Aish HaTorah was established in Jerusalem by Rabbi Noah Weinberg in 1974, after he left the Ohr Somayach yeshiva, which he had previously co-founded. The organization worked to proselytize young Jewish travelers and volunteers in favor of Orthodox Judaism. It later expanded worldwide, and continues promotes its extensive adult education classes.
In December 2013, Aish HaTorah of New York filed suit against its former chief financial officer Jacob Fetman to enforce a Beth Din of America ruling that Fetman had stolen $20 million in funds from the organization.
Aish HaTorah describes itself as blending the traditions of the Lithuanian yeshivas with the doctrines of Hasidism. 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.
Aish HaTorah describes itself as pro-Israel and encourages Jewish people to visit Israel and connect to the land and its history. The organization's stated mission is "providing opportunities for Jews of all backgrounds to discover their heritage."
The organization is politically conservative and its officials have stated they oppose a full return of the West Bank to the Palestinians. Jeffrey Goldberg has called the organization's philosophy as coming from a "sterile, sexist and revanchist brand of Judaism."
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. Elie Wiesel said, "Aish HaTorah means to me the passion of teaching, the passion of learning. The study of Torah, the source of Jewish values, is the way to Jewish survival."
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. It has 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.
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 under the umbrella of Aish Global.
In 2008, the Clarion Project, an organization that shares staff, fundraising sources and an address with Aish HaTorah, and has been linked in media reports with Aish HaTorah, distributed its film called "Obsession." The film had been criticized for being unfair in its portrayal of Muslims as violent. The film was sent to more than 28 million people in the United States in anticipation of the United States presidential election. Aish HaTorah denied any connection to the film. The Council on American–Islamic Relations filed a complaint about the film with the Federal Election Commission.
In 2012, the Clarion Project released a film called The Third Jihad. The film was produced by Raphael Shore, who works for Aish HaTorah. The film was called "Islamophobic" by the The Forward.
When the Israeli Foreign Ministry sought to combat anti-Israel ideas on college campuses, it worked with 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.
The Israel-Diaspora InitiativeEdit
In August 2016, the Israeli government announced an Israel-Diaspora outreach program called The Israel-Diaspora Initiative. The program partners were announced as Chabad and Olami Worldwide, an organization that works closely with Aish.
- Goldberg, J.J. (2016-08-16). "Is Israel Trying To Turn American Jews Into Orthodox Right-Wingers?". The Forward. Retrieved 2016-08-24.
- "$20M Charity Embezzlement Case Shows Power of Rabbinic Courts". The Forward. Retrieved 2016-08-24.
- Powell, Michael (2012-01-23). "In Police Training, a Dark Film on U.S. Muslims". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2016-08-24.
- Goldberg, Jeffrey. "The Jewish Extremists Behind "Obsession"". The Atlantic. Retrieved 2016-08-24.
- Simmons, Shraga. "Premier Educational Programs Amidst an Architectural Marvel". News article. Aish.com. Retrieved 23 December 2011.
- Project Inspire http://www.projectinspire.com/about.php. Retrieved 17 July 2016. Missing or empty
- Laughlin, Meg (2008-09-26). "Senders of Islam movie 'Obsession' tied to Jewish charity". Tampa Bay Times. Retrieved 2016-08-24.
- Goldberg, J.J. "Islamophobic Film and Its Jewish Backers". The Forward. Retrieved 2016-08-24.
- "Orthodox Groups to Lead Israel's New Bid to 'Strengthen Jewish Identity' of Diaspora Youth - Israel News - Haaretz". www.haaretz.com. Retrieved 2016-08-24.