Oxford Summer Institute for Modern and Contemporary Judaism, State and Spirit: The Impact of Sovereignty on Judaism, Oxford, England
Conversion controversies in Israel, Orthodox Jewish feminism, and the incorporation in contemporary prayer books of recently discovered ancient prayers were a few of the many topics explored during the symposium State and Spirit: The Impact of Sovereignty on Judaism, the 2015 Second Annual Oxford Summer Institute for Modern and Contemporary Judaism (OSI-MCJ). A group of nineteen distinguished scholars based in five countries gathered in Oxford, England for nine days in late June and early July for the event. The conference focused on “the diverse ways that key aspects of Jewish religious culture and practice have evolved in response to the growth of the modern Jewish state,” explained Professor Adam S. Ferziger of Bar-Ilan University, who co-organized the symposium with Dr. Miri Freud-Kandel of the Oxford Centre for Hebrew and Jewish Studies. The aim of the conference was to examine the relationship between the establishment of the State of Israel—after two millennia of existing as a dispersed minority group living under the political rule of others—and the various ways that Judaism has developed since the 1948 establishment of a Jewish state. This was the second year that Targum Shlishi has supported the symposium—last year, the inaugural year for the initiative, the topic centered on the seminal work of Rabbi Dr. Irving “Yitz” Greenberg. The papers presented at the symposium will be published in the academic journal Jewish Studies Quarterly. In addition, the results of the first year’s symposium will be posted on the website rabbiirvinggreenberg.com, an online archive of Rabbi Greenberg’s work that was spearheaded and produced by Targum Shlishi.
JCC Aspen, Library for Chabad Jewish Community Center, Aspen, CO
Targum Shlishi has supported the Chabad Jewish Community Center during multiple years as it has developed a new facility, and has also supported the JCC in other ways. This year, Targum Shlishi worked with the Center to develop a library for its community members. Targum Shlishi’s education consultant, Judith Dach, Ph.D., conducted research, solicited recommendations from scholars, and worked closely with Rabbi Mendel Mintz of the Center and Aryeh Rubin, director of Targum Shlishi, to develop a list of books for the library. Dr. Dach also researched and put into place a software system to track of the publications and provide users with basic information about each book. The JCC is dedicated to providing an open-door environment for every Jew, regardless of background, philosophy, or level of commitment, and to strengthening and enhancing Jewish family life. The Center serves individuals and families looking for a non-judgmental, accepting, personalized Jewish experience.
Weinbaum Yeshiva High School, Curriculum: “The Final Journey: How Judaism Dignifies the Passage,” Boca Raton, FL
“The Final Journey: How Judaism Dignifies the Passage” is a unique curriculum designed to teach high school students about the mitzvah of tahara (ritual purification of the body after death). This eight-session demonstration course was launched in the spring of 2015 at The Weinbaum Yeshiva High School (WYHS) in Boca Raton, FL and will then be disseminated to Jewish high schools throughout the English-speaking world. To develop the curriculum, WYHS is working in partnership with Rochel Berman, author of the book Dignity Beyond Death: The Jewish Preparation for Burial. Part of her mission in writing the book was to “bring this unique and beautiful ritual out of obscurity.” In addition to the course, the school is developing a companion study guide with comprehensive information on each topic as well as written assignments, topics for discussion, and further reading. After WYHS pilots the eight-unit course with tenth and eleventh grade students, it will widely disseminate the curriculum, accompanying videos, and study guides, beginning in 2016. “The Jewish tradition has remarkable things to say about human dignity. However, few people are aware that this respect and dignity continues to be expressed after an individual’s death. Our research indicates that there is little awareness of the importance of this topic among Jewish educators. Furthermore, there are virtually no materials available to teachers on this subject matter,” says Rabbi Jonathan Kroll, head of school for WYHS.
