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Davka Transliterated Siddur; Davka Transliterated Machzor, two separate CD-ROMs in English by Davka Corp. [in Israel from Dekel Software (02) 991-2718 or www.davka.com], for PC with DavkaWriter or any RTF-supporting word processor or Macintosh with Mellel II, $29.95 or NIS 150.
Parasha on Parade: Sefer Shmot (Book of Exodus), a CD-ROM in English by TES (www.jewishsoftware.com), for PC or Mac, for ages three to nine, $39.95 or shekel equivalent.
Rating: **** 1/2
Does God prefer that Jews pray in Hebrew, whether they understand the language or not, or that they recite prayers in their native tongue? I don't know, but advocates of the first option have issued computer programs consisting solely of transliterations of the year-round Jewish prayer book and the High Holy Days prayer book. Obviously targeting penitent Jews or those born into non-Orthodox movements who didn't study in Jewish schools, the disks do not present the Hebrew text at all. Those who prefer that should instead choose Davka's Hebrew/English Siddur, which costs around NIS 189.
The transliterated siddur and machzor contain the Ashkenazi version with the modern Israeli Sephardi pronunciation, which can be viewed in DavkaWriter, Mellel and RTF formats and printed out for use in synagogues or at home. Text of the Ashkenazi Siddur is in English transliteration in DavkaWriter, Mellel, and RTF formats. They are perfect for beginners' services, synagogues, youth groups and individuals and can also be used to produce worksheets and study guides.
The year-round prayer book includes daily, Shabbat and festival services, blessings before and after meals, the traveler's prayer and Shema before going to sleep; the machzor contains all the prayers for Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur. Both would have received the maximum rating if they included audio files with melodies for at least some of the best-known prayers.
With assimilation and intermarriage booming in the Diaspora, getting Jewish children excited about the Torah and their religious and cultural traditions is a vital task. Nearly a decade ago, Orthodox American Jews and computer mavens Reuven Stone and Menachem Shimanowitz launched their Torah Tots project - funding it on their own as a serious hobby in addition to full-time computer jobs - to introduce Jewish children to their heritage.
It began with a free Web site (www.torahtots.com) that continues to grow as a weekly Torah newsletter for preschool and elementary age kids. Six years ago, they teamed up with TES in Monsey, New York to produce computer games based on books of the Bible. So far, 10 have been issued to cover the Pentateuch, four books of the Prophets and Megilot.
Stone, who was long keen on Disney characters and the Muppets, began to write children's songs in English and developed a series of cartoon characters to represent the commandments, such as a Torah scroll, a kiddush cup, Mount Sinai ("Hardy Har Sinai") and Simi the Siddur. His friend Shloimy Bluth produced the zany voices and personalities - from cowboy to Scottish to New York-style Yiddish accents - for each character starring on the Web site and in the computer games.
With the Torah Portion of the Week presented like US children's TV ("in last week's episode, Moshe was pleading with Pharoah to let his people go..."), the disks use Americanisms, wordplays, jokes and games that few Israeli kids would understand (replace the words "pickle" and "cucumber" with the correct answers), but they are perfect for a young, English-speaking Diaspora audience. You can hear a short thumbnail summary of each weekly portion or choose a longer one, play the games and solve puzzles to reinforce the themes of each portion and color relevant black-line drawings on the screen or print them out.
The audience for the disks must include Orthodox and haredi children as well as secular ones, as the disks use "Hashem" instead of "God," "Moshe" rather than "Moses" and a number of Ashkenazi Hebrew words that would be unrecognizable to most non-observant children. Given their target for Jewish outreach, I would have used only English words familiar to those who have never been to a Jewish school.