Technology vs. Shabbat: Can We Accommodate Our Electronics Dependency On the Day of Rest?

E-books became the dominant format for adult fiction in 2011 surpassing hardcover books and paperbacks according to the BookStats annual survey. We are increasingly choosing to read our novels, magazine, newspapers and even children’s books on e-readers and tablets. But is it permissible to do this on the one day of the week that Judaism commands us to unplug?

Rabbi Daniel Nevins, a Conservative rabbi who is the dean of the rabbinical school at the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York and the former rabbi of Adat Shalom Synagogue in Farmington Hills, recently published a *teshuva (religious response) regarding the use of electrical and electronic devices on the Shabbat.

In the teshuva, which was passed overwhelmingly by the Committee on Jewish Law and Standards (CJLS), Nevins ultimately ruled that while the operation of electrical circuits is not inherently forbidden according to the laws of Shabbat, the use of electricity to power an appliance which performs melacha (the category of forbidden activity on Shabbat) with the same mechanism and intent as the original manual labor is forbidden in the Torah. Nevins answered some questions about his research and how he arrived at his legal decision:


What made you decide to take up this issue now?

I’ve been thinking about electricity and Shabbat for decades actually; since I really began observing Shabbat. I started researching the halachic [Jewish legal] issues involved and I found that there may have been a consensus in the Orthodox world that no electricity was allowed and yet there was no sense about why. It was worth clarifying what the considerations were. In recent years, I’ve come to feel that technology has become integrated in a rapidly accelerating fashion in our personal lives and the lack of clarity about the halachic issues were creating a bit of chaos in people’s understanding of what the laws of Shabbat have to say about electronics, and moreover, what the culture of Shabbat should be.

How do the issues of electronics use on Shabbat affect you personally?

I’m a parent of three teenagers and creating policies for our family that protect the special atmosphere of Shabbat so that we’d have one day to look at each other in the eyes and not constantly be looking down at glowing screens. That was part of the motivation, which I think is shared by many families that are trying to preserve some element of intentional family time which is not distracted by all the other devices that constantly call our thoughts away.

When you started writing this teshuva, which electronic devices did you have in mind?

Certainly computers and cell phones were significant; those are probably the most important ones I was thinking about. The iPad wasn’t out yet. I did begin thinking about the Amazon Kindle fairly early in the process, but I had not yet focused on one specific brand. I tried to focus less on the brand names than on the technology.

What was your intended outcome in writing this? Were you trying to make Shabbat easier for people?

I will say that I’m not looking for stringencies in life. But I do look for integrities and interpretations of practice. So, if my study had led me to the conclusion that there is no issue with use of an e-reader, then I would have been comfortable coming to that conclusion. But, as I say in the paper, I was actually in a way almost looking for such a thing because I’m concerned that, increasingly, digital media may be the only way to access written content. As I said in a CJLS meeting, reading is a significant part of the culture of Shabbat, so if we got to the point where the only way to read new content was by some sort of electronic or digital medium then we would really lose something with Shabbat. So I’m concerned about that and I described these issues a few years ago in an article in The Atlantic titled “People of the E-book.”

So, what happens in the future if the only way to read a book really is electronically?

If the only way to read a book on Shabbat is on the Kindle, then I would say we need to come up with ways for the Kindle to be operated without downloading new content or creating permanent records. If there’s a will there’s a way technologically, not just halachically.

Where there’s a halachic will there’s a halachic way?

I’m not so comfortable with that statement. Where there’s a halachic will, then there’s also a halachic way. If you’re committed to the integrity of religious practice then at some point the answer’s going to be “no.”

Would your teshuva be categorized as meta-halachic since you’re not halachically opposed to electricity on Shabbat? You’re prescribing a break from the workweek, so how is this teshuva different from the various ‘un-plugged’ campaigns and Sabbath Manifesto?

Well, I’ve spent dozens of pages working on halachic sources and making conclusions for halachic reasons. Meta-halacha implies there’s something outside of the halacha; an external body, but that’s the opposite of my belief.

Describe the difference between an electric sink or automatic door and using an Amazon Kindle or an iPad on Shabbat.

Electronic devices are embedded everywhere, making it almost impossible to avoid electronic interaction. That’s the core of my paper. The difference that I see between those two is that motion detectors that open doors and turn off taps and lights do not leave any permanent record. I understand melacha to be about transforming material. A Kindle, which downloads information from the Internet and also tracks usage so that it knows where a reader is and where they left off, seems to be to be more akin to writing and therefore involves a transformation of material of reality. For that reason, I think use of a Kindle and other electronics as being prohibited under the category of kotev, of writing.

