(JNS) In a modest room that serves as a Beit Midrash (House of Torah study) atop a large synagogue in Jerusalem’s Kiryat Moshe neighborhood, a group of Israel’s leading Torah scholars is poring over the Talmud, books of halachah (Jewish law) and other holy texts.
The Orthodox men studying in this special Kollel (an advanced institute for full-time Torah study) aren’t doing so just for their personal growth. Rather they are brushing up on their knowledge base of Jewish law so they can spread the information they obtain to other rabbis, aspiring rabbis and other individuals who are looking for structured Torah learning from Miami to Melbourne, and many points in between.
Meet the International Halacha Institute (IHI), an Israeli nonprofit organization founded three years ago with the goal of empowering future leaders of the Jewish people around the world.
IHI offers personal VIP-style online training in four languages (French, English, Hebrew and Spanish) for those seeking to advance their knowledge of Jewish law in order to serve as spiritual leaders and teachers in their communities.
Dozens of rabbis currently use the service, which operates under the aegis of Jerusalem Chief Rabbi Shlomo Moshe Amar, the former chief Sephardic rabbi of Israel.
In addition, IHI assists with the training of future dayanim—senior rabbis who preside over courts known as batei din, which adjudicate cases involving religious practices and other spiritual matters.
Such dayanim often offer rulings in complex civil cases involving litigation between two parties, for example in marriage/divorce, but also tackle issues involving monetary laws, Jewish identity, kashrut certification, birth and death, and many other topics that impact Jewish ritual observance.
During a tour of IHI headquarters, Dayan Avraham Ya’akov Dadoun, the founder of the organization and a member of a beit din in his hometown of London, explained to JNS, “In communities outside of Israel, there is no umbrella like [Israel’s Chief] Rabbinate. From an academic point of view, it’s frustrating for those rabbinic figures in places like Las Vegas or San Francisco who want to have the knowledge to be able to lead their communities in a proper halachic manner but don’t have the ability to do so.
“That’s where we come in. We have gathered the leading Torah scholars in Israel, who are able to pass on the necessary information, in all aspects of religious service, to these communities.”
“What makes IHI unique is that we have a whole team here in Jerusalem holding your hand along the way. Our specialty is catering towards the person himself, adjusting to fit his schedule in order to help get him where he wants to go,” said Dadoun.
Rabbi Netanel Yitzchak Dadoun, Avraham’s brother who heads IHI’s English department and serves as a community rabbi in Givat Ze’ev, northwest of Jerusalem, told JNS that IHI is needed because “there is a lack of training available around the world. A lot of big books with small letters take intensive training to learn.
“But our services, utilizing the internet, allow us to reach Jewish communities everywhere, especially those outside of Israel who are lacking proper danayim, in order to assist them on issues of Jewish identity, divorce and much, much more,” Netanel Dadoun said.
Rabbi Yaakov Gabay serves as the head rabbi of the thousand-seat Hekhal Haness Synagogue in Geneva and has been studying with IHI for about a year, with the goal of eventually serving as a recognized dayan for his community.
“It was always a dream of mine to become a dayan,” he told JNS by phone. “Our community currently doesn’t have a local beit din, so when we need a divorce proceeding we bring in a dayan from France. But I believe it’s important for a community to have its own beit din, headed by a certified dayan.
“At the same time, when your rabbi continues his studies and has additional proficiency, knowledge and experience in many fields in Judaism, it gives a boost to the community. That’s why studying with IHI is invaluable,” Gabay added.
Gabay said IHI is a game-changer for him, offering programs and classes that accommodate his schedule. “Working as a community rabbi, it’s very hard to find time to learn. But IHI is so understanding and encouraging. I wouldn’t have been able to advance my studies without this program.”
A thirst for knowledge
Rabbi Eli Zadik, an IHI participant from Silver Spring, Maryland, is nearly finished with his medical degree. At the same time, he is focused on increasing his knowledge of the laws pertaining to Shabbat observance.
In addition to practicing medicine, “my long-term goal is to be involved in the community on a rabbinic level in some capacity,” he told JNS. “I grew up in Los Angeles and I would like to go back there and have an influence on the Sephardic and Persian communities where unfortunately assimilation is rampant.
“Even though that is the reality, at the same time there is a thirst for knowledge and people want to feel connected,” added Zadik.
“Studying medicine is nearly all-encompassing and the last few months have been especially busy. But with IHI I called Dayan Dadoun and we made a plan. I was able to put together a program structure that allows me to fit the learning into my schedule and at my own pace.
“The whole program allows me to learn very seriously and keep connected while helping me to establish an incredible foundation for Judaism in general. The ability to learn halachah at my own pace has been unbelievable,” said Zadik.
Avraham Dadoun said he has been offered many positions around the world as a community rabbi but he wanted to stay in Israel and carry out meaningful work for the Jewish people as part of his life’s mission.
“If our Kollel in Miami doesn’t have the books and needs to make a halachic decision, they send us the questions and using the resources and texts here, IHI will find them the answers. In Berlin, the beit din also imports a dayan, so during the COVID-19 pandemic logistics became extremely difficult and the country was left with lack of a leading authority. That’s why the senior rabbi living in Berlin came to learn dayanut with IHI,” said Dadoun.
“Until now that bridge was lacking, and that’s where IHI comes in, to build those bridges and help these rabbis with our courses catered to their needs,” he said.
Dadoun said that ultimately, the responsibility to run a community under Jewish law falls on the shoulders of the community leaders.
“We need leaders within the community who know the language and the local culture. And just like a lawyer or an accountant needs the necessary qualifications to work in their fields, every rabbi or dayan in the Diaspora should feel that he has the qualifications to properly lead his community. At IHI we have the scope and breadth of halachah to give them those abilities.”