As it nears its one-year anniversary, an English-language publication is changing the way people study foundational Jewish texts by making it possible to carry a bookshelf’s worth of titles wherever they go. Launched by two businessmen in the skies above South Africa, Chayenu today counts men, women, professionals, rabbinical students and lay leaders as vocal supporters.
According to Rabbi Michoel Goldman, who directs the weekly publishing project, Chayenu – its Hebrew name means “our life” – gets its inspiration from directives of the Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, of righteous memory, who in 1984, encouraged Jewish men, women and children everywhere to unite in the daily study of Maimonides’ legal code in addition to studying the weekly Torah portion and the Tanya, the foundational work of Chabad-Lubavitch Chasidic thought authored in the 18th century by the First Chabad Rebbe, Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi.
As with a years-long effort in Hebrew known as Dvar Malchus, the Chayenu publication includes three separate study cycles of Maimonides’ code, along with the weekly Torah portion and associated commentaries, and daily portions of the Tanya.
Goldman traced the original concept to his brother, Mendel Goldman, and his brother’s employer, Louis Pearlman. The two were on a business trip when Pearlman noticed that Goldman was studying from the Hebrew Dvar Malchus. Pearlman wanted to know where he could get the booklet in English, and Goldman explained that he couldn’t.
“So let’s do that in English!” exclaimed Pearlman.
As trustees of the Tomchei Torah Academy Trust, they secured an initial grant and a portion of the ongoing funding for the project, and approached Michoel Goldman to run the day-to-day operations.
“It’s really quite a massive undertaking, and it’s still a work in progress,” says Michoel Goldman, who is always on the lookout for more donors. “The unique thing about Chayenu is the diversity of its crowd. There are people who have a full yeshiva education who use it, and there are people with no formal Jewish educational background using it. There is something for everyone in it.”
Rabbi Yossi Korik, director of Chabad-Lubavitch of Roseville, Calif., started a class using the publication last summer. Today, the class attracts seven to eight people each week.
“People are intrigued by the idea of going through the whole Torah,” explains Korik. “There are some who might not necessarily come to synagogue on Rosh Hashanah, but become very involved with learning Maimonides out of Chayenu. It also exposes people to subjects that they would never come across in a regular Chabad House class. It’s really an amazing thing.”
Dr. Jonathan Tobin, president and CEO of Clinical Directors Network and a clinical professor at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York, agrees. He explains that the magazine’s rich content and portability has made Torah study more accessible than ever before, especially for someone with a busy work week and a large amount of traveling.
“Every Thursday I come for a class at Chabad of Midtown, and Rabbi Shemtov has been extremely helpful in setting aside a Chayenu for me,” says Tobin. “I was in Washington, and Mendel got one for me before I left.
“The organization of it makes it accessible to someone who doesn’t have such a formal yeshiva background,” he continues. “It’s really a reward for me.”