Sunday, October 1, 2017

Meet Orot President Yuval Sinai

The new academic year marks the first anniversary of the presidency of Professor Yuval Sinai, whose passion and energy have reinvigorated the college on both campuses. A world-renown expert on Jewish Law and the Jewish State, Professor Sinai personifies the combination of dedication to the values and teaching of the Torah and their application to modern life, especially in the State of Israel. 

Hitting the ground running, he has instituted a number of important educational programs that will significantly enhance the educational experience at Orot on both campuses. When asked about his goals as President of the largest Religious Zionist College of Education in Israel, he offered three thoughts: 

"First and foremost, we aim to develop the field of educating youngsters so that our teachers lead a life of faith. A religious teacher, as opposed to a lecturer, is supposed to inspire, to educate, first and foremost, not just teach a subject. Secondly, we are working to establish an international center for the Jewish family, a faith-focused, non-confrontational response to all the dangers faced by the traditional Jewish family today. Finally, as a leading educational institution in Israel, we must broaden our horizons, and work with the various elements of Israeli society, including those in outlying areas. My teacher Rav Sabato, believed that one must speak to each group in its own language. I dream of advancing social-community education, training students for dedicated one-on-one work with youth-at-risk and those who cannot live on their own."

Click here to learn more about Professor Sinai and read an extensive interview on the Arutz 7 website.

Orot Inaugurates Nationwide Torah She'beal Peh Conference

Torah She'beal Peh (the Oral Torah) represents a fundamental aspect of Jewish education taught in schools across Israel and around the world. It includes the study of Mishnah, Gemara and Halachah, the building blocks of Jewish ritual life. Orot Israel College, on both its men's and women's campuses, trains the future Torah She'beal Peh teachers who will transmit these critical Torah values to their students in the classroom.

In order to translate our students' academic knowledge into more personal, relatable material in the classroom, Orot inaugurated the first nationwide Conference of Torah She'beal Peh this year. This three-day conference on two campuses brought rabbis and Torah scholars from across the country to enrich Orot students' understanding and pedagogical ability.

The Women's Campus program focused on "VeHigadeta L'bitcha" – "And You Shall Teach Your Daughter", addressing different ways to improve and apply women's Torah education. Following a panel discussion which included Rabbanit Dr. Leah Vizel, Orot's Dean of Students and Rabbanit Esti Rosenberg, the Roshat Beit Midrash of Midreshet Migdal Oz, the women divided into individual tracks for lectures from Orot staff, as well as visiting instructors including HaRav Yaakov Ariel, Rav of Ramat Gan, as well as HaRav Benzion Elgazi, the founder of the Tzurba Merabanan Program.
The second day of the conference focused on the Torah of Rambam, which has grown in prominence and importance in Israel. Speakers included Rav Arye Shtern, Chief Rabbi of Jerusalem, Rosh Yeshiva of the Hesder Yeshiva in Ma'ale Adumim Rav Yitzchak Shilat, as well as Nobel Prize Winner Professor Yisrael Aumann.

On the final day of the conference before Pesach, thousands of Orot students and visitors gathered at the Rehovot campus for a day-long program which divided into four distinct tracks: Gemara, Torah Personalities, Law According to the Torah, Halachah, and Midrash and Aggadah. Speakers at the program included Ashkenazic Chief Rabbi of Israel Rabbi David Lau, Rav Shlomo Amar, the Sephardic Chief Rabbi of Jerusalem, Rabbi Yaakov Shapira, Rosh Yeshivat Mercaz HaRav, Rav Zvi Rimon, the Head of the Center for Halachah and Education, and many, many others.

We take great pride in the excitement surrounding the study of Torah She'beal Peh that permeated the entire conference, and look forward to the second annual conference which will take place during the coming academic year.

Click here to watch the main sessions from the final day of the conference.

Early-Childhood Education in the Sukkah

From a parental perspective, Sukkot represents one of the "easier" holidays. It's not that difficult to excite our children about Sukkot. After all, Sukkot in and of itself is exciting. Our children participate in the building of the Sukkah. We hang the decorations that they painstakingly create. Some families even laminate their children's artwork and save it from year to year. And of course we cannot forget the many meters of chains that our children build and hang as Sukkah adornments.

Yet, from a halachic perspective, we must wonder: Is there an obligation to ensure that our children sit in the Sukkah? Is Sukkot similar to Pesach, where education plays a primary role in the Seder? Or, is it like other holidays, where we want our children to grow into devoted Jewish adults, but their presence is not a fundamental aspect of the chag, and they sit in the Sukkah for educational purposes only?

