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Recent Questions

Nostradamus the Prophet?

Someone forwarded me an email that showed how Nostradamus predicted the attack on the World Trade Center. Already in the first line he predicts the date: "the first year of the new century" (2001), and "the 9th month" (September).

That's pretty impressive. Are these prophecies real?

The Aish Rabbi Replies:

Nostradamus was a French astrologer and physician who lived in the 16th century. His book, Centuries, contains rhyming verses that commingle French, Spanish, Latin and Hebrew words. The "prophetic" quatrains of Nostradamus are very vague and can be interpreted to apply to almost anything. For example, the lines of a "prophecy" are often cut-and-paste from different quatrains.

The following text, attributed to Nostradamus, has been making the rounds on the web:

    "In the year of the new century and nine months,

    From the sky will come a great King of Terror...

    Fire approaches the great new city...

    In the city of York there will be a great collapse,

    Two twin brothers torn apart by chaos...

    Third big war will begin when the big city is burning"

In light of current events, the prophecy seems startlingly accurate.

All this would be interesting, except for the fact that these words were never written by Nostradamus. The text apparently originated in an essay, "A Critical Analysis of Nostradamus," in which the author made up some quatrains, in order to demonstrate the fallacy of Nostradamus' supposed prophecies. Ironic that these same words are now part of a hoax to prove the power of Nostradamus!

I think there's a bigger issue here as well. In the weeks following the 9-11 attacks, "Nostradamus" was one of the top search items online, and bookstores reported a run on Nostradamus literature. Why are people so eager to find out that the attacks were prophetically foretold?

I believe it's because we cannot bear the thought that all this death and destruction was meaningless. Intuitively, we humans sense that the world has a greater purpose, and that world events – even the unpleasant ones – are somehow connected to that bigger picture. So we grasp for meaning amidst the mayhem. Even if it is false.

Of course, Judaism is the first to say that there's a deeper meaning in current events. But you have to make sure the meaning is objectively true. Otherwise it just numbs the wound, without providing any genuine relief.

Codes in Other Texts

Have other Hebrew texts the size of the Torah been searched for Codes? Have tests been done on the "New Testament" concerning codes?

The Aish Rabbi Replies:

It is self-evident that one can find ELSs of words in any text. One could easily find "encoded words" in Harry Potter, the Manhattan telephone directory, or even on the side of a box of cereal.

The question is not one of finding ELSs. The simple fact is that no one has found the statistically significant effect found in Genesis. The Hebrew version of War and Peace was searched, as well as the novel Hachnasat Kalla by Nobel Prize-winning Israeli author Shai Agnon. Neither produced any statistically meaningful Codes results.

The issue is what is the statistical validity of such codes. To be valid, a code must be "a priori," meaning that the parameters of the search are defined beforehand. This is the methodology employed for the Great Rabbis Experiment.

Without this "a priori" factor, we found codes of "messiahs," including “Yeshua” (Jesus), “Mohammed” and “Krishna”. Furthermore, names like David Koresh, (the self-proclaimed Messiah responsible for the death of over 100 cult followers in Texas) and Reverend Moon are found encoded in the Torah.

So the issue comes down to one of statistical significance. If you want to know what separates a true code from a fake code, you need to talk to the statisticians.

No religion besides Judaism claims to have a book that is a letter-for-letter divine message from God. Codes cannot be accurately searched in the New Testament, because there are thousands of variant versions of the text. Thus there would be no statistically significant way to search through all the variant texts.

Christians claim that God revealed to us that Jesus is the Messiah since “Yeshua” is found in hundreds of passages throughout the Bible. This is an extremely dangerous and irresponsible misuse of the authentic Codes phenomenon. One could use this form of "codes research" to reach many spiritually absurd conclusions.

In his 13 Principles of Faith, Maimonides includes the belief that "the Torah which we have today is that given to Moshe on Mount Sinai." One of the many methods of preserving the accuracy of any Torah scroll was by comparing it to "Sefer Ha'Azarah," a flawless copy of the Torah which was kept in the courtyard of the Holy Temple. (see Talmud – Moed Katan, and Maimonides – Tefillin 7:2)

How can we be sure that the text we have today is correct? God knew when computers would become available, and therefore gauged what the Torah would need to look like at that time. Obviously this is the text God intended for us to have.

For more on this, see: www.aish.com/h/sh/tat/48969731.html

Last Names

When my grandparents came to America in the early 20th century, they changed their last name from Yosselovitch to Kerry. Now that I’ve become more interested in my roots, it bothers me to have this “made-up” last name, and I’m thinking of changing it back to the original. What do you say?

The Aish Rabbi Replies:

Actually, all the last names we have are all "made up."

In days of old, and still in synagogues and Jewish communities today, last names were not used. Rather, a person was called by their father's first name. For example, a woman by the name of Sarah would be known as Sarah the daughter of Reuben. For thousands of years this was the tradition, until the last few hundred years.

The first stirrings of change occurred in 1787 in Austria, where a decree demanded that all Jews select a family name. In France in 1808, Napoleon decreed the same. Many of these Jews stuck with Jewish tradition and simply incorporated the father's name – e.g. “son of Moshe" became Moskowitz, or in your case, “son of Joseph” became Yosselovitch.

Others chose a last name based on their locality (e.g. "Ungarisher" – from Hungary), based on vocation (e.g. "Goldshmidt"), or a descriptive appellation (e.g. "Klein" – small).

Those Jews from the priestly tribe often chose a last name that reflected this status – e.g. Cohen or Levy. The name Katz as well is an acronym for “Kohen Tzedek,” righteous priest.

My advice: If you want to change your name to something more Jewish-sounding, pick something meaningful. But don’t do so if it will upset your parents or cause a rift in your extended family.

For more on this, see:

• "These are the Names: Studies in Jewish Onomastics" by Prof. Edwin Lawson

• "The Given Names and Surnames of the Jewish People" by Abraham Stahl

Due to limited resources, the Ask the Rabbi service is intended for Jews of little background with nowhere else to turn. People with questions in Jewish law should consult their local rabbi. Note that this is not a homework service!

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