Posted on December 3rd, 2010 3 comments
For a while I have been thinking about doing a post on the best Jewish Apps for your handheld devices. As it happens, our conservative colleague Rabbi Jason Miller beat me to creating a list and did such a great job that this week I break from protocol and post his piece -with permission of course. I hope that these Apps bring a little light, or at least a little convenience and productivity to your lives. -Ruth
The Best Jewish Apps Of 2010
From tehillim to kosher restaurants, from kaparot to recipes, our tech guru picks the top 33 applications.
Rabbi Jason Miller
Special To The Jewish Week
As more Jewish people acquire the latest in handheld technology – think iPhones, iPads, Android-powered smartphones, BlackBerrys and tablet PCs — there will be more Jewish-themed applications available for download.
Some of these apps will be utilities for checking the Hebrew date or learning about the weekly Torah portion. Other apps will be novelties like making shofar sounds for Rosh HaShanah and grogger sounds on Purim. With many Jewish developers around the world, you can be certain there will be no dearth of Jewish apps in the coming year.
What follows is a roundup (in no particular order) of the top Jewish-themed apps from the past year. This is far from an exhaustive list as there are hundreds of other Jewish apps available, including Jewish and Israeli newspaper versions, apps that let you donate to particular charities, a Gematria (Jewish numerology) calculator, and a guide for keeping kosher at Disney World. Check outwww.jewishiphonecommunity.org for a comprehensive listing of Jewish apps as they are released.
POCKET iSIDDUR – Free: This free iPod and iPhone version of the prayerbook comes with every version imaginable, from Sephardic to Ashkenazic. The new version has adjustable font size. iPad version also available. Available from Apple’s iTunes App Store.
SIDDUR – $9.99: RustyBrick’s version of the siddur for Apple’s mobile devices is expensive, but impressive. Comes with real-time zmanim (prayer times) for each day based on your location. Available from Apple’s iTunes App Store.
iPARASHAH – $4.99: Created by JACA Software Solutions, this app gives you the weekly Torah portions in the palm of your hand. Search for any parsha by name or date with this app. Available from Apple’s iTunes App Store.
TANACH FOR ALL – $3.99: Get the whole Jewish Bible on your iPhone, iPod or iPad. Developed by Yaniv Kalsky, the latest version includes Parshat Hashavuah and an onscreen Hebrew keyboard. Available from Apple’s iTunes App Store.
MILA-4-PHONE – Free: Learn basic Hebrew on your iPod thanks to Birthright Israel NEXT, which just released this free Hebrew word flashcard app. Developed by Rusty Brick, this free app makes building up a Hebrew vocabulary quick and easy. Available from Apple’s iTunes App Store.
TEFILAT HADERECH FOR ALL – $0.99: Another app by Yaniv Kalsky. This provides the English and Hebrew version of the traveler’s prayer for travel by air, sea, and long car trips. Available from Apple’s iTunes App Store.
iBLESSING – $0.99: Not sure which blessing goes with which food? This app will remind you which blessing to say. If you’re Hebrew reading isn’t very good, just listen to the app say the blessing in Hebrew or English. Available from Apple’s iTunes App Store.
iZKOR – $0.99: This app provides the text for the mourning rituals in Judaism that are said in all prayer services as well as at funerals and memorial services. Just input the name of the deceased and it will generate the memorial prayer for the individual.All of the following are available from Apple’s iTunes App Store.
KOSHER – $4.99: Find the nearest kosher restaurant from the exhaustive Shamash.org database with over 2,000 trusted restaurants to choose from.
TEHILLIM – $1.99: The entire book of Psalms with linear translation.
iTALMUD – $24.99: CrownRoad developed this expensive English translation of the Talmud complete with thousands of footnotes, references and insights. You certainly get what you pay for.
PIRKEI AVOT – Free: The teachings of Pirkei Avot, the ethics of the sages, available in Hebrew and translated into English, Spanish and Portuguese.
KITZUR SHULCHAN ARUKH – $14.99: The entire Jewish legal code laid out in a beautiful format. Developed by RustyBrick, this app allows for quick keyword searches for specific laws and bookmarks to save texts for later.
HEBREW/ENGLISH TRANSLATOR – Free: RustyBrick’s dictionary is easy to use and accurate. For a free Hebrew-English dictionary, you can’t do better. Great onscreen keyboard and copy/paste functionality.
