According to the Rabbi Chaim Cunin, director of AskMoses.com, the late Lubavitcher Rebbe Menachem Schneerson anticipated the Internet and the role it would play in our everyday lives as far back as the late 1970s. But it was not until 1998, when Chabad Lubavitch supporter Yuri Pikover reiterated the importance of maintaining an online presence, that Cunin and his staff at Chabad's headquarters took notice.
"He kind of opened our eyes," Cunin said. "We started analyzing what was out there already, and we wanted to go a little further. We wanted to reach the people who were not interested, but curious, at best."
Chabad's AskMoses.com Web site features 60 rabbis working 24 hours, six days a week, to address the ethical, spiritual, and practical concerns of both Jews and non-Jews alike. No question is too big or too trivial, say the rabbis, who field about 20 to 40 conversations an hour.
"It enables people who otherwise would not have the opportunity to ask questions, due to their distance in terms of geography or religious affiliation, to ask them," said Rabbi Dov Greenberg of Chabad of the Conejo in Westlake Village, one of the spiritual advisers at AskMoses.com. The site operates on a $475,000 budget derived from donations that help to pay for wages, technical development and support.
"We realized that there's nothing that can compare to a live conversation with a rabbi or rebbetzin," Cunin said, noting that Chabad sought to recreate the accessibility and the guidance offered by the outreach organization's global network of centers.
"We wanted to take that energy and that phenomenon and apply it to the Internet," Cunin said.
In addition to Greenberg, other locals working shifts on the Web site are Rabbi Eyal Rav-Noy of the Institute for Jewish Literacy and Rabbi Yisroel Schochet of Long Beach. Rabbi Simcha Backman, site manager and director of Chabad of Glendale, and his staff keep the interchange live around the clock by enlisting Chabad rabbis in Israel, Canada, Taiwan, Uruguay, Australia and New Zealand.
Traffic at AskMoses.com passed the millionth-visitor mark over Passover. With more than 1,000 conversations taking place each day, Chabad will add six additional sites in Hebrew, Russian, Spanish, French, Italian and German, with a total of 420 rabbis online. The first of these international sites, based in Argentina, will be up within three months.
"The Internet is a miracle," Cunin said. "It's amazing that we can be connected and share info like that."
Visit AskMoses.com 24 hours a day, every day except Shabbat at www.askmoses.com.
Also taking flight on the Web is a new page established by Orthodox Union (OU). Each week, subscribers receive e-mails on the weekly Torah portion and upcoming Jewish holidays (www.ou.org/forms/shshreg.asp). Links also connect visitors with candlelighting times, a rundown of OU kosher-certified products, recipes and trivia questions.
Visit the OU's Shabbat Shalom at www.ou.org/shabbat/ .