Tuesday, March 5, 2019

Natan Slifkin sent a letter to Artscroll. Response to some points.

Dear friends:

Finally –after a few weeks– Natan Slifkin decided to write about Chulin 59a on the issue of the shafan.
He published in his blogspot the letter he sent to Artscroll.
Following are some comments related to Natan Slifkin’s letter. (Emphasis by bold letters added by me in the whole document).
I will try to ignore ad hominem attacks and his psychoanalytical analysis of my personality.

1.1 NS wrote:
…It is disappointing to see that a certain note was added to the latest edition of the Artscroll Talmud. (As you may recall, 16 years ago you hired me as zoological consultant for Chullin.)

16 years ago, was 2003. The year when Artscroll hired you was 2003.
In 2005, about 30 Gedole Yisrael signed letters disqualifying your writings, so it’s understandable that Artscroll hired you in 2003, two years before the letters were published.

2.1 NS wrote:
…Dr. Betech is single-minded in his religious obsession that the shafan must not be the hyrax (because in order to contrive his own particular forced explanation of how the Torah's four animals with one kosher sign are the only such animals on the planet, he wants the shafan to be the rabbit).

This is not my own particular explanation, but a statement written in Chullin 59a and followed by all the Rishonim I have found, as amply documented in “The enigma of the Biblical shafan” book in chapter 8 entitled: “The exhaustive list of one-signed animals”.

3.1 NS wrote:
And amazingly, in a book that professes to be the definitive and comprehensive study of this topic with "more than 1000 bibliographical Torah and scientific sources," he fails to cite the only dedicated work on this topic that had ever been published - because it was written by me!

In the main collective letter signed by 23 Gedole Yisrael in 2005 they wrote that it is forbidden to propagate NS’s teachings, therefore I decided not to quote that book. Anyway we tried to address all the intellectual arguments presented by that author, usually being arguments that historically preceded him.
If someone thinks that we didn’t address any specific argument made in NS’s book, please point it out in the comments to this blogspot.

4.1 NS wrote:
But far more problematic is the description of Betech as attempting to defend the "traditional" view. The view that the shafan is the rabbit is not the "traditional" view; it's the medieval European view, because they didn't have hyraxes in Europe. They broke from the original tradition of people from the Geonic era, who lived in the region of Israel, and were familiar with the hyrax.

Regarding the identification of the Biblical shafan from the Geonic era, I only remember Rab Saadia Gaon who just wrote “wabr” without describing that species; as we explained in the book we doubt that he meant the hyrax, and even if he was referring to the hyrax, nevertheless Ibn Ezra in Bereshit 2:11 wrote that Rab Saadia Gaon didn’t have a kabala for the identification of the Biblical animals.
We also found that Ibn Janach -who lived less than a century later than Rab Saadia Gaon- translated shafan as wabr and wabr as conilio (rabbit), so the hyrax can hardly be called a Geonic era tradition.

5.1 NS wrote:
You can ask anyone in the field of Biblical natural history (such as Dr. Zohar Amar and Dr. Moshe Raanan), and they will all tell you that it's clear beyond any doubt that the shafan is the hyrax, and cannot possibly be the rabbit.

In science, appealing to authority is not acceptable (ad verecundiam fallacy).
Furthermore, as any scientist knows, in the field of natural history, experts do not write grandiose statements like “clear beyond any doubt”. The latter is the reason the title and subtitle of our book is “The enigma of the Biblical shafan. Torah and scientific research suggesting a solution”.

6.1 NS wrote:
…The reason is the very clear passuk in Barchi Nafshi
הָרִים הַגְּבֹהִים לַיְּעֵלִים סְלָעִים מַחְסֶה לַשְׁפַנִּים: תהילים קד:יח
"The high hills are for the ya'elim, the rocks are a refuge for the shefanim."
The pasuk tells us two things about shefanim: that they hide in rocks, and that they are associated with ya'elim

Indeed the pasuk tells us that shefanim hide in rocks, as rabbits do.
Nevertheless, I’m not sure that the pasuk tells us that the shefanim are associated in the same habitat with yaelim, since an “atnach/etnachta” separates between the two elements of this pasuk.
For textual and pictorial evidence that common rabbits hide in rocks, please see the linked document (taken from the forthcoming 2nd expanded edition of our shafan book).
ShafanBook Betech Rabbit on rocky areas.pdf

7.1 NS wrote:
Instead, he claims, David HaMelech was speaking about the rabbit of Spain - an animal that never lived anywhere near the Land of Israel and was thus completely unfamiliar to David HaMelech and to his audience, and which moreover does not hide under rocks but rather in burrows! It's simply ludicrous.

