Maybe they’re earnest attempts to help people fit eight nights of Hanukkah observance into their busy lives. Or maybe they’re just an irresistible opportunity to exploit some nifty technology. Either way, three new iPhone applications—all downloadable from iTunes—make it easy to light a menorah wherever you happen to be. As a service to you, dear reader, we gave each one a spin.
Menorah for iPhone
The most bare-bones of the three, Menorah for iPhone is more informative than interactive—it gives you a handy visual of how many candles to light on your non-virtual menorah each night, but doesn’t let you take full advantage of the phone’s touchscreen and actually “light” the digital candles. It features a clunky graphic of a standard-looking menorah with big orange flames that appear one at a time atop each candle and flicker away with abandon. Prayers are supplied in Hebrew, English, and Hebrew transliteration, and sung in a grating traditional style that’s hilariously incongruous with the iPhone’s sleek modernity.
The developers of the Mobile Menorah (“the first rabbi developing team,” apparently) stress their application’s convenience, but it’s actually pretty hard to figure out. Users should be able to use a finger to move the shamash and light the other candles, but it’s not so clear how to do this. Most of my attempts routed me to a page where I could set how quickly I’d like the candles to burn (this is what’s been missing from traditional menorah lighting!). On the annoying (and slightly mystifying) promo video, a guy who I guess is supposed to be Steve Jobs explains the Mobile Menorah to an audience of old, bearded rabbis who speak with stereotypical old-world rabbi accents. “In all my years lighting menorahs with friends,” gushes the pseudo-Jobs, “it was never this easy.”
This graceful application actually does what I want an iPhone menorah app to do—and who knew I wanted one? Judging from its explanatory video, the two young developers are dorky-cute guys well-versed in the Apple way of doing things (one is wearing an “Everyone Loves a Jewish Boy” T-shirt). At $1.99, iMenorah is the priciest of the three, but hey, you get what you pay for. The on-screen menorah is more understated than its peers, and the animation is a lot better: the candles look like real candles, the flames look like real flames, and when you touch your finger to the shamash it lifts smoothly out of its holder and can easily be guided to light each candle. It’s foolproof—during each night of Hanukkah, the right number of candles automatically appears onscreen. And if you try to light the candles out of order, or from right to left (instead of the correct left to right), it won’t work. After you light the last candle, you hear the blessing sung in Hebrew (sing-along optional), and after about eight minutes, the candles burn down and extinguish themselves.
Eryn Loeb, a contributing editor for Tablet Magazine, is a freelance writer and editor in New York.