July 20, 2024
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Two Prominent Rabbonim Discuss Unprecedented Increase in Torah Learning

One of the most heartwarming and noteworthy transformations of our time is the tremendous increase in Torah learning that we are witnessing across the length and breadth of the Torah-observant public. The amount of Torah being learned and the yedias haTorah in all areas of Torah, even masechtos and areas of Torah that were once deemed obscure, is mind boggling.

Rav Shmuel Choueka, shlita, rav of Congregation Ohel Simcha of Deal for more than 30 years, is a popular rav and magid shiur who has seen the transformation of his community occurring right before his eyes. Similarly, Rav Zev Smith, shlita, a popular magid shiur with Irgun Shiurei Torah and Dirshu, has witnessed the phenomenal thirst for Torah learning by all segments of the Torah-observant public. They both shared their perspectives on what lies behind this Torah revolution and how we can further harness its power to spread limud haTorah, knowledge of Torah and halacha in unprecedented ways.

“I have been here in Deal, New Jersey, for over 33 years,” Rav Choueka explains, “and I can definitively say that things have radically changed, drastically changed in my community. It is not an exaggeration to say that with regard to Torah study there has been a total turnaround! When we started our minyan we had one daily minyan and one shiur in Gemara. I remember trying, in the early years, to start a halacha shiur in the morning after Shacharit but it didn’t last. There simply was not enough interest. Today we are a major shul with a minimum of six daily minyanim for Shacharit as well as numerous shiurim and learning programs throughout the day, including Daf Yomi in Talmud Bavli and Daf HaYomi B’Halacha.”

When asked to what he attributes the explosion in Torah learning in the community, Rav Choueka responds, “There are a number of contributing factors, but without a doubt the Deal Kollel, led by HaGaon HaRav Shlomo Diamond, shlita, has had a colossal impact on the spiritual landscape of the entire community. Before the kollel opened there was minimal rigorous learning in town. The avreichim who moved into town brought with them a culture and ruach of learning. Today we have more than one kollel plus a yeshiva and hundreds of avreichim.”

Rav Zev Smith enthusiastically points out that the increase in Torah learning among all segments of the observant population is an extremely gratifying development. He relates: “The Gemara says, ‘What should a person do to save himself from the birth pangs of Mashiach?’ The Gemara replies, ‘He should engage in Torah and gemilas chasadim.’ There has never been a generation like ours where it is so easy to learn Torah. There are so many learning programs, so many shiurim, so many ways to access Torah… it is clear that as we get closer to Mashiach, Hashem wants to ensure that no Jew will be left behind. We all must be ready for him, and Hashem is therefore giving us opportunities on a silver platter to access limud HaTorah in ways that did not exist in prior generations.”

Rav Smith, however, cautions that with every bracha there is always a counterforce. “One gadol told me that it has never been easier to learn than in our generation, but at the same time it has never been harder! Yes, there are so many opportunities, so many shiurim, so many ways to tap into the power of limud haTorah, but there are simultaneously so many distractions, so many enticements that make it difficult to focus.

“Another unbelievable development in recent years,” continues Rav Smith, “is the fact that baalei batim, people who are not full-time learners, are shteiging in unprecedented ways. In times of old, it was rare to see the level of scholarship and dedication among those who weren’t full-time learners. Today one sees it all over.

“I think,” points out Rav Smith, “that one of the reasons is that there are many structured learning programs available today that really enable a dedicated person to shteig. We say in birchas haTorah ‘la’asok b’divrei Torah.’ One of the meforshim states that we have to make an esek, a business out of our Torah learning. Just like in business you have a model, you have accountability, so, too, when it comes to our Torah learning. It is not enough just to go to a shiur. We should have a program to follow that enables us to become talmidei chachamim. I think the numerous programs that are out there today have enhanced the learning of both full-time learners as well as baalei batim, empowering them to reach levels of Torah learning that once seemed impossible.”

Rav Choueka points out another related development in town that has had a far-reaching impact. “There is a far greater awareness of halacha today than there was in the past. I have been delivering a weekly halacha shiur for 32 years—it is the longest-running shiur in the community. In that shiur we have covered virtually every area of practical halacha. Even though halacha has always been part and parcel of our learning, as the years go by we nevertheless have been finding much greater receptiveness to practicing halacha with all of its details and dikdukim.

“I must say that another turning point in our community was the institution of a daily Daf HaYomi B’Halacha shiur that, baruch Hashem, has robust participation. I give the shiur every day after Shacharit. The shiur began two years ago after I attended the Dirshu convention. The fact that it is a program that doesn’t stop, that is relentless, is amazing! It means no matter what is going on in your life, a wedding, a late night, there is the ol, the yoke of the shiur. Every shiur counts.”

Rav Choeuka concludes, “If I had to encapsulate the Torah revolution both here in Deal and all over America, I would say Torah study is uniting us and raising the bar as never before!”

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