Thursday, December 24, 2009

Yehuda Setting Up Educational Centers and Co-Existing With Other Cultures

In this week's parsha, Yaakov sends Yehuda ahead of everyone else to Yosef in order that Yehuda should prepare the land of Goshen for Yaakov's arrival. Everything about this seems a bit odd. First of all, why not have the entire family arrive at Goshen at the same time? Second of all, if Yehuda was sent ahead to erect houses of study like the Midrashim say, then why wouldn't Yosef have been able to do it? In fact, the verse tells us that Yehuda is supposed to go to Yosef and then set up the houses of study. Furthermore, Yosef must have already established houses of study for his own children, otherwise, where would they be learning? If this is so, why can't Yaakov's family learn with Ephraim and Menashe?

The first question can be answered in a fairly simple manner. The Gemorah (I think In Gittin) tells us how the exile after the first temple's destruction took place. The second to last king of Yehuda (Jehoiachin) was exiled by Nebuchadnezzar and was replaced by Zedekiah. However, Jehoiachin was exiled before the final destruction and scripture tells us that all of the artisans and gate keepers were exiled at this time. The Gemorah tells us that these artisans and gatekeepers were the wise one's and the teachers. Therefore, before the entire Jewish population was exiled, the teachers and wise men were setting up a proper Torah environment for the rest of the Jewish people to enter into. This idea is most probably the reason Yaakov sent Yehuda ahead, because an exiled people can only retain their identity if they have some type of establishment that helps them cling to their culture.

As a side point, I think this is probably why America has been so successful at being a melting pot. This country was an empty land with no establishments. Anyone who came here had freedom to choose and an obligation to decide their own identity. There was no force compelling anyone to go one way or another, just freedom. In some ways this mentality is good and in other ways it is bad. Decide for yourself why it is good and bad and let me know what you think.

The second question of why couldn't Yosef have handled the task of erecting the houses of study is more complicated. This has to do with the dichotomy of Yosef and the purpose of Yehuda. If we look at Yosef's character we can see many great qulaities, however, these qualities are not to be everlasting or constant throughout Jewish history. On the other hand, the characteristics of Yehuda are everlasting and constant. Yosef was needed to set up the presence of the Jewish people in Egypt, however, Jews were not supposed to live a Yosef type of life. Yosef was beautiful, wealthy, a king in a foreign land and powerful. The Jew is not supposed to care about physical beauty, wealth is something that is considered detrimental, Jews are disgraced while in exile and they are, for the most part, weak. How could Yosef, someone who encompassed all of these great qualities, but qualities that Jews do not commonly have, set up a lifestyle for common Jews?

On the other hand, Yehuda was the perfect example of a person that can relate to a common Jew. True, Yehuda was a leader, but only a leader among the borthers. Yehuda was disgraced in his lifetime, he was the paradigm of repentance, and he was willing to die for his fellow Jew (Binyomin). These are qualities that a common Jew relates to, disgrace while in exile, repentance and a willingness to die for one another (Bortherly love). This is why Yehuda was the perfect person to set up an establishment for the Jewish people in exile, because he could understand the needs of the common Jew.

However, scripture tells us that Yehuda consulted with Yosef first. This relates to the final idea, what was with the houses of study that Yosef had for his children. Yosef's children were son's of a king. They are not the common Jew, but needed to be in special programs so that they could fulfill their obligations as the sons of a king. Therefore, they needed a special type of curriculum. This special curriculum is why Yehuda consulted with Yosef before setting up a house of study, because he needed to discern which parts of this curriculum are necessary for Jews in exile. Jews in exile can not be oblivious to their neighbors, the non-Jews. They must learn how to associate and interact with them if they are to survive in the general population.

The lack of communication between societies is what causes conflict. Yehuda understood this and that is why he consulted with Yosef before setting up an establishment of education. He realized the teaching must incorporate some ideas that will allow for Jews and non-Jews to associate with each other. Without this crucial skill all that happens is misunderstandings and hatred. This hatred comes from a lack of understanding and ignorance of other cultures. This idea is obvious throughout all of history. The Jews have been hated throughout the ages because no one ever understood them. The Europeans that came to the new world hated the natives (they called them savages and had several conflicts) because they did not understand their culture. Muslims and Christians were constantly at war ever since Islam's inception. The lack of understanding leads to fear and fear leads to hatred. If we can teach and understand one another, there will be much less hatred.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Hashgacha Pratis (Individual Divine Intervention)

The Ralbag is under the opinion that the world is mainly governed by Hashgacha Klalis (National divine intervention). He holds that there is no Hashgacha pratis (individual intervention) except for those who are very holy and righteous. I always wondered where this argument of Hashgacha Pratis Vs. Klalis originated. After learning some of Tractate Moed Katan and Shabbos I believe I have found the origins of this opinion.

There is a statement in Moed Katan (28a) made by Rava. It says (Translations are Soncino):
"Rava said, 'The length of a person's life, the number of his children and the extent of his sustenance is not dependent upon his merit, rather it is dependent upon his mazal (fortune). [This must be the case] because both Rabbah and Rav Chisda were righteous Rabbis as is evident from the fact that if either would pray for rain then the rain would fall. However, Rav Chisda lived nintey-two years whereas Rabbah lived only forty. Rav Chisda's household celebrated sixty weddings whereas Rabbah's household suffered sixty tragedies. Furthermore, Rav Chisda's household fed bread of fine flour to their dogs and it was not needed whereas Rabbah's family ate bread of barely flour and there was never enough.'"
This passage from the Talmud seems to tell us that nothing is within our own power, rather everything is determined through natural means, only when great individuals pray does G-D intervene. This means that everything is already determined from our "fortune." In light of this, even the Ralbag's idea of extremely holy and righteous people being under a divine watch would contradict Rava because according to his opinion there is no divine intervention unless the extremely righteous person prays for intervention. However, Rava continues with the following qualifying statements:
"Rava said, 'For these three things I entreated heaven, two were given to me and one was not. I asked for the wisdom of Rav Huna and the wealth of Rav Chisda and they were both given to me.'"
The Maharsha tells us that this shows us that even though Rava is of the opinion that everything is from one's "fortune" a righteous and holy person can still entreat G-D and be answered. On the surface, this seems like what was already made known previously in the Gemara when it says Rav Chisda and Rabbah were able to pray for rain. However, that revealed that G-D would grant requests for specific interventions. A righteous person asks for rain then he will receive rain. However, Rava asked for more than just a singular action, Rava asked for wisdom and wealth. Wisdom and wealth are not things that just pop into existence in one instance and stay, they are things that can come and go. It is only through G-D's constant intervention that a person who receives money will be able to retain that money. The same principle goes for wisdom.  In essence, there is hashgacha pratis for holy and righteous people.

This idea is also seen in another part of the Gemara (Shabbos 156b) where it points out cases where righteous individuals are able to overcome their "fate" because of their righteousness, not even entreating G-D. The two stories are:
"From Samuel too [we learn that] Israel is immune from planetary influence. For Samuel and Ablat were sitting, while certain people were going to a lake. Said Ablat to Samuel: 'That man is going but will not return, [for] a snake will bite him and he will die.' 'If he is an Israelite,' replied Samuel. 'he will go and return.' While they were sitting he went and returned. [Thereupon] Ablat arose and threw off his [the man's] knapsack, [and] found a snake therein cut up and lying in two pieces — Said Samuel to him, 'What did you do?' 'Every day we pooled our bread and ate it; but to-day one of us had no bread, and he was ashamed. Said I to them, "I will go and collect [the bread]". When I came to him, I pretended to take [bread] from him, so that he should not be ashamed.' 'You have done a good deed,' said he to him. Then Samuel went out and lectured: But charity delivereth from death; and [this does not mean] from an unnatural death, but from death itself.

From R. Akiba too [we learn that] Israel is free from planetary influence. For R. Akiba had a daughter. Now, astrologers told him, On the day she enters the bridal chamber a snake will bite her and she will die. He was very worried about this. On that day [of her marriage] she took a brooch [and] stuck it into the wall and by chance it penetrated [sank] into the eye of a serpent. The following morning, when she took it out, the snake came trailing after it. 'What did you do?' her father asked her. 'A poor man came to our door in the evening.' she replied, 'and everybody was busy at the banquet, and there was none to attend to him. So I took the portion which was given to me and gave it to him. 'You have done a good deed,' said he to her. Thereupon R. Akiba went out and lectured: 'But charity delivereth from death': and not [merely] from an unnatural death, but from death itself.
These stories point out the ability for one to overcome their "fortune" if they are righteous. In Shmuel's case the man was saved through his act of charity and in Rabbi Akiva's daughter's case there is a similar idea.
In the end of the day it seems like the Gemara is telling us how G-D runs the world. It tells us that the world runs through nature (planetary influence here). This is why bad things happen to good people, like by Rabbah being poor and dying early. It would appear to be that he did not ask for divine intervention and that is why he lived in poverty and the like However, Israel has the ability to change these natural occurrences, through doing mitzvos and connecting to G-D.

