Among the challenges confronted by ba’alei teshuvah is the uphill climb to master Jewish learning. I have become especially aware of many ba’alei teshuvah unsatisfied and frustrated by their inadequate knowledge of practical halachah. In response, I recently developed a new system of learning halachah addressing this challenge called the Guidelines Chabura.
It is a network of innovative shiurim based upon the outstanding Guidelines series of twenty-two sifrei halachah by Rabbis Elozor Barclay and Yitzchok Jaeger, shlit”a. The books are written in a pleasant, reader-friendly, question-and-answer format. The Guidelines Chabura is designed to take the Guidelines sefer presentation one step further by learning each halachah from the primary sources: Shulchan Aruch, Mishnah Brurah, and Biur Halachah.
This system allows for an understanding of the background and reasoning behind each halachah which greatly facilitates retention and acts simultaneously as an excellent self-esteem builder. The program also serves as an important introduction and stepping stone to independent learning of the Shulchan Aruch and Mishnah Brurah by familiarizing students with a broad overview in a short period of time.
Here is how it works:
1) Each group is led by a Rosh Chabura serving as the teacher. All participants have in front of them the relevant Guidelines sefer and a copy of the Mishnah Brurah. Although the primary sources are also found at the back of each Guidelines book, the Guidelines Chabura recommends using a separate Mishnah Brurah to build familiarity, skills, and confidence by using this sefer.
Someone from the group is chosen or volunteers to read the “Questions & Answers” addressing the halachah in English. For example: Question #42 found in the Guidelines Volume, Sefiras Ha’omer and Shavuos is: “May one count the Omer in English?” Then, he reads the answer.
2) Everyone then opens the halachah in their Mishnah Brurah and follows along as the Rosh Chabura reads the Hebrew text, translates, and provides explanations and comments. Whereas the initial reading of the Question and Answer in the English text provided the concise halachah, learning the Mishnah Brurah “lights up” the background and reasoning for each halachah. This arouses interest, opens the students’ minds and enables them to fully integrate the information.
3) At this point, generally discussions and questions for clarification ensue.
4) Next is just a lot of seepuk with everyone involved. Taam ure’eh! It is a very geshmacha limud. Why?
#1 — The fact that the Guidelines authors selected relevant halachos that a Jew needs to know (hence the sefer’s name “Guidelines”) makes this a very light and enjoyable limud. For the newly initiated this is important since it doesn’t involve them with every seif and seif katon.
#2 — This is a wonderful confidence builder as success builds upon success. As Alex, a student from Kew Gardens, NY relates:
“I am not from a frum background so my knowledge of halachah is very basic. When I started learning halachah, Rabbi Yehuda Baer introduced me to the Guidelines Chaburah and I fell in love with it. It was just what I needed. When I first saw the Hebrew sefer we were using I was overwhelmed. So many words… how will I ever know it all? Rabbi Baer told me that we would first use the Guidelines sefer and understand the “Questions and Answers.” Then afterwards, we would read the Mishnah Brurah text, and then continue on in Guidelines. It was so clear! I knew the halachah and I could even find it later on for review! Halachah is the foundation of Jewish life and without it life is very stagnant. But this program has given my life a breath of fresh air. Thank you so much for starting this program. I can’t wait to go through the whole series.”
Here is what Rabbi Baer himself wrote about the Guidelines Chabura:
“This program really works! I was intrigued by the idea of studying and teaching a vast amount of halachah quickly and enjoying the process. I can say for certain that the program does just that. I work with a chabura of several bachurim from religious homes who did not have a strong grasp of daily halachah. They were intimidated by the idea that they could know psak halachah. This program has helped them really know the halachah and become familiar with the Shulchan Aruch, Rema and Mishnah Brurah. They now know how to use one of the most important seforim needed for a Jew in his daily life, are excited about gaining more knowledge in halachah, and feel confidence in performing the mitzvahs correctly.”
The Guidelines Chabura is warmly endorsed by Gedolei Torah including Harav Yisroel Belsky, zt”l, and ybl”ch, Harav Zev Leff, shlit”a, and also enjoys enthusiastic support from esteemed kiruv rabbanim Rav Avraham Edelstein and Rav Dovid Kaplan.
The Guidelines Chabura is offering NLEResources.com subscribers subsidies for Guidelines seforim, siyums, tests and monthly raffles. In the future, we also hope to provide funds for program advertising. A student who is interested in receiving a teudah (certificate of completion) is welcome to be tested by the Guidelines authors.
To start a local Guidelines Chabura, or for any questions please contact me: THEGUIDELINESCHABURA@GMAIL.COM or 011-9728-974-4677, 011-97253-314-4677.
Rabbi Eliezer Meir Kahn is the founding director of the Guidelines Chabura. He has been learning and teaching full time for over thirty years in Eretz Yisroel. He has most recently served as a Rebbe in Yeshivas Nesivos Ahron in Yerushalayim and a Rebbe Mentor at Yeshiva Gedola of Mattisyahu under HaGoan HaRav Zev Leff shlit”a.