Can ChatGPT replace my rabbi?


Can ChatGPT answer questions about Jewish law? Can Siri provide spiritual guidance? Will AI replace rabbis? Mijal and Noam discuss the evolving role of rabbis and whether artificial intelligence can replace or supplement these roles. They explore various responsibilities of rabbis, such as providing information, teaching, offering care and support, making decisions, and serving as role models.

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Noam: Hey everyone. Welcome to Wondering Jews with Mijal and Noam.

Mijal: I’m Mijal.

Noam: And I’m Noam and this podcast is our way of trying to understand the Jewish world. We do not have it all figured out and we’re going to try to figure some things out together.

Mijal: Our absolute favorite part is hearing from you, so please email us at

(Photo: Pexels/Andrea Piacquadio)

Noam: Mijal, how many people keep on asking us if it’s Wandering Jews or wondering Jews? It’s Wondering Jews, everyone.

Mijal: I’m just nervous when I’m pronouncing it. Does it sound like I’m saying Wondering Jews or Wondering Jews?

Noam: No, you’re doing great. It’s And I want to mention one more thing, whether it’s Apple or Spotify, give this a five star rating. It’s always good for us to have that, to grow the show, to reach more people. And also, I don’t think Mijal has ever gotten anything below an A in her life, even an A-. 

Mijal: That would be awesome. So now we have a question from one of our listeners, Amy.

Noam: But wait, before I hear from Amy, I have a question for you. I once was on video sharing ideas and I was wearing a backwards hat and someone responded in the Instagram comments saying, sorry, I cannot take any man seriously, an adult man who’s wearing a backwards hat and talking to me about serious ideas.

So I wanted to know before we got really started, are you able to take me seriously or should I take off the hat?

Mijal: Yeah, I was mostly trying to figure out how it works to wear a backwards cap with headphones on top.

Noam: All right, that’s a good question.

Mijal: That is a good question, right? Yeah. So just trying to figure out how it works. And no, I was trying to also figure out why you’re trying to communicate, because I feel like every episode you come and you’re like, I’m an athlete. I’m a Sephardic food eater. You know what I mean? Like, what’s your brand? I don’t know yet if I’m taking you seriously.

Noam: I’m trying to figure that out also. I am wondering about that as well. So I’ll tell you when I’m not presenting, when I’m not in present mode and I’m walking around in life, I am wearing a backwards hat and so like, that’s, that’s what I do.

Mijal: So wearing a backwards hat, Noam, is a way to showcase, look at me, I’m totally authentic. Yes, I, I respect your headwear and I, you know, wouldn’t presume to tell you for today, for today.

Noam: Yes, yes.

Noam: There you go. All right, fine. And Mijal, if you’re good with it, I’m good with it.

Noam: For today. Okay. And I respect yours.

Mijal: Oh, thank you, Noam. That means a lot to me. I really wanted to know. We should talk one day, by the way, about head covering, hair covering, you know, men, women, orthodoxy, Jewish law, all of that. We should talk about that.

Noam: Okay. Wow. All right. I’m ready. I’m ready. Let’s do it.

Mijal: Okay, but for now, but for now, question from Amy. So Noam, who is your favorite Biblical character and why?

Noam: I love the Bible. There’s an unbelievable amount of depth of depth and it’s divine and it’s wonderful, incredible. Joseph. Joseph is my guy. And I’ll tell you, I’ll tell you why, because when I was younger, I viewed Joseph as a bratty, annoying, self-righteous kid, who tried to get all this attention, who was trying to be better than everyone. Actually he reminded me of one specific kid in my grade, in like third or fourth grade, that I did not like. I didn’t like him. As I became an adult, Joseph is just the most inspirational figure to me. He was alienated by the people that he loved the most and who were closest to him. He was someone who perhaps was more talented in certain areas and who was nevertheless, or maybe because of specifically, thrown out by his own community. And he was somebody who as a result of all of that, he grew up, became a better person, became stronger.

