Mr Doron Witztum and the Chanukah cluster in War and Peace
This is the third and final part of the long version of the reply to the
article "Did they really find codes in War and Peace" by Doron Witztum.
Text which is indented and italicised is quoted from Witztum's
article, except that the Hebrew letters have been transliterated according
to the Michigan-Clairmont scheme.
We show that none of the errors alleged by Witztum are errors at all,
except for two typos of trivial significance. His abject failure
demonstrates yet again the bankruptcy of his position.
Witztum's new soap opera
Recently on Channel One Television in Israel, on the show "Popolitika",
as well as in other places, psychologist Professor Maya Bar Hillel
claimed that she and her colleagues found "hidden codes" in the Hebrew
translation of Tolstoy's War and Peace. They claim that this finding
is the same type of code that is found by code researchers in the
Torah. The first example they brought was on the subject of Chanukah.
There is a fundamental difference between the serious scientific
research that has been done on codes in the Torah, and the "War and
Peace" example presented by this group. It is possible to distinguish
between them like distinguishing counterfeit money from the real thing.
Neither Maya Bar-Hillel nor any of her associates ever claimed
to find hidden codes in War and Peace except as tongue-in-cheek
parodies of Mr Witztum's claims. Our position is precisely the
reverse: that Mr Witztum did not find hidden codes in the Torah.
The fact is that Mr Witztum has not and can not provide ANY evidence
of a scientific nature.
It is very important to understand this non-symmetry between
Mr Witztum and his critics. It is not a competition over whose
examples are the most scientific, as the skeptics do not claim
that examples like their Chanukah cluster are scientitic. The
skeptics in fact claim this:
Our Chanukah cluster is totally ridiculous, just like
the word clusters of Doron Witztum are totally ridiculous.
Mr Witztum pretends he can prove the critics are wrong just by
finding fault with their demonstrations of data manipulation.
Readers should not be fooled by this device.
The situation is quite similar to a famous scenario. Several
professional magicians have demonstrated they can "bend spoons"
just as convincingly as Uri Geller. Can Geller get off the hook
just by proving that the magicians did not use supernatural powers?
Of course not! He has to prove that he does use supernatural
In the same way, the onus is on Mr Witztum to prove that he really
does his experiments by honest rigorous scientific methods. He cannot
do it, because he is not honest, nor rigorous, nor scientific.
Did Mr Witztum find any errors?
In May 1997 it was publicized through the Internet that
amazing codes had been "discovered" in the book War and Peace. The
authors of the document, who signed their names as codes in the segment
of War and Peace which accompanied their report, were Professor Brendan
McKay of the Australian National University, Dr. Dror Bar Natan from
the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Alec Gindis and Aryeh Levitan of
Jerusalem. This is the group that Professor Maya Bar Hillel works with
These authors report that they examined a text of 78,064 letters (the
same length as Genesis), taken from the Hebrew translation of War and
Peace (from the beginning of the book). They investigated how the topic
of Chanukah appears in this text. By their account, they discovered
that in one section of the text no less than 59 expressions related to
Chanukah appear, each one of which is the minimal appearance of the
word in the entire text, or else it appears in consecutive letters. The
authors claim that they calculated the probability of this occurring by
chance and discovered that it came to less than
The fact is that we published a discussion paper months ago explaining
how we made the picture and why the probability is not what it seems.
The purpose was to demonstrate the dangers of taking probabilities at
face value. The paper can be found here:
We remind the reader that Uri Geller cannot improve his case by
proving that magicians bend spoons by trickery. They admit it.
He has to prove he doesn't use trickery himself. Alas for poor Uri,
In the document which they publicized, the authors try to create the
impression that what they are presenting is similar to the codes which
have been discovered in the book of Genesis. (See the internet site at
The truth is that there is an enormous difference between this attempt
and the genuine discoveries which have been made. Let us consider the
[long and very boring story about bombs deleted]
A. HUGE AREA OF THE TARGET
Dr. McKay et.al. proceeded in the same manner as the "lobbyists" of our
analogy. In contrast to the compactness of the proximities which we
presented relating to the topic of "Chanukah", McKay et al. used an
enormous array consisting of 14,719 letters, which comprises
about 20% of the entire text!
In his usual non-scientific way, Mr Witztum is trying to rule by fiat.
