This is part 2 in a series on Rav Meiselman’s latest book.  For the full book review, see part 1.

Road-Map to These Articles

In my review of Rav Meiselman’s book, the purpose was to explain the Rav’s opinion.  I was trying to limit my own editorializing or make any decision on if it was the right approach.  At the time, i was really grappling with the difference between Rav Meiselman and Slifkin.  in this post, I go through my thought process and how I’ve arrived at the conclusion as to with whom I agree.  In part III, I’ll discuss the first 6 days of creation to bring out the point.

The Controversy of How to Relate Torah to Modern Science, in a Nutshell

slifkin-meiselman-contreversy-scienceA rather lively debate is going on within the Torah Judaism world as to what constitutes, well, ‘Torah Judaism’ with respect to scientific discovery.  I’ve well documented Rav Moshe Meiselman’s opinion on this matter that if it’s in the Torah which is received from G_d, the starting point is our mesorah [handed down understanding], and unless necessary, do we seek guidance from experimentation.

Recently, I’ve been grappling with the opinion of Nosson Slifkin whose books have been banned by Meiselman and for that matter, many other big names in the Torah world . . . Rav Moshe Shapiro, Rabbi Ahron Schechter, Rabbi Shmuel Kamenetzsky, and Rabbi Ovadiah Yosef amongst a long list of others.  These include some of the greatest Torah giants of our generation and are certainly not to be taken lightly.  As Torah Jews, we trust that there are those who know more than us, even if we don’t understand.   (I wrote about must trust in a gadol [giant] in Torah it in an article on Rav Zilberstein’s discussion of medical halacha.) Still, I was never satisfied with it in this case.  I want to understood why … what, exactly is wrong with Slifkin’s books?

What is a Machlokos for Shaymayim (The Sake of Heaven)

First, a brief word on machlokos, or “disagreements” in Judaism.  Those which are for the sake of heaven endure, those which are not, will not.  This is a core belief which we learn from Korach and explained in Pirkei Avos [ethics of our fathers].  Rather than reinvent the wheel, the concept is explained quite if you follow this link to Torah.org.

Still further, there’s another principal of “minimizing machlokos” – making it as small as possible because we don’t want disagreements.  For example, in Bava Kamma, daf 14 (which I happen to be learning right now), there’s a dispute between Rav Pappa and Rav Huna as to whether when your animals gores someone for the first time and you pay half damages, is this as compensation or as a fine?  What’s the practical difference?  The only difference is whether in the case of admittance, do you pay?  If it’s a fine, one doesn’t pay when they admit guilt.  If it’s compensation, you pay.  Yet, the Talmud goes on for pages and pages trying to prove one way or the other despite the point of dispute being so small.  Yet, everyone agrees that if your animal gores the first time, it pays half damages to the other party.

First Try: Minimize the Maklokos Between Rav Meiselman and Slifkin

This, in a nutshell seems to be something like much of (but not all of) the dispute between Slifkin and Meiselman. It seems, from a theoretical standpoint, to be only a question of “to what extent” with very little difference in end result. I’ve actually met and had a few short conversations with Nosson Slifkin.  He gave lectures at Ohr Somayach when I learned there.  I asked him about the ‘proof’ used by the Aish HaTorah Discovery program regarding fish with scales always having fins, as seemingly spelled out in the Torah.  Slifkin’s answer to me was that there is, in fact, an exception but he wasn’t publishing it because it was used for Jewish outreach.  Meiselman’s book spends an entire chapter on the issue!  He had no problem exposing it (though it’s still pretty good, and in summary, for kashrus purposes, if you see a fish with just scales it’s kosher and you can rely on that … something that is 99.99% the case is just fine to rely on, and even in the exception case, it can be argued that it’s really not an exception … see Meiselman’s book).

To go even further, Meiselman openly says (and I apologize for being too lazy to find all the page numbers) that Rishonim (about 10th century to 14th century) sometimes explained concepts in Torah using the science of their day and could be mistaken.  Example: Spontaneous generation of life with regards to the “Achbar”, a rodent or squirrel that came from the mud next to the Nile river.  The Talmud itself, however, does not state that there is spontaneous generation, and in fact, Meiselman and Slifkin’s answers on this are nearly identical … the Talmud is arguing what the law would be in such a case described by others, and not actually saying it occurred.   (Though modern science does believe in spontaneous generation … they say life just sort of happened.)  This is useful in discussions of say, grown meat, or a better example, the discussion of flying towers is very useful when discussing Jewish law with regards to airplanes.

