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Dvar Torah Behar-Bechukosai: Raining Theories

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After I finished dental school, I interviewed at a yeshiva for the position of high school biology teacher.  Even though my wife was keen on me making lots of money and actually working as a dentist, I had always wanted to teach and figured that I’d fit this in somehow.  But my wife didn’t have to worry — I wasn’t offered the job and, apparently, it had to do with Aristotle.

I say this because that’s how the rosh yeshiva ended the interview — that he couldn’t hire me because I was “beholden to Aristotle,” even though I gave him the following explanation.

“If you follow my statutes and keep my commandments and you fulfill them; I will provide your rains in their proper time; the earth shall give forth its produce and the tree of the field shall yield their fruit. (Leviticus 26:3-4)

According to the Torah, then, God apparently provides rain in return for compliance with His commandments and fulfillment of his laws, and there is talk of this in the Talmud as well:

“The eyes of God are always upon the Land of Israel” (Deuteronomy 11:12) — sometimes for good and sometimes for bad.  How is it for good?  Let us say that the Jewish people were completely wicked on Rosh Hashana and it was decided that they would receive little rain.  Subsequently, the Jewish people reversed course, but it is impossible to add rains because the decree has already been made.  Rather, the Holy One Blessed is He will bring down the rains at the most opportune time on the land that needs it the most. (Bavli R”H 17b, 6th wide line)

It seems from all this that Judaism has a very mystical approach towards rain, yet, when I’d speculate that even this rosh yeshiva takes an umbrella when the weather report says to expect rain — he doesn’t mutter, “Ha! What does Dr. Joe Sobol know about God’s plan for rain.”  On second thought, maybe he does mutter this — I can’t say for sure because I never got to really know him, having never seen the guy since leaving the interview.

We know that rain comes from clouds and if you’re interested in anything more scholarly than that, you can start by checking out the Wikipedia articles on the urban heat island effect and the maximization of the upslope flow in mountainous regions.  There’s really no serious debate about this and that’s because rabbis are not threatened by clouds.  Rain comes from clouds and clouds come from condensation and rabbis are cool with that.

But talk about cosmology and evolution and some people, including many rabbis, become very uncomfortable.  Why?  Because the Torah speaks of God forming the cosmos from nothingness and man from dust.  And monkeys make people emotional.

My family ate out 2 weeks ago and the host’s 4th grade son gave a dvar Torah about how the gentiles think people came from monkeys and so it makes sense that we not respect our parents because they’re nothing but one generation closer to the monkeys, while we Jews know that we came from Abaham, Isaac and Jacob, making our elders closer to that which deserves our deep admiration and veneration.

After waiting for the kids to leave the table, I asked the host what he thinks about the things his sons learns in yeshiva and this is how it went:

He: “Was Darwin Jewish?”

Me: “I don’t think so…”

He: “So he’s a gentile, and my son said that that’s what the gentiles think.  So isn’t that what they say?”

Me: “But didn’t say we came from monkeys; what he said was that we share common ancestors.”

He: “Right, so?”

I figured this guy’s not going to be able to appreciate the argument any further, so I stopped.  In speaking with my spiritual adviser later that afternoon, he explained to me that the real issue was that we had not been disagreeing as much as we had been looking at two different things.  While I look at patterns in the universe to figure out an explanation, this guy looks for something else, but certainly not the universe — and if we’re not going to be discussing the same things, we’re certainly not going to be able to come to any conclusion that will satisfy us both.

But you’ll be hard pressed to find anyone who denies that rain comes from clouds, even though this biblical verse clearly states that it is God who directs it to rain and not the condensation of water vapor — but monkeys, we can’t be from monkeys.  I think it’s an emotional thing.  R’ Slifkin mentions how he thinks it’s funny that people are offended if you say they’re from monkeys but being from dirt is fine.

  • Velvel

    Um doesn’t everything – all created matter and energy as well as the spiritual worlds – come from G-d? We believe the laws of the universe came from G-d, including the water cycle so why should this pose a difficulty? The Torah says G-d formed man in His image. We also know we came to be because our parents had relations approx 9 months prior to our birth. No one finds this a contradiction so why would rain coming from clouds and water vapor bother anyone?

    • http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/User:DRosenbach DRosenbach

      My point is that rain is not a very emotional topic so no one counters the scientific discoveries that suggest a natural approach to explaining rain. On the other hand, cosmology and evolution appear to be a very emotionally charged topic and many people seem to not be able to do the same.