In chapter 5 (b) of our book we wrote nine ways of refuting these arguments.

8.1 NS wrote:
(The hyrax also matches the description in Shemini of an animal that brings up food via its throat, which it does in small quantities, as I have observed and filmed on several occasions.

With the last statement, Natan Slifkin reminded me what he himself published on 17th March 13 in his website:
My video of my own hyrax engaged in what appeared to me to be merycism has been dismissed by some zoologists as showing a form of threat gesture instead.

And NS added in response to a question in the comments of the same blogspot the following:
Sure. I'm not committed to the hyrax engaging in merycism.

Nevertheless, I will very much enjoy if Natan Slifkin is able to present even one source from the professional scientific literature stating that the hyrax practices any kind of redigestion.
Otherwise, even the Biblical primary criteria of being maale gerah would not be met by the hyrax.

9.1 NS wrote:
And contrary to Betech's claim, the shafan is no more of a sheretz than is a rabbit - in fact, it is much larger, and more of a leaper.)

NS does not present any source from the classic Jewish literature that mentions the size of the animal as a requirement to be classified as a sheretz.
As explained in the linked document, the hyrax is a sheretz because it is a short-legged creature.

10.1 NS wrote:
I understand that you were probably placed under a lot of pressure - Isaac Betech is experienced at manipulating Gedolei Torah to write letters in support of his agenda, which he uses to bully people into kowtowing to his demands. Indeed, a few years ago he launched a massive campaign to prevent Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks from coming to Mexico. However, he was ultimately unsuccessful, which shows that it is possible to stand up to that kind of pressure.

Indeed people who are interested in searching for the truth find it difficult to withstand the intellectual pressure that emanates from the sources presented and carefully studied.
Regarding Dr. Jonathan Sacks, here is not the place to detail who invited him, and why they invited him, nevertheless Dr. Jonathan Sacks was not ready to intellectually defend his ideological statements which oppose Judaism, similar to NS who refused 12 times when challenged some years ago (documented here).

Finally, any respectful question or comment signed with the real full name is welcomed.

Dr. Yizchak Betech

Thursday, January 24, 2019

Important updates on Torah and science regarding the Shafan (Chulin 59a)


Dear friends:
Tomorrow Chulin 59a will be studied on Daf Yomi.
On that page the shafan is mentioned, so we decided to post some news on this famous issue.

1. A few years ago we published the 1st edition of the book (292 pages):
"The Enigma of the Biblical Shafan" Torah and scientific research suggesting a solution.
(The book includes appendices on the Talmudic science-related statements about the fish's scales/fins and the reproductive biology of lice).
After all the new information found in the last years -which also includes new scientific information supporting our conclusions B"H- the book now has more than 1000 bibliographical Torah and scientific sources, more than 100 color illustrations and four indexes.
Now the 2nd expanded and completely revised edition (388 pages) is almost ready for printing.

2. The following is the English abstract of the book (also available on request in Hebrew):
The Torah included the shafan and the arnebet among the four non-kosher animals with only one kosher sign. Throughout the centuries, the usual translations of these terms were, respectively, rabbit and hare.
            Indeed, current science shows that all the characteristics Jewish classic literature attributes to these animals do occur in the rabbit[1] and the hare.[2]
            This publication will make the case that the Torah/Talmudic definition of “maaleh gerah” includes a qualified form of cecotrophy practiced by the rabbit and hare.
            The following essay B”H refutes different options (like the hyrax, the llama, the pika and the mouse-deer) suggested and published by some as the identity of the shafan. And additionally, it answers in a systematic approach, the published challenges to our conclusions regarding the identity of the shafan.
After extensive research, as presented in a comprehensive chapter (which analyzes the kangaroo and the capybara among other animals), we did not find any additional “min” (Torah-type creature) with only one kosher sign besides the four mentioned in the Torah, and we can recognize with admiration, today as always, that only the Master of the World could state this accurate information thousands of years ago.

3. A summarized edition of "The Enigma of the Biblical Shafan" in Hebrew (162 pages) is ready for printing.

4. Important modifications were made in Nov. 2018 ed. regarding the main translation for the Biblical Shafan as the rabbit in the Artscroll Gemara Schottenstein English Edition Talmud Bavli on Chulin 59a and also in the Hebrew Edition.

5. Rab Amitai Ben David shlit"a in his new 14th edition of the Sichat Chulin added important information which supports the translation of the Shafan as the rabbit. His new approach is widely explained in the approbation letter he gave to our book.

