Volume 31 Number 02
                 Produced: Tue Jan 18  6:35:22 US/Eastern 2000

Subjects Discussed In This Issue: 

Perfect transmission of All Torah Letters
         [Russell Hendel]
Torah Codes (4)
         [Anonymous, Brendan McKay, Isaac A Zlochower, Eli Lansey]


From: Russell Hendel <rhendel@...>
Date: Sun, 16 Jan 2000 18:17:35 -0500 (EST)
Subject: RE: Perfect transmission of All Torah Letters

I thank Joseph Tabory for his citations (v30n88) that there is a
viewpoint that the meaning of our doctrine of faith that "The Torah we
have in our hands is the same that God gave Moses" is that no WORDS have
changed.However I categorically state that I personally believe that we
have the same Torah in all its LETTERS

I therefore have an obligation to explain those talmudic texts that Dr
Tabory brought. How does a person who believes we have a perfect
transmission deal with the statement that "There were 3 Sefer Torahs in
the Temple and when a problem arose they went by the majority". In
clarifying this I will show that the issue is not just doctrinal but
attitudinal and affects our learning.

Quite simply besides statistical methods the Masoerites developed
special types of Midrashim which would preserve texts. The Minchat Shai
specializes in such midrashim. Let me bring one from Rav Hirsch. The
word "OFFSPRING" is spelled FULL (with all vowels) only twice in
Tnach--Gen 2:4 "These are the OFFSPRING of heaven and earth when they
were created:" and Ruth 4:18 "These are the OFFSPRING of Peretz (from
whom King David came)". Rav Hirsch wryly comments "Only two things in
human history are perfect (and hence spelled fully)--its beginning
(Creation) and its end (The Messianic throne)." Notice how Rav Hirsch's
words besides being "cute" and "philosophical" also preserves the
text. Indeed suppose I was reading one of the Temple Torahs. I come to
Gen 2:4 and I "notice" that "OFFSPRING" (the Hebrew word TOLDOTH) is
spelled with one VAV. I instantly remember the Hirsch Midrash and
suspect that something might be wrong. So I check the other two Sifray
Torah and see that indeed a mistake has crept in.

In other words I am positing that (a) besides the facts that mistakes
happen rarely in any Sefer Torah (as any Baal koray can testify) I am
also positing that (b) the mesorah was preserved BOTH by Midrash as well
as statistics. So it is very reasonable that no mistakes ever crept in.
(To be fair to Dr Tabory I should note that preserving Mesorah with
Midrash is a very tricky business...all I am saying is that some
Midrashim had that goal).

Finally allow me to show how this has influenced my life. I recently (on
another email group) got into a discussion about FULL and DEFICIENT
spelling Precisely because I believe that our Torah has preserved all
letters I spent time learning and researching to see how Rashi dealt
with the problem I gathered all Rashis on the subject and found that
Rashi always used one of two methods (See
http://www.shamash.org/rashi/v1z1-14.htm for details).  In other words
my BELIEFS that the Torah has every letter preserved led to greater

Russell Hendel; Phd ASA; Math Towson University
Moderator Rashi Is Simple


From: Anonymous
Date: Wed, 12 Jan 2000 22:21:22 +0000
Subject: Torah Codes

In response to the poster asking if any actual harm has come about from
Torah codes; yes, exactly the theoretical case he described has indeed
happened.Both husband and wife bacame observant together, convinced of
the scientific truths described in the codes. When they began to
investate scientific issues and found things that could not be explained
by the codes they had seen, they became totally disillusioned with all
of Judaism. They are no longer observant in any way.

From: Brendan McKay <bdm@...>
Date: Mon, 17 Jan 2000 20:04:02 +1100 (EST)
Subject: Torah Codes

I am an author (with Professors Bar-Natan, Bar-Hillel, and Kalai) of the
study on Torah codes recently published by Statistical Science.  The
articles in v30i92 having been brought to my attention, I wish to make a
few comments.

First, Shlomo Godick wrote:
> Solid refutation? I just finished reading Witztum's refutation
> of the refutation (see http://www.torahcodes.co.il/persi2.htm
> and http://www.torahcodes.co.il/persi4e.html) which seems very
> convincing.

It should be pointed out that Witztum's "refutation" refers to only one
paragraph of our paper of 24 pages, so even if it is correct it has
little effect.  Nevertheless, it is not correct.  The dispute concerns
the interpretation of correspondence between Professors Diaconis and
Aumann in 1988-90.  Both those professors agree with our interpretation,
at least in its essential points, so it is not clear why Witztum thinks
he knows better.

Second, Mike Gerver correctly points out that Witztum's "bn" experiment
uses many dates that do not come from the Margaliot encyclodedia.  This
is explained only in two reports dating back to 1986-7.  Dates
considered to be incorrect were modified using other sources.  Most of
those changes were justified.  The real problem with the "bn" experiment
is that, as always, it does not work unless everything is done just
right.  In contrast to the dates, which must be taken from multiple
sources, the names of the fathers must be taken strictly from Margaliot
only, as other names available in the historical record destroy the
result.  Then it is necessary to use the second-most-famous list of
rabbis, as it doesn't work at all for the most famous rabbis.  These
observations, and some others, are quite enough to discredit the

Brendan McKay
Professor of Computer Science
Australian National University

From: Isaac A Zlochower <zlochoia@...>
Date: Sat, 15 Jan 2000 23:21:35 -0500
Subject: Torah Codes

