With women’s roles in some corners of the Orthodox world changing rapidly, it was no surprise that when it was reported that Yeshiva University’s advanced Talmudic study program for women was on the chopping block, there was a real outcry.
“This would undercut the progress that has been made in women’s learning in the Orthodox community in the last few decades,” one angry woman enrolled in the Graduate Program for Advanced Torah Study (GPATS) wrote in a student newspaper.
The anger might have paid off. This week, despite YU’s $1 billion budget hole, the university will, in a first, hire a woman to run the all-women’s program, The Jewish Week has learned.
Nechama Price, a professor of Judaic studies at YU, will head the two-year master’s program beginning next week when classes resume for the fall semester.
“The women of GPATS need someone who can relate to their challenges as they enter a field that is predominantly male,” Price, who is herself at GPATS graduate (2001-2003), told The Jewish Week. Since its establishment in 1999, the program has helped to remove the stigma of women’s Talmud study in the Orthodox world, though Price is quick to point out that she faced a lot of opposition when she finished her course work.
“When I graduated, the program was still very controversial. It was very hard for graduates to find jobs in communal leadership and in teaching,” she recalled.
Today, Price serves as the Yoatzet Halacha (female Jewish-law adviser) for Englewood, Tenafly, and Long Branch, N.J. She was among the first five U.S.-trained yoatzot to receive certification last November. Price hopes GPATS will enable more Orthodox women to assume similar positions in the future.
“High levels of Talmud study and leadership for women are becoming more and more accepted, which I’m so happy to see,” she said.
As part-time director of GPATS, Price will serve as a personal mentor for students and run recruitment efforts for the program. This year, the program only has nine students, all of them either in their second year. Rabbi Kenneth Brander, vice president of YU and the dean of the CJF, did not accept any new students while the program’s prospects were uncertain.
Financial plans for the program remain murky. Under Rabbi Brander’s leadership, the program, once housed at Stern College, will now fundraise from independent sources, though this year’s funding will still come from Stern’s budget. Rabbi Brander plans to start a rigorous fundraising campaign after the 2014-15 “transitional year.” Other changes include a significant reduction of student stipends (Stern once paid women $15,000 a year to study in the program), he said. This, Rabbi Brander said, would help make the program “sustainable.”
Though there were rumors about significant curriculum changes in the program, Price denied these claims.
“The curriculum will be staying by-and-large the same, with a heavy focus on the study of gemara and halacha [Talmud and Jewish law], and additional seminars preparing women to be leaders and educators,” she said.
Price hopes to see her role as director expand in coming years. “If women want to learn in an intense way, they should always have the chance to do so — for me, that’s priority,” she concluded.