Mercava, an online resource providing Hebrew texts with translations and contextual maps and videos, is billing itself as the future of Jewish education. Founded mostly through private donations from Brooklyn’s Syrian Jewish Community, the company is hoping to raise more money from North American Jewish foundations and federations. CEO and co-founder Yehuda Moshe says the goal of the company:
“Is to make Jewish wisdom, culture and values “not just affordable and accessible, but also relevant to modern life and attractive in this media-rich and entertainment-driven age.”
The problem is that while the project is a work in progress, many American Jewish education leaders are unaware of its existence. This has led to discussion in Jewish Education forums over whether or not the project is just hype — there are doubts as to whether or not it will offer anything new or useful — and some have raised concerns about the lack of women in the group’s promotional video.
“We can’t waste our resources on partial solutions developed in a vacuum,” Kohelet Foundation President David Magerman wrote on a popular Jewish education listserv. “We need to plan these kinds of projects with broad-based discussion and support, so the product is acceptable and usable by as many as possible.”
Mercava is not the first to offer Jewish educational technology, but it is possibly the most ambitious. Other companies like Behrman House, Sefaria and Israel’s Center for Education Technology each have programs that offer something different. But none of these offer as many services, texts and other media as Mercava.
Mercava has been in development for almost 5 years and has most of the “underlying work” is done. A basic version of the program Daf Yomi provides free access to the Talmud and has been piloted in nearly 100 schools.
More products will be available in July, as interactive books will be available in Hebrew and English with a lesson-builder tool for teachers releasing soon after.
Moshe says that most of Mercava’s content will be offered for free, but it is not clear whether it will be open source.
“Think of it like [Apple’s] app store,” Moshe said. “As much as we can, we’ll make available for free. However, other organizations and companies can build their own products on the platform or integrate existing products, and they can choose whether to make the products available for free or to charge for them.”
Rabbi Tzvi Pittinsky, a Judaic studies teacher at a Modern Orthodox high school in New Jersey and the author of the Tech Rav blog, praised Mercava’s Talmud app for being easy to use with students of varying levels and has plans for a lesson-building tool for teachers. He feels that Mercava may “just be the future of Jewish education”.
In response to the lack of women in the Mercava promotional video, Moshe said women were among some of the initial funders of the project and promises that more women will be brought on as the project continues.