Intergenerational Learning in Carmiel

Last week, the pioneering northern branch of Midreshet Lindenbaum-Matat opened their doors for 60 new voices to join their unique chorus of learning in the seminary’s Carmiel beit midrash.

“We invited our students’ mothers and grandmothers for a rich and exciting program of intergenerational learning,” revealed Matat director Rabbanit Neta Lederberg. “The visit provided an opportunity for them to take pride in their daughters’ or granddaughters’ skills and accomplishments, to see firsthand their academic and residential surroundings, and to expand our midrasha’s family,” she said.

The women spent the day enveloped in the warm study hall learning a variety of topics from the Talmud, Tanach, Chasidut and Jewish Philosophy, before enjoying a delicious, healthy spread, prepared and presented by the students. 

“It’s very apparent that my granddaughter is in a real place of Torah,” said one grandmother. “The calm, holistic nature of the midrasha and its staff were the perfect backdrop for this meeting, which was really a gift.”

Another participant shared her reflections by text message on the way back home:

Dear Neta, saying thanks verbally wasn’t enough to show gratitude for a day like today.  I wanted to really share my gratitude for this inside look into my daughter’s world, and an introduction to the sweet taste of their enchanting seminary.  Thanks for reminding us that it’s good to take time out of work and daily routine to meet and spend time with our daughters. Thank you very much for understanding that it is good that I “take” from the times of work, running and routine to encounter with my daughter.  Please thank the staff, who brought us back to the basics, enabled us to explore slavery and true freedom and to think about the here and now. I wish I could have attended all of the classes without having to choose.  Thank you for the pampering refreshments. Thank you for bringing all of us mothers and grandmothers together, providing us with a space to discuss ‘maternal’ matters and embark upon a true partnership . Lastly, thank you for your warm countenance and soul, for your incredible fortitude and investment, and for making place in your heart for my daughter and now, for me too. “

hilchot avelutMazal tov to Rabbi David Brofsky, Senior Faculty of Midreshet Lindenbaum, on the publication of his most recent book: “Hilkhot Avelut.”

Rabbi David Brofsky is an author and educator who, in addition to teaching at Midreshet Lindenbaum also teaches at Yeshivat Har Etzion and Michlelet Mevaseret Yerushalyim and Midreshet Torah V’Avoda. Rabbi Brofsky also writes a halakha shiur for Yeshivat Har Etzion’s Virtual Beit Midrash (VBM) and is an active member of the Rabbinical Council of America (RCA) and Tzohar.  He earned a BA and MA from Yeshiva University, and received his rabbinic ordination from the Rabbanut HaRashit while studying at Yeshivat Har Etzion. 

Rabbi Brofsky’s other books are Hilkhot Avelut: A Comprehensive Guide to the Laws of Daily Prayer (KTAV/OU Press/Yeshivat Har Etzion 2010), Hilkhot Mo’adim: Understanding the Laws of the Festivals (Koren/Yeshivat Har Etzion 2013). He lives in Gush Etzion with his wife, Mali, and their four children.

Group of Claudia Cohen graduates in Venice

No Longer ‘The Rabbi’s Wife’ 

“I looked at the women around me with wonder and admiration, and found myself pondering the role of the rabbanit in this day and age and how different it all was when I was a shlicha and the wife of a serving rabbi.”

Sara Beck | Maariv Newspaper | Friday, December 21, 2018

Group of Claudia Cohen graduates in VeniceLast week, Ohr Torah Stone’s Claudia Cohen Women Educator Institute held a conference in Venice for 26 graduates who today serve as emissaries in various communities throughout Austria, Bulgaria, France, Germany, Israel, Italy, Poland, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom.

Discussions focused on the general, as well as delicate issues impacting Jewish communities throughout Europe, the United Kingdom and Israel. Topics included raising a Jewish family as anti-Semitism is on the rise, a lack of Jewish infrastructure in many communities throughout Europe, family purity and mikva, Jewish education, parenting – couplehood and family in rabbinical and emissary work, the role of and status of women in the Jewish community and prayer in the postmodern world.