Radio, television, and computers have been around for a while. Why now, with the proliferation of Smartphones, tablets, and e-readers are you bringing this up?

Well, already 60 years ago Rabbi Arthur Neulander began talking about the use of electronics and I quote him in the paper and basically agree with him. He discussed TV and radio, not computers at that time in the 1950s. I basically think that turning on a television and turning on a radio do not involve writing and therefore are not prohibited as forms of melacha. However, I question whether they are appropriate to the atmosphere of Shabbat, which we call sh’vut, in terms of resting. Computers I believe do involve downloading content, even without the user being aware of it. Every time you browse to a new web page you’re downloading information, you’re sending cookies, and you’re doing all sorts of processes which you’re not thinking about. Part of Shabbat is getting people to think more about the impact of their behavior. On Shabbat, as I say in the paper, we try to emphasize personal interaction. Our digital technology isolates us from the people around us. And therefore it defeats part of the purpose of Shabbat.

What about some exceptions to the rule?

Let’s say someone is disabled and the only way of reading is through a Kindle that enlarges type, then you might say that their human dignity would supersede the general level to use electronics.

Any thoughts on what’s become known as the “Half-Shabbos” in the Orthodox community, when observant teenagers will text their friends on Shabbat, but otherwise observe the laws?

I address this in the footnotes. The “Half-Shabbos” phenomenon is testimony to the great allure of digital media, but I feel that this makes us realize that it’s distracting. And I would say to teens, davka [precisely] don’t text on Shabbat. Talk to people. Make eye contact.


What about for Jews who are living in isolation who are lonely on Shabbat?

Okay, you’re in Alaska, you’re on an army base, and you’re the only Jew on the base… I can understand the desire to interact with others. But still, texting involves writing so therefore I think it’s forbidden.

What about competing values? For example, a Jewish person in an area with no community wants to watch a live stream of Shabbat services or wants to study Torah with a friend on Skype during Shabbat afternoon.

I also talk about these issues in the paper. Certainly the motivation to participate in a community is very strong, and should be respected. If there’s a way to participate without violating the prohibition on writing, then I would be sympathetic to it. But, it’s a bit of a slippery slope. Once you’re using your computer and using your TV, then you might use it for other things as well.

Aren’t these gadgets just a way of life and Jewish law has to adapt?

Yes, that’s true, but we need vacations from routines now and then and Shabbat is about challenging us to change our routine one day a week and experience life a bit differently.

How does one define “Shomer Shabbat” [Sabbath observant] today?

A person trying to be “Shomer Shabbat” is committed to differentiating Shabbat from the workweek by abstaining from certain activities and engaging in other activities that are specific to Shabbat. As I say in the paper, we desist from melacha and some other activities which detract from the tranquility of the day. We engage in activities like eating, sleeping, praying and studying. That makes the day sort of an image of an ideal world; the experience of an ideal world.

Jewish law evolves and the halachic system progresses, so doesn’t this teshuva keep the system from adapting to technological innovation?

I think it’s the opposite. I think it engages with the reality of digital culture – its attraction, its usefulness, and its negative consequences. This paper tries to take the feel of Shabbat and apply it to the digital age that we’re living in. For good and for bad.

How will you help young people access your teshuva and apply your prescriptions to their technology-dominated lives?

I’m working on a curriculum for Ramah camps, Schechter day schools and USY [Conservative movement’s youth agency]. You don’t do something like this without the intention of teaching it to people who aren’t going to read a 60-page paper.

Finally, would it be ironic if someone read your teshuva on their iPad on Shabbat afternoon?

Yes (laughs). I’ve told people not to read my paper on the Kindle because that would be ironic. I don’t believe that we’ve come to the final chapter in this. In the paper I explained that as technology continues to evolve, we’ll gain new insights. It may be that in the future there may be a way to use e-readers on Shabbat without violating the concerns I raise in this paper, and I would like that.

*The complete teshuva can be accessed at http://jewi.sh/nevins

Originally published in the Detroit Jewish News and cross-posted to the Jewish Techs blog at The Jewish Week.

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | http://blog.rabbijason.com | Twitter: @RabbiJason | facebook.com/rabbijasonmiller

Counting the Omer in the Digital Age

Today is the 13th day of the Omer, the period of forty-nine days between the Jewish holidays of Passover and Shavuot.

The Jewish people are commanded to count these forty-nine days which commemorate the day on which an omer (unit of measurement) of barley was offered in the Temple until the day before an offering of wheat was brought to the Temple on the festival Shavuot. We begin this counting on the second day of Passover and each night announce what day of the Omer it is.

