Tag: leining

Sheva Na / Qamats Qatan

In addition to laying out the Torah text according to a standard set of columns, line breaks and internal breaks, and accurately displaying all of the vowels and trop (cantillation marks), we also want to distinguish between the two different pronunciations of the sheva and kamatz vowels. A sheva can either be a sheva na (moving sheva) or a sheva nach (resting sheva). The sheva na is pronounced as a short “e”, while the sheva nach is not pronounced at all. A qamats can either be a qamats qatan (small qamatz) or a qamatz gadol (big qamatz). The qamats qatan is pronounced as the “o” in boring while the qamats gadol is pronounced as the “a” in father. To support a Torah reader’s accuracy, it is very helpful if the study text that the reader is using visually distinguishes among these forms.

As you probably know, there is no single standard way to display these different sheva and qamats forms, and many texts do not concern themselves with doing so at all. Also, even those Hebrew fonts that include vowels and cantillation marks often do not support additional sheva and qamats forms, either. Today, most fonts that are being developed are Unicode fonts; Unicode is now the standard for representing and handling text in the world’s many languages and writing systems. In 2005, Unicode added the qamats qatan as a distinct character, as well as three other Biblical Hebrew characters (lower dot, nun hafukha, and atnah hafukh). Because the qamats qatan is now part of the standard, it is being supported in more fonts, and in many fonts is shown as a qamats gadol but with a longer and perhaps modified vertical stem. However, the sheva na is not a separate Unicode character, so it is sometimes indicated as a bolder, bigger sheva nach or alternately by a mark of some sort above the letter it serves. There are many who would like to see the sheva na added to Unicode, to allow for standardization. For example, see this proposal from last year.

Since we are doing our own font development, we have included both the qamats qatan and sheva na in our Traditional Hebrew font. Here is how we display them:

In our tikkun app, we plan to include the sheva na and qamats qatan in all of the Torah text initially, and will add that information to other parts of our library of texts as we go along.

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Yemenite Traditions

As I was reading about various b’nai mitzvah practices and customs (there are lots of links out there), I took an interesting detour and learned a bit about Yemenite Torah reading traditions. I thought I would share some of what I learned this week.

At the Mechon Mamre web site, I read that “Yemenite Jews always allowed even children of five or six to take an aliyah.” And the Wikipedia article  on Yemenite Jews adds that “Children under the age of Bar Mitzvah are often given the sixth aliyah. Each verse of the Torah read in Hebrew is followed by the Aramaic translation, usually chanted by a child. Both the sixth aliyah and the Targum have a simplified melody, distinct from the general Torah melody used for the other aliyot.” So Torah reading (leining) was taught from a very young age. The article also notes that “In the Yemenite tradition each person called to the Torah scroll for an aliyah reads for himself.”

I also came across an article by Ephraim Stulberg on the division of aliyot in the weekly parashiyot. He references some research that indicates that the aliyah divisions did not become standardized until some time in the eighteenth century, and that the Yemenite community has its own division that differs in places from the division we see in most books today. I have looked for a table or listing of the Yemenite aliyah divisions, but so far have not yet found that information. Relating this to the Tikkun app that we are developing, this does bring up the need to support the user in selecting any range of verses as a reading to practice; this flexibility will allow the app to serve any user’s tradition.

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B’nai Mitzvah Tutors & Students

B’nai Mitzvah tutors have a lot of material to cover with their students. They usually work with students for at least six months and often up to a year, typically meeting once per week. The student is expected to practice the weekly lesson diligently, but a week is a long time for a student, and it can be difficult to practice consistently. So we feel that making it easier for students to stay current with the required level of practice should be a key goal of the app we are designing.

How can this be achieved? We have several ideas. First, we would like to make it easy for the student and tutor to check in with each other during the week between lessons, without this becoming burdensome. Tutors often create recordings for students to practice from, and we would like for them to be able to do this directly in the app; tutors would share recordings with their students through the students’ own instances of the app on their phones or tablets. The students would then be able to listen to these recordings wherever they might be, record their own practices of the required material using the app, and then share those practice recordings back with the tutor. The tutor could check for new recordings from their students each day, and contact a student or a student’s family with a friendly reminder to practice if needed.

Second, as the tutor listens to the shared practice recordings from students, the tutor will be able to hear whether the student is on track, or whether the student needs some additional pointers, without waiting until the next meeting. The tutor could, as needed, make another recording for or just send a message to the student to reinforce the lesson. Again, these interactions would happen through the app in a simple way, allowing the tutor and the student to interact between tutoring sessions. Another possibility would be to add a notifications feature to the app that would alert a student if they had not practiced on a day where they should have done so.

As we move forward in the design of the app, we will be looking at which features will best assist students in being regular about their practice between lessons, as well as features that will enhance communication between students and tutors.

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Leining (Torah reading)

We are building a Tikkun app to help Torah readers. To make it worth using, it needs to support the ways that Torah readers (leiners) like to study. I found a good discussion about how leiners practice at the judaism.stackexchange.com website. In case you are not familiar with it, this website (also called “mi yodeya”) is a very interesting discussion group for all Judaism-related topics.

Here are some of the recommendations from that discussion:

Chunking: Break the reading up into chunks, and master one chunk at a time. The size of the chunks depends on the reader’s skill level, the section being read, and perhaps other factors.

Understand Hebrew grammar and vocabulary: The more that the reader knows, the easier it will be to get the vowels correct.

Understand the trop system: Knowing the trop patterns and how they are typically used simplifies memorization.

Record/listen: Recording yourself (after you have practiced for a while), and then listening to yourself, can help identify tricky problems.

Schedule: Set up a practice schedule and stick to it.

As we look at what features to build into the app, we will be thinking about how to support as many of these approaches as we can, in addition to the file sharing features that we have been working on to support tutors and their students.

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