For a related post as to how G-D might interact with the world see here:

Friday, December 4, 2009

Techailes From the Murex Trunculus and Psak Halacha

In high school I noticed that my Rebbe wore techailes on his Talis Gadol. This was peculiar to me since I was under the impression that techailes had been lost to us. I knew that there were people claiming to be wearing techailes again, but I had heard from so many people that those techailes, the Radziner techailes, were definitely not the real techailes. With my curiosity peaked I went up to my brand new Rebbe, this was the start of Junior year, who I knew was not a Radziner Chassid and asked him why he wore techailes on his Talis Gadol.

He answered, "Here, read this," and he handed me a pamphlet that he had written a few years before. This pamphlet can be found at this website:

I was intrigued by this 17 page pamphlet that my Rebbe, Rav Chaim Twerski, had written. It brought the history of Techailes, the history of the Radziner Rebbe's search for Techailes and several proofs as to why the Murex Trunculus is most likely the source of true techailes. I immediately desired to fulfill this great mitzvah that had been lost.

The most intriguing part about the whole article was the conclusion. It said,

"The argument for identifying chilazon as Murex trunculus has much merit. However, it cannot be said this identification can be 100% absolute, both with regard to the species or even with regard to the color. Nonetheless, the element of certainty would seem to surpass the threshold needed for identification l’halacha. Moreover, there is no issur in wearing a blue colored thread in the tzitzit, even if it turns out that this is not techelet,a point made poignantly by the Radziner Rebbe, in his sefer, Ptil Techelet.61 As with anything that is not definite,this matter is likely to be controversial for along time to come. It is likely that in future years there will be some rabbonim who will say that one is required to wear techelet made of Murex trunculus, others who will say that it is a mitzvah, but not an obligation, others who will say that it is a chumrah, or a mitzva min hamuvchar. Many, undoubtedly will say that there is no mitzvah whatsoever, and that it is a wasteof money and effort and still others who will find some issur to wear Murex trunculus techelet. Undoubtedly, Radziner chassidim will continue to maintain that sepia is the chilazon and techelet made of any other species is possul.62 If I may offer my own humble opinion it would seem that this identification ought to be accepted by many, if not the majority of poskim. But it will likely take much time for this to happen, for halacha is by its very nature conservative, and in general, a consensus is reached only after much debate and deliberation. For the meantime, until a consensus is reached, each rav should do according to the dictates of his own reasoning. If after careful study of all the material he is skeptical, there is no reason for him to wear techelet made from Murex trunculus or instruct others to do so. If, on the other hand, one is reasonably convinced that Murex trunculus is indeed the chilazon, he should wear them, and rule so for those who ask and rely upon his rulings.

61) As Rav Leiner states in his Sefer, Ayn HaTechelet, and in Ptil Techles, the curse meted out for those who use k’la ilan in their tzitzis and claim that they are wearing techelet, is meant for those who are intent upon deception, not those who are making a sincere attempt of fulfilling the mitzvah.

62) Chassidim are known for their emunas chachamim and it would be highly unlikely that
they would question the conclusion of their rebbe. It should be noted, however, that Rav Leiner
himself stated that he would accept any reasonable argument that would prove his identification
wrong and another identfication right. It is more than likely that were the Radziner rebbe to be alive today he would have abandoned his own thesis and adopted the present one

I do not know about the rest of you, but this article taught me something very important about piskei halacha. Every competent Rav has the right, nay, the obligation to paskin halacha based on what he finds to be the correct psak. As Rav Twersky tells us, there will be a variety of differing opinions on this halacha and every single one of them is legitimate. He admits that every Rav will come to their own conclusion and that is THEIR OBLIGATION.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Why No One Should Act Holier Than Thou

I was learning a little bit of Sotah and I wanted to share the following Gemorah and my thoughts on it. Footnotes for explanations are found at the bottom as well as a link to the original site where the translation is from.

In the Gemorah on 22b it quotes the mishna and discusses the following idea (Soncino Translation):

AND THE PLAGUE OF PHARISEES etc. Our Rabbis have taught: There are seven types of Pharisees: the shikmi Pharisee, the nikpi Pharisee, the kizai Pharisee, the 'pestle' Pharisee, the Pharisee [who constantly exclaims] 'What is my duty that I may perform it?', the Pharisee from love [of God] and the Pharisee from fear. The shikmi Pharisee — he is one who performs the action of Shechem.4 The nikpi Pharisee — he is one who knocks his feet together.5 The kizai Pharisee — R. Nahman b. Isaac said: He is one who makes his blood to flow against walls.6 The 'pestle' Pharisee — Rabbah b. Shila said: [His head] is bowed like [a pestle in] a mortar. The Pharisee [who constantly exclaims] 'What is my duty that I may perform it?' — but that is a virtue! — Nay, what he says is, 'What further duty is for me that I may perform it?'7 The Pharisee from love and the Pharisee from fear — Abaye and Raba said to the tanna [who was reciting this passage], Do not mention 'the Pharisee from love8 and the Pharisee from fear'; for Rab Judah has said in the name of Rab: A man should always engage himself in Torah and the commandments even though it be not for their own sake,9 because from [engaging in them] not for their own sake, he will come [to engage in them] for their own sake. R. Nahman b. Isaac said: What is hidden is hidden, and what is revealed is revealed; the Great Tribunal will exact punishment from those who rub themselves against the walls.10 King Jannai11 said to his wife', 'Fear not the Pharisees and the non-Pharisees but the hypocrites who ape the Pharisees; because their deeds are the deeds of Zimri12 but they expect a reward like Phineas'.13

The main point of this Gemorah is to show religious Jews how important it is to not act holier than thou. All of these different types of Pharisees represent character traits that were found among the Jews in the second temple period and how they represent false righteousness. It was because of these haughty attitudes that King Jannai told his wife to watch out for the Pharisees. At the end of his life, before his wife took over in his stead, King Jannai realized that there were some righteous Pharisees and not all were fakers. However, the hypocrites that existed among the Pharisees ruined all of their standings among the King. This was so unfortunate because it led to the King and the Pharisees constantly quarreling. The Pharisees represented the Jews that believed in the oral law and the reason they were shunned was because of these ridiculous impostors that were accepted among them.

The story that points out how some of the Pharisees acted foolishly because of their phony righteousness is found in Kedushin 66a. Yehuda Ben Gedidya, one of the Pharisees, had to insult the king. He claimed that the King was not allowed to be the Kohen Gadol. However, this was completely based on Motzei Shame Ra (false gossip). It was because he was trying to be overly righteous, like the Gemorah states here in Sotah that some of the Pharisees act overly righteous, he ruined the relationship between the king and the Pharisees. Not only did he ruin that relationship, but King Jannai ended up killing many Rabbis because of his newfound distrust of the Pharisees due to the statements made by Yehuda Ben Gedidya.

I think there is a very valuable lesson for us to learn nowadays from this story. There are many religious Jews that live their lives according to halacha and are not hypocrites. However, for all of their good deeds they allow the hypocrites and the wicked people to prosper among them without any type of confrontation. This was the same attitude of the Pharisees back in the day and it led to much tension with the king. Had they stood up to the hypocrites then who knows what would have happened in the second temple era. Unfortunately, they allowed these foolish people to prosper and continue on with their detrimental actions.

I hope we can all take a lesson from these Gemorahs and learn from them. No longer can we stand by and allow hypocrisy within our nation. People are always looking for the way to be more frum than the next guy. This is a complete sham and it is a disgrace to our religion. We need to realize that truth is more important than these false ideals.

The main thing I speak of now is the acceptance of other people's halachas. What do I mean by this? Well, if you have not noticed, for some reason a lot of people think that Rav Elyashiv has the last word on halachic matters, or other people that they consider "Gedolim." This is the most outlandish thing I have ever heard. Without a Sanhedrin, there is no unified halacha, there is no vote on the halacha and there is no consensus that is reached on halacha. As the Mishna in avos points out, Asseh Licha Rav, make for yourself a Rabbi. This is very telling of how we are supposed to live. Find a Rabbi that is learned in halacha and follow his psak. That is how every orthodox Jew should live their life. Whether it be ultra orthodox or modern orthodox, that is what being orthodox means, following your Rabbi's halachic psak. However, some people think that means that everyone has to follow the person that they consider to be a "Gadol." The most ridiculous thing I have seen is that people think it is absolutely crucial to not just follow one "Gadol" but every single "Gadol." What is really absurd about this is that the "Gedolim" often contradict one another. The type of person that tries to follow everyones halacha instead of making a Rabbi for himself is missing the boat and is someone who would be considered overly righteous. That is a HUGE problem.

