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Aish HaTorah ( , Esh HaTorah, "Fire of the Torah") is a Jewish Orthodox Ashkenazi organization and yeshiva. Aish HaTorah is actively pro-Israel and encourages Jewish people to visit Israel and connect to the land and its history. From a religious perspective, however, it follows a mostly Charedi philosophy. Some have asserted that the organisation reflects a more Religious Zionist philosophy in its attachment to Israel, promoting Jewish pride and by sending young American Jews to Israel. The organization's stated mission is "providing opportunities for Jews of all backgrounds to discover their heritage." Its headquarters are in the Old Citymarker of Jerusalemmarker. The government of Israelmarker awarded it 40 percent of the land facing the Western Wallmarker.

The organization has branches in 35 cities around the world. Each branch has independent governance and funding.

In Jerusalem, the Aish HaTorah yeshiva offers both beginners' drop-in classes and full-time, intensive study programs for Jewish men and women of all backgrounds and levels of knowledge. Areas of study include Hebrew Bible, Talmud, Jewish history, Jewish philosophy and Hebrew language ulpan. A US-accredited college, the yeshiva offers degrees to college and university age students.

The rabbinic ordination program combines classical Talmudic training with intensive instruction in outreach and leadership skills. 250 men have graduated from its rabbinic program, assuming leadership and religious roles in many Jewish communities around the world.

Aish.com, the organization's home on the internet, features endorsements from a range of celebrities, including Steven Spielberg, Mikhail Gorbachev and Margaret Thatcher.. Aish HaTorah founder Noah Weinberg was credited with taking a non-judgemental approach to outreach. He welcomed atheists and non-believers to the organization's yeshiva, saying he would make them better atheists.

Aish HaTorah has been described as right-wing, and Jeffrey Goldberg of The Atlantic Monthly has described it as "just about the most fundamentalist movement in Judaism today". Adam Shatz of the London Review of Books describes Aish HaTorah as having close ties to the Israeli settler movement.

History

Aish HaTorah was established in Jerusalem by the late Rabbi Noah Weinberg in 1974, after he broke away from the Ohr Somayach yeshiva which he had previously co-founded. He died in February 2009 in Jerusalem at the age of 78.

Philosophically, Aish HaTorah follows the traditions of the Ashekenazi Lithuanian yeshivas, as compared to Hasidic Judaism.

Educational philosophy

  • Judaism is not "all or nothing"; it is a journey where every step counts, to be pursued according to one's own pace and interest.
  • Every Jew and human being is worthy of profound respect, no matter their level of observance, knowledge or affiliation. No one knows who is a better Jew or human being.
  • Mitzvot ("commandments") are not mere rituals, but opportunities for one's personal growth, to be studied and understood.
  • Torah is the "wisdom for living", teaching people how to maximize their potential and pleasure in life.
  • The Jewish people's history and destiny is to serve as a light unto the nations.
  • The Torah’s ideas have civilized the world and can continue to do so, if the Jewish people as a nation continue to accept the challenge.


Meaning of name

The name Aish HaTorah, literally "Fire [of] the Torah", was inspired by the Talmudic story of Rabbi Akiva, the once illiterate 40-year-old shepherd who subsequently became the most famous sage of the Mishnah. One day he came across a stone that had been hollowed out by a constant drip of water. He concluded, "If something as soft as water could carve a hole in solid rock, then how much more so can Torah — which is compared to fire — make an indelible impression on my heart." (While the comparison to fire is reflected in the yeshiva's name -- "aish" means fire—the simile in this story is that of water and the Torah, which is frequent in the Talmud.) Rabbi Akiva committed himself to study the Torah.

Elie Weisel said, "Aish HaTorah means to me the passion of teaching, the passion of learning. The study of Torah, the source of Jewish values, is the way to Jewish survival."

Organizational goals

Aish HaTorah's self-declared objective is to revitalize the Jewish people by providing opportunities for Jews of all backgrounds to discover their heritage in an atmosphere of open inquiry and mutual respect.

Worldwide, Aish HaTorah operates about 35 full-time branches on five continents, providing seminars, singles events, executive learning groups, Shabbat and holiday programs, and community building.

In Jerusalem, it has built a high-tech main campus and outreach center that features a rooftop vista overlooking the Temple Mountmarker, and the Kirk Douglas Theatre, which will house a dramatic film presentation of the Jewish contribution to humanity. Scheduled to open in 2009, the outreach center anticipates one million visitors annually. Also recently opened is a branch of the yeshiva in Passaicmarker New Jersey.

Internet presence

Aish HaTorah's website, Aish.com [76439], features articles, videos and audio segments on spirituality, parenting, dating, weekly Torah portion, Holocaust studies, an "Ask the Rabbi" service, and political articles. Aish.com is the largest Jewish educational website with 270,000 unique email subscribers and 2.6 million monthly visits.