Chaim Mateh questioned the alleged harm that belief in the existence of
equidistant letter sequence (ELS) codes in the Torah would have, as
opposed to the supposed good in bringing some people into accepting the
Divine origin of the Torah.  I believe that our main concern about these
codes should be whether they are valid, not whether they may do more
good than harm.  We simply do not have the data and wisdom necessary to
judge the present and long-term consequences of accepting these ELS
codes as valid.  One consequence that is immediately apparent should
also not be overlooked in attempting such an appraisal.  That is, the
amount of time that the proponents, opponents, and observers have spent
in analyzing the Rips-Witztum paper (94) and the rebuttal article by
McKay et al (99) in the Statistical Science Journal.  There have been
many articles, pro and con, in addition to the above, including a
statistical critique by Hasofer, an article in Jewish Action by Prof.
Simon together with rebuttals by Witztum and Mechanic in that issue.  I
must have spent an aggregate of several weeks time in reviewing the
above articles, corresponding with Rips and Simon, etc.  I gather that
Mike Gerver has put in more time on this subject.  All of this pales in
comparison to the time that Ilya Rips, Doron Witztum, Brendan McKay, and
Prof. Simon have put into the Torah codes issue.

To what conclusion?  How many people who really analyzed the methodology
and data used in the original paper by Rips, Witztum, and Rosenberg
(WRR) are convinced that the pairings of the names and yahrzeits of some
famous and not so famous rabbis are really coded in Bereishit (Genesis).
As far as I'm concerned, the subsequent article by McKay et al which
refutes the claims made in the WRR paper is fairly convincing.  More
importantly, the basic methodology of the WRR paper, that is, of forming
2-dimensional arrays (called tableaus) of portions of Genesis based on
the ELS skip distance of a key word and looking for the geometrical
distance to related words in that tableau is a highly questionable
practice that lends itself to much abuse.  Examples of such use or
misuse are the popular book on such codes by Drosnin and the work of
Christians in finding such pairings related to Jesus.  Although Rips and
Witztum have condemned the use of their tableaus to venture a prediction
of a future event, nonetheless, that is a natural consequence of their
methodology.  It is too tempting to obtain a copy of their program and
use it to, for example, to see if the names of you and your spouse,
fiancee, or date have unusually short separations in some of those
tableaus.  Such use becomes a kind of horoscope which should be
biblically forbidden to believe or act upon.  It is also potentially a
lot more addictive than computer generated "gematriot" which brings up
the question of "bitul" or degradation of torah.

If one really wished to look at closeness of related words in the Torah
using an ELS coding, then a natural method would involve the total end
to end distance of such paired ELS words in the Torah (or Genesis) taken
as a one-dimensional sequence of letters.  The 2-D arrays are arbitrary
and misleading.  The scheme featured in the WRR paper becomes even more
arbitrary by requiring certain modifications in the skip distance of the
words in order to get a measure of relative closeness of the "real" ELS
pairs to those of the modified ELS's.  Rips and Witztum used this
technique originally to derive some kind of naive statistical assessment
of the "reality" of the pairings that they were testing.  It is
irrelevant, however, in providing a test of a list of pairings since
appropriate permutations offer a better statistical test.  Nonetheless,
Witztum et al persist in using these modified ELS's (so do their
critics) despite the great liability that you are thereby limited to
word lengths of 5 to 8 letters.  Incidentally, if one is really testing
a million or a billion permutations of names and dates out of the much
larger number of possible permutations, why not test the same number of
pairings of names and all possible Hebrew calendar dates?

One final note.  Shlomo Godick maintains that Rips and the prominent
Israeli mathematicians who provided letters of approval (haskomot) to
his early work are too principled and competent to have fudged the data
or accepted shoddy work.  Ilya (Eliyahu) Rips is highly regarded by both
sides of this controversy as a highly competent mathematician and very
sincere person.  That is why the four mathematicians gave their approval
letters.  It was more a judgement of the man and a friend than a
critical assessment of his work on ELS codes.  He, himself, is far from
an expert in halachic figures and their designations.  Nor is he the
one, as far as I know, who actually runs the program that tests the
pairings and generates the statistics.  The contention is really between
Witztum, McKay, Simon and others.  One consequence of the codes
controversy is the breakdown of a long standing friendship of two of the
leading frum mathematicians.  One was a signatory to the approval of
Rips early work.  The second, roundly attacked both Rips and the
approvers for foisting and encouraging a false and dangerous methodology
on a naive world.  Hopefully this issue and some of its immediate
consequences will soon be resolved.

Yitzchok Zlochower

From: Eli Lansey <elansey@...>
Date: Sat, 15 Jan 2000 23:14:36 -0500
Subject: Torah Codes

Aside from the question of validity, the only major problem with
accepting the Torah codes as truth is if we are mistaken in our readings
(since none of us are nevi'im) and "predict", from the codes, that
something will happen, and it does not happen, it leaves open a major
case for the bible critics and a chance for massive hillul Hashem.  A
navi is not held "responsible" (navi sheker) for a nevuah of bad (i.e.
apocalyptic) things if it does not happen, since bad judgments can be
reversed. But according to the rest of the world if the bible shows
something bad it must be true and if it doesn't happen the bible "*must
be*" false. So then maybe we can try to explain to the world that bad
predictions do not have to come true. But what happens if the codes show
a future good and it doesn't happen when predicted?

Eli Lansey


End of Volume 31 Issue 2