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History

Meaning “house of learning” or Beit Midrash, Lehrhaus took its name and inspiration from the school for adult Jewish education founded by the eminent theologian and educator Franz Rosenzweig in Frankfurt, Germany, in 1920. Attracting scholars such as Martin Buber, S.Y. Agnon, A.J. Heschel, Gershom Scholem, and Erich Fromm, Lehrhaus—until its closure by the Nazis in 1938—was the focal point of a Jewish revival between the wars. The school was open to men and women, Jew and non-Jew, and adults of all ages and from all backgrounds. Dialogue between the student and teacher was the primary method of learning which, according to Rosenzweig and Buber, “could restore something genuinely Jewish to the western intellectual.”

Like its illustrious predecessor, the Bay Area Lehrhaus is non-denominational and aims for cultural and religious pluralism, open inquiry, and academic excellence. Established by the historian Fred Rosenbaum in 1974, and co-led beginning in 1988 by the archaeologist Dr. Jehon Grist, the school developed rapidly. In 2007, it established an endowment, which has grown to well over two million dollars.

Rabbi Peretz Wolf-Prusan, following a distinguished twenty-year-long career as senior educator at Congregation Emanu-El in San Francisco, became Lehrhaus’ third full-time educator, and its chief program officer, when he joined the staff in 2010. His position, and many other Lehrhaus initiatives, is made possible through generous grants from Dr. Ingrid D. Tauber and the Lazlo N. Tauber Family Foundation.

Rosenbaum, who had won numerous awards as a teacher, author, and educator, went into semi-retirement in 2017 after 44 years of service. Since then, the leader of the institution has been Rabbi Jeremy S. Morrison, PhD., who became Executive Director of Lehrhaus following fifteen years as Associate Rabbi at Temple Israel in Brookline, Massachusetts, where he became nationally known as an educator of young adults. In 2018, Lehrhaus absorbed the highly regarded Kevah Groups, more than a dozen cohorts throughout the Bay Area of learners of classical Jewish texts.

Now offering over a hundred of courses and workshops a year, at dozens of sites throughout Northern California, Lehrhaus enrolls approximately 1,500 students annually. It works closely with JCCs, the JFCS Holocaust Center, synagogues, museums, and other Jewish institutions across nine counties and relies upon collaboration and the pooling of resources to meet the educational needs of the fast-growing, highly diverse community. Each semester Lehrhaus Judaica publishes an extensive course catalog—including many opportunities for adult Jewish learning offered by other institutions—which is mailed to about 5,000 households throughout Northern California. Many thousands more access the catalog, and our quarterly newsletter, on our website.

The faculty includes university professors, advanced graduate students, rabbis, master teachers, artists, and authors in order to offer our community the full spectrum of our shared Jewish heritage.

In addition to its innovative core program, Lehrhaus is a leader in Israel studies, the education of lay leaders, and Jewish learning for the elderly. Highly regarded as well are its major conferences and out-of-town study tours. In the past decade, our traveling scholars have led 25 study tours on six different continents. In addition, we have published five works in Holocaust studies, which have won national and local awards and have been translated into ten foreign languages.

Since 1997, Lehrhaus has also been a pioneer in harnessing technology to enhance educational outreach. Today, the institution offers fully narrated and illustrated courses on a rich variety of topics that include recommended readings, video clips and other features, all online. Lehrhaus has also introduced live audio and video webinar versions of our most popular courses so that students from all over the Bay Area, and the world, can share in a dialogue of discovery.

The 21st Century Lehrhaus still serves the purpose, and the memory, of Franz Rosenzweig’s mission: to bring student and teacher together to explore and sustain the vibrant spirit of Jewish civilization for generations to come.