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Torah Codes: Responding to the Critics

Scientific research has confirmed that there are hidden codes in the Torah.[1] Given the consequences of this research, it was inevitable that some people would take exception to the findings. Despite the integrity of the research and the researchers, critics have made many strong attempts to refute the research and discredit the researchers.[2]

We are not under any illusion that any counter-arguments will have any effect on the critics. For most of them, the issue is not the existence of codes; it’s the implication, which runs contrary to their a priori assumptions about the divinity of the Torah. This view is best expressed by one of the critics. When challenged, “what evidence would be enough to convince you that the codes exist?” she responded “no amount of evidence. I know that the Torah was written by human beings!” For other reasons, even religious Jews can be ideologically bothered by the idea that the Torah has such hidden codes.

Scientific evidence rests on facts, demonstrated through repeated experimentation and independent verification. This has been done, and is the basis of our reliance on the authenticity of Torah codes. We present here some of the most common misconceptions and claims made by the various critics, as well as our responses.

Claim 1 - Scientists have disproven the idea of codes in the Torah:

Statistical Science recently published an article in which the authors claim to have “solved the bible code puzzle”. In truth, this article is a compilation of criticisms that have helped make the integrity of the Torah codes stronger than ever. At best, the critics have only raised questions of possible flaws in one of the early experiments.

Imagine Marconi demonstrating his invention of the first radio, bringing out a box of considerable size and turning it on. Naturally, skeptics who have never seen such a thing would be critical, and could claim that Marconi may have cheated; that really this box is so large that the voice coming from within is really just a crouched up human being. At this point, the critics would have the upper hand. But when a later generation comes along with a radio the size of a walkman, is there any validity left to the critics’ arguments? How would one look at the critics if they persisted in clinging to their obsolete theories of deception?

This is precisely the situation with the Torah Codes. The main point of the attack by the critics is the input data of the original Rabbis’ experiment of 1994 (see details below). The data was of a relatively complex nature, and was provided by an expert, Prof. S. Z. Havlin, who is an internationally known scholar in the area of Rabbinical bibliography. The critics, however, claim there is “wiggle room” in the data. We believe that their arguments are riddled with logical, procedural and grammatical errors. But aside from these, several recent codes experiments have been conducted which completely avoid the need for any expert opinion for the input data. The data collection is simple and explicit and leaves no room for choices or optimization.

It is difficult to understand why the critics, who are well aware of the existence of these papers, fail to even mention the existence of these new works. This deception leaves us wondering whether their goal is scientific truth or public relations.

Imagine Marconi demonstrating his invention of the first radio, bringing out a box of considerable size and turning it on.

Claim 2 - The idea of Torah codes is not supported by Jewish tradition:

While there are even Rabbis who repeat this assertion, one would do well to look carefully at traditional and widely accepted Jewish sources that deal with the idea. The concept of “encoded information” and a “hidden text” in the Torah is a well-known and established part of Jewish tradition. The Ramban (Nachmanidies), Maharal, the Vilna Gaon, and others refer to “hidden information in the letters of the Torah” in their writings. There are sources that explicitly state that such codes do exist in the Torah. In other words, the existence of codes in the Torah is not something new. All that is new is the ability to find them with computers and evaluate them with modern statistical methods.

See Appendix A for more details.

The critics then turn to the issue of Rabbinic endorsement for codes research.

On March 2, 1997 a public statement was issued in Jerusalem by the renowned Rabbi Shlomo Fisher, wherein he testified that one of the greatest sages of our generation, Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Auerbach ztz”l, met with the researchers on several occasions. He stated that Rabbi Auerbach not only gave his approval to Codes research but also encouraged its use in Jewish outreach efforts. Rabbi Fisher is also familiar with the research, and wrote his own letters of encouragement.

More recently, several other leading Rabbis have given written endorsements regarding the validity of codes research, the integrity of the researchers, and have endorsed its presentation to lay audiences.

