A textual treasure: Study while you write

There is no copyright on the Bible, Talmud, Rashi commentary, the Passover Haggada or the Jewish prayer book, as they belong to the Jewish people and the world.

January 19, 2006 09:33
3 minute read.

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DavkaWriter Prayer Book, a CD-ROM in Hebrew and English ($34.95) and DavkaWriter Dimensions II, ($69.95), by the Davka Corporation (www.davka.com and, in Israel, Dekel Software at 02-991-2718), requires Windows 98 and up and a Pentium 4 PC or better, as an add-on to DavkaWriter 4 and higher word processor. Rating for each: ***** There is no copyright on the Bible, Talmud, Rashi commentary, the Passover Haggada or the Jewish prayer book, as they belong to the Jewish people and the world. But several companies have produced computerized databases with these and other religious texts on disks in a variety of forms and for assorted uses. Davka Corporation, which produces a fine English/Hebrew Jewish word processing program called DavkaWriter Platinum (now in its sixth version and costing NIS 850), has released these two add-on disks for users who want such Jewish texts - and more. Of course you can't really pray while sitting in front of a computer screen, so why would you want the text of the prayer book in Hebrew and English? You can study the prayers in depth, teachers can copy and paste texts for lesson worksheets and tests and school pupils can do the same to prepare reports for school. The disks would, of course, also be indispensable for libraries, youth groups, universities and synagogues. The DavkaWriter Daily Prayer Book (siddur) disk features a well-known English translation by Rabbi J.H. Hertz, the late chief rabbi of the British Empire, and extensive material on the history and meaning of Jewish prayer. Also included is a Hebrew/English text of Pirkei Avot (Ethics of the Fathers), with English commentary. All the material is attractively arranged in matching parallel columns of Hebrew text and English translation, with an English commentary at the bottom. The text of the Siddur can be edited, stylized, copied, pasted, printed or integrated into other DavkaWriter files. DavkaWriter Dimensions II costs twice as much as the siddur database, but it includes much more material. The contents include an English translation of the Bible (the Hebrew version is built into the original word processor); the whole Talmud in Hebrew and Aramaic, with Rashi's commentary; Rashi's voweled commentary on the Pentateuch; the Hebrew text of Maimonides's Mishneh Torah; the Hebrew text of Otzar Dinim U'minhagim (the classic text of Rabbi J.D. Eisenstein's digest of Jewish laws and customs); the voweled mahzor for Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur services in Ashkenazi and Sephardi formats; traditional songs sung at meals on Shabbat and festivals; the voweled Passover Haggada and English translation by Rabbi Zev Shostak; and the Kitzur Shulhan Aruch (with voweled Hebrew text). Once you install the texts, they become a permanent part of the DavkaWriter Platinum word processing program and are accessible by pulling down the Tools Menu/Text Library. I put my thinking cap on and identified additional advantages of having this material in a word processing program. People with vision problems who can't read the ordinary print of these holy books can enlarge the letters to make them several centimeters tall. In addition, children who have trouble reading the Rashi font from their books because of learning disabilities (or laziness) could convert all Rashi commentary into ordinary Hebrew fonts. One could also print out the text in any of the colors available and with an endless variety of graphic effects, including Torah script. And finally, Jews in outlying countries and cities with no access to a Jewish bookstore could print the texts out by themselves. But one disadvantage of the format is that the talmudic materials are not arranged the way they are in actual books of the Mishna and Gemara, with blocks of commentary alongside the basic texts. Another is that the search function in these two disks is minimal and limited to a word processor's Find function. Obviously, if you're looking for a huge compendium of Jewish texts such as that in the Bar-Ilan University's Global Jewish Database disks - which are much more expensive and include a vast amount of responsa - you will not find them here. You will have to pick your Jewish texts program according to your needs, just as one chooses a rabbi of one's liking.

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