(JTA) — Rabbi Shlomo Riskin will step down from running the network of liberal Orthodox schools and seminaries he founded.
The Israeli-American leader will retire in July 2018 as chancellor of Ohr Torah Stone, a network of educational institutions that has pushed the limits of traditional Jewish law to be more inclusive of women and converts. Rabbi Kenneth Brander, an administrator at Yeshiva University, will lead the organization as president and rosh yeshiva, or head of school, according to a statement issued Tuesday.
Riskin, 77, received rabbinic ordination more than 50 years ago, and transformed Manhattan’s Lincoln Square Synagogue into a popular and growing hub of Modern Orthodoxy. In 1983, he moved to Israel with congregants and co-founded Efrat, a West Bank settlement and suburb of Jerusalem with a mixed religious-secular population that today has 8,000 residents.
Riskin serves as chief rabbi of Efrat, and will continue in that role after stepping down from Ohr Torah Stone.
Ohr Torah Stone runs Modern Orthodox schools ranging from junior high to graduate programs. The network includes a five-year program to train women as Jewish legal authorities on par with rabbis, the first school to train women as advocates in Israeli rabbinical courts, and Midreshet Lindenbaum, a women’s Jewish studies college that was one of the first to teach Talmud to women.
Riskin has also been an outspoken advocate of liberalizing Israel’s strict Orthodox conversion system, and has privately conducted his own Orthodox conversions for years. His activism has drawn the ire of the country’s haredi Orthodox Chief Rabbinate, which controls authorized Jewish conversion in Israel. The Chief Rabbinate threatened Riskin’s chief rabbi position in 2015 but retained him in the role.
Brander serves as Y.U.’s vice president for university and community life, and also teaches at the school’s rabbinical seminary. Like Riskin, he has promoted Torah study for Orthodox women, formerly heading Y.U.’s Graduate Program of Advanced Talmudic Studies and Biblical Interpretation for Women.
Brander also founded Neal’s Fund, which provides micro-grants to students engaged in community service. Before joining Y.U., he served as rabbi of the Boca Raton Synagogue in Florida.
The change may also herald growing Orthodox acceptance of women clergy. Two umbrella centrist Orthodox groups, the Orthodox Union and Rabbinical Council of America, have issued bans on women clergy. But Brander taking the helm of an organization that ordains women may show that Y.U., another leading Orthodox institution, is becoming amenable to the idea.
“He’s a major leader in the Center for the Jewish Future at Yeshiva University, which is a flagship institution of centrist Orthodoxy,” said Sharon Weiss-Greenberg, executive director of the Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance. “He’s always been on board with women taking greater roles in the community.”