Sunday, December 11, 2011

Torah/Science Authority

Before I begin I would like to apologize to our readers for my extended absence. Unfortunately my father-in-law was niftar shortly after Succos and this threw our family for a loop. Rabbi Slifkin has penned several note-worthy posts in the past month or so but one stands out from all the rest. Here are some comments in response to Rabbi Slifkin’s post entitled "The PerfectTorah-Science Authority" - Fact or Fiction?

Note: I have never met Rabbi Meiselman nor have I ever discussed his particular views on ma’aseh bereishis with him. In keeping with the mandate of this blog, the following comments are directed solely at Rabbi Slifkin’s stated views.

Rabbi Slifkin writes:     
2. "Rabbi Meiselman posits that no Rishon ever understood the details of the Creation given in the Torah to be anything but literal."
This, of course, is absolutely correct. Anyone who has even a passing familiarity with the commentaries on ma’aseh bereishis understands the truth of this statement. Of course this does not mean to exclude the fact that ma’aseh bereishis possesses an endless amount of esoteric wisdom but all this is in addition to the literal sense of the words. 
Then Rabbi Meiselman is wrong. Rambam explicitly writes that: The account of creation given in Scripture is not, as is generally believed, intended to be literal in all its parts. (Guide For The Perplexed, 2:29)
This passage from the Rambam is entirely irrelevant to the matter at hand. The qualification “in all its parts” refers to certain specific events that occurred to Adam and Chava in Gan Eden on the sixth day of creation as Rambam goes on to explain in the following chapter. It does not detract from the literalness of the Creation process itself.
Furthermore, according to the explanation of Shem Tov, Akeidas Yitzchak, and Abarbanel, Rambam was of the view that the "Six Days" are not time periods at all.
This too is irrelevant, as shall be explained shortly. However it must first be pointed out that Rabbi Slifkin’s quotation from Abarbanel comprises his initial view of Rambam. Ultimately Abarbanel admits that all of the details of the Creation process itself as delineated in the first perek of Bereishis were taken literally by the Rambam. Here is Abarbanel’s final opinion regarding Rambam:

"Behold you see that the opinion of the Rav (the Rambam) was not that all of ma'aseh bereishis was an allegory, rather, only a small part of it (some elements in the second chapter of Bereishis, not the first), and that all which is mentioned [in the Torah] regarding the activity of the six days, from the creation of the heavens and the earth, and all of the phenomena, and the creation of Adam and his wife, up until [the passage of] "va'yichulu", have no allegory whatsoever for everything was [understood as] literal to him and therefore you will see that in this very chapter, #30 in the second section, in all which the Rav has explicated regarding the activity of the six days, he did not make [of ma'aseh bereishis] an allegory or a hint (pirush tzurayi oh remez) at all. (Pirush Abarbanel al haTorah, Sons of Arbael Publishing, Jerusalem 1964, Bereishis pg. 86)

So, Rabbi Slifkin’s attempt to lump Abarbanel with Akeidas Yitchak and Shem Tov is obviously flawed.

As far as Akeidas Yitzchak and Shem Tov, this author has several issues with Rabbi Slifkin’s reliance on these two commentaries as proof of Rambam’s opinion. Nonetheless, we choose not to discuss them here and instead grant Rabbi Slifkin his position. But as we mentioned above, it is irrelevant to the matter at hand.

The Gemara in Chagiga (12a) and the Medrash Rabah (Bereishis 1:14) both state that Shamayim, Aretz and everything in them were really all created on the first day. This is Chazal’s opinion and is based on solid derashos in the pesukim themselves. Chazal’s description must be accepted as part of the Torah’s description of ma’aseh bereishis. So although the pesukim seem to tell us that there was a brand new creation on each one of the six days, Torah she'baal peh informs us that this was not so. Does this mean that when the pasuk says Yehi Ohr this is to be understood allegorically? Or when the pasuk says Yishritzu haMayim, that it is to be understood allegorically? Of course not! Chazal understood that Hashem directly created each and every one of the phenomena mentioned in ma’aseh bereishis. There is absolutely no doubt about that. If so, why are they differentiated out into six days?

