Volume 10 Number 35
                       Produced: Tue Nov 30  8:37:08 1993

Subjects Discussed In This Issue: 

Hidden codes in the Torah
         [Mike Gerver]
Rabbinical Authority
         [Eli Turkel]
Understanding the Holocaust
         [Anthony Fiorino]


From: <GERVER@...> (Mike Gerver)
Date: Tue, 30 Nov 1993 2:43:03 -0500 (EST)
Subject: Hidden codes in the Torah

In v10n1, Robert Light asks about the effect of missing or extra vavs
and yods (maleh and chaser spelling) on the so-called "hidden codes" in
the Torah. Avi comments that he believes it would not have much effect,
and mentions the general problem that lack of readily available
published material has made discussion of the hidden codes difficult.

I have a preprint of a paper "Equidistant Letter Sequences in the Book
of Genesis" by Doron Witztum, Eliyahu Rips, and Yoav Rosenberg, which
claims to show very statistically significant correlations between names
and yahrzeit dates of gedolim (living between 800 and 1800 CE) based on
letter sequences in sefer breishit. To answer the narrower question
first, an occasional extra or missing yod or vav would not have much
effect on these correlations, although frequent extra or missing letters
(one letter out of a thousand, for example) would completely wipe out
the correlations. If the extra letters were closely associated with
missing letters, so that the overall letter sequence were not disturbed,
then of course there would also be little effect on the correlations.

Regarding the wider issue of how to carry on fruitful discussion on the
hidden codes without readily available documentation, my first thought
was to offer to send a copy of the preprint that I have to any reader
who sends me money for xeroxing (it is 28 pages) and postage. But then,
recalling that there are over 1000 readers on this list, I decided *not*
to make that offer!  Also, there could be legal and ethical problems
distributing large numbers of copies of someone else's preprint without
their permission. Similarly, the authors might not appreciate 1000
people asking them for preprints. The best solution might be for someone
on the list who knows the authors (Witztum and Rosenberg are at
Jerusalem College of Technology (Machon Lev) and Rips is at the
Institute of Mathematics and Computer Science at Hebrew University) to
ask whether they would be willing to send copies to readers who request
them, whether they want payment for xeroxing and postage, and to post
the reply here.

One way or another, I think it is important that this issue get examined
in a more open and critical manner than it has so far. If the claims
being made are true, then this is extraordinarily important. If the
claims are not true, then, in my opinion, the people promulgating them
are playing a dangerous game and should be refuted. The claims are so
completely contrary to my own long standing ideas about how the universe
works that I would find it impossible to believe them without verifying
them myself. Unless I can do it, it seems more probable to me that the
claims are mistaken or fraudulent.  From a rather cursory reading of
the paper, there does not seem to be anything wrong with the method they
use, but I can imagine errors made in implementing the method in
software that could give rise to spurious results, and I can also
imagine a malicious research assistant doctoring the data in a way that
would require some effort for the authors to discover. I should add that
friends who know the authors have assured me that they would not
deliberately make fraudulent claims.

The preprint has enough information that it should be possible to check
it, and either verify it or refute it, although it would take a fair
amount of work. If I were to find the time to do that, somehow, it
wouldn't help other readers with similar world views, since, even if
they knew me personally, they would find it easier to believe that I
lied to them, than that the results are true. What is needed is for
someone to write a program, very clearly written and well documented,
based on the method described in the paper, and to upload the source
code to the mail-jewish archives, together with data files (the lists of
names and yahrzeit dates, and the text of the book of Genesis).
Skeptical readers could then download the program and data files, verify
the names and yahrzeit dates in their local library (preferrably in an
old yellowing and clearly not doctored encyclopedia), as well the text
of Genesis, carefully read over the program to make sure there is no
swindle in it, and compile and run it on their own computer, which they
are confident has not been infected by a virus promulgated by "hidden
codes" advocates. Then people like me could believe the results are
real, if they are. And if the results are not real, then this would be
apparent to any open-minded person who is willing to run the code, and
we could try to determine why the authors made the claims they did.

A big advantage of this approach is that it would not be necessary for
me to go to the trouble of writing a program myself! In fact, the
program could even be contributed by the authors of the paper, although
they would probably have to edit it to make it easy for skeptical
readers to verify it. It might be desirable even to modify the method
described in the paper, in a way that would preserve the mysterious
correlations, if that would make the source code easier to verify.

I would welcome inquiries from readers seriously interested in helping
to implement this, and just hope it is not a large fraction of the
mail-jewish readership! Also, if I do end up doing it myself, can anyone
tell me where to get an on-line Hebrew text of the book of Genesis? And
is there a standard way of converting Hebrew text to ascii?