This is what I think was the problem with Yehuda Ben Gedidya, he was overly righteous. This brings me to the Meiri. The Meiri says on Sotah 21, "Everyone who is overly righteous is someone who is removed from the world. Someone who is overly righteous is a person that his righteousness causes damage to himself or to others. For example, he fasts all the time, or if he sees a woman drowning will not save her because he does not want to look at her inappropriately or touch her(or come close to an Ervah)."

This Meiri points out exactly what Yehuda Ben Gedidya did. He did not want someone who he thought might have possibly been unkosher for the Kehuna to be the Kohein Gadol, even thought halachicly the King was fine to be the Kohein Gadol. Yehuda forgot one important fact, he based his opinion on false gossip. First off, not only was what he did against he Torah, but also listening to the false gossip was against the Torah. Secondly, even if it were true, it was a rumor without witnesses. A rumor without witnesses caused him to risk the Kings anger? It caused him to put all of his Pharisee brethren in harms way? He ended up causing hundreds upon thousands of Pharisees to die because of his holier than thou attitude!

The message is clear, do not act holier than thou and look down on others. This is a dangerous attitude and is clearly against the Torah. G-D wants us to help each other and unite in order to bring Moshiach. If we just point and say you are not holy enough because you only follow Rav so and so, but I follow 25 different Rabbis. That will bring our destruction, not our savior.

This is not to say that a Rabbi that does not follow halacha is appropriate. However, even if a Rabbi relies on a mesorah that is not in the majority, that does not mean he is unorthodox. If someone wants to follow the Nodah Beyehuda, even though all other achronim disagree, that is a Rabbi's choice. Again, without a Sanhedrin to vote and decide no one can say that another Rabbis decisions that are based on the Gemorah, rishonim and achronim is unworthy.

This brings me to the whole banning of Rav Nosson Slifkin's books. Why were they banned? One of the reasons was because someone thought the world was not older than 5770(see note 14 below) and that evolution was against the Torah. That is my point exactly, many Rabbis say that evolution is not against the Torah, as long as you believe that G-D is the one who guided evolution then there is no contradiction. Also, many Rabbis, since before the Gemorah was written believed that the world was older than 5770. True, there are some that believe the world is only 5770, but it is in no way against the Torah to believe it is older. Also, the scientific approach has been embraced by Rabbis of the past, to declare that it is against the Torah is to deny the truth.

In the end of the day one of the reasons for the ban on Rav Slifkin's books is the attitude of holier than thou. This is the exact problem that the Gemorah is dealing with. Unfortunately, we as a nation have not yet learned that the holier than thou bit destroys us as a people instead of bringing us together. Not only that, but it makes outsiders look at us as a ridiculous people, which delegitimizes us. This is why the Mishna says that these types of Pharisees bring destruction to the world, because they destroy the Jewish people and their reputation.

  1. Tosaphoth explains this to mean after forty years of study. It may, however, be connected with the statement in Ab. V, 24, At forty for understanding.
  2. He died at the age of forty; v. R. H. 18a.
  3. Since they were not his superiors in learning, he decided questions although less than the requisite age. [Tosaf. s.v. [H] explains that Rabbah surpassed all other scholars in his town, and the restriction applies only where there are others equal in learning to the young scholar. For further notes on the passage, v. A.Z. (Sonc. ed.) p. 101.]
  4. Who was circumcised from an unworthy motive (Gen. XXXIV). The J. Talmud (Ber. 14b) explains: who carries his religious duties upon his shoulder (shekem), i.e., ostentatiously.
  5. He walks with exaggerated humility. According to the J. Talmud: He says: Spare me a moment that I may perform a commandment.
  6. In his anxiety to avoid looking upon a woman he dashes his face against the wall. The J. Talmud explains: calculating Pharisee, i.e., he performs a good deed and then a bad deed, setting one off against the other.
  7. As though he had fulfilled every obligation.
  8. [Abaye and Raba understood 'love' and 'fear' to denote love of the rewards promised for the fulfilment of precepts and fear of punishment for transgressing them. In J. Ber., however, they are both taken in reference to God — i.e., love of God and fear of Him.]
  9. From pure and disinterested motives.
  10. In simulated humility. Others render: who wrap themselves in their cloaks. The meaning is that hypocrisy is of no avail against the Judge Who reads the heart.
  11. Alexander Jannaeus. For his advice, given on his death-bed to his wife Salome, v. Josephus, Ant. XIII, XV, 5.
  12. Num. XXV, 14.
  13. Ibid. 11ff. [He probably had in mind the treacherous act by a group of Zealots — not Pharisees — in resisting foreign assistance — Demetrius Eucerus, King of Syria — in their struggle with Alexander Jannaeus. Josephus, op. cit. XIII, 13, 5. V. Klausner, [H] 11, 128.
  14. The Brooklyn-based Rabbi Yitzchok Sheiner wrote a letter in Hebrew confirming that Slifkin’s books were “hair-raising to read…. He believes that the world is millions of years old—all nonsense!—and many other things that should not be heard and certainly not believed.”

Translation and footnotes of the Gemorah found on this site:

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Ideology and Reality

There are often huge divides between what something is ideally supposed to be and in reality what it ends up being. The divide that I want to discuss is that which exists in modern orthodoxy. How did the ideology depart from reality in such a severe way?

In the ideology behind modern orthodoxy a Jew is supposed to follow their Rabbi's judgement, like Jews have been doing for thousands of years. The greatest source of these halachic dicisions are based on the Rama and Shulchan Orech. However, in reality modern orthodoxy is usually described by people to be a lower level of observancy. The women are described as wearing pants, not covering their hair and just having a lower level of modesty than their ultra orthodox counterparts. The men are considered to be unlearned and less observant.

First off, I think these generalizations are incorrect. There may be people that associate with modern orthodoxy that do not follow strict halachic guidelines, but this is analagous to there being people that associate with Charaidi Judaism that cheat and steal. Do these people take away from the ideology of Charaidi Judaism? Exactly, they do not and neither do the people that are more lax about certain halachas that associate themselves with modern orthodoxy.

Modern orthodoxy is the branch of orthodox Judaism that believes it is possible, because of the changes in the world, to coexist with the outside world. No longer are Jews segregated and confined to the ghetto, but they must adapt to a new world where the Jew and non-Jew are viewed as equals and partners in society. Modern orthodoxy is the religious Jew standing up and saying that I will contribute to society as a whole. This is also why modern orthodoxy recognizes science as valid.

There have been several Jews that have lived in societies that were more integrated than the ghettos of Europe. The Rambam, Ralbag and Meiri are just a few great Torah scholars that lived in countries where Jews and non-Jews lived together and had constant interactions. This is why they embraced science and universal morals that applied to Jews and non-Jews alike. This was in opposition to some of their counterparts that lived in lands where Jews were constantly being killed by their gentile neighbors.

The question remains, are the Jews of this day and age supposed to view their non-Jewish neighbors as nonentities or are we supposed to interact with the societies around us in this day and age? Well, the modern orthodox philosophy says that we must interact and associate ourselves with our gentile neighbors. However, it seems like the Charaidi society believes in the seclusionary method of the European Ghettos.

Obviously, I think the modern orthodox approach makes more sense, but only time will tell us who is truly correct. Should we be like Avraham and show the world the beauty and truth of the Torah or should we be like Yaakov and seclude ourselves in Goshen?

Sunday, October 25, 2009

The Tower of Babel, Who Else Talks ABout It?

