(JTA) — Beginner and intermediate Talmud courses are back on the table for women at Yeshiva University’s Stern College for Women, less than a week after current and former students launched a petition criticizing the classes’ cancellation.
More than 1,400 people, mostly Y.U. faculty, alumni and students, signed the petition, which launched late Wednesday after a dean told the student newspaper in early April that the school would not be hiring any full-time faculty to replace Rabbi Moshe Kahn.
Kahn, who died at 71 in January of lung cancer, was seen as a champion of women’s Talmud studies and taught many of the advanced Talmud courses at Stern College, Y.U.’s women’s division.
“Not hiring a full-time professor dedicated to teaching Talmud at diverse levels will close the pipeline of access to Gemara for all students and ultimately lead to a decline in enrollment in the advanced level course,” said the petition. “The world of Torah study for women as we now know it would indeed be שָׁמֵם [shamem], utterly desolate.”
The petition — whose signers included prominent Talmud teachers, about 30 current and former Y.U. faculty members and students at Modern Orthodox high schools — called on the university to partner with them to endow a teaching position in Kahn’s name.
Now, Y.U. appears ready to do that — though it says it will not wait before resuming Talmud instruction at Stern.
“We have been planning a number of new initiatives,” Stern faculty said in a letter published online Friday and set to be sent to students’ inboxes later this week. “We would be delighted if those who support women’s advanced Torah study and the students, friends and supporters of Rabbi Kahn would endow a Rabbi Moshe Kahn Chair of Talmud Studies for Women. We are also seeking to create a new cohort program of Matmidot Scholars for young women to learn Tanach and Talmud on the highest levels.”
Yeshiva University is the only address in North America for Orthodox women to access advanced, intensive secular and Judaic studies at the undergraduate and graduate levels. The graduate program is the only Orthodox program in North America for women’s Torah learning that culminates with a master’s degree.
The decision not to offer an introductory or intermediate level course in Talmud would have meant that the country’s flagship Modern Orthodox university would significantly reduce its instruction in one of Judaism’s most fundamental texts.
It also would have made Y.U. an outlier in Modern Orthodoxy amid expanding opportunities for women to study Talmud, after centuries during which it was considered the exclusive province of men. In the past few years, a growing number of women have formed asynchronous communities around studying a page of Talmud a day, a practice called daf yomi. The increasing number of programs offering ordination to Orthodox women also place a heavy focus on Talmud study.
Students who learned from Kahn said he had been a vital force for women who wanted to study traditional Jewish texts.
“He said, ‘Any woman who comes to my class is welcome.’ It wasn’t just lip service,” said Tamar Beer Horowitz, who studied with Kahn for five years and helped write the petition. “He genuinely made us all feel welcome.”
But while Kahn’s courses sometimes drew up to 20 students, lower-level Talmud classes sometimes had much smaller rosters, according to students and administrators. Many fell below Stern’s threshold to offer a class, eight students.
“We can continue low enrolled courses for a few semesters to see if the numbers pick up,” Karen Bacon, dean of Stern’s Undergraduate Faculty of Arts and Sciences, told The Commentator, the student newspaper, earlier this month. “When they don’t, we cannot justify the course unless it is a requirement for a particular major.”
Y.U. has made multiple changes to its Jewish studies offerings for both women and men in recent years. In 2021, the school announced that it would end its in-person Hebrew courses indefinitely, offering asynchronous classes online. That year, the undergraduate men’s college also dissolved its Jewish Studies division, combining multiple departments into a Bible, Hebrew and Near Eastern studies department. Before its dissolution, Jewish studies was the largest department at Yeshiva College.
The scaling back has come amid ongoing financial strain for Y.U., which survived a financial crisis more than a decade ago but now faces renewed litigation over its handling of child sex abuse allegations as well as the prospect of curtailed state funding depending on the outcome of a battle over its decision not to recognize an LGBTQ student group.
The changes in course offerings also come amid a national decline in the number of students studying the humanities.
Y.U. appears to be hoping that the conversation spurred by the viral petition could cause more students to choose Talmud classes when registration for the fall opens next week.
“We are pleased to share that Rabbi David Nachbar, an esteemed member of our Torah faculty, will be teaching a number of Rabbi Kahn’s classes,” the letter to students said. “We hope that recent discussions will inspire stronger enrollment, especially in our Talmud classes.”
But more than just offering courses will be needed. Some Stern College students and graduates say scheduling roadblocks can make it difficult to enroll in Talmud classes, even when there is interest.
Multiple Stern students said that, given the school’s schedule, registering for Talmud meant they would have had to enroll in two classes that met at the same time — making it impossible to complete the required coursework. Meanwhile, on the men’s campus, which offers more scheduling options for Talmud courses, the same conflicts do not occur, they said. Rabbi Ezra Schwartz, a leader in the Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary, was installed Monday morning as the men’s division’s full-time chair of Talmud and Jewish law.
“The claim that there’s no interest is — personally, I don’t think it’s true,” said Beer Horowitz, who is the founder of Bnot Sinai, an intensive women’s text study program in New York.
But she said even if there were low interest, canceling classes isn’t the best option, she said.
“I think that there may be dips in and rises in interest over time, but there’s also different things that cause that and we have to look critically at those,” she said. “You need to have that consistent offering to get it back to that place where it’s big and it’s popular and people are doing it.”
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Phyllis Pollock died at home Sunday September 3, 2023 in Winnipeg, after a courageous lifetime battle with cancer.
