Daniel Hoch is a dentist based out of Harford County. When he’s not plying his day job, however, he’s honing his intellect through weekly study of Torah, Talmud and Judaism.
Hoch is a first-generation American — his mother was a Holocaust survivor from Germany, and his father survived the ghetto in Budapest before coming to the United States. Raised in Rockville, Md., Hoch spent a gap year in Israel after high school and fell in love with the country. He wanted to make aliyah right away, but his parents insisted he go to college first. A few years later, Hoch arrived in Israel with a degree in agriculture. He served in the Israeli army and worked as a dairy farmer on a kibbutz.
Hoch eventually decided he wanted to further his studies and decided on dental school. He came back to the U.S. and moved to Baltimore, where his sister lived.
Now, Hoch is firmly entrenched in the local area: His wife is a Baltimore native, and his two children are Krieger Schechter graduates. And once again, he’s furthering his studies.
How did your Torah study group originate?
It started by being friends with a man my wife had gone to Israel with when she was 16, Maury Garten, the upcoming chair of the JCC. As a part of his preparation to become a Jewish professional lay leader, he had asked people at Etz Chaim to find someone to help him learn Torah. Rabbi Nitzan Bergman was the executive director there at the time, so he and Maury had started studying Pirkei Avot.
Maury asked if I would like to study Torah with them, and I was interested. We ended up forming a study group for professionals and executives. Now, sometimes it’s at my table Sundays, sometimes at Maury’s table. We’ve been doing it for five or six years now. I’m a dentist, Maury is a lawyer, there’s another lawyer and an orthodontist too.
How do you determine what you will be studying each day?
Sometimes it’s Talmud, sometimes it’s Torah, sometimes it’s the 613 commandments. We have evolved over the years. In the beginning, we studied actual Talmud in Aramaic. To translate from Aramaic to Hebrew to English was such a burden, we took that and evolved it into discussion of general Judaism at a deeper level.
The book we’ve been going through for the past two years is the 613 commandments as this [particular] author broke them down. Any one commandment has so many cross references that you get into Torah and commentary as well. Sometimes a certain holiday comes up and we’ll veer into that. Or a life event such as losing a loved one will get us into Jewish rituals and customs. Often, Rabbi Bergman comes prepared and guides us, but it’s a give and take.
Why does Torah study appeal to you?
Once you’ve mastered your profession, you still need intellectual stimulation and you want to be with your peer group. Every chevrusas that is stable, these are your friends, so at the same time as you get to kibbitz with them, you’re studying what people all over the world study now and you have this sense of connection to your past. That’s the whole thing.
As I got older, I got a little bit more observant as well. From personal experience, Israel is a much more supportive environment [for Judaism] — it is not laborious, it just happens through osmosis. It exposed me to non-Ashkenazi Judaism. Growing up in Rockville, especially at the time when I did, you only saw what you saw. I didn’t grow up speaking Hebrew, so learning it certainly gave me that connection. I can have a great conversation. It opens doors; there’s a sense of connection.
What’s been your favorite study?
It was in the beginning, the first few months when we studied real Talmud in Aramaic. It is just such an intellectually stimulating and challenging study. It forces you to see multiple permutations. It is no wonder that so many Jewish professionals are attorneys. Even the ability to sit and focus, it really hones your intellectual abilities. It’s very hard to do. It’s like trying to drink water from a fire hydrant. With Torah, that’s how it is. You need to just jump in and do it.