New Software Promises to Break Down the Barriers to Studying Jewish Texts

Sept. 13 2022

As anyone who’s had a bar or bat mitzvah knows, Hebrew is generally written without the diacritics that indicate vowels and distinguish between various consonant sounds. Even though prayer books, printed Bibles, and some other texts are generally found with these markings, the accompanying commentaries lack them, as do many other rabbinic texts. The computer scientist and Mosaic contributor Moshe Koppel has helped to create software called Dicta Maiven—the second word is Hebrew or Yiddish for “expert”—to help the uninitiated surmount these difficulties and others. Zvika Klein writes:

Koppel gave the example of a book that can be scanned by Dicta Maivin in order to allow a larger audience to access the text.

“Let’s say you have a book that is written in this old Rashi script”—a typeface for Hebrew letters based on 15th-century Sephardi handwriting, very popular with Jewish books that were published in the past several hundred years—“it doesn’t have any n’kudot (diacritical markings), it doesn’t have punctuation, and it probably even has mistakes, because the printers back then were a bit choppy,” he explained.

Regarding references, “it has a million of [them], but it doesn’t tell you where the references are.” Koppel said that many times, in Jewish texts, one of the rabbis will write, “as the Ramban, [i.e., Moses Naḥmanides, a 13th-century Spanish sage], said,” but it won’t say exactly where he said or wrote it. “Rabbis could be quoting Talmud in their books without even telling you” [the exact source].

Koppel picked up his cell phone and displayed exactly how the technology works. “What we’ve done is make it so that you can take your phone and take a picture of the page, and you’ll get the page back with the text that has already been digitized,” he said enthusiastically. “It’s not a picture anymore; it’s gone through optical character recognition [OCR]; the text has been corrected for mistakes and it has become more accessible in so many ways. You could punctuate this text; you could put in the n’kudot. Anyone of the [Hebrew abbreviations] can be explained. You just put your cursor on top of it and it’ll just show you what it stands for.”

Read more at Jerusalem Post

More about: Artifical Intelligence, Hebrew, Talmud, Technology


When It Comes to Peace with Israel, Many Saudis Have Religious Concerns

Sept. 22 2023

While roughly a third of Saudis are willing to cooperate with the Jewish state in matters of technology and commerce, far fewer are willing to allow Israeli teams to compete within the kingdom—let alone support diplomatic normalization. These are just a few results of a recent, detailed, and professional opinion survey—a rarity in Saudi Arabia—that has much bearing on current negotiations involving Washington, Jerusalem, and Riyadh. David Pollock notes some others:

When asked about possible factors “in considering whether or not Saudi Arabia should establish official relations with Israel,” the Saudi public opts first for an Islamic—rather than a specifically Saudi—agenda: almost half (46 percent) say it would be “important” to obtain “new Israeli guarantees of Muslim rights at al-Aqsa Mosque and al-Haram al-Sharif [i.e., the Temple Mount] in Jerusalem.” Prioritizing this issue is significantly more popular than any other option offered. . . .

This popular focus on religion is in line with responses to other controversial questions in the survey. Exactly the same percentage, for example, feel “strongly” that “our country should cut off all relations with any other country where anybody hurts the Quran.”

By comparison, Palestinian aspirations come in second place in Saudi popular perceptions of a deal with Israel. Thirty-six percent of the Saudi public say it would be “important” to obtain “new steps toward political rights and better economic opportunities for the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza.” Far behind these drivers in popular attitudes, surprisingly, are hypothetical American contributions to a Saudi-Israel deal—even though these have reportedly been under heavy discussion at the official level in recent months.

Therefore, based on this analysis of these new survey findings, all three governments involved in a possible trilateral U.S.-Saudi-Israel deal would be well advised to pay at least as much attention to its religious dimension as to its political, security, and economic ones.

Read more at Washington Institute for Near East Policy

More about: Islam, Israel-Arab relations, Saudi Arabia, Temple Mount