Orthodox watchdog blog Failed Messiah dug through registration records for the new website of Jerusalem Online University, a small, semi-accredited institution that appears to be unaffiliated with any particular Jewish religious movement, and found ties to a site run by ultra-Orthodox organization Aish HaTorah. On the university’s homepage, secular-seeming boys and girls huddle together around a laptop, and courses cover nothing more theologically sophisticated than “Jewish history, the Bible, interpersonal relationships, and even Kaballah.” Shmarya Rosenberg, who runs Failed Messiah, also notes that, although the Jerusalem Online University site doesn’t mention it, Rabbi Raphael Shore, the university’s director, formerly ran Aish HaTorah’s Aish Cafe, a now-defunct online educational program. Aish Cafe offered some of the same classes Jerusalem Online University now does, and its web address now forwards browsers to Jerusalem Online University’s. What does Rosenberg conclude from all this? That Jerusalem Online University is a secular front that “hides its relationship to Aish HaTorah and to Orthodoxy in order to lure unsuspecting college students to Orthodoxy.”
Shore, for his part, told Tablet Magazine that he’s not trying to hide anything. When the “About Us” section of Jerusalem Online University’s website is completed, he said, it will explain the former affiliation with Aish Cafe. He also said that he raised funds for both Aish Cafe and Jerusalem Online University independent of Aish HaTorah. “One of the reasons we separated was we were very interested in broadening the spectrum of presenters that are in the course and broadening the potential to reach people, Reform, Conservative, Orthodox,” he said.