The Starbucks Talmud

by | in Reviews

The ArtScroll Digital Library Schottenstein Talmud App, Version 1.4
ArtScroll Mesorah Publications

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

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

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

talmud app

ArtScroll’s new app is aesthetically pleasing and its features provide meaningful options so users can customize the learning experience.

The ArtScroll Talmud App is not just an ancient text adapted to the iPad format. That is not a particularly difficult task which has already been accomplished by other apps, such as On YourWay and iTalmud. Nor is it merely an addition of the popular ArtScroll translation and commentary to the iPad Talmud text. It is much more. The ArtScroll Talmud App is a fully customizable text that allows readers to “order” the Talmud according to their learning tastes. It offers users the ability to define their own experience, which incidentally remedies some of the pedagogical issues some found with the original ArtScroll Schottenstein Talmud.

We are now witnessing a more significant change, a next-generation Talmud which will radically redefine the text and its relationship to students.

The primary purpose of the app is to provide the English translation of the Talmud alongside the original Aramaic text. The app allows you to do this in multiple ways. You can choose to view either only the English or Aramaic, or both languages arranged side by side. With the Aramaic, you can choose the standard Vilna edition with all the expected marginal commentaries in place, or you can run a flowing vowelized and punctuated text with commentaries at the bottom. In the flowing text option, the app allows you to add breaking points between topics and descriptors labeling questions, answers and statements. The flowing Aramaic text is your own private tutor.

Additionally, you can choose what appears in the pop-up box when you tap on an Aramaic phrase. Options include the English translation, Rashi, Tosafot, Torah Or (which provides the full text of any verse cited in the Gemara text) and other marginal commentaries, and the extensive ArtScroll footnotes. Personally, I prefer the Vilna text with the English translation in the pop-up box. In this way, I can approach the text as I would in my printed Talmud. If I find a word or phrase challenging, I tap it and find the text’s translation and expansion.

Some have criticized the ArtScroll Schottenstein Talmud (English edition) for serving as a crutch. Students rely so much on the English that they either ignore the Aramaic or fail to learn individual words. By hiding the translation behind a tap, you can create a new balance between Aramaic and English favoring the original more than a printed side-by-side text. You are almost forced to read the original before tapping and seeing the translation.

Another feature I appreciate solves an age-old dilemma. Studying a commentary, such as Rashi, often leads to losing your place in the text. Or when you refer back to the text, you lose your place in Rashi. The solution, pointing with both hands to the two places, can become cumbersome. While the now standard bold-type introductory Rashi words was a big step forward in helping Talmud learners keep their place, the ArtScroll Talmud App shifts the paradigm. When you tap on a Rashi, Tosafot or any marginal note, both the commentary and the associated Talmudic phrase are highlighted in yellow. Alternately, you can set the preferences so that Rashi or any other commentary on the page appears in a pop-up box when you tap on the text. You will never lose your place again!

The ArtScroll Talmud App is aesthetically pleasing and its pages load fairly quickly. Its rich features provide meaningful options so users can customize the learning experience according to their needs. This sets the gold standard of Jewish apps, utilizing the unique iPad features to alter the Talmud experience without tinkering with the actual text. It is an entirely traditional learning experience more fully enabled by the remarkable power of the iPad.

Rabbi Gil Student writes frequently on Jewish issues and blogs at TorahMusings.com. He is a member of the Jewish Action editorial board.

Note

1. “The Future of the Sefer” (spring 2011).

This article was featured in Jewish Action Spring 2013.

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