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Machon Weizmann: From Science to Religion

It is this intellectual approach that draws these scientists, and thus the deep intellectual works of the Ramchal become their first step in Yiddishkeit

Machon Weizmann: From Science to Religion


There is cutting-edge research going on in the laboratories of the Israeli science institute Machon Weizmann, and recently, a groundbreaking phenomenon has been discovered by a research group of about 15 professors and scientists ages 35-60, all of them of Russian origin. It is called Torah, teshuvah and shmiras hamitzvos.


But let us start at the beginning.


With Russian aliyah, many highly educated professionals came to Israel from the coutries of the former Soviet Union – doctors, engineers, scientists, musicians and others with multiple degrees and doctorates. The general level of the average Russian Jewish scientists is very high, much higher than that of, let's say, the average Israeli or American Jewish scientist. These people look down on the religious people they see on the street, dressed like in 19th century Europe, with peyes, considering them uneducated and backward.


How is it possible to find the way to the heart of these people?

Rabbi Alexander Leib Savrasov, a most outstanding Russian-speaking avrech, knows how. Having translated several works of Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzato, the Ramchal, into Russian, and teaching them around the world, Rabbi Savrasov possesses the unique talent to make this deep intellectual material accessible to his public without diminishing its level of depth.


It is this intellectual approach that draws these scientists, and thus the deep intellectual works of the Ramchal become their first step in Yiddishkeit, inspiring them to form a new, sophisticated view of Torah and mitzvos and strengthen their own commitment to them.


As Rabbi Savrasov said at the opening of the shiur: "I don't know for how long this shiur will continue, how far we will get and whether we will ever finish the book, but one thing I am sure of: Very soon, you will become different people. You will feel an astonishing difference between your worldview before and after our meeting."


And so it happened. The class started out three years ago, and Rabbi Savrasov said then that he would like to see at least five people at the class. Now there is no room for the chairs that have to be brought from other classrooms, at least 30 people attend, some of them come from other cities.


Shifra, Dr of Biology, tells her story:

"My story is simple and typical at the same time. In the spiritual vacuum of the Soviet years, the Intelligentsia was looking for truth, the spiritual values of mankind. I was one of the few who still considered themselves a Jew. When the gates of the Soviet Union opened, we threw ourselves into reading whatever was available. What was available was Kabbalah. It is an understatement to say that we did not understand it. It turned upside down every image of Judaism, its strict logic and traditions, especially for people many of whom had never opened the Torah, and for sure never studied it systematically.

But I only understood this after my immigration to Israel. Here we finally understood what it meant to be Jewish, and began observing the traditions. As it turned out, though, it was not easy to advance in my studies, to learn Torah. In Haifa, where my family lived the first 10 years after immigrating, there were classes on different aspects of Judaism. Some of them were on a very high level that was not yet accessible to me, and mostly took place in a very sophisticated Hebrew that I could not understand yet, either. Classes in Russian were usually one-time classes, geared towards bringing the non-religious closer to Judaism. I was already past that. At the Technion where I worked, there were no classes on Judaism, let alone in Russian. I went from group to group, but never found a level of study that would be fitting for someone who never learned in yeshiva, but had some background in Judaism and, most importantly, had a high level of logic and knowledge in secular subjects, which is characteristic of the former Soviet intelligentsia.


It so happened that two and a half years ago I moved to Rechovot and began working at the Weizmann Institute. A new life opened up for me here. I found many colleagues, some of them world-famous scientists, who kept the Jewish laws. We began visiting each other on Shabbos – it is so nice to share your Shabbos table with friends. But most importantly – I finally found my Rav. Approximately at the same time, Rav Leib Savrasov began teaching classes on Jewish philosophy at the Weizmann Institute. We began studying the Ramchal's book "Da'as Tvunos". His deep knowledge, personal charm and attention to every participant made his classes a real discovery for me and many other students. Someone who came to a class once never left again. The group is constantly growing, and we miss our Rav very much when he leaves us for one of his many trips to Russia or the Ukraine.

A few years ago, I could not tell my adult children anything about Judaism – out of the whole family, I knew the least. But now, after the Shabbos meal, my daughter and I often sit on the couch, take the Ramchal's book, and I tell her what we learned that week."  


There are many like Shifra in Rabbi Savrasov's class.


