Growing up in a home with a father in academia and a Judaica-artist mother, perhaps it was inevitable that Dr. Tamar Kadari, Dean of the Schechter Institute of Jewish Studies, would become an academic, expert on midrash and aggadah and an exhibited sculptor. One year into her tenure as Dean, Dr. Kadari is committed to making the graduate school a place where, much like the home her parents created, “people who come to learn here will feel at home and will find a listening ear. We treat people as people and see their needs.”
Dr. Kadari never anticipated a life in academia. She began her professional career as a teacher at the Masorti high school in Jerusalem. She loved teaching and learning and was fascinated by Hebrew literature. Eventually, while working with noted educator Dr. Avi Lavski, she decided to pursue an advanced degree at the Hebrew University and found that literature of the sages, midrash and aggadah, fused her love of Judaism and literature. Studying with many of the great scholars in her field, Professors Yonah Fraenkel, Avigdor Shinan, Jacob Elbaum and Marc Hirshman, Dr. Kadari experienced their vast knowledge but also, importantly, their teaching expertise. She began teaching in various academic institutions in and around Jerusalem.
A fellowship at the Center for Advanced Judaic Studies, University of Pennsylvania, allowed her to study biblical interpretation in a comparative context from Jewish, Muslim and Christian perspectives. Dr. Kadari first came to Schechter in 2004 and taught JTS rabbinical students. A student who had been thinking of leaving the rabbinical program took a course with Dr. Kadari and finally found a way to relate rabbinic text to her own life thus deciding to stay in the program. As this student shared her experience, Dr. Kadari’s reputation as a master teacher was further burnished. She eventually moved into teaching in the graduate school, becoming a full-time faculty member and chairing the Jewish Arts program and the Midrash and Aggadah program, always seeking to find ways to bring stories of the sages into modern life: “Although they lived 1500 to 2000 years ago, their stories and problems, and their dilemmas still describe human striving today. In my class I try to bring connections between ancient text and present situations. Through the text we can raise all sorts of conflicts. The themes are universal: tension between parents and children; conflicts between teachers and students, concepts and beliefs. All of these themes perplexed the rabbis just as they challenge us today.”
This approach to academic study, of seeking different perspectives and opinions, is one that she brings to her work as a sculptor. An expert at getting hands-on with texts of the sages Dr. Kadari brings this same creativity to work as a sculptor in clay, plaster, cement and bronze. Her work has been displayed at several galleries in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv and she teaches a course on aesthetics and beauty in aggadic literature in the Judaism and the Arts track.
Another aspect of Schechter’s mission Kadari feels is essential is having students and professors from a wide range of Jewish backgrounds. The classrooms and halls are study places for students to meet one another: “Schechter is a place where people come for a master’s degree and meet each other in indirect ways, in class they hear different voices, they open up to different opinions.” Core to Dr. Kadari’s education from her parents was through travel, being exposed to different cultures and different expressions of Judaism, and welcoming Shabbat guests from all different Jewish and religious backgrounds. Kadari seeks to create that same homey atmosphere with exposure to many types of Judaism here at Schechter. Through her time here she has seen Schechter grow significantly: “Schechter is an academic institution that has an important role in Israeli society. We are divided into groups that are separate and don’t have much connections with each other. It is well known that many Jews who live here, in the state of Israel, are not familiar with their own roots and culture. Studying at Schechter is also a way, from the academic perspective, to connect people to their roots.”
Kadari sees this longing for meaningful Jewish connection in many of the students who come to study at Schechter: “There is a deep thirst for learning Judaism, it draws people back to their grandparents, their roots. Students are looking for connection and they find us. And by offering rich academic knowledge of Jewish history and culture we help them find themselves.”