6. One of the chapters of the book explained six points of why the hyrax cannot be the Biblical Shafan. Lately we obtained the original translation of shafan as rabbit even in Ibn Janach and Rambam; therefore now a two-page article summarizing eight points is available here.
Also available in Hebrew here

7. The book "The Enigma of the Biblical Shafan" merited approbation letters written by many Gdole Yisrael, other Rabanim who are experts in these subjects and a scientist who specialized in rabbit biology.
New letters were added throughout the last years.
A document compiling all of them is available here.

Dr. Yitzchak Betech <>

[1] For example, the common rabbit, taxonomi­cally classified as Oryctolagus spp. or the Pronolagus spp.
[2] For example, the cape hare taxonomically classified as Lepus capensis or the brown hare (Lepus europaeus).

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Design of minimal genome refutes chemical evolution

Clyde A. Hutchison III, et. al.
Design and synthesis of a minimal bacterial genome,
Science, 25 Mar 2016:
Vol. 351, Issue 6280,
DOI: 10.1126/science.aad6253

The minimal cell concept appears simple at first glance but becomes more complex upon close inspection. In addition to essential and nonessential genes, there are many quasi-essential genes, which are not absolutely critical for viability but are nevertheless required for robust growth. Consequently, during the process of genome minimization, there is a trade-off between genome size and growth rate. JCVI-syn3.0 is a working approximation of a minimal cellular genome, a compromise between small genome size and a workable growth rate for an experimental organism. It retains almost all the genes that are involved in the synthesis and processing of macromolecules. Unexpectedly, it also contains 149 genes with unknown biological functions, suggesting the presence of undiscovered functions that are essential for life. JCVI-syn3.0 is a versatile platform for investigating the core functions of life and for exploring whole-genome design.

Four design-build-test cycles produced JCVI-syn3.0.
(A) The cycle for genome design, building by means of synthesis and cloning in yeast, and testing for viability by means of genome transplantation. After each cycle, gene essentiality is reevaluated by global transposon mutagenesis. (B) Comparison of JCVI-syn1.0 (outer blue circle) with JCVI-syn3.0 (inner red circle), showing the division of each into eight segments. The red bars inside the outer circle indicate regions that are retained in JCVI-syn3.0. (C) A cluster of JCVI-syn3.0 cells, showing spherical structures of varying sizes (scale bar, 200 nm).

Notice the use of Design in the Science article. The following is from [1].

The Simplest Living Organism Ever Has 437 Genes

You need at least 500,000 perfectly organized base pairs in order to have a living cell [2].

Excerpt: "If synthetic biology has a rockstar, it’s Craig Venter, and he’s back with a new hit. Venter and his team say they’ve created one of the simplest organisms theoretically possible using a combination of genetic engineering techniques, in-lab DNA-synthesis, and trial-and-error.

The work, published Thursday in Science, describes a self-replicating bacterium invented by Venter and his team that contains just 437 genes, a “genome smaller than that of any autonomously replicating cell found in nature,” according to the paper. The work sheds light on the function of the individual genes necessary to have life, and it also shows us just how little we actually know about specific gene functions."

My comment: The number of base pairs in a gene varies a lot. You need about 1,000 base pairs for having a 'simple' protein coding gene. But in some genes there are even 100,000 base pair in ONE gene. And you need at least hundreds of genes for creating a living cell. This means that in order to have a living cell you need at least 500,000 base pairs that need to be perfectly organized in their places. But genes by themselves are not able to form a living cell. You need much much more. Craig Venter's team tried to design a synthetic living cell by using complex computer software alone, but their every effort failed. The only way for creating a minimal living cell was to knock down genes one by one in a living organism, with  trial-and error, and find the final working combination of genes by which the cell was able to live and reproduce.

The message of this experiment is crystal clear: Random undirected processes are not able to create life. Life arises only from LIFE itself. Life is much more than a cocktail of chemical elements. The simplest living cell seems to be a super complex organism and it doesn't start to live without perfect design. Abiogenesis is a false theory.



Friday, August 5, 2016

Dinosaurs, Scientism and Propaganda

R. Slifkin has dinosaurs on his mind again (see Strengthening Emunah: Via Denying Dinosaur Eras, etc., July 31, 2106). He writes:
Unlike the Discovery seminar, however, Emunah: A Refresher Course also included extensive pseudo-scientific material attempting to prove that there was no era of dinosaurs; the universe is only 5776 years old, and dinosaurs lived just a few thousand years ago, concurrently with contemporary species. Likewise, there was extensive presentation of kashyas on evolution, arguing that it is false and nonsense. This material all appeared to be from computer scientist Jonathan Ostroff, well known to long-time readers of this blog as a Young Earth Creationist with bizarre debating tactics and even more bizarre beliefs. Rabbi Saperman [sic.] apparently rates Ostroff as some kind of scientific expert and unhesitatingly accepts all his material. He appears to believe that convincing people that modern science is all wrong will strengthen people's emunah.
R Slifkin calls the beliefs of his opponents "bizarre" and the like. For other egregious accusations see "Slifkin and Mental Illness "(e.g. calling his opponents an "idiot", "dishonest", "scurrilous", and the like). What is he trying to achieve? Surely he does not mean to demonize his opponents, rather than answering their questions.  That would smack of Arlinsky style tactics used by the atheistic left, which he surely does not intend?

