Hebrew Letters, Gesture & Language

Comments on Torah and Science: The "Torah Codes"

The following is a brief exchange of comments between Stan Tenen and Isaac Zlochower on the subject of the Torah Codes, and "Torah and Science" in general. Personal material has been deleted from these messages, and some explanatory notes have been added in italics for clarity. Each message is copyright 1997 to its author.

[Public posting by Isaac Zlochower to an Internet mailing list]

Date: Tue, 10 Jun 1997 00:10:58 -0700
From: Isaac A. Zlochower
Subject: Re: Torah Code

In my last posting on Torah and science, I mentioned the problem with premature claims that current scientific data and methodology "prove" the existence of G-D and the validity of the Torah text. I cited the work on equidistant letter sequences (ELS's) in Genesis as an example of a claim for a "proof" that only G-D could have been the author of Genesis and the Torah. This bold claim was not actually made in the Statistical Science article [the article by Drs. Witztum, Rips, and Rosenberg, published in Statistical Science 9, 429-438, 1994, on the "Codes in Torah] (such a claim would have guaranteed its rejection by the editor), but it has been made by others.

I would suggest that the distinction between evidence and proof, as understood in science and in a court of law, is being disregarded by people who, apparently, do not understand the workings of science, or who choose to play advocate. The publication of an article in a respected scientific journal does not guarantee that it is correct, much less that it is accepted as valid by the scientific community. In fact, any serious departure from the accepted way of understanding the world will guarantee much opposition from those who would like to uphold the conventional viewpoint. Scientists, in this way, are not much different than non-scientists. What distinguishes science from other disciplines is the emphasis on objective data, logical and mathematically consistent development, and the requirement for additional tests of a proposed model or hypothesis. In the case of the ELS code in Genesis, the use of additional lists of names and dates (or some other associated feature such as book name or city) is an essential requirement for the establishment of its scientific validity. The list of the 32 "semi-famous" Torah personalities, even including the earlier list of 34 "more famous" personalities, that were taken from a particular book is inadequate to establish the validity of their hypothesis. More evidence will be needed before their view will even get a fair hearing in the scientific world.

I, therefore, suggest that all interested parties who have access to relevant historical sources provide Prof. Rips and Drs. Witztum and Rosenberg, or whoever has a copy of the computer program that they used, with such lists of names, books, cities, and dates (all in Hebrew). As a start, let me mention the Ramban-11 Nisan, Rabbi Asher (the "Rosh")-15 Cheshvon, Rabbi Yitzchok (the "Semak")-28 Iyar, Rabbi Mordechai (the "Mordechai")-22 Av, Rabbi Shneur Zalman (the "ba'al HaTanya")-24 Teves. [Note: these are all names of famous historical rabbis and teachers (or the names by which they are commonly known), and the dates which are recorded for their deaths, their "Yahrzeits," in the Hebrew calendar.] The above are, indeed, famous "Rishonim" [teachers], and the last personality is one of the earliest and most famous Chassidic figures. In fact, all of the Chassidic figures have Yahrzeits that are both known and celebrated.

It must be kept in mind, however, that the complicated mathematical scheme used by the above authors imposes serious restrictions on a proposed personality (and date). All acceptable words or word combinations must contain 5-8 letters, no more - no less. In fact, their methodology and the requirement of an official reviewer of their manuscript, produced the peculiar result that their statistics are based on a list of personalities with 5-8 letters from a book which allots 1.5 to 3 lines to each such listed person. Given the alternate ways that they use in designating the various personalities, and the 1-3 ways they use in writing the Jewish date, a list of 298 pairings of names and dates result from the 32 personalities that are considered. These pairings are then randomly permuted 999,999 times, and the "closeness" of the name-date association found in Genesis is compared. The million trials are then taken to represent the entire 32! (why not 298!?) population of possible arrangements of names and dates for the 32 personalities. Indeed, the number of possible arrangement of people and dates should be even greater, since all possible calendrical dates should be paired with each designation of the personalities. Their sampling of the permuted name-date pairs doesn't include any date outside the list. Furthermore, the 6 control texts that they investigated consist of 4 permuted Genesis texts, Isaiah, and a translation of Tolstoy's "War and Peace". They show that the pairings found in these texts are entirely due to chance, whereas only a few permuted pairings from the 1,000,000 trials show a greater "closeness" in Genesis than the real name-date pairings. This is hardly a "proof" that no text other than Genesis (or the Torah) shows this "closeness" property. No one imagines that this utterly minuscule sampling of all the "mind-boggling" possible permutations of a 78,000 letter text such as Genesis (or all other texts) is a representative sampling. It is merely a demonstration of an interesting property of the Torah that should be investigated further.

