Modern Orthodoxy desperately needs better leadership,
and Judaism desperately needs better Modern Orthodox leadership. These two statements have been truisms within
the broad Jewish community for several decades, and any number of initiatives
have been launched in response. Some of
these hold promise, but taken all together, there are few signs of sufficient
The deficiencies of recent Modern Orthodox leadership
are generally ascribed to two distinct factors; a dearth of great scholars, and
the failure of many scholars to develop and project crucial traits such as
courage, imagination, and empathy. The
Modern Orthodox community has responded to these factors individually, seeking
to create institutions of advanced learning on the one hand, and to improve
professional training opportunities on the other.
These communal responses have value, but they miss an
essential point: the primary need of the Modern Orthodox community is for
great scholars who are also leaders, and great leaders who are also scholars. Furthermore - within the Orthodox community,
both scholarship and leadership are full-time, all-absorbing endeavors. As a result, great scholar-leaders can only
be produced by a program that views leadership as an essential element of
scholarship, and views scholarship as an essential element of leadership. Scholarship and leadership must become an
Those few leaders with serious scholarly credentials
who emerge from Modern Orthodox institutions often become progressively more
alienated from the Modern Orthodox community as their careers develop. Why?
Modern Orthodoxy has both an intellectual and a sociological
definition. The intellectual definition
involves a commitment to the value of intellectual materials outside Jewish
tradition, and respect verging on awe for the halakhic authority and
philosophic legacy of the late Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik. These are often accompanied by recognition
of the religious significance of Jewish
independence and sovereignty in Israel and openness to some of the insights emerging
from the discipline of Jewish Studies found in the university.
The sociological definition involves discomfort with
segregation by gender outside the synagogue, a flexible attitude toward sexual
restrictions, high valuation of professional success and fulfillment, and
unwillingness to grant Torah scholarship a premium over other forms of human
The allegiance of scholars emerging from Modern
Orthodox academies is often exclusively to the intellectual definition. Furthermore, their openness to materials from
outside Jewish tradition may not extend to modernity, but be limited to
particular past Western high cultures.
Such scholars often have no commitment to the notion that Torah has
something to learn from contemporary thought and morés, or from the American
The general Modern Orthodox community, by contrast, often
identifies exclusively with the sociological definition. Modern Orthodox scholars therefore have a
very tenuous connection to their “home” community. This connection can be strengthened only by
integrating sociological Modern Orthodoxy into scholarship, and by making
intellectual Modern Orthodoxy relevant and significant to the Modern Orthodox
community at large.
The Hildesheimer Center
believes that intellectual and sociological Modern Orthodoxy can form a
cohesive and powerful religious community organized around two fundamental
chosenness of the Jews does not diminish the “image of G-d” expressed in every
human being, regardless of ethnicity or gender, and therefore every human being
can contribute to our knowledge of G-d.
“image of G-d” is expressed in every aspect of the human being, and therefore
every aspect of the human being, individual and social, has religious value and
These insights yield common and broad commitments to
democracy, women’s education, social justice and religious Zionism. Furthermore, the conflicting commitments of
intellectual and sociological Modern Orthodoxy can be understood as stemming
from interpretations and extensions of these insights rather than from fundamental
disagreements. Modern Orthodox scholars
can build off these insights to lead the Modern Orthodox community as a whole.
Modern Orthodox scholars must see themselves as the
representatives of the entire Modern Orthodox community to the world of Torah
scholarship, and to see part of their scholarly task as integrating the
insights of that community into the Jewish community’s understanding of Torah. Their critique of the practices and values of
the sociological Modern Orthodox community should be deep and sustained, but
also deeply loving. It must be rooted in
a recognition of common commitments.
Modern Orthodox scholars must also be open to and seriously engage with
the Modern Orthodox community’s deep critiques of current rabbinic practices
and understandings. In other words, Modern
Orthodoxy must be made an essential element of their scholarship and their
vision of leadership.
Modern Orthodoxy at its best – intellectually and
sociologically - integrates Jewish
tradition with modernity in a way that enhances each. This is fundamentally the challenge faced by
the American Jewish community as a whole (and, along different axes, the
challenge of the Israeli Jewish community as well). American Jews are deeply modern in language,
thought, and assumptions. Judaism cannot
be made meaningful to them unless it can be spoken of in modern language and
modern modes of thought, and unless it can relate deeply and genuinely to
At the same time, Judaism must present a deep
alternative to unhyphenated modernity to be worth the time and effort necessary
to learn and practice it seriously.
“Me-too” classes showing that contemporary shibboleths can be jammed
into or wrested out of decontextualized Jewish sources provide no incentive for
serious engagement with Jewish tradition.
In other words, Judaism must be able to present a
profoundly modern alternative to complete immersion in modernity.
Modern Orthodoxy is uniquely positioned to model and
demonstrate this dialectic. But
communicating this experience effectively requires a high degree of
self-knowledge, of recognition and reflection on the interaction of modernity
and tradition within one’s own soul, intellect, and actions. Such reflection can be frightening and
disorienting, and can lead undeveloped souls to defensiveness or reactionary absolutism. Thus Modern Orthodox leaders are in
particular need of developing their characters in tandem with their
Over the past seven years, an innovative six-week
program based in
Jewish leadership emerges out of a sense of responsibility to
Torah, but also out of a sense of responsibility for Torah.
will realize and accept that the form of Torah in this world is the product of
human decisions, and that their work can either glorify or degrade the sacred
work of G-d and our predecessors.
