David Curwin
Author of "Kohelet - A Map to Eden"

Torah, Technology and the Internet: 30 years later

Thirty years ago, on May 22, 1994, I wrote a post on Mail-Jewish, at the time the premier forum for discussing Torah related topics. I titled it “Torah, Technology and the Internet.

The post was inspired by an essay by Prof. Michael S. Berger in the Summer 1993 issue of Tradition, entitled “Rabbinic Authority: A Philosophical Analysis.” While this wasn’t the main focus of Berger’s essay, he discusses the impact of the nascent technological revolution on traditional Torah study.

As I quoted in my post, Berger wrote:

Knowledge of a wide range of previous material, as well as a keen ability to subject the material to the surgical tools of logic, were the ideals of the academy two thousand years ago, as they are today. This is precisely the significance of the terms sinai (i.e. breadth) and oker harim (i.e. depth of analysis) which we encounter in the Talmud (Berakhot 64a). Although the Talmud is debating which should be considered of greater value, it is clear that both qualities are essential in the bet midrash. […] To be sure, with each successive generation, there was always more material to memorize; the advent of printing and the accessibility of books only meant that one had to remember where to look it up, instead of remembering all the details of the position or argument itself.[…] It remains to be seen how computer technology will impact on the system. Anyone with a telephone modem can gain almost instant bekiut in a subject as previously obscure references appear on the screen together with better known sources.

After quoting that excerpt, I posed the following question:

Rabbi Berger brings up a very important question: What is the halachic impact and significance of computer technology in the realm of psak and limud tora? How should students and scholars view the internet and CD-ROM? Will this make studying easier, increasing the availability of sources for limud tora, or will it make it too easy, putting our level of scholarship much lower than of previous generations?

My answer to the question was rooted in a Religious-Zionist interpretation of the religious transformations brought about by the establishment of the State of Israel and the Jewish people’s return to their homeland. I quoted Rabbi Menachem Kasher (1895-1983), an appropriate scholar to discuss this issue, as he was both the author of the Torah Encyclopedia Torah Sheleimah and many works discussing the significance of recent historical events in light of the success of the Zionist movement. I noted:

The grandson of Rabbi Menachem Kasher, the author of the Tora Shleima, Rabbi Ephraim Greenbaum, gives us an answer in his introduction to the newly published Megila Shleima. Although he does not refer to computer technology per se, we can make conclusions from his words. He quotes the Gemara in Masechet Shabat (138b): “‘Men shall wander from sea to sea and from north to east to seek the word of the Lord, but they shall not find it. (Amos 8:12)’ … And how will I have it be that they will search for the word of the Lord and not find it – they will not find a clear halacha and a clear teaching in one place.” He then quotes the Maharal in Tiferet Yisrael (chapter 56): “For the Tora is the form of Israel and as they are themselves, so is the Tora, and when God decreed upon Israel galut, and they are dispersed all over the world, so you will not find a clear halacha in one place, as Israel is not.” In other words, if Israel is scattered in the galut, so divrei Tora are also scattered. His grandfather, R’ Kasher, writes in his introduction to Sarei Elef (note 2) that there have been 7 periods in the history of Israel. The period of the Achronim, according to R’ Kasher, ended with the Shoa. But we are now in a new period, the generation of the M’chansim, the gatherers. This generation is occupied with gathering and collecting all of the material in Tora Shel Ba’al Peh. Numerous projects deal with this: the Tora Shleima, the Encyclopedia Talmudit, Otzar HaPoskim, Otzar HaGeonim, and more.

I end my post by writing that:

Perhaps all of this technology is only for the purpose of having a halacha brura b’makom echad [clear halakha in one place].. And I think this is the reason that “Ki m’tzion te’tze tora, u’dvar hashem m’yerushalayim” [For out of Zion shall go forth the Torah, And the word of the LORD from Jerusalem] is part of the prophecy of geula [redemption].

Reflecting on your writings from decades ago (in this case I was only 21 years old), is always a nostalgic experience. You have the opportunity to review how you see the world differently, and what has remained constant. Certainly, my writing style has changed. But I still identify with the general message of what I wrote.

