The Torah is going from out of Zion further and faster than ever via the world’s first fully interactive online yeshivah.
Having just entered its second semester, the Web Yeshiva enables students to join a live online shiur (Torah lesson), interacting with the teacher and fellow pupils through webcams. Advanced conferencing technology allows them to see the study texts on one part of the screen.
“We’re able to reach students all over the world from Alaska to New Zealand,” says Rabbi Chaim Brovender, the Israel-based principal and instigator of the project. “We also have regulars in Santa Fe, New Mexico. We’re getting to people who might otherwise not have access to learning.”
Rabbi Brovender’s name is well-known on the yeshivah scene. As the founder of Yeshivat Hamivtar in Efrat and its sister institution for girls, Midreshet Lindenbaum, he was responsible for training many Anglo-Jewish leaders over the last 30 years, including several rabbis. He was one of the first Orthodox rabbis publicly to teach Talmud to women.
The inclusive approach of the yeshivah is designed to welcome both experienced learners and those new to formal Torah studies. Most of the classes are taught in English.
“There’s no hierarchy at the Web Yeshiva,” says Michael Laitner, assistant rabbi at South Hampstead Synagogue. “Accessing a shiur from a computer is a big draw, and the technology is great. I finally began to get just how real a virtual experience could be. It’s also very convenient.”
Classes are available from four in the morning till 12 at night, enabling access across every time zone. Students are encouraged to complement the shiurim with chevruta study, learning with a partner, and are able to transcend geographical limitations. “Despite the virtual nature of the study,” says Rabbi Laitner, “I feel a good sense of camaraderie with the other students.”
Rabbi Brovender reflects: “Many people can’t go to yeshivah or seminary. They can’t be involved in ongoing Torah learning because it’s not available to them with their schedules. This breaks the mould.”
Jonathan Hasleton is a former student of Rabbi Brovender and a cardiology registrar at Wythenshaw Hospital in Manchester. “I think it’s fantastic,” he says, “and I enjoy going into the archives. Keeping up a regular learning schedule is difficult once you’ve left yeshivah, but this makes it so much easier.”
A class for a term costs $75 (£38) to join and there is the offer of a free 14-day trial. There are 100 regular students and plans for a secondary-school programme for teenagers at non-Jewish schools. “They’ll receive a top-notch Jewish education of outstanding quality,” says Rabbi Brovender. “This is just the beginning.”
Rabbi Brovender is due to visit the UK next month, speaking in Edgware over Shavuot and giving a presentation of the yeshivah on June 12. More details from: www.webyeshiva.org