Our community has, thank God, been blessed by both rapidly growing numbers and a steadily increasing thirst for knowledge and guidance.
This thirst can be seen wherever we turn – in the ever expanding yeshivot and girls’ schools, the plethora of opportunities for serious Torah learning at night for working men, and evening classes throughout the day and evening for women and girls. It can be seen in the growing popularity of Torah websites and apps produced by our community, and the wealth of quality Torah literature published by our community’s rabbis. Before our eyes, the dream of our grandparents who emigrated to these shores from Syria is being fulfilled – the dream of a vibrant community of Jews committed to studying and practicing our ancient traditions and following halachah in accordance with the rulings of the Shulhan Aruch.
Many said that this could not happen in the United States – but here we are, seeing it happen right in front of us.
But with this thirst for knowledge and guidance comes a need for competent scholars who have mastered the enormous corpus of halachic literature, have been trained to make halachic decisions, understand the realities of the 21st century, and have the skills to communicate the timeless wisdom and laws of the Torah to today’s Jews clearly, coherently, accurately, and effectively.
In other needs, our community needs rabbis for millennials – rabbis equipped with both comprehensive scholarship and a keen understanding of modern life.
Training a New Generation of Poskim
Meeting this need is the ambitious goal set by Rav Shay Tahan, shelit”a, a young but widely-respected Sephardic posek educated and trained by a diverse group of scholars and institutions. An alumnus of the Mirrer Yeshivah, Rav Tahan was ordained by numerous Torah luminaries – both Ashkenazic and Sephardic – including Rav Bentzion Mutsafi, former Sephardic Chief Rabbi Eliyahu Bakshi-Doron, former Rosh Yeshiva of Mir Rav Shmuel Birnbaum, and the renowned posek Rav Yisrael Belsky, among others. Rav Tahan underwent intensive halachic training under the guidance of Rav Belsky.
Rav Tahan’s passion for learning and dedication to the Jewish People drove him to establish a “Bet Hora’ah” – a center of halachic guidance, where complex questions can be brought to a staff of outstanding scholars. About three years ago, Bet Hora’ah was situated in the basement of the Ohel Moshe synagogue in Flatbush, and then evolved into simply names, phone numbers, and emails of competent scholars who were available for guidance. Rav Tahan then decided that the time had come to establish a special kollel that would train poskim – halachic decisors.
What makes this new institution unique is that the students are not merely committed to full-time, advanced study. They do not just learn; they receive training to acquire the knowledge, methodology, and skills needed to apply the enormous and intricate halachic system to real-life circumstances in the 21st century. This requires not only the extraordinary breadth of knowledge, but also an understanding of our society and of the new realities to which halachah must be applied.
The students delve into the intricacies of the laws of kashrut – including determining the status of different foods, the kashering process, and insect infestation – and of Shabbat, family purity and Pesach, and much more. Their curriculum also includes the study the laws of safrut – the writing of Torah scrolls, tefillin, and mezuzot, and the guidelines for determining when one of these articles is unsuitable for use. Rav Tahan, a certified sofer, emphasized that there is a lack of qualified Sephardic sofrim, and so special attention is being paid to this particular area of halachah.
The Birth of a Community Kollel
Around three years ago, Rav Tahan first established a small kollel consisting of four students, with the help of Rabbi Zechariah Avezov, a student of Rav Haim Benoliel and a student at Yeshiva Torah Vodaath. Housed in Ohel Moshe synagogue, the kollel rapidly grew and soon outgrew its small premises.
The solution came in the form of Congregation Bnai Yosef on Ocean Parkway and Avenue P – affectionately known in the community as “The Sitt Shul.” Rav Haim Benoliel and Rav Maoz Raful warmly invited this special kollel – which has been named Kollel Shaare Ezra – to Bnai Yosef, a vibrant center of Torah learning in our community, which is abuzz day and night with classes, minyanim, and other programs.
