Nine months ago he received a semicha, culminating a year-and-a-half of intense study that ended with a two-day oral exam and a 14-hour written test.
“It’s one thing to live a Torah lifestyle. It’s another to show your kids what you are willing to sacrifice essentially for L’Shem Shamayim,” said Douglas, who with his wife Deborah has two daughters, ages 15 and 11. “My kids understood that this isn’t a hypothetical thing we live every day. There is more than simply following the Halacha, there is learning the Halacha and how it applies to our daily lives.”
After earning a Maryland undergraduate degree and his law degree at Yeshiva University’s Cardozo, Douglas worked for the Internal Revenue Service before going into private practice in upstate New York. He moved to the Detroit area, where for over five years he was “involved in numerous batei dinim.” Almost six years ago Douglas and his family moved to Atlanta, where he joined a large law firm before starting his own practice in 2012.
That was several months after his momentous decision to begin studying for the rabbanut. “I have been studying ever since I left yeshiva, and I decided it was time to move to a more formal methodology, a more formalized program and result,” Douglas said.
So he embarked on an 18-month learning experience with Yeshiva Pirchei Shoshanim, an intensive correspondence program based in Israel. At first he said he was skeptical about a state-of-the-art correspondence course. But a prior learning partner aspired to qualify for the rabbanut in Israel through Pirchei Shoshanim, and did. “I decided that if it’s good enough to prepare for that exam than this has to be a good program. … So I jumped right into it and found it to be a great program.”
“But like everything else, it’s what you put into it,” he added. The program is totally technology-based, and Douglas said he connected using electronic mail, Skype and the telephone. He was responsible for two shiurim a week covering centuries of Jewish teaching and thought, with tests every four or five weeks. The final exams were in New Jersey.
As an attorney with a family, a heavy work load and travel schedule, Douglas didn’t have a lot of spare time. Somehow he reached his goal, and he stressed that “I couldn’t have done it without my wife and kids. They supported what I was doing… It was truly non-stop. I would start a typical exam Saturday night and finish it late Sunday night and send the answers Monday morning” he recounted, adding, “I was still expected to take client phone calls.”
The yeshiva was “willing to work with me on my schedule,” he said. Still, “It would have been a lot easier if I had done this in college, when you don’t have kids, you don’t have a job. I was still working 50-60 hours a week when I took this program, and I still had to be there for my kids… It’s hard to describe what you give up to make that happen: sleep, nights, weekends, vacations.”
He didn’t share his undertaking with his parents, Arthur and Zelda (Bilansky) Stein ’61, until surprising them with the news that he had reached his goal.
Now that I have semicha I do not intend to be a pulpit rabbi or a teacher. “I think you teach thru your actions, you don’t need to be a teacher in a school.” Douglas says he intends to continue with his law practice but also inspire others to learn. “I would like to put together some courses here in Atlanta on Halacha. The way we teach Halacha is too dry… I had good rabbonim who taught me, and I felt it was something I needed to do to put myself in a position to show other people.” He will also be certified as a shochet this summer when he will be tested for Kabbalah in Israel.
“The value isn’t in having semicha,” he said. “The value is in how you got your semicha. The end is really nothing more than another beginning.”
I am a recent graduate of the Pirchei Shoshanim Shulchan Aruch Learning Project in Shabbos. The quality and quantity of the curricular modules, delivered via 170+ Shiurim on Hilchos Shabbos contained 1,800+ pages of study material delivered over a period of 2 years, 12 email examinations, and final Bechina held in Yerushalyim. Distance learning (i. e., e-mail) is modern, but does not preclude the traditional learning style with a Chavrusa. Instructional delivery via the internet is no less respectable than, for example, by telephone (e.g., Rabbi Noach Oelbaum’s popular TorahPhone Halacha series in New York, Monsey, and Lakewood). Pirchei’s Shiurim are in English, but the required primary source materials (e.g., Talmud, Rishonim, Tur, Shulchan Aruch, GRaZ, Mishna Brurah, Acharonim, and Poskim) are in Hebrew and Aramaic. When I returned from the Bechina, a Syium was held in honor of this accomplishment. It was attended by important Poskim and Rabbonim of Detroit, all of whom spoke the highest words of praise and support for the Pirchei Shohansim Semicha program.
Shlomo Sawilowsky, Ph. D.
Professor and Department Chairman
Wayne State University Distinguished Faculty Fellow
Educational Evaluation and Research
College of Education
Wayne State University
Detroit, MI USA
I have been enrolled in the Issur v’Heter program for approximately one year and IY”H will be musmach by Rav Channen sometime in Marcheshvan. Prior to this program, I had lacked structure in my learning since starting my career. I am a Vice President in Private Wealth Management Technology at Goldman Sachs in New York City. In spite of my busy professional schedule, Pirchei Shoshanim has given me a seder that both requires and enables me to learn for at least 90 minutes daily.
Unfortunately, there are many in the Jewish world who have made semicha easy to obtain. Rav Channen is not among them. We all know someone who knows someone who flew to Israel, sat with a rav for an hour, and emerged musmach. I challenge anyone to sit through one of Rav Channen’s written exams. They are simply brutal — and I say that as an accomplished professional who graduated from Princeton University with a 3.9 GPA and scored a 33 on the MCAT. (Please forgive me for boasting, but I think it is important to demonstrate my credibility in recognizing a rigorous intellectual challenge.)
