The תלמוד itself is called ים התלמוד and the Gemara itself מגילה יח: describes the difficulty of maintaining a hold on דברי תורה with a quote from משלי כג:ה - "התעיף עינך בו ואיננו" "When you lift (or close) your eyes from it – and it disappears" .
It would certainly be instructive to see what חז"ל themselves prescribe as the method to gain a true understanding and a lasting קנין in דברי תורה. The Gemara in עירובין נד: quotes various statements discussing the methodology of לימוד התורה and some recommendations in this respect:
אמר רב חסדא: אין התורה נקנית אלא בסימנין שנאמר שימה בפיהם אל תקרי שימה אלא סימנה
Rav Chisda is quoted as saying: “The Torah can only be acquired with signs.”
Talmud Navigator can be described as an attempt to organize the גמרא in database form by tagging the various components of the text or building blocks of the סוגיא according to type and hierarchy.
This type of analysis and outlining of a סוגיא is already discussed by Gedolim of previous generations. The רמח"ל in his "דרך תבונות" suggests a very detailed system of outlining a סוגיא. The system suggested by the רמח"לincludes seven main elements or components such as מימרא, שאלה, תשובה, סתירה, ראיה, קושיא, תרוץ plus a further subdivision of each component by type, for example: מימרא by שמועה, פרוש, דיוק, הגדה. The detailed segmentation of the רמח"ל could be used to build a broader database in the future, but for now the database includes the initial main components.
This system of textual organization serves as a self aid to outline the סוגיא in a clearer fashion, to promote a better understanding of the flow of the משא ומתן of the גמרא and to facilitate summary and review. It would certainly be an ideal tool for the beginning Gemara learner to identify the building blocks of the סוגיא and to grasp the logical flow and interconnections of its various components, as well as for the seasoned learner to be used for reviewing and self testing.
There could be many applications for such a database approach to text. As one example, simple Excel macros were written to enable various extractions of segments of the text such as primary or subsequent orderמימרות to enable a quick summary of the main מימרות in a סוגיא, all questions and ensuing answers and all the מחלוקות .
Another application that has been developed has as its primary goal to enable the learner, beyond seeing and understanding the various components and flow of the סוגיא, to be able to gain a קנין in the סוגיא he has learned.
It seems that many serious learners of Gemara with all the enjoyment – ‘geshmak’- of the learning process of gaining an understanding of the flow, interconnections and conclusions of a סוגיא, feel the lack of having a lasting קנין in what has been learned. The answer is of course doing proper חזרה and, as noted above, חז"ל found it necessary for us to use סימנים as an aid to a proper חזרה that has a more lasting effect.
To that end the database module of Talmud Navigator was developed, enabling composing סימנים or condensed summaries of various forms drawn from the text itself. These סימנים could be in the form of main מימרות, מחלוקות, questions, conclusions, or personalized anchor points of the סוגיא determined by the learner himself to facilitate his own חזרה being as sparse or as detailed as needed for memory and comprehension.
להלן מקרא לסימנים של רכיבי המשא ומתן השונים:- Symbols by segment type
▀ מימרא - statement
¿ קושיא - challenge
^ שאלה - question
! תירוץ - answer
■ ראיה - proof
♦ חולקים - disputants
◊ נקודה מרכזית לסיכום וחזרה – central point for summary and review
> מובאה של פיסקה קודמת – insertion of an earlier segment
О מעשה - story