Torah Live Breathes New Life into Education – Jewish Journal

Posted By on October 18, 2021

Once upon a time a teacher could walk into a classroom, begin to speak, write on the board and hold the students in the palm of his hand.

Those days are past.

Instead, there is a downward spiral of students attention spans, paralleled by the upward spiral of teachers desperately seeking tools to keep young people engaged.

In 2010, Rabbi Dan Roth walked into a classroom of American students in Israel who had dropped out of their families Orthodox lifestyles. The students ignored him; some even left the classroom. He walked out knowing he had crashed and burned.

Rather than look for another profession, he returned to the classroom, with the same material, in the form of a multimedia slideshow, and the students reacted with enthusiasm.

His goal was not just to reach his students, but also to reach the world, and the seeds of Torah Live were sown.

Torah Lives graphics, animation and film level are highly professional and their team of men and women includes over thirty scriptwriters, animators, video editors, and sound and special effects artists.

Fast forward to the autumn of 2021. Torah Lives graphics, animation and film level are highly professional and their team of men and women includes over thirty scriptwriters, animators, video editors, and sound and special effects artists.

While the world was in lockdown, Torah Live kicked in big time. Since the beginning of COVID, over 1.5 million videos have been viewed, and the website has been accessed by 168,000 active users.It has hundreds of thousands of viewers from around North America and the world, including Moscow, Paris, London, Australia and South Africa.

Hadassah Levy, a Torah Live blogger, writes, An unexpected, and particularly meaningful new user base of Torah Live, has begun among the Bnei Menashe community in India, a group of Jews who claim descent from one of the Lost Tribes of Israel (a claim confirmed in 2005 by the Sephardi Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar).

Photo courtesy of Torah Live

A new gaming website was recently added to their rich reservoir. The gaming program is advised by Rabbi Yaakov Deyo. A graduate of Harvard Business School, he was the educational director for Aish L.A. for four years (1998-2002), director of Partners in Torah in New Jersey for seven years, and was involved in many other Jewish educational projects. Were basically looking to create something between Fortnite and Kahn Academy, a platform that will not only engage players, but draw them into a world of Torah by learning via film, performing mitzvot and submitting pics of their work, creating positive impacts in the world around them.

Students are given the tools to create their own written content and animated shorts, and can also upload their own photos and short videos. Parents or teachers can create their own program to incentivize their children. The kids choose their picture from an avatar and can send their photos to Torah Live, who will cartoonify them.Each player has his own dashboard that goes up to 36 levels, alluding to the thirty-six full-fledged righteous individuals in each generation (Talmud, Succa 45b, translation by Sefaria). Points in the gaming element are based on creativity, quality and effort. As they participate, they also earn badges.

Rabbi Roth says, The child earns virtual coins, called dinars. They can decide how to spend them, like sending food to a poor family for Shabbat or sending flowers to an elderly person in a retirement home. We hope through partnerships to help fulfill the childs wish Our hope is that when the child grows up, hell give real money to charity, not virtual money.

Among the more than 30 rabbis who offer video approbations on the site are Rabbi Asher Weiss, Rabbi Hershel Schachter and Rabbi Meir Goldwicht, and Rabbi Yisroel Reisman. The late Rabbi Dr. Abraham Twerski says, in a clip, Man was intended to be not just an intellectual animal, but a spiritual animal, and in Torah language, this means the acquisition and the development of midot. He calls the work of Torah Live unprecedented educationally and something that can help both young people and adults achieve tzelem Elokimbe in the image of God.

Torah Live materials are used by all ages, by all denominations of Judaism and even by some non-Jews who are learning for conversion or who are simply seeking knowledge.

Torah Live materials are used by all ages, by all denominations of Judaism and even by some non-Jews who are learning for conversion or who are simply seeking knowledge.

Jacob Scheer, who teaches in a Conservative school in N.Y., used Torah Live videos to teach about the issue of ribis (interest). Zita Weinstein, a home-schooling parent, said that her children, know its coming from the right source I often hear my kids laugh as theyre watching and they just want more and more. Rabbi Binyamin Plotzker of Monsey, director of teaching and learning at Yeshiva Ketana Ohr Reuben, said that, The Tefillah and Emunah series is saturated with hashkafa, Emunah and is dealt with so clearly and humorously. They have also been used by Aish, NCSY and Chabad. Some of their films have even appeared on El Al.

Photo courtesy of Torah Live

In addition to their programs on Jewish ritual and mitzvot are those that relate to ones behavior, such as judging one favorably, the quality of patience, the value of a smile, the importance of humility in leadership, and a magnificent 18-part unit on The Power of Speech. Everything is filmed among the magnificent vistas of Israel, including the ocean (to explore the snails from which the blue dye for tzitziot comes).

The Process

Elchanan Schnurr, the scriptwriter and showrunner, is originally from Los Angeles. He considers the direction that Rabbi Roth wants to take a project and researches the content. The process is a dialogue with Rabbi Roth, and Ben Katz (who writes, shoots and edits) and Ronen Zhurat (theirmain animator) are very influential on the creative side.

Ben Katz, originally from New York, told this writer, It is challenging to create productions that have many locations, or many different characters or a combination of graphics, live action and animation. The Lost Light, which had all of the above, was actually approached as two separate productions that were filmed almost a year apart. It also had many logistical nightmares, and many recurring characters that needed to be tracked down and scheduled a year later.

On the other hand, the stunning Weapon of War segment from The Power of Words was scripted, prepared and filmed in a day.

Validation from the Rambam and a Harvard Professor

The Rambam, in Sefer Hamada (the Book of Knowledge), Hilchot Talmud Torah 4:5, explains that the sages said that one who is shy cannot learn [because they are embarrassed], referring to a subject [the students] dont understand due to its depth, or mipnei daatan ktzara. This last phrase is usually translated because his comprehension is weak but one Torah scholar told me it can also be interpreted as referring to a students short concentration span. Today, a student using Torah Live will feel more confident, as he navigates at his own pace.

More than 800 years later, Professor Howard Gardners ground breaking 1983 book, Frames of Mind: The Theory of Multiple Intelligences, noted that in addition to language and logic/math, a person can have an intelligence that is spatial, or musical, or bodily-kinesthetic, or interpersonal or intrapersonal. He later added naturalistic intelligence, and new candidates are Existential IntelligenceThe Intelligence of Big Questions and Pedological IntelligenceThe Intelligence of Teaching.

Whether Rabbi Roth and his crew realize it or not, they are implementing Professor Gardners theory of multiple intelligences through their multifaceted Torah Live programs, enabling children, parents and their teachers to find their own pathway to Torah.

Toby Klein Greenwald is an award-winning journalist, director of Raise Your Spirits Theatre, an educator and the editor-in-chief of WholeFamily.com. She was thrilled to discover many of her actresses in the Torah Live films.

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Torah Live Breathes New Life into Education - Jewish Journal

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