Growing Your Shul With Torah Learning – Part 1

Learning Torah is the Foundation of Growth
As was mentioned in a previous post, a Growth Culture Shul benefits the members and their families by providing multiple avenues of growth. This includes learning Torah, davening, performance of Mitzvos, Chesed, and creating connections between members. Learning Torah is The foundation of growth because the Torah defines and maps out the growth path of Jews in all areas.

Running Successful Education Programs
When starting a program it’s important to consider:
1) The goals of the program. Are you looking to increase the breadth, depth or frequency of member’s learning?
2) What attendance figure would be considered a success. For a scholar-in-residence, 30 people might be the target, depending on the size of the shul, while a week night Machshava chabura would be a success with even 3-4 people attending.
3) Whether the goals and attendance are achievable. The overall goal is to increase member’s breadth, depth and frequency in learning, and we need to consider attendance because teaching resources are usually limited.

Programs need to be constantly re-evaluated and re-formulated to meet the needs of the members.

Shabbos Day Programming
In our times, people lead busy lives and Shabbos is the one day where there is extra time to learn. Here are some Shabbos programming ideas:

Friday Night Parsha – in the winter months when Shabbos starts early, some people want to use that time to attend a parsha shiur. It’s also a good opportunity to allow members to prepare and give a shiur. The main caveats are that people: are often tired, want to spend time with their family, or may have trouble staying awake at the shiur. Combining the shiur with an oneg can help boost attendance.

Shabbos Morning Parsha – before davening on Shabbos is a good time for a parsha Shiur. Since it entails getting up early, it’s helpful to have a strong teacher giving this Shiur.

The Rabbi’s Drasha – in the growth oriented Shul, the Shabbos drasha is a must. Although the Rabbi needs discretion in terms of the length, topics and style, I believe most Rabbis appreciate feedback from the membership.

After Davening Kiddush and Shiur – if you have the facilities for a sit-down kiddush, this is a great opportunity for a short shiur. Some shuls do this every week and even if that doesn’t work for your Shul, it might be worth trying every few months.

Before Mincha Shiur – after the afternoon nap, this is a good time to give a deeper shiur. Many shuls have an in-depth halacha or gemora shiur in this time slot.

Shalosh Seudos – after allowing time for some eating, shmoozing and singing, this is a great time for a short shiur. If your Rabbi is up for it, some shuls have had great success with an “Ask the Rabbi” session where the floor is open for any questions for the Rabbi. As long as the Rav is comfortable giving an occasional “I don’t know, let me think about”, it’s a wonderful opportunity to learn and increase the bond between the Rabbi and the membership.

Pirkei Avos Shiur – in the longer summer months, you might want to consider having an early 6:00 PM Mincha, with Shalosh Seudos at home and then returning to the shul 30 minutes before Maariv for Pirkei Avos. The topics in Pirkei Avos are interesting for a wide audience and it can provide people other than the Rav an opportunity to give a Shiur.

Parent-Child Learning – in the fall and winter months, this is a great opportunity to bring the members and the children back to shul for some more learning. The program is usually accompanied by pizza or some other food and sometimes prizes are raffled off. Some Shuls do Parent-Child learning after an early Mincha during the long Summer days.

Melava Malkas – in the fall and winter months, this is a great way to combine a social event with Torah learning. The program usually needs an organizer to deal with the logistics of hosting, providing food and getting speakers, but the fruits of such efforts are usually greatly appreciated by the members.

A Growth oriented Shul should provide a strong learning program. Above are some thoughts about Shabbos Programming, a time when many more people have the opportunity to participate. Next week we’ll look at weekday and special events learning programs.

7 thoughts on “Growing Your Shul With Torah Learning – Part 1”

  1. hmmm, interesting. what differentiates a shiur at a “growth-culture” shul from a shiur at any other shul? is there any difference or any aspects which differ?

    1. The shiur itself would look the same, but in the “growth-culture” shul increasing the learning of Torah is an integral part of the Shul’s (written or implied) mission statement and a primary focus of what they do. Providing many learning programs in different venues would be a result of such a focus. The other focuses of “growth-culture” are listed in the article and we’ll discuss them in the weeks ahead.

  2. Mark, ok, thanks for your reply. however, i would like to perhaps suggest that ideas about shiurim which are part of the “growth culture” should relate to the content, approach, or other aspects of the overall atmosphere of the shiur.

    Calling for greater numbers of shiurim is great. and of course, i know what you mean. however, in my opinion, we also need to convey the more subjective, underlying aspects of growth culture shiurim. namely, that they are more accessible for the average person, more approachable, perhaps more interactive.

    the thing is, perhaps I and other readers here might know what you mean, but we actually have to state these things here. in my opinion, we can’t simply call for more of the same and let things go at that.

    simply indicating the time slots in which to hold shiurim does not in my opinion fully convey the great amount of ideas and approaches which you are trying to convey with your ideas. hope you don’t mind me saying so. thanks.

    1. It’s a good point about explicitly mentioning having accessible, approachable and interactive shiurim. This is somewhat dependent on the learning levels in the Shul and the speaker’s comfort level and style.

      Going through the list, it seems that many of the Shabbos programs listed are more lecture oriented. Some more accessible and approachable shiurim will be described in the weekday and special programs post next week.

      I don’t think it was just a list of time slots as I tried to list content ideas as well as any special considerations such as serving food which might enhance attendance.

  3. Good Scholar in Residence programs with an internationally nationally or even regionally prominent speaker who will be speaking on any issue of interest , as opposed to being merely “controversial” , should pack any shul not just with the shul’s members, but with members of other shuls and guests who might come to your community for that Shabbos. Such programs are a remedy to the truism that “familiarity breeds contempt”, and offer a great response to the critique of Chazal in Shabbos that Talmdei Chachamim should be willing to praise each other in the same manner as members of a far more unsavory profession, and should never be seen as a challenge to the Halachic or Hashkafic views of your rav..

    The main concern with any such program is ensuring that the speaker not only is informative, but is entertaining to his audience, especially on Friday nights, when one’s adrenaline begins to fade after the Seudah, and one’s attention span begins to fade thereafter.

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