Rambam explains this clearly in the Moreh (2:30) based on Chazal’s description in the medrash (MR Bereishis 12:4). The six days of creation mark the appearance of the various phenomena that would ultimately function in the way envisioned by Hashem. The example the Rambam gives is to a farmer who plants a variety of different seeds. Some products appear on one day while others appear on another. So the six days themselves are also literal according to Rambam. However he follows Chazal’s opinion that the six days did not mark brand new creations but rather established the “seeds” of the various phenomena which already existed from the first day.

However, there is another way to understand the “six day conundrum”. Everything was indeed created on the first day as Chazal sate, and everything was fully functional on the first day too. The reason the Torah distinguished between the various phenomena of the universe is to inform us that certain phenomena possess a logical precedence to other phenomena. The Torah provides us with an hierarchal description of creation in order to stimulate our understanding of the structure of the universe. Ralbag (beginning of his pirush on Bereishis) offers both explanations, the farmer-seed explanation and the hierarchal explanation and considers both acceptable. And as Rabbi Slifkin points out, Akeidas Yitzchak and Shem Tov attribute the latter explanation to the Rambam. But all this is irrelevant. 

Every Rishon maintains that the creative process described in ma’aseh bereishis is literal. Every Rishon maintains that Hashem was directly responsible for the creation of all of the phenomena of our world. Every Rishon maintains that ma’aseh bereishis was a recent and supernatural event. The only issue here is the status of the six days themselves. Did everything appear on the first day or did the phenomena slowly appear and become organized as Hashem desired over six days. The only reason there is even an issue with the status of the six days is because Chazal themselves inform us that everything was created on the first day. Within context of the aforementioned, Rabbi Meiselman’s position that “no Rishon ever understood the details of the Creation given in the Torah to be anything but literal” is perfectly valid.

Rabbi Slifkin believes that the world is billions of years old. Rabbi Slifkin believes that Adam and Chava are not the progenitors of all mankind. The fact is, Rabbi Slifkin believes that the physical description of ma’aseh bereishis as depicted in the Torah never happened! Rather, he believes that the entire episode is purely allegorical and refers to some kind of spiritual infrastructure. All this is in direct contradiction to our unanimous mesorah of 3000 years as depicted in Chazal and Rishonim. All Rishonim…

It is one thing if Rabbi Slifkin feels justified in rejecting our mesorah in favor of the current scientific view. It is another thing entirely for him to justify his position by challenging the unanimity of our mesorah with the Akeidas Yitzchak and the Ralbag. The former, while misguided, can at least be understood whereas the latter is wholly untenable.              

In the following post we will deal with Rabbi Slifkin’s issue from the “mud-mouse” bi’ezras Hashem.

6 comments:

  1. Rav Nadel, from R. Slifkin's own website:

    …The expression "one day" that the Torah uses, according to its literal translation, refers to one [conventional] day. Maimonides and the other early authorities truly held of this view, that each of the six days of creation lasted for one [ordinary] day, because they had no reason to believe otherwise. However, for us, there are indeed such reasons.

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  2. MichaelJ,

    Dear MichaelJ,

    Shalom Aleichem! Thank you for writing.

    Rav Nadel, from R. Slifkin's own website:

    …The expression "one day" that the Torah uses, according to its literal translation, refers to one [conventional] day. Maimonides and the other early authorities truly held of this view, that each of the six days of creation lasted for one [ordinary] day, because they had no reason to believe otherwise. However, for us, there are indeed such reasons


    Very good ha’ara. Thank you for pointing this out. In Rabbi Slifkin’s defense, he was quoting Abarbanel, Akeidas Yitzchok and Shem Tov’s view of the Rambam, not Rav Nadel’s. But it does seem disingenuous to quote a variety of people with mutually exclusive views in the Rambam (Rav Nadel maintains that the duration of a Creation day is far greater than an ordinary one, a position neither Abarbanel, AY or Shem Tov would countenance in the Rambam) and conveniently extract bits and pieces that best fit your personal view.