HEBREW CALENDAR – $4.99: Functions just like iCal, but with the luach (Jewish calendar) including all Jewish holidays, z’manim (special times for prayer including sunrise and sunset), event-setting feature, and easy switching between Hebrew and Gregorian calendars. Easy to read fonts on all screens.
KOSHER COOKBOOK – $2.99: Choose meat, dairy, or parve meals and this app guides you to the perfect recipe. Also develops the shopping list for each recipe and allows you to email the shopping list to others.
Available from jewishsoftware.com:
JASTROW DICTIONARY – $14.99: The complete Talmud dictionary with over 120,000 entries and bi-directional Hebrew-English and Aramaic-English references.Available from jewishsoftware.com
Available from Apple’s iTunes App Store:
iMENORAH – $2.99: Developed by Matthew Parrot, this virtual menorah lets you light candles with the touch of the screen and then watch them burn down on each night of the holiday. Perfect for small children and dorm rooms where lighting candles is not allowed.
@THE KOTEL – $1.99: This app lets you put a kvittel (note) in the Western Wall (Kotel) in Jerusalem. Developed by Yoram Berkowicz, this app allows for note writing in several languages.
SHABBAT CANDLES – $0.99: Light Shabbat candles virtually every Friday night from anywhere. Great app for the business traveler who might not be able to actually light the Sabbath candles.
LULAV WIZARD – $0.99: Download this app to virtually shake the lulav and etrog in a realistic 3D motion with the blessings appearing on the screen.
PARVEOMETER – Free: Press the meat or dairy button after your meal and this app will count down for you. You can set it to your own custom for the dairy countdown after a meat meal so you won’t miss a minute of being able to eat your ice-cream.
KAPAROT – Free: The folks at PETA would be thrilled to see the custom of waving a chicken above ones head solely done virtually before Yom Kippur, but this app only provides the blessings for the ritual. It should be noted that a sack of money can be used in lieu of the animal.
GROGGER – $0.99: If you forget to bring your noisemaker to synagogue on Purim, don’t worry and just download this app. Developed by Stuart Rubin, this app makes enough grogger sound effects to impress the whole congregation and drown out the name of the wicked Haman.
iPRAY JEWISH FOR ANDROID – Free: Siddur developed by Envision Mobile for the Android. Available from www.androidzoom.com
HEBREW SONGS – $0.99: While this app doesn’t actually play famous Hebrew songs, it is great for learning the lyrics, and figuring out the source for various songs and which holiday they’re associated with. Available from www.appstorehq.com.
DAF YOMI – Free: Learn Talmud on the go with this daily page of the Oral Law for the Android. Available from www.apppstorehq.com
JEWISH RECIPES – $0.99: Developed by Brighthouse Labs, this recipe app contains the most extensive list of Jewish-themed recipes in existence. Available fromwww.appbrain.com/app/com.brighthouselabsjewishrecipe
JBLESSINGS – $0.99: The Android version to determine which blessings to say before and after various types of food. Available fromwww.appstorehq.com.
HEBREW CALENDAR WIDGET – Free: Full Hebrew calendar including Jewish holidays and z’manim for the Android homepage. Available athttp://sites.google.com/site/androidhcal/
PRAYER DIRECTION – Free: Find the right direction for your prayer. Jews in North America traditionally face east in prayer. Available from www.appstorehq.com
ANDDAAVEN – Free: AndDaaven strives to be a siddur application that is easy to use, and leverages the full capabilities of the Android platform.http://code.google.com/p/anddaaven/
LUACH HEBREW CALENDAR FOR ANDROID – $1.99: Most complete Jewish calendar program for the Android powered smartphones. Available at www.androidzoom.com.
Posted on October 18th, 2010 No comments
Last week I reviewed a few of my favorite general religion sites. As I promised, I am continuing this week with some general news or information sites that have dedicated religion content. Let me stress, it is not really possible to read everything that is out there, but it is helpful to know where to find the kind of material that you are looking for. Each site has its own specialty. Many of the sites are well known, others not quite as well known. Once again I welcome additional thoughts and ideas.
BBC Religion: This site, a department of BBC worldwide, is a conglomeration of variety of features. In addition to straight news stories culled from the diversity of reportage provided by the network of BBC reporters world wide, there are links to BBC radio and TV shows dedicated to religion and ethics. But the site has a smattering of the cool elements the uniquely religion sites I discussed last week also have. There are explanations about world religions and a world religions calendar that is quite comprehensive.