The current disclaimers made by Prof. Rips, Dr. Witztum, and Dr. Gans concerning the claims made in a just published and widely publicized book, "The Bible Code" [by Michael Drosnin], is a case of trying to close Pandora's box. It is inevitable that the equidistant letter code scheme promoted by the above authors will be misused by those who don't know any better, or who have selfish interests in mind.

In the current climate, it is imperative that the ELS [equidistant letter sequence] code be either more convincingly established, or else retracted. I would also suggest that a simpler way of establishing closeness would be to eliminate reference to variously formed 2 dimensional (2-D)arrays, and to use the natural 1-D array wherein "B" in B'reishis is 1 and "M" in Mitzraim is 78064. The measure of closeness of 2 ELS "words" (strings) is then the interval (range) from the leftmost to the rightmost letter in the pair.

This measure of closeness could be normalized through division by the number of letters in the "word" pair. A further simplification would be the elimination of the relative "closeness" measure of non-equidistant letters that is the source of the restriction on the acceptable number of letters in a usable "word". I would hope that someone with the requisite mathematical and computer skills would take up my suggestions, or show me the "error of my ways". In fact, I would appreciate receiving a copy of the Witztum, Rips, Rosenberg program (executable and source code - if possible), and an accurate electronic copy of the Torah text, to do my own investigation.

By the way, my use of quotes does not necessarily imply a philosophical position relative to the enclosed words. Sometimes, its just a way of avoiding making a definite statement at that juncture. So, be assured, dear moderator, that I do believe in Torah min hashamayim ["Torah from Heaven", i.e., the author believes in the Divine origin of the Torah, as it was given to Moses] despite the use of quotes in one phrase of my last long posting. There is nothing in any of my postings [on] this list, or any discussion list that is not consistent with the idea that the Torah is G-D given.

Although the above disclaimer of heretical tendencies should not be necessary, it is, nonetheless, highly appropriate as we stand ready to celebrate the giving of the Torah.

Have a meaningful Shavuos[*],
Yitzchok Zlochower

[*Shavuos is the Jewish holiday which commemorates the giving of the Torah to Moses on Mt. Sinai.]


To: Isaac A. Zlochower
From: Stan Tenen
Subject: Thanks


Just a quick note to tell you how much I appreciate your extraordinarily intelligent and knowledgeable postings with regard to the Torah codes.

Warmest regards,


Date: Mon, 16 Jun 1997 23:02:30 -0700
From: Isaac A. Zlochower
To: Stan Tenen
Subject: Re: Thanks


Many thanks for your expressed appreciation of my comments on the "Torah Code", and thanks for having opened the subject by your quote from the book by Moshe Koppel. I am waiting for the other shoe to hit the floor, that is, the rebuttal and staunch defense of the Statistical Science article [the published article on the "Codes in Torah, by Drs. Rips and Witztum] by the moderators of this mailing list.

My primary complaints about the above article [by Drs. Rips and Witztum] is their use of an extremely limited data base to form the associated lists, the use of a "relative distance" scheme that forces a 5-8 letter limitation on an acceptable list string, and the avoidance of the natural 1-D array of the letters of the Torah (or B'raishis) to form a more self-evident criterion for closeness. I believe that the above authors were led to the use of a complex scheme using 2-D arrays to evaluate the spatial correlation of 2 associated lists, because of their prior involvement with the use of such arrays to form associations for past and anticipated events. The authors (and Harold Gans) have repudiated the "Bible Codes" book by Drosnin which deals with such associations, but do not fully "own up" to their own (Witztum and Rips) earlier involvement (although Rips "confesses" that he once believed that such arrays contained meaningful associations).

[Remainder of message, on a different topic, omitted]

Be well,

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