Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Why Women Light

A New Perspective on an old Halachah
By Rabbi Reuven Spolter

Recently, my wife and I were discussing the different reactions of local residents during the recent Operation Pillar of Defense "altercation". She noted that Anglo Olim, wanting to do their part, collected cakes, donations, and other supplies that they brought to the soldiers massing on the Gaza border not far away from our home. While Israelis were also involved in chesed during the harrowing days of the non-war, instead of preparing packages for soldiers, they were making meals and arranging babysitters for the harried wives who found themselves without their husbands, who were called up for Miluim and were themselves stationed outside of Gaza. When Israel finds itself forced to confront an aggressor, we immediately think of the soldiers and the different ways we can help them, either by sending pizzas, or socks, or moral support. But we sometimes forget that especially in Israel, during wartime a large percentage of the army consists of "older" reservists, who left wives and children behind to go protect their country.
While Jewish law exempts women from the obligation to fulfill most time-bound commandments (like shaking a Lulav, sitting in a Sukkah or wearing Tefillin), the Sages did not extend this exemption to the mitzvah of lighting candles on Chanukah.  In fact, the Gemara (Shabbat 23a) is unusually emphatic about this point stating that, האשה ודאי מדליקה – "a woman must certainly light," explaining that the Sages obligated women to light candles of Chanukah, שאף הן היו באותו הנס – "for they too were involved in that miracle."
What miracle were the women specifically involved in that makes it clear that women should be obligated to light the Chanukah menorah? Clearly, the Gemara does not refer to the miracle of the Menorah, as women had no role in the lighting of the Menorah in the Beit Hamikdash – or any other service in the Temple. So, the Gemara must refer to the role of women in the revolt that expelled the Greeks and returned the Jews to power. What role did they play, and why did that role make it obvious that women should also be obligated to light the Chanukah candles? Moreover, the obligation is especially ironic in light of the fact that most women never actually light despite their obligation to do so. Sephardic households uphold the custom that the head of the household – usually the male – lights the menorah for everyone. Even in Ashkenazic families, where each member of the family lights, in many if not most families, the wife/mother fulfills her obligation through the lighting of her husband. If we truly wished to highlight the role that women played in the Chanukah miracle, in addition to including them in the obligation to light, wouldn't the Sages have specified that they themselves actually, physically light the candles on Chanukah?
The Rishonim offer two general explanations for the role that women played in the Chanukah victory. But, during a shiur with my students in Orot on this subject, I discovered a third, compelling explanation for the Gemara that resonates with us, especially today.

Explanation 1: The Actions of Chanah the Daughter of Matityahu – The Actions of A Woman Prompted the Men to Rebel
Commenting on the Gemara in Shabbat, Rashi writes,
שגזרו יוונים על כל בתולות הנשואות להיבעל לטפסר תחילה, ועל יד אשה נעשה הנס
For the Greeks had decreed that every married virgin must first cohabitate with the [Greek] general. And, the miracle took place through the actions of a woman.
Rashi's comment alludes to a critical story that appears in full in the Otzar Hamidrashim (Chanukah pp. 189-190) The Midrash relates:
כיון שראו יונים שאין ישראל מרגישין בגזירותיהם, עמדו וגזרו עליהם גזירה מרה ועכורה, שלא תכנס כלה בלילה הראשון מחופתה אלא אצל ההגמון שבמקום ההוא. כיון ששמעו ישראל כך רפו ידיהם ותשש כחם ונמנעו מלארס, והיו בנות ישראל בוגרות ומזקינות כשהן בתולות...והיו יונים מתעללות בבתולות ישראל, ונהגו בדבר הזה שלש שנים ושמונה חדשים, עד שבא מעשה של בת מתתיהו כהן גדול שנשאת לבן חשמונאי ואלעזר היה שמו, כיון שהגיע יום שמחתה הושיבוה באפריון, וכשהגיע זמן הסעודה נתקבצו כל גדולי ישראל לכבוד מתתיהו ובן חשמונאי שלא היו באותו הדור גדולים מהם, וכשישבו לסעוד עמדה חנה בת מתתיהו מעל אפריון וספקה כפיה זו על זו וקרעה פורפירון שלה ועמדה לפני כל ישראל כשהיא מגולה ולפני אביה ואמה וחותנה. כיון שראו אחיה כך נתביישו ונתנו פניהם בקרקע וקרעו בגדיהם, ועמדו עליה להרגה, אמרה להם שמעוני אחיי ודודיי, ומה אם בשביל שעמדתי לפני צדיקים ערומה בלי שום עבירה הרי אתם מתקנאים בי, ואין אתם מתקנאים למסרני ביד ערל להתעולל בי! הלא יש לכם ללמוד משמעון ולוי אחי דינה שלא היו אלא שנים וקנאו לאחותם והרגו כרך כשכם ומסרו נפשם על ייחוד של מקום ועזרם ה' ולא הכלימם, ואתם חמשה אחים יהודה יוחנן יונתן שמעון ואלעזר, ופרחי כהונה יותר ממאתים בחור, שימו בטחונכם על המקום והוא יעזור אתכם שנאמר כי אין מעצור לה' להושיע וגו' (ש"א =שמואל א'= י"ד). ופתחה פיה בבכיה ואמרה רבש"ע אם לא תחוס עלינו חוס על קדושת שמך הגדול שנקרא עלינו ונקום היום נקמתנו. באותה שעה נתקנאו אחיה ואמרו בואו ונטול עצה מה נעשה...
When the Greeks realized that Israel was not affected by their decrees they rose and issued a bitter, ugly decree, that a bride on the first night [after her wedding] must leave her wedding canopy for [the bed of] the local hegemony. When Israel heard this their hands weakened and their strength abated, and they refrained from betrothing…and the Greeks would mistreat the daughters of Israel. They maintained this practice for three years and eight months, until the daughter of Matityahu the High Priest because engaged to a Hasmonean by the name of Elazar.
When the day of her joy[ous wedding] arrived, they seated her in a throne. At the time of the meal, all the elders of Israel gathered in honor of Matiyahu and this son of the Hasmoneans, for there were no greater in that generation than them. When they sat down to the meal, Chanah the daughter of Matityahu rose from upon her throne, clapped her hands together, and ripped her garment and stood revealed before all of Israel, her father, mother and her in-laws.
When her brothers witnessed this act they were embarrassed and looked towards the ground and tore their garments, and then began to approach her to kill her [for her terrible act]. She said to them, "Hear me my brothers and cousins! If you are zealous towards me for the fact that I stood naked before righteous people without committing any sin, yet, you are not zealous to hand me over to an uncircumcised heather to mistreat me!? We must learn from Shimon and Levi the brothers of Dinah, who were only two, but still zealously endangered their lives to destroy Shechem for the sake of God's name – and God helped them and did not shame them! And you are five brothers, Yehudah, Yochanan, Yonatan, Shimon and Elazar – and the young priests number over two hundred – place your trust in God and He will help you, as it is written, 'for there is no restraint to the LORD to save by many or by few.'" (Shmuel 1 14:6) Then, she burst into tears and said, "Lord of the Universe – if You do not have compassion upon us, have compassion upon the holiness of your great Name by which we are called, and avenge our vengeance on this day!"
At that moment, her brother were zealous and said, let us gather and consider what course of action we should take…
This incredibly powerful story speaks for itself. The brazen, almost unthinkable act of a single pious girl shook the Jews to their very core, forcing them once and for all to overcome their fear and rise up against the Greek oppression.

Explanation 2:  The Actions of Yehudit – Jewish Women Took Up Arms Themselves
The Gemara (Megillah 4) notes that women are obligated in the reading of the Megillah, for, just as we find regarding Chanukah, on Purim as well, אף הן היו באותו הנס – "they were also in that miracle." Women's involvement in the Purim miracle is relatively obvious: Esther played the primary role in saving the Jewish people from extinction. Yet, Tosfot on that Gemara add that, בחנוכה על ידי יהודית – "on Chanukah [women were involved in the miracle] through the actions of Yehudit." This, of course, refers to the story related in the Book of Yehudit (which, like the Book of the Macabees, never made it into Tanach), which relates the story of a widow named Yehudit, who ingratiates herself with the Greeks to gain their trust, only to lure the Greek General Holofernes into her tent, where she chops off his head, throwing the Greek army into turmoil.
In reality, it's difficult to know whether the story actually took place at all – as different versions of it appear in the Midrash. (In fact, the continuation of the Midrash quoted above suggests that the brothers used Chanah herself as bait for the Greek general), but the gist of this interpretation is clear: in the story of Chanukah of Chanukah, the women couldn't allow themselves to sit on the sidelines. Rather, when needed, they themselves fought to rid the nation of the invading Greek armies.

