Sunday, December 14, 2014

Hallel on Chanukah: Praising God Despite the Darkness

by Rabbi Reuven Spolter
Jewish Studies Lecturer

What would happen if this week, leading politicians from across the political and religious spectrum in Israel declared a new national holiday for our victory over terrorism? How would we react? I imagine that we would be at least somewhat perplexed. Celebrate? This week? Isn’t it just a little bit early? For all of our efforts this past summer, Hamas seems determined to proclaim its great hatred and wish to annihilated us. Iran is lurking in the background, and even our friends celebrate terrorists as martyrs. It's hardly a time to celebrate. Yet, this is exactly what the Jewish people do during the Chanukah war. The conquest of Jerusalem and the re-dedication of the Beit Hamikdash by no means signaled the end of the war against the Greeks. In fact, the war dragged on for at least another two years, and the hero of our story, Judah the Maccabee, died in a subsequent battle against the Greek army. One can easily wonder: how could they celebrate? OK – rededicate the Beit Hamikdash  and quietly begin the sacrifices again. That much we can see. But why not establish Chanukah at the end of the war, when everyone can enjoy the peace and prosperity that peace finally brings? The answer to this difficult question lies in the words of Hallel that we say throughout Chanukah, words that reflect an important Jewish value that we must keep in our minds, especially during such difficult and trying times. When we examine the chapters in Tehillim that comprise Hallel, at face value, several sections don't seem like much of a Hallel at all. What’s supposed to be praise turns out to be rather depressing. Yes, there’s the הודו לה' כי טוב – we do praise God for the good, and declare His greatness and goodness to us. But then there are entire chapters that are not so positive, that really must make us wonder what they’re doing in הלל.
אפפוני חבלי מות ומצרי שאול מצאוני – the pains of death encircle me, the confines of the grave have found me; אתהלך לפני ה' בארצות החיים: I will walk before God in the lands of the living האמנתי כי אדבר אני עניתי מאד: I have faith even though I say, “I have suffered greatly.”
How is this הלל? Why are these words of praise and thanks to God? During my first year of study in Israel at Yeshivat Sha’alvim, I learned what הלל is really all about. On יום הזכרון, Israel’s Remembrance Day for fallen soldiers, Rav David Kimchi, then a Madrich at the yeshiva who had fought in Lebanon in מלחמת שלום הגליל – the (first) War for Peace in Galilee in the 1980’s, spoke to the American students. He described the terror of battle and the randomness of war. You simply didn't know who would live and who would not. After surviving a tank battle, he explained how the paragraph of מה אשיב came to have special meaning to him:
מה אשיב לה – how can I repay God for all his kindness to me – for saving me from the chaos and horror of battle? נדרי לה' אשלם – I will repay my vows to God. What vows? What does King David mean? Rav Kimchi explained that when you’re in battle, in a tank – and things aren't going well, you’re scared – terrified, and cry out to God for salvation. So you make נדרים: “God, if you get me out of this alive, I promise to learn this many pages of Gemara; to do this many מצוות.” So, when we are delivered, we must keep our vows. Finally, David says, יקר בעיני ה' המותה לחסידיו – “Precious in the eyes of God is the death of his devout ones.” Everyone, said Rav Kimchi, lost a friend, a platoon member, and family member. Those are the חסידים – the devout ones who give their lives for the Jewish people. 
This is the Hallel of King David. He says praise and dedicates himself to God not when things are wonderful and happy. Rather, he says Hallel when the pain of war still burns freshly in his mind – when the smell of the battle and the vivid and painful images fill his head. It is at that time that King David says: Yes, I have suffered – BUT. Yes, I feel pain – BUT. But, I must still give thanks to God. But, I must still say הודו לה' כי טוב – and give praise to God, for all the good that I still enjoy. Yes, BUT. There must be a but, and we must continue to say הלל, because we must also see the positive side of the picture, and appreciate what we take for granted in today’s day and age.

This past year has been more challenging than years past. We endured a challenging war which placed many Israelis - citizens and soldiers - in the line of fire. We have witnessed a resurgence of terrorism that once again strikes, seemingly at random, leaving horror and dread in its wake. And still we say Hallel and give praise, because we have so much for which we must be thankful.

When we read the history of the Chanukah revolt, historians teach us that one of the most perplexing aspects of the entire Chanukah story is Antiochus himself. After suffering a humiliating defeat in Egypt, Antiochus returns to Jerusalem to reassert his authority on the Holy Land. Yet, in a real sense he is already in control. He has no real need to rule with an iron fist, but for some reason he does. Repudiating the Greek policy dating back to Alexander the Greek to let the local culture maintain its own religious practice, Antiochus decides that he’s going to get rid of Judaism. And he does try, although to this day, no one really knows exactly why.

Upon his return to Judea, the Book of the Maccabees tells us that he and his army massacre Jerusalem, murdering 40,000 people, and selling another 40,000 into slavery. One cannot imagine today what would happen to the Jewish people were we not in control of the Land of Israel. Let’s not kid ourselves: we know how our enemies about us. There would be no worldwide outcry if an Ayatolla turned himself into another Antiochus. He’d love the opportunity. But this time things are different. Finally, for the first time in Jewish history since Chanukah, we can protect ourselves. We can, and we do. And for this, even during our suffering, we must say Hallel.

The lighting of the Menorah does not signify the end of the war by any means. Yet, the people during those times are able to see יד ה' – and to rededicate themselves to their traditions and their teachings. They’re able to pick up and go on – and not focus on the terrible suffering that they have endured, and continue to endure at the hands of the Greek army. So too we must do the same: to cry for those we lose, but to never lose sight of the יד ה', and never to forget the goodness that we enjoy and can never take for granted.

Even while we say יקר המותה לחסידיו – “Precious in the eyes of God is the death of his devout ones” – we must still say, הודו לה' כי טוב, and forever remember the goodness and blessing and strength that God gives the Jewish people today.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

What Does Elkana’s Senior Citizen Center Have to Do with Orot Israel College?

by Mrs. Tzvia Mintzer 
Head, Gil HaZahav Association, Elkana
Shalom lachem.
My name is Tzvia Mintzer, and I am the founding chairwoman of Elkana’s Gil HaZahav Association.
About five years ago, recognizing that the number of senior citizens here in Elkana continues to increase every year, we - the community’s older members - decided to establish a non-profit organization that would provide services for us in our old age. Our goal was to offer recreational and cultural activities in order to improve local senior citizens’ quality of life and to transform Elkana into a wonderful place to live – even for the elderly.
You’re probably wondering what Elkana’s senior citizen center has to do with Orot Israel College, which trains a generation of young teachers and educators in various subjects?!
Here’s my answer:
1. Elkana’s veteran residents have a longstanding, warm relationship with Orot Israel College. We value and appreciate Orot’s positive impact on the community and its older and younger residents.
2. We all wish to continue to maintain this rich bond, to continue to give and receive, and to continue to grow and develop together.
Elkana’s veteran residents have a deep emotional bond with Orot. They have been working together with Orot from its establishment and founding by its first president – a longtime resident of Elkana – our friend, Rav Dr. Yehuda Felix, and through its further physical and spiritual development by Rav Professor Neria Guttel.
Many of our friends in Elkana worked and still work for Orot in various positions. The community and its residents feel very close to Orot. We share many values with Orot, its administration, and its faculty, and we admire its academic achievements. Indeed, many of us – especially the veteran residents – consider Orot to be our home. A number of older Elkana residents studied at Orot and taught there, and now their grandchildren are following in their footsteps.
Meanwhile, Elkana serves as a warm home for the Orot students who live in the dormitories. Often, they meet their future husbands in Elkana, make their homes in the community, and accept teaching positions at one of Elkana’s various educational institutions.
Thus, when we decided to open our senior citizen center but lacked both a permanent location and technological resources, we did not hesitate to turn to Orot Israel College for help. And in fact, to our delight, Orot responded willingly and graciously to our request. Over the past four and a half years, leading members of Orot’s faculty delivered lectures at our center; we launched an intergenerational program with Orot’s students; communication students interview the seniors, who share their life stories; a Daf Yomi class is broadcast to the seniors on the local radio station; students give lectures at the center; and we attended computer courses at Orot and learned how to join the digital world. We are also extremely grateful for the use of Orot’s auditorium as a venue for many of our experiential and joyful events.
In the future, we hope to open a regional educational center on campus for the senior citizens of Elkana and the Shomron. This initiative will not only strengthen Orot’s ties with the area’s veteran residents but will also strengthen Orot’s regional and national stature. Orot Israel College’s administration has already approved the plan in principle, but due to a number of factors, we are not yet ready to begin this project.
I wish to take this opportunity to thank Orot Israel College and Rav Professor Neria Guttel for all their help and cooperation, and I look forward to watching our relationship grow ever stronger.

