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The Effect of Codes in Kiruv

Dr. Simon asserts that “Torah Judaism has so much richness to offer” to the potential Baal Teshuvah besides the Codes which are “peripheral to Jewish values and practice”. Dr. Simon’s unfortunate choice of words contributes to the perpetuation of the myth that Aish HaTorah convinces secular Jews to become frum because of the Codes.

Let us therefore again set the record straight concerning the purpose and goal of Discovery in general, and Codes in particular. Codes are one class out of a one day or weekend-long Discovery seminar that explores the many rational bases for belief in a G-d-given Torah. As such, the Codes are presented in the context of a whole system of classes that examine various aspects of that claim - historical, philosophical, psychological, scientific, etc. If someone finds the evidence for the Torah’s veracity compelling, they will then want to examine its content in depth. Discovery - and Codes - has been overwhelmingly successful in breaking through the enormous barriers that prevent secular Jews from seeing the richness and depth of Torah. It has served as a potent catalyst for secular Jews to open their eyes and take the reality of Torah seriously. The Torah is a mansion; the Codes are but one of many doorways. Discovery - like 99.9% of its participants - has never made the mistake of confusing an entrance for the home itself.

One of Dr. Simon’s justifications for publicly attacking Aish HaTorah’s use of Codes is that he claims to have received reports that there are some people who were turned off to Judaism because of the Codes presentation. We have on file over 40,000 detailed seminar evaluations from our participants. These evaluations clearly show that Discovery has a positive transformational effect on the vast majority of its participants. Of course there are a few Discovery participants who were not impressed by the Codes. But after carefully reading these 40,000 evaluations - specifically for the purpose of responsibly determining what is and what is not effective and well-received - we found only an extremely small number of attendees who were not strongly impacted by the Codes. Letters, personal anecdotes, and reports from all the major Kiruv organizations in North America are received daily at the Discovery office describing secularized Jews’ journey back to Torah that began with a Discovery Seminar.

To evaluate the legitimacy and effectiveness of Codes as a Kiruv tool off-handedly and at a distance, is unwise and counterproductive. Dr. Simon surely realizes that opinions about such sensitive issues should not be based upon anecdotal evidence or second hand reports. We would have expected someone who has chosen to air his criticism publicly about, amongst other things, the rigor of the Codes researcher’s methodologies, to have chosen a far more rigorous methodology himself before publicizing his attack. We invite anyone who is truly serious and responsible about determining what Kiruv tools are effective, to examine carefully the seminar evaluations and the hard data which is, in fact, available. Without such a careful examination, skewed conclusions are bound to be reached.

Another point Dr. Simon makes in his attack is his concern over the potential misuse of Codes by Christian missionary groups in their proselytizing of Jews. If we were to follow Dr. Simon’s reasoning to its logical conclusion, it would lead all of us immediately to ban the Tanach from our homes and schools since for nearly 2,000 years missionaries have misused it as their single greatest proselytizing tool - far more successful than the Codes could ever be. Nevertheless, this concern was brought before the proper authorities. The Posek Hador, R’ Shlomo Zalmen Auerbach Zt’l, explicitly said to continue the Codes research and teaching, and not to worry “Lo Lelaitzim Velo Lanotzrim” - “Pay attention to neither scoffers nor Christians.”

Furthermore, Jews for Judaism, the largest counter - missionary organization in North America, reports that they are unaware of a single Jew who became a believer in J.C because of the Christian’s misuse of the legitimate Codes research. In fact, Jews for Judaism reports that subsequent to reading the two articles I authored demonstrating the Christian’s fraudulent tactics and claims regarding the Codes, several Jews for J. returned to Torah and Mitzvos.

Misinterpreted Quotations:

Dr. Simon asserts that we are overselling our claims concerning the Codes on the Discovery website (www.discoveryseminar.org). In fact, as will be demonstrated, it is Dr. Simon who has oversold his interpretation of what was written and, by doing so, created exaggerations that he can then refute.

For example, in an attempt to diminish the rigor of the scientific research, Dr. Simon refers to a letter reviewing Mr. Witztum and Dr. Rips’ work signed by four world-renowned mathematicians whom Dr. Simon attests to as having impeccable scientific credentials. But Dr. Simon refrains from quoting the letter for the readers, choosing instead to interpret it for them. He insists that the writers meant “nothing more than that” they find the Famous Rabbis’ experiment interesting and worthy of further study.” Dr. Simon is misleading the readers because, as he is well aware, the actual statement strongly affirms the rigor and integrity of both the scientific research and the researchers.

Their own words are as follows:
“...[The] author [Doron Witztum] and his collaborators make a rather convincing case for the predominance of equal - spaced occurrences of ‘meaningful’ word pairs..... The present work represents serious research carried out by serious investigators.” (Emphasis added.)

