TEANECK The Institute of Traditional Judaism here has opened its courses to Jewish studies mavens and rookies alike.
ITJ’s school, the Metivta, offers three learning tracks: a rabbinical ordination program; a one-year preparatory class, called mechina, for the ordination program, open to men and women; and a joint master of public administration program with Fairleigh Dickinson University, with a specialization in Jewish communal service.
Selected courses from these tracks are now open to the public to audit. Topics include Hebrew and Hebrew literature, Talmud, Tanakh, and Midrash. Although only two have signed up for these non-degree track courses, Rabbi Ronald Price, the Metivta’s dean, is optimistic that more will follow.
"We have students who have come from California, Canada, and Florida to study with us. But we never opened our doors wide enough to the community," said Price. "This is a way to let the community know what goes on at the Metivta."
Manny Landau, a retired school psychologist, started taking classes at the Metivta about seven or eight years ago. His interest in the Bible and history led him there, and the high-level classes and knowledgeable faculty kept him there, he said.
For Landau, the way the faculty presented the information is what intrigued him the most. Unlike other groups he had attended, he said, the Metivta’s courses were structured like college classes.
"The nature of the give-and-take is different," he said. "It’s presented in a well-organized and adult level so they don’t talk down to people taking the classes. They respect the intelligence and outlook of the people coming to the classes."
Many lectures and classes Landau attended elsewhere were given on Saturdays after services, when he could not take notes. During the eight classes he’s taken at the Metivta, which were not held on Shabbat, he was able to write and record notes reminding him further of the college atmosphere, he said.
"There’s an obligation for Jews to keep themselves involved in Jewish study," he said. "It’s not done necessarily for credit, it’s more a question of maintaining one’s identity, commitment, and level of knowledge."
When Leslie Kirzner started at the Metivta’s mechina program in the fall of ‘001, she was the only woman in a class with eight men. But the openness of the class convinced her to continue.
"I really liked the fact they were open to all denominations of Judaism," she said.
Kirzner took five full-time classes that first year as part of the mechina program. As an associate chaplain at Valley Hospital, she had done a lot of study on her own but appreciated the offerings at ITJ. She later joined its board.
"I liked the organization so much that when Rabbi Price asked me to join, I said yes. I wanted to help with their mission of outreach to the entire Jewish community." Neither Kirzner nor Landau are taking classes, but both plan to return soon. For Kirzner, who lives in Ramsey, the location was a key selling point.
"When I started taking classes, I realized the level of scholarship was so high, I didn’t have to go to the city," she said. "It was a very haimish atmosphere."
Although the Metivta brings in students from across the country and even offers Internet courses to accommodate them, Price wants area residents to begin taking advantage of ITJ. "People who might not otherwise have thought of taking Jewish studies courses might look seriously at this opportunity in their backyard," Price said.