Yoni Alon
Makes a delicious schnitzel

Jewish Education Meets Artificial Intelligence

As an Israeli who has journeyed far and wide in search of the wide range of Jewish identity, my search has often led me to unexpected junctions. Among them, an intriguing intersection I’ve recently encountered, that of Jewish Education and AI (artificial intelligence). I was fascinated lately listening to episode 24 of the Jewish podcast Adapting, while Dr. David Bryfman was having a captivating conversation with his colleague Dr. Samantha Vinokor-Meinrath (both of the Jewish Education Project in New York) as they explored the possibilities of this unusual link between emerging tech and Judaism, in the aftermath of the first professional public discussion that was held on the topic at the Jewish Futures Conference on March 2023 in New York City.

I was also toying with the idea of how AI could contribute to my professional work as a Jewish educator and a Jewish professional. I was positively surprised to find out that some great minds out there have already been discussing this topic in professional and educational settings.

Recent developments in AI have brought with it immense possibilities that were once unthinkable. One such development, AI, stands tall with its transformative potential. Yet, how does this fit into the day-to-day work of Jewish educators? How can it enhance our Jewish learning experiences, extend our understanding, and yet, retain the soulful core of our Jewish heritage?

These questions may seem daunting, but the answer lies in understanding that AI is merely a tool. It is a tool that, if used carefully, can serve to amplify our teachings, engage our students in a more profound manner, and even unlock new, unexplored dimensions of Jewish understanding.

I’ve gathered several examples that could be explored in this emerging discussion.

For example, ChatGPT (OpenAI) can be leveraged to assist in writing a Bar Mitzvah Drasha (speech), not with the intent of taking away the beauty and tradition of writing one’s own speech, but to offer guidance, to provide a structure, and to inspire. It is, in essence, akin to having a knowledgeable friend assist you, sparking creativity, and making the process less daunting for the young student. Yet, the final words remain their own, personal and resonant.

Imagine the young assistant rabbi and his student sitting together in front of the computer drafting the Drasha. They could begin by composing a draft that will include all the important key elements of the Parasha, side by side with the personal notes and ideas that relate to the life of our Bar Mitzvah boy. So in practice, long before they use AI, they could sit together and practice traditional meaningful Jewish learning. Once the draft is ready, they could approach ChatGPT and ask it to develop a speech based on this draft while offering them a vast number of ideas and thoughts that they themselves did not think of. The student and his rabbi would then explore the text that was provided to them by the AI, edit it, and mold it into a finished sculpture.

Once done, they could ask ChatGPT to review it while providing it with the following orders – “Now act as a professional speech writer with 30 years of experience, working in the field of North American Jewish communities. The following text is a Bar Mitzvah speech focused on Prashat Korach. This speech will be given on a Saturday morning, by a 13-year-old boy, in an American reform synagogue in front of the community members. Please read the speech and provide professional feedback on it including pros and cons. Base your answers on Jewish sources only”.

Let’s explore some other use cases. Picture a class where students get a chance to interview Moses, Abraham, or Rachel. An impossible feat, you might think. But with AI’s potential, the impossible becomes possible. Educators can set ChatGPT to emulate these Torah figures, giving students a unique opportunity to engage in a conversation with them. It’s not merely a lesson in Jewish history, but an immersive, interactive experience that enriches understanding and fires imagination.

You may take a look at the following conversation with “ChatGPT Moses” sharing his experiences of walking in the desert for 40 years.

Here is another attempt of me trying to use Midjourney to portray Moses eating Hummus. It could look better but requires around 30 minutes of back and forth with the software.

Yoni: Act now as the biblical character of Moses. I will then ask you questions and will expect you to answer as if you are the biblical Moses. As you try to answer my questions make an effort to use mostly Jewish sources and texts. How was it for you to walk in the desert for 40 years? How did you feel during that journey in the desert?

ChatGPT: The 40-year journey through the desert, as depicted in the Torah, was a transformative period for us. We moved from slavery in Egypt to becoming a nation ready to enter the Promised Land. Despite the desert’s harsh conditions, Hashem provided protection and sustenance, including the miraculous manna. As a leader, it was challenging guiding B’nei Yisrael, particularly during moments of faltering faith. Yet, the journey was also marked by gratitude and humility, witnessing divine providence and the formation of our covenant with Hashem.

(Let’s see if it has any feelings)

Yoni: Did you ever feel lonely during that journey in the desert?

ChatGPT: Yes, during our desert sojourn, there were times when I felt lonely. The responsibility of leadership can sometimes create a sense of isolation. Even amidst the multitude of Israel, I was in a unique position, tasked with conveying God’s laws and mediating between Him and the people. However, I found comfort and strength in my relationship with God. He spoke to me as a friend, as mentioned in Exodus 33:11. My brother Aaron, my sister Miriam, and Joshua were also sources of support, though the weight of leadership often felt solitary. Despite this, I remained committed to guiding my people, trusting in God’s plan.

