April cyberspace column
The Electronic Yeshiva
by James Besser
SITE: Project Genesis
HOW TO GET THERE: For information on all Genesis E-mail services
and instructions on how to subscribe, send an e-mail message from
your Internet account or account on a commercial service like
America Online to: firstname.lastname@example.org
In the old country, the study house was likely to be a dark,
musty place with rudimentary furnishings--the anthesis of high
But in this information age, rabbis and scholars are using
cyberspace--that great, uncharted, planet-spanning web of
computer networks--to reach a much broader audience for serious
Project Genesis, a New York-state based group devoted to
reaching out to Jewish college students, has led the way in the
development of the cyber-yeshiva. Their primary tool for creating
this electronic miracle is a collection of eleven Internet
mailing lists--electronic publications distributed automatically
to subscribers with Internet access, or accounts on commercial
on-line services like America Online (AOL).
Each Genesis list is a "class," taught by a real, live Jewish
scholar; each edition is the equivalent of a detailed lecture on
a specific subject, or an electronic dialogue between teacher
A sampling from the Genesis E-mail lineup:
Baltimoreans may be especially interested in one Genesis list: the
RavFrand mailing list provides transcriptions of the weekly Parsha
class of Rabbi Yissachar Frand of the Ner Israel Rabbinical
- Genesis: a general list for Genesis announcements, as
well as discussion of the weekly Torah portion.
- Torah-Forum: a general list for the discussion of the
traditional Jewish perspective on any topic under the
- DvarTorah: here subscribers write their own
commentaries on the weekly Torah portion--and distribute
- Gossip: No, it's not a list for trading information on
Julia Roberts' love life. Instead, teacher Ellen Solomon
teaches about the Jewish attitude towards Loshon Hora--
the evil tongue.
- Halacha-Yomi: Easy-to-understand translations of the
Code of Jewish Law, and appropriate commentaries.
- Maharal: The Sayings of the Fathers, a study of the
commentary of Rabbi Yehuda Loewe (the Maharal), a 16th
Century Jewish philosopher.
Genesis has attracted more than 2000 subscribers worldwide.
"Living here in Montivideo, Uruguay I sure can use contact with
the outside world," one subscriber wrote recently. "I can learn
Torah from this end of the globe while I wait for things to happen
at home and at work."
Rabbi Yitzchak Etshalom, principal of SAJS (the community Hebrew
High School) in Pittsburgh and a professional storyteller, is
teaching a new Genesis course on Maimonides' Mishneh Torah, or
"Review" of the entire body of Jewish Law.
The Rambam list, he said, is aimed at "interested and motivated
students. I assume that of the 450-plus subscribers, quite a few
are relative neophytes."
Texts are posted in English; Hebrew terms are transliterated and
translated for the benefit of the novices who are a prime target
The biggest advantage of the Internet yeshiva is the obvious one,
he said--its vast reach. And subscribers study the messages in the
privacy of their own homes; as a result, Genesis is able to reach
some Jews who might be intimidated by the prospect of revealing
their ignorance in a traditional shul.
The biggest downside is also obvious: the lack of face-to-face
contact that provides real-time input for teacher and student
"So far, you can't do that (on the net)," Rabbi Etshalom said.
"But we're working on it."
Project Genesis is also working on new lists, which seem to appear
almost monthly. The group is also expanding its World Wide Web
"home page"--a central Internet location that allows users to
browse through the group's offerings and select lists to join.
More on using the Web in next month's column..
Project Genesis Publicity