      It’s sort of the same reason why the rabbi teaching his class will find little to no opposition when he explains that the best practice is to take both challahs out of the plastic bags when using them for lechem mishna (two loaves) on Shabbos and Yom Tov but will get lots of resistance when explaining that skirts are to cover the knees not only when standing but also when sitting and folding one’s legs. The former is not a very intimate, personal halacha and so is readily accepted but the latter comes across as very personal, thereby eliciting a very emotional response that often amounts to great resistance.

    • danielGA

      +1
      good post DRosenbach!

      i think a problem erupts when people try to base their entire interaction with reality from only one source, be it human logic or scripture.

      now i’m not saying that we should disregard Torah in favour of science, that’s not really what i’m saying at all— sort of what i’m saying is this: when you’re trying to figure out what kind of plant grows best in your backyard, or how to keep water out of your basement, G-d blessed us with intelligent minds to be able to figure out these things on our own, certainly with His help, but in these sorts of examples we don’t go looking through gemara for the part where the rabbis discussed which was the best water sealant. you see what i mean?

      i don’t see it as a total disregard of Torah like many might, in a way it’s an extension of Torah. look at the Prophets and the Sages, they looked at small parts of Torah and were able to expand them into this wonderous and elabourate understanding called the oral Torah. in the same way, science isn’t refuting the Torah’s understanding of the universe, and i don’t know any example where science absolutely does not agree with Torah— it simply explains it better.

      so Torah tells us we were made from dirt, or the earth. in the eyes of science, this is absolutely true, albeit not in the direct way that some might understand it. all the elements that make us up are found scattered across the earth, and in the ground. through a complicated biological process, G-d took dirt and created bacteria, plants, fish, animals, and then us.

      in a more direct way, a mother has to eat more when she’s pregnant to help her baby grow— this should be obvious because we pray it, hamotzi lechem min haaretz— G-d brings forth bread from the earth. the soil is composed of carbon which is what seeds are made of, and the seed grows in soil and produces grain.

      the problem arises when we try to understand *everything* using logic, which isn’t possible. for example, why is it wrong to murder? the Torah tells us so, but logically if this person is disabled and can’t function, for the continuance of our species, isn’t murder OK? logic can dictate pretty much anything— when you rely on logic to form the basis of your reality, logic can lead anywhere. in contrast Torah has set laws that we must abide by.

      now, how can you go overboard on religious texts? i don’t think you can go overboard on Torah, but you can go overboard on literalism, interpreting the text literally, or you can go overboard on rebbe-ism, where you let one person’s *opinion* of what the Torah says guide your entire reality. we have to stick by Torah, but we don’t have to stick by one person’s interpretation of what it says. if the Torah says G-d made people from the earth, this is true, but we don’t have to sit there and say that G-d literally took a handful of dirt and mashed it together into ears and kneecaps when G-d has given us enough brains to see that the verse is not entirely literal.

      • http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/User:DRosenbach DRosenbach

        I’ll answer in reverse order

        1) I don’t think it’s wrong to murder any more than it’s wrong to wear shatnes. I think it’s a religious transgression, not to mention a societal no-no in general.

        2) I think you brought up an interesting issue without even realizing it — lumping the prophets and the sages together when, really, they are two very opposite things.

        Although we’ve discussed the prophets’ potential for modifying their prophecy, the prophet was not seen as brandishing intellect but information. There was a time when prophecy reigned, but the tides have turned. The sages were very bold in retroactively subordinating the prophets to the sages — according to Yalkut Shimoni, both Ovadiah and Isaiah prophesied only with the permission of the Sanhedrin, which is hinted to by the gematria of the first words of their books: chazon (71, the same as the number of judges in the great court).

        With the transition from Temple times to post-Temple times, prophecy was removed from the prophets and handed over to the sages, and Amemar is even quoted as saying that a sage outranks a prophet (Bavli BB 12a, 12 lines from the bottom). It was and is the duty of the sage to interpret things with his intellect — it’s too bad that stopped happening quite some time ago for many a modern-day sage.

        • G*3

          > I don’t think it’s wrong to murder any more than it’s wrong to wear shatnes.

          I really hope that’s not true.

          • http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/User:DRosenbach DRosenbach

            Well, perhaps I said that out of context. If we define murder as “killing someone,” which is almost what Judaism defines it as, I don’t think that’s inherently wrong. Either society defines it (and that can change) or religion defines it (and that can sometimes change, too).

            Is a fetus life? What about some 103 year old lady who has no more friends but is too weak to toss herself off the roof? Can I help her, if that’s what she wants? What about the death penalty? What about pseudo-self defense? All of these are nothing more than social conventions, or religious ones.

