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Dvar Torah Beraishis: My Daughter

I did it. I told my 2nd grade daughter that the creation story is a mashal (allegory).

{ 115 comments… add one }
  • TMD October 12, 2012, 2:15 PM

    Do you mean the entire parsha, or up to a certain point?

    • DRosenbach October 13, 2012, 6:22 PM

      The discussion only surrounded the 7 days of creation and so that’s all I commented on. But I’d say there’s room to question the historicity of the entire week’s Torah reading.

      I hope to get into it deeper in this coming week’s post, which will focus on the rainbow but cover this idea in general.

  • Worf October 12, 2012, 10:56 PM

    Of course he means the whole parsha. I’m still waiting for the time to tell my kids that most of Chumash never really happened…

  • SC October 13, 2012, 1:49 PM

    Why shoud this be a problem? Reading Rashi’s comment, I came to the conclusion that he, too thought it was a mashal… as well as Rambam…

    Honestly, I think that none of the rishonim took it literally…

    • DRosenbach October 13, 2012, 6:23 PM

      I wonder how Moses himself took it? I mean, there he was, writing it down as God told it to him and one can only imagine the conversation that went along with this.

      • Worf October 14, 2012, 2:20 AM

        If Moses actually existed, he probably wasn’t the one who wrote this text.

        • DRosenbach October 14, 2012, 7:53 AM

          Seeing how this was the prime event of Moses’ life, it’s rather that “if Moses didn’t write this, then he didn’t exist.”

          If not for being the one to received the Torah on Sinai, who was he? There’s a reason we don’t sing, “Moshe emes v’yitziaso Mitzrayim emes

          • Worf October 14, 2012, 8:33 AM

            Huh? There is no reason to suppose that the authors of the Torah weren’t using elements of old tales about a character called Moses. These tales may well have been based on aspects of the life of someone who once existed called Moses. Those stories were expanded and embellished over time.

            In any case, how in the world can you consider the words of a song to be proof of anything?

            • DRosenbach October 14, 2012, 9:00 AM

              The line of thought in this forum cannot suppose such things because doing so would undermine the validity of the Torah. We cannot very well discuss Judaism with any sense of seriousness if you want to question the basis of Judaism.

              This is what the conversations would look like:

              Heshy: I think the rules of tznius are sometimes good but sometimes bad. Let’s discuss.
              TzniusRocks: I see what you’re saying Heshy. I sometimes feel restricted but then I realize that it’s to protect our neshamas from evil
              TzniusStinks: TR — you are a brainwashed BY girl. I hate tznius. I follow it just because I would otherwise be ostracized.
              Heshy: Unfortunately, there’s a lot of that out there, TS.
              You: Umm, doesn’t everyone realize that Judaism is fake and the Torah is not really from God? Moses is just a hodgepodge of various elements of old tales. Get a grip, folks!

              DRosenbach: Of course the Shabbos Kitchen is a valid account of mainstream Orthodox Jewish observance.
              IrateHighSchoolBoy: No it’s not, you doofus! It’s just a bunch of crazy chumras like you can’t close the fridge if the light is on.
              DRosenbach: That’s not a crazy chumra — that’s called p’sik reisha. Go look it up.
              IrateHighSchoolBoy: Look it up! Ha! Who looks anything up? If it’s not on Wikipedia it’s not real, and this is not on Wikipedia!
              You: Chumra, Shmumra! Moses wasn’t a real person. He was a composite of various elements of multiple ancient tales and I can’t seem to understand why you’re worried about closing the fridge because p’sik reisha is just something made up, along with this whole shabbos thing, too!

              • Worf October 14, 2012, 12:47 PM

                I’m glad you get the point. I’m just a little bothered by the fact that you have a ridiculous expectation that comments made on this blog shouldn’t undermine the basis of Orthodox Judaism.

                • DRosenbach October 14, 2012, 5:09 PM

                  As an antagonist of Orthodox Judaism, I wouldn’t suppose you wouldn’t be bothered by anyone promoting it. I’ll give you two options:

                  1) You can hold your tongue and wait for posts that address this issue


                  2) You can continue to defy my ridiculous expectation that comments made in response to my posts shouldn’t undermine the basis of Orthodox Judaism for the sole purpose of promoting your sort of antagonism and be met with summary deletion of your posts.

                  Your position gets very tiring when it’s not the topic of discussion and ruins it for everyone else. It’s like going to an open WebMD forum and, regardless of the topic, positing that homeopathy would provide better results, quicker disease resolution, less expensive treatment options and that, altogether, it’s sort of a joke that anyone is taking the physician moderating the discussion seriously.

                  • Worf October 15, 2012, 4:24 AM

                    It was totally on topic. You asked a question about how Moshe dealt with it and I answered that even if he existed he didn’t write it.

                    It is unreasonable to expect answers to your questions to be limited by your unfounded assumptions.

                    • DRosenbach October 15, 2012, 6:18 AM

                      By that token, it’s just as appropriate to respond to the question of how one should deal with a crock-pot whose cooking walls extent to the top of the pot and might pose an issue of hatmana (insulating) on Shabbos by replying, “Don’t worry about hatmana because Shabbos is not binding and Judaism is a mere figment of the rabbis imagination.”

                      There can be no discussion about anything of detail because we don’t agree on the basis premises. Sure, if the topic is the basic premises, then let’s discuss it. And even tangentially, it could come up in discussion here, but your tone was too heretical with your “If Moses actually existed, he probably wasnt the one who wrote this text” comment.


                  • Off the OJ October 15, 2012, 6:55 PM

                    “You can continue to defy my ridiculous expectation that comments made in response to my posts shouldnt undermine the basis of Orthodox Judaism for the sole purpose of promoting your sort of antagonism and be met with summary deletion of your posts.”

                    It’s called trolling my good sir.

                    • DRosenbach October 15, 2012, 7:53 PM

                      I always thought that if Judaism believed in trolls, it would endorse feeding them along with the widows and orphans.

  • Dan October 13, 2012, 6:09 PM

    What harm were you saving her from?

    • DRosenbach October 14, 2012, 8:04 AM

      That’s a great question.

      My first response doesn’t directly address your question but rather addresses the basis for your question: does the information I give my daughter need to be something that prevents harm? Recently, my daughter (and my 4 year old son) and I talked about the 7 species of bears — will my daughter be saved from harm because she knows that the Kodiak bear is not a separate species but merely a subspecies of the brown bear? No — we’re just talking to increase her knowledge base. So too, I sense that you’re loading the discussion by asking such a question.

      But to respond directly, I had a conversation 2 months ago with my daughter about chlorophyll and a literal understanding of the Genesis account of creation puts chlorophyll (day 3) before the emergence of the sun (day 4), which amounts to silliness. We can’t be silly, now can we?

      R’ Slifkin recently had a nice piece about a Hasidic rabbi and his newfound intrigue for speciation, etc. which fits in nicely with this topic — this rabbi has been fed silliness for decades and now he’s wondering things about the world at the age of I’m assuming something about 40 when, really, these things should have been covered no later than 5th grade.

      • Engineer October 14, 2012, 8:17 AM

        I think that the first question really meant: “what are your educational goals?”

        The answer seems to be that you want to provide your grade-school kids with a type of understanding that the Rambam believed was suitable only for the mature intellectual elite.

        • DRosenbach October 14, 2012, 9:06 AM

          Naturally, I consider myself among the intellectual elite and expect, to some extent, to expose my daughter to this manner of instruction from the get-go, albeit with a simplification similar to that applied to any field of study for a child.

          • Engineer October 14, 2012, 9:18 AM

            There are a couple of kehilot in the Baka area of Yerushalayim where these types of views are not uncommon. These kehilot have a lot of kids that are datlash (ie. “OTD”).

            I know someone who taught his oldest son in a heavily academic manner and just assumed that the kid would feel – as he did – that it has not bearing on how they should live. The kid went along with it all til he was in college, but then became majorly anti-religious and also an anticircumcision activist. That’s something to think about at least.

            Tangentially I also disagree with you on the notion of mashal and “silliness” etc.

            • DRosenbach October 14, 2012, 10:42 AM

              I’m sure many people — and perhaps most specifically, this Hasidic rabbi’s parents — will disagree with my definition of silliness, but we needn’t all maintain a narrowly-defined uniformity.

              And while anecdotes may prove to be poignant, they are largely beside the point. Even two minds subjected to an identical sequence of experiences will react differently, and so it can be correctly assumed that a 7 year old female with different parents living in what I assume to be a different city in a different year attending a different school with a different group of friends, etc. — basically, given that my daughter’s situation is entirely unlike the situation that your friend’s son experienced other than this one point, the trajectory of her desire to remain within the confines of orthodoxy (with a little “o,” as well as Orthodoxy with a big “O”) as she ages physically, psychologically and emotionally cannot be directly inferred from that of your friend’s son. But I do think about it every day and sincerely appreciate your concerns. In fact, your thoughtful comments are something I look forward to in response to future posts — please come back and do so often. 🙂

      • Dan October 14, 2012, 9:22 AM

        1. Ok, fair point. I think I was just thinking about the potential harms from telling her; viz. that she will think her teachers are nuts, and her friends will think she is an apikores, and she will feel like she is reading a different torah than the rest of her class.

        2. It is silly if G-d created chlorophyl a day before creating the sun? Really? Gimme break.

        3. Nu nu. I know people who go through their whole life and don’t know there is a word “speciation”, and I may have also if you hadn’t just written that. And I’m doing just fine in life.

        • Dan October 14, 2012, 9:53 AM

          I should add: My question was point 2. Your response is that it is silly. I’m asking what the harm is, and silly does not obviously answer that.

        • DRosenbach October 14, 2012, 11:31 AM

          1. What you say is of some concern. But I’m a fairly strong minded individual and will suffer the foolishness of my daughter being raised by her teachers, only to swoop in to debrief her when she’s 18.

          Last year, my daughter came home with a pseudo-art project for Parshas Toldos related to Jacob and his bean stew. She showed me this piece of construction paper on which pictures had been drawn and to which paper cut-outs and actual beans had been glued. Instantly, I noticed that the beans were of the kidney variety, which completely misses the point of the significance of the bean stew according to Rashi (see commentary to Genesis 25:30, dibur hamaschil “min ha’adom ha’adom”). Now, I’m quite familiar with the general yeshiva approach of applying Rashi’s commentary as though it’s what the biblical verse actually says/means, and so I was disturbed. Either don’t give the kids beans to glue onto their art project or buy the right beans! After my wife calmed me down with soothing words of restraint, I took the initiative of explaining the issue with my daughter. But I instructed her not to report back to her morah.

          Most parents probably didn’t even notice and if they did, didn’t care. I’m not most parents. But I think it’s important for the kids not to go back to the teachers and tell them that abba or tati said that they’re wrong.

