The

10 Allen Court

Somerville, MA 02143

www.summerbeitmidrash.org

617-623-8173

 

 

 

 

 

THE RABBI AZRIEL HILDESHEIMER CENTER

for

MODERN TORAH LEADERSHIP

 

A Proposal of

THE SUMMER BEIT MIDRASH, INCORPORATED
The Problem

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 improvement. Why?

1.

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 integrated whole.

 

 

 

2.

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 knowledge.

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 mors, or from the American experience.


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 insights:

1)      The 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.

2)      The “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 purpose.

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.


3.

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 modern assumptions.

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 knowledge.


The Program

1. Theory

Over the past seven years, an innovative six-week program based in Massachusetts has successfully integrated scholarship, leadership, and Modern Orthodoxy. It has quietly produced an array of knowledgeable, effective, and courageous Modern Orthodox leaders. The success of the Summer Beit Midrash teaches that the problems of Modern Orthodox leadership are solvable. The time has come for that lesson to be learned and applied through the creation of the Rabbi Azriel Hildesheimer Center for Modern Torah Leadership.

The Hildesheimer Center will be based on the following principles:

        Jewish leadership emerges out of a sense of responsibility to Torah, but also out of a sense of responsibility for Torah.

Our participants 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.

A central pedagogic tool of the Hildesheimer Center will be the writing of halakhic responsa (essays reaching practical legal conclusions) in reaction to cases raising immediately relevant issues. Participants will also be asked to develop other practical materials such as codes of conduct and popular introductions to various aspects of Judaism.


        The truth of Torah emerges out of the interaction of text, external reality, and the individual human soul.

Failure to 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 Hildesheimer Center will develop character and intellect together.

        Torah obligates, and therefore must relate seriously, to every Jew in every age and society. Torah 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 Hildesheimer Center will run four major programs.

A.

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 Boston area. For example, fellows will establish an open beit midrash environment in Boston University Hillel, serve as section leaders and individual tutors in Maimonides High School, and do primary intake at the Boston Beit Din. Each of these experiences will involve mentoring with an elite professional. Fellows will also be given time as a group to discuss the implications of these experiences for their self-understanding as Jewish leaders.

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.

 


B.

The Hildesheimer Center believes that leadership and scholarship should be integrated at every level of Jewish knowledge and practice. The Center is also strongly committed to Rabbi David Hartman’s conception of halakhah as the shared spiritual language of the Jewish people, regardless of particular observance or theological commitment, and sees the realization of that conception as a primary mission of Modern Orthodox leadership. The Center will run a three week seminar in June for university students without experience or skills in deciphering traditional Jewish texts, skills, and add more such seminars in consonance with demand. These seminars will follow the methodology of the Summer Beit Midrash in using halakhic decision-making as a paradigm for Jewish leadership, and provide all participants with the experience of making such decisions seriously. All texts will be provided in translation or summary, and participants will be given extensive background on the epistemology and axiology of traditional and contemporary Jewish thought. Participants will be required to produce significant written work, including at least one responsum. Fellows of the full-year program will serve as section leaders.

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 proselytizing.

 


C.

The Hildesheimer Center will continue the Summer Beit Midrash program. Yeshivat Chovevei Torah.has expressed interest in developing a formal partnership with the Summer Beit Midrash, and we look forward to that relationship.

 

D.

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

Note: We anticipate beginning the full-semester fellowship in Fall ’06. The program will be housed entirely by partner institutions.

Year 1:

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

 

Years 2-5

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

 

Five-year total - 1,720,000

 


About Our Founder

Rabbi 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 Maimonides High School, and as a member of the Rabbinic Court of Boston. In his decade of service at Harvard Hillel, his innovative teaching and personal warmth have attracted a broad range of students to his classes and home. In the words of Harvard Hillel Executive Director Dr. Bernard Steinberg, he is “provocative and evocative’.

Rabbi 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.

Rabbi 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.

Rabbi 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.

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