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S2E12: Torah && Tech

What do you do when you’ve spent over a year posting a weekly commentary on how tech ideas and concepts relate to Jewish thought, and specifically the Torah reading for that week? You make a book, of course. That’s exactly how Torah && Tech came to be, and on this episode, I’ll talk to the two authors, Rabbi/Programmers Ben Greenberg and Yechiel Kalmenson. Listen or read the transcript below.

Leon (00:32):

Welcome to our podcast, where we talk about the interesting, frustrating, and inspiring experiences we have as people with strongly held religious views working in corporate IT, we’re not here to preach or teach you our religion. We’re here to explore ways. We make our careers as IT professionals mash, or at least not conflict, with our religious life. This is Technically Religious.

Leon (00:53):

What do you do when you’ve spent over a year posting a weekly commentary on how tech ideas and concepts relate to Jewish thought and specifically the Torah reading for that week? You make a book of course! And that’s exactly how “Torah and Tech” came to be. And today on our podcast, we’re going to talk about it. I’m Leon Adato. And the other voices you’re going to hear on this episode are my partners in podcasting crime and the focus of today’s episode. We’ve got Yechiel Kalmenson.

Yechiel (01:18):


Leon (01:19):

and Ben Greenberg.

Ben (01:20):

Hello there.

Leon (01:21):

And you’ve both been on Technically Religious before. So you know how this works. We begin with shameless self promotion. So Ben kick it off. Tell us a little bit about you and where people can find out more of your glorious, good thinking and work.

Ben (01:34):

Okay. Shamelessly. So I’m Ben Greenberg and I’m a developer advocate at Vonage. And you can find me on twitter @rabbigreenberg and/or on my website at that’s Greenberg with an E not a U and find me in general on the internet bank, Greenberg dev, dev dot two all over the place.

Leon (01:54):

And how do you identify religiously?

Ben (01:55):

Mostly identify as an Orthodox Jew.

Leon (01:57):

Yechiel you’re next.

Yechiel (01:58):

Well, I’m a Yechiel Kalmenson again, um, I’m usually a software engineer at VMware currently taking family leave to be a full time dad. You can find me on Twitter @yehielk. You can find my blog and like Ben, I identify as an Orthodox Jew.

Leon (02:15):

Great. And just to circle around I’m Leon Adato, I’m a Head Geek at SolarWinds. Yes. That’s my actual job title and SolarWinds is neither solar nor wind. It’s a software vendor that makes monitoring stuff because naming things is apparently hard. You can find me on the Twitters as I like to say, because it horrifies my children @leonadato. You can also hear me pontificate about things, both technical and religious, on my blog And I also, for the trifecta, identify as an Orthodox Jew. And if you’re scribbling any of this down, stop it, put your hands back on the steering wheel, pay attention to the road. Listen, because we’re going to have these things in our show notes, along with all the other links and ideas that we’re going to mention in the next little bit. So you don’t have to write it down. We’ve done the writing for you. Um, now normally we dive into our topic, but because the topic is a book I’d like to go from shameless self promotion to shameless book promotion can one of you please tell me where people can get their hands on a copy of Torah && Tech.

Yechiel (03:15):

For sure. Well, you can buy the book at most retailers and Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Goodreads, nah Goodreads isn’t a retailer. Um, pretty much anywhere where you can buy books. You can also read more about the book and about our newsletter on our website at that’s

Leon (03:35):

So diving in, I think one of the first questions, a lot of folks who were working in tech or religion have is what does it take to make a book? Like, just talk about the process of getting this book together, getting it online, selling it, editing it all the, you know, how was that process for you?

Ben (03:53):

It takes a lot of sleepless nights right now,

Yechiel (03:55):

For sure. So in all fairness, unlike other books where you sit and write it, like this book is a little different, it’s sort of, it’s a compilation of the year’s worth of weekly newsletters. So the sleepless nights were spread out over a year of Thursday nights. When you realize a 10 o’clock “gosh, I didn’t do the newsletter yet.”

Ben (04:14):

So there, there was two things that we did when we took, we decided, okay, we have this year of newsletter content. We want to turn into a book. There were two things that we did almost the exact same time. We took all the content of the year’s newsletters and put into one big Google doc, which you can imagine, Leon, it’s like a bit of a messy document. And then we did the second thing, which was, we direct messaged you on Twitter and said, “how do we make a book?!” Those are the two things that we did once we had those.

