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Dvar Torah Shmini: Slifkin

To put it bluntly, one might have described me as a big nerd when I was an adolescent, and not just because I thought it was cool to have green-tinted eyeglasses (yes, I repeat — green-tinted eyeglasses). I can say that most of the boys my age, both at school and at home, were very interested in professional sports and they reviewed the stats as though they needed to be perpetually ready for a pop quiz. Me — well, I liked animals.

Instead of baseball cards, I collected animal cards, and instead of being able to ramble off the starting line-ups of the Knicks or the Bulls, I was able to list 15 marsupials. At least I knew who the Bulls were, though — too many of my friends didn’t know what marsupials were (Ha! What a bunch of losers!!) But alas, I digress.

I begin as I did in order to explain why it is that Shmini has always been my most favorite of the weekly Torah portion — you gotta love it when God starts discussing ungulates.

And even today, as a professional dentist and a freelance zoologist, it amazes me to see the Torah discuss anatomy and physiology; in case you are having trouble understanding my awe, consider the analogy of my friend who can’t seem to get over finding a biblical verse expounding upon the triple-double.

Which brings us to the very prickly subject of ma’aleh geira. “What is ma’aleh geira?” you might ask, and you might be told that it refers to an animal that chews its cud. That’s what I was always heard when I was growing up — but, suddenly, as if my personal development was occurring in tandem with the development of the universe (ever have that feeling?), R’ Slifkin comes out with his The Camel, The Hyrax and The Hare — it’s just so startling to me that it appears as though no one has ever thought to ask if rabbits and hares ruminate, and if they don’t, then what is Leviticus 11:5-6 talking about?

While I did get to borrow this book and read it about 3 years ago,I don’t own a copy and I’m going to wait until I can get one for less than $170 on Amazon. But suffice it to say that this is a tremendously fascinating topic, a summary of which can be found here.

Now, I’m certain that some people are going to attempt to hurl expletives at me in the form of “you Slifkin-heretic, you.” To which I will respond…well, let’s wait for that to happen, shall we?

{ 83 comments… add one }
  • ZPrince March 25, 2011, 7:01 AM

    I’ve seen the same analysis elsewhere, though that doesn’t detract from R’ Slifkin’s brilliance. As a point, R’ Slifkin himself is certainly not a banned author; he’s a respected Rav at an Orthodox Yeshiva in Ramat Bait Shemesh. The ban was more politically motivated than intellectually, though I’ve heard individuals I respect state that they find R’ Slifkin’s work to be intellectually biased, insofar as he often attempts to prove a hypothesis rather than to test it.
    The controversy upsets me, but not as much as that over “The Making of A Godol” – a spectacularly well researched history that was banned PURELY because of politics.

  • Anonymous March 25, 2011, 8:26 AM

    You slifkin heretic!
    (youre welcome)

  • PIL March 25, 2011, 9:06 AM

    Very nice. I enjoyed reading what you wrote.

  • Dan March 25, 2011, 9:11 AM

    I loved that book.

  • Avrumy March 25, 2011, 10:11 AM

    Rabbi Slifkin is a brave, smart, bright guy. His books that attempt to bridge the gap between midrash and truth should be praised.

  • Catholic Mom March 25, 2011, 10:52 AM

    But how many of your friends knew what a monotreme is? And whether or not you can eat one?

    • DRosenbach March 25, 2011, 12:59 PM

      Although they all knew one monotreme, no one knew that it was a monotreme 🙂

  • A. Nuran March 25, 2011, 11:57 AM

    Rabbi Slifkin has done the best job anyone could trying to reconcile faith and science. He’s intelligent, courageous, well-educated in both fields and has a profound honesty.

    And he’s been crapped on for it. Secular science types have no interest in him. The people he’s trying to reach condemn his books, generally (proudly) without having read them out of a loathsome combination of prejudice and cowardice.

    It’s a real shame. He may be this century’s best hope for an Orthodox Judaism which doesn’t surround itself with a fortress of lies and superstition.

    • DRosenbach March 25, 2011, 1:14 PM

      I think he’s trying to reach all of us — and none of that applies to any of us, so there’s hope for him yet!

    • Dan March 25, 2011, 3:12 PM

      That is ridiculous.
      His Judaism is the same as mine, he just has these interesting books.
      Nothing in these books is relevant to everyday life, this is all just theoretical.

      If all you don’t like about Judaism is people who have faith that there can’t be more animals who chew their cud, and you would accept it otherwise, then you are truly pathetic for throwing it all away over that.

      • DRosenbach March 26, 2011, 6:35 PM

        Altogether, you sound very angry, Dan.

        His books are entirely relevant to everyday life, because people confronting doubts of validity to Judaism can easily become disenchanted when faced with absurd responses from religious authorities who think they can respond to questions with phrases like, “stop asking me stupid questions about dinosaurs and get back to learning already!”

        Judaism prides itself on being thoroughly intertwined with reality, in contrast to all other religions, which Judaism claim to be contrived, ret-conned and altogether fallacious. So when Leviticus states that the hyrax is known for being ma’aleh gereh, that poses a strong question on the validity of the entire Torah. Judaism does not maintain that God is a pretty good guy, like one might claim about a tremendous scholar in any given field — we do not maintain that he can be “almost totally correct,” or that we agree with him “on all assertions, except that one about such-and-such.” Judaism maintains that God, being God, is all knowing, all powerful and that he gave the Torah (both written and oral) to the Israelites through Moses during various periods of time from just before the exodus from Egypt until just before they entered the Land of Israel.

        So if there’s apparent inconsistencies in the Torah, that’s very serious! And if we know lots more about the world than people did 3000 years ago, it can only provide greater and greater trouble to the modern-day man (or woman) that discoveries of the last year, decade, century or more generate what appears to be evidence of the Torah’s misguided approach to being consistent with reality. People who are led to believe that this is the case will undoubtedly lose some level of faith — and if they don’t their faith is not worth much, because the mesorah doesn’t say “ignore everything that happens henceforth.”

