R Eli Clark / Is it possible that science and Torah do not conflict, for the simple reason that they do not discuss the same issues? Can we say that science addresses only the physical world, while Torah deals with the metaphysical?Regarding the age of the universe, two recent Hirhurim posts addressed the apparent conflict between Torah sources and modern science. One poster (link) assumed that the conflict is real and cannot be resolved; therefore, he concludes that scientific cosmology must be rejected in favor of his reading of Torah sources. The other poster (link) asserted that there is authoritative precedent for interpreting Torah sources in accordance with the conclusions of modern science, thus eliminating any apparent conflict.

Bereishit and Allegory

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Bereishit and Allegory – A Third Way Out of the Torah-Science Conflict?

Guest post by R. Eli D. Clark

Rabbi Eli D. Clark lives in Bet Shemesh, Israel. He served as Halakha editor of the Koren Sacks Siddur and also practices international tax law.

Is it possible that science and Torah do not conflict, for the simple reason that they do not discuss the same issues? Can we say that science addresses only the physical world, while Torah deals with the metaphysical?

Regarding the age of the universe, two recent Hirhurim posts addressed the apparent conflict between Torah sources and modern science. One poster (link) assumed that the conflict is real and cannot be resolved; therefore, he concludes that scientific cosmology must be rejected in favor of his reading of Torah sources. The other poster (link) asserted that there is authoritative precedent for interpreting Torah sources in accordance with the conclusions of modern science, thus eliminating any apparent conflict.

These posters hold radically different positions regarding the age of the universe and the compatibility of Torah and science, but they both agree that the Torah –in both the narrow and wide sense of the term – teaches us about the age of the universe. In other words, they both presume that the Torah establishes not just Who created the universe, but how and when.

I too share this assumption, but not everyone does. Some contend that science and religion do not conflict, indeed, cannot conflict, for the simple reason that they represent different fields of inquiry that do not overlap. Perhaps the best known advocate of this position was the late great paleontologist, Stephen Jay Gould (see his exposition here). His memorable phrasing: “We get the age of rocks, and religion retains the rock of ages; we study how the heavens go, and they determine how to go to heaven.”

Gould, a brilliant scientist and gifted writer, was also Jewish. But he was a self-described agnostic with very little Jewish knowledge. So it is easy to dismiss Gould’s position regarding the lack of overlap of science and religion as one that is contrary to Torah sources.

But it turns out that at least two leading Israeli scientists, both of whom are religiously observant, agrees with Gould. The following excerpts come from an interview in HaAretz published about a year and a half ago (the translations are mine).

Prof. Zvi Mazeh, an astronomer at Tel Aviv University: “What the Torah did in the first chapter of Bereishit is take the cosmogony that was known to people at that time and, by adding its own elements, convey the message that God is one, responsible for the oppositions one finds in nature, and that all men were created equal. According to chapter one in Bereishit, humanity developed from one man, which means that everyone – from the king to the lowliest slave – is substantially the same. These two revolutions, the theological revolution and the social revolution, the Torah could not have written using Einstein’s equations, quantum theory or Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle. Instead, it wrote it using concepts that were known to every intelligent listener at that time. As a result the messages were absorbed.

“The scientific picture of the world that we have today and the Big Bang Theory are consistent with the idea of creation. That does not prove the existence of God or the Creation. In that sense, my life is easier than that of the Rambam in twelfth century. In those days they thought that the cycles of nature are eternal and that the world always existed. This directly contradicts the picture of Creation, and the Rambam struggled with it a lot. Today they details do not match, but the principle is consistent. The rabbis should have celebrated the modern findings like the discovery of a great treasure.”

In a similar vein, HaAretz quoted Prof. Carl Skoretzki, a professor of medicine at the Technion: “Science does not offer solutions to matters of emotional intelligence. Social matters are the province of Halakha. Torah she-bi-Khtav and Torah she-be-al Peh – the entire complex – are not a science book. They help us know what out direction should be, but not how to study dinosaurs, DNA and astrophysics. Perhaps there are unique individuals who can derive from the Torah a few of the secrets of the world.”

In his treatment of the Creation story, Mazeh goes further than reinterpreting “day” to mean “era”. He is adopting a purely allegorical reading of the Torah’s account of Creation. Is this acceptable?

The answer may depend on how we interpret a difficult chapter in Moreh Nevukhim (2:30), where the Rambam writes (S. Pines translation, p. 350):

The Sages have explicitly stated in a number of passages that the word “et” figuring in his words “et ha-shamayim ve-et ha-aretz” has in that verse the meaning: with. They mean by this that He created together with the heavens all that is in heaven and together with the earth all that is in the earth… Accordingly, everything was created simultaneously; then gradually all things became differentiated. They have compared this to what happens when an agricultural laborer sows various kinds of grain in the soil at the same moment. Some of them sprout within a day, others within two days, other again within three days, though everything was sowed at the same hour…. There is an explicit statement on this point made by the Sages in Bereishit Rabbah. With reference to the light said in the Torah to have been created on the first day, they make literally the following statement: “Those are the luminaries that have been created on the first day, but that He did not suspend until the fourth day.”

What does this mean? According to Abravanel (Commentary to Bereishit, p. 10):

The Rav thought that the various labors were not performed during the six days; rather, according to him everything was created in one day and at one time. But the days of creation were mentioned to hint at the gradations of existing things, which were made according to the natural order. Not that there were actual days or that one thing was created before another in the act of Creation. Rather, after everything was created at once, there were things which only began to operate afterward…. This is the view of the Rav and this was for him a great secret of the secrets of Creation. And he was very clever in how he obscured his intent, as one can see from his words there.

Abravanel explains that, according to the Rambam, the six days are a metaphor for six levels in the hierarchy of natural objects: light/darkness, water, minerals, flora, fauna, man. Abravanel brands this view “an elaborate falsehood (sheker mevu’ar),” but not heresy. R. Yitzhak Arama (Akedat Yitzhak, Bereishit, Sha`ar Shelishi, Ma’amar Rishon, p. 40b) also interprets the Rambam this way: “That the existing things were mentioned according the order of the days only to divide them into their different levels and to present their natural order.” In his commentary to the Moreh, Shem Tov presents the same interpretation:
That which it says, “one day,” “second day,” does not mean that the things were created one after the other, as it would appear from the peshat of the verse. Rather, everything was created at once. And in relation to the superiority and inferiority that some bear toward others, it is said one [day], second [day], third [day] and the other days.

Cf. Ralbag, Milhamot HaShem 6:8. (All of these sources were cited in R. Slifkin’s footnotes and are discussed in his The Challenge of Creation.)

Does the Rambam represent a precedent for allegorical interpretation of the first chapter of Bereishit? Yes and no. Yes, in the be-di`eved sense that a person who takes an allegorical approach cannot be read out of the community for such a view. On the other hand, the Rambam’s view was criticized by many and is, I think, outside the mainstream of traditional Jewish thought. As such, I would say, le-khathilah, allegorical interpretation of Bereishit should not be championed or trumpeted as an option for Orthodox Jews. To the extent it is taught at all, it should be presented in the context of the criticism it received from generations of Jewish thinkers.

Where does this leave the argument that Torah and science do not overlap? Not kefirah, certainly. But very much on the margins of traditional Jewish thought.

About Eli Clark

154 comments

  1. A Little Sanity

    “very much on the margins of traditional Jewish thought.”

    Actually, essential to proper Jewish thought:

    “Rabbi Shimon says:If a man looks upon the Torah as merely a book presenting narratives and everyday matters , alas for him! Such a Torah, one treating with everyday concerns, and indeed a more excellent one, we too, even we, could compile. More than that, in the possession of the rulers [and scientists, ALS] of the world there are books of even greater merit, and these we could emulate if we wished to compile some such torah. But the Torah in all of its words, holds supernal truths and sublime secrets.

    Thus the tales related in the Torah are simply her outer garments, and woe to the man who regards that outer garb as the Torah itself, for such a man will be deprived of portion in the next world. Thus David said:” Open Thou mine eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of Thy law” (Psalms 119:18), that is to say, the things that are underneath. See now. The most visible part of a man are the clothes that he has on, and they who lack understanding, when they look at the man, are apt not to see more in him than these clothes. In reality, however, it is the body of the man that constitutes the pride of his clothes, and his soul constitutes the pride of his body. Woe to the sinners who look upon the Torah as simply tales pertaining to things of the world, seeing thus only the outer garment. But the righteous whose gaze penetrates to the very Torah, happy are they. Just as wine must be in a jar to keep, so the Torah must also be contained in an outer garment. That garment is made up of the tales and stories; but we, we are bound to penetrate beyond.”

    Zohar Bamidbar 152a

    Put differently, Hashem did not need to give us a Torah to teach us science. Nor is Judaism synonymous with obscurantism. The Torah was given to purify man (Bereshit Rabba 44:1]. The essential thing about the beginning of the Torah is the moral message, not any purported cosmological “facts”, which are merely an instance of “dibrah hatorah b’lshon bnei adom”.

  2. See CR Lord Sacks The Great Partnership, God Science and the Search for Meaning

  3. As such, I would say, le-khathilah, allegorical interpretation of Bereishit should not be championed or trumpeted as an option for Orthodox Jews

    This is the typical problem one sees when people (read rabbis – who today are not the polymaths Like Rasag and Rambam once were) apply their methodology, the methods of psak,(majority, minority, broad acceptance, be-di`eved, le-khathilah) to what is essentially philosophy. What difference does it make if a view was criticized or did not gain wide currency amongst the general population? If it has merit –and a view that remains extremely viable from the middle ages through the scientific revolution and until today surely has a great deal of merit– then what is be-di`eved about it?

    If you think that the better alternatives are to just ignore science, introduce pseudo solutions, or to get really excited every ten years when a newly updated book showing that modern science and Genesis say the exact same thing! (an inherently unstable approach) then you are building a community of exactly what Rambam was trying to avoid — nevuchim. People hopelessly confused about Science, Philosophy, and Torah.

  4. “an elaborate falsehood (sheker mevu’ar)”

    How did you reach that translation? Mevu’ar means explained or clear, as in ba’er hetev, not elaborate.

    I agree with MJ. The purpose of philosophy and science is to discover the truth. Halakha, on the other hand, is a legal system designed to reach legally binding norms, which has nothing to with truth (except to the extent that the norms are based on facts which are untrue). Applying a system of legal decision-making to determine the truth of physical phenomena is logically absurd. A bet din cannot pasken the truth or otherwise of heliocentricity or evolution of species; all it can do determine the permissibility of belief in those concepts. Whether or not the Rambam’s interpretation of creation is halakhically permissible has nothing to do with the its truth. And if we have good grounds (and we do) for accepting the Rambam’s interpretation of creation over those of his detractors, the halakha must yield to that conclusion.

  5. From Shadal’s comment on Gen. 1:1:

    The wise understand that the intent of the Torah is not to teach of the natural sciences, but that the Torah was given only to direct humankind on the path of righteousness and justice, and to establish belief in the Unity and Providence of God in their hearts, for not to the scholars alone was the Torah given, but to the entire people…

    Therefore it is not proper for the Torah scholar to force the Scriptures from their literal meaning to make them conform with the natural sciences, nor is it proper for the critic to deny the Divine origin of the Torah if he finds things in its stories that do not conform with scientific research.

  6. Eli I don’t get your conclusion. If I wish to be “mainstream”, do I have to then believe that the world was created in six days ignoring scientific thinking? Are there huge stores of water beyond outer space (mayim me’al la-rakia’a)? Was there only a single Adam created from dust who was the progenitor of the world, or did man evolve from more primitive life forms? See Rav Kook (Shmoneh Kvatzim 1:594 – thanks Marc Shapiro and sefarim blog)who accepts that there can be a pre-history to Bereshit. I don’t see any way to go other than to interpret Bereshit 1-3 as metaphorical in some manner.

