Study of ancient Jewish texts made easy with new Israeli AI tech

Soon, people will be able to upload any rabbinic text ever printed and see it in processed form in real time.

By Batya Jerenberg, World Israel News

An Israeli organization has produced a high-tech tool using artificial intelligence that can help scholars and laymen alike study ancient Jewish texts with much greater ease.

The Dicta Maivin (dictation expert) was invented by Dicta, a non-profit organization that provides its Jewish study products at no charge. The AI-driven tool makes rabbinic literature accessible by automatically vocalizing and punctuating it, opening abbreviations and identifying source texts.

This includes Biblical and Talmudic commentaries, authors of works on Jewish law and philosophy, and many books of responsa that are included in Dicta’s library. Soon, the organization says, people will be able to upload any rabbinic text ever printed and see it in processed form in real time.

Organization founder Moshe Koppel, an Israeli-American computer scientist who is himself a Talmudic scholar, told the Jerusalem Post recently that his five-year project is set to be revealed at the four-day, 18th World Congress of Jewish Studies, which is currently taking place at The Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

“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.

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Then, for example, readers can put their cursors over abbreviations, which many rabbis used so liberally that it has discouraged people from trying to study their works, Koppel said. Having a list of all the ways the abbreviation has been used in the past, and considering the context of the sentence, the algorithm behind the tool will then present the shortened form’s correct meaning.

Another challenge is that texts quote or summarize ancient Sages but do not state the source, making do with saying “the Sages said,” Koppel explained. However, “Maivin creates footnotes for all of the texts it scans,” he said.

The Dicta Maivin can even fix textual errors made in centuries past, he explained, “because the printers back then were a bit choppy.”

One more aid that will enable people to study more texts than ever before is the tool’s ability to change what is known as Rashi script into Hebrew lettering. Rashi, one of the greatest commentators in Jewish history, lived in 11th-century France and wrote using letters that were similar but not identical to Hebrew, and many others followed his custom.

Koppel credited his daughter-in-law with coming up with a completely new typeface “for people who like the Rashi font but have difficulty understanding it. It’s an adjusted Rashi font that anybody can read.”

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Although the group is launching the product now, it is not 100% complete, Koppel said. “Most of the functions are working in the best way possible,” but the punctuation and abbreviation features are not quite there yet.

“We know how to improve it and it just takes time,” he said.