Friday, September 30, 2005
Yeshiva University Catching Flak For Dropping Old Hebrew Slogan
[GH: Hat tip Mis-nagid. I don't think this means that YU is moving away from Torah uMadah as a principle. I think they just wanted a catchy new slogan].
Yeshiva University Catching Flak For Dropping Old Hebrew Slogan
By Jennifer Siegel
September 30, 2005
Yeshiva University is under fire for dropping its longtime motto — Torah u-Madda — and replacing it with the non-sectarian slogan "Bring wisdom to life."
This week, one prominent Y.U. alumnus, Dr. Mandell Ganchrow, launched an online petition calling for the old motto to be incorporated into the school's new logo. Ganchrow, a past president of the Orthodox Union and former member of the board of the Y.U.-affiliated Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary, announced the petition drive on his blog and directed people to sign up at email@example.com.
The phrase Torah u-Madda — meaning Torah and knowledge — served for more than half a century as a motto for Y.U., as well as a rallying cry for Modern Orthodoxy. For both the university and the movement, the motto reflected a commitment to studying and engaging with both the religious and secular realms.
"We, the Orthodox community, the Torah community, have put... our children, and our blood, our money, our tears into building a yeshiva that has a weltanschauung of Torah u-Madda," Ganchrow said in an interview with the Forward. "Going to Yeshiva University... and practicing a certain life, this is with you day in and day out. And if Yeshiva sends you a message, 'You know what, it's really not that important to tell the world we're Torah u-Madda, we're like everyone else,' this is like a slap in the face. This is something unacceptable."
The flap comes as university president Richard Joel, now in his third year, is launching a campaign to attract 1,000 new students to the colleges and attempting to formulate a coherent vision for the various arms of Y.U., an educational network that includes the affiliated seminary, a men's college and a women's college, an undergraduate business school, a Jewish-studies graduate school, a social work school, Albert Einstein College of Medicine and Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law.
Through a university spokesman, Joel declined to comment. Y.U. insiders say that the decision to adopt a new logo and slogan reflects the reality that most of the professors, students and board members at most of Y.U.'s graduate schools are not Modern Orthodox and do not identify with the old motto.
Yeshiva's new logo — a simple design of two flames rising up from the university's initials — does not include the traditional motto or any other religious symbols that had marked earlier Y.U. emblems.
Several critics noted that the image of the interwoven flames resembles the logo of Hillel, the international campus organization which Joel headed before coming to Y.U.
The new logo was created in 2003, after Joel became president. But it was only after the recent introduction of the new slogan that some students and alumni raised concerns.
Ganchrow said he first became aware of the logo and motto changes after attending a dinner commemorating the university's 75th anniversary that was held at the Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum in New York on September 23. A gift basket given to guests included a baseball cap bearing the words "Yeshiva University," as well as the new logo. The gift basket also included a copy of the September 20 issue of the Yeshiva College newspaper, "The Commentator," which featured an opinion essay by senior Yechiel Robinson criticizing the school's new logo and motto. He called for Torah u-Madda to be incorporated into the new logo.
"I hope," Robinson wrote, "that the Joel administration will choose to imbue the beautiful blue logo with the meaningful motto that it deserves, in order to lead us forward in the future, while steadfastly clinging to the timeless values of our past."
Ganchrow, who as president of the O.U. tapped Joel to lead a commission examing charges of sexual abuse at the organization, said he has spoken to a number of alumni and other members of the Yeshiva community who also were unaware of the new motto and were concerned that they had not been consulted.
"I keep asking more and more people [and] not a single person knew about it," Ganchrow said. "It's a stealth change."
Smiles all around as billionaire atheist visits Orthodox girls' school in Elizabeth
This is an old article I just found when googling. Pretty weird, for a confirmed atheist to be speaking at a frum school. I guess when you are a billionaire philanthropist kefirah is not such an issue. (Note to Rabbi Slifkin: Become a billionaire philanthropist !)
Just what kind of place is Bruriahs?
by Elaine Durbach
NJJN Bureau Chief/Central
This could have been a fox-among-the-chickens scenario - an outspoken atheist espousing his views to a captive audience of Orthodox Jewish schoolgirls.
But when billionaire philanthropist Michael Steinhardt addressed the students at the Jewish Educational Center's Bruriah High School for Girls in Elizabeth on Monday morning, April 18, the give-and-take had everyone grinning.
The visit, postponed from March, was the result of an invitation by radio talk-show host and author Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, who has two daughters at Bruriah and suggested that Steinhardt might like to see the girl's yeshiva in action.
In between spirited discussions with faculty and students, Steinhardt commented on the millions he has channeled into Jewish educational efforts such as Hillel and its Jewish Campus Service Corps, and the Jewish Life Network, which has offered key support to birthright israel, the enormously successful program that takes students to Israel free of charge for their first organized visit. He also found time to level the sort of pronouncements that have made him a figure of frustration - and inspiration - among Jewish communal leaders.
Boteach set the ball rolling by asking the philanthropist a series of teasing questions, and went on to announce that Steinhardt called himself an atheist and had challenged the students to convince him that there is a God. "He'll give $1 million to any girl who can convince him that God exists," he said, but then downsized that offer to a copy of No Bull, Steinhardt's book on investment strategy.
Steinhardt described his early success in the stock market, saying that by his late 30s he had made "more money than I ever knew what to do with." He said he came to realize that making more was clearly not going to be his source of supreme satisfaction.
As for his atheism, he said simply, "Events in the 20th century - I think you know what I'm referring to" - destroyed his belief in God. "I'm still open to the hope that faith might overtake me, but as I become more geriatric, that hope is fading," he said.
He said, however, he was proud to be Jewish and believed that Jewish values had made the Jewish people the extraordinary group that they are.
The girls responded with an eager forest of hands. One student asked if seeing his newborn child hadn't made Steinhardt wonder what had made something so wonderful. There was a demure ripple of giggles when Steinhardt replied deadpan that he was sure they all knew where babies come from. Another suggested that adherence to the Ten Commandments centered Jewish identity on God. Steinhardt disagreed. One other asked if he'd give some stock market tips. "No," he exclaimed. "Be very wary of anyone who will. Anyone who tells you what to buy should be there to tell you when to sell."
JEC dean Rabbi Elazar Teitz and Bruriah principal Chaya Newman were as enthusiastic about their visitor as the students. "I know how devout our students are. If I didn't I might have been worried," Teitz chuckled.
"This was wonderful for the girls," declared Newman. What mattered to her, she said, was not the difference in faith, but the shared commitment to doing good.
They also took no exception to the value Steinhardt said most distinguishes the Jewish people: their commitment to learning. When he asked the girls what they thought held that top spot, they called out "tzedaka" and "lovingkindness." He accepted those, but as secondary values. "It is the value we place on learning that is distinctly ours relative to any other people," he said. "We are more focused on learning than anyone else."
After his talk, Steinhardt was escorted around the school, to see learning in action. He stopped to observe an advanced placement Russian class in the library and then a class on Zionism.
He restated his controversial view that by the end of this century the Reform and Conservative streams of Judaism will have ceased to exist, and described his recent efforts - together with other philanthropists like the Schusterman and Bronfman families - to promote STAR (Synagogues: Transformation and Renewal), whose signature project includes support for congregations that offer choices among four or five different types of Shabbat observance. "They can discuss politics, or listen to music, or sing," he said, explaining that his goal is to provide Jews with a joyful, affirmative way to connect with their Judaism.
Given his own aversion to addressing a supreme being, Steinhardt was asked how he could support Sabbath celebration but not prayer. Teitz stepped in and mentioned that among the commandments to be fulfilled by an observant Jew, prayer is not given the highest priority. Steinhardt nodded in agreement, again underlining their common ground.
On education and the quality of Orthodox schools like those of the JEC, Steinhardt expressed a mixture of admiration and frustration. He said that Jewish education outside of the Orthodox movement was weak. "Most kids are Jewish mulberries," he said. But he also chided the Orthodox, saying that when it came to reaching out to those from other movements, the Orthodox tended to behave as if there was no Jewish life beyond their own community.
As he was leaving, Steinhardt was approached by Bruriah assistant principal Marcy Stern, who led a birthright israel trip with students from the school. While Steinhardt suggested that it was students with little prior knowledge or caring about Israel who were most amazed and moved by what they saw in Israel, Stern said that even with all that they had heard about the country for so long, the Bruriah students were awed and excited by sight after sight. She thanked him profusely for helping provide that experience.
Steinhardt beamed; earlier he had said that such testimonials, "as someone else has said, `make my day.'"
Cultural, Philosophical and Religious Influences on Judaism
Warning: Category 4 Emunah Threat
House of Hock has a good post on the extent to which Jewish Philosophy has been influenced by the surrounding culture. He says:
It may be possible (and I am sure someone has done it, if you have a reference, please let me know) to look at when ideas are first noted in Jewish philosophy (life after death, eternity of the soul, etc) and see how it compares with the presence of those ideas in the history of philosophy in general.
I think when he says 'Philosophy' he really means 'Religion'. He also goes on to note that the Rambam was clearly influnced by Aristotle, and RYBS by Kant and Hermann Cohen. He asks the key question:
Has Jewish philosophy simply used the tools provided by general philosophy to refine and better express what we think and believe? Or, have our beliefs been significantly affected by what has been believed around us?
I posted on a similar theme a few months ago, about how Jewish Mysticism and Kabbalah seem to always correlate with the surrounding culture: When the Christians were into angels, so were we. When there was a rise in belief in demons, demonic possesion and similar in the 16th century, you see the same in Judaism too. Also the Talmud is full of discussions about shedim and the like, reflecting the culture of Babylonia.
Of course it cuts both ways, and the Jews are responsible for many of the key ideas in Western Civilization: Ethical Monotheism, Redemption, Tzelem Elokim and Bagels.
(Of course, if you are Chareidi, this whole discussion is kefirah. There is nothing of value in the secular world, and chas vesholom to say the Jews were ever influenced by it. What about the Rambam and Greek wisdom? That's no kashye, everyone knows the Greeks got their wisdom from Chazal originally.)
To say that Jewish Mysticism and Philosophy were influenced by the surrounding religions and culture doesn't bother me too much. But to say that our basic ideas of life after death and the soul came from the outside, well that's pretty disturbing.
Thursday, September 29, 2005
Bloggers Dominate Jewish Action
OK, that's a bit of an exageration. But there are quite a few familiar names in this month's edition of the Jewish Action Magazine.
First we have Nachum Lamm and Steve Brizel, with very similar letters to the editor, pointing out that Frumteens is an insane extremist and Rabbi Adlerstein must need his head examined (OK, that's a bit of an exageration). Rabbi I'm not MO Adlerstein responds that they are correct, but the situation with our youth is so bad that even Frumteens is better than nothing.
Next up we have a two page article by Nachum Klafter about Jewish Education. Nothing from Andrew Bennet though.
What's really strange is the book review of RYBS's 'Community, Covenant and Commitment'. The JA has two side by side reviews of the same book, one from Rabbi Simcha Krausz, and the other from Rabbi Moshe 'I gave a really retarded shiur about Slifkin and he wrote a good rebuttal but luckily no one heard about it' Meiselman. I guess the OU was so scared of a fracas that it had to let both sides say their piece, just in case (as Meiselman puts it) someone would try to introduce their own 'narrow agenda into the broad sweep of the Rav's personality and intellectual interests'.
Between Man and G-d
Francis Collins, Director of the Human Genome Project, on why he changed from being an atheist to a believer:
Sociobiologists will argue that human nature is all, in some way, an evolutionary consequence. That just never seemed particularly compelling to me as an explanation for the moral law: that we know somehow intrinsically, and yet often do not obey. Here is a wonderful sentence from Lewis:
We find out more about God from the moral law than from the universe in general, just as you find out more about a man by listening to his conversation than by looking at a house he has built.
I realized that my scientific life was looking at the house, while I had never considered the conversation (the moral law) as evidence of God. I needed to study the Creator. After struggling many months, I realized that if there was a God, he was holy and I was not. I realized for the first time just how flawed a person I was. I then recognized what Christ did by providing a bridge between God and all his holiness and me and all my unholiness.
At first this bothered me. The concept of having an intermediary between man, who is so lowly, and G-d who is so incomprehensible, would seem to be a good one. It's hard to approach G-d, shouldn't we have some kind of intermediary? And then I realized we do have that.
It’s called the Torah.
(How many of you thought I was going to say the Lubavitcher Rebbe or the Gedolim?)
Scientism & Religion
This is one of the best articles I have read on the subject of Science & Religion. Here is a brief summary, but I strongly encourage you to go read the entire article. It's excellent.
Although we talk about the conflict between Science and Religion, what we really mean is the conflict between Scientism & Religion. Scientism is the philosophical and ideological aspect of Science, and has traditionally had five major themes:
1. Overturning of Religous Cosmology
We now know that earth is a tiny 'insignificant blue-green planet' (mostly harmless), somewhere in a remote corner of the Universe. The universe is 15 billion years old, the earth is 4.5 billion years old, and mankind evolved over billions of years. Thus the traditional religious cosmology is overturned.
2. Triumph of Mechanism over Teleology
Religion traditionally saw the Universe and all nature having a (G-d given) purpose. However with the advent of Science, we now realize that nature is just random, evolution was random, and there really is no higher purpose, everything just is.
3. The Dethronement of Man
The first two themes above join together to attack the traditional religious viewpoint that man is the purpose of the Universe. Since the Universe is so vast and we seem so insignifcant by comparison, and since we only evolved through chance, it seems clear that we are just another 'accident' of nature, and nothing are special. This replaces the Biblical doctrine that man is 'Tzelem Elokim' and is the purpose of all creation.
4. Physical Determinism
Science shows that all things can be figured out with the appropriate laws. Hence everything is deterministic, negating the concept of 'free will', which is so important to religion and notions of reward and punishment.
5. Mechanistic Man
With the processes of life understood in terms of chemistry, and the brain understood to be a complex biochemical computer, the triumph of this mechanistic view of man seems virtually complete. Man is nothing special, just an accident of nature, with the same mechanistic drives as an animal, just with improved processing power.
Now we get to the good bit!
These were all the main Scientific notions of the 19th Century, and were what caused the great rift between religion and science. [In fact, the Gedolim's anti-Science attitude are mostly from this perspective, as can be seen from R Shternbuchs letter]. However these notions themselves have all been overturned by 20th Century science.
1. Major Theme Religious Cosmology Verified
As many Bible scholars have noted, the story of Genesis, relative to all the other mythologies prevalent at the time, was a particularly non-supernatural story. Whereas Sumerian mythology was all about gods killing each other and forming the earth from the remains of their dead bodies, Genesis cosmology is almost Scientific in comparison. In the beginning was creation, contrary to all other pagan and philospohical views which held the universe or matter was eternal. Then the world developed from simple to complex in an orderly fashion. The Big Bang was a major shock to modern cosmologists, since it confirmed this main point. Theories of multi-verses are highly speculative. At this point we can conclude that the major theme of Breishis i.e. The universe was created in time, and things evolved from there, has been absolutely verfied by modern Science, and certainly not overturned.
2. Triumph of Teleology over Mechanism
The more we find out about the Universe, the more we marvel at the incredible complexity and inter-relatedness of all the physical laws and constants.
When the questions physicists asked were simply about particular sensible phenomena, like stars, rainbows, or crystals, it may have seemed out of place to talk about them, however beautiful they were, as being fashioned by the hand of God. They could be accounted for satisfactorily by the laws of physics. But now, when it is the laws of physics themselves that are the object of curiosity and aesthetic appreciation, and when it has been found that they form a single magnificent edifice of great subtlety, harmony, and beauty, the question of a cosmic designer seems no longer irrelevant, but inescapable.
3. The Enthronement of Man
Steven Weinberg wrote: It is almost irresistible for humans to believe that we have some special relation to the universe, that human life is not just a farcical outcome of a chain of accidents, . . . but that we were somehow built in from the beginning. . . . It is very hard for us to realize that [the entire earth] is just a tiny part of an overwhelmingly hostile universe. . . . The more the universe seems comprehensible, the more it also seems pointless. However modern science has shown that the laws of science are incredibly finely tuned, any slight changes and planets, life and humanity woudn't have been able to form. Of course the skeptics say that with an infinite number of universes, that's bound to happen. Yet there is no evidence for an infinite number of universes. Of course this does not prove G-d. However it neatly counteracts the notions of the 19th century.
4. Physical Undeterminism
Determinism is dead. We now have the uncertainty principle and quantum physics. Einstein and other of his generation found these notions so appaling that they couldn't accept them. This was the source of the famous quote from Einstein 'G-d does not play dice'. Again, this does not prove free will. But the basic concept of determinism has been destroyed.
5. Spiritual Man
This is one is a little complex, and relys on some philosophical arguments from Locke and Godel (not me, the other guy). But basically it's a logical impossibility for man to understand himself, and the fact that we do (to some extent) points to something higher. (You really need to read this one 'inside').
Where does this all leave us? After all the twists and turns of scientific history we look around and find ourselves in very familiar surroundings. We find ourselves in a universe that seems to have had a beginning. We find it governed by laws that have a grandeur and sublimity that bespeak design. We find many indications in those laws that we were built in from the beginning. We find that physical determinism is wrong. And we find that the deepest discoveries of modern physics and mathematics give hints, if not proof, that the mind of man has something about it that lies beyond the power of either physics or mathematics to describe.
The First Four Days of Genesis in Concordist Theory and in Biblical Context
By Paul H. Seely
[GH: Concordist = Kiruv Clown]
Moderate concordism's interpretation of the days of Genesis is derived from modern science. The correlation of Gen. 1:1 with the "Big Bang" has a certain legitimacy; but, concordism's interpretation of the days themselves takes Genesis 1 out of its historical and biblical context. Concordism achieves a concord between modern science and the Bible only because it has rewritten the Bible to agree with modern science.
[GH: Ha! Told you so.]
From a biblical standpoint there is no need to take the Bible out of context in such a radical way as concordism does.  Scripture and science complement each other.
According to current concordistic theory (Moderate Concordism) each day in Genesis 1 sequentially initiates a geological epoch, with some epochs overlapping.1 The purpose of the theory is to maintain the belief that Genesis 1 portrays a reliable history of creation in basic agreement or concord with modern science.2 This theory has been accepted by a number of conservative theologians; but, it is primarily promoted by devout geologists and astrophysicists. [GH: And Orthodox Jewish Kiruv Clowns]
The abiding value of the works of these Christian [GH: And Chareidi] geologists and astrophysicists is that they preserve intellectual integrity with regard to the data of geology, anthropology, and astrophysics; and this is in accord with the command of God that we worship him with all of our mind. Further, they often witness to God's wisdom by showing the intricacies and fine balance of the various parts of the universe, especially in the creation of the earth's size, distance from the sun, atmosphere, etc.
The problem with their work, however, is that it lifts Genesis 1 out of its ancient Near Eastern context, sets it down in the context of modern science, and then reinterprets Genesis 1 so that it agrees with modern science. I do not fault such interpreters personally for reading modern science into Genesis 1 because they were forced by an unbiblical definition of biblical inerrancy to become inventive exegetes. It is my task, however, first to expose the arbitrary nature of their interpretations of Genesis 1 and then point to a more biblical approach.
My procedure will be to take the first four days of Genesis 1 and show how Moderate Concordists interpret each day. Then I will contrast this with the meaning of the words of Gen. 1:1-19 when they are left within their historical and biblical context. To fairly represent the views of contemporary Moderate Concordists, I am following what I believe are the three best and most recent representatives of this theory, namely, Davis Young,3 Robert Newman/Herman Eckelmann, Jr.,4 and Hugh Ross5. I will also add, the views of Peter Stoner/Edwin Gedney6 and John Wiester7 in the footnotes. It should be noted, however, that despite having written one of the best books on concordism, Davis Young no longer holds to it. [GH: What, no Schroeder!?]
א בְּרֵאשִׁית, בָּרָא אֱלֹהִים, אֵת הַשָּׁמַיִם, וְאֵת הָאָרֶץ
Our representatives of Moderate Concordism (I will simply call it concordism from now on) tend to regard Gen. 1:1 as a reference to the Big Bang of 15 to 20 billion years ago.8 This correlation is appropriate since as E. J. Young explained: "º the first verse serves as a broad, comprehensive statement of the fact of creation."9 As Gunkel noted, "There is nothing in the cosmogonies of other peoples [including Enuma elish] which can compare with the first sentence of the Bible."10 It is, therefore, appropriate to apply Gen. 1:1 to the Big Bang though it leads us primarily, not to the unorganized world of Gen. 1:2, but through the whole process of Gen. 1:2-2:1 to the organized world of Gen. 2:1, where for the first time since Gen. 1:1 the "heavens and earth" are again mentioned.
ב וְהָאָרֶץ, הָיְתָה תֹהוּ וָבֹהוּ, וְחֹשֶׁךְ, עַל-פְּנֵי תְהוֹם; וְרוּחַ אֱלֹהִים, מְרַחֶפֶת עַל-פְּנֵי הַמָּיִם.
Gen. 1:2 describes the state of the earth before God's organizing activities began. The earth at this point was "formless and void," covered with an ocean, and shrouded in darkness. The question for the concordists is: "When did the earth look like this?"
Ross laid out a three-act sequence whereby the earth (and rest of the solar system) came into being: (1) An interstellar cloud or nebula (2) collapsed into a flattened disc and (3) separated into concentric rings which condensed into proto-planets. He then identified Gen. 1:2 with act 3b: "As the earth condensed out of the primordial disc, it appeared just as the Genesis writer says, `formless and void.'"11 Ross does not put a date on this, but according to most scientists the time of this condensation would be about five billion years ago.12
Newman & Eckelmann also relate Gen. 1:2 to the nebula out of which the earth came. They say:
the earth at this point in the narrative is not yet a solid body, but is shapeless and empty, perhaps even invisible. This [Gen. 1:2] is an excellent, though non-technical description of the gas cloud that would eventually form the earth.13
Young spoke of the earth in Gen. 1:2 as a "primitive earth." He also emphasized that the earth in Gen. 1:2 was only a "partially organized body" that was not yet "a completed product."14 This coheres quite well with the others' judgment that the earth here is slowly, but surely, condensing out of a nebula 6 to 4.5 billion years ago.
The general consensus is that Gen. 1:2 is a good description of the state of the earth c. 6 to 4.5 billion years ago, when it was "formless and void" and dark, as it was condensing out of a dark nebula. Hence, Ross's statement: "the earth appeared just as the Genesis writer says."15
What about the ocean covering the earth? Ross ignores it. He presumably could not make any sense out of it since there was no ocean of water covering the earth as it condensed out of the nebula. Newman & Eckelmann acknowledge an ocean of water as stated in Gen. 1:2, but not in a liquid state. They identified the "Deep" with a "gas cloud." The water, they say, could be "a mass of ice crystals or droplets," a large cloud of water vapor, or even some other fluid.16 Young accepted the prima facie meaning of "the deep" and the "face of the waters" in v. 2, and referred to them as "a primeval ocean." He said, the "early earth was desolate and lifeless, and there was a primitive ocean."17 But Young was describing the earth long after it condensed out of its "formless and void" state.18 The ocean in Gen. 1:2, on the other hand, is present while the earth is still in its "formless and void" state.
The problem the concordists have here is that science tells us the dry land of the earth formed first, condensing out of a nebula in a molten form that was far too hot for any water to rest upon it. After it cooled, however, an ocean did form on earth. But, in Genesis the ocean exists first, and then afterward the dry land appears. The statements of Gen. 1:2 and science are exactly opposite to each other. Our concordists dealt with this by ignoring "the deep" (Ross, Stoner, Wiester), changing the meaning of "the deep" so that it agrees with science (Stoner's editor, Newman & Eckelmann), or accepting "the deep" but obscuring the scientific chronology (Young).
We need to answer the idea of Newman & Eckelmann (and of Stoner's editor) that "the deep" in Gen. 1:2 is a reference to a cloud of some kind. They cite a variety of Old Testament (OT) passages which supposedly indicate that "the deep" (Hebrew, tehom) can refer to a cloud or just "depth" without any reference to liquid water. They begin by citing Ezek. 31:4, Gen. 49:25 and Deut. 33:13 which all use "deep" to refer to the underground water that nourishes plants and trees. In their ancient Near Eastern and biblical context, these verses all refer to an underground sea.19 Even if you remove them from their historical and biblical context and modernize them, they still refer to water, not just deepness, and to water in a liquid state, not to a cloud.
Newman & Eckelmann also cite Ps. 71:20 which speaks of resurrection from the grave as being brought up from the "depths (tehomoth, plural of tehom) of the earth" and say there seems to be no connection with water here. But, within its ancient Near Eastern and biblical context, the Psalmist is referring to the deepest part of the earth as resting on an ocean (cf. Pss. 24:2; 136:6). Thus it is that Jonah 2:2-6 speaks of being in "the depths of the graveº in the deepº down to the roots of the mountains" while he is in the ocean. This ocean below the "roots of the mountains" is the tehom which supplies water to the springs (tehomoth) on earth. Kidner, although basing his commentary on the Psalms in the RSV, refers his readers to the NEB for Ps. 71:20 and translates "watery depths."20 So there is some connection between "depths" and water in Ps. 71:20. Further, even if the plural of tehom in Ps. 71:20 is translated simply "depths," it would in no way justify translating the singular tehom as "cloud."
In the end, Newman & Eckelmann seem to know they have not made a solid case and accordingly do not claim to have proven anything about the meaning of "the deep" and Gen. 1:2. They say they are only showing that it could be "a non-technical description of the gas cloud that would eventually form earth."21
If "the deep" in Gen. 1:2 is interpreted within its historical and biblical context, does it refer to a vaporous cloud or to a body of liquid water? The word "deep" (tehom) is certainly not used anywhere else in the OT to refer to a cloud or water in a vaporous state. Nor does any Hebrew lexicon give any such meaning to tehom. Koehler & Baumgartner define tehom as (1) the primeval ocean (2) the primeval oceans, and (3) the subterranean water.22 The Ugaritic cognate thm means "sea," never cloud. The Akkadian cognate ti'amtu means "sea," never cloud. The Eblaite cognate means "sea," never cloud. It is accordingly highly improbable that "deep" (tehom) in Gen. 1:2 means anything other than a deep sea, a literal ocean.
Secondly, Gen. 1:2 speaks of the "face or surface of the tehom." This phrase is used two other times in Scripture. Job 38:30 speaks of the surface of the deep being frozen. This reference is obviously to a body of liquid water freezing. It is incredible that it is a reference to the surface of a cloud freezing. The other reference is Prov. 8:27 which speaks of God at creation "marking out a circle on the face of the deep." The "circle" refers to the curvature seen when one looks at the horizon of the ocean. This reference is clearly to the sea and just as clearly not to a cloud. So, when the words "face of the deep" are used elsewhere in the OT, they refer to a liquid body of water, a sea, certainly not a cloud; there is no contextual reason to understand these words in any other way in Gen. 1:2. We might add that the words "face of the waters" which are also used in Gen. 1:2 mean the surface of a liquid body of water elsewhere in the OT, never a cloud (Gen. 7:18; Ex. 32:20; Isa. 18:2; 19:8; Hosea 10:7).
Thirdly, it seems improbable that Moses would refer to a cloud as a tehom (which everywhere else always means a literal sea) when biblical Hebrew has more than half a dozen words meaning "cloud." Lev. l6:13 and Ezek. 8:11 even refer to a "cloud of incense"; so the words for "cloud" did not have to be restricted to rain clouds. If Moses had wanted to give a "non-technical description of a gas cloud," he could have used the words, "clouds and thick darkness" (Deut. 4:11 and Joel 2:2). These words would have been a much better description of science's dark nebula than the words "face of the deep" and "face of the waters" which lead one to immediately think of a sea. To say that Moses used the Hebrew word for "sea" in a straightforward account like Genesis 1 to describe a cloud is to embark on a course where one could never be sure what the Bible meant, and where one could make the Bible mean anything one wants it to mean.
Finally, I do not believe that anyone before the advent of modern astronomy and geology ever interpreted the tehom-waters of Gen. 1:2 as anything other than a body of water in a liquid state, that is, a sea. From Augustine to Aquinas [GH: From Moshe to Moshe], the tehom of Gen. 1:2 was understood to be a "sea."23 No modern, professional Hebrew scholar would admit the meaning "cloud" into Gen. 1:2.24 It was not until the advent of modern geology-astronomy that the tehom of Gen. 1:2 was interpreted as a cloud; so, obviously this interpretation did not arise from the text but was derived from modern science and imposed upon the text. The concordists are rewriting the Bible. [GH: An appeal to Mesorah!]
ג וַיֹּאמֶר אֱלֹהִים, יְהִי אוֹר; וַיְהִי-אוֹר. ד וַיַּרְא אֱלֹהִים אֶת-הָאוֹר, כִּי-טוֹב; וַיַּבְדֵּל אֱלֹהִים, בֵּין הָאוֹר וּבֵין הַחֹשֶׁךְ. ה וַיִּקְרָא אֱלֹהִים לָאוֹר יוֹם, וְלַחֹשֶׁךְ קָרָא לָיְלָה; וַיְהִי-עֶרֶב וַיְהִי-בֹקֶר, יוֹם אֶחָד.
Newman & Eckelmann explain Gen. 1:3-4 as follows:
º After further contraction and heating, however, the whole cloud lights up and the observer [positing a hypothetical observer present on earth] immersed in light, can see no darkness anywhereº the planet earth becomes a solid body at this point [at v. 5] in the Genesis account and not before.25
Ross explains Gen. 1:3-5 as the time when the opaque reducing atmosphere changed to translucent.26 Day and night became recognizable only when light could diffuse through the cloud cover. Science tells us that this occurred after the earth solidified. Young said that Gen. 1:3-5 is about light falling on the earth's surface for the first time. He said the verses do not necessarily mean that there was no light elsewhere.27
Except for Wiester, there is a general agreement among our concordists that Gen. 1:3-5 is describing light falling upon a solidified earth. Explicitly or implicitly they agree that the formation of the earth, that is, its solidification had occurred by the time verse 5 ends.
It is this latter point which gives it away that the concordists are again rewriting the Bible. If the earth had solidified by verse 5 as they say, dry land must have already appeared. In the scientific account, the solidification of the earth entails an initial crustal temperature of c. 1100? F. Since any water touching the earth would immediately evaporate, the crust would have to be dry.28 In the biblical account, however, dry land does not appear until Day 3 in verse 9. Also, the ocean in the biblical account does not come into existence after the solidification of the earth, but before it. The concordists, therefore, although representing science very well, have spun an interpretation of Day 1 that is just the opposite of what the Bible is saying.
ו וַיֹּאמֶר אֱלֹהִים, יְהִי רָקִיעַ בְּתוֹךְ הַמָּיִם, וִיהִי מַבְדִּיל, בֵּין מַיִם לָמָיִם. ז וַיַּעַשׂ אֱלֹהִים, אֶת-הָרָקִיעַ, וַיַּבְדֵּל בֵּין הַמַּיִם אֲשֶׁר מִתַּחַת לָרָקִיעַ, וּבֵין הַמַּיִם אֲשֶׁר מֵעַל לָרָקִיעַ; וַיְהִי-כֵן. ח וַיִּקְרָא אֱלֹהִים לָרָקִיעַ, שָׁמָיִם; וַיְהִי-עֶרֶב וַיְהִי-בֹקֶר, יוֹם שֵׁנִי
Ross specifically identifies the expanse of Gen. 1:6 as "the atmospheric layer immediately above the oceanº the troposphere."29 This is the time that God established the water cycle. So for Ross the expanse is the atmosphere with clouds above and the ocean below. Newman & Eckelmann also identify the expanse with the atmosphere and the water above with the clouds.30 Young identified the firmament as "the appearance of sky produced by a gaseous expanse."31 The water above is ordinary rain clouds.
Our concordists are in complete agreement that the firmament is atmosphere or the space where the earth's atmosphere exists, and the "water above" refers to ordinary clouds.32 Unfortunately, although our concordists are now all in agreement as to the meaning of Gen. 1:6-8, they are still rewriting the Bible. Interpreted within its historical and biblical context, the firmament of Gen. 1:6-9 is not atmosphere, nor are the "waters above" ordinary clouds. I have explained elsewhere that interpreted within its historical and biblical context, the firmament is a rock-solid dome or disc over the earth and the "waters above" are an ocean above that firmament.33 Space prohibits a complete review of all the reasons why this is so; but below is a summary of the salient facts.
As to the solidity of the firmament, the historical context is that all peoples in all parts of the world including the ancient Near East, from the beginning of history until 200 A.D. (and almost all peoples after that until modern times) believed that the sky, the firmament, was rock-solid; they distinguished this rock-solid firmament from the atmosphere. The burden of proof lies on anyone saying that the Hebrews did not do the same.
Since all educated people in Moses' time affirmed the existence of a rock-solid sky differentiated from the atmosphere, historically it is extremely improbable that Moses did not do the same. [GH: To be fair, the Kiruv Clowns could answer this objection easily – Moshe had Ruach Hakodesh]. Furthermore, when he wrote that the birds fly "in front of the face of the firmament" (Gen. 1:20), he obviously is referring to that blue thing above the earth, which anyone reading that passage then would have defined as a rock-solid dome (or disc) over the earth, not as atmosphere. The word means what it meant to the people of that time, not what it means to the people of our time. Only by ripping the word "firmament" out of its context can you possibly define it as atmosphere (or mere space).
Gen. 1:17 tells us that the stars were set in the firmament; but, even modern science tells us the stars are not set in the atmosphere. Nor did the people of that time think of the stars as being set in the atmosphere. Rather, the stars look like they are embedded in a solid dome over the earth; hence people of that time believed that the stars were set in a solid dome over the earth. The contextual meaning of "firmament" in Gen. 1:17 is that it is a solid dome over the earth. Only by pulling it out of its biblical and historical context could it be defined as atmosphere.
Further, there is no verse anywhere in the Bible which even infers that the firmament was not solid. On the other hand, Ezek. 1:22-26 speaks of a firmament (the same Hebrew word as in Gen. 1:6-8) the color of ice, which is a divider between cherubim below and a throne above. This firmament is obviously solid and is so recognized by all commentators. It could not possibly be just atmosphere, much less just space. This solid firmament in Ezekiel 1 is identified in Scripture with the firmament in Genesis 1 (Rev. 4:6; 15:2).
It is no accident, therefore, that Jewish and Christian interpreters of Gen. 1:6-8 from the very beginning until the Renaissance regularly understood the firmament to be rock-solid and distinguished it from the atmosphere. Jews even tried by scientific means to measure the firmament's thickness.34 Christians speculated whether the firmament was made of earth, air, fire, or water (the basic elements of Greek science). Defining the firmament as atmosphere is a modernizing reinterpretation of the Bible, indeed, a rewriting of the Bible.
Regarding "the waters above the firmament," one must simply look closely at Gen. 1:6-8. The waters being spoken of in v. 6 are the tehom-ocean waters of v. 2. The firmament is set "between" these ocean waters to "separate" them into waters "above" and "below" the firmament. Therefore the waters "above the firmament" are ocean waters and there is no indication in the text or anywhere else that they became clouds. Further, because these waters are above the same firmament in which the stars were placed, they are also above the stars; they could not possibly be ordinary clouds. As E.J. Young wrote:
I am unable to accept the opinion that the waters above the expanse refer to clouds for this position does not do justice to the language of the text which states that these waters were above the expanse.35
Hence, until the Renaissance, Jewish and Christian exegetes regularly interpreted the phrase, "waters above the firmament," as a sea above the sky, above the sun. They also distinguished these waters from ordinary clouds. For example, Jewish writers explained that rain clouds rise up to the firmament in order to get filled with water from the waters that are dammed up above the firmament.36 Chrysostom mentions the waters above the firmament as being above the sun.37 To define "the waters above the firmament" as ordinary clouds is to remove both the "firmament" and the "waters" from their historical and biblical context and rewrite the Bible.38
ט וַיֹּאמֶר אֱלֹהִים, יִקָּווּ הַמַּיִם מִתַּחַת הַשָּׁמַיִם אֶל-מָקוֹם אֶחָד, וְתֵרָאֶה, הַיַּבָּשָׁה; וַיְהִי-כֵן. י וַיִּקְרָא אֱלֹהִים לַיַּבָּשָׁה אֶרֶץ, וּלְמִקְוֵה הַמַּיִם קָרָא יַמִּים; וַיַּרְא אֱלֹהִים, כִּי-טוֹב
Ross identifies Gen. 1:9 with the basin formed for the ocean when the moon pulled away from the earth, "leaving a supercontinent on the opposing side of the earth."39 Science would date this event to c. 4.5 billion years ago. Newman & Eckelmann seem to agree with Wiester that Gen. 1:9 is speaking of the time when shallow seas were being gathered into ocean basins and granite rocks were welling up to form the continents, perhaps 3.5 to 2.5 billion years ago.40 Young said the thickness of the continental crust caused it to be elevated much higher than the oceanic crust. The continental crust is at least 3.5 billion years old, but:
It is not known scientifically how the primitive ocean, atmosphere, and continental crust are interrelated in terms of sequence of time, but it is believed that all of these features of the earth are extremely old.41
Our concordists cannot seem to agree about what period Gen. 1:9 is describing. Is it 4.5 billion years ago (Ross), 3.5 to 2.5 billion years ago (Wiester and probably Young and Newman & Eckelmann), or 2.5 to 1.5 billion years (Gedney)? Part of the problem, as Young said, is that science is not completely clear at this point. The major problem, however, is that the sea exists prior to the dry earth in the Bible; science says just the opposite.
Interpreted within its historical and biblical context,the "earth" of Gen. 1:10 is a flat disc.
Ross's explanation that Gen. 1:9 refers to the time when the moon pulled away from the earth relates to a time when the earth had no ocean at all and hence cannot possibly be identified with Gen. 1:9. Wiester and Gedney's dating of Gen. 1:9, 3.5 to 1.5 billion years ago (the same time implicitly accepted by Young and Newman & Eckelmann), is usually thought of in science as the period of ocean formation with the land having already been in existence. But, in Gen. 1:9 we have exactly the opposite: the formation of land with the ocean having already been in existence (Gen. 1:2) and simultaneously being in existence (Gen. 1:9). The ocean is not created in Gen. 1:9 as occurred during the period of ocean formation. The ocean already existed in Gen. 1:2. It is simply circumscribed in Gen. 1:9 (cf. Prov. 8:27; Job 26:10). We are dealing with two antithetical cosmologies.
Not only does the biblical account begin with a sea and the scientific account begin with an earth too hot to have a sea, the concordists are thinking of a global earth and are asking, "When did the sea become embedded in the earth?" The biblical writer was thinking of the earth as a flat disc and asking, "When did the earth become embedded in the sea?"
Everyone in the time of Moses understood the earth to be a flat disc; and, everyone in the ancient Near East understood that disc to be embedded in a surrounding sea. No one defined the earth as a globe until 400 B.C. (and even then most people went on believing it was flat). It is incredible that the writer and first readers of Gen. 1:9, 10 defined "earth" as a globe. The writer and first readers of Genesis 1 understood and defined the earth as a flat disc embedded in the sea (cf. Pss. 24:2; 136:6); and, it is their definition of "earth," not ours, which is the historical-grammatical meaning in Gen. 1:9, 10. There is not one verse in the OT that defines the "earth" as a globe.
The famous phrase "circle of the earth" in Isa. 40:22 may refer to the firmament; but, even if it refers to the earth, it cannot prove more than that the flat earth is circular. Egyptians also used the phrase, "circle of the earth," and they certainly believed the earth was flat. Had Isaiah (or any other OT writer) wanted to refer to the earth as a globe, he probably would have used the word he used in Isa. 20:18 which means "ball."
Further, although there are no verses in the Bible which define the earth as a globe, there are verses which imply it was flat. For example, the tree in Dan. 4:10, 11 which because of its height is "visible to the end of all the earth" implies that the earth was thought of as flat. Within its historical context, as I show elsewhere, the phrase "all the earth" in Dan. 4:11 refers literally to all the earth of creation, yet only on a flat earth could a tall tree be seen "to the end of all the earth."42
Interpreted within its historical and biblical context, the "earth" of Gen. 1:10 is a flat disc. The burden of proof lies on anyone defining it as a globe. It is no wonder then that concordists cannot harmonize Gen. 1:9, 10 with modern science.
Day Three, Part II: Genesis 1:11, 12
יא וַיֹּאמֶר אֱלֹהִים, תַּדְשֵׁא הָאָרֶץ דֶּשֶׁא עֵשֶׂב מַזְרִיעַ זֶרַע, עֵץ פְּרִי עֹשֶׂה פְּרִי לְמִינוֹ, אֲשֶׁר זַרְעוֹ-בוֹ עַל-הָאָרֶץ; וַיְהִי-כֵן. יב וַתּוֹצֵא הָאָרֶץ דֶּשֶׁא עֵשֶׂב מַזְרִיעַ זֶרַע, לְמִינֵהוּ, וְעֵץ עֹשֶׂה-פְּרִי אֲשֶׁר זַרְעוֹ-בוֹ, לְמִינֵהוּ; וַיַּרְא אֱלֹהִים, כִּי-טוֹב.
Ross identifies the period of these verses as the time when "relatively primitive" plants appeared on earth. "Seed" can be interpreted, he says, as any embryo from which a new plant can grow. "Fruit" in a broad sense is produced by all plants. "Trees" would include "shrubs, bushes, and plants with woody stalks." Science dates primitive terrestrial plant forms with "woody stalks" as first appearing in the Upper Silurian period, c. 400 million years ago.43
Newman & Eckelmann understand Gen. 1:11-13 as a 24-hour day introducing the creation of plants. They say:
It is not necessary to suppose that the fruit trees of this passage were created before any kind of animal life, which would contradict the fossil record understood as a sequence.44
Young said that Moses simply intended for the reader to understand that the third day was generally a day of plant production and that most plant materials were formed at this timeº There is nothing which says that grasses could not have come first followed by herbs at some time later, and followed by fruit trees at a yet later time.45
In addition, Young, like Ross, suggested that the term "fruit trees" could well refer to the primitive ancestors of modern day fruit trees or even to Cenozoic flowering deciduous trees. Interpreted within its context, Gen. 1:11,12 means that the fruit trees came into existence before the creation of the sun on Day 4.
