Mechon Hadar describes itself as “the first full-time co-ed yeshiva in North America.” We cut that out from our story, because the phrase needs a bit of explanatory commentary of its own; what it really means is “first full-time co-ed yeshiva for adults in North America.”
The honor of first full-time co-ed yeshiva goes to The Pardes Institute in Jerusalem, founded in 1972. (For those who aren’t clear how a yeshiva ““ e.g. Pardes and Mechon Hadar ““ differs from than a rabbinical seminary, such as the Conservative Jewish Theological Seminary of America, the answer lies in the bet midrash, the study hall. Is the paired hevruta study considered the primary experience? That’s a yeshiva. Is the classroom the primary experience? That’s a university. The non-Orthodox rabbinical schools follow the university model.)
Which raises the question: Is Mechon Hadar simply Pardes North America? I asked Ethan Tucker whether his yeshiva was modeled on Pardes.
“Some of the things are similar. A lot of faculty who teach here studied there. Some students studied in both places. Both Pardes and Mechon Hadar create a culture of Torah being exciting and relevant and a critical part of the contemporary Jewish conversation, and capable of shedding light on important issues in the Jewish community. Both have co-ed bet midrash.
“An obvious difference is the Atlantic Ocean. There are other differences. At Mechon Hadar, one of values is complete and total equal participation of all the men and women who make up our community, whereas in Pardes the core minyan is not egalitarian. Another distinction is that Pardes sees itself as a pluralistic institution that doesn’t take stands on the interpretation of halacha and doesn’t have expectations of it students, whereas Hadar has an expectation of its fellows of shmrat mitzvot, of observance, that assumes a normative vision of Jewish life. Someone who comes as as a fellow is expected to be living out daily life of Jewish commitment. The basic elements of shmirat Shabbat, kashrut, regularly giving money to tzedakah — Our fellows spend three hours one afternoon a week visiting the sick– all the various aspects of a life lived in the presence of Torah, a Torah that commands and directs us. Part of being a fellow in the yeshiva is being in the minyan for tefilot three times a day.”
It’s an interesting set of distinctions, and it points to the failure of using a single “left-right” religious spectrum to categorize contemporary Judaisms. Is Hadar more “left” for being egalitarian? Or more “right” for demanding minyan attendance?
Incidentally, I believe the second co-ed yeshiva is the Conservative Yeshiva, founded in Jerusalem in 1995. (If I’m wrong about this, please correct me in the comments.)