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For a liberal Orthodox educational network in Israel, it’s the end of an era

Rabbi Shlomo Riskin steps down as head of vast Israeli educational network 35 years after founding it

Rabbi Shlomo Riskin, chief rabbi of Efrat, during a prayer service held in celebration of his renewed appointment as the settlement rabbi after a long battle with the chief rabbinate on July 6, 2015. (Gershon Elinson/Flash90)
Rabbi Shlomo Riskin, chief rabbi of Efrat, during a prayer service held in celebration of his renewed appointment as the settlement rabbi after a long battle with the chief rabbinate on July 6, 2015. (Gershon Elinson/Flash90)

Rabbi Shlomo Riskin has officially handed the network of liberal Orthodox schools and seminaries in Israel that he founded 35 years ago to Rabbi Kenneth Brander.

Brander, a former administrator at Yeshiva University, was installed Wednesday as the president and Rosh Yeshiva, or head of school, of Ohr Torah Stone in Jerusalem.

Before joining Yeshiva University, Brander served as senior rabbi of the Boca Raton Synagogue in South Florida for 14 years. He, his wife and son made aliyah in July.

“Our mission is not to dictate the path to those with whom we engage — the thousands in our classrooms and the hundreds of thousands we connect with in the community,” Brander said at the ceremony. “Rather, we wish to create the music enabling each person to find his or her own spiritual sound through which one connects to the Jewish people, the Torah and the State of Israel.”

Rabbi Kenneth Brander delivers a lecture (rabbikennethbrander.com)

Riskin, 77, will continue to serve as chief rabbi of the West Bank city of Efrat, which he co-founded in 1983. Before moving to Israel, he gained a wide following as the founding rabbi of Lincoln Square Synagogue on New York’s Upper West Side.

Ohr Torah Stone runs Modern Orthodox schools ranging from junior high to graduate programs.

The network includes a five-year program to train women as Jewish legal authorities on par with rabbis, the first school to train women as advocates in Israeli rabbinical courts, and Midreshet Lindenbaum, a women’s Jewish studies college that was one of the first to teach Talmud to women. The network’s curricula, in stressing Zionism and expanded opportunities for women, are distinct from that of the haredi Orthodox.

The installation at the ceremony in the Jerusalem Theater in front of 950 people is the launch of a month-long celebration that will end with an investiture dinner in New York.

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