Food vs Time: A Jewish Perspective

They say that Jews are obsessed by food – almost every Jewish event is connected with food. Even Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the year where we fast for 25 hours, is preceded by a meal

However, in many ways, perhaps we are more obsessed with time. The Jewish calendar is based it the lunar cycle, but the halakhic day is based on cycle of the sun. From time that Shabbat commences and the dates of the Jewish festivals, to what time we can pray, or even eat diary (ah yes food again), all connected to time and the list goes on.

Some of the most expensive watches on the market will include a Jewish day and month complication (that’s the fancy word for the the “extras” you get on a watch). For most of us the day and date will be more than enough but an expensive time piece taking up valuable real estate on your wrist (and a sizable chunk of your bank account) will include more exotic complications such as the phase of moon. Oh and when I say expensive, I’m talking millions of dollars. Here is a nice pocket watch which includes a Jewish calendar which will set you back around $5m: The Vacheron Constantin Reference 57260 pocket watch.

Of course Apple when venturing into the watch market included all of these complications. Sunrise, sunset (no, this isn’t a cue to burst into song, but feel free), lunar calendar, Jewish month the works – it’s all there (well nearly but we’ll get to that). Well of course it is. Apple has had the Jewish calendar on iPhone for ages, so to add it to the watch was easy.
But as a religious Jew, sunrise on its own is of limited value. It didn’t take long for Rusty Brick to come out with an Apple Watch complication to their siddur which gave you more interesting complications such as Daf Yomi and this week’s parasha. What’s even more unique is tapping on the complication will bring up a menu with more options including finding a local minyan (including directions) and even davening including Nikud (and yes I have used it for Mincha). If you have used the app and find it very slow, be rest assured that in WatchOS 3 which should be released some time in September it is very fast.

However my favourite Jewish complication right now is Hayom by Chabad. Although tapping on the complication isn’t useful like Rusty Brick’s offering, what I do love about this complication is that the Jewish date actually changes at sunset. If you like you can also set the complication to tell you the various important davening times such as netz, plag etc.

So now we have established that there are some really interesting complications and apps for the Apple Watch, what about all those bands? My biggest challenge was getting the basic sport band on and off. Great if you want to go for a run, not so great for putting on tefillin in the morning.

I solved this problem last summer by purchasing the leather loop band. It’s really the only upmarket band that goes nicely with the low-end Sport watch that I purchased. This band is designed very cleverly and is perfect for the quick wrist change necessary for morning prayers (especially if you haven’t had your morning caffeine yet).

For those of you that like to daven at netz (crack of dawn) – yes I do get up that early but actually I go for a swim before prayers, then wearing the watch at night allows me to set a silent alarm which taps my wrist when time to get up which my wife really appreciates. Since the current Apple Watch is not waterproof, I take out my  garmin watch for my swim, which is just as well because the battery is normally down to about 15% after 23 hours so I need the opportunity to charge my watch. Just for the record, when I was running, I much preferred my Apple Watch since I was able to control my entertainment on my iPhone from my wrist and when necessary quick reply to any time-sensitive texts without slowing down. Of course if you ever saw me run then you would realise that I run so slowly that it would be hard to go any slower.

Talking of quick replies, Apple is introducing smart replies which are pretty cool. However what I really appreciated that although my watch is set to English,  when somebody texts me in Hebrew, the smart reply feature gives me options in Hebrew.

The main comment that I get from people is what do I do on Shabbat. It’s a funny comment really. Obviously the watch is completely muktze but it would be nice to have a Shabbat mode that would show zmanim and other seasonal options such as sefirat haomer or tzidkatecha. Even a Shabbat alarm clock would be nice.

However, I suppose I should be first try and convince Apple that the Jewish day starts at sunset…

Is the Apple Watch Edition muktzeh?

My grandmother once explained to me that a gold watch wasn’t muktzeh because if it stopped, you would still continue to wear it on Shabbat since it was jewelry. I’m not sure that was what Tim Cook had in mind when they revealed the Apple Watch Edition.

