Wherever They Go, Whatever They Do: Katz Program Prepares Future Leaders
In all of its programs, Ohr Torah Stone seeks to emphasize broad knowledge and a sensitivity to real-world challenges together with the importance of living a Jewish life steeped in Torah and Jewish values.
The Monique and Mordecai Katz Academic Studies Program does that through providing rabbis-in-training at the Joseph & Gwendolyn Straus Rabbinical Seminary and yeshiva students at the Robert M. Beren Machanaim Hesder Yeshiva with high-level interdisciplinary courses as part of the the classic Torah study curriculum. Students get a wide-ranging perspective on the interface between Judaism and the humanities, science and current events, through classes in areas such as philosophy, psychology and political science. The program is unique in Israel — the only one of its kind in which academic courses are part and parcel of the yeshiva study program.
“The program gives students broad general knowledge within the context of their Torah studies,” explains Rabbi Shlomo Vilk, Director and Rosh Yeshiva. “It increases their curiosity about the world, and gives them an appreciation for other people and diverse ideas. The knowledge they gain enables them to be educated people and leaders — in their communities, as professionals throughout Israel, or as emissaries across the Jewish world.”
When visiting yeshivot to decide where he would learn following high school, Baruch Greenberg spent time at Machanaim and was astounded by the diversity of sources listed on one of the source sheets. “I was so impressed by the richness of the experience.” Today Baruch is in the hesder program, learning at the yeshiva after having completed his IDF service. “I don’t yet know exactly what path I will take following yeshiva, comments Baruch, “but I know that the knowledge and values I’ve gained here will infuse my choices and my interactions in my personal and professional life.”
Academic Learning Complements Torah Learning
Rabbi Hananel Ross studied towards semikha (rabbinical ordination) at the Straus seminary following his IDF service. In describing the experience on the Israel Henry Beren Campus, Rabbi Ross notes, “There were excellent courses in areas I had never been exposed to before, and they were a seamless part of the entire learning experience. While learning Talmud, we might refer back to something we had discussed in a philosophy class, or vice versa. I believe that all components of our studies were essential to helping us become educated and worldly Jews.”
His experience impacted both Rabbi Ross’s professional and personal development going forward. After completing his rabbinical ordination, he studied towards his B.A. and M.A. in psychology at The Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
Today, Rabbi Ross lives with his wife and two children in Jerusalem, and combines his rabbinic training and background in psychology through his work as a clinical psychologist counseling individuals and couples. “The combination of Torah and secular studies influenced my approach to my work and who I am today. I learn Torah daily and also read articles on science, psychology and philosophy. My understanding of Torah influences my perspective on the world and my knowledge of other disciplines also enhances my Torah learning.
I truly believe that when people enter the ‘real world,’ they need real world knowledge and understanding to succeed. That’s what I gained through the Academic Studies Program. To this day, I am very grateful.”