Explanation 3: Women as Supporters, Sending their Husbands to Fight
When I taught these sources during a class on Midrash at Orot, I began by asking the class whether women may light Chanukah candles at all. One married student answered that she knew that she in fact could. How did she know? She knew because the issue had already come up at home, and she would be lighting in her home that year, on behalf of her husband.
"Where is your husband?" I asked her. "Why won't he be lighting for you?"
"He's an officer in the army, currently in a training course, and he won't be home for Chanukah," she explained. "So we already planned for the fact that I would light at home, and he would fulfill his obligation through my lighting."
Hearing her words, I found myself truly moved by her nonchalance. She didn't think much of it, but how often do we consider the wives of our soldiers, who send their husbands to defend the Jewish nation, maintaining homes, raising families – or even just suffering many, many nights of loneliness – on our behalf.
I believe that this might very well be another meaning of the Gemara's statement that women too were involved in the miraculous victory of Chanukah. Even if the women never physically fought in any of the battles, Jewish women paid a very heavy price for the victory over the Greeks. They encouraged their husbands and sons to go out to war; they maintained their homes during the months of battle; and too many of them made the ultimate sacrifice when their loved ones never returned home. Even victory carries a heavy price.
If the victory of Chanukah represented the last Jewish military victory before the destruction of the Second Beit Hamikdash, today, we truly merit to live in a time when we can enjoy the great gift of our return to that very same Land. Yet, that gift is not free. We continue to pay a heavy price to ensure Jewish sovereignty over the Promised Land.

This Chanukah, as we light our Chanukah candles, let us resolve to focus on the great sacrifices that Jewish women have made to ensure Jewish freedom, whether those sacrifices were בימים ההם – "in those days", or whether they are בזמן הזה – "in our days as well."
Chanukah Semeach!

What Do Rav Tzvi Yehuda Kook and English Have in Common?

by Dr. Vitela Arzi- Head of the English Department, Elkana Campus

Each year, Orot staff and administration focus on a general theme that is incorporated into students' education studies. This year, thirty years after the passing of Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda HaCohen Kook Zt”l, Orot Israel College is focusing on the life and legacy of Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda. The selection of this topic has created a new challenge for the English Department, where we preach and practice the integration of the “sacred” with the “secular,” as we firmly believe that relevant Jewish content should be integrated into the teaching of English, and that our English lessons should be enhanced by educational, cultural and Jewish values.

Over the past few years, the English Department has developed learning centers, units of study, activities and games on uniquely Jewish themes such as “Shmita, ”  “the Jewish Diaspora,” “Jewish Leadership,” “Light the Candles Project,” “Jewish Identity,” “Dedication and Shlichut,” “Jerusalem,”  “Matan Torah- Am Israel and the Nations,”  and many more. These activities, projects and modules, supervised by pedagogy instructor Dr. Chaya Katz, transformed abstract esoteric concepts into concrete visual, auditory and sensory-motor experiences, which were then integrated into our Practicum Teaching, and were highly appreciated by the training schools in Rosh Ha’ayin, Ofra, Petach Tikva, and Ra’anana.
When a theme is selected and declared to be an Annual Educational Topic, the staff of the English department gathers for a brainstorming session and proposes specific applications of this theme to our various courses. Usually, the students who benefit from these ideas are those students majoring in English, who are slated to become English language teachers themselves and will be able to adapt the pedagogic principles they have been taught to their own future classes.
This year, however, we decided to expand our target population, and introduce the annual theme into courses of English for Academic Purposes (EAP). These EAP courses are mandatory for all students in academic institutions for the purpose of improving students’ English reading comprehension skills, thus enabling our majority non-English-speaking student population to tackle academic texts required for their seminar papers and ongoing academic work. Students are placed in five levels based on their psychometric test scores.
Two reading-comprehension Modules have been prepared for the low, intermediate, and pre-advanced levels by Mrs. Mona Schreiber, Dr. Smadar Falk-Perez, Mr. David Wapner, Mrs. Hannah Kessler, Mrs. Tzilla Rabinovitz, and Dr. Bat Sheva Keren. One Module focuses on Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda’s biography, while the other focuses on his observance and spiritual legacy. The Modules are based on existing texts that were abridged, modified and edited by the instructors for teaching purposes. Suitable questions were prepared based on the content of the texts and the pedagogical goals of the modules.
From a purely academic point of view, the texts and the accompanying questions provide opportunities for practicing English-language skills such as main idea, details, pronoun references, new vocabulary and more. Yet content-wise, the texts provide an ideal opportunity to discuss significant issues such as Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda’s vision, his view on the Divine commandment to settle the Land of Israel, his attitude toward the State of Israel, the study and editing of his father’s writings, the history of the settlement movement and the “hesder” yeshivot.
The EAP staff feels that preparing reading comprehension modules for EAP courses is particularly advantageous.  Not only will more students be exposed to the Annual Educational Topic in English, but the idea that English can be incorporated across the curricula will hopefully have long-lasting effects.  We hope that our current students, who will become educators and educational leaders, will develop a more positive attitude towards English once they realize how it can be utilized beneficially to promote a variety of educational themes. Hopefully, in their own future schools, in their various educational roles, perhaps even as school principals, those teachers will be supportive of combined interdisciplinary “sacred-secular” programs and initiate collaboration with English teachers at their prospective schools.
Our graduates will thus become messengers of Orot Israel’s educational philosophy according to which the so-called “secular” subjects can co-exist harmoniously with “sacred” topics since such a synthesis is desirable, possible and attainable.

Orot Israel College Supports Our Beleaguered Brethren in the South

“At first, I was very scared,” recalls Devorah Avazret, 17, from Nice in southern France. “Israel is very beautiful, and it’s heart-warming to always be among Jews. But I’m not used to sirens or falling missiles. Every time [we heard the siren], we had to run to the bomb shelter, and it was frightening and unpleasant.”
Devorah is one of some forty Jewish girls from France who are studying at Hemdat Hadarom College located just outside of Netivot. The French students are part of a one-year Torani preparatory program, which is comprised of both secular studies – including Hebrew-language Ulpan, a preparation course for the psychometric test, and more – and Jewish studies.
When the girls first arrived in Israel about a month ago, they realized that sirens were a fact of life. But, as Rav Eli Kling, head of the program explains, “The sirens and the rockets fell infrequently, and the girls learned to live with it. However, once the war in the South began, the girls’ reality changed. If it was only up to me, we would’ve stayed,” he continues. “There are spacious shelters, and there’s room to study. But under the circumstances, it became psychologically impossible. The girls’ parents are hysterical. It’s also very difficult for the girls to concentrate on their studies. We looked around for options to relocate the program until the crisis ended. Orot Israel College responded immediately and willingly.”
Here at Orot, we were more than up to the challenge. Students living in an entire dormitory building moved for the French students, and classrooms were made available for their use. In addition, the cafeteria remained open for them during the evenings, and the French girls resumed their regular routines.
 “‘איש את רעהו יעזורו ולאחיו יאמר חזק - ‘Each man shall help his fellow; and to his brother he shall say: be strong,’” quotes Rabbi Professor Neria Guttel, President of Orot Israel College. “Orot Israel College supports our brothers in the South, as part of our ideological worldview, which is to do as much as we can to help others. My good friend, the President of Hemdat Hadarom College, Professor Avi Levy approached me looking for a solution for a group of students from abroad, and we responded immediately to his request – even if it’s not a simple matter. We – the administration and the students – will do whatever we possibly can to help.”
And what does Devorah think about all this?
 “At a certain stage, one starts to adapt, to gain confidence,” she said. “We realized that things were beyond our control. In any event, I’m glad that we moved to Elkana. It’s much quieter and safer here.”
Baruch Hashem the students are now back in Netivot where hopefully they will enjoy the rest of their program.

Orot Israel College’s Library Hosts “Song of Colors” Exhibit

by Amalya Tsoran - Library Director, Elkana Campus

Bold colors. Reflections of light and water. A feast for the eyes. These are a visitor’s initial impressions upon entering the library building at Orot Israel College’s Elkana campus.
On display on the walls of the library’s ground floor are artistic works by Dr. Chana Schmerling. The highly-acclaimed exhibit – which opened on Tuesday, 28 MarCheshvan 5773 (November 13, 2012) in the presence of the artist and her family and friends – will remain in place throughout the 5773 school year.
In his remarks during the exhibit’s opening ceremony, Rabbi Professor Neria Guttel, President of Orot Israel College, noted that art can serve as an ideal way for man to express his faith – especially when the art is based on complete emunah (faith) in HaKadosh Baruch Hu. Rabbi Professor Guttel also focused on the significant bond between the intellect and the emotions – as reflected in the combination of art (the emotions) and the library (a stronghold of knowledge and the intellect).
The exhibit includes an assortment of drawings in different styles. Small descriptive signs appear next to several of the drawings. For instance, a series of drawings of palm trees are accompanied by a sign reading, “Efrat (our relative), who was expelled from Gush Katif, asked to memorialize the place as a pleasant experience of her youth. In her eyes, the palm trees and the sea represent the lost dream. Her request inspired a number of drawings.” A small bookshelf containing books about Gush Katif sits below the sign and the drawings.
The Elkana library’s staff believes that art should be integrated within the world of books and digitized information. Like literature and poetry, cinema and dance, philosophy and faith – all fields of study at Orot, which are represented in the library’s collections - art is yet another manifestation of the greatness of man’s spirit and creativity.
Each year, the library displays the works of a different member of Orot Israel College’s faculty or administration. The library is open Monday-Wednesday from 8:00AM–7:45PM and Thursday from 8:00AM–3:45PM. You are welcome to visit!

