Aish HaTorah (Hebrew: אש התורה, Esh HaTorah, "Fire of the Torah") is a Jewish Orthodox organization and yeshiva. Aish HaTorah is actively pro-Israel and encourages Jewish people to visit Israel and connect to the land and its history. Some consider the organisation to reflect a more Religious Zionist philosophy in its attachment to Israel, promoting Jewish pride by sending young American Jews to Israel. The organization's stated mission is "providing opportunities for Jews of all backgrounds to discover their heritage." Its headquarters are in the Old City of Jerusalem, opposite the Western Wall.
The organization has branches in 35 cities around the world. Each branch has independent governance and funding.
In Jerusalem, the Aish HaTorah yeshiva offers both beginners' drop-in classes and full-time, intensive study programs for Jewish men and women of all backgrounds and levels of knowledge. Areas of study include Hebrew Bible, Talmud, Jewish history, Jewish philosophy and Hebrew language ulpan. A US-accredited college, the yeshiva offers degrees to college and university age students. In 2010 the world's largest replica of the Second Jewish Temple was installed on the roof of the yeshivah. It is a 1:60 scale model of the temple as it is believed to have looked before its destruction by the Romans in the year 70 CE. It weighs 2,400 lbs., having necessitated the use of a construction crane for its installation.
The rabbinic ordination program combines classical Talmudic training with intensive instruction in Jewish outreach and leadership skills. 250 men have graduated from its rabbinic program, some of whom have assumed leadership and religious roles in Jewish communities around the world.
Perhaps due to its multiple affiliations, observers and critics of Aish HaTorah have presented contrasting views of its religious niche. Haaretz newspaper stated that "Although Aish HaTorah is somewhat affiliated with the black hat, ultra-Orthodox community, it celebrates Israeli Independence Day and states in its official policy that the State of Israel is a 'divine gift.' Some 500 people have immigrated to Israel through involvement in Aish, 10 percent of whom, according to some estimates, have enlisted in the IDF."
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Aish HaTorah was established in Jerusalem by the late Rabbi Noah Weinberg in 1974, after he left the Ohr Somayach yeshiva which he had previously co-founded. He died in February, 2009 in Jerusalem at the age of 78.
Philosophically, Aish HaTorah has an eclectic approach that blends the traditions of the Lithuanian yeshivas with the doctrines of Hasidism. Rabbi Weinberg himself was a product of Lithuanian schools but he was also a grandson of the Slonimer Rebbe. His teachings reflect influences of both schools as well as certain facets of the Kabbalah of Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzatto, the Vilna Gaon and others.
The name Aish HaTorah, literally "Fire [of] the Torah", was inspired by the Talmudic story of Rabbi Akiva, the once illiterate 40-year-old shepherd who subsequently became the most famous sage of the Mishnah. One day he came across a stone that had been hollowed out by a constant drip of water. He concluded, "If something as soft as water could carve a hole in solid rock, then how much more so can Torah — which is compared to fire — make an indelible impression on my heart." (While the comparison to fire is reflected in the yeshiva's name -- "aish" in Hebrew (אש) means "fire" — the simile in this story is to that of "water" and the Torah, which is frequent in the Talmud.) Rabbi Akiva committed himself to study the Torah.
Aish HaTorah's self-declared objective is to revitalize the Jewish people by providing opportunities for Jews of all backgrounds to discover their Jewish heritage in an atmosphere of open inquiry and mutual respect.
Worldwide, Aish HaTorah operates about 35 full-time branches on five continents, providing seminars, singles events, executive learning groups, Shabbat and Jewish holiday programs, and community building.
In Jerusalem, it has built a high-tech main campus and outreach center that features a rooftop vista overlooking the Temple Mount, and the Kirk Douglas Theatre, which houses a dramatic film presentation of the Jewish contribution to humanity. An "Explorium" of Jewish History is scheduled to open in 2013, designed to accommodate 300,000 visitors annually.
Each of Aish Hatorah's 39 worldwide branches is an independently run and operated franchise. A typical branch consists of one or more rabbinical families and a multipurpose building.
