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Against the Current

Monday, 5 December 2011

via CCAR and itunes

Am I too rigid?
or too much of luddite?
Too old-fashioned?
Am I simply in the wrong movement?

Most definitely.
increasingly accurate.

Today, one of my colleague’s dreams, not to mention hard work, has come to fruition: the launch of our movement‘s prayerbook as an app for the iPad.

I have written before about my love/hate relationship with the ereader. And I really do feel that Shabbat should be a sacred, unplugged time and space. The idea that the People of the Book should begin the slow process of moving away from the physical relationship with the printed word and towards the screen is disheartening.

To me.

But, clearly based on the dozens and dozens and dozens of positive comments on FB, I am alone in my reaction.

Just as I cannot imagine giving a d’var Torah from my iPad.

I am alone in that too.

Each generation looks ahead with trepidation while comparing the present to the past…and finding it lacking. A perspective generally felt in the winter of one’s life.

I, as usual, am ahead of myself.
And, as usual, in a minority of one.

31 Comments leave one →
  1. The Nudnik permalink
    Monday, 5 December 2011 11:59 pm

    A number of my friends have weekday Mincha and Maariv, Birkat Hamazon, etc., for pdas, smartphones, etc.

    None of us use electronics on Shabbat or Yom Tov, so I will never, b”h, see someone singing L’Cha Dodi from a Blackberry. Nor will my rabbi give the Shabbat morning drasha from an IPad. I suppose it might happen that a hesped would be delivered that way. But that’s not on Shabbat.

    • Frume Sarah permalink*
      Wednesday, 7 December 2011 5:20 pm

      That is because you are in a Shabbos-observant community.

      In most Reform synagogue, the pews are filled with folks whose prayer needs are met on a weekly basis — on Shabbat. Furthermore, I would also generalize by saying that the overwhelming majority of them see no problem with using iPads (Kindles, computers, etc) on Shabbat. So there is a very likely reality that folks would in fact be singing L’cha Dodi (verses 1,2, 5, & 9).

  2. Tuesday, 6 December 2011 12:03 am

    I find myself standing with you and against you.

    As an IT professional (ie: computer geek), I think anything that CAN be an app SHOULD be an app. I like having my siddur on my droid phone – three different ones, in fact. I love all the various Jewish tools my technology makes possible, from the “which way is Jerusalem” compass to the “zman minder” popup that let’s me know when i’m 30 minutes away from the daily davening (praying) deadline.

    And as an orthodox Jew, it all gets shut off on Shabbat. Every last bit, byte, checkin, update and tweet. Which is fine. One day out of 7, I can live without it, I can hug my hardcover Artscroll to my chest as I pray, and enjoy the pure analog experience of it all.

    *IF* your one day (or your main day, or the day you are sure you can make time) to pray is Shabbat, then I can see where there would be cognitive dissonance.

    But if not, then I think there is room for (and benefit to) both.

    • Frume Sarah permalink*
      Wednesday, 7 December 2011 5:23 pm

      *IF* your one day (or your main day, or the day you are sure you can make time) to pray is Shabbat, then I can see where there would be cognitive dissonance.

      And for the most of the Reform community, Shabbat is the one day set aside for prayer. So you see my dilemma.

      But if not, then I think there is room for (and benefit to) both.


  3. Linda.Kirsch permalink
    Tuesday, 6 December 2011 12:08 am

    I must be living in the moderately dark ages. I thought, when I saw the app, that it would be a great study tool. I never realized people would use it as an actual siddur at services.

    • Frume Sarah permalink*
      Thursday, 8 December 2011 9:17 am

      While there might be some who are approaching this as a study tool, my guess is that the goal is for it to be used for worship.

      I have iT’filah on my iPad. And just cannot imagine using it for prayer.

      Not to mention — I can just see folks getting bored and playing “Words with Friends” or “Angry Birds” in the midst of the service. Or checking email or FB. And while I am certain, because I’ve seen it, that there are those who are doing the aforementioned activities on their iPhones, iPods, Droids, etc., they are taking the initiative to do so. If we invite the iPad (or other tablet, eReader, etc) into the sanctuary, are we not, in this case, putting a stumbling block before the blind?

