The New Face of Jewish Studitainment

From the Meriam-Webbster Dictionary:

in·fo·tain·ment; Pronunciation: \ˌin-(ˌ)fō-ˈtān-mənt\; Function: noun
Etymology: information + entertainment; Date: 1980: a television program that presents information (as news) in a manner intended to be entertaining.

From Zion, however,”shall go forth the law, and the word of haShem from Jerusalem,” so whereas television brought us infotainment, the Jewish people surely prioritizes studitainment, of the etymology study”entertainment.

Bridging the gap between learning and leisure, particularly for children (but also for adults) who have not yet developed all requisite autodidactic skills, comes Animated Talmud.

Five years in the making, animatedtalmud.com  is a virtual learning experience, designed to capture the attention of today’s children, who are constantly inundated with color and excitement, by using a media they are already attracted to. Animated Talmud required the skills of a team of artists, animators, full scripts and a narrator, resulting in a beautiful website …  Funded exclusively by donations, Animated Talmud is completely free because, in Goldstein’s words, “it was a labor of love, not something to be making money on.”

and

While Goldstein’s original plan was to animate selected perakim in Gemara that younger children might be learning in school starting with Eilu Metzios, numerous educators told him that before delving into the intricacies of the Talmud, children needed to first understand the basics. Volume One of Animated Talmud, “Introduction to the Talmud”, contains fifteen short lessons with over one hundred minutes of animation, describing how Mishnayos and Gemara came to be written down, the history of the Talmud, basic Gemara terminology, how pages are laid out in a Gemara and how they were first printed,  among many other fascinating lessons. (Source: VosIzNeias)

I wish I had had this when I started studying Talmud. My first year was particularly bewildering, as I had not the slightest inkling of the historical, social and functional context of Talmud. It was like learning how to calibrate gears and put together an engine without either seeing one in action or knowing it can be used to drive cars and heavy machinery.

While I take issue with some factual errors and anachronistic artistic liberties, mostly but not exclusively related to the costumes depicted, R’ Goldstein reacted very positively to a detailed critique of the first clip, and I am confident the program will become even more excellent than it already is. Meanwhile, I showed it to my kids, who loved it.

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9 Responses to The New Face of Jewish Studitainment

  1. micha says:

    The history of the mishnah (tape 3) is simplified to the point of being arguably wrong.

    1- The mishnah was composed because of the problems in the aftermath of the Hadrianic Persecution. Not because the TSBP got to big to remember.

    In fact, I would argue that needing TSBP to be rigid and memorizable is the real problem with composing the mishnah — NOT the actual writing. It ended the fluidity of orality.

    2- He has R’ Yehudah haNasi composing the individual mishnayos, rather than the majority being collected statements that predated his work.

    3- He has R’ Yehudah haNasi as the one who actually wrote the mishnayos down. Related to the first two points — it’s just a misimpression of what Rebbe did.

    R’ Aqiva started the shift from medrashei halakhah to mishnah. His talmid, R’ Meir, collected and standardized most of the mishnayos. (Thus, stam mishnah keRav Meir.) Rebbe completed that work and put it into an overall structure.

    As our host knows, Tosafos say that the mishnah wasn’t actually written down until around the same time as the gemara. But even so, it wasn’t back when it was first composed.

    Rebbe’s point was to eliminate the uncertainty of orality, even at the expense of fluidity and change, by making a standard official set of text to memorize.

    And this point is all over shas. “Tani tana kamei deRav” — mishnayos, Toseftos and other beraisos were orally repeated in front of the amora’im.

    -micha

    • Arie Folger says:

      You know, I called it studitainment, and I don’t forget the entertainment factor. Just like with a lot of artistic renditions of biblical scenes, they are opportunities for knwoledgeable parents to point out where the facts stop and the art begins. By looking at clop #3, you obviously did more reasearch and wrote a more insightful critique than I did, but I don’t think this was ever meant as a replacement for classroom teaching, not even for two sessions.

      But I don’t disagree with your points, and I have brought them to the attention of the creators of Animated Talmud, too.

