Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Is Cyberspace Kosher? Ultra-Orthodox Wary of Internet

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Is Cyberspace Kosher? Ultra-Orthodox Wary of Internet

Article excerpt

JERUSALEM -- An economic crunch drove a group of once-cloistered ultra-Orthodox Jewish rabbinical students into the uncertainties of cyberspace. Delight in its intellectual rigors is keeping them there.

Though many among Israel's rigidly Orthodox have always traded with the secular world, young men studying Jewish law have been fiercely protected by their communities from possible exposure to the profane.

But a recent lack of funds for seminary studies has forced some rabbinical students to seek employment, and they've turned to computer programming.

During one recent class, about 20 men -- black skullcaps in place, faces graced with long beards -- stared intently at flickering computer screens while an instructor read out a list of basic computer terms.

It was only a month into the course tailored for the former seminarians, but they were already enthusiastic.

Nathan Rapaport, a New York-born father of three, said studying the Torah most of his life made computers easy and fun.

"It expanded my analytical capability and memory," the 29-year-old said of his study of Jewish law. "It enables me to get into this and see it as a piece of cake."

Instructors for the Jerusalem College of Technology course, sponsored by the Netherlands-based Baan Co., said their students' eagerness was exceptional. "You give them some exercises and they say, `Give us more, give us more,'" said Meir Komer, the program director.

The 40-hour-a-week, nine-month course was launched in Jerusalem by the institute and Baan's JBE software subsidiary, which will employ most of the graduates.

JBE already employs about 70 ultra-Orthodox graduated from courses elsewhere in Israel.

"They have more motivation than you would have in [other] students," said Komer.

Ultra-Orthodox leaders in Israel, anxious to replace the European centers of Jewish learning destroyed by the Holocaust, long encouraged large numbers of their followers to remain in seminaries, or "yeshivas. …

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