TORONTO — Toronto is home to a new beit midrash – in effect, a kolel (a post-yeshiva program for men), with significant community outreach.
Rabbi Mordechai Torczyner
Zichron Dov Yeshiva University (YU) Torah Mitzion Beit Midrash, an intensive Torah and Talmud study program based at Clanton Park Synagogue, is an affiliate of YU’s Centre for the Jewish Future and Kollel Torah Mitzion, an arm of Mizrachi Canada, the religious Zionist umbrella.
It is named in memory of Bill Rubinstein, the father of Eli Rubinstein, president of Canadian Friends of Yeshiva University, who with his wife Renée was the driving force behind its creation.
The beit midrash will serve as a satellite of YU’s Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary (RIETS), according to a YU news release. Similar YU Kolels exist in Chicago and Dallas.
Rabbi Mordechai Torczyner, who was ordained at RIETS, is the rosh beit midrash. A 37-year-old father of four with expertise in computers, he is the creator of Webshas, an online index to the Talmud, and a blog called “The Rebbetzin’s Husband.”
Late last month, he and his family arrived in Toronto from Allentown, PA, where he spent eight years as spiritual leader of Congregation Sons of Israel.
In a recent interview, Rabbi Torczyner told The CJN that the beit midrash plans to hold classes across the city, not just at synagogues but other venues as well.
“It’s important to us to see all Jews as one. The distinctions we draw shouldn’t prevent us from recognizing we’re all Jews, and we all have a stake in Torah,” he said.
A core group of four soon-to-be-ordained rabbis constitute the avreichim (a term usually used to describe young men studying at kolels) who study at Clanton Park during the day.
Each of them is involved in a research project, with the goal not only of broadening and deepening their learning, but creating something the community can use, said Rabbi Torczyner.
One project, he said, deals with observations about human nature that work their way into Jewish law, and how Jewish law has dealt with apparent changes in human psychology over time.
“It affects everything from marriage and divorce to the credibility of a litigant in court,” he said.
Classes for the community are already being held on some evenings. Women’s classes are among the offerings, and Rabbi Torczyner also mentioned co-ed classes, depending on the location and the expectations of the particular community.
Rabbi Torczyner said he intends to offer the same material to all students, men and women – “everything from Talmud and Tanach to Jewish history.”
For now, he and Rabbi Azarya Berzon are teaching all classes. Rabbi Berzon is the kolel’s scholar-in-residence for a year, and was a student of Rabbi Joseph Dov Soloveitchik, widely acknowledged as the leading figure in 20th-century Modern Orthodoxy.
“Part of our project is to mentor the others” so that they will be able to teach in the kolel as well, said Rabbi Torczyner, who has been mentoring rabbis for the past three years as part of a formal program.
“This was an extension of that, to me,” he said. As well, he noted, the move appealed to him for personal reasons because Allentown, unlike Toronto, has no Jewish high school.
There is no charge for the kolel’s services. Funds pledged last year – $2.6 million – provide a stipend for the core students as well as operating costs for the first three years, according to Mo Lidsky, national director of Canadian Friends of Yeshiva University.
A public event, to introduce the Beit Midrash to the community, will be held Oct. 25 at Beth Avraham Yoseph of Toronto Congregation.
For more information, visit www.torontotorah.com.