Bet Av, the Center for Creativity and Renewal in Torah, was founded in 2001 by . Rabbi Berkovits has been a constant source of new ideas in Jewish education in Israel. His ideas and innovative programs are the bases of educational programming in both Orthodox and pluralistic settings. He has been deeply committed to creating new connections between Judaism and contemporary Israeli culture.

Rabbi Berkovits is a seminal thinker and innovator in the movement to create Orthodoxy in Israel that is both deeply rooted in traditional study and spirituality, yet open to the gifts of Israeli secularism and the creative needs of young Israelis. He was a central figure in the establishment of learning centers such as Pardes, Elul, Nesiya, Yakar and Milah, where his work brought together religious and secular groups, lay leaders, professionals, artists, scientists and the general public. The fruits of this experience provide the language and the vision for Bet Av, the Center for Creativity and Renewal in Torah.

Bet Av focuses on a multi-disciplinary approach to programs that stress personal creativity and its relationship to personal growth. Bet Av's educational mission is to integrate the student's imagination and feelings with cognitive and affective study and growth. We believe that this kind of enriched learning can bridge the gap between Torah texts, personal experience and one's search for meaning. This concept has been effective in deepening the religious experience of adults, in dealing with youth's alienation from Judaism and the study of Torah and in breaking down the barriers between Jews of differentbackgrounds.

Through intensive workshops, educational training programs, and public lectures conducted over the course of several years, the Bet Av faculty has taught nearly two thousand individuals from diverse communities. Graduates of Bet Av have established programs in schools and in communities throughout Israel. These programs, to name a few, are running in the Lehava High School for Girls in Kedumim, the High School for Girls in Tiberias, the Dror Elementary School in Jerusalem and the Ohr Torah Stone High School for girls in Jerusalem, as well as in programs in Hoshaya and Yeruham.

The Living Talmud Bet Midrash

The Living Talmud Bet Midrash was conceived and developed based on the experience earned over years of successful teaching of Talmud and Torah by Rabbi Tzuriel Weiner and Rabbi Dov Berkovits. They jointly developed a systematic framework for revealing underlying "spiritual" meanings of Talmudic discussion. This method utilizes both Halachic and Aggadic sugiot and their inter-relationships to create a deeper understanding of Torah knowledge. The Bet Midrash encourages participants to bring real life experiences and questions of personal meaning into discussions, so that they can be addressed by the Talmud and its commentaries. The Bet Midrash was established in response to the demand of yeshiva graduates and teachers of Talmud who were faced with the crisis of Talmud study in many of today's schools.

The central goal of our work in Talmud study is to demonstrate how the most serious study of Talmud can affect questions of personal meaning of real people in daily life. Thirty rabbis and rabbinic students are participating in this year's course.

For example, the Bet Midrash closely studied Tractate Ketubot. The Talmud and commentaries deal with issues relating to the wedding ceremony, the first night of the marriage, and the economic and personal obligations of husband and wife in marriage. These discussions provide a fascinating in-depth picture of Judaism's understanding of marriage. The laws and related concepts touch on all the basic aspects of marriage, private and public, the historic and the intimate, sanctity and the blessing of God's creation, conflicting interests and the joy of two people becoming one.

Our intention in studying Tractate Ketubot in the Bet Av Talmudic method was to bring the depths of Halachic and Talmudic thinking into direct, living dialogue with the realities of marital life. A critical component were open-ended discussions, moderated by Rabbi Weiner and Rabbi Berkovits, which explored how to apply the conclusions of Talmud study to the daily practicalities of building family life as a living reality and as a holy sanctuary.

Teachers Training and Leadership Program

Using new concepts in the area of the "emotional intelligences" Bet Av has developed new techniques in Jewish education that emphasize personalized and creative learning. Bet Av has successfully re-trained leading professionals in formal and informal education in Israel. This innovative effort has generated a ripple effect in schools and in experimental education programs across the country- in Tiberias, Chispin and Hoshaya in the North, in Kedumim and Gush Etzion, in Yeruham and Yavne and in high schools in Jerusalem.