  7. A Little Sanity: You are welcome to your views, but I do not find a quotation from the Zohar to be a compelling proof to what is “essential to proper Jewish thought.” In my view, the Rambam is a much stronger authority than the Zohar. But the stream of Jewish philosophy did not stop with either of them.

    MJ: With respect, I think it is you who are applying rigid halakha-like categories to a philosophical question — as you seem to believe a view can only be categorized as viable or not viable (which is equivalent to muttar or assur). Philosophers recognize that there are many shades of gray, but you seem not to.

    “What difference does it make if a view was criticized or did not gain wide currency amongst the general population?”

    It makes a great difference. Take Ralbag. He denied creatio ex nihilo and Divine knowledge of particulars. To suggest these views of Ralbag are equally as valid as the opposing view is to utterly mischaracterize Jewish thought.

    HaDarda”i: Please do not put words in my mouth. I did not apply a system of legal decision-making to anything. I never spoke of “halakhic permissibility.”

    Perhaps my use of the terms “le-khathillah” and “be-di`avad” was a source of confusion. If so, I apologize. Philosophers recognize the difference between the ideal and the real. The discipline of applied ethics is dedicated to dealing with the “be-de`avad.”

    In any case, the issue is not the “truth” of Rambam’s interpretation of creation. This is unknowable. The question is whether Rambam’s allegorical approach can or should be adopted by moderns. I think it can be, but I don’t think it should be.

    You apparently think otherwise, but you have not explained why.

  8. Contrary to what you write, Slifkin does not hold the position that “the Torah establishes not just Who created the universe, but how and when.” He holds what the scientists you quote hold. Also, how can speak about the Rambam’s view the way you do. It is only his view that allow people with scientific training to still accept Torah. Also, how can you claim that we must be bound by medieval ways of viewing the universe? The medievals knew nothing about science! Talk about being an obscurantist.

    And finally, I think that the MAJORITY interpretation of non-charedi talmide chachamim in the last century has been to take the Bereshis narrative in a non-literal sense.

  9. What’s wrong with the Ralbag’s view? It might not be for everyone, but for some people this will be appropriate to their avodat hashem.

  10. When you wrote what you did, were you aware of what Rav Kook wrote?

  11. Alex and Anonymous:
    There is a world of difference between a non-literal interpretation and an allegorical one (although the latter is a subset of the former). I agree that there are non-literal approaches that are mainstream. For example, that six days can mean 100’s of millions of years. Or that the story of Adam actually represents human development over many generations. But these interpretations still assume that the creation story describes stages in the development of the world.

    Allegorical means that the Creation story is an allegory, a mashal, a myth, a fable, meant to impart some philosophical truth. Like the stories of the Dubno Maggid or Rav Nahman of Breslov. That is the Rambam’s view (six days=six degrees of complexity of nature) and Prof. Mazeh’s view (creation teaches that God is one and huumans are equal). I think applying allegory to the Creation story is outside the mainstream.

    Rav Kook’s approach, if I recall correctly, is not allegorical.

    To the best of my recollection, Rav Kook fits squarely within the non-literal interpretation , but doe snot take an allegorical approach.

  12. MJ: With respect, I think it is you who are applying rigid halakha-like categories to a philosophical question — as you seem to believe a view can only be categorized as viable or not viable (which is equivalent to muttar or assur). Philosophers recognize that there are many shades of gray, but you seem not to.

    What are you talking about? I can’t figure out how you inferred that from what I wrote. Tu Quoque indeed.

    “What difference does it make if a view was criticized or did not gain wide currency amongst the general population?”

    It makes a great difference. Take Ralbag. He denied creatio ex nihilo and Divine knowledge of particulars. To suggest these views of Ralbag are equally as valid as the opposing view is to utterly mischaracterize Jewish thought.

    Did you not see the next words I wrote: “if it has merit” and has stood the test of time. Your citation of Ralbag only reinforces what I wrote.

    Ralbag’s views have not retained a solid hold on significant thinkers over the course of the past centuries, nor do they solve what today could be seen as legitimate philosophical problems. To compare Rambam to Ralbag in this regard is to present a study in contrasts that shows that the common denominator among the two –lack of broad public acceptance– is not the important factor. What is important is (in no particular order):

    1) Is this view coherent? Does it violate a rules of logic, common sense, or empirical knowledge?
    2) Does the view address and solve an important problem/s in Jewish philosophy?
    3) Has it remained an important touchstone for Jewish thinkers who have returned to the same question in the centuries since?
    4) Does it lead to a theologically repugnant conclusion?
    5) Is there a better option satisfying 1-4?

    Now, Rambam’s view definitely satisfies 1-3. Some, perhaps many, think that not taking the Genesis story literally is theologically repugnant, but that is something they need to argue for and I have come across no compelling arguments that are not simply appeals to authority. As to five, if there is abetter option for a community that takes modern science seriously as doing a very good job of converging on empirical truths then please enlighten me.

    [And although I did not point this out before, you are fundamentally confused in your grouping of Rambam and Gould (and Mazeh I suppose), placing them in opposition to Slifkin, and in your conception of allegorical (as apposed to non-literal) readings. But knowing R. Slifkin, he will undoubtedly take up those issues.]

  13. This relates to a previous post of yours, and indirectly to this one as well:

    הרחב דבר דברים לב:ד

    …מנעו בניכם שלא הגיעו עוד ללמוד התלמוד ועומדים בלימוד המקרא, מן ההגיון, שהוא העיון שלא יעיינו עוד בלמודם שהוא מקרא, באשר לא עמדו עוד על עיון התלמוד לכוין אל האמת. ואיתא בשמות רבה פרק מא ככלתו, אמר רבי לוי אמר רשב”ל מה כלה זו מקושטת בכ”ד קשוטין כך תלמיד חכם צריך להיות זריז בכ”ד ספרים, ומזה יש להבין דכמו אשה שאינה כלה , אין לה להתקשט בכ”ד קשוטין, ואם תתקשט תהא חשודה לזונה… כך מי שאינו תלמיד חכם אין לו להיות זריז לפרש כ”ד ספרים, ואם הוא יפרש אזי הוא חשוד שסר מן הדרך, והוא אפיקורס, באשר הטעות מצוי לפרש בדרך לא טוב ונושא דרך אמונה, ואין לו רשות כי אם להיות בקי בכ”ד ספרים, אבל לא לפרש, אם לא שהוא תלמיד חכם בקי בתלמוד ובדברי אגדה.

    And more relevant to this post:

    ומזה יש להבין דמכל שכן אי אפשר לקוות להשיג מעלת התלמוד וחכמת הטבע יחד, אם לא שיקדים עמל התלמוד הרבה, ואחר שכבר עמל ומצא כדי מדתו, אז יכול להפנות גם לשערי חכמות, ויהיו שניהם שמורים ומתקיימים בידו… בעוד לא גדל בלימודו, אין חכמת חיצונית מועיל למעלת כבוד הישראלי כלל, ולא עוד אלא אפילו לימוד המקרא והעיון הבו שנמשל לטל, באים חכמות חיצוניות ומגביהים המוסר היוצא מהם, ומטים המקראות לעקלקלות

  14. Some, perhaps many, think that not taking the Genesis story literally is theologically repugnant, but that is something they need to argue for and I have come across no compelling arguments that are not simply appeals to authority

    Then you haven’t read Abravanel.

  15. Then you haven’t read Abravanel.

    Have so. Now, isn’t this a constructive discourse?

    If you think I may not have properly read him and for that reason do not find his arguments compelling then let me know.

  16. When it comes to seeking the truth of Torah, there is no distinction between “read” and “ideal” or between lekhatechillah and bedi’avad. This entire article is based on a misconception. The terms are being used invalidly.

    Accept the truth from whatever source it comes, whether Rambam, Ralbad, Abravanel, Rav Kook, or Professor Mazeh. There is no “pesak” in parshanut. God and His Torah demand that we seek the truth no matter how many “authorities” have opposed it.

    The one thing I agree with in the article is that, indeed, important but radical positions that were widely criticized should, indeed, be taught along with the criticism. That is simply a matter of being honest, like the Torah demands. But it in no way means that the position being criticized is wrong or “bedi’avad”!

  17. Raphael Kaufman

    Rav Shmuel Yaakov Weinberg ZTL said on many occasions that there could be no conflict between science and Torah and, if there is an apparent conflict, it’s because “We either don’t understand the science well enough, or we don’t understand the Torah well enough, or we don’t understand either of them well enough.”

  18. MJ: The rules you lay down for evaluating a philosophical position are not as useful as you suggest. Ralbag also satisfies 1-3.

    You speak of “lack of popular acceptance,” but Ralbag’s views on creation lacked elitist acceptance, in that they were consistently criticized by leading Jewish philosophers. I assume we agree that constitutes not standing the test of time.

    It is Rambam’s view that the creation story is a metaphor about the order of nature. That specific view too has not stood the test of time.

    But we are not discussing a specific philosophical view, we are discussing the general approach of allegorizing passages in the Bible, which is another reason your rules are not so helpful.

    For one thing, the rules you lay down fail to address the question of the limits of the allegorical approach. Rav Kook, for example, held that Bereishit becomes a historical text at some point. But why? Based on appeals to authority?

    Does the Rambam’s approach allow one to say that Mattan Torah was not a historical event (God forbid)? For me that suggestion is theologically repugnant, but I am not sure if everyone would find my arguments compelling.

    Yochanan: I agree that there is no “pesak in parshanut” but that does not address the fundamental problematic. A particular exegesis or exegetical approach cannot be true or false: however, it can contradict a theological principle. For example, “Na’aseh Adam be-tzalmenu” can be interpreted as contradicting the unity of God. As a literary interpretation it is valid, but it is totally outside the accepted bounds of Jewish thought.

    What does it mean to say that allegorizing Bereishit is true?

  19. I mean that none of his arguments are appeal to authority.

    Unless you think that the only compelling arguments you have found are appeal to authority?

  20. Even assuming Maaseh Bereshis is not literal, it is false to say Torah does not make any assertions about the physical universe. It is wrong, therefore, to say Torah and scientific teachings cannot conflict. As believing Jews we have to say, in a conflict, that Torah is right; either we misunderstand Torah or misunderstand true science.

  21. I always seem to hear people setting up a (unnecessary and false, to me) dichotomy between the first few perakim in breishit being either “literal” or “allegorical.”

    Why not instead take this as a parshanut exercise, learn the beginning of breishit and ask yourself whether you think that the Torah is making empirical claims about the method whereby the Almighty created the physical universe we live in. I’m not prepared to say that the usual categories of literal and allegorical are impossible, but it is clear to me that they are not the only possibilities.

    Once you realize that the Torah isn’t (necessarily, if you prefer) making empirical claims of this sort, then you can not only free yourself from your doubts, but also get out of the problematic business of either (depending on your temperament) (1) trying to shoehorn the latest scientific theory into the pesukim or (2) claiming that the world’s scientists are either stupid or biased or both.

    One is then free to busy oneself with actual avodat hashem, such as prayer, chesed, Torah study, etc.

  22. “It is only his view that allow people with scientific training to still accept Torah.”

    O Rily? What a generalization if I ever saw one. Good thing the RAMBAM actually existed. Otherwise, every scientifically trained Yid would be off the derech!

  23. Boruch,

    Yes, I meant the latter. An appeal to authority is very compelling when it comes to Jewish thought – but it is not determinative of it’s correctness.

    Eli Clark,

    Ralbag, (let us take up his view on divine foreknowledge) in positing imperfect omniscience does not satisfy condition 1 for reasons others have discussed at length. It also does not fulfill 2 because because divine foreknowledge does not present a philosophical problem, again for reasons others have discussed at length. It also is for most theologically repugnant, violating 4. Has it stood the test of time? No – but not solely because it was strongly critiqued, but because no one really took it up after him.

