Tangled Web, Part 4: Chabad Rabbis Embrace The Web To Spread Jewish Learning

By Josh Robin (NY1)
August 9, 2012

For the past three nights, the "Tangled Web" series has shared stories about rabbis trying to limit access to the Internet, but this fourth report covers the Orthodox rabbis who want people to make their site, Chabad.org, the go-to place for all Jewish learning. NY1's Josh Robin filed the following report.

The office for Chabad.org looks like any Internet startup, humming with eager young programmers. A closer look reveals that this is no ordinary site.

Chabad.org is one of the go-to online places for all things Jewish. There are even videos on the "do it yourself" prayer shawl and putting a mezuzah on a door.

Michael Peres of Chabad.org is launching a mobile app called "Shabbat Times."

"Which, based on where you are, given that you supply coordinates or it takes the coordinates from your phone using your geolocator, lets you know what time Shabbat comes in for your given area," Peres says.

That lets users know when the Sabbath starts, so that they can light candles at the accurate time.

Many other features on Chabad.org also bind the ancient with the modern, a philosophy advanced by the movement's last leader.

"The Lubavitcher Rebbe, who passed away, is the first Internet rebbe, because you have so many images and videos that you can watch online, and they use it expertly," says radio talk show host Zev Brenner.

They were also ahead of their time. Back in 1996, they had a website that promised "Judaica on the Internet at the speed of light."

The goal for those interested, according to Rabbi Motti Seligson of Chabad.org, is, "Really bring Judaism and Jewish teachings to them, wherever they are."

Chabad was not part of the recent anti-Internet rally at Citi Field. Adherents, of course, are not free to look at anything online, but the movement sees the technology itself as neutral.

It has been successful: Chabad.org has 1.7 million unique users visit a month.

"Like everything that's created, it was created for a purpose. And it's our responsibility to use that for something good," says Seligson.

But Rabbi Avi Shafran, whose group Agudath Israel Of America represents other Orthodox Jews, says even Jewish sites should be avoided, because they may lead users to more objectionable ones.

"It's also a colossal waste of time. Anybody who has the Internet knows how with a click a button you can check every corner of the world to find out what's doing there, and it becomes very enticing to do that," says Shafran.

At Chabad.org, they are counting on more visitors. To that end, their latest program teachers users to say prayers like the kaddish, the prayer for the dead.