NPR Religion is similar to the BBC site in that it collects the news of interest from all the variety of National Public Radio shows in one place. There are few additional bells and whistles but if you are an NPR junkie (which I am) this is a good place to find it all together. One cool thing is the ability to make a podcast of all the religion items for your listening pleasure.
Religion News on the Web is a project of the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life. Though the site is not a news generator, it is a selective aggregator of religious news from around the world. Articles are sorted by topic, region, and date, making it possible to track stories or issues in a myriad of different ways and from very different points of view. The connection with the larger Pew Forum means that there a great deal of information that can help contextualize what is going on in a broader context.
Washington Post On Religion: One of the early adapters to the new world of the web where blogging has taken the place of traditional reporting, the Washington Post has built a following by recruiting religious leaders to speak each week to a specific timely question. The quality of the questions and diversity of answers make the site a wonderful resource for thinking about the news issues of the day. Not as well known and not officially a religion site, the sister site, Washington Post On Leadership is another wonderful resource that is worth a look. Like the On Religion format, On Leadership poses a question to a series of leaders and gets a variety of leaders to answer from their point of view. There is some great stuff here.
The Huffington Post is a recent addition to the mix. Bringing together articulate religious leaders and thinkers, the Huffington Post site offers religious opinion pieces from around the world. Contributors are not necessarily religious leaders, or even religious. But the posts are edited and often highly engaging. Of late many of the big viral stories on Jewish religious opinion, started life on the HuffPost as it is known. Many Reform Jewish leaders have been known to use the site as a forum for sharing ideas.
Posted on October 11th, 2010 5 comments
I’m a fan of general religion sites. There is the obvious: any Jewish professional needs to know what is going on in the broader world of religion to be able to adequately address the Jewish community. While I could, and sometimes do turn to other denominationally affiliated sites for this kind of information, getting the range of religious responses to, for example, a supreme court case, is more easily found on a single site which aggregates opinions. Often I’m inspired and engaged for my own work, by stories and opinions on these pages. Additionally, I’ve come to recognize, that these general sites, like the one stop superstore, often bring in people who might not immediately think to stop off at a boutique Jewish site, no matter how friendly, informative or easy to navigate such a site might be. It is good to know what these sites are saying about Judaism and how people are reacting. Finally, many of these sites are not just good but great. Often, they recruit high level contributors who share real wisdom and insight.
There are two main kinds of general religion sites, those that stand alone focusing on religion and belief exclusively and others that are subsets of larger general news/information sites. In putting together my list of recommendations and reviews, I’ve decided to break them down into two separate groups over two weeks, starting with those specifically devoted to discussion of religion.
It is not a comprehensive list nor does it aim to be. This list is completely based on my own opinions. I have not included every general source on religion. I am limiting myself to sites that have named authors for each article or piece or at least most of them. Nor am I a big fan of those sites that declare themselves completely objective, as I am not sure that is a goal that is either attainable or desirable. I much prefer people own their points of view so that I can understand where they are coming from.
I’m sure I’ll leave out some good ones, so send them on and I’ll learn something too.
Beliefnet: One best known religion sites on the web, it is also one of the oldest, founded in 1999 Steven Waldman and Robert Nylen. It gets a tremendous amount of traffic. On the positive side, this site has much to offer with information about spirituality generally as well as particular religions. There are some fun elements like sections on sports and movies, practical advice for daily spiritual living, and general knowledge quizzes and forum. One stand out is the Belief-0-Matic a fun multiple choice game which can help readers find their true spiritual home –though I will note that try as I might I have yet to align with their version of Reform Judaism, this morning I turned out to be a Unitarian. Readers can contribute to the site and there are many well known clergy –including rabbis- who use the site as a forum for sharing ideas. The downside of all the bells and whistles, open as well as solicited content, is that sometime the serious stuff gets lost.
Patheos: This is a relative newcomer to the world of online religion founded in 2008. The site is hipper in format and content than Beliefnet but still building its Jewish content. The information that is there is strong and interesting and growing daily. In addition to thought pieces and blogs, there are cool elements like the comparative religions tool as well essential elements like the resources for teachers. The interactive world religions map provides information of individual countries while the interactive map highlights religious holidays by date and would be useful for planning community events. Patheos earned extra points in my book for having both Reform and Conservative/Orthodox dates for Sukkot!
