Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Rise and Fall of the Sefer

In the mid-1970s, we began to hear about the paperless office. Even prior to the PC revolution, it was already predicted that in the near future all documents would be stored digitally, hence negating the necessity for keeping physical copies.

Yet as the PC market ballooned during the 80s and 90s, printers, faxes and home copiers followed suit, causing a doubling of the amount of paper that consumers needed.

The last few decades have seen a remarkable increase in the proliferation of Seforim. Contributing factors for this include: the sheer number of Yeshiva Bachurim and Kollel fellows, the ease in which technology enables thought to be brought to paper due to word processing programs, and a strong economy.

Yet the last few decades has also brought us the online Seforim databases. This has been a spectacular boon to scholars, but the negative side effect may be that less physical Seforim will now be printed.

There are certain Seforim that are used on a constant basis, for example the Gemara that you will be learning for the Zman, and the Rishonim that accompany that text. Yet the obscure Shu”t Seforim, that are used infrequently will certainly become victim to the online explosion. Why buy something that I only need to look something up on occasion, when I can just as easily and more cheaply accomplish the same goal via hebrewbooks.org and the like?

Not so long ago I predicted the advent of the digital Beis HaMedrash. I believe that such a reality is coming sooner than I thought. The Ipad has shown us that it is as much a lifetool as a plaything. I assume that some young businessman will soon be marketing a large size Ipad prototype which will house all the major tomes of learning in PDF or text format, in addition to a large enough hard drive which will hold all Seforim currently known to man. This will satisfy the directive of those Roshei Yeshiva who do not wish to be connected to the Internet.

P.S. I wrote this a few days ago before I saw this.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Da Ma Sha Ta shav La Cha mar

It’s been well nigh 3,300 years since the world has encountered a talking donkey, yet in the Jblogosphere, there roams a beast who carries the burden of defending Torah values.

While many from the Torah world are afraid to enter the Jblog dens of iniquity, this brave soul, with the outside shell of a cowardly donkey, but the innards of a brave lion, battles fearlessly for Kavod HaTorah.

On his resurrected blog, he champions the innate difference between Good and Evil, Jews and non-Jews, Holy and the unHoly.

Whereas one might expect the bray of a donkey to be fundamentally incoherent, I find his good cheer and good humor along with his brilliant command of the English, Hebrew and Yiddish languages to be refreshing.

He is the very antithesis of this witty poem composed by Rabbi Avigdor Miller:

In a lion’s skin, an ass did hide
And no one knew, who was inside
Until himself, he did betray
By opening up his mouth to bray

And so I felt it was my sacred duty to answer a difficult question posed recently on his blog. To paraphrase:

There is a well known Segulah that one who lost something can give Tzedakah to Rav Meir Baal Haness and utter a magic incantation to discover the lost item. A lesser known Segulah for answering difficult questions in “learning” is to recite Parashas HaMenorah. Since there exists a well known the saying in the Talmud (Niddah 30b) that we learn the entire Torah in-Utero,

ואין לך ימים שאדם שרוי בטובה יותר מאותן הימים שנאמר מי יתנני כירחי קדם כימי אלוה ישמרני ואיזהו ימים שיש בהם ירחים ואין בהם שנים הוי אומר אלו ירחי לידה ומלמדין אותו כל התורה כולה שנאמר ויורני ויאמר לי יתמך דברי לבך שמור מצותי וחיה ואומר בסוד אלוה עלי אהלי מאי ואומר וכי תימא נביא הוא דקאמר ת"ש בסוד אלוה עלי אהלי וכיון שבא לאויר העולם בא מלאך וסטרו על פיו ומשכחו כל התורה כולה שנאמר לפתח חטאת רובץ
why can’t we use the first Segulah mentioned above and give charity and utter the incantation when we are stumped in our learning?

A noble question indeed. So I gave Tzedakah, Lained the Parashas HaMenorah, and this is what I came up with:

There is a little known Medrash which poses the following query: Suppose you have a fellow from long ago who is strolling along until he encounters a telephone-pole-like structure 200 feet tall. Perched perfectly on top is a huge diamond. Although ladders had not yet been invented , this man thinks of the concept, builds a ladder and secures the treasure. A similar story finds a second man from long ago, unbeknownst to the first, who peers down a deep 200 foot pit and discovers a diamond at the bottom. He also thinks of the concept of a ladder, builds one, and descends and ascends with the gem. The question is: Which one is the bigger genius?

According to the Medrash, the latter is wiser. For the first person knew that there had to be a method in which the stone was placed atop the pole, hence it was just a matter of figuring out how; whereas the latter person who discovered the gem in the pit wasn’t sure that there even was a way to get it back, as it simply may have fallen there. Even so, without knowing that there EXISTED a solution, he was able to figure it out.

Sometimes someone poses a riddle and asks for the answer. Knowing that there IS an answer, is half the battle. Yet sometimes we seek a solution to a complex question and we are not ever sure that one exists.

So perhaps that can answer our conundrum. If one loses his keys, he knows that he left them somewhere, it is just a matter of time and energy to locate them. Whereas a difficult Ketzos – maybe there is no logical answer. In this case, the only solution is Parashas Hamenorah. Perhaps the light of the Menorah will cast it’s beacon and direct us to places and answers that we’ve never been to, seen of, or thought of before.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

ITalmud for Ipad

Having Shas at one's fingertips used to be an expression. Now it is reality.

The fine folks at crowdedroad.com have released a beautiful app which enables remote learning of the Gemara. I am wondering how soon it will be until these devices make their way to the Beis HaMedrash.

From their website:

✔ HD GRAPHICS - Use the power of the iPad to touch browse, pan and zoom through full, high-definition pages of the Talmud in both the original "Tzuras Hadaf" and in English or Hebrew text view mode.

✔ ENGLISH TRANSLATION - Fully integrated English translation for the entire Talmud, with thousands of footnotes, references and insights.

✔ AUDIO LECTURES - Daf Yomi lectures are integrated and free. You can listen to a English shiur/lecture on any daf and simultaneously follow along inside with the text or image page view. Lectures are given by Rabbi Dovid Grossman of Los Angeles, a founder of the Yeshiva Gedola of Los Angeles.

✔ COMMENTARIES - The classic "Daf View" includes all the classic commentaries on the Daf. In addition, the Hebrew text view includes, one-touch, hyperlinked commentaries of Rashi, Tosfos and other medieval commentators.

✔ KEYWORD SEARCH - iTalmud features a text search for the entire Talmud. You can then view the page in either a text or image-based format.

✔ CONTENT DOWNLOAD MANGER - Due to the large size of the Talmud images and audio lectures, all pages are downloadable on-demand and then stored locally your device. You can download by daf/page or by masechta. Please note that the update engine will work even if the phone goes into sleep mode. (Please also note that Daf View images are made available according to the “Daf Yomi” schedule.)

✔ BOOKMARKS - Create bookmarks so that you can easily return to the page you were studying at a later time.

✔ “DAF YOMI” CALCULATOR – Integrated “Daf Yomi” calculator allows you to jump to the day’s “Daf” with a single touch.

✔ NAVIGATION – Browse by Seder (Order), Masechta (Tractate) and/or jump to any page (daf) in the entire Talmud in an instant. You can jump from one page to the next within a Masechta with the tap of an arrow. The app will even remember the last page you were studying and load that by by default when you next launch the app.
Locations of visitors to this page