(Please note: Letters of approbation appear in the order in which Yeshivath Sharashim received them.)
Letter from Rabbi Steven Weil,
Executive Vice President of the Orthodox Union (OU):
Dear Fellow Participants at Yeshivath Sharashim:
I have had the great honor of learning from Rabbi Chaim Eisen over the last six years, as well as having hosted Rabbi Eisen on multiple occasions as a scholar in residence in our congregation, Beth Jacob of Beverly Hills. Rabbi Eisen is one of the few scholars who can give a serious analysis and address the gamut of contemporary issues confronting believers today, using the texts of the great medieval Jewish philosophers (such as Rabbi Yehudah HaLevi, Rambam, and Ramban). The basis of Jewish philosophy and the vision of the Torah are articulated and laid out by the great medieval Jewish philosophers.
There are no short cuts to understanding Judaism and the philosophy of the Torah. Without a thorough knowledge of the great philosophical works, it is very difficult to grasp Jewish philosophy. Many essential issues in the world today test our beliefs, including the interface of Torah and science, specific providence versus general providence, the extent to which proofs pertain to belief in G-d and the Torah’s divine origin, the role of the oral Torah, and many others. We can cogently address them only on a foundation of these classics of Jewish thought. And these are issues that every thinking human being must grapple with.
One of our greatest challenges today is reaching out to our young people — of all ages — who, assessing the confrontation between Judaism (and religion generally) and contemporary agnosticism, conclude that agnosticism prevails. All too often, agnosticism, with its apparent rationalist basis, seems to project greater intellectual substance. In this regard, there is perhaps no other period to which our generation bears closer affinity than that which spawned the classics of Jewish thought, written in an analogous intellectual climate. We ignore their guidance, in formulating cogent responses to the intellectual challenges facing our generation, at our peril.
This is why so many of us are extremely excited and anxious to learn from Rabbi Eisen and his shi‘urim on this website. For almost three decades, Rabbi Eisen has been a teacher to students of all ages and backgrounds at the OU Israel Center. For those who haven’t been able to attend in person, having his lectures on the web and learning from his methodology will enhance and enrich our lives and our encounter with G-d. For those who have questions regarding the content of Rabbi Eisen’s lectures, you will find that communicating with Rabbi Eisen about the material is one of the most meaningful and exhilarating experiences that a student can ask for.
We also applaud the additional focus of Yeshivath Sharashim. Growing numbers of non-Jews have come to the realization that their connection to G-d as non-Jews entails returning to the Jewish roots of their faith. They long for Jewish teachings about the Bible and G-d’s revelations to humanity. This is an extraordinary new and blessed phenomenon, and we as believing Jews need to formulate an appropriate response to it. Rabbi Eisen does a tremendous service to Jews and non-Jews alike by reaching out to non-Jews as well and addressing this crucially important issue, at Yeshivath Sharashim and elsewhere.
Despite the agnosticism and godlessness around us, more and more people are gradually but progressively recognizing that they will never quench their thirst for meaning by anything less than truly returning to G-d. They crave an approach to life and faith that is sincere and unapologetic. But they demand a level of authenticity and intellectual rigor that all too often is hard to find. Articulating the Bible’s authentic messages, through the lens of our tradition, is of inestimable value to these people. In this domain, too, the establishment of Yeshivath Sharashim is potentially a milestone of historic significance.
Torah Judaism, faithful to G-d’s word and His mission, has a crucially important message to communicate, at the forefront of the global marketplace of ideas today. At its root, this is the Bible’s message, as understood in Jewish tradition, to all of humanity. It is the message distilled by our sages and articulated with unparalleled clarity in the great classics of Jewish thought. Today in particular, as shrill voices of godlessness often beckon unchallenged, the world is critically in need of hearing this message. I believe Yeshivath Sharashim, through Rabbi Eisen’s teachings, has a unique and vital role to play in addressing this need.
I look forward to continuing my studies of the philosophy of the Torah on this website.
Rabbi Steven Weil
Executive Vice President, Orthodox Union
New York, Adar 5772 / March 2012
Letter from Rabbi Dr. Tzvi Hersh Weinreb,
Executive Vice President Emeritus of the Orthodox Union (OU):
To Whom It May Concern:
I write this as a statement of endorsement of Yeshivath Sharashim and its programs. This online religious educational institution is under the direction of my dear friend and colleague Rabbi Chaim Eisen, whose erudition and commitment to the highest principles of our tradition are a matter of record.
Rabbi Eisen has an outstanding history of success in bringing sophisticated and authentic Torah teachings to very diverse audiences. He has found that there is an international audience of Gentiles who are eager to learn about the true nature of Jewish beliefs and spiritual traditions. This is undoubtedly a blessed and providential phenomenon, and it demands of us a cogent response.
Rabbi Eisen has been a pioneer in the education of non-Jews in the basics of the Bible from a Jewish perspective, achieving not just understanding, but admiration and respect for our traditions and sacred texts, besides a high degree of appreciation for the Jewish people. His goal is to expose non-Jews to those of our teachings that can guide all humanity, through these traditions, to enhance its connection to its Creator. Rabbi Eisen is very conscious of the issues involved in teaching this material to non-Jews.
