Skip To Content
Get Our Newsletter

Support the Forward

Funded by readers like you DonateSubscribe
Forward 50 2017

Shai Held

Teaching The Heart Of Torah In A Heartless Time

Imagine a Jewish institution with four presidents. Now imagine that they all complement each other and seem to get along brilliantly. That’s Mechon Hadar, a traditional, egalitarian yeshiva in Manhattan founded a decade ago by friends from Harvard University searching to create a new place to study, worship and build Jewish community. It has grown in the past decade into a Manhattan institution, offering seminars, fellowships and grants.

Among Mechon Hadar’s founding core, it was Rabbi Shai Held’s prophetic voice we heard most clearly this year.

Held’s compilation of his weekly Torah interpretations was published in a two-volume set in September, titled “The Heart of Torah.” In it, he wrote: “The Torah we learn and teach should help us become kinder, more generous, more empathetic and willing to give; if it merely buttresses our biases and hardens our hearts, then it is simply not Torah.”

His theological belief that God wants us to live lives of compassion and dignity naturally extended into the political realm after Donald Trump’s election to the presidency. Held, 46, became an outspoken critic of the new administration, preaching at a prayer service before the Women’s March in January, penning columns for CNN and sharing his views regularly on Facebook. “Racism is an attack on humanity,” he wrote after the violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, “but it is also an assault on God.”




    NY-12 Candidate Forum


    Aug 10, 2022

    7 pm ET · 

    Will the last Jew left in New York’s congressional delegation be reelected? Will New York’s senior congresswoman receive another term? Or will one of the newcomers upend Manhattan politics?

Republish This Story

Please read before republishing

We’re happy to make this story available to republish for free under an Attribution-Non Commercial-No Derivatives Creative Commons license as long as you follow our republishing guidelines, which require that you credit Foward and retain our pixel. See our full guidelines for more information.

To republish, copy the HTML, which includes our tracking pixel, all paragraph styles and hyperlinks, the author byline, and credit to the Foward. Have questions? Please email us at

We don't support Internet Explorer

Please use Chrome, Safari, Firefox, or Edge to view this site.