The Future of GPATS: Program Makes Changes to Ensure Sustainability

By: Hannah Dreyfus  |  May 12, 2014

YU’s strained financial situation has prompted the scrupulous review, and in some cases dissolution, of many university programs. GPATS, Yeshiva University’s M.A. program in Biblical and Talmudic interpretation for women, was similarly appraised in recent months. The program, with its own faculty, no income from tuition dollars, and relatively few participants (this year’s class has eighteen students total, eight of whom are graduating), is an expensive one. There was discussion about cutting the program.

However, due in large part to the efforts of Rabbi Kenneth Brander, vice president of Yeshiva University and dean of the Center for the Jewish Future (CJF), the program will be continuing. “We are committed to ensuring the sustainability and longevity of this invaluable program,” said Rabbi Brander. The program will incur several significant changes in order to ensure its sustainability.

The program will remain a credited, free M.A. program, but the curriculum will have a new focus on pedagogy. Rabbi Brander is working closely with Rabbi J.J. Schacter, senior scholar at the CJF and Stern professor, to create a curriculum that will “prepare students for careers outside the Beit Midrash.” Currently, over fifty of the program’s alumni are Jewish educators, synagogue scholars or otherwise active contributors to Jewish communal life.


“There are several areas of interest I’d like to layer into the program,” said Rabbi Schacter, who has hitherto been involved with GPATS only on an ad hoc basis. “I want students to have exposure to public speaking in a more formal way, more rigorous time learning how to prepare shiurim and lectures, exposure to dealing with boards, pastoral counseling, fund-raising, pedagogy, community organization, and interpersonal relationships.” These “pastoral” skills will leave graduates “better prepared to enter the professional sphere.”

Rabbi Brander stressed that, despite these additions, the program is on “sound academic footing.” “The program will remain a rigorous academic program with supplemental training for the roles that the graduates seem to be engaging,” said Brander. Brander is also intent on providing GPATS women with mentors who are practicing educators or scholars in the field. Additionally, he hopes to increase GPATS engagement with the undergraduate community at Stern.

When asked about the program’s shift in focus, Rabbi Ephraim Kanarfogel, the current academic director of GPATS, said Rabbi Brander should be contacted with questions, as this new model of GPATS will be developed and administered by the CJF. “We trust that this new model will provide a positive and substantive learning opportunity for our graduates,” he said.

Aside from the curriculum, the other major changes are budgetary. The program will no longer be funded by Stern College, as it has been for several years. In the future, the program will be supported by private donations as well as funding from the Vice President’s office and the CJF, explained Rabbi Brander. These changes will take effect the year after next.

“The current masters program will continue next year with existing funding,” said Dean Bacon. “Subsequently the revised program, with a new emphasis, will be under the CJF umbrella with funding coming from the CJF.  Of course the faculty and administration of Stern College will always be available to consult and help to the extent possible, which is true of our relationship with all YU programs.”

President Joel, after stressing the university’s commitment to the program, added, “Funding for the program has been, and will continue to be, a university matter. GPATS has been primarily funded through the benefaction of Ambassador Alfred Moses and we hope it will continue that way.”

Additionally, while participants used to receive a budget of $15,000 a year, the yearly stipend will be reduced significantly. The new stipend is still being negotiated. Those currently in the program will not have their stipends reduced. These changes will only go into effect for future students.

Explaining this significant reduction, Dean Bacon said, “Students never paid any tuition for the original GPATS program, nor for the current masters program.  Thus there was no income from student tuition.  This means that the University needed to set aside a budget to cover all the expenses: salaries, stipends and other costs…As you can see, sustainability of any program that does not directly generate tuition dollars is never certain. The University is committed to this program among others that we believe are important.  We need to be both optimistic and realistic as we move forward.”

After these changes go into effect, Rabbi Brander predicts it will be three years until the program can stand on “solid financial footing and solid community footing.”

Adina Poupko, the program manager at the office of student life, will also be taking a more active administrative role in the program. “These changes will by and large be very positive,” said Poupko, who has been helping the program throughout her time at YU. “A heavier focus on educating women for the opportunities available to them, as well as more focused attention to the internships and pedagogic training will only create women that are even more equipped to be communal leaders.”

Current GPATS students have expressed a wide range of opinions about the changes.

“I think it’s good that someone is taking responsibility for the program and giving it direction,” said Goldie Guy, Barnard ’12 and soon to be GPATS graduate. “Up until now, the program has been rather amorphous. Because no one really knew what the goal of the program was, it was hard to market to others.” Guy, who is interning this year with the staff chaplain at North Shore University Hospital, also feels the new increased focus on pastoral training is important. “I believe Jewish women involved in advanced Torah learning need to be trained pastorally,” said Guy.

Galit Wernick, University of Michigan ’12 and graduating GPATS this year, expressed concerns about the program changes. “I see the goal of GPATS as creating a group of elite female learners,” said Wernick. “I’m concerned that making the program into more of a vocational school will detract from the exclusive focus on learning, and learning for its own sake.” Wernick did, however, qualify that she is “deeply respectful and supportive” of Rabbi Brander’s vision for the program.

Poupko, Rabbi Brander, and Rabbi Schacter all stressed that the level of learning will remain the same despite the curriculum changes. “GPATS, in its core, is remaining the same,” said Poupko. “There will continue to be a phenomenal group of outstanding women who are dedicating two years to learning Torah in a real and significant way.”