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November 16, 1984 - Image 17

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1984-11-16

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

THE DETROIT JEWISH NEWS Friday, November 16, 1984


The Responsa project at Bar-Ilan University in Israel has 12 centuries of rabbinic decisions stored on computers.

telegrams were the reason," says Ben-
jamin. But what that shows is that
the computer can mobilize the com-
munity. Now, in an emergency, the
community can respond in an instant
and bring force to bear. We are a dis-
persed people. Direct mail is the ideal
medium to get us together."

> -G

And that, says Benjamin, is not
the only important effect com-
puterized direct mail is having in the
Jewish community. "Because now, you
don't have to be an organization
founded in 1906 to have a significant
impact on Jewish life. You don't need
the endorsement of significant indi-
viduals or to be cleared by the central
structures. Now, you can take your
case directly to the Jewish commu-
In this election year, a host of can-
didates, including Sen. Carl Levin of
Michigan and Sen. Rudy Boschwitz of
Minnesota, both of whom were re-
elected, and James Hunt of North
Carolina, who challenged Jesse
Helms, used AB Data to take their
cases "directly to the Jewish commu-
"We can raise anywhere from
$250,000 to $1 million in $25 checks
from Jews," says Benjamin. "What
that does is show those candidates that
are supportive of us that we're behind
them, that we are helping them. That's
very important."
There are other ways, big and
small, in which computers are chang-
ing and affecting the life of the Jewish
There are the projects the Insti-

tute for Computers in Jewish Life is
about to begin such as putting the
Encyclopedia Judaica on computer to
allow for constant updating; a pro-
gram for Hebrew word processing; a
Talmud program that will let the com-
puter be your study partner; the addi-
tion of the Bible and other Jewish
scholarly works to Bar-Ilan's data
There are the computers at Yad
Vashem and the Museum of the Dias-
pora in Israel designed to help rela-
tives find each other and to help people
to find their roots. There is ORT's plan
to train its 113,000 students in 20
countries around the world in corn-
puter literacy. There is the Council of
Archives and Research Libraries in
Jewish Studies which is working on-a
Jewish data base that would list every
book in the collection of 40 Jewish lib-
raries — including the Hebrew books
in Hebrew.
Jewish federations are using
computers for a variety of tasks. The
Cleveland Federation, a leader in
computer use among federations, uses
computers not only for daily reports on
its fund-raising campaign (to allow for
adjustments in strategy) but also for
human resource management, such as
picking a person to serve on a specific
Not everyone, it should be said, is
enthralled with the computer and its
effects on Jewish life. Yechiel Poupko,
for one. "I have no problem with com-
puters storing and retrieving informa-
tion," says Poupko, director of Judaica
for the Jewish Community Centers of

Chicago, "though I do think you have
to be careful even with that. But I'm
worried that you lose intimacy with
computers. Central to the Jewish ex-
perience is the intimacy between per-
son and book. That doesn't exist be-

As 'high tech'
becomes more
prevalent, the
greater is the need
for `high touch.'

tween a person and a machine. A book
can be picked up and touched. Torah
tells us to study it day and night. With
a book you can sit on a plane or walk
down the street and study. You can't
do that with a computer.
"If the medium is the message,
what is the message of the computer?
With a computer, all knowledge is
utilitarian. If there is no immediate
use for the information, forget it. In
Judaism, the idea is knowledge for its
own sake.
"Computers don't have souls.
They're sterile. The essence of
Judaism, on the other hand, is sanc-
tity, something magical, spiritual and
And so it is. But this is just why
Rabbi Samuel Karff of Cong. Beth Is-
rael in Houston thinks computers will
be good for Judaism. The danger of

the computer age is its depersonaliz-
ing aspect," says Karff, who spoke
about the issue at the recent Coalition
for Alternatives in Jewish Education
conference. "Thus, as 'high tech' be-
comes more prevalent, the greater is
the need for 'high touch.' As we become
items in a data processing system, the
more important are the other contexts
that affirm our personhood. And that
is the realm in which religion func-
tions best."
So, says Karff, instead of com-
puters "making outmoded the quest
for the sacred" it will, he says, make
that quest all the more urgent and
compelling." In fact, he says, he ex-
pects attendance at synagogues to in-
crease as computer use increases, be-
cause people have to get away from
the computer. They need the human
community. The more we control, the
more we will recognize how much we
don't control. The more knowledge we
have, the more we will recognize how
much we don't know. Each surge of
power brings us face to face with a new
sense of limits. Religion helps us come
to terms with those limits."
But, whether good or bad, profane
or sacred, computers are part of the
Jewish community to stay.
Says Irving Rosenbaum: It is said
that money is the root of all evil. It's
not. It's a tool. In the hands of a good
man, it is used for good, in the hands of
a bad man, for bad. A hatchet can cut
wood for a fire or cut a man's head off.
The same goes for the technology of the
computer: It can be misused or it can
be used for the service of Jewish tradi-

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