            In that sense, I don’t think anything is really wrong. In the larger sense, perhaps we can all agree on someone that ought not to be killed, but everyone else on the bell curve will be debated by some.

            • G*3

              Fair enough. When I see “murder” I usually think along the lines of premeditated, vindictive killing rather than euthanasia.

              • http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/User:DRosenbach DRosenbach

                Well, I think we could debate that as well. If premeditated, vindictive sociological, economic or political maneuvering is sanctioned, why not killing?

                Only because society draws an arbitrary line in the sand. So does religion.

                • G*3

                  > If premeditated, vindictive sociological, economic or political maneuvering is sanctioned,

                  It is? Things like slander are illegal, as are many unethical business practices.

                  • http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/User:DRosenbach DRosenbach

                    Yes, but, again, only by convention. Government laws are all arbitrary. Trust-busting is only necessary when the trusts become too economically powerful. If that wouldn’t have happened, there would be no anti-trust laws. And what exactly is slander? X is included, Y is not. All very arbitrary.

                    • bratschegirl

                      Hey, DR, you’re needed over on “OTD people are miserable.” Most recent comment is exactly up your alley.

                    • G*3

                      > All very arbitrary.

                      And God-based morality is not arbitrary? Look up the Euthyphro Dilemma.

                    • http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/User:DRosenbach DRosenbach

                      Thanks — I’ve seen it before and I think it falls along the same lines as the didactic/mimetic divide.

                      If what we do is inherently good and God chooses that, it could be described by mimeticism and if it is when we act in accordance with God’s will that we are pious, that would be in line with didacticism.

                      So you tell me…is Judaism didactic or mimetic? I’d say it’s a little bit of both, but at first blush, the laws seem evenly split. It is as though we are told to avoid abominable things because they are inherently abominable but I don’t see any of these things — cross-dressing, consuming guinea pigs or engaging in homosexuality — as inherently abominable. Do you? I think we look at lobster and frog and snail and octopus as abominable because the Torah says that’s what they are. Personally, I don’t like the idea of eating beef tongue, but I can’t remember what it tastes like. Also, personally, I don’t like the taste of any fish — you can say I think of the taste of fish as abominable. I also dislike hearts of palm. But tuna and hearts of palm are no more inherently abominable than horse meat. It’s all very didactic.

                      Then take the laws that are generally grouped under the category of mishpatim — civil laws — and perhaps we can throw in those that people think make sense, like respect for elders and honoring one’s parents. In a sense, though, Judaism leaves almost nothing to one’s personal feelings. We sit shiva for our loved ones whether they were dear enough to cry for 3 weeks or if we hardly wish to even attend the funeral. So, too, some parents think it’s their right to tell their kids whom to marry and what to name the grandkids. My father would never think to tell me what to name my kid — in fact, my parents and my in-laws find out what we name our children when everyone else does: in shul during the Torah reading or when my rebbe announced it at the bris. If you feel that honor demands more and you’re the son, that’s fine, but if you’re the father, that’s just too bad. So, in a sense, it’s sort of didactic as well.

                      There’ll be those commandments that appear thoroughly mimetic — like prohibitions on murder and adultery — but, as I’ve made clear above and before, I sense that nearly everything can be spun into didacticism and that’s the approach my mind likes to go in.

      • G*3

        Religious people who oppose the theory of evolution do so because they think that it is an argument for not obeying God. I recently had a conversation with an older, highly educated frum man about evolution. Towards the end of the conversation, I asked him what difference it made if evolution was true or not. He told me that it made a big difference, because if it was true, then we don’t have to listen to Hashem, whereas if Hashem had created us, we were bound to keep the mitzvos. It’s a common attitude, but a complete non-sequiter.

        I think that the root of the problem is that a lot of people implicitly rely on the Argument from Design to give rational support to their religion. Evolution described how animals developed in a way that makes God unnecessary. This is interpreted as an attack on the foundation of their religious beleifs, even though, as you said, it’s no more problematic than saying that Hashem makes it rain using clouds and condensation. I wrote a post a while back about why evolution is seen as a threat: http://2nd-son.blogspot.com/2010/04/force-behind-nature.html

        > i don’t know any example where science absolutely does not agree with Torah

        In the first few pesukim of Bereishis:

        Day 1: God creates the Earth. God creates day and night.
        Day 2: God creates the sky.
        Day 3: God creates plants.
        Day 4: God creates the sun.