Real scientists don't say "you have to do it my way"; that is how
cult leaders behave.
In fact, there is no reason at all why one can't present a big picture
with lots of words instead of a little picture with few words.
The history of the picture was as follows: We had about half a dozen
pictures of 5-15 words each. They were large but not so large.
When we considered what to publish, we found that several of them
actually overlapped, so we joined them into a single picture.
This did not show our examples in a good light, because it is not
possible to place so many words in a pleasing configuration using
a single row length. Nevertheless, it is obvious from the picture
that one can extract a number of respectable small pictures from it.
(Remember that the fragment can be redrawn with a better row length
and the edges can then be cut off.) We won't bother demonstrating
this, as a better example appears with our
of Chanukah experiment.
We should also point out another difference between our picture and
Mr Witztum's pictures. Whereas every one of our words is either an
ELS minimal in 100% of the text or has skip +1 or -1, Mr Witztum
commonly uses words that are minimal in only some fraction of the
text, such as 80% or 50%, even as little as 34%. With such low
standards we could have easily doubled, or more than doubled, the
number of words in our picture.
Take, for example, Witztum's Chanukah "experiment" discussed in
the second part of this article.
The smallest rectangle that includes a minimum ELS of each
of Mr Witztum's four words has 7536 letters, making it more than half
the size of our big picture! In other words, by our standards his
example is a dismal failure.
B. LAXNESS IN THE LIST OF EXPRESSIONS
A close examination of the list of expressions which these researchers
report having found reveals certain peculiarities. (We will use the
following convention: We will rank the ELS's of a particular expression
according to the size of the skips between letters. The ELS with the
shortest skip in the entire text will be termed the "most minimum."
The next smallest ELS will be called the "second most minimum" and the
one after - the "third most minimum," etc.):
1. McKay et al.'s claim to have found 41 different expressions, each at
its most minimal appearance or as consecutive letters. Some of these
appear more than once, yielding 59 total hits.
2. The word list they supply in English. When one tries to deduce what
words they correspond to in the Hebrew text, one runs into difficulties,
as we discovered when we tried to replicate their experiment. For example:
What follows is a totally ridiculous soap-opera that features Doron
Witztum pretending to guess what is in our picture without actually
looking. Why anyone would want to read his self-indulgent tripe is
beyond me, but let's bravely dive in, just in case he says something
They list the expression "Greek army." The Hebrew equivalent,
does not appear in the target segment. They seem to have had in mind
the expression CB) YWN, which does appear in its most minimum
form in the segment.
CB) YWN is perfectly valid. In fact, it is the form
most consistent with Mr Witztum's "experiment" in [WRR2].
The expression "Hashmonai," which is written in Hebrew X$MWN)Y,
does not appear in the segment at all.
We used X$MN)Y, which though less common is quite valid.
For example, it appears in the Haggadic Midrashim several times.
"Modiin" is written MWDY(YN in Hebrew. This word does not appear
in the segment. We thought perhaps they had used the nonstandard
spelling, MWDY(YM, but this form also does not appear in
We used MWD(YT, which is a valid alternative name for the
same place. It can be found, for example, right in the heading of
the entry for Modiin in Encyclopedia Hebraica.
"Pure oil" (as it relates to the topic of "Chanukah") translates
as $MN +HWR. This expression does not appear in the segment.
As Mr Witztum knows perfectly well, our picture shows the similar
expression $MN ZK. This example is worth looking at closer, as it
shows Witztum's entire case in microcosm. Opening his book at page
55, we find this:
Yes folks, Doron Witztum himself used the word he now wants
to rule invalid.
"Maccabees" is written in Hebrew MKBYM. The minimum of MKBYM
does not appear here. This expression appears in the segment only in its
eighth most minimum form! After additional investigation, we guessed
that they were referring to the expression HMKBYM (the Maccabees),
with the definite article. And indeed, the minimum form of this word
If Mr Witztum would only look at the picture, all of these tedious
additional investigations would be quite unnecessary. Let us also
remind the reader that the trick of adding prepositions and articles
to turn non-minimal ELSs into minimal ELSs was pioneered by Witztum
"Praise" is the translation of the word HLL. This short word appears
in its most minimum form 76 times in the text, 14 of which are in
this segment, just as one would expect to occur by chance. Therefore
we thought that perhaps they had in mind the expression HHLL
(the praise) with the definite article. However, this form appears
6 times in the text, only one of which is in this segment.