And even though he was sold by his brothers, he is somebody who, at the end of the day, redeemed his own family. And when I look at Joseph, I say all of us are a little bit a part of that. All of us have been alienated a little bit in different ways by our friends and family in different ways. And all of us have that quality in us. And even though Joseph is somebody who, you know, he was in exile and he was the ultimate Drake song. It started from the bottom, now here. And Joseph is that story.

Mijal: Are you going to sing now? Noam, so different song, by the way, that I love. So Chanan Ben Ari is my favorite Israeli singer and he has this.

Noam: I know that about you. You got me going on the song Hanania at one point.

Mijal: Yeah. But he has this amazing song, Cholem Kimo Yosef. It’s like and he says a little bit what you were saying, that we are all dreamers like Joseph and we all were thrown into the pit and all went through this upside down. For me, I gravitate to King David, who’s a complicated figure, including some really complicated, like not great stuff. King David, he is a person who lives life intensely.

Noam: Does that resonate?

Mijal: Like when you read Psalms, Tehillim, which were attributed to him, there’s thinking about God, about justice, about the universe, about humanity. That’s why I love King David so much as the sound missed all of the verses there you can, you know, different times of my life, whether times of like happiness or struggle or just feeling alien, whatever it is, you’re going to find a verse that’s going to talk you straight about to that. And you’re going to feel like, wow, this is really describing what I’m going through.

But okay, let’s talk a little bit, Noam, about another subject, okay?

Noam: Okay.

Mijal: Because I actually got a question from a member of the Downtown minyan community that I lead, and her name is Abby. She’s awesome.

Noam: For those of us who are not New York-centric, what does the downtown community–

Mijal: The Downtown Minyan is a community in Lower Manhattan that I co-founded about seven years ago, and that I lead. It’s a wonderful community. I want to go into the question that Abby sent, okay? And it relates, Noam, to a question that we had recently about AI and Shabbat and observance and all of that.

Noam: Yeah.

Mijal: So can ChatGPT be my Rabbi? That’s Abby’s question, which maybe I should take offense at that because I serve as Abby’s Rosh kehila, spiritual leader. So she might be trying to replace me, but I’m hoping not, Abby, please. But here’s the way that Abby kind of described the question a little bit more. She says like this, presumably, ChatGPT has been trained on all the books that a rabbi reads, like the Talmud. So does it mean that it knows them and can answer questions on them? Can it provide new interpretations that humans haven’t found yet? Can it answer my questions on kashrut, like the dietary laws around what to eat?

And then she said the following: What does a rabbi actually do and can an AI do these things? Not today’s AI, but the one five years from now, which would be much better and could AI be even better than a rabbi because it would have studied and known the text even more if it’s like trained in all of them.

So that’s Abby’s question. Can ChatGPT be my rabbi? So Noam, what do you think? Gut reaction.

Noam: Gut reaction is, Mijal, could you be replaced?

Mijal: Wow, this is really personal.

Noam: So let me change my question into a rhetorical question. The answer is, from the way I view it, you can’t be replaced. And the reason you can’t be replaced is because what Abby was doing by asking you that question is she was turning to somebody, her spiritual leader, who she feels something from. And she feels this equal and opposite reaction to, the love and the admiration that she has for you is something that comes from what you give to her. And if ChatGPT and being a rabbi are synonymous with delivering a lecture of putting words on a piece of paper that are smart, that provide specific answers to technical questions, then yes, ChatGPT can replace a rabbi in that sense.

But the goal of a rabbi, I’m using the word rabbi to mean a teacher. And I think that’s what the word rabbi used to mean. When it says in Mishnah, when it says in the oral law from a couple thousand years ago, asei lecha rav, make for yourself a rav. I think there are many interpretations that explain that. It means make for yourself a mentor, make for yourself a teacher.

Mijal: Okay, but one second, Noam, you’re really broadening this up.  So let me take one of the ways you responded. What do we think is the goal of a rabbi? When we use the word rabbi, that word has changed its meaning across the years. So I think in the modern rabbinate, being a rabbi in the most technical and minimalist of ways just means that one has gone through an ordination program. It’s almost like to be a lawyer, you have to go to law school.

Noam: Yeah, you have to study certain parts of Jewish law, and people become quite familiar with certain concepts that historically rabbis have made decisions about.

