Rabbis from across the Orthodox spectrum came together for a kinus Torah (Torah conference) on the second day of Shavuos at Congregation Machane Chodosh in Forest Hills.
Georgian, Sephardic, Bukharian, Chabad, and Modern Orthodox rabbis, all from Forest Hills and Rego Park, gave words of Torah and chizuk to more than 150 people, who were attending for two and a half hours.
Rabbi Sholom Ber Hecht, mara d’asra of the Sephardic Jewish Congregation for the past 46 years, re-started this tradition three years ago. He remembers Rabbi Joseph Grunblatt of the Queens Jewish Center, Rabbi Marvin Luban of the Young Israel of Forest Hills, and Rabbi Yitzchak Sladowsky of Forest Park Jewish Center, having kinusei Torah about 45 years ago.
It’s a tradition Jews in Europe had, said Rabbi Hecht. Community rabbis traveled to their roshei yeshivah during Shavuos, when ritual questions aren’t as numerous as other Jewish holidays, to have a kinus Torah. Seven rabbis spoke at this year’s event in Forest Hills.
Rabbi Hecht spoke about how it says in the Torah, “G-d says these words to Moshe, saying,” clearly meaning that the Torah is intended to be related to B’nei Yisrael. “Jewish people have to understand that the scope of the Torah is not just to the Jewish people and observance” but to “influence the world and society,” said Rabbi Hecht, quoting the Magid of Mezeritch.
Rabbi Hecht pointed to today’s challenges in society: heroin and opioid addiction, legalization of marijuana (a gateway drug to harder drugs), gender and sexuality “being attacked very severely by the Gay agenda,” the shidduch crisis, and the lack of good education in yeshivos and public schools.
The kinus Torah “helps the community see the broad scope of Torah and application to modern life. Shavuos is the perfect time to learn Torah and for the community to see that there are a lot of things we can do together,” said Rabbi Hecht.
“The event has grown exponentially from year to year, both with the inclusion of more rabbis and more attendees,” said Rabbi Yossi Mendelson of Machane Chodosh, who was host, MC, and a speaker.
Rabbi Mendelson pointed “to the unity across various communities through Torah.” “While each of us has his own customs and minhagim, when it comes to the study of Torah we all share a common ground.”
Rabbi Shmuel Gold, of the Queens Jewish Center, focused on halachah and why megillos are read on Shabbos Chol HaMoed before the Torah reading (and on the second day of Shavuos).
Rabbi Baruch Babayev, of the Bukharian Jewish Community Center, speaking in Hebrew, discussed the importance of showing kavod – respect – to Torah scholars, the Torah itself, and for holy books.
Rabbi Asher Vaknin, rabbi of the youth minyan at the Bukharian Jewish Community Center, spoke about the importance of making Torah a part of our lives.
Rabbi Aharon Chein, of the Congregation of Georgian Jews, spoke about lessons we can learn from King David and the Baal Shem Tov, both of whose yahrzeits are on Shavuos.
Rabbi Ashie Schreier, of the Young Israel of Forest Hills, said, “We are so blessed that every single day, every time we sit down to learn, we have our own personal maamad Har Sinai. It is not a one-time event that we commemorate, like Y’tzias Mitzrayim; rather it is something we interact with each and every day.”
“There were so many different styles and a uniqueness to each presentation. It was a tremendous kevod haTorah, which is what it’s all about. The hope is that our community continues to be centered around the Torah. We may go to different shuls, but we have the same goal of serving Hashem the best we can,” said Rabbi Schreier.
Rabbi Mendelson of Congregation Machane Chodosh, said, “Shavuos is an ideal time for an event like this, symbolically reenacting the giving of the Torah when all of am Yisrael camped as one person with one heart. An event like this is such a beautiful example of unity in and through Torah.”
The kinus Torah was in addition to the all-night learning held throughout the neighborhood during the first night of Shavuos.
By David Schneier