The beautiful view here makes it easy to create a religious atmosphere," says David Bigman, one of the head rabbis of Yeshivat Ma’ale Gilboa, a post-high school program established in 1993 on a picturesque kibbutz overlooking Israel’s Jezreel, Bet She’an, and Jordan valleys the very spot where King David composed his elegy for King Saul.
"Up here in the mountains, with the first rain, it becomes green with wildflowers and you’ll see wild animals like foxes and jackals, hyenas, wild boars, gazelles, and birds of prey," Bigman says. "Most of the guys have a general feeling of being uplifted. It’s very hard here not to relate to HaKadosh Baruch Hu."
Bigman, 5′, and his co-rosh yeshiva, Rabbi Yehuda Gilad, 51, will visit North Jersey Feb. 3 and 4 to raise awareness for their off-the-beaten-path school. And it’s off the beaten path in more ways than the geographical.
As a "shiluv" yeshiva, Ma’ale Gilboa plays a unique role. Whereas hesder yeshivot offer a five-year program of Torah study that encompasses 18 months of army service, shiluv students serve a full three-year military tour. In addition, the five-year program embraces a rare approach that aims to educate young men committed to Torah study, intellectual openness, and social consciousness.
"We have so many yeshivot in Israel, each with its own niche. This one is for those who want the most open-minded approach within the modern Orthodox world," says Gilad. A Brazilian native who was a combat soldier in the armored corps while enrolled at Yeshivat Har Etzion, he has served as rabbi of Kibbutz Lavi since 1983 and served in the Knesset as a member of the centrist Meimad party. "I insist the yeshiva have no connection with politics," he adds. "We are considered a more pluralistic yeshiva with our share of left-wingers and right-wingers."
Over the years, several young men from Bergen County or from Bergen County yeshiva high schools have chosen to be among the few non-Israeli students at Ma’ale Gilboa, says Gilad.
Bigman, who also founded one of the first women’s yeshivot in Israel, on Kibbutz Ein Hanitziv, says the American students are prepared for going back to America differently than they are at other yeshivot.
"Things come up in college that are confusing for a student from a modern Orthodox background," says the Wayne State University graduate, "and we open their eyes to these issues by giving them an intensive Torah experience while also exposing them to contemporary ideas and ways of dealing with them. Post-modernism, relativism, critical ways of looking at text are all dealt with here."
An IDF veteran like his colleague, Bigman is known for his innovative method of Talmud study, which integrates rigorous academic analysis into a classical bet midrash style. "We also try to deal with the problem of how to be attentive to other points of view while still having pride in our own way," he says.
The school recently broke ground for a Judaic and multi-disciplinary research library and lecture hall to increase its offerings for residents of the nearby development towns of Afula and Bet She’an and surrounding moshavim and kibbutzim, regardless of their religious background.
"Our message is relevant to almost all Jews," says Bigman. "We particularly converse with the modern Orthodox community, but we’re for open discussion with all groups, from all sides."
The pair’s schedule appears below:
Shabbat, Feb. 3
Gilad, "New Approaches to Textual Understanding," Davar Institute, 1500 Sussex Road, Teaneck, during morning services.
Bigman, "Religious Expression: Spontaneous and Obligatory-Complementary or Contradictory," Cong. Netivot Shalom, 811 Palisade Ave., Teaneck, after kiddush.
Gilad, "The Shira: Its Purpose and Meaning," Cong. Beth Abraham, 396 New Bridge Road, Bergenfield, one hour before mincha.
Bigman, "Bitul B’Alma Sagi" Mesechet Pesachim Gemara shiur, Cong. Rinat Yisrael, 389 W. Englewood Ave., Teaneck, between mincha and maariv.
Gilad, "Moshe The Warrior?" Cong. Keter Torah, 600 Roemer Ave., Teaneck, during seudah shlisheet.
Sunday, Feb. 4
"Religion in the Public Square/Dat U’Medinah: Israel and America: Views from the Trenches," a panel discussion with Gilad and Bigman moderated by Rabbi Lawrence Zierler, Jewish Center of Teaneck, 9:30 a.m.
For more information, call the synagogues or e-mail email@example.com