The Bible discusses the Tower of Babel at the end of this week's parsha:

א  וַיְהִי כָל-הָאָרֶץ, שָׂפָה אֶחָת, וּדְבָרִים, אֲחָדִים.1 And the whole earth was of one language and of one speech.
ב  וַיְהִי, בְּנָסְעָם מִקֶּדֶם; וַיִּמְצְאוּ בִקְעָה בְּאֶרֶץ שִׁנְעָר, וַיֵּשְׁבוּ שָׁם.2 And it came to pass, as they journeyed east, that they found a plain in the land of Shinar; and they dwelt there.
ג  וַיֹּאמְרוּ אִישׁ אֶל-רֵעֵהוּ, הָבָה נִלְבְּנָה לְבֵנִים, וְנִשְׂרְפָה, לִשְׂרֵפָה; וַתְּהִי לָהֶם הַלְּבֵנָה, לְאָבֶן, וְהַחֵמָר, הָיָה לָהֶם לַחֹמֶר.3 And they said one to another: 'Come, let us make brick, and burn them thoroughly.' And they had brick for stone, and slime had they for mortar.
ד  וַיֹּאמְרוּ הָבָה נִבְנֶה-לָּנוּ עִיר, וּמִגְדָּל וְרֹאשׁוֹ בַשָּׁמַיִם, וְנַעֲשֶׂה-לָּנוּ, שֵׁם:  פֶּן-נָפוּץ, עַל-פְּנֵי כָל-הָאָרֶץ.4 And they said: 'Come, let us build us a city, and a tower, with its top in heaven, and let us make us a name; lest we be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth.'
ה  וַיֵּרֶד יְהוָה, לִרְאֹת אֶת-הָעִיר וְאֶת-הַמִּגְדָּל, אֲשֶׁר בָּנוּ, בְּנֵי הָאָדָם.5 And the LORD came down to see the city and the tower, which the children of men built.
ו  וַיֹּאמֶר יְהוָה, הֵן עַם אֶחָד וְשָׂפָה אַחַת לְכֻלָּם, וְזֶה, הַחִלָּם לַעֲשׂוֹת; וְעַתָּה לֹא-יִבָּצֵר מֵהֶם, כֹּל אֲשֶׁר יָזְמוּ לַעֲשׂוֹת.6 And the LORD said: 'Behold, they are one people, and they have all one language; and this is what they begin to do; and now nothing will be withholden from them, which they purpose to do.
ז  הָבָה, נֵרְדָה, וְנָבְלָה שָׁם, שְׂפָתָם--אֲשֶׁר לֹא יִשְׁמְעוּ, אִישׁ שְׂפַת רֵעֵהוּ.7 Come, let us go down, and there confound their language, that they may not understand one another's speech.'
ח  וַיָּפֶץ יְהוָה אֹתָם מִשָּׁם, עַל-פְּנֵי כָל-הָאָרֶץ; וַיַּחְדְּלוּ, לִבְנֹת הָעִיר.8 So the LORD scattered them abroad from thence upon the face of all the earth; and they left off to build the city.
Did this event actually take place? Well according to historians and archaeologists it did. For instance, Abydenus (a Greek historian of the mid-fourth century B.C.), as quoted by Eusebius, spoke of a great tower in Babylon which was destroyed. The record notes: “[U]ntil this time all men had used the same speech, but now there was sent upon them a confusion of many and diverse tongues” (quoted in Rawlinson 1873, 28). However, since he did not live at the time when the tower of Babel would have stood maybe he was wrong.

In his book, Chaldean Account of Genesis (1880), George Smith of the British Museum—the scholar who translated the Babylonian flood account—published a fragment which is certainly reminiscent of the Bibles record. The inscription tells of an ancient tower. “The building of this temple offended the gods. In a night they threw down what had been built. They scattered them abroad, and made strange their speech. The progress they impeded” (1880, 29).

From an archaeological standpoint the precise site of the ancient tower of Babel is a matter of uncertainty, for there are possibilities among the remnants of several ruins in the region. Many, following Jewish and Arab traditions, locate the tower ruins at Borsippa (the “Tongue Tower”), about eleven miles southwest of the northern portion of Babylon. Others identify the site with Etemen-an-ki (“the temple of the foundation of heaven and earth”), which is located in the southern sector of the city near the right bank of the Euphrates river.

It is my opinion that the Tower of babel did in fact exist. However, if one reads the text closely it was not only a tower that they were building, but an entire city. Babel is one of the most ancient of all cities and it stands to reason that, just like the ancient Egyptians had pyramids, that the babylonians built towers as well. In fact, most ancient civilizations built towers. The Egyptians built their pyramids, the Incas and the Aztecs built their pyramids and the Chinese and Hindus had their temples of worship on top of mountains. Therefore, I would say, whether you think they believed in G-D or not it seems logical that a tower was built.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Cain and Able- What was the problem

In the story of Cain and Able, the first children of Adam and Eve, the brothers both offer sacrifices to to G-D. Cain, a man of the land, offers G-D his leftover grains, whereas Able, a Shepard, offers G-D his most choice animal. It is interesting to note that Cain offers G-D his leftover food, but Able, unable to eat meat since it was still forbidden to man at the time, offers G-D the animal that he makes clothes from. Able does not assume that G-D requires food, but rather a symbolic sacrifice, whereas Cain assumes that G-D wants his leftover food. G-D, in turn, accepts Able's sacrifice, but not Cain's. G-D's favoritism to Able's sacrifice causes Cain to lash out and kill Able.

There are a couple questions to ask about this story: why was it that G-D accepted Able's sacrifice and not Cains and was Cain really at fault for killing his brother? The reason G-D accepted Able's sacrifice and not Cain's is because Able understood the true essence of G-D and what the point of a sacrifice is all about. A sacrifice is supposed to be something that brings one close to G-D and by sacrificing the best animal he had, Able was showing G-D that he cares about G-D more than himself. However, Cain thought a sacrifice is supposed to be like tribute that one would give to a foreign king that controls you. Cain was not interested in becoming close to G-D, but rather paying Him off and that is why he gave G-D his leftover food. This is why G-D accepted Able's sacrifice and not Cain's, because Able understood what G-D is, whereas Cain did not.

This brings us to the next question, was Cain at fault for killing Able? Think about it, Cain did not know that death was possible, no one had ever died in the world before and therefore did not realize what he was doing would kill him. This might also be why Cain was not killed himself, but rather just condemned to wander the world as a nomad. The truth is that Cain knew that to strike his brother was wicked and therefore he was exiled, but he did not realize the severity of his actions. Cain knew that striking a fellow human being was wicked since the idea of morals did exist because of Adam and Eve eating from the tree of knowledge of good and evil, but Cain did not know about death. Cain acted wickedly and was punished for this, but since he did not know about death could not be punished by death.

Creation According to Ralbag

I will start this topic off with a quote from the Ralbag in his famous book "The Wars of the Lord." He says, "It is necessary that we explain the terms that the Torah uses in its discussion of creation before we explain the account of creation itself, for the understanding of the terms necessarily precedes the understanding of the full sentences."

I think this is often how people think that science contradicts the Bible. I mean, is it possible since G-D can do anything that science is entirely wrong? Yeah, I think it is possible, but why would G-D do that? Why wouldn't He just follow the laws of nature to create everything? What was the point of creating nature if He wasn't going to follow it as much as possible? This is the Ralbag's idea, that whenever possible we try to describe the events in the Bible as natural occurrences.

1)The Ralbag says that the term "earth" (eretz in hebrew) is equivocal. Meaning that it does not have just one simple meaning of the planet Earth. (I believe this is how the Rambam understands it as well)

2) The phrases of Tohu Ubohu (Unformed and void) means something much deeper than astonishingly empty. The Ralbag says that Tohu means the final form. He brings a description why, but for our purposes that is unimportant. What is important is what does "final form" mean. The way it seems to be described is similar to the form of a chair that a craftsman is making, before he even starts making it. Meaning, it is the thought before any act of creation. Just like a man who wants to make something first has to figure out what it is going to look like, that is what Tohu means, the form that a thought provides for an actual physical creation.

Bohu is the first physical matter of any creation. The Ralbag uses this description because the Universe was full of eternally existent matter. It was full of chaos and disorder before creation began and this is why the Ralbag explains Tohu and Bohu this way, because G-D eternally exists, providing the Tohu (The thought of how creation should be) and Bohu eternally exists (The physical matter). This is the Ralbag's idea and if you want to understand it further just ask me to explain more deeply. He holds of the idea that creation was the creation of something from something.

3)Also, the terms of "light" and "dark" are equivocal. The Ralbag brings several quotes throughout the Bible to prove this point.

4) The Term Ruach is also equivocal. He brings many pasukim to prove this point.

5) The term Rakia refers to anything that is beaten or flattened out, but sill retains its form. In our instance it looks like Rakia refers to the heavenly body.

6) The Ralbag also says that anything that does not remain in one state is referred to as water.

7) The Ralbag says, "The generation of the Universe by G-D occurred in no time. This is why our Rabbis maintain that the heavens and the earth were created simultaneously... It is therefore evident that the description of the creation as being completed in six days is not to be construed as implying that the first day precedes the second, for example, by one [whole] day [ie twenty four hour period]. Rather, they said, this is in order to show the priority amongst various created things...Now, the elements are prior to that which is generated from them according to material priority, and the compounds of the elements are also related to each other by this kind of priority. For example, the plant is prior to the animal.