Mijal: Yeah, Noam, it’s also just really important to note that different denominations and different movements, different denominations and different movements actually train the rabbis really differently. And they teach them, or they expect from them, to know very different things. So if you go to HUC to become a Reform rabbi, you’re going to have a very different curriculum than if you go, let’s say, to Yeshiva University to become an Orthodox rabbi.

But I think most of them concede there’s a certain amount of knowledge you need to have. And increasingly many of them also have some additional skills that they want rabbis to have. So some seminaries would want rabbis to have pastoral training, right, to learn how to advise somebody. Some seminaries would want rabbis to have public speaking training. Others actually want them to have almost like fundraising training, like a little bit of like a CEO. So I think it’s interesting because like the different forms of trainings almost answer what’s the goal of a rabbi in different way.

By the way, Noam, I’m going to give one more thing to say that I just want to acknowledge something that makes this conversation hard for me, to be honest, that I am a traditional woman that operates in traditional Sephardic and Orthodox spaces. And in those communities, not everybody, but most people agree in those communities that the rabbinate should be exclusively for men. So I have a lot of thoughts and a lot of feelings about that, as you might guess. And I almost want to acknowledge that and then pretend like it’s not there for the purpose of what does it mean to be a rabbi? Because then I’ll get all caught up in that. You get what I’m saying?

Noam: I definitely understand what you’re saying. And that’s why for me, I started going into my definition of what we’re talking about when we say the word rabbi. When Abby’s asking this question, Abby, lot of shoutouts, what is she really asking? I don’t think she’s asking about the issue of female male in this context. I think she’s asking a totally different question. What is the role of a rabbi?

Mijal: Yeah, great. So I think there’s multiple roles and we can separate them and we can like, you know, tease them out. One of them, I think it’s a role around just information. Like there’s a question, like what does Jewish law say about the blessing that I say before I read the scroll of Esther or what does the Genesis say about Joseph? Okay.

So I think it’s somebody who’s presumed to have a higher level of literacy and information than the people they serve. That’s one role. Agree, disagree?

Noam: I’m good with that, with a caveat. My caveat is, okay, put aside artificial intelligence, Google. Yes, rabbis do that. It’s also the case that Google exists. And it’s also the case that artificial intelligence is gonna make it so easy to get the information on our phones in the easiest way possible, maybe in our heads in the easiest way possible.

Mijal: Yeah, I would agree with you when it comes to like encyclopedic kind of like knowledge, plain information, that in like 95 or 90% of the cases, there are some exceptions, that AI could totally take that role. So I agree with that. Great. So that’s one role, information. Okay? What’s another role of a rabbi?

Noam: For me, to teach.

Mijal: An educator.

Noam: It’s to teach ideas, it’s to teach pieces of Jewish law, it’s to teach the story of the Bible. Make Judaism exciting and meaningful to the person who is their congregant or their student or their neighbor or their colleague. That’s another major goal and role of a rabbi.

Mijal: So it’s both about like, when you educate, it’s not this detached, cold screen, you have to know your people and to engage them, you have to know them as well. You have to really care and lead them. By the way, I don’t know if we went through this. I’m a rabbi’s daughter. Rabbi’s wife also, rabbi’s sisters, a lot of rabbis in my family, thank God.

And this is a huge part, you know, when I think about my dad and his work, it’s educating and it’s also like my dad’s mission has always been how do we take this text and tradition that people might find alienating or foreign or just we don’t really understand and how do we, you know, describe the beauty and the amazing sophistication and relevance of what we’ve inherited. So that I agree with you. And I think here, by the way, ChatGPT, I don’t think a machine could do this in a way that has to do with really working with a community or with people and trying to think about, you know, how to move them forward or how to engage.

