With ‘Cholent’ and Prayers, Haredim Bring Tech to Study of Ancient Texts


Source: Times of Israel

In a first-ever hackathon for Haredi engineers and programmers, more than 200 men and women brainstormed with mentors from the Israeli tech industry for 18 hours last week — to come up with ways to inject artificial intelligence and big data sciences into the study of ancient Jewish texts.

Held at the Facebook Israel headquarters in Tel Aviv, the event was organized by KamaTech, a startup accelerator for ultra-Orthodox entrepreneurs, together with Sefaria, a website for Jewish texts and translations, which allowed the developers to use its open platform to develop software programs.

The participants, most of whom have a deep knowledge of the Jewish texts, came up with ideas to combine technologies to make the learning process easier, in a “celebration of Torah and technology.”

Some of the teams were made up of just men, some just women, and others combined the two. Sitting huddled over laptops in an open space of one floor in the Facebook offices in Tel Aviv, the teams toiled over their projects through the night.

The winning project created an advanced search program for people who need to write Torah-based addresses: they can search among a collection of speeches by occasion, e.g., for a bar mitzva, a brit or circumcision, or a wedding.

The winning team was an all-female one. The runner-up teams created a smart bot that allows users to search all Jewish sources in the Sefaria database, and a site that automatically generates games based on materials studied on Sefaria — with tasks including hunting for missing words, crossword puzzles and complete the sentences.

“We are offering them the use of all of the Jewish texts as a database,” said Lockspeiser, the founder of Sefaria, at the start of the hackathon. “The idea is to come up with any project that will be useful for Jewish learning.”  

Updated: Feb. 12, 2018