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VOL. XIV, Issue 669

26 Tammuz 5771

JULY 28, 2011

Parashas Massei

Torah Live

Exploring New

Frontiers in Teaching Torah


FEATURE

THE AVERAGE American teenager is plugged in

to some form of media or another for as many

as ten hours a day. On top of that, many kids

and teens today aren’t interested in learning something

unless they see an immediate benefit to their lives

even if the teacher presents it in a lively fashion.

Today’s teachers therefore have the double challenge of

presenting material in an exciting and engaging manner

and showing its personal relevance to students.

Unfortunately, this problem affects Torah educators

as well. In a world of fast-moving visual images, how

do we get students to stop and take note of their heritage,

to help them become passionate about Torah Is

it possible to harness technology to make Torah meaningful

and relevant to the masses without compromising

its depth or beauty

“Thirty Is for Strength”

Rabbi Dan Roth, founder and director of Torah Live,

a dynamic multimedia Torah organization, realized

that many people today need to be taught Torah in

their language. He learned how to speak to this generation

the hard way.

Rabbi Roth’s very first day of teaching did not go at

all as planned. Originally from London, he had been

learning in kollel for many years in some of Israel’s

finest yeshivos, including Mir Yerushalayim and the

kollel of Rabbi Tzvi Kushelevsky, one of the great

Yerushalmi Roshei Yeshivah, when he started thinking

about getting involved in teaching.

He decided to learn a night seder in Pirkei Avos to prepare

material for lectures. He loved it so much that he

began devoting more and more time to it, and soon realized

that he had the makings of a sefer on his hands.

To write a book, however, would require more than a

few hours a day. The idea of leaving full-time Gemara

learning to study Pirkei Avos in depth didn’t seem right.

He sought Rabbi Dovid Orlofsky’s advice.

“Age twenty is for pursuing; age thirty is for

strength,” explained Rabbi Orlofsky, quoting from

Pirkei Avos (5:25). “Martial-arts experts are able to break

slabs of wood and concrete with their bare hands because

they know how to focus all their energy into one

point. Your twenties are meant for exploring various

life goals and options to learn what you like and what

you’re good at. By the time you reach thirty, however,

you are expected to know enough about your strengths

and character to be able to strip away everything else

and focus all your energies and abilities into your

unique talent. That’s what strength means.”

Rabbi Roth had just turned thirty.

Inspired by Rabbi Orlofsky’s words, he spent the next

three years of his life writing a book about everyday lessons

gleaned from the teachings of Pirkei Avos. In the

process of writing the book, he realized he had a talent

for making Torah concepts relevant and down-to-earth.

The book was aptly entitled Relevance — Pirkei Avos for

the Twenty-First Century (Feldheim). After he finished the

book, he got his first teaching job in a program for atrisk

teens at Ohr Somayach in Yerushalayim.

He was hoping his students would relate to Pirkei

Avos, but he was in for a shock. The class was a total

nightmare. The students completely ignored him; some

were texting each other, others even walked out of the

room.

“It was enough to make anyone say goodbye to a career

in teaching,” he recalls. Instead of quitting, however,

he decided to try to get to the root of the problem.

The Solution

When he thought about it, he realized that the issue

wasn’t the kids or the material it was the entire generation.

Rabbi Dan Roth teaches

his morning halachah

class at Aderes HaTorah.

“Today people are used to absorbing information in

a whole new way,” he explained. “Modern media has

changed the way many people learn. For them, we

have to translate the eternal truths of our Torah into

today’s language. I had to get with the program.”

He decided to pick a topic he knew the students

Bringing the Torah

to Life

would be excited about … and making money seemed

like a good place to start.

He set to work researching the mitzvah of maaser, setting

aside a tenth of one’s income for charity the

Torah’s recipe for financial success and thought

about dynamic ways to present it. Rabbi Roth had

Presenting Torah Live's

mezuzah DVD.

8 Hamodia Magazine July 28, 2011


Torah

and Technology

been very interested in computers ever since his parents

had bought him the first home computer to come

on the market back in the early 1980s. After high

school he was even accepted into a computer science

program but chose to go to yeshivah instead.

After that, his computer skills had lain dormant

A shidduch

no one ever imagined

BY GAVRIEL HORAN

In many ways the challenges facing educators in

this generation are greater than ever before. In

the past, teachers had to deal with discipline

and class participation. Today the battle

being waged to keep students’ attention is

unparalleled. In many circles, teachers have

to compete with the nonstop action and

excitement of iPods, cell phones and

computers — in and out of the classroom.

while he focused on learning. Now he finally had an

outlet for them. After teaching himself a few new programs,

he got to work putting his maaser material together

in a technologically savvy package.

