Bar-ilan Planning to Educate Rabbis for 20th Century

Declaring that there is “a woeful lack of rabbis” in Israel who “understand the world and the young generation,” Rabbi Joseph H. Lookstein, chancellor of Bar-Ilan University in Israel told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency that Bar-Ilan plans to establish an Orthodox “academic yeshiva” to educate rabbis “who can speak and labor in 20th century Israel.” Rabbi Lookstein, spiritual leader of Kehilath Jeshurun Synagogue in Manhattan, said the proposed “Institute for Higher Jewish Learning” would provide students in Jewish religious studies an opportunity to study the natural sciences, the humanities, the social sciences, general philosophy and languages, while continuing their religious learning. Rabbi Lookstein noted, however, that the Orthodox Jewish community in Israel “is not yet sympathetic to the idea of an academic yeshiva. He explained that the “concept of a school for rabbis,” as opposed to a place where men come just to learn Torah and Talmud without necessarily becoming ordained “has not been accepted” by Israel’s predominantly Eastern European religious Jewish community. But the university chancellor stated that “if the religious community is not sympathetic then it will have to revise its thinking to accept it and realize that the time for it has come.” Aware that Israeli yeshovit “are worried” that such an institute might attract some of their students, Rabbi Lookstein said “maybe it’s time for them to do a little soul-searching. Just as Israel is not afraid of political opposition,” he said, “Israel should not be terrified of ideological opposition.”

The 68-year-old Russian-born rabbi said that when he was in Israel a few weeks ago, he saw that non-religious Jews, particularly on kibbutzim, “are groping for genuine Jewish religion.” He said such Israelis have been “disappointed by many ‘isms,’ including Marxism and socialism,” and have “found they must go back to the source of Judaism and of the Jewish people.” Thus, he said, the library at the administrative center of 17 non-religious kibbutzim in the Jordan Valley has been adding volumes of the Torah and Talmud to its shelves and “the response is marvelous.” He said he was welcomed at a non-religious kibbutz and was told there that those on similar kibbutzim “need visits from rabbis who understand (their) religious needs.” There is a “two-way alienation” in Israel today, Rabbi Lookstein said: The rabbis there “lack contact with the young,” and the young have no contact with and don’t understand the rabbis. Israeli synagogues “lack a message relevant to those who today are building a Jewish state,” Rabbi Lookstein stated. He added that he feels the Orthodox community in Israel will have to recognize that for rabbis to be “serviceable to Jews in Israel and in the diaspora,” they must get a comprehensive, modern education just as they did in Germany in the 19th century under Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch and as they do now in the United States at Yeshiva University. Rabbi Lookstein noted that in Talmudic times, a knowledge of anatomy and pathology was crucial to an understanding of the laws of Kashruth, that a Babylonian sage. Shmuel of Nehardea, was familiar with astronomy, and that members of the Sanhedrin, the Jewish high court of pre-diaspora days, had to be proficient in foreign languages.

By sending university professors to established yeshivot throughout Israel and by attracting outstanding heads of yeshivot to teach at the institute, Bar-Ilan would “make the university go to the yeshiva student and vice-versa,” Rabbi Lookstein said. The details of who would officially confer “smicha,” rabbinical ordination, have not yet been worked out, he said. In addition to educating Israelis, the proposed institute would train Jews from abroad who cannot get similar schooling in their native countries. The graduates of the institute will not only serve in Israel, but will, after learning the appropriate foreign language, serve the needs of Jews in South Africa, Latin America and Europe, thereby establishing Israel as an active source of halachic Judaism for the worldwide Jewish community. Rabbi Lookstein said a three-man committee – himself, Prof. Saul Lieberman, a Bar-Ilan trustee and the Rector of the Jewish Theological Seminary (Conservative), and Dr. Zerach Warhaftig. Israel’s Minister of Religious Affairs – will soon explore and present concrete plans for the yeshiva. A private donor has promised the university $500,000 for the institute and Rabbi Lookstein said a pilot class of about 25 students may start studying at the school in the fall of 1972. Rabbi Lookstein said that as the non-religious in Israel will increasingly “have to understand the religious,” and the religious will have to learn “measures of tolerance and patience,” such an institute will be “a very important and sturdy bridge” between the two groups. Thus, he said, the school will help the Jews of different backgrounds in Israel form a “modern Israeli community loyal to traditional Judaism and at home in the modern world.”

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