        We are bidden to live in this world and engage it — and if reality conflicts with Judaism, we must stand up to the challenge and seek resolution. If we do not, we are no different than the people who follow their mesoros of falsehood, who unquestionably hold fast to their vacuous theologies full of what may appear to be meaningful practices but are based on misunderstanding, miscalculation and poor evaluation.

        So do we need Slifkin? I’d respond: no more and no less than we need the Meshech Chochma.

  • Dan March 26, 2011, 8:12 PM

    D Rosnebach: I like his stuff, I was replying to A Nuran.

    Nuran says: “He may be this centurys best hope for an Orthodox Judaism which doesnt surround itself with a fortress of lies and superstition.”

    Slifkin’s books espouse the same Orthodox practice as all of us practice. If Nuran has no problem with the rest of Judaism, he should practice it.
    He should not pretend that his only problem with Judaism is that some of us believe in Unicorns.

    • DRosenbach March 26, 2011, 9:32 PM

      Well, I certainly don’t agree with everything Nuran posts on the blog — and I don’t even know the guy. But if you have a problem with something Nuran said, you should have focused your comments to the thing you took issue with, as you did now.

      Believing in unicorns is indeed a problem — one that Judaism will always be faced with until such time that another revelation comes upon us. For someone without family, friends, community and perhaps some desire to maintain the status quo, Judaism may easily become untenable. So I don’t think he’s pretending that his problem is that we believe in unicorns — it probably is his problem, and he’s not (or was not) willing to wait it out, while you and I are. That’s the only difference, and after a few years and lots of thought, I can’t say that I blame him or anyone else that just can’t find it in themselves to believe in unicorns.

  • Yoreh K'Chetz March 26, 2011, 10:54 PM

    I’ve read little bits of R. Slifkin’s work on this topic. His questions and answers relating to the topic are interesting, and in my view, nothing heretical about them.

    True rabbis encourage questionning. The onus is on them to come up with valid answers. If they can’t, there’s nothing wrong with a simple “I don’t know”.

    Peronally, I’d lean towards many of the Torah’s instances relating specifically to that region. It would explain why lamas were left off the list, or how marsupials aren’t found outside Australia if Noah dropped them off in modern day Turkey.

    • DRosenbach March 27, 2011, 10:49 AM

      The Virginia opposum is a marsupial and is found in North America, and there are apparently hundreds that occur naturally in Central and South America.

      • Yoreh K'Chetz March 27, 2011, 11:35 AM

        Drosenbach,

        OK I stand corrected. However, I believe that all of Australia’s native mammals are marsupials. If Noach took the entire earth’s animal population in the Tevah, I don’t see how/why Australia ended up with mainly marsupials, while the rest of the earth ended up with regular mammals.

        I can’t see koala’s and kangaroos swimming across the South Pacific, and doubt that someone was bored enough to single out these marsupials, collect them, then transport them there.
        As we believe that all species date back to the creation, these species must have pre-dated the mabul.

        My point is, that some rabbis will find a way to reconcile modern science with the Torah, others don’t even know what a marsupial is, let alone think of even accepting any scientific facts.

        I believe Ramban says that Noach’s ark was one of the greatest miracles. If you think of all the details that went into gathering, providing food for and housing all the species in harmony for a year, the idea is mind boggling.

        If most of the earth was uninhabited in his time, it would have been sufficient to flood/kill all the region’s human population without having to flood the entire plant.

        Getting back to our “one sign” species, it makes more sense to say that the Torah was referring to the most popular animals found in areas surrounding the land of Israel, and listed them in general.

        I found it hard to say that the llama is a camel and that a Babirusa is a pig, even though the species are related.

        • DRosenbach March 27, 2011, 12:00 PM

          I don’t know why you’d consider contesting the babirusa’s status as a pig — like the rest of the suids, babirusas are non-ruminating four-toes artiodactyls. They might not be the family protype, but they are well within the range. Perhaps you meant to pick out the peccary, which, unlike pigs, has a 3-chambered stomach. But you must admit that the peccary shares a ridiculously similar appearance to a pig and without dissecting them, I’d say they were the same — and I think that’s enough for the Torah-description, seeing how unscientific and layman-y it goes about describing members of the animal kingdom.

          And llamas, along with alpacas, vicunas and guanacos are all classified as camelids. I do not recall if Slifkin talks about the babirusa, but I do remember that he goes into great detail about visiting the camelid fertility clinic (I think it’s in Bahrain)(CORRECTION — it is in Dubai).

          • Yoreh K'Chetz March 27, 2011, 8:40 PM

            DRosenbach,

            Just came across this clip from a sicha of the Lubavitcher Rebbe.
            In it, he says all animals and humans originated in Israel, then crossed continents to their current destinations:

            http://www.youtube.com/user/JewishMedia#p/u/48/qyPK09qMUwo

            • DRosenbach March 28, 2011, 8:40 PM

              The Lubavitcher Rebbe thought that dinosaurs didn’t exist — how bizarre! What people unfortunately do is confuse his ignorance with a point of view.

              • Yoreh K'chetz March 29, 2011, 6:12 AM

                DRosenbach,

                I wouldn’t use the word “ignorance” when it comes to the Lubavitcher Rebbe’s point of view on anything.

                Here are a couple of his statements on dinosaurs (from Iggerot hakodesh), would love for you you to attempt to refute them in 100% certainty:

                1) In view of the unknown conditions which existed in “prehistoric” times, conditions of atmospheric pressures, temperatures, radioactivity, unknown catalyzers, etc., as already mentioned, that is to say, conditions which could have caused reactions and changes of an entirely different nature and tempo from those known under the present-day orderly processes of nature, one cannot exclude the possibility that dinosaurs existed 5722 years ago, and became fossilized under terrific natural cataclysms in the course of a few years rather than in millions of years, since we have no conceivable measurements or criteria of calculations under those unknown conditions.

                2) Even assuming that the period of time which the Torah allows for the age of the world is definitely too short for fossilization (although I do not see how one can be so categorical), we can still readily accept the possibility that God created ready fossils, bones or skeletons (for reasons best known to Him), just as He could create ready living organisms, a complete man, and such ready products as oil, coal or diamonds, without any evolutionary process.