8) An amazing idea here in the Ralbag is that G-D actually created the luminaries (the sun and moon) on the first day, but their relationship to the Earth was not solidified until the fourth day. Also, according to the Ralbag, "whatever can be generated naturally according to the natur given to it by G-D is such that its creation is not attributed directly to G-D in the marvelous account of creation; for He produces such things through nature. Hence, the generation of plants and animal through putrefaction and from species other than their own[ie hybrids] is not attributable to G-D."

The truth is that the Ralbag does an amazing job describing how creation came about and how everything he says is what the text says. However, I can not quote him word for word here, otherwise that would be a copyright violation. I suggest getting the english version of the Ralbags Wars of the Lord translated by Seymor Feldman. It is an eye opening book and will answer many doubts you have about Judaism vis-a-vis science. He helps explain the text and just the fundamental belief in Judaims. Also, his commentary on the Torah is quite enlightening.

Any questions that people ask through evolution, I think, can be answered by the Ralbag's interpretation, at least indirectly. So if anyone tells you that science contradicts the Bible, just go ahead and look it up in the Ralbag and most questions will be answered.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Reading of Black Sea Flood II

Here is the continuation of the reading of the Bible (or Torah as we call it in Hebrew) Genesis (8:1-22)

1) And God remembered Noah, and every living thing, and all the cattle that were with him in the ark; and God made a wind to pass over the earth, and the waters assuaged;

-The waters had finally equalized between the Mediterranean and the Black Sea. This caused the extra water that had overflowed from the basin onto the dry land to recede back into the basin.

2) the fountains also of the deep and the windows of heaven were stopped, and the rain from heaven was restrained.

-As stated before this means the massive amounts of water stopped rushing in to the Black Sea basin.

3) And the waters returned from off the earth continually; and after the end of a hundred and fifty days the waters decreased.

-The overflowing water that rushed onto the land around the Black Sea basin was receding.

4) And the ark rested in the seventh month, on the seventeenth day of the month, upon the mountains of Ararat.

-The Ark hit an area of highland in the Sea and was stuck while it was still surrounded by water.

5) And the waters decreased continually until the tenth month; in the tenth month, on the first day of the month, were the tops of the mountains seen.

-In the distance, Noach could see the waters receding to the point that land was now visible.

6 And it came to pass at the end of forty days, that Noah opened the window of the ark which he had made.

-In the middle of the eleventh month Noach decide to see how far they were from the shore.

7 And he sent forth a raven, and it went forth to and fro, until the waters were dried up from off the earth.

-The Raven kept flying around the Ark until the waters had completely dried and settled in the Black Sea basin.

8) And he sent forth a dove from him, to see if the waters were abated from off the face of the ground.

-Noach saw that the Raven was not flying towards the dry land so he took another bird and hoped that bird would fly and see if the land was the same land that they had departed from.

9) But the dove found no rest for the sole of her foot, and she returned unto him to the ark, for the waters were on the face of the whole earth; and he put forth his hand, and took her, and brought her in unto him into the ark.

-The entire Back Sea basin had been destroyed, that means their previous home. The dove was not able to find any semblance that remained. This is what the pasuk is teaching us, that the entire land where their civilization had lived was destroyed and the dove could not find any part of it that remained.

10) And he stayed yet another seven days; and again he sent forth the dove out of the ark.

-I think, that the reason he waited seven days was because he was mourning the destruction of his entire civilization. His entire land was destroyed, along with everyone he knew. This is why Noach waited seven days, because the dove had proven that his entire country had been laid waste and he was mourning for them.

11) And the dove came in to him at eventide; and lo in her mouth an olive-leaf freshly plucked; so Noah knew that the waters were abated from off the earth.

-This pasuk really strikes home my point. It is impossible for a dove to not be able to find land and then seven days later the dove comes back with a leaf. A leaf shows that the tree had been growing life. If the tree had been completely submerged in water, even seven days ago, it would be impossible that seven days later it would have a leaf. This is why I think the dove was looking for its previous home and could not find even a semblance of it.

12) And he stayed yet another seven days; and sent forth the dove; and she returned not again unto him any more.

-This time the seven days were a celebration like the seven days of shevah brachos. It was so happy that he could start a new and that this new land would be an acceptable home that could grow the same plants and trees as the old home. Also, the dove went to start its life over again as well.

13) And it came to pass in the six hundred and first year, in the first month, the first day of the month, the waters were dried up from off the earth; and Noah removed the covering of the ark, and looked, and behold, the face of the ground was dried.

-The waters had receded back into the Black Sea basin far enough that Noach's ark was ALMOST on dry land.

14) And in the second month, on the seven and twentieth day of the month, was the earth dry. {S}

-It was at this point that the waters had completely receded into the Black Sea basin as we know them today. This is why G-D tells Noach to leave the Ark since it was at the new shoreline.

15) And God spoke unto Noah, saying:

16) 'Go forth from the ark, thou, and thy wife, and thy sons, and thy sons' wives with thee.

17) Bring forth with thee every living thing that is with thee of all flesh, both fowl, and cattle, and every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth; that they may swarm in the earth, and be fruitful, and multiply upon the earth.'

-The species that he brought with him were supposed to populate this area of the world.

18) And Noah went forth, and his sons, and his wife, and his sons' wives with him;

19) every beast, every creeping thing, and every fowl, whatsoever moveth upon the earth, after their families; went forth out of the ark.

-This is referring to all of the animals that were on the Ark. None of them stayed on the Ark is the point.

20) And Noah builded an altar unto the LORD; and took of every clean beast, and of every clean fowl, and offered burnt-offerings on the altar.

-Every clean animal that was on the Ark with him.

21) And the LORD smelled the sweet savour; and the LORD said in His heart: 'I will not again curse the ground any more for man's sake; for the imagination of man's heart is evil from his youth; neither will I again smite any more every thing living, as I have done.

-G-D does not want to have to destroy a civilization again like he destroyed the civilization of Noach.

22) While the earth remaineth, seedtime and harvest, and cold and heat, and summer and winter, and day and night shall not cease.'

-This pasuk might be used by some to say that the flood must have been supernatural. Scripture even says that nature was changed during the flood. However, I think it might just be talking about the natural disasters that occurred, aka a natural disaster that will wipe out a whole civilization.

If you made it this far and still have questions and think I did a bad Job, remember this: The whole story is from Noach's viewpoint if we view this as a local flood. That should be able to answer most questions that might be left. Everything is stated as global because this is what Noach knew. There were animals and even civilizations in other parts of the world, but the bible is focusing on this civilization because of Noach and how he was able to overcome his debased society.

Reading of Black Sea Flood I

The bible describes how the flood occurred in Genesis (7:11-24) translated by

11) "In the six hundredth year of Noah's life, in the second month, on the seventeenth day of the month, on the same day were all the fountains of the great deep broken up, and the windows of heaven were opened."

The Torah uses the phrase "broke open" to describe how the flood waters came onto the "earth" and this is a great description for the Black Sea Flood. This is because the wall of earth that was keeping the mediterranean sea waters out broke and water started gushing into the Black Sea basin. Also, the phrase "the windows of heaven were opened" doesn't necessarily mean rain. The Ralbag says that there was no rain and this just describes and enormous amount of water that flooded the "earth." This could be because when the water came rushing in it resembled a giant waterfall from above that came down upon the basin.

12) "And the rain was upon the earth forty days and forty nights."

Again, this does not mean literal rain, but just the jet of water that was flowing from the mediterranean into the Black Sea basin, around 100m. This took 40 days and nights to fill to the point that the jet no longer resembled rain.

13) "In the selfsame day entered Noah, and Shem, and Ham, and Japheth, the sons of Noah, and Noah's wife, and the three wives of his sons with them, into the ark."

14)" they, and every beast after its kind, and all the cattle after their kind, and every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth after its kind, and every fowl after its kind, every bird of every sort."

This refers to all the animals on the "earth." The "earth" refers to the land of the Black Sea basin. This is because the Black Sea basin was the only area where man lived, or "earth" was referring to the country of Noach. Also, the animals had already gone onto the Ark, they did not all enter on one day. The pasuk is just letting us know that they had all completed their coming on that day.

15)" And they went in unto Noah into the ark, two and two of all flesh wherein is the breath of life."

16)" And they that went in, went in male and female of all flesh, as God commanded him; and the LORD shut him in."

Again, these two pasukim are referring to all the animals of the "earth." This refers to the land of the country of Noach.

17) "And the flood was forty days upon the earth; and the waters increased, and bore up the ark, and it was lifted up above the earth."

This reenforces the idea. Here it does not say that it rained for forty days, but rather that the flood waters were upon the earth for forty days. Also, the Ark was raised by these waters up and up from the black sea's bottom upward.