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

The Spirituality of Sarah

By Rabbi Reuven Spolter

Parshat Chayei Sarah begins with some very unusual language:
וַיִּהְיוּ חַיֵּי שָׂרָה, מֵאָה שָׁנָה וְעֶשְׂרִים שָׁנָה וְשֶׁבַע שָׁנִים--שְׁנֵי, חַיֵּי שָׂרָה.
And the life of Sarah was a hundred and seven and twenty years; these were the years of the life of Sarah.
I'd like to focus on the phrase at the end of the verse: שני חיי שרה – "these were the years of the life of Sarah." Obviously, this phrase screams out for interpretation and clarification.
Netziv, in his commentary Ha'amek Davar, offers a unique insight into the difference between Avraham and Sarah that explains this unusual language. He explains that the word חיים has two meanings, the first being "life", the normal interpretation of the word. But the word חיים can also refer to a sense of joy, and excitement – what the French called "joie de vivre." 
Netziv notes that according to Chazal, Sarah was greater that Avraham in prophecy, which is somewhat difficult to believe. How could it be possible that Sarah, who never spoke directly with God (to our knowledge), could be a greater prophet than Avraham Avinu, who communicated with God directly numerous times?
To answer this question, Netziv distinguishes between two types of "prophecy." In the first type, direct communication with God, Avraham clearly outshone Sarah. But Sarah excelled in a second form of prophecy called רוח הקודש – "divine inspiration"
הוא מה שאדם מתבודד ומשרה עליו רוה"ק ויודע מה שרואה. אמנם לא דבר עמו ה'.
This is where a person secludes himself and the spirit of God dwells upon him, and he knows what he is seeing, but the word of God is not with him.
Why was Sarah greater than Avraham in Ruach Hakodesh?
הוא משני טעמים. א' שאברהם בצדקו היה מנהיג העולם ומדריכם לעבודת ה'...ומי שעסקו עם המון רבה אינו יכול להתבודד כ". משא"כ שרה היתה יושבת באהלה בקדושה וטהרה (וע' מש"כ הגאון חתם סופר בהקדמתו בזה דברים ראויים אליו ז"ל). שנית דאין רוה"ק חל אלא מתוך שמחה...ושרה זה צדקתה להפלא שהיתה באמונתה...ע"כ לא נתעצבה בכל ימי חייה והיתה שקועה ברוה"ק.
For two reasons: First of all, Avraham in his righteousness, was a world leader who guided the people to the service of God…And one who deals with the masses cannot isolate himself that much, which is not true of Sarah who sat in her tent in holiness and purity. Secondly, Ruach Hakodesh only rests upon a person through joy, and Sarah was exceedingly righteous in that she had great and wondrous faith…for this reason, she was never saddened nor worried throughout her life for all of her days, and she was therefore immersed in Ruach Hakodesh.
Sarah, explains the Netziv, was a woman of חיים – she had a joy for life, a deep faith and a positive attitude. Thus, the meaning of the phrase, שני חיי שרה is, "the years of a life of joy of Sarah."
This beautiful depiction of our great matriarch also challenges us today. With the confusing division of roles prevalent in modern society, we no longer laud the concept of התבודדות within the "tent." (And, to be honest, it's not really feasible today either.) But, we must acknowledge that this reality does have a cost, as we no longer have a sense of deep faith and often lack the חיים – the joy of life – that can only come from התבודדות.

Aliyah: Finding our Home

By Michal (Vogel) Mandelbaum

Growing up, I was always a spunky kid. I recall being in seventh grade and telling my mother that I was going to go to Bar Ilan University for college. I would make aliyah, and if she wanted to see me, she would need to come and visit me in Israel. Clearly, at a young age the importance of living in Israel was instilled in me.
While looking into schools in Israel for my year of study after high school, I wanted a school where learning to speak Hebrew was a priority.  Throughout my formal education, I did not receive a proper Hebrew language education, and wanted a way to converse with my Israeli relatives (of which there are many) without miming. Orot was the perfect choice. It was a small school, in an out of the way area similar to where I grew up.  I loved Orot so much, and learned so much while I was there, that I chose to spend another half year there.
I must insert here that I was already going out with the man who would become my husband in high school. At the beginning of my second year, I had a conversation with my father that I still remember like it was yesterday. He said I needed to make a choice, and only I could make it. To stay in Israel or return to the United States. So I did what any girl in love would do, I turned to my then boyfriend. He and I discussed our future at length, in terms of where we wanted to live and raise our family. The answer from both of us was here in Israel.
So the choice was simple. I left Israel to return to the States for college, with the agreement from my boyfriend/soon to be husband, that we would finish our degrees, and then move to Israel.
Many things happened along the way, one of them not being Aliyah, as we had originally intended. Knowing that our Aliyah would not happen for a few years, we bought an apartment, sold it and bought a house, with the intent of selling it when we moved. We also started our family.
So what helped us along? A few things. First, really good friends of ours, who we intended on moving with, moved; and we were still in America. Second, when we named our kids, they were given Israeli names, so that when we moved, they would not feel completely out of place.
When my second daughter was born, we gave her the name Idit. My little sister asked if we realized what would happen to her name if an “o” was added in. My mother immediately responded that we would be living in Israel before that became an issue.
We moved right as children in her class were starting to read in Pre-K.
A year before we moved, I came on a pilot trip with my 2 kids for 6 weeks.  I, as a Hebrew first grade teacher (thank you Orot) had the summer to spend traveling throughout Israel, looking for a community to move to. So the 3 of us embarked on a great adventure to find where we wanted to live.
My husband and I came up with a list of what was important to us, and our family, and what we were looking for. Nothing outlandish, in my opinion, just what mattered to us. We wanted something small, but near a city. Bare minimum 90% Hebrew speaking community (we wanted and still want our kids to speak Hebrew outside the house at all times, or as much as possible). We wanted a cohesive community, 1 Beit Knesset, 1 Rav, a school in the community, an open mind to practice the religion in your own way (head covered/not covered, pants/skirts, length of sleeve), a “winter” of some sort, and if possible, someone we know from before to help make the transition easier.
Thanks to a very good friend, we came upon Moreshet (near Karmiel, in the lower Galil) which had everything we were looking for.
Moving to Moreshet has been the best decision we could have made. My older kids are fluent in Hebrew. Those who know both English and Hebrew, ask Idit to show off her Hebrew as they love her “raish”. We have found a community in the true sense of the word. Everyone looks out for each other, and we all help each other out. 
While on Shabbat Klita here, and after we moved, everyone would ask me where I learned to speak Hebrew so well, that I sound like an Israeli. Some had no idea I am American, born and bred. My answer is always the same. I spent a year and half in Michlelet Orot in Elkana, where I learned to speak Hebrew. I often think about our “little school on a hill” and how much fun I had there, the friends that I made, the bonds that have lasted over a decade, and will for many more to come.
I look forward to taking a trip with my family to Orot to show my kids where I spent my time learning Hebrew and forging friendships that remain with me to this day. Without the help of Orot, I would not have had the opportunity I had in America, teaching Hebrew to children. I was able to do what I love, teaching children a love for both the language and the country. At the end of the day, one thing is important above all, and of this I know Orot is proud when I say, I AM HOME.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Welcome to the Moodle Age

by Sarit Cohen - Computing and Information Systems Department, Orot Israel College

With 12 million users - and counting! – in over 200 countries, Moodle has certainly taken the world by storm, and here at Orot Israel College, we are proud to be a part of this global sensation. In fact, Orot is the first Israeli college to use Moodle 2.3, the newest version of the popular e-learning environment.
Moodle– an acronym for “Modular Object-Oriented Dynamic Learning Environment” – is an online e-learning platform. Based on open-source software, the free system is designed for cooperative learning and offers a wide range of sophisticated tools for producing and distributing content. Moodle’s flexibility allows each educational institution to tailor and customize the system to meet its own particular needs.
In Israel, Moodle plays a major role in both the educational system and the academic world and has sparked a paradigm shift. Today, courses across the country are comprised of four distinct elements: the lecturer, the students, the classroom, and Moodle.
At Orot Israel College, our computing department worked together with the faculty to upgrade all of our online courses using Moodle. The dynamic platform enabled us to build dozens of websites, which correspond to each of our online courses. At the same time, we increased our online course offerings and also added new courses, and eventually, we hope to design websites for all of our regular courses as well.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Should we be Worried?

