Rabbinical Training, American
RABBINICAL TRAINING, AMERICAN
When the *Hebrew Union College and the *Jewish Theological Seminary were established in the late 19th Century as the first institutions for the education of rabbis on American soil, the founders did not establish these schools of higher learning in a vacuum. Men like Isaac Mayer Wise of Hebrew Union and Sabato Morais of jts did not confront the task of imagining a modern rabbinical seminary de novo. Instead, their aim was to house "places of Jewish learning" comparable to the models provided by schools such as the Positive-Historical Breslau Jewish Theological Seminary (see Breslau *Juedisch-Theologisches Seminar), the Liberal Berlin *Hochschule fuer die Wissenschaft des Judentums, and the Orthodox Berlin Rabbinerseminar (see *Rabbiner-Seminar fuer das Orthodoxe Judentum) that had been established in Europe just years before.
All of these schools – even the Orthodox Rabbinerseminar – were marked by a dual devotion to classical Judaica and rabbinic sources on the one hand and modern critical scholarship on the other. This twofold commitment to classical rabbinic sources and the canons of academic inquiry reflects an era and intellectual setting in which it was deemed imperative that texts be understood and interpreted in light of the historical contexts that formed them.
While this ethos did not take hold at the Orthodox Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary (riets) of Yeshiva University in New York, this approach did shape the curricula and courses of training designed for rabbis in the American Reform and Conservative movements for the next 75 years. Indeed, this heritage remains prominent at jts and huc-jir as well as other liberal rabbinical schools even today. Events and currents from the mid-1970s, however, have challenged the exclusive monopoly this particular vision previously enjoyed in shaping rabbinical education in North America and these events and currents have changed and informed the nature of rabbinical education for North American rabbis across denominational lines at the onset of a new century. A few words about these currents and patterns, as well as an appreciation of the western European heritage mentioned above that shaped the initial manifestations of the American rabbinical seminary, will provide a fitting backdrop and framework for the description and analysis of rabbinical education for the North American Jewish community at the onset of the 21st Century.
In the 1960s and 1970s, many of the sociological factors that became seminal in shaping the contours of contemporary American Judaism today started to emerge. The American Jewish community was no longer an immigrant community seeking to adjust to the United States. Old ethnic patterns that formerly preserved and divided the Jewish religious community were no longer present and the rivalry that had existed between American Jews of German and Eastern European descent was no more than an historical memory – if that – for most American Jews.
Jews were now completely accepted into American life, and Jews of all stripes and ethnic backgrounds were now full participants in the cultural and economic spheres of the United States. As a result, the attitudes and beliefs that had so sharply divided Reform from Conservative Jews in the first half of the 20th century were now blurred for many of these people. A permeability was emerging, one that would allow for crossover between the disparate movements.
Larger societal developments going on in the greater American culture also promoted this crossover. With the rise in the 1960s of what came to be known as "the new ethnicity" in the larger culture, an expression of ethnic allegiances unprecedented in this nation's history appeared, and a religious revival and a renewed search for religious and spiritual meaning accompanied this expression. These forces had a decisive impact in promoting a renewed interest in Judaism among many, as did the exhilarating 1967 Israeli victory in the Six-Day War. Trips to Israel and programs there now became a staple of American Jewish life. All these dynamics propelled many Jews to seek out Jewish community and religion in an intensive manner that was unknown to their parents earlier in the century.
The *Havurah Movement of the late 1960s and 1970s ran parallel to and was a result of these developments, and the appearance and influence of what is today called "Jewish renewal" owes its origins to those years. This "movement" envisioned a non-hierarchical brand of Judaism and promoted an "expressive individualism that featured the activism of all participants." The inroads of feminism in organized Jewish religious life also appeared for the first time in American Jewish religious life. Jewish day school attendance in the United States rose as well, and the explosion of Jewish studies programs in American universities also began at this time. This phenomenon has caused there to be an ever-burgeoning number of serious academics devoted to the many fields of Jewish Studies. A number of these scholars are the products of previous rabbinical training. The opportunity for employment academia now provides these rabbis contrasts sharply to the reality that obtained in earlier generations, for rabbis who were scholars and gravitated to an academic environment prior to the 1960s were generally compelled either to choose Hillel or the pulpit as there were few academic positions available. Today the opportunities abound for rabbis and non-rabbis alike. Many Jewish Studies scholars today are not rabbis, and many among this non-rabbinic group now populate the teaching ranks of Jewish religious institutions as well as the secular academy.
