Artificial Intelligence Is the Next Great Tool for the Study of Torah

March 20 2023

In 1992, a group of researchers at Jerusalem’s Bar Ilan University published a CD-ROM containing a vast corpus of rabbinic literature, allowing scholars and students to search for words and phrases in ways far beyond what could be done with sheer memorization. A new generation of technology is now emerging that, using machine learning, can allow users to do far more with works of Jewish jurisprudence. In conversation with David Bashevkin, the computer scientist and legal scholar Moshe Koppel explains the implications of these new advances. He begins by talking about an existing program call Dicta Maivin, which can make obscure texts less so:

Using our own version of OCR (optical character recognition), specifically adapted to the fonts typical of rabbinic works, Dicta Maivin will convert [a photograph of any segment of a rabbinic text] into digital form. We have the capability of taking a photo of a rabbinic text printed in the 19th century in cramped, difficult-to-read Rashi script, [a font used for printing commentaries], and converting it into text that is legible and easier to understand. Dicta can also insert nikud (vowelization) into a text; it’s hard for some people to read a [Hebrew work] that doesn’t have [these vowel markings], since many words are ambiguous.

Such technologies can also decipher the obscure and often ambiguous abbreviations that pepper rabbinic texts, as well as add punctuation—rendering these works more accessible to the novice. But, Koppel explains, they can also be a boon to the most advanced scholar:

The app basically recreates a scientific edition of rabbinic texts. At the swipe of an icon you can [decipher] abbreviations and see footnotes identifying sources and subsequent quotations of the text. For example, there are later commentators who quote Moses Naḥmanides. If I’m studying a line in Naḥmanides’ commentaries and I want to know every single latter authority who quoted this particular line, I can now easily access that information. You can also see the different ways the Naḥmanides has been quoted. . . . You can actually compare all the different versions with the differences highlighted. Notes and paraphrases of later sources can be systematically identified, and digitized manuscripts can be compared.

Read more at Jewish Action

More about: Artifical Intelligence, Halakhah, Judaism, Technology, Torah study


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