Birthright Israel Plus: Sexuality & Torah – Intimacy, Relationships & Gender in Judaism

Program Description

What do traditional Jewish sources have to say about modern relationships, sexuality & gender – if anything at all? The goal of Birthright Israel Plus extension programs is to have a more intimate, personalized experience of Israeli society and culture, focused on your choice of topic. On the Birthright Israel Plus: Sexuality & Torah program at Pardes, we will grapple with Jewish traditional sources, visit cutting-edge organizations, meet with leaders, students, activists, seekers, philosophers, agents for change and those being changed.

Program highlights:

  • Lunch at, and meeting with, the social worker of an upscale Tel Aviv restaurant that serves as a social initiative to provide employment and life skills to at-risk youth.
  • Discussion with LGBT activists and leaders of organizations whose members identify as LGBT and religious.
  • Winery visit and short hike in the landscape of the texts that we’ll study.
  • Meeting the women and staff of a non-profit organization whose objective is to rehabilitate women who are looking to leave the sex trade by training them in fashion design and marketing.
  • Have a discussion with a politician about how these issues manifest in Israeli public discourse and policy.
  • Session with an artist at her studio and a theater producer about the role that themes of sexuality, gender, relationships, and Jewish identity play in his work.

Who should come on this program?

This program is ideal for anyone who is on a personal journey to learn more about themselves and their relationships through the lens of Jewish text. The Birthright Israel Plus subsidy applies to anyone who will be participating on a Birthright program this summer or who has participated on a Birthright program over the past year.

Day 1: The “I” in Identity

  • Personal Paths of Rav Kook, Yiscah Smith
  • Judaism and Sexual Ethics 101, Rahel Berkovits (or Nechama Goldman Barash – August 13)
  • A “ME” of Multiple Identities: Meeting with activists who identify as LGBT and religious
  • Ma’ale Film screening: “Keeper of the Faith” and meeting with the film’s director, Yosef Novel

Day 2: (Me) & My Relationships

  • Morning Torah Yoga (optional), Diane Bloomfield
  • Knowing Your Partner… in the Biblical Sense, Tovah Leah Nachmani
  • A Room of One’s Own- an interactive workshop exploring the connection of gender and identity, Dr. Yael Solomon
  • What Does it mean to ‘Sanctify’ Something? Learning visit to a Winery (with Pardes students)
  • What does an Alice Cooper Song Have in Common with the Biblical Story of Samson and Dalilah? Hike & Learn, Aviva Golbert or Carmella Rose

Day 3: Gender & (in)Equality

  • “Flexigidity”, Yiscah Smith
  • Gender & Politics in the Jewish Capital, Rabbi Aaron Leibowitz, Jerusalem City Council Member, portfolio of Women & Children
  • Lunch at Liliyot Restaurant, Social initiative which functions in a framework of rehabilitating youth-at-risk. Each year, Liliyot trains and employs 15 youth, who have dropped out of school, and provides them with guidance, and professional development for a year and a half. Over lunch, we will meet with the project’s social worker in order to learn about how sexuality, relationships and gender affect their work with this population.
  • Visit to “Turning the Tables”, Organization which works to rehabilitate and supports women who are seeking to leave the sex trade by teaching them employment skills, specifically related to fashion design and marketing. We will learn about issues relating to the sex trade industry in general and specifically in Israel, and meet with the staff and women who participate in the program.
  • Meeting with Israeli artist (optional session)

Day 4: A Sexual Ethic of One’s Own

  • Sanctity in Sexuality: Is it possible today?, Nechama Goldman Barash (or Rahel Berkovits – June 21)
  • Amnon & Tamar: What do we do with sexual violence in the Torah?, Howard Markose
  • Final lunch
  • Hike and Processing Session

While some of the time will be spent in the field, the excellent teachers who will be teaching on this program include:

In all likelihood, you will have a few days off between the conclusion of your Birthright Israel trip and the start of the BRI Plus extension which will require you to be in Israel on your own during this gap between programs. This will afford you time to experience Israel independently, but also requires a certain level of maturity.

Your Birthright Israel deposit ($250) may be used to pay for the Birthright Israel Plus program. During your BRI Plus registration, you will be able to authorize Birthright Israel to use your deposit towards their BRI Plus program. If you register during your Birthright Israel trip, you will still have to pay $400, with the option to pay the balance at the end of registration for the Birthright Israel Plus program. At this time, this policy is in effect for Spring-Summer 2017 season only.

Participants may redeem their deposit at the end of their Birthright trip if they cancelled their BRI Plus participation at least 6 weeks before the program start date.

For more information, and to register, click here or email Carm at

We will be sleeping at a boutique hotel in the Baka neighborhood in southern Jerusalem, a 5-minute walk from the Pardes Institute and 7- minute walk from the trendy Emek Refaim area. All meals on the program will be provided as either group meals at restaurants or as a stipend to eat out independently during free time.

If the Pardes Birthright Plus dates overlap with other Pardes programs, participants who are interested are welcome to join the classes of those programs.

Birthright Israel Plus is an official program of Birthright Israel.

For more information, and to register, click here or email Carm at