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.


  1. Question: Is this good or bad for the Jews. No doubt with the birth of folios there were those lamenting the decline and fall of the scrolls.

  2. To play devil's advocate, many modern things have been resisted. Why not e-readers? All you really need is influential rabbeim and roshei yeshiva to constantly drill that it is inappropriate for a beis midrash. If it becomes "baalebatish" all the easier to marginalize it as something for non-bnai Torah.

  3. Bray: It is both good and bad. Good that online databases are available; bad that hard copy will go the way of the dodo.

  4. S:

    It is a losing battle. I remember how a few short years ago the cell phone was inappropriate for use by a Bnai Torah. Certainly not to be used while walking in the street. Yet nowadays it is par for the course.

    The only way the RY will be able to keep the Ipad out of the BM is by attacking the internet-ready capabilities. But as soon as someone markets the Ipad Meushar (TM) that can not connect to the internet and has the entire hebrewbooks database on it...

  5. And when they discover that the hebrewbooks database isn't completely kosher?

  6. I suppose the Ipad Meushar (TM) will have all it's "apps" Meushar also. The Gabai Seforim job will transition from hard copy tasks to approval of each Sefer.

    Maybe you can get a job rating each Sefer in the Database. :-)


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