Rabbi Patrick Beaulier is the founder of the PunkTorah networks of websites. His most recent work has been with Darshan Yeshiva ‘s distance learning based conversion to Judaism program. Now, Rabbi Beaulier supports Pluralistic Rabbinical Seminary’s Innovation program.
PRS: How did PRS come about, from your perspective?
Rabbi Beaulier: I had been working on a project for Darshan Yeshiva that simply wasn’t launching due to lack of interest. So I called Rabbi Sandy Zisser to kill some time before going into a men’s clothing store, to get his feedback on why my project wasn’t working out. At some point I just said, “if you were going to build a rabbinical school, how would you do it?” That set off an ongoing conversation that lasted I think about two years. It was the kind of conversation you have with a friend where part of you knows you’re joking around, and another part of you knows that there is something really mystical and meaningful in what you are doing (for lack of a better phrase). A year or two later I was in front of yet another store, killing time, and asking Rabbi Zisser on the phone how a meeting went. He replied, “so can we just start that rabbinical school already? Because everyone is on board for this” or something like that. The rest is history. I guess really, the rest is the future, because we’re just getting started.
PRS: What kind of students are you looking for?
Rabbi Beaulier: I’m very lucky because I do not teach academics or work in administration. Instead, I work in our Innovation program, the part of PRS that incubates new Jewish projects and ideas. I help our students launch Jewish non-profit, and even for-profit social benefit projects. Whether you want to build a synagogue for the blind online or an app that translates ancient Jewish texts into different languages or any number of things, my hope is that you’re a student who is passionate about solving Jewish problems through the power of the marketplace. Yes, we need scholars. But we really need problem solvers, too.
PRS: What are your hopes for the students while they are studying with PRS?
Rabbi Beaulier: I hope they get overwhelmed (in a good way!) I hope they feel very challenged by the program, that they are seeing the connection to what they learn academically and what they do through our Innovation program. Big picture, my hope is that they come out of our program prepared to be independent rabbis for an independent Jewish world. Future leaders for the Jewish future, that’s what Rabbi Sandy [Zisser] is always talking about.
PRS: So to the future. What do you think the Jewish future is?
Rabbi Beaulier: Almost a decade ago I was invited to speak at a conference called Jewish Futures or some such. It was at the Jewish Federation of North America General Assembly. At any rate, I don’t exactly recall what I spoke about. But I remember mentioning three things: being independent, the need for inclusion and also the value of technology. Many moons later and it looks like that’s still the case. Perhaps it will continue to be going forward. But either way it’s an honor to be a part of this incredible program and contribute in any way I can.