Both Rav Meiselman and Slifkin, are, to my knowledge Torah observant Jews who believe in the authenticity of the Torah from the Creator, as handed down to us from Mt. Sinai without change.  In practical difference, the outcome is, at least at this time, fairly small if existent at all.  The difference, as best I can tell, from reading both of their writings, is that if the Talmud states something as fact, it could be a mistake.  Even there, the number of potential ‘mistakes’ is about as many as the fingers on a hand.  More often, and I think both would agree, it’s a mistake in our understanding.

Would one’s practice of Judaism be different if they believed Rav Meiselman or Slifkin were right?

Slifkin’s best argument in this regard (sifting through article after article on his blog of attacking everything just short of the color Rav Meiselman’s frock) seems to be “the Rabbonim are suppressing information and alternative thought.”  Slifkin, a student of the very much haredi Mir yeshiva in Jerusalem, now champions left-leaning publishers (calling out Artscroll?! who even publishes an RCA [modern Orthodox] addition of it’s prayer books) and regularly posts things to embarrass those to “to the right”.  (At the time of this writing, his blog leads with an article of haredi-looking Jews alternating between dancing and being sprayed with a water cannon, mocking them for not joining the army.  What this has to do with the controversy over his ideas, I have no idea.)

Meiselman’s argument in this regard is that once we start with beliefs which involve “throwing out” parts of Torah and saying that our mesorah as handed down to us from Mt. Sinai has mistakes in scientific understanding, then why wouldn’t you also say there are mistakes in legal understanding?  Further, if you start changing things because modern science says something, then what happens when ‘science’ turns out to be wrong and the theories are thrown out for new and better ones?  Even the ‘better’ ones are still approximation based on evaluation of evidence.  So if we ‘jump ship’, so to speak, to keep Torah up to date with science, in reality, we’ll always be jumping further and further away.  Even more so, we’re always putting Torah in the “one down” position, giving in emotionally to the inferiority of what we believe is the word and oral transmission from the Creator.  That’s certainly a silly thing to do, for which I think Meiselman’s opinion is quite logical.

Progression of My Own Opinions

So the above conclusions were where I was up until Adar 9, 5774.  Actually, let me back up further – I went from science being my religion to Torah being my religion 14 years ago.  Still, I ‘needed’ Torah to fit with science.  I needed that up until, I don’t know exactly when, but suffice to say, it was recent.  As both Rav Meiselman and Slifkin would agree, one best arrives at the truth of the Torah by learning it and seeing it’s depth and beauty.  It’s a full and complete system that just makes a whole lot of sense.  What were questions, cease to be questions as you learn more.  There is few pleasures in this world that I have experienced as great as resolving a contradiction and understanding how it fits together.  There are no absolute proofs (though I’ve had fun debating atheists over here and here to sharpen my beliefs), but everyone is seemingly after finding the singularity that explains everything, whether approaching from physics, psychology, the stock market, or, well, the Creator.

When Slifkin’s books were banned, it happened to coincide with feeling the pain of some very bad advice from a person I called “my Rav”.  I had major questions on the scientific understanding of today’s Torah scholars.  Gerald Schroder’s articles on Aish.com were also taken down for review.  It was Schroder’s hypotheses that actually ‘allowed’ me to become Torah observant, though his articles were eventually restored.

It was not until Rav Meiselman’s book that I actually understood the position of the Torah giants of our day.  Slifkin is a much more prolific writer, and as I knew him, he was just this guy running zoo tours from a Torah perspective and a sort of side speaker at my yeshiva.  Still, I have not been able to resolve for myself intellectually why there was a need for the book ban.

I Am Now Was? Convinced of Rav Meiselman’s Side of the Debate Against Nosson Slifkin

David Kornreich runs a blog whose sole purpose is to challenge assertions made by Nosson Slifkin.   He read my review of Rav Meiselman’s book on Torah and science and commented (as you can read over there) that I left out in my review that one can’t call the creation narrative in the Torah just a “parable”.  True, Rav Meiselman said this in his book, but I really didn’t think it was answering a serious challenge and so I left it out.  So I challenged Kornreich – does Slifkin actually say such a thing?  Sure, I can call the “hand of G_d” an allegorical sort of thing, or better yet, a metaphysical sort of thing.  No problem … I don’t understand what it really means, though maybe some kabbalist out there does on a deeper level.  However, to call an entire narrative in the Torah a ‘parable’ would mean that when the Torah says X happened followed by Y, it’s lying to us.  That would be too much for me to stomach.

