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The Starbucks Talmud

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My review of the Artscroll iPad app in the latest issue of Jewish Action (link):

We live in an age of customization, when consumers demand products tailored to their specific desires. You don’t simply order a cup of coffee; you mix and match different flavors and options, detailing exactly how you want it to taste. Online stores present a virtually unlimited display of brands and models, well beyond what you would find stocked in a store. This ethos of customization has spread beyond consumer products, affecting our lives.

Print media is disintegrating as magazines and newspapers give way to web reading, where we use various tools to find articles that meet our personal interests. Is there a future for books, which are mass produced and cannot be customized? As I previously discussed in this magazine,1 I believe books are here to stay. However, whoever discovers how to personalize the reading experience will certainly pave the way for the next generation of content providers.

I would not have thought that Talmud study could be personalized. I do not doubt that the published look of the Talmud has changed over the years, but the changes have been incremental. I remember when the Talman Shas introduced the bold font for introductory words in Rashi’s Talmud commentary. That minor change was considered revolutionary, an educational flash of genius that took the yeshivah study halls by storm. We are now witnessing a more significant change, a next-generation Talmud which will radically redefine the text and its relationship to students.

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Gil Student

Rabbi Gil Student is the founder, publisher and editor-in-chief of Torah Musings.

The opinions and facts here are presented solely by the author. Torah Musings assumes no responsibility for them. Please address religious questions to your rabbi.

30 Responses

  1. nice review. couple of typos.

  2. JLan says:

    Except that it doesn’t actually allow the real customization- taking notes of your own. It’s pretty, but it doesn’t actually allow you to engage with the text in one of the most significant fashions that a paper gemara does. Doesn’t sound very “personalized” to me!

  3. Mr. Cohen says:

    May G_d grant all Jews who study Torah LeShem Shamayim their desires for: healing, health, wealth, happiness, peace, and everything good.

  4. David Tzohar says:

    The Schottenstein Talmud is definatly zaltz before was Steina crutch as was Seinzaltz before it. This new app sounds like the ultimate crutch. Maybe even a wheelchair. There is just nothing t opening a hat can take the place of opening a gemarra myour head over a tough tosephot or a contradiction between two Amorim whodisagree over the peirush of the Mishna.

  5. David Tzohar says:

    The Schottenstein Talmud is definatly a crutch as was ch as was Seinzaltz before it. This new app sounds like the ultimate crutch. Maybe even a wheelchair. There is just nothing that can that can take the place of opening a gemarra and breaking your head over a tough tosephot or a contradiction between two Amorim who disagree over the peirush of the Mishna.

  6. Nachum says:

    David: Why? Is learning some sort of intellectual exercise? Is the Gemara not meant to be easily understood?

  7. avi says:

    Let’s have more wheel chairs. As it is, not enough people know what the talmud actually says, especially yeshiva students.

  8. Jon says:

    A nice review, and hopefully this app is the start of a great future in the best of modern tech and Torah study. I can only add from a technophile’s perspective, the app is not yet slick enough or innovative enough, to make you say woah. The beauty of many apps is in the fluidity of user interface and also the innovative method of presenting the content/interacting with content, which I think this app does not do or feel.

  9. shmuel says:

    The most revolutionary feature is that all cited texts and commentaries are “linked” so that when reading a gemmara, Rashi or Tosfos in one volume you can tap and voila the referenced text pops up so that you can read it “in context”

  10. joel rich says:

    I guess the thing I struggle with (and this is true in society in general but more so with us) is the reduction in face to face learning time on a hashkafic (i.e. even if you have no interchange, just being in the presence of a rebbi) and practical (for me face to face vs. mp3 vs. ipad vs. bicd is the same if I can’t have the chance to ask stupid (or infrequently good) questions to clarify my understanding.)
    IIUC there’s been a lot of research on the decrease in interpersonal interactions since the walkman – we need to find the shvil hazahav. (a dialectic – what a surprise)


  11. shachar haamim says:

    whne they have pop up links to the Rosh and the Meiri’s Beit HaBechirah the revolution wil, truly be complete

  12. David Tzohar says:

    R’JR- A good point. Interaction with an ipad doesn’t replace interaction with a rebbi’
    Nachum-Learning is an intellectual activity and being spoon fed by high tech applications doesn’t stimulate the intellect. The same could be said of going to Kitzur Shulchan Aruch or Shmirat Shabbat Kehilcheta for hilchot shabbat rather than learning them out through the Mishna down to the acharonei acharonim. This is not just an intellectual exercise, but the only way to seriously learn Torah

  13. IH says:

    R’DT & R’JH — let’s test your hypothesis. What did your Rebbe teach you about the woman and the snake in B. Shabbat 110a (Daf Yomi this past Jan 21)?

    Artscroll App translation is “A woman who was entered by a snake should part her legs and be made to sit on two barrels. One should bring fatty meat and throw it on burning coals. And he should also bring a basket of cress and fragrant wine, and put them there. One should mix [the wine and cress] together. [The woman] should hold a pair of tongs in her hand so that when the [the snake] smells the aroma and comes out of her, she will be able to sieze it and burn it in the fire. For if she does not do so, it will return to her.”

  14. Nachum says:

    Wow, IH, you’re really obssessed with that Gemara. Do you think it’s the only “weird” thing in the Gemara? Come on. It’s Talmudic medicine, which we always disregard but learn anyway. What’s the big deal?

    I imagine that back in the day (and in some parts of the world even today), it was an issue.

    David Tzohar: Really? It’s a game? What if I want to know what the Gemara says, period? I’m not allowed?

  15. micha says:

    RDT: I agree WRT gemara that the point is the process more than the results. Torah learning is divided into miqra — Tanakh, mishnah — decided halakhah (the quote is older than Rebbe’s work by that name), and talmud — halachic process.

