For those who want to study halacha – Jewish law – on a long-term basis but in easy-to-consume amounts, OU Torah has the perfect program for you!
For almost four years, OU Torah has offered HaShoneh Halachos (“The one who studies Jewish laws”) from the Kitzur Shulchan Aruch, the abridged code of Jewish law, by providing two laws a day on the OU Torah website, www.outorah.org, and via email to subscribers. The program began prior to the High Holy Days in 2011 and finishes up on Thursday, July 9. More than 2,000 subscribers have signed on.
The four-year period of study, however, can be considered merely a warm-up for what is coming Friday, July 10. It is the Mishneh Torah, the Rambam’s (Maimonides’) great elucidation of Jewish law, composed in 14 tomes in the late twelfth century while he was living in Egypt. Mishneh Torah means “Repetition of the Torah.” The length of the program: a generation.
As Rabbi Jack Abramowitz, Torah Content Editor for the OU website, www.ou.org, and coordinator of the HaShoneh Halachos program explains, “There are 14 books, each book is divided into a number of sections comprising groups of related subjects. So, for example, Sefer Z’manim (“The Book of Times”) includes Hilchos Shabbos, Hilchos Chametz u’Matzah,, Hilchos Megillah v’Chanukah, etc. “Each of those sections,” he continues, “is broken into chapters and those chapters into laws, totaling 15,018 laws. That number of laws at two a day comes out to… 20 years, six months and change.”
“The Rambam was the first to codify the law.” Rabbi Abramowitz emphasizes. “The Gemara doesn’t go in strict order; Maimonides was the first to take all the halachos and organize them by topic.” The laws come from Torah via the Oral Law, the two Talmuds – Jerusalem and Babylonian – and other intermediate sources, he explains.
The Torah contains 613 mitzvot, but as Rabbi Abramowitz makes clear, “Every mitzvah has many halachos; not all halachos are biblical; many are based on rabbinic legislation.” We don’t always follow the rulings of the Mishneh Torah in practice but Rabbi Abramowitz says that “even when we don’t follow the Mishneh Torah in practical halacha, you can’t deny the Rambam’s insight and brilliance.”
Regarding Rabbi Abramowitz’ ability to sustain a series over 20 years, he jokes, “I’m prepared to stay on as a consultant after I retire to finish the job!”
He expects the subscribers to the first HaShoneh Halachos program to remain with the second. “We are going to automatically subscribe everyone to keep going without an interruption in their daily study of halacha; they don’t have to sign up again.” Rabbi Abramowitz emphasizes that to appreciate the program there is no specific background required. “It can be enjoyed by advanced students, by those who are entry level, and all in between.”
Rabbi Abramowitz will provide a translation, but will edit the text to make it a more colloquial, more readable English. “It’s as if we are doing it verbally, and putting it in writing,” he says.
Seven HaShoneh Halochos will be sent each week; emails for Shabbat and Yom Tov are sent in advance.
“HaShoneh Halachos is unlike Daf Yomi or Nach Yomi,” in that the program does not follow a cycle. “Unlike those two programs, we’re not just starting all over again,” Rabbi Abramowitz says. “Now that we are finishing the Kitzur Shulchan Aruch, we will begin an entirely new work. It may be a long journey but we hope it will be enjoyable, learning the Rambam’s magnum opus. Join us and find out.”
The first day’s programming is the first two laws from Hilchos Yesodei HaTorah (Foundations of the Torah), discussing the nature of God, at least insofar as it is our obligation to understand Him.
Sign up for HaShoneh Halachos 2: Mishneh Torah and other OU emails at www.ou.org/newsletters.