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How students and teachers feel about AI in the Jewish classroom

This article was produced as part of JTA’s Teen Journalism Fellowship, a program that works with Jewish teens around the world to report on issues that affect their lives.

(JTA) — ChatGPT. Google AI. Microsoft Azure. Scribe. Dall-E2 – all different names for generative artificial intelligence software that is forcing educators to examine how technology affects students’ lives. Jewish educators and rabbis are going a step further and looking at AI through a Jewish lens and considering its effects on the overall Jewish educational experiences.

“The Torah tells us that we’re made in the image of God, so how could AI or Chat GPT and that sort of realm reflect the divine image?” said Rabbi Erin Binder, a leader of the religious school and youth leader at Rockdale Temple in Cincinnati, Ohio, told JTA. “Because there’s no sense of God or spirituality or relationship or connection in the world of AI.”

This relationship between God and Jewish education is just part of the debate over whether AI belongs in Jewish learning institutions. Educators worry that students will use AI as a shortcut to real problem-solving, or that typing a prompt into a website will undermine the traditional face-to-face learning of the Jewish study hall. 

Generative artificial intelligence technology generates answers to questions by culling large sets of data, then creating a response — anything from an essay to a painting to an equation to a line of computer code — by learning from patterns and mimicking human-like responses. It’s become a resource for students who need to complete assignments — sometimes as a helpful research tool, and sometimes as a cheat. For Jewish educators who consider the student-teacher relationship as a key part of studying rabbinic literature, AI poses a disruption to Jewish culture and traditions.  

While Rockdale’s Binder has used AI to create summer merchandise logo ideas to place on sunglasses for her students, she does not trust it in a learning setting — especially when it comes to students’ preparing their b’mitvah and d’var Torah speeches. “I don’t know that it has a place in a learning setting for young people,” said Binder. “Because part of what we want them to do is to think creatively and to come to these ideas on their own.”

Student-teacher Noam Lahyna works with first- to third-graders at Adeth Israel Congregation’s religious school in Cincinnati, Ohio. (Noam Lahynai)

She has not yet spoken to her students about the use of AI in the synagogue setting. She trusts her students understand that AI can assist or inspire, but would not fulfill the purpose of their task to teach about the Torah.

This is not the view all students take, however. Maya Jaffee, a teen congregant at Rockdale Temple, sees how AI could be an extension of her Judaic education. The “pursuit of knowledge is what Judaism is all about,” Jaffee, 16, said. She hasn’t used AI yet but hasn’t ruled it out. “I think it would just help me deepen my Jewish identity, deepen in a powerful way,” she said. Jaffee is thinking about using AI to help her include more prayers in her day, as there are limited resources to support her that are not based in Christianity.

When JTA asked ChatGPT to create a prayer schedule, it provided five prayers that could be used throughout the day, including the times to say each prayer and the reason each prayer is said. The AI advised the user that observant Jews may follow different customs and more accurate information would be better found from a religious authority or a local synagogue. 

Other students believe that AI will have little impact specific to the Jewish community. Eden Kraus, 15, another teen congregant at Rockdale Temple, heard about AI being used in her synagogue when a teacher was absent and the substitute needed to make a last-minute lesson plan for their students. Kraus was not part of that classroom, but sees the value of AI as a tool for teachers. Otherwise, Kraus, who attends a public school, doesn’t feel any impact at her Jewish education since her religious school does not assign writing or homework.

School administrators across the United States have implemented changes in their classrooms to ensure students use AI with integrity, as well as safely. Rachel Lebwohl, technology director at The Leffell School, a Jewish day school in Hartsdale, New York, said her school created forms and policies for the 2023-24 school year, to set expectations and safety regulations for students using AI.

Students over 13 are asked to sign a Responsible Use Agreement statement that quotes a passage from the Babylonian Talmud, Shabbat 31a: “That which is hateful to you do not do to another; that is the entire Torah, and the rest is its interpretation. Go study.” The form says that academic excellence requires students to value their learning as well as their critical and creative thinking abilities. Under those terms, students will not use AI platforms for academic assignments without permission from teachers. It also states that if using AI in the classroom, students will fact-check all information they receive and understand that AIs are prone to errors and misinformation. 