          As part of our family’s pre-Yom Kippur halacha review, I told my daughter of the 5 special YK prohibitions, including that mommies and abbas may not give each other hugs and kisses. After she asked if that meant that children also can’t get hugs and kisses and suggested that I give mommy lots of hugs and kisses right before YK begins to make up for all the missed hugs and kisses the next day, she comes home from school about a week later and tells my wife that the morah said that eating and drinking are two separate things and didn’t mention the hugs and kisses. When she raised her hand to clarify, the morah reportedly explained that since there are no mommies or abbas in the class, they would not be discussing this point, all of my goals were met. My daughter gets to learn about Torah and Judaism in school while my wife and I are busy making millions of dollars as dentists but at the same time, we are not beholden to the distortions — necessary or no — that the teachers impose on my daughter’s knowledge base.

          In a sense, it’s no different than a science teacher referring to broad-leaf trees as deciduous and conifers as evergreen, when anyone who reads Wikipedia can easily see that that’s merely a generalization, and to be more specific, there are quite a number of plants (such as bamboo, and even trees, such as eucalyptus) that are both broad-leaved and evergreen. Teachers have to distort because they can’t always be as specific and expansive as they ought to, and I consider the shortcomings of yeshivishness no different, because as Engineer mentioned above, a thorough explanation to the top 5% of the students will certainly amount to a misunderstanding of the lower 5% and someone is sure to go off the derech, whether it be the derech of Torah or botony.

          2. Is it really silly. I think it is. It’s silly to debunk our current model for the development of the universe and life on earth because a few of the earliest chapters of the Torah seem, at first blush, to be giving a literal account of how things came to be the way they are today. Judaism maintains that God gave us the Torah, but it also maintains that He gave us the natural universe, which contains the set of rules and regulations the observation, evaluation and calculation of which we generally refer to as science. Is the Torah more compelling than science? I’d say that it is not.

          3. I completely understand that the vast majority of people are not as intellectual and educated as the top 2%. But the fact that they don’t ask the questions doesn’t mean that they don’t exist and doesn’t mean that answers should not be available to the 2%. Which is why it’s very fitting that all of the girls in my daughter’s class don’t come home to my house every evening. As far as this conversation goes, I’m including myself in the proverbial upper 2% and I intend for my daughter to be in that group as well.

          There’s an interesting Wikipedia article dealing with the so called arthropod head problem. Perhaps 50% of observant Jews will read the first sentence and have to quit reading because they’re already lost due to the terms ‘segmental composition’, ‘arthropod groups’, and ‘evolutionarily related’. Another 40% will continue on, but will soon decide that if the first sentence made no sense to them and now the second sentence is just as meaningless to them because of the terms ‘crustaceans’ and ‘chelicerates’ and ‘fossil forms’ and ‘exceptionally preserved Cambrian faunas’, it truly is time to stop reading. With each successive sentence that brings the reader one step closer to understanding exactly what the arthropod head problem is all about, less and less readers will be able to appreciate the problem and more and more will decide to opt out. Which is fine — I think I got half way through it before deciding that I’d read enough to understand the basic structure of the problem and that if I ever had sufficient down time or needed to know more, I can always return to read it again.

          It’s an amazing subject, but in a sense, you’re suggesting that the article be deleted. There is no arthropod head problem because there are no arthropods in the sense that scientists use the term — there are no more closely-related organisms as opposed to more distantly related organisms, and so there cannot be any questions related to the manner which they appear to be related or to the manner in which they appear to be related via route X that conflict to route Y.

          Does this make you ignorant? Sure. Ignorance has such a bad rap — I’m somewhat ignorant of many things and largely ignorant of many other things. When the topic of current ignorance interests me, I seek to enlighten myself. But when it doesn’t, such as related to the order to precedence in the United Kingdom, I may exhibit a temporary interest and read an article about it, but I don’t seem to retain any of the information and if it should become an issue of great importance, I’d really have nothing to add in a conversation or debate. I’m fine with being ignorant about this, and you might be fine with being ignorant about the arthropod head problem. But for you to say that the arthropod head problem doesn’t exist — that I cannot endorse. And you might be able to mow lawns or fight fires as a blue collar worker or even settle tax lien disputes or arbitrate divorce settlements as a white collar worker without even knowing what an arthropod is let alone agree that they possess a head problem. but that’s not defense against maintaining a position that this information is worthless. For those seeking to observe the working universe and make as much sense of it as possible, this sort of information is very, very important.

          • Dan October 14, 2012, 6:19 PM

            Slow down; I didn’t go to college.

            As to number 2: Yes, I thought that was what you meant; I was responding to the notion that chlorophyll somehow proves that. If G-d did create the world in 6 days, it is not strange that he would have created chlorophyll before the sun. After all, sometimes I make my pizza sauce before I lay out the dough.

            As to number 3: I agree, knowing stuff is good. I have no idea what an arpothorod is, or if it is different than arpachshad.

            • DRosenbach October 14, 2012, 7:33 PM

              There is no good reason to think that God created the world in 6 days other than perhaps a mandate of a literal reading of the verses, and it is fairly well established that while we take the Torah quite seriously, we certainly don’t take it literally.

              R’ Saadia Gaon famously listed 4 scenarios in which it is not only permissible to take the Torah’s words figuratively but in which it is imperative to do so, for doing so will give us the reality but failing to do so will result in falsehood. And one of these scenarios is when our intelligence reveals to us that such an assertion is bogus but meant merely as a metaphor. The example he gives is of Deuteronomy 4:24 — God is there described as an eish ochla (a “consuming fire”). Perhaps the Israelites of the wilderness were unaware, but by the time R’ Saadia was around in the early 9th century (some 2200 years later), it was quite apparent to all that fire is a natural phenomenon of rapid oxidation resulting in combustion and not some heavenly entity of other worldliness. Perhaps it was the nighttime fires leading them through the wilderness that threw them off, of even the alter pyre of the Mishkan that led them to believe that God manifested as fire, but by the time R’ Saadia Gaon came on the scene, he took it for granted that everyone accepted this verse as a metaphor, and so he chose it as the prototype of this second of four examples of when to understand biblical verses figuratively.

              The Meiri makes a comment that while the verses state that the sun was created on Day 4, it was really created on Day 1 and only installed into its place on Day 4 — otherwise, from where would the light come? It almost seems like such a silly comment — I mean, do we really need the Meiri to ask where the light of Day 1 came from? Most anyone could have thought of that question — but it took the Meiri to endorse a figurative understanding of the verse’s assertion that the sun was created on Day 4 in order for people to say it out loud.

              Now we’re faced with hundreds more years of science — and that may be perceived by many as a dirty word, so let’s just call it observation of the natural world. So now we’re faced with many hundreds more years of observation of the natural world, and it’s really much more than than if you’re adjusting for inflation, so to speak, because a lot more is observed in 1 year of 2012 observation than was observed in 1 year of even year 1650 observation, let alone year 950 observation. Our powers of investigation, computation and every other action performed in the quest of scientific endeavor are so vastly superior to those of even 200 years ago that taking R’ Saadia Gaon at his word reveals a whole lot potential for applying figurativity to the Torah, and by this I mean the opening chapters of Genesis.

              So one can insist that the opening chapters of Genesis are to be taken literally and, as you speculate, it won’t actually make much of a working difference in most people’s lives. But for those who want to know stuff, as you also, say, rejecting the potentially absurd in favor of the potentially sensical when the only obstacle in the way are non-mitzvah containing chapters which based on the works of numerous Torah giants of hundreds of years ago would be plausibly explained in non-literal fashion seems like a good idea to many, including me.

              • Dan October 14, 2012, 8:14 PM

                Frankly, as far as I believe, it goes like this:

                1. G-d created the world, in some sense. Either actually created what we see ex nihilo, or created some precursor ex nihilo which evolved into what we see. We know this because something had to be created ex nihilo because it could not have always existed infinitely in the past.

                2. It is not harder or easier for G-d to create that first atom or big bang, than to simply create the whole world.

                3. Once we are bending science by believing in some creation, there is no reason to think that we have to believe in the maximum amount of science possible. For example, it is not strange to say that G-d didn’t just create a particle, but just went ahead and made the the whole galaxy and didn’t force that to evolve.

                The only theory I have heard to prove that G-d must have created only the original particle, and then evolved the rest, is that why would G-d make it look like evolution if it wasn’t.

                Even if I accede to that question, it is just that–a question. The fact that I don’t know the answer doesn’t mean there cannot be an answer.

                But, I think it fits generally with G-d’s way of running the world so as to leave room for people who wish to be blind to pretend He does not exist. The same way we don’t see G-d in everyday life. If there was no theory of evolution, people could not but believe in G-d.

                4. So does that mean I have to disbelieve evolution happened? No. But it does mean that I don’t see any more reason to think it happened than didn’t. It wouldn’t shake my belief if it did happen, and it doesn’t help if it didn’t.

                So if my daughter came home and the morah taught your way, I would not care much. And if she taught my way, also fine.

                But if you disagree and think it so important to believe your way, then have fun with it. I only engaged you here to wonder why you cared so much one way or the other.

                • DRosenbach October 14, 2012, 9:05 PM

                  1. Right off the bat, Dan, I sense some crossed wires in your comments.

                  We know this because something had to be created ex nihilo because it could not have always existed infinitely in the past.

                  Neither I nor you know anything of this sort. A bunch of people who are fairly familiar with the rules of biology, chemistry and physics and who have spent decades studying the universe as a continuation of other people who were similarly familiar with these rules and who also spent decades studying the universe (but who have since died) tell us such a thing and because we can’t spend our lives making sure that we know everything we know because we’ve discovered their truth firsthand, we accept what they say.

                  In the same sense, you ought to also take science’s word that the universe is billions of years old and that life did not begin 6000 years ago with 2 humans and a talking snake.

                  I don’t mean this to be mean, but frankly, Dan, no one cares what you believe. Just like no one cares what I believe. Beliefs are so arbitrary and often so silly, and that’s true beliefs. More often, people say they believe something when really they’re just conjecturing — I believe that Mom wanted me to pick up her dry cleaning, but I could be wrong.

                  It’s for this reason that I hardly ever use the word. You can state something, and you can have an opinion, and you can argue for or against a proposition, but once you say you believe something, there tends of be a real loss of understanding between parties as to what that even means. And even when everyone understands, who really cares what we believe, because perhaps we believe silly things, or wonderful things for silly reasons.

                  Why do you believe that God created the world? Perhaps because that’s what you’ve been told for so long that you feel you must comply. If you accept that God exists and that he created the universe in that he created the framework for the rules of the universe, that’s no worse in complying with Judaism’s understanding that God made the world. But you didn’t expect Genesis to talk about how God structured the universe with all of the various mathematical constants such as the speed of light and acceleration due to gravity, did you? I mean, people didn’t even know these things existed, so how could the Torah talk about them.

                  2. Difficulty is a finite experience that is projected on the infinite in the statement you made above and we therefore ought not refer to the limitations God places upon himself in terms of easiness or difficulty — when we do, we invariably make analogies to old or infirm people having difficulty getting their coats on without help or little puppies having a difficult time trying to get out of a box.

