Rabbi Riskin to step down from Ohr Torah network he founded

Rabbi Riskin is to be succeeded by Rabbi Kenneth Brander, Yeshiva University administrator.

JTA - Mordechai Sones ,

Rabbi Riskin
Rabbi Riskin
Eliran Aharon

Rabbi Shlomo Riskin will step down from running the network of modern Orthodox schools and seminaries he founded in Israel.

The Israeli-American leader will retire in July 2018 as chancellor of Ohr Torah Stone, a network of educational institutions that has pushed the limits of Jewish law to be more inclusive of women and converts. Rabbi Kenneth Brander, an administrator at Yeshiva University, will lead the organization as president and rosh yeshiva, or head of school, according to a statement issued on Tuesday.

Riskin, 77, received rabbinic ordination more than 50 years ago, and transformed Manhattan’s Lincoln Square Synagogue into a popular and growing hub of "Modern Orthodoxy". In 1983, he moved to Israel with congregants and co-founded Efrat, today an 8,000-resident Judea community and suburb of Jerusalem with a majority religious population.

Riskin serves as chief rabbi of Efrat, and will continue in that role even after stepping down from Ohr Torah Stone.

Ohr Torah Stone runs modern-Orthodox schools ranging from junior high to graduate programs. The network includes a five-year program to train women as Jewish legal authorities they say will be on par with rabbis, the first school to train women as advocates in Israeli rabbinical courts, and Midreshet Lindenbaum, a women’s Jewish studies college that was one of the first to teach Talmud to women.

Riskin has also been an outspoken advocate of liberalizing Israel’s conversion system, and has privately conducted his own conversions for years. His activism has drawn censure from the country’s Chief Rabbinate, which is responsible for Jewish conversion in Israel. The rabbinate threatened Riskin’s rabbinate position in 2015 but retained him in the role.

Brander serves as Y.U.’s vice president for university and community life, and also teaches at the school’s rabbinical seminary. Like Riskin, he has promoted Torah study for Orthodox women, formerly heading Y.U.’s Graduate Program of Advanced Talmudic Studies and Biblical Interpretation for Women.

Brander also founded Neal’s Fund, which provides micro-grants to students engaged in community service. Before joining Y.U., he served as rabbi of the Boca Raton Synagogue in Florida.