And what about being able to have a conversation with Theodor Herzl?

My attempt to create an image of Theodor Herzl using Midjourney.

Yoni: Act now as the Zionist leader Theodor Herzl. I would like now to ask a question about Zionism and I expect you to answer it if you are Theodor Herzl. As you began to push forward your Zionist dream, did you feel and believe that this dream was truly achievable?

ChatGPT: When I started promoting the Zionist dream of a Jewish homeland, it indeed seemed like a daunting task. But I firmly believed in its necessity and achievability. Faced with rampant antisemitism, evidenced by events like the Dreyfus Affair, I knew a safe haven for Jews was crucial. My conviction, embodied in the phrase “If you will it, it is no dream,” fueled my efforts to rally international support and unite Jewish communities worldwide. Despite knowing the journey would be challenging and long, my belief in its realization never wavered. Even if I didn’t live to see it, I was confident in the Jewish people’s resilience to make this dream come true.

Yoni: Theodor, if you were alive today and were able to walk around in the streets of the state of Israel, how would you feel watching what actually happened with your Zionist ideas and vision?

ChatGPT: Walking the streets of the modern State of Israel would be awe-inspiring. I’d be filled with joy seeing our people thrive in their homeland, speaking Hebrew, and nurturing vibrant cities and industries—all once mere dreams. Despite the difficult path to statehood and ongoing challenges, Israel’s existence confirms the power of our dream and the resilience of the Jewish people. I would feel a profound sense of pride and hope for the future, even amidst the complexities and sorrow for the losses endured. The realization of my Zionist vision, though not without its challenges, would bring me immeasurable joy.

AI can also breathe life into historical narratives and events. With tools like Midjourney, educators can enable students to envision and recreate iconic Jewish scenes. This creative exercise, made possible by AI, provides a deeper connection to Jewish history, making the past resonate with students in a more meaningful way (as was done recently during the last Passover).

Me using Dall-E to portray the concept of Jewish Peoplehood. It took some time and required me to elaborate and describe with details the concept of Jewish peoplehood.

Lastly, AI can foster critical thinking and stimulate thought-provoking discussions. Educators can present ChatGPT with dilemmas or questions related to biblical stories and ask for their insights. These generated opinions can serve as starting points for lively classroom debates, enriching students’ analytical skills and understanding of the narratives.

AI can be utilized to create personalized learning experiences, adapting to each student’s pace, and making the study of Torah, Talmud, Israel Education, or Jewish history an engaging, individualized journey. It can serve to bridge gaps, connecting students in remote locations to the heart of Jewish learning, or providing resources that may otherwise be inaccessible.

Me using Midjourney with the following prompt: “The Jewish people all around the world are connected with each other and they celebrate their Judaism together”.

The key point to note here is that AI, despite its technological roots, does not undermine the essence of Jewish education. Instead, it adds a dynamic layer to it, creating a more engaging and enriching learning environment. As Jewish educators, we can harness the power of AI to make our teachings more interactive and accessible.

In the fast-paced digital era, the fusion of Jewish education and AI is not just a possibility; it’s a path worth exploring. By embracing AI, we can preserve our rich Jewish heritage while enriching our educational methodologies. We have the opportunity to bridge the gap between tradition and technology, ensuring our teachings remain relevant and engaging in the modern world.

As Jewish educators, let’s welcome this confluence of technology and tradition. Let’s strive to make Jewish education a journey of exploration, discovery, and understanding, enhanced by the power of AI. We are at the dawn of a new era in Jewish education, an era that intertwines the wisdom of the past with the promise of the future. We ought to keep an open mind not only to other interpretations of Judaism, but also to new methodologies, tools, and possibilities. It’s another tool in our toolbox backed by our personal wisdom, knowledge, and life experience.

(Digital tools used in writing this article: ChatGPT, Google Translate, Wordtune text editor, Grammarly, Midjourney, Microsoft Word Speech to Text tool & Dall-E).

About the Author
Yoni Alon is an Israeli consultant and educator who has been building bridges between Israelis and non-Israelis for over a decade. He began his journey as an Israeli JAFI Shaliach/Emissary in Denver. During his seven years in the IDF (Maj res.), he supported the comprehensive cooperation between the IDF and the U.S. military and served in the border region of Gaza and Egypt. In the last eight years, he has been leading educational projects in the fields of Jewish and Israel education for NGOs and government organizations, including Masa, JAFI, ANU Museum, WZO, Momentum Unlimited, the Ministry of Diaspora Affairs, and more.
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