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  • Sapphire Software

    Soncino Software Review

    • Soncino Software Review
      Review of Davka's Soncino Talmud Overview:

      This program is like a V-8 454 hemi high compression engine in that it has an incredibly fast search capability over a mountain of Hebrew and English text. This program is raw Torah Power in your pocket. The fonts are impressive and the printing is nice. The linkages work nicely placing several screens at once in your immediate view. I would have to caution though, that despite the English translation that is available, it's hard for me to see how this can be described as a program for a beginner in Talmud.
      I have several reasons for saying this as I'll get to in the body of this review. It is not due to the program, which is worth the money that is paid, but because the language that is used. This translation of the gemora was never designed for this format, making it often difficult to search out a source, even with the impressive search drivers that the program has, using the English. I would say that a serious search of the Gemora using this data base, is best conducted in Hebrew Installation: The installation of this program on my 486sx33 with 12meg Ram and a170meg Hard drive was a lot easier then the instruction book that came with the program threatened.
      The package came with 2 disks - and a CD. If I have one complaint about this program it's that this instruction manual is the same manual that Davka uses for all it's Judiac Classics Library. For a program that list at 300.00 dollars, they could have written a manual specific for the Soncino Talmud. The first page of them manual has a new feature note that confused the heck out of me about WIN32 S and some new features which really couldn't be understood until the program is installed and toyed with a little. Then it gives some information on fonts and on the Tanach library which isn't even included in the Soncino CD, some notes about Dagash, error messages, your licensing agreement, the updated version and then on page seven, which is really 10 pages into the booklet, you finally get to the installation instructions.
      All of this came down to the following - Throw the Disk 1 into the floppy drive, go to the program manager, browse forinstall.exe, click and follow the instructions on the screen. When it's time for disk two, take disk one out and put in disk two.
      All the discussion on WIN32S made me nervous when it was time for it's installation, because the program replaced a WIN32 on my drive, but I proceeded with no problem and the program booted up just fine -much to do about nothing. The disks are marked one and two, but are not named the same way in the installation program. But it's easy enough to figure out. To be fair, my machine has 12 megs of RAM and installation on a smaller machine may create more problems.
      The virtual memory that is required can be critical. The key is the virtual memory. Virtual memory (or the swap file) is a place on the hard drive where information is temporarily stored and retrieved in a way similar to how the computer uses RAM memory. It can be altered in the Control Panel under cpwin386 - which on my machine is an icon. Click that icon and click the virtual memory section and make sure your set for at least 7168k of memory on the hard drive. This creates a swath of 7 megs of memory on the hard drive which is dedicated for temporary memory storage. As I said - this program runs like a V-8 engine and this can be thought of as the gas consumption. If you have any problems with this, I'm sure that Davka can supply the technical support needed to get you running.
        System Requirements: The Soncino Talmud requires a:
      • 386 or higher with windows 3.1.
      • And VGA or better screen.
      • 4 megs of RAM (but 8 is nice).
      • A CD ROM -
      • and a printer for the printouts.
      • For a MAC - 4 Megs is also required and a CD ROM.

      In addition - you need 2 megs of free space on your hard drive, and 7megs for the swap files. Lastly - 4 Megs are needed to be free on the drive before installing for the installation process.
      The WIN S32 that the booklet is speaking of seems to be a program that makes Windows 3.1 compatible with some Windows 95 programs. The whole thing comes with a free card game! Enjoy it. What you get: The icons for the Soncino are normally placed in their own group called Judaica Classics. Click on the Judaica Classics Icon and up pops a screen called Search parameters 1. This screen doesn't maximize to full screen. In addition the window is longer then my screen. I've tried to play with the screen controls - but to no avail. The right side of the window pushes off the screen - which is a minor inconvenience. The opening screen displays a "Select" button on the upper left, a "Words Apart" field that permits you to adjust the search parameter which controls how many words apart 2 or more phrases or Words should be. Search buttons then appear to the right marked - "And" "or" "not" "..." and "search." The menu bar across the top gives you the the following options:

