Jewish Learning as an Investment in Yourself
A profile on Rabbi Michael Friedland of Sinai Synagogue from Spertus Institute
FROM THE SPERTUS INSTITUE FOR JEWISH LEARNING & LEADERSHIP “NEWS & EVENTS” PUBLICATION FOR WINTER-SPRING 2023
Rabbi Dr. Michael Friedland received his Doctor of Hebrew Letters from Spertus earlier this year.
In a conversation with Dr. David N. Gottlieb, Spertus Institute’s Director of Jewish Studies, Michael Friedland discussed his experience.
After Michael Friedland received his rabbinic ordination from the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York, he hoped to continue toward his Doctor of Hebrew Letters. But he also needed to earn a living, so he took a pulpit at a congregation in a small community in Wisconsin.
Over the years, he never lost his desire to pursue advanced study. When he learned about Spertus Institute, after moving to Sinai Synagogue in South Bend, IN, he felt it was time. “I needed to feed my intellect,” he said.
“Classes were fantastic and fueled my work. Spertus opened doors to a whole range of Hebrew texts I’d never even heard of. The experience gave me the intellectual energy to teach. Whatever I learned at Spertus, became sessions at synagogue.”
For his final project before receiving his doctorate, Friedland developed an in-depth analysis of Shevet Yehudah, a 16th-century text by Spanish historian and physician Solomon ibn Verga. Friedland demonstrated that ibn Verga was motivated to make the case for political, religious, and social reform in the Jewish communities exiled from Spain.
“What drew me to this text is that it seems so contemporary,” Friedland said. “The author confronted the same kinds of accusations that Jewish communities face today: that Jews let success occlude their identity and this was related to the discrimination against them.”
Among Spertus Institute’s community of learners, Friedland noted a recurring theme: gratitude for the opportunity to delve deeply into Jewish texts, thought, and history.
“In rabbinical school, sure, we study midrash, Rashi, and Rambam,” he said, “but we short-circuit ourselves by not exploring beyond these key sources. That was a benefit of Spertus—it opened my eyes to other thinkers.”
“Spertus provides an opportunity you’re not going to find in too many other places. It is an investment in yourself as a Jewish learner.”