Chesterfield shul launches area’s second kollel

Reuven Kenigsberg (center) prepares to learn Torah with other students on Feb. 24 at the Chesterfield Kollel at Tpheris Israel Chevra Kadisha Congregation. Photo: Eric Berger


After evening services last week at Tpheris Israel Chevra Kadisha Congregation, a group of men brought out a jar of pickles, hummus and crackers, beer and wine, and Jewish text.

At other tables, chavrusa, study partners, rocked back and forth and engaged in animated conversation — sometimes arguments — about Torah. 

The Orthodox Jewish congregation on Ladue Road started the Chesterfield Kollel, a Jewish place of learning, in February. The group hired two rabbis to head the organization, and four kollel members who agree to live in the community and learn for three years.

But the synagogue is hoping that the members and their families will become mainstays of the community and decide to stay in Chesterfield, Rabbi Aaron Winter said.

In Orthodox communities, the kollel serves not only to help Jews learn more about Torah, but also as a key piece of infrastructure, like a kosher restaurant or a mikvah.

“We started contemplating about a year and a half ago what the next step would be in the Chesterfield community, in terms of moving upward and expanding out,” Winter said. “And we felt that this was a viable option for us, to explore bringing in young families who were rabbinical and Talmudic.”

After deciding to start the kollel, Chesterfield leaders reached out to deans at East Coast yeshivas. Winter’s son Moshe and nephew Yitzchok Winter moved to Chesterfield to head the kollel and recruited other yeshiva graduates to join. 

“To grow Torah in Chesterfield, it was a sentimental opportunity and something I felt so passionately about,” Moshe Winter said. “I have seen firsthand what a small Midwestern community does for peoples’ families. It’s not an experience that you can have necessarily in a bigger community.”

The suburb is home to 12,000 Jews, the second-largest population center behind Creve Coeur in the St. Louis area. Tpheris Israel has grown to 90 families from 45 about 10 years ago, Aaron Winter said. 

At a community kollel, the students,who are usually in their 20s, spend the morning and afternoon focused on learning and then open the space to the community in the evening. In the past, kollelim had concentrated on intense Talmudic learning rather than outreach to Jews who may not have had much exposure to Judaism, according to a 2006 study from Israel’s Bar Illan University. The shift started at a community kollel in Atlanta in the late ’80s.

“The first concrete indication of a change in emphasis in Atlanta was the decision to require the fellows to devote only three to four hours of their day to personal Talmud study,” the study says. “Over time, a multifaceted outreach program was developed that included a daily open bais medrash (study hall) with independent study partnerships for Jews possessing all levels of knowledge.”

Winter and other rabbis say that change in approach has helped American Orthodox Jewish communities expand significantly. 

“You have so many other communities across America that have done it and have been successful,” Aaron Winter said. “It’s like a magnet. People are attracted to coming in one-on-one, connecting to a partner and learning some Torah.”

Michael Treisman, a physician from South Africa, attended a class with Winter, in which they learned a portion of the Gemara, a rabbinical analysis within the Talmud. He described the kollel as “an incredible opportunity” for the Chesterfield community. 

“We’re certainly hoping that the general level of learning in our community is going to be increasing,” said Treisman, who now lives in Chesterfield and belongs to Tpheris Israel.

The Chesterfield group is the second Kollel in the St. Louis area after the St. Louis Kollel in University City. Before starting the Chesterfield Kollel, Winter said he reached out to Rabbi Menachem Greenblatt of Agudas Israel, an Orthodox synagogue affiliated with the St. Louis Kollel, “to get his blessing.”

Rabbi Shaya Mintz, director of the St. Louis Kollel, said he does not think of the relationship between the groups as a “Schnucks or a Dierbergs, where you look at each other as competitors.”

“The more torah study in any city, the more blessings it brings to the community,” he said.