  4. Tuesday, 6 December 2011 12:38 am

    as a person who dedicates just about all his time to the transcription and digitization liturgy and classical text i am always excited when i see new app material and stuff like that. honestly, the requests for apps is probably one of the biggest demands people like me get. and truth be told in orthodox communities the dependence on mobile apps has long since been widely accepted and well loved toy, taking off in viral forms in the mid 90s long before the progressive movements even gave a first consideration let alone organized approach to it. we all pretty much accept the need. but i have always felt the need to point out to people that currently the technology for e-readers is pretty limited; text sources are few and Hebrew language is limited and poorly dealt. at this point they are still amusements, but not really effective for study because there is not nearly enough digitized material to compete against a full printed siddur, and because most of us do not feel it would be appropriate to use on shabbat and yom tovim no matter what our affiliation is. on a personal level, i couldnt pray from a siddur. i can bow to a Borachu with a siddur in hand, but with my beloved blackberry in hand i would feel sacrilegious; it gets enough of my endearment as it is hehehe

    • Frume Sarah permalink*
      Thursday, 8 December 2011 9:25 am

      Not so fast, Shmu. I would agree with most of what you have said. Except for this one part:

      because most of us do not feel it would be appropriate to use on shabbat and yom tovim no matter what our affiliation is.

      While there might be those in a Reform synagogue who don’t feel that it is appropriate, i would venture to say that most wouldn’t have an issue with it and many would embrace it.

      Among the benefits of this app:
      1. For those with “tired eyes,” the iPad allows the individual to manipulate the font to a comfortable and more legible size.
      2. In those congregations who purchased the one volume of Mishkan T’filah, this will make a tremendous difference for those who find the heft of the siddur unmanageable.

      Do the positives outweigh the negatives? I suppose that remains to be seen.

  5. DrPG permalink
    Tuesday, 6 December 2011 7:26 am

    I agree with you on many levels, and I think you have instinctively come to a sound conclusion. In addition to religion, there are a number of reasons why this is a bad development.
    Studies are beginning to show that students using ereaders alone have less comprehension than those who used traditional books. The reason is that with an ereader you only see a small selection, whereas with a book you can see 2 pages at once, and can easily fold a page or two over to see previous passages simultaneously. Thus, you can compare long selections instead of doing word searches and then fumbling around to find where you stopped. Could you imagine trying to put two competing essays side by side to compare in an ereader?
    If you looked at only a small section of a painting instead of the whole, or listened to only a few bars of a Haydn symphony, then you can further understand why this type of “learning” is deficient. There is an asymmetry to the process that does not promote cognitive skills.
    I think this is part of the dumbing down of the population, for all the high tech hype. When I was growing up, news programs frequently gave people a minute or two on the air to express their views. Now, we have “sound bytes,” a few seconds that cannot explain complex ideas. The inevitable result is that we have gone from the lengthy, complex structure of debates (for example, the LIncoln/Douglas debates of the 19th Century, or even the 1960 Kennedy/Nixon debates) to our present structure, where Herman Cain cannot remember what Libya is and Rick Perry cannot remember three Cabinet departments.
    To sum up, these trends have diminished the concentration span of people. No wonder we have no intelligent political ideas, such a dearth of moral values, and no sophisticated world view that could elevate our society.

    • Frume Sarah permalink*
      Thursday, 8 December 2011 9:54 am

      DrPG —

      I would be very interested in being pointed to those studies. I know that many kids with learning disabilities have found this technology to increase comprehension. So I’d love to see opposing research in order to better educate myself.

  6. Tuesday, 6 December 2011 10:13 am

    Hi Frume Sarah… I love iT’filah and can’t wait to use it. I love the being in the 21st century! And excitied that our movement is forging new ground. I believe the rabbis of old who were daring in their time would be daring in our time! This won’t replace books but enhance learning and outreach to many who aren’t in the synagogue!!!!! Sending hugs from the West Coast

    • Frume Sarah permalink*
      Thursday, 8 December 2011 9:57 am

      Rabbieger ~ for the purposes of learning and enrichment, I agree that iT’filah can revolutionize the ways in which we can engage in the text.