Branches are to be found in Cleveland, Connecticut, Denver, Detroit, Livingston NJ, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Minnesota, New York, Philadelphia, South Florida, St. Louis, Washington DC. As well as on the college campuses and locations in Boston, Cincinnati, Indiana, Los Angeles, New York, Penn State, Ohio State, Pittsburgh, Queen's (Ontario), South Florida, Washington DC, and among Alpha Epsilon Pi.
Branches outside of the USA are to be found in Australia, Belarus, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Costa Rica, Israel, Mexico City, Russia, South Africa, Ukraine, and the United Kingdom.
Aish HaTorah's website, Aish.com, features articles, videos and audio segments on spirituality, parenting, dating, weekly Torah portion, Holocaust studies, an "Ask the Rabbi" service, and political articles. The site operates thewall.org  a 24-hour live Western Wall camera. This webcam faces the Western Wall and has registered over 25 million visits. There are also spin-off sites in Hebrew, Spanish, Portuguese, French  and Russian. It also has an Aish Audio site with recordings of classes and lectures about Judaism.
Aish HaTorah runs the Discovery Seminar, which uses methods such as the Bible Code to explore the authenticity of Judaism and its relevance to modern times. The four-hour seminar presents an overview of the entire gamut of Jewish history, Jewish philosophy, and attempts to answers questions such as, "Why Be Jewish?" "Does God Exist?" and "Is Torah True?"
The seminar has been given in hundreds of cities throughout the world, at university campuses, Jewish Community Centers, and Reform, Conservative and Orthodox synagogues. More than 100,000 people worldwide have attended the seminars, including guest hosts Ed Asner, Kirk Douglas, Elliott Gould, Joel Grey and Jason Alexander.
In 2005 Aish HaTorah produced a documentary film, Inspired  which chronicles the lives of selected baalei teshuvah ("returnees to Jewish observance"). Aish HaTorah believes that the high rate of intermarriage between Jews and non-Jews has diluted the Jewish people’s vitality. Inspired was produced to encourage more observant Jews to share their positive Jewish religious experiences of Jewish life with non-observant Jews, as a way to strengthen the baal teshuva movement and revitalize Jewish life.
In 2007 Aish released a sequel, Inspired Too. These films paved the way for Project Inspire, the grassroots organization that helps inspire Orthodox Jews to reach out to non-affiliated Jews to teach them about their heritage. Once an offshoot of Aish HaTorah, Project Inspire is now an independent organization.
Designed to help Jewish singles meet each other, Aish HaTorah's SpeedDating is popular in North America.
The Aish HaTorah Audio Center is a collection of recorded Jewish lectures, with over 5,000 titles on every subject in Judaism. Hundreds of Torah tape lending libraries have been established in cities with large Jewish populations, with MP3 downloads available online at Aish Audio's website. Many of Aish Audio's Jewish classes are also available as mp3 downloads at the Classic Sinai website.
Aish HaTorah stresses volunteer leadership involvement, and thousands of active partners teach, organize, promote and fundraise. Its annual Partners Conference attracts hundreds of lay leaders who come together to exchange ideas and glean inspiration for expanding activities. The annual "Power of One Award" honors an Aish HaTorah partner who, it claims, personifies the goal of realizing his or her potential in the service of the Jewish people.
Aish HaTorah's Executive Learning Program is geared towards successful Jewish men and women of all ages to participate in individually designed personal study programs.
Aish Center in New York has a large group within the Executive Learning Program with over 40 participants. Board members include Seth Horowitz, CEO, of Everlast Worldwide, Neil Cole, CEO of Iconix Brands, Julie Greenwald, President of Atlantic Records and Ronn Torossian, CEO of 5WPR.
The Jerusalem Fund of Aish HaTorah has brought important political, business and entertainment leaders on private missions to Israel to increase their support for the Jewish state. The Theodor Herzl Mission, co-sponsored by the Mayor of Jerusalem, has brought international leaders to Israel such as Lady Margaret Thatcher, U.S. Senator John Kerry, Jeane Kirkpatrick and Elie Wiesel.
