Avodah Mailing List
Volume 13 : Number 102
Monday, September 13 2004
Subjects Discussed In This Issue:
Date: Mon, 13 Sep 2004 11:31:16 +0200
From: Dov Bloom <email@example.com>
Subject: Re: Following the minhagim of the husband
[R' Daniel Eidensohn:]
>... my mechutan told me that RMF told him that a women who insisted on
>keeping her nusach - which is different than her husband's - her prayers
>are not accepted. On the other hand ...
Any sources anywhere for a tefila "not being accepted" because of a nusach
( Ashkenaz/Sepharad/Romainian/Hungarian/Yekke). How would one know?
Ktiva Va'Hatima Tova
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Date: Mon, 13 Sep 2004 20:42:50 +0300
From: Zoo Torah <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Subject: RE: Non-literal explanations/ Gan Eden
R' Jonathan Ostroff wrote regarding my statement regarding a universe that
is billions of years old:
>" Incontrovertible" scientific evidence! This seems to vastly overstate the
It depends who you ask! And see my later clarification.
>But, I do think that RNS does need a strong version of utterly
>"compelling" scientific evidence to invoke the Rambam and the Ralbag.
It seems that most frum people who have a serious scientific education
believe that there is indeed such compelling evidence.
By the way, I thought of an interesting way of reframing the whole
discussion. If people agree that allegorization is permitted (acc. to
Rambam) given sufficient cause, and the whole debate is as to whether the
scientific evidence is incontrovertible and gives sufficient cause, why
can't we phrase it as follows: If the evidence turns out to be correct, then
we can and will allegorize these parts of Bereishis, and if it turns out to
be wrong, then we won't! I'd be content with such a statement.
>Thus the subsequent discussion in MN is to be understood as a
>"historical-allegory", not a total-allegory. (Can RNS provide the actual
>quotes from R. Kapach and Efodi that rule out a historical-allegory so
>that we can try to work out what the dispute is about?).
I can't quote the Efodi - I haven't seen it myself, and I was relying on
RYGB for that!
I don't have the exact quote from Rav Kapach, but he definitely says that
Chava eating from the tree was not historical i.e. a total allegory. It's in
his footnote to Mishneh Torah, Hilchos Shabbos 5:3.
>There are clear limits on allegorization as stated in RSG, MN, Ralbag and
>Teshuvas HaRashba (9, 413-418). This is particulary so in "yesodei HaTorah"
>and I now turn to the limits placed upon it by the Rambam.
>When it comes to a "yesod HaTorah" the Rambam does demand logical
>impossibility before resorting to allegory as is clear in his discussion
>of Aristotle and the eternity of the universe. This is why Crescas says
>that so long as the miraculous creation account is POSSIBLE, it is to
>be understood historically.
I'm not sure whether the age of the universe is regarded as a yesod
HaTorah (once one accepts that Hashem created the universe ex nihilo). Why
would it be? And as for the origins of man's physical body, I certainly
don't see it as a yesod haTorah. There are plenty of classical sources
discussing the idea that if a person does not fulfill his potential,
he is no different from an animal!
Remember that while Rav Nadel z"l allegorized the origins of man, it is
very widely accepted amongst talmidei chachamim that the six days could
be six long periods, even though Rambam and the other Rishonim did not
hold that way.
Of course Hashem can do anything miraculously. But if the development
of the universe occurred that way, this means it was miraculously made
to look like it is billions of years old!
I wrote that there is a difference between the current evidence for an
old universe and Aristotle's proofs for an eternal universe. To which
>To my knowledge, RNS is, as a matter of history, not correct. Aristotle
>and his science was taken as seriously in the time of the Rambam as are
>evolution and the big bang theory today (if not more so).
I am not an expert on Aristotle and that era. But I do see that Rambam
presented serious arguments against Aristotle. Not to mention that we
now know Aristotle to have been disproven, so obviously he didn't give
such a good proof! I have not seen serious arguments against the world
being more than 5764 years old.
>scholars at the time considered his evidence for an eternal world
>apparently "incontrovertible". Should that have been the case, the Rambam
>tells us that it would have destroyed the fundamental principles of Torah,
One scholar didn't - Rambam. And would taking the universe as being
billions of years old, or man's body evolving from an animal, destroy
the fundamental principles of the Torah??? If so, please explain how!
