Recently, Jews worldwide celebrated the holiday of Shavuot, commemorating the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai. Implicit in “kabbalat haTorah” – acceptance of the Torah – is the concept of “na’aseh v’nishma” – “we will do and we will hear.” In this phrase from the Torah portion of Mishpatim (Exodus 24:7), the Jews agreed to follow God’s laws and to study them. Now, with Shavuot in the rear-view mirror, what have Jews undertaken to fulfill this commitment on an ongoing basis? The Orthodox Union’s OU Torah web site (www.ou.org/torah) offers a wide array of daily Torah-study programs to accommodate online “students” of all backgrounds and skill levels.
Daily offerings include:
- Daf Yomi, the study of a page of Talmud each day. The OU offers shiurim from Rabbi Moshe Elefant and Rabbi Shalom Rosner, plus many other series related to the daily daf;
- Nach Yomi, the daily study of a chapter of Nach, the books of the Prophets and the Writings;
- Mishnah Yomit, two mishnayot daily (the Mishna is the first part of the Oral Law);
- Shnayim Mikra, daily shiurim designed to facilitate the study of the weekly Torah portion;
- HaShoneh Halachos, a daily email containing two laws each day from the Kitzur Shulchan Aruch, the abridged code of Jewish law.
The Orthodox Union introduced HaShoneh Halachos on the eve of Rosh Hashana 2011 to enable participants to undertake the daily study of Jewish law as a kind of “Jewish New Year’s resolution.” On Monday, June 23, the series will reach its 1,000th consecutive daily edition. Approximately 2,500 subscribers follow HaShoneh Halachos. The series is authored by OU Torah Editor Rabbi Jack Abramowitz, the highly respected author of such works as The Nach Yomi Companion, The Taryag Companion and The Tzniyus Book.
The name of the series means “The one who studies Jewish laws.” It comes from a Talmudic dictum, recited as part of the Sabbath service, to the effect that whoever studies Jewish laws daily can be confident that he has earned a place in the World to Come. There is, of course, an underlying assumption that one will implement the knowledge he acquires through such study. “The mishna in Avos tells us that if someone studies Torah in order to teach it, God enables him to learn it and to teach it,” Rabbi Abramowitz explained. “But if we study with the intention of practicing what we learn, He gives us the ability to learn it, to teach it, to observe it and to perform it.”
Seven HaShoneh Halachos emails are sent each week; emails for Shabbat and Yom Tov are sent in advance. The text is not a direct translation of the Kitzur Shulchan Aruch, but a paraphrase into easy-to-read, conversational English. Occasional comments from the Mishnah Brurah and other sources are inserted to further clarify the topics under discussion.
“HaShoneh Halachos is not the last word on the subject,” Rabbi Abramowitz said. “It’s the first word. It opens the conversation. I try to indicate from Mishnah Brurah or Bi’ur Halacha when our practice may not be as it appears from the Kitzur. On rare occasion, I have to bring in something more contemporary, like the Iggros Moshe. When the daily halacha discussed whether or not one may use a cane on Shabbat outside of an eruv, a number of people requested more practical application information, so contemporary sources were really important there. I actually had to send an addendum to address all of the questions.”
As HaShoneh Halachos is up to chapter 142 of the 221 chapters in the Kitzur Shulchan Aruch, the series is more than two-thirds complete. What plans does the OU have for when it concludes, on or around July 5, 2015? Rabbi Abramowitz responded:
“I’m not prepared to disclose what we have planned for HaShoneh Halachos 2,” he said, “but it’s huge.”