The euphoria of Rabbi Shlomo Riskin’s 1983 aliya was tempered by the discovery of a Jewish state lacking strong, moral, religious leadership, where the Rabbinate’s approach was narrow and ritualistic, relations between secular and religious were tense, and groups with no voice within the halachic world were marginalized or alienated.
He quickly recognized the tremendous need to inspire a new model of Jewish leadership which could mend societal rifts, illuminate the beauty and relevance inherent in Torah Judaism and render it accessible, exciting, and meaningful for everyone.
Ohr Torah Stone is the result of this extraordinary vision.
Thirty years ago, skeptics watched in disbelief as bulldozers chipped into the stony earth of the then-barren hills of Efrat to establish the premier Ohr Torah Stone institution – a high school for boys. But Rabbi Riskin’s dream prevailed, and OTS blossomed into a comprehensive educational network of 24 institutions featuring revolutionary opportunities for women, engaging heritage-awareness initiatives, cutting-edge high schools, groundbreaking leadership programs and responsive social action projects.
Each one of the OTS programs was created as a response to a pressing need, to fill a void, address a challenge, or correct an injustice in the modern Orthodox world. A legal aid center has freed more than 700 desperate agunot from the chains of abusive marriages. The prayers of teens with special needs have been answered by a unique year-in-Israel program spent alongside their mainstreamed peers. Observant women can now serve in all-female IDF hesder units, achieving positions of command and leadership without compromising on their religious ideals. The list goes on.
Globally, OTS blazed new trails in recognizing women’s capabilities and rights, revolutionizing women’s learning and providing the stepping stones which have empowered an entire generation of females to reach higher and higher. Once, teaching women Talmud was unheard of; today – as a direct result of OTS – women are qualified to write halachic responsa and rule on matters of Jewish law. Once, women were not allowed to serve as legal advocates in the rabbinical courts; today, select women are studying to become Jewish judges for those courtrooms.
OTS has also redefined what it means to be a contemporary Jewish leader by training rabbis, educators and mentors who are enlightened by a belief in Judaism that is true to the ancient traditions, but also inclusive, relevant, socially just and infused with the very best that the Western world has to offer.
The impact of this transformation resonates across Israel, where OTS cultural facilitators strengthen the Jewish identity of secular Jews and tenderly reconnect them with their Jewish heritage. The impact reverberates all over the world, too, as hundreds of specially-trained OTS emissaries illuminate synagogues, campuses and schools across the globe, providing tens of thousands of Jews with warmth and light and igniting fires in the hearts and souls of Jews in the darkest, most far-flung communities.
“Ki ner mitzvah v’Torah ohr,” says Proverbs 6:23. “The mitzvah is a candle, and Torah is the light.” As OTS stands on the threshold of a brand new decade, may the light of Torah – the Torah of unity, love and morality – continue to radiate to every part of the world.