By Fruma Landa and Yosef Rosenfield
Nechama Price is the Director of Yeshiva University’s Graduate Program in Advanced Talmudic Studies for Women, from which she earned certification in 2003. She is a Senior Lecturer in the Bible and Judaic Studies departments at Stern College, where she has been teaching since 2004. Nechama earned a Masters Degree in Jewish Education from YU’s Azrieli Graduate School and an MA in Bible from the Bernard Revel Graduate School. She is also a graduate of the inaugural class of the American branch of Nishmat’s Yoetzet Halacha Program.
Nechama Price recently published her first book, “Tribal Blueprints: Twelve Brothers and the Destiny of Israel.” Yosef Rosenfield and Fruma Landa, on behalf of the YU Observer, have interviewed Price regarding this accomplishment.
YU Observer: Can you share a little bit about your background? Specifically, what prompted you to publish your first book?
Professor Nechama Price: Six years ago, I gave a shiur [lecture] at a convention, and a man approached me after my shiur and said to me, “I believe you have a book in you” and handed me a card. I looked at the card, and it read “Matthew Miller, Publisher at Koren Publishers. At first, I thought he was joking, but he told me to get back to him with a proposal. After much thought, I jumped at this opportunity. Five years later the book was published! This same pattern happened again a few years later, regarding my current role at GPATS [Graduate Program In Advanced Talmudic Studies For Women], as I had never dreamt of administration. And, again, with becoming a Yoetzet Halacha.
O: What most inspired or influenced your writing? I noticed you teach undergraduate courses on the Beren Campus; is there content overlap?
P: Deciding what to write about was actually quite easy. Delving into the stories and personalities of the Shevatim [Tribes] is something I have been thinking about and working on for the last 20 years. The thesis of the book, that each tribe has its own personality that is reflected throughout Tanach [Bible], is an idea I started to contemplate as a student many years ago at MMY [Michlelet Mevaseret Yerushalayim]. It started with a shiur on this topic that I presented in the MMY Beit Midrash [Torah study hall] to the entire school and faculty. Over the years, that shiur turned into a series of 2, then 3, then 6 shiurim [classes]. These morphed into a class I taught over the summer, until finally it became my course at Stern College, Tribes in Israel, that I am teaching this semester. For me, it was truly fitting for this information, that I had been developing for so many years, to be my first book.
O: What are some things you learned from this endeavor?
P: As part of the editorial process, I quickly learned how humbling it is for others to critique your work. Having to rework ideas, moving seemingly important information to footnotes or from the book entirely, can be personally painful, even as it improves the book.
O: What was the most enjoyable part of writing and publishing the book? Was this a rewarding experience?
P: As someone whose primary method of teaching is shiurim and in the classroom by interacting with my students, I was surprised to discover the fun of writing a book. Converting my material into a book required reworking the material for this format and significantly more research. I found this part of the process extremely challenging, enjoyable and rewarding. To me, this was the highlight of the process.
O: What was the hardest part of this undertaking?
P: I learned quickly that the hardest part of the process was the editing. My husband, who is an incredible writer, was my first editor. He spent hours working on my book and I am very appreciative of his efforts. It was fun to have this be a joint project. A few of my former students, now friends, also helped editing. Lizzi Peled, Talia Molotsky, Sarah Epstein, all Stern College graduates, read and edited many of the chapters. Talia even came up with the title of the book while sitting at our Shabbos [Sabbath] table brainstorming ideas. Finally, after two years, the manuscript was ready to be sent to Koren/Maggid Publishers. Their parts of the process, including editing, formatting, printing and so much more took another two years. Learning the process of writing a book and how much time and effort invested by so many people was fascinating.
O: What do you hope the book will lead to in the future?
P: I very often tell my students that we never really know what is in store for us in the future. We decide our next step, but never know where that decision will lead. Hashem [G-d] really is in charge of our lives. We just need to be open to taking on opportunities as they arise and pushing ourselves further than ever we imagined. This perspective represents my journey. If you had asked me when I was a student in Stern College what I would be up to after studying in GPATS, I’m sure my answer would not reflect my current reality. However, after sitting and learning for many years, the opportunity to teach Tanach and Halacha/Gemara [Jewish Law/Talmud] in Stern College was dropped into my lap. I jumped at the opportunity. It wasn’t what I imagined; it was so much better.
O: What message can you offer people who would like to publish their work but might be overwhelmed by the thought of writing their own book?
P: Writing this book has been an absolute privilege. Having the opportunity to spread Torah to a broader audience via a different format is an honor. Personally, it has again reinforced the message that, with G-d’s help, we can push ourselves to do things we never imagined accomplishing.