The answer to this question lies in the curious language we find in a fascinating Mishnah in Sukkah. In the Mishnah (Sukkah 2:8) we find a seemingly curious contradiction and an interesting story.
 נשים ועבדים וקטנים, פטורים מן הסוכה. קטן שאינו צריך לאמו, חייב בסוכה. מעשה וילדה כלתו של שמאי הזקן ופיחת את המעזיבה וסכך על גבי המטה בשביל הקטן. 
Women, slaves and minors are free from the obligation of sukkah, but a minor who is not dependent on his mother is bound by the law of sukkah. It once happened that the daughter-in-law of Shammai the Elder gave birth to a child and he broke away the plaster of the roof and put sukkah-covering over the bed for the sake of the child. 
The first section of the Mishnah seems self-contradictory: At first glance the Mishnah seems to exempt minors (children) from sitting in the Sukkah – as we would expect. Women and slaves are exempt because sitting in the Sukkah is a מצות עשה שהזמן גרמא – a positive time-bound commandment – from which women are exempted. Minors are exempted from all mitzvot, including the commandment to sit in the Sukkah. But then the Mishnah teaches us that, "a minor who is not dependent on his mother is bound by the law of Sukkah."

 The Gemara (Sukkah 28a) offers a proof from a verse to prove that children are obligated to sit in the Sukkah, based on the verse,
בסכת תשבו שבעת ימים כל האזרח בישראל ישבו בסכת -ויקרא כג:מב 
You shall dwell in Sukkot for seven days; all of the citizens in Israel shall dwell in Sukkot (Vayikra 23:42) 
The Gemara quotes a Baraita that teaches us that the word כל – "all" – specifically teaches that children are included in the obligation to sit in the Sukkah. Later, the Gemara (28b) wonders how this is possible. After all, aren't children exempt from all Torah commandments? Why do the Mishnah and the Beraita seem to suggest that the Torah actually obligated children to sit in the Sukkah?

The Gemara concludes that indeed, the obligation to sit in the Sukkah is in fact, only a derabannan – a rabbinic obligation – placed upon a קטן השגיע לחינוך – a child who has reached the age of education. The Mishnah does not introduce a fundamental obligation. Rather, it is only teaching us that we must bring out children out into the Sukkah in order to educate them so that they properly fulfill the mitzvah when they reach maturity.

Yet, the language of both the Mishnah and the Beraita don't seem to be addressing only an "educational" obligation. Rather, they seem to suggest that a child has a fundamental obligation from the Torah to dwell in a Sukkah. Moreover, the story about Shammai seems strange: why would Shammai break the roof over an infant to ensure that the child slept in a kosher Sukkah? What possible educational benefit can there be for a tiny baby?

Based on these questions as well as other evidence, Professor Yitzchak Gilat (see Perakim B'hishtalshelut Hahalachah p. 23) suggests that in the times of the Mishnah it was widely accepted that a child who had reached the age of education was considered fully obligated in a number of time-bound commandments, including fasting on Yom Kippur, the donning of Tefillin, and the obligation to sit in the Sukkah. He also suggests that during that era, there was no set age of adulthood. Rather, every child became an adult at a different age, based on that child's unique biological development. Centuries later, during the Talmudic era, Chazal sought to standardize the age of adulthood at the now familiar twelve for girls and thirteen for boys.

Professor Gilat's theory raises interesting questions: How could the Tanaim feel that children – even young children – are obligated to perform mitzvot they did not fully understand? When Shammai ensured that his infant grandson slept in a Sukkah, who actually fulfilled the mitzvah? Can an infant even be "commanded"?

Halachically, we follow the conclusion of the Gemara: Children are not obligated to sit in the Sukkah or perform any other mitzvah on a Torah level (see Peninei Halachah Sukkot 3:12). We teach them due to the obligation of chinuch – the need to educate them now for when they grow older. Yet, when we think about it, our behavior, outlook and actions follow the teaching of the Tanaim. We don’t think about our children's mitzvot as educational; we treat them as if they themselves are obligated to perform the mitzvah. We don’t just "teach" our children to sit in the Sukkah; we expect them to do so, just as we do.

When we look a bit deeper, it seems that we educate our children to much more than just making decorations and Sukkah chains. As we train our children to fulfill mitzvot from a very early age, we continue the tradition that the Tanaim established so many years ago.