Our concordists do not agree about when this period of vegetation began, but they do all agree that "fruit trees," such as were known to the author, did not appear before Day 5. They know that in the geological record there are no real fruit trees until after the creation of animal life.46 They suggest that the "fruit trees" of Gen. 1:11, 12 were not modern fruit trees, but just primitive ancestors of these trees; or else they say they were indeed modern fruit trees; but these did not appear on earth before Day 5. Neither of these explanations really agrees with the biblical text.
Contextually, the "fruit trees" of Gen. 1:11, 12 were undoubtedly defined by the writer as fig (Gen. 3:7), date (Ex. 15:27), pomegranate (Ex. 28:33), etc., that is, modern fruit trees. Fruit trees were highly esteemed in the ancient Near East; there is nothing in the text which indicates the author was not thinking of modern fruit trees. Further, to speak of "trees" at all is to refer at least to plants having "woody stalks" (the Hebrew word "tree" also means "wood"). The scientific record shows that plants with woody stalks did not appear on earth until after jawless vertebrate fish and numerous other sea creatures. Yet, in the biblical text such sea creatures did not begin to appear until after the appearance of plants (Gen. 1:20). The two accounts are diametrically opposed.
The other suggestion that the "fruit trees" of Gen. 1:11, 12 were genuine fruit trees, but did not appear on earth until after animal life was created, is similarly contrary to the context. There is no suggestion in the context that any of the items mentioned in conjunction with a particular creative day did not come into existence until a later creative day. In fact, the context speaks decisively against this.
The phrases, "and it was so," "brought forth," and "saw that it was good," imply here, as they do throughout the chapter, that the named objects came into existence before the close of each respective day and before the objects created on the next day. Interpreted within its context, Gen. 1:11,12 means that the fruit trees came into existence before the creation of the sun on Day 4, so certainly before the creation of fish and animals on Day 5. This is the way the verse was interpreted from the rabbis to the reformers.47
As Calvin said: It did not happen fortuitously that herb and trees were created before the sun and the moonº in order that we might learn to refer all things to him, he did not then make use of the sun or moon.48
As late as 1835, respected commentators, speaking of Gen. 1:11,12, said, "here we find the earth bearing a great abundance of fruit, probably ripe fruit, before the sun and moon were made."49 Only with the coming of modern geology was the Church led to believe that Gen. 1:11,12 was saying that fruit trees did not come into existence until after the creation of fish and animals on Day 5. It seems evident that the concordists are reading modern science into the biblical text.
Day Four: Genesis 1:14-19
יד וַיֹּאמֶר אֱלֹהִים, יְהִי מְאֹרֹת בִּרְקִיעַ הַשָּׁמַיִם, לְהַבְדִּיל, בֵּין הַיּוֹם וּבֵין הַלָּיְלָה; וְהָיוּ לְאֹתֹת וּלְמוֹעֲדִים, וּלְיָמִים וְשָׁנִים. טו וְהָיוּ לִמְאוֹרֹת בִּרְקִיעַ הַשָּׁמַיִם, לְהָאִיר עַל-הָאָרֶץ; וַיְהִי-כֵן. טז וַיַּעַשׂ אֱלֹהִים, אֶת-שְׁנֵי הַמְּאֹרֹת הַגְּדֹלִים: אֶת-הַמָּאוֹר הַגָּדֹל, לְמֶמְשֶׁלֶת הַיּוֹם, וְאֶת-הַמָּאוֹר הַקָּטֹן לְמֶמְשֶׁלֶת הַלַּיְלָה, וְאֵת הַכּוֹכָבִים. יז וַיִּתֵּן אֹתָם אֱלֹהִים, בִּרְקִיעַ הַשָּׁמָיִם, לְהָאִיר, עַל-הָאָרֶץ. יח וְלִמְשֹׁל, בַּיּוֹם וּבַלַּיְלָה, וּלְהַבְדִּיל, בֵּין הָאוֹר וּבֵין הַחֹשֶׁךְ; וַיַּרְא אֱלֹהִים, כִּי-טוֹב. יט וַיְהִי-עֶרֶב וַיְהִי-בֹקֶר, יוֹם רְבִיעִי.
Ross identifies Gen. 1:14-19 as the time when, after the atmosphere became an oxidizing atmosphere, the consumption of CO2 by plants along with a decrease in volcanic activity transformed the atmosphere from translucent to transparent. The result was that "suddenly the sun, the moon, and the stars became distinctly visible"50
Newman & Eckelman believe that it is reasonable to suppose that Gen. 1:14-19 describes the first appearance of the sun, moon, and stars to our hypothetical earth bound observer on the occasion of the break up of the earth's cloud cover.51
Young did not identify Day 4 with any particular period, but like the other concordists, believed it was "not necessary to think that the sun, moon, and stars received their existence for the first time at this point."52
Our concordists are all in agreement about both the date of this period and the idea that the sun and moon were created billions of years before Gen. 1:14-19, and were first clearly visible on earth during this period. They all agree that Gen. 1:14-19 is not saying that the sun, moon, and stars were first created on Day 4. But, again we must ask, "Is this the historical-grammatical meaning of Gen. 1:14-19?"
The words, "Let there be", which even concordists understand as referring to current, not past, creation in v. 6, are not well suited to refer to objects that have already been in existence for years. It is even more difficult to believe that here in a context of creation that the words "God made two great lights made the stars" really mean that they were actually made billions of years earlier, and God was just changing the atmosphere so that they could be clearly seen on earth. Before the advent of modern geology and astronomy, who would have guessed that the text meant this? In fact, no one did. Also, the implication of v. 17, God "set" them in the firmament, is that they were not there earlier. Had Moses intended to speak merely of the heavenly bodies appearing, he would have used the word "appear" as in v. 9.
The problem with the concordists' definition of "make"is that in Scripture the word is a synonym of "create." As to the Hebrew in Gen. 1:14-19, as early as 1887, S.R. Driver rejected the concordist interpretation, saying the word "made" is perfectly unambiguous and distinctº The writer expresses, as explicitly as it is possible for language to do, his sense that the luminaries had no existence prior to the Fourth Day.53
Seventy years later, M. Kline was protesting just as strongly. He said that in order to avoid the idea that plants thrived before the sun was created the most unwarranted notions of the work of the "fourth day" have been substituted for the straightforward statements of the text. Gen. 1:14-19 declares that the heavenly bodies were on the "fourth day" created and set in their familiar positions. Moses is certainly not suggesting merely that hitherto hidden heavenly bodies now became visible on earth.54
The problem with the concordists' definition of "make" is that in Scripture the word is a synonym of "create." Objects referred to in Genesis 1 as having been "created" are described elsewhere in the OT as having been "made" (Ex. 20:11; Neh. 9:6: Prov. 8:26). Further, in Gen. 1:21 and 25, 26 and 27, and 2:4 as well as elsewhere in the OT (Isa. 41:20; 43:7;45:7), the Hebrew word "made" is used synonymously and interchangeably with the word "create." Interpreted within its biblical context, the sentence, "God made two great lights" does not mean anything significantly different from "God created two great lights."
There is an old interpretive tradition, however, which understands Gen. 1:1 to be saying that God originally created the raw materials of the universe or even a proto-earth, heaven, sun, moon, etc.; and then on the creative days perfected the formation of the various parts of the universe. This understanding was not uncommon among Jewish writers (e.g., b. Hagigah 12a, Rashi) and has flowed from Calvin down through generations of reformed commentators to the present day (e.g., Leupold). Young and others have appealed to this tradition as evidence that Gen. 1:14-16 could be speaking of a sun, moon, and stars that were already made.55
It must be noted, therefore, that the original tradition found in Calvin and those who followed him did not posit that the sun, moon, and stars already existed in a fully developed form prior to Day 4, as does the concordist theory. As noted above, even though espousing the tradition that Gen. 1:1 meant that God created the original matter of the universe, Calvin explicitly stated that "herbs and trees were created before the sun."56
This old tradition, therefore, does not support the concordist theory. It only posits the existence of raw materials or, at the most, unfinished prototypes of the heavenly bodies. So, if all that happened on Day 4 was that they were seen clearly for the first time, it would have been raw material or unfinished prototypes that would have been seen. Further, this old tradition, unlike the concordists, took Gen. 1:17 seriously. It accordingly held that not even unfinished prototypes were in the firmament prior to Day 4. Concordists ignore the force of v. 17.
If you interpret Gen. 1:14-19 within its biblical context, it is speaking of the original creation of the sun, moon, and stars, which is the historic understanding of the Church.57 I should think it would be very difficult for even a concordist to really believe that all of the saints and scholars from the beginning of Church history until the rise of modern science (and most modern scholars as well) have all misinterpreted Gen. 1:14-19. Is it not rather that concordism has imposed modern science upon the Bible?
I could go on to document that in Days 5 and 6 the creation of birds in the Bible is contemporary with the creation of fish (v. 20) and precedes the creation of reptiles (v. 24) whereas in the scientific record birds follow both fish and reptiles. But, I believe my point is already sufficiently established: Concordism does not demonstrate agreement between the Scriptures and modern science. Rather, it rewrites the Scriptures so that they agree with modern science.
I have not dealt specifically in this paper with "creation science," which primarily rewrites science so that it agrees with Scripture. But, it is evident that they too have rewritten Genesis 1, at least with regard to the firmament, the sea above the firmament, and the flat earth.58 I agree heartily, therefore, with Davis Young, who though originally espousing concordism, reviewed the history of both concordism and literalism ("creation science") and after noting the divergent, overly imaginative and unconvincing interpretations of Genesis and science within both traditions, came to the conclusion that "Literalism and concordism are failed enterprises that evangelicals [GH: And Kiruv Clowns] should abandon."59
Surely, it is not God's will for evangelicals [GH: And Chareidim] to uphold interpretations of the Bible which violate its historical-grammatical meaning. If we are really free to rewrite the Bible, then the Bible means absolutely nothing. I believe that there is a much more biblical way to relate science to Scripture than either by rewriting science or by rewriting the Bible.
A More Biblical Approach
The biblical approach that I believe better relates science to the Bible is to accept the historical-grammatical meaning of Genesis 1. Admit that it reflects the cosmology of the second millennium B.C., and that modern science presents a more valid picture of the universe. Then, recognize the fact that the theological message of Genesis 1 stands out in such superior contrast to the mythological accounts of creation (both ancient and modern) that even so radical a critic as Gunkel could see the difference. Finally, draw what seems to me the obvious conclusion: Science and the Bible are complementary.
Admittedly, this does not uphold the common but unbiblical assumption that the divine inspiration of Scripture cannot entail concessions to ancient "science." But, there is no biblical reason why the theological message in Genesis 1 cannot be eternally valid, while the package in which it came was a temporal concession to the people of that time.60 [GH: Rav Kook!] [GH: Reference to dead Jewish guy deleted. ]
We might add that, according to Scripture, the development of scientific knowledge was delegated by God to humankind (Gen. 1:26-28). The divine purpose of biblical inspiration, therefore, is not to reveal science but to inform us of God's standards of faith and morals.
It is time for evangelicals [GH: And Chareidim!] to lay aside extra-biblical definitions of biblical inspiration, and agree with [GH: Rav Kook ] that inspired Scripture can contain concessions. Genesis 1 is a concession. Or, as a modern missionary [GH: A.K.A Kiruv Clown], aware of the imperative need for divine revelation to be clothed in the terms of the culture to which it comes, has explained: Genesis 1 is a case of divine contextualization.61
There is no need to rewrite either science or the Bible. Both offer truth.
[GH: For Notes see here]
Wednesday, September 28, 2005
There is a pretty disturbing article on Holocaust Theology here. It reviews a number of reactions to the Holocaust:
- Silence: We cannot understand so don't even try. (Most people)
- Agnostic Theodicy: Must have been a punishment for something, but we can't say what. (Most Jews)
- Specific Theodicy: Must have been a punishment for sin X. (Chareidim)
- G-d's Plan: Holocaust paved the way for the State of Israel and had other purposes too.
- God is Dead: The Holocaust proved there is no god, or that god has left the universe.
- Chosen People no longer: G-d has severed his contract with the Jewish people. (Rabbi Yitz Greenberg)
- God is evil: Only an evil god would do something like that.
- G0d has an evil streak: G-d is mostly good, but has an evil side (Dr David Blumenthal)
Man Saved From Certain Death By Wife's Sheitel
And now for some Torah. Uncle Moishe tells the following story:
Also after 9/11, a fair number of stories started making the rounds about how some individuals were "saved" from being at WTC through eerie circumstances -- kinda like the Hanoch Teller stories... Like the one about the man who was saved by his wife's extreme tzniut. He was already at work in the WTC when she called via cellphone from the backyard. She had accidentally locked herself out of the house, and while she could go around front and enter via the shabbos lock, that would entail the risk of being seen without her sheitel by the neighbors. So she stayed back there and he returned home...
If you tell me this guy was saved by his wife's tznius, I will laugh in your face.
But if catch a lucky break, I will thank G-d for helping me out.
If you tell me that Katrina was a punishment for Gaza, I will scorn you.
But if I stub my toe, I know I am being punished for something that I did, and I will quickly figure out what it was.
Does this make me a hypocrite?
I think the answer is as follows. Chazal say 'Kesheyavo Tzores al HaOdom Yefashpesh Bemaasov' (When troubles befall a man he should examine his actions). Davkah 'his' actions, but not the actions of others.
Canonist interviews R Nosson Kaminetzky
Canonist has an interview with R Nosson Kaminetzky. R Nosson is pretty frank about everything . Here is what he has to say on Slifkin:
Canonist: I’m not aware of any response you’ve made to the situation of R’ Nosson Slifkin. Would you be willing to respond to it? If so, please share your thoughts with me.Thats what I have been saying all along. It was the kannoim and ironically the Gedolim themsleves who have harmed Kovod Hatorah.
RNK: In regard to Rabbi Slifkin, let me just point out that the true present “gedol hador” of American Jewry, my brother R’ Shmuel of Philadelphia [GH: Hey!], gave Rabbi Slifkin a haskamah - and he doesn’t get scared off by zealots: he never retracted his approval as others did. I mentioned Rabbi Slifkin in my Borough Park lecture just to point out that when one of the instigators of the ban wrote “As someone who knows English, I was approached by a person for whom the honor of Torah is dear and shown that the [Slifkin] book says that the world is millions of years old: earth to his mouth! Etc.,” insinuating thereby that Slifkin was lowering the honor of Torah. He must have failed to realize that Slifkin wrote his books precisely because “the honor of Torah is dear” to him, and he felt that the conflict between teachings of science and Torah must be intelligently addressed. Thus Rabbi Slifkin was raising the honor of Torah, not lowering it. I compared it to what was written about my book - that it denigrates gedolim, while in fact, to the contrary, it raises the stature of gedolim by describing them as they actually were, great human beings, not mythical creatures.
Orthodox Man (and Woman) of the Year Competition!
Many readers have asked me to do an Orthodox Man of the year competition. Well, here it is! Please cast your votes in the comments (or suggest alternative candidates). Here is a list of my candidates:
Orthodox Man of The Year Candidates
1. The Godol Hador
A genius of Hashkafah and Torah and Science. The Godol has inspired millions, nay billions of people worldwide, with his unique blend of Hitch Hiker’s rip offs, childish insults and rantings. Vote Godol!
2. The Koton Hador
The Koton is a comedic genius. His posts continue to delight both young and old, and especially Mar Gavriel. Unfortunately, the Koton was just too funny, and died of an overdose of hysteria. Vote Koton!
3. Rabbi Nosson Slifkin
Rabbi Slifkin, a little known author and keeper of pet iguanas, was toiling away in obscurity, tending to the religious needs of the animals in Jerusalem’s biblical zoo, when a sinister plot, organized by criminal masterminds, launched the bespectacled, somewhat nerdy, yeshivah man into international stardom. Slifkin is now more talked about in the JBlogosphere than Paris Hilton in People magazine. Vote Slifkin!
4. R Dovid Clownofsky
Rabbi Dovid Clownofsky, international acclaimed kiruv clown, put on a spectacular performance this year. He had an early hit with his epic ‘draft’ of ‘The Chareidim are Under Attack Again!’ blockbuster novel, but has since faded from the limelight somewhat. Lets bring him back! Vote Clownofsky!
5. R Elyashiv & The Gedolim
These guys have had a rough year: Ridicule, letzonus, lack of respect and denigration of their opponents has always been their hallmark. But this year they exceeded all expectations, causing an international debacle and bizoyon of kovod hatorah. What an achievement! Vote Gedolim!
6. The Feldman Family
The Feldman Family is a talented bunch of entertainers. From the spectacular acrobatics of Rabbi 180 Aharon, to the literary and imaginative genius of Rabbi Imaginary Friend Emmanuel, to the brawny ‘street-fighter’ courage of Rav Lets have a Debate Heshy, this family has something to offer for all the family. Vote Feldman !
7. Rabbi Gil Student
Rabbi Gil educates the blog world with his potent mix of Torah, Jewish Commentary and Harry Potter shailos. Smart, educated, academic and scholarly, he has also been accused by some of being dry, boring and completely lacking in any sense of humor. In a recent and unusually lengthy comment, Gil responded to his critics: ‘I am funny’ he wrote. Vote Gil!
Witty, humorous, intelligent and beloved by all. But enough about the Godol Hador, let’s talk about DovBear. DB loves YaakovMenken, TobyKatz and the President, but he can’t abide people who distort Judaism; people who would infiltrate Judaism with a dangerous mix of morality, spirituality, kugel and non-Spanish Rishonim. Vote DB!
Mis-nagid continues to put in a strong performance in 2005. With his tactful, subtle yet faintly discernable criticism of the Orthodox world, Mis-nagid has opened people’s eyes to the possibility that maybe he would be better off not living in the heart of a Chareidi community. Vote Mis-nagid!
10 Pinter, Kalmanowitz & The Kannoim
These guys deserve our support. The JBlogosphere would be much the poorer without their efforts at blackmail, extortion, mortgage fraud and getting the Gedolim to sign pashkevilim. Also, I hear some of them may be going on a 'little trip' next year (if the Feds can find them), so vote Kannoim!
Orthodox Woman of the Year
1. The Holy Rebbetzin in the Glamorous Sheitel
She’s funny, she’s caring, and she doesn’t read my blog! But seriously, this laundry-folding, OC-watching, child-rearing, diaper-changing, shabbos-cooking, money-earning, Kellerman-reading powerhouse of a Rebbetzin deserves all our respect and love for the amazing job she does looking after her three children and her completely useless husband. Vote THRITGS!
2. Other Candidates
The THRITGS has not approved any other candidates for this award. Sorry.
New, Improved 'The Science of Torah: Gil Student Edition'
The blogosphere is abuzz with analysis of the differences between the original version of Making of a Godol, and the new improved version of MOAG.
Well, I have a scoop! I have been shown a sneak preview of the new improved 'The Science of Torah: Gil Student Edition'. Let's analyze some of the changes between the First Edition (FE) and the Second Edition (SE):
FE: ‘Scientists say’ (mentioned many times throughout the book)
SE: ‘Traife atheist reshoim hellbent on destroying Chareidi Judaism say’
FE: RSRH (pg 52)
SE: No mention (no longer part of our Mesorah)
FE: Tiferes Yisrael (pg 55)
SE: No mention (no longer part of our Mesorah)
FE: No mention
SE: R Elyashiv and the Gedolim (pg ix - Haskamos)
FE: Only unsophisticated people believe in a literal rendition of Breishis (pg 122)
SE: Only Torah-True Fully Observant Haimishe Yeshivah Jews believe in a literal rendition of Breishis
FE: Lice having babies (pg 321)
SE: Spontaneously generated lice having spontaneously generated babies
FE: There was no global flood (pg 285)
SE: There was no global flood, because of course as the Gemara says The Mabul didn't cover Eretz Yisrael silly!
FE: Chazal did not know Science (pgs 45, 58, 113-156, 189, 194, 203-205, 306-368 and in fact most of the rest of the book)
SE: Chazal did not Science, because of course Science is treif atheist rishus which is all wrong, and Chazal were much too infallible and holy to even be aware of such Secular Thinking (chas vesholom)
FE: 6 days is really 15 billion years (pg 276)
SE: 6 days are mamash 6 days literally mamash 6 days of mamash literally 24 hours each, mamash exactly like a regular day, but in effect 15 billion years passed because the time went by really, really, really fast.
This one won't get banned for sure!
Area man admits unaware of Slifkin ban
In surprising news tonight, Moshe Shmuel Gruenbaum, an area yungerman, admitted to his wife that he didn’t know much about the Slifkin ban. Chedvah Gruenbaum, a petite 22 year old in a long, blond sheitel, says this is typical of her husband. ‘He learns in kollel all day long, yet he just doesn’t seem to know the yeshivishe raid’, she said disappointedly. ‘I mean, when the Shietel ban hit he didn’t know what was flying, he doesn’t know anything about the Hatzolah scandal and he’s clueless about Slifkin. Just what exactly is he doing all day in that kollel?’
Moshe Shmuel looked sheepish. ‘It’s true’ he finally admitted. ’I never really get involved in this kind of thing. I don’t know, I guess I always was kinda different’. We spoke to Moshe Shmuel’s Rosh Kollel, Rav Yitzchok Shwartz: ‘Moshe Shmuel is unusual’, he said. ‘We have tried to acclimatize him to the norms and protocols of Kollel life, but he just can’t seem to adjust. Still, we are very open minded here and certainly would not stigmatize him for this’.
Moshe Shmuel’s chavrusoh (and brother in law) Chaim Yaakov Feldstein, was less complimentary. ‘Moshe is the most boring chavrusoh I have ever had. All he wants to do is learn. What kind of chavrusoh is that?!’
Tuesday, September 27, 2005
New Slifkin Article!
Just when you thought it was all over...... We have a new Slifkin article! And this is the best one yet. Its in Moment magazine and can be found here. It doesn't break so much new ground, but it is fairly accurate and presents a good analysis and summary of the whole issue. They even have Rabbi Avi Shafran saying something sensible, I guess that is a first. Of course they interview Rabbis Gil Student and Yitzchak I'm-not-MO Adlerstein, but suprisingly they don't have any quotes from either Andrew or Nachum Klafter (whatever happened to those guys?!). Yet again, they failed to interview me.
I think that the most interesting passage is this one:
The one significant mistake in the article is the lack of emphasis on the issue of Chazal. The real reason behind the ban was not so much aversion to Science (though that's definitely a part of it), nor an aversion to an ancient universe, non literal Breishis or evolution (though that's definitely a part of it too) but was more because the banners felt that Slifkin was not giving enough respect to Chazal. And also the Kannoim wanted to stick it to the Kaminetzkys yet again.
I ask Rabbi Avi Shafran to explain how this aversion to science has crept into a religion that prides itself on endless inquiry. Shafran is the American public relations director for Agudath Israel, the world’s largest ultra-Orthodox coalition. If the vastly divergent ultra-Orthodox community has a spokesperson, Shafran comes closest to filling that role. Shafran responds thoughtfully. In the past, he acknowledges, it was perfectly acceptable for a great rabbi like Samson Raphael Hirsch to embrace science. This approach, he adds, “has generally fallen into disfavor—largely, I think, because science in recent times has become a religion of its own, a secular one.”
Shafran’s words allude to the fact that some of the most visible contemporary scientists, most notably the leading evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins, have openly denounced religion. Dawkins has published articles entitled “Religion’s Misguided Missiles” and “The Improbability of God.”
Adds Shafran, “For better or for worse—worse, I’d say—society has set science up as the enemy of religious thought. And so many Orthodox Jewish leaders have deemphasized, if not outright rejected, the study of the sciences as a means of religious devotion.”
Unfortunately though, when it comes to the validity of modern Science, Chazal's opinions are irrelevant. Actually, when it comes to the validity of modern Science, the Rishonim's opinions are irrelevant too. Also the Acharonim. And of course the present day Gedolim. You might as well ask your cat.
Survival Tips in Corporate America
Gil has a post of tips for surviving corporate America. As someone living in Cubeville, I feel qualified to add my 2 cents.
1. Keep a picture of your wife on your desk. When you are feeling miserable about your job, look at the picture and remind yourself that you are working hard so that she can afford glamorous sheitels. *
2. Always carry a PDA (or laptop) to meetings. That way, if you get really bored, you can always play Solitaire or do something more useful. But make sure to sit in the back of the room so no one can see.
3. Never ever take the blame for anything. People always believe the big lie.
4. Make sure to get a religious Christian boss. Explain to him that Chol Hamoed is a serious religious holiday, and show him some relevant quotes from some right wing sefarim about what happens to those who are Mevazeh Cholo Shel Moed. Then take off all Pesach & Succos as Personal Days.
5. Memorize all your bosses mistakes. At every and any opportunity, don't hesitate to remind him of them. He will consider you dangerous, and never cross you. Make sure that he knows that you have an email trail on everything, and that you won't hesitate to use it if he thinks he can fire you.
6. Hoard old laptops, computers, and other electronic paraphanalia. They can be traded to co-workers for other valuables.
7. At the end of the year, when your boss realizes that you took off way too many personal days, explain to him that you must take off Yom Tov, but are happy to work on Christmas and New Years instead. Come into the office on those days, and spend the entire day watching sports on the big monitor in the conference room.
* In case you guys don't realize, I am kidding. My wife has a serious job, and she works way harder than I do. If anything, it's her hard work that enables my Amazon addiction. I still don't like sheitels though.
Bogus Yomim Noroim Theology
Continuing in my series of negative posts:
One thing I don't like about the Aseres Yemei Teshivah is all the bogus theology that accompanies it. All those tortured explanations which try (but always fail) to explain who gets judged and when and why and how, and how can your fate be sealed now but not changed later, or maybe it can be changed later, etc etc etc. And how this time period is expecially mesugal for Teshuvah, and the Shaarei Rachamim are especially open, etc etc etc.
Its all entirely and obviously bogus. G-d is not moody. He does not have times when He is feeling especially forgiving. He does not have a time of year when He assembles the Heavenly Court and decides to judge people. This is all human (and probably Kabalistic perspective).
Now don't get me wrong: It clearly is of great benefit for us humans to have a specified period of the year when we all get into the Teshuvah spirit and engage in some serious self reflection. The whole Aseres Yemei Teshuvah concept is awesome (pun intended).
But let's not get confused. The concept is about us, not G-d.
New ! Chareidi Computer Games
In an effort to create Torah True Computer Games, a Chareidi company is using the Talmud for inspiration. The latest game is called 'Eruvin'. Each player has a team of yeshivah bochrim, and the goal is to create the most number of eruvin possible, while satisfying as many shittos for each eruv.
Extra points are gained if the 'Brisker' character allows his wife to carry in one of your eruvin, and bonus points if even he will carry too. However if your eruv team gets put in cherem, you immediately lose.
Additional features make the game more exciting: Random attacks from kannoim need to be fended off by using a combination of learning skills and eruv wire. Occasionally a 'Godol' character will appear, and your eruv team must compete for his haskamah.
The game has reeceived approbations from leading Torah True Mechanchim, including Rabbi Dovid Clownofsky, who had this to say: 'This game provides an excellent learning opportunity for teenagers and adults alike. Plus, it will keep them off the blogs which can only be good (for me).
So this morning I took out my trusty Metzudah Selichos and decided to try and say selichos at home, at an appropriate pace, with kavanah on every word. Unfortunately I hit a road block in the first piece. The selichah talks about G-d having killed the Leviathan and giving it as food to the 'legions'. Then, a sentence later, it talks about G-d having 'crushed the heads of the sea monsters'.
What the heck? I am aware of a strand of (heretical) thought that talks about ancient Sea Monster mythology in Judaism, and how there are still traces of that in various places in Nach (references to Taninim, and Rachav etc). Of course Artscroll glosses over all of this. But according to the 'traditional' peshat, what is this talking about? When did G-d kill sea monsters? Or is it, chas vesholom chas vesholom, not to be taken literally?
Monday, September 26, 2005
Selichos & Piyutim
Warning: Negative Post
I didn't really want to post on this topic, since I don't have anything positive to say on the subject, and the Holy Rebbetzin of the Glamorous Sheitel tells me I need to be more positive. However I see that both DovBear and JewishWorker have blogged Selichos, so now I must too.
I used to love Selichos and the Yamim Noroim when I was younger. I even bought the Metzudah inter-linear set because I wanted to understand every word. The service was moving and inspiring. However, as I have gotten older and more cynical, I find it doesn't speak to me as much. Most shuls daven through the Selichos at a speed that makes it absolutely impossible to focus on any meaning of the words. Even if you do get the chance to focus on the meaning, it's usually written in some medieval style of prose which frankly just doesn't speak to me.
Some Selichot do stand out, such as the 13 middos and similar, but mostly it's just a lot of mumbling. The same can be said for many of the piyutim on the Yamim Noroim. (Actually the same could be said for most of davening all year round). Maybe I need to get hold of that Artscroll-Praying with Fire book.
For Yom Tov, I plan to bring various Seforim to shul to relieve the tedium. How many people really get inspired from all those long songs during chazoras hashatz? Maase Elokeynu being a prime example. And Kol Nidre is the worst. The tune might be moving, but that's about it. What is inspiring about a passage annuling vows? I do find Neilah very spiritual, but maybe anything will seem spiritual once you have been in shul for 12 hours and haven't eaten for 24.
I hate to agree with DovBear, but when it comes to davening, the spiritual feeling that most people feel is just bunk. It's a combination of childhood memories and moving tunes from the Chazan. Actually, even DovBear himself is not immune to this form of spirituality, as he has posted a few times about 'moving' services. DovBear, don't you realize that Chazaanut is the verbal equivalent of kugel?
For some reason, my otherwise sensible MO shul says a bunch of extra piyutim on the Yomim Naraim. Have they lost their minds? How many piyutim do a bunch of mostly Orthoprax Kofrim really need to say anyway? (I'm joking). But adding extra piyutim to an already overly long and boring service is tirchah detziburah.
I used to go to Selichos and say each Selicha properly. Invariably, I would fall significantly behind the Chazan, and end up finishing selichos 10 or 15 minutes after everyone else. These days I just don't bother. It gets me too upset.
Rabbi Eliezer Berkovitz - He's Da Man!
Someone on this blog (I forget who) once suggested that I should read Eliezer Berkovitz, and that I would enjoy his books. Whoever it was who said that was spot on. I just started reading God, Man & History and found it was really quite good. In some circles Berkovitz is rated as one of the pre-eminent Orthodox philosophers of the 20th Century, even up there with RYBS. Plus, one advantage he has over RYBS is that he doesn't use the word 'ontic' in every second paragraph. In just the introduction alone to G,M & H there were more inspiring and interesting ideas than in an entire month of some people's blogs.
Berkovitz was also the author of 'Not in Heaven', a book about how Halchah can change if the Rabbis want it to. Of course he got slammed in more RW Circles (even RW YU), but reading through the old Avodah debates on this issue it seems that Berkovitz is basically correct. Halachah can certainly change, even quite fundamentally, the point though is that the Rabbis are entrusted with it, and they tend to be very conservative, for very good reasons (in most cases).
In 'Studies in Biblical Theology' Berkovitz shows that the entire edifice of Halchah is constructed on a moral basis, an idea which is apparently somewhat alien to some people. There is a great article on that subject in Azure.
Of all the thinkers I have read so far, Berkovitz seems to show the most promise. He has a rational basis to his theology taken from the Rambam, but seems to have a fairly balanced viewpoint overall and doesn't hesitate to discount the rationalists where neccessary. Hopefully I won't be dissapointed.
Hazony on Schroeder
[GH: David Hazony bashes Schroeder. His conclusions are mostly sound but the whole bit on Science changing is kinda stupid. Like the Gedolim, Hazony should stick to what he knows best: Literature, not Science. UPDATE: I think I was misreading Hazony here. I retract that last comment].
The Science of God: The Convergence of Scientific and Biblical Wisdom
Reviewed by David Hazony
The past few years have seen a spate of books attempting, once again, to resolve the apparent tension between science and faith. Titles such as Patrick Glynn’s God: The Evidence and Hugh Ross’ Beyond the Cosmos: What Recent Discoveries in Astronomy and Physics Reveal About the Nature of God have joined magazine articles and television specials in the effort to tackle what is supposed to be among the thorniest, and most profound, questions that man has ever asked. While many of these have earned accolades from an apparently hungry public, most of them operate on assumptions which are not only flawed, but potentially harmful to more serious efforts in both science and religion.
A perfect example can be found in Gerald Schroeder’s The Science of God: The Convergence of Scientific and Biblical Wisdom. In the first third of the book, Schroeder takes full advantage of scientific advances in fields as diverse as cosmology, paleontology and particle physics to offer an almost plausible scientific rendering of the Creation story. The six days in which the entire universe came into being are no parable or tribal myth, but “actually did contain the billions of years of the cosmos even while the days remained twenty-four-hour days.” How so? Schroeder invokes the teachings of relativity: We have all heard how mass and velocity can affect the “rate” at which time goes by for one object with respect to another--how a baby in a spaceship traveling near the speed of light will age two years while his twin on earth lives an en-tire lifetime. Schroeder’s innovation is to declare the entire universe to be the Bible’s opening “frame of reference” (there was, after all, no earth or sun to provide another one), in which the universe’s dense mass-energy point at the start of the Big Bang offers an extremely “slow” time-track, so that events which to us appear to have taken billions of years took, from the universe’s “own” perspective, a matter of days. Once the time scale is adjusted to allow for the universe’s expansion and cooling, Schroeder ends up with a schedule of Creation which allots eight billion earth-years for the first universe-day, four billion for the second, two billion for the third, and so on, adding up to the primordial six-day work week. Not without a certain reliance on smoke and mirrors, many of the most important events in the universe’s creation and the evolution of mankind are squeezed into the first chapter of Genesis.
The remainder of The Science of God is dedicated to impressing the reader with just how unlikely everything is: The galaxies, the earth, one-celled organisms, the Cambrian explosion of life half a billion years ago, are all described in terms of their statistical improbability, a suspicious yet entertaining presentation of numbers and exponents which at times degenerates into rambling. (At one point Schroeder dares the reader to try and repeat the word “billion” a billion billion times, so that he will fully grasp the unlikeliness of it all--“Just to speak aloud those billions would require more time than the universe has existed, more time than has passed since the beginning of time!”)
But it is not Schroeder’s showmanship that makes The Science of God so irksome. The most serious problem with The Science of God is also the tragic flaw of its genre: The premise that one can, or should, try to “reconcile” the teachings of a several-thousand-year-old religious text with those of obscure twentieth-century science.
First, there is the problem of employing science to understand the Bible. The fields of so-called “hard” science are as varied in their methodology and standards as in their subject matter, and while it is to be expected that the vast majority of scientists spend their careers under the paradigmatic umbrellas of the leading theories in their fields, this does not mean that an outsider looking in should necessarily take these theories seriously, inasmuch as they may bear on his beliefs or values. Put simply: As a layman, I am much more likely to alter radically my behavior on the basis of the latest developments in oncology than those in paleontology. The former, while by no means infallible, are based on a wide body of corroborated experimentation, and have been held to the test of practical implementation; the latter, even if highly regarded by the most ingenious of paleontologists, are based on such scant evidence, guesswork and fundamentally untestable hypotheses, that no serious thinker should entrust his or her religious beliefs to their graces.
When, for example, was the last time you encountered a brontosaurus? A brief visit to the children’s section of a local bookstore will reveal that the entire retinue of dinosaurs most of us grew up knowing and loving have recently suffered a new extinction: Gone or forgotten are the stegosaurus, dimetrodons and pterodactyls upon which an entire generation of museums, toys and picture books were built. Like a giant asteroid crashing down upon the earth, radical new works such as Robert T. Bakker’s 1986 The Dinosaur Heresies have succeeded in shifting the most famous paradigm of paleontology: Dinosaurs, it now turns out, never really were the slow, stupid, cold-blooded reptiles they made themselves out to be. They were nimble, smart, warm-blooded and bird-like, probably looking a lot more like Spielberg’s velociraptors than anything else. The trusty, timid brontosaurus is no more, supplanted by the “apatosaurus,” a fearsome monster which roamed in packs, was athletic enough to be able to swim, and could vanquish its enemies by rearing up on its hind legs and thrusting the fullness of its thirty-three-ton body onto its adversary, or by whipping him with its fifty-foot-long tail.
What is true for the stability of paleontology is all the more true when looking at the cosmos, whose basic bits of evidence are a lot less handy than fossils. Hypotheses about the origins of the universe frequently employ unproved or unprovable assumptions as basic theoretical building blocks. It is significant that the Big Bang, the basket into which Schroeder places all his exegetical eggs, is itself infamously unstable: As the cosmologist P. James E. Peebles (and a number of his colleagues) pointed out in the March 1998 issue of Scientific American, the Big Bang, although not yet at serious risk of being replaced by a competing theory, is beleaguered by basic “unresolved issues” (such as how the galaxies were formed), and will likely undergo fundamental revisions with-in the coming decades.
None of this is meant to imply that paleontologists or cosmologists are necessarily bad scientists; given the questions they are asking and the kind of data they have to work with, things could hardly be otherwise. What it does show is that anyone who takes the Bible seriously as an eternal source of wisdom should not dream of trying to understand it with the tools employed in Schroeder’s book--tools which of necessity are prone to massive revision every few years if the scientists are doing their job right.
Nor has science proven all that useful even when applied directly to the task of biblical interpretation. For centuries, scientists and pseudo-scientists have offered solutions to textual problems in the Bible, without bringing us any closer to an understanding of the Bible’s meaning. Whether it be the workings of an often hostile class of documentary hypothesists, or more sympathetic efforts to “correlate” creation, the flood or the parting of the Red Sea with cosmology, paleontology and archaeology, these efforts all miss the point, skirting those far more difficult questions that stir the heart of the religious thinker: What point is the Bible trying to make? What are the spiritual or theological implications of these stories? What are the demands--whether of belief or action--that a proper understanding of the Bible makes of man? In science the religious thinker has never found, indeed can never find, the key to his understanding of the text.
If science is unhelpful in understanding the Bible, then the Bible is simply abysmal as a tool for understanding science. For the implication of The Science of God--that in theory at least, the Bible should offer a kind of rejoinder to the grand mystery of nature--is anathema to scientific thinking. Schroeder writes:
The Bible, properly understood, can be a handmaiden of science…. Ussher’s and Kepler’s calculations of an approximately six-thousand-year-old universe are infinitely closer to our current estimate of time since the Big Bang than was either Aristotle’s opinion [of an eternal universe] or that of two-thirds of the leading U.S. astronomers and physicists, who in a 1959 survey agreed with Aristotle. Human logic sided with Aristotle but was in error. The biblical paradigm of a beginning to our universe, a creation, was correct.
How, exactly, can the Bible be a “hand maiden of science”? What would Schroeder have had those scientists in 1959 do, discard their best scientific theory because the Bible suggested otherwise? As opposed to Maimonides, who viewed scientific knowledge as a means for appreciating the glory of Creation, Schroeder and those like him seek in the Bible a solve-all to the most fundamental questions which science poses, and just as they are willing to impose a scientific reading upon the Bible, they frequently tolerate some bending of science (and scientists) to “fit” into the Bible’s apparent teachings.
Yet this has been tried before: Was it not the Church’s attempt to do precisely what Schroeder is proposing, to “demonstrate a harmony between science and the Bible” by imposing scriptural “truths” upon the study of the cosmos, that nearly cost Galileo his life and stunted Western science for centuries? The lesson of that tragic period was that in order to advance, science must permit the unfettered competition of theories to explain the results of inquiry and experiment. External considerations, of which the Bible is but one example, may serve as a source for ideas and inspiration, but must never be allowed to force one theory over another, or even to distort the scientist’s approach to the evidence; the Bible can no more offer a shortcut to the “right” answer in science than can science offer a shortcut to the “right” biblical interpretation.
How, then, are we supposed to approach the Creation story? The first step is to clarify our goal: Our interest should be in reading the text, that is, in understanding its actual meaning. Creation is a profound passage--enigmatic, poetic, rhythmic, symbolic. It is a difficult text, tossing about loaded terms such as “unformed and void,” “spirit of God,” “face of the deep,” whose import is far from obvious. Moreover, it constitutes the opening to a book whose primary concern is not natural history, but wisdom--the Tora is comprised of little other than the laws of human living, the stories of exemplary men and women, and the character of a nation and its God--and therefore its difficult passages should be understood with an eye towards the wisdom they may provide, towards knowledge that lies at the core of man’s concern, rather than the description of cold, scientific facts. This book calls itself the Tora, “the teaching,” as if to remove all doubt as to its larger purpose.
In this light is the Creation story to be read, and indeed has been read throughout the ages by biblical commentators. Some, such as the nineteenth-century scholar Samson Raphael Hirsch, found in God’s creation of the universe ex nihilo the basis for a belief in free will, upon which all morality depends. Others, such as Shabtai Bass, author of the Siftei Hachamim of the eighteenth century, saw Creation as the expression of God’s omnipotence, without which his covenantal promises could not be trusted, and the belief in divine justice would have no foundation. In our own century, Joseph B. Soloveitchik echoed the Talmud’s insistence that Creation is, above all, about human nature, about man as the culmination of God’s creative endeavor, and about man as creator himself, whose creativity lies at the essence of his having been formed “in the image of God.” What unites these efforts--and distinguishes them sharply from both Schroeder’s scientific literalism and the fashions prevalent in the academy--is the earnest attempt to understand the actual point of the Creation story, and to produce a theory which is compatible at once with the biblical whole in all its stated and unstated intentions, and with a reasonable guess as to what this type of passage could mean in this type of context.
