Judaism is a millennia-old love affair between God and the Jewish people, taking the form of a brit (covenant). As with any committed relationship, proper intention (kavanah), while essential, is not sufficient by itself. For the relationship to flourish, our commitment must manifest itself in deeds, called mitzvot. Those deeds become commanded precisely to the degree that the relationship is felt to be significant. The more important the relationship, the more eagerly we seek to please the other. Perhaps this is what our tradition alludes to when the Sages teach, “One who loves the mitzvot is not sated with mitzvot (Devarim Rabbah 2:23).” God’s commandments are not burdens, nor are they imperious dictates. Instead, they reflect God’s love for us and our love for God. Conservative Judaism recognizes the important role that religious practice plays in the lives of individual Jewsi. We respond to God and strengthen our connection to God through the mitzvot. But the significance of the mitzvot extends beyond the realm of the sacred. The mitzvot unite the Jewish people around the world and across the ages, forging us into a people with a purpose. Conveying God’s insistence on justice and compassion, the mitzvot also heighten our sensitivity to the aspirations and needs of all humanity and all of God’s creation. These guidelines reflect the religious mandates of Judaism. They are obligatory for students of the Ziegler School.
You have embarked on a path of learning, leadership, opportunities and responsibilities. We would like to spell out how we understand some of those opportunities as they specifically relate to religious practice. It is our hope that ta’amei ha-mitzvot — the meaning underlying the commandments — will be as important a part of your religious odyssey as the doing of the mitzvot themselves. God seeks the service of the mind and heart no less than the service of our hands. For the Ziegler community, the parameters of halakhic practice are established by the Committee on Jewish Law and Standards (CJLS) of the Rabbinical Assembly and the CJLS’s decisions will undoubtedly guide your own practice as well. A comprehensive Conservative guide for halakhic behavior is Rabbi Isaac Klein's A Guide to Jewish Religious Practice, a book that serves as the basis for Ziegler students’ practice, particularly in areas such as Shabbat and kashrut. Rabbi Elliot Dorff is the posek aharon for the Ziegler School.
We not only respect, but also rejoice in the unique gifts and qualities of each of our students. We also understand that each of us has deeply personal ways of expressing our commitment to God and to Jewish tradition. Yet when all is said and done, the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies is both a school and a community. For Jews, community is also essential. We learn together and grow in observance as a community that is open, honest, searching and supportive. Communal standards of observance strengthen our own personal commitments and prepare us all for the work we will do as Rabbis. The Ziegler School’s fundamental commitment is to ensuring that the brit between God and Am Yisrael flourishes. We are devoted to producing outstanding, learned, and inspirational models who will be able to add to the greatness of Torah in the challenging decades ahead. We are also committed to our students; we want to help them grow and to graduate from the Ziegler School with the faith, knowledge, and passion that will enable them to commit their lives to the service of God, Torah, and the Jewish people.