                • DRosenbach March 29, 2011, 5:43 PM

                  As I said, you are most regretfully confusing his ignorance on the subject matter with him having a legitimate opinion based on any form of meritorious argument conforming to recognized principles and/or accepted rules or standards. The Lubavitcher Rebbe was perhaps a halachist and perhaps a philosophical thinker but based on this assertion of his, I would speculate that he was blinded by religion in a sort of way that made him think he was championing its cause, when in fact, he was serving to undermine its credibility.

                  The Lubavitcher Rebbe was certainly not a professional scientist, and he did not claim to even be a freelance scientist. On this, I now quote a popular story that R’ Becher likes to quote:

                  There was a conference held on the interaction of science and Torah and first speaker was Robert Jastrow, the noted American astrophysicist (and grandson of Marcus Jastrow). Upon reaching the podium, he began, “I dont know much about religion, but my feeling is that it’s based on the concept of reciprocal ethics,” and he continued on to explain his understanding of religion, and more specifically, Judaism.

                  The next speaker, R’ David Revson (head of N’vei Jerusalem) began, “I don’t know much about astronomy, but I think it can be summarized by ‘Twinkle twinkle little star.'”

                  Upon hearing this, Jastrow was visibly upset, and R’ Revson approached him afterward to ask him why. “You started off by stating that you’re largely unfamiliar with Judaism, but then you say, “well, here it is!” and I did the same thing.”

                  R’ Becher concludes that it’s tremendously critical that we not intrude on each others’ fields, revealing our thorough lack of understanding as we inevitably cheapen the field in which we are not fluent, and base our opinions upon misunderstood and misinterpreted perceptions of reality.

                  R’ Slifkin makes an excellent point in his Challenge of Creation (although I have lent it out and so cannot quote verbatim) — there is no basis upon which to rely to suggest that physics has changed over the past million, thereby allowing for radically different conditions under which fossilization would occur in a few hundred years. Frankly, the only ones who would advance such a hypothesis are those people who don’t even know what a hypothesis is without looking it up in the dictionary. They are the ones who are so unfamiliar with science and the known universe that basically anything goes, and perhaps the wackier it sounds, the better it is accepted because, hey, nature works in mysterious ways.

                  In 1964, Donald Currey found a bristlecone pine tree in eastern Nevada that he later had cut down and counted 4,844 rings, making the tree at least that many years old. Forming a continuous dendrochronological series, R’ Slifkin discusses how something like 20, 30 or even 40,000 years of history are accounted for in the groups of trees that were studied in similar research. Ah…but you suggest that we just say that the temperature and pressure used to be different, so trees probably grew dozens if not scores of rings each month, thereby accounting for all those rings. If the people who said these things would just listen to the words coming out of their mouths…well, we obviously cannot validate anything using their evaluative skills, but, unfortunately, we still have to hear them speak.

                  I wouldn’t agree that God created man, or anything else you say he did, directly. We bless God every morning for “clothing the naked,” but we do not presume for a second that shoes, belts and ties fall from the sky –rather, this can be understood as God providing for people. We make a great deal, we sign a new client, we receive a big order — all of these things come from God. But in the most timeless fashion, we speak of the simple things — how God clothes us and gives us food and takes care of our every need. But he’s not wearing a bow-tie tuxedo and we don’t ring a bell when we want our slippers — God works through nature. So too, God makes diamonds with lots of time and pressure and God made living organisms with a long-drawn out process that is well supported by most anything we choose to focus on, whether it be ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny or any other natural phenomenon that is breathtakingly fascinating, and to think that we can actually follow the trends…

                  The reason science is so categorical is because the world exhibits a very well established pattern. There is cause and effect. Chloroplasts and chlorophyll would develop as a result of there being a sun — they would not precede the existence of the sun. Everything that we know about the world suggests this. Can we know anything for sure? Well, that depends if we accept that we can know anything, period — perhaps we’re all living in The Matrix, and only Laurence Fishburne and a bunch of others who scramble around in subterranean ships know anything, but it’s surprising how you wouldn’t suggest that suggestion. I’d like to see you refute that with 100% certainty. Why do you think I have to refute crazy ideas with 100% certainty…do you believe in unicorns? You can’t refute their existence with certainty. I’ll spare you a list of all the other things you can’t refute.

                  In conclusion, my point is that your point is ridiculous. And why do you feel the need to advance such a ridiculously contrived position? Because you expect that if, for your entire life up until now, this itty bitty sliver of the mesorah is all you’ve ever been exposed to as Judaism’s approach to reality in entirety, then there must necessarily be no other approaches, and certainly none that are more valid and less silly. And I don’t necessarily blame you — you are shortsighted, but only because you sense that there’s nothing else to look at. But if you read Slifkin’s Challenge of Creation not as an attack on Judaism (as some people would have you believe it is) and not as a reconciliation of science and Torah (because science and Torah are both mutually inclusive and thoroughly overlapping reflections of reality) but as a newly elucidated but thoroughly actually well substantiated approach within the bounds of the larger envelope of the mesorah, you won’t find it so difficult to take a deep breath and free your mind.

              • Yoreh K'chetz March 29, 2011, 6:21 AM

                PS.

                You can read the entire letter on the Rebbes views on the age of the world / evolution at:

                http://www.chabad.org/therebbe/article_cdo/aid/60946/jewish/The-Age-of-the-Universe.htm

                • DRosenbach March 30, 2011, 6:30 AM

                  The second paragraph reveals the misguided approach of the author:

                  “the basic Jewish principle of na’aseh (first and v’nishma (afterwards) makes it mandatory upon the Jew to fulfill G-d’s commandments regardless of the degree of understanding, and obedience to the Divine Law can never be conditioned upon human approval.”

                  Let’s see what the questioner is asking, and let’s analyze the response: Someone expresses doubts about the Torah’s accuracy when examined as a document that is to be necessarily to be understood in a literal fashion. But the Torah is from God, so that leaves 3 options that this guy might be pondering:

                  1) Perhaps there is no God. Judaism is the result of the human mind and the reason why the Torah appears inaccurate when put up against what we know about the universe is because it was written thousands of years ago and no one anticipated that we’d ever get this far and know this much.