Many thoughtful articles have been written on Apple Watch and a fare share of not-so-thoughtful ones. At any rate, I think it’s fairly safe to say that Apple are going to be selling this device by the boatload and the real question everyone is asking is how it’s going to change our everyday lives.

Some time ago, I asked a charedi colleague of mine why texting was forbidden in certain streams of ultra-orthodoxy. In fact, you can buy cellphone packages where you can’t receive or send a text message (very annoying when I rely so much on canned replies with SMS when somebody calls me). He explained that the fear was that when somebody could be doing something better with their time, instead they would be texting. Bitul Torah. I have to admit that I have this problem too sometimes, but with me it’s when watching TV rather than learning in the Bet Midrash, and my wife kindly tells me when I should pay attention to the screen (ie the big one) when something important happens in the TV programme that we are watching (I guess that’s why I have an iPhone…)

One thing that I did notice of course, is the habit that I have that when finishing the Amida in shul during the week, I whip out my iPhone to check if I’ve missed anything whilst waiting for the shaliach tzibbur to start the Repetition. On days I feel particularly holy, I will sit closer to the front of shul to prevent me from doing so – no, it’s not my closeness to the aron kodesh that helps, but rather the lack of phone reception.

But it got me thinking. Imagine now, whilst waiting for the Rabbi to finish davening (heck somebody in shul has to have a bit of kavana) we all start looking at our smart watches? I admit the ability for the gabbai to subtly force touch the shaliach tzibbur via his Apple Watch rather than a loud “bakhavod” is nice, but looking at our watches has a different social cue – Nu! / I’m bored / Can I get out of here? At least when looking at a smart phone person can think the best of somebody and can assume that they are reading the parshat hashavua. But a watch? Not sure how easy it’s going to be to pull “Yes I’m davening from my siddur app on my Apple Watch.”

Although I have to say that I still have a dream of putting out a really smart siddur. Of course the problem is that there aren’t enough Jews in the world that would daven from an app that would make it a financial viability, although perhaps I should do an Indiegogo campaign like a local Rabbi is doing for his book – heck he’s raised over $6K so far, but I digress…

It makes me wonder what are the actually truly useful aspects of a smart siddur? Perhaps a Watch app could be interesting and more importantly, more useful. For example simply reminding you to add Yaaleh Veyavo when you get to the Amida. That doesn’t need a full siddur app, but a nice reminder on your watch… Particularly useful for those of us who don’t quite make it to shul and daven at home. Imagine the watch recognising that we took three steps forward and start to schockle away and there was a discrete tap on the wrist to remind you to say the required addition.

There are of course more obvious use-cases such as looking at your watch to see how much time you have left to say keriat shema which actually is more convenient than using iKaluach on your iPhone.

Apple very kindly incorporated the Jewish calendar into iOS 8 but I would really love to see not only the correct Jewish date appearing on my Apple Watch face (which I assume will be built-in) but also the Hebrew date actually changing at shkia rather than at midnight (although apparently many people don’t realise that the Jewish date changes at nightfall so perhaps Apple doesn’t know about this).

Perhaps this will be the killer feature of the Apple Watch so we would finally have a good way of remembering to send the kids to school wearing white shirts on Rosh Chodesh.



How a green blob led to finding my beshert

The green blob

This is the blob that appears in your system tray

As is the practice of religious singles in the Katamon neighborhood, Shabbat is the time where we would get together for our social. Often on a Friday, if I had no plans, I would call up a bunch of friends and organise a meal by saying, “I have no plans, do you want to ‘Grill Plus-it’?” No this wasn’t a play on google plus but actually the similarities are striking, but rather to the ready-made Shabbat food available for purchase on Rechov HaPalmach.

It was at one of these meals that we were moaning the poor internet speeds at the time. I was lucky and had ISDN offering me 64kbit speeds but this was disappointingly slow. However, the main advantage over POTS was the ability to (almost) instantly connect and make a call at the same time. However, the concept of being always online was still far away.

