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Beit Midrash Jewish Laws and Thoughts The Coronavirus Pandemic

Chapter 12

All Zoomed Out

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Like many other rabbis and teachers, I have been delivering lectures and teaching Torah to a mostly unseen audience via the technological wonder called Zoom. Because of the coronavirus pandemic and the mandatory governmental ordered lockdowns and assorted prohibitions regarding gathering in public places, especially synagogues, I have had little choice in the matter. I believe that I have expressed my feelings on the matter in previous articles and opinion pieces written here.
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I find it to be very impersonal, unemotional, and even uninspiring to teach human beings in this fashion on a regular basis. It has been very stressful to me every time I conduct the Zoom lecture and even though I am flattered and pleased that many people have thanked me and even complimented me on those classes, I feel that they were an awkward substitute for the real thing; talking to people directly and in person.

Our synagogue here in Jerusalem has remained open and operating despite the severe restrictions – a limit of only 10 people in the synagogue area at one time – imposed by the government. I am a law-abiding citizen, but I thought that the number chosen was rather an arbitrary one and not really based on experience, scientific data or even good common sense.

During this period of time, I've been able to discuss a total real thought nightly after the prayer service of the afternoon and before the prayer service of the evening to the 10 people who always miraculously showed up to allow us to have a quorum for services. This short 15 to 20-minute class in front of live people has refreshed me in a psychological fashion that I never really appreciated before the pandemic struck. And it caused me to think how the classes on Zoom, even though they were longer and perhaps stronger in content, were never as satisfying to me as this nightly exercise of speaking to and learning with live people.

I have taken an anecdotal survey in my own family, of the many who are involved in education and classroom teaching. Universally, they have reported to me that they are all zoomed out. They long to be able to return to the classroom and teach and help live children and engage students who have personalities, and needs. Studies have shown that except for the very highest echelon of students who are self-motivated and intellectually curious on their own, most students have suffered a drop in scholastic performance and enthusiasm over the past months when they have been locked out of school and forced to study and learn by Zoom.

It seems abundantly clear that there is no real substitute for personal teacher – student instruction. The rabbis of the Talmud characterized this best as they usually do when they said that the student’s eyes should see the teacher not only when he is teaching but throughout one's life. Recalling the actuality of the presence of the teacher, the subtle nuances that make up much of our educational reservoir, is really one of the keys to a lasting lifelong educational experience.

So, I have decided to embark on a series of lecture programs that will be delivered live, under the guidelines of the government, in our synagogue. To a great extent, I am also all zoomed out, however I intend to resume classes on Sunday and Thursday as I have done over the past number of months. But I hope to be able to deliver my lecture series live in front of an audience, no matter how small that actual audience may in fact be.

I will naturally record my lectures and they will be available to those who wish to obtain them. But I have also found that to my amazement that listening to CDs that are purely audio in nature has proven more effective than hearing those lectures on Zoom or even on video. Radio was a successful medium because it allowed for the human imagination of the listener to participate in the event. There is no room for the listener's imagination or even individual contemplation when hearing a Zoom lecture.

I realize that all of this is very opinionated on my part but when one reaches my stage in life one is entitled to express one's opinions without too much hesitation. I have never been culturally correct, for, again, in my opinion that is in opposition to Judaism and Jewish thought and values. So, I have taken the liberty of sharing with you the fact that I am really all zoomed out.

Shabbat shalom

Berel Wein
Rabbi Dov Berl Wein
The rabbi of the "HANASI" congregation in Yerushalim, head of the Destiny foundation, former head of the OU, Rosh Yeshiva of 'sharai Tora" and rabbi of the "Beit Tora" congregation, Monsey, New York.
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