Israel’s Chief Rabbi Visits Orot Israel College

Several days before Rosh Hashanah 5775, the Chief Rabbi of Israel, Rav David Lau shlit”a, visited Orot Israel College. Rav Professor Neria Guttel, Orot’s president, and Rabbanit Dr. Lea Vizel, Orot’s dean of students and dean of extramural studies, welcomed the honored guest, and hundreds of Orot students crammed into the packed auditorium to hear him speak. Rav Lau’s talk was divided into two parts: an inspiring shiur about Rosh Hashanah and a question and answer session.

Rachmana Liba Ba’i
Rav Lau began with a focus on prayer. He noted that the Torah readings for the two days of Rosh Hashanah are the story of Yishmael’s banishment and Akeidat Yitzchak respectively. The latter selection makes sense, but the former is hard to understand. Moreover, the episode appears to convey two contradictory messages: On one hand, we learn that “one who prays for his fellow is answered first.” (Sarah’s prayers are answered after Avraham prays for the people of Grar.) But on the other hand, we see that highest precedence is given to a sick person’s own prayers, as manifested by Yishmael’s prayers:
"וישמע אלוקים את קול הנער."
“And God listened to the voice of the youth.” (Breishit 21:17)
(Similarly, Yeshaya informs Chizkiyahu that he will die, but after Chizkiyahu prays for himself, he is granted an additional fifteen years. See Melachim II 20:1.)
In order to clarify this seeming contradiction, Rav Lau explained that it depends on the specific person, the specific prayer, and the specific circumstances. In certain situations, it is best for a person to pray for himself, but in other situations, the prayer is more effective when someone else prays. The key is that the prayer must be heartfelt, because one who prays from the depths of his heart finds that his prayers are answered. Yet, Rav Lau continued, in order for one’s prayers to be answered, one must cry out to Hashem “with sincerity,” as suggested by the pasuk:
"קרוב ה' לכל קוראיו לכל אשר יקראוהו באמת."
“Hashem is near to all who call Him; to all who call Him with sincerity.” (Tehilim 145:18)

Shmitah Challenges: A Gardening “Scoop”!
At Rav Professor Guttel’s request, Rav Lau graciously agreed to respond to several of the students’ questions. Unsurprisingly, since Rav Lau’s visit to Orot occurred just a few days before the onset of the Shmitah year, one of the students asked about the Chief Rabbinate’s policies and approaches to the various halachic mechanisms for observing shmitah. Rav Lau treated the audience to an exhaustive discussion of the topic. He began by explaining the differences between the various options: heter mechirah, otzar beit din, matza menutak (i.e. produce grown on platforms and in hothouses), produce grown in the sixth year, and produce grown by non-Jews in Israel and abroad. The Chief Rabbinate’s policy is to supply each population sector with the solution that best meets its worldview – as long as everything is done in accordance with Jewish law.
For instance, the heter mechirah (a complex halachic mechanism whereby the land is sold to a non-Jew) continues to be a vital necessity. With all due respect to those who refrain from working the land – and considerable credit goes to the farmers who follow the beit din’s directives (i.e. otzar beit din) – we cannot ignore the fact that the majority of the country’s farmers, like the majority of the country’s citizens/consumers, are what are euphemistically known as “wearers of transparent kippot.” Thus, from the State’s point of view, the heter mechirah is not only necessary for this year but all the more so for the years to come – in terms of holding on to agricultural fields; retaining control of export markets, both during this year and the following years; and even as a source of income. We cannot turn these farmers into lawbreakers; the State needs these crops too. And clearly, after leading Torah giants throughout the generations (albeit not all of them) endorsed and supported the heter mechirah, its validity is certainly not in question.
Rav Lau half-jokingly – yet correctly – pointed out that while the mitzvah of ahavat chinam (gratuitous love) and the sin of sinat chinam (gratuitous hatred) are both d’orayta (from the Torah), shmitah is only d’rabbanan (rabbinic) in our time… It is very easy for us to criticize others and to point out their shortcomings and the flaws inherent in their solutions, but we tend to avoid doing the same for ourselves. Every individual and every community should focus on their own worldviews and solutions and live their lives accordingly – while acknowledging that other people’s approaches are also legitimate and halachically valid.
During the course of his talk, Rav Lau revealed a fascinating “scoop” about the current shmitah year. As a rule, the heter mechirah does not apply to ginot no’i (“ornamental” gardens) – whether private or public. One is only permitted to do that which is strictly necessary to maintain the garden, and nothing else. This has always been the case – even for those who support the heter mechirah. However, lo and behold, in 5775, for the first and only time since the heter mechirah was instituted, the Chief Rabbinate ruled that there is a specific situation where landscaping is permitted – on an exclusive, one-time basis.
The case in question is Bahadim City, the new IDF Training Campus currently under construction in the Negev. Many military bases will be relocating to the massive site, and as such, it is considered to be a top national priority and an extremely costly one at that. Now it turns out that as part of the tender, the contractor who won the bid is obligated – inter alia – to handle the extensive landscaping. As the shmitah year – and the prohibition against working the land – approached, the contractor said to the army, “No problem. I’m willing to halt the landscaping work and not do the job, but you will owe me. If you breach the contract, you will have to pay me.” Just to be clear: We are talking about millions and millions of shekels, which would be wasted instead of spent on definite security needs.
Rav Lau described how the question was brought before the Chief Rabbinate’s “Shmitah Committee,” which was divided on the issue. Rav Yaakov Ariel was opposed, but the other committee members – Rav Avraham Yosef and Rav David Lau himself – were in favor of permitting the landscaping. Their decision was partially based on the fact that Bahadim City is part of kibush olei Mitzrayim (within the boundaries of the land conquered by Yehoshua after the Exodus from Egypt) but not part of kibush olei Bavel (within the boundaries of the land reconquered by the Jews who returned from Babylonia with Ezra), and thus less complicated from a halachic perspective. In any event, as noted above, the innovative and groundbreaking ruling was a one-time exception – a literal hora’at sha’ah (“an emergency measure”) – and this is the first time it was made public.

The Orot students also asked about other issues – including a significant number of questions about kashrut: What is the difference between the various Badatz hechsherim and the Chief Rabbinate’s hechsher? Can one use powdered milk that is chalav nochri? What should one do when visiting one’s parents who are less stringent about various kashrut issues? In addition, Rav Lau was asked about traveling abroad in general and to Uman in particular and many other questions.