Also, notice that I actually quote R. Slifkin -- rather than attributing to him what he does not say. Whereas, R. Slifkin does not quote what R. Sapirman actually says.  

Let's start with his comment on dinosaurs. Dinosaurs of the kind you find on the front of R. Slifkin's book are supposed to be tens of millions of years old. R. Sapirman's book refers to researcher Mary Schweitzer's discoveries [who is, interestingly, an evangelical]. Here is how her discovery was reported by the pro-evolution camp [Discover Magazine, April 2006]:
Ever since Mary Higby Schweitzer peeked inside the fractured thighbone of a Tyrannosaurus rex, the introverted scientist's life hasn't been the same. Neither has the field of paleontology.   
Two years ago, Schweitzer gazed through a microscope in her laboratory at North Carolina State University and saw lifelike tissue that had no business inhabiting a fossilized dinosaur skeleton: fibrous matrix, stretchy like a wet scab on human skin; what appeared to be supple bone cells, their three-dimensional shapes intact; and translucent blood vessels that looked as if they could have come straight from an ostrich at the zoo. 
By all the rules of paleontology, such traces of life should have long since drained from the bones. It's a matter of faith among scientists that soft tissue can survive at most for a few tens of thousands of years, not the 65 million since T. rex walked what's now the Hell Creek Formation in Montana.
“I  got goose  bumps,”  recalls Schweitzer.  “It was  exactly like  looking  at  a  slice  of modern bone.  But,  of  course,  I couldn’t believe it. I said to the lab technician: ‘The bones, after all, are 65 million years old. How could blood cells survive that long?’ ”  A “good kashya,” but it drives Schweitzer crazy when creationists suggest that  this may be evidence for a recent  creation.  

Now, why can R. Slifkin not report the kashya accurately? Good questions make for good science, after all. 

(1) This problem for the theory of evolution was discussed by R. Coffer  in more detail over here (2008), with more detail from the literature such as the Smithsonian and Nature. R. Slifkin is welcome to re-engage in the debate with R. Coffer. The evidence today of soft tissue and blood cells in supposedly ancient dinosaurs is now even more established than it was in 2006. By the way, what experiment can R. Slifkin quote that demonstrates that the T. rex on the cover of his book is, say, 65 million years old. Even a proof that that his dinosaur is at least 6.5 millions years old or even at least 0.65 million years old would also be acceptable. 

(2) Now what about the R. Slifkin's warm embrace of Darwin's theory. How about the eye of the dinosaur on R. Slifkin's front page. How did that come about? What experimental evidence can R. Slifkin cite that demonstrates that random and natural processes can show how we get from a an organism without and eye to one with an eye. What we seek is a detailed Darwinian pathway, not hand-waving speculation. For an example of something that might at least be a first step, consider the material in David Berlinski's article A Scientific Scandal (Commentary, 2003). 
Just such a demonstration, I noted in my essay, is what the biologists Dan-Erik Nilsson and Susanne Pelger seemed to provide in a 1994 paper. Given nothing more than time and chance, a "light sensitive patch," they affirmed, can "gradually turn into a focused-lens eye," and in the space of only a few hundred thousand years-a mere moment, as such things go.   
Nilsson and Pelger's paper has, for understandable reasons, been widely circulated and widely praised, and in the literature of evolutionary biology it is now regularly cited as definitive. Not the least of its remarkable authority is derived from the belief that it contains, in the words of one of its defenders, a "computer simulation of the eye's evolution." 
If this were true, it would provide an extremely important defense of Darwin's theory. Although a computer simulation is not by itself conclusive-a simulation is one thing, reality another-it is often an important link in an inferential chain. In the case of Darwin's theory, the matter is especially pressing since in the nature of things the theory cannot be confirmed over geological time by any experimental procedure, and it has proved very difficult to confirm under laboratory conditions.  
The claim that the eye's evolution has been successfully simulated by means of Darwinian principles, with results falling well within time scales required by the theory, is thus a matter of exceptional scientific importance. And not just scientific importance, I might add; so dramatic a confirmation of Darwinian theory carries large implications for our understanding of the human species and its origins. This is no doubt why the story of Nilsson and Pelger's computer simulation has spread throughout the world. Their study has been cited in essays, textbooks, and popular treatments of Darwinism like River Out of Eden by the famous Oxford evolutionist Richard Dawkins; accounts of it have made their way onto the Internet in several languages; it has been promoted to the status of a certainty and reported as fact in the press, where it is inevitably used to champion and vindicate Darwin's theory of evolution.  
In my essay, I suggested that Nilsson and Pelger's arguments are trivial and their conclusions unsubstantiated. I also claimed that representations of their paper by the scientific community have involved a serious, indeed a flagrant, distortion of their work. But in a letter published in the March issue of COMMENTARY, the physicist Matt Young, whom I singled out for criticism (and whose words I have quoted here), repeated and defended his characterization of Nilsson and Pelger's work as a "computer simulation of the eye's evolution." It is therefore necessary to set the matter straight in some detail. I hope this exercise will help to reveal, with a certain uncomfortable clarity, just how scientific orthodoxy works, and how it imposes its opinions on the faithful.
In the end it turned out that there was no actual computer model in Nilsson and Pelger's paper. Dan-Erik Nilsson denied having based his work on any computer simulations. Nilsson and Pelger never state that their task was to "set up computer models of evolving eyes" for any reason whatsoever. What they report is a rather trivial result (with some errors) that is irrelevant to demonstrating how the eye evolved by random mutation and natural selection. 

