School starts in Israel tomorrow, but who teaches the teachers?

Profile of the president of an 'ivy league' institution, Orot Teachers College, one of the people who shapes religious education in Israel

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Ofra Lax, 'Besheva',

Prof. Yuval Sinai
Prof. Yuval Sinai
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Each issue of the Besheva Religious Zionist Hebrew weekly has an interview with an Israeli of note. Recently, the paper interviewed the president of Orot Israel Teachers College, the largest religious teacher's college in Israel, including a women's campus in Elkana, Samaria and a men's campus at Moreshet Yaakov, Rechovot, Professor Yuval Sinai. Arutz Sheva has translated it for you so you can see the kind of educators who shape religious Zionist education.

Starting at the very beginning: Professor Yuval Sinai was born 45 years ago in the month of Av at Rambam Hospital in Haifa, which may be the reason behind his great love for Maimonides' works.

A family career: His father, Professor Gideon Sinai, was on the faculty of the Environmental Engineering Department at the Technion, while his mother worked as a Civil Engineer in the Haifa Municipality, his sister is deputy chief architect of Jerusalem and his brother, unsurprisingly, is an engineering student at Hebrew University.

Growing up an academia: Only his youngest years revolved around his father's work at the Technion, but later on, the family still felt connected to the renowned institution. "My father was a secular kibbutznik from the Jordan Valley who chose his career for Zionistic reasons, in order to fulfill his desire to develop agriculture and water infrastructure in the State of Israel. This Zionistic idealism is also what made him decide to become a baal tshuva later on."

On becoming a baal tshuva: "I was always a believer. As a child I attended shul in Tel Aviv with my maternal grandparents, and eventually, my entire family became observant together."

"Our synagogue was very tolerant and welcoming and that is a good part of the reason we became religious. Families who wanted to have their son's bar mitzvah there were politely asked to attend services for half a year beforehand. A good many people became attached to the prayers – my family among them."

On accepting responsibility: My father became the sexton, the gabbai, in the synagogue in the Carmelit neighborhood, a very secular area. If I did not arrive at the synagogue for morning prayers at 6:20 there was no quorum and I internalized that responsibility during my teen years."

As a teen, after having fun with his friends, Sinai says, he would make sure to be on time for prayers – and he is grateful to his father for teaching responsibility in that way.

Education: Sinai attended the Herzl public school in socialist Haifa (known as the "red" city because of a preponderance of Jewish socialists and socialism's connection to Russia, ed.) "The non-observant residents were above all, respectable, good citizens of Haifa. For Junior High, I switched to the Yavne Yeshiva, where I found myself trying to bridge the knowledge gap in reading Rashi script and keeping up with Talmud classes.

"I pronounced the names of famous rabbis incorrectly and the other pupils laughed at me, as youngsters will. I said to myself that "he who laughs last laughs best" and worked harder. That very same year, they moved me into the advanced Talmud class and would not believe that I had once been non-observant."

The switch in direction: "Towards the end of high school I was accepted to the "Atuda" academic IDF program (an elite and very selective program which defers army service until an academic degree which the IDF needs is obtained, ed.) to study electrical engineering at the Technion. The head of the yeshiva high school, Rabbi Kleiman, called me in to his office along with a group of students and said:' You will work at your chosen career all your lives. Give Torah one year so that when your son asks you one day to help him with Talmud for his matriculation exams, you'll find yourself able to do so.' He convinced me and I am everlastingly grateful to him for opening the door to Torah for me."

The Torah world: "I wanted to go to Merkaz Harav Yeshiva in Jeruslaem. My parents didn't like the idea (because it was a total Torah milieu ) and the wise Rosh Yeshiva there, Rabbi Avraham Shapira zt"l, suggested Birkat Moshe hesder yeshiva in Maale Adumim to preserve peaceful relations at home. (shalom bayis) That is where my life changed."

