The Tikvah Overseas Student Institute is a series of seminars, workshops, and courses sponsored by the Tikvah Fund for yeshiva, midrasha, and other post-high school students studying in Israel. These programs are intended to supplement gap-year curricula by providing additional forums for interdisciplinary study, dialogue, and camaraderie to a wide range of select students. By exposing our participants to great texts, leading intellectuals and well-known activists, the institute aims to cultivate the next generation of thinkers who can lead the Jewish community in negotiating the nexus of Jewish values and the great questions of our times.
Now in its 6th year, the institute’s expanded 5776/2015-16 program features three major components: two year-long seminars, multi-day workshops throughout the academic year, and insertion courses at select institutions.
Seminars on the Modern Jewish Condition: These seminars address pressing global issues that confront modern Jews engaged in the contemporary world. Some of these dilemmas relate to enduring human questions like the tension between virtue and freedom, individual and society and the desire for peace against the sometimes painful necessity of war, while others grapple with modern opportunities and challenges posed by liberal democracies, Zionism, and the interconnected global village. These questions demand the careful study of the political and social condition of the West and the role that Jews can and must play in this evolving project.
The seminars feature two tracks that offer different angles and mediums in grappling with these questions. Each track will meet approximately ten times on Fridays from October 2015 to May 2016. Additionally, three joint shabbaton retreats throughout the year will bring both groups together for major discussions of our larger theme.
Track #1: The Great Debates: Modern Texts on Morality, Religion, Economics, and Politics
Religion. Morality. Economics. Politics. These are four great realms of the human experience that continue to evoke heated debate regarding their respective roles within modern society.
- Many liberal democracies seek to preserve freedom of conscience by regulating the role of religion in their legislatures and society. Is religion a necessary or relevant institution for developing strong national foundations?
- Given the plurality of ethical positions today, some believe that we can no longer confidently make moral judgments. Can we continue to assert moral truths or must we assent to ethical relativism?
- Political parties divide over the role of government in wealth redistribution and preserving liberty. What values are necessary for economies to thrive?
- Can societies committed to individual choice preserve central social structures like families and communities or virtues like patriotism and honesty?
To explore these questions, participants will read over the course of the year 4-5 seminal books by modern influential thinkers who skillfully lay out what’s at stake in these debates. Each text has been chosen for being evocative, articulate, accessible, and concise, making them the perfect introductions for discussions that will help each participant form his or her own outlook on these great debates. Master teachers will lead the group in understanding the consequences of these questions for the Jewish community and how Jewish perspectives can in turn contribute to these broader discussions.
Each book will be covered over the course of 2-3 seminar sessions. Students will be given ample time between sessions to prepare the select chapters and will be provided with guided reading questions.
Track #2: Jew & Citizen: Religion and the Public Sphere in Israel and America
- What does it mean to be a Jewish citizen or statesperson in the contemporary world?
- What role should religion play in the legislature and the public square?
- Jews have greatly benefited from the liberties afforded by countries like the United States, Canada, and Britain. Yet these same freedoms can also lead to the creation of alienated societies in which values like excellence, virtue, and patriotism are no longer esteemed. What role can and should Jewish and traditional values play in shaping our pluralistic and multi-cultural societies?
The second half of the year will give particular focus to these dilemmas as they play out in the modern State of Israel.
- Can religious and democratic values coexist in Israel’s public square?
- What are the challenges facing the Israeli economy and legal system – and does Judaism have anything to contribute to the solution?
- What role should halakha have in shaping Israeli law relating to the military, citizenship, and family life? Must Jewish law and thought evolve in order to address these dilemmas?
Each meeting will feature two lectures by leading Israeli scholars, rabbis, and activists. Q & A time and follow-up discussion groups will facilitate dialogue with the speakers and within the cohort. Before each session, participants will be required to read 2-3 preparatory essays that provide critical background to the discussion.
The Fine Print: Regular sessions for both tracks will begin in mid-October and take place roughly twice-a-month. Each session will meet in central Jerusalem on Friday mornings between 9 AM – 1:30 PM to avoid conflicting with regular program schedules. When necessary, transportation is provided to prevent conflicts with program schedules. A delicious brunch will be served at each meeting. Students must commit to regular attendance, preparing the assigned readings before each seminar, and actively participating in group and online discussions. The program is fully sponsored by the Tikvah Fund and is free of charge.
Freedom and Tradition Workshops: Throughout the year, 2-3 day workshops on the theme of “Tradition and Freedom” will be held for students from various institutions. For more information, click here.
Insertion Courses: The Tikvah Fund is pleased to present year-long courses at select yeshivot and midrashot. For more information, click here.