Jewish Timeline

I wrote an earlier article showing the unbroken chain from the Exodus in Egypt (circa. 3300 years ago).  The article takes us through the end of the biblical era (circa. 2500 years ago), over 1500 years in Babylon (aka. Iraq/Iran) (in this case, ending about 1000 years ago), Spain (ending about 600 years ago), and then through Eastern Europe (ending circa. 75 years ago) through today’s Jews in the United States and Israel.

Further to the written article, slides are provided below with some more details such as the Yehoakhin Ration Document linking the written Bible to the chronology in Babylon, as reported by “independent third parties” (e.g. those of the Babylonian kingdom), and The Chronicle of the Cid from the Spanish in the 1500s.

A higher quality version (easier to read) can be downloaded here in PDF format.  The “private” version for my family’s seder actually continues to my youngest daughter.  If you shoot off from this tree somewhere, I am also happy to provide an editable version that you can freely markup and continue to your own family.  Just contact me and I’ll get back to you.

Visualizing the Timeline in 13 Slides

We start with the Genealogy in Ruth - this takes us from Nachshon, brother-in-law to Aaron who was at the Exodus itself.

We start with the Genealogy in Ruth – this takes us from Nachshon, brother-in-law to Aaron who was at the Exodus itself.

There's Nachson. :)

There’s Nachson. 🙂

Now we take it through the first temple.  These are the Kings of Israel.  This is lifted straight from the written Bible as well as Talmud where this is recorded.

Now we take it through the first temple. These are the Kings of Israel. This is lifted straight from the written Bible as well as Talmud where this is recorded.

Here's a depiction of the kingdom of Judea and Israel near the end of the First Temple Period.  After this, the Jews become dispersed, mostly to Bablyonia and later to Italy.

Here’s a depiction of the kingdom of Judea and Israel near the end of the First Temple Period. After this, the Jews become dispersed, mostly to Bablyonia and later to Italy.

This tablet was found in Iraq corroborating the name and the description of what happened to one of the last kings of Israel, taken into exile.

This tablet was found in Iraq corroborating the name and the description of what happened to one of the last kings of Israel, taken into exile.

The descendants were then heads of the yeshivas, courts, and Jewish people in exile where we prospered under the Saasinid Empire.

The descendants were then heads of the yeshivas, courts, and Jewish people in exile where we prospered under the Saasinid Empire.

Here's a picture of such a yeshiva with a map showing the location.  Today, these locations are Falluja, Baghdad, and other places heard in the news. The story of Mar Ukva, told in the Talmud, is that he used to give to the poor anonymously and avoided getting caught at all costs, once throwing himself into a fire because that was better than embarrassing someone who was receiving.  (He apparently seemed to trust that he'd live, and he did.)

Here’s a picture of such a yeshiva with a map showing the location. Today, these locations are Falluja, Baghdad, and other places heard in the news.
The story of Mar Ukva, told in the Talmud, is that he used to give to the poor anonymously and avoided getting caught at all costs, once throwing himself into a fire because that was better than embarrassing someone who was receiving. (He apparently seemed to trust that he’d live, and he did.)

Here's the rest of the Babylonian line ... though there are other branches that can be used, this is the shortest and probably one of the best documented and many of these are great scholars known in the Torah.

Here’s the rest of the Babylonian line … though there are other branches that can be used, this is the shortest and probably one of the best documented and many of these are great scholars known in the Torah.

When Babylon became less friendly under Muslim rule (their friendliness fluctuated), Jews found refuge in Spain under Christian rule.  This went very well, but didn't take long until the Jews did better under the Muslims once again.

When Babylon became less friendly under Muslim rule (their friendliness fluctuated), Jews found refuge in Spain under Christian rule. This went very well, but didn’t take long until the Jews did better under the Muslims once again.

Now the lineage starts to fan out into Eastern Europe, especially with the welcoming of Jews in Poland with laws more favorable towards Jews than non-Jews!

Now the lineage starts to fan out into Eastern Europe, especially with the welcoming of Jews in Poland with laws more favorable towards Jews than non-Jews!

In this family tree, the migrations became more common though still 'only' happening every few generations.

In this family tree, the migrations became more common though still ‘only’ happening every few generations.

This takes us to very modern history...

This takes us to very modern history…

... with no more than about 40 distinct seders to take us back to Nachson, the first in the water.

… with no more than about 40 distinct seders to take us back to Nachson, the first in the water.


I write this article after a gathering of 300,000 – 600,000 Jews in one place to protest recent army service.  This is not to be minimized, though very non-understood.  Why are so many Torah observant Jews opposed to army service?  Well, I was going to write mostly on that and try and make sense of it, but “Rabbi Akiva” does a much better job of it.  He is a Lubovitch Rabbi who serves in the Israeli army reserves and has both a son and daughter who served in the Israeli army.  After a quick synopsis of some of his articles, it’s on to the Torah observant approaches to the modern state of Israel.  I have spent much time trying to understand the different approaches and which opinion I believe.  I am going to try and keep my opinion out of it and just explain those opinions of others, which is actually quite easy as my mind is still not made up.  I can argue most (not all) of these opinions.

An “Ultra-Orthodox” Jew’s Experience with the Israeli Army

Rather than re-invent what’s already been well written by someone closer to the issue than I am, I direct you to three articles by “Rabbi Akiva” a Lubovitch Rabbi in Israel.  He runs the blog.

2014-03-02 Great Prayer Rally 019[6]Article 1: His Daughter in a regular unit without religious soldiers.  In short, she went to the army against his wishes to serve the country there.  She was well treated and special accommodations were made for her religious dress (she strictly wears long skirts only) and her job was to be in charge of kashrus on the base, making that a bit easier for her.  Suffice to say, it wasn’t easy for her in an environment antithetical to religious values.  I had heard similarly from Rav Mendel Weinbach zt”l, the Rosh Yeshiva of Ohr Somayach in Jerusalem.  He was supposed to look the other way when men and women went into each other’s barracks.  It’s not an environment for a Torah observant Jew, especially not one who is 18 years old and still figuring out life.  A similar problem exists, and is one in which most Torah observant Jews avoid in the United States – it’s called the freshman year dorms.  Though in smaller scale, similar fights have happened over observant Jews who felt forced into such situations.

Article 2: His Son joins Nachal Charedi.  Here is a description of a Torah observant Jew who wants to serve in the army in a program which accommodates Torah observant soldiers … but has to “know someone” to even get in.  There is so much more demand (or was) than there are (or were) spaces.  After overcoming that hurdle, the author tells us that the environment in this special unit was, for the most part, pretty decent.  My own editorializing – if there’s such demand and willingness, and the program is already in place, why doesn’t the army just exponentially increase the size of such programs and let it play out naturally?  Well, that’s pretty much the position of the Likud party, but is certainly not that of Yesh Atid who is in the government coalition and wishes the Greeks beat the Jews and we didn’t have Chanukah.  That comes next…

Article 3: Why Rabbi Akiva Joined the Rally Against the Israeli Government.  He makes a great many points.  In summary: a) Only Torah Observant Jews are singled out as criminals if they don’t join the army; b) Israeli law prevents Jews who study Torah from working so they can’t [note – this is a point where I agree with Yesh Atid … this is finally changing); c) institutes of higher education in the religious system aren’t recognized as degrees [note – I have seen articles about Charedi high schools for girls that give the same secular studies as another, but are frowned upon when working with the Israeli system to get a proper diploma … so it seems to work both ways]; d) the feminist movements in Israel don’t want to see more Torah observant Jews in the army and segregation of men and women which has limited the expansion of programs such as Nachal Charedi in the first place; e) the army often disrespects even non-Charedi religious soldiers, forcing them to go to social events having nothing to do with fighting for the country, where they are subjected to content inappropriate for anyone, and most certainly, Torah law.

The “Actively Destroy Zionism” View

Now on to the views of different sectors within Torah observant Judaism.  Again, I preface with stating that these are not opinions – I am just codifying and trying to understand the different views.

The Neturei Karta are a group that wants to see the modern state of Israel gone and actively works towards that goal – even a religious state would be no good until G_d wills it.  Their complete position can be found here.  They see the whole concept as contrary to Jewish law, citing the Talmud in Kesubos, page 111a about three oaths the Jews took, one of which is that we would not resettle the land by force.  I’m not going to go into the different interpretations here, but suffice to say, religious Zionists have a different take on it.  Neturei Karta are a new grouping of Jews, originally from Jerusalem, that continued in what are some fairly widely held beliefs in the Torah world pre-1948.  I don’t think that can be minimized.  However, their approach today is, I will admit, difficult to understand as they do things like meet with holocaust deniers because they also want the State of Israel destroyed, albeit for very different reasons.  I read accounts of the one of the founders who used to do things like block police cars on Shabbos in Jerusalem until he got arrested.  He was protesting the desecration of the Sabbath, and sees the zionists as secularists who are hostile to the Torah and so is hostile in return.

The “Be Polite but Don’t Give an Inch to Zionism” View

This view has been, to my knowledge, best articulated by the Satmar Rebbe, Rav Yoel Teitelbaum.  The English language biography was excellent.  This is also the view held, I think, by most Chassidm with the exception of Lubovitch, though even the latter group was anti-zionist in Europe.  (They changed their views in order to conduct outreach to the masses of less Torah observant Jews.)  Many “Litvish” (non-Chassidic) Jews also hold this way, though they are mostly, I think, the next category.

This view says that Jews shouldn’t have founded the modern state, and though often denied, the Satmar Rebbe biography states outright that zionism caused the holocaust by provoking the non-Jews to be against us.  The zionists are anti-religious and anti-Torah (and people like Yair Lapid play right into this) and are trying to destroy Torah Judaism.  With the founding of Israel, there is much evidence for this from the Children of Tehran, refugees from Europe who arrived in Israel, being coaxed into secular homes and screamed at if they said kaddish for their dead parents, to the disappearance of babies from religious Yemenite couples.

In this view, no money is taken from the Israeli government.  The money is raised internally within organizations such as Chassidic groups, and they aren’t serving in the Israeli army anytime soon because they ideologically hold that the state is an evil institution.  I heard Rabbi Dovid Gottlieb, a Bostoner Chassid, say zionism is a big question mark.  We don’t know whether it’s good or bad.  At the same time, I heard his Rebbe, the Bostoner Rebbe say quite clearly that there is one Rabbinate in Israel and that he, even as a Rebbe of a Chassidic court, can’t conduct a wedding without approval from the Israeli Rabbinate.  The Charedi bais din’s also work with the Rabbinute, though are separate.  On the other hand, I heard Rabbi Gottlieb say that a secular Jewish government in the land of Israel is “totally illegitimate.”

I might also add that I had a midnight conversation with a Toldos Aaron Chassidic Jew in Meah Shearim, Jerusalem about this.  (He was actually from Boro Park, Brooklyn and spoke perfect English.)  He said that before 1948, the religious Arabs and Jews in Jerusalem, who were most of the population, used to attend each others weddings and celebrations.  The Arabs would buy kosher meat from Jews and so on.  History tends to show a less idealistic picture, but in my review of The History of the IDF book by Yigal Alon describing Israel in 1903, it seems to corroborate this view … as long as the Arabs were the ones on top.  Their laws require Muslims to be on horses while the non-Muslims walk next to them; their religious places to be the highest in the city, and so on.

Keep Separate but Do What You Need to Do with the State to Meet Your Needs

As I understand this view, the Chazon Ish said (I have not found a direct quote) that it’s true, the Israeli government is run by people against the Torah and the halacha [Jewish law] is that we don’t partner with people who are against it.  However, it is not called “partnership” when you are doing what is necessary to get along with someone else. In fact, the secular government has more power and so it’s certainly not a partnership.  The Chazon Ish and Rav Schach in B’Nai Brak, Israel helped found the United Torah Judaism political party (well, one part of it).  R’Schach actively supported Shas, the party for the sefardi Jews headed by Rav Ovadia Yosef zt”l.  The Chazon Ish did vote and take part in the government and be a part of it.  In this view, there are different roles – just as an army has it’s roles where one person is a front line soldier, another sits in a bunker working intelligence, and another writes the newsletter, Jews also have different roles.  Some fight in the army, others learn Torah and teach Judaism to the next generation.

In Israeli elections in the 1980s, the left wing wanted to form a coalition with the religious parties in order to give land to Arabs for their own country.  They thought they’d find a partner with R’Shach who, for example, was very against the building of the modern city of Beitar, a Charedi city on land captured in 1967.  R’Shach was against provoking the Arabs in any way and I have even read in one of his books, was against proclaiming “Jerusalem is our eternal capital” because a) we know it’s true anyway, and b) it will only anger the Arabs.  However, in the election, he sided with the right wing parties and joined their coalition because the right wing parties were made up of traditional Jews and not those who are antithetical to Torah and the values passed down from Mt. Sinai.

The State of Israel is a Fulfillment of Biblical Prophecy

Here is the first real cultural leap, at least among Ashkenazi Jews.  These are Jews who tend to actively be engaged with secular Israeli society, earn higher secular degrees, and serve in the army or national service.  Some do study Torah full time as well, and some protest against mandatory draft of Torah scholars.  They hold that the modern state of Israel is a fulfillment of prophecies that Jews would return to the land in mass and have added prayers to the prayer books praying for the welfare of the state and call it the “footsteps of Mosciach”.  Maybe.  (Whether or not that should be added to the prayer book as fact, I think, is a larger problem.)

I don’t have as much familiarity with Sefardi Jews and their way of thinking, but the group, even when religious, seems to be pro-Zionist.  Most of them, having come from living under Arab rule, maybe know something that the Ashkenazim find harder to understand.

Still, religious Zionism has problems with much of the secular nature of Israel, but will actively compromise with it and live within it.  The more right wing parties were livid, for example, when courts were allowed to operate over a three day religious holiday (in Israel, this only happens on Rosh Hashana and only in some years) to which the religious Zionists responded it was a good compromise as in almost all cases, the courts would be respecting the holidays.  The religious Zionist approach is usually a pragmatic way of living in Israel.

Even further, in this view, there are many who say the holocaust was caused not by zionism (as the Satmar Rebbe said) but by being physically weak and failing to move to Israel when we had the chance.  We now have an army and can defend ourselves without relying on other nations who, one after the other, harmed us.  Thus, we should and must preserve and make stronger the state both physically and spiritually.  This includes both army service and Torah learning.  As R’Mordechai Becher put it to me, if you live in a country, you shouldn’t remove yourself and his opponents in yeshiva had much less to say against him when he had a gun on him.  (He also taught in what is politically right wing Ohr Somayach with R’Dovid Gottlieb, quoted above.)