Omer counting devices and special Omer calendars have long been relied upon to help individuals remember the correct count, but in the Digital Age there are websites and apps and text message reminders to help keep the counting correct.

There are also some fun tools to help us count the Omer. For the past 13 years the Homer Calendar has been a fun destination on the Web for Jewish Omer counters who are also fans of The Simpsons. The website, which has had about 225,000 visits, cites Howard Cooper with the idea of an Omer calendar that pays homage to The Simpsons and Homer Simpson, the patriarchal head of the cartoon family. In addition to providing an easy-to-use omer calendar, the site is also a resource for Simpsons fans who want to learn more about the many Jewish references on the show. Brian Rosman, the Homer Calendar’s administrator, also tweets the daily Omer count @CountTheHomer on Twitter.

An introduction to the website explains that it is now in its 13th year, which it calls its “Bart Mitzvah”. The site also mentions that, “When we started, we got a ‘cease and desist’ order from Fox, claiming a copyright violation. Interestingly, the letter was dated on Shavuot. We wrote back, claiming a ‘fair use,’ and haven’t heard anything since.”

Seth and Isaac Galena over at Bangitout.com have come up with two fun ways to count the Omer. With a nod to pop culture, the brothers have created the Movie Lover’s Omer Counter and the Sports Lover’s Omer Counter. The movie counter uses movies with numbers in their titles to remind users which day of the count it is, while the sports counter relies on athlete’s uniform numbers. Perhaps next year they’ll create an omer counter for NASCAR fans with car digits.

There are several mobile apps that help remind users to count the Omer and provide the correct day of the counting. Rusty Brick first released its Counting the Omer app (Free) back in 2009 and it is still an industry leader. The app provides an Omer calendar and includes the blessings and spiritual information pertaining to each day of the period. The free version of the app does not provide a daily reminder to count, but the 99-cent version does. Moshe Berman’s Ultimate Omer 2 ($2.99) not only reminds you to count the Omer, but it also lets you keep track of the days you remembered to count. The app also plays the phone’s default alarm sound to remind you to count.

Mosaica Press released a new app ($4.99) that is based on Rabbi Yaakov Haber’s Spiritual Grow book. The app, which is available in iPhone and iPad formats, helps count the Omer and also provides daily insights with a Kabbalistic flavor. An example of the Jewish spiritual wisdom the app provides is: “Day 10: Make sure that today you not only give people the benefit of the doubt, but even when it seems that they are definitely in the wrong, try to find some way of justifying their actions. Try to see their point of view…Find two things in your life that conflict and make them harmonize.” Some of the app’s features include the proper blessing to recite before counting each night, automatic adjustment for time zone and location, and social network integration to share on Facebook and Twitter.

In addition to the mobile apps, there are other ways that technology is playing a part in the Counting of the Omer. Josh Fleet, one of the editors of the Huffington Post’s religion vertical, came up with the idea of offering a liveblog on the HuffPost Religion site during the Omer period this year. The Omer Liveblog features blogs, prayers, art and reflections for all 49 days of spiritual reflection during the Omer.

Rabbi Heather Altman turned to Google Docs to help assemble other rabbis who would contribute their wisdom to a Counting the Omer project she conceived of to raise money for the Global Seva Challenge. Rabbi Altman launched the seven week email subscription series called Countdown to Freedom which offers a different spiritual insight each day via a subscription-based Constant Contact newsletter. Subscription costs of the daily Omer reflection newsletter raises funds in the fight against human trafficking. Her 49-day project also raises awareness of the global problem of human trafficking, which is now a $32 billion business.

A generation ago, Jewish people simply counted up the days of the Omer until Shavuot arrived. The more spiritually inclined might have delved into the mystical traditions of the counting period. However, no one could have imagined that technology would create so many new aspects to this seven week observance. New technology has certainly opened the door to new ritual.

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | http://blog.rabbijason.com | Twitter: @RabbiJason | facebook.com/rabbijasonmiller

Children and Technology: The Good, the Bad and the Dangerous

Versions of this appeared in the Detroit Jewish News and on the Savvy Auntie website

As our society becomes even more dependent on technology, we will have to continue adapting to the technology innovations that continue to amaze us. The constant advances in everything from mobile gadgets to our household appliances will force us to change the way we currently do everyday tasks. If you need help figuring out how to use any of the new technology, just ask your kids.