By Rabbi Reuven Spolter
Director of Student Recruitment

As we approach the coming New Year, it seems that we've got a lot to worry about. The Prime Minister keeps beating the drum about the impending danger of a nuclear Iran; rockets are still falling on Sederot (which is pretty close to where I live), and gasoline reached an all-time high this week (what goes up doesn't seem to want to go down, either!) All of these worries don't even begin to touch on the personal concerns each of has for our families; for their health and well-being; for our children's continued growth and development. As I said, there's a lot to worry about.
But should we worry? Is worry something good and positive, or is it an emotion we should specifically try to control and minimize to whatever degree possible? The answer, of course, is that it depends on the subject of our worry.
In the classic Mussar work אורחות צדיקים, the anonymous author describes worry as a negative, destructive trait.
הדאגה. זאת המידה היא רעה ברוב ענייניה, והיא ניכרת על כל הפנים, כדכתיב (בראשית מ ו): "וירא אתם והינם זועפים"; וכתיב (נחמיה ב ב): "מדוע פניך רעים, ואתה אינך חולה". ואמר אחד מן החכמים: איני מוצא כלל באנשי נפשות העליונות סימן דאגה. הדואג על עולם זה להשיג מאומה – הוא מגונה מאוד, והיא לא נמצאת כלל באנשים הבוטחים בשם ומאמינים בו. הדאגה והיגון הם מכלים הלב, והם חולי הגוף. והדאגה הרעה שבכל הדאגות היא שירדוף אחר העבירות, ובעת שלא ימצא כל חפץ לבו – אז הוא דואג ומצטער. הדואג על עולם זה הוא רחוק מאוד מן התורה והמצוות והתפילה. לכן יחוש מאוד לתקן המידה הזאת, להסיר אותה ממנו. ואין צריך להאריך ברעתה, כי כל הטובות הבאות מן השמחה – הן היפוך הדאגה.
Worry. This attribute is almost always negative, and is recognizable on every face, as it is written, "And [Yosef] saw them and they were sad." (Bereishit 40:6) and it is also written, "Why is your face sad, and you are not sick." And one of the scholars has said, I have not seen worry in the spirits of the higher-level souls. On who worries about achieving anything in this world – this is very obscene – and is not found in those people who trust in God and have faith in Him. Worry and anguish destroy the heart and they are sicknesses of the body…Thus, a person should make great effort to fix this attribute and remove it from himself. And there's no reason to write at length about the negative nature [of worry] because all of the goodness that comes from happiness – is the direct opposite of worry.
In essence, "Don't worry, be happy."
But there is a type of worry that is positive and productive. We find in the Gemara in Brachot (4a) that although David Hamelech considered himself generally righteous, telling God שמרה נפשי כי חסיד אני – "Save my soul, for I am righteous" (Tehillim 86:1), nonetheless at the end of Chapter 27 of Tehillim (לדוד ה' אורי – which we recite twice daily throughout Elul), David seems to think differently of himself.
אל תתנני בנפש צרי, כי קמו בי עדי שקר ויפח חמס. לולי האמנתי לראות בטוב ה' בארץ החיים...
Deliver me not over to the will of my adversaries; for false witnesses have risen up against me, and breathe out violence.  If I had not believed to look upon the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living! (Chapter 27:12-13)
On this verse the Gemara quotes David as saying to God,
רבונו של עולם, מבטח אני בך שאתה משלם שכר טוב לצדיקים לעתיד לבא, אבל איני יודע אם יש לי חלק ביניהם אם לאו!
Master of the World – I am sure that You give proper reward to the righteous in the future. Yet, I do not know if I have a portion among them or not.
What happened to the confident, self-assured Chassid? Where is the righteous David Hamelech, who declared his goodness to God? The Gemara answers: שמא יגרום החטא – "perhaps he would lose [his reward] because of sin."
David Hamelech was indeed worried. He wasn't worried about his enemies attacking him or global warming or even whether he'd be able to afford the new iPhone. Rather, he was worried about himself, and whether he'd be able to continue to serve God properly in the future.
This, says אורחות צדיקים, is the only proper type of worry.  We can and should indeed worry whether our actions over the past year have drawn us away from God. We should be concerned, even anguished over the mistakes that we've made. And we should definitely use the power of worry to keep us from sinning in the future.
It seems, then, that we're worried entirely about the wrong things.
Should we worry about Iran? That's not really in our control, and worrying about it will only make our lives more miserable. Should we even worry about our livelihoods and the exorbitant price of gasoline? Again no. We should try and work on ourselves, so that we recognize that our sustenance lies in the hands of the Creator, who "provides bread to every living creature." We of course should pray for good health and blessing, but worrying about it won't help at all.
Still, there is something we can and must worry about: ourselves. We must worry about the insidious, seductive nature of sin, so that we can learn from our mistakes and commit ourselves to improvement, return and renewal.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Orot Israel College Students Visit Yad Vashem

by Dr. Amnon Hever,
Department of Jewish History, Elkana Campus

As Holocaust studies play a major role at Orot Israel College, our first-year students recently participated in an intensive, full-day seminar at Yad Vashem.
As part of the seminar, which focused on the plight of the Jewish child during the Holocaust, the students toured the Holocaust History Museum, the “No Child's Play” exhibition, the Children’s Memorial, and the Center for Major Questions Arising from the Holocaust. Throughout the day, Orot's students were shown how to use objects, photographs, monuments, statues, memorial sites, exhibits, and art to teach about the Holocaust, and also how to respond to Holocaust-themed educational questions.
Over the past ten years, Orot Israel College has worked closely with Yad Vashem to develop appropriate programming for our students. What began as a single course for the history department has since expanded into a wide range of courses, which are open to the entire student body. Course topics include the history of the Holocaust, anti-Semitism, Nazism, religious Jews and the Holocaust, and rescue efforts. The courses are given by some of Yad Vashem’s top lecturers and incorporate documentary films, survivor testimonies, unique presentations, and other didactic materials produced by Yad Vashem.
In addition, Orot and Yad Vashem joined forces to design a unique practical course devoted to didactic techniques for Holocaust education, and last year, Orot offered a series of didactic workshops about Holocaust education. Each workshop was geared for a different academic department and served as part of the students’ practical training. Moreover, during the upcoming academic year, we hope to offer a general course that will concentrate on the Holocaust in Jewish thought.
Every course has proven to be very popular with the students, who made every effort to avoid missing even a single class.
Much of the credit goes to Mrs. Lea Roshkovsky, director of the Israeli Teachers Training Department at the International School for Holocaust Studies (ISHS), whose dedication, enthusiasm, and persistence made these programs so successful.
Special thanks also go to Uri Shalev of Yad Vashem. In his affable and serene way, he managed to transmit the legacy of the Holocaust to his students.

Orot Israel College Gears Up For the Education Ministry’s New Tanach Curriculum

by Rabbanit Nomi Shachor,
Tanach Department Head, Elkana Campus

During the month of Tamuz, Orot Israel College hosted a three-day conference on teaching Sefer Breishit to seventh graders. Designed to prepare the participants for the launch of the Education Ministry’s new Tanach curriculum, over one hundred teachers from across the country took part in the well-received conference at the Elkana campus.
Recently, the Ministry of Education released a new Tanach curriculum emphasizes the pshat, or simple meaning, of the text and the importance of studying Sefer Breishit in its entirety. Yet, at the same time, educators must ensure that their students are exposed to Sefer Breishit’s profound messages and ideas. In particular, educators hope that their students will come to understand the significance of the events that led up to Am Yisrael’s birth and establishment.
With these competing goals in mind, the conference’s organizers invited a wide array of distinguished rabbis as well as experienced Tanach teachers to address the participants. Some of the speakers – such as Rav Yitzchak Ben Shachar shlit”a, Rav Professor Neria Guttel, Rav Uriel Touitou, Rav Menachem Shachor, and Rabbanit Nomi Shachor – delved into many of Sefer Breishit’s central themes: the Avot, Brit Bein HaBetarim, cheit v’onesh, nisayon, and so on. Other lecturers – such as Rabbanit Dr. Yael Tzohar, Dr. Rivka Raviv, Dr. Ayal Davidson, Mrs. Tafat Halperin, Mrs. Hadassah Stoffel, and Mrs. Hila Nachteiler – focused on essential tools for teaching Sefer Breishit. Examples included a program for teaching bekiut (i.e. a pedagogic approach which leads to a broad, surface knowledge of the text), a timeline, assorted maps of Eretz Yisrael, relevant stories, and much more. Each participant received a CD containing these tools, lecture source sheets, and the presentations.
In her talk, Mrs. Miri Schlissel, director of Tanach studies at the Education Ministry’s Religious Education Department, noted that Sefer Breishit is an ideal way to begin junior high school. In addition, she showed how studying bekiut is well-suited for the early adolescent temperament. The conference proved to be a great success, as evidenced by the feedback forms and the dozens of thank you notes we received: “I enjoyed it and gained a lot.” “Yishar ko’ach on the welcome initiative. It was enlightening and beneficial.” “Thank you for the valuable and interesting conference and the gracious accommodations.”