So the famous Oxford evolutionists Richard Dawkins (the one who argues for the evolution of the eye in the Blind Watchmaker) got it all wrong. Berlinki's article makes for enjoyable reading. Please see the full exchange for the details. It gives an idea of what a detailed Darwinian pathway would have to look like: a sequential sequence of step-by-random-steps with an estimate of likely probability over the proposed time frame. 

Talking about the blind watchmaker, supposedly "bad designs" are the hall-mark of evolution. R. Slifkin [Challenge p. 303-304] mentions the "poorly designed" Panda's thumb makes sense in light of Darwinian evolution as it is too inefficient a limb to be the work of a wise Creator (see here). But as it turns out: 
The way in which the giant panda, Ailuropoda melanoleuca, uses the radial sesamoid bone — its ‘pseudo-thumb’ — for grasping makes it one of the most extraordinary manipulation systems in mammalian evolution. ... The radial sesamoid bone and the accessory carpal bone form a double pincer-like apparatus in the medial and lateral sides of the hand, respectively, enabling the panda to manipulate objects with great dexterity.
[Endo, H., Yamagiwa, D., Hayashi, Y. H., Koie, H., Yamaya, Y., and Kimura, J. 1999. Nature 397: 309-310. Emphasis added]

(3) Thus, can R. Slifkin provide a detailed Darwinian pathway for Panda's thumb, free of hand-waving speculation. R. Slifkin also thinks that evolution can easily turn a land-based animal like the precursor of a cow into a whale. Well that is quite as tale (see Whale Evolution and Skepticism). What does it take, in an engineering sense, to transform a car into a submarine? Quite a bit. I am an Electrical Engineer by training, so I think I am allowed to say: quite a bit of intelligence.  Here are some points made by David Berlinksi:

  • The suggestion that Darwin’s theory of evolution is like theories in the serious sciences —quantum electrodynamics, say—is grotesque. Quantum electrodynamics is accurate to thirteen unyielding decimal places. Darwin’s theory makes no tight quantitative predictions at all. 
  • The astonishing and irreducible complexity of various cellular structures has not yet successfully been described, let alone explained. 
  • A great many species enter the fossil record trailing no obvious ancestors and depart for Valhalla leaving no obvious descendants. 
  • Tens of thousands of fruit flies have come and gone in laboratory experiments, and every last one of them has remained a fruit fly to the end, all efforts to see the miracle of speciation unavailing.

Let's end with one of Rabbi Sapirman's quotes by Richard Leowntin, at the time Professor of Zoology and Professor of Biology at Harvard University:
We take the side of science in spite of the patent absurdity of some of its constructs, in spite of its failure to fulfill many of its extravagant promises of health and life, in spite of the tolerance of the scientific community for unsubstantiated just-so stories, because we have a prior commitment, a commitment to materialism. It is not that the methods and institutions of science somehow compel us to accept a material explanation of the phenomenal world, but, on the contrary, that we are forced by our a priori adherence to material causes to create an apparatus of investigation and a set of concepts that produce material explanations, no matter how counterintuitive, no matter how mystifying to the uninitiated. Moreover, that materialism is absolute, for we cannot allow a Divine Foot in the door.... (Richard Lewontin, "The Demon-Haunted World," The New York Review of Books, January 9, 1997, p. 28., emphases added)
So what we have is evolutionary propaganda, not solid science. 

