By Pearl Markovitz | October 20, 2022
In a seamless transition that took place at the end of September, Bergenfield residents Rivka Alter and Nechama Price took over the helm of the Yoetzet Halacha Initiative in Teaneck and its surrounding communities. Their selection came as prior Yoetzet Tova Warburg Sinensky relocated to Philadelphia to assume a new position. Both Alter and Price are well known and highly regarded by the Teaneck and adjoining communities for their erudite shiurim within the community and internationally online, as well as for their impressive professional credentials.
During their brief term in the position, they have fielded a large volume of calls and questions from the community, which has the utmost confidence in their knowledge and ability to be both informative and comforting.
Nishmat, The Jeanie Schottenstein Center for Advanced Study for Women, was established by Rabbanit Chana Henkin in 1990 to offer women the opportunity to immerse themselves in Torah study at all levels, from beginners to the highest reaches of Torah scholarship. Expanding its mission, in 1997 Nishmat established the Keren Ariel Women’s Halachic Institute to train yoatzot halacha, women halachic consultants, under the direction of Rabbi Yaacov Varhaftig and Rabbi Yehuda Herzl Henkin, z’l.
In North America, Nishmat’s Miriam Glaubach Center is home to the U.S. Yoatzot Halacha Fellows Program, led by its dean and posek, Rabbi Kenneth Auman. Graduates of the Yoatzot Halacha Fellows Program are certified by a panel of Orthodox rabbis to be a resource for women with questions regarding taharat hamishpacha (family purity) that relate to marriage, sexuality and women’s health. Women are selected for the program for their Torah scholarship, leadership ability and deep religious commitment. They devote two years, including three summers and over 1,000 hours to intensive study with rabbinic authorities in taharat hamishpacha. They receive training from experts in modern medicine and psychology, gynecology, infertility, women’s health, family dynamics and sexuality.
Nechama Price, a Teaneck native, attended the first U.S. cohort of the U.S. Yoetzet Halacha Program. Her early education includes RYNJ, Bruriah High School, and two years in Israel at Midreshet Mevaseret Yerushalayim (MMY). She earned a BA from Stern College and also studied in the Graduate Program in Advanced Talmud Studies (GPATS) for three years, earning certification in 2003. She went on to earn a master’s in Bible from the Bernard Revel Graduate School and a master’s in Jewish education from the Azrieli Graduate School, where she is currently studying towards an EdD.
Price is a senior lecturer in the Bible and Judaic Studies Departments at Stern College, where she has been teaching since 2004. Her courses include Tanach and halacha, including issues of niddah and taharat hamishpacha. She is also the director of GPATS, a master’s degree program for women in Gemara, halacha and Tanach. She recently authored a book about the 12 Shevatim entitled “Tribal Blueprints.” She resides in Bergenfield with her husband, Jonathan, and their four children.
In addition to her academic positions, Price has been serving as the yoetzet halacha for the New Jersey communities of Englewood, Tenafly, Livingston, West Orange and Long Branch for the past nine years. Throughout this time, questions have been posed to her from other communities including Teaneck. Price shared that during the past five weeks of working on behalf of the Teaneck and surrounding communities, her call volume has noticeably increased, even doubled.
Price is most gratified at the confidence the community is placing in her in this new position. “It is a privilege to help women navigate the complicated and difficult halachot of taharat hamishpacha,” she said. “I am especially excited to serve as a resource to the women of my own community. While each element of the halachic journey is meaningful, some of my most rewarding experiences have been in assisting couples to navigate the deeply personal, emotional and halachically nuanced challenges with fertility issues. There is nothing more exhilarating than receiving a call of hakarat hatov from a couple celebrating the birth of a child. It is humbling to be part of this initiative in helping our community keep the halachot properly, in bringing comfort to those seeking our support and empowering women with the knowledge of when to ask questions.”
Rivka Alter grew up in Englewood, attended Yavneh and Moriah for elementary school, Bruriah High School, Michlalah and Stern College. She earned a master’s degree from the Azrieli Graduate School, where she is currently completing an EdD in education and leadership. She is a member of the Judaic Studies faculty and a grade dean at Yeshiva University’s High School for Girls (Central). She currently serves as the yoetzet halacha in the Riverdale and Stamford communities. In addition, she is an experienced kallah teacher as well as a mentor for the Nishmat Kallah Teacher Training Program. Alter is a frequent speaker locally and has spoken on behalf of the international OU Women’s Initiative Nach Yomi Program. She resides in Bergenfield with husband Rabbi Daniel Alter, head of the Moriah School, and their seven children.
Alter attended the third cohort of the U.S. Yoetzet Halacha Program and began her position in 2017 with three synagogues in Riverdale, adding Stamford to her territory in the fall of 2021. During the past month she has taken note that the Teaneck calls have added substantially to the number of inquiries received daily.
“There is tremendous satisfaction in the benefits we can offer to callers,” Alter said. “We often reduce high levels of anxiety by simply affording the questioners with an opportunity to ‘talk out’ their issues. Even if the answers to their queries are not what they were hoping for, callers have been comforted by knowing that they are being authentic in their halachic observance. I would say that most of the questions posed to us are straightforward and are requests for clarification or a refresher of the basic halachot. When the questions are more complex, we consult with poskim. The key in this initiative is to create a relationship of collegiality and confidence with our callers and always maintain confidentiality.”
The Yoetzet Program is constantly expanding and offering its participants opportunities for growth. Both Alter and Price participated in the Sharsheret-Nishmat Halachic Advisor Training last winter, and both look forward to getting further training in dealing with issues of fertility in the new Melavot Poriyot fertility training program that began right after Sukkot. The current statistics regarding the yoetzet halacha program are impressive. To date, there are over 110 yoatzot worldwide who field well over 10,000 calls per year. In the U.S. alone there are over 50 institutions in over 20 communities that host yoatzot, and their numbers are increasing yearly.
In the Teaneck community, Congregation Rinat Yisroel is the main sponsor of the yoetzet program along with assistance from Congregation Beth Aaron, Congregation Shaare Tefillah, Teaneck Jewish Center and Congregation Netivot Shalom. Rabbi Chaim Strauchler of Rinat Yisrael said: “I am excited to work alongside our two new yoatzot, Rivka Alter and Nechama Price, as I worked alongside Tova Warburg Sinensky. The Yoetzet Halacha Program is critical in facilitating better halachic observance of hilchot niddah. It affords more comfort to women in posing their questions. The capable and knowledgeable yoatzot are an important ongoing resource in creating confidence around this halacha and a source of accurate knowledge in implementing it with care and dedication.”
Tirza Bayewitz, who has served on the board of Congregation Rinat Yisrael for the past 12 years and has overseen the yoetzet program from its beginnings, has witnessed the “slow but steady” evolution of the program. She witnessed its inauguration by Rabbi Yossi Adler and lay leaders in 2009 through the terms of Shayna Goldberg and Shoshana Samuels, who both now reside in Israel. Bayewitz was particularly impressed with the building of collegial relationships with the local rabbis of the community over the years and the more than 1,000 questions now being brought to the yoatzot yearly. Bayewitz is proud that since its inception, the Teaneck program has been regarded as the “mecca” of the U.S. yoetzet programs and is especially lauded for its proactivity and resiliency during the COVID challenge. She is confident that Donna Hoenig and Shaindy Brothman will oversee the program efficiently and sensitively.
To contact Rivka Alter: Email [email protected] or call 303-725-8527
To contact Nechama Price: Email teaneckyoetzetnechama@gmail or call 201-888-6999