>See also Crescas above where he states that "the opinion of the Rav is
>that the account of Adam, Chava, the matter of the nachash, and the tree
>of knowledge of good and evil, are all POSSIBLE as written ("kemashmayo")
>because NATURE WAS NOT YET FIXED in the 6 days ...".
In my English translation of MN by Friedlander, he translates this as
follows: "None of the things mentioned above is therefore impossible,
because the laws of Nature were then not yet permanently fixed. There are,
however, some utterances of our Sages on the subject [which apparently
imply a different view]." The square brackets are Friedlander's
explanatory notes. I suspect that this is how R' Kapach etc. understood
it, due to Rambam's lengthy introductions about why and how things are
taken allegorically. After all, if Rambam was just giving added meaning,
like everyone does, he wouldn't need this preface. It is probably due to
this (but I am not an expert in MN) that they understood Rambam as meaning
that even though it's *possible* for Chava to have been made from Adam's
side, and for all the events in Gan Eden to have taken place on one day,
there is reason to think differently.
>RNS seems very sure that the Rambam would allow his position. But this
>presumes too much, or at least requires a more detailed justification
>for the case that would take us over large portions of the MN.
Not just RNS - Rav Nadel too. And all those who have taken the six days
as referring to six long periods. Which I think is a very widely accepted
view, even in the "yeshivishe velt."
>Both RNS and I are actually speculating what the Rambam would have held
>would he be alive today. The way I see it, the Rambam would have levelled
>the same criticism (one that I also levelled in my recent posts on the
>reliability of science) against evolution and big bang theories. These
>theories are based on hypothetical entities and processes (deep theory),
>and backward extrapolations from a small basis of data to vast eons of
>time. As such, what you have is at best a reasonable guess, but surely
Here we really need to clarify something. A lot of people think that
the evidence for an old universe is just things like radioactive dating,
and if we can posit that rates of radioactive decay changed, then we've
solved it. But for our purposes it is irrelevant. It doesn't matter if the
universe is not 15 billion years old. What matters is whether it is more
than 5764 years old - once it is, we have a problem with Bereishis. And
there is very simple evidence that it is more than 5764 years old -
such as tree ring chronologies, and ice layers, and sedimentary layers
in rivers. These aren't based on the type of hypothetical entities and
extrapolations you mention. Just on the simple fact that it takes a whole
year, with a cycle of spring, summer, fall, and winter, to produce one
of these things. (Not to mention the fact that they are independently
corroborated with radioactive dating!)
With regard to evolution (and I hope everyone will please remember that
this is a DIFFERENT TOPIC from the age of the universe), there are indeed
powerful arguments (both scientific and religious/philosophical) for
common ancestry, even if the explanation of *how* these changes occurred
is very much a theory. It might be argued to be not 100% - but I'm not
sure that while something is just 98%, we can say "the Torah cannot be
taken allegorically here," and then suddenly switch when it reaches 100%!
>In addition, there are today stubborn anomalies in the dating systems
>(big bang, radiometric and fossils) that alone indicate that we are not
>at the end of the scientific story.
Again, I don't think this is the case with the simple dating systems
that I am talking about.
Also, there are stubborn anomalies in lots of things - even in the Torah -
and this doesn't mean that we don't accept them!
>While it is true that some aggressive propagandists for a materialistic
>outlook trumpet evolution as "fact, fact, fact", this is not so for all
>scientists. Roger Penrose, for example, places Newtonian physics in
>the SUPERB category (even Ptolemaic theories would have been in this
>category), and yet he puts evolution and big bang theories in a much
>lesser USEFUL category.
Again, I highly, highly doubt that Penrose would not consider it a fact
that the world is more than a few thousand years old, even if the big
bang is not a proven fact.
Also - and this also goes with regard to RYGB's earlier citation of a
"respected scientist" - citing a "respected scientist" doesn't necessarily
mean much. I can cite a respected Talmid Chacham who allegorizes Bereishis
>It is na×ve, from my point of view, to give such credence to modern
>accounts of the origin of the universe and the origin of man.
Well, there are a whole lot of highly intelligent Torah scholars and
scientists who give it credence! They could theoretically all be wrong,
but could they really all be na×ve?
