New study hall to open for post-secondary Chabad students
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New study hall to open for post-secondary Chabad students

'The sanctity of a house of study exceeds that of a synagogue.'

Bnai Emunoh Chabad in Greenfield will house Pittsburgh Zal. (Photo courtesy of Rabbi Ephraim Lerner)
Bnai Emunoh Chabad in Greenfield will house Pittsburgh Zal. (Photo courtesy of Rabbi Ephraim Lerner)

Opportunities for local Torah study are increasing. Beginning next fall, Bnai Emunoh Chabad in Greenfield will house a post-secondary program for young Jewish men.

Operating under the name Pittsburgh Zal (zal is Yiddish for study hall), the program, which is a separate entity from the Greenfield synagogue, aims to initially welcome 30 young men, ages 18 and 19.

“Our goal is that, within a few years, we have 80-100 students,” Bnai Emunoh’s Rabbi Elchonon Friedman said, speaking by phone en route to Toronto on a recruiting trip.

Since announcing the creation of Pittsburgh Zal, the last several weeks have sparked great interest among potential enrollees and families, he said: “There’s been a tremendous amount of growth in the number of students that are coming through the Chabad system, and we have heard from many places that there’s a need for more beis medrashim (study halls).”

The importance of a study hall is well noted within rabbinic literature.

Maimonides, the medieval philosopher and sage, wrote, “The sanctity of a house of study exceeds that of a synagogue.”

“Every community needs to be centered around a yeshiva or beis medrash, a place of Torah learning,” Friedman said. “I think the Chabad community has grown to the point where this is the logical next step.”

According to Rabbi Ephraim Lerner, Pittsburgh Zal’s Rosh Yeshiva, the new entity will serve a niche in the Chabad movement’s academic landscape.

Often, students graduating from high school enroll in Talmudic academies that are structured by age. For example, a first-year student will begin Shiur Aleph and a second-year student will belong to Shiur Bet. The difference with Pittsburgh Zal, Lerner said, is that students will be placed in classes based on ability.

“We want the boys to grow at their own level,” he said. “We will focus on teaching them how they can learn on their own.”

Students at Pittsburgh Zal will focus on classic Jewish texts. (Photo by Chajm Guski via

Pittsburgh Zal’s curriculum will follow a traditional Chabad format, where nine hours of daily Torah learning are divided between six hours of Talmud and three hours of Chassidus. Unlike a rabbinical school, however, the institution will not grant its students ordination.

A primary goal is that someone leaving Pittsburgh Zal will be able to study and understand biblical and rabbinic writings, both as a source of personal enrichment and as a community partner, Friedman said.

This endeavor is no different than other Chabad activities, he continued: “We have always had our mission to reach every Jew in our neighborhood.”

Aiding Friedman and Lerner is Rabbi Moshe Aaron Giesinsky, who will serve as mashpia (spiritual mentor).

As a team, the educators will help students develop academic skills applicable beyond the walls of the study hall.

“Many yeshivas are there for the students to become enriched in Torah knowledge and a relationship with God, but in Chabad, the Rebbe [Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson] always made a major emphasis on how much the person could be of service to the community and basically change the world around them,” Friedman said.

He pointed to the concept of shlichus, where a married couple joins a community, often in a remote locale, to amplify the area’s Jewish life.

To date, 4,900 Chabad-Lubavitch emissary families staff 3,500 institutions in 100 countries and territories, according to

“One of the things that the Rebbe would always stress is that the real goal of spreading Torah and Yiddishkeit is not that you bring Judaism or Torah to that place, but that in that place you uncover it,” Friedman said. “That its source of Yiddishkeit is like a well, that it comes from the place itself.”

The opening of Pittsburgh Zal, he added, demonstrates that Pittsburgh is “a source of learning, enthusiasm and growth.” PJC

Adam Reinherz can be reached at

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