        Science absolutely does not agree with the Torah’s chronology of the development of the solar system, or the development of plants without sunlight.

        • http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/User:DRosenbach DRosenbach

          Your anecdote reveals my contention beautifully, G*3. There’s no reason to suppose that concepts such as speciation, divergence and natural selection combine to form an attack on the existence of God than relative humidity, air temperature, condensation and coalescence join to threaten the notion of a God.

          Very simply put, air contains water in the form of vapor (as in gas form, not liquid or solid) and there is a limit to how much water in this gas form air can contain at any given temperature. When this limit is reached, the air is saturated and the water vapor necessarily turns to liquid/solid in the form of a cloud. When the liquid and solid particles in the cloud gather to form large enough particles that they can no longer be suspended, they fall towards the earth and, depending upon a number of things including temperature, the nature of the precipitation might be different (rain, snow, etc.) For a lengthier and more detailed explanation, see here. But where’s there room for God? If the water exceeds the saturation point and the droplets reach a certain mass, the rain falls — what has that got to do with religion? Nothing, unless you accept the traditions of Judaism that maintain that there is a God Who seeks an active role in our lives. Then, and only then, does one maintain that the elucidations of science serve to explain the manner in which God plays a role.

          So too, evolution serves to explain the things we see in this universe as they relate to the many different types of animals, plants, fungi, protists and bacteria (et al.) and this in no way comes to divest the true existence of a deity any more than the natural means of rain formation, despite the Talmud very clearly making reference to God’s active hand in causing rain. What it does do is fly in the face of some very long standing traditions based on previously held understandings of biblical verses that even medieval and then even more modern classical Jewish biblical commentators have sought to modify based on the scientific understanding of their time, and that we must continue to modify based upon the understanding of our time. So they are not equivalent, but analogous nonetheless.

          What this old man misunderstands is science and perhaps even his own religion, and that is why I wrote the post — to dispel this misunderstanding.

          Thanks for your contribution, G*3 — now and always.

      • G*3

        > i don’t know any example where science absolutely does not agree with Torah

        In the first few pesukim of Bereishis:

        Day 1: God creates the Earth. God creates day and night.
        Day 2: God creates the sky.
        Day 3: God creates plants.
        Day 4: God creates the sun.

        Science absolutely does not agree with the Torah’s chronology of the development of the solar system, or the development of plants without sunlight.

        • http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/User:DRosenbach DRosenbach

          I’d say the Torah is to be taken allegorically when speaking about these things, although others will no doubt disagree.

          • G*3

            What’s the What’s the allegory? What lesson are we being taught? “Allegory” doesn’t just mean, “don’t take it literally because we know it can’t be true.”

            If it is an allegory, why does it seem exactly like it’s describing the creation of the world, in a way that’s consistent with a lot of other ANE creation myths? Once we start ignoring the literal meaning in favor of turning the Torah into a Jewish version of Aesop’s fables, we can’t claim that there are no places where “science absolutely does not agree with Torah” because “agreement” merely means that we’ve managed to come up with some clever way to reinterpret the Torah, regardless of what it actually says.

            At that, once we can ignore the literal meaning, why prefer the Torah over any other work? Given enough leeway, I can reinterpret Baum’s Oz books as being historical and in complete agreement with science.

            • http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/User:DRosenbach DRosenbach

              It’s an allegory to show us how we matter. If we’re but specks among specks on a revolving, orbiting speck, we might take a step back and say, “what we do doesn’t matter.”

              If we look at the universe from that perspective, do you think I’ll bother to use 3 mugs to make coffee on Shabbos or make sure to sign the form at the hospital with my left hand? And after slaughtering the chicken, I see that a feather had been between the knife and the skin…the bird’s already dead, if he suffered more than he was supposed to, it has already happened, and how can any of this matter when I don’t even matter?

              So the story of Creation serves to build the universe to a cadence fulfilled by humans. This explains lots of apparent inconsistencies with the order of creation — why birds and fish, both organisms that are not really in our face and completely accessible because they hide in the trees and in the deep, are placed together, while land animals are kept separate, and why plants precede the sun, and why so many commentaries make mention that the sun was really there on day one (for the light to emanate) but was only put into place on day 4. At the time, they couldn’t fathom that it wasn’t to be understood literally and did their best to reinterpret things to fit in with reality. But there’s no need for any of that because that doesn’t really solve the problems, seeing how nothing else makes sense.

              And for the rest of your question, I have to run for Shabbos but shall return to respond afterwards.