Media personality Sara Beck, who attended the conference as a lecturer, wrote about it in the Israeli Maariv daily:

Tuesday of last week, Asara b’Tevet, the 10th of Tevet, Venice, Italy.  In the heart of the Jewish community two buildings stand side by side, in what I view as an extraordinary juxtaposition.  In a small bet midrash, situated right next to the Jewish ghetto’s Great Synagogue, ten or so Jews gather together in prayer.  They are elderly and are wrapped in prayer shawls and tefillin.  Some made their way by boats through the nearby canals, others live close by in the ghetto.  I seat myself in the corridor, close to the entrance, because there is no designated women’s section, and it feels like I’ve been taken back in time by half a century at least.  It is dark and cold.  The synagogue, which was once one of the most splendid structures in the ghetto, does not even have heating.  The wooden beams which hold up the ceiling, as well as the loam-colored velvet curtains, are in desperate need of some cleaning.  But the community is on the demise and there is no budget for preservation.  Venice is emptying out of its youth in general, and in the Jewish community this is all the more apparent. 

That said, in the building next door there is great commotion.  20-odd young women, all of whom are inspiring leaders, are engaging in lively and creative discourse.  All the women present are the wives of rabbis who went out on shlichut to different parts of Europe as part of Ohr Torah Stone’s Straus-Amiel program.  Under the auspices of Ohr Torah Stone and the WZO they came together from Sweden, England, Switzerland, Poland, Germany and Bulgaria in order to exchange ideas and discover that they all, in fact, face a similar challenge:  How does one help Jewish communities reinvent themselves in order to stay relevant?

Take Ilana Epstein from London.  She started a blog on Jewish cuisine which went viral on the web.  She is a culinary expert and the star of a charming cooking show she created, reminiscent of (famous Israeli pastry chef) Karin Goren.  Every cooking episode begins with a history of the particular dish, followed by recipes.  It has become obvious to all another way to discovering Jewish identity is through the stomach. 

Danielle Basok, an energetic and indefatigable rebbetzin working in the Jewish community of Wroclaw (Poland) helped renovate the local mikve (ritual bath) built in 1905 inside the premises of the city’s ancient synagogue, and turn it into a museum and culture center as well.  She, too, discovered that food is the way to go, and in wake of her success in the local community, the University of Wroclaw invited her to give a series of monthly lectures in the coming year.  Miriam Singer of Lodz founded a TV channel for the Jewish communities of Poland and Rotem Noy from Berlin started a commune of sorts for Jewish students who wish to live together in a Jewish environment.

I looked at the women around me with wonder and admiration, and found myself pondering the role of the rabbanit in this day and age and how different it all was when I was a shlicha and the wife of a serving rabbi.  If in the past the role of the rabbanit (or rebbetzin, if you will) was taking out the cookies from the oven in time to serve those coming to consult with the rabbi (don’t worry, I was never such a rebbetzin), today the young wives of serving rabbis are leaders in their own right and agents of change in the communities they serve. 

They are also a great source of knowledge, support and creativity, and they engage in all these task often paying a heavy personal price: leaving behind their extended family in Israel, raising children in an unfamiliar environment and sometimes having to deal with internal community challenges – when the community to which they belong is also their formal employer.  In short, one might call these women the “Chabad” movement of religious Zionism. 

Sarah Beck addresses the women at the conference “Our Rebbetzins and women educators play a vital and multi-faceted role in communities around the Jewish world. As such, before they embark upon their roles as community educators and emissaries of Modern Orthodoxy, receive professional training which helps them effectively lead their communities and provide the spiritual resources their communities need,” said OTS President and Rosh HaYeshiva Rabbi Kenneth Brander. “The goal of the conference was to provide the forum for ongoing education on important contemporary issues, to talk freely amongst themselves about the challenges and opportunities arising in the course of their holy work and, most importantly, to strengthen their peer network and sense of camaraderie.”