At the same time, the reality of acculturation among American Jews fostered Jewish assimilation. As Jews became fully accepted by gentiles as social equals and as traditional Jewish attitudes that opposed exogamy weakened, intermarriage rates soared. While significant numbers of Israeli, Russian, Iranian, and South African Jewish immigrants came to the United States during the latter years of the 20th Century, they entered a well-established and fully organized American Jewish community that was largely composed of fourth-, fifth-, and sixth-generation American Jews who are an integral part of every sector of American society.
It is small wonder that Charles Liebman, in his influential landmark study, "The Training of American Rabbis," written in 1968, would give voice to the need for change in rabbinical education brought on by all these transformations. The events and trends that were then unfolding led him to critique the contemporary state of rabbinical education in the United States for its inability to inculcate practical rabbinical skills in its graduates. While Liebman acknowledged that many of the graduates of these schools were well educated Jewishly, all too few were able to explain the relevance of Jewish knowledge to their congregants nor were they able to inspire and guide their laity spiritually and religiously in this transformed setting. The point of his critique was not to assert that classical Jewish knowledge was not vital for the modern rabbi. Indeed, no Jewish educational institution or seminary would dissent from this posture. All are agreed that such knowledge must serve as the foundation for the authority and authenticity of the rabbi. However, American rabbinical training centers at the current moment do resonate to his call that this knowledge be taught in such a way that modern rabbis can apply this knowledge to the spiritual life and interests of modern persons. As Ismar Schorsch, the retiring chancellor of Jewish Theological Seminary has stated, the changed world of contemporary America brought on by all the factors enumerated above, has signaled a move in the present day from an accent upon historical context to an emphasis upon the immediacy and spiritual intensity associated with text devoid of content in the education and formation of American rabbis. The cultural, religious, and intellectual climate of the day has caused the institutions charged with educating rabbis for the Jewish community of 21st-century America to restructure their programs as they rethink their priorities and reshape their educational offerings in light of these concerns and this reality. This survey and analysis of rabbinical education in America at the turn of the 21st century will indicate how this is so; elements of discontinuity as well as continuity in the training of American rabbis and the curricula of the institutions and schools that educate American rabbis will be highlighted in this essay.
jewish theological seminary of america
In turning at the outset of this survey to the Jewish Theological Seminary of America of the Conservative Movement, it must be said that devotion to Talmud and classical rabbinical texts taught in accord with a modern critical-academic spirit still resides at the heart of the curriculum – just as it has since the institution was established in 1886. Indeed, jts affirms a long seminary tradition of academic rigor and devotion to Jewish scholarship as a religious value. The seminary remains committed to the belief that knowledge of rabbinic literature and mastery of academic scholarship remain the sine qua non that establishes the grounds for exercising legitimate rabbinic leadership. Talmud constitutes the central core of the curriculum, and courses in other areas of rabbinic literature as well as in academic disciplines such as history, literature, and philosophy occupy the bulk of the course of instruction throughout the years spent in study at jts.
There was a period in American Jewish history when most of the students at jts came from Orthodox Jewish homes and their backgrounds in Talmud were strong and their commitment to Jewish observance could be taken for granted. This is not the case today, and jts increasingly accepts students who lack the knowledge and preparation in Judaica that was true of earlier generations. While Solomon Schechter Day Schools, Camp Ramah, and United Synagogue Youth provide fertile training grounds for many Conservative movement rabbis and professionals, their level of commitment to halakhah cannot always be assumed. Consequently, jts stipulates that candidates for admission to the rabbinical school are "expected to be living according to Jewish tradition." This means that "mitzvot must guide the lives of the students," and while jts – like other non-Orthodox rabbinical programs – admits women to rabbinical study, the women are obligated – no less than the men – to observe "even those mitzvoth from which women have traditionally been exempt – tallit, tefillin, and tefillah." However, there is an acknowledgement "that persons may be in the process of deepening their religious commitment" as they apply, and jts encourages such students to explore jts as an option for their rabbinic careers.
On an academic level, students are required to have completed at least the equivalent of four semesters of college-level Hebrew prior to their admission, and they must be prepared to enroll in a six-year course of study. For students with minimal background in Jewish sources, the first year is labeled as Mechinah (Preparation). The student is then introduced to the richness and depth of the Jewish textual tradition and required to master ten folios of Talmud prior to admission to the second year of study. Students with advanced backgrounds in Talmud at the time of admission can proceed – depending upon their talmudic skills and erudition – immediately to the second or third year.