So, has Rabbi Sapirman relied on Jonathan Ostroff or on the opinions of the relevant scientists, while reserving the right to adjudicate their findings?  Or, is it rather R. Slifkin who relies on the undeserved authority of the evolutionist, rather than his own independent assessment of the data, once qualified scientists have done the experiments?

We addressed three questions to R. Slifkin, all asking for experiments demonstrating detailed Darwinian pathways. In the past, he has always avoided answering this question, preferring to push it away with irrelevant objections. So let's face the question head on. 

If there are is  no evidence for detailed Darwinian pathways -- then there also is no experimental evidence for Darwin (a fact that Darwin himself recognized). This might even suggest that R. Slifkin might reject the useless theories mentioned in his books.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

"Practically Speaking, Torah Does NOT Protect": Apikorsus Defined

This post is a continuation of the preceding one entitled Practically Speaking, Torah Protects. In the previous post we demonstrated that – as opposed to Rabbi Slifkin’s assertion that practically speaking Torah does no provide protection – Chazal were clearly of the opinion that the merit of limud haTorah results in very real and practical results such as physical protection from harm.

In this post we will discuss several ma’amarei Chazal that describe both the spiritual and physical harm engendered by adopting the attitude that “practically speaking Torah does not protect”.     

The Gemara (Yerushalmi Chagiga 1:7) relates,

R’ Shimon bar Yochai taught: If you encounter cities in Eretz Yisrael that have been uprooted, it is because the inhabitants did not support teachers of Torah, as indicated in Yermiah (9:11) “Why did the land go lost…And Hashem responds, because they have abandoned my Torah”. 
Rabbi Yuden, the exilarch, dispatched R’ Chiya, R’ Asi and R’ Ami to travel throughout all of the cities of Eretz Yisrael and establish teachers of Torah. One time they arrived at a city and discovered that it possessed no teachers of Torah. They asked them [the city leaders]:
 “Where are the guardians of the city?” 
 They [the city leaders] brought them the centurions [soldiers guarding the city]. 
 “These are not the guardians of the city!” exclaimed the rabbis. “These are the destroyers of the city!”
 “So who are the guardians of the city?” asked the city leaders.
 “The teachers of Torah,” answered the rabbis. “As it is written (Tehilim 127:1): If Hashem will not build the house, its builders have toiled in vain; if Hashem will not guard the city, its watcher keeps his vigil in vain.”  
 Before we proceed, I cannot resist mentioning that this Gemara is yet another example which proves that Rabbi Slifkin’s fundamental thesis ("Practically Speaking, Torah Does NOT Protect") is kineged (contra) Chazal. But this is not the point we are attempting to bring out here. Our current point is this:

To state that the primary protection for a city is Torah and not soldiers is a concept that can reasonably be understood. But why did the rabbis state that the centurions were the “destroyers” of the city?

My rebbi answered as follows. The issue here is the attitude. It’s the attitude that the centurions are the protectors which is destructive. The soldiers possessed this attitude and so did the inhabitants of the city. The rabbis were remonstrating with the people. They were telling them that such an attitude is materialistic in nature and causes one to lose sight of reality – the spiritual reality. And once one loses sight of the spiritual reality, one risks the possibility of physical destruction.

This type of attitude is discussed at length by Chazal in tractate Sanhedrin (90b). After the Mishna states that every Jew has a portion in the world to come, it lists several exceptions to this rule. One of them is an apikorus (an heretic). On daf 99b, the Gemara discusses this classification. 
'What is an apikorus?' asks the Gemara. 
Rav Yoseph says, for example, those who claim, ‘Of what benefit are the rabbis to us? Their study of Torah is for their own benefit. Their study of Mishna is for their own benefit. 
From here it is clear that Chazal considered one who believes that limud ha’Torah does not afford benefit to others is an apikorus, G-d forbid! But let’s continue studying…

Abaye responds to Rav Yoseph that such a claim ("Of what benefit are the rabbis to us") is even worse than apikorsus (heresy) and falls under the category of mi’galeh panim ba’torah, which means “acting brazenly against the Torah.” Rashi (ad loc.) explains that this category is worse than apikorsus because it involves willful impudence against the Torah. Abaye then goes on to support his claim by quoting the famous verse in Yermiah (33:25): 

"If it were not for my covenant day and night, then the laws of nature (lit. heaven and earth) I would not have established." 

The term “covenant” in this verse is understood by Abaye to refer to the Torah, and so there is an open verse that the study of Torah not only provides physical protection but is actually responsible for the ongoing existence of the entire universe!

