Judaism and Modern Technology

Judaism has always been an education-centered religion. There are morals in our liturgy about teaching our laws and precepts to our children every day, as there are lessons in the Torah about the importance of personal growth through hands-on experience. The use of new technology in the dissemination of our cultural knowledge is integral to the survival of Jewish thought. From stone engravings to printed manuscripts, ancient Judaism benefited from the advances of the times. Likewise, modern Jews must continue to update how we communicate our ideas.

At the forefront of the advancement of Jewish learning through technology are companies like Davka. Davka is a software corporation that has specialized in Judaic educational and functional programs since 1982. The most widely used Davka program is its DavkaWriter software, the first and most popular English-Hebrew word processor. Prior to the invention of DavkaWriter, there was no real way for English-speaking Jewish scholars to create new Hebrew texts. The process to even reference lines out of the Tanakh, Talmud or other primarily Hebrew documents was painstaking, inefficient and ultimately not very presentable.

Since the success of DavkaWriter, the corporation has branched out to other tools for Jewish learning. Their products include children's learning games, language education software and Jewish encyclopedia CD-roms.

Other companies have produced significant electronic adaptations of large Jewish texts, like the CD-rom of the Soncino Talmud. In hard copy, the collected commentaries of the Talmud take up whole bookshelves. While an electronic version of the Talmud is hardly meant to be a replacement for the written volumes, a computerized reference source is essential for scholars and teachers who are away from home. It would also serve as an excellent teaching aid that is far more elegant than hard text with overhead projection.

Of course, like all forms of modern communication the Jewish educational buck stops with the Internet. In the early days of popular Internet use, sites like Ask A Rabbi popped up as a way for curious but remote individuals to take their first steps into Jewish learning. Today, the applications of new media to Judaic education are as numerous as the technologies themselves. Web cameras allow for live streaming lectures and direct counseling for people who live too far from a rabbi or educator to access these services face to face. With a mix of Internet technologies it is possible and even practical for a rabbi on one side of the world to train a young man or woman on the other side for his or her bar or bat mitzvah.

My own father, Rabbi Leonard Sarko, has been implementing such technological advances for years as a spiritual leader and educator. As the distant communities of our world become more connected, it becomes less necessary for people of any stripe to condense their numbers into a few locales, but the sheer human resources involved with providing niche services like Jewish education are sadly lacking. If accredited rabbis are willing to serve as community leaders for a virtual collective, there's no need to neglect Jews and those curious about Judaism simply because they live too far from a traditional congregation to become involved in person.