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