Books like The Science of God dispense with all that. Having found, at long last, a reading of the text which jibes with cosmology while being fully literal (a day is really a day, from the universe’s standpoint, and seven days are really seven days), Schroeder no longer feels obligated to any broader context. His reading is therefore clear, simple and absurd: Are we seriously expected to believe that the author of Genesis would choose to begin the tale of the world’s creation with a lesson in late-twentieth-century cosmology? Is not the image of the author (divine or otherwise) composing a Creation story that is perfectly incomprehensible to his audience, chuckling to himself as millennia of biblical scholars try in vain to understand that which is not really understandable, until along come paleontology, particle physics, relativity and Arthur Hubble to reveal the true meaning of the text--is that not as improbable as Schroeder’s billions?
Backed into a corner, Schroeder and those like him usually resort to claims of non-exclusive interpretation, something to the effect of “Come now, I don’t mean to imply that this is the only meaning of the Genesis story--it’s just interesting, useful, beautiful and gives one more basis for faith.” Now the bad news: The Bible is not a toy. It is the founding spiritual text of our civilization. Its words are chosen carefully, and with intent. It is to be handled with care, with the respect due any serious text, in the effort to cull from it the actual intentions of its author. Any casual efforts to tack on other meanings, without actually endeavoring to understand it, are not really trying to read it at all. Depending on their agenda, intent and methodology, these efforts are at best midrash, at worst hogwash. If Schroeder and those like him believe that the Creation story really “converges” with modern sciences, then their readings must make sense within a larger understanding of the Bible, within its literary, theological and historical contexts, and with a reasonable understanding of what the biblical author is trying to achieve and why he would choose to do it this way. If not, then books such as The Science of God are peddling meaningless coincidences as the basis of faith, and should be discarded, lest we be distracted from the real goals of our inquiry.
Are Chareidi Scientists Normal?
[GH: I frequently see bizzare statements and theories from Chareidi Scientists. Hendel's prophecy theory below was one example, there was also a Dr Leon Ehrenprice who had some wierd things to say, and I have quite a collection of books by Chareidi Scientists (Schroeder et al) which all go to great lengths to try and reconcile Breishis & Science with all manner of crackpot theories. Mis-nagid thinks this is a sign of desperation, but I think it's cognitive dissonance. These Chareidi Scientists believe in fundamentalism, but they are also scientists and these two competing and contradictory ideologies cause their brains to degenerate, and they descend into madness. Anyway, I received the following article from a (semi) Chareidi Scientist who seems to have his head screwed on straight. If only there were more like him!]
Pet Peeves of a Physicist
After a year of reading blogs particularly when they concern science I have been compelled to vent my feelings. Thank to the GH for allowing me this opportunity.
First to establish my credentials (not for self-aggrandizement). I have a PhD and am a full Professor with several hundred Scientific publications to my credit. I am also an observant Jew somewhere on the seam line between UO and MO. My children were educated in UO institutions and I generally daven in UO shuls and dress the dress, but obviously being a scientist I do not buy in to the fundamentalism.
What really bothers me is the many people, not only on the blogs, but also in my Daf who pontificate at length on science without knowing the slightest thing about it. The most gregarious cases are these Gedolim who talk about science without the slightest idea what it is.
The rot started apparently with Rabbi Avigdor Miller who wrote a very negative chapter on science which seems to have been taken in toto from Creationist tracts of about 40 years ago and is very badly flawed. More recently we have articles by Rabbi Moshe Sternbuch and Rabbi Aharon Feldman which were similarly badly flawed. These people might be great halachicists but they know nothing nor understand anything about science They should keep away from topics they know nothing about.
There have been some contributors on the web who state that science cannot prove anything. On investigation these people generally prove to be mathematicians, theoreticians or philosophers, and they are talking about mathematical or logical proof, which is not the same as scientific proof. Mathematical proof consists of taking a set of universal agreed on axioms and deriving some results using a series of agreed on steps QED.
Scientific proof is different. It could be empirical, semi-empirical or even purely assumed from experiment. It must not only give the right results but make predictions which can be confirmed (or not) by further observation, so that it can be proven correct (or false). I might interject here that less hard sciences such as evolutionary biology are not rated as being as rigorous by physicists and similar. Some scientists have attempted to harmonize Bereishis by quoting relativity. I used to teach special relativity and I think this is nonsense: not only does it not answer all the problems raised but it assumes that HaShem has corporeality and is moving at a high speed relative to us. Why would HaShem use a time line which so different from ours ?
Some mathematicians assure us that because of relativity we can equally postulate that the sun goes round the earth. Even assuming that we could set up the mathematical equations to describe this (and I doubt if it would be easy), they seem to have overlooked the laws of mechanics. It can be shown that the earth rotates about its axis (e.g. Foucault's Pendulum and Coriolis forces) and cannot be static. An observer from outside the solar system will see a massive central body around which are circulating a number of planets. There is nothing to distinguish the third one i./e. Earth from any of the others. Theoreticians seem not to have any common sense in these matters.
Finally the thing which really bothered me most of all. Recently in the Daf, the subject came up about the position of the sun in the sky. I was confidently told that the sun arises in the North in winter and in the South in summer. We live several hundred miles north of the Tropic of Cancer. When I tried to explain that this was impossible I was told that simple, observation would confirm their view against mine. I no longer offer any scientific advice in the Daf.
Where ignorance is bliss it is folly to be wise.
Gaza Disengagement - A Good Thing
This is exactly as I predicted: Now that the Palestinians are in charge they are finding less support for their terrorism, and more international pressure to give it up. Also, the Israeli Government has more support for heavy handed retaliation when they are not occupying a civilian population:
JERUSALEM -- In an apparent capitulation to a two-day Israeli campaign of arrests and assassinations, the Palestinian militant group Hamas announced last night that it would no longer use the Gaza Strip as a staging ground for attacks against Israel.
The declaration in Gaza City by Hamas' top political leader, Mahmoud Zahar, came hours after Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon promised a no-holds-barred crackdown on Palestinian militant groups.
"The movement is announcing a halt to all its military operations from the Gaza Strip against the Israeli occupation," Zahar told reporters. He said Hamas was acting to protect the interests of the Palestinian people.
Shortly before Zahar spoke, Israeli forces killed a top Islamic Jihad commander and his deputy by firing a missile into their car on a Gaza highway, the second such deadly raid against militants in just over 24 hours. A similar strike on Saturday killed two members of Hamas' military wing.
In years past, such an explicit announcement of a suspension of attacks by Hamas would have been unheard of, especially in the face of an Israeli military offensive against it.
But Hamas has been working hard to position itself as a political force in Gaza. Moreover, Zahar is the sole surviving member of Hamas' founding leadership. Nearly all his close associates, including spiritual leader Sheik Ahmed Yassin, have been wiped out in an Israeli campaign of targeted killings in the past two years.
New 'Prophecy' Skin for Myth/Moshol!
[Hat tip BW]
Wow! A new spin on Breishis. No, it's not about the initial creation of the world. It's not even about the recovery from the meteor strike on the Yucatan peninsula. It's all about prophecy:
Russell Jay Hendel holds a Ph.D. in theoretical mathematics from M.I.T. and an associateship from the Society of Actuaries. He has been a full time faculty member at half a dozen universities and is presently adjunct professor at Towson University. He has written about 2 dozen articles on number theory, mathematical pedagogy, and the use of technology to enhance education. He currently works for the Health Care Finance Organization of the United States Government in the Department of Health and Human Services. For 7 years Dr Hendel attended the lectures of Rabbi Dr. Joseph B. Soloveitchick whose analytic-logical approach to both Rashi and Talmudic problems has enabled Dr Hendel, in his half dozen Judaica articles, to defend the plausibility of original Talmudic positions on a wide variety of issues. Thus the present article defends the Talmudic position that Genesis 1 describes the creation of prophecy. Dr Hendel currently runs the web-based Rashi Database Project whose goal is to grammatically defend all 8000 Rashis on Chumash.
You can read the rest of the article here.
So what do I think? I think you can skin it and spin it anyway you like. It's all good stuff, and furthermore you might even learn something in the process. Kinda like Medrash. Or Mythology. Actually it's exactly like Medrash. And Mythology. Or Moshology. Or maybe Medrashology. Aggadology? Spirituology? Kabalology? Mysticology?
Any of these terms are good. But not Cosmology.
Hair We Go Again
Frum men seem to have an unhealthy obsession. Whilst many males have fetishes of all types, frum men seem to be particularly obsessed with women's hair. I've noticed this on the blogs: if there is one topic that always seems to get certain people worked up it is the topic of women’s head coverings. Every time the subject is mentioned, even tangentially, a lively debate ensues, primarily amongst the men.
Personally I find sheitels to be quite retarded, and this is one area where I am inclined to agree with Mis-nagid that Orthodoxy is a cult, since only a brainwashed cult member would be so blind as to think that covering natural healthy hair with an expensive flashy wig in the interests of keeping halachah is in any way normal. I'm not too enamoured of snoods either, though I do like the bonnets that the Amish women wear.
One viewpoint which seems to be constantly cited in these discussions is an article by Rabbi Michael Broyde of Young Israel Atlanta. You can find it on the House of Hock where a heated debate ensued last year. Some of the more notorious commenters bashed both Rabbi Broyde and his article, and I still can’t figure out who won the debate. The same people who debated on House of Hock have been debating about it on my blog too, though some of them have changed their fake names since then (but I can still spot them a mile away - you know who you are!). There was also a big discussion on Avodah in December 2000 between Rabbis Broyde, Henkin and Bechoffer. I can't figure out who won there either.
Why does the topic of women’s head covering elicit such a passionate response from so many men? Doesn’t this strike you as weird? I think the answer is more to do with feelings of control and appearance. These men are concerned that their own wives might one day decide to uncover their hair and they won’t be able to do anything about it. They will then be humiliated in public, and be perceived as a husband who can’t control his wife (think Achashverosh and Vashti). Maybe I’m projecting, but that’s exactly how I feel about my wife wearing a sheitel.
To be honest, I frankly don't have the patience or interest to delve into this topic deeply. It's not my hair anyway, and I really don't care that much about it (except for the sheital issue of course). There are more pressing problems to be dealt with, such as the evolution of Judaism between 1500 and 500 BCE. It's yet another example of the frum community getting worked up over minor externals, while the real problems are minimized.
As for the Rebbetzin, I propose the following rule: If you want to wear a sheitel, then instead of watching the OC you must learn Tzenah Urenah. If you insist on watching the OC, then you must uncover your hair, as that would only be consistent.
Fair deal? I think so.
Now that's what I call a proper head covering!
Idiots Continue Bittul Torah on Avodah
The idiots on Avodah can't seem to give up their Bittul Torah discussion on Evolution and the age of the Universe. This weeks prime offender is Simcha Coffer, the guy just doesn't give up, which is a shame, since the position he is not giving up is a moronic one. Here is a great quote from Coffer, clearly showing his lunatic opinions:
If you're going to contradict the scientists, you may as well go the whole way (i.e. the correct way IMO) and say that in truth they really have no evidence at all. Once you come to this realization, the necessity of reconciling vast periods of time with [Maase Breishit] becomes obsolete.
But some blame must go to Micha Berger too, for actually engaging this guy in serious discussion. Micha, is there really any point? Don't you have anything better to do? Don't you realize that Coffer (and Ostroff) are crazy fundamentalists? They are not interested in reason. They have their pre-formed ideological opinions and all the evidence in the world is not going to change their minds. Arguing with these fools is like arguing with mental patients.
In case you missed it, here is some advice for you Avodah guys. (This advice also applies to Rabbi Slifkin and the Kiruv Clowns too). A basic assumption of your mehalech should be that you accept established science. That's it. No discussion, not argument, no proofs required. You accept it and then you move on from there. If you need to explain why you accept it, then you are probably talking to the wrong audience.
Saturday, September 24, 2005
Midvar Sheker Tirchok
Many people characterize the difference between Modern Orthodoxy and Chareidim in terms of secular culture. They say MO values the interaction with secular wisdom and culture, and finds value in it, whereas Chareidim abhor anything non-Toyrahdick. While this is somewhat true, I think this is a mischaracterization of the difference between Modern Orthodoxy and Chareidishkite.
Even the most hardened fundamentalists agree there is value in Science and Technology, and even the most left wing Modern Orthodoxicals agree that Britney Spears is vacuous. There is a small middle ground, that of highbrow secular culture, such as Shakespeare, where there is some debate. But even that is barely a matter of debate, most Chareidim, except for perhaps fundamentalist fools like Yaakov Kalmanowitz (of Secular Thinking fame), agree there could be value in Shakespeare, however they feel it’s more important to insulate themselves from the outside world than face the risks of exposure in any form. Likewise, most Moderns, except for perhaps extreme left wing types, would agree that Torah is of supreme value, certainly more so than any secular culture.
I don’t mean to minimize this issue, certainly there is a large degree of difference here between the Chareidim, who go to extremes to insulate themselves from the surrounding culture, and the Moderns who don’t. But this is not a fundamental difference; it’s more a matter of degree.
I think a more fundamental difference between the two ideologies is the question of ‘Sheker’ (falsehood). The Chareidim are willing to tolerate Sheker, even promote it, if it helps in the overall goal of Torah and Emunah. I have seen and heard it first hand, we all have. From the lies in the Yated, to the lies that the Gedolim spread, to the general view of History and ideology preached in the Chareidi world; Sheker is all pervasive. Gedolim biographies are changed, crucial details dropped from history, differences between Gedolim glossed over or denied outright, accepted Science denied, previously acceptable Gedolim dropped from the Pantheon, lies of the Kannoim, and the list goes on and on.
One of the Gedolim said that the problem with Slifkin’s books was that they were not conducive toEmunah. In other words, it’s true that Chazal were wrong, but telling people the truth will hurt their Emunah.
Now, I can hear some people saying, ‘Nu, so what’s so terrible? A few white lies here and there, the end justifies the means’. Maybe so, maybe not. But this kind of lie finds no home in Modern Orthodoxy. The Moderns do not pretend the Gedolim or Chazal were infallible, the Moderns do not distort History, the Moderns do not deliberately distort Torah, the Moderns do not ignore the accepted findings of Science. At the end of the day, I think the Moderns struggle to find an authentic representation of Judaism, while the Chareidim will do anything to preserve their way, even resorting to lies when required.
It may be conducive to Emunah, but it’s not very conducive to ‘Midvar Sheker Tirchok’.
Friday, September 23, 2005
Newsflash: TV isn't good for you!
Gil writes about a new sefer, Kuntres Davar Be-Ito by R. David Rosenbaum, that assurs ‘reading newspapers (pp. 114-116), all Hol Ha-Mo'ed trips (p. 84), listening to sports on the radio (p. 6) and essentially all recreational activities’. The sefer details ‘20 biblical prohibitions, 16 positive biblical commandments and 13 rabbinic prohibitions involved in watching/using television, videos and the internet.’
Tee Hee. But you don’t need a whole sefer full of reasons not to watch TV. You only need one good reason, and here it is:
Don’t watch TV; because TV is crap. (Especially the OC).
Gil also says: ‘I don't expect anyone to change years-old habits from one quick blog post. But try cutting down. Think about it. It's easy, fairly painless, and can only yield positive results.’
I went from being a total TV addict (I even watched the entire series of Paradise Hotel, Hashem yerachem) to not watching anything at all. Nada. No interest whatsoever. It’s all crap. The only thing I saw all week was about two minutes of some guy on that INXS Reality Show doing a very poor cover of Queen’s ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’. Awful.
Of course now I spend all my time blogging instead, so maybe I’m not such a tzaddik after all.
Creation and Evolution Are A Problem
Warning: Category 5 Emunah Threat
Reconciling Breishis with Science is good, clean fun. It doesn’t really matter at the end of the day if Adam and Noah were actual people or not, and it’s fun to speculate and debate wondrous peshatim about miracles and dinosaur extinctions and the like. One commenter here, Chaim, is convinced that if he can just put together the right collection of miracles, everything will work out. Currently he has figured out that the flood water wasn’t regular water, but was of course miraculous water, the kind of miracle water that doesn’t leave any damage to buildings or rock, though it does remove all traces of human life. We haven’t got to the end of his theory yet, but I assume at some point we will get to the miracle of the kangaroos magically hopping from the Ark all the way to Australia. When I told him he can’t just make up miracles like that, he responded ‘Yes I can, to answer questions’. All good fun, and highly entertaining too, especially for the Geek Orthodox. Even the Gedolim are not too bothered by all this.
A much bigger problem though is reconciling the rest of History with Orthodox Judaism. Starting with Yetzias Mitzrayim and ending around the year 500CE, there are two entirely different accounts of what actually happened. Most frum Jews are so shielded from academic scholarship that they take the entire OJ story for granted. They are aware that of course Reform and the Goyim don’t believe in Sinai, but they think that’s about it. Unfortunately modern scholarship dates what we now think of as Orthodox Judaism to the period of 0-500CE, in other words Chazal pretty much made up Torah sheBaal Peh as they were writing it down. One scholar even suggests that Rabbinic Judaism was created as a reaction against Christianity.
This is a much more difficult subject to get into. The Science around the creation and evolution of the world is well documented and well understood, and mostly accepted by all the world’s scientists. However the theories around the creation and evolution of Rabbinic Judaism are just that: mostly theories. It’s hard to determine what is fact, and what is theory. Each side is dogmatically entrenched in their own positions. Plus, this whole debate is mostly of interest only to historians interested in the evolution of Judaism. Orthodox Jews themselves mostly ignore this area of study, as they are content to just believe the standard frum account. This is in contrast to the Science & Torah issues where there has been a lot of interest over the years from all sides.
So what to do? This is below the radar of most kiruv organizations (which is probably a good thing), and I haven’t seen any material on it. I don’t even know where to start, and probably shouldn’t go there. But your fearless Godol will now go and read up on all this kefirah so you don’t have to. Book suggestions are welcome (but don’t tell the Rebbetzin).
DID GOD WHACK NEW ORLEANS? A THEOLOGICAL INQUIRY
[GH: I find this stuff entertaining. It doesn't really bother me, like for example, the Creationists do. I think this is because we know how the world developed to a good degree, and we know the literal Genesis story is not it. However when it comes to Hashgachah Prattis / Clallis, we have no frikkin clue. Maybe the Katrina Theodicists are correct, maybe they aren't, who the heck knows? Chazal do say that we should examine our ways after troubles strike us, and I think reflection is surely more valuable than the typical 'Let's dust ourselves off (dry ourselves out?) and do the Mardi Gras' mentality. The one problem here is that of course the Right isn't really being reflective at all, they are just using this event to further their own ideology and bash their opponents. True reflection means examining your own actions, not those of others. Still, this guys grasp of Chareidi Hashkafah seems fairly on the money.]
GrassTopsUSA Exclusive Commentary
By Don Feder
Was Katrina a warning – the ultimate wake-up call for a morally somnolent nation? Even religious conservatives are afraid to speculate, so successfully have we been cowed by a culture of disbelief.
Regarding the way God works in the world, there are four possibilities:
1. There is no God and everything that happens is the result of the random collision of molecules.
2. There is a God, but he’s an absentee landlord. He arranged the world, including nature, as a self-regulating mechanism, then sat back and allowed it to function on its own.
3. There is a God and he controls everything, down to the minutest detail. If a certain leaf falls from a particular tree, it’s because he wants that leaf to fall from that tree. (Regarding the actions of humans, this would seem to negate the concept of free will.)
4. There is a God who usually allows nature, or individuals, to follow their own course or path. But sometimes he intervenes to create a specific outcome, or to fire a warning shot across the bow of an errant people. When this happens, we call the result a miracle (thereby recognizing that it is supernatural) – as when He parted the Red Sea for the Children of Israel, or when the American Revolution succeeded, against impossible odds.
Of these theories, the fourth seems the most plausible. And so, it is not unreasonable to inquire: With the devastation wrought on New Orleans (and surrounding areas) was God trying to tell us something?
For all of our virtues, modern Americans are almost childlike in their innocence. Recall that after 9/11, “God Bless America” was on everyone’s lips. (Stickers with the slogan sprouted on bumpers like wildflowers on the prairie after a spring rain.)
But why exactly should God bless Americans? Are we so special that we’re automatically entitled to His manifold blessings – regardless of our conduct?
If God can bless, can He also withhold His blessings – remove His protection from an obstinate, arrogant people? “I have set before thee life and death, the blessing and the curse. Therefore, choose life, so that thou mayest live – thou and thy seed” (Deuteronomy 30: 19-20).
Miracles aside, God created humanity in such a way that we punish ourselves when we behave badly – witness the anarchy that wracked New Orleans in the aftermath of Katrina: the murders, the rapes, the assaults, the arson, the elderly nursing home residents left to die as their alleged caregivers fled. All are the product of society’s exaltation of the individual and of the creation of a culture of entitlement. We asked for it; we got it.
God to Abraham: “I will bless those who bless you, and curse those who curse you” (Genesis 12: 1-3). No, this is not just about Israel. But, consider this: Has there ever been a nation more blessed than America? Has there ever been a nation better to the Jewish people?
For secularists, the following is coincidence. For the faithful, well, as Richard Dreyfuss says in “Close Encounters of The Third Kind” -- “I think this means something."
• Katrina hit New Orleans one week to the day after the Sharon government carried out the forced removal of some 9,500 Jewish residents of Gaza and parts of Samaria. This was done under pressure from Washington. (“I will curse those who curse you.”) On the day Katrina made landfall, bodies were being removed from Jewish cemeteries in Gaza, to prevent Palestinians from desecrating the remains. Israeli bodies were disinterred; American bodies floated in the streets of New Orleans.
• 9,500 Jews were driven from Gaza. Most are still homeless. Roughly half-a-million Americans were displaced by Katrina. Based on America’s population ratio with Israel (about 50-to-1) this is roughly equivalent.
• Numerology is important in traditional Judaism. Each Hebrew letter is assigned a number value. Many scholars believe the Bible has hidden codes that can be unlocked by this device. Written in Hebrew, Katrina has a numerical equivalent of 374. There are two relevant passages that share this number -- “They did unto thee evil” (Genesis, 50:17) and “The sea upon land” (Exodus 14:15).
• “Katrina” comes from the Greek meaning “to purify.” New Orleans City Council President Oliver Thomas observed, “Maybe God is going to cleanse us.”
• Katrina hit New Orleans days before the scheduled Southern Decadence – an annual orgy celebrating alternative death-styles, characterized by nudity and public copulation. New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin, welcomed the freak-fest with the following proclamation: “There is no place like this on Earth! Southern Decadence XXXII is an exciting event. We welcome you and know that you can anticipate great food, great music and great times in New Orleans.” Not to mention great sodomy.
• Katrina came close to the fourth anniversary of another national disaster. On September 11, 2001, 3,000 Americans perished, not from flood but fire.
• If you’re looking for passage from the Bible that seems to forecast 9/11 -- 3,300 year before planes hit the World Trade Center -- try Deuteronomy, 28:49. Here, God tells the Israelites what will befall them if they abandon His ways. “The Lord will bring a nation against thee from far, as the vulture swoopeth down (like a bird of prey descending on its target) … a nation whose tongue thou shalt not understand (how many Americans know Arabic?): a nation of fierce countenance, that shalt not regard the person of the old, nor show favor to the young (jihad makes no age or gender distinctions, nor does it distinguish between soldiers and non-combatants) …. And he shall besiege thee in all thy gates, until thy high and fortified walls (The World Trade Center? The Pentagon?), come down, wherein thou didst trust.” Would you like God to buy time on a telecast of Monday night football to transmit His message?
But most who perished or lost their homes in Katrina, as well as 9/11 victims, were decent. Does God allow the innocent to suffer, along with the guilty? In the Bible, when Israel sinned, it was punished collectively -- not just those who offered up their children to Baal, but children as well.
Responsibility for the actions of the community is a theme of Yom Kippur. On the Day of Atonement, worshippers publicly confess to a litany of sins – most of which they didn’t personally commit. This is to acknowledge that we bear a degree of responsibility for the sins of others. Did we do enough to keep them from straying? Did we allow a culture where the weak were ensnared? Did we remain silent in the face of gross iniquity? What sort of leaders did we choose?
Earlier generations of Americans understood this. When war and other calamities befell the nation, there was serious soul-searching. Our leaders declared national days of prayer and fasting.
In his Second Inaugural Address, Lincoln allowed that the Civil War (easily the bloodiest in our history) was America’s punishment for the sin of slavery. Our 16th president declared: “Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue until … every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid with another drawn with the sword, as was said 3,000 years ago, so still it must be said ‘the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.’”
Didn’t the Great Emancipator know that innocents perished in that terrible conflict? (Among the casualties, the number who actually owned slaves was miniscule.) Lincoln – who wasn’t religious until later in life – acknowledged that when God punishes a nation, the guiltless suffer along with the guilty.
But, fear not, O’ smug secularists, Katrina’s warning will no more be heeded than 9/11. Last week, a gaggle of perverts paraded in New Orleans. Hundreds dead and half-a-million homeless weren’t going to stop them from strutting their stuff.
While waters still swirled in the Big Easy, the California Legislature became the first in the nation to approve homosexual marriage – disregarding voters’ express wishes. (In a 2000 referendum, 61% of California voters approved an initiative declaring, “Only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California.”) So powerful is the sodomy lobby that a majority of legislators had no qualms about defying the people.
Just days ago, the Palestinian Nazis torched Gaza synagogues – in sort of an Arabian Kristallnacht. And they’ll still be rewarded with millions of dollars in American aid.
And, yesterday, a U.S. district court in Sacramento ruled it’s unconstitutional for school children to recite the Pledge of Allegiance with the words “One nation under God.” In Scriptures, God tell us – time and again – “If you turn your back on me, I will turn my back on you.”
If Katrina was a national wake-up call, the phone just keeps on ringing – off the wall. It’s still sleepy-time down South -- and up North. As for those of you who get it, keep crying in the wilderness. It’s all we can do.
Thursday, September 22, 2005
The Rambam and Spirituality
[So the Rambam did hold of Spirituality after all. Ha!]
Almost two decades ago, I set forth the idea that Maimonides must be properly considered among the mystics as well as the philosophers. Two previous papers had adumbrated the argument and a subsequent paper restated the case. Two other studies suggested the category "philosophic mysticism" for Hoter ben Shelomo, a 15 th century Yemenite savant. Over time, the term "philosophic mysticism" has found some resonance with scholars of medieval Judaism even as further study of the sources has caused me to adjust my views. This article represents yet a further refinement of the argument.
When dealing with Maimonides' religious life, scholars face two problems: (1) the image of Maimonides in the eyes of several generations of modern researchers and (2) the view of Maimonides himself, insofar as this can be deduced from his writings.
Gershom Scholem, the dominant scholar of Jewish mysticism, did not list Maimonides among the mystics. He studied carefully, among other subjects, the literature of the Heikhalot, of Sefer Yetsira, and of the Zohar; the works of the Hasidei Ashkenaz, of Abraham Abulafia, and of Isaac Luria; and two mystical groups, the Sabbatean movement and hasidism. However, although he acknowledged the influence of Maimonides on Abraham Abulafia, Scholem never devoted a full study to "our Rabbi, of blessed memory," as Maimonides was known among generations of readers. Following Scholem, two generations of scholars of Jewish mysticism did not include Maimonides in their studies though these disciples corrected many of Scholem's errors and omissions.
By contrast, for 150 years, scholars of Jewish philosophy have seen Maimonides as the philosopher par excellence. They have written extensively about his intellectual system: about his theories of attributes, of creation, and of providence; about his views on good and evil, on the structure of the heavens, and on will and chance; as well as about his views on prophecy, logic, and linguistics. But, these researchers have not written about Maimonides' spiritual, religious life. There is an occasional article on Maimonides' analysis of kavvana (intention in prayer) but these deal more with his halachic views than with the integration of the spiritual and intellectual dimensions of Maimonides' life.
There are, in my opinion, three reasons for this. First, the followers of Maimonides in southern France and Spain interpreted him in the spirit of the extreme rationalism of Ibn Rush (Averroes) which denied the possibility of trans-rational experience. This tradition was followed by modern philosophers who sought to adopt a world of empirical, rational truth and to avoid a world of mythical, mystical truth. Second, the critics of Maimonides in southern France and Spain strove mightily to combat the rationalist implications of Maimonides' philosophy and to affirm the theurgic meaning of the commandments and, indeed, of Jewish spirituality, thus also separating philosophical and mystical truth.
Third, Jews in the modern world, beginning with Graetz and continuing through the Jewish Enlightenment, regarded Jewish mysticism as something "medieval," as a burden to be disposed of as one entered the modern world of rationalism and assumed membership in modern society. Thus, even after Scholem made the study of Jewish mystical texts scientific, and hence respectable, scholars of Jewish mysticism continued to distance themselves from describing and analyzing the mystical experiences that stand behind such texts. They created meticulous textual studies and analytic works but, until recently, there has been no true acknowledgement of the deeply spiritual experiences of God that underlie mystical texts. Perhaps, it is as the psychoanalyst, Viktor Frankl, is reported to have said, 'A person's spiritual experiences are among the most intimate components of one's personality and not every person is willing, or able, to talk about that dimension of his or her identity.' Modern academics who do speak of live religious experience have been largely religious themselves and, in the world of modern scientific Jewish studies, these people have been suspect precisely because of their personal commitments.
Instead, modern Jewish scholars and thinkers turned to Maimonides as the very epitome of rationalism. The Ibn Rushd approach which emphasized consistency and logic while deprecating mystical experience enabled modern Jewish intellectuals to shape the image of Maimonides into a rationalist to be admired, studied, and followed; a thinker who foreshadowed modern rationalism and the modern scientific spirit. Modern Jewish intellectuals, to put it clearly, made a cultural hero of Maimonides. He became a kind of "Jewish Kant." The less professionally trained followed the lead of the intellectuals and also claimed Maimonides as a model and hero of enlightened modern life. One might say that, in the zeal to join modernity and its intellectual and social liberation, modern Jewish thought made a golden calf of Maimonides, honoring his rationalism and ignoring his mysticism.
Even if my analysis of the reasons for the modern view of Maimonides are wrong, the facts stand plainly clear: Maimonides appears in the annals of philosophic and history-of-thought studies, and he does not appear in the realm of Jewish or Islamic mystical studies. It is worth noting in this matter that there are several streams of interpretation that did see Maimonides in a more mystical light. Thus, the descendants of Maimonides saw him that way, as Paul Fenton has shown. Abraham Abulafia surely saw Maimonides as more than an "influence"; rather, he adopted Maimonides' view of the structure of the universe as central to his system and built his meditation techniques on top of that structure. The Jews of Yemen also saw Maimonides in a more spiritual light, as I have shown. Lubavitch hasidism, too, saw Maimonides as a mystic, not only because of the tradition of his alleged conversion to mysticism in old age, but because Maimonides was seen as one who merged mind and spirit, intellect and heart, law and mysticism. There are, thus, precedents -- if one needed them -- for considering Maimonides as a philosophic mystic.
What, then, was Maimonides' view of the true spiritual life, insofar as this can be reconstructed from the sources? A preliminary issue: There are those who claim that there is the "exoteric" Maimonides and the "esoteric" Maimonides. The former is the persona who wrote codified law and simplified philosophy for the masses, and the latter is the one who wrote recondite philosophical allusions for the elite. I am disinclined to this view; rather, it seems to me, that Maimonides saw himself as the authoritative voice for all Israel in matters of law and belief. Knowing his readership well, he wrote for each according to that person's ability. For those interested only in knowing what to do, he wrote a code of law. For those interested only in knowing what to believe, he wrote the principles of faith. For those concerned with the reasons behind the law, he wrote about that. And, for those perplexed about natural and metaphysical knowledge, he wrote about that. There was, thus, a range of people for whom Maimonides wrote, from the ignorant to the elegantly formed in the physical and metaphysical sciences. To instruct the full array of one's readers, it is necessary, as Maimonides himself wrote in the Introduction to The Guide for the Perplexed, to reveal and to conceal, to teach some things directly and others only subtly. What is "esoteric" for one, may well be "exoteric" for another. In the world of authoritative teaching, there is only one Torah though it has many, many layers of understanding.  This stratifying of the people is most clearly seen in those places where Maimonides develops typologies of the people -- and there are many such places, including the Introduction to The Guide and the opening section of part 3, chapter 51. Always, these typologies are multi-layered; they are never bipolar.
Given this, it seems to me that Maimonides' view of the true spiritual life can be divided into stages. The preliminary stage is proper observance of the commandments. For Maimonides, this is an indispensable step; there can be no Jewish mysticism or spirituality without the law. For this reason, he wrote his Mishne Torah (Code of Law). Anyone who wants to be "religious" only needs to look up what to do in the Code and then act accordingly. Since the Code also includes basic matters of belief, following its prescriptions also guarantees proper belief. After the meticulous observance of the Torah, however, there are three further stages of true religious life: intellectual apprehension of God, intellectual contemplation of God, and continuous contemplation of God.Continue reading here.
Faith, Reason & Insanity
It would ne nice if we could define exactly what constitutes 'evidence' and have an objective standard for evidence. And it would be nice if we could define exactly what constitutes 'sufficient' evidence or 'insufficient' evidence, because then we could have an objective standard for Faith vs Reason vs Insanity. Unfortunately we don't. It's all entirely subjective. One man's insanity is another man's reason. (The women however are all non reasonable). I guess this is how Post Modernism got started. Everything is relative, and that sucks. Plus some of my relatives suck too, but that's a different problem.
Song for DovBear
[Warning: Don't read this while eating]
You’d think that people would have had enough of Spiri-tuality.
But I look around me and I see it isn’t so.
Some people wanna fill the world with Spiri-tuality.
And what’s wrong with that?
I’d like to know, ’cause here I go, again!
I love G-d, I love G-d,
I love G-d, I love G-d,
I can’t explain the feeling’s plain to me, say can’t you see?
Ah, He gave me more, He gave it all to me
Now can’t you see,
What’s wrong with that
I need to know, ’cause here I go again
I love G-d, I love G-d,
I love G-d, I love G-d,
Dveykus doesn’t come in a minute,
Sometimes it doesn’t come at all,
I only know that when I’m in it,
It isn’t silly, no, it isn’t silly, Dveykus isn’t silly at all.
How can I tell you about my Loving One?
How can I tell you about my Loving One?
How can I tell you about my Loving One?
(I love you)
How can I tell you about my Loving One?
(I love you)
[repeat and fade]
I wrote that (with a little help from my friend Paul) and even I find it somewhat puke inducing. But of course I shouldn't, since we say three times a day 'VeOhavtah Es Hashem Elokecha BeChol Levovchah'. So what gives? Is it the pernicious influence of secular Western civilization (not so much the US these days haha), or does it just not translate well into English?
The Supernatural Dimension
Orthodox Judaism, like many other religions, posits the existence of a 'Supernatural Dimension'. Although we humans can only perceive the physical, natural world, we believe that this Supernatural Dimension exists, and contains G-d, Angels, the Soul, Revelation, Prophecy, Spirituality, Mysticism and other 'Supernatural' or 'Spiritual' concepts.
It is tempting to say that this 'Supernatural Dimension' is totally divorced from our 'Physical Dimension', and that never the twain shall meet. Or that the Supernatural Dimension is, by definition, outside the scope of our perception, and is therefore unknowable, ineffable and it’s complete waste of time to talk about it. Or, that since the existence of a Supernatural Dimension has of course never been proven, it is non rational to believe in it.
However, while this certainly would be a rational and scientifically skeptical position to take, it is not the position of Orthodox Judaism. Orthodox Judaism requires the belief in a Supernatural Dimension, with various concepts therein. Not only that, Orthodox Judaism believes that this Supernatural Dimension is somehow connected to our own Physical Dimension, and each can affect the other.
So, we find ourselves born into a religion which requires a certain leap of faith. Many of us make this leap of faith, based on a combination of wishful thinking, indoctrination, personal intuition, appeal to consequences, logical fallacies and any number of other 'reasons'. But ‘Proof’ isn’t really one of them, unless you are a Kiruv Clown. This doesn’t mean that the Kiruv arguments for Sinai, G-d etc have no merit at all; I think they are valuable arguments to think about, and can counteract some degree of skepticism to a certain extent. However we need to recognize these ideas for what they are, and what they are not.
I do believe that the Cosmological Proof has some merit, and it does seem to indicate that there is at least 'Something' there outside our Universe, but as BenAvuyah points out, that 'Something' could equally well be a Super-Intelligent Pan Dimensional Marketing Strategy Firm, and the entire Universe could be a huge marketing experiment to determine whether certain carbon-based life forms (called 'Humans') like the taste of certain other carbon-based life forms (called 'Chicken'). So far the results have been encouraging.
I can appreciate someone who refuses to make such a leap of faith, and becomes a skeptic or an Agnostic, or even a Weak Atheist. It's unfortunate, but at least their position is consistent. However, if we do choose to make that leap of faith (for whatever reasons), and we do buy into Orthodox Judaism, then we should realize what we are buying into.
The Supernatural Dimension of Orthodox Judaism, like many other aspects of the religion, is actually pretty flexible, with many competing viewpoints and often contradictory statements. However some things stand out as being central to the whole system, and accepted by all. These concepts include the following (Not an exhaustive list):
- The Soul
- Olam Habah
While one can certainly dispute any of these basic concepts, it strikes me as gratuitously skeptical to do so, and rather arbitrary. If you prefer not to make a leap of faith, then by all means becomes a skeptic and reject religion. However, if you do choose to make that leap of faith, then you are buying into a system, with all of its multi-faceted components. You may be personally more inclined to one component than another, but to reject any of them is somewhat nonsensical, and ultimately pointless.
One significant reason why people buy into Orthodox Judaism is that it offers a moral, ethical and spiritual framework. One needs only peruse the last 3,000 years of Jewish scholarship and writing to see copious statements concerning all three concepts.
Certainly, these concepts can be abused. ‘Ethics’ and ‘Morality’ can be confused with liberal ‘anything goes’ policies. ‘Spirituality’ can be confused with Kugel. A loving G-d can be confused with a G-d who requires us to blow up children in Pizza stores. But our goal is surely to cleanse ourselves of these misconceptions, and try to discover the real value of these concepts.
If evidence is uncovered which disproves any of these concepts, then it becomes irrational to cling to them. So for example, overwhelming evidence has been uncovered that shows the world is significantly older than 6000 years. Sure, one can explain that evidence away with strange theories of G-d faking everything, but no one really buys into such bizarre theories. It is hard enough making a leap of faith for all the non-rational claims that we have been discussing, so to make an irrational leap of faith, contrary to all evidence, is really quite stupid.
If you believe that all of this ‘Supernatural Dimension’ is entirely constructed by man, and there is no reality to any of it, and little value except perhaps as a ‘pious fraud’ to give people some hope, comfort and the illusion of objective morality, I can’t argue. My faith is ultimately grounded on a personal intuition which may equally well be based on indoctrination as it is on reason. I feel it, and that’s enough for me.
But if you do believe in Orthodox Judaism, and therefore you do believe in a Supernatural Dimension, and you do buy into the system, then don’t make the silly mistake of rejecting those parts of it that you don’t understand.
Go learn, and go try and understand.
Some people seem to think that Judaism or Halachah is a system to create 'The greatest good for the greatest number of people'. They seem to be confused between Judaism and hedonic consequentialism.
It's quite obvious that Judaism is not such a system, since it was only 'given' to one small tribe, who currently number 12 million out of a global population of 6 billion. Even were every Jew to conform to Halachah perfectly, there certainly would not be the greatest good for the greatest number of people (unless Moshiach comes).
Some people reject spirituality, mysticism and all non rational claims (except inexplicably G-d and Torah MiSinai), and seem to think that Halachah is a system devoid of any objective morality, wherein you perform some mechanical rituals which will inculcate certain correct beliefs. They seem to be confused between Judaism, and being a freaking robot.
It's quite obvious that Halacha is not such a system, since all Orthodox Jewish thinkers in all times and in all geographies had some kind of spiritual component to their Hashkafah. Perhaps the most rational thinker of all, the Rambam, clearly had a sense of Spirituality, albeit with a very intellectual slant. Read the last few chapters of Moreh Nevuchim. In fact some Rambam scholars even hold that the Rambam believed in a type of Mysticism, but that is a matter of some debate.
I don't think many people find the rote performace of Halacha very satisfying, or very appealing. The drives that bring people to religion are usually spiritual and ethical. While some robot minded people might be happy to simply do things 'because they are commanded to', that won't work for most people.
Of course you can always become a skeptic and reject Orthodox Judaism entirely, but then you won't be doing what 'you have been commanded to', will you?
Wednesday, September 21, 2005
Can one be Rational & Frum: Chapter 78
There are three basic types of beliefs:
1. Non-Rational Beliefs
Non rational beliefs are based on emotion, feelings or similar, rather than hard evidence or reason. Faith based beliefs are usually non rational.
2. Rational Beliefs
Rational Beliefs are usually called knowledge, in that they can be proved though evidence or reason.
3. Irrational Beliefs
Irrational Beliefs are ones that can be disproved through evidence or reason, yet the person still clings to his belief.
Of course 'proof', 'evidence' and 'reason' are all highly subjective terms. A believer in G-d might claim that his belief does rest on evidence, for example the Bible is evidence. A counter claim might be that the Bible is a fake, and then the argument becomes whether the hypothesis that the bible is true is more convincing than the hypothesis that it is a fake, which is of course highly subjective.
