RIETS Launches Rabbinic Training to Prepare Rabbis for Challenges of 21st Century America

Rabbi Zevulun Charlop, Max & Marion Grill Dean of RIETS

May 23, 2006 — Yeshiva University’s Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary (RIETS), the Western Hemisphere’s leading center for Torah learning and training for the rabbinate, has significantly revamped its rabbinic professional training program to meet the emerging needs of contemporary Jewish life. The new curriculum brings rabbinic professional training to a new level that complements the intensive and expanding core of Torah studies.

“Our new rabbinic professional training program will hone the skills rabbis need to more effectively interact with their congregants and other constituencies,” said Rabbi Zevulun Charlop, Max and Marion Grill Dean of RIETS. “It is much more comprehensive, we believe, than any advanced professional training program we know of and with an unequaled faculty directly facing up to the challenges of today with the tools of tomorrow.”

The program combines intensive Torah study with practical courses in a broad range of disciplines such as writing skills, public speaking, conflict resolution, pastoral counseling, education, and outreach taught by leading experts in their respective fields.

“As ordained rabbis, musmakhim (ordained rabbis) of RIETS make a significant contribution to each of the fields related to their rabbinic training,” said YU Chancellor and Rosh HaYeshiva (head of school) Rabbi Norman Lamm. “The intensive and sacred learning of RIETS students is a fundamental feature of their professional work in every area of avodat kodesh (sacred service) in the contemporary Orthodox community.”

In the fall of 2002, recognizing the complex and changing needs of the American Jewish community, Julius Berman, as chairman of the RIETS board, appointed Dr. Alvin I. Schiff, Irving I. Stone Distinguished Professor of Jewish Education at the Azrieli Graduate School ofJewish Education and Administration and chairman of the RIETS Academic Affairs Committee, to lead the effort to review the professional training of RIETS students.

Dr. Schiff and Rabbi Charlop, under the vigilant oversight of President Richard M. Joel since his appointment as president, directed the task force of roshei yeshiva (professors of Talmud), academics, Jewish educators, and synagogue and lay leaders in restructuring the curriculum. The RIETS administration will work closely in cooperation with YU’s recently established Center for the Jewish Future.

“This curriculum emphasizes the values which stand at the core of Yeshiva University and RIETS,” said President Joel, who is also president of RIETS. “This curriculum will arm our musmakhim with the newest techniques and latest information so that they can passionately and effectively disseminate Torah and the message of kedusha (holiness).”

The professional training curriculum is divided into six tracks of study: pulpit, education, community outreach, campus leadership, hospital chaplaincy, Jewish communal service.

Students must take 36 credits of coursework to complete requirements for program certification. All the tracks require the same core courses, which include pastoral psychology, overview of the Jewish community, a public-speaking seminar, and outreach. In their second year, students choose from one of the six tracks and at least 15 credits must be taken in one track. Students in the education track are required to complete a master’s degree in Jewish education at the Azrieli Graduate School in addition to their core coursework. Students in other tracks will have the opportunity for further study at the various YU graduate schools in areas of psychology, social work, and Jewish studies.

To complete the program, students must intern for three semesters of hands-on practical experience in each student’s defined rabbinic professional goals. The fourth year is a full-year mentored internship program in the synagogue, school, outreach, administrative, or chaplaincy settings where they must continue to maintain their rigorous Torah studies that remain the rabbi’s principal and classical stock-in-trade. During this year, the students function as a regular part of the rabbinic staff at the internship location.

“The Bella and Harry Wexner Kollel Elyon and Semikha Honors Program was the laboratory for this program,” noted Rabbi Charlop. Established eight years ago, the Wexner Kollel Elyon was open to a select number of semikha (rabbinic ordination) students offering intensive, traditional Torah learning with innovative, practical courses in various disciplines. We are now bringing the fruits of that visionary and creative program to the broader RIETS population.”

The Rabbinic Professional Education Program will chart the future of the Jewish community by
preparing rabbis to be conversant with the range of crucial issues facing the community and giving them the ability to communicate effectively with all Jews using “real world” skills. The academic enrichment portion of the program was developed with the guidance of university faculty members and administrators from schools throughout the university including Azrieli Graduate School of Jewish Education and Administration, the Bernard Revel Graduate School of Jewish Studies, Wurzweiler School of Social Work, and Ferkauf Graduate School of Psychology.

Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary is the foundation upon which Yeshiva University rose. RIETS’ educational entities include the Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik Center for Rabbinic Studies, semikhah programs, kollelim (institutes of advanced rabbinic studies), the Max Stern Division of Communal Services/Center for the Jewish Future, and the Philip and Sarah Belz School of Jewish Music. RIETS is one of 17 undergraduate, graduate, and professional schools and affiliates comprising Yeshiva University, America’s oldest and largest university under Jewish auspices.

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