A quick lesson in Hebrew spelling
It has been determined by McKay, Bar-Natan,
Bar-Hillel and Kalai that the flexibility of Hebrew spelling is one
of the most likely factors behind the success of the Great Rabbis Experiment
published by Witztum, Rips and Rosenberg (WRR).
It is difficult for non-Hebrew speakers to appreciate
the full extent of this phenomenon, so a recent coincidental observation of
Professor Bar-Natan may help.
One of the famous rabbis used by WRR was Rabbi Haim Abulafia
(1660-1744). There is a synagogue of Rabbi Abulafia in Tiberias.
Here are some photographs of the side of the building and its main entrance.
The extraordinary thing about this image is that four
different spellings of the name "Abulafia" can be seen:
Which of those spellings is correct? The answer is
of them". It is simply a property of the Hebrew language that
multiple legal variations abound.
Which of those spellings did WRR use?
Given the wide range of possible spellings to choose from,
it is even more instructive to see which of them was used by WRR in their
experiment. Here it is:
In other words, they used none of the above spellings but a
completely different one!
WRR's explanation is as follows: they did not
choose the spelling themselves, but asked an expert Professor Shlomo Havlin
to choose for them. Havlin later explained his choice as the "original
Arabic form of the name". The only comment we will make on that is
to note that Havlin did not see the need to avoid the Hebrew spellings
in his own professional writings. Why just here?
The large grey sign contains a very brief biography of Rabbi
Abulafia. Amongst other things, it states that he died on the
7th of Nissan. Turning to WRR's data again, we find the 6th of Nissan.
We don't know if there is any good historical evidence for the 7th,
but the lesson here is that even the theoretically objective parts of
WRR's data can sometimes be questioned.
None of the spelling variations above make any difference to WRR's experiment.
Our purpose was merely to illustrate the issue of spelling flexibility in an
entertaining fashion. Such spelling issues were of prime importance in
the case of some of the other rabbis, however.
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Creator: Brendan McKay, email@example.com.