An Enlightening Dialogue on the Significance of Torah Fund

Posted on Nov 22, 2022

I’m pleased to present a rabbi’s journey, thoughts, and gratitude for a career made possible through Torah Fund. Rabbi Robert Tobin has been the congregational leader of B’nai Shalom in West Orange, New Jersey, for the past twelve years. I’m fortunate to have the honor to ask Rabbi Tobin a few questions about his educational journey toward the rabbinate. 

When did you learn about Torah Fund and how did Torah Fund help your education? 

I first learned about Torah Fund when I was interviewing for assistant rabbi positions as I was leaving the seminary. There were women at one synagogue who had pins with different color stones, and they explained to me what the pins represented. They were so proud of them! 

I had no idea at that time that money was coming from Torah Fund when I was in the seminary. I knew about my financial package and that I was provided with scholarships that paid my tuition. I was told on occasion that a particular person had provided a scholarship for my tuition and if I wanted to thank them personally, I could do that, but I was never told about a payment from Torah Fund. 

Now it makes sense to me, because Maimonides teaches that the highest form of tzedakah is to give anonymously, so it makes sense that the culture of Torah Fund is giving without ego. 

Sisterhoods across the country pool their resources together to make an impact on the future of Conservative Judaism through their generous donations. Ultimately, this money is used to help educate our future rabbis, cantors, educators, camp directors, and many more. I believe this has influenced me to try to give tzedakah anonymously, which makes it feel more dignified. 

The pins that are given as thanks for the donations at the various levels provide solidarity among the women who donate, and who act as role models for giving. The pins represent pride in supporting each other in their collective endeavor to support students at the five seminaries. 

What was the direct impact that Torah Fund had on your becoming a rabbi? 

With a master’s degree in religion from Syracuse University, I was in my twenties with no savings, no family support, and $150 to get to Los Angeles to the University of Judaism (now Ziegler), where I arrived with an empty tank of gas! I knew a lot in English, but I was to begin an intensive study of Hebrew to receive a preparatory degree in order to enter the rabbinical program in the autumn at JTS. I needed many more requirements that I did not have. 

Torah Fund paid for this preparatory summer class. Without it, I would not have been able to go to JTS to become a rabbi. I had the desire and ability, but not the money. I took loans to basically live, but without the Torah Fund money, I would not be a rabbi today. I would have received a PhD in English and taught philosophy at college. 

How do you see the five seminaries today in terms of the future for Conservative Judaism? 

These seminaries are necessary for the variety of Conservative Judaism in the world today. Conservative Judaism in California is not the same as in suburban New Jersey.  The different seminaries need to be able to produce leaders who can understand the communities they are serving. With traditional Jews, progressive Jews, and many in-between, one seminary cannot meet the needs of the varieties of Jewish people out there.  

The Conservative Movement is the glue that holds Judaism together. We keep our sense of history alive and understand that women have much to offer as well. These institutions are critical for the future health of Judaism and its survival. Thankfully, Torah Fund is alive and well to help students just as I was helped. I don’t know where we would be today without it. 

Rabbi Tobin’s Credentials: 

BS, Foreign Service, International Relations, Georgetown University; BS, Criminal Justice, Homeland Security, Excelsior College; MA, Religion, Syracuse University; MA, Judaic Studies JTS; MHL, University of Judaism; doctoral student, Spertus Institute for Jewish Studies (current).