Friday, October 30, 2009

The Internet and the Future of Learning

The last post dealt with the online resource There are other sites which feature manuscripts online and huge resources of ancient Seforim. Even the behemoth Google has a vast array of online books.

What I’d like to discuss here is the future of learning. As we enter the digital age, I foresee a time when the computer will be a familiar sight in the Beis Medrash. In the not so distant future, I picture a wide screen atop each Shtender with digital or PDF versions of all Seforim ever printed.

Imagine you are learning Chulin. You would choose from Tzuras Hadaf or digital versions, whatever suits you best. If you mouse-over any given word, you will be able to link to the Rishonim, Acharonim, Rambam, Shulchan Aruch etc. You will be learning Tosfos, and you won’t need to get out of your seat to find the Gemara quoted, a simple click will bring up the relevant text. You will be able to access medical tomes and encyclopedias to better understand the intricacies of Eilu Treifos.

If you don’t understand something, you will send an instant message to your Chaver across the room. You might even IM your Rebbe, if protocol allows.

If a pandemic hits, you might sit at home and access the Shiur live online, or download it to view at your convenience. You will be able to review the Shiur as long as it takes to understand it. No Rebbe will need to say over a Shiur 400 times.

Talmidim who are proficient will type their notes as the Rebbe speaks. Others will use dictation software if their typing skill are lacking. Jewish themed Youtubes will abound with Shiurim from all the great Roshei Yeshiva. Kinaas Sofrim will ensure that the quality of these lectures be superb.

Anyone with worthwhile Chiddushim will publish their writings on peer reviewed blogs. Anti-plagiarism software will ensure that each thought is unique.

Please add your ideas of the futuristic Bais Mesrash in the comments.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Internet and Technology at

You are at work and you want to look up a Rashba on Baba Kamma. You are on vacation and you don’t want to carry all your Seforim with you. You need to look up a Sefer, but your Shul or Yeshiva library doesn’t own it. You are doing research and you need to look up a reference in an obscure Sefer printed in the 18th century.

One of the best kept secrets of the Internet is

This post is dedicated to Rabbi Rosenberg and all those who assist him in his endeavor to make Seforim available to the public anywhere in the world, at any time.

What started out as a project to save from oblivion the Seforim printed in America has blossomed into a virtual library of some 40,000 titles, literally at one’s fingertips. offers free of charge access to PDF’s of almost any Sefer imaginable. A search feature is included, in addition to a virtual keyboard. You can download any Sefer you want to peruse at your convenience. There is even a link to, where you can choose to have the Sefer of your choice printed, bound and shipped for a nominal fee.

Another amazing feature is the commentaries on the Rambam. You can choose any Halacha of the Rambam and see at a glance which Meforshim comment, and the digital text of what they say. This is a huge time saver, precluding the need to open up the various commentators.

Recently another section has been added to the site, which enables one to quickly see which Meforshim are available for any given page in Shas. Another new feature enables one to search the Shu”t Seforim for a Siman, rather than a page number.

You can search by author, you can search by title. You can even do an OCR search. The neatest feature shows the title page when you mouse-over the entry. Suppose there are several Seforim with the same name. Or even the same Sefer from different years. This quickly allows you to find what you need.

I’ve said in the past that in all good lies some evil. There is no evil on this website.

Disclaimer: I have no connection whatsoever to

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Moetzes, Agudah and The Rock

There has been discussion recently on other blogs whether the Agudah is a worthwhile organization. While all agree that they certainly were very successful in the post WWII years in aiding refugees, setting up summer camps and the like, some have questioned what role they play today.

I glanced at their yearly calendar to get a feel for what services they offer. COPE, Professional Career Sevices, Daf Yomi, Advocacy and Civic Action, Pichei and B’nos for youth, Invei Hagefen for shidduchim, Bikur Cholim, and the Benevolent Society, just to name a few. Although one may not necessarily be worried that he will be fired for not working late Friday, the very fact that Agudah exists serves as a deterrent for employers. In my opinion, there definitely seems to be an abundance of good emanating from 42 Broadway.

The name “Agudah” by definition is one of their better successes. True that there are fringe elements on the left and on the right, but Agudah has managed to conglomerate the majority of the Yeshiva World and speak through their Moetzes, with one voice. Serving on the Moetzes leaves very little personal time. It is much easier to lock oneself in the Bais Medrash and study all day. Yet these rabbis shoulder the public burden 24x7. My hat is off to them.

Calling for an end to their reign reminds me of The Rock

In these lyrics, Harry Chapin eloquently describes this phenomenon. To summarize, a little boy “cries wolf” that the huge rock hanging precariously over the town will fall. The elders laugh at him, but in the end, the boy sacrifices his own life to keep the rock from falling. It is very easy to criticize, but perhaps those bloggers should first spend a day in Lower Manhattan.