Sunday, April 2, 2017

The Fourth Conference for Dance Programs in Religious Public Schools

by Dr. Talya Perlstein 

Director of Dance and Movement Track in the College

On Monday, the 3rd of Shvat, 5777 (January 30, 2017) the fourth conference for dance programs in HEMED, the religious public school system, was held at the Elkana Campus. The day was a product of the longstanding partnership between the government’s Administration of Education for the Arts within religious schools and the academic track for dance and movement at Orot Israel College.
Approximately 350 students from dance programs across the entire country participated in the conference, hailing from the Golan, Jerusalem, Tiberias, Givat Washington, Gush Etzion, and other areas. The day’s program was divided into two parts; in the first part, eight lessons in assorted dance styles were simultaneously held at the College, the Elkana Matnas (Community Center), and the Shaare Tikva Matnas. In the second session, all the students and faculty convened in the College auditorium. The speakers included Prof. Yuval Sinai, President of the College; Dr. Nurit Ron, Director of the Division of Arts and Chief Supervisor of Dance in the Ministry of Education; Dr. Talya Perlstein, Director of Dance and Movement Track in Orot Israel College; Mrs. Revital Stern (Zivan), supervisor for Communication and Art studies in the religious public schools; and Mrs. Avital Horesh, national counselor for dance in the religious public schools. In addition, during this segment, groups of students performed dances which they had created in their respective programs, and they had the opportunity to watch a performance by the Angela troupe.
In the context of the conference, program coordinators and faculty from the ulpanot (religious girls’ high schools) participated in a meeting with Dr. Nurit Ron, Mrs. Revital Stern, and Dr. Talya Perlstein. Over the course of the discussion, the coordinators and teachers expressed enthusiasm for the organization and high-level content of the days’ programs, as well as the importance of building a professional community within HEMED.
The conference of school dance programs demonstrates part of HEMED’s educational vision, which values the student’s self-expression by means of the arts as a tool for growth and connecting to the sacred. It gives us great pride that the graduates of the dance program at Orot Israel College stand at the forefront of developing this field within HEMED, serving in a number of key capacities in its implementation: national counsel and guidance for dance in religious education; coordinating programs; and teaching dance in ulpanot and elementary schools.
The participants’ assessment of the conference’s contribution and significance found its expression in the form of a number of letters of thanks. To cite one, Revital Stern, supervisor for Communication and Art studies in the religious schools, wrote, “… This cooperation is so critical for the strengthening and development of the field of dance within religious education…. Since the track of training teachers in movement and dance in Orot College is unique, it is important for the graduates of dance programs in HEMED to see it as a hub for their professional development, with respect to both the artistry of the field and their training as teachers…. Thank you for all you have done for this connection thus far, and for all that will still be done, b’ezrat Hashem.”
In the words of Yael Duchnov, the coordinator of the Zvia school in Kochav Yaakov, “Thank you for opening the doors for masses of girls, who are both dreaming and fulfilling their dreams! There is no question that the successful establishment of new programs which allow professional dance alongside the observance of the values of Torah and Judaism begins with training appropriate teachers, teachers who cultivated with a spirit that allows and strengthens this development. Thank you for the journey that has been, that is, and that will continue….”
Tirtza Ben-Yitzchak, the Principal of the ulpana Haleli in Givat Washington, wrote, “Our students came back [from the conference] ‘in the lights (Orot)!’… It was both meaningful and very productive.”
Heartfelt thanks to the many participants whose pains assured the day’s success.
In the photo from right to left: Shira Shimon, Hadassa Geat, Tzipi Nir, Tirtza Ben-Yitzchak, Talia Sperling, Chana Shukrun, Sarah Orenstein, Rachel Baruch, Elisheva Rosewag, Sharon Kelner, Esther Poltinsky Perianto, Talya Perlstein, Nurit Ron, Shira Martin, Avital Horesh, Revital Stern (Zivan).
Below: Beracha Miriam, Shira Deutsch, Moriah Horowitz, Emunah Cohen, Chani Belsberg, Yael Duchnov.

