Tuesday, December 27, 2005



Jeffrey H. Tigay
University of Pennsylvania

October 13, 1999

In the 11th or 12th century, a Jewish woman in Byzantium named Maliha wrote to her brothers in Egypt that she wanted to come visit them, but that when she looked into a Torah scroll she found a bad omen forecasting failure if she were to make the journey.1 Something in the passage that caught her eye seemed to presage evil. Maliha was practicing bibliomancy, fortune telling by opening the pages of a sacred book at random and spotting a message there -- a practice widely known in the classical, Jewish, Christian, and Muslim worlds.2

In recent years, bibliomancy has been resurrected in a more contemporary form, based on finding hidden patterns and messages in the Hebrew text of the Torah, patterns and messages so sophisticated that most of them can be recognized only by a computer. The method involves finding words formed of letters that are equidistant from each other -- for example, 7, or 53, or 4772, or any other number of spaces apart. These sequences of letters are known as equidistant letter sequences, ELSs for short, and proponents of the method use them to argue that the Torah contains various significant patterns of letters and often alludes cryptographically to historical events that took place long after the Bible, down to modern times.

There are three types of such arguments.

(1) The simplest is to find words of related significance in close proximity to each other. For example, in Exodus 11:9-12:13 (see Fig. 1), the Hebrew title of Maimonides' Code -- Mishneh Torah -- is found by starting with the M in Moshe in 11:9 and counting every fiftieth letter until the word "Mishneh" (M$NH) is spelled out, and then starting with the second T in 12:11 and counting every 50th letter three times until "Torah" (TVRH) is spelled out. Between the first letter of Mishneh and the first letter of Torah there is a gap of 613 letters, equal to the traditional number of the Torah's commandments, which the Mishneh Torah explicates. What is more, one of the verses in this gap, 12:6, mentions the 14th day of the month (of Nisan), Maimonides' birthdate. To top it off, although the following point is not based on an ELS, the last four words of 11:9 begin with the letters R, M, B, and M, which form Maimonides' acronym Rambam (for RABBENU MOSHE BEN MAIMON), and the clause containing the acronym means "that My marvels may be multiplied in the land of Egypt," and 11:3, a few verses earlier, says "Moses was much esteemed in the land of Egypt among Pharoah's courtiers and among the people." These two verses can be taken not only as allusions to the Biblical Moses but to the achievements and public stature of Moses Maimonides, who was court physician in Egypt.3

Fig. 1. "Maimonides" in Exodus

(2) Much more computer-dependent is the discovery of hidden messages and predic-tions in the Torah, spread over such large segments of the text that they cannot be spotted merely by eyeballing the text. For example, the American reporter Michael Drosnin, in his book The Bible Code,4 observes that if you look for the name Yitzhak Rabin, you will find it by starting with the first Y in Deuteronomy 2:33 and then reading every 4772nd letter, ending with the first N in Deuteronomy 24:16 (see Fig. 2). If you then lay out all 304,805 letters of the Torah5 in an array consisting of 64 rows of 4772 letters, so that the name Yitzhak Rabin appears in a vertical row, it will be found to intersect with a Biblical phrase from Deuterono-my 4:42, ROCEAX 'ASHER YIRCAX, "a murderer who murders." Drosnin, who renders the phrase as "assassin that will assassinate," takes this as a prediction that Rabin would be assassinated.

Fig. 2. "The assassination of Yitzhak Rabin" in Deuteronomy

(3) Finally, the most sophisticated and computer-dependent of all are such phenomena as the "famous sages" experiment, whose proponents -- Prof. Eliyahu Rips of the Hebrew University Mathematics Department, along with Doron Witztum and Yoav Rosenberg -- argue that one can find ELS-coded references to the names of several dozen medieval rabbinical sages and, nearby, in statistically improbable proximity, their dates (Hebrew month and day) of birth and/or death.6 For example, the first name and the acronym ("Maharshal") of Rabbi Shelomo Luria and the date of his death (12 Kislev), all composed of ELSs of various length, can be found near each other in an array comprising the text of Genesis 20:9-22:2 (Fig. 3).7

Fig. 3. "Rabbi Shelomo Luria" (the Maharshal) in Genesis

To be fair, we should distinguish between what the different proponents of the codes claim. The lecturers at the "Discovery" seminars sponsored by the Aish HaTorah yeshiva; Rips and Witztum in their publications; and Moshe Katz in his book Computorah8 hold that the Torah encodes references to persons and events from long after Biblical times, such as Maimonides and the other famous medieval sages, the Holocaust, the 1991 Gulf War, and numerous other events. Some of these proponents use the codes to prove the divine origin of the Torah and thereby win Jews over to Orthodoxy. Others, however, especially Drosnin, have gone much further, arguing that the Torah codes can be used to predict future events. He claims to have warned Rabin of his assassination before it happened, to have predicted Benjamin Netanyahu's election, to have warned of a future atomic attack on Israel by Libya from Jordan, and of numerous other disasters. Rips and Witztum have disowned this soothsaying use of their work.

In what follows I argue that the entire enterprise of the "Bible codes" is specious. It is undercut by what we know about the history of the Biblical text, by flaws in the "famous sages" experiment, and by the arbitrariness of the methods by which the decoders identify which letters belong to the alleged patterns and messages and then proceed to interpret them.


Whatever the purpose for which they use the alleged codes, their proponents depend on the assumption that the text of the Bible on which they base them is universally accepted among Jews and is completely identical to the original text.9 It is essential for them to insist on these points because the code consists primarily of finding words formed of letters that are equidistant from each other -- ELSs. What turns these words into messages, or at least mean-ingful patterns, is the fact that when the text of the Torah is laid out in a grid whose dimensions are determined by the size of the ELS that forms these words, they appear unexpectedly close to, and sometimes even intersect in crossword fashion with, other words -- either real words (with no letters skipped) from the Biblical text or other words formed of equidistant letters. This makes it obvious why proponents of the codes must assume that their text is accurate down to the very last letter, for if the spacing between letters in a "message" or in some meaningful pattern formed by equidistant letters is changed by even one letter, the equi-distance, and hence the message or pattern, is destroyed.

The edition of the Hebrew Bible used by the decoders is the popular Koren edition, published in Jerusalem in 1962. It is distinguished by its beautiful Hebrew font. But the history of the Biblical text shows that without special pleading it is practically inconceivable that this text, or any other known text of the Torah, is identical to the original text, letter for letter. While there was an ideal of an unchanging text, identical in all copies, this ideal was not achieved in practice as far back as manuscripts and other evidence enable us to see. 10

It is not that we lack good texts. All forms of the Tanakh used today are forms of what is known as the Masoretic Text, abbreviated "MT," named after the medieval scholars (the Masoretes) who labored for several centuries to produce the most accurate text they could. The MT in use today is based on Masoretic manuscripts of the ninth and tenth centuries C.E., themselves based on older manuscripts. It has been largely unchanged since late Second Temple times (ca. the third century B.C.E., as reflected in the earliest of the Dead Sea scrolls from Qumran).11 But although the text has been largely unchanged, there is a large number of variant readings, most of which do not materially change the meaning of the text, but drastical-ly affect the number of letters it contains. In fact, in the oldest complete manuscript of the entire Bible, Leningrad Codex B19A which was finished in 1009 C.E., the Torah has some 45 letters more than the 304,805 of the Koren edition.12 Furthermore, the text of the 3rd century B.C.E. was itself several centuries younger than the original, which was composed over the preceding several centuries -- mostly between the thirteenth and seventh centuries B.C.E., though some books of the Bible were composed a few centuries later. In the centuries between the composition of the Biblical books and the early Masoretic text of the third century, many changes had befallen the text.

These changes are primarily of two types: spelling differences and other types of textu-al variants.

1. Spelling differences. The differences in spelling involve the way the text indicates vowels. As is well known, the Bible contains two different systems for indicating vowels. The fullest and most precise of the two consists of vowel "points" (nequdot), various configurations of dots and lines which stand for the different Hebrew vowels. This system, introduced in the Middle Ages, is used today in printed Bibles where it is superimposed on the older system, the one used in synagogue scrolls. The older system uses the consonants ' (aleph), H, V, and Y to indicate certain similar groups of vowels (e.g. V represents u and o; Y represents i and long e); when functioning as vowels these letters are called vowel letters or matres lectionis (Hebrew 'immot qeri'ah), literally "mothers of reading." These letters are not used with perfect consistency. "David," for example, can be written DVD or DVYD and $omer can be written $MR or $VMR. Spelling with the vowel letter is called "full" spelling," and spelling without it is called "defective" (the latter term does not imply anything erroneous). The use of the vowel letters is attested in the oldest known Biblical manuscripts, the Dead Sea scrolls from the third and following centuries B.C.E., though not always in exactly the same places where they are used in the Masoretic Text of today. Moreover, archaeological evidence indicates that this system of spelling developed gradually; the evidence available indicates that it was not developed until after the time of Moses.13 The adoption of this system naturally affected the text of the Bible and the number of letters it contains.

2. Other variant readings. In addition to changes caused by the evolution of the spelling system, manual copying of texts naturally created variants, some by error and some intentional. This happens with virtually all texts. We are not even certain, lehavdil, of the exact wording of the Gettysburg Address which was composed hardly more than a century ago (1863), let alone of the original text of Shakespeare's plays. Even printed Bibles contain typographical errors. Some English printings have acquired humorous nicknames because of the typos: one edition of the King James Version is called "The Printers Bible" because it reads "printers [instead of: "princes"] have persecuted me without a cause" (Ps. 119:161); another, printed in 1631, is called the Wicked Bible because in it the seventh commandment omits one word and reads "Thou shalt commit adultery" (the printers were fined heavily for their mistake!).

In the case of the Hebrew text of the Bible, we can see textual variants clearly enough when we compare texts that appear twice in the Bible. For example, one of the Psalms appears both in 2 Samuel 22 and Psalm 18 with numerous differences: one word is replaced with another, words are present in one version but not in the other, and there are spelling differences (for example, many words that are spelled defectively in 2 Sam. 22 have the fuller spelling, with matres lectionis, in Ps. 18).14

Ancient manuscripts of the Bible also contain numerous readings that differ from those in the Masoretic Text. These include manuscripts from the Dead Sea region (mostly from prior to 70 C.E.), the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Torah made from a Hebrew original in the third century B.C.E.), and the Torah of the Samaritans. The vast majority of differences are insignificant variations in spelling and grammar which do not affect the sense of the text but do affect the number of letters in each verse. Most of these readings are scribal errors or revisions made for the sake of greater clarity, particularly in spelling (as mentioned in note 13, the matres lectionis were introduced gradually and without perfect consistency). Some call attention to the fact that certain phrases may have fallen out of the MT, such as the missing "And God saw that this was good" in Gen. 1:7-8 (present in the Septuagint), "the offspring of your cattle" in Deuteronomy 28:18 (contrast verse 4; present in the Samaritan Pentateuch and some medieval Hebrew manuscripts of the Torah), and Cain's words to Abel in Genesis 4:8 (the Samaritan Pentateuch, the Septuagint, and some of the Aramaic targums supply "come let us go out into the field," though they may have guessed these words from the context).

A particularly interesting variant involves Deuteronomy 6:20, in which the child asks: "What are the decrees, laws, and rules which the Lord our God has enjoined upon you ('TKM)?" As is well known, this verse is the basis for the question of the wise son in the baraita cited in the Haggadah shel Pesah. It has caused no end of headaches for commentators because the child's statement that God commanded "you," instead of "us" ('VTNV) makes his question seem as bad as that of the wicked son who asks (following Exodus 12:26) "What is this rite to you (LKM)?" after which the baraita states that the pronoun is the offensive part of his question. In the Septuagint to Deuteronmy 6:20, the son actually says "us," and that is the reading found in the Talmudic sources of the baraita, namely the Mekhilta and the Jerusalem Talmud, as well as manuscripts of the Haggadah.14a In other words, this was the reading found in the Torah texts quoted by the rabbis who first taught this baraita, and with this reading the question of the wise son causes no problems.

