By Adina Bruce, Website Manager
As the summer drew closer, many students began anxiously looking for productive ways to spend time during a summer that would be very different from what they had envisioned just a few months prior. June Zman (Torah learning session), a summer program facilitated by Yeshiva University’s Graduate Program In Advanced Talmudic Studies For Women (GPATS), provided a unique opportunity for many women around the world from the stressful situation that is the global COVID-19 pandemic.
June Zman, a month-long program that has been held for a number of years, offers the GPATS experience of a high level Talmud shiur (class), a Beit Midrash (Torah study hall), and seder (preparation) time with a chavruta (learning partner). This year, the format was forced to change due to the realities of being unable to meet in person. Instead of taking place in the Beren Campus Beit Midrash, Zoom became the virtual setting for shiur, taught by Rabbi David Nachbar, and breakout rooms allowed pairs of chavrutot (learning partners) to still meet and learn face-to-face. Although no Beit Midrash buzzed with the voice of Talmud Torah (Torah learning), a collaborative google doc of texts set to be learned in each unit provided a space for people to communally comment questions and answers and in doing so were able to learn and connect with other people and chavrutas.
Starting at 9 a.m., Rabbi Nachbar, a maggid shiur (Torah teacher) at GPATS for almost 10 years, would begin the morning by first greeting each student as she entered the Zoom from the waiting room, and then giving a quick introduction to what would be covered that day. Chavrutot were then placed into breakout rooms. Students learned Masechet (tractate) Rosh Hashanah, dividing their time between learning dapim (pages) on a more surface level (“bekiut”) style, and in depth (“biyyun”) style, complete with Rishonim and Achronim (earlier and later dated) commentaries. Shiur would start at 11:30 a.m., and the sources covered in chavruta (partnered learning) time were connected and explained by Rabbi Nachbar — frequent contributions, questions and discussions were provided by the attentive participants.
After sharing his initial worry about the different format and challenges of teaching over Zoom with the YU Observer, Rabbi Nachbar concluded that “I could not have been more pleased with how everything transpired.” Rabbi Nachbar went on to describe his impression of the summer as one of opening opportunities. “The online platform expanded the reach of our learning both geographically and demographically. … In the previous four years, June Zman enjoyed the participation of 25-30 women per year; however, our online platform attracted over 60 women over the course of the five weeks of learning.” Additionally, he expressed the significance teaching June Zman had on him specifically this summer. “It was especially meaningful to me to have dedicated our learning this summer in memory of Rabbi Dr. Norman Lamm, zt”l [zekher tzadik livrakhah, May the memory of this righteous one be a blessing], whose levaya took place one day prior to the commencement of our learning. Rabbi Dr. Lamm, zt”l, played such an instrumental role in promoting women’s learning both in the undergraduate program at Stern College and at the graduate level at GPATS. It was an honor to have paid tribute to his memory through our learning.”
Due to the unique accessibility virtual June Zman offered this summer, women from a variety of different backgrounds were able to attend. Sarah Robinson, SCW ‘15 and GPATS ‘17, has frequently participated in June Zman since graduating from GPATS. She described this year’s experience as, “… as usual, it was lovely!” In reference to the teaching style she said: “Rav Nachbar has a unique blend of being a soft-spoken, humble, even quiet teacher. But make no mistake — Rav Nachbar is also known for his rigor, intensity, thoroughness, and ameilus ba[T]orah [toiling with Torah learning]. He sets up the sugya [Talmud section] and Rishonim [early commentaries] clearly and thoroughly while simultaneously incorporating a number of student voices into the shiur. I feel that each class is a masterpiece.”
June Zman was also open to women not affiliated with YU — such as Shira Rachlin who attends Rutgers University. Talking about the experience she said, “I found it to be a really good experience overall … I thought I would feel out of place … but it ended up being that a lot of people there were in the same boat.” When discussing the virtual aspect to the program she said, “it was really well done as a virtual learning experience.”
Devora Chait has been a student at GPATS for one year and expressed much excitement about GPATS having been made so accessible. “I was thrilled to see how many women came to learn at June Zman. Being part of a dedicated cohort of talmidot (students) invigorates my learning, and it was so motivating to see how many women wanted to participate.” She further elaborated saying: “Not being in a physical beit midrash was definitely challenging, but continuing my learning in a virtual beit midrash helped me maintain serious [T]almud Torah and provided me with a sense of normalcy during these unpredictable times.”