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Rethinking Shabbat Nachamu

By Rabbi Reuven Spolter
Director of Student Recruitment

Each year on Tisha B'av, I struggle with the same question: Should I, or can I even recite the full version of Nachem – the additional insertion recited at Minchah on Tisha B'av? In the traditional text we pray,
נחם ה' אלהינו את אבלי ציון ואת אבלי ירושלים, ואת העיר האבלה והחֳרבה והבזויה והשוממה. האבלה מבלי בניה, והחריבה ממעונותיה, והבזויה מכבודה, והשוממה מאין יושב. והיא יושבת וראשה חפוי כאישה עקרה שלא ילדה.
Console, Hashem our God, the mourners of Zion and the mourners of Yerushalayim, and the destroyed, mournful, degraded and desolate city; mournful without her sons, destroyed without her stations, degraded from her honor desolate without any inhabitants. And her head is bowed like a barren woman who cannot bear children.
After Minchah this past Sunday (on Tisha B'av), the gentleman who sits behind me in shul asked me, "How can we say this? Have you seen Yerushalayim recently? Can we really honestly complain to God that Yerushalayim is 'desolate and destroyed…barren without inhabitants'"?
"So," I asked him, "what did you say? Did you say the Tefillah?"
"Yes," he answered, "but I focused on Har Habayit."
His is the classic answer. We can't change the text, so when we recite the same, age-old text, we give it new meaning. And, of course, Har Habayit is desolate and degraded, without a doubt.
But his solution doesn't really answer the question. The prayer is about the City of Jerusalem. It's about Zion. It's about the entirety of the Land of Israel. And, for centuries, it accurately described the situation in the Land of Israel, which did indeed lay barren, waiting for her nation to return.
Yet, walking the thriving, bustling streets of Yerushalayim, busy with students and tourists, brimming with attractions and unending construction, the prayer really does not accurately describe the true reality of modern-day Jerusalem. It's just not true anymore, and we struggle to find a context in which was can apply words that no longer seem accurate.
This conundrum about Nachem represents, to me, a small sliver of a much larger issue. It's not just about Nachem and the words that we say. Rather, the entire Tisha B'av observance and experience for all Jews today is fundamentally different than it was for the past two millennia.
Throughout our wanderings in the exile, Jews have suffered the terrible burdens of persecution and exile. Galut was, for the most part, a daily experience. Jews were restricted in where they could live, what they could do for a living, and suffered daily indignities from the surrounding non-Jewish neighbors. Sure, there were good times, but for the most part, Jews felt the ugly, painful sting anti-Semitism throughout their lives. It wasn't usually the overt shock of pogrom and forced exile. Rather, it was the more mundane indignity of groveling for the right to earn a living; the daily curse or the small taunt, and the knowledge that Jews would rarely receive a fair hearing in a secular court. 
When I think about it, I find this life difficult to imagine. I thank God every day that I have to wonder what life was like for my grandfather, growing up in Poland, or his parents, and their parents. It's almost too much to bear. How do you suffer in silence each and every day without crying out?
First of all, Jews did cry out. We cried out to God for redemption and salvation three times a day. Rabbi Yaakov ibn Habin writes in a powerful comment in his Ein Yaakov commentary (on Brachot 3a) that the blessing of Re'eh, in which we plead from God,
ראה נא בעניינו, וריבה ריבנו, וגאלנו גאולה שלמה לפניך
See us in our povery, and fight our fights, and redeem us a complete redemption before You…
has nothing to with Moshiach or the End of Days. (We ask for that as well, just not in that brachah). Rather,
We should pray before God for the existence of our nation during this long exile, and for this reason the Men of the Great Assembly established the blessing of ראה נא בעניינו. And the intention of this blessing is not for the ultimate Redemption, but rather for our salvation from the travails of the exile.
Jews lived with suffering every day. We lived with persecution every day. And we cried out to God about it every day.
But that's not enough. You cannot suffer indignities and persecutions and not react and express your grief and your anguish. And we did indeed express that pain, on one day a year. On Tisha B'av.
For most of the year, we suffered in silence, keeping our pain to ourselves. But, on one day in the Jewish calendar, we allowed ourselves to feel and express the pain, the powerlessness and even the rage of constant persecution.
I believe that for the vast majority of Jewish history, Tisha B'av wasn’t primarily about the future and a yearned-for Redemption. Rather, it was about the present; the taunts in the street and the inability to earn a living a support one's family with a head held high. We didn't need to conjure a sense of pain and suffering or think about terrorists or attacks against Israel in the United Nations. Galut was part of the daily Jewish experience.
Thank God, that's simply not the case today. Life is good. I cannot think of a single time in my life when I suffered an overt act of anti-Semitism. Jews work where they want, live where they wish, and enjoy the protection – both physically and emotionally – of a Homeland that represents their national aspirations. So we struggle to give Tisha B'av a new meaning, when the old meaning no longer resonates with our daily life.
Moreover, what's true for Tisha B'av is equally true for Shabbat Nachamu – and perhaps more so. After the fasting and sitting on the ground of Tisha B'av, on the Shabbat that follows we have for generations read the prophetic words of Yishayahu (Chapter 40) who declared,
נחמו נחמו, עמי--יאמר, אלוהיכם.  ב דברו על-לב ירושלים, וקראו אליה--כי מלאה צבאה, כי נרצה עוונה:  כי לקחה מיד ה', כפליים בכל-חטאותיה
Be comforted, be comforted My people, said God. Bid Jerusalem take heart, and proclaim to her that her time of service is accomplished, that her guilt is paid off; that she has received from God double for all her sins.
Throughout two thousand years of exile, we would read this Haftarah longingly, hopefully, looking to the future. "One day," we would tell ourselves, "we will indeed be consoled, because we will have suffered enough."
But today, we read the words of Yishayahu with a very different perspective. We can and do take consolation because we are witnessing the rebirth of Zion. This isn't something that we only hope and yearn for. Rather, it's an event we're watching unfold, in real-time, with our very eyes.
We must still mourn on Tisha B'av. There is much to yearn for, and the exile continues to drag us down.
But, at the same time, Shabbat Nachamu gives us greater hope than at any time in the last two thousand years. Jews have, by the millions, returned home. The Land of Milk and Honey is just that, once again. The words of Torah reverberate throughout the Land, and the Nation of Israel has grown strong, vibrant and energetic.
Nachamu, Nachamu Ami, indeed.

Commencement Ceremony

On 22 Iyar 5772 (May 14, 2012), Orot Israel College held its annual commencement ceremony at the Elkana campus. One hundred and seventy graduates – from Orot’s secondary education, special education, early childhood education, movement and dance, and continuing education tracks – were awarded B.Ed. degrees and received teaching certificates at the gala ceremony.
Rav Professor Neria Guttel, president of Orot Israel College; Rav Chaim Druckman, Israel Prize laureate and head of Merkaz Yeshivot Bnei Akiva; Professor Yosef Rivlin, chairman of the academic council; and a representative of the graduates each addressed the graduates and their families.
Professor Rav Gutel spoke about the graduates’ responsibilities and obligations, as educators, to Am Yisrael, and Professor Rivlin discussed the teacher’s role, according to the Vilna Gaon. Rav Druckman, the keynote speaker, talked about the current era of miracles and redemption, which includes the establishment and development of the State of Israel. He also focused on the State’s myriad achievements and accomplishments in general and the education system in particular. Finally, one of the graduates reflected on the importance of the bond and communication between a teacher and his or her students – especially those who do not necessarily stand out in the classroom.
Congratulations and best wishes to all the graduates as they embark on the next stage of their lives!
Click here to view pictures from the conference.

“Shake Yourself from the Dust, Rise Up” - Sixth Annual Amadot Conference

Ever since Adam HaRishon sinned in Gan Eden, our world is marked by crises – personal crises and public crises, physical crises and emotional crises, material crises and economic crises, family crises and national crises, ongoing crises and momentary crises. The list goes on and on.
Generally speaking, there are three ways of dealing with a crisis. The first is characterized by despair and submission, desperation and surrender. The second way to handle a crisis involves acceptance, accommodation, and adaption. And the final approach is using a crisis as a means for growth. Not only “shake yourself from the dust, rise up,” but also “don your garments of glory.” (From “L’cha Dodi”)
The theme of Orot Israel College’s Sixth Annual Amadot Conference was “From Crisis to Growth.” Rabbis, educators, academics, and experts in the field arrived at Orot’s Elkana campus for the prestigious conference to present their research and viewpoints, to exchange ideas and opinions, and even to propose practical solutions and modi operandi. Some of the lecture topics included: crisis and growth within the family unit, on an individual level, among the youth, and in the public sphere; religious Zionism and the rabbinical world; Holocaust and revival; the Disengagement from Gush Katif; and other historical examples of crisis and growth. Even a number of students from Orot’s Rechovot campus were invited to share their research on this timely issue.
Each of the participants concurred that they had gained a lot from the stimulating lectures, which were broadcast via the media. The proceedings will iy”H be compiled, published, and released as the next volume in the Amadot series.

