Was There A Noach? II

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R. David Holzer, in his recent book The Rav Thinking Aloud on the Parsha: Sefer Bereishis, devotes a long footnote (p. 173 n. 340) to calling an article by Dr. Joel B. Wolowelsky in Tradition heretical. According to R. Holzer, Dr. Wolowelsky accepts the “biblical criticism view” that the Flood story “never occurred” but instead “is a literary allusion to a distorted version of the Gilgamesh Epic, which was used to deal with the Israelites’ interest in an ancient fable.” R. Holzer is upset that “the editors of Tradition apparently found no need to offer any retraction.”

The reason, I believe, that the editors of Tradition did not offer a retraction to the article is because it does not, in reality, fit the categorization that R. Holzer mistakenly attributed to it (you can read the original article here: link). Had R. Holzer consulted with Dr. Wolowelsky before condemning his article, as I did, he would have learned that Dr. Wolowelsky never denied the historical veracity of the Flood (link). But even private correspondence was unnecessary because Dr. Wolowelsky responded to a polite letter in the journal (link). How much more clear can he be than this (link – subscription required)?

His quote from Chesterton seems to suggest that he thought I was saying that there was no pre-historic flood calamity. I thought I was very clear on this point when I wrote:

Needless to say, this approach no more suggests that there was no catastrophic flood than does the position that God has no physical limb claim that “He took us out with a mighty arm” is false and that we were never taken out of Egyptian slavery. It has no relevance to the secular debate on the historicity of the Bible. We are not talking about whether the Flood happened but the literary devices the Torah used to describe it.

Indeed, I was writing against Prof. Spero’s suggestion that the Biblical Flood story was an allegory.

I am unsure why R. Holzer continued to repeat his mistaken understanding of the article.

About Gil Student

Rabbi Gil Student is the founder, publisher and editor-in-chief of Torah Musings.

97 comments

  1. Sometimes such public mistakes are not mistakes – they’re attempts to draw public parameters even within a ‘common’ space, though the author may not privately, in confidence, hold that view. Repeatedly in the press I’ve seen statements against Rabbi Slifkin by rabbis who have been in correspondence with him regarding his work – rabbis who later publicly lambaste the very same works, AND THEN still cite and suggest them for students at risk.

  2. Thank you for pointing this out and maintaining the integrity of Joel in the public realm.

  3. Charles B. Hall

    The existence of multiple catastrophic flood narratives from societies that had no contact with each other in pre-modern times along with the scientific fact that the sea level rose hundreds of feet at the end of the last ice age, makes the flood narrative in Noach one of the least problematic narratives in all of Chumash –as long as you don’t insist of biblical literalism, which is after all a Christian method of exigesis.

  4. Giluy milsa b'alma

    This is a quote from the editor of the magazine (many have received this email which went around a while ago) This is part of a long email, as I’m sure many know (or maybe it only got around the chareidi sector), but you’ll note it’s not out of context:

    The point of Dr Wolowelsky’s article was that the Torah is reacting
    against the religious outlook expressed in the Gilgamesh flood
    story. That, for instance, where the gods unleashed the flood out of
    petty annoyance at human beings, the Torah emphasizes that the flood
    was punishment for grave moral transgressions. Avoda zara, you will
    recall, was the dominant ideology in the region, and the Torah was
    the “counterculture.”
    The author of the article (Dr Wolowolsky) wrote:
    Rabbi Carmy spoke for me here –but more eloquently than I could have.

  5. I’m not sure why they are being somewhat opaque. The point of the article is to explain the *language* used to describe the Flood and not whether the Flood happened.

  6. Giluy milsa b'alma

    Actually, the whole email is worth a read.
    Just a point- From the fact Gil had to write (in the post you linked):
    In private correspondence, Dr. Wolowelsky confirmed to me that he was in no way suggesting that a catastrophic flood had not actually taken place

    Don’t you think some people MAY have gotten the wrong impression?

  7. Dr. Wolowelsky specifically wrote in his original article that he was arguing against allegorizing the Flood but someone sent out an e-mail denouncing him so I asked Dr. Wolowelsky for a clarification.

  8. Giluy milsa b'alma

    Anyhow, I found the whole article silly. He misunderstood the idea of dibra torah klashon bnei adam. It doesn’t mean i can say: Har Sinai happened but it wasn’t really Hashem appearing to Moshe etc. etc. and debira torah klashon bnei adam. That’s called Kefira. Ask whoever you hold your Rabbeim to be Gil, and let us know what they feel

  9. Giluy milsa b'alma

    Dr. Wolowelsky wrote a whole bunch of things in his article which sounded Kefiradik and contradictory. The fact that the quotes R’ Holzer quoted in his book appeared in a “religious” journal, is disturbing.

  10. Giluy milsa b’alma, exactly what authority do you have to claim this understanding of an idea is mistaken? Sounds to me like you’re just disrespecting a talmid hakham for the fun of it.

  11. Giluy: From your description, I don’t think you understood the article. Perhaps it was overly opaque. “Sounded kefiradik” is not a halakhic category.

  12. Giluy milsa b'alma

    1) he’s not a talmid chacham. 2) ask any talmid chacham. 3) the fact that you don’t understand that my example is kefira is troubling

  13. How did pronghorns and kangaroos get onto the ark?

  14. Giluy milsa b'alma

    Firstly, I don’t know why Kefiradik is not a halachic category, abizrayu d’avoda zara is a real category. Secondly, my point was that they sounded like kefira, leaving the possibility that they [somehow] may not have been.

  15. Oh they *sounded* “kefiradik” therefore they shouldn’t appear in a “religious journal? If you were actually knowledgeable, you might realize that that criteria knocks out a ton of ma’amarei Hazal, the Moreh Nevuchim (the Rambam explicitly says that God does not “exist”) the Ramban (have you ever bothered reading what he says the “se’ir l’Azazel” is?) the Ralbag (no individual hashgaha), Rav Kook (no animal korbanot in Messianic era, no difference between aku”mim and Jews in knowledge of God) the Rav Soloveitchik (by your criteria, the Lonely Man of Faith is absolutely kefira) and I could go on. How about you open a book instead of trying to be the kefira police?

  16. Oh really, he isn’t? Do you know him?

  17. Giluy milsa b'alma

    Gil, I understood the article quite well, and I understood the emails quite well.