Halakhah models the core Jewish concept that intellect and
action should always strive to go hand in hand, and that ideas should and do
have real consequences.
pedagogic tool of the
The truth of Torah emerges out of the interaction of text,
external reality, and the individual human soul.
seriously engage the world inevitable results in a shallow, irrelevant, or
mistaken Torah. Flaws and distortions of
the soul result in a flawed and distorted Torah. The depth of Torah studied must match the
depth of the learning soul. The
Torah obligates, and therefore must relate
seriously, to every Jew in every age and
leaders must therefore be capable of making Torah meaningful to modernity in its deepest expression,
and to the entire Jewish community.
2. Concrete Manifestation
The core program will consist of a semester-long
fellowship for twelve Orthodox university, rabbinic, or seminary students with
the capacity to read and understand rabbinic texts fluently in the original
Aramaic and Hebrew. The fellowship will
be open to men and women.
Fellows will spend twenty five hours each week engaged
in intense study of halakhic materials on the central theme of that semester,
including twenty hours of independent study and five hours of
lecture/discussion. Each theme will be chosen
for its relevance to modernity and capacity to challenge the fellows’
assumptions and characters. For example,
one theme might be the conversion of minors, with particular focus on the
conversion of infants who will be raised in homes with minimal Jewish
observance. This theme would require
fellows to discuss notions of consent, autonomy, and identity, consider the good of the
individual child and family as well as of the Orthodox community and of the
general Jewish community, and evaluate likely repsonses and their capacity to
maintain their positions in the face of severe criticism.
Fellows will spend an additional fifteen hours each
week doing community Torah service at one of our partner institutions in the
Fellows will spend up to twenty hours each week
studying materials or listening to guest lectures on non-halakhic materials
related to the central theme, engaging in formal leadership training, or
studying key texts associated with Jewish and halakhic leadership. Fellows will be expected to produce
significant written work including at least one responsum to a case relevant to
the central theme of the semester. All
written work will be evaluated by the group of Fellows as a whole. Faculty will produce written work paralleling
that of the fellows.
Institutions that have expressed interest in partnering with the Hildesheimer Center include: Maimonides High School, Maimonides Day School, the Rabbinic Court of Boston, The Rabbi Soloveitchik Institute, Young Israel of Sharon, Congregation Kadimah-Toras Mosheh, Congregation Shaarei Tefillah, Boston University Hillel, Harvard Hillel, MIT Hillel, Boston College – The Center for Christian-Jewish Learning, Chabad of Stoughton, Bnos Torah of Lexington, and Edah.
These seminars will be aimed largely at non-Orthodox
students, although Orthodox students without advanced textual skills will also
be welcome. We will be open to
developing relationships with non-Orthodox institutions so as to provide
programs specifically aimed at students with non-Orthodox ideological
commitments. All such programs will be
intellectually open and seek to provide exposure and create engagement without
Elite university faculty represent one of the highest
expressions of modernity, and the Hildesheimer Center believes that making
Judaism deeply relevant in those circles will have a significant effect on the
Jewish community as a whole. Building
off the innovative PARTNERSHIPS program and the faculty Talmud class developed
by Rabbi Aryeh Klapper at Harvard Hillel, and learning from the impressive work
of the Hartman Center in Jerusalem, the Hildesheimer Center will run a one-week
seminar during spring break for university faculty. These seminars will integrate of all aspects
of Torah with a particular academic discipline or topic, particularly in the
liberal arts. For example, a seminar
might focus on the concept of sovereignty.
All texts will be provided in translation. Faculty participants will be strongly
encouraged to produce papers for and as a result of the seminar.
Five-year Budget, Fall ’05 – Summer ‘10
anticipate beginning the full-semester fellowship in Fall ’06. The program will be housed entirely by
Salaries and benefits - 180,000
Recruitment and development travel and materials - 25,000
Summer Beit Midrash Fellows’ housing and supplies – 15,000
Faculty Seminar supplies - 5,000
June seminar housing and supplies - 15,000
Total - 240,000
Salaries and benefits - 250,000
Recruitment and development travel and materials- 20,000
Summer Beit Midrash housing and supplies – 15,000
Faculty Seminar supplies - 5,000
June seminar housing and supplies - 15,000
Semester fellowship supplies - 15,000
Semester fellowship stipends and/or housing allowance - 50,000
Total - 370,000
total - 1,720,000
About Our Founder
Robert Klapper, Rosh Beit Midrash of the Summer Beit Midrash, currently serves
as Orthodox Rabbinic Adviser and Associate Director for Education at Harvard
Hillel, Talmud Curriculum Chair at
Klapper’s achievement in the area of Modern Orthodox leadership development is
striking. One of every eight male
Orthodox students to come through Harvard during his tenure has gone on to
study for the rabbinate, and many more of both genders have taken advanced
degrees in Jewish studies and/or taught in day schools. Three of the ten members of this year’s
entering class at Yeshivat Chovevei Torah are alumni of both Harvard and the
Summer Beit Midrash, and this year’s Pardes Kollel features both Harvard and
SBM alums. Many other Harvard alums are
taking prominent lay leadership roles in their communities, and SBM alums have
launched innovative educational programs even before completing their graduate
or rabbinic studies.
Klapper’s work at Harvard and the SBM has also had significant impact on
developing non-Orthodox leaders. Harvard
graduates are the spearhead of the growing movement within Conservative Judaism
for “halakhic egalitarianism”, and have founded innovative communities in
various East Coast cities. Alumni
attending JTS and RRC call him for advice and counsel, and the gabbaim of the
Student Conservative and Reform minyanim attend his classes and ask him for
halakhic guidance and decisions. He has
accomplished all this from an explicit and uncompromised Orthodox stance.
Klapper has also earned the respect of Harvard faculty. His innovative PARTNERSHIPS educational
programs involve parallel presentations with faculty in their area of
expertise, and his Faculty Talmud class was started by request after several
such programs. Rabbi Klapper’s academic
credentials within the Jewish Studies communities have been burnished by
several well-received papers at the Association of Jewish Studies.