March 15th, 2023 • 22 Adar 5783
Dr. Josh Levisohn

Next Wednesday, as part of my trip accompanying the basketball team to the Sarachek Tournament, I will be stopping by the Stern GPATS program to give a shiur and to promote the benefits of living and working in a smaller (read: non-New York) Jewish community.

GPATS stands for the Graduate Program in Advanced Talmud Study, a program created in 2001 at Stern College to address the relatively few opportunities for women to pursue high level studies in Torah she-beal Peh. Although women had opportunities to learn Talmud in courses for many years before, GPATS raised the bar considerably in order to provide women a course of study that was closer to what is available to men.

Growing up in Boston, I took for granted that knowledgeable women should learn Talmud. Rabbi Joseph Soloveichik insisted that women learn alongside men at Maimonides School, the day school that he helped found, and explained that, if we are going to provide young women the most sophisticated of educations in physics, history and math, then we also need to make sure that their Jewish education is no less advanced and sophisticated.

As I moved away from Boston, it became clear that not everyone shared this point of view. And while there have been Talmud classes for women in many communities for over 50 years, there have been very few places where the level of in-depth study rivals those of the boys’ yeshivot. This continues to be the case among the seminaries and yeshivot in Israel today - just a handful of seminaries feature Talmud as a main part of their curriculum and even motivated women find it difficult to continue their studies at the highest level.

Talmud study is not for everyone - it can be tedious, difficult, and if you are not particularly interested in the subject, boring. Nonetheless, mastering the skills of the Talmud’s argumentation, its search for underlying principles of halakhic disputes, its mode of proofs, and its idiosyncratic language is the only way to become a fully independent and sophisticated Jewish learner and consumer of the texts of our tradition. 

We are proud that Farber runs a girls BMP in parallel with our boys BMP (the highest level Talmud classes) in order to give interested girls, like their male counterparts, an excellent foundation in the language, rhythms, arguments and content of the Talmud. I am also glad that GPATS continues to thrive so that the strongest and most motivated of our students can continue to develop their skills and understanding of Talmud and can contribute actively to the ongoing conversation with our tradition, something that men have done for 2000 years.

It will be fun to meet with the GPATS students, to learn with and from them, and to help encourage their studies. Kudos to YU for continuing to support this program and to the girls for bucking cultural trends in order to become experts in Talmud.

My topic with the women will be “Is there an ethic independent of halakhah?” and I hope to be inspired by their learning and their feedback. I also look forward to sharing this shiur with members of the Farber community sometime in the near future.
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