    Contra this Rambam’s view (yes I mean the general approach in the Moreh, which we can apply these very same rules to – I’m not sure why an approach can’t be said to stand the test of time) which was strongly critiqued but always carried a strong base of support by both rationalists, and in a sense mystics as well.

    the rules you lay down fail to address the question of the limits of the allegorical approach. Rav Kook, for example, held that Bereishit becomes a historical text at some point. But why? Based on appeals to authority?

    I don’t see how failing to address its limits undermines its validity. The literalist approach also needs limits or it becomes theologically repugnant. God has a body and rides on storm clouds – or, as you point out, who are the “we” who decide to create man?

    Does the Rambam’s approach allow one to say that Mattan Torah was not a historical event (God forbid)? For me that suggestion is theologically repugnant, but I am not sure if everyone would find my arguments compelling.

    Right, so there are theological limits on how far you can take things. You seem to have answered you earlier question.

  24. MJ: If you don’t mind, I will leave Ralbag aside for another time.

    The question of theological limits is the question my post sought to raise. We agree that non-literal interpretation has merit and has stood the test of time.

    But, if I understand you correctly, you assert that there is no room for making distinctions between different kinds of non-literal interpretation. I find such an approach simplistic from the perspective of literary criticism and, when applied to the Bible, from a theological perspective as well.

    My view is that there is a difference between saying Bil`am had a dream about his donkey and saying the six days of creation are a metaphor for a scientific principle. (If you don’t like my terminology of non-literal vs. allegorical, I am open to suggestions.)

    Though Rambam was the author of both interpretations, they represent different methods of literary exegesis. They were subject to a different reception by later Jewish philosophers. And, I submit, they may be subject to different theological limits.

  25. A Little Sanity

    R. Clark,

    “I do not find a quotation from the Zohar to be a compelling proof to what is “essential to proper Jewish thought.” ”

    But then could you please explain why 1)it was necessary and/or important for Hashem to include in the Torah certain scientific information and 2) why the information so included is manifestly incorrect?

  26. A Little Sanity:

    Not in my view a fruitful direction for inquiry. Do we know why Hashem included the story of Migdal Bavel, and why Hashem included almost no information about Avraham prior to his receipt of the commandment of Lekh Lekha?

  27. A Little Sanity

    R. Clark,

    “Not in my view a fruitful direction for inquiry. Do we know why Hashem included the story of Migdal Bavel, and why Hashem included almost no information about Avraham prior to his receipt of the commandment of Lekh Lekha?”

    I think it is generally agreed that if there is a mayseh related in the Torah, there is a moral lesson to be taught thereby, even if there are different views as to what the lesson is. Similarly, the absence of a mayseh would indicate that a particular historical fact had no lesson to teach us. So I still wonder why the Torah had to teach me astronomy, physics, biology, etc., when my college professors seemed to be able to teach same to me much more directly and correctly.

    And even if an agnostic position on my question is proper, should not at least a similar agnosticism be professed, for the sake of intellectual consistency, respecting the question of whether science and Torah overlap, rather than one confidently branding one side “out of the mainstream” and “b’dieved”?

  28. But, if I understand you correctly, you assert that there is no room for making distinctions between different kinds of non-literal interpretation. I find such an approach simplistic from the perspective of literary criticism and, when applied to the Bible, from a theological perspective as well.

    No, I don’t think I wrote that anywhere. There is plenty of room for making such distinctions. But I don’t think that there is a theological distinction that automatically inheres in the distinction between various kinds of non-literal interpretations. Theological considerations stand on there own, and these in turn determine which interpretation one pursues or deems legitimate. Rambam had a certain view of how revelation works via the written Torah, the authors of the Zohar had different, though in some ways parallel, view.

    Which is why Rambam’s overall approach to reconciling science and Torah is still valid today, even if the specific allegorical interpretation he suggested has no particular appeal. Rambam believes that when Torah appears to contradict science/philosophy the burden is on you to understand the metaphysical truth. (the issue with Balaam’s dream and the like has to do with the incorporeality of angels and the nature of miracles, not so much with a hidden metaphysical truth.)

    Now for many people it looks like Rambam is sacrificing a lot – the Torah doesn’t mean what it says?! but from Rambam’s perspective the text itself in its finitude is already a reflection (in a sense one step removed) from the truth, so it is the “allegory” that is more important, and only once you discover it will you be able to “reject” the literal interpretation. So for Rambam this is a -process- which brings you closer to the truth, and not simply an escape hatch from the inconvenient pshat.

  29. >”Yochanan: I agree that there is no “pesak in parshanut” but that does not address the fundamental problematic. A particular exegesis or exegetical approach cannot be true or false: however, it can contradict a theological principle. For example, “Na’aseh Adam be-tzalmenu” can be interpreted as contradicting the unity of God. As a literary interpretation it is valid, but it is totally outside the accepted bounds of Jewish thought.”

    Rabbi Clark, the Maimonidean interpretation of tzelem elohim according to Aristotelian conceptions of unity (ikkar #2-3) is about at far from peshuto shel mikra as one can possibly go. I doubt most people who (think they) accept Rambam’s ikkarim really believe in it that way either.

    I for one am not convinced that tzelem elohim refers to the body, but I would not entirely dismiss that interpretation either (it is quite possible that Hillel ha-Zaken accepted it). However, I am *entirely* convinced that tzelem elohim means that God has a *personality*. In fact, I think that is the major message of the entire Tanakh, and the very foundation of avodat Hashem. Now, even for this (ascribing a personality to God), according to the Rambam I have just “contradicted the unity of God.” Though I am no big fan of kabbalah in general, on this one I think kabbalah is far closer to the truth of the Torah than the Rambam was.

    So does this mean I am “outside the accepted bounds of Jewish thought”? Does it mean that your children yeshiva shouldn’t let me teach there because I am “bedi’avad”? I am perfectly willing to teach that Rambam’s views on this (God not having a personality) were widely criticized by the rishonim and were not the majority view in Jewish thought. But I am not willing to teach that Rambam’s views on this (though I find them extremely difficult) were “wrong” or bedi’avad. And if there is a student to whom the Rambam’s position rings truest, I won’t tell him that he is bedi’avad either.

    On an entirely different note, I just wanted to say thank you because I have enjoyed your extraordinary Purim Torah for many years. I hope you will continue writing it… 🙂

  30. william gewirtz

    R. Clark, you write: “There is a world of difference between a non-literal interpretation and an allegorical one.” You then state (or at least imply) that allegories are less universally accepted than non-literal interpretation.

    I disagree. if you say that there is a world of difference between a PARTICULAR non-literal interpretation and a PARTICULAR allegorical one, one can check and either agree or disagree.

    Furthermore, non-literal interpretations may be further from the author’s intent than intended allegories.

    IMHO, the literal meaning was more relevant to the generation that originally read/heard the particular text. To us, the message, allegorical or otherwise, is of greater significance.

  31. All I know is that every day we perpetuate the same problem and the same process that we, mostly a collection of adults, seem to have mostly gone through and continue to go through, when we teach 5 year olds and 10 years olds that all this happened the same way that they woke up this morning and brushed their teeth happened. That is, we keep on raising new perplexed and soon-to-be perplexed young Jews. The salient point is that all that can be avoided. You can teach kids anything. Why teach them from the outset something which we will then have to tell them wasn’t true, or they’ll have to conclude that themselves, and also go through mental gymnastics and tortures, with the hope that in the end they have equilibrium?

    Is there a chance that we’ve got the lechatchila and bediavad reversed as it is presented in the post?

  32. S., I agree that they are reversed, but first of all, I’m not sure what you tell a five year old (though you can certainly avoid copious amounts of unnecessary midrash). Second, Isn’t the process of moving from perplexity to enlightenment important? Isn’t that “aha” moment, whether it occurs on ones own, or through reading, or is prompted by a teacher, worth something in fostering intellectual maturity?

  33. Maybe I shouldn’t have mentioned 5, since that’s certainly very young. But certainly the process of opening the eyes should have already begun by 10?

    ” Second, Isn’t the process of moving from perplexity to enlightenment important? ”

    I agree it’s important. So why don’t we start by telling them Christiniaty is true and then waiting for them to realize that it’s Judaism which is true? There are enough ways of fostering enlightenment and maturity without setting them up for a very specific problem which, as we see all over the great internet, keeps spooking Orthodox Jew until well into adulthood.

    Why is this post even necessary? Why are all the articles in Tradition necessary? We just can’t seem to escape the Rebbe telling us “Bereishis . . . ” while we parroted the text back, as sweet and pure as that is.

  34. R Eli-Why was it that when I read this well written article, that it struck me as yet another footnote in the Slifkin affair or worse, as as possibly being susceptible to a legitimate critique, as using Rambam and Abarvanel in yet another well intended exercise in apologetics? Aside from that concern-let me pose the following dichotomy which IMO should be considered as an equally valid approach-to paraphrase RYBS, science and metaphysics/religion cannot ever be reconciled because they are disciplines that operate on totally different tracks and use radically different means of investigation and assumptions. Science explains and examines physical phenomena-the what and how of the natural world and the means by which it operates and how man can improve the same or refrain from damaging it. Metaphysics and religion, and especially Maaseh Breishis,and other events such as the Akedah, Yetzias Mitzrayim and Matan Torah, as well as the processes of Teshuvah and Bchirah Chofshis, explain and investigate the why-a realm which science cannot explain.

  35. The plain reading of the Moreh Nevuchim 2:30 passage is the widely-held concept that G-d created everything in potential form at the first moment of Creation andת step-by-step, over the course of six days, brought all things into actuality, formed, perfected and positioned them.

    Thus the mashal of the farmer planting divergent seeds all on one day, yet each sprouting on different days.

    And thus the Rambam’s explanation that time, determined by the revolving motion of the sphere, existed from the moment of Creation, and that is how there could be days one through three, even assuming the sun was not yet created or functioning. (This is also the Ralbag’s and other rishonim’s answer for how there could be 24-hour days before the functioning of the sun.*

    And thus the Rambam’s question of how all the events from Adam’s creation to his exile from Gan Eden could have occurred in one short day, and his answer that nature as we know it was not stabilized until the first Shabbos—allowing the events of day six to all occur within one day.*

    And thus the consistency with all the Rambam’s other writings, such as his description of the creation process in his commentary on Avos 5:1 and in the Shemoneh Perakim.

    And thus his declaration in the Moreh (2:17) that indicates his understanding of Maaseh Breishis to be the , step-by-step, meta-natural formation process as traditionally understood:

    “For we, the community following in the footsteps of
    Moshe Rabbeynu and Avraham Avinu, aleihem hashalom,
    believe that the world came into being in
    such-and-such a form, and became such-and-such from
    such-and-such (haya kach mi-kach), and such was
    created after such.”

    And thus the Ralbag* presents two ways to understand Maaseh Breishis: The classical way we described, and his way (—based upon Chazal!—of saying that G-d created everything in actuality completely formed, perfected and positioned at the first moment of Creation; and that the “evening“s and “morning”s and “day”s of the pesukim are terms for teaching nature’s hieracrchy). Contrasting the latter interpretation to that of the others, including Rambam’s, the Ralbag declares himself to be the first to offer such an interpretation (Ralbag’s Commentary on Breishis, p. 51, and Ralbag, Sefer Milchemes Hashem, Presentation VI, Part II, Chapter 8, Conclusion). So the Ralbag, unlike the Abarbanel in the passage quoted, understood the Rambam to be interpreting the pesukim the classical six-day way.

