By Rabbi Elchanan Poupko
Jewish schools need to teach their students how to use the internet as a Judaic resource. There is no Jewish knowledge that can be imparted to students that is not available to them on the internet. In fact, many of the things that can be taught to adults already exist in cyberspace.
Today’s education is not about knowledge; it is about skill. One of those foundational skills preparing children for the world they will live in is helping them navigate a web of almost infinite knowledge. Therefore, Jewish schools must take the time to teach Jewish students the vital skill of navigating the internet for Judaic answers, or as some call it: asking “Rabbi Google.”
With the vast amount of knowledge in cyberspace, children need to know how to find what they want — what platforms of knowledge are appropriate and helpful, and which ones are not; when you can ask “Rabbi Google,” and when you may want to ask an actual person. As an adult who considers himself proficient in Judaic knowledge, I often find it shocking when I see how hard this may be. When searching for a d’var Torah on the weekly parshah I will often find a site that is not clear if it is a Christian ministry’s site or an Orthodox one.
When looking for information on matters of Jewish law it is often hard to discern between a site that is dedicated to informative presentations and that which is more commercial and agenda driven. Jewish kids must be taught in a supervised way how to find the answers to the questions they are looking for, and that those answers are available online. Rabbi Google is available at all times.
Furthermore, I had the pleasure of introducing my students to various online tools that empower them as young Jews and which can be with them for the rest of their lives. Websites such as Chabad’s Jewish birthday online calculator; Bat and Bar Mitzvah calculators; the vital information about the Holocaust and the world that was lost on Yad Vashem’s site; MyZmanim, which tells you the Jewish times of the day; the Kosher GPS app that shows the locations of kosher restaurants in your vicinity; Brachot.org, which tells you the blessing for any given food; Sefaria.org, containing almost every Jewish text; and a host of other sites are vital to living as a Jew in the 21st century.
Schools are there to prepare children for the real world. Nothing prepares Jewish children for the 21st century as much as showing them what online resources are available to them no matter where they are.
The Torah mandates in the Book of Exodus that the poles used to carry the Ark of the Covenant must never be removed — even when it is parked. The poles that are meant to keep the Ark portable must be in position even during the times in history in which the Ark is stationed for more than 300 years. Commentaries explain that this is to teach us the need for the Torah to be ready to travel to wherever the Jewish people go, at any time, without warning.
The German poet Heinrich Hine referred to the Torah as “the portable homeland of the Jews.” We need to make sure that Jewish education is adapted for the 21st century and that Jewish children and teens, who spend much of their lives in cyberspace, know that the good tents of Jacob, are there for them whenever and wherever they are.
Much of today’s world lives in cyberspace. Judaism should not be left out of it. Young Jews should be taught to properly navigate what is rightfully theirs.
Rabbi Elchanan Poupko is a teacher and bipartisanship activist. His recent TEDx talk, “The High Price of Political Polarization,” focused on the impact polarization has on society.