Technology in Torah's Service
by Jonathan Rosenblum
February 16, 2005
In recent years, our gedolim have been forced to issue numerous warnings about the dangers posed by various modern technologies. Prior to those warnings, many who were well aware of the dangers posed by those new technologies, nevertheless took the attitude made famous by the National Rifle Association: Guns Don't Kill, Criminals Kill. In other words, the technologies do nothing more than facilitate aveiros by people who have already headed in that direction.
Our gedolim made clear, however, that these new technologies fit into the category enunciated by Chazal when they said, "It's not the mouse that steals, but the hole." These technologies lead people astray with no inclination to being so led. They are not facilitators; they are the cause of destroyed lives. And no one is immune.
But even as we remain ever alert to the dangers posed by new technologies, and steel ourselves against the siren song of convenience and information, we must also give thanks for the ways that other new technologies have been harnessed for the most elevated purposes and are being used to spread Torah throughout the world.
In less than two weeks, we will be celebrating the completion of the 11th cycle of the Daf Yomi. In addition, to the over 50,000 Jews who will gathered in the two main auditoriums in the New York area, another 50,000 or more Jews at 70 different sites around the world will be joining them in the celebration. Not since the days of the Beis HaMikdash, have so many Jews been gathered together to rededicate themselves to Hashem and His Torah.
The ability to bring together over 100,000 Jews in this fashion, with different parts of the program originating from different sites, represents a marvel of modern technology that would have been inconceivable not only when the great Lublin Rosh Yeshiva Rabbi Meir Shapiro first proposed the daf hayomi, but even one or two cycles ago.
The phenomenal growth in the numbers of those learning daf hayomi in recent years has been to a major extent a result of the monumental publication of the Schottenstein Talmud by Mesorah Publications over the past decade and a half. That project would have been virtually unthinkable without the ability to electronically transmit back and forth vast amounts of material between the various scholars working around the world at different levels of the editorial process. And the intricate layout required by the translation and elucidation depends on advanced computer graphics. At the very least, the project would have taken many more years without modern computer technology.
ANOTHER SPUR TO INTEREST in the learning of the daf hayomi has been the ability to access shiurim by the leading maggidei shiurim in the world telephonically at any time of the day or night. Rabbi Eli Teitelbaum's Boro Park neighbors were more than a little curious, and perhaps not too pleased, in 1982 when the telephone company began ripping up the sidewalk near his home in order to bring 200 hundred telephone lines into his basement. Within a short time, thousands were calling daily to hear a shiur or review their learning.
Even in those days, the ability to have hundreds of people listening to the same shiur on audio cassette represented a marvel of technology. But the original set-up, in which the tapes were timed to start on-the-hour seems primitive by today's standards. Today, due to advances in computer technology, one no longer needs to call in on the hour. Nor is the shiur du jour any longer confined to that day's daf. One can call at any time one wants and listen to a shiur on any daf in Shas in Yiddish, Hebrew, or English. Modern computer technology allows the listener to fast forward to any place on the daf where he seeks further clarification, rewind to review any point that he did not fully grasp, and even to place a bookmark in the shiur at precisely the point he stopped listening so that he can resume listening at a later point.
Finally, the ability to store vast quantities of information in small spaces means that Torah Communications Network, sponsors of the original Dial-a-Daf, can ship their full library of daf hayomi shiurim to any other location in the world that wants to set up its own dial-a-daf. Soon the entire Shas will be available on an I-pod that can be slipped into one's shirt pocket.
Once the technology was in place, the scope of the offerings began expanding far beyond the original daf hayomi. Today Torah Communications Network has shiurim available on every aspect of Torah – Chumash, Tanach, Midrash, Mishnayos, Tur, Shulchan Aruch, classic mussar works like Mesillas Yesharim, and Tefillah. Children can even call in to hear story. Every time Rabbi Teitelbaum hears of another set of top quality shiurim or of an inspirational speaker he immediately rushes to add them to his Torah Phone Library.
As a consequence of Torah Communications Network, Jews around the world have instant access to shiurim on every section of Torah from world's greatest maggidei shiurim, such as Rabbi Mechel Silber, who has completed shiurim in Hebrew and Yiddish on almost all of Shas. The insights of some of the greatest speakers and teachers in recent memory who have passed on to the Olam Ha’emes are not lost due to the Torah Phone Library. One can hear, for instance, the great Jerusalem Maggid, Rabbi Shalom Schwadron on every parashah in Chumash.
Great innovations like Dial-a-Daf naturally inspire others to think creatively about ways to take advantage of modern technology to spread Torah. Moshe Smith, who gained international renown when he was tapped to head the Fidelity Magellan Fund, the world's second largest mutual fund, at the age of 28, is one example. Six years later, Smith left the Magellan Fund to move to Israel to learn Torah and devote himself to side investment projects. One of those projects in Russia introduced him to the world of video conferencing. After returning to the United States, following seven years in Israel, Smith began to wonder whether that technology could be used to broadcast Torah shiurim around the world. Torah Conferencing Network is the result.
Everyone in the Torah world knows that Rabbi Yisroel Reisman packs in more than 1,000 listeners for his shiurim on Tanach every Motzaei Shabbos. But until recently, unless one lived in Flatbush, that knowledge came mostly in the form of breathless reports from those fortunate enough to attend regularly. Today, as a consequence of Torah Conferencing Network, those shiurim can be transmitted via satellites to 30 sites around the United States. The same is true of Rabbi Yissachar Frand's weekly Chumash shiurim from Baltimore.
Rabbi Asher Weiss is perhaps Israel's most peripatetic maggid shiur. In addition, to heading one of Jerusalem's most prestigious kollelim, Rabbi Weiss lectures at a different location nearly every night of the week and delivers shiurim across the country, including in the hesder yeshiva of Sderot. His lectures attract Jews from across the Torah spectrum – Chassidic, Litvishe, kippah seruga. Now, through TCN, listeners in the United States will also be able enjoy Rabbi Weiss's unique style.
Torah Conferencing Network is involved in the transmission of the Siyum HaShas and is busy developing special projects, like a three-part pre-Purim series of shiurim by Rabbi David Fohrman of Baltimore. The latter is one example of the potential for new outreach activity opened up by satellite transmission.
Satellite transmission is still in its infancy, but its potential to break down geographical differences is virtually unlimited. Someday any group that wants to hear any Torah educator anywhere in the world will be able to do so. The degree of interest will determine the roster of lecturers.
To create a new site requires only an initial investment of $1,500 in the equipment to receive satellite transmission. Once the equipment is installed, nothing more is required than a screen and someone to plug in the projector. The fee of $85 to cover the cost of satellite transmission for each shiur is recouped from the audience.
These examples of the use of modern technology to spread knowledge of Torah barely scratch the surface of what is being done. And we can be sure that even as we write some fertile Jewish brain is hatching a new technology project le'hagdil Torah ve'lhadira.
Related Topics: World Jewry
receive the latest by email: subscribe to the free jewish media resources mailing list