High-tech Science Pieces Together Ancient Scraps of Jewish Life

Computer scientists at Tel Aviv University use artificial intelligence to gather fragments of the legendary Cairo Genizah to tell the story of 1,000 years of Jewish history and culture.

Joel N. Shurkin
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Joel N. Shurkin

Computer scientists at Tel Aviv University are using artificial intelligence to gather the fragments of the worlds largest collection of medieval documents, the legendary Cairo Genizah, to tell the story of 1,000 years of Jewish history and culture. They have reconstructed more than 1,000 documents from 350,000 individual items found in the Cairo storage room: more in a few months than in 110 years of conventional scholarship.

In some ways, the contents of the Cairo Genizah are more important than the Dead Sea Scrolls, several scholars believe. While the Dead Sea scrolls were the religious literature of a small sect that lived in the desert for a few years, the Cairo Genizah told the story of the day-to-day details of a millennium of Jewish life, from the mundane to the magnificent.

Photographer Yair Medina, left, showing Pnina Shor, curator and head of Dead Sea Scrolls Project at the Israel Antiquities Authority, scanned fragments of the Dead Sea Scrolls on a computer screen.Credit: AP

What the Tel Aviv researchers are doing will revolutionize that search. While some of the archive includes complete letters, manuscripts and documents, much of it consists of fragments, some containing only a few words, or pages out of context. The fragments are spread out through 70 different libraries and museums around the world. One page of a letter could be in Oslo and another in Philadelphia.

Read more at the Forward.

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