Younger students are restricted from AI entirely.

 “One thing about Jewish education is that you have a beit midrash kind of concept and you have one-on-one learning. And I think that is human-to-human at its best,” said The Leffell School’s Lebwohl. Beit midrash, or study hall, emphasizes learning classic texts in pairs and group settings. “I would never want to see that become diluted because there is technology out there that looks and feels like it is equivalent,” she said.

However, education professional Samantha Vinokor-Meinrath sees the potential of AI to enhance Jewish education. As senior director of Knowledge, Ideas and Learning at the New York-based Jewish Education Project, she encourages educators to embrace AI. The connection between the two was the focus of last spring’s Jewish Futures Conference, which she runs. 

Samantha Vinokor-Meinrath at the Jewish Futures Conference last spring, which focused on AI in Jewish education. (Courtesy)

“I think we’re at a really exciting moment where Jewish education is seeing all the possibilities that AI can offer,” she said. She suggests teachers explore how AIs could help teachers run their classrooms more efficiently. 

Vinokor-Meinrath leans into the teaching moments AI can provide. When she asked an AI graphics generator to show her a Jewish woman, it provided her with a stereotypical image of a woman with curly brown hair and a large nose. She considers this a chance to talk about the powers of stereotypes and how current algorithms, often based on real-world biases, see Jewish women, and what could be done to change the way AI perceives and provides images about the Jewish community. 

“When we think about how technology is learning the ways of the world and what it means to look Jewish and to be Jewish, what do we have to do to be able to think critically when we use it and not just take what an artificial intelligence says Jewish looks like at face value?” Vinokor-Meinrath said.

Student-teacher Noam Lahynai, 15, has not seen the effects of AI during her work with first- to third-graders at Adeth Israel Congregation’s religious school in Cincinnati, Ohio. Due to their age, they have limited access to the internet. However, Lahynai has told her students about the expectation that they not use online tools such as Google on their Hebrew assignments; this rule extends into using AIs. She sees AI as a tool to enhance current learning and understanding, but not as an exclusive tool for learning. “I think that people should think about it as a tool to help expand understanding,” she said, while remaining aware that “it might not give all the information and everything that they need.”

Lahynai’s students have not used AIs in her class, however she has seen a camp peer relying on AIs to create his b’nai mitzvah speech. Last June, while at camp, Lahynai and other campers noticed that a b’nai mitzvah speech by a fellow camper sounded impersonal. Later when the camper was questioned by peers, he confessed to using AI to create his speech. Camp administrators and staff did not give any form of repercussion to the camper.

Lahynai saw this moment as impersonal and lazy, feeling that the camper had been disrespectful for turning to AI to write his speech. “He didn’t take the time to think about the meaning behind it,” she says. “He kind of like disrespected the whole thing.”

Despite the potential for abuse, Vinokor-Meinrath remains upbeat about the effects the technology will have on the Jewish educational community. “So much of what Jewish education looks like today was designed for a previous generation that we’ve in some ways been able to adapt and update,” she said. “When we think about the Jewish future, we’re really trying to plan for tomorrow’s learners today. And I think AI is a tremendous way to think about tomorrow, today.” 


The post How students and teachers feel about AI in the Jewish classroom appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

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The detailed plans for a Canadian law that regulates hate speech online are seen as a ‘good start’ by Jewish groups

Jewish groups and others concerned about the rise of hate speech online welcomed the introduction of a new government bill on Feb. 26. And while the parliamentary process for it to become law is only beginning, it’s a good start according to advocacy groups who have called for the government to regulate certain types of […]

The post The detailed plans for a Canadian law that regulates hate speech online are seen as a ‘good start’ by Jewish groups appeared first on The Canadian Jewish News.