Joking aside, children adapt quickest to new technology because they don’t really have to adapt much. Swiping on an iPad screen, controlling the Xbox 360 Kinect videogame console through virtual reality, or starting the family’s washing machine from a mobile app seem to come naturally for children. In the same way that parents joked in the 1980s that they needed their children to program the VCR, today’s parents marvel at how comfortable their children are with new technology.

Children as young as four years old are using the Internet, mobile devices, and gaming consoles. In some cases this is a good thing, but there are certain risk factors that parents should be aware of. While technology can be used for positive educational purposes, there are also serious physical and psychological concerns.

A recent Nielson study finds that in households owning a tablet computer and with children under 12, 70% of children use the tablet. 77% of these children are playing games, while 57% use the tablet for educational purposes. The rest of the most common responses include 55% of these children using the tablet for entertainment purposes; 43% to watch television and/or movies; and 41% to keep the child occupied while at a restaurant or event.

Many parents report that letting their children use tablet computers like the iPad can be very helpful when waiting at the doctor’s office, on long car rides, and before the meal arrives at restaurants. There are also advantages to having children do their homework on the iPad. Julie Feldman of Farmington Hills, Michigan explains that her daughter Emily (a 4th grader at Hillel Day School of Metropolitan Detroit) is excited to come home and finish her advanced math homework on the iPad using the application Wowzers. Feldman, a registered dietician, also sees advantages in technology for children concerned about their nutrition. “My young clients are able to track their daily food intake with an app making it much easier to monitor what they eat.”

There are, however, concerns that some children are spending too much time in front of a digital screen. When children spend too many hours watching television, playing video games, surfing the Web, and using a tablet, they are likely not getting enough exercise or face-to-face social interaction. Dr. Daniel Klein, a children’s psychologist in Metro Detroit, says he sees many young patients who are spending too much time using technology by themselves and not enough time playing outside and interacting with their peers. He works with parents and provides guidance to help monitor their children’s computer and gaming activities. There are also fears that children will see things in video games or online that will have negative effects on their behavior and can lead to anxiety disorders, violent behavior, or hyperactivity.

Feldman believes that parents should determine what technology they allow their children to use based on the child’s maturity level. She gave her daughter a cell phone when she was 8-years-old, but understands that this might be too young for other children. “It’s very dependent on the child,” she says. “My daughter spends many hours at dance classes and needs to be able to communicate with us. Having a cell phone and being able to text us is anxiety reducing for her.” She also has become more cautious about her 3 ½-year-old son’s video gaming activity as she has noticed that he is acting out violent scenes and shooting with pretend guns after playing some realistic video games.

All parents should be aware of their children’s activity online and put monitoring software in place to ensure safe experiences. If a child is using a computer, parents should ensure that adult content does not come up in search results. Google and other popular search engines on the Web have SafeSearch features to filter adult content from search results. Violent scenes can also be avoided with such applications as NetNanny, which provides Internet controls.

In addition to psychological and emotional concerns, there are also physical dangers when children use technology. Dr. Daniel Rontal, an ENT at the Rontal-Akervall Clinic, notes that with the increased popularity of portable music devices among children comes an increased health risk to children’s ears. “Some children don’t realize that something is broken on their ear buds and they scratch their inner ears,” he cautions. “There is also the danger of noise induced hearing loss and that is something that isn’t even realized until years later. It won’t show up for 15-20 years, but we’re seeing more people with early hearing loss in their mid 30’s because of listening to music which is generally being played louder than it was in the 80s and 90s.”

“Kids in general feel that they’re bullet proof,” Rontal adds. “The white iPod ear buds just sit in the ear and those are okay, but the ones that go into the ear canal, called sound isolating headphones, can definitely cause infection and scratch the ear.”

Kidz Gear offers wired headphones for children designed specifically for the Apple iPod, iPhone and iPad. The Kidz Gear headphones feature unique KidzControl Volume Limiting Technology that provides a safe listening experience while helping to protect children’s hearing. This technology delivers a safe volume limited listening experience for children that is always on and limits the volume levels to 80dB and 90dB.

New technology helps us be more productive and improves our lives, but we have to learn to use it safely and in healthy ways. So too, as adults, we must be responsible and monitor the way our children utilize technology. In some cases, technology seems to be make things worse. For example, overuse of computers and mobile devices can curtail important interpersonal communication and can hinder children from developing the skills necessary to deal with others in real life.

