Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Schottenstein Talmud Goes Digital and Mobile

I had to laugh today as I was reading Deborah Feldman's new book Unorthodox on an airplane. The author was reflecting on the forbidden books she bought as a young Satmar girl (she has since left that community). The ultra-Orthodox world of Deborah Feldman's youth banned secular books, including any book with English, from all members of the sect. The 13-year-old Feldman, however, was able to sneak into a Judaica bookstore and with sixty single dollar bills earned babysitting she purchased one of the most sacrilegious books of all... A volume of the Schottenstein Talmud.

While the Schottenstein edition of the Talmud is considered a revolutionary contribution to the world of Talmud study for Modern Orthodox, Conservative and Reform Jews, it is looked down upon in the Haredi community because of its English translation of the traditional Aramaic text. The Schottenstein family of Columbus, Ohio led by family patriarch Jerome Schottenstein made this English translation and commentary edition of the Talmud a reality. The entire project was completed in 2004 and it has just been announced that it will be made available in a digital format, as well as a mobile version will be available this summer just in time for July's Siyyum HaShas, when tens of thousands of Talmud students will gather in MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, NJ to celebrate the conclusion of the seven year cycle of Talmud learning.

With Jay Schottenstein in the Judaica museum at his home in 2006.

At Jay Schottenstein's home in 2006, he told me the story of how his family became so heavily involved in the project of creating a complete English translation and commentary of the entire Shas (set of Talmud). Jay's father, the late Jerome Schottenstein, was introduced to the ArtScroll publication committee after the first volume of the project, Tractate Makkos, was published in 1990. Jerome Schottenstein started donating funds for the project in memory of his parents Ephraim and Anna Schottenstein a volume at a time. It was only later that he decided to fund the entire project which cost a total of $40 million. Following Jerome's death in 1992, Jay and his mother Geraldine rededicated the Talmud project to Jerome's memory while still honoring the memory of Jerome's parents.

This past Monday evening, Artscroll announced the launch of the "ArtScroll Digital Library" (see the video below). In addition to the entire library becoming available digitally, the mobile app company RustyBrick will design and develop the application software for mobile devices including the Apple iPad & iPhone. The first app that Rusty Brick will launch will of course be the ArtScroll Schottenstein Talmud. According to a press release sent to me by Barry Schwartz of RustyBrick, "The ArtScroll Schottenstein Talmud will revolutionize how the Jewish world learns and studies the Talmud. By combining Artscroll's mastery of design, layout and content with our technical prowess, this application will change the world of Jewish study forever."

The Schottenstein Talmud mobile app will offer the following features: Page Syncing, Place Tracking, Extra Hand, Page Fusion, Hybrid Page, Floating Translation, Quick Scroll, Integrated Notes, Page Mapping Color Coding, and much more. Neither Artscroll nor RustyBrick has announced the price of the app. The first release of the app will be limited to Apple devices including the iPhone and iPad. Later versions will be Android compatible.

Just as Deborah Feldman had to sneak her copy of one of the volumes of the Schottenstein ArtScroll Talmud into her Satmar family's home several years ago, I'm sure there will be other renegade young people today in the ultra-Orthodox community trying desperately to get their hands on the mobile version.


Mottel said...

Jason A. Miller with all due respect, the contention that Artscrolll is looked down upon due to it's translation into English is to completely overstate the issue.

In Feldman's case, the taboo was placed on her study of the Talmudic itself - not so much the language it was written in. (This is not a sentiment that I follow - nor is it one held universally across the so called Haredi world.)

The issue with Artscroll, if we are to call it as such, has more to do with the inherent limitations of any translation. As great a feat as the Artscroll translation is (though I for one am partial to Steinsaltz's Hebrew translation), it can never replicate the traditional breadth of study in the original language. What is more, many view it as a crutch, preventing students from truly mastering the original.

(This is not to take away from those who do study with Artscroll - only as why in the eyes of some - Artscroll is not enough).

Jon B said...

As one who frequently floats across various communities within the spectrum of Orthodoxy, I have seen this series everywhere. It is in Williamsburg, it is in Monsey, it is in Boropark, it is in Lakewood and it is in Flatbush. While students are discouraged from extensively using these volumes out of fear that they will become "a crutch", it has become fairly common for laymen to own the entire series in their homes. Many will prominently display these volumes in their living rooms, dining rooms and personal studies. Almost every synagogue has at least a few volumes on their bookshelves, if not the entire set.

Anonymous said...

dooooood there is a "minhag" that women do not learn talmud this has NOTHING to do with the fact that it was english!!

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.