See Appendix B for more details.

Claim 3 - Scientists have disproved the existence of Torah codes by showing that such codes exist in other books, like War and Peace and Moby Dick:

For anybody familiar with the basic idea of ELS codes (see Appendix C for a simplified explanation), it is self-evident that one can find ELSs of words in any text. One could easily find “encoded words” on the side of a box of cereal, in this paragraph, and yes, even in Moby Dick. The question is not one of finding ELSs. The simple fact is that no critic has found, or even claims to find, the statistically significant effect found in Genesis. I.e. no critic has succeeded in taking an objective list of pairs of words, and shown that their ELSs appear near each other any more often than what would be expected in a comparably long text.

So what have the critics found? That theoretically one could cheat. That by surreptitiously not using an objective list of pairs of words, by playing around with many alternative spellings of words, by breaking basic rules of grammar, or by not considering minimal ELSs (see Appendix C), one could concoct a contrived list and deceive people into believing that an objective experiment was performed.

This is precisely the method used by the critics to create “counterfeit” codes in Moby Dick; this is also the technique used in most of the popular books on Bible Codes, as well as the plethora of Christian codes books claiming that “Jesus is Messiah”.

The only difference between the scientists opposed to codes, and the non-scientific use of codes (Michael Drosnin and the Christians) is that the critics admit that their results were obtained through selective choices of data, i.e. cheating. Their claim however, is that the original codes researchers cheated in this same way.

To summarize, there are no scientists who claim that hidden codes actually exist in different texts. Their claim is the opposite - that in fact, there is no such thing as a codes phenomenon in any text, and that the experiments performed and published are fraudulent.

See Claim 5 for the researchers’ response to this claim.

Claim 4 - There is too much “wiggle room” (i.e. flexibility) in the experiments to consider them as objective science.

Ironically, when the critics first made this claim, they provided several instances of where the researchers could have “wiggled”, involving certain choices of names, spellings of Hebrew dates, etc. When these apparent optimizations were examined by rerunning the original experiment, the original results changed from a significance level of 16/1,000,000[3] to 4/1,000,000. (See http://www.Torahcodes.co.il/docum4eng.htm for more information.)

In addition, one of the main questions regarding codes experiments is in the integrity of the data set, i.e. the set of words being searched for in the text. Doron Witztum and Eliyahu Rips, the original researchers who conducted the Rabbis’ experiment, were well aware of this factor. To avoid any accusation of cheating, the task of deciding on spellings and constructing the list was delegated to an outside expert in Rabbinical bibliography, Professor Shlomo Zalman Havlin, from the Faculty of Information Studies and Bibliography at Bar Ilan University.[4] Professor Havlin also pre-established a list of guidelines that would guide his determination of which forms and spellings of names he would take. The appellations used by the researchers were precisely those submitted to them by Professor Havlin.

When the critics questioned Professor Havlin about his methodology in establishing the list of names, he presented to them the guidelines he followed. Of course, when presented with this list of guidelines, the critics responded by claiming that he too must have been involved in the grand conspiracy! (His guidelines are available at http://www.Torahcodes.co.il/havlin.htm.)

To further bolster their claim of wiggle room, the critics, through many months of experimenting with different combinations of appellations and spellings, fabricated their own list (which they admitted was doctored), which does succeed in the Hebrew translation of War and Peace. Their list, however, is riddled with spelling errors, data taken from inaccurate or ambiguous sources, and, despite their insistence to the contrary, repeatedly breaks the original guidelines set by Havlin. A full 45 page refutation of every one of their inadmissible choices is available at http://www.Torahcodes.co.il/debate.htm.

Their response? To find an “expert” to back up their claim that their list was valid and accurate. The one expert they managed to find was Professor Menachem Cohen, a professor of Bible Studies at Bar Ilan University.

