Reviews in Brief

Reviews In Brief – Fall 2023

By the Rabbis of Yeshiva University’s Yarchei Kallah
Edited by Rabbis Wes Kalmar,
Noah Cheses, Steven Miodownik and Brahm Weinberg
Shikey Press, 2023
440 pages

Torat Chaim: Words to Share at Life’s Meaningful Moments

Apprenticeship is an important part of becoming a professional. When it comes to Torah, joining the chain of practical tradition and learning from an experienced mentor is even more important. The Talmud (Berachot 47b) says that even if someone has learned many Torah texts, if he has not served under an experienced scholar, he is an am ha’aretz, an ignoramus.

For twenty years, Rabbi Dr. Jacob J. Schacter has been gathering young rabbis twice a year to help them prepare for holidays and hone their rabbinic skills. For the many rabbis who were fortunate enough to attend these “Yarchei Kallah,” Rabbi Schacter served as a mentor, guiding them through their challenges in the congregational rabbinate. (Also important, perhaps life changing, were the sessions with Mrs. Yocheved Schacter, an experienced psychotherapist.)

Rabbi Schacter began the Yarchei Kallah when he was dean of the Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik Institute in Boston, and took the project with him when he moved to Yeshiva University. For well over a decade, the Yeshiva University Yarchei Kallah has trained Modern Orthodox rabbis in the practical aspects of the rabbinate. A mainstay of the Yarchei Kallah are the binders of primary sources of homiletical material that rabbis can incorporate into their sermons. Prominent scholars are also invited to address the gathered rabbis. Overall, the Yarchei Kallah offers rabbis the opportunity for continued training and a safe space to share experiences with colleagues and seek guidance from those who have faced similar challenges.

To celebrate the twentieth anniversary of the Yarchei Kallah, alumni of the program have compiled a book of sermons for lifecycle events. One who is familiar with this type of book will expect to find divrei Torah for standard events like circumcisions, weddings and funerals. However, this is a book compiled by rabbis, who know that there are more events at which a rabbi is expected to speak than just the obvious times. These include a pidyon haben, an aufruf, graduations, an unveiling and more. For each event, multiple rabbis offer divrei Torah that reflect their individual styles.

Readers will be struck by the spectrum of rabbis who contributed to this volume. Rabbi Schacter’s trainees range across the spectrum of the Yeshiva University world. They include rabbinic superstars, many of them household names in the Orthodox world. Through the Yarchei Kallah, Rabbi Schacter has left the imprint of his wisdom and scholarship on Modern Orthodox communities around the world. This book is a tribute to his efforts and evidence of his success.


By Ben-Tsiyon Klibansky
Indiana University Press, 2022
91 pages

The Golden Age of the Lithuanian Yeshivas

Yeshivot are commonly seen today as the heart of the Jewish community. However, this sentiment was not always widespread. Additionally, the very nature of a yeshivah has evolved over time.

Surprisingly, despite the importance of the yeshivah institution to the Jewish people, very few academics have studied its history. Ben-Tsiyon Klibansky seeks to remedy this lack. Born in postwar Lithuania, Klibansky moved with his family to Israel and studied in yeshivah and university there. With his deep understanding of the Lithuanian culture and language, he accessed the local archives to uncover the historical facts about yeshivot during what he calls their golden age, the years between the world wars.

Many of the great postwar roshei yeshivah in America and Israel studied in Lithuanian yeshivot during the interwar years. The stories they told their talmidim inscribed their experiences on the hearts of the Jewish community. Klibansky builds a foundation of historical scholarship to explore these experiences based on archival evidence and “to correct mistaken impressions and portray a more balanced picture, based on historical facts” (p. 20). He offers fascinating details about the struggles faced by yeshivot in those years and how they succeeded in surprising ways.

Following the displacement and immense poverty experienced during and after World War I, in addition to the trend of secularization among Eastern European Jews, Lithuanian yeshivot could no longer survive from local community support. Instead, they restructured, and separated from the local communities. In doing so, they also consciously sought to attract students who otherwise might attend secular schools. Yeshivot broke into the equivalent of high schools and post–high schools, rather than mixing together students of very different ages. The study of ethics (musar) gained wide acceptance and the mashgiach, the yeshivah’s musar guide, became a powerful influence over the students. The yeshivot raised money across communities, rather than locally, forcing roshei yeshivah to travel far and wide on fundraising trips. In 1924, the Vaad Hayeshivot was established to distribute funds to the different schools and alleviate the fundraising challenge. While this endeavor never quite succeeded, it created a long paper trail that provides tremendous information about the yeshivot, their leadership and their students.

Klibansky shows us the unusual energy and innovation of this period. The Novardok Yeshivah, for example, organized a network of yeshivot and continually created new branches and coordinated between them. Some Chassidic groups, such as Stolin, sensing the changing times, adapted the model of the Lithuanian yeshivah to fit their needs. Additionally, the small number of Westerners (mainly Germans and Americans) who traveled to study in Lithuanian yeshivot had a profound effect, attesting to the fact that even sophisticated and comparatively wealthy students valued the yeshivah education.

In this fascinating study, Klibansky tells a fact-based story of the yeshivah movement that continues to exert profound influence on our community.


By Shaul Moshe Alter
Adir Press, 2023
352 pages

Choshev Mishpat: Software Ethics in Halacha

There is something amazing, even inspiring, in seeing the halachot formulated in ancient times applied to contemporary situations. Once upon a time, an ox goring and a pit causing damage were common, almost everyday occurrences. Nowadays, our cars are more likely to cause damage than any oxen. It takes great knowledge and skill to extract the concepts underlying Talmudic laws and apply them to the modern world.

As a rule, technology develops first, and then ethicists rush to catch up. The same applies to halachic ethics. The world of computer software has been around for at least two generations. We are long overdue for a book that carefully analyzes the attendant halachic challenges. Rabbi Shaul Moshe Alter, a software engineer, has thoroughly mined his own experiences and those of colleagues for potential halachic pitfalls in the life of a software developer. In consultation with multiple dayanim, rabbis who specialize in monetary halachah, Rabbi Alter has written a detailed, well-organized book that offers specific guidance to those who desire to follow halachah in their professional lives.

Software Ethics in Halacha is divided into four sections: Marketing and Implementation; Intellectual Property; Damages; and Employment Relations. Throughout the book, which covers much ground, the author raises common dilemmas in the industry and offers specific guidance. He quotes statistics and anecdotes to explain the extent of problematic practices, and clearly defines the attendant halachic issues. Questions include: selling unnecessary features, charging a client for work you reuse after doing it for a previous client, installing malware that causes damage only after time, and the halachic validity of a non-compete clause.

Rabbi Alter addresses so many questionable practices that a reader who is not familiar with the field may be left wondering about the seeming widespread lack of ethics. Perhaps this is just the nature of a book structured around problematic practices. Regardless, as the ethicists catch up with technology, more awareness is generated around the proper behavior expected of a refined individual. A cutting-edge book of this nature may not be the final word on software halachah, but it is an important work that is fascinating for anyone interested in the application of halachah to new fields.


Rabbi Gil Student writes frequently on Jewish issues and runs He is a member of the Jewish Action Editorial Board.

This article was featured in the Fall 2023 issue of Jewish Action.
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