What is noteworthy at jts is that the curriculum nowpays significant attention – particularly in the final years – to the task of "spiritual formation" and the rabbi is consciously trained for the role he/she will play as a mediator of the tradition for those whom he/she will serve. There is a recognition that scholarly goals alone are no longer the most appropriate way to educate rabbis for their future vocation, one in which the rabbi will be asked to mediate the knowledge of Torah to their congregants so that these Jews can make the legacy of the tradition relevant to their lives as contemporary American Jews. This requires the modern Conservative rabbi to "develop a more collaborative style of leadership," one that will demand them to be "leaders of inquiry," not "suppliers of answers." Bible, history, electives, and professional skills are thus given much more emphasis in the prescribed course of study at jts than was true in earlier generations, and the administration recognizes that the modern Conservative rabbi "is a member of a profession dedicated to addressing the needs of the individual."
This means that jts aspires to devote serious attention to the inner religious growth of the student, and seminars and internships during the last two years of study seek to allow the student to develop the ability to teach, inspire, and transform the lives of others by articulating a compelling vision of Jewishlife. Students should serve as mediators of tradition, and the curriculum is now designed to foster the analytical-synthetic skills of the students. While the vast majority of courses remain devoted to Jewish texts, the description of rabbinic training at jts today as reflected in catalogues and articles by jts professors and staff indicate that in accord with the changing spirit of the time there is an effort to have students "grow in wisdom and piety" as well as knowledge as they prepare for the rabbinate.
the ziegler school of rabbinic studies at the university of judaism
Of course, jts no longer has a monopoly on Conservative rabbinical ordination. The Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies at the University of Judaism (uj) in Los Angeles now serves as a second center for Conservative ordination. While the *University of Judaism housed the Mechinah program of jts for many years, the uj expanded to a full rabbinic program in 1995. The parallels between the course of study at the Ziegler School and jts are many. Both programs emphasize the study of Talmud and classical rabbinic texts. However, the uj is distinct in that the attempt to sensitize the rabbinical student "to the affective and spiritual dimensions of Jewish identity and faith" is even more pronounced than at jts. There is also a decided emphasis on preparing the students to provide such an approach to the laypersons they will one day serve. Consequently, all uj students are required to take a ten-hour per week Senior Internship that is integrated into a Senior Seminar co-taught by a Rabbi/M.B.A. and a congregational rabbi so that the graduates are prepared to do the actual work of a congregational rabbi. The congregational rabbinate is thus privileged as the normative option for uj students in a way that it is not for students at jts. Finally, classes in Kabbalah and ḥasidut are required for all uj students. This literature involves study of texts and genres that focus on the mystical and personal elements in Jewish tradition, and their assignment as a required part of rabbinical training surely reflects the intense personalism and turn towards spirituality that marks American religion today.
the institute of traditional judaism
The Union for Traditional Judaism established The *Institute of Traditional Judaism (itj), also known as the Metivta, in 1990 in Monroe, New York. The founders of itj were drawn principally, though not exclusively, from graduates and faculty of jts who were disturbed by the decision of jts to ordain women as rabbis. They believed that that the ordination of homosexuals would soon follow. Former jts professor of Talmud David Weiss *Halivni, who moved to a position at Columbia University in the wake of his not being appointed as rector of jts after the death of his mentor Professor Saul Lieberman, was the principal academic-religious spirit behind the establishment of itj, and he continues to serve as rector. Rabbi David Novak of the University of Toronto as well as Sephardi Hakham Isaac Sassoon from the Syrian Community are members of the Metivta Faculty, whose members range from graduates of the Mir Yeshiva and the Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary of Yeshiva University to ordinands of jts. The itj motto is, "Emunah ẓerufah ve-yosher da'at – Genuine Faith and Intellectual Honesty." itj strives to create rabbis who are halakhic traditionalists. At the same time, the Metivta opposes an Orthodox Judaism that is seen as becoming increasingly "triumphalist and separatist." itj therefore seeks to create rabbis who will "be fully committed to halakhic observance while facing the non-halakhic community with warmth and willingness to work with all Jews regardless of affiliation."
The itj, in keeping with its Conservative Movement roots, is comfortable with the critical method of Talmudic study employed by Rabbi Halivni, who said that "our library will have Wellhausen in it, but not on the top shelf." The leadership sees the school as a transdenominational halakhic rabbinical school. In 1995 the school moved to Teaneck, New Jersey, and in 2005 opened a satellite site on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. In addition to rabbinical ordination, the school offers an mpa in Jewish communal service in conjunction with Fairleigh Dickinson University as well as a mekhinah or preparatory program in textual study for men and women.
hebrew union college-jewish institute of religion
The oldest rabbinical college in North America, the Reform seminary Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion (huc-jir) was formed from a merger of Hebrew Union College (1875) in Cincinnati with the Jewish Institute of Religion (1922) in New York in 1950; it has been informed by the same contemporary cultural-religious forces and sentiments that have influenced the parameters of the jts and uj curricula described above. The College-Institute has engaged in a Core Curriculum Project that has caused the curriculum to focus on three key areas – academic, professional, and spiritual – in the education of a new generation of Reform rabbis. While this curriculum has been designed to "foster greater appreciation of practical skills," every effort has been made to strengthen the "academic integrity" of the course of study. For the first time in the history of huc-jir, students cannot be admitted unless they have completed at least two years of college-level Hebrew. It is hoped that this minimal level of Hebrew competency for entering students will allow them to advance to "a scholarly mastery of sources."
