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Chief Rabbi Levy Teaching Students circa 1977
Chief Rabbi Levy Teaching Students circa 1977
The Israelite Academy traces its origin back to the Ethiopian Hebrew Rabbinical College that was established by Chief Rabbi W. A. Matthew in 1925. As explained in the essay "Who are we?" during the early decades of the twentieth century the term Ethiopian was used in its classical sense to refer to the entire continent of Africa and not just the country of Ethiopia. Therefore, in contemporary terms the title meant black or African American. In 1970, under the leadership of Chief Rabbi Levi Ben Levy, the Ethiopian Hebrew Rabbinical College was renamed the Israelite Rabbinical Academy and established under the charter of the Israelite Board of Rabbis in New York City. For the next thirty years the I.R.A. existed to train and ordain qualified rabbis for service in black communities throughout the United States and the Caribbean. During the summer of 2001, the members of the Israelite Board of Rabbis voted at its International Convention in Chicago to transform the I.R.A. into an institution that would offer courses in Judaic/Israelite education to the general public, not just to aspiring rabbis. This change has allowed for women, laypeople, and those new to the faith to acquire knowledge in a friendly and welcoming environment without the four-year commitment required to enter the rabbinic program and without the prohibitive fees or condescension often found at other institutions.
Thus, for over seventy-five years the Israelite Academy has been a beacon of light to a people struggling to break the chains of darkness. We have brought back more Israelites to the worship of the one, true God of Israel whose ancestors were formerly scattered among the nations of Africa and then slaves in the western hemisphere than any other institution, movement, or organization. We continue our mission today through our affiliated congregations and through our schools. The chart below is a record of our achievement. Following the chart, you will find a list of all the black rabbis, living and deceased, who are recognized by the Israelite Board of Rabbis, Inc. Black Rabbis in America

Studying At The Israelite Academy

The Israelite Academy invites applicants from people of any background who are sincerely interested in learning about Israelite history, culture, and practice. Our primary responsibility is to the members of our own community, but we welcome others who wish to study with us if there are sufficient resources to accommodate them and that those individuals conduct themselves in a respectful manner. We have recently opened our doors in this way to meet the growing demand we have received from our constituents and from the general public. While we are interested in meeting this legitimate thirst for knowledge, we realize that some individuals may be more interested in proselytizing, criticizing, and merely engaging in doctrinal debate for the purpose of advancing their own views. Individuals who may fit the latter description should seek other forums to air their beliefs. Perspective students should apply with the understanding that we are a private school with defined positions just as Orthodox Yeshivas, Catholic Seminaries, and Christian Bible Colleges. We encourage you to be a student; learn what we teach and then draw your own conclusions.

Students may enroll in one of following programs:

  1. The Independent Study Program
  2. General Education Program
  3. The Rabbinic Masters Program

The Independent Study Program is open to anyone who meets the minimal requirements explained above. Students in this program make take any course offered to the public at any of our sites or, if available, online through our distance-learning center. It is an entirely self-designed program where students may take as many or as few courses as they wish. Therefore, students in this program have the option of just taking courses that interest them with no further obligations. If there is a prerequisite, such as in a two-part course, students will be expected to take the courses in sequence. The rational for this program is to help students with their personal spiritual development. As such, it does not grant a degree or certificate; however, any credits acquired in this program may be applied to one of the degree programs, should a student decide to continue their education with us.

The General Education Program requires a minimum of two years of study with us and completion of a core of course in Hebrew, Tephilah (Prayer), Torah, and History. At the end of the program successful men and women are award a certificate of completion that establishes their qualifications to teach in most Talmud Torah Schools operated by synagogues within our community.

The Rabbinic Program within the Israelite Academy is open to those who are already believing and practicing Israelites. Candidates for this program are expected to be devout laypeople in a recognized congregation who have the moral character, academic ability, and spiritual calling to become a leader and teacher of the faith. It is not for people who merely posses an intellectual curiosity nor is it for those who wish to add our knowledge to their own belief system. The Rabbinic Program exists solely to train rabbis who will serve our community. Each application will be reviewed by our admissions committee. Acceptance into the program is determined by the candidate's level of academic preparation, the strength of his recommendations, and an interview conducted by designated faculty of the Israelite Academy. Those who complete all the graduation requirements will receive a masters degree in Rabbinic Doctrine. Ordination (conferring of Smecha) usually takes place at the same time of graduation; however, graduates may defer until such time that they are ready and the Dean of the Academy may withhold ordination from any student who failed to uphold the honor or principles of the Academy.

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