In conclusion, the Chief Rabbi’s visit was memorable and extremely interesting. As he left Orot Israel College, Rav Lau said that he had derived considerable pleasure from the event and from the caliber of the Orot students, and he indicated that he would be very happy to come again.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Sukkot 5775: Modern Day Clouds of Glory

by Rabbi Reuven Spolter, Judaic Studies Lecturer

For those of us living in the South (I live in Yad Binyamin, almost 40km from Gaza. Ashdod, Ashkelon and Be'er Sheva had it much worse, to say nothing of Otef Aza), this summer was the summer without a vacation. Everyone I know entered into the school year feeling that now that the summer had ended they need a vacation – and rightfully so. In fact, many schools in the south have given the students off during the "gesher" – the bridge days between Yom Kippur and Sukkot, in order to give them a little time to breathe after such a trying summer.
Yet, the past summer's experience enriches and deepens our understanding for and appreciation of the mitzvah of ישיבה בסוכה – dwelling in a Sukkah.
The Gemara (Sukkah 11b) famously offers two explanations for the commandment to dwell in the Sukkah.
תניא כי בסכות הושבתי את בני ישראל: ענני כבוד היו דברי רבי אליעזר, רבי עקיבא אומר סוכות ממש עשו להם
It was taught, “That I settled the Jews in booths.” Rabbi Eliezer said that this refers to the Clouds of Glory. Rabbi Akiva said the Jews made actual booths for themselves.
While we can readily understand Rabbi Eliezer's position, and the need to commemorate and celebrate the miraculous Clouds of Glory that protected the nation in the desert, Rabbi Akiva's position seems curious. Why would we commemorate the fact that the people lived in booths that they themselves had built?
Rabbeinu Bachya explains that according to Rabbi Akiva we commemorate the fact that the Children of Israel dwelled in man-made booths to remind us that despite their efforts, their survival nonetheless required supernatural protection.
דעת האומר סכות ממש עשו להם, מפני זה נצטוינו לעשות סכות דוגמתן כדי שיתגלה ויתפרסם מתוך מצות הסכות גודל מעלתן של ישראל במדבר שהיו הולכים עם כובד האנשים והנשים והטף במקום ההוא אשר אין בטבע האדם לחיות בו...כי שם באותו מקום הכנתי להם כל צרכם ולא חסרו דבר
According to the opinion that says that the Jews made actual booths for themselves, we are commanded to make booths like those, to publicize the greatly elevated state of existence which the Jews enjoyed in the desert. They traveled in the desert with masses of men, women, and children in a place where it is not the nature of man to live … Even in that place, God prepared for them all of their needs and they lacked nothing.
The houses they built for themselves were not enough. They still needed God's help and protection to survive and thrive in the dangerous desert habitat. This lesson is especially relevant for the residents of the Jewish State, following the challenging, but miraculous summer we recently endured.
This summer, we discovered yet again that the homes we normally associate with safety and protection do not suffice. We required – and continue to require – an added level of protection, and I refer even to those of us who have a Safe Room that we ran to at the sound of the siren. This year, when we sit in the Sukkah under the open sky, we will not only immediately recognize our frailty and fragility. Rather, we'll also think back to the summer and remember how, even when sitting in our regular homes, we recognized that we were not in fact safe. We needed more protection – and thankfully, received it as well, as the Jewish people benefited from miraculous (from the root word "miracle") divine protection over the course of the summer. Nothing less than miraculous.
The same can be said of our own "Clouds of Glory".
Over the course of the summer, I tried to maintain my regular routine, including my regular runs around Yad Binyamin. Sometimes I run on the path that circles the yishuv, while usually I enjoy running along roads and paths through the local community and the local fields. Looking back, perhaps this wasn't such a good idea.
On one particularly clear Sunday evening, I found myself running along the road near Chafetz Chaim when a siren sounded. I watched as the Iron Dome rockets fired to intercept the unseen rockets rushing towards us suddenly took a turn – directly towards me. That's when I figured it might be a good idea to quickly seek additional shelter, and I spent the next few moments in a concrete drainage pipe.
Watching those rockets rise into the air, it was impossible not to marvel not only at the technological prowess that built the system, but also again at the Divine Hand guiding those rockets to their targets, and also directing the Hamas rockets the Iron Dome missed away from civilian areas. While Hamas fired literally thousands of rockets towards us, the vast, vast majority missed Israeli civilian areas, landing either in Gaza, in the sea, or in open areas, away from the populace.
Those misses represented nothing less than our own, national ענני הכבוד.
This coming week, as we sit in the Sukkah, we can and must celebrate, and give thanks for the additional protection we received, even while sitting in the booths that we have built, and also for the Clouds of Glory that protected the People of Israel who continue to thrive in the most dangerous neighborhood in the world.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

“Who are these, who fly like a cloud, and like doves to their cotes… to bring your sons from afar?” (Yeshaya 60:8-9)

Mrs. Aliza Lipsker, Beit Chana Program Coordinator

"קומי אורי כי בא אורך... בניך מרחוק יבואו."
“Arise, shine, for your light has come… Your sons will come from afar.” (Yeshaya 60:1-4)

Who was singing this song? It was the height of the summer; war raged in the South; and the entire country was in an uproar. And yet the singing continued at Orot Israel College…
The young singers were ten Ukrainian girls from Beit Chana, who came to spend a month studying in Israel – Tanach, history, geography, Hebrew, pedagogy, and didactics – in spite of the war. During the opening ceremony, Rav Professor Neria Guttel, Orot’s president, welcomed the girls, and they learned Naomi Shemer’s version of the song...

"קומי אורי כי בא אורך וכבוד ה' עליך זרח"
(“arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory
 of Hashem has shone upon you” – Yeshaya 60:1)

...and the meaning of the lyrics. In fact, the song became the girls’ anthem and accompanied them on all their trips, tours, and various activities.

The program’s goals were threefold:
1. To encourage the students from Beit Chana in Dnepropetrovsk, Ukraine, to develop a love for Eretz Yisrael and to bring them closer to Am Yisrael and to their roots.
2. To offer meaningful and experiential lessons in Judaic studies, Land of Israel studies, and Hebrew as well as numerous activities and trips around Israel.
3. To ensure that at the end of the program, the participants would leave “wanting more” from their stay in Orot in particular and in Israel in general.
We are thrilled to announce that we exceeded our goals!
Classes were held daily from 9:00-21:30, and the packed schedule included outings to the pool and the beach. In addition, the girls traveled to the North, Yerushalayim, Gush Etzion, Hevron, Beit Lechem, and many other places across the country; they celebrated Tu B’Av in ancient Shilo together with the women of the Binyamin region; they visited historical and other significant sites in Eretz Yisrael; and they even experienced a siren on an Erev Shabbat in Elkana and were forced to run to the nearby protected space.
Based on the girls’ reactions, the program was a rousing success. They said that they wished they could stay longer and expressed their appreciation and gratitude for the incredible experience. At the graduation ceremony, the girls sang,
"אין לי ארץ אחרת" (“I have no other country”) and "קומי אורי כי בא אורך... בניך מרחוק יבואו", and a girl named Chaya Mushka gave a moving speech:
“It’s hard to believe that we’ve come to the end of the program. I remember that… I was so excited when they told us that the program would be held this year too. We couldn’t wait to hear about the trip to Eretz Yisrael, and we were pleased and happy when it actually happened. We really couldn’t believe that in spite of the situation in Eretz Yisrael, we would be privileged to come.
I think that we had a special group this year. We enjoyed being together and sharing the unique experiences, the lessons, and the games. We learned a lot about each other. Specifically, we learned that each girl is different and has so, so much to give. We now feel much more united.
 I want to say thank you – in my name and in the name of the entire group – for the amazing program.
 We saw how much effort was put into every little detail, the classes, the evening programs, and especially the trips, because there is nothing like touring in Eretz Yisrael. It is a special feeling, and only someone who lives abroad can understand it.
 It is amazing to meet – here in Eretz Yisrael - people like you, who know how to give whole-heartedly and from the depths of their souls; who are always in the right place, at the right time; who immediately volunteer to help and to lend a hand. Thank you, and thank you again.”