The preceding example is one of scores of passages in Talmudic litertature that quote Biblical verses with wording or spelling that differs from the MT.15 It is conceivable that some of these variants are due either to the rabbis citing verses from memory or to scribal errors in the copying of the rabbinic texts. But sometimes these variants agree with other ancient witnesses to the text, such as the Septuagint or the Dead Sea scrolls, proving that they are based on actual texts of the Bible.16 And, most significantly, sometimes the Talmud bases laws on the spelling of particular words (e.g., the number of compartments required in the head tefillin),17 yet the spelling differs from that found in the MT. In such cases, the Talmudic rabbis were obviously confident of the accuracy of the reading they relied on, and none of their colleagues challenged it. This is an important fact: the Koren Bible and all other texts in use today contain readings that differ from spellings which the Talmud was confident were correct.18 As far as the number of letters and words in the Torah is concerned, it is also worth noting the following: a very puzzling passage in the Babylonian Talmud states that according to the "first scholars," called soferim ("Scribes"), the middle letter in the Torah is a particular letter in Leviticus 11:42 and the middle pair of words appears in Leviticus 10:16. However, in Koren and all the other texts used today, the middle letter appears 4830 letters earlier, in Leviticus 8:28, and the middle words appear 933 words earlier, in Lev. 8:15.19 There have been numerous far-fetched attempts to explain this descrepancy between the Talmud and the MT. Unless the tradition of the "first scholars" is based on erroneous calculations, it seems to imply that they were referring to a text of the Torah that was either of a different length than today's text or had the pertinent passages in Leviticus in a different order than they are today.20

It is, of course, true that the predominant view in the Jewish tradition is that the Torah has remained completely unchanged, letter for letter, since it was given by Moses.21 But this is not the only position that has been considered possible, and several contemporary Orthodox scholars who are critical of the codes acknowledge certain changes in the text of the Torah.22 Earlier, no less a figure than Rabbi David Tsvi Hoffmann, in writing of his conviction of the integrity of the MT, acknowledged that the variants implied in Talmudic sources may indicate that the MT did not completely escape scribal error, although he insisted, against modern emenders of the text, that there is no way for scholars to confidently restore the original reading.22a

Several traditional sources acknowledge that there have been changes.

a. Talmudic-midrashic and medieval sources list between 7 and 18 Biblical passages containing "corrections of the scribes" (tikkunei soferim). The sources preserve two traditions as to what these corrections involve: some sources describe the corrections as euphemisms in which the Biblical text used a seemingly incongruous phrase to avoid using an expression that might seem disrespectful toward God; other sources hold that the text originally did contain a seemingly disrespectful phrase and that the scribes changed it to avoid disrespect.23

b. Dots appear above certain letters in the Torah. Avot deRabbi Nathan indicates that the dots were placed there by Ezra the scribe who explained that if Elijah should challenge his having written those letters, Ezra would point out that he had dotted them, and if Elijah should say that he was right to have written those words, he would then erase the dots.24 In other words, Ezra was uncertain whether the letters in question belonged there or not. His practice corresponds to that of Alexandrian grammarians who used dots to indicate doubtful passages.25

c. There is a talmudic report that three scrolls containing variant readings were found in the Temple court.26 The differences were resolved in a mechanical way by adopting the read-ing found in 2 of the 3 scrolls. The need to resort to this method implies that there was no sure knowledge of which readings were correct; hence there is no certainty that following the majority necessarily resulted in restoring the original reading.

d. The MT includes the kere and ketiv system, in which marginal notes indicate that certain words are to be read differently than they are spelled in the text, or that certain words in the text should not be read at all, or that certain words not in the text should be read there. Various explanations have been suggested for this system. The medieval grammarian and commentator Radak (Rabbi David Kimhi, 1160?-1235?) explained that this system was created because Bible texts were lost during the Babylonian exile and the best scholars died. The later scholars who re-established the text found different readings in the surviving manuscripts and accepted the reading found in the majority of manuscripts, but when they couldn't make up their minds about a reading they indicated both possibilities with these marginal notes. Kimhi's explanation of the kere and ketiv system, which like the preceding item (c) also implies that we are not sure which are the original readings, is not the only possibility, but for present pur-poses it is noteworthy that he considered it likely and that his religious faith did not prevent him from holding this view.27

Medieval Jewish authorities were well aware of these textual phenomena.

a. The variant readings in Talmudic quotations of the Bible were well known to Jewish authorities throughout the Middle Ages. As the Tosafists (disciples of Rashi) put it: haShas shelanu xoleq al hasefarim shelanu, "Our Talmud disagrees with our Bibles" (at B. Shabbat 55b, s.v. McBYRM). From the 13th through the 19th centuries, major rabbinic authorities insisted that Torah scrolls be corrected to adopt the Talmudic readings, at least in passages where a law was based on a particular reading, but they insisted to no avail. To this day, all Jewish Bibles, including the Koren Bible on which the codes are based, contain the readings that are inconsistent with those quoted in the Talmud.28

b. Discrepancies between good copies of the Masoretic Text were recognized and discussed throughout the Middle Ages and beyond. The Talmudic passage in Kiddushin 30a identifying the middle letter, words, and verses in the Torah concludes with statement that it is impossible to determine whether the middle letter belongs to the first half of the Torah or the second half because "we are not expert on full and defective spelling" (that is, the use of vowel letters). That passage was cited often in the Middle Ages to explain discrepancies between manuscripts and as the reason why a Torah scroll should not be declared unfit for use solely on the basis of discrepancies in full and defective spelling.29 Masoretic treatises such as Minhat Shai (1626) -- which is still commonly printed in rabbinic Bibles (Mikra'ot Gedolot) -- regularly discussed spelling differences between model texts.30 It was only with the rise of printing that greater textual uniformity was achieved, but even today, there is no universally agreed-upon version of the Masoretic Text.31 Yemenite Torah scrolls differ from the Koren edition in the spelling of nine words. Their readings are adopted in the edition edited by Rabbi Mordechai Breuer and published by the (Orthodox) Mossad Harav Kook (see Fig. 5a). These readings -- which reduce the total number of letters in the Torah by four -- agree with the Aleppo Codex,32 which Maimonides, in the Twelfth Century, said was considered the most reliable text in his time.33 This is a point for the decoders to ponder: they are relying on a text that not only disagrees with the Talmud, but also disagrees with the text used by Maimonides, arguably the greatest authority on Jewish law in history.

In sum, apart from the archaeological evidence about the history of Hebrew spelling, and manuscript evidence about the history of the Biblical text, explicit statements in Talmudic and later Jewish sources make it crystal clear that present copies of the Tanakh are not identi-cal to the original text. Even the editors of the Koren edition have stated as much. When this edition was first published in 1962, at a public program celebrating its publication one of the editors who prepared the text stated: "We do not claim that we have established our edition on the basis of the tablets that Moses brought down from Mount Sinai."34 He was absolutely correct.

Of course, one might claim that whatever may be the prehistory of the MT and the computerized version of the Koren text, in the latter the codes do work! Perhaps the Koren editors were miraculously guided to produce the text that does contain the revealed code. It is beyond me why God would have allowed the Talmudic rabbis to base laws on a text that He knew He would eventually change. In any case, whether the "codes" really work is also highly dubious, as we shall see.


Advocates of the codes make much of the "famous sages" experiment in which Witztum, Rips, and Rosenberg (henceforth: WRR) claim to have found ELS-coded references in Genesis to famous medieval sages with their dates of birth and/or death nearby, closer than would be expected by chance alone. They studied two lists of sages, consisting of 34 and 32 individuals, respectively, and published the results, based on the second list, in the journal Statistical Science in 1994. In an accompanying note the editor of the journal stated:

Our referees were baffled: their prior beliefs made them think the book of Genesis could not possibly contain meaningful references to modern-day individuals, yet when the authors carried out additional analyses and checks the effect persisted. The paper is thus offered to...readers as a challenging puzzle. (p. 306)

This experiment is controversial among mathematicians and other scientists.35 A refutation has been written by Profs. Brendan McKay, a mathematician in the Department of Computer Science at the Australian National University in Canberra; Dror Bar-Natan, of the Department of Mathematics at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem; Maya Bar-Hillel, of the Department of Psychology and the Center for the Study of Rationality at the Hebrew University; and Gil Kalai, also a mathematician at the Hebrew University (henceforth: MBBK).36 Since I am not a mathematician, I cannot comment independently on the mathematical aspects of the debate, but in all other respects it is clear to me that MBBK's argument is persuasive.

In WRR's experiment, everything hinges on the claim that the sages appear "in close proximity" to their dates. It is noteworthy that "close proximity" does not necessarily mean what laymen are likely to think it means. As Rips states elsewhere:

We have chosen for our analysis a specific pattern, namely, proximity (in a certain technical sense [emphasis mine -- JHT]) of related words appearing as ELSs. Thus, everything is reduced to a statistical analysis of the significance of such proximity patterns.37

Since "proximity" is meant only in a technical sense, readers should not expect to find the names and dates of the sages in actual passages on real pages of the Torah. The letters of their names and dates are drawn from different chapters of the Torah, often many pages apart. Any proximity between them is found only on grids created by computer from ELSs. Perhaps this is why WRR do not show in their article any of the textual arrays in which the sages and their dates appear near each other (an example would be Fig. 3, above).38 Instead, they illustrate the phenomenon of ELSs with a few simple arrays containing words of related meaning (such as the Hebrew words for hammer and anvil and some names that are related to each other) and for the sages experiment they publish the lists of the sages and dates whose ELSs they consider to be unexpectedly close to each other.39 The closeness itself is displayed by mathematical tables and formulas rather than pictorially. It is virtually impossible for non-mathematicians to examine their evidence. In response to my question about this, McKay explained: "The pictorial evidence in the form of letter arrays is irrelevant to the mathematical question. What matters is only the numerical 'distance' computed according to WRR's complicated definition."

Interestingly, however, McKay continued as follows:

WRR don't actually claim that all the rabbis appear close to their dates. All they claim is that they are a little closer than expected on average. This slight statistical trend needs a careful test to detect. Some rabbis are far from their dates...and in fact most of them are closer to the dates of some other rabbi than to their own dates.40 Here is a summary I made for WRR's second list, using the smallest distance from any name of a rabbi to any of his dates.

McKay's summary is as follows:

Rabbi Comment

1 Close to many dates but closest to the right date.
2 Closer to at least 8 wrong dates.
3 Closer to at least 3 wrong dates.
4 No date used (claimed to be uncertain)
5 No ELS for the date exists. Not close to anything.
6 Closer to at least 5 wrong dates.
7 Closer to at least 15 wrong dates.
8 No dates used (uncertain). Close to 8 wrong dates.
9 Far from right date, close to 7 wrong dates.
10 Far from right date, close to 9 wrong dates.
11 Far from right date, close to 10 wrong dates.
12 Close to many dates but closest to the right date.
13 Far from right date, close to 15 wrong dates.
14 Far from right date, close to 9 wrong dates.
15 Closer to at least 2 wrong dates.
16 Far from right date, close to 11 wrong dates.
17 No ELS for the name exists.
18 No ELS for either name exists.
19 Closer to at least 19 wrong dates.
20 Closer to at least 7 wrong dates.
21 Closer to at least 9 wrong dates.
(It seems the date is wrong; should be 1st Iyyar.
The right date does even worse.)
22 Good match, equally close to two wrong dates.
23 Close to many dates but closest to the right date.
24 Closer to at least 5 wrong dates.
25 Far from all dates.
26 Closer to at least 7 wrong dates.
27 Closer to at least 12 wrong dates.
28 Closer to at least 9 wrong dates.
29 No ELS for the name exists.
30 Good match, equally close to 1 wrong date.
31 Good match, equally close to 1 wrong date.
32 Far from right date, close to 3 wrong dates.

It is instructive to note that the rabbi contributing most strongly to the Statistical Science result is #27.41

From a layman's point of view, then, even using WRR's "technical" definition of proximity, the correlation of sages and their dates is actually poor, even though on average it is not quite as poor as one might have expected from chance; that is why mathematicians and other scientists find it interesting. But from a theological point of view, why should one be impressed by correlations that are surprising only "on average," and not in every case?

The same point may be illustrated another way. According to MBBK,42 in order to test whether there was an extraordinary closeness between the sages' names and dates, WRR compared the distances in the list of 32 sages and their dates of death to 999,999 alternative control lists in which each sage was paired not with his own date of death but rather with a date chosen randomly from the list (random pairings would more often than not pair a rabbi with the date of some other rabbi). The assumption was that "if there is anything special in the Book of Genesis and the sages' names really appear exceptionally close to their dates of death, then the distances between correct name-date pairs should be, on average, closer than between random name-date pairs." Accordingly, 999,999 permutations of the list were chosen. In each, every sage was paired with the date of a sage chosen randomly from the list, and the distance between the names and those dates was computed. When the original, correct list of distances was compared to the 999,999 random lists, "the correct list achieved one of the first places" (fourth place, according to WRR) in this race among one million contestants. This means that three of the lists in which the sages were mostly paired with the wrong dates did better! In those three lists, the sages and the dates were closer than they are in the correct list. From a mathematical point of view it is interesting that the correct list did as well as it did (better than 999,996 other lists), since there was no a priori reason to expect it to do so. But from a theo-logical point of view, a test in which mostly incorrect lists perform better than the correct one seems meaningless. If God arranged the text so as to pair the sages with their dates, why would He have paired most rabbis more closely with incorrect dates than with correct ones?

Returning to the subject of textual criticism, MBBK re-ran WRR's experiment on the list of 32 sages based on the text of Genesis in the Koren edition and then on six other editions of the MT whose differences from Koren were listed by Prof. Menahem Cohen of Bar Ilan University (Cohen's list is posted on Brendan McKay's website; see note 30). Their results are as follows:43

Differences Rank

Koren 0 6
Yemenite 3 19
Sassoon 11 2308
Venice Mikra'ot Gedolot 15 16608
Leningrad 22 12528
Jerusalem 35 19075
Hilleli 43 6411

"Differences" is the number of places where the other texts spell a word differently than Koren. The numbers under "Rank" mean that if one compares the correct dates to 10,000,000 random permutations of the dates, the correct dates perform 6th best, 19th best, 2308th best, etc. (for greater accuracy, MBBK give the ranks out of 10 million permutations, instead of the 1 million used by WRR). Note that the other texts do much worse than Koren, but that even in Koren the correct dates do not perform best. In other words, there is no known text of the Torah in which the list with the correct dates does best!