  18. Of course, R. Joel Wolowelsky is a tzaddik gammur and his article is an excellent article. At the same time, I believe R. David Holzer possesses a legitimate halakhic claim against R. Wolowelsky (in the noble spirit of milchamtah shel Torah, as per Iggerot Mosheh, Orach Chaim IV, no. 25). Specifically, there is at the present time a vigorous debate among the poskim whether an Orthodox Jew is obligated to take the stories of Creation and the Flood literally. Permit me to elucidate the two sides of the debate.
    R. Moshe Feinstein (Iggerot Mosheh, Yoreh De’ah III, no. 73) rules that belief in the secular scientists’ account of how the universe originated is heretical. This is also the ruling of R. Yaakov Yisra’el Kavievski in his Kar’yina Di’iggreta Vol. 1, no. 115 as well as R. Menasheh Klein in his Shu”t Mishneh Halakhot II, no. 35. A spirited defense of this position is published by R. Chaim Keller in the Sivan 5766 edition of Jewish Observer (-though, surprisingly, no reference is made of R. Feinstein, R. Kanievski or R. Klein).
    Of course, there is a very respectable camp of poskim opposed to R. Moshe Feinstein, as excellently catalogued by R. Natan Slifkin on his website http://www.zootorah.org . This is also the position of R. Hershel Schachter, as published in the most recent edition of Yeshiva University’s Kol Mevasser journal. There, R. Schachter rules that a Jew who believes an allegorical interpretation of the six days of creation is a kosher Orthodox Jew, and is fit to serve as a rabbinic judge, contrary to the ruling attributed to R. Joseph Shalom Eliashiv.
    It is not difficult to fathom why R. Feinstein et al. regard belief in the secular account of cosmology as heretical. Shu”t Chatam Sofer, Yoreh De’ah no. 356 establishes that denial of any event that is recorded in the Torah constitutes heresy. R. Feinstein et al. are simply carrying Chatam Sofer a step forward by positing that allegoralization of the biblical account of creation = denial of the biblical account of creation. Although Chatam Sofer does not directly address this issue, one could argue that the roots to R. Feinstein’s conclusion are already present in the Chatam Sofer, because the Chatam Sofer mentions that Adam Harishon witnessed Creation in the sense that he saw that he was miraculously “born” without parents. Chatam Sofer implicitly refutes evolution of homo sapiens from primate ancestors (a doctrine that is integral to secular science), since secular science believes that the first homo sapiens was indeed born from parents (albeit monkey-like parents).
    Based on the gemara in Avodah Zarah 7a that an unresolved dispute among the poskim regarding a Torah commandment – when there is no Sanhedrin available to vote on the matter – must be adjudicated to the side of stringency (which is codified by the Rema in Shulchan Arukh Choshen Mishpat 25:2), it would appear to me that an Orthodox Jew is obligated to be stringent out of doubt and to believe in a literal account of Creation in accordance with R. Feinstein et al. In other words, R. Natan Slifkin, R. Hershel Schachter, et al. are to be commended for their excellent argument to the contrary (-and Elu Va’elu, as per the gemara in Eruvin 13b), but halakhah lima’aseh we must follow R. Feinstein because safek di’oraita lichumra. As a consequence of this conclusion, a rabbinic judge who believes in secular science’s account of cosmology would indeed be disqualified out of doubt.
    In the spring of 5767, I personally presented this analysis to R. J. David Bleich, and he graciously agreed with my conclusion, halakhah lima’aseh.
    In his communication in Tradition 43:1, R. Wolowelsky marshals evidence from the allegorization of all anthropomorphisms of HKB”H, that it is indeed permissible to regard the Flood allegorically.
    However, it seems to this author that – while R. Wolowelsky is certainly to be commended for his illuminating argument – R. Feinstein el al. (who would obviously insist on accepting the episode of the Flood literally just like the episode of Creation) possess a potential counter-rejoinder. Allegorization of anthropomorphisms of HKB”H are an absolute halakhic imperative, as Rambam rules in Hilkhot Yesodei Ha-Torah ch. 1, since an Orthodox Jew is obligated to understand the self-evident truth of the Unity of HKB”H. A corporal item can never be Unity, since physical items can always be broken into smaller pieces. Indeed, this is one of Rambam’s thirteen principle of faith listed in his Commentary to the Mishnah in Perek Chelek. It is an obvious exception to Chatam Sofer’s principle that denial of any event recorded in the Torah constitutes heresy.
    Although Maimonides himself in the Moreh Nevukhim allegorizes certain biblical events (e.g. struggle between Jacob and the angel), the Moreh Nevukhim does not possess the same halakhic weight as Maimonides’ Mishneh Torah or Commentary to the Mishnah. This point is recognized by R. Hershel Schachter in the 1988 symposim regarding the topic of the bioethical definition of life (in which he co-lectured with R. Moshe David Tendler), recorded at http://www.yutorah.org/lectures/lecture.cfm/711848/Rabbi_Moshe_D._Tendler/Definition_of_Death_II . There, at 22:00-23:30 into the lecture, R. Hershel Schachter distinguishes between the authority that is granted to Mishneh Torah and Peirush Hamishna’yot on the one hand, and Moreh Nevukhim on the other. (Of course, R. Schachter does not deny that Moreh Nevukhim is occassionally cited by poskim when it contains ideas that are logical, e.g. first Rema in Shulchan Arukh Orach Chaim, but that is not the same as a carte blanche acceptance of the Moreh Nevukhim. R. Schachter is apparently saying that one must be selective regarding which parts of the Moreh Nevukhim once accepts).
    Accordingly, it would seem to me – Halakhah Lima’aseh (and R. Bleich agrees with me) – that considerations of safek di’oraita lichumra require a literal belief in the Flood (though I am not oblivious to the paradox that I am employing one teaching of R. Hershel Schachter to counter a different teaching of R. Hershel Schachter. Assuredly, the best way to resolve the paradox is to directly consult R. Hershel Schachter.)

  19. Giluy milsa b'alma

    The Rambam explains what he means, as do the rest of the Rishonim. Seforim should explain what they mean clearly, as the Rambam writes in Pirkei avos (I’m sure you know the source). A Sefer which is unclear and leaves room for Apikorsus is subject to being hidden (I’m sure you know the source for that as well)

  20. Giluy milsa b'alma

    I would assume there’s no stira in R’ Schachter, he probably never said to allegorize Bereishis, he merely said you can use one of numerous explanations posited by the Meforshim for ma’ase bereishis. Whether it took longer (each hour was longer), whether there was numerous worlds, etc., it’s not allegorizing anything, it’s explaining the verses in a different manner. Allegorizing the flood is apikorsus.

  21. Giluy milsa b'alma

    I shouldn’t emphasize allegorizing the flood, i don’t know if that was the heretical part. It may have been the ridiculous (scientifically –as the emails show– and halachically) idea that the Torah copied a goyish story (which has no scientific proof of existence at that point in time, because the Flood does not appear in the gilgamesh epic until the 7th century BCE)

  22. If only Orthodox Judaism’s major problem was the spread of apikorsim running around claiming that we can believe both modern science and Torah because the pre-patriarchal stories are clearly not meant to be read literally. If that was our major problem then our cup would be running over with solutions given the number of people who like to run around and yell “apikorus.”

  23. What is the point of asserting that the Flood is not allegorical if one is accepting that the narrative as described in Chumash didn’t occur?