The Teachers' Training and Leadership Program has earned the approval and praise of the Ministry of Education. The long-term strategy of the program is to create a staff of trained professionals who will then impart and expand the program throughout Israel in educational and community venues.

The program creates an experiential and intellectual language to integrate cognitive and affective study and growth. Educational and administrative staff are empowered to use techniques that enhance self-expression-- creative writing, guided imagery and the plastic arts-- along with traditional analytic tools.

Arts and Judaism Programs

Innovative educational programming in Judaism and the arts for high school and college level curricula.

Two workshops, three and five days each, for art teachers in the religious school system, including lectures on creativity in Jewish thought, Jewish themes in contemporary Israeli art and meditative exercises. Post-workshop activities
in the participating schools were led by graduates of the seminars and were supervised by the Bet Av educational staff.

On the basis of the our work with Judaism and art curricula in high schools, Bet Av, un conjunction with the leadership of the Ministry of Education, is running an experimental program in a number of schools. In addition, Bet Av has educational responsibility for the Ministry's arts and Judaism summer camp.

Educational Leadership Programs

An annual program aimed at enriching the skills of a cadre of 15 accomplished educators each year, from formal as well as informal educational settings. Participants are professionals who hold influential positions in education and community leadership: including rabbis and teachers in yeshivot and midrashot for women, high school principals, and educational project developers for experimental schools and programs. The five-hour course meets weekly over a period of 30 weeks. It combines Torah study, academic lectures, symposia, creative writing workshops and personal awareness exercises. Poet and educator, Yonadov Kaplun, Rabbi Dov Berkovits, and other Bet Av faculty lead the program.

Bet Av - Galil and Bet Av - Shomron

Graduates of the first year-long Educational Leadership Program initiated satellite programs in Hoshaya and in Kedumim. Now in its third year the Galilee program includes 15 participants, mostly educators. The Kedumim program has an enrollment of 40 participants.

Teacher Enrichment Programs

The Bet Av faculty has worked with over a thousand educational professionals in
weekly or monthly workshops. These programs targeted the
educational, counseling and administrative staffs of Dror High School and Evelyna de Rothschild High School for Women. In addition, programs were delivered
at the School for Senior Educators of the Ministry of Education and at the
Lehava High School for Girls, Kedumim.

Half-Day Workshops

Over 350 guidance counselors, assistant principals, and other administrative and educational staff in a number of cities across Israel have been introduced to the Bet Av's methods in this framework.

Creativity and Study- Public Seminars

Included lectures, classes, workshops, symposia, and public performances. Over 500 students and adults (60% religious-40% secular) participated in the annual three-day summer seminars covering the themes:

  • The Spirit in Matter
  • Touching Opposites
  • A Journey

Publications

  • Mitzraf 1 and 2- A journal of original poetry, essays and articles
    in Jewish thought and education.
  • "An Exceptional Young Man"- A booklet written by Yonadav Kaplun and
    Rabbi Dov Berkovits that outlines the basic educational concepts of Bet Av,
    focusing on the development of a creative, spiritual personality. The booklet will soon have its third printing.
  • "Diaries of a Suffering Talmud Teacher" - Articles and
    personal reflections of the Bet Midrash staff, concerning the crisis of
    Talmud study in the religious school system. The booklet outlines new techniques
    developed at Bet Av.
  • "The First Book of Torah Writing Exercises"- An exercise book
    for informal and formal educators for Torah study and personality
    development, written by Yonadav Kaplun.
  • Daat- A monthly journal in newsletter format with a circulation of 40,000 throughout Israel. The journal introduces the public to the vision and educational programming at Bet Av through articles by the faculty.

Staff (2002-2006)

Rabbi Dov Berkovits is founder and executive director of Bet Av - The Center for Renewal and Creativity in Judaism. Rabbi Berkovits studied philosophy and sociology at the University of Chicago and earned his rabbinical ordination and MS.C. at Yeshiva University. He studied in Jerusalem at Mercaz HaRav Kook and the Shalom Hartman Institute. He has been involved for over 20 years in the creation of innovative programs in Jewish education in Israel. Rabbi Berkovits served as director and faculty chairman of the Pardes Institute, founding educational director of the Nesiya Institute, founding member of Beit Midrash Elul, senior fellow at the Hartman Institute and with Rabbi Adin Steinstaltz, founding faculty member of Beit Yakar and Kolot and director of Milah.

