Yehudis Litvak

On Monday, March 17th, the Adult Yeshiva of Los Angeles celebrated a significant milestone – its first graduating chabura. A select group of five students – out of the original group of around twenty – completed all of the material and took a bechina (test on semicha) through the Pirchei Shoshanim organization.

The yeshiva, now in its fifth year, began when a Los Angeles resident, Mr. Simon Stone, was looking for a way to learn Torah “with some credentials in the end.” No such program existed locally; a remote program, Pirchei Shoshanim, provided materials for independent study, but no direct instruction. Mr. Stone contacted Pirchei Shoshanim and proposed the idea of a live yeshiva. “They were very excited,” he says.

Rabbi Mordechai Lebhar, Rosh Kollel at LINK, became the maggid shiur, teaching the Pirchei Shoshanim materials in person three hours a week. Even after Rabbi Lebhar moved to Toronto, he continued teaching his Los Angeles class over Skype. Now, Rabbi Lebhar is back in Los Angeles and is again able to teach in person.

The program is intended for serious Torah learners who would like an accountability system for their learning, but prefer to learn with a teacher. Dr. Ernest Agatstein, one of the graduates, feels that such direct instruction is a must. “You need a rebbi to teach you the mesorah,” he says. Born and raised in Los Angeles, Dr. Agatstein feels fortunate to have access to such a teacher locally.

It took four years for the graduates to complete the material. The program consists of three parts: basar b’chalav – meat and milk; taaruvos – mixtures; and melicha – salting. After each section, the students take a test, where they are given a hypothetical situation and asked to determine the halacha, tracing it from the Gemara through the rishonim and acharonim and up to the modern-day poskim. At the end of each year, the students may choose to take a final exam, and at the end of four years they take a comprehensive test through the Pirchei Shoshanim organization, covering all the material they had studied in the program. The tests are graded by Rabbi Aharon Schenkolewski of Yeshivas Iyun Halacha in Eretz Yisrael.

“It was the hardest test I’d ever taken,” says Dr. Agatstein, a board-certified urologist. The final took ten hours and included between 20 and 30 pages of essay questions, he explains. Dr. Agatstein passed the test and is pleased to have completed the program. “It allows you [not only] to devour the knowledge but [also to] retain it,” says Dr. Agatstein, “[with semicha as] a motivational goal at the end.”

Mr. Stone agrees. “It wasn’t easy. I feel the satisfaction of accomplishment.”
But this is only the beginning, explains Dr. Agatstein. “You know what you don’t know and how much further you need to learn,” he says. Currently, some members of the chabura have moved on to the hilchos Shabbos track, taught at LINK and the Even Haezer track at Young Israel of Hancock Park, both taught by Rabbi Lebhar. These chaburos also include tests for accountability and an option for earning a certificate at the end.