Rabbi proposes that robots should write Torah scrolls

Such an invention would revolutionize an entire industry in the religious Jewish world.

By Batya Jerenberg, World Israel News

The head of an Israeli institute that devises technological solutions to enable the observance of Jewish law has suggested that robots could be used to write Torah scrolls, Israel Hayom reported Thursday.

Rabbi Menachem Perel of the Zomet Institute wrote an article for the organization’s Sabbath bulletin this week that compares the issue of writing a Torah by hand to the baking of matzos for Passover, according to the Hebrew daily.

Just as machines were invented and accepted by rabbinical authorities to make the unleavened bread in factory-size quantities, today’s technology can be harnessed for the writing of holy Scriptures.

Perel’s suggestion is that a sofer, or scribe, could use a robot to write most of the scroll, by typing each letter and having the machine form the actual words. His one caveat was that the name of God would have to be written by hand.

This would significantly reduce the price of a Torah, which today can easily cost between tens and hundreds of thousands of shekels, depending on the scribe, the size of the scroll, and the enhancements that can be provided.

It would also reduce production time by 75 percent. A Torah contains over 300,000 letters, which an automaton can write in three months, versus the year that it ordinarily takes for a human being.

The rabbi told Israel Hayom that in modern times, many scribes take on this painstaking work for the money instead of for the sake of the mitzva (good deed) in and of itself. This decreases the inherent quality of doing the work by hand, as this kind of holy intention is one of the requirements for writing a Torah.

Therefore, he said, “There’s no reason that people can’t get a Sefer Torah that is written better and is acceptable by Jewish law at a price anyone can afford.”

One such automated device has already been invented, by an artist group called Robotlab.

AP reported in July 2014 on an exhibition at the Jewish Museum in Berlin that it called “The Rabbi versus the Robot.” A human scribe painstakingly worked two hours a day in a large room, while the robotic arm operated automatically for 10 hours, untiringly.

The Youtube clip showed a robotic arm forming precise letters one after the other on a long scroll laid out on a table.

However, the scribe, Rabbi Yaacobov, called the robot’s work “a piece of beautiful art,” but not one that can be used for holy purposes.

“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 and I’m saying prayers while I’m writing it,” he explained to the news service.

For over 30 years, Zomet’s researchers and engineers have concentrated on devising practical innovations that allow such institutions as the IDF, Ben Gurion Airport, Tnuva Dairies and hospitals to use products on the Sabbath that ordinarily would be forbidden by halacha, or Jewish law.

Rabbi Perel’s version of an automated sofer would break new ground — and revolutionize the world of Torah writing.