I have always been very much in favour of the use of audio-visual methods in teaching. As the saying goes “One picture is worth a thousand words.” Therefore as soon as I came to the King David I began looking for suitable filmstrips to integrate into my teaching and began to catalogue all this material.

It was about this time that I saw a booklet lying in the staff room of the school, which included research degrees that one could earn in education or in educational technology. I therefore got the idea that I should research in detail evaluations of these audio-visual aids for the teaching of Jewish Studies.

I started by making an appointment with the Education Department of Liverpool University. At the meeting they informed me that they did not have an Educational Technology department. I studied this booklet carefully and saw that one of the possibilities was Leicester University. We were then coming up to a half-term holiday and I made an appointment with their Educational Technology Department.

To get to Leicester I had to take three trains. I remember that the second train was delayed and they therefore held up the connecting train. When we arrived at the connecting station, they announced over the loudspeaker system that passengers for Leicester should hurry on to the connecting train.

I went to the University and had a long discussion with the Professor, but we could not find sufficient common ground.

After this meeting, I had some time to spare before my return train left Leicester. I decided to utilise this time by looking at the local Shul which I easily found. Had I had further time I may have made a courtesy call on the Minister of this Shul. Not having this time in fact saved me a lot of embarrassment. I learnt a week or so later that this Minister had died a few days earlier and it would have been most uncomfortable to have gone to his house and asked to see him, when in fact the family were sitting Shiva for him.

The next University I tried was the Open University and here I was successful. They accepted my enrollment for the degree of Bachelor of Philosophy in Educational Technology. This is a degree which is between a B.A. and a master’s degree. The supervisor for my research was Professor Bernard Lewis, who was Deputy Director of the Institute of Educational Technology at this University. During the entire period of my research, my only contact with him was by numerous telephone calls and letters. I never met him face to face even once. I was hoping that I might meet him at the degree giving ceremony but before that he fell in a hole in the road and had a bad break in his leg, so he could not attend.

I decided that the scope of my research on the evaluations of the audio-visual material, which was almost entirely filmstrips or slides, would be limited to Jewish ritual, such as Tzitzit, Tephillin, Shabbat and the Festivals throughout the Jewish year. I would make an evaluation of these aids with respect to three main fields: their content, their ideological acceptability and their design variables.

Content of aids: One does not use an aid simply because it exists. If the content of these aids does not correspond with the knowledge the teacher wishes to impart, there is very little benefit in using them. The pupils might enjoy it more than just listening to the teacher’s voice, but they won’t come out of the lesson any wiser!

Ideological acceptability: The purpose of teaching Religious Knowledge is not just to enable the pupils to increase their knowledge, it is also to make them increase their religious observance. If an aid therefore were to include objectionable ideological material, it would do more harm than good.

Design variables: To keep the pupils interested one needs a high degree of quality. For example, it would be greatly disadvantageous to use black and white in an era when colour is the norm.

In any research, the first thing to ascertain is what has been done in the past in this field. I discovered that in the early 1960s, an American Jew named Samuel Citron had done some research in this field for a doctorate at New York University. I ordered a photocopy of his thesis and studied it. There were a lot of major differences from what I was planning. He could obviously only cover materials brought out until the end of his research, namely 1962. He only considered materials produced in the U.S.A. No attempt was made to give a thorough analysis of the contents of the aids.

My first objective was to ascertain which materials were available on the market and from where I could borrow them in order to make the necessary evaluations. From various sources, I obtained a list of producers in the United States, Israel, Britain and worldwide and I wrote to them for their catalogues. The King David High School already had a few filmstrips from Torah Umesorah, and I immediately saw that they were invariably excellent and therefore ordered their remaining filmstrips.

There were a number of libraries of various Jewish educational organisations in London who loaned out filmstrips and from them I borrowed various filmstrips to evaluate.

For general literature on audio visual materials and educational technology I utilised the Liverpool Central Library in William Brown Street which is situated in the centre of the city. Unlike Israel, where libraries of Rabbinical literature abound, in England one had to really search for such libraries. On one occasion when I was in Manchester, I used the Kollel library and when I had reason to go the London Beth Din, I referred to their library.

Now let me give an example to very briefly illustrate my method of studying the contents of a filmstrip. The subject to be analysed will be Tzitzit. The first question to ask is what points on Tzitzit the teacher wants to teach high school pupils. From an analysis of the Rabbinical literature on the subject, a list of such points is accordingly made. I would suggest that these points should include the following: material for the garment, position of hole in corner, spinning and twisting of wool for Tzitzit, stages in actual making of Tzitzit, length of Tzitzit, techelet, broken threads, checking Tzitzit, putting on Tallit katan, enwrapping in Tallit. One then goes through each filmstrip dealing with Tzitzit frame by frame, to ascertain whether a particular teaching point is included in the filmstrip and if so, rating how effectively it is done. I found three filmstrips on the subject of Tzitzit. One of the filmstrips covered these points excellently, one reasonably and the third very poorly. There would thus be very little point in a teacher using the third one to teach Tzitzit.

