WEST HARTFORD – When Jewish educator Galya Greenberg wanted to learn about the commandment of pidyon shvuyeem, redeeming captives, she decided to go the modern route: she went online.
She enrolled in a seminar at WebYeshiva.org, a program of the Academy for Torah Initiatives and Directions in Jewish Education (ATID), founded in 1999 by Rabbis Chaim Brovender and Jeffrey Saks. WebYeshiva uses online video conferencing to bring students into real-time, interactive classes taught by rabbis and educators throughout the world.
“With the accessibility of WebYeshiva, and the offering of courses on numerous topics and at various levels, there is no excuse not to continue learning and growing as an adult Jew!” Greenberg says.
Greenberg is community coordinator of Chai Mitzvah, a national lifecycle-celebration program for Jewish adults, piloted in the greater Hartford Jewish community.
In the first session, the rabbi-educator reviewed the rabbinic literature related to the subject, posting those texts via WebEx web-conferencing technology and as downloadable files.
“The source material was from the original Hebrew texts, and the teacher did an excellent job of putting each text into its historical context, as well as giving us basic information about the authors,” Greenberg says. “The basic conflicts in the issue of pidyon shvuyeem are how to redeem a captive without emboldening the kidnappers to do it again, thereby putting the entire community at greater risk; and the question, what is ‘reasonable’ ransom? Again, paying an exorbitant ransom might embolden the kidnappers and put the greater community at continued risk.”
A week later, the second session featured Ambassador Dore Gold, advisor to Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, discussing the issue of pidyon shvuyeem in terms of Israelis being taken hostage, both in general and in the specific case of Gilad Shalit. Both sessions were interactive and included participants’ questions and comments.
“Through the seminar, I gained both a greater knowledge of specific rabbinic texts as well as their application to a current dilemma,” Greenberg says.
Earlier this year, WebYeshiva designed a course for students with special needs, adding an American Sign Language interpreter to its course on Shabbat cooking laws, so as to include deaf and hearing-impaired students. The class is taught by Rabbi Gavriel Pransky and signed by an ASL interpreter, who both appear in a video box.
“Our new course on Jewish law that accommodates deaf and hearing-impaired students is a testimony to the doors technology can open for people with special needs,” says Rabbi Yedidya Rausman, WebYeshiva.org founding director. “Now students with special needs can attend the same courses as other students and get the same Jewish education. WebYeshiva.org is proud to be one of the first Jewish online Torah study programs to offer courses to students with special needs.”
JerusalemOnlineU.com is another online source for Jewish and Israel studies. “Israel Inside/Out” is a new course designed for high-school students, in partnership with the Jewish National Fund and The David Project.
The course teaches the history, politics, and current events of Israel and addresses the complexities of the Middle East conflict from both the Israeli and Palestinian perspectives.
The course presents the history, politics, and current events of Israel, taught by leading Middle East experts including Sir Martin Gilbert, Prof. Alan Dershowitz, Prof. Bernard Lewis, and Ambassador Dore Gold.
Developed in response to the antisemitic and anti-Zionist rhetoric on many U.S. college campuses, the course is intended to reach students before they enter university, in order to provide them with the information they need to counter verbal attacks against Israel. It is based on a course of the same title, developed for college students and adult learners.
In addition to “Israel Inside/Out,” JerusalemOnlineU.com adult-education courses also include “Judaism 101,” a survey of religious, spiritual, and historical perspectives on Judaism; and “Positive Psychology and Judaism,” taught by Ivy League professor Dr. Tal Ben-Shahar, which combines groundbreaking discoveries in the growing field of Positive Psychology with ancient Jewish wisdom. High-school students can earn three college credits through Touro College for either “Israel Inside/Out” or “Positive Psychology and Judaism.