Yechiel (04:41):

Yeah, because while we’re on this subject, I do want to give a shout out the idea to actually put this in the book, came to me when I was helping Leon work on his book. Uh, “The Four Questions Every Monitoring Engineer Asks”, or I did a bunch of that. Um, yeah. So over a year ago, Leon asked me to help him edit a book, which turned out to be just reading and telling Leon how awesome it was.

Leon (05:02):

You are my rabbinic sensitivity reader, which I know it sounds like I’m making a joke, but it really was. I am not a rabbi. Um, I’ve never been to Yeshiva and I was writing a book that was at least 50% Judaic content. And I wanted to make sure that I wasn’t talking out of my rearend sometimes. So I needed somebody who was like, yeah, no, see that idea there? No, that’s not a thing. Yeah.

Yechiel (05:23):

But like I said, I ended up just rubber stamping it because it was pretty good as, as it was you know, I forced myself to put comments just to justify the money you actually paid me for it, but it was good. Anyway,

Ben (05:36):

You sound like a city rabbinic kosher supervisor in Israel.

Leon (05:40):

Oh gosh. Wow. And some of you will get that joke.

Yechiel (05:47):

With the exception that this book was actually kosher, but yeah, but working on that book and also hearing the Technically Religious episode where you spoke about that book gave me the idea that, Hey, should maybe put this into a book. And I, I reached out to Ben about the idea and he was all for it too. So when it was time to actually do it, when we got through a year, um, we reached out to Leon. And if anyone is thinking of writing a book, I think Leon might be able to squeeze you into his busy schedule.

Ben (06:12):

Not through volunteering your time.

Leon (06:13):

Yeah. Right. No, no. I am. I mean, people who have been listening to this podcast know that, um, we are here for you, whoever, whoever the we is and whoever the, you are, we are here for you. So if that is something you want to know, I’m happy to talk to you about the process. Um, but I’m curious, did you, did you get an editor involved?

Ben (06:31):

I had a little bit experience putting together a book before I, when I was in, uh, working in the congregational Jewish world, both on campus in the synagogue. I put together a book when I was on campus and a particular book in the congregational world. And they were both again self published. And, uh, and I did everything. I edited my own, uh, texts. I made my own graphic design. I put together the manuscript I, I did from A to Z and this time around, I didn’t want to do that again because I know that I’m not a good editor of my own content. And I know from experience the mistakes that I find and unlike something in the digital space, it is much harder to edit a mistake once it’s printed and in people’s bookshelves. And it’s much harder to put out a version 1.01, exactly bug fixes are harder in hardcover or paperback copies.

Leon (07:26):

Really difficult.

Ben (07:27):

It’s very difficult.

Leon (07:28):

So patching becomes a very literal process.

Ben (07:31):

Very little process, like print it out, another piece of paper and tape it onto the book. Uh, so this time around, I really want to make sure that we had people with us who could help us, who were not so, uh, I wanna say privileged to the text or who read it at such privilege readers as the ones who write it, the people who look at it with a more critical eye. And so we did hire, uh, people, uh, to both edit all the texts, uh, spelling, grammar, flow, style. And we actually work with somebody who specifically was not our rabbinic supervisor, Leon, somebody who didn’t have extensive Jewish background or experience. Coz one of the goals of the book for us is to be accessible to those without that background. And so every time she raised a question, “what is that? What is this? How do I understand that.” It was a great moment to inflect and think about, well, how do we make that better? And how do we make that more accessible? And how do we make that more understandable? So that was a critical part of the work she brought to it as well. Um, yeah, so we, and then we hired somebody to help us with graphic design and somebody to help us with the type scripting, uh, type scripting type scripting? The manuscript type setting type scripting. My mind has been too much in typescripts recently. Type setting. Like type of this book,

Leon (08:51):

It’s a strongly typed book.

Ben (08:53):

It’s a very strongly typed. Yes, indeed. It’s got a method signature for every chapter. Uh, that is a, that was a bit of the process. And then of course they, every one of them, I mean, were offered invaluable help. Right? I think that that’s true. Right? Yechiel. They all, they’ve made the book turn from a big, huge Google doc with a year’s worth of newsletter content into something that actually could be printed and made sense and looked and looks presentable.

