Today is October 27, 2021 / /
Why do we need a Kollel for Contemporary Halakhic Studies?
Our community needs major poskim and halakhic authorities, ones who have deep and broad Torah and halakhic knowledge and who are fully responsive to the human condition and who are anchored in our community and share its concerns and priorities. This Kollel will cultivate such halakhic voices and authorities.
Who are the stakeholders? What type of person is looking for such a Kollel?
The stakeholders are people who know that halakha guides our day-to-day life, and that our community needs not only community rabbis but also its own halakhic authorities. They want poskim who are responsive to the range of issues that are at play, and who don’t dismiss or actively oppose the issues that are of great importance to you. They want poskim who care not only where we came from, but equally who we are and where we are going.
What are the goals of the Kollel?
1. To cultivate future halakhic leaders, who will address urgent and enduring issues. They will bring to the Modern Orthodox community and the larger Jewish community, a halakhic leadership anchored in deep knowledge, rigor, integrity and sound judgment and which reflects the values and ethos of our community.
2. To produce and disseminate high-level Torah scholarship throughout our community on urgent topics such as disabilities, old-age, fertility, gender and sexuality, education, and technology, particularly in the context of expert systems and AI.
3. To sustain this cohort after the program, to continue to work on halakhic topics together, so that there is a community of support and learning for the Fellows.
Are there co-sponsors?
Four of the major Dati-Leumi/Modern Orthodox Yeshivot Hesder are co-sponsoring: Yeshivat Ma’ale Gilboa, Yeshivat Machanayim; Siach and Otniel. They are both having students and ramim as fellows, and their rashei yeshiva will be giving guest shiurim.
Who are the participating fellows?
We have 12 amazing fellows, four of them from our co-sponsoring Israeli yeshivot, and a number of these ramim of many years in these yeshivot. The fellows are:
Ilan Boukris, Student, Yeshivat Siach Yitzchak
R. Tomer Bukovza, Semikha, Israeli Rabbanut, Ram, Yeshivat Otniel
R. Barry Dolinger, Semikha, RIETS, Rabbi, Cong. Beth Sholom, Rhode Island
Ben Zion Ferziger, Hesder, Yeshivat Har Etzion, Faculty, The Idea School
R. David Fried, Semikha, YCT, Faculty, New England Jewish Academy, Editor, thelehrhaus.com
R. Ben Greenfield, Semikha, YCT, Rabbi, Cong. Ahavas Israel, Greenpoint
Daniel Herman, Student, Yeshivat Siach Yitzchak
R. Jason Herman, Semikha, YCT, Rabbi, Cong. Beth Israel-West Side Jewish Center
R. Dan Margulies, Semikha, YCT, Former Rabbi, The Riverdale Minyan, Currently Faculty, Berman Hebrew Academy
R. Haggai Resnikoff, Semikha, YCT, Rebbe and Director of Community Learning, YCT
Amichai Samet, Ram, Yeshivat Otniel
R. Yehuda Witt, Semikha, Strauss Rabbinical Seminary, Former Co-Director, OU JLIC at Boston University, Currently Faculty, Netivot: the Montessori Yeshiva
How are participants selected?
We had an internal nomination process to identify potential Fellows of high caliber – both in terms of learning and character – to be our Kollel Fellows. Those nominated were either individuals we knew or those who received recommendations from others. We were looking specifically for candidates who were post-semikha or whose level of learning was equivalent to those who received semikha, and who were also interested in having a voice in the communal halakhic conversation and a role in halakhic leadership. Candidates were invited to submit an application for admission which was followed by an in-person interview. Practically everyone did so, and we now have a truly amazing group of 12 outstanding rabbis as our first cohort.
What topics will you be covering?
This coming summer, 2021, we will be focusing on the theme of disabilities – physical, learning, social-emotional, developmental and intellectual, and anxiety and eating disorders – both on the individual level, and also relating to questions of parenting and allocation of communal resources. Each chavruta will focus on a different question of their choosing from among these topics.
In future years, we are thinking of covering topics such as fertility, old age, gender and sexuality, parents and children, and technology – specifically as it relates to computers and AI.
What is the structure?
The Kollel fellows will spend the month researching that topic and end with a written teshuvah/halakhic paper on the topic. The first half of the morning will be devoted to shiurim by Rabbi Linzer, on how halakha approaches the various aspects of disabilities. There will also be a shiur on Fridays on methodologies of psak and teshuva writing.
The remainder of the morning and half the afternoon will be devoted to fellows working on their respective topics, with R. Linzer and others available to give direction and assistance. There will be weekly seminars for Fellows to share their current state of research and to hear feedback from their fellow participants.
We will also have a segment in the afternoons devoted to guests, both Torah/halakhic experts and experts from other fields. The Torah and halakhic experts will include both those in the U.S., and those in Israel, in particular Roshei Yeshiva of the co-sponsoring yeshivot.
Currently, this is a full-time, one-month program in the summer, with an eventual goal of making this a full-year program, either half- or full-time, which will do its learning in the beit midrash together with our semikha students.
Who are the guest speakers?
We have guest speakers giving first-hand accounts, guest shiurim from rashei yeshiva, and experts in the field – both pastoral and medical ethics. The specific guests are:
1. First-Hand Accounts
Netanel Linzer and Rabbanit Devora Zlochower, Maharat
Batya Sperling Milner, Rabbanit Aliza Speling, Maharat, and Rabbi Ronnie Cahana, Congregation Beth El
2. Rashei Yeshiva/Religious Leaders
Rabbi Benny Lau, Community Leader, Activist, Founder of 929, head of the “Human Rights and Judaism in Action Project” at the Israel Democracy Institute.
R. Shlomo Vilk, Rosh Yeshiva, Yeshivat Machanayim
R. Yair Dreyfus, Rosh Yeshiva, Yeshivat Siach
3. Pastoral and Medical Ethics
Dr. Michelle Friedman, Sharon and Steve Lieberman Chair of Pastoral Counseling, YCT
Dr. Ken Prager, Professor of Medicine, Pulmonary and Chairman of the Medical Ethics Committee at Columbia University Medical Center; Board Chair, YCT
Where are the women?
We are deeply invested in the Torah advancement of women, and it would be a wonderful opportunity to help cultivate women as future poskot for our community. At the same time, it was not clear that this was the role that we should be taking on. Given Maharat’s role in higher rabbinic and Torah education for women, they were an obvious address for such a program, and we wanted to be sure that our Kollel did not encroach in any way on any of their programs, current or future. We are currently in discussions with them regarding the best way to move forward on cultivating female poskim for the community.
It should be noted that a select group of women who are playing major religious leadership roles in Israel will be participating in our intensive Pastoral Counseling for Rabbis program at Rambam Hospital in Haifa.
Where do you hope to go from here?
Currently, this is a full-time, one-month program in the summer. We hope to soon make it a full-year program, either half- or full-time, which will do its learning in the beit midrash together with our semikha students.
We will continue to cover urgent and enduring questions, and hope to be producing teshuvot, essays, books, and running programs for the community.
We also foresee a growing community of these Fellows who will continue to support one another, share the halakhic issues they are grappling with, and learn from one another’s scholarship and perspective.
How does the Kollel fit within the wider goals of YCT as an institution?
The Kollel was a perfect fit with YCT’s new identity as a center of Torah and Torah Leadership. This program will lead to the development and dissemination of high-level Torah scholarship throughout our community and beyond, and will cultivate a new cadre of halakhic and Torah leaders whose voice is so desperately needed. With the Kollel’s eventual presence in our beit midrash, it will add to the energy and dynamics of the learning in our semikha program and the institution overall.