We might like to argue that even though it's all highly subjective, we can take a survey or poll, and anchor concepts such as 'evidence', 'proof', and 'reason' in what the average person might believe. However, the average person is a moron. More crucially, the average person is hopelessly biased when it comes to religious claims, so we can't really base anything on that.
I started this blog railing against the Gedolim and their stupidity. Beating them and their supporters in debates was quite easy, since I had reason on my side. However, arguing from a rational basis immediately opened me up to criticism from the Skeptics, since I was unable to prove G-d or Sinai.
Although I would dearly love to prove G-d and Sinai, currently I have not seen a convincing argument. Personally, I am quite sure of G-d's existence, but that's more due to intuition and emotion (and probably indoctrination), none of which make for a very strong proof. Sinai has even more issues, not least of which the absence of any other corroborating evidence. I personally believe in Sinai too, though not neccessarily in a word for word dictation, or 2.5 million people leaving Egypt.
However, there is a crucial distinction between the Gedolim's position and my own. The Gedolim are asking us to reject the strong evidence for an ancient universe and some type of evolution, and believe in a young earth. This is IRRATIONAL since the belief contradicts all the evidence.
But when it comes to G-d, the Soul, Spirituality, Mysticism and similar - these are all supernatural doctrines. There is no evidence for or against any of them. Believing in these concepts might be Non-Rational, but it's not IRRATIONAL.
DovBear claims that Spirituality cannot be measured or proven, so he refuses to believe in it. Hello? Anybody home? Last time I checked G-d cannot be measured or proven either.
The Orthodox Jewish System is based on the concept of a Perfect Moral G-d, who commanded us to act morally, ethically and spiritually, so that we might improve our soul for the afterlife. You can't exclude any of these components and reasonably claim to be Orthodox or similar.
If you wish to argue that Spirituality is all a bunch of bogus baloney invented by the Ancients to explain certain phenomena, then that's fine. But you can say exactly the same thing about G-d too.
I think the reason DovBear rejects Spirituality is because he can get away with it without breaking any of the ikkarim. But he can't reject G-d and still be Orthodox, so he forces himself (or pretends) to believe. He wraps this up with a psedo-rational claim 'That he believes only in what he is commanded to believe', which doesn't make sense and is a circular argument. There is really not much gain to this position, since he is shutting out an incredibly large and vital component of Orthodoxy, just so that he can feel good in only believing in Two Non-Rational Beliefs, rather than three. I really don't see the point.
I came to this conclusion during the debates on Mysticism. There is not a lot of difference between Spirituality and Mysticism, (or G-d and the Soul). They are all Faith based Non-Rational Claims, that are all primarily based on personal experience, intuition and emotion. (Or evolutionary drives if you are a skeptic). Rejecting Mysticism while accepting G-d, the Soul & Spirituality really doesn't buy you anything, and causes you to miss out on quite a bit. I have therefore since retreated from my 'All Kabalah is bogus' stance, (though personally I still think it mostly is).
Of course not everyone is into Mysticism, or even Spirituality, and that's fine. But don't reject it as a bunch of hogwash, while still claiming to be Orthodox.
Because that really isn't rational.
DovBear Gets Confused Again
Spirituality is the Godol Hador's catch-all phrase for anything relating to the soul, the world-to-come, mysticsm, Kabbalah, black-magic, and the nice feeling he gets in his tummy after a big plate of kugel. I find this obfuscation offensive, not least because the Godol Hador created his blog for the purpose of rebuking those who use similar methods of obfuscation to reconcile the Torah with Science. Unfortunately, he leaves behind his commitment to the theories of scientists, together with his powers of reason and deduction, whenever the conversation turns to matters of the spirit or the netherworld. Instead, our great rational warrior, a man I have praised on many occasions, becomes just another googly-eyed seminary girl, comfortable with the sort of drivel he would quickly mock were it spouted in defense of Creationism or Intelligent Design.
I, and many of my readers find DovBear somewhat offensive. Why? Because he pretends to represent a rational version of Orthodox Judaism, yet his theology is contradictory and nonsensical.
GH: Why do you believe in G-d DovBear?
DB: Because I am commanded to.
GH: Do you believe in the ikkarim DovBear?
DB: I don't have conviction in them, nor do I 'know' they are correct, but I 'believe' in them because I am commanded to.
GH: Do you believe there is morality in the Torah DovBear?
DB: No, morality is stuff people made up. There is no morality in the Torah. When the Torah says Homosexual behavior is a 'Toevah', we have no idea what that means, but in no way is this a moral judgement.
GH: Do you believe in Spirituality DovBear?
DB: I believe I have a soul and I believe the soul came from G-d. But I don't believe that we can know anything about the soul or spirituality, because there is no evidence for it.
None of this makes much sense. DovBear seems to be under the illusion that as long as he says 'I do X, or I believe X because I am commanded to', somehow that is a rational position.
DovBear: Doing things because the 'Halachah tells me to' is not a rational position, especially when you don't really believe in the ikkarim, and have stated that you refuse to believe in anything for which there is no clear evidence. (Newsflash: There is no clear evidence for G-d or Sinai, yet you believe in them. I know, because 'You are commanded to').
I think it's time to be honest to yourself: You cannot be Orthodox yet only claim to believe in things for which there is clear evidence. If you want to be a super rational type of guy, be my guest, but that puts you in exactly the same place as Mis-nagid.
New! Myth/Moshol V2.0
Skins are great. You can take a boring, out-of-the-box interface such as Mozilla Firefox and add a cool skin to it, one which makes you feel much happier about using the product. In the same spirit, I now present Myth/Moshol Theory V2.0, now with skins!
Replaces the words ‘Myth/Moshol’ with ‘Halachik Construct’
Replaces the words ‘Myth/Moshol’ with ‘Aggadatah’
New Age Skin
Replaces the words ‘Myth/Moshol’ with ‘Breishis contains Spiritual Truth’
Replaces the words ‘Myth/Moshol’ with ‘Breishis contains Moral & Ethical Truth’
Replaces the words ‘Myth/Moshol’ with ‘Breishis contains a bunch of made up stories’
Replaces the words ‘Myth/Moshol’ with ‘Jewish Mythology to counteract Sumerian Mythology'
In other words, skin it (or spin it) any way you like. But don't take it literally.
Brisker Myth/Moshol Theory
The approach that Torah is not a history book has always left me feeling a bit uncomfortable. However, after reading a significant portion of RYBS Ish Hahalachah, I now have a new perspective on the science/history vs religion issue. One needs to make a “brisker” type of distinction between “al pi din” and “metzius”. The object one sees through a prism is no less real than without a prism. Just as when we look at something through our eyes and a “visible spectrum” of light it appears different than if we could see the entire electromagnetic spectrum. Is any one view right or real? No just different perspectives. Halachah and Judaism looks at the world through its own prism, while science has its own view. Is any one view right or is either one real? No, they just use different perspectives.
Halachah expects us to view things through its own perspective. It has its own set of rules and regulations. Thus, salting meat will “remove” the blood, carrying an object 4 amos in a public place “removes” it from one domain to another domain, a bliah in a kli will make the food it comes in contact with imbued with a taam of the bliah if it's less than 24 hours old and the taam will be pogum if its more than 24 hours, an animal with a sign of treifah can not live etc. For an Orthodox Jew, the boundary provided by a “tsuras hapesach” is no less real than a solid wall. All these halachik constructs are not necessarily factual from a “metzius” perspective but they are 100% factual from a halachik perspective.
Mathematics is considered the “purest” sciences. Yet to a mathematician, so called “imaginary numbers” are no less real or useful than so called “real numbers”. The square root of a negative number is no less “real” or useful than is the square root of 4. Non-Euclidean geometry can be just as real as Euclidean geometry. Is any one view right or real? No they just use different perspectives. No wonder why, the Gra, one of the greatest Talmudic minds appreciated math so much. (I understand that R Moshe Feinstein z”tl also enjoyed solving complex calculus problems).
Similarly, the Torah wants us to view Breishis, Noach etc as if they were factual no less than any other halachik construct. They are no more mythical than imaginary numbers or laws of kashrus. Thus Shabbos IS the “seventh” day, Adam and Chavah WERE the first two people etc. By adopting this perspective we attain a Torah viewpoint of life. This perspective is important when considering the value/need to observe Shabbos, the value of a single human life etc. The question of “what really happened” is no more relevant [GH: I assume he means to Judaism, obviously it is relevant to Science] than what is the red stuff that exudes from a piece of salted meat. Halacha considers the liquid as “juice” and considers creation as having taken place in 7 days. When studying science we wear a scientific “hat” when living our lives as moral/halachik Jews we view things from a Torah perspective.
From time to time there may appear a seeming conflict between these two viewpoints. Of course, halacha has some flexibility in it, so an 8 month baby is now viable and the metzius/halacha has changed. Sometimes the halachah allows for a convergence of the metzius and the din sometimes they remain distinct. When that should happen is for the poskim to debate.
Makes sense to me. What do you think?
[GH: I think you are basically saying that it's a myth/moshol, but you don't want to use those words. And also that there are 'halachik' (or rather 'hashkafic') reasons why the Torah portayed things the way it does i.e. There are deep moral and spiritual lessons in the Torah's version of events, which is exactly what Myth/Moshol Theory says too. So I think this is ultimately the Myth/Moshol theory with a Brisker/RYBS spin on it. In other words, I like it!]
Choose for Me and stay with Me
[I received the following via email. Its not so much a guest post, more like a stream of (altered) consciousness. Please summarize your take of what the message is in the comments.]
I didn't catch your first name on the site, sorry for that.
My english knowlegde did allow me to fully understandyour last statement, are you sayoingthat you think it's abunch of crap ? and you what to have a more valid way of being a jew?
I tell you this, it's all an illusion in my opinion.
All ways can get you close to the Holly and keep you there.
Is that not what it should be about ?
I mean that is the torah in a capsule :
Choose for Me and stay with Me !
You argue with yourself ,and found 5 venues and arguments, that 's not bad , multiply this by infinity and you will probably get a tiny bit closer to what Hakkadosh Baroch" O , might "think" ...
There is a lots of venues that led to the right path, the one leading out of the desert, the one helping to climb by yourself the mountain, and finally the one thatwill help choose for the mount Gazirim , this time around.
First you have to buy your way in, so get rich ..
Is it a problem you think ?
No , i know of a very ricvh Collector, and He gives a very good prices for the goods you have but don't fully know yet.
Want to know more ?
Those goods , your belongings, every one has them,they are
pride and vanity, sel it all to Him, he is found of buying them from you, you will get rich, in His Kingdom, be sure.
No one should go on after this or after that, you found some truth, part of it, for you, hte path was not in kabala, nor is it for me, the whole idea of looking in the secrets of the veb, becasue the world was cerated with it is pervers i would simply put, ans pervers we are not to be, we will not cooked the kid in his mother s melk , nor will we get lost in Torah, no way !
there is One Tsadik and Solely One, His name is Yi'e)Yeh, don't be ashame of saying it.
He asked from us, to choose at Gazirim and Hebal, between the blessings and the curse ... right ater that we are told, that when we will have chosen, and that we are among the nations He will have dispersed us ... right there you have it !
And when we rejoy of our situation and come back toHim with all of our hearts and our souls, then He will gather all of us together and bring us back to the land promissed to our fathers, right ?
So , if we really love Him , the first thing to do, is not invent more than that wasgiven, it's all there ,rightther in Torah, not talmudic torah, not what has been written later, not in the midrash, in the fve books revealed at mound Sinai to Moshe who took the trouble to write it all down for us.
One key sentence (they are many) is the thing isnot impossible it's nottoo high ...ect .. not too far overthe oceans .ect ... butright there close to you , in your heart and in your mouth !
So once again Him being Him, we can trust that He never lies, big tip ,wedo need those solid truth.
then you havethe rest of the Tanah, with the five books we have some keys, now have a look at which doors they will open or not ... well al thru it ending at chronicles, we can of messing it up, don't we ?
The tabernacle is gone and so is the temple ...
No Cohen Hagadol to get it Straight from heaven, we had our share of profets, thatno one heard anyway or could understand ..
There we are ...each and every generation, we get those wise guys, one that looks at every letter and word and get so clever...and another one , not to judge him ,bcasue he is a bro, and we don't know why hedid, but he got to go back to Egypt , if i rememeber correctly, this is a big no no !
Not only did he that , but he managed to pass on 13 principles of faith .... there you are , trust, there is not enoug of that around and why ? Vanity and pride ... anyway besides giving us incantations to read for us to remember that we love our G-D, he manage to write down a calendar remembrance of our exile in Babylonie ... so that we don't forget that we were there..... he institutate that every month gets a name ... that each name is the name of a Babylonian god did not bother him to much, and there you are again, i like those sages with funny names : rambam shubam blam dam rock lets rock let's rock ... well thanks mister rambam, centuries after that we are still using them ... You wouldget really anoyed to know that the month we have had some s...t ( scuse my latin) to us, is the name of s (false) god of destruction ... you may add , whaauw is this for real .. yes it is !
I am certain that G-d does send us obstacles to help us, for our own good, and those terrible happenings, right there thru the centuries , thru that month was to be felt like : well you wantsome , here you are, please have some, and then some more.... until we get it right .... well we didn't .....
Also as an individual you get thse small obstacles, all is for your own good, just stop and think, thrust and rectify it nad you are on your way for Gazirim ....butlet's go back to the calendar :
i do count like the Eternal shows to us, when He was talking of the months , you know First month, seventh month and so on, so no strange names of gods every year, just because to be content with what G-d gives is a blessing, be humble, be small , it feels so good.
where was i, yes , everything is right there, what should we do as jewish people, rites and rituals ..... i don'tthink so, i mean e was kind ofpeculiar about that,are you a Cohen Hagadol, did Moshe anointed you at the request of the Eternal Himself ? not me anyway, do i as a Levi ( i am ) know exactly what are my tasks, my duties, again He was very peculiar about that ... so what is for us to do ?
this is a very straight question ... i think the first thing to do is to humbly listen to Him for a change and not all those sages "we know it all" kind of people , i mean , it is right in Torah, and orah is not that complicated to read , we are not analphabets anymore,we then have no escuses, we haveto tust Him as well , bend the neck, let us fall into His arms...
We have to stop pretending to know it all , we know nothing !
What we have to do is to be happy tobe here, we could have never been born ....it's a blessing and the stifen neck we have inherited, we should let swing a little more, we also should get rid of all ourvanity and pride as mentioned earlier, well He is not around to buy, you could do the sacrifice, go angainst your own self sometimes, do something against your nature toward someone else, give in a bit, allow some space in a conversation , for the other one,even if you already know what that person is going to tell you, what do you care, let thatperson teach to you what you alredy know and even more important, encourage that person, gie in out own pride , tell that person how glad you are that she told you, how clever she is ( don't make it too obvious thow, you don'twantto humiliate that peson,don't you ? ) this is an example , like many others, you wil find your way ... pardon too ,it's not that dificult to do, do it with a good heart too,all of it, those are the sacrifice you are allowed to do,anywhere on the planet.
Thus not incantating at table, pretentding to be some priest at some altaar offering what ever to Him, the real sacrifices are the one we have the most trouble to do, they are within.
This He Loves.
You have doubts and would be afraid to diverge of what you think you know,the ritual and the whole shambam rambam ?
Think of Abaraham for a little bit, he did prosten himself to the stars, then the mon that was bigger,then the sun, the moon again and the sun , until he got it, there was an Higher Power orchestrating all of it, that was right then that he Found Elohim, and Elohim is so Cool you know, He never punished ,or destroy Abraham for it, because He knew that Abraham was looking for Him, thus mistakes are allowed when searching for G-d, fo the path He has created for us to walk ...
To come back on the beginning ( almost bereshit, rioght ) all venues will lead youto that path, have trust in your blessed heart, it's also in yours, and when in doubt, let your mouth be your brain, for once let the lips move to talk to G-d, you will witnesssome miracle right there listening to your self, and torah will speak again, the oral torah the real one !
G-d is no fool, never was ,
In doubts still ?
Here a small liosttht can help you without ,the talmud, iwith out kabalah, with out anything but the Tanach :
G_d is not a liar, nor can He mad one .
He is not Croocked, nor van he be made one
Heis not mailicious, he is not vicious !
He is not a pervert, not can He be perverted
H is Not corruptible , nor can He be corupted ..
You may think of what he is nioton your own ...
So, when you read and get lost in the maze of the writngs of all hose enlightened "tsadikim" the "wise guys",don't be : use the list and you will soon see the truth emerge ... when in doubt, step down from the babel tower you might have lostyourself in, and talk to Him,don't forget He loves us, all of us, you too, find your way to talk as much as possible with Him.
Don't go abd think well He knows it already, again thing of Abraham ... why should the Eternal bother to ask Abarham to sacrify his son ?
first in thetimes of those (false gods )it was the custom to sacrify your own child orone bought to someone else or simply stolen,to a (false) god, so G-d wanted to show Abraham that he was a different G-d, and then Abraham had to learn towhatextend he was ready to go himself ...
remember ... a thought is just that .until it goes down to the arm and get into an action, right there you have it, the will the action, it's improtant for you to realize that, because if you eant to talk to G-d, you should really get it out of your lips and not mumble inside your mouth ...
anyway Abraham did learn to what extend He was capableto go for His G-d, What G-d was to him, a Loving G-d ..
thsi sacifice, going against one own will , Abraham proved it right there too... for all of us.
Sa you will have afew choices now, actually you hav only two, choose for your G-d and Stay with Him, and live happy, the rest is for Him to do...to accomplish, His glory .
BesSiyata Deshma) Hai)ya"" , always there , doesn't it feels good ?
Thanks for having be courageous on that blog !
Tuesday, September 20, 2005
Gedolim Create Tremendous Michshol
Guilt Level: Low
[Whatever happened to Dark Blue Hat? Did the Kannoim get him? I miss his extreme ‘Psak of the century’ and ‘Gedolim Conspiracy’ theories. Or maybe he was just being sarcastic, I never could tell. Anyway, this post is dedicated to him for obvious reasons. ]
The Gedolim have essentially paskened that it’s kefirah to say that the world is older than 6000 years. Yet we know this is a fact. So now we have this tremendous michshol – If we listen to the Gedolim, we will be guilty of saying sheker. But if we ignore the Gedolim, then we will be guilty of kefirah, and of ignoring the Gedolim! So what can we do?
I think the only thing we can do is to take a lesson from the Weak Atheists, and when confronted with the Age of the Universe question we must simply say: ‘I make no claim!’
But seriously, I think it’s obvious to most people that the 'Gedolim' made a tremendous mistake here. Even such illustrious figures such as Rabbis Zeff Leff, Berel Wein and Emmanuel Feldman have said as much. And certainly Reb Shmuel Kaminetzky thinks so.
So, having said all that, and being the month of Elul, do I need to feel guilty in any way for bashing the Gedolim? Currently, I must admit I don’t feel that guilty. (I feel more guilty for bashing Ostroff yesterday, though he deserved it too). I think the Gedolim made a tremendously damaging move based mostly on ignorance and kannoim. A move which caused a Chillul Hashem, Bizayon of Talmedei Chachamim (not them obviously) and in general was quite a ridiculous strategy. At most they should have just said that it wasn’t appropriate for Bnei Torah and left it at that. I probably shouldn't have been so rude, but I just can't seem to feel guilty about it. I guess I succeeded at de-Gedolifying them to such an extent (at least in my mind) that I no longer see them as anything more than ridiculous charicatures.
I will be constantly monitoring my guilt level throughout Elul and the Aseres Yemei Teshuvah, and I will let you know if at any point things change. As I have a very well developed sense of guilt (my mother, like all Jewish mothers, was a world class expert) I expect it might.
New Frumteens Logo
Just spoke to our web person. He's still workign on building the site. What he asks for now is if anyone has a LOGO for frumteens and a colorscheme. If anyone can help out please let me know. The logo does NOt have to say "Anythign you wanted to know abotu Judaism" etc - it can simply say "Frumteens". By now everyone knows about what our site's about. And for a color scheme, we can copy something on of another site if we like it, so even if youre nto an artist, if you see a bulleting board site with a nice layout, please let me know.
After much hard work, here it is!
Teaching Evolution in Yeshivah High Schools
[Do Chareidim realize that Evolution is accepted in MO circles (ane even LW UO circles) ? Do even all the MO's realize!? There is a huge gulf between MO and Chareidi Hashkafah that I think most average people are somewhat clueless about. Not here though! Wolowelsky talks somewhat vaguely, and takes a Cassuto/Hertz approach, but avoids the topic of whether Adam & Eve were actual people. Hat tip Hayim.]
by Joel B. Wolowelsky
This article originally appeared in Ten Da'at, vol. 10, 1, 1997. Appears here with permission.
Some yeshivah educators find troublesome the section on evolution taught in the regular biology course required for a high school diploma. Convinced that evolutionary biology contradicts basic Torah assumptions, they either omit the section completely continuing a pattern of, say, eliminating all books on dinosaurs from the lower school library and sometimes going so far as to cut out the chapter on evolution from the textbook or they advise their students that what they are learning in biology is but a flimsy "theory" not worthy of serious concern.
As educators who value the teaching of science as part of the halakhic mandate to "fill the earth and conquer it," we should recognize these approaches as both bad hashkafa and worse science. Carl Feit1 and Baruch Sterman2 have recently written about this topic, and we need not fully recapitulate here their cogent arguments. There are, however, a few points worth making clear for educators thinking through this topic.
First, we should put to rest the idea that evolutionary biology is any less a science than chemistry or physics. This discipline follows the same procedures as all other sciences: making observations, devising theories that explain these phenomena and predict future observations, and refining and changing the theories when contradictory observations are discovered. All sciences do this. Students who graduate from high school thinking that theories in chemistry or physics are modified less frequently have gotten a poor science education. Our students should routinely expect their own children's high school science textbooks be it biology, chemistry, or physics to look radically different than their own. Part of scientific training is to learn how to make use of contemporary theories while understanding that they will in the end be adjusted.
Why then should we be teaching any scientific material that we know will have to be modified later on? For the same reason that we teach (should we, indeed, say "lehavdil"?) Talmud in high school or elementary school. Students who thought they had understood the daf will eventually discover when they learn through Tosafot and eventually other Rishonim that they had missed many important points and that their notion of many fundamental concepts will have to be reformulated. That's what good education is all about. We work with our current understanding of the issues, realize that no matter how much we know we are missing some important parts, and move on to a better understanding of the subject. The alternative is ignorance.
Second, we should admit that evolutionary biology draws many of its conclusions from the other scientific disciplines. For example, dating fossils depends in part on physics and chemistry. If we cannot rely on these results in this area, we should similarly ignore conclusions drawn in other disciplines (like medicine) that rely on the same scientific theories. We are quite thankfully unwilling to do this. Indeed, we are unwilling to reject the conclusions of evolutionary biology itself in our everyday life or else we would, for example, dismiss warnings that indiscriminately taking antibiotics will allow the evolution of resistant strains. We cannot pretend that evolutionary theory is nonsense when in reality we rely on its basic assumptions (albeit, perhaps unconsciously) in making every-day and sometimes crucial decisions in our lives.
Certainly we should not be bothered by "the time-line" associated with evolutionary biology. Dinosaurs lived millions of years ago, we are told, but we know from the Torah that the world is only some six thousand years old. Some people are so upset by this would-be contradiction that they resist a visit to the Museum of Natural History (or, as was the case in Israel recently, refuse kashrut supervision to dairy products that used a dinosaur as a publicity logo); or pretend that the dinosaur whose skeleton fills the room was contemporaneous with human society; or insist that the fossils were put in the earth by a God wanting to test the faith of the Jewish people. These options are simply not available to people who take science seriously.
But, of course, the Torah tells us only that human civilization is some six thousand years old. We need not review here the various arguments and proof texts that the six "days" of creation were not the days that we experience ourselves. The biblical text itself makes that obvious: there cannot be a contemporary-like dawn or evening before there is a sun and moon. The Torah is clearly describing various stages in the development of the world as we know it. Just as we take yeshivah elementary school students to the zoo to see the marvels of God's creations around the world (and offer an opportunity to say the berakha "meshane haberiyot"), so too should we take them to the museum to see the dramatic remains of the animals He created in the era before He decided to create humans.
We do not mean to suggest by this that the first chapter of the Torah is some scientific theory in disguise. Some would have us believe that we need only understand the specific phrases used in the first chapter of the Torah and presto! we have the Big Bang Theory or whatever. All of these books will seem a bit quaint decades from now when the Big Bang Theory or some other inevitably-modified scientific theory has been reformulated beyond recognition. The Torah is an eternal book of truth; as such it cannot be a science textbook. The messages of the first two chapters are hashkafic in content, not scientific. The first of these messages is dramatic although for healthy reasons somewhat unimpressive to us. The second is directed to contemporary man.
The leading hashkafic issue is the rejection of the worldview of the pagans who saw the world at the mercy of uncontrollable and unethical forces personified as their gods. The Torah dismisses with the back of its hand such a heathen world-view, presenting a creation evolving effortlessly, directed by an omnipotent and ethical God Who, like a sculptor, reveals and unfolds the diffuse potential in His creation; shamayim, for example, gives way to rakia which, in turn, gives way to specific points of light. "Detail is drawn out of chaos in a continuous process of refinement, making finer and finer distinctions, one after another.3 We are so far removed from the pagan world-view known all too well to the Jews who received the Torah that we miss the revolutionary message, one far more important than any science lesson.
The second message in the Torah's creation story is directed against a different paganism, scientific paganism, which posits that everything proceeds randomly from one step to another. Here there is indeed a message for contemporary man.
Evolutionary biologists posit a randomness in the processes associated with evolutionary theory. It was in addition to natural selection chance mutations, lucky environmental opportunities, and so on which moved nature through the evolutionary tree, we are told. God played no part in it. This is a very serious matter, but it too is a false issue in confronting evolutionary biology. That is because it is a general problem of confronting science.
A doctor, for example, has a simple explanation for a person's returning to good health. He or she might well be frum, but the explanation comes in terms of bacteria, viruses, T-cells, etc. Indeed, that is how we want our doctors to think in treating us. Should they suggest that it is teshuva and not some medication that will turn the tide, we would probably look elsewhere even if we ourselves trusted in the power of teshuva and planned to say hagomel upon returning to good health.
There is nothing surprising or hypocritical about this. As the Rav, Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik, remarked, "Modern science has emerged victorious from its encounter with nature because it sacrificed qualitative-metaphysical speculation for the sake of a functional duplication of reality and substituted the quantus for the qualis question."4 As religious people, we see God behind every natural phenomenon. But if we want to master the universe, we must put that insight aside for the sake of the scientific discussion. We must, for example, seek the electronic bond that holds particles together even though we know that ultimately it is the divine will which actually prevents the world from falling apart. Scientific laws merely describe the regularities and processes which govern nature; they do not explain how or why such regularities and processes exist.
If we want to understand the world of biology, we have to appreciate the scientific mechanism of evolution, even if we are prepared to say "meshane haberiyot" in recognition of God's hidden guiding hand. There is no arguing the theological point, only accepting or rejecting it. But we should not fool ourselves into thinking that it any more problematic to confront this issue in biology than it is in chemistry or physics.
The Rav's Lonely Man of Faith can serve us well here in explaining to our students the religious imperative compelling us to view the world from different perspectives. Adam-the-first, the human whose creation is detailed in the first chapter of the Torah, confronts the world in terms of its universal, impersonal, immutable laws. Adam-the-second, the human prototype described in the second chapter of the Torah, is overwhelmed by God and His nature, submitting to it and trying to find his place in its world. He seeks cathartic redemption rather than the dignity that Adam-the-first associates with fulfilling God's mandate to "fill the world and conquer it." Both Adams are contained in the Adam in Eden. In the Rav's formulation, there is no reconciling this basic dichotomy in man. Indeed, human creativity comes as result of the dialectic generated in moving back and forth between these two poles of human existence. Sometimes we must view the world as an Adam-the-first and sometimes as an Adam-the-second. Alone, neither gives us a full picture of the world and human's place in it.
There are, however, two issues that we should be prepared to confront and challenge. Both are common errors and, strangely, they contradict each other. The first is Social Darwinism, the belief that the higher one is on the evolutionary tree the greater the value of the being. Primates are more important than fish; twentieth-century people are more moral than those who lived in the fourteenth century. We need not belabor the point that this social doctrine is a misapplication of evolutionary science; it should, however, be disavowed in the biology classroom as bad science and bad sociology.
The second is the obverse side of the coin, the belief that man is not qualitatively different from the animals because he too is but another branch on the evolutionary tree. Here we do have a contradiction between the biblical and scientific texts.
Some people find it repulsive to think that man "descended from the apes." After all, the Bible tells us that God formed man from the dust of the earth and breathed into him the breath of life. But God forbid (so to speak) that we should have a mental image of God physically molding earth into the form of a person! We have here a simple statement that God formed (yatsar rather than bara) man from existing insignificant matter (afar min ha-adama) and infused in him an aspect of Godliness. The Torah is not making a physical statement, insisting that the insignificant base was dirt rather than pre-human sapiens. It is rather making a metaphysical statement, insisting on humans' uniqueness and their spiritual position above the animals.
It is only humans into whom God has breathed the breath of life. Better stated, animals became human only when God breathed in them His divine breath. That is why we can perform medical experiments on animals, for example, but not on people. For us, humans and animals differ fundamentally on the metaphysical level, not the physical plane. This is a theological rather than scientific statement, one that has nothing to do with, say, the exclusivity of human's ability to communicate. Evolutionary biologists have nothing to say on it one way or another.
We have no trouble saying that humans came from dust and will return to dust. So too should we feel comfortable in saying that the shell that houses the human soul came from some animal form and, if we do not pay attention to their souls and the Torah which guides them, we can be left only with the animal shell. Anyone familiar with the history of the second half of the twentieth century should easily acknowledge this.
There is no contradiction between good science and Torah hashkafa, although there is an incompatibility between bad science and distorted hashkafa. Like Rabbi Soloveitchik, we should be able to say that we "have never been seriously troubled by the problem of the Biblical doctrine of creation vis-a-vis the scientific doctrine of creation at both the cosmic and organic levels.5 Indeed, lurking behind the would-be debate between Torah and evolution is either a shallow understanding of Torah or an unsophisticated appreciation of science or both. Our students certainly deserve better.
1 Carl Feit, "Darwin and Drash: The Interplay of Torah and Biology," Torah u-Maddah Journal, vol. 2, 1990, pp. 25-36.
2 Baruch Sterman, "Judaism and Darwinian Evolution," Tradition, 29:1, Fall 1994, pp. 48-75.
3 Feit, p. 33.
4 R. Joseph B. Soloveitchik, The Lonely Man of Faith (New York: Doubleday, 1992) p. 13. [Reprinted from Tradition, 7:2, Summer 1965.]
5 Ibid., p. 7.
Real Questions... Fake Answers
[Note: This post is not serious. Of course all these questions are very difficult ones. What bothers me about the Artscroll ad is that it makes it seem they have good answers, when of course they mostly don't. These are issues that we all struggle with every day, yet Artscroll makes it seem that we just need to buy this set of 6 CD's and all will be answered. Well, I will buy the set, but I don't have high expectations, except for lots of raw material to post about].
Real Questions... Real Answers
Answers to The Most Frequently Asked Questions About Judaism - A 6 CD-Rom Set (Windows only)
[6 CD's !!! I could do it in a few lines! See my comments below]
List Price: $59.99
Online Discount: 10%
You Pay Only: $53.99
Published: September 2005 by Association for Jewish Outreach Programs
Never in history have so many Jews had so many questions about their religion, their heritage and their identity. Good questions, honest questions, real questions. This unique CD set brings together twelve of the most highly regarded individuals in the Jewish world - people who for years have been addressing literally thousands of questions posed by thousands of real people, with real questions.
This interactive CD-ROM puts a wealth of expertise at your fingertips. Without a doubt, you too have been asked many of the questions dealt with - at the office, by a neighbor, friend or relative. You have done your best to answer, and now you can do even better. Real Questions, Real Answers will enable you to do just what you want to do - respond thoughtfully and effectively when an inquiring person asks you a good question - a question whose answer just might open up a whole new world to a questioning Jewish mind.
Prominent figures featured include HaRav Shmuel Kamanetzky, HaRav Noah Weinberg, Rav Mordechai Becher, Rav Beryl Gershenfeld, Rav Rueven Leuchter, Rav Yerachmiel Milstein and more...
- Isn't the idea that we are the Chose People elitist or even racist?
- Why does a man say the blessing of "shelo asani isha" while a woman says "sheasani kirtzono"?
[Because Davening reflects the social norms of the 1st millenium (or earlier) when women were regarded as inferior]
- How can I believe in G-d when there is so much suffering in the world? How could G-d have allowed the Holocaust?
[There is no answer except that we assume G-d evens everything out in the next world]
- What is G-d's attitude toward the non-Jew?
[Presumably he loves them too. But traditional Judaism doesn't so much]
- Why should I marry a Jew?
[The Halachah says you have to]
- Do you believe that Orthodox Judaism is the only valid form of Judaism? Aren't Conservative and Reform Judaism also valid expressions of the Jewish religion?
[Judaism has had many sects over the years. Orthodox Judaism is a descendant of Rabbinic (Pharisee) Judaism which arose around the time of the destruction of the 2nd Temple. OJ believes that its form of Judaism is the most accurate.]
- Hypocrisy: Am I not worse off if I know and don't do than if I simply remain ignorant?
[Yes, you will be worse off.]
- Why must women dress modestly?
[To stop men staring at them and getting bad ideas]
- Won't Judaism stifle my individuality and creativity?
[Orthodox Judaism might, other branches won't]
- How do I know the Torah was really given on Sinai?
[You just have to have faith]
- How can observant Jews do bad things?
- Why did G-d choose the Jewish Nation?
[According to the Jewish tradition, because G-d liked Abraham, though it's not very clear why. Presumably because he recognized G-d and had superior morals.]
- What is wrong with Christianity and Islam? What is the fundamental difference between them and Judaism?
[According to OJ, their claims of revelation are lies, while our claims are true.]
- What if my partner intends to convert?
[To what? Judaism?]
Monday, September 19, 2005
Godol Hador Junior on Breishis
GH Junior has a new peshat in Breishis. Jr has been learning about 'Creation' in pre-school. Here is a conversation we just had:
GH: And what did G-d create on the 6th day?
Jr: Adam & Steve!
GH: Uh oh, just what are they teaching you in that school!?
A funny kid, takes after the old man. But seriously, its kinda scary right now. My child is so trusting, I could tell him/her anything and he/she would believe it: Scientology, Mormonology, Chrisitianity... even Chareidism! It feels very strange. How can I do this to my child? Isn't it brainwashing? I guess the answer is for all the reasons I have been blogging about. And also this pasuk:
'Better' DNA out of fossil bones
Map shows first migratory routes taken by humans, based on surveys of different types of the male Y chromosome. "Adam" represents the common ancestor from which all Y chromosomes descended
Neanderthals evolve about 250,000 years ago
Their range extends from Europe to Central Asia and the Middle East
Modern humans leave Africa about 60,000 years ago and arrive in Europe around 40,000 years ago
By 27,000 years ago, the Neanderthals are extinct
Possible reasons include climate change and competition with modern humans
Research based on DNA testing of 10,000 people from indigenous populations around the world
Source: The Genographic Project
By Alison Ross
Improved technologies for extracting genetic material from fossils may help us find out more about our ancient ancestors.
Scientists in Israel have just developed a new technique to retrieve better quality, less contaminated DNA from very old remains, including human bones. It could aid the study of the evolution and migration of early modern humans, as well as extinct populations such as our close relatives, the Neanderthals.
Many researchers would dearly love to get their hands on DNA samples from hominids further back in time - from those that lived 100,000 years ago or more - to find out how they were related to people alive today.
But fossil studies this far back in time have long been hindered by contamination with foreign genetic material and the problem of recovering long, intact DNA sequences.
The new method provides hope, however.
"DNA gets everywhere. So when we're dealing with a sample and you find it's got human DNA in it - is that DNA from the fossil, or is it actually DNA from the person who unearthed it?" says Professor Chris Stringer, the head of human origins at the Natural History Museum in London, UK.
Also, DNA falls apart over the course of time. "It breaks up into very small fragments so it is quite technically complicated to put it all back together again," explains Dr Robert Foley, the director of the Leverhulme Centre for Human Evolutionary Studies at the University of Cambridge, UK.
Freezing provides the ideal preservation conditions. The most widely accepted oldest DNA yet isolated comes from 400,000-year-old plants found in ice in Siberia. But most specimens are not excavated from such places.
An improved technique for retrieving DNA from fossil bone, just published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), may help.
Dr Michal Salamon, from the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot, Israel, and colleagues, showed that "crystal aggregates", small mineral pockets formed during fossilisation, can preserve DNA better than the rest of the bone.
They compared DNA extracted from these crystal aggregates with genetic material taken from untreated, whole-bone powder. The samples were taken from eight different modern and fossil bones.
They found better preserved, less contaminated DNA could be recovered from the isolated crystals. This approach, "significantly improves the chances of obtaining authentic ancient DNA sequences, especially from human bones", they told PNAS.
Commenting on the latest research, Dr Michael Hofreiter, from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, who helped decode 40,000-year-old nuclear DNA from a cave bear earlier this year, said: "It's possible; but there need to be more studies on more samples, and they need to show that you don't get human contamination of animal bones.
"Then I would believe that it is a breakthrough for ancient DNA research."
The big split
Scientists are hopeful the new technique will help them get at the DNA in the chromosomes of a cell - the nuclear DNA.
Ancient DNA research has so far mainly focused on mitochondria, the tiny "power-stations" of the cell. These exist outside of the nucleus and have their own DNA. And, although this information is very useful, it is more limited in its scope than that which could be obtained from nuclear DNA.
It is partly a question of sensitivity. "There's about 1,000 times more mitochondrial DNA than nuclear DNA in our cells, so it's much easier to pick up," explains Professor Stringer.
The mitochondrial DNA is inherited only through the egg - through females. This means it is a useful marker for tracing a line back into the past, as it has never been mixed with DNA from males.
"One of the most important discoveries from studying ancient mitochondrial DNA is the estimate of when humans diverged in evolution from the Neanderthals - around half a million years ago," according to Dr Foley.
Professor Stringer adds: "We've now got about 10 Neanderthal specimens of around 40-50,000 years old that have yielded DNA that is clearly distinct from anyone alive today."
This means scientists can be sure that it is ancient, not just modern DNA from contamination. It has also given them a measure of how different Neanderthals were from modern people. Neanderthals are three times as different from us as we all are from each other," says Professor Stringer.
But there remains the hotly debated question of whether Neanderthals were a completely separate species to us. Professor Stringer says that they are if that assessment is based on studying their bone anatomy.
However, the evidence from mitochondrial DNA is somewhat ambiguous. "The mitochondrial DNA on its own can't tell us if we're a distinct species," he explains. "It depends what mammal you take. There are some species where the difference in mitochondrial DNA between us and Neanderthals would say they were a different species. "Whereas in chimpanzees, our closest relative, you could contain the variation between us and Neanderthals in a single species alive today in Africa."
Scientists need to recover better DNA from our fossils, especially the nuclear DNA. "Each gene has a separate evolution so to understand Neanderthals properly we will need different bits of their DNA to see if they're all telling us the same story," he adds.
The male sex chromosome (the "Y") is useful for tracking male inheritance, since males inherit their Y chromosome only from their father.
Using both mitochondrial and Y chromosome DNA from people alive today, complex pathways have been mapped for how modern humans got to where they are - but there are problems.
Dr Mim Bower, an ancient DNA researcher at the McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research in Cambridge, UK, gives an example.
"Using modern DNA we see a different pattern of settlement in the Pacific islands between men and women - the mitochondrial DNA patterns show a different migration pattern to the Y chromosome DNA."
Studying the DNA not of modern humans but of their distant ancestors could help answer such questions.
"At the moment we can't follow that into the past as it's very difficult to get nuclear DNA," Dr Bower says.
This is especially problematic for the Y chromosome, which is nuclear.
Dalai Lama has more sechel than the Gedolim?
[Hat tip: I don't think he wants one!]
New York Times
September 18, 2005
'The Universe in a Single Atom': Reason and Faith
By GEORGE JOHNSON
It's been a brutal season in the culture wars with both the White House and a prominent Catholic cardinal speaking out in favor of creationist superstition, while public schools and even natural history museums shy away from teaching evolutionary science. When I picked up the Dalai Lama's new book, "The Universe in a Single Atom: The Convergence of Science and Spirituality," I feared that His Holiness, the leader of Tibetan Buddhism, was adding to the confusion between reason and faith.
It was his subtitle that bothered me. Spirituality is about the ineffable and unprovable, science about the physical world of demonstrable fact. Faced with two such contradictory enterprises, divergence would be a better goal. The last thing anyone needs is another attempt to contort biology to fit a particular religion or to use cosmology to prove the existence of God.
But this book offers something wiser: a compassionate and clearheaded account by a religious leader who not only respects science but, for the most part, embraces it. "If scientific analysis were conclusively to demonstrate certain claims in Buddhism to be false, then we must accept the findings of science and abandon those claims," he writes. No one who wants to understand the world "can ignore the basic insights of theories as key as evolution, relativity and quantum mechanics."
That is an extraordinary concession compared with the Christian apologias that dominate conferences devoted to reconciling science and religion. The "dialogues" implicitly begin with nonnegotiables - "Given that Jesus died on the cross and was bodily resurrected into heaven. . ." - then seek scientific justification for what is already assumed to be true.
The story of how someone so open-minded became the Tibetan Buddhist equivalent of the pope reads like a fairy tale. When the 13th Dalai Lama died in 1933 he was facing northeast, so a spiritual search team was sent in that direction to find his reincarnation. The quest narrowed further when a lama had a vision pointing to a certain house with unusual gutters. Inside a boy called out to the visitors, who showed him some toys and relics that would have belonged to him in his previous life. "It is mine!" he exclaimed, like any acquisitive 2-year-old, and so his reign began.