                  2) There is a God, Judaism is true but his (or the general) understanding of things is faulty. I would assert that this is the problem, and apparently, so does the author, but we take very a different approaches toward answering these doubts and questions.

                  3) Science is and oddball entity, just like history or pure mathematics. Those engaged think it’s so fascinating, but everyone else realizes that only those people who spend all day reading about it and talking about it and going to meetings about it think it’s important — everyone else knows that the extent of its bearing on life, the world and everything else is minimal, because we can’t know what happened yesterday because we weren’t there. So we don’t really know if George Washington chopped down a cherry tree because the story has been told so many times that it’s sort of become reality despite the apparent lack of any evidence one way or the other. So too, people have been talking about carbon dating for so long that we assume it’s for real, when what’s really real, is that we can’t know what happened before we were around because physics worked differently and the temperature was different and therefore bones fossilized in a matter of months and trees grew rings on a monthly basis and ice varves and silt layers similarly formed in ways we don’t know how to measure because we are merely extrapolating, and we all know that extrapolation is the weakest scientific tool. There are no double-blinded, placebo-controlled randomized clinical trials and certainly no systematic review meta-analyses revealing any data about what was before we got here, and thus we are free to say anything we want because we think it’s the only approach that Judaism affords and it’s certainly the only thing we’ve ever heard from our 3rd grade teachers who are so wordly and intelligent and have such profound comprehension of the universe, but they are only teaching 3rd grade science because that’s what fulfills them. It’s not that they are undeveloped intellectually enough — no, that’s not what it is at all. The 3rd grade science teachers really do know all about science from a graduate and even post-graduate level, and it is from this position that they provide guidance to our 3rd graders. And the rebbes, too — all the 3rd grade rebbes are scions of Torah scholarship — they just don’t give shiur in the beis medrash because they want tuition breaks for their own kids, who are elementary school age.

                  Most likely, the questioner is not maintaining doubt status #3 — he is maintaining something between #1 and #2. So to tell the person who doubts the Torah (and thus Judaism) that Judaism states so and so…well that’s like quoting from the document we are contesting. “I don’t think the Torah has the authority to obligate me,” and the rabbi responds, “well, it’s funny you should say that, because it says right here in the Torah that it not only obligates you, but has the authority to do so.”

                  The Torah, nay, Judaism, does not say assert anywhere that na’aseh v’nishma applies to us every day. It says that this was the approach taken by the Israelites in the wilderness at Sinai — and we don’t even know what it means. There are numerous approaches, like with everything, but of course, one sliver of mesorah tries to conceal the rest of the mesorah, suggesting that we must do even if we don’t understand.

                  Sure, that’s a great approach in the short-term — don’t stop doing just because you don’t understand. Because I’ll explain it to you, and then you’ll understand, and you’ll have already fallen off the wagon. But what if you can’t explain it? The approach taken by the author is so contrived and forced that it’s not a good answer for anyone who knows anything about science — so sure, it’s great for the scientific illiterate, but do we really want to trick people into following Judaism, using their own weaknesses as the fertile ground into which we plant such a silly approach? What happens when this guy, who let’s say is an economics major, happens to go into a biochemistry PhD program and retroactively senses that the author of this response was talking from ignorance, ill-defending the Torah, because he was presenting the strategy that “Torah scholars defend the Torah at all costs, even thinking” — if necessary, we will stop thinking, and you should too. What happens then?

                  • Yoreh K'chetz March 30, 2011, 7:20 AM

                    DRosenbach,

                    I don’t have answers to your questions, I wasn’t the one that wrote that letter, it was the Lubavitcher Rebbe.

                    All I have to say is that using terms like misguided, silly and ignorant when it comes to a tzaddik of his caliber is un-necessary, ridiculous and arrogant.

                    You’re talking about a person that was considered as the gadol hador, one whom many thousands turned to and sought guidance from in matters ranging from health to politics to religion over his 40 year leadership.

                    You seem to be a know it all when it comes to science and animals, maybe you should delve into pirkei avot or the laws of kavod for talmidei chachamim a bit more often.

                    • DRosenbach March 30, 2011, 8:36 AM

                      You seem to be under the influence of the hareidi assertion that rabbis ininfallible. You also seem to be approaching things with a preconceived notion that I am espousing objectionable material.

                      Because of these two things you bring to the table, you misinterpret things I state. What is ignorance? It is nothing more than a state of being misinformed, and is used to describe someone who is unaware. So if you start an argument with me, complaining how the United States takes such a hard stance against Italy in foreign affairs, and wondering where our relationship has fallen since the time of love and mutual respect, when they gave us the Statue of Liberty — well, that would make you ignorant, because we got the statue from France, not Italy. It has come to be taken as an insult, and perhaps is seen as a more sophistocated form of “stupid” or “idiot” — but it is not. So that’s what you read, even though that’s not what I wrote.

                      If the Lubavitcher Rebbe said silly things, he should be called out on them, assuming he doesn’t recant when challenged to reflect upon his assertions. I don’t suggest that we call the Talmudic scholars idiots any more than we call Aristotle an idiot for believing in spontaneous generation, but for someone alive in 1980 and saying the things that he said with the perceived force of religious necessity compelling him to say these things — yes, that’s silly, and it’s speaking out of ignorance to say that science is mere extrapolation and we can know nothing of the world before we were alive.

                      “All I have to say is that using terms like misguided, silly and ignorant when it comes to a tzaddik of his caliber is un-necessary, ridiculous and arrogant.”

                      What is a tzaddik, and why do you think that a tzaddik is necessarily always properly guided, unsilly and fully aware of everything? Is a tzaddik infallible? That is what you suggest when make such the argument I highlight above in italics.

                      “Youre talking about a person that was considered as the gadol hador, one whom many thousands turned to and sought guidance from in matters ranging from health to politics to religion over his 40 year leadership.”

