BIBLE HISTORY DAILY

The Robo-Scribe

As published in Strata in the January/February 2015 issue of BAR

A new robot has been programmed to mimic a human hand. © Jewish Museum Berlin, photo: Yves Sucksdorff.

The artist group Robotlab has recently developed a method for creating a “handwritten” Torah robotically! Their work will be displayed through January 11, 2015, at the Jewish Museum in Berlin, Germany, in an exhibit titled “The Creation of the World.”

While a printed copy of the Torah (the Pentateuch) may be used in study, halakhah (Jewish religious law) dictates that only a handwritten Torah scroll may be used in synagogue readings and rituals. This means that all Torah scrolls used in synagogues are carefully and prayerfully written by human hand—letter by letter.

Outfitted with a pen nib and ink, the new robot has been programmed to mimic a human hand. Stroke by stroke, it writes like a scribe.

Whereas it takes a human scribe close to a year or longer to write a Torah, the robot can complete one in three months because the robot does not have to rest—although it is no faster than the human hand it imitates.


In the free eBook Paul: Jewish Law and Early Christianity, learn about the cultural contexts for the theology of Paul and how Jewish traditions and law extended into early Christianity through Paul’s dual roles as a Christian missionary and a Pharisee.


Could the scroll written by this robot be used in a synagogue? The answer, alas, is no.

Even though the robot’s 260-foot-long scroll contains the necessary 304,805 letters required for a Torah scroll, it is still not considered kosher. Halakhah stipulates that a Torah scroll must be written on parchment and that the scribe must use a quill dipped in ink. These materials must come from ritually clean animals. The robot’s scroll is made of paper, not parchment, and written with a pen, not a quill.

Further, while writing a Torah, the scribe must be reverent—something impossible for a robot to achieve. Rabbi Reuven Yaacobov (rabbi of the orthodox Sephardic synagogue in Berlin and Torah scribe) explains, “In order for the Torah to be holy, it has to be written with a goose feather on parchment; the process has to be filled with meaning.” The scribe says prayers as he writes it.

Despite being unusable in a synagogue, the robot’s scroll is an impressive feat of human engineering and testifies to the time and devotion necessary to complete a Torah.


 

Related reading in Bible History Daily:

The Limits of Tolerance: Halakhah and History
The first part of a series of articles on schisms in Jewish history by Lawrence H. Schiffman.

Biblical Pharisees and Jewish Halakhah
Good guys with bad press, says scholar Roland Deines.

Making Sense of Kosher Laws

A Sefer Torah in the Bologna Library May Be the Oldest Known Torah Scroll


 

Related Posts

Google, Israel Museum Put Dead Sea Scrolls Online
Sep 10
Dead Sea Scrolls Online: IAA Expands Digital Library

By: Biblical Archaeology Society Staff

Early Jewish Bread Stamp Found Near Akko
Aug 16
Early Jewish Bread Stamp Found Near Akko

By: Biblical Archaeology Society Staff


15 Responses

  1. Robot Writes Complete Torah Scroll – Could It Be Kosher For Ritual Use? says:

    […] Biblical Archaeology Review reports: […]

  2. Kurt says:

    Why Did God Provide the Torah?
    “A law he set in Israel . . . that they might set their confidence in God himself.”—PSALM 78:5, 7.
    JEHOVAH provided the Torah as part of the long-range purpose that he set out in Eden—to restore and bless the entire human family.
    What laws did God give before the Law given to Moses?
    God prohibited murder and the eating of blood, among other directives. (Genesis 9:3-5) These decrees emphasize the sacredness of life and are binding on all mankind, Noah’s descendants.
    Where does Abraham fit into God’s purpose?
    God told faithful Abraham: “By means of your seed [one of his descendants] all nations of the earth will certainly bless themselves.” (Genesis 22:18) God would use that “seed” to fulfill his purpose.
    How does the Law fit into God’s purpose?
    Moses holds the two stone tablets with the Ten Commandments
    The Law given to Moses advanced God’s purpose
    In connection with the Law given to Moses, God made a covenant with the nation of Israel. By keeping that covenant, Israel would become “a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.”—Exodus 19:5, 6.
    How did the Law benefit all mankind?
    God used the nation of Israel as an example of the blessings that result from supporting his rulership. God’s Law was designed to guide and protect Israel, in order for them to become “a light of the nations.” (Isaiah 42:6) For Israel to become such a blessing, they needed to follow God’s written Law.—Deuteronomy 11:26, 27.
    How could a nation of imperfect people carry out God’s Law perfectly?
    Despite their best intentions, imperfect people would always fall short, even as Moses did. (Numbers 12:3; 20:10-12) Nevertheless, God preserved ancient Israel in order to fulfill his purpose.
    See also Law Covenant; Pentateuch:
    http://wol.jw.org/en/wol/d/r1/lp-e/1200275869

  3. Carol Ann says:

    SOUL-LESS, EMPTY. What a shame/sham.

