Montefiore Semicha Graduation Ceremony. March 2019

Graduates. Alexander Goldberg LLM BA; Aaron Hass BA; Aron Lovat BSc; Rabbi Yecheskel Mandelbaum MA; Jeremy Meyer BSc DPhil; Samuel Millunchick BA; Rev. Claude Vecht-Wolf MA

EXTRACTS FROM WELCOMING SPEECH TO GUESTS

by Lucien Gubbay (Chairman of Trustees)

. . . .  the award of a Montefiore Semicha really is a formidable achievement. For a man to continue to build a career and in many cases support a family, whilst at the same time studying part-time for four or five years to achieve the very high standard of learning required, takes courage and a rare sense of dedication . . .

The group receiving diplomas this year is smaller than usual for a variety of reasons. But though fewer in number, it is most certainly no smaller in quality. Those on whom the yore-yoreh diploma is to be conferred include men of high intellectual ability; and those who are to receive the vekare rav diploma, though perhaps not amongst the most accomplished halachists, do possess those special qualities necessary to guide individuals and lead communities in today’s troubled world.

The Montefiore Semicha Course is the only structured course in this country designed to train broadly-educated men for the mainstream orthodox rabbinate – men who regard Torah as a guide to living in this world of ours and not as a barrier behind which to shelter from it. 

It opened in 2006 with a group of brave young men, selected for their solid Jewish learning in yeshivah and for their secular education for we firmly believe that study at university level can only strengthen effectiveness in Torah leadership.

. . . . but that was thirteen years ago and since then the Endowment has trained more than 20 new rabbis and accomplished a great deal more as well.

. . .  Semicha Course, under its first Rosh Kollel – the late Dayan Sa’adia Amor of blessed memory . . .  he so established its credibility that its main diploma, together with that of Gateshead, are the only two from this country accepted for membership of the Rabbinical Council of America.

Following the sad loss of Dayan Amor, a partnership was forged with Eretz Hemdah, the Institute of Advanced Jewish Studies in Jerusalem, which enabled the Course to continue with undiminished vigour and authority.

More recently, that success led directly to the establishment of the unique Montefiore Dayanut Programme. I say ‘unique’ for to qualify as a dayan in Israel requires something like seven or eight years of full-time study, mostly in subjects now little used outside Israel.

Perhaps I should explain here that the vast majority of the work of Batei Din in the diaspora concerns problems involving Marriage, Divorce and Conversion – complex topics not included in regular semicha programmes . . . . and it is for the qualification Yadin Yadin for the Diasporain those three subjects that our Programme is aimed.

Taught in depth and rigorously examined at every stage by Eretz Hemdah, ten senior rabbis from all sections of the ‘orthodox’ community of this country and a further fifteen or more from the United States of America, Australia, Hong Kong, Turkey, Germany, Portugal and Israel are now studying on our Programme. And when I say all sections of the UK’s orthodox community, I really do mean all sections – from the Sephardi Community, from the United Synagogue, from the Federation of Synagogues, from Chabad and from Haredi kehillot

  • sadly, a rare example of religious inclusivity in Judaism’s deeply divided camp; but one that is heart-warming to see.

. . . no time now to describe . . . the Endowment’s other educational projects or of its support of institutions with similar aims both here and in Israel; and of course it also maintains Sir Moses Montefiore’s synagogue and mausoleum in Ramsgate and his collections of manuscripts, books, ritual silver and textiles.

It is my belief that the spread of aggressive secularism poses a severe threat to the religious values we all cherish and that Anglo-Jewry’s middle-of-the-road tradition is fast being eroded by the extremes of the religious right and the religious left. 

It was in an attempt to preserve this shrinking heritage that the Montefiore trustees rose to the challenge and started to fill some of the surprising gaps in the programmes of our majority communities.

The Endowment may well look in vain for public recognition, notice by the press or even – dare I say it – thanks; but the many who apply to join its Semicha Course and the number of senior rabbis from across the community who come to it for further Torah learning surely tell their own story.

Our trustees pray that their efforts will help to strengthen what we like to call the Montefiore Ethos. An ethos that presents Judaism pleasantly and without aggression. An ethos that approaches halachic decision-making with mildness, stresses the middle way and avoids extremes. An ethos that commits to the concept of Torah in the world around us and not in an ivory tower. One that stresses the virtue of inclusivity, social harmony and respect for the ‘other’. And of course, all that all combined with an uncompromising standard of loyalty to Torah values

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