Judaism, Digital Books, and the future

Jews have often been known as “The People of the Book” and I can say from my personal perspective it is very true. I love books. It doesn’t matter if they are religious tomes or a science fiction novel I enjoy them all1. With the ebook becoming more and more prominiate, what will the future of jewish book, or jews owning books look like?

There have been two thought pieces addressing this specific question. The first was from Rabbi Gil Sutdent where he gives a very good background about the various revoultions books have had. He comes away with this thought about how jewish books will change:

We must produce books that accommodate the new way of reading. The “vort” genre, in which books consist of short Torah insights, is perfect for our unfocused generation.

Then there is Dr. Henry Abramson, Dean of the Avenue J Campus of Touro College. A few weeks ago he wrote a post about the same topic. He comes away with the the following belief:

We will have fewer physical books on the shelves, but our reading will become richer, more diverse, and more sophisticated. Perhaps counter-intuitively, with less hard copies of books, we will need librarians even more than ever to help us navigate an expanding ocean of literature.

Personally I think there are two different types of books; reference and reading and that is where the split would happen. The reference books are you books on Jewish Law, the Talmud, or similar kinds of books2. I think those books will continue to be published. I personally can’t look through a reference book on a tablet, and I have tried and most likely will try again. However these books will need to stay in the physical realm because they will be needed on a Shabbos or holiday when ebooks can not be accessed.

The second kind of book is the pleasure reading book. These would be the “vort” books Rabbi Student mentions. I can see these books going to ebook route because these books would be read more during the week and would not be needed for reference like the first type of book would.

This is somewhat counter intuitive but I have bought a lot more physical books recently. The bulk of them are of a Judisim related but not all reference books. This is how I see the future of Jews and books going.

  1. Feel free to take a look at my wish list on Amazon if you would like to feed this particular addiction. 
  2. Prayer books come to mind 

A New Writing Gig

As a lot of you know I like baseball and specifically the Pittsburgh Pirates. I’ve written about them off and on here or at my other blog Bucco Blather. Recently I was approached by a new site asking if I would be interested in writing for them and I agreed to write for them. Anything Pirate related that I would write is going to be found at Pirates Breakdown.

Hezekiah’s Seal

by R. Dr. Joshua Berman Why Does King Hezekiah’s Seal Bear an Egyptian Winged Sun God? Hebrew University archaeologists created a stir last week announcing the discovery of a seal bearing the name of the Hezekiah son of Ahaz, the first time a seal bearing the name of a Judean king had been found in the environs of the Temple Mount and City of David.  But for some, the discovery gave pause: in the center of the seal is a winged image of the disc of the sun.  The Bible […]

from Torah Musings

Getting Rid of Labels

Very often when I am speaking with someone I have just met I’m asked question similar to the following: “What kind of Jew are you?” Usually I reply that I’m just that Jewish; without adding any modifier. If I am continued to be asked I begrudgingly say I am “Orthodox”. I’ll say it begrudgingly because I believe all of these classifications are recently1 made up distinction.

I’m not a big fan of labels and I never have been. It makes me sad to think, especially in the Orthodox circles, we need to cast out those who are not exactly like us. In the old days2 one was only Jewish. If you chose to observe or not, that was your choice. The came the Reform movement and then you were either Orthodox or Reform. When the Conservitive movement was created we then were divided between Conservitive, Orthodox, or Reform. We now have multiple labels in the “Orthodox” community: Modern-Orthodox, Ultra-Orthodox, Hasiddic, Litivsh, Open-Orthodox3, and many others I’m sure I am missing.

Are these labels helping the community at large? I would argue they are not helping and they are actually hurting. The more the observant community decides to stratify itsself the more we will only hear an echo chamber of what we want to hear with no opposing views. We need to hear other views and respectfully disagree with them if and when there is a disagreement.

Getting rid of labels altogether would be great but we have to start somewhere. Getting rid the labels in the Orthodox community can only lead to a greater understanding among the groups.

  1. In the last 200 years or so 
  2. This would be before Reform movement existed in the early 1800s. Read this for a good overview. 
  3. For the sake of this discussion they are included. If they are actually part of the Orthodox community is a larger question. 

Update on the WordPress/Podcast Question

I had a thought that I wanted to add to my post from late last week. Someone suggested the problem I am having is not with the RSS feed from the site but rather with the podcast app I am using (Overcast)1. I did some research on this and it seems this indeed is a problem with Overcast2. I tried using the iOS podcast app and that didn’t work either. I tried a third app on my iPad (RSSRadio) and that didn’t work either. Finally I decided to give Castro a try on my iPhone and that didn’t work either.

Given I have tried it with 4 different apps and was unsuccessful subscribing with any of the apps I am assuming that I am doing something wrong on the WordPress side of things. This leads me back to the question, what am I doing wrong?

Update November 15, 2015: I have gotten the url setting working in Overcast using the following string: http://username:password@domain.com/path/to/podcasts3. However I’m back to the original problem of only getting one audio recording from a public post.

Another thing I realized is that public reording is a mp4 file while the other files are mp3 files. I don’t think that should make a difference. Should it?

  1. The problem is adding a manual feed with authentication 
  2. The feature seems to be unsupported with no timeline if it will ever be supported. Therefore it works for some feeds and not for others. 
  3. The solotion was found here 

A WordPress/Podcast Question

I like podcasts. This isn’t going to come as a surprise to some of you since you were there when my wife Malky and I did a podcast about infertility many years ago. Although I am no longer producing and publishing a podcast I still like to listen to them while I drive during the day.

I also enjoy listening to some of the lectures published at Yeshiva University’s site yutorah.org. Because it is easier I like to download them1. I used to put them into an iTunes smart playlist and sync them to my phone. However I’m looking to streamline things and I had the idea of creating my own podcast of the lectures I’m interested in listening to. I went ahead and created a category “podcast” in this WordPress install. The problem is I want to keep this private so that I am the only one who has access to this rss feed2. Additionally I want the posts from the podcast category not showing up on my blog. It was suggested to me by a friend that just making the posts private should be enough. However when I tried that yesterday it didn’t work and all I receive was the audio from the post about my father in law which is a public post.

Considering this hasn’t worked, what would be the best way to solve this problem I am having?

  1. I know YU has an iOS app but it’s just not that good. 
  2. I am working on the assumption that a separate category has it’s own rss feed.