Rabbi Abraham Lieberman arrives with experience and ‘gravitas’


Neima Fax

EARLY: Rabbi Abraham Lieberman held a daily Talmud shiur this year that met at 7 a.m.

By Clara Sandler, Community Editor

Rabbi Abraham Lieberman loves dark chocolate. He believes he has tasted every available kosher, dark chocolate brand, and enjoys them all, but his favorite is Taza Chocolate, a brand based in Somerville, Mass.

Formerly head of school at YULA Girls’ High School — Shalhevet’s cross-town rival — Rabbi Lieberman will be teaching the freshmen and juniors’ Advanced Gemara Shiur, along with freshman Talmud, two junior Tanakh classes, and Advanced Senior Tanakh.

His departure from YULA was announced last November.

“It was God’s idea,” said Rabbi Lieberman of his coming to Shalhevet. “I have no idea where the actual seed was, but it was a very natural process.”

Rabbi Lieberman is originally from Brooklyn, N.Y., and has lived in Los Angeles for 10 years. He spent time as a student at Yeshiva University, Beit Midrash Emek Halacha and Brooklyn College, all in New York. Originally he studied psychology, but he became involved in teaching and fell in love with that instead.

Before YULA he taught at Ezra Academy in Queens, N.Y., and then at Shulamith High School for Girls in Cedarhurst, N.Y., for 28 years.

He continued to teach classes part-time while leading YULA and does not expect to feel rusty starting out.

“I actually think that a head of school that does not teach and does not get into the classroom misses a lot of what’s really going on,” Rabbi Lieberman said. “To know where the students are at and what’s on their mind, you need to be in the classroom.”

And although YULA has separate campuses for boys and girls, he has taught co-ed before and said he does “not have a problem with it.”

Rabbi Lieberman said the key to overcoming the challenge of teaching Talmud and Tanach was love.

“It has to be given over with a tremendous amount of love, honesty, truth and somehow able to bring out the point of why this material is so important,” Rabbi Lieberman said. “It’s a challenge, it’s not always easy. There are so many things going on in our world, especially in the teenage world, where they’re so inundated with a tremendous amount of stuff.”

Rabbi Lieberman wants his classes to be interactive and plans to use chavruta learning, and to feel relevant to the students, while remaining text-based.

“Knowledge is great to have, but the knowledge has to be imparted in a way where it becomes practical,” Rabbi Lieberman said.

He does not think that there is a huge difference between the hashkafot, or philosophies, of Shalhevet and YULA.

“We are both Modern Orthodox schools and all we want to do is educate our teenagers,” he said. “I think the Modern Orthodox mantra is pretty much the same.”

Rabbi Lieberman sees himself as both an easy teacher and hard teacher.

“On the one hand, I like to think of myself as an easy teacher in the sense that people will easily enjoy what we’re learning,” he said.

“At the same time, I expect students to do their work and come through and be responsible — that’s the hard part sometimes.”

Other than teaching, Rabbi Lieberman is also known for his lectures on the importance of the Arabic language, and for his online TEDyula Talk, in which he taught YULA’s General Studies teachers the value of learning Torah.

He also has published a book which collected commentaries on Masechet Shabbat, is published in Hebrew and English, and is called Remnants of Commentaries on Masechet Shabbat in English, and has written articles about the mesora (tradition) of Tanakh in periodicals like the Journal of Biblical Literature and Hakira.

In his email on June 16 announcing Rabbi Lieberman’s hire, Head of School Rabbi Ari Segal described Rabbi Lieberman’s experience and character.

“Rabbi Lieberman brings invaluable experience and gravitas to buttress an already electrifying Judaic faculty,” Rabbi Segal wrote.

“At least as important, Rabbi Lieberman embodies the consummate example of menschlichkeit and yashrus [straightness], and serves as a powerful role model for our young students and faculty alike.”

Rabbi Lieberman gets his Taza chocolate from Trader Joe’s, where they have some of the company’s products. But really he’s not picky about chocolate.

“I’ve tasted every dark chocolate that’s available, that’s kosher,” he said. “I just love dark chocolate.”