Increasing Torah Learning
Every segment of Orthodox society puts a strong emphasis on learning Torah, although the emphasis on what to learn varies. Rebbeim stress the importance of growing in both breadth and depth of Torah learning, while acknowledging the challenges involved. People are busy with work, families, communal projects and relaxation time and it takes effort to add a new shiur or learning seder to our schedules. To help people overcome their inertia it’s extremely valuable to create a Shul where people are regularly involved in learning.
Perhaps the main challenge to creating a Torah learning culture is finding people to lead the various classes. In one larger Shul, the Rabbi was so committed to growth in Torah learning, that he taught 20 classes a week. Most Rebbeim can’t accommodate nearly that amount, but you should encourage your Rabbi to keep on increasing and updating the Torah learning schedule. Shul members can help fill the gap by giving shiurim, leading Chaburas or learning with weaker Chavrusas. Many people have discovered that teaching, dramatically improves your learning and this can be used to motivate more people to come forth and teach or learn with others.
For any mitzvah, having more people collectively involved brings a greater sanctification to Hashem and because of the centrality of Torah learning, special merit comes about from collective learning. In addition, having a bigger group encourages other people to learn. Many shuls have set up times in the morning and evening when the Shul is opened for learning. When setting up these efforts keep a long term perspective because it takes time for people to change their normal procedures.
Weekday and Special Programming
The bread and butter of Torah learning is one on one Chavrusa learning. Many people find their Chavrusas by asking potential partners directly. It may also make sense to have a person who tries to make the matches. Chavrusas can consist of people of equal or different learning levels. Encourage some of the stronger learners to learn with those with lesser skills.
Gemora Shiur With Preparation
One of the most successful programs is a Gemora Shiur with preparation. The teacher giving the Shuir gives a brief introduction before the learning begins and assigns sources for the chavrusas to learn together. In the best of circumstances, the teacher hands out relevant source sheets. During the chavrusa learning, a good teacher will walk or look around making sure nobody is getting stuck. After the learning the teacher gives a shiur reviewing the important points of what was learned. A good ratio is at least twice as much chavrusa learning as shiur time, for example, 1 hour of learning and 30 minutes of shiur time including the intro time beforehand.
Daf Yomi has become a Torah mainstay in many Shuls. Despite the objections on the pace, the sense of accomplishment and the group learning aspect is a tremendous motivator. Daf Yomi shiurim take many formats and are very dependent on the person giving the shiur. Art Scroll has had a tremendous impact on Daf Yomi learning as the commentary helps people follow the Gemora at that faster pace.
Mishna Yomi enables people to finish the entire Mishna in less than 5 years at a reasonable pace, 2 Mishnas a day. Some Shuls learn it out loud after Shacharis and in others a chabura learns it together. It as a 5-10 minute a day program that yields great benefits over the long term.
Mishna Berura Yomi
Like Mishna Yomi, a Mishna Berura Yomi shiur or chabura yields tremendous benefits as it enables you to go through this entire halachic work at a maintainable pace. There are different schedules for Mishna Berura Yomi, some are every day and some like the Dirshu schedule are 5 days a week with Shabbos and Sunday for review.
In addition to standard Yomi chaburas, many shuls have smaller interactive learning groups usually led by one person. Any topic, such as chumash, mussar, hashkafa, machshava that is of interest to the group can be learned. A chabura can contain as few as 3 people and they are excellent vehicles to encourage more learning.
A halacha shiur by a qualified Rabbi or teacher is an important part of a Torah learning program. Halacha is literally a topic without end and the interests of both the Rabbi and the learners should be considered in choosing topics. Many halacha shiurim will choose a topic relevant to the time of year where possible. It’s important to properly gauge the level of learning of the participants to target the shiur level,
Scholar in Residence
A scholar in residence program is a great way to encourage Torah learning be-Rabbim. Usually scheduled on Shabbos, it brings out many people. Some shuls will only bring in Torah scholars for such programs while others will also use experts in Judaism related subjects. Some scholars are great inspirational speakers while others have tremendous content and informative knowledge. It’s helpful to know what types of speakers appeal to your general membership and to try to vary your programming from year to year to accommodate your members usually varied needs.
In these past 2 posts, I’ve tried to outline some ideas for Torah programs. It’s important to take a long term view on increasing the Torah learning culture because growth is a long term process and needs attention. Try to get your Rabbi, President, Board and membership involved and focused on continually increasing the Torah learning in your Shul.