>To my way of thinking, the Rambam would not have thought the evidence
>incontrovertible, nor would he have agreed to allegorize away the
>essentially historical accounts in the Torah based on the evidence as
>it currently stands.
And on this I will have to disagree, based on what I have discussed above
- we aren't just talking about evidence from radioactive dating etc.,
but rather from much simpler things. Plus that what we are proposing to
allegorize is much less serious than what Rambam was arguing against.
It's interesting that we are so far apart. I'm justifying a minority
position - allegorizing the Torah to accept evolution - while you're
arguing against a very accepted position - allegorizing the Torah to
accept that the universe is more than a few thousand years old. It would
be interesting to hear input from people who accept the old universe but
reject evolution (after all, there are many such people), and hearing why
they believe that one is an acceptable allegorization and the other isn't
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Date: Mon, 13 Sep 2004 08:10:04 -0400
From: "David Riceman" <email@example.com>
Subject: Re: Torah as Allegory
From: "MYG" <firstname.lastname@example.org>
> To which I respond: Eino inyan - the Rambam is talking about an
> inadvertant lack of seichel in the context of doing aveiros. We are
> talking about an overt constraining of seichel in the service of doing
No the Rambam is not talking about mitzvos or aveiros. He is talking
very specifically about abusing one's intellect, and deliberately choosing
to believe something one suspects is false falls into that category.
I have a more general comment. I have met a few followers of Rabbi
Miller, and one thing they have in common is a tendency towards humra.
That is, given a halachic issue they will try to follow all opinions, or,
if that is impossible, will pick a more difficult position. You in your
post advocate picking a position you suspect to be incorrect becuase it
is easier to do. Do you really think Rabbi Miller would have done that?
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Date: Mon, 13 Sep 2004 09:00:31 EDT
Subject: Re: Torah as Allegory
In a message dated 9/13/2004, R' Moshe Yehuda Gluck
> I'll add that when I was just turning a teen (all of twelve years ago)
I will give you the honor of saying that based on your writing I thought
you were at least 20 years older than you are!
> I'm curious as to your father's opinion on these matters.
My father (R' Nachman Bulman zt'l for those new to Avodah) didn't have
as keen an interest in science as I did--he was more of a philosophy and
history man--so we never talked about it much. I don't know whether
he believed in six literal days or six eras of creation. He did have
a lot of books of all stripes on his shelves--including the very book
about evolution that precipitated my own crisis of faith! Of course
it was also in his library that I found
*Challenge* and other books that proved to be the refuah to the makah.
I think he probably thought "eilu ve'eilu" about various ways of
reconciling Torah and science. The fundamental is to believe that there
is a Borei and that we humans are His beruim; how exactly the world was
created, how long it took, and how literally we are meant to understand
Ma'aseh Bereishis, those things we can't know definitively. Some of
my father's talmidim may have a better handle on what he thought about
these issues than I do. I am sure, however, that my father considered
Adam, Noach and so on to have been real, historical individuals and not
[just] allegories or prototypes.
Following your good example, I too would like to ask mechillah of anyone
on Avodah or Areivim whom I may have offended in the past.
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Date: Mon, 13 Sep 2004 20:51:37 GMT
From: "email@example.com" <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Subject: NYC Water
Last week's Yated Neeman had a full-page copy of Rav Dovid Feinstein's
psak on NYC water, which Rav Elyashiv and Rav Scheinberg also signed.
I scanned it into two jpg files, each about 1/2 mb in size. If anyone
would like them, just ask.
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Date: Mon, 13 Sep 2004 11:51:40 +0200
From: Daniel Eidensohn <email@example.com>
Subject: Re: Torah as Allegory
> Basically the common denominator of the quotes he brought is
> that emunah is belief in ideas that are beyond the rational. I agree
> with that, so, RDE, I'm not sure if you are agreeing with me or
> arguing with me. Please clarify.
Someone once asked Rav Sternbuch about Dr. Schroeder's defense of
the faith. He expressed irritation with it. He did not agree that the
traditional Jewish position needed to be defended against science.
