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

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


How America Sowed the Seeds of the Current Middle East Crisis in 2015

Analyzing the recent direct Iranian attack on Israel, and Israel’s security situation more generally, Michael Oren looks to the 2015 agreement to restrain Iran’s nuclear program. That, and President Biden’s efforts to resurrect the deal after Donald Trump left it, are in his view the source of the current crisis:

Of the original motivations for the deal—blocking Iran’s path to the bomb and transforming Iran into a peaceful nation—neither remained. All Biden was left with was the ability to kick the can down the road and to uphold Barack Obama’s singular foreign-policy achievement.

In order to achieve that result, the administration has repeatedly refused to punish Iran for its malign actions:

Historians will survey this inexplicable record and wonder how the United States not only allowed Iran repeatedly to assault its citizens, soldiers, and allies but consistently rewarded it for doing so. They may well conclude that in a desperate effort to avoid getting dragged into a regional Middle Eastern war, the U.S. might well have precipitated one.

While America’s friends in the Middle East, especially Israel, have every reason to feel grateful for the vital assistance they received in intercepting Iran’s missile and drone onslaught, they might also ask what the U.S. can now do differently to deter Iran from further aggression. . . . Tehran will see this weekend’s direct attack on Israel as a victory—their own—for their ability to continue threatening Israel and destabilizing the Middle East with impunity.

Israel, of course, must respond differently. Our target cannot simply be the Iranian proxies that surround our country and that have waged war on us since October 7, but, as the Saudis call it, “the head of the snake.”

Read more at Free Press

More about: Barack Obama, Gaza War 2023, Iran, Iran nuclear deal, U.S. Foreign policy