“It was impressive to see young women who are spiritual leaders in European communities come together to discuss pressing issues facing their communities,” said Rabbanit Renana Birnbaum, Director of Ohr Torah Stone’s Claudia Cohen Women Educators Institute. “It’s no longer, ‘The Rabbi’s wife,’ but rather a true spiritual leader, with each of these women playing a central role in the heart of the growth of their communities.”

Cover of book Naaseh Adam

Cover of book Naaseh AdamCongratulations to Rabbi Shlomo Vilk, Rosh Yeshivat Hesder Beren Machanaim, on the publication of his book, “Na’aseh Adam – ‘Let us Make Man’: Life According to Rav Kook’s ‘Lights of Repentance'” (Hebrew). The book has been published by Yediot Aharonot Books,  just in time for the month of Elul and the festivals of Tishrei.

“The ‘Lights of Repentance’ by Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook was an attempt to re-envision the world of Teshuva in an age when humanity replaced God. In his new book ‘Na’ase Adam’, Rabbi Shlomo Vilk uses the map that Rav Kook drew for navigation, extracting from it a well-organized doctrine for our generation.” 
– Haaretz Newspaper Book Supplement

“The subtitle of the book is not ‘Commentary on the Lights of Repentance,’ but ‘Life According to the Lights of Repentance,” notes Rabbi Avraham Stav in his book review. “Because repentance, according to Rabbi Kook and thus according to Rabbi Vilk, is not a religious commandment that is performed mainly in the month of Elul, but throughout life. A way that experiences the tension between the desired and the present as one of the foundations of existence, and is able to come up with sharp demands against the present, together with compassion and tenderness stemming from the great hopes that lie in the future.”

Rabbi Vilk studied at Yeshivat Karnei Shomron and the Harry Fischel Institute for Rabbinics and Dayanut in Jerusalem. He received rabbinical ordination from The Chief Rabbinate of Israel, and a BA and MA in Jewish Philosophy from Hebrew University. Rabbi Vilk’s unique interdisciplinary approach to Torah offers students a broad and fascinating look at the interface between the humanities, science and Torah.


Book coverMazal tov to Rabbi Yehoshua Grunstein, Director of Training and Placement for Ohr Torah Stone’s emissary programs, Beren-Amiel and Straus-Amiel, on the publication of his second book: “Beyond Routine.”

Rabbi Grunstein received rabbinic ordination from the Chief Rabbinate of Israel and holds a BA in Education from Herzog College. Formerly the rabbi of the Beth Israel Synagogue in Halifax, Canada, he serves as Director of Training and Placement at Ohr Torah Stone’s Straus-Amiel and Beren-Amiel programs which train, place and provide ongoing support to a vibrant cadre of spiritual leaders who serve the Jewish world around the globe. Rabbi Grunstein also serves as an administrator of the rabbinical court for conversions, located in Gush Etzion, and is part of the founding faculty of the English speaking Kollel of Efrat. An experienced rabbi, writer, and popular lecturer in Israel and around the world, he is the author of Daven Your Age – An Adult Journey through the Daily Prayer Service (Gefen, 2013), and has over 1,000 recorded classes online in both Hebrew and English.

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Rabbanit Amira Raanan (pictured, right) and Rabbanit Navit Zaddik were certified as Manhigot Ruchaniyot and Morot Hora’ah on Wednesday, May 16, by the Susi Bradfield Women’s Institute of Halakhic Leadership (WIHL), an advanced 5-year program for female scholars at Midreshet Lindenbaum, under the leadership of Rabbanit Devorah Evron and Rabbi Shmuel Klitsner.

Rabbanit Raanan teaches in advanced Torah institutions including the Jacob Herzog Center, the Be’erot Yitzhak preparatory program, the Ohr Torah Stone hesder Yeshivat Machanaim and teacher training courses, and is also a graduate of the yoetzet halakha track at Nishmat and the Matan Talmudic institute.