Leon (09:23):

So again, for people listening, thinking, Oh wait, no, you know, I haven’t thought about making a book, but maybe that’s a thing. So we’re talking about, um, first of all, doing the work of the work, right? Writing the book in this case, you divided the work into 52, easy to digest pieces. Um, and just wrote a little bit of the book every week. Um, I want to remind everybody that if you write 10,000 words a day, you’ll have a book. And if you write 2000 words a day, you’ll have a book. And you write 50 words a day, you will have a book. Please do not think that there is some minimum requirement of word generation before you can have a book. Um, I, I’m a big believer that people who, who do writing should understand how powerful it is and share it. So that’s the first piece. The second piece though, is that once you’ve done the work of the work and you have the book, um, you got an outside editor in this case, you got a fresh set of eyes to look at this and say, this makes no sense to me whatsoever. Um, can you clean that up? And that was your Canary in the coal mine, so to speak and also graphic design, which, um, is I think again for a lot of us, it’s like, well, what do you mean? I just want words on a page and there’s a cover, there’s, you know, you know, art inside the book always helps to illustrate a point. You know, how, how involved was the graphic designer for all that?

Yechiel (10:43):

Yeah. In our case, there’s no graphics in the inside the book, there’s no pictures or anything or diagrams. Um, so it was just for the cover, I think, no, unless you’re referring to the type setting,

Ben (10:51):

It was just the cover. The type setting was separate. That was a separate person to help us with that. But that also, by the way, people often don’t think about those sorts of things. Like what style do you want the words to come out as? What are the, each font choice reflects a different sort of, it’s almost like an interior designer for a book, you know, like you’re trying to think of what kind of vibe you want to send with the fonts you choose. And then double for us on top of that was while the book is entirely, mostly in English, there are a few snippets in, in Hebrew, which are translated on the spot. So if you don’t understand Hebrew. You don’t have to be stumped by that. But then at the same time, the what about font and type for a non-English characters. And how do you present that in a primarily English book. These sorts of questions, which I don’t think I definitely, I didn’t think about before we started engaging in it and ends up being really a crucial part of it. Because if the presentation, the book isn’t worthwhile, if someone doesn’t enjoy holding the book and wants to read the book, they’re not going to read the book and then all your efforts are essentially for naught.

Leon (12:04):

Right? And, and I’ll underscore another point is that, first of all, just the types need consistency that chapter headings have to look the same all throughout the book and they can’t look the same as subheadings and they can’t look the same as whatever they should be similar. Like you said, you know, good interior design means that, uh, you know, there’s a theme that I know when I go from one room to another room, it doesn’t feel jarring, but at the same time, I know I’m in a different place. I’m looking at different things, but also something that people don’t think about is, uh, electronic publishing, that it’s not just about the printed book. It’s also when you’re, when you’re doing an E publishing, those font choices are critically important to the conversion, into an ebook that if you get it wrong things, things don’t lay out correctly anymore because the epub generator, whether you’re talking about, um, Amazon’s Kindle, uh, or, uh, Smashwords meat grinder or whatever it is really needs those font choices to be the same all the way through the book to know what it’s doing. So having a typesetter who’s aware of that and who can catch those little mistakes, say, I will tell you, it saves hours because I did it myself for the book. And it was probably the most labor intensive part of the entire book that I did because I didn’t know what I was doing.

Ben (13:24):

You would you say it’s more labor intensive than the work of the work of actually writing the book?

Leon (13:28):

Yeah, it was, it was, it was more, it was more error prone. I had to go back and redo the conversion to the ebook probably almost a hundred times before I finally was able to find my butt with both hands and, and get it done. So yeah, it’s, it’s really a big deal. Okay. So what else about the book creating process, um, was interesting to you or exciting to you or frustrating to you or whatever? You know, what stands out?

Yechiel (13:57):

I guess I will say don’t come in with the expectation of like making a million dollars off of it. Um,

Leon (14:05):

Only half a million.

Yechiel (14:07):

Okay. Especially if you’re self publishing, it’s not an expensive process at all. Um, I think we got it under about $500. If we make that back, that’ll be nice if we make a little more, um, that’ll be even nicer, but yeah, I don’t see this. Uh, I don’t see us quitting our day jobs anytime soon over this.

Leon (14:27):

Uh, and I will second that, uh, yeah, The Four Questions has not, in fact, uh, supplemented my income to the point where it can cover my mortgage or even Starbucks and a year and a half later, uh, yeah, a year and a half later, it still hasn’t paid for itself. So I it’s a labor of love. The next question I have for you though, is we’ve talked about right, because you really have something you have to say. So what was that you had to say, what is the thing that you couldn’t live without having this book around to put it into the world?