בין חֵרוּת לחָרוּת

On 29 Iyar (May 21), Orot Israel College held its traditional Yom Yerushalayim celebration for the student body, the staff, and the administration, at the Elkana campus. The event began with a festive dinner on the campus lawn and culminated with an awards ceremony and an artistic program in the auditorium.
Rav Professor Neria Guttel, president of Orot Israel College, and Professor Yosef Rivlin, chairman of the academic council, greeted the attendees, and then the award ceremony began.
First, the Ron family (together with the Betzer and Frankel families) presented a number of students with the Tzippi Ron Memorial Scholarship. Mrs. Ron spoke lovingly about Tzippi z”l, her generous spirit, and her many acts of kindness, which inspired the family to perpetuate her memory in this fashion.
Next, three outstanding Orot students received Awards for Excellence for their Judaic studies research papers. Twelve students reached the finals, and after three rounds of judging, the winners were selected. First place went to Ortal Flora Sheier-Darmon, who wrote about Rav Kook’s poetry and modern literary analysis. Finally, the board members of Orot’s Student Union were given an award for their significant contributions to student life on campus.
After the awards ceremony, the audience was treated to a fascinating presentation by Yerushalayim’s City of David Foundation and then enjoyed a lively communal sing-along.

Thinking Outside the Box

Rav Dr. Uriel Touitou – Excellence Program, Elkana Campus

Can one teach math in a forest? How can history be taught out in the middle of a field? Do students actually learn anything if they are not sitting in the classroom? Can a wheel, some rope, and a bucket be used as teaching aids? What does classroom leadership have to do with a flock of sheep?
These questions – and many others – were the focus of a recent conference held at Orot Israel College’s two campuses. Sponsored by the Education Ministry’s National Excellence Program in conjunction with Neot Kedumim’s Leadership Center, the conference was geared for first-year Excellence Program students from around the country. In fact, some 450 students – from 24 educational colleges – participated.
What constitutes outside learning? Basically, the term refers to a situation where the teacher uses outside resources – such as nature, a historical site, a water source, trees in the woods, and more – for educational purposes. Simply changing the class’s venue is insufficient, and hence the so-called “shiur shemesh” (literally, “sun lesson”) – i.e. conducting the lesson outside without making any changes to the lesson’s standard format – is not considered to be outside learning. Rather, outside learning involves adapting the lesson’s structure and content to the new environment and using it to shape and enhance the lesson. After all, the goal of outside learning is to incorporate new tools and new ways of thinking into the lesson and not merely to shift the lesson from the traditional classroom to an alternate setting.
There are a number of advantages to outside learning. First, with adequate preparation and plenty of creativity, just about any subject can be taught outside. Also, less emphasis is placed on the teacher during the learning process. Instead, the students engage in various activities and play a more active and significant role. Thus, outside learning proves to be more meaningful for the students and enables them to develop skills that they do not necessarily have a chance to acquire in the typical classroom setting.
How can this be achieved? The conference was not only designed to encourage the participating students to learn about outside learning but also to allow them to experience this type of learning firsthand – in other words, using outside learning to learn about outside learning…
Rav Professor Neria Guttel, president of Orot Israel College, greeted the conference’s attendees and spoke about the concept of yarchei kallah. The term refers to the ancient custom whereby large groups of students would assemble twice a year for an entire month of Torah learning. Even students who were not part of the compulsory educational framework would participate in these voluntary Torah learning sessions.
Next, Dr. Assaf Zeltzer gave a lecture about the importance of outside learning and discussed practical applications within the educational system.
After the lectures, the students got to see for themselves what outside learning is all about. They participated in a number of workshops – including sessions dedicated to teaching subjects such as math, history, and social studies as well as a leadership workshop run by Neot Kedumim’s Leadership Center.
Finally, Dr. Rama Klavir, coordinator of the National Excellence Program, addressed the students.
The conference was the first of its kind – both in terms of the format and the content – and as a result, the logistical arrangements were fairly complex. Special thanks to all those whose hard work and efforts ensured that the conference was a resounding success.

Monday, June 18, 2012

What Were the Spies Thinking? Translating Belief into Action

When the Spies returned from their tour of the Land with the wonderful attributes of Eretz Yisrael, they submitted their negative, pessimistic report, describing how, in their minds, the attempt to conquer the Land of Israel would lead to the destruction of the Jewish people. This of course led to a tragic night of mourning and a rejection of the Divine plan to conquer the Holy Land. As opposed to Kalev, who told the people, עלה נעלה וירשנו אותה – "we will go up and conquer it," (13:30), the spies counter by telling them, לא נוכל לעלות אל העם – "we cannot overcome the nation."
This leads me to wonder, according to the Meraglim, what were the Jewish people supposed to do? While the nation later suggests that they go back to Egypt, we never find any mention of the Spies themselves making that suggestion. If they didn't think that they should return to Egypt, but rejected the possibility of military conquest, what then did the think the Jewish nation was actually supposed to do?
I believe that they never really got that far.
The Meraglim did believe in the importance of Eretz Yisrael as an ideal. After all, if God wanted the Jewish people to be in Eretz Yisrael, who were they to argue? But they saw that belief as independent of any kind of action. They lived in their own Ivory Tower, where they could consider ideas and values without concern for real-world ramifications. To them, belief wasn't necessarily connected to action. The ideal of Eretz Yisrael didn't necessarily mandate doing something to actualize that ideal. How would it happen? Good question – but not one that the Meraglim concerned themselves with.
Yet, nothing can be farther from the truth.
According to Wikipedia, Ideology is defined as,
a set of ideas that constitute one's goals, expectations, and actions. An ideology can be thought of as a comprehensive vision, as a way of looking at things (compare worldview), as in several philosophical tendencies (see political ideologies), or a set of ideas proposed by the dominant class of a society to all members of this society (a "received consciousness" or product of socialization). The main purpose behind an ideology is to offer either change in society, or adherence to a set of ideals where conformity already exists, through a normative thought process.
In other words, you cannot divorce ideology from actions. The Spies had no right to simply say, "Look, we're just telling you what we see. It's not our problem what happens afterwards." Their ideas – and the fear that they spread – had very real consequences, and any attempt to claim otherwise rang hollow.
I've been thinking about this notion of ideology devoid of action, because I recently got myself involved in a minor dispute with Rabbi Gil Student, the author and owner of the popular Hirhurim blog. It all started rather innocently, with Rabbi Student posting a lovely video from Shlomo Katz depicting many nice Kotel scenes, along with the following text:
This is why, despite the many challenges of the State of Israel, I consider myself a Zionist. So many of our prayers have already been answered, but others not yet.
I couldn't hold back, and commented on the blog,
Let me understand correctly: you’re only a Zionist because you believe that our prayers have been answered. And if they weren’t answered, you would not be a Zionist? If, God forbid, we were to take a step backwards, as we did seven years ago, would that make you less of a Zionist? What exactly do you mean? What is a Zionist in your mind – someone who believes that Moshiach has come – or may be coming, or partially has come?
I thought that Zionists were people who believed not only that HKB”H would return to Zion, but that we too would do so ourselves, as He commands us to do. See this week’s parshah for more information. It seems that we throw around the term Zionist without exactly defining what it means, and what obligations it implies.
This led to the following extended discussion:
Rabbi Student: So according to you, someone who makes aliyah is a Zionist and someone who does not is not? Was Rav Soloveitchik a Zionist? Are Rav Schachter and Rav Blau? Were you before you made aliyah? Are your parents? One step backward is just a setback. If there was ch”v another exile, I would stop being a Zionist. I use the term Zionism as describing a belief system. Apparently others use it differently.
Me: Doesn’t a belief system necessarily obligate? Or, is your armchair Zionism the type that sits back and watches while other people build the Land of Israel for you? And those names that you mentioned – all of them worked (the Rav) or work tirelessly to advance the causes of the State of Israel. Your initial comment – and the ones that followed, imply strongly that you are a Zionist because from what you can tell (from nice videos and the like) things are going nicely here (and I infer that you think there’s some level of geulah going on). My understanding of Zionism is one that requires some effort – even from afar, to advance the cause of the Jewish nation.
Rabbi Student: I consider that to be a mistaken opinion. I believe that someone can believe in the Torah without studying it, although he should study it. And someone can believe in God without following His commands, although he should. And he can believe in Zionism without making aliyah, although he should.
Me: I try not to rub aliyah in the face of people who live in the States, but you seem to think that we should honor your life choice as a personal decision with no religious or spiritual implications. When I lived in the States, I acknowledged the tension and the pressure to live in Israel. I was actively involved in AIPAC and other efforts to support the Jewish State. That’s the very least that you can and should do.
Judaism isn't simply a religion of dogma. It's a religion of action. Of course God wants us to believe. But He also demands that we translate that faith into concrete reality on the ground, by learning Torah and following the mitzvot; by creating faith communities dedicated to spreading the d'var Hashem, and yes, by working together to reestablish the Jewish Nation as a ממלכת כהנים in the Holy Land.
Of course God cares what we believe. But He also wants to know, "What are you going to do about it?"