Is there any reason to think that a Professor of Bible Studies could proffer an expert opinion on Rabbinical bibliographic data any more than a professor of Chemistry, or a professor of English?[5]

For a sample of one of the many humorous errors in their list, see Appendix D.

Claim 5 - The researchers who conducted the Famous Rabbis’ experiment (published in Statistical Science in 1994) cheated by intentionally manipulating the data while conducting the experiment:

This claim has already been refuted from a number of angles.

A) Independent Verification.

A number of independent researchers have confirmed the integrity of the data and methodology of the original experiment. Harold Gans, formerly a senior mathematician and cryptologist at the U.S. Dept. of Defense, conducted an independent experiment to verify the integrity of the data. He did so by searching for codes related to the places of birth and death corresponding to the precise listing of Rabbis used by Witztum and Rips. He obtained highly statistically significant results. The critics’ response? Yes, he too must have somehow been involved in the (ever-growing) conspiracy.[6]

Furthermore, Israeli mathematician Alex Lubotsky challenge the researchers by speculating why they didn’t run their experiment with a much simpler data set, composed of the names of the Rabbis the way they are referred to in Jewish tradition “so-and-so son of so-and-so”. Witztum took the offer as a legitimate question, ran exactly such an experiment, and achieved significant results! Note that this experiment was a) suggested by one of the critics, and b) has no “wiggle room”.

In addition, Dr. Robert Haralick, Boeing Professor of Electrical Engineering and an expert in Pattern Recognition at the University of Washington, has confirmed the statistical significance of the original Great Rabbis’ experiment by rerunning the experiment using an entirely different methodology.

B) New Experiments.

Many other experiments, including those by independent researchers, have further confirmed the existence of codes in the Torah. In brief:

a) Dr. Alex Rotenberg, a technical programmer in Jerusalem, conducted his own experiment looking for pairings of the names of the children of Haman (found in the Book of Esther 9:7-9) with their date of death, and obtained highly significant results. His experiment can be found at http://www.math.tau.ac.il/~tsirel/claims.htm.

b) Doron Witztum has recently conducted another new successful experiment, modeled after the original Rabbis’ experiment, searching for the names of personalities mentioned in Genesis (Adam, Isaac, the children of Jacob), finding that they appear in proximity to their dates of birth. The beauty of this experiment is the lack of even potential “wiggle room”. The data is taken directly from a Midrash, and the names are spelled exactly as they are found in the Book of Genesis. This experiment, as well as others, can be found at http://www.Torahcodes.co.il/researches.htm.[7].

c) Several other successful experiments have also been reported. One of the strongest of these is an experiment looking for information relating to the 70 nations described in the Torah as being the descendants of Noah and his sons. These experiments can be viewed at: http://www.Torahcodes.co.il/whatsnew.htm.

C) The Challenge.

In the eyes of the critics, the central problem in the Rabbis’ experiment is the claim that the researchers could have cheated using the “wiggle room” available within the rules established by Professor Havlin. In addition to unequivocal refutations of their arguments, the researchers openly proposed a public challenge to the critics well over one year ago: to come to an agreement with us on the appointment of a new independent expert in Rabbinic bibliographical data, and to have him construct his own list of appellations using the original guidelines.

We are still waiting for their response to the challenge.

In addition, a simple logical argument shows that this criticism is meaningless.

Claim 6 - The Torah texts we possess today are substantially corrupt compared to original texts:

The simple fact is that the researchers ran their experiment on the Textus Receptus, by far the most widely used text in circulation in Jewish communities around the world. While there may be slight variations in other extant versions of Torah texts, the differences are much too negligible to have a serious detrimental effect on the results.[8]

In addition, a simple logical argument shows that this criticism is meaningless. There is a difference of opinion among scholars as to how much the text of the original Torah has been corrupted. Some say it has been corrupted by many errors, while others say that no more than a single letter is in question. Thus, one can reason as follows: (1) There is very strong statistical evidence that the codes are real; (2) If there are few errors in the Torah, the statistical evidence for codes will still be there, albeit not as strong had there been no errors at all; (3) if there are many errors in the Torah, the statistical evidence of codes would vanish completely. We therefore conclude that there are at most a few errors in the Torah, as some experts claim. The critics’ position that there must be many errors is thus logically untenable.