    Indeed, the Abarbanel himself, in the eclectic style pervasive throughout his commentary, actually reverses himself over 80 pages later (p. 85 in our editions)*, and says that the Rambam’s real opinion was that: “all which is mentioned [in the Torah]
    *regarding the activity of the six days,* from the creation of the
    heavens and the earth, and all of the phenomena, and the creation of Adam and his wife, up until [the passage of] “va’yichulu”, have no allegory whatsoever for *everything was [understood as] literal to him….*

    (I would also caution against uncritically accepting A’s description of B’s opinion if A goes on to lambast it, as the Abarbanel did with his original reading of the Moreh Nevuchim.)

    (The question presents itself, then, how did the Abarbanel’s contemporary, the Akeidas Yitzcahk, and the commentary of the ShemTov–who is not regarded as a rishon—as opposed to the commentary by Crescas), and the Abarbanel himself in his original take, get from (a) the Rambam’s classical rendition of a six-day meta-natural development of potential created on day one, to (b) seeing the Rambam as promulgating that “the six days are a metaphor for six levels in the hierarchy of natural objects: light/darkness, water, minerals, flora, fauna, man”?

    (My theory is that the earlier commentators of the Moreh, such as Narboni, greatly influenced by the Aristotelian academia of the time, anxiously imposed their radical views on the Rambam. (We see that in the Rambam’s own time, he complained of people radicalizing his views—incuding those who as accused him of (or “complimented” him for) denying techiass ha-meisim). They hijacked the Moreh so effciently that the common people thought the Rambam thought like Narboni. This became the starting point from which later commentaries saw the Moreh (similar to, l’havdil, Rashi’s commentary being one’s first impression of what the Chumash says, and one’s natural thinking that what Rashi says is necessarily what the Chumash undoubtedly means.)

    But the larger point is that when one actually studies the Moreh, one sees that the Rambam, consistent with classic Torah methodology, invariably seeks approval of his positions, nay, arrives at them (although his critics would disagree), by recourse to citing what he sees as the original intent of Chazal. The less supported by Chazal, the weaker the proposal. (With it being understood that the effort to understand the posuk’s correct peshat—versus drash—is part of the methodology endorsed by Chazal.) The Ralbag, no less than any other rishon, does this as well. (That is why the only possibilities entertained are that (a) everything in our world was meta-naturally created in actuality fully-formed and simultaneously, or (b) everything in our world was simultaneously created potentially and then developed, formed, perfected and positioned over a six day period.) This is legitimate Jewish Torah methodology. To say, “Yes, that was how Chazal took the Torah, but I propose that the Torah had a different intention,” is no longer the methodology of legitimate Jewish thought—at least not as understood by the Tannaim, Amoraim, rishonim and acharonim. When presenting an understanding of the Torah, the further one gets from assent by Chazal and their principles, the weaker one’s case and the less acceptable it becomes.

    =================

    *For full quotes see Moreh Nevuchim Part II Chapter 30.
    (It is followed by a critic who claims that my presentation disagrees with the rishonim; but the critic evidently failed to read the quotes I presented that already showed this to be untrue.)

  36. S.,

    Could you perhaps make suggestions regarding concrete issues? It would make this discussion less vague.

  37. This whole notion of “lekhatehila” of thought is ridiculous. You’re going to try to apply the standard approach to minhagim – not even Halakha itself, just the way we deal with mihagim! – to propositions? Moreover, you assume that there’s something wrong with being “on the margins”. There is nothing wrong with being “on the margins”, unless you think that it’s “possibly out of bounds” which means that it IS either out of bounds or not out of bounds, and you’re just not sure. But you’ve made it clear you do not think it was out of bounds!

    In short, this was a very silly post that merely indicates that for certain types of Orthodox people, conformity trumps truth.

  38. I would say that in the Rambam’s case it is not quite ‘allegorical’ as non-literal. The events being discussed are still the origins of the physical universe bit the words mean things that are inexact or slightly metaphorical. So the authors claim that this represents the view that “science addresses only the physical world, while Torah deals with the metaphysical”, seems incorrect. One commenter’s quote from the Zohar, quoting R. Shimon, seems much closer.

    But to me this seems like the same kind of dodge that rereading to Torah bases on scientific evidence. It makes the claim that the Torah is true completely unfalsifiable and thus basically empty. Plus, why should we trust our understanding of the other parts of the Torah if everyone was clearly wrong on these ones? (I also find it silly that I should care what some religious scientists think about this. Their scientific knowledge is completely irrelevant to this question.)

    More generally, I think that the real sticking point is not whether you think you can somehow ‘reconcile’ the Torah with Science. Thus, somebody who has already fully made up their mind that it is divine can always explain how these seeming errors occurred. But it’s not about proving one thing or another definitively. The problem is that when you have to evaluate how LIKELY it is that the Torah is divine vs. written by ancient people these kinds of apparent errors provide evidence (not proof) for the latter.

  39. A Little Sanity: I don’t know by whom “it is generally agreed” that everything in the Torah has a moral lesson and everything that isn’t, doesn’t. But I can think of counter-examples to both propositions and you probably can too.

    I do not understand how this point relates to the question of the overlap of Torah and science, nor why you think there is some level of consistency in taking a skeptical view of both.

    MJ: You say that there is room for making distinctions, but then launch into a paean of Rambam’s “overall” approach. So much for distinctions. I like Rambam’s overall approach also, but that does not obscure the problems raised by some of his interpretations. (Regarding Bilam, I think the specific issue is Rambam’s view of prophecy, not miracles.)

    Yochanan: Within certain limits, you are entitled to your own interpretation of “Tzelem Elokim.” Who said otherwise? There are many, many texts in Hazal that reflect a belief that Hashem has a physical likeness. Over time, however, Rambam’s views have become dominant. But not exclusive.

    Dr. Gewirtz: On an abstract level, I agree with everything you wrote. But if we are speaking specifically about the Humash, and more specifically about the narrative sections, and more specifically of the Creation story in the context of Sefer Bereishit, then the allegorical approach raises a host of issues.

    S.: Your question goes to the heart of what the Rambam called “necessary beliefs.” I think the answer is that for children, they are “necessary,” and arguably necessary also for adults who do not mature intellectually.

    Steve: I do not see how your dichotomy solves anything. For example, medicine and religion are also different disciplines, but they make conflicting claims about the definition of death.

    Jon: Every organized religion demands some level of conformity. I do not know why you think theology is like sports — either you’re in bounds or you’re out. Precisely because theology is not established like Halakha (muttar vs. assur), it makes more sense to me to map theological views along a spectrum from that which is broadly accepted across the historical horizon to that which is at the margins or, in extreme cases, completely out of bounds.

  40. R Eli-I agree that my dichotomy doesn’t solve the issue. Yet, I am not afraid of living with the knowledge that I don’t have all of the answers because it is far better to live without a good answer and with appproaches that may work for some, but not all of us, than to accept bad answers. I reject both the aggressive athesists charges against Breishis as contrary to evolution as well as those who denounce science as rooted in scientism. If Rashi and Ramban can write that they don’t have all the answers and so many issues in Shas are left resolved with a “tzorech iyun”, then that intellectually honest approach has to suffice for me as well.

    As far as the definition of death is concerned, I would reiterate that you are correct if you are saying that the Harvard criteria pose a conflict with the Talmudic definition of death that was accepted long before anyone proposed brain stem death as comporting to present a definition of death that would satisfy the proponents of the Harvard criteria.

  41. Eli Clark, I said that there is room for making distinctions, but the underlying important distinctions are theological, not hermeneutical. My “paean” to Rambam’s overall view was therefore an attempt to get to the theology, which your post completely ignored.

    re. Zvi Lampel’s point: note that Rambam points to chazal to show that both cosmogony and metaphysics are esoteric – further reason to read the creation story non-literally.

    Finally, though it’s not relevant, here we go again with brain death: medicine and religion are also different disciplines, but they make conflicting claims about the definition of death.

    No, they don’t -at least not in the sense you intend. It happens to be in the U.S. that law and ethics have tended to follow what many doctors propose to be the biological criteria at which point the metaphysical conditions of personhood no longer maintain, but that is a legal/ethical judgment, not a medical one. Doctors, after all, are entitled to make moral claims as well.

  42. “S.: Your question goes to the heart of what the Rambam called “necessary beliefs.” I think the answer is that for children, they are “necessary,” and arguably necessary also for adults who do not mature intellectually.”

    That’s what I meant that you may it reversed. Arguably the “necessary belief” is that science is correct, and the Torah is not meant to describe physical realities, but give hora’ah for life.

  43. MJ: I do not wish to turn this into a thread about brain death. But I disagree with your formulation. US law does not concern itself with “metaphysical conditions of personhood.” And neither does the dominant school of thought in medical ethics in the United States. (Read the Hastings Center Report lately?)

    S: Your suggestion turns a major chapter of Medieval philosophy on its head. It is interesting, but I am not sure what it achieves.

  44. S.,

    How far would you go with this? Would you allegorize the whole Chumash?

  45. I think the biggest problem with “choosing your own path to Bereshis” and finding one that suits your secular education or theological sensibilities is that things become a free-for-all.

    Unless people can defend their chosen interpretation by coming up with a consistent methodology to determine the bounds of acceptable interpretation of Chumash, this topic (and many like them) will go absolutely nowhere.
    Rabbi Slifkin’s approach of just saying “well its not kefirah, so it must be okay to solve people’s emunah issues” is not a sufficient basis upon which to construct a respectable approach to interpretation.

  46. R. Kornreich,

    To quote R. Dr. Jeremy Weider in another context, “one must be able to fit one’s theology to the facts”. The age of the universe and the lack of evidence for a global flood are established scientific facts.

    We can legitimately debate the historicity of, say the Patriarchs, but the (non-)realia of Adam and Noach is settled and done with. Wherever the boundaries may go from Noach onwards, anyone familiar with science must concede this issue.

  47. David Kornreich wrote:

    “Rabbi Slifkin’s approach of just saying “well its not kefirah, so it must be okay to solve people’s emunah issues” is not a sufficient basis upon which to construct a respectable approach to interpretation”

    The problem IMO with the above approach is that placing aside your often stated objections to R Slifkin’s approach to people’s emunah problems, your approach would place a charedi catechism on the realm of Parshanut, when, in fact, we know that Parshanut by its very nature, allows for multiple legitimate means of understanding the text within the Mesorah. There is plenty of room for conflicting Pshatim among the Rishonim, and , as R C Eisen pointed out in his article in Chakirah, long before the Maharal, whose writings revolutionized how Aggadah and Midrash were viewed, there was simply no litmus test based upon a “a consistent methodology to determine the bounds of acceptable interpretation of Chumash.”

  48. “S: Your suggestion turns a major chapter of Medieval philosophy on its head. It is interesting, but I am not sure what it achieves.”

    We are not medieval philosophers. Most of us – I am generalizing, other communities are different – accept that science works and is basically on the right track to the point that, let’s say, it’s not going to turn out that there were actually a pair of humans living less than 6000 years ago – the only ones, at that – from whom all people are descended. So why not cut to the chase and quit messing with kids and adult’s minds? What need it there to create the impression in the first place that the world is 5771 years old, that there really was an Adam and a talking snake, etc.? Again, I am talking about communities where this is not what the average adult is going to grow up to believe. (And for those communities that will, I question why they should, but that’s another story.)

  49. “How far would you go with this? Would you allegorize the whole Chumash?”

    That’s not necessary, but even without a good answer to this question, that doesn’t make the first two chapters some kind of factual, historical, scientific account of how the universe came about. Most of us don’t believe that and never will.

  50. S: Permit me to answer you by telling you a story. A few weeks ago my wife asked my five-year old daughter what she wants to be when she grows up. The little girl turned to her mother and said, “A butterfly.”

  51. “S: Permit me to answer you by telling you a story. A few weeks ago my wife asked my five-year old daughter what she wants to be when she grows up. The little girl turned to her mother and said, “A butterfly.””