M.Ed. Graduation Ceremony in Rechovot

For the first time ever, Orot Israel College recently held a M.Ed. (Master of Education) graducation ceremony at the Rechovot campus.
The festivities began with a fascinating tour of Rechovot, led by renowned tour guide Elyada Bar Shaul, who focused on the history of the city’s educational system. Following the tour,  some eighty graduates were awarded Masters’ degrees in Tanach and Rabbinic literature.
The graduates and their families were greeted by Professor Rav Neriah Gutel, President of Orot Israel College; Vice President Rav Chaim Saban; Professor Yosef Rivlin, chairman of the academic council; Dr. Shraga Fisherman, academic dean; and Rav Yaakov Margalit and Dr. Miriam Sklartz, the department heads.

To see pictures of the graduation please click here.

Project Elkana: A Unique Opportunity for Orot Israel College’s Educational Counseling Students

By Bella Even-Chen – Lecturer and Coordinator, Educational Counseling Deparment, Elkana Campus

A child with a high fever who nevertheless insists on getting out of bed to go… no, not to the doctor, but to school?! Unthinkable? Well, not in Elkana’s local religious public school, where second-year students from Orot Israel College’s educational counseling department run a special program every Thursday.
Think back to your own school days. Did you ever have a chance to take a real look at yourself? To examine your family’s communication skills? To learn creative ways of dealing with complex social challenges? To participate, on a regular basis, in a small discussion group, where a professional listened, guided, responded, and directed?
If not, don’t feel bad! You’re not alone. Most educational systems leave little – if any – time for “trivialities” like these.
But if you’re one of the lucky few who were able to answer in the affirmative, you probably graduated from Elkana’s religious public school during the past six years and participated in this special program. Known as Project Elkana, the program serves as practical fieldwork for the Orot students.
Every week, each student (or pair of students) meets with two groups of six to eight third graders. During the course of the sessions, the Orot students help the children learn about their own personal character traits, their families’ dynamics, and techniques for handling school and social challenges.
In order to ensure the program’s success, the Orot students devote considerable time and effort each week to planning and implementing a wide range of original and exciting activities. For instance, children with special needs or attention deficit disorders play with various friendly pets – such as rabbits, hamsters, parakeets, and others. As a result, the elementary school children look forward to the weekly encounters and welcome the opportunity to talk about their concerns, frustrations, hopes, and dreams.
One of the program’s highlights is the emotional end-of-year party. The elementary school teachers, principal, and guidance counselor praise the talented and dedicated Orot volunteers, and some of the third graders share their experiences. Small gifts are exchanged, and the college and elementary school students promise to keep in touch.
Mrs. Bella Even-Chen, the project’s coordinator, reports that whenever she meets parents of children who were not privileged to participate in the program, they inevitably ask if the program can be expanded to include their kids as well.
Of course, the children are not the only ones who benefit from this unique program, which serves as excellent training for the young women as they embark on their chosen careers.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Are We One Movement Anymore? The Problem and Challenge of Religious Zionism

by Rabbi Reuven Spolter, Director of Student Recruitment

Following the (recently cancelled) announcement of early elections here in Israel, the Religious Zionist movement found itself in a familiar position: unprepared. After years of leadership in the Knesset, the religious Zionist movement splintered over ideological grounds into two generally distinct groups which then aligned themselves into distinct political parties. Habayit Hayehudi places its emphasis on religious Zionist activity throughout Israel while stressing the importance of involvement within greater Israeli society. On the other hand, the Ichud Haleumi (sadly, they haven't really updated their website in three years! If you'd really like to see just how sad the split it, see here.) finds itself more attuned to rabbinic instruction and direction, and places a far greater emphasis on settlement of the Land of Israel over other values.
While the split reflects genuine differences in a very diverse community, it also has significantly weakened the Religious Zionist community's influence and political clout. Instead of one political party with eight Knesset seats (and the power, influence and financial wherewithal that brings), the greater movement founds itself with two parties of four seats each, one of which found itself a member of the majority in the soon-defunct government (with the "important" portfolio of Science and Technology – and yes, I am being sarcastic when I say “important”) while the other remained in the opposition, left with little to no political power at all. The split truly cost us all. The question we must contemplate is: Can we find a way to reunite? Can we restore the power that we should have (and badly need), or, due to our unwillingness to find common ground, will we continue to diminish our influence and thereby fail to properly influence broader Israeli society?
Orot's Amadot Conference Schedule
At Orot’s recent Amadot Conference, Rabbi Yuval Sherlo, Rosh Yeshiva of the Yeshivat Hesder Petach Tikvah participated in a panel that addressed this vexing question: Are we one movement? And, more importantly, can we remain a united force, or have we become so divided that we can no longer operate as a single unit.
Rav Sherlo made a number of fascinating points that I’d like to share.
Legitimacy: One of the critical measures of whether groups have split irreversibly is how they relate to each other. Put another way, do they relate to one another as legitimate? That is the difference between machloket – dispute – and division. As long as both groups legitimize each other, they can remain united. Yet, if one group refuses to acknowledge that the position of the other might be wrong – but still remains legitimate, and instead insists that the position of the other is not legitimate, then they have lost any sense of common ground, and rupture is inevitable.
Marriage: Do groups within the framework marry each other? Rav Sherlo pointed out that the Mishnah (Yevamot 1:4) emphasizes that despite all of the great disputes between Beit Shammai and Beit Hillel, לא נמנעו מלישא זה עם זה – “they did not refrain from marrying with each other.” Can we same the same about different Religious Zionist groups today? He explained that he teaches at Migdal Oz (a rather left-wing women’s seminary), and he has yet to witness a wedding between a Migdal Oz girl and a yeshiva student from Har Hamor (a very right-wing yeshiva). This is a matter for concern. To what degree have we split ideologically so far, that little, if any interaction remains between the two groups that fall under the broad umbrella of Religious Zionism?
Language: The language of ideology doesn’t lend itself to compromise. Ideology articulates a specific vision, a worldview which represents idealism in its purest sense. It speaks to the world which we would create – if only we had the power to actualize our dreams. Platforms of ideology don’t often include words like love, compromise, mutual respect and the like. Imagine a marriage based solely on ideology, where words like those didn’t exist. How long would such a marriage last? Not long.
Rav Sherlo noted that we also suffer from two mutually exclusive beliefs. We believe that the world not only wants what we have to offer, but is waiting for us to save it. We have the truth – the combination of Torah and real life; of Religiosity and Zionism, of spirituality and worldliness – that provides the proper path for the Jewish Nation. Yet, at the very same time we also believe that the same world hates us: the secular press can’t stand us; the European Union is trying to topple us; the Israeli Supreme Court can’t stand us; the Chareidim attack us at every turn.
So which do we really believe? Does the world look to us to save it, or is it trying to bring us down? 
Rav Sherlo suggested that the solution to all of these challenges lies in a single word: Relax. We need to find the proper balance that pulls on Religious Zionism at all times. Our community defines itself in a kind of musical tone: Religious-Zionism; Yeshivat-Hesder; Kibbutz-Hadati. (He compared it to a metronome, which sways from side to side in rhythm.) Each side pulls on the other. Is it Religious? Or is it Zionism? Is it a Yeshiva? Or is it Hesder (part of the army)?
If we can learn to Relax, and see the value inherent in each of these seemingly contradictory terms, then the tension between them has the potential to draw us even closer together. In fact, the fact that the two parties formally agreed this week to run as a single party gives cause for hope. (Although the proof is in the pudding. With elections now pushed off for another year, a lot can happen between now and next October.)
On the other hand, if we cannot or will not learn to relax, and instead insist on remaining absolutists; if we continue to insist that we can only define ourselves in the most literal sense, then the forces pulling on the two sides of Religious Zionism have the chilling potential to irrevocably tear us apart.

Orot Israel College Answers the Call, Offering an Accelerated Early Childhood Education Training Program

Last year, the Trajtenberg Committee on Social Justice, appointed in response to a summer filled with protests calling for Social Justice in Israeli society, strongly recommended implementing legislation passed in 1984 authorizing free pre-school for all three- and four-year-olds which had been blocked for decades. Nearly 28 years and nine prime ministers later, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Cabinet voted early this year to finally implement the free pre-school for all program.
While the vote represented a watershed moment for early childhood education in Israel, the government instantaneously created a monumental challenge for the Ministry of Education: Who will teach the tens of thousands of children that will soon enter into the now free system over the coming years?
In order to implement the Trajtenberg Committee’s recommendation, the Ministry of Education designed a new early-childhood-education retraining program for university graduates looking to transfer into early childhood education. The State of Israel designated this type of program a national priority, and as of now, Orot Israel College is the only religious college authorized to offer an early-childhood-education retraining program.
The new year-long program, designed by Dr. Yael Segev and Dr. Idit Layosh, head of Orot's Department of Early Childhood Education and meets at Orot's Rehovot campus, will include two afternoons a week of classes and two days a week of supervised practical work this year, and an even more intensive schedule during the summer months. Segev and Layosh stressed that because they believe that the preschool teacher plays a significant role in a child’s emotional development, they recognized the urgency of the current situation and the need to train teachers in an abbreviated setting. While the accelerated program cannot offer the breadth and intensive training of a full four-year degree, Orot agreed to open an one-time accelerated track for outstanding, highly motivated candidates holding academic degrees, who dream of becoming preschool teachers.
Tuition for the program consists of a conditional loan issued by the Education Ministry, and after a graduate spends four years working in the field, half the loan becomes a grant!
Orot is gratified that the program proved so attractive that no empty seats remain for this one-time training program. We wish the future early-childhood teachers success in their course, and many blessings as they embark on their new careers.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Excellence Program Students Learn About Experimental Schools

