New Center aims to tackle tough questions at the intersection of innovation and religion.
The Jerusalem College of Technology announced the launch of the first-of-its-kind Torah and Technology Research Center Sept. 21. It will provide the specialized expertise necessary to respond to the complex ethical and halachic (Jewish legal) issues of our times. Operating under the direction of internationally respected Rabbi Yosef Tzvi Rimon, head of JCT’s yeshiva and Jewish studies programs, the center pioneers a unusual collaboration between Halachic experts and renowned faculty members from the college’s computer science, engineering and health sciences departments.
Through this partnership, the center tries to address the influx of emerging questions pertaining to both Torah and technology, such as:
- Is it permissible to ride in an autopilot vehicle on Shabbat?
- Can “meat” grown using cells taken from a pig be kosher, or even pareve
- Can you send Alexa voice commands on Shabbat?
Rabbi Michael Broyde, Emory Law School professor and founding rabbi of the former Young Israel synagogue, spoke to the AJT about the benefits of programs like that of JCT. “Every community that aspires to live in the modern world need to study modernity,” he said. “Technological advances, like all change, needs to be examined to see how it ought to be incorporated into Jewish law.”
Rabbi Rimon noted that despite constant technological advances, there is a lack of a centralized body to tackle halachic challenges that arise. “Today, not only are Halachic authorities struggling to keep up with the flood of questions regarding issues that never before existed, but they also lack the technological expertise necessary to understand the full scope of the issues,” Rimon said. “The Torah and Technology Research Center strives to solve this dilemma by facilitating an unprecedented meeting of the minds across Halacha and science.”
Among his numerous scholarly writings, Rabbi Rimon most recently published a two-volume set of books entitled “Shabbat” as a first step towards a comprehensive in-depth analysis of the prohibitions of Shabbat. He is also the founder and chairman of Sulamot (formerly the Halacha Education Center), an organization that develops cutting-edge educational technologies and innovative curricula for Jewish studies. Sulamot will be partnering with JCT in the Torah and Technology Research Center. JCT incorporates Jewish tradition while also working on 21st century problems. “Rabbi Rimon is both an excellent Torah scholar and a stellar administrator and one certainly hopes that this program will reach and exceed its potential,” Broyde said.
Support for the center is made possible by the Walder Foundation, a family foundation based in the Chicago area.
In addition to serving as a centralized authority for the international Jewish community, the nascent research center will facilitate the development of innovative technologies specifically adapted to meet halachic requirements for Shabbat, among other areas, and will disseminate scholarly material.
“I hope that this program will be an excellent resource,” Broyde said. “Placing it at a university that is technologically focused increases the sense that it will understand the technology it is considering, a needed precondition for reaching the right answers.” Proper understanding of technology is key to finding correct answers.
The center will also host international conferences that will bring leading experts from around the world to JCT to discuss recent innovations and developments on both the Halachic and technological fronts. An important goal of the center is to engage the broader public in serious discussions of these issues to promote greater appreciation of their importance and to educate the public on even the most complex topics, JCT reported.
“For five decades, JCT has been tremendously proud of our excellence in both Jewish studies and technology-related fields. This has expressed itself in providing high-level training to a student body which spans the religious community from Haredi to Dati Leumi. This unparalleled track record places our college in a unique position to be a trailblazer at the intersection of Torah and technology through the new center,” said professor Chaim Sukenik, president of JCT.