Why Less Charedi Jews Will Join the Army

First, the Yesh Atid party isn’t the one to do it.  You can’t antagonize people and tell them what they do is not worthy and expect to get your way.  It won’t happen.  It just reminds Torah Jews of stories of Russian czars doing the same thing, along with tons of other examples.  You can’t change someone when you don’t even understand their worldview, let alone respect it.  If you want people in the army, you can’t start by cutting funding to their school children and telling them they’ll go to jail if they aren’t like you and don’t hold the same values to join an army that doesn’t need the manpower in the first place.  That works on a person who believes in nothing and has no chain of tradition past his own father.  It shows that Yesh Atid understands nothing of how a Torah observant Jew operates and doesn’t act with even a subjectively decent way to treat a person.

Second, Charedi Jewry was already bursting out in all directions and is economically unsustainable.  (For this, I agree with Naftali Bennett of Bayit Yehudi.)  This was starting to be solved on it’s own by introduction of more job training and higher education in a framework acceptable to Torah observant Jews.  Problem: It’s now stigmatized and polarized by the forces working to impose on the Charedi community from the outside.  This is precisely why the community has separated itself to begin with.  If you can’t respect one another, there isn’t much hope of coming together.

Third, the current plan is just stupid.  As written above, the internal demand by Charedi Jews to join the army was steadily increasing and gaining more acceptance.  You can’t get a spot in Nachal Charedi without knowing someone.  Instead of increasing the size to let more in, if you’re 18+ right now, you have no obligation to go to the army whatsoever meaning very few will enroll at all.  Then, all of the sudden, everyone who doesn’t is a criminal.  What?  The wise men of Chelm seem to be controlling the Israeli government.  (I am a direct descendant of an illiterate water carrier from Chelm.)  A frog in a pot with slowly raising temperature will stay, but throw him in freezing water and the hot water and he’ll jump right out.

How to Fix The Problem

First, stop trying to get others to be like you.  It doesn’t work.  Respect them for who they are.  The very religious and very secular play into each other’s hands – the secular don’t want to give money to the very religious and the very religious want only religious study without job training.  So there is a 50% work rate for Chareidim in Israel with incomes far lower than those of secular Jews.  Perfect until financial collapse for everyone.

Paraphrasing R’Mordechai Becher, what do Charedim expect when money is taken from the secular government, all the while telling them that they’re wrong for their beliefs?  The secular public is “up in arms” over this basic lack of respect.  An attitude of “thank you” for supporting Torah learning would go a long way.  Secular Jews, for which I was once one, are more likely to hear, “I’m doing you a favor by keeping Judaism” which is true but has the implication that the other person is lesser.

On the secular side, stop trying to force religious Jews to be zionist or teach zionist education.  That’s your value, not theirs but we can all get along in a country just like different people in other countries go to work together despite having very different beliefs.  You’re not going to change them, you’re only going to antagonize.  There are certain (many) religious Jews who will never join the army. Many other would join if there were an appropriate atmosphere – not through coercion or force but through respect.

What I would do, being highly influenced by American-style equality and democracy:

– Taking from Yesh Atid, I would allow all Jews, regardless of army service or not, to work.  Good idea.

– Taking from no one in Israel, I would start with a school funding formula that funds every student equally.  If you have 500 students in your school, you get 500x dollars … adjust this for local differences in salaries and costs of the class.  It should at least be offered and there in a democratic society.  If a school wants to take less or doesn’t want state funding, leave them alone but don’t be a bigot in your funding formula.

– Put more money into career opportunities for religious Jews, not penalize schools getting less money with … even less.  If you want to give incentives to teach English, then do so but don’t penalize a school receiving 55 cents on the dollar by taking away more funds.  That’s antagonism and makes people do the opposite of what you want.

– Give freedom of religion in the Israeli army.  If a soldier is reprimanded because he refused to attend a concert with a female singer claiming a religious exemption, that is something for Rabbis in the Israeli army to answer.  They, in turn, should answer to the Chief Rabbi of the State of Israel.  This is not something that a communist commander should be deciding and amounts to religious persecution.  It is unconscionable that in Jewish state, you can be punished because you won’t violate Jewish law.

– Quadruple the size of the charedi units in the army, with army commanders having say over army issues and the Rabbinate having command over religious issues.  No soldier should be punished for insubordination to a human commander while exercising religious freedom.  All Jews, whether secular or religious, should have the same rights to use religious freedom as a reason not to take part in a non-essential event.

– Penalize those who dodge the draft the same whether they be a religious Jew, a secular Jew, or a non-Jew.  Each are treated differently today.

– If the army is not okay with accommodating religious Jews under religious leadership and it doesn’t really need the manpower … then then she shouldn’t require them to serve at all.  In fact, this is precisely what’s happened for so long.  Changing this requires respect for religion of the person in all policies.


This is the last in a thread of posts which began with a review of R’Meiselman’s book on Torah and Science, followed by a discussion of the dispute between R’Meiselman and Nosson Slifkin, and finally, a broad philosophical perspective on maybe why there are six days of creation.  Now, I will be discussing modern Jewish views on the six days of creation in view of science and attempt my own reconciliation of sorts.

Overview of Jewish Answers of What’s Happening in the 6 Days Of Creation

Here is the short, short version of how different thinkers have phrased it, from right to left on the viewpoint map.  The answers are, I believe, not very far off.  It should also be understood that I don’t think any of those I refer to actually claim theirs to be the answer.  R’Sapirman poses his ‘answer’ in question form only for purposes of showing we need not abandon Jewish beliefs in the face of science, R’Meiselman’s answer is along the lines of “we don’t know, but we do know Torah is true”, and as for Dr. Gerald Schroeder … I once had the opportunity to pick him from the airport.  I asked him  “Do you believe your theory is true?”  He thought for a moment and said, “After teaching it for so long, I’m starting to.”

Answer 1: Strict Literal Reading – Six Days & Creation of an Old World

(By “strict literal”, I am using the colloquial understanding that creation took six days from our time perspective and using the incorrect assumption that time is absolute.  In ‘reality’, even if it was from another time perspective, that’s still “strict literal”.)

Rabbi Sapirman has been instrumental in trying to introduce teaching emunah (why jews believe what we do) into Jewish schools.  He has produced books, school curriculums with short lessons (which were dinner time reading for my family), and an audio series.  The latter is available for free download on this blog, entitled, “Know What to Answer Yourself.”

In Rabbi Sapirman’s audio series, he posits the question – why can’t it be that a Creator created the world already in place?  He uses an example of stars with light already stretching for light years when it was created.  This could be literally done in six days.  Just as man was created fully formed, so too was the universe.  This would explain inconsistencies with what current science observers from our exceedingly limited vantage point and what actually was.

I’m not particularly fond of this explanation, but it is at possibility and one which really can’t be disproven.  Then again, it’s not really that different than the more palpable answers.  If a tree falls on a mime in the woods … does anyone care?  (Farside cartoon.)  If it all happens slow or fast, and you’re an infinite which is creating, what’s the difference?

Answer 2: Different Time Click – We Don’t Understand it, Move On

It’s said a bit more eloquently than that, but this is my understanding of R’Meiselman’s opinion in his book.  He devotes a chapter to the Rambam’s understanding of the shift in time clock on the fourth day (Bereshis [Genesis] 1:14 where it states, “to separate between the day and between the night”).  Before there’s a difference between “day” and “night” there’s a difference in the time being told.  Beyond that, the Rambam also states (as quoted in the last article) that it’s the second most hidden topic in all of Judaism … right after the description of the visit to the throne of the Creator.

R’Meiselman also makes clear that we have a truth from our fathers extending back to Sinai and this tradition is the living and continuing truth from the Creator.  There are a ridiculous number of places where we see the wisdom in the Torah attesting to it’s truth and greatness. (Rabbi Sapirman points this out as well, though more in the prophecy sense.)  It doesn’t change, but beliefs of the rest of the world have and continue to do so.  If something outside of Torah matches it, great.  If not, it can go take a hike (again, he says it more eloquently than that).

Answer 3: Torah Sources Match Modern Theoretical Physics; We’re Almost There

This opinion comes from Avaraham Goldberg, a Torah observant theoretical physicist (kabbalist?).   I reviewed his book over here, previously.  He basically goes through, on a very simple level, how our Torah sources describe the first moments of creation especially, and continues through from there.  Minute Physics, a great YouTube channel, actually discusses this as well:

It’s also seen in the “God 2.0 Video” from Imagining the 10th dimension which I discuss over there.  Great video.

In short, there’s a whole lot of convergence of Jewish beliefs and modern physics beliefs that, well, for more are further evidence of the truth of both.  No other beliefs coming from such disparate systems which claim truth are so aligned, to my knowledge.

Goldfinger does acknowledge at the end of his book one major problem: time.  For this the answer is relativity of time.  I discussed this in the previous article, but Gerald Schroder really takes this concept and fleshes it out as fully as I’ve ever come across.  It was actually a talk of his which I attended which first let me to realize not all creationists are … ignorant.

Answer 4: Torah is Telling Time from the Point of the Big Bang

This is the theory posited by Dr. Gerald Schroder, a Torah observant physicist by training.  He has a lot of very excellent books, trying to understand the Creator.  He strictly uses Torah sources and modern physics and organizes a whole lot of data.  I am going to try and explain the basics of his theory in a short space and do my own “making it fit” experiment, with apologies to R’Meiselman. In short, taking current physics it is believed that the speed of light is constant … we’ll use this, though there are theories that say the speed of light must have been quicker and I don’t see a reason why, when the universe itself was being created and more in flux, that the properties of physics and math would also be more in flux and changing than the seemingly static rules we observe today.

So what haRelativity_of_Simultaneity_Animationppens if something is moving away from you at something close to the speed of light?  The time it takes for the light to arrive back to you takes longer.  Add in another element – not only is the object moving away from you, but it’s moving faster and faster away from you, e.g. accelerating.  See, for example, how the rolling shutter effect distorts our view far away galaxies.  With a spinning galaxy, the closer part of it will reach us faster.  This is shown quite well on Wikipedia as well in the article, “Relativity of simultaneity” and the image to the right which I borrowed.  (Click it to see it bigger.)

As Einstein put it, imagine a train traveling at half the speed of light.  Shoot a laser up from the floor of the train to a mirror on the ceiling. When the beam comes back down, if you’re on the train it will be a straight line.  If you’re standing next to the train as it whizzes by you, the light moves at an angle upwards (remember, the train is moving quite fast) and then back down … but since the speed of light is constant, the time it takes to do so is much longer.

Limits to Human Knowledge and Assumptions Inherent in Cosmology, Geology, Torah

(You can skip this section and move on to the answer, if you prefer.)

Here comes the fun – do the math when viewing the universe from the point of creation of the universe and you got a very nicely overlapping picture between the two disciplines of knowledge.  (I used to be able to do the math, but now I have a Flowers for Allgernon feeling (not understanding my own previous work) when I try to do it.  For some simpler English explanations, see here and here.  I’ll leave the details of the math in this problem up to whomever wishes to comment, or view Gerald Schroeder’s works.)

What makes this complicated to do is that, in my humble opinion, is that well what actually happened is quite static, our understanding of it from a scientific point of view, is always changing, and from a text point of view, is open to all sorts of interpretations.  For example, the most current theories say that the rate of expansion has been decreasing, until recently when it again began increasing.  lyabao.graph5That is shown in the graph to the right from the link in the prior sentence.  This theory has only been widely posited for about 7 years.  For purposes of simplicity, I’m going to go with constant deceleration of an expanding universe.  It shouldn’t change the data too much, and further, there are many more approximations going on here which create far bigger problems including massive gaps in human knowledge.

Now when we get to geology, this is also based on very limited amounts of data.  Try and research a question like “when did the oceans form?” and you’ll find that the range of current range of scientific estimates have about a 13% difference between them, and suffer from the problem of piggybacking off of the same absurdly tiny data set being used to form the conclusion the first place.  No one was there four billion years ago to make direct observations and much may have effected the present time observations that we haven’t a clue about.  I have even less knowledge than a person who spends their life on this stuff (why one finds an interest in dedicating their life to a pursuit that gets us nowhere in human development except for maybe making arguments for/against G_d’s existence is beyond me).  So I wrote to both the Museum of Natural History in New York, NY and the American Geological Association requesting an accurate timeline of events and how they know it from geological digs.  Let’s just say the answers are quite disappointing.  In cosmology the experts publish all sorts of timelines and mathematical calculations.  In chemistry, Mendelev arranged the periodic table and predicted elements yet to be found.  Geologists and evolutionary biologists don’t seem to like math or neat organization of very disparate data from all over the place which makes me highly suspicious when the experts in the field stopped just shy of writing to me that I should take a leap of faith and just believe them.  They confirmed that there is no place you can bore a hole in the earth and see a complete picture of the 4 billion years of earth development, but even worse, there isn’t even a published place, according to the experts I asked, where the biostratography is put together to paint a complete picture.  The claimed there isn’t much interest in such a thing, but yet, it’s the claim in every textbook.  So I’m defaulting to the every-man source, Wikipedia and the article, History of the Earth … and making another assumption that Wikipedia has accurate information on the beliefs of geologists and evolutionary biologists.

As for the words of the Torah, all of creation is summed up even more concisely.  It’s 26 sentences.  The description of the mishkan in the desert is far longer than that, and that was a temporary physical structure.  Conclusion: The latter is more important to learn.  That teaches us how to live and is a metaphor for a body with arms, legs, and a heart.  Meanwhile, when the Torah says with regards to creation, statements like, “”Let the water that is beneath the heavens gather into one place, and let the dry land appear, and it was so” does that mean that it occurred all at once, over more than one epoch of time, or was it a command which was only actually fulfilled later in another day?  (The Malbim discusses much of this.)

A Day by Day Attempt At Reconciliation Using Relativity

Relativity of Time from Big Bang ("G-d Time Clock") vs. Earth - Click for Large Image

Relativity of Time from Big Bang (“G-d Time Clock”) vs. Earth – Click for Large Image

With those disclaimers in mind, a theoretical person viewing the earth from the point of creation would be like the person standing on the train platform watching the train pull away immediately at it’s fastest, and steadily slowing down.  It’s an exponential decay curve. and is, according to Schroeder’s hypothesis, how the Creator is narrating the opening verses of the Torah.

