A lecture by Professor Eliyahu Rips

On this page we present a lecture given about 1985.

The Russian transcript and the English translation were made directly from an audio tape by independent professionals. We have tried to make both of them as accurate as possible, but please notify us if you find any problems.

Russian transcript: Microsoft Word or Postscript or PDF.

The Word file needs Cyrillic font support (1251 encoding). The Postscript and PDF files are self-contained.

English translation: HTML.

The significance of this evidence

These notes were written by Brendan McKay.

Central place amongst the evidence claimed for hidden codes in the Torah is held by the famous rabbis experiments. According to the official history, the first experiment was conducted in 1986, and involved a set of 34 rabbis. The rules, and the method of analysis, were all determined in advance, and a list of names and appellations for each of the rabbis was prepared by an independent expert. These claims are extremely important, as the validity of the experimental results depends entirely on their correctness.

The importance of this new evidence is that it appears to contradict the official story in a number of key aspects. In fact, if the lecture on the tape contains the literal truth, we can positively state that the official story is a fiction and that the experiment was not properly conducted. Since the second famous rabbis experiment (the one with 32 rabbis published in Statistical Science) also stands or falls on the correctness of the official story, we would be entitled to cast that aside also.

A reply to these charges has been written by Doron Witztum, dated January 9, 1998. It is reproduced below so that we can refer to it in our comments. Eliyahu Rips has declined to publically reply.

How many rabbis?

The official story is that the first ever experiment on the famous rabbis was conducted using the 34 rabbis whose entries in the Margaliot encyclopedia occupied 3 or more columns, and a date of birth or death is given. However, the lecture says otherwise:

Each page in the Margaliot encyclopedia contains two columns, so 3 pages is twice as much as 3 columns. The initial thought that Rips merely mis-spoke "pages" instead of "columns" is easily dismissed: All the rabbis mentioned have more than 3 pages. Moreover, the number of rabbis (from WRR's list of 34) that have more than 3 pages is truly "19-20". There are 19 clearly over the boundary, and one which has three pages only if the bold heading is counted. These would be impressive coincidences indeed if Rips had really meant to say "3 columns".

In any case, Witztum does not deny that Rips spoke of an experiment on 19-20 rabbis. Rather, he asks us to believe that the experiment never actually happened.

Might Rips have really been discussing 34 rabbis?

The scenario that Witztum puts forward as an explanation is that Rips suggested an experiment with 19-20 rabbis, then Witztum decided all by himself to expand it to 34 rabbis. He didn't tell Rips of his decision for the months that it took for the checking of the dates, for Havlin to compile all the appellations, and for all the computer work to be finished. Witztum didn't even tell Rips when he gave him the results of the experiment (which in the lecture includes such details as appellations, dates, distances and letter arrays). Rips then went around lecturing on it, completely unaware that Witztum had changed the experiment behind his back.

Just in case someone is willing to believe Witztum's story, an important conclusion is worth mentioning. The whole credibility of the famous rabbis experiment relies very heavily on the personal and mathematical reputation of Eliyahu Rips. Except for that, it would never have received even the cautious semi-support it did from senior mathematicians and it would certainly never have been published in a scientific journal. Now Doron Witztum, who has few scientific credentials of his own, tells us that Rips had so little to do with the experiment that he didn't even know how many rabbis were used.

Doesn't Rips' data imply that he had the results for 34 rabbis?

Witztum claims that two items in Rips' lecture match the results for the full first list of 34 rabbis (and, presumably, not the smaller list of 19-20 rabbis). These are:

Given that Rips says very clearly that he had 19-20 rabbis, we need a pretty good reason to not take him at his word. The primary difficulty with the above two items is that there is no reason to assume that Rips had the same appellations and used the same calculation method as were later published.

