The Jewish baby boomer generation represents a significant demographic that enjoys a number of benefits, including relative longevity, financial security, career and lifestyle choices, and educational achievement.
As many retire, they are faced with a new challenge of how to maintain a level of activity and engagement that is both healthy and satisfying.
In this regard, studies have shown that maintaining high levels of social and mental engagement is associated with avoiding the deleterious symptoms of Alzheimer’s and dementia. The workplace is no longer available as an outlet for expressing and satisfying this need. A substitute venue and challenging program is required, which can provide for active personal engagement socially, intellectually and spiritually.
The Beit Midrash of Teaneck (BMT) is being formed to address this need. It will be conveniently located at the Teaneck Jewish Center/Heichal HaTorah. The BMT program is designed to provide intensive, but user friendly, text-based Torah study while accommodating a variety of skill levels. Tuition is free. Initial funding for the program is being provided by a number of generous individuals interested in having this vital program in our community.
BMT was conceived and planned by members of our own community. This exciting new approach to spreading and strengthening Torah study within the community has attracted the sponsorship and support of both the Orthodox Union and Yeshiva University.
The OU has made its expert staff available to provide services in support of the BMT program. Moishe Bane, president of the OU, noted: “The Teaneck community is once again setting an impressive example for the rest of Orthodox Jewry. We all aspire to grow as Jews through the study of Torah, but too often find our availability somewhat limited by the critical responsibilities of parenting and supporting our families. The BMT program allows those of us concluding our primary focus on our children and our careers to expand our involvement in talmud Torah. I am confident that other communities will emulate this program, and others like it.”
YU is making available a group of leading experts in various Torah disciplines, including Halacha, machshava and Tanach, to teach in the program. These include Rav Chaim Angel, who will be teaching the Tanach portion of the program, which will begin with the study of Ezra and Nechemia. The halachic and machshava portion of the program are to be presented, as a series of in-depth studies of a variety of topics, by experts on a rotating basis. Rabbi Daniel Feldman will be teaching the first series on a halachic topic. Rabbi Yaakov Glasser, the dean of CJF, observed: “Yeshiva University’s Center for the Jewish Future is privileged to be bringing the roshei yeshiva and faculty of YU and RIETS to provide the highest levels of Torah learning at the BMT program. This dynamic communal initiative embodies the notion that Torah learning is a life-long endeavor and its values resonate at every stage of an individual’s life. We look forward to this groundbreaking collaborative partnership in bringing a unique and extraordinary Talmud Torah experience to the Bergen County community.”
Heichal HaTorah will be hosting and providing staff and other services for the BMT program. This includes Rav Ronen Dvash, who will be teaching Talmud Brachot. Rabbi Aryeh Stechler, the dean of Heichal said: “Heichal is overjoyed to host and provide some faculty for the Beis Midrash of Teaneck learning program. Our vibrant beis midrash of 150 rebbeim and boys learning Torah each day brings Torah to life. We hope adults from our community will enjoy being a part of it! It is a great honor for Heichal to partner with the OU and YU to bring more Torah to the Bergen County community.”
The opening ceremonies for the new BMT program are scheduled for Sunday, October 21, 2018, beginning at 11 a.m., as part of a yom iyun. Regular classes will begin the next day, on Monday, October 22.
A fundamental part of the program is the innovative plan to replicate the beit midrash experience of Torah study. The beit midrash is not only a venue where a person can sit and study Torah; it is also a place where people can assemble and interact with each other, as an integral part of the Torah study process. The BMT program is designed to empower all participants, no matter what the skill level, to have a meaningful experience.
The kind of social and mental engagement generated by Torah study in the Beit Midrash, within a study group (chabura) setting with peers, is unmatched. Preparation for shiurim within the context of a system of chaburot is an essential part of the program of study. It is hoped that this format will enable intense personal engagement. It is expected that lively discussion will ensue both within the study groups and at shiur. Each study group will be provided in advance with the source materials to be covered in the shiur. These will include English translations and other study aids to empower all the participants and facilitate discussion. Under the guidance of a moderator assigned to each study group, the source materials will be reviewed, questioned and analyzed. The process of delving into original sources and discussing them, with the benefit of real-life experience, is incomparable. When this kind of intense source-based preparation is combined with the prevalent Socratic method of teaching that is so characteristic of Torah shiurim, the effect is magical. It is a part of what makes Torah study so unique and satisfying an experience.
The curriculum is to consist of three areas of study: (1) Talmud (2) Tanach and (3) Halacha and machshava. While the program is text-based, it will be organized topically. Thus, a particular subject in the Tractate of the Talmud under study might be explored in depth. It would begin with the applicable portions of the Talmudic text and any relevant biblical sources as set forth on the source sheets. The subject matter would then be traced through the writings of Rishonim and Acharonim, also conveniently included on the source sheets.
The BMT program is initially scheduled to occur two days a week, on Mondays and Wednesdays, between 9:15 a.m. and 12:45 p.m. Each of the subjects noted above will be studied on each day of the program. It is anticipated that ultimately the program will evolve into three days a week, and consideration might be given to expanding the subject matter of the program to additional areas of study. A parallel program for women is also contemplated.
Along with the intensive course of study, Mincha services are planned as part of the program. There are ample breaks built into the daily schedule, and light snacks and refreshments will be served. There is also ample parking available, including some designated spots in the center’s parking lot, street parking, as well as the municipal lot down the block.
It is anticipated that participants in BMT will also have the opportunity to be involved in other spiritually engaging projects, such as organizing and performing gemilat chesed activities.
BMT is designed to fill a compelling need in the Jewish community for services tailored to meet the social, intellectual and spiritual requirements of retiring baby boomers. The model also represents a paradigm for the entire community of how Torah can and should be an integral part of a successful retirement. It demonstrates, in a most tangible fashion, the beauty and benefit of devotion to Torah and other good deeds throughout all phases of life’s journey.
By Len Grunstein