I watched my rebbe be buried yesterday next to a sefer Torah. How incredibly fitting for a walking sefer Torah to be buried beside one.
I was a student of Rav Moshe Kahn for five years, both in Stern College and GPATS, and a colleague for nearly two decades. Much has been written and said about his style of learning and method of teaching, so I want to focus on two additional aspects of Rav Kahn.
Rav Kahn taught two types of women: those who had experience and background in learning Gemara as well as those who had very little. Many of his talmidot, including myself, were told that Gemara is not for women. As so many of my friends can attest, in many schools women were never encouraged nor taught how to open a Gemara or master a text of Torah Shebaal Peh on our own.
Rabbi Kahn changed our world. Rabbi Kahn told us that not only is it OK for us to learn Gemara, inside the text, but that it is vital and important that we learn it on the highest level. It didn’t matter how little background you had, he welcomed you into his class, instructed you to open the Gemara and start to learn. Often, in that first semester in his class, it required us to use a Jastrow for each and every word, but he always insisted that we were capable to learn and excel. Years later, so many of my fellow classmates and friends, who sat in those very same Rabbi Kahn classes, are the Gemara teachers of the next generation. How proud I am to say that my daughter is learning Gemara in high school from talmidot of Rav Kahn.
However, I want to focus on a second aspect of my relationship with Rav Kahn, that of a colleague and friend. I have taught in Stern College alongside Rav Kahn for the last 18 years and worked with him in GPATS for eight years. Rav Kahn has always been my mentor and ardent supporter. When I was hired to teach Halacha at Stern, he willingly offered his time freely to provide guidance and advice. He insisted that skills in reading text, thus enabling women to be lifelong learners, should be at the center of what I teach.
Over the years, I have sat in the spare chair in his small office in Stern college so many times, to talk to him about the future of GPATS and how to proceed in the best way for our students. We discussed students who were struggling and how best to help them. He was always concerned about every student, and wisely counseled me through countless difficult situations that naturally arise when running a program.
I have had the absolute privilege of learning from Rav Kahn, being mentored by Rav Kahn, schmoozing with him for hours in his office, listening to many years of his powerful answers to the Q&A sessions that we run on GPATS Shabbatonim, enjoying years of GPATS faculty meetings with his wisdom, and finally speaking to him in my last two visits with him in his home in his final weeks. Until the end, in his soft demeanor, he always instructed me to keep calm, and preach his mantra “Just keep learning” no matter what, and the impact will come.
Well, Rabbi Kahn, the impact is here. You accomplished your goal of creating generations of women—thousands of women—who learn Gemara. You did it without fanfare. You did it without fighting with anyone or making any scenes. You just kept teaching us Torah. You just kept telling us that we can do it and that we can succeed in learning, as long as we keep learning at the highest levels.
Thank you, Rav Kahn, for creating a space for us to learn and creating a world where Talmud Torah for women is accessible and acceptable. The next generation of women will not have the absolute privilege that we have had, to be in your classroom. They will learn from your students and your students’ students—and your Torah will live on forever. Thank you, Rebbe.
Nechama Price is the director of Yeshiva University’s Graduate Program for Advanced Talmud Studies (GPATS), from which she earned certification in 2003. She is a senior lecturer in the Bible and Judaic studies departments at Stern College, where she has been teaching since 2004.