                  Would you say that God has a difficult time performing a miracle? A miracle — and let’s define that as an apparent violation of nature, shall we — is difficult for God to perform because the world has parameters and for God to violate those parameters is something He tends not to do. Does He refrain because he can’t? Does he refrain because He shouldn’t? He refrains because that’s the world He created — a miracle-less world other than those very far and few between periods of miracle-fullness. If vinegar burned like oil and did so for 8 days at a time when the vinegar should only last for 1 day and the smoke from this vinegar candle formed a straight, unwavering column of smoke directly to the heavens regardless of atmospheric conditions, together with all sorts of other miraculous things like talking donkeys and visible angels and gaping pits that swallow people and jugs that endlessly pour out oil and people rising from the dead and so on and so forth, the world we live in would cease to, well, be the world we live in.

                  We live in a world in which the laws of the universe matter. You may not jump out the window from the 24th floor and then complain that you don’t appreciate the results and you want a do over. It doesn’t matter if you’re sorry for severing your fingers from your hand — the fingers are off. We’ver figured out to some degree how to reattach them, but that’s fingers. I don’t think you can sever someone’s head and put it back on — those are the rules. Leaopards chase, kill and consume antelope and not the other way around. Sure, all things are possible if you take an Alice in Wonderland approach to imaginging the possibilities, but the universe has set ground rules that must apply at all times and in all places except those times and places when the rules of the universe mysteriously allow for the rules we thought ought to apply to no longer apply, such as in rocket ships traveling as fast as we can get them to go.

                  So is it easy for God to make a sperm penetrate an egg and trigger a multifaceted chain reaction that ultimately leads to an independant organism 2, 4, 6, 9 or 22 months later, depending on the species? And is it hard for God to make water rise in visible droplets from a lake and reverse-rain back into the clouds? It’s ridiculous to speak of these as hard or easy — rather, the former are the processes of nature while the latter are not, and generally speaking, God maintains the universe according to the rules He’s set forth.

                  3. I do not mean by what I am about to say that I understand all and you understand none, but what you’re saying is just so silly. There’s no reason to suspect that anybody before the year 1500 had anything intelligent to say about the origins of the universe, unless, perhaps, one believes in a God that gave this information out. Judaism maintains that there is such a God, but not that he gave this information out. The Torah makes no mention of dinosaurs, but that doesn’t preclude their existence, for the Torah also doesn’t make mention of penguins. Other than in places where man has brought penguins for his enjoyment (culinary or otherwise), penguins do not exist north of the Equator. As such, a Torah given to people who did not and would not for quite some time venture south of the Equator would have no need for mention of penguins which would not impact their lives because of the spacial distance or dinosaurs because of their temporal distance.

                  And there’s no bending of science — science doesn’t bend. That’s what science means — the fact that there is science is because science doesn’t bend. And scientists, who might be largely atheistic, do not discuss miracles because they focus not on apparent violations of nature but on the conformation of nature. If we arrive at density by dividing mass by volume on Tuesday and Wednesday and Thursday, we propose that it will again be arrived at by doing the same on Friday. And when scientists — or “studious observers of the natural world” to remove the dirtiness of the term science — make rigorous experimentation and find similar results following similar antecedent actions, they remark how the guiding principles must then be a law of nature. And then it becomes a law until such time that the law is shown to not be the case, either all the time (and the poor fools were just measuring incorrectly or they perhaps just kept forgetting to wash the beakers of their previous residues) or some of the time in certain conditions — and then they remark how there’s not only a law but a counter law, such as Markovnikov’s rule and the times when it does not apply, termed anti-Markovnikov reactions.

                  Your comments are just so tainted with an erroneously conceived frame of reference that it’s difficult — yes difficult — to really respond to them. You say you haven’t gone to college — that doesn’t really matter because college is largely fluff. But you should really read a good book, and I don’t mean Pride and Prejudice. Something that will enlighten you. What I can think of off the top of my head is Slifkin’s Challenge of Creation, and everytime you come across something he says about science that you are not entirely familiar with, underline it and make a list of all the underlines per chapter and then go read about each one on Wikipedia. Then go back and reread the chapter armed with the information necessary to properly weigh his, well, forget about his arguments. I mean, you need this information just to be able to understand what he’s proposing vs. what used to be accepted thousands of years ago vs. hundreds of years ago and then what’s accepted today. You have a toolbox but it seems to be empty of the tools you need to appropriately tackle these ideas.

                  4. See explanation for #3 — it applies here as well.

  • Critic October 13, 2012, 6:28 PM

    Interesting take on the age of the universe cosmologicaly and biblicaly.


  • The Other Mike October 13, 2012, 7:33 PM

    This Shabbat, when my son (8) asked about the discrepency between what scientists say (he said from monkeys, I didn’t dispute the fine points), I told him that the first verse is a close approximation of what science says (he pointed out the luminaries and plants out of order), but told him the second verse is a legend, but one with useful lessons.

    Also, he thought Cain was just awful and I told him that these evil generations showed what people were like before they learned to live by the commandments. He then pointed out that Cain had never been told not to murder. I answered with a mushy “well you’d hope that he knew it was wrong”, but there is a serious question behind this that he honestly was never told to control your jealousy and not murder.

    • DRosenbach October 14, 2012, 8:16 AM

      To be sure, the storyline leaves a lot out and so we’re not privy to anything but what the narrative highlights. Do you understand it that God spoke to Cain (Genesis 4:6) for the first time after Cain brought his offering? We find that God introduces himself to Abraham, Moses, etc., yet there is no introduction here.

      Throughout Tanach, as with most any written account other than perhaps the official minutes of an important meeting, one must assume that there are gaps and only the highlights are filled in. Just like how Jane Austen does not mention every meal Elizabeth Bennet ever had, and we are not to assume that she ate only when it is mentioned, so too we are not to assume that the only time Jacob ever cooked beans was when the Torah makes mention of it (Genesis 25:29).

      So although the text makes no mention of it, we are to assume that God spoke to Cain prior to this event as well as after this event and that we are merely being informed of a peppering of the discussions they had.

  • Engineer October 14, 2012, 4:02 AM

    I told him that the first verse is a close approximation of what science says (he pointed out the luminaries and plants out of order), but told him the second verse is a legend, but one with useful lessons.

    A better answer is that a) the Torah is not a science book b) probably the parsha describes 3 steps of creation in abstract (first 3 days), and then another 3 steps of creation in actuality (last 3 days). Anyway there are many secrets as the Ramban explains. When he is older he will understand it more.

    Why do some people think that teaching your kids apikorsus is hip or cutting edge? The opposite is true ie. teaching apikorsus is just conforming to the larger culture and its superficiality.

    • DRosenbach October 14, 2012, 6:09 AM

      To respond to your comments, one must be familiar with your parameters of apikorsus, and you must then realize that a large portion of the observant Jewish populace will not agree with those parameters.

      Otherwise, throwing that term around really serves no purpose other than to trivialize actual apikorsus.

    • tesyaa October 14, 2012, 6:10 AM

      But in the frum world in which people insulate their lives, it is, indeed, nonconformist to the extreme.

      • Engineer October 14, 2012, 6:21 AM

        You’re probably right. People should try to work out all that stuff (tsnius issues also) in college or their early 20s. But I guess they might have been preoccupied with LSATs and shidduch dates.

        • tesyaa October 14, 2012, 8:16 AM

          Agree, don’t wait until your mid-40s like me to start asking questions.

          • Engineer October 14, 2012, 8:19 AM

            Except that you seem to have gone closet OTD in the end.

    • Worf October 14, 2012, 7:03 AM

      Actually, teaching apikorsus to one’s child is better than lying to them…

  • Critic October 14, 2012, 11:02 AM

    This book begins with…the Beginning. The creation of the world, the animals, and the first human beings, is described in this book. Creation is told terms that hint at much more than a simple history story. Behind every word and every grammatical nuance might lie the deepest of secrets. The stories themselves beg to be interpreted with a little more sophistication than childish “Bible stories.”
    For instance:

    The fact that man was created last could teach a few things simultaneously…

    It teaches us that man is the very purpose of creation (the “stage had to be set before the star arrived” see Rashi to Bereishis 2, 5).
    It humbles us (“even the smallest insect was here before.” Gemara Sanhedrin 38a).
    Man was created alone (i.e. we all descend from the first couple). This teaches us a few things:

    “whoever kills one soul is as though he had killed a whole world”
    No one could say “I’m more important than you, my ancestor was such and such…” because ultimately, we all descend from one source.
    The greatness of G-d. In the raw material of that single couple, there was the genetic information needed to create all of the immense variety of human life (Sanhedrin 37a).
    This book is much more than just a story book about the first murder, the first flood, the first organized rebellion against G-d, or the first generations of the Jewish people. True, there are stories about all of that and much more, but that’s not Genesis’ deepest point. This is the book about the way the world was built; its rules and purpose; its people, both great and small. This along with the Tanach as a whole is the book about G-d Himself. Everything that is ever possible to know about Him is in these pages. But it would take many lifetimes to see and learn it all. Perhaps the main goal when learning the Tanach is to overcome the simplistic grade school understanding of these great people and events and examine them for the first time through mature eyes

    • DRosenbach October 14, 2012, 11:34 AM

      That’s a wonderful attitude and more people should adopt it. Kol tuv!

      • anonymous October 14, 2012, 5:06 PM

        I got a kick out of reading your response to ‘worf’ a while back in this thread, with some choice imagined dialogue from different conversations in the blog. I had a good laugh, when I saw a recollection of our discussion about ‘the shabbos kitchen,’ and that ‘irate high school boy’ was really me, just a year or two ago (formerly known as rationalist frummie)! I like to think that I was more articulate than you claimed, but you’re probably right! Those days are long gone. Although I have some pet disagreements with many within the chareidi community (artscroll included), I officially retract my criticisms of ‘the shabbos kitchen.’ although I might not personally follow all the minhagim there, I understand that many people do, and that this english work has empowered many unaffiliated jews to take control of their jewish education. on a personal note, I just started high school, and I hope to continue to enjoy your postings and comments for many years.

        • DRosenbach October 14, 2012, 5:12 PM

          Haha — you just made my day!!

          If your parents allow, perhaps we could meet for lunch one day. I think I still have your email address.

  • Phil October 15, 2012, 8:25 AM

    I find this very interesting. This entire discussion started with just a two sentence post. As I always believed, I find the discussion that follows just as or even more interesting the the article that precedes the discussion. Good job.

    • DRosenbach October 15, 2012, 8:45 AM

      Don’t publicize this, but I had a nevuah (prophecy) that this would occur and so didn’t spend anytime working on the post.

  • BZ October 15, 2012, 9:23 AM

    I have a lot of conflicting feelings about reading the story of creation literally (I am a baal teshuva and had an ivy league education. I chose to take a course called “earth and life through time” even though I was fully observant by then. I never heard of the arthropod head problem, but I understand 4 out of the seven phrases you called out in that article). On the one hand, it is absolutely possible to construct a worldview completely consistent with the literal creation story and with all the observations to date (ok, well, not everything. Scientifically, how can light and darkness be mixed together if darkness is just the absence of light? Religiously, we know G-d doesn’t speak or see or breathe). Light can be created en route to earth such that it would appear that things millions of light years away exited millions of years ago. Fossils can be created ready made. On the other hand, as per Occam’s Razor, such a convoluted explanation is extremely unlikely. So, really, it is up to the individual how far the figurative interpretation goes and how much of it is up for debate.