Once installed in Lhasa, the new Dalai Lama happened upon another of his forerunner's possessions, a collapsible brass telescope. When he focused it one evening on what Tibetans call "the rabbit on the moon," he saw that it consisted of shadows cast by craters. Although he knew nothing yet about astronomy, he inferred that the moon, like the earth, must be lighted by the sun. He had experienced the thrill of discovery.
Before long he was dismantling and repairing clocks and watches and tinkering with car engines and an old movie projector. As he grew older and traveled the world, he was as keen to meet with scientists and philosophers - David Bohm, Carl von Weizsäcker, Karl Popper - as with religious and political leaders. More recently his "Mind and Life" conferences have brought physicists, cosmologists, biologists and psychologists to Dharamsala, India, where he now lives in exile from the Chinese occupation of Tibet. He and his guests discuss things like the neuroscientific basis of Buddhist meditation and the similarities between Eastern concepts like the "philosophy of emptiness" and modern field theory. In "The Universe in a Single Atom" he tells how he walked the mountains around his home trying to persuade hermits to contribute to scientific understanding by meditating with electrodes on their heads.
But when it comes to questions about life and its origins, this would-be man of science begins to waver. Though he professes to accept evolutionary theory, he recoils at one of its most basic tenets: that the mutations that provide the raw material for natural selection occur at random. Look deeply enough, he suggests, and the randomness will turn out to be complexity in disguise - "hidden causality," the Buddha's smile. There you have it, Eastern religion's version of intelligent design. He also opposes physical explanations for consciousness, invoking instead the existence of some kind of irreducible mind stuff, an idea rejected long ago by mainstream science. Some members of the Society for Neuroscience are understandably uneasy that he has been invited to give a lecture at their annual meeting this November. In a petition, they protested that his topic, the science of meditation, is known for "hyperbolic claims, limited research and compromised scientific rigor."
There may be a political subtext to the controversy. According to an article in Nature, many of the petitioners are Chinese. But however mixed their motivation, they make a basic philosophical point. All religion is rooted in a belief in the supernatural. Inviting a holy man to address a scientific conference may be leaving the back door ajar for ghosts.
Adam & Eve Horishon & their pet snake Nachy
[This post is dedicated to Dude. ]
Some people who are a little more conversant with Science say the following peshat in Breishis:
It’s true that there were many human type creatures all over the world dating back hundreds of thousands of years. But when the Torah talks about Adam & Eve it’s really talking about a new modern breed of humanity, and of course there were other people around then too of the older variety.
Adam & Eve were the first of this new breed, and were created by G-d in some fashion, either directly, or maybe through the addition of a special neshamah/intellect. There is no Scientific proof for neshamot even today, so claiming Adam & Eve had the first modern neshamot makes no difference to Science.
Some people even try and link this in to the story of the ‘Sons of the gods' marrying the ‘Daughters of Man’, and claim that this story is about the intermarriage between the descendants of the ‘godly’ Adam and the descendants of the older (but less godly?) 'Neanderthals'. (By the way, both the Malbim and Cassutto dispute this, and R Menachem Kasher notes this in Torah Shelemah.)
The motivation for this strange peshat is to try and preserve Adam & Eve as real people. Clearly, the motivation cannot be preserving the ‘mesorah’ or a literal reading of the text, since this peshat doesn’t fit the text very well without kvetching, nor is it the standard mesorah anyway (though there are certainly indications that Chazal were comfortable with the idea of previous worlds e.g. 974 of them).
So, is it worth saying such a peshat?
I think not, (but I can't prove it). Firstly, to posit that Adam & Eve were two specific people who had more developed neshamot (or brains), who then went on to fertilize the world is scientifically problematic. What about the aboriginees and other far flung peoples? Are they less developed because they don’t have the new Adam & Eve neshama/ genes in them?
Secondly, this still doesn’t help with all the other ‘facts’ in Breishis, like the impossibly long ages or global flood, or incorrect order of creation. So you end up taking many things non literally anyway, and this whole peshat is hardly the same as the traditional mesorah.
I think that it is probably not a co-incidence that the Torah goes back 6000 years, and so does modern civilization.
About 6000 years ago a marked shift occurred and humans became more urbanized. About this same time frame farming and animal husbandry became more popular, and recently some Scientists even talked about changes in brain development 5800 years ago. But this correlates to Breishis mythology for obvious reasons. You could read the story of Adam & Eve as a metaphor for the birth of modern civilization, and it works quite well.
If you really want to insist that there was an actual couple called Adam & Eve Horishon, who lived in a special garden in Iraq, and they had a special neshamah, then of course Science can’t disprove that and neither can I. But don’t forget their pet snake, Nachy. I hear he could tricks.
(And don’t marry off your kids to any Aboriginal Gerim – Pure breeds would still presumably be lacking that special neshamah/gene and you wouldn’t want your grandchildren to be ‘half-neshamas’. They might not get into the good yeshivas.)
Advice for a more meaningful Avodah
I'm talking about the Internet mailing list Avodah, not your davening. (If you want your davening to be more meaningful, dramatic improvements can be gained in just 5 minutes a day! Send you checks payable to Artscroll. Act now and get your free copy of 'How to increase the size of your chelek (in Olam Habah) in just 5 minutes a day!'
So here is my advice to Avodah (R' Gil, Akiva, Micha etc):
The Avodah discussions will be more valuable if you take Science off the table. The pre-requisite for the group should be that all members agree to hold of accepted Scientific theories. If you are concerned about being branded heretics then you can add a disclaimer that you are only doing this to save people from Bittul Torah, since frum Jews discussing details of Evolutionary theory is certainly Bittul Torah.
Is Jonathan Ostroff a complete moron?
He can't be, as this list of his publications is quite impressive. Yet I never cease to be amazed by the stupidity of his posts on Avodah. There is a long debate going on currently as to whether Rav Dessler rejected evolution or not. I could give some carefully reasoned arguments showing why Rav Dessler is completely wrong. But why bother? Is Ostroff interested in well reasoned arguments when such arguments conflict with his own moronic ideology? I don't think so. So instead I will just make the obvious argument, hurl some insults, and hopefully I will feel better.
Whether evolution happened all on its ownsome, or whether it needed a little extra supernatural help from G-d makes no difference at all. Either way,a true maamin will see the hand of G-d in the fact that 15 billion years ago there was nothing, and now we have intelligent human beings (but not so much on Avodah).
Rav Dessler's alleged contention that "anyone viewing the world within the context of evolution over millions of years as opposed to seeing the yad Hashem in the beria is a tipesh and a porek ol" (according to Simcha Coffer) is utter nonsense nowadays. In fact anyone saying such a thing is a 'tipesh', and were Rav Desller alive today I would like to think that he would have enough sechel to realize his mistakes. Sure Rav Dessler was a talmid chochom, but his views on evolution are outdated, incorrect and entirely irrelevant.
Rav Dessler also says that "Geology is actually proof that the world unfolded rapidly, in a short period of time, as opposed to the evolutionary time frame." Do you honestly think that Rav Dessler knows Geology better than all the worlds geologists currently dedicating their lives to the study of Geology? GET A FRIKKIN CLUE PEOPLE. This stupidity is mind boggling. I could understand it if it was some Bnei Brak hocker who has never been exposed to Western Civilization. But the guys on Avodah speak English! They seem educated. Almost intelligent. Yet they are also complete morons. Amazing!
When will the idiots on Avodah realize that they are wasting their time? It is abundantly clear that the world is significantly older than 6000 years, and it is abundantly clear that there were many intelligent humans walking around in many parts of the world 10,000 years ago and more.
These two facts alone are enough to finish off any notion that the Adam & Eve story in Breishis is literal. Once you realize that, you will also realize that there is little gain in debating evolution. You neither lose anything or buy anything. G-d is quite capable of working though 'natural' evolution, in fact this is a greater chochmah than creating man out of thin air (or dust). Leave the details of Evolution to the Scientists, it makes no difference at this point, Breishis has already been proven to be non literal.
Denying scientifically 'proven' theories while stubbornly insisting on Sinai type proofs is the height of hypocricy and absurdity. When intelligent and frum Jews go through such mental gymnastics to try and twist the truth to fit their own narrow minded warped agendas, it really makes you think. How can these people have any credibility? How can they expect to be taken seriously? Is their Torah worth anything at all when they will stoop to lies and distortions to further their own stupidity?
Avodah should come with an 'Emunah Threat Level High' warning. The sight of so many frum Jews spouting such utter idiocy is enough to turn anyone into a kofer. Krum as Bagel told me about the latest stupidity and now I'm back in the dumps again. Just before Rosh Hashanah too.
Here is some advice for the idiots on Avodah:
When it comes to Science and Torah, the views of Chazal, Rishonim and Acharonim (and 90% of present day Gedolim) are ENTIRELY IRRELEVANT. I know you all love to quote Chazal, Rishonim and Acharonim on every subject under the sun, but THEY HAD NO CLUE ABOUT SCIENCE. How could they? It hadn't been 'invented' yet. Of course today's Gedolim could have a clue, but they chose not to. Shame on them.
Does insulting an idiot like Ostroff make me feel better? Not really. But realizing that Ostroff is into Formal Methods and the OMG MDA does. It proves that the guy lives in a fantasy world, I should have guessed. Here is special message for Ostroff:
DO YOU REALLY THINK RAV DESSLER WAS AN EXPERT IN GEOLOGY OR EVOLUTION? DO YOU REALLY THINK ALL THE WORLDS SCIENTISTS ARE WRONG BUT THE GEDOLIM KNOW BETTER? IF SO, YOU ARE A FOOL. DO YOU REALLY THINK FORMAL METHODS WILL EVER BE USED OUTSIDE OF ACADEMIA? IF SO, YOU ARE A DELUSIONAL FOOL. GET A FRIKKIN CLUE MAN. YOUR TORAH IS DAMAGING TO NORMAL PEOPLE. I SUGGEST YOU STOP BEFORE YOU TURN US ALL INTO KOFRIM.
Saturday, September 17, 2005
ORIGINS III -- Y. Aharon
In previous installments, particularly in Origins II, I had mentioned the presence of humans that had long preceded Adam and those who were contemporary with him and his descendants. Adam and Eve differed only in the direct involvement of the Creator with their formation and education. A consequence of that educational process, required them to be forced out of the garden of Eden into the real world. In that world, our couple experienced much sorrow. Foremost was the loss of one child and the estrangement of another because of fratricide. The descendants of the estranged son (regarded as demigods by their contemporaries) followed in his path, and lorded it over the other descendants of Adam, and other people. Corruption and violence became common, and the Creator was greatly distressed. Only Noah found favor with Him because of his rectitude.
GOD now tells Noah that he has decided to eliminate all of Adam’s progeny because of their corruption. Only Noah, his 3 sons, and their wives will be spared if they build and occupy a large houseboat (ark) who construction is then ordered. Into that ark, pairs of the regional animals and other land fauna are to be brought as well as a food supply for both men and animals. The order is modified to include 7 pairs of the domestic animals and birds that were suitable for sacrificial offerings. I assume that seeds and storable plants were also brought in together with soil that would serve as a habitat for insects and to absorb waste products. The ark is completed and Noah is told to populate it as commanded. The ark is closed and the rains begin. The torrential downpours last 40 days followed by another 110 days of rising water which sweeps over the hills of that region. The region is, presumably, the fertile floodplains of the Tigris-Euphrates rivers. The overflowing river waters overwhelm the dikes that line the rivers, while a great cyclone brings ashore the waters of the Arabian sea. All the inhabitants of the region are drowned except for those on the ark. After 150 days the winds and waters become calm and the water level starts diminishing. The ark soon comes to rest in the mountains of Ararat. This is, presumably, not the Ararat at the border of Turkey and Armenia. That Ararat is in a very mountainous region that would have been well above the water level of the flood. The mountains of Ararat consistent with an Iraqi location for the Mabul would be in the foothills of the Zagros mountains at the Iranian border to the east. An indication of such a location from the text can be found in a later portion which describes how the survivors of the flood journeyed from the east to Shinar (Sumer) and built the city of Babylon (and its tall tower).
A different flood scenario could be considered, seeing that no positive evidence for a great regional Iraqi flood has yet come to light – to my knowledge. There is definite physical evidence of a rather sudden intrusion of the Mediterranean sea into a large fresh water lake that was some 400 ft. below sea level. The perimeter of this lake was, presumably, well populated since the low altitude and the presence of ample water made for more pleasant conditions than those which prevailed elsewhere in the cold, arid climate of that time. When the Mediterranean (Aegean sea) broke through the Bosporous straits and started inundating the region around the lake with an enormous volume of roaring water, the people there had to leave or drown. Those on the western end of the lake may have had no choice. The initial small breach in the sliver of land separating the valley of the lake from the Aegean sea quickly became an overwhelming torrent, possibly overnight. Those on that side of the lake would, thus, have drowned. The various peoples around the remainder of the lake took different migration paths according to the scenario envisaged by Ryan and Pitman. These are the two geologists who studied the Black sea which resulted from the inundation and who wrote a book titled “Noah’s flood”. One group migrated through Europe as far as Spain, another migrated south and settled in Sumer. Egypt had an Asian cultural influx at this time. Wherever they went they tended to displace or subjugate the earlier inhabitants and brought new skills to the region. This was feasible since their civilization around the Black sea region was relatively advanced.
All of this is interesting but still speculative. Moreover, the timing is awkward for correlation to biblical events since the flooding of the Black sea lake occurred over 7000 years ago. In addition, the language of our text, “and it (the floodwaters) covered all the tall mountains that lay below the entire sky” does not fit with the Black sea topography. There, the tall mountains to the east (Caucuses and Ararat) and south (Pontic) were definitely not covered by the flood which rose only to the level of the Mediterranean. The same argument might be advanced against an Iraqi flood, except that someone in the Tigris-Euphrates floodplain would only see the foothills of the Zagros mountains to the east as the high point of the region. The language of the text is then exaggerated, but not necessarily misleading when considered from the viewpoint of the subjects (Noah and family) and their descendants.
It must be understood that the Torah is intended as a guide for the Jewish people. It is not concerned with the histories of other people who have played no overt part in biblical times in the fortunes of the subjects of interest. These peoples are not mentioned even when members of such groups intermarried with Noah’s descendants. Such intermarriages must have occurred if such a small family were to continue. These other groups were people who lived in the mountains and were unaffected by the flood. As the family grew, they sought a more fertile land. They migrated, therefore, back to the broad valley of their origin. It occurred to them that building a very tall tower in their new city was useful, both as an impressive memorial to their flood experience and as a place of refuge should one recur. They hoped in this way to avoid a dispersal. But the Creator did not wish the descendants of Noah to remain in one place, particularly if they showed a total lack of confidence in Him. The confusion of tongues that is then mentioned is, presumably, the proliferation of newly coined technical terms that were needed by the builders of the tower for tools and techniques. It got so bad that one crew could not properly communicate with their fellows in the next shift. The ensuing conflicts caused the abandonment of the project and of the city. Each group then went their separate ways. Thus, the project that was supposed to guarantee a permanent place for Noah’s descendants actually caused their dispersal. The stage is now set for the appearance of one person who would rise above the beliefs of his time and establish a relationship with GOD. The remainder of Genesis deals with that person, Abraham, and his descendants.
The above picture is an attempt to cast the early stories in Genesis in as natural a light as possible. The main depiction of the flood and its aftermath that I have presented is not based on scientific evidence, but it is also not contradicted by it – as far as I know. I await further archaeological work in Iraq that may either confirm or falsify my account. I maintain that it is far preferable to accept the biblical stories as historical, even if exaggerated according to some objective standard, than to assume that they are mythological – unless physical evidence clearly indicates a problem with accepting the biblical stories as fact based.
[GH: Interesting. Doesn't really fit the text very well, but I guess this is the least kvetchy interpretation I have heard yet which still maintains Adam, Eve & Noah as real people. Still some difficulties though, for example the impossible ages - just exagerations too?]
Friday, September 16, 2005
We have had some interesting discussion on morality lately. I think it’s clear that one cannot say ‘There is no morality’ in the Torah, because the Torah is full of opinions on good or bad behavior, or right and wrong behavior, and this is the essence of the definition of morality.
Of course this doesn’t mean that every single Halachah is about morality, but many are. Regarding Homosexuality specifically, the Torah adds the word ‘Toevah’, which quite clearly has negative connotations, even if an exact translation is difficult. I don’t think there is much to debate here.
A more interesting debate is about objective vs. subjective morality. It’s clear that there is no philosophical/rational basis for objective morality, it just can’t be done. Its interesting to watch certain skeptics trying, I guess this is because of their strong innate Tzelem Elokim based morality.
In almost every debate I have had with the Skeptics, they generally base their morality on some sort of ‘equality’ principle (don’t do to others etc). However this will only work for subjects such as theft, murder or rape, when one person’s rights or possessions are threatened or affected by another.
But when it comes to sexual morality, none of this will work. Relationships between two consenting adults of the same gender, or one consenting adult and one animal that doesn’t mind, or one consenting adult and a dead person who previously consented in his last will and testament, or an adult parent child or sister brother who both consent but use protection to avoid genetically deficient offspring; none of these can be forbidden based on the principle of equality or fairness.
I guess the skeptics will say ‘So what? In a truly just society none of these things should be forbidden.’ Is this where we are headed? Currently most of these things are illegal in most states, and certainly necrophilia would be prosecuted, not sure about the rest though. Is it obvious that they will eventually all be fully legal and permitted, for consenting adults? I guess so.
Frumteens vs. The Rambam
Torah is to the natural world what a blueprint is to its edifice, or what DNA is to an organism. Histakel B'Oraysa Ubara Alma - Hashem looked into the Torah, and created the world as a reflection of it.
This happened because the very reason - the only reason - the world was created in the first place was as a tool to fulfill the Torah. How can you fulfill the Mitzvah of Pri Etz Hadar without an Esrog tree? How can you fulfill the Mitzvah of Kibud Av Va'em if you don’t have parents? How can you make Kiddush Friday night without such things as night, or wine, or words?
Those are easy examples. But Hashem does nothing without a reason, and creates nothing without a reason. And if Hashem created it, it has one reason and one reason only: to facilitate the fulfillment of the Torah. Because without that reason, the world had no reason to exist.
So everything in the world - every little detail, every little subatomic particle, every little spec of space dust - is here to somehow facilitate the fulfillment of the Torah. Just as every part of a car is to facilitate the comfortable and efficient transportation of humans from one place to another, so too every part of the world is to facilitate the transportation of humans to Gan Eden by way of Kiyum HaTorah.
But a difference between a car and the Torah is, whereas there may have been several possible version of how to make a car, and several possible alternatives to the actual car that was created that would have facilitated just as well the goal of transporting people from one place to another - different types of cars, trucks, planes, bicycles, etc - there was only ONE possible way to facilitate the goal of getting people into Gan Eden, and that was by creating this particular world. No other world, not even in the slightest detail, would have done the job.
Just as the Torah is infinitely precise in its details, so does the natural world reflect the infinite precision of the Torah. When Hashem created an Esrog, which shaken in the proper manner, would connect the shaker's soul to Hashem Himself in the particular way that the specific Mitzvah of velkachtem lachem pri etz hadar does, He created the Esrog, the joints and limbs of the person shaking it, the water and soil and sunlight and gasses that the Esrog consolidates, the mind and body of the person shaking the esrog, the circumstances surrounding the buying of the esrog - its value, its purchase price, the precise difficulty involved in obtaining it, --- every single factor that comprises the act of the mitzvah, its nisyonos, and its ramifications -- were created with infinite precision, down to the sub atomic level in order to best produce the desired effect.
Because the world itself - the entire universe - is designed to be the place where, when Moshiach comes, the spiritual energy that was emitted upon the performance of the Mitzvos, combined with Hashem's revelation of His Oneness, matures into the spiritual environment Olam Habah, which is en eternal connection between the Mitzvah-doers and Hashem Himself, the entire world, every molecule and sub atomic element it consists of, every single segment of time and space itself, every sub-sub-sub atomic component of every single square micro-inch of the entire universe, was created in a way that it will fulfill its spiritual purpose - of ultimately connecting humans to Hashem through its being used by humans to be turned into a connection between the human body-and-soul, and Hashem.
That was the only single solitary idea that Hashem had in mind when creating the world. That was the only single solitary reason the world was made. And just as Hashem is one, and the Torah is one, and could not e any other way, the world, in order to fulfill its purpose as becoming the connection to Hashem was created in the only way it could have been, using the Torah as its blueprint, as its DNA. And that mean not only the physical shell of the world, but every single nuance of every single sub-atomic detail of the world, was created using the Torah as its blueprint. The Torah and nothing else is what the world reflects, on an infinitely sublime level.
This is why the Rambam states (Yesodei Hatorah 2:2) that the natural world contains "wisdom that has no measure and no end". Because just as the Torah has infinite wisdom, so does the world, which is a reflection of it.
I believe that the four species are a symbolical expression of our rejoicing that the Israelites changed the wilderness," no place of seed, or of figs, or of vines, or of pomegranates, or of water to drink" (Num. xx. 5), with a country full of fruit-trees and rivers. In order to remember this we take the fruit which is the most pleasant of the fruit of the land, branches which smell best, most beautiful leaves, and also the best of herbs, i.e., the willows of the brook. These four kinds have also those three purposes : First, they were plentiful in those days in Palestine, so that every one could easily get them. Secondly, they have a good appearance, they are green; some of them, viz., the citron and the myrtle, are also excellent as regards their smell, the branches of the palm-tree and the willow having neither good nor bad smell. Thirdly, they keep fresh and green for seven days, which is not the case with peaches, pomegranates, asparagus, nuts, and the like.
The Godol Hador
Frumteens is an idiot. I think I'll go with the Rambam.
OC about the OC
This post is dedicated to the Rebbetzin, may she live long and prosper. And she's going to have to (prosper), in light of my latest purchases from Amazon. Tee hee.
On The OC last night (I caught a glimpse out of the corner of my eye while walking past the TV), Ryan and Marrissa were not sure about their relationship, and Ryan got into a fight with some guy.
And this is different from EVERY SINGLE other episode of the OC, how??
I keep buying books. Some of them I finish, some of them I don't. Some of them I don't even start. But I keep buying them all the same. At first, there was plenty spare room on my bookshelf. As the numbers of books expanded, I placed them stategically around the house, so as not to arouse any suspicions of unauthorized book buying. However since the unauthorized sheital buying episode, I now have complete immunity!
[Actually, I probably don't. Harder than the conundrum of the basis for rationality and morality is the conundrum of why when I do something like that it's wrong but when the Rebbetzin does it it's not. Can anyone explain that? It seems to be some kind of relative morality and rationality but it only ever works in one direction.]
So, I shall have to get another bookshelf. But my exponential increase in books has led to another problem. How to categorize? Any advice would be appreciated. I can think of the following schemes:
By Publishing House
This has the advantage that typically Publishing Houses have a standard size or design, so it makes the shelf look neat. Also, they often have a common theme, so for example all my 'Littman' books are kefiradick, and can go on the kefirah shelf, while all my 'Feldheims' go on the frum shelf (apart from Slifkin of course).
Another option is alphabetically by author, though typically authors stick to the same publishing house anyway (apart from Slifkin of course). Sometimes though, I don't remember the name of an author, so this might not be ideal.
This is how I currently have things organized. Science & Torah on one shelf, Biblical Studies on another etc. I think this works best.
The next issue that I have is that I am in the middle of so many books that my brain is fried. If I typed in a list of all the books I'm currently reading it would fill a couple of pages. I find that the ones I tend to finish are the ones that aren't that good. I still haven't finished The Emergence of Ethical Man, or Expanding the Palace of Torah. But I did finish Dilberts Guide to Business no problem. What's also rather unbalanced is that I can't learn Torah in my most dedicated reading environment, hamayvin yavin, so I naturally tend to finish more Science books than Torah books. I finished all my Michael Shermer books but not one Casutto book. This is a serious problem for which there is no known solution.
Of course I could always blog less and read more, but how much fun would that be?
The Basis for Morality & Rationality
Orthoprax has a new theory that rationality might be the basis of objective morality. He claims that we must all be rational, and if we take a detached 3rd party objective view of things, we will see that it's only rational for everyone to treat each other fairly.
I don't really buy it for a few reasons. Firstly, we are not detached third parties, and it's rational to consider our own interests. Secondly, this doesn't really address sexual morality where no one is getting hurt. Thirdly, why must we all be rational? Because it's only fair? Thats circular!
But worse than this, claiming rationality as the basis for objective morality doesn't help one bit. There is no basis for rationality either! Why be rational? Because its rational?
There are only two models which make sense to me here:
The basis of our rationality and morality is G-d. G-d implanted in us a 'Tzelem Elokim', and that impels us to be rational and moral. Rationality and Morality are objectively 'true', at least from our perspective.
Everything we do is as the result of evolutionary forces. Random mutations created rational and moral humans, who survived better than irrational and immoral humans. (You could say the same about religion too). Clearly, if we want to continue to survive, we need to be both rational and moral, but only in general, not neccessarily all the time.
But that's all it is. And, there is no particular reason to want to survive, except that random evolutionary mutations have ensured that organisms who 'want' to survive generally survive more than organisms who don't.
When Atheists go on about the beauty of the universe and how amazing it all is and how mankind must flourish, that's just their evolutionary brain talking.
Or maybe their Tzelem Elokim.
Thursday, September 15, 2005
Is there morality in the Torah?
Morality is stuff people made up. Lots of it is great. Lots of it inspired by the Torah. But made up stuff by people.
"immoral" isn't a category in Orthodox Judaism you am haaretz. It's either osur or mutar.
As an authentic Orthodox Jew I do not recognize "immoral" or "out of harmony" as legitimate religous categories.
If homosexuality is "immoral" eating pork is "immoral." But those aren't the words we use to describe eating pork, is it? And why not? BECAUSE IMMORAL ISN'T A JEWISH CATEGORY
The guy who eats pork isn't "morally deficient;" neither is the guy who shtups his chavrusa. It's osur; but not immoral.
Morality is a system of principles and judgments based on cultural, religious, and philosophical concepts and beliefs, by which humans determine whether given actions are right or wrong. These concepts and beliefs are often generalized and codified by a culture or group, and thus serve to regulate the behaviour of its members. Conformity to such codification may also be called morality, and the group may depend on widespread conformity to such codes for its continued existence. A "moral" may refer to a particular principle, usually as informal and general summary with respect to a moral principle, as it is applied in a given human situation.
The Godol Hador:
Do I really need to add anything? DovBear is generally a very rational person, but I don't get where he is coming from in this case. Morality simply means a system of right and wrong. Nothing more than that. The Torah defines a system of right and wrong. Therefore the Torah contains morality. That's it!
Jewish Atheist says:
When you claim to believe in absolute morality, you don't need to justify your moral beliefs in any way except to claim that God or some old book says so. This reasoning leads to religious wars and terrorism as well as the legal and practical enforcement of all sorts of hatred and discrimination. How does the Godol criticise a woman who kills her babies because she believes God told her to? Doesn't he believe that God commanded Abraham the same thing?It irks me when Atheists misuse terminology which is not applicable to them. Relative Morality cannot 'improve'. It can certainly change, based on public consensus, but it cannot 'improve', by definition. This is because non-objective morality does not hold of any absolute standards of right & wrong. Non objective morality is a set of practical rules to live by. Atheists sometimes say things like 'Our morality is based on the idea that we don't do to someone else what we wouldn't want them to do to us.' But again, this is invoking a moral principle, that of being fair, so it's kind of circular.
Moral relatavists, on the other hand, can make no claims of absolute morality, so their moral beliefs are open to debate. Contrary to what the Godol believes, this is a good thing, since morals can evolve and be improved by criticism and consensus.
I suppose the Atheists can answer that while it's true that there is no objective right & wrong, or good & bad, there is certainly subjective right & wrong, and good & bad. So when an Atheist says 'morality has improved', what he really means is that his subjective view is that the current subjective morality is subjectively better than the old subjective morality. Of course this isn't really saying much, and someone else would certainly be equally entitled to hold the exact oppposite opinion.
We are so used to thinking in terms of right & wrong from an objective sense, that we take it for granted that when an Atheist uses such terms he means the same thing. But of course he doesn't.
So does any of this make any practical difference? It certainly would if the Atheists were truly rational, logical thinking machines. But of course they are not. They have the same innate, tzelem elokim based morality as the rest of us. So in general, Atheists have about the same level of morality as everyone else.
However I believe that in times of extreme stress, it's quite likely that the extra motivation derived from the promise of Heaven, the threat of Hell and the fear of G-d will induce a Believer to go the extra mile, more so than an Atheist. I would regard this as similar to the difference between a Chareidi believer and an MO Orthoprax kinda guy. In regular circumstances, they both to be basically the same. But when the going gets tough, I would imagine the Chareidi is more likely to be mosar nefesh than the Orthoprax.
The promise of Heaven and the threat of Hell does have one downside though. Imagine that suddenly there was a revelation from G-d, and He told us that actually there was no Olam Habah or Schar vOnesh in this world, and that anyone can do anything they want. However the Mitzvos still apply and He asks you to do His will. How many frum people would still be motivated? I think most people would be quite dissilusioned.
So maybe it turns out that the Atheists actually have a stronger innate tzelem elokim based morality than the rest of us, which enables them to be pretty moral even without any beliefs, something which would seem hard for us to do.
I think Rav Kook said something like this. I'll have to go and look it up.
GH Singles Advice
The growing number of singles is a big problem in the Orthodox Jewish community. So here's my advice for singles:
Stop being so damn picky and get married already!
Some people might think this is a little insensitive. But I've been there, and so have many of my friends. The people who are still single in their 30's are always the ones who are overly picky. They say, 'I'm not looking for Miss Right, just Miss Right for me!' This would be fine, except that 'Miss Right for me' is invariably someone good looking, great personality, with a good job, from a nice family, who is intellectual, interesting, has a sense of humor and of course is eaxctly the right type of frumkeit. Unfortunately the Mr Right from this story is a goofy looking nerd, can't hold a job down, is boring, unfunny and has no conversation. The same is true in reverse, it's not just a guy thing. The girls are equally as picky.
Singles will no doubt protest that they try so hard but just haven't met the right person yet. I say thats bs. Your zaidies and bubbies didn't wait for the right person! They just got married and were happy. Or not. But at least they were married!
Our regular programming will resume shortly
GH Kids Entertainment
One of the benefits of owning a TV is the ability to plunk your kids down in front of it when you need them to just shut up and stop whining for one frikkin MINUTE PLEASE! Ooops, sorry. Got a little carried away there. Anyways, if you are Torah-True you won’t have cable, so you need to get hold of some kiddie DVD’s or Videos. Here is my guide to the best children’s shows:
Probably the best show around. Lots of very catchy songs, and good visuals. Oh me oh my, he barks all day and night! You gotta love it.
I can’t stand these guys. They have fake smiles from beginning to end, and the songs are annoying too. On the other hand, my kids love it, and as the Rebbetzin always says to me: ‘Stop watching the kids TV and start helping me already!’ You can’t argue with that! (Well, actually you can but it’s not advisable).
Barney needs to be put down. Nuff said.
Psychedelic and inspired. But also highly addictive and dangerous. Stay away! Only approved for age 2 and under.
Hysterical. Highly recommended. But just for you, not for your kids.
Many people have bought expensive digital cameras but are still disapointed with the results they are getting. They can't understand why their photos look like crap. Most people don't actually know anything about photography, and seem to think that all they need to do is just point and shoot and everything will be okay. Well, that strategy only works if you are in the Tzahal. Just kidding!
Here are the most important things to know:
- Get Closer: 90% of portait shots fail due to the subject being too small in the frame. The head and shoulders should fill the frame if possible. Also, if you have an SLR, you can set the aperture wide open to get a blurred background effect. This is generally not possible even with a high end point and shoot, due to the way the lens is contructed.
- Pay attention to lighting: Mid-day sun is awful. It creates highlites and shadows which most cameras can't handle in one picture. Either you get blown out highlites or too dark shadows. This problem is especially accute in Israel. Either shoot in the early morning or evening, or in the shade, or use a flash. Yes! You can use a flash in bright daylight. In fact, that's the only time you should use a flash.
- Never flash: Flash pictures are usually bad (except for above). If you have a fast lens and film (or a high ISO setting), you should use it. Most new DSLR's can go up to 1600 ISO without too much noise. Get a fast lens (50mm at f1.8), set to 800ISO or higher and the widest aperture, and you should be able to take handheld shots even by candle light.
- Set your aperture: Most novices with SLR's don't have a clue about aperture and shutter speed. It can be counter intuitive but it's worth figuring out how it works. Aperture is very important in that it determines depth of field - i.e. How much of your picture will be in focus. For landscapes you want lots in focus, for portraits you usually don't. Many consumer cameras have easy settings, but it's still worth figuring out what they do and how they work.
- Zooms: Zooms are fun and everybody uses them. But you need to pay attention to shutter speed. You cannot hand hold a camera at low shutter speeds and get a sharp picture, it will be blurry. The longer you zoom, the more pronounced the blur will be. The rule of thumb is that your shutter speed should be 'higher' that your zoom length e.g. If you are zoomed out to 300mm, you need a minimum shutter speed of 1/300 or else it will be blurry. If you are zoomed to 50mm, your need a minimum of 1/50 speed. Automatic point and shoot cameras generally take care of this for you, but not always.
- Lenses: If you have an SLR, your choice of lenses is important, maybe even more so than the camera body. A good lens can make all the difference. Don't skimp on the lens!
- Body: Of course Canon bodies are the best, it's not even a kashye. Every Canonite knows that. And Nikonists are a bunch of kofrim, so don't ever listen to them.
GH Fashion Tips!
Gil recently posted about not wearing casual clothes on Shabbos. Many commenters complained that his advice of 'suit and tie' was impractical for warmer climes, especially during the height of summer. Many people claimed that wearing 'specially for shabbos' casual clothes was perfectly fine, and that Gedolim from the previous generations often went more casual on Shabbos afternoons.
I agree, but one can certainly accomplish both goals of being comfortable AND being Shabbosdick. It does not have to be an either or. Here is my recommended Shabbos outfit for those of you living in hot places:
Suit: 100% linen or Cotton Seersucker. If you go with the linen, be careful not to bend any of your limbs, as you will start to look crumpled and therefore unshabbosdick.
Shirt: 100% linen short sleeve. You won't be taking your jacket off in shul anyway so that's not a problem.
Tie: You can skip the ties. Ties are goyish!
Underwear: (Ladies close your eyes): I would recommend an A-Shirt rather than a T Shirt. A-Shirts have better ventilation and you will shvitz less. Alternatively, you can try some Neatzit. As regards tachtonim bishvil hatachton, I would say go with the Y's and not the BB's (Hamayvin Yavin).
Footwear: I recommend those hybrid shoe/sandals which have ventilation holes, but still look shabbosdick. Don't forget all cotton socks.
Headwear: A srugie is obviously the most practical in the heat, leather and velvet will be less comfortable. I would recommend a hat to guard against sunburn, especially for those who have 'less on top'. If you don't want to be mistaken for a chareidi, make sure it's an offbeat havana straw type hat, and not a borsalino.
GH Travel Tips
Travelling long haul, let's say to Israel can be very stressful, especially with young children. From New York, Paris or London, I think most people would opt to take a direct flight where possible. However from cities such as Boston, Washington and Chicago, an interesting dilemma presents itself. Which is preferable: A short hop to New York and then on to a direct flight, or, a long haul to Europe and then a flight to Tel Aviv?
Here is my analysis
US Airline to NY then EL AL to TLV
- Can potentially use frequent flyer miles for first leg
- Longer sleep possible on NY-TLV section
- All kosher food on longer section on EL AL
- Lots of Jews on the second plane to shmooze to
- More tefilot haderechs = safer flight
- EL AL Security
- Lots of Jews on the second plane talking and making you crazy
- Check in at Newark is always a total balegan
- Transfer at Newark or JFK is painful in both directions
- Second flight can be very long especially on the return
European Carrier to TLV via Europe
- Two flights of more equal length
- Can have a break in the middle, even stay a few days
- European airport shopping is great
- Limited balegan at check in
- Transfer in Europe is usually good
- Flights to Europe are usually on on small planes (Except for BA)
- If you miss your connection you may be in trouble
- Very goyish flights, limited Tefilas Haderechs
- Food options are more limited
I think you have to take into account actual flight details and ticket prices. I have flown both ways many times, and every time has been a disaster: Missed connections, missing baggage, no kosher meals, balegan check ins, kids puking everywhere etc etc. Each time I swear 'next time I'm going to do it the other way!'
GH on Home Improvement
Its Ellul again, so our thoughts naturally turn to the Yomim Tovim, and especially Sukkot. Many people ask me, what does the Godol do for a Sukkah? Here are my recommendations for a do-it-yourself Succah. The picture on the left is of a gazebo. You can get these at Target or similar, they range in price from $100 to $1000, depending on quality and features. The roof usually comes off and can be replaced with schach. Obviously you need to build up the walls a bit, if you are Lax-MO you can use bits of string, if you are Machmir-UO you should get pieces of wood and do a proper job. As a bonus, in the summer you can use your succah as a gazebo!
GH Gourmet Food Roundup
In this post I would like to explore the wonderful gourmet world of instant noodle soup and similar. There are four main brands in this food category:
1. Osem Meals on the Go
2. Tradition Instant Noodle Soups
3. Kojel Instant Soups
4. Osem Tai Noodle SoupsThe first three are available in most kosher stores, the fourth type is more 'Israeli' and I have only found it in stores which specialize in importing Israeli foods. The Osem Meals on the Go are not bad, and they have some interesting varities. The Tradition Noodle soups are okay, I like the Beef Style one the best. No adverse after-affects have been noticed from either of these. The Kojel instant soups are awful, I would not recommend them at all. Finally the Israel Tai noodles are pretty good. The attenton to detail is especially nice, they each include a seperate flavor sachet, and also a folding spoon. How convenient!
Join me next time when I will explore the delicious world of LaBriut meals. Until then, Bon Apetit!
So the president and his advisors .....
Feh. Who am I kidding? I couldn't give a **** about politics. As long as taxes are low and the economy is booming, there could be a monkey in the White House for all I care. Wait a minute .....
Britney had a boy! MazelTov. This will be especially interesting news to the Torah v'Britney strand of Modern Orthodoxy.
My 'Deeply Moving Personal Story' Post
When perusing the blogs recently I noticed that some JBloggers had taken to blogging deeply moving and personal stories. For example AddeRabbi bought tears to my eyes talking about his Zaidy, and OrthoMom did the same with her chilling 9/11 tale. Mirty has had some really moving posts about her departure from Orthodoxy, and BenAvuyah delights and moves us with his stories from Yeshivah. So, now it’s my turn!
My Deeply Moving ‘9/11’ Story
I woke up on the morning of 9/11/01 thinking that this was going to be just another typical day. Little did I know what was going to be in store for me. I was running rather late that day, and in a decision which was going to change my whole day, I switched on the news before leaving. I couldn’t believe my eyes, my jaw literally dropped (and I mean literally). Thereafter I was glued to the TV and didn’t make it into work at all. At the time I was living and working many miles from New York, so I guess this story is no big deal.
OK, so my 9/11 story is a dud. Let’s try again:
My Deeply Moving ‘Leaving My Home & Community’ Story
It was a sunny day, circa 1985. My father had driven me to the train station as I had decided to leave my home and my community, and the world of mixed UO/MO Orthodoxy completely behind. I was sad as I waved goodbye to my father, knowing that things were never going to be the same again. That’s right, I was headed for a UO Beis Medrash.
OK, another dud. How about this one:
My Deeply Moving ‘Zaidy’ Story
My Zaidy was a nice fellow, but he could also be a little difficult at times. I saw him occasionally and loved him. He died while I was overseas in Yeshivah so I missed the levayah and shivah.
Darn it! Another dud. OK, here’s a good one:
My Deeply Moving ‘Lost Love’ Story
June 1994. I am spending Shabbos on the Upper West Side, visiting some friends. Across the hallway I spotted …. You gotta be kidding! No way can I blog that story. Neither the subject of that story nor the Rebbetzin is going to like that.
I got it! My Katrina Story:
My Dangerous & Moving ‘Katrina Story
I have cousins in New Orleans, and earlier this summer we thought we might visit them. However Katrina hit, and they evacuated, so now we are not going to go after all.
Another dud. OK, how about this:
My ‘Dangerously Exciting Encounter With Wildlife’ story.
When I was a kid, I had a hamster and a gerbil. They both seemed quite lonely, so one day I decided to put the two of them together to make a shidduch. Who knows? Maybe I could produce a cross-breed of Germsters (or should that be Hambils?). After all I reasoned, they were both small and furry, and were both lonely, so like most of the singles on the UWS, they shouldn’t be too picky. I gingerly placed each rodent on the floor, a couple of feet apart. After a few minutes, the gerbil shot at the hamster, knocked him over, and then jumped up inside my pants. A true story, and quite painful.
Alright, so that wasn’t quite a bear attack but still pretty exciting! At least for the gerbil anyway. Here’s another good one:
My Deeply Moving and Personal True Story
I am actually ***** ******. I started my blog because ******** ******** ****** and I didn’t ****** ****** at all. Over time, it became clear that ******** and ****** were really quite ******** so I continued *****, ******** and sometimes even *********. Not only that, but the really incredible thing about all of this is that ******* always ******** me ******* even when ******** and ********* didn’t ******** *******.