Noam: And for me, I think of something that one of the great scions of the Soloveitchik dynasty said over a hundred plus years ago, Rabbi Chaim of Brisk. He was a brilliant scholar. He changed the face of Talmud education and he made it exciting and riveting and something that could compete with the enlightenment where people were started, you know, in the post-Enlightenment era, people were wondering whether or not Judaism would be exciting and invigorating and you could learn something from the Talmud or you have to go to learn Kant in order to be an intellectually thoughtful person. So this is a brilliant guy. I believe something that Rabbi Chaim of Brisk said was that the number one job of a rabbi is to take care of the vulnerable. That’s it.

Mijal: Third category. First category was like dry technical knowledge, let’s just call it that. Second category is education, engaging, the relationship between Jews and Judaism. Third category is to make people feel seen and take care of the vulnerable. It’s like almost like pastoral.

Noam: Right, exactly. And by the way, I want to be clear here. That’s not just the orphan, the widow, the person that doesn’t have a lot of money. All of us need that guidance and that help and are feeling vulnerable and feeling like we need something from a leader. All of us feel that in a different sort of way. So whether or not we’re wealthy or whether or not we’re living a life that is difficult in the way people would typically define what it means to be difficult. No matter what it is, having that rabbi, what Rabbi Chaim of Brisk is saying is, the job of the rabbi is to take care of people in their community. That’s the job of the rabbi.

Mijal: Yeah, and I would say here is where I think AI is at its weakest, because by nature, it can’t have human empathy. Actually, there’s huge questions here. There are questions about AI becoming sentient. There’s even, by the way, thinkers who are nervous about us being unethical towards AI, as like a sentient machine. You get what I’m saying right now?

Noam: I get what you’re saying, that is next level sensitivity.

Mijal: Yes, I went to a philosophical presentation on this last summer and yeah, it kind of threw me off because my ethical concerns tend to go the other way. Like what is AI going to do to us? And this was like, what are we humans doing to AI from like a Jewish perspective, an ethical perspective.

Noam: So I don’t think this is what it’s referring to, but I am incredibly polite to Alexa. So I’m like, Alexa, can you please put on Taylor Swift?

Mijal: You know, Noam, I get actually frustrated that my kids don’t say please to Alexa.

Noam: Oh, interesting.

Mijal: I actually think it’s really, really bad. It teaches you to turn to somebody to use a human name for, and you speak to them as though you’re talking to a human, but like you’re not, you’re just being like Alexa did like this, eh, you know, 

Noam: Right. But, and I’m presuming here, the reason you don’t want your children being rude to Alexa is not because of what they’re saying to Alexa and you’re concerned about her feelings. You’re concerned about the character traits it’s driving within them and the way they could potentially treat other human beings, not because you care about Alexa per se, correct?

Mijal: Correct, it’s a form of virtue ethics, like about their own virtue, who they are, and also it’s about, yeah, the way they’ll treat other people, potentially. Yeah, so yes, those are by the way really interesting questions about our ethics in the way that we use AI, both towards AI and how AI shapes us. But going back to our question, there’s a huge question about what makes us human, right? As opposed to AI.

And that’s really complicated. But one of the things that I think makes us human is this ability to see each other in a way that is vulnerable and empathetic. And I don’t know if artificial intelligence would ever be able to replicate it in a way that is intrinsic and not just mimicking what other people are doing. And there’s what you were saying before about the rabbinic or the leader’s role to really be able to see people. And I would say not just see them, make them feel seen.

Noam: Mm-hmm.

Mijal: Um, that’s really critical. Okay. So we brought up three roles of Rabbi.

Noam: Yeah, teaching, inspiration, engagement, and then the third category is caring. What’s your fourth?

Mijal: Well, I think the fourth category is probably the one that most American Jews and Americans are familiar with, which is like life cycle events. Coming to a rabbi and saying, hey, I want to get married and I want to have a Jewish wedding. Or people when they have a baby or a bar mitzvah or a bat mitzvah. So I think there’s something around life cycle ceremonies where people go to rabbis for that. That’s like a really big bucket.

Noam: Okay, so what you’re describing to me, AI can run a wedding eventually. AI can run a funeral eventually. It can do those things. What AI can’t do is provide that relationship, that being seen by the other, that no matter what, until humans become forms of AI, a human will always be different than AI, and a human wants that human engagement.

