Sunday, August 28, 2011

Last of the hyrax

Slifkin writes "we should not be viewing the Torah as some sort of ultimate scientific text reflecting perfect Divine knowledge of the physical universe". It is an imperfect flawed document and thus although the hyrax does not practice classical rumination, caecotrophy, and possibly not even merycism, Slifkin writes that nevertheless the hyrax is the shafan because: “Rumination-style movement of the mouth of the animal in a way which would lead the people who were living in the times of Matan Torah to believe that the animal is a true ruminant (brings up the cud) would be enough for that animal to be considered Maaleh Gerah”.

Slifkin’s approach is puzzling. As I stated earlier, he is asserting a metaphysical falsehood. G-d is the transcendent Creator of the universe. In the context of the four types of animals that have only one sign of kashrut, the Talmud describes G-d as the שליט בעולמו the Ruler of His world, the One Who knows the animals that He Created and Who has codified His Divine Wisdom for us in the Torah. The Ramban talks about the wisdom of King Solomon to whom “G-d had given wisdom and knowledge, derived it all from the Torah, and from it studied until he knew the secret of all things created” (see Ramban’s introduction to the Chumash).

In this context, it would not be surprising that the Torah might be talking about rabbits, whether they were native to the land of Israel or not. In fact the Torah and the Tanach do refer to animals apparently not native to the land of Israel (such as the elephant, giraffe, monkey and peacock). What is surprising is that Slifkin, as a believing Jew, finds all this difficult, given that the Rishonim and Rav Hirsch describe shafan as a rabbit, and given that the Targum uses a word for shafan whose root meaning is a hopping/dancing rabbit-like species. Now to Slifkin’s latest blog aptly titled Last of the hyrax (August 28, 2011). He writes:

Jonathan/Yoel Ostroff is a follower of Rav Shlomo Miller from Toronto, and a passionate advocate of the idea that the universe was created 5771 years ago.
Slifkin might well want to look at his kesuva for the date of the world at the time of his marriage. So what is the intention of his above remark? How does it add to the shafan discussion? Yes, I have looked into modern dating dating methods and have found them to be based on many untested suppositions and inconsistent with each other (readers may want to look into some older debates on Avodah). Slifkin believes in a 13.7 billion year “big bang” universe. Perhaps he is not aware of how many unsubstantiated assumptions that commits him to. See here for six of them. Nobel Prize winner Steven Weinberg, a believer in big bang cosmology writes:
“Nevertheless, there is one great uncertainty that hangs like a dark cloud over the standard model. Underlying all the calculations described in this chapter is the Cosmological Principle, the assumption that the universe is homogenous and isotropic. (By homogenous we mean that the universe looks the same to any observer who is carried along by the general expansion of the universe, wherever that observer may be located; by “isotropic” we mean that the universe looks the same in all directions to such an observer.) … However, we have no
evidence that the Cosmological Principle was valid at earlier times.
[WEINBERG, S., The First Three Minutes: A Modern View of the Origin of the Universe, Basic Books, New York, 1993. page 119-120.]


I would be happy to debate big bang cosmology with Slifkin. So here is an open challenge! Natan -- would you like to debate big bang cosmology? There are now more problems than I identified in my earlier article and this would make a good test of your “rationalist” pressuppositions. If you do not wish to debate your embrace of big bang cosmology then kindly refrain from entering the dating game!
So yes, I take our mesora seriously and we are in the year 5771 according to Maimonides and our baalei mesora (see here). Slifkin writes:

He is also known to to readers of this blog as someone with bizarre debating tactics who consistently distorts my views regarding both the science and theology of evolution.
See the post “R. Slifkin and mental illness” here for more on his debating style (also here). Slifkin continues:
He has now entered the hyrax fray, with a post for which the commenting feature appears to be currently disabled. As a result, I am responding to his comments here.
So far as I can tell comments are enabled and Slifkin is free to comment as always. Slifkin continues:

1. The fact that Alexander Kohut, Marcus Jastrow and other such scholars of language explained the shafan to be the rabbit is irrelevant. It is knowledge of animals, not Aramaic, which is relevant here. The European Rishonim and many later European scholars were entirely unfamiliar with the hyrax. So of course they would translate shafan and its Aramaic translation of tafza into an animal that they knew of - they could not and would not translate it with a word that would have no meaning for them or their readers! This is just as they mistakenly thought that the tzvi was a hirsch (deer) - in spite of the Gemara which says that its horns are not branched. (Is Ostroff going to argue that the tzvi is in fact the deer?) In fact, what Ostroff - significantly - does not mention is that Jastrow presents the alternative translation of "coney" - itself a term which was sometimes used for rabbits and sometimes for hyraxes - and he may well have meant the latter, in light of his presenting it as an alternative to rabbit.
The Targum Onkelos and Targum Yonasan ben Uziel translate shafan as טפזא. Now what does that mean? For that we go to experts in Aramaic such as Jastrow and Kohut who say it is a rabbit (Jastrow) or hopping animal similar to the hare (Kohut). How does Slifkin know that Kohut, for example, who was in contact with German scholarship, did not know of the hyrax? Can Slifkin produce an Aramaic expert in the Targum who translates טפזא as hyrax?

2. Having personally owned both rabbits and hyraxes, and having spent many hours observing them in captivity and in the wild, I can attest that the hyrax is much more of a tafza/ jumper than the rabbit! Rabbits rarely jump in the wild; hyraxes do it all the time, in order to get from rock to rock, and they are much better at it than rabbits. The hyrax is also much LESS of a sheretz than the rabbit.

