Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Updated: Artscroll Shas IPad App! (The Talmud for Me)

(Updated sections in bold.)

Tonight I attended a special Artscroll dinner that celebrated the siyyum of the Schottenstein Hebrew Talmud and some other projects. (By the way, the dinner, which was attended by chashuve rabbonim, etc., was mostly mixed seating.) The coolest part was a video presentation that showcased the Artscroll Shas App. I don't own an IPad (or any other tablet device) nor do I learn gemara, but the app seems so cool that I want to buy an IPad just so I can get the app. (The coolest feature is that in addition using it conventionally with two facing pages--which of course are scroll linked--you can use only the Aramaic side and click on a difficult word or phrase and the elucidation will float above. You can also enable vocalization of the text. Of course you can add notes, there are is a GPS-enabled feature to find local daf yomi shiurim, etc. I think, although I don't recall for sure now, that there are hyperlinks. The app is being developed by Rusty Brick, so you know it's going to be good.)

I have thus far resisted the urge to buy an IPad (the only tablet I would consider). In fact I haven't even had an urge. There is simply no way I can justify it. I have a computer at home and I have one at work. I don't commute much on the trains, so what use could I have for a tablet? I also have not embraced the ebook revolution--Wieseltier's recent "Voluminous" essay (here) really resonated with me--, so that specific tablet use doesn't appeal to me. But watching the short Artscroll presentation made me realize the power of a tablet app and how it can really add so much to transform what was previously just a text.

I still can't see myself reading from a tablet, but this Luddite is now convinced that it's the future.

The only thing that I'm not sure about it whether I should buy an IPad or instead use the money to buy a share of Apple stock.

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It is popular in certain circles (my own included) to be reflexively critical of anything published by Artscroll. But the truth is that despite much warranted criticism, they have accomplished some important work.

I'm not qualified to comment on Artscroll's adult publications, but I will state that I think they do a really good job with their children's books. Not the literature, but the Siddur, Haggadah, Megillot, Yonah, Pirke Avot, etc. I use these when learning with David and they are very good. The simple translation is clear and age appropriate and the illustrations are appealing to children.

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Sunday, February 26, 2012

Chutzpah of a Nineteenth Century British Missionary

(Click here to register as a bone marrow donor. It's the easiest way to save a child's life.)

In the 1840s F.C. Ewald, a Jewish convert to Christianity, served as a British missionary in Jerusalem. En route to Eretz Yisrael he stopped in Lisbon where he had the occasion to meet and engage Maranno Jews in theological discussion.

I gave to this little congregation a short outline of the present condition of the Jews in various parts of the world, to which they listened with greatest interest. After which, I asked Rabbi Abraham [Dabella?] to tell me his opinion of the Messiah. This question astonished him not a little, "Why," exclaimed he, "the Messiah , the Messiah, is yet to come" . . .

This opened the way to an animated conversation about the Messiah and those who believe in Him, and I was then privileged to preach the Gospel of salvation in a Jewish synagogue in the capital of Portugal, where most likely for centuries no Jew had been made acquainted with the truth as it is in Jesus . .

If a mission to this part of the world should once be established, Lisbon might, from time to time be visited, and inquiries made after the secret Jews, who . . . are numerous here.

There are a number of historical gems in the few pages from whence I copied this selection, but I was amazed most by the chutzpah of this missionary. He thought he might have some luck with with Jews who on the one hand were already quite familiar with (papist distorted) Christianity, having lived outwardly as such for as long as 450 years--in some cases even centuries longer--, yet on the other hand for a duration just as long had rejected it and continued to cling at great risk to their Jewish faith!

The quote is from Journal of Missionary Labours in the City of Jerusalem, During the Years 1842-3-4. By the Rev. F. C. Ewald, 2nd ed. (London, 1846), pp. 4ff. (click here).

On Ewald, see A. Bernstein, Some Jewish Witnesses for Christ (London: Operative Jewish Converts' Institution, 1909), pp. 203-215 (click here); W. T. Gidney, The History of the London Society for Promoting Christianity Amongst the Jews, from 1809 to 1908 (London, 1908), passim (click here).

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Of Beatles and Volcanoes

David just loves the Beatles. A little while ago he came home from school singing "Yellow Submarine" and I thought it was cute because I remembered learning that song in first grade music also. But in my experience that was where my childhood exposure to the Beatles ended. David's music teacher, however, made the Beatles a central part of the curriculum. He learned a whole bunch of songs and his favorites are "Yesterday," "I Want to Hold Your Hand," "Let it Be" and "Here Comes the Sun." (He no longer likes "Yellow Submarine" so much.) He loves sitting in front of Youtube and watching the videos.

But it wasn't just about the songs. He learned a lot about the Beatles themselves. Their instruments. Their personal lives. Every day he'd come and tell about the newest factoids he had learned. "Did you know that John Lennon was married to Yoko Ono?" (His favorites by the way are John and Ringo. Personally I prefer Paul.)

One day he made a comment that maybe he'll grow his hair and payis (!) like the Beetles. He's always considered it a treat to get a haircut and he asks for them all the time. (Maybe it's the lollipop he gets at the end?) I prefer him with long hair (but not upshern type), however, and so I'm glad the Beetles are having this effect on him.

A few weeks ago a Beetles tribute band was playing at a local college. I really wanted to take David, but both of us ended up being sick. Maybe next time.

* * *

Last year David's teacher told me about one of those cute moments he was privy to. While on the bus on a school trip he overheard a long conversation between David and two friends about the band they are going start together.

Recently David told me about it also. They are going to call themselves The Volcanoes (not a bad name?). I think he said he is going to play guitar, but more recently he's been asking for drum lessons. We might just let him.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Learning from the Coach

In the fall David went to a basketball clinic Sunday mornings. He had recently fallen in love with basketball was very excited about the clinic. I was too. I thought it would be good exercise for him in general and specifically could help improve coordination, etc. I also think it's important for kids to be decent at sports for various reasons. And it was just cute to watch him warm up, run suicides, practice layups and play games. I think he was getting a lot out of it and he was having a lot of fun.

Until the middle of the season. He started expressing less and less interest and finally he decided he no longer wanted to go. On the one hand I don't think parents should force kids to participate in extracurricular activities. Let kids figure out what they like to do and enjoy themselves as they develop a particular skill or talent. On the other hand David asked us to sign him up and we had already paid for the season. We felt that he should understand what it means to make a commitment to do something and at that very he least he should finish up the season. Then he could decide if wanted to continue.

* * *

One interesting thing I noticed while watching the practice games is that the coach didn't generally call travelling and double dribble violations. It was a good reminder for me that sometimes kids need a bit of leeway. One can't expect them to do everything perfectly from day one. Eventually they'll get it. Hopefully.