Re: Equal Interval Reading

Isaac A Zlochower (zlochoia@ix.netcom.com)
Mon, 20 Jan 1997 20:34:08 -0800

An objection was raised to the computerized "decoding" of the Torah
based on our standardized Masoretic text. It was argued that the
Babylonian Talmud Kiddushin 30a mentions that the "vav" in "gachon" in
Leviticus 11:42 is the central letter of the Torah, whereas it is some
5000 letters removed from the center in the Masoretic text. It is
apparent from the discussion in Kiddushin, however, that the Babylonian
sages considered the Palestinian Torah text to be more reliable than
theirs. Centuries after the edition of the Babylonian Talmud, the
Masoretic sages in Palestine (Tiberius) carefully examined all the
reliable Torah texts and produced the standardized version that has now
been universally accepted for nearly 1200 years. We have no reason to
believe that this text is significantly different than the Torah text
accepted by Ezra, or the Torah of Moshe, for that matter. Any
objections to the computerized search for hidden words in the Torah
should not be based on a supposed unreliability of the Torah text that
we have.

There are, however, other objections that can be raised at the
excitement generated by the results of some computerized searches. In
some circles, any evidence that the Torah contains hidden messages ia a
cause of celebration. However, it was always understood that Torah has
meanings in addition to the evident sense of the text. This
computerized searching of the text for hidden words can easily become
addictive, and detract from trying to understand the various meanings
of the text using human insight and reasoning. Moreover, those who do
not have an adequate grounding in the text, or who have an inflated
confidence in a computer generated output, can easily be persuaded to
accept some "hidden messages" that really aren't there. I am
particularly concerned that christian groups have now jumped on the
Torah codes bandwagon. I can assure you that they will search and
massage the text to produce "evidence" of their beliefs.

The internet address for Torah codes that was provided by Yaakov Menken
(http://www.trailerpark.com/phase1/arielb/codes/) seems to be free of
such sectarian sources. However, the excerpts from the article by
Witztum, Rips, and Rosenberg in Statistical Science 9, 429-438, 1994
that are posted there are inadequate to assess the signicance or
validity of the claim by the above authors that Breishis (Genesis)
contains hidden information on the names and dates of people listed in
the "Great Men of Israel" encyclopedia. They apparently only report
the finding of 32 names of "second rank" individuals, and did not
report on results of searching for the 34 names of "first rank" (that
is, people with a longer biography) individuals. There are also
limitations on the length of an "acceptable" name, and other seemingly
arbitrary restrictions on the search mechanism. The illustrated
examples given in the above excerpts do not lend much confidence in the
enterprise. They show a 2 dimensional array which contains the names
Zedekiah (the last Judean king) and his original name Matanya. The
text that they use in generating the array, however, covers almost all
of Breishis (8:30 to 46:8, that is, Noah to Vayigash). The full array
is some 3740 columns wide, but they show only 13 columns. It is not
surprising that related names will show up, even in "close" proximity,
in such a large array. It proves nothing.

The earlier work by Rav Weissmandel on equidistant letter codes that
was later expanded and computerized by Rips is of interest, and the
selection of small 2 dimensional arrays based on otherwise mysterious
or seemingly extraneous sections of the text may yet prove to be
instructive. At this point, however, it would be prudent to reserve
judgement on this entire enterprise rather than jumping on the
bandwagon.

Yitzchok Zlochower