Hyraxes used to play in the veld near where I grew up (a flat grass area with very few rocks). I do not recall them having the characteristic hopping action of rabbits, although they are good at jumping from rock to rock. Their normal gait is waddle/creep as I recall it.
Aruch HaShalem refers to the fact that the טפזא has unequal legs. Their large hind legs may be what gives the rabbit their characteristic hopping motion. The link here describe hyraxes as having "short legs" (as I recall it too), and perhaps it is more a sheretz than a chaya, and hence not even a candidate for shafan. Dr Betech has referred me to "The behavior guide to African mammals: including hoofed mammals, carnivores", Richard Estes, 1992, page 252 which describes hyraxes as “moving in a creeping walk”.

Slifkin is free to bring sources that support his observations.
The rabbit fits all the criteria of the Talmud and meforshim. The hyrax does not. Here are six problems with identifying the shafan as the hyrax.
It seems to me that Slifkin’s post is aptly named  “Last of the hyrax”.

3. Ostroff cites the the example of monkeys and peacocks, mentioned in Tenach, as examples of Tenach speaking about non-local animals. But these were brought as royal gifts, and are highlighted as such. What evidence is there that rabbits were brought? Furthermore, the pesukim in Tehillim and Mishlei specifically describe the shafan in its natural habitat. Is it possible that David was told about that, or knew it by ruach hakodesh? Sure, it's possible. But is it remotely reasonable, in comparison to saying that he was talking about a local animal with which everyone was familiar and was known in other dialects by the same name? Only if one is an extremely irrational person. When David speaks about the aryeh roaring, is it possible that he is actually speaking about a Tyrannosaurus rex, which he knew about via ruach hakodesh? Sure. (And if the aryeh is really the T-Rex, perhaps you can resolve the Gemara which gives a gestation period for the aryeh that is different from that known with lions!) But is it remotely reasonable to say this?
4. Ostroff writes that "The Radak and Malbim explain that Borchi Nafshi is talking about the whole of creation as is obvious from even a supeficial reading of the psalm." But what does that even mean? Yes, it makes mention of the sun, which shines over the whole world. But does it talk about octopi or supernova or quarks? If so, I must have missed that passuk! Barchi Nafshi is speaking about the entirety of creation - from the perspective of its author!
The lion as T-rex example is just silly! To be more serious, how does Slifkin know that King David was not familiar with the rabbit? Perhaps some were brought to Eretz Yisroel as in the days of Shlomo when monkeys and peacocks were brought from Tarshish (possibly Cathage, North Africa). Why is it not relevant to know that animals were brought to Eretz Yisroel from faraway places? If monkeys and peacocks could arrive from Tarshish, why could rabbits not come from Tarshish or Spain?. Perhaps King David was told about these animals by others who had seen them. Or perhaps he and King Solomon (see Ramban above) knew through ruach hakodesh. The Radak and Malbim explain that Borchi Nafshi is talking about the whole of creation as is obvious from even a superficial reading of the psalm. I don't know how Slifkin knows for a fact  that this psalm is limited to phenomena in Eretz Yisroel?
And yes, the Borchi Nashi reviews parts of the meta-natural creation of the world in six days as also described in the Torah. This is not something that any human observed. And this psalm does address the entirety of creation (see Radak and Malbim).

5. Ostroff writes that "As you say, of course, He knows about the rabbits in Spain and elsewhere. So what is so difficult about Him writing about them in His Torah of Truth?" Because nobody would have had a clue what He was talking about. That's why He doesn't say the halachos of electricity or donor IVF (which would have been EXTREMELY useful), or describe anything else with which the ancient Jews were not familiar. Is there a single counterexample? And there is also the matter of Tehillim and Mishlei.
6. Ostroff makes the following incredible statement: "Your position is based on just too many suppositions."
That is too funny!

My position is based on translating shafan as the animal which is called by a similar name in local languages, which matches the descriptions given in the pesukim better than any other animal, which was very familiar to the Jewish People, and which is identified as such by those (such as Saadiah) who actually lived in the region, as well as by virtually every other researcher of this topic (without an anti-rationalist perspective).
Dr. Betech has researched Rav Saadiah use of the word "wabar" (meaning "hair or wool"). A few observations. 1. Rav Saadia's did not describe any specific characteristic of the animal that would force us to recognize its identity; he just called used the word "wabar", meaning hairy. Although this word is the modern common name in certain Arabic countries to name the hyrax, nevertheless we have not seen any proof (yet) that this was his intended meaning one thousand years ago. This is opposed to the case of Jastrow and Kohut who were experts in the Aramaic language of the Targum and who added additional qualities not found in the hyrax. 2. There is the possibility that Rav Saadia Gaon z"l was referring to the rabbit, which is no less hairy than the hyrax, and has wool no less valuable than the hyrax. 3. Ibn Ezra questions the reliability of Rab Saadia Gaon’s translations of the animals mentioned in the Torah.
אבן עזרא בראשית ב' י"ב
...רק שתרגם החוילה כפי צרכו, כי אין לו קבלה. וכן עשה במשפחות, ובמדינות ובחיות ובעופות ובאבנים. אולי בחלום ראם. וכבר טעה במקצתם כאשר אפרש במקומו. א"כ לא נשען על חלומותיו, אולי עשה כן לכבוד השם, בעבור שתרגם התורה בלשון ישמעאל ובכתיבתם, שלא יאמרו כי יש בתורה מצות לא ידענום.
Ostroff's position is based on the idea that David and Shlomo were speaking about a South African animal (the European rabbits don't hide in rocks) which they happened to know about via a hypothetical and inexplicable import, or by ruach hakodesh (even though there is no precedent for ruach hakodesh being used in this way), and then mentioned its behavior in its natural habitat to their readers/listeners even though none of them had seen one, and even though there is no other such case of the natural habits of foreign animals anywhere in Tenach - and they did so with a name that just so happens to be used by other peoples in the area to refer to a local animal that matches the description in the pesukim, and which lives together with the ibex that are mentioned in the same passuk! Furthermore, it means describing an unfamiliar animal in place of a familiar one which would be much more meaningful for them to tell the Jewish People about! If you want the nation to ponder God's wisdom as manifest in animals that hide in the rocks, why neglect describing the local animal which does that, in favor of describing a Southern African animal that none of them have ever seen - especially when in every other case that you mention animals, you describe familiar ones? (Honestly, does anyone think that ancient Jews in Israel saying Tehillim would have said "Hey, this is interesting, it's talking about a South African rock rabbit!") And Ostroff's alleged reasons for doing this are flimsy in the extreme - based EXCLUSIVELY on European translations by people who lacked knowledge of animals of Israel!
It is especially ironic that Ostroff claims to be "open to all reasonable possibilities"!
I know, I really shouldn't waste my time with Ostroff. Still, this topic is very dear to me, so I couldn't resist
Slifkin’s remarks are puzzling.
  • Dismiss experts in Targum translation without bringing opposing experts who demur.
  • Ask us to trust to his observations on the characteristic hyrax gait over that of the rabbit without sources to back his claim and in opposition to sources that appear to indicate that the hyrax is a sheretz rather than a chayah, i.e. that it has short legs and creeps.
  • Assume that our mesora (Targum, Rishonim, Rav Hirsch) is wrong.
  • Assume that there were never rabbits in the Middle East, or that they were never imported or at least described, even though they existed in Spain, North Africa etc.
  • Assume that the psalm Borchi Nafshi is limited to phenomena in the land of Israel (contra Radak and Malbim) and was not written with ruach hakodeh.
  • Assume that Hashem did not write about rabbits, even though the Talmud with respect to our very discussion calls Hashem שליט בעולמו the Ruler of our World, the one who knows all the animal that He created.
Puzzling indeed. If that is what “rational Judaism” is then count me out.
Now there is much more to say on this whole topic and Slifkin would not be wasting his time following up on the issues that we raised. Otherwise he will have to wait for Dr. Betech to publish his manuscript (still in the research stage at this point), and that might take some time. The best is yet to come, but the wait will be worth it.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Today is Shafan Day

