The Pardes Mahloket Matters Fellowship
Guided by the belief that Jewish texts and their diverse interpretations can empower us to engage more constructively in disagreements today, I, along with my colleagues at the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies, am thrilled to announce the 31 inaugural recipients of the Pardes Mahloket Matters Fellowship, a new program of Pardes North America.
Full biographies of these 31 impressive Jewish leaders can be found here. In keeping with Pardes’s belief that the truest Torah is revealed when we bring diverse groups of Jews to learn Torah together, the fellows represent a wonderful spectrum of backgrounds, demographics, locations, denominations and beliefs.
Based on the “Mahloket Matters” curriculum that has been used by communities around the globe for the past two years, the fellowship is an initiative designed to educate and support leaders to build cultures of constructive disagreement and debate within their home communities across North America. As part of their participation in the fellowship, each fellow will be expected to construct, with financial support and mentorship from Pardes, an engagement initiative for their community.
We are living through a time of incredibly deep divides, but as painful as they are, they are not new. Our sages, who faced their own challenges as leaders and decisions, found ways to institutionalize approaches such as mahloket l’shem shamayim (arguments for the sake of heaven, or constructive disagreement), not as a way to avoid conflict, rather to approach it head-on in a constructive way.
It is upon these approaches, the study of Jewish texts and the incorporation of modern social psychology that fellows will learn to distinguish between different types of disagreements and explore why good people may have diametrically opposing views on moral issues. Fellows will become adept at considering an issue from multiple perspectives and recognizing the conflicting values, needs, perspectives, and concerns of each side.
The fellowship was originally designed to have two cohorts: the Educational Leadership cohort, which consists of rabbis and Jewish educators currently working in the Jewish professional field, and the Volunteer Leadership cohort, which consists of current and emerging Jewish volunteer leaders. Due to the exceptionally high level of interest, Pardes was able to launch a third cohort in partnership with the Rabbinical Assembly, which quickly stepped up to meet the needs of their members through this new partnership.
The high levels of interest in the fellowship highlight the ways in which Jewish communities are looking for the kind of Jewish wisdom offered by the “Mahloket Matters” curriculum, especially now, in a moment of an increasingly fractured, combative and painful political discourse in Jewish communities and in our larger society. It was encouraging to see so many wonderful applications. It shows that our communities are not resigned to the status quo.
Immersive text-based learning that explores the contemporary relevance of classic texts is, of course, the starting point for all Pardes programs. Combined with professional mentorship, financial support and a strong network of colleagues, we believe our fellows will offer a critical voice to foster respectful dialogue across North America. Mahloket l’shem shamayim has long been at the core of Jewish study. It’s high time we apply this value well beyond the Beit Midrash.
Rabbi Mike Uram is Chief Vision and Education Officer, Pardes North America.