for Intermediate and Advanced Talmud, respectively, and continued this semester. 

Elisheva Hirsch (SCW ‘23), who took Intermediate Talmud for a semester before switching to Advanced Talmud, expressed her disappointment at the news. 

“Intermediate Gemara gave me the foundational skills, vocabulary, and confidence I needed to continue on to Advanced Gemara,” said Hirsch. “If intermediate and beginners stop being offered at Stern, the barrier of entry to women learning Gemara will grow even stronger than it already is, since Gemara will be an option only for students who already feel confident enough in their abilities to take an advanced shiur

“Rav Kahn believed that anyone at any age could learn how to learn,” continued Hirsch, “and that they should have the opportunity to do so. Instead of cutting beginners and intermediate due to low enrollment, Stern should be considering avenues to boost enrollment.”

The current structure of the morning program at GPATS is comprised of two tracks of Talmud and one of Tanach. Within the two Talmud tracks, one was taught by Rabbi Kahn, since taken over by Rabbi Zuckier, and is focused more on building skills, while the other is taught by Rabbi David Nachbar and follows a more conceptual, traditional shiur style. 

GPATS Director Professor Nechama Price informed The Commentator that for the upcoming year, the Talmud shiur currently taught by Rabbi Zuckier will not be offered due to a lack of interest in that track. 

While the application deadline for GPATS has not yet passed, officially closing Wednesday, Price explained that as of last week, there have been zero applicants for the second Talmud track, which only had four students this semester, prompting the program to temporarily cut it from their options for the upcoming year. 

“Hopefully in the future when there are students who would like to be in that shiur it’ll be able to return,” Price added. 

As of publication, 23 students are signed up for GPATS next year, with 11 signed up for Tanach and 12 for Talmud. 

Price told The Commentator that she hopes more students will register for the course and GPATS. 

“I really hope for the future that more women will demonstrate their interest in learning Gemara by signing up for the Gemara opportunities that are out there, including the skills level class at GPATS,” she said, and added that applications will still be considered even after the official deadline. 

Rabbi Kahn, who taught both the Advanced and Intermediate Talmud courses as well as one of the GPATS Talmud tracks until shortly before his passing in January, held a full-time position as professor of Talmud and maggid shiur over his nearly forty-year career on Beren Campus. 

At the moment, there is no full-time replacement for Rabbi Kahn. 

“Right now we are not replacing Rav Kahn with a full-time person,” Associate Dean of Torah Studies Shoshana Schechter shared, “But that doesn’t mean we’re not going to at some point.”

“In terms of hiring a new full time faculty member, these [things] take time so we are beginning to discuss,” Rabinovich told The Commentator. 

“We have begun discussions about a full-time replacement for [Rav Kahn],” Rabinovich added. “In the meantime we are focusing on getting the fall classes in order.”

Rabbi Nachbar, who will be taking over for Advanced Talmud next semester and continuing in GPATS, already has a full-time position at GPATS.

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Photo Caption: Stern College for Women

Photo Credit: Yeshiva University