Slifkin writes (Thursday, August 25, 2011):

Two of my readers told me last week that whenever they see the word "hyrax" in a post, they stop reading. I am sympathetic to that, but if you are such a person, I urge you to make today an exception! This post is more about the general idea of Rishonim having ruach hakodesh; the hyrax is only appearing incidentally.

Today is Hyrax Day - the day that Daf Yomi studies Chullin 59b, which launches the discussion of the camel, the hare and the hyrax. There are those who suggest that the shafan is not the hyrax, but instead is the rabbit. Previously, I noted that the reason why some Rishonim (medieval Torah scholars) believed that is that they lived in Spain, and were thus familiar with rabbits, but not with hyraxes. The shafan of the Chumash, Mishlei and Tehillim, on the other hand, must have been an animal from the Land of Israel - and in Israel there are plenty of hyraxes (there is one ten feet away from me right now!) but no rabbits.
Slifkin writes that "we should not be viewing the Torah as some sort of ultimate scientific text reflecting perfect Divine knowledge of the physical universe". Slifkin's statements are both a scientific (see previous posts by Dr. Betech) and a metaphysical falsehood. Here are some of the problems with his statement quoted above.

1. It is not only the Rishonim who translated shafan as rabbit. The authors of the Targumim were familiar with our mesora (and with the Middle East) and they translate Shafan as טפזא (jumping). The Aruch Hashalem in one translation of טפזא has springhasse, i.e. jumping rabbit. Jastrow also translates טפזא as rabbit.

2. David Hamelech in Tehillim (also inspired by ruach Hakodesh) is addressing all of creation, not just the land of Israel. See for example how Radak and Malbim explain Borchi Nafshi. In the Tanach we are told about new animals brought to Eretz Yisroel in the times of Shlomo Hamelech.

The Talmud in Chulin 59a describes Hashem as Shalit beolamo, i.e.  the Ruler of the His World, the One Who knows that only the camel is maaleh geira and yet tamei. ... So, of course, Hashem knows all the animals of this world. Who could think otherwise?

I wish all our readers Shabbat Shalom. This week's parsha (and this week's daf yomi) are indeed providential. There is an additional mitzvah in learning about all the signs of kosher animals, to know how to distinguish between those animals that are tamei and those that are tahor.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

The Day of the Rabbit


Today, in the daf yomi cycle, Chulin 59a was studied, where the Gemara mentions certain rules regarding the shafan, i.e. the rabbit.

Additionally, this week we are in Parashat Ree where also the shafan (rabbit) is mentioned and described as “maale gerah”.

Some people who believe that the hyrax may be the biblical shafan, are conscious that the hyrax does not practice classical rumination, nor caecotrophy, not even merycism, so I asked them the following:

Please provide a definition of maale gerah that includes the hyrax and all the animals the Torah called maale gerah.

Trying to save their position, they published recently in the Jewish blogosphera the following answer:

Rumination-style movement of the mouth of the animal in a way which would lead the people who were living in the times of Matan Torah to believe that the animal is a true ruminant (brings up the cud) would be enough for that animal to be considered Maaleh Gerah.

Which I refute B”H by the following:

The Torah wrote that the gamal, shafan and arnebet are maaleh gerah. Could it be that it meant to say that they only give an appearance of having this characteristic?

I.That couldn’t fit into the plain meaning of the pasuk which clearly calls them “maaleh gerah”.