The huc-jir course of study for the rabbinate is five years, and the first-year student is required to study at the huc campus in Jerusalem. The College-Institute is absolutely committed on an ideological level to the notion of Jewish people-hood, the first year program in Israel is designed to instill – in addition to Hebrew and textual skills – a sense of solidarity with the Jewish people and the reborn Jewish state. Commitment to *kelal Yisrael (the Jewish community as a whole) is viewed as a prerequisite for the rabbinic office. While students with little Judaica background are often accepted, huc-jir is in the process of raising its requirements in this area (beyond the Hebrew requirement mentioned above) and the establishment of a mekhinah year was being contemplated. All students who will be ordained must possess suitable qualities of "character, leadership, personality, and academic capacity" to serve in the rabbinical office, though unlike jts and in keeping with the non-halakhic character of the Reform Movement, there are no minimal requirements for observance that are demanded.
While the current curriculum of huc-jir does display a greater emphasis on classical textual competency than previous curricula did, it would be incorrect to assert that the huc-jir curriculum – even as it is refashioned – privileges Talmud. Students can often leave with as little as three classes in Talmud, as required rabbinic literature is construed much more broadly to include commentaries, liturgy, Midrash, and responsa than it would be in more traditional settings. Bible remains a central subject in the curriculum of the College-Institute and the academic orientation of the program is reflected in the scholarly thesis that is required for ordination.
Interestingly, the professors at huc-jir today are drawn from every part of the Jewish world, and a number of faculty have received their rabbinic and academic training at both Yeshiva University and the Jewish Theological Seminary as well as secular universities throughout North America, Europe, and Israel. These professors are asked to help equip their students with "the ability to elicit religious values and meanings from the texts they study." Furthermore, there has been a concerted effort to foster the individual spiritual growth of the student as well as the student body as a whole. After all, the student will be striving to create such community after graduation. This necessitates spiritual growth in the seminary years, and the creation of a spiritual community during this period can serve as a model of what the student can aspire to create in the years ahead. In articulating these concerns and themes, huc-jir reflects the educational ethos and cultural-spiritual concerns of the day.
Such concerns are present at the *Reconstructionist Rabbinical College (rrc) as well. The rrc asserts that its curriculum "embodies a new approach to rabbinic education. The approach understands rabbinical studies as necessarily combining aspects of academic study with a personal encounter with Judaism." Citing the work of Rabbi Mordecai *Kaplan, the rrc contends that a rabbinical school should furnish its students with extensive knowledge of the Jewish heritage, of human nature and social conditions, and with the ability to synthesize situations with which they will have to deal as rabbis. In so doing, the rrc consciously rejects the ideal of rabbis as authority figures. Instead, the rabbi is envisioned as a guide who will help people explore Jewish life for themselves. The rabbi, as part of the community, will work in an egalitarian spirit of cooperation with others to shape the future of Jewish life. Indeed, the rrc teaches its rabbis "to work closely with lay people to build democratic communities." While there is undoubtedly a unique Reconstructionist emphasis at play at the rrc, the themes that are articulated in these descriptions echo comparable accounts found at jts, uj, and huc. The influence of larger cultural trends on all these major institutions of non-Orthodox rabbinical education is readily apparent.
Academically, the program is based on the Reconstructionist notion of Judaism as an evolving, dynamic religious civilization. Each year focuses on biblical, rabbinic, medieval, modern, and contemporary eras of Jewish civilization in succession. By studying the texts, history, thought, and culture of the Jewish heritage in this way, the student gains an appreciation of the constantly evolving nature of Jewish belief and practice. There is also a practical rabbinics program with three main components – course work, fieldwork, and group supervision. The rrc offers five programs of study in this program, and encourages the student to specialize in one – congregational life; campus and Hillel; chaplaincy in hospital, hospice, and geriatric centers; community organization; and education. For people who specialize in education, there is a joint master's degree in education from *Gratz College. The curriculum is designed to have the students appreciate and understand the nature of a rapidly changing world. The rrc is a self-described "warm, caring" community, and its rabbis are educated for the entire Jewish community – in both the synagogue and beyond. In its early years, the rrc insisted that its students pursue a Ph.D. at either Temple University or the University of Pennsylvania alongside their course of study for ordination. However, the demands this imposed on the students were soon seen as too strenuous and such academic training and aspirations were seen as unnecessary for the rabbinic careers they were choosing. The notion of the scholar-rabbi that the American rabbinical seminary had inherited from their German seminary models was no longer culturally compelling.