I think there are a number of approaches that are legitimate within the
committed Orthodox world. 1) Totally accepting the mesora as it has
always been understood and rejecting out of hand any outside sources
which conflict. This was clearly the approach of Rav Soloveitchik
who viewed it as ridiculus to even be bothered by the questions. 2)
Being aware of outside sources and attempting to reconcile them to the
degree possible without distorting either and living with the tension
of not reaching a resolution - Rav Schwab. 3) Acknowledging that there
are times when something has to give and broadly rejectioning of the
validity of empircal based evidence. 4) Accepting the existence of
empircal based reality and reinterpreting the traditional sources - as
long as it doesn't undermine the validity of the Torah or impact halacha
(Delicate judgment call which requires broad shoulders).
Kuzari( 1:67): G-d forbid that there should be anything in the Torah
which contradicts the reality that we experience or that can be clearly
proven by logical proof. The miracles of the Torah do not violate this
principle but only demonstrate that G-d has the power to do what he wants
with His creation. However the question of whether the world is eternal
or was created is very difficult to resolve. In fact the proof for both
positions are equally strong. The reason that we chose the view that the
world was created is the result of the tradition we have received from the
prophetic tradition of Adam, Noach and Moshe. This tradition has greater
credibility than that of philosophical proofs. Nevertheless a person
who believes in the Torah might be forced to admit by logic concerning
the primordial hiyuli matter and the view that our present world was
preceded by many other worlds. However this would not indicate a lack
of faith, because he still believes that this world was created at a
specific times and the beginning of mankind was from Adam and Noach.
Rambam(Letter on Astrology): I know of course that it is possible
to search and find isolated opinions of some sages in the Talmud
and Medrashim whose views contradict [what I have said.]... These
statements should not trouble you because one doesn't simply discard
a clearly established halacha and revert back to the initial analysis.
Similarly it is not appropriate to discard a well-validated principle and
simply rely on a minority opinion of the sages instead. That is because
the sage [is not infallible and] might have erred by overlooking some
important facts or hints when he stated his views. Alternatively he
might have stated his view only concerning a unique situation that had
been presented to him and he had not meant to state a general principle.
This caution is illustrated by the fact that many verses of the Torah
are not meant to be taken literally - as has been clearly established
by impeccable proofs. Therefore they are explained in a way that makes
sense rather than taken literally. The general rule is that a person
should never easily toss aside his well-considered views.. His eyes
should look unflinchingly forward and not backwards..
Ibn Ezra (Introduction): Only if the plain meaning of the verse seem
illogical - or seems to be contrary to our experience - should a deeper
meaning be sought. That is because commonsense is the basis of the Torah -
which was not given to those lacking in rationality. Man's intellect is
the angel that is the intermediary between man and his G-d. Therefore
anything in the Torah which does not contradict rationality must be
understood literally as it is written and we must believe that it is true.
Moreh Nevuchim (2:22): We have a general rule concerning all those things
which do not have absolute proofs. It is necessary to examine the opposing
options and accept that position which has the fewer doubts...Therefore
concerning this question as to whether the world was created or is
eternal - there is no absolute proof to either position. We have
explained carefully all the doubts associated with each position. It
is clear that the view that world is eternal has more doubts than the
view that the world was created and is more harmful than the view that
should be held regarding G-d. In addition the view that the world was
created is that of Avraham and our prophet Moshe
Moreh Nevuchim (2:25): If a person believed that the world was eternal
according to the view of Plato - that the Heavens come into being and
degrade - this opinion does not contradict the foundations of the Torah
and does not contradict the existence of miracles. It is also possible to
interpret the Torah verses according to the view of Plato. Furthermore it
is also possible to find support and allusions in various verses which
are consistent with his view and might even seem to proof it. However
there is no necessity to accept his view and thus reinterpret the Torah
to be consistent with it - even though it is possible. This would be
done only if there were in fact absolute proof for the validity of his
position. However as long as there is no such absolute proof we shall not
be inclined towards his opinion nor shall be pay attention to the other
opinion. Instead we will continue to understand the verses according to
their plain meaning. And we will say that the Torah has told us about
this matter that we can not grasp properly just with out intellect and
the existence of miracle testifies to the truth of our claims.
