The first crop of new rabbis for mainstream Orthodox congregations has been trained in Britain after a gap of several years.
Five students passed their final exams on the London Montefiore semichah (ordination) programme, launched three years ago in partnership with the Spanish and Portuguese Jews’ Congregation.
It was founded following the closure of rabbinic training in 2002 at the London School of Jewish Studies, formerly Jews’ College, which historically trained ministers for central Orthodoxy in the UK.
Designed to produce “English-speaking rabbis for English-speaking communities”, the programme was set up with proceeds from the sale of books and manuscripts from the legacy of Sir Moses Montefiore, the Victorian philanthropist who in his time established a college for Torah study.
Lucien Gubbay, chair of the Montefiore Endowment, said: “We set it up as a part-time course so that students could continue with their careers or secular studies.
“We were careful to select young men who have a sound Torah knowledge and a broad secular knowledge, preferably with a university degree or professional qualifications.”
He added: “As well as the core study of halachic texts, we also included all sorts of practical courses such as public speaking and counselling.”
One of the new graduates is the Reverend Mark Daniels, who has been minister of Croydon Federation Synagogue in South London for 10 years and who has worked in publishing.
Having lived in Borneo and Nigeria when he was young, the former Carmel College pupil was studying for the rabbinate at Jews’ College when its semichah course stopped.
His fellow students are American-born Jeff Berger, who runs his own business; Johnny Solomon, who writes materials for Jewish secondary schools for the Jewish Curriculum Partnership; Eiran Davies, a former JFS student and a goldsmith whose silver menorah was used at the 300-year-anniversary celebrations of the Bevis Marks Synagogue; and Jerusalem-born Nir Nadav, a technical consultant and systems engineer.
Mr Solomon, 33, from Edgware, Middlesex, said the course had been “a wonderful opportunity. The textual level was comparable to any semichah throughout the world”.
Another feature had been a focus on “contemporary events and what a rabbi needs to know to respond to a modern Jewish community”.
One task, he said, had been “to write a response to the criticism of the Bible in Richard Dawkins’s book, The God Delusion. A rabbi should know how to write a reasonable response to such questions. We also visited an imam and discussed challenging texts in Jewish and Muslim cultures.”
The students also took part in a trip to Israel where they met some of the leading strictly Orthodox personalities such as former Sephardi Chief Rabbi, Ovadia Yosef, and the head of the Lithuanian community, Rabbi Shalom Yosef Eliyashiv.
Mr Gubbay said that he hoped the graduates will “all go on to posts in the community. We have a new batch of 12 students starting in October as well as another four on the pre-semichah course.”
The head of the Sephardi Beth Din, Dayan Saadia Amor, was the course’s principal lecturer.