David Kornreich delivered and provided me with this link –  It’s clear from Slifkin’s video where he’s pretty much talking from his book, The Challenge of Creation (the link is to Google Books where you can actually read excerpts online – jump down to page 218 and start there) … he takes it way too far in supporting whatever the current scientific theory is over Torah.  Not only does Slifkin put science in the “one up position” and Torah in the “one down position” he quickly dismisses the veracity of the Torah’s creation account!  If that’s the case, how can we trust anything in the Torah as being accurate?  Let’s just take whiteout to the ten commandments because modern psychology says honoring a deadbeat father is wrong.  Then once we do that …

I’ll take up the topic Slifkin and Creation in more detail in part III of this series.

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24 Comments

  1. Pingback: Six Days of Creation – A Modern Reconciliation with Science | Patently Jewish

  2. Pingback: Six Days of Creation – Broad Philosophical Answer | Patently Jewish

  3. If my memory serves me, the Ramban can be found in bereishis 1:4. It should be noted that the Ramban, immediately prior to making his comment regarding sefiros says that the days of creation were days mamash, made up of units of time. Then he says the p’nimyus of it refers to sefiros. It is strange to suggest that the pnimyus in the Ramban contradicts the pshat.

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  4. I wish people would stop trying to make the Rishonim open to an old earth. They never heard of evolution and had no reason to even be open to such a thing.

    Ramban(brings Rambam M.N. 3:50 as agreeing) in Toras H’ Tmima, and Noach 10:5 says that(the geneologies in Torah give testimony to chidush haolam).
    In Toras H’ Tmima, he says “hayodeah shehue b’atzmo haya yachid baolam b’lo av v’aim” (he also says somewhere in Breishis that Adam had no parents)
    The Rambam there M.N.3:50 says “caasher haisa pinas haTorah sh’haolam mchudash, v’asher nivra tchila haya ish echad mmin haAdam, v’hue Adam haRishon. So you have both of them proving ‘chidush ha’olam’ by chain of testimony back to Adam haRishon. Now what proof would it be of chidush haolam to trace humanity to Adam haRishon if there were billions of years before he lived?

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  5. (I want to apologize if my comments appear out of order. I don’t understand how this commenting system works – sometimes there is a “reply” option to other comments, and sometimes it’s only at the bottom.)

    You say that “Yes, there is a source in Chazal that says the story of Iyov never happened. Are you asserting there is such a source for Bereshis?” I was addressing your dismissal of any non-literal explanation as being a “fairy tale.” Yet this is precisely what is said about Iyov. So do you agree that it’s not appropriate to characterize it as making something into a “fairy tale”?
    Furthermore, in your earlier post, you said that you “can’t stomach” the notion that when the Torah says X happened after Y, that it is not historical. Yet this is precisely what is said about Iyov. So do you agree that your stomach sensitivities are not necessarily the same as those of Rambam?
    And, yes, according the primary commentaries on the Moreh, which Meiselman refuses to quote, Rambam held that the story of creation, including the account of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, is not historical.
    For Rav Herzog’s view, see http://www.torahmusings.com/2006/01/r-yitzhak-herzog-on-taking-creation/
    You don’t have to like this view. You don’t have to agree with it. You just have to acknowledge its existence.

    As for Meiselman disqualifying the scientific enterprise – you just have to think about applying his view to the actual facts. Astrophysics is built around the concept of stars being millions of light years away, i.e. the light from them taking millions of years to get to us. According to Meiselman – not true! Ice layers and sedimentary layers due to changing seasons, geological formation, different eras of life on earth, the list is endless, I’ve barely scratched the surface – in all these fields, Meiselman claims that science is completely wrong. According to Meiselman, the earth rotated on its axis only six times, and it is forbidden to say that millions of years of development took place. You can believe that if you want, but don’t claim that Meiselman has any scientific credibility; and you should be aware that he is fundamentally going against the entire scientific enterprise.

