April 10, 2024
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Rabbi Meir Shalem Leads Yeshiva-Style Adult Chabura in Bergenfield

Bergenfield—Independent learning of complex sugyot (topics) with a chavruta (learning partner) is common among yeshiva students, but those opportunities lessen as the students move beyond yeshiva, develop careers, grow families and engage in other time-intensive commitments. A small group, led by Bergenfield’s Rabbi Meir Shalem, hopes to reverse that trend. A musmach of the Israeli Rabbanut HaReishit, he this month began leading a yeshiva-style chabura (study group) in Bergenfield that will spend the next three years delving into hilchot Shabbat through all the sources, from the Gemara to contemporary halachic authorities.

Congregation Beth Abraham members Avi Goldenberg and Ben Rubin were brought together by Rabbi Tanchum Cohen, their shul’s assistant rabbi, who noted their mutual desire to develop a chabura for themselves and the community. “We were both interested in creating a program of learning that would bring the excitement and substance familiar to many in our community from their days in yeshiva,” said Rubin. “Avi and I share a similar sense of the need for structure and organization to bring coherence to the efforts of Torah study in which we engage on a regular basis.”

Goldenberg and Rubin found a great fit to lead the chabura in Rabbi Meir Shalem. “We were hoping to find a person with knowledge, experience, drive, ingenuity and charisma—all of which we found in Rav Shalem. Rav Shalem’s experience and background, having completed his studies of Halacha for the Rabbanut in Israel, are an excellent fit for the kind of systematic and thorough study that we wish to bring to the community. Rav Shalem carries not only a powerful knowledge of Halacha and depth of analysis, but a sense of the process in learning Halacha, the ability to communicate that process with others and tremendous personal warmth,” Rubin said.

Rabbi Shalem studied for 13 years at Yeshivat Mercaz HaRav in Yerushalayim, and he is currently studying to be ordained as a dayan (judge) in Israel. He has taught at Lander College and currently leads a chabura there, though he moved with his family to Bergenfield two years ago. Rabbi Yaakov Neuburger, mara d’atra of Congregation Beth Abraham, referred to Rabbi Shalem as “a substantial talmid chacham and one of the understated jewels of the Torah of our kehillah.”

Rabbi Shalem immediately latched onto the idea of a yeshiva-style chabura for adults. “Many people [in the Bergenfield and Teaneck community] have talent and they know how to learn, but they find it difficult to learn beyond the level of bekiyut [reading halachic texts without much analysis] now because the last time they were in yeshiva was many years ago. However, they still have the skills to learn on a deeper level, and our goal is to potentiate these skills.”

Rabbi Shalem is also designing the teachings to have practical applications: “We chose a topic with halacha l’ma’aseh (practical halacha) applications, so people will not only be able to learn Torah on a high level, but also apply the maskanot (conclusions) in practice to improve our meticulous observance of hilchot Shabbat on a weekly basis,” said Rabbi Shalem. This combination of high-level learning and practical halachic conclusions is hard to find in the shiurim and chaburot to which most adults have access.

The community’s interest in this unique chabura has been very positive, Rubin said. “The enthusiastic response to the chabura concept has been incredible and way beyond my expectations. It has generated such an excitement amongst the membership of our shul! When I speak with members who have started the learning program, they have unfailingly shared with me their appreciation and how much they enjoy learning Rav Shalem’s source sheets that guide us each week. Many have expressed a strong desire to take part in the chabura even if they feel unable to fully jump on board at this time.”

The primary attendees of the chabura are people who have been to yeshiva and have approximately four hours per week to commit to learning. “The chabura is aimed at those who have studied intensely in yeshiva and already have the capability of learning Gemara on a high level; it’s not geared for beginners, people for whom this is their first time learning,” said Rabbi Shalem. But the chabura’s WhatsApp group has also allowed its members to be more flexible with their time. “The chabura is based on the participants’ independent learning of the topics. They receive source sheets and schedule their weekly learning around their own schedules. If anyone has questions or gets stuck on a sugya [topic] in the middle of the week, he will be able ask the group, and I, or anyone else who knows the answer, will be able to act as a virtual shoel umeishiv [a person in yeshiva who answers questions about textual learning],” said Rabbi Shalem.

WhatsApp allows for the chabura to work around schedules and help the participants find a time for Torah. “It’s a beautiful thing that we have the zechut to use this type of technology b’kidusha [in holiness],” added Rabbi Shalem.

Chabura members will take a test on each sugya that the chabura covers, but the tests work to their benefit. Rabbi Shalem explained: “It’s not a mandatory test, where if you don’t take it, you’re going to get a bad score and we’re going to kick you out; that’s not the goal.” The goal, he said, is to simply motivate and organize the material into sections and provide feedback so he can tailor his teaching methods to suit the members of the chabura.

Rabbi Shalem’s review shiur is presently meeting weekly on Mondays at Beth Abraham after the 9:05 p.m. maariv, but Rubin and Goldenberg hope to begin rotating the location of the chabura through the other local shuls to expose more community members to the chabura and invite them to join. For more information, contact Ben Rubin at [email protected] or Avi Goldenberg at [email protected].

By Tani Greengart

 Tani Greengart is a rising senior at TABC and a summer intern at The Jewish Link.

 

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