ויקרא פרק יא

(ד) אַךְ אֶת זֶה לֹא תֹאכְלוּ מִמַּעֲלֵי הַגֵּרָה וּמִמַּפְרִיסֵי הַפַּרְסָה אֶת הַגָּמָל כִּי מַעֲלֵה גֵרָה הוּא וּפַרְסָה אֵינֶנּוּ מַפְרִיס טָמֵא הוּא לָכֶם:

(ה) וְאֶת הַשָּׁפָן כִּי מַעֲלֵה גֵרָה הוּא וּפַרְסָה לֹא יַפְרִיס טָמֵא הוּא לָכֶם:

(ו) וְאֶת הָאַרְנֶבֶת כִּי מַעֲלַת גֵּרָה הִוא וּפַרְסָה לֹא הִפְרִיסָה טְמֵאָה הִוא לָכֶם:

II.The gamal (mentioned in the same verse[1] as similar to shafan and arnebet) is actually “maaleh gerah”.

III.The Midrash speaks of the shafan as an animal who indeed has Tahara (“purity”) signs:

ויקרא רבה (וילנא) פרשה יג ה' ד"ה א"ר שמואל

את השפן זו מדי, רבנן ור' יהודה ברבי סימון, רבנן אמרי מה השפן הזה יש בו סימני טומאה וסימני טהרה, כך היתה מלכות מדי מעמדת צדיק ורשע, אמר רבי יהודה ברבי סימון דריוש האחרון בנה של אסתר היה טהור מאמו וטמא מאביו.

So the shafan is “maaleh gerah”, and not just appears to be, as was suggested by some.

[1] Deuteronomy 14:7

Monday, August 22, 2011

The Eternity of the Torah

In a recent post entitled Ever Changing Morality, Rabbi Slifkin writes as follows:

It does weaken our ability to claim that the Torah's amazing morality is evidence of its truth/ superiority. For by what measure can we assert that the Torah is perfectly moral? We can only do so by claiming that it agrees with our own sense of morality…

This assertion is false. From a historical perspective, the Torah is the most dominant work mankind possesses. This alone is a demonstration of its superiority. The two largest systems of morality practiced today (Christianity and Islam) are fundamentally based on the Torah. Without the Torah mankind would lack many elements of societal harmony and self-preservation. Rambam writes that with the advent of matan Torah, a great light descended upon the gentile world. Although the goyim took the Torah and, in many cases, warped its teachings, it still serves as the most influential element in the civilization of mankind.

But the flip side of this is that it also means that those who claim that the Torah is immoral, in its attitudes to homosexuality, women, etc., are also severely weakened in their case. How can they judge the Torah to be lacking vis-a-vis their own modern Western standard of morality, when their own standard is so transient?

This makes no sense. If standards of morality are indeed transient, than what’s wrong with judging the Torah?

The truth of the matter is, the term “transient morality” is a misnomer. As soon as morality becomes transient, it loses its ability to act as an intrinsic standard for human behavior.

Yet, on the other hand, there is a school of Torah thought which claims that there is an ethic independent of Torah –

There’s obviously no such school of “Torah” thought. The Torah is the expressed Will of G-d and as such is the ultimate representation of Truth. Its guidelines are absolute. As it happens, the universe is also the expressed Will of G-d. Consequently, an astute observer of nature might be able to glean some of the truths of the Torah, perhaps even the majority. Our father Avraham followed such a system and, according to our sages, managed to glean all of the basic tenets of the Torah! But his conclusions were not independent of the Torah. The claim that there can be an ethic “independent” of the Torah, meaning, an ethic which is capable of expressing a conclusion or idea which is not in conformance with the Torah, is clearly anti-Jewish. To claim that there is a “school of Torah thought” that promotes such an idea is sheer folly.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

How I Came To Reject Evolution - Part 3

(This is the final post in a series entitled How I Came To Reject Evolution)

In an attempt to justify his adoption of evolutionary theory in contradiction to our mesorah and the plain meaning of the pesukim, Rabbi Slifkin writes as follows:

Wherever I looked in the animal kingdom, things made so much more sense in light of common ancestry than in light of special creation. Emu wings, goose bumps, whale and bat physiology, archeopteryx - sure, the anti-evolutionists could always contrive some sort of ad hoc just-so story, but it seemed forced. Common ancestry was a simple principle that neatly explained everything. Just look at the picture of the bat skeleton. Why make a creature that functions as a bird, and is even classified with birds in the Torah, yet is physiologically similar to mammals? Bats did not share any fundamental similarities with birds; contrary to what Chazal thought, bats do not lay eggs. Why make whales that function as fish, but with the anatomy of land mammals and without the extremely useful (sometimes life-saving) ability to breathe underwater, like fish? Either Hashem made bats and whales from land mammals, or He was really out to fool us!

Anyone who thinks about this paragraph for a minute can see the glaring fallacy in Rabbi Slifkin’s logic. Let’s deal with his two questions.

He asks: “Just look at the picture of the bat skeleton. Why make a creature that functions as a bird, and is even classified with birds in the Torah, yet is physiologically similar to mammals?”

OK Rabbi Slifkin, what’s the answer? Why did Hashem make such a creature? Evolution? But you admit that it is Hashem Who is functioning through evolution. So in what way does your question indicate evolution any more than special creation?

Rabbi Slifkin asks: “Why make whales that function as fish, but with the anatomy of land mammals and without the extremely useful (sometimes life-saving) ability to breathe underwater, like fish?”

His answer: “Hashem made bats and whales from land mammals”!!

How does that answer the question? Why did Hashem choose to make the whale in such a way that it would not possess the “extremely useful (sometimes life-saving) ability to breathe underwater”?

Rabbi Slifkin’s questions are entirely irrelevant. One can ask “why” on everything in the beriah. Why make flying creatures? Why make creatures which live in the sea? Why make insects? Why make plants? When considering Torah versus Evolution, these are not the questions one should be asking. As Rabbi Slifkin originally stated, the proper question is, what does the evidence tell us regarding evolution? And the answer is clear as discussed in the past two posts. There is absolutely no evidence that bats or whales descended from land mammals. They appear suddenly in the record with no transitional fossils linking them to their supposed terrestrial antecedents. And that’s all that counts.