Rosh Hashanah: A Festive Holiday or a Day of Awe?

by Rabbanit Dr. Lea Vizel, Dean of Students (Elkana Campus) and Dean of Extramural Studies
Rosh Hashanah - the Day of Judgment – has a dual nature. On one hand, it appears in the Torah together with the other holidays and is specifically described as a festival:
"תקעו בחדש שופר בכסה ליום חגנו."
However, at the same time, Rosh Hashanah is referred to as the Day of Judgment, when the Books of Life and Death lie open before HaKadosh Baruch Hu and:
"כל באי עולם יעברון לפניך כבני מרון."
Furthermore, when Nechemiah saw that the nation wept, mourned, and trembled on Rosh Hashanah, he instructed them:
"לכו אכלו משמנים ושתו ממתקים... כי קדוש היום."
Similarly, Chazal seem to have a contradictory approach to Rosh Hashanah.
How can we explain this? On Rosh Hashanah - which, according to our tradition, is the day when man was created – we renew our covenant with our Father in Heaven, and that is certainly a reason to rejoice. Yet, this covenant entails great responsibility and requires us to treat it seriously and solemnly. We are given a golden opportunity to turn a new leaf and to choose a life of meaning. As the Slonimer Rebbe explains in “Netivot Shalom,” three books are opened on Rosh Hashanah – the tzadikim (the righteous), the beinonim (the average or mediocre), and the resha’im (the wicked) – and as the new year approaches, every person inscribes himself and decides how the upcoming year will look. One who resolves to fulfill his role and destiny is immediately inscribed and sealed for a good life. However, when one does not do so, one implies that one has no role – chalilah – in HaKadosh Baruch Hu’s world.
Nechemiah saw that Am Yisrael grieved over the sins of the past and was unaware that Rosh Hashanah encompasses a great hope for a better future. It is a day of man’s renewal and a renewed covenant with the Master of the Universe. Therefore, although we must certainly rejoice, we cannot ignore the day’s ingrained solemnity.
At Orot Israel College, we are also on the cusp of a new year, and we hope to be inscribed immediately in the Book of Life for a meaningful life of giving and contributing. A heavy yet delightful responsibility rests on our shoulders.
In particular, I would like to focus on Orot’s extramural studies program. Baruch Hashem, we expanded our course offering over the past year, and many post-graduate students came from near and far to partake in our many programs. Inter alia, we introduced an advanced study program in Tanach instruction, an online program for literature teachers, and much more. As we look to the future, we are excited about the many new courses that are set to open this year, including an in-service teachers’ training course for the Ofek Chadash program; a unique course for rami”m and Toshb”a teachers; new complementary medicine courses; art therapy, bibliotherapy, psychodrama, and behavioral-cognitive therapy courses; an in-service training course for preschool teachers about the festivals; Jewish culture and tradition courses; and much more. Our goal is to meet the needs of those who seek to continue their studies even after completing their academic degrees.
May the coming year be a year of successful, fruitful, and meaningful academic achievements, and may all our communal and private prayers be answered.

Best wishes for a gmar chatimah tovah!

Monday, July 7, 2014

Rav Yaakov Ariel Meets With Orot Guidance Students

by Ravid Tirosh and Arieh Cohen 
Graduate Students, Guidance Department 

As the 5774 school year came to an end, Rav Yaakov Ariel, Chief Rabbi of Ramat Gan and a veteran Orot Israel College lecturer, met with all the graduate students from Orot’s guidance department. Rav Professor Neria Guttel, President of Orot Israel College, greeted the attendees and extolled Orot’s guidance department. He noted that everything is contained in the Torah - "הפוך בה והפוך בה דכולא בה" (“delve into it and delve into it, for everything is in it” – Avot 5:26) – but we must also use universal tools in order to uncover and acquire all this wisdom and knowledge. Thus, Rav Guttel explained, Rav Ariel’s invitation to Orot represents the integration of the Torah approach with the professional, scientific approach. In other words, the idea of "חכמה בגוים תאמין" (“you may believe that there is wisdom among the nations of the world”) is combined with Torat Yisrael.
Rav Ariel began his talk with a focus on values. He said that science and research tools are designed to help us understand this world, but by definition and by their very nature, they are not concerned with “values.” Science does not set values. Rather, it investigates and presents facts. In contrast, the Torah establishes the values that we use in science. Hence, there is no fundamental contradiction between Torah and science.
Next, Rav Ariel addressed various halachic questions, which the students had submitted in advance. Before answering the questions, he stated that scientific literature can often help us understand reality. For instance, he referred to the case of an OCD patient who repeatedly washes his hands for netilat yadayim. Although such a person may seem like a “tzadik” who is only trying to perform the mitzvah in an ideal manner, a scientific approach reveals that in truth, such a person suffers from a psychological condition and requires treatment. Rav Ariel cited the Chatam Sofer’s unequivocal ruling that such a person be instructed not to repeat the mitzvah - even if he is concerned that he did not fulfill it properly. Other issues addressed by Rav Ariel included teaching homosexual students; encouraging (forcing?) students to attend davening; situations where there are conflicts between the school and the home (e.g., a mother who does not cover her hair while the school teaches that married women must do so); Internet use; smartphones in yeshiva high schools and ulpanot; modesty; and more. Rav Ariel spoke out forcibly against those who “bury their heads in the sand” about a lack of modesty in the religious community and claim that “we don’t have that problem.” According to the Rav, the phenomenon exists everywhere, in every sector, and even in our own educational institutions.
The entire discussion was open and frank, and Rav Ariel stressed that even if we do not always have immediate answers, we must continue to ask the questions. He recommended creating a forum where these issues can be discussed and cited the words of Mishlei: "ותשועה ברב יועץ" (“and salvation comes with much council” – Mishlei 11:14).

Orot Receives Prize For Innovative “Moviemaking: History in the Making” Project

by Pnina Frankel 
Head, Communication and Cinema Department

Recently, the Massuah Institute for Holocaust Studies presented Orot Israel College with an award for its
“Moviemaking: History in the Making” project. The innovative pilot program combines history lessons with moviemaking and allows the student to act as researcher, director, producer, and editor and enjoy a unique multisensory learning experience.
The interdisciplinary project was launched by Orot’s communication and cinema department in conjunction with the history department. A series of short films (each three minutes long), which focus on dilemmas faced by the Jews in the pre-Holocaust era, was produced. After the history students researched the topics, wrote the scripts, and formulated the dilemmas while providing information about dress, settings, etc., the cinema students produced and shot the films. The result was five thoughtful, sensitive, and historically-accurate movies, which shed light on a difficult period and can be used as teaching aids during lessons about the pre-Holocaust era.
The citation accompanying the Massuah Institute award read, “We recognize the creative thinking and the unique pedagogic philosophy behind this project… The student who is exposed to these films will benefit from an educational experience that will contribute greatly to Holocaust study programs in our schools.”