The result was a dynamic multimedia Torah presentation

called “How to Make the Big Bucks.” It was a

Rabbi Roth presents a Torah Live lecture at Yeshivah Shaarei Torah in Brooklyn.

smashing success. Students who had previously been

unable to sit through a class were suddenly on the edge

of their seats. Because they were hearing their own

“language,” their curiosity was piqued, and they were

inspired to learn more about the Torah outlook on life.

That’s how Torah Live was born.

Torah and Technology

With its team of talented graphic designers and programmers,

Torah Live has since produced close to a

dozen interactive, state-of-the-art multimedia presentations

on a variety of Torah topics, from the intricacies

of halachah to the beauty of hashkafah. Everything is

created under the close supervision of Rabbi Yitzchak

Berkovits, a posek in Yerushalayim and Rosh Kollel of

the Jerusalem Kollel, a distinguished English-speaking

kollel devoted to kiruv training.

The programs created by Torah Live are on such diverse

topics as how to achieve happiness, conquering

anger, the laws of mezuzah, yichud, and Sukkos. Using

cutting-edge special effects, humor and passion, Torah

Live engages audiences of all ages and religious backgrounds.

As opposed to using stand-alone video content,

Torah Live is unique in that it provides educators

with multimedia tools that can enhance their lectures.

As Rabbi Ephraim Buchwald, the founder of the National

Jewish Outreach Program (NJOP) and the Association

of Jewish Outreach Programs (AJOP), once

pointed out, “No one decided to become more religious

through technology alone. Success comes from combining

technology with personal contact.” By giving a

speaker the advantage of technology, Torah Live intertwines

the power and clarity of video with live interaction.

To date, Rabbi Roth has presented over one hundred

such lectures in fifty cities around the world to people

and organizations across the spectrum of Orthodoxy

schools, yeshivos, corporate workplaces, youth

groups and kiruv organizations in an interactive, entertaining

and lively way that captures listeners’ attention

and drives the lessons home. The project has

gained steam in the Jewish world, with diverse organizations

from a Modern Orthodox school in Sydney,

Australia, to Yeshivas Mir in Yerushalayim signing

up for presentations. Rabbi Roth has spoken at two

Torah Umesorah conventions, Rabbi Yisroel Reisman’s

shul in Flatbush, Dayan Ehrentreu’s conference in Munich,

and even Her Majesty’s Treasury in Westminster,

London.

Torah Live presentations appeal to such a wide variety

of audiences because once the main template has

been created, each presentation can be fine-tuned to

meet the unique needs of a particular audience,

whether it consists of secular adults, at-risk teens, seminary

and yeshivah students, or working men.

“The versatility of Torah Live is evidence of the

Torah’s eternal message,” Rabbi Roth said. “We only

need to find the right way to present it to each distinct

audience, in the right language.”

Talking the Talk

Although the proper use of technology and setting

limits to it is a sensitive subject in the frum world today,

the issue is less about the technology itself and more

about how it’s being used.

“The purpose of all of creation is in order for Klal Yisrael

to learn Hashem’s Torah,” Torah Live’s president,

Rabbi Yitzchak Berkovits, said. “Hashem created technology

and gave us the talent to use it for the sake of

getting Klal Yisrael motivated to learn and understand.”

In a similar vein, commenting on the latest

mezuzah presentation, Rabbi Yisroel Reisman said,

continued on page 10

Hamodia Magazine 26 Tammuz 5771

9


TORAH AND TECHNOLOGY

continued from page 9

“The Ribbono shel Olam has given our generation the

knowledge and ability to create vivid images and productions

which stimulate the mind and impress upon

the memory. It is important that this be used for pure

purposes, to further Torah knowledge and mitzvah observance.”

Originally for English-speaking audiences, Torah

Live’s material has also been translated into Hebrew.

Rabbi Chaim Yitzchak Yudkovski, Torah Live’s Hebrew

representative, recently delivered a lecture in Rishon Letzion

to a mixed crowd of Mizrachi, chareidi, and secular

Israelis. Participants commented that Torah Live had

succeeded in bridging the secular-religious divide. One

of the nonreligious women said afterward that she only

wished it had contained more Torah sources!

Renowned mechanech Rabbi Noach Orlowek said in

the name of his rebbi, Rabbi Simcha Wasserman, zt”l,

that the Torah was given in seventy languages “because

each student should be taught in the language that he

understands best. Today, for many people, one of the

foremost languages is the ability to show Torah in a way

that is alive before the students’ eyes. Torah Live can be

called ‘yayin yashan b’kankan chadash,’ old wine in a new

vessel. The medium may be new, but it is full of the old,

full of Torah, showing people the beauty and simplicity

of even the most complex halachos.”

In the words of Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch, zt”l,

the goal is to show that “authentic Judaism … does not

belong to an antiquated past but to a living, pulsating

present.”

