For the first time in Israel, a rabbinate comprising a diverse group of religious and secular men and women has been ordained. The Beit Midrash for Israeli Rabbis, a project of the Shalom Hartman Institute and HaMidrasha at Oranim, ordained its first cohort of 16 new rabbis at a gala ceremony and celebration at the Hartman Institute in Jerusalem.
The Beit Midrash for Israeli Rabbis is the only one of its kind, an egalitarian program for training pluralistic Israeli spiritual community leaders, whose inclusive vision will catalyze a process of spiritual rejuvenation for the Israeli public sphere and its emerging Jewish communities.
The Beit Midrash, which was established two years ago, brings together voices representing the diversity of Israeli-Jewish experience to define an Israeli rabbinical leadership model for our times. Its participants and teachers include Orthodox, secular, and liberal Israelis, all of whom believe that Israeli Judaism should be open and inclusive, and whose Jewish leaders must be representative of that awareness.
Based on a vision of Jewish peoplehood, the program emphasizes the development of a common values-based language for Jewish society in Israel. For two years, program participants have been studying classic and contemporary texts in an effort to develop a new, meta-denominational language of Jewish identity that draws from Israel’s diverse and rich culture and heritage.
The curriculum addressed some of the most compelling challenges facing Israeli society, including sacred time (Shabbat, holidays, and lifecycle ceremonies), God and theology, family, mitzvah, halakhah and law, and personal, community, and national morals.
The first graduates already hold leadership positions that serve Jewish communities and organizations in Israel for years and are known to thousands of Israelis who share the program’s expansive vision. They comprise a diverse group of men and women, Orthodox, Conservative, Reform, secular, and unaffiliated. They include Israeli natives from cities, settlements, and kibbutzim across the country, immigrants from North America, former Soviet Union, and Ethiopia, and from Ashkenazi and Sephardic traditions.
The program is jointly managed by a diverse group of rabbis and scholars from across Israel. Donniel Hartman, President of the Hartman Institute, said the program’s task is to offer a new, maximalist vision of Judaism that will compete for the future of Israel and which will help transform all of Jewish Israel from spectators to players. “We want to expand the scope of religious possibilities to which individuals are exposed, and to reshape the public sphere, so that it reflects and respects the profound religious diversity of our people both in Israel and around the world,” Rabbi Hartman said. “To bring this Judaism alive, we need new Jewish leaders. Leaders who teach with depth, knowledge, creativity, and open-mindedness. Jewish leaders who build communities of decency and kindness. Jewish leaders who understand that diversity is not a problem which needs to be overcome but a reality that needs to be celebrated and fostered in the spirit of ‘these and these are the words of the living God.’”
Moti Zeira, CEO of HaMidrasha at Oranim, said that Oranim has led numerous training programs for spiritual leadership, yet realized over the last few years that an entirely new model of spiritual leadership that is pluralistic, egalitarian, humanistic, relevant for our times, and designated an “Israeli Rabbinate,” was a leap of faith they felt ready to take. “We are convinced that, as Israeli Rabbis/Rabbas, our graduates will create a strong foundation of Israeli-Jewish spiritual leadership committed to Jewish sources, social responsibility, solidarity, justice, camaraderie, human rights, and mutual responsibility,” Zeira said. “We believe with all our hearts that they will extend the benefts of community life to an Israeli society eager for spiritual engagement, and become driving forces towards building the country as a Jewish and democratic state.”
Participants discuss the program and hopes for the future (in Hebrew)
Israeli Rabbis Receiving Ordination
- Rav Shraga Bar-On is the director of the Shalom Hartman Institute department for Israeli Leadership, a SHI research fellow, and teaches Talmud at Shalem College.
- Tamar Elad-Appelbaum is the founder of ZION: An Eretz Yisraeli Community in Jerusalem and co-founder of the seminary for Eretz Israeli rabbis of Hamidrasha and the Hartman Institute.
- Devorah Evron is Director of the Elga Stulman Institute at HaMidrasha at Oranim.
- Esteban Gottfried is rabbi, co-Founder and Director of Beit Tefillah Yisraeli in Tel Aviv, and was first ordained as a rabbi at Hebrew Union College in Jerusalem.
- Avital Campbell Hochstein is a scholar and teacher of Talmud. She has participated in Shalom Hartman Institute Batei Midrash for more than 20 years as a student, teacher, and research fellow.
- Rani Jaeger is co-Founder and Chairman of Beit Tefillah Yisraeli, a Shalom Hartman Institute research fellow and a member of the Be’eri Initiative for Pluralistic Jewish Education leadership.
- Ruth Kara-Ivanov Kaniel is a Shalom Hartman Institute research fellow and a post-doctoral fellow and lecturer at Ben-Gurion University and at Tel Aviv Institute for Contemporary Psychoanalysis.
- Uri Kroizer is Director of Education and Community for the Piyut and Tefllah Website, and initiates and leads prayer at Kabbalot Shabbat in Jerusalem’s public squares and at ZION: an Eretz Israeli Congregation.
- Noga Brenner Samia is Deputy Director of BINA – Center for Jewish Identity and Hebrew Culture, and a teacher at the Secular Yeshiva in Tel Aviv.
- Shalom Zaude Sharon made Aliyah from Ethiopia alone at the age of nine. He serves as the Rabbi of Congregation Kedosei Yisrael in Kiryat Gat and is the author of From Sinai to Ethiopia, a book seeking to reconcile rabbinic Jewish practice with Ethiopian traditional practice.
- Dani Segal is the Community Rabbi of Alon and a founding member of Ein Prat Academy of Leadership.
- Shlomo Zacharow is Chairman of the Israel Rabbinical Assembly Law Committee and a faculty member of the Conservative Yeshiva in Jerusalem.
- Shay Zarchi is one of the founders of Nigun haLev in Nahallal, and a founder and Educational Director of the Beit Midrash for Israeli Rabbis and helped found HaMidrasha at Oranim.
- Hadas Ron Zariz is spiritual leader of the Jewish renewal community in Kibbutz Yifat, and a founding member of HaMidrasha at Oranim, where she serves as co-Director and instructor.
- Mishael Zion is the Community Scholar and Rabbi of Bronfman Fellowships and a faculty member at the Mandel Leadership Institute in Jerusalem. He was first ordained by Yeshivat Chovevei Torah in New York.
Unordained Beit Midrash Participants
- Yafa Benaya is one of the leaders of Degel Yehuda, a Sephardi Egalitarian community in Jerusalem, and a founder and activist of Israeli Mizrachi social justice movements Tikkun and Memizrach Shemesh. Born in Casablanca, Morocco, she carries with her the “pain of both homelands,” and especially the joy of the dream of immigration to Israel and Jerusalem.
- Biti Roi is a Shalom Hartman Institute research fellow and the Academic Coordinator for North American Seminars.
About HaMidrasha at Oranim
HaMidrasha is an educational center working towards the renewal of Jewish life in Israel. It was established in 1989 by Israeli educators and activists to help non orthodox Jewish Israelis address issues of personal and collective Jewish identity and to create a pluralistic cultural and spiritual landscape in Israel. HaMidrasha promotes Jewish renewal in Israel by using the Israeli-Zionist experience as a platform for reconnecting to Jewish heritage. It is one of the largest centers of its kind, and reaches 40,000 participants a year, working with Israeli society in many settings: schools, communities, cities, and adult education frameworks.