Tech Rav
Discussions of Jewish EdTech

Monday, March 30, 2009

Birkat HaChammah: Here Comes the Sun

Birkat HaChammah, the blessing on the sun, is coming Wednesday morning, April 8, 2009. This blessing, praising G-d for renewing creation, occurs once every 28 years at the beginning of the spring when according to Jewish tradition the sun is in the same position relative to the Earth that it was when the when the Universe was created.
Here is an excellent overview of Birkat HaChammah written for the layperson: Here is a recent article by Rabbi Bleich that provides an overview of this topic: Here are some more detailed (and complex) presentations: and For educators, Birkat HaChammah is a great opportunity for curriculum integration across various disciplines.

  1. Talmud teachers can teach about the event, how it is calculated based on the Jewish calendar, and its various Halakhot. Here is a link to an audio class by Rabbi David Bleich of Yeshiva University about Birkat HaChammah: Here is a great guide in English to the Halakhot of Birkat HaChammah: Here is a link to a worksheet for students: I also created a Smart Notebook presentation to teach the material. It is not yet available online but a slideshow of it can be accessed here:

  2. Tanach teachers can teach the different chapters and verses from Tanach that have been incorporated into the Birkat HaChammah liturgy. Here is a link to the Birkat HaChammah service in Hebrew and English:

  3. Science teachers can teach about the seasons as Birkat Hachammah occurs at the Halakhic beginning of the spring. You would be surprised how many students do not know why we have 4 seasons (hint: it's not because the earth's orbit is further away from the sun in winter or else it would not then be summer in the southern hemisphere). One can also teach about the night sky and the constellations and how they relate to the path of the sun throughout the solar year. Here is a link to an audio class and slideshow presentation by Rabbi David Pahmer about the atronomical background to Birkat HaChammah: Here is a link to free programs that one can download that teach about the night sky: For more on the science behind Birkat HaChammah you can request a curriculum designed for Middle School students that can be adapted to other grade levels by emailing:

  4. History teachers can teach about the Julian calendar which is the same as Amora, Shemuel's calendar upon which the date for Birkat HaChammah is calculated. They should also teach about the Gergorian calendar which was first introduced in 1582 and how it affects the solar calendar date for Birkat HaChammah. Here is a link to the wikipedia page on this: Also of interest is the following page:

  5. Math teachers can teach how to calculate the Birkat HaChammah date as happening once every 28 years. Here is a PowerPoint presentation (in Hebrew) that does a pretty good job with this:

  6. English teachers can teach about poems that celebrate Nature. The most famous one is Joyce Kilmer's Trees which can be found here:

Online Haggadahs

With Passover a little more than a week away:

Here is a link to a full Hebew Haggadah with Nikud: (Make sure to click Open when it asks to open the document containing the Haggadah.)

Here is a more general link to many Haggadot and commentaries:

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Letter to David Pogue

Below is a copy of a letter that I recently wrote to David Pogue, technology columnist for the NY Times thanking him for his posting on Photosynth which I was able to use in The Frisch School to create virtual Shiriyah hallways. I am awaiting a response.

Dear David:
      I am writing this email to thank you for telling me about PhotoSynth. On August 21, 2008, you wrote and spoke about PhotoSynth the exciting new 3D photo software created by Microsoft Labs. As with all of your nuggets of wisdom, I filed this one away and began to contemplate how I could use it in my current job. You see, I am the Director of Educational Technology at The Frisch School a Jewish modern Orthodox private high school in Bergen County NJ. My job is not fix the computers, I have a staff of IT professionals both on onsite and as consultants for that. Rather, my job is to help the teachers and students use the computers and other technologies (assuming they're fixed) for educationally worthwhile ventures so I am always on the lookout for new and creative ideas.
     I realized that PhotoSynth would be the ideal software to create Virtual Hallways at Frisch. Why would I want a "virtual" version of a high school hallway? Because once a year we have an exciting program that we call Shiriyah.
     Shiriyah is a cross between colorwar and a singing competition. For a week, the school is taken over by the student's creativity as each grade works together as a team to produce videos, songs, banners, a stomp, and hallway displays revolving around a Jewish theme. One of the pities of this event is that after a week of song, dance, and art its over. The banners are saved of course, hung up in the cafteria, but the beautiful hallways are slowly dismantled and soon are back to their normal selves with their multi colored lockers and beige walls.
     I recognized that PhotoSynth would be the ideal way to preserve these hallways online in all of their pristine glory forever. Students, parents, and faculty would be able to take a virtual "walk" through each grade's hall and marvel at the tremendous intelligence and talent that went into them. So we had a parent volunteer who photographed the halls during the climax of Shiriyah; using overlapping photos of course with some wide angle shots for perspective. Then I spent a Saturday night zipping these hundreds of photos into PhotoSynth to create the Freshman, Sophomore, Junior, and Senior Hallways. The results were not perfect (it was a first attempt and the finished products were between 40% and 59% synthy). However, they did succesfully give a taste of Shiriyah and created an archive for the future.
     I featured these hallways together with other artifacts from Shiriyah on a school wiki. (I create lots of school wikis using free K-12 site features including one that integrates the curriculum for the entire 9th grade but that would be the subject a different email.) You can check it out at Just click on the various grades to see the hallways. Our students, faculty, and parents are so excited about this project!!! It is all thanks to the knowledge that I gained from you. Thank you David Pogue for sharing your technology tips every week. I anxiously await the next "big thing" that I will be able to integrate into my school to further our educational mission.
      Tzvi Pittinsky