    • DRosenbach October 15, 2012, 1:00 PM

      Thanks — I’ll be touching on a few of your points for this coming Noach’s post.

  • Myron Cohen October 15, 2012, 4:53 PM

    Where is Heshy?
    This is FRUM Satire.Which is a tongue in cheek look at our community.
    Not Apikorsus.
    Plenty of those angry at gd sites. This site is lighthearted.

    • DRosenbach October 15, 2012, 7:54 PM

      Heshy’s on the west coast chillin’ out max.

  • Serious or not... October 15, 2012, 5:00 PM

    I’m with Critic.

    There is a tension between those who understand the Torah literally, and those who choose instead to interpret the words of the Torah as allegory, a symbolical narrative.

    The problem with both of these understandings is that they miss the point. The Torah is not a history textbook, but its words are similarly not indirect poetic references to be understood as a child’s fable. The words of the Torah are from G-d, which means that every word has a purpose, that every letter contains a world of meaning.

    Take, for example, the very first day of creation. The section ends: And it was evening, and it was morning, the first day.


    A day is entirely arbitrary. There is no reason why a day cannot start at noon, or midnight, or sunrise or sunset. The Torah, by telling us that the first day was measured by evening and morning was not telling us a historical fact: it was telling us a spiritual truth. And what truth would this be?

    The answer, as with so much else in the Torah, is right in front of us.

    And God said: ‘Let there be light.’ And there was light.

    And God saw the light, that it was good; and God divided the light from the darkness.

    And God called the light Day, and the darkness He called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, one day.

    Light is used to see things, to understand and perceive. Light is energy – darkness is the absence of energy. And light is good.

    G-d is not telling us, in the very opening phrases of the Torah, the physics behind the creation of light. Nor is he spinning a riddle whose meaning is too deep for comprehension.

    Likewise, saying that a day starts with evening is not a statement about an underlying physical fact, and it is not impenetrable poetry.

    Instead, G-d is using the Torah, here, and everywhere else, to teach us, to tell us how to live our lives. Saying that the day is counted from evening through morning has a very simple lesson: We who follow G-d are to live every day as if morning follows evening, that light follows darkness.

    And so as we live out each day, we should see ourselves as starting in the dark, and move toward the light – toward the rise of the sun in the morning. We should grow, every day toward light, for all that it represents: truth, perception, understanding, and energy. And we should grow each day toward the light because the Torah tells us, And God saw the light, that it was good.

    Light is not merely the visible energy spectrum. Light is something we use to perceive something else. As our instruments improve, we have more light in the world – because we can see things that could not be seen before. In a way, we are bringing the world of infrared and X-rays into the visible spectrum we call light because we can now perceive those things.

    The Torah tells us that light came into the world before the sun – again, not because the Torah is a physics textbook, but so that we are not confused into seeing the sun – which is, after all, merely generating light as an agent of its Creator – as a deity in itself. Light, of all kinds and from all sources, is Good.

    • DRosenbach October 15, 2012, 8:01 PM

      Your comments are very mystically oriented — which is fine, but which are also generally not my cup of tea.

      Like I said above, the Torah is to be taken seriously even though it’s not to be taken literally. You can say all of what you just did, and someone else can say whatever it is that they like, and no one will be wrong because, in a sense, you’re not really saying anything that instrumental. It amounts to the fodder of fluffy vortlach that can might be said over at a newly dedicated ba’al tehuva’s shabbos table — which, again, is fine if that’s what you like, but just not what I go for.

      All the best!

      • Seriously? October 16, 2012, 4:59 AM

        We are talking about Bereishis – a chapter from which nobody derives Halacha, or, as you say, anything that is instrumental.

        The difference between us is that I actually respect the text, while you want to explain the Torah away as some kind of allegorical fog.

        And while you may not care for my explanation, it IS actually from the text itself. That is the north star for any biblical exegesis. Someone who reads the Torah and says that darkness is good, and light is bad, is, in fact, wrong.

        • DRosenbach October 16, 2012, 7:59 AM

          I thought it might have been you, Seriously?

          The difference you attempt to highlight is absent — rather, you label a non-literal interpretation as an allegorical fog and erroneously equate it with disrespect.

          And then you yourself confuse allegory with real life. Other than Star Wars, darkness is not no good. Darkness is a necessary entity that promotes life. It brings lower temperatures for those nocturnal organisms that cannot withstand the heat of the day and less intense conditions for some organisms who require the near absence of light of nighttime to forage, mate, etc., and gives those organisms that would otherwise be in danger of predation some cover. Even plants are referred to as nocturnal when their primary amd most effective pollinators are active during the night and they exhibit particular adaptations to this, such as muted color schemes and shifted flower opening schedules.

          For diurnal organisms, it provides a time for rest and relaxaion. Whether referring to human going out for dinner and dancing and yes, even boozing, when the offices are closed or bats roosting in their caves and barn attics, nighttime is no more or less evil than daytime — all of that is merely an allegory in the form of projection of human sentiments and personification of nature, etc.

          The Prophet (Zechariah 14:6-9) speaks of a time when there will be no darkness — light will emanate from the heavens both day and night, but this is not meant literally. For millenia, daylight has been associated with all that is good and nighttime with the opposite, but this is only because nighttime has traditionally been a time of obscurity and “demons”. You don’t have to watch a Halloween to see how spooky night is made out to be — you can just read scripture and the talmud. But that’s because man is at a disadvantage at night — we are not suitably adapted to live securely in the open woods at night. Similarly, ever-flowing springs were seen as absolute blessing for they provide fresh water without any of the dangers or inconveniences normally associated with rain — just like a kid of 2012 might envision Paradise as, to borrow from Sam Harris, a gleaming city where every soul drives a new Lexus, the ancients had nothing to be excited for but the safely of ever-daylight and unlimited fresh water — they didn’t know that lace cookies existed or they might have, like my wife does, envision overflowing platters of them along with all that water. Me — I’ll take very cold lemon Snapple or orange soda over water anyday (except for my shower — I like to take those with water). It happens to be that I called for maftir on the first day of Succos and read this portion in Zechariah for the haftarah and discussed this very point with R’ Mordechai Becher the next day.

          So light is not good and darkness is not bad — they are metaphors for good being good and bad being bad, but even that’s a metaphor, because by and large, nothing is entirely good or entirely bad.

  • Lazy Frum Guy October 16, 2012, 7:32 AM

    I talked to my 4th grader allot about these things -I tell him SOME people will feel more comfortable with taking things literally, after all if anything even the CRAZIEST things are possible if your THE supreme being -BUT, WHY would Hashen want to “fool” us by planting fossils in the ground? Science can’t explain everything on the other hand so to look at the shape of the letter bies- it means we should go forward, and the reason why the first parshah is even there is to give us emunah, and to understand a little bit about WHY hashem made the world for us and what our role is.

    • DRosenbach October 16, 2012, 8:13 AM

      I sense that you speak of science as though it has an agenda. That may be how it seems according to its majority proponents, but that’s not really what it is.

      Just read the Wikipedia article on science (or even just the opening paragraph) and you’ll see that a lot of the reservations you have — such as “science can’t explain everything” are not inadequancies as much as they are restrictive protections against the kind of absurdism that some religionists propose. Science is merely a systematic pursuit and collection of facts about the world that have been tested, verified and noted down for the next guy so that he or she mustn’t start at the drawing board, so to speak.

      This whole thing about the letter aleph being the first in the Hebrew alphabet but the beis being the first in the Torah is exceedingly mystical, and if that’s what keeps you going, you’re no worse off than R’ Akiva, who was a great scholar indeed. But realistically, it’s quite dubious to base one’s perspective on the purpose of the universe on a non-universally accepted midrashic interpretation of the first letter of the text, and the same goes for gematria and the like.

      If that’s what you like, go ahead. But it’s odd for those who endorse such explanations to denounce those who reject them in favor of more authoritative sources.

      • Lazy Frum Guy October 18, 2012, 9:21 AM

        fair points but I was explaining this to a FOURTH GRADER and also one that will repeat what he says in school to his teachers and to his friends and Chariedi-ist cousins. His school is fairly progressive, but I jus give him what he needs to know since he also READS like 15 books a week and ask me questions about the stars and if the world. He is a smart kid an I take him to museums and give him lots of books and encourage his curiosity, BUT we do believe hashem made everything and the MEANING of it all itself is beyond what most adults can figure out.

        As for Adgenda: both science AND contemporary Frum people have them. on the one side you have secularist rationalist post age of reason think and on the other people who enjoy BLIND FAITH and would rather what happened in the last three centuries in terms of discovery didn’t. The there is Schroeder’s book, which to a non science trained person like myself was a good thought provoking read, but whenever I mention it EVERYONE jumps on me from both sides.

        Liking the mystical side of things seems like an alternative to the DRY “literal for idiots” dogma or the “all religiose people are stupid” dogma by people who also are likely to like “bible criticism”.

        • DRosenbach October 18, 2012, 8:43 PM

          (In case you’re unfamiliar with internet etiquette, writing in all caps is equivalent to shouting.)

          Listen — you can’t have it both ways. You can’t expect to give your children the facts of life while simultaneously keeping them in teh dark. As I see it, you have three options: you can explain it the way it is or you can fabricate socially acceptable untruths or you can opt to straddle the fence, obscuring the details but giving a fairly accurate overview until such time as they are mature enough to grasp the rest in small increments as time goes on.

          But there’s a reason why fourth graders don’t play poker — if you choose either the first or the last, you kids are bound to make comments to someone at sometime about something you told them. And “Hashem made everything” is a very simplistic way of looking at things — I mean, those are actually the lyrics of an Uncle Moishy song! If you’re interested in raising informed children, you should let them know early on that kittens come from cats and avocados from avocado trees, not from God. God has what appears to be a very indirect hand in all of this, and you can subscribe to whatever mystical approach that you see fit within the gamut of acceptable hashkafic perspectives on divine intervention in the natural world, but God did not make the keyboard I am typing on and God didn’t make the eggs I just made into an omelet.

          And as for agenda, just ignore it. Of course nearly everyone has an agenda — only in the movies and in all the made up quotes supposedly stated by famous people you find on Facebook does it seem like people are so altruistic and selfless. But that doesn’t change the observation. Sure, there’s publication bias, but science — understood as the “observation of the natural world” — is pure and blind to bias. You may have to familiarize yourself with it to be able to clear away the cobwebs of deceitful misdirection, but it’s there for the taking.

          I haven’t read Schroeder because of Slifkin’s comments about his distorted arguments. And I largely steer clear of mysticism because once you start piling on the symbolism, it never ends.

          I tell my daughter the way it is. I told

          • Lazy Frum Guy October 19, 2012, 6:41 AM

            “(In case youre unfamilair [sic] with internet etiquette, writing in all caps is equivalent to shouting.)”
            -REALLY? I sort of have a tech tech related job doing that new-fangled internet “stuff” they call it UI design. Let’s not get too sensitive. I need too read all you have said -since you have much vested knowledge and time spent on the subject I need to go over it carefully. To consider all you are saying, though I do find it somewhat condescending that you wish to reduce my point of view to uncle Moishy’s Level. I suppose you are used to having people treat you a certain way that I detect a level of hostility and are SOOO adverse to -ghasp- CAPS.

