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Hillel initiative encourages direct study of Torah texts

NEW YORK, Dec. 31 (JTA) — A new educational initiative launched by Hillel aims to encourage college students to study the Torah’s text directly. Thanks to a recent $5 million grant, the Joseph Meyerhoff Center for Jewish Learning will emphasize informal study of Jewish texts. Sessions may take place in dormitories, dining halls and student unions. The center is based at the Washington headquarters of Hillel: the Foundation for Jewish Campus Life. The uniqueness of the program is its emphasis on traditional Jewish texts. “Students will respond, they’ll connect to the original text, the words, the story,”said Richard Joel, president and international director of Hillel. Traditional sources, especially those in Hebrew, are often intimidating, Joel said. The center’s programs, which will be distributed to Hillels on campuses across the country, “will allow them to encounter text by having a one-on-one relationship with the Torah.” Joel made a distinction between Jewish study and Jewish learning. He characterized study as the occupation of formal classroom instruction, now available on many colleges campuses in part because of Hillel’s influence. Jewish learning, in contrast, is informal interaction with traditional sacred texts. While individual campuses have had text-based learning programs for years, the Meyerhoff Center hopes to makes this standard programming on a national and international basis. The center “takes what is anecdotal and idiosyncratic” on colleges campuses and “makes the entire franchise respond to it,” said Joel. The children and grandchildren of the late Joseph Meyerhoff presented the gift, one of the largest ever received by Hillel.