Moreshet Yaakov Awarded Presidential Medal for Volunteerism

By Ofir Abicsis, Garin Ha'Torani, Oshiyot,Rechovot
Orot Israel College’s Moreshet Yaakov Garin Torani (educational core group) was selected from among hundreds of candidates to receive the prestigious Presidential Medal for Volunteerism. The annual prize is awarded by the President of the State of Israel for contributions to the State and Israeli society and is intended to foster values such as social activism, philanthropy, mutual responsibility, and love of the Land of Israel.
The award ceremony was held in the presence of Rav Professor Neria Guttel, President of Orot Israel College; Rav Chaim Saban, Orot’s vice president; and representatives of the garin. President Shimon Peres presented the medal to Rav Chaim Fogel, head of the garin.
Established in 5762 (2002), the garin is located in Rechovot’s Oshiyot neighborhood, which is part of the urban renewal project and largely populated by new immigrants from Ethiopia, Yemen, and other countries. The garin is comprised of Orot Israel College and Kollel Orot Yaakov graduates, who work as teachers during the day and organize various educational programs in the afternoons and evenings. In particular, garin members focus on disseminating Jewish values and culture, strengthening the local preschools, organizing children’s programming, running a learning center, reaching out to at-risk teenagers, organizing numerous chessed activities, supporting single mothers, and much more. For example, thanks to the garin’s highly-acclaimed “Sikun V’Sikui” project, which assists at-risk youth, neighborhood crime and high school truancy rates have decreased dramatically, and there has been a significant increase in motivation for military service.
Orot Israel College’s administration extends a hearty “yishar ko’ach” to the garin and its members on their wonderful achievements!

Bat Zion-MTA Reunion - May 2014

Over 120 alumnae and staff attended Orot's second Bat Zion- MTA reunion in Elkana. This special event was organized and planned by Nomi Spanglet, the former assistant director of the Bat Zion program. The event was a tribute to the many Bogrot of these 2 programs who have come on Aliyah, and who live the ideals that Orot so strongly believes in: Am Yisrael, Torat Yisrael and Eretz Yisrael. It was Orot's way of saying "we are proud of you and we are still here for you!". The evening started off with a buffet dinner, leaving time for the Bogrot to catch up with many old friends. Following dinner, words of welcome given by Nomi as well as short divrei torah given by Rav Yehuda Felix, the founder of Orot and Rabbis Moshe Rachimi and Rav Avram Weiss, both former directors of the BZ program.

The highlight of the evening was an educational panel with Rav Yona Goodman ( senior staff member at Orot) and Rav Gideon Weitzman (formerly a BZ staff member & presently a lecturer at several Midrashot, as well as serving as a Rav in Modiin). The panel was lead by Rav Reuven Spolter (head of recruitment for the College). The topic of the panel was "how to rekindle the flame". The panel was very inspiring and without any doubt gave food for thought to all those that attended.
I believe that the words of some of our Bogort best sum up this special event:
Thanks for organizing such an amazing reunion last night. It was so nice to see fellow bogrot, rabbanim, staff and madrichot. It just shows what an amazing program Bat Zion was and what an impact it had on all of our lives. It was so nice to be back on the Orot campus, and to see how the michlala is growing, it brought back so many wonderful memories. It is really touching to see that although the Bat Zion program no longer exists the michlala and you personally continues to maintain contact with the bogrot and are interested in what we are doing and where we are at in our lives.
hi nomi. i wanted to thank u so much for organising the amazing reunion. it was so good to see everyone again, you and all the teachers, (and the girls of course although we BH meet up often :) ) and it was so nice to be on the campus again. It really made me realise how much i miss it, and how Orot is such an amazing and special place and I'm so lucky to have been a part of that! Looking forward to the next reunion :)
Enclosed you will also find a slide show presentation of pictures taken at the reunion as well as a slide show of BZ that was prepared by Michal Katz Reinitz and shown at the reunion.

Enjoy the pictures and the memories!!

Monday, May 12, 2014

B.Ed. Degree Ceremony

Some one hundred and thirty Orot Israel College graduates were recently awarded B.Ed. degrees and teaching certificates during a gala commencement ceremony at our Elkana campus. The graduates came from four different departments: Early Childhood Education, Special Education (two tracks), Dance, and Secondary Education.
98% of Orot's graduates work as teachers and educators in Israel and abroad, and a significant number have started graduate studies programs at various academic institutions.
The degree ceremony was held in the presence of Rav Professor Neria Guttel, President of Orot Israel College; Rav Chaim Saban, Orot’s vice president; Rav Chaim Fogel, chairman of the board of trustees; Professor Yisrael Rich, chairman of the academic council; Rav Dr. Moshe Rachimi, academic dean and head of the graduate school; Rav Eliezer Melamed, Rav of Har Bracha and Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshivat Har Bracha; and the graduates’ families and friends.
A representative of the graduates addressed the attendees, and singer Yisrael Parnes, whose daughter was one of the degree recipients, entertained the crowd. To view pictures from the ceremony, click here.

He Who Teaches Torah to His Nation Israel

"והייתה המדינה מרגשת והיו שואלין להן להיכן תלכו, ואומרים לבית ה' שבשילה שמשם תצא תורה ומצוות."
Several weeks ago some forty religious preschool supervisors from across the country gathered in ancient Shilo, for a conference led by national supervisor Mrs. Esther Hatav. The list of speakers at the conference, which focused on teaching stories from the Torah to preschool children, included Rabbanit Dr. Lea Vizel, Orot Israel College’s dean of extramural studies; Mrs. Vered Yanai, lecturer and pedagogical coordinator of Orot’s early childhood education department; Mrs. Luzit Odesser, head of Orot’s early childhood education department; and Mrs. Becky Pinsky, (retired) supervisor of the Yerushalayim district.
The ganenet (preschool teacher) has the great privilege of planting the initial seed – the girsa d’yankuta (literally, the knowledge acquired during one’s childhood) – which will eventually blossom and grow into the child’s spiritual world. When the ganenet teaches Torah stories, she must construct an experiential world that is rich in knowledge and activities and that will serve as a strong foundation for developing faith, observing the mitzvot with love, and acquiring a national-religious worldview. This is a great privilege that comes with great responsibility.
The ganenet is faced with challenging questions. For instance, should she teach Chumash Breishit and some of Chumash Shmot according to the parshat hashavua (the weekly Torah portion) or chronologically? What is more important: enabling the child to take part in his family’s Shabbat table discussion about the parsha or learning slowly but in greater depth? Which prakim (chapters) should she teach, and which prakim should she skip? What is most appropriate for a child’s soul and developmental level? Should the lesson be based on the pshat (the simple meaning of the text)? How should the Midrash be taught? How does one encourage the child to identify with the Avot and Imahot and follow in their footsteps? How should ethical questions arising from the psukim be handled? These and other questions were addressed during the course of the conference.
First, Dr. Lea Vizel discussed the great responsibility inherent in teaching young children. She showed how Yoav ben Tzruyah’s teacher was sentenced to death, because he caused Yoav to misunderstand the commandment to wipe out Amalek’s memory. (See BT Bava Batra 21a.) Next, Mrs. Vered Yanai described Orot Israel College’s unique approach to teaching Tanach to young children, and Mrs. Luzit Odesser spoke about slow, in-depth learning versus learning according to the parshat hashavua. Finally, Mrs. Becky Pinsky recommended that the chavruta (study partner) model be adapted for preschool children.
All the participants agreed that the conference was a huge success, and that they look forward to future Education Ministry events for preschool teachers.