You have to remember that amongst our motley crew we had some pretty cool computer guys. One of them, let’s call him “Rob” for the sake of this conversation, had actually worked on the very first visual internet browser that Explorer is based on – NCSA Mosaic (and his name was in the credits to prove it) and another, we’ll call him “Daniel” again to protect his (or her) identity had built the network cards in the new Apple iMac (you remember those iconic flavoured Macs?)

Anyway back to the plot. So one of the guys, I think it was “Chaim” if I recall correctly, informed us over lunch that there was this new ADSL experiment going on in Jerusalem. It took me a few minutes to get my head around super fast speeds of 1.5Mbit/sec and being always online. Well sure enough, I wasn’t the only one on the phone to Bezeq the next morning and the technicians were very confused when they came to install the technology that half of the 30 beta testers knew each other and spoke English…

It was at the beginning of 2002 that I started my own typesetting firm, Jerusalem Typesetting. I had my PC and borrowed a lime–flavoured iMac from my friend Daniel. I had ADSL connected to my PC, but Bezeq didn’t provide routers in those days so I needed a way to connect the iMac to the internet. My my friend Daniel yet again came to the rescue. All I had to do was install a small piece of software called AnalogX Proxy. It did two things: one, it allowed other computers, in my case the lime iMac, to use the internet connection on my PC and two, it placed a little green blob at the bottom in my system tray. If there was a problem, the green blob turned red (at least I think it did…well it wasn’t green any more).

Well as it turned out I actually found that I never used the Mac and was able to do everything on my Windows PC, so the iMac was returned but the blog remained.

It was a few years later that a friend of mine moved in upstairs to the block of flats that I lived in. He was moving in literally for one month in between one long-term rental and another. Problem was, he needed internet.

No problem, I said, I have my green blob. I told him to get his hands on some Ethernet cable and I would take care of the rest for him. It took us a few hours of configuring, but he had broadband on his computer. His phone mobile phone rang (and for those of you wandering, no he couldn’t tether his computer to his Nokia 5110) and a female voice spoke. He spoke for a few minutes. I decided it was time for me to speak for a few minutes. Needless to say, she was very impressed with my efforts to help her friend.

Well, as they say, the rest is history.

Glossaries in iBooks created in iBooks Author

So many of the books that we at Renana are doing have footnotes as I mentioned in a previous post which we had to find a novel way of solving since currently there is no support in iBooks Author for footnotes. But there is excellent support for glossaries. Occasionally we use this feature, but in the book The Forgotten Zionist, there was ample opportunity to use this feature.

As you can see from the below screenshots:

It’s an elegant solution and quite straightforward to implement. Unfortunately the work has to be done in iBooks Author itself – I haven’t found a way of importing it from other programs. What is positive about this feature, is that you can create cross-references to other entries. So if you tap on Glossary Index you are taken to this screen:

As you can see from this entry on Trumpeldor, you jump to the Tel Hai Foundation and even see where that appears in the text. Lost? No problem, simply tapping once on the screen brings down the top menu revealing the bookmark icon which will allow you to navigate to the recent pages that you were on (even if you never bother to save any bookmarks!)

It’s a great feature for a book like this with many words that need defining but aren’t in the dictionary. Now just for fun, let’s see what Apple thinks the definition of Zionism is:

Okay, not too bad. Maybe we’ll get them to recognise that Jerusalem is in Israel rather than an independent city with no country!

Realising the potential of an iBook

Actually I’m not allowed to call it an iBook. Apart from referring to an old Apple laptop, the term is reserved for the app in which digital books for the iPad appear. So books that I create for the iPad are created in software called iBooks Author, are sold on the iBookstore and are read on the iBook app, but rather than referring to the books as an “iBook” which would be a succinct way of referring to it, I have to call it “a digital book made for iPad” (oh and next month when the iBooks app will be available on the Mac, then I will have to call it “a digital book made for iPad or for a Mac running the latest version of OSX”). Hmm… Well if Apple reads this blog and complains, I’ll do a search and replace. In the meantime, I’m calling it an iBook.

