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Class took 26 years to parse every word of the Torah


They say that all good things come to an end, even if they’ve been going on for a good 26 years.

On Dec. 11, a weekly Torah study program initiated by Rabbi Elyse Goldstein in 1991 will conclude with a discussion of the last line of Deuteronomy and the first word of Genesis. As in previous weeks, the class will discuss the passage in exquisite detail, adding their ideas and perspectives to the commentary already provided by Rashi and other commentators.

Then they’ll break for a nice meal, a l’chaim over liquid refreshments and some reminiscing, before Rabbi Goldstein will introduce the first word of Genesis, to make the circle complete.

It’s taken the class all those years to go over every word in the Five Books of Moses. Of course, the Torah is read weekly in synagogues and it takes one year for the cycle to be completed, but the readings don’t parse each word of every passage in the way this class does, Rabbi Goldstein said.


When she started the Monday night class at Kollel Toronto, she had no idea it would morph into a multi-decade program that would see students come and go. Rabbi Goldstein herself turned over the program’s reins to her husband, Baruch Sienna, a Jewish educator, after its first 20 years.

Following its first semester, back before the turn of the century, the students were eager to keep the class going. They asked for more – and they got it.

Taught at an advanced level, students are expected to be able to read the text in the original Hebrew, and to be able to read the unique script created by Rashi.

“It was an in-depth level of study, a unique experience. I don’t think there is anything like it in Toronto,” Rabbi Goldstein said.

Rabbi Elyse Goldstein

The class was never big – a total of around 30 people enrolled in the program over the years. They came from all streams of Judaism, from Reform to Orthodox. Some of them were secular and some came from Israel. Some attended synagogue regularly, while others did not, she added.

Students were encouraged to participate in discussions and offer their perspectives on the passages being discussed. “There have been so many insights over the years, brilliant ways of looking at the text and unpacking the commentaries,” she said.

Many have become more religiously involved because of the classes, while one student, Neal Levinger, went on to study in the United States to become a rabbi.

Some of the original students remain from that first class in 1991 and Rabbi Goldstein expects some of those who have left the program will return to mark the final class.

But will it really be final? Rabbi Goldstein is planning to close the program with the first word of Genesis, “B’reshit,” but, she acknowledges, there’s tons of commentary on just that first word.

Who knows, it could open a whole new study program – unto the next generation.