Ramban(Bereishis 9:12): We are forced to believe the words of the Greeks
that the rainbow is a natural result of the sun shining on moist air -
because we see a rainbow when a container of water is placed before the
sun. This can also be understood from the use of the past tense in the
Torah describing that the rainbow had been placed in the clouds. In other
words the Torah is stating that the preexisting physical phenomenon -
the rainbow - will from now on serve as a sign of the covenant.
R' S. R. Hirsch (Educational Value of Judaism Collected Writings #7
p265): Judaism is not frightened even by the hundreds of thousands
and millions of years which the geological theory of the earth's
development bandies about so freely. Judaism would have nothing to
fear from that theory even if it were based on something more than mere
hypothesis, on the still unproven presumption that the forces we see at
work in our world today are the same as those that were in existence,
with the same degree of potency, when the world was first created. Our
Rabbis, the Sages of Judaism, discuss (Midrash Rabbah 9; Chagiga 16a)
the possibility that earlier worlds were brought into existence and
subsequently destroyed by the Creator before He made our own earth in
its present form and order. However, the Rabbis have never made the
acceptance or rejection of-this and similar possibilities an article
of faith binding on all Jews. They were willing to live with any theory
that did not reject the basic truth that "every beginning is from God."
In fact, they were generally averse to speculations about what was in
the past and what will be in the future, because, in their view, such
questions transgressed the limits of that which is knowable to man, or,
at best, they did not enhance man's understanding of his moral function.
In the view of our Rabbis, the Book of Books was intended to be mankind's
guide for life on earth as it is at present, to teach man to recognize
God, in the here and now, as the everlasting Creator and Master of the
universe, and to worship Him by faithfully obeying the laws by which He
R' S. R. Hirsch (Ethical Training in the Classroom Collect writings
#7 p57-58): ... Jewish scholarship has never regarded the Bible as a
textbook of physical or even abstract doctrines. In its view, the main
emphasis of the Bible is always on the ethical and social structure and
development of life on earth; that is, on the observance of laws through
which the momentous events in our nation's history are converted from
abstract truths into concrete convictions. That is why Jewish scholarship
regards the Bible as speaking consistently in "human language"; the Bible
does not describe things in terms of objective truths known only to G-d,
but in terms of human understanding, which is, after all, the basis
for human language and expression. It would therefore be inconceivable
that the Bible should have intended, for example, Joshua's command,
"0 sun, stand still" as implying a Biblical dogma confirming or denying
the existence of a solar system. The Bible uses "human language" when it
speaks of the "rising and the setting of the sun" and not of the rotation
of the earth, just as Copernicus, Kepler and other such scientists,
in their words and writings, spoke of the rising and setting of the sun
without thereby contradicting truths they had derived from their own
scientific conclusions. "Human language," which is also the language of
the Bible, describes the processes and phenomena of nature in terms of
the impression they make on the. human senses without thereby meaning
to prejudice, in any manner, the findings of scientific research. After
all, the terms in which a fact may be described will not change the
fact as such. The event described in the Book of Joshua is one of the
experiences of our nation to which we refer as "miracles" but which
the Bible describes as "instructive and convincing acts" with which the
Father of all mankind wished to help prepare the nation of His Torah and
His Law for its wanderings through the ages. Through the "instructive and
convincing acts" G-d demonstrates for His people not only that the natural
order of things is of Divine origin but also that His world order, which
is not merely physical but at the same time moral in character. assigns
a special position to men who live for the fulfillment of G-d's Will. Far
from obstructing any scientific study of nature. these very "instructive
and convincing acts" of the Bible show us the way to a rational study of
nature. No matter how strenuously some people may resist this notion. it
is a historically demonstrable fact that rational inquiry into nature
became possible. and actually materialized. only after the people of
the Jewish Bible had helped mankind regain the perception of the world
as the work of one, sole free-willed thinking Creator. Who. through His
almighty Will, is capable of translating His plans into reality...
I have not come across any source which recommends accepting explanations
that you feel are false in order to justify beliefs that you accept as
true. It is permitted in chinuch to present a distorted or truncated
rationale to students because that is a necessary bridge to better
understanding. However it is only a temporary matter which will replaced
as the student advances. For example the various stories of Hillel
In other words I reject your approach!