Ben (14:59):

I think it, for me, it’s the same thing that the driving force behind the weekly newsletter, which is really the impetus for the book and the foundation of the book, which actually Leon, if I can be as audacious is also a bit of what your podcast is about, which is that the world of technology, the industry that we’re in, despite what many might think is not a value neutral conversation is not a value neutral industry at that, that there is a need to have value driven conversations and ethics driven conversations in the work that we do day in and day out. And the newsletter, which really was, as I said, the foundation of the book and the book itself is our attempt to really put out that message through the authentic voices for us, which is through our traditions, through the tradition of Torah, their tradition of Judaism, but it could be in anyone’s authentic voice, the same kind of idea, which is to engage in that value driven conversation.

Yechiel (16:01):

And the corollary to that. I think in the other direction, you know, there are some, you know, some voices in the religious side that view technology as a threat or, you know, something to be avoided or at least, you know, severely limited. Um, I think it’s important for people to realize that technology just like anything else in the world is a tool, a tool that can be used for bad, but can be used for good. And it can be used to, you know, some people may feel threatened a bit, but on the other hand, it can be used to promote values of goodness and kindness and justice. And that’s another point that, uh, that and the Torah && Tech, the double ampersand, which implies that both are needed Torah, you know, tech without Torah or values in general, um, can go very dangerously. But also Torah without tech is missing a way of expression.

Leon (16:53):

Right? I think that that one of the most powerful lessons that’s come out of this podcast and also as I’ve been reading the book is, is that two way street that if you can accept, so let’s say you’re coming from a religious point of view. If you can accept that, um, Torah has relevance to technology, you then must accept that technology has relevance to Torah. And if on the other hand, you’re coming at this from a technical point of view, and you’re just kind of curious about, you know, how could you make that relevant to, you know, religion? Like what is that all about? If you accept that that technology has incredible relevance to religion, it helps not only as a message spreading technology, but also as a, you know, this is how you collect data and this is how you validate things. And this is how you, you know, all of those wonderful things that we as IT people do. And you say, this is valid toward, uh, a religious tradition. Then you must accept that the religious tradition can reflect back.

Ben (17:50):

You know, I often think about the moment of the printing press and what the printing press did as a technology to traditional communities like our community, like the Jewish community, what it did to it was not only just a print books, it radicalized the availability and accessibility of knowledge across communities and people, regardless of station life, regardless of, uh, you know, where they started from had with effort could have the ability to find a book and get the education to open that book and have access to storehouse of knowledge. And of course it began as a trickle when the printing press began, right? Because the amount of books were small, but then as years went by and the, the availability of books can greater and greater, I’ll give you a great example of this is if you go to a lot of, uh, older synagogues from several hundred years ago in medieval Europe, and they’re still around in Poland and Ukraine and Russia, you often find that their, the walls are covered with the prayers. And the reason why they’re covered with the prayers because no one had initially had access to books. And so they would come into synagogue and they would need to know the words of the liturgy to say. And the only way they knew what words to say was by like literally going into three 60, turning around in the synagogue to follow the walls of the, of the prayers that were covered in them. And then the printing press happens. And suddenly over a period of time, a revolution occurred in, uh, in a democratic visitation of knowledge. And you could say a similar thing is happening and it’s happened and is currently still happening in technology of today and what it’s doing and how can we not have that double ampersand conversation of how it’s impacting both Torah and how Torah is being impacted by it and how the two of them are in conversation with each other.

Leon (19:47):

And I can’t help but think about, uh, so it’s, uh, what is it now? Is it still June? I dunno. It’s like the 327th day of March, as far as I can tell it’s, uh, it’s yeah. It’s June, um, June, 2020. And, uh, so, you know, COVID is a thing that’s still happening. And the joke is that in January, every yeshiva in America, every yeshiva across the world would be tell families if you have a television it’s, you know, if you have technology, it’s really not okay. You need to keep technology completely out of the hands of your, our students. We don’t want their, their minds sullied by this technology. And by the end of February, every yeshiva on the planet was like, okay, so you just jump on your internet and go to Chrome and go to Google meet so that you can have your chevroota. The pivot to technology was like instantaneous. It was just

Ben (20:38):

