Ever since the inception of Rabbi Chaim of Volozhin’s model of Torah learning in the late 18th century, the nucleus of Jewish life has traditionally been the beit medrash, the local center for organized higher learning. While many larger Jewish communities flaunt sizable such institutions, not every town has the resources to support such a formidable undertaking. Nevertheless, what many idealistic community leaders have come to understand is that no robust Torah community is complete without at least some form of institution of higher learning. Any group of growth-minded individuals needs a headquarters where they can be nurtured and challenged to advance in their level of Torah learning. Without setting high bar set, a community is setting itself up for lackluster achievement in Torah scholarship.
For this reason, the model of the community kollel has become popular in the last 20 years. Following this design, a community typically bands together and imports a small group of advanced Torah scholars whose sole objective is to interact with the community members and raise the level of Torah learning in the city.
For the past year, I have been privileged to be part of such a vital group of young men. The Dallas Kollel, the flagship establishment of DATA, was founded in 1992 with 4 young men from New Jersey and Israel. It has now grown to include 10 full time kollel men, whose daily study of Jewish law prepares them for leadership in a Jewish community. The “yungeleit” as they are affectionately called, serve to teach and inspire the greater Dallas community while advancing their own Torah learning for almost seven hours every day. This semester, the kollel is learning about the intricate laws of cooking on Shabbos. Spanning four large chapters in the Shulchan Aruch, the Code of Jewish Law, this rubric has practical application every week and includes cooking, warming and the various ways one may and may not prepare food on Shabbos. As is the case at the end of every unit, the kollel is now in intense review mode, preparing for an upcoming oral exam from Rabbi Hillel David of New York. Rabbi David was instrumental is assisting the launch of the kollel 25 years ago, and still serves as an unofficial dean of the organization. His biannual visit to Dallas to test the yungeleit serves as a constant motivation for excellence. Indeed, his mere involvement with DATA sets the tone for clarity and excellence in study.
Rabbi Yerachmiel Fried, the rosh kollel (dean) of DATA, is Dallas’ crown jewel of Torah scholarship. A student of world renowned rabbis of the last generation, Rabbi Fried has earned himself a stellar reputation of halachik leadership, and receives regular inquiries from around the world. The rabbis at DATA are privileged to have him at our helm and to interact with him daily. Whatever issues in Jewish law may arise both in study and in practice, we know that we need only discuss them with Rabbi Fried for a full resolution.
Entering the kollel during any of the daily learning sessions, one can expect to find an energy that belies the cramped room that functions as the study hall. The ten rabbis, completely absorbed in their study, learning aloud and at times arguing emphatically, create a spirited scene more likely associated with the stock exchange. Their fierce ardor toward determining the truth in every halachik scenario is a testament to the love of Torah learning that hovers almost perceptibly in the building.
The kollel is not only for the advanced, however. Men and women of all levels of scholarship and observance constantly pass through the well-worn, glass sliding doors of the DATA Kollel center. Anyone is invited to come and study. After all, this is the community’s institution. When you visit the kollel, expect a warm reception. We will welcome you, hand you a book to study, and include you in the vibrant chain of Torah learning stretching all the way back to Mt. Sinai.