Even if a filmstrip covered all the points required by the teacher but also contained elements which would be ideologically unacceptable, it should not be used. However I found this to be theoretical. A producer who was interested in covering these various points, would be an Orthodox organisation who would not put in ideologically unacceptable material.

I classed ideologically unacceptable material under three headings: Reform influences, Christian influences, secular Zionist influences. Any filmstrip showing mixed seating in a Synagogue or other Reform customs would be rejected. Christian influences would usually be found in Bible filmstrips, but there was also a filmstrip “The Story of Hanukkah and Christmas.” Secular Zionist influences include customs introduced by secular Zionists on Jewish Festivals which have no basis in halachah or the equating of secular Zionist leaders with Biblical characters.

Even a filmstrip which satisfies the contents and ideological criteria has to be technically well produced. If the photography or an accompanying tape is of poor quality, it will generally be difficult to use as a teaching aid. The design variables generally need to be the most effective on the market. For example, who wants black and white today, when there is colour?

When producing audio-visual material, accuracy is of paramount importance and ambiguous pictures can cause confusion to the pupils. I shall give a few actual examples I came across on this matter.

A filmstrip on Shabbat in the house quite rightly showed the two challot one uses at every Shabbat meal. However the salt pot, in which one dips the bread into, was a twin salt pot. Accordingly a pupil asked me, quite logically, whether one requires two salts on Shabbat!

In another filmstrip, one saw the father returning home from Shul on Shabbat with a book in his hand. (The filmstrip was made in the United States where there is no Eruv in most cities and one is thus forbidden to carry in the street on Shabbat.) I therefore asked the pupils what was wrong with this picture. One pupil answered that the street door opened outwards! We see from this that even such a detail as the street door needs to be accurate.

As an experiment, I gave a number of these filmstrips to my Professor, who was non-Jewish, for his “impressionistic comments.” Being non-Jewish, he knew nothing of Jewish ritual and therefore his comments could be interesting.

One of these filmstrips was entitled “The Book that cannot be Printed” and it was on the writing of a Sefer Torah. In his assessment he wrote, “Unfortunately, this filmstrip doesn’t tell me why the book cannot be printed. And that’s a pretty severe criticism! ... What would happen if some enterprising publisher actually reproduced it in printed form? ...”

Another filmstrip entitled “Passover preparations” showed in great detail the thoroughness in which the house is cleaned for Pesach. He wrote that “I would, of course, be very disappointed to learn from you that very few Jewish households are prepared as meticulously as the cassette and films claim.” Sad to say, I feel he would be disappointed!

My evaluations were made in a professional manner and the results written up as a thesis. Home computers were still a thing of the future and material still had to be typed on typewriters. A neighbour of my mother’s in London was a typist and I employed her to do the typing. I then made a few photocopies. Universities are usually particular on the colour and type of binding of their theses and so I verified what the Open University required. I then took it to a bookbinder, who some years earlier had bound my doctorate thesis. I told him how I wanted this thesis bound and a few days later, it was bound and I then submitted it to the University.

For the examiners, the Open University chose the then Principal of Jews’ College, and a Professor of Education from London University. The examiners together with my supervisor met in Jews’ College to discuss the thesis. My supervisor commented to me afterwards on the security precautions to get into Jews’ College, and that was only the mid 1970s!

For the degree of B.Phil the candidate is not invited to an oral examination. Instead the examiners write reports, a copy of which is sent to the candidate and he has the right to answer them. One comment which the Principal of Jews’ College made concerned my observation, “Surprising as it may seem, it is not a religious observance of Tu Bishvat to plant trees. The origin is in fact probably the American Arbor Day.” In his report, he wrote that this statement was an “astounding conclusion.” In answer, I brought a number of authoritative books on the customs appertaining to Tu Bishvat and not one of them gave planting trees as a custom for that day.

The University awarded me the degree and informed me that I would soon been invited to a presentation ceremony - in fact they were very keen that I should attend such a ceremony. At these ceremonies they always confer an Honorary degree. At the ceremony which I was to be invited to, the Honorary Graduand was Maxim Bruckheimer, who was an Orthodox Jew. This was fortunate for me, since normally these ceremonies are held on Shabbat and I would thus not have been able to attend.

There was another problem which I know of from the time I was a graduate of London University. The academic gowns are usually shaatnez and have to be made specially. I accordingly informed the Open University that if I were to attend, I would have to have a gown made free from shaatnez. They were already aware of this problem from Bruckheimer and they made shaatnez free gowns for both of us.