      But what are your thoughts of using for Shabbat worship? If it catches on, I certainly can foresee a time when economics force synagogues to switch to this method.

      I know that you’ve invited folks to download the app and use it this Shabbos. Please come back and share your experience!

      Missing you from the East Coast!

  7. Tuesday, 6 December 2011 10:35 am

    OK, I’ll be the contrarian to your contrarian: I really like having iTefillah, as a learning tool. I can see all sorts of extensions of its functionality in the future, which will make it even better. Mishkan Tefillah is one of two base texts of the Reform Movement (the Plaut Chumash being the other), and having it available this way is great. Like you, I would NOT be inclined to pray from it on Shabbat…but I would also not be inclined to dismiss others for doing so. I think it’s that inclination (or the absence of it), more than the particulars of this issue, that would help answer the “am I in the wrong movement” question.

    On most “bein adam lamakom” mitzvot, I have chosen to coexist in the movement with people who choose a practice that’s different than mine. I’d like to think that the Reform movement is big enough for people who choose to davven kabbalat shabbat from their i0S devices and those who choose not to do so. I recognize, of course, that “bein….makom/chavero” is a slippery distinction: my own area of chumra is food, and I see my vegetarianism not only as personal choice, but as having major societal implications. And I can make a case that our world would be better off if we’d all put down our technology on Shabbes (I know my little corner of it would be!): but on the spectrum, this is much more in the realm of personal choice than not. When the movement mandates theft, or murder, or adultery, I’ll leave; but publishing an e-reader version of the Shabbat Service, and even celebrating its use at the biennial, won’t send me elsewhere.

    There’s an area of my rabbinical life that has been tremendously enhanced by my ipad: funerals. From the intake interview (done now in Penultimate, a great app for taking notes) to the service itself (conducted from the e-reader version of the Rabbi’s Manual), the ipad does for me what good technology is supposed to do: it simplifies things and mostly stays out of the way. In far West Texas where the wind and the dust blows, eulogies on paper are a TERRIBLE technology…always threatening to blow into the parking lot, or worse, to be stopped with a slap on the side of the casket, or a mourner’s face. I haven’t yet met the Texas wind that could pick up my ipad 😉

    Don’t leave us, Frume Sarah…we need your voice!

    • Frume Sarah permalink*
      Thursday, 8 December 2011 12:39 pm

      I’d like to think that the Reform movement is big enough…

      But here is the problem: while the movement may be large enough, if one veers to far beyond the normative practices, it becomes nearly impossible to find community within the movement. This is something with which the Frummies are strugging as we seek the right spiritual home. Our own personal beliefs and behaviours vary greatly from the local Reform temple. I wouldn’t want to teach the Frummettes that one way is right and one way is wrong simply because I choose to be more accepting. But it gets difficult when, for example, a temple observes a holiday when it is most convenient and we hold that it ought to be done as God ordained.

      I am intrigued by your approach to mitzvot (commandments) that are bein adam lamakom (between an individual and God) and those that are bein adam l’chavero between an individual and others). I need to give this some more thought and see if my areas of chumra (a prohibition or obligation that exceeds the bare requirements of Jewish law) are really about what I think others should do for the good of the world or are they about what I should do for the sake of my relationship with God.

      Your thoughtful response had given me some things to consider…thank you.

  8. CVBruce permalink
    Tuesday, 6 December 2011 1:43 pm

    I am an iPad user. Big time. As a new hebrew reader, I appreciate being able to read the Torah in a font that is large enough that I can clearly see vowels and trope marks.

    I purchased the pulpit copy of the Plaut Torah Commentary, all 11 pounds of it. I found that the english was larger, but the hebrew was still too small.

    My hebrew class is studying “Prayer book hebrew”, and our primary text is Mishkan T’filah. I have always wanted audio recordings of the prayers that are spoken clearly and slowly so that I can improve both my reading and pronunciation.