    You seem like a sincere guy. I just don’t think that you are knowledgeable enough about these topics, or that you have thought about them enough. Speak to some religious scientists, read some science books, read Slifkin’s book, and think about what Meiselman is actually saying in real-world terms.

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    • There’s really not much point in continuing this if we’re not arguing about what’s actually written … whether it be my writing or Rav Meiselmans.

      For example, about me you wrote: “I was addressing your dismissal of any non-literal explanation as being a “fairy tale.””
      About R’Meiselman you wrote: “Meiselman claims that science is completely wrong.”

      Again, no and no. I said just the opposite in my last reply to you and in the blog post itself. Rav Meiselman further did not say that. Then you build narratives around things that people never said and accuse them of lacking knowledge. That sounds just like what Slifkin does to Bereshis.

      As for your Rav Herzog link, it supports Meiselman, not Slifkin. Quoting from your link … “It may well be that questions affecting the relation between science and religion received due treatment in those two departments of esoteric learning.” He does NOT state that Bereshis is a parable with false information … he states that the knowledge is “esoteric.”

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  6. ” no where did I says the sun before the plants is an evolving scientific theory and I have no idea where you got that idea from”

    Sure you did, you said it at February 10, 2014 at 5:42 pm.

    Look, Slifkin’s solutions are far from perfect. But it’s not as though he’s saying them for no reason, or without sources. It’s not some speculative far-out part of science that the sun is older than plants or that reptiles came before birds – this is something very basic. And it’s not just ” atheist/agnostic leaning-scientists” who will say so, but also plenty of religious scientists.

    Schroeder’s reconciliations are simply entertainment and are not taken seriously by Biblical scholars of any persuasion. Meiselman claims that all the sciences are simply invalid beyond 5774 years ago. That’s something that the global community of scientists – again, including plenty of Orthodox scientists – would say is ill-informed nonsense.

    You can say that you don’t know the answer and have faith that it will one day arrive. Or you can say, as several Rishonim and Acharonim did, that Maase Bereishis is not to be taken literally (there are plenty more sources in Slifkin’s book than are available on line). The major commentaries on the Moreh understood it to be saying that there is no chronological sequence in Maase Bereishis (of course, you won’t find them mentioned in Meiselman’s book). There are more recent figures, such as R. Kook and R. Herzog, who said that Maase Bereishis need not be interpreted literally (again, you won’t find these sources in Meiselman’s book). Sure, there are problems with all this. But don’t claim that there are not very serious scientific conflicts with Maase Bereishis, or that there is no basis in Jewish tradition for saying that Maase Bereishis is not literal. Do you have a better solution?

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    • This is my comment which I think you are referring to in the 5:42pm comment: “that still wouldn’t explain creation in Bereshis being listed in the wrong order, as Slifkin states, or that we should declare the Torah to be wrong”

      I did NOT say plants come before the sun. Your are putting words into my keyboard. If you’re coming at Torah from the angle that it’s a bunch of fairy tales, that’s great. Your starting and ending point is Bereshis 1:16. Then why be Torah observant at all if G_d is telling us lies, fairy tales, or parables? If Slifkin is right, I’m off the derech. Sorry kids!

      Now, if you want to say maybe there’s a deeper meaning … maybe I just don’t have the knowledge to understand (Meiselman style), fine, I can live with that. My ‘proofs’ come elsewhere.

      If you want to posit an explanation to help us maybe understand it (Goldfinger or Schroder style), I’m also fine with that. A simple answer is it’s a frame of reference issue … from a vantage point of earth, the greater luminaries become visible only on day 3 when there’s an atmosphere … largely produced through the waste products of prokariyotc life which may well fit within the definition of “דֶּשֶׁא עֵשֶׂב מַזְרִיעַ זֶרַע” in Bereshis 1:12. It says a “seed” … is not, according to evolutionary theory, prokarotic life a “seed” for plants?

      I am not saying I’m right (the answer is unliked by BOTH Slifkin and Meiselman for different reasons). In any case, t’s not cause to “declare the Torah to be wrong.” I came from Reconstructionist where we my Rabbi[etzin] openly declared “we change what we know to be wrong.” Have some humility! This is why, in my estimation, Goldfinger and Schroder aren’t “banned” but Slifkin is.

