Asicha Seminars, initiated in July 2020, is now into its 10-week fall semester focusing upon “The 39 Melachos in Your Home: Deepening Our Grasp of Hilchos Shabbos.” Presenting the course is Rabbi Jonah Steinmetz, founder and director of Asicha, who serves as a maggid shiur in the Five Towns and Washington Heights communities and is a member of the Wexner Kollel Elyon of Yeshiva University. This second semester of Asicha Seminars features an additional track in which Navi and machshava are explored. The course is being taught by Rabbi Raphael Stohl, a former member of the Kollel Elyon and a rebbe in the Masmidim Program of the Katz Yeshiva High School in Boca Raton, Florida. The course, titled “Read the Words, Hear the Message,” is exploring Sefer Yehoshua and Sefer Shoftim, focusing upon philosophical and ethical lessons. Each of the weekly courses is currently attracting close to 100 women per session.
Rabbi Steinmetz shared that Asicha Seminars was named based on the pasuk in Tehillim 119:15, “Befikudecha asicha, v’abita orchotecha,” I speak of Your laws and I look at Your paths. David Hamelech stresses not simply hearing or absorbing divrei Torah but active, involved discussion and analysis of the halacha.
Rabbi Steinmetz explained, “Asicha Seminars strives to provide a vibrant forum for women to learn and grow in a context of yirat shamayim. Additionally, we are determined to ensure that our participants recognize the significance of their commitment to Torah and mitzvot.”
In bringing this new and innovative program to the attention of a wider audience, including women throughout the United States, Rabbi Steinmetz and his team hosted a Motzei Shabbat night of learning on October 31, featuring two well-known female Torah scholars. Elisheva Kaminetsky, who currently serves as the Judaic Studies principal at the SKA High School for Girls, is a noted educator and adult lecturer, widely known to the Teaneck and surrounding areas from her years teaching at Bruriah High School. The second presenter was noted Judaic Studies teacher at Bruriah High School and Bais Yaakov D’Rav Meir and recognized Torah lecturer and life coach, Yael Kaisman.
In her presentation “Emerging From Solitude: Lessons on Growing Alone From David Hamelech,” Kaminetsky based her remarks upon the phrase of Chazal that “Nevuah she’nitzrecha l’dorot nichtava,” meaning “a prophecy that was needed for the generations was written.” Kaminetsky contrasted the words of the biblical characters with those of the neviim, prophets. In Chumash we hear the words of Hashem to His people. From the neviim, we feel the human perspective and nuance, the emotion and the complexity coming from the mouths of the navi to his people. The goal of the navi is to provide us with direction through his words but even more importantly through his behavior. David Hamelech didn’t offer us mussar through Sefer Tehillim, but rather, through expressing his own personal reactions to life, he offered us a framework and guidelines for approaching our own lives. David wrote many of his pirkei Tehillim while alone, out tending to his sheep, interacting with Hashem in isolation. He taught us great lessons for our situation in the pandemic today. He taught us the skills of pivoting from our comfortable and familiar direction and showing resilience to our new circumstances.
Kaisman cited the account of the Kayin and Hevel jealousy as the case study for her exploration of “When Push Comes to Shove: Power Struggles in Tanach and in Our Lives.” We are told that right before slaying his brother, the verse in Bereishit 4:8 tells us “Kayin said to his brother.” Rashi, in trying to fill in the blanks, suggests three possibilities. Either Kayin was arguing with his brother about dividing up the world or about who should marry the third sister who was born to their parents, or perhaps about on whose territory should the future Beit Hamikdash be built. In either case, it was Kayin’s desire to “be the boss” that caused his downfall. In our lives, even when arguing about holy issues, such as the Beit Hamikdash in the biblical story, we should realize that the only claim to power should be through truth. Our goal should be to always be authentic; our comments should always be contributive, not competitive.
Partnering with Rabbi Steinmetz in the founding and supporting of Asicha Seminars are Elisha and Daniella Graff of North Woodmere, Long Island. A lawyer by profession, Elisha is a talmid chacham in his own right and has been called upon by his rav, Rabbi Aryeh Leibowitz of the Beis Medrash of North Woodmere, to deliver Daf Yomi sessions. As a father of four daughters, one currently studying shana bet at Midreshet Mevaseret Yerushalayim, Graff is committed to serious Torah study for girls and women.
“Our vision for Asicha is to provide a continuing forum for serious, in-depth Torah studies for girls and women one to five or even many more years post-seminary. As we proceed into our second semester, we are looking to broaden our curriculum and expand our network of students. We are accomplishing this through bringing in guest speakers of the caliber of Rav Mordechai Willig, Rav Aryeh Leibowitz and Rav Ahron Lopiansky. Through our special programs such as the Motzei Shabbat shiurim, we hope to attract a wider student base from around the country.”
Commenting about Asicha, Rav Aryeh Lebowitz shared, “Rav Jonah Steinmetz, who served our Beis HaKnesses as a rabbinic intern, is a uniquely talented speaker and teacher, and truly an outstanding talmid chacham. He took note that there are many young women who are no longer in a structured learning environment who want to advance in their Torah learning. The need is clearly there, as evidenced by the hundreds of women who have already registered for the program. Asicha provides a very high level of learning and provides exposure to some leading talmidei chachamim and Torah leaders.”
Student Shira Rothwachs of Teaneck commented, “I am a senior at Stern College. I have greatly enjoyed the Asicha shiurim and found them to be incredibly informative and engaging. There is so much content that is delivered in a way that is meaningful and enjoyable to listen to.”
Similarly, Avigayil Kaminetsky, also residing in Teaneck, offered, “After coming back from seminary in Israel, the shift from learning all day to college was a big adjustment for me and I really felt as if there were not enough opportunities for high-level learning for women. Through Asicha I really feel like I am getting ‘seminary-level’ learning though I am no longer there.”
For more information about Asicha Seminars, email [email protected] To register, go to tinyurl.com/AsichaRegister. All shiurim are on Zoom.
By Pearl Markovitz