Bible study goes 2.0

Photo caption: An Ultra-Orthodox Jewish is asleep at the Nabi Samuel site during the the annual celebration of the profit Samuel, on May 12, 2010 in the West Bank. Samuel was a leader of ancient Israel according to the Books of Samuel in the Hebrew Bible. (Uriel Sinai/Getty Images)

TEL AVIV, Israel — Was Queen Jezebel the ultimate shiksa?

For the uninitiated, a shiksa is a non-Jewish woman in pursuit of a Jewish man, or so goes one interpretation. Queen Jezebel has been called the "bad girl of the Bible."

"Much was written about her beauty. What was she really like? Watch the following video clip and reveal the blonde,” reads a footnote of the Bible according to MikraNet, an online Bible where readers can contribute their own interpretation of Biblical text.

MikraNet — "mikra" meaning "Bible" in Hebrew — was developed by the Israeli Center for Educational Technology (CET) and, say its founders, is the most sophisticated, updated, rich tool for teaching the Bible today.

This is more than just reading about the beautiful and assertive Queen Jezebel, wife of Ahab, who was murdered by defenestration, or, being hurled out a window. MikraNet tries to engage readers and students in modern world commentary. The once-boring act of reading just verses becomes lively debate.

“She is a woman of valor," one reader said in a post linked to the same verse.

Bible studies in Israel are mandatory for obtaining a high-school diploma. However, it can be a grueling experience that mixes old tales and religious aura. Normally, it is not the highlight of an Israeli secular teen's school years. Teaching the Bible in an Israeli classroom entailed memorizing complicated verses and then reciting them in front of a room of classmates.


Is the internet the way of the future when it comes to Bible studies? Join the conversation in the comment section below.

But times have changed. In the spirit of the online encyclopedia Wikipedia, anyone can contribute to MikraNet. A drawing, comic-strip or short personal video that comments on the subject may be uploaded and free debate may follow. Why memorize inextricable sentences when a student can watch Matt Barr, a Jewish rapper who interprets the holy text, upload fresh observations to a Facebook page, add personal comment and share it with some classmates?

“Instead of just reading and discussing the story about Abraham's travels, we look at his itinerary with the online map and follow each of Abraham's rests with hyperlinked information, videos and arts,” said Noya Sagiv, part of CET's development team and a high school teacher in the coastal city of Jaffa.

At first, few students were able to absorb the multi-layered program, she said. But today, MikraNet is a popular site with at least 150,000 unique users per month, a large number considering there are 7 million Hebrew readers globally.

CET is an NGO dedicated to advancing education in Israel by integrating technology in the classroom. CET General Director Gila Ben-Har said she decided a couple of years ago to shake up Bible studies in Israel and restore kids' affection for the subject. The organization's main goal was to prep kids with real life skills, “which means doing everything online, as required by adults at workplaces today.”

When the Ministry of Education announced a new policy with respect to Bible studies, CET volunteered to help, enlisting the skills of an unlikely prosetylizer: Matt Barr, a Jewish-American rapper who demonstrates his skills on a short video clip.

Sitting against the back arm of a chair, his baseball cap turned around, Barr raps about Adam and Eve:

"... the freedom that he is needin'

for the wisdom I can give him

not here in Eden

where the pain will leave him bleedin'

where'd the dust that no one can bust,

that keep him from eatin'

he is needin' the feed from the Tree of God ...”

“This is a Rap about Adam and Eve in the Graden of Eden,” Barr says in the clip, “asking why God created a snake which seems to go against the whole plan.” A reader, Matt Koggen, added a short video by the The History Channel's "Naked Archeologist" to better explain some evils in the book of Kings. The reader Alice Lovejoy attached a Marc Chagall drawing of Ruth to Genesis, Chapter 1.

"Hip hop rap is by far the most popular music in America right now,” Barr said. “So in a way if I can can put it [Bible stories] in rap — where the kids can nod their heads to it and enjoy the rhythm of it and get interested in the lyrics — it is an access point for the teachers to get them excited about it.”

CET offers more features: Audio readings of Biblical texts for kids with learning disabilities, teacher forums and work sheets; an online book store and teaching aides in other subjects like math, literature, history and more).

“It is hard to grasp the gap between the required amount of materials we have to teach and the time we have with the kids. MikraNet helps me to better manage my time frame at class. And it is far more pleasant for the kids to learn in an interactive than to just read straight from the book," Beker said.