Is Technology Good for the Jews?

At the recent Annual Jewish Day School Day of Learning, held in New York on November 8, Torah Live director Rabbi Dan Roth spoke about the role of technology in teaching the timeless Torah. Here is an excerpt from his presentation.

Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan points out that if you were to step back and look at world history over the last century, you would see an incredible thing: A man of two thousand years ago would not find the world of two hundred years ago very different. But the man of two hundred years ago, if transported to today's society, would find himself in a world beyond his wildest imagination.

He would find himself in a world where reaching for the moon is not a metaphor for the impossible, but a well financed government project; where plagues that decimated entire civilizations no longer exist; where man communicates instantaneously with all parts of the world and flies, in hours, to the most distant lands.

The past hundred years or so have brought about an increase in knowledge unsurpassed in all human history.

Why is all this happening now, specifically in our time? After all, in the thousands of years of human civilization, there were many great men of genius. Why could they not bring about the revolution of knowledge that we are now experiencing?

Is Technology Good for the Jews

I’d like to offer you two approaches:

The Chofetz Chaim's approach is that we need these aids in our generation. In previous times, people believed with simple faith and didn’t need technology to bring them closer to Hashem. But, in today’s world, where faith is not as easily achieved, Hashem has provided us with technological tools to reach the same heights we used to achieve instinctively.

Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan's approach, on the other hand, is that the world is moving towards the coming of Moshiach, a time where the world will return to the state it was before Adam’s sin in the Garden of Eden: a world of perfection. No wars, no illness, no poverty, no need to work. All of world history should be seen as Hashem steering the world towards that state of utopia.

In order for a perfect society to exist, such things as disease will have to be eliminated. Similarly, other forms of work will be eliminated in order that man devote himself totally toward his ultimate goal. All the advantages of technology bring the world closer to that state of perfection.

Whereas the Chofetz Chaim sees the need for technology as a lowering of levels, Rabbi Kaplan sees it as a positive development.

In my humble opinion, Eilu v’eilu divrei Elokim Chaim - both are the word of G-d.

On the one hand the Chofetz Chaim's approach is true. No doubt because we are weaker, we need the handicaps. We need the tools. It is not for naught that today we have databases such as Otzar Hachochma and the Bar Ilan Responsa Project. Our memories are so much weaker.

But at the same time Rabbi Kaplan’s approach is also true. Think of the potential. Think of the opportunity, the level of Torah teaching, the ability to reach people in remote places, the levels of clarity. And think of the ability to engage and ignite the hearts of our students so that they incorporate the lessons they learn and pass it on to their students for future generations, until Moshiach comes.

May we see this prophecy fulfilled speedily in our day.

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