The site operates a 24-hour live webcam that faces the Western Wallmarker, which has registered 25 million visits [76440]. There are also spin-off sites in Hebrew [76441], Spanish [76442], Portuguese, French [76443] and Russian [76444]. It also has an Aish Audio site with recordings of classes and lectures about Judaism.

Seminars

Aish HaTorah runs the Discovery Seminar, which uses methods such as the Bible Code to explore the authenticity of Judaism and its relevance to modern times. The four-hour seminar presents an overview of the entire gamut of Jewish history, philosophy, and attempts to answers questions such as, "Why Be Jewish?" "Does God Exist?" and "Is Torah True?"

The seminar has been given in hundreds of cities throughout the world, at university campuses, Jewish Community Centers, and Reform, Conservative and Orthodox synagogues. More than 100,000 people worldwide have attended the seminars, including guest hosts Ed Asner, Kirk Douglas, Elliot Gould, Joel Grey and Jason Alexander.

The seminar has been adapted for presentation to Jewish day schools, yeshivas, and Beth Jacob schools as "Project Chazon."

Films

In 2005 Aish HaTorah produced a documentary film, Inspired, which chronicles the lives of selected baalei teshuvah ("returnees to Jewish observance"). Aish HaTorah believes that the high rate of intermarriage between Jews and non-Jews has diluted the Jewish people’s vitality. Inspired was produced to encourage more observant Jews to share their positive Jewish religious experiences of Jewish life with non-observant Jews, as a way to strengthen the baal teshuva movement and revitalize Jewish life.

Dating

Designed to help Jewish singles meet each other, Aish HaTorah's SpeedDating is popular in North America.

Audio Center

The Aish HaTorah Audio Center is a collection of recorded Jewish lectures, with over 5,000 titles on every subject in Judaism. Hundreds of Torah tape lending libraries have been established in cities with large Jewish populations, with MP3 downloads available online at Aish Audio's website. [76445]Many of Aish Audio's Jewish classes are also available as mp3 downloads at the Classic Sinai website. [76446]

Conferences

Aish HaTorah stresses volunteer leadership involvement, and thousands of active partners teach, organize, promote and fundraise. Its annual Partners Conference attracts hundreds of lay leaders who come together to exchange ideas and glean inspiration for expanding activities. The annual "Power of One Award" honors an Aish HaTorah partner who, it claims, personifies the goal of realizing his or her potential in the service of the Jewish people.

Learning programs

Aish HaTorah's Executive Learning Program is geared towards successful Jewish men and women of all ages to participate in individually-designed personal study programs.

Aish New York has the largest group within the Executive Learning Program with over 40 participants. Board members include Seth Horowitz, CEO, of Everlast Worldwide, Neil Cole, CEO of Iconix Brands, Julie Greenwald, President of Atlantic Records and Ronn Torossian, CEO of 5WPR.

Philanthropic fund

The Jerusalem Fund of Aish HaTorah has brought important political, business and entertainment leaders on private missions to Israel to increase their support for the Jewish state. The Theodor Herzl Mission, co-sponsored by the Mayor of Jerusalem, has brought international leaders to Israel such as Lady Margaret Thatcher, U.S. Senator John Kerry, Jeane Kirkpatrick and Elie Weisel.

Essentials program

The "Essentials" introductory program, for Jewish men ages 18–29, offers an understanding of the core concepts of Jewish thought. The educational goals of "Essentials" are to examine the relevance of being Jewish in today's world, define major tenets of Jewish thought from a rational perspective, and explore major themes and practices in Jewish spirituality. Students can participate for one class, a day, a week, or a month. Students live and study in the heart of Jerusalem's Old City.

Women's programs

Aish HaTorah also operates three women’s programs in Jerusalem for university and professional women from all backgrounds.
  • EYAHTmarker College of Jewish Studies for Women, a full-time college based in the Kiryat Sanz neighborhood, is headed by Rebbetzin Denah Weinberg. Due to increased demand, the college is in the process of building its own campus.


  • "Jewel", a 3 1/2-week introductory program for young women, operating in the Ramat Eshkolmarker neighborhood.


  • "Gem", a 10-day program of learning and touring for women over age 30.


Professional women may also take short-term, customized learning programs at Aish HaTorah's Executive Learning Center on its Old City campus.

Hasbara Fellowships

When the Israeli Foreign Ministry sought to combat anti-Israel ideas on college campuses, it called on Aish HaTorah to develop the Hasbara Fellowships. This program has flown hundreds of student leaders to Israel for intensive training in pro-Israel activism training. In North America, Hasbara Fellowships guides and funds pro-Israel activities on 80 college campuses.

