Meet Rabbi Avraham Zajac: Master Talmud Teacher With his daily class in California featuring Talmud study with Chassidic insights now online, he hopes to inspire students worldwide
video classes on Jewish.tv was recently enriched by the addition of a daily Talmud class given by Rabbi Avraham Meyer Zajac, who co-directs Chabad-Lubavitch SOLA-South La Cienega, Calif., with his wife, Stery.
Zajac, who grew up in Brazil, went out on shlichus to California in 2007. Here, he reflects on his journey to the rabbinate, his community’s growth, and what he looks forward to offering a global audience.
Q: Can you share a bit about your community in southern California?
A: Ours is a young, diverse community with a real range of backgrounds. Located between the larger Jewish communities of Pico-Robertson and La Brea in Los Angeles, there are many young families attracted to the area by the affordable housing, and more are coming all the time. Some are yeshivah-educated—from Chabad and non-Chabad institutions—and then there are many who are really just starting out, so there is a real mix, reflecting the whole Jewish community.
In addition to the many other classes, we learn a page of Talmud at 6 a.m., before 7 a.m. prayers. We’re a lively bunch, and we feed off each other’s energy. There are around a dozen of us who attend regularly since we began the class six years ago, and it’s really become part of our lives, something most of us cannot imagine starting our day without. Over the years, I have seen the Torah study really change people, some in subtle ways, and some in also more obvious and always in profound ways.
Q: How about you? How did you become a master Talmud teacher?
A: I grew up in Brazil, where my family had been living since my grandfather was sent there by the Previous Rebbe (Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn, of righteous memory) to serve as a community shochet (ritual slaughterer).
My love and passion of learning came from my parents, Rabbi Motel and Rivka Zajac, may they be well. My earliest childhood memories include hearing my father learn every day in the wee hours of the morning.
When I was a child, we had the privilege of hosting Rabbi Shmuel Dovid Raitchik from Los Angeles, who would come to Brazil for around a month every year. He left a very strong impression on me.
In 1982, I came by his recommendation to learn in Yeshiva Ohr Elchonon Chabad in L.A., where I had the merit to learn Talmud and other subjects with the one-of-a-kind Rosh Yeshivah, Rabbi Ezra Schochet. The Torah institutions of the Rebbe (Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, of righteous memory) are permeated with joy and passion towards learning and teaching Torah.
Now, years later, I have the unique privilege to serve as the Rebbe’s emissary under Rabbi Boruch S. Cunin, director of West Coast Chabad, and part of the team of California shluchim (Chabad emissaries) who are exceptional in both Chassidishkeit(Chassidic warmth and teachings), and in making Torah learning and teaching a cornerstone of their mission. This gives me additional inspiration to do my part in learning and teaching Torah.
After I completed my studies in New York and a few months after I married my wife, Stery, in 1991, we moved to Hong Kong as Chabad emissaries under Rabbi Mordechai Avzton. There, I began to give my first daily Talmud class following the DafYomi (page a day) cycle. There were many businesspeople passing through Hong Kong, and such a Torah class was a service that many of them appreciated. Thank G?d, throughout the years, I continued to teach the daily Daf Yomi, and shortly after establishing Chabad Sola here in Los Angeles in 2007, I continued this class with our community.
Q: With hundreds of such classes taking place all over the world, in what way would you characterize the uniqueness of this class?
A: Our studies are colored by the teachings of Chassidus. There are probably 80 people in our congregation who learn Chitas (a Hebrew acronym for Chumash, the five books of Moses; Tehillim, or Psalms; and Tanya, the seminal work of Chassidic philosophy by Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi, the Alter Rebbe),
The Rebbe encouraged the daily study of Chitas, Maimonides’ Mishneh Torah and HaYom Yom (the Rebbe’s compilation of teachings of the Previous Rebbe) emphasizing that these daily study portions are applicable to everyone, and many of us learn other Chassidic tracts as well.
In this setting, it’s only natural to find resonance between the subjects we are learning. When you live with what you learn, it influences every area of your life, and your learning is no exception. Seeing the mechanics of Talmud through the lens of Chassidus is very inspiring and has a very deep effect on all of us.
Q: Now that your class is online, what changes did you need to make, either in the content or the presentation?
A: Again, we are a lively bunch, so some of us need to restrain ourselves a bit. Also, since we learn every day of the year—including Shabbat and Jewish holidays, days when we don’t record—we’re relearning those classes the day after Shabbat or the holiday for the benefit of the online audience.
I really must acknowledge the guidance and inspiration I’ve received from Rabbi Joshua B. Gordon of Encino, Calif. He’s been giving online classes for many years on Chabad.org, and I am in touch with him regularly.
In fact, Rabbi Gordon is about to complete the full corpus of Maimonides’ Mishneh Torah, which he has been teaching for three years now following the cycle the Rebbe established. That is a wonderful milestone for him and the thousands all over the world who have grown in their Torah learning along with him.
Q: Any final thoughts?
A: We’re all very excited about our class, and thank G?d that we can share it with many other people. It’s an honor and privilege for us to be joined by the Chabad.org community.
Rabbi Avraham Zajac’s daily class can be viewed here on Jewish.tv.