    Since I haven’t read the article, and cannot access it for free, I’ll ask those who have read it: is the point that Chumash is correcting the misimpression of the Gilgamesh story, i.e. providing the real story for those who have heard the wrong version from the Sumerians?

    Otherwise, if Noach didn’t exist as described, didn’t build an ark as described, then why assert there was a flood at all? Why not suggest that the story is an allegory.

    And Charlie, its hard to imagine the Flood narrative as less problematic just because there were floods in prehistoric times. That’s like saying that the Splitting of the Sea is really just a story, and based on the fact that tidal waters temporarily reveal dry land. If the Flood story in the Bible is meant to tell a “tall tale” version of the Black Sea flood 5000 BP or some Ice Age sea level rise 10,000 BP, then not only is the story not literally true, but its a complete distortion of the events, at which point one might as well describe it as allegorical.

    Adam and Eve can be considered an allegory for the first Homo sapiens, but then there’s no point in claiming that human life first evolved in Turkey or near four rivers with good gold and a luscious tropical paradise where only snakes were dangerous. Clearly, the Garden should be treated as an allegory for some primordial human experience with God and choice, or some primal aspect of human nature, and not for anything specific in history.

    One thing drives me crazy is “tongs must be made with tongs,” but that’s not written, so I suppose I can discard it.

    Also, I’m still working on my understanding of the value of the exact dates and genealogies if everything until Avraham is pretty much allegorical.

  24. Although I wrote what I wrote above to explain R. Holzer, I do wish to emphasize that R. Wolowelsky’s line of reasoning is potentially as compelling as that of R. Holzer. It is only because of “safek di’oraita lichumra” that I am conservative in my halakhic conclusion (since matters of theology are also matters of Halakhah), but in no way does this detract from the praiseworthiness of R. Wolowelsky and his approach. I think that a school teacher leading a class on Breisheet and Noach should present both approaches (R. Feinstein vs. Slifkin) and then conclude with “safek di’oraita lichumra”. Thank you.

  25. “the flood narrative in Noach one of the least problematic narratives in all of Chumash –as long as you don’t insist of biblical literalism, which is after all a Christian method of exigesis [sic]”

    A Christian method? Give me a break. Most Jewish commentators through the ages have looked at the story as literal in most of its aspects (with small exceptions such as “did it engulf Israel”). Christians didn’t invent literalism.

    The flood is indeed one of the most problematic narratives of Chumash, which is the whole reason why modern apologists treat much of it as allegory. It’s trivial to fudge the 6-days of creation and pretend it fits into a modern scientific framework. Not so with the mabul. Otherwise you’d have folks like Schroeder and Aviezer – who like to paint the target after shooting the arrow – coming up with explanations that could be parroted by kiruv workers.

  26. “safek di’oraita lichumra”?

    Are you kidding? Seriously, I assume you are kidding otherwise you have reduced the pursuit of truth and theology to a purely academic enterprise.

    In any event, you don’t appear to understand the concept itself. It is “safek d’oraita” not “machloket, d’oraita” l’chumra. We do not pasken l’chumra whenever there is a disagreement.

    More importantly, there is no safek involved. The events of the flood, has they happened as described, would have left ample geological evidence. There is no such evidence.

  27. R’ MJ,
    Thank you for the important response. Yes, I think we must be stringent on account of a safek di’oraita, since “vilo taturu acharei livavkhem” (Numbers 15:39) prohibits heresy, and Chatam Sofer defines denial of the historical truth of any event in the Torah as heresy.
    Actually, I thought about the issue overnight, and I now realize that it is not only a safek, but almost a virtual certainty that the Halakhah follows R. Holzer that one must take the Flood account literally. This is because the gemara in Zevachim 113a-113b takes the Flood literally, and applies a dispute between Rabbi Yochanan and Reish Lakish regarding the details of the Flood to the practical procedure of the parah adumah service. Moreover, the Anshei Knesset Hagedolah instituted in the Zikhronot blessing of RH mussaf that “vigam et Noach bi’ahavah zakharta…”, meaning that the mussaf liturgy takes the events of the Flood literally. [We do not recite prayers that are not sincerely intended, as per the gemara in Yoma 69b]. I think a survey of Rashi’s commentary to the Flood – with his “play by play commentary” on how Rabbi Eliezer and Rabbi Yehoshua date each specific event of the Flood, indicates that it is to be taken literally.
    Accordingly, I retract my previous suggestion that a school teacher leading a class regarding Noach present two different perspectives on what occurred with the Flood. It seems to me that Jewish tradition obligates the classroom teacher to teach the Flood literally, as our ancestors have been doing for millenia. Yi’yasher kochakha to R. Holzer for bringing this insight to the public’s attention.

  28. At the same time, out of reverence and appreciation for R. Wolowelsky, I will not arrive at any definitive conclusions until he enjoys an opportunity to respond.

  29. R’ Gil,

    Who is R. Wolowelsky?

    Where is the footnote in R. Holzer’s book?

    Thanks.

  30. Giluy milsa b’alma: Anyhow, I found the whole article silly.

    This may be obvious but I will emphasize it because it is important. There is a difference between being wrong and being heretical. You may disagree with Dr. Wolowelsky, may think he is wrong on a number of points, but that is a far cry from thinking his article is heretical. And THAT is what this post is about. If you think you can disprove his article, go right ahead. I haven’t seen any of the e-mails that you have been referencing so please don’t assume I know what you are referring to. I only saw the original unpublishable letter to the editor and a response saying that it is too disrespectful to publish.

    He misunderstood the idea of dibra torah klashon bnei adam.

    He explicitly invoked Ibn Kaspi’s understanding of the concept as described by Prof. Twersky. Was the Rav’s son-in-law also an apikorus? Or just silly?

    It doesn’t mean i can say: Har Sinai happened but it wasn’t really Hashem appearing to Moshe etc. etc. and debira torah klashon bnei adam. That’s called Kefira.

    That is a bad example because it is not representative of what Dr. Wolowelsky wrote. He was not writing God out of the picture or denying the historical events. He was claiming that some of the *descriptions* of the Flood are intentionally non-literal.

    Firstly, I don’t know why Kefiradik is not a halachic category

    The issue is sounding kefiradik. It has to be kefiradik in order to be kefirah. Reminds me of the educator who lost his job for using the word “niggardly” in a speech which isn’t racist but sounds like it. We have higher standards.

    The Rambam explains what he means, as do the rest of the Rishonim.

    If you suspect that Dr. Wolowelsky wrote something objectionable, you should object. As it happens, someone did and Dr. Wolowelsky responded by pointing out that he was misunderstood. You could claim that both Dr. Wolowelsky and the journal’s editor are at fault for publishing an unclear article, but after rereading it this morning I dispute that claim. The problem is uncareful readers. If you aren’t going to read an article carefully and take it at its words, then you have no one to blame for misunderstanding it but yourself.

    I would assume there’s no stira in R’ Schachter, he probably never said to allegorize Bereishis, he merely said you can use one of numerous explanations posited by the Meforshim for ma’ase bereishis.