Given the fact that all of these editions of the MT are so much later than the original text of Genesis, it is also important to consider the much earlier Hebrew copies of Genesis from Qumran. Fragments from 14 different manuscripts of Genesis have been found at Qumran, from the last two centuries B.C.E. and the first century C.E. They differ from the MT in different degrees. Extrapolating from variants in these fragments, each of the manu-scripts when complete would have differed from the MT by hundreds of letters.44 This number of differences is enough to completely obliterate the codes. As MBBK explain:

Clearly an ELS is destroyed if any letter is inserted or deleted within its overall span. The ELSs giving the strongest contribution to WRR's result together span most of the text. Experiments show that deletion of 10 letters in random places is enough to de-grade the result by an average factor of 4000, and 50 letters are enough to eliminate it completely.45 Of course, the effect has a very large variance, as it depends on which of a comparatively small number of important ELSs are "hit" by a deletion. WRR's first list [the 34 sages - J.H.T.] is even more sensitive to the effects of corruption, as its important ELSs have greater skips. Ten letters deleted in random places are on average enough to eliminate its significance altogether.

Considering that even the Qumran scrolls are centuries later than the traditional date of the Torah, MBBK conclude:

if the text of Genesis were to be consistently spelled in the style of the inscriptions closest to the time it was traditionally written, the differences would number in the thousands (even without any change of meaning). This conclusion has catastrophic consequences for any theory that "codes" in the original text have survived until today.

MBBK argue that WRR's results, to the extent that they seem interesting at all, are due to flaws in their research methods. There are numerous possible forms of each rabbi's name and acronym that could have been used,46 and numerous possible ways to write their dates.47 MBBK argue that WRR chose only a limited number from among these possibilities, without any valid scientific reason for their choices, and that this strongly affected the outcome; had the test been run with other, equally valid choices, the results would have been worse. This strongly suggests, they argue, that WRR's choices may have been made not in an unbiased way, but precisely in order to enhance their results.

Much more material is available in MBBK's full article, cited in note 36. Part of that material includes patterns and "codes" found in other texts, such as the Christian Scriptures,48 the Qur'an, and Poe's "The Raven." McKay showed that one can also find "encoded" references in Melville's Moby Dick to various political assassinations, such as those of Leon Trotsky, John F. Kennedy, and Martin Luther King, Jr. He and Bar-Natan also ran a version of the "famous sages" experiment on the first part of the Hebrew translation of Tolstoy's War and Peace, equal in length to Genesis. They followed the procedures used by WRR on Genesis, and achieved the same degree of success. That such results can be found in so many texts, including texts for which no one claims divine authorship, is not unexpected. It has long been known that striking pat-terns can be found in all kinds of large masses of data.49


Apart from the mathematical aspects of the decoders' work, many other aspects of their method are also questionable. The basic method, as mentioned above, consists primarily of finding words formed of ELSs. "Interpreters" such as Drosnin then read the ELS-based words in conjunction with words, or parts of words, that are nearby or that intersect with them crossword fashion. What usually happens is that the computer will be "instructed" to look for a word. When the word is located, it is found to consist of letters spaced at equidistant intervals. As mentioned, the name Yitzhak Rabin is formed by letters appearing 4772 letters apart. Then the computer is instructed to lay out all the 304,805 letters of the Torah (Koren edition) in an array consisting of 64 rows of 4772 letters, so that Rabin's name appears in a vertical row. Then the computer displays the nearest segment of the array, a square consisting of ca. 15-20 rows of letters both horizontally and vertically. This segment resembles the grid of a "Word Hunt" puzzle (see Fig. 6), and the task of the researcher is then to find other phrases nearby that combine with it to form a message. Since the horizontal lines consist of Biblical verses, they can be searched by the naked eye. That's how the phrase "murderer who will murder" was found. But the codes aren't limited to what can be noticed with the naked eye. For example, if one asks ask the computer to find the name of Rabin's assassin nearby, it will do so a mere two lines above -- but with two hitches. As one can see from Fig. 7, the letters of the assassin's name (Amir) are a mere 9 spaces apart, not 4772, and -- they spell his name backwards! What is more, if one changes the width of the array, the phrase "murderer who will murder" will still be found in its place, but Rabin's name will now appear in a diagonal line with the letters separated from each other by two horizontal columns and one vertical (see Fig. 8). And if one does this, one will also find nearby the name of Netanyahu and the phrase "all his people to war," an ominous prediction of what Netanyahu might do. This willingness to change the distance between letters for different parts of the same message, to read words horizontally, vertically, diagonally, upside down and backwards, all within the same message -- procedures that are found on every page of the Bible code books -- gives the impression of arbitrariness and manipulation of the data. Nowhere do the decoders show these choices to be based on any objective, systematic method.

Fig. 6. A "Word Hunt" grid

Fig. 7. "Rabin's assassin" in Deuteronomy

Fig. 8. "Benjamin Netanyahu" in Deuteronmomy

Another key element of the procedures is to ignore the spaces between the words. By running all the letters of the Torah together, they can then be redivided into different words to produce new messages. For example, in Fig. 9, the words "fire, great noise [literally, thunder]" ('E$, RAcAM, spelled '$ RcM), allegedly describing a bus bombing in Jerusalem, are produced by redividing the letters of the words "which is near" ('A$ER cIM, spelled '$R cM) in Genesis 35:4. In an array that spans Exodus 19:12-Deuteronomy 4:48, some letters are lifted from parts of the words in God's declaration "You will be My people. I am the Lord your God" (Leviticus 26:12-13) and are taken to mean "July to Amman" -- Hebrew YULI LE-cAMAN, formed from the last two letters of the Hebrew word for "will be" (YU) plus the word for "My" (LI) and the word for "as a people" (LE-cAM) plus the first two letters of the word for "I" ('AN) (see Fig. 10); this "phrase" is taken to predict a trip to Amman planned by Netanyahu for July, l996 (it was ultimately delayed until August).50 Just how much mischief can be done by this method was shown to me when I was in Hebrew high school by a teacher who pointed out that the words "In the beginning God created" (Genesis 1:1) could be redivided into "At first the god of the sea created himself" (see Fig. 11). Truly, by such methods one can produce messages not only undreamed of by the Torah, but contrary to its most fundamen-tal, monotheistic, teaching.

Fig. 9. "Bus bombing" in Genesis

Fig. 10. "July to Amman" in Leviticus

Fig. 11. "The God of the Sea" in Genesis 1:1

Likewise problematic are other methods used in interpreting these alleged messages. First, the messages consist of disconnected words and phrases with no syntactic connection, which leaves them equivocal. For example, the intersecting phrases "Yitzhak Rabin" and "murderer who will murder" could mean "a murderer will kill Rabin" or "Rabin is a murderer." In fact, since the Hebrew grammatical particle 'ET that usually precedes the direct of object of a verb is not present before Rabin's name, Rabin is more likely the subject of the verb than its object, and the message more likely means that he is a killer than that he will be killed. Another message consists of the phrases "Hitler," "evil man," "Nazi and enemy," and "slaughter." In a somewhat lighter vein we have this message: "Watergate," and "Who51 is he? President but he was kicked out." And here is a third message: "Einstein," "science," "he overturned present reality," "they52 prophesied a brainy person," "a new and excellent under-standing." These disconnected phrases make the author of the codes sound like an incoherent babbler.

Then there are messages that do not come true. In time-honored fashion, they are ra-tionalized or reinterpreted. Near the supposed prediction of Rabin's assassination Drosnin found the words "all his people to war," which he took to predict an atomic holocaust after Rabin's death (pp. 54-58). Eventually, he settled for the 1996 bus bombings as the fulfillment of the prediction "all his people to war" (p. 69). Drosnin found another message with the phrases "atomic holocaust," "Libya," and the date 1995-96, which he took as a warning of a nuclear attack on Israel by Libya in that year; the closest thing he can report to confirmation is the fact that in 1996 the Libyan leader Muammar Kaddafi called on all Arab countries to acquire nuclear weapons. But Drosnin is also protected against this problem because he even-tually "realized" that not all predictions are definite, and that the Hebrew letters that spell out the Hebrew equivalent of 1995-96 (HT$NV) also spell out a word meaning "Will you change (it)?" (HATE$ANNU, pp. 59, 83).

Finally, those parts of the messages produced by reading the letters of the horizontal lines in their actual sequence are not produced by equidistant letter sequences, but by arbitrari-ly selecting certain letters as part of the message and ignoring the rest. This is a very important point: the choice of which letters and words to include in a message is not based on an objec-tive, scientific method, such as considering only words composed of equidistant letters -- it is, rather, subjective and arbitrary. For example, citing again the passage intersecting with Rabin: that passage is from Deuteronomy 4:42, but Drosnin ignores the words immediately following "a murderer who will murder." What comes next is the phrase "unwittingly" (biveli da'at). This is because the verse deals with the cities of refuge where accidental killers can find asylum. In this case, then, the message would refer to an accidental killing of (or by) Rabin and it would therefore be wrong. Another message (p. 71) supposedly contains a "complete" description of the terrorist bombing of a bus in Jerusalem on February 25, 1996. It includes the phrase "fire, great noise," but overlooks the fact that the letters which make up those two words are actually part of a larger phrase from Genesis 35:4 which says: "under the terebinth that was near Shechem." If the phrase does tell of a bus bombing, why not take it to indicate that it would be in Nablus, the site of ancient Shechem?53

Of course proponents of the codes could argue that since Rabin was assassinated and the bus was bombed in Jerusalem, that is what the codes must have meant. But if the very meaning of the messages is apparent only after the fact, of what use are they? What did their author hope to achieve by encoding them? They become no better than the Delphic oracles who told Croesus that if he attacked the Persians he would destroy a mighty empire. When he was defeated and complained to the oracles, he was told that if he had been wise he would have inquired whether the Persian empire or his own was meant; he therefore had only himself to blame for the result (Herodotus 1:53, 91).

* * * * *

As mentioned earlier, there are differences between the work of Rips and Witztum, on the one hand, and Drosnin on the other hand. On a personal level, Drosnin regularly insists that he is not religious and does not believe in God, which puts him in the bizarre position of wanting the Israeli government to act on the disastrous messages that he finds encoded in the Bible while he personally disregards the messages that are stated there plainly! (Perhaps this is connected with Drosnin's suggestion that the true source of the Bible is an advanced alien, extraterrestrial intelligence [pp. 96-98].) Rips and Witztum are religious Jews who at least live in harmony with their theories. Furthermore, they vigorously deny that the Bible codes can be used to predict the future. But all of these gentlemen base their computations on an unreliable textual base which evidence suggests was not the original text of the Torah, and all of them strain the credibility at least of the layman by changing the size of the ELSs for different parts of each message or pattern, and by reading words horizontally, vertically, diagonally, upside down and backwards, giving the impression of arbitrariness and manipulation of the data. Their case, therefore, is not convincing.54


In transliterating Hebrew, I use the closest English equivalents. Special cases are:

' = aleph c = ayin
V = vav C = tsadi
X = het Q = qof
T = tav or tet $ = shin

This paper is based on a lecture delivered as part of a panel on "The Bible Code: Criti-cal Perspectives" convened by Prof. Saul Kripke at the Princeton University Math Department on April 28, 1998. In preparing and revising this paper I benefited from helpful suggestions and information kindly provided by Profs. Moshe Greenberg, Uriel Simon, Emanuel Tov, Shlomo Sternberg, Sid Z. Leiman, B. Barry Levy, Yeshayahu Maori, Alan Groves, Messrs. Scobie Smith and Alec Gindis, my student Shawn Zelig Aster, and my fellow panelists Profs. Brendan McKay and Maya Bar-Hillel.

1. Jacob Mann, The Jews in Egypt and Palestine under the Fatimid Caliphs (reprint New York: Ktav, 1970), 1:241; 2:307.

2. See J. Tigay, "An Early Technique of Aggadic Exegesis," in H. Tadmor and M. Weinfeld, eds., History, Historiography, and Interpretation (Jerusalem: The Hebrew University of Jerusalem. The Institute of Advanced Studies. Magnes Press, 1983), pp. 175-176. See also B.M. Metzger, "Sortes Biblicae," in The Oxford Companion to the Bible, ed. B.M. Metzger and M.D. Coogan (New York: Oxford University Press, 1993), pp. 713-714.

3. Aish HaTorah's Discovery Seminar (no editor, date, or place of publication listed; the cover includes the name of the organization "Arachim" and states that the booklet is "Sponsored by the Dan Family of Canada"), p. 11; M. Katz, Computorah. Dr. Moshe Katz on Hidden Codes in the Torah (Jerusalem: CompuTorah [P.O.B. 23702], 1996), pp. 74-77. According to Katz, p. 74, and J. Satinover, Cracking the Bible Code [New York: William Morrow, 1997], pp. 2-3, 85, this ELS was discovered by Rabbi Michael Dov Ber Weissman-del, while the discovery of Maimonides' acronym is traced, perhaps apocryphally, to the Vilna Gaon.

4. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1997.

5. This is the number of letters in the Koren edition of the Torah (Torah, Nevi'im, uKetuvim [Jerusalem: Koren, 1962 and frequently thereafter]). It agrees with Jacob ben Hayyim ibn Adoniah's colophon in the Pardes edition of Mikra'ot Gedolot at the end of Deu-teronomy.

6. Doron Witztum, Eliyahu Rips, and Yoav Rosenberg, "Equidistant Letter Sequences in the Book of Genesis," Statistical Science 9/3 (1994):429-38.

7. The year of the Maharshal's death (5334 [1573]) also appears in this array, but years were not included in WRR's test.