      By the way, if you want something more historically genuine, whose Torah content is also more precise, I should recommend the animated film about Rashi, produced under R’ Berel Wein. I showed it to my kids, though since tthey don’t speak much Hebrew, I had to translate much of it. I also loved the selections of Rashi glosses he decided to bring alive in one scene or another. That said, I cannot vouch for the accuracy of the entire feature, I particularly know nothing of Rashi’s contact with Christian clergy (which surely happened, whether or not Rashi wanted to), which is the theme of several scenes, and many other scenes are obvious artistic elaborations based on shreds of information. But it is still worthwhile, in my opinion. Just remember it is entertainment.

  2. micha says:

    Is it too far of a stretch to use this opportunity to whine about people who turn chinukh — whether of children or of the not-yet-frum — into marketing rather than education?

    People might want simple answers with everything tied up in a neat bow in 15 minutes or less. But reality isn’t like that, and a religion presented in those terms will not help one deal with reality.

    Picture the person who was told that things will work out their way if they just had enough bitachon, trust in the Almighty — who then loses a child r”l.

    The approach creates strawmen that when the person is pushed to doubt them, they can G-d forbid end up doubting the entire system. (Thank G-d the person about whom I based the previous paragraph, who lost her child, managed through that crisis of faith without losing her attachment to Torah.)

    -micha

  3. tzvee says:

    micha, you are just making stuff up. quit it. i agree with arie. it’s great entertainment and interesting pedagogy. how in the world can you mix that up with pretentious quasi-scholarship? do you also go through dr seuss to denounce his lack of historicity?

    • Arie Folger says:

      I actually do desire great scholarship in entertainment, as well, I just keep track of it being entertainment.

      But more importantly, the Animated Talmud team has been reading these comments and hope to improve on the product when doing other animations on the theme.

    • micha says:

      Tzvee,

      You’re being overly judgmental, and I’m afraid without the posession of the facts. I neither made stuff up, nor based myself on the latest in scholarship — real or quasi.

      The description of the origin of the mishnah that I gave (that it took three generations, starting with Rabbi Aqiva) is actually Rav Sherira Gaon’s, and the late dating for when it was put to paper, Tosafos’s.

      I’m not worried about Dr Seuss setting up strawmen that may later be the weekpoint in the foundation of someone’s religion.

      However, the blogosphere is full of people who were raised with the same simplified picture you (I presume) and I were, and that is being presented in the video. People who later in life realize that things aren’t as they were taught as children (and never revisited in later grades), and therefore started doubting the whole structure.

      The version I described is no harder for a child to undertstand, relate to, or be inspired by. And it has the advantage over “common knowledge” of being what the rishonim actually taught.

      -micha

      • micha says:

        While I wasn’t convinced by R’ Treibitz’s thesis, you can get a good survey of what baalei mesorah actually say about how the mishnah and gemara came to be from his shiurim at Hashkafa Circle: History & Development of the Talmud.

        And as I wrote, I believe the truth is both more inspiring and presentable to children at this age. After all, we would be stressing the notion that the creation of the mishnah wasn’t simply a break in the tradition, but part of the grand evolution of Torah sheBaal Peh, taking generations to be composed, flowing straight from the medrashim, and taking centuries before reaching the “eis laasos” level of needing to be written down and distributed.

        -micha

  4. Thanks for your complements on my Animated Talmud its always nice getting them. I am aware that each lesson is very shallow, I am actually working on including a more in depth read along attached to each lesson – Coming soon…
    you are all welcome to submit any materiel you think is relevant to each lesson.

  5. micha says:

    RBG,

    Let me rephrase my objection…

    Of course your presentation is shallow. This is the first exposure by a child to a complex subject. However, because you’re entering underdeveloped territory in children’s education, you could use the opportunity to teach a simplified version of a more accurate version of the development of the Mishnah and Shas. It is safer to spell out common wisdom, but it common wisdom is in contradiction to what the geonim and rishonim tell us really happened, it’s not of as much value.

    In other words, I would prefer to see you teach the truth, even if you can’t possibly relay to your audience the whole truth. Simplification through inaccuracy sets the student up for potential future nisyonos.

    -micha

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