UK's first cross-communal yeshivah launched

Azara will offer Talmud study in an open and inclusive setting


The UK’s first cross-communal yeshivah has been launched in London to extend the reach of advanced Jewish study.

Azara, which takes its name from the Temple courtyard where Jews would gather in ancient times, hopes to open text learning to all, regardless of denomination, background or gender.

As well as running classes through the year, it is planning an intensive month-long residential programme in Edinburgh next year.

Its founding group includes Dr Lindsey Taylor-Guthartz, research fellow at the London School of Jewish Studies, and Rabbi Leah Jordan of the Liberal community, Kehillah North London.

Jessica Spencer, a Masorti rabbinic student who is a co-founder, said, “So many people in this country haven’t had the opportunity to encounter the grown-up, thoughtful Judaism that’s laid out in our classical texts.

“Azara is about enabling people to reclaim our own traditions. We all come from different denominations and perspectives, and don’t have an agenda about what people should do with the Torah they learn, but we’re excited to see what happens next.”

She is currently enrolled at Hebrew College, a cross-denominational institution in Boston.

The new yeshivah has grown out of two grassroots ventures, the Open Talmud Project and the Pop-Up Beit Midrash, which run study groups in homes.

Azara founders say there are few opportunities in the UK to learn how to read classical Jewish texts, especially in an “open and inclusive” environment, and Jewish schools and chedarim often stop short of tackling Talmud.

The consequence has been “a brain drain” of potential leaders who go abroad to study.

A growing number of young UK Jews have developed a taste of Talmud at institutions such as the egalitarian yeshivah, Machon Hadar, in New York.

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