• July 13, 2024
  • 7 5784, Tammuz
  • פרשת חקת

The WebYeshiva Blog

Mazal Tov to Rabbi Alex Harris who recently received semicha from Rabbi Brovender and Rabbi Fink at WebYeshiva.org. In addition to semicha from WebYeshiva Rabbi Harris has a Master’s in Experiential Education and Human Development from George Washington University and a BA in International Studies and Judaic Studies from the University of Michigan. He is currently working on translating the Malbim’s commentary on Tehillim and is passionate about writing a  weekly Dvar Torah in honor of his mother, Ruth Harris z”l, called Torot Chesed. It often focuses on the intersection between machshava and philosophy and how timeless Jewish ideas can give us clarity and direction in the modern world. He lives with his wife, Adina, in Chicago.

Why did you choose and how did you enjoy the Halacha Mastery Program?

Though I grew up in a traditional home I went to public school and didn’t have a formal Torah education until after high school. I am incredibly grateful to all of the teachers I’ve had along my journey, especially the educators in the Halacha Mastery Program. The Halacha Mastery Program is unique in that it allowed me to pursue a high-quality Torah education and learn from incredible educators like Rabbi Dovid Fink, Rabbi Yehoshua Geller, Rabbi David Brofsky, Rosh Yeshiva Chaim Brovender and others, with a flexible schedule and location. The breadth and depth of knowledge they provided along with their kindness, candor, and excitement really made my experience. While nothing can compensate for a full immersive yeshiva experience, the Halacha Mastery Program provides a solid foundation for a life of deep and powerful learning. I am grateful to WebYeshiva and Atid for providing me with this foundation and I am incredibly excited to continue my journey. Whenever someone wishes me mazel tov on completing the semicha program I respond, “Thank you, but really this is only the beginning.”

What in particular stood out for you during your learning?

I was zocheh to learn Hilkhot Aveilut from Rabbi David Brofsky during the time that I was an avel. This was a very difficult part of my life and it made such a difference to be able to not only understand what I needed to do, but also the conceptual meaning behind the Jewish practice of mourning. As well, R. Fink’s shiur on Shabbat and Technology was incredibly interesting both from a historical perspective and for giving me a good basis for navigating the complexities of Shabbat in a modern city (e.g., elevators, automatic lights, Shabbat timers). His ability to weave together complex halakhic topics with equally complicated technological developments is a model for how to approach Torah Judaism in the modern world.

Since receiving semicha from WebYeshiva, what are your goals in learning moving forward?

As I mentioned above: whenever someone wishes me mazel tov on completing the Semikah program I respond, “Thank you, but really this is only the beginning.” I’m truly grateful and honored that I have such a strong foundation of Torah learning on which to build. I aim to continue the projects I’m currently working on including translating the Malbim’s commentary on Tehillim and writing my weekly divrei Torah in honor of my mother Ruth Harris z”l. As well, I hope to start a series soon on lesser-known Rabbonim whose thought is extremely relevant today. Some of these figures include the aforementioned Rav Hayyim Hirschensohn, Rav Eliezer Berkovits, and RaDaTz Hoffman. And above all I hope that I can share what I’ve learned with family, friends, and teachers and contribute to their (and my) Jewish journey. That said, I would like to offer a huge hakarat hatov to all of the amazing educators and rabbonim who have guided me along my journey: Rabbi Jared Anstandig, Rabbi Dovid Bashevkin. Rabbi Eliezer Silverberg, Rabbi Yitz Pierce, Rabbi. Menachem Shem-Tov, Rabbi Jeffrey Saks, Rabbi Dovid Fink, Rabbi Yehoshua Geller, Rabbi David Brofsky and many others who are not named here. I would like to thank my father Mark Harris and my mother Ruth Harris z”l who raised me in a warm Jewish home, to my machatanim Rosanne and Allan Arnet for welcoming me into their home and to my wife Adina with whom I am lucky enough to build a Jewish home. And above all thank you to HaKodesh Baruch Hu for giving me life each and every day. For more information about the Halacha Mastery Program click here.
Halacha Mastery Program Semicha
Mazal Tov to Rabbi Yoel Dror who recently received semicha from WebYeshiva.org. Rabbi Dror has been a teacher of history and languages in an American school in Europe, where he has lived and worked for the past three decades. He notes: "The Jewish community of England was expelled in 1290 and in my city there was the infamous blood libel incident of William of Norwich, so there’s a feeling of pride that there is once more a Jewish presence here. Rabbi Dror has spent time in Israel as a volunteer with the Sar-El program (helping out on IDF bases) and as a student at the University of Haifa. He and his wife plan to make Aliyah in the not too distant future.