        • com

          Lol the development of plants without sunlight. Cuz if God had made the sun first, then it would make sense to everyone. Oh, of course I would believe God if he said he created the plants out of absolute nothing, but without sunlight? Forget it, thats too farfetched. Lol

          • http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/User:DRosenbach DRosenbach

            Yes — it’s too farfetched.

          • G*3

            The Torah could be interpreted without too much of a stretch to mean God created plants through natural means. But what we know of how nature works cannot be reconciled with the plants coming before the sun.

            Of course, if we’re assuming the whole thing was miraculous, and God created plants ex nihilo, then you’re right. One miracle is not greater than the other. But the statement we’re discussing is “I don’t know any example where science absolutely does not agree with Torah.”

            • http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/User:DRosenbach DRosenbach

              Getting back to your previous question that I had to leave off on because Shabbos was nearing…

              The traditions of Judaism include a very forthright abandonment of literal understanding of some very key points of the creation story, such as the meaning of a “day” by Maimonides and, as mentioned above, Meiri’s proposal that the sun was actually created on the first day but only put into place on the 4th day.

              But as we’ve discussed before, neither Maimonides (1135-1204) nor Meiri (1249-1310) were alive recently enough to understand the universe well enough to insist upon the modification of textual reference that we must insist upon. As contrived as that may sound the first time you read it, I see this as an exceedingly persuasive argument — and it happens to be the one that Slifkin uses throughout much of his work The Challenge of Creation.

              And as to why I don’t revere the Wizard of Oz — it’s because there’s no tradition dating back thousands of years that holds such a work as being sourced from the divine. If you choose to not hold the Torah in great esteem, that’s your business, but if you choose to hold it in great esteem, you mustn’t jettison thousands of years of technological advancement and disregard millions of scientific findings.

              • G*3

                I see it as post-hoc apologetics. As I said, given enough leeway you can interpret anything to mean anything.

                In “The End of Faith” Sam Harris describes walking into a bookstore, grabbing a book at random and opening it to a random page. It happened to be a cookbook, and he wrote out an “allegorical” interpretation of the recipe on the page:

                snapper filet, cubed
                3 teaspoons chopped scallions
                salt and freshly ground black pepper
                a dash of cayenne pepper
                2 teaspoons chopped fresh ginger
                1 teaspoon minced garlic
                8 shrimp, peeled, deveined, and cubed
                ½ cup heavy cream; 2 eggs, lightly beaten
                3 teaspoons rice wine; 2 cups bread crumbs
                3 tablespoons vegetable oil; 2 ½ cups ogo tomato relish

                The snapper filet, of course, is the individual himself—you and I—awash in the sea of existence. But here we find it cubed, which is to say that our situation must be remedied in all three dimensions of body, mind, and spirit.

                Three teaspoons of chopped scallions further partakes of the cubic symmetry, suggesting that that which we need add to each level of our being by way of antidote comes likewise in equal proportions. The import of the passage is clear: the body, mind, and spirit need to be tended to with the same care.

                Salt and freshly ground black pepper: here we have the perennial invocation of opposites—the white and the black aspects of our nature. Both good and evil must be understood if we would fulfill the recipe for spiritual life. Nothing, after all, can be excluded from the human experience (this seems to be a Tantric text). What is more, salt and pepper come to us in the form of grains, which is to say that our good and bad qualities are born of the tiniest actions. Thus, we are not good or evil in general, but only by virtue of innumerable moments, which color the stream of our being by force of repetition.

                It goes on like that. It’s silly, but that’s the point. The only reason we treat interpretations of the Torah that are barely based on the text, and often entirely change its meaning, differently than the above interpretation of a recipe is because of the way we feel about the source material.

                • http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/User:DRosenbach DRosenbach

                  That Sam Harries has a thing or two to learn about writing books — how does he expect the readers to fully grasp his potency if he hides so much stuff in the notes at the end of the book? I had to search Google books for that quote because I didn’t recall seeing it, only to find it on page 286 in the “notes to page 216.”

                  What you’re saying here is not to the point of this discussion on non-literal interpretation of Genesis but to the broader issue of embracing the Torah as significant as a holy book in the first place, should you want to question the authenticity of the religion — and that, my friend, is not the debate we are having. Let’s leave this for another time.

                  • G*3

                    > What you’re saying here is not to the point of this discussion on non-literal interpretation of Genesis but to the broader issue of embracing the Torah as significant as a holy book in the first place

                    No, my point is that even if we grant that the Torah is a Divine book, interpreting it out of recognition is as silly as Harris’s recipe interpretation.

