bAhk. ltalitU tdRIM
Rigorous, innovative e-mail course accommodates learners with other careers.
Talmud in Yeshiva University and in private groups.
But they had never delved into the classic rabbinic
legal texts of the Tiff, Beit Yosef; Shulchan Aruch, and
all the attendant commentaries.
Similarly, Rabbi Yitzchak Gross, a financial direc-
tor of a Philadelphia non-profit organization, had
spent time studying in an Israel yeshivah. He, too,
had never had the opportunity to properly tackle the
ARI Z. ZIVOTOFSKY
Special to the Jewish News
recently attended a 21st-century religious expe-
rience. It was the second ordination convoca-
tion for the Internet rabbinic training program.
And, no, it does not only train rabbis who will
officiate over the Net.
By now, we should be used to the
idea that just about everything is
available over the Internet. But when
I heard about smichah (rabbinic ordi-
nation) being offered over the
Internet I was more than a little
incredulous and decided I had to
When I contacted the instructor, for-
mer Detroiter Rabbi Daniel Channen, I
was told that my timing was perfect —
the second group of graduates, 20 in all,
had just arrived in Israel for their final
exams and ordination ceremony. I was
invited to attend and meet the new rab-
bis and their instructors.
Traditionally, rabbinic ordination
means an established rabbi has attested
that a particular student has reached a .
sufficient mystery of certain legal texts
and is now qualified to rule in matters
of halachah (Jewish law). The teacher
would issue such a document only after
knowing the student sufficiently well to
Teacher Rabbi Daniel Channen and two recently ordained students,
attest to both his personal qualities and
Rabbi Dr. Yisroel Landa and Rabbi Yitzchak Gross.
to his store of knowledge. I was looking
forward to seeing how this tradition was
legal codes, something he has now done with his
being implemented in the Internet-age.
study partner, his son, a university student.
Unlike what one may have suspected, this
The program is the brainchild of Rav Fischel Todd
Orthodox ordination is not a "mail-order" degree.
of Lakewood, N.J., through the Shema Yisrael
The program is serious and rigorous. It is intended
Internet Torah Network. Trained as a lawyer, he rec-
for people who have already spent years studying in a
ognized that many Jews around the world are inter-
traditional yeshivah, but who then pursued other
ested in studying halacha from the original texts, have
careers without having mastered the specific legal
the background and skills necessary, but, due to other
texts usually required to be called "rabbi."
obligations, are unable to attend regular classes. Most
Rabbi Dr. Yisroel Landa is an anesthesiologist
of these people have Internet access. He began by
from Teaneck, NJ. He and his study partner, a cardi-
offering Internet courses in such areas as the laws of
ologist, also from Teaneck, had spent years studying
Shabbat. It eventually progressed to the point where
Ari Zivotofsky is a writer living in Beit Shemesh,
they were ready to offer systematic lectures in Yoreh
Dr. Don i Zivo tofslcy
Israel, who teaches at Bar-Ilan University.
Deah (the basics of a traditional smicha program) that
could lead to ordination.
Ex-Detroiter Devises Courses
The "teacher" for those courses is Rabbi Channen.
Originally from Detroit, he has lived in Israel for the
past 20 years and currently lives with his wife and
nine children in Ramat Beit Shemesh. For the past 17
years, he has served as an expert in these
laws and has given classes to hundreds
He writes the Internet smicha classes
in English, but they are based on and
closely linked to the original Hebrew
and Aramaic texts. They are e-mailed to
the participants twice weekly. The stu-
dents must then study them in depth,
usually with a study partner. Any ques-
tions can be e-mailed to Rabbi
Channen who, according to the stu-
dents I talked to, responds to all
inquiries. Thus, a true teacher-student
relationship is developed between the
Israeli-based teacher and students
throughout the world.
The program tries to incorporate
many aspects of a traditional program.
Prior to acceptance, the student must
pass a preliminary interview and present
letters from rabbis who know them and
can attest to their character and reli-
The core of the learning is done with
a study partner using the e-mailed class-
es and the traditional texts. Home-based
exams are e-m ailed at regular intervals. After approxi-
mately a year and half, the students were invited to
Jerusalem for a final written exam on all of the mate-
rial as well as face-to-face exams/interviews with the
The week of Jerusalem-based events culminated in
a graduation banquet in which those who passed were
presented with beautiful signed certificates. Those
who desire may proceed to take the exams of the
Israeli chief rabbinate or other private exams, such as
one of last year's graduates who recently passed an
exam by the chief rabbi of Haifa.
The level of instruction appears to be of a relative-
ly high caliber, as evidenced by the demand for its use