            • DRosenbach October 19, 2012, 11:56 AM

              You don’t need me to reduce your view to Uncle Moishy level because it’s already there.

              • Anonymous October 22, 2012, 9:00 AM

                Thank you ‘Dr’ actually a dentist to be specific. I think it’s funny when someone gets a set of credentials an they act like they apply universally, like when Chomsky who has a specialty in linguistics plays the experts in political activism. Or some MD in any community who makes allot of money just likes to act they know everything. I think the confusion in this threat is how to talk with children at different levels not how we debate with peers. Sticks and stones.

                • DRosenbach October 22, 2012, 12:35 PM

                  1) I don’t disagree

                  2) D is the first letter of my first name — it’s merely a coincidence that my initials spell out “Dr.” and I bring up the fact that I’m a dentist only to make references to what I know best. If I were a contractor, I would make foundation laying references and if I were a baker, I’d choose examples related to flour and baking pans.

  • Catholic Mom October 16, 2012, 7:48 AM

    “Like I said above, the Torah is to be taken seriously even though its not to be taken literally”

    Well, there you have it. Here’s the problem. If you teach someone “the Bible is to be taken seriously because it is literally the truth” that works fine as long as they believe it is literally the truth. Keep them out of college, do the Amish thing and keep them out of high school, etc. and you’re good to go. But the more education they get, the more than are going to see that the OT at least cannot be literally reconciled with scientific knowledge. Therefore, they lose faith. If you want your children to retain the faith and still get a high-level scientific education, you need to start setting them up right from the beginning with the concept of “the Bible is to be taken seriously because it is God speaking to us, but it is not to be taken literally.” This is, in a nutshell, the Catholic approach to the entire OT. This is why you don’t see Catholics trying to force creationism on school districts. Whether or not this approach is actually consistent with and acceptable to Orthodox Judaism, however, is something I really don’t know anything about.

    • DRosenbach October 16, 2012, 8:16 AM

      Great to see you again, CM! Look at that — you have the same initials as Heshy’s wife!

      • Catholic Mom October 16, 2012, 8:36 AM

        Thank you — I’ve been working full time lately. What a drag. It totally cuts into your blogging time. Theoretically it means I can dump more kid-related stuff on my husband except, of course, that he doesn’t actually do it. Still…they do give you money which no one does for a day of running yourself ragged at home. 🙂

  • Mel October 16, 2012, 8:28 AM

    I am confused with the argument for taking this Parsha literally. I am not aware of anyone believing the snake was superior to other animals and the only creature other than man, prior to the sin of eating from the tree of knowledge that could speak. The sin involved the snake, the man and the woman. If they were the ones punished why, after the sin, do we not have the horse, the donkey or your seven specious of bears talking? Why can the parrot speak and not the lion?

    • DRosenbach October 16, 2012, 9:11 AM

      I don’t understand your question.

      I am confused with the argument for taking this Parsha literally.

      Alright — that’s your thesis statement.

      I am not aware of anyone believing the snake was superior to other animals and the only creature other than man, prior to the sin of eating from the tree of knowledge that could speak.

      Alright — that’s your premise. No confusion yet.

      The sin involved the snake, the man and the woman.

      Another premise. I still detect no confusion.

      If they were the ones punished why, after the sin, do we not have the horse, the donkey or your seven specious of bears talking?

      We do not have talking horses, donkeys or bears. Is that a problem based on your premises as stated above? Should we have talking animals in general, or these types of organisms in particular? Sorry, I’m lost.

      Why can the parrot speak and not the lion?

      The proverbial parrot cannot speak but merely mimics sounds. It mimics the sound of a creaking door just the same as it does the sound of the word “four” — so when you train your parrot to mimic the sound of the sord “four” after you present it, in front of an audience, with the question, “Alright, Polly, what’s 2 + 2?” it’s not that the parrot is speaking. The novelty is in that tables and chairs do not respond, and cats and dogs might respond but not with a voice, whereas you can train a parrot to appear to not only understand your verbal query but respond in time after having solved your puzzle. But parrots are not solving anything. You might as well have taped some piece of cardboard to the wall with numbers on the hidden surfaces and then somehow rig the wall contraption so that when you tap hard the flap falls revealing the number 1, and when you tap lightly, a flap falls revealing the number 2 and when you tap twice a flap falls to reveal the number 3, and so on and so forth. Then you invite your friends over and suddenly you ask the wall a question and when it fails to respond, you give it you (secretly specified) tap and voila, your wall can do math. But it’s not really doing math any more than your parrot is when you train it to respond to verbal commands with what appears to be verbal responses from it’s stored lexicon of what appears to be a vocabulary.

      There are some talking birds that can even use words or phrases in context, but that’s an issue with learning, not of speech. It’s no different than a dog having learning to fetch your paper when you sit down to breakfast and your slippers when you sit down at the television — it just happens to be that parrots and other birds issue what appears to be speech that amazes both you, me and most everyone else. Sea lions and dolphins are probably just as if not more sensitive to verbal or physical commands, it’s just that they either don’t have the syrinx bird or vocal cord structure neccesary or other anatomic entity or physiologic process that allows humans to speak — not to mention the higher order braid function, as it’s commonly referred to. Check this out about the unique square-shaped vocal cords of big cats that lets them roar.

      The purported sin of the snake, taken literally or figuratively. In fact, snakes don’t even have vocal cords, which is perhaps why they speak in that terribly misunderstood parseltoungue. Check this out for details.

      • Mel October 16, 2012, 11:51 AM

        I think you missed my point. Before the sin it is stated the snake spoke to Eve, and the snake was no different and not superior to other animals. After the sin the snake was punished and could no longer speak. I find this encounter hard to be taken literally when no other animal, other than man, can have an intelligent conversation. If what occurred is to be taken literally I would think that after the sin all animals, or at least most, would be able to speak other than the snake. The fact that this is not the case, and I do not believe G-d punished all of the animal kingdom for the sin of the snake, makes it hard for me to believe a snake was able to speak in the first place (before the sin).

        • DRosenbach October 16, 2012, 6:25 PM

          You’re right — I thought you were asking an abstract question. Rather, you’re attempting to analyze the narrative in a rigorously logical manner.

          To really do so, we must first set some ground rules. Are we incorporating, say, Rashi’s commentary as though it’s as authoritative as the verses? How about the comments made by the Talmud? And what about Rashi’s comments on the Talmud? Since it’s quite obvious to anyone who takes the Torah seriously that the verses themselves cannot serve as a standalone source of information, I’d be inclined to say that the text is largely worthless without the talmud. Even then, who can understand the text of the Torah or the Talmud without the battery of rabbinically accepted commentators who came on the scene after the close of the talmudic canon, including the very early (savoraim and geonim), early (rishonim), late (acharonim) and contemporary (the start and end of this category is most certainly controversial, but for purposes of discussion like this, let’s just say that anyone born after 1800 is considered contemporary and not an acharon. This would put sages such as R’ Jonathan Eybeschutz, R’ Jacob Emden and the Chida into the category of acharonim, while those such as the Chazon Ish and R’ Samson Raphael Hirsch would be contemporaries — but this is largely meaningless because the date I chose was arbitrary.)

          So let’s say we take what Rashi says as authoritative. If we also take what Maimonides as authoritative, what happens when they clash? Well, we can’t very well have historical events having happened in two opposing ways? You’d have to decide how to deal with issues such as these.

          Moreover, we’d have to assume that, as explained above, the events and conversations included in the text (and the Talmud and the commentators) do not represent a comprehensive narrative of all events and conversations that occurred.

          After figuring that out, you will have a rough estimate of the ground rules in effect for your analysis. And let’s for this discussion skip almost immediately to the narrative of the events in the Garden of Eden — your rigorous analysis, however, will have to return to many issues we’re skipping, such as the verses’ claim of some sort of a canopy (raki’ah) that exists between the waters above and the waters below (Genesis 1:6-8), as well as the issue of the two great lights (Genesis 1:16).

          In verse 1:27, it states that man and woman were created together. In verse 2:18, it states that God saw that man was alone and determined to make a mate for him. The verses then recount how the animals were made (2:19-20) but the man could find no mate. Notwithstanding the reversal of the sequence of creation (initially animals were created first, and now it seems that man was created first), did God really think that man could have a meaningful relationship with an animal? Sure, we engage in human-animal relationships related to work (the ox that pulls the plow and the horse that pulls the carriage) and play (the cats, dogs and goldfish that populate out homes with us), but that’s not what this was all about. Did man copulate with the animals and wait for offspring? It must not have been sexual intercourse that man found impossible, but rather, he saw that, except for the generally rare exhibition of such extreme sexual dimorphism in the animal kingdom, males and females of a species appear pretty much the same, but he could not find a female version of himself. God must have realized this, so this was probably a ploy to get man to realize it by himself. There was probably also some conversation to this end that the verses apparently omit.

          So God splits man into male and female and then we have this snake and, as Rashi puts it, he covets the woman and wants man dead so he can have her to himself. Already, we see that terms we are familiar with, such as man and snake, are not used here in the same sense as we use them. And this is not just because we generally don’t use the term man to refer to a hermaphroditic man-woman, because Rashi states that man had two faces. So it’s really that the story discusses something that we have no idea what it is, just like we have no idea what the jabberwocky is. In your mind, then, you must exchange the term man with jabberwocky until he’s split into a man (which we henceforth presume to know what we’re referring to) and a woman.