The "Essentials" introductory program, for Jewish men ages 18–29, offers an understanding of the core concepts of Jewish thought. The educational goals of "Essentials" are to examine the relevance of being Jewish in today's world, define major tenets of Jewish thought from a rational perspective, and explore major themes and practices in Jewish spirituality. Students can participate for one class, a day, a week, or a month. Students live and study in the heart of Jerusalem's Old City.
Aish HaTorah also operates three women’s programs in Jerusalem for university and professional women from all backgrounds.
Professional women may also take short-term, customized learning programs at Aish HaTorah's Executive Learning Center on its Old City campus.
When the Israeli Foreign Ministry sought to combat anti-Israel ideas on college campuses, it called on Aish HaTorah to develop the Hasbara Fellowships. This program has flown hundreds of student leaders to Israel for intensive training in pro-Israel activism training. In North America, Hasbara Fellowships guides and funds pro-Israel activities on over 100 college campuses.
Hasbara Fellowships groups have met with Prime Ministers Binyamin Netanyahu, Shimon Peres, and other prominent leaders from across the political spectrum. Nearly 2,000 students have participated in the Fellowships since the program's founding in 2001.
Aish HaTorah partnered with the Alpha Epsilon Pi Fraternity to run an official Israel trip for their undergraduate members. This three week trip combines Jewish education and touring Israel along with adventurous activities.
HonestReporting.com was established with the assistance of Aish HaTorah, and has existed as an independent organization since 2001. It is the largest organization in the world fighting what it describes as anti-Israel media bias. HonestReporting scrutinizes news agencies worldwide, and then alerts its subscribers to respond to the media directly.
While the Clarion Fund's founders apparently worked formerly with Aish HaTorah, and evidently hatched the idea for the Fund and the films while employed at Aish HaTorah, both organizations have denied any formal links. The Jewish Week reported that "Clarion’s spokesperson, Gregory Ross — listed as an Aish HaTorah international fundraiser on a June 2007 federal election contribution form — denies any formal connection between its activities and Aish."
"Formal or informal," Sarah Posner (of the Jewish Week) reports, "the ties between Aish HaTorah and the production of the films appear to date back to the launch of the media watchdog group Honest Reporting by the founder and former executive director of the Jerusalem Fund of Aish HaTorah, Irwin Katsof, in 2001."
According to The Jewish Week, Honest Reporting "released Obsession in 2005, as well as a previous film, Relentless: The Struggle for Peace in the Middle East, in 2003. The group now denies any involvement in the production of Obsession. But its Web site promoted it as an Honest Reporting project in 2005, the year it was first released."
Posner reports that Raphael Shore, the producer of all three Islam-related documentaries, is the twin brother of Ephraim Shore. Ephraim Shore "heads Aish’s operations in Israel" and "is listed on Honest Reporting’s 2006 tax forms as the group’s president."
Aish HaTorah has been criticized by Rabbi Jack Moline over its close links with The Clarion Fund. The Spiritual Leader of Agudas Achim Congregation, a Conservative synagogue in Alexandria, Virginia, described "Obsession", a film distributed by the Clarion Fund as "the protocols of the learned elders of Saudi Arabia." On the matter of the shared staff between Aish HaTorah and the Clarion Fund, Rabbi Jack Moline was quoted as saying "It is distressing to me that they [Aish HaTorah] would continue to have someone who has promulgated such awful, awful stuff sitting on their board or staff.”
The group has also been criticized by Marshall Breger who served as the White House Jewish Liaison from 1982 to 1984. Breger criticized Aish HaTorah for distributing the anti-Islamic film Obsession.
In 2009 Aish HaTorah installed a model of the Second Temple on the glassed-in observation deck of its building facing the Western Wall. The 1.2-ton model, built to 1:60 scale, was constructed by Michael Osnais out of gold, silver, wood, and Jerusalem stone. A hydraulic elevator lifts the walls of the model so that internal features of the Temple can be viewed.
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