“This community Kollel – Kollel Shaare Ezra – has set for itself a number of important goals that will be its highest priorities,” Rabbi Tahan explained. “It seeks to advance the avrechim [students] so they become the next generation of rabbis and poskim capable of leading, teaching, and guiding. Secondly, the kollel aims to offer Torah study opportunities to the throngs of people who come daily to pray at Bnai Yosef. The kollel is a place where they can learn before or after the prayers, consult with a rabbi, find a havruta [study partner], or just sit and absorb the ‘kol Torah,’ the sweet sound of the Torah.”
The new institution has thus set a bold vision of working with both laymen and seasoned scholars – offering opportunities for working men looking to add some Torah to their day, but also building the next generation of scholars who will continue the unbroken chain of halachic tradition that began at Sinai and has been carried to our day and age.
These two goals come together in the special relationships that have been forged between the kollel’s students and the committed laymen who come to study at Bnai Yosef. The warm, meaningful bonds between the scholars and laymen beautifully exemplify the kollel’s commitment to uplift and serve our community, and our community’s commitment to support its Torah scholars and deepen its connection to our spiritual heritage.
A Blueprint of Success
Kollel Shaare Ezra currently consists of 20 students, some of whom have already received rabbinical ordination, and some who are still taking their exams. The students learn all day in other institutions, and then assemble in the evenings at Bnai Yosef for special learning and training in practical halachah. There are two different tracks – one for those reviewing material in preparation for their semichah (ordination) exams, and another for the study of safrut. The kollel’s programs run from 8:30-10pm, followed by arvit prayers.
Most of the learning is done havruta-style, in pairs. Additionally, Rabbi Tahan lectures twice each week. One lecture is devoted to medical-related topics, such as the status of DNA testing in halachah, the subject of vaccination, and many others. His second weekly shiur focuses on the laws of safrut. Many of Rabbi Tahan’s lectures are recorded and available online at RabbiShayTahan.com.
One of the kollel’s distinguished products is Rabbi Zechariah Avezov, who also spent many years learning in Yeshiva Mikdash Melech and Yeshiva Torah Vodaath, and now serves as the Menahel (administrator) of Kollel Shaare Ezra, working as Rabbi Tahan’s “right-hand man” in managing the kollel and ensuring its success.
Another product of Rabbi Tahan’s kollel whom we might call a “rising star” in the community’s rabbinate is Rabbi Jeremy Makabi. An alumnus of Yeshiva Mikdash Melech, Rabbi Makabi received practical halachic training under Rabbi Tahan, and is available to answer halachic questions and provide guidance by phone.
A Message to the Community
Rabbi Tahan and Rabbi Avezov emphasize their desire to be fully engaged with the community, and to be available to assist anyone.
“We are here for you,” they assure us. “If you are Jewish, you are a part of us, no matter what. The kollel members are here both for their own education and also to assist you – to set up havrutot, learning partners or anything in the realm of Torah learning and mitzvah observance.”
Rav Tahan invites anyone with a question or in need of halachic guidance to contact him by phone call, text or email. The rabbi has also harnessed the power of technology for his sacred cause by building a public media presence, delivering shiurim on Torah Anytime (RabbiShayTahan.com) and Ask Halacha.com. In addition, Rabbi Tahan delivers a halachah class on the radio, at 88.7 FM, after the morning news. On Fridays, listeners can call in with their questions for the rabbi.
Rav Tahan says that anyone interested in receiving more information about the kollel, its programs, and how to get involved, is welcome to come visit the kollel any evening, in the Torah Center area of Congregation Bnai Yosef, on Ocean Parkway and the corner of Avenue P. He also makes himself “on call” around the clock, available by phone or text at 347-666-3467, and by email at email@example.com. The Menahel of the Kollel, Rabbi Avezov, is also available to answer halachic questions, and may be reached at 347-938-4969.
We live in a generation that has seen a remarkable resurgence of intensive Torah study and halachic commitment, a generation that understands and appreciates the beauty of our ancient tradition, the binding nature of halachah, and that halachah is to govern every aspect of our lives, thereby making our lives richer, more meaningful, and more connected to Hashem. Kollel Shaare Ezra has answered our generation’s call for guidance, and is placing itself at the forefront of the movement towards greater religious devotion in our community, and to help us reach greater heights and succeed in living the way the Torah wants us to live.