18)" And the waters prevailed, and increased greatly upon the earth; and the ark went upon the face of the waters."

19)"And the waters prevailed exceedingly upon the earth; and all the high mountains that were under the whole heaven were covered."

This can either be the mountains of ice melting, which could have been the cause for the flood, or it could be referring to the walls of the Black Sea basin that became covered by the flood waters. The whole heavens would be the whole heavens above the "earth."

20) "Fifteen cubits upward did the waters prevail; and the mountains were covered."

This can refer to the fact that the coastal areas around the Black Sea were also flooded and that could have been around 15 cubits inland or above the shore of the land. Or it could be referring to the ice that melted and how much that caused the sea level to rise.

21) "And all flesh perished that moved upon the earth, both fowl, and cattle, and beast, and every swarming thing that swarmeth upon the earth, and every man;"

Everything in the Black Sea was killed. This refers to the "earth," the land of the Black Sea basin.

22)" all in whose nostrils was the breath of the spirit of life, whatsoever was in the dry land, died."

The reason it says this is because the black sea had a lake in the middle of the basin where the marine life in there could have survived. However, everything that was on dry land was killed by drowning.

23) "And He blotted out every living substance which was upon the face of the ground, both man, and cattle, and creeping thing, and fowl of the heaven; and they were blotted out from the earth; and Noah only was left, and they that were with him in the ark."

Even the birds that dwelled inside the basin were captured under the water since the water rose so fast and the jet of water was so powerful.

24) "And the waters prevailed upon the earth a hundred and fifty days."

The waters rose for 150 days and then reached their peak and then the mediterranean stopped flowing into the Black Sea basin.

Black Sea Flood

There are three basic ways to explain the flood while also taking in account science. One is to use scientific sources and work that into scripture. Another is to utilize scientific sources to an extent and then use scripture to modify it. Finally, one can just use the Bible and show how science was different back then.

Here is the first approach. I am going to use scientific sources that are widely accepted to show how the flood could have happened.

There is a dispute among modern scientists (not dealing with creationists) about how the Black Sea flooded. The first report that came out was in 1996 by Drs Ryan and Pitman, here is their idea summed up by the Earth Institute of Columbia University, "Ryan and Pitman theorized that the sealed Bosporus strait, which acted as a dam between the Mediterranean and Black seas, broke open when climatic warming at the close of the last glacial period caused icecaps to melt, raising the global sea level. With more than 200 times the force of Niagara Falls, the thundering water flooded the Black Sea, then no more than a large lake, raising its surface up to six inches per day and swallowing 60,000 square miles in less than a year. As the Mediterranean salt water replaced fresh water, it expelled a wave of human migration from what had been an oasis of fresh water within very arid lands."

In 1999 an explorer by the name of Robert Ballard, made famous because of his discovery of the Titanic, went looking for evidence for Ryan and Pitman's idea. In National Geographic magazine it says, "During the 1999 expedition, Ballard’s team discovered a submerged ancient shoreline with a flat beach area beneath about 550 feet(168 meters) of water—evidence supporting Ryan and Pittman’s theory." However, this was not the best part of his trip. He realized that "Radiocarbon dating and paleontological evidence from a sample of shells and sediment collected from the site suggested that a massive flood occur ed about 7,500 years ago. However, carbon dating using marine life is notoriously vague. Dates can be off by several hundred years. Dating a sample of wood from the site would provide a much-needed confirmation for Pitman and Ryan’s proposed flood date." This led him to keep searching for man made structures.

The National geographic article exclaims, "Early last week, (this article appeared in September 13, 2000) using the remotely operated vehicle (ROV) Argus, Ballard’s team spotted a rectangular feature about 12 meters (13 yards) long and 4 meters (4.4 yards) wide at the intersection of two ancient inland river channels . It appeared to be made of wood. Though intrigued, they were forced to wait for the arrival of the more nimble ROV Little Hercules, whose superior video capability enabled the crew to get closer to the structure and get a much clearer look.

Through Little Hercules’ robotic eyes, on Friday the team looked again at the mysterious structure, and confirmed it was a type of dwelling. 'The building [has] carved wooden beams, wooden branches, and stone tools collapsed among the mud matrix of the structure,' Ballard said.

Archaeologist Hiebert noted the presence of a stone axe, which looked exactly like one in a Sinop archaeology museum, located just 40 miles (64 kilometers) from the find.

The structure was likely made of wattle and daub—a framework of wooden sticks covered with mud or clay. This type of construction, with wood supports sunk firmly into the ground, would account for the fact that the wood was not carried away by floodwaters. As the waters rose, the mud probably melted away, leaving the wooden 'bones' behind."

Unfortunately, later it came out that "Scientists who in the summer of 2003 visited the underwater site off the northern Turkish coastal town of Sinop couldn’t arrive at any conclusions. The settlement, about 330 feet (100 meters) underwater, was 'contaminated' by wood that had drifted in, foiling any attempt to accurately date the ruin — and thus date the flood.

'We were not able to get a smoking gun,' said Robert Ballard, the underwater explorer and discoverer of the Titanic, who led the $5 million Black Sea expedition.

But the trip was successful nonetheless, and the scientists are preparing to publish their findings early next year.

Ballard heralded the work of Hercules, an underwater excavator that was used for the first time. The 7-foot (2.1-meter) robot gingerly dug around the deep-water ruins and retrieved artifacts using pincers outfitted with sensors that regulated the pressure they exerted — much like a human hand."

However, recently there have been studies done, like the one in 2003 by a man named Aksu, that assume they have disproved this idea of the Black Sea flood. However, as this is an ongoing debate among scientists there have been rebuffs. For example, there is a paper from a french institute that concludes that the flood is very likely and brings proofs that I will not go into. Also, Ryan defends his own theory more recently. Finally, there is a paper that talks about experiments that were conducted to see if a rapid flood was scientifically possible in terms of the water flowing in and how it could have happened that was done recently.

With this in mind, it seems likely that the black sea was filled up with water from the Mediterranean around the time of the flood of Noach could have occurred, as stated by these scientists. I am not saying that this is definitely the flood of Noach, but it is a possibility. What is especially interesting is where people migrated as stated by a research paper recently. Basically, it points out that people migrated all over Europe and the middle east. It also states that several coastal areas where people lived must have been flooded as well because of the rise in sea level that occurred at this time.

With this in mind we are now able to discuss how the words of the Bible can describe this type of flood. Basically, how do we explain a flood that is not global when scripture seemingly describes a global flood. This will be discussed in the next post.

Against Stephen J. Gould

A debate has been raging for several years now. This discussion involves the idea of science versus the Bible, which one is right? Is science, with the idea that the world is billions of years old and that man had the same ancestors as monkeys right, or is the Bible, with the idea that man was created by G-d and the world is only 6,000 years old, right? First, before this topic is dealt with, the question must be asked, do these two ideas, in fact, contradict one another? Surely, only someone with enough understanding of both sides can even entertain the thought of trying to answer this complicated question. The author, Stephen Jay Gould, believed that he could understand and answer this question. He believed he could tell the world the ideas behind both sides, but could he succeed by properly representing both sides of this argument?

Until recently, Stephen Jay Gould, some would say, was one of the most brilliant people out there. His books were sold in the millions and several people revered him for his academia. He won several awards for his books including the National Book Award and the National Book Critics Award. As a professor at Harvard, he increased his popularity tenfold with a more select crowd. All of these details show us how knowledgeable and revered Dr. Gould was before his passing. Even with all of this acclaim, the question still arises, was he the right person to solve this debate of the Bible versus science?

In Stephen Jay Gould’s essay “Genesis and Geology” he starts off by appearing to represent two sides of this classic debate. Gould brings in W. E. Gladstone, a Greek scholar and a former prime minister, to represent the Bible’s point of view and uses Thomas Henry Huxley, an adamant agnostic, to represent the view of science. Within this argument Gladstone explains that the Bible's order of creation can in fact be the same as science’s order of creation. For example, Gladstone does not argue that the Bible is saying that the world was created in six days, but rather explains that the six days mentioned in Genesis are really a longer period of time. He is quoted in “Bully for Brontosaurus” as saying, “The ‘days’ of creation are metaphors for periods of undetermined length separating the major acts of coherent sequences (404).” This shows how Gladstone’s argument is trying to explain the Bible’s point of view in conjunction with science’s point of view that the world is really much older than 6,000 years.

