Shas in your pocket

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Editor’s Note: The following article is reprinted from “The Jewish Star“, published: January 7, 2010

by Michael Orbach
There have been a number of milestones in the history of making the Talmud more accessible to the common man: the first complete edition of the Talmud by Daniel Bomberg in the 16th century, the first Soncino English translation in 1935, the first ArtScroll edition of Makkos in 1990 and now, thanks to Apple, the Jewish people may have reached another: the iTalmud.
Released by Melbourne-based developer, Crowded Road, the iTalmud is a groundbreaking app (short for application) for the iPhone and the iPod Touch that contains all 20 books of the Talmud, which in case you’re counting, comprises 5,894 folio pages. But that’s just the beginning.
Each page on the iTalmud comes with hypertext links to commentaries that range from well-known Rishonim [early commentators] like Rashi and Tosofos to lesser-known Achronim [later commentators] like the Korban HaEidah and Mishnas Eliyahu. Each page is also synced with page-by-page audio Daf Yomi lectures from popular teacher, Rabbi Dovid Grossman of Los Angeles. Sporting a navigation system that allows easy movement from tractate to page, the app also has a search function that enables users to search by keyword.
In case you’re looking for a Daf Yomi shiur to attend in person, the iTalmud can take care of that too, using the iPhone’s built-in GPS system to locate the nearest lecture and provide step-by-step directions (on a lark, I searched for the nearest Daf Yomi shiur in Hungary and found one given in Hebrew in Beis Medrash Adas Yeraim by a Rabbi Aryeh Goldberg).
The latest version of the app includes an English Soncino translation, featuring thousands of footnotes. And at $20 for the standard version and $25 for the English edition, iTalmud is cheaper than most Artscroll Gemarahs.
To quote the app’s tagline, this really was “1500 years in the making.”
Interestingly, Crowded Road, a strategic consulting outfit that develops web sites and applications, does not specifically design Jewish products. Prior to the iTalmud, they didn’t have much experience with Jewish texts; their most popular product was the iFax application.
“We felt that the iPhone was a radically new medium that could certainly be used to enhance Jewish learning and make the experience more accessible and portable,” said Adam Korbl, managing director of Crowded Road. He said that the team behind the application figured Talmud study would be a good fit for the iPhone since it has multi-touch and zoom capabilities.
iTalmud was developed over 2008 and released in December of 2009; the delay Korbl joked, because, “Apple probably needed to study the entire Talmud before granting approval.” Since most of the team behind the application is not Jewish, developers face difficulties like getting used to Hebrew reading from left to right, and the fact that each volume of the Talmud begins on the second page, he said.
Rabbi Moshe Grussgott, the associate rabbi at Ramath Orah in Morningside Heights, said he planned to download the app.
“It’s unbelievable how accessible it makes Talmud to the average person,” he explained. “It must be a sign that we’re in the Messianic Age that the average business person or layperson can search any Talmudic idea and find it on their phone. It’s part of the evolution of the phenomena of Torah knowledge becoming more accessible to the masses, which began with the institution of Daf Yomi and continued with the ArtScroll translation of the Talmud. “
More plans are on the horizon for Crowded Road and the iTalmud. Korbl said the company plans to adapt the app for the Google Android operating system, to work with Droid and Nexus One phones. The company has already released iMishna and iTorah: the latter of which features the tagline “3400 years in the making.”
Crowded Road maintains a popular online forum where users submit questions and suggestions that range from bug fixes to requests for different commentaries. Future plans for the iTalmud include adding Daf Yomi lecturers in different languages.
“A user recently suggested that G-d probably created the iPhone just for the iTalmud app,” Korbl quipped. “Who are we to disagree with a customer?”


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