  4. alo2 says:

    Comments 8 and 9 are perfect examples of why this practice should continue as it has for centuries but unfortunately they are also the very reasons why they have not…commitment…(with the exception of the Torah) Social climate and progress today is simply not conducive to such an undertaking without being left behind. Personally I feel that Danjs #9 statement should be required of all high ranking State and Federal politicians and for the same reason. In my experience when someone studies religious law, they do so to uphold it but when someone studies social law, they do so to circumvent it. Constitutional lawyers are the biggest threat to the Constitution. Just another reason why a good religious foundation is essential to the growth and survival of our society.

  5. Loris says:

    How legalistic. I’m sure YHWH is thrilled to make His Word available especially if it is a perfect copy.

  6. ben says:

    Talmud talks about a torah written by a non Jew. how to deal with this situation .surly some of this applies

    ben

  7. Danjs says:

    If our president were required to write out in his (or jer) own handwriting his (or her) own personal copy of the US Constitution, and read that personal copy as a guide to governance, as kings of Israel were scriptually required to do, the president would be less likely to depart from the “letter of the law”, and issue edicts that contradict the law.

  8. Howard West says:

    These people forget that as you write (in Hebrew or Greek) the words you writing are able to become more a part of “you”. If you go back far enough the each “King” was give a copy of the Scriptures to “copy” as his personal “Bible”. This made the Word of GOD more personal. What a shame we don’t ask or seminary students to copy the Bible in Hebrew and Greek before they get in a pulpit

  9. Craig Gorsuch says:

    Fascinating! I wonder what “tertiary achievements” in robots and computer programming will come of this achievement?

  10. Eric says:

    God’s word human involvement animal involvement. This is the formula for many Kosher things. Not just a Torah scroll.
    Computers and Robots cannot pray, only humans can. People keep the Torah alive in the earth by living it.
    If I personally buy my wife flowers each week that I select it means more than having the florist automatically deliver flowers in my name, for her, every week and bill me. A Mitzvah must have intentionality.
    Interacting with the Torah by reading it aloud and writing it changes the person doing it. It makes them more like G-d, who gave the Torah. People are made in the divine image. A changed person changes the community. A changed community can positively impact the world.

  11. C.B.Ross says:

    I wonder if Maskil, Raymond, and ilan have items in their homes that are very precious to them, and that they treat with special care that others would not afford them? If so, then I would respectfully suggest that their comments are somewhat hypocritical!

    The rules for the copying of the Torah scrolls were laid down a long time ago. To judge them by contemporary standards – and even personal ones! – is surely wrong!

  12. ilan bergman says:

    The Rabbis say human parchment. A store bought copy of the Torah in book binding is just as acceptable.As long as the people listening HEAR the word then thats all that matters. Scrolls go for anywhere from 35K to 60K, money better used for the community. Some Synagogues keep two at least in case one has ink starting to flake and is unreadable. Senseless waste when the word is what is important.

  13. Raymond says:

    The strictures involved in producing a “kosher” scroll — goose feather, parchment, personal attitude(!) — seem akin to magical ritual.

  14. Maskil says:

    To my mind, this robotic scroll is far holier, more “kosher” than one hand-written on parchment/vellum with a quill, because it uses no animal products. It does not require the killing of animals or cruelty towards animals to ensure its production. I eagerly await the news that Progressive Jewish movements are taking these scrolls into use as appropriate for synagogue ritual.

  15. Deborah Phillips says:

    Interesting but that isn’t the same as ‘handwritten’. Handwritten involves the whole person, the person’s time and energy, not just their ability to write. In addition as the article says, it is to be done reverently and prayerfully but the mindless robot cannot do that. It is the same idea as in iconography which requires it be done reverently and prayerfully, not just a factory mass-producing pictures.

Write a Reply or Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


15 Responses

  1. Robot Writes Complete Torah Scroll – Could It Be Kosher For Ritual Use? says:

    […] Biblical Archaeology Review reports: […]

