A Caltech mathematician and a leading Orthodox educational institution teamed up recently to turn up the heat on a simmering controversy over what they say is a scientifically and religiously suspect tool used by Jewish outreach organizations -- the Bible codes. Aish HaTorah, a Jerusalem-based outreach organization with offices and branches worldwide, stands by its use of the codes, saying that while some have been found to be insignificant, other key codes withstand scientific scrutiny.
Popularized a few years ago by the publication of Michael Drosnin's "The Bible Codes" and utilized for years by Aish HaTorah, the codes are purported to uncover encrypted messages in the Bible that allude to historical events thousands of years before they happen.
By counting letters at specific intervals, researchers claim to have found a divinely encoded subtext in the Hebrew Bible on such subjects as the Holocaust and modern Jewish thinkers. Aish HaTorah's Discovery Seminars, one- or two-day crash courses that set out to prove the existence of God and the authenticity of Judaism, use the clusters of related words found in the text to prove the Divine authorship of the Torah.
Now, Barry Simon, head of the Caltech mathematics department and an Orthodox Jew, says that he has found similar word clusters alluding to Chanukah, the death of Princess Diana, and the Lincoln and Kennedy assassinations. But Simon's clusters appear in such works as Tolstoy's "War and Peace," Melville's "Moby Dick" and the Unabomber manifesto.