Rabbi Prof. Jeffrey Woolf – Providing Ancient Answers of Contemporary Challenges

Rabbi Prof. Jeffrey R. Woolf, a Senior Lecturer in the Naftal-Yaffe Department of Talmud and Jewish Oral Law, is a master of merging the old with the new. An expert onHalakha, Rabbinic literature and Medieval Jewish history, Prof. Woolf has made it his mission to help the Jewish world of the new millennia cope with modern life’s challenges, using ancient tools drawn from theHalaka,Chazal(Jewish sages) and ancient traditions. “I examine the ways that rabbis sought to provide answers to contemporary challenges that would allow Judaism to continue to thrive, while making sure that the integrity of Jewish tradition was preserved,” says Prof. Woolf. "It allows me to contribute to the discussion of challenges to Judaism in the modern era.”

An internationally acclaimed scholar and Medieval Halakhicexpert, Prof. Woolf is also director of Bar-Ilan’s Institute for the Study of Post-Talmudic Halakha. He has an MA and a PhD in Medieval Jewish History and the History ofHalakhafrom Harvard University, as well as two BA degrees both completed in his hometown of Boston (Boston University and Boston Hebrew College). Prior to makingAliyahwith his wife and five children, he served as a visiting professor at Yale, New York University, Touro College and Yeshiva University, where he also received his rabbinical ordination.

Though he has published numerous articles, edited and authored books, and lectured at universities all over the world, Prof. Woolf considers the two high points of his life’s work his success in reconstructing the worldview of medieval Ashkenazic Jewry, and outlining the contours of late medieval FrenchHalakhicTradition. Prof. Woolf Explains: “I was able to demonstrate how Ashkenazic Jewish life was organized around a series of all-pervasive values (Work, Prayer, Torah Study, Ritual Purity). This allowed them to create a remarkable culture that withstood the Crusades and other persecutions.". Each national community emphasized different components of Judaism.” Prof. Woolf shares that his fascination with this project is that it allowed him to examine how traditions decline and disappear, a trend which directly relates to his other passion- Keruv Levavot (bringing people together).

He is publicly active in advancing socially-religious issues, and works effortlessly forKeruv Levavot). He has been a leading advocate and spokesman for the development of Modern Orthodoxy, in both the United States and Israel. He was the founder of the Orthodox Roundtable, a modern OrthodoxHalakhicthink tank. In addition, he was the founding Executive Chairman of YU’s Orthodox Caucus, and a moving force behind the RCA Pre-Nuptial Agreement. Prof. Woolf attributes his devotion to his spiritual mentor, Rabbi Prof. Joseph B. Soloveitchik. “He taught me how to be a believing and thoughtful Jew in the modern (and post-modern) world. He instilled in me the need to confront challenges head on.”

True to this lesson, he feels that as a committed, believing Jew, “it is my obligation to contribute to the survival of Judaism and the Jewish People. I believe that, especially in an Internet Age, Judaism cannot freeze nor hide from the unparalleled challenges that society poses to it. The only way to respond is to confront issues head on; to identify new ideas that are compatible with tradition and those that are not.”

Also a lecturer in the Center for Basic Jewish Studies at Bar-Ilan, Prof. Woolf is passionately committed to spreading Jewish literacy. “To me,” shares Prof. Woolf, “this means making the treasures of Jewish tradition available to the widest audience. All too often, non-Orthodox Israelis assume that Judaism only belongs to those who observe all of the commandments. That is absolutely false. The Torah belongs to every Jew.”

Though having to overcome the numerous biases and gaps in Israeli society, Prof. Woolf is adamant on achieving his mission of introducing Jewish values to the general public: “One must engage ideas on their own terms,” he insists. “Show how they relate to Judaism and draw the appropriate conclusions. That kind of forthright, intellectually broad and enriching vision of Orthodoxy is, in my opinion, the most promising path for traditional Judaism to adopt.”


View Rabbi Prof. Woolf explain the Maccabean leadership challenge. 
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