Jerusalem-born Oren Rahat describes himself as a Modern Orthodox Jew. A graduate of Religious-Zionist yeshivahs, he has always valued Torah study as an important part of his life.
After serving in the Israel Defense Force and taking courses at Hebrew University, he relocated with his wife to the San Francisco Bay area in California in 2002, where she started university.
“In the beginning, I had a partner for Talmud study, but when he moved away I found it hard to replace him,” says the 39-year-old. “While attending prayer services at the local Chabad House in 2007, I saw a brochure advertising a program that matches people up to study Torah together over the phone, and I figured I would try it.”
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A few days later, Rahat was on the phone with Rabbi Yehuda Dukes, managing director of JNet—the Jewish Learning Network—which opened its virtual doors in 2005 in response to the needs of many Jews who wanted to study Torah, but were unable to attend live classes or get together with others near their homes.
Since that time, Dukes has marshalled a database of thousands of names and works to match individuals with a chavruta—a study partner best suited to his or her subject of choice, schedule and background.
Within weeks, Rahat was paired with Avraham Shmuel of Brooklyn, N.Y. The two began studying the Talmudic tractate of Kiddushin, which discusses laws of the Jewish marriage ceremony.
“We began studying over the phone every week, and we really hit it off. Avraham is an advanced Talmudic scholar, so we really were able to learn on a fairly high level,” Rahat says. “In fact, I so enjoyed the study that I asked Rabbi Dukes to find me an additional chavruta, and I started studying with Levi Laine every week as well.”
JNet study partners Oren Rahat, left, and Levi Laine (Photo credit: Bentzi Sasson)
‘A Source of Strength’
By 2008, Laine and Rahat—who had never met in person—formed such a strong bond that Rahat flew across the country to attend Laine’s wedding in Pittsburgh, Pa. Shortly thereafter, the two stopped learning together, though Rahat’s weekly sessions with Shmuel remained constant.
"There were times when we would take a break for a week or two, but we always continued right where we left off,” explains Rahat. “During the course of those years, I relocated to Kansas, chose to go back to college and got divorced. My chavruta was weekly source of strength for me, not only because of the Torah we studied but because he is such a good friend to confide in.”
In the spring of 2013, after being accepted as a graduate student at Yeshiva University, Rahat went to New York City to scout out an apartment. A highlight of the trip was visiting Shmuel. They met once on Friday and again on Sunday. Their second encounter was over open Talmuds, doing what they had done countless times before. This time, however, they sat in the same room: the colossal study hall in Lubavitch World Headquarters at 770 Eastern Parkway in the Crown Heights neighborhood of Brooklyn.
“When I realized that we were coming to the end of the tractate, I wanted to do something special to honor my chavruta and to thank JNet for bringing us together,” says Rahat. “I talked to Rabbi Dukes about perhaps sponsoring a siyum in the JNet offices when we finish the tractate.”
A siyum marks the completion of a tractate of Talmud or another large body of Torah scholarship. It is usually followed by a celebratory meal, or seudat mitzvah, during which the final verses of the subject matter are thoroughly discussed.
On Oct. 23, Rahat, Shmuel and Laine all got together for the first time to celebrate their collective achievements.
As guests munched on bagels, lox and cream cheese, Rahat delivered a discourse on the interlocking obligations of getting married, earning a living and purchasing a home.
Rabbi Moshe Kotlarsky, vice chairman of Merkos L’Inyonei Chinuch, the educational arm of Chabad-Lubavitch, attended the meal and expressed his satisfaction with Rahat’s talk, saying: “I really hope that this milestone will inspire even more people to sign up for JNet. Torah study is the backbone of our identity and crucial to our nation’s survival.”
Rabbi Yehuda Dukes, Rabbi Moshe Kotlarsky and Oren Rahat (Photo credit: Bentzi Sasson)
For his part, Dukes notes that “it’s not often that I get to meet the people I match up.” To date, he has helped nearly 6,000 people join partnerships facilitated by JNet.
“So it was certainly inspiring for me to personally see what they were able accomplish,” he says. “With their tenacity and devotion, they set the bar for other pairs to follow."