Thoughts on the New-Media Roundtable

Matt Bar
May 21, 2012
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– New Torah Initiatives

A host of initiatives are at work bringing creative and captivating approaches to Torah education. And this month’s Sh’ma features a round table discussion with the leaders behind some of the most exciting up and coming initiatives, specifically Midrash Manicures which designs manicures based on torah, Moving Torah which interprets texts with movement and poetry, and Gdcast which uses animation to teach Jewish literacy. Wonderfully moderated by David Wolkin Executive Director of Limmud NY, insight into their creativity and pedagogy lead to reflection on my own. Like Bible Raps, they often have elements of user-generation, and they differ from more traditional approaches to Torah learning in that they are multi-sensory and take up the kid’s interests in their daily life into Jewish learning.


Bible Raps takes the appreciation for self-expression, authenticity, and pride in one’s people common to both Judaism and rap music as its starting point. We engage students with Jewish texts (torah) using a three-prong approach of performance, production, and pedagogy. Not only am I the “Best Bible Rapper Alive” (and only) I consider myself a ‘Rebbe’ in this burgeoning field alongside Sarah Lefton, Rabbi Yael Buechler, Andrea Hodos, Jeremiah Lockwood and many others. New-Media Beit Midrashians. With an ecosystem of ‘innovative’ torah learning developing to combat low levels of interest in Jewish education and the high costs of quality Jewish programming what ought to be the next move? Is there a model we can look to that can transform this new-media Rebbe phenomenon from organic to organized

“It happened.” – Fow Ti

“Rebbe” comes to us from the Chassidic movement of the 18th century. Responding to the alienation of the Jewish masses, Baal Shem Tov, and the many schools of Rebbes after him, held out the wisdom they brought to their torah to find, and then compete for the most promising students within their reach. By force of these personalities and the heft of their torah, one of three Jews turned to Chassidism over the next century, little regional pockets of teachers and students.

Rebbe Roulette, which uses Chatroulette.com as its jump-off model, imagines what it would happen if the great teachers, the MCs of torah and of words, were placed before the glass eye of the webcam to vie for students, and for other students to clamor for them. Rebbe Roulette pushes the interactivity of the digital classroom by forming a social network from pupils who make pilgrimages to find their teachers (using the ‘like’ and ‘follow’ buttons) and who conversely are searching for students to place –by order of their commitment and conduct – into seating arrangements like in the times of old.

Rebbe Roulette uses the forward-pointing arrow of digital technologies to fire a shot backwards where the virtual classroom finally enables us to address the problem of alienation, the self-same problem faced by the Chassids, with the self-same solution. A return to the House of Study under whose roof, tradition teaches, there is more holiness than even the House of Worship.

But let’s let the Rebbes speak for themselves:

Ladies and gentleman I bring you RebbeRoulette (beta test 1 – From the Moreh L’Morim Conference in Cleveland). Oddly placed below.

Rebbe Roulette

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Matt Bar is founder and Executive Director of Bible Raps, a non-profit born from Matt's desire to engage his Hebrew School classes on a deeper and more contemporary level than the way they were being taught at the time. Bible Raps launched out of Bar's participation in the PresenTense Institute during the summer of 2007. He continued to further his Jewish education during his 2008 year of study at The Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem. Since its inception, Bible Raps has reached tens of thousands of young Jews with Torah-rich performances in schools, Hillels, conferences and camps across the US and abroad. Their teaching materials are being used in countless classrooms and teachers are currently being trained to be certified "Bible Raps educators". ‬ ‪In 2011, Bar was also named to The ‬NY‪ Jewish Week's "36 Under 36" list, a prestigious list ‬"highlighting the dedicated lay leaders who are reordering our legacy organizations alongside community activists and social justice crusaders whose startups are chock-full of innovation,". He is also 2009-2010 member of slingshot. Before his current role as Executive Director of Bible Raps, Bar was also featured on MTV and NBC, has opened for Grammy winning group Outkast and performed at numerous clubs and venues as a folk rapper. Matt currently resides in Philadelphia and is working on Bible Raps Album #3 and hoping to put out Hip Hop Lullabies, within the calendar year.

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