Transdenominationalism and Spirituality
The dual themes of transdenominationalism and spirituality find strong expression in both the Rabbinical School at Hebrew College in Greater Boston (Newton Centre) (bhc) and the Academy for Jewish Religion (ajr) in California and New York.
rabbinical school at hebrew college in greater boston
Led by Rabbi Arthur *Green, a scholar of Ḥasidism, the founder of Havurat Shalom in 1968 during the era of Jewish renewal, and the former dean and president pf the rrc, the Boston Hebrew College Rabbinical School has built upon the Hebrew College's "84-year legacy of transdenominational Jewish studies." Boston Hebrew sees itself as devoted to kelal Yisrael and notions of inclusion and spirituality. Indeed, bhc emphasizes that it accepts men and women, gays and heterosexuals, and it requires that candidates display "a love of Jews as well as Judaism." Applicants must have a B.A. and three years of college Hebrew to qualify for admission. The standard program is five years, though bhc specifies that there is a possible mekhinah year for students who are in need of remedial work in Judaica and texts. All students are required to study for at least one semester and one summer in Israel.
The emphasis at bhc is upon the study of primary texts. However, these texts focus upon "themes of Jewish living and daily rabbinic practice," and the curriculum is structured around cycles of Torah study and Jewish religious life. The school states that it is a blend of "academy and *yeshivah" – formal academic study is combined with traditional ḥevruta-style learning. Emphasis is placed upon the historic contexts, but a personal religious point of view is cultivated in every class, and there is a strong emphasis on ḥasidic and kabbalistic sources. bhc hopes that the transdenominational setting will prepare rabbis for service in a wide variety of congregational and non-congregational settings, and the college intends to support its graduates should they apply for membership in particular denominations (including possible Orthodox semikhah).
academy for jewish religion
The Academy for Jewish Religion in California is also designed to be transdenominational and successful completion of its program leads to the title "Rabbi and Teacher in Israel" as well as a Master's Degree in Rabbinic Studies, for its graduates. The program is designed for five years of full-time study, with part-time options available. A supervised internship is required as well as an M.A. thesis prior to ordination. The school, in a manner reminiscent of huc-jir, intends to offer "in-depth studies in Bible, Hebrew, History, Liturgy, Philosophy and Theology," as well as rabbinic literature. According to Rabbi Mel Gottlieb, dean of the Rabbinical School, the ajr attempts to revitalize Judaism and seeks to train rabbis who "reflect a deep respect for all denominations" and who engage in "outreach to the unaffiliated." Its motto, "To serve as a bridge between the pillars of Judaism," reflects the aspirations of its founders. The ajr in California also emphasizes spirituality by focusing on mysticism and spirituality and the classics of those traditions – Musar, Ḥasidic thought, and kabbalistic teachings.
Its sister institution, the Academy for Jewish Religion in New York, also seeks to train rabbis who have a deep understanding of all the streams of modern Judaism. There is a focus on "texts and tradition," and there is an effort to cultivate "an appreciation for the historical forces that have shaped our people." At the same time, there is a recognition that Jews in the contemporary period "are in search of meaning and authentic guidance in spirituality." Therefore, considerable time and attention is devoted in the curriculum to "meditation and prayer," in addition to courses in Bible, Hebrew, history, liturgy, and philosophy.
The Orthodox schools for rabbinic education are all centered on the intensive study of Talmud, and critical academic study is completely eschewed in virtually every one of them. Nevertheless, the institutions and programs that educate rabbis for the North American Orthodox rabbinate display a great deal of variety in their approaches and emphases, and their offerings are surely influenced by the larger environment of North America in ways that parallel the impacts this environment have upon non-Orthodox rabbinical settings.
rabbi isaac elhanan theological seminary
Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary of Yeshiva University (riets) remains the premiere rabbinical educational institution of Orthodox Judaism in North America. The curriculum is "firmly set in Talmud, Codes, and Halakhah," and there is no attempt to introduce a critical approach to talmudic scholarship into its course of study. While the motto of Yeshiva University may be "Torah u'madda – Torah and Academic Study," the latter does not intrude upon the former within the walls of riets. As Rabbi Samuel Belkin, the late president of Yeshiva University and head of riets, phrased it, "Modern Jewish scholarship has tried to explain Judaism in terms which are alien and do not apply to it, and has attempted to force even those practices and rituals which define the relationship of man to God into the molds of current sociological and economic theories." Though Belkin made this statement decades earlier, critical academic scholarship still has no place at riets, which views itself as "heir to, and modeled after, the traditional yeshivot of Europe." This vision is the mirror opposite of the models that the liberal programs have embraced.
