Founder and Lead Scholar of Aleph Beta, Rabbi David Fohrman, together with a team of scholars, researchers, videographers, animators, filmmakers, musicians and artists, have provided us with 25 hours of creative and meaningful Tisha B’Av experiences. Videos, webcasts and accompanying texts and worksheets can be accessed by visiting alephbeta.org beginning on Tisha B’Av night through the end of the day. Among the many hours of Tisha B’Av offerings, all unique, topics include “The Story of Rachel and the Power of Her Tears”; “The Meaning of Eicha and its Link to Eden”; “How Did We Survive: Yochanan Ben Zakkai and Yavneh”; “What is Baseless Hatred Anyway: The Story of Kamtza and Bar Kamtza”; “Grappling With Loss: How to Trust God in Difficult Times”; and this year’s new video, “Tisha B’Av & the Spies: An Origin Story.”
The videos are creatively presented through engaging animation and thought-provoking questions that allow you to learn Torah in a transformative way. Literary tools used for analysis include intertextuality, chiasmic structure, lullabye effects, parallels, common denominators, negative space, word play and outliers. These methods are used throughout the spate of videos in the Aleph Beta library, which include presentations on the weekly Torah portion, holidays, mitzvot, prayer and relationships. The video offerings also include those that grapple with big ideas such as “Why Does Judaism Need the Written and Oral Law?”; “Is Vegetarianism a Jewish Value?”; “Who Would Want to Worship Avodah Zarah?”; and “A Jewish Framework for Thinking About Life After Death.”
In conveying the mission of Aleph Beta, which he describes as “a non-profit multi-media company helping people read the Torah to discover its beauty, meaning and relevance,” Rabbi Fohrman shared some of his own background leading to the founding of the organization. Rabbi Fohrman grew up in the San Francisco Bay area where his father, z”l, served as an Air Force Engineer for NASA and eventually trained as a psychiatrist. Fohrman attended the tiny local Hillel Academy that his father helped found. As valedictorian of a class of five, he initiated his public speaking skills. After his father’s petira before his bar mitzvah, the family moved east and Fohrman attended Ner Yisroel in Baltimore. After he received semicha from Rabbi Yaakov Weinberg at Ner Yisroel Rabbinical College in 1996, Fohrman went on to earn an MA in interdisciplinary studies including history, psychology, biology and literature. Utilizing these skills, Fohrman began his exploration of Torah texts, which until that point in his education had been relegated to a back seat to learning Talmud and Oral Law. Through hyperlinks and literary devices, Fohrman was determined to “open up the world of Biblical textual study through utilizing its own texts to comment upon itself. Through integration rather than deconstruction, we can bring the meaning of the written text to new levels.”
Fohrman joined the faculty at Johns Hopkins University teaching Biblical themes where he met Leroy Hoffberger, who became a big supporter of Fohrman’s methodology. The Hoffberger Foundation for Torah Study was founded by Leroy Hoffberger as a support foundation for Rabbi Fohrman’s work, even prior to the founding of Aleph Beta. A second Hoffberger Institute, located in New York and created as a legacy to Mr. Hoffberger, is called The Hoffberger Institute for Text Study/Hoffberger Fund for Biblical Studies, which has become the incorporated official name for Aleph Beta.
Founded in 2013, Aleph Beta has a three-fold goal. The first is to give a modern medium to an ancient method. “Through stunning, animated videos and slickly-produced audios, the timeless wisdom of the Torah is presented in a way that stands up to the best production value that the secular world has to offer.” The second goal is to show how the Torah’s wisdom is relevant to our lives in surprising and relevant ways. “Our mission is to help you re-visit the text you may already be quite familiar with, read it honestly, without preconceived notions or barriers, and authentically discover the richness that was always there. Our guarantee is that you will be deeply surprised about the latent meaning in laws and stories you may have long overlooked.”
Finally, the Aleph Beta content is rigorous and at the same time emotionally compelling. “We create content that asks tough intellectual questions but also appeals to the most emotionally and spiritually inclined.”
Teaneck resident Immanuel Shalev serves as the executive producer and CEO of Aleph Beta.
Realizing the power of video through having served as director and vocalist for The Maccabeats, Shalev is utilizing his law degree to promote the mission of Aleph Beta. In his position, he oversees teams of scholars, script writers, editors, art directors, marketers and developers. Shalev shared that to date Aleph Beta hosts 10,000 paid subscribers and over 100,000 users. This audience hails from within the U.S. as well as Israel, the UK, Australia, Hong Kong, South Africa and South America. Recently, a French Jewish community as well as a non-Jewish South Korean community purchased large quantities of Aleph Beta educational materials. In addition to the subscribers, Aleph Beta is supported by a loyal cadre of producers who donate 40% of the program’s budget. This year, Aleph Beta has added a three-hour live virtual explication of kinot to its Tisha B’Av offerings that will be led by Rabbi Fohrman joined by scholars/researchers Beth Lesch, Ami Silver and Daniel Lowenstein. Following at 3-4 p.m., an exclusive backstage pass program for the producers circle will be presented as a bonus to key supporters of the program. Rabbi Fohrman will expound upon the backstory of this year’s latest Tisha B’Av video and engage in a live give-and-take discussion with the audience.
Beth Lesch serves as a scholar and researcher for Aleph Beta. Having studied in Israel at Midreshet Rachel and Nishmat, her goal was to support Torah study. After earning an MBA in non-for-profit administration, she served as the director of Ma’ayan, a high-level Torah-learning program for women in Boston. Being a subscriber to Aleph Beta, she eagerly applied for a position as writer at Aleph Beta where she was mentored by Rabbi Fohrman. Currently making aliyah with her young family from Nashville, Tennessee, Lesch has worked in front of the lens as well as behind the scenes on many of the Aleph Beta programs. She shared that the kinot explication came at the request of subscribers who wanted to approach the difficult text with the Aleph Beta methodology. The three-hour program will spotlight selected chapters and be followed by silent recitations of the kinah.
Paramount for Rabbi David Fohrman is our love for Torah. “The Torah can forge a closer relationship between us and God. The Aleph Beta adventure will help solidify this relationship through its literary devices of connection between texts. In answer to what Judaism is trying to teach us about the purpose of life and the right way to live, there is no simple answer. But we can find guidance through God’s words by looking closely at the Torah’s stories, laws and language.”
For further information about Aleph Beta’s upcoming Tisha B’Av programs as well as ongoing presentations go to alephbeta.org. See ad for discount coupon.
By Pearl Markovitz