The Newest Member of the GPATS Administration: Provost Selma Botman

By: Miriam Pearl Klahr  |  February 15, 2018

In October of 2017, The Observer sat down with then-Vice President Rabbi Kenneth Brander, to discuss some of the many programs he had played an integral part in, as well as how they would function upon his departure. GPATS, Yeshiva University’s Graduate Program in Advanced Talmudic Studies for Women, played an important role in the conversation. Rabbi Brander became intimately involved with the program at a point when YU was struggling financially and the future of GPATS was very uncertain. However, Rabbi Brander personally took on fundraising responsibilities for the program and brought GPATS back to life. Following his belief that a women’s learning program should have a female role model at its epicenter, he also added Professor Nechama Price to GPATS’s administration. When asked about who would take over fundraising for GPATS, as well as his role as the program’s vision head, Rabbi Brander responded that “Rabbi Berman and I are working on that.” He added that the Provost and someone else would most likely get involved and did not share any specifies regarding fundraising.

While the “someone else” that Rabbi Brander intimated still remains unnamed, and the GPATS webpage does not yet indicate any new leadership positions at the date of this article’s publication, Provost Selma Botman confirmed with The Observer that she has officially begun her new leadership role as part of the GPATS administration. Professor Nechama Price also clarified that the lack of an official update was a mere oversight and will be corrected shortly. Provost Botman was appointed to this position by President Berman. She describes it as “a wonderful opportunity to work with a consequential program that gives women a chance to devote themselves in an intense and uninterrupted way to the study of Talmud.” She also explained that she will be tapping into the expertise of Yeshiva University’s Vice President of Institutional Advancement Alyssa Herman to ensure continued fundraising for GPATS.  When asked about her goals for the program, Provost Botman replied that she is looking forward to meeting with the “GPATS women to talk about their goals and aspirations.”

This meeting took place on January 31st. Botman asked each GPATS participant to describe why they enrolled in the program and what they are currently gaining from it. The students shared their different goals ranging from formal chinuch, to Jewish leadership, and taking the time to learn Torah and gain skills before continuing on to medical or law school. Price described the conversation as “inspiring, since everyone’s story was so unique.”

The GPATS students that The Observer spoke with, all of whom asked to remain anonymous for this article, found the meeting to be productive. They described how they felt listened to, and were impressed with the way Provost Botman knew the Beit Midrash lingo, even though she has never held a position of this nature before. Some students did raise concern about how Botman’s appointment raises questions regarding the role GPATS plays in the YU community. They explained that if one primarily sees GPATS as a master’s program in Bible and Talmud then someone with these academic credentials is a very logical choice. However, if GPATS is to be seen as a learning program, similar to a kollel, then appointing a leader with a stronger background in Torah may have been an appropriate fit. However, other students strongly disagreed with this sentiment. They found that “their former position as a ‘child’ of the Center for the Jewish Future, detracted from the program’s legitimacy.” They think that being under the Provost’s leadership will bolster GPATS’s status as in integral graduate program of Yeshiva University.

Additionally, the women of GPATS voiced their appreciation for the support that Provost Botman and the new administration have expressed towards the program. However, the students also added that these words of support are very vague, and they wonder what exactly they will entail. They expressed their hope that these promises will lead to more advertising and recruitment for GPATS, so that the program can continue to grow to its full capacity.  

Price also expressed her excitement about Botman’s new leadership position. According to Price “Botman is impressive in terms of her sophistication, and her understanding of female leadership and empowerment is very clear.” She added that Provost Botman is working to “bridge the gaps in her understanding of GPATS,” through continuous meetings with both Price and the students. Furthermore, Price believes that newly appointed Senior Advisor to the Provost, Dr. Stuart Halpern, who understands GPATS intimately, will serve as an important resource to Botman.

In response to a question regarding her confidence in the program during this time of transition, Price replied that “President Berman is extremely supportive of GPATS” and has told her on numerous occasions that “it will remain and stay as a vital part of university.” She then added that though a “leadership change might be happening, GPATS is as strong as ever, with its same high level learning and talented students.” She cited the many internship positions GPATS students hold this year, ranging from Harvard Law School, to Lincoln Square Synagogue and Congregation Keter Torah. She also confirmed that June Zman will be taking place this year as usual. Price concluded by saying that applications for next year’s class are now open. She encourages anyone who is interested to contact her with questions and apply.