The prescribed course of study at riets is four years. All students accepted at riets must possess an undergraduate academic degree, and they must also have studied Talmud in a post-high school *yeshivah environment for a significant period of time. Virtually all of the students come from intense Orthodox educational backgrounds, and no more than a quarter of the students aspire to the pulpit rabbinate. Study of Talmud for its own sake constitutes the raison d'être for this yeshivah and the trend towards ever-greater levels of piety and traditional observance that mark contemporary Orthodoxy have only intensified this ethos within the walls of riets. While enrolled in riets, students study Talmud a minimum of six hours daily. During the last two years, more emphasis is placed on the codes of the Shulḥan Arukh that deal with dietary laws, family purity, and Sabbath and holiday observance, topics that have constituted the core of classical rabbinic training for centuries.
Students may also then elect an additional four hours of Talmud study daily, work towards a Master's Degree in Judaic Studies, education, or social work, or attend classes sponsored by riets in traditional Jewish thought. All students must pass an examination demonstrating mastery of Hebrew as well.
To be sure, a host of classes that hone practical skills have been added to the curriculum in recent years and students may do a year's internship in a synagogue under the guidance of an experienced pulpit rabbi. The rabbis educated by riets are essentially prepared to deal almost exclusively with an Orthodox audience of Jews. riets has therefore "developed programs to meet the communal and personal needs of our time and place – business ethics, bioethics, and technology." The description indicates that riets remains modeled upon the traditional yeshivah, and these other topics are in effect supplements to the study of Talmud that occupies the central place in the curriculum of the yeshivah. This allows the ordainee of riets who elects congregational work "to present a more sophisticated, culturally contoured side of Judaism" to congregants who are increasingly Jewishly knowledgeable and halakhically observant.
Interestingly, riets was legally separated decades earlier from Yeshiva University itself, because then President Belkin wanted riets to be unencumbered by the legal requirements the federal government might impose upon the university itself when the university applied for federal grants. He feared that federal requirements in areas such as housing for men and women and treatment of homosexuals might compromise the religious integrity of riets. However, both Rabbi Belkin and his successor rabbi Norman Lamm served both as president of Yeshiva University and rosh ha-yeshivah at riets. Whenlayman Richard Joel was appointed as president of Yeshiva University, Rabbi Lamm remained formal head of riets, inasmuch as Joel faced stiff opposition from many faculty members at riets because he was not a rabbi and a suitable religious authority.
hebrew theological college
A parallel trajectory to that of riets is displayed by the Hebrew Theological College (htc) in Skokie, Illinois. htc was created in 1922 to provide Orthodox rabbis for an expanding Midwestern Jewish population. Its popular name, "The Skokie Yeshiva," seems to best capture its sectarian nature. Its three-year course of study focuses almost exclusively on traditional Jewish texts and topics and a wide range of classical commentaries on those texts. The student is expected to master the same halakhic texts that the riets student is, and the parts of the Shulḥan Arukh that deal with the Sabbath, dietary law, family purity, and mourning are emphasized. The students possess the same type of backgrounds that riets students do, though the flavor of the school is even more traditional.
In addition to the intensive three-year cycle of Talmud and halakhah study program, "students are also involved in academic areas addressing the particular needs of the chosen specialized area of rabbinic activity, such as education, public speaking, homiletics, and psychology." These students are also assigned to internships with rabbinical mentors in these practical areas.
There is also a Rav u-Manhig Program, begun in 1995, which includes 30 semester hours of Talmud study and completion of exams in Oraḥ Ḥayyim that "form the cornerstone of the life of a religious Jew." This program is designed to assist students who wish to pursue advanced programs of talmudic studies and is a further sign of the rightward drift that marks the Orthodox world today.
Ironically, the late Rabbi Eliezer *Berkovits, who taught for many years at the Skokie Yeshiva, wrote in a 1975 article in Tradition: A Journal of Orthodox Jewish Thought, that the traditional Orthodox rabbinical curriculum had to reshape itself so that the modern Orthodox rabbi would be more capable of connecting traditional Jewish learning to the demands of the modern world in which most North American Jews live.
