Palo Alto man helps develop magic pen that chants Torah

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Alan Warshaw doesn’t need coaxing to show off the Magic Yad. The Palo Alto resident is so sure his pocket-sized Torah tutor will amaze and delight, he’s always up for a demo.

“You just tap on the verse,” he says, as he touches the Magic Yad’s tip to a section of Deuteronomy. Lo and behold, a cantor’s voice chanting the verse sings its way out of the device.

The Magic Yad looks like one of those fountain pens kids used to receive as bar mitzvah presents. In fact, it is a five-inch pen, in that you can actually write with it.

But this is the RoboCop of pens. Retailing for $150, the Magic Yad coordinates digital audio stored in the pen with Hebrew writing on special pre-printed paper — thus helping b’nai mitzvah students nail their Torah portions.

Though the Magic Yad looks conventional, it is anything but.

An infrared camera in its tip “reads” anywhere from a single phrase to a b’nai mitzvah student’s full Torah portion. Reads? Actually, the yad (the name for a pointer that Torah chanters use to follow the Hebrew text) picks up a dot pattern that is invisible to the naked eye, which triggers a recitation of the passage stored in the pen.

The special Torah portion paper also has icon buttons printed at the bottom; users can tap the Magic Yad on “record” or “play” or “speed up” or “slow down,” as well as other functions.

“It’s a lot easier than using a computer to play back recordings,” says Randall Ticknor, a 12-year-old from Cupertino who’s been using the Magic Yad to practice for his bar mitzvah in August. “Also you can do entire pages at a time and play your own voice to see if you got it right.”

With a background in product management and marketing, Warshaw co-founded the company last year with his friend Alan Greenfield, who lives in Needham, Mass. Greenfield had come across the Oakland-based technology company, Livescribe, which developed a “smart pen” that links audio to handwriting.

Magic Yad creator Alan Warshaw photo/cathleen maclearie

Immediately he wondered if such a pen could be good for the Jews. Working with Livescribe, Greenfield and his team developed their company, Magic Yad.

They then enlisted various cantors to record and digitize Torah portions, as well as the Torah and Haftorah blessings.

Those audio files can be custom programmed for any student. If a student prefers to have his or her own cantor or tutor’s voice, Warshaw says it’s no problem to load another voice into the pen. Like an iPod, the Magic Yad can download audio by being plugged into a computer’s USB port.

Warshaw, 64, says his customers generally fall into one of three categories: young b’nai mitzvah students, adult b’nai mitzvah students and other adults who simply want to learn Torah trope.

In addition, Warshaw foresees other development possibilities for the Magic Yad, such being able to read and chant prayers from the siddur  and High Holy Day machzor.

Meanwhile, Warshaw insists the Magic Yad is no substitute for a cantor or b’nai mitzvah tutor. It is, rather, an adjunct learning tool, he says.

And as cool as the device may seem to young students, it doesn’t necessarily take the sting out of bar/bat mitzvah training.

“It’s better using it because it’s less of a hassle,” says Ticknor. “But it’s not making [practice] much more interesting.”

For information about Magic Yad, visit

Dan Pine

Dan Pine is a contributing editor at J. He was a longtime staff writer at J. and retired as news editor in 2020.