By Rav Uriel Touitou – Excellence Program, Elkanah Campus

In an unusual step, the presenters at a recent academic conference were college students – including a group of students from Orot Israel College’s Excellence Program. Organized jointly by the National Excellence Program and the Education Ministry’s Experiments and Projects Division, the conference focused on educational projects and experiments conducted at various schools across the country.
Early in the school year, the Orot students met with representatives of the Experiments and Projects Division as well as staff members from two different high schools: Yeshivat Kinor David in Ateret and Ulpanat Dolev in Dolev, where they learned about the experimental education project run by these schools. Later, they visited the schools for observation and spoke to the principals, teachers, and high school students about their experiences and impressions of the project.
As the semester progressed, the Orot students continued to learn more about the project. They studied the material they received from the principals and kept in touch with the staff members, who graciously answered their  questions.
Finally, the group of students used their findings to compile a dynamic and well-prepared report – including a workshop, an activity, explanations, and a slide show - and presented it at the conference. Special thanks to the two principals – Rav Ilan Biton of Ulpanat Dolev and Rav Motti Hershkopf of Yeshivat Kinor David – for their considerable help and support.
Throughout the entire process, the students concentrated on one question: As future educators, what can we learn from the experiment?
According to the students, the experiment demonstrated that core pedagogical principles can be adapted to meet the needs of different schools which cater to, social structures, and values. In addition, the students discovered that educators should not feel restricted by the traditional school or classroom format. Rather, educators must implement and incorporate innovative and creative ideas into their teaching.
As head of Orot Israel College’s Excellence Program, I am proud to say that the students acquired more than dry knowledge. They were exposed to experiential learning which enabled them to gain a better understanding and appreciation of the educational project they studied. Furthermore, their impressive presentation at the conference showed that they have become independent thinkers. Clearly, they learned just as much from the method they used to study the project as they did from the project itself.

Orot Israel College Featured At a Book Launch Event

by Dr. Shraga Fisherman and Rav Yosef Hershlikovitz – Elkana Campus

Dr. Shraga Fisherman and Rav Yosef Hershlikovitz’s new book, “Lehi’ot Mechanech: Sipurah Shel Michlalah B’Nisui” (“To Be an Educator: The Story of a College Experiment”), describes an innovative six year experiment conducted at Orot Israel College geared to train homeroom teachers. Although the homeroom teacher plays a primary and significant role in student education, little research has been done on training programs for homeroom teachers. The experiment’s goal was to shed light on this topic.
The groundbreaking book was launched at the Mofet Institute. Chaired by Mrs. Lily Russo of the Education Ministry’s Experiments and Projects Division, the launch event included a round table discussion involving educators, school supervisors, principals, teachers from the schools that took part in the experiment, Orot faculty members, and representatives of the Mofet Institute. The panel examined several questions, including: Should homeroom teachers undergo special training? If so, when is the optimal time for this training to be held? And finally, what conclusions can be drawn from the experiment?
The participants all concurred that a homeroom teacher requires specific training. Although a homeroom teacher must possess certain innate personal character traits such as empathy and warmth – these traits are insufficient. Many professional and pedagogical skills must be taught.
However, the participants differed with respect to the question of the ideal time for homeroom teacher training. While some felt that pre-service training is preferable due to trainees’ availability and openness to new ideas, others recommended in-service training after the homeroom teachers’ have the benefits of experience and maturity.
According to the authors, the experiment proved that education students can be taught the critical skills they need to serve as homeroom teachers. In addition, the experiment delved into related issues such as teaching morals and values, pedocentric education and interpersonal communication, and focused on three identity systems: personal identity, spiritual identity, and professional identity.
The Orot Israel College students who took part in the experiment acquired extremely valuable tools which will help them develop both personally and professionally as they pursue their careers as educators in the field.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Pesach, Matzah and Maror: The Essence of Jewish Education

Every Sunday morning, a student studying in Orot's M.A. program for Educational Counseling hitches a ride with me from Yad Binyamin to Elkana. During the ride, conversations often turn towards the material that he's studying. (While Orot's B.Ed. program in Elkana is for women only, men also study in separate classes towards M.A. degrees.) It's been interesting to watch as the trajectory of our conversations has shifted over the course of the year.
At the beginning, my "tremper" complained bitterly about the program. "It's so theoretical! I deal with real kids every day. I need to know how to handle the kids in the real world, and not delve into arcane psychological theory." And yet, as the year has progressed, his complaints have grown more tempered, and his appreciation for the program has grown. This morning he told me that he's already enlisted three friends to register for the program for next year.
What changed? I can tell you categorically that the program didn’t suddenly shift orientation due to his complaints. Rather, his appreciation for the material slowly matured. While he at first failed to see the significance of the theory to his work, over time he began to appreciate that while the theory of counseling might not directly impact on his counseling specifically, it allowed him to gain a broader, deeper appreciation for his work.

The "Obilgation" of the Three Symbols: What Obligation?
As we near the conclusion of Maggid and can almost taste the matzah in our mouths, we recite a famous statement from Rabban Gamliel, which is actually a direct quote from the Mishnah in Pesachim (116b):
רַבָּן גַּמְלִיאֵל הָיָה אומֵר: כָּל שֶׁלּא אָמַר שְׁלשָׁה דְּבָרִים אֵלּוּ בַּפֶּסַח, לא יָצָא יְדֵי חובָתו, וְאֵלוּ הֵן: פֶּסַח, מַצָה, וּמָרור.
Rabban Gamliel used to say: Anyone who did not speak about three things did not fulfill his obligation. And they are: Pesach (the Paschal lamb), Matzah, and Maror.

While his statement which obligates us to mention each of these three critical elements during the Seder seems clear, it's actually anything but. What "obligation" does one fail to fulfill should he not mention the three elements? Where do we find such an obligation? Not surprisingly, the answered to this question is mired in dispute.
According to Ramban (see מלמחות ה', דף ב' בדפי הרי"ף), one who fails to mention these three elements does not properly fulfill his obligation to eat the three foods on the night of Pesach. While the Torah commands us to eat, Rabban Gamliel adds that eating is not enough. One must also speak about them, understand them, and place them in the context of the story. Others, including Ra'avan, disagree, explaining that one who fails to mention these three foods does not completely fulfill the obligation to tell the story of יציאת מצרים.

A Critical Educational Lesson
Yet, when we take a step back, both positions seem to be two sides of the same coin. According to each position, Rabban Gamliel was expressing a critical idea.
On the first night of Pesach we confront two very different types of mitzvot. The first is academic: והגדת לבנך – "and you shall tell your child" the story of the Exodus from Egypt. At face value, telling a story is a theoretical exercise, as we recount the historical tale of our ancestors' exit from slavery. (Anyone who has ever been stuck in a boring history class can attest to just how irrelevant names and dates can be.) The second type of Mitzvah is action-oriented. More specifically, on this night we are commanded to eat, whether we taste the simplicity of the matzah, the bitterness of the Maror, or the richness of the Korban Pesach.
According to Rabban Gamliel, if we allowed these two elements to remain separate and disconnected, we would fail both in our telling of the story and in our eating of the food, as we neglected to focus on the critical connection between the learning and discussion and the tastes associated with that story. Rabban Gamliel reminds us that Chazal designed the different elements of the Seder to complement each-other. The study and action go hand-in-hand, each building upon the other to create a complete educational experience.

Rabban Gamliel's Lesson in the Real World of Education...and Parenting!
Education is a tricky thing. On the one hand, in the purest sense, learning is an academic, intellectual pursuit. It can be dry and theoretical, conducted in the sterile, antiseptic Ivory Tower, devoid of any real-world meaning. At the same time, practical education without underlying thought, analysis and study leaves students with a shallow, peripheral understanding of the material. Without the deeper meaning, contemplation and reflective analysis academic study demands, a student's understand is cursory at best.
In the world of Chinuch, the same holds true. If our students can analyze and parse complicated tracts of Gemara but don’t see any connection between their Torah studies and the music that they listen to or the movies that they watch, then their Torah education is sorely lacking. At the same time, if through fantastic experiential programming we've instilled in them a passion for spirituality and love of Judaism but they can't read a line of Rashi, we've also failed them.
On the night of Pesach, Rabban Gamliel reminds us that our children's education must be comprised of both academic knowledge and practical meaning. It must combine the story of יציאת מצרים together with the tastes of the Pesach foods. Only when we, as parents and teachers, combine these two critical elements together, can we rest assured that we have indeed fulfilled our educational obligation to our children.