WebYeshiva spoke with Rabbi Brofsky about the course and his goals for the upcoming academic year.
1. The Halacha Mastery Program is about teaching students how to make their own practical halachic decisions. Why do you think that is important today?
I strongly believe that it is important for students to be sufficiently aware of the halachot in order to properly observe them, and in order to know when and what questions to ask. Those who invest enough time learning and gaining an understanding of halachic application and decision making will make many of their own practical halachic decisions. Those who reach this depth of understanding and mastery most often feel more connected and committed and halachic discourse and observance becomes a central part of their Avodat Hashem. Additionally, those who attain a mastery of halachic material are able to teach and help others and the Torah becomes a Torat Chesed (a Torah of kindness) because it enables them to share their learning with others as well.
2. There are many aspects to Hilchot Shabbat. Why is a course specifically dealing with the kitchen important?
The laws of Shabbat are numerous and complex. I believe that the halachot related to the kitchen, i.e., food preparation, cooking, and reheating, are so central to our weekly Shabbat experience that they deserve special attention and study.
3. What topics regarding kitchen and Shabbat do you think are most challenging to master?
While the laws and prohibitions of cooking and heating food for and on shabbat are among the larger topics, I think various aspects of other melachot related to food preparations are both complex and challenging. I look forward to studying them with the Halacha Mastery Program participants and arrive at clear, practical halachic guidelines.
4. What have you enjoyed most about teaching in the Halacha Mastery Program?
I have thoroughly enjoyed the various classes I have taught on WebYeshiva in general, and the Halacha Mastery Program in particular. I am continually amazed to see students from around the world, logging in at all hours of the day, to learn Torah. I am truly inspired by the participants’ motivation and thirst for Torah knowledge.
Mazal Tov to Rabbi Saul Orbach who completed the WebYeshiva.org Halacha Mastery Program and more recently the WebYeshiva.org Semicha Program. WebYeshiva spoke with Rabbi Orbach about his learning experience.
Why did you choose the Halacha Mastery Program? What did you enjoy most about it?
I had just finished learning regularly somewhere when I was offered the opportunity to join the Halacha Mastery Program, which seemed like not only great timing, but a great opportunity, which I embraced wholeheartedly. I very much enjoyed the program. The teachers are all excellent. The content was diverse yet covered the topics needed to ultimately study for Semicha. With the online format, regardless of where I might have happened to be, I could participate in the class. I recall more than one class I logged into while sitting in an airport awaiting my flight. And for the courses I missed, or simply wanted to review again, everything was recorded so that I could do that at my leisure, or on demand. How cool was that!
Although I’d rather have a Chevrusa and learn together in person, I also enjoy learning on my own, so the self-study aspect of the program worked well for me. But it really comes down to all the great teachers who teach in the program. Just excellent, all of them!
What stood out for you about learning Halacha from the sources?
Learning Halacha from the sources is a very exciting undertaking. There are a couple of things I find absolutely fascinating about it, which enhanced the learning so much for me. First, to see the development of the Halacha from the earlier sources, -from the Torah SheBichtav to the Mishna to the Gemara to the Rambam to the Shulchan Aruch, and down the chain of tradition.
Then we get to the Poskim, the Rabbis who develop and refine the practical Halacha we live by today and understanding their methods, including how Halacha deals with new topics and how the Halacha develops around those new topics. For example, an issue that stands out that we covered was the development of electricity. As it turns out, originally, based on their initial understanding (or lack thereof) the Poskim of the day permitted the use of electricity. As the Rabbis’ understanding caught up with the technology, the Halacha changed to prohibit its use on the one hand, and adapt its usage on the other. Another was birth control and how the methods used in the time of the Gemara was adapted to modern day application.
Lastly, to learn the Halachot k’Seder in the Rambam, the Shulchan Aruch, or even in Shmirat Shabbat which we had to study, is to witness the intellectual genius of the authors in codifying law. From one law to the next, systematically developing a code that covers the vast majority of cases, by adding layer after layer, exception after exception, -it’s beyond amazing to realize the monumental accomplishment they were able to achieve all from memory (without computers of course).
Separate from the Halacha Mastery Program what do you like to learn most?
I met Rabbi Brovender about 44 years ago and started learning at Yeshivat Hamivtar in 1979. We go back a long way and I’m proud to say that I continued to learn with him as well as many of the
other great Rabbis/teachers at WebYeshiva from its inception. Rabbi Brovender and I have a weekly chevruta till this day.
Separately, I have been learning Chasidut intensively for close to 15 years and have been teaching a weekly Chabura for the last 5 years. I particularly enjoy the insights into the Penimiut of the Torah that the Chassidic masters offer, that very often upends our typical understandings of standard Meforshim. Sometimes, these are difficult to understand, but like any Torah endeavor, once you do, there’s a sense of accomplishment that comes along with it.