    Did you notice that Dr. Wolowelsky quoted Rav Kook in footnote 4 to substantiate his claims?

    It may have been the ridiculous (scientifically –as the emails show– and halachically) idea that the Torah copied a goyish story (which has no scientific proof of existence at that point in time, because the Flood does not appear in the gilgamesh epic until the 7th century BCE)

    Again, I have no access to such e-mails. However, no one is claiming that the Torah copies a “goyish” story. Dr. Wolowelsky quoted the current historical consensus regarding the Gilgamesh Epic (something was circulating in the Early Bronze Age) and Sarna (Understanding Genesis, p. 41) puts its origins in the third millennium BCE. If you think you can debunk those claims, write something substantial to do so and not just blog comments or e-mails.

    R. Shalom Spira: At the same time, I believe R. David Holzer possesses a legitimate halakhic claim against R. Wolowelsky

    The single most important reason that R. Holzer does not have a legitimate claim against Dr. Wolowelsky is that Dr. Wolowelsky DID NOT write what R. Holzer claims he did. That is the point of this post.

  31. Charles B. Hall

    Shalom Spira,

    You are claiming that Judaism requires belief in things that are objectively false. That would make Judaism a false religion, chas v’shalom.

    And Rabbi Yochanan did not take the flood narrative literally. “Did it engulf Israel?” is not a question a literalist could admit as a possible question. By your methodology you would have to consider Rabbi Yochanan a kofer, chas v’shalom.

    Rambam in Mishnah Torah Hilchot Tshuvah lists the people who fall into various categories of heretics. Those who don’t accept the Evangelical Christian belief in the literal inerrancy of the Chumash are not among them.

  32. Greg: Who is R. Wolowelsky?

    Dr. Joel B. Wolowelsky. I don’t think he has semikhah but if he does, he does not use the title.

    Dr. Joel B. Wolowelsky is Dean of the Faculty at the Yeshivah of Flatbush, where he teaches math and Jewish Philosophy. He is a member of the Steering Committee of the Orthodox Forum and serves on a number of Professional Advisory Boards, including the Bar Ilan University Lookstein Center for Jewish Education in the Diaspora, the Boston Initiative for Excellence in Jewish Day Schools, the Pardes Educators Program in Jerusalem, and Atid: the Academy for Torah Initiatives and Directions. He is associate editor of Tradition, the journal of Orthodox Jewish thought published by the Rabbinical Council of America, and the series MeOtzar HoRav: Selected Writings of Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik.

    Where is the footnote in R. Holzer’s book?

    Thank you for pointing out that I neglected to give the exact reference in the post. What an oversight! Page 173 note 340.

  33. Giluy milsa b'alma

    Gil, very simply, for you and for others who may not be aware. In the simplest language: There was a Gilgamesh epic. It had many stories, at some point in time the Flood story was ADDED to this old epic. When? No one knows. Modern scholarship hypothesises sometime between 1300-1000 BCE. We don’t actually find it in writing until the 7th century BCE. Recently found stones before then have a different story written and not the flood story.

  34. If that is the conclusion, then fine. I’m not sure it’s so simple but I’m no expert. My limited understanding is that scholars believe the story was ADDED from earlier documents, specifically dating from the time of the Avos.

  35. R. Student,
    Thank you for your kind response. Thanks also for clarifying the academic credentials of our distinguished subject. Still, I will address R. Wolowelsky with the rabbinic title since I have been privileged to learn from him by reading Tradition journal (as per Pirkei Avot 6:3).
    I agree with you that R. Wolowelsky is entirely righteous. At the same time, I also think, with your kind permission, that R. Holzer’s concerns may also enjoy a halakhic basis. To compare the details of the Flood to the anthropomorphisms of the Torah regarding the “corporeality” (kivi’yakhol) of HKB”H,is to essentially assert that much of the Flood was a “mashal”. [See Rambam at the end of ch. 1 of Hilkhot Yesodei HaTorah: “hakol mashal umelitzah hem”.] And R. Holzer is cogently objecting that such an approach may be contraindicated by the Chatam Sofer. [Anthropomorphisms of the corporeality (kivi’yakhol) of HKB”H are an obvious exception to Chatam Sofer.]

  36. I know it’s hard to allow when considering halakha, hashkafic “rules,” and so on, but I’ve always been uncomfortable with the idea that someone can be condemned for believing in certain absolute facts. Whether the flood happened or not is a factual question, and if one is convinced that the facts trend one way, it is irrational to demand he change his mind based on a hashkafic standard- and pretty cruel to condemn him as such.

    Kal V’Chomer if he finds refuge in saying “allegorical” or “not 100% literal” or “derived from Gilgamesh” or something like that.

  37. R’ MJ and R’ Charles B. Hall,
    Thank you for your important responses regarding the lack of geological evidence. I would say that history is a matter of belief rather than science; geological findings regarding the past are inherently circumstantial evidence. Where the Torah tells us a certain piece of history, we are commanded to believe that, whether or not the geological record agrees. Ma’aseh Breisheet may arguably constitute an exception, since much Kabbalah surrounds that event (as per the gemara in Chagigah ch. 2), and indeed we see this reflected in the poskim (R. Kook, R. Schachter, R. Slifkin, et al.) who permit adopting a non-literal approach to Ma’aseh Breisheet. I don’t think the same can be said for the Flood. [And in any event, even regarding Ma’aseh Breisheet, we have countervailing poskim like R. Feinstein et al. who do insist on a literal approach to Ma’aseh Breisheet.]

  38. R’ Nachum,
    Thank you for your important response. This is the concept of ikkarei emunah: We as Orthodox Jews are commanded to believe certain concepts, including concepts that describe what occurred in history. Chatam Sofer ruled that believing the truth of the Torah means believing the historicity of all the events described by the Torah.

  39. “…if everything until Avraham is pretty much allegorical.”

    Could anyone provide a single source in Chazal for this notion? I am aware that there is a solid source in Chazal for B’reishit perek aleph being non-literal – I refer to the mishna in Chagiga that “ain dorshin be’ma’aseh b’reishit…” which implies that it is not to be understood literally or simplistically. But where, pray tell, is there any source for non-literalism after B’reishit aleph, other than where Chazal specifically and explicitly say so? If there is no such source, then it seems to me to be axiomatic that Orthodox ideology demands a literal understanding of the narrative.

  40. Shalom Spira: To compare the details of the Flood to the anthropomorphisms of the Torah regarding the “corporeality” (kivi’yakhol) of HKB”H,is to essentially assert that much of the Flood was a “mashal”.

    No, it is to reinterpret the language while saying that the event actually occurred. That is not mashal but attributing descriptions to such talmudic and midrashic categories as guzma and divrei havai, which the Rishonim themselves used.

