THE DAF IN THE DIGITAL AGE
Thank you for your article on the digital world of the Daf Yomi (“The Daf in the Digital Age” [winter 19]). However, I would like to bring to your attention the beginnings of the digitization of the daf, which was not mentioned in your article.
The first Shas placed on the Internet was by my organization, Ashreinu (E-daf.com). Since my background was in computer software, I had an idea: let’s put Shas on the Internet so that anyone in the world can have access to Shas. I approached my gabbai and said, “Josh [Itzkowitz], would you like to be koneh Olam Haba [acquire the World to Come]? I have a project for you.” Josh agreed. He carefully scanned in each page of the twenty volumes of Shas—2,711 pages—multiple times. Josh began his work in 1999 and worked tirelessly for nine months. He scanned in each of the 5,422 sides three times to get the best possible image (16,266 scans!). We then hired a webmaster, and E-daf was born.
At its peak E-Daf had 500,000 hits a month, i.e., 250,000 blatt gemara were learned through E-daf each and every month in all parts of the world—from Brooklyn to Israel, Germany to Siberia. The first time Josh showed me the geographical stats, I literally cried tears of joy. As the idea took off, others have followed in our footsteps and improved on our idea.
One who promotes the welfare of an individual and helps him grow in Torah and mitzvot, “secharo harbeh me’od—his reward is ever so great.” Josh did this job with love and devotion, so much so that one day when the links to the next day’s daf and all of Shas were broken, Josh stayed up all night to fix them so no one would miss the daf the next day.
I felt compelled to draw the curtain back so that all can see the wizard of being mezakeh harabim [strengthening the masses]!
Brooklyn, New York
I took pleasure in completing two cycles of Daf Yomi using my 100-year-old Vilna Shas. It made me feel closer [to our mesorah] than had I used an ArtScroll or smartphone. Perhaps that is why Dr. Henry Abramson’s remark toward the end of his excellent interview (“Up Close with Dr. Henry Abramson,” [winter 2019]), where he defines cassettes as “an obsolete technology from the last century,” did not resonate with me.
For ease of operation, whether recording or playback, nothing is simpler than cassettes or VHS. Most significant for religious Jews is that their privacy is assured. When using cassettes or VHS, we are not compromised by ads or “cookies,” and no filter is necessary. I stand by the continued value of my large collection of tapes, LPs and even 78s. Marshall McLuhan’s dictum, “the medium is the message,” should be shunned by all those who believe the message is primary and the medium a temporary convenience. Learning a 1,500-year-old text informs us of the enduring value of older things.
Larry W. Josefovitz
Allen I. Fagin’s call to ban hate speech (“The Intolerance of Tolerance,” [winter 2019]) is a slippery slope. For centuries our books were censored for real and imagined negative statements about other religions and their founders. Do we want a return to that? Moreover, punishing Holocaust deniers and their ilk makes them martyrs and creates a backlash. The way to fight speech is with speech.
With regard to Allen Fagin’s well-written article, I want to point out that the liberal and progressive colleges, academia, media, et cetera, deny one the freedom of speech when one’s speech is against their beliefs. On college campuses, there is talk of micro-aggression—one is not permitted to do anything as simple as rolling one’s eyes or grimacing, indicating one’s opposition to a certain position. Students are taught not to engage in such behaviors as they are not politically correct. But what about my right to free speech? The term “politically correct” is never used in the same sentence with Jews, Israel or the Holocaust. The “politically correct” argument is a tool of the left, and not of the right.
Thank you, Mr. Fagin, for a wonderful argument. Unfortunately, you are preaching to the converted. Your article belongs in the New York Times. Good luck getting the paper to print it.
West Palm Beach, Florida
How curiously selective are today’s fervent free speech advocates! This is most evident at ground zero: American college campuses. They are “open forums” for some, but not all; conservative and pro-Israel views are de-platformed. While all such institutions have clear guidelines as to acceptable behavior, those are rarely enforced on the most militant offenders. Harassment, intimidation, event disruptions and the like hardly fall under the free speech rubric. Yet such slights, as well as ostracism and exclusion by fellow students, scorn from radical faculty and indifference or worse from administrators, regularly face Jewish students.
Viral anti-Semitism is being insidiously spread throughout society by identity politics, political correctness, intersectionality, social justice and advocacy journalism—which, ironically, increasingly dictate what can and cannot be said. On free speech grounds, there has been strong pushback against anti-BDS laws at the state and national levels, as well as the president’s executive order extending Title VI civil rights protections, which have never before been seen as problematic, to Jews and other religio-ethnic groups. Shamefully, J Street, Jewish Voice for Peace, and IFNotNow have joined in that criticism.
Inextricably intertwined, anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism are being fought on proliferating fronts by many groups and numerous individuals. Whether it be countering massive media misinformation and misrepresentation; lobbying politicians at local, state and federal levels; denouncing academic, cultural and economic boycotts of Israel; or mounting legal challenges, those efforts are having an impact. On campus, a new organization, Alums for Campus Fairness (ACF), aims to tap into a heretofore largely overlooked resource: concerned alumni. It already has several dozen chapters, including at Columbia, Barnard and NYU. To join or start a chapter at one’s alma mater(s), visit campusfairness.org.
Richard D. Wilkins
Syracuse University Chapter, ACF
Syracuse, New York
THE HEROIC KESTENBAUM BROTHERS
Regarding the articles by Susie Garber, “A Discovery Sheds Light on Rescue Efforts During the Holocaust” (winter 2019) and R. Licht, “The Kestenbaum Rescue Efforts: An Analysis,” I would like to fill in a few important gaps.
Mention is made of seventeen boxes of miscellaneous documents [discovered in the Museum of Jewish Heritage—A Living Memorial to the Holocaust in Manhattan]. These boxes were culled from filing cabinets stored in my parents’ garage in Flatbush. (My mother, Shirley Kestenbaum Schulder, was Jacob Kestenbaum’s oldest child.) After analyzing the various documents, our family concluded that most likely Jacob Kestenbaum was responsible for saving approximately 600 Jews from the Shoah.
In the summer of 1976, my wife Esther took it upon herself to collate these papers as best she could. Then I mentioned the existence of the files to Professor Yaffa Eliach, z”l, my former Jewish history teacher at the Yeshivah of Flatbush High School. (She subsequently left to teach at Brooklyn College and form the Center for Holocaust Studies, the precursor to most, if not all, Holocaust-related research centers in the United States. The Center for Holocaust Studies is credited in the article for English translations of several Yiddish letters. The documents were initially loaned to the Center.)
Once the Museum of Jewish Heritage was established, my mother and the rest of her family decided that it was the best place for these priceless documents to be preserved on a permanent basis.
New York, New York