Rabbi Mordechai Smolarcik is the Project Director for the Torah iTextbook Project.

One of the greatest challenges for Judaic studies teachers is getting their students to understand that texts written thousands of years ago remain relevant to the students’ lives in today’s society. Students are constantly questioning the need to learn about laws and traditions that seem archaic and appear to describe societal norms that students see as different than the norms of today’s society.

While this problem is primarily evident in the study of Gemarah, it also affects the study of Chumash, Navi and Dinim. At Hillel Day School of Boca Raton we have transformed the Gemarah curriculum into a series of hand selected “sugyot” or topical lesson plans. These lesson plans are designed to not only teach reading skills, common and key word recognition and practical halachic information, but also to impart the relevance of the particular sugyah to the students’ everyday lives.

The Torah iTextbook project, made possible through a generous grant from the Jewish Education Innovation Challenge (an initiative of the Mayberg Family Charitable Foundation) is taking this revolutionary curricular transformation further by providing teachers with a digital library of sugyot for the entire spectrum of middle and high school Judaic studies. Pilot studies using the sugyah of HaBah B’Machteres have shown an increase in student understanding, engagement and retention of keywords and concepts found throughout Shas.

During the 2013-2014 school year, the project will produce 20 iTextbooks each covering a unique sugyah in Shas. The iTextbooks will be made available to students’ using an iPad, iMac or Macbook. Each iTextbook will include interactive elements such as an automated Gemarah tutor, assignments that students’ can email to teachers and multimedia elements which help connect the sugyah to the students’ everyday lives.

The project is currently soliciting educators who are interested in proposing sugyah topics and providing the sugyah content. A stipend of $400 per sugyah is paid for full submission of the sugyah content. If you are interested in more information about how you can contribute to this exciting project or for general inquiries, please visit our website at www.hdstip.org or you can contact me directly at info@hdstip.org.

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