With apologies to my high school calculus teacher for not updating the answers on the review sheet after graduation like I said I would (I guess I should forgive myself at this point…), I’ll do my best to explain – constant decreasing acceleration (picture a line going down and to the right on a graph) results in an increase in distance over time, but the increase comes slower over time.  Now, the time it takes for light to reach back to the observer takes longer and longer but the space in time between the first epoch (between “day 0” and “day 1”) is much greater when acceleration was faster and the percentage of distance change is highest.  If the “train platform” is also moving away, you have a further shift in observed time of the earth (or what will be the earth) from such a vantage point.  According to Jewish sources, in fact, the Creator did “remove Himself” to allow a physical space to be created.  Combine that with the rate of acceleration of the universe might not have been constant, and there’s an infinite number of ways to match up the “G_d timeline” to the “human timeline”.  I’m going to stick with Schroder’s theory to make it easier – time in the Torah is told from the point of the Big Bang, and earth is moving away at a decreasing accelerating rate.  (For more on the math of integrals and derivatives, that part is explained here.)

The final step is matching up what the first 26 verses in the Torah say for each day within those time frames.  I am using the current accepted number of 13.75 billion years for the age of the universe (Schroeder uses the now outdated 15 billion in his books, as far as I know).  In a decelerating frame of reference (again, assuming constant deceleration) that gives us a nice decay curve like you see to the right.  Viewing a photon traveling back to you after traveling for 24 hours at a rate much, much greater than the speed of light (by a power of 10 to 12) and it’s actually been traveling 7 billion years from it’s frame of reference.  If you want to view a photon traveling for two days from your perspective, and it’s 3.5 billion years from it’s frame of reference.

Here’s how it fits:

Time from Creator View Time from (pre-Earth) Perspective English Torah Original Hebrew Wikipedia Desc Fit?
Day 1 0 to 7 billion yrs (approx) 1. In the beginning of God’s creation of the heavens and the earth. א. בְּרֵאשִׁית בָּרָא אֱלֹהִים אֵת הַשָּׁמַיִם וְאֵת הָאָרֶץ: big bang to formation of stars and galaxies
Perfect fit
2. Now the earth was astonishingly empty, and darkness was on the face of the deep, and the spirit of God was hovering over the face of the water. ב. וְהָאָרֶץ הָיְתָה תֹהוּ וָבֹהוּ וְחשֶׁךְ עַל פְּנֵי תְהוֹם וְרוּחַ אֱלֹהִים מְרַחֶפֶת עַל פְּנֵי הַמָּיִם:
3. And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. ג. וַיֹּאמֶר אֱלֹהִים יְהִי אוֹר וַיְהִי אוֹר:
4. And God saw the light that it was good, and God separated between the light and between the darkness. ד. וַיַּרְא אֱלֹהִים אֶת הָאוֹר כִּי טוֹב וַיַּבְדֵּל אֱלֹהִים בֵּין הָאוֹר וּבֵין הַחשֶׁךְ:
5. And God called the light day, and the darkness He called night, and it was evening and it was morning, one day. ה. וַיִּקְרָא אֱלֹהִים | לָאוֹר יוֹם וְלַחשֶׁךְ קָרָא לָיְלָה וַיְהִי עֶרֶב וַיְהִי בֹקֶר יוֹם אֶחָד:
Day 2 7 to 10.5 billion yrs (approx) 6. And God said, “Let there be an expanse in the midst of the water, and let it be a separation between water and water.” ו. וַיֹּאמֶר אֱלֹהִים יְהִי רָקִיעַ בְּתוֹךְ הַמָּיִם וִיהִי מַבְדִּיל בֵּין מַיִם לָמָיִם: formation of solar system
Separation of the ‘rakia’ which is debated in Jewish sources would be the solar system and perhaps the matter that would form Earth, from rest of matter
7. And God made the expanse and it separated between the water that was below the expanse and the water that was above the expanse, and it was so. ז. וַיַּעַשׂ אֱלֹהִים אֶת הָרָקִיעַ וַיַּבְדֵּל בֵּין הַמַּיִם אֲשֶׁר מִתַּחַת לָרָקִיעַ וּבֵין הַמַּיִם אֲשֶׁר מֵעַל לָרָקִיעַ וַיְהִי כֵן:
8. And God called the expanse Heaven, and it was evening, and it was morning, a second day. ח. וַיִּקְרָא אֱלֹהִים לָרָקִיעַ שָׁמָיִם וַיְהִי עֶרֶב וַיְהִי בֹקֶר יוֹם שֵׁנִי:
Day 3 10.5 to 12.25 billion yrs (approx) 9. And God said, “Let the water that is beneath the heavens gather into one place, and let the dry land appear,” and it was so. ט. וַיֹּאמֶר אֱלֹהִים יִקָּווּ הַמַּיִם מִתַּחַת הַשָּׁמַיִם אֶל מָקוֹם אֶחָד וְתֵרָאֶה הַיַּבָּשָׁה וַיְהִי כֵן: oceans form; simple life to eukaryotes (complex cellular life)
Formation of oceans generally belived to be a little earlier but we’re pretty close given the overall timeline. As for vegetation and trees, the wording in Hebrew is more literally translated as, “said G_d [the controlling forces in this word aspect thereof] there will be grasses and vegetation from offspring of offspring [zera m’zera]” – Evolutionary theory says that plants come from simple eukaroytic life which could be what is being described here. Is is the beginning of the process and leading to grasses and trees in the “offspring of offspring”.
10. And God called the dry land earth, and the gathering of the waters He called seas, and God saw that it was good. י. וַיִּקְרָא אֱלֹהִים | לַיַּבָּשָׁה אֶרֶץ וּלְמִקְוֵה הַמַּיִם קָרָא יַמִּים וַיַּרְא אֱלֹהִים כִּי טוֹב:
11. And God said, “Let the earth sprout vegetation, seed yielding herbs and fruit trees producing fruit according to its kind in which its seed is found, on the earth,” and it was so. יא. וַיֹּאמֶר אֱלֹהִים תַּדְשֵׁא הָאָרֶץ דֶּשֶׁא עֵשֶׂב מַזְרִיעַ זֶרַע עֵץ פְּרִי עֹשֶׂה פְּרִי לְמִינוֹ אֲשֶׁר זַרְעוֹ בוֹ עַל הָאָרֶץ וַיְהִי כֵן:
12. And the earth gave forth vegetation, seed yielding herbs according to its kind, and trees producing fruit, in which its seed is found, according to its kind, and God saw that it was good. יב. וַתּוֹצֵא הָאָרֶץ דֶּשֶׁא עֵשֶׂב מַזְרִיעַ זֶרַע לְמִינֵהוּ וְעֵץ עֹשֶׂה פְּרִי אֲשֶׁר זַרְעוֹ בוֹ לְמִינֵהוּ וַיַּרְא אֱלֹהִים כִּי טוֹב:
13. And it was evening, and it was morning, a third day. יג. וַיְהִי עֶרֶב וַיְהִי בֹקֶר יוֹם שְׁלִישִׁי:
Day 4 12.25 to 13.13 billion yrs (approx) 14. And God said, “Let there be luminaries in the expanse of the heavens, to separate between the day and between the night, and they shall be for signs and for appointed seasons and for days and years. יד. וַיֹּאמֶר אֱלֹהִים יְהִי מְאֹרֹת בִּרְקִיעַ הַשָּׁמַיִם לְהַבְדִּיל בֵּין הַיּוֹם וּבֵין הַלָּיְלָה וְהָיוּ לְאֹתֹת וּלְמוֹעֲדִים וּלְיָמִים וְשָׁנִים: multicellular life; sky becomes visible
The sun and moon were created earlier, however, geology tells us that it is the bacteria which produced oxygen and made our current “third atmosphere” in this time period. During the “second atmosphere” it was filled with ash and thus, the luminaries would not have been “in the expanse of the heavens, to sepearte between day and between the night” or “for appointed seasons”. This, in fact, happened during the time which falls into day 4.
15. And they shall be for luminaries in the expanse of the heavens to shed light upon the earth.” And it was so. טו. וְהָיוּ לִמְאוֹרֹת בִּרְקִיעַ הַשָּׁמַיִם לְהָאִיר עַל הָאָרֶץ וַיְהִי כֵן:
16. And God made the two great luminaries: the great luminary to rule the day and the lesser luminary to rule the night, and the stars. טז. וַיַּעַשׂ אֱלֹהִים אֶת שְׁנֵי הַמְּאֹרֹת הַגְּדֹלִים אֶת הַמָּאוֹר הַגָּדֹל לְמֶמְשֶׁלֶת הַיּוֹם וְאֶת הַמָּאוֹר הַקָּטֹן לְמֶמְשֶׁלֶת הַלַּיְלָה וְאֵת הַכּוֹכָבִים:
17. And God placed them in the expanse of the heavens to shed light upon the earth. יז. וַיִּתֵּן אֹתָם אֱלֹהִים בִּרְקִיעַ הַשָּׁמָיִם לְהָאִיר עַל הָאָרֶץ:
18. And to rule over the day and over the night, and to separate between the light and between the darkness, and God saw that it was good. יח. וְלִמְשֹׁל בַּיּוֹם וּבַלַּיְלָה וּלֲהַבְדִּיל בֵּין הָאוֹר וּבֵין הַחשֶׁךְ וַיַּרְא אֱלֹהִים כִּי טוֹב:
19. And it was evening, and it was morning, a fourth day. יט. וַיְהִי עֶרֶב וַיְהִי בֹקֶר יוֹם רְבִיעִי:
Day 5 13.13 to 13.46 billion yrs (approx) 20. And God said, “Let the waters swarm a swarming of living creatures, and let fowl fly over the earth, across the expanse of the heavens.” כ. וַיֹּאמֶר אֱלֹהִים יִשְׁרְצוּ הַמַּיִם שֶׁרֶץ נֶפֶשׁ חַיָּה וְעוֹף יְעוֹפֵף עַל הָאָרֶץ עַל פְּנֵי רְקִיעַ הַשָּׁמָיִם: simple animals, fish and proto-amphibians, land plants, insects and seeds, amphibians, reptiles
Fish <-> “mayim sheritz” (water creatures) fits perfectly; birds said to form 310 million years ago; seems to be perfect fit
21. And God created the great sea monsters, and every living creature that crawls, with which the waters swarmed, according to their kind, and every winged fowl, according to its kind, and God saw that it was good. כא. וַיִּבְרָא אֱלֹהִים אֶת הַתַּנִּינִם הַגְּדֹלִים וְאֵת כָּל נֶפֶשׁ הַחַיָּה | הָרֹמֶשֶׂת אֲשֶׁר שָׁרְצוּ הַמַּיִם לְמִינֵהֶם וְאֵת כָּל עוֹף כָּנָף לְמִינֵהוּ וַיַּרְא אֱלֹהִים כִּי טוֹב:
22. And God blessed them, saying, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the waters of the seas, and let the fowl multiply upon the earth.” כב. וַיְבָרֶךְ אֹתָם אֱלֹהִים לֵאמֹר פְּרוּ וּרְבוּ וּמִלְאוּ אֶת הַמַּיִם בַּיַּמִּים וְהָעוֹף יִרֶב בָּאָרֶץ:
23. And it was evening, and it was morning, a fifth day. כג. וַיְהִי עֶרֶב וַיְהִי בֹקֶר יוֹם חֲמִישִׁי:
Day 6 last 220 million years 24. And God said, “Let the earth bring forth living creatures according to their kind, cattle and creeping things and the beasts of the earth according to their kind,” and it was so. כד. וַיֹּאמֶר אֱלֹהִים תּוֹצֵא הָאָרֶץ נֶפֶשׁ חַיָּה לְמִינָהּ בְּהֵמָה וָרֶמֶשׂ וְחַיְתוֹ אֶרֶץ לְמִינָהּ וַיְהִי כֵן: mammals, flowers, primates, people
Fits perfectly with mammalian
25. And God made the beasts of the earth according to their kind and the cattle according to their kind, and all the creeping things of the ground according to their kind, and God saw that it was good. כה. וַיַּעַשׂ אֱלֹהִים אֶת חַיַּת הָאָרֶץ לְמִינָהּ וְאֶת הַבְּהֵמָה לְמִינָהּ וְאֵת כָּל רֶמֶשׂ הָאֲדָמָה לְמִינֵהוּ וַיַּרְא אֱלֹהִים כִּי טוֹב:
26. And God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness, and they shall rule over the fish of the sea and over the fowl of the heaven and over the animals and over all the earth and over all the creeping things that creep upon the earth.” כו. וַיֹּאמֶר אֱלֹהִים נַעֲשֶׂה אָדָם בְּצַלְמֵנוּ כִּדְמוּתֵנוּ וְיִרְדּוּ בִדְגַת הַיָּם וּבְעוֹף הַשָּׁמַיִם וּבַבְּהֵמָה וּבְכָל

This article was actually far more difficult to research and put together than I had imagined.  While I have gone over it a number of times and made many edits, I am still not satisfied with it.  I also recognize that I am an expert in none of the areas I am describing.  Thus is the nature of a Patent Attorney.  We’re good at quickly learning all sorts of topics about everything and then writing at length about it.  Then we send it back to the inventor, the expert in the field, to make sure it’s all correct.  Given that this article spans many very different disciplines, there are a lot of different experts that will have opinions! Therefore, I am not insulted if you argue against anything I have said vigorously in the comments.  I welcome it (when done respectfully) so that you and I can both better come to finding truth.

This is a continuation in the series on Rav Meiselman’s book on Torah and Science and the Controversy between R’Meiselman and Nosson Slifkin.  It also might be helpful to see what a modern physicist / Chassidic Jew has to say.  The narrow answer, walking through the actual text of creation, is coming.

The Question

How can it be that the world certainly appears, based on cosmology and geology, much older than the about 6000 years that the Bible says?

The Short Answer: What Question?

Where were you at the founding of the earth?  Tell, if you know the esoteric understanding.  (אֵיפֹה הָיִיתָ, בְּיָסְדִי-אָרֶץ;    הַגֵּד, אִם-יָדַעְתָּ בִינָה) – Iyov [Job] 38:4 (translation is my own)

Why is this a question?  The question should be why it doesn’t say that the world was created in an instant!  Now that seems like something a powerful infinite Creator would do.  (I’d answer that by saying that this is a rather finite definition of expectations of an infinite.  If we were infinite, we could just as well take our time.)