"Praise" in English is both a noun and a verb, Mr Witztum. All you
had to do was look at the picture and you would have seen the verb LHLL.
However, we thank you for finding HHLL also present with minimal skip.
We will add it with a sincere acknowledgement.
Of course, the most fundamental expression related to this topic is
the word "Chanukah" itself. The minimum of XNKH does not
appear here. We looked for the word XNKH in the segment, and
it appears only in
its seventh most minimum form. By now our experience had taught us
to try adding the definite article, but written this way we found the
word only in its 13th most minimum form! It then occurred to us that
perhaps they were referring to an appearance of the word as XNKH
consecutive letters in the text. And indeed, XNKH does appear
in its consecutive form.
Really, Mr Witztum! How could you have missed those four pretty
red rectangles all in a row?
If we spell the word "Chanukah" in its alternative form, XNWKH,
we find that it does appear as a minimum. (The spelling XNWKH
appears in the segment in its fifth most minimum form).
I'm puzzled. How can XNWKH be merely the "alternative form", yet
it is the only one used by the Mishna Brurah? (Please see the second
part of this article, where Witztum cites the Mishna Brurah as a spelling
authority for XNWKH.)
"Chanukiya" is written in Hebrew either XNKYH or XNWKYH.
Since on the table which they supplied it appears that they used both
forms, we looked for both forms. XNWKYH appears only in its
second most minimum form, as does the spelling XNKYH. With the
addition of the definite article, HXNWKYH does indeed appear
in its most minimum form, but HXNKYH only appears in its third
most minimum form.
We used HXNWKYH and never claimed to use two forms.
"Torah" appears in this segment only in its 15th most minimum form.
As consecutive letters in the text only one of its three appearances
landed in the target segment. With the definite article it appears only
in its 13th most minimum form.
"Miracles" translates into NSYM in Hebrew. We were only able to find
it in its seventh most minimum form. We thought that here too they
had used the definite article, but NSYM only appears in its ninth
most minimum form. We thought of looking for the word in its
consecutive form, and indeed we did find one such appearance, but
unfortunately it was outside of the target segment. Only afterwards,
when we consulted their own table did we discover that they had
spelled the word - "NYSYM" (the addition of the first "Y"
is a convention to facilitate reading without diacritical marks)!
NYSYM is used 27 times in the Jerusalem Talmud, compared to only
twice for NSYM. It also has that spelling 2 of the 5 times it appears
in the Mishna. Both those works date from before the introduction of
diacritical marks (nikud). To see that using NYSYM is perfectly
consistent with Witztum's practice, we can look in [WRR3] to find
two words, GY+YN and QYDW$YN, spelt as they appear in the Babylonian
Talmud despite explicit rules in the same paper requiring them
to be written using "grammatical orthography". Here we see yet again
that Witztum is perfectly willing to argue against himself.
(Don't tell anyone, but the word even appears once as NYSYM in
Mr Witztum's spelling authority, the Mishna Brurah.)
A "spinning top" is a SBYBWN in Hebrew. This word does not appear
at all in the segment. It was later discovered that they had used the
word "dreidel", which isn't even Hebrew, it's Yiddish!
Very good. We used "dreidel", and even named it in bold letters in
our introductory text (proving that Witztum's "later discovered" is yet
another lie). Is Yiddish less appropriate than the English, German
and French words that Mr Witztum uses in his book?
Here are a couple of little puzzles for our readers. Each of these
was seriously presented by Doron Witztum. Can you guess what they mean?
Click on the word to see the solution. After taking this test,
you will appreciate how serious a sin we committed by using a word
that is spoken on Chanukah by millions of Jews around the world.
Actually we made a slight error of judgement with "dreidel". Since
Mr Witztum had previously led the way by writing Oppenheim with a
single Y, we thought we should do the same with dreidel. On reflection,
it would have been better to not sink to such depths. No need to worry
though -- the minimal skip ELS of the correct spelling DRYYDL appears in
our segment as well. We will change it.
Let us summarize what we have learned in the preceding section:
Let us summarize first. Of all the errors claimed by Mr Witztum,
not a single one is an error.
