Proudly Observant, Egalitarian, Nondenominational: Hadar Opens New Kollel

December 11, 2019

Source: Jewish Week 


On a recent Monday morning on the Upper West Side, a group of about 20 men and women sat in pairs, hunched over enormous Jewish legal tomes and dissecting their contents in animated conversation. It was a typical scene at Hadar, an egalitarian yeshiva that has run full-time study programs for young adults in New York City since 2007.

Less typical was the mundane topic of their study: whether it is permissible to use a dishwasher for both meat and milk dishes in successive cycles. It’s the kind of question typically asked of synagogue rabbis.But it was only natural that Rabbi Ethan Tucker, their teacher, would want them to know how to answer such questions. After all, many of these students were studying to become rabbis themselves.

As the yeshiva has grown and its enthusiastic alumni base has grown with it, a new generation of leaders is emerging to promote Hadar’s observant, egalitarian — and nondenominational — approach to Judaism. And with Hadar starting its own kollel, or advanced study, program this year with an option to pursue rabbinic ordination, the next generation of these leaders are being trained by the Hadar Institute itself.

The new program comes at a time when denominational lines are blurring. Although three of its top leaders either earned their rabbinic ordinations or studied at the Conservative movement’s Jewish Theological Seminary, Hadar is a flagship of the “independent minyanim” movement of unaffiliated congregations. Rabbi Avi Weiss broke ground by founding two institutions, Yeshivat Chovevei Torah for men in 1999 and Yeshivat Maharat for women in 2009, to train liberal Orthodox men and women as clergy, albeit in separate and independent institutions. And while Hadar’s stance in favor of full gender equality places it squarely outside of the Orthodox community, Hadar has long drawn a large group of students and faculty with Modern Orthodox backgrounds.

Rabbi Tucker said Hadar filled a need students had for “an environment that could synthesize something that felt deeply traditional, deeply practicing, deeply open and broad and where gender equality wasn’t up for discussion.”

For the leaders of the new kollel program, ordaining rabbis was a natural next step in promoting Hadar’s vision of Jewish practice. The yeshiva was founded in 2007 by Rabbis Tucker, Elie Kaunfer, and Shai Held as an outgrowth of Kehilat Hadar, an independent minyan founded by Rabbis Tucker and Kaunfer on the Upper West Side.

Hadar currently has 18 full time students with 10 in the advanced kollel, six of whom are committed to pursuing ordination at Hadar. Since it opened in 2007, Hadar has had approximately 600 students enrolled in full time summer and year-long programs. Between 2,500-3,000 people have participated in Hadar’s short-term programming, with about 600 people participating in short-term programming in New York this year.

As Hadar’s alumni base grew, a number of students approached Hadar’s faculty looking to continue studying Torah in the Hadar framework, eventually leading to the opening of the advanced kollel. Its students include a mix of aspiring rabbis and those intending to study for one or two years. Students in the advanced kollel will primarily study three areas, Jewish law, Jewish thought, and Bible.

The program is a return to an older model of rabbinic education that relies heavily on independent study and a close teacher-student relationship. It marks a move away from modern rabbinical seminaries that are based on a university-like model. The Hadar program, which includes hours of independent text study, requires students to be capable of learning on their own when they begin their studies.

Read more at The Jewish Week.

Updated: Jan. 13, 2020