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Making the Grade

Dovid Sussman

With a computerized phone system, automatic bank transfers, and a team of administrators, you’d think you’d stumbled on a successful business. But this enterprise distributes money instead of collecting it

Wednesday, April 05, 2017

shiur

HIGHER PURPOSE The greatest source of motivation for the Dirshu staff, according to Rabbi Rosenstein, is the awareness of the tremendous impact of their work on the lives of others. “At a Dirshu convention, I once heard a wealthy American businessman tell Rav Dovid Hofstedter, ‘I literally owe you my life,’ ”Rabbi Rosenstein says. “He felt that he was given a new lease on life when he joined the Dirshu program” .

The Dirshu testing program, founded 20 years ago by Rav Dovid Hofstedter, channels the desire of Torah learners for mastery and accountability by providing them with a rigorous testing program. Every test is marked, every grade is recorded, and high marks are rewarded with financial incentives. Of course, it’s not about the money. The real profits are measured in heavenly currency. 

Just ask the people behind the scenes. 

“DEPENDING ON HOW YOU COUNT, we have between 12 and 14 different tracks,” explains Rabbi Shlomo Rosenstein, a member of the administration of Dirshu and the head of its PR department. “The different programs cater to avreichim in kollel, bochurim in yeshivah, balabatim, and even children. Some of the programs are harder, and others are easier.” The seven-and-a-half-year Kinyan Shas program is one of the most advanced tracks; the other is Kinyan Halachah, a five-year program designed to train participants to become morei hora’ah. 

Dirshu’s tests are offered in 26 different countries spanning the globe, in Hebrew, English, and Spanish. The participants also span a wide range of ages: One member of the learning program is an eight-year-old boy in Kiryat Sefer, while another is a 91-year-old man in Yerushalayim. 

“Our tests are taken by 130,000 people,” Rabbi Rosenstein says, “but even we don’t know how many people our programs affect. We always said that we would consider ourselves successful when we had completely lost track of the scope of our activities’ effects; today, that has come true. We know how many people are taking our tests, but we can never know how many people are learning from our seforim and following our programs without doing the tests. 

“Just recently, a Dirshu representative in Paris sent me a picture of a large night kollel that had been opened to study the Daf Yomi B’Halachah program. He had just stumbled upon the kollel; he hadn’t even been aware of its existence. And the same thing has happened many times over, in many places. Our Mishnah Berurah, our learning schedule, and our other resources are being used as the basis for kollelim, shiurim, and other programs, possibly benefiting thousands of people that we don’t know about.” 

DIRSHU IS FAMED for the businesslike way its testing program runs. Tests are administered, marked and recorded promptly, and the financial incentives are promptly awarded to those test takers who’ve earned the requisite marks. 

In order to keep its commitment to deliver test results within a week to ten days, Dirshu has a staff of about 500 people writing tests, marking tests, and managing the rest of its operations. Dirshu does not reuse old exams; new tests are composed for each cycle. “There are specific people assigned to write up each type of test; they specialize in that area,” the rabbi says. “For instance, the Kinyan Shas tests are written by Rav Baruch Diskin, the rosh yeshivah of Orchos Torah. The Kinyan Halachah tests are written by a special team of experts in halachah.” 

Every month, Dirshu’s test-marking staff dedicates an entire week of their time to processing the thousands of tests that are received. Some of the tests are multiple choice, but most require participants to fill in their answers. And that can leave room for debate as to the correct answer. “If someone challenges a score or an answer that was marked wrong, their test is marked again by a different grader,” Rabbi Rosenstein says. “There are also some tests that can have major consequences. In the Kinyan Shas program, for instance, a person who fails a test will be removed from the program. So if a participant fails by a single point, we have the test reviewed by three graders, to make sure that the mark was justified.” (Excerpted from Mishpacha’s Behind the Scenes, Pesach Mega-Issue 5777)

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