Shana Strauch Schick, the first woman to receive a PhD in Talmud from Yeshiva University

Tue, 10/02/2012 - 7:50pm -- JOFA

Shana Strauch SchickWhen Dr. Shana Strauch Schick defended her Talmud dissertation at Yeshiva University’s Bernard Revel Graduate School of Jewish Studies last August, it made headlines, not only in the Yeshiva University news blog, but also in the JTA and Haaretz, as well as local Jewish newspapers. Her topic was “Intention in the Babylonian Talmud: An Intellectual History.” A native of New Jersey, Shana was most recently at Bar-Ilan University for a one year post-doc. There, she examined the Babylonian Talmud's Beruria narratives and Beruria's persona as a learned woman in light of the Talmud's Middle Persian context, which included the Sasanian Zoroastrian religious legal documents that attest that Zoroastrian women could pursue religious training. 

Schick, who grew up in Highland Park, New Jersey, and graduated from Bruriah High School for Girls in Elizabeth, New Jersey in 1998, did not begin studying Talmud until after high school. But when she started, she dove in head first! Schick spent five years studying Talmud full-time at Stern College’s Graduate Program in Advanced Talmudic Studies, in addition to receiving a BA in Judaic Studies from YU’s Stern College for Women and an MA in Bible from Revel.

Why Talmud? “I felt that the lack of Talmud study in my life was both an educational and spiritual deficit. By pursuing a doctorate, I could both continue learning and contribute to the understanding of how Talmudic law developed,” Schick told YU News, a Yeshiva University blog. Schick also noted that while “Talmud is traditionally the central focus of Torah study in yeshivot…it is still rarely emphasized as part of women’s education. I initially began to study Talmud after high school because I could not reconcile the conflicting messages I received: Talmud is the pinnacle of learning Torah, yet it’s not important for women to do so. This is out of step with Modern Orthodoxy, in which women are encouraged to achieve as much as they can in their careers and secular educations.”

Schick is far from alone in her Talmudic doctoral achievement. Thirty years ago, Dr. Judith Hauptman became the first woman to receive a PhD in Talmud. It was granted by the Jewish Theological Seminary in 1982, on “The evolution of the Talmudic sugya: a comprehensive source critical analysis of sugyot containing braitot introduced by tanya nami hakhi.” The first PhDs in Talmud were earned in the mid-to-late 1950s; prior to World War II, PhDs that covered Talmud were given in Semitic philology or history. (Thanks to Rabbi Dr. Alan Brill for that tidbit.) An August 2011 post on The Talmud Blog about recently-defended dissertations about Rabbinic literature (including midrash, Mishnah, and Talmud) include those by Tali Artman-Partock (Hebrew University, 2010), Mira Balberg (Stanford University, 2011), Tamar Jacobowitz (University of Pennsylvania, 2010), Jenny R. Labendz, (JTS, May 2011), Yifat Monnickendam (Bar Ilan University, 2011), Michal Bar-Asher Siegal (Yale University, 2010), and, of course, Shana Strauch Schick.

We can look forward to more scholarship from women on Rabbinic literature and other Judaic studies topics in the future, both from Yeshiva University graduates and from other universities. Dr. David Berger, dean and professor at Revel, reports that 40% of students in Revel’s PhD program are women. (This includes students studying Bible, Rabbinic literature, Jewish history from ancient to modern, Jewish philosophy, kabbalah, and Sephardic studies.)

What's next for Shana? After completing her post-doc, she and her family will officially make aliya. Next year, she will spend time turning her dissertation into a book, publishing articles in peer-reviewed journals, and, hopefully, teaching somewhere in Israel. As if that weren't enough, she and her husband are expecting their third child this fall. We wish her the best of luck with everything!

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