                      What is a gadol hador? Did people go to ask him about whether or not they should have amalgam or composite dental fillings, other than any religious significance such a treatment decision would entail? Has he read the dental literature, or perhaps mercury and bis-phenol A toxicity is discussed in the Shulchan Aruch? What you’re saying is ridiculous, and you would realize it if you weren’t blinded by the shroud of unnecessarily applied rabbinic infallibility. I never met the Lubavitcher Rebbe, but perhaps it’s safe to assume that his guidance was sought when either the topic was religious in nature or psycho-socioemotional in nature, when a Jewish perspective was desired by the seeker. I don’t think they asked him if they should change their brake pads when there was 1 cm or 1.5 cm of pad left on the old one — no, they left that to the mechanic. They didn’t ask him if they should get the Benjamin Moore liner to apply under the Benjamin Moore paint, or whether they should opt for any number of other things in life over the any number of other “other things” — they came to him for religious support, and if they felt that their decision had a religious aspect to it, they would seek his opinion. To pretend that because someone is a talmid chacham (advanced scholar of Torah and Judaism…is that good here), no matter of what caliber, they are necessarily correct — that is the ridiculous position here, not mine.

                      **Please respond as a new thread at the bottom**

        • DRosenbach March 27, 2011, 8:53 PM

          And not all native Australian mammals are marsupials — 2 of them are monotremes: the platypus and the echidna (although there are two species of echidna, for a total of 3 species). The point is that monotremes are classified as Protheria, possessing neither uterus nor distinct urogenital and rectal orifices (hence monotreme = one hole — they exhibit a cloaca, like birds, reptiles and amphibians, and they also lay eggs). Marsupials are classified as Metatheria, and they are non-placental. So the vast majority of both categories exist in Australia (and Tasmania) while all of Eutheria exists elsewhere — pretty odd, as you noted.

  • OfftheDwannaB March 26, 2011, 11:21 PM

    One huge problem is that so many people don’t know the shitos of many rishonim regarding different aspects of Hashkafah or the sources of our Hashkafa in general. There’s just one derech that they are taught as if it were the only true one. They come away thinking that science says X and Torah says Y, and we need to somehow make a schizophrenic break in our minds when dealing with science as it relates to Judaism. It’s always true, unless it contradicts our faith. Then we just stop thinking.

    I think that Rabbonim and Rebbeim should be able to answer hashkafa questions based on a variety of sources, and if they aren’t, they should ask another Rabbi to help them.

    • DRosenbach March 27, 2011, 10:55 AM

      Yes — that is a problem, and a pervasive and ubiquitous one at that.

  • Seriously? March 26, 2011, 11:49 PM

    To start with, I have not read the book. But I agree with those who expect that Rabbis must be able to answer these questions.

    However: There is a perfectly good zoological reason why hares don’t qualify as chewing their cud, in the language of the Torah. And by the same token, why it is entirely consistent for grasshoppers to join cows in the ranks of kosher animals.

    I explained all this at http://midrashicmusings.blogspot.com/2010/10/kosher-and-non-kosher-animals.html

    And this was just followed by my explanaton of why fish need fins and scales. http://midrashicmusings.blogspot.com/

    I reject utterly the assumption that Chukim cannot be explained.

    Flame away!

    • Yoreh K'chetz March 27, 2011, 7:40 AM

      Seriously,

      Rean your post on fins and scales, have a couple comments:

      1) Eels do have small pectoral fins, I’ve caught a few decent sized ones.

      2) Rashi on passuk 11 in perek 11 on Vayikra states the fins and bones of a non kosher fish are excluded from the prohibition against their consumption, implying that we are allowed to eat them. Does that mean that shark fin soup (asian delicacy) is kosher if prepared in a kosher pot?

      • Seriously? March 27, 2011, 8:52 AM

        Re: point 1 – you are correct, of course. My point was that the movement of an eel in the water is done with the entire body.

        You may be correct on Point 2 – I have no knowledge. My guess is that any rabbi would refer to our Mesora in not going there. Same reason why in theory we can eat porged hindquarters, but few (if any?) reputable kashrus organizations dare to give a hecture to such meat.

        • Yoreh K'chetz March 27, 2011, 9:13 AM

          Seriously,

          Re point # 2, it’s interesting that I just noticed (paid attention) to the Rashi a couple days ago, despite having learned it many times. When I pointed it out to our shul rabbi on Shabbos, he said he never noticed it either, therefore couldn’t give me a straight answer.

          As for hindquarters, I think the reason it isn’t done just a matter of profit. The shochet is paid a small fortune for his time, it’s simply not cost effective to have him remove the gid hanasheh which can take 2-3 hours.

          When my dad was growing up in North Africa, the shochtim came to the house to slaughter the goats and lambs. Part of their duties were to remove the gid hanasheh, everyone ate the hindquarters.

          • DRosenbach March 27, 2011, 11:02 AM

            The rational behind permitting the fins and scales of non-kosher water animals and the hooves and horns of land animals is that these things are not food items. So just as consumption of horse hair would not earn one a biblically-mandated flogging for eating non-kosher, so too for the above mentioned items; this is Rashi’s point.

            But if one were to make these regularly appreciated non-food items into food items, like is done in the case of p’cha, gelatin and animal by-products (such as shark fin soup), they would regain their status as non-kosher food items and be prohibited for consumption.

            • Yoreh K'Chetz March 27, 2011, 11:16 AM

              DRosenbach,

              What you’re saying makes sense and seems to go along with what we practice today, however it still doesn’t fit in with Rashi’s idea.

              He says that the passuk uses the word mibsaram (from their flesh) to specifically exclude the fins and bones. Surely, he knew that fines and bones can be used in soup and possibly other dishes.

              • DRosenbach March 27, 2011, 12:16 PM

                You may be assuming too much. In the same way Tosfos might never have spotted an elephant, Rashi may have been unfamiliar with sharp fin soup.

                When one thinks of flesh in the biblical poetic sense, it conjures up muscle tissue, not the gid hanashe and not hoof. That’s why the Talmud brings up the discussion as to how many trangressions are transgressed when one consumes gid hanashe; does it count as forbidden meat?

                As with all positive and negative commandments regarding eating, physical consumption does not always equate to halachic consumption. This is applied in various forms, one being ra’ui l’achilas kelev (fit for canine consumption, as with leaven products on Passover) and with medicine and other medical use otherwise-non-kosher items, like resorbable periodontal membranes and suture material used in the mouth that are derived from bovine and porcine collagen. Then there are the more novel concepts — eating something that is so ridiculously hot or eating when one is so full that the eating is considered to be engorgement are also non considered halachic eating.