Phyllis was a mother of four: Gary (Laura), daughter Randi, Steven (deceased in 2010) (Karen), and Robert. Phyllis also had two grandchildren: Lauren and Quinn.
Born in Fort Frances, Ontario on February 7, 1939, Phyllis was an only child to Ruby and Alex Lerman. After graduating high school, Phyllis moved to Winnipeg where she married and later divorced Danny Pollock, the father of her children. She moved to Beverly Hills in 1971, where she raised her children.
Phyllis had a busy social life and lucrative real estate career that spanned over 50 years, including new home sales with CoastCo. Phyllis was the original sales agent for three buildings in Santa Monica, oceanfront: Sea Colony I, Sea Colony II, and Sea Colony. She was known as the Sea Colony Queen. She worked side by side with her daughter Randi for about 25 years – handling over 600 transactions, including sales and leases within the three phases of Sea Colony alone.
Phyllis had more energy than most people half her age. She loved entertaining, working in the real estate field, meeting new and interesting people everyday no matter where she went, and thrived on making new lifelong friends. Phyllis eventually moved to the Sea Colony in Santa Monica where she lived for many years before moving to Palm Desert, then Winnipeg.
After battling breast cancer four times in approximately 20 years, she developed metastatic Stage 4 lung cancer. Her long-time domestic partner of 27 years, Joseph Wilder, K.C., was the love of her life. They were never far apart. They traveled the world and went on many adventures during their relationship. During her treatment, Phyllis would say how much she missed work and seeing her clients. Joey demonstrated amazing strength, love, care, and compassion for Phyllis as her condition progressed. He was her rock and was by her side 24/7, making sure she had the best possible care. Joey’s son David was always there to support Phyllis and to make her smile. Joey’s other children, Sheri, Kenny, Joshua and wife Davina, were also a part of her life. His kids would Facetime Phyllis and include her during any of their important functions. Phyllis loved Joey’s children as if they were her own.
Thank you to all of her friends and family who were there to support her during these difficult times. Phyllis is now, finally, pain free and in a better place. She was loved dearly and will be greatly missed. Interment took place in Los Angeles.
Gwen Centre Creative Living Centre celebrates 35th anniversary
By BERNIE BELLAN Over 100 individuals gathered at the Gwen Secter Centre on Tuesday evening, July 18 – under the big top that serves as the venue for the summer series of outdoor concerts that is now in its third year at the centre.
The occasion was the celebration of the Gwen Secter Centre’s 35th anniversary. It was also an opportunity to honour the memory of Sophie Shinewald, who passed away at the age of 106 in 2019, but who, as recently as 2018, was still a regular attendee at the Gwen Secter Centre.
As Gwen Secter Executive Director Becky Chisick noted in her remarks to the audience, Sophie had been volunteering at the Gwen Secter Centre for years – answering the phone among other duties. Becky remarked that Sophie’s son, Ed Shinewald, had the phone number for the Gwen Secter Centre stored in his phone as “Mum’s work.”
Remarks were also delivered by Raquel Dancho, Member of Parliament for Kildonan-St. Paul, who was the only representative of any level of government in attendance. (How times have changed: I remember well the steadfast support the former Member of the Legislature for St. John’s, Gord Mackintosh, showed the Gwen Secter Centre when it was perilously close to being closed down. And, of course, for years, the area in which the Gwen Secter Centre is situated was represented by the late Saul Cherniack.)
Sophie Shinewald’s granddaughter, Alix (who flew in from Chicago), represented the Shinewald family at the event. (Her brother, Benjamin, who lives in Ottawa, wasn’t able to attend, but he sent a pre-recorded audio message that was played for the audience.)
Musical entertainment for the evening was provided by a group of talented singers, led by Julia Kroft. Following the concert, attendees headed inside to partake of a sumptuous assortment of pastries, all prepared by the Gwen Secter culinary staff. (And, despite my asking whether I could take a doggy bag home, I was turned down.)
Palestinian gunmen kill 4 Israelis in West Bank gas station
This is a developing story.
(JTA) — Palestinian gunmen killed four people and wounded four in a terror attack at a gas station near the West Bank settlement of Eli, the Israeli army reported.
An Israeli civilian returning fire at the scene of the attack on Tuesday killed one of the attackers, who emerged from a vehicle, and two others fled.
Kan, Israel’s public broadcaster, said one of those wounded was in serious condition. The gunmen, while in the vehicle, shot at a guard post at the entry to the settlement, and then continued to the gas station which is also the site of a snack bar. A nearby yeshiva went into lockdown.
Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant announced plans to convene a briefing with top security officials within hours of the attack. Kan reported that there were celebrations of the killing in major West Bank cities and in the Gaza Strip, initiated by terrorist groups Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad. Hamas said the shooting attack Tuesday was triggered by the Jenin raid.
The shooting comes as tensions intensify in the West Bank. A day earlier, Israeli troops raiding the city of Jenin to arrest accused terrorists killed five people.
The Biden administration spoke out over the weekend against Israel’s plans to build 4,000 new housing units for Jewish settlers in the West Bank. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also finalized plans to transfer West Bank building decisions to Bezalel Smotrich, the extremist who is the finance minister. Smotrich has said he wants to limit Palestinian building and expand settlement building.
Kan reported that the dead terrorist was a resident of a village, Urif, close to Huwara, the Palestinian town where terrorists killed two Israeli brothers driving through in February. Settlers retaliated by raiding the village and burning cars and buildings.
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