There are real benefits to children using technology as well. Reports abound that demonstrate how technology is bolstering children’s learning experiences and complementing the education they receive in school. Some technology is even making it easier for children with developmental disabilities. The bottom line is that, like anything, there are positive and negative implications to the latest, greatest technology innovations. There are risks to children using technology without the proper supervision and moderation. The best thing that parents can do is become well trained in the technology their children are using so that they can monitor it best. That will ensure a positive, safe, and healthy technology experience for children.

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | http://blog.rabbijason.com | Twitter: @RabbiJason | facebook.com/rabbijasonmiller

Best Jewish Apps of 2011

Originally published in The Jewish Week

As I walked around the recent International Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, one thing was impossible to miss. Mobile applications are being integrated everywhere and into everything. Smartphones are no longer the only devices on which users are downloading their favorite apps.

2010 saw a proliferation of iPhones and Android phones on the market, and with that came a sharp rise in the number of mobile apps being downloaded. In 2011, we realized that we needed those apps on our tablets, computers and televisions. And 2012 will be the year we download apps to our automobiles as well.

One of the coolest new devices I learned about at the 2012 CES was Pioneer’s AppRadio 2. With its Advanced App Mode, Pioneer is able to bring AppRadio functionality to its line of auto navigation and DVD receivers. Its new AppRadio 2 supports Android devices as well as iPhones and iPads. Imagine having a seven-inch glass touch screen on your dashboard with the same multi-touch functionality of a tablet. This means we’ll soon be using our favorite mobile apps in the car (with caution, of course) to locate the closest restaurant, see the Yelp reviews, and then tweet an invitation to a few friends to meet for lunch.

Apps will also play a prominent role in the soon-to-be-released Windows 8 operating system. As more consumers add Smart TVs to their living rooms and home theaters, the number of mobile app downloads will continue to surge. For those who think the only place people are downloading apps is from Apple’s App Store, don’t fool yourself. Yes, there are now half a million apps in the Apple App Store, but Android is moving quickly to capture half of the worldwide smartphone market in 2012. The iPhone 4S, which began shipping last year, is a big hit, but Android’s new Ice Cream Sandwich is sure to excite as well.

More smartphones, tablets and smart TVs mean more Jewish- themed apps being created and available for download. Plus, one of the nice aspects of mobile apps is that they can be improved by the developer and updated instantly by the consumer. That means that some of the best Jewish apps from 2010 might be on the 2011 list as well, but be certain that there were noticeable upgrades.
This year’s lineup of the best Jewish apps includes (in no particular order) utilities, educational resources, games and novelties. Many apps designed specifically for either Apple or Android devices can, in fact, be downloaded on both.

This is far from an exhaustive list as there are hundreds of other Jewish apps available. Check out www.jewishiphonecommunity.org for a comprehensive listing of Jewish apps as they are released.

I-TORAH WITH ENGLISH FOR IPHONE & IPAD (CROWDED ROAD) – $16.99
This is a complete English translation of the Torah with options for full page or interlinear mode. Includes audio lecture for every portion, with both chapter mode and parsha mode. Users can jump to the weekly parsha with a single click. It is integrated with Torah commentaries from Rashi and Ramban (Nahmanides) and has a full keyword search.

TANACH BIBLE – HEBREW/ENGLISH BIBLE (DAVKA CORP.) – $2.99
It is the ideal study tool for the Hebrew and English Bible on your iPhone, iPod Touch, and iPad. Tanach Bible’s new version features crisp Hebrew text with precise placement of Hebrew vowels and cantillation marks, and verse-by-verse synchronization between Hebrew, English, and Rashi’s commentary.

SIDDUR/LUACH (RUSTY BRICK) – $9.99
Take your weekday siddur with you with this feature-packed Jewish prayer book. You’ll get every version of the Jewish prayer book and real time Zmanim will give you the prayer times for each day based on your location determined with the iPhone’s GPS. A Minyanim database will help you find the nearest prayer service. Also available for iPad.

I-NACH FOR IPAD (MAPLEWOODS ASSOCIATES LTD) – $9.99
iNach is the only iPad app focused on the Nevi’im (Prophets) & Ketuvim (Writings) of the Tanach. Featuring English translation & search, classic Jewish medieval commentaries and a user-interface designed exclusively for the iPad.

I-TORAH BLESSINGS (BEHRMAN HOUSE) – $1.99
This app will help you prepare for the next time you’re called to the Torah. Learn or practice the blessings before and after the Torah reading. Touch-n-Read technology lets you hear each word individually as you read along, and the auto-record feature lets you listen to yourself practice. Also includes the Shehecheyanu and parent blessings for a child, plus video demonstrations of putting on a tallit, and participating in the aliyah process.

