From the Daf Yomi at 8:45 AM through the closing address by incoming Orthodox Union President Moishe Bane at 6:15 PM, 1,500 men and women participated in OU’s Torah in the City at Citifield on Sunday, January 16. Attendees hailed from throughout the tri-state area as well as from as far away as Maryland, Florida, and Canada. More than 50 percent of the participants were women of all ages; they were students, mothers and grandmothers. Children’s programming was available throughout the day as well. According to Bane, a New York attorney at Ropes and Gray, LLC, and a longtime OU lay leader, “With this event, we begin to expand the OU’s outreach to Jews from all walks of life on the importance of Torah study as a means to become closer to God, both as individuals as well as a community.”
Distinguished Torah scholars and educators, men and women, presented 33 sessions ranging in topic from Torah learning, the power of tefillah, the sanctity and meaning of Eretz Yisroel in our lives, Chassidic thought and Kiddush Hashem. Contemporary issues discussed included relationships and responsibilities among the generations, family planning, kashruth issues and even the history of the publication of the Vilna Shas. In each of the eight time slots, the offerings were diversified and featured text-based presentations as well as halacha and hashkafa.
Among the presenters were local scholars including Rabbi Hershel Schachter, Rabbi Yonason Sacks, Rabbi Dr. Tzvi Hersh Weinreb, Rabbi Mordechai Willig, Rabbi Menachem Genack, Rabbi Moshe Weinberger and Rabbi David Fohrman. Not so local scholars included Rabbi Yochanan Zweig from Miami and Rabbi Ahron Lopiansky from Baltimore. Rebbetzin Rookie Billet, Michal Horowitz, Mina Glick, Raizi Chechik, and Professor Nechama Price represented some of the best and brightest among the OU community’s female Torah scholars. Distinguished presenters from Israel included Rabbi Shalom Rosner, Rabbi Yosef Zvi Ramon, Rabbi Gideon Weitzman, Rabbi Zev Leff and Shira Smiles.
Despite the density of the crowd, the OU managed to keep the program flowing at a well-timed and enjoyable pace, allowing for mingling and greeting friends and even re-energizing on a tasty lunch available for sale. The screens placed around the various venues enhanced the oral and visual experience and even highlighted many of the OU programs during breaks between sessions.
Among the participants were individuals with special needs who have been assisted by programs offered through the OU and its many projects and programs. One particular wheelchair bound young man was imbibing the divrei Torah and machshava with tremendous enthusiasm and appreciation. Another very special accommodation offered throughout the day was the sign language interpretation of the lectures skillfully executed by expert signers.
The Citifield staff had been well-prepared for the large turnout and were pleasant and helpful in directing the crowds to the various conference rooms and areas around the building, transporting them efficiently from floor to floor.
An energizing feeling of achdut permeated the day, especially during the time slots when the majority of the crowd was assembled together in the huge Foxwoods Hall. It was there that Ambassador Dani Dayan, Consul-General of Israel, recited a prayer for peace in Israel during the communal prayer session. “I came to learn Torah,” he said. “As a New York Jewish resident, I came to be uplifted and inspired. It’s very strengthening to see that in New York City with so many events and things to do, Jews come and learn Torah together. That’s what the Jewish people is all about. Today’s program achieved its goal overwhelmingly.” Cantor Chaim David Berson followed up with the recitation of tehillim for all of Klal Yisrael as well as the young Israeli soldiers who stand in danger’s way daily to protect our freedom as a Jewish nation. The four fallen young cadets, hy”d, were uppermost in the thoughts and prayers of the assembled as well as those injured who desperately need a refuah.
Addressing the personal struggle of “Balancing Torah Study with Other Obligations,” Rav Herschel Schachter, Rosh Kollel of the of RIETS Marcos and Adina Katz Kollel at Yeshiva University, highlighted the Rambam’s choice of an introductory Biblical verse which summarizes his “Sefer Ahavah” (Book of Love of God). “God, I love your Torah, I discuss it all day!” Interpreting the Rambam’s understanding of the verse and incorporation of his ideas into the Laws of Kriat Shma, Rav Schachter proposed that while the mitzvah of Talmud Torah is an all-day obligation, it has its parameters. It envelops us the entire day, but recognizes our other time-consuming obligations to earn a living, to honor and cooperate with our spouse, to study with our children, to be interactive with the needs of the community, as well as to perform the other mitzvot. Thus, concluded Rav Schachter, Torah study supersedes all other non-essential activities but does not exempt us from those daily responsibilities and obligations which the Torah expects us to uphold.
Rav Yosef Tzvi Ramon is the Founder and Chairman of of the Halacha Education Center which develops innovative educational curricula for Jewish studies using cutting- edge technologies in Israel and abroad. As Founder and Chairman of JobKatif, he has helped secure thousands of jobs for Gaza evacuees for which he was awarded the President’s Prize for Volunteerism in 2008.
Rav Rimon shared with his rapt audience the types of questions which he fields from Israeli soldiers for whom he is a go-to Rav on a daily basis.
A 32-year-old Golani officer came to Rav Rimon with the following question: Am I allowed to donate a kidney? Rav Rimon’s response to this soldier who has selected a life of dedication and shlichut was “If your physical profile is 100 percent currently, after a kidney transplant it will be only 64 percent. As such, you will not be able to continue in your role as an officer. According to the klal (rule) of ha’osek b’mitzvah patur min ha’mitzvah, one who is engaged in one mitzvah is exempt from another, the fact that you are fully engaged with your soldiers is a great mitzvah. If you donate your kidney, you will be diminishing your strength and ability to lead them capably. I therefore recommend that you remain with your boys and postpone your kidney donation for a more appropriate time in your life.
An officer in charge of an Tzahal unit that seeks out and detonates hidden land mines came to Rav Rimon during Operation Cast Lead with the following question: May I use a PowerPoint presentation on Shabbat to train my soldiers in mine detection, as this type of presentation is more exact than a simple lecture? Rav Rimon advised the officer to go ahead with the PowerPoint presentation, citing Rav Kook and the Minchat Chinuch that in war “all the rules are different.” As it turned out, this officer was training 150 soldiers in an abandoned school when they noticed a suspicious string hanging down from the ceiling. Having been familiarized with this device through their PowerPoint briefing, they were able to disarm the explosive attached to the string and save 150 precious lives.
All of the Torah in the City lectures will be uploaded to http://www.OUTorah.org within the next few weeks.
Moshe Markovitz also contributed to this article.
By Pearl Markovitz