The Institute for Jewish Thought and Culture, Interinclusion Publication on Gender Theory from a Jewish Perspective by Rabbi Arthur Crispe, Danby, VT
Rabbi Arthur Crispe is writing a short publication on gender theory that is being supported in part by a Targum Shlishi grant. His text, the first in a projected series he is developing of short, targeted publications on pressing topics in the Jewish world, will explore constructions of gender and how they affect the reading of classical Torah texts as well the misinterpretations of those texts by many traditionalists. The intended audience for the publication is rabbis, educators, community leaders, and students. As Rabbi Crispe explains, there is a need for this topic because there is a disconnect between the sophisticated understanding of gender theory in much of today’s world—including our universities—and the standard teaching of Torah and traditional Jewish texts. “We are hearing the complaint that rabbis and Jewish teachers often lack the background in gender theory to decode many of the more controversial and socio-political charged statements in the greater body of Jewish and Torah literature with sufficient sensitivity to the nuances of the Jew in the modern world,” says Rabbi Crispe. “Openness breeds compassion. It fosters understanding and enhances our ability to properly relate to one another.” Rabbi Crispe is the founder and executive director of Interinclusion, a project of The Institute for Jewish Thought and Culture. Interinclusion is an online educational initiative that extends the Institute’s exploration of the convergence between contemporary arts and sciences and timeless Jewish wisdom.
From Mesopotamia to the Mishnah: Tannaitic Inheritance Law in its Legal and Social Contexts, Book by Jonathan S. Milgram
What are the origins of early rabbinic inheritance laws? Why are they so different from biblical inheritance laws? How can historical study uncover the origins of the rabbis’ legal innovations? These are some of the questions that Jonathan Milgram’s forthcoming book addresses. From Mesopotamia to the Mishnah: Tannaitic Inheritance Law in its Legal and Social Contexts (Mohr Siebeck Publishers, expected publication date 2016) is a study in legal history that, taking the earliest Jewish inheritance laws as its model, demonstrates that the origins of the laws are best explained when examined against the backdrop of the legal and social contexts of antiquity. Milgram, an assistant professor of Talmud and rabbinics at The Jewish Theological Seminary, examines the Jewish practices of inheritance in light of parallels and antecedents in biblical, ancient near eastern, Greek, Elephantine, Judean desert, and Roman sources. He notes that the radical transformation of inheritance practices between the biblical and tannaitic periods emerged out of the dynamic differences between the social and economic structure of biblical Israel versus rabbinic Judea.
Selected Writings of Rav Shagar (working title), Translation
Rav Shagar (Rabbi Shimon Gershon Rosenberg) (1949–2007) was a Torah scholar, religious postmodern thinker, founder and head of Yeshivat Siach Yitzchack, and the author of several books on Talmud, Jewish philosophy, and contemporary religious society in Israel. This volume collects ten of Rav Shagar’s essays on the intersection of Judaism and postmodernity and the challenges—and opportunities—posed by postmodernity. In the essays collected here, Rav Shagar considers a wide range of topics, among them thinkers such as Rav Kook, Rav Nachman of Breslov, Wittgenstein, Lacan, and Lyotard, to explore questions of faith, certainty, freedom, justice, nationalism, mysticism, and love. Targum Shlishi is supporting the translation into English of this volume, which is forthcoming from Koren.
