By Yitzchok Adlerstein
“Where Do You Want To Go Today?” is the pithy gauntlet thrown down by Microsoft. While Bill Gates’ question beckons to new vistas of fun and productivity, Jewish computer users might consider destinations in ancient time.
There is no web address currently available for the third Beit Hamikdash. Start-up on that site still requires the input of our prayers and tears. But our Sages have always emphasized that if we value and cherish the Temple and its service, we will daven more effectively for it.
Josephus tells us that Roman tourists flocked to the Beit Hamikdash in droves, because of its renowned beauty and magnificence. We can capture a bit of the splendor through a marvelous web site at http://www.neveh.org/mikdash/ sponsored by Yeshivat Neveh Zion.
One of the most memorable experiences for any Torah-true Jew is a tour of the Kotel tunnels. Exploring the new recent excavations, visitors find themselves walking on the same surface as Hillel did, and standing just a few feet away from the site of the Kadosh Hakodoshim — the Holy of Holies. On the way in, the tour guides may take you past an exquisite and lovingly detailed model of the Temple Mount, the labor of love of Rav Zalman Koren.
The heart of the Neveh site is a collection of eight stunning color photographs of this model, which will allow you to come back often and examine its features more closely. There are aerial views of the entire model, sectional depictions and views of the mizbayach [altar], the lishkat hagazit [the meeting chamber of the chief Sanhedrin], and the Nikanor Gate.
If you use Internet Explorer 4.0, you can easily replace whatever cute pattern you now use for wallpaper with something inspiring. After downloading a particular picture, right click anyplace on it. From the drop-down menu, select “Set as wallpaper,” and a part of the Beit Hamikdash has become the background to your desktop.
Comprehending the inner beauty of the Beit Hamikdash is a more daunting task. Many of us have been frustrated trying to follow the drama of the avodah [Temple service], whether in the Mussaf for Yom Kippur, in studying the mishnayot of Yoma, Midot or Tamid, or in helping the kids with their homework. The illustrations in the standard editions are replete with inaccuracies and confusing keys. Help is on the way.
Kollel Iyun Hadaf in Har Nof, Jerusalem is well-known to Daf Yomi aficionados. Each day, this kollel provides a wealth of support material for those who run the world’s longest marathon — the seven-year-plus race through Shas. Besides a taped shiur, their site offers background information, review questions and depth issues. They are perhaps most famous for the well-executed summary charts and illustrations that seem to circulate throughout the Jewish world. As an adjunct to the now long-passed study of Middot, the kollel has kept at their site invaluable aids that map the Temple precincts. At http://www.shemayisrael.co.il/dafyomi2/meilah/middos/middos01.htm you can find your way to a list of the various diagrams that accompany the standard editions of Mishnah and Gemara, and a detailed examination of their strengths and weaknesses. Their aim is not to criticize, but to facilitate. They rework the best of the standard diagrams — that of the famous mishnaic commentator Tiferet Yisrael — and open it up to the English speaking public. They re-key an enlarged version of the diagram with Arabic numerals (instead of Hebrew letters), and present a scaled-down, but very useful, English translation of the author’s key and explanatory notes. They also provide a very thorough alphabetical listing (in English) of all features of the Temple complex that are mentioned in Middot. The site does not, however, start at ground zero. It assumes that you are familiar with at least the names of the features that you wish to locate.
Time travel is difficult enough without a language barrier. An exciting new program will make translation much easier when visiting languages of yesteryear, Jewish and non-Jewish alike. Word Point (TES, Win95, $49) is a nifty pop-up dictionary that will translate six languages (Hebrew, Dutch, French, German, Italian, Spanish) to and from English.
You set your preferences for source and target languages, and then either click on the word, or simply point to it (for an amount of time you can also set), and the program offers a number of possible translations. Word Point is impressive in “grabbing” text from virtually all applications, (i.e. not just those of the same producer) including even some dialog boxes and the like. It did not work with web-text in IE 4.0, and I had inconsistent results with translating various Hebrew applications. It is far from perfect, but no one could expect perfection for a task this daunting. I tested the product on a sample piece of Rambam, at the end of Hilchot Shmitah V’Yovel. It got most words right, but failed to recognize “tvavaro.” Perhaps more surprisingly, it missed “b’nai” as a noun, but saw it instead only as a form of the verb for “building.” In many other trials, (including German), I found that recognition of words was spotty.
This should not be held against the program when you consider just how complex a job it must perform. It must wade through many different grammatical forms of words, different parts of speech, prefixes, suffixes and homonyms, and relate them to candidate root words. It will not figure out exact translation on the basis of context. It assumes that the reader is familiar with the grammar and vocabulary of the source language, and just needs some extra help. It does give you several options of the root of the word, arranged according to part of speech, and leaves the rest to you. With all the inconsistencies, Word Point is still a wonderful tool to have available when you know that you are going to need help with several words in a paragraph. With all the warts, getting the information you want for a large percentage of words by simply sweeping the cursor across a line of text is a worthwhile tool to have around.
If you like what Carmen San Diego has done for your kids, you’ll like Search For Your Israeli Cousin II (Davka, Windows, $40). The popular Carmen series has sent our children cavorting through both time and space, mastering large chunks of history and geography in the process. Having mastered all the programs in the series, my nine-year-old Tzviki decided to try his hand at Search For Your Israeli Cousin II. This is a very obvious knock-off of one of the Carmen products, and kids who take to Carmen will like Israeli Cousin.
Parents like the Carmen series because of how much history and geography their kids effortlessly learn from them. The Israeli Cousin title is a misnomer, as almost all of the cities visited are outside Israel. The program will teach your kids about some 20 Jewish communities, their history, personalities and landmarks. As with Carmen, children “fly” from locale to locale, looking for clues that eventually come together. In passing, they learn much about the places they pass through, aided by photos, music, and short but relevant descriptive text.
Israeli Cousin can’t really compete with the depth and richness of Carmen. There is no animation, and Cousin only has a few levels of questions about each locale, making it predictable and tedious long before Carmen. Broderbund is not about to commit its resources to our community. Cousin does quite a good job, is quite enjoyable, and will entertain and educate at the same time.
Rabbi Adlerstein is the director of the Jewish Studies Institute of the Yeshiva of Los Angeles and a contributing editor of Jewish Action.