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Schechter Institute of Jewish Studies, The

SCHECHTER INSTITUTE OF JEWISH STUDIES, THE (Machon Schechter L'mada'ey Hayahadut). The institute was founded in Jerusalem in 1984 as the Seminary of Judaic Studies (Bet Hamidrash L'limudey Hayahadut) to train Conservative rabbis for the Masorti Movement in Israel. It was viewed as the spiritual heir of the *Breslau Rabbinical Seminary (1854–1939) and the *Jewish Theological Seminary of America (JTS; 1887ff.). It was founded by JTS under the leadership of Chancellor Gershon *Cohen and Vice Chancellor Simon *Greenberg, and by the Masorti (Conservative) Movement in Israel represented by Prof. Reuven *Hammer, who also served as its first dean (1984–1987). It met initially at the Schocken Institute, a JTS affiliate in Jerusalem, and the founders dreamed that it would eventually have 60 students.

The Seminary grew rapidly under the leadership of Prof. Lee *Levine, who served as dean and later president (1987–94) and rector (1994–96), as the Seminary moved first to the Ma'ayanot building and then to Neve Schechter (1990), which had been a dormitory for JTS rabbinical students. The first class of four rabbinical students was ordained in July 1988, but Levine and his successors felt that it was not enough to ordain Israeli Conservative rabbis. They felt that the most effective way to bring Jewish education in general and Conservative Judaism in particular to Israel was by developing large educational programs for public school children and teachers and for new immigrants. Levine therefore founded the TALI Education Fund (1987) which funds and supervises the TALI school system in Israel, received permission from Israel's Council for Higher Education to grant an M.A. degree in Jewish Studies as a branch of JTS (1989), adopted Midreshet Yerushalayim, which became a program for Russian-speaking and Hungarian Jews (1990), and adopted the one year rabbinical programs of JTS, the *University of Judaism in Los Angeles, and the *Seminario Rabbinico in Buenos Aires (1990).

During Levine's tenure, the TALI Education Fund began to turn the TALI schools into a real school system: many schools were added, a syllabus for grades 1–9 was published, curricula were written, in-service training was developed, and agreements were reached with the Ministry of Education. The M.A. program in Jewish Studies grew rapidly from five students in 1990–91 to over 200 in 1994, and Levine began to hire full-time faculty. Together with Prof. David *Golinkin, the dean, he developed an innovative interdisciplinary M.A. program in Jewish studies for Israeli educators, with specializations such as informal education, family and community studies, and Jewish Women's Studies as well as a D.H.L. program as a branch of JTS.

Midreshet Yerushalayim had been founded in the 1980s as a post-high school yeshivah-style program for Conservative Jews from North America. Transformed under the leadership of Levine and Shmuel Glick, it founded an outreach program for Russian-speaking immigrants in Israel and a TALI school system and Ramah Camps in the former Soviet Union, and it revived the moribund *Rabbinical Seminary in Budapest by adding a Pedagogium for teachers, which eventually became the University of Jewish Studies in Budapest.

During Rabbi Benjamin Segal's tenure as president (1994–99), all of the Seminary's programs continued to grow at a rapid rate and the institution was renamed the Schechter Institute of Jewish Studies in 1998, in honor of Prof. Solomon *Schechter, one of the main founders of Conservative Judaism in North America. Segal more than doubled the budget, adopted sound fiscal and administrative policies, began the accreditation process to turn Schechter into an Israeli institution of higher learning, and endowed the Liebhaber Prize for Religious Tolerance. He founded the Institute of Applied Halakhah together with Golinkin; its goal was to publish halakhic literature in different languages for the worldwide Conservative Movement. He also developed indigenous leadership by hiring three young graduates of Schechter – Alexander Even-Chen as dean of the Graduate School, Eitan Chikli as director of the TALI Education Fund, and Yair Paz as director of Midreshet Yerushalayim in Israel.

Prof. Alice Shalvi, who served as rector (1997–2000) and acting president (1999–2000), laid the groundwork for an M.A. track in Judaism and the Arts and a Center of Jewish Art which developed curricula for the TALI schools and websites. She founded The Center for Women and Jewish Law (1999) together with Golinkin, and helped launch Nashim: A Journal of Jewish Women's Studies and Gender Issues (1998), which was co-published with Brandeis University and later with Indiana University Press. Shalvi also hired Gila Katz, who had founded the TALI day school in Czernowitz, as director of Midreshet Yerushalayim in Ukraine.

During Golinkin's tenure (2000ff.), the four major Schechter programs became four separate amutot (non-profit organizations) as The Schechter Institute achieved accreditation as an Israeli institution of higher education (2005). Annual fundraising increased dramatically, while endowments and endowed chairs were raised for the first time. The Schechter Institute hired many tenure-track faculty and undertook an ambitious program of publishing academic and popular works in Hebrew, English, Russian, French, and Spanish. The TALI school system expanded rapidly after receiving official recognition from the Ministry of Education in 2003 and began to publish at least four new TALI textbooks per year. Midreshet Yerushalayim expanded to 46 branches in Israel and to 17 schools and camps in Ukraine.

By 2006, the Schechter Rabbinical Seminary had 60 students from Israel and abroad; the Schechter Institute of Jewish Studies graduate school had 450 students and 60 full and part-time faculty; the TALI Education Fund provided enriched Jewish education to 25,000 Israeli children in almost 140 TALI schools and pre-schools; and Midreshet Yerushalayim taught Jewish studies to thousands of Russian immigrants in Israel and to Jews in Ukraine and Hungary. Golinkin stated that his dream was to provide every Israeli and eastern European Jew with a Jewish education.


GENERAL: D. Elazar and R.M. Geffen, The Conservative Movement in Judaism: Dilemmas and Opportunities (2000), 138–40; N. Gillman, Conservative Judaism: The New Century (1993), 178–89; D. Golinkin, Proceedings of the Rabbinical Assembly, 62 (2000), 194–96; idem, Women's League Outlook, 75/3 (Spring 2005), 22–26; E. Lederhendler, in: J. Wertheimer (ed.), Tradition Renewed: A History of the Jewish Theological Seminary of America (1997), 2:244–48; L. Levine et al., Et La'asot, 2 (Summer 1989), 13–29 (Heb.); H. Meirovich, The Shaping of Masorti Judaism in Israel (1999); I. Schorsch, Thoughts from 3080 (1987), 17–24; B. Segal, Proceedings of the Rabbinical Assembly, 62 (1995), 104–8; E. Tabory in: U. Rebhun and Ch. Waxman (eds.), Jews in Israel (2004), 290–92. TALI: W. Ackerman and G. Showstack, Conservative Judaism, 40/1 (Fall 1987), 67–80; E. Chikli, Tali Education: The Development and Realization of an Educational Idea (Heb., 2005); T. Horovitz, Dor L'dor, 15 (Heb., 1999); L. Levine, Studies in Jewish Education, 7 (1995), 259–77. MIDRESHET YERUSHALAYIM: Sh. Glick, Dor L'dor 24 (2004), 39–54 (Heb.); D. Golinkin, Insight Israel: The View from Schechter (2003), 138–40, 154–56.

Sources: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2007 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.