Power, Pulpits and Pews: Religious Authority and the Formation of American Judaism, 1816–1885, Book by Zev Eleff
Power, Pulpits and Pews: Religious Authority and the Formation of American Judaism, 1816–1885 (Oxford University Press, expected publication date 2016) explores how American Jewry in the nineteenth century transformed from a lay-dominated community to one whose leading religious authorities were rabbis. While previous scholars have chartered the religious history of American Judaism during this formative era, no work has focused on the changing role of religious authority in this period. Early in the century, American Jews consciously excluded rabbinic forces from playing a role in their community’s development. But by the final decades of the 1800s, ordained rabbis—most noticeably in the commotion caused by the Pittsburgh rabbinical conference of 1885—were in full control of America’s leading synagogues and large sectors of American Jewish life. Investigating this change, its causes, and its controversies through time will offer a new understanding of religious history during this century. The American Civil War played a major role in these changes, as did a widening gulf between the Jewries of Europe and America, which freed Jewish clergymen in the United States from the strong grip European rabbis. Additionally, the aftermath of the Civil War and the Industrial Revolution provided opportunities for select members of the American Jewish community to amass great fortunes and to support the construction of new synagogues that provided new opportunities for the ministry. For the first time, laypeople were no longer at the helm of their religious institutions and no longer felt compelled to serve or frequent their synagogues. In turn, vested with great power, America’s rabbis had to figure out how to use their authority to bring congregants back to their sacred spaces. Zev Eleff is an assistant professor of Jewish history at Touro College and chief academic officer at Hebrew Theological College in Skokie, IL.
Miami Jewish Film Festival, Miami, FL
This year’s Miami Jewish Film Festival (MJFF) was the eighteenth year that the multi-day event has come to Miami. In previous years, Targum Shlishi supported individual films related to Holocaust topics; in 2015, the foundation donated general support for the Festival, which presented more than seventy films over thirteen days.
Encyclopedia of Talmudic Disputes and Perspectives by Nachman Cohen
Nachman Cohen’s multiyear project includes four forthcoming volumes concerning the oldest Talmudic disputes, those between the Houses of Hillel and Shammai (to be published by Torah Lishmah Institute and available for purchase through the Institute). “It is the goal of the Encyclopedia to study the jurisprudential perspectives of the rabbis of the Talmud through an in-depth study of their legal and aggadic statements,” explains Cohen. The hundreds of disputes beteen the House of Hillel and the House of Shammai chiefly concerned Jewish law.
Nachman Cohen is director of Torah Lishmah Institute, founding rabbi of Young Israel Ohab Zedek of North Riverdale/Yonkers, chairman of the Board of the Association of Orthodox Jewish Scientists, and an adjunct professor at the Azrieli Graduate School of Yeshiva University.
Gesher, Gesher Media Course, Israel
The Gesher Media Course is an innovative initiative designed to build bridges and shatter stereotypes. The course brought together fifteen leading Israeli media personalities from different backgrounds, ranging from ultra-orthodox to religious to secular, and from a range of media outlets, including print, digital, television, and radio. The motivation for this initiative was to address the ways in which the media reports on the serious issue of religious tension in Israel. That tension is threatening the very cohesion of Israel and the Jewish people, according to Gesher’s leaders, and working with the media was a way to influence these divides. “Media professional today have a disproportionally high level of influence on public opinion, stereotypes, and perceptions of ‘the other,’” says Yoni Sherizen, Gesher’s director of resource and program development. “Something must be done to foster tolerance in place of hatred, shared responsibility instead of fear, and break down the barriers of stigma and anger.” The comprehensive course began in early 2015, with ten meetings and site visits in Israel and a six-day trip to New York. The media professionals who participated in the course all completed a media project, resulting in articles published online and in print and several radio stories on topics ranging from extending the chief rabbi’s term to a murder at a gay pride parade. Gesher has dedicated its work for more than forty years to bridging the gaps between different segments of Israeli society so that together they can develop an identity that reflects a shared commitment to Israel as a Jewish and democratic state.
In Your Walking on the Way: A Theory of Halakha Based on the Thought of Franz Rosenzweig, Book by Leon Wiener Dow
In this study (forthcoming by Bar Ilan University Press), the author sets out to construct a theory of halakha according to the thought of Franz Rosenzweig (1898–1924), a German Jewish philosopher, theologian, and translator who also founded a center for adult Jewish education. In his correspondence, Rosenzweig both claimed to have presented a theory of halakha in his iconic work The Star of Redemption, yet he also wrote of his plans to, upon completion of The Star, spend a number of years studying halakha and Talmud, with the eventual hope of composing a book on the subject, which illness prevented him from realizing. The author sees the primary purpose of this work as showing that there does in fact exist in Rosenzweig’s thought ample foundation on which to construct a theory of halakha. The secondary aim of the work is to demonstrate that Rosenzweig’s approach to halakha reflects a deep, albeit intuitive, understanding of halakha. The approach that emerges from his writings is deeply concordant with significant trends within the halakhic discourse. The third aspiration of this study is to demonstrate that not only is the halachic discourse broad enough to include Rosenzweig’s approach; it is enriched by doing so. Leon Wiener Dow is a research fellow and faculty member of the Shalom Hartman Institute and teaches at Bina’s Secular Yeshiva.