                    • http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/User:DRosenbach DRosenbach

                      It’s not ‘out of recognition’.

                      When the Torah describes the blasphemer in the camp a few weeks ago, no reading of the verses supports an allegorical, non-literal understanding of the events of the narrative. Taking it all as an allegory would, as you say, be interpreting it out of recognition.

                      But the events described in early Genesis are very poetic, very elaborate and largely repetative. And Torah giants no less than Maimonides, Gersonides and Meiri published what amounts to revisionary commentary…and they hardly had any understanding of the universe, having died well before such key scientific findings as gas laws, meteorology, speciation, fossil science, microscopic organisms…I mean, just check out the Wikipedia timeline of scientific discoveries to see what had not yet been known at the time of these commentators and it’s truly no wonder they didn’t propose as radical a non-literal interpretation as Slifkin himself.

        • vey

          Read Schroeder or learn the Ramban. your superflous reading of what the talmud describes to be more complicated than the machlokes of Abaye and Rava make you the fool.

          • http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/User:DRosenbach DRosenbach

            If you’d read Slifkin, you’d see that he all but states that Schroeder’s explanations as poorly constructed and nearly miss the target entirely.

            And your lack of proper punctuation makes it very difficult for me to understand what you wrote — did you have a point to make that you’d like me to respond to, because I can’t do so if I can’t make heads or tails of your run-on sentence.

            And did you mean superficial? Because superflous [sic] means “unnecessary” or “redundant,” and neither of those words make any more sense that what you wrote.

            And perhaps the Talmud, penned in the 6th century but having existed in oral form for hundreds of years earlier, was written too early for the authors to have understood what they were reading and far too early to understand what the universe was all about. Maybe that’s what they meant when they said that this is such a complicated thing. For sure, it’s not that much more understood now in the grand scheme of things — but who says it’s not complicated? Everything is complicated. It’s a long story, but I’m sort of friends with one of the vice presidents of Wise Potato Chips and my family and I were granted a private tour of the plant in Berwick, PA a few years back. I mean, gosh, making a proper potato chip is complicated, so you don’t have to convince me that the origins of the world are complicated.

            What’s funny, though, is that I’ll admit that we still don’t have all the answers while there are some (and perhaps this includes you) who claim that they (Abaye and Rava) had all the answers. I think that makes them (and perhaps you) the fool(s).

      • Anonymous

        When you’re talking about physical, phenomenological reality Science IS the only appropriate tool. Religion doesn’t get a vote. Its tools and metaphysics are simply wrong for the job. If we’re talking about theology Science is inappropriatr

        • http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/User:DRosenbach DRosenbach

          Agreed. See my last comment here.

  • A. Nuran

    Give ‘em copies of Nathan Slifkin’s books.

  • G*3

    Religious people who oppose the theory of evolution do so because they think that it is an argument for not obeying God. I recently had a conversation with an older, highly educated frum man about evolution. Towards the end of the conversation, I asked him what difference it made if evolution was true or not. He told me that it made a big difference, because if it was true, then we don’t have to listen to Hashem, whereas if Hashem had created us, we were bound to keep the mitzvos. It’s a common attitude, but a complete non-sequiter.

    I think that the root of the problem is that a lot of people implicitly rely on the Argument from Design to give rational support to their religion. Evolution described how animals developed in a way that makes God unnecessary. This is interpreted as an attack on the foundation of their religious beleifs, even though, as you said, it’s no more problematic than saying that Hashem makes it rain using clouds and condensation. I wrote a post a while back about why evolution is seen as a threat: http://2nd-son.blogspot.com/2010/04/force-behind-nature.html

    • A. Nuran

      It’s also generally…
      Appeal to Authority
      Appeal to Consequences of a Belief
      Appeal to Belief
      Appeal to Tradition
      Argument from Personal Incredulity
      Burden of Proof
      Genetic Fallacy
      Moving the Goalposts
      and
      Special Pleading

      • A. Nuran

        Actually, you already mentioned Appeal to Consequences of a Belief.

  • G*3

    About the story your friend’s kid told. Last year XGH posted an inversion of the way it’s typically told:

    A Rav and a biology professor happened to be sitting on a plane next to each other. They each had their grandchildren on board too. During the flight, the rav’s grandchildren were behaving like vilda-chayos (wild animals), jumping around and generally causing a huge disturbance. The professor’s grandchildren on the other hand were very well behaved and sitting quietly, like proper English schoolboys.

