Program bridges academia, rabbinate

Program bridges academia, rabbinate

Rabbi Steven Bayar of Congregation B’nai Israel in Millburn is among the 10 religious leaders in the first cohort of a new program designed to disseminate “great ideas” throughout the Jewish world.

The University of Pennsylvania is partnering with Clal-The National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership in creating The LEAP (“leverage, expand, and popularize”) Fellowship, a year-long program aimed at “leveraging great ideas so that they reach and serve the widest possible audience.”

Throughout the year, the rabbis — from across both the country and the denominational spectrum — are learning with Katz Center scholars, studying a shared topic that has the potential to shape their chosen field, the humanities as a whole, and contemporary Jewish culture and community. The rabbis are expected to share what they have learned with their home institutions and communities through at least three programs or experiences. 

The group met Nov. 2-3 at the university’s Herbert D. Katz Center for Advanced Judaic Studies for the first gathering. This year’s topic is spiritual trends in Judaism and other religions.

Calling the first sessions, with a Dead Sea Scrolls scholar and an anthropologist who studies Jewish spiritual movements, “eye-opening,” Bayar said, “Bringing educators from different movements and disciplines is fascinating, just to be able to talk and see what the possibilities and permutations could be.” 

Regarding the Dead Sea Scrolls, Bayar pointed out that while the scholar described the different prayer services of the Dead Sea community, “We considered what some of those models might look like today — like having a prayer service without a text.” While for the Dead Sea community, the model was necessitated by the prohibitive expense of parchment, he said, “Today, the siddur can create a barrier between you and God.”

Bayar told NJJN he is considering trying such a model at his synagogue, but is “still working out what it would look like.” 

Clal president Rabbi Brad Hirschfield said that through LEAP, “I hope that we see otherwise less used, but truly brilliant, ideas ‘brought to market’ in increasingly accessible, usable, meaningful, and impactful ways.

“This is how a big idea can start making a big difference.”

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