Reach Out and Study with Someone: Using Computers in HevrutahPosted on December 15th, 2009 No comments
Hevrutah is at the core of our ability to study and learn; to opportunity to engage with another in looking into the meanings of texts and Torah in our lives. This week we hear from Rabbi Jason Rosenberg about his experiences using technology to improve his ongoing learning. Jason who was ordained from HUC-JIR NY in 2001, now lives in Tampa, FL, in 2007. He lives there with his wife, Hillary and children Benjamin and Talia.
Several years ago, one of my closest friends from Rabbinical School and I decided that we missed studying together, so we set up a weekly phone-chevruta – a chance to study some text together, even if it was only via the phone. The truth is, it worked surprisingly well. I say “surprisingly,” because a big part of chevruta study isn’t just the exchange of information, of course, but the encounter with the other person. And, even though some of that sense of connection was possible on the phone, it certainly wasn’t the same as sitting across from someone while we studied together. The sages teach that, when two people sit and study, the shechina dwells among them. They never made it clear if the shechina has a long-distance plan, though!
A few months ago, he and I made a change in our study, which has led to a big improvement – we’ve stopped using the phone, and we’ve started using Skype. For those of you who don’t know, Skype is an Internet-based, free service which lets you call other Skype users, including conference calls, and even do 1-on-1 video calling – all for free. If you’ve got a webcam and an Internet connection, then you can easily connect to friends and family, even if they’re thousands of miles away. The sound quality is (usually) much better than the phone, but it’s the video which really makes a difference.
Don’t get me wrong, I loved talking to my friend every week. But, seeing him is much better. We all make gestures when we talk – now we can see them! Our facial expressions, our body language – all of it (well, most of it) is once again part of our interaction. And so, our study, and our conversations are more natural, and more powerful. There have been a few times when we’ve been unable to use Skype (one of its biggest limitations is that the technology is not quite as reliable as the phones), and we’ve always noticed that something is missing when we default back to the phones.
So, what do our study sessions look like? Pretty simple, really. We always have a text that we’re working on – right now it’s Moshe Chaim Luzzato‘s Meshilat Yesharim [The text can be found online in Hebrew]. We usually start with a couple of minutes of checking in and schmoozing, and then just open up our books (we made sure we each had the same edition, so the page numbers line up), and take turns reading from where we left off last time. We never get very far – we always get caught up in some philosophical point, or some tangential discussion. But, eventually we’ll make it through. Do we ever get caught up in the chitchat, and forget to study at all? Of course! See – it really is just like it was in Rabbinical School!
So, with the standard disclaimer that I don’t work for Skype, nor do I get any payment or compensation for this, I heartily recommend that you go to www.skype.com and download the software. Find a friend or family member to do the same, and you’ll be amazed at how nice it can be to see someone whom you haven’t seen in a while. And, to even share a sacred moment of learning with them.
Editors’ note: Skype works well for phone calls with or without a video camera attached to the computer, however, if you want to video chat, you will need a video camera.
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