Want to improve your marriage? Brush up on the parsha? Find a good recipe for kugel? Listen to a bedtime story? Hear a great song? Don’t adjust your dial; it’s all in one place – KosherTube.com
The brainchild of Rabbi David Ostriker of Toronto, Canada, KosherTube, the kosher video Internet site is now in its third year. With over 7000 videos currently in its repertoire and over ten-million viewings (35,000 a week) on a plethora of subjects, featuring a host of celebrities within the Torah world and just everyday people, KosherTube is making waves.
Is YouTube worried about the competition? Not at all. 20% of the videos come from YouTube but they must first clear the very high standards of the KosherTube Vaad, which is made up of prominent rabbanim and roshei yeshivah who work to preserve the tznius and Jewish value content of the site.
Rabbi Ostriker spent 30 years in the film industry. Ostriker’s Productions primarily produced documentaries that have been broadcast all over the world and have garnered more than twenty international awards including a Gemini, the CFTPA’s (Canadian Film and Television Producers Association) and Chetwyn Award for Entrepreneurial Excellence.
“Film is all about exclusivity and access,” he says. “The Internet is about the opposite – distribution – you want people to steal your video. It’s a Messianic concept, [by] giving it away you don’t lose anything.”
Although this free giving style does mean that they need to fundraise in order to run the site. As I was talking to him, Rabbi Ostriker was dealing with a problem of server overload. Their success means they need to expand which means they need money to upgrade the technology. Everyone works on a volunteer basis, including the rabbi, but keeping up with technology requires a budget.
I asked Rabbi Ostriker what his favorite video is. He replied that it is the one of his son’s Bar Mitzvah party. Rabbi Ostriker, 64, became religious 15 years ago. He met his wife Yelena, a former citizen of Russia, while he was taking classes. They live in Toronto where Rabbi Ostriker received smicha.
KosherTube is a project that requires a rare combination of film expertise and knowledge of Yiddishkeit. Rabbi Ostriker compares himself to Reish Lakish, he’s given up his secular ways but is using his previous knowledge to benefit Klal Yisrael.
“He may be the greatest marbitz Torah (disseminator of Torah) of our time!” wrote Rav Eliezer Breitowitz, the rosh yeshiva of Darchei Torah in Toronto.
“The best thing about being in the film industry was that I got to travel all over the world and for a month I got to live somebody else’s life, but then I got to go home. This gave me tremendous insights. I felt very privileged,” says Rabbi Ostriker. Now he brings those insights to a whole new level.
“My goal is to broaden the understanding of what a kosher lifestyle potentially is.” Although learning is the core of the site, Rabbi Ostriker thinks it’s important to showcase the whole Jewish world, the recipes and the hockey teams, the shiurim and the music. And they have a section on Kol Isha, a portal, which you may enter if you are a woman (be sure to look up my hit video clip Dibburit LaShamayim).
Besides the Vaad, Rabbi Ostriker has another standard to meet. His teenage son, Moshe Yitzchak is the second litmus test. He puts on the site only things he would allow his own son to watch. “If your life’s work is something your child can’t look at, you have to reevaluate that,” he said. There is no ability to link to any but a few kosher sites and no advertising. It’s also not a political site. There can be videos about Israel but not about a particular political party.
Non-Jews also watch the videos on the site. Evangelical Christians like Jewish media. KosherTube is a window through which people can get a view of Jewish culture.
As one viewer wrote, “We have a computer in the kitchen and my wife listens to shiurim while she’s cooking. She says it definitely improves the quality of the taste of the food. I agree!”
Nearly 70% of the site’s content are Torah-related. There are 20-25 points of view on every parsha. Learning is more important to Jews than anything else and it’s reflected on the site. Rabbi Ostriker says, “We have brilliant rabbeim and rebbetzins. I love seeing the numbers. Ten people are sitting in a shiur, and it gets10,000 screenings.”
Rabbi Eliezer Breitowitz, Rabbi Ostriker’s Rav is one of the most popular rebbeim, his shiurim have been screened over 500,000 times.
However, Rabbi Ostriker reminds us “What distinguishes KosherTube is the other 30%. The thing that sets us apart is the mix. We try to be as open as we can – cooking, shopping, sports, recreation. One of the things we want KosherTube to do is to show the full scope of what is a frum, orthodox lifestyle. People often think that if you’re an Orthodox Jew you spend all your time in the Beis Midrash, but it’s a much broader spectrum. We want to do more of that kind of thing. Like Women’s issues.” He recommends one of the new videos: 5 Ways to Save Your Marriage, given by Rabbi David Weinberger, which focuses on respecting your wife. “This kind of thing has tremendous importance,” he emphasizes.
“Jews on the whole are very educated. They don’t like to ask stupid questions so they research in bookstores, or on KosherTube.” He gives an analogy of someone who’s been learning in a class with another person for five years. He doesn’t know the other guy’s name and now, it’s too late to ask. “That’s how many Jews feel. They feel like there are things they should know and they’re too embarrassed to ask. So they’ll go into a bookstore and ask for a certain book. Or they’ll go online. This way, they get answers without losing face.
“We like to think of KosherTube as a community of people. A community people are welcome to join.”