    Nachum: Whether the flood happened or not is a factual question

    And whether Matan Torah happened is also a factual question. Are you suggesting that someone who concludes that Matan Torah never happened can justifiably say that since Judaism requires we accept the truth, Judaism does not require belief in Matan Torah? What if someone believes he can prove that God does not exist, can he also claim the mantle of Judaism?

    Puzzled: Could anyone provide a single source in Chazal for this notion?

    I was not aware that we are not allowed to offer new interpretations of Chumash. But the point is that Dr. Wolowelsky never claimed that everything until Avraham was allegorical. He was arguing against a slightly similar claim.

  41. R. Gil – “I was not aware that we are not allowed to offer new interpretations of Chumash.”

    So could our new interpretation of Chumash be that Avraham, Yitzchak, Yaakov, and Moshe never literally existed, and that all the narratives about them are allegories? If not, why not? If yes, then what exactly is masoretic Judaism?

    “But the point is that Dr. Wolowelsky never claimed that everything until Avraham was allegorical…”

    I know – my comment had nothing to do with R. Wolowelsky’s article, it had to do with an earlier commenter’s quote.

  42. Puzzled: So could our new interpretation of Chumash be that Avraham, Yitzchak, Yaakov, and Moshe never literally existed, and that all the narratives about them are allegories? If not, why not? If yes, then what exactly is masoretic Judaism?

    The Rishonim struggled with this and I’m not sure what the conclusive guidelines were. There was an article in the Torah U-Mada Journal that tried to work through this but I’m not sure how much he succeeded: http://www.yutorah.org/lectures/lecture.cfm/703973//04._On_the_Limits_of_Non-Literal_Interpretation_of_Scripture_From_An_Orthodox_Perspective

    And Dr. Shatz’s article is also an important resource on this subject: http://www.traditiononline.org/news/article.cfm?id=105357

    This article by A.S. Halkin shows the debate among the Rishonim: https://docs.google.com/fileview?id=19UIU1UWTk_8QPkZ5c6PT2mNn2pxPgNtdAOBl3C_TpusPzJCZ1r179U1Uq6JQ&hl=en

  43. Gil:

    Yeah, Matan Torah is a sticky one. One of my rebbeim at YU (who, most likely, believed in the literal truth of much if not all of B’reishit) allowed (based on the Kuzari) that everything up until that could be debated.

    Another teacher I had at YU (the one from whom I learned Gilgamesh) was able to find a teretz even for that. (He also wasn’t a fan of the “so many flood stories, it must be true!” school- quite the opposite, in fact. And just for the record, there are other Mesopotamian flood stories apart from Gilgamesh.)

    But there’s an interesting point here: The historical record is such that it would be pretty hard to prove or disprove anything from, say, Avraham to Yehoshua definitively (again, either way). (Although there are some hard points.) Post Yehoshua, we have historical record. Pre-Avraham, we have geology and other sciences. Obviously, we can’t prove (or disprove) that there was someone named “Noach” or the like based on either history or geology.

    God is another matter entirely. Believing or not believing in him is not a matter of solid facts. So overall, despite being very open to science and history, I’m pretty secure in my belief in the ikrai emunah, even if others, like Mr. Spira, would disapprove of my take on them.

    Mr. Spira, I love you, but I’ve learned from that infamous other thread that there’s no much point in starting a discussion with you. So gai gezunte heit, and I’ll let others try if they dare.

  44. I don’t know if I’ve ever expressed proper appreciation for the diverse faculty of IBC that gave me the tools (whether they realized it or not) to deal with these matters and keep me Orthodox and Orthoprax. A thousand thanks.

  45. >as long as you don’t insist of biblical literalism, which is after all a Christian method of exigesis.

    Tell that the the pashtanim of Ashkenaz, who wrote peshat (=literal) commentaries in part directed at the real traditional mode of Christian exegesis: the allegorical.

  46. Guest,

    You are probably correct that the real traditional mode of Christian exegesis is allegorical; it was not until the Reformation that biblical literalism seems to have become normative among many Protestants. (For Catholics, biblical literalism is heresy!)

  47. Charlie Hall,

    I’m sure you can support those bold statements with sources, preferably from the Church fathers. Otherwise, you know…

  48. Nachum,

    Please forgive my ignorance, but what is IBC?

    aiwac

  49. Giluy milsa b'alma

    Gil wrote “If that is the conclusion, then fine. I’m not sure it’s so simple but I’m no expert. My limited understanding is that scholars believe the story was ADDED from earlier documents, specifically dating from the time of the Avos.”
    Yes, it is a simple fact that we do not get any hard evidence of the inclusion of the Flood story into the Gilgamesh epic until the 7th century. Everything from there (guessing when it was added) is “educated guesswork”. This point was made to Dr. Wolowelsky and R’ Carmy numerous times in the emails, they never disputed it.

  50. The potential for acceptance of at least a lot of Bereshit as not being literal was discussed in some lecture Rabbi Jeremy Weider-at least a year or so ago it was online at YUTorah. Rabbi Spero has advocated over the decades the non literalness of at least some Genesis stories and I believe some have been published by Tradition.
    If I recall correctly R Maryles on his blog once quoted RAS on his blog asstating that R Spero was incorrect in his viewpoint but it certainly waS not HERETICAL TO BELIEVE SUCH.

  51. I find that these discussions virtually go away if we are willing to recognize numbers in the Chumash as being important for the sake of teaching, and not important for the sake of historical study.

    There is good evidence that somebody found Mount Sinai. There are 12 encampments around the mountain, drawings of two tablets with 10 letters on them. All sorts of other wonderful things that can add to our understanding of what happened.

    However, that location of mount sinai is rejected because the date of the events found at that mountain are 1,000 years off from our traditional dating of the events.
    Similarly with the conquest of Caanan. There is evidence of the conquest, but the dates are off by some large number.

    We have a beautiful long mesorah of deriving drashot from the numbers given to us in the Chumash. Why pretend that those drashot were not the reason for those numbers in the first place? Since when before Christian influence were these numbers so important in a factual historic sense?

  52. R’ Nachum,
    Thank you for your kind words.
    R. Student,
    Thank you for the three excellent references from Torah U-Mada Journal, Tradition and Jewish Medieval & Rennaissance Studies. However, none of those sources cite the Chatam Sofer, let alone refute him.
    You are correct that the gemara in Chullin 90b indicates that the Torah speaks “lishon havai”. However, it appears questionable whether one can extrapolate from that gemara to adopting a non-literal reading of the Flood. In the lecture R’ Mycroft cited earlier ( http://www.yutorah.org/lectures/lecture.cfm/716561/Rabbi_Jeremy_Wieder/Non_Literal_Interpretation_of_Scripture_in_Jewish_Tradition ), at 4:15-5:30 into the lecture, R. Jeremy Wieder observes (and I agree) that the gemara seems to be referring to an isolated idiom in one particular verse regarding “fortified cities up to the heavens”, not necessarily a general license to allegorize Scripture. But I guess it’s an essential question that needs to be asked regarding that gemara and the Chatam Sofer: Where does one draw the line? How much “figurative expression” is permitted in learning Torah? My feeling is, based on the gemara in Zevachim 113, the nusakh of the Zikhronot blessing, and the Rashi on the Flood chronology, that conservatism on this question is merited.

