Educating Our Future Rabbis
The Joseph and Gwendolyn Straus Rabbinical Seminary has developed a reputation for training rabbis with halakhic knowledge, while also giving them important insights about how to be effective educators and leaders who can connect people to the meaning and beauty of Judaism. This year, two of the rabbinic students are incorporating what they are learning into their work at OTS’s Robert M. Beren Machanaim Hesder Yeshiva, guiding younger students in their learning and fostering them as they take their steps on the path of Jewish growth.
Azi Horvitch learned in yeshiva, completed his IDF military service, and studied music for a time before enrolling in the Joseph and Gwendolyn Straus Rabbinical Seminary. At first, his intention was to study in the Torat Yosef kollel which specifically trains rabbis to serve Diaspora communities, but ultimately decided to complete the full five-year Straus kollel program, including the ordination exams from the Israeli rabbinate.
“The yeshiva is always thinking about what we need beyond the Torah knowledge, and often brings in professionals who can provide additional perspectives,” he notes. “For example, when we discussed mental health, we met with people who work in different areas of the mental health field. The yeshiva isn’t focused solely on making sure we pass our tests, but truly cares about making sure that we have the tools we need to effectively help others.”
Today, Horvitch is also serving as a Ra”m (rabbinic figure and teacher) at the Robert M. Beren Machanaim Hesder Yeshiva, with whom the Straus Seminary shares a campus and beit midrash. In addition to teaching classes on Jewish thought, he also holds a newly created position in the yeshiva, “Ra”m Beit Midrash,” through which he oversees and supports students in their chavruta and individual learning. He also meets regularly with each student and works with the administration and staff to ensure that each one thrives.
More Than Knowing Halakha
“The yeshiva understands that the role of a rabbi is to consider how to use what we learn in the Torah to help people, and to make their lives more meaningful,” says Horvitch’s peer, Orian Godinger.
In addition to teaching Gemara to a class of 15 students on a daily basis, Godinger also meets with Machanaim students individually and hosts them regularly in his home – above and beyond his own intensive rabbinical studies. He views this as part-and-parcel of the yeshiva’s entire approach. “This is a very serious yeshiva. The semikha students are very much connected to the study of halakha. But the role of a rabbi is more than knowing the details of the halakha. We must be interested in what’s happening in people’s lives.The yeshiva educates us to always be conscious of that, and to consider how the Torah can make their lives more meaningful.”
Godinger continues: “Our job as rabbis will be to understand what’s happening with each person we interact with, to help them from a spiritual and personal perspective, and to know what other resources are available and when to use them.”
Both Horvitz and Godinger are considering various next steps once they complete all of their exams towards rabbinic ordination, but whatever they choose, they will take what they have gained in the Straus Seminary with them. “My teachers here are giving me the confidence that they believe in me,” says Horvitz. “That sense of trust and confidence is very important and that’s what I try to give my students here, and what I will try to give them in the future.”