Rabbi Aaron Katchen
Oxford University; Oxford Brookes University
Employed by the University Jewish Chaplaincy Board, Canadian-born Rabbi Katchen has been the chaplain in Oxford since last September. He received his semichah last summer in Jerusalem, studying under Rav Danny Landes. Prior to his rabbinical studies, he worked for Hillel in North America and studied at York University in Toronto. His wife, Shira Cantor, is from Philadelphia
Tell us about your family life
One of the best parts of working for the chaplaincy is that it is a joint posting for Shira and me. This is a great opportunity for us to work as a team as well as meet students’ needs. Despite our resistance to gender roles, Shira is developing a great reputation in Oxford for her cooking and baking — I take care of the washing up.
Tell us about a typical week
We are still waiting for a typical week. But on average, our week consists of meeting with the Jewish Society planning committee as well as with numerous individuals. Both Shira and I separately teach a weekly lunch and learn and hold several evening classes. We also attend J-Soc Shabbat dinners at the Oxford Jewish Centre where up to 100 students are served as well as hosting many meals in our home. Most of our time though is spent in one-on-one conversations. Some of this is learning, some is chatting as well as counselling the students. We advocate on the students’ behalf, including meeting with the proctors over issues like David Irving’s presence in Oxford as well as supervising the students when exams clash with chagim.
Tell us what you like most about your role
I very much enjoy the student environment. I am in a place where I can have a deep philosophical conversation with one student, learn Jewish texts with another and provide a break from exams with a coffee for a third. As stressful as life is for the students, they are still interested in making Jewish lives for themselves. It is rewarding being part of that journey.
What do you do with your time off?
I enjoy hiking, camping, mountain climbing and skiing. I am also a voracious reader and enjoy playing board games with students on long Shabbat afternoons.
Define your Judaism
Judaism is an expression of God’s will in how to be good.