      Now, on to your comments:

      “[Slifkin] not as though he’s saying them for no reason, or without sources”

      Maybe he has a source for saying Bereshis is a bunch of fairy tales. What is it and how widely accepted is the opinion?

      “Schroeder’s reconciliations are simply entertainment and are not taken seriously by Biblical scholars of any persuasion.”

      Source needed. I don’t think that’s accurate.

      “Meiselman claims that all the sciences are simply invalid beyond 5774 years ago.”

      Source needed. I don’t think that’s accurate.

      “including plenty of Orthodox scientists – would say is ill-informed nonsense.”

      Source needed.

      “There are more recent figures, such as R. Kook and R. Herzog, who said that Maase Bereishis need not be interpreted literally (again, you won’t find these sources in Meiselman’s book)”

      Ah. A source. Yes, Rafi quoted R’Kook in the comments, and contrary to your assertions … as best I can recall, you DO find the quote in R’Meiselman’s book or at least ones like it. Rav Kook’s statement, which you can read below in the comments, doesn’t make it a free for all to call anything you want a parable … he just says that a person could discern what is and isn’t. Don’t read more into it than it says.

      “don’t claim that there are not very serious scientific conflicts with Maase Bereishis”

      I did not say this. Again, don’t put words in my keyboard that aren’t there.

      “or that there is no basis in Jewish tradition for saying that Maase Bereishis is not literal.”

      I did not say that either.

      “Do you have a better solution?”

      Coming in next post, but the point is … even WiTHOUT a better solution, it’s not okay to say it’s just like Aesop’s fables or Grimm’s fairy tales meant to give us some sort of teaching message. If that’s the best G_d can do? Surely there is a deeper meaning that, you know, is honest even if I don’t know it.

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      • “Maybe he has a source for saying Bereshis is a bunch of fairy tales. What is it and how widely accepted is the opinion?”

        It’s wrong to trivialize this explanation by calling it “fairy tales.” There is a view in Chazal, adopted by Rambam, that the story of Iyov never happened. You would never characterize this as their saying that Iyov is a “fairy tale.”
        As for how widely accepted this opinion is – accepted by who? Obviously people who are unaware of the scientific problems with Bereishis will have no reason to accept it.

        “Schroeder’s reconciliations are simply entertainment and are not taken seriously by Biblical scholars of any persuasion.”
        “Source needed. I don’t think that’s accurate.”

        Sure it’s accurate. See, for example, http://traditionarchive.org/news/article.cfm?id=105357. Or try to find any Biblical commentator/ scholar who says that Bereishis 1:20-22 is not talking about birds.

        “Meiselman claims that all the sciences are simply invalid beyond 5774 years ago.”
        “Source needed. I don’t think that’s accurate.”
        Didn’t you read his book? That’s his entire approach. See, for example, chapter 41.

        “including plenty of Orthodox scientists – would say is ill-informed nonsense.”
        “Source needed.”

        Come on! That’s like asking for a source that scientists consider fairies to be fairy tales. If you need a source to accept that the scientific establishment considers the fields of astrophysics, geology and paleontology to be fundamentally meaningful, then you really shouldn’t be writing about this topic.

      • Yes, there is a source in Chazal that says the story of Iyov never happened. Are you asserting there is such a source for Bereshis? If so, again … where?

        You have asserted that Schroder’s theories are not taken seriously by “Biblical scholars of ANY persuasion”. I don’t know what this point matters to the Meiselman/Slifkin controversy, but suffice to say, people who make all or nothing statements are always wrong. (That’s a purposely self-referential recursive statement.) Would you care to more accurately qualify your point? Clearly one link to an abstract from Tradition magazine which, even if the author does state one way or the other (I can’t tell, I don’t have access to the actual article) doesn’t prove your words.

        Yes, I read almost every page of Meiselman’s book and you’re grossly oversimplifying what he says with another all or nothing statement. More accurately, he says we don’t know what is and isn’t accurate. In my personal view, I think the science is more accurate than he gives it credit for, but let’s at least state what he says accurately. Could it be that pre-flood, during flood, and after flood, different rules of physics applied as Meiselman says? (… and honestly, I had given thought to before reading the book … also, while that seems to be his main approach he does mention, but relegates to the back of the book the opinion of his Rebbe that minimally, one needs to believe it killed almost all of human civilization and concludes there that yes, there are still unanswered questions with the flood.) There’s a Gemora in Rosh HaShana about how the stars in Kima (Pilates, I think, in Greek) were removed from the sky during the flood. Does this mean in a metaphysical or physical sense? I don’t know, but point being, the order of things seems to have been changed.

