One of the newest websites to sprout up on the Internet is Masterdaf.com. A few weeks ago, www.masterdaf.com appeared on the Internet as an experimental website, and, as of recently, is fully functional. Masterdaf.com is not just another one of those pointless dot com websites that have nothing to offer or, even worse, try to sell you a worthless product. On the contrary, Masterdaf offers physical and spiritual nourishment. Masterdaf is a collection of shiurim (lessons) on Talmud Bavli (the Babylonian Talmud) given during a seven-year period by Rabbi Avraham Kosman.
Now, with the simple click of a mouse and a connection to the Internet, you can access any mishna (verse) or daf (page) of Gemara whether you are in Alaska, Japan or anywhere else in the world. Masterdaf gives you true freedom and mobility. In the past, if you wanted to access computer programs featuring Gemara or Mishna while on vacation or business trip, you would have to bring your own. However, experience has proven that when you schlep CD’s with you, you run the risk of scratching the disks or worse, actually losing them (which can be very costly).
The average person’s main concern is likely to be, “What kind of special software do I need to view this website?” The answer is simple, None! You need not purchase any special software for your computer in order for this website to operate. It is both PC and Mac friendly. You will be able to view the website without a problem, and as long as your computer has a sound card (which is standard for most computers today) and windows media player, you will be able to listen to the shiurim (lectures).
Masterdaf.com did not suddenly appear overnight; their history goes back quite a couple of years. In fact, it began approximately 14 years ago. The initial seven years consisted of learning the Tractates, and the following seven years was devoted to developing the technology.
One of the website’s fascinating features is that the user, by clicking his mouse on any spot on the page, has the option of listening to an explanation through the computer’s audio system. The shiurim are delivered in such a way that you can read the material and, at the same, actually understand it.
Beginners in learning Gemara or Mishna have probably noticed that it is very difficult to understand the material based solely on the literal translation of the text. Masterdaf has eliminated this problem. All the shiurim are read first in their original Hebrew/Aramaic form and then translated into a clear and concise English, which explains the passage according to the basic meaning of the Gemara. This feature is great, not only for beginners, but for everyone – the adult who is brushing up or the child just starting out.
The lessons have simple, easy-to-use menus, which will bring the user directly to the page of the Gemara or Mishna of his choice. In fact, those learning Daf Yomi can go directly to the daf being learnt that day. Also, each page of the Talmud can be seen during the lesson as a special image – a clear, crisp computer-generated replica of the page of Talmud. To help you keep your place when a section is being read, you have the option of highlighting that particular area. The dafim (pages) are in their original format – they appear exactly as in the original print. What impressed me most was that the screen image of the Gemara is so much clearer and easier to read than the original text. The quality throughout is superb. Even the smallest words in Rashi and Tosefos are unbelievably clear. For this reason alone it is worth the investment.
One of the things that might be bothering you is whether this idea has the blessing of our Torah leaders. No need to worry. The shiurim have the haskamos (endorsements) of many of today’s Torah leaders and educators, including Rabbi Moshe Eisman of Ner Yisrael Talmudical Academy in Baltimore; Rabbi Chaim Pinchas Scheinberg, Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshivas Torah Ore in Yerushalayim; and Rabbi Hirsh, Shlita, of the Slabodka Yeshiva in Bnai Brak.
The maggid shiur (lecturer) is Rabbi Avraham Kosman. Rabbi Kosman learned in Ner Yisrael in Baltimore for six years. In 1981, he joined the Slabodka Yeshiva (which is located in Bnei Brak, Israel) and has been there ever since. In fact, the Masterdaf lectures started off there, and were geared for the English-speaking crowd. Rabbi Kosman himself has said, “When we saw it fulfilled a need, we began to offer it to the public, and after five years or so we were grateful for the public response. My philosophy is we’ve got to learn, not waste time, and know Shas (the whole Talmud).” Rabbi Kosman has written several sefarim (books), such as Otzros Ktzos Hachoshen, Otzros R’ Akiva Eige and Sefer Ahavas Tzvi on Masechtas Yevamos.
Besides being able to listen to the shiurim and view the page of Mishna or Talmud over the Internet, each page and lesson can be downloaded for your own personal use offline. This feature allows you to download the actual image file of the daf, which can then be printed out. (The file is in ‘.gif’ format).
The lessons can also be purchased as an audio file that can be downloaded onto your Mp3 player, thereby enabling you to take the shiur with you. For those of you who have not made that leap yet of purchasing an Mp3 player, not to worry, there is another option for you. If you have a CD writer, you can simply burn the shiurim onto a compact disc. However, you will first have to convert the Mp3 file to a CDA (Compact Disc Audio) file.
Masterdaf.com is the work of the well-known and respected Jewish Software developers, TES. Through the use of modern computer technology, TES, with the help of the Wolfson Foundation and the Jewish Continuity Foundation (JCF), has undertaken this endeavor to increase the awareness and learning of the Talmud.
Visiting the site entitles you to a free trial. With the free trial, there is nothing to lose. If you like what you see, you have the option of joining monthly or yearly for Master Mishna or Wolfson Talmud – or, for that matter, both. To help cover for the maintenance of the site, there is a small monthly fee, which amounts to less than 19 cents a day – a real metzia (bargain). For a full price listing regarding downloading images and Mp3 files for members and non-members, please visit www.masterdaf.com.
Hopefully, in the near future we will discuss some of the other TES products being offered to the public.