The 17th Colloquium of Orot Israel College

Rabbi Dr. Yechiel Lash

Colloquium Coordinator

On Wednesday, the 19th of Shvat, 5777 (February 15, 2017) the annual College Colloquium of the College’s lecturers was held at the Elkana Campus.
An assortment of content was offered at the colloquium. During the first session, the participants heard a lecture from Prof. Yuval Sinai, President of the College, on the topic “A modern look at Maimonides’s theory of damages,” the theme of his forthcoming book.
During the second session, the participants were exposed to some of the innovations of the Bet Midrash (Academy) for New Pedagogy, which is taking place this year at the Elkana Campus, with the participation of approximately 20 lectures from the College. The unique methods of teaching and assessment were presented by Mr. Elad Hamiel, Dr. Penina Steinberger, Dr. Yael Segev, and Dr. Haim Elbaum.
During the last session, lectures were given on assorted topics: Dr. Adina Sternberg addressed the topic, “Whoever says that ‘So-and-so sinned’ is in error,” interpretive and educational perspectives on the Rabbinic traditions which exonerate certain Biblical figures of apparent sins; Dr. Yosi Ziv drew a comparison between certain practices of the Ethiopian Beita Yisrael community and the records of the Dead Sea Scrolls; and Dr. Zeev Kaim presented research on the topic of “Drinking alcohol in the company of at-risk adolescents, in contrast to standard adolescents.” One of the notable findings of the latter study was that religious adolescents consume less alcohol than adolescents who are not religious.
As opposed to previous years, b’ezrat Hashem, an additional colloquium is planned for the end of the second semester. We are already looking forward to hear the various lectures and studies which will be presented by College faculty.

Rechovot Campus Ranked Third in a Survey of Interns’ Satisfaction

In a survey of interns and new teachers recently conducted by the Department of Internships and Early Teaching within the Ministry of Education, the Rechovot Campus was ranked third from a field of 36 colleges and universities across the country, with respect to the index of interns’ satisfaction from the College’s internship workshop and seminar.
The survey assessed various parameters among the interns with respect to the usefulness and satisfaction they derived from their internships, their mentorship in the schools in which they were working, and regarding the entire process of their training over the course of their earning their degree.
“We are proud of the College’s achievements, and we will continue to advance and improve the process of mentoring the interns, as well as being a welcome and supportive home, professionally and emotionally, for them,” according to Dr. Zeev Kaim, Internship Program Coordinator, Rechovot Campus.

Freedom, Arvut, and Responsibility

Rabbi Dr. Amir Mashiach
 Chair, Department of Jewish Philosophy

The Nation of Israel is the people of freedom. This freedom engenders responsibility not only for oneself, but also for the spiritual and physical welfare of the other (arvut). So powerful is this notion that the halacha permits the court to compel a person to give charity (Shulchan Aruch Yoreh Deah 256). A person might think that this is an instance of religious coercion, but it should not be seen in a negative light.
What is meant by the Rabbis’ statement, “No one is truly free (ben chorin) other than he who busies himself with the Torah” (Avot 6:2)? Isn’t this simply a deception? What is freedom? After all, the halacha dictates our lives in every respect, to the degree that we are instructed how to lace our shoes and cut our nails! And yet, we are free?
Indeed, it would seem that this is a contradiction, but it is not so. Freedom does not mean lawlessness, rather the yoke that I place upon myself, in accordance with the definition suggested by the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, “Not freedom from… rather freedom for....” This means to say that freedom is not that I do whatsoever I please without any responsibilities at all. For instance, I may not drive through a red light or at an excessive speed. That does not mean that I am enslaved. Actually, I am a free citizen, a free person in the State of Israel. The very fact that I accept its laws upon myself demonstrates that I am free.
And so it is with respect to all other examples which are not necessarily determined by the fear of automatic incarceration or prosecution. For instance, the fact that I am vegetarian means that I am a free person who has chosen to impose upon myself the discipline or the values which define certain limits. In this way, I demonstrate my freedom. The decision to accept upon myself a yoke, as in the responsibility to help another, is itself freedom. It is “freedom for something”.
When we speak about freedom, it is incumbent upon us to turn to the thought of psychologist Viktor Frankl, who experienced the horrors of the Holocaust firsthand. Of all places, it was there, within the terrible inferno, that Frankl reached the awareness that “the last of man’s freedoms” is the freedom of the consciousness that the Nazis could never take away. While they were able to do whatever they wanted with his body, including putting him to death at any given moment, they remained unable to take away his freedom (Man’s Search for Meaning).
Frankl argued that there is a strong bond between freedom and responsibility. According to him, they are two sides of the same coin. At the moment that a man assumes freedom, he also accepts upon himself responsibility. Because of this, Frankl suggested that the United States must erect a Statue of Responsibility along its West Coast, to complement the Statue of Liberty which stands along its East Coast (The Unheard Cry for Meaning). He even defines human existence in terms of “being responsible”; man is a “responsible entity” (The Unconscious God).
Frankl speaks more about man’s need to take responsibility for his own life, which is what gives life meaning. However, we would widen the scope of freedom to taking responsibility for others.
The Jew, by virtue of his very existence, is a Statue of Eternity. Internally, he is the Status of Liberty; but through his behavior, he is charged to be a Statue of Responsibility, through his responsibility to tend to the other.