As for six days or any duration longer than “instant”, how would we know how to view things from a time scale of our Creator’s writing?  It is certainly “literally” true, albeit esoteric from our perspective.  It’s all a matter of frame of reference.

Take a look at the great video below from “Minute Physics.”  Gravitation and acceleration result in time dilation measurable even with the error in our own GPS satellites, yet we expect a story of creation to be told from an immutable time frame.  Time, itself, as well as they laws of Physics are themselves being created!  Clearly it’s different and there will always remain parts of our understanding (e.g. crush the universe into a singularity with an infinite temperature) or experimentation that we won’t understrand.   (The video is actually 37 seconds over it’s namesake, but not if you watch it from a GPS satellite accelerating at the right speed).  

Our Outstanding of Time Has Changed; the Literal Truth Has Not

There has never been a case where the refuah [healing] wasn’t prepared before the makkah [punishment]. – Rav Yaakov Weinberg zt”l, “Rav Yaakov Weinberg Talks about Chinuch”, 2006

America was ‘discovered’ by Europe during a voyage under the Spanish crown in 1492, the same year that Jews were expelled from Spain by the same crown.  The answer is always prepared before the problem.  The Creator is not bound by time and doesn’t need to answer to our notions of time, space, or linearity.  When Moshe [Moses] wanted to see more, he saw the knot at the back of the Tefillin … where the seemingly disparate straps (when viewed head-on) come together and it all makes sense.  I’ve skimmed through early issues of Popular Science, which used to have some religious content … the problem with days of creation and religious content leaving the scene of science seems to have occurred only in the early 1900s.  It was in 1905 that Einstein first published information on the relativity of time showing that it’s not linear, and finding ‘the solution’ to the problem.

Wait, What Answer?

What is the difference between Maaseh Merkavah [accounts of ascent to the throne of G_d] and Maaseh Bereishis [creation]? Maaseh Merkavah may not be revealed even to a lone individual unless he is wise and capable of understanding on his own, in which case one may pass on to him the “chapter headings.”but maaseh Bereshis may be taught o an individual even though he is not capable of understanding it on his own.  Nevertheless, one may reveal to him all that he is capable of grasping of these matters.  Why, then do we not expound on it in public? It is because not everyone has a sufficiently broad grasp to comprehend the presentation and explanation of these mattes clearly.” – Rambam, Hilchos Yesodei HaTorah 4:10-11.

The Torah tells us that this is all really hidden from us.  Not inaccessible, but only can even be revealed to one who can understand.  I don’t know what I’m talking about nor does anyone, really know.  I think, however, thanks to modern physics, many more people can understand and grasp much more than in the times of the Rambam.  Maybe there is a kabbalist or theoretical physicist (they often sound the same thing to me) out there today has great understanding,  Still, the thing we’re trying to explain is the second most hidden topic in the world.  Time and space itself is created during creation, and we, who live within both time and space and cannot avoid it expect to explain beyond it?  Imagine Gumby, a stop-motion clay character from my childhood, explaining how Art Clokey‘s brain works.  Now take that up an infinite level.  We can only understand what is revealed to us, and even that is with great difficulty.

‘Video Gaming’ Billions of Years in Days

It may well be that questions affecting the relation between science and religion received due treatment in those two departments of esoteric learning. – R’Yitzhak Herzog.

When hearing a simple “frame of reference” answer for the first time, I wouldn’t be satisfied.  Gerald Schroeder goes into it in much more detail; I will discuss his view and that of others in the next article.  For now, the greatest mashal, or comparative story to make a point, I can think of are the hours and hours spent playing video games in my childhood.  I gravitated towards the more sophisticated (“nerdy”) games.  This included many life simulation games from Maxis such as SimCity, SimAnt, and SimTower.  I posited in about 1990 that one day they’d come out with a game where you just played a person going through your day.  Turned out “The Sims” is their most popular game yet.  It is SimEarth that best helps explain, however.  It’s a simulation game where you guide Earth through stages from pre-Cambrian through blasting off into space.  You can see someone playing it over on YouTube.  In the game you guide life from simplest to most complex by creating the right conditions.  You can terraform, you can place oxygen producers and affect the atmosphere, and you can futz with the conditions of life and watch it grow.  (In a much newer and related incarnation, Spore, you follow the ‘life’ of an individual species and can actually edit the functional parts of your creature.)In these life simulation games, you can’t even play in real-time where a day is 24 hours.  For that, you might just step outside and watch the grass grow in a much bigger simulation .  We play simulations which are simpler than ourselves with fast forwarded time.  Bored?  Want to get up to the part in the game where mammals are created?  You set it on super fast speed … until desert takes over or your design starts going the wrong way, and you zoom in both in time or place and make some tweaks and keep going.  Do i really care that I zoomed past 1 billion years to get the part of the game that I want to play?  That took me maybe 10 minutes where I went to get a snack because I lost patience.  This comparison, of course, breaks down when talking about an infinite who has an infinite amount of time to “play the game” and in fact, created time and dilates it even after creating it.  It’s not only not fixed, it’s not … anything.  Suppose G_d really did “zoom past” a few billion years in a “day” … so what?  The question, again, would be why zoom past anything instead of just creating it done?

Time Dilation in Action

Time Dilation in Action

To explain a bit further and borrow from Rav Shimshon Dovid Pincus‘s example, imagine a bird that take a speck of dust in it’s mouth and puts it down on the ground somewhere.  It goes back and gets another spec and does this again and again … eventually, after a month, there’s a tiny pile.  After a year, a bigger pile.  After a trillion years, there’s a large mountain.  Now we have some sense of duration of time, but the Creator is infinite in all dimensions, not just time.  Is it a problem for such a Creator to create everything in six days, even if for us it takes a billion years?  What’s the rush when you’re outside of time?

The ‘Extra’ Time and Space is Everything and Nothing Extra – Why All This?

That’s all well and good, but I think we are left with the question of why would a Creator need to create all this extra time and space only to ‘fast-forward’ through it?  We tend to think of the amount of energy needed to move a system.  We worry about wasting fossil fuels and how much it will cost to buy a sandwich.  Our reality is surrounded by having a cost for what we do.  If you create the world, there is no cost.  Consider it “limitless free energy.”  

It also must be a teaching method for us.  (This does not, as Nosson Slifkin argues, mean that it didn’t happen or that we should start changing what we think is wrong with the Torah or our mesorah from Mt. Sinai – Just because we don’t full understand doesn’t mean we throw it out.  We can try and deduce more, but even then, we may be totally wrong.)

For example, when we create something big, we consult with others (e.g. G_d says, “let us make man”; a straightforward discussion of Rashi’s explanation of this is here).  So too, when we create, it takes a blue print and execution of multiple steps to create something complex.  Look at the universe in any direction and there is more to see.  Large: What’s outside of the edge of the universe?  It seems to just expand bigger and bigger.  Small: What’s smaller than a quark?  Simple: A point.  Complex: The brain.  Why create more than a flat surface to let your creatures run around on it and serve you?  Why give them the ability to deny you even exist?  What on earth is that all about?  Look how great the creation is, and this testifies to the planning, breadth, and greatness of amazing this infinite Creator is.  Ma rabu ma’asecha!  How amazing this all is!  Everything testifies to the Creator and there is no limit to the progress of our understanding.  Science serves to show that, not detract from it.

More on the ‘Extra’: The King Who Sits in Solitude

The whole world was only created for the Tzaddik [righteous person] – various versions appear in the Midrash, Talmud, and Zohar.

We all desire relationships.  With our spouses, or parents, our children, and our friends.  We are also created in the likeness of the Creator.  So it follows that the Creator also wants a relationship … but with whom?  The Creator sits alone!  When I maybe 14 years old, my atheist grandfather once answered missionaries at the door with, “You expect me to believe in a G_d who is an un-sexed being?”  (We didn’t always agree on philosophy, but we certainly always agreed to question things.)  To love another person is to see the face of G_d!  Just as the vastness of time and space teach us the vastness of G_d, all the more so, so does love.  We want a relationship, and an infinite wants the relationship infinitely more!

A fundamental belief from the Torah made little sense to me for years – the whole world is created for the tzaddik [righteous person].  There is a story in, I believe the Gemora, Midrash or both [source needed <grin>] of rich men with vast fortunes who find their entire purpose was to build a bench under a tree where a tzaddik stopped to rest while walking. The entire fortune of the rich man, in the end, is nothing except for the bench and tree.  The rest of it all, and the rest of us, are only served by serving the tzaddik.

Why?  Whom to we love?  When we love everyone, our relationships are spread so thin that we don’t have them.  We choose whom who can, and with them with draw close.  The more depth, the more meaning.  The more we can do for someone, the more we can come close.  We can’t really do anything for an infinite Creator, but like any good relationship, it’s two ways.  One has to give to the other and give the other an opportunity to give to them.  We see how G_d created the world in six days, not in a moment, so as to show us that we too go through levels of simple to greater complexity in depth and relationship.

However, we will ultimately love few … as does the Creator.  In the finite world which is wider than we can fathom, having parts smaller than we can fathom, and lasting a greater amount of time than we can fathom, sits one planet floating on nothingness.  As wide as the skin of an apple is to the fruit is the atmosphere of the planet.  Within that, are numerous creatures, only one of which ever asks, “Why?”  (Thank you Michael Stevens of Vsauce for this one.)  Who else even has the opportunity to connect to the Creator?  Within that are the few who even try and serve the Creator, the fewer who do so every day, and the fewer who get it almost all right.

Yet, it is precisely that person who G_d wants.  This person won’t be born like an automoton serving the Creator – that’s no fun and that’s not much of a relationship.  That’s programming, or maybe fear, but a real relationship is one of love.  It is the few who come to this fully … the tzaddik with whom the Creator wants the relationship.  Just as the world isn’t created in an instant, neither is the tzaddik.  Just as the world goes through creation until perfection, so too does the tzaddik.

We are still, at least in the moment that we overcome a negative trait, like the tzaddik in a smaller, or maybe even a larger sense.  Or, we can serve the tzaddik … within us or around us.  Even a kernel of grain, in Jewish thought, achieves it’s greatest tikkun [rectification with the infinite], on it’s level, when it’s part of the bread that we eat on Shabbos.

If you have a question on the length of time, you also should have a question on the breadth and depth of the universe, as well.

Next Up . . .

– From where, exactly is G_d telling time in the Torah?  How does that fit with our frame of reference?

– Matching up the “G_d time” and “Human on Earth time” in a more specific manner through cosmology and geology.

– Creation in the Torah and modern scientific theories don’t always tell the story in the same order.  What do we do about that?  (Spoiler alert: I am going to reject throwing out the literal meaning of the words or relegating creation to a mere ‘parable’.)

– From “right” to “left” in opinions of modern Jewish thinkers on creation … from literal to relative.


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

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 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.

I realize I have a diverse reading audience – this article is really intended for a Jewish audience … if you’re a believing Christian, you probably won’t be interested.  It describes the experience of the Christian convert to Judaism whose book I am reviewing, as well as questions it has raised for me.  At the same time, I discuss similar experiences of other converts that I know.  


Mountain Family Book Synopsis

The Mountain Family is the story of Tzirel Rus Berger, a fundamentalist Christian from the deep South (of the United States) who converts to Judaism.  Here, the Massey family (the author’s prior name) had already long stopped celebrating holidays which they deem of pagan origin.  When other kids went out trick or treating, they simply didn’t participate.  At the same time, they’re keeping some semblance of kosher eating and keep some semblance of the Jewish Sabbath from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday.  Meanwhile, Berger’s own grandparents had moved to Israel and lived as Christians, but kept Jewish holidays.  Meanwhile, their utter faith and trust in G_d is something that, coming from where I do, I look up to even when embodied in non-Jews.

The book is mainly about Berger’s personal story of growing up and coming to Judaism.  For me, what was most fascinating were the descriptions of how she lived – dirt poor in the mountains of Georgia and Alabama.  Sometimes, they were so poor that she and a family of 10 kids slept in the woods under tarps or drove 17 miles to the nearest store with $30 to buy food for the entire family.  Turns out she fits in quite well with the “settler” mentality in Israel, when later in life she moves to a settlement and continues to live on very little.  Many of her children attended Yeshivas Ohr Somayach in Jerusalem, Israel where I also attended.  I know many of the people she refers to in her book, but there, I always had trouble grappling with issues such as “just learn Torah full time and don’t worry about money” and students having money raised to pay for their weddings.  Then what?  Her kids had no such issues and fit right in!  (Now, the yeshiva is one of my best sources of income.)

Common Issues of Christian Converts to Judaism

I strongly disagree with the advertising for this book about the ‘remarkable’ story.  it’s not remarkable because it happens too frequently to retain that adjective.  I’ve had the occasion to know many of them.  They are typically very strong believers with a very above average knowledge of the actual text.  My chavrusa [study partner] at Ohr Somayach was one of them.  He was a former Southern Baptist preacher from Tennessee.  Fun guy.  His father once finally came to terms with his conversation to Judaism, but told him, “Whatever you do, just don’t marry a black girl.”  He really tried to obey his father’s wishes but, as Berger points out, marriage prospects for such a convert can be difficult when you come from such a different background.  I was learning with my friend throughout his dating and it just wasn’t working for him.  He kept getting suggested this one black girl … you can guess the rest.

I’ve also heard many of Berger’s issues echoed by converts in my own community.  I used to attend the shul of the father of Tuvia Singer.  He focuses on anti-missionary work, but as his own lectures state, he didn’t realize how he’d be unwittingly attracting non-Jews.  At this shul you can hear some southern accents here and there, or meet people with not-so-Jewish-sounding last names.  Echoing some of Berger’s comments, they have questions like “Could it be that G_d isn’t powerful enough that I have to go through an intermediary for Him to hear me?”, “Why does Deuteronomy say not to believe a prophet who does a miracle?  Shouldn’t I believe him?”, “Why do we do some things from Judaism but not others?”, “How could people who not even a claim to prophecy add to the written word of G_d?” and “How am I supposed to emulate the ways of a deity that died at 33 when i am 43?  What about 63?”  Then one day, they decide to read the book from the beginning to end instead of the other way around, and according to different accounts, find there’s no source for the ‘trinity’ in the text, or certain things have been mistranslated or even misquoted in the ‘new’ version, and so forth.  Berger describes how no one could answer her questions of interpretation until she started speaking to Rabbis.

