I’m glad you're asking a rabbi about whether he is replaceable! That’s like asking an employee about the prospect of being replaced with automation.

I assume your question isn’t about replacing the rabbi’s role as mentor, given that AI lacks human experiences, emotions, and the ability to empathize. Much of what a rabbi does involves connecting with individuals on a personal and emotional level, understanding their unique circumstances within the greater context, and providing guidance accordingly. AI cannot replicate the depth of human connection required for spiritual counseling and support.

Rather, your question seems to be about asking halachic questions to a chatbot instead of a rabbi.

The truth is that, unlike a typical employee being replaced by an AI, many rabbis would welcome a possible alternative. After all, they would love nothing more than to spend their time learning more Torah. As for their livelihood, they know that G‑d can provide everyone with their livelihood regardless of AI. Unfortunately, however, a chatbot does not a rabbi make.

Here’s why:

Are Chatbots and AI even accurate?

If one is simply seeking information about what a specific halachic text has to say, an AI can be a valuable tool for information gathering and Torah study. It can provide access to a wide range of sources and help compile comprehensive summaries of various opinions and texts.

Yet, despite AI’s significant advancements in various fields, it still has a very long way to go to provide reliable and accurate information, especially in the realm of halachah.

Torah texts often require nuanced interpretation, taking into account historical and contextual factors. AI systems typically operate on data-driven algorithms and lack the ability to grasp the intricacies of religious teachings. A human rabbi (hopefully!) possesses years of training, study and understanding of the text, allowing him to provide guidance within the framework of halachah.

A second issue is that the programming of AI introduces a significant challenge. The values and halachic rulings programmed into AI systems inherently reflect a bias, influenced by the beliefs and interpretations of those who develop the algorithms. This bias may lead to the exclusion or prioritization of certain opinions, potentially distorting the halachic landscape presented by AI. The acceptance or rejection of controversial topics can greatly impact the AI's conclusions, steering it in specific directions that may not align with halachah.

But let us assume, for argument's sake, that an AI has somehow overcome all of these challenges and has also advanced significantly to the point where it can gather and present unbiased information.

Knowing accurate information and data is merely one component of determining what the correct halachah is.

Shimush and the Practicing Rabbi

Countless letters and talks from the Rebbe emphasize (and admonish!) that if a question arises in halachah, it is not enough to just ask someone who was ordained and has the title “rabbi”; the rabbi needs to be a practicing rabbi who has shimush, the experience that comes from apprenticing with a veteran rabbi.1

The sages of the Talmud2 discuss “one who read and learned but did not serve Torah scholars (shimush)”:

Rabbi Elazar says: This person is an ignoramus.
Rabbi Shmuel bar Naḥmani said: This person is a boor.
Rabbi Yannai says: This person is comparable to a Samaritan (i.e., follows the Written Torah but not the traditions of the sages).

Clearly, shimush is critical.

Shimush involves actively engaging with experienced and knowledgeable authorities, observing their methodologies, and gaining hands-on experience in halachic decision-making. This apprenticeship-like approach is crucial to developing practical skills, judgment, and insights into halachic practice, which can’t be gained by reading text and gathering information.3

On the same note, Mesorah (tradition) plays a crucial role in halachic decision-making. AI lacks the ability to access anecdotal material or personal experiences passed down through generations of scholars. Mesorah encompasses not only the oral teachings received from one's teacher, but also the observation of how the teacher applied halachic rulings in practical cases.4

An intriguing statement often quoted in halachah is that “the opinion of the lay people is the opposite of the Torah’s opinion.”5

The Rebbe explains that this refers to people who have indeed learned and are perhaps very knowledgeable in halachah. However, even such individuals miss a vital component of the halachic decision-making process if they lack practical experience.6

It is not for naught that the Talmud states, “Shimush is even greater than learning.”7

In other words, an AI may have learned a lot and appear more “knowledgeable” in many ways, but it may still be considered “an ignoramus” for our purposes.

Although we may not technically have the original semichah (see What Is a Rabbi? - A Brief History of Rabbinic Ordination (Semichah)), for one to be considered a rabbi, he still needs to be ordained and have shimush.8

Divine Help

In addition to the reasons outlined above, when a rabbi approaches the halachic decision process with proper preparation (i.e., shimush) and the appropriate humility and fear of heaven, then he receives siyata dishmaya, help from Heaven, ensuring that he will rule correctly in that specific situation. This is because the rabbi is following what the Torah9 itself enjoins us to do.10

A story often relayed by the Rebbe illustrates this point:

Rabbi Yechezkel Landau, the famed author of Noda B'Yehuda, served as the rabbi of Prague from 1754 to 1793. Once a group of scholars who wished to contest his rabbinic qualifications presented him with a series of questions in Torah law. These fictitious "cases" were carefully constructed to be as complex and as misleading as possible, so as to ensnare the rabbi in their logical traps and embarrass him with an incorrect ruling.

Rabbi Yechezkel succeeded in resolving all the questions correctly—all, that is, but one. Immediately, his detractors pounced on him, showing how his verdict contradicted a certain principle of Torah law.

Said Rabbi Yechezkel: "I am certain that this case is not actually relevant, and that you have invented it in order to embarrass me!"

"How do I know?" the rabbi continued. "Because I know that G‑d's Torah is true. You see, whenever a human being is called upon to decide a matter of Torah law, we are faced with a paradox: how can the human mind possibly determine G‑d's will? The laws of Torah are the wisdom and will of G‑d and the most basic laws of reality, preceding and superceding even the laws of nature. How is it that the finite and error-prone intellect is authorized to decide such Divine absolutes?

"But the Torah itself instructs that 'the Torah is not in heaven' but has been given to man to study and comprehend, and that whenever a question or issue of Torah law is raised, it is the human being, employing his finite knowledge and judgment, who must render a ruling. In other words, when a person puts aside all considerations of self and totally surrenders his mind to serve the Torah, G‑d guarantees that the result will be utterly consistent with His will.

"However," concluded Rabbi Yechezkel, "this 'guarantee' only applies to actual events, when a rabbi is called upon to determine what it is that G‑d desires to be done under a given set of circumstances, but not if his personal honor is the only issue at hand. Had you presented me with a relevant question, I know that I would not have erred, since I approached the matter with no interest or motive other than to serve the will of G‑d. But since your case was merely a hypothetical question designed to mislead me, my mind was just like every other mind, great and small alike—imperfect and manipulatable."

Now, while rabbis are assured of this assistance, we have no assurance that the same is granted to algorithms. For a fascinating dive into this topic, see The Difference Between a Rabbi and a Rav.