The New York Times recently carried a story describing the new trend of "e-prepping" for Bar & Bat Mitzvah ceremonies via the internet. More and more "cyber Rabbis" are offering Bar Mitzvah training using Skype and a webcam for personal one-on-one training sessions aided by digital audio and Youtube recordings of the melodies for the Torah and Haftarah readings. The lessons can include Hebrew reading and preparation of the dvar Torahs (an explication of the themes set out in the day’s readings) as well as reviewing progress on the charitable projects that have become a staple of bar mitzvah programs. The students can do their prepping from home at times that meet their busy schedules.
Some parents are interested in "e-prepping" in order to save expenses, years of congregation membership and carpooling their children to Hebrew school classes. Some children just prefer learning via the web at their own pace. Virtual classes can prove especially good for children with learning disabilities who might have trouble in a conventional classroom. Typically, the e-rabbis work with children for nine months to a year, often meeting in person for a run-through only the night before the ceremony. The e-rabbis generally charge on a fee-for-service basis, while traditional synagogue training requires 2-3 years of synagogue membership and dues as well as religious school and its required tuition.
Although the virtual Bar Mitzvah preparation may be more convenient and less expensive than face to face Hebrew school preparation, will it encourage family involvement in the Jewish community and the passing on of Jewish values into the next generation? Many families and synagogue officials have their doubts.
However, the web based Bar Mitzvah training programs may prove suitable for the many American Jews, who are increasingly less likely to join synagogues and established communities.
In a blog post in response to the Times article, veteran Reform synagogue educator, Ira Wise, doubts that Bar/Bat Mitzvah e-prepping can replace meaningful face to face encounters which help initiate the young person into the Jewish community, although it may be used to to aid and augment these encounters.