Can a Robot Be Jewish? TELL US WHAT YOU THINK AT MOMENTMAG.COM/RABBIS.

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INDEPENDENT

Are you kidding? Our tradition is full of stories of rabbis creating humanoids, more popularly known as golems. The most famous was created by the 16th-century Rabbi Judah Loew of Prague to protect the Jewish community from blood libels. Some scholars even posit that Mary Shelley's Frankenstein was inspired by Jewish golem legends. During Rabbi Loew's era, the question arose whether a golem would qualify as part of a minyan. In the halachic responsa of the 17th-century Rabbi Tzvi Ashkenazi, we find the following discussion: "Do we say that a golem cannot qualify to be part of a minyan because it is written 'I will be sanctified among the Children of Israel' (Leviticus 22:32), or shall we consider the Talmudic dictum: 'One who raises an orphan in his home it is as if he gave birth to him' (Sanhedrin 19b)? If we consider the latter, then, since a golem is the handiwork of tzadikim, perhaps we can include it as part of 'the Children of Israel.' Because the works of the hands of the tzadikim are like their very own offspring. On the other hand, however, we find in the Talmudic account of Rava's golem that Rabbi Zeyra destroyed it! (Sanhedrin 65b)...Rabbi Zeyra should not have done away with it, unless it had no purpose, in which case...it would not have qualified even for a minyan." (Shey'lot U'Teshuvot Chacham Tzvi, Question 93).

Obviously, if robots are Jewish, they should be recognized according to patrilineal descent, since the ones referred to are the handiwork of male tzadikim, and "the handiwork of tzadikim are like their offspring."

Rabbi Gershon Winkler Walking Stick Foundation Cedar Glen, CA

HUMANIST

We should first ask, "Can robots be human?" Humanists have been thinking about this for a long time, sometimes using science fiction to explore the issue. In his famous Robot series, Isaac Asimov envisioned androids pre-programmed to obey human orders and protect human life even at the expense of their own. The Asimovian robot, lacking free choice in fundamental matters, cannot be considered human. On the other hand, Gene Roddenberry the humanist who created Star Trek, gave us Lt. Commander Data, a completely artificial life form whose character was frequently at the center of debate about what it means to be human. In one memorable episode, his humanity was put on trial, where it was determined that his sentience and clear freedom of choice constituted the essence of humanity.

Leaving behind fiction, speculative philosophers are now considering the notion of the "singularity," when biological humans and artificial intelligence might actually merge. Would society deem the resulting beings "human"? If so, I believe Humanistic Jews would happily welcome them into the Jewish community, just as we do anyone who identifies with the history, culture and...

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