Wish it was instantaneous. So, and I’ll give you an example from our, our own lives. Uh, when our kids were in Israel, we’re doing a remote learning in their schools, which was neither remote nor learning, but an attempt at doing remote learning, uh, initially was very chaotic. And the reason why it was so chaotic was a while our kids go to a state, uh, religious, uh, public school. So it’s in the more modern end of the religious spectrum. It’s not an ultra Orthodox public school. It’s a, what might call a modern Orthodox public school. All of the educators in the public school that teach Judaic subjects come from the other side of the road for us, literally in where we live. And the other side of the road is an it’s a beautiful city with wonderful people called Modi’in Illit and or Kiryat Sefer, and Kiryat Sefer doesn’t have WhatsApp, doesn’t have zoom, doesn’t have Google meets. And so suddenly they’re being told by the misrad hachinuch by the ministry of education, that they must do these classes over a technology. They don’t even know they don’t have computers in their, in their homes. How are they supposed to do this yet? They did. And they learned how, and suddenly after a very chaotic period of time, we have, you know, essentially charidi, uh, morot, charidi… Ultra Orthodox educators going and conducting, with professionalism, with like suave and knowing how to run a Zoom meeting with 40 Israeli kids and not be chaotic. But how do you get from A to Z? That was a bit of a tumultuous period, but to watch that happen in real time was quite amazing.

Leon (22:22):

I think we’re at the point where people hopefully are interested in, but I want to identify who is this book for? Like, I could see that as I was sketching out the notes for this conversation, I thought, well, maybe it’s for programmers. You know, who happened to be Jewish? Who are Judaism curious? Uh, maybe it’s just for credit, you know, you needed credibility on Twitter. So you could say author in your Twitter profile. On the other hand, I could also see you writing this book for religious people who happen to be in technology, or are tech curious, or maybe it’s just for your spouse to say, look, honey, this is what I’ve been doing with my evenings. Like what, who is this book for specifically? Who’s your target audience?

Yechiel (23:00):

I just want to start off off the bat because it probably has to be said, this book is not intended to try to convert anyone to try to proselytize. Judaism specifically does not have a tradition of trying to proselytize people. And we’re pretty adamant about that. We do not, not only are we not trying to proselytize you, we do not want you. We believe that, you know, God accepts everyone. God puts everyone in the world for a reason. If everyone was the same, it would be boring.

Ben (23:27):

Except my next door neighbor.

Yechiel (23:28):

Your next door neighbor might have to change. Um, but, but yeah, so this book is not trying to convert anyone. It was just, uh, presenting one point of view of many. Um, who did we write a for? Uh, I’ll admit we started off for ourselves. Um, like the project are in tech. The weekly newsletter started as just like a small project for me and Ben to keep in touch, then ran off from like we used to, we used to be coworkers. We worked together at our first job and then Ben ran off to Israel, but that was one friendship I wasn’t willing to let go so quickly. So, um, we started this project as a small collaboration to help us keep in touch, which solidly grew. And as it grew organically, we discovered on our own who our audience was. And it seems like the answer is – there’s no one single answer. I mean, obviously like you said, you know, programmers with their religion, with an interest in religion or ethical conversations and religious people with an interest in tech, but also people who are completely not religious. Um, people from all ends of the spectrum, people are not technical. People are not religious. We’ve gotten feedback from all of them. And it seems like pretty much anyone who’s interested and who believes, like Ben said that tech is not a value neutral, uh, space. And who believes that values, that these conversations around values have to take place, is the intended audience for this book and for the newsletter.

Ben (24:58):

Yeah. You know, it’s, it’s interesting how this we’re finding well, the newsletter cause the newsletter’s been around for a lot longer. Right. So how are finding the newsletter has impacted people. And then, and then as a addition to that, or an addendum to that as the book has been published and people are now getting a chance to sort of read the book, how it’s impacting people. And just this evening, a few minutes before we had our engaged in this wonderful conversation together, I had one of my regular chats with one of my sets of aunts and uncles who live out in the great Northwest of America, the great Pacific Northwest. And they are not, uh, the most engaged couple in traditional religious Jewish life. And by not the most engaged, I mean, not engaged at all. And, uh, they bought the book, uh, and I think, and I asked them and I was correct. It was the first time they ever bought a book on Amazon and the Torah category in their entire adult lives, or, you know, lives in general from Amazon or any bookstore before the world of Amazon. And, uh, you know, I told, I told my uncle, you know, the next step is you have to actually open the book after you buy the book. He said, okay, fine. I’ll get there eventually. But you know, the, you know, the idea that, that people are thinking, this is an interesting subject. And so he’s, you know, he’s far from this field as one can be he’s in the medical profession, but the, but this such technology, right, it’s pervasive and it’s something a lot of people think about and they get, they get hit with it from media sources, from the news, whether it’s talking about facial recognition or about, uh, tracking, uh, contact tracing of coronavirus patients, our government’s authorizing tracking patients through smartphones. It was just a lot of that conversation happening, particularly in this moment and this time. So this book is piquing that curiosity, I think of folks who are just kind of like, even if they’re not in tech, but are curious about, you know, some of those larger questions that circulate that are integrated in the, in the world of technology.

