A ceremonial yad, or Torah pointer, is a traditional gift for a bar or bat mitzvah. But a new technological innovation aimed at helping children learn their Torah and Haftarah portions represents a new kind of competition for this classic ritual item.
In contrast to ornate sterling silver or intricately carved wood, the Livescribe Pulse smartpen is a gray metal stylus that features digital recording technology. Teaming the smartpen with Magic Yad software empowers the device to function as a portable “hi-tech tutor” that records, stores and plays back more chanting than any potential bar or bat mitzvah might ever need: 200 hours in all.
“This is the only method that allows the student to point to exactly where he or she wants to study and practice recorded passages,” Magic Yad president and founder Alan Greenfield said.
The Magic Yad system relies on Torah and Haftarah portions that are printed in special booklets and that include tiny patterns of dots that the stylus recognizes with a camera. When touching a mark, the Magic Yad’s cantor, Gastón Bogomolni, chants each individual phrase aloud in perfect pitch — eliminating endless rewinding and fast-forwarding.
Greenfield, a Massachusetts Institute of Technology graduate who is a 30-year veteran of the technical industry and lives in Needham, Mass., conceived of the application and hired a company to write the software. A volunteer with Jewish Big Brothers Big Sisters, Greenfield thought of the idea while helping a frustrated 12-year-old boy prepare for his bar mitzvah. “None of the old methods, cassette tapes or even MP3 files work this way,” he explained.
Students can also record their own chanting, instantly compare both versions and play back audio in slower speeds to finesse pronunciation and cantillation. And like a traditional tikkun (a traditional book for Torah readers), the Hebrew practice texts appear both with and without vowels and trope/cantillation marks. (Currently, English transliterations are not available.) At www.Livescribe.com, retail prices begin at $170 plus $100 for each Torah or Haftarah portion, the price some families pay for a celebratory cake.
Greenfield operates Magic Yad together with his wife, Claudia, who manages public relations, and Alan Warshaw, a Palo Alto, Calif.-based technology consultant.