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Friday, November 28, 2014

On Finishing Tanach

I began the study of Nach (prophets) a long time ago with Mrs. Yaffa Elimelech and my class at the Kadimah school of Buffalo. I have clear memories of her standing in front of the room like Golda Meir proclaiming the words of G-d to Joshua “Chazak V’ematz!” – “Be strong and Courageous”. The next year we had Mr. Zaharani who was an IDF reservist.  He had us map out the strategy for each battle and engage in debates about every decision. My father was less than happy when I was given the part of Yiftach and spent a week working on ways to defend Yiftach’s decision to offer his daughter as a sacrifice. The next year, I moved to Melbourne and learned with Rav Opman. He was a Meah Shearim native and read and translated everything into dramatic Yiddish like it was best story book he ever read. A few years later one of Rav Aharon Kotler’s grandchildren and I studied the Neviim Harishonim together and I’ve been continuing on and off since then. When I began to teach at Toras Chaim elementary, my first subject was Navi and preparing for my students while staying up all night with my newborn daughter brought the study of Tanach to a new level.

Not learning Tanach is something you could get away with all your life, yet it is obviously basic to an understanding of the underlying lessons of the Torah. As I learn Tanach and simultaneously come across quotations from Tannaim, Amoraim, Rishonim, Acharonim, and other great men, it becomes obvious that they spent time learning Tanach and were familiar with the context and meaning of the most obscure verses.

Two books that stood out for me were Tehillim and Divrei Hayamim. Both center on the legacy of King David. Tehillim gives us a window into his thoughts, his prayers and his challenges. Divrei Hayamim takes the entire Davidic line and ties it together in one book. It goes back to Adam and forwards to the building of the Second Beis Hamikdash. It gives one an awesome perspective on how short history really is.

When Eli Meir Reich and I finished the book of Shmuel in Stamford, CT about twenty years ago we decided to make a siyum. After all, Rav Moshe Feinstein writes that one can make a siyum and eat meat in the nine days upon finishing a book of Tanach.

We approached our principal, Rav Dovid Hirsch Meyer Zatzal, and asked for permission. It was rumored that the Menahel – as we called him – had finished Tanach over a summer when he was in his teens, so we figured he would be proud of us. The Menahel listened to our question and asked if we studied the parsha each week. We confirmed that we did. “Then”, he pointed out, “you just finished the book of Bereishis. Did you make a siyum?” Of course we hadn’t. The Menahel’s point was that the custom does not seem to bear out the opinion of Rav Moshe.

The Menahel did go on to praise us and to encourage us to make a party and celebrate and encourage our friends to do the same.

And that is what I am doing. There is a Parsha and Haftorah every week, a Megilla every Yom Tov and, after that, just fourteen more books to go.

I’m glad I did it and encourage anyone who can to do the same.

Posted on 11/28 at 10:58 PM • Permalink
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Meet Rabbi Sender Haber

Rabbi Sender Haber is the Rabbi of the B'nai Israel Congregation in Norfolk, VA. He is well known throughout Hampton Roads, having arrived over twelve years ago as one of the original four members of the Norfolk Area Community Kollel. In that capacity, Rabbi Haber was involved in community wide programming, teaching, and outreach. He has inspired many Jews to expand their Jewish identity and increase their love of Torah and commitment to its observance. Everyone who knows Rabbi Haber is touched by his breadth of Torah knowledge and his ability to convey the wisdom of the ages in such a way as to make those esoteric writings accessible to persons of all levels of experience and a variety of backgrounds.

Rabbi Haber has served in a number of capacities during his years in Norfolk. Since 2003 Rabbi Haber has been a teacher of Jewish Studies at Toras Chaim Day School in Portsmouth, teaching boys and girls of all ages, with a focus on Gemara, Halacha, and Chumash. He has also taught at Yeshivas Aish Kodesh and Bina High School in Norfolk, and served as Assistant Rabbi of B’nai Israel for 6 years. He also serves as the Rabbi of the “Lost Tribe,” Tidewater’s Jewish Motorcycle group! While handling all of these responsibilities, he has continued to participate in numerous Chavrusos (one-on-one learning partnerships) covering a wide range of topics and writings.

Rabbi Haber and his wife Chamie have been married for thirteen years. They have four children, Minna (9), Moshe (6), Ely (4), and Akiva Meir, born in August of 2012. They both come from rabbinic families steeped in Torah, Kiruv and Chesed. Rabbi Haber received his Rabbinic Ordination (Yoreh Yoreh) from Rabbi Sender Rosenbloom and Rabbi Mordechai Freidlander of the Jerusalem Beth Din. He was awarded a Teaching Certificate by Torah Umesorah Association for Jewish Day Schools in 2004 and again in 2009. In addition, Rabbi Haber has spent over a decade studying Talmud, Jewish Law, and ethics in some of the world’s most prestigious Yeshivos including Beth Medrash Gavoha in Lakewood, NJ and Yeshivas Mir in Jerusalem.

Rabbi Haber can be contacted through the Synagogue office at 757-627-7358, or through e-mail at