Jewish Practices Among Christian Believers

I’ve also encountered some interesting Christian beliefs.  A former babysitter showed us how her church marked Yom Kippur and encouraged fasting.  One, now convert in my community, at first associated himself with an organization for missionaizing Jews.  It seems these organizations can also be stepping stones for Christians to go ‘the other’ direction.  Oops.  They still maintain their Christian beliefs but add more of a Jewish feel to them … something like Fiddler on the Roof meets Christmas without a Christmas tree.  Such beliefs always fascinated me.  In high school, I used to argue with missionaries online to try and understand just how is it a person could believe what, to me, was so obviously not the truth.  I wasn’t sure of G_d’s existence, but surely if there was a G_d, it was an infinite one who wasn’t one who was in three parts or needed to come down in man-form.  (Side note – I noticed this same parallel in In Things Fall Apart, a novel told from the perspective of a native Nigerian who describes how missionaries systematically dismantled their indigenous beliefs with arguments for one G_d.  Then, the leaders who did so were rotated out and new ones came in, incredulous that the hadn’t taught about the trinity, devil, and other independent actors … just like the beliefs they had given up.  By that time, the indigenous social structure who so out of whack, that it was too late for them to return.  There’s a small Jewish group in Uganda who did actually come to Judaism along similar lines.)

One of the more interesting stories is that of one of my best childhood friends.  His Catholic Priest father and nun mother (yup, that’s correct; read more about them here) still consider themselves Catholic.  However, my friend’s own description is that their beliefs are so far from Catholic teaching that it’s hard to say that.  I once borrowed some books and tapes of my friend’s father to understand the perspective.  The tape was an interview arguing that since the mishnah [Jewish oral law] says one should be married, surely the guy the Christians calls the messiah must have been!  In one of the books, it outlined the atrocities of the church throughout history that could only be written by an insider, and argued for going back to the Jewish routes … the book mark was a version of the famous painting of the “Last Supper” except the participants were all wearing yarmulke’s and tallis’s [Jewish prayer shauls]. Meanwhile, my friend who had gone from Catholic to atheist back to Catholic, when I last spoke to him, was working in a bookstore at a Catholic retreat where he reads “anything about G_d” all day.  I asked him if he could get a “promotion” and actually teach some classes there.  He said they’d never let him do that because he didn’t believe in the virgin birth!

Pondering a Question – Who Converts and Who Doesn’t?

Still, I have wondered why some very seriously believing Christians who have such fundamental issues with Christian theology convert to Judaism and other’s don’t.  One acquaintance of mine was amongst his 7 siblings converting to Judaism, but related that his father could not be converted as he believed “the messiah had been here once already”.  Otherwise, his father lived in the Old City of Jerusalem and acted completely like a Torah observant Jew.  There are all kinds I suppose.

A corollary question in mind has also been … what’s the allure?  How can you believe in a version of G_d which posits that G_d is not infinite enough for you that he needs to come down in man form that you pray to?  Some of it is emotional connection to the past – in fact, my friend’s Priest-father (father-Priest?), in writing about almost two thousand years of mistakes by his church, wrote so lovingly about his aunt, a nun who was so pious and kind.  It was not something he could, would, or does emotionally leave behind.

I think the answer can also be summed up in what’s actually a Jewish story from a chassish Rebbe.  In jewish law, we pray the morning prayers by a certain time.  After the fact, you can do so the entire morning.  Chassidim are often known to pray in the less desirable time.  A Chassid was once mocked by a Litvish [good with time] Jew who asked him why he couldn’t pray on time.  The Chassid said something like, “In truth, I wish I could be like you and just come to synagogue and start praying right away.  The problem is that I stop and think about the awesomeness of creation and all there is to it and the amazingness of our infinite Creator and I just tremble and can’t move past it.  It takes me hours each day to actually summon up the ability to compose myself talk directly to the Creator.  I don’t know how you do it right away, but you are so fortunate.”  It’s a difficult avodah [service] to connect properly all the time.  It’s a way of life and a discipline.  So man, in fact, Paul created a system to make it easy.  They’ve created a “blue pill” but for those who want the “red pill” it’s out there.


rationality-add-more-lightIn the article, Folly of Faith, Folly of Reason, one of the things I argued based on Isaac Asimov’s short story, “Reason” was that point of view on topics beyond the dimensions that we can observe is based on emotion.  The article made a lot of my science-minded friends a bit unhappy, but led to some great discussions.  Below is a somewhat edited version (taking out any personal references and cleaning it up) of an online conversation I had with a friend where we explored the topic further.  We started out on vastly divergent points, my friend being what I would call a “hyper-rationalist” and myself being something of a self-proclaimed “rationalist leads to belief in things beyond what we can see”-ist.   We do, at least, agree that we should start with postulates that we want happiness and meaning in life and I think my friend began to see where I was coming from.  I argued that we can look at anything and see the negative or see the positive and that leads us to belief in a Creator who made us for a purpose (something akin to the robot in “Reason”, actually).

The conversation follows.  The headings are added for readability.

Defining the Limits of Knowledge

Friend: Your Folly of Reason image resembles an incomplete representation of the Radon Transform used by CAT Scan imaging.  The third light source is missing. You’d still be guessing if you said this object was a cylinder as you still cannot prove the objects opacity in all three dimensions. However, three ‘orthonormal’ light sources will give you the ability to establish the shape of the object leaving zero room for doubt and one’s emotional interpretation.

Me: Nice cold, hard reasoning.

Friend: We need to be certain before we operated.

Me: The image is just a metaphor – it’s harder to draw showing the 3rd and 4th dimension.  We can understand 2nd vs. 3rd though.

Friend: I stick to the three physical dimensions known as Hilbert Space. The other dimensions and the nature of 95% of the universe (dark matter and energy) is yet to be defined.

Me: Quantum theory calls the 4th dimension time or duration. We live in the 3rd dimension but still have a ‘flat’ view of the 4th. The picture shows the concept of living in the 2nd and imaging the 3rd, though we don’t need to imagine the 3rd…it’s a comparison.

Friend: Our observations are blind to those extra dimensions, but absolutely certain in the dimensions that are appropriate for the measurement. The difference between opinion and science is having a ‘spanning data set’ which covers all dimensions relevant to the conclusion. Psychology is not considered by science to physicists.

Me: Then why do you not include time on your list.  Our observations are not blind to time.  Time is not a dimension in the same sense as the physical dimensions

Friend: That’s debatable. We can and often do treat it as a dimension, though.

Me: I don’t think our observations can really tell us that.

Friend: it depends on what you are trying to prove.

Me. That is based on the postulate that you start with. That was Asimov’s point which I wholeheartedly agree with.

Friend: Maybe. Explain further.

Me: His point is that by using logic and reasoning alone, you can prove anything (philosophical) you want depending on your starting point. The starting point, however, is based on emotion.  A ‘rationalist’ will choose the starting point as ‘only what I can observe is truth’. I find that to be irrational.

Friend: That isn’t true. You cannot prove something that is false unless you are a working in ‘cargo cult science’ [a reference to the Asimov story].  That was a Feynman reference.

Me: That is when you have all the information… for the shape of a three dimensional object, that is true (assuming there is no fourth or fifth dimension to it that we can’t see).  However, our lack of ability to see the object in another dimension does not mean it is not there.  We become just like the ‘cargo cult’ robot in the Asimov story.

Friend: it is yet to be established.

Me: Agreed.

Friend: Do we care that the kidney stone we are illuminating with x-rays from three dimensions is blinking on and off in dimensions 23-56?

Me: Probably not.  It’s much easier to disprove the logic of something than prove it. My point wasn’t really to prove anything of the sort.

Friend: Dimensions 1-3 are good enough to tell the surgeon to start cutting.  Or do you have another point?

Me: I agree with you and understand what you’re saying.  I’m not arguing that any of it is incorrect or even arguing that I know or can prove with any certainty that there is anything beyond that.  I am, instead, arguing for the limitations of this mode exploration.

Me: There may be more that we can access (for which, with a yarmulke on my head, obviously I do believe).  Such modes of exploration cannot be used to show absence of such higher powers and causes.  As such, I then disagree with people like Asimov (don’t get me wrong – I think the man’s a genius) who say they don’t feel an emotional connection to such a thing, so therefore, they don’t bother studying it.

Friend: Many religious people require that all things G_d are mysterious and cannot be understood. Proven facts are then rejected based on the disposition that they are understandable.

Me: I don’t subscribe to that view. There are plenty of not-very-deep thinking people out there. Belief in G_d doesn’t seem to be an indicator of how deeply thinking a person is.

Friend: For example, the sequencing of the human genome has been done with a “sufficient number of light sources” to be undeniable fact.

Me: I don’t see the point in arguing along these lines … I agree with you. But it doesn’t change the existence or lack thereof further dimensions simply because someone isn’t too bright.  

Friend: Okay.  i see your point now.

Defining a Logical Emotional Postulate To Reach a Logical Conclusion in All Cases

Me: Or, turn it around – someone saying “there’s a sequenced genome” or “there’s a fossil” so therefore there is no G_d … is equally not very bright.

Friend: Such a statement would not be very bright.  A better conclusion would be that Gd is now understood a way that is different than previously believed.

Me: I agree with that.

Friend: Only the nature of the conjecture changes based upon emotion, the proof or disproof of that conjecture never changes.

Me: Pretty much. I look at someone like DeGrasse Tyson [who argues there is no G_d because why would G_d create a universe where life can’t exist in most of it and is “trying to kill us] and I just can’t get there.  Why would you want to look at the world as full of death and destruction?

Friend: A very religious person may perform different experiments, but there is no denying the facts that result.

Me: Agreed … though we may not understand all the factors, etc.

Friend: How I feel about the conclusion (i.e. death and destruction) does not change the facts that lead to the conclusion.  For example, those three sources of light that found a tumor . . . I do not like that.

Me: It’s a point of view. You can focus on those facts, or you focus on the amazing things that is the universe, the creation of life, and that it’s all for the best.  Same facts, different starting conjecture….   I choose my version. Tyson’s view is pretty depressing.  Yes, depressing is an emotion and this is an emotional response, but one that seems rational to me.

Friend: But what about the tumor that the three sources of x-ray have irrefutable illuminated? is it not really there because it makes you feel sad?

Me: Of course it’s there, but why do I have to feel sad?

Friend: Why do you have to feel sad about the evidence in which Neil Tyson conveys?

Me: I don’t feel sad about the evidence. I feel sad about the conjecture and conclusion he draws.

Friend: Asimov’s assertion is that such sadness may keep you from getting the cat scan. Someone else may not have the same bias (the doctor while you are in a coma and cannot give consent). Now you are faced with the facts. Who cares about your bias now?

Me: I don’t see how you get to Asimov’s assertion. In any case, I do believe your bias matters. That’s the placebo effect.  Happier people live longer. Holocaust survivors have this uncanny way of living really long lives, on average. People who want life, get it.

Friend: YOUR bias matters in what YOU do. Others will still present information that is irrefutable that YOU would have never tested.

Me: Like what?

Friend: Like you’re tumor that was discovered while you were in a coma that you would have never looked for.

Me: Ah.  Let’s pre-suppsoe for a second that calling to a higher power works.  Let’s further support that if your friends and family don’t try it, then you die.  If they do try it, then you come out of the coma.  In Jewish belief (I can’t speak for other religions, and can barely speak for Judaism) you’d be responsible for not praying.

Friend: Let’s pre-suppose that asking the higher power for things upsets him and the result will be much more favorable if i live him alone.  Who is right?  how do you know?

Me: Okay… that goes back to a very negative world view. That would actually be more ‘sad’ than Tyson’s. If that’s the case, we’re all in trouble.  What your proposing is the “reverse Pascal wager”. It’s an argument based on extreme negativity which is better suited to winning arguments than trying to live a life of pleasure.

Friend: It is not my disposition. its just a way of establishing logical fact. its is valid to take the converse of any logical statement.

Me: From a purely logical perspective, you are right … I do not know for sure that the converse isn’t true.

Friend: When dealing with tumors and global warming, it is important to deal only with facts.

Me: Agreed, but we might look at it very differently.  Why do you care about global warming?  You die anyway, done.

It is Rational for a Rationalist to Care About What He Cannot Rationalize

Friend: Who said anything about being done when you die?

Me: Will global warming effect you after you die?

Friend: Yes.

Me: Go on…

Friend: My children and their children.

MeHow does that effect YOU?

Friend: it is not necessary to take such an egocentric view.  The ego is just a survival tool. it is not all that we are.

Me: So now you’re getting into the unobservable.  What are we after death, in your view?

Friend: Our genome is propagated through our children. The sense of ego is as extraneous and useless defining a ‘computer’ in the internet cloud. Its just not relevent in that sense.  where are your digital pictures? Does it matter? They can be in 500 places.

Me: So the purpose of existence is survival? Whose geome can last longest?

Friend: This is a concept that is fairly well understood. Many religious people don’t like things that are understood.  They require that the explanations all remain secret and mysterious.

Me: So why do you want to propagate your genome?

Friend: This is the nature of life.

Me: That’s not an answer.

Friend: We were made that way.  We also can understand some of how and why we are made and how we operate. There is no requirement that we deny these things.

Me: So what? To use converse logic / Tyson logic … if the world is almost entirely death and destruction anyway, why bring more people into it?

Friend: its not what we do or how we are designed.

Me: Why does near term vs. far term matter either? Global warming? What about the sun exploding.

Friend: Our design does not account for our near or far term predictions of the universe.

Me: Your answer is akin to a person traveling down a stream on a boat rowing because that’s what boat’s do.  They never stop thinking about how they got on the boat or the waterfall ahead.

Friend: We may also know that the waterfall ahead is not a death sentence for which we should put a bullet in our head right now.

Me: Maybe. I think that’s my point.  Except in the end, we all die and according to scientific theory, so does our genome.

Friend:  …and that the waterfall really is ahead even if we don’t want it to be. We don’t argue that the waterfall is not ahead because it makes us sad.

Me: No, but that’s a silly way to live life.  This is conjecture, but I think that life should be about maximizing pleasure.  I start with that postulate and another one of free will.

Friend: i’m not arguing against that.

