New Visualizations

You may have seen Sefaria’s visualizations in the past, and maybe you’ve wondered where they come from, or how our team decides what kinds of visualizations to build. Because all of our texts are digital, Sefaria’s engineers and educators can use the data to help people see texts in new ways and gain new insights into ancient texts.

Our newest visualization was designed and created by one of our summer interns, Sarah Engel. Originally from the Bay Area, Sarah is now a student at Stern College, double majoring in Computer Science and Jewish Education. She is interested in new ways of presenting and learning Torah. Sefaria’s team had recently completed two significant projects related to mitzvot: Rabbi Francis Nataf, Sefaria’s translator, completed our translation of Sefer HaChinukh, and Shanee Rosen, one of our engineers, was able to generate more than 10,000 links between mitzvot as they are described and counted in different halakhic works.

So Sarah decided to create a parallel sets visualization to see how various categories of the 613 commandments connect with one another and reveal some of the patterns hidden the text.

Screen Shot 2018-07-27 at 9.00.06 AM

Each axis in this visualization answers a different question about mitzvot: What kind of commandment is this? Who is obligated? Where is one obligated? What is the penalty for transgression? By moving the parameters around, the user can reveal new patterns and study the interplay between these them.

For example:

  • Most negative commandments apply everywhere (242 out of 365), while according to the Sefer HaChinukh, only about half of all positive commandments apply in all locations; the other half apply only in the land of Israel or in the Temple specifically. Why is this the case? Can you name positive commandments that don’t apply outside of Israel? What about negative commandments? Clicking on any segment will give you a list of all the mitzvot covered by that segment, so test your knowledge - or spark a discussion with your students, and let them do some research to follow up and check their assumptions!
  • The vast majority of commandments obligate everyone, regardless of gender or priestly status. There are 82 positive commandments that, according to Sefer HaChinukh, are specifically addressed to men, while there are only 2 that are specific to women (and both of those apply only in the land of Israel).
  • It is relatively rare for the Bible to provide the specific penalty for transgression; in most cases, the Sefer HaChinukh does not define the punishment. When the penalty is described, it is usually in reference to a negative mitzvah - so there’s more likely to be some detail around doing something one shouldn’t do than around not doing something that one was supposed to do. Again, this is a great opportunity to generate a discussion with your learning partners or students. How many different penalties for mitsvah transgressions can you name? Experientially, what is the difference between being punished for something you did, versus being penalized for something you didn’t do?   

Let us know how you use this visualization, in your own learning or in the classroom! And if you’re interested, check out this assessment template about building visualizations in the Judaic Studies classroom.