Hasbara Fellowships groups have met with Prime Ministers Ariel Sharon, Yitzchak Rabin, Binyamin Netanyahu, Shimon Peres, Yitzhak Shamir, and other prominent leaders from across the political spectrum. Over 1000 people have participated in the fellowships since the program's founding in 1980.

Hasbara Fellowships are also known as "Jerusalem fellowships".

Jerusalem Road Trips

Aish HaTorah partnered with the Alpha Epsilon Pi Fraternity to run an official Israel trip for their undergraduate members. This three week trip combines Jewish education and touring Israel along with adventurous activities.

Honest Reporting

HonestReporting.com was established with the assistance of Aish HaTorah, and has existed as an independent organization since 2001. It is the largest organization in the world fighting what it describes as anti-Israel media bias. HonestReporting scrutinizes news agencies worldwide, and then alerts its 150,000 subscribers to respond to the media directly.

The Clarion Fund

The relationship Aish HaTorah has with The Clarion Fund and the Islamic terrorism documentary the Clarion Fund is distributing has proved to be controversial.

"The Clarion Fund, established in 2006, has refused to disclose its financing sources for either film or to make its producers available for media interviews."

It has been reported that there exist a number of informal linkages between Aish HaTorah and the Clarion Fund, including:
  • The Clarion Fund, according incorporation papers, "currently shares an address with Aish International, Inc., the fundraising arm of Aish HaTorah, and the Aish HaTorah Jerusalem Fund in New York."
  • The Jewish Week reported that "at least six top Aish HaTorah officials are tied to “Obsession” via Aish spin-offs, including Clarion's president and two vice presidents."
  • Rabbi Raphael Shore, the executive directory of The Clarion Fund remains a full-time employee of Aish HaTorah.
  • The Clarion Fund is distributing films produced by HonestReporting, a group started with support from Aish HaTorah.


The Clarion Fund has denied any formal links with Aish HaTorah. The Jewish Week reported that "Clarion’s spokesperson, Gregory Ross — listed as an Aish HaTorah international fundraiser on a June 2007 federal election contribution form — denies any formal connection between its activities and Aish."

Islamic terrorism documentaries

"Formal or informal," Sarah Posner (of the Jewish Week) reports, "the ties between Aish HaTorah and the production of the films appear to date back to the launch of the media watchdog group Honest Reporting by the founder and former executive director of the Jerusalem Fund of Aish HaTorah, Irwin Katsof, in 2001."

According to The Jewish Week, Honest Reporting "released Obsession in 2005, as well as a previous film, Relentless: The Struggle for Peace in the Middle East, in 2003. The group now denies any involvement in the production of Obsession. But its Web site promoted it as an Honest Reporting project in 2005, the year it was first released."

Posner reports that Raphael Shore, the producer of all three Islam-related documentaries, is the twin brother of Ephraim Shore. Ephraim Shore "heads Aish’s operations in Israel" and "is listed on Honest Reporting’s 2006 tax forms as the group’s president."

Criticism from American Jewish community

Aish HaTorah has been criticized by members of the American Jewish community over its close links with The Clarion Fund. Rabbi Jack Moline, Chair of the Interfaith Alliance, and Spiritual Leader of Agudas Achim Congregation, a Conservative synagogue in Alexandria, Virginia, described "Obsession", a film distributed by the Clarion Fund as "the protocols of the learned elders of Saudi Arabia." On the matter of the shared staff between Aish HaTorah and the Clarion Fund, Rabbi Jack Moline was quoted saying "It is distressing to me that they [Aish HaTorah] would continue to have someone who has promulgated such awful, awful stuff sitting on their board or staff.”

References

  1. Evans, Will Clarion Responds, As New Details Emerge About "Radical Islam" DVD, URL:http://www.npr.org/blogs/secretmoney/2008/09/new_details_emerge_about_radic.html. Accessed: 2008-10-03. (Archived by WebCite at http://www.webcitation.org/5bIjeosJf)
  2. http://wwrn.org/article.php?idd=30203
  3. Ben Harris, "Rabbi Noah Weinberg, founder of Aish HaTorah, dies", Jewish Telegraphic Agency, 6 February 2009, accessed 15 February 2009.
  4. Adam Shatz, "Short Cuts", London Review of Books, 9 October 2008, accessed 23 October 2008.
  5. http://www.israelnationalnews.com/News/News.aspx/129789
  6. Aish haTorah's pamphlet
  7. http://www.aishny.com/businessleadership.asp
  8. eyaht.com
  9. Sarah Posner. Aish HaTorah’s New ‘Obsession’. The Jewish Week. October 29, 2008.
  10. Sarah Posner, "Aish HaTorah's New 'Obsession'", NY Jewish Week, 31 October 2008. reprint on Shalom Center
  11. http://www.ipsnews.net/news.asp?idnews=43983


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