JEWISH JOURNAL (TRIBE MEDIA CORP) – FREE
Jewish Journal is the first complete Jewish news app for the iPad.
TIKUN KORIM (RUSTY BRICK) – $19.99
Now you can practice for your bar mitzvah with an iPhone & iPad app that helps you learn to read your bar mitzvah parsha. The app is an interactive Tikun Korim. The Tikun works on both the iPhone and iPad and has many features to aid in learning your reading.

POCKET ISIDDUR (GP IMP) – FREE
This free iPod and iPhone version of the prayer book comes with every version imaginable, from Sephardic to Ashkenazic. The new version has adjustable font size. iPad version also available.

SHABBOS ALARM CLOCK (RUSTY BRICK) – $.99
Displays current time on screen. Set up to three alarms, which automatically shut off after a specified duration (10-50 seconds). Chose genuine alarm clock sound or vibrate. No snooze button function interferes with Shabbat rules.

ALEF BET FOR KIDS (RUSTY BRICK) – $4.99
The Alef Bet App works on the iPhone, iPod Touch and iPad devices and provides a fun, interactive learning experience for children. It helps them learn the Alef Bet through pictures, sound, animation, and interactivity. Each letter of the Alef Bet is accompanied by its Hebrew and English pronunciations, and by a picture of a word associated with it.

RAMBAM’S MISHNEH TORAH (JOSHUA MEIER) – $7.99
This app includes the entire Mishneh Torah including Maimonides’s introduction and his list of Mitzvot (commandments). The app includes the ability to search the entire Mishneh Torah. You can also bookmark different laws. Supports email sharing.

I-PHONE TALMUD DIRECTORY (TES) – $14.99
The complete Talmud dictionary from Marcus Jastrow with over 120,000 entries and bi-directional Hebrew-English and Aramaic-English references.

EICHAH/LAMENTATIONS (HEBREW IN HAND) – $.99
Fully-pointed Hebrew with English translation. Eichah (Lamentations) cries out through time, engulfing the reader in the loss of a city and her people. This ancient poem transcends history, connecting the human tragedy with a call to remember, and to renew faith.

HEBREW EMAIL (RUSTY BRICK) – FREE
Now you can type emails in Hebrew. This application will enable you to type both subject line and email body in Hebrew. It will then send the data directly into the iPhone’s mail application, for you to send to your contacts.

HEBREW BIBLE FOR ANDROID (IVRI) – FREE
Hebrew Bible application. Read/Search the whole Bible on the go.

HEBREW IN A MONTH FOR ANDROID (LEARN LIKE KIDS) – FREE
How to learn to understand the world — a question that has an answer! How can children learn a foreign language within half a year? And why does a regular person spend years of difficult studies on the same task? It’s all because of a certain skill that children aren’t aware of, and adults have forgotten.

TORAH FOR IPAD (RUSTY BRICK) – FREE
This Torah’s 248 columns (amudim) are magically stitched together on your iPad. The tools are provided to make finding the weekly Torah portion (Parsha), bookmarks (famous selections included) and a pointer (Yad). Dive into the ancient texts and experience it all on the Torah.

I-COMFORT (BEHRMAN HOUSE) – $1.99
This app teaches all the Jewish traditions, rituals, blessings, and prayers for the mourning process. iComfort can help you reach out with care and confidence to family or friends who have lost someone they love. If you have lost a loved one, iComfort can help you learn the Kaddish, and calculate the exact dates on which you should recite it.

I-PARASHAH (JACA SOFTWARE SOLUTIONS) – $4.99
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.

SHABBAT SHALOM FOR ANDROID (RUSTY BRICK) – FREE
The Shabbat application will allow you to quickly check the candle lighting times, Havdalah times and parsha for the week in any location in the world. This comes in handy when you quickly want to know when Shabbat is or if you want to know if it is too late to call your in-laws in Israel. Just flip through the different cities and countries, to see what the local time is and what time they start or finish Shabbat.

JEWISH ROCK RADIO (jacAPPS) – FREE
Jewish Rock Radio is the voice of Jewish youth featuring high-caliber, contemporary Jewish rock music with your favorite Jewish rock artists from the US, Israel, and beyond. JRR broadcasts fresh programming including interviews with Jewish youth from coast-to-coast sharing exciting ways they are engaging in Jewish life.

DAF YOMI+ (OKTM WEBSITES) – $4.99
Upgrade version of the free Daf Yomi with the option to choose Masechet (volume) and Daf (page).

