In Italy, Algorithms Are Translating the Talmud

An Italian professor of law named Clelia Piperno is currently overseeing the first-ever complete translation of the Talmud into Italian. But this project is unique for a deeper reason than the language of the final product, as Simone Somekh writes:

Behind the first two volumes that have been published so far, there is a team of researchers, coders, translators, and editors who have been working on software that aids them in the translation process. . . . Translating such a long and at times cryptic text from its original Aramaic into a modern language is a major enterprise, even in the digital era.

The small team of developers Piperno recruited knew that no existing translation software could handle this type of work; new algorithms were needed. Based in Rome, the group created computer-assisted translation software that memorizes all translations performed by the human collaborators, storing them in a cloud in order to facilitate future ones. They named it “Traduco,” which means “I Translate” in Italian. The translators divide the text into paragraphs and strings, then select the portion they want to translate; the software searches for similar excerpts and corresponding translations in its database and offers the translators a list of suggestions.

“The software has ultimately become an excellent tool for analysis of the text itself and of the quality of the translations,” Michael Dollinar, an information-technology manager who worked on Traduco, [said]. He explained that the software doesn’t translate the Talmud; it makes suggestions to the human translator, increasingly developing an interconnectivity between different passages that no other translation software allows. This feedback loop is meant to enhance the work’s overall accuracy and coherence.

An Italian rabbi based in Haifa, Michael Ascoli, has [supervised the translation of] tractate Ta’anit. “It’s an exceptional exercise,” he said of the collaborative translation effort, noting that the project is incentivizing study of the Talmud among Italian Jewish youth. [Yet] Ascoli also believes that studying the Talmud from its translated version is like studying a scientific subject from the solutions rather than the experiment. In addition, he feels wary about making the Talmud available to the general public indiscriminately.

Read more at Tablet

More about: Artifical Intelligence, Italian Jewry, Religion & Holidays, Talmud, Technology, Translation


Leaked Emails Point to an Iranian Influence Operation That Reaches into the U.S. Government

Sept. 27 2023

As the negotiations leading up to the 2015 nuclear deal began in earnest, Tehran launched a major effort to cultivate support abroad for its positions, according to a report by Jay Solomon:

In the spring of 2014, senior Iranian Foreign Ministry officials initiated a quiet effort to bolster Tehran’s image and positions on global security issues—particularly its nuclear program—by building ties with a network of influential overseas academics and researchers. They called it the Iran Experts Initiative. The scope and scale of the IEI project has emerged in a large cache of Iranian government correspondence and emails.

The officials, working under the moderate President Hassan Rouhani, congratulated themselves on the impact of the initiative: at least three of the people on the Foreign Ministry’s list were, or became, top aides to Robert Malley, the Biden administration’s special envoy on Iran, who was placed on leave this June following the suspension of his security clearance.

In March of that year, writes Solomon, one of these officials reported that “he had gained support for the IEI from two young academics—Ariane Tabatabai and Dina Esfandiary—following a meeting with them in Prague.” And here the story becomes particularly worrisome:

Tabatabai currently serves in the Pentagon as the chief of staff for the assistant secretary of defense for special operations, a position that requires a U.S. government security clearance. She previously served as a diplomat on Malley’s Iran nuclear negotiating team after the Biden administration took office in 2021. Esfandiary is a senior advisor on the Middle East and North Africa at the International Crisis Group, a think tank that Malley headed from 2018 to 2021.

Tabatabai . . . on at least two occasions checked in with Iran’s Foreign Ministry before attending policy events, according to the emails. She wrote to Mostafa Zahrani, [an Iranian scholar in close contact with the Foreign Ministry and involved in the IEI], in Farsi on June 27, 2014, to say she’d met Saudi Prince Turki al-Faisal—a former ambassador to the U.S.—who expressed interest in working together and invited her to Saudi Arabia. She also said she’d been invited to attend a workshop on Iran’s nuclear program at Ben-Gurion University in Israel. . . .

Elissa Jobson, Crisis Group’s chief of advocacy, said the IEI was an “informal platform” that gave researchers from different organizations an opportunity to meet with IPIS and Iranian officials, and that it was supported financially by European institutions and one European government. She declined to name them.

Read more at Semafor

More about: Iran nuclear deal, U.S. Foreign policy