During my yearly visits to Australia to visit my wife’s family, I must endure the brutal calculations involved in switching from the imperfect Imperial system to the maligned-by-Americans (but clearly more efficient) Metric system. Pounds become kilos, Fahrenheit becomes Celsius, and feet become meters. Calculations are involved every day – and I don’t have a mind for numbers. Similarly, when I learn Gemara, I often come across ancient and archaic measurements that need conversion into modern numbers. This ensures that today’s average learner and I can better understand the amounts being dealt with. ArtScroll usually provides a formula, or tells us the conversion in the simplest terms. But now, thanks to Crowded Road CEO Adam Korbl and Rabbi Ronnie Figdor, there’s an app that helps us do just that.
The new Jewish Units app conveniently converts all Talmudic measurements (volume, length, time, area, weight, and currency) into their modern-day counterparts. And I literally mean all measurements. As someone who proudly learns an average of an amud of Gemara a day, I was flabbergasted to learn about how many types of measurements there are in Judaism. I had heard of a p’ras, a parsah and a perutah, but a pesiah, a pim and a pundeyon? And that’s just those beginning with the letter “P”!
All in all there are nearly 200 units of measure that can be converted. Perhaps that’s why I always had a hard time remembering the conversion amounts for biblical measurements. I remember thinking that a mil was about equal in length to a mile. But it turns out to be closer to a half mile (or 0.5666 to be exact). I recall the notion that a shekel (not to be confused with a New Israeli Shekel) was about equal to $1 – but it’s really about $18. And was I off regarding a kikar. One of those equals $54,119. And a kikar can be used for weight as well. So if your wife of 150 pounds thinks she’s putting on weight, you can simply say, “Honey, you’re not even 3 kikars.” (One hundred fifty pounds equals 2.668 kikars.)
If you don’t have a currency converter on your smart-device, the Jewish Units app also does basic currency conversions (e.g. dollars to euros). But the best aspect of the app, aside from its prime function, is its essential glossary that permits less learned people like me know that a pesiah is a regular footstep (about an amah) in length, or that a pundeyon was an ancient Roman currency. And if you’re wondering, one pim – a unit of measure in Sefer Shmuel – equals 80 pounds. My in-laws will also be happy to know that the app works in the metric system as well.
I showed the app to the people who will likely use it the most: kollel and yeshiva guys. It was as if I walked into a 7th-grade classroom with a (yet to be invented) Playstation 5. The app appeared to be the perfect combination of convenience and coolness. One boy who had recently completed a half marathon proudly noted that he had run 45,880 amot, about which one of his friends said: “Yeah, but that’s only 5.73 parsahs.”
In the near future Crowded Road will be offering the Jewish Units technology as part of their popular iTalmud and iMishna. “The ability to tap on a phrase in the Talmud or Mishnah that includes a halachic unit, such as daled amos, and instantly receive an explanation and modern-day conversion according to a rabbinic authority of choice should be a very powerful proposition,” says Korbl, the CEO of Crowded Road.
Perhaps the only negative aspect to the app that might dissuade some downloaders is its current $4.99 price tag. But that’s only 0.14 sela – a real bargain.