Thomas Huxley did not appreciate this at all. Gould states a counterargument that Huxley made, “First, while the broadest brush of the Genesis sequence might be correct—plants first and people last—many of the details are wrong by the testimony of geological evidence from the fossil record (404).” Huxley is coming to tell us that even though you can make the general ideas of the Bible congruent with scientific ideas, you will still be unable to make the whole Bible agree to scientific ideas. This was the main debate between Huxley and Gladstone.

In “Bully for Brontosaurus” this debate between Gladstone and Huxley is not seen as an argument where both sides, Bible and science, are given equal credibility as Gould would first have you believe. Gould tries to make the reader think that he is going to represent two sides of a debate, but in truth the reader only ends up hearing how wrong the Bible was in its explanation of creation. Gould even says about Gladstone’s argument, “But Gladstone came to grief on his major claim—the veracity of the Genesis sequence…So he took refuge in the oldest ploy of debate. He made an end run around his disproved argument and changed terms of discussion (410).” By telling us this fact Gould is showing us how he picked a debate where the person’s explanation of the Bible’s point of view was inaccurate. How then could Gould have given both points of view, scientific and Biblical, if the person representing the Bible’s point of view was not in fact the view of the Bible? Why wouldn’t Gould have chosen a different representative of the Bible’s point of view that is clear and accurate? This leads one to believe that Gould was not trying to represent both sides of the argument, but rather only one side, agnostic.

Gould also presents Huxley, the representative of science’s point of view, in a highly favorable light. He explicitly puts down anyone who believes in the Bible’s way of creation while giving Huxley credibility. He states “It doesn’t matter a damn because Huxley was right…Gladstone and most modern purveyors of his argument have missed the essence of the kind of MYTH(I am emphasizing) that Genesis 1 represents(412).” Gould is very haughty here and he does not care for both sides of this argument as he had you believe in the beginning of this essay. In the beginning of this essay Gould gives off the impression that he will represent both sides fairly, but we see he is not trying to do that in the end.

Keeping in mind that Gould himself was an Atheist, it comes as no shock that he is trying to show the Bible in a negative light. Gould explicitly shows us how he does not believe in the truth of the Bible by saying, “Would such a correspondence mean that G-d dictated the Torah word for word, of course not (415).” This is clearly an attack on anyone who holds that the Bible is from G-d. All of the people who explain how the Bible’s explanation of creation can coexist with science’s explanation of creation believe that G-d wrote the Bible, or else they would not feel a need to reconcile these two points of view. By stating that the Bible is not from G-d, Gould is showing that he is not trying to reconcile the ideas brought in Genesis and science, but rather he is trying to verify one idea, that the bible is false.

This essay of Genesis vs. Geology definitely does not portray both sides of the debate the author is bringing. It is clearly one sided. In no way does Stephen Jay Gould even entertain the thought of the Bible’s ideas even remotely coexisting with science’s ideas. If Stephen Jay Gould would have brought other arguments, like discussions among his contemporary counterparts that clearly believe in the Bible’s veracity and prove it in their own essays through scientific ideas, then I would say he is trying to show the two sides of this discussion. Sadly, Gould did not try to represent both sides and leaves his readers with only one side of this debate.

As a person that believes in the veracity of the bible I can say that reading this essay has opened my eyes in some ways. First, the only way to have real understanding of this debate is to hear both sides from two people who are on opposite sides of this debate, not just one atheist. The reader needs to hear the Bible’s aspect from a person knowledgeable in the Bible’s reasoning, and hear the scientific approach from a scientist that is knowledgeable in the scientific approach. However, someone who is not familiar to this debate and perceives both sides from only one aspect will not truly understand the debate. I believe that there should be a counterargument written against Stephen Jay Gould’s argument and it should explain the truth behind the Bible’s point of view.

Adam and Eve- What can we learn

Who were Adam and Eve? They were the first human beings to have the breath of G-D blown into them. However, does that mean that they were created as humans originally or is it possible that evolution occurred and once monkey like creatures evolved into man, then G-D blew life into that creature? Either way man exists, but his origin still remains vague and unclear. The bible describes the creation of the world, but it is so cryptic that it is really impossible to understand its true meaning. Even stranger, there are opinions in Judaism, such as the Rambam, that hold that Adam and Eve are allegorical.

The question to ask here is does it really matter what we think Adam was or is the importance the lessons we can learn from his story. Actually, this is a question one can ask throughout all of history, does it matter what Abraham Lincoln looked like or does it just matter what he did? Was Julius Cesar a tyrant or a great leader? These are all questions that are, in essence, irrelevant since we can never know the truth for certain, but we can definitely learn lessons from his life.

Now that we understand that the Adam story is allegorical and what should be learned is the lesson so what is the lesson? The Rambam in his famous book The Guide for the Perplexed says, "In the history of the first sin of man, Adam, Eve, and the serpent represent the intellect, the body, and the imagination. In order to complete the imagery, Samael or Satan, mentioned in the Midrash in connection with this account, is added as representing man's appetitive faculties. Imagination, the source of error, is directly aided by the appetitive faculty, and the two are intimately connected with the body, so which man generally gives paramount attention, and for the sake of which he indulges in sins; in the end, however, they subdue the intellect and weaken its power. Instead of obtaining pure and real knowledge, man forms false conceptions; in consequence, the body is subject to suffering, whilst the imagination, instead of being guided by the intellect and attaining a higher development becomes debased and depraved." The Rambam is trying to teach us that giving into our desires causes our intellect to suffer. By giving into our animalistic desires we take away from our ability to achieve a higher intellect and more knowledge.

Do We Really Think Judaism Has Always Been Like This?

Over at Rationalist Judaism, Rabbi Slifkin mentioned something that I have been thinking about for a while. He talks about how his six year old came home with a picture of Adam in a kapata (long jacket) with a beard and payos (long sideburns and side hair). Basically, he was dressed like a man from 18th century Poland. This brings up many memories of people drawing Moshe, Aharon, Dovid, etc in 18th century Polish garb. The question here is why would anyone with a rudimentary knowledge of history think this to be true?

In truth, I can understand why teachers would have their six year old students draw these people this way. They are drawing the picture of a man from the Torah, obviously they relate Torah with Judaism and Judaism with black hat and payos. That makes sense for six year old children. The problem I have is when these kids grow up, do they view Moshe, Dovid, Adam, and Avraham in the same way or do they realize that this was not how people dressed 3000+ years ago. I am not saying that it bothers me that these children might view our forefathers in these clothes, but it does bother me if they think this is how they observed Judaism and conducted their overall way of life. What I mean by this is that I think a simple understanding of the evolution of Judaism is necessary for all Jews to understand on some level. Judaism did not exist the way it is now in the times of King David. Anyone who thinks that is completely obtuse.

Why do I think it is important to understand the evolution of Judaism? If one does not understand the original form of Judaism, then they can not understand why and how Judaism exists today, except for the basic answer of G-D. However, I think that answering this question by saying G-D is like someone asking how an airplane can fly and then someone answers G-D. Well, obviously G-D is the ultimate reason, for someone who believes in Judaism, but you can also explain the dynamics and the physics of how an airplane flies. So too by Judaism, one can say that Judaism exists the way it does today because it was G-D's plan, or they can actually understand the evolution.

Why does not knowing the evolution of Judaism matter? I am so glad you asked! Someone who does not understand the evolution can not dictate or even presume to set rules for the Jewish religion. In my opinion, a Rabbi that poskins on societal issues, like what is appropriate dress, can only do so if they understand what the Torah expects from every person and how those expectations have been modified throughout the generations. If the Rabbi does not understand the history of the halacha then he can do one of two things, make up his own halacha based on nothing of substance, or a previous Rabbi that said something, but only verbatim. IN all honesty, this is a completely worthless Rabbi. I can make up halacha just as well as him and I can read previous Rabbis just as well, so why do I need you to tell me what the GRA said or to make up my own halacha?

What Rabbi is valuable? A Rabbi that understands how Judaism has evolved from the times of Har Sinai until recent days. He tells us that the reason why Jews in Poland wore kapatas and shtrimels were because those were what nobles wore and it was cold there. A Jew is a representative of the entire nation so they must always look appropriate, therefore people in Poland wore kapatas and shtriemels. This is a Rabbi that already understands the reason behind the minhag (custom) of wearing specific clothing. In Rome, the Jewish people most probably dressed in the Toga, especially when they had an audience with the senate or Caesar.