How I came To Reject Evolution - Part 2

(This post is a continuation of a previous post entitled How I Came To Reject Evolution.)

As we saw in the previous post, Rabbi Slifkin claims that when one investigates the Torah/Evolution loggerhead, the proper approach is to determine whether the existing evidence better supports the Torah or, li’havil, Evolution. I agree.

Rabbi Slifkin then writes that the existence of “millions of extinct species that are intermediate in form to surviving species - fit far, far better with the evolutionary model than with the special-creation model.” Tentatively, I would have to say that I agree with that too. I write “tentatively” because I find it difficult to even envision the idea that the metzius should be different than what the Torah writes. But I think that intellectual honesty would force me to admit that Rabbi Slifkin’s scenario at least seems to indicate, if not prove, the idea of evolutionary speciation, or what is known as macro-evolution. (If any of my chaveirim or readers wishes to explain to me why I would not have to admit this, I would be thrilled).

So why am I an anti-evolutionist? Here’s what happened. As readers of this blog know, I am a talmid of Rav Avigdor Miller. I have been listening to his shiurim for close to 40 years now. As anyone who is familiar with the Rav knows, one of his biggest themes is how all of the phenomena of the beriah openly testify to the Greatness (i.e. Power), Wisdom and Kindliness of Hashem. As I listened, the theme of evolution came up over and over. He demonstrated repeatedly that the sheer complexity and design-like properties of life on earth made evolutionary theory preposterous. But I always had a nagging thought in the back of my mind. Evolutionists are scientists. They must have evidence for what they are saying. So even though Rabbi Miller sounded reasonable, perhaps the scientists could show him that the evidence simply disproved his arguments?

And then Hashem had rachmanus on me. I listened to Tape #78 entitled Evolutionists Speak and my world was turned upside down! Rabbi Miller began the tape by saying just what Rabbi Slifkin said. In order to assess evolution we must examine the evidence. He then went on to explain that the only place one can obtain information about the existence of evidence is from evolutionists themselves. After all, they are the ones who are in the field. They are the ones who have made a career of studying the fossils. He then went on to do the impossible, or so I thought. He began to list one source after the next, all evolutionists, all leading scientists in their fields. He began with an examination of paleobotany (the study of fossils of extinct plants) and went on to fish, animals and birds. He listed literally dozens of sources. He noted the author, the name of the book, and the page number. He read out the quotation and explained them in plain English along with the context in which they were found. And every single evolutionist quoted there, every single one without exception, admitted that – as one evolutionist wrote – “essentially continuous transitional sequences are not merely rare, but they are virtually absent”. It was as if a bomb had dropped. It was literally unbelievable!

Of course, I took Rabbi Miller at his word and now became utterly convinced in the falseness of Evolutionary theory. But as I grew older I began to lecture and write on this topic and ran up against constant criticism. Maybe Rabbi Miller was misquoting? Maybe he was quoting out of context? Maybe he obtained the quotes from some Creationist list but the quotes actually did not exist? Eventually I got sick and tired of people challenging the integrity of my Rebbe. So I went online and hunted down each and every author and each and every book quoted by Rabbi Miller in that tape and purchased the books! All of them! And then I went to work. I looked up each and every source quoted by Rabbi Miller. And every single quotation outlined by Rabbi Miller was right there, chapter and verse and page number. And in none of the cases was he quoting the author out of context.

Rabbi Miller’s tapes and books are full of scientific evidence disproving evolution but eventually I expanded my studies in this field and was amazed to find that there are hundreds of sources in the published scientific literature which demonstrate the lack of fossil evidence for evolution. Rabbi Miller’s quotations were just a smattering of the available information out there.

So, why do I reject evolution? Simple. Because the available evidence disproves it while simultaneously proving sudden special creation. As one of the most authoritative neo-Darwinian evolutionists wrote: “The facts are that many species and genera, indeed the majority, do appear suddenly in the record, differing sharply and in many ways from any earlier group, and that this appearance of discontinuity becomes more common the higher the level, until it is virtually universal as regards orders and all higher steps in the taxonomic hierarchy.” (George Gaylord Simpson)

This is exactly what the Torah writes! Species appeared suddenly on earth! What more do I need than that? Indeed, what more does Rabbi Slifkin need than that? What right does he have to accept evolutionary theory when the evolutionists themselves concede the lack of fossil evidence? He writes that the proper thing to do is to evaluate the evidence but then ignores his own advice and accepts evolution despite the evidence!

Of course this is not a ta’anah because, as we’ve seen, Rabbi Slifkin is convinced that there are “millions of extinct species that are intermediate in form to surviving species”. So I am here to inform him, and anyone else who wishes to listen, that he is wrong, horribly wrong.

First of all, scientists have not documented millions of extinct species. In fact, biologists today have documented the existence of approximately 2 million species in total but only about 10% of all known species are documented in the rocks! There are only about 250,000 species captured by the fossil record and not all of them are extinct. And practically none of them qualify as transitional fossils as any paleontologist worth his salt will admit to you.

According to Rabbi Slifkin, the truth about the evidence from the fossil record should cause him to reconsider his position on the theory but will he? Highly doubtful. The obvious question is, why? Rabbi Slifkin loves to level accusations of religious bias against individuals like me and he's probably right. But what he consistently fails to see are his own biases in favor of the scientific community. Is it this bias which simply does not allow him to accept the evidence which stares him in the face? I think the answer is clear.

