You've got a friend

The festival of Shavuot has no complicated rituals like those of Pessah or Succot, but - as the holiday marking the giving of the Torah at Sinai - it encourages Jews to stay up the whole night and study.

gemara disk 88 (photo credit: )
gemara disk 88
(photo credit: )
Gemara Buddy Technology for Talmud Study and Review: Perek Eilu Metziot, a CD-ROM in Hebrew and Aramaic with English by TES (, requires Windows 95 and up and a 133 Mhz PC or better, for ages 12 through adult, $29.95 or shekel equivalent. Rating: **** The festival of Shavuot has no complicated rituals like those of Pessah or Succot, but - as the holiday marking the giving of the Torah at Sinai - it encourages Jews to stay up the whole night and study. But what do you do if you want to study Talmud in honor of Shavuot, for example, and you don't know how? There are apparently enough Jews out there with such a desire, and they are the potential audience for Gemara Buddy, a program for learning and reviewing Gemara, even for complete beginners. Produced by TES of Monsey, New York with support from the Jewish Continuity Foundation, it stars Rabbi Nachman Zakon, principal of Yeshiva Ohr Olam high school in Jerusalem's Har Nof quarter, who has written Jewish-themed books for children in the past and has a talent for explaining complex ideas in simple English and an American accent. While listening to the explanation, you can click on any word - Hebrew or Aramaic - and see an instant translation of that word with Gemara Buddy's Hebrew- and Aramaic-to-English dictionary. It's also easy to look up a cross reference in the Bible, the Shulhan Aruch, the Mishna Brura or Maimonides's commentary, as an icon appears on the left hand of the page: Just click a button and the relevant passage appears. The whole 10-chapter of the tractate Bava Metzia is shown in the format of pages from the Babylonian Talmud, with Rashi's commentary and the Tosfot flanking the verses on either side. The oral lesson in English covers the entire talmudic page (front and back) in about one hour. But Zakon's narrated explanation in his own voice, albeit extensive and comprehensive, unfortunately covers only the second chapter, which deals with lost articles from pigeons and money to books, clothing and cattle. Some objects, such as those without a distinguishing mark, belong to the finder without proclaiming that he found them, while others have to be declared and cannot be kept without waiting a certain amount of time for the owner to appear and identify his property. The complicated rules about what a finder is bound to do according to Jewish law is, of course, relevant to any kind of object found in contemporary times. With the Start/Play/Stop/Rewind/ Pause icons, you can begin and stop listening when you wish. And one doesn't have to listen to the whole narration at once; you can key in the verse and go straight to the part you want to hear. The text can be viewed in small, medium and large type in the traditional format, but you can also turn it all into regular word-processed text in any font and size using its tool menu. Users can even add vowels automatically to the text plus punctuation such as question marks, hyphens, periods and exclamation marks to help them learn to read the text more easily. Teachers will find it useful to copy and paste text to their computer's paint program to make up worksheets and create written annotations (which can be sent as e-mail messages) or record their own notes in their own voices with the built-in sound recorder. The on-screen highlighting and printing capabilities allow users to color code and highlight each page in as many different colors as they wish. They can view the text with their customized highlights and print them out on a color printer. The camera icon on the bottom of the screen is useful for adding pictures, charts and diagrams, and you can add artwork from your own digital archives as well. The program also includes charts, diagrams and help sheets for each page of the chapter as well as prepared fill-in quizzes that can be printed out (the answers cannot, however, be typed into the empty line and checked by the program). A Daf Yomi calendar that informs you what part of the Gemara should be studied on the day assigned to it is also available by clicking an icon on the right-hand side of the screen. So while making your cheesecake for the holiday, prepare your Talmud study in advance by printing out text, as Jewish law does not permit using a computer on Shavuot.