8. Katz, Computorah, pp. 150-155, 204-208.

9. Katz, Computorah, pp. 12-22; Drosnin, pp. 38, 194-95. Witztum resolved the ques-tion of the accuracy of the text by simply consulting Rabbi Shlomo Fisher, who answered that "we could fully rely on our text" (Witztum, "The Seal of God is Truth," Jewish Action 58/3 [Spring, 1998]:26; on p. 32 n. 2 he claims to have given a full treatment of this issue on his website [http://www.torahcodes.co.il]; however, as of 17 August, 1998 and January 26, 1999, I could find no such discussion in any obvious place on his website, and two e-mailed requests for clarification, sent to the address given on the website, went unanswered). Drosnin states that "all [Hebrew Bibles] that now exist are the same letter for letter" and that "the Bible code computer program uses the universally accepted original Hebrew text." He states that the text "existed at least 1000 years ago, and almost certainly 2000 years ago, in exactly the same form it exists today" (pp. 194-95). In fact, he assumes that it is identical to the text of the time of Moses, since throughout the book he keeps referring to the code's predictions as being from 3000 years ago (e.g. pp. 39, 87, 90). The same assumption of textual accuracy is necessary for a similar reason according to Nahmanides' introduction to the Torah, who refers to a tradition that "the whole Torah is comprised of Names of [God], and that the letters of the words separate themselves into Divine Names when divided in a different manner" (Eng. trans. by C.B. Chavel, Ramban (Nachmanides). Commentary on the Torah [New York: Shilo, 1971] 1:13-15).

10. See Menahem Cohen, "The Idea of the Sanctity of the Letters of the Text and Textual Criticism," in U. Simon, ed., HaMiqra' vaAnahnu (The Bible and Us) (Tel Aviv: Dvir, 1987), 42-69. An English translation under a slightly different title appears on Brendan McKay's website:

11. For the history of the Masoretic Text see E. Tov, Textual Criticism of the Hebrew Bible (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1992), 22-79.

12. There are 304,850 letters in the Michigan-Claremont-Westminster (MCW) comput-erized text of Biblica Hebraica Stuttgartensia (BHS), which is the critical edition of the Lenin-grad codex currently in use by most scholars (statistics courtesy of Alan Groves, the final editor of the MCW text). C.D. Ginsburg's edition of the Torah contains 304,807 letters ac-cording to the colophon at its end (C.D. Ginsburg, The Pentateuch [London: British and Foreign Bible Society, 1926; repr. Jerusalem: Makor, 1970]).

13. All known Hebrew Bible texts, ancient and modern, use a system of spelling that is different from the one that was used in the days of Moses. The archaeological evidence shows that Hebrew spelling has gone through three stages.

(1) At first, Hebrew and the other West Semitic alphabets (such as Ugaritic, Phoenician and Aramaic) represented only consonants, and readers were normally left to infer the vowels from the context. This was a problematic system because it left many words equivocal. It would be as if we wrote the English letters r-v-r and left the reader to decide whether they stood for river, rover, raver, revere, or Rivera. On rare occasions, certain long vowels were indicated. To indicate them, a few of the consonants were used as matres lectionis to represent the vowels that sounded like those consonants; the consonant Y, in particular, was also used for the vowel sound /i/.

(2) In the second stage this sporadic use of consonants was expanded and four different consonants were used more frequently to indicate vowels. VAV, originally pronounced like a w, was also employed as a vowel to indicate certain /u/'s and /o/'s (e.g. LNV = LANU; XWRC = XOREC); ALEPH (pronounced consonantly as a glottal stop) represented certain other /o/'s and /u/'s (e.g. R'$ = RO$; H' = HU); YOD repre-sented /i/ and certain /e/'s (e.g. 'DNY = ADONI; BYT = BET); and HEH (pro-nounced consonantally as h) represented /a/ and certain other /o/'s and /e/'s (e.g. HYH = HAYAH; cBDH = cABDO; ZH = ZEH). This stage began around the tenth century B.C.E. in Aramaic, and later spread to Hebrew. It was a gradual development, used at first for long vowels at the end of words, and later, but less frequently, within words as well. This system was a major help for readers, but it was imperfect for three reasons: first, there weren't enough suitable consonants, so each of them had to represent more than one vowel; second, they were not consistently used -- sometimes a vowel would be indicated, sometimes not ("full" and "defective" spelling, as explained above); and third, those letters continued to represent consonants as well as vowels, creating a certain amount of ambiguity.

(3) Finally, much later, some time between the sixth and eighth centuries C.E., the system of diacritical "points" -- dots and dashes above and below the letters -- was invented to represent the vowels. This created a certain amount of redundancy since the vowel letters of the second stage continued to be used alongside the diacriticals, but it led to greater clarity.

Let me exemplify. In the Gezer Calendar, the oldest known Hebrew inscription from Biblical times, the word meaning harvest, QACIR, is spelled Q-C-R (see the boxed word in Fig. 4). The internal vowel /i/ is not shown. In Masoretic Torah scrolls, it is spelled Q-C-Y-R, with the vowel /i/ represented by Y (see the boxed word in Fig. 5 left). In Bibles with diacritical vowel points, the same letters are used, but the diacrit-ical signs are added above and below the letters (see the boxed word in Fig. 5 right; all three types of spelling are represented in English characters in Fig. 4, lower right).

Fig. 4. The Gezer Calendar and the word QACIR ("harvest")

Fig. 5. Selection from a Torah scroll and a printed Bible
with diacritical vowels and cantillation signs

Now the Gezer Calendar comes from the 10th century B.C.E., approximately three centuries after Moses. Its non-representation of the internal vowel is characteristic of the West Semitic writing that we know from that early period. It is clear that the Bible texts we use today, which usually include matres lectionis to represent long vowels at the end of words and often within the words, reflect a post-Mosaic system of spelling (again, see Fig. 5). The spelling in manuscripts of Moses's time would have looked very different from that in the Masoretic Text of today, which contains thousands of vowel letters that would not have been used in Moses's time.

For the history of the spelling system see F.M. Cross, Jr., and D.N. Freedman, Early Hebrew Orthography. A Study of the Epigraphic Evidence. American Oriental Series 36 (New Haven: American Oriental Society, 1952); Z. Zevit, Matres Lectionis in Ancient Hebrew Epigraphs. American Schools of Oriental Research Monograph Series 2 (Cambridge, Mass.: American Schools of Oriental Research, 1980); Tov, Textual Criticism, pp. 39-49; M. Greenberg, Introduction to Hebrew (Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1965), 17-23.

14. The two versions are laid out side by side, with differences highlighted, in Abba Bendavid, Makbilot BaMikra' (Parallels in the Bible) (Jerusalem: Carta, 1972), p. 61-62. Kimhi held that such differences as Dodanim in Gen. 10:4 vs. Rodanim in 1 Chron. 1:7, and Deuel in Num. 1:14 vs. Reuel in 2:14 are due to confusion of similar letters, but he held that the confusion took place in pre-Biblical texts and that the Bible intentionally preserved both forms to show that they referred to the same peoples or persons; there was no confusion in the transmission of the Bible itself (see his comments to Gen. 10:4 and 1 Chron. 1:7, and Uriel Simon, "Ibn Ezra and Kimhi -- Two Approaches to the Question of the Accuracy of the Masoretic Text," Bar Ilan 6 (1968):208-209).

14a. See Mekhilta Pish . a, 18 (ed. Horovitz-Rabin, p. 73; ed, Lauterbach 1:166-167); Yerushalmi Pesahim 10.4, 37d; M.M. Kasher, Haggadah Shelemah 3d ed. (Jerusalem: Torah Shelema Institute, 1967), p. 22; N.N. Glatzer, The Passover Haggadah (New York: Schock-en, 1969), pp. 24-29.

15. Noted in Jacob ben Chaim's introduction to Mikra'ot Gedolot (1525; see C.D. Ginsburg, Jacob ben Chajim ibn Adonijah's Introduction to the Rabbinic Bible...1867; repr. New York: KTAV, 1968; see, for example, p. 42); Minhat Shai (1626); Rabbi Akiva Eiger, Gilyon haShas, Shabbat 55b; S. Rosenfeld, Sefer Mishpahat Soferim (Vilna: Romm, 1883); M.M. Kasher, Torah Shelemah 23 (Jerusalem: American Biblical Encyclopedia Society/Makhon Torah Shelemah, 1969), pp. 113-14 (for Genesis and Exodus); etc. The basic modern study is V. Aptowitzer, Das Schriftwort in der Rabbinischen Literatur (1906-15; repr. New York: KTAV, 1970, with prolegomenon by S. Loewinger), which focuses on Joshua and Judges. See also Y. Maori, "Rabbinic Midrash as Evidence for Textual Variants in the Hebrew Bible: History and Practice," in S. Carmy, ed., Modern Scholarship in the Study of Torah. Contributions and Limitations. The Orthodox Forum Series. A Project of the Rabbi Isaac Elhanan Theological Seminary. An Affiliate of Yeshiva University (Northvale NJ: Jason Aronson, 1996), pp. 101-29. On variant readings in Rashi's commentary, see Shnayer (Sid) Z. Leiman, "Yavneh Studies in Naso," in Yavneh Studies in Parashat HaShavua. Bemidbar (New York: Yavneh. The Religious Jewish Students Association, 1972), pp. 3-7.

16. For example, in Bavli Berakhot 61a R. Nahman bar Yitzhak quotes a passage that is not present in the MT: VYLK 'LQNH 'XRY '$TV, "and Elkanah walked after his wife." This passage, if it existed, would have belonged in 1 Samuel 1 or 2. It is also absent in the Septuagint and in the partially preserved fragments of Samuel from Qumran. However, both of these versions of the text include other extra phrases not found in the MT (in 1 Samuel 1:22 a Qumran fragment reads: "And I shall give him as a Nazirite forever all the days of his life," and in v. 18, after "the woman went her way," the Septuagint adds: "and entered the chamber and ate with her husband and drank"). This suggests that R. Nahman bar Yitzhak was quoting from a text of Samuel known to him. (For the Qumran text see F.M. Cross, "A New Qumran Biblical Fragment Related to the Original Hebrew Underlying the Septuagint," Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research 132 [1953]:15-26.

17. The precept of tefillin is based on Exodus 13:9 and 16 and Deuteronomy 6:8 and 11:18. The word totafot, "frontlets, headbands," referring to the tefillin worn on the head, appears in three of these verses. According to Rabbi Ishmael in the Talmud (Sanhedrin 4b and parallels), the suffix -OT is spelled defectively (that is, without the vowel letter VAV) in the first two occurrences and fully (with the VAV) the third time. This allows the first two to be read "as if" they were singulars, implying one compartment each, and requires the third to be read as a plural, hence requiring two compartments, and thus indicating that the head tefillin must have a total of four compartments. However, in all known copies of the Bible, both ancient (with one exception, in Exodus 13:16) and Masoretic, the suffix is spelled defectively all three times, and this is how Maimonides rules that they must be written (Mishneh Torah, Hilkhot Tefillin 2:7, presumably following the Aleppo Codex). For the ancient manuscripts see J. Tigay, "On the Meaning of totafot," Journal of Biblical Literature 101 (1982):321. For other such examples see Leiman, cited in the next note.

18. Sid Z. Leiman, "Masorah and Halakhah: A Study in Conflict," in Tehilla le-Moshe. Biblical and Judaic Studies in Honor of Moshe Greenberg, ed. M. Cogan, B.L. Eichler, and J.H. Tigay (Winona Lake, Indiana: Eisenbraun's, 1997), pp. 291-306.

19. S. Rosenfeld, Sefer Mishpahat Sofrim (Vilna: Romm, 1883), 34-36, 100, who identifies the middle letter as the ALEPH in the word HU', in Lev. 8:28 (the same is true for the Koren edition), and the middle pair of words as 'EL YESOD in Lev. 8:15. According to the Talmud, the middle letter is the VAV in the word GAXON in Lev. 11:42, and the middle words are DAROSH DARASH in Lev. 10:16. The inconsistency between the Talmudic passage and the MT of today is also noted by Barukh HaLevi Epstein, Torah Temimah, at Lev. 11:42 and M.M. Kasher, Torah Shelemah 28 (Jerusalem: American Biblical Encyclopedia Society/Makhon Torah Shelemah, 1978), pp. 286-289. In the Yemenite text the middle letter is the L of LYHVH in Lev. 8:28; according to Alan Groves, in BHS, which has an even number of letters, the middle two letters are HX in HXZH, also in Lev. 8:28. Witztum claims to have dealt with the passage in Kiddushin 30a on his website but, as noted above in note 9, I could find no such discussion there.

20. For the latter possibility one may compare the Septuagint of Exodus 35-40, which is based on a Hebrew original that had many passages in a different order than in the MT. But if this is the case in the text to which the "first scholars" were referring, it was, without the rabbis realizing it, from a textual tradition other than the one that was current in rabbinic cir-cles.

21. See Maimonides, Introduction to Perek Helek (Sanhedrin 10:1), Eighth Principle; R. Joseph Albo, Sefer haIkkarim 3:22; Abarbanel, Introduction to Commentary on Jeremiah (Tel Aviv: Torah veDaat [n.d.]), pp. 298-99.

