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B'siyata d'shmaya - With the help of Heaven


Torah Is Alive, Well, and Growing on the Internet

9 November 2003

Editorial by S. Alfassa for the World Sephardi News Service (WSNS)

It seems 5764 will be the year of explosive Torah growth on the Internet. No, not the traditional text essays, commentary and articles you can already find daily, but an explosion of interactive audio lectures. From South America to Canada and the South Pacific to the Mediterranean, Jews are turning on and tuning in to Torah over the Internet. Though many are Jews with a solid foundation in their faith, many are secular and just learning.

Audio, live broadcasts with participant interaction over the Internet has been for some years an untapped resource, but in the last two years it has come to the forefront of education. What makes it really wonderful is it doesn't matter if you are experienced in Gemara, or just starting to read Humash, there is something for everyone through an audio platform known as Paltalk.

The catalyst for this technology is a 39 year old Jewish man from Long Island. New York's own Jason Katz, an attorney and entrepreneur who developed Paltalk audio in 1998. Paltalk is an audio chat service which has hundreds of topics from food, to politics to hobbies. At any given time on Paltalk hundreds of thousands of people are speaking to one another-free of charge-across the globe. One of the most popular sections is religion. Inside this section you will find Judaism, and there you will find a virtual online Jewish community.

What has the Jewish world buzzing with excitement is that an increasing number of yeshivot are going online, offering shirum around the clock. Though you get all types of Jews (as well as the occasional non-Jew or self-professing friendly Noahide) the entire section is a Torah-true environment. The rabbis who speak come from an orthodox perspective and teach kosher Torah! Anyone can open up a room and talk, but more and more rooms are being purchased on Paltalk's premium business service by Jewish organizations. These are advertisement-free rooms open 24/6 solely for Torah education.

Recently the Yeshiva Hatefutsoth, the first yeshiva for baal teshuva students founded on Mt. Zion in 1967 purchased a permanent presence in the Paltalk Judaism section. Now with Paltalk, no matter where in the world students are they can listen in and participate in shirum from the beit midrash in Jerusalem. On Friday you can tune in and listen to the Rosh Yeshiva, Rabbi Mordechai Goldstein giving a shiur from inside the Kever David HaMelech (Tomb of King David) in Jerusalem. The Rosh Yeshiva stated he sees Torah education through Paltalk as a way to fulfill the prophecy, "...for out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem."

Paltalk's Judaism section is moderated by two highly educated Jewish volunteers, Uri and Ephraim, who are founders of the respected anti-missionary organization known as Messiah Truth. Their group has developed original counter-missionary lectures and training, which are taught by Israeli and American Hebrew scholars, professors and Orthodox rabbis. The Messiah Truth room, the most popular room in the Judaism section, has brought many Jews back who had strayed to foreign religions. They are a huge success, even bringing Monsey's famous counter-missionary Rabbi Tovia Singer on as a regular broadcaster.

From Sephardim to Ashkenazim and from Hassidim of all branches, Paltalk allows Jews space to speak, teach the words of Hashem, and bring many lost Jews home. A most popular room on Paltalk is the late Sunday night Kabbalah lesson with Sephardi Rabbi Bar Tzadok of Chicago. He pulls no punches telling people what Kabbalah truly is from a Torah perspective-and how it's being exploited by Hollywood stars and their friends who open Kabbalah centers. Since last year the Breslov Hassidim have come on board, a large group of Israeli sabra yeshiva students, and graduates of Hadar Hatorah on Eastern Parkway in Brooklyn. On Saturday night, the motsi Shabbat Virtual Farbrengen room is open by the Lubavitch community. It's a room to ask questions, wish each other a Shavua Tov and listen to the latest in religious music. Hassidic stories are told, and people generally come there to have a good time.

Rabbi Fishel of Lakewood, New Jersey who organized Shema Yisrael Torah Network, recently opened a permanent presence on Paltalk. Fishel is best known for his Shulchan Aruch Learning Project which is endorsed by Israeli former chief rabbis Israel Lau and Ovadia Yossef. His organization which is based in Beit Vegan, Jerusalem operates one of the largest Torah-true Internet sites. Through the new Paltalk Shema Yisrael room, his staff of rabbi-educators will be providing shirum across the globe.

Each rabbi has a unique way of bringing the Torah to life. Rabbi Calev Kaplan has a smooth accented voice which broadcasts late into the night over Paltalk from the hills of Gush Etzion in a most eloquent manner. Rabbi David Botton of South Florida who teaches at Aish HaTorah and runs the Jewish education website TeachItToMe.com brings the words of Hashem to Paltalk in an interactive and exciting way.

Prior to online teaching, where did most secular Jews go to learn more about Judaism-to non Torah-true organizations, mostly liberal establishments, where they might not have been taught the truth. Now Jews even with little experience in learning can feel comfortable getting the truth about their own religion, and feel confident they are welcome to participate. It's difficult for a secular Jew to walk into an orthodox synagogue and start to learn from scratch, but here Jews in large numbers are learning, then going out to find their local orthodox shul! They are not learning Judaism from someone who spent $20,000 and three years in a classroom to purchase the title rabbi, they are learning from kosher teachers who grew up living as Jews, who have studied all their lives and have gone to respected Yeshivot.

In this world where we hear the Internet produces only evil, it is difficult to justify to those who might not be familiar with it. There are too many to name, but a short list of bios of some of the rabbis of this new electronic medium will help to paint a picture of the scope of the Torah education that is ongoing, and is in qualified and trusted hands. Paltalk Judaism teachers include: Rabbi Dr. Mordechai Goldstein, a musmach of Rabbi Henoch Lebovitch from the Chofetz Chaim Yeshiva; Rabbi Efraim Sprecher a student of Rabbi Yaakov Kamenetsky and former Professor of Judaic studies at Touro College in New York; Rabbi Emanuel Gentilcore of Jerusalem who was ordained by the Chief Rabbi of Jerusalem; Rabbi Mordecai Kornfeld is founder and Rosh Kollel of Kollel Iyun Hadaf, has been teaching Torah in Israel for over ten years; Rabbi Mordechai Ackerman who was ordained after 14 years as a student of the Sage and Rabbi Yisrael Gustman of Vilna; Rabbi Eliezer Schwartz received his smicha from Yeshivas Rabenu Yitzchak Elchanan at the hands of Rabbi Samuel Belkin, Rabbi Moshe Stazkes (Lomzer Rav) and Rabbi Yosef Ber Soloveitchik; Rabbi Aaron Lankry who was born in Morocco, and raised in New York. He received ordination from the Chief Rabbinate in Israel. He was the Rabbi at Ohel Leah in Hong Kong, and started the Menorah Academy in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. Rabbi Lankry received his Ph.D. in Rabbinic Studies at Bais Medresh Gevoha in Lakewood, New Jersey, and is currently he is the Chief Rabbi at Kehilla Edmond J. Safra Synagogue in Aventura, Florida. These are only a selected list of the rabbinical staff which participate on Paltalk.

Audio Torah lessons over the Internet are here-and they are here to stay. An incredible amount of new people sign-on each day, and it's a tremendous mitsvah to participate either as a talmid or as a teacher. The Internet does not discriminate between the learned and the learning. It gives anyone with a computer access a chance to be a part of an educational event. The Internet is a tool from Hashem which when used properly can bring many lost Jews home. It gives many Jews the first chance at seeing the unbiased truth of their Torah.