    After a while the rav turns to the professor, and says “Excuse me professor, but how come my grandchildren are so badly behaved, while yours are so well behaved?”

    The professor replies “Ah Rabbi, the answer is poshut. You see, we believe in evolution, in the ascent of man. Each generation gets increasingly more human and more sophisticated, hence my grandchildren are models of restraint and good behavior. However you believe in yeridas hadoros, that every generation away from Sinai is further and further devolved. Hence your grandchildren are behaving like monkeys!”

    Which goes to show that these stupid “we’re-so-much-better-than-them vertlach can be spun either way.

    • Alter Cocker

      yeah, that’s the story I’ve seen related to this.

  • bratschegirl

    One shudders to imagine the syllabus and content of that “science” course if DRosenbach is deemed too irreligious to be charged with teaching it…

    • http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/User:DRosenbach DRosenbach

      Well, there was no homework allowed and there were certain restrictions in place regarding examinations as well. Perhaps it’s better that I didn’t work there.

    • A. Nuran

      Science without questioning.
      Science without experiment.
      Science without skepticism.
      Science where conclusions are dictated by authority.

      In short, about as useful as a mashgiach at Pig ‘N Pancake

  • BZ

    As I understand it, the beef most religious authorities have with evolution (and cosmology) is the age of the universe, the age of the human race, etc, which (and I’m not 100% clear why) is a matter of halacha. The general rule is, if science disagrees with Torah on agadda, you reinterpret the Torah to agree with science, but if science voids a halachik precept, we rule that science is mistaken.

    Quite honestly, I’m not sure what I believe on this particular topic, since there are those who try to explain this issue away, but that’s the explanation I heard.

    • http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/User:DRosenbach DRosenbach

      “…but if science voids a halachik precept, we rule that science is mistaken.”

      But we don’t really do that either. Speak to anyone you feel comfortable with and who has a good grip on reality and see what they have to tell you behind closed doors in relation to the wacky things mentioned in Meseches Niddah. Apparently (as I’ve been told by my person who fits this bill), there are many things that are just not true and we know they’re not true and we shy away from them.

      • BZ

        I apologize for not being familiar with that material, though since I’m not married, that may be a good thing. Are you saying there are halachic rulings there that we disregard in favor of science? Now I did learn Meseches Kallah (yes, I know, hypocritical, but my Rav suggested it as a quick way to make an emergency siyum for erev Pesach) and it mentions all sorts of unlikely *physical* consequences of various actions, but as far as I know, it doesn’t really say “do this; don’t do that” with regard to any of them.

        • http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/User:DRosenbach DRosenbach

          I can’t provide examples from Niddah now, but we can certainly see examples of this in reference to talmudic disputes over end of life issues. If someone is not breathing, they may be able to be revived with CPR or a varient, although that was unknown at the time of the talmud and such an individual caught under rubble on Shabbos was deemed dead and it would be impermissible to dig him out — we certainly don’t apply this sort of misguided scientific assertion in practical situations today.

          Also, as a more modern example, take the ruling of R’ Moshe Feinstein that heart transplants are prohibited because they amount to a double murder — taking a viable organ from the donor kills them (and deals with the halachic definition of death — search for ‘Feinstein’ after following this link) and taking the recipient’s heart and giving them the donor heart leads to their death as well. The latter was an issue when R’ Moshe submitted his opinion because medical technology was at an inferior level to what it is now (obviously) and interfering with someone’s cardiopulmonary system(s) to such a magnitude as removing his heart might very well be leading to his death prematurely in a very active fashion. Fastforward 10, 15 or 25 years later and we’re on a very different page when it comes to heart transplants. Those who maintain R’ Moshe’s views might still prohibit a heart transplant because of the murder of the donor (according to his understanding of death) but my point is that his secondary ruling that giving someone a new heart was equivalent to murder is rejected, I think, by everyone. And if R’ Moshe, who died in 1986, probably gave this ruling no earlier than 1967 when the first heart transplant was done at Groote Schuur Hospital in Cape Town South Africa, was unaware of the biotech potential we would eventually achieve, how could the Talmud have been aware?

  • Buccal

    I like your wife. I think she’s trying to keep you focused and help you pay back your loans.

    • http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/User:DRosenbach DRosenbach

      I think you’ve just blown your cover, sweetie — you’ll have to find a new pseudonym now. :)

      • http://beismedrash.blogspot.com Lex Luthor

        lol

  • Telz Angel

    See what happens when klal yisrael is no longer a nation of farmers? We misunderstand the Torah. To a farmer, rain in the right season is EVERYTHING. It is the assurance that he and his family will have food for the next season, and surplus to see. They did not have a stock market with financial predictors, short-sales, options, or derivatives. They had one way to predict the future: does it rain when they need rain. If so, the future is good.

