New Website, Lehrhaus, Launches to Provide Rich Discourse for and from Orthodox Perspectives
A new website launched recently, seeking to contribute to a robust discourse amongst those in Orthodoxy. Launched on Thursday, Lehrhaus seeks to serve as “a forum to generate thoughtful and dynamic discourse among individuals, within the Orthodox community and beyond, who enjoy exploring the depth and diversity of Jewish ideas”, according to its mission statement. The website seeks to do this by providing “fresh, rigorous content and encourages vibrant and intelligent discussion. It harnesses the power of the Digital Age to perpetuate and reinvigorate the great Jewish conversations of our times.”
With four separate categories of Scholarship, Timely Thoughts, Commentary, and Culture, Lehrhaus has already published seven essays, with a couple of the categories providing more pieces and just one in Commentary – Rabbi Elli Fischer‘s footnoted “A Prayer at the Grave of Franz Rosenzweig”. In the Culture category are Rabbi Ari Lamm’s “The Ballad of Cain and Adam” and Hillel Broder’s “Jeremiah Lockwood’s New Cantorial Blues Album, Kol Nidre, is a Yom Kippur Dream”. In Timely Thoughts, the first three pieces have been on Shimon Peres’ recent passing (Dr. Leslie Ginsparg Klein’s “The Day I Met Shimon Peres”) and two on Yom Kippur (Rabbi Dovid Bashevkin’s “Jonah and the Varieties of Religious Motivation” and Rabbi Shlomo Zuckier’s “Yom Kippur, Fasting, and the Poor: Considering the Message of Isaiah 58”).
It is in the Scholarship category that three essays have been published, one recently out today by Rabbi Dr. Zev Eleff on “The Parenthetical Problem of Alenu”, which is comfortably well-written essay on the inclusion, exclusion, and re-inclusion of a line within עלינו in סידורים.* There are also two fascinating (and quite lengthy (at least by standards of blog posts (they are much more easily read by printing them out than by reading them on-screen))) pieces have come out. One is Dr. Malka Simkovich’s “The Origins of Jewish Universalism: What it is, and Why it Matters”, which neatly shows how universalist ideas appeared in Second Temple literature and, ultimately, influenced rabbinic thought on these matters.** The other essay, however, is a rare treat: a heretofore unpublished essay, “The Making of a President for Yeshiva University”, which was penned by Rabbi Joseph H. Lookstein, who passed away almost four decades ago. In the essay, which was furnished by the author’s son, Rabbi Haskel Lookstein, the late Rabbi Lookstein describes how the election of Dr. Belkin took place in the early 1940s, as well as Rabbi Lookstein’s involvement in helping steward the institution in the intervening years.***
The editorial team of Lehrhaus is comprised of six men (five of whom are ordained rabbis) and four women, all of whom seem to have a youthful vigor necessary to starting up such an initiative. The editors are Wendy Amsellem, Rabbi Dr. Zev Eleff, Rabbi Elli Fischer, Dr. Leslie Ginsparg Klein, Dr. Avi Helfand, Rabbi Ari Lamm, Rabbi Yehoshua Pfeffer, Sarah Rindner, Ayelet Wenger, and Rabbi Shlomo Zuckier. “Our editorial board is composed of a diverse collection of accomplished people, all role models in a complex Orthodox community”, the website’s introduction describes. It is interesting to note that the descriptions generally eschew formal titles, such as rabbi, professor, or the like, opting, instead, for a simple listing of names.
The introduction further proposes a certain diversity of thought: “Lehrhaus is not a think-tank. We are eager to introduce the community not just to interesting subject matter, but also to interesting people. Lehrhaus will serve as a thought-provoking space, hosting a broad variety of online content. Contributors will be offered ample leeway to wield their creative powers.” The introduction also describes the variety of its writers as “comprising a diverse array of writers, teachers, and artists [who] will offer commentary on texts and events, past and present, produce fresh scholarship, and explore new vistas in the arts.”
Lehrhaus, according to its introduction, “intends to be part of a much older tradition: a house of learning, a beit midrash, a place where scholars and writers can help create and shape communal conversations.” Furthermore, “Lehrhaus’s role is not to take sides on controversial matters. Rather, our writers probe issues and help navigate a thoughtful course.” Further,
The site is a product of its time, as each literary revival was a product of its time. This forum harnesses the power of the Digital Age to perpetuate and reinvigorate the great Jewish conversations. It is a forum for ideas and affords multiple avenues of expression. At present, this site will host long-form, accessibly written, scholarly articles; personal reflections and short commentary; musings related to events on the Jewish calendar; cultural criticism; original poetry; and more. We expect to add more features as Lehrhaus develops, potentially including podcast series, video content, and forums for communities to interact in real time with our contributors.
While it is unclear how frequently new content will be added and to which categories, Lehrhaus should be an interesting thought-provoking forum, especially for those in Modern Orthodox circles and in other Orthodox circles, but should be interesting even for those in Jewish thought, generally.
* I am of two minds on the lack of footnoting in the essay: on the one hand, situated in the Scholarship section, I feel like wanting citations that indicate to the reader the sources of Rabbi Dr. Eleff’s assertions; on the other hand, I enjoy the breezy writing style he employs, which is easy and enjoyable to read and could easily find itself in a print column, as it is unencumbered by any notation apparatus. Either way, it is an enjoyable and enlightening read.
** For some fascinating excerpts of Dr. Simkovich’s essay, see here.
*** Clearly, this essay will be helpful for historians of Yeshiva University. (I also want to point out that it was helpful to have the essay annotated, although it is unclear by whom the footnotes were furnished.)