What do you do professionally?
On a professional level, I’ve been involved in the tech startup/venture capital world for the past 33 years. I had periods where I built companies, a period of six years where I turned failing companies around, a 3 year period of social impact investing, and I’m in my 8th year of venture capital work. Additionally, I teach venture capital and entrepreneurship in the MBA programs at Hebrew University, Tel Aviv University, and the Technion. I also work as a high level advisor to companies and non-profits and continue to be active in the entrepreneurial scene on a global level.
How would you describe your relationship with Rabbi Brovender? What is special about learning Torah with him? What do you enjoy learning most with him?
I first met Rabbi Brovender when he was recruiting for Yeshivat Hamivtar in New Jersey in 1978. He gave an impressive Torah talk (as always, I was to learn), and when I went up to ask him some questions, he told me that the answer to my questions is that I should learn Torah. It was a simple yet profound experience. I started learning at Hamivtar the next year, and eventually, I became the executive director of the Yeshiva as well.
So we had a teacher/student relationship and a work relationship as well that turned into a friendship and personal relationship. I can easily and proudly say that he put me on the path to regular Torah learning. Rabbi Brovender has always been a part of my life since then. I am hardly unique in this feeling, as most of the people who were close to him feel the same way.
He has a very special ability and attribute to make people feel so comfortable, so special, so genuine, that they feel close no matter what. Not everyone makes the effort to stay in touch with him afterwards, but I can tell you that all the ones I know who didn’t, still feel close despite that. I am proud to say that I did maintain my connection over all of these years.
When WebYeshiva was launched, I was one of the first students and was able to reconnect and learn with him, as well as with many of the other great Rabbis/teachers at WebYeshiva, from its inception.
Beyond the classes I take with him in WebYeshiva, I was fortunate that Rabbi Brovender agreed a couple of years ago to learn the Pri Zadik of Rav Zadok HaKohen of Lublin with me weekly. Learning with Rabbi Brovender is a unique experience, especially for me. He is a Talmid Chacham par excellence. His knowledge is vast, his insights are sharp, and his is a very creative mind, so much so that learning together is always a rewarding experience of uncovering understandings and seeing the Torah in new ways. What a joy!
This Rosh Hashanah marks the start of the Shemitta year. The Torah mentions in several places every seventh agricultural year the people must let the land rest.
Since observance of the Shemitta or the Shvi’it year can often feel complicated or confusing with various restrictions and practices, WebYeshiva is offering a special free, live, fully interactive 5-part online series, Practical Shemitta: The Kitchen, which will cover the major issues with managing the observance of shemitta in the home and kitchen.
Taught by Rabbi Dovid Fink, starting August 2, the series will look at the sources of the relevant topics and present the practical halacha in each case. WebYeshiva students will gain the knowledge to be ready for observance of Shemitta at home and in the market.
In preparation for the series, WebYeshiva spoke with Rabbi Fink about what he will be teaching and his thoughts on the Shemitta year in general.
1) How important is it to review the practical halachot of shemitta? Isn’t going according a certain hechsher (kosher certification) enough?
In general, following a specific hechsher might be sufficient. But there are important reasons for studying the underlying halachot of shemitta including the following:
Produce of the shemitta year has kedusha (sanctity). When bringing it into the house, one has to know how to treat it, handle it, and dispose of waste.
You will not always have the option of relying on a hechsher. At times you will have to deal with issues of shemitta yourself.
Understanding the underlying decision that a specific hechsher has made in controversial matters will enable you to interact seamlessly with others who follow other hechsherim.
It’s important to know the halachic advantages and disadvantages of the hetter mechira and otzar beit din.
2) What do you think are the most challenging halachot of shemitta?
Establishing which opinion is embraced by the mainstream and deciding when to follow the strict and when to follow the lenient opinion on controversial issues.
3) Why is it important to study laws of shemitta even if you live abroad?
Those who live outside Israel should study the laws of the shemitta year for a number of reasons:
1. Learning Torah is always a mitzvah.
2. When unable to perform a specific mitzvah, learning about it is second best.
3. Those who live abroad will probably encounter shemitta issues if they visit Israel (post Covid) or if they buy Israeli produce sold abroad. Note that this issue arises with most etrogim sold in Europe and North America.
4. Like every other halacha, the underlying principles of the shemitta year have broad application throughout the length and breadth of Torah.
3) Aside from the dos and don’ts, the practical halachot, what do you feel we are supposed to internalize about the experience of the shemitta year?