Sunday, March 13, 2011

Orot at the Movies: Orot Proudly Releases a New Educational Film

"On Both Sides of the River" examines the challenges surrounding a young woman from a religious family who decides to marry a non-religious man.

Last year, Rav Reuven Kruger, director of a rabbinic training program called Likrat Shlichut, turned to Rav Professor Neria Gutel for his advice and assistance. Likrat Shlichut trains young rabbis looking to enter the professional rabbinate in Israel, and Rav Kruger had written a series of scenarios to challenge the young rabbis. Would Rav Gutel be willing to offer his thoughts on the scenarios?
Rav Gutel did more than that.
Instead of presenting dry ideas on paper, perhaps Rav Kruger would be willing to work with Orot to create a movie that would accomplish the same goal, but with the power, drama and effectiveness that modern films bring to the screen.
This past month, Orot's Department of Communication Studies proudly introduced the film that resulted from this partnership. The twenty-three minute feature film, "B'trei Avrei D'nahara" – "On Both Sides of the River," depicts the gut-wrenching decision of a young woman from a religious family to marry a non-religious man. This decision carries great weight not only spiritually and halachically, but also socially and personally. As her family grapples with her decision, the young woman's interactions with her parents, her community and her new husband raise a myriad of difficult questions that the modern rabbi – and every Jew – must confront.
The premiere of the film, which took place in early March, featured opening remarks from Rav Gutel, Rav Krieger, as well as Talya Fish, the film's director. A fascinating discussion followed the screening surrounding the halachic, educational and professional aspects of the film. Rav Yaakov Ariel, the chief rabbi of Ramat Gan, addressed halachic issues in the film, which ranged from whether one could accept flowers from a guest who visits on Shabbat, to the challenging issue of inviting guests for Shabbat at all. Rav Yona Goodman, Director of Spiritual Education at Orot addressed some of the educational and spiritual challenges raised by the film including some of the challenges "mixed" (religious and non-religious ) couples face, and some recommendations for how to address these types of situations, both within the family and in a community structure. Finally, Moli Kimmel, an instructor in Orot's Department of Communication Education, discussed the challenge of how religious people are depicted in the media in Israel today, and suggested that we must harness the power of the media to create the images we want to portray, and not wait for others to portray us as they see fit.
The film was recently featured on Israel's Educational Television, (in Hebrew). To watch the clip, click on this link. (The program ran on March 9th. Click on the link to March 9th and fast forward to 45 minutes into the program).

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Halacha and the Media

By Rav Eliav Vizel
Lecturer, Elkana Campus

"The basis of Hassidut, and the root of worshiping Hashem with a pure heart, is so that it should become clear and confirmed to every man what his obligations are in His world." – So the Ramchal begins his seminal work "Mesilat Yesharim."

As part of the ongoing discourse in the framework of the "Halacha and the Media" course, a group of Communications Department students traveled to Ramat Gan before Chanukah to participate in a meeting of the minds between the city's chief rabbi, Rabbi Yaakov Ariel shlit"a, and the department's teaching staff. The course deals with the Halachic aspects of the communications professions, including print, electronic and broadcast media.

The nature of the course demands that the students examine a number of complex questions that require the Halachic insight of a recognized posek. To my delight as the course instructor, Rabbi Ariel shlit"a agreed to meet with the students in his home to discuss the difficulties that arise when dealing with the creative world of journalism, television and film making. The president of Orot Israel College, Rabbi Prof. Neriya Gutel, and Dr. Dvori Handler, the department's fieldwork coordinator, accompanied the students and myself on the visit.

Rabbi Ariel explained what needs to be the starting point from where the students, as future teachers in the communications field, should draw their orientation. He emphasized that as with anything innovative, one can choose whether to treat it with caution and disconnect from it, or whether to accept it and use it for positive purposes, imbuing it with worthy values.

Rabbi Ariel pointed to the problematic side of the electronic and broadcast media, which could be a factor in encouraging laziness, voyeurism, short-sightedness and lowering intellectual and cultural standards. On the other hand, one cannot ignore the hidden potential in these media, and the role that Torah-observant individuals can play in establishing alternative codes of ethics in these fields, which as of today do more harm than good.

