Torah Café Invites Users to Explore Jewish Themes Online


Torah Café  Invites Users to Explore Jewish Themes Online

by Dvora Lakein - New York

October 28, 2009

(lubavitch.com) In this classroom, you can chew gum and sit with your feet up. And while the teacher is in your living room, your office, and seat 16F on your next flight, you can relax. He isn’t taking attendance.

Launched earlier this month, Torahcafe.com presents a cornucopia of exclusive video lectures in 15 different categories. Many hundreds of videos discuss contemporary issues, Jewish history, mysticism, Talmud and Torah, psychology, and ethics and character development. The lectures are presented by an impressive array of scholars and speakers, all experts in their respective fields. Also included are twelve channels featuring classes of special note and ongoing series that are updated monthly. 

The offerings are many and distinctive.

In honor of the recently inaugurated new year, Rabbi Dr. Abraham J. Twerski presents a compelling look at the importance of Jewish unity, as it relates to personal and communal growth.

Popular orator Rabbi Manis Friedman sits down in a café for a candid interview about Moshiach.

History buffs can learn about the relationship between President George Washington and the 300 Jewish residents of Newport, Rhode Island circa 1790, in a lecture presented by Professor Jonathan Sarna of Brandeis University.

Dr. Chana Silberstein, Chabad representative at Cornell University, leads a class analyzing Rashi's commentary on the Biblical account of Joseph and his brothers, and explores this early commentator's approach to understanding Torah.

Rabbi Chaim Fogelman, rabbinic coordinator at the OK Kosher Laboratories, introduces the first of “Kosher corner,” an all-you-can-eat kosher knowledge buffet.

Torahcafe.com is the newest innovative approach to study introduced by the Rohr Jewish Learning Institute. It is made possible through the vision and generosity of Mr. George Rohr and family, and through the encouragement and leadership of JLI’s chairman, Rabbi Moshe Kotlarsky. 

To date, JLI instructors in 350 cities have taught 180,000 students. And yet, these classes can’t reach everyone, notes executive director Rabbi Efraim Mintz, which makes Torahcafe the perfect next step for JLI, the largest adult Jewish education network in the world. 

Thes site does not “replace the active classroom experience,” explains Mrs. Silberstein, who is also director of curriculum for JLI. “Torahcafe provides high-quality learning that is deep and meaningful. It is certainly a different experience from the live classroom interaction with a teacher, but it is not mutually exclusive,” she says. “The two methods complement each other and suit different needs.”       

Virtual education has become increasingly popular among students who cannot otherwise commit to a set schedule of study. Online universities offer unfixed learning times and locations, allowing students the freedom to choose what, when, and where to learn. In the same vein, Torahcafe taps into the convenience of internet study, introducing the world of Torah study on the student’s own terms by offering accredited online courses.

Rabbi Mendel Kotlarsky directs JNet, a phone-based one-on-one learning program, and is a key member of Torah Café’s steering committee. “Both programs provide students with opportunities for advanced learning at their own pace,” he states. Kotlarsky has watched many of the videos on his own free time, starting from when they were still in Beta form. It is the scope of topics and the selection of speakers, many of whom can be viewed on video only on Torahcafe, which makes this site unique according to Kotlarsky. “They offer classes you can’t find anywhere else.” 

Torahcafe is hosted on massive, powerful servers, enabling 12,000 visitors to watch classes simultaneously. Director Rabbi Levi Kaplan hopes the site will attract 100,000 viewers within this first year. 

Topics are selected by a panel of Jewish educators and can be adjusted, based on the site’s statistics, to suit public interest. “We don’t want to limit our target audience,” insists Kaplan, commenting on the breadth of topics and the organization’s constant search for new material. Torahcafe films new classes on a daily basis and also culls lectures from more than a dozen partner organizations. Some 50 new videos are uploaded to the site each week. 

The colorful, user-friendly site is certainly the wave of the future. And JLI is continuously thinking of ways to further update Torahcafe. Plans are underway for interactive classes and lectures in a wider choice of language (current options include English and Spanish). 

Organizers also hope the site will be used as a springboard for discussions about current events. To that end, they are engaging leading rabbis and experts to provide a Jewish spin on the news, from political debates to important Supreme Court rulings.

Torahcafe’s many features will be unveiled at the upcoming International Conference of Shluchim from November 11th through the 16th. Until then, click here to enjoy one of 200 fascinating lectures. Popcorn’s on the house.

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