And Now For Something Completely Different
A fan wrote to me yesterday to say that my blog has gotten repetitious recently, with 'long poems. dovbear on spirituality. kiruv clowns. sceptics. over and over again.' Well, that is my blog! But, not wanting to disapoint, I will now post on a whole bunch of different issues, things I would never normally post about, and maybe never again (or not depending on how it goes).
Wednesday, September 14, 2005
(This was inspired by Daas Hedyot’s latest post. I do not mean to imply that this song is relevant to Daas Hedyot himself, who I’m sure is an ehrliche yid.)
This isn’t reality
This is a cult fantasy
Stuck with my landsleit
No escape from spirituality
I open my eyes
I look up to the skies and I see (nothing)
I’m a real frei boy, I need lots of sympathy
Because I really really want to go,
Out of Brooklyn to Colorado,
Anywhere the frum don’t go, doesn’t really matter to me,
Rabbi, just killed my emunah,
Got some doubts inside my head,
Studied philosophy, now it’s dead,
Rabbi, I was born frum,
But now I want to throw it all away
Rabbi, ooh ooh ooh,
I can’t pretend to try
I won’t be back again in shul tomorrow
And I’ll carry on, carry on, because nothing really matters
You’re too late, the time has come,
Excitement running down my spine
My body’s aching for a good time
Goodbye everybody, I’ve got to go
Gonna leave the frum world behind and embrace the truth
Rabbi, ooh ooh ooh, (anywhere the frum don’t go)
I really want to be frie,
I often wish I’d never been born frum at all
I have an old friend who is now a kollel yungerman,
Chas Vesholom, Chas Vesholom, please try to be frum again!
Your proofs and your arguments are not very convincing to me!
R’Elyashiv and Rav Shach,
The GRA and the Rambam
All believe it is true!
I’m just a frei boy you don’t understand me
You maybe a frei boy but you’re from a frum family
Please spare your soul from this monstrosity!
Easy come easy go will you let me go?
You have Bris-milah! No! I will not let you go, Let me go!
You have Bris-milah! I will not let you go! Let me go!
You have Bris-milah! I will not let you go! Let me go!
Will not let you go! Let me go!
Will not let you go! Let me go!
No, no, no, no, no, no, no!
But moshe shmeel, moshe shmeel, moshe shmeel let me go
I don’t believe in the devil, god or a soul in me, in me, in me
So you think I don’t know real peshat in an ‘Eye for an Eye’?
So you think it’s moral to condemn all Amalek to die?
Oh it’s all ‘maybe’, but I can’t stay frum on a ‘maybe’
Just gotta get out, just gotta get right outta here
Nothing really matters,
Every skeptic can see,
Nothing really matters, nothing really matters to me,
Anywhere the frum don’t go …
Reconciling Judaism with Judaism
A well known political hack, who is under the unfortunate impression that the 'Spanish Rishonim' exactly fit with modern liberal attitudes, said this yesterday:
The entire Torah is about (a) doing what God commands so that (b) we can create the best possible life for the greatest number of people in this world.
Being the Godol Hador, I have a certain responsibility to my flock (herd?), even the the ones seemingly affected by Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy, and I can't let such blatant apikorsus or ignorance go unchallenged.
It is true that Orthodox Judaism believes that following the Torah will 'create the best possible life for the greatest number of people in this world'.
However, that is certainly not the entire Torah. Another fundamental of Orthodox Judaism is that we have the concept of Olam Habah. It's easy to see why this concept is so fundamental. In Orthodox Judaism, G-d is regarded as all-powerful and all-good. But, we see a tremendous amount of evil and injustice in this world. How can that be?
The only possible answer is that there is a 'next' world where all things are evened out and everything becomes just. (This still doesn't fully answer the question of how a good G-d can allow evil to exist at all, but that's a different matter). We don't know much about the next world, and indeed some people hold that the concept was only introduced some time after Mattan Torah, but its an absolute fundamental, or else the idea of a good G-d makes no sense at all.
Once you agree on an afterlife, the question becomes, 'How do you get there?'. Clearly your physical body decomposes after death and there is nothing left. There needs to be some component of 'you' that survives death and enters the next world. This component is the Soul. Again, we might not know much about the Soul, but it is a fundamental.
So, the entire Torah is actually about three things:
(a) doing what God commands so that
(b) we can create the best possible life for the greatest number of people in this world, and
(c) we can elevate our neshamot for chayei olam habah.
There have been various views as to exactly how our neshamot get 'elevated'. The Rambam's view was very intellectual: He held that by contemplating G-d and cultivating correct intellectual attitudes we get closer to G-d. The last few chapters of Moreh Nevuchim spell this out. Other great thinkers had a more emotional or mystical approach. But all agree on a Neshamah and some form of 'Spirituality'.
This important aspect of Orthodox Judaism cannot be denied, it is too fundamental to the entire system.
The Thing I Hate Most About Orthodoxy
This post addresses a very important issue: The thing I HATE most about Orthodoxy. This thing is so much the antithesis of what Orthodoxy is supposed to be about that it makes me MAD. This thing costs a BLOODY fortune and completely subverts the whole point of requiring it in the first place, since the very thing it is supposed to reduce is by and large increased with the addition of it. I HATE this thing!
Can you guess what this thing is?
Advice From a Skeptic
Someone wrote this to me, but it sounds like reasonable advice for people with serious faith issues who like Orthodoxy:
Be Orthoprax because you like it. Be Orthoprax because you find it spiritual, or for any personally gratifying reason. Temper the prax with healthy skepticism and knowledge of other moral influences. Believe as much or as little as you like of the Orthodox claims, and defend those beliefs as faith. You are obviously more comfortable with avoiding starkly irrational faith beliefs, so it's not like your'e going to wobble off the deep end any time soon. Kugel only affects the waistline, not the sanity.
[Hat tip: Anonymous Skeptic]
Of course the problem is that many Skeptics don't like Orthopraxy. Whether that fact correlates or has any type of causal relationship with their skepticism remains a topic of some debate.
Faith does breed charity
We atheists have to accept that most believers are better human beings
Monday September 12, 2005
Hurricane Katrina did not stay on the front pages for long. Yesterday's Red Cross appeal for an extra 40,000 volunteer workers was virtually ignored.
The disaster will return to the headlines when one sort of newspaper reports a particularly gruesome discovery or another finds additional evidence of President Bush's negligence. But month after month of unremitting suffering is not news. Nor is the monotonous performance of the unpleasant tasks that relieve the pain and anguish of the old, the sick and the homeless - the tasks in which the Salvation Army specialise.
The Salvation Army has been given a special status as provider-in-chief of American disaster relief. But its work is being augmented by all sorts of other groups. Almost all of them have a religious origin and character.
Notable by their absence are teams from rationalist societies, free thinkers' clubs and atheists' associations - the sort of people who not only scoff at religion's intellectual absurdity but also regard it as a positive force for evil.
The arguments against religion are well known and persuasive. Faith schools, as they are now called, have left sectarian scars on Northern Ireland. Stem-cell research is forbidden because an imaginary God - who is not enough of a philosopher to realise that the ingenuity of a scientist is just as natural as the instinct of Rousseau's noble savage - condemns what he does not understand and the churches that follow his teaching forbid their members to pursue cures for lethal diseases.
Yet men and women who believe that the Pope is the devil incarnate, or (conversely) regard his ex cathedra pronouncements as holy writ, are the people most likely to take the risks and make the sacrifices involved in helping others. Last week a middle-ranking officer of the Salvation Army, who gave up a well-paid job to devote his life to the poor, attempted to convince me that homosexuality is a mortal sin.
Late at night, on the streets of one of our great cities, that man offers friendship as well as help to the most degraded and (to those of a censorious turn of mind) degenerate human beings who exist just outside the boundaries of our society. And he does what he believes to be his Christian duty without the slightest suggestion of disapproval. Yet, for much of his time, he is meeting needs that result from conduct he regards as intrinsically wicked.
Civilised people do not believe that drug addiction and male prostitution offend against divine ordinance. But those who do are the men and women most willing to change the fetid bandages, replace the sodden sleeping bags and - probably most difficult of all - argue, without a trace of impatience, that the time has come for some serious medical treatment. Good works, John Wesley insisted, are no guarantee of a place in heaven. But they are most likely to be performed by people who believe that heaven exists.
The correlation is so clear that it is impossible to doubt that faith and charity go hand in hand. The close relationship may have something to do with the belief that we are all God's children, or it may be the result of a primitive conviction that, although helping others is no guarantee of salvation, it is prudent to be recorded in a book of gold, like James Leigh Hunt's Abu Ben Adam, as "one who loves his fellow men". Whatever the reason, believers answer the call, and not just the Salvation Army. When I was a local councillor, the Little Sisters of the Poor - right at the other end of the theological spectrum - did the weekly washing for women in back-to-back houses who were too ill to scrub for themselves.
It ought to be possible to live a Christian life without being a Christian or, better still, to take Christianity à la carte. The Bible is so full of contradictions that we can accept or reject its moral advice according to taste. Yet men and women who, like me, cannot accept the mysteries and the miracles do not go out with the Salvation Army at night.
The only possible conclusion is that faith comes with a packet of moral imperatives that, while they do not condition the attitude of all believers, influence enough of them to make them morally superior to atheists like me. The truth may make us free. But it has not made us as admirable as the average captain in the Salvation Army.
[GH: It's like I have been saying all along. You don't see the Atheists opening up institutions of charity or morality & ethics. It's understandable. I mean, if morality is just a practical way to live, there is no need to go crazy about it. Just do the bare minimum and then you are yotzeh. After all, there is always some religious nut who thinks his afterlife is dependant on doing Mitzvos who will go the extra mile so you don't have to.]
Tuesday, September 13, 2005
Reconciling Judaism with ...
Some people felt the previous post should have come with an 'Emunah Threat Level High' Warning. That wasn't the point! The point is that in trying to make Judaism fit with things it doesn't, you end up creating a mess, and being dishonest in the process.
Breishis cannot fit with contemporary Science. That doesn't (neccessarily) mean the Torah is a fake, it just means you need to learn Breishis differently. But don't give bogus answers about 'day' being non literal, or time moving faster, or the earth being created fully formed. It still doesn't fit with Science and you end up distorting the text.
OJ does not fit with current liberal norms. It just doesn't. If you pretend it does, you are seriously warping Judaism and also mis-representing it. If you hold a moral or ethical position which is seriously in conflict with OJ, you only have a few choices
1. Give up on OJ
2. Give up on your personal moral position
3. Come up with some clever theology about continuous revelation.
Tamar Ross tried number 3 with respect to feminism (and she isn't nearly as radical as many feminists) and still got branded as a kofer by Rav Aharon Lichtenstein, so I wouldn't advise that. You can emphasize that Orthodoxy does not 'hate' the sinner, only the sin, but don't go claiming that Homosexuality is not 'immoral' or that the Torah doesn't contain morality. That's just bunk.
Finally, many people are somewhat tired of how Orthodoxy has become too external focused, too ritual focused and too quick fix focused. The Artscroll ad was a good representation of that. It's the 'You have a problem? Go check your mezuzos, or the slit in your skirt' mentality.
I understand you can't really prove G-d, or the soul, or spirituality. And I'm also willing to push the boundaries of Orthodoxy as far as they can go, and then some. But misrepresenting Science, trying to make Orthodoxy fit with your particular brand of politics, or pretending it is something it's not really gets me mad. If you don't have a consistent Theology, or even worse, if you don't care to have a consistent Theology, then don't blog Theology. Stick to politics.
Invoking the 'Spanish Rishonim' and specifically the Rambam in defence of some dry, non spiritual, liberal utilitarian vision of Orthodoxy is particularly egregious, since that entirely misrepresents their viewpoints.
The 'Rational Rishonim' certainly did not hold 21st century 'liberal' viewpoints on women's rights, homosexuality and the like. Nor did they discount spirituality and the soul. The Rambam's vision of spirituality was very intellectual, but he certainly did not hold that 'The entire Torah is about (a) doing what God commands so that (b) we can create the best possible life for the greatest number of people in this world.' That's just nonsense. Let's see what the Rambam actually says:
I have shown you that the intellect which emanates from God unto us is the link that joins us to God. You have it in your power to strengthen that bond, if you choose to do so, or to weaken it gradually, till it breaks if you prefer this. It will only become strong when you employ it in the love of God, and seek that love: it will be weakened when you direct your thoughts to other things. You must know that even if you were the wisest man in respect to the true knowledge of God, you break the bond between you and God whenever you turn entirely your thoughts to the necessary food or any necessary business; you are then not with God, and He is not with you: for that relation between you and Him is actually interrupted in those moments. The pious were therefore particular to restrict the time in which they could not meditate upon the name of God, and cautioned others about it, saying," Let not your minds be vacant from reflections upon God." In the same sense did David say," I have set the Lord always before me; because he is at my right hand, I shall not be moved" (Ps. xvi. 8): i.e., I do not turn my thoughts away from God; He is like my right hand, which I do not forget even for a moment on account of the ease of its motions, and therefore I shall not be moved, I shall not fail. We must bear in mind that all such religious acts as reading the Law, praying, and the performance of other precepts, serve exclusively as the means of causing us to occupy and fill our mind with the precepts of God, and free it from worldly business; for we are thus, as it were, in communication with God, and undisturbed by any other thing.If that's not spirituality then what the heck is?
Clowns reconcile Judaism with ….
Frumteens: Day doesn’t mean ‘day’! But Breishis is accurate.
(Yeah right. And Adam doesn’t mean Adam and Eve doesn’t mean Eve and global doesn’t mean global and flood doesn’t mean flood and so on and so on. It doesn't shtim you dummy.)
…. Liberal / Democratic Politics
DovBear: The Torah forbids the homosexual act, but that doesn’t mean the Torah finds it immoral. In fact the word ‘Morality’ doesn’t exist in the Torah.
(The Torah is all about Morality & Ethics you
…. New Age Spirituality
Artscroll: This book (Praying With Fire) will show you how to: • Ignite the power of your prayer • Achieve personal growth through tefillah • Tap the Shechinah's Presence •T hirteen strategies for kavannah •Understand that every prayer is answered: CAN YOU SPARE 5 MINUTES A DAY? CAN YOU AFFORD NOT TO?!
(Tap the Shechina’s presence in only 5 minutes per day! Wow. Sign me up!)
Newsflash to Clowns:
- Breishis does NOT shtim with Science
- Orthodox Judaism does NOT shtim with liberal values (on equality of the sexes, homosexuality etc)
- Davening is NOT about tapping into the Divine Presence in less than 5 minutes a day
Skeptic1: Slavery is immoral!
Skeptic2: Also all the massacres in Tenach!
Skeptic1: I hate Homophobia.
Skeptic2: I like Bestiality.
Skeptic1: Mass Genocide is terrible.
Skeptic2: I think it’s okay if it’s practical.
Skeptic1: I like to steal things when no one is looking.
Skeptic2: That’s nice, but not very practical. What if you get caught?
Skeptic1: I hadn’t thought of that. Of course you’re right.
Skeptic2: I love equality.
Skeptic1: Me too! And chocolate chip ice-cream.
Skeptic2: Isn’t it just great that we get to create our own morality?
Skeptic1: Yes! This way we can always be totally moral, and not have to follow some immoral religious system against our will.
Frumteens needs our help
Although we are no friends of FrumTeens, he really needs our help, and who are we to refuse a Jew in need?
In this thread , referring to the 'upgrade accident' where FrumTeens mysteriously 'lost' certain 'posts' (yeah, right, do you think we were born yesterday?) he says:
Posted - 11 September 2005 10:54
Thanks for all the suggestions, everyone. Our technician decided he's going to build the new website from scratch, not from pre-made software. So now we can basically do anything we want with it, an so I'm asking for ideas. What functionality would you like to see on the new site? Gimme ideas! Also, we need an idea for a GUI - a front-end, a design. If anyone here knows of any message-board websites that have a really cool design, please let me know so we can maybe get some ideas from them.
Why would you want to build it from scratch? There are plenty of good open source programs available, or commercial software. Building a chat/forum site from scratch seems particularly idiotic. Methinks your technician is trying to sell you something you don't need.
Anyways, here are some of my suggestions:
1. Cut our all your ridiculous Science and Torah nonsense
2. Cut out all your idiotic 'All the Gedolim say' nonsense
3. Cut out all your extremist anti-Zionist nonsense
4. Cut out all your extremist anti-Modern Orthodox nonsense
5. Cut out all your extremist anti-Goyim nonsense
6. Cut out all your rest of your nonsense
If you follow all these suggesstions, I'm sure that your entire site could then fit nicely into a couple of blog posts, which I will be happy to guest post for you. Problem solved!
Please do write in with any other suggestions for Frumteens*.
*Illegal, immoral or biologically obscene suggestions will be deleted.
The Rabbi on the Airplane, again!
William Dembski, A Creationist Clown (like a Kiruv Clown but Christian) quotes the famous Rabbi on the Airplane Story on his blog. In response, Paul Myers, a rabid evilutionist (not a typo) posted this diatribe.
You may recall that I posted my version of this story a few months ago here. Other versions can also be found here and here .
So what’s the real truth? Did this story actually happen, or is it just an urban myth?
Well, after some investigation I have uncovered the real true story.
R Yaakov Kaminetzky zt”l was flying back from Israel with his youngest son taking care of him. He didn’t service him hand and foot as some commentors claimed, but was simply looking after him as befitting an elderly gentleman and an Odom Godol. Seated next to R Yaakov was a secular member of some well known Israeli organization, but my sources differ as to whether this was a political organization or a scientific one.
The secular Israeli remarked that his son does not treat him with as much respect, to which R Yaakov replied with his famous line. However R Yaakov’s response has been misinterpreted. His response was not really a jab at evolution, or a statement that evolution is not true. In fact as we have seen from other stories and from recent events, R Yaakov himself and the Kaminetzkys in general are among the more secheldick of the Gedolim. R Yaakov was simply pointing out that because we believe in Har Sinai, we respect people who are closer to that event.
The question still remains though, his answer was rather strange. Why did R Yaakov simply not reply with the truth, which is that respect for your elders and especially for an Odom Godol is a fundamental Halachic requirement in Orthodox Judaism, and that his son was naturally following the Halachah?
My opinion is that R Yaakov was simply being an Onov. Rather than even hint at the fact that he was due some respect for being an Odom Godol, he preferred to explain his son’s respect on the simple mechanical matter of his being closer to Har Sinai.
Either that, or else he was stam joking around and the story is really no big deal.
(Hat tip for Blog links: Mis-nagid)
It's a Dog's Blog
Hat tip: Anonymous
Monday, September 12, 2005
Orthodoxy Acid Test
Take this test to see which religion you are!
Here are my scores, I answered honestly and this was my first attempt:
1. Orthodox Judaism (100%)
2. Reform Judaism (93%)
3. Bahai Faith (92%)
4. Islam (92%)
5. Sikhism (86%)
6. Liberal Quakers (70%)
7. Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (Mormons) (68%)
8. Unitarian Universalism (67%)
9. Jainism (67%)
10. Mainline to Liberal Christian Protestants (63%)
Ha! I am Orthodox after all! On the downside, I'm only 7% away from Reform, and only 8% away from Bahai or Islam.
Please take the test and report your results here, let's see who else is really Orthodox, like your 100% Genuine Bona-Fide Belief-Net Certified Orthodox Godol Hador.
Do frum people talking crap damage your emunah?
When I see stupidity from Frumteens it bothers me. Not so much because Frumteens is an idiot, not to mention a purveyor of sometimes dangerous nonsense to impressionable and troubled teenagers, but more because he quotes seforim and chazal, and utilizes 'frum' concepts to make his usually moronic arguments.
I call this 'Theological Abuse', or more colloquially 'FrumCrap'. It damages my emunah because these are often worthy and deep concepts, but twisted in support of stupidity. I can really sympathize with some of the ex-frum Skeptics, who no doubt had to put up with this crap in Yeshivah, and may continue to be knee deep in it by virtue of living in Brooklyn or Monsey.
What is the solution? Should idiot fundamentalists be banned from teaching Torah? That clearly wouldn't work, half our Yeshivos would have to be closed down, and we would lose many so called 'Gedolim' too. Tee hee. I guess they should just stay away from Torah & Science issues, or just follows Rav Mattisyahu's lead. His Taiku theory looks a lot more intelligent than Frumteen's nonsense.
Frumteens is so stupid; is he even worth debating?
Frumteens posts a particularly stupid response to the claims of Science regarding the age of the universe. He says that firstly, the world was created old. Secondly, even things which could not be answered by this argument can be answered by realizing that Chazal said everything during the 6 days of creation speeded up very fast, until Adam's sin, at which point they slowed down to their current rates. He brings a proof to this from the Divrei Chaim, who asks how come we have starts with orbits of 36,000 years? The Divrei Chaim answers that Adam's sin caused the orbits to slow down, but originally they were much faster! Okay, the Divrei Chaim can be forgiven for such ignorance, but I am not sure that Frumteens can.
Here's a question that neither answer works for. How come we find cave paintings and other human artifacts (like humans) which predate Adam by many thousands of years? The 'sin of Adam' or a 'fully formed world' won't work for that. I guess then we have to come on to a third answer, that the Mabul changed all the laws of Science, so carbon and other forms of dating are unreliable. But what about all the geological evidence which shows the Mabul never happened? I guess then you come on to a fourth answer which says G-d removed all the Mabul evidence as a nissayon. But why would G-d do such a crazy thing, and what mekkor do you have for this in Judaism?
I guess then you have to come on to the fifth answer: Frumteens is a frikkin idiot. Yeah, I think that answer is probably the most accurate.
Science & Religion: Do they overlap? Yes they do!
A large part of this blog has been about the conflict of Science and Religion. I have always tried to argue that you can have both, however there is certainly a conflict which must be overcome. Stephen Jay Gould wrote a book, Rock of Ages, where he tried to argue that they don’t conflict, and that Science and Religion occupy different 'magesteria'. He called his theory 'Non Overlapping Magesteria', or NOMA for short. Gould, of course, got bashed by both sides for his book, the Atheists felt he had given too much ground, while Believers felt his vision of religion was basically as an ethical and moral system devoid of any miracles or even G-d.
Seeing that most sensible Orthodox people believe in both Science and in Religion, I think it’s worth thinking about where Science and Religion do seem to overlap, and what we can do about it, if anything.
One of the biggest sources of overlap is where Breishis makes scientific claims as to the formation of the universe, the creation of human and animal life, and it’s implict dating of the universe/earth to be about 6000 years old. I have focused on this in the past, so no need to go in depth here, but the basic answer is that Breishis is mythology and was never intended to be a Scientific account, but rather a mythical account with some kernels of truth, teaching important moral and spiritual lessons.
2. Shemos / Rest of Tenach
While not as overt as Breishis, there are many historical claims in the rest of Shemos and Tenach which could potentially ‘overlap’ with Science i.e. Be disproved. I’m not talking about Miracles (a separate subject) but simply the geography, zoology, history and so on which forms a background to some stories. Zoology questions have been addressed by Rabbi Slifkin in his books, so I won’t get into them here. History is not exactly an exact Science, but if no evidence ever turns up in any other documentation or archeology about 2.5 million people leaving Egypt then that’s rather disturbing. I don't have a good answer here other than to hope for the best.
Does G-d conflict with Science? In one sense, yes. Science posits ‘Occams Razor’ as its basic philosophy. It also posits having evidence for things. Also falsifiablity and predictability. Since G-d is currently not so simple and the evidence is a bit on the weak side, plus G-d is impossible to falsify and predictions are tricky, a Scientist could not successfully theorize G-d as being an acceptable answer for anything. Of course this is not a direct conflict with the findings of Science itself; it’s more of a conflict with accepted scientific methodology.
Orthodoxy does not simply posit an abstract G-d, but a personal G-d who takes an interest in the world and ‘arranges’ or ‘plans’ things, like evolution, or my car getting a flat. How does this work? Obviously we have no clue, but G-d messing with the world would seem to contradict Science, unless it’s at the Quantum level, in which case anything goes. My solution? It would be cool if could figure out how He does it. Then if we could devise a means of detecting it, I would finally know for sure whether that flat tire was a punishment for one of my sins, or simply the result of driving over a nail.
5. Spirituality & Souls
Orthodox Judaism (apart from DovBear) believes in Spirituality and Souls. This means that each human has a soul somehow attached to his body, and which survives his death. Even more importantly, this soul is somehow connected to your brain, emotions and actions, so that things you do and thoughts you think somehow affect your soul. And many people (again, not DovBear) believe that spirituality works in the opposite direction too, your emotions and brain can detect the spirituality of your soul. I suppose you could claim that the Soul is just your consciousness, but then it’s hard to figure out how an afterlife can work. Spirituality and Souls is not particularly scientific, and in fact Science may one day figure out how consciousness works, and why people feel spiritual. (No, they have not figured this out yet, there are only speculative theories so far). My solution is to hope that they don’t.
Although Gould and Dawkins agreed (for once) that miracles are not Scientific and religion should not be allowed to argue for Miracles, I disagree. Miracles are supposed to be above Science, so I don’t see a conflict. The bigger issue is if Science can disprove a particular miracle from happening. For example, if the Flood happened miraculously, where is all the geological evidence? Some might claim that miraculous water doesn’t leave evidence. Maybe so. But they certainly would have wiped out civilization, so how come we see uninterrupted civilization in many parts of the world? Of course that can all be a miracle too but it gets a little silly after a while, and not very theologically desirable either. So, while I don’t think Miracles overlap with Science, they can certainly be disproved (in some cases) from happening, but ultimately more for theological reasons than for strictly Scientific ones. And of course let’s not forget that Science can’t answer any fundamentals either, so it’s all a miracle at the end of the day.
A recent ad for a new Artscroll book sounded like an infommercial: ’Increase the effectiveness of your Tefillah in only 5 minutes a day! Guaranteed results!’. I guess if effectiveness is measured in how ‘spiritual’ you feel then it might work but I hope they are not judging based on results. Gil once asked why communal type prayers never seem to work, for example with Gaza. Well my Gaza prayer worked out very well! In fact, amazingly well. G-d answered all my Gaza prayers. Seriously though, even if you regard petition as only a smaller aspect of prayer it’s still hard to see how effective it is. Of course maybe the answer is always no. I believe someone did a study where some patients were prayed for and some were not, and there was no difference in recovery rates. On the other hand, the ones who were prayed for were also the recipients of free Satmar meals so maybe that had a debilitating and counter-balancing effect.
8. Orthodox Scientists
Orthodox Scientists would seem to be a source of conflict, but I believe Orthodox Scientists are a figment of their own imagination. After all, their crowning glory should have been the Slifkin affair, yet mysteriously we didn’t hear a peep out of AOJS. I read somewhere that Rabbi Slifkin’s father is an Orthodox Scientist! Ha! That explains a lot. I actually know a few Orthodox Scientists, and they are all a little strange, either from having compartmentalized their brains for so long, or maybe from having to live a lie (but which one is the lie???)
9. Kannoim & Their Rabbis
Kannoim conflict with Science since the laws of evolution dictate that the human population should self-select away from gross stupidity and incompetence. I guess the answer to this conflict is that many people like gross stupidity and incompetence, and are happy to propagate such genes, especially if money and yichus are involved.
I’m sure there are some more areas of conflict, but that’s enough for now. By the way, what do you call someone obsessed with Science & Torah? Geek Orthodox.
Making of a Godol
The new edition of 'Making of a Godol' has come out. Funnily enough, this new edition doesn't include me. An oversight I'm sure, I forgive you R Nosson. Apparently you can get it at Tuviah's in Monsey. Some of the more controversial passages are better 'explained', but my sources tell me that the main thrust of the book is still intact. R Nosson also wrote a book called 'Making of a Ban' detailing his experiences at the hands of the ruthless
Some details here.
Religion has caused more persecutions, wars, and miseries than any other cause
I wish I had a dollar for every time I heard an Atheist or Skeptic repeat this line. Considering that Skeptics don't make claims without evidence, this is pretty suprising.
Let's talk about Wars.
Most wars in the past were caused by greed. Countries or Empires looking to expand. The European Wars were not caused by religion, nor were the conquests of Alexander the Great. Neither World War was caused by religion, and in fact the Nazi Party was quite anti-religious (at least the traditional ones) and more pro-Pagan. Communism was responsible for the deaths of 20 million+ people yet the communists were Atheists.
While it's true that European History from the Middle Ages on was full of religious persecution, that doesn't mean the rest of World History was. The Romans and the Persians were quite happy to conquer other lands and let the locals continue with their own religion, or include their gods into the Pantheon. The destruction of ancient Israel was more due to Jewish political revolt than any religious ideal on the part of the Romans.
It's hard to blame religion for life's miseries. Bubonic plague was hardly the fault of religion. Nor is despair, depression, poor health, death, failed marriages or any of the other ills of society. In fact, just the opposite can be argued: Religion has given millions of people comfort in the face of an otherwise inexplicable world full of sadness and evil. The Skeptics try and play it both ways: They say religion evolved to give people comfort (and obviously it was highly successful since most people are still religious in some fashion), and then they say Religion is reponsible for all life's miseries. They can't both be true.
The fact is that religion is certainly responsible for some wars, some persecutions and some miseries, but is also responsible for giving most people a moral & ethical framework, hope and comfort; no small things.
When are the Skeptics going to stop repeating this lie?
By Y. Aharon
Prior installments introduced the evidence for a stepwise revolutionary change on earth that resulted from the great impact that occurred 65 million years ago. These post-impact stages were tied to the creation ‘days’. The story of the creation ‘days’ that was sketched could be accepted by knowledgeable people, even if they are not convinced of the authenticity of the Torah, since they are based on the scientific evidence gathered these past two decades. The brief depiction of the creation of Adam and of the 7th ‘day’, in contrast, is not scientifically based. The former assumes a direct intervention by the Creator, while the latter has a purely religious and mystical aspect. These are more speculative and are not expected to appeal to those who deny such interventions, or that life on earth has a higher purpose. This installment is, therefore, unlikely to appeal to them either. Despite this proviso, the attempt made here to fit miraculous or highly improbable events into a natural scheme may be of interest to them as well.
The prior depiction of the creation of Adam/Eve as a resurrected couple refashioned in the form of a conjoined entity invites the obvious question of why not resurrect them as two individuals? The answer is also clear from the text. The torah wishes to describe an ideal relationship between man and woman wherein they consider themselves parts of a greater whole. That union of equals is the ideal of marriage that the Torah wishes to foster, “Therefore shall a man leave his father and mother and attach himself to his wife and become as one body” (Gen. 2:24). Adam, after the separation into two individuals, fully appreciates that Eve is independent yet derived from the same entity as he. He now has a fit companion rather than another body part .
There is an alternative scenario that needs to be explored. I have assumed that the Hebrew tzela from which Chava (Eve) is formed is translated as side, as in the construction of the Mishkan. That word has more commonly been translated as rib. If Eve was formed from Adam’s rib, then she is a clone of Adam. How, then, is she a female? You could argue that He who can form a rib into a person can also make that person a female. I, however, prefer the principle of the conservation of GOD’s energy. That is, to make the miraculous fit as best as possible with the natural. To transform every cell in the new person so as to contain the XX chromosome pair instead of XY is the equivalent of another resurrection. Instead, I would posit that the Creator found a dead individual (or arranged for its occurrence) who had a rare chromosomal abnormality. He was a chimera, mostly XY (male), but with some tissues that were XX (female). At least one rib contained XX cells. That chimera was resurrected as Adam. When the time came to provide a companion and mate for Adam, Eve was formed from that rib.
We now come to the garden of Eden where the resurrected Adam was placed. Is it real or a myth? It will not come as a surprise that I find a basis in reality for the Eden story. If you read the description of the garden, it is said to be watered by a stream from Eden that then separates into the headwater of 4 rivers. Two of them are the well known Tigris (Dikla) and Euphrates (Firat). Now, the sources of those two rives are in the mountains of Eastern Turkey (lake Van region). That region is also the source of other major rivers. Among them are the Kizil which was known in ancient times as the fabled Halys river, and the Araxes. I maintain that the former is the Pishon of verse 2:11 and the latter, the Gichon of verse 13. Although the 4 rivers no longer have a common source, the volcanism of that active region has changed the topography over the course of millennia and the course of the rivers.
What about the trees of life and knowing good and bad? The former must remain a mystery. Its fruit was never sampled by man, and so its effect is a mystery. Perhaps it induced a deep meditative trance that enabled one to unite with the source of existence. The tree of knowing good and bad, however, was sampled by Eve and Adam and lead to their experiencing the good and bad of ordinary life. The tree is thus named after its effect on the fortunes of its eaters. Of course, the temptation to eat that fruit was due to a much different assumption. It was assumed that the fruit would enable its eater to decide on whether something was good or bad. It must be kept in mind that Adam and Eve, although adult in bodily form and mental function, were naïve little children in terms of experience. They wished to be able to decide for themselves rather than relying entirely on their Creator, much like normal children – little and big.
If such acts of independence are normal and, even, desirable, why are Adam and Eve punished severely with sorrow, pain, toil, and death? Because the first couple were never intended to stay forever in the garden. Their proper and intended place was the real world; their lives were intended to be real, mortal lives with all the experiences of living. The stay in the garden of Eden was intended as a lesson and an ideal. The animals that they encountered were akin to those of the real world, but not identical in behavior. Outside, the law of the jungle prevailed; inside all the animals lived in harmony. Only the serpent of the story had no counterpart on the outside. He was a special creation intended only as a tempter for the couple. Real snakes were always slitherers, or had evolved long before from legged reptilians. The alleged punishment meted out to them is only a lesson for Adam and Eve.
No longer children, Adam and Chava become parents of two sons. Kayin (Cain), the older, becomes Adam’s helper in working the soil, while Hevel (Abel) helps Eve tend their flock. Both bring an offering to their Creator, but Hevel is the more generous. Hevel’s sacrafice is the one accepted. Kayin is angry. His work as a farmer is far harder than his brother’s yet it is the latter’s offering that wins favor. Even the heavenly answer to his anger is enigmatic. He interprets it as a sign that making his brother a sacrifice may appease a capricious deity. He kills his brother and then is confronted by GOD. “Where is Hevel, your brother? I don’t know, he replies. Am I my brother’s watchman?” The opening for repentance having been rejected, his punishment is given. The earth will no longer sustain him or provide a sense of security. He will be a nomad. Only some kind of mark or aura is given him for protection. Against whom must he be protected? Why does he then build a city for his son; who is to populate it? The answer seems clear. There are many other people on earth. Kayin’s aura leads to his treatment as a god by these other humans. His descendants inherit that aura and are likewise treated as deities or semigods. This situation leads, of course, to much abuse of privilege, and the sons of Cain lord it over their brethren and other people. The Creator is greatly upset with these developments. Only the arrival of Noach (Noah), a righteous man descended from Adam’s third son, Seth, provides any solace. GOD resolves to eliminate the descendants of Adam – except for Noach and his family.
[ED: From the BBC: University scientists say they have found strong proof that the human brain is still evolving. By comparing modern man with our ancestors of 37,000 years ago, the Chicago team discovered big changes in two genes linked to brain size. One of the new variants emerged only 5,800 years ago yet is present in 30% of today's humans, they believe. ]
The final installment will deal with the rescue of Noah’s family from a great flood that eliminates the other descendants of Adam. The aftermath of that rescue and the tower of Bave (Babel) incident will also be treated.
Friday, September 09, 2005
An interesting take on Breishis, reconciling it with Science by assuming that the story of Breishis is in reference to the Yucatan Impact 65 million years ago, and not the actual creation of the earth or the universe.
By Y Aharon
The earth has witnessed many violent events of extra-ordinary magnitude during and following its formation from solar nebular material over 4.5 billion years ago. The most violent of those events appears to have been the collision with a Mars-sized planetoid 4.5 billion years ago that splattered a good part of the original mantle and surface of the earth into space to form the moon. A much later collision with a 10 km (6 mile) asteroid 65 million years ago wreaked havoc with life on the planet and ushered in the mesozoic ("modern") era on earth. There is much evidence for the latter collision including a greatly enriched irridium content (The element Ir is much more common in some meteoric material than it is on the earth's crust) of the thin boundary layer between the sedimentary rocks of the older (lower) Cretaceous and younger (higher) Tertiary eras of the earth. The Cretaceous (K) rocks contain fossils of dinosaurs. These are totally absent in the Tertiary (T) rocks. Instead, the latter have many fossils of mammals. The K rocks also have many fossils of ferns and very little of the angiosperms (seed-bearing plants). The T layers contain a considerable amount of angiosperm fossils. There are many other graphic differences between these layers indicating a revolutionary change in life at the boundary. That world-wide boundary also contains globules of melted rock and has quartz crystals with shock striae. There is also soot and even "Buckyballs" - a form of carbon discovered 2 decades ago that consists largely of 60 carbon atoms in the form of a soccer ball-like sphere. The interior can contain entrapped gas molecules. The ones in the K-T layer have helium and argon isotope ratios that are found in meteorites but not on earth. Finally, the impact crater of a size expected for such a collision (200 km -120 miles) was found in the Yucatan jungle. The Ir, spherule, and shocked quartz content of cores taken from that crater was higher than anywhere else. More importantly, the age of the last melting of rock in these cores as determined by radioisotope analysis (K-Ar)was the same 65 million years as was found in the K-T boundary throughout the world.
My purpose in expounding on the evidence for the K-T impact at this length was to establish the factual basis for the biblical account. In my interpretation of the verses this event represents the starting point of the creation story.
In the first chapter I specified the enormous impact of a Mt. Everest sized asteroid (10 km) with the earth 65 million years ago as the starting point of the Genesis I story, and mentioned the evidence for that collision. This installment elaborates on the effect of that impact on the subsequent conditions of the planet. The next installment will tie those effects to verses in the first chapter in Bereishit.
We now know that the impact of the asteroid at the edge of Mexico's Yucatan peninsula coincided with the extinction of the dinosaurs, the dominant life form on land, and that of most other species of the Cretaceous age. The dinosaurs had dominated land for 130 million years and now they were suddenly eliminated. The new era witnessed the flourishing of mammals, birds, and seed-bearomg grasses amd trees. How did this change occur?
The enormous energy of that impact - far greater than the total energy of the nuclear inventories of the nations - resulted in the excavation and disintegration of a huge volume of bedrock some 200 km wide and perhaps 49 km deep under the shallow Carribean Sea, together with the mass of the asteroid. An enormous cloud of dust and sea mist was lifted up to the stratosphere, while glowing droplets of melted rock started raining down on a huge swath of the planet. The molten droplets incinerated both plant and animal life on contact, while the world-wide fires so generated added soot and other fire products to the atmosphere. Acids were generated first from the passage of the glowing asteroid through the atmosphere (fixation of nitrogen to form nitric acid), then by sulfuric acid formed from the action of water on the gaseous sulfur trioxide that was liberated from the gypsum in the target rock. The acid rains that fell acted as a powerful leaching agent on soils which released toxic materials such as aluminum ion that killed off sea life.
The global fiery holocaust and acid rain were joined by a period of total darkness as the thick dust cloud scattered all incoming light. This period of darkness would cause the death of photosynthetic plant life on land and sea, and all the higher elements in the food chains that were totally dependent on it. The great heat of the initial fires would be succeeded by great cold due to the absence of solar warmth reaching the earth's surface. Snow would now fall even in summer and cover the face of the earth.
How did anything survive the above scenario? By living underground and scavenging. This was already the mode of life of the early rodent-like mammals. Now, instead of a diet of seeds and an occasional carcass part, they could feast on roast dinosaur. Their predators had been eliminated and the meek inherited the earth. They still confined their activities, other than food procurement, to their burrows due to the very low temperatures above ground. The seeds that they had stashed were no longer their staple and were often forgotten.
Gradually, the opaque dust and mist cloud grew less opagque due to slow settling and rains. First the cloud lightened so that a very hazy general brightness was associated with day, i.e, on the side facing the sun. Then clouds became visible, then the warmth from the sun's rays melted the snow and uncovered land could be seen. Then the dormant seeds that had been left buried started sprouting and the land was covered with green. Then the sky cleared sufficiently that the sun, moon, and stars could be seen. Then life started to proliferate first in the seas, then on land as the land temperature became more temperate. The stage is now set for the appearance of man. Amongst other humans, Adam is singled out for special attention.
The above scenario involving first a period of total darkness, followed by periods of light of increasing brightness and clarity will be tied into the verses in the next installment.
The prior two chapters were dedicated to demonstrating that there was a cataclysmic asteroidal impact in the Yucatan peninsula 65 million years ago that ended the era of the dinosaurs and ushered in the ‘modern’ Cenozoic era of mammals, birds, and seed-bearing plants. The destructive and rejuvenating effects of that impact were then described. The theme of destruction for the sake of new creations and beginnings will be a repeated element in the stories of Genesis. This installment addresses the issue of harmonizing the text of Genesis I with the presented picture of developments on earth that started with the impact.
After the first verse which is a brief statement of the major theme of Genesis I, the next verse reads, “The earth was chaotic and desolate (tohu vavohu) with darkness covering the depths and a wind from GOD stirred the water”. This is a brief description of the state of the world soon after the earth-shaking impact. The initial world-wide fires had largely consumed the forests and jungles of the world aided, possibly, by heavy rains and then massive snowfalls on a sunless frigid earth. Now, total darkness prevailed since a thick opaque cloud covered the globe. The sun, moon, and stars were still in their accustomed places, but their light could not penetrate that thick cloud. A distant observer equipped with night (infra-red) vision would not see any life on the planet. The only movement was that of the water whether because of tidal forces or remnants of the giant waves that the impact at the edge of the Caribbean Sea had engendered. Yet, there was life hidden in burrows in the land, and on the seabed. That life on land survived the darkness and cold in the relative warmth of the burrows by eating the stored seeds of the angiosperm plants that existed alongside the more common ferns and conifers. The rodent-like mammalian inhabitants of these burrows could also launch forays on the surface to scavenge the remains of dinosaurs and other large animals that had been roasted by the rain of incandescent molten rock droplets and by the ensuing fires. The meat thus available became their main food and some of the stored seeds were simply forgotten. The meek, truly, inherited the earth.