Rav Nachman bar Yitzchok supports Abaye’s position from another verse (Bereishis 18:26): 

"Then I will spare the entire place for their sake."

Once again, this demonstrates that the study of Torah by Torah scholars does not only provide personal protection; it even provides local protection and sometimes (as per Abaye’s position) even global protection.

Notwithstanding any kushyos or objections Rabbi Slifkin may have, it is abundantly clear from countless ma’amarei Chazal that limud haTorah produces physical benefits in a very practical way, and nothing he says or asks can change this fact. Furthermore, we have demonstrated from several ma’amarei Chazal that Rabbi Slifkin’s attitude that “Practically Speaking, Torah Does NOT Protect” is not only contra-Chazal but is even categorized by them as apikorsus and mi’galeh panim ba’torah r”l!  In this writer's humble opinion, Rabbi Slifkin would do well to cease his strident and ongoing assault against the Torah and its students. 

I would like to end with the famous ma’amar Chazal quoted all over in Shas. 

Talmeeday chachamim marbim shalom ba’olam

Those who study the Torah increase peace in the world! The Gemara in Brachos (64a) lists five pesukim to support the idea that Torah brings peace to the world, and includes things that are merely related to Torah such as “places of Torah” and even "those who love Torah". Rabbi Slifkin believes that Torah does not provide any practical protection. As we have seen, his attitude is diametrically opposed to that of Chazal’s. 

To our readers: If you have any comments or questions, please feel free to leave a note in the comments section and I will do my best to respond. If I have made any errors in the ma’amarei Chazal I quoted, I would greatly appreciate being notified.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Practically Speaking, Torah Protects

Rabbi Slifkin's personal disapproval of the Chareidi attitude to the IDF is well-known to his readers and has been extensively documented over the past two years in his numerous posts on this topic. A central subject in his writings is the Charedi claim that limud HaTorah provides protection, a claim which he seems particularly bent on refuting. As we’ve mentioned in the previous post on this topic entitled Bitachon and the IDF, for the most part we have ignored his writings due to the fact that his posts have long ago ceased being academic in nature. Unfortunately, his latest post on this topic – Practically Speaking, Torah Does NOT Protect – is exceptionally egregious in its siluf (distortion) of Chazal’s idea. Something should be said to address the issue.

Rabbi Slifkin asserts: 
There is no unequivocal claim in the Gemara that someone learning Torah receives protection from being killed by a terrorist… It's just as well that the Gemara does not make any such claim, because such a claim is quite clearly not true. 
The only thing “quite clearly not true” is his assertion. Ironically, his post appeared on November 16, the very day that the world was learning Sotah daf 21 in Daf Yomi. The Gemara compares the learning of Torah to light. Just as light protects the world, so too does the learning of Torah. In fact, the Gemara specifically goes on to provide a mashal of how the Torah protects an individual from listim, robbers (read: terrorists)!  This ma’amar Chazal alone serves to defeat Rabbi Slifkin’s thesis. Nevertheless, let’s spend some time analyzing some of the more salient points in his post.   

Rabbi Slifkin asks, rhetorically: 
"Torah scholars do not need protection"? We saw the terrible tragedy of the Torah scholars who were massacred in Har Nof… "Someone on their way to do a mitzvah (shaliach mitzvah) cannot be harmed"? Some of the stabbing victims of the last few weeks were on their way to daven or to give shiurim. "When you're learning Torah, you can't be harmed"? We saw otherwise in the tragedy a few years ago at Mercaz HaRav. 
Let’s conduct an experiment. Let’s repeat Rabbi Slifkin’s argument, but instead of Torah, let’s substitute, li’havdil, the IDF, with the objective of demonstrating that “Practically Speaking, the IDF Does NOT Protect.” Here’s the way the argument would read.   
It's just as well that the State of Israel does not make the claim that the IDF provides protection for the people of Israel, because such a claim is quite clearly not true. ‘The people of Israel are protected by the IDF'? We saw the terrible tragedy in Har Nof. 'People in Israel who are travelling on the road are protected by the IDF from Arab terrorists'?  What about the stabbing victims of the last few weeks. 'If you live in Israel, you are protected by the IDF'? What about the tragedy a few years ago at Mercaz HaRav? 
The argument is clearly absurd. Reasonable people do not consider the cited cases as evidence that the IDF does not provide practical protection for the people of Israel.  True, sometimes terrorists slip through despite their efforts. But does this render the assertion that the IDF protects Israeli citizens "not unequivocal," or only true "in some abstract or hyper-qualified sense, but clearly not true in any practical sense today"? Does it lead to "the bottom line that there is no practical truth or ramifications" for the assertion that the IDF protects Israeli citizens? Obviously not.

