Rabbis graduate to judges in unique study programme

Rabbis studied the laws of conversion, marriage and divorce in a seven-year part time programme


Two United Synagogue Two United Synagogue ministers are among the inaugural group of graduates from a unique programme to train rabbis as dayanim, after completing a seven-year, part-time course of in-depth study of the laws of conversion, marriage and divorce.

Dayan Daniel Kada, who now sits on the Sephardi Beth Din, was the first student to graduate from the course in 2021, which is sponsored by the Montefiore Endowment in London.

Six others have now followed him, including Rabbi Michael Harris of Hampstead Synagogue and Rabbi Mendel Cohen of the Saatchi Shul, which is part of St John’s Wood Synagogue.

“It’s been a wonderful opportunity,” said Rabbi Harris. “I feel it has massively expanded my horizons in my study of halachah. I hope it will help to raise the level of halachic discourse in British Jewry as the programme picks up pace and more rabbis start it.”

He said as a congregational rabbi, “the areas we have focused on learning will be helpful as every rabbi has cases of gittin [divorce] coming up”. It would also enable him to offer adult education classes in subjects he did not have the confidence to teach before.

Another feature of the course has been the make-up of the student body which spans modern Orthodox to Chasidic.

New graduates include Rabbi Abraham Brief, who serves the new Chasidic community in Westcliff, and Rabbi Binyomin Marks, former registrar of the Federation Beth Din. Rabbi Chaim Kanterovitz, the former senior rabbi of Borehamwood and Elstree United Synagogue, has also qualified, as has Rabbi Natan Perez, who has served congregations in Amsterdam and Lisbon and is now in London.

The course was delivered both online and in person by the Jerusalem-based Eretz Hemdah-based Institute of Advanced Torah Studies.

The instructing dayan, Dayan Ofer Livnat, who is a member of the Sephardi Beth Din, said, “The rabbis studied at a high-level and grew in their capabilities. They are very capable and are qualified to sit on a bet din.”

More than a dozen other rabbis, mostly from the United States, Australia and elsewhere in Europe, are currently on the course, which was originally designed to last five years but took longer with the disruuption of Covid.

Lucien Gubbay, chairman of the endowment, which is linked to the Sephardi community, said, “All will be in a far better position, as the result of their advanced learning, to assist members of their congregations in answering queries on identity, conversion, marriage and divorce. They were each selected with that purpose in mind as well as for actual service on a Beth Din.”

Sephardi custom, he stressed, has always been to approach “halachic decision-making with mildness” and to adopti “the traditional view which stresses the middle way and avoids extremes”.

The endowment, which uses assets from the estate of the Victorian philanthropist Sir Moses Montefiore, has also announced five new graduates from its latest semichah, rabbinic ordination, course: Harris Bor, James Mindel, Glenn Bezalel, Oren Yefet and Yossef Gabbai.

Rabbi Mindel was the recent interim minister of Northwood United Synagogue, Rabbi Bor is a barrister and author of a book on Judaism and artificial intelligence and Rabbi Bezalel is a deputy head at City of London School (for boys).

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