In the late 1980s, years before the internet boom and long before anyone would pair Jewish outreach to computing, Rabbi Yosef Y. Kazen could be found sitting before a mammoth computer, dispatching Jewish texts across the globe.

Prior to the advent of YouTube, Google and Yahoo, Kazen – in keeping with directives of the Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, of righteous memory, to use all available technology to ensure that Jews of all ages and background could have access to the Torah’s teachings – didn’t stop at giving his quickly-growing audience access to raw Judaic information. Rather, he formed relationships with virtual congregants, taking a personal interest in their lives.

Today, months away from its 18th anniversary, the website that grew from those early efforts, is once more rebuilding its platform. Fully immersed in a round of beta-testing that has involved more than 5,000 testers from across the globe and will now be opened to the public at large, the newly designed site offers a revolutionary new platform. executive director Rabbi Zalman Shmotkin explains that the new website follows the same operating principles adhered to by Kazen.

“The Rebbe taught that no Jew is insignificant, and no effort is too great to expend for even one soul,” says Shmotkin. “This guiding principle consumes every single member of our editorial and development teams, and directs the current site overhaul as well.

“With a growing community of more than 1.6 million unique visitors monthly, our team is constantly aware of the enormous responsibility we carry as Judaism’s single most-trafficked space,” he continues. “But they never lose sight of the fact that every visitor is an individual, a full world unto him and herself, whose specific needs must be fulfilled.”

Constant Growth

The of today is different in size and scope from the last major overhaul of eight years ago.

On a weekly basis, its “Ask the Rabbi” department serves thousands of questioners from across the globe, dealing with everything from how to improve interpersonal relationships to fundamental queries of belief and help understanding a key concept in a Jewish text. The site’s section offers inspirational articles, advice, and multimedia content to a distinctly feminine audience, while a family of foreign-language sites assure that people of several tongues can access Jewish teachings on a variety of levels.

A Jewish recovery site deals with the specific issues facing those dealing with substance abuse and their families; a children’s site welcomes the younger set; and a Jewish mysticism site presents the Torah’s esoteric lessons.

In addition, – through its Jewish.TV component – offers thousands of hours of original audio and video programming, historic recordings, and, through a partnership with Jewish Educational Media, footage and audio recordings of many public addresses given by the Rebbe between 1950 and 1994. It boasts a weekly schedule of new video programs, many of which air live.

Assisted by the efforts of a four-member Lubavitch World Headquarters steering committee, the site offers tens of thousands of pages of classic Torah commentaries, more than 10,000 audio classes, children’s videos, news stories and an ever-expanding array of sections relevant to life’s challenges and hurdles, from dealing with economic difficulties to rearing children.

New features include crisp type, eye-capturing images, and drop-down menus.
New features include crisp type, eye-capturing images, and drop-down menus.

Among all Jewish sites, sits at the top as a “brand leader,” concluded the authors of the 2009 Jewish Internet Metric Study.

But with such growth, came challenges and opportunities, explains Rabbi Meir Simcha Kogan, the site’s managing director.

“Even with the myriad of major and incremental upgrades that are done each month, the explosion of content offerings and specialty sites we were building could no longer be navigated in the current environment,” he says. “Our users needed a completely new site to make it all accessible in a more organized and intuitive interface.”

The entire process began with an “all-hands-on-deck” meeting with programmers, designers and editors several years ago, as Kogan tells it.

“We studied traffic patterns, reviewed reader feedback and consulted our development plans. It became clear that we were about to embark on a mammoth project,” he says. “Three years later, due to the exhausting work of our development team, editorial committee, several subcommittees, and dozens of outside consultants, we think the work has really paid off.”

Ease of Use

Creative director Menachem Nagar is confident the current redesign will engage users in better ways.

“We wanted to shift into an easier, more intuitive user experience,” explains Nagar.

Senior web developer Mordechai Sandhaus and his team have been collaborating with designers for the past three years on this project, poring over metrics and reams of feedback, fine-tuning the tiniest of elements. He says they’ve created a flexible system that combines top tier content with the latest multimedia technology.

“The new system now has a lot more flexibility and functionality,” he states.

Some changes include a simplified four-choice menu displayed at the top of’s homepage, says senior editor Chana Weisberg. A conspicuous search icon, meanwhile, opens the door to a completely reworked search engine with updated algorithms for more relevant results.

And for the time being, an option to toggle between both the classic and the new site gives users the chance to transition to the new system. A prominent feedback icon also invites users into the constant process of refinement, helping to fulfill the goal of making the website a joint effort between visitors and the staff.

“It’s a process we want to involve people in,” explains Nagar.

Another new element alerts users when a particular page is available in any of six other languages.

Already, the rebuild has garnered praise, with readers using terms such as “marvelous,” “amazing,” and “astonishing” to characterize both the effort that went into the project and the final result.

“I enjoyed reviewing the new website, especially on the eve of Purim,” one user wrote last week. “I find it easier to locate information on specific topics or holidays, and much easier to access the [weekly Torah portions]. I am very much looking forward to once again sharing this website with others.”

“Your look may change with the times,” writes another user, who has been coming to the site for more than 10 years. “But the message is, and always will be the same. Thank you for years of inspiration, learning and sanity in this world.”

Nagar looks at the project as another way to engage Jewish people of all ages and backgrounds.

“Our readers have always been a part of what we do,” he says. “This makes them part of our team.”