The holidays are over. And it is time to make good on your New Year’s resolutions. Unlike resolutions for that other New Year’s, I’m not talking about losing a few kilos or getting your debts in order (although those are always laudable goals).
I’m talking about a resolution to increase your Jewish learning. Although nothing can compare with face-to-face study with a knowledgeable teacher, there are many resources that you can turn to when a teacher isn’t available or you’d like to brush up between classes.
There are hundreds of sites that do a great job, but I’d like to focus on a handful that rise above the others because of their ease of use, breadth and price. Everything I’m recommending is free.
This is probably the oldest website of the bunch and it hasn’t seen an update since it was launched over a decade ago… but quality endures. Navigating the Bible is called an “online bar/bat mitzvah tutor” but it’s so much more. Every verse of the Torah is laid out beautifully in the same font that you would see in a Torah scroll – both with and without vowels and punctuation. There’s a parallel English translation and transliteration as well as a brief commentary. But what makes it special is that every verse is chanted. So if you are preparing for a bar or bat mitzvah – or if you want to step up to the challenge to “leyn” a parshah, your online tutor awaits.
Any student of Torah knows that truly understanding the text is impossible without the insight of Rashi, author of the classic 11th-century commentary. But understanding Rashi can be a challenge in itself – and that’s where the late Rabbi Yehoshua B. Gordon comes in. You can view or listen to the late beloved rabbi recite line-by-line every verse of the Torah along with corresponding Rashi commentary in Hebrew and English. Rabbi Gordon never uses jargon, nor does he hesitate to throw in a suitable borscht belt joke, when appropriate. (See below for a resource where you can follow along the Rashi text in Hebrew and English.)
Mishnah and Talmud
Back on Aug. 1, 2012, thousands of people around the world celebrated as they finished learning the 73rd and final page of the Tractate Niddah, thereby completing their study of the Talmud, known as Siyum Hashas. The very next day, they began learning the first tractate of the Talmud, Berachot. And they will continue in this shared learning experience until the entire Talmud is next completed on Jan. 4, 2020!
If you want to learn Talmud, you don’t have to wait until 2020 to take the plunge. Here are a couple of superior resources to help you on your journey. Daf Hachaim provides a brief video intro to the page you are about to study, the full lesson, as well as a video summary. When you click on what looks like a standard line of Talmud text, the video commentary automatically syncs to the matter at hand. And video summaries provide clarity by using graphics to help explain what can be somewhat complicated concepts. Those graphics can also be downloaded as PDFs. (Available for Android)
Also recommended, Real Clear Daf (available for iOS and Android). Beyond the interface and audio lesson, each page has a link if you have a question about the subject matter. Site creator Rabbi Shmuel Wise commits to respond to your query in a timely manner.
And for those not quite ready for Talmud, a daily dose of Mishnah may be right up your alley. Codified in Hebrew by Rabbi Yehudah HaNasi, the Mishnah rep-resents the framework of Jewish law, which is commented on at length by the Talmud. Torah Downloads provides audio commentary for all six orders. Follow along online in Hebrew (complete) or the English/Hebrew version, which is a work in progress.
A Library in Your Pocket
Sefaria.org describes itself as a “Living Library of Jewish Texts.” Here you can explore 3,000 years of Jewish books in Hebrew and English translation. This free, open source repository is growing daily and is eye-popping in its depth. You’ll find the fundamental Jewish texts (including Rashi in English and Hebrew), along with thousands of source sheets and “visualizations,” beautiful interactive illustrations such as one that demonstrates the connections between Talmud and Tanach. Sefaria is accessible on computer and Android. An iOS version is in the works.
If you’re on the go and would like to have a siddur at the ready, then I highly recommend On Your Way. This Hebrew only app contains enough traditional texts to rival the best home libraries. You get the siddur (Ashkenazi, Sephardi, Oriental and Yemen versions), the Tanach, Mishna, Gemara (with commentaries), as well as Midrash, Kaballah and chassidic texts. But wait, there’s more: charts of ancient weights and measures (how long is that cubit?), text of the Haggadah as well as some obscure yet interesting Jewish prayers… for making a good living, for finding a good home to live in and for having marital bliss. All this at your fingertips for iOS and Android.