Frances Haddad

Technology has seeped into every nook and cranny of our lives, slowly taking over the way we function. As much as we try to shut it out, we continue to find that it has become vital for certain aspects of our day-to-day existence. Internet connection is needed for email, online banking, marketing and study, all of which allow our businesses and lives to run more efficiently. Welcome to 2014, where snail mail and deposit slips have nearly become things of the not-so-ancient past.

The problem is, once we enter the portals of technology, we find ourselves fighting a difficult battle. We are drawn to it because of all the positives: the convenience it affords, the information it offers and the several sites and apps that are tailor-made for the Torah observant Jew. Yet, the insidious side of technology continues to rear its ugly head, and while there are benefits to be found along the way, we must stand guard against the myriad of dangers and time-wasters lurking beneath the screen. While there is no panacea for all the ills that technology brings, the positive places that can be visited via computer or Smartphone may be its only redeeming quality. And the fact is that there are many such places, each of which can profoundly enrich our lives as Torah Jews.

TORAH ANYTIME, ALL THE TIME

What’s a businessman to do? As he sits in his office, he wishes that he could join a Torah class during his lunch break, but can’t imagine how that would be feasible. Or the mother, who would love to go to classes, but must attend to her children? Or the college student, who is so bombarded with schoolwork that he can’t find the time to attend a shiur?

Meet websites like TorahAnytime.com and LearnTorah.com, which offer access to thousands of Torah lectures. TorahAnytime features both Sephardic and Ashkenazic rabbis who lecture on a wide range of subjects, including several areas of Halachah and Hashkafah.  Featured speakers include Rabbi Zecharia Wallerstein, Rabbi Yossi Mizrahi and Mr. Charlie Harary. Those who have a Smartphone can download the free TorahAnytime app for Torah listening and learning on-the-go.

LearnTorah, our community’s premiere Torah website, offers thousands of uplifting lectures in several categories such as Humash, Personal Growth and Tefillah. Featured speakers include Rabbi Eli Mansour, Rabbi Shlomo Diamond, Rabbi David Ozeri, Rabbi Meyer Yedid and Rabbi Joey Haber.

All classes on both websites are available around the clock, and several new classes are uploaded daily. Aside for a select few lectures, the majority are free of charge.  These Torah sites offer a beautiful way to spend any “free time” that one finds. Instead of playing Tetris or reading the news, utilize online time to get spiritually charged through learning!

SIMPLE TO REMEMBER, SIMPLE TO LEARN

We all need a spiritual boost from time to time. Those who enjoy reading and research, and want to learn more about Jewish holidays, Torah perspectives on world events and Jewish outlook, should visit websites such as SimpletoRemember.com, JewishEverything.net and Aish.com.

SimpletoRemember offers a variety of stimulating articles and recordings by noted lecturers such as Rabbi Akiva Tatz and Rabbi Lawrence Kelemen. JewishEverything.net offers access to thousands of free Torah lectures, a database of Jewish music and even several shadchanim for those searching for a marriage partner. Aish.com, an entity of the world renowned Yeshiva Aish HaTorah, has over 10,000 articles on an enormous range of contemporary issues and Jewish thought. In this age of technology, learning more about emunah, parenting, marriage, spiritual growth and other areas of Jewish heritage has become possible wherever there is internet connection.

A DAF A DAY

Until recently, men who learn Daf Yomi, needed to have a Gemara on hand each day for studying that day’s page. Now, however, Rabbi Eli Mansour’s DailyGemara.com and several Daf Yomi Smartphone apps make learning possible even when one’s Gemara is at home.

Learning Gemara is never simple, but DailyGemara.com makes it far less difficult. The day’s page is displayed on the site, and with a simple click of the play button, one can listen to Rabbi Mansour’s insights and detailed explanations of the Gemara. And the Daf Yomi apps enable men to spend his time engrossed in Torah learning from his Smartphone wherever he is, be it on the subway, in the office or at the bank.

NEVER STUCK WITHOUT ONE

Way back when, in the pre-app era, no one could ever imagine reciting Birkat Hamazon from a phone. And thus when people from our community found themselves in restaurants that did not have Sephardic Birkat Hamazon cards, they had no choice to pray by heart.

Fast-forward to today, when thanks to the creative minds behind several Siddur apps, Birkat Hamazon, along with the entire Siddur, is accessible with a swipe of the finger. With the advent of these downloadable Siddur apps for Smartphones, one can always have the words of the Siddur on hand. Siddur Keter Shelomo is a free app that provides the complete Sephardic prayer text along with an English linear translation. With any one of the Siddur apps, a Torah Jew can always remain connected even if he cannot find an actual Siddur nearby.

READY FOR CANDLELIGHTING?

When Friday comes around, the question on the minds of Jews around the globe is, “What time is candle lighting?” Now, with any number of the available Shabbat Apps, finding out the Shabbat candle lighting times for any city around the world is fast and free.  Shabbat Times for iPhone and Shabbat Shalom for Android are two free “Shabbat App” options.  Aside from letting you know what time to light, these apps also display the weekly Torah portion, Shabbat ending times and Yom Tov candle lighting times. With these “Shabbat Apps” and others like them, it becomes easy to find out when to light, and to welcome Shabbat peacefully and with exuberance.

DOLLAR BILLS AND GARBAGE DUMPS

Despite the many advantages of technology, including the many opportunities it offers for learning and spiritual growth, we must also recognize the unfortunate realities of the internet. The World Wide Web is awash with inappropriate content, dangerous people under the guise of “screen names,” and opportunities to waste hours upon hours of precious time. Sifting through the technological abyss to find the good that it offers can be like searching for a needle in a haystack, or for a handful of 20, 50 or 100 dollar bills in a large garbage dump. True, you stand to gain by grabbing all the money you can find, but during the hunt you face lots of dangers, like rotten smells, germs and disease. Before diving headfirst into a garbage dump, any sane person would put on layers of protective clothing to avoid contamination.

The same applies when venturing into the world of technology: it behooves us to be keenly aware of its dangers and do all we can to protect ourselves. Though this has been stressed time and again, it is so important that it bears repeating: any computer or Smartphone must be filtered. The filters serve as our “protective garb” that we must wear when rummaging through the virtual “garbage dump” in search of the valuable commodities contained therein. Blue Coat K9 Web Protection is free and easy to install, and does a good job of blocking inappropriate sites and content. It can also block internet access during certain times, and only allow access during a limited time-frame. The Flatbush-based Technology Awareness Group (TAG) can install filters for you on your computer or Smartphone. There are also several other filters out there that can help keep the garbage out of your home and life.  By filtering out all of the nonsense, you can enjoy the numerous benefits offered by technology knowing that you are avoiding falling prey to its dangers or in the trap of time consumption in which so many people have unfortunately fallen.

Think about technology as a car: a great invention that has become nearly indispensable in making our lives more convenient and productive, but which also poses grave danger when used irresponsibly. With proper discipline and safety measures, we can help ensure that the internet, like our cars, takes us where we want and need to go safely and soundly, and helps us accomplish all that Hashem wants us to accomplish during our lifetime.