A Meaningful Experience

“One of the special qualities of a multimedia shiur is

that it addresses all different types of learners,” Torah

Live’s creative director, Josh Goldberg, said. “There are

people who learn by seeing, people who learn by hearing,

and people who learn by interacting. … We don’t

want to entertain through Torah, we want people to

change their lives.”

A recent study showed that 64 percent of people will

watch until the end of a thirty-minute infomercial (an

extended visual advertisement), while only 20 percent

will read until the end of an article. “People are no

longer looking for meaning. They are looking for meaningful

experiences,” senior Gateways lecturer Rabbi

Yonason Shippel said.

Rabbi Shippel, Torah Live’s New York representative,

has been licensed to present Torah Live material at

Gateways seminars, which engage Jews in dynamic introductions

to Judaism, for both frum and secular audiences.

“People are blown away by these

presentations, and it has had a profound impact on

them,” he said.

Rabbi Dovid Tugendhaft, a rebbi at London’s Hasmonean

High School and a SEED kiruv lecturer, has

presented Torah Live lectures to hundreds of people.

“People are always surprised by the level of professionalism,”

he said. “Unfortunately, the reality is that

Jewish organizations are often run on very tight budgets

and don’t have the ability to produce material

Rabbi Roth gives the mezuzah presentation at Mir Yerushalayim.

“Many people don’t realize that the

Torah has an opinion on all

the issues that the world is

struggling with today.”

10 Hamodia Magazine July 28, 2011


using cutting-edge technology. This, however, is sophisticated,

fun, fast-moving and highly professional.

Torah Live is a revolutionary way of teaching Torah

it’s a big kiddush Hashem.”

Cashing In

After attending the lecture on maaser, many participants

reported tithing their money for the very first

time. Shortly after watching the presentation, one businessman

was about to close a big deal, and he promised

Hashem that if the deal went through he would

give $200,000 to tzedakah.

“I realized the incredible power of multimedia to

speak to people,” Rabbi Roth said. “Here was a regular

guy, not a philanthropist by any means, ready to give

philanthropic sums for the first time in his life after

simply watching an hourlong presentation. Who

would ever think that people would be so happy about

giving away money

“What started as a teaching disaster with a group

of teenage boys ended up beginning a new era in education.

It’s a revolutionary way to get people excited

about Torah.”

Seeing the impact the presentations were having,

Torah Live has now begun licensing its materials to

schools and kiruv organizations around the world, giving

them the training and tools to run the presentations

themselves. So far Torah Live programs have

been purchased by organizations in the United States,

England, South Africa and Israel. Materials are now

also available on DVD for home or group viewing.

“The slippery slope of people leaving the fold be

they teenagers or adults begins when mitzvos are

practiced by rote,” Rabbi Roth said. “We’re trying to

get people excited about Torah, showing them that

there’s nothing as deep or as sweet as our heritage.

This is my life’s calling. It drives me day and night. I

feel a responsibility to help as many Yidden as possible

get clarity about Hashem’s Torah. My biggest dream is

to increase kevod Shamayim in the world.”

In his pocket Rabbi Roth carries a quote from Rav

Eliyahu Dessler, zt”l, that helps him stay focused and

inspired: “My own work has taught me that nothing is

impossible with siyatta diShmaya. And when one acts

with mesirus nefesh to advance the learning of Torah,

Hashem helps in a miraculous fashion.” In the current

world situation, writes Rabbi Dessler, spreading Torah

is not just the most important task, it is the only one.

“Hashem gave each of us natural talents and abilities

that we have to use in avodas Hashem,” Rabbi Roth

continued. “A few years ago when I was in kollel, financial

and family pressure for me to get a job was

Multimedia presentation on brachos

mounting, but I couldn’t figure out what I was going to

do with my life. I literally couldn’t sleep at night, wondering

what my next step would be. I never had any

idea that I would end up doing anything like what I’m

doing today. Hashem guided my every step.”

There are many new topics on Torah Live’s horizon

for the coming year; overcoming jealousy, the laws of

kashrus, and brachos are just a few of them.

“We can do any topic there’s no limit to how far

we can go,” Rabbi Roth said. “To many people, Torah

is perceived as outdated and out of touch with their

lives. They don’t realize that the Torah has an opinion

on all the issues that the world is struggling with today

not only an opinion but a deeper perspective, one

that’s higher, subtler, and more profound. The Torah

is as relevant today as ever. Let’s take the entire Torah

and translate it into today’s language so everyone can

have access to our rich heritage.”

Rabbi Roth can be reached through the Hamodia office.


Rabbi Yisroel Reisman (L) with Rabbi Roth.

A mezuzah presentation at the Raanana Community Kollel.

Hamodia Magazine 26 Tammuz 5771

11

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