The words “Ohr Torah” literally mean “the Torah is light,” and refer to the enlightening beacon which radiates from a true combination of Torah values, Zionist ideals, and a dedication to tikkun olam – changing and improving our world.
Indeed, over the past three decades, OTS has emerged as this guiding light in every important Jewish societal change, charting new educational, legal and social paths to groundbreaking change in the realms of women’s rights within Judaism, relations between observant and secular Jews, and the role of the worldwide Jewish educator and community spiritual leader in ensuring Jewish unity and future continuity.
Realizing the Dream
OTS founder Rabbi Shlomo Riskin envisioned the creation of a new movement of Jewish leadership, one which would successfully synthesize an unwavering commitment to halacha with the particular needs of contemporary Jewry. He dreamed of training and empowering a vibrant cadre of men and women to promote worldwide a Judaism based on traditional values, social justice, tolerance, loving-kindness and unity.
In 1983, Rabbi Riskin embarked upon the process of realizing this vision with the founding of Ohr Torah Stone Colleges and Graduate Programs.
Today, OTS has grown into an all-encompassing network, enlightening and motivating nearly 3,000 men and women from junior high to graduate school, from all religious backgrounds, hailing from every country. Hundreds of OTS graduates are serving as dynamic, compassionate and engaging educators, spiritual guides and lay leaders in Israel and in countries across the globe. Wherever they go, they bring with them the message of an accessible and relevant Judaism based upon the understanding and acceptance of the unaffiliated or disenfranchised; the bridging of gaps; the pursuit of social justice; the quest for unity and the concern for every human being.
Opening Doors for Women
OTS has effected change in every sphere, revolutionizing Jewish learning and Jewish living. Its programs for women have literally changed the course of Jewish history, opening doors that had previously been shut to the entire female population.
The first school to teach post-high school women Talmud on a high level, OTS’s women’s college continues today to pave new highways in the education and rights of Jewish women. Featuring the largest women’s beit midrash [study hall] in Jewish history, the college and is a primary source of well-educated female leaders, educators and role models for Jewish communities worldwide.
Some women are studying lishma – simply for love of learning and a quest of knowledge. Others, committed to making a difference in the Jewish world, are participating in the Educator training program, in which they are being provided with the knowledge and skills that are essential for teaching and engaging adolescents the world over, or the Spiritual and Halakhic Leadership track, where they are being prepared to provide religious and communal guidance to the modern Jewish world.
An innovative addition to the women’s college was developed specifically for women with special needs who, like their peers in the Diaspora, long to experience a year in Israel. The only program of its kind, the curriculum allows participants to acquire both learning and vocational skills, build independence and improve self-esteem, while expanding their love of Torah, Israel and the Jewish people. The program has proven so successful that this year, a parallel program was established for young men.
Another revolutionary OTS program enables religious women to serve in the Israeli army: where previously these women were forced to choose between service to their country and living an observant lifestyle, now they are inducted as a group and strengthened by intense study before, during and after their service.
OTS also opened the first school in the world to train women and certify them as advocates in the Rabbinical Courts. Only because of OTS’s appeal to the Israeli Supreme Court did women win the legal right to practice in the Courts –an arena which was, unbelievably, previously open only to men. Furthermore, because of the school’s Legal Aid Center and Hotline, Israeli women of financially limited means now have access to free advice and legal representation in matters pertaining to the process of obtaining a religious divorce. The agunah (a woman literally “chained” to a dead or abusive marriage, whose husband refuses to grant her a Jewish writ of divorce) is finally receiving much-deserved attention and the courts are being pressed on her behalf. Slowly, change is being effected, from within Jewish law, from a perspective of respect, knowledge and compassion.
Contemporary Jewish Leadership
OTS men’s programs also reflect the institutions’ mission of educating and engaging a new generation of Jewish leaders enlightened by a vision of centrist, modern Judaism that is true to the ancient traditions, but at the same time tolerant, accessible, relevant, socially just, and infused with the best that the Western world has to offer.
Guided by this philosophy, the OTS yeshiva draws young men both with and without previous yeshiva backgrounds from North America, Europe, South Africa and Australia, enabling them to pursue Torah study in a Zionistic, intellectually-stimulating and open environment.
Ohr Torah Stone’s Rabbinical Seminary prepares rabbis who are fluent both in secular learning as well as the Talmud; immersed in contemporary concerns as well as Jewish law and legal texts. At the same time, the OTS Educators Institute comprehensively trains committed and motivated educators to teach Judaic Studies in both Orthodox and non-Orthodox state and community schools across Israel and the Diaspora, conveying to their students the relevance and importance of their heritage in an warm, engaging and open manner, ultimately strengthening the world Jewish community.
The unique synthesis of Torah values, tolerance, Zionism, secular studies and practical training is what characterizes the OTS educator or rabbi and makes him unique. Today, hundreds of OTS-trained teachers and spiritual leaders are serving communities spanning the globe.
OTS also serves a significant role within Israeli society through a special initiative designed to encourage a new and unique leadership for Jews in Israel. Trained to effectively minister to non-Orthodox segments of Israeli society with understanding and respect, OTS alumni are working in Jewish Community Centers throughout the country as Jewish Cultural Facilitators. Actively promoting Jewish values, national unity and heritage awareness amongst Israelis of all ages and backgrounds, they are successfully working toward unifying Israelis, bridging the religious-secular divide and encouraging the secular Israeli family to reclaim and cherish Judaism without coercion.
In addition to its programming for postgraduate men and women, OTS has established a groundbreaking institute for the synthesis between the Arts, Spirituality and Torah values; a social work school which impacts upon every Ohr Torah Stone student; a Spanish-speaking conversion ulpan in Israel, which is emulated by ulpans throughout the country; a Center for the exploration of humanity and ethics, and an institute for Jewish experience which runs innovative programming for individuals or groups in OTS’s own guesthouse.
Israeli boys and girls are also being groomed for future leadership as the OTS junior high and high schools continue to forge ahead in the forefront of Jewish education. Students are inspired to become at the same time academically knowledgeable, spiritually secure, and open-minded. They are imbued with Ohr Torah Stone’s philosophy: a dedication to the Jewish people alongside a responsibility to the world at large; a pride in their Jewish faith, heritage and traditions along with respect and tolerance for others; a passion for the miracle of the State of Israel and a belief in full Jewish unity.
These future leaders of our nation choose OTS because of the superb, unparalleled standards of education, the intellectual openness, and a devotion to tikkun olam.