An artificial intelligence language chatbox called ChatGPT, launched in San Francisco on Nov. 30, has piqued the interest of many, attracting more than a million users in its first week of existence. The free service allows people to get written answers to a wide range of questions.
Israeli high tech-guru Hillel Fuld asked for, and got a d’var Torah (sermon). Though not written to the standards of a rabbi, it would have been fine for someone’s bar or bat mitzvah, as long as personal touches were added, he reported.
Should rabbis be concerned that they could be outdone by A.I.? Fuld told JNS he doesn’t think they have to worry.
Asking ChatGPT to provide a sermon on the Bereshit Torah portion (Genesis 1:1–6:8) yields a few solid paragraphs that might be suitable for an eighth-grader.
“As we read Bereshit, we are reminded of the importance of living in accordance with God’s will and having faith in His promises,” ChatGPT writes in the penultimate sentence of a final paragraph. “May we strive to be responsible stewards of the world and faithful followers of God’s word. Amen.”
Rabbi Shlomo Litvin, who leads Chabad of the Bluegrass and the University of Kentucky Jewish Student Center, said people crave the real thing. “No reason to worry at all,” Litvin said. “People can already pull something from Aish.com. Technology is cool, but whatever it can do, something artificial will always be artificial. What will be missing, no matter what, is the human soul, and that wisdom is what people come to shul to hear. There is no replacement.”
Rabbi Erez Sherman of Temple Sinai in Los Angeles said he would only be worried if ChatGPT had a certain capacity. “I’m not that worried because a big part of a sermon is the delivery,” Sherman said. “I also prepare for what is current and what’s going on in the world. I’ve researched sermons from before and after the Holocaust, ones delivered during the Vietnam War, but my sermons are not written in a way that the public could access them. If the artificial intelligence capacity ever advanced to the point where it could mimic my mind, I might be a little concerned, but it still would not have my delivery.”
Rabbi Greg Wall leads Beit Chaverim Synagogue of Westport/Norwalk, Conn. and is known by some as the “The Jazz Rabbi” for his excellence on the saxophone. He has performed everywhere from Carnegie Hall to Lincoln Center. He said what rabbis transmit can’t be threatened by something that boasts no lineage.
“It’s about mesorah,” Wall said, referring to the transmission of tradition. “When you hear a rabbi speak, they learned it from a rabbi, who learned it from the one before him. Knowing where it comes from provides authenticity that I don’t think any system or machine can have.”
Sam Altman, CEO of ChatGPT creator OpenAI, tweeted recently that OpenAI would “impact all aspects of society.”
Jonathan Katz, a professor of computer science at the University of Maryland, said there has already been a disruption.
“The worry for professors is how to stop students from cheating,” the professor said. “While I can’t speak to its accuracy for every instance, it can do complex math and science problems and can code. While any student could previously look something up on Google, this allows for students to get answers to things that are either difficult or impossible to find in a regular Google search.
“I think it’s interesting to look at Divrei Torah, but another question is the implications for halachic (Jewish law) issues and if this or a more advanced system could in seconds analyze the Mishna Brura, Talmud or whatever sefarim (books) and come up with the answer. I think that would be really interesting to see if it could come up with a correct halachic answer faster than a rabbi,” said Katz.
Could the day come when a robot mounts the synagogue bima? However unlikely that may seem, Fuld posted a video a while ago of a conversation with an A.I.- based robot who asked him if he feared it would one day take his job. Fuld responded that it could not because his career in marketing is built on relationships and robots don’t have emotions.
Could there be a day soon when a robot with A.I. technology could be asked and answer a halachic question correctly?
“It could,” Fuld told JNS.