          The same holds true for the snake. Snakes are reptiles, and while all reptiles possess a single orifice called a cloaca through which urinary, defacatory and reproductive materials pass, most reptiles do possess a copulatory organ. Snakes generally have twin hemipenes which are maintained in an inverted fashion until copulation, when they are everted from the cloacal vent and used to penetrate the females cloacal vent (check out this photo of anaconda hemipenes, although, granted, we don’t know how large this specimen is). Now you don’t need me to explain to you the difficulty involved with suggesting that a male snake could potentially engage in physical intercourse with a human female, but the Torah does one better than that — it suggests that a male snake lusted after the woman and had intentions of doing this. Snakes as we know them decidedly do not lust after much, and certainly not female humans in a sexual nature. Put together all the rest of the things the commentators say about what the snake had in mind (R’ Samson Raphael Hirsch has some astounding things to say) and what we have here is our second example of a fallacy of four terms. Just like the verses’ man doesn’t coincide with what we mean when we say man until at least the time he was cleaved of the woman, so too, the verses’ snake doesn’t coincide with what we mean by snake. It doesn’t matter that the verses then go on to say that the snake was punished and as a result seems to then appear something like the snakes we now have, because that’s some miraculous event that changes the course of the universe. Acquired traits are just that — they are acquired by an individual and not passed on to offspring. If we cut the tail off 50 generations of rats, the tails of the 51st generation are no shorter than the tails of the initial generation because we haven’t affected the gametes. So too, taking a snake and doing things to it in a miraculous fashion that now makes it crawl on the ground and eat dust and whatever else doesn’t affect it’s gametes, and neither does splitting the jabberwocky into a male and a female change the gametes of the jabberwocky. And so, not to mention all the other problems we now have in attempting to take this all as a historical narrative, we now have a second jabberwocky — this snake before the sin. The verse calls it a snake, but it has nothing to do with what we call a snake. And then we have 2 more jabberwockys because it’s said that after the sin, human females would suffer labor pains and men would have to work — in a sense, then, the pre-sin man and woman are not what we refer to when we use those terms. Isn’t labor universally a difficult thing? Even though animals don’t ask for epidurals, is it not just as traumatic for them? Perhaps not psychologically because they suffer from what we might project onto them as a muted psychological profile, but I’d speculate that labor is painful for animals — so we’ve also got to account for that, too, because there was some miraculous form of intervention after the sin. So here’s the tally so far:

          Jabberwocky A = Adam/Eve as a single unit
          Jabberwocky B = Adam after split but before the punishment
          Jabberwocky C = Eve after split but before the punishment
          Jabberwocky D = Snake before the punishment
          Jabberwocky E = All other organisms?
          Man = Adam after the punishment
          Woman = Eve after the punishment
          Snake = Snake after the punishment
          All other animals = All other animals after the punishment

          So back to your question: Before the sin it is stated the snake [jabberwocky D] spoke to Eve [jabberwocky C], and the snake [jabberwocky D] was no different and not superior to other animals [jabberwocky E]. After the sin the snake [jabberwocky D] was punished and could no longer speak [now a snake]. I find this encounter hard to be taken literally when no other animal [now animals], other than man, can have an intelligent conversation. If what occurred is to be taken literally I would think that after the sin all animals [animals], or at least most, would be able to speak other than the snake [snake].

          It’s funny that you claim the jabberwocky D is no different and not superior to jabberwocky E because the Torah contradicts you in verse 3:1 by stating that jabberwocky D was more arum (cunning?) than all of the other jabberwocky Es.

          Rashi says (commentary to 3:14) that the jabberwocky D had legs that were miraculously removed. Although scientifically (and again, by that I just mean that by observing nature), it’s not the case that snakes are merely legless lizards and lizards are merely legged snakes, but if a snake had legs and didn’t crawl on its underside, what made it a snake? Why is that not another type of lizard? The Torah seems to exhibit a somewhat total disregard for any conventions we currently have in the observable universe, so why refer to the jabberwocky D as a snake?

          The answer may lie in something very critical that we have yet to bring up — the lack of precision according to contemporary standards of the Hebrew language. The second plague is said to have been a plague of frogs, but the Ibn Ezra apparently claims that it was crocodiles. How could we mix that up? We’re expected to know which birds are kosher and which are not based on name, and then using the same Torah, we confuse crocodiles with frogs! It’s because the Hebrew language is terribly inadequate when compared to something like modern day English. The word tannin refers to fish when its used to refer to aquatic animals but to snakes when it refers to terrestrial animals. All of this imprecision is precisely why there is no move by the accepted commentators to do what I just did — namely, to employ nonsense place holder terms for all the different entities that are obviously different from each other by vast anatomic and physiologic differences, and we didn’t even talk about the midrashic literature which discusses Adam and Eve possessing bodies of light or bodies of fingernail-like sheaths, etc.

          It’s because the Torah’s words are very loose and the term nachash, which we take to mean snake like the one I have in a tank in my living room, means something snake-like, just like tannin means something crawly-like that could either be a snake or a fish or a crocodile or probably a bunch of other things as well. But don’t sweat it, because these people in 1312 BCE were very primitive and didn’t recognize the existence of most of what we recognize today. If all you have to deal with is 3 organisms, why not call them the same thing and everyone will understand you from context. Only 5 years ago, bubbies and zaidies used to get away with going to Microcenter and asking for “that thingamajig that plays music” when they wanted to buy their grandkids an mp3 player. But if they try that now, the attendant will show them a caseful of 25 different items and so we need more words to describe them all.

          So the Torah uses the word snake to refer to all the things that were similar to a snake, and people unfortuntely read the Torah thinking that the story means a snake like the one in the Bronx Zoo, but that’s not the case. The narrative speaks of a sentient, conniving being and snakes as we know them are just like most any other animal — they are exquisitely adapted to live in the manner that they do and they are no more conniving than any other animal. And judging by their current station in the world, snakes are hardly the most cursed animal of all the animals. While they may crawl on their bellies, the small ones are quick and agile and pretty neat. Some can swim and some can climb trees and and some can even glide from tree to tree through mid-air. Instead of dust, snakes eat small- to moderately-sized mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, fish and arthropods — basically, the same things that every other animal eats if they’re going to eat something that used to be be alive. And there is no more hostility between women and snakes than there is between women (and men, for that matter) and almost all arthropods (insects, spiders, scorpions, etc.), some gastropod molluscs (slugs) and many other quick moving, oddly-shaped animals, and by oddly-shaped, I mean anything that doesn’t look like a kitten or a puppy.

          If it’s not clear to you that this is all to be understood in non-literal fashion, I don’t really know what else to say.

          • BZ October 17, 2012, 9:10 AM

            This is fascinating. I never thought of it like that before. And it makes perfect sense too. I wonder what other cataclysms described in the Torah changed about things we take for granted? If the makeup of the atmosphere after the flood has changed in a major way, were humans (and animals and plans, etc) changed as well? When people started speaking different languages after the dispersion, what else about them changed? Is what we call speech or language even the same thing that was referred to pre-dispersion?

            • DRosenbach October 17, 2012, 11:48 AM

              I’d say none of these early Genesis narratives reflect actual historical events. Way more troublesome than any of these issues are the problems of reconciling the dates given for the early Genesis events with currently understood historical evidence of things such as cave paintings dating back to 30,000-40,000 years ago (also see this) as well as clonal and individual plant specimens that are scores of thousands of years older than the literally-understood biblically proposed age of universe at just under 6,000 year, and then of course the issue of distant starlight. These are just a few of the vast collection of intricately woven details of science that laymen (and by this I mean scientific laymen, for certainly lots of rabbis will fall into this group, and they would consider themselves not laymen but clergy) may seem to have no problem disposing even though doing so effectively dismantles everything else.

              • BZ October 17, 2012, 1:20 PM

                But both cave painting dating (using radiocarbon dating) and clonal colonies’ dating are based on assumptions that certain things have existed unchanged for tens of thousand if not millions of years. In particular, Carbon 14 in our atmosphere is assumed to be in equilibrium which itself requires one to assume that the universe is at least several million years old. Clonal colonies are dated on the assumption that their rate of growth has always been the same as it is today. Both of these ignore the major atmospheric changes that could have been associated with Noah’s flood (there is an opinion that only the part of the world then inhabited by humans was flooded, which explains how specimens from Utah and California could have survived it, but the atmospheric effects of such a flood would still be global).

                As for starlight, I did briefly mention it in my last post. I’m sure there are theories out there to explain it away. Who knows what’s involved in “placing the stars in the firmament”? Why is it necessary to assume that they were formed in a natural way, the way they would have formed “on their own”?

                • DRosenbach October 17, 2012, 5:45 PM

                  Although I’m somewhat moderately acquainted with R’ Slifkin through email, I do not know him personally and have only met him once. I wonder why he hasn’t addressed the contents of Parshas Noach at large, although he does hit it up a bit here and also wherever it is that he refers to having had spoken about it in the past within the post to which I just linked — perhaps it’s because he’s working on a book right now.

                  Because one can call upon the miraculous to solve all the problems of Parshas Noach, it is in some ways no different than the institution of Judaism itself — believers are so swept up with their belief that they fail to investigate contrary claims rigorously and nonbelievers are so inertially maintained in their desire to base their assumptions of solid fact that they hesitate to accept something that is largely unsupported by the facts.

                  And so according to those who accept the validity of (pseudo-)historical narratives of the midrashic literature, to question the historicity of Noah’s flood is no different than questioning the historicity of, say, the splitting of the sea (or the Jordan, for that matter, as recounted in the 3rd chapter of Joshua) or the falling of the manna in the wilderness for 40 years. For those who deny the historical authenticity of the midrashic literature — and even a 100 hour debate on who belongs to this category would not allow all parties to leave satisfied — the miracles of Tanach are much more contained and much less ostentatious, and thus more defensible as just that: apparent temporary violations of nature.

                  But even for those who deny the historical authenticity of the midrashic literature — which removes quite a bit of need for explanation surrounding the narrative of Noah’s flood — there is still such a colossal burden of reconcilitation that needs to be worked out knowing what we know now that we cannot possibly expect the ancients to have appreciated given their obvious miscomprehensions of the physical universe in general.

                  God brought a flood to destroy all of life on earth because they had corrupted their ways (Genesis 6:11-12). Rashi’s commentary to verse 12, based on the midrash (Tanchuma, Noah 12) and aggadic statements in the Talmud (Bavli Sanhedrin 108a), states that even the animals “consorted with dissimiliar species” (to quote the translation of the Metsudah Chumash). This tells me one thing — we are still reading about jabberwockys and not life as we know it.

                  Animals do not become corrupted. They live based on instinct and whatever they do is necessarily acceptable. I have pet oscars. At around 3 inches or so, they become violently territorial and viciously attack anything alive in their tank other than other oscars (with the exception of similarly ferocious and/or larger fish). They will gobble up little goldfish or minnows — but they’re not mean fish. It’s just their nature to eat smaller fish, while the nature of gouramis is to never attack goldfish. I also have a pet snake [not a jabberwocky] and I feed it live mice. It asphyxiates the mice and then consumes them whole and it does do so on a weekly basis. The snake is not being mean when it does it — this is what predators do. Neighbors frequently bring their children to watch the show and some of the parents comment that this is a sad fate for the mice, yet the mouse is a pest that humans collectively spend millions of dollars a year to exterminate to prevent them from stealing the grain in our storage facilities and the cookies in our cupboard. But the mice are not really stealing — that’s just us projecting human traits and activities onto the animals. To animals, there are no social restraints. If food is accesible, that means it is for the taking. If field mice leave their stash unguarded, they should be surprised to find it there when they get back because that’s nature. And when predators prey on the young and infirmed, that’s not them being mean — that’s just survival.

                  So as Rashi puts it, “cattle, beasts and fowl consorting with dissimilar species” is totally ludicrous. That is, assuming we are talking about actual cattle, beasts and fowl. At the time, though, as the narrative goes, man was still not given permission to consume animals, so perhaps these are not the animals we know and love (yum!) — perhaps these animals were sentient, just like the “snake” in the Garden of Eden, and perhaps, in this narrative, they were expected to control their greed, lust and pride just like we expect refined humans to do the same.