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‘You Jew!’: UC Berkeley Mob Attacks Jews During Event With IDF Soldier, University Pledges Investigation

Mob of anti-Zionists attempting to infiltrate event with Ran Bar-Yoshafat at University of California, Berkeley on February 27, 2024. Photo: Screenshot/Twitter

A mob of hundreds pro-Palestinian students and non-students shut down an event Monday evening at University of California-Berkeley featuring an Israeli soldier, forcing Jewish students to flee to a secret safe room as the protestors overwhelmed campus police

Footage of the incident shared by the outlet shows a serried mass of anti-Zionist agitators banging on the doors of the Zellerbach Library while an event featuring Israeli reservist Ran Bar-Yoshafat —who visited the university to discuss his military service during Hamas’ massacre across southern Israel on Oct. 7 — took place inside. The mob then stormed the building — breaking glass windows in the process, according reports in the Daily Wire — and forced school officials to evacuate Jewish students to a secret safe-room.

“What happened last night was deeply concerning and a violation of some of our most important rules and values as a university, including freedom of speech, respect for diversity, and the ties that bind us together as a community,” UC Berkeley assistant vice chancellor for communications and public affairs Dan Mogulof told The Algemeiner on Tuesday during a phone interview. “What we saw last night has no recent precedent. More than an estimated 200 protesters showed up at the venue and gained unauthorized entry into the building. There has never been anything like what occurred last night.”

Mogulof pledged that the university will launch an investigation into the incident.

“We do not and will not ignore violations of our rules and values,” he said. “When we have events like this, we always have two priorities. One, to do everything in our power so the event goes forward and the other is to do everything in our power to protect the safety and well being of our students and members of the public, and given the size of the crowd, and the violence of the crowd, we were unable to do both, even with 20 police officers. The event had to be cancelled, so that we could evacuate the building and support the safety of the students.”

During the infiltration of Zellerbach, one of the mob — which was assembled by Bears for Palestine, which had earlier proclaimed its intention to cancel the event — spit on a Jewish student and called him a “Jew,” pejoratively.

“You know what I was screamed at? ‘Jew, you Jew, you Jew,’ literally right to my face,” the student who was attacked said to a friend. “Some woman — then she spit at me.”

Shaya Keyvanfar, a student, told The Algemeiner that her sister was spit and that the incident was unlike any she had ever witnessed.

“Once the doors were closed, the protesters somehow found a side door and pushed it open, and a few of them managed to get in, and once they did, they tried to open the door for the rest of them,” Keyvanfar said. “It was really scary. They were pounding on the windows outside — they broke one — they spit at my sister and others. They called someone a dirty Jew. It was eerie.”

Keyvanfar added that it may be difficult to identify the culprits because anti-Zionists activists wear masks to conceal their identities.

Security concerns plagued the event all week, according to the Daily Wire, and after arriving on campus Bar-Yoshafat was required to conceal his identity. Prior to that, the location of the event was changed to various locations to prevent violence.

“I just felt really bad for these kids because they were scared,” Bar-Yoshafat told Daily Wire. “Girls were crying from being attacked, and I think the kid that was spat on was just so shocked. I don’t think the students anticipated so many people being violent, they thought they would just chant outside.”

During Tuesday’s interview with The Algemeiner Mogulof stressed that the university “understands now that we are in new territory” and called the incident a “black mark” on its reputation. He also explained that UC Berkeley launched an antisemitism awareness program in 2019, which included panels and talks with esteemed scholars of Jewish history such as Deborah Lipstadt, because it takes the issue of campus antisemitism seriously.

Follow Dion J. Pierre @DionJPierre.

The post ‘You Jew!’: UC Berkeley Mob Attacks Jews During Event With IDF Soldier, University Pledges Investigation first appeared on Algemeiner.com.

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Prominent Pro-Hamas Activist in Australia Arrested on Kidnapping and Torture Charges

Australian pro-Hamas activist Laura Allam. Photo: X/Twitter

Australian police on Monday announced the arrest of a prominent pro-Hamas advocate accused of orchestrating the kidnapping and torture of a man whose perceived offense was to work for a Jewish employer.