The stage was set for the next phase, “GOD said, ‘Let there be light’, and there was light”. This refers to a sufficient fallout of the suspended particulate matter to allow diffuse scattered solar light to penetrate the atmosphere. Now, the difference between night and day, i.e. whether a part of the globe faces the sun or is turned away from it, could be distinguished. That light, however weak, is deemed good in the next verse since it brings some warmth and is a harbinger of greater things to come.
Now, additional clearing of the atmosphere allowed the tropospheric and stratospheric clouds to become visible. The ultra-violet absorbing ozone layer in the stratosphere also reformed after having been destroyed by reactive species lifted up by the impact. The former (clouds) are called ‘rakia’ since they bear water and are suspended in the sky. Alternatively, the ozone layer is the rakia which separates molecular oxygen below from atomic oxygen above. Now that the earth is protected from the lethal energetic radiation of the sun, the next stages can progress.
“GOD said, ‘let the water be gathered to one place and let land be seen… ’. The warmth of the transmitted solar radiation now melted the snow cover that blanketed the earth, and the water ran off into lakes and the seas. “GOD said, ‘let the earth be green with grass and fruit trees...’. The seeds that were stored not far underground now ‘awoke’ from their dormancy and put forth sprouts. The sunlight allowed the plants to continue their growth so that the seed-bearing plants (angiosperms) proliferated and became the dominant plant life in the more temperate regions of the globe.
The sky was still hazy from the remaining suspended fine mist in the stratosphere. Convection currents in the troposphere due to the now warm earth caused some mixing with the stratosphere and started to clear the latter. The next stage starts with a totally clear atmosphere in which the sun, moon, and stars are completely visible. The earth has now recovered from the perturbation of its spin caused by the impact and that rotational speed is now a reliable measure of time, while the sky appearance is again a measure of season.
The next stage features the resurgence of life in the seas based on the spores of the planktonic life that had been rejuvenated by the sun, and the sea creatures and their eggs that had survived on the seabed. Birds that had evolved from dinosaurs were now fully creatures of the air. From islands on the seas they migrated onto the mainlands where berries and fruits were plentiful.
The next stage features the proliferation of mammals on land. No longer confined to rodent-like creatures, they assume a wide range of sizes and shapes – yet retaining their mammalian characteristic of giving birth to and nourishing their young from their bodies.
The evolutionary process, guided as it was, does not end with animals but leads ultimately to humans. These start to explore and populate the lands throughout the world. They use tools, are far more intelligent than other creatures, and communicate with words and language. Among these humans are the remains of a man and a woman who lived, died, and were buried. These decayed remains are resurrected by the Creator as the conjoined Adam/Eve. They are unique in their conjoinedness and, more so, in their relationship with the Creator.
We now come to the 7th era. I call it an era for I don’t see a scientific basis for thinking that only this ‘day’ is comprised of 24 clock hours. Moreover, what does it mean that “…GOD completed on the 7th day the work that He had done. And He ceased on the 7th day from all the work that he had done”. Was it not completed by the end of the 6th day?
Furthermore, what does it mean, “…that GOD created to do”? Is it created or is it done? If the 7th day is really an era, however, when did it end, and why are the Jewish people enjoined to cease activities every 7th day?
My answer is that we are still in the 7th ‘day’. That ‘day’ started less than 6,000 years ago and may not last longer than 6,000 years. GOD’s overt activities ended with the close of the biblical period and prophesy. We are now left to our own devices with some distant supervision. We are enjoined to reflect on this altered state of affairs every Shabbat by ceasing from activities. The childhood of man has passed. We are expected to function as adults with a responsibility to manage and perfect the world (or at least remove its glaring imperfections). That is the meaning of “created by GOD (for man) to do”. Will we finally rise to the challenge, or wait for a solution to be imposed upon us? Will we be able to raise our heads at the end, or will we enter the final era with heads bowed?
In the next installments, I hope to treat the story of Adam/Eve and their descendants up to Avraham.
Thursday, September 08, 2005
Proving G-d & Religion
We have talked a lot about proving G-d or Judaism, but we have neglected to cover the basics. What constitutes proof?
First of all, it should be obvious that nothing can ever be proved 100%, since there are always extreme skeptical possibilities such as life is an illusion. So when we talk about proof what we really mean is ‘beyond a reasonable doubt’ (BRD). BRD is the standard of ‘proof’ required in criminal cases. It’s not enough for the jury to think the defendant is guilty, they must believe that the evidence has shown the defendant to be guilty ‘beyond a reasonable doubt’. I will use the term 'proof' but please understand that nothing is ever proven, I always mean BRD.
A much lessser standard of proof is ‘preponderance of evidence’ (POE), which means the event is more likely to have occurred than not, but quite a few reasonable doubts are possible. In civil cases the jury can convict with just POE evidence. Hence in the OJ trial he was found not guilty in criminal court (no BRD) but guilty in the ensuing civil trial (POE was established).
A third standard is called ‘clear and convincing evidence’ (CCE), which lies somewhere in between POE and BRD. It seems highly likely that the event occurred, but there still exists some room for reasonable doubt. Clearly there is a continuum from 'no evidence at all' to 'extremely convincing evidence' and BRD, POE and CCE are just attempts to set some boundaries along that continuum.
Also, it should be obvious that the words ‘reasonable’, ‘clear’, ‘convincing’ and ‘preponderance’ are all entirely subjective, so none of these are precise definitions, but that’s the best we can do.
For any piece of evidence, one can always counter claim. For example a document might be forged, a witness might be lying, and bloodstains on the floor might be circumstantial. So with any evidence, one has to weigh the claim against the counter claim and determine which is the more reasonable hypothesis. Clearly this is going to be a highly subjective process.
When debating G-d or religion, the skeptics often dogmatically assert that there is no evidence. However technically that is not correct. What they are really asserting is that they find the evidence to be non compelling, or that the counter claim which explains the evidence away is more compelling than the claim itself.
For example, if someone you trusted implicitly came and told you he had just seen G-d, that might not be reasonable evidence. But what if two people came? Or what if 100 people came? Or 600,000? Or what if two people came and said they hadn’t personally seen G-d, but 600,000 other people had? One can always counter claim and say the witness is lying or mistaken. This counter claim tends to get less convincing the more witnesses you have, but obviously one can’t precisely define how many people need to have personally seen an event before they are seen as convincing. It all depends on the circumstance. (Halachah mandates two reliable eye witnesses).
It’s very tempting to say that the standards for BRD or POE should be judged by what the typical person would say. Unfortunately this won’t work well, since when it comes to G-d the typical person believes in G-d quite strongly, at least in the US. Maybe in Sweden he doesn’t, so what’s a typical person? Should we take the Swedes or the Americans? White trash or WASPS? Obviously it’s going to depend on who we pick.
Also, the claim itself needs to be taken into account. Skeptics often say ‘extra-ordinary claims need extra-ordinary evidence’. On the face of it this seems sensible. But just what is an extra-ordinary claim? It depends on your definition of ordinary, which again is highly subjective. And secondly why should this be the case? Surely the evidence required to establish BRD is the same no matter how strange the claim. It’s either true or not, and its level of ‘strangeness’ shouldn’t have anything to do with it. A tricky one to define.
Finally, we need to compare the claim against the counter claim. In criminal cases this is usually ‘guilty’ vs ‘innocent’. However with G-d the situation is slightly different. It’s more like ‘exists’ vs. ‘don’t know’, since no one claims to prove that G-d doesn’t exist. It’s easy to see that ‘guilty’ vs. ‘innocent’ needs strong proof, but does ‘exists’ vs. ‘I don’t know’ need such strong proof? Maybe if all you are trying to do is negate an ‘I don’t know’ the claim is not that strong and the proof required is therefore less?
To be contined....
Genes Show Signs Brain Still Evolving
By LAURAN NEERGAARD, AP Medical Writer2 hours, 43 minutes ago
The human brain may still be evolving. So suggests new research that tracked changes in two genes thought to help regulate brain growth, changes that appeared well after the rise of modern humans 200,000 years ago.
That the defining feature of humans — our large brains — continued to evolve as recently as 5,800 years ago, and may be doing so today, promises to surprise the average person, if not biologists.
"We, including scientists, have considered ourselves as sort of the pinnacle of evolution," noted lead researcher Bruce Lahn, a University of Chicago geneticist whose studies appear in Friday's edition of the journal Science.
"There's a sense we as humans have kind of peaked," agreed Greg Wray, director of Duke University's Center for Evolutionary Genomics. "A different way to look at is it's almost impossible for evolution not to happen."
Still, the findings also are controversial, because it's far from clear what effect the genetic changes had or if they arose when Lahn's "molecular clock" suggests — at roughly the same time period as some cultural achievements, including written language and the development of cities.
Lahn and colleagues examined two genes, named microcephalin and ASPM, that are connected to brain size. If those genes don't work, babies are born with severely small brains, called microcephaly.
Using DNA samples from ethnically diverse populations, they identified a collection of variations in each gene that occurred with unusually high frequency. In fact, the variations were so common they couldn't be accidental mutations but instead were probably due to natural selection, where genetic changes that are favorable to a species quickly gain a foothold and begin to spread, the researchers report.
Lahn offers an analogy: Medieval monks would copy manuscripts and each copy would inevitably contain errors — accidental mutations. Years later, a ruler declares one of those copies the definitive manuscript, and a rush is on to make many copies of that version — so whatever changes from the original are in this presumed important copy become widely disseminated.
Scientists attempt to date genetic changes by tracing back to such spread, using a statistical model that assumes genes have a certain mutation rate over time.
For the microcephalin gene, the variation arose about 37,000 years ago, about the time period when art, music and tool-making were emerging, Lahn said. For ASPM, the variation arose about 5,800 years ago, roughly correlating with the development of written language, spread of agriculture and development of cities, he said.
"The genetic evolution of humans in the very recent past might in some ways be linked to the cultural evolution," he said.
Other scientists urge great caution in interpreting the research.
That the genetic changes have anything to do with brain size or intelligence "is totally unproven and potentially dangerous territory to get into with such sketchy data," stressed Dr. Francis Collins, director of the National Human Genome Research Institute.
Aside from not knowing what the gene variants actually do, no one knows how precise the model Lahn used to date them is, Collins added.
Lahn's own calculations acknowledge that the microcephalin variant could have arisen anywhere from 14,000 to 60,000 years ago, and that the uncertainty about the ASPM variant ranged from 500 to 14,000 years ago.
Those criticisms are particularly important, Collins said, because Lahn's testing did find geographic differences in populations harboring the gene variants today. They were less common in sub-Saharan African populations, for example.
That does not mean one population is smarter than another, Lahn and other scientists stressed, noting that numerous other genes are key to brain development.
"There's just no correlation," said Duke's Wray, calling education and other environmental factors more important for intelligence than DNA anyway.
The work was funded by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute.
Wednesday, September 07, 2005
Let It Be
When I find myself being somewhat doubtful, learning Torah comforts me,
Speaking words of Torah, let it be.
And in my hour of questioning it is always there beside of me,
Speaking words of Torah, let it be.
Let it be, let it be, let it be, let it be.
Speaking words of Torah, let it be.
And when the skeptic hearted people living in the world agree,
Torah is the answer, let it be.
For though they may be skeptical there is still a chance that they will see,
Torah is the answer, let it be.
Let it be, let it be, let it be, let it be.
Speaking words of Torah, let it be.
And when my vision is cloudy, there is still a light that shines on me,
Shine on forever, let it be.
I wake up to the sound of Torah, the Schinah Hakdoshah comes to me,
Speaking words of Torah, let it be.
Let it be, let it be, let it be, let it be.
Speaking words of Torah, let it be.
Appeal to Beauty
My daughter is at the most beautiful stage of her development so far. What a cutie! I really wish I could post a picture. The cutest kid you ever did see. Does she have some flaws? I'm sure she does. But I can't see them. All I see is the cutest little kid in the world. And every other parent feels the same way. If I felt any differently that wouldn't be normal.
I realize I forgot to mention an important reason for my Emunah: Judaism is beautiful.
Breishis is inspiring and beautiful.
The Torah is incredible and beautiful.
The Neviim are poignant and beautiful.
The Kesuvim are amazing and beautiful.
The Medrash & Aggadata are timelss and beautiful.
The Gemarah is complex, but beautiful.
Eretz Yisrael is crazy beautiful.
Yehudah veShomron (even if we should give it back) are beautiful.
Yerushalayim is especially beautiful.
Shabbos is precious, irreplaceable and beautiful.
The Yomim Noroim are awesome and beautiful.
Family & Community can be anoyying, but are also caring and beautiful.
I then compare all this beauty to the hevel havalim outside. The contrast is extreme. There's nothing there!
What can I replace Breishis with? The Enumah Elish?! Feh. What could I learn instead of the Torah? The New Testament is short and boring. How could I forget the Neviim? Josephus is interesting, but he was no Isaiah. Could I discard the Kesuvim? The Nihongi just doesn't do it for me. Should I trash my Gemaras? Blacks Law Dictionary is not going to cut it. Could I yearn for Hawaii instead of Eretz Yisrael? Give me a choice of Maui or Modiin and I'll be on the plane to Israel before you can say 'Latus EL-AL, Latus EL-AL' Could I delight in visiting London, Paris or Rome instead of Yerushalayim? Never! I would rather stay in a youth hostel in Bet HaKerem than a 5 star hotel on Park Lane or the Champs Elysees. Would I prefer to spend Shabbos watching TV, going to the beach or doing some yard work? Are you crazy?? Not in a million years. Would I prefer a huge holiday to the high holydays? No way. Yom Kippur is taxing and draining, but how could I miss the spiritual high of Neilah? Would I prefer to live in some anonymous city, with noplace but bars and the country club to make a community? Well, maybe sometimes! But then I see the tragedy that is New Orleans and I realize just how valuable and important family & community are.
You would have to be blind to walk away from all this beauty. Of course the skeptics will point out all the flaws, the warts, the ugly spots. But who focuses on the ugliness of their loved ones? That's not normal. No doubt the skeptics will say that beauty does not equal truth.
But only a blind person would say that.
The Kannaim have a website! Yes, its true, and I don't mean Frumteens. I was googling around the internet and I found it by accident. It's all in hebrew so I didn't really understand it, but they are clearly targeting Slifkin, apparently because he eats grasshoppers, as well as all that kefirah.
Check it out:
Ban on Rav Nadel's Sefer
They claimed it was a 'forgery'.
Mythology in the Torah II
Some people objected that the Myth/Moshol peshat is 'not Judaism'. I guess Chief Rabbi Hertz and Rabbi Gedalyah Nadel were not Jewish then. In BeToraso Shel Rav Gedalyah, p.99, Rav Nadel says:
The description of the formation of man from the dust is by way of allegory and parable. The Holy One did not take a spoonful of dirt and knead it with water, as children do in kindergarten. The "dust" here is raw material, from which animals were also formed.
In other words, Evolution. Also noteworthy is the fact the he uses the word 'allegory' and 'parable', in other words 'Mythology'.
And I'm pretty sure that Rav Nadel was practicing Judaism, since he even got a glowing hesped in the Yated, and they don't do that if you aren't Jewish. Strangely, the hesped doesn't mention anything about Rav Nadel's somewhat unorthodox views regarding Evolution and the Age of the Universe.
Chakira had three posts on Rav Nadel:
2. Age of the Universe
Another choice quotes from Nadel:
Maimonides said “don’t be perplexed! Read the verses in a way of figurative language, the way of language and melitzah…and this is the correct interpretation, the truth of Torah. There is no doubt that the verses didn’t mean anything contradicted by the sekhel. Thus we say “there are many varied demonstrations, with exactitude that can be tested by experiment…that show that millions of years have passed. There are radioactive tests, fragments of rocks that have been found and there are geological tests…It is a mistake to believe that all of this is false. In the realm of saving lives, the most serious part of the Torah, we rely on scientific knowledge. When a doctor applies medicine made with scientific knowledge…you rely on him. You have no suspicion that he might be lying. Also with regard to the age of the world, there is no reason to say that the scientists are lying…If the sekhel needs it and the language can accommodate it, you are required to allegorize.
Again, notice what he says and does not say. He does NOT say, 'If the sekhel needs it then twist the language to mean something it doesn't.' He DOES say 'and the language can accommodate it, you are required to allegorize'.
So my objectors will no doubt kvetch and say its okay to allegorize certain phrases and words, but not whole chapters. Why not? Maybe 'Adam' is an allegory for 'Mankind', makes sense. And 'Gan Eden' is just an allegory for 'The Fertile Crescent (or wherever)'. The bottom line is that the sekhel requires that we allegorize almost all of Breishis 1-11, so we do. Maybe those people who don't allegorize just don't have the sekhel to require it.
Here are some scanned excerpts from Rav Nadel's sefer.
Here is a copy of Rabbi Hertz's essay.
The Great Clownofsky Speaks!
It has been a while since we heard from the King of all Kiruv Clowns, the Great Clownofsky himself. Last thing I heard was that he was working on the final release of his infamous Slifkin draft. Strangely, this has never appeared, along with Rabbi Feldman’s second installment promising to answer all the questions that Slifkin raised, and Heshy Grossman’s article which was going to show how Rav Moshe Shapiro has been misunderstood. Somehow I don’t think any of these are ever going to be forthcoming. However I did hear that some kanoi is preparing a new attack, so that should provide some alternative entertainment. Ellul seems to be prime time for kannous, ironic really.
Anyway, Clownofsky has written an entertaining piece on the evils of the internet, and blogs in particular. I’m sure this has nothing to do with the fact that Orlo was ripped to pieces by the blogs, no way. Here is a choice quote:
One person who uses the internet for business told me he keeps it in the living room because his Rav told him it has a din of yichud.
Wow, yichud with a computer! Who knew? Does the computer have a din of zochor or nekevah? Nafkah minah would be if you need two PCs or three PCs to avoid the issur. Tee hee. Maybe 'Yichud' isn't the best analogy to use.
[On blogs] What this means of course, is that anyone can suddenly attempt to build an audience for their opinions. The best way to do that in our society is to be outrageous. Attack people and their ideas with ridicule for which there is always an audience. Then they invite anyone to offer their own comments. So someone writes an attack on a gadol b'yisroel, for example and then a bunch of people are invited to write in and say "yea" or "right on" or any of the other piercing intellectual observations reserved for the segment of society who have so much spare time on their hands that they can write comments on blogs written by people you wouldn't give five minutes of your time to in real life (except perhaps to ask them to stop talking in the middle of laining).
Hey, I don’t talk in the middle of laining! That was motzei shem rah, but then I shouldn’t be surprised. Funny that he bashes all the blog commentators when they include some quite choshuv people.
This phenomenon have even reached the height of absurdity. People now have virtual rabbanim. They email their halachic and deepest life questions to an online Rabbi, whom they don't know and may even be anonymous, for an answer. Can you imagine anything more absurd than someone answering a major life question for someone they don't even know? People have told me they do this because it is hard to find a Rabbi who is accessible, but is the alternative to develop a virtual Rabbi who may not even be qualified?
Hey, are you talking about Frumteens? I guess he is your competition, he has all of your venom but none of your jokes. Orlofsky vs. Frumteens! Wow, that would be interesting. Which side would I take? What a dilemma that would be! Satmar stupidity vs. Stam stupidity. Tough choice. What would you choose?
But seriously folks, Blogs have revolutionized society, as we all know. More and more I hear about scandals being uncovered or positions forced through the 'blogosphere'. Mainstream media quotes the blogs all the time. What Orlofsky doesn't like is the fact that the Blogs provide a forum for people to express disatisfaction with the current state of affairs, whether that's Katrina or the Gedolim. His clown act doesn't hold up too well under scrutiny. But, being Ellul, I have to agree with him on one point: Under 20's should not be reading the blogs. They have better things to do, like get an education.
Finding My Religion
Kabbalah scholar Daniel Matt takes the mysticism back to the Aramaic
Tuesday, September 6, 2005
For centuries, the study of Kabbalah, or Jewish mysticism, was considered off-limits to anyone but the most mature scholars. Some believed you could go crazy if you weren't ready to take its powerful truths about the nature of God and reality. That was, of course, before a wave of Hollywood stars became entranced with the teachings of esoteric Judaism. Now, it seems, anyone can study Kabbalah, even Madonna and Britney Spears.
Noted Kabbalah scholar Daniel Matt was 19 when he read his first few lines of the Zohar, the ancient text that is the foundation for Kabbalah. He's been fascinated by it ever since and is now one of the world's leading Zohar translators.
Matt, 54, spent more than 20 years as a professor, most recently at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, and is the author of "Zohar: The Book of Enlightenment," "The Essential Kabbalah" and other popular guides to Jewish mysticism. He is working full time on the first complete English translation of the Zohar based on the original Aramaic text.
Matt recently finished the third of volume of that translation, "The Zohar: Pritzker Edition" (Stanford University Press). The first two volumes are available now, and the third volume, which completes the Zohar's commentary on the book of Genesis, will come out in December.
I understand there's some controversy about when the Zohar, the ancient text that you are translating, was actually written. Can you tell me about that?
Traditional Kabbalists believe that it dates back to early rabbinic times, to the second century, because the main figure in the Zohar is a rabbi who lived then, Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai. But most scholars think it was actually composed 1,100 years later in Spain in the 13th century. And there is strong evidence for that.
What kind of evidence?
Well, the Aramaic itself is very strange. There are invented words, and occasionally there is a Spanish term or references to medieval events or personalities. So if you look at it objectively, it's hard to escape the conclusion that it is a medieval creation.
Assuming it was written in the 13th century, why would someone be interested in reading the Zohar today? What is its relevance?
The Zohar is written as a commentary on the Torah, the Five Books of Moses, beginning with Genesis. It challenges that text constantly and overturns many traditional teachings. In that sense, you could say that it reimagines Judaism.
In what ways does it rethink Judaism?
For one thing, it challenges the traditional notion of God. It says that none of our usual names for God are adequate. They all fail to capture God's true nature. The only name that really is correct is the name Ein Sof, which in Hebrew literally means "there is no end," or the infinite.
So in the Zohar, God is infinity?
Yes. And any picture we have of God, any theological formulation, is really inaccurate and misleading because it doesn't do justice to the open-endedness of God. At the same time, the Zohar also says, "If you are going to describe God, you have to balance the masculine with the feminine." So I think one of its most important contributions is to insist that God is equally male and female. And it does that very graphically. It actually refers to masculine and feminine halves of God, and the goal of religion -- the goal of life -- is to unite these two halves of God. And how do you do that? By acting ethically and spiritually in the world.
Besides being a commentary on the Bible, the Zohar is also a sort of mystical novel about a group of wandering rabbis. How does that story unfold?
It is a very loose narrative structure, but these rabbis are wandering through Galilee and sharing their mystical secrets with each other. They also run into strange characters on the road who puzzle them. Often, these people seem to be total idiots -- for example, a wandering donkey driver or a little child who stumps the rabbis with questions. But it turns out these figures who seem to be fools end up having the greatest wisdom. So part of its message is, you know, you can't tell where you'll find teaching, where you'll find insights.
Traditionally, studying Kabbalah was something you weren't supposed to do unless you were an older man -- I think the cutoff was 40 years old. What was the reason for such restrictions?
There were several reasons. One had to do with an awareness of the power of these mystical teachings. If you lose a sense of yourself and feel that you are melting into the divine -- a common experience among students of mysticism -- there is a danger you won't be able to function in the world. You could lose your sanity or be unable to provide for your family or contribute to society. There's also the fear that if people really felt that they could contact God on their own terms, then what need would there be for the rabbinic authorities and for the structures of Jewish law? So there is a social danger as well as a psychological one.
Today, it seems like everybody's studying Kabbalah. Thanks to Madonna and Britney Spears, Jewish mysticism has become chic. What do you make of that trend?
I'm intrigued by it. I think it has, you know, positive and negative aspects. The question I'm often asked, and I wonder myself is, "What about Kabbalah appeals to Hollywood types or to modern Americans?" There are a couple of things I've been able to identify. One is that Kabbalah is a kind of spirituality that doesn't demand that you flee from the material world. Rather, it says that spiritual seekers should try to transform the world by engaging it. So I think many Westerners who are obviously hungry for the spiritual but aren't willing to give up the material realm might find that appealing.
Another reason for Kabbalah's appeal may be that it is an interesting combination of something very strange and exotic but at the same time familiar. What I mean is that the Kabbalah is based on the Bible - the foundational text of Western civilization -- and yet it reinterprets it in a radical way.
Is the Kabbalah that you are studying the same one that Madonna and others are studying?
Well, one thing we have to make clear is that there is no book called the Kabbalah. So when people say they are studying the Kabbalah, it could be thousands of texts. That said, the Zohar is the major text of the Kabbalah. Every Jewish thinker would agree with that.
So what's being taught and promoted by the Kabbalah Learning Center -- now they are called the Kabbalah Center [where Madonna goes] -- is the Zohar. This is the same Zohar that I'm working on, although they have their own translation, which is based on a Hebrew translation of the original Aramaic.
Let's talk about your own spiritual background. Did you grow up in a religious family?
Yeah. My father was a Conservative rabbi on the East Coast. I would say God and religion were central in the home, and that the Shabbat [the Jewish Sabbath] was a core part of that. There was a lot of studying and singing and guests and taking walks with my father on Shabbat afternoons.
Did you consider becoming a rabbi yourself?
I considered it, but I was keenly aware of my father's frustration -- he was a very genuine spiritual teacher and demanded a lot of his congregation. And I saw him suffer because of that, not to mention that he was often out in the evening at meetings. I remember once telling him, "I can't be a rabbi." And he said, "I didn't expect you to be."
Eventually, I decided to teach spiritually but outside the congregational framework and without the rabbinical title. So I went the academic route, and I got a doctorate in Jewish studies. For my doctorate I edited the first translation ever done of the Zohar, which was [from Aramaic] into Hebrew in the 14th century. People say that what you work on in your doctorate often determines what you will do later in life. I didn't realize that it would determine it so much.
I read in a magazine article that you begin each day by meditating on a few lines of the Zohar after taking a walk up the hillside near your home in Berkeley. Do you still do that?
Yeah. Now I have a more strenuous walk in the morning. I find that if I do a good walk, then I can sit for most of the day without taking a break.
How much a part of your spiritual life is the Kabbalah? It seems like it's more than just an academic interest for you.
I really try to combine an academic and a spiritual approach. I think you lose some of the richness of the Zohar if you look at it only academically -- certainly because it is a spiritual text, and it grew out of spiritual experience. The person writing it is really striving to contact the divine through Scripture, through plumbing the depths of Scripture, trying to discover the divine light hidden in the letters or hinted at by the verses of the Bible.
On the other hand, you lose something, too, I think, if you don't understand when it was written and who composed it. The person writing the Zohar is trying to present it as something ancient, but he knows what he is doing, and when he talks about hidden levels of meaning, part of the hiddenness is his own project of creating the Zohar. His own creativity is part of what's going on. It really is an experiment in fiction, a medieval experiment in fiction. And that's part of its wonder, too.
What is it like to be alone with this mystical material day in and day out? How do you keep your perspective?
I don't really feel alone. I have one research assistant. Right now, that's an Israeli in Australia. I'm also in touch with colleagues all around the country, and in Jerusalem, who are involved in Kabbalah or in Zohar specifically.
Fortunately, my wife works at home -- she's involved in spiritual counseling. Our daughter is a senior in college now, but our son is still in high school, and it's precious to me to take him in the morning to his car pool and to pick him up. So I have that feeling of structure for the day, and then in between, you know, from 8 to 3, I try to immerse myself. Often, I continue to work in the evenings.
Actually it's harder for me not doing it than doing it. Like now I've finished volume 3, and I told myself I needed to take a break. So this past week I really tried consciously not to do Zohar and it was very difficult. I just felt unfulfilled, like I was wasting my time.
It sounds like you love what you do. So, my last question: Zohar the movie? What do you think?
I think it definitely has cinematic possibilities. The running into the donkey driver and the spectacular account of creation are pretty compelling. But I'll leave that for others.
Tuesday, September 06, 2005
My Emunah in Judaism is based on the fact that the great Rabbis say it's true, I can't imagine living without it, and this is how my ancestors lived. Also, I know the Torah is true because it says so in the Torah. After all its either that or Atheism, and I wouldn't want to be an Atheist since they have no morals. If the Atheists want me to change my mind, then they need to convince me, since it's well known that Atheistic societies commit genocide.
OK, so I'm kidding. Kinda. Although I think the Cosmological and Teleological Proofs have some merit, ultimately they don't tell you much about Judaism, so there is not much point really. The only thing we have is the Mesorah (capital M). So why believe our Mesorah more than any other?
I think we have a few things going for us:
1. Although there are thousands of religions, there really are only 3 mainstream Monotheistic religions, and two of them got their beliefs from Judaism, and were rejected by the majority of the Jews at the time of their formation.
2. There are plenty of Polytheistic or Pantheistic religions, but no one takes them seriously except as paths to meditation, so I'm not going to bother with them.
3. We are the only mainstream religion to make the claim that our revelation happened in front of a huge crowd. Of course that doesn't prove anything, but I'm glad we are the only one.
4. Our history is quite unique too. Of course that doesn't prove anything either, but its interesting that the one original monotheistic religion is also the one which makes the mass revelation claim and also is the one which has a unique history.
5. Western Civilization has been profoundly influenced by the ideas and contributions of Jews and Judaism. Quite interesting for a small group of nomads who started out 3000 years ago. Of course that doesn't prove anything either, but its interesting that the one original monotheistic religion is also the one which makes the mass revelation claim and also is the one which has a unique history and also is the one which has made significant contributions to world civilization.
Of course its easy to be skeptical about all of this, but do you really want to take that chance? You should stay with your religion, since it will make you feel fulfilled. Giving it all up because of some doubts is the most ridiculous thing I have ever heard. Remember, your ancestors died so you can be Jewish, and only you can continue this tradition for them. Listen, most of your peers are still frum, so there must be something in it. If you don't accept this, you will be cast out of the community. And don't be misled by the other Skeptics, they all had bad experiences in Yeshivah.
Now, how could anyone argue with that?
Cassuto: Introduction to From Adam To Noah
§ 1. The purpose of the Torah in this section is to teach us that the whole world and all that it contains were created by the word of the One God, according to His will, which operates without restraint. It is thus opposed to the concepts current among the peoples of the ancient East who were Israel’s neighbors; and in some respects it is also in conflict with certain ideas that had already found their way into the ranks of our people. The language, however, is tranquil, undisturbed by polemic or dispute; the controversial note is heard indirectly, as it were, through the deliberate, quiet utterances of Scripture, which sets the opposing views at naught by silence or by subtle hint.
§ 2. All kinds of wondrous stories about the creation of the world were wide-spread throughout the lands of the East, and many of them assumed a literary form in epic poems or other compositions. In the course of our exposition we shall have repeated occasion to refer to a number of matters found in these sources and to translate several verses from their texts. Here it will suffice to indicate briefly their general character.
They began, as a rule, with a theogony, that is, with the origin of the gods, the genealogy of the deities who preceded the birth of the world and mankind; and they told of the antagonism between this god and that god, of frictions that arose from these clashes of will, and of mighty wars that were waged by the gods. They connected the genesis of the world with the genesis of the gods and with the hostilities and wars between them; and they identified the different parts of the universe with given deities or with certain parts of their bodies. Even the elect few among the nations, the thinkers who for a time attained to loftier concepts than those normally held in their environment, men like Amenhotep IV the Egyptian king who attributed the entire creation to one of the gods, the sun-god Aten—and his predecessors (the discoveries of recent years prove that he was not the first to hold this doctrine), even they pictured this god to themselves as but one of the gods, be he the very greatest, as a deity linked to nature and identifiable with one of its component parts. Then came the Torah and soared aloft, as on eagles’ wings, above all these notions. Not many gods but One God; not theogony, for a god has no family tree; not wars nor strife nor the clash of wills, but only One Will, which rules over everything, without the slightest let or hindrance; not a deity associated with nature and identified with it wholly or in part, but a God who stands absolutely above nature, and outside of it, and nature and all its constituent elements, even the sun and all the other entities, be they never so exalted, are only His creatures, made according to His will.
§ 3. Among the Israelites, too, there existed, prior to the Biblical account, narrative poems about the creation and the beginning of the world’s history. Although these poems have not come down to us, having perished in the course of time, evidence of their existence is to be found both in this section and in other parts of Scripture. Frequently the prophets and the Bible poets allude to matters appertaining directly or indirectly to the creation of the world that are not mentioned in our section at all, for example, the story of Rahab, the prince of the sea, who rose up in revolt against God, and in the end God subdued him and slew him (see below, on i 9); but the brevity of these references leaves the impression that the authors were touching on topics that were well-known to the people they addressed. At times the Scriptural allusions closely resemble what we are told in the legends of the non-Israelites; yet it is difficult to imagine that these particular myths influenced them directly. Generally speaking, it is inconceivable that the prophets and poets of Israel intended to seek support for their views in the pagan mythological works, which they undoubtedly detested and abominated; nor is it thinkable that they mentioned the heathen legends as something that the Israelites knew and accepted.
Furthermore, whilst these allusions show certain resemblances quite striking, at times to the sagas of the Gentiles, they also exhibit distinct differences: the actions credited to the various deities in the pagan literature are attributed in the Hebrew Scriptures to the God of Israel, and are portrayed in a form more in keeping with Israel’s religious conscience. It follows that we have to assume the existence of intermediate links in the chain of development, which bridged the gap between the poems of the non-Israelites and the myths alluded to in the Bible. It seems that the intermediaries between the heathen peoples and Israel were the groups of Sages, the exponents of international ‘Wisdom’, who, it is known, were prone to obscure the religious elements peculiar to each individual nation. It may confidently be surmised that the said links included epic poems of Israel, Israelite cycles in which the ancient Eastern tradition took on a form that was generally in harmony with the national spirit of Israel and its religious convictions. I have dealt at length with this subject in my Hebrew essay on ‘The Epic Poetry of Israel’, which appeared in Keneseth, dedicated to H. N. Bialik, Vol. viii, 1943; I shall not, therefore, repeat what I have written there. Here I shall refer only to matters that concern our section as a whole, and in the course of my annotations on the individual verses, I shall mention the points that have a bearing on those verses in particular. Allusions to the creation-story that are unrelated to our section are found, for instance, in Job xxxviii 4-7:
Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?
Tell me, if you have understanding.
Who determined its measurements—surely you know!
Or who stretched the line upon it?
On what were its bases sunk, or who laid its cornerstone,
When the morning stars sang together,
and all the sons of God shouted for joy?
There is a clear indication here of a tradition concerning the creation of the earth on a bright morning, whilst the stars and God’s angels sang a paean. Undoubtedly, the author of the book of Job did not fabricate these details. Nor did he invent such concepts or terms as lay the foundations, measurements, line, bases, cornerstone. Similarly, we read in Isaiah xl 12, 21–22:
Who has measured the waters in the hollow of his hand and marked off the heavens with a span,
enclosed the dust of the earth in a measure and weighed the mountains in scales and the hills in a balance?
Have you not known? Have you not heard?
Has it not been told you from the beginning?
Have you not understood from the foundations of the earth?
It is He who sits above the circle of the earth,
and its inhabitants are like grasshoppers;
who stretches out the heavens like a curtain,
and spreads them like a tent to dwell in.
The two passages probably derive from a common poetic source. It may be noted in regard to the root ? yasadh [‘lay the foundations’], which occurs in both texts in relation to the earth, that it is used a number of times in the Bible in this sense, although it does not appear in our section at all. The same applies to the verb ? nata [‘stretch out’] in connection with the heavens, which is found in Isaiah ibid., and in another passage of Job (ix 8); this word, too, occurs frequently in Scripture but not in our section. At times, moreover, both expressions to lay the foundations of the earth and to stretch out the heavens are found in juxtaposition. It cannot, therefore, be doubted that we have here an ancient literary tradition, and apparently this tradition has its roots in Israel’s epic poetry. There are also other literary characteristics that appear to belong to the vocabulary and phraseology of the ancient poetic tradition regarding the creation, and serve to prove the existence of such a poetic tradition among the Israelites: for instance, the expression spread forth the earth; the simile of a tent-curtain, or some synonym thereof, employed in connection with the stretching out of the heavens; the figure of chambers or upper chambers, signifying the heavens in relation to the earth beneath them; the verb ? hameqare [‘who hast laid the beams’] in Psa. civ 3, which corresponds to an Akkadian expression (see below, on verse 6); the root ? kun [‘establish’] followed by the words ? bal yimmot or bal timmot [‘shall not be moved’]; the verb holel in the sense of created; the adverb ? terem [‘not yet’] or the conjunction beterem [‘before’], used with reference to the pre-creation period (a similar usage is also common in non-Israelite writings), and many more examples of this kind.
As far as our own section is concerned, a poetic construction like ? ? hayetho ’eres [‘beasts of the earth’] (i 24) next to the corresponding prose form hayyath ha’ares (i 25, 30); or verses with poetic rhythm like i 27:
So God created man in His own image,
in the image of God He created him;
male and female He created them.
and a number of other poetic features, which we shall discuss in the course of our exposition, also point to a poetic tradition among the Israelites anterior to the Book of Genesis. The metre of the verse, So God created man . . .tetrameter, which is also found in other verses of our section, is the most usual in the epic poetry of the Eastern peoples of antiquity, and was probably employed to a large extent in the epic poetry of Israel, too. There is no necessity to assume that the Torah took these verses verbatim from an earlier epic poem. Admittedly this is possible; but it is simpler to suppose that wherever, in the course of the Biblical story, which is mainly in prose, the special importance of the subject led to an exaltation of style approaching the level of poetry, the thought took on of its own accord, as it were, an aspect conforming to the traditional pattern of narrative poetry an aspect, at all events, that was in keeping with ancient poetic tradition.
§ 4. Although the epic poetry of Israel gave the traditional material, as has been stated, a form that was generally in harmony with the spirit and conscience of the nation, it nevertheless retained certain elements in which echoes of their origin in a foreign environment could still be heard. The saga, for example, of the revolt of ‘the lord of the sea’ against God belonged to this category. The same applies to the reference in Job xxxviii 7, to the morning stars that sang and to the sons of God who shouted for joy when God laid the cornerstone of the earth. It is not surprising, therefore, that the attitude of the Torah to these elements was not sympathetic. The prophets and the Biblical poets, who were accustomed to clothe their ideas in poetic garb and to elucidate them with the help of similes, and generally to employ the familiar devices of poesy, were not, to be sure, deterred from using what they found to hand in Israel’s epic poetry. But the Torah, which is not written in verse but in prose, and employs as a rule simple, not figurative, language, and weighs every word scrupulously, was careful not to introduce ingredients that were not completely in accord with its doctrines. Nay more, whenever necessary it voiced, in its own subtle way, its objection in principle to concepts suggestive of an alien spirit as, for instance, the myth of the revolt of the sea against its Creator (see below on i 6, 9, 14–15, 21).
Nevertheless, the Torah did not refrain from taking over other components of Israel’s poetic tradition, in so far as these did not militate against its spirit. We have already seen above that here and there the style of our section assumes an elevated poetic form, and that it is precisely the metre of epic poetry that is reflected in some of its sentences. This applies also to the content of the story, which has likewise absorbed certain elements of Israel’s ancient poetry. The truth that the Torah wished to convey in this section, to wit, that the world in its entirety was created by the word of the One God, could not be stated in abstract terms, simply as a theoretical concept. Semitic thought avoids general statements. Particularly in the case of a book like ours, which was not intended for the thinkers and the elect few only, but for the people as a whole, including also its common folk, it was proper that its ideas should be embodied in the language of concrete description. Hence, the Torah made use of the concrete traditions that found expression in the ‘Wisdom’ literature and in the ancient heroic poetry of Israel, and drew from them material for its structure. Choosing only what it deemed worthy, it refined and purified the selected matter, and moulded the entire narrative to a pattern of its own a pattern befitting its purpose and educational aim. In the light of this hypothesis, the parallels between our section and the traditions current in the ancient Orient become perfectly clear.
§ 5. The structure of our section is based on a system of numerical harmony. Not only is the number seven fundamental to its main theme, but it also serves to determine many of its details. Both to the Israelites and to the Gentiles, in the East and also in the West but especially in the East it was the number of perfection and the basis of ordered arrangement; and particular importance attached to it in the symbolism of numbers. The work of the Creator, which is marked by absolute perfection and flawless systematic orderliness, is distributed over seven days: six days of labour and a seventh day set aside for the enjoyment of the completed task. On the significance and use of the number seven see the works I have listed in Tarbiz, xiii, p. 207, notes 31 32, and my remarks ibid., pp. 206–207 [Hebrew], as well as the examples that I have cited there from Akkadian and Ugaritic literature, which prove that a series of seven consecutive days was considered a perfect period [unit of time] in which to develop an important work, the action lasting six days and reaching its conclusion and outcome on the seventh day. Possibly the Torah perceives in the importance attributed to the number seven by non-Israelites a kind of indistinct echo of the story of creation.
It is worth noting in this connection that in the case of actions lasting the above-mentioned length of time, it was customary to divide the six days of labour into three pairs, and to relate the story somewhat as follows: on the first day and on the second suchand- such a work was done; so, too, on the third day and on the fourth that work was done; likewise on the fifth day and on the sixth the same work was done. Thereafter, when the work had been completed on the sixth day, came the seventh day, a day of conclusion and change of situation (see the Akkadian and Ugaritic examples that I quote ibid.). In our section the division of the days is, as we shall see later, rather different, to wit, two series of three days each. But the prevailing pattern is implicit in the rabbinic saying: ‘It (the Sabbath day) has no partner: there is the first of the Sabbath [i. e. week], the second of the Sabbath; the third, the fourth, the fifth, the eve of the Sabbath; but the Sabbath itself remains unpaired’ (Bereshith Rabba, xi 8; for the different readings and parallels see Theodor’s edition).