To be continued…

Friday, August 5, 2011

How I Came To Reject Evolution

In a post entitled How I Came To Accept Evolution, Rabbi Slifkin tries to explain to his readers the step by step thought process which led to his ultimate adoption of the Evolutionary paradigm for ma'aseh bereishis. Ironically the element that served as the critical turning point for him was the same one that caused me to adopt the exact opposite conclusion. The following are a few selections from his post with my comments interspersed.

Rabbi Slifkin writes:

The final critical component was my realization that I was looking at the entire topic in the wrong way. As mentioned earlier, I had solely focused on the problems with evolution - the kashyas. This was exactly what Denton and Johnson had done in their books. As far as I was concerned, the existence of these problems showed that evolution was bogus. But I realize that this wasn't the correct way of looking at things. The correct way was to ask whether the existing evidence better supported evolution or special creation. And this radically changed my perspective on it.

I have two comments to make.

1) In a sense I understand Rabbi Slifkin. In fact, I actually agree with him. I am aware that some individuals may take exception to the following, but I too believe that it is important to investigate the existing evidence. For those who would protest that it is theologically problematic to grant "physical evidence" the same validity as our accepted Torah traditions, I would respond as follows.

The Torah was given to us via the asseres ha’dibros, the Ten Utterances. The Torah constitutes the Will of Hashem. Studying it causes one to become increasingly aware of the Creator’s presence, which, according to the Ramban, is the ultimate purpose of all Torah u’mitzvos (parshas Bo). But there are another set of utterances which preceded those at Sinai.

B’assara ma’amaros nivra ha’olam – The world was created via the Ten Sayings. As such, creation itself is also a revelation of Hashem’s Will, just like the Torah. Studying the beriah for the purpose of becoming aware of Hashem is no less an Avodas Hashem than studying the Torah. People who get into the habit of dismissing physical evidence as a source of True Knowledge are making an error. This is not to say that we should dismiss our Torah traditions each time we come across a problem but I feel it is crucial to at least know what the physical reality is. This leads me to my second comment.

2) Rabbi Slifkin claims that Denton and Johnson focused only on the problems with evolution without taking the existing evidence into account. I too read Denton and Johnson’s books and I can tell you that Rabbi Slifkin is wrong, dead wrong. Their books are all about the existing evidence. More on this shortly.

Rabbi Slifkin writes:

For example, previously, I had only thought about the fossil record in terms of hoaxes (such as Piltdown man), and in terms of missing links. But now I realized that the fossils that we do have - primitive hominids, and the remains of millions of extinct species that are intermediate in form to surviving species - fit far, far better with the evolutionary model than with the special-creation model. The missing links were much less significant than the present links!

This paragraph hit me like a ton of bricks. It was like an epiphany, a “eureka”, a revelation. I have known Rabbi Slifkin for over seven years now and have been operating under the assumption that he was aware that there was a dearth of fossil evidence. In fact, in his book The Science of Torah (pages 149-150) he seems to admit so openly. But now Rabbi Slifkin has finally let the cat out of the bag. One of the “critical components” that turned him into an evolutionist was the presence in the fossil record of “millions of extinct species that are intermediate in form to surviving species”. If there are indeed millions of extinct species that are transitional in structure to currently existing life forms, I myself would have a difficult time dismissing such evidence. No wonder Rabbi Slifkin is an evolutionist!

Oddly enough it was my study of the fossil record that caused me to conclude exactly the opposite.

To be continued…

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Placing Things Right Side Up - Part 2

Rabbi Slifkin writes:

I find it particular interesting that you mention Intelligent Design. Those who subscribe to it do not suffer from the atheist bias, right? And yet those scientists who do subscribe to ID all accept that all life evolved from a common ancestor.

This is no doubt false. Rabbi Slifkin did not interview every ID scientist. There is no way he could know such a thing. The reason ID scientists do not take issue with common ancestry is because they do not have a scientific argument to disprove it. But that doesn’t mean they all believe it.

Rabbi Menken writes:

Yes, we believe the world is 5771 years old, however this may be defined (there are multiple schools of thought on this point). Yet I am unaware of even one Orthodox person with an education in the hard sciences who believes that, from a scientific perspective, the world appears to be 5771 years old rather than roughly 15 billion.

To which Rabbi Slifkin responds:

Agreed. Now I challenge you to write an article for Mishpachah or Ami or Dialogue elaborating on this - that the scientific evidence itself clearly shows the world to be billions of years old, and that nobody with an education in the hard sciences would reasonably say otherwise. (And you can add your detailed explanation of why evolution, although being scientifically unfounded, is not at all theologically problematic.) Then we'll see if the Orthodox community is really okay with this.

Rabbi Slifkin is correct. The Orthodox community wouldn’t be too happy with Rabbi Menken’s attitude. The question is, why? And the answer is simple. The term “scientific perspective” is nebulous. If “scientific” perspective means “materialistic” perspective then yes, the world does indeed seem old. As the Rambam notes in Moreh Nevuchim, a naïve observation of the world could reasonably result in the conclusion that huge periods of time elapsed in its development. But there is an opposing “theory”.

Once one assumes the presence of a Grand Designer (or even the possibility), the term “scientific perspective” vis-à-vis the age of the universe adopts, per force, an entirely different definition. It means “evidence-based perspective”. And according to the “Orthodox world”, the “evidence” is not any more consistent with the evolutionary view than it is with the design view.

The truth is, the design view is far more consistent with what we see than the materialistic view but this is not for now…

Placing Things Right Side Up

(This post continues our analysis of Rabbi Slifkin’s attitude to Rabbi Shafran’s article in Cross-Currents)

In a follow up post entitled Turning Things On Their Head, Rabbi Slifkin takes Rabbi Menken to task regarding his defense of Rabbi Shafran’s article. The following are some comments on this interchange.