  53. gest,

    where did you get this info re: Mt. Sinai and the conquest?

    aiwac

  54. “I’m sure you can support those bold statements with sources, preferably from the Church fathers. Otherwise, you know…”

    Yes, I could, but this is a Jewish site, not a Catholic site. But basically, the objection of the Church to biblical literalism is that it removes the Church from its authoritative role in interpretation of scripture.

    I find it ironic that some Orthodox rabbis are now promoting biblical literalism in the face of thousands of years of non-literal interpretations.

  55. Shalom Spira: I’m not sure you are interpreting the Chasam Sofer properly. Regardless, you will definitely be interested in the Chakham Tzvi no. 77 (quoted in this post: http://hirhurim.blogspot.com/2006/06/afikei-mayim-ii.html).

  56. Rabbi Spira, while your conservative approach to interpretation of biblical expressions may be traditional, your citation of Zevachim 113 tends to undermine it. The Tosafot there (T.B. Zev. 113a: Lo Yarad Mabul) state at the end, “In the place where the mabul descended, there the mountains were covered over”. That language conveys the implication of a local or regional flood. Besides, had the mabul inundated the entire earth with the exception of Israel, then reference should have been made to some mystical shield that barred the entry of the flood waters to that land.

  57. aiwac: Sorry, I was being a little too much “inside baseball” there. IBC is the Isaac Breuer College (of Hebraic Studies), one of the undergraduate schools of Yeshiva University, and one I attended.

  58. Thanks. It seems fitting that a school named after the author of the “New Cuzari” and the father of Rabbi Mordechai would be able to give its students the tools to deal with Bible issues :).

  59. AIWAC,
    R. Mordechai was the son of Shimshon Breuer, a talmid hakham and mathematician (don’t remember if R., D. or both), who was R. Isaac Breuer’s brother. R. Isaac’s son was the historian Prof. Mordechai Breuer.

  60. aiwac:

    http://www.harkarkom.com/

    I then googled Har Karkom to find the people who don’t agree with the findings of that website.

  61. “aiwac on October 11, 2010 at 3:46 pm
    Thanks. It seems fitting that a school named after the author of the “New Cuzari” and the father of Rabbi Mordechai would be able to give its students the tools to deal with Bible issues :).”

    Probably, the following from the YU catalogue expresses the reason why that department is named what it is.

    “The school was named in 1982 in recognition of a major gift by the late Hermann Merkin and his wife, Ursula, in memory of her father, Isaac Breuer. The College is the successor of Teachers Institute for Men, 1917–66, and Erna Michael College of Hebraic Studies, 1966–82.”

  62. Then, of course, there’s always *this* Mount Sinai which has been found in Saudi Arabia, with 12 pillars surrounding it, water erosion on the rocks on top, and a blackened (burnt?) top part.

    http://www.arkdiscovery.com/mt__sinai_found.htm

    Not sure about the dating of the rocks, etc.

  63. The editors of Tradition have graciously rendered R. Wolowelsky’s original article freely available, just in time for our important halakhic discussion. I tip my hat to the distinguished editors for this nice gesture.
    http://www.traditiononline.org/news/_pdfs/0041-0048.pdf

  64. “More importantly, there is no safek involved. The events of the flood, has they happened as described, would have left ample geological evidence. ”
    Since the flood took place 1656 After Creation-if one accepts that we are now in 5771-that means the “worldwide” flood would have taken place around 4115 years ago-not a very long time to have left record of the flood-geological and more including trees see eg “There are such living things on Earth, the oldest of which is aptly named Methuselah, a 4,800-year-old Great Basin Bristle-cone pine, located in Methuselah alley, Nevada. There was an older tree there named Prometheus but it had to be cut down in 1964, due to severe deterioration. This species of tree is thought to be the longest lived of all, but there are many other ancient varieties.”
    The lack of historical agreement doesn’t necessarily mean anything-it is fundamental that maamad har Sinai happened and God revealed the Torah there-but there is no requirement to make conflicts where there need not be one. God could have made a flood that destroyed the whole world and left no evidence of it-but one could argue similar to what the Rambam and Saadia argue that there was no talking donkey in the Bilaam story it was only a dream. Fundamental, that God revealed the Torah or are the words of Moshe Rabbeinu-most of Devarim–at least 99% of it-debate about last few psukim in Dvarim etc but parshanut that does NOT involve Halacha is permissible for all. Permissible-but frankly it requires skill and knowldege much greater than what I have
    Having said that to take a position against what our earlier mephorshim stated is one that requires at a minimum great knowledge and IMHO education should start with Mikraot Gdolot for example before one starts to give chidushei parshanut

  65. >>AIWAC,
    R. Mordechai was the son of Shimshon Breuer, a talmid hakham and mathematician (don’t remember if R., D. or both), who was R. Isaac Breuer’s brother. R. Isaac’s son was the historian Prof. Mordechai Breuer.<<

    Oops! 🙂

  66. “Not sure about the dating of the rocks, etc.”

    Internet search says that the people claiming it is mount sinai are purposefully distorting the findings of the area and the bible.

    Unless there is boring long text to read with all sorts of seemingly irrelevant information, I tend to distrust the sites trying to sell something 🙂

  67. “Since the flood took place 1656 After Creation-if one accepts that we are now in 5771-that ”

    I find this line of reasoning problematic.
    While the chumash gives us the information to derive the year of the flood, it does not actually tell us as much. It is possible to interpret the information differently to get a different year date. For example, you could add up the generations, instead of just adding up the dates of the births. This would get you the year 7,459 or something close to that, instead of 1656.

    Also, it relies too much on the 5771 date which was calculated using logic and reason at a time where historical dating was not yet important.

  68. I find it ironic that some Orthodox rabbis are now promoting biblical literalism in the face of thousands of years of non-literal interpretations.

    Huh? the only non-literal interpretation for thousands of years I know of was done by greek/Jewish philosophers like Philo and were roundly renounced by the mainstream.

    “In the place where the mabul descended, there the mountains were covered over”. That language conveys the implication of a local or regional flood.

    This is quite an outlandish reading.

    Besides, had the mabul inundated the entire earth with the exception of Israel, then reference should have been made to some mystical shield that barred the entry of the flood waters to that land.

    IIRC The Ramban’s commentary to the Torah indeed makes reference to such a shield to explain this opinion of Chazal. But even if he hadn’t, your deduction from its absence is absurd.

  69. “Huh? the only non-literal interpretation for thousands of years I know of was done by greek/Jewish philosophers like Philo and were roundly renounced by the mainstream.”

    Koreh Banim, lo benim
    Pri etz hadar – zeh Etrog
    shiviim nefashot yored l’mitzrayim – Zeh Yocheved

    please!