    In short, I feel excited to learn, more connected, when I use the iPad because it removes barriers to my learning.

    • Frume Sarah permalink*
      Thursday, 8 December 2011 10:01 am

      These are all exciting reasons why iT’filah can enhance learning…which will lead to a deeper connection to the text and, one would hope, to God.

      My issue, CVBruce, is with the use of iT’filah for Shabbat worship. But for study, I see the wisdom in the development of this app.

      Thanks for stopping by AND sharing your thoughts!

  9. Tuesday, 6 December 2011 4:12 pm

    Why not also offer it via Amazon. I have the Kindle, and have downloaded any number of books that I use for both reference and prayer. In particular, Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks’ newish Hebrew Daily Prayer Book. I am not saying that I use the Kindle on Shabbat, but it is surely a valuable asset for many different readings.

    • Frume Sarah permalink*
      Thursday, 8 December 2011 10:04 am

      Norman — this was just the first step in bringing iT’filah to the eReader. I understand from its developer, Rabbi Dan Medwin, that there are indeed plans to offer this on different platforms.

      BTW, I LOVE that “newish” prayerbook. I use it for daily worship and for study.

  10. Tuesday, 6 December 2011 5:02 pm

    Norman: While I haven’t researched it extensively, according to the Artscroll book blog the Kindle and Sony readers don’t have support for Hebrew text with vowels, when it has to mix in with English, and when it would need to adjust line wrapping based on magnification, etc.

    That’s why Artscroll only publishes on the iBook platform. I’m not sure if the URJ came to the same conclusion or not.

  11. CVBruce permalink
    Tuesday, 6 December 2011 6:00 pm

    I feel that I need to clarify a point. There are books, and there are books.

    On the iPad, you can have books that are stand alone applications, such as iT’filah: The Mishkan T’filah App, and books that are data meant to be used by a reader application; for example the book A Tale of Two Cities, in a format for the application Kindle.

    Books that are data to be used by a reader application like Nook, Kindle, or iBooks are easier to produce. The problem is that they can’t really do anything that the reader application doesn’t support, such as right to left languages, or full hebrew vowels and trope marks. Books as data can be used on a variety of devices as long as that device supports the file format ( and DRM) that the book is stored in.

    On the other hand Books as applications can pretty well do anything they want. They are more difficult to produce, and they are device dependent.

    I think CCAR has made a great choice in producing this as an application. The ability to listen to a cantor read and/or chant the prayers, will help me in learning the prayers, and improving my hebrew.

  12. Tuesday, 6 December 2011 7:12 pm

    I don’t understand what this has to do with being in the wrong or right movement. I’m with you on the whole eReader thing – I like it for what it is, but shabbat, actual prayer etc I prefer a real book. All denominations of Judaism have happily adopted a lot of technology, albeit in different ways. I would suspect that a lot more people agree with you than you think.

    • Frume Sarah permalink*
      Thursday, 8 December 2011 12:44 pm

      This is really just one in a string of things that continue to make me feel that I am coming from so far afield that I am in the wrong place.

      While all streams of Judaism have adopted technology, the other movements don’t need to worry about folks bringing their iPads into shul because they operate on a 24/6 basis as far as such things are concerned. Of course I do not mean that every Conservative Jews abstains from using electronics on Shabbat. It is, however, the prevailing appraoch of the Conservative movement to stay away from such things on an official level.

      And I would suspect, and I imagine we’ll have a better sense of this after the Biennial next week, that far more folks disagree than agree with me.

