The first issue of Torah Tidbits - the weekly "parsha pamphlet" produced for the Anglo community by the Orthodox Union's Jerusalem center - appeared in 1992 in two Jerusalem synagogues. It was a single piece of paper with a dvar Torah on one side and announcements on the other.
The 1,000th issue, which can be found this Shabbat in nearly 500 synagogues in Israel, as well as online at www.ttidbits.com, is a full-color booklet with an aliyah-by-aliyah summary of the week's Torah portion, commentaries from rabbis, event notices, mazel tovs, advertisements and more.
While the length, scope and readership of the publication have grown over the years, at least one thing hasn't changed: Torah Tidbits is still hand-delivered by volunteers to synagogues, hotels and corner stores across the country.
"It's not Shabbat without reading Torah Tidbits," said Deena Sattler, a longtime reader from Ramat Eshkol, Jerusalem, who helps distribute the publication in her neighborhood each week. "It's like a little newspaper, but the news is Torah news, which is basically all we really need."
Phil Chernofsky is the founding editor of Torah Tidbits and educational director at the OU Center. A native of New York, Chernofsky taught Jewish studies and math at Yeshiva of Central Queens before making aliyah in 1981. In an interview this week he reflected on his 20-year tenure as editor of Torah Tidbits.
"It started with the idea that a full-length dvar Torah is too much for many people to handle," Chernofsky said. "What they need is a tidbit, a chatif [snack], a cracker with chopped liver. If you can reduce lessons about Judaism to that size then it can be more enjoyable to people."
According to Chernofsky, 64, one objective of Torah Tidbits is to engage readers who may be intimidated by Torah study. "I believe very much in the concept 'the ways of the Torah are pleasant,'" he said. To that end, every issue includes a clip-art puzzle for families to solve together, recipes, and statistics about the weekly portion. (This week's portion, B'chukotai from the book of Leviticus, contains 12 mitzvot, 78 p'sukim and the longest shlishi [third aliyah] in the Torah at 37 p'sukim. )
Over the years, Chernofsky has not been afraid to court controversy in the pages of Torah Tidbits. For the issue timed to Independence Day last month, he expressed his opinion in the lead "tidbit" that no one, not even the ultra-Orthodox, should be exempt from service in the Israel Defense Forces. "Obviously that's a hot topic today and I gave reasons for it and got a lot of positive feedback," he said.
Rabbi Raymond Apple, emeritus rabbi of the Great Synagogue in Sydney, is a regular contributor to Torah Tidbits. In the 1,000th issue he wrote: "Torah Tidbits is one of the great success stories of the OU in Israel and has helped to make the OU the address of choice for English-speaking Orthodox Jewry."
Torah Tidbits is the most substantive English-language "parsha pamphlet" in Israel, according to Rabbi Avi Berman, executive director of the OU Center - though he described the publication's success as improbable. "The graphics are nothing to write home about, the layout is nothing to write home about," Rabbi Berman said. "You have to go schlep it yourself. It's the most incredible thing."
All of the costs associated with printing and distributing Torah Tidbits are covered by advertising, Chernofsky said. He added: "It's very time-consuming for us, but it's a labor of love. I hope it strikes a resonant chord in many people's hearts."
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