    Where does rain come from? it literally rains down from heaven. It comes from God. When they prayed for a good year, they looked up and asked God to rain down blessings from heaven. They did not care about urban heating or cosmology. They cared about feeding their family, which means they cared about rain, which means they looked up to heaven and prayed.

    As non-farmers, what do we care about? When we look to heaven and wonder about our future, and how we feed our family? What do we see? Some people see root canals, others LASIK, others see ambulances they can chase. We all hope for some indicator of a good future. A Talmud Torah School that will not hire a frum educated, qualified, college graduate to teach biology because of lame hashkafa issues is an indicator of a very bad future.

  • Anonymous

    “Beholden to Aristotle,” hmmm. Maimonides’ great achievement was the application of Aristotelian thought to Judaism, as Aquinas did for Aristotle and Roman Catholicism, and Avicenna and Averroes did for Islam. So this yeshiva guy wouldn’t have hired Maimonides to teach biology either. You were in good company….

    • vey

      The litvishe mesorah was to disagree with this approach of Maimonidies,

      • http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/User:DRosenbach DRosenbach

        That’s because the litvishe mesorah had as little understanding of the universe as Maimonides opponents did.

  • Mary

    Getting back to this fourth grader and the school he attends. I question why to build up a child’s self esteem the school can’t just build up a Jewish person without knocking down the non-Jew. The negative reinforcement we receive from politics is terrible. Emphasis the positive.

    • http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/User:DRosenbach DRosenbach

      I think it’s a natural inclination to bash others, although I don’t exonerate this child’s rebbe. I sense that he must feel justified, seeing how he’s merely quoting some bigger rabbi in giving such a dvar Torah over to his 4th grade boys.

      • G*3

        At least as bad as the non-Jew bashing is treating “non-Jews” as a homogenous block. Apparently this rebbe has no idea about the ongoing fights between academia and creationists over school science requirements.

        • http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/User:DRosenbach DRosenbach

          I think we can all agree that there are many, many things that this rebbe has no idea about, especially considering the other intellectually offensive dvar Torah parroted by the child but that is off the topic this week.

  • Critic

    Dr.Rosenbach
    The following link is a interesting read.I’d like to hear your take about it.

    http://slifkinchallenge.blogspot.com/2012/03/natan-slifkins-challenge-of-creation-re.html

    • http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/User:DRosenbach DRosenbach

      1) To begin, it sounds very angry. Do I sound that angry when I call out the Lubavitcher Rebbe?

      2) I found this very difficult to read. If you read Slifkin’s work itself, you’ll find extremely complex things explained in very simple terms so much so that a scientific layman can understand things very clearly. But this guy writing here makes such convoluted sentences that, at times, I had to skip to the next paragraph after reading it three times and still not grasping his point. Or, perhaps it’s just been a long day at work for me and I need a shoulder massage to get back in focus.

      3) He seems to catch Slifkin out on a few things (I think 3 in total, if I’m not mistaken and there’s not another page or two that I didn’t see) but altogether, it doesn’t seem all that consequential. Sure, plants could have appeared before light, but that certainly doesn’t seem too probable. Invoke a miracle and nothing seems to improbable. But the question is never what can God so, it’s what God did do. Ask a yeshiva rebbe how Noach got his hands on tasmanian devils and pronghorn antelope and rheas and bison and lemurs and jaguars and then managed to get them all back home — I mean, sure, there’s definitely a way to explain it all, but how is it meaningful to just say proposterous things? Did it all happen? I can’t say for sure that plants preceded the sun, but seeing how the world works in a natural manner, it certainly doesn’t seem too compelling to suggest that the natural order only started unnaturally 5000 years ago.

      Altogether, I’d like to see Slifkin’s response to this — perhaps I’ll send it to him for some feedback, but I can’t make him respond.

      • http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/User:DRosenbach DRosenbach

        I won’t post what R’ Slifkin responded to me in an email in case he didn’t want his words in a private email publicized, but I can paraphrase and say that he happens to know that the poster’s rebbe was a target for one of his (Slifkin’s) previous attack.

        That notwithstanding, if the poster’s points have merit, it doesn’t really matter what his angle is — but to that end, Slifkin discounted his arguments as less than substantive, and as I stated above, I’d have to agree.

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