Renowned Pardes Faculty Member Meets Renowned Educator in New York

Judy Klitsner
April 1, 2024

On a recent trip to New York, Pardes faculty member Judy Klitsner had the honor of meeting Rabbi Joshua Bakst in his home.  In Fall 2023, Judy was named the Rabbi Joshua S. Bakst Chair in Tanakh, making this a wonderful opportunity to meet the man for whom her position is named.  The following is her reflection from the visit:

When Pardes named me as the recipient of the Rabbi Joshua Bakst Chair in Tanakh, I felt honored. When, on a recent teaching trip to the US, Pardes arranged for me to meet Rabbi Bakst in his home, I felt inspired.

I rang the bell of the standard-looking row house in Queens, New York at 11 AM, the precise time we had arranged for our meeting. The door opened immediately, and there stood a diminutive, yet commanding figure, whose first words were to congratulate me on my prompt arrival. In that first moment, I knew I would find much to admire, and, as a bit of a stickler for punctuality myself, a good deal in common with this legendary educator.

For the next 90 minutes, our conversation flowed freely and covered a great deal of ground. I listened with rapt attention as he recounted his extraordinary personal journey, from a hereidi home in Jerusalem’s Beit Yisrael neighborhood, to his early quest for greater knowledge about the world around him (which included participating in clandestine tutoring sessions on secular subjects), to a bold, lone adventure to the shores of the US– and ultimately to his renown as the beloved, highly successful, long-standing principal of the prestigious Ramaz school.

After he related his personal story, Rabbi Bakst and I engaged in an expansive discussion of our pedagogic methods in teaching Tanakh. We found ourselves in agreement on just about everything, including the value of encouraging our students to approach the text with openness, curiosity, and independent, analytic thinking, without preconceptions or ideological constraints.

Capping off our meeting was the tour Rabbi Bakst gave me of his lovely, meticulously maintained home, where in every corner, his sensibilities and priorities were evident. His shelves are packed with sefarim of every sort: books on Tanakh, Talmud, Jewish law, philosophy, history, and much more– all of which show signs of regular use. His walls are lined with photographs of his children and grandchildren, who, he made clear, provide him with ongoing joy and nachat. Alongside the photographs are paintings, all depicting poignant scenes of authentic, old-world Jews engaging in traditional Jewish acts: some within the walls of their simple homes, some within the walls of a vibrant beit midrash.

Before we parted ways, Rabbi Bakst showed me a small sampling of his life’s work: his painstakingly researched and carefully formulated personal lesson plans, as well as the comprehensive blueprints he created for teachers to follow when instructing the various levels of the institution. I felt privileged to see the inner workings of a program aimed at the empowerment of students at every level and at institutional excellence.

I left the home of Rabbi Joshua Bakst feeling inspired and feeling grateful to Pardes for introducing me to this giant in Jewish education. I wish Rabbi Bakst, now in his tenth decade of life, no less than what God wished for the original Yehoshua: “חזק ואמץ”—may he have many more years of strength; and “לא ימוש ספר התורה מפיך”—may he have many more years of immersion in the Torah he loves so dearly.

About Judy Klitsner

Judy Klitsner is the Rabbi Joshua S. Bakst Chair in Tanakh and senior educator in Bible at Pardes, where she has empowered a generation of students to seek meaning and relevance in the text through a skills-based method of learning. Judy is the author of the acclaimed book Subversive Sequels in the Bible: How Biblical Stories Mine and Undermine Each Other, which received a National Jewish book award.

About Pardes

The Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies ( is an open, inclusive, diverse and intellectually challenging Jewish learning community based in Jerusalem with programs worldwide. Pardes cultivates a life-long love of Jewish learning, the Jewish people and Israel. Pardes inspires engagement in Jewish life — as communal and spiritual leaders, educators and active participants.

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