From Vision to Action

Orot Israel College’s English Department Head Speaks at Hemed Conference

Recently, the Education Ministry’s Religious Education Administration (Hemed) and Rav Uriel Ovadia, the supervisor for secondary education, organized a day-long seminar on improving English instruction. As part of the seminar, which was geared for principals and English teachers from the southern, central, and Tel Aviv districts, Dr. Vitela Arzi, head of Orot Israel College’s English department, gave a lecture entitled, “English Instruction as an Interdisciplinary Experience in Israel’s Religious Public Schools.”
Dr. Arzi called upon the Religious Education Administration and the school principals to formulate a vision which will make English-language instruction a high priority and to rely on this vision when defining goals, guiding, and leading, in cooperation with parents and teachers and with their creative input.
According to Dr. Arzi, low English scores in Israeli religious public schools can be attributed to two factors: First, in general, Israel suffers from a significant shortage of qualified English teachers in every sector. Second, religious students in particular may be exposed to negative attitudes about studying English, which is often perceived as a manifestation of an ideological world antithetical to religious educational values. The result is a “vicious cycle,” whereby religious public school graduates are reluctant to train as English teachers even when they possess the necessary skills. Thus, the religious educational system’s primary objective must be to break this “vicious cycle.”
Dr. Arzi noted that a foreign language can be acquired in one of two different ways: structured, direct learning in a formal classroom setting and unstructured, “random” learning in an informal or recreational setting. As she demonstrated, recent empirical studies have proven that long-term exposure to television and movies – as well as to popular music and computer games – improves English language skills and vocabulary. Recognizing the significance of informal, “random” learning can shed light on the achievement gaps between students in the religious public school system and students in the general public school system, because religious students are not exposed to the same degree of informal learning as their peers in the general school system. Therefore, religious public schools must find suitable alternatives and increase their efforts to narrow the gaps – while working to recruit qualified teachers.
In addition, Dr. Arzi explained that due to the Internet revolution, educators must treat English as a second language rather than as a foreign language and adopt the learning tools used to teach a second language. Thus, educators must ensure that English is “present” and accessible throughout the school and during many different activities and that the entire faculty be involved in the effort. For instance, teachers can develop Jewish-themed learning centers which incorporate English-language activities, put out printed or online English school newspapers, organize English-language recess-time activities, initiate English writing competitions, and produce English-language school plays. Furthermore, school principals should provide their students with English texts and invest in English libraries.
During the course of her talk, Dr. Arzi presented examples of various successful Orot Israel College initiatives which implement these ideas. She added that one need not be concerned that this approach will hurt Hebrew-language skills or vocabulary, because research has shown that language skills are not only transferred from the mother tongue to the second language but also vice versa. Improving literacy – by reading and writing in English – has a positive effect on Hebrew literacy as well.
In conclusion, Dr. Arzi called upon the Religious Education Administration and the school principals to formulate a vision which will make English-language instruction a high priority and to rely on this vision when defining goals, guiding, and leading, in cooperation with parents and teachers and with their creative input.

Room for Hope: A Special Education Seminar

By Dr. Avia Guttman ,
Special Education Department, Elkana Campus

On Wednesday, 10 Adar II 5774 (March 12, 2014), Orot Israel College’s Special Education Department organized a one-day seminar designed to meet the needs of Orot’s special education students and to help prepare them for their chosen careers. The seminar’s primary message was that in spite of the many challenges and difficulties faced by special needs children, there is room for hope. With the support of their families and their special education teachers, these children can develop and progress according to their unique abilities and talents.
Rav Dr. Moshe Rachimi, Orot’s academic dean, greeted the participants, citing the words from Tehilim, "עולם חסד יבנה" (literally, “a world of loving kindness will be built” - Tehilim 89:3), Dr. Rachimi extolled Orot’s special education students who do their field work in schools and preschools and described their important contributions.
Mrs. Tzippy Meshulam of the Lomdim L’Hatzliach “toolbox” company spoke about learning strategies and showed how they can be used to help students with learning disabilities. After introducing her eight books about reading comprehension, written expression, and more, she gave each Orot student a laminated sheet with many of her helpful tips and suggestions. All of her books are available for the students’ use at Orot’s state-of-the-art pedagogic center.
Next, Dr. Michal Schreiber-Divon discussed dating and protection. She said that the Orot students – as future teachers – must be aware of the fact that special needs children also undergo puberty and experience physiological and psychological changes which affect their sexuality. Dr. Schreiber-Divon addressed this issue with a great deal of modesty and discretion. During the course of her talk, she screened a number of related videos, which helped the Orot students gain a better appreciation of this sensitive topic.
Finally, students were treated to a moving, delightful play entitled “An Angel with Down’s Syndrome,” which tells the story of Dekel, a young man with Down’s syndrome, and his brother Ofer. When the performance was over, Dr. Avia Guttman, head of Orot’s special education department, observed, “I saw many students with ‘crying-laughing’ eyes – eyes with both laughter and tears together.” Following the play, Ofer spoke to the audience, and he and Dekel patiently answered the students’ numerous questions.
Special thanks to Orot Israel College’s administration and staff, the various speakers, and of course our dear students for ensuring that the seminar was a huge success.