      {File} {Edit} {Library}{Reference}{Format}{Window}{Help}

      The Help menu contains nothing but the program information: About Judiaca Classics - copy right 1991 etc. There is no on line help from what I see - so don't lose the manual. If you press the select button the program gives you below the option of which data base you want to search. The choices are Talmud (English), Mishna (English), Talmud index, Mishna Hebrew, Talmud Babel Hebrew and Rashi on Talmud in Hebrew. The program translates everything but the Rashi. If you click the choice Talmud English - it appears in a small window, confirming that this is the work you are using for a primary search, and you can search for a phrase in the entire Shas. Click the little arrow next to it and it expands the the Sedras of the Talmud and you can search one sedra at a time. Click the arrow next to the Sedras and the individual Tractates appear in the search field. Now you can seach for a phrase or a Keyword of this specific Tractate. Let's say you want to just browse a specific Tractate. This is done by selecting the Library on the menu bar. It will give you a list of databases to browse. Click a data base and it gives you the Sedras. Click a Sedra and it will give you a tractate. Click the Tractate you want and the text appears in very nice adjustable fonts. If your using just one window, this is pretty easy to read. Once more than one window is open, I would recommend printing out what you want to look at - but be aware - anything that is printed out from this database can have the name of HaShem in it and must be treated with respect.
      Linkage: One of the nice features of this program is that it links English to Hebrew or English to Rashi in Hebrew or all three. This allows for easy comparisons between the Hebrew and English, or for a check study of the Rashi. If you're willing to peer through the little windows, this is quite nice. To do this one just clicks on the menu bar "Reference" and choose link. A dialog box asks you what you'd like to link and you can select what you want. This couldn't be made much easier. Fonts can be easily changed. When reading from the screen I like to use24 point fonts. When I print on paper I change to smaller 12 point print.
      This program makes such changes very easy. The "Format" on the menu bar controls the fonts and the color with 3 clicks. This is one of the very nice features of the Soncino.
    • Searching: Searching in the Soncino Talmud is difficult at best if done in English. The problem is that the language that is used by Soncino in English is soarchaic and flowery that it's hard pressed to try to find the proper word that you're searching for. If at all possible it is easier to search in Hebrew.
      The Parsha for this past week covered the problem of a city lead astray by some to idolatry. In shul, a friend and I debated the procedure for this, whether the city was judged individual by individual, or whether the city was judged as a whole from the outset. We knew that the Gemora discussed this in Sanhadren 111b and 112a. After shabbos I loaded up the Soncino and searched the English Talmud for city and idolatry. The program came up blank. Then I tried city and idol* -and it came up still blank. Then I tried city - and it came up with over100 sources. So I tried city AND idol* again, and 16 sources came up -including 111b. Why it came up the third time and not the first time I used these exact same program parameters is beyond me. It seems that there's a glitch in the program and the search engine doesn't seem to always take the changed parameters right away.
    • Other Search Functions: One of the nicer features of this program is it's ability to cross reference a source nearly instantaneously. It takes a bit of reading to understand how this function works, but the time is well spent. For example, let's say that the Soncino Talmud in English makes a reference to a note on another page in the Tractate that your looking at. Simply highlight the reference, and click on Reference from the menu bar and look up Section, the program takes you straight to the reference. All the sources are printable and savable, so that using this feature can allow you to produce a fairly authoritative and expansive paper on nearly any topic from the Gemora.
    • Printing: Everything in this program is printable. Furthermore, if you have a color printer it will print in cover, Hebrew and English. You can export files to Dagesh if you wish. Then you can add your own commentary and notes to the text from the program.
    • Translation: Soncino's English translation uses an unusual form of English which can make searching difficult. Look up Plague and Darkness in the Talmud and you come up blank. Somewhere in the Gemora there is a discussion of the Plague of Darkness. The same holds true for Nile and Blood and several other possible search parameters. The problem is that you have to use the same language that the Soncino does. So if you're walking into walls in this respect, the key might be to try to search in Hebrew.
    • Rating: This is one of the most complex programs that I've tried to review thus far. If there seems to be so many complaints in this review, this is partly due to the fact that the program can do so much. Over all, I'm really impressed with this program. It takes on a big job and does it nicely. If you have some Talmud background and would like to learn more, or you would like to do research on the Gemora, this program is very effective. My biggest problem with the package is actually the instruction booklet. As such I give this program a Rating of 4 out of 5.****It's really a good program and it puts Torah Power in your machine. I recommend this as a buy.