Last week I was typesetting a new book called Awesome Creation by Rabbi Yosef Bitton as an iBook. There are literally hundreds of footnotes in this book which made for a tremendous amount of work, but I thought if I’m already spending a couple of days doing the popup footnotes, let’s make it more interesting…

The book has many references to Tanach and I thought that perhaps it would be useful, rather than just say Job 1:3, to actually hyperlink it to the text online, after all the iPad is a connected device. I found that Chabad have an online chumash which nicely displays both the Hebrew (with nikud) and English translation and I’m able to hyperlink directly to the pasuk.

For a book of this nature, being able to directly link to the source material is great. Chabad also provide Rashi so when the book reference Rashi on Genesis, I was able to directly link to that too. I’m hoping they expand their online library to include other commentators.

Here is a screenshot from within the book.

Footnotes in e-books created with iBooks Author?

Footnotes have long been a problem in print books. Put them at the bottom of the page and the page becomes ugly (particularly with long footnotes), put them at the end of a book and they are rarely referenced (endnotes). The common practice is that if you want a person to actually look at the footnote then it should be put at the bottom of the page.

So what do we do in digital books. iBooks Author has a great support for glossary entries, but footnotes are not the same as a glossary. Whereas a glossary term is usually a definition of the word, a footnote doesn’t necessarily refer to a word and is, as implied by its name, a note. In print, a footnote is reference either with numbers or with an asterisk. However, how do we solve this problem in e-books and specifically e-books created for the iPad in iBooks?

One solution is the same as print: put a small number and hyperlink this to the note somewhere else in the book. However, apart from the fact that it’s somewhat clumsy, it is also rather hard to tap precisely on that tiny weeny superscripted number. Also the process of jumping around the book is fine if you want to jump to a section or chapter to read, but to jump around the book to read a note that says “Genesis 1:1” is a little unwieldy.

Unfortunately (at the time of writing) iBooks Author doesn’t provide a solution for this so until Apple solves the problem, what is the solution?

Since many of the books by Renana have footnotes we had to come up with something that works. The idea actually came up from Ira Weissman who suggested an image of a thought bubble instead of the asterisk. Tapping on the bubble would bring up the footnote text. This solved the problem of people’s fingers being too large for a small footnote reference whilst simultaneously keeping the reader in the same position.

As you can see in the image on the left from Rabbi Natan Slifkin’s book, Sacred Monsters, tapping on the cloud brings up a pop-up footnotes. Whilst this does take a tremendous amount of time to create in iBooks Author, the resulting digital book in iBooks is much more elegant.

The footnotes, like the text in the book, can contain richly formatted text, hyperlinks and even images.

Where’s the BACK button?

So one of the nice features of an e-book produced for iPad (like the books on is the ability to tap on links in the books and navigate to other parts of the book. However, after tapping away, you suddenly realise that you want to get back to where you were before!

The book, The Newlywed’s Guide to Physical Intimacy available on the iBookstore.
is a book which makes much use of cross-referencing to different sections and diagrams within the book. The hyperlinking seems a great way of navigating this book (please note that this halacha book is sexually explicity), so how do you go back to the bit that you were reading? Fortunately the iBooks app does have a very slick method of handling it, but unfortunately it’s kind of hidden. I say “kind of” because once you know where it is you see the logic…

All you do is tap on anywhere on the page of your ebook to make the menu bar appear and then tap on the icon of a bookmark on the top right of the page. No, the answer isn’t to create a bookmark before you jump – that would be very annoying… After tapping the bookmark icon, a drop down menu appears where you can choose your recently viewed page and in fact navigate forward and backwards.

Putting this under bookmarks does make sense, but I would have liked to have seen perhaps some gesture or hint. Oh well I guess you can’t have everything.