Birkat Moshe: "My gemara teacher was Rabbi Sabato in whose lectures the Talmudic pages came to life. They were shown to be deep and challenging, the differing opinions concerning their meaning woven into a wonderful seamless exposition. Rabbi Sabato taught us how to write a Torah article. Rabbi Yitzchak Shilat taught us the Rambam's preface to the Mishna and delved into Rabbi Kook's writings with us, creating a special synthesis between these two giants that formed my modern religious nationalist identity. The Rosh Yeshiva at that time, Rabbi Nachum Rabinovitch, influenced me a great deal and was – and still is, as are the others – the person I go to for advice."

IDF: "I was in the tank corps, did well, but wanted to go back to the yeshiva, thirsting for the wondrous world revealed to me there."

Post yeshiva years: "I spent 6 years in Birkat Moshe. When I left, I did not go through a crisis, because the Rambam's versatility allows one to deal with the modern world. The teachers at the yeshiva aroused my interest in researching the Rambam and Jewish civil law. I didn't go for rabbinic ordination but chose a field that is in harmony with the yeshiva world."

Studying and teaching: "I enrolled in Bar Ilan U. and continued straight on to their doctoral program after getting my B.A. Most of that period I also attended the Higher Torah Studies Institute at the university, where I studied Choshen Mishpat and other subjects that added much to my understanding and helped me connect that to secular studies. The institute is a 'protected space' for Torah inside the university".

"I taught both Jewish Civil Law and Israeli Civll Law. I understood then that one can exert influence on the legal world only if one is familiar with secular law and fluent in its language."

At my side: "My wife, Attorney Ruchama Segal-Sinai, head of a Justice Ministry department, was a student in the faculty of law two years above me, but we met outside the university. She is a 7th- 8th generation Israeli, whose family was with the Gaon of Vilna's students when they came to israel in the early 19th century. For practical purposes, that means that when I am on sabbatical, she has no desire to see anything outside Israel."

Joy: "Six children and a long term subscription to the Horev educational system in Jerusalem," he says with a chuckle. Horev, a high level school system established by German immigrants who were followers of Rabbi Samson Rafael Hirsch, runs religious Zionist elementary, junior and upper high schools. "My eldest son is about to start mechina (pre-military Torah studies) in Eli, Tzippora will enter her senior year in Horev's Ulpena H.S. for Girls, Noah is a freshman there, Yedidia is in the Horev Junior High, Moshe in religious elementary school and Aharon in nursery school."

Academic life: "I taught in Bar Ilan and Ramat Gan College, spent two sabbaticals abroad, the second as visiting Professor at Yale University. The sabbaticals made a huge difference in my life, they taught me about Jews outside Israel and how they view things."

The Diaspora: "Leaving Israel strengthens your Israeli identity, because you realize that Israel is the only place to raise Torah-true children who are connected to the Holy Land. On the other hand, when I was outside Israel, I saw the solidarity of Jewish communities that are accepting of everyone. Outside Israel, the community is everything and that gives it clout."

Jewish Civil Law in the Jewish State: "Professor Sinai Deutsch, a man of many varied accomplishments, founder of Netanya College, invited me to the college as a senior faculty member to head their Center for Application of Jewish Civil Law and I accepted his offer. The fact of the matter is that even if Israeli judges want to make use of Jewish civil law, they know very little about it. Our center contacted the courts and suggested they call us whenever judges want to know Jewish law's view on a particular subject. It was important to find relevant topics and make the expression 'Jewish and Democratic,' the way Israel was described at its founding, into an active factor in the courts of law."

Faculty: "Everyone in Netanya College is an academician on a high level and has trained as a rabbinic court judge. They are true Torah scholars who know how to use legal language. "They teach judges what sages such as the Rosh, Rambam and others said that could be of aid in the courts."

Out of the blue: Just as the book he wrote with Professor Benny Shmueli of Bar Ilan was about to be published by Cambridge U. Press, a book comparing torts in the Rambam to those of great minds in the modern legal world, an offer suddenly arrived.

