The Responsa Project began in 1963 at the Weizmann Institute. Over the years it migrated to Bar Ilan University. An early version of the system was already running in 1967.
In the first stages of the project, we decided to focus on the Responsa literature (questions and answers – shut,in Hebrew). Jews have traditionally asked their local rabbis for advice on almost every subject. Many of the resulting questions and answers were collected in books. These responsa accordingly contain numerous halachic, historical, sociological and economic data which reflect approximately one thousand years of the Jewish life. Due to the quantity of this material, a special committee was established to set priorities about which texts to include in the database, in light of their relevance, scope and accessibility.
Data entry has been going on for more than thirty years. Initially the system ran in batch mode on an IBM mainframe. Later, from 1979, it also became usable in a time-sharing mode from terminals on the Bar-Ilan campus, as well as from a growing number of terminals off-campus. At that time this was no small technological feat.
In 1990, following the development of the CD-ROM, the immense database was compressed into a single compact disk, and presently the system can be installed on almost any personal computer.
Version 1.0 of the new system was completed in late 1992, and new versions have been issued more-or-less annually, with the latest version, 28+, issued in February 2020. Each version includes new texts in the Responsa databases and improvements in the retrieval software.
In 2007, the Responsa Project was awarded the prestigious Israel Prize for Torah Literature.
Responsa Project Release 28+ (2020)
Today the Responsa Project Disk on Key (DOK) contains more than 120,000 Responsa and more than 600,000 hypertext links between the databases, totalling more than 590 million words. The program uses an advanced, user-friendly Windows interface, with powerful cross-referencing and search options. Extensive biographical data on the authors of Responsa texts have been added as well, along with a unique context-sensitive dictionary of abbreviations.
Many new and important books of Responsa and other Judaic texts have been included in the most recent versions of the Responsa DOK. The Responsa Databases includes:
- Bible and Bible Commentaries
- Mishnah and Mishnah Commentaries
- Minor Tractates
- Talmud Bavli and Commentaries
- Talmud Yerushalmi
- Be’urim Ve-Likkutim
- Halachic Midrashim
- Aggadic Midrashim
- Halachic and Aggadic Midrashim Commentaries
- Halacha and Minhagim
- Sifrei Mitzvot
- Mussar and Jewish Thought
- Rambam and Commentaries (including 186 Commentaries – Friedberg ed.)
- Tur and Commentaries
- Shulchan Aruch and Commentaries
- Sifrei Chasidut
- Sifrei Kelalim and Seder Ha-Dorot
- Chiddushim by Topic
- Talmudic Encyclopedia
- Other Encyclopedias
For a more detailed list of the Responsa Databases and their contents see Contents of Responsa Databases
About the Directors
The Responsa Project was conceived by Professor Aviezri Fraenkel, who founded it in 1963, when he formulated its aims and methodology. He directed the Project until 1974. Professor Yaacov Choueka, joined in 1966, and served as the Project’s director from 1974 to 1986. (Professor Nachum Dershowitz directed the project during 1974-1975, when Choueka was on sabbatical.)
The directors worked together with a large staff of dedicated Torah scholars, researchers and assistants who specialized in computer science, Judaic studies, and Hebrew computational linguistics.
Professor. Uri Schild was the director of the project from 1990 to 1997. During his 1995-1996 sabbatical, the project was headed by Professor Amihood Amir, Professor Shmuel Tomi Klein was the director in 1997/1998.
and during 2004-2017 the project was directed by Professor Shmaryahu Hoz.
For the past few years, the Project has been headed by Rabbi Yaacov Weinberger, together with a small team of scholars and software engineers. In 1991, an Academic Advisory Committee was appointed, whose responsibilities were to recommend and oversee all the policies of the Project, both in the contents of the Project and in decisions regarding which books and publications will be used. In 1997, Professor Yaakov Spiegel, from the Talmud department in Bar Ilan University, was appointed to head this committee. Other advisory members are Professor Aviezri Fraenkel and Professor Leib Moskovitz.