    And when she’s 10?

    Actually, you’re fantasizing 5 year old is even more pliable than a 10 year old. You can teach her anything. If it was dogma that Bereshis was sacred myth, you could teach that quite easily. On a 5 year old’s level, of course.

  52. “Actually, you’re fantasizing 5 year old”

    =your

    All I’m saying is that we are possibly creating our own problem – unless you firmly believe it’s all historically true and accurate, in which case you’re just doing the right thing by raising up generations of children with those beliefs. You are teaching them the truth as you know it. If they become perplexed later, that just shows the koach of the yetzer hara or something like that.

    But if this isn’t us, then I’m afraid we are only setting our kids up for this problem.

  53. David Kornreich-The real issue that I have your with proposed litmus test is that it IMO improperly compares Parshanut, where there is a wide range of Mfarshim among the Rishonim and Acharonim who have very different perspectives, and which presents a wide variety of options within the Mesorah on any issue, many of which have no implications either on Halacha or what I characterize as Yesodei Emunah.That IMO presents Parshanut as a horizontal enterprise because of the wide range of acceptable choices. Again,it was only after the era of the Maharal that we see the POV that we are supposed to take Aggados and Midrashim with the same seriousness as Halachic statements and Yesodei Emunah, even though there is much evidence that no such standard existed prior to the era of the Maharal. In contrast, IMO, Halacha is far more vertical-one either complies with how one’s rav understands SA or one does not.

  54. S: If she’s like most kids, when she’s 10, she will be interested in dolls or computer games, not the age of the earth. Sacred myth is not a simple concept.

  55. First of all, I congratulate R’ Eli and the commentors on a highly intelligent discussion of the various points of view on the torah v. science issue. This post harks back to the early days of the JBlog world when issues were fresh and some blogs featured interesting and informative debates.

    My own view on this matter generally supports R’ Eli’s position that a literal interpretation of the creation narrative is problematic but that an allegorical one may be even more so. This issue is how does one logically draw the line between what parts of the torah can be allegorized and be consistent with traditional Judaism, and what parts can not. If Gen. 1-11 is treated allegorically what about the narratives involving the patriarchs? Many have a problem with the numbers of Israelite men given in Ex. and Num. Can that be treated allegorically? What about the stories involving angels and talking snakes and donkeys? Should we agree with the Rambam that it is impossible to accept that angels literally appeared to Hagar and Lot? On the other hand, teaching a literal interpretation of the creation story may be appropriate for children, but will likely be unacceptable to those adults who have a proper secular education. My own path is to find a non-literal interpretation of the verses that is consistent with the scientific evidence for both the age of the earth and universe, and the timing and sequence of events in the evolution of the earth as we know it. It is important that any such attempt be both scientifically valid yet consistent with a reading of the text – even if not the evident one.

    I also agree with R’ Lampel that the interpretation of the Moreh advanced by the Abravanel and others that would have the Rambam agree to an allegorization of the creation story need not be accepted. I am no Rambam scholar, nor can I read the Moreh in the original Arabic (I assume that the Abravanel couldn’t either). However, the translation cited doesn’t naturally lead to Abravanel’s interpretation. I disagree, however, with his contention that anything not based on the viewpoint of the sages and later traditional commentators is suspect. While one may question a view that is totally novel, anything consistent with the view of R’ Avahu in Bereishit Rabba, as read by the Tiferes Yisroel, should not be so categorized.

  56. Y. Aharon,

    I think that Prof. Uriel Simon had the most constructive approach:

    Consider matters to be literal unless absolutely compelled to do so by hard, incontrovertible evidence. Thus we can allegorize what we must (such as far too large numbers or creation), but remain within a comfortable margin of factual assertion, based on plausibility and tradition. Issues such as angels and donkeys talking, being unfalsifiable, are not a matter for proof or disproof, and cannot be proven or disproven by science.

    Granted, this means that there are no “hard and fast” boundaries, and it means that we bear the responsibility to constantly stand guard and evaluate. But as Levinas said in another context, Judaism is a “religion for grown ups”, not for children.

  57. Y. Aharon: Thank you for the compliment. Abravanel grew up in Christian Spain. According to Netanyahu, he writes in a letter that he does not understand Arabic. But he was fluent in Latin, Castilian and Portuguese.

  58. Aiwac, there is no need to insist that Adam and Noah were not real people – if that is your contention. It should be sufficient to accept that their families were not the only humans before or after the flood in order to avoid conflict with scientific evidence. Nor need the flood narrative be treated as some allegory or rewriting of an ancient pagan myth. It should be sufficient to treat it as a regional rather than global event to, again, avoid conflict with the scientific evidence.

  59. Y. Aharon,

    Fair enough. But this still requires fitting the Torah to accommodate the evidence, as you yourself concede.

  60. “S: If she’s like most kids, when she’s 10, she will be interested in dolls or computer games, not the age of the earth. Sacred myth is not a simple concept.”

    Let me try again. My point is, we can make it a non-issue. Or much less of an issue. The same way she nonchalantly accepted the talking snake (did she?) she can nonchalantly accept a child’s version of sacred myth, or whatever you call it.

    Instead, maybe we create the issue in the first place.

  61. S: Your proposal solves one problem, but creates another: once a child is accustomed to viewing biblical tales as non-historical, why should such child believe in the historicity of the Exodus or King David?

  62. R. Clark,

    You’re comparing apples and oranges. The exodus and King David are at the very least plausible, if not more so, even according to the nihilists. A literal six-day creation is not.

  63. “S: Your proposal solves one problem, but creates another: once a child is accustomed to viewing biblical tales as non-historical, why should such child believe in the historicity of the Exodus or King David?”

    Great question. But concluding later in life that the first 11 chapters (let’s say) didn’t happen in any real sense also undermines belief in the Exodus and King David, maybe in a worse way. This gets into the whole “Why did my parents/ rebbe/ teacher lie to me?” thing.

    As an aside, it’s not certain that Abarbanel didn’t know Arabic. That letter, which you can read here (pg. 68) may also be read as saying that his Italian correspondent doesn’t understand Arabic. It also may be talking about Berber for all we know. The language is unspecified.

  64. aiwac: I agree, but my point is that your distinction may be less obvious to a ten year old, which is why S’s suggestion leaves a lot to be desired in my view.

  65. S.,

    If I understand you correctly, this method heads off more complex issues by eliminating the ‘easy targets’. Perhaps the ‘TSBP is all directly from Sinai’ idea is another such ‘easy target’ (since it’s so easily falsified)?

  66. R. Clark,

    OK, but when the 10-year-old becomes 15 (or earlier), they’re going to understand the problems. The nice stories won’t cut it anymore.

  67. BTW,

    A new book came out that discusses the issue of the historicity of the Torah, which is a very pressing emunah shaylah for many over here in the Middle East:

    https://sites.google.com/site/mishlabim/

    I’d be interested to hear from people who know the author and/or read the book, whether it’s worth looking at.

  68. aiwac: “OK, but when the 10-year-old becomes 15 (or earlier), they’re going to understand the problems. The nice stories won’t cut it anymore.”

    That is not self-evident. I do not remember being troubled by these questions at age 15. And none of my 20-year old, 17-year old or 15-year old has raised the question with me.

  69. R. Clark,

    Your immediate family is not proof of a wider phenomenon. I have read many stories (and studies) of Jews, past and present, who arrived at questions at teenager-hood and at the very most early adulthood, and who abandoned practice and/or belief because of the easily destroyed version of Yahadut taught to them at childhood.

  70. aiwac: I wasn’t claiming my offspring are representative. Only that the problem is not universal and therefore a universal change in curriculum may not be the correct solution.

    Also — I would not draw support from the past for a proposal to deal with a contemporary phenomenon. Regarding the present, I don’t know what studies you have read, but it is my sense that the majority of youth raised in observant homes who abandon shemirat ha-mitzvot do so for non-philosophical reasons.

  71. R. Clark,

    True, but the intellectual issue is an important secondary factor, and in many cases it is a primary one. See Margolese’s book.

  72. And that is sufficient reason to start teaching a non-literal approach to creation in junior high school?

  73. Not necessarily, but someone who asks a teacher or parent on the issue should be given such an explanation.

  74. “That is not self-evident. I do not remember being troubled by these questions at age 15. And none of my 20-year old, 17-year old or 15-year old has raised the question with me.”

    Does your 20 year old believe planet earth came into existence 5771 years ago? If so, that’s fine. But isn’t there a good chance that sometime in the next 10 years this will become less certain? All I know is that too many adults wasted too much time trying to wrap their mind around things which could have been a matter of course for them. We can teach kids that Iyov never lived, can’t we?

    All I’m suggesting is the beginning of an approach, not necessarily the entire deal. Questions can be raised, and they’ll need to be addressed, but I’m just trying to understand why mature adults have to fret about whether or not there was actually a snake, for example, and that the process of fretting itself should threaten to undermine the prior 20, 30 or 40 years of their education/ indoctrination/ cherished beliefs.

  75. S.,

    I’m curious. How do you handle this issue w/your own family?

  76. I’m going to email you.

  77. aiwac said to me:

    R. Kornreich,

    To quote R. Dr. Jeremy Weider in another context, “one must be able to fit one’s theology to the facts”. The age of the universe and the lack of evidence for a global flood are established scientific facts.

    We can legitimately debate the historicity of, say the Patriarchs, but the (non-)realia of Adam and Noach is settled and done with. Wherever the boundaries may go from Noach onwards, anyone familiar with science must concede this issue.

    My response:

    So you’ve given up on the challenge of being consistent just like that? For chapters A thru G anything goes, because has convinced you that it’s a fact. But for chapters H-Z we can go with consistent boundaries because science hasn’t convinced you of those parts yet?

    Are you truly happy with this “approach”? Don’t you see where it will lead in 20 years (and in some Orthodox academic circles, has already led)?

  78. This approach satisfied the Malbim, in my opinion. On Gen. 4:22 he comes awfully close to saying that the Torah included mythology.

    וצלה גם היא. הגם ששתתה כוס עקרים ילדה את תובל קין. והוא לקח לחלקו את הנהר השלישי ההולך קדמת אשור ללחום מלחמות, ולתכלית זה היה לוטש כל חורש של נחשת וברזל שהיה חורש ומוציא הברזל, וכן היה לוטש החרבות, והנהר הרביעי לא שמו לב עליו, רק אם נאמר כדעת חז”ל שנעמה היתה צדקת והיתה אשת נח היתה היא אשר נמשכה אחר הנהר הרביעי, וכמ”ש אשת חן תתמוך כבוד ועריצים יתמכו עושר ועל פי מה שפרשתי בפי’ שם. אולם לא אכחד כי לדעתי בא הספור הזה כהרבה ספורי התורה אשר באו לעקר דעות כוזבות וספורי הבל אשר התפשטו בימי קדם בין העמים ואשר המציאו כהני האלילים בימי החשך, ויש עוד היום שארית מן המיטהאלאגיא שלהם, שהיו מיחסים לכל איש שהמציא איזה מלאכה כח אלהית, והיו אומרים שאליל פלוני המציא ישיבת אהל ומקנה ואליל פלוני המציא חכמת הנגון ואליל פלוני המציא תכסיסי מלחמה ואומנות הברזל וכלי מלחמה, ואליל פלוני המציא בנין הערים והנמוסים המדיניים, וספרו על כל אחד מבני אלים אלה נפלאות מתולדתו ואלהותו, והיו קוראים לבני אדם לעבודתו במועדים ובחגים שיחדו להם, ולזה הודיעה התורה לאמר אל תאמינו בשוא נתעה, דעו כי הממציא בנין הערים והנמוסים וקבוץ המדיני היה קין הרוצח הראשון, והממציאים מלאכת הרעיה והמסחר והנגון ומלאכת הברזל והמתכיות היו בני למך מבני בניו של קין, והאשה אשר דברו עליה גדולות בהמיטהאלאגיא שלהם ושמו במרום קנה, היא היתה נעמה אחות תובל קין, כולם היו בני אדם להבל דמה לא בני אלהים, והודעות אלה נצרכו מאד בימים ההמה שהתפשטו הספורים האלה בין כל העמים והתקיימו בידם עד אחר חורבן בית השני כנודע

    See, it’s not always about being “happy.” I’m not “happy” that Adam isn’t a real person, but it is what it is.

