Eliyahu Rips

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Eliyahu Rips
Born (1948-12-12) 12 December 1948 (age 68)
Nationality Israeli
Fields Mathematics
Institutions Hebrew University
Alma mater University of Latvia
Hebrew University
Doctoral advisor Shimshon Amitsur
Doctoral students Lev Birbrair
Zlil Sela
Known for Rips machine
Vietoris–Rips complex
Torah Code
Notable awards Erdős Prize (1979)

Eliyahu Rips, also Ilya Rips (Hebrew: אליהו ריפס‎‎; Russian: Илья Рипс; Latvian: Iļja Ripss; born 12 December 1948) is an Israeli mathematician of Latvian origin known for his research in geometric group theory. He became known to the general public following his coauthoring a paper on what is popularly known as Bible code, the supposed coded messaging in the Hebrew text of the Torah.[1]


Rips grew up in Latvia (then part of Soviet Union). His mother was Jewish and from Riga, the only of nine siblings that survived the war; the others were killed in Rumbula and other places. His father Aaron was a Jewish mathematician from Belarus; his wife, children and all of his relatives were killed during The Holocaust.[2] Rips was the first high school student from Latvia to participate in the International Mathematical Olympiad. In January 1969 he learnt from listening to Western radio broadcast---then illegal in the USSR---of the self-immolation of Czechoslovak student Jan Palach. On 13 April 1969, Rips, then a graduate student at the University of Latvia, attempted self-immolation in a protest against the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia. After unwrapping a self-made slogan condemning the occupation of Czechoslovakia he lit a candle and set his gasoline-soaked cloths ablaze. A group of bystanders were able to quickly put the fire out, resulting only in burns to Rips' neck and hands. Though injured, he was first taken to the local KGB office and interrogated. The secret service wanted to make sure he was not a member of a group of would-be self-immolators. He was then incarcerated by the Soviet government for two years. It was only after his story spread among Western mathematical circles and a following wave of petitions by Western mathematicians that Rips was freed in 1971. The following year, under further protests by mathematicians in the U.S., he was allowed to emigrate to Israel in 1972.

After recovering from his wounds and finishing his Ph.D., Rips joined the Department of Mathematics at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and in 1975 completed his Ph.D. in mathematics there. His topic was the dimensional subgroup problem. He was awarded the Aharon Karzir Prize. In 1979, Rips received the Erdős Prize from the Israel Mathematical Society, and was a sectional speaker at the International Congress of Mathematicians in 1994.

Since completing his Ph.D., Rips has been on the faculty of the Department of Mathematics at Hebrew University where he holds the position of Professor. His current research interests concentrate on geometric and combinatorial methods in infinite group theory. This includes small cancellation theory and its generalizations, (Gromov) hyperbolic group theory, Bass-Serre theory and the actions of groups on -trees.

Rips' work on group actions on -trees is mostly unpublished. The Rips machine, in the hands of Rips and his student Zlil Sela, has proven to be effective in obtaining classification results such as a solution to the isomorphism problem for hyperbolic groups.

The Bible Code controversy[edit]

In the late seventies, Rips began looking with the help of a computer for codes in the Torah. In 1994, Rips, together with Doron Witztum and Yoav Rosenberg, published an article in the journal Statistical Science, "Equidistant Letter Sequences in the Book of Genesis", which claimed the discovery of encoded messages in the Hebrew text of Genesis.[3] This, in turn, was the inspiration for the 1997 book The Bible Code by journalist Michael Drosnin. While Rips originally claimed that he agreed with Drosnin's findings, he later distanced himself from his interpretations.[4] Since Drosnin's book, Bible codes have been a subject of controversy, with the claims being criticized by Brendan McKay and others.[5] An early supporter of Rips' theories was Robert Aumann, Nobel Prize Laureate in Economics 2005, who headed a commission overseeing Rips' experiments attempting to prove the existence of a secret code from God in the Torah. Eventually, Aumann abandoned the idea and withdrew his support from Rips.

Statistical criticism[edit]

A popular puzzle is to find words in a square array of letters that conform to a pattern, for example, a word may be spelled diagonally moving in a north west direction, or perhaps left-to-right taking every second letter. One can also look for hidden words in printed books, and this is what was done in The Bible Code. The more patterns that are allowed, the more words that can be found, and elementary statistics can be used to estimate the probabilities of finding certain hidden messages. The statistician Jeffrey S. Rosenthal shows in his book [6] that hidden messages are expected and hence should not be seen as divine messages, or predictions of the future. This point was illustrated by Brendan McKay by finding messages in text of Moby Dick that supposedly "predict" future assignations of famous people.[7]

In 1997, Eliyahu Rips shared an Ig Nobel Prize for Literature with Doron Witztum and Yoav Rosenberg from Israel, and Michael Drosnin from the United States, for their claimed statistical discovery of hidden equidistant letter sequences in the Bible.

Selected papers[edit]

  • Rips, E. "Group actions on R-trees". preprint. 
  • Rips, E. (1982). "Subgroups of small cancellation groups". Bulletin of the London Mathematical Society. 14 (1): 45–47. doi:10.1112/blms/14.1.45. 
  • Rips, E.; Sela, Z. (1994). "Structure and rigidity in hyperbolic groups. I". Geom. Funct. Anal. 4 (3): 337–371. doi:10.1007/bf01896245. 
  • Rips, E.; Sela, Z. (1995). "Canonical representatives and equations in hyperbolic groups". Invent. Math. 120 (3): 489–512. doi:10.1007/bf01241140. 
  • Rips, E.; Sela, Z. (1997). "Cyclic splittings of finitely presented groups and the canonical JSJ decomposition". Annals of Mathematics. 2. 146 (1): 53–109. doi:10.2307/2951832. 
  • Sapir, Mark V.; Birget, Jean-Camille; Rips, Eliyahu (2002). "Isoperimetric and isodiametric functions of groups". Annals of Mathematics. 2. 156 (2): 345–466. doi:10.2307/3597195. 
  • Birget, J.-C.; Ol'shanskii, A. Yu.; Rips, E.; Sapir, M. V. (2002). "Isoperimetric functions of groups and computational complexity of the word problem". Annals of Mathematics. 2. 156 (2): 467–518. doi:10.2307/3597196. 


  1. ^ "Secret Codes In The Bible And The Torah? Investigators YES! - KMPH FOX 26". KMPH-TV. 2 February 2012. Retrieved 28 February 2012. 
  2. ^ Lolita Tomsone (23 May 2016). "Sērkociņš Ripss" (in Latvian). Satori. Retrieved 30 December 2016. 
  3. ^ "Botschaften des Allmächtigen oder zurechtgeschusterte Daten?". Neue Zürcher Zeitung. 18 August 2004. Retrieved 28 February 2012. 
  4. ^ Begley, Sharon (8 June 1997). "Seek And Ye Shall Find". The Daily Beast. Retrieved 28 February 2012. 
  5. ^ "Torah Codes". cs.anu.edu.au. Retrieved 2016-07-24. 
  6. ^ "Struck by Lightning: The Curious World of Probabilities". Retrieved 2016-12-20. 
  7. ^ "Assassinations Foretold in Moby Dick!". Retrieved 2016-12-20. 
  • Grūtups, A. (2009). Observators. Rīga: Atēna.

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