Religion Dispatches: In contrast to Beliefnet and Patheos, Religion Dispatches does not attempt to speak to the full array of religious opinions or denominations but rather focuses on progressive religious voices. The first topic heading is sexuality and gender mixes news and personal accounts. The writers are of high quality and well known. The topics are engaging and timely. A recent article on dialogue in the Mormon Church about LGBT issues went far beyond the sensationalist headlines.
Kill The Buddah: This religion site stands out among others as being up front about irreverence. By the words of their own manifesto, it is a site for “people both hostile and draw to talk of God.” Founded over a decade ago by Jeff Sharlet and Peter Manseau the site draws writers from a myriad of traditions. There is some wonderful poetry well worth exploring. The powerful thought pieces explore the complexities of religion and religious questions that are often on the fringe of the mainstream debate. It is not a site that will help you better prepare for an interfaith meeting or teaching about Islam but it may inspire your own journey.
Posted on December 21st, 2009 No comments
For the most part I engage with Torah through intellectual interpretation; Rashi, Rambam, Zorenberg are my go to sources of explanation, insight and inspiration. Generally, my adventure artistic interpretations of biblical stories have been limited to the Tot Shabbat set but recently I have been pushed from two different sources to consider the power of visual midrash.
The first was As It Is Written: Project 304,805, the current exhibition at the Contemporary Jewish Museum in San Francisco. Soferet Julie Seltzer literally sits in the center of the show writing a Torah. In addition to explanations about the technicalities of writing a Torah, she is surrounded by the artifacts of Torah and artistic interpretations of Torah. The impact is profound. Seen side by side, Torah arks are not just beautiful objects but commentaries on the contents held within. Different artists have been commissioned to create works that speak to each of the weekly parshiyot. They are not all easy to understand, but do added much to my interaction with the text. Artist Jordan Kantor created a color coded representation of the transition from Avram to Avraham where a white space in the former stands in for the potential that awaits the man and is only filled in when the heh is added to his name. Talking about his piece Kantor compared art to Talmud, explaining that both are complex textual documents that can be read on many levels but to dig beyond the surface, one needs to learn and be schooled in reading the text. Illustrating Joseph’s dreams of plenty and famine, artist Paul Madonna created an abstract work that suggests the nature of cycles leaving the details to our imagination and pushing us to step away from the words to see a bigger meaning in the text.
The second was the discovery of the Visual Midrash site from the Tali Education Funds in Israel. This impressive archive of art works puts visual interpretation of Torah at it’s center. Working together, Dr. Jo Milgrom, an scholar with a specialty in art and Torah, and Dr. Yoel Duman a Jewish arts educator, have organized historic works of art by themes. There are dozens of representations of the biblical Davidu, from the well known work by Michelangelo to those less familiar. Articles describe the meanings of the works, giving viewers access to the Talmudic depth that Kantor alluded to. A painting of Moses by Michael Sgan-Cohen shows the great sage’s back as he looks out from har Navo with words painted his cloak describing what he saw as he peered into the land. With the help of the explanation, we learn that the shape of the back is reminiscent of a tomb stone and foreshadows that this view will be Moses’ final place of rest. The collection can be viewed both for beauty and for deep insight into our text.
I am not really an artist but after viewing the extensive collection of works that highlight the Hebrew alphabet, I was inspired to try my hand at creating a Wordle of this week’s parsha Vayigash, creating a visual map of the words. I like the way this computer program allows me to visually see the relative values of the words in the parsha. A simple step in moving me from Tot Shabbat literalism to the sophistication of enlightenment through visual interpretation.
Posted on April 26th, 2009 No comments
Golda Meir, Bella Abzug and So Much More: The Jewish Women’s Encyclopedia
Jewish Women: A Comprehensive Historical Encyclopedia is a welcome addition to the landscape of great Jewish resources. Hosted by the Jewish Women’s Archive and launched recently on March 1st in honor of Women’s History Month, this encyclopedia represents a rich and critical resource for those interested in all matters Jewish. Publishers Alice and Moshe Shalvi together with editors Paula Hyman and Dalia Ofer, have gathered critical information about Jewish women in an extensive collection of topical and biographical essays.