                  The text makes specific mention of the “end of all flesh” (6:13, 6:17, 6:19, 7:21-23) and to say otherwise is, to be frank, quite loosely interpreting the obvious intent of the verses. Now we’re quite faimliar with biblical verses sometimes saying one thing and meaning quite another in terms of the commandments (such as the rules surrounding the rituals of yibum and chalitzah) — but this is different, because it doesn’t really matter one way or the other where the flood was and where it wasn’t. From each letter and each nuance of the verses we pile on dozens of what become critical facets of the commandments, but it doesn’t make a bit of a difference whether, assuming the ark was real, whether there were 3 levels or 4, whether there were 2 skylights or 1 or most anything else. So why should the verses intentionally mislead us into thinking that the entire world was consumed by the flood if only Israel was covered with water? And if that was the case, why would animals that don’t exist in Israel at all need to come to Israel to get on a boat to save them from a flood that is only going to affect Israel, when they could have easily have remained in Australia or Central America?

                  The answer is simple — in line with how the Maharatz Chajes explains, the authors of the midrashim were greatly exaggerating all of their tales to liven up the biblical story and it just so happens that their tales were very fitting for the people of the day they were written but not so fitting for today, a day they never imagined. The people who write the midrashim never imagined that there would be a time when their exaggerations would undermine the very text they were trying to invigorate.

                  So you may claim that all of this really occurred — that all the carnivores became herbivores on the ark, or perhaps all the carnivores were herbivores until after the ark settled, but then we have a whole ark, nay an entire world, of jabberwockys. Ane everything just snapped into place like we know it the moment the ark opened and whatever Noah was able to cram into the ark of the more than 1.7 million species of organims known to science. Sure, the Torah only talks about animals (which were brought on board) and plants (which were not), but that’s only because the Torah was for a very unsophisticated bunch who were not aware of the existence of fungi or their distinction from plants. With very broad strokes, the Torah speaks in complete generalities, as though that would take care of the details — and it did for probably a thousand years or more. How many people before Jesus was born heard these stories and wondered how they could be reconciled with scientific knowledge of the day? Probably no one.

                  There are still unresolved issues, such as the ages of the patriarchs. Even though my favorite tannaitic sage, R’ Yochana ben Zakai, is reputed to have lived to 120, he is but one of hundreds of individuals mentioned in the Talmud and wacky things have been known to happen if you eat yogurt and ski all day. But for Abraham, his wife, his kids, their wives, their kids, their wives and their kids and their wives to all have lived to 115 and 150 and 180 years of age and produce offspring past when most people today are already dead is very troubling. It’s not like all of our bubbies and zaidies are getting hit by buses or falling down elevator shafts — they die of complications of heart disease, liver disease, malignancies, etc. For assert that nearly everyone at the time lived so long is means that we’re either dealing with a bunch of jabberwockys (which we’d be extremely disturbed to admit), some ongoing communcal miracle was employed (which is actually less troubling, but still troubling) or something else.

                  Why is it necessary to assume that the universe is older than five minutes? Perhaps everything is the way it is, including memories, from a miraculous source? You cannot prove otherwise, but that’s not a very compelling reason to endorse the suggestion. So too, then, I cannot prove that your thoroughly kooky suggestion is false, but it’s not a compelling reason to abide by it. By doing so, you invariably come across looking like this.

                  • BZ October 17, 2012, 8:26 PM

                    I am simply playing devil’s advocate here. I am not necessarily disagreeing with you.

                    • DRosenbach October 17, 2012, 9:19 PM

                      No, please — it’s an important position to argue against. As Stephen Hawking said, “the greatest enemy of knowledge is not ignorance but the illusion of knowledge.” Let me relate a personal story. Some time ago, my daughter’s pediatrician detected what he thought was a heart murmer. As a periodontist, I’ve learned about the heart in detail numerous times in college and dental school — but I don’t listen to heartbeat on a regular basis, which is why we bring our kids to the pediatrician. And now the pediatrician thought he heard something pathologic. So we went to a pediatric cardiologist — a sub-specialist, but that makes him sound inferior, so I like to call it a super-specialist. And this pediatric cardiologist listened to the heartbeat and said it was totally normal — a common enough innocent murmer due to a physiologic bulkiness of the chorda tendineae (tendinous cords) that hold the valve flaps. I never listen to hearts and so I defer judgement to my kids’ pediatrician. But he only listens to hearts a few times a day — the rest of the time he’s giving flu shots and prescribing antiobitics for ear infections and visiting expectant and new mothers in the hospital. So if he has a question, he defers judgement to the super specialist.

                      People like yourself and Dan come here and we debate and I don’t have all the answers — but how many people out there go nowhere with their questions? How many people out there don’t even ask questions? They’re quick to call someone a heretic and even quicker to call Slifkin a heretic, and have no qualms about saying the most absolutely ridiculous things because they not only demonstrate ignorance on this subject matter but even worse — they carry with them an illusion of knowledge, saying, “don’t talk to me about carbon dating and the fossil record because…” when they don’t even know what number carbon holds on the periodic table of the elements, and they may not even know what an element is. Are these the people we should be collaborating with to determine the best ways of understanding how the Torah and science co-exist?

                      And if that’s not how you feel, then please consider all remarks directed at you as to the proverbial you. 🙂

                      Kol tuv!

                    • BZ October 18, 2012, 6:52 AM

                      This is a reply to DRosenbach in reply to my post above:

                      “dont talk to me about carbon dating and the fossil record because” is a perfectly valid line of argument if the “because” is compelling enough. I didn’t make up the arguments presented above. I don’t actually know enough about carbon dating to come up with it (or to see the faults it may or may not have, so please provide me with a link to debunk them. I am more than receptive).

                      I know that for some it’s a matter of halacha. If I understand correctly, the argument is that a get (bill of divorce) has strict halachic language which mentions the year as being (e.g.) 5773 from creation. This then requires one to say that the universe is really 5773 years old and then a reconciliation with science must be made with this fact as an axiom. Now, I don’t fully understand this position either as it seems to me that the statement in the get is open to interpretation just as the story of creation itself is, but there you go. Apparently this is a compelling argument to some very educated persons such as the late Lubavicher Rebbe.

                    • DRosenbach October 18, 2012, 7:35 AM

                      You make a few points here and I will respond to them in order.

                      I dont actually know enough about carbon dating to come up with it (or to see the faults it may or may not have, so please provide me with a link to debunk them. I am more than receptive).

                      As a periodontist, I consider myself a super-super-super specialist in biology (with the first super limiting me to anatomy & physiology/medicine, the second limiting me to dentistry and this third limiting me to periodontology). I am familiar enough with biology to have been able to surprise and excite Richard Feynman as he describes he was surprised and excited by the biologists he met at CalTech. But, alas, I am no chemist and certainly no physicist and to really understand radiocarbon dating, and I don’t mean just reading a book about it but I mean having an intimate familiarity with it like I do with the understanding of the relationship of platform switching to initial peri-implant bone loss. Just like you can’t read 3 textbooks about heart rhythys and expect parents to bring their children with perceived arhythmias to you for diagnosis, you can’t just read about radiocarbon dating and expect to surmise profound comprehension and extrapolation, and the same goes for uranium-thorium dating, which I just discovered on Wikipedia today. So I cannot adequately answer your question. I sense that you’ve been duped into questioning the validity of radiocarbon dating and that it’s now serving to form an illusionof knowledge in your intellect. For this, you’d have to find a real live authority of radiocarbon dating and ask him or her your questions and your follow-up questions, until such time that you can appreciate what exactly it is, what exactly are its drawbacks, and the same would go for uranium-thorium dating, ice varve analysis, dendrochronology, starlight distance analysis and any other methods out there for dating the universe. I really cannot comment on them beyond saying that experts in the field have apparently upheld their validity anymore than you can probably comment on the ability of your dentist to either clinically or radiographically detect surface demineralization that he or she interprets as caries (colloquially, “cavities”).

                      If I understand correctly, the argument is that a get (bill of divorce) has strict halachic language which mentions the year as being (e.g.) 5773 from creation.

                      The rules of the get were established far earlier than anyone might have thought to question the biblically-documented age of the universe, and as you can probably appreciate, Rabbinic Judaism is outrageously hesitant to change anything in regards to centuries-old ritual and practice.

                      This then requires one to say that the universe is really 5773 years old and then a reconciliation with science must be made with this fact as an axiom.

                      This requires no more reconciliation — and actually, less reconciliation — than does, say, the dating related to birchas hachama (the blessing of the sun). Ancient calculations that suffer from ancient inadequacy but yet still dictate current practice for the purpose of perpetuating the emotional and psychological effects relating to spirituality do not render the spiritual gains invalid.

                      Apparently this is a compelling argument to some very educated persons such as the late Lubavicher Rebbe.

                      The Lubavitcher Rebbe was just that — a rabbi. He was not, and very far from being, The Lubavicher Anthropologist, Geologist, Astronomer, Astrophysicist, Paleontologist, Cosmologist or anything of that sort and he was thus very ignorant of what these fields have to say not only about the age of the universe but also about what people like him have to say about their findings.

                      Then again, maybe the Lubavitcher Rebbe looked into all of this very deeply but felt that either he would be excommunicated from his own sect or that it would lead people off the derech, and so chose to suppress it. I guess we’ll never know his true intentions, but the positions he took, such as suggesting that fossils in the ground spontaneously generated and did not belong to organisms that were once alive, are untenable.

                    • BZ October 18, 2012, 10:03 AM

                      In this particular case, I am only invoking the Lubavitcher Rebbe as a religious authority who believes that as a matter of halacha one must accept the age of the universe to be ~6000 years. One does not have to be an expert in all the fields you mention to make this determination (though awareness of the general outlines of the theories helps).

                      Here’s the quote: “Now, according to the Halachah our world came into being 5721 years ago, and the age of the world is reaffirmed on such Torah legal documents as Gittin, and the like; Shabbos is the seventh day of the week, which the Halachah connects with the six days of creation that preceded it (T.B. Shabbos 69b), and so on. The literal acceptance of the Genesis account does not conflict with the doctrine in Midrash, Kabbalah and the Zohar that G?d “created worlds and destroyed them”, since the latter refers to spiritual worlds as amply explained in these disciplines, according to the final explanation of the Ari.”

                      As you see, no science mentioned in this passage. Do I agree with his standpoint? No, but then I am not well enough versed in how halacha works to understand why these sources must be read to require the literal reading of Bereishis. Are we going to say that there’s a hidden agenda here? Does the Rebbe not actually believe what he’s saying? I’d think that is at odds with the Chabad movement, but you may disagree.

                    • DRosenbach October 18, 2012, 10:56 AM

                      I’d like to leave the Lubavitcher Rebbe and anyone else who maintains that we are to disregard what the scientific community has to say about the universe out of this conversation. R’ Yonason Sacks (not Lord Sacks of the United Kingdom, but of Lander’s College and formerly of Yeshiva University) lives in Passaic and my neighbor once approached him to ask his opinion of whether it’s permissible to have his children play with dinosaur figurines, and his reply (as per my neighber, not R’ Sacks) was that it’s totally fine as long as we understand that dinosaurs didn’t exist. I took this as comparable to him allowing one’s children to play with Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles action figures, assuming that one understands that they, too, don’t actually exist — there was never any ooze and Shredder isn’t really the leader of the Foot Clan because it’s all a made up story. He’d probably permit allowing one’s children to play with My Little Pony and Oscar the Grounch dolls, too, assuming that we don’t actually think that there are real flying ponies who land on rainbows and communities of Grouches peppring the countryside with their trash can portals. We certainly wouldn’t be asking questions here based on R’ Sack’s interpretation of the universe and so we shouldn’t be asking questions based on the Lubavitcher’s Rebbe’s understanding either because they both take somewhat of a similar approach — distort scientific findings and ignore the consequences.

