A Tribute to Rav Moshe Kahn zt”l

By: Penina Waghalter  |  February 16, 2023

By Penina Waghalter

One of the hallmarks of my time at Stern College has been stepping into the Beit Midrash at eight o’clock each morning, sitting down opposite my chavrutah [learning partner], and spending the next two hours learning Gemara. Every day we sit at the same table in the center of the Beis, situated between two large pillars, and struggle through the texts at hand. An hour later, we head down to our classroom, log onto Zoom, and, until a couple of months ago, were greeted by Rav Moshe Kahn zt”l’s smile.

Each day in shiur [class], Rav Kahn infamously cold called on students to answer questions and explain the Gemara. There was a method to the way in which he called on us; some were “ringers”, who had proven their skills and could be counted on to answer the difficult questions no one else knew the answers to. Others were great readers who could translate the texts very well and help move shiur along when it was lagging. Some were not yet as skilled and were called to read and translate the texts in order to improve their skills. However, it was well known that Rav Kahn called on new students more often than returning ones in order to gauge their skill levels.

My first semester in shiur, I was the only new student. This pretty much guaranteed that I was called on at least once a shiur. There were many days, especially at the beginning, when I was frustrated and wanted a break. But Rav Kahn knew what he was doing; not only was he gauging my skill level, which is why I thought he was calling on me, but he knew that keeping me in the hot seat would force me to push myself harder in seder and develop my skills faster and further than I would have had he let me slack off.

I recall one particular day in shiur, where he asked me to explain a Rashba, one of the great medieval commentaries on the Talmud. I rambled on incorrectly for several minutes while Rav Kahn watched me, asking follow up questions until I finally said that I simply had no idea what the correct answer was. At that point, much to my surprise, Rav Kahn smiled and said ‘That’s right!’ and called on someone else (one of the ringers) to take over. I left shiur very confused about the interaction; I didn’t understand why he hadn’t cut me off the moment I started to say the incorrect answer. Eventually I realized that he was intentionally teaching me something in that moment: he was instilling within me the ability to realize that I was wrong, and not to pretend to know more than I actually did.

Rav Kahn taught at Stern every single day for nearly forty years. He taught with an unparalleled gentleness and patience. He taught with unwavering commitment and rigor. Most of all, he taught with the utmost humility. Rav Kahn did not have an agenda; he did not intend to revolutionize generations of women. And yet, this is exactly what he did. 

Nearly every woman who learns Gemara today was a student of his, and if they weren’t, they learned from a student of his. Thousands of women around the world are mourning the loss of Rav Kahn from this world. In mourning Rav Kahn’s passing, I am sad that I lost my Rebbe, sad for the world of Torah, and sad that my younger sister will never be able to learn from him. I have high hopes for what his students will continue to do for the world of Torah, and I personally feel a charge to continue to live on his legacy.