  79. R. Kornreich,

    ‘Consistency’ does not necessarily mean a dogmatic either-or approach that either insists on full-scale literal interpretation or allegorizes everything. There are middle grounds. The fact that some have taken these matters to the extreme is not my concern – that’s their problem.

    You need to realize that not everything is a ‘slippery slope’.

  80. S. I am very impressed with what you say. You are a thinker, not just someone who can find the most interesting stuff on the web.

  81. Eli Clark,

    MJ: I do not wish to turn this into a thread about brain death.
    Nor do I, but this is worth clarifying because this is persistently misunderstood.

    But I disagree with your formulation. US law does not concern itself with “metaphysical conditions of personhood.” And neither does the dominant school of thought in medical ethics in the United States. (Read the Hastings Center Report lately?)

    I appreciate that people in other fields are reading the HCR. Yes I have read it (I’ve had a subscription on and off since I was an intern there). In any event, if you can point out the relevant medical facts that are themselves disputed between medicine and religion in the brain death question then you could legitimately say that religion posits one set of medical facts and the medical establishment supported by the UDDA posits another. But that is not the case. The question is how these facts are interpreted. So if it’s not itself a medical question (though crucial for how medicine is practiced) then what is it? a moral/legal question “when is a person dead?”. And this question, because it references a metaphysical concept “person”, when properly analyzed reads as follows: upon which physical conditions does personhood supervene/maintain/inhere? Still, you can have a perfectly coherent discussion of brain death without ever mentioning personhood, metaphysics, or even ethics, (for example, by arguing that brain death is sufficiently similar to already accepted criteria) just as you can have an entire halakhic analysis of the issue without mentioning the soul or ethics, but there is nonetheless a very basic distinction between the bare medical facts and their meaning, and it is their meaning that is at issue.

  82. Rabbi Clark,

    I won’t continue the previous thread even though you didn’t really respond.

    I think that S.’s quotation from Malbim is quite enough to show how utterly ridiculous and dangerous it is to pursue these quests to show what ideas are “marginal” or “bedi’avad” instead of simply allowing people to accept the truth of Torah no matter where it comes from. What you suggest in this article is extremely dangerous, has ruined many people’s lives in very cruel ways (including the lives of tremendous Torah scholars), and all for no reason, because the massive effort that so many religious Jews make to draw these kinds of lines has no absolutely no relevance to Torah or the service of God.

    Let’s declare something marginal based on a discussion of the Moreh Nevukhim and Abravanel. Then suddenly the Malbim, the great defender of traditional Orthodoxy in the 19th century, is bedi’avad. Whoops! The whole approach is simply insane in terms of loyalty to God and Torah. Nonetheless, it has become the pastime of Orthodoxy.

    I know that you personally don’t want to be cruel to anyone, but it a fact that this approach leads to the very worst kinds of delegitimisation that exist in the Orthodox world (which are also the very worst sins of the Orthodox world) and contribute *absolutely nothing* to keeping the Torah or educating the next generation. In fact, they detract from it.

    At some point in the discussion you wrote that every organized religion demands conformity. That statement is both misleading and false in this context. In fact, it is a distortion of the Torah. The *only* conformity the halakhah demands is to actively respect the halakhic decisions of the Sanhedrin, but there is absolutely no issue of thought or creed: You can disagree publicly with the Sanhedrin as long you don’t tell people to rebel against their ruling.

    In Judaism, there is *no* obligation to accept philosophical or exegetical ideas because they “mainstream” or to avoid those that are “marginal.” On the contrary, if the “marginal” view promotes the truth of Torah then of course it is “ideal.”

    Cliches about “organized religion” get us nowhere. Torah is *not* an “organized religion,” nor does it demand “conformity.” It may have seemed that way during the long diaspora, and it may still seem that way to people who come from America and live in the transplanted America of the Beit Shemesh Anglo ghetto, but it is not. Torah is an agreement between the *nation* of Israel and God. That agreement is all about loyalty to God and keeping His commandments, but it says nothing about “conformity” in any other area.

    I have long been an admirer of you, Rabbi Clark. I consider you an example of the best that American Orthodoxy has given to the world. But with all due respect, I found this essay to be both shallow and potentially destructive. I’m sorry already if my words were too harsh.

    Shabbat Shalom

  83. A Little Sanity

    R. Clark,

    “I don’t know by whom “it is generally agreed” that everything in the Torah has a moral lesson and everything that isn’t, doesn’t. But I can think of counter-examples to both propositions and you probably can too.”

    Actually, I used the word “mayseh”, i.e., narrative portions. Are you saying that there are Torah narratives not designed to teach us some lesson? If so, please provide some examples, and, if possible, explain why they were included in the Torah

    “I do not understand how this point relates to the question of the overlap of Torah and science, nor why you think there is some level of consistency in taking a skeptical view of both. ”

    If one claims ignorance as to , say, why it was necessary and/or important for Hashem to include in the Torah certain scientific information (and why the information so included is manifestly incorrect), then I would respectfully submit that perhaps one should not be so confident in asserting that a proper hashkafa requires one to believe that Torah and Science overlap.

  84. A Little Sanity

    Regarding the S. comment:

    It is an old problem, and a new one. Old in the sense that there have long been those among our greatest sages who have realized that matters are more complicated than generally realized by the masses, including the masses of rebeim. These sages could express their views in cryptic hints buried in learned tomes, which the masses would never encounter, or truly understand in the unlikely event they ever did. But the problem is also new, for we now live in an age of information, and the masses can no longer be so easily sheltered from such views, which might disturb their emuna p’shutta.
    Respecting children, the problem is particularly acute, as they tend to see things in black and white (something to do with brain development, I believe), and if one presents them with a more nuanced view as to some particular narrative, there is the danger that they will adopt the view that the whole Torah is just fairy tales. OTOH, I have seen with my own eyes intelligent frum college students abandon frumkeit after they took their first college course respecting ancient history or religion, because they felt they had been lied to all of their life. I have seen others remain in the fold nominally, but only in terms of outward compliance, for purely social reasons.

  85. I’m glad some people are chewing on my food for thought. Yasher koach!

  86. Yochanan: Thank you for words, the kind and the harsh, I appreciate them both equally. Especially in this period of self-improvement. To clarify my post: As we know, Rambam believed that there are ideas that are true, but should not be publicized. This approach originates in Hazal. The conclusion of my post is not that different. To allegorize passages in the Torah is obviously valid. I do not need the example of Malbim to prove that, Rambam is more than enough authority. But the issue is how we as a community relate to this approach today. There are some who would shout it form the rooftops. In his day, Rambam felt a need to keep it hidden. That is no longer necessary, but I still think that, as a community, we need to treat allegorizing the Torah gingerly, because it is historically controversial and can be misused with potentially calamitous consequences. I used the term “be-di`avad” to express this idea, but it was evidently a poor choice. (In any case, a human being cannot be “be-di`avad.”) I think my views can be termed overly conservative, even obscurantist, but I do not understand what makes them “cruel”. I am not speaking about people, but ideas. Ideas can be potent. They can exhilarate and they can also mislead. In these areas, I prefer to err on the side of caution. Ironically, S. took the exact opposite approach and suggested we teach our kids from nursery age that the creation story is a fable. I do not engage in delegitimization and I do not think anything I wrote would contribute to it. The delegitimizers do not need my support and anyway think I am beyond the pale. Nor did I use the language of obligation in connection with thought. Regarding conformity, I agree with what you wrote in principle. But as the example of the Rambam demonstrates, there are external constraints that sometimes ought to be taken into consideration.

    Shabbat shalom, Eli

  87. A Little Sanity:
    The story of Mattan Torah was not included to teach us a moral lesson.

  88. Rabbi Clark, is it possible that you personally did not go through a crisis over science and Torah? You state that your own children have no such crisis. Perhaps it is really just a question of experiences which informs our perspective. Let me tell you, it’s not pleasant. I don’t wish it on my children, or yours.

    Also, I didn’t suggest nursery age (3 or 4). I did mention age 5, but I also acknowledged that there is a difference between a 5 year old and a 10 year old. Certainly by the time adolescence comes around it has already been time to have the talk, and I don’t mean about the birds and the bees. If you don’t keep up then what are we going to do with high school biology and earth science? Skip those parts, like they did in my high school? Now that’s a plan! Or better, letting people work it out in their late 20s.

  89. Eli wrote “But the issue is how we as a community relate to this approach today”

    This is why you are so off. There is no need for us as a community to relate to the approach in any organized way, or to declare that this is “in” an that is “out.” To do so is needlessly divisive. Pardon me for saying so, but I found your article very childish, the sort of thing you might hear among YU sophomores on the 5th floor of YU while they are trying to determine is what Dr. Bernstein said today kefirah or not.

  90. PS. when I say Dr. Bernstein, I don’t mean to imply chas veshalom that anything he ever said is kefirah, but you can hear the YU guys thrashing over it, and also over what R. Wieder says and all the rest, as if they are the kefirah police.

  91. Anonymous,
    actually, “as a community” we do need to decide what to teach the kiddies, as S. is pointing out. As someone who got a more “nuanced” message about these things at home than in school, I would say there is a distinct advantage to not having kids think that the “nuanced” (i.e., closer to correct) understanding is somehow contraband…

    on the chinnuch front, R. Clark, i think the whole point is that it is not “the opposite” of “erring on the side of caution” to introduce the potential non-literalism of the creation narrative early on. Rather, it is a different sort of caution.

    Take a different example: The Torah talks about God’s arms, nose, etc. Little children can understand these statements literally a lot more easily than they can understand the ideas of “metaphor” or incorporeality. Yet we introduce early on the basics of idea that God does not, in fact, have literal hands. We do so because we believe doing otherwise perpetuates falsehood. What if one honestly believes that it is false to state that “the moon was created on the fourth day” the same way “we made an art project in class on tuesday?” then the fact that whatever that statement means in bereshit may be too complicated for a small child is irrelevant to whether one should, therefore, teach the child the false meaning.

  92. I don’t understand the problem that some commenters appear to have with teaching young children the plain sense of the torah text. If that wasn’t the intent of the Author, then He wouldn’t have had it written that way. For millenia this was the way Gen. 1-11 was understood (a creation day is a 24 hour period, Adam and Eve were the first humans, and the mabul was global). Today, the scientifically literate (or those influenced by their ideas)understand these matters differently. What has that to do with children? Of course, if a precocious child asks about the apparent contradiction between the traditional teachings and what he/she has read in a secular book (or TV), then a wise teacher or parent can mention that the matter is subject to different opinions. The child, however, should not be left with the impression that the torah narratives are stories of the same genre as that found in children’s books. The problem for such issues that arises when a child grows older and wiser occurs when he/she is taught in school and at home that only the literal sense of Gen. 1-11 is true. Then a later revelation of a modern understanding can turn into a religious crisis or a basis for cynicism. The issue of unhelpful ideas inculculated in the young can best be dealt with at home. It is difficult to deal well with such matters in a school setting since it is highly dependent on the intelligence, knowledge, and attitude of teachers, parents, and students. Nor is it possible to avoid issues with midrashim since the children are already exposed to such material with books such as “The Little Midrash Says” if not also from material in the Rashi commentary that they are taught.