Me:  I think my conjecture leading to belief is pretty simple: maximize pleasure + free will … and see where that takes me. This is where it did [to become a Torah observant Jew] …and does. I have yet to hear any counter to that to convince me otherwise.  This is where non-theists lose me.

Let’s Attack Belief in Authenticity of the Bible Instead

Friend: i do argue that earth is much older, however.

Me: Agreed.  That was the largest thing which held me back, actually.  I agree that the world is much older.

Friend: How did you come to this conclusion?

Me: Reviewing the evidence for and against.  However, I do not really *know*.  It’s perfectly logical to say that G_d created a world that only looked old, even if not satisfactory to say so.

Friend: We have better information than that.  We have information illuminated by a sufficient number of light sources.

Me: I don’t see how we can know. We examine data and conclude based on it, but we can never have all the data about what happened 13 billion years ago.

Friend: Age of the universe is a harder question than the age of the earth.

Me: There are a bunch of theories, interpretations, et al. as to how to understand the Biblical account of creation with the age of universe / earth. The most appealing to a rationalist is probably Gerald Schroeder’s. He’s a MIT physicist and writes books on the subject.  The short version of his answer is that the biblical account is from the point of creation, using relativity … it’s measuring 24 hour cycles of time from that point, when the light returns back there. It’s an accelerating frame of reference, so each day, if you calculate it, is half as long as the last.  Once Adam is giving a human soul (breath of life), the frame of reference switches to earth. This is day 1 (Rosh Hashana) on our calendar … though this is day 6 of creation.

Friend: it helps to formulate a general model of any unknown system so that you can even think of the next experiment to perform in order to put together the big picture conclusion…eventually.

MeI hear… so it’s about knowledge and knowing more, but to what end?  There’s no ultimate purpose in any of it from an atheistic perspective other than an Asimov-type “I’m happy and don’t need more” sort of argument, as he once said.

Friend: Okay. You need to work on an overly convoluted bridge that now reconciles evolution in the framework of Genesis.

Me: It works out quite well.  The Bible’s concern is not teaching science. If the theory is correct, billions of years are condensed into about 24 sentences.  Why Genesis is there at all, is a better question.

Friend: You have only reconciled age of the earth. You need an equivalent reconciliation for evolution.

Me: The short answer on that is it fits into days 3-6 or so, each day being half the length of the last. If you’re up for reading material:

[At this point we exchanged concluding salutations and I went to get lunch.]

The Claim of the Unbroken Chain

unbroken-chain-judaismOne of the claims to the authenticity of the Torah is that there is an unbroken chain – the descendants of those who spent 40 years in the desert all hearing the word of the Creator all witnessed numerous miracles.  This is laid out in the book of Exodus / Shemos, where one event is more miraculous than the last.  Their descendants (the Jews) are still around to tell you about how their great-great-great-[insert a few more here]-grandparents were there.  That’s our family tradition, and in fact, the holiday of Passover is dedicated to reliving it as if we were there ourselves.  We use this holiday to pass down the story to our children.

You could make up a story about one man hearing the word of G_d who says “it happened to me” and some people will believe it.  (They’re not all true unless there really are a bunch of contradictory religions out there … but that goes under the “we’re-all-doomed-if-that’s-true” category, much like the negative pascal wager argument).  However, you can’t convince someone that something happened to you if it didn’t happen to them.

At a holiday party, I overheard a Torah observant Jew say, “The unbroken chain argument is a pretty strong argument, but I have yet to actually see such an unbroken chain.  Does anyone really have a family tree going back that far?”  I walked over, because, in fact … yes, my wife has such a family tree!  I did some searching, and such trees aren’t readily published, but if you go on and know where to look, they’re pretty easy to find … and made public. is a collaborative family tree which I have used as a tool to locate many distant relatives.  Some trees, such as my wife’s, go all the way back to Adam.  I’ll take this from there through the generations as far as Elias Munk, my wife’s third-great grandfather who lived between 1818 and 1900.  At the time of this writing, he has 710 descendants on the tree, including my wife and children in the United States.  Others are in places from Israel to France to Australia to the United Kingdom.  Let’s get started.

Biblical Family Trees To King David (to about 970 BCE)

First, lineage in the written Torah itself is recorded from Adam, the first man, through Noach (you know, the flood…), Abraham, Moses, and King David (just before the first Temple period). The earlier lineage is found in Bereshis [Genesis] Chapter 5, and the miraculous stuff in exiting Egypt and the wilderness, and so on … that’s more or less the entire book of Shemos [Exodus] and much of Devarim [Deuteronomy]. Moses’s brother was Aaron.  Aaron’s wife was Elisheva [Shemos 6:23].  Her brother is Nachshon Ben Aminadav.   According to Jewish tradition, he was the first one in the water when the river split, exiting from Egypt.

Now, we can take this all the way to King David rather simply.  The very end of the book of Ruth, canonized in the Tanuch [Hebrew Bible] lists the generations from there to King David, emphasis added:

יח  וְאֵלֶּה תּוֹלְדוֹת פָּרֶץ, פֶּרֶץ הוֹלִיד אֶת-חֶצְרוֹן. 18 Now these are the generations of Perez: Perez begot Hezron;
יט  וְחֶצְרוֹן הוֹלִיד אֶת-רָם, וְרָם הוֹלִיד אֶת-עַמִּינָדָב. 19 and Hezron begot Ram, and Ram begot Amminadab;
כ  וְעַמִּינָדָב הוֹלִיד אֶת-נַחְשׁוֹן, וְנַחְשׁוֹן הוֹלִיד אֶת-שַׂלְמָה. 20 and Amminadab begot Nahshon, and Nahshon begot Salmon;
כא  וְשַׂלְמוֹן הוֹלִיד אֶת-בֹּעַז, וּבֹעַז הוֹלִיד אֶת-עוֹבֵד. 21 and Salmon begot Boaz, and Boaz begot Obed;
כב  וְעֹבֵד הוֹלִיד אֶת-יִשָׁי, וְיִשַׁי הוֹלִיד אֶת-דָּוִד.  {ש} 22 and Obed begot Jesse, and Jesse begot David{P}

There are, in fact, many Jews who can trace their lineage from King David.  This may be because the line of kingship will never depart from David’s descendants, so the descendants have been careful (and proud) to keep track of this knowledge.  Amongst other places, this fact is also recorded in the written Torah (Divrei Hayamim 2, 13:5):

ה  הֲלֹא לָכֶם, לָדַעַת, כִּי יְהוָה אֱלֹהֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל נָתַן מַמְלָכָה לְדָוִיד עַל-יִשְׂרָאֵל, לְעוֹלָם:  לוֹ וּלְבָנָיו, בְּרִית מֶלַח.  {פ} 5 you should know that the LORD, the God of Israel, gave the kingdom over Israel to David forever, even to him and to his sons by a covenant of salt?

(Salt is an often used biblical metaphor for something which lasts and does not get destroyed, bringing home the point that it’s “forever”.)

Rounding Out the Recorded Biblical Tree (to about 55 CE)

At this point, the trees are copied and pasted from  The links should work to view each person and the information recorded about them on

King David / דוד המלך . → King Solomon / שלמה המלך his son → Rehoboam / רחבעם King of Judah / מלך יהודה his son → Abijah / אביה King of Judah / מלך יהודה his son → Asa King of Judah / אסא מלך יהודה his son → Jehosaphat / יהושפט King of Judah / מלך יהודה his son → Jehoram / יהורם King of Judah / מלך יהודה, מלך יהודה his son → Jehosheba / יהושבע . his daughter → Jedidah / ידידה . her daughter → Josiah / Josias / יאשיהו King of Judah / מלך יהודה her son → Jehoiakim/ Yehoahaz / יהויקים King of Judah / מלך יהודה his son → Jechoniah / Yehoakhin / יהויכין / יכניה King of Judah / מלך יהודה

So far, this is all still “biblical”.  Yehoakhin is listed in both 2 Kings Chapter 24:6-16 and 2 Chronicles 36:8-10.  The patralineal line is broken already in this chain, but my wife can’t be king, anyway.  Yohoakhin marks the beginning on the Babylonian exile, the first of many exiles of the Jews around the world.  (I wrote more about this point from Devarim 4:27 in my debates with atheists, found here.)  Yehoakhin died in about 55 BCE.  According to his profile on Geni, his name and date of death are confirmed by tablets found in modern day Iraq (Babylonia) speaking of Nebuchnezzer’s exiling of the Jews.

The Babylonian Exile (to about 1085 CE)

Now, as I get closer in time, I’ve discovered there are often more and more paths to get from King David to my wife.  For sake of brevity, I’m going to follow just one very direct path.  For background, the Babylonian Exile continued from the destruction of the First Temple period (only a small percentage of Jews went back to Israel during the Second Temple period) through about the 1930s when, due to persecution and Zionism, Jews started returning to Israel in great numbers.  In the 1800s the city of Baghdad was between 1/3 and 1/4 Jewish (see for more information)!

Much of the following is recorded in the Bablyonian Talmud, written during this time period and wildly popular in Jewish learning today.  Every 7.5 years or so, we gather to celebrate the completion of the learning cycle (which filled Giant’s Stadium this past cycle!) to begin it again.  All of this was written by our sages, to preserve the information as our exile began.

Jechoniah / Yehoakhin / יהויכין / יכניה King of Judah / מלך יהודה his son → Shealtiel, 2nd Exilarch / שאלתיאל his son →Nechemya . his son → Meshullam משולם הסופר MP his son → Hananya חֲנַנְיָה ben Meshulam, Exilarch his son → Berahya ben Hananya, Exilarch his son → Yishaya ben Hananya, 8th Exilarch his son → Rafaya ben Yishaya (ben Chananya), 10th Exilarch his son → Arnan ben Rafaya, Exilarch his son → Obadya ibn Arnan, Exilarch his son → Shechanya ben Ovadya, 12th Exilarch his son → Shemaya ben Shechanya, Exilarch his son → Nearya ben Shemaya, 18th Exilarch his son → Elioenai ben Neariah, 20th Exilarch his son → Akkub ben Elioenai, Exilarch his son → Da’ud ibn Akkub (ben Akkub) his son → Shlomo III ibn Da’ud, Exilarch his son → Shemaya I ben Shlomo, Exilarch his son → Da’ud ben Shemaya, Exilarch his son → Shechanya II ben Da’ud (ben David), Exilarch his son → Hizkiya ben Shehanya, 33rd Exilarch Hizkiya III his son → Shalom II ben Hizkiya, Exilarch Interregnum his son → Nathan ben Shalom, Exilarch Interregnum his son → Hunya ben Nathan, Exilarch Interregnum his son → Shlomo ben Hunya, Exilarch Interregnum his son → Ya’akov ben Shlomo, Exilarch of Babylon his son → Son of אחיה בן יעקב Achaya bar Akkub, 1st Exilarch 2nd Dynasty his son → נחום בן אחיה Nachum ben Achaya (ben Ahijah), 2nd Exilarch Nachum II his son → Nathan ben Nachum, 7th Exilarch ‘Mar Ukba I’ his son → Anani bar Nathan, 8th Exilarch Huna II his son→Nathan de-Ẓuẓita bar Hanan (Ukvan), 11th Exilarch ‘Ukban’ his son→נחמיה Nechemya ben Nathan, 14th Exilarch Nehemiah I his son→‘Ukba ben Nechemya (Ukvan), 17th Exilarch Mar ‘Ukba III his son→Abba Mar ben ‘Ukba (ben Ukba), 20th Exilarch Abba Mari I his son→Nathan bar Abba Mari, 21st Exilarch Nathan II his son→Huna ben Nathan, 24th Exilarch Mar Huna IV his son→Rabeina II “Sof hora’a” רב אבינא בר רב הונא his son→Rav David ben Rabeina II, Grandson of Exilarch Mar Huna IV his son→Mar Zutra II, 30th Exilarch his son→Mar Zutra III a/k/a Mar Sutra I ben Mar Zutra II, 1st Exilarch of Tiberias his son→Mar Sutra II (Sa’adya) ben Mar Tsutra I, 2nd Exilarch & Gaon of Tiberias his son→Mar Sutra I “Guriya” ben Mar Zutra III, 3rd Exilarch & Gaon of Tiberias his son→Mar Sutra II bar Guriya, 4th Exilarch & Gaon of Tiberias his son→Rav Yakob ‘Zakai’ ben Mar Sutra II, 5th Exilarch & Gaon of Tiberias his son→Haninai “Magis/Majus” ben Mar Sutra II, 7th Exilarch & Gaon of Tiberias his son→Nechemya נחמיה ben Magis, 8th Exilarch & Gaon of Tiberias “Nechemya II’ his son→Rab Dimi ‘Abba Dimi’ ben Nechemiah II, 9th Exilarch & Gaon of Ramla, hasofer his son→Rab David I ‘Pinchas’ ben Abdimi, Exilarch & Gaon of Ramla his son→Mar Rab Judah ‘Hazub’ bar Pinchas, Exilarch, Gaon, haSofer of Pumbeditha his son→R’ David Nathan ben Chazub, Exilarch, Rosh Golah of Judah his son→David Avraham ben Hazub, Exilarch ‘Rab David II’, haSofer b’Pumbeditha his son→Yehuda “Zakai” ben David, 29th Exilarch ‘Judah II’ his son→Hizkiya “Zuṭṭa” ben Yehudah, Exilarch #30,33 & 35, Final Gaon of Pumbeditha his son→דוד David ben Zakkai, Exilarch his son →Chyzkiya II ben David his son → Yitzhak ben Chyzkia, Nasi his son

An “exilarch”, by the way, is the spiritual leader of the generation in exile.  A “nasi” is the “president” or one who runs the civil affairs of the community, as I understand it.  These exilarchs were careful to record their genealogy, and those who have learned the Talmud will recognize many of these names.  Some of the generations listed above are actually in Israel . . . such as the goans of Tiberias, a city in Israel where a fairly constant Jewish presence remained throughout history, in addition to Tzfas (not far from there) and, of course, Jerusalem.

The tree above actually takes us all the way to about 1060 CE.  This is already the time of the famous Rishonim such as Rashi, the Rambam, and the Ramban.  (My wife is actually a direct descendant of Rashi in at least two different ways, but the tree from King David is less direct that way.)

