The "New Horizons for Religious Educators" and the "Channels of Knowledge" Programs

Dafna Schreiber – Director; Dr. Shmuel Wygoda – Academic Director; Years of activity: 2003–2011

In the framework of the Van Leer Jerusalem Institute’s commitment to narrowing the gaps in Israeli society, reducing tensions between groups, and enhancing the orientation towards the social sciences and the humanities, the Institute conducted a groundbreaking enrichment project in the humanities and social sciences. Over the eight years that this academic enrichment program was conducted, it exposed more than 150 principals and senior educators (men and women) from orthodox religious-Zionist secondary schools (yeshivot and ulpanot) to higher education and Western thought, as a critical first step toward cultivating tolerance, respect, and increased participation in Israeli society and civil society endeavors among Jews of diverse ideologies. The New Horizons for Religious Educators Program ran at the institute between 2003 and 2009 and was aimed at senior members of the Religious-Zionist education system: heads of high school yeshivas, heads of ulpanas for girls, and senior educators in these institutions.


Following the success of the New Horizons for Religious Educators program, in 2009 the institute launched The New Channels of Knowledge for Rabbis from Hesder Yeshivot program. It was intended for rabbi-teachers (Rams) from Hesder Yeshivas (Torah academies for religious young men who combine study with their military service), who seek to complement their scholarship and profound knowledge in the world of Judaica and Jewish studies. This program ran at the institute for three years. It offered a decisive response to the conflict and deep crisis of confidence besetting the Hesder yeshivas at the time. The crisis grew out of the political distance between the Hesder yeshiva population (both students and teachers) and the views of the Israeli governments. This discrepancy required the teachers in the Hesder yeshivas to contend with their students’ questions regarding service in the IDF and refusal to fulfill an order that was related to the peace process and diplomatic agreements.


The program was divided into four content clusters:

History: How modernity was formed, the changes it wrought, and its characteristics from the seventeenth century to the present

Philosophy, economics, and political science: The great ideas that shaped the social, economic, and political changes in the modern and global eras

Philosophy: Ideas, theories, and themes in philosophical thought in the modern and postmodern ages

Culture: Practical expressions of modern experience, primarily in literature, art, film, and theater


One hundred and fifty educators from throughout Israel participated in the project’s nine courses. The graduates testify that it met a need and a great thirst for secular knowledge in the humanities and the social sciences. The program’s success could be seen in the introduction of its content into the educational discourse in most of the educational institutions whose heads had participated in the program, in projects undertaken following the program (for example, Common Denominator), and the continuing contact by graduates with various forms of activity at the Van Leer Jerusalem Institute, including continuing education courses geared to them.


The programs were supported by the UJA – Federation of New York, and the Levi Lassen Foundation.