Rabbi Melamed at Har Bracha
Rabbi Melamed at Har BrachaFlash 90

Har Bracha is a small Jewish town. It has perhaps over 2,000 residents, to 330 families, nestled on the southern end of Mount Gerizim of Biblical fame (and the source of its name, which means Mt. Blessing in Hebrew). To its north is the imposing peak of Mt. Ebal, the joint scene of the famous recitation of blessings and curses in the Book of Deuteronomy and site of Joshua's Biblical alter. In between is the valley city of Shechem (Nablus) and the small Samaritan settlement of Kiryat Luza.

What makes Har Bracha different from other small Jewish villages in Samaria is the ambition of its small population and in particular, its yeshiva.

Har Bracha has a very professional brigade of residents thanks to Yeshivat Har Bracha’s Shiluvim program.

“Each student creates a plan according to how many hours their respective B.A., M.A. or Ph.D. is, then according to that plan they schedule a relative amount of hours in yeshiva to learn,” says Town Secretary Shalev Kayam, who completed his own B.A. in conjunction with Shiluvim several years ago.

The program is led by Rabbi Eliezer Melamed, the Rosh Yeshiva at Har Bracha. While it was established in conjunction with Ariel University, students learn at several institutions.

Perhaps more than other small towns outside the so-called 'settlement blocs' of Judea and Samaria, the high-elevation yishuv sees its residents travel far and wide to go to work every morning: 50 minutes south to Jerusalem, 45 minutes west to Tel Aviv, and sometimes north to Afula.

Kayam believes there are about 100 students currently in the program, but could not cite an exact figure. He mentioned that there was no specific age expectation for students, noting that one man in his 40s recently finished his doctorate in conjunction with Har Bracha Yeshiva.

“We have a few doctoral candidates right now and several doing M.A.s, including at Ariel University and Bar Ilan in Physics and a couple in Biology.”

“Funding started off small and came from the yeshiva budget.” After that, says Kayam, the graduates of the programs “started donating to the yeshiva's program and it just started growing.The Moskowitz Foundation has also generously supported the program, donating to the scholarship fund for both men and women students."

“They’ve opened programs like this in other places like Eli, though they don’t work the same way and the amount might be different and the donor base might be different. But many places are trying to copy this.”

“The max is about 1,800 shekels per month but the hours change depending on how demanding your degree is.” In that case, “you might have to put in more hours in yeshiva.”

Depending on the program and the semester’s schedule, students might be expected to invest less time in the yeshiva, but would still earn the same amount of money as other students with different workloads. This can vary by a degree hour here and there for B.A. students, but might be wildly different for students of advanced degrees.

The program is ambitious in that it aims to change the fundamental perception of the yeshiva living standard. Among the program’s stated goals are raising “the socio-economic standard amongst yeshiva graduates.” It also lets former soldiers who did not go through a formal yeshiva program like hesder to pair up their academic pursuits with some solid time in yeshiva.

"People have to have careers. One way to do that is to learn in the academy. The problem is that most of the yeshivas are worried that they will be hurt spiritually and in hashkafah which is why they created a program,” says Kayam.

For those interested in the program for themselves, they may visit the yeshiva’s website at http://en.yhb.org.il/shiluvim/