        Keep it coming. This isn’t good for getting work done, but it is good for sharpening our minds.

  7. “what’s the source for saying that Bereshis is giving false information about the order of creation, as Slifkin posits”

    Why don’t you actually read his book and see the sources? And it’s not an “evolving scientific theory” that the sun came before plants.

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    • See the link above to “The Challenge of Creation” and start at about page 218 and the answer to some of the comments below, as well the text of the article you’re commenting on.

      Please stop trying to put words in my mouth that I didn’t say – no where did I says the sun before the plants is an evolving scientific theory and I have no idea where you got that idea from, or the others in your previous comment.

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  8. 1. Just because you disagree with something R’ Slifkin said doesn’t mean you need to agree with everything R’ Meiselman said. You basically found something you didn’t like, and then completely went over to the other side.

    2. The controversy over R’ Slifkin’s books is surrounding two very simple points. 1. Can we say the torah is not literal in cases where it contradicts science? 2. Can we say that chazal in the gemara were working with the science of their times? R’ Slifkin says we can say both and he brings sources that support him. That is really the end of what Slifkin said that was controversial — all the rest is just details that flow from those two foundations. Your analysis should just be about those two points. There is no need for 500 page books on this subject, and most of the discussions are getting way off point.

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    • I do agree that R’Meiselman could have said what he had to say in a shorter book, but in reality, most of it is NOT about Slifkin at all. Very little of it really has relevance to Slifkin though you wouldn’t know it from Slifkin’s blog. R’Meiselman’s book is much, much broader than that. My article here, however, is dedicated to their dispute. I actually spend a whole lot more time talking about how they agree, but every commentor, including yourself, focuses on the last paragraph.

      On to your other points: Within the relatively tiny subset of points with which Meiselman and Slifkin disagree, Meiselman and Slifkin are the extremes. There are intermediate opinions as well, such as that of Rav Gershonfeld from Machon Shlomo … I know because I asked him personally yesterday, as well as one of my own Rabbaim, R’Aaron Cohen, son the more famous R’Dovid Cohen in Brooklyn.

      Even amongst the extreme ends here, and certainly in the middle opinions, I don’t think there is anyone who says we can take things in Torah not literally, e.g. “the hand of G_d”. It’s not a literal hand. The Ramban (and I’m sure many others) tells us there are great secrets in the creation that we can’t expound on. No one is arguing otherwise and I think your points of “controversy” are a gross over-simplification.

      The question is “to what extent.” Slifkin’s extent is … extreme. I cut the details from the article on Slifkin’s extreme due to length, but it will be part of the next article. He says, in the lecture linked to in the article, such things as that evolution / the order in the Torah disagree as to whether birds or land animals came first. Therefore, we can’t apply relativity of time to the six days of creation and have to throw out any hope of Bereishis being accurate and call it a parable. That is utterly absurd from not only a Torah perspective, but a scientific one. He claims to know with more certainty whether something happened 2.4 or 2.8 billion years ago than any scientific literature I’ve ever looked at or expert in the field I’ve ever learned from. I trust those in the Torah world who say that’s extreme, and from a purely logical standpoint, it’s just as extreme, to put it politely.

      I’ve been reading Slifkin stuff on and off for years. Like a frog in slow heat, you sit there and not notice you’re boiling, but I’m more like the one that jumps back in to it every so often to find it much hotter. I see he’s gotten more extreme as time has gone on, I think as a reaction to those whom he perceives are against him. In any case, I don’t agree with everything R’Meiselman said… I simply haven’t discussed those issues and much of it, I simply don’t have enough knowledge to know one way or the other (e.g. his understanding of Avraham ben HaRambam or his arguments that R’Yonatan Saks is mis-translating). I do, however, wholeheartedly agree with R’Meiselman that we don’t need to throw out Torah and call it “allegory” every time there is a kasha with modern science. For an Torah observant Jew with a mesorah from Sinai, Torah should be treated as the paramount form of knowledge over extrapolative science. Slifkin is, in my opinion, to the other extreme.

