Science & Technology

Software Quickies Mini-reviews of new and notable Jewish software


By Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein

Used to be, I dreaded opening the latest Jewish CD or multimedia offering.  Sure, they showed some creativity and usefulness, but their features and sophistication lagged years behind the state-of-the-art products we used in our non-Jewish applications.  We lived in a software world of lame “wannabees.”

Things are changing in the Jewish software world faster than the spinning of an 8X CD-ROM drive.  Producers of Jewish software are learning that their wares had better come laden with the equipment that we have come to regard as standard.  Many of the new developments are both exciting in their own right, and augur well for increased quality in Torah software.

I have become addicted (as is true for most rabbis and teachers I know!) to the major Torah databases — the programs that put more sefarim on a plastic dish than you can stash on your bookshelves.  It is hard to imagine preparing lessons without them, or searching for a teshuvah you saw ten years ago and can’t remember where.  Some of the first and second generation products were immensely useful, but clumsy and counter-intuitive to manipulate.

The latest update of the Bar-Ilan Judaic Library (Torah Educational Software) addresses every reservation we had about the first version– and then some.  You will recall that the Bar-Ilan contribution is the one with enough Torah content to be the envy of your Bnei Brak cousins, plus a few hundred separate titles of responsa.  The upgrade (fully Windows 95 compatible) adds a slew of new features.  Most important is that it incorporates (finally!) essential editing tools within the program.  You can cut and paste, without having to first export an entire window or file to your word processor.  You can open multiple windows and search (in a manner intuitive to any experienced Windows user) multiple databases simultaneously.  The English on-line Help is complete enough that you will probably never look at the manual, just as it should be.  And yes, they are constantly updating the database.  Some holes in modern responsa have been filled with the addition of Avnei Nezer, Minchat Shlomo, and the Piskei Din of the Yerushalayim Rabbinical Court, to cite just a few, and they have added appreciably to the collection of midrashim.

So many of the older entries into the multimedia field were nothing but some text or infantile game-premise with a few illustrations and a jingle or two.  The print version would have been embarrassed to be seen with his high-tech cousin.  The Jewish Way in Love and Marriage Multimedia Version (Davka) quickly lets you know that someone was struck with a flash of real inspiration.  I can’t think of a book that could be better treated to a multimedia presentation than Rabbi Maurice Lamm’s modern classic.  To be successful, a multimedia product must offer something that the book can’t, and this product delivers.  The full text of the book is tastefully and elegantly enhanced by both illustrations and background music that soothes, rather than overpowers, and creates a mood that invites further exploration.

But the real success of this product is in capturing the spirit and joy of the authentic Orthodox wedding.  It sets forth and explains all the events — before, during and after — through text, photos, and well-chosen video clips.  (Beware here: you need a CD-ROM drive faster than 2X to get rid of choppiness.) You can also click on a menu of some of the most popular chatunah music, and both listen to and read the words, in the original or in English transliteration.  This package will be a particular joy to people who have family members unfamiliar with the ins and outs of a traditional wedding, and want to make them appreciate our way of doing things even before the event.

Rabbi Adlerstein is the director of the Jewish Studies Institute of the Yeshiva of Los Angeles and a contributing editor of Jewish Action.

This article was featured in the Spring 1997 issue of Jewish Action.
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