The students asked the rabbi to comment on ethical dilemmas they already encounter as students in the field of communications, and particularly in the profession of film making. For example, should they set limits regarding the screening of films by mainstream film makers? Rabbi Ariel advised that while the halachot of viewing immodest materials are less stringent upon women than men, still, constant intensive and unlimited exposure to films of an immodest nature is not desirable because it can have a negative effect on the purity of the viewer's heart.

Rabbi Ariel appealed to the students to be aware of the heavy responsibility they are taking upon themselves. As future teachers of these important professions they will need to educate the next generation towards creative thinking, ethical values and critical analysis that are different from the norms in these professions. He wished the students much success in their studies and agreed to be available for consultation again in the future as needed. The students found the discussion most helpful in "charging their batteries" so that they can contend with the challenges they face in their chosen fields.

Jewish Life in the Age of Facebook

Rav Yonah Goodman
Director of Religious Education, Orot Israel College

TIME magazine recently named Mark Zuckerberg, founder of the Facebook social networking site, as their “Person of the Year” for 2010. According to the magazine’s editors, Facebook is not just another successful website. Rather, it is a phenomenon which is changing the very face and nature of humanity. The editors explained that Facebook has half a billion subscribers (so far) – i.e. about a tenth of the world’s population – and that Zuckerberg earned the recognition for:
“Mapping the social relations among [Facebook users], for creating a new system of exchanging information and for changing how we live our lives.”
The article also stated that Facebook grows “at a rate of about 700,000 people a day” and referred to it as “a social entity almost twice as large as the U.S.” Moreover, TIME’s editors believe that we have now entered a new era – “the Facebook era” - and that it impacts our approach to life.

A personal note
Before we address TIME’s choice, I should note two things. First of all, our year is not based on the secular calendar, and what is referred to as “New Year’s Day” has no significance for us. Nevertheless, new phenomena - which affect our world and us – are significant, albeit without any connection to the specific timing of the discussion. Second, in our Jewish world, the most influential person is not necessarily the most famous. Perhaps he or she is one of the Lamed Vav Tzadikim (literally, the “36 Righteous Individuals”), whose covert actions change reality and bring us and the world closer to the Geulah (Final Redemption). However, even top experts agree that there are events which occur in unknown ways, and they are only able to investigate discernable and explicable processes. These investigations are important to us as well.

Why Facebook?
Perhaps the reader thinks that this is all nonsense. He is not a member of Facebook, and the notion that computer software can change the world seems ridiculous to him. But for half a billion people, it is not ridiculous at all. Furthermore, experience has shown that profound global trends eventually influence us as well. Their influences extend to our very doorsteps and present us with educational and spiritual challenges.

All this raises the question: Would we choose Facebook’s founder as Man of the Year? Is Facebook a brilliant innovation which we should actively embrace? Or is this the time for us to stand up for ourselves and demonstrate our independence, and to recognize that “being there” is not necessarily the same as actually experiencing and living?

The lessons of Facebook
Much can be written about Facebook, but for now, let us suffice with three items for consideration:

1. According to Zuckerberg, in the “old” Internet, people were afraid to reveal their identities – even though in real life, they trusted each other. Therefore, he started Facebook in order to enable them to live their real lives on the Internet – openly and with confidence.
Yet, is Facebook truly an accurate reflection of real life? After all, it mainly allows you to upload pictures, to update your status, etc. You collect “friends” at a wholesale rate, but you have little to do with most of them. On Facebook, you see your “friends’” faces instead of their personalities and midot (character traits). Instead of focusing on the fundamentals of yirat Shamayim (fear of Heaven) and avodat Hashem (serving Hashem), we have become enslaved to a time-sucking application which lets us look at countless photos and learn who is mad at whom and who is now friends with whom. Can we honestly say that the application inspires us to think? To contemplate? To be creative?

