Mar 20, 2014
Rabbi Jeffrey Saks grew up in a non-observant home in Roselle, NJ. He became hooked on Judaism in high school by attending the late Rabbi Steven Dworken’s Anshe Chesed synagogue in Linden, NJ, and social events organized by the Orthodox Union’s National Conference of Synagogue Youth (NCSY). He spent many Shabbat afternoons in the Dworken home, and it was Rabbi Dworken z"l who inspired him to go into the rabbinate.
In 1991, Rabbi Saks graduated from Yeshiva University with a BA (Cum Laude) in Political Science. In 1993 he received an MA in Medieval Jewish History from Bernard Revel Graduate School, Yeshiva University, and received Semicha from the Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary (RIETS) in 1995.
Rabbi Saks made aliyah more than twelve years ago. Following a period as Yeshivat HaMivtar’s educational director, he became a Jerusalem Fellow in a prestigious program for senior Jewish educators from around the world. During the fellowship in 1999 he established ATID (Academy for Torah Initiatives and Directions) with Rabbi Chaim Brovender, the Rosh Yeshiva of HaMivtar. ATID (Hebrew for “future”) is an independent institution fostering new and significant thought, strategies, and policies for crucial issues facing Jewish education. ATID’s long-range programs include the ATID Fellows, a training fellowship for Orthodox Jewish educators and future educational leadership; initiatives to promote a meaningful place for the arts in Torah education; proposals for school reform; professional and institutional development projects with lead-schools in Israel and the Diaspora; and a research and publishing division.
In 2007, ATID launched www.WebYeshiva.org
- the first fully interactive online yeshiva and Torah learning platform, which has drawn thousands of students from around the globe.
Rabbi Saks believes that ATID is tackling issues that have been swept under the carpet by the Orthodox community for decades. “There are monstrous problems within Orthodox life and education that have been a problem for a long time. It’s time to deal with them,” Rabbi Saks says. He believes his background and his familiarity with other approaches to Judaism help him appreciate what Orthodoxy has to offer. “I don’t feel I have an outsider’s perspective, but I am probably a little more sensitive to how things are heard by people outside of Orthodoxy,” Rabbi Saks says. “It’s important to be able to speak to people outside your own box and to be conscious of how you are teaching. You can’t teach something unless you feel passionately about it yourself, whether it’s a text, a concept, an attitude, or a way of life.”
This eclectic approach is captured in the title of a book of essays edited by Rabbi Saks and Professor Susan Handelman, of Bar Ilan University: Wisdom From All My Teachers: Challenges and Initiatives in Contemporary Torah Education
(ATID & Urim Publications).
More recently, he co-edited To Mourn a Child: Jewish Responses to Neonatal and Childhood Death
(OU Press) and authored Spiritualizing Halakhic Education
He has also served as a faculty member of Machon Gold Seminary in Jerusalem; as Director of NCSY Israel Summer Kollel in Efrat; and as Director of Yeshivat Ohr Yerushalayim in Moshav Beit Meir. Prior to making aliyah, Rabbi Saks was on the faculty of Yeshiva High School for Girls, Queens, NY. Rabbi Saks also informally serves the community of Beit Knesset Mishkan Tzipora in the Zayit neighborhood of Efrat, where he gives drashot, teaches shiurim, and is available to counsel congregants. He is an Associate Editor of the RCA's journal Tradition
, and is considered an expert of the writings of the Nobel laureate S.Y. Agnon; he frequently lectures at the Agnon House in Jerusalem (sample some of those lectures here
Rabbi Saks and his wife Ilana (nee Goldstein) live in Efrat and are the proud parents of Shalom, Ora, Yair and Adi.
His writing can be sampled at www.WebYeshiva.org/RabbiSaks
or visit YUTorah
for a collection of his shiurim.