This is not “Semicha by E-mail”; it is simply semicha. It may not be the traditional way of learning, and no one will argue that it is as rigorous as learning in kollel full-time, but it is a full and challenging semicha nonetheless.
New York, NY
I was zocheh to be a participant in the Hilchos Shabbos Program for the past two and a half years. I was also zocheh to come to Yerushalayim Ir HaKodesh for the nine hour bechina which I feel was also a wonderful experience. It was truly Kibutz Galius 30 something people from all over the world to come to Artzeinu Hakdosha for the purpose of learning and shteiging in Torah. The day I left to Eretz Yisroel my Rav , Rabbi Yisroel Reisman Shlita told me and my chavrusa how proud he was of us and to go to Yerushalayim for the purpose of taking a 9 hour bechina. He said “that is self imposed punishment and he is very proud of us.”
This program enabled me to add an extra learning seder each morning (besides my daf yomi each evening) to learn with a chavrusa for an hour before davening. This wonderful program provided an outstanding opportunity to learn Hilchos Shabbas B’iyun, in a very organized systematic approach to Halacha. When I learned for smicha from Rav Pam ZT”L he told me the best way to learn halacha would be to learn the gemorah with the rishonim and then the Bais Yosef and the Tur , then the shulchan Aruch and then all Nosie KAylim of the Shulchan Oruch. This program allowed me to do just that in an organized yet enjoyable and challenging program. Before I signed up for this program I spoke to my Rabbanim and they encouraged me to join and learn using this wonderful program.
I believe I have grown a great deal from learning from the Hilchos Shabbos Program from Pirchei Shoshanim. I have now joined up to learn Yoreh Deah Hilchos Issur vHeter, as an opportunity to learn & review Shulchan Aruch Yoreh Deah as I have not chazzored it completely since I have received smicha from Rav Pam ZT”L 10 years ago.
Rabbi Eli Rabinowitz
After speaking to Rabbi Fishel a few years ago and meeting with Rabbi Channen I decided to do the programme. At that time I was at the Machziki HaDaat shul in London and checked out the programme with many Rabbonim and Yeshivot in the area before actually starting – They loved it and said it looks like a wonderful programme.
After putting in the time for studying and using the notes sent to me I also studied with a Rosh Kollel in Ramat HaSharon in Israel.
After receiving smicha which was signed by HaRav Channen Shlita and HaGaon HaRav Rozenthal ABA”D Haifa I moved to Israel.
Zur Hadassah was known for its very strong views against Torah learning – now there are 3 Bet Knesses, a Kollel, A newspaper, and community work. I can say for sure that one of the shuls which has a regular attendance of 25 families and has about 150 people on Chagaim, the newspaper with Torah content and many community activities would not have been there if it was not for me having come into contact with Rav Fishel’s and Rav Channen’s Pirchai Shoshanim smicha programme.
I was only a shaliach of HaKadosh Baruch Hu and he guided me to Pirchai Shoshanim
This programme is a wonderful oppertunity to use modern technology for holy purposes.
Yashar Koach – Pirchei Shoshanim
“…The Shiurim were nicely structured and set out clearly. They show the genesis and evolution of the Halacha from Its basis in the gemarah all the way through to contemporary poskim.
…We corresponded regularly with Rav Channen (both via email and by phone) with our comments and questions. We had a great deal of interaction with him.
…Despite being a distance learning program, the interaction between Magid Shiur and Talmid is excellent. Rav Channen, is always available for questions and emails are answered very quickly. Halacha L’Maaseh questions are invited and encouraged. Rav Channen’s input adds to the broadness of halacha in all areas that a Rav should have at his fingertips.
…Above all, the program gave me the opportunity to learn Halacha at a level not available to me before. I would never have the opportunity to hear a shiur of this caliber without learning full-time in a Bais Midrash. We chose to enter the semicha track because we felt that if we were tested on a regular basis, we could not easily shrug off our learning schedule. The semicha was almost a “bonus”.
– Yossi Danzger, NY
…After 10 years out of yeshiva , I can truly say this year I feel I have learnt on the level I should be . Not just the subject matter . The ability to get up early in the morning, every morning, and know that a structured program is waiting.
…The effect is on my whole Avodat Hashem .
…In short, after leaving the state of “Shivti bevait Hashem” at long last I feel I have got to “levakeir beheihalav” as a working Jew should. …The house is different when the Tur Shulchan Aruch is on the table all the week . My daughters see their father learning , my friends know when not to disturb because I am busy studying.
…I am not sure many other Rabbanim would have been able to take people in a working situation , and to bring them to an understanding of the intricate laws .
…Thank you once again, to you, and to Reb Fishel , and to all the staff at Shema Yisrael, for this great chiddush, of studying Shulchan Aruch via the net and your willingness to accept Yehudim of all the different chugim to unite them in quest to learn together Torah
– Shimon Soreq, Kibbutz Sdei Eliyahu
I want to thank you and your staff for helping my Chavrusa and me to go back in time to our Yeshiva days. It wasn’t exactly the same as in Yeshiva, as we can’t spend all of our time now learning, given the needs of our families and our patients. After finishing our bechina tonight we just hugged each other and cried tears of joy and accomplishment at what we have achieved. We could not have done it without Pirchei Shoshanim in general and both of you in particular. My family is so happy, especially my 13 year old son.
Yaakov Avraham ben Yitzchak
The program is at your own pace but it forces you to keep up and remember what you learned. I would recommend it to any serious student or businessman who wants to learn more halacha.
– Robert Karr, NJ