Israeli rosh yeshiva to speak on ‘intellectual openness’

Israeli rosh yeshiva to speak on ‘intellectual openness’

Rabbi Yehuda Gilad, co-founder of Yeshivat Maale Gilboa in northern Israel, intends to convey his commitment to religious openness on a North American tour that will include a stop at Teaneck’s Cong. Rinat Yisrael on Nov. 16.

“Teaneck is famous for its vibrant modern Orthodox community, in which we find the entire spectrum of opinions, so we feel people there will be interested in our message,” said Gilad, a former Israeli armored corps captain, army chaplain, and member of Knesset.

“Our message is open Judaism and that there is no contradiction between being open-minded and being committed to halacha [Torah-based precepts]. You can express this in many areas: human rights, feminism, rights of minorities, moral issues, conversion, and many other areas on the Jewish agenda these days.”

Rabbi Yehuda Gilad, co-founder of an Israeli yeshiva that stresses religious openness, will speak in Teaneck on Sunday.

Gilad will speak at 7:30 p.m., in Hebrew, on “A New Perspective on Akeidat Yitzchak: The Tension between Faith and Morality.”

The topic is central to his yeshiva’s worldview, as he considers the binding of Isaac “a case study” on the moral conflicts that can arise in the service of God. “This is one of the most difficult stories in the Torah,” he said.

Before his local stop, Gilad was to speak at synagogues in Los Angeles and Manhattan and at a Toronto convention of Torah-in-Motion, an adult education institute whose stated mission is bring together “many of the best minds in Orthodoxy today [to] discuss and debate the issues facing Jews living within the modern world.”

Gilad also planned to interview senior high school boys interested in attending Maale Gilboa for a year before college. Bergen County yeshivas are not on his schedule, but Teaneck’s Torah Academy of Bergen County and the Frisch School in Paramus are to be visited in December by Rabbi Yossi Slotnik, director of Maale Gilboa’s Foreign Students Program.

The yeshiva, established in 1993 in the hills above Israel’s Jezreel Valley – and recently expanded to include new lecture halls and a Judaic and humanities library – offers a post-high school curriculum emphasizing in-depth Torah study, pluralistic and democratic values, intellectual openness, and social consciousness. The five-year program includes a full three-year tour of military service for all Israeli students.

The few foreign young men who come for a year of study are a self-selecting, highly motivated group, said Gilad.

“Students who are coming to our yeshiva are unique because we don’t have an American program per se,” he explained. “We only get boys who can integrate into the Israeli stream and can learn in Hebrew.” These students tend to have a somewhat lower level of talmudic skills than do their Israeli peers, he added, “but after a few weeks or months you cannot find any difference.”

Leaving for the United States on the day after Sen. Barack Obama’s presidential election victory, Gilad said he was prepared to address concerns about the future of American-Israeli relations.

“Our partnership is not just political. On a deeper level, in terms of democracy and freedom, the United States is the only place in the world where we feel we have a real friend that understands the complexity of the situation in Israel,” he said.

“I think both sides in the presidential campaign emphasized strong support for Israel. There are obviously differences between the sides regarding Iran, for example, but I am confident that we all share similar ideas and principles.”

In May 2007, Gilad represented Israel at the United Nations’ Religions for Peace and Development conference, which also included delegates from Sri Lanka, the Vatican, Pakistan, Romania, and San Marino. Along with co-yeshiva head Rabbi David Bigman, he is active in promoting dialogue between Jews and non-Jews as well as secular and religious Israelis.

Gilad, 53, believes American Jews’ support for Israel should not be defined by their checkbooks.

“The brotherhood between us is not just a question of financial support, but of understanding and moral support even more,” he said. “The two communities have so many things in common; the connection is really unbelievable. So many families send their sons and daughters for a year in Israel, and you can find the voice of Torah all over America. At the same time, I feel there can be mutual enrichment in Torah study between the two sides.”

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