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The halacha curriculum in YSS’s smicha program addresses a major societal shift in Jewish communities worldwide. Community life has changed tremendously and the type of questions brought to the Rabbi require knowledge of fields of halacha generally outside those traditionally taught in smicha programs.
Certain topics are critically important in contemporary life, while others have faded in importance. For example, community Rabbis rarely require mastery of the details of shechita and bedika. As important as these halachot are for the kashrut of meat, major certification agencies like the OU in the US and the Rabbanut in Israel provide the supervision that used to be the province of community rabbis.
The smicha program at YSS trains its participants in topics of everyday modern Jewish community life. The following topics are to be covered during the first year of the two-year program. Rabbi Fink, the head of the halacha program, places a strong emphasis on developing the curriculum in dialog with the students according to their interests and needs. As such, the second year of the program is currently under discussion.
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The halachot governing ne’emanut (trustworthiness, reliability) have become critically important for community rabbis. How do you decide whom to trust? Whom do you consider reliable in matters of kashrut? Can the same criteria of ne’emanut be applied in other areas of Torah, like shatnez? Can merchants be trusted to certify that their products are kosher?
As part of this topic we will briefly outline the principle technical issues of kashrut (shechita, bedika, melicha, milk and meat, and ta’arovot). However we will emphasize the practical the issue of ne’emanut. Can non-Torah observant Jews be trusted? Can non-Jews be trusted? Can you trust someone whose standards are lower than yours?
The community rabbi must of course be familiar with the basic halachot of Shabbat and we will survey those halachot to assure that our students have basic understanding of these laws. At the same we recognize that he will rarely be consulted on complicated issues of Shabbat observance. As such our training will help our students know when and how to turn for halachic consultation leading poskim.
Community rabbis will certainly be consulted on pressing, urgent questions surrounding the cycle of life. We will therefore concentrate on the issues including but not limited to: contraception; marriage; and active and passive euthanasia and other questions surrounding the end of life and mourning. These topics require both knowledge of the halachot and sensitivity to the topic and to the people in the community.
In addition to surveying the basic halachot of tefilla, we will devote attention to the contemporary question of who qualifies and who does not qualify to be a member of a minyan. In today’s mixed communities with wide spectrums of observance this is quite pertinent. This question will also require careful study of the opinions of the great poskim regarding who is and who is not a heretic.
Serving HaShem as the Holy Rebbes emphasized should be done with overflowing joy. What is true joy and how can we achieve it?
The Heilege Ba’al HaTanya’s guide to discovering Hashem within and learning how believe in and enter into His unique Unity.
Looking back and looking forward: Addressing the pain of the Holocaust and how it shapes today’s Jewish world.
(Ahavas Yisrael – loving Jew) – The Baal Shem Tov taught that loving all of Am Yisrael is the gateway to loving Hashem. The secret to loving Am Yisrael is to learn to know, to accept and to love your-self. Learn how the Chassidic masters taught us how to achieve “love your neighbor as yourself!”
(Chassidut on the High Holidays) – Deepening and renewing our connection with the Holy One His Torah and ultimately ourselves, through learning and meditating on the lights and depths of our holy days.
(Chassidut on Shabbat) – Shabbat is like the soul of time, learning its secrets and blessings.
The model for personal liberation – Chassidic insights, perspectives (and strategies) on the most important formative story of the Jewish People. This then provides the foundation for bringing the Geula to the Jewish people and to the whole world.
(Chassidut on Matan Torah and limud Torah) – From the quintessential experience of collective revelation to the perpetuation of it through limud Torah. How can we experience anew, each day, the giving and receiving of the Torah as we did at Sinai. Reb shlomo’s lesson to teachers and educators on how to relate to children.
Once you have received the Torah you need to know how to pass it on to the next generation – raising our children with love, to love Torah, the Jewish people and being Jewish.
(Chassidut on Prayer) – Whether it be broken or whole, crying or rejoicing, when your heart speaks it speak the language of prayer.