Monday, April 7, 2014

The Wise Son: The Missing Answer

Among the Four Sons listed during the Seder, we identify most with the Wise Son. We don't really accept the premise of the Wicked Son (we might criticize children today for acting badly, but we don't identify them as "bad" or wicked children), and we like to hope that our children grow out of being either Simple or that they Don't Know to Ask.
Which leaves us with the Wise Son. Who among us don't really, deep down in our heart, consider our children "Wise"? Moreover, looking at his question, we recognize that his question is excellent:
חָכָם מָה הוּא אוֹמֵר? מַה הָעֵדוֹת וְהַחֻקִּים וְהַמִשְׁפָּטִים אֲשֶׁר צִוָּה ה' אֱלֹקינוּ אֶתְכֶם?
What does the Wise Son say? "What are the testimonies, statutes and dictates that the Lord our God commanded you?"
In fact, we find this exact question in the Torah, as Moshe instructs the Jewish people,
כִּי-יִשְׁאָלְךָ בִנְךָ מָחָר, לֵאמֹר:  מָה הָעֵדֹת, וְהַחֻקִּים וְהַמִּשְׁפָּטִים, אֲשֶׁר צִוָּה ה' אֱלֹקינוּ, אֶתְכֶם.
When your son asks you in time to come, saying: 'What is the meaning of the testimonies, and the statutes, and the ordinances, which the Lord our God has commanded you? (Devarim 6:20)
Ibn Ezra explains that the word מה – does not mean "what", but instead means למה – "what is the reason". In essence, the Wise Son asks, "Why do we do keep of these commandments?" It's not just an ancient question found in the Chumash. Rather, it's an eternal question, asked by children – good, wise children – throughout Jewish history.
Every Jewish parent should not only expect this question, but should hope for it. We want our children to ask. We want them to inquire about why we do what we do. But, if we want them to ask good questions, we better be ready with good answers. What indeed do we tell them when they ask us, "Why should I keep the Torah? Why do you keep the Torah?" (Because I said so only works for the first few years. After that, you'll need to provide a better answer.)
The Hagaddah provides an answer – and that's where we begin to run into problems.
וְאַף אַתָּה אֱמָר לוֹ כְּהִלְכוֹת הַפֶּסַח: אֵין מַפְטִירִין אַחַר הַפֶּסַח אֲפִיקוֹמָן.
You, in turn, shall instruct him in the laws of Passover, [up to] `one is not to eat any dessert after the Passover-lamb.
What is the relevance of the answer we give him to his question? He's asking why we keep the commandments, and we're talking about dessert and the Korban Pesach? This isn't my own question, either. Ritva, is his commentary to the Hagadah writes,
וקשה, מה ענין תשובה זו לשאלה זו?
This is difficult, as what is the relevance of the answer to the question?
Moreover, we ourselves need not search for an answer to this great question, as Moshe Rabbeinu has already provided us a wonderful, powerful answer. Right after telling us what our children will ask us in the future, Moshe teaches us how to answer them.
וְאָמַרְתָּ לְבִנְךָ, עֲבָדִים הָיִינוּ לְפַרְעֹה בְּמִצְרָיִם; וַיֹּצִיאֵנוּ ה' מִמִּצְרַיִם, בְּיָד חֲזָקָה.  וַיִּתֵּן ה' אוֹתֹת וּמֹפְתִים גְּדֹלִים וְרָעִים בְּמִצְרַיִם, בְּפַרְעֹה וּבְכָל-בֵּיתוֹ--לְעֵינֵינוּ.  וְאוֹתָנוּ, הוֹצִיא מִשָּׁם--לְמַעַן, הָבִיא אֹתָנוּ, לָתֶת לָנוּ אֶת-הָאָרֶץ, אֲשֶׁר נִשְׁבַּע לַאֲבֹתֵינוּ.  וַיְצַוֵּנוּ ה', לַעֲשׂוֹת אֶת-כָּל-הַחֻקִּים הָאֵלֶּה, לְיִרְאָה, אֶת-ה' אֱלֹקֵינוּ--לְטוֹב לָנוּ כָּל-הַיָּמִים, לְחַיֹּתֵנוּ כְּהַיּוֹם הַזֶּה.  וּצְדָקָה, תִּהְיֶה-לָּנוּ:  כִּי-נִשְׁמֹר לַעֲשׂוֹת אֶת-כָּל-הַמִּצְוָה הַזֹּאת, לִפְנֵי ה' אֱלֹקֵינוּ--כַּאֲשֶׁר צִוָּנוּ. (דברים ו:כ-כה)
Then you shall say to your son: 'We were Pharaoh's slaves in Egypt; and the Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand. And the Lord showed signs and wonders, great and sore, upon Egypt, upon Pharaoh, and upon all his house, before our eyes. And He brought us out from there that He might bring us in, to give us the Land which He swore to our fathers.  And the Lord commanded us to do all these statutes, to fear the Lord our God, for our good always, that He might preserve us alive, as it is at this day. And it shall be righteousness to us, if we observe to do all this commandment before the Lord our God, as He has commanded us.' (Devarim 6:20-25)
This is a wonderful answer, especially when we read the text with care. In his answer, Moshe emphasizes our collective history, and our connection to our Forefathers and the Promised Land. More importantly, he describes the Torah and a life of adherence to the Mitzvot as "good", and the giving of the Torah as an eternal act of kindness that God did for us.
That's the true answer to this all-important question. We follow the Torah because we know that God wants goodness for us, and transmitted to us the ideal way to achieve that ultimate Good. While we don't always understand every detail, and cannot always perfectly answer each question, when we do answer the Wise Son, we must convey that sense of Goodness inherent in a Torah-true life.
This only makes the answer in the Hagadah all the more perplexing. Where's the connection to our history? What about the mitzvot? There isn't any mention of God! All we hear about is the Afikomen. Is that really a good answer for the Wise Son? Couldn’t the Hagadah have given us a better answer?
Ritva explains that the key word in the answer to the Wise Son is the word אף – "even". The answer provided here isn't the whole answer. Rather, it's the very end of the answer.
Of course we must provide the complete answer. and any Seder that doesn't address these critical questions, and focuses only on the minutia of the practical aspects of the Seder (How much Matzah to eat; how quickly to eat it, etc.) misses the most important element of the Seder. The very essence of the Seder is answering the underlying question of the Wise Son: "Why are we sitting here tonight?"
Only when we have finished answering his questions – all of them! – can we then proceed to the more intricate aspects of the Seder. Only then, וְאַף אַתָּה אֱמָר לוֹ כְּהִלְכוֹת הַפֶּסַח – "even teach him about the halachot of Pesach".
As parents, we sometimes fail in this critical mission. Sadly, we're good at details and minutia and "do it because I told you to," but fail miserably to convey the sense of goodness, fulfillment and love that the Torah brings into our lives. We fail to address the deeper questions, somehow afraid that we might say something wrong, give an incorrect answer, and mislead our children away from the truth.
Yet, the opposite is true. We must simply do our best and answer these challenging questions as best we can. We can start by studying the answers that appear in the Torah. But then we can and should answer the question our children really want to know: Not "why should they be Jewish?", but "Why are we Jewish, and why do we keep the Torah?"

Orot Invites You to Join us at our Upcoming Bat Zion-MTA Reunion

If you haven't signed up yet, you can do so here. Also, please join the Facebook Reunion page - and share your pictures and memories with fellow bogrot.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Unraveling the Puzzle of Megillat Esther

by Rabbi Reuven Spolter, Jewish Studies Lecturer

Megillat Esther is a brilliant work.
On the one hand, it masterfully and suspensefully relates the Purim story - a story we all know. Yet, like all great books, each re-reading offers a new and unexpected pleasure. I still get a kick out of how the Megillah refers to "all the people who loved [Haman], and Zeresh, his wife." (5,10)
But, as we know, the Megillah is much more than that. Woven into the fabric of the work - hidden beneath the surface - like Esther's Jewish identity, is a core of religious identity and belief essential to our identity as Jews.
Therein lay the brilliance of Mordechai and Esther: On one hand, they wrote an entirely secular story which they spread across the known world. But, read with the proper perspective, that very same work represents a core religious Jewish text.

I'd like to give one, very simple example of how Chazal read the book of Esther.
A very famous gemara in Shabbat (88a) relates that the Revelation on Har Sinai was a bit more dangerous than we might have considered:
ויתיצבו בתחתית ההר (שמות, י"ט, יז). אמר רב אבדימי בר חמא בר חסא: מלמד שכפה הקדוש ברוך הוא עליהם את ההר כגיגית, ואמר להם: אם אתם מקבלים התורה - מוטב, ואם לאו - שם תהא קבורתכם
אמר רב אחא בר יעקב: מכאן מודעא רבה לאורייתא
אמר רבא: אף על פי כן, הדור קבלוה בימי אחשורוש; דכתיב (אסתר, ט', כז) "קיימו וקבלו היהודים" - קיימו מה שקיבלו כבר
"And they stood at the foot of the mountain" (Shemot 19,17) Said Rav Avdimi bar Chama bar Chasa: This [verse] teaches us that God held the mountain over them like a barrel and said to them, 'If you accept the Torah - very well; But if not - here is where you will be buried!"
Said Rav Acha bar Yaakov: From this [statement] there is a great criticism against the Torah (Rashi - because the Jewish people were forced to accept the Torah).
Said Rava: Nonetheless, they later accepted [the Torah] during the times of Achashveirosh, as it is written, "The Jews fullfilled and accepted" - [this means that] they fulfilled what they had already accepted.

This short piece of Aggadah is rich with meaning, and raises many important questions. Yet, I'd like to focus on the final statement of Rava who derives the fact that the Jews willingly accepted the Torah during the times of Mordechai and Esther from the words קימו וקבלו היהודים - "the Jews fulfilled and accepted."
How does Rava arrive at his conclusion? Where does he see this deeper meaning hidden in the text? The answer is, in fact, right before our eyes, if we know how to properly piece the puzzle together.