Why did you chose the Halacha Mastery Program?  Did you enjoy it?

I chose the Halacha Mastery Program  because of the excellent instruction offered by skilled teachers who know Torah and who share their enthusiasm along with their considerable knowledge. The program is flexible and allows for both synchronous and asynchronous learning and participation. A student can participate as fully as his or her schedule allows, and those who struggle with other responsibilities and time zones can watch the recorded shiurim.  The teachers are always quick to respond and engage. The materials draw upon so many sources over so many centuries that the study is both deep and broad, rooted in the past, unfolding and expanding, and totally relevant and applicable to life today so that one can develop and refine a halachic lifestyle that is grounded in authentic Judaism. Did I enjoy it? Very much so! It was a challenge and a pleasure.

What stood out for you during the learning?

What stands out for me is that there’s so much to unpack and expand and apply to all conceivable areas of life. Rabbi Geller in particular traces the unfolding of halacha from Torah, Mishna, and Gemara through the Gaonim and the Rishonim, organized by the Rif, the Rosh, and the Rambam, through the Tur’s arrangement and summaries of the sugiyot and how he paskened, -to Rabbi Yosef Karo’s Beit Yosef in which he connects the Gemara to halacha to source and svara. And then we get to the Shulchan Aruch, with the Rema added for Ashkenazic practice, and walk through the Magen Avraham and the Mishnah Berurah and so many other poskim along the way. It’s this immense complexity, this development and interconnectedness across time, that stands out for me, and it clarifies so much what Rabbi Tarfon said:  It is not your duty to finish the work, but neither are you at liberty to neglect it; If you have studied much Torah, you shall be given much reward. Talmud Torah never stops and it’s always rewarding. And Rabbi Fink provides such excellent, well-paced instruction in a style that’s easy to follow even as he guides you through challenging material. Thanks to the recordings, all these excellent instructors were my “companions'' on the long drive to and from work during the week as I reviewed the shiurim.

Since receiving semicha from WebYeshiva, what are your goals in learning moving forward?

I plan to continue learning with WebYeshiva, and particularly with Rabbi Brovender’s superb course on Mesillat Yesharim, which connects so well with my study of the emphasis on kedusha in the Torah. WebYeshiva’s fine shiurim on the Bavli are also wonderful companions to the Daf Yomi program in which I’m engaged. My next project is to undertake daily Rambam study. For more information about the Halacha Mastery Program click here.
Halacha Mastery Program Semicha
Karen Wasserstein, one of our wonderful Halacha Mastery Program students, recently completed all the course requirements and received her certificate.  A psychologist who specializes in fertility counseling and has a speciality in third party reproduction, she is originally from New Jersey and has lived with her husband and children in Maryland for 22 years. She practices in Maryland and Virginia. “When I turned 40 I looked at my life and wanted to see what pieces I should add to it. As I looked to redouble my efforts at my learning I found the Halacha Mastery Program which seemed like such an opportunity. Although I have attended amazing Modern Orthodox schools growing up, there was never a focus on halacha and to be honest, I never wanted to focus on halacha before.  But now it spoke to me," she said. "Furthermore, I didn't really have any interest in learning halacha as a “yes you can” or “no you can’t” kind of way. I wanted to understand the underlying concepts and how they relate to each issue and each question, and often how they interrelate. In that there is the beauty.” Regarding the program itself Wasserstein added, "It has been wonderful to learn online at this level at a time when I was ready to engage in it in a more mature way than I would have when I was younger. The teachers have been amazing and always available to help me piece together the halachik pieces of the puzzle. The more I have learned halacha the more beauty I have found in our halachic process." The Halacha Mastery Program is a special advanced track of study open to men and women committed to a halachic lifestyle with some background in learning Jewish texts. Developed by Rabbi Chaim Brovender, the Halacha Mastery Program provides the literacy and knowledge of the underlying halachic concepts and principles that stand behind the halachic system and guide modern poskim in determining the law. It emphasizes the importance of knowing practical halacha from the sources: how to recognize when a halachic question arises and how to access an answer and act in such situations, including explaining halachic issues to our children.
Halacha Mastery Program