Like Alexander, an engineer. Before meeting Rabbi Savrasov, he only saw religious people on the bus. The only thing he knew about Judaism is that it "returns one to the roots" and "tells one about the meaning of life". After ten classes, he put on a kippah, and now learns in yeshiva at night.


Like Michail K., a geophysicist. He joined the class three years ago. Now he has a true Jewish home, sends his sons to a good religious school, and learns with a chavrusa.


Like Leonid (Aryeh) K, a mathematician who came from San Francisco to the Weizmann Institute for his doctorate. Here, he became interested in Jewish philosophy, began studying the Rambam's works, and joined the class. Besides philosophy, he now learns Gemara with a chavrusa, and they even learn in Hebrew.


Like Arkady L., a physicist. He is very new to the class, but questions about Eternity and the connection of the Infinite with the finite, our world with the Creator, occupy him to such a degree that there is no day that he does not call Iris, who organized the class, with new questions. He borrowed the entire archive of previous lectures, listens and understands, every new class is a discovery for him.


There are many women in the class, as well, among them some very young students.


Anya M., student of computer science, has recently joined the class. She takes it very seriously and is always studying, determined to catch up on all the previous material.


After the first year of classes, Nina G. came to the conclusion that it was an absolute necessity to create a true Jewish home. She went to a Rebbetzin and learned with her, but met with resolute protest at home, especially from her husband. No attempts to reconcile the couple, no Toldos Yeshurun couples' seminars worked. Soon she found out that her husband was cheating on her. She got divorced, and now that her wedding to an observant Jew is soon approaching, she will finally be able to build a true Jewish home.


There is Iris, upon whose initiative this class was formed. A good Soviet pioneer and student in the past, she is now a Jewish wife and mother who works as a programmer and system administrator at the Weizmann Institute in Israel.


The only question remains: How did Rabbi Savrasov come from Beitar to Rechovot, a town with a large Russian-speaking population but with hardly any Yiddishkeit?  


It all began with a class of his in Modiin, a town with little Russian-speaking population, which was attended by Iris, a scientific staff member of Machon Weizmann, and her friend, also a Weizmann scientist, who came all the way from Rechovot to attend the class. The women thoroughly enjoyed the class and made efforts to expand it, whereupon Rabbi Yosef Ovadia Zarudinsky, coordinator of Toldos Yeshurun's activities in Rechovot, made them an offer that they could not refuse: If they would succeed in gathering together a group for a class in Rechovot, Toldos Yeshurun would try to establish a class of Rabbi Savrasov there. The rest is history, as Rabbi Zarudinsky says, "a person does little hishtadlus, and with Siyata diShmaya, he will be helped and a great thing will grow out of it".


Rabbi Yosef Ovadia Zarudinsky was born in Donezk, Ukraine, in 1975, both his parents were engineers. He came to Yiddishkeit in Yeshivas Toras Chaim in Moscow right after graduating high school, and came to Eretz Yisroel in 1994, where he learded in Yeshivas Chevron in Geula until his marriage.

Upon his marriage, Rabbi Yosef Ovadia continued his studies in Kollel HaRan while teaching in the evening kollelim of Toldos Yeshurun. He founded evening kollelim in Modiin and Brachfeld, and now carries the full financial burden of the latter.

Now he operates Umatzata, his own kiruv organization, and gives four daily classes in HaRan – two on Gemara, one on Hilchos Shabbos and one on Mussar. 


As a conclusion, we ask Rav Avraham Cohen, director of Toldos Yeshurun, to express in a few words the general strategy of Toldos Yeshurun:


"Our strategy is very simple. Our target group are young, highly educated Jews, immigrants from the former Soviet Union. We learn Torah with them. We don't do kiruv as it is generally known. What we do is net Torah study. So much about our goal. And the means are brilliant young Russian-speaking avreichim who are the driving force of this process. For instance, Rav Zarudinsky. And of course, we support and even activate them to found their own organizations, their own yeshivos etc. After all, the efficiency of a person who is his own boss, who decides himself what to do next, is so much higher than that of a hired worker. This is what led to the victory of capitalism over socialism, and these ambitions, or, better, the expansion of young Russian Rabbis' potential, are the guarantee for the flourishing and the rebirth of Russian Jewry." 






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