22. E.g., Shlomo Sternberg, "Snake Oil for Sale," Bible Review 13/4 (August, 1997): 24-25; "Comments on The Bible Code, in Notices of the AMS 44/8 (September, 1997):938-39. For other Orthodox scholars acknowledging changes in the text, see also Cohen (above, note 10; below, note 30), Leiman (above, note 18) and Levy (below, n. 28). In view of the spell-ing variations in Torah manuscripts, the late Rabbi Yaakov Weinberg, Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshivat Ner Yisrael, wrote:

Rambam knew very well that these variations existed...The words of Ani Ma'amin and the words of the Rambam [in his commentary on Mishnah Sanhedrin 10:1] "the entire Torah in our possession today" [is the one that Moses received from God] must not be taken literally, implying that all the letters of the present Torah are the exact letters given to Moshe Rabbeinu. Rather, it should be understood in a general sense that the Torah we learn and live by is for all intents and purposes the same Torah that was given to Moshe Rabbeinu.

Y. Weinberg, Fundamentals and Faith. Insights into the Rambam's Thirteen Principles, ed. M. Blumenfeld (Spring Valley, N.Y.: Feldheim: 1991), pp. 90-91 quoted by M.B. Shapiro, "Maimonides' Thirteen Principles: The Last Word in Jewish Theology?" The Torah U-Madda Journal 4 (1993):203 (for our purposes R. Weinberg's view is important whether or not Maimonides intended his words to be taken literally). (Ironically, R. Weinberg's book is listed in "Aish HaTorah's Recommended Reading List" http://www.aish.edu/learning/booklist.htm).

22a. See D.Z. Hoffmann, Sefer Vayikra (Jerusalem: Mosad Harav Kook, 1956), pp. 7-8; for an English translation see Hoffmann's "General Introduction to Biblical Exegesis," translated from the original German by Jenny Marmorstein, "David Hoffmann: Defender of the Faith," Tradition Winter 1966, pp. 99-100.

23. See Saul Lieberman, Hellenism in Jewish Palestine (New York: Jewish Theological Seminary, 1962), pp. 28-37; Tov, Textual Criticism, pp. 64-67; Ginsburg, Introduction, pp. 347-363. Examples are in Gen. 18:22 (see also Rashi) and 1 Sam. 3:13, "committed sacrilege at will/for themselves" (LHM), where Radak records a tikkun soferim to avoid saying "com-mitted sacrilege against God" ('L, or 'LHYM), as the Septuagint actually reads (Tanakh [Jewish Publication Society] ad loc., note a-a). Lieberman shows that the views that these readings are original euphemisms (kinnah(u) hakatuv) and scribal corrections (tikkun soferim) are distinct and divergent traditions and should not be harmonized so that one becomes just another way of referring to the other. The view that they are original euphemisms appears in tannaitic sources; the view that the scribes actually changed the original text is first expressed by Rabbi Joshua b. Levi (first half of third century): "It is a correction of the scribes; (the word cYNW, 'his eye, in Zechariah 2:12) was (originally) written with a yod (i.e., cYNY, 'My eye')" (Shemot Rabbah 13:1). Note also the Masoretic list cited by Ginsburg, Introduc-tion, p. 351 n. 2, which explicitly states that in each case something else "was written" in place of the current reading in the MT.

The Talmud also lists 5 words containing "omissions of the scribes" (ittur soferim) in which the scribes omitted the one-letter conjunction vav (Ginsburg, Introduction, pp. 308-309; Tov, p. 67; see Tosafot, the Geonim, the Arukh and other views cited by Steinsaltz at B. Nedarim 37b).

24. Avot deRabbi Nathan, Version A chap. 34; Version B chap. 37 (pp. 101 and 98 in ed. Schechter; for translations see J. Goldin, The Fathers According to Rabbi Nathan [New Haven: Yale University Press, 1955], pp. 138-39; A. Saldarini, The fathers According to Rabbi Nathan...Version B [Leiden: Brill, 1975], p. 224); see also Bemidbar Rabbah 3:13.

25. Lieberman, Hellenism in Jewish Palestine, pp. 43-46.

26. See Lieberman, Hellenism, pp. 21-27; S. Talmon, "The Three Scrolls of the Law that Were Found in the Temple Court," Textus 2 (1962):14-27.

27. For Kimhi's view on textual criticism see U. Simon, "Ibn Ezra and Kimhi -- Two Approaches to the Question of the Accuracy of the Masoretic Text," Bar Ilan 6 (1968):191-237.

28. Leiman, "Masorah and Halakhah." The struggle is traced in great detail in a forth-coming book by B. Barry Levy, Fixing God's Torah. The Accuracy of the Hebrew Bible Text in Jewish Law, kindly shown to me by the author in advance of publication.

29. Shulhan Arukh, 'Orah Hayyim 143:4, Isserles; cf. Kasher, Torah Shelemah 28:229-30, note 258.

30. For a list of discrepancies cited by Minhat Shai in Genesis and Exodus, see Kasher, Torah Shelemah 23:109-111 (a fuller list of variant readings for Genesis, prepared by Menahem Cohen, is found on Brendan McKay's website at:
(see also C.D. Ginsburg, The Massorah, 3:23-36, 106 etc.). Mordechai Breuer presents a list of over 200 orthographic differences between six important versions of the MT (five ancient masoretic manuscripts and the text in Mikra'ot Gedolot); see his The Aleppo Codex and the Accepted Text of the Bible (Jerusalem: Mosad Harav Kook, 1976), pp. 68-94 (in Hebrew).

31. A list of discrepancies in spelling and conjunctions in the first 19 printed editions of the Torah is found in Torah Shelemah 23:111-112.

32. The readings are at Gen. 4:13; 7:11; 9:29; Exod. 25:31; 28:26; Num. 1:17; 10:10; 22:5; and Deut. 23:2. See M. Breuer, Hamishah Humshei Torah (Jerusalem: Horev, 5756/1996), Appendix "haNusah," p. 9; M.L. Katzenellenbogen, ed., Torat Hayyim (Jerusalem: Mossad Harav Kook, 1993), Vol. 5, Devarim, p. 447. The Yemenites regard these dif-ferences seriously enough that they consider non-Yemenite Torah scrolls to be disqualified for public reading. See Y. Kapah, devarim 'axadim, paragraph aleph, in Sefer Keter HaTorah. Ha"Taj" HaGadol, ed. Y. Hasid (Jerusalem, 5730/1970), p. 2. There were three additional variants in the Aleppo Codex not found in the Yemenite text: Exod. 1:19 ('LYHN); Lev. 19:16: RcYK; Lev. 25:10 (or possibly 11 or 12) (HY'). See Menahem Cohen, Mikra'ot Gedolot HaKeter. Joshua-Judges (Ramat Gan: Bar Ilan University 1992), pp. 55*, 96* nn. 160-161, citing Joseph Offer, "M.D. Cassuto's Notes on the Aleppo Codex," Sefunot N.S. 4 (19) (1989), pp. 309, 335.

33. Maimonides, Mishneh Torah. Hilkhot Sefer Torah 8:4.

34. M. Medan, "Al haNusah beMahadurat Koren," Beth Mikra 3 (15), Jan. 1963:142. It is worth keeping in mind that the decoders do not work directly with the Koren edition, but with a computerized version of its text, which could contain errors. There is at least as much room for human error in typing the text into the computer as there has always been in copying texts manually (and in setting them in type). Anybody familiar with how frequently errors can still be found in Torah scrolls, even though they are written by experienced scribes following exacting procedures, understands this. Rabbi David Greenfield of the Vaad Mishmeret Stam in New York (an organization of scribes that checks Torah scrolls for errors) informs me that errors are found in more than half the scrolls checked, and in more than 90% of those written since World War II (the Vaad now uses computer scanners to check for errors, and when it first received an electronic text of the Torah to use as the standard, 10-15 errors were found in it!). A sobering case in point is an article published in 1981 by Gerard E. Weil, an expert on the Masorah who edited the Masorah of BHS. Weil's article, based on a computerized version of the text that he prepared, gives the total number of letters in the Leningrad Codex's text of the Torah, and the total number of occurrences of each letter of the Hebrew alphabet ("Les decomptes de versets, mots et lettres du Pentateuque selon le manuscrit N 19a de Leningrad," in P. Casetti et al. eds., Melanges Dominique Barthelemy [Gottingen: Vandenhoeck & Ru-precht, 1981], pp. 651-703). But the Michigan-Claremont-Westminster (MCW) text of BHS, prepared independently of Weil's, gives different totals for the whole Torah (304,850 versus Weil's 304,848) and for 14 of the letters of the alphabet. Alan Groves, the final editor of the MCW, text tells me that in every case where a consonantal difference was found between it and Weil's text, Weil's was found to be wrong. Before concluding that the computerized ver-sion of the Koren text reproduces even Koren itself accurately, one would desire some evi-dence of how carefully, and how many times, it was checked against the original Koren text.

35. A critical statement, signed by over 40 mathematicians, is published on the internet at the following website: http://www.math.caltech.edu/code/petition.html.

36. B. McKay, D. Bar-Natan, M. Bar-Hillel, and G. Kalai, "Solving the Bible Code Puzzle," in Statistical Science, 14/2 (1999):150-173. The article is available on McKay's and Bar-Natan's websites at, respectively http://cs.anu.edu.au/~bdm/dilugim/StatSci/StatSci.pdf and http://www.ma.huji.ac.il/~drorbn/codes/StatSci.pdf. An earlier, less technical paper was published by M. Bar-Hillel, D. Bar-Natan and B. D. McKay, "The Torah Codes: Puzzle and Solution," in Chance (A Magazine of the American Statistical Association) 11 (1998): 13-19. For those with the proper software, the paper is available on Brendan McKay's website (http://cs.anu.edu.au/~bdm/dilugim/Chance.pdf).

37. "Dr. Rips Responds to Professor Sternberg," http://www.discoveryseminar.org/rresponse2.htm).

38. A number of arrays are shown pictorially in Doron Witztum, ha-Memad ha-nosaf: 'al ha-Ketivah ha-Du-memadit ba-Torah (Jerusalem: Ka-tamar Yifrah, 5749 [1988-89], pp. 101-131.

39. WRR, pp. 432, 433.

40. E-mail letter of 5 May, 1998. On the same date, Bar-Hillel, responded in a similar vein:

[T]he result WRR published is not really that rabbis are close to their dates, but rather that a large list of rabbis paired with their own dates are closer, on average [my empha-sis - J.H.T.], than lots and lots of lists where rabbis were paired with someone else's dates. So it is a comparative assertion, not an absolute one. To be sure, their rationale requires actual proximity, and they devised a complex measure of alleged proximity, but the "miracle" is not in the absolute proximities, but rather in relative proximities. In other words, even though the rabbis yield very few "pretty pictures" with their own dates, there may be even fewer with other dates. Paradoxically, even that is not the case...but as per the race they ran between lists, the correct list did almost best. Poorly, by the measure of 'pretty pictures,' but almost best."

41. McKay, e-mail letter of 7 May, 1998.

42. Bar-Hillel, Bar-Natan and McKay, "The Torah Codes: Puzzle and Solution," in Chance 11 (1998):15.

43. E-mail letter of 26 May, 1998.

44. 4QGenesisb is a possible exception. It has one difference in the 1200 surviving letters. If variants were evenly distributed through the entire manuscript, this would imply a difference of about 65 letters in all of Genesis. This would make the scroll quite anomalous among the Qumran fragments, and it may be that the surviving fragments are accidentally closer to the MT than the rest of the manuscript was. But even assuming a mere 65 letters of difference from the MT, that is enough to completely obliterate the codes, as we shall see below.

45. According to cryptographer Harold Gans, 78 deleted letters are necessary to oblit-erate the statistical significance of the codes (Satinover, Cracking the Bible Code, p. 224). For present purposes, this makes no difference.

46. For example, Rabbi Hayyim Benveniste's name can be written: BNBN$TY, HRB HXBY"B, HRB XBY"B, RB XBY"B, or RBY XYYM. Other have even more possible appel-lations, including the names of their major books, sometimes preceded by BcL, sometimes not.


48. Christians have also begun to claim that Christological messages can be found encoded in the Tanakh as well. For example, Grant R. Jeffrey, The Mysterious Bible Codes (Nashville: Word Publishing, 1998), chaps. 6-8, finds ELS-based references to Jesus, Mary, and some of Jesus's disciples in Isaiah 53, Psalm 22, and elsewhere (ref. courtesy of Chanan and Yisrael Tigay).

49. See A.M. Hasofer, "Codes in the Torah: A Rejoinder," in B'Or Ha'Torah 8 (1993/5743), pp. 121-131 (published by "Shamir," the Association of Religious Professionals from the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe in Israel, POB 5749, Jerusalem, Israel).

50. Drosnin, The Bible Code, pp. 157-8. For this and other examples, see R. Hendel, "The Bible Code: Cracked and Crumbling," Bible Review 13/4 (August, 1997), p. 23.

51. Who is "he"? The text never mentions Nixon's name! Actually, the spelling (MHV) would more likely mean: What is he/it?

52. Who? Drosnin never explains.

53. On pp. 58 and 80, Drosnin's rendering "after the death of prime minister" ignores the intervening word 'B, "father," which would make the message mean "after the death of the father of the prime minister" (later in the book, on p. 161, he includes 'B, reading the passage as: "Another will die, Av [i.e., the Hebrew month of Av], prime minister." On p. 54 he ignores what follows "all his people to war": "to Jahaz, and the Lord our God delivered him to us and we defeated him..." (Deut. 2:32-33).

54. Sources of the illustrations are as follows:

Fig. 1. Katz, Computorah, p. 77.

Fig. 2. Drosnin, p. 15.

Fig. 3. Aish HaTorah's Discovery Seminar, p. 5.