Rabbinical Association of Greater Miami and Ayeka, Transforming Congregations Through Soulful Education: Training of Clergy and Professional Staff, Miami, FL
This one-day intensive seminar for rabbis in partnership with the spiritual education organization Ayeka was organized by the Rabbinical Association of Greater Miami, a local and interdenominational organization that serves a community of rabbis from different streams of Jewish life who are dedicated to learning from each other and supporting each other. The seminar was organized to address the changing role of the rabbi in the Information Age, when rabbis are no longer needed to be a source of information. Instead, today the key role of the rabbi is to facilitate the inner transformation and growth of every Jew, according to Ayeka. Many rabbis are ill equipped and not trained to achieve this goal. Ayeka helps rabbis reframe their work, in which Torah education is employed to empower congregants and spur internal transformation. Among the questions that the seminar focused on were:
- How is it possible to evoke the souls of our students?
- How can we enable our congregants to hear their own authentic inner voices?
Limmud, Limmud Miami, Miami, FL
This was the second year for Limmud Miami, a one-day, dynamic learning experience that offers a wide-range of sessions, including workshops, presentations, films, discussions, exhibits, performances, and more, led by gifted educators and performers both local and international. Limmud offers learning experiences for all ages, from young children to adults, and concentrates on six themes: Judaism in the Americas, Spirituality/Torah, Arts and Culture, World Issues/Tikkun Olam, Young Leadership (for teens and young adults), and Young Limmud (for children and youth).
Tulane Hillel, Institutional Innovation: A New Model for Hillel, New Orleans, LA
Tulane Hillel is an interesting and inspiring case study in organizational innovation. At a time when much of the Jewish world is looking for new answers and approaches to Jewish engagement, Tulane Hillel has launched a new model for building Jewish communities, using principles of Design Thinking and a commitment to embrace broad organizational change. In 2013–14, Tulane Hillel began tracking student participation and engagement. After a year of data capture, management, and analysis, the organization reached new understandings of the priorities of the critical college-aged demographic and how best to engage this generation in organizational Jewish life. Tulane Hillel is sharing its model, methodology, and results with other Hillels, Jewish organizations, and foundations around the country. In a year, 88 percent of nearly 2,500 Jewish students on campus pro-actively engaged with at least one Tulane Hillel program, as did 52 percent of the entire campus population of over 7,000 students. Tulane Jewish Leaders, Tulane Hillel’s innovative leadership incubator, grew by 24.6 percent that year. Of these new Jewish leaders, fewer than 10 percent had attended Jewish day schools or had significant Jewish educational experiences prior to college. This suggests that the vast majority of student leaders are seeking out and creating their own independent Jewish identities as a result of an accessible Jewish institution. These findings strongly support the notion that Jewish community’s broad reach is possible and directly related to empowering those who are often found outside the organizational walls.
CAJE-Miami, Miami Jewish Day School Blended and Online Learning Initiative, Miami, FL
The Miami Jewish Day School Blended and Online Learning Initiative is a new project organized by the Center for the Advancement of Jewish Education (CAJE)-Miami. The objective of this multi-year project is to provide the students with access to multiple technologies to support student learning. A blended and online learning environment incorporates digital tools and technology in the classroom as a “second” teacher, which provides expanded learning opportunities for students. In a blended learning environment, students participate in both online learning and direct interaction with teachers. This approach provides advantages for both students and educators. Students have more opportunities to learn and reinforce creativity and problem solving, are able to learn at their own pace, and have access to subject areas and knowledge not available through their brick-and-mortar schools; at the same time, teachers are able to use digital tools to effectively assess students’ progress. The Blended and Online Initiative is undertaken by CAJE-Miami in partnership with the Digital JLearning Network and the Avi Chai Foundation.
