Erin Levi

A chorus of passionate voices echoed through the halls of the Yusupov Beit Midrash study hall. Michael Nektalov, his brow furrowed in concentration, debated a passage of Talmud with his study partner, Naftali Rosenbaum. This wasn’t your typical library scene – voices rose and fell as they argued their interpretations, a lively exchange fueled by centuries of scholarship.
After a year of study, Michael Nektalov, diamond jewelry expert and designer, completed an entire tractate of the Talmud, tractate Megillah (Masechet Megillah in Hebrew), in June. He dedicated this study to the memory of his father Eduard Nektalov, whose 20th anniversary of passing fell on June 6, 2024. He took on this challenge around the same time last year, aiming to finish in time for the anniversary.
This was Nektalov’s first time studying a tractate. He diligently met every Monday and Wednesday with his study partner, Naftali Rosenbaum from Borough Park.
Rosenbaum suggested, «Would you like to take on this plan to study this tractate in memory of your father?» Nektalov agreed, and together, they devised a plan to finish right around the time of his father’s yahrzeit. «This [studying a tractate] is normally something that’s done for the Neshama (soul) of a loved one that passes,» said Nektalov.
Dedication is key. If something came up, or one of them was traveling, they would always make up the study session over zoom. Otherwise, they met in person at the Yusupov Beit Midrash study hall on 110th Street and 70th Avenue under Rabbi Nissan Yusupov.

Chavruta Study Program

Rosenbaum established a chavruta (study partner) system for learning the Talmud, which he introduced to the the Bukharian Jewish Community a couple of years ago. These are volunteers who travel from Borough Park to Bukharian Jewish neighborhoods — Briarwood, Fresh Meadows, Jamaica Estates, Rego Park, and Forest Hills— to meet with their groups or partners and study. Currently, about 400 people are part of the chavruta program. The service is totally free. And the BJCC is one of the hosts.
«Study» is almost a euphemism. When you enter the room of one of these study halls, the decibels will rise as you encounter what appears to be men «arguing.»
«Unlike a college library where everyone is whispering, this is completely different—it’s very loud,» said Nektalov. «It’s actually heavily encouraged to discuss and go back and forth and to try to prove themselves. It’s almost like arguing but arguing to get to the truth and the bottom line. It gets intense. No one says, ‘You’re distracting me.’»

Having a study partner is key in staying on track and keeping you accountable. «It’s like a gym buddy,» said Nektalov. «There are days when you’re feeling tired or lazy, and your gym buddy comes and says, ‘I’m coming. Let’s get up and do this.’ When you’re learning by yourself, it’s not the same as when you’re dealing with a partner.»

The Megillah Tractate

The Talmudic tractate Megillah, part of the Order of Moed, focuses on the Jewish festivals, particularly the celebration of Purim and the reading of the Book of Esther. It covers key topics such as the rules and regulations for the public reading of the Megillah, including who is obligated to hear it, appropriate times for reading, and the correct manner of reading. Additionally, it delves into the various observances of Purim, including the sending of food gifts (Mishloach Manot), giving charity to the poor (Matanot La’Evyonim), and the festive meal (Seudat Purim).
Beyond Purim, the tractate also outlines synagogue practices, such as the reading of the Torah and other scriptures during different holidays and the layout of the synagogue. It provides guidelines on translating the Megillah into different languages and discusses the permissibility of various translations. The tractate further offers historical insights into the events described in the Book of Esther, providing a comprehensive guide to Purim observance and related synagogue practices, blending legal and narrative traditions in Jewish law.


When you finish a tractate, Nektalov explained, you’re supposed to have a celebration called a «siyum,» which means the completion of Torah study. His siyum was hosted on June 6, 2024, at Da Mikelle – Troyka restaurant. About 65 community members, friends, and family came to celebrate with him. A few words were said in memory of his father.
«There was good food, good vibes, l’chaim, and nice music,» said Nektalov. A combination of Bukharian and Ashkenazi food was served to accommodate the diversity of the guests, in particular the Hasidim, who traveled down from Borough Park.
Nektalov recalled one particular guest—a man whom his father had visited in the hospital 20 years ago, literally the day before his father tragically passed away. David ‘Dmitri’ Malaev was stabbed on May 18, 2004, by a nutty guy in the park. «On May 19, 2004, My dad visited him in the hospital just to make him feel better,» said Nektalov. «And the words my dad spoke to him gave him hope and motivation to recover. He shared this story at the siyum, as the event was dedicated to my father’s memory.»
Nektalov’s grandfather Rachamin ‘Roman’ Nektalov was also at the siyum. He blessed the massive challah bread. Other notable speakers included Rabbi Vaknin, Rabbi Akilov, and Rabbi Nissan Yusupov, and of course Naftali Rosenbaum.
His nephews and son (Eduard’s grandchildren) were also in attendance.
Gifts were exchanged. Nektalov received a shtender, Yiddish for lectern or bookstand, and gave his partner Rosenbaum a beautifully decorated sterling silver kiddush cup.

A Golden Crown
for Eduard Nektalov

«This was a big honor for my father who is up in heaven,» said Nektalov. «They say when a son does something like this on his father’s memorial day, the Neshama gets an Aliyah (it goes up a level) and his father is gifted a golden crown.»

A Spiritual Benefit to the Community

«I’m interested in inspiring more people in our community to get serious about studying the Talmud on a regular basis,» said Nektalov, who said he gained a lot of confidence after completing his first tractate. Anyone of any religious level can do it.
But this isn’t all about personal growth. «This is a spiritual benefit to our community,» said Nektalov. He recalled a visit to a study hall in New Square, New York, about a one-hour drive from the city. There, at 10 PM, he discovered a massive study hall brimming with people studying the Talmud one-on-one. His guide told him, «This is what protects our community. It’s what brings good fortune to our community. It’s like the heartbeat of the community.»
Nektalov reflected, «So, it’s good that we have this now [in about 16 locations] throughout our Bukharian community in Queens. It’s good that so many people are catching on and participating in this type of learning because it’s really a benefit to everyone that participates – not only the learners, but also their friends, family and neighbors.»

What’s next

When asked about his plans for further study, Nektalov replied, «I already started studying Tractate Sukkah. We have a tradition: once we complete one tractate, we begin a new one immediately.» He plans to finish within another year, continuing his own tradition of honoring his father’s memory and elevating his soul.

For the Chavruta locations and schedule, call 718-889-0648.