Leon (27:05):

Right? And, and I think that we’ve gotten to a point where every new technology that comes in, a lot of people are having an automatic reaction of, “am I okay with this?” Not just, can I use this? Do I understand this? Because I think for most people they’ve gotten past, or they never were at a point where technology threatened them or made them feel uncomfortable. It was just a state of being it’s on their phone, it’s on their, whatever it is, it’s a tech, right. And whether we’re talking about Tik Tok or contact tracing or password management or whatever, um, or Facebook, the question isn’t, how do I use this? The question is, am I okay with this? Right. And how do I use this? There are lots and lots and lots of guides out there for how do I do this, but am I okay with this? There’s not a lot of guides that speak to, should I be okay with this? And it’s not an, it’s not an automatic yes or no for all of humanity. Right? You have to know who you are. You have to know where your, where you set your boundaries and that helps you identify, are you going to be the kind of person who’s okay with it?

Yechiel (28:17):

For sure. And this conversation is actually what Torah && Tech is about. I like saying that we don’t offer a lot of answers in Torah && Tech but we hope to start to start having you question, or we hope to start these conversations. I have had people asking these questions and discussing them and seeing for themselves, what are they okay with? What are they, you know, what values do they bring to their work? And you know, what type of people do they want to bring? What type of personalities do they want to bring to their, to their work, to their technology.

Ben (28:47):

Our chapters typically end with questioning back to the reader, asking the reader what they think. And we don’t do that. Just rhetorically. We are also interested in what they actually genuinely think. And we want this to be a conversation. And it’s actually, I think, part and parcel to our style and to the tradition that we come from, which is to answer a question with a question and to try and engage the person in. I’m not going to tell you what to think, because a there’s a multiplicity of possibilities of how one could think about this, but I want you to come to what your approach to it. I want to come your answer. And I’m curious what you think. You know, just speaking personally, I’m really grateful that I work in a place where I have a manager who tolerates me answering every one of his questions with another question, and he never gets annoyed and he is not Jewish in any way, shape or form an amazing guy from England. And I think I’m the first person he’s had to work with, who nonstop, only answers his questions with questions. And I’m grateful that he loves it. And we engage in this great discourse together. But we do the same thing in our book. We always leave readers with questions more than answers. Cause it’s the, what was the, I forget exactly who, but there was a scientist who credited his,

Speaker 3 (30:03):

It yeah. Isador [Isaac] Rabi. He was a Nobel prize winning physicist.

Ben (30:08):

Leon you’re just the font of knowledge.

Leon (30:10):

I’ve quoted him before. And he said, he said, I use this in a talk. I gave actually in Tel Aviv.

Yechiel (30:15):

In fact, you use it in your book as well.

Leon (30:18):

Uh Oh, it is in my book. That’s right. He says, you know, um, more than anything, my mother made me, made me a scientist. Uh, he said that, you know, every other kid in Brooklyn would come home and their parents would say so, did you learn anything? My mother, no, not my mother not my mother. What did you ask any good questions today?

Ben (30:34):

I, I I’ve heard that quote so many times, and yet I still say to my kids, every time they get home, what’d you learn today? It’s like, I can’t absorb it.

Leon (30:42):

Right. You’ll get there.

Ben (30:44):

They’ll get there a Nobel prize because of me, because I didn’t ask that question,

Yechiel (30:47):

They’ll get it in their own rights.

Leon (30:49):

Right. They’ll earn their own way. So, but that does lead me to an interesting question, which is, um, what are some of the comments that you’ve gotten back if you, if you end every post weekly post, and now every chapter in the book with a question, what are some of the interesting feedbacks that you pieces of feedback you’ve gotten over time? Anything that stands out in your mind?

