An Interview with Rabbi Eliezer Krohn
There’s a book that my daughters and I have been passing around for the last few weeks. No, it’s not a novel. It’s A Women’s Guide to Practical Halacha, written by Rabbi Eliezer Krohn and published by ArtScroll. Written in a clear and straightforward manner, it takes us through aspects of our daily life from the moment we wake up, to the moment we go to bed, and many moments in between. It’s informative and well-organized, and something we never realized we even needed.
If you’ve heard any of Rabbi Eliezer Krohn’s shiurim – and there are over 500 – on Torah Anytime, you will be familiar with his candid manner of speaking. It’s what makes his lessons so easy to absorb and what makes his book so approachable. Rabbi Krohn teaches in a number of girls schools and seminaries in the tristate area, and he gives classes to women as well. A sixth generation mohel, he is the son of the famed Rabbi Paysach and Mrs. Miriam Krohn.
Despite his incredibly busy schedule, Rabbi Krohn is surprisingly easy to reach. Actually, that should not be so surprising in light of the fact that he includes his personal email address in the preface to his book so anyone who needs further elaboration on Halachah can contact him directly. In any case, Rabbi Krohn answers his phone on the first ring when I reach out to him to ask about the story behind his groundbreaking English sefer.
Were you always interested in practical Halachah?
I moved back to America from Israel almost 15 years ago and joined a Halachah Kollel. We focused on learning Halachah from the bottom up and coming away with practical halachah. I had never before focused on that, and I saw how much I loved it and gained from it. It brough Halachah to life for me.
When did you begin teaching girls?
11 years ago, I gave a speech at Bais Yaakov High School of Passaic’s Chanukah chagigah. Following that speech, Rebbetzin Stern, the principal of the school, asked me to substitute, which I did for 12 or 14 times until the end of the year. During the summer, the Rebbetzin offered me a permanent job as a Halachah teacher, and I taught hilchos brachos and Shabbos to the girls. I subsequently began teaching Halachah to married women and in other schools as well.
Is that what made you start writing your book?
Teaching brought out so much for me. People asked so many questions in so many areas of Halachah. It was an incentive for me to learn them, and I wanted to get those halachos down on paper. Many of my classes are in this book.
How did you choose what to include?
Rabbi Noach Oelbaum guided me throughout the process of composing the book. Rabbi Oelbaum told me not to include halachos about the lamed tes melachos, a kosher kitchen, or hilchos brachos as each of those topics would comprise an entire book on their own. There are some other areas of Halachah, such as aveilus, that can also fill a volume, but I include just the basics in my book.
There are halachos in here that are relevant to men as well as women, such as maser and kibbud av va’eim, but these are the questions I get asked by my students; this is what they want to know. What you will not find in here are halachos of taharas hamishpacha, because we wanted the book to be tailored to all girls, not just married women.
I always say that half my preparation is what not to say, because “kol hamosif gore’a” – “one who adds actually subtracts.” Too much information can be confusing. Even the footnotes in this book are short. What you’ll find in here is basic, short halachah. I left out halachos that are not so common or relevant.
Is that true with teaching – that half your preparation is what not to say?
Yes. I spoke to a girl last night who told me that there is so much halachah taught in one class she attends, that she doesn’t know what to do with it. Clarity is the most important thing, and too much information creates confusion. The best compliment I can get is that the halachah I’ve taught is clear. People who read this sefer say that they can hear me talking.
I agree with that!
That’s nice to hear. ArtScroll gets the credit for the smooth, organized format, though.
Have you found in your experience as a teacher that there is a particular area of Halachah that needs reinforcement?
Hilchos yichud. People know the basics, but they don’t know that a lot of things fall into that category. Say, for example, a girl is on a date and it’s going well. The boy pulls up in front of her house at the end of the date and they are having a good conversation. It’s midnight and the street are dark and silent. That can be a problem of yichud! When I give this example, girls will ask, “What should I do? How can I say that to a boy on a date?” I say that if the boy can’t respect that, he’s not for you. The correct response of the boy should be, “I didn’t realize that, and I appreciate your bringing it to my attention.”
I found the section on tefillah to be helpful.
Tefillah is something that women cherish very much, and I am asked many questions that pertain to that area of Halachah. If a girl wakes up late on a Sunday morning, can she daven past a certain point? So many women tell me that they daven each morning on the bus or train on their way to work. If a woman only has a few minutes to daven, what is she obligated to say? I teach hilchos tefillah at Rebbetzin Assaf’s seminary in Boro Park, and we spend a lot if time going through those halachos.
How long did it take you to write the book?
I’ve been learning Halachah for 15 years, and I started teaching it 11 years ago, so I like to joke that it took me 11 years to write this book. Really, it took four to five years. The book had to be reviewed by this Rav and that Rav, and this woman and that woman…My father said, “Trust me, ArtScroll knows what they’re doing. When it’s finished it’ll be a masterpiece.” He was right. It was worth the wait, baruch Hashem.
Will you be writing another book to address the halachos that were not included in this one?
Many people have asked me that question and encouraged me to do it. My answer is maybe. I started an outline for volume two. I could include aspects of the lamed tes melachos that pertain to women, such as putting on makeup or making a salad.
Are you aware of any similar sefarim for women?
There are plenty of English Halachah books published by ArtScroll and other publishers, but there’s nothing like this one as far as I know. There is a sefer called Halichos Bas Yisrael and its wonderful – I love it – but not all of it is relevant on a practical level. I describe it as a sefer for men about women. What I wanted to do was publish a sefer that you can pick up and read. I wanted something that you could pick up and find a clear answer to your question. A girl told me that she borrowed something for her neighbor and had a question about ribbis when she was returning it, so she looked up the answer in the book. To me, that’s the biggest brachah.
How has your upbringing affected your passion for teaching Halachah?
My mother is a principal at Shevach High School, and I consider my father an educator as well – he teaches and inspires and gives over so much to the Klal. Both my parents give their lives for Klal Yisrael, but not at the expense of the family, baruch Hashem. It’s in my blood. I am the next generation who has zechus of helping the Klal by answering shailos. I return every single call, and it takes a lot of time, but as you can see it’s in my genes.