Codes Web Sites: http://www.Torahcodes.co.il.
Web site of Doron Witztum: http://www.ma.huji.ac.il/~rips.
Website of Prof. Eliyahu Rips: http://www.discoveryseminar.org/codes/codes.htm.
Aish HaTorah’s codes mini-site: http://members.xoom.com/bcodes.
Web Sites of Codes Critics: http://cs.anu.edu.au/~bdm/diligum/Torah.html.
Web Site of Prof. Brendan McKay: http://wopr.com/biblecodes.


Appendix A - Some of the Jewish Sources for Codes:

• The great teacher of the Ramban, Rabbi Eliezer (Rokeach), in the introduction to his commentary on the Torah, describes “73 ways to understand and interpret the letters of the Torah”. Number 54 is called “the way of skipping”.
• An example of an ELS code is explicitly mentioned in a commentary on the Torah written by Rabbi Bachya in 1291 (chapter 1, verse 2).
• The renowned Rabb i Moshe Cordovero, head of the Rabbinical Court of Tzfat, wrote a book called Pardes Rimonim in 1549. On page 68, he writes that the secrets of the Torah are revealed in its letters through many means, including “skipping of letters”.
• In 1957, the students of Rabbi Michoel Ber Weissmandl published a book called Torat Chemed that contains many examples of letter skipping patterns found by their teacher.

Appendix B - Rabbinic Endorsements:

There are letters available to the public by some of today’s leading Rabbis. They deal with:
a) Confirmation that there is an accepted Jewish tradition that there are ELS codes in the Torah.
b) The reliability of the researchers and the accuracy of their data.
c) The encouragement to research and publicize the findings of Torah codes.

Letters are available in the original Hebrew, as well as translations, from: Rabbi Shlomo Fisher (his own letter, plus one attesting to the endorsement of the late Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Auerbach ztz”l), Rabbi Shmuel Kamenetsky, Rabbi Shmuel Auerbach, Rabbi Shmuel Deutsch, Rabbi Shlomo Wolbe, and Rabbi Matisyahu Solomon.

It is worthy to note as well, that not one Rabbinic authority has endorsed the claims of the critics.

Following is a letter of approbation from the renowned Rabbi Shlomo Wolbe.

2 Marcheshvan 5759
It is known that a way exists to discover hints and matters from the Torah by reading letters at equidistant intervals. This method is found in the commentary of Rabeinu Bechai on the Torah and the works of Rav Moshe Cordovero. More recently, the tzadik, Rav Weissmandel, revealed wondrous things with this method. To my surprise, I have heard that opponents to this method have arisen claiming that various deceptions were performed by those who are involved in this method today. It is astonishing to me that they were not intimidated to state their claims after the Gaon Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach gave his clear agreement to the method of equidistant intervals, and after Rav Auerbach’s son, the Gaon Rav Shmuel, censured them. I am uncertain of these opponent’s intentions. Are they troubled that at seminars to make people religious, that these astonishing matters are sometimes taught, and their effect on the listeners is profound? Is this what is bothering them? Whatever the reason of those who oppose this method, it is certainly not a dispute for the sake of heaven, and we must strengthen those who are engaged in this method, for it is a totally honest endeavor. May they be encouraged and see blessed results to their deeds, and may they continue to increase the honor of our holy Torah and its influence on all who seek the Almighty’s closeness. May the Almighty help those who engage for the sake of heaven in this honest discipline of studying equidistant intervals,
Shlomo Wolbe.