McKay et al. must have investigated at least the following
possibilities for each of their 59 words:
- The word as it is written in its "full" form, i.e. with the inclusion
of the vowels "W" and "Y"
- The word as it is written using it's vowelized spelling form
- With the definite article ("H")
- Without the definite article ("H")
- Non-Hebrew forms of the word (e.g. "dreidel").
Mr Witztum is quite correct. We copied every single one of those
from him. In fact, had we studied [Wit] more closely, we would have
noticed an even wider variety of choice, for example the preposition
L as in LM)WR (for light) and the preposition B as in BS)D)T
(at Sadat). We could have tried lots more!
We also mention in passing that 'ktiv dikduki' is NOT the same
as defective (vowel-reduced) spelling.
Each of these possibilities was searched for twice: once as an ELS and
then again as consecutive letters in the text. In all, 10 different
possibilities for each word.
Even if their list really represented an a priori list of expressions
relating to the topic of Chanukah (which we will soon see it does not),
and even if there were only five different possibilities for each word
instead of 10, we would still expect to receive result similar to the
ones they observed purely as a result of chance, because the
probability of hitting within such a large target area, comprising a
fifth of the text, is of course one in five.
Witztum's "of course" notwithstanding, the statement is false. It is
true only for short words. However, we remind the reader that
months ago we published an article explaining why the probability isn't
very small. Witztum is trying to trick you into thinking he can
defeat us by proving our case.
Moreover, we have learned that the report which was publicized contained
inaccuracies, and that some of the words reported are not to be found
What we have learned is that Mr Witztum is just making argument
for the sake of argument. He has no interest in the truth, only in
protecting his personal status as Codes Guru. Even if he has to
argue against words he has used himself.
THE REAL RESULTS
In order to demonstrate just how critical the size of the target segment
is, and just how critical it is to use a precise methodology for measuring
proximites, we ran the following test. Our measurements were made using
the methodology outlined in the above-mentioned papers. McKay et al. are
familiar with it, and they know how to use it:
We mentioned in section 2 that within the enormous area of the table
used by the researchers there were two possible "targets" - the two
occurrences of the main topic, "Chanukah." The spelling XNWKH
appears as an ELS, and the spelling XNKH appears as consecutive
letters in the text. If the associations are genuine, then the related
words should converge around these two targets.
Mr Witztum is pontificating again. There is no reason I have to accept
even the concept of "targets", nor do I have to accept his proclamation
of what targets we have. After all, I am far more qualified to design
scientific experiments than he is.
More importantly, Mr Witztum is being seriously disingenuous. Looking
again at [Wit], we see the following "targets" used for the Chanukah
pictures: HXNWKH (the Chanukah), L) YSWR (shall not depart), KH KSLW
(25th of Kislev), MWDY(YN (Modiin), PK H$MN (oil pitcher). Some of those
do not even have 100% minimal skip! Yet we are only permitted XNWKH
In fact we see in the appendix of [Wit] an "experiment" that uses
about 60 distances, supposedly centered at HXNWKH, of which 43 word
pairs do not even involve the word HXNWKH itself!
We carried out two test "bombings," where the arsenal of "bombs"
consisted of exactly the words the researchers had marked off on their
table. In one test we "bombed" the word "XNWKH". The combined
results were just what one would expect to happen by chance. In the
second test we "bombed" the word "XNKH" with the same bombs.
Once again the results were totally random.
The proximities they show around the word XNKH or XNWKH,
are expected to occur by chance on every other page of your local newspaper.
The statement above, taken literally, is totally false. Perhaps
Witztum means that similar types of proximities can be found
anywhere. If so, he is quite correct, both about our proximities
and his. Proximities as good as any he has shown can be found in
any sufficiently long text.
All of this is completely irrelevant, anyway.
Since we always admitted that the real probability was not
spectacular, it achieves nothing to show it again.
What Mr Witztum has to prove is that his own examples are better.
C. FURTHER ERRORS
By all rights, we could end our critique here. But if we examine the
way they chose their expressions, we can see that the situation is even
McKay et al. quoted translations from (primarily) three Hebrew sources.
They indicated with bold face type the words which they considered to
be the most important ones.
One can see right away that they chose to mark off only a small
selection of words. Among those which they have ignored are some of the
most central ones related to Chanukah. For example the name Matthias
If one looks at the large chart of Chanukah-related words in [Wit],
one can see right away that many words central to Chanukah are
missing. Even such important words as HMKBYM (the Maccabees).