Fig. 4. Drawing from J. Naveh, Early History of the Alphabet (Jerusalem: Magnes, and Leiden: Brill, 1982), p. 63; transliteration from R. Hestrin, et al., Ketovot Mesapperot (Inscriptions Reveal). Israel Museum Catalogue no. 100. 2d edition (Jerusalem: Israel Museum, 1973), p. 18.

Fig. 5. Tikkun laKore'im. Revised ed. (New York: KTAV, 1969), p. 87.

Fig. 5a. The upper half of the figure, showing a standard printed text with the Yemenite variant indicated in the margin at Genesis 6:29, is from Sefer Keter ha-Torah. Ha"Taj" Ha-Gadol, ed. Y. Hasid (Jerusalem, 5730/1970), Vol. 1, p. 62; the lower part is from M.L. Katzenellenbogen, ed., Torat Hayyim (Jerusalem: Mossad Harav Kook, 1993), Vol. 5, Devarim, p. 447. [Fig. 5a is not yet loaded on the web version of this paper.]

Fig. 6. Favorite Crossword Puzzles 32/1 (West Springfield, MA: Quinn Publishing Co., February, 1983). pp. 95, 189.

Fig. 7. Drosnin, p. 29.

Fig. 8. Drosnin, p. 76.

Fig. 9. Drosnin, p. 71.

Fig. 10. Drosnin, p. 158.

Monday, December 26, 2005

People's court in Budapest 1944-1945

Crime and Punishment:
People's Courts, Revolutionary Legality, and the Hungarian Holocaust