yeshiva chovevei torah
While htc did not heed Rabbi Berkovits's word, Yeshiva Chovevei Torah Rabbinical School (yct), founded by activist Orthodox Rabbi Avi *Weiss of Riverdale, New York, has donned this mantle. yct consciously seeks "to promote an inclusive modern Orthodoxy that requires respectful interaction with all Jewish movements" and that expands "the role of women in religious life and leadership." yct has a four-year program, and intensive study of Talmud and halakhah form the focus of the curriculum, as is the case at both htc and riets. However, Tanakh (Bible) is a separate discipline as is Jewish Thought (labeled Maḥshevet Yisrael). There is an attempt to nurture students "both intellectually and spiritually," and to encounter the texts as an act of "avodat Hashem" – service to God. Here yct adopts the language of religious personalism and spirituality that is the hallmark of all the more liberal non-Orthodox programs.
yct is distinct among Orthodox yeshivot in other ways as well. In studying Talmud, the curriculum is designed to "address historical and source critical concerns." In Tanakh, academic issues of authorship are addressed, while the literary-theological message, as well as classical commentaries, are consulted and considered. This openness to integrating critical, scientific approaches with traditional ones in the study of Jewish texts makes YCT unique in the Orthodox world.
yct is also a yeshivah that emphasizes the value and religious significance of the State of Israel, and requires a year of study there prior to ordination. In Jewish Thought, ḥasidic and kabbalistic literatures are studied, and two required courses are "The Rise and Development of Jewish Denominations" and "The Challenges of Modern Orthodoxy," which addresses issues of faith and doubt, dogma, authority of the modern rabbi, and gender issues. As its literature proclaims, yct is "a yeshiva not afraid of ideas," and promotes "academic excellence, ahavat HaTorah (love of Torah), and ahavat Yisrael (love of the Jewish people)" in its graduates who go out to serve in a wide variety of Orthodox synagogues and communal and educational settings.
ohr torah stone (joseph strauss rabbinical seminary)
In completing this review of institutions and programs that produce Orthodox rabbis to serve the North American Jewish community, it is important to take note of Ohr Torah Stone (Joseph Strauss Rabbinical Seminary) in Efrat, Israel. Headed by Rabbi Shlomo *Riskin and Rabbi Chaim Brovender, this Israeli-based Orthodox rabbinical program aims at training "a new generation of rabbinic leaders who combine their halakhic knowledge with an understanding of the particular needs of contemporary Jewish life." After completing a four-year course of study, students are expected to return to the Diaspora. Ohr Torah Stone views Torah as a "unifying force rather than a divider," and is "attentive to the importance of tolerance and openness, without compromising religious commitment." There is "sensitivity towards the situation of Jews in the Diaspora." Thus, when laws of conversion, for example, are taught, considerable attention is paid to issues of assimilation and intermarriage in the Diaspora. Similarly, in studying laws relating to Sabbath observance, the focus is placed upon how a community of Sabbath-observant Jews might be established.
There is also a program called Amiel – Rabbi Emanuel Rackman Program for Practical Rabbinics, attached to the yeshivah. Directed by R. Eliyahu Birnbaum, it is open to both jsrs students and qualified candidates from other Israeli yeshivot. This program is designed to train rabbis to work with the non-observant in Jewish communities throughout the Diaspora and desires to meet the challenges posed by assimilation. A number of these students come to America for at least two years, and they focus on "Communal Leadership."
Ḥaredi (Ultra-Orthodox) yeshivot that focused almost exclusively on the study of Torah for its own sake during the first 80 years of the 20th century began to change direction as a result of a speech Rabbi Moshe Sherer, the president of Agudath Israel in America, delivered in 1978. In an appeal to yeshivah students, Rabbi Sherer stated that if ḥaredi rabbis did not enter "into the rabbinate to save," assimilated American Jews, then "millions of neshamos (souls)… will enter churches." While ultra-Orthodox seminaries remain firm in their commitment to "Torah for Torah's sake," there has been movement towards the pulpit in many of them during the last two decades.
In The Rabbinical Seminary of America, Chofetz Chaim Yeshiva, Kew Gardens Hills, New York, which follows the Lithuanian model of the Musar (Ethical-Pietistic) yeshivah, a great deal of emphasis is placed upon middos, the formation of spiritual and ethical character. In addition to classical rabbinic texts, time is devoted each day to the study of musar literature. Its students can earn a master's degrees in education or business while they study at the yeshiva a novel turn for such institutions. Baltimore's Ner Israel Rabbinical College has such cooperative programs as well.
Chofetz Chaim also sends its students into the public schools each week for an outreach activity labeled jep – Jewish Educational Programs. Here, the yeshivah students offer programs in Jewish cultural literacy to non-observant Jews. In this yeshivah, students study from the age of 18 to 30 or 35 before they complete their studies and receive ordination. Hence, they are in school 8 to 12 years more than their counterparts at other Orthodox rabbinical schools. As of 2006, there were over 300 students in Chofetz Chaim yeshivot, and branches have been established in Milwaukee, Cherry Hills, Los Angeles, and San Diego. The rosh yeshivah (head of the yeshivah) assigns ordainees to communities where he feels there is the greatest need, and these rabbis are instructed to establish day schools. These rabbis also go in a group, not as individuals, and an infrastructure is thereby established to sustain religious life for these men and their families. The influence of these rabbis in a number of communities is quite pronounced, and they are marked by a significant missionary zeal.
