iMahNishtanah: An iPhone App to Prep for Passover

iMahNishtanah: An iPhone App to Prep for PassoverThe iPhone and the iPod touch have the potential to be among the greatest innovations in the educational process ever. As more and more educational apps are developed that take advantage of the computing power and the touchscreen of the iPhone and the iPod touch are released they are reaching a critical mass as a tool for learning. They’re great for secular education but they can also be a huge addition to religious education as well. I carry two different versions of the Bible on my iPhone and enjoy having the ability to reference them with ease. I have an application that will “chant” various Torah portions. And more and more apps are on the way. Here’s a good example.

With the Jewish festival of Passover approaching I was pleased to see a new app that focuses on one of the hallmarks of the Passover seder — The Four Questions. The app comes from Behrman House, a long-standing leader in Jewish educational materials. I grew up on Behrman House’s books and we use many of them in our school. I was happy to see them move into this arena. This is their first release of an iPhone app and they’ve done a rather nice job with it in my opinion. Let’s take a look.

iMahNishtanah: An iPhone App to Prep for PassoverA bit of background if I may. The Passover Seder is a festive meal that focuses on telling the story of the biblical Exodus from Egypt. The entire meal is, from one perspective, a pedagogical tool intended to get, and keep, the attention of children so that they will be engaged in hearing this story that is so central to the Jewish community. The result is a meal with unusual foods and rituals. Originally the hope was that one of the kids wold notice this fact and ask “Why is tonight’s meal different?” From there the leader of the service/story-telling (Seder) could respond, “I’m glad you asked… let me tell you a story.” (After all, aren’t we all more interested when the answer is the answer to our own question??)

At some point this informal questioning became ritualized into what is now known as the Four Questions. It has since become one of the most familiar parts of the service. Traditionally the youngest person around the table who is able to recite the Four Questions is the one to do so. That’s where Behrman House’s app iMahNishtanah comes in.

The app has four sections. One lets you practice reading, one lets you record yourself reading, one lets you practice learning the words of the Four Questions and their translations via flash cards and finally there is an activities area with two different “games”.

iMahNishtanah: An iPhone App to Prep for Passover
The first sections displays the Hebrew text of the Four Questions. Tap the “chant” button and a child’s voice begins to chant the questions.

iMahNishtanah: An iPhone App to Prep for PassoverOnce you feel that you are ready you can go out to the “Record” button and record yourself chanting the questions.

iMahNishtanah: An iPhone App to Prep for Passover

iMahNishtanah: An iPhone App to Prep for PassoverThe flash card section lets you look at each of the words in Hebrew and then, with the tap of a button, have the “card” flip over to reveal the English translation.

iMahNishtanah: An iPhone App to Prep for Passover

iMahNishtanah: An iPhone App to Prep for PassoverWord by word you can make your way through the words and their meaning. This is a wonderful dimension of the app since it sends the subtext that simply memorizing the words is nice but understanding what they mean is far, far better.

iMahNishtanah: An iPhone App to Prep for PassoverFinally there are two activities that take the learning of words a bit further. In the first a voice utters one of the words in the Four Questions and then lets the user select which word out of six they just heard.

iMahNishtanah: An iPhone App to Prep for Passover
In the second the word is uttered but instead of displaying the Hebrew text of the word a series of images representing it is displayed and the user selects from it.

In all the app does a good job of helping kids (and adults) learn how to read/chant the Four Questions and what the words mean. Behrman House clearly decided to make the app simple to use and had enough basic content for learning the Four Questions without adding in so much content that it might become overwhelming Overall the approach works and I have already recommended the app to a number of my customers.

To my mind the most exciting aspect of the app is that it comes from Behrman House in the first place. To see a traditional educational publishing house move into the iPhone space; I’m looking forward to seeing what the come up with next.
The iMahNishtanah app is available for $.99.
What I Like: Makes learning fun, doesn’t just focus on memorization
What Needs Improvement: Since the company has such rich libraries of information it would be great if the app had a button that connected the user to a microsite with additional Passover information.


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About the Author

Dan Cohen
Having a father who was heavily involved in early laser and fiber-optical research, Dan grew up surrounded by technology and gadgets. Dan’s father brought home one of the very first video games when he was young and Dan remembers seeing a “pre-release” touchtone phone. (When he asked his father what the “#” and “*” buttons were his dad said, “Some day, far in the future, we’ll have some use for them.”) Technology seemed to be in Dan’s blood but at some point he took a different path and ended up in the clergy. His passion for technology and gadgets never left him. Dan is married to Raina Goldberg who is also an avid user of Apple products. They live in New Jersey with their golden doodle Nava.