While an undergraduate at Columbia, Elana Stein Hain divided her day in two. Half a day, she took courses in history and other subjects. During the other half, she studied Talmud with a chavruta. "I created my own dual-curriculum," she says. "I wanted to spend the bulk of my day surrounded by Jewish texts."
Now the community scholar at Lincoln Square Synagogue, Hain is still dividing her days. At Lincoln Square, she founded the Amsterdam Minyan, a once-a-month minyan for singles and couples in their 20s and 30s; sermonizes twice a month; delivers weekday and afternoon classes; visits shiva homes; counsels congregants; and plans social, educational, and charity events.
Simultaneously, she’s also working on her Ph.D. in religion at Columbia. Her dissertation topic? "Ha’arama:
Legal Circumventions in Talmudic Law and Legal Theory." Her interest in the subject, she says, grew out of a class she delivered. "A lot of people snicker at loopholes," she says, citing the act of "selling" one’s chametz before Pesach as a prime example. "But the nature of law is to have loopholes," she says. "It’s a technical way to work within the system, to respect the system."
Impressively bright, energetic, and downright funny, Hain possesses the ability to explain the most intricate of subjects in a compelling, easy-to-understand manner. A graduate of Yeshiva University’s Graduate Program in Advanced Talmudic Studies, Stein Hain previously worked as the resident scholar at The Jewish Center on the Upper West Side.
When she began working as a member of the Orthodox religious leadership at Lincoln Square, she wanted the word "community" in her title. Yet few people outside of her congregation understand the title. Though Orthodox women have begun to make waves in terms of leading congregations and taking on more public roles, their titles are often poorly defined, she says.
But that hasn’t gotten in the way of her mission. "I am very invested in people," she says. "I see my role as learning from and with people, as well as helping them to achieve their goals, whether Jewishly, emotionally, socially, or professionally."
Road trip, anyone? Every summer, Stein Hain and her husband travel around the country. Favorites Destinations: Seattle ("The sky is so blue!") and the plantations in South Carolina.
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