Everyone needs a hobby; Rabbi Eli Garfinkel’s manages to combine the modern with the traditional.
Garfinkel, the religious leader of Temple Beth El of Somerset, spends his spare time developing Jewish-themed apps for smartphones. His 20th and latest creation is Quorum+, through which users can quickly organize a minyan.
Say you are a few people shy of the 10 needed for one of the three daily prayer services. The app administrator can send out an alert.
“The minyan leader posts the number of people needed through the app,” said Garfinkel. “If you’re home and you look at the app, you can see there are six, seven, nine, or whatever needed and can add your name via text message. The leader then sends out a special message with the address.”
The free app, which launched Feb. 3 on iTunes, already is being used by 30 congregations nationally. The feedback Garfinkel is getting has been overwhelmingly positive.
While iTunes prevents him from knowing the names of the synagogues using Quorum+, Garfinkel knows they are all Conservative. He noted he hasn’t yet had a chance “to shop” the app outside his own movement. It is only available for iPhones, but if it catches on, Garfinkel said, “I’ll figure out how to make it available on Android.”
Garfinkel said he hopes soon to remedy that situation. He created the app, he said, “because like all rabbis I’ve been in the situation where we’ve had nine people and that 10th isn’t coming. As we all know, the difference between nine and 10 for a Kaddish reading is huge.”
Orthodox Jews only count men in a minyan; Reform and most Conservative congregations count both men and women.
Garfinkel said the app is useful for shiva minyans and weekday mornings. “Most congregations don’t have a problem getting a minyan on Shabbat,” he explained.
Garfinkel has long been a techie, posting how-to videos on YouTube on Jewish rituals and podcasts of sermons and services. His most popular app, Trope Tools, developed six years ago, tutors users in how to chant from the Torah. Users tap on the various cantillation symbols to hear the distinct melodies.
The rabbi has also developed the Trope Quiz app, another cantillation tutorial; Alef Bet HD!, to teach Hebrew; and Treyf Invaders!, “a shoot ’em up game” that teaches players which animals are kosher and unkosher.
“It’s my hobby and it’s fun,” said Garfinkel. “It pays me enough to cover the costs, maybe a little more. I think it’s important for rabbis to have outside interests. All work and no play makes for a dull rabbi.”