  70. FYI, The Rambam in Moreh III chap. 50 takes all the events and chronology of the Torah from Adam to Moshe quite literally. This is not some fundi-Christian method of interpretation.
    Please read and re-read that entire chapter in order to discuss this matter intelligently.
    http://www.sacred-texts.com/jud/gfp/gfp186.htm

  71. Koreh Banim, lo benim
    Pri etz hadar – zeh Etrog
    shiviim nefashot yored l’mitzrayim – Zeh Yocheved

    please!

    I’m sorry, I thought the discussion was surrounding the allegorization or radical re-interpretation of narratives of the Torah to conform with contemporary intellectual fashions. Not what Chazal teach us to interpret via Torah-she-be’al peh.

    And how is “zeh etrog” and “zeh yocheved” a non literal interpretation?

  72. Gil – I am surprised you allow the nauseating character (see: http://fkmaniac.blogspot.com/2009/04/radical-solution-for-orthodox.html) who just posted anywhere near this blog. After recent tragic events widely reported in the media, perhaps we should do some ‘biur chametz’ and stop letting despicable individuals such as Kornreich pollute our discourse.

  73. Mycroft wrote in part:

    “The lack of historical agreement doesn’t necessarily mean anything-it is fundamental that maamad har Sinai happened and God revealed the Torah there-but there is no requirement to make conflicts where there need not be one. God could have made a flood that destroyed the whole world and left no evidence of it-but one could argue similar to what the Rambam and Saadia argue that there was no talking donkey in the Bilaam story it was only a dream. Fundamental, that God revealed the Torah or are the words of Moshe Rabbeinu-most of Devarim–at least 99% of it-debate about last few psukim in Dvarim etc but parshanut that does NOT involve Halacha is permissible for all. Permissible-but frankly it requires skill and knowldege much greater than what I have
    Having said that to take a position against what our earlier mephorshim stated is one that requires at a minimum great knowledge and IMHO education should start with Mikraot Gdolot for example before one starts to give chidushei parshanut”

    I fully concur with the above POV.

  74. Anonymous-which “recent tragic events widely reported in the media are you referring to”? I would oppose any censoring of any opinion on this blog, regardless of the hashkafa of the poster.

  75. Nachum-IIRC, the Tanach professor that you mentioned as providing suppoot for allegorization of many critical portions of the Torah was my Ivrit professor in JSS and a superb karate teacher. However, I do recall this professor telling us that missing Mincha was like not being able to brush one’s teeth three times per day.

  76. The suicide of a teenager who was outed as a homosexual – which is exactly the idea promoted by Kornreich (albeit for different reasons). There’s a difference between someone with a hashkafa and someone who would be perfectly happy to have blood on their hands.

  77. Anonymous- IIRC,a college student committed suicide because his privacy was violated by his roommate. I see no comparison with R Kornreich, whose views I find always interesting but by no means compelling on all issues. If you read R Kornreich’s blog and posts here, he merely rejects allegorization and questions whether one can be Orthodox and subscribe to such a belief. WADr, viewing such a view as beyond the pale strikes me as assuming incorrectly that adherence or the lack of to Ikarei Emunah and Yesodei HaDaas have no relevance in Orthodoxy.

  78. FWIW, the shiur in Thinking Aloud in which RYBS discusses his preference for Ramban as opposed to Rambam in the MN can be accessed at the Bergen County Beis Medrash’s website.

  79. >I see no comparison with R Kornreich, whose views I find always interesting but by no means compelling on all issues.

    You find his advocacy that Jewish homosexuals herocially off themselves interesting? He posted it on his blog at least twice.

  80. Steve – are you being serious? The fact that I find Kornreich’s suggestion that homosexuals kill themselves disgraceful (imagine an innocent teenager with issues in this area stumbling across Kornreich’s post, especially after he sees that Kornreich is considered a man de’amar on issues of Jewish import on the premier frum blog) is supposed to be a p’gam in my approach to Judaism? The scariest thing about all this is that I don’t have any reason to believe that Kornreich wouldn’t sleep perfectly well at night if someone did follow his advice.
    I’m sure we can find less odious characters to argue for a literalist reductio ad absurdum.

  81. Y. Aharon said:

    The Tosafot there (T.B. Zev. 113a: Lo Yarad Mabul) state at the end, “In the place where the mabul descended, there the mountains were covered over”. That language conveys the implication of a local or regional flood.

    I don’t think you can justifiably infer from that last line of the Tosafot more than the notion that the mabul didn’t affect EY. Tosafot at that point is only trying to reconcile the posuk about covering the mountains with the notion of EY having been exempt and it is only in that limited context of exempting EY that tosafot uses the words “in the place where the mabul descended”, i.e. all but EY.

  82. I see that I struck a nerve in FKM’s (Kornreich) consciousness since he grants my suggestion such compliments as ‘outlandish’ and ‘absurd’. I wonder if he pays much attention to the precise wording of other Tosafot. Tosafot in Zev. 113a states,” bemakom sheyarad mabul hatam ka’amar shenitkaso heharim”. Note it does not say, “beshar haolam” or even “bemekomot”. That leads me to suggest a very traditional source for a local flood. Nor would this Tosafot be unique in casting doubt on the accuracy of some statements of chazal. Occasionally the Tosafot will dismiss some derashot of chazal as “asmachta be’alma”. In Eruvin 76, Tosafot demonstrates that R’ Yochanan’s halacha concerning a circular opening containing the space of a 4×4 square is based on an incorrect understanding of a geometric theorem of the sages of Caesaria, and that the conclusion of the gemara in Succah 8b is likewise so encumbered.

    The additional argument that I raised about the lack of mention of a mythical floodgate protecting the holy land is also based on my appreciation that the Tosafot strive to tie up any loose ends in an argument. Now, you may or may not agree with my suggested reading (I note that Cohen doesn’t). However, simply calling it outlandish and absurd is hardly consistent with a rational discussion of the subject.

  83. Anonymous-having read R Kornreich’s posts on the subject, it is evident that he realized the reductio ad absurdum of the subject while posing a critique of contemporary sexual mores that echoes the writings of Wendy Shalit on the issue, albeit with far less sophistication than Ms. Shalit.

  84. “having read R Kornreich’s posts on the subject, it is evident that he realized the reductio ad absurdum of the subject while posing a critique of contemporary sexual mores that echoes the writings of Wendy Shalit on the issue, albeit with far less sophistication than Ms. Shalit.”

    Don’t take this personally, Steve, I genuinely think you’re a great guy – but you really need to learn how to write. I have no idea what you’re saying here.

