Tech meets religion with AI-powered Haggadah
The ChatGPT Haggadah begs the question of how, if at all, technology fits into religion
In a world where edible 3D-printed cakes and Artificial Intelligence-crafted novels exist, it was only a matter of time before the entirety of the human experience became fair game in the pursuit of technological innovation. Now, tech is meeting religion. The result? A ChatGPT Haggadah.
Before last week, Julie Shain, senior editor for the Daily Skimm and creator of one of the first-ever ChatGPT Haggadahs, never had an interest in AI. The new technology was in the headlines and even made it into theSkimm’s morning newsletter, but the idea of penning an entire book using ChatGPT had never crossed her mind.
That is, until her husband mentioned the very real possibility that AI could uproot her chosen field in the near future.
“I was in a state of denial,” Shain, 31, told Jewish Insider. “I’m a writer and an editor by training. What I do is creative, and for me, I was in a state of denial for days about the possibility of GPT to displace me as a profession. I was having an existential crisis, and where do we take existential questions? A lot of us take them to our religious lives.”
With two children under 3 — one only 6 weeks old — and a new mortgage, it was important for Shain to see how she might fit within this changing climate. Add in the looming presence of Passover, just days away — as well as annual requests by her parents to come up with fresh commentary for their family’s Seder — and she started playing with the idea of merging the two: What could ChatGPT bring to the Passover story?
The answer came in the form of The AI Haggadah. Shain, who wrote the Haggadah’s introduction, named herself its editor, compiler and prompter, but left the top author billing to ChatGPT and Sefaria, a free online library of Jewish texts, which provided all of the book’s commentary and traditional text, respectively. The Haggadah’s illustrations are attributed to a separate AI entity, Midjourney, which generated its images based on Shain’s prompts.
The entire project took Shain all of three days. Earlier this week, she made it available for purchase as both a PDF and in paperback through Amazon.
“It feels like putting a leash around some sort of amorphous beast, trying to get GPT to provide you interesting answers. So there is creative energy there, but I didn’t write the Haggadah itself,” Shain said. “I edited some things for clarity and brevity, and I kept pushing and navigating and questioning GPT until I could get interesting answers. So in that way I was like the GPT journalist for this Haggadah, but…I let the rest of it be my interactions with GPT and let GPT speak for itself.”
After some persistent prodding on Shain’s part, she was able to elicit responses from the ChatGPT — which Shain dubbed “ChaiGPT” — that ranged from deeply thought-provoking to downright frightening.
“I was like, hey, come up with a fifth question at the Seder…And it gave me something boring at first, something that I would probably have come up with at Jewish day school,” Shain told JI. “And then eventually it said, ‘What if I told you that you’re the only person at the Seder that’s not an AI in disguise?’”
Many of ChaiGPT’s comments were one-off jokes: “The Lord’s outstretched arm must have made the Israelites feel like they were being led by the world’s largest traffic cop,” one reads, but the chat bot also managed a number of insightful textual commentaries.
Of the “Arami Oved Avi” passage in the Haggadah’s Magid section, ChaiGPT made particular note of the text’s focus on the growth of the Jewish people, writing, “The emphasis on Israel’s growth and multiplication in this passage can be seen as a reminder of the potential for exponential growth in the field of AI. As technology continues to advance and new applications are discovered, the rate of progress can accelerate rapidly. As the Israelites grew in numbers and strength, they faced a struggle for survival; similarly, the growth of AI presents both opportunities and challenges that humans must navigate to ensure our own survival.”
In the future, Shain sees a world where AI and ChatGPT are as prevalent in the workforce as autocorrect, and with that likely an increased presence in religion and religious thought. Whether or not such a future would be a positive change, Shain sees both sides.
“There are parallels between the possibility of how we might treat GPT and idol worship. Not in sort of any extreme, potentially dystopic way, but people might ask their moral questions to GPT. People might ask their philosophical, their most private questions to GPT,” Shain said. “Right now, it’s not able to answer anything that would remotely satisfy someone, but who knows, down the future once it continues to iterate off of how language works, it might provide an answer that people find fascinating enough that they turn to that more and more often.”
Shain also sees the benefit that ChatGPT-generated commentary could have on expanding our conversations, but says that ultimately, the decision of how much AI to incorporate lies with the rabbis.
“I don’t think we should be passively accepting technology into our lives and allowing it to intersect with religion passively,” Shain expressed to JI. “I think it needs to be a grappling, a wrestling with technology, a wrestling with the concept of whether it belongs in our religious worlds, in our moral worlds, or not.”
At the end of the day, Shain hopes The AI Haggadah makes space for those who use it to begin “confronting tough questions.”
“I think it’s really important that each of us in our own curiosity, looking at our own talents and interests, confront this question head on and begin to explore GPT on their own time, in their own way,” Shain said. “My hope is that through this experience of reading this Haggadah, people will be inspired, they’ll laugh, and they’ll also be forced to ask really interesting, thought provoking questions at their Seder.”