In the Fall 2017 semester, Stern College will be offering a new advanced Talmud class, taught by Rabbi Ezra Schwartz, a Rosh Yeshiva at Yeshiva College Mazer School of Talmudic Studies (MYP) and at the Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary (RIETS).
Rabbi Ephraim Kanarfogel, chair of Jewish Studies at SCW, explained that the class was created in response to student requests. As the advanced Talmud class meets daily, many students encounter scheduling conflicts with science labs and classes that meet in the same time slot as the Advanced Talmud class. The new Talmud class, which will meet in evenings, will allow students to take science courses without sacrificing their ability to partake in the daily Talmud class. Rabbi Kanarfogel clarified that the evening advanced Talmud class will be taught on the same level, fulfilling the same hours and credits as the morning advanced Talmud class taught by Rabbi Moshe Kahn.
Tehilla Berger, a sophomore studying biochemistry, is one of the students who requested an advanced Talmud option offered later in the day. “Talmud Torah has always been of foremost importance,” Burger explained. “When I came across the scheduling conflicts between the one Advanced Talmud shiur offered, and many of the science classes, I was initially very frustrated, both for myself as an individual, and for the Stern community, forced to choose between Torah and science courses.”
Berger expressed her gratitude for the administration’s accommodation of student requests, and stressed the importance of taking action to effect change. “I encourage those passionate about this issue to utilize the new opportunity Stern has created for us, as well as to take initiative in future endeavors,” she remarked.
Shira Krinsky, a junior who is a current student in Rabbi Kahn’s advanced Talmud class, expressed the implications of the new Advanced Talmud option. “It shows that YU is supporting women’s Torah learning on the highest level,” she said.
Rabbi Moshe Kahn, who has taught Talmud at Stern College since 1983, described the progression of women’s Talmud study throughout his years of teaching at Stern. “Now there is a beginner, intermediate, and advanced option, but in the beginning, we had just one Talmud option,” Rabbi Kahn explained.
The addition of a second advanced Talmud option, initiated by students who faced scheduling conflicts, captures the growing interest of studying Talmud on an advanced level by Stern students. Rabbi Kahn said that last semester, there were twenty students in his advanced morning shiur, one of highest student enrollments in his years teaching the class.
Rabbi Kahn also explained that the Graduate Program of Advanced Talmudic Studies (GPATS) was an outgrowth of the undergraduate Talmud class. To Rabbi Kahn, women’s study of Talmud should be “normal, a given…there was opposition when I began teaching, and there still is opposition; but there’s a lot of support as well,” he said.
One of Rabbi Schwartz’s goals for the new Talmud class is for students to finish the semester with “a better understanding of the halakhic process based on their study, as well as a genuine mastery of the material we cover.” Rabbi Schwartz added that his approach in every Talmud class he teaches is to “trace halakhot from their earliest sources down to their practical application. Along the way, we encounter positions which are not adopted in practical halakha and we have to understand why these positions are rejected. The study should enable students to have a better understanding and appreciation of how Jewish law operates.”
The new Talmud class will be studying tractate Avoda Zara next semester. Rabbi Schwartz explained, “It explores questions of our relationship with surrounding society and it delves into many important issues in kashrut.”
Rabbi Schwartz explained the significance of the new class: “I believe that everyone has an obligation to probe into devar Hashem to the best of her ability. Studying Torah at a high level is even more necessary in our day and age when our community is deeply divided over women’s roles. Torah knowledge in of itself is the highest value. When women know more Torah and forge a deeper relationship with the Ribbono Shel Olam, Klal Yisrael will be much better off. I am deeply appreciative to Rabbi Kanarfogel for offering me this exciting opportunity.”