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      • Why don’t you ask some scientists if it’s reasonable to say that plants came before the sun or that birds came before reptiles. Better yet, why don’t you ask some scientists if it’s reasonable to say, as Rav Meiselman does, that all branches of science dealing with events more than 5774 years ago – physics, geology, paletontology – are entirely nonsense.
        To argue that Meiselman has more scientific credibility here than Slifkin is simply ludicrous.

      • It’s funny you should mention that, because I just sent some questions to the Museum of Natural History, the American Geological Institute, and others. I am curious as to their answers. Even so, the question is a red herring. obviously an atheist/agnostic leaning-scientist is going to believe differently than someone who believes in a mesorah from the Creator and has learned extensive amounts of Torah, but yes, I am asking those questions to “some scientists”.

        I do not believe that “all branches of science dealing with events more than 5774 years ago” are entirely nonsense and I don’t think R’Meiselman says that either. See the prior article where I discussed the flood and R’Meiselman’s opinion on it to get a better sense of what he believes.

        I also didn’t argue, as you are implying, that “Meiselman has more scientific credibility here than Slifkin” … I simply don’t have enough knowledge to make such a statement, nor do I think it could be gleaned from this book which is much more about approach to Torah and understanding our mesorah in view of science. In the cases where Meiselman went into the realm of science, I personally, at least didn’t find fault there. For that matter, I can’t say that I’ve found fault with Slifkin’s understanding of things like evolutionary theory per se. The fault lies in his willingness to jettison Torah into the realm of “parable” or “allegory” based on the seemingly slightest hint of disagreement with current theories.

  9. Rav Kook says that at some point the Torah switches from allegory to literal narrative, and (as I recall) that although he cannot pinpoint it, the wisdom of the Jewish people will be able to discern it.

    Reply

    • I don’t know what Rav Kook said or didn’t say, but I agree with the sentiment.

      Reply

      • So then what’s your problem?

      • For example, taking as fact that the order of creation in day 4 and 5 are out of order. This is a minor reconciliation problem, if it even exists. It is -not- cause to jettison the Torah and call it allegory. He’s seen Schroeder’s books (he references them sometimes) so he knows there are ways to understand these things, but instead says (quoting his blog post titled “dealing with deluge”) we should remain silent in the face of whatever science has to say.

        His faith and understanding of science is suspect, let alone that based on minute problems of reconciliation with Torah and an evolving set of scientific theories, he chooses to jettison the Torah.

        It’s one thing to not know the answer … it’s another to say the Torah is giving false information, but be a Torah observant Jew. That takes a lot of cognitive dissonance that may work for him, but it’s asking others to go off the derech.

        I saw Rav Gershonfeld about it this morning … his yeshiva does not support the ban on the books. He told me like this – Slifkin is seeking out how to understand G_d, just like the rest of us. His opinions might be extreme and Machon Shlomo isn’t hiring Slifkin to give talks any time soon, but he wouldn’t go as extreme as banning the books as that itself shows weakness.

        More to come in my next post discussing creation.

  10. I’m not sure how you can say that Meiselman’s book provides you with the perspective of the Torah giants of today. In fact, it is my understanding that there are no haskomos to his book.

    You said “he quickly dismisses the veracity of the Torah’s creation account! If that’s the case, how can we trust anything in the Torah as being accurate?”

    Very easy. The first Rashi on chumash (and in fact Rashi all over the chumash) helps us out here.

    Rashi is bothered why the Torah doesn’t start with the meat and potatoes. But why not? Shouldn’t the Torah start with the beginning?

    The answer is no. The Torah is not a history book, and that is not Rashi’s answer either. His answer is co’ach ma’asav higgid l’amo. It’s about learning the proper outlook and lessons from the Torah. What the historical account is in inconsequential…what is the import part is what we should learn from it.

    Reply

    • Sure, it’s not a history book and the focus is not on the science of creation. It’s 23 verses we’re talking about. I’m also familiar with the Rashi as to why it’s even there in the first place. With that much, I agree. But to say that what is written is a fairy tale to teach us some moral lesson having nothing to do with the truth of how the world was created … I didn’t become Torah observant to believe in fairy tales, sorry. I don’t know whether it’s enough to ban a person’s books, but holding such an opinion while being Torah observant seems to require a lot of cognitive dissonance.