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Date: Mon, 13 Sep 2004 01:04:47 -0400
From: "MYG" <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Subject: Re: Torah as Allegory
I wrote :
> To answer this I would like to coin a phrase: Informed ignorance
> (henceforth, II). That is, knowing that what one believe's in is
> incorrect, and making a value judgement to continue to believe in it
> anyway. (This is not cult-like behavior - the decision is not made
> for him.)
To which R' David Riceman responded:
> See Rambam PHM Hagigah 2:1 s.v. "vratuy lo k'ilu lo ba l'olam" and
> "kol shelo has al kvod kono".
Eino inyan - the Rambam is talking about an inadvertant lack of seichel in
the context of doing aveiros. We are talking about an overt constraining
of seichel in the service of doing mitzvos.
K'siva v'chasima tova,
Moshe Yehuda Gluck
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Date: Mon, 13 Sep 2004 00:39:38 EDT
Subject: Re: NYC Water and Pi
In a message dated 9/10/2004 4:12:48 PM EDT, email@example.com writes:
> In other words, since we do know that the copepods are there, and are
> visible to the naked eye when proper lighting is used, we ought to be
> obligated to use the tools which are available. We can't hide from our
> knowledge of copepods any more than we can hide from our knowledge of pi.
Or can we?
Maybe it's not a yes/no question. The way we should phrase it is, *how*
*much* effort are we obliged to put into this?
There are many places in halacha where we must make *an* effort, but
are not required to make an unusally difficult effort. Of course, the
"shiur" of required effort will vary from case to case, but here are a
few examples where a *reasonable* amount of effort will suffice:
- If a melacha needs to be done on Shabbos, one of the factors which
determine whether or not I can do it myself with a shinui, will be
whether the nearest friendly non-Jew is next door or across town.
Is the area in question a d'oraisso or a derabbana. I would submit that
a de'oraaisso would need closer inspection....
Melachos Shabbos are perhaps an anamoly since in order to qualify as a
d'oraisso needs be done as a mleches machsheves
OTOH briya/berya is never battel afilu b'elef and lich'ora is a real
I think a cursory reading of YD 100 illustrates how serious this is. I'm
not a big fan of chumra in general, but beryia is a different creature
than the average chumra
K'siva vaChasima Tova!
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Date: Mon, 13 Sep 2004 12:27:28 -0400
From: "Jonathan Ostroff" <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Subject: RE: Non-literal explanations/ Gan Eden
Rabbi Nossen Slifkin wrote:
> For example, as R' Zvi Lampel convincingly demonstrates, the
> overwhelming and probably universal consensus amongst the
> Rishonim etc. is that the six days were six literal 24 hour
> days. ... How can everyone
> take a different approach from the Rishonim? Rav Nadel z"l
> raises this point and explains that the Rishonim did not have
> to deal with the incontrovertible scientific evidence for a
> universe that is billions of years old. We see that when
> Rambam was faced with things in his day that he felt
> contradicted the literal meaning of Torah, he allowed for the
> Torah's allegorization. Rav Nadel explains that we have
> simply taken the principle of Rambam (and Ralbag, RSG etc.)
> and applied it to the new circumstances.
"Incontrovertible" scientific evidence! This seems to vastly overstate
But, I do think that RNS does need a strong version of utterly
"compelling" scientific evidence to invoke the Rambam and the Ralbag. What
follows below is the very briefest outline (despite its length :-) against
such a position, and can perhaps be expanded upon, if it is of interest,
after Rosh Hashana (the birthday of Adam HaRishon :-).
The Rambam in MN (II:30) clearly describes a historical Adam and Chava
created on "yom" hashishi in Gan Eden "afar min haadama". On p61 of
the Ibn Tibbon version there are three commentaries: Efodi, Shem Tov
and Crescas. Both Shem Tov and Crescas explicitly say that the Rambam
takes the whole story as historically true. Crescas writes that "the
opinion of the Rav is that the account of Adam, Chava, the matter of the
nachash, and the tree of knowledge of good and evil, are all POSSIBLE as
written ("kemashmayo") because NATURE WAS NOT YET FIXED in the 6 days
...Adam and Chava are all KEPESUTAM because they happened on the 6th
day". As the Shem Tov says "even though the WHOLE of maaseh beraishis
is historical ("kemashmayo") there is an allusion (remez)" to a deeper
meaning. Thus the subsequent discussion in MN is to be understood as a
"historical-allegory", not a total-allegory. (Can RNS provide the actual
quotes from R. Kapach and Efodi that rule out a historical-allegory so
that we can try to work out what the dispute is about?).