I assume that neither myself nor Prof. Berger could have anticipated just how much technology would change access to Torah resources. Initially, some databases were available on CD or over the internet. The more extensive ones were for a fee, and often still required library access. Over time, those barriers disappeared. Today, almost every Torah source can be found for free on such sites as Sefaria,, and HebrewBooks. Improvements in technology have certainly helped – disk capacity and internet bandwidth are exponential magnitudes larger than they were decades ago, and mobile technology has enabled us to access those resources from anywhere via smart phones.

All this seems to indicate that any requirement of “Sinai” can be safely outsourced to a technological solution (with perhaps the exception of Shabbat and holidays, for which I too still maintain a large library of books, but yet still frequently go to the computer to check additional online resources right after havdala.)

But my surprise at the “Sinai” aspect is one of scale, not of the essence of what computers can do. I did not – could not? – have considered that it would not have been long before we’d witness technological “oker harim.”

Of course, all of that has changed in the past couple of years since the release of ChatGPT, Microsoft’s Copilots, and other AI tools.

I’m aware that these technologies are still in their infancy, and the AI’s “hallucinations” are often the subjects of jokes. But as someone who works in the technology industry, trust me that this stage won’t last long. The tech giants are competing to see who will produce the best AI chatbots, and everyone knows that accuracy is a key component of market share. In time, the answers will be generally accurate, and errors will be the exception not the rule.

Additionally, we can expect AI tools to be trained on more and more specific data sets. So I can easily imagine a “Torah AI bot”, which will provide answers from, and only from, the vast Torah resources that have been written over the millenia. And this tool could really provide “oker harim” in ways we could not have dreamt of previously.

Since it was the topic of my post 30 years ago, let’s consider the Torah Shelemiah. When R. Kasher compiled it over the course of the 20th century, it was remarkable for two reasons. One was his collection of nearly every midrash on each verse of the Torah. No one had done anything like that before him, and it provided an incredible resource for anyone wanting to know how the Sages interpreted the Bible.

In many ways, the value of the Torah Sheleimah in that regard is no longer so impressive. The website I mentioned above can provide the same midrashim, and perhaps additional ones that R. Kasher might have missed. But the “added value” of the Torah Shleimah lay in R. Kasher’s commentary on those midrashim. With a combination of his encyclopedic memory along with his “depth of analysis,” he was able to provide fascinating chiddushim (novel interpretations), drawing from the world of midrash, along with rabbinic sources from the last thousand years. The interpretation of all those sources was often unique to R. Kasher.

Today, however, we stand on the threshold of a new era. In the not-distant future it seems very realistic that we shall query AI and ask it to review all of Jewish literature and tell us the significance of a midrash, which sources support its message and which contradict it. Rav Kasher did not live to produce Torah Sheleimah on the last book of the Torah, Devarim. AI might be the one to complete it.

Similarly, we marvel at the genius of poskim (halakhic decisors), such as Rabbi Moshe Feinstein or Rabbi Ovadiah Yosef, who would review the halakhic literature, and through their analysis answer modern halakhic questions for scenarios that scholars of previous generations were unfamiliar with (e.g., electricity or the running of a modern state), and provide authoritative responses based on those earlier sources.

What does all this mean for the future of the Torah? In my essay I provided a theological and teleological interpretation, suggesting that the “Sinai” revolution was part of the process of redemption. Is it not unreasonable to assume the same about the “Oker Harim” revolution that AI is expected to provide?

Since we have not yet crossed into that era, we certainly don’t yet have the perspective to fully interpret the magnitude of such a change. But I certainly hope that in another 30 years, I can look back with a sense of both nostalgia and wonderment at the amazing strides both the Jewish people, and Torah study, have made.

About the Author
David Curwin is an independent scholar, who has researched and published widely on Bible, Jewish thought and philosophy, and Hebrew language. His first book, “Kohelet – A Map to Eden” was published by Koren/Maggid in 2023. Other writings, both academic and popular, have appeared in Lehrhaus, Tradition, Hakirah, and Jewish Bible Quarterly. He blogs about Hebrew language topics at A technical writer in the software industry, David resides in Efrat with his wife and family.
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