Rabbi Tzuriel Weiner is coordinator of the advanced Bet Midrash programs. Rabbi Weiner earned a B.A. in chemistry from Temple University in Philadelphia and studied for many years at Yeshivat Hakotel, Jerusalem. He taught Talmud in the Hesder Yeshiva of Shilo for more than fifteen years. For the past five years, Rabbi Weiner trained young Talmud teachers in the Michlol program, and instructed teachers in new Talmud learning methods in the national religious education system. Rabbi Wiener has led the Bet Av - Bet Midrash program since its inception.

Yonadav Kaplun is coordinator of educational development programs at Bet Av. Kaplun is an award winning, nationally recognized poet and writer of children's books. He is a renowned teacher of Hassidut and has led numerous creative writing workshops for young writers and students seeking a path to personal expression. Kaplun is also a family counselor and therapist and has become a role model for many young people.

Yona Dery is a lawyer who gave up her profession to become a teacher in literature and creative writing. Ms. Dery taught in Ohr Torah Stone Yeshiva High School for five years. She has participated in Bet Av programs for three years and is currently studying in the advanced program for graduates. Ms. Dery is associate director of Bet Av, in responsibilities in areas of educational programming and fund raising, and she teaches creative writing

Chana Shavit served in the Israeli Army for 22 years and retired with the rank of Major. During her service she was engaged in administration, personnel selection, and management of officers' training, She graduated with a degree in business administration. Ms. Shavit manages the Bet Av office.

Asher Dahan, works as a creative artist. He is a painter and sculptor emphasizing abstract and conceptual work as well as envirenmental art. Dahan is a graduate of Bezalel, studied in London and has exhibited in the Israel Museum, the Artists House in Jerusalem, in Bat Yam, in New York and in galleries throughout Israel. Dahan has done ongoing research in the area of Judaism and the Arts and developed new educational programming in this area based on his research.

Some comments from our graduates:

Sarah Eliyash, principal of the Lehava High School for Women and founder of Bet Av-Shomron - "The workshop led by Rabbi Dov Berkovits and Yonadav Kaplun gave us the tools to listen, to grow and to guide our students via a wide variety of tools, gleaned from the writings of Hassidic scholars, creative writing workshops, exercises in awareness and receptivity, art, oral Torah, etc. The workshop has helped me as a principal to influence my teaching staff and subsequently the 800 girls studying at the Ulpana, who are now benefiting from a creative Bet Midrash established in this style."

Rabbi Uri Zommer, educator and Talmud teacher for fifteen years at yeshiva high schools in the Golan- " After becoming familiarized with the Bet Av method of Talmud study, I have not only benefited myself but have also enriched the students I teach. A group of professionals who come to the "Daf Yomi" under my guidance are saying that the Talmud
actually deals with their lives. The method really brings the learning up-to-date. It is a continual process that speaks to learners throughout all times and periods and touches the problems and realities of students, wherever they are."

Yitzhak Shapira, director of the School for Senior Educators, Ministry of Education, Jerusalem.- "Rabbi Dov Berkovits and the poet Yonadav Kaplun were outside
experts in our courses for principals and supervisors. Their unique contribution enriched
these in-service training programs from new perspectives and helped participants look at Jewish education for religious students from a fresh point of view".


Rabbi Simcha Mirvis, Rabbi of Moshav Sde Ilan and co-coordinator of Bet Av in oshaya, "This program changed my entire approach to studying the Torah. My eyes were opened to a revolutionary new perspective of depth, power and connection to texts that I had been studying for years."

Leora Levi, art teacher at the Experimental Judaism and Arts Program at Ulpanit High School -Tiberias and co-coordinator of Bet Av in Hoshaya -."It was like choosing life, it was an experience of repair and renewal. After I completed my M.A. in education, I didn't suspect that Torah texts could be approached in such an original way and with so much depth".