Semicha programme

In the words of the Rabbi Ariel Abel, the first Director of the Semicha Course,

Sir Moses Montefiore's vision was to create rabbinical leaders who are sane in their world-view and clear-headed in their approach - leaders with good sense who will achieve grace in the eyes of God and their fellow human beings. Sephardi custom has always been to present Judaism pleasantly and without aggression, and to approach Halachic decision-making with mildness.

Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch of Frankfurt (1808-1888) also championed the cause of acquiring a broad education in conjunction with uncompromising standards of Halacha and loyalty to Torah values: he called this approach Torah im Derech Eretz.

As taught by the Rambam, the world-view traditionally adopted by Sephardim stresses the value of the golden middle way and of avoiding extremes. It also implies recognition of the value of the world around us - and not merely tolerance of it for the purpose of earning a living. English communities in the future should benefit from a broad-minded and well-educated leadership.

The trustees of the Montefiore Endowment took the lead in an attempt to create a new generation of home-grown Ashkenazi and Sephardi rabbis for future leadership roles, either as community rabbis, teachers or educated lay leaders - English-trained rabbis for English-speaking communities. The Montefiore Semicha Programme was opened in January 2006 on the premises of and in cooperation with the Spanish and Portuguese Jews' Congregation of London. It started with a group of broadly-educated young men, eager to learn and train part-time for the mainstream orthodox rabbinate while continuing their careers or other studies. This is the only such structured course in the United Kingdom and, apart from a single institution in France, is the only one in Europe. The London Montefiore Semicha Course is now run in partnership with the London School of Jewish Studies to enable its students to benefit from community-wide direction and facilities.

The core of the course is, of course, the study of Halacha; but the curriculum also includes Tanach as well as practical community-directed subjects such as counselling, public speaking, homiletics, life events, hazanut and voice training (for some), teaching skills, history and ethics.

The students, both Ashkenazi and Sephardi, are selected for their solid Jewish learning and also for their secular education - on the principle that study at university level is a necessary enrichment to Torah and to effectiveness in Torah leadership. They are committed to the concept of Torah in the everyday world, not in an ivory tower.

Five students received semicha in 2009 and ten more in 2013. A third intake commenced their studies in November 2013; and consideration is now being given to admit students more frequently instead of every four years as at present, depending on demand. The students' enthusiasm and excitement, together with that of their teachers, has been an inspiration to the Endowment's trustees.