                Altogether, it has always made perfect sense to me that Rashi’s explanation would revert if the food was made edible (read: into food). Why do you think Rashi didn’t realize that one can make pig-bone stew? That would be prohibited, but just grinding up bone or hoof and eating it is totally weird and no one does it and so it is not eating.

                • Yoreh K'chetz March 27, 2011, 12:31 PM

                  DRosenbach,

                  Like I said, you make a good point. I’ll run it by the rabbi when I see him tonight.

                • Yoreh K'Chetz March 27, 2011, 7:54 PM

                  DRosenbach,

                  I ran the reverting to ra-ooy l’achila thing by the rabbi, his response was that it’s too simple. If it were the case, what would Rashi’s Chidush be?

                  Bear in mind that he brings it up specifically for fish fins and bones, nothing else…

                  • DRosenbach March 27, 2011, 8:46 PM

                    Rashi brings it up for land animals and water animals — arguably the only two groups of animals that possess inclusion criteria that matter for this discussion. Arguably, because I wonder if anyone’s ever looked into which modern-day classification of grasshoppers are included and which are not.

                    Anyway, there are land animals — and there’s a fairly homogeneous groups of bovids et al. that are permitted for consumption. Then there are the water animals — and there’s a fairly non-homogeneous group of what I would guess would be the majority of fish species (by today’s standards) that are permitted for consumption. And for each of these categories, Rashi states that the term m’bisaram serves an exclusionary function — to exclude from the prohibition the non-fleshy, non-meaty — non-edible — portion.

                    There doesn’t have to be a tremendous chiddush in Rashi’s statement — he’s not trying to ask the rebbe a bomb kasha. He’s merely explaining the halacha — if you somehow eat bones and hooves and horns from a rhinoceros or a donkey, it’s not halachically considered eating. But gelatin is prohibited, and it is apparently made from hooves; and if it’s not, it’s made from tendons, ligaments, bones and bits and pieces of regular and irregular dense and loose connective tissues all boiled together — which can be summed up by atzamos v’gidin.

                    It’s so clear to me that Rashi is excluding these things because they are not things that are eaten — there is nothing to eat. But if one finds a way to make something edible from them, then they are prohibited.

                    Just as an interesting aside, Rashi makes the claim in reference to the verse (11:27) that declares that all those land animals that walk al kapav (on their palms) are non-kosher refers to, for example, he says: the dog, the bear and the cat. Although bears do walk on their palms (they practice plantigrade locomotion), both cats and dogs walk on their toes (they practice digitigrade locomotion). It is possible that Rashi was merely being imprecise, referring to the gross category of non-ungulates (ungulates being those that walk on their nails).

                    To summarize, I don’t see why you opt to question my premise as a result of forcing yourself into accepting it as a given that Rashi is making a big chiddush here. If the Torah says it is prohibited to consume mice and mountain lions, I’d think that such a prohibition includes all mouse and mountain lion by-products, but Rashi is coming to explain that the same rules of halachically-defined consumption apply as they do in most other places, and so wacky things like bones are fins are not prohibited. Perhaps you’re focusing too much on shark fins — does anyone eat sturgeon fins or eel fins? What about lobster uropods (tail fins)? I mean, it’s probably biblicall permitted to consume crustacean carapaces, because they’re all shell and no meat. That’s all this is saying — why? Who knows — just like there are a million and one sub- and supra-regulations related to every other biblical halacha that didn’t have to be there, so too are they here.

                    • Yoreh K'Chetz March 28, 2011, 4:40 AM

                      I brought up sahrk fins becuase they are an expensive delicacy in some parts of the world, and actually have been banned in some countries due to the cruelty of “finning” sharks.

                      Maybe Rashi isn’t coming to make a chidush like you said, was just presenting our shul rabi’s take on this Rashi. He said he’d look into it.

  • Yankel March 27, 2011, 1:23 AM

    Truth be told, although I personally go with the emunah way of thinking, I think rationalists have a right to ask for explanations, and I certainly don’t think Slifkin’s book should have been be banned – based solely on the idea it represents.

    What frustrates me about all this, is that all his books could have been published, marketed, sold to many and avoided the wrath of the Rabbis, if only he would have played it smart. If he would have gone over the wording with somebody, and written an introduction which dismissed the notions they attempted to accuse him of, none of this would have happened.

    • Synapse March 27, 2011, 5:12 AM

      His banned books had several haskamas from American Rabbis including the Gadol Rav Shmuel Kaminetsky. The ban was put forward by Israeli gedolim who couldn’t read English. Having read the books, there isn’t any way he could have written them differently. If you support modern ideas like Evolution and Torah, you’re on the fast track to getting your book banned. Even R’ Natan Kaminetsky recently found his book banned for mentioning how his father read secular literature. This is the charedi world we’re talking about after all.

      If you want to know more about the situation in regards to Slifkin, check out the controversy section on his website ZooTorah.com

    • DRosenbach March 27, 2011, 6:40 AM

      Yankel~

      In his essay on jumping elephants, Slifkin goes into the approach he takes in answering questions, and while he admits that, as a general rule, one can usually go back and be more tactful, there is a distinct fear of using too many weasel words.

      • Dan March 27, 2011, 8:11 AM

        I am particularly fond of the essay on jumping elephants, and found it very convincing.

        My only bone with that one is that he says there that the tosfos is still useful since there is a nafka mina that we now see from tosfos that making an animal jump is a kinyan.

        However, tosfos only said that because that answer of tosfos held that was the least dochek way of learning the gemara. So if it not true, then likely tosfos would not have said you can make an kinyan this way; in which case the halacha is not correct.

        • DRosenbach March 27, 2011, 10:20 AM

          Slifkin’s point was that picking on elephants was merely arbitrary — he was picking a large animal, and instead of a horse or a giraffe, he picked an elephant. Tosfos is still applicable because the concept of causing an animal to jump still applies, albeit not to an elephant (for hithero realized technical reasons).