ISRAEL365 (NOAH WEISZ) – FREE
This new app combines breathtaking photographs of Israel with inspiring Biblical passages describing the significance of the Holy Land. It features over 25 award-winning Israeli photographers and covers the width and breadth of the Promised Land.

JEW OR NOT JEW (JOHANN LEVY-J SOFT) – $1.99
While a similar version of this app was banned by Apple’s online App Store in France the developer clearly explains that this app is only intended for fun. This App puts together for you thousands of Jewish personalities and defines their Jewish background: Jewish mother, Jewish father or convert to Judaism.

YIDDISH DICTIONARY (DEEP POWDER SOLUTIONS) – $1.99
This application for the iPhone and iPod Touch is a dictionary-based application about Yiddish terms and words


*GAMES*

HEBREW TRIVIA (LUCIDEV) – FREE
Hebrew Trivia Game For Android Devices.

NOISEMAKE GRAGGER (BEHRMAN HOUSE) – FREE
This app is a virtual grogger on your iPhone. You can pick from different sounds or record your own and twirl your iPhone like a gragger to make noise. Remember to wait for Haman’s name.

THE BIBLE BOOCLIPS (CASTLE BUILDERS) – $2.99
Animated by The Kids Bible Company, the outstanding level of the animation of these videos appeals to children of all ages. This digital Bible book narrates unforgettable Biblical stories to children, using vivid animation, video clips and rich graphics from the Animated Kids Bible stories DVD series.

DREIDEL LABRYNTH (BEHRMAN HOUSE) – FREE
Navigate a ball through the labyrinth while collecting gelt and using the pinwheel to spin the dreidel. Collect and wager gelt as you compete. Earn an achievement for each board in the labyrinth. A different labyrinth appears for each letter on the dreidel.

I-HANUKKAH (BEHRMAN HOUSE) – FREE
Learn Chanukah blessings or refresh your memory with your own interactive Chaunkah. Touch-n-Read technology lets you read along and hear every word and sing along too. Record mode makes it easy to practice reading the Hebrew words and automatically saves your last recording.

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | http://blog.rabbijason.com | Twitter: @RabbiJason | facebook.com/rabbijasonmiller

iPads in Jewish Day Schools

A version of this appeared on the JTA.org website

Bill Gates paid a visit to Steve Jobs toward to the end of the Apple visionary’s life. The two technology giants talked about the future of education. According to Walter Isaacson’s biography of Jobs, both men agreed that computers had made surprisingly little impact on schools. Gates said, “Computers and mobile devices would have to focus on delivering more personalized lessons and providing motivational feedback.” One of the many projects Jobs had hoped to develop before his life was cut short, Isaacson explained, was “to disrupt the textbook industry and save the spines of spavined students by creating electronic texts and curriculum material for the iPad.”

High School students using their iPads at
the Frankel Jewish Academy in Metro Detroit

Rabbi Joshua Spodek regularly studies the Talmud at home with his son, but when he began using an iPad and the iTalmud app, he noticed how his son responded to the “fusion of modern technology with ancient text.” Spodek, who works at the Scheck Hillel Community Day School in North Miami Beach, thought of a way to bring that technology to the classroom. The school is now offering an entirely paperless Talmud course.

“The increased levels of engagement, portability, and space and cost saving have been enormous,” said Seth Dimbert, the school’s director of learning technologies. “Normally, when you study the Talmud, each page is covered with cross-references and tertiary commentaries, and you have bookshelves filled with dozens or even hundreds of secondary reference texts. Using an iPad application puts all of that reference material in hypertext. It’s an ideal way to study the Talmud, which is in some sense the original hypertext.”

At the Frankel Jewish Academy (FJA) in suburban Detroit, students began this school year with a nice surprise. Each student in the high school received a new 16GB WiFi iPad2. The school-wide distribution of the iPad to each student is the result of both a generous gift from an angel donor and the advantageous timing in the school’s computer lease agreement with Apple. Patti Shayne, the school’s director of technology, believes the iPad project is in line with FJA’s reputation as a cutting-edge institution, especially in the area of technology.

“The move to this incredible new technology gives teachers access to so many more sources and enables students to leverage their learning. With the iPad, students have one central place for assignments, communications and in many cases, text books and reading material. They will be able to access sources not available before,” explained Shayne. “Our job is to make that learning as inspiring and exciting as possible and prepare FJA students for a future where competency with all web-based devices is the norm.”