At the Maor Program, in Silver Spring, Maryland, a course consisting of two three-week sessions is offered in two consecutive summers to train graduates of ḥaredi yeshivot for the pulpit rabbinate. Established by Rabbi Shaya Milikowsky, a Ner Israel ordainee, the program is similar in its aim to the Amiel Program of Ohr Torah, and it reflects a shift in the rightwing Orthodox world and the determination of the leadership of that world to speak to non-observant as well as observant Jewish populations. The students come from places such as Ner Israel and Beth Midrash Ha-Gavohah in Lakewood and Philadelphia. The classes meet five days a week, eight hours a day, and the courses aim to prepare their graduates for service in communities with heavy Jewish populations where no Orthodox synagogues exist. Maor does not seek students who have undergraduate degrees, and even looks askance upon them.
Rabbinical Ordination/Leadership Program (rolp) (Aish Hatorah) was established in 1975 by Rabbi Noah Weinberg. This yeshivah also aims to educate rabbis who will bring non-observant and weakly affiliated Jews to embrace traditional Judaism, and the program attempts to foster an "Aish Culture." In contrast to other Orthodox yeshivot, the course of study is relatively short and less textually demanding. Furthermore, it is focused on outreach. Thus, even courses in Talmud and Codes center on what one needs to know in order to be an effective outreach rabbi. The course of study is one and a half to two years. Three components mark the curriculum – traditional rabbinic learning, practical rabbinics, and vocational training. In addition to study of Talmud and Codes, there is a great deal of emphasis placed upon Bible, as this is seen as vital for outreach to non-observant American Jews. Students also engage in practical programs where they work with such people during their time in the yeshivah, and they then take courses "dedicated to the daily responsibilities of the rabbi." This constitutes 40% of the curriculum, and the graduates are expected to work one day in Aish centers, principally in North America.
Finally, *Chabad constitutes the other formal program designed for the education of rabbis who will serve the North American Jewish community. Chabad rabbis have to complete three years of post-high school study in Chabad yeshivot. They are then permitted to study the traditional Codes required to receive ordination, and they center their efforts in these years on those sections that deal with dietary laws, the Sabbath, and prayer. However, most of these rabbis began their formation for the Chabad rabbinate long before they entered advanced Chabad yeshivot. Indeed, the average Chabad rabbi began serving as a shali'aḥ (emissary) at the age of 14. Hence, by the time they are ordained, most have spent eight years as sheliḥim, teaching Jewish men how to don tefillin and women to light Shabbat candles. They have a great deal of exposure to non-observant Jews and unlike other Orthodox yeshivot, their graduates intend to stay in whatever community they have been assigned permanently. They often serve as Orthodox rabbis to non-observant Jews and will sometimes begin their work as the only observant Jews in their new homes. The difference here between the ideology and program that animates Chofetz Chayim – where graduates go to a community in a group – and Chabad is pronounced.
The venues where rabbis are educated to serve the North American Jewish community are thus many and highly variegated. Furthermore, there are a number of rabbis who are ordained privately as well and these men and women serve the North American Jewish community in a wide variety of settings. While the student of North American Judaism must be keenly mindful of this variety, there is no question that the religious and cultural environment of 21st-century America has had a profound impact upon the course of study that these many programs and institutions of higher Jewish education provide and the coming years will undoubtedly witness an ongoing vitality and diversity in the education of rabbis who will serve the contemporary American Jewish community.
E. Berkovits, "A Contemporary Rabbinical School for Orthodox Jewry," in: Tradition: A Journal of Orthodox Jewish Thought, 13 (1971), 5–20; D. Ellenson and L. Bycel, "A Seminary of Sacred Learning: The jts Rabbinical Curriculum in Historical Perspective," in: J. Wertheimer (ed.), Tradition Renewed: A History of the Jewish Theological Seminary of America (1997), 525–91; A. Ferziger, "Training American Orthodox Rabbis to Play a Role in Confronting Assimilation: Programs, Methodologies, and Directions," in: Rappa-port Center for Assimilation Research: Research and Position Papers Series, vol. 4 (2003), 7–72; C. Liebman, "The Training of American Rabbis," in: American Jewish Year Book, 69 (1968), 3–114.
[David Ellenson (2nd ed.)]