Torah Games and the Future of Learning

Kids Can Learn More From Games Than You Think

Thinkstock

By Elissa Strauss

Published August 25, 2012, issue of August 31, 2012.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

Rabbi Owen Gottlieb believes that the future of Jewish education is in games — both video and analog, like card and board games. Gottlieb, 38, is a doctoral candidate in education and Jewish studies at New York University and is the director and founder of ConverJent, which designs and develops games for Jewish learning and is incubated at Clal, the National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership, based in New York City.

Rabbi Gottlieb spoke to the Forward about why video games are great educational tools, what they have in common with rabbinic literature and why no topic should be off-limits for games.

Why should we be moving toward more gaming in education?

The secular world is putting a tremendous amount of investment in games. The MacArthur Foundation, for example, has dedicated millions of dollars to expand digital media and learning in the U.S. to improve secular education.

Well-designed games are complex learning systems that provide the player feedback, are oriented toward problem-solving, often require collaboration and place learners in a “flow” state, where they are neither bored nor overly challenged. Learning games are now being developed and researched by game scholars and designers for subjects including science, technology, engineering, art and math. They are also used to teach history, civics and language acquisition. Video games allow researchers to gather a great deal of data on how learning is taking place and how changes in design relate to changes in learning.

How did you get interested in the intersection of Jewish education and gaming?

I have an eclectic background. I worked in Internet software development for clients like Disney and also worked as a screen and television writer for studios in Los Angeles. This was before I decided to pursue rabbinical studies. In 2004, I left Los Angeles for Israel, spending a year in the Negev Desert teaching modern dance and hip-hop, and then another year in Jerusalem for my first year of rabbinical school at Hebrew Union College.

Also, games creation was an important part of my childhood. I would devise games at home with friends, and at summer camp with friends. During college, my peer group included passionate gamers, computer scientists, artists and engineers. So, my work on Jewish games is really everything coming together — media, technology, Torah learning, art and design.

What are the benefits of gaming in a Jewish context?

I usually concentrate on the connection between rabbinic literature and games. And there is a lot of overlap. In rabbinic literature, two strands are: halachic, or legal literature, or rule-based systems, and aggadic literature, our Jewish stories. Video games and all games are built on rule-based systems. Many games also involve a narrative or story.

Halachic debates, such as those in the Talmud, consider multiple hypothetical scenarios. Game systems are excellent for visualizing and sometimes (in the case of board and card games) making these hypotheticals tangible. A game, as a modeled system, allows a player to consider various situations and outcomes. The “play” of Talmud study can be designed into games.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • From kosher wine to Ecstasy, presenting some of our best bootlegs:
  • Sara Kramer is not the first New Yorker to feel the alluring pull of the West Coast — but she might be the first heading there with Turkish Urfa pepper and za’atar in her suitcase.
  • About 1 in 40 American Jews will get pancreatic cancer (Ruth Bader Ginsberg is one of the few survivors).
  • At which grade level should classroom discussions include topics like the death of civilians kidnapping of young Israelis and sirens warning of incoming rockets?
  • Wanted: Met Council CEO.
  • “Look, on the one hand, I understand him,” says Rivka Ben-Pazi, a niece of Elchanan Hameiri, the boy that Henk Zanoli saved. “He had a family tragedy.” But on the other hand, she said, “I think he was wrong.” What do you think?
  • How about a side of Hitler with your spaghetti?
  • Why "Be fruitful and multiply" isn't as simple as it seems:
  • William Schabas may be the least of Israel's problems.
  • You've heard of the #IceBucketChallenge, but Forward publisher Sam Norich has something better: a #SoupBucketChallenge (complete with matzo balls!) Jon Stewart, Sarah Silverman & David Remnick, you have 24 hours!
  • Did Hamas just take credit for kidnapping the three Israeli teens?
  • "We know what it means to be in the headlines. We know what it feels like when the world sits idly by and watches the news from the luxury of their living room couches. We know the pain of silence. We know the agony of inaction."
  • When YA romance becomes "Hasidsploitation":
  • "I am wrapping up the summer with a beach vacation with my non-Jewish in-laws. They’re good people and real leftists who try to live the values they preach. This was a quality I admired, until the latest war in Gaza. Now they are adamant that American Jews need to take more responsibility for the deaths in Gaza. They are educated people who understand the political complexity, but I don’t think they get the emotional complexity of being an American Jew who is capable of criticizing Israel but still feels a deep connection to it. How can I get this across to them?"
  • “'I made a new friend,' my son told his grandfather later that day. 'I don’t know her name, but she was very nice. We met on the bus.' Welcome to Israel."
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.