2. Chazal instructed us: “Acquire for yourself a friend.” (Pirkei Avot 1:6) But nothing could be further from the concept of friendship than that which takes place on a social networking site. It involves neither giving nor cooperating in real life. Note that the word chaver (friend) comes from chibur (connection). What kind of connection can one simultaneously maintain with hundreds of alleged “friends”? True friendship requires sharing a deep bond with a limited number of friends. It does not mean a superficial chat with ten acquaintances or posting personal status updates, which reach hundreds of people at the same time.
More profoundly, Facebook provides an ostensible solution to modern man’s loneliness (hence, its success). However, this solution is no more than a virtual illusion. Would it not be preferable - rather than spending hours amassing virtual “friends” – to build real relationships with real friends? After all, Facebook only allows “friends” to exchange information. But real life human interactions are not only based on information, and they cannot be reduced to a simple click on the “like” button. True friendship cannot be compared to so-called “social networks”, which entangle you in their webs but do not offer you actual friendship.

3. We are commanded to act modestly. In contrast, Facebook “teaches” you to post your personal pictures where anyone can see them and to record your innermost thoughts on a public “wall”. It exposes your intimate world, and as a result, you find yourself unintentionally revealing many of your private sentiments. In addition, the knowledge that hundreds may be reading your thoughts affects and shapes your inner world. The Facebook culture encourages extroversion in lieu of quiet contemplation and looking at other people’s pictures in lieu of delicately working on one’s midot.

TIME’s editors observed that Zuckerberg essentially founded the world’s third largest “country”, surpassed only by China and India (at least for now). To a certain extent, we have all become citizens of that country – without making a conscious decision to emigrate from here. And yet, we believe that our job is not to live in foreign countries. Rather, we are meant to live in the Jewish State with its unique ethos and lifestyle.
It will not be easy, but the time has come to make aliyah back to Eretz Yisrael:

To join the builders, not the “taggers”;
The deep thinkers, not the “surfers”.
To stop building the “People of the Faces”
And to assist in building the “People of the Book”.

Me'orot Haratzyah: A Window in the Thought of Rav Tzvi Yehuda Kook

Orot proudly publishes a set of books culled from the spoken talks of a leading Religious Zionist leader.

Fifty years ago, a young man of eighteen named Hoshea Rabinowitz faithfully transcribed the public addresses of Rav Tzvi Yehuda Kook, in order to preserve his words for future generations. He continued this practice for four consecutive years.
Years passed, and this young man grew both in age and wisdom, and today is known as Rav Hoshea Rabinowitz, a scholar and Jewish educator who served as the Head of the Department of Torah She'beal Peh (Oral Torah) Studies at Orot for seventeen years. During all this time, Rav Rabinowitz lacked the financial wherewithal to fulfill his dreams and properly publish the book.
Hearing about Rav Rabinowitz's dream, Rav Professor Neria Gutel, President of Orot Israel College decided to put Orot College's full support behind the project, in order to finally fulfill Rav Tzvi Yehuda's request to bring his teachings to the wider public.
After three years of great effort and expense, Orot Israel College proudly released "Me'orot Haretziyah" ("The Lights of HaRav Tzvi Yehuda"), realizing the dreams of many of his devoted students. Now, former and future students of Rav Tzvi Yehuda can sit at their Shabbat table and literally study the words their revered teacher. "The talks in the book appear in the language that they were said, such that someone who reads the words and recognizes Rav Tzvi Yehuda and his style can actually hear his voice behind the words," Rav Rabinowitz explained. "We were very careful not to deviate from the Rav's manner of speaking, and only added explanations and source notations at the bottom of the page."
The book carries significant historic value as well. In his talks, Rav Tzvi Yehudah would often allude to current events. He would say that Parshat Hashavua (the weekly Torah portion) is always the Parshah of that specific week, meaning that there is a direct connection between the Torah portion we read on a given week and the events unfolding at that time, be they national, political or even social. Often, the footnotes in the book explain the historic relevance of a specific lecture.
The book was edited by Rav Rabinowitz's son-in-law, Rav Elyakim Zayit, who arranged the book into easily digestible chapters, according to the weekly Parshah and Holidays.

If you are interested in purchasing this sefer, you can buy it online at this link.