Is it possible to prove the divine origin of the Torah?
As we approach the celebration of Matan Torah, one may ask, is it possible to prove the divine (or at least non-human) origin of the Torah? This question may come as a surprise to many, as for most people this is a matter of faith and does not require scientific confirmation. Others, however, believe that faith must also be based on rational grounds. We believe something because there are more evidence for it than against it, and so the Torah should be subject to such analysis too.
What are the evidence for the divine origin of the Torah? 1. For some people the prophecies of the Torah are convincing, especially in our time when the return of the Jewish people to the Land of Israel has become a reality (see Deuteronomy 30:3-5). 2. Some people base their believe on the story of the revelation at Mount Sinai (Exodus 19-20), because they find it very unlikely that such an event that experienced by an entire nation is only later became part of our history, a belief shared not only by Jews but also Christians and Muslims. 3. And there are those who refer to information in the Torah that the Jewish people could not have known when the Torah was written, e.g. that the pig is the only animal that has a fully split hoof but does not chew the cud (Leviticus 11:7).
However, at the end of the 20th century, an astonishing discovery was made which set the provability of the Torah’s transcendent origin on a scientific basis. Eliyahu Rips – a professor of mathematics at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem –, working with Doron Witztum and Yoav Rosenberg, used statistical methods to prove that the Torah contains interconnected hidden information that could not have been created by man (see below). These are the so-called Torah Codes, which appear in the Torah text by skipping an equal number of letters. The statistical method they use is the same what other fields of science use to prove a correlation, so it can serve a very strong evidence for the believers for the divine origin of the Torah.
The notion that there are hidden information in the Torah is an accepted idea in Judaism. The Vilna Gaon wrote about it like this (Sifra ditzniuta 5): “The rule is that all that was, is, and will be until the end of time is included in the Torah from the first verse in Genesis until the last word in Deuteronomy. And not merely in a general sense, but including the details of every species and of each person individually – and the most minute details of everything that happened to him – from the day of his birth until his death.” But how can the Torah contain all of this? The 16th century kabbalist Rabbi Moshe Cordovero explains it this way (Pardes Rimonim 68a): “The secrets of our Holy Torah are revealed through knowledge of combinations, gematria (numerology), switching letters, first and last letters, shapes of letters, first and last verses, skipping of letters, and combinations of letters.” This ancient method of skipping letters is used to find the hidden codes in the Torah.
In the first half of the 20th century, the Hungarian born Rabbi Michael Dov Weissmandl began to study the equidistant letter skips in the Torah. He divided the text into small parts and searched for patterns in them with meticulous work. One example has been found right at the beginning of the Torah (see Figure 1). If we skip 49 letters from the first tav in the Torah, we find the 50th letter is a vav. The next 50th letter is a resh and the next one is a he. If we put these letters together, we get the word Torah. Hence at the beginning of the Torah, the word Torah itself is hidden by 50 letters apart. This could be just a coincidence of course, but it could also be a kind of fingerprint of the author.
Rabbi Weissmandl was familiar with the idea attributed to the Vilna Gaon, that Maimonides – the famous Talmudic scholar and philosopher who lived in Egypt –, can be found hidden in the following verse of the Torah: “God said to Moses: Pharaoh will not listen to you, so that my wonders may be multiplied in the land of Egypt.” (Exodus 11:9). The first letters of the Hebrew words “so that my wonders may be multiplied in the land of Egypt” spell out the abbreviation of Rambam. Rabbi Weissmandl wondered if the main work of Rambam, the 14-volume codification of Jewish law, the Mishneh Torah, could also be found in the same section (see Figure 2). Indeed, he found these two words separately also 50 letters apart in the same place. The fact that the Torah, that has more than 300,000 letters, contains Rambam and his main work in close proximity to each other is much less likely to be a coincidence. At first glance, it may seem strange why there is such a large distance between the two words, but if you count from the first mem of the word Mishneh to the first tav of the word Torah, you get exactly 613 letters, as many as the commandments, that the work itself contains.
