Rabbi Dan Roth’s very first day teaching in yeshiva did not at all go as planned. After learning in kollel for many years in some of the best yeshivas in Israel, Rabbi Roth got his first job teaching in a program for teens-at-risk. A short time before taking the job, he wrote a sefer on modern-day lessons gleaned from the teachings of Pirkei Avos. In the process of writing the book, he realized that 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.” He was certain his material would inspire his new students. Rabbi Roth was in for a shock. His first class was a total nightmare! The students completely ignored him and even walked out of the room—enough to make anyone say goodbye to a career in teaching. Instead of quitting, however, Rabbi Roth decided to try to get to the root of the problem.
As he thought about it, he realized that the issue wasn’t the kids or the material — it was the entire generation! “Today, people are used to absorbing information in a whole different way,” he explained. “Internet and television have changed the way people learn. We need to teach Torah in today’s language.” The result was the development of dynamic multimedia Torah presentations. Students, who were previously unable to sit through a class, were suddenly on the edge of their seats. By speaking their language, they were turned on to Torah and felt it part of their lives. Thus was born Torah Live.
Rabbi Roth succeeded in setting up a highly talented, diverse team of script-writers, editors, animators, marketers, graphic artists and graphic designers in order to create the unique content which would inspire modern students.
To date, Torah Live has developed more than 30 courses of creative, colorful and extremely professional multimedia to teach Torah values in an engaging and riveting manner to the modern student.
What is your aim with Torah Live?
My aim with the Torah Live project is to produce educational material that is so fascinating and absorbing that students will look forward to the next episode, rave about it to their parents, and most importantly, permanently internalize the insights they learn so that they will enthusiastically pass it on to their own children.
How do you feel Torah Live will make Torah learning exciting again for students?
When you use multimedia you immediately break a psychological barrier.
As soon as you walk into the room equipped with this technology, the kids relate to you better. You are no longer this person from an age gone by, but someone who speaks their language. It is not you against them. You are on the same side as them, you are on their wavelength.
People are taking in information visually nowadays. According to a study done by Zen Marketing, 64% of people will watch until the end of a 30 minute infomercial, while only 20% will read until the end of an article.
How do you develop the course materials?
The first stage of any production is the research. Here I tend to be extremely thorough, plowing my way through any book, article, shiur or resource I can get my hands on that may in any way be related – Jewish or secular.
Next is script writing: taking that knowledge and thinking, “How am I going to convey all this material in an exciting manner so that it jumps out at people and really engages them.” The most siyata dishmaya (Divine assistance) for this stage comes when you totally immerse yourself in the topic at hand, churning it in your mind throughout the day – while you are eating, driving, walking or lying down in bed during the night.
Then comes production: Assigning the graphics to the various team members to bring to life – videographers, animators, 3D artists, special effects experts, actors.
We also have a team of educators, graphic artists and programmers to create the accompanying support material: student workbooks, online assessments, source sheets etc.
What has been the response so far by educators?
The response has been overwhelmingly positive. People have said that the material is “sophisticated, fun, fast moving and highly professional” and represents a “revolutionary way of teaching Torah.” Accolades have come from all over the globe, as Torah Live now serves more than 400 Jewish schools worldwide. Educators say that their students were “blown away” by the “stunning presentations” and that they now recognize that Torah and technology are not contradictory, and can coexist beautifully. It has also strengthened their religious observance in a way that traditional study could not have done. Even special-needs schools mentioned the positive stimulating effect of Torah Live on their students.
Many educators mentioned the cutting-edge technology which is used in Torah Live.
Rabbi Roth explains what factors make his production so uniquely attractive in a world full of different types of multimedia:
1. Outstanding quality of graphics: People are used to Hollywood level graphics. In order to make them stop and pay attention, we need to match the level of quality they are used to from the outside world.
2. Thoroughly researched, authentic Torah content: Before we begin creating any graphics, we research the topic relentlessly, combing volumes until we find gems of ideas. Glitzy graphics are never used to replace authentic Torah wisdom.
3. Combination of both halacha and hashkafa: I believe that for the Jewish people to thrive it is essential that we not only teach people what to do. Just as important is to teach them the why, showing them the beauty of our heritage and getting them excited and passionate about it.
4. Produced in Israel: Living and working in Israel affords us the luxury of tapping into the wealth of Jewish history and landmarks around the country. When filming the video about tevilas keilim (immersing new utensils), for example, we were able to do so overlooking the plains of Moab, the very place our ancestors were given this command over 3,000 years ago! Teachers in the Diaspora have commented that they particularly appreciate this aspect of Torah Live – showing their students footage from the Holy Land and connecting their students to their heritage and homeland.
In the long term Rabbi Roth hopes to continue adding more and more of these online interactive classes as well as branching out to the entire gamut of Jewish institutions. To that end some of the material is geared towards very young children, while some has been used and appreciated by young men at the Mir Yeshiva in Jerusalem. The program has even made it onto El-Al planes!
What are your criteria for deciding if Torah Live is a success?
After watching the presentation on Ma’aser Kesafim (tithing), many viewers reported tithing their money for the very first time. Shortly after watching the presentation, one businessman was about to close a big deal. He promised Hashem that if the deal went through he would give $200,000 to tzedakah! “I realized the incredible power of multi-media to get through to people. 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 hour presentation! Who would ever think that people would be happy about giving away money? So we see that in the end, what started as a teaching disaster with a group of teenage boys, turned into the beginning of a new era in education. Thanks to Torah Live, Jews of all walks of life, can enjoy and benefit from this new revolutionary way of learning which gets people excited about Torah.”