László Karsai:
University of Szeged
Since 1994, I have been heading a small team of historians commissioned by the Yad Vashem Archives in Jerusalem to microfilm Hungarian documents produced after 1938 concerning the Holocaust. So far, we have surveyed the papers of more than 20,000 trials in the Capital Archives of Budapest, and those of approximately 3,000 others in archives all over Hungary. Thus, what I will present here is not based on my own archival research alone. I also wish to make clear that I am not going to discuss the great political trials in this paper -- I have done that in a lengthy essay, which is also available in English.1
I first wish to analyze the Act on People's Courts from a legal point of view, followed by a presentation of the history of the post-World War II retributions in Hungary in an international perspective. I shall conclude by illustrating the way in which these special courts operated, through a number of characteristic trials.
The decrees previously issued by the Council of Ministers concerning the punishment of war criminals became law in Hungary through Act VII, 1945.2 Contrary to the principle that the norms defining the fundamental conditions of life should be laid down in laws, those accused of war crimes and genocide [népellenes bánök] were indicted and arraigned by government decrees up to September 1945, rather than according to acts of parliament. In accordance with the government decrees on People's Courts, the sentences in such cases could be imprisonment and even capital punishment.
The Hungarian creators of the decrees had deliberately ignored the principles of nullum crimen sine lege and nulla poena sine lege. In doing so, they were adhering to general international practice, the legal-philosophical grounds of which were laid by Gustav Radbruch in his article "Gesetztliches Unrecht und übergesetztliches Recht," published in 1946. With regard to the conflict between legal security and injustice, the two pillars of the rule of law, Radbruch came to the conclusion that unjust and inexpedient law is usually preferred, unless its conflict with justice is intolerably great. Radbruch also admits that legal injustice exists, but there may be a point at which justice is avoided, either by the legislative or by the executive.3 At that stage,
1 László Karsai, "The People’s Courts and Revolutionary Justice in Hungary," in István Deák, Jan Gross, and Tony Judt, eds. The Politics of Retribution in Europe: World War II and Its Aftermath, 1939-1948 (Princeton: Princeton University Press, in press). 2 Miniszterelnöki rendelet [Premier's decree — henceforth M.E.r.) Nr. 81/1945. On people's judiciary (January 25, 1945.); and the decrees modifying the basic decree: M.E.r. Nr. 1.440/1945. (April 27, 1945.); M.E.r. Nr. 5.900/1945 (August 1, 1945.); M.E.r. Nr. 6.750/1945. (August 16, 1945.)
Quoted in Imre A. Wiener, ed. Bünterend•ség, büntethet•ség. Büntet•jogi tanulmányok [The necessity and/or possibility of punishment. Essays on penal law] (Budapest: Közgazdasági és Jogi K.- MTA Állam és Jogtudományi K., 1997), 18. See, for example, the "laws" of Nazi Germany, or the decrees
positive law cannot actually be regarded as law, since the fundamental purpose of law should be the creation of order and justice.
The members of the People's Court were nominated by each of the parties of the Hungarian National Independence Front [Magyar Nemzeti Függetlenségi Front], originally an alliance of openly antifascist and mostly left-wing parties. The People's Courts made their decisions on the majority principle, thus appeals were possible only if the majority of the people's judges found the defendant worthy of mercy. If the appeal was turned down, the prisoner was executed within two hours.4 If the accused was sentenced to imprisonment of less than five years, neither the condemned person nor his/her council had the right of appeal – only the prosecutor. As a court of appeal, the National Council of People's Courts [Népbíróságok Országos Tanácsa, NOT], featured a similarly partisan composition, with professional lawyers and judges as members. A court of justice should, however, be required to be impartial. The People's Courts were special in this respect, because they were party courts; indeed, the decree in question stipulated that in case the five parties were unable to designate a people's judge, the missing member or candidate member should be nominated "from among politically reliable persons." The composition of the People's Courts did not change even after the parliamentary elections in 1945, when the Smallholders' Party [Kisgazdapárt] gained an absolute majority, and the left-wing parties continued to dominate them.
Ákos Major, the first people's judge and first chairman of the Budapest People's Court, proudly says in his memoirs that the parents of the newborn creation of legal history were the Budapest committee of the Hungarian Communist Party and the Budapest National Committee, while he himself [Major] acted as midwife, and did not regard the "baby" either as a monster or as non-viable.5
The People's Court Decree applied the principle of collective accountability on many points, as in the case of someone having voluntarily joined the Arrow-Cross or other right-wing parties, or someone having been a member of the Volksbund, the organization of ethnic Germans in Hungary. The individual actions of minor Arrow-Cross members or Volksbundists were never investigated. Section eight of the People's Court Decree violates the principle that the norms of criminal law must be precisely defined. The passage in question ordered the punishment of
concerning Jews issued by the Sztójay and Szálasi governments after the German occupation of Hungary.
According to my research to date, the following Arrow-Cross mass murderers were hanged in 1945 within a couple of hours after the sentences had been passed: Dénes Bokor (Budapest F•város Levéltára [Capital Archives of Budapest — henceforth: BFL] — Népbírósági iratok [Papers of people's courts — henceforth: Nb] 313/1945) on June 14; Károly Toronyi (BFL–Nb. 477/1945). on July 7; András Kun (BFL–Nb. 2.583/1945) on September 19; Lipót Tóth (BFL–Nb. 1.287/1945) on October 4; Mrs. Vilmos Saltzer (BFL–Nb. 2.288/1945) on October 11; József Fodor (BFL–Nb. 1.129/1945) on October 15; József Mónos (BFL–Nb. 2.788/1945) on November 13. We know of similar cases in other countries. On February 6, 1946, the people's court in Riga sentenced to death SS General Franz Jaeckeln, who had directed the final solution of the Jewish question in the Baltic states in the autumn of 1941. The sentence was carried out on the same day. Randolph L. Braham, A népirtás politikája [The Politics of Genocide] (Budapest, 1997), 218. n. 45.
Ákos Major, Népbíráskodás, forradalmi törvényesség [People's justice, revolutionary legality] (Budapest: Minerva K., 1988), 127. [henceforth: Major, Népbíráskodás].
everyone who had been involved in any activity that would impede postwar peace and cooperation of peoples during the world war.
The Red Army crossed the present borders of Hungary in August 1944, but it took them eight months to finally remove the Nazi and Arrow-Cross troops who persevered in Hungary till the end. In the liberated eastern half of Hungary, and from February, 1945 in Budapest as well, persecutions started immediately against the Arrow-Cross, the Volksdeutsche, and all who were rightly or wrongly accused of having been the adherents and/or lackeys of the previous regime. The Ministry of Interior and the political police were taken under the control of the Communist Party with the help of the Soviet authorities. Under the previous anti-Semitic regime, Jews could not be employed as police officers, gendarmes or even clerks. They were now allowed to join, and indeed did join, various repressive organizations. This situation helped to fuel old anti-Semitic apprehensions, and the dread of Jewish revenge could be felt all over the country.
As early as March 1945, the well-known populist writer József Darvas accused the Jews of wishing "to be idle under the false disguise of their martyrdom" and of cherishing a certain "military forced laborer attitude." The Jews, Darvas said, had grown accustomed to the existence of guards and military forced laborers. "Now, that the tables have turned, they want to be the guards," Darvas wrote in the daily paper of the Communist Party.6 Since 1943, extensive groups of populist intellectuals had harbored serious fears of Jewish revenge after the war. In 1943, László Németh, the leader of the populist writers, talked about Shylock sharpening his knife.7 According to Gyula Gombos, one of his colleagues, both the bourgeois democratic and socialist left-wing camps contained "forces alien from Magyars," and the only thing to be expected after the war was the revenge of the Jews.8 The populist writers saw and understood very well that Hungarian Jews had been deeply hurt and literally bled by the Jewish Acts and the institution of military forced labor. In the fall of 1944, Zionist leader Ottó Komoly learned that after the deportation to Auschwitz of over 430,000 Hungarian Jews, there was a meeting in the Ministry of Interior, with the agenda of deciding what the authorities should do if the "understandable and justified distress" of the Jewish masses were to explode.9
The thirst for revenge of the Jews in Hungary never erupted in lynchings in 1945 and 1946. As Ákos Major later noted in an interview, when on February 4, 1945, two persons responsible for the deaths of 124 military forced laborers were publicly hanged after a short trial, the chief message of the procedure was that there must be no lynchings since the democratic state itself
6 József Darvas, "•szinte szót a zsidókérdésben" [Let's be frank about the Jewish question] Szabad Nép, March 25, 1945, 5. 7 For Németh's text, see: Szárszó 1943. El•zményei, jegyz•könyve és utóélete. Dokumentumok [Szárszó 1943. Its preliminaries, minutes and afterlife] Gyõrffy Sándor, Pintér István, Sebestyén László, and Sipos Attila, eds., (Budapest: Kossuth K., 1983), 214-26, especially 221. Quoted in: Gyula Juhász Gyula, Uralkodó eszmék Magyarországon, 1939-1944 [Dominant ideas in Hungary, 1939-1944] (Budapest: Kossuth K., 1983), 293-94. 9 Ottó Komoly was informed by Miklós Mester, undersecretary of state in the Ministry of Religion and Education on September 9, 1944. Parts of his diary were published in Maria Schmidt, Kollaboráció vagy kooperáció. A Budapesti Zsidó Tanács [Collaboration or Cooperation: the Jewish Council of Budapest] (Budapest: Minerva K., 1990), 193.
would being the culprits to account.10 However, it was a foreboding omen that although the People's Court Decree was only published in Magyar Közlöny on February 5, 1945 only, military judge Ákos Major, who had no qualification as a judge and a barrister, (i.e. he had no right to pass sentences even in civil cases), was already hanging people. Moreover, he was doing so in response to instructions from the Food Commissar, and later the communist mayor of Budapest, Zoltán Vas. In his memoirs, Major calls the body he presided over "the people's law-court" [néptörvényszék], forgetting to mention that Hungarian law had never known nor recognized such a court.11
It was sometimes reported in the daily papers that former military forced labor guards were recognized and brutalized in the street or attacked in the law courts.12 The most famous almost•victims of popular Jewish wrath were Andor Jaross, Interior Minister in the cabinet of Sztójay (the Hungarian Quisling), and his two undersecretaries of state, László Endre and László Baky, whose guards had a hard time protecting them after their third day at the people's court, December 19, 1945.13
The "sentences" of partisan courts of law and the spontaneous and/or organized eruptions of popular wrath took 8,000 to 9,000 victims in France and at least 8,000 to 10,000 victims in Italy during 1944 and 1945.14 Tito's partisans killed tens of thousands of people in Yugoslavia, and the victims of the "savage purging" in Bulgaria numbered between 30,000 and 40,000.
Major said this in a documentary film entitled A magyar nép nevében [In the name of the Hungarian people] (1984). In his memoirs he says that at this trial he "allowed the whirl of passions, the bereavement, despair, and hate to mix freely in front of the people's court — that is why we were the people's court." Major, Népbíráskodás, 123.
11 Major, Népbíráskodás, 121-31. My attention was called to this by László Varga. I am also indebted to him for allowing me to use his manuscript essay on the subject, Politikai jogszolgáltatás az 1945 utáni Magyarországon [Political jurisdiction in Hungary after 1945], MS, 1998.
12 On June 7, 1945, Detective Zoltán Preisz reported taking József Török to the VIIth District Police Headquarters after saving him from the crowd. Török had not only been beaten up, but his watch and bicycle were "missing" as well. (BFL-Nb., Török József, 2399/1945). Former guard Éliás Mendelovits from Sub-Carpathia was recognized by former deportees at Dózsa György street was attacked and knifed. (Világ, 18 October, 1945, p. 8.) After the people'court had sentenced former guard László Géza Szungyi to 8 years of imprisonment, the outraged public wanted to lynch him, and the prison officers were compelled to restrain the crowd with warning shots. (Szabad Nép, October 21, 1945). When former guard Géza Huver was sentenced to life, his wife and son, who had served as witnesses, were beaten by the audience with sticks and umbrellas. (Világ, November 17, 1945). Former forced laborer staff captain Gusztáv Schmidt, originally a witness for the defense, was rushed by 20 young former forced laborers, severely battered, then denounced at the people's court trial, and ended up arrested by the people's prosecutor. (Világ, November 21, 1945).
László Karsai and Judit Molnár Judit, eds. Az Endre-Baky-Jaross per [The Trial of Endre, Baky, and Jaross], (Budapest: Cserépfalvi K., 1994), 129.
14 Marcello Flores, Political Justice in Italy in the Post-War Era (MS,1995, 5). Flores puts the number of victims around ten thousand, adding that most of them were killed in the Emilia province. According to the estimation of Henri Rousso, some 8-9,000 people were executed during the "épuration sommaire," in France, 20-30 percent of them before June 6, 1944. H. R.ousso, Syndrome de Vichy, 1944–1987 (Paris: Seuil, 1996.) For the retributions in France, see also Peter Nowick, The Resistance versus Vichy: The Purge of Collaborators in Liberated France (New York, 1968).
There are two myths in the public mind in connection with the People's Court trials in Hungary. According to the extreme right, which has again become vociferous since the political changes in 1989, the Communist-Jewish murderers paid off old scores in a genuine bloodbath in Hungary.15 At the same time, there are rumors among Jews that save a few major wartime criminals and some Arrow-Cross mass-murderers, all the criminals escaped justice.16 Neither claim is supported by comparative statistics.
After World War II, approximately 27,000 people were convicted for war crimes and genocide in Hungary. The People's Courts passed 322 death sentences before March 1, 1948, and 146 people were executed. Regarding the number of those executed under final sentences, Hungary lies in the middle of the European list of countries.
Not one of the 1,246 people arrested in Greece were convicted -- they escaped trial for collaboration with the occupying Nazis as “anti-communist warriors .”17
In France, 350,000 people were investigated, 45,000 were convicted, and 1,500 were executed.
In Italy, 36 death sentences were passed before the end of 1947, and two persons were executed.
In Holland, 120,000 to 150,000 people were arrested, and tens of thousands were fired from their jobs. The courts sentenced 50,000 people, 152 of them to death. 40 of these were executed (five were Germans).18
In Belgium, investigations were initiated against 405,000 persons (seven percent of the adult population) on charges of unpatriotic behavior. 60,000 were accused of economic collaboration
"The holocaust put many people, very many Jews into lucrative leading jobs… at the ÁVH [the Communist
Bureau of State Security] even the torturers were Jews," wrote Gyula Bujdosó P. in Megbékélést!
[Reconciliation!] (Szent Korona, April 10, 1991.) István Benedek talks about no less than "two deaths of the
nation" caused by Jews after 1919 and 1945. I. Benedek, "Válasz egy Izraelbe költözött barátn•mnek" [Reply to
a lady friend who has moved to Israel] (Hunnia, February 25, 1992, 5.) András Sándor is also of the opinion that the Jews started to lose, and then only gradually, the Ministry of the Interior, the secret police and the special police only after 1956. A. Sandor, "Kirekesztés vagy önkirekesztés" [Exclusion or self-exclusion] (Új Magyarország, July 31, 1991, 10.) Criticising the retroactive jurisdiction at Nuremburg, István Csurka asked, "And aren't we having the end of a long war on our hands now [in 1989-90 L.K.]? And was the regime that has just lost and been destroyed less inhumane, less destructive than the one condemned at Nuremberg?" István Csurka "Az Alkotmánybíróság döntéséhez" [On the decision of the Constitutional Court] (Magyar Fórum, March 12, 1992, 15.)
"Although the top war criminals were convicted, many of the smaller ones were allowed to go free," claimed
Miklós Hernádi recently, in "Unlearning the Holocaust. Recollections and Reactions," in Randolph L. Braham
and Attila Pók, eds.: The Holocaust in Hungary. Fitfty Years Later (New York: Columbia University Press,
1997), 666. 17 Mark Mazower, "Three Forms of Political Justice: Greece, 1944–45" in Deák, Gross, and Judt.
Luc Huyse, "Belgian and Dutch War Trials after World War II Compared," Mellon Seminar on Transitional Justice, Columbia University, New York, November 3, 1998, 15.
for working in Germany after they had been forcibly recruited. The cases of the blue-collar "collaborators" were closed without indictments.19
In Austria, 30 of the 43 people sentenced to death were executed. As the Italian Communist Party wished to generously pardon minor fascists, so the Austrian Communist Party left minor Nazis alone, carefully distinguishing between simple NSDAP members and active Nazis.20
In Germany, approximately 5,000 Nazis were convicted and 800 of them sentenced to death by the occupying authorities of the USA, Great Britain and France; 500 of the culprits were actually executed. We do not have reliable data concerning the number of German and Austrian war criminals tried by the Soviet Union, but the number of Nazis convicted after the war was about 50,000. There is no way to know how many non-German and non-Austrian war criminals were convicted by Soviet authorities.21
The People's Courts in Bulgaria passed 2,138 death sentences between September 1944 and March 1945, effectively decapitating the pre-war political elite.22
I have no data about the purges in Czechoslovakia and Romania. According to one source, those executed in Romania for war crimes and genocide numbered four, including Marshal Antonescu. We have information about Romanian People's Court trials in which dozens of Hungarian gendarmes were sentenced to death in absentia. They, like hundreds of thousands of Hungarian right-wing adherents and Arrow-Cross members, escaped trial by fleeing to the West in time.23
In Hungary, some 40,000 people were interned by 1949. People were often taken from the internment camps to the People's Courts, some more than once. Approximately 180,000-200,000 Hungarian Germans were deported,24 and 103,000 people were placed on the so-called "B" list. The latter were state employees, who thus lost their jobs. A similar number of those employed in the private sector lost their jobs. Since the overwhelming majority of those tried were men, we can say that in Hungary, a country of 10 million, an average of one out of five or six men was penalized in some way.25
Luc Huyse, "The Criminal Justice System as a Political Actor in Regime Transitions: The Case of Belgium
(1944–1950),” in Deák, Gross, Judt. 20 Oliver Rathkolb, "Austrian and Allied Perceptions of Political Trials 1944/1945," in Deák, Gross, Judt. 21 Henry Friedlander, "The Judiciary and Nazi Crimes in Postwar Germany" (Simon Wiesenthal Center Annual,
Vol. XXIX. (1984.), 27-44.), published in Michael M. Marrus, ed., The Nazi Holocaust: Historical Articles on
the Destruction of European Jews., Vol. IX. The End of the Holocaust, 665-81. Reference to 668. 22 Le livre noir du communisme. Crimes, terreur et répression (Paris: Robert Laffont, 1997), 430-31. 23 Verbal communication courtesy ofDr. Radu Ioanid, United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, Washington, D.C.
For the deportation of the Germans in detail, see Ágnes Tóth, Telepítések Magyarországon 1945-1948 között
[Settlements in Hungary, 1945-1948], Kecskemét, 1993 (candidate's dissertation). 25 Tibor Zinner, "Háborús b•nösök perei. Internálások, kitelepítések és igazoló eljárások 1945-1949" [Trials of war
criminals. Internments, deportations and denazification procedures] Történelmi Szemle, 1985. No.1, 133-40.
See also: Tibor Lukács, A magyar népbírósági jog és a népbíróságok (1945-1950) [The Hungarian People's
Court Law and the People's Courts] Budapest, 1979.
Moreover, Judge Major's claim that nearly all those brought to justice had committed crimes against the Jews cannot be shown to be true in the case of the People's Court of Budapest. We have been able to select for microfilming only thirty of the more than 1,300 cases tried before the People's Court in Györ`during 1945; in Pécs, the number of the cases was 875, but we could use
only 45. During the year 1945, 5,109 trials were held before the divisions of the Budapest People's Court. In 1,800 cases, either the registration numbers of the cases is all that is known, or we only have the name(s) of the accused with the sentence(s), without explanation. Of the remaining approximately four thousand cases, we have selected 1,786 as being connected to the Holocaust. If we assume that one-third of the "lost" cases were also connected with the Holocaust, then we can conclude that Jewish cases came primarily before the Budapest People's Court. We have so far surveyed 5,126 of the Budapest trials in 1946 and have found 1,401 were connected with the Holocaust. For 1947, the respective numbers are: 3,958 trials, of which we have selected 268, and in 1948 we selected 205 trials out of 4,971. As of March 31, 1999, we have surveyed 2,690 trials and selected 48 for microfilming as Holocaust-related. The reasons for the sharp decline in the "Jewish" trials need more research. In most of the trials, the charge was merely membership in the Arrow-Cross or other right-wing parties.
The various People's Courts passed sentences in rather dissimilar ways. In some courts, heavy prison sentences were meted out to minor officials who had merely executed the anti-Jewish decrees of the Sztójay government. However, Lajos Argalás, counselor of the Ministry of Interior, who had played a major role in formulating the anti-Jewish decrees in 1944, was only sentenced to three years’ imprisonment only.26 László Radocsai, Minister of Justice between November 9, 1939 and March 22, 1944, was not even taken to court. Gendarme Lieutenant-Colonel László Ferenczy, who had played a major role in organizing the deportation of the Jews in the country, was sentenced to death, while gendarme colonels whose role had been no less crucial than that of Ferenczy were nearly without exception sentenced to imprisonment.27 Gábor Faragho, Inspector General of the Gendarmerie, who had assigned Ferenczy to Adolf Eichmann's staff, was a witness in a number of great political trials after the war, and was then allowed to live in peace on his country estate in light custody.
Already by the summer of 1945, a daily paper reported that 200 people had demonstrated in the streets of Pécs, shouting slogans like "Hang the Jews! Down with the People's Courts, stooges of Jews!"28 The anti-Semitic, anti-people's-court atmosphere has often been attributed to the
Dr. Lajos Argalás, BFL-Nb. 1.391/1945. His sentence was reduced to two years by the National Council of
People's Courts on May 29, 1946 (NOT 575/1946). 27 Having served his 15 years of imprisonment, Gendarme Colonel János Árbocz was released in 1960. The people's court
(BFL-Nb. 1.267/1946) had sentenced him to forced labor for life, but his punishment was reduced to 15 years
by the National Council of People's Courts (5125/1946). Gendarme Colonel József Czigány, commander of the
central detective department of the Gendarmerie between February 1, 1943 to October 16, 1944, and one of the
addressees of Ferenczy's well-known daily reports in 1944, continued to live in peace at Hódmez•vásárhely
until 1947. That year he was arrested and indicted, and was then sentenced to ten years in 1950. Gendarme
Colonel Gyula Balázs-Piri was one of the chief organizers of the deportations in the country in 1944; Ferenczy
reported to him and to László Endre that the preparations had been made for the deportations to commence on
May 15. We know that he made a deposition at the police station at Balatonalmádi in 1960 when the Hungarian
authorities were collecting material for the Jerusalem trial of Eichmann. 28 Szabad Nép, July 27, 1945, 3.
participation of Jews in People's Court procedures. On the other hand, we should remember that until October 1945 only minor Arrow-Cross mass-murderers were sentenced to death for having murdered Jews.29
Professional judges who had not been compromised in the pre-war regime were unwilling to take part in the work of the People's Courts. As Sándor Molnár, head of the People's Prosecutor's Office, said bitterly in February, 1946, "We went to democratically minded lawyers of integrity, asking them to undertake the job of prosecutors, but we were turned down. Thus we were obliged to take nearly without any selection people who would then regard their offices as profitable opportunities for private gain. They used their power and influence for petty ends. The hindmost of this set are just now being taken by the devil."30 What Molnár meant was that two well-known people's prosecutors had just been arrested on charges of blackmail, accepting bribes, and other crimes. As it turned out, one of them, originally called Freund, had been a roisterer, a member of the smart set, then a military forced laborer. After the liberation "he joined one of the left-wing parties, where all they knew of him was that he was a trained lawyer and could not have been a fascist since he had been a military forced laborer."31
We do not have exact numbers about the Jews who took part in the post-war retributions. According to a contemporary report of the secretariat of the Social Democratic Party, about 80 percent of the people's judges of this party were Jews, and 90 percent of them were independent merchants or tradesmen who attended the trials out of revenge or for entertainment.32 Only in one of the 500 trials surveyed by my colleague Ferenc Gáspár concerning military forced laborers could it be shown that the role of a Jew in the judicial apparatus was "fiercely militant."33 Neither are the occupations of the witnesses in these trials telling, designations like "policeman," "political detective," or "army officer" being few and far between. However, it is not only the absolute numbers that can be of interest. In the political police headed by Gábor Péter (the sadistic organizer of the subsequent sham political trials, Beria's best Hungarian disciple, a communist and, incidentally, a Jew), majors or colonels of Jewish descent could wield significant power. The historico-statistical analysis of all the cases could yield more precise data on the number of Jewish policemen or soldiers who were witnesses in the Holocaust-related trials.
In most cases, the political detectives were convinced of the truth of the charges in the letters sent by the hundreds to various authorities. It was not only their being prejudiced, something
29 Ákos Major claims that "on account of the forced agenda of the praxis of the people's courts, during the previous six months [i.e.
before the fall of 1945] the small murderers came up before the courts and to the gallows. Thus the 9 million Hungarians could
have the impression that the functioning of the People's Courts was offering satisfaction, indeed, retribution for the hundreds of
thousands of Jewish victims." Major, Népbíráskodás, 186. Major here is referring to the fact that the chief war
criminals were brought to Hungary in October 1945 only. 30 Sándor Mátrai, "A férgese most hullik el" [The devil is taking the hindmost now] Kis Újság, February 10, 1946,
4. The daily Világ published the arrest of István Matiszfalvy on January 22, 1946. He was, among others, the people's prosecutor in the trial of Endre–Baky–Jaross. 31 Béla Zsolt, "Tolvajt kiált a gyilkos; Kicsoda Fontány" [The murderer crying thief: who is F.] Haladás, February 14, 1946. 32 Loránt Tilkovszky, "Vád, védelem, valóság. Basch Ferenc a népbíróság elõtt" [Prosecution, defense, reality (B.F. before the people's court)] Századok, 1996. Vol. 130. No. 6, 1405.
Ferenc Gáspár, "A kiskunhalasi tragédia. (1944. okt. 11)" [The tragedy at Kiskunhalas (October 11, 1944)] Századok, ibid. 1473–1505.
much too obvious at certain times, that posed a problem, but also the fact that in many cases the detectives and people's prosecutors were unable to support the charges with data and documents. Let us examine a few examples.
Regardless of the facts of chronology, Lajos Bordás was accused of persuading László Endre to banish Jewish merchants from markets. He was sentenced to three years' imprisonment by the People's Court, although it was proved that Endre, the sub-prefect of Pest County, had issued the decree in question before receiving the petition of the accused.34 So far I have found only three files where the police officers in charge of the investigation had doubts about the truth of the incriminating reports and depositions.35 As detective Endre Rádai said, the charge that the accused had stolen the possessions of the plaintiff was not very convincing in the depositions, since "two military occupations and a fire can doubtlessly cause things to disappear."36
In accordance with the practice of political trials since the Jacobian Terror, the defendants in many cases were found guilty and punished not for what they had done but because of the positions they had held.
The People's Court found that Ferenc Gertai, not wishing to emigrate to the West under the orders from the local Arrow-Cross town-leader, had reported at the National Court of Account [Nemzeti Számonkér• Szék], where he was given the job of carrying food parcels to the front on a
military truck. At Christmas, 1944, under orders from his superiors, he and his comrades disarmed the guard of the Arrow-Cross Centre, taking the leaders to the Arrow-Cross Headquarters at 14 Városház Street, and the members to the building of the Ludovika Academy. A series of witnesses testified that Gertai had provided Jews with Swedish safe conducts, made out certificates to hide deserters, and saved the Jewish inhabitants of a yellow-star house when the Germans wanted to deport them. The People's Court sentenced him to four and a half years, finding him not guilty on one of the charges of the people's prosecution, and stating that that carrying off Arrow-Cross guards at Christmas 1944 could no longer be regarded as a criminal act. The fact that he had been a Social Democrat for a long time before joining the Arrow-Cross was an aggravating circumstance. With regard to Gertai having saved Jews and deserters and persecuted the Arrow-Cross, the National Council of People's Courts sentenced him to two years and six months.37
Zoltán Bagossy, Chef de Cabinet of Arrow-Cross Foreign Minister Gábor Kemény, had risked his life on a number of occasions in trying to save inhabitants of the international ghetto in Budapest. Although this was attested to by a series of documents and depositions (among others by Papal Nuncio Angelo Rotta, by the representative of the International Red Cross in Budapest Friedrich Born, and by Swiss diplomat Carl Lutz), Bagossy was sentenced to forced labor for life.38
34 Lajos Bordás, BFL-Nb. 2.294/1945. A series of witnesses testified that Bordás had actually been saving Jews.
István Pivarcsi, BFL-Nb. 2.532/1945; Ferencné Novotta, BFL-Nb. 2.588/1945., Sándor Obetkó, BFL- Nb.
2.274/1945. 36 Ferencné Novotta, BFL-Nb. 2.588/1945. Report of March 15, 1945 by Endre Rádai. 37 Ferenc Gertai, BFL-Nb. 839/1945. 38 Zoltán Bagossy, BFL-Nb. 147/1946.
Police Inspector Zoltán Tarpataky was the organizer of the Budapest international ghetto. One can say with little exaggeration that neither Raoul Wallenberg, nor Lutz nor any other diplomat could have done anything without him in Budapest. He was sentenced to eight years’ imprisonment, despite a great number of witnesses who testified that he had tried, against the Arrow-Cross, to help Jews wherever he could. After the National Council of People's Courts acquitted and released him on October 14, 1946, the political police arrested him. He was interned, then relocated. After 1954 he found employment as an unskilled laborer.39
In West Germany, by the early 1950s many former Nazi officials, judges, policemen, soldiers, teachers, and so on that had not been convicted were allowed to return to public service. In Hungary, left-wing, class-struggle based purging began as early as 1945, and the People's Courts were only one of its numerous instruments.
We know that after 1948, even the Jew-saving military, police or gendarme officers who had not been convicted between 1945 and 1948, lost their jobs and/or pensions; they would later be honored with the Righteous Gentiles memorial medal.
It was an established practice to use physical torture to make the arrested person confess to whatever was contained in the incriminating reports. When the American authorities extradited the chief war criminals to Hungary in the autumn of 1945, it was also strictly stipulated that the arrested should not be, and were not, subjected to physical or psychological coercion. Gábor Péter and his colleagues probably regarded such coercion as unnecessary, since they were convinced that the people’s judges would easily condemn these war criminals.40 In the case of minor criminals, however, they used sheer physical violence in trying to make up for the lack of evidence. Sándor Linzer, one of the victims of Detective Dr. Bauer, deposited in writing that he upheld the confession he had made at the police station in its entirety, "...because they beat me when they took my deposition, and if I withdrew it now, they would beat me again."41
Mrs. Károly Göllner (who was 58 in 1945) said before the People's Court that she had been seriously beaten and kicked by the police. Although the People's Court sentenced her to twelve years' forced labor, the National Council of People's Courts reduced the sentence to one and a half years, saying that the defendant had been an Arrow-Cross member for only a year and had made but a few speeches.42
Károly Sümegi was beaten until he signed a statement saying that that he had been an SS soldier and had killed 233 persons, 32 in Zólyom, 78 in Gyöngyös, and 76 at Kispest. Even the people's prosecutor noticed that something was wrong with the calculation (47 "dead" were
Zoltán Tarpataky, Belügyminisztérium Történeti Hivatal [Historical Office of the Ministry of Interior —
henceforth: BMTH]- Vizsgálati iratok [Investigation papers — henceforth: V.] 102.343. 40 Tilkovszky: Vád, védelem..., 1996, 1398. 41 Sándor Linzer, BFL–Nb. 2430/1945. 42 Károlyné Göllner, BFL–Nb. 1974/1945. Gusztáv Schwalm was told that if he did not confess, his wife, who was
then not pregnant, would be brought in and not released until she was pregnant. BFL-Nb. 2408/1945.
missing), thus the charges were reduced to Volksbund membership and having voluntarily joined the SS.43
Using the summary reports on the basis of the confessions extracted at the political police, the people's prosecution prepared the indictments, which in most cases were not more than a few lines. The indictments were often written in primitive, confused language, full of spelling mistakes. A five-line indictment accused András Újlaki of taking "part in the murder of innumerable people" in Budapest, in the winter of 1944. The people's prosecution returned the case for re•investigation, saying, "the opinion of the witnesses, in the lack of objective evidence, cannot serve as the basis for indictment."44 As in many other cases, the witnesses of the prosecution had only heard what the defendant had allegedly done.
Since the most important Arrow-Cross person, Ferenc Szálasi, was not extradited to Hungary by the Western powers until October 1945, his wife and even his very old mother-in-law were arrested instead. Gizella Lutz was arrested and interned on July 3, 1945. She had been imprisoned for eight years already when on October 27, 1953 an order was issued for her arrest. The Budapest Court sentenced her to 12 years imprisonment on December 3, 1953. Szálasi had expressly prohibited his fiancée from becoming involved in political activities, and the widow of the "Leader of the Nation" was innocently imprisoned until 1956, when the revolutionaries set her free.45
Mrs. József Trenkula was indicted on charges that she had been involved in the distribution of clothes taken from Jews, and she had seen people shot dead in the streets, and "thus, by her activity, which was not of a leading character, she aided the Arrow-Cross movement in gaining and remaining in power." The people's court sentenced her to three years.46
Detective Chief Inspector József Ökrös, when testifying as a witness in the case of József Honfi, happened to say he had indeed heard that Honfi had been an Arrow-Cross member, but he did not deem it important, "because now everybody is said to have been an Arrow-Cross." Political Detective Mrs. Zoltán Alpár demanded in her report that Ökrös be removed from the police, with success. József Ökrös was subsequently indicted as second defendant in the trial of Honfi.47
It was general practice that the People's Courts did not hear the witnesses of the defense. During the past few years, we have found more than fifty persons deserving to be presented with Yad Vashem's award to Righteous Gentiles for saving Jews, often in the face of mortal danger. Since these people were taken to court, it was of vital importance for them to prove with
43 Mihály Sümegi, BFL-Nb. 1975/1945. The accused was 17 years old in 1944. 44 Antal Domonkos, BFL-Nb. 2273/1945.
BMTH-V.82.522. Gizella Lutz was acquitted of charges of spreading Arrow-cross propaganda first by the
people's court on November 22, 1945, then, on June 19, 1946, by the National Council of People's Courts as
well. According to the people's prosecutor, the fact that her apartment had been full of Arrow-Cross symbols
meant the service of propaganda against the people and democracy. BFL-Nb. 2.464/1945. 46 Józsefné Trenkula, BFL-Nb. 2.450/1945. The National Council of People's Courts changed the sentence to one
year, and she was also released because she had been imprisoned precisely for a year. 47 József Honfi, BFL-Nb. 2313/1945. Ökrös was acquitted.
witnesses and documents that they had saved rather than mistreated Jews. Even though my colleagues and I have been applying very strict criteria when analyzing contemporary depositions and vindicatory letters, we have found dozens of shockingly tragic cases. These were without exception people who were denounced by their neighbors or enemies, mostly on completely fictitious charges. The other reason why the more than fifty Righteous Gentiles is a considerable number (and it is continuously growing as a result of our research) is that Yad Vashem has so far honored less than 400 Hungarians (including 12 foreign diplomats stationed in Hungary, like Raoul Wallenberg) with that award.
The people's prosecution returned a relatively high number of cases to the political police as insufficient for indictment. In addition, the People's Courts, often found the defendants not guilty in the first instance -- or handed out a few months' imprisonment, usually equal to the time the prisoner had already spent in custody. The professional judges of the National Council of People's Courts acquitted or significantly reduced the sentences of many of those condemned by the People's Courts. There was no "reactionary conspiracy," however; the charges were, as I have tried to show above, simply unsubstantiated in many cases.
Pál Dajkovics managed to prove before the National Council of People's Courts that he was not identical to the mass-murderer Arrow-Cross he was thought to be. The People's Court sentenced him to death, and the National Council of People's Courts acquitted him.48 Gyula Kiss and Mrs. János Fülöp, also sentenced to death in the first instance, were able to clear themselves from the most serious charges only before the National Council of People's Courts.49
János Korcz, who was sentenced to ten years by the People's Court, was later acquitted by the National Council of People's Courts when medical specialists found that he was criminally insane.50
János Hesz, sentenced to lifelong forced labor by the People's Court, had his sentence reduced to five years' imprisonment by the National Council of People's Courts. The explanation for this change was that while the defendant had boasted of killing partisans in Greece during World War II, the People's Court had not proven that he had indeed done so.51 In August 1945, Gábor Péter demanded that the people's judges enforce the criteria of "revolutionary lawfulness," "against the legalistic entangledness" of the People's Courts. Minister of Justice István Ries (who would also perish in communist prisons within a few years) used suspensions and removals of people's judges and members of the National Council of People's Courts in trying to stimulate the judges to pass tougher sentences.52
48 Pál Dajkovics, BFL-Nb. 68/45.
49 Gyula Kiss, BFL-Nb. 934/1945. When it had turned out that the accused had been involved in significant Jew