The offer? To become president of Orot Israel Teachers College whose women's branch is in Elkana and the men's at Moreshet Yaakov yeshiva in Rehovot. "I asked myself what is going on here, I am in the middle of a book, but went to Rabbi Rabinovitch for advice, telling him all the reasons for answering in the negative. Rabbi Rabinovitch taught us to deal with complexity and answered with a good many reasons for answering in the positive. He called it a most important mission."

The Mission? "It is a real challenge. Unique and brilliant people were my predecessors in this position.
Educating youngsters to lead a life of faith: A religious teacher, as opposed to a lecturer, is supposed to inspire, to educate, first and foremost, not just teach a subject.
Coming from the academic world, I have seen the products of Israel's educational system and understand that education is our most important resource. I decided to say yes, and with the help of G-d and the wonderful staff here, we will make our mark. "

It is not an easy time for Religious Zionist Colleges of Education, which must continue a process mandated by the Education Ministry and unite with one another according to its dictates. Orot is the largest of them.

Goals: Many and varied:

- "To develop the field of educating youngsters to lead a life of faith. A religious teacher, as opposed to a lecturer, is supposed to inspire, to educate, first and foremost, not just teach a subject.

-"To establish an international center for the Jewish family, a faith-focused, non-confrontational response to all the dangers faced by the traditional Jewish family today.

-"To work with all the elements of Israeli society, including those in outlying areas. My teacher Rav Sabato, believed that one must speak to each group In its own language. . I dream of advancing social-community education, of training students for dedicated individual work with youth-at-risk and those who cannot live on their own."

Reminder of another challenge: Improving technological education. "It is critical to me to advance this field within the Religious Zionist sector because it has been neglected there. People with strong faith and idealism, those who want to see our country and society develop, should be our math and science teachers."

Had he not been guided by his rabbi-teachers: "I imagine I would have become an electronics engineer working in hi tech. Sometimes G-d moves you from one place to a totally different sphere. "

Details:

Daily routine: Yuval arises at 6:30 a.m. prays, studies the daf yomi, daily page of Talmud, drops off the youngest at nursery school, prepares a sandwich and is off to Orot College.

Music: There's a clear dividing line in that sphere. When working or doing research, classical music is the background. When travelling with the family, it's Israeli songs by Arik Einstein, when washing the floors for Shabbat it's hassidic music. "We listen to 'Ka Echsof' by the Karliner Rebbe just before Shabbat candles are lit."

Shabbat? "Friday night we all sit around the table and discuss various current issues, we study a chapter of Tanach together, and during Shabbat there is more Torah study – with my wife, the children, delivering lectures at the synagogue. On Shabbat we try to see our extended family, enjoying at least one meal with our parents or a sibling."

Time set aside for Torah: In addition to writing and research, there is a Torah study partner, havruta, for various texts – the Tur and Shulkhan Aruch Choshen Mishpat," another for Rabbi Kook's writings and time put aside for studying the Rambam's prefaces with his daughter.

Leisure: "I love to play soccer with my boys." Favorite team - Barcelona.

Helping at home: "I take the younger ones to school and bring them home, wash the floors and help with laundry all week. As an scademician, I was at home working a good deal of the time..."

Fears: "The fear of G-d, as Rabbi Soloveitchik wrote, overshadows any other fears. Rabbi Nachman said that the most important thing is not to feel fear at all. I try to be a student of Rav Soloveitchik."

Admired figure: The Rambam, the man of all seasons, the man without whom "Judaism would not look the way it looks today. He taught us how to relate to the challenges of combining Torah and Science in the Jewish world."

A Wish: "Good health, for all my children to be happy, observant, studying Torah and pleased with their choices in life" and in general, for "G-d to give us the ability to train teachers in the best way possible

A dream: "I dream of fulfilling all the dreams I have not yet brought to fruition, of finding the time to study and write on Torah matters in peace and tranquility."

Translated from Hebrew by Rochel Sylvetsky, Senior Consultant for Arutz Sheva English site, Op-ed and Judaism editor.