Shai Held

Rabbi Dr. Shai Held (born 1971) is a rosh yeshiva (Rabbinic dean) and Chair in Jewish Thought at Mechon Hadar.[1] He holds a PhD in religion from Harvard University.

He founded Mechon Hadar in 2006 with Rabbis Elie Kaunfer and Ethan Tucker.[2]


Held attended Ramaz High School[3] and studied in Yeshivat HaMivtar in Efrat, West Bank. Held earned his A.B. from Harvard University in religion, and went on to earn his M.A. in Jewish philosophy at the Jewish Theological Seminary in addition to rabbinic ordination.[4] He earned a PhD from Harvard University in religious studies; his dissertation is entitled Reciprocity and Responsiveness: Self-Transcendence and the Dynamics of Covenant in the Theology and Spirituality of Abraham Joshua Heschel.[5]


Held worked at the Harvard University Hillel from 1999-2002 as the Conservative Rabbinic Advisor and the Director of Education. He has taught at Meah at Hebrew College, the Rabbinic Training Institute at the Jewish Theological Seminary, the Skirball Center for Adult Jewish Learning, and synagogues and institutions across the country. He was also an adjunct professor of Jewish Philosophy, Talmud and Rabbinics, and Informal Jewish Education at the Jewish Theological Seminary from 2005-2008. From 2003-2008, Held served as the scholar-in-residence at Kehilat Hadar, an independent minyan in New York City.[6]

In 2006, Held co-founded Mechon Hadar: An Institute for Prayer, Personal Growth, and Jewish Study.[7] He has taught Modern Jewish Thought, Midrash, Talmud, Tanakh, and other topics. He heads the social action program at Yeshivat Hadar, meeting with residents at the Jewish Home and Hospital in Manhattan and training students in bikkur holim (visiting the sick).[8]

Covenant Award

In 2011, Shai was awarded the Covenant Award for excellence in Jewish education. David Ellenson, president of Hebrew Union College, wrote in a letter of support that “Rabbi Held could easily have a career as a professor at Harvard or Yale, but has chosen instead to live his life ‘in the trenches,’ helping a generation of Jews take hold of their birthright and find ways to make Judaism meaningful, compelling, and sustaining in the twenty-first century.”[9][10]


In 2013, Indiana University Press published Held's first book, Abraham Joshua Heschel: The Call of Transcendence, a study of the major themes of the theologian's thought, particularly the movement from reflexive concern, where man thinks of his own needs and those of his family and community, to transitive concern, where he rises above the self to view the needs of the world from the broader perspective of God rather than his from his own ego.

Held has also published numerous articles:


“My aspiration for Yeshivat Hadar, and for my own teaching, is that we teach a Torat Hesed, a Torah of love and kindness, a Torah that reminds us that every step we take towards God is a step towards—not away from—the world. As I often remind students, if being present in the face of others' pain were easy, Torah wouldn't describe it as the culmination of the religious life.”[11]

Held teaches that “to cleave to God’s ways”[12] means to manifest hesed (lovingkindness). He often says that “Judaism dreams of a world in which human dignity is real and the presence of God is manifest.”[13]

Held identifies seven ideas that a person immersed in Judaism should learn and integrate:[14]


  1. "Rabbi Shai Held". Retrieved 27 June 2013.
  2. "About Us: Overview". Retrieved 27 June 2013.
  3. "Kehilat Jeshurun Bulletin" (PDF). 84:1. August 12, 2013.
  5. Held, Shai (2011). Reciprocity and Responsiveness: Self-Transcendence and the Dynamics of Covenant in the Theology and Spirituality of Abraham Joshua Heschel (PDF). Cambridge, MA: Harvard University.
  6. Kaunfer, Elie. "History". Retrieved 27 June 2013.
  7. "About Us: Overview". Retrieved 27 June 2013.
  8. "Yeshivat Hadar Overview". Retrieved 27 June 2013.
  9. "Past Recipients". Retrieved 27 June 2013.
  10. "Three Exceptional Jewish Educators Receive 2011 Covenant Award and are Honored, Celebrated by Jewish Community and Leaders". Retrieved 27 June 2013.
  11. "Past Recipients". Retrieved 27 June 2013.
  12. ספרי דברים פרשת עקב פיסקא מט.
  13. Held, Shai. "Opening Remarks, June 15, 2009". Yeshivat Hadar.
  14. Held, Shai. "Opening Remarks, June 15, 2009". Yeshivat Hadar.
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