There are in fact grounds for doubting both assumptions. Rips names three appellations which were not in the later official list, and he also gives some counts of word pairs that do not agree with the later list. Furthermore, he refers to both 125 and 343 perturbations, whereas the later preprints only used 125. He also refers to "many" distances coming "first in 125", but there are no 1/125 distances at all in the 1986 preprint.

Looking in more detail, we find that there is not even a case to answer. Rips defines queries in terms of word pairs, even giving some examples, but to get a count of 150 for the list of 34 rabbis one must only include successful word pairs. (Some word pairs fail because the distance between them is not defined.) Even if Rips was really counting queries in that manner (despite his words) it is very easy to achieve that number for the 19-20 rabbis. All that would be needed is to add appellations similar to the extra appellations that he mentions, plus 2 or 3 more. From the 1986 preprint we know that WRR could even contemplate using words that were not appellations at all (see The pseudo-appellation ha'Chaim), so this would have given no difficulty.

The case of the "7 sigma... or let's say 6 sigma" is even less conclusive. If we take the appellations from the 1986 preprint, and the distances listed there, the 20 rabbis achieve a score of 6.42 sigma and the 34 rabbis achieve a score of 7.17 sigma. If anything, the 20 rabbis match Rips' statement better.

[Note added May 2001:] Also note that the measurement system given in the 1986 differs in at least two places from the later system. Together these improve the performance of the 20 rabbis by about 0.5 sigma. This makes Rip's statement match even better.

How were the names and appellations collected?

The official story is that Professor Shlomo Havlin of Bar-Ilan University was presented with the list of rabbis (the headings of their entries in the Margaliot encyclopedia) and that he alone produced the list of names and appellations subsequently used in the experiment.

How well does the lecture match that?

Havlin is not mentioned in the lecture. More importantly, Rips' description is incompatible with independent data collection. It is especially impossible to reconcile this description with the later claims that a considerable number of complex and arbitrary rules were applied to select appellations, such as the rule that they had to be "pronouncable". (Also note that the appellation "Eliyahu" is not present in WRR's later list of appellations.)

Unless Witztum or Havlin choose to produce some, it appears there is no evidence, dating to before 1990 or so, that Havlin prepared the appellations by himself. (Recall that the two lists of rabbis appeared in 1986 and 1987, respectively.) In fact, none of the four earliest known documents even claim that Havlin prepared the appellations. These were:

The two preprints are particularly instructive, as Havlin is mentioned in each. Recall that Havlin is supposed to have prepared all of the data, which is surely as large a contribution as any of the authors made. If so, why is he given the briefest of thanks for "valuable advices", hidden amongst 14 other persons acknowledged? To illustrate this point, we have provided scans of the Acknowledgement pages of the two preprints - the only places he is mentioned in those preprints.

Witztum's reply.

This is the full text of a reply made by Doron Witztum to our initial publication of the Rips lecture. Most of the main points have been answered above, but we will also make a few comments below.

In fact they correspond as well or better to the list of 19-20 rabbis, as we showed above.

By these same measures, the full set of 34 rabbis does over 200 times better! We will let readers decide for themselves if that constituted a plausible motive.

Witztum's claim is simply false. By the only measure of success mentioned by Rips, a count of "sigmas" as he calls them, the cutoff at 0.5 for 20 rabbis does worse than the cutoff at 0.2 for 34 rabbis. (This is true both with and without ha'Chaim.) In fact, with ha'Chaim included, a cutoff of 0.2 does better for the 20 rabbis than a cutoff of 0.5 does!

A detailed disproof of this "refutation" will be published.


We have seen that Witztum's best attempt at explaining away the damaging evidence of Rips' lecture was a complete failure. This merely serves to reinforce our conclusion that the lecture provides a very strong case that the official history of the famous rabbis experiment is false.

The Official History

In Dec 1996, Witztum and Rips described the early history of the famous rabbis experiment in the following terms. The complete document can be found at www.torahcodes.co.il.

Witztum, Rips and Rosenberg have repeated essentially the same chronology of their work on many occasions. The most recent are: