Ohr Torah Stone pre-Shavuot learnathon connects international Jewish community
Annual tribute to OTS founder Rabbi Shlomo Riskin to be dedicated this year in memory of Lucy, Maia and Rina Dee z”l.
Judah Barkai | May 17, 2023
As a visionary religious thinker, community rabbi and educator, Rabbi Riskin’s leadership continues to inspire Jews across Israel and indeed around the Jewish world, with his teachings embraced as particularly relevant in a period defined by social and political tensions.
Rabbi Riskin has reinvigorated Jewish life in Israel and throughout the world through innovative educational, leadership and outreach programs, engaging hundreds of thousands of people with their Jewish heritage. Today, thanks to Rabbi Riskin’s far-reaching vision, Ohr Torah Stone’s institutions are on the front lines of Jewish life, learning and leadership, offering guidance on contemporary challenges, bringing communities together, providing comfort and responding to critical challenges and needs.
Held on the occasion of Rabbi Riskin’s 83rd birthday, the 12-hour event is built to allow for all time zones to be able to participate. Zoom links to the classes will be available online at https://ots.org.il/shavuot beginning at 18:00 on May 23rd (Israel time) and continuing until 6:00 the next morning.
Viewers will be able to choose classes from the “Israel channel” and the “international channel,” with presentations in multiple languages, both featuring a range of presentations from Ohr Torah Stone’s top teachers, rabbis and rabbaniyot, alumni, and emissaries throughout the world. There will also be a Tisch with renowned Jewish musician Rabbi Shlomo Katz, ordained by Ohr Torah Stone’s rabbinical seminary.
This year, the online broadcast will also include a “Chevruta Channel” dedicated to paired study and dialogue, an issue which has always been central to Rabbi Riskin’s vision. Among his more oft-cited quotes, Rabbi Riskin maintained that, “Just as abiding by the religious laws is an inherent part of Judaism, so are the values of tolerance, compassion, outreach and social action.” With this in mind – and in light of the growing rifts within Israeli society – the channel will feature dialogue and joint textual learning by people from different backgrounds or with different opinions. One example is Rabbi Shay Nave, director of OTS’s Monique and Mordecai Yachad Program for Jewish Identity, who will be pairing up with Rabba Naama Dafni of the Reform “Ohr Chadash” congreagation in Haifa to examine the status of Mount Sinai as a defining moment for hope and optimism.
“There is no doubt that our Jewish world finds itself in a period of debate which on occasion tragically borders on the types of conflict which have divided Jews in past eras,” says Rabbi Dr. Kenneth Brander, President and Rosh HaYeshiva of Ohr Torah Stone. “It is particularly in these days that coming together for Torah and scholarly study in tribute to Rabbi Riskin is most appropriate and will ensure that his many years of hard work in building communal and social bridges will bear fruit in these challenging times.”
Among the presenters during the program, Rabbi Dr. Yakov Nagen, Director of the Blickle Institute for Interfaith Dialogue at Ohr Torah Stone, will be discussing the “Healing Relationship Between Judaism and World Religions.” In recent years, Rabbi Dr. Nagen has become an internationally-recognized leader in promoting interfaith dialogue, including being the only Israeli Jewish representative at the R20 International Summit of Religious Leaders. Despite taking place in the world’s largest Muslim country which maintains no diplomatic relations with Israel, Rabbi Nagen says that he was warmly welcomed and that his presence helped provide important Jewish representation in the gathering of hundreds of religious leaders from around the globe.
Addressing one of the more pressing issues facing educators and parents today, Rabbi Yoni Rosensweig of Ohr Torah Stone’s Susi Bradfield Women’s Institute of Halakhic Leadership (WIHL) will be presenting “A Case Study in Mental Health and Halacha: Is Depression Considered Life-Threatening?” Rabbi Rosensweig is widely regarded as one of the preeminent thinkers and writers about the interaction of halacha and mental health challenges, and has become a sought-after voice of support for many families coping with these challenges across the Jewish world.
Rabbi Dr. Brander will be leveraging his expertise in confronting Jewish medical and social ethical dilemmas in a lecture entitled “Four-Parent Babies: How Does Halakha Define Paternity and Maternity?” In describing the topic Rabbi Dr. Brander said, “Contemporary Jewish life presents new questions on a wide variety of issues yet the beauty and wonder of our tradition is that normative halakha is fully prepared to address these seeming challenges. My lecture will allow us to explore a modern-day opportunity, but through the lens of these ancient teachings and understandings.”
The entire program and all of the Torah study during this year’s learn-a-thon is being dedicated to the memory of Lucy, Maia and Rina Dee z”l, who were murdered in the horrific terror attack over Pesach this year. The Dee family has a long and close connection with Ohr Torah Stone, with Maia having studied at both Neveh Channah High School and Midreshet Lindenbaum’s Lod branch. Rabbi Leo Dee himself received his rabbinic ordination from Rabbi Riskin and the tragedy has been particularly painful for many within the Ohr Torah Stone community who are close friends or fellow students with the Dee children.
“The past few weeks have been ones of deep emotional pain for the entire Jewish world amidst a rash or terror attacks that have taken so many young lives,” Rabbi Dr. Brander says. “Yet, for our Ohr Torah Stone community, there is no denying that the murders of the Dee sisters and mother, part of the OTS family, is very personal and demanded a wide range of responses from our parents, students and educators. In the days and weeks that have followed, we have only begun to appreciate the tremendous personalities that were extinguished with this tragedy. We therefore view it as our personal responsibility to keep their inspirational character alive in all ways possible. It is our hope and prayer that dedicating the power of Torah study will lift up their souls higher and higher.”