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  3. do you ever intend to return to your blog???

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  4. yes. today. did you miss me? :-)

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  5. Ironically, yes …

    When I first came across your blog, I recall making a comment that the blog would likely be of no interest to me because we “live on different planets”, in the sense that you believe that God authored the Torah and that Chazal were extraordinarily intelligent (if not actually infallible), two beliefs that to me are simply not true, based on the “evidence”, however circumstantial.

    But I have to admit, reading your material, I realized that you were very meticulous and thorough in acquiring knowledge about the subject matter you were discussing,

    So, I actually am intrigued. (Not meaning to be insulting or disrespectful), how is it possible that such an intelligent and seemingly well-secularly-read individual can possibly believe as you do.

    elemir

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    Replies
    1. Hi elemir,

      Thanks for writing. Before I continue I'd like to note something regarding the protocols of this blog. I allow un-moderated comments but the time limit is set for 45 days. Otherwise I would have to check all the old blogs constantly for new comments. I happened to see your previous comment in the moderation folder because I was fooling around with the new format in Blogger but otherwise I almost never check the folder. This thread is over four months old which is why the system keeps booting your comments into moderation. I'll respond to your current comment here but if you want to keep on schmoozing, please comment in the next thread (Dessler).

      you believe that God authored the Torah and that Chazal were extraordinarily intelligent

      Here’s a more accurate description of my beliefs. Moshe received the written and oral Torah directly from God via prophetic revelation. After 40 years, and at the behest of God, Moshe committed the entire “written” portion of the Torah to writing and distributed it to the nation in the form of 13 sifrei Torah. As far as the oral portion of the Torah, this was transmitted from generation to generation until the rabbinic leaders in the second century decided to commit it to writing (the Mishna) and the rabbinic leaders of the fifth century decided to provide lengthy explanations and argumentation to accompany the Mishna (the Talmud). The members of these two compendiums are referred to as Chazal and they are the receivers of our traditions. It’s not their intelligence that set’s them apart in my eyes. It’s their monumental dedication to God and to His Torah, their uncompromising search for truth, and their highly refined personality traits that inspires me. Of course I also believe they were highly intelligent but that’s not the point. Also, I do not believe that any human being is infallible. Even Moshe Rabbeinu made errors as described openly in the Torah. Just last week Rashi notes in the weekly parsha reading that Moshe erred in his rebuke of Aharon. But the greatness of Moshe was that he immediately admitted his error and was not embarrassed to do so!

      two beliefs that to me are simply not true, based on the “evidence”, however circumstantial.

      I don’t understand your sentence. Are you saying that

      a) you believe that God did not write the Torah and Chazal were not extraordinarily intelligent, and that you base your beliefs on circumstantial evidence?

      Or are you saying that

      b) you believe that God did not write the Torah and Chaza are not extraordinarily intelligent because any evidence I’ve supplied to support these two assertions is only circumstantial?

      I need to know if it’s a) or b) before I respond.

      But I have to admit, reading your material, I realized that you were very meticulous and thorough in acquiring knowledge about the subject matter you were discussing,

      Thank you elemir. I appreciate the acknowledgment. I never demand, or even expect, that my readers agree with me. But every once in a while it’s nice to hear that readers understand the time and effort I invest in formulating my opinions.

      how is it possible that such an intelligent and seemingly well-secularly-read individual can possibly believe as you do.

      Simple. I received extensive training from great men who taught me the fundamental principles of analysis, both Talmudic and secular. It’s not that I’m well-read. Anyone can be well-read. It’s that I’ve been taught how to analyze the information I assimilate from books and assess it for its “truth quotient”. Actually I’m oversimplifying the matter but the point I want to make to you is that I am nothing special. If you had my training you would also be able to resist the overwhelming lure of “majority scientific consensus” and the like. I’ve written a lot about this topic on this blog and in other places. A good place to start is a study of the philosophy of science.

      Be well,

      Simcha

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