The Future of Stern College: New Judaic Studies Dean To Rethink “Core”

By: Sara Schatz  |  September 19, 2019

By Sara Schatz, Layout Editor

Since its foundation in 1954, Stern College for Women’s mission has been to create an “unprecedented opportunity [for women] to earn their bachelor’s degree…and immerse themselves in rigorous Jewish studies at the same time, in the same place.” This is why students were astonished when a new job description for a Beren Campus “Associate Dean, Torah and Spiritual Life” was published on the Yeshiva University Human Resources website in May 2019. The most highlighted aspect of the description is that the role “will have an academic component that includes overseeing the Jewish Studies Department.”   

According to Rabbi Yosef Blau, Mashgiach Ruchani at RIETS and Stern, it means that “this individual…is expected to supervise a reevaluation of Stern’s Core program in Jewish Studies, which has not significantly changed in almost fifty years.”

Since the 1970s, Stern’s Core program has held the requirement of students taking three Judaic courses a semester for the first six semesters. Following that, one is required to take fourteen credits of Judaic Studies courses for the remainder of their time at Stern. 

In recent years, two divergent populations of students have not been satisfied with this setup. Tamar Beer, SCW ’21, an undergraduate student who desires a stronger focus on her Judaic Studies courses, is now in GPATS’s (Graduate Program for Talmudic Studies) morning classes and taking her secular classes in the afternoon. “I think the problem is a structural one which cannot be upended without restructuring the schedule to have all Judaic Studies in the morning, which would enable every student to have a GPATS-style schedule if they so please,” she observed. 

On the flipside, there are students who do not necessarily want more intensive classes, but desire a more spiritually-infused experience  “[D]esignating a time of day for students to engage in their Torah classes [rather than combined with their general studies] can create a more unified environment where the Judaic curriculum is viewed more as ‘learning’ than ‘school,’ ” Beer noted. Rabbi Blau said, “Administrators in seminaries have expressed quite a few times to Stern’s administration that the spirituality in learning here is simply not up to par.”

This contrasts deeply with the students on the Wilf Campus, who experience a daily morning program with one specific rabbi, in addition to having a plethora of Roshei Yeshiva and other spiritual leaders constantly walking around campus, for those who desire to discuss spiritual issues. Though it has its own detriments, it fills the gap that the Beren Campus currently lacks. 

Though Stern has a Director of Spiritual Life, Mrs. Rachel Ciment, and two campus couples, the Rosensweigs and the Bernsteins, the need for major reevaluations in women’s Torah learning has been made clear to the administration at Stern. Small aspects of these changes commenced on May 9th, when Dean Orlian, Associate Dean of Stern, sent an email to the entire Beren campus regarding a change in the Hebrew language course requirement. Unlike previously, when most students had to take more than one semester of Hebrew in order to complete their requirements, most students now simply need to take one semester of Hebrew language. 

Then, over the summer, another change took place when Rabbi Ephraim Kanarfogel, the Chair for the Beren Judaic Studies Department for over 30 years, was replaced by Dr. Deena Rabinovich, Director of the Legacy Jewish Education Program at Stern. 

 “With each passing year the students and the faculty/administrators of Stern College seek to set the bar higher…for the opportunities on campus for students to grow intellectually and spiritually,” said Dean of Students Karen Bacon. “[W]e believe that having a Dean dedicated exclusively to overseeing Torah on campus will enhance everything from the classroom experience to campus culture, all for the benefit of the students.” 

Dr. Rabinovich, who accepted the position with the knowledge that the new, unappointed Dean will be working directly over her, already has a vision for how she desires to revolutionize spiritual life at Beren. “I would like to hear more from [the diverse women of the Beren campus] what they are looking for and see how we can provide for it.” 

Though it is unknown when the new Dean will be appointed, there is a search committee actively discussing potential candidates. The committee is composed of the following faculty members: Dr. Rabinovich; Professor Smadar Rosensweig, popular Professor of Bible; Rabbi Aaron Cohen, popular Professor of Judaic Studies; Mrs. Rachel Ciment, Director of Spiritual Life; Rabbi and Mrs. Jacob and Penina Bernstein, Beren Campus rabbinic couple; and Dean Orlian. Provost Selma Botman and Dean Bacon are both co-chairs of the committee. Dean Bacon also noted that she is in touch with Dean of Students Chaim Nissel to involve a student perspective in the committee as well. 

Though Rabbi Blau is not on the committee, he has expressed great enthusiasm for this impending change. “My limited time in Stern in recent years has made me aware of the split in the student body between those who…prefer the status quo and those who support a major overhaul,” he stated. “In many respects, this appointment will determine the future nature of Stern College.” 

Photo Source: The Lehrhaus