Sefaria, “Rashi on Torah” bilingual version, Israel
Targum Shlishi first supported the initiative “Rashi on Torah” in 2014 and continued its support in 2015. “Rashi on Torah” is an innovative digital initiative of Sefaria, an organization founded in 2013 that is building a free living library of Jewish texts online. Targum Shlishi is sponsoring the posting of the complete and bilingual version of Rashi’s Torah commentary. Digitizing Rashi’s Torah commentary has been one of Sefaria’s major priorities. This complex and intensive process is one step in the larger picture of making traditional Jewish texts as accessible as possible with as few restrictions as possible. “We’re committed to making these texts easier to find, easier to understand, and free to access,” says Daniel Septimus, Sefaria’s executive director. “Ultimately, by translating Rashi into the language spoken by a large portion of world Jewry, we are facilitating the entrance of innumerable Jews into the great conversation of Jewish learning.” A large percentage of Sefaria users are educators and students in Jewish day schools. Sefaria was created in response to a unique problem and opportunity: the Jewish world was failing to take advantage of major technological developments that could yield unprecedented new opportunities for learning. Sefaria’s mission is to revolutionize Jewish education and enhance Jewish literacy and engagement.
Areyvut, Family Tikkun Olam Tour, Teaneck, NJ
Targum Shlishi’s grant helped support the early stages of a Family Tikkun Olam Tour last year, and its continued support this year helped Areyvut develop the tour, designed to take participants to various locations to engage in acts of kindness. Areyvut is currently developing the tour, which will be part of its National Mitzvah Day. Participants will learn about community needs, put issues within a context, and volunteer together. The impetus for the program is to help support parents who want to teach their children Jewish values and to volunteer as a family but may have challenges identifying appropriate opportunities. Areyvut’s mission is to infuse the lives of Jewish youth and teens with the core Jewish values of chesed (kindness), tzedakah (charity), and tikkun olam (social action), so that they become thoughtful, giving members of the Jewish community of tomorrow.
Literature of Memory: Lessons from Elie Wiesel’s Classroom by Ariel Burger
Ariel Burger spent several years as Elie Wiesel’s student and then as his teaching assistant. Literature of Memory: Lessons from Elie Wiesel’s Classroom is an exploration of Wiesel’s unique approach to teaching and learning, bolstered with personal anecdotes and reflections. A large part of Burger’s motivation for writing the book is his hope that it will yield lessons of relevance to leaders in many fields, and particularly to young emerging leaders, by providing an account of a committed Jewish moral voice. Burger feels there is a dearth of leaders today with finely tuned moral compasses willing to speak up on global issues. Additionally, he is concerned that many young people have little awareness of the events of the twentieth century and are ignorant of the Holocaust. He believes that this loss of memory, not only of the Holocaust, but of history generally, and of our civic and religious traditions, is a contributing factor in the culture of ambivalence and political correctness which is common on college campuses and elsewhere.
Wiesel’s classroom helped address these issues—loss of memory, personal responsibility to respond to the challenging issues in our world, and the shadows of ambivalence and political correctness. Wiesel’s approach in the classroom was “unabashedly Jewish yet universal,” explains Burger; Wiesel inoculated students from many backgrounds against these intellectual traps, giving them tools to grapple honestly with complex issues and competing values. In particular, Wiesel’s approach helped students to hold the tension between particular identity and universal concern by modeling his own deeply committed Judaism and his commitment to human rights around the world. Ariel Burger received his Ph.D. under Elie Wiesel. He is a teacher, community leader and artist, and is based in Massachusetts.