  85. Firstly, we all mourn the loss (-first time I heard of this; may the neshamah have an aliyah and may his bereaved roomate have consolation.) Obviously, in our contemporary era, and until mashi’ach comes, no one may ever commit suicide under any circumstances. That’s my pesak halakhah and you can quote me on that. However, after the fact, let us say that this righteous soul sanctified the Name of Heaven through his tragic decision, similar to the boys described by the gemara in Gittin 57b.
    Secondly (and as a corollary of the first point), I cannot agree with anyone who advocates suicide for gays. My teacher at Azrieli School of Jewish Eduction, Dr. Scott Goldberg, told me that given the psychological finding that both gender qualities are distibuted among both genders (i.e. many gentlemen have lady-like qualities and many ladies have gentlemen-like qualitied; cf. gemara in Yoma 71a for a hint to this), gay people can find appropriate spouses according to Halakhah. Suicide is out of the question as a means of escaping this issue.
    Thirdly, I agree with R. Kornreich regarding the historicity of the Flood, because we have a Chatam Sofer who seems to rule that to deny the historicity of any event detailed in the Torah (including the conversations between Bil’am and Balak) constitutes heresy. I note that R. Moshe Feinstein seems to follow the Chatam Sofer (albeit without quoting him) in Iggerot Mosheh, Yoreh De’ah III, no. 114. There, R. Feinstein writes that denial of the miracle of well of Miriam constitutes heresy (-this is one of the several reasons R. Feinstein challenges the authenticity of the commentary attributed to R. Yehudah Hachassid).
    Rabbi Y. Aharon, you are a tzaddik gammur and a far greater Torah scholar than myself (as the bein hashemashot conversation aptly demonstrates); I communicate with you kitalmid ha’yoshev bakarka vidan lifnei rabbo. At the same time, I think you will agree with me that one cannot necessarily extrapolate from the mathematics of Chazal to the historicity of the Torah. Chatam Sofer was surely aware that Tosafot prove that the square root of 2 is not exactly 1.4 and that pi does not equal exactly 3. Still, he gave the opinion that he gave regarding ikkarei emunah requiring belief in the historicity of the Torah. The key question appears to be where to draw the line between Chatam Sofer on the one hand and the gemara in Chullin 90b regarding the Torah employing figurative expression on the other hand.

  86. [Incidentally, for an insight regarding why Chazal employed imprecise mathematics for the square root of 2 and the value of pi, see the introduction to R. J. David Bleich’s Bircas Hachammah.]

  87. I’m not sure the roommate is so “bereaved,” considering he caused his death.

  88. Okay, my apologies to Rabbi Y. Aharon; I didn’t fully address the important mathematical issue he presents. Specifically, I discussed sqaure root of two and pi, but not the theorem of the Sages of Caesaria (-a theorem which seems totally wrong and which cannot be explained by the approach of the Artscroll Bircas Hachammah). Regarding this latter topic, see the sources referenced by R. Zevin in Hamo’adim Bahalakhah, in the chapter on “sukkah”.

  89. Rabbi Spira, please don’t call me rabbi. I don’t have semicha, and currently would likely not pass a proper semicha farher. I have some knowledge of topics that have been of interest to me, and that is where I tend to focus my comments.

    I only mentioned the mathematical excursions and demonstrations in the Tosafot to illustrate my point that those illuminaries were not fearful of pointing out flaws in some talmudic arguments and assumptions. The rule of the sages of Caesaria was that a circle containing a square was 1.5 x the square, whereas the circle contained in that square was 1/4 smaller. The gemara in Succah and, ostensibly, R’ Yochanan in Eruvin believed that the rule referred to perimeters, whereas Tosafot demonstrates that it refers to areas (with the approximations of 1.4 for sq.rt.2 and 3 for pi) and is correct. During the course of their demonstrations in Eruvin and Succah they prove that the diagonal of a square is somewhat greater than 1.4 x the side, and that filling a circle with a thin string and cutting through to the center yields a triangle whose area is known (i.e. pi x r^2). Those demonstrations are impressive examples of imaginative and accurate reasoning. Anyone with a high-school knowledge of mathematics should be able to verify that the correct area ratios are pi/2: 1: pi/4.

  90. Jon-I thought that my last post on R D Kornreich was eminently clear. R Kornreich clearly realized that his suggestion was a reductio ad absurdum. I found that this writings on contemporary sexual mores reminded me of Wendy Shalit’s superb writings on this issue.

  91. I didn’t get that from your last post, thanks for the clarification.

    Also, I don’t think that he realized anything of the sort. Unless you can point to evidence to the contrary…

  92. I personally was never intimidated by the Gilgamesh story. I always chalked it up to vivid memories and a return to paganism shortly after the flood. The Mesopotamians may have inadvertently changed the narrative of what happened to them over time. Nimrod might of had something to do with it.

    That does not mean that we copied the Noach account from their story.

  93. Secondly (and as a corollary of the first point), I cannot agree with anyone who advocates suicide for gays. My teacher at Azrieli School of Jewish Eduction, Dr. Scott Goldberg, told me that given the psychological finding that both gender qualities are distibuted among both genders (i.e. many gentlemen have lady-like qualities and many ladies have gentlemen-like qualitied; cf. gemara in Yoma 71a for a hint to this), gay people can find appropriate spouses according to Halakhah. Suicide is out of the question as a means of escaping this issue.

    The post never suggested suicide as a solution to the reality of same-sex attraction. It merely explored–on a purely theoretical plane– the halachic permissibility of suicide to prevent one from succumbing to irresistible temptation to commit a cardinal sin. A Homosexual act happens to be one of those sins.

    But since I’m being so badly misunderstood, I will IY”H delete the post and leave in its place a link to an updated post which will hopefully be more clear about my conclusion.
    http://fkmaniac.blogspot.com/2010/09/modest-proposal-for-orthodox-homosexual.html

  94. R. Aharon and R. Kornreich, thank you for the pointers, which are appreciated.
    R’ Bartley Kulp, nice idea there regarding Nimrod; it goes well with Rashi regarding the historical revisionism that the architects of the Tower of Bavel were preaching. They were saying the Flood occurred because every 1656 years the firmament shakes, and so the tower will solve that. With your insight, we appreciate how studying the epic of gilgamesh can enhance the mitzvah of Talmud Torah, by showing how Rashi is reflected in Mesopotamian writings. [Of course, study of the epic of gilgamesh – like all idolatrous mythology – can only be countenanced following the directives outlined by R. Moshe Feinstein in Iggerot Mosheh, Yoreh De’ah II nos. 53 and 111.]

  95. David Mescheloff

    Without taking a public position on the hot issues under debate here, I would like to bring to your attention that the Netziv in Haamek Davar does have some surprising things to say about the flood, at least surprising for absolute literalists. He notes that Noah and his sons and their wives were not the only people on the ark. There were also servants who helped with the tremendous work load! They, too, disembarked from the ark, and took part in repopulating the world. It is worth noting that, apparently, often when the Torah says “kol” it does not mean 100%, but only “rov”, or perhaps even “a very large number”.

  96. R’ David Mescheloff,
    Thank you for the illuminating reference. I will look into it.

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