I thought good Rabbis were just people who knew a lot of Gemorah, Rishonim and Achronim, why do they need to know about history? Well, if I haven't made it clear through my allusions to this answer I will try to be more blunt. It is very nice for a Rabbi to know Gemorah, Rishonim and Achronim by heart, however, what makes a Rabbi valuable is his ability to understand a halachic question based on the circumstances and then navigate through halacha, custom and things that are completely worthless. Without knowing the history of halacha, the Rabbi would have no idea of the basis for the halacha and any ruling given would have to be verbatim from a previous Rabbi who did understand the history. The problem is, halacha would no longer be adaptable to the ever changing world. The point is this, how did the Rabbis of yesteryear deal with electricity? There were no previous rules. Some Rabbis who actually understood the laws of shabbos at their core made halachic rulings, others just made wild assumptions. With the advances in medicine, some Rabbis understand medicine and the halachas involved, others just forbid everything because they know nothing of either.

The point I am trying to make is that we must realize our rich and fruitful history. In certain time periods certain laws or customs were enacted for specific reasons. Chazal even tell us that if a custom was instituted for specific reasons and those reasons no longer apply, then we have no reason to follow that custom (See Aruch Hashulchan 303:21 and 22 and Shulchan Orech 303:19 with the Rema for an example of this idea). I am not saying that specific things should be thrown out or not, all I am saying is that a competent Rav should be able to realize what things are important and which things are not. To assume that Judaism has always been like this is to deny truth. We should admit that things have constantly been changing, that does not make Judaism less valid. Everything changed within parameters that were set forth by the Torah. If Judaism was not an adaptable religion then it would be worthless!

The most disheartening of all things involved here is when certain Rabbis who are called Gedolim treat the religion like they are the Pope. What I mean by this is that back in the days of when we first discovered heliocentricity (Sun is the center) the church put anyone in jail that would say this. Nowadays also, people think if you say that world is older than 5770, you are a kofer. I would love for someone to show me where the Torah says that. It would be enlightening. I know a lot of Rishonim that say against that, but they must be daas yachidim (single opinions). Then I guess they must have been kofers also. I am unsure why this is something that can not be told to the masses, it is not a basic tenant of faith in any way, shape or form. Judaism is not the religion that says the world is only 6000 years old, it is the religion that is adaptable to advances in science and other areas. The reason it is adaptable is because everything in the Torah is meant to be relevant forever. This is why, throughout every age, Judaism has been applicable. This is why it is so disheartening to see some people get stuck in the 18th century, this is not what Judaism is meant to be.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Why Start the Torah With Bereishis?

In the Ramban's Toras Hashem Temima he discusses the difference between Reishis and Techila, both words mean in the beginning, however, their implications are completely different. Without referencing the Ramban, I am going to hit on the same idea.

The question here is why did the Torah start with Bireishis instead of techila? If we are talking about the beginning of a project it seems like techila is a more appropriate word. The word techila denotes the beginning of an action, whereas Reishis refers more to the importance of something. This is why the head is referred to as the Rosh, because it is the most important part of the body, but techila only refers to a sequence of events.

This can teach us something about the idea of Breishis bara elokim. Does it mean that the first thing G-D created was the heavens and earth? Maybe. However, if this was the only thing G-D was tring to convey then why not say Bihatchala? The reason is that G-D is teaching us that the most important parts of creation are the heavens and earth, not necessarily that they were created first.

But now we can ask, "Who cares?" Who cares that the heavens and earth are the most important creations. What is that going to teach me? This is the question that I really want to answer.

The fact that G-D tells us that the HEAVENS and EARTH are the most important creations tells us a tremendous idea. One needs to realize that this world and the next world are both important. It did not say the heavens were created bireishis, nor did it say that the earth was created bireishis, rather the Torah tells us both were created bireishis. G-D is telling us that they are both important.

With this in mind, one can understand why G-D started the Torah with bireishis. Before one can appreciate anything in the Torah they have to understand that Heaven and Earth are of equal importance. If one thinks that heaven is more important, they can not properly understand the Torah. If one thinks earth is more important, they have missed the boat. Only if a person can find the proper balance can they truly appreciate the Torah.

This is a nice idea, but how can we put this in to practice? The way I see it is that one must see the commandments of Bein Adam lamakom (between man and G-D) as of equal importance as the bein adam lichavairo (between man and man) and vice versa. To think one is more important than the other is to miss the whole point of the Torah. The Torah teaches of the relationship between man and G-D, but it also teaches of the relationships between men. Throughout the Torah is a mixture of relationships and they are examples of how to act and how not to act, on top of the relationships between man and G-D that teach one how to act and not to act in that arena.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Praying To G-D and Shana Tova To All

I hope everyone has a meaningful and useful Rosh Hashana. All too often we just pray without real meaning behind our words. If there is a day to actually contemplate and understand what you are saying, it is Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur. All too often we let these days just glide by and do not utilize them in the proper way. When a person is wrapped up in the world around them, be it in business, a profession, or even school they often forget about the important things in life. I, for one, feel like this years Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur will be hard to make meaningful because my concentration will be elsewhere, worrying about tests. Hopefully, I and everyone else will be able to overcome our worldly worries, if even for a moment, and be able to really connect to G-D. Not just connect to Him, but have a real meaningful experience. I want to be able to feel, emotionally, G-D as my king. It is so difficult, especially this day and age to really envision G-D and connect to Him.

In the time of the giving of the Torah man was flooded with spirituality, so much so that Idol worship was a problem. This day and age, we have the exact opposite problem, no one believes in anything they can not see or feel. I think that living in this era presents a very real problem for prayer. If I can not imagine G-D in my head, then how can I connect to Him, how can I make Him relatable to me? I think this is a very big challenge.

I am always jealous of people that I see praying with so much intent and heart. I don't understand how they can make it as if G-D is truly in front of them. Maybe they are all trying, but not really succeeding, or perhaps they are succeeding. When I was in Shaalvim, I used to try my hardest to imagine G-D right in front of me and connect to Him spiritually. I was really into the Maharal, Ramchal, Zohar and I read all types of Chassidus. In the end of the day, these books did not help me relate to G-D. I think the Maharal helped me to understand Judaism better, but nothing helped me with my relationship to G-D. However, more recently I got into the Ralbag and Rambam, I think that these great Talmidei Chachamim have helped me relate to G-D on a level that I was never able to reach before. When I am davening now, I try to realize that I can't imagine G-D, it is impossible because, according to the Rambam, G-D is indescribable. This has really helped me, because now I focus on myself when I pray. I try to think about my place in this world. Also, I think about the beauty of the world and how amazing the creator of the world and Universe must be. That is how I relate to G-D now and I think it is more meaningful, to me.

I believe that the reason I am on this world is to live my life according to the Torah. G-D put us on the Earth to live our lives, but those lives must be according to certain rules and customs. With this in mind, I pray to G-D to help me make the decisions that are best for me and will help me live a prosperous life. So with this view, that G-D wants me to live a life in the physical world (having a family, helping others and therefore getting a job to support my family and to make me able to help others), I pray. My prayers are focused towards G-D in the sense of realizing my place in this world and I ask for assistance in leading a moral and meaningful existence. I hope I, and everyone else, will be able to relate to G-D through the most meaningful way possible and that we can ignore our earthly duties for a moment and focus on our connection to G-D.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Dissecting Bodies and Believing In G-D

I don't understand how anyone who dissects a human body and understands it in detail can deny that there is certainly a G-D. There are so many intricancies that exist inside the body and perfectly placed structures so everything moves correctly. If this was the work of random evolution without some higher being, why wouldn't there be natural flaws in the general population? I mean, why should't we have muscles that work in a more unorganized manner. How is everything so perfect?

The other day we had a ceremony for the people that donated their bodies to us for the dissections. There was a lot of people that spoke and said how grateful we are and how appreciative we should be. However, there was also a bishop that spoke. Now, I am clearly not Catholic, but I had to appreciate his words, especially since he quoted Psalms. Some people thought it was inappropriate for a bishop to speak at a Med School and give a prayer for the bodies that we were dissecting. However, I would disagree. I thought it was very meaningful for the Med School to involve religion in this ceremony. First off, the Med School is a private school and it can do whatever it wants. However, I also think it shows a realization that there is a higher power at work.

When someone looks at these bodies they have to think, what separates the living from the dead? One of my friends at Med School even told me, " I am not religious, but when I look at these bodies and see how small the separation is between us and them I start to think." I was very impressed with this idea because he was so right. I know that there are certain molecules that are working in a living person that have stopped working in a dead person, but there is still something spiritual and otherworldly that you just can't help but wonder.

I am still bewildered why people think that if evolution occurred it is impossible that G-D exists. I do not see these two things as mutually exclusive. It makes a lot of sense to say that there was a higher being guiding evolution. Everything in the world works so perfectly together and evolution's steps occurring was something like one in a billion chance. This is not all of evolution occurring, but rather every step that was needed had a very slim chance. I just can't see how everything happened without a higher power. Without a higher power guiding it, it is practically impossible for human life to have occurred.