Rabbanit Zaddik, mother of nine, holds a BA and a teaching certificate in Education and Judaism. She is a guide for brides, a graduate of the Talmud Torah Institute in Matan, and is involved in educating and leading women in Beit Midrash and preparing the next generation of women studying Torah.


A third WIHL fellow was also recognized at the event: Rabbanit Yael Shimoni, who completed a three-year track and received the title of spiritual leader, is leaving the program to pursue a dream opportunity of establishing a new yeshiva for women.

Rabbi Shlomo Riskin told an audience of about 250 people, “I was privileged to administer an oral examination to Rabbaniot Amira and Navit. I assigned the exam a certain amount of time, but in the end I sat with them for three and a half hours and just wanted more. I thank you for making me so happy, this is the best thing that can be, and I thank God, because when we started, there were people who question the idea of giving this recognition to women, but today, in this country, it’s no longer a question.”

OTS Co-Chancellor Rabbi David Stav affirmed: “The Torah was not given to one group, it was given to the entire nation; to men and women. It is only natural to seek within the framework of Torah and tradition that there will also be women involved in the transmission of the Torah tradition. ‘My son, heed the discipline of your father, and do not abandon the teaching of your mother,’ [Proverbs 1:8]. “Our mothers’ teaching is part of the Torah that we wish to convey in this generation. We are happy that there are women who have decided to dedicate their lives to Torah study, not only to study it but to teach it to the various parts of Israeli society in which we live and work,” Stav said.

In her remarks, WIHL Director Rabbanit Devorah Evron said, “In order for there to be effective leadership which recognizes every man and woman, we must also incorporate our up close knowledge of life experience, what we have learned from others and what we have taught, because only someone who ‘sits within her people’ will be able to truly face the unknown difficulties and challenges she will meet along the way. Women today study Torah and Mishna, Gemara, Agadda and Halakha. The entry of women into the world of Torah compels us to act responsibly. We do not have the privilege of only learning Torah; rather, from the moment we received permission to learn we also took upon ourselves the obligation to act,” she said.

“I came to the WIHL to acquire knowledge of halakha, its practical implementation, and its current rabbinical rulings,” said Zaddik. “But it was no less important to me to enter the realm of beit midrash study and understand the process by which halakhic conclusions are attained. I believe that the Torah was given to us with tremendous wisdom and logic. Only if we immerse ourselves in the world of Torah can we understand the wisdom and logic of this Godly creation,” Zaddik remarked.

“Over the past five years, we have dealt quite a bit with the concept of halakhic rulings (psikat halakha),” noted Raanan. “The dictionary definition of ‘psika‘ is stopping; standing in place. Halakha [from the root holekh] means walking, stepping, progressing, moving from one place to another. Ostensibly, this is a contradiction. A person who is required to rule on halakha must both stand in one place while at the same time advancing. A halakhic ruling should be rooted, but not stuck in place. On the one hand, it must keep the tradition of the ‘father’s home,’ and on the other hand it is innovating a new floor in that house. Stopping and walking, at the same time,” she said.

“We do not seek, God Forbid, to uproot the role of the synagogue rabbi or to compromise the tradition of the rabbinate throughout Jewish history,” said incoming OTS President and Rosh HaYeshiva, Rabbi Kenneth Brander. “On the contrary; our goal is to enable the sea of Talmud to become a part of ‘Torat imecha,’ our mothers’ teachings. Women who are able to encounter and intellectually engage with Ravina and Rav Ashi, Rava and Abaye, Rabbanu Tam, the Ravad and the Rambam.  Women who, with their deep Torah knowledge, can provide guidance to others in all aspects of halakha.