Mijal: Right, so I think you’re saying, like, maybe we could hypothetically have this, like, robot that looks lovely come and say all the right words at a wedding, or even at a funeral. But do we want that? Or do we actually want to sanctify those moments with a human who’s not a machine.

Noam: Yeah, my guess is it’s going to be a heck of a long time before people would say, you know what, I don’t care about human engagement. I’ll give you an example. A scientific study was done where baby monkeys, it wasn’t a very nice study as all these are morally and ethically complicated. But nevertheless.

These baby monkeys were given two, there were two different groups. Group number one is they were constantly provided with like a robot machine that would provide milk and then they would be able to drink the milk and they would be able to survive and they’d be fine. And group number two was provided significantly less food but was given hugs by surrounding mother monkeys, chimpanzees, whatever it was.

And the second group was much healthier than the first group. And what this study demonstrated is the first thing that anybody, any being, needs and wants is that care from something else. And I think that the role of the rabbi is an extended version of that.

Mijal: Right. I will say, by the way, and I love that experiment and what it teaches us about love and attachment. I would say there are some counterfactuals that I know enough about to know they matter, but I don’t know enough about to know exactly how they matter. Like there are people who are talking about AI as actually relieving loneliness and relieving the lack of empathy. So some people are talking about AI as potentially serving for elderly people who don’t have certain company. So I do wonder if we are if we’re being almost like too quick to say like that’s the biggest flaw. I think

Noam: That’s interesting. Yeah, that is a good question. I agree, I agree.

Mijal: So I think we named a couple of different roles that rabbis could have.

Noam: I have one more by the way. Decision making.

Mijal: Okay, what do you mean by that?

Noam: I think that’s an important one. A lot of times people want to have a decision being made by another individual that even if there are conflicting ideas that they see that someone could be the decision maker on that. Other times people will turn to a rabbi to make a decision about the end of life determination, what counts as the end of life, what do I do in this scenario, whatever that is, I’m going from the mundane to the most sublime. So there are all these decisions that are being made and people look to someone who is a more knowledgeable other and more perhaps also wise and caring, and can take all of these considerations into effect and make this decision for them.

Mijal: Yeah, that’s certainly a big role, I think, especially in Orthodox and traditional communities, for the Rabbi to do that. I’m gonna add one more category here, which we didn’t get to, which is being a role model. I think in a lot of places, being a Rabbi is understood to be, at least for the outside, modeling what it means to live, right, an ideal Jewish life, which by the way, puts so much pressure.

Noam: Wow. That feels like, in some ways it feels like, duh, obvious, and in other ways it feels like, that feels like more of a complicated one.

Mijal: All of these are complicated, but this is the most complicated one of all by the way.

Noam: Yeah, I agree, I agree.

Mijal: But to zoom out for a second, first of all, I would say that not all rabbis would agree with what we just said. There are some rabbis who are going to have more expansive notions of what they think the role is, and there are some rabbis who are going to be like, you’re kidding me. I don’t do all of that. I don’t want to do all of that. I don’t want you to expect me to do all of that.

Noam: Wait, wait, Mijal, are you telling me that rabbis are gonna have strong opinions and disagree about certain things that have been said?

Mijal: No, never, God forbid. And I would also say people can, if you look at being a rabbi as almost just like a degree, so you can talk about plenty of people who have a law degree who don’t practice criminal law, for example. I think also like a pulpit rabbi is very different than like a rabbi that is writing online for our audience doesn’t see them every day. There’s rabbis who like are professionals in like nonprofits. There’s like so many different ways that rabbis can work. So for some rabbis, this is gonna feel like it describes who they are and for some it doesn’t.

But the point I’m trying to make is if you believe rabbis should do X, Y, Z, and the rabbi, and the rabbi you are, you’re encountering only does X or only does Y. And let’s assume they do it well. There’s going to be a gap there between what you expect and what they want to do. Yes, no.

Noam: Yes, but I wanna review now. And I don’t know where you’re gonna go, but let’s say the categories again, and then let’s answer the question, can artificial intelligence replace rabbis?

Mijal: Well, our question was, can ChatGPT be my rabbi? I think it’s a little bit different.