And just as obviously, when Chazal say that Torah protects, they naturally do not mean that Torah is a 100% barrier against any harm. Only a fool (or a person with an agenda) understands Chazal that way. Chazal, who were painfully aware of the death of almost every talmid chacham in Eretz Yisroel by the Romans in the war of Beitar, knew that Torah does not provide protection unconditionally.

Anyone with even a modicum of theological sophistication understands that it is not the Torah itself which provides protection but rather Hashem who provides protection in the merit of the Torah. Obviously there may be additional conditions and considerations that come into play. Any rational claim that "x protects against something" is not meant to guarantee that “x” is the only factor in determining the outcome. The only logical way to understand Chazal is that Torah does indeed provide protection but sometimes Hashem decides that there are overriding considerations which necessitate an ostensibly harmful result that would normally be shielded against by the merit of the Torah.

Rabbi Slifkin writes: 
Now, many people, even in the charedi world, realize this, at least to some degree. That's why, since the stabbings began, many charedim have been learning self-defense, buying pepper spray, and requesting increased army protection. 
But the reason they do this is not because they "realize to some degree" that Torah learning is irrelevant in providing protection. It's the simple matter of combining emunah and bitachon with hishtadlus. To my mind, everyone in Israel should learn self-defence. When Shaul fell in battle, Dovid eulogized him. The first thing he mentioned is that we need to teach our boys self-defense! Dovid is the paragon of emunah and bitachon in Hashem yet he understood the importance of physical hishtadlus. Bitachon is not a stira to hishtadlus (as anyone with a basic understanding of hashkafa understands). Please see this post for further elucidation.

This concludes our response to Rabbi Slifkin's assertion that "There is no unequivocal claim in the Gemara that someone learning Torah receives protection from being killed by a terrorist". As we have seen from a number of quoted ma'amarei Chazal, his claim is patently false.

In the following post we will deal with the spiritual ramifications of maintaining the view that "practically speaking, Torah does not provide any physical protection" 

Friday, July 31, 2015

Confronting Dinosaurs - Part 2

This post is a continuation of the previous one entitled Confronting Dinosaurs.

And it's not as though there was only one period of prehistoric creatures. The fossil record shows beyond doubt that there were numerous distinct periods. The therapsids lived before the dinosaurs; the dinosaurs lived before the mammoths. And even among dinosaurs, different layers of rock reveal distinct eras. Stegosaurus, Brachiosaurus and Allosaurus are never found in the same layers of rock as Tyrannosaurus rex, Triceratops, and Velociraptor. The conclusion is that each existed in a different period; the former lived in a period which has been termed the Jurassic, while the latter lived in the Cretaceous period. This is not part of some evil conspiracy by scientists, nor the result of mistakes on their part. Any paleontologist could win instant fame by finding a Tyrannosaurus rex fossil in Jurassic rocks - but nobody has ever done so, which shows that T-Rex lived much later, in the Cretaceous.
Unfortunately, it shows no such thing. Anytime supposedly later fossils are found in supposedly earlier beds or vice versa, evolutionists simply cut up the beds to conform to the dictates of the theory. If Rabbi Slifkin actually bothered to study evolutionary geology, he would know this. The fact is, geologists already knew – over one hundred years ago! – that supposedly earlier strata are regularly interbedded among later strata. And not merely in one isolated instance. This phenomenon occurs frequently all over the globe!

Furthermore, the fossil record Rabbi Slifkin puts so much faith in (The fossil record shows beyond doubt that there were numerous distinct periods) is entirely bogus. Sometimes Jurassic is found before Cretaceous, sometimes after. This disparity is so frequent that in order for evolutionary geologists to account for it they have been forced to come up with a fantastic mechanical explanation called “overthrusting”. They don’t know how it works; they only know that it works. Why? Because they need it to work! When challenged with the idea that such incredible movements of the strata are invoked by evolutionary geologists solely due to the fact that fossiliferous strata happen to be found in an order that contradicts their theories, one writer (a famous Swiss evolutionary geologist) responded as follows: 
the most incredible mechanical explanation is more probable than that the evolution or organic nature should have been inverted in one country, as compared with another
It is upon such nonsense that Rabbi Slifkin puts all his trust, allowing himself to be duped while simultaneously duping others. The above has been discussed numerous times on this blog wherein the scientific literature has been delineated, chapter and verse. Don’t believe the hype! There is absolutely nothing about the existence of dinosaur fossils or the order of the beds they are found in that contradicts the timeline of our mesora in any way.