The Spanish Years (to about 1450 CE)

Around 1085, things went fairly well for the Jews in Spain.  There were some religious-inspired attacks on the Jews (you know, like the Crusades…) but otherwise the Jewish population grew along with Torah scholarship.  This lasted until 1492.  Here’s the line of my wife’s tree extending from Yitzhak ben Chyzkia (see above) to Josef Halevi of Horovice:

 Yitzhak ben Chyzkia, Nasi → Mar Solomon Shealtiel “Felez Ferruz” Pattish haHazak, Nasi, Vizierhis son → Yosef “Cidellus” ibn Ferruzi’el, Nasi of Toledo, Vizier, Lt of El Cidhis son → Meshulam Shlomo Yitzhak Perfet (1st)his son → Zerachiah Gracian-Hen haLevi of Girona (Ba’al haMaor) / רבנו זרחיה השני מחירונהhis son → Rabeinu Yosef Hanassi HaLevi, רבנו יוסף הנשיא בן זרחיה הלויhis son → Benvenisti Ha’Levihis son → Yosef / יוסף Halevi Benveniste / הלוי בנבנישתיhis son → Pinhas haLevi of Barcelonahis son → Yitzhak haLevi of Narbone / יצחק הלוי מנרבונהhis son → Rabeinu Yosef / רבנו יוסף Halevi / הלויhis son → Benvenisti Ha’Levi his son →Josef Halevi of Horovice his son

Note that the names also are spanish-ified.  Now we have “Felez” and “Perfet” and “Benveniste”.  Note also that while my wife is quite Ashkenazi (of Eastern European descent), as am I, neither of us can do this with our trees through Eastern Europe.  We have to go the Sefardi route, probably because Ashkenazi Jews were more persecuted (probably descending from jews in Italy, taken captive after Rome destroyed the second Temple in 70 CE) and less stably located throughout the course of history.  Through the Sefardi line, we’ve gone about two thousand years with only two major location changes.  (An interesting side-note is that through population genetics, there’s probably no such thing as a “purely Ashkenazi” Jew – just a slight amount of intermarriage with Sefardim means that we’re all mixed together at this point.  See for more on this – my wife’s tree is very strong evidence that his mathematical postulating is quite correct.)

So why did Mar Solomon (the first in Spain) move from Iraq to Spain?  Well, the history books tell us he was a knight who commanded armies and was a personal advisor to the Knig of Aragon.  Read more about him on his Geni profile.

Then why did Josef Halevi (the last in Spain) leave for Bohemia?  It wasn’t the inquisition, as he died about forty years prior, but things were already getting worse for the Jews in Spain.  I can only speculate as to the true reason.  It needs further study.

The Last Few Hundred Years (To 1900 CE)

From here, again we can take a variety of paths.  The shortest one goes through the famous Rabbinic family, the Katzenellenbogen family.  Many still have this last name today and are known for not only their well respected lineage, but also for having a street name in Har Nof, Jerusalem and the longest Jewish last name:

Josef Halevi of Horovice his son → Moshe Asher Halevi pre Horowitz, משה הלוי, אבי הראשון לבית הורוביץ his son → Yeshaya Zalman HaLevi Horowitz – ישעיה הלוי, הראשון לבית הורוביץ his son→ Aaron Avraham Meshulam Zalman Horowitz / אהרן משולם זלמן הלוי הורוויץ his son → Rabbi Yisrael Horowitz – ישראל הורוביץ  his son → Rabbi Pinchas HaLevi Horowitz his son → Hinda Katzenellenbogen, הינדה קצנלנבויגן his daughter → Moshe Katzenellenbogen משה קצנלנבוגן her son → Meir Katzenellenbogen his son →Benjamin Katzenellenbogen his son → Saul Katzenellenbogen his son → Hanale Katzenellenbogen his daughter → Raatza Kastan her daughter → Channah Munk her daughter → Elias Munk her son

So there you have it.  Again, any of the links will take you to more information about the person.  This takes us through what is today the Czech Republic, Germany, and sometimes a bit through France and other surrounding countries.  My wife’s grandmother (the great-granddaughter of Elias Munk), along with many other descendants of Elias Munk and King David, again live in Israel.  She tells me that when she grew up in Germany it was a requirement to have your family tree documentation.  Thus, German Jews tend to know their family trees very well.  For those of us from further to the East in Europe . . . not so much.

… but wait, there’s more.

You see, the Torah doesn’t claim that there are only Jews in the world or that everyone is supposed to be Jewish.  It’s a discipline and a responsibility.  Rather, there are 70 nations each with different purposes.  The Jews are chosen for one, but surely there are reasons for the others.  Ishmael, for example, is another son of Abraham.  The Creator promises Ishmael’s mother that he’ll be great too [Bereshis / Genesis 17].  The Arabs claim descent from here, so shouldn’t they also have a family tree extending back that far?  In fact, evidence from other cultures with their own biases would serve to confirm the authenticity of the genealogical claims.  Then, through conversation (both from and to Judaism), thanks to the math of population genetics, we’re not only physically descended from Isaac, but through the close proximity in Iraq and Spain for about 1500 years, we should also be descended from Ishmael, and probably many others, for that matter.  Here’s another tree I ran across:

Ishmael / ישמעאל / إسماعيل . his son→ Kedar / קדר . his son → Imaam ‘Adnaan bin Imaam ‘Udd his son → Imaam Ma’ad bin Imaam ‘Adnaan his son → Imaam Nazaar bin Imaam Ma’ad his son→ Imaam Mudhir bin Imaam Nazaar  his son → Imaam Ilyaas (Habib) bin Imaam Mudhir his son →Imaam Mudrika (‘Amr) bin Imaam Ilyaas his son → Imaam Khuzaima bin Imaam Mudrika his son →Imaam Kanaana bin Imaam Khuzaima his son→Imaam an-Nazar “Qays” bin Imaam Kanaana his son→Imaam Maalik bin Imaam an-Nazar his son→Imaam Fihr (Quraysh) bin Imaam Maalik his son→Imaam Ghaalib bin Imaam Fihr (Quraysh) his son→Imaam Luwai bin Imaam Ghaalib his son→Imaam Ka’ab bin Imaam Luwai his son→Imaam Murrah bin Imaam Ka’ab his son→Imaam Killaab bin Imaam Murrah his son→Imaam Quṣayy Zayd bin Imaam Killaab his son→‘Abd al-Manaf bin Zahra his son→Imaam Hashim (A’mr ul-U’la) bin Imaam ‘Abd al-Manaf his son→Assad bin Imaam Hashim his son→Adai bint Assad ibn Hashim (PBUH) his daughter

That takes us from Ishmael through his descendants all the way to the Saasanid Empire (224 – 650 CE or so) in Babylonia (Iraq).  This is the period, as described above, when the Babylonian Talmud was written and the Jews and Arabs got along the best in history, just before the arrival of Islam.  I’d also imagine that the “PBUH” and “Imaam” tags were only added post-humorously.

Now take a look at what happens here when the names turn very Jewish:

Adai bint Assad ibn Hashim (PBUH)his daughterHaninai al-Nehar Peḳkod ben Bustanai bar Adai, Exilarch & Gaon of Sura her sonHananya “Dayan of the Gate” ben Haninai haKohen al-Nahr Paqod, Gaon of Sura his son →Meiri “Mari” ben Hananiah haKohen al-Nahr Peḳod, Gaon of Surahis son → Hillel “Hilai” ben “Mari”, Gaon of Surahis son → Mar Ivomai Mishael ben Hillel Kohen Zedeq, Gaon of Surahis son → Hophni “Boaz” Kohen Ṣedeq ben Ivomai, Gaon of Surahis son → Eleazar ibn Shmuel al-Hurga, Alluf al-Andalus & Resh Kallahhis son → Natronai Yosef “Mari” haKohen, Gaon of Sura & Jaen al-Andalushis son → Kohen Ṣedeq II “Yakob” ben Yosef, Gaon of Sura & Pumbedithahis son → Ḥophni Yosef ben Yakob haKohen Bar Saṭya, Av Bet Din,Gaon of Sura & Jaen al-Andalushis son → Shmuel ben Hophni haKohen haNagid, Last Gaon of Surahis son → ???? bat Samuel ben Hophni Nagid I his daughter → דוד David ben Zakkai, Exilarchher son → Chyzkiya II ben Davidhis son → Yitzhak ben Chyzkia, Nasi his son → Mar Solomon Shealtiel “Felez Ferruz” Pattish haHazak, Nasi, Vizier

It turns out that Yitzhak ben Chyzkia, Nasi, who was leader of the Jewish people in Iraq and went to Span (see above) was also a direct descendant of Ishmael!  Through this line are many of the leaders of the Saasinid Empire.  Adai bint Assad ibn Hashim seems to be close family with many rules of the Saassanid Empire and converted to Judaism.  Now I’m not quite sure how Saddam Hussein and other modern figures in Iraqi history fit on the tree, but suffice to say … we’re all cousins.

So there it is – at least two unbroken chains.  Again, I have chosen only two lines for purposes of illustration.  One goes through many great leaders of the Jewish people, and another through our cousins the Arabs . . . and then back to the Jews.  There are many more historical trees which take us back through there.  If child, parent, and grand-parent sat at a Seder together to retell the story of our ancestors in Egypt, we need only select about 40 Passover seders in history to find a direct line of transmission from the entire Jewish people living miraculously in the desert for forty years until today.  This is the basis of Jewish belief.

If the Exodus didn’t happen, how did such a story get passed down?  For more on this argument, see what Rabbi Sapirman has to say.

Okay, short answer: Because our Maker said so.  Shorter answer: I don’t know.  We can pretty much answer that for any commandment in the Torah, but that doesn’t really help a woman who is stuck married to a man she doesn’t want to be married to.  Such has become an issue in Jewish blogs and the newspapers these days thanks to a high profile case.  I very purposely choose not to link to such articles which mention the case simply because I don’t know what’s true and what’s not true in the case, nor do I think it’s any help to be a public judge of it.  Instead, in this article, I’ll try to go more broad and give some proposals for answers as to why the Jewish marriage system is the way it is, from different perspectives.

How the Jewish Marriage System Usually Works

get-man-womanEverything is a gift from our Creator and we are supposed to treat it that way.  Thus, in Jewish law it follows that you are required to take care of other people and things.  Going from least sophisticated to most, Yaakov [isaac], the midrash tells us, went back to pickup ‘pachad ketanim’ little jugs which were left, because to a tzaddik his possessions are valuable.  Moving along to living beings, if you own animals, you are required to feed them before yourself.  If you have a servant, you must give your pillow to the servant before yourself.  If you could have prayed for someone’s recovery from sickness and refrained, then you are at fault.  If you have a wife, so too you must take care of her before yourself. Further rabbinic laws have long been enacted which take the concept of “this is the right thing to do” and place them into Jewish law. If there’s not enough food, the man is required to leave the home to find it.  The woman has complete conjugal rights and say over such issues.  A man must feed and provide clothes and shelter for his wife, including new clothes before every holiday.  In short, the woman is to be taken care of while the man worries about where to find the food.

However, the Talmud bring a ruling from Rav Huna (Talmud Bavli, Bava Kamma, page 8b) telling us that if you don’t want to avail yourself of a (rabbinic) enactment made for your benefit, you don’t have to.  Thus, a woman can choose to be master of her own finances and so forth (though I would argue that the more the marriage is a partnership with respect for the decisions of the other, the better).  Support of a woman goes so far that Devarim [Deuteronomy] 22:28 tells us that if a man rapes a woman, he now has to marry her.  That sounds pretty terrible at first glance, but this means that one of his punishments is that he now has to “pay her alimony” (support her) for life.  Remember … she has control over the bedroom (and I suppose, could choose to live apart from him to avoid further abuse).  Again, however, it’s her choice and she can choose not to do so … which, certainly today, any woman would do. The Torah is a document for all times and in other times and places there might be a rationale for choosing to live with this man.  Even in our times, I know of a personal story where a female study partner in college told me that her friend’s older brother abused her, and then became her boyfriend.  Under such a scenario in Jewish law, she’d actually now be able to prevent him from no longer supporting her.  (See this article for a further discussion on the issue.)

Abuse of Jewish Divorce

Both the man has to give it and the woman has to agree to receive it.  Usually, both parties will eventually go out of it so they can move on with their lives and remarry.  Either party can play games, especially now where polygamy is, practically speaking, prohibited among Ashkenazi Jews as well as according to Israeli law.  Whenever you make a system or a rule, there will be those that abuse it.  If we make a case where either party can leave at any time, you might have, for example, a woman who marries a man for a short while, leaves, and takes half his wealth.  Or even in the Jewish system, I know of a woman refused to receive the Get, having no desire to remarry, leaving the man in a predicament.  Such cases of abuse aren’t unheard of.  

There is a case in the Talmud (I believe it is in Gittin, if a reader can avail me of exactly where), where a man B gives false reasons why man A should divorce his wife.  Man A agrees that he should get divorced but he can’t afford the price of the kesubah.  This is a required payment (something akin to, “lump sum alimony” paid in one shot) given by the man to a woman upon the divorce.  So man B says he’ll lend the money to man A, but man A will have to work off his debt.  Turns out that man B wanted to marry the woman, and he did … so man A is left waiting on man B who is busy jesting with his own former wife!  This is a story told about why the Temple was destroyed!

In Israel, courts have the power to take away a driver’s license, jail, or fine a person who does not give a Get.  One man still refused, and he’s serving a life sentence or until he gives it.  In the United States, sometimes cattle prods are helpful.

But Why Make This System? A Spiritual Answer

When dealing with people who are imperfect, they will imperfectly do what they are supposed to do.  When developing a system which lasts for all time, the system does work pretty well.  Divorce is available and a woman is generally very protected with laws to her benefit.  Today, however, though the Torah observant Jewish divorce rate is much less than the general public, in a world of high divorce rate and limited power of beis din’s (especially outside of Israel), the issue is acute.

Every mitzvah and everything we do in life is supposed to bring us closer to the Creator.  We want to understand the infinite, and though we never can, we approach it further and further.  Imagine a world with no pain and suffering.  It’s possible, but the greatest growth comes through overcoming adversity.  The Why Don’t Bad Things Happen to Bad People article which I previously wrote, discusses this in greater detail, complete with excerpts from the Maharal’s commentary on Iyov [Job].