In view of the importance ascribed to the number seven generally, and particularly in the story of Creation, this number occurs again and again in the structure of our section. The following details are deserving of note:
(a). After the introductory verse (i 1), the section is divided into seven paragraphs, each of which appertains to one of the seven days. An obvious indication of this division is to be seen in the recurring sentence, And there was evening and there was morning, such-and-such a day. Hence the Masoretes were right in placing an open paragraph [i. e. one that begins on a new line] after each of these verses. Other ways of dividing the section suggested by some modern scholars are unsatisfactory.
(b-d). Each of the three nouns that occur in the first verse and express the basic concepts of the section, viz God [ Elohim] heavens [ shamayim], earth [eres], are repeated in the section a given number of times that is a multiple of seven: thus the name of God occurs thirty-five times, that is, five times seven (on the fact that the Divine Name, in one of its forms, occurs seventy times in the first four chapters, see below); earth is found twentyone times, that is, three times seven; similarly heavens (or firmament, raqia?) appears twenty-one times.
(e). The ten sayings with which, according to the Talmud, the world was created (Aboth v 1; in B. Rosh Hashana 32a and B. Megilla 21b only nine of them are enumerated, the one in i 29, apparently, being omitted)that is, the ten utterances of God beginning with the words, and. . . said are clearly divisible into two groups: the first group contains seven Divine fiats enjoining the creation of the creatures, to wit, ‘Let there be light’, ‘Let there be a firmament’, ‘Let the waters be gathered together’, ‘Let the earth put forth vegetation’, ‘Let there be lights’, ‘Let the waters bring forth swarms’, ‘Let the earth bring forth’; the second group comprises three pronouncements that emphasize God’s concern for man’s welfare (three being the number of emphasis), namely, ‘Let us make man’ (not a command but an expression of the will to create man), ‘Be fruitful and multiply’, ‘Behold I have given unto you every plant yielding seed’. Thus we have here, too, a series of seven corresponding dicta.
(f ). The terms light and day are found, in all, seven times in the first paragraph, and there are seven references to light in the fourth paragraph.
(g). Water is mentioned seven times in the course of paragraphs two and three.
(h). In the fifth and sixth paragraphs forms of the word ? hayya [rendered ‘living’ or ‘beasts’] occur seven times.
(i). The expression it was good appears seven times (the seventh time very good).
(j). The first verse has seven words.
(k). The second verse contains fourteen words twice seven.
(1). In the seventh paragraph, which deals with the seventh day, there occur the following three consecutive sentences (three for emphasis), each of which consists of seven words and contains in the middle the expression the seventh day:
And on ? God finished His work which He had
done, and He rested on ? from all His work which
He had done.
So God blessed ? and hallowed it.
(m). The words in the seventh paragraph total thirty-five five times seven. To suppose that all this is a mere coincidence is not possible.
§ 6. This numerical symmetry is, as it were, the golden thread that binds together all the parts of the section and serves as a convincing proof of its unity against the view of those—and they comprise the majority of modern commentators—who consider that our section is not a unity but was formed by the fusion of two different accounts, or as the result of the adaptation and elaboration of a shorter earlier version. According to the prevailing view, the division of the work of creation in the original text differed from that found in the present recension, eight—or ten—creative acts, or seven days of work (man being formed on the seventh), or some other scheme being envisaged; only in the last redaction, it is assumed, was the division into six days of work introduced and the idea of the Sabbath added. The final edition is attributed by most scholars to the source P; the different theories concerning the source of the first version need not detain us here. I have already dealt with this matter fully in the second part of my essay, ‘La creazione del mondo nella Genesi’ (the creation of the world according to the Book of Genesis), published in Annuario di studi ebraici, Vol. i (1934) pp. 47–49. The reader who wishes to delve more deeply into the subject will find there the requisite details as well as a bibliography; here a summary account of the position must suffice. Following are the main arguments advanced by the scholars referred to:
(1). Internal contradictions: the existence of day and night before the creation of the luminaries; the presence of plants before the sun came into being.
(2). Signs of inconsistency and the absence of a unified system in the phrasing and formulation of the account: sometimes the expression and it was so is used, sometimes a different wording; on most of the days we are told it was good, but not on the second day; the acts of creation are described in different ways (at times God issues an order and His order is carried out; at other times it is He who creates or makes; on other occasions still He commands the elements to form the creatures).
(3). The distribution of the acts of creation over six days is not balanced, for the works of the first three days do not properly correspond to those of the last three days. Thus we have: 1. Light 2. Heavens 3. Earth (including vegetation) and sea 4. Luminaries 5. Fish and birds 6. Living creatures on land, and man
(4). The use of antiquated words and concepts. Not one of these contentions, however, is tenable in the face of critical examination. On the problem of the existence of day and night and plant-life before the formation of the luminaries, see below on i 14. With reference to the variations in phrasing and formulation, I have shown (in Tarbiz, xiii, pp. 205–206, sec. 2, [Hebrew], and subsequently in Keneseth, dedicated to the memory of H. N. Bialik, viii, pp. 126–127, sec. 15 [Hebrew]) that, in contrast to the style of epic poetry, which is prone to word-for-word repetition, it is a basic principle of Biblical narrative prose not to repeat a statement in identical terms; with fine artistic sense, the narrator likes to alter the wording or to shorten it or to change the order of the words when reverting to any subject (except when dealing with technical matters like the work of the Tabernacle, the sacrifices of the princes, or the genealogies). Concerning the expressions and it was so and that it was good, see below the detailed annotations on the verses where they occur or are omitted. As for the three different ways of describing the acts of creation, it should be noted, firstly, that, quite apart from the point made previously regarding the characteristics of narrative prose style, these linguistic variations could serve to prove the existence of different versions only if it had been possible to employ each type of wording in all instances; in such circumstances the choice of one mode of expression in preference to the other two could be construed as typical of a given recension. Actually, this is not the case. In regard to the light, which was but an immaterial phenomenon so long as it was independent of the luminaries, neither the second nor the third form of wording was applicable, and so the Bible had necessarily to use the first form. Similarly, in respect of the gathering of the water into one place, which represents only movement and not the creation of a new element, the first mode of expression had, perforce, to be chosen. Furthermore, the three ways of portraying the creative process cannot be considered of equal value. On the contrary, that which God creates or makes is of a higher order than what is formed by the elemental forces of nature. Bearing all this in mind, we cannot but conclude that throughout the section the three different modes of expression are used according to a systematic plan. When referring to non-material things, such as the creation of light or the gathering of the waters, the first mode, as stated, is inevitably chosen. In depicting the fashioning of new material entities, the second or third type of phrasing, according to the category of creation, is employed. Thus the second type—to wit, the creation or making by God—serves for the highest forms of being, namely, the firmament, the luminaries and man (there is a difference of degree even between making and creating, as we shall see later on verses 2–3); the combined second and third forms of expression are used for living creatures (fifth and sixth days); the third by itself is applied to plant-life. As to the distribution of the acts of creation over six days and the culmination of the process on the seventh day, reference to the ancient examples of similar schemes in the literatures of the East, to which I alluded above (at the beginning of § 3), will suffice to convince us at once that there are no grounds whatsoever for attributing the division adopted in our text to a later redaction. Regarding the parallelism between the first three days and the last three days, it will be clear from my commentary that only the version before us provides a completely harmonious balance, viz: 1. Light 2. Sea and Heaven 3. Earth (with its plants) 4. Luminaries 5. Fish and Fowl 6. Land creatures and Man In so far as the archaic expressions and concepts are concerned, they are fully explained by our hypothesis regarding the Israelite tradition of epic poetry that antedated the Torah account.
Myth/Moshol or Non Literal?
A debate is raging in some of my prior posts about whether one can say Breishis 1-11 is Mythology. It's an interesting debate, because I think all sides basically agree that a literal interpretation of Breishis is obviously incorrect, and that the world is clearly very ancient.
The position of the 'Non Literal' crowd is that we must save the basics of the stories, even while reading most of the words non-literally. So for example we can switch around the Breishis account to accord with the facts, but Adam & Eve must be real people. They insist on this for the following reasons:
1. Chazal always assumed that Adam & Eve were real
2. It's a slippery slope once you start mythologizing
However neither of these reasons hold up. Chazal also assumed that Breishis was a factual literal account in many places, and that the flood was global (execpt for Eretz Yisrael according to one authority) so the Non Literal crowd are going against Chazal's assumptions anyway. And 'Non Literal' is just as much a slippery slope as Mythology. Maybe the 10 commandments are non literal?
No, I don't buy into these reasons. The real reason is as I have stated: They are emotionally attached to the idea of Adam & Eve being real. So if it makes them feel better, lets assume that there really was a couple called Adam & Eve Horishon, who lived in a nice garden in Iraq 6000 years ago. Oh, and they had a pet snake, who did tricks!
Seriously though, taking things 'Non Literally' approaches 'Mythology' very, very quickly. Remember, Mythology does not mean Fairy Tales. It means important truths wrapped up in story form.
In order to fit Adam & Eve with the facts, the Non_literal crowd have to say that there were other people around, but only A&E had some special kind of neshamah. But that gets you into all sorts of problems as to whether Aboriginees have neshamot. So then they say, maybe all people got neshamot at the same time as A&E. So what was so special abut A&E? So then they say, maybe A&E were not literally individual people, but really were representative of mankind as a whole, maybe its the story of modern man replacing neandertahl man. By the time you get to this point you know where you are?
Its called Mythology.
Correction: For 'Mythology' read 'Aggadata'
Ralph Spoilsport defies his name and suggests that instead of 'Mythology' I should use the word 'Agadata'. What a great idea! Of course the fundamentalists will still have a problem since they tend to take all Agadata literally anyway, but at least the rest of us will understand.
Monday, September 05, 2005
We Learn From Katrina
Along with the rest of the nation, I am in shock and disbelief at the horror and tragedy in New Orleans. This isn’t a news or current affairs blog, so I will limit my postings on the subject. But the tragedy is too great to ignore. Clearly there is lots of blame to be spread all round: The City of New Orleans, The State of Louisiana, The Federal Government, FEMA, the Mayor, the Governor, the President and many more.
But one thing that isn’t to blame is the weather. Everyone knew that this kind of storm was possible. Everyone knew the levees could break. Why was nothing done about it? Why wasn’t there a decent evacuation plan? Why didn’t relief agencies act quicker? Why did people descend into raping and killing each other?
One of the frequent complaints I hear from the Atheists is that there is so much evil in the world, how can this be reconciled with a good G-d? The answer, of course, is that man has free will. But, they respond, what about natural disasters? What about tsunamis and hurricanes? Doesn’t that reflect badly on G-d? The answer, of course, is that man has free will. In this day and age, we absolutely have the money, information and technology to guard against ALL* natural disasters, anywhere in the world. If we don’t, its nobodys fault but our own.
* By 'ALL' I mean all typical natural disasters. Extinction Level Events (ELE) such as comets are obviously not currently preventable, unless you are in a Jerry Buruckheimer movie. However G-d promised no more ELEs, so in effect all disasters that might reasonably occur are preventable. And for those rare events which currently aren't preventable, if we invested enough time and money we could solve those too. G-d commanded us to 'Subdue the earth', this is our G-d given mission.
What is not in Chazal and/or Rishonim is not Judaism.
Der Alter seems pretty convinced that if Chazal or Rishonim didn't say it, then it can't possibly be 'Authentic Torah True Judaism'. Hence my peshat in Breishis 1-11 cannot possibly be correct. By the same logic no peshat which states the world is older than 5765 years, or that Adam & Eve were not real, or that there was no global flood can possibly be Torah True.
Now, I have the greatest respect for Chazal and Rishonim, and for Der Alter too, especially in this month of Ellul, prime Mussar season. Mussar is supremely important and I think its a crying shame that we all don't learn more of it. R Yisroel Salanter is one of my heroes for re-emphasizing the ethical, moral and spiritual aspects of Judaism. So far be it from me to bash the heilige Chazal, Rishonim or Mussar Greats.
But I must respond with this: WHAT A LOAD OF NONSENSE.
First of all, there is plenty that Chazal and Rishonim said which is not part of Judaism (think bogus medicine and spiritual moons). Der Alter claims these were never part of Judaism itself, just external items which were deemed 'compatible with Judaism'. OK. Then think about all the new stuff which was invented after the Rishonim (think Ari's Kabalah). Der Alter claims these were all based on previous authentic strands of kabalah. Whatever.
The fact of the matter is this: It doesn't matter one whit what Chazal or Rishonim thought was peshat in Breishis, since CHAZAL AND THE RISHONIM HAD ABSOLUTELY NO CLUE HOW OLD THE UNIVERSE WAS OR HOW HUMANITY EVOLVED OR WHETHER A GLOBAL FLOOD HAD HAPPENED. Sorry, but it's true. And this is no disrespect to them AT ALL. THEY COULDN'T POSSIBLY HAVE KNOWN, SINCE NO ONE ON THE ENTIRE PLANET KNEW THESE THINGS before about the 18th century. Isn't this BLINDINGLY OBVIOUS TO ANYONE WITH THE REMOTEST DEGREE OF SECHEL?
This being the case, ANY UNDERSTANDING WHICH CHAZAL AND RISHONIM HAD IN BREISHIS IS ALMOST ENTIRELY IRRELEVANT. I say 'almost' because any moral, ethical or spiritual lessons they learned are 100% relevant. But the fact that Chazal and the Rishonim assumed the world was only a few thousand years old, or that Adam & Eve were real, or that the flood was global is irrelevant. They assumed it was literal because they had no reason not to assume that. But we HAVE EVERY REASON IN THE WORLD TO KNOW IT CAN'T POSSIBLY BE LITERAL.
So, we are left with a choice. Either kvetch like crazy and come out with some bastardized peshat in Breishis which barely conforms to reality and turns Breishis stories into a joke, or recognize that it's Mythology and learn the correct lessons from it. Again, MYTHOLOGY DOESN'T MEAN FAIRY TALES. MYTHOLOGY MEANS IMPORTANT INFORMATION ENCODED INTO SIMPLE STORIES.
Go read some books on mythology, especially this one. There may even be kernels of true events encoded in the Breishis stories. But you won't get at any of this with kvetchy peshat and bogus science. A far better approach would be to read up on ancient Sumerian Mythology and compare and contrast. Read Cassuto: From Adam to Noah, or Sarna: Understanding Genesis. Or see the notes at the end of Breishis in the standard Soncino Chumash.
The funny thing is that this MYTHOLOGY/MOSHOLOGY peshat is standard amongst educated MO Jews and even some LW UO Jews (don't make me name any names!). It's only sheltered Chareidim who are shocked to hear of it. For goodness sake guys, it's been in the Soncino Chumash since 1936! And Rabbi Hertz was the Chief (Orthodox) Rabbi of the British Empire!
I love Judaism and I love Mussar, but I cry for both.
Kannaim: Moon Landing Was a Hoax
Reliable sources in Israel tell me that one of the kannaim, part of the group behind the Slifkin ban and intent on delegitimizing the Kamenetzky family (which is what the drive behind the Slifkin ban was actually all about), has been showing people a Foxtel documentary proving that astronauts never landed on the moon and it was all faked by NASA!
What the heck??
Well, this is in reference to the famous account of Reb Yaakov Kamenetzky z"l who watched the moon landing and concluded that Rambam was not correct in describing the moon as a spiritual being. The kannoim hope to show that Hollywood fooled Reb Yaakov into being a kofer. Evidently they will go to any lengths to try and prove this. What a bunch of maniacs. How can the Gedolim be so stupid as to listen to these people?
In fact the kannaim are not even following their own retarded ideology. I blogged about the fake moon landing months ago. The kannoim are forgetting the obvious peshat: The moon used to be a spiritual body, but then nishtaneh hatevah (actually nishtaneh hayareach) and now it's made of granite. So the Rambam wasn't actually wrong (in his time) at all. And why not? You think that's any more ridiculous than using nishtaneh hatevah to explain why lice have babies, whereas 2000 years ago they spontaneously generated?
Sometimes, I can understand why the skeptics just want the heck out of here. How much stupidity do we have to endure? Even otherwise sensible people have been spouting nonsense recently, in reference to my mythology post. Here is a sampling:
1. You have too much faith in science. You have more emunah in science
than in Torah.
(No, I have emunah in proven facts.)
2. Science changes all the time. All this will change too.
(Right. Ultimately scientists will realize that the world is exactly 5765 years old after all! Sure.)
3. The scientists disagree between themselves, so why should we listen to them.
(Right. One scientist says the world is 10 billion years old and another says 20 billion. So you see they can be wrong by billions of years! Maybe they are wrong by 10 to 20 billion years and the world is 5765 years old after all. Sure.)
4. Science can only document the present, it cannot 'predict' the past.
(Nonsense. Unless you invoke bizarre miracles.)
5. Science by definition can't accept G-d, so obviously they don't agree to Breishis.
Other people kvetch and kvetch and kvetch. Well day doesn't mean day. And vegetation (created before the sun) doesn't really mean vegetation. It just means the potential for vegetation. And the sun didn't fully form until after earth was created, so maybe that's what the pasuk means when it talks about the creation of earth before the sun. And maybe Adam & Eve were just two special people. And maybe the flood was just a local flood. And when it says 'all the animals' it just means all the local animals. And maybe in the tower of bavel story everyone knew different languages already but they spoke a common one too, and then G-d made them forget the common one. And on and on and on.
I think it would be useful for the kvetchers to stop and rethink what they just turned Breishis into. A story about 2 people with slightly different neshamas? A story about a small flood and one guy who survived it? And a failed building project?!. What's the big deal?
I think the problem is that people don't understand what Mythology is. Mythology doesn't mean bube mayses. Mythology doesn't mean fairy tales for children. Mythology doesn't mean urban myths.
Mythology means great truths encoded in the form of an easy to remember story. Myths typcially formed before writing was invented, and hence had to survive oral transmission for hundreds or even thousands of years. Even Mythology created after writing was invented still had to be easy to remember and interesting and exciting to hear, guaranteeing that it would be passed down from generation to generation without being forgotten.
Breishis being Mythology does not mean it is all a waste of time. There are great and serious lessons in Breishis. But this does not mean Breishis is literally true, nor does it mean you should twist and bastardize basic peshat to try and get it to fit with current Science. The stories told in Breishis do not fit with the Scientific explanation of the world. Period. Making them fit by twisting the Science or by twisting the Torah is the wrong mehalech.
Sunday, September 04, 2005
I don't love my wife
I don't love my wife. Or my children. Or my parents. I mean, I think I do, but I realize that's simply just an evolutionary mechanism which ensures survival, nothing more than that. Unfortunately, I'm stuck in a religious cult which I know is also nothing more than an evolutionary mechanism which helped to ensure survival, nothing more than that. So, I'm just going to let my reason rule, and I'm going to walk out of my life, leaving my wife and children behind forever.
Funny, you don't hear Skeptics talking like that. They often endure the agony of being in a cult, because of their love for their wife, children or families. Why do they respect their internal drive for love, yet completely discount their drive for spirituality? After all, man has for many thousands of years had drive for both. And, both are somewhat delicate in that they can be destroyed during childhood. A sexually abused child loses the capacity for true love as an adult. A theologically abused child loses the ability for true spirituality as an adult.
We see this all the time. Ever read Shalom Auslander's book? It's full of negative portrayals of G-d as a buffoon, or as an abusing control freak. But religious people don't relate to G-d like this at all. Religious people see G-d as an all powerful merciful ruler (the problem of evil notwithstanding). G-d as an evil buffoon is only imagined by someone who has been theologically abused.
Man has some incredibly powerful, yet incredibly delicate inner drives. Love, morality, reason, spirituality: All of these can be nurtured or destroyed, in childhood and even in adulthood. At the barest minimum, Judaism represents one of the best [if not the best] time tested attempts at a spiritual framework. As the recent article I quoted from the San Francisco Chronicle shows, people have this incredible drive to be spiritual. It's no different than love. Why deny one but accept the other?
Of course, you could always try and define your own spirituality. But that might be difficult. Surely you should take advantage of 3,000 years of scholarship in the matter? After all, I don't see the skeptics making up their own systems of rationality or philosophy, they seem quite well read in those areas.
But what if their spirituality is dead? Or so damaged that it just does nothing for them? They should see a therapist. A spiritual therapist. Otherwise known as a Rabbi.
Saturday, September 03, 2005
Skeptics Appeal To Intuition
It's funny that the one logical fallacy the skeptics don't like to talk about is Appeal to Intuition. I wonder if that's because they themselves use it all the time?
How do I know that I exist? I might just be a brain in a jar. The answer is that I can’t know. The best I can do is appeal to my intuition. Intuitively I know I exist. Or at least I think I do.
How do I know that you exist? You might just be a figment of my imagination. Even if you do exist, there is no way I can know you actually have consciousness, you might just be manifesting signs of consciousness, without actually having a mind, kind of like a highly intelligent AI Robot. The answer is that I can’t know. The best I can do is appeal to my intuition. Intuitively I know you exist. Or at least I think that you do.
How do I know to be rational? Well, it’s rational to be rational. But it’s also irrational to be irrational. And anyway, that’s a circular argument. The answer is that I can’t know. The best I can do is appeal to my intuition. Intuitively I know I need to be rational. Or at least I think I do.
How do I know to be moral? Well it’s practical to be moral. Why is it practical? Well, because then society works well. But why is that desirable? Because then everybody is happy. And why is that desirable? Because it’s good for people to be happy. That’s a circular argument. The answer is that I can’t know. The best I can do is appeal to my intuition. Intuitively I know I need to be moral. Or at least I think I do.
How do I know G-d exists? The answer is that I can’t know. The best I can do is appeal to my intuition. Intuitively I know that G-d exists. Or at least I think He does.
It’s funny that the skeptics appeal to intuition for morality, reason, even their very existence. But when it comes to G-d, they claim our intuition is nothing more than a logical fallacy. How can they be so sure?
Friday, September 02, 2005
Why Be Moral?
Orthoprax asks, 'Why be Moral?' It's a good question for which the Atheists have no good answer. They claim that the Theists have no answer either, but that's fallacious reasoning. Theists believe they do have an answer. You can't use skeptical reasoning to claim that Theists don't really have an answer and they just think they do. Theists believe strongly in a moral G-d, and hence the answer to 'Why Be Moral?' is 'Because G-d says so'. Proving this is an irrational claim based on logical fallacies is irrelevant to the Theists, and therefore doesn't work as a counter-argument.
The bottom line is this: According to the internal belief-based system of the Theists, they fully believe they have an important reason to be moral. However according to the internal rationality-based system of the Skeptics, there is no rational reason to be moral. It's purely a result of a million years of evolutionary pressures, not any different than the presssures that created religion and belief in G-d.
So, according to Atheists, the question remains: Why be moral?
The Atheists usually answer by way of circular reasoning. They say we must be moral, because it's only fair that you treat others in the way you would want them to treat you. Great! But being 'fair' is itself a moral quality, so that's circular reasoning.
So again, according to Atheists, Why be moral?
At this point they usually resort to practicality. Its practical to be moral, because otherwise society would break down. But I can think of all sorts of practical things to do: Let's kill severely retarded infants at birth (with parental consent), since they are useless members of society. Let's form a powerful super society, identify which groups or religions are useless or worse, and then exterminate them all (in a practical manner of course). Oh wait a minute, somebody already tried that.
So again, according to Atheists, Why be moral?
The answer is clear: There is no answer. If there is no G-d, and we are all just random (or not so random) freaks of nature, which is itself random, there isn't much good reason to be moral. That is not to say that Atheists themselves are immoral. Most of them are quite moral, either because they are parasitic from the morals of religion, or because of their innate Tzelem Elokim. However Atheistic morality is hard to sustain, especially in a crisis.
I saw on the news last night how a couple in a two bedroom apartment took in 22 of their relatives who were fugitives from New Orleans. The home-owner said it was the 'Christian' thing to do. She was not an educated or highly intelligent woman, just a simple soul with morality. It's hard to imagine that the masses would have this kind of morality if they had been brought up from birth believing in a fundamentally meaningless universe, with no G-d.
The idea of G-d (or similar) has inspired mankind for millenia, the great scientists too. Perhaps Skepticism and Atheism is a workable system for the highly intelligent and educated elite, who have already absorbed their morality from the surrounding religious culture. Even then I don't think so. But it won't work for the masses, and in a time of crisis, I doubt it would work for the Skeptics either.
So, the hypocrisy remains. Skeptics are content to believe in morality, even though they can't really prove why they should, except for saying it's useful. Well, religion is pretty useful too, and according to their internal reasoning system, religion came from exactly the same place as morality.
So why pick one and not the other?
We Learn From Katrina....
As R'Gil says, we learn from Katrina that:
Civilized cities can descend into terrifying scenarios very quickly.
Very true. Its not at all hard to imagine any one of a number of scenarios (huge terrorist attacks, flu pandemic, natural diasters, earthquake etc) which could totally take down some large cities, and then by extension the rest of the country too. We have this entirely false sense of security. All great empires of the past have ultimately declined. Some more quickly, some more slowly, but they all declined in the end. There is only one place to ultimately have faith, and its not in the US government, liberal or democrat, or in the US itself, or even in Western Civilization, which quite likely will decline one day too.
Thursday, September 01, 2005
Can the Torah contain Mythology?
In the previous post I showed how Breishis does not in any way conform to the accepted scientific account of the Universe’s creation and subsequent history. What’s quite amazing is how frum Jews, even well educated ones, often have no clue as to the extent of the incompatibilities. I will even admit that I was exactly the same. In the frum world, people just don’t think about these things with any rigor.
Most frum people are dimly aware that Scientists say the world is billions of years old, man evolved ‘from’ monkeys, and dinosaurs existed, but that’s about it. They assume the answer to Breishis questions is that ‘day’ isn’t literal, ‘taninim gedolim’ means dinosaurs, and that evolution is treif. When you point out to them that a global flood and subsequent repopulation of the entire planet’s human and animal life from one small boat is completely impossible, they say it was all a ness and that there is no evidence it didn’t happen, just lack of evidence that it did.
Well, actually there is plenty of evidence it didn’t happen, making the ‘ness’ theory somewhat theologically troubling. Also, you can’t discount all of evolution without taking a large part of our biological sciences down with it.
Some people insist that Science can’t tell us anything about the past, only about the future, because the past may have had a different set of scientific laws. Well, thats kinda crazy. Why would the scientific laws just change like that? Is G-d just playing with us? And maybe they will all change again tomorrow? Better not get on that plane tonight! I would regard those kind of answers as too crazy, and I am not going to entertain them here.
So, most sensible educated people take it for granted that at least the first 11 chapters of Breishis are mythological. Sure, there could have been a naked couple in Iraq six thousand years ago called Adam and Eve, and there could have been a guy in a boat called Noach, but once you accept the Scientific account of the history of the world, stubbornly clinging on to these characters when their surrounding stories can’t possibly be true doesn’t seem to make much sense.
After all, if Adam & Eve were just a couple living in a particularly nice part of Iraq, then what’s the point? And if Noach was just one of thousands of flood survivors from some small local flood, then what’s the big deal about Noach? And if the Tower of Babylonians really was not the cause of the many different languages, then why that story?
So, let’s think about the alternative. What are the problems if we say that Breishis 1-11 is Mythological? Let me present a few issues, and some solutions. If you think this all sounds somewhat apologetic, well duh!
1. Divine Authorship
Many people feel that once we say something is mythological, it is a threat to Divine Authorship. After all, why would G-d write mythology? Surely G-d would only write the truth? There are a few different aspects to this question:
1. Who actually wrote Breishis ?
2. Does G-d allowing Breishis in the Torah mean it must be true?
3. Would G-d write Mythology, and if so why?
In terms of the first question, we find that it seems to be quite acceptable to hold that G-d was NOT the original author of Breishis, but that Breishis was written under ‘Divine Inspiration’, just like the books of Nach. Rabbi Gil Student writes:
We find the following in Shemot Rabbah 5:22: "And Moshe said before the Holy One, blessed be He, (Exodus 5:22) 'Why have You done evil to this people...' I opened the book of Genesis and read it and saw the acts of the generation of the flood..." As R' Zev Wolf Einhorn points out in his Perush Maharzu, it seems like Moshe had some sort of book of Genesis well before he descended from Mt. Sinai. …. The answer is simply that our forefathers Avraham, Yitzchak, and Ya'akov, and even those who preceded them like Adam and Noach, wrote down personal histories and theological works that were kept by their descendants. As prophets, their writings were sacred and treated like holy books. They were studied by their children and handed down from generation to generation. Rashi on Gittin 60a says that first the scroll of Creation was written, then the scroll of Noach, and then the scroll of Avraham. … Rashi seems to say that it was written at different times, scroll by scroll. Or, perhaps Rashi is not talking about the book of Genesis at all. Rather, he is telling us that all of these people wrote their own scrolls. Adam wrote a book about his life and what happened during his lifetime. He was a prophet and, naturally, this was an inspired book. ….Throughout the stay in Egypt and the desert, the scrolls of the forefathers were treated as sacred books and studied. These books, which were written under prophetic inspiration, form the basis of the book of Genesis. Granted, they were highly edited so that the book would not be too long….
According to R Gil, Breishis was written by the Avos, and even Noach and Adam (unlikely since they probably didn't exist), and then ‘edited’ by Moshe under G-d’s command. So Breishis being written by others besides G-d is not the actual problem. The main problem is, if Breishis stories were Mythological, why would G-d have included them in the Torah. Isn’t that very misleading? Why is that any better than faking up the post-flood evidence, or creating a fully formed world complete with fossils? How could G-d have let such a situation arise, when many people, even great Gedolim, don’t realize its all mythology?
I would suggest the following answers:
Man has free will. It’s not G-d’s fault if we can’t spot Mythology when we see it. After all, 2 billion Christians believe in Jesus. Is that fair? Why not wonder about that? Or don’t goyim count? And what about Skeptics? How could G-d have let a situation arise when so many people in the world don’t believe in Him? Of course the answer is that man has free will. Nothing in this world is absolutely clear. We have to do our best to understand it. But don't blame G-d.
2. Does G-d allowing Breishis in the Torah mean it must be true?
Many Gedolim, including Rav Kook, Rambam etc are okay with taking Torah non literally. Rambam explains the Bilaam episode as a dream. Why are these not misleading? Or even the cases of anthropomorphism? We have a klal, that dibrah torah keloshon bnei odom. So the Torah contained an account which was suitable for the people of the day to understand and that’s all. Nowadays, G-d expects us to use our sechel to realize that. Just because something is in the Torah does not mean it has to be literally true.
3. Would G-d write Mythology, and if so why?
The point of the Torah is to teach Moral and Ethical lessons, not Science, or even history. In fact the very first Rashi on the Torah confirms this. This can certainly be done using mythological stories. In fact, it can more effectively be done from mythology, since with real life you are constrained to only write about what actually happened, which may or may not contain any valuable lessons.
2. Slippery Slope
Many people are concerned that we have a very slippery slope here. If Breishis 1-11 is Mythological, why not 11-24, or Shemos, or the whole of Tenach? Where do you do draw the line?
I would suggest the following answers:
Many of our beliefs can be discounted through arguments. Torah MiSinai and many other ikkarim don’t hold up to serious skepticism. But we have emunah all the same. On the other hand, Science is clearly reliable and we trust it all the time in our everyday lives. So what to do?
The most sensible approach is as follows: Where we have proven Science which contradicts a belief or a pasuk in the Torah, we need to listen to the facts. If there is no proven Science, only theories and speculations, then that’s a different story.
Breishis 1-11 is ‘pre-history’ from a perspective of the Bnei Yisrael at Har Sinai, or even from the Avos’s perspective. There is no reason why such ancient history would have been reliably known. However the stories of the Avos, and certainly Yetzias Mitzrayim itself would have been more recent history or even current events. In other words, the rest of the Torah could have been written at the same time as the events actually occurred, but the stories of Breishis 1-11 not so. Also, there is no proven Science against the stories of the Avos, and the Maccot and Har Sinai are clearly miracles, which would not have left much if any evidence.
There is certainly a problem with the huge numbers of people supposedly leaving Mitzrayim, and the almost complete lack of archeological and historical evidence for such a huge event. Some people like to claim that ‘Absence of Evidence is not Evidence of Absence’, but that’s not so great. It’s definitely a question, and I don’t have my full answer fully fleshed out yet (soon). However, it’s still not quite as strong as the ‘proven’ science which contradicts Breishis 1-11.
Finally, I would say it is a slippery slope. However we already have questions and are already on the slope. So we might as well make the most of it.
There is a problem in that the Mythology stories are connected to the story of Avraham, by way of the geneologies. There is no clean separation there. The only answer I have is that the Torah was edited to make it into a seamless story, so it had to be done that way.
4. Emotional Attachment
Many people have an emotional attachment to Adam & Eve, or Noach. This probably stems from having learnt Breishis in kindergarten, or having a Noach blanky and crib set when they were younger. I have noticed a sliding scale here, some people can’t give up on the idea of any of them being real. Some people are okay with Adam & Eve being myth, but draw the line at Noach. Some people are willing to let Noach sink into oblivion (excuse the pun), but draw the line at the Avos. Personally I remember being quite upset when I realized Noach probably wasn’t real, but I got over it.
I would like to keep the Avos, since we daven about them quite a bit every day. Adam & Eve and the Mabul rarely appear in davening, except ‘Hashem LaMabul Yoshov’ which isn’t so serious. I recall some piyutim on Yomim Tovim, and of course you have the long Breishis description in the Avodah on Yom Kippur, but that’s not the end of the world either (nor the beinning haha). However I would be more upset to lose the Avos, certainly. There is no Scientific evidence against the Avos currently except for the Sedom story. People used to complain about the camels but I believe that has become a non issue now. So I think we can keep the Avos.
Finally, many people object that the Mesorah has always held Breishis 1-11 to be true. Well, I guess. But not Mesorah as in Halachah LeMoshe MiSinai, just mesorah in terms of natural assumptions, which is understandable. But it's time to change our natural assumptions. By the way, the mesorah also assumed the earth was flat and the sun went round the earth, so maybe mesorah (small 'm') is not so great.
Breishis & Science
Does Breishis fit with Science?
I'm glad you asked! Let’s see by looking at the text. I shall ignore Midrashic explanations which tend to be even more fantastical than the basic text and just focus on the basic text. Let’s go chapter by chapter through the beginning of Breishis and see what happens. I shall focus on the aspects of the Breishis story that are relevant to Science, and ignore other details that are not. Contradictions within the text itself shall be ignored, as shall obvious similarities to other ancient texts.
1. Breishis 1
Creation starts approximately 5765 years ago with Water. Next comes light, and then the first day ends. Second day, G-d creates Heaven and Earth, by separating the Waters. Third day, G-d moves around the lower waters, and thereby creates dry land and seas, and then creates vegetation on the earth. On the fourth day, G-d created the Sun, the moon and the stars. On the fifth day, G-d created all aquatic creatures, including Sea monsters, and also all birds. On the 6th day, G-d created animals, insects and then finally man and woman.
Creation (of the current Universe) starts approximately 15 billion years ago with a Big Bang of energy, no Water. The energy could conceivably be called ‘light’. There is no separation of water into Heaven and Earth. For the next 10 billion years, various galaxies, stars and planets are born and die. Finally, about 4-8 billion years ago, our solar system is formed. The sun forms first and then the surrounding planets. Many stars obviously precede the earth’s formation, and vegetation obviously does not come before the Sun. Life starts in the seas about billion years ago, and then slowly spreads to the land first, and then to the sky. Dinosaurs rule the earth from about 300 million years ago to about 65 million years ago. Man (and of course woman) appear in some form about 2 million years ago. For the next 2 million years, Man (and woman) slowly evolve from primitive ape like beings to modern Homo Sapiens. Language appears about 100,000 years ago (if not earlier). Cave Paintings appear about 30,000 years ago. Man migrates out of Africa (or maybe India) and spreads across all 5 continents. 10,000 years ago we have intelligent man living in North America, Australia, Africa, Europe in many places. Pottery, art, language, even some basic farming are commonplace.
2. Breishis 2
G-d created a man, called Adam, and then placed him in the Garden of Eden, somewhere near present day Iraq/Iran. G-d tells Adam to eat from any tree. But not the tree of Good & Evil. Adam names all the animals but doesn’t have a mate. G-d recognizes that this isn’t good, so G-d makes him sleep, and then takes one of his ribs and creates a woman. They are both naked, and are not ashamed.
The area described as Gan Eden is quite lush and fertile, and civilization does blossom there. As well as many other places in the world. Women and man both evolve from earlier forms.
3. Breishis 3
A talking snake convinces the woman to eat the forbidden fruit. G-d is unhappy and banishes the man and woman from the Garden. He punishes the snake by making it crawl, women are punished by being subservient and having childbirth pains, and men in general punished by having to work the ground for food. G-d creates clothes for Adam, and Adam calls his wife Eve.
Snakes don’t talk, and fruit is fruit. Biologically, childbirth has been difficult for at least 100,000 years, since babies have large heads which are difficult to fit through the birth canal. Snakes have also been crawling for millions of years. Early man started to farm (as opposed ti hunt) about 10,000 years ago. Farming was always difficult. Clothes were invented at least 100,000 years ago.
4. Breishis 4
Adam and Eve have two sons, Cain & Abel. Cain kills Abel and G-d marks him so that he won’t be killed by other people (which other people?). Cain has children. And 7 generations later he has Yovol and Yuvol and Tuval-Cain, originators of nomadic life, musical instruments and brass & iron respectively.
• 29,000–25,000 BCE - First ceramic appears
• 3rd millennium BC - Copper metallurgy is invented and copper is used for ornamentation
• 2nd millennium BC - Bronze is used for weapons and armour
• 1st millennium BC - Pewter beginning to be used in China and Egypt
• 16th century BC - The Hittites develop crude iron metallurgy
• 13th century BC - Invention of steel when iron and charcoal are combined properly
5. Breishis 5
Adam lived 930 years. Seht lives 912 years. Enosh lives 905 years. Kenan lives 910 years. Chanoch lives 365 years. Lamech lives 777 years. Noach is 500 years old, and has 3 children.
Average lifespans tend to rise and fall depending on the region of the world and time perod, but generally fall into the range of 30-80 years. Maximum human lifespan would seem to be 120-150 years. All ancient bodies dug up (5000-10000 years old) are within the 30-80 range, usually at the low end. Living past 200 years might be possible in the future, but not in the past.
6. Breishis 6
Sons of gods (rulers?) steal daughters of men. G-d is unhappy, and limits human lifespan to 120 years. Nephilim (giants?) roam the earth. G-d is unhappy with the violence on the earth, and vows to destroy all mankind. However Noach finds favor, so G-d commands him to build a boat, and gives him detailed instructions. G-d tells Noach to take 2 of every kind of animal into the Ark, and food.
There are no sons of gods (at least according to Judaism). There are also no giants. Boats are commonplace about 4,000 years ago.
7. Breishis 7
Approximately 5,000 years ago, G-d says he will cause it to rain and blot out every living being on the earth. The fountains of the deep were opened, as well as the storehouses of the heavens. All the high mountains under all the heavens are covered in water. Every single animal, fish and insect dies, only Noah is saved.
There were many local floods throughout the world. An ice age ended about 20,000 years ago in Europe causing massive flooding. There was also potentially a major flood in the Caspian see area about 8,000 years ago. In all cases, only the local populations and animals were affected. No mountains were ever covered in water. That much water does not exist on the planet, nor could the planet sustain so much water. There are no ‘fountains of the deep’, nor ‘storehouses in the heaven’ of such vast quantities of water. Geological and archeological evidence from a variety of sites all over the world show uninterrupted human habitation and development for at least the past 30,000 years, and show that a global flood never happened.
8. Breishis 8
The flood eventually ends and Noah and his wife and sons leave the Ark. They repopulate the earth with animals, fish and birds, since everything was wiped out. There are no other humans besides them.
Archeological and zoological evidence from all over the world show an uninterrupted development of human and animal life all over the planet. Some species have been indigenous to their areas for tens of thousands of years.
9. Breishis 9
Noah and his family repopulate the earth. Noah dies at 950 years old.
Population and genetic studies, not to mention archeological data, show that the population of the earth with humans was unbroken and happened 30-50,000 years ago. There was no repopulation of humanity only 4,000 years ago from a single family.
10. Breishis 10
Geneology of Noach’s sons, showing how they repopulated the Earth.
Same as above.
11. Breishis 11
The whole earth speaks one language, approximately 4,000 years ago. They buld a tower to heaven which displeases G-d. G-d scatters the men and causes them to have different languages. Men spread across the face of the earth. A geneology is decribed linking shem to Abraham
Linguistic evolution shows language developed in many parts of the earth over the last 50 to 100,000 years. Human populations too.
Clearly, 99% of the Science of the first 11 chapters does not match accepted Science. The only thing that came close was the invention of metal working. So, what are we to do?
Obviously you can claim that all Science is the work of evil atheist reshoim and therefore unreliable, or alternatively everything is a Ness. However Science is clearly reliable, and nothing is a Ness unless the Torah explicitly says it is (following the mehalech of the Rambam).
This leaves us with 2 options.
1. Kvetch like crazy to come up with far out Scientific theories, take many of the words non literally, ignore many difficult passages and create a story which is entirely far fetched, does not really match the accepted scientific account and destroys much of the meaning and impact in the text
2. Explain the whole thing as mythology which was included in the Torah for the important moral and spiritual lessons it teaches us.
I call option 1 the ‘Kiruv Clown’ option.