Finally, as an interesting sociological aside, I would add that I
discovered, to my surprise, that not everyone feels the a priori
probability of this thing being true is as low as I feel it is. I have
one friend who thinks it would not be that surprising if it were true,
and does not think it really matters.  This cuts across lines of modern
orthodox vs. black hat, scientist vs.  non-scientist, baal teshuvah vs.
born frum.

Mike Gerver, <gerver@...>


From: <turkel@...> (Eli Turkel)
Date: Tue, 30 Nov 93 12:25:47 +0200
Subject: Rabbinical Authority

     In response to several comments made recently I would like to quickly
review the points made in my recent article.

1.  There is no such thing as a GOR (global orthodox rabbi) only LOR.
    While any gadol has a right to state his opinion on any subject it
    is not binding on the general community. Halakhah only discusses
    the issue of asking a second rabbi after one has already asked a
    question. not a rabbi volunteering information that was not requested.
    Some gedolim, e.g. Rav Moshe Feinstein, would never answer
    general questions and would only respond to a specific question from
    an individual. There are numerous responsa of Acharonim defending the
    right of each community to make their own decisions and not have it
    dictated from the outside. The principle of "lo tasur" applies only
    to the Great Sanhedrin. In fact it is a nontrivial question as to
    why amoraim never disagreed with tannaim and why rishonim didn't
    disagree with the Talmud and why the Shulchan Arukh is binding today.
    The takkanot of Rabbenu Gershon do not affect Sephardi Jewry.
    Simply stating that they were greater gedolim is not enough.

2.  Rabbis can and do make mistakes. Hatam Sofer points out that if one
    assumes that the Sanhedrin never erred it would violate the principle
    of "lo ba-shamayim hi", that God does not interfere in psak of halakhah.

3.  The question was raised what is the status of the people who listened
    to their rabbis and stayed in Europe when they had an opportunity to
    leave. Let me just point out that this is not an easy question. The
    Gemara at the beginning of Horayiot states that if one commits a
    sin in error based on the decision of the Great Sanhedrin then one must
    bring a sacrifice (chatatt) to atone for his sin (against the opinion
    in the Mishna - we pasken like the opinion I just quoted). Hence,
    the defense "I followed the decision of the bet din (LOR)" is not enough
    to completely absolve the individual. Today sacrifices are no longer
    applicable (until the Temple is rebuilt). Hence, the degree of atonement
    needed by rabbis and their congregants that commit errors is left in
    the hands of God.

4.  Jewish tradition has always distinguished between halakhic and
    non-halakhic topics. Several examples:
    Rabbis Yehudah, Jose and Shimon disagree (Shabbat 33b) about the attitude
    one should have towards the Roman government. No one suggests that we
    follow the normal pattern that the halakhah is like Rabbi Jose to
    give halakhic force for his opinions about the Romans. There is no
    indication that people who disagreed with the Bar Kochba revolt were
    guilty of disobeying the rabbis since Rav Akivah deeclared Bar Kochba
    to be the Messiah. This was Rav Akiva's private opinion and not that
    of the Sanhedrin of that era. Many talmidim of Rav Akiva supported
    the revolt because they were convinced by Rav Akiva not because they
    were ordered.

    Rav Yosef Karo usually paskens like Maimonides. That does not imply
    that Sephardim must follow the philosophic views of Maimonides.

    There are numerous examples of commentaries disagreeing with midrashim
    in explaining verses in the Torah. We do not use the normal rule that
    rishonim and achronim do not disagree with chazal.

    Several rishonim (e.g. Rav Hai Gaon, Maimonides, Rav Avraham ben haRambam
    and others) claim that we do not have to follow the medicines prescribed
    in the Talmud since Chazal were not doctors and the knowledge of
    medicine has improved since then. Tosafot disagrees and says that
    times have changed and so their medicines were appropriate for their
    era but are no longer fitting today (does anyone have a medical
    explanation for this?).

    The Gemara in the beggining of Sanhedrin requires the permission of
    the Great Sanhedrin before a declaration of war. It is not clear why
    this permission is needed. One explanation is that the Sanhedrin acts
    a representative of the people and gives a counterweight to the king.
    In any case it is clear that the king is not required to appoint a
    council of sages to direct general foreign policy. Ramban 
    (Deuteronomy 11:24) states that King David was not required to consult 
    with the Sanhedrin about private wars. In the days of the amoraim 
    the exilarch conducted the policy towards the Persians and not the head 
    of the yeshivas.  The complaints in the Talmud against the exilarchs 
    and their servants relate to the way the household of the exilarch kept 
    mitzvot not their foreign policy.