Yechiel (31:09):

Actually, one conversation that was pretty interesting started in, uh, uh, in response to one of the issues of the newsletter that was put out. Um, this was actually like most newsletters. Like there’s I know there are, Torah like we choose like a thought from the Parasha related to tech or current events or whatever it is. This one I decided to have just like a stream of thought, the stream of consciousness, um, about, about the culpability of AI, artificial intelligence, and specifically people who write it. Um, so let’s say if I program and an artificial intelligence and it goes ahead and does some damage, how responsible am I for the actions of this program that I wrote? And I did it in the, like starting the style of a Talmudic discussion. Um, there wasn’t much in the way of answers, just like raise different possibilities, um, look at, you know, why, why it would apply, why it wouldn’t apply. Um, it was more of a stream of consciousness. I really hoped it made sense when I fired it off. Um, but actually that one was the one who got the most comments back. People like actually engaged in that conversation. And they’re like, you know, people raised different possibilities, different analogies that I had missed. Um, it was a really enjoyable conversation,

Leon (32:26):

Probably about a year and a half ago. I had a conversation on a different podcast, um, the on-premise podcast, uh, which is part of gestalt IT, and there, again, there’ll be links in the show notes. And, uh, the conversation was about bringing your whole self to work, whether or not it’s okay. Whether there are certain things about ourselves that we should just leave at home, you know, as, as some people say, you know, you know, if you’ve, if you’ve got this thing going on, leave it on the door, leave it at the door. And we talked about whether that was even possible. Um, and for me being part of that conversation, the, you know, the elephant, the kippah wearing tsitsus draped elephant in the room was my Judaism. Like, can I leave my religion at the door? And what does that even look like? And at what point does, does keeping a lid on it means suppressing essential, important parts of myself, Ben, to your point, you know, it’s part of our tradition to answer questions with questions that is part of the way that we analyze ideas. It’s part of the way that we debate concepts. And of course in it, we do that. How much of that can I leave to the side before I stopped being me at all and become either offended or suppressed, not depressed, but although it could be that too. So I guess this is a two part question one, are you able to bring your whole selves to your job right now? Have you always been able to do that? And what was it like working on a project where that was so fully true that doing Torah && Tech allowed you to be every ounce of the programmers that you are, and also every ounce of the Jews that you are. So, you know, again, have you always been able to do that and what was it like working on this book?

Ben (34:12):

So I I’ll start, I guess. And I think that, uh, to answer that question, it’s kind of, to me, it feels like a bit of walking on a tightrope and, uh, I do make an effort to bring my whole self to my work. And in some ways I’m grateful for the unique circumstances that I’m in, which is that I happen to work in an international company with a very large R&D office in Israel. And so everyone in all the other offices across the company have become, acculturated to, uh, well, Israel and Jews are not one and the same. That is true. That’s a very important statement to make. And Israeli Jews are not the same as Jews from other parts of the world. That’s also true and there’s a great diversity, but nonetheless, it is people who live in places where there are no Jews at all. So who become acculturated to working with Jews. And so that’s helpful. And, you know, and not only just Jews, right, Leon, but also kippah wearing Jews, you know, observant Jews in the Tel Aviv office. And so they get to interact with them and they come and visit here in the pre pre days before the crurrent days, they would spend time with that and, and be attuned to the sensitivity of kosher restaurants, things like that. So that’s part a and part B is yes, that’s all true, but you also don’t want to be harping on it all the time and you don’t want it, You have to always be sensitive a little bit of being mixed up SIM like a little bit of like, uh, yes. Being there, but also pulling back a little bit and, and making sure you don’t take up all the space in the room and it’s all about you and your uniquenesses and sort of your, your unique needs and sort of your, your, your unique perspectives, because it might come as a surprise, you know, especially, you know, somethings depending on how great your feeling about yourself, other people are also unique and they also have unique perspectives and they also have unique place that they’re coming from, and they also want to contribute those unique things. Right. And so like leaving some space, leaving some oxygen in the room and, you know, and again, not to stereotype, definitely not to stereotype or to generalize, but sometimes we, as a people can take up a lot of the air in the room and to, and to let others have some of the air to breathe and to speak as important.

