According to Artscroll, the technology experts it recruited for this endeavor have literally spent tens of thousands of hours developing the Talmud app, which will feature the same format and layouts of the highly popular print edition. Each page of the Schottenstein Talmud will be exactly replicated on the mobile device, enhanced by software that will enable the user to more efficiently navigate and learn the Gemara.
The new digital Talmud will feature a scroll bar on the side of the Aramaic page highlighting the portion of the text that is currently being translated on the English page; place tracking technology allowing the user to simultaneously keep track of their place in both the original Talmudic text and its English translation; “quick scroll,” which will give the user the helpful ability to jump quickly from one phrase to another within the Gemara; “floating translation,” which will display the English translation directly above phrases in the Aramaic text; a Daf Yomi shiur locator; a Daf Yomi calendar; and monthly Daf Yomi subscriptions. Users will also have the ability to color code different sections of the text to distinguish between different portions, resize the text and take notes and attach them to the current page.
This amazing innovation is apparently just the beginning for the pioneering publishing company. After getting underway with the Schottenstein edition of the Talmud Bavli, the Artscroll Digital Library is expected to expand its offerings to include the Talmud Yerushalmi, Mishnayos, Chumash, Midrash Rabbah, Siddur, Sefer Hachinuch and other Artscroll classics.
Artscroll co-founder Rabbi Meir Zlotowitz reveals that the company has been working on this project for several years, and he estimates the total cost for this app to be approximately $5 million. “We have a mandate from Rav Gifter zt”l, the late Rosh Yeshiva of the Telshe Yeshiva in Cleveland and leading sage, that we must harness technology and use it make Torah accessible to as many people as possible,” Rabbi Zlotowitz explains. “We have been hoping to do this since the e-book concept first began, but the proper hardware and software didn’t exist for the ambitious type of project we were envisioning.” Rabbi Zlotowitz notes that even just one or two years ago, it would not have been possible to create an invention of this magnitude, as it would have required a dedicated hardware platform which was not yet available. “With so many people using iPhones, iPads and iTouches,” he says, “many people already own the hardware they need to use this app.”
The brains behind the upcoming Digital Library belong to the geniuses at RustyBrick, a software development company based in Suffern, Long Island, which has created numerous Jewish iPhone apps, including Siddur, Tanach, Tehillim, Mishnah Torah, and Kitzur Shulchan Aruch apps. The Talmud app is scheduled to be ready by July, just prior to the start of the new Daf Yomi cycle.
While the cost of the new app to users has not yet been set, RustyBrick states that there will be a varied pricing structure depending on the options selected. Furthermore, Artscroll is hoping to keep the cost as low as possible so that the app can be made available to the majority of the public potentially interested in using it. “It is a true honor for us to be able to pair our technology with Artscroll, which offers the best Jewish content in the world” says Barry Schwartz, CEO of RustyBrick. “We are confident that this new app will change how the Jewish world learns Torah forever.”
Speaking with the Jewish Voice, Artscroll’s Rabbi Zlotowitz said that the idea for the new digital Talmud “has been on our front burner for nearly a decade.” Zlotowitz revealed that Artscroll held discussions with RustyBrick for several years regarding this venture, and more than forty technicians from the two companies – including the Judaica publisher’s proofreading and editorial staff – are working on the new creation.
Zlotowitz further noted that Artscroll is still pondering the pace at which the digital Talmud Bavli will be unveiled. “It will probably be released over a year or so beginning in July, b’ezrat Hashem,” he said. Given the major expense of the project, the Artscroll co-founder explained that funding for it comes “from the broad base of donors who have dedicated the print volumes of our various works, plus many additional people who are stepping forward to help make this historic breakthrough possible.”
When asked by the Jewish Voice about potential concerns that the proliferation of a digital Talmud could uproot the more traditional form of learning Gemara directly from the original text, Rabbi Zlotowitz responded, “We don’t feel that it will change the traditional form of Torah learning, but will enhance it and harness technology to make Torah research more accessible.” Additionally, when queried about the foreseeable danger that non-Orthodox Jews might utilize their digital devices to study Talmud on Shabbos or Yom Tov – a clear violation of halacha – Zlotowitz referenced the Talmud in Mesechta Avodah Zarah (54b), which, after posing the question of why G-d did not destroy the sun, the moon and the constellations, given that idol-worshippers serve them, answers, “Should He destroy the world because of the fools?” In other words, Zlotowitz was saying that the benefits of making such Torah-enhancing technology available to the masses of sincere Torah adherents far outweigh the marginal concern over the possible breaking of Jewish law by some uninformed individuals.
A seventy-three volume set, each volume of the Schottenstein Edition of the Talmud Bavli was published over a fourteen-year period, from 1990 to 2004. The cost for the entire project – approximately twenty-one million dollars – was funded by private donors and foundations. Its uniquely appealing layout and ample clarifications on each page changed the way thousands of laymen learn Gemara, and helped make the previously challenging concept of Daf Yomi an attainable goal. Over two million copies of the Schottenstein Talmud are in distribution, and a full set was dedicated to the Library of Congress in 2005.