How did it all start?
In 1970 a group of ten families from the prestigious BMG Institute for Advanced Learning of Lakewood, NJ moved to Toronto. These pioneers were the founders of the Toronto Kollel. In a bold departure from the relatively secluded Kollel ambience of yesteryear, the then fledgling Toronto Kollel planted itself in the midst of the Jewish community.
The young families injected new life into the community. The result in Toronto was success beyond imagination. Now, almost forty years later, the phenomenal growth of Toronto’s Jewish Community has largely been attributed to the Toronto Kollel’s presence and activities. The example set by the founding families led to the establishment of many other such Kollelim across North America and around the world. In the wake of the daring example set by the Toronto Kollel, Kollelim from Chicago to Los Angeles, from Detroit to Boston, and from Israel to Australia have revitalized their respective communities.
The scholars who are accepted into the Kollel programs pursue learning for learning sake and also LELAMED, to teach others how to learn. The learning is intensive, whether it be one-on-one chavrusa learning or lectures given by prominent senior Rabbanim. There is now a new, well-attended halacha lecture every Sunday morning by the Rosh Kollel Harav Shlomo Miller Shlita and Rabbi Yaakov Hirschman’s Yerushalmi shiur every morning.
But the commitment of the Kollel fellows extends far beyond in-house learning. A Kollel scholars’ responsibility as a spiritual counselor includes being available to counsel and assist with the spiritual goals of the community at large and disseminate Torah to anyone requesting Judaic knowledge, as well as many other community services. Kollel graduates have been enlisted to set up night programs and lectures in many of the synagogues and study halls around the city. In the past few years alone, Kollel graduates opened six new night programs. To further enhance Torah learning in the Jewish Community, the Toronto Kollel accepted another 11 scholars into its program in 2005. This coming Elul 2010, which will mark Forty years of the Kollel’s founding a new young group of six Avreichim will be joining the Kollel. The goal was to disseminate more of the Kollel’s activities to the community-at-large through Rabbinical, educational and communal activities.
Many of Toronto’s Kollel graduates have become Rabbis and educators in schools and yeshivas throughout the city and in other communities worldwide.
In an increasingly dangerous world, return to our G-d-given roots is more crucial than ever. Torah illuminates the world. By clinging to the splendor of Torah, we can all work to transmit its message to the nations of the world and bring glory to our Creator.
The concepts of classical Jewish scholarship and its patterns of study date back to antiquity. They emerged from schools that existed in Biblical times in the land of Israel. And throughout the ages, they were shaped, tested, and enriched in the Talmudic academies that flourished in Sura and Pumbedisa in Babylonia; in the Islamic world during the Middle Ages; in Italy, Spain, France, Germany and the Ottoman Empire; and, more recently, in Poland, Lithuania and Central Europe.
In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, when the mass migration of Jews to the American continent began, the centres of Jewish scholarship in Europe provided the religious communal leaders needed by a growing North American Jewish population. As the need for rabbis, teachers and scholars grew, these posts were often filled by men who crossed the ocean to serve along with their North American Jewish brothers.
Toward the close of the nineteenth century and during the early decades of the twentieth century, schools for Jewish study at the elementary and secondary levels were beginning to flourish in Canada and the United States. However, there was little opportunity for advanced Judaic scholarship. The few Jewish schools of higher learning were small and, without exception, staffed by European-born or European-trained scholars. These scholars were the only Torah authorities in America qualified to participate in the functioning of a Beth Din or to adjudicate matters of personal status in accordance with Talmudic law. Except for a handful of rabbinical students, whose training was largely geared toward the practical aspects of pastoral activities, there were few students pursuing creative Torah scholarship.
By 1943 it was evident that the centuries-old European academies of Jewish learning, headed by intellectual giants and reinforced by thousands of disciples, had been wiped off the face of the earth. The surviving scholars and Judaic leaders had been dispersed to the far corners of the world. There was a desperate need for men of profound Jewish learning to head and staff new schools of higher Jewish studies. American Jews urgently needed to train rabbis and prepare teachers for Jewish communities, which were sorely in need of spiritual guidance.
It was precisely at this dark hour that Rabbi Aaron Kotler, of sainted memory, arrived in North America. With his unparalleled knowledge and his profound spirit, he created a revolution in American Jewish Orthodoxy. This led to a post-war renaissance of authentic Jewish religious and scholarly life – an achievement that had been deemed impossible before his initiative.
Starting with only thirteen students who had been rescued from the decimated European Jewish community, Rabbi Kotler built Beth Medrash Govoha into an institute of learning renowned throughout the Jewish world. Its sphere was multifaceted: It became an institute of advanced Talmudic scholarship for the gifted rabbinical scholar; a training ground for excellence in dedicated communal leadership; and the model for countless institutes of Jewish learning throughout North America – including our Toronto Institute for Advanced Judaic Studies.
Shortly after Rabbi Kotler’s death in 1963, his son Rabbi Shneur Kotler, a recognized scholar and Talmudic authority, was appointed as his successor. Rabbi Shneur Kotler carefully cultivated a growing body of scholars-in-residence who, in turn, made possible the Chabura system. By means of this system, young scholars were given the opportunity to study almost any area in the wide spectrum of Talmudic studies under the guidance of accomplished Talmidei Chachamim.
Rabbi Kotler developed Beth Medrash Govoha into a vibrant learning centre with a sphere of influence spanning the North American continent and beyond. In the early 1970’s, Beth Medrash Govoha developed an innovative program for the establishment of “daughter” graduate schools in various Jewish communities. Rabbi Kotler called them “Community Kollels.” Kollel Toronto was the first in this venture. Today there are well over 75 Kollel’s based on the the Toronto example across North America.