                      And he might not have believed that, but rather he might have believed just as I stated above — that we continue to follow halachic guidelines despite their apparent conflict with the world as we have now come to understand it.

                      I am not a scholar of the Lubavitcher Rebbe and have read very little of what he has written or transcripts of what he has said, and I was not suggesting that the scenario I laid out above was true — just that it was a possibility that he considered the political fallout when publicizing his apparent viewpoint.

                      In the same way we reject what R’ Moshe Feinstein says about heart transplants being double murder because, at the time, his ruling is equivalent to a misunderstanding of current medical reality (according to the information at the time, heart transplant recipients were not necessarily any better off than before the transplant and perhaps were worse off, and so this would constitute not only murder of the donor but also of the recipient), we ought to reject what both the Lubavitcher Rebbe and R’ Sacks say about dinosaurs because they make these claims without fully understanding and appreciating the conflicts these positions generate.

                    • BZ October 18, 2012, 11:57 AM

                      Fine, let’s do that. But where do we stop? There is apparently a Kabbalistic school of thought (yes, a frum one) that claims that since our world is a distorted reflection of the higher worlds about which the Torah primarily speaks, we cannot say for certain that *anything* in the Torah has actually happened as described. So even today’s scholarly theories about the origin of the Jewish people (there was no exodus, the northern and southern monarchies were never united, David was a ruler of a small city-state, I can go on) can be considered on the table, as long as all the Mitzvos are properly adhered to (I am guessing this school doesn’t share the view that the age of the universe is a halachic matter).

                      Now I find this difficult to accept, but it’s out there.

                    • DRosenbach October 18, 2012, 4:13 PM

                      R’ Jeremy Wieder doesn’t maintain such a view, but he discusses the ramifications such a view would have on Judaism. Reply with your email address in the white bar and I’ll email it to you.

                    • BZ October 18, 2012, 6:55 PM

                      Sounds interesting. Please let me know.

                    • DRosenbach October 18, 2012, 8:45 PM

                      It seems that your email address is rejecting the large file. Perhaps you have a yahoo or gmail account?

                    • BZ October 18, 2012, 8:59 PM

                      Here it is

  • Modified Bass October 16, 2012, 5:27 PM

    I did it. I read the whole thing…again!

  • Mel October 17, 2012, 12:30 PM

    I must say I am impressed with the apparent knowledge that you have. It may appear to some that what you do to write and keep up with the answers and responses that you give is easy but I do not know many people who have the ability and the time to do this. Even if people do not agree with everything you say they must agree that what you are doing in this column is not something many other people can do. You should try to figure out a way to turn your talents into a means to earn money. As the saying goes if you love what you do it is as if you never have to work a day in your life. Thank you for your time and effort.

    • DRosenbach October 17, 2012, 1:16 PM

      Thanks for your kinds words, but I don’t need any money because my wife’s a rich dentist.

  • Pliny October 18, 2012, 12:23 AM

    There’s a mashal and then there’s a mashal.
    As a mashal, a Honda is car, and a Rolls Royce is a car.
    So, when you told your daughter that the creation story is a mashal, did you differentiate between the Honda type of mashal and a Rolls Royce type of mashal?

    • DRosenbach October 18, 2012, 7:30 AM

      Sorry — you’ll have to be more specific.

      • Pliny October 18, 2012, 2:19 PM

        Meaning: Is there a qualitative difference between the mashal of Maaseh Breishis and, say, the mashalim of Rabba Bar Bar Chana?

        • DRosenbach October 18, 2012, 5:00 PM

          I’d say yes.

          The allegorical talmudic aggadic sections were crafted by humans and one can very easily infer things of perceived value from a parable that were never intended by the original author, whereas the allegorical biblical sections were, as Judaism would maintain them to be, crafted by God and, as the yode’ah hakol (“knower of everything,” i.e omniscient), all truly meaningful inspiration derived from the textual nuances were implanted there from the get go.

          (I think that might be the longest sentence I ever wrote, but I’m not sure.)

          But a lot of nonsense can be derived from the biblical text as well, and so everyone will have their own version of what “truly meaningful” might include.

          • Pliny October 20, 2012, 10:03 PM

            Thanks for your awesome sentence. I’d say “yes,” too. How to tell this distinction to our 2nd grade daughters is another matter.

            • DRosenbach October 21, 2012, 6:32 AM

              Well, I’d consider my second grade daughter more advanced than most of the 2nd grade boys I observe while eating over at the neighbors, in the park on Shabbos, etc. And each child, regardless of gender, will have different interests and different capacities.

              Then again, I’d say that the majority of adults don’t think this through and don’t recognize the additional problems when introducing inadequate answers to certain questions because of their lack of either interest or knowledge about the topics involved. If anything, kids are more readily accepting of almost anything you tell them. When it’s bath time and we tell our kids to “get ready” and they ask, “Why, where are we going?” I like to respond, “To the pizza shop — hurry and get dressed!” Even though it doesn’t make any sense that we’d be going to the pizza shop when the kids are in the middle of getting undressed and we’ve just finished dinner, it took them some time to figure out that that’s what I say when I’m just being silly.

              If anything, children are naturally receptive to what adults perceive as conflicts, and even if adults would hear the apparent conflict of “the opening chapters of Genesis are to be understood allegorically” and “we still have to keep kosher, Shabbos and daven everyday and skirts need to cover the knees even when sitting and it’s a good idea to kiss the mezuzah when you pass through the doorway to make sure you don’t forget about Hashem and we can’t talk to shul and don’t play with your napkin while we’re bentching, etc.” because they won’t see this as a conflict. God doesn’t have to physically sustain the world at every moment to be doing so metaphysically, and there’s no reason why kids can’t understand that — I think we underestimate children everyday.

              My son, who’s now in kindergarten, came home with some construction paper cutout of Noah’s Ark — I’ll probably have to wait until he’s in at least 3rd grade to explain my perspective on things. I’ll have to wait until he’s in 8th grade to explain that even though he’s been learning for the past 3 years that arteries carry “red” oxygenated blood and veins carry “blue” deoxygenated blood, that’s not really the case — but all in good time.

  • Kate S. October 18, 2012, 8:34 PM

    I couldn’t bear to read through all of the comments, so forgive me if this was already mentioned, but I highly recommend Genesis and the Big Bang, by Gerald Schroeder, Ph.D. It makes a brilliant case for both science and religion. Also, I am no Talmud scholar, but based on Dr. Schroeder’s citations of various commentators, it does indeed seem that many of them rejected the creation story as something we are to accept literally.

    • DRosenbach October 18, 2012, 9:13 PM

      Schroder’s attempt at reconcilliation fails to take into account that the events listed on particular days do not correspond with the scientifically established sequence of events. Merely spreading five and a halg days out over 13.8 billion years does nothing to help the problem if he fails to work out how a literal understanding of the Torah suggests that planet earth (and vegetation) predated the various celestial bodies and how birds and fish (and that’s speaking very loosely to refer to most anything that flies or swims) predated the terrestrial organisms.

      There talmud (Bavli R”H 31a, second line from the top) discusses why each day was given its particular Psalm for the shir shel yom (song of the day recited with the wine libation of the morning sacrifice, which we recite at the end of morning prayers every day) and for Thursday, it states that Psalm 81 was chosen because it brings to mind with the second verse (“Sing aloud unto God our strength; shout unto the God of Jacob,”) that we give praise to God, and, as Rashi explains, seeing the multitudes of types of birds makes one want to give praise to God. No doubt, Rashi would maintain the same about fish, and I sense that these two groups of organisms, those free to fly away into the forbidden heights as well as those free to swim away into the forbidden depths, symbolize what man cannot grasp and understand.

      There are only about 10,000 species of birds and, represented by over 30,000 species, fish are the most diverse vertebrate group, but there are more than 300,000 species of plants — yes, that’s a 10 times more plants than fish. Sure, a flapping pelican will capture your wonder and amazement more than even an unfurling fern, but how can we say that birds and fish are what we need to praise God about when literally everything in nature is amazing?

      So I’d explain this as a reference to the things that amaze man because they are out of reach. It’s all very quaint and inspirational, but just not very historical.

    • Micah T October 19, 2012, 4:07 PM

      I agree, Dr. Schroeder is brilliant. I have read his books, and once heard him speak at the Mod Ox day school where I taught for several years.

      I am also a fan of Dr. Rosenbach, who isn’t at all satirical, but is quite frum!

  • Huh October 21, 2012, 8:38 PM

    Is this blog dead?

  • Steve October 22, 2012, 4:58 PM

    What happened to the Dvar Torah about Noach that you mentioned you would be giving that would go into various topics that were touched upon?

    • DRosenbach October 22, 2012, 5:08 PM

      It was unfortunately sidelined.

      We’ll have to get to it next year, unless I can weave rainbows into Abraham’s tent, Jacob’s ladder or Moses’ staff. 🙂

  • Phil October 23, 2012, 9:34 AM

    Just saying hello and thanks for your time so you will hit 100 entries.

    • DRosenbach October 23, 2012, 9:53 AM

      You couldn’t just left half a comment, knowing that I’d respond in kind. 🙂

  • Rebecca October 23, 2012, 10:21 AM

    Where is Heshy? Too quiet here.

    • DRosenbach October 23, 2012, 10:24 AM

      Heshy may venture into the realm of the divrei Torah but few people will detect his presence.

  • The Other Mike October 23, 2012, 7:23 PM

    I am amazed. This dvar torah has made it to the ninth most read Frum Satire post!!! Correct me if I am wrong, but I believe this is the first time any of DRosenbach’s posts have gotten so much attention.

    Is the the fascinating subject of how to balance literalism and allegory with children, or is it simply because Heshy has been gone for over a week? How will we ever know?

    • DRosenbach October 23, 2012, 8:45 PM

      I think your data is incorrect — according to the internal blog stats, nothing I’ve ever written rose into the top 50 posts of all time.

      For this year, though, I’ve had three posts within the top 50. This one currently stands at 1775 hits, beaten by this year’s posts for Shavuos (1902) and Passover (2450).

      • The Other Mike October 24, 2012, 3:48 PM

        Hmm, so I should not go by the “Most Read” sidebar that now has this in eighth place with 8,178 reads?

        • DRosenbach October 25, 2012, 7:49 AM

          I can’t say for sure that either of them are accurate, but it really doesn’t make a difference one way or the other.

          As an admin, I know that it doesn’t count my visits as hits, but if you’re neurotic and check the page every 7 minutes for potential updates, all of those are counted.

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  • Roshy November 2, 2012, 7:37 PM

    Oh I assumed the author and his daughter were not Jews so they considered the old testament a allegory (fable) but the new and improved one is the real deal.

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