  • LordG March 27, 2011, 11:27 AM

    HI DRose…your dvar Torah was really interesting. I was wondering though, please don’t take offense but what have you got on Heshy that he lets you post your non-satirical stuff week in, week out?

    • DRosenbach March 27, 2011, 12:58 PM

      Ha…I have somewhat better than grainy footage of him using slotted spoons for his cole slaw with a notarized time-stamp coninciding with a Saturday afternoon PST…what else?!

      I went to Manhattan Day School with Heshy and we found each other online about a year ago and seeing how many people read his blog, he felt that it would be appropriate to have some Torah available and seeing how I have never use a slotted spoon for cole slaw, he asked me to contribute weekly divrei Torah — “it’s not always frum” apparently indicates that it sometimes is frum.

      • Lord G March 29, 2011, 10:53 AM

        Got it. You’re pretty funny yourself…

  • Yoreh K'chetz March 30, 2011, 10:13 AM

    DRosenbach,

    You seem to be under the assumption that the Rebbe didn’t know as much as you do when it comes to science, hence you called him ignorant in regards to this topic. Is it not possible that he knew ,but simply rejected certain concepts in favour of the Rabbinic view?

    You also seem to think it’s OK to refer to a tzaddik’s view as silly. That is where I say that you either:

    1) Are ignorant of the the respect one is supposed to accord to a tzaddik.
    2) Don’t believe that the Rebbe was a tzaddik.
    3) Think that tzadidikim will make silly assumptions / basless statements due to their ignorance in relation to a particular topic.

    Based on any or all of the above, I don’t know what you’re doing writing so called dvar Torahs on this blog.

    • DRosenbach March 30, 2011, 5:31 PM

      I am certainly under the assumption that the Lubavitcher Rebbe didn’t know enough about science to make the claims that he did, and the source you linked to provided me with confirmation of that. You seem to be affording the rabbinic view comparable status — what did the rabbis of the Talmud (and to a much lesser degree, those that followed) know about science? Pretty much whatever the scientists of the respective eras knew, and perhaps less.

      There’s a well known maxim: the Torah is not a history book. But it’s also not a cookbook, math book or, most importantly for this discussion, a science book.

      What exactly is the rabbinic view on this? R’ Wieder clearly shows how, for Chachmei Ashkenaz, there was no view. They were wholly unaware that such an apparent conflict existed between science and Torah and so they formed no opinion on the matter. In short: they had no responsa because there were no shailos (halachic queries).

      Chachmei Sefarad, on the other hand, consisting of R’ Sa’adia Gaon, Maimonides, the Ibn Ezra and others, did have something to day about this — and what they said is exactly what I’ve been espousing here and elsewhere. The Torah is not to be taken as (or defended as) a necessarily historical documentation of reality, but rather a metaphysical description of reality, a book of religious guidelines — both in ritual as well as demeanor — that must give way when rational investigation (read: science) reveals that an otherwise contrary reality is actually the case. So the Talmud speaks of spontaneous generation, yet we know now that that’s false. So while you and others might like to explain that biology changed, I and others will explain that rabbis were not in the laboratory studying this stuff — they were in the beis medrash learning. And when someone tried to find a nafka mina to the halacha of killing on Shabbos, he figured that if he could find an animal that hadn’t been born, perhaps that would qualify — so he asked the local scientist (or used his own conventional wisdom) and came to the conclusion that lice are not born, because they spontaneously generate from dirt. It was William Harvey in 1651 who first suggested the hypothesis of biogenesis (omnia ex ovo — everything from eggs) and later, in 1668, Francisco Redi proved that spontaneous generation was a fallacy. So, again, was Aristotle a dope? Were the faculty at the University of Pisa who taught Redi a bunch of dopes? No…they were just unable or unsophistocated enough to come to the conclusions that Redi was able to. So too here. The Lubavitcher Rebbe was a learned man — but does that mean he could develop 4G technology? No, because he was not learned in computers, technology, science or most any subject other than Torah. He was a Torah scholar. So maybe he dabbled in mathematics, I don’t know. Maybe he was nearing a solution to Goldbach’s conjecture — but he was a rabbi. And no matter how beautifully he could pronounce the words of the shmoneh esrei, and no matter how kindly he treated the widow who lived across the street, that doesn’t make him an authority on all that there is. And one of the things that exists that he was hardly an authority on was science, judging from what he wrote in the responsa to which you provided a link. And if he was uninformed and yet still decided to make outlandish claims, that makes him ignorant — it’s more of a definition than an adjective. I’m ignorant about many things, but I try not to write articles about them and put them online for everyone in the world to read (although some will contest that, seeing the raging debates that resulted from my post on Christianity a few weeks ago). And when I am challenged and find that perhaps my methodology was wanting, I recant. So, in short, there is no legitimate rabbinic view.

      A tzaddik can be silly and his view can be silly. Did you even read what I wrote above before coming down here and posting a response? I asked you what a tzaddik is. What makes someone a tzaddik? I think it translates roughly into someone who is pious, saintly, righteous, etc. Can someone who is all of the above not be silly? Are they necessarily always correct? Because that’s where you’re headed. Actually, you’re already there.

      1) That’s funny — you suggested that I may be ignorant.
      2) Again, a non sequitur — please re-read the paragraph immediately preceding this group of sentences.
      3) I don’t think — I know. It’s not a given, though — merely a possibility. Someone being super sweet and compassionate and caring and godly and divinely obedient and a whole bunch of other adjectives that share similar meanings to these words has nothing to do with their scholarship — in other words, there is no correlation between one’s piousness and one’s intellectual prowess. So when cornered, some people say very strange things, indeed. It appears as though the Lubavitcher Rebbe overstepped his bounds and voiced opinions on things about which he hardly understood.

      Based on the above, I don’t see any reason why I’m writing so-called divrei Torah on this blog, but if you think of any good reasons, please let me know. Or, how about I do the following: I’ll check your log-in and if you have included your email address, I’ll send you my rebbe’s phone number and you can call him, and if you can convince him that I shouldn’t be writing so called divrei Torah on this blog, I might just stop.

      • Yoreh K'chetz March 31, 2011, 5:19 AM

        DRosenbach,

        Read Shemoneh Perakim or Tanya for more info on what a tzaddik is.