  93. A Little Sanity

    R. Clark,

    “The story of Mattan Torah was not included to teach us a moral lesson.”

    Perhaps you are equating “teaching a lesson” with “being merely allegorical”. I was not. A narrative can be factual, or not,allegorical, or not, and still have been included for the purpose of teaching us a lesson. I certainly am not asserting that kol hatorah kulo is allegorical. I am asserting that the key thing is not the historicity of any particular narrative, but rather the lessons to be derived therefrom.

    Respecting the Maamad Har Sinai narratives (Shemos and Devarim), I would think that they do indeed teach us important moral lessons, i.e., that the Torah originates in divine revelation, and is not just a humanly authored book (thus rejecting moral relativism), and further that we the Jewish people assumed a binding covenantal obligation to be holy and observe the mitzvos of the Torah.

    Thank you for taking the time to respond to my comments.

    Shabbat Shalom

  94. R Eli-as a follow up, I have some substantial reservations about using “well, it’s only allegorical”, as a rationale. I don’t think that drawing a line in the sand with a theological sword and permitting such a rationale with respect to Maaseh Breishis and Dor HaMabul can be sustained on a logical or intellectually honest basis except as viewing the same as an arbitrary rule. I think that reliance on the same will allow its advocates to ask why the same cannot be applied to the Avos and Imahos, Yetzias Mitzrayim, Maamad Har Sinai and Kabbalas HaTorah and any other portion within the Torah that such a person would be tempted to dismiss as allegorical simply because he or she lacks the requisite emunah in the same.

  95. R Eli-how many teen aged and adult men, as opposed to women, can assert that their knowledge of Chumash goes beyond Rashi and the Medrashim that they were taught as a child? Have many learned Ramban, Ibn Ezra, Seforno, Rashbam, Netziv, and Meshech Chachmah in any depth, if at all? Your assumption that teenagers can be exposed to a non literal interpretation is IMO premised on a level of Parshanut that IMO is far from being operative in either the MO or Charedi worlds.

  96. Y. Aharon: What about the many parents – I suspect the majority – who are not capable of giving a clear and nuanced perspective on these issues, including those who have not worked the issues out themselves?

  97. Shavua Tov,

    >> “…but I do not understand what makes them “cruel”. I am not speaking about people, but ideas… The delegitimizers do not need my support and anyway think I am beyond the pale…”

    The point is that whenever Orthodox Jews begin to focus on “drawing lines” regarding *ideas*, in the end it is always *people* who pay for it by being silenced and marginalized inside the beit ha-midrash and in public religious discourse.

    The delegitimizers think you are beyond *their* pale, while an approach like the one you suggest here will put others beyond *your* pale. Your way might be a bit nicer, i.e. you are not suggesting anyone is actually a heretic. But outside of the charedi world it isn’t done like that anyway; instead of calling people heretics, what you do is shut them up within the beit ha-midrash and declare that their views are marginal. In religious Zionism it’s nowadays called a “kav” and it works exactly the same way you suggest here (“We know there are sincere Jews who think that way, but their voice is not allowed in our beit ha-midrash…”).

    On the business of education, which I think was the issue you were really trying to deal with, I think you would have done much better to express the problem in pedagogical terms: Why not simply say that there are different approaches to these issues, and that some of them may be more appropriate than others for certain people, or at different stages of life, and that the decision on how to teach them should therefore be left up to the common sense and pedagogical judgement of the educator.

    On I more academic level, I would suggest that medieval concepts of esotericism in the Torah, fascinating as they may be, are of limited relevance in our day and age for a myriad of reasons (some of which have come up in the comments here). In our day we need to give our students as wide a variety of approaches as possible, and it is no longer possible to consider some of them hidden and others public. They are all necessary because of the variety and complexity of the questions and because of the variety and complexity of our students.

  98. I don’t see that the quote from the Malbim proves anything about allegorizing Chumash. He is only relating to WHY the Torah put it in – to counter mythological ideas – not whether the story is true. The Malbim in fact indicates that the story is absolutely factually true at face value pshat.

  99. Shlomo,

    You have unfortunately exposed a very painful point – many Jewish parents are not sufficiently appraised of their own beliefs and positions (or they are afraid to explore the issue), at least not to the degree that they can clearly explain them to their children.

    Thus many lessons that are best taught in the family – the birds and the bees, issues of faith – are placed almost exclusively on the shoulders of educational institutions. I find it very sad and very tragic that this is the case…

  100. “I don’t see that the quote from the Malbim proves anything about allegorizing Chumash. He is only relating to WHY the Torah put it in – to counter mythological ideas – not whether the story is true. The Malbim in fact indicates that the story is absolutely factually true at face value pshat.”

    I’m afraid I don’t understand the last part of you sentence. What does “at face value pshat” mean? Did a person named Yuval, an actual man who lived, create music? Before Yuval there was no music, and after Yuval there was music? Is that what the Malbim is saying? Or is the point merely that music was created by human beings, and not a god?

    In any case, you’re free to understand him that way. I didn’t indicate absolute certainty in my reference to the Malbim, only that he comes close to saying that the Torah contains such mythologies (washing out the paganism). I think my reading is very plausible, especially since it basically comes from Shadal, whom the Malbim silently used, and he says this explicitly.

  101. WRT R Eli Clark’s posting – the most notable recent proponent that science and torah do not confilct, as they relate to different spheres, was yeshaya leibowitz z”l, who said “lo yarad hashem al har sinai lelamed et bne yisrael astrophysica”.

    I think that, WADR to RE Clark, while it may be true that the allegorical interpretation is, in a historical sense, a minority opinion – it is a minority opinion accepted by the rambam (and in modern times by, amongst others, Rav Kook – eg his famous letter on gan eden – something of relevance to the RZ community he is now living in..,even if not to haredim) (and in the rambam, the allegorical interpretation of ma’aseh breshit and of yad hashem come from the same principle, so some allegory is actually accepted by all..)…there are minority opinions and there are minority opinions…(and hashkafa is different from hilchot shabbat…)

    However, RE Clark’s position hides another issue – that accepting simple pshat leads us today to another theological position which is itself problematic. Even if we accept the simple pshat – that acceptance already has a different meaning to us from the naive traditional one. We can’t go home again. The conflict between simple pshat and science is real – at least in those communities who are truly exposed to science. Accepting simple pshat because of emuna is then a form of Credo quia absurdum – a valid theological position – but hardly a mainstream Jewish position in classical sources.

    The question is which minority position better reflects amito shel torah – as well as which may cause more damage to the community. That may depend on which community one lives in, as well as other values – such as Ki hi chochmatchem uvinatchem le’eyne ha’amim. However, it is a mistake to think that insisting on the simple pshat is merely conservative – both choices have radical implications for the nature and texture of our emuna.

    Meir Shinnar

  102. “The exodus and King David are at the very least plausible, if not more so, even according to the nihilists. A literal six-day creation is not.”

    More to the point, a literal six day creation has been conclusively disproven by empirical observation. Given that so much of our religious practice depends on empirical observation — has the sun set, does the animal have the kosher signs — it is necessary to accept some other method of interpretation if we are to maintain intellectual honesty and consistency.

    Regarding Rambam, note that his 13 ikkarim are essentially non-falsifiable.

  103. I posted something along these lines earlier but received no response so decided to chime in again:

    I was that 15 year old who had a crisis of faith upon taking seriously the conflict between the Torah and science. Frankly, that was a crisis from which I have never genuinely recovered. The issue, to my mind, has always been that although we may be able to produce post-hoc means of reconciliation, these tend to seem highly contrived and in any case, in conflict with what seems to be the normative historical approach of Jewish thinkers. The idea that we are finally, by virtue of scientific knowledge unavailable to earlier generations, to finally understand what the Torah really meant (in contrast with what has been believed all along) seems to be in stark contrast to the general notion of the mesorah of torah she ba’a’l peh as the essential means of understanding the Torah.

    Of course, one is entitled to accept this radical position but the alternative—that in fact the Torah means what is says but was written by someone who didn’t know better— seems like a highly plausible alternative, one that many thinking individuals find too plausible to resist.

  104. Meir Shinnar, it seems to me that R’ Eli Clark is only espousing an anti-allegorical stance on the narratives in early Genesis rather than insisting on simple peshat. While the latter may be appropriate for teaching children, it need not limit our understanding of the matter. In other words, a non-literal interpretation of the words so as to make them consistent with a modern understanding of the history of the world and universe may be closer to the truth than either the traditional understandings of the term ‘day’ in the creation narrative or ‘all the high mountains under the entire sky’ in the flood story, or the claim that the stories are not factual but allegorical.

    My own view is that the creation narrative is based on fact, but is written in a way that people living in biblical times could understand. The same words, however, can also be understood differently. We now have the knowledge to offer new understandings of the narrative. Such new understandings may indicate new phenomena that have not yet been verified, and is, in principle, testable. In other words, we can use science to understand these torah narratives, and then use our more sophisticated understanding of torah to illuminate science. I would be pleased to elaborate more on the subject via e-mail.

  105. EB, I managed to avoid your dilemma by not buying into the yeshivish notions about the faithfulness and accuracy of the rabbinic traditions. It’s not that I didn’t accept the authority of the sages to create halacha, I just didn’t necessarily accept their various understandings of the verses in the torah. Hence their understandings of the creation and flood narratives were not a problem for me when I finally forced myself to confront the issue of traditional vs. scientific understandings of the early history of the earth.

    Nor is such a position at all novel. The Rambam posits his Aristotle based understanding of the world and ‘heavens’ as constituting ‘yesodei hatorah’. Moreover, Torah commentators through the ages have, at least occasionally, substituted their understanding of torah verses for those found in talmud and midrashim. It’s only in the realm of verses with halachic implications that we see a serious reservation to read them differently than the sages. Even there, we find that the Vilna Gaon could state regarding at least one verse, that the halacha decided by the sages stands, but the evident meaning of the verse is different.

    You characterize the idea that there are things about the torah not known by the sages as radical – as if their expressed knowledge of the world and how it works revealed superior insights. What is radical, from a traditional perspective, is your apparent or tentative conclusion that the author of the Torah was unaware of facts that would be later uncovered, i.e., the torah is a human creation.

  106. >>>> I posted something along these lines earlier but received no response so decided to chime in again:

    EB:

    This may not be news to you, but this blog and its commentators believe in the Divine authorship of the Torah and any comment indicating otherwise will likely be ignored. Nobody has time for such nonsense as human authorship of the Torah.

    It’s a bit ironic that some commentators worry how to explain the scientific inaccuracy of the Torah yet not its historical/archaeological inaccuracy or other textual fault lines.

  107. Aiwac,
    Re R. Kula’s book (referred to on the Mishlabim website): I have not read it, but I have read and taught an article of his from almost a decade ago in which he proposes an emuna-based approach learning in which nothing is a given, even the historicity of Maamad Har Sinai, based mainly on R. Kook. He hints in the article to the book, which was then still being written.
    See http://old.kipasruga.com/upload/users_files/1003.PDF

  108. S: First, forgive my slip of the keyboard regarding nursery age. You did say 5 and you acknowledged that a 10 year old could be approached in a different way. My apologies for misrepresenting you; it was not intentional. I agree that the issue should be addressed in school. I would say 7th or 8th grade might be a good time. But I propose that, at that age, the students be taught non-literal interpretations that do not treat the creation story as a fable or allegory. I think that would go a long way to preventing many of the crises experienced by those who were taught only the literal interpretation and were left, as you say, to work things out on their own in their 20’s.

    Anonymous: I am pleased that I awakened in you feelings of nostalgia from your college days.

    Emma: I agree with introducing a non-literal approach “early on,” as you say. But I think it is advisable to teach schoolchildren interpretations that harmonize Torah and science, rather than those that treat the creation story as allegory.

