Social Rabbinic Leadership – Merhav & Sha’arei Uziel Beit Midrash

Social Rabbinic Leadership – Merhav & Sha’arei Uziel Beit Midrash

Israeli Rabbis enjoy broad influence across Israeli society and can determine whether to foster unity or promote divisiveness within public discourse. This has been demonstrated by the increasing trend in Israeli society for Rabbis to issue stringent rulings creating an exclusivist religious approach that associates Judaism with only laws rather than broader social Justice. This has the effect of alienating traditional and secular people with differing approaches or levels of religiosity. In turn, Israel is confronted with heightened religious and social polarization leading to extremism. Furthermore, the Israeli Rabbinate does not teach Rabbis in Israel about social, economic and psychological matters that may arise in communities ranging from divorce, drug abuse, domestic violence, youth at risk and poverty.

Merhav & Sha’arei Uziel Beit Midrash is a Program of MeMizrach Shemesh that fills a critical gap in Israeli society by aiming to promote tolerance and unity while creating awareness of the social context in which Judaism is practiced in. This inevitably leads to a more moderate approach to Judaism that recognizes that Judaism is multifaceted including both laws as well as broader social justice. This fosters solidarity within Israeli society.

In an attempt to offer a traditional and moderate response to increased religious and social polarization in Israel, Memizrach Shemesh has created the Merhav & Sha’arei Uziel Beit Midrash Programs that is a weekly Beit Midrash for leadership that advances the tolerant and inclusive approach of the Sephardic Sages. Memizrach Shemesh has also partnered with the Sephardic Educational Center to create an intensive one week training program.

 

merhav1The Merhav & Sha’arei Uziel Beit Midrash Program trains and empowers 14 Rabbis holding positions in communities across Israel once a week for a full day. These Rabbis include: National Religious Zionists, Ultra-Orthodox Haredim, Sephardic, Ashkenazi, Mizrachi, and Ethiopian Rabbis. The Rabbis learn legal and philosophical writings from the moderate Sephardic tradition that touch upon relevant contemporary topics: economics, labor relations, social welfare, modern and post-modern societies, ethnic and social diversity in Israel and abroad, Jewish identity and social history. In addition, the program features professional training seminars in public speaking, family counseling, addiction treatment, sexual abuse and community mediation.

The unique approach of the Sephardic heritage emphasizes the primacy of maintaining community and to interpret Torah through the prism of accommodating different approaches to Jewish observance in the community. This approach advances that it is impossible to distinguish between laws between ‘man and G-D’ and ‘man and man’, but rather than the former is contingent upon the latter. Most importantly an ethical outlook is an essential prerequisite to any form of Torah engagement as ‘Derech Eretz Kadma Latorah.’ Merhav & Sha’arei Uziel Beit Midrash Program teaches the responsas of the leading Sephardic Sages that aimed to be inclusive of everyone in the community as respecting the other is the essence of Judaism. Examples of these include Harav Ovadia Yosef ruled that if one has no other choice, he could appreciate why in Egypt one would open their store on Shabbat to not lose business.

merhav2Merhav & Sha’arei Uziel Beit Midrash Program aims to apply the Talmud and traditional Sephardic responsas to contemporary realities that include drug abuse and poverty. An example of this is the Talmudic story of Hillel the elder who was too poor to pay for attending the Torah lesson in his synagogue and climbed onto the roof to listen. The moral of the story is not how great Hillel the Elder was for his self-sacrifice, but that the community should have looked out for those that were in need. Learning about one’s traditions and Jewish values must not be isolated from their socio-economic context. To this end, Rabbis study 1 day a week on how to apply Halacha to the modern context while being sensitive to their community’s social and economic needs. Rabbis that participate in the Merhav & Sha’arei Uziel Beit Midrash Programs are encouraged to attend rabbinic conferences on the social context that Judaism functions within. This has included a conference on the subject of understanding the social issues around homosexuality and the need to treat homosexuals in our communities with respect. Rabbis of congregations speak to their own communities and publish articles in the media about these realities.

 

To date, 130 Rabbis who have graduated the Merhav & Sha'arei Uziel Beit Midrash Program have shared their knowledge in schools, Yeshivot and with their congregants in Synagogue with over 3000 congregants.

Our committed partners include: AVI CHAI Foundation, Adelis Foundation, Sephardic Educational Center in LA.