For many Jews in many Jewish communities around the world access to Jewish education is limited. Zehud is changing that.
One of the most fascinating debates within the Talmud concerns whether Torah teaching should be available everywhere; and Torah study available to everyone. Rabbi Yehuda Hanasi believed that Torah should not be taught in the marketplace and only in the communal house of study, while Rabbi Hiyya disagreed and argued that wisdom should be available everywhere.
Rabban Gamliel famously insisted that only the choicest of students should be allowed to study in the house of study, while Rabbi Elazar ben Azariah firmly disagreed, overturned this edict and clearly demonstrated that education is the most powerful way to empower people and effect positive change in society.
Today, most people agree in theory that every Jewish child should have access to Jewish education. However, for many Jews in many Jewish communities around the world, this has been a near impossibility. For example, those who live in smaller Jewish communities are not blessed to have access to Jewish schools; and even many of those who live in larger Jewish communities are suffering from what has been labelled the “tuition crisis” and cannot afford to send their children to Jewish schools.
Even those children who do attend Jewish schools often find they do not receive the education they are looking for and, therefore, parents of these children often supplement their children’s studies with private tutors.
As technology has developed, the opportunities for online Jewish learning —where students can be taught by professional teachers who do not live nearby but who can easily interact with them on a digital platform — has developed into a compelling solution for many of these challenges.
The few that do exist are mainly for middle and high school aged students, however, and many of these still charge significant prices which makes it hard to bear — especially for those with lower incomes. Education should be a right and not a privilege.
Zehud, which is an online Jewish school primarily for Jewish children in Europe, was founded by Tal Bassali out of a personal need for her children who were not receiving the desired level of Ivrit and Judaic studies education in Italy. Believing that the technology tools that she used in her day job as a successful marketer could be harnessed to the educational needs of her children, Tal founded Zehud and since then, it has since grown to attract a wide range of Jewish children, aged 6-12, from across Europe, with the next age group opening up each year.
The name Zehud originates from Judeo-Italian and blends three concepts and words which were central to Tal’s vision: the zechut, merit, to learn about our Jewish tradition and about our Hebrew language; the zehut, identity, of our Jewish youth which is strengthened by them learning Hebrew and Jewish laws and values; and ye’ud, destiny, because education is how we change the Jewish world and the choices that we make in our Jewish lives.
Zehud is unlike any other online Jewish school or even many other physical Jewish schools around the world. Committed to the centrality of Hebrew as a living Jewish language and that of the Torah, Zehud’s exceptional teaching staff also use the Tal-Am curriculum, which teaches Ivrit and Judaic studies in Ivrit, and the visual learning offered by using iTal-Am. Learning with digital devices makes it both engaging and stimulating.
Zehud is committed to sourcing the very best programs available to teach children the skills to ensure a lifetime of learning. Beyond this, Zehud is driven by an absolute commitment to maintain small class sizes. Finally, Zehud is a not-for-profit, with classes costing 60 euros (£48) a month per course, including all the course books.
Rather than talking about the democratisation of Jewish education and then providing services that only a small minority of the Jewish people can access, Zehud is founded on the simple premise that Jewish education can — and should — be something that every Jewish child can experience.
Rabbi Solomon teaches at seminaries in Israel and is a consultant to Zehud. He is a former head of Jewish studies at Immanuel College in London and graduate of the Montefiore Semicha Programme.