Jan 22, 2008 — It’s not unusual for Rabbi Zvi Sobolofsky, a rosh yeshiva at RIETS, to receive questions and comments from people hundreds of miles away after giving a shiur [lecture] to his students on Yeshiva University’s Wilf campus. After every class, a student volunteer uploads a taped recording of the shiur on the Website YUTorah.org, where scholars and observant Jews download it at their convenience.
“Every shiur I give—if it’s not given on Shabbat or Yom Tov [holiday]—winds up online,” Rabbi Sobolofsky said. “I get e-mails and calls from all over the world, which gives me tremendous satisfaction.”
Rabbi Sobolofsky’s shiurim have led the charge in YUTorah.org achieving a milestone after six years in existence: at the last count, he had posted 1,102 shiurim—the most out of all 47 roshei yeshiva whose shiurim are available on the site.
Rabbi Jeremy Wieder, the Joseph and Gwendolyn Straus Professor of Talmud at RIETS, has posted 964 shiurim. The rabbi, also an instructor of Bible at Yeshiva College, encourages his students at the end of each “Introduction to Bible” class to visit YUTorah.org if they missed anything. But he too loves the wider audience the site enables him to reach. “It’s a tremendous opportunity to bring our Torah to the rest of world, to reach people who are not sitting in our classrooms,” said Rabbi Wieder.
Following close behind Rabbis Sobolofsky and Wieder are Rabbi Baruch Simon (943) and Rabbi Dovid Miller (823). And 13 others have each posted between 100 and 800 shiurim.
“The sheer volume of what we have on YUTorah.org is astounding,” said Shalom Silbermintz, director of information technology for the Center for the Jewish Future (CJF), which runs the site. With well over 15,000 shiurim online, the site receives about 1.5 million hits a month.
The large number of shiurim reflects the devotion of student volunteers, who take it upon themselves to record and post the lectures, Silbermintz said. So even Rabbi Aaron Rakeffet-Rothkoff–who, as rosh yeshiva and professor of rabbinic literature at the YU RIETS Israel Kollel, gives his shiurim on the Jerusalem campus–has a strong presence on the site.
Interest in YUTorah.org is also driven by the following that the roshei yeshiva have. “A lot of people come to the site looking for shiurim from a particular rav whom they’re interested in,” said Silbermintz.
According to a recent survey by CJF, 26 percent of users visit the site on at least a weekly basis. Nine percent of visitors are undergrads, 26 percent are alumni, and 30 percent never attended YU.
Visitors also come to YUTorah.org seeking halakhic answers to relevant issues in their lives. “The Web has become a vehicle for people to search for this type of information,” Rabbi Kenneth Brander, CJF dean said. Many of these visitors contact the roshei yeshiva for a follow up discussion. “The Website functions as a portal of entry to learn about Jewish law and creates a relationship between the Torah personalities at YU and the larger Jewish community.”
For the truly devoted, the site now features new alternate delivery methods, including podcasts, RSS feeds, and e-mail alerts for new shiurim. Silbermintz said that he is working on ways to reduce file sizes “for faster downloading without sacrificing quality.”
“Our content is top notch, and the quality of the recordings is better than ever.”