“It is critical for us to realize we are part of an entity known as Am Yisrael, part of a metaphysical unit that requires our individuality to surrender to the mesorah (tradition) of our people and its halakhic framework,” Rabbi Brander continued. “It is this commitment to the halakhic framework that guides our personal and professional goals – including our aspirations to enable women to serve as manhigot ruchaniyot and morot hora’ah; as Torah personalities continuing the legacy of Devorah the Prophetess.  At the Susi Bradfield Women’s Institute for Halakhic Leadership, we wish to add a unique light increasing the illumination of Torah to our people: men, women and children as well as to the rest of humanity,” he said. (Read Rabbi Brander’s blog in the Times of Israel, based on the full text of his remarks.)

“The WIHL was founded a decade ago with the mission of training female scholars to take part in the complex and intense halakhic discourse and to provide them with the tools they require to serve institutions and communities of klal Yisrael from a perspective of halakhic and spiritual leadership which is attentive, wise and significant,” summarized WIHL co-Director, Rabbi Shmuel Klitsner. “There is no doubt that this evening, and the success of our new Morot Hora’ah and Spiritual Leaders Rabbaniyot Amira Raanan and Navit Zadik represent an important milestone in fulfilling the vision.”

Mark your calendars for this year’s Shabbat Hagadol Drasha:

Shabbat Hagadol Drasha 5777
by Rabbi Shlomo Riskin

in memory of Rivka bat Sarah Domb, a Holy Martyr of the Holocaust
and mother of Sam Domb, a lover of Zion and Fighter for Zion

TOPIC: “Who will Destroy Amalek and Bring about the Redemption, God or Israel?”

Motzai Shabbat — April 8, 2017
The Jerusalem Great Synagogue – 9:15 PM

20170103_221304Mazal tov to the two newest graduates of the Susi Bradfield Women’s Institute of Halakhic Leadership (WIHL) at Midreshet Lindenbaum, Rabbanit Dr. Jennie Rosenfeld and Rabbanit Shira Zimmerman.

Both Zimmerman (left) and Rosenfeld – whose internship of the past two years as a Spiritual Leader in Efrat recently turned into a paid position – received certification as Spiritual Leaders and Arbiters of Jewish Law (Morot Hora’ah) in a January 3rd ceremony, after successfully completing five years of intense study and then passing exams equivalent to those taken by male semikha students in the laws of kashrut, Shabbat, family purity, mourning, marriage and divorce, and conversion.

Participating in the ceremony were Rabbi Shlomo Riskin, Chancellor of Ohr Torah Stone (OTS); Rabbi Ohad Teharlev, Director of Hebrew-language programs at Midreshet Lindenbaum; Rabbanit Chana Godinger Dreyfus, head of the Midreshet Lindenbaum Beit Midrash; Rabbi Shuki Reich, Head of the WIHL; and Rabbi Shmuel Klitsner, WIHL Director.

The ceremony featured a panel discussion on various models of female communal leadership and challenges unique to women spiritual leaders; amongst the panelists were Rabbanit Meira Welt-Maarek, who was certified by the WIHL in 2015, and Mrs. Shani Taragin, senior faculty member of Midreshet Lindenbaum and the WIHL.img_9740

A New Model for Emulation

“Certifying women to serve as spiritual leaders and arbiters of Jewish law is important, even revolutionary,” said Rabbi Riskin, “but it’s something that should have happened already a long time ago. To our great satisfaction, today’s girls and women have a new type of role model to look up to and emulate. I sincerely hope that the integration of female spiritual leaders will grow, so that greater numbers of women will be given positions in synagogues, communities, and other institutions, both in Israel and in the Diaspora,” said Riskin. “And it will happen,” he declared.

Words from Rabbi David Stav, co-Chancellor of OTS, were read aloud. “Rabbi Stav was here to personally congratulate tonight’s graduates, but unfortunately had to leave the ceremony a few minutes ago in order to perform a wedding,” explained WIHL Director Rabbi Shmuel Klitsner, who shared Stav’s formal blessing to the rabbaniot: “We have merited to live in an era in which women are learning intently and achieving status of talmidot chachamim and morot halacha, [women who have permission to make halakhic rulings]I am pleased to bless you with the prayer that you will continue to sanctify God’s name, that you will merit to increase holiness and promote Torah within the hearts of the people of Israel, and that we will all merit to strengthen and glorify the Torah.”

