Tomorrow’s Torah Leaders

Graduate Program in Advanced Talmudic Studies Celebrates Newest Cohort

Yeshiva University’s Graduate Program in Advanced Talmudic Studies (GPATS) held its 13th annual commencement ceremony on May 21 in the Lea and Leon Eisenberg Beit Midrash. This year, ten women proudly received their degrees after extensive study of Talmudic texts.

From left: Davida Kollmar,  Gabrielle Hiller  Rachel Leshaw  Tali Ausubel Karp Yehudit Goldberg  Chumie Junie  Aviva Sterman  Zahava Rothschild  Ashley Mandelstam  Elana Raskas
From left: Davida Kollmar, Gabrielle Hiller, Rachel Leshaw, Tali Ausubel Karp, Yehudit Goldberg, Chumie Junie, Aviva Sterman, Zahava Rothschild, Ashley Mandelstam and Elana Raskas

GPATS is a two-year master’s program that provides women an opportunity for post-college, high-level study to further their growth in Torah knowledge and skills. Launched 14 years ago by then-YU president Rabbi Dr. Norman Lamm, E. Billi Ivry University Professor of Jewish History, Literature and Law Rabbi Ephraim Kanarfogel and Dr. Monique C. Katz Dean of the Faculties of Arts and Sciences Dr. Karen Bacon, the program strives to create an elite cadre of female scholars of Talmud and halacha who will serve as leaders and role models for the Orthodox Jewish community.

The program’s new director, Nechama Price, instructor in Jewish studies and Bible at Stern College for Women, opened the ceremony with words of praise for the graduates and discussed this year’s focus on women’s leadership, as well as the benefits and challenges these young scholars are likely to encounter.

President Richard M. Joel spoke of the community’s “responsibility to spread the light in dark times,” assuring the graduates that he is “warmed by the light and potential of what [they], small in number, but unbelievable in strength, can do.”

In 2000, a generous grant from the AVI CHAI Foundation enabled Stern College to launch GPATS, envisioning  a cohort of excellent students each year who, already possessing a significant background in Talmudic studies, were seeking to further enhance and refine their understanding of Judaic studies as well as earn an advanced degree. Since then, the program has evolved to provide students with pedagogic training and opportunities to engage synagogues around the country as scholars in residence and learn about placement opportunities in significant positions within Jewish education.

For the first time, the program’s new director, Nechama Price, is also one of its alumni. Price is a YU graduate three times over, having earned her undergraduate degree at Stern, her master’s in Jewish education from the Azrieli Graduate School of Jewish Education and Administration and a master’s in Bible from the Bernard Revel Graduate School of Jewish Studies. Her experience in the program, as well as the world of academic Judaic studies and Jewish education in general, is invaluable to the students: “We go through different challenges in terms of Jewish education, and I can help guide them through these challenges, having been in their shoes,” she said.

Four of this year’s graduates will go on to teach in Jewish schools, on topics ranging from gemara and halacha to physics and English literature. Three women were accepted into the Yoetzet Halacha program in Israel, one is a PhD candidate in philosophy of religion at Brown University, and another will enter medical school in the fall. “Everyone got what they wanted in terms of job placement and future study—these women are sought after,” said Price. “I’ve received many phone calls asking if we have any more graduates available. It’s amazing how they continually make it to the top of the list.”

GPATS graduate Gabrielle Hiller felt that it was critical that opportunities for women to spend time immersed in Torah learning are made available–not only so women can understand and connect to their mesorah [tradition], but also to enable them to be thinking, educated, and contributing members of the Jewish community.

“I think that it is important that there are programs like GPATS to allow women to continue learning and developing skills at an advanced level,” said fellow graduate Davida Kollmar. “GPATS is one of the only places in America that women can continue to learn past an undergraduate level. If we want women to be qualified to be Torah leaders, as they should be, then we need to give them the place to attain that level.”