29 October, 2007

Regular expressions for Mishnaic tractates

Filed under: Hebrew,Judaism,Technology by Joel @ 4:37 pm, 29 October 2007.

Various transliteration conventions (or a lack thereof) and dialectal differences make it very difficult at times to gather all possible variations for transcribing Hebrew words into English characters. This can make using search engines to find Hebrew terms in English sources very difficult, or could make it hard for a piece of software to identify what someone is referring to when they enter a string of text. For example, biblical book names each have a number of ways of being written, and my BibRef solves this by simply storing a list of alternative names and abbreviations.

Another way of identifying an entered string with one of many options is with regular expressions. As such, I have attempted below to devise regular expressions to match all expected spellings for each tractate (masechet, masekhet, maseches, meseches, etc.) of the Mishnah. Please note that this is only a draft: I expect to improve the regular expressions, and feedback is much appreciated.

Using this as a background study, it may be possible to automate the building of regular expressions for Hebrew words (with vowels given), although many of the expressions below also cover a number of irregularities that would be hard to incorporate into such a builder. Consequently, one could also build a list of all possible alternative spellings for a word, which could then be used with a search engine to make searches of these Hebrew words comprehensive. (Edit: the current expressions below overgenerate way too much and would probably be inappropriate for that task.)

28 October, 2007

Getting into Google

Filed under: General by Joel @ 6:00 pm, 28 October 2007.

Having applied in August, I finally received word this week that I will be working as an intern with Google over summer. Squeezed in between exams and my brother’s wedding, I hope it will be a great experience and opportunity, working in the Google environment, on big and practical projects, and with important and intelligent colleagues.

At the end of the day, though, the way to get into Google is not by applying.

It’s by being bought.

Cousin Ishmael

Filed under: Tanakh by Joel @ 11:09 am, 28 October 2007.

So Sarah sees Ishmael playing.

Rashi says:

this means worshipping idols
or it means performing forbidden sexual acts
or it means murder

Ibn Ezra says:

this is something children do

26 October, 2007

My turn on Lot’s wife

Filed under: Tanakh by Joel @ 11:57 am, 26 October 2007.

To redigest some stuff that’s been going around the blogosphere for years

We all know the story of Lot’s wife who turned back during the destruction of Sodom and became a pillar of salt. Chazal even institute a beracha for when we see this pillar.

Nonetheless as I understand, some rishonim — Rabenu Hananel (990-1053), Hizkuni (13th century), Ralbag (1288-1344) — read the verse differently:

וַתַּבֵּט אִשְׁתּוֹ מֵאַחֲרָיו, וַתְּהִי נְצִיב מֶלַח.

They read “and it [the plain] was a pillar of salt” rather than “she became a pillar of salt”, working off the ambiguity of the third-person feminine subject. And a verse in Deuteronomy might agree in suggesting that sulfur and salt overturned Sodom.

22 October, 2007

Woman on a bus

Filed under: Current affairs,Zionism by Joel @ 10:52 pm, 22 October 2007.

And priorities misaligned with “Torah”. [ click | click | click ]


And it’s nowhere to be seen on Arutz Sheva.

17 October, 2007

Getting away with murder

Filed under: Halakha,Society and culture,Tanakh by Joel @ 5:03 pm, 17 October 2007.

Apart from beautiful poetic structure of Genesis 9:6 (“שֹׁפֵךְ דַּם הָאָדָם, בָּאָדָם דָּמוֹ יִשָּׁפֵךְ”, “the spiller of man’s blood, his blood by man will be spilled”), it seems to support quite radical capital punishment, or surely avengance at the hand of man. Most modern societies would not support such a simple policy; even early translations and interpretations do not take it literally; but Rabbinic Judaism tends to quite the opposite, possibly to a fault.

15 October, 2007

Orthodoxy and waste

Filed under: Environment,Jewish community,Judaism by Joel @ 11:53 pm, 15 October 2007.

I’ve finally found a good opportunity to write on this topic. Orthodox Jews too often fail to care about the environment and the world. Maybe this is because they associate environmentalism with the “left” and the “liberal”, or because it is too difficult to keep both torah and environment, or because it’s not torah, and therefore bittul torah, or they just assume that God will fix everything for them. But these are usually excuses for simple apathy, or laziness.

13 October, 2007


Filed under: Language by Joel @ 7:35 pm, 13 October 2007.

I pointed out this time last year that the Hebrew month of (Mar)cheshvan actually comes from the Akkadian for “eighth month”. So it means the same as October.

Nonetheless, October is the tenth month, and (Mar)cheshvan is the second.

12 October, 2007

Capital punishment and poetic alliteration

Filed under: Tanakh by Joel @ 5:35 pm, 12 October 2007.

שֹׁפֵךְ דַּם הָאָדָם, בָּאָדָם דָּמוֹ יִשָּׁפֵךְ

Isn’t it just such a beautiful verse?

6 October, 2007

Apps for Facebook groups

Filed under: Online communities by Joel @ 9:32 pm, 6 October 2007.

Facebook’s applications platform/API has made it a much more versatile world of activity. Many, or most, are basically useless, but the idea of third-party extensibility in general has allowed Facebook’s uses to multiply (and has given developers an easy development and deployment framework).

But Facebook groups (or other features) could do with the same versatility being available. Applications could make groups a powerful framework for tasks like:

  • charting fundraising by or for the group
  • publishing regular event times
  • better-than-forum planning and discussion tools
  • polls, voting or surveys
  • rostering
  • game tournaments
  • friend wheels to show how group members are connected
  • Countdowns, countups and counters (e.g. how many of my yeargroup have got married)
  • hundreds of thousands of other things only other Facebook users could come up with.

There’s a good chance Zuckerberg and his team have thought of this already, but the privacy arrangements would have to be quite complicated: at the moment individual users consent to individual applications having access to their personal information. Just because a user is a member of a group with an app, that doesn’t mean they consent to the app knowing about them. Will users have to consent to a group’s apps when they join it, or each time the group admin adds another app? That’s potentially a lot of bureaucracy.

Basically, this could get messy. But the future tells of bright and endless possibilities.

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