Designing Modern Orthodox Rabbinical Training Curriculum for Men and Women
Targum Shlishi Supports Beit Midrash Har’el, the First Orthodox Institution to Grant Smicha to Women
(Miami, March 20, 2016) — At a time when Modern Orthodoxy is facing increasing challenges from the conflict between Jewish tradition and contemporary society, a recently established beit midrash in Jerusalem, Israel, has dedicated itself to providing an alternative model. Beit Midrash Har’el aims to strengthen the commitment of Jews by rendering religious life more full, intelligent, and honest and communities more open and compassionate. Har’el’s leadership calls it “the beit midrash of the future, in which men and women committed to halacha study Torah as equals…We inspire and prepare tomorrow’s communal leaders to serve as agents for change within a context of continuity. Our program brings modern sensibilities into the halachic discourse.”
Students began studying at Har’el in 2013. In June 2015 the institution granted Orthodox rabbinic ordination to its first group of students, comprising two men and two women. Targum Shlishi’s grant is to help support this innovative institution in the 2015–16 academic year. During this pivotal year, the leaders at Har’el are designing a curriculum to help educate seasoned community leaders—rabbis and thought leaders—to respond thoughtfully and constructively to contemporary challenges and to positively impact their communities in the rabbinic and educational spheres. The goal is to launch a full-time ordination/leadership program for 2016–17.
Rabbi Herzl Hefter, head of Har’el, further explains the challenges between commitment to tradition and openness to modernity. “We live lives which embrace Western democratic values such as equality of all peoples and between the sexes…With growing discussions in our ranks about gender, sexual identity, and the question of spiritual passion versus rote observance, we find ourselves at a crucial crossroads…The sacrifice of religious passion is the cost of the divorce of our Judaism from our humanity.”
There are twenty-two students participating in the program, both men and women, for the 2015–16 academic year. In terms of nationality, students are a mix of Israeli and American. Many of the current students are already established community educators and leaders; all are interested in serving as agents of change while honoring the context of continuity.
“Har’el is a courageous endeavor,” says Aryeh Rubin, Targum Shlishi’s director. “It behooves all enlightened members of the community to support Har’el in this bold step forward. As the haredi and rabbinic establishment continue to voice their disapproval, we will raise our voices and offer Har’el encouragement. It is the graduates of institutions such as Har’el and others that are sure to follow that can help guide all of modern Jewry, in Israel and abroad, to navigate the challenges and enhance the interests of Judaism in the modern world. I am hopeful that Har’el will succeed in developing and promoting a more passionate and compassionate Torah for Jews in the twenty-first century. The theological and spiritual future of modern Jewry is today looking brighter.”
About Har’el Beit Midrash
Har’el Beit Midrash is a rabbinic studies program for men and women. Now entering its third year, Har’el’s program is designed to inspire and prepare tomorrow’s communal leaders to serve as agents of change within a context of continuity. The program brings modern sensibilities into the halachic discourse. It is the only Orthodox framework whose students include seasoned pedagogues as well as promising educators and leaders of the future, men and women, engaged in rabbinic studies in an open and supportive learning environment. To learn more about Har’el Beit Midrash, visit its website: http://www.har-el.org/.
About Targum Shlishi
Targum Shlishi is dedicated to providing a range of creative solutions to problems facing Jewry today. Premised on the conviction that dynamic change and adaptation have historically been crucial to a vibrant and relevant Judaism and to the survival of its people, Targum Shlishi’s initiatives are designed to stimulate the development of new ideas and innovative strategies that will enable Jewish life, its culture, and its traditions to continue to flourish. For more information on the foundation, visit its website at www.targumshlishi.org. Follow Aryeh Rubin, Targum Shlishi’s director, on Twitter at www.twitter.com/Aryeh5.