Leon (36:35):

My coworkers who are listening to this podcast are probably nodding. So, so ferociously that they’re going to get, put a Crick in their neck. They require a neck brace after they’re done

Yechiel (36:46):

I’m in a different situation. Of course, I work in the States and New York, um, and having been on the receiving end of workplace proselytization. And like I said, Jews specifically do not like proselytizing. I try not to have specific religious conversations at work other than with the few other religious Jewish coworkers I have. Um, of course when it comes to like things that will affect my work, I’ll have those conversations up front, you know, things like Shabbat or kosher lunches or things like that. So, you know, I’ll definitely speak up. And actually there’s a whole chapter in the book. Um, your guide to working with your observant coworker, which I had a lot of fun writing. I wrote it when I switched teams and had to have all those conversations over again and decided that it would be helpful for others. Um, but conversations around that go beyond that. It’s like the kind of conversations that we have in Torah and tech that I try not to bring up at work as much as possible. And in that sense, like you said, the newsletter and then the book we’re away for me to express that part of myself, which I really enjoyed,

Ben (37:49):

You know, there’s a larger conversation to be had here as well, that sort of transcends the workplace. So I just recall a couple of incidents where, uh, on the speaking circuit in conferences, and you would get some guidelines about what to say what not to say, how to, how to speak in the most successful ways. And all the advice overwhelmingly was incredibly on point was incredibly helpful and I think was, uh, necessary to make sure the space was maximally, welcoming, and accessible to a diversity of people from all backgrounds… Except when it comes to people with religious sensibilities. And I would actually add to that religious slash cultural sensibilities because, you know, coming again, uh, from Israel, uh, there’s things like, so one of the guidelines to concretize, what I’m saying, uh, from one conference in particular was trying if you make a mistake or you’re trying to say something that you should avoid something, don’t use the oft-repeated term of like, God forbid, God forbid you should do that because there might people in the room who don’t believe in God, and that could offend them to say, God forbid. And so whether one is a religious or not in Israel, that is one of most common expressions amongst everyone in the country. Even if the die hard, most ardent atheists will say, God forbid, it just it’s part of the lexicon. It’s just part of the cultural sort of dichotomy. So you’re trying to get maximum welcoming as possible, but in doing so, you’re not thinking about, or you’re not at all elevating as part of the consideration, those people who come from either religious backgrounds or come from countries that are not Western European countries and, and how to think about that, how to actually make space. And, you know, I heard this by the way, from a colleague of mine, a previous former colleague of mine who comes from very different backgrounds, you know, from a Muslim background and she’s an amazing person. And she often talks about that as well, about how, yes, maximally diverse places means there’s maximum diverse or Western Europeans and, and, and, you know, Northeastern Americans. And what about everyone else in the world? Like from North Africa or from the middle East, or from Asia who are not Western Europeans or North Eastern Americans and, you know, what do you, what do you do about that and how do you, and how do you, uh, raise up the diversity and the ability for all people to come to this space, even if they’re not, um, German or French or British.

Leon (40:16):

So this has been an amazing conversation. There’s a lot more, I think we can go into with everything hope. Uh, hopefully I’ll have a chance to have you back and talk about specific chapters, but before we wrap up, uh, one more opportunity for shameless book promotion, where again, now that we’ve heard about it and we are champing at the bit, and we can’t live another minute without this book in our lives, where can we find it?

Yechiel (40:37):

Um, so yeah, so, like I said, in the beginning, um, you can buy it on Amazon and Barnes and Noble, uh, on your Kindle, on your Nook, on any, on most other retailers. Um, what I forgot the first time around was that if you do not live in North America or in a primarily English speaking country, a Book Repository, I’m told by Ben, is the go-to and it’s on there too. Uh, we will have all those links in the show notes. Um, and of course you can also go to TorahandTech.Dev to order the book and also to sign up for the newsletter. So you can get a sneak preview of volume two, which will be coming out in about a half a year.

Ben (41:13):


Leon (41:14):

Not only can you, you ought to, you should,

Ben (41:17):

You’re encouraged to, and you get a You can find, uh, the table of contents. So you get a sense what’s in the book and on Amazon and the other retailers you’ll find sample chapters as well. So you can really get a fuller idea of what it’s like. And that website as Yechiel mentioned his Book Depository, which if you’re living anywhere in the world where English books are harder to come by, it’s a great place to go to get your English books. You might not get them for a few months, but you can order them. And eventually they get shipped to you.

Josh (41:50):

Thanks for making time for us this week, to hear more of Technically Religious, visit our website,, where you can find our other episodes, leave us ideas for future discussions and connect with us on social media.

Leon (42:04):

Ugh! We still need a tagline for this episode.

Ben (42:06):

Can we just go with “Buy our Book?

Yechiel (42:08):

I guess that works for me.

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