    (Where is aggadita? According to the Rambam, it’s not talmud Torah, it’s part of loving G-d [Yesodei haTorah 2:1]. According to others, it’s part of talmud. But back from the tangent…)

    Therefore, if the only way one can learn daf yomi is by having it spoon-fed, maybe one shouldn’t learn daf yomi. Our grandfathers would have carried around a mishnayos with Bartenura for daily learning, and learned gemara less frequently at a pace where they could piece it out for themselves.

    Learning already decided halakhah, though, is a different topic. I see nothing against going to a Chayei Adam, Qitzur, Ben Ish Chai, Arukh haShulkhan, Mishnah Berurah, Chafetz Chaim or Shemiras Shabbos keHilkhasah. As long as it’s not mishnah to the exclusion of talmud. It’s better than someone trying to decide halakhah “above their pay grade” from their own analysis of the sources.

  16. Mr. Cohen says:

    Avi said on March 7, 2013 at 3:10 am:

    “…not enough people know what the Talmud
    actually says, especially yeshiva students.”

    If that is true, then why do some FFBs look down on BTs?

  17. micha says:

    Tangent: isn’t the snake thing obviously about Chavah, the nachash and the eitz hada’as? We were tipped off near the top of the amud that we weren’t only talking about snakes when Abayei suggests, “דילמא חיויא דרבנן — maybe it’s a rabbinic ‘snake'” ie cheirem. And Chava was expelled…

  18. Shlomo says:

    What if I want to know what the Gemara says, period? I’m not allowed?

    (Only slightly facetiously) why would you want to? If you are looking for psak, you should really go to the later codes and commentaries. If you want to learn for what Litvaks call “lishma” reasons, why does it matter how fast you come to understand the material?

    “…not enough people know what the Talmud actually says, especially yeshiva students.” – If that is true, then why do some FFBs look down on BTs?

    1. Many FFBs have large gaps in their religiousness, covered up by a veneer of social appropriateness that has been developed over many years. A BT who is willing to cut right to the big issues is potentially threatening to them.

    2. Many BTs are not well socially adjusted.

  19. Hirhurim says:

    One of my points in this article is that the app is (or can be) less of a crutch than the paper book.

  20. Nachum says:

    Micha: Indeed, there was an article in Ten Da’at (YU’s education journal once) that said that “mishna” includes Mishna, Tosefta, and Braita (pretty much anything a Tanna says in the Talmud- easy hint, pretty much anything in Hebrew rather than Aramaic- as well as the Rif, Rambam, Shulchan Aruch, etc. Talmud is anything that’s more the process than the settled law.

    Mr. Cohen: Because they’re baselessly arrogant?

    Shlomo: Good point. But why can’t l’shma be simple?

  21. Moshe Shoshan says:

    For the record, bold print rashi was first introduced in the Warsaw Shas long ago. This edition was reprint and readily available in the US at least through the 1960’s. The state of affairs in which the Vilna edition is the only one available is relatively recent.

  22. Moshe Shoshan says:

    btw good review,
    is it true that you cant make your own notes to the gemara on the App. This is very telling.

  23. Hirhurim says:

    Moshe: Thank you. Correct, you cannot add your notes. I’m sure they’ll include that feature eventually. Frankly, it never occurred to me because I always keep my notes separate.

  24. IH says:

    Wow, IH, you’re really obssessed with that Gemara. Do you think it’s the only “weird” thing in the Gemara? Come on. It’s Talmudic medicine, which we always disregard but learn anyway. What’s the big deal?

    Nachum — It’s obviously *not* Talmudic medicine (you’re no dummy and understand anatomy perfectly well). And the most common response I get is “they didn’t teach us that gemara”.

  25. Chuck says:

    Great review! I was also bothered by the lack of an ability to add notes – and I contacted artscroll about it. They said they are working on adding it in, and will be available soon.

  26. IH says:

    To amplify Chuck’s point, the commitment of Artscroll to this product is impressive. Version 1.6 was just made available with yet more improvements.

    What’s New in Version 1.6

    *** Explore the Talmud in 3D! ***

    – See the scenes of Eruvin come to life – as you explore 3D versions of select images.
    – Zoom in – Zoom out
    – See an aerial view of the cases.
    – Rotate the images 360 in all directions

    *** Vilna Page Break Down and Color Coding ***

    – Now you can break down the Vilna Page in to logical blocks and see a visual map of the “flow” of the Talmudic Discussion
    – The Vilna Page can even be broken down into color coded sections – vividly showing – 5 different types of blocks: Question, Statement, Answer, Inquiry and Proof
    – Each Statement type has a configurable color – which instantly color the Vilna page – the Talmud Page Literally No longer Just Black and White
    – Show letters representing the statement breakdown
    – Single Color mode if you just want to see the Vilna blocks without color

  27. joel rich says:

    do you see any irony in the attacks on the original R’ Steinsaltz for not keeping the tzurat hadaf while now using the tzurat hadaf to spoon feed? (not to mention who designed the original tzura anyway)

  28. IH says:

    R’ Joel – P’shita. That was before the Internet. This is after “Chadash” has been recalibrated by Internet time.

    Some say, that was about Lakewood, which is sensitive and this is about the Am ha’Artzim who don’t know any better. When R. Ploni was visiting from the West, he said that B’nei Brak is like Lakewood.


  29. shachar haamim says:

    is there an app like this with a Hebrew translation/explanation?

  30. Jon Baker says:

    Moshe Simon:

    Actually, bold-print Rashis were invented over a century before the Warsaw Shas. I have a couple of pocket-sized Gemaras printed by Proops in Amsterdam c. 1740 +/- 5 which have rubricated Rashis: http://thanbook.blogspot.com/2009/03/small-format-gemaras.html


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