At their best encyclopedias take the world of scholarship and distill forth the key ideas providing lay and scholarly readers alike with the ability to easily access information and to move easily from topic to topic. In the era of the internet, on some level, this seems superfluous, after all if you want to explore a topic one need only enter a few words into a search engine and “entries” immediately appear. Indeed, fewer and fewer people these days are willing to wade into the library, find the right encyclopedia, look up the topic under consideration and follow cross references across articles or volumes. Yet in “googling” we often fall prey to the most popular rather than the most authoritative information and miss out on the organizational and editorial benefit of the traditional encyclopedia. The Jewish Women: A Comprehensive Historical Encyclopedia works well to focus and direct our looking, creating a rich and enriching resource for Jewish learning.
By placing this work, which has been available previously as a CD-ROM, on the web, the Jewish Women’s Archive has made a critical contribution to our study of Jewish history. The search features make it easy to find material specific in any number of ways; one can look for Mary Antin or scroll through the list of writers to find her among other great and lesser known women of the pen. Browse features ensure that the serendipitous pleasures of the print format are preserved. A global search allows for one to look for the appearance of a term or name in any entry. Borrowing from the best practice of collaborative knowledge, readers are encouraged to add comments, insights or more information.
In addition to providing a good place to check facts, such as those about midrashic representations of Batsheva, it is also the perfect source for inspiration for sermons or charges to the board. It is a great resource for our own learning; with references to rabbinic texts cited and bibliographies. The quality of the writing is high but accessible. B’nai mitzvah students would feel quite comfortable in these pages.
For the sake of full disclosure, I contributed to one of the entries. But my interest in this resource is far from personal. One of the great joys of this encyclopedia is the journey that it provides far beyond our own areas of knowledge and understanding. Looking around on the day it first appeared on the web, I learned about Lane Bryant Malsin the Jewish pioneer of maternity wear and niche marketing, gaining new insights and appreciation for this hard working innovative immigrant; I deepened my understanding of wife beating in Jewish tradition thanks to the scholarship of Naomi Graetz and I got some sense of the breadth and depth of those who might be called Jewish writers. The online Jewish Women: A Comprehensive Historical Encyclopedia has the potential to take us all far beyond the obvious with ease.
Posted on April 26th, 2009 1 comment
It is impossible to imagine the study of traditional rabbinic sources without the aid of dictionaries and other aids that help us decode the complexities and subtleties of Hebrew that have evolved with time and place. Already in ancient times, scholars like Sadia Gaon engaged in the study of Hebrew language as they worked to understand the meaning of biblical and early rabbinic passages. The publication in 1886 of A Dictionary of the Targumim, the Talmud Babli and Yerushalmi and the Midrashic Literature, marked an important transition from the ancient and medieval study of Hebrew to the modern academic method of inquiry. Not only was one of the early wave of Jewish scholarly works to be published in the United States with English as the base language, but it remains after more than a century one of the most essential tools for the serious study of Jewish text.
Jastrow, as the dictionary is known, was compiled by Marcus Mordecai Jastrow. Born in Rogassen, Prussia in 1829, the young Jastrow grew up in a multicultural, multilingual environment. He was home schooled as a child in a household that spoke Yiddish. The vernacular of the street was German but the Polish influence was strong as well. He attended university as well as rabbinical school receiving a Ph. D. and ordination as a rabbi. In 1866, Jastrow was invited to Philadelphia to become the rabbi of Congregation Rodeph Shalom.
Living in the United States, he worked on many projects that helped set the foundation for intellectual Jewish life in the US. In addition to the dictionary which he worked on for over seven years, he participated in the compilation of the first English-language Jewish Encyclopedia and the first Jewish textually critical translation of the Tanakh into English.
Today, the Jastrow has made another leap. This essential text is now available online, for free. Tyndale House, an independent fundamentalist conservative Christian research library in Cambridge England dedicated to the study of the Bible, has scanned the entire text of Jastrow and has created a search function. Clicking on the first letter of a word, users bring up a menu of all the entries beginning with that letter. It is easy to find the word you are looking for by scrolling through the list. Those accustomed to the layout of the paper and ink Jastrow will be comforted as clicking on the desired word brings up the original text and format of the book. An additional feature is the ability to size the text so that magnifying glasses and squinting are not at all necessary. With the Jastrow Dictionary only a click away, we can all take immediate advantage of this brilliant resource.
For more information about the life and work of Marcus Mordecai Jastrow and the field of Hebrew Lexicography I recommend highly a site put together by the University of Pennsylvania libraries on the topic.
Photo credit University of Pennsylvania Library.