        To begin with, a tzaddik MUST be a talmud chacham. He must know the written and oral Torah in and out, backwards and forward. Impossible for a silly person to reach that level.

        Then, he is a person whose entire existence is geared towards Torah. His eating, drinking, sleeping, walking, talking, learning are all leshem shamayim. Every word are measured and calculated.Therefore, if one takes the time to write a letter or make a statement about any given topic, you can be sure that they have thought it over multiple times before doing so. Again, doesn’t sound like something a silly person can do.

        If you’re mind is too limited to understand what they are trying to say, it’s not a reason for you to besmirch tzaddikim of that caliber. Doing so is a blatant lack of derech eretz, and as Chazal say in pirkei avot says, you can’t have Torah without it. Of course, if you think Chazal could be silly, then what they said 2000 years ago is probably irrelevant to you.

        I’m done going in circles with this silly discussion with you. I have no interest in calling your Rabbi to have him stop you from posting on this blog. After all, this blog is based on satire, and as the new title reads “One man’s apikorus in another man’s talmud chochom”. This rings 100% true with you, I couldn’t a better way to describe it myself.

        • DRosenbach March 31, 2011, 1:31 PM

          Who said anything about him being a silly person. If he is uninformed, and doesn’t know it, and doesn’t know that he doesn’t know it, he won’t seek to inform himself. Nothing you state contradicts what I am saying — he can have read and reread that article numerous times, but if he’s unfamiliar with the recapitulation theory, how can he possibly be trusted to respond appropriately to a question of this type? Sometimes people say silly things even though they’re not silly.

          The circles are only because you refuse to engage my point — a talmid chacham doesn’t equate to a talmid science or a talmid art or a talmid history. The rabbis of the Talmud made scientific errors when the endorsed bloodletting, scorpian-antimony eyeshadow as a cure for cataracts and many other things that were conventional wisdom of the day. But they were rabbis — does that mean they didn’t say anything silly? Well, at the time, it probably wasn’t silly, because they didn’t learn this stuff from Sinai — they learned it from the ‘scientists’ of the time, and they didn’t know any better. Seeing how you have given me a reading list, here’s a reading list for you — 7th perek of Gittin. There are numerous ridiculous cures for all sorts of ills.

          Funny how you can’t defend your position, when it’s apparently so correct. If it were, it would be able to stand up to some criticism. But it’s not, so it can’t, so you’ve got to end it.

          And I don’t want you to call my rebbe for you — it’s for me. I can’t stand someone like you claiming to bear the truth contrary to my position. So please call him — he’s glad to speak to you, and if he sets you straight, you post about it, and if he sets me straight, I’ll post about it, and we’ll reach some resolution here.

          • Yoreh K'chetz March 31, 2011, 2:04 PM

            DRosenbach,

            Like I said. I’m done arguing this with you. I never attempted to make any point when it came to the scientific part of the discussion. I merely point out what the Rebbe views were regarding to the topic.

            I learned the gemara in Gittin with all the “home remedies”. Again, you are under the assumption that they are “ridiculous”. Back then, they may very well have worked better than anything else available at the time. The fact that chazal took the time out of their busy Torah teaching/davening schedules to list these remedies, should be proof enough.

            But no, along comes Dr. Prof. “Einstein” Rosenbach 1800 years later and knows better.

            As for your rebbi, either you, him or both of you need to go back to school if you actually believe Chazal make silly or ridiculous statements.

            Good day.

  • Seriously? March 30, 2011, 12:10 PM

    Logically, people are not right because of who they are – they are right (or wrong) because of what they say.

    The Torah is not interested in reality. The Torah is interested in people growing, bettering themselves, creating a new reality. And so it is consistent that the Torah does not tell us that people come from animals. And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul. (Gen: 2,7)

    The Torah is a forward-looking document, so it is not interested in objective reality. In plain english, Bereishis tells us that people are not meant to act like animals, so any resemblance to animals is purely coincidental.

    I think the Torah tells us this *on purpose*. Only a naive person can read Bereishis and think that the purpose is to tell us about the origin of life from a biological perspective. The purpose is to tell us about the world we are *supposed to create*.

  • PIL March 31, 2011, 9:55 AM

    To put my two cents into this. I believe there is a difference between calling a person a silly person or stating something specifically stated by a person is silly and giving the reason you believe that is the case. When your child does something wrong it is always incorrect to call them stupid but it is a learning tool to explain to them what they did is a stupid thing to do and explain why that is the case. Talking in generalities is usually non productive talking specific where something can be learned from the comment can be productive.

  • Yoreh K'chetz March 31, 2011, 11:13 AM

    PIL,

    While a child or adult can make silly statements, it is extremely unlikely for a tzaddik or the Rebbe’s caliber to do so.

    The fact that the Rebbe took much of his valuable time to answer the person in the letter in a clear and concise matter knowing that the letter would be printed, is more than enough “proof” that it isn’t silly at all.

    Hundreds of thousands of people sought the Rebbe’s advice throughout his leadership. From other tzaddikim and rosh yeshivas, to scientists and doctors, to the Israeli prime ministers and generals. I doubt they would seek advice from one that tends to say silly things.

    It is brazen enough for a frum person to disagree with a gadol ha-dor. Until one has reached the level of giving advice on the scale that the Rebbe did, they are better off doing some more research before disagreeing and making idiotic statements.

    • Anonymous April 3, 2011, 4:46 PM

      “It is brazen enough for a frum person to disagree with a gadol ha-dor”
      that is the diff. between a frum person and a modern orthodox one.
      modern orthodoxy promotes an arrogant mindset, narrow and confined to human reason in a limited and now outdated way.

      • Seriously? April 3, 2011, 5:16 PM

        These kinds of labels are often unhelpful. I consider myself a Przysucha Chasid – which means that I have an obligation to engage in *living* Torah – adding leaves and branches to the tree of life whenever I am able. To this end, I view holy men as sources of inspiration, not infallible semi-deities. We are all capable of greatness, from the gedolim to the lowest of the low.

        That said, I think that modern orthodoxy is indeed an indefensible state, not because it does not defer to gedolim of the past, but because it does not take the Torah seriously.

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