In MN (III:50) the Rambam writes that the account of Adam HaRishon created
as a lone individual is to prevent people from making a mistake in the
"Yesod HaTorah She-Haolam Mechudash". This Rambam is quoted approvingly
by the Ralbag, Ramban and Rabbenu Bechaya (see my previous posts).
The Ralbag himself in Milchemes HaShem states that "adherence to [our]
reason is not permitted if it contradicts religious faith; indeed, if
there is such a contradiction, it is necessary to attribute this lack of
agreement to our own inadequacy" (quoted in full in my earlier post). I
would speculate that the Ralbag himself would fall off his philosophical
reason for taking the nachash story allegorically given the history of
science since the Ralbag (we can follow up on this point, too, if it
of interest). The Ralbag complained about those of our chachamim who
allegorized the account of Adam HaRishon.
There are clear limits on allegorization as stated in RSG, MN, Ralbag
and Teshuvas HaRashba (9, 413-418). This is particulary so in "yesodei
HaTorah" and I now turn to the limits placed upon it by the Rambam.
When it comes to a "yesod HaTorah" the Rambam does demand logical
impossibility before resorting to allegory as is clear in his discussion
of Aristotle and the eternity of the universe. This is why Crescas says
that so long as the miraculous creation account is POSSIBLE, it is to
be understood historically.
> R' Tzvi Lampel feels that if Rambam etc. stood up to the
> in-vogue theories of their day re. the eternity of the
> universe, then we should stand up to the in-vogue theories of
> our day re. the age of the universe, evolution, etc. This is
> confusing the issue. It's not a matter of vogue, and the
> eternity of the universe was neither scientifically nor
> philosophically proven. There were philosophical arguments
> offered that Rambam countered.
> Nobody has seriously countered the scientific arguments.
> Rambam held that things that are indeed proven do license
> allegorization against mesorah (I'm sure RYGB disagrees).
To my knowledge, RNS is, as a matter of history, not correct. Aristotle
and his science was taken as seriously in the time of the Rambam as are
evolution and the big bang theory today (if not more so). Aristotle may
well have been one of the greatest philosphers and scientists who ever
lived. He founded whole new branches of knowledge and established theories
that lasted for almost 2500 years. His science was considered almost
unimpeachable. The Rashba and his Bais Din banned chochmas chitzoniut
until age 25 precisely because the masses were taking all these theories
seriously, and thus inappropriately allegorizing historical accounts in
the Torah. The Rambam considered his intellectual capability just below
that of a prophet, and scholars at the time considered his evidence for
an eternal world apparently "incontrovertible". Should that have been the
case, the Rambam tells us that it would have destroyed the fundamental
principles of Torah, chas veshalom.
We now need to carefully consider how the Rambam dealt with this (again
1. The Rambam stated that what Aristotle had actually shown,
incontrovertibly, was his theory of causation in sub-lunar science (even
this has been refuted in our times). I believe that it was the Rambam's
position in this mattter that led to an interesting dispute between him
and the Rashba (teshuva 9). The Rashba, in effect, brings to bear all the
arguments I mentioned in my recent posts on the reliability of science.
2. However, Aristotle had not managed to provide sure evidence in
3. Why? Aristotelians argued axiomatically that from the state of affairs
that we know in the world after it came into being we can find sound and
reliable evidence about the way it came into being. The Rambam argued
that this is a basic error that leads to unfounded conclusions. Once we
go beyond the limits of actual experience we also go beyond the limits
of what can reliably be established by inference from that experience
(MN II:17). See also Crescas above where he states that "the opinion of
the Rav is that the account of Adam, Chava, the matter of the nachash,
and the tree of knowledge of good and evil, are all POSSIBLE as written
("kemashmayo") because NATURE WAS NOT YET FIXED in the 6 days ...".
Point (3) is of fundamental importance. Even today, scientists struggle
with the very moment of creation.
RNS seems very sure that the Rambam would allow his position. But this
presumes too much, or at least requires a more detailed justification
for the case that would take us over large portions of the MN.