Kindergarten students at the Bohrer-Kaufman Hebrew Academy
of Morris County, New Jersey (Photo by Johanna Ginsberg)

The students aren’t the only ones in the school who have embraced the iPads. The teachers had a chance to play with them before the students even returned from summer break. One teacher at FJA was already an iPad pro. Robert Walker, a government teacher, has had an iPad since 2009 when they were released to the public. “Where I see the iPad really impacting learning is that it appeals to so many different learning styles. Students will have more freedom in choosing the direction they want to go to master their coursework,” Walker said. “While meeting the requirements, students will also have the ability to go above and beyond what they are required to do. It’s a powerful tool that will support learning in any number of ways.”

One way the iPad will help students learn is by giving them the opportunity to review a lecture they might not have fully understood the first time. FJA’s chemistry teacher videotaped himself going through a problem and then uploaded the informational video onto the students’ iPads. “Students now have the opportunity to watch his demonstration several times,” explained Shayne. “Sometimes you don’t catch it all and some students are hesitant to speak up. With the iPad they can listen to the explanation as many times as they need at home or at school.”

That same chemistry teacher uses a free app called Mahjong Chem, which his students use to practice matching elemental names to symbols, naming polyatomic ions, assigning oxidation numbers, earning electronic configurations and understanding metric prefixes. Other apps that are being used include Pages (for word processing), Keynote (for presentations) and Numbers (an app similar to Microsoft Excel). Students are allowed to purchase their own apps, as long as the apps meet the standards of the school’s Acceptable Use Policy. Teachers may even require students to purchase apps; a requirement explained to parents in a document from Shayne as the equivalent to asking students to purchase a calculator, notebook or other necessary school supplies.

Are the students using the iPads for serious academic work or are they just expensive video game consoles with a pretty screen? According to 12th grader Shira Wolf of West Bloomfield, it’s a mix. “In Jewish Leadership, our teacher, Mr. [Marc] Silberstein, is trying to be completely paperless so we went over the syllabus on our iPads and got to play around with the neuAnnotate app to annotate it.” She also noted that it’s common to see her peers playing the popular game “Words with Friends” on their iPads during study hall or even in class, which is frowned upon.

Other Jewish day schools across the country are incorporating iPads into the schools as well. While it’s mostly middle schools and high schools, there are also some elementary schools that have made iPads part of the learning process. At the Modern Orthodox Ohr Chadash Academy in Baltimore, all fourth-through-sixth graders have an iPad. As Julie Wiener, educational writer at The Jewish Week points out, the iPads “bring challenges as well: they are fragile, expensive, awkward to type on and chock full of distractions, especially when connected to the Internet. And it is unclear whether — once its novelty wears off and if it becomes as commonplace as pencils and notebooks — the toy-like iPad will retain its magical power over children.”

Some educators are quick to point out that if teachers use the new technology to teach the same way they always have then the technology is not being used correctly. “To let students simply listen to lectures on their own time – that doesn’t require an iPad. It requires a tape player. Or to study Talmud in the same way, just with a different visual – again, we’re not revolutionizing education,” argues Dr. Erica Rothblum, the Head of School at Beth Hillel Day School in Valley Village, California. “At our school, we have a 1:1 iPad program for all students in grades 4-6, but we are very aware that this is a tool. There are times that a pen and paper are better tools, and students will use those. The iPad does allow us, however, to encourage discovery, play and research.

At Rothblum’s school, the students are creating a “visual tefillah” by finding visuals that represent their prayers and using keynote, including animation, to illustrate what the prayer means. Students there are also creating “voicethreads” in Hebrew in which they record themselves telling a story or a conversation in Hebrew and then parents, teachers and their peers can listen to the recording and leave comments.

So, what’s next? Mobile device learning is certainly the wave of the future and school administrators are predicting innovations that never would have been believed a decade ago. When cell phone technology became inexpensive enough for high school and middle school students to be able to bring their phones to school, policies were quickly implemented to first ban the communication devices and then eventually place restrictions on their use.

One thing that has changed with this younger generation is the innate comfort level they have with technology. After all, this is the generation that has grown up with iPods, digital cameras and smartphones. Shaindle Braunstein-Cohen, former director of the Hermelin ORT Resource Center, underscored this when she said, “We used to teach technology as a subject. We would teach how to use a device. It’s no longer the ‘something’ that we teach; it’s the platform on which we deliver information.”

When asked how long Shayne expects FJA will keep the current crop of iPads until they become stale or even obsolete as Apple continues to release more powerful versions each year, she responded, “We are looking at a three-year refresh rate. As to what the future holds, maybe one of our students will invent it.”

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | http://blog.rabbijason.com | Twitter: @RabbiJason | facebook.com/rabbijasonmiller