The ceremony took place on Wednesday, 3 November 1976 at the Open University in Milton Keynes. Since it was reasonably near to London, I decided to spend the previous couple of days visiting Jewish schools in London. I was allowed to bring three visitors with me to this ceremony. Since my wife can’t stand such ceremonies, I took my mother and two aunts with me, who, in contrast, love these ceremonies. We travelled by train to Milton Keynes and then took a taxi to the Open University.

Before the ceremony, the University had arranged a tour of the campus for the visitors. Since it was the Open University, it was not a teaching campus but more of an administrative one. One of the places that they showed us was where they printed all the massive amounts of materials that they sent to the students.

I then collected my gown and hood, was photographed wearing them and went into the hall where the ceremony was to take place. The graduates to be presented that day were two who had been awarded doctorates, myself being awarded a B.Phil and about 50 receiving Bachelor of Arts degrees. The doctorate graduates and myself were seated in the front row.

At 2.30 in the afternoon, the congregation stood whilst the procession consisting mainly of officials of the University entered. The mace bearer came in wearing white gloves and placed the mace on its ceremonial stand. The Chancellor conferred an honorary doctorate on Maxim Bruckheimer, who like me, was wearing a black capel. Bruckheimer then gave an address. The graduates, starting with the doctorates, were then called up one by one on to the platform where they shook hands with the Chancellor. After an address to the graduates, the congregation rose, the National Anthem was sung, and those on the platform left the hall but this time followed by the graduates.

My family and I took a taxi to the station, they went back to London and I went to Liverpool.

The University had informed me that the degree certificate would just state the degree without stating that the subject was Educational Technology. I requested that the subject be included, but they answered me that it was not their policy, it would mar the good aesthetic appearance of the certificate and I was the first person to have ever made this request. However they gave me an official letter that the subject of my research was educational technology and that “the three examiners unanimously considered your thesis to be a highly creditable piece of work.”

I had not told anyone in the school that I was working for this degree. Only when the letter informing me of my award arrived, did I inform the Headmaster and others. One pupil came up to me and said, “Some people collect stamps, some coins but you collect degrees.” At about the same time as I received this degree, Rabbi Turk of Childwall Synagogue also received one. The gabbai of this Synagogue announced that both Rabbi Turk and I had received degrees. “It seems that the Universities are not full of Arabs but of Rabbis!” he added.

This research was not just for the shelves of a University Library, but the volume was of great use to Jewish Studies teachers. Towards the end of the volume was a list of filmstrips which I recommended as a result of my research. One teacher, (without even asking me, but I didn’t mind!) copied out this list and sent it over the country, but he did give me the credit as the author.

I sent copies of this book to a number people involved in Jewish education. Included was the Chief Rabbi and he replied to me:

Many thanks for letting me have a copy of your impressive volume on audio-visual aids in Jewish religious knowledge which I have just received.
On a mere cursory glance so far, this strikes me as a massive and most useful work which will hopefully prove of great value in improving the quality and intensity of Jewish education. Please accept my warm congratulations on this significant achievement.

At the same time that I was working on my thesis, I prepared a catalogue of audio visual materials which were available for teaching Halachah. This typewritten, but unpublished catalogue, was almost 250 pages long. The first chapters dealt with the names of the producers of these materials, addresses from where one could borrow them, general catalogues already existing on these materials, and equipment required to use these aids.

Then followed the major part of this catalogue in the chapter entitled: “A Comprehensive Survey of Audio-Visual Materials.” For each aid surveyed, the following information was given: nature of aid, title, name and address of producers, date of production, price, libraries from where it could be borrowed, technical details, a detailed account of its contents, my comments and criticisms and finally how I rated the aid.

In the following chapter of the catalogue, I indicated which of the aids described in the previous chapter, I considered would be suitable for classroom use. This was followed by “models, equipment and ceremonial objects” which could be used by the teacher. I then gave in detail a number of suggested courses into which these various aids could be integrated. Finally there were some very short appendices dealing with films and programmed texts.

The National Union of Hebrew Teachers very much liked this catalogue, and in each edition of their journal “Hamoreh” included a supplement on a section of this catalogue. On one occasion, the Headmaster passed me a copy of “Hamoreh” which he had received. I told him that there was a supplement written by me in it but he said that he had not noticed it.

After my supplement began to appear in “Hamoreh,” the President of the NUHT wrote to me saying that “several people have already expressed pleasure with the supplement on Audio-Visual Aids and are looking forward to the next issue.”

to continue

to documents

to contents

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

to view "The Collected Writings of Rabbi Dr. Chaim Simons" please click here