For the week ending 7 February 2015 / 18 Shevat 5775

Rabbi Chaim Gross

by Rabbi Shlomo Simon
Library Library Library

What's your goal in life? For most people it's to become a successful doctor, lawyer, prime minister, film director, professional athlete, businessman… fill in the blank. Of course, not everyone has the abilities and talents needed to rise to the top of their chosen path. But some do. Rabbi Chaim Gross, a teacher in the Center Program at Ohr Somayach, most likely would have been successful in any one of those endeavors.

Rabbi Gross, 37, is an Englishman who earned an MA with a "double first" in History from Cambridge University. He was a soccer player, cricketer and a starter on the Field Hockey team at Cambridge, ran the London Marathon and was Captain of the British Field Hockey team at the Maccabian Games in 1997. He could have continued in academia or gone into a profession, or perhaps even have earned his living as a sportsman. Instead he chose yeshiva.

"I'm from a traditional Orthodox (Mill Hill United Synagogue in London) family. We always kept kosher and Shabbat, but I hadn’t been exposed to learning until I came to yeshiva.”

He attended a select English private school — Haberdashers Aske's — where he excelled in academics and sport. While at Cambridge he made a life-changing decision. Many field hockey games were held on Saturday, away from school. After a few weeks of tendering excuses as to why he couldn't make it to the away games on Shabbat, he was forced to make a decision to “play or stay”. He chose to quit the team and stay in Cambridge for Shabbat, where he became a regular at Rabbi Shaul Robinson's Shabbat table. Rabbi Robinson, presently the senior rabbi at Lincoln Square Synagogue in New York City, was then the Jewish Chaplain in Cambridge.

Upon graduation, Rabbi Gross was given a scholarship by the Israeli government to come to Israel and do graduate level work at Hebrew University. The terms of the scholarship were quite liberal and allowed Rabbi Gross to study in yeshiva at the same time as he was attending classes at Hebrew U. After trying out a number of different yeshivas, he dropped in at the Center Program of Ohr Somayach in Jerusalem. "The place was on fire. Rabbi Wiener and Rabbi Mandel were super-dynamic. I was sold."

He came to Ohr Somayach in October of 1999 and stayed for 14 months, eventually moving to the Mir Yeshiva, where he has been learning for the last 13 years. In the interim he married Merissa, a Glaswegian from a traditional Jewish home, and settled in the Har Nof neighborhood in Jerusalem. They have, bli ayin hara, six children, ranging in age from four months to eleven years. In addition to being a devoted mother to her children, Merissa is the director of kiruv programs at Midreshet Rachel, a women's seminary in Jerusalem.

After having received smicha, Rabbi Gross wrote a Hebrew sefer entitled "Hashulchan Ve'hakeilim" which is highly regarded in the yeshiva world. Its purpose is to provide a concise review of the material needed to be mastered for smicha exams in Yoreh De’ah. "It’s not gripping, but it's useful," says Rabbi Gross with his typical British understatement.

In 2007 he got a call from Rabbi Mandel asking if he would consider teaching at the Center Program. He jumped at the chance. He has been giving a shiur in the Yeshiva for the last seven years. In addition, he recruits English college students and makes it a point of visiting his alma mater to recruit some of the best and brightest English Jews for Ohr Somayach.

With no aversion to hard work and a seeming aversion to leisure time, he works as Editor of a Shabbat parsha sheet which is distributed to over 50 United Synagogue Congregations in the UK. Early Shabbat mornings from 6:30 am to 8:00 am, one can find Rabbi Gross at the “Shabbos Kollel” of Minyan Avreichim in Har Nof, which he helps to run. Lest one think that he might take a shluf on a Shabbat afternoon, the Kollel meets again from 3:00 until mincha. He has recently published kuntresim on Mesechta Berachot, which the Kollel has been learning.

When asked what his long term goal is, Rabbi Gross is quite clear. “It's to try imparting a love of Torah and a desire for growth in Yiddishkeit. I’d like to help change the students’ lives in a significant way."

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