In addition, Rabbi Eisen’s courses address another very important audience. This is the audience of thinking individuals who may or may not have had an intense, traditional Jewish education but who, regardless, have been inadequately prepared to cope with the philosophical challenges of modern life. He has discovered that this audience can have its eyes opened and intellects stimulated by intense study of the basic sources of Jewish thought, such as the works of Rabbi Yehudah HaLevi and Rambam.
Too often, this audience is unaware of the treasures that are found in such texts and the relevance of these texts to contemporary philosophical challenges. Rabbi Eisen has been at the forefront of those who wish to educate our people in the basic tenets of our faith, thus correcting the prevalent lack of familiarity with basic philosophical sources that exists even among those who have had extensive yeshiva education. This, too, addresses a critically urgent, contemporary need.
Rabbi Eisen’s teaching style is particularly well suited to the programs he is disseminating. He is able to combine thorough scholarship with clarity of presentation and a knowledge of text, which is matched by his knowledge of pedagogical technique. Yeshivath Sharashim is to be commended for reaching out to thirsty audiences of diverse backgrounds with authentic and sophisticated lectures and classes.
I urge the readers of this endorsement to support Yeshivath Sharashim in every possible way and to avail themselves of the opportunity to sample these programs and see for themselves the “light of Torah,” which they contain.
Rabbi Dr. Tzvi Hersh Weinreb
Executive Vice President, Emeritus, Orthodox Union
New York, Nisan 5772 / April 2012
Letter from Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein,
Director, Interfaith Affairs, of the Simon Wiesenthal Center:
To Visitors of Yeshivath Sharashim:
The greatest works of Torah philosophy were products of troubled, rather than tranquil, times. The great medieval classics of rabbinical thought, such as Rav Sa‘adyah Ga’on’s Emunoth VeDe‘oth, Rav Yehudah HaLevi’s HaKuzari, and Rambam’s Moreh HaNevuchim, addressed the uncertainties and confusions of their days. Similarly, Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch plunged headlong into a Germany already inundated with the heresies of the nineteenth century.
We find ourselves today doubly disadvantaged. No one writes today with the power of Rav Yehudah HaLevi or Rambam in their days. Moreover, most people perceive the great contributions of the past to be beyond their reach. They treat the masterpieces of rabbinical thought that can so illuminate our lives today like closed books. They fail to appreciate how the essential issues discussed in these works are also those confronting us in the modern world – and, therefore, how vital a role these classics should continue to play in our spiritual lives to this day.
This is tragic. Nowhere do we find clearer, more cogent guidance in addressing today’s existential spiritual challenges than in these masterpieces, written in an intellectual climate strikingly similar to our own. Yet, those who claim to understand them often have poor backgrounds in the general spirit of our religious traditions over the centuries and view these books more as objects of academic study than as guides to living. And those who live and breathe those traditions often have no inclination to tackle the most important works of Torah philosophical thought.
Rabbi Chaim Eisen is a rare gem, proficient in both disciplines. He learned Torah in classic yeshivoth for years, and he then served as an educator in post-secondary yeshivoth for twenty years, besides his ongoing engagement in adult religious education, for almost thirty years and counting. His knowledge of the masterpieces of rabbinical thought – their content, their background, and their parallels in other books – is comprehensive, but he does not view them as mere grist for academia. His presentations are deep but clear and, most important, relevant.
Rabbi Eisen is poised to begin a program of serious, textual study of these works, to elucidate the essential philosophy of Torah Judaism and make it available for the asking. For many people, this will be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to understand Judaism the way many early rabbinical authorities wanted us to understand it and for which our own inner selves cry out: from a position of intellectual strength, infusing the Torah’s philosophy into every aspect of our intellectual lives. I highly recommend this series and future series by him along similar lines.
At the same time, Rabbi Eisen is making the “roots” of Judaism available to a very different audience – non-Jews of different faiths who see the Hebrew Bible as an authentic revelation of G-d’s will to humanity. While not seeking to embrace Judaism, they see in the Hebrew Bible and the traditions of Israel concerning it crucial means for everyone to connect to G-d. As such, they crave access to those teachings we have always seen as relevant to all people. This extraordinary, blessed opportunity imposes upon us Torah-believing Jews an awesome responsibility.
Such teaching is fraught. It can be entrusted only to a small number of people who understand Torah thought deeply and intellectually, while also understanding the background and needs of non-Jews. Here again, Rabbi Eisen’s rare combination of talents positions him to be one of the few people in our generation to whom such a task should be entrusted. He will be an able and capable ambassador of our Torah, bringing to light the beauty of G-d’s word while faithfully conveying its message.
Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein
Director, Interfaith Affairs, The Simon Wiesenthal Center
Contributing Editor, Jewish Action: The Magazine of the Orthodox Union
Sydney M Irmas Adjunct Chair, Jewish Law and Ethics, Loyola Law School
Los Angeles, Iyyar 5772 / May 2012
Yeshivath Sharashim gratefully thanks Rabbi Adlerstein for his blog post about us on Cross-Currents,
“Rare Opportunity to Study the Kuzari” (17 May 2012). Click here to read Rabbi Adlerstein’s blog post