Artificial Intelligence Could Revolutionize the Study of Jewish Law. Is That a Good Thing?

As early as the 1960s, scholars and technicians began the task of digitizing halakhic literature, making it possible to search quickly through an ever-growing group of texts. Technological advances since then have improved the quality of searches, sped up the pace of digitization, and made such tools accessible to anyone with smartphone. Now, write Moshe Koppel and Avi Shmidman, machine learning and artificial intelligence can do much more: they can make texts penetrable to the lay reader by adding vowel-markings and punctuation while spelling out abbreviations, create critical editions by comparing early editions and manuscripts, and even compose lists of sources on a single topic.

After explaining the vast potential created by these new technologies, Koppel and Shmidman discuss both their benefits and their costs, beginning with the fact that a layperson will soon be able to navigate a textual tradition with an ease previously reserved for the sophisticated scholar:

On the one hand, this [change] is a blessing: it broadens the circle of those participating in one of the defining activities of Judaism, [namely Torah study], including those on the geographic or social periphery of Jewish life. [On the other hand], the traditional process of transmission of Torah from teacher to student and from generation to generation is such that much more than raw text or hard information is transmitted. Subtleties of emphasis and attitude—which topics are central, what is a legitimate question, who is an authority, what is the appropriate degree of deference to such authorities, which values should be emphasized and which honored only in the breach, when must exceptions be made, and much more—are transmitted as well.

All this could be lost, or at least greatly undervalued, as the transmission process is partially short-circuited by technology; indeed, signs of this phenomenon are already evident with the availability of many Jewish texts on the Internet.

And moving further into the future, what if computer scientists could create a sort of robot rabbi, using the same sort of artificial intelligence that has been used to defeat the greatest chess masters or Jeopardy champions?

[S]uch a tool could very well turn out to be corrosive, and for a number of reasons. First, programs must define raw inputs upfront, and these inputs must be limited to those that are somehow measurable. The difficult-to-measure human elements that a competent [halakhic authority] would take into account would likely be ignored by such programs. Second, the study of halakhah might be reduced from an engaging and immersive experience to a mechanical process with little grip on the soul.

Third, just as habitual use of navigation tools like Waze diminish our navigating skills, habitual use of digital tools for [answering questions of Jewish law] is likely to dry up our halakhic intuitions. In fact, framing halakhah as nothing but a programmable function that maps situations to outputs like do/don’t is likely to reduce it in our minds from an exalted heritage to one arbitrary function among many theoretically possible ones.

Read more at Lehrhaus

More about: Artifical Intelligence, Halakhah, Judaism, Technology

Iran’s Program of Subversion and Propaganda in the Caucasus

In the past week, Iranian proxies and clients have attacked Israel from the West Bank, Gaza, Lebanon, and Yemen. Iran also has substantial military assets in Iraq and Syria—countries over which it exercises a great deal of control—which could launch significant attacks on Israel as well. Tehran, in addition, has stretched its influence northward into both Azerbaijan and Armenia. While Israel has diplomatic relations with both of these rival nations, its relationship with Baku is closer and involves significant military and security collaboration, some of which is directed against Iran. Alexander Grinberg writes:

Iran exploits ethnic and religious factors in both Armenia and Azerbaijan to further its interests. . . . In Armenia, Iran attempts to tarnish the legitimacy of the elected government and exploit the church’s nationalist position and tensions between it and the Armenian government; in Azerbaijan, the Iranian regime employs outright terrorist methods similar to its support for terrorist proxies in the Middle East [in order to] undermine the regime.

Huseyniyyun (Islamic Resistance Movement of Azerbaijan) is a terrorist militia made up of ethnic Azeris and designed to fight against Azerbaijan. It was established by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps . . . in the image of other pro-Iranian militias. . . . Currently, Huseyniyyun is not actively engaged in terrorist activities as Iran prefers more subtle methods of subversion. The organization serves as a mouthpiece of the Iranian regime on various Telegram channels in the Azeri language. The main impact of Huseyniyyun is that it helps spread Iranian propaganda in Azerbaijan.

The Iranian regime fears the end of hostilities between Armenia and Azerbaijan because this would limit its options for disruption. Iranian outlets are replete with anti-Semitic paranoia against Azerbaijan, accusing the country of awarding its territory to Zionists and NATO. . . . Likewise, it is noteworthy that Armenian nationalists reiterate hideous anti-Semitic tropes that are identical to those spouted by the Iranians and Palestinians. Moreover, leading Iranian analysts have no qualms about openly praising [sympathetic] Armenian clergy together with terrorist Iran-funded Azeri movements for working toward Iranian goals.

Read more at Jerusalem Institute for Strategy and Security

More about: Azerbaijan, Iran, Israeli Security