Join The Conversation With Mishpacha's Weekly Newsletter



Biblical Proportions

Yonoson Rosenblum

Could Rabbi David Fohrman’s breezy style and animated videos elucidate the profoundest Torah concepts? With thousands of subscribers to Aleph Beta, the answer is obvious

Monday, September 18, 2017

 Mishpacha image

“The depth of the Torah is something you don’t have to ‘believe in.’ You can actually see it; you can experience it. When the layers of meaning begin to unfurl before your eyes — there is nothing more awe-inspiring than that.” (Photos: Amir Levy, Aleph Beta Animation Team)

I t took one boring lesson to teach Rabbi David Fohrman that a class needs to capture the imagination and engage the listener, and what better way than with animated videos? But could that breezy style be used to elucidate profound concepts in Torah, uncover the deeply layered messages of Tanach? With thousands of subscribers and an international following, the answer is obvious. 

Early in his teaching career, Rabbi David Fohrman — creator of the popular Aleph Beta animated Torah videos — discovered the necessity of making his lessons interactive. As a 19-year-old bochur, he spent a summer in Australia teaching Jewish high school students. His carefully prepared lessons, however, elicited only blank stares and bored yawns. At one point, he presented a classic moral dilemma — a lifeboat at sea is being rocked by heavy waves and the only way to save most of the passengers is to cast one overboard. Is it permissible to do so? And if it is, who should be selected? After a short silence, one of the high schoolers replied: “I don’t know what I would do. But I do know one thing. You would certainly be the first person I’d toss overboard.”

He wasn’t a rabbi or a professional educator yet, but at that point, David realized that carefully outlined lesson plans are not enough to stimulate a yet-to-be inspired audience. Classes needed to fully engage and capture the imagination, and there needs to be a real back and forth. Years later, all of Rabbi Fohrman’s books and videos are written or scripted in a breezy style so that the reader or viewer — who might not even be Jewish — feels as if he is a participant in a back-and-forth conversation.

I first learned of the Aleph Beta project from a press release announcing that the American Forces Network (AFN), the broadcast service of the US military, had just concluded its very first agreement with a Jewish organization — that would be Rabbi Fohrman’s Aleph Beta, which has produced more than 600 animated Torah-based videos to date — to provide visual content for military servicemen and their families.

How does Rabbi Fohrman see his ultimate goal? “To help Am Yisrael, the ‘People of the Book’ fall in love with their Book.”

Most of Aleph Beta’s more than 6,000 monthly subscribers are Jewish, but about a quarter are gentiles, either Christians or self-described Noachides. Many years ago, when he started giving classes at Johns Hopkins University, Rabbi Fohrman asked his rosh yeshivah, Rav Yaakov Weinberg ztz”l, about the permissibility of teaching Torah to non-Jews. “You are teaching them from the Torah how a human being has to relate to G-d. That is certainly something they need to know,” Rav Weinberg paskened.

Although I was previously unfamiliar with Aleph Beta, Rabbi Fohrman and I learned together in the yeshivah of Rav Tzvi Kushelevsky in 1986, and I have read both his first two books, The Beast that Crouches at the Door (on parshas Bereishis) and The Queen You Thought You Knew (on Megillas Esther), multiple times.

I hadn’t seen him in about 15 years, when we met again around five years ago at the initiative of my friend Dr. Michael Bernstein from Lawrence. Bernstein told me he’d been challenged by his learning partner from Partners in Torah, a brilliant and highly successful hedge fund manager, to prove that the Torah is the product of a single Author. (Excerpted from Mishpacha, Issue 678)

Related Stories

My Brother's Keeper

Gila Arnold

For these four families of accomplished Jews, one brother brought another… and sometimes yet another...

Shaping Repentance from a Horn

C. S. Teitelbaum

What’s so special about Mr. Bengio’s shofros? Why are baalei tokeia scrupulous about purchasing only...

Book of Records

Rabbi Eliyahu Gut

Arnold Zweig and Hermann Struck, two Jewish officers in the German army during World War I, discover...

Share this page with a friend. Fill in the information below, and we'll email your friend a link to this page on your behalf.

Your name
Your email address
You friend's name
Your friend's email address
Please type the characters you see in the image into the box provided.
CAPTCHA
Message


MM217
 
Not a Newspaper
Shoshana Friedman A deeper difference between newspapers and magazines
Services in Shards
Rabbi Moshe Grylak “Such a painful, malicious lie!”
The Pittsburgh Protests: All Politics All the Time
Yonoson Rosenblum The old rule — “no enemies on the left” — still applies
Danger: School Crossing
Eytan Kobre The hypocrisy of YAFFED’s assertion is breathtaking
Real Laughter and Real Tears
Rabbi Avrohom Neuberger The two sides of a life lived with emunah
Work/Life Solutions with Eli Langer
Moe Mernick I was proud to be “that guy with the yarmulke”
Is Ktchong! a Mitzvah? When Prayer and Charity Collide
Rabbi Emanuel Feldman These cannot both be done effectively at the same time
An Honest Shidduch
Jacob L. Freedman “Baruch Hashem I’m cured, and this will be my secret”
A Blessing in Disguise
Riki Goldstein “I never thought the song would catch on as it has”
Ishay and Motti Strike a Common Chord
Riki Goldstein Bringing together two worlds of Jewish music
What’s your favorite Motzaei Shabbos niggun?
Riki Goldstein From the holy and separate back to the mundane
Rightfully Mine
Faigy Peritzman Don’t regret the job you didn’t land; it was never yours
Growing Greener Grass
Sarah Chana Radcliffe Nurture your blessings and watch them blossom
My Way or the High Way
Rebbetzin Debbie Greenblatt We know what we want — but do we know what He wants?