2011 Covenant Award Recipient

Shai Held

2011 Covenant Award Recipient

Shai Held

Rabbi Shai Held
Co-Founder, Rosh Yeshiva, and Chair in Jewish Thought
Mechon Hadar
New York, New York

“Cultures and communities are ultimately transformed one individual at a time. We have no other option than to start by nurturing, cultivating, and listening to the infinitely precious human beings who stand before us.

“My aspiration for Yeshivat Hadar, and for my own teaching, is that we teach a Torat Hesed, a Torah of love and kindness, a Torah that reminds us that every step we take towards God is a step towards—not away from—the world. As I often remind students, if being present in the face of others’ pain were easy, Torah wouldn’t describe it as the culmination of the religious life.”

Rabbi Shai Held is co-founder, Dean, and Chair in Jewish Thought at Mechon Hadar, a young institution committed to serious, passionate, open-minded Jewish education in an egalitarian setting. Previously, he served for six years as Scholar-in-Residence at Kehilat Hadar in New York City, the flagship minyan of the independent minyan movement, and taught theology and Halakha at the Jewish Theological Seminary. He also served as Director of Education at Harvard Hillel, where, together with Dr. Bernie Steinberg, he built the Netivot Fellowships program and became known on campus both as a pastor and a pedagogue. A renowned lecturer and educator, Shai has taught for institutions such as Drisha, Me’ah, Combined Jewish Philanthropies, and the Rabbinic Training Institute. He currently serves on the faculty of the Wexner Heritage program and is regularly invited to teach at synagogues and communal institutions across the United States.

Shai is known for his ability to make complex ideas come alive in ways that are accessible without being diluted, as well as for his skill in opening up the world of Jewish texts to people of all backgrounds. He is committed to bringing text learning and personal growth into intimate conversation, and is an impassioned advocate of seeing the worlds of Jewish education and public service as inextricably linked: This why all students at Yeshivat Hadar visit the elderly and infirm as part of their commitment to Jewish life. Newsweek recently named Shai one of America’s 50 most influential rabbis.

Shai holds a doctorate in religion from Harvard University, where he wrote a dissertation on the religious worldview of Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel. His main academic interests are in modern Jewish and Christian thought and in the history of Zionism. Shai lives in Manhattan with his wife Rachel, a clinical psychologist, and his son Lev, who is 18 months old and explores the world for a living.

“At Yeshivat Hadar, I want my students to know that Torah is a language, the language of the Jewish people, the language in which God and we give voice to our deepest yearnings and aspirations, as well as our most fundamental and far-reaching obligations and commitments. Torah is not a hobby, but a birthright. The work of Yeshivat Hadar is to help another generation of Jews receive and discover that most precious gift which is already theirs, and ours.”

From his Letters of Nomination and Support:

“Rabbi Held could easily have a career as a professor at Harvard or Yale, but has chosen instead to live his life ‘in the trenches,’ helping a generation of Jews take hold of their birthright and find ways to make Judaism meaningful, compelling, and sustaining in the twenty-first century.”

Rabbi David Ellenson, Ph.D.
President and I.H. and Anna Grancell Professor of Jewish Religious Thought
Hebrew Union College – Jewish Institute of Religion

“In my judgment, Shai Held will be one of the leading educators—one of the handful at the very top—of this coming generation. He draws people with a natural, low-key manner that is fully respectful. People respond with all their being and abilities.”

Rabbi Irving (Yitz) Greenberg, President (retired)
Jewish Life Network

“Shai Held is a visionary leader, an electrifying educator, and a gifted teacher able to communicate profound scholarship and deep knowledge of texts and sources. He understands human suffering and is able to guide his students through their own struggles while also teaching them what it means to wrestle with the suffering of others.”

Rae Janvey, Leadership Advisor, mentor, and coach
Rae Janvey Consulting

“Shai is a remarkable pedagogue who brings his entire self to his teaching. He is a sensitive soul, the rare teacher who can speak to a room full of people and still make each person feel like he or she is the only one in the room.”

Rabbi Elie Kaunfer
Co-founder, Rosh Yeshiva, and Executive Director

Rabbi Ethan Tucker
Co-founder and Rosh Yeshiva
Mechon Hadar

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