VOL. XIV, Issue 669
26 Tammuz 5771
JULY 28, 2011
Frontiers in Teaching Torah
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
“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.
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
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
8 Hamodia Magazine July 28, 2011
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
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,
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
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
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.”
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
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