Jerusalem - The Legacy Of Rabbi Yehuda Cooperman, Pioneer In Women’s Torah Study
Jerusalem - Rabbi Dr. Yehuda Cooperman, founder of the prestigious Michlalah-Jerusalem College for Women in Bayit Vegan, died Monday in Jerusalem at age 86.
Rabbi Cooperman was born in Dublin, Ireland, earning degrees in both law and Semitic languages from Dublin University. According to the Orthodox Union’s Jewish Action magazine, Rabbi Cooperman learned under Rabbi Eliyahu Dessler at the Gateshead Talmudical College and then under Rabbi Yechezkel Sarna at the Chevron yeshiva, receiving his semicha both from Rabbi Sarna and Rabbi Yitzchak Halevei Herzog, then chief rabbi of Israel.
Rabbi Cooperman and his wife Tzipora married in 1952 and couple returned to Dublin. Rabbi Cooperman earned a master’s degree in Semitic languages and was also the first Jewish student ever to be awarded the prestigious gold medal for academic achievement, having been recommended by professors with whom he often clashed as they studied criticism of the Bible.
The Coopermans made their way to Chicago, where Rabbi Cooperman received a second master’s degree, this time in education, from the University of Chicago, later receiving his doctorate from the Hebrew Theological College of Skokie for his commentary to the Meshech Chochma.
The Coopermans relocated to Israel and it was during Rabbi Cooperman’s stint as a teacher at a modern religious teachers’ college that the seeds for ‘Michlalah’ were sown. Told one day by a student that they had been taught that it was permissible to disagree with Chazal, Rabbi Cooperman resigned immediately from his position, aiming to create a higher level of education for women.
Rabbi Cooperman opened ‘Michlalah’ in 1964 in a Bayit Vegan apartment with 23 students and his wife at his side, intent on making sure that the next generation of teachers had a solid Torah foundation. Approximately five years later, Michlalah opened a second program for foreign students, later named The Linda Pinsky School for Overseas Students, also known as Machal. Since its inception, Machal has attracted students from all over the world, challenging students to grow in their Torah knowledge through intense study, delivered by top notch educators from all walks of life.
In a YouTube clip posted to Michlalah’s Machal website, Rabbi Cooperman explained the school’s philosophy, noting that the goal is not just for students to learn but to incorporate those lessons into their lives.
“We don’t indoctrinate,” said Rabbi Cooperman. “We feel that learning Torah brings to living Torah.”
Michlalah, which pioneered the concept of taking an academic approach to Torah study, was accredited by Israel’s Council of Higher Education in 1978, the first teachers’ seminary in Israel to receive full academic accreditation. More than 15,000 students have passed through Michlalah’s doors over the past 50 years. Today more than 2,000 students, including 400 men who are enrolled in a completely separate division of Michlalah, attend the school’s various programs located on its sprawling Bayit Vegan campus.
Rabbi Cooperman, who authored several seforim, was awarded the Rav Kook award for Torah literature in 1985 and the Yakir Yerushalayim award in 2006, as reported by Arutz Sheva.
Professor Yaakov Katz, president of Michlalah, praised Rabbi Cooperman for the high level of academics he made available to young women from Torah homes, while allowing them to maintain their high standards of tzniyus and yiras shomayim.
“Rabbi Cooperman merited thousands of students who are involved in education in Israel and around the world,” said Professor Katz. “He was a revolutionary who changed the face of Torah education and academics for women from Torah families.”
Professor Katz credited Rabbi Cooperman for the proliferation of women’s seminaries in Israel and observed that Rabbi Cooperman’s dream to allow women to reach unprecedented heights in their study of Torah was initially met with resistance.
“He wanted to give women the chance to become Torah scholars and this was not accepted at the time,” said Professor Katz. “It invited a lot of criticism but he refused to give up.”
Rabbi Cooperman, who lectured at Michlalah till just a few months ago, was well known for his simplistic approach to Torah study.
“He made sure that his students knew a lot of information and always looked for the most simplistic question asked by the commentaries,” said Professor Katz. Sharing recollections on social media after receiving word of Rabbi Cooperman’s passing, several former students recalled him instructing his students to listen for the “music” inherent in the pesukim they were analyzing.
Academic success in the study of Torah was both a goal in and of itself and a roadmap for achievement in life, according to Rabbi Cooperman.
“Rabbi Cooperman stood by the principle of learning Torah together with receiving an academic education, in order to help students achieve a higher sense of self worth, and a pursue a living in order to build successful religious families,” observed Professor Katz. “Today, thousands of teachers, principals, and other women in with important positions in the education industry, in Israel and abroad, are working because of his vision.”
Debbie Greenblatt of Lawrence, whose son married Rabbi Cooperman’s granddaughter, described herself as a great admirer.
“I will tell you that he is one of a handful of individuals that I encountered in life that I felt had hadras panim,” Mrs. Greenblatt told VIN News.
As word of Rabbi Cooperman’s death spread, Facebook was abuzz with tributes from former students.
“Studying at Michlala was one of the most important things I have done in my adult life,” wrote Miriam Herm of Miami. “In those walls on that campus I learned to think. To ask questions. To search for answers. To make friends. To accept responsibility.”
“In 2012-2013 I had the most wonderful year of my life studying in Israel,” posted Miriam Azizi. “This would not have been possible without the founder of Michlalah, Rabbi Yehuda Cooperman. Today his precious soul was taken away from us. He impacted the lives of many. BDE.”
Asked once what his greatest achievement in life was, Rabbi Cooperman said it was the fact that his children were “yodei Torah.”
His son Rabbi Hillel Cooperman is well known at the Mirrer Yeshiva in Jerusalem were he runs a gamach and his daughter, Professor Devorah Rosenwasser, currently serves as the dean at Machal.
The levaya for Rabbi Cooperman took place at 7:30 PM Monday night at Michlalah’s Bayit Vegan campus with burial in Sanhedria.
Almost two decades after her time at Michlalah, Baltimore attorney Yona Openden shared her thoughts on the positive influence Rabbi Cooperman had on her life on Facebook.
“I’ve only recently started appreciating the value that Rabbi Cooperman place on educating women, really educating women and teaching us to think,” said Mrs. Openden. “I am surprised at how sad I feel and it’s been almost 20 years since I sat in his classroom. We lost a truly unique individual who was sharp, humble, funny and full of wisdom. Yehi Zichro Baruch.”
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