When warm milk is mistakenly poured from a dairy pot into a fleishig one, are the milk and fleishig pot then considered treif?
For Rabbi Shmuel Marcus, mara d’asra of the Young Israel of Queens Valley, there are factors to consider in rendering the p’sak. How warm was the milk? Was the vessel used in the past 24 hours? How much milk was poured in?
Such questions are studied in depth every week in the Semichas Chaver Program, the fastest growing chaburah in the world. SCP is an Orthodox Union program that teaches halachah l’maaseh to working men in the community. “It’s an organized shiur of mar’ei m’komos. It addresses different questions on how to pasken,” said Joseph Bruckner, who attends the shiur in Kew Gardens Hills given by Rabbi Marcus. “It gives you an opportunity to learn in depth how to ask a sh’eilah and when to ask. Unless you’re in a s’michah program, you are not going to learn a lot of these halachos.”
The program was founded and initiated by Rabbi Elyada Goldwicht, who sought to revive a centuries-old concept of giving working men a thorough knowledge of halachah. “The term chaver appears in the Gemara as someone trusted on matters of kashrus. It’s a reminder that Torah learning is everyone’s obligation. It’s about responding to a situation.”
Each week, participants in the free program discuss lessons in halachah and bring home materials relating to their learning. “It impacts the home and elevates the man of the house to make it exciting for the whole family,” said Rabbi Goldwicht. As he sees it, the program enables fathers to answer children’s’ questions on halachah, giving the children a role model of Torah learning in their daily lives.
To emphasize this point, Rabbi Goldwicht encouraged the 50 Semichas Chaver honorees to bring their wives and children to the May 5 siyum at Congregation Ner Mordechai in Kew Gardens. In attendance where two of the three Torah luminaries who sign on the “Semichas Chaver” certificate, Israeli Sephardic Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar and RIETS Rosh Yeshiva Rabbi Hershel Schachter. The third Torah luminary who signs on the certificate is HaGaon Rav Zalman Nechemia Goldberg, the former Av Beis Din of the High Court in Jerusalem. Rav Goldberg attends all the siyumim in Israel.
Zev Berman, who helped organize the evening and a Semichas Chaver honoree himself, commented, “A chaver is a learned layman. Locally, there are shiurim in Teaneck, North Woodmere, and Kew Gardens Hills. At the end, there is an exam to test your knowledge. It has 55 multiple choice exams and five short essays.”
Berman attends the North Woodmere shiur, given by Rabbi Aryeh Lebowitz. “It’s a chaburah of participation, a chevrah of interaction.” Through a WhatsApp group, Berman and fellow participants discuss the given topic through the week following the shiur. After receiving the s’michah, participants continue to other topics in halachah for a few months, followed by the exam and siyum. The support of Rabbis Amar, Schechter, and Rav Zalman Nechemia Goldberg was sought to demonstrate broad support for the program. “In the past 18 months, the program has grown from two locations to over 20 worldwide,” Berman said.
The honor of being a chaver gives pride to participants, and a feeling of youth when there was more time available to learn. “It’s has really been many years since I’ve done so much learning, and at the end there’s an exam,” said Kew Gardens Hills resident David Steinberg. “It is moderately difficult and an absolute thrill to master a sugya.”
In his shul, the Young Israel of Queens Valley, there are a few older members who know the term chaver from the German Jewish community, where it was a title of honor given to knowledgeable community members who were not rabbis. Appropriately, the program is dedicated by Mrs. Anne Strauss l’ilui nishmas her husband, HeChaver Shlomo Michael ben Meir, Mr. Michael Strauss, who was a chaver himself. His son Elliott attends this synagogue and was among the Semichas Chaver honorees at this siyum.
In his search for a magid shiur, Rabbi Goldwicht called Rabbi Marcus, who did not think twice despite his busy schedule that begins daily at 5 a.m. for the morning Daf Yomi shiur.
With the first seder of the program complete, the learning continues every Monday night at 8:30 p.m. at the Young Israel of Queens Valley. “It’s a real part of your week and it’s practical,” said Koby Daniel, a participant in the Kew Gardens Hills shiur. “It’s been a great help in my avodas Hashem.”
By Sergey Kadinsky