HALACHIPEDIA Where HALACHA meets One young Sephardic scholar is making the in-depth study of practical halachah accessible to Jews of all backgrounds and levels of knowledge.
“The most comprehensive resource of Orthodox halachah online, free and accessible to all.” This is the ambitious goal set by Ike Sultan, a community member hailing from West Orange, NJ, who four years ago founded Halachipedia.com, a vast on-line resource of information regarding halachah and Jewish custom. Featuring over 350 information-packed wiki articles and boasting over 1.6 million (!!) hits, Halachipedia is gradually becoming one of the household names in cutting-edge internet Torah resources.
From Dream to Reality Ike, a graduate of Frisch High School who studied for two years at Yeshivat Shaalvim in Israel, now studies in Yeshiva University where he will soon begin learning for semichah (rabbinical ordination). The proud mastermind and manager of Halachipedia, Ike shared his memories of how the idea was conceived, as well as the initial hesitations that had to be overcome. The process began during his years in Yeshivat Shaalvim, when he began summarizing halachic rulings and uploading them to the internet. These rulings covered a wide range of topics, from Jewish holidays to the laws of tefillin and kiddush to the berachah recited upon seeing a rainbow. He also began recruiting friends to join this effort. Ike would eventually brainstorm with his older brothers about creating something bigger. “We saw how Wikipedia became so popular very quickly,” he recalls, “and we thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be amazing if we could do the same with Halachah? You would be able to just search one website to find any opinion about any Halacha, in English.’” He knew this would be “amazing,” but as a practical matter, the prospect of organizing and translating information about every halachah seemed to be just a pipedream. With the odds seemingly stacked against him, Ike nevertheless remained resolute and decided to follow through with the novel idea. His older brothers, all alumni of Yeshiva University, focused on the programming aspects, while Ike researched and prepared the halachic content. Following the Wikipedia model, Ike conceived of the idea to allow Halachipedia users to become contributors, but only after confirming 32
prospective contributors’ credentials by ascertaining the accuracy and quality of their first submission. This system resulted in a significantly increased flow of information to the website. Later, Ike rounded up more friends to submit, edit and expand the site, including his younger brother, Darren, who presently manages Halachipedia’s publicity.
“An Incredible Experience” Halachipedia has received the support of several prominent rabbinic figures at Yeshiva University, including Rosh Yeshiva Rabbi Mordechai Willig, and Rabbi Dr. Sol Roth, Chair in Talmud and Contemporary Halacha at YU-affiliated Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary (RIETS). As part of the project, Ike composes and posts weekly one-page summaries of halachic rulings of the RIETS Roshei Yeshiva. “Being able to ask Rabbi Willig or [RIETS Rosh Yeshiva] Rabbi [Hershel] Schachter questions all the time is an incredible experience for me!” the young scholar enthuses. Ike sees this ambitious undertaking as fulfilling the religious obligation to enable fellow Jews to learn Torah. He focused his attention specifically on the area of practical halachah, which he says he finds “extremely interesting, exciting, complex, and infused with deep spiritual meaning.” The spiritual significance and import of this project presents not only an exciting opportunity, but also a great challenge and responsibility. The sheer magnitude of this undertaking requires the participation of large numbers of Jews, and the Sultan brothers thus decided to utilize the open code wiki platform. But while this enables and encourages qualified students and scholars of Torah to share their knowledge, it also raises the specter of erroneous information being presented as accurate halachah. In order to avoid such errors, Ike and his brothers work laboriously to monitor all contributions to ensure their accuracy and the qualifications of their authors. Ike cautions that Halachipedia, which is not under the supervision of a rabbi, is certainly not intended as a substitute for personal rabbinic consultation. “We definitely still want people to go and talk to their rabbis and ask questions,” he says, “because every halachic question is nuanced and very possibly differs from the standard case mentioned on our site.” He urges users to treat the website just as they would a printed halachic work. “Halachipedia functions like any other work of halachah out there - it just offers information, except that it is constantly growing and improving.”