Furthermore, in the context of how he claims we present the general scientific community’s opinion of the Codes, Dr. Simon references the following quote from our website: “The Codes phenomenon is real.” (Dr. David Kazhdan of Harvard University.)

Dr. Simon publicly attacks our integrity by accusing us of both misquoting and of misusing Dr. Kazhdan’s statement. The reality is that this statement is a word for word quote of Dr. Kazhdan taken from the Modesto Bee newspaper of November 4, 1995. Furthermore, we heard indirectly 10 months ago that Dr. Kazhdan was unhappy about this specific quote being mentioned on our website. We immediately removed it, leaving it only in an article I wrote refuting the claims of Christian Missionaries. It is mentioned there ONLY to demonstrate how the Christians manipulated the statement of Dr. Kazhdan about the legitimate research and deceptively applied it to their nonsense. In other words, this quote was not used as support for the legitimate research, as Dr. Simon insinuates, but rather as a demonstration of Christians’ fraudulent tactics. It is unfortunate that in defense of truth Dr. Simon has allowed himself so much latitude with it. (The reader should be aware that Dr. Kazhdan is one of the four world-class mathematicians who signed the above-mentioned letter confirming the seriousness and rigor of the Codes research.)

Finally, Dr. Simon references another quote from the same article. “Since its publication over two and a half years ago, world-class statisticians and Bible scholars have reproduced and verified these results.” Dr. Simon insists that with this statement we are claiming that “the scientific community generally supports the notion that Witztum et al. have proven that the codes phenomenon is real.”

The reality is that that is not at all what was meant with that statement, nor ever claimed by us. This statement means exactly what it says: that other independent academics and scientists have reproduced the results of the Famous Rabbis’ experiment. Some of those that have replicated the research of Witztum and Rips are Dr. Brendan Mckay, a probabilist at Australia National University and a major critic of the Codes, and Dr. Alexander Pruss, a mathematician and probabilist at the University of Pittsburgh.[1] Dr. Robert Haralick, Boeing Professor of Electrical Engineering at the University of Washington,[2] and Harold Gans, a former senior cryptologic mathematician for the United States’ National Security Agency,[3] have likewise replicated the original results and extended it further as discussed below.[4], [5]

Among those who have gone on record attesting to the seriousness and quality of the research, besides the four world-class mathematicians mentioned before, are: the renowned Israeli mathematician Dr. Robert Auman, [6] Dr. Andrew Goldfinger, a senior physicist at Johns Hopkins University and a senior member of the Space Computer and Technology Group, and Dr. Daniel Michaelson, a mathematician at the Weitzmann Institute. Dr. Jeffrey Satinover, previously adjunct faculty at Yale University and a former William James Lecturer at Harvard,[7] has written a book called “Cracking the Bible Code”[8] that substantiates the seriousness and value of the research (and explains many of the misunderstandings that have recently arisen).


[1] Neither Dr. Mckay nor Dr. Pruss subscribes to the methodology or conclusions of Mr. Witztum and Dr. Rips.

[2] Dr. Haralick has published over 400 scientific papers. He is the developer of the Unix image processing system and is a Fellow of the International Association for Pattern Recognition.

[3] The National Security Agency employs more mathematicians than any other institution in the world. It devotes its resources almost exclusively to the making and breaking of codes.

[4] Cryptologic mathematics is without question the domain of expertise most pertinent to assessing the Codes, and Mr. Gans is the recipient of the United States Department of Defense’s second highest honor, the Meritorious Civilian Service Award. He received this honor for having led a team of mathematical cryptologists in cracking a problem that had been considered all but unsolvable. Almost all of his 180 published papers - as well as the work for which he received the above-mentioned award - remain classified by the government.

[5] Gans and Haralick are two of the world’s experts in the application of statistics to decoding and pattern recognition.

[6] Dr. Auman is one of the world’s experts in game theory, and a member of both the Israeli and U.S. National Academy of Science.

[7] Dr. Satinover holds degrees from M.I.T., Harvard, and the University of Texas. Currently, he is studying physics at Yale University.

[8] This book should not be confused with The Bible Code by Michael Drosnin. Unfortunately, Mr. Drosnin’s book is a gross misrepresentation of the legitimate scientific research, and has caused a great deal of confusion as to the validity and proper use of the Codes phenomenon. Almost all of the examples in Drosnin’s book were not generated using any legitimate scientific methodology and bear, at best, only superficial resemblance to the research of Mr. Witztum and Dr. Rips. Furthermore, Mr. Drosnin irresponsibly uses his so-called “codes” to attempt to predict future events, a premise rejected outright by all the serious codes researchers.