From: Anthony Fiorino <fiorino@...>
Date: Fri, 26 Nov 93 10:07:37 -0500
Subject: Understanding the Holocaust

In response to the recent discussion of the Holocaust, I have been forced
to do some reading and thinking.  I begin with the position that I cannot
accept the position that it was G-d's will that 6 million be slaughtered. 
For such a statement to be true, one must be understanding G-d's will on a
level so general that the statement is meaningless -- yes, it is G-d's
will that determines who lives and dies, as it determines the movement of
the planets in their orbits and the infinitely small vibrations of each
of the subatomic particles that make up the universe.  So if one means
that it was G-d's will that 6 million die in this general sense; well, it
us hard to argue with that, but the statement is essentially a tenet of
faith -- it offers no explanation, understanding, or solice.

On the other hand, if one means it was G-d's will that 6 million die in a
more specific sense, in the sense that G-d willed or desired that 6
million particular individuals should meat a cruel and inhumane end -- I
cannot accept this understanding of G-d's will because it means that G-d
is evil.  I find it unthinkable, an obscenity, to state that it was in
this sense G-d's will that 6 million, among them countless innocent and
pious souls, died so horribly.  I prefer another vision of G-d -- the G-d
who would spare Sedom for 10 righteous individuals; the G-d who mourns
over His own role in the destruction of the beit hamikdash and the exile
of His people (brachot 3a: ". . . when Israel goes into synagogues and
study halls and responds 'may His great name be blessed,' Hakadosh baruch
hu shakes his head and says 'Happy is the king who is so praised in his
house.  What is there for the father who had to exile his children?  And
woe to the children who were exiled from their father's table.'" see also
eichah rabbah).  It is my contention that G-d mourned as well over the
death of each individual murdered in the Holocaust.  But, given the fact
that G-d can simply will the universe out of existence if He so desires,
how can I understand G-d's inaction during the Holocaust, especially if I
am going to maintain that the Holocaust was as much a tragedy for G-d as
it was for Jews?  R. Eliezer Berkovits (_Faith After the Holocaust_) has
developed the thesis that G-d restains Himself from interfering in the
world to allow for free will.  But if G-d could intervene at mitzrayim,
and other crucial junctures of Jewish history, then why not at churban
bayit?  Why not at the Holocaust?  Furthermore, to posit G-d's withdrawal
from human events means that the creation of the state of Israel cannot be
viewed as a manifestation of G-d's will.

So, I am stuck -- I don't want to say the Holocaust was G-d's will in a
general, non-specific sense, because that is unsatisfying; I don't want to
say it in a more specific sense because it means G-d is evil.  I am
unwilling to consider the possibility that the Holocaust was beyond G-d's
control, and I am unable to find a consistent manner in which G-d might
restrain Himself from intervening in the affairs of klal yisrael.  The old
Epicurean problem of the existence of evil continues . . .

However, perhaps this is exactly where I am supposed to be -- answerless
as the human condition.  "Then the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind,
and said 'who is this who darkens counsel, speaking without knowledge?'"
(Job 38:1-2).  The inability of the person to fathom G-d's actions and
inactions does not make G-d accountable to a human being, not does it
release that person from his obligation to serve G-d.  We are not
priviledged to share that tempting biblical vision of G-d, held
accountable for His deeds by Avraham.  Similarly, the gemara in menachot
(29b) tells us of G-d showing to Moshe the classroom of R. Akiva.  When
Moshe inquires of R. Akiva's reward, G-d shows him R. Akiva's flesh being
weighed in the butcher shop.  Moshe asks "Is this the reward for the
mastery of Torah?" To which G-d replies "Be silent.  This is how I have
decided things."  The conclusion of this gemara is quite ambiguous, leaving
many open possibilities.  How has G-d decided matters?  Has He decided to
retrain Himself from acting on R. Akiva's behalf?  Or, has He decided that
R. Akiva should died a cruel death by torture?  Or, has He merely stated
that all that transpires in the universe is a manifestation of His will? 

I am afraid that there is no understanding of these matters to be found --
though Jewish tradition seems to encourage us to ask the questions, it
also seems to indicate that there are no answers to satisfy human
understanding.  The gemara (brachot 7a) tells us that G-d too prays --
what does He say?  "May it be My will that My mercy overcome My anger and
that My mercy prevail over My attributes so that I may deal with My
children in the attribute of mercy, and on their behalf stop before the
limit of justice."  Perhaps all that is left is to join G-d in His prayer
that His mercy does indeed prevail.

Eitan Fiorino


End of Volume 10 Issue 35