Judaism and Hypertexts: Old Traditions and New Incarnations, a Lecture by Scott Kosofsky

The term “hypertext” is defined as a text that references other texts in such a way as the reader can immediately access all of them through a computer display. It is often said that the inspiration for this idea came from Jorge Luis Borges’s story “The Garden of Forking Paths,” but Jews have been thinking and working along these lines for over two thousand years, as a way of keeping alive the work of sage commentators on its major scriptural and legal texts. With the invention of moveable type and the printing press, Jews seized on the opportunity to present these commentaries and conversations all at once on the page, in a way that was far more elaborate than was practicable in the era of manuscripts.

The highly elaborate hypertext pages of the printed Talmud and codes of law have been a fixture of rabbinical and scholarly life since the 15th century. But in the last ten years, this style of presenting text and commentary along with alternate readings on a single page or spread has been adapted to some of the most popular prayerbooks that are in the pews of progressive American synagogues. The person responsible for the execution of this work is the American book designer, typographer, and editor Scott-Martin Kosofsky, who now lives in Rhinebeck, and who will present his extraordinary work to us, explaining how it’s done and showing dozens of examples from the amazing history of these books, which contain yet untapped ideas that have much to offer our digital present and future.

About Scott Kosofsky: 
After living in the Boston area for forty years, Scott-Martin Kosofsky settled in Rhinebeck in 2015. There he continues his work developing, producing, designing, composing, editing, writing, and making types for books on subjects as far flung as abandoned state mental hospitals and the relationship of the typeface Helvetica with the New York City subway system. His main work, however, is in Judaica, and since 2008 he developed and designed the new prayerbooks for both the Conservative Movement (Mahzor Lev Shalem and Siddur Lev Shalem) and for the Reform Movement (the new machzor Mishkan HaNefesh), all of which feature his own Hebrew typefaces. His book about the Jewish year, The Book of Customs, was winner of a National Jewish Book Award in 2005. In an earlier life he was a musician, and was a founder of the Boston Early Music Festival.

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