We have parents because of the mitzvah of honoring them.  We have children so we can give to them.  We have friends so we can be loyal.  Each relationship teaches us a different aspect of our understanding of the infinite Creator.  Each has the potential for pitfalls, but few of us become hermits in a mountain to avoid all this or wish for heat death when there is no more world to worry about.  The greater the possible pleasure, the greater the chance of possible suffering.  They go hand and hand and keep us far away from heat death, et al.

A husband-wife relationship gives us the greatest pleasure that we don’t want to miss out on.  “To love another person is to see the face of G_d” Andrew Lloyd Weber tells us in the last line of Les Miserables.  G_d gives us a a world and a guidebook (the Torah) to go along with it.  G_d could take this away from us (though we trust the promises of the future in the Torah), but we cannot choose to exit from it.  G_d provides the support and sustenance and gives us everything we need (even if we disagree or do not understand what that is).  At Mount Sinai, the midrash compares G_d to the “chosson” (husband) and the Jews to the “kallah” (wife).  And so our marriages are a reflection of that (follow the link above for more on this topic).  It’s often a rather large shock when one gets married … suddenly we realize how different the other sex is wired, but it also opens up our growth of ourselves and a much greater understanding of how to see the world.

That’s all Great, But What of People Stuck Married to Each Other Today?

Right … so certainly we should help. Imagine the universe at the moment of creation … if we take the Big Bang theory, we’re looking at everything condensed into one, simple … something.  It’s all uniform with no growth and no … well, not much…. or maybe rather, everything.  It’s kind of boringly simple.  Now explode the world over billions of years and create love, hate, adversity and triumph and now you’ve got something.   Just as there are always poor people in the world and the rich are supposed to give to them, we’re supposed to be the heroes and help fix situations where people are getting hurt.  These are the exceptions … not the norm!

Solution 1 is to empower bais din’s (Jewish courts) which have jurisdiction of religious matters such as religious divorces.  This is done simply by signing an arbitration agreement which is enforceable in secular courts.  They’re also called prenuptial and postnuptial agreements.  One is available here.  Not legal advice… for information only.  They can impose fines and make other judgments against either party who refuses to cooperate.  It’s not a perfect way to help, but nothing we can do will be in any system (see first section).

Solution 2: When it’s too late for solution 1, and a party isn’t cooperating, you’re in a bind.  The best we can do is social pressure or … cattle prods.  In some cases, it’s because of the social pressure and vindictiveness of one side.  If you’re not ready for cattle prods, laying off and being a mensch about it might also work.  I know of a case that dragged on for a long time with Rabbi A instigating the woman to do this and that to the man until he gave the Get … Rabbi B met with them and just talked out a dispute they were still having worth less than $10,000.  In another case of Rabbi A’s heavy handed approach, it went to court and only after the woman ran out of avenues, taking it all the way to the appellate court which ruled against forcing the man to give the Get … did he give the Get.  I don’t know the case and do not mean to make a comment on how it was handled … I am just reporting on the result.

Conclusion: If I have any say over it, my children will be signing pre-nuptial agreements!

In this article, I attempt to make a few points: a) Point of view on topics beyond the dimensions that we can observe is based on emotion; b) People tend to illogically ignore evidence that doesn’t fit with their emotion-based postulates, whether they are religious or secular (including the great writer, Isaac Asimov), c) you can’t convince most people of very much at all; d) Judaism, which I believe to be true, recognizes the limits of rationality and faith/emotion and is a mix of the two (in my opinion), and finally, e) choosing rational postulates of what gives the most meaning and pleasure based on examination of the evidence is most rational.

Proof Depends on the Postulate

The follow of reason - you'll never seen the cylinder, but it's there.

The follow of reason – you’ll never seen the cylinder, but it’s there.

In Asimov’s story, humans make a robot-run outpost in space.  One robot decides it’s illogical for humans, who are inferior to robots in so many ways, to have created him.  So the robot logically determines that the most advanced thing there, the outpost’s computer, made it and declares “There is no master but the master and I am his prophet” (a satirical take on the Muslim declaration of faith).

 You can prove anything you want by coldly logical reason- if you pick the proper postulates. We have ours and Cutie has his.”

“Then let’s get at those postulates in a hurry.”  Powell sighed wearily.

“That’s where everything falls down. Postulates are based on assumption and adhered to by faith. Nothing in the Universe can shake them. I’m going to bed.”

. . . “But I might as well try – as a matter of principle.”

– “Reason”, Isaac Asimov, 1941 (age 21)

This is exemplary of many arguments we’ve probably all had with someone invested in a different idea.  I’ve heard quoted in the name of Rabbi Noach Weinberg (who spent his life reaching out to Jews who learned little about Jewish beliefs), this mentality in many ways actually covers about 90 – 95% of people.  There are maybe 5% to 10% of people you can convince of anything substantially different than what they currently believe.

Folly of Faith

In the story, the humans try to reason with ‘the prophet’, to no avail.  Given Asimov’s personal belief (a “humanist Jew”, though an analysis of Asimov’s views is far beyond the scope of this article), it seems he’s attempting to knock various religions, and of course, Decartes.  They build a new robot; rebuttal – the parts already existed, made by the master.  They show the robot their library proving their knowledge of robot creation; rebuttal – the master wrote them for the humans to believe, but he has the real truth (I’ve read this view from a few Muslims and heard same from a Hindu).  Meanwhile, the humans who know the truth decide that they should argue with the robot “on principle” before deciding that it’s best just to let the robot believe what he wants . . . because he’s doing his job (again, akin to Rambam describing Islam to be like a statute which has beauty, but not the fullness of proper belief).

On the other side, it works the other way as well.  Try discussing the ludicrous claim in the Bible (jump down to point 3 in the link) written, at least, some time before 200 BCE (the time of Septuagint, and according to tradition, actually, in about 1323 BCE) that Jews will remain small in number, be scattered around the earth, and then return in massive numbers.  The latter part could only be confirmed in this century.  Other claims, such as mass revelation with a continuous unbroken chain (jump down to the heading, “Judaism” in the link) are just as wild, but yet, we can see the evidence.  Yet, how many nihilists suddenly start believing in the Torah’s authenticity?

Another example – While obtaining my undergraduate biology degree, the math behind life beginning as we know it boggled my mind.  It is still, to my understanding, very much an unsolved an unreciprocal problem.  My genetics professor, who remembered me years later as the only student to discuss G_d during office hours, fully agreed with me on this point . . . it couldn’t happen, but yet he said, “I have faith that it happened because . . . it happened.”  I thought that was intellectually honest (if not a tautology). Present someone (intellectually honest) who believes in the authenticity of the Bible with a proof of the age of the universe and he will try and fit it in with his theology . . . present someone (intellectually honest) with incredible mathematical claims for spontaneous generation and development of humans in only a few billion years, and, well . . . he may just admit it’s on “faith”.

Folly of Reason

The follow of reason - you'll never seen the cylinder, but it's there.

The folley of reason – you see a 2D shape, I see a different 2D shape, but we’re both right.  No faith, then no cylinder.

“Reason”, as Asimov like to use the term, is “coldly logical.”  We examine, we theorize, and we test.  Problem: we can’t apply the scientific method to the past or even examine with much certainty whether the law of physics were constant before we started examining them.  “Where were you when I founded the earth? Tell if you know understanding.” says the Creator to Iyov [Job] (38:4).  Those things that we hold as constant, might not be.  While we can test and review results without emotion, the postulates we choose and the conclusions we draw from them are emotion-laden.  For all we know, every particle within our view is doubling in size every moment in comparison to a much bigger meta-verse and this has some effect that we aren’t comprehending.  All that remains constant is – our own postulates.  I know why and how I chose mine, or at least, I think I do.  I choose those that make the most sense and yield the most pleasure . . . at least, according to my postulates.

Asimov would tell you that you can only act based on reason.  I agree.  Where I disagree is what he chooses as “reasonable” . . . his “postulates” which are based on emotion.  He said in 1982, “Emotionally, I am an atheist. I don’t have the evidence to prove that God doesn’t exist, but I so strongly suspect he doesn’t that I don’t want to waste my time.”  That is a very honest self-assessment, but, to me, choosing based on a feeling and calling it a “waste of time” to examine what contradicts his feeling seems irrational.  (I am not, however, passing judgment on Asimov as a whole of which I do not know nearly enough information . . . just this quote.)

Kant vs. R’Shimson Dovid Pinchus

Immanuel Kant argued that if there is a G_d, this is irrelevant because why would an infinite G_d care about us?  Why would it relate to us?  We would be nothing.  How could we ever approach or understand something so much greater than ourselves?  We have no faculties to do so, so why bother?  This is very close to what Asimov argues and what’s argued in G_d 2.0 (a physicist who does believe in a guiding, omniscient creator or force of some kind).  It is also almost identical to the argument of Bildad in sefer Iyov [Job] (though he clearly still believes in the positive in G_d’s existence), and I’ve heard it from atheists.  One answer is here, in this guest blog post.

The best refutation that I’ve heard to the unattainable ability to reach an infinite Creator who might not even care about us comes from R’Shimson Dovid Pincus.  He doesn’t refer to Kant, et al, by name, but he posits like this – if you posit that the Creator doesn’t care what we do or that we can’t relate to the Creator, then you are positing a weak creator.  Your conception of “infinite” is lacking.  Imagine a bird removing a speck of dust from a mountain . . . one speck at a time, going up and down for a trillion years until the mountain is gone.  That’s not infinite and that’s only in one dimension.  Infinite in all directions and dimensions is much more than that in time, space, and so forth.  This infinite Creator who creates the universe would be . . . infinite.  There would be a path to understanding and growing closer to and knowing, at least, aspects of the Creator as we come closer and closer and closer (or farther and farther away).  We can relate to the Creator and the way we do that is with our intellect and our conversations (e.g. meditation or prayer) to the Creator.  We can manipulate the world in this manner, but this is verifiable only for each individual who does so.  I can’t know the sincerity of your thoughts or the level of your arrogance versus humility in your heart.  This is explained further below.

Jewish Text on the Folly of Reason

This heading, even more so than the above headings, could be written in volumes.  I’m not a major talmud chochim [scholar], but I have come across two sources i find poignant.  First, on that “cold logical reason” that Asimov describes.  The Gemora [Talmud] speaks about the famous case of King Solomon judging that a baby should be split in two.  The real mother would rather the baby go to the other woman, than see her own child die (It’s quite a fascinating section of Gemora, covering many angles, but for brevity, I quote only a small portion):

The king answered and said, “Give her the living child . . . she is his mother.”  How did he know?  Maybe, she had been acting craftily?  It was a bas kol [heavenly voice] that came forth and said, “She is his mother.” – Makkos 32b

A few points here: Jews are known for questioning everything.  Most of us, secular or religious, are big on reason.  I’m pretty sure this is where it comes from – even on something such as the great wisdom of Solomon, the wisest of people, who don’t just take it on faith that he reasoned it out smarter than anyone else, though once someone is has shown themselves to reason better than we, than we’ll probably listen to him whether he be Einstein or a great Rabbi.  That is, after all, reasonable.

Maybe, just maybe, the false mother realized ahead of time that he’d make this judgment and planned out, or on the spot, faked what would show that she is the real mother (empathy for the child) and the real mother was psychopath who only cared about winning.  It’s a possibility, albeit remote.  So the conclusion – it wasn’t just relying on cold logical reasoning.  If we did that, we couldn’t move . . . we could never make a decision.  There is also trust in the Creator that we will make the right decision, such that here the heavens even told the answer.

Jewish Text on the Folly of Faith

This quote is directly on how to have effective prayer.

R’Hanin said in the name of R’Hanina: “If one prays long his prayer does not pass unheeded” . . . But is this so? has not R’Chiya ben Abba said in the name of R’Yochanon, “If one prays long and looks for the fulfillment of his prayer, in the end he will have vexation of heart” . . . There is no contradiction: one statement speaks of a man who prays long and looks for the fulfillment of his prayer, the other of one who prays long without looking for the fulfillment of his prayer.  R’Hama ben Rav’Hanina said, “If a man sees that he prays and is not answered, he should pray again.”  – Berechos 32b.

For those who who want to test G_d and see that what they request is answered, to quote R’Shimshon Dovid Pinchus, you’re trying to make the infinite Creator into a slave that serves you . . . if you do x, you expect the infinite Creator to do y.  If you expect it to work that way, your conception of infinite and your place within it is rather flawed . . . you are leaving room for yourself, not for the Creator.  It takes humility and is almost a seeming contradiction.  Only if you don’t look for fulfillment, are you answered.  That is, humble yourself and realize that it is not you running the show . . . it is the infinite Creator (Hashem, or if you prefer, “G_d”).  The more you realize that, and the more you make your will into His will, the more His will becomes your will:

Make that His will should be your will, so that He should make your will to be as His will. Nullify your will before His will, so that He should nullify the will of others before your will. – Pirkei Avos [Ethics of our Fathers] 2:4

Though there is one way in which we’re allowed to test G_d, it still does involve doing “His will” and it’s not easy (follow the link in the sentence).  Thus, anyone who says, “If there’s a G_d, he’ll reveal himself to me” or “I don’t see the evidence, therefore there is no G_d” has it backwards.  Look smarter, not harder!


The pluralist argument that “there are multiple truths” is correct in some sense … but it all collapses down into an ultimate, underlying truth.  As Asimov said in an interview with Bill Moyers in 1988, “I have my faith, you have your faith, and there’s no way in which I can translate my faith to you or vice versa”, that may be true, but it does not discount that cold rationality by itself is deadly as is cold faith.  One can go off the deep end with either and do terrible things.  Then again, what is “terrible”?  For that, we need a mix of both.

Judaism has reason-based faith, but also has trusting in a transmission of a tradition from Sinai so that we can know what is truth and what is not.  As a Patent Attorney, there have been numerous people to whom I’ve tried to convince them not to proceed with their ideas … it will never work and it’s a waste of money.  I convince few of them of anything but my honestly (and then end up making more money, somewhat akin to the quote above from the Talmud where if you don’t expect to get it, then that’s when you do).  The exception was a lady who asked her Rebbe his opinion . . . that was bad for business.  Yet, that’s how we make our decisions as Jews.  We are rational but we trust in the chain since Sinai which tells what is rational and we can test via our personal experience and humility.  Even further, it then becomes logical and reasonable that we do not proselytize others who do not have the same transmission.  How can we?

I hope I have done the topic some justice.  While I have also tried to be fair, my own bias, like that of any author, cannot be entirely masked.  Feel free to comment.