I look back with great fondness at my time learning . . . at the Montefiore Endowment Semicha Course. The education and support I gained there have been fundamental to my career in Jewish education. We are so lucky to have the Endowment working for the good of our community.
Rabbi Dr Raphael Zarum (Dean LSJS)
The Montefiore Endowment aims to create rabbinical leaders who follow Sephardi custom as taught by the Rambam, which is to present Judaism pleasantly and without aggression, approaching halachic decision-making with mildness and adopting a traditional view which stresses the middle way and avoids extremes.
It stresses the virtue of inclusivity as well as the value of the world around us – and not merely tolerance of it for the purpose of earning a living. The Endowment believes in the desirability of a broad general education, preferably from university, combined with an uncompromising standard of Halacha and loyalty to Torah values.
For several years after Jews’ College ceased to train for semicha, a reputable rabbinical diploma was not readily obtainable by UK residents except by attending full-time study in Gateshead or moving to Israel or other places. Potential rabbinical leaders of quality were lost to the community as many young men felt unable to put their careers and families on hold for several years of study. It was to remedy that situation that 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 in cooperation with the Spanish and Portuguese Jews’ Congregation of London (now the S&PHARDI community). 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. Students, Ashkenazi and Sephardi, are selected both for their solid Jewish learning and for their secular education – on the principle that study at university level is a necessary enrichment to Torah and to effectiveness in Torah leadership. Only candidates who have already reached a high standard in yeshivah and have a broad general education are accepted for yoreh-yoreh. They are committed to the concept of Torah in the everyday world, not in an ivory tower.
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 quality of this programme has been endorsed by its recognition by the Rabbinical Council of America, that had previously only accepted Gateshead diplomas from this country.
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 students’ enthusiasm and excitement, together with that of their teachers, has been an inspiration to the Endowment’s trustees.
I am moved nearly to tears as I think of the opportunity that we have been afforded through the generosity of the Montefiore Endowment . . . I am indebted to the Endowment in a way that can only be repaid through a life dedicated to the ideals that the Kollel represents.
Rabbi Sam Millunchik