Both RNS and I are actually speculating what the Rambam would have held
would he be alive today. The way I see it, the Rambam would have levelled
the same criticism (one that I also levelled in my recent posts on the
reliability of science) against evolution and big bang theories. These
theories are based on hypothetical entities and processes (deep theory),
and backward extrapolations from a small basis of data to vast eons of
time. As such, what you have is at best a reasonable guess, but surely
In addition, there are today stubborn anomalies in the dating systems
(big bang, radiometric and fossils) that alone indicate that we are not
at the end of the scientific story.
Scientists, up to and including Einstein, deeply held to a static eternal
universe -- a story that was refuted by later developments. Up to very
recently, it was actually thought that creation ex nihilo is unscientfic
because it violates the well established, and in fact incontrovertible
law of conservation of energy and matter. In an ironic twist of history
(G-d must have a sense of humour :-) even "steady state" theorists like
Hoyle and Bondi were forced to appeal to creation ex nihilo.
While it is true that some aggressive propagandists for a materialistic
outlook trumpet evolution as "fact, fact, fact", this is not so for all
scientists. Roger Penrose, for example, places Newtonian physics in
the SUPERB category (even Ptolemaic theories would have been in this
category), and yet he puts evolution and big bang theories in a much
lesser USEFUL category.
It is naive, from my point of view, to give such credence to modern
accounts of the origin of the universe and the origin of man. To my way of
thinking, the Rambam would not have thought the evidence incontrovertible,
nor would he have agreed to allegorize away the essentially historical
accounts in the Torah based on the evidence as it currently stands.
Kol Tuv ... Jonathan
Go to top.
Date: Sun, 12 Sep 2004 21:50:33 +0300
From: Zoo Torah <email@example.com>
Subject: Re: Age of the Universe
>Schroeder believes in six literal days, but invokes modern ideas about
>how relative time is. Thus, he says they're both right. His peshat
>in bereishis 1 doesn't say anything Rashi didn't say. He just invokes
>relativity to farenfer scientific dating. The only thing he could use
>a maqor for is his counting dinosaurs as birds (which are the closest
>descendent to them) even though they didn't start out flying.
I don't recall Schroeder doing that, but dinosaurs can't be counted
as birds in the Torah sense of the term, even if they are birds from a
scientific perspective. The Torah's term "ohf" means winged creatures,
not birds; it includes bats.
In order to get around the problems of sequence, Dr. Schroeder takes the
phrase "kol ohf kanaf" as referring only to winged insects. But this is
simply wrong - kol ohf kanaf means *every* winged flying creature, which
does also include insects, but primarily refers to birds. Furthermore,
it still doesn't help, because on day six, it says that all terrestrial
animals were made - including reptiles and terrestrial insects. But
terrestrial insects did not appear millions of years after flying
insects! There's no way of matching the pesukim, which put all flying
creatures before all land creatures, with the evidence, which puts all
groups of land creatures before all corresponding flying varieties.
If you look at Schroeder's characterization of the events of the days
on p. 67 of "The Science of God" and compare it with the pesukim in
the Chumash, the distortions become clear. It is disturbing that he
describes this on page 70 as a "phenomenal match." Prof. Aviezer does
the same distortions with the bird/insects matter, relegating all insects
(even terrestrial ones) to the day five stage, and all birds to the day
six stage, in absolute contradiction to the pesukim. And yet he states
that there is "complete harmony" between the Torah sequence and the
Contrast these sensational claims with Dr. Goldfinger's book "Thinking
About Creation"; while he quotes the usual approaches, he is honest
and admits that the order remains a problem. But I don't think it's
a minor difficulty; I think that this, plus the sun/plants problem,
neccessitates taking the sequence as a spiritual hierarchy rather than
a chronological sequence, for which, as discussed, I believe there is
support from Rav Dessler. Some would rather throw science out of the
window, but I am not willing to do so when such a solution exists; and
many of the people who ask me questions on this topic are certainly not
willing to disregard the scientific evidence here. And I am not willing
to distort the pesukim either; I think that allegorizing the pesukim
as referring to a spiritual reality is more respectful and legitimate
than distorting them to refer to something in the physical world which
is simply not the meaning of the words.
Go to top.
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