Are they troubled that at seminars to make people religious, that these astonishing matters are sometimes taught, and their effect on the listeners is profound? Is this what is bothering them?

Appendix C - What is an ELS code?

To fully understand the method of finding and evaluating the codes, one must read the full technical description given in the paper in Statistical Science. (Vol. 9, issue 3, June 1994) However, the following simplified explanation will give the reader a rough impression of the nature of the research. The claim made by the researchers is roughly as follows:

1) ELSs (Equidistant Letter Sequences) are words spelled out in a text by skipping an equal number of letters.

2) Any word may appear several times at different skip intervals in the same text - i.e. the word “hammer” may appear in a text every 4th letter at a certain point, somewhere else every 29th letter, somewhere else every 245th letter, etc. One of these occurrences will be the “minimal” ELS. (In this example, the ELS of 4.)[9]

3) We observe that in the Hebrew text of Genesis, the minimal ELSs of related words (i.e. “hammer” and “anvil”) appear encoded in close proximity to each other.

4) We perform objective experiments on large sets of pairs of words and demonstrate that this effect (called “the proximity of related ELSs”) occurs much more often than would be statistically expected.

Appendix D - The debate over spellings of names:

When the critics manipulated their list of names to make it succeed in War and Peace, they consistently violated basic rules of spelling and grammar. At times, they went even beyond, and had difficulty even just looking up names. Here we will cite only one flagrant example:

They attempted to prove that Rabbi Moshe Zacuta’s name does not appear in the form “Zacuta” (אתוכז) (as was used in the original experiment), but only as “Zacut” (תוכז). To this end they cite the title page of his biography, where the name “Zacut” indeed appears. Had they turned one more page they would have seen that in the Polish title the name appears as “Zacuta”, and in the German as “Zakuto”.

For a detailed analysis, see the full refutation of the critics’ data at www.Torahcodes.co.il


[1] See the article ELSs in the Book of Genesis, printed in Statistical Science, June 1994. The research was conducted by Doron Witztum, along with Professor Eliyahu Rips, a world-renowned mathematician.

[2] At one point, in lieu of any of their arguments being accepted for publication, the critics went so far as to gather a petition of scientists who are opposed to the research being carried out. When was the last time a scientific issue was decided by petition?

[3] The original published statistic was 16/1,000,000, or p=.000016. The experiment was later re-run on a more expansive set of control tests and achieved the result of 59/100,000,000. After taking into account possible optimizations, the results changed to 19/100,000,000!

[4] An expert in linguistics, Yaakov Orbach ob”m, was also consulted regarding the proper way of referring to Hebrew dates.

[5] Note too, that independent Rabbinic authorities, in a public letter, stated that “we checked the rules according to which Professor Havlin formulated his list of names and titles of Torah leaders, and we found that it was commensurate with both professional standards and common sense.. The list is in keeping with the principles. We found that all the claims concerning the opponents’ individual claims concerning deviation from the principles to be false”.

[6] To quote Harold Gans: “It is important to note that the list of places of birth and death were obtained using a precise and detailed linguistic protocol to ensure accurate data and accurate spelling. In spite of the fact that this experiment directly corroborates [the Witztum-Rips] Famous Rabbis experiment, and has been public knowledge for over eight years, no one has ever succeeded in producing a counterfeit of this experiment. The strict use of a precise protocol effectively blocks any attempt to cheat.”

[7] Professor Rips ran a similar experiment, focusing only on the names of Jacob’s twelve sons, and also using other variant sources for the dates of death. He too achieved significant results. His experiment is available at http://www.ma.huji.ac.il/~rips

[8] The one other well accepted text of the Torah is the standard one used by Yemenite communities, in which there are 8 variations over the 304,805 letter text of the Torah. When tests were run on the Yemenite version of Genesis, the results remained significant.

[9] Other ELSs that are not the minimum, but are minimal over large areas of the text are also considered, but their effect is pro-rated in kind.