  2. Kurt says:

    Why Did God Provide the Torah?
    “A law he set in Israel . . . that they might set their confidence in God himself.”—PSALM 78:5, 7.
    JEHOVAH provided the Torah as part of the long-range purpose that he set out in Eden—to restore and bless the entire human family.
    What laws did God give before the Law given to Moses?
    God prohibited murder and the eating of blood, among other directives. (Genesis 9:3-5) These decrees emphasize the sacredness of life and are binding on all mankind, Noah’s descendants.
    Where does Abraham fit into God’s purpose?
    God told faithful Abraham: “By means of your seed [one of his descendants] all nations of the earth will certainly bless themselves.” (Genesis 22:18) God would use that “seed” to fulfill his purpose.
    How does the Law fit into God’s purpose?
    Moses holds the two stone tablets with the Ten Commandments
    The Law given to Moses advanced God’s purpose
    In connection with the Law given to Moses, God made a covenant with the nation of Israel. By keeping that covenant, Israel would become “a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.”—Exodus 19:5, 6.
    How did the Law benefit all mankind?
    God used the nation of Israel as an example of the blessings that result from supporting his rulership. God’s Law was designed to guide and protect Israel, in order for them to become “a light of the nations.” (Isaiah 42:6) For Israel to become such a blessing, they needed to follow God’s written Law.—Deuteronomy 11:26, 27.
    How could a nation of imperfect people carry out God’s Law perfectly?
    Despite their best intentions, imperfect people would always fall short, even as Moses did. (Numbers 12:3; 20:10-12) Nevertheless, God preserved ancient Israel in order to fulfill his purpose.
    See also Law Covenant; Pentateuch:
    http://wol.jw.org/en/wol/d/r1/lp-e/1200275869

  3. Carol Ann says:

    SOUL-LESS, EMPTY. What a shame/sham.

  4. alo2 says:

    Comments 8 and 9 are perfect examples of why this practice should continue as it has for centuries but unfortunately they are also the very reasons why they have not…commitment…(with the exception of the Torah) Social climate and progress today is simply not conducive to such an undertaking without being left behind. Personally I feel that Danjs #9 statement should be required of all high ranking State and Federal politicians and for the same reason. In my experience when someone studies religious law, they do so to uphold it but when someone studies social law, they do so to circumvent it. Constitutional lawyers are the biggest threat to the Constitution. Just another reason why a good religious foundation is essential to the growth and survival of our society.

  5. Loris says:

    How legalistic. I’m sure YHWH is thrilled to make His Word available especially if it is a perfect copy.

  6. ben says:

    Talmud talks about a torah written by a non Jew. how to deal with this situation .surly some of this applies

    ben

  7. Danjs says:

    If our president were required to write out in his (or jer) own handwriting his (or her) own personal copy of the US Constitution, and read that personal copy as a guide to governance, as kings of Israel were scriptually required to do, the president would be less likely to depart from the “letter of the law”, and issue edicts that contradict the law.

  8. Howard West says:

    These people forget that as you write (in Hebrew or Greek) the words you writing are able to become more a part of “you”. If you go back far enough the each “King” was give a copy of the Scriptures to “copy” as his personal “Bible”. This made the Word of GOD more personal. What a shame we don’t ask or seminary students to copy the Bible in Hebrew and Greek before they get in a pulpit

  9. Craig Gorsuch says:

    Fascinating! I wonder what “tertiary achievements” in robots and computer programming will come of this achievement?

  10. Eric says:

    God’s word human involvement animal involvement. This is the formula for many Kosher things. Not just a Torah scroll.
    Computers and Robots cannot pray, only humans can. People keep the Torah alive in the earth by living it.
    If I personally buy my wife flowers each week that I select it means more than having the florist automatically deliver flowers in my name, for her, every week and bill me. A Mitzvah must have intentionality.
    Interacting with the Torah by reading it aloud and writing it changes the person doing it. It makes them more like G-d, who gave the Torah. People are made in the divine image. A changed person changes the community. A changed community can positively impact the world.

  11. C.B.Ross says:

    I wonder if Maskil, Raymond, and ilan have items in their homes that are very precious to them, and that they treat with special care that others would not afford them? If so, then I would respectfully suggest that their comments are somewhat hypocritical!

    The rules for the copying of the Torah scrolls were laid down a long time ago. To judge them by contemporary standards – and even personal ones! – is surely wrong!

  12. ilan bergman says:

    The Rabbis say human parchment. A store bought copy of the Torah in book binding is just as acceptable.As long as the people listening HEAR the word then thats all that matters. Scrolls go for anywhere from 35K to 60K, money better used for the community. Some Synagogues keep two at least in case one has ink starting to flake and is unreadable. Senseless waste when the word is what is important.

  13. Raymond says:

    The strictures involved in producing a “kosher” scroll — goose feather, parchment, personal attitude(!) — seem akin to magical ritual.

  14. Maskil says:

    To my mind, this robotic scroll is far holier, more “kosher” than one hand-written on parchment/vellum with a quill, because it uses no animal products. It does not require the killing of animals or cruelty towards animals to ensure its production. I eagerly await the news that Progressive Jewish movements are taking these scrolls into use as appropriate for synagogue ritual.

  15. Deborah Phillips says:

    Interesting but that isn’t the same as ‘handwritten’. Handwritten involves the whole person, the person’s time and energy, not just their ability to write. In addition as the article says, it is to be done reverently and prayerfully but the mindless robot cannot do that. It is the same idea as in iconography which requires it be done reverently and prayerfully, not just a factory mass-producing pictures.

Write a Reply or Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


Send this to a friend