In the text of the Megillah, the verse cited seems to have nothing to do with the Torah at all, but instead seems to be about the acceptance of Purim.
 קִיְּמוּ וקבל (וְקִבְּלוּ) הַיְּהוּדִים עֲלֵיהֶם וְעַל-זַרְעָם וְעַל כָּל-הַנִּלְוִים עֲלֵיהֶם, וְלֹא יַעֲבוֹר--לִהְיוֹת עֹשִׂים אֵת שְׁנֵי הַיָּמִים הָאֵלֶּה, כִּכְתָבָם וְכִזְמַנָּם:  בְּכָל-שָׁנָה, וְשָׁנָה.
The Jews fulfilled, and took upon them, and upon their descendants, and upon all such as joined themselves unto them, so as it should not fail, that they would keep these two days according to the writing thereof, and according to the appointed time thereof, every year; 

Yet, when we consider the verse (and the phrase at hand) one of the words seems unnecessary and unusual. Why does the verse say that קימו וקבלו - "they fulfilled and took upon themselves" when it could have simply said, קבלו היהודים עליהם ועל זרעם - "the Jews accepted upon themselves and upon their descendants". What is the extra word telling us? How can one fulfill something before he even accepts it?
Yet, this very paradox reminds us of another, similar phrase found in the Torah:
 וַיִּקַּח סֵפֶר הַבְּרִית וַיִּקְרָא בְּאָזְנֵי הָעָם וַיֹּאמְרוּ כֹּל אֲשֶׁר דִּבֶּר ד' נַעֲשֶׂה וְנִשְׁמָע
And [Moshe] took the Book of the Covenant and read it in the ears of the nation, and they said, 'Everything that God said we will do and we will hear."

It's precisely the same progression:

קיימו -- קבלו

נעשה  -- נשמע

This, I believe, is exactly what the authors of the Megillah were hinting to at the conclusion of the Purim story.
The Jews living at that time didn't just commit themselves to keeping the holiday of Purim in the future. Rather, what precipitated the tragedy of Purim was the wholesale abandonment of the Torah after the exile from Jerusalem. The tragedy of Purim forced the Jews to make a choice: do we want to just die like Jews, or do we want to live like Jews as well.
קיימו וקבלו היהודים.
They rechose, yet again, after the events of Achashveirosh. If we're going to suffer the hatred against the Jews, ought we not live by the values that God gave us as well?
Yet another piece to the Purim puzzle.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Orot Israel College’s Briah School Hosts Complementary Medicine Conference

By Sarah Bar Asher – Founder and Head, Briah School for Complementary Medicine, Orot Israel College

Crate after crate of organic eggs, sourdough bread, medicinal herbs, and natural cosmetics filled the lobby of Orot Israel College’s graduate studies building. The reason for all the healthy goodness? Orot’s Briah School was hosting its inaugural conference on complementary medicine.
Briah, which opened in the fall, invited the public to learn about the world of complementary medicine. The conference encompassed five lectures on a wide range of topics, and the attendees were offered a variety of delicious and healthy snacks, including dates, baked pretzels, mineral water, and tea.

Rav Professor Neria Guttel, President of Orot Israel College, greeted the attendees and spoke about a physician’s right to heal, based on the words: "וְרַפֹּא יְרַפֵּא" (“and he shall provide for his healing” – Shmot 21:19). Next, Mrs. Sarah Bar Asher, Briah’s founder and head, focused on the food industry and nutrition. Her talk revolved around questions such as: Are the ingredient lists on food labels complete? Is low-sodium salt healthy, or is it the worst type of salt on the market? Why do the spices used in restaurants and hotels undergo radiation? Mrs. Anat Felmon reviewed the basic principles of Chinese medicine, and Mrs. Adi Yogev explained how medicinal herbs can be used to treat children’s winter illnesses. Dr. Eli Topper examined classic and modern homeopathy, and Mr. Avraham Dahan discussed cinnamon and how it was used by Jewish physicians from the Talmudic era through the Middle Ages.

At the conference’s conclusion, the participants raised their glasses and enjoyed a special wine prepared by Mr. Avraham Dahan, according to an ancient recipe attributed to Ezra HaSofer.

Master’s Degree Ceremony

On Tuesday, 27 Shvat 5774 (January 28, 2014) some 120 Orot Israel College graduate students – representing a broad spectrum of the Israeli public – were awarded master’s degrees in educational counseling, Tanach, and Rabbinic Literature during a gala ceremony held at our Elkana campus.

At present, approximately 560 graduate students study at Orot which now boasts a relatively new and prestigious Master's degree program in Educational Administration and Organization. Orot’s student body hails from every corner of Israel – from the Golan Heights all the way down to Eilat. B’ezrat Hashem, next year, we hope to open a graduate program in mathematics.

The speakers at the degree ceremony included Rav Professor Neria Guttel, President of Orot Israel College and Rav Chaim Fogel, chairman of Orot’s board of trustees. Rav Chaim Saban, Orot’s vice president, and Rav Dr. Moshe Rachimi, head of the graduate school, were also in attendance.

In his keynote address, Professor Avraham Steinberg, Israel Prize laureate, spoke about the challenges and importance of integrating Torah and science.

Professor Yisrael Aumann Participates in Orot Israel College’s Annual Faculty Colloquium

by Rav Yechiel Lash – Dean of Studies, Rechovot Campus, and Colloquium Coordinator

On Tuesday, 20 Shvat 5774 (January 21, 2014), Orot Israel College held its annual faculty colloquium in Elkana. Various faculty members delivered scholarly lectures to their colleagues on a wide variety of subjects.

Nobel Prize laureate Professor Yisrael Aumann participated in the colloquium’s first session, chaired by Orot Israel College President Rav Professor Neria Guttel. Rav Professor Guttel thanked Professor Aumann and recited the blessing of "ברוך שחלק מחכמתו ליראיו" (“Blessed is He Who apportioned of His wisdom to those who fear Him”) in Professor Aumann’s honor, and then Professor Aumann delivered a fascinating lecture about religion and science. He noted that he observes the Torah’s mitzvot because he loves to do so. Or as he put, “it’s enjoyable!” Following his well-received talk, Professor Aumann took questions from the audience, which also included students from Orot’s Excellence in Education Program.

Chaired by Dr. Yael Areli and Rabbanit Dr. Lea Vizel respectively, the second and third sessions were comprised of an additional six lectures – three at each session – pertaining to the Tanach, the Oral Torah, Chassidut, and Jewish history. The list of speakers included Mrs. Shulamit Lehman, Rav Dr. Yosef Priel, Dr. Michael Ben-Ari, Dr. Michael Gross, Dr. Dror Hovera, and Dr. Ayal Davidson.

All the participants agreed that the colloquium was a huge success, and in spite of the late hour and the packed schedule, many not only stayed until the very end of the proceedings but remained afterwards to ask questions.

Orot Israel College Receives Prestigious Jerusalem Prize

Orot Israel College, headed by President Rav Professor Neria Guttel, was recently awarded the prestigious Jerusalem Prize for Education. The prize was given for Orot’s outstanding achievements and contributions to Israeli education.
Education Minister MK Rav Shai Piron presented the award. In his remarks, he stated that under Rav Professor Guttel’s leadership, Orot has become the country’s leading and largest educational college, whose primary focuses are academic, religious and pedagogical excellence. Rav Piron also noted the remarkable vision, creativity, and innovation that characterize Orot and its achievements. He explained that as the minister charged with overseeing the country’s educational system, he has the unique ability to appreciate and observe the results of Orot’s numerous accomplishments.
Orot Israel College was founded in 5739 (1978) by Rav Dr. Yehuda Felix. In 5768 (2008), Orot doubled in size and stature when it merged with Moreshet Yaakov College and thus became the largest and most diversified academic educational college within Israel’s religious-public educational system.
Rav Chaim Saban, Orot Israel College’s vice president; and Rav Chaim Fogel, chairman of the board of trustees, participated in the award ceremony.