By Fruma Landa, Editor in Chief
History repeats itself. Battles once fought are long forgotten and the gifts of progress given to us are often taken for granted. By forgetting the efforts of the ones who came before us who put we run the risk of giving way to complacency. We become settled with the world the way it is, and naively believe that what we have now will last.
The YU Observer archives are full of articles discussing women’s Talmud study (‘73, ‘76, ‘89). There were Torah learning initiatives that were started, and lost, and sometimes even restarted. An article in The Commentator goes through a quick analysis of some of the Talmud course evolution at Stern College for Women and outlines changes over the years. Like those who came before us, we too are not immune from losing the Torah opportunities we, as well as the passionate students before us, worked so hard for.
Rav Ezra Schwartz’s Advanced Talmud course, as well as the Introduction to Talmud course taught by Rabbi David Pahmer, were cancelled for the Fall 2020 semester due to limited student registration. The lack of registration was not an indication of students’ interest in the course. The structure of the Beren Campus Judaic study program is one that makes registering for a Talmud class difficult. Unlike the Mazer Yeshiva Undergraduate Torah Studies Program on the Wilf Campus, which takes place from 9 a.m.-3 p.m., the Talmud courses on the Beren Campus are structured identically to secular courses. Meaning, there isn’t a set time in the SCW course schedule set aside for Torah learning. This structure cannot support a Talmud course for which seder (preparation of the material, often done in pairs) and shiur (lecture on the studied material) time is required. For both Rav Kahn’s, intermediate course (which meets biweekly slot for an around an hour and 40 minutes) and advanced Talmud course (which meets Monday-Thursday for around an hour and 15 minutes), students are required to put in seder time outside of class since the class time slot is not long long enough to accommodate both the seder and shiur aspect of the course.
Students often put in an hour and a half of seder time before each intermediate class, and an hour of seder time before each advanced class. Thus, the Advanced Talmud course begins unofficially at 8 a.m., resulting in an additional weekly four hour investment of unofficial class time into the “course” without receiving any credit. To put it into perspective, the extra four hours is an hour and a half more than an average three credit course of 2.5 hours a week. Aside from that, many science classes, as well as classes required for many majors, are offered at 9 a.m., preventing many students from taking the course.
In 2017, Rav Schwartz’s Advanced Talmud course was established. The course met on the evenings of Monday-Wednesday for approximately five hours and 50 minutes per week. The addition of this course accommodated students who had obligatory 9 a.m. classes, as well as provided an opportunity for a Talmud course in which seder time is part of the time slot and does not begin at 8 a.m. While there were many students who participated in the course, a significant number of them were not able to officially register, mostly due to scheduling conflicts. Often, a class a student was taking before the course time slot overlapped with the seder aspect of the course, preventing them from registering, but practically, the student would be able to find time to make up the few minutes they missed from seder and be present in all of the necessary shiur time. Until this issue is resolved, it will be consistently difficult to find enough students to officially register for the course to allow for its continuation.
The instability of the Talmud courses are not the only instances of regression we are seeing. Through the Beren Campus history, the presence of a Shabbat (Sabbath) minyan (prayer quorum traditionally composed of men) on the Beren Campus fluctuated. Mentions of a Shabbat minyan include an article “Still Minus A Minyan” published in ‘66, and “Shabbos Minyan Becomes a Reality…” (‘66) as well as many more articles documenting the losses and start ups of the Beren Campus Shabbat minyan.
We are once again contributing to this prolific Shabbat minyan history. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Shabbat minyan on the Beren Campus is no longer occurring. Thus, the hard work put in by those before us will likely need to be repeated once it is safe to do so in order to reinstate the minyan.
Weekday minyanim on the Beren Campus, as seen in a YU Observer article published in 2013 which mentions a weekly Wednesday mincha (afternoon prayer) minyan, and Rosh Chodesh (the start of a new Jewish month) minyanim as mentioned in a ‘96 article “Rosh Chodesh Minyan Debuts at SCW,” are recorded in the history of undergraduate women. Just like the Shabbat minyan, the currently cancelled weekly Tuesday and Rosh Chodesh minyanim can join the ranks of articles documenting their inceptions and terminations.
Comparably, the push for Mechitzot (partitions providing space for women to join a prayer service) on the Wilf Campus leaves a trail through the archives as well. There are numerous articles expressing a need to accommodate women in the Wilf Campus prayer spaces. Yet, this is once again a struggle as the restructuring of prayer spaces on the Wilf Campus to adhere to COVID-19 protocol did not initially make space for women.
Even though the above mentioned losses are understandable due to the disruptive nature of the COVID-19 pandemic, they reflect a theme in the history of YU undergraduate women. Like those who came before us, we are at risk of losing the Torah and religious experiences we have grown accustomed to over the last few years. We need to hold on to that which we inherited, and improve upon it. As the next link in the mesorah (chain), we need to pass down what we were given, as well as our own contributions, to the students who come after us to facilitate progress and change. The Torah, the one thing which should be a constant, relied upon at Yeshiva University, deserves to thrive.
Archival research credit: Doniel Weinreich
Photo credit: Adina Bruce