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On Judaism and Technology

In conjunction with its new exhibit, NEAT: New Experiments in Art and Technology, the Contemporary Jewish Museum in San Francisco invited a number of Jewish thinkers and technologists to reflect on the relationship between Judaism and technology. Sefaria co-founder and Chief Technology Officer Brett Lockspeiser was among those selected. Four video interviews are now available on the exhibition’s online catalogue.

In his interview Brett notes that Torah is in a way the world’s earliest hyperlinked network of information. Though seemingly consisting of thousands of disparate books, Torah is actually one massive interconnected web of conversations and connections. To click on the first verse in Genesis on Sefaria, for example, is to see 604 (and counting!) distinct commentaries and connections linked to it, each picking up on a phrase or a concept and referencing it in works published hundreds or thousands of years later.

Thus, Brett explains that what we at Sefaria are doing is not actually introducing anything new but rather attaching a contemporary form to connections and networks within Jewish texts that have always existed.

To see a clear example of what Brett means, take a look at our Link Explorer. This application lets you experience the inherent interconnectivity between Talmud and Tanach in a way that even people intimately familiar with these texts might not have noticed before. To look at the relationship between Megillat Esther and Masekhet Megillah, for example, is to see a flurry of connections throughout most of the Masekhet which eventually gives way to a complete dearth of references towards the last ten pages. This observation might prompt the observer to consider a whole host of new questions regarding the relationship between these two texts.

Beyond new visual capabilities, there are also tremendous opportunities born by digitizing Torah with regards to data analytics. When asked how much of Tanach was in the Talmud, we simply wrote up a script and found the answer (6,448 verses for those who are curious!).

At its core, then, Sefaria is about access. This means physical access – Sefaria is universally accessible online and free for all to use. But it also means intellectual access – allowing students of the Jewish textual tradition new entry points into this age old tradition.

To watch Brett and other Jewish thinkers explore the relationship between text and technology further, visit the NEAT’s online catalogue.

NEAT: New Experiments in Art and Technology is now on display at the Contemporary Jewish Museum until January 17th. 

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