An Additional Outlet

img_9535“Inclusion of women in the world of the Rabbinate provides society with an additional outlet for questions and understanding,” according to Chana Godinger-Dreyfus, the head of the Midreshet Lindenbaum beit midrash. “The partnership of women in positions of leadership creates by its very definition a new opportunity for identification and personal connection, in addition to bringing a new hue of perception and perspective to the field. May it be G-d’s will that we be blessed with ever-greater numbers of women scholars, and that ever-greater numbers of communities will seek out female Torah leadership,” said Godinger-Dreyfus.

Rabbi Klitsner noted the fact that in this, the WIHL’s third certification ceremony, the recipients are both women who made aliya to Israel. “Midreshet Lindenbaum began as a beit midrash for women from the Diaspora, infusing them with the Torah of Eretz Yisrael,” he said. “It is symbolic, therefore, that while the first graduates of the WIHL were native Israelis, this year’s graduates were born in the Diaspora, showing the melding of the worlds of Israeli Torah study and world Torah learning.”

For the Sake of Learning

img_9674Rabbanit Shira Zimmerman delivered a short shiur highlighting differences in approaching Torah learning lishma – for its own sake – and Torah learning lo lishma – for a practical purpose – after which she shared elements of her own personal journey toward full time immersion in studying halakha and, eventually, spiritual leadership.

“After my first encounter with gemara, I studied for two years and for three years and still felt that I needed more time on the benches of the beit midrash,” she related. “Even as a teacher, I felt that lacked the breadth necessary to provide my students with a full picture, so I came back to the study of halakha.

“The yearning of women to achieve fulfillment in Torah study has brought women to discover that there is, indeed, halakhic permission for them to do so,” she said. “In a short period of time we advanced in our discovery and sought to explore the traditions and sources of our heritage, and we are finding our voices in a new spiritual dialogue, where the point of origin is a halakhic way of life. We are exposing the emotional and intellectual subjects which give life to the texts which resonate so deeply in our lives.”

Ironically, Zimmerman noted, “in a world that so quickly judges women and questions their motivation in studying ‘men’s’ subjects, I found it interesting that everyone would ask me, ‘but what are you going to be getting out of this?’ And because I came to learn for learning’s sake, I didn’t really have a good answer. But I have discovered that there is an importance to attaining certification,” she said. “There are women who want to share religious ideas with halakhic women, who want to discuss subjects that are important or intriguing to them while in the playground. Without definition and a title of religious authority, they will not know that there are learned women whom they may approach and ask.”

Zimmerman concluded: “I want to thank God for allowing me to be born at a time when women do not just watch, but also act and teach.”

Fulfilling a Dream

img_9904Rabbanit Dr. Rosenfeld also expressed gratitude for changes in women’s learning and leadership which enabled her to “be fulfilling a dream that I never really dared to dream, even when I studied in the Midreshet Lindenbaum overseas program many years ago,” she said. “I would never have dared to think about a “poseket halakha” – a female who can render Jewish legal decisions – or of acting in a rabbinical role, because when I was growing up that simply did not exist in the Orthodox world,” Rosenfeld stated.

“For the past two years I have merited to work in Efrat as a spiritual leader under the guidance of Rabbi Shlomo Riskin; a position which began without definition, as a pilot project – and it has been an incredible experience. There are four major areas in which I work: teaching Torah in the synagogues, also during the week; visiting houses of mourning and answering questions in that realm; answering halakhic questions in individual meetings and phone calls; and managing the Religious Council’s Financial Claims Court. In all of these areas, I feel I have contributed by virtue of being a woman. With the passage of time, I have been receiving greater numbers of questions from men in the community, such that today, I really feel that I am not there as a woman for women, but rather for the entire population.”

Rosenfeld concluded her remarks by looking at her two daughters and blessing them: “I hope that when you grow up, the world you grow into will be one which is more open to accepting female spiritual leadership.”