Torah & Technology Column
Not a day goes by during which my wife and I do not thank the Almighty for our being able to soon enter our fourth year of living in Israel and having made Aliyah. Recently, we returned to Los Angeles and enjoyed some Southern California sun, as well as the opportunity to visit friends and family. And yet, while I possess many fond memories from this three-week trip, one question from my inquisitive eldest daughter Sima will forever remain entrenched in my mind.
While we were in LA, one afternoon we visited the famous Santa Monica Third Street Promenade. This particular environment allowed us the opportunity to enjoy the cool breeze of the Pacific Ocean, watch the ivy-topiary dinosaur fountains spray their constant stream of water (much to the delight of our children), and of course—shop! As we passed the beautifully designed Apple Retail Store, my daughter asked me, “Abba, why is there such a long line to go in there? Can we see what’s inside, too?” I quickly answered her that the people in line were waiting to buy a new cell phone, and we don’t need a new one because ours works just fine. Content with that answer, she continued to slowly walk and watch the entertainers along the street until we returned to our car. All things considered, while I was proud of her for noticing the line of about 100 people waiting to get past the security guard and enter the store—I was even further relieved that we were not amongst the many thousands of Americans across the country caught up in the hysteria to purchase the latest version of the iPhone. In fact, the public desire to purchase the iPhone 3G was initially so large, Apple added staff as well as opening its stores as early as 8:00 AM. In point of fact, Apple expects to continue to profit from this device to the tune of several hundreds of millions of dollars each year. But there’s more to this iPhone story.
Part of the draw of the iPhone (as well as the iPod Touch) is the fact that it’s not simply a traditional cell phone. Undeniably, consumers are drawn towards its sleek and trendy appearance, multi-touch interface, accelerometer, GPS, as well as the ability to customize your gizmo by visiting the iPhone App Store, where over 1000 applications are ready to download at the push of a button. Truth be told, as Nick Wingfield of The Wall Street Journal reports, Apple even leverages these applications into additional revenue. Furthermore, Wingfield reveals that there have already been 60 million downloads of applications, the majority of them free. But paid downloads are doing just fine, pulling in a whopping $30 million in revenues in only the first 30 days. What’s more, Eric A. Taub writes in The New York Times that six individuals purchased an application by an outside software developer in Germany called: “I Am Rich” for $999.99! While this application did not promise to resolve Global Warming or the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, it did allow one to feel cool that their iPhone displayed a red gem on the screen.
But how are these iPhone facts relevant to us? As we enter the period approaching Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur, Jews of varying degrees of religious observance are reminded that as the Chosen Nation we possess an eternal “iPhone” that requires no download or software; namely the ability to connect to Hashem through daily Tefillah as well as Brachot. And yet, let’s be honest—how many of us are guilty, myself included, of being in a rush, running to a meeting, catching a plane, and not having a Siddur or Bentscher handy? Instead, we mumble through our supplication to Hashem and move on with our day, while telling ourselves, “next time we’ll have better Kavvanah, don’t worry.”
Recently, however, two companies have released applications at the iPhone App Store that will forever help all Jews who do become iPhone users increase their daily Kavvanah and strengthen their relationship with our Creator— even on the go. New York natives Barry and Ronnie Shwartz founded RustyBrick.com and have developed a wonderful and user-friendly Siddur for the iPhone unlike any other prayer book you’ve ever seen. This application features Ashkenaz, Sefard, and Sefard Mizrachi versions of your weekday Siddur (obviously there is no Siddur for Shabbat or Yom Tov). Plus, users have access to the unique real-time Zemanim available, which are determined for you by the iPhone’s GPS. This will allow one to travel the country for business or pleasure and easily discover Sof Zeman Kriat Shemah or even tap into the Minyanim database that will help quickly find the nearest local Shul. This app comes complete with many more excellent features, such as a Jewish Calendar; and it will soon be updated to include a compass to help you always face Mizrach when davening.
Another application available at the iPhone App Store, KosherMe, caters to FFB’s to BT’s who are still learning how to read, translate, or even pronounce Hebrew but nonetheless want to be able to forever recite of the relevant Brachot wherever they may be. In fact, this Bentscher, designed by Dushan Wegner of KosherMe.com, neatly organizes the before and after blessings for a plethora of foods. In addition, this Bentscher provides the reader with the opportunity to say Tefilat HaDerech from your iPhone. However, one unique feature that I enjoyed most in my test of this application is the ability to easily switch between the various Bentscher modes such as: Interlinear, English, Transliterated, and Hebrew.
The lesson for us in all this technology may be that while new gadgets continue to encroach upon our daily lives, these two applications for the iPhone can help us forever remain focused on what’s truly important in life. In actuality, one’s iPhone may not always have perfect reception, but by looking inside our Siddur and Bentscher we can ensure that our Kavvanah and signal strength have full bars in all of our discussions with the Ultimate Reception Provider—Hashem.
For more information on Rabbi Green please visit his website: rabbimichaelgreen.com