Disclaimer: I am not a member and have no association to Agudah whatsoever.

Monday, October 26, 2009

The G-dfather and the Internet

What do you do if you can’t find justice using the Judicial System? In Mario Puzo’s great novel, you visit the G-dfather, who metes out justice without a court of law. While one finds himself cheering for the victim who has finally seen closure, one must also look at the big picture to determine whether the G-dfather is to be applauded or loathed in our society.

The explosion of the jblogs in the last few years has exposed many skeletons which once lay dormant. The victims of years of wrongdoing no longer have to bear their silence. The Internet as the Great Equalizer has leveled the playing field. No longer does the little guy need a publishing house, an editor and a suitcase full of dollars. All he needs is a cause and five minutes on Blogger.

But in every good lies evil. That same champion of the little guy one day becomes big himself. That same layman who decries leadership finds himself in a leadership role. Think “Animal Farm” and “1984”. What will keep the new leadership honest? Are we better off now or five years ago?

Sunday, October 25, 2009

A Man According to his Praise

To link or not to link: That is the question.

Mishlei/Proverbs Chapter 27 verse 21 reads like this:

A refining pot is for silver, and a crucible for gold, and a man according to his praises.

Rabbeinu Yonah explains that "One's character can be seen in the things he considers important enough to praise".

There is a somewhat difficult decision that must be made when owning a blog. Who gets a link and who doesn't?

There are many blogs which pertain to Orthodox Jewry yet they are critical in nature. Some written by orthodox bloggers and others not. I ask input from the readership whether they should be granted a link. On the one hand, It is easier to keep track of all that is going on in the jblogosphere if all bloggers are included, yet on the other hand, I don't want it assumed that the linked blogs are approved. Your comments are welcome.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Migdal Bavel and the Internet

Mankind once gathered to create a tower with intention to reach the heavens, overthrow G-d and take over the world. G-d thwarted their plans by creating disunity in language.

Continuing with our theme of technology's effect on Judaism, this notion causes me to reflect on the unifying power of the internet. The world wide web is an amazing force which has enabled great studies in research and invention. The entire world's libraries are now ensconced in my living room.

Yet with all this good comes evil. Men from all corners of the world are now able to find like-minded individuals for nefarious purposes. The great internet has become today's Tower of Bavel. People who used to harbor heretical thought felt isolated, thinking that they were the only ones. The internet has not only validated their thoughts, but easily and annonymously enables them to share them with others. Some even use blogs to ensnare young minds to think likewise.

So G-d sends us little warnings. Just as he perhaps created STD's and AIDS to keep one honest, so too maybe cyberspace viruses were created to put a damper on this activity.

Ultimately one will need to account for his thoughts and writings, as the archives of G-d are everlasting.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Blogs: The Last Frontier

Blogging: The Mind as the Last Frontier:

“All of your actions are written in G-d’s book, and when you die, you will watch a video of your life”.

“When Moshiach comes, the entire world will know it simultaneously”.

When we were young, these statements were accepted as an act of faith. Yet they were somewhat unbelievable. How could all our actions be written down? How could so much video be stored and retrieved on demand? How could video become so prevalent? How could the entire world see/know something simultaneously?

Yet nowadays, with the advent of the Computer, the Internet and YouTube, these once far-fetched scenarios have become a reality.
The Printing Press, the Railroad, the Automobile, the Radio, the Television, etc. All of these innovations have shrunk our world and allowed for continued improvement in communication and collaboration on yet even more complex inventions.

In Rav Shternbuch’s book, Rav Moshe speaks
an anthology of talks
by Mosheh Shṭernbukh
Published in 1988, Jewish Writers Guild (Jerusalem)

I once saw an interesting thought that I now extrapolate to explain this phenomenon. At Mount Sinai, all were believers. But as time went on, some slowly lost their Emunah. Each generation further removed from Sinai needs more assistance in retaining their belief. So whereas our forefathers believed with Emunah Peshutah that their actions were recorded, we need the reality of YouTube to allow our minds to encompass that reality.

Yet one arena has yet to be conquered. The Mind. We can now prove where you were and what you did. But what were you thinking? Did you harbor any heretical thoughts?

And that is how we arrive at Blogging, The Mind as the Last Frontier. Perhaps In a few short years everyone will have a blog in addition to their other social networking websites. Everyone will share their thoughts via their blog. Those who won’t type will simply dictate their thoughts to Blogger.

It is a scary thought indeed. But if history is a teacher, blogs are perhaps to become the antidote for today’s heretical thought.
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