  13. Wednesday, 7 December 2011 1:44 am

    One the fantasies most of us geeky people have is a resource to reference, quick place to look most often for a citation and to answer quick questions; search-ability is a major seller. The other thing for the educator and the student alike is the need to import and export material to be used for study and presentation. One of the greatest limitations truly is the way that we deal with Hebrew typesetting with nekkudot. What we all really are looking for as a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow is a true right-to-left truetype text with nekkud in XML and more devices that can display that correctly. It is true that there are limitations to some devices some of us are very attached to like Kindle, and import into some documentation platforms isn’t possible. Thats frustrating to a lot of us that are used to the simplicity of doing this in Windows and OSX with two simple keystrokes. From platform to platform the display can be disastrous if you don’t key in the nekkudot in the right order it desires for instance, if you don’t the rest of the document cant come out jumbled and overlapping (for those who type liturgy all I have to say is “holam” and “holam chaser vav” and people get a headache). But truth be told often times when publishing its layed on in desktop publishing software to look right, but its not exactly machine readable as true lines of direct text. For the most part what has kept progress of having a grand library of electronic Judaica is because many people have contributed work but in formats that don’t stand the test of time or are proprietary. There are wonderful works that were made in programs like Davka a decade ago, thousands and thousands of pages of great text that today the authors are so upset that they cannot just convert to truetype to be usable today. Thats why there is always handy notes section for you to enter your own notes because there isn’t a desire to give up the text even if they are classical and well outside of copyright. I would hope as time progresses people decide to contribute more to be license free, without use of proprietary software, and without limitations for those who need to innovate their service styles and use in classroom use.

    • Wednesday, 7 December 2011 8:15 am

      Oh, AMEN. I wish people were interested in open source Judaica/literature.

    • Friday, 9 December 2011 11:39 am

      Adding to that idea, I have a couple of siddur apps for my (Droid) phone. What is nice is that, in the afternoon, it automatically jumps to Mincha (afternoon) prayers. When it’s night, I get Maariv instead. When it’s a day that I would say a non-standard prayer (like Al Hanissim), that section is highlighted (or displayed at all, depending on the app).

      the technology enables me by helping guide me (a relative newcoming to thrice-a-day prayer) and I avoid becoming “Mrs. Cooperman” (for those who don’t know the story, see here:

      It’s become a ritual GPS of sorts. And I think the iPad app has the opportunity to become the same.

      BUT… as is the point of the original post… NOT on Shabbat. At least for me.

  14. Thursday, 8 December 2011 3:53 pm

    Greetings; I’m not Jewish, but I do share that feeling at times of being in that audience of one when it comes to utilizing computer technologies when they intersect with faith. I’ll leave out my affiliation to my work from this comment, but clicking through to my blog here would point to what it is that I do at this intersection of faith and mobile tech.

    Yes. It is strange as all get out for everyone… except those who not just see certain changes coming, but embraces all that God has for us on the other side of that change.

    I’ll be linking to this from my faith/work site; I do hope that doing so causes no offense, and allows for you to see that there are others who share the opining of changes in tech as they intersect with what we most hold deal. *ahovah’s blessings be upon you and your community of readers/commenters here.

  15. Baruch Gitlin permalink
    Tuesday, 13 December 2011 1:21 pm

    A minority of at least two! My family thinks I’m living in the stone age because I want nothing to do with kindles and the like. I’ve seen people pulling out their I-Phones and stuff for minyons on the train, and live and let live I say, but personally, I want absolutely nothing to do with any of it! Books, pages, binding, ink – that’s all I want, ever! By the way, just discovered your blog, and like it very much!

  16. Monday, 19 December 2011 10:29 pm

    Thank-you, thank-you, thank-you for this post, which I am just surfing across now.

    My response, especially when I saw that this ap did not include weekday liturgy, was to be very sad and to think, precisely like you did, I am in the wrong movement.

    So, not having read through all the comments to know if there are any other like-minded Reformim out there, we appear to be a minority of 2.

    I think this is good as an adaptive device for those with low vision; but I couldn’t agree with you more otherwise. Shabbat is a time when we should put down and turn off our gadgets.
    I feel similarly about “Visual T’fillah” and the Jumbotron biennial Shabbat service so many others are raving about.

    But at least I know not that I’m not the only one.

  17. Friday, 23 December 2011 3:23 pm

    This is also true of the voice of the indigenous people their approaches to nature offer perspectives that can enrich the ways in which we situate ourselves in our world.


  1. Pardon me, is that a prayerbook on your iPad? « Rabbi Eleanor Steinman's Blog
  2. Of Jewish Apps, Conversations and Experiments « Mobile Ministry Magazine (MMM)

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