Friday, January 5, 1996 | return to: national


Tune into Torah anywhere, via e-mail, fax or post

by TERESA STRASSER, Bulletin Staff

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With the touch of a button, Torah interpretations are zapped to 1,700 readers in homes and offices from New York to Los Angeles.

It's an audience that no single rabbi could hope to muster, but the creators of Learn Torah With (LTW), a little more than year-old publication, have technology on their side.

Using fax machines, e-mail and, in rare cases, the U.S. Postal Service (known to online aficionados as "snail mail"), LTW sends out three pages of materials designed to spark discussion on the week's Torah portion.

"It's three-dimensional Torah -- the stuff we're doing comes from all kinds of points of view," says Joel Lurie Grishaver of Torah Aura, the Los Angeles-based Jewish electronic publication company that publishes LTW. "The technology allows all kinds of people to contribute simultaneously."

The publication, which costs between $75 to $135 a year, depending on how it's transmitted, includes a Torah-portion synopsis, two interpretations of the Torah portion written by Jewish scholars and a special section for readers' comments.

LTW is co-edited by Grishaver and Rabbi Stuart Kelman, of Congregation Netivot Shalom in Berkeley.

When asked what fax machines and e-mail have to do with Torah, Kelman stresses that technology is simply another tool to promote Jewish learning, one that makes Torah more accessible to lay people.

It also gives lay people a chance to create and publish their own Torah interpretations. "The response has been wonderful," says Kelman, "often providing true gems of Torah learning."

One example is Scott Moskowitz, 11, of Agoura, who had this observation regarding a passage in Genesis: "Why would God create people with the capacity to do evil? To complete things. Otherwise, it would be like making the spaghetti without adding the sauce."

Alongside readers like Moskowitz, the journal features a lineup of nationally known scholars, including authors Chaim Potok, Rabbi Harold Kushner and Rabbi Arthur Waskow. Religious leaders and university professors round out the educational journal's electronic faculty.

Kelman and Grishaver are so impressed with the first year's commentaries, both from readers and regular contributors, that they are planning to publish a book of LTWs this month. The publishers say highlights of "The 5755 Torah Annual" include protracted debates on homosexuality and the use of God's name, as well as exceptional bar mitzvah speeches and wedding sermons submitted by readers.

According to Kelman, the commentaries are meant to be shared. Each subscriber has the right to copy the fax nine times -- "that's a minyan," he says -- but any more than that, and he would hope they would purchase additional subscriptions.

The more readers and contributors the journal gets, the richer its contents will be, says Grishaver.

"This is `polydoxical' learning. In other words, we have Reform, Orthodox, Conservative, secular, feminist, Chassidic. We've been able to create a multidenomination, multigenerational learning forum."

For information on Learn Torah With, call (800) BE-TORAH.


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