Noam: Okay, can ChatGPT be Abby’s rabbi? Okay, so…

Mijal: Okay, I just meant be, not replace, but okay, yeah, yeah.

Noam: Okay, be a rabbi. Okay, fair enough. So let’s go through the categories. Number one, information. Can ChatGPT be a rabbi in terms of information? Yay or nay?

Mijal: I think yes.

Noam: I say yes also.

Mijal: But I think the five years from now, the five years from now ChatGPT.

Noam: Okay, so now we’re agreeing so far. This is fun. Okay, number two. Teaching. Should I go first on this one?

Mijal: Yeah, go for it.

Noam: No.

Mijal: Yeah, I think, not all of it, but some of it. 50%.

Noam: Okay, number three. Third category, caring.

Mijal: Um, yeah, I don’t think so.

Noam: Yeah, even with your asterisk about the loneliness factor that a lot of people are feeling more seen?

Mijal: That’s why I said I don’t think so, because I don’t know enough about that. But, but yeah, okay. I’ll go with you now.

Noam: Yeah, I’m just gonna say no. Okay. Decision making.

Mijal: I think part of what’s complicated now is that some people have maximalist and minimalist definitions of how much rabbis should decide on stuff. But what’s your sense? Decision making.

Noam: Oof. I think it depends on the decision.

Mijal: Okay, so we’re both hedging on this one. Basically.

Noam: Yes, I’ll say on the really tough, on the toughest of decisions, because eventually you’re gonna really want someone that you deeply, deeply trust. I don’t see artificial intelligence ever becoming that companion leader. So because of that, I think for those reasons, I think it needs a human being. And last category is role models.

Mijal: No way, there was also lifecycle, and you also had another one.

Noam: So it’s not four categories. So it’s life cycle events and then put life cycle events. We put into another category. This is getting confusing. And then role models.

Mijal: Noam, you had one more before role model. Oh no, the side, sorry, sorry. Okay, the last one. I’m sorry.

Noam: By the way, I need a deciser in every single day of my life, every moment. I need a good decision maker in my life. I’m telling you, making decisions. Making decisions is exhausting.

Mijal: Okay, but let’s finish up. Okay, in terms of being a role model, I don’t think I can take that over.

Noam: But I’ll tell you this, when my daughter was five years old, I asked her what she wanted to be when she grew up. And she said, a unicorn. So I am going to say when I grow up, I want my role model to be artificial intelligence. See what I did there?

Mijal: I don’t even know what to do with that, but Noam, I want to end with the following. Maybe just two things. Number one, for folks thinking, can AI be a rabbi? I think a lot of it just depends, not to be too subjective, but like, which bucket are you looking for in terms of a rabbi? Because they can fulfill different roles in the same way that I might not go to a lawyer if I need certain information that I can get on my own.

Noam: Exactly, exactly.

Mijal: The other thing I’ll say, Noam, is we started off with Biblical characters, and both Joseph and David, I think part of the reason we like them is that they’re complicated figures. They had ups and downs. They are flawed. And that is almost like the opposite of artificial intelligence, like that kind of like human propensity. And that’s what makes them compelling because we see ourselves in them and we can assume we can become like that. So I think that actually is one of the most important elements of what it means to be a human. And I think…

Noam: I like that a lot. I like it. Yep.

Mijal: Jewish role models and spiritual leaders should model that to some extent.

Noam: Yep. And to go back to the beginning for me, one of the climactic moments in the Joseph story is when the brothers are in the same room as him and it says in Hebrew, haim lo mekiru hu, they did not see him, they did not recognize him. That’s the challenge, is to be seen, to be recognized, to be part of something together.

They did not see him. All of us should be able to see one another and be seen by others and to feel that from one another. And if we do that, then we’re gonna live in the best world ever, Mijal. A very meaningful world. 

Mijal: With unicorns also. And AI.

Noam: With unicorns, with many unicorns. Unicorns AI, all right, unicorns AI and seeing people.

Mijal: All right, now I’m done talking.

Noam:  Great hanging out.

Mijal: Okay, alright, take care, bye.

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