      Reply

      • I think there’s a huge difference between allegory and fairy tale.

        There’s obviously more to understand than the plain meaning of the verses. For one, the Gemara has a notion of studying ma’aseh breishis (which is forbidden)…we are not capable of understanding it fully.
        Also, its physically impossible for there to have been six literal days, since the notion of a day is dependant on the relationship between the sun and planet earth.
        And lastly, there are definitely rishonim who did not feel that the verses should be taken literally…nothing Slifkin has said in this area has been from his own invention, and he has sources to back up everything (as opposed to Meiselman, who I understand, does not really have any sources).

        Sometimes we are forced to accept a cognitive dissonance. Although we would like to believe so, our puny minds are simply not capable of understanding the big picture, and sometimes we are forced to have to two (seemingly) contradicting ideas in mind. This is not our avoda here, however.

      • “I think there’s a huge difference between allegory and fairy tale.”

        An allegory would, in my view, have the facts correct, albeit, allegorically. A fairy tale has made up information. Slifkin’s description in the Challenge of Creation (link in the article above) seems to put it in the realm of “fairy tale”, at least by my definition.

        “There’s obviously more to understand than the plain meaning of the verses. For one, the Gemara has a notion of studying ma’aseh breishis (which is forbidden)…we are not capable of understanding it fully.”

        Yes, of course. There is no disagreement from Meiselman here.

        “Also, its physically impossible for there to have been six literal days, since the notion of a day is dependant on the relationship between the sun and planet earth.”

        Yes, of course. There is no disagreement from Meiselman here.

        “And lastly, there are definitely rishonim who did not feel that the verses should be taken literally…”

        Yes, of course. There is no disagreement from Meiselman here.

        “nothing Slifkin has said in this area has been from his own invention, and he has sources to back up everything”

        This is the point of departure where I lose Slifkin. I challenge you – what’s the source for saying that Bereshis is giving false information about the order of creation, as Slifkin posits?

        “(as opposed to Meiselman, who I understand, does not really have any sources).”

        !?!?!?! After I wrote my review of his book, I searched out other blogs to read what they have to say. I wrote mine first to keep my review as unbiased as possible and frankly, I am really upset by a lot of the knee-jerk negativity on the blogs about this topic. Much of it just outright false information, besides. I think you’ve been accepting some of them as truth. Come on over and flip through Meiselman’s book. He cites Wikipedia way too much in my opinion, but it is very well sourced. You may not agree with his opinions or selective use of and interpretation of the sources (Rabbi Cohen of the Mesivta doesn’t), which I think is a fair criticism, but to say he doesn’t have any sources … such an assertion is simply unfounded.

        “Sometimes we are forced to accept a cognitive dissonance. Although we would like to believe so, our puny minds are simply not capable of understanding the big picture, and sometimes we are forced to have to two (seemingly) contradicting ideas in mind. This is not our avoda here, however.”

        Correct. I can accept that we don’t know how to resolve the difficulties. I can’t accept that Slifkin tells us that G_d is giving us false information in the Torah. I further can’t accept that Slifkin has blind faith in whatever the scientific world has to say even if it’s an evolving theory with many holes. That may not be good justification to ban someone’s books, but it’s certainly a ridiculous argument to put forth. Quoting Rabbi Reuven Geffin who in turn quoted to me Rabbi Gottlieb of Ohr Somayach who worked with Nosson Slifkin before the ban … Slifkin’s understanding of science is suspect.

      • How about Ramban in Bereishit who claims that its not talking about days at all, but rather the mystical sefirot.

      • I’m not familiar with it. Do you have a link to the entire quote or tell me which pasuk it’s on so I can look it up?

        I did find what looks to be a pretty good source here: http://www.js.emory.edu/BLUMENTHAL/GenRamban.html … but I don’t see such a reading of “yom” as “mystical sefirot”. Rather, the seforit “precede the creation of all parts of the universe” according to this source. In each of the six days which follows, there are acts of creation.

        Even if it says what you’re positing that it says, that still wouldn’t explain creation in Bereshis being listed in the wrong order, as Slifkin states, or that we should declare the Torah to be wrong in the face of an evolving scientific theory which itself, internally raises many unanswered questions. On both counts, I take great issue with Slifkin’s opinions.

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