Of course, that has nothing to do with the fact that
c(HXNWKH, HMKBYM)=57/125. He even sinks so low as to exclude some
of the words that appear in the Chanukah chapter of his book, for
example MWDY(YN (Modiin) and $MNT YMYM (8 days). The first one is
stated to be "integrally related to the matters of Chanukah" (p53),
but his "experiment" forgets it.
Even more surprising is the fact that they did not even use all of the
expressions which they themselves marked off! They seem to have
"forgotten" the words: "priests", "king", "Greek kings", "High Priest",
and others. On the other hand, among the list of words which they
marked off in the segment of the text, there are more than 10 which are
not marked in the sources. The explanation is simple: the
expressions which they "forgot" are the ones which failed to show
up in the target segment!
"Priests" and "king" didn't interest us as they are far too
non-specific. For example, "king" appears many times but we didn't
bother marking it. We marked "king-priest," which is much
more relevant to the Chanukah story.
"Greek kings" and "High Priest" were set in bold type by accident.
We congratulate Mr Witztum on at last showing some errors, even if
they are only typos that appear neither in the picture index
nor in the picture.
We also made a few more errors, and we wonder why Mr Witztum failed
to find them. The very nice words YWNYM (Greeks), HLNYS+Y (Helenistic),
and NRWT (candles) are all there with minimum skip and we missed them.
But that is not all: The innocent reader is lead to believe that the
expressions which they did find in the segment are the same as those
which appear in the original Hebrew sources from which the word list
was compiled. This is in fact not true. They retranslated the words
back into Hebrew arbitrarily to fit the words found in the target
In one instance, they went even one step further. They actually
changed an original text of the Talmud.
Instead of the phrase "..and only found but one vessel of oil",
they changed the source to read "..and they
found but one small pure vessel of oil." Why the change?
they needed the expression 'pure vessel', because they knew that it
appeared in their segment of the text!
I corrected this error months ago, within hours of finding out about it.
Witztum knows that.
The phrase "pure vessel" was already marked in the text before the
quotation and should not have been marked inside it.
Naturally, we would like to believe that all of this happened as the
result of innocent errors, but the document produced by McKay et
al. should at least serve as warning to all to be wary of charlatans.
What is clear from our analysis is that one has to check any claimed
results carefully: scientific analysis allows us to distinguish
between what is real and what is counterfeit.
Since Mr Witztum has never done a scrap of scientific analysis,
his pompous pronouncements on the matter are worth nothing more
than a bit of a giggle. Anyway, he is off target as always.
All of our experiments with strong positive results are cooked, just
as all of his experiments with strong positive results are cooked.
The difference is that we admit it and he denies it.
The large Chanukah cluster was never intended as a serious experiment,
and never presented by us as that. It is only a demonstration of
what a large number of 100% minimal ELSs can look like together. The
reader can look over it and see lots of interesting coincidences
just as good as those shown in [Wit] or in the preprints of [WRR1].
In retrospect, it would have been better to show a number of much
smaller pictures. With such a large number of words it is impossible
to hide the freedom of choice that was used in selecting them.
We have enjoyed watching Doron Witztum's new soap-opera,
"Watch the Guru make a fool of himself." Except for two typos of
no significance, no actual errors were demonstrated. Instead, we
just further confirmed that all the recipes we used to cook up the
Chanukah picture were learned from the Master Chef himself.
Meanwhile, the number of perfectly valid words in our picture has
increased from 59 to 63.
- Astounding Discoveries in War and Peace,
- D. Witztum, HaMeimad HaNosaf (The Additional Dimension),
- D. Witztum, E. Rips and Y. Rosenberg, Equidistant Letter
Sequences in the Book of Genesis, Statistical Science,
9 (1994) 429-438.
Equidistant Letter Sequences in the Book of Genesis,
II. The relation to the text, preprint ca 1995.
Hidden Codes in Equidistant Letter Sequences in the
Book of Genesis, The Statistical Significance of the Phenomenon,
Hebrew preprint accompanying a lecture given by E. Rips to the
Israeli Academy of Sciences, 1996.
This page was written by
Brendan McKay, who wishes
to gratefully acknowledge the help and support he received from a
considerable number of his friends.
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