“A Living Library” may not have feet or hands, but it certainly has a beating heart thanks to the dedicated team at Sefaria. Sefaria is an online Jewish library providing Jewish texts stretching from the first book of Moses, all the way down to the commentators of the Rishonim and Achronim, and everything in between. It even reaches more recent works like ones written in the mid-20th century renowned Tanach scholar and commentator, Nechama Leibowitz, z’l, who rekindled interest in Bible study in Israel.
Shanee Rosen, a content engineer at Sefaria, is an Orthodox woman who has been able to use both her passion for Torah and STEM to share Jewish knowledge with the world. Rosen explains that the greatness of Sefaria is that any text that has been uploaded into the library’s database exists forever, since it lives on the internet. The site doesn’t only preserve the text but is continuously renewing itself, as readers can contribute their own ideas to it within a special section of the library’s content. It has over 3,000 indices for books and over 37 commentators on Tanach alone. “It’s like a whole beit midrash in your pocket to learn wherever you are with whoever you want.”
Before Rosen became an engineer, she, like most Orthodox girls in Jerusalem, “went through the track of a religious girl,” studying in midrasha after graduating from high school. Once finishing her year of Torah study, she served in the IDF in the technological unit, a high-level unit and a feat basically unheard of for a religious girl. She always excelled at math and analytics, so her time in the army allowed her to refine her craft within the realm of computers and engineering before attending university.
While Rosen expresses that she “was always a little different… finding [her]self in spaces with a lot of men” like in the army and Sefaria, she credits going to all-girls schools throughout her childhood for giving her the opportunity to rise to the top of her class due to the lack of overpowering, boisterous male voices that most other co-ed classrooms experience. This gave her the confidence to shine in STEM.
After university, Rosen worked in cybersecurity, but felt conflicted about not being involved in Jewish education professionally. Rosen believes that Gemara has a lot of similar properties of logic and patterns like engineering and math. When she learned that Sefaria existed and was a place that she could use both of her passions, she was sold! “I knew that Sefaria is a place I’m supposed to be.”
The library in Sefaria has all the base texts along with an English translation and commentators that pop up with one click which open multiple mefarshim (commentaries) on any word, phrase or topic. The entire world of Torah is literally at your fingertips. One of Rosen’s major projects that she’s spearheading is creating a compilation of all of Nechama Leibowitz’s parshah source sheets and putting it into library; the sheets are the ones Leibowitz published on a weekly basis for a span of 20 years.
Rosen states that “it was definitely a big honor for me to put someone like Nechama Leibowitz as a scholar and a woman into the library. She gives me inspiration.” Leibowitz strayed from the conventional road for a Torah learner, teacher, and scholar – and as a woman! Sefaria is “taking her work, the way she did it and putting on our site for the accessibility of many people and the interlinking.” Her sheets take you through the lesson via questions and allows each individual to journey through and figure out the answers on their own through the mefarshim she provided. The beauty of Leibowitz, as Rosen expresses, is that (since she had no children) she left her inheritance to everyone and was completely gender blind; everyone, men and women alike, became her students and learned from a true scholar.
Sefaria drew much inspiration from Leibowitz, “through her pedagogy we changed our tool. We learned from her.” That is why people can now add their own answers and notes to the material and questions they’re working through, and it’s something they didn’t have before. But Rosen’s connection to Leibowitz is even deeper and comes full circle: while she is the engineer who shares Leibowitz’s Torah with the world, she recalls how her own grandmother was one of Leibowitz’s students and did her weekly sheets.
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