Digital humanities in Jewish studies and in Israel

Judaic studies were the pioneers in combing computer applications in their fields; especially noteworthy is The Responsa Project which began its operations in 1963 from the Weizmann Institute of Science and continued at Bar-Ilan University. The project’s first version was launched in 1967 and in 2007 the project received the Israel Prize for Torah literature. Other projects are the Historical Dictionary Project of the Academy of the Hebrew Language, the Digital Library of the National Library of Israel, the FJMS Portal for Jewish Manuscripts and Books Projects and the diverse activities of Judaica Europeana.

Digital Humanities Israel was founded in 2013 and coordinates many activities related to digital humanities in Israel. The website “The DigIn – Digital Humanities Israel” is the central hub for this activity and several events have been organized in various fields of digital humanities.

Most of the digital tools developed to date relate to attempts made to work with texts in Latin letters. Hebrew as always poses special challenges because of the different letters type, language directionality and morphology. However, some of the tools developed could also be used for working with Hebrew texts with great success.

As more and more texts will be digitized, and the digital Jewish bookshelf will expand, and as the OCR technologies for Hebrew texts will improve, the benefits will outweigh the drawbacks and will save researchers from much drudgery. In order to develop these tools and to adapt them to Hebrew texts, scholars will have to use them and offer feedback to the developers. This will generate motivation for the continuing improvement of these tools and their adaptation for Hebrew texts.