This Semester From Jerusalem


Rabbi Zvi Grumet shows up at 2:15 p.m. three times a week to teach his 8:15 a.m. Torah class in Teaneck, N.J.

The administration of the Torah Academy of Bergen County doesn’t mind a bit — Rabbi Grumet does his teaching from Jerusalem.
The rabbi, who served on the faculty of the Modern Orthodox boys’ day school for nine years before making aliyah a year ago, has conducted his Chumash class over the Internet since the start of the fall semester in September. It’s part of the high-tech WebYeshiva project on which he’s working with some “businessmen, educators and tinkerers.”

While he sits in his book-lined office in the Katamon section of Jerusalem, in front of a small camera atop his computer, 10 students log on in the school’s computer room, sitting at individual consoles with notebooks in their laps and headsets on their ears to hear Rabbi Grumet.
The only sounds in the beige-painted room are computers humming, keyboards clicking and students whispering among themselves. The students see the rabbi’s image in a corner of their screen. “I don’t see them,” Rabbi Grumet says. “I miss that very much.”
Although each student’s computer is outfitted with a microphone, they type their questions.

“That’s their choice,” on-screen text over verbal conversations, Rabbi Grumet, 44, says in a telephone interview. “In some sense it’s natural to this generation.”

“I prefer it,” says Ari Michael, an 11th-grader, “because you don’t have to raise your hand” to draw a teacher’s attention. He calls the on-line class “awesome.”

“You’re able to have a class with someone who’s several thousand miles away from you,” he says.

Last year Rabbi Grumet, who is teaching at several institutions in Jerusalem, taught an optional class once a week on-line. He was hired to do the upper-level course on a regular basis because “he’s a master teacher we wanted to have,” says Arthur Poleyoff, TABC’s principal for general studies.

Rabbi Yosef Adler, the rosh yeshiva, says it worked out beautifully. “The kids liked him. It enabled him to maintain a connection with his former students,” Rabbi Adler says. “I don’t know of any other yeshiva high school that has such a program.”
Glitches? Sometimes the Internet connection is lost without warning.

TABC will demonstrate the Internet class during an open house for prospective eighth-grade students and their parents from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 20.

Homework and exams are done on-line, too. The rabbi prepares his on-line equivalent of audiovisual materials — outlines, discussion questions, relevant quotes from the Torah — several days in advance to be Internet ready by class time. “The preparation for this is double or triple preparation that a normal class takes,” he says.

At the end of one class last week, which centered on the biblical story of creation, the students left for their next morning class. For Rabbi Grumet, it was already late afternoon. He stayed in his office, storing that session on his computer and reviewing his notes.
“I had to start preparing for next week’s classes,” he says.