Rabbi Menken wrote as follows:

Nonetheless, and contrary to Rabbi Slifkin’s assertions, it is true that a theist is capable of an impartial view of evolution, while anyone unwilling to entertain the idea of a Creator is incapable of the same.

To which Rabbi Slifkin responds:

That is not contrary to my assertions. In fact, it is entirely consistent with what I wrote. But theists who truly have an impartial view of evolution all accept that the evidence supports it!

Ahh… “truly have an impartial view”. Why didn’t someone say so? Sounds like a No True Scotsman argument to me. Rabbi Menken makes an assertion that is internally sound logically, and Rabbi Slifkin responds with an ad hoc attempt to maintain his position by invoking a logically fallacious counterargument. In English this means that according to Rabbi Slifkin any theist who concludes that evolution is unsupported is automatically considered partial because, according to Rabbi Slifkin, all impartial theists consider evolution proven. The fallacy of such an argument is self-evident.

Rabbi Slifkin challenges Rabbi Menken as follows:

By the way, if you have evaluated the evidence for evolution and found it lacking, then I assume this means that you considered the question of why marsupials are concentrated in Australia, why whales are not able to breath underwater like fish, and why every species that is discovered, live and extinct, can be neatly fitted into a nested hierarchal family-tree taxonomy - (for example, there are numerous species with characteristics of dinosaurs and birds, but no intermediates between birds and mammals). Can you share with me the answers that you came up with?

Well, I don’t know if Rabbi Menken ever responded to Rabbi Slifkin (I only skimmed his original article in Cross-Currents for the purpose of writing this post, I did not look in the comment section) but I have a response if anyone is interested.

This “nested hierarchy” argument Rabbi Slifkin is so fond of quoting (he adopted it from the famous PE evolutionist Niles Eldridge) is equally consistent with “Design” theory. Let’s consider the following.

For reasons known only to Him, the Designer decided to Create animal life on earth. He began, like any design engineer would, li’havdil, by designing a small number (50 to 100) basic body plans (referred to as “Phyla” in Linnaean taxonomy). The Designer wanted to create millions of different types of life forms on earth but He chose to stick to the original basic body plans because, after all, they were perfectly functional designs. So, He went on to Design several subcategories to the original category (class, order, family, genus, species) and at each stage He added various additional features in order to achieve the desired variety. To be sure, each additional category was as perfectly designed as the original category because, after all, the Designer is obviously endlessly Wise as is clearly evidenced from His handiwork.

The above, albeit a grossly oversimplified biological depiction of ma’aseh bereishis, suffices to demonstrate that the presence on earth of “categories of life” hierarchaly nested in each other is perfectly consistent with the idea that they were designed.

To be continued…

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Materialism Blinds - Part 2

(This post continues our analysis of Rabbi Slifkin’s critique of Rabbi Shafran’s article.)

Rabbi Slifkin writes as follows:

Then there is Rabbi Shafran's sole "scientific" objection to evolution - that "the appearance of a new species from an existing one, or even of an entirely new limb or organ within a species... has never been witnessed or reproduced." First of all, that's not actually true. Second, evolution takes place over many millennia, so we would not expect to see such dramatic changes in the few years that we have been watching for such things.

Putting aside the fact that Rabbi Slifkin’s “first of all” actually contradicts his “second of all”, his argument is irrelevant. Rabbi Shafran is making a simple point. Evolutionists cling tenaciously to a materialistic theory despite the lack of evidence. This type of behavior more closely resembles faith than it does science. It is impossible to refute this point. The only thing Rabbi Slifkin can say is that they do have evidence in which case he is disputing Rabbi Shafran’s premise, not his argument. But he doesn’t do that. So his counter-argument is meaningless.

Rabbi Slifkin continues as follows:

Most ironic is Rabbi Shafran claiming that there is no observational evidence for "an organism emerging from inert matter," which he refers to as “spontaneous generation." (In fact, the origins of life don't really have anything to do with evolution, but let's ignore that for now.) But it is vastly, overwhelmingly more reasonable to accept that an extremely primitive life-form developed from primordial soup, than to accept that lice spontaneously generate from sweat, that mice spontaneously generate from dirt, that worms spontaneously generate from fruit and fish, and that salamanders spontaneously generate from fire. And yet the latter are all accepted as unquestionable fact by Rabbi Shafran's charedi religious authorities - along with numerous claims of nishtaneh hateva that are more extreme forms of evolution than anything ever proposed by scientists.

The preceding quote is particularly distasteful to me as it obviously strives to make our gedoley Torah look like simpletons and fools while simultaneously aggrandizing the “enlightened” opinions of those who adopt evolution as a viable option for ma’aseh bereishis. But personal feelings aside, Rabbi Slifkin’s comment is sheer nonsense for one very simple reason.

Assuming everything Rabbi Slifkin says about spontaneous generation in the gemara is true (which it is not), Chazal believed in spontaneous generation for only one of two reasons: either they observed it themselves or they relied on the testimony of others who observed it. The point is, there was observational evidence. People saw sweat ostensibly turning into lice. People saw worms coming out of apples etc. Their beliefs can be justified. But does that mean that now we must believe that apes turned into humans? Where’s the evidence? Rabbi Shafran’s point is that there is no evidence to justify the belief in evolution. Incredibly, this point just flies right over Rabbi Slifkin’s head…

As far as what the Chareidi gedolim believe, Rabbi Slifkin doesn’t know what he’s talking about. My Rabbeim (e.g. Rabbi Miller, Rabbi Dessler) did not believe in spontaneous generation and either interpreted the gemaros brought down by Rabbi Slifkin such that they were aligned with the current metzius or, when this was difficult to do, conceded that the scientific explanations offered by Chazal were based on what science observed in their times but were not necessarily the driving force behind the halacha in question. Many of the gedolim today would accept such approaches. I am personally familiar with several. But even if Rabbi Slifkin is right and some gedolim believe unreservedly in the pashtus of the gemaros in question, this is only because they trust that Chazal relied on observational evidence, not empty superstitions or highly improbable “just so” materialistic theories…

Finally, Rabbi Slifkin comments as follows:

Finally, we have Rabbi Shafran's description of evolutionists employing "militant insistence on its truth." Surely he can't be serious. "Militant insistence"? Like banning books by their opponents from being purchased, and using positions of authority to condemn their opponents, without even reading their material or allowing them any opportunity to defend their viewpoint?

