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There is no Hasidic ban on tech, but this sect is making an exception for AI

Skverer rabbis issued the decree, calling AI ‘a terrible danger’

A small Hasidic sect has banned the use of artificial intelligence programs like ChatGPT, saying the technology poses a “terrible danger.”

In a letter written in rabbinical Hebrew, more than a dozen rabbis belonging to the Skverer Hasidic sect ruled that those belonging to the sect must avoid the use of all artificial intelligence.

According to a translation by news site The Yeshiva World, the rabbis warned that ChatGPT is dangerous, but “the severity of the danger is not yet clear and obvious to everyone.”

The rabbis compared using AI tools to the “open internet without filters,” which would make those who use it open to “to all forms and unlimited amounts of obscenity, apostasy and heresy.”

The sect is just one of many that comprise the Hasidic community and is largely situated in the village of New Square, in Rockland County, New York, where its members make up the majority of the roughly 10,000 inhabitants. 

Yossi Gestetner, a marketing executive who is active within the Hasidic community, said there is a misconception about the Hasidic relationship to technology. Many rabbis teach that while a person should limit their use of the internet for personal reasons, such as by not having a computer at home or a smartphone unless absolutely necessary, that is a recommended guideline rather than an outright ban. 

“If you go into New Square, you have every piece of technology you’d have anywhere else,” he said. “To me why this is so unique is because it’s a decree on a specific type of technology, which I think would be a first.”

Gestetner said the closest precedent he could think of was a rabbinical decree banning televisions when the technology began to gain widespread popularity in the 1950s. 

“It’s certainly a unique and interesting situation,” he said, adding that he could not speculate on the specific motivation for the artificial intelligence ban. Outside the Skverer sect, Jews have begun finding many uses for ChatGPT and its ilk, ranging from answering Passover’s four questions to penning Saturday morning Shabbat sermons.

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