It’s not every day that you’d expect to find a group of women fully dressed in their traditional hijabs sitting in a Talmudic study hall alongside Jewish texts. But that is exactly what one saw upon entering the Midreshet Lindenbaum Seminary of Ohr Torah Stone earlier this month, when a delegation of 20 Muslim women came to visit.
The women were in Israel as part of the Alliance of German Dialogue Institutions (BDDI), an Islamic union that works across Germany to develop relationships between people of different faiths. Their time in Israel included visiting institutions of higher learning for women in an effort to better understand various perspectives on women’s religious study.
The Israel mission, an initiative of the Stuttgart Fund for Interreligious Dialogue under the direction of Karl Hermann Blickle, was coordinated with the Israeli Blickle Institute for Interfaith Dialogue. A division of the Ohr Torah Stone network, the Institute's fellows include men and women who are active in positions of spiritual and halakhic leadership throughout Israel.
The Israel mission, an initiative of the Stuttgart Fund for Interreligious Dialogue under the direction of Karl Hermann Blickle, was coordinated with the Israeli Blickle Institute for Interfaith Dialogue. A division of the Ohr Torah Stone network, the Institute’s fellows include men and women who are active in positions of spiritual and halachic leadership throughout Israel.
“What we heard today and the remarkable work we were introduced to was deeply moving and gave me a sense of inspiration unlike anything I’ve felt before.”Program participant
The BDDI visit to Midreshet Lindenbaum began by meeting with students in the Women’s Institute for Halachic Leadership, and an opportunity to meet with its director, Rabbanit Devora Evron, regarding developments in integrating women into positions of communal leadership and how women are increasingly being found in roles previously reserved for men.
While visiting the religious study hall, the German guests were introduced to Jewish texts and met with other educators from the seminary. The delegation had an emotional discussion with Rabbi Ohad Teharlev, Director of the Israeli programs at Midreshet Lindenbaum, who shared his personal story following murder of his son in a terror attack. Teharlev said that his educational vision in the wake of his son’s death was to always work to spread the positive aspects of life and act in ways that urged people not only to “think outside the box, but to think that there actually shouldn’t be any box at all.”
“It was important for us to share with the members of this group that beyond the advancing role of women in the world of halacha, this extends far beyond the study hall and into positions within the community,” Rabbi Dr. Yaakov Nagen, Director of the Blickle Institute explained. “The visitors were therefore also introduced to the rabbinical court advocates working in Ohr Torah Stone’s Yad La’isha organization that represents ‘chained women’ who are suffering from get refusal and use halachic and legal tools to gain their freedom.”
The second part of the BDDI visit in Israel was dedicated to highlighting co-existence between Israelis and Palestinians in the Gush Etzion region. The delegation toured the “Shorashim Center” where they heard about ongoing initiatives to bring together the communities and overcome the well-known political and social divides.
At the offices of the Blickle Institute, the group met with Rabbi Sarel Rosenblatt, a fellow in network’s Beit Midrash for Judaism and Humanity, as well as Ishmael, a Palestinian who has been working within the educational network for over 15 years and who shared his personal story and how the working relationship he has was particularly helpful during his and his family’s challenges during the Corona pandemic.
One of the program participants said, “What we heard today and the remarkable work we were introduced to was deeply moving and gave me a sense of inspiration unlike anything I’ve felt before.”
“In Germany I heard a great deal about Jews, but after meeting Israeli Jews for the first time, I realized how different things are from what I had thought,” another commented.
“We know that at the end of the day, if we want to change relations between peoples of different faiths, both in Israel and around the world, we need to ensure that these interactions occur and have these face-to-face meetings,” Nagen stressed. “This is the only way to create lasting connections between the various sides.”