Torah Live breathes new life into education

December 9, 2021

Other News

Gaming site creates game-changer for Jewish families and teachers

In recent years, there’s been a noticeable downward spiral of students’ attention spans.

In 2010, the trend was apparent when 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. This time, the students reacted with enthusiasm.

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

Fast forward to the autumn of 2021. Torah Live’s graphics, animation, and film level are highly professional and their team includes more than 30 scriptwriters, animators, video editors, and sound and special effects artists.

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

“We have long been fans of Torah Live for their innovative, creative and accurate content,” says Rabbi Sender Haber of B’nai Israel Congregation. “When our camps and schools were closed due to COVID‑19, Rabbi Roth reached out and offered free content to every household in the community. This gesture was both gracious and game-changing. Families were able to continue to educate their children and to make learning Jewishly into a family activity.”

Rabbi Mordechai Loiterman, former principal, Toras Chaim Day School, says “We started using Torah Live videos for our Sunday school program because we had an obstacle. We needed to provide high level programming for the students that at the same time they would find interesting and that would keep them excited about the learning and Torah Live was really the perfect thing to put in—all of the resources, the worksheets, the materials, the background information gives a rebbe a tremendous amount of material to prepare from…and then, once the students learn, they go to “Reward”…students really enjoy watching all the videos, they come back and they quote all the lines and they tell me their favorite parts…and there are some of them that they want to watch two or three times, over and over again.”

Students agree, describing how much they love learning with the project. They call it “amazing,” “exciting,” “fun,” “and we’re learning at the same time.”

Rabbi Noach Gruen, a teacher at Toras Chaim, says, “My boys are really taken by the great graphics and technology used to produce the Torah Live videos. The tremendous videos on tefillin I recently showed my class enabled them to see all parts of tefillin, inside and out!”

Ely, a 13-year-old in Norfolk, seems to be an expert on any given topic. When asked “How do you know that?” the answer is often the same: “We learned that on 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, he is the CEO and Founder of Black Hat Consulting in the N.Y. area, was previously managing director of the Jewish Enrichment Center of Manhattan, the volunteer CFO for Jewish Impact Films, director of Partners in Torah in New Jersey, and was involved in many other Jewish educational projects. “We’re 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.

“Gaming is extremely misunderstood. It’s fundamentally about leveraging the core drives that underlay human activity. Consider: math is an essential skill in life, and golf is not. Even so, solving a math problem in a time-tested, efficient manner is so much less enjoyable than trying to get a small white ball into a hole by hitting it in a blatantly inefficient way with a club. How do you explain that?”

Students are given the tools to create their own written content, 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, at higher levels, they can send their photos to Torah Live, who will “cartoonify” it for them. Each player has his own dashboard and it goes up to 36 levels, alluding to the “36 full-fledged righteous individuals in each generation” (Talmud, Succa 45b, translation by Sefaria). Points in the gaming element are based on creativity, quality, 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 fulfil the child’s wish…Our hope is that when the child grows up, he’ll 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, a renowned Halachic authority in Jerusalem, Rabbi Hershel Schachter and Rabbi Meir Goldwicht, both Rosh Yeshivas of Yeshiva University, Rabbi Yisroel Reisman, Rosh Yeshiva, Torah V’Daas, Brooklyn, and Rabbi Shmuel Kamenetsky, Rosh Yeshiva, Yeshiva of Philadelphia.

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.

In addition to their programs on Jewish ritual and mitzvot are those that relate to one’s 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).

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 happy to discover many of her actresses in Torah Live films.

-Toby Klein Greenwald
Letter to the Editor