In the late 1970s, Eliyahu Rips – a professor of mathematics at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem –, took notice of Rabbi Weissmandl’s work and together with Doron Witztum, also searched for patterns in the Torah, this time using a computer.
In one of their trial, they looked for words related to Chanukah (see Figure 3). The term Chanukah was found at an equidistant letter skip of 262 (backwards) in the Book of Genesis. The really fascinating part was that they found several other Chanukah-related terms close to it. The word Maccabee appeared crossed with Chanukah. The word Chashmonai was also found nearby. Yehudah, the leader of the Maccabees, and the Hebrew name for Greece (Yavan) are also found there. And the 8 days (chet yamim) of the miracle of Chanukah appeared in the text exactly the same number of letter skip as Chanukah. The two scholars wanted to present their findings to the scientific community, so they designed an experiment.
The Famous Rabbis experiment
Rabbis, who had at least three columns of text written about in the Encyclopedia of Great Men in Israel were selected and then searched for as an equidistant letter skip in the Book of Genesis. Then they looked for the dates of their birth and death in the same way in the text, and used a mathematical formula to determine whether the rabbi’s name and dates were in close proximity. The list was compiled by Professor Shlomo Havlin, head of the Department of Bibliography and Librarianship at Bar Ilan University. The rules of orthography and the form of the Hebrew date were determined by a linguist, Dr. Yaakov Orbach. Figure 4 shows the example of Rabbi Shlomo Luria, the Maharsal, who lived in the 16th century. The year (he shin lamed dalet) and date (yud bet Kislev) of his death have been found close proximity to the rabbi’s name.
A total of 34 rabbis’ data were analyzed and the results were sent to the scientific journal Statistical Science. They asked Professor Persi Diaconis – who holds a PhD in mathematical statistics from Harvard University –, to verify the results. Diaconis asked the scientists for more control experiments, so Rips and Witztum looked for the names and dates of the rabbis in other books. They ran searches in the Samaritan Torah, in versions of Genesis in which the words and sentences were jumbled, in Hebrew translations of War and Peace and Moby Dick, in modern Israeli novels, and in dozens of other works, but nothing had as many multiple equidistant letter skips in close proximity as did the Book of Genesis. Finally, they mixed 1 million name and date pairs in different ways to check whether the original results were statistically reliable.
The chance of the rabbis’ name and date of birth and/or death appearing in close proximity by accident were 1 in 62,500, so the study was published in August 1994 and generated a huge response.
In his foreword to the article, the editor of the journal admitted that they hesitated to publish the results because it completely goes against common sense that there could have been hidden information about later historical figures in an ancient text, but finally they decided to publish it because of the rigorous testing and statistical reliability.
Of course, there were people who questioned the validity of the experiment, mainly on the ground of possible spelling variations of the input data, therefore later tests were carried out to eliminate these alleged biases. For example, all the names of the sixty-three volumes of the Talmud were found in close proximity in the Torah, as were the names of the thirty-one cities conquered by Joshua. In each case with statistically significant results. Harold Gans, a senior cryptologic mathematician for the U.S. Department of Defense, conducted a study with the same rabbis list used by Rips and Witztum. However, instead of dates, he looked for the cities where the rabbis lived and/or died. His results were four times better than the original Rips-Witztum experiment: 1:250 000. And because Gans used the same list of names, the success of the study confirmed the validity of the Rips-Witztum experiment. Finally, in 2006, seven papers were submitted to the 18th International Conference on Pattern Recognition in Hong Kong, demonstrating that the methodology and the results of the original experiment were correct.
Since then, a number of other codes have been found in the Torah – albeit mostly not a result of scientific experiment – including the Holocaust, the moon landing, the terrorist attacks of 9/11 and the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin. It seems that the Torah does indeed contains the major events of Jewish- and world history in a hidden way, which could provide a very strong evidence for its divine (or at least non-human) origin.
If you want to learn more about the Torah Codes, read Rabbi Tzvi Gluckin’s Discover This: Who Wrote the Torah and How Do You Know?
Chag Shavuot Sameach!
Have a happy and meaningful Shavuot!