Friday, April 2, 2010

Speaking of matzah...

It being Passover and all, a certain Jewish website piqued my interest with particular acuteness this week: The Open Siddur Project. It's "an online workshop for crafting, publishing, and printing Jewish prayer books (siddurim)." Like the Xbox Bible, this collaborative site aims to broaden access to religious texts and enable readers to customize their study material. The idea is that people can tailor their liturgical text to accommodate their specific prayer tradition- so vastly varied in Judaism- and derive comfort and an enhanced connection to their religion with a completely personalized siddur. The software enables production of digital and paper siddurim- a marked difference from the computerized-only Xbox Bible Reader.

As with every example of paper-to-digital publishing conversion, I fear the signal of an eventual diminishment of the physically bound book's value. This hesitancy is especially relevant when it comes to spiritual texts. Is navigating through Scriptures with a joy-stick, or scroll-wheeling down the page of a Jewish prayerbook, really as contemplative an experience as holding the weight of a holy text in your hands, feeling its pages, tracing a forefinger over its words?
I respect the goal to "preserve the diversity of Jewish traditions worldwide, [and] encourage creative engagement and understanding in Jewish spiritual practice", and I suspect that the ability to access religious texts online will have great appeal for a younger audience wandering away from religion for its lack of modern-day efficiency. But, says the girl who'd need a Mack truck to transport from her apartment all the books she owns, print it is for me.

"Give them away or pass them on – but don't let go of printed books," writes Suzanne Munshower on The Guardian's Books Blog. Amen.

1 comment:

  1. I think you misunderstood the intention of the project. Our project is yes, "paper to digital," but it is more accurately described as "paper to digital to paper." We're helping folks craft their own siddurim. The first step is to have all the ingredients of a siddur available digitally online. The second step is a design process controlled by the person who will ultimately be using the siddur. (We help by providing an application that can help users share, remix, edit, and modify layout templates). The third step is having the file printed with a print-on-demand service or master book binder.

    The user of the project could be creating a siddur for themselves, or they could be a teacher or student of Jewish liturgy or Jewish spiritual practice, or they could be a rabbi or lay leader creating a new siddur for their community or weekend retreat. There are a lot of possible applications besides printed siddurim, but the core function we're imagining is a digital to print service based on free culture licensed and Public Domain texts and open source technology.