Thursday, June 05, 2008

A New Game in Town

Kinas Sofrim Tarbeh Chachma. Competition among scholars increases wisdom. I am pleased to announce the formation of a new Kollel in Chicago. Torah U’Mada will finally have a home here. Yeshiva University is opening up a Kollel in Chicago. President Richard Joel will be here this weekend for the inauguration. The New Kollel will be called The Yeshiva University Torah Mitzion Kollel.

It will have six permanent members - Avreichim who are among the cream of YU’s crop, each a serious Talmid Chacham and each with a college degree. The Rosh Kollel will be Rabbi Reuven Brand, one of Yeshiva University’s brightest young stars. There will also be Israeli Avreichim from Israel that will represent Toras Eretz Yisroel.

They will all be moving into the community as an integral part of it, with stipends towards purchasing a home. Their primary function here will be learning Torah, like any other Kollel. And like other community Kollelim, they will have an ‘in-reach’ program inviting community members to participate in various learning programs including Chavrusos – study partners - with the Avreichim, and various Shiurim at its primary location in Congregation K.I.N.S. and satellite locations in Chicago and the suburbs.

Chicago already has many successful Kollelim. The Chicago Community Kollel (CCK) being the jewel in that crown. Established here in the early 1980s by Rav Shneur Kotler and Rav Yaakov Kamenetsky, it has been a powerhouse of Torah learning. They are responsible for a massive amount of that on the part of Baalei Battim.

Every segment of the Torah world here is represented there. People from the left to right come there to hear Shiurim and/or learn with Chavrusos - whether it be every day or once a week. It was the Kollel that was responsible for the virtual explosion of DafYomi Shiurim in Chicago. They had the first English speaking one. It was given by one of the two Roshei Kollel, Rabbi Moshe Francis. His Shiurim proved to be very popular. That bred other DafYomi Shiurim to pop up all over the city and suburbs.

True - DafYomi may have been established anyway. There is no question that the Artscroll Shas contributed mightily to that cause. But the Kollel was the spark that set it off in this town.

Many of their pioneering Avreichim are now legendary and successful in their own right as Rabbanim, Roshei Yeshiva, Mechanchim, and in Kiruv, as well as in the professions. This is quite an accomplishment. An act that will be hard to follow.

So who needs Yeshiva University to come here? We do. Because the Hashkafos of Lakewood dominate he city. This has pushed off the Hashkafos of Torah U’mada. They are nowhere to be found. It has no home here. There are a few Shuls and rabbis that might qualify as modern Orthodox and adherents of Torah U’Mada. And there is one coed highschool. But no major presence. No flagship institution.

That should not have been the case. My alma mater, Skokie Yeshiva, had the goods. They could have been that institution. The faculty that was there in my student days had very few rivals in Torah or in Mada. Rav Chaim Zimmerman gave the highest Shiur when I first arrived. Upon his departure, Rav Aaron Soloveichik was retained as Rosh HaYeshiva. During his tenure the following greats were on the faculty: Dr. Eliezer Berkovits, Dr. Leonard C. Mishkin, Rabbi Yaakov Perlow, Rabbi Moshe Meiselman, Rabbi Zelig Starr.

All of them had college degrees - most of them advanced degrees - from prestigious universities. And if you add names like, Rav Chaim David Regensberg, Rav Herzel Kaplan, Rav Mordechai Rogov, and Rav Moshe Wernick and many many more who were Talmidei Chachamim of the European Yeshivos, well we had it all.

But Skokie Yeshiva let it all slip away. In the meantime it was trying to become something other than a Torah U’Mada Yeshiva. A sort of Ner Israel with a college on campus. It succeeded at that. But ultimately it missed its mark. What Chicago lacked was a Torah U’Mada perspective. And Skokie Yeshiva wasn’t it.

Had they gone that route, they may never have rivaled Yeshiva University in size and scope but they could have equaled or maybe even surpassed them in quality. But they veered off course. Why - is not he subject of this post. I mention it to show the Torah U’Mada void in Chicago that was filled by the right. Chicago’s most dominant institutions are right wing.

But that is about to change. There is a new game in town. And it came to play. This is a serious commitment by Yeshiva University. It is part of a well endowed program designed to spread its philosophy to the length and breath of this country. Where ever there is a Jewish community that has no religious institutional presence they plan to set up shop - bringing Kollelim to every small Jewish community they can. If I understand correctly Chicago is the pilot program. A number of concerned and dedicated Baalei Batim approached Yeshiva University and made their case. Yeshiva University agreed.

The bottom line is that this is great news for Chicago. The Chicago Community Kollel does not have to worry. They are well established. They will continue to succeed. And hopefully so too will the new Yeshiva University Kollel. They will bring an element of Torah learning that has been missing here for a very long time. I’m told that they promise to bring to Chicago some of the brightest names in Torah U’Mada world to give Shiurim on a regular basis, including Rav Hershel Schachter and Rabbi Jacob J. Schacter. I can’t wait.

I began this post with the words Kinas Sofrim Tarbeh Chachma. Perhaps one day we will even see a Shiur given by a CCK Rosh Kollel at the YU Kollel and a Shiur given by the YU Rosh Kollel at the CCK. One can dream.