saving activities, the National Council of People's Courts instructed the people's court to start a new procedure
— at the end of which he was sentenced to four years penal servitude. Mrs. János Fülöp (BFL-NB. 1.032/1945.) was sentenced to four years by the National Council of People's Courts.
50 JÆnos Korcz, BFL-Nb. 10/1945. 51 JÆnos Hesz, BFL-Nb. 2.481/1945. 52 Szabad Nép, January 9, 1946, 1.

The decrees that served as the foundation for the activities of the Hungarian People's Courts were based upon criminalized political acts, such as the joining of legal political parties and organizations before the war. However, we cannot say that all these trials, without exception, were faked, showcase trials. Most of the defendants condemned to death before the autumn of 1945 were indeed Arrow-Cross mass-murderers. It must be admitted, on the other hand, that a great number of minor Arrow-Cross members and minor Volksbundists fell victim to prejudiced investigations and showcase trials. A great many political detectives, people's prosecutors, and people's judges behaved like the Jacobins of old, who had regarded the country as divided in three parts: policemen, denouncers, and suspects. It would of course be unrealistic and unhistorical to expect to find unprejudiced judicial procedures in 1945 in a country destroyed by war, with one million of its people dead. Nowhere in Europe was this the case. It is too early to draw the final historical balance of the functioning of the People's Courts in Hungary -- further careful research remains to be done.
The history of Hungarian People's Courts has yet to be written, without suppressions, taboos, and distortions. I can regard this easy as only a small step in the direction of that monumental undertaking.