Precisely! All this has, and continues to happen in the hallowed hallways of academia as anyone in the know can testify. Actually, you don’t have to be in the know. All you need to do is read once in a while and you’re bound to stumble into examples of the above-noted (mis)behavior. If anyone is interested, I can gladly furnish plenty of material.

Materialism Blinds

About a month ago Rabbi Slifkin began a series of posts criticizing Rabbi Avi Shafran’s article Science, Blinded regarding bias in the academic world. Personally I was happy to see such an article appear in Cross-Currents but apparently this small piece offended Rabbi Slifkin. This post (and several future ones) analyzes Rabbi Slifkin’s comments regarding this article.

In his introductory paragraph, Rabbi Slifkin writes as follows:

That's why I put a warning at the beginning of "The Challenge of Creation," stating that the book is not appropriate for those with little exposure to science and who are opposed to the Maimonidean approach. Besides, while recent special creation is not a core belief of Orthodox Judaism…

Absolutely amazing. On the one hand Rabbi Slifkin strives to impart to his readers that his book is aligned with the “Maimonedian” approach. Yet in his very next breath he states that “recent special creation is not a core belief of Orthodox Judaism”. Anyone familiar with the works of Maimonides understands how absurd this is. It is hard to find a belief which the Rambam held as “core” more than recent special creation.

Rabbi Slifkin takes issue with Rabbi Shafran as follows:

First of all, and most obviously, the idea that religious figures who oppose evolution "can truly perceive the world with clarity," as a result of having "overcome the preconceptions, desires and imperfections of character to which we all play host," is ludicrous. Overcoming imperfections of character is a fine thing, but it does not assist one in evaluating evolution.

It most certainly does. Rabbi Shafran explains in the next few sentences that essentially evolution does not possess any empirical evidence. The implication is obvious. Those scientists who maintain an uncompromising conviction in evolution only do so as a consequence of their desire to believe in it, nothing more.

Rabbi Shafran’s message is simple. To the extent that an individual is able to refine his character, to let go of false preconceptions, to eliminate erroneous attitudes, and to cleanse himself of base desires, so too will he be able to see the truth about the nature of the material world. Why? Because he is no longer predisposed to explain the material in necessarily material terms. He is open to all options. On the other hand, evolutionary scientists are biased by their a priori adoption of a Materialist worldview and thus see nothing! They ignore the open lack of evidence and see only what they want to see. They are the last people who can be trusted to weigh the merits of evolution.

Rabbi Slifkin writes:

On the contrary; since those who oppose evolution inevitably subscribe to a religious worldview in which evolution is theologically problematic at best and usually entirely unacceptable, they are overwhelmingly, critically biased against any evidence supporting it.

This may have been true at one time but it is clearly not true today. There are plenty of religiously unaffiliated scientists who challenge evolution on its face. David Berlinski comes to mind…

In the same vein, it should be pointed out that amongst the ranks of those who do believe in evolution, you will find both atheists and devoutly religious

Vastly, overwhelmingly atheistic with a tiny smattering of devoutly religious. The latter are the odd men out, trying desperately to reconcile a patently atheistic theory with the uncompromising truth of Creation.

In the interest of brevity, we will bring this post to a close. More to come shortly bi’ezras Hashem.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Natan Slifkin’s 10 questions


NS published today a pilpul around the Torah understanding of the animal world and the profound motivations of his ideological opponents.

This is explicitly related to my approach to this issue, as he mentions my name many times.

Interestingly, he did not answer the questions I posted recently in our blogspot, even the most elemental one, i.e.

NS: wrote:

“…In fact, the hyrax appears to be more of a maaleh gerah than the hare.”

I asked:

In which page in NS’s book (first or second edition) did he write what is his definition of “maaleh gerah” and the sources on what he based his definition?

As far as you do not define a category, you cannot include or exclude any animal.

I am still waiting…

Now he wants to distract the readers with his 10 questions:

  1. Are the lama, alpaca, vicuna and guanaco to be classified as being of the same min (type) as the camel?
  2. Is the rabbit classified as being of the same min as the hare?
  3. Does cecotrophy (the reingestion of special fecal pellets) by hares and rabbits rate as ma’aleh gerah?
  4. Do we believe those zoologists who say that the capybara practices cecotrophy?
  5. Is the capybara considered to be a sheretz or a chayah?
  6. Is the shafan the hyrax?
  7. Does the hyrax practice merycism?
  8. Is merycism considered to be maaleh gerah?
  9. Is the alleged merycism of koalas and proboscis monkeys the same as that of the hyrax?
  10. Is it likely that the shafan and arneves are extinct, unknown animals?

I have to acknowledge that after reading these 10 questions I am very happy bechasde Hashem Yitbarach, because the first 9 questions are frontally approached in our B”H forthcoming book “The enigma of the biblical shafan” (with more than 500 Torah and science sources).

Question number 10 was not addressed in our book because I did not consider it relevant to our approach.

Special attention was invested B”H in defining all the relevant concepts and checking that the answers to the 9 individual questions are consistent with each other.

Meanwhile, I would like to ask in which page of his first or second edition, a scientific source was provided for the purported hyrax merycism.

Otherwise, please specify any definition of “maaleh gerah” that includes the hyrax.