Melbourne resident Laura Allam was charged with kidnapping, armed robbery, illegal detention, assault and battery against the 31-year-old man, who has not been named by authorities. Working with an accomplice who has also been arrested and charged with kidnapping, false imprisonment, armed robbery, threats to kill, intention to cause injury, recklessly causing injury, unlawful assault and assault with weapon, the 28-year-old Allam is  understood to have targeted the man solely because his employer is Jewish.

According to a statement from police in the State of Victoria, the brutal assault occurred on the night of Feb. 16 in the Melbourne suburb of St. Albans. “It’s alleged a man was pulled from a car near the intersection of Gladstone and Cleveland streets about 9.30pm,” the statement noted. “He was then allegedly placed in another car and assaulted and robbed before being released in Braybrook.” The victim required extensive treatment in hospital for injuries sustained in the “horrific kidnapping and torture.”

Allam is a prominent member of Australia’s large Lebanese community and the CEO of the Al Jannah Foundation, which bills itself as an Islamic humanitarian organization. While Allam’s social media profiles specify that she is still running the organization, an entry on the Australian register of companies notes that the foundation ceased operations in July 2023, less than three years after it was formally incorporated. The foundation’s website additionally lists a number of projects that it is raising money for — including addressing food shortages in Lebanon and child health challenges — that apparently remain unfunded.

In the wake of the Oct. 7 Hamas pogrom in southern Israel, Allam dedicated most of her time to attacking Israel on social media as well as spreading false information on her TikTok account, which had 20,000 followers before being closed down, as well as X/Twitter and Instagram. One post on Feb. 5 promoted the fabricated claim that a British Royal Navy warship dispatched to the Gulf to combat attacks on shipping by Houthi terrorists in Yemen had “broken down off the coasts of England.”

Her barbs against Israel on social media included a post that declared “good riddance” over an image of four Israeli soldiers killed while serving in Gaza. On Oct. 8 — the day after the Hamas pogrom which resulted in the murder of more than 1,200 people and the kidnapping of over 200 amid atrocities that included mass rape and bodily mutilation — Allam told her followers that she had “woken up to some great news from our beloved Palestine.” Other posts spoke of “a jihad of martyrdom or victory” and lauded attempts to “avenge the martyrs in Jenin and Gaza.”

Allam discussed her arrest in her final post on her Instagram account before it was closed down. Reproduced on the pro-Israel blog Israellycool, Allam’s post boasted of her “selflessness” and her commitment to “remaining quiet — for now,” going on to declare that “[T]here are words that burn the wildest flames in the deepest pits of my heart and will only ever be extinguished when Allah takes the ‘haqq’ (truth) from every single oppressor to walk this earth.”

“This seems to be an admission as to her involvement, yet amazingly no apology for her actions,” Israellycool observed in an accompanying commentary. “In fact, she speaks as if the incident somehow passively ‘occurred’ – as opposed to her actively doing something terrible.”

In its coverage of Allam’s arrest on Monday, Melbourne’s Herald Sun news outlet reported on “an extraordinary suppression order relating to her case prevents the Herald Sun from running Ms Allam’s image, referencing some ethnic groups or providing certain detail about her advocacy activities.” However, several posts on X/Twitter shared her photograph, her name and her other affiliations.

Allam made the news earlier this month after she spoke at a pro-Hamas protest at the Australian parliament in Canberra alongside three senators from the left-wing Green Party. Responding to the event, Sky News Australia host Andrew Bolt highlighted Allam’s Islamist loyalties, saying, “[T]hat’s one of the people now sharing a stage with the Greens. The Greens may not have known of Allam’s past, but this is who they find next to them in their gutter.”

The post Prominent Pro-Hamas Activist in Australia Arrested on Kidnapping and Torture Charges first appeared on Algemeiner.com.

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