    A Little Sanity: I agree completely with your statement regarding the message of Ma`amad Har Sinai, but I would call it a theological lesson, not a “moral lesson.”

    Steve: I understand your objection regarding the “arbitrary” use of allegorical interpretation. My answer is that parshanut is an art, not a science, and cannot be systematized. If I may, I would compare this to “ein mukdam u-me’uhar ba-Torah,” which is also a radical interpretative stance. Hence, parshanim like Ramban use it only when they deem it necessary.
    Your other question regarding people’s knowledge of Humash is a good one, in that the answer obviously varies across communities.

    Yochanan: My sense is that outside the haredi world the discourse is pretty free. I think this blog is a good example. And in Israel the “kavnikim” are a closed circle, like the haredim, keeping out the voices they do not want to hear, but not preventing those voices from being heard in other precincts.

    Your statements on education are fine, but are so general that they can apply to any issue in any educational context. On the issue of esotericism, we disagree. I think if you poll communal leaders, they will confirm that there some things that cannot be said in public.

    Meir: As Y. Aharon writes, I do not advocate accepting the simple peshat of the Creation story. If that was not clear from my post, I apologize.

    S: Regarding Malbim I am no expert (nor much of a fan), but I think if we looked at his approach to the Eden story and to the Mabbul, these may provide an indication. I submit that if Malbim accepts the historicity of Adam and Eve, it is unlikely that he viewed Yuval as myth.

    EB: My heart aches to read your comment. I think that there are certain dissonances that exist, and either you can live with them or you can’t. Just curious: do you have an opinion about whether having a teacher or parent discuss these issues with you at an earlier stage could have helped you when you were 15?

  109. I am visiting Israel and have rented a place with wifi internet access. It is very interesting that my wifi provider’s filter does not allow me access to the earliest comments on this post. What kind of k’fira am I being saved from?

  110. Dr. Alster,

    I don’t understand why such an attitude of wholesale surrender is necessary (even from a strictly factual POV)? Isn’t there a middle ground between “every fact is perfectly accurate” and “there’s no problem adopting a nihilist approach”? IIRC, Prof. Yehuda Elitzur, whom R. Kula quotes, was just such a middle grounder.

  111. Aiwac,
    I think what R. Kula is trying to do is follow R. Kook to his logical conclusion about building the palace of Torah above the critical ideas (and it is logical, if you take his more radical statements and disregard his more conservative ones :-)). But really this for R. Kula (as well as for R. Kook) is likely for didactic purposes – if a student comes and says he’s convinced that there was no Maamad Har Sinai, R. Kula can say “fine – but you should believe in Torah Judaism anyway”. R. Kula himself (again following R. Kook) does not deny the historicity of Sinai.

    When I taught the article in a course on how to approach Bible criticism, I brought it as an extreme approach. I’m not an expert in R. Kook, but I think his position is more nuanced than R. Kula would have it. And on its own merits, the article isn’t enough to go on – I’m waiting for the book. Till then I prefer Simon (rather than Elitzur).

  112. Dr. Alster,

    Thank you for responding, but I have still have a few questions:

    1) Why do you prefer Simon to Elitzur (and what’s the essential difference, really)?

    2) It’s one thing to have a fall-back position for the (increasing) number of people who feel they can’t believe any of it. I happen to wholeheartedly support ‘broadening’ the amount of options open to Orthodox searchers, and this would be no exception. However, from the tenor of R. Kula’s article, it feels like this is a lechatchila position and not a bedi’avad.

    In other words – unconditional surrender, and arguing that there is no necesarry connection between Torah and Humanities (much like the prevalent attitude towards Torah and Madda nowadays).

    In my (non-specialist) opinion, this position is too sweeping and is not generally merited even by the state of scholarship today. You once mentioned that you were not convinced by the work of Kenneth Kitchen. But there are quite a few people, no less knowledgeable than you and me, who are.

    What I am getting at is that if the traditionally “frum position” demanded only one option regarding historicity, Rav Kula appears to say that essentially there is no need to debate and weigh evidence, likelihood &c – it is simply irrelevant.

    But this is false. Contrary to his own self-perception, not everyone in academia swears by Israel Finkelstein or lehavdil the Scandinavian minimalists. That doesn’t mean, of course, that they accept “everything” as literally true. Rather, what I mean is that in a (relatively) inexact field like the humanities, there is a whole range of opinions. Different people may weigh the same exact evidence and come to different conclusions regarding the historicity of various parts of the Tanach.

    What I’m getting at is that Rav Kula’s argument not only cuts the legs off of religious efforts to assess various arguments, it makes all efforts at non-nihilistic scholarly arguments kind of, well, pointless. It essentially tells the many religious teachers and/or academics who take a more conservative position or demur from various denials of historicity, and tells them that all their attempts are pointless, if not silly.

    If I may take an example from a different field, Dr. Binyamin Brown often demonstrates that many of the assumptions of scholarship on Orthodoxy in the modern period (again, using perfectly valid scholarly arguments) are far too reductionist in proportion to the evidence. The R. Kula’s of the world would argue not to bother, and simply accept the “concensus” position without one’s own examination and right to object.

    My point then, is that I believe that the R. Kula position is no less “dogmatic” and just as unnecessary as its mirror “frum” one. Surely it would be better to allow for a range of options, as exist in scholarship and religious literature, and let students do their own investigation, evaluating which position seems most likely.

    Another point, and you are free to disagree with me on this, of course, but I happen to think that many Orthodox scholars often act as a “conservative” counterbalance to more nihilistic trends in other parts of Jewish Studies. I think that this is a good thing for scholarship as a whole (opposition to any concensus position should come from both the right and the left, at least ideally), and I think the R. Kula position undercuts any such efforts.

    Anyway, I hope my rambling made some sense :).

  113. I commend and second Aiwac’s response to R’ Kula’s approach. It is crime to give away the store without a fight.
    And to my mind, the tragedy is that most people here aren’t willing to fight that same fight for the first 11 chapters of Bereishis. Its because they have been convinced by dogmatic scientists like Charlie Hall that these things “have been conclusively disproven by empirical observation.”
    I know that I’m a voice in the wilderness here when I argue that the empirical evidence is greatly dependent on numerous unproven assumptions which our mesorah undermines, so I won’t derail the thread on this point. Suffice to say that self-consistency is on my side. (Contrary to what people are saying, I’m not shouting dogma or kefirah here–just a demand for simple theological consistency and intellectual honesty.)

    But to get back on topic:
    To Aiwac and Y Aharon et, al.
    You can’t credibly propose that we can have one form of interpretation for chapters 1-11 and then a completely different form of interpretation for the rest of the Torah if this radical shift cannot be sustained by any consistent methodology.
    To my limited knowledge, the Torah’s narrative does not drastically alter its style between chapt. 11 and 12 and there is a seamless chronology from Adam till Abraham. Does anyone in the R’ Yoel Bin Nun/Herzog school argue differently?
    Your attempt to artificially split the Torah is a sham and a farce from a purely literary viewpoint.

    Touching on the pedagogic angle that S. was raising, a 10 year old who can read and translate the Chumash by himself can easily see this internal consistency and smooth flow of the narrative from Adam till Abraham and if he is told to draw a mythology line somewhere in the middle he will have the feeling that this split approach is intellectually dishonest. It just doesn’t fit and someone is saying it because of some outside considerations. I think it will sow suspicion and distrust in his educators.

  114. Or, he could easily see how mythical it is. Heroes of old, super long lives, talking snakes, confounding of languages. That world was nothing like the world which begins with Avraham. It’s not as smooth as you think.

    But let’s say that’s just a matter of opinion, or even that you are right, and the 10 year old sees it your way. What about the inevitable crisis of faith of the kind we’ve been describing? You can’t deny that it happens every day. Indeed, much of what you write is dedicated to approaching this crisis from the other side (i.e., trying to undermine the perception that accepting the essential validity of science is allowed by Judaism). So what did you gain by ignoring the crisis that lies crouching at many people’s door?

  115. R. Korenreich,

    Look. The datings and events described in Gen. 1-11 are impossibly at odds with scientific evidence. I think we can all agree on this. This is not a “might have happened might not have happened” case like various events for which we don’t have hard evidence (but don’t need to) like the Patriarchs, the Exodus &c.

    As for a “consistent methodology”, I follow Prof. Uriel Simon, who argues that events are considered literal unless overwhelmingly falsified by scientific evidence, in which case we allegorize. Gen. 1-11 is such a case. Other parts of the Torah have not been “blown out of the water” in this matter, so I leave them with behezkat metzi’ut unless decisively proven otherwise at some later date. I’d say that’s a perfectly “consistent methodology”.

  116. To my limited knowledge, the Torah’s narrative does not drastically alter its style between chapt. 11 and 12 and there is a seamless chronology from Adam till Abraham. Does anyone in the R’ Yoel Bin Nun/Herzog school argue differently?
    Your attempt to artificially split the Torah is a sham and a farce from a purely literary viewpoint.

    From a purely literary viewpoint you have a series of stories that give you a pre-history in which the world was completely different and unrecognizable and in the course of a series of events it becomes the world we know today. At that point Avram is introduced and you and have a detailed account of a person who is a fleshed out character from a recognizable Mesopotamia.

    This is exactly the type of distinction lost on those who insist on learning chumash as adults in the same manner they learned it in second grade. Really, pray tell where throughout chumash you think there are in fact stylistic differences? Anywhere?

  117. R Eli Clark wrote:

    “Steve: I understand your objection regarding the “arbitrary” use of allegorical interpretation. My answer is that parshanut is an art, not a science, and cannot be systematized. If I may, I would compare this to “ein mukdam u-me’uhar ba-Torah,” which is also a radical interpretative stance. Hence, parshanim like Ramban use it only when they deem it necessary.”

    Why view Ain Mukdam VAin MuAchar as radical, when , in fact, it is no more and no less than a Machlokes in Parshanut?

  118. I feel that it is rather futile for the more rationalistic commenters to engage RDK in a discussion about torah and science (or the sages and science) since he has an adamant fundamentalist perspective on how to understand torah and talmud. Our perspectives are so different that it doesn’t appear possible to enter into a fruitful discussion. I choose instead to focus on the readership. It is my contention that the torah’s narratives should be treated as factual rather than allegorical. When the physical evidence clearly contradict a simple reading of the text, then it must be reinterpreted to be consistent with the facts. Without such an approach, the torah becomes a fallible human creation, or contains a collection of ‘koshered’ early myths. This is also the cited position of Prof. Simon, Aiwac, and, presumably, R’ Eli Clark and others. While the many points of contention between the simple reading of the text in Gen. 1-11 and scientific evidence are waved away by the fundamentalists who insist that nature behaved in a totally different fashion during the creation and flood periods, that will not satisfy those of a more rationalistic bent. They would, presumably, also be obliged to continue their hand-waving efforts to include a period after the flood in accounting for the confusion of languages. Their efforts should be seen as of no greater significance than those whose response to any seeming problem in the text is to posit a different author. In both cases, it’s a standard line trotted out to deflect all questions.

    It is also rather strange for the talmud based fundamentalists to insist on a literal reading of Gen. 1-11 when the general talmudic approach is to find alternative readings of the torah text. In fact, the creation narrative is said to contain deep secrets. What secret information could there be if non-literal interpretations are disavowed? As to the alleged impropriety of arriving at new understandings of the text based on modern science, that line of argument could also have been used against some medieval commentators such as Ramban who based their understanding of the creation process on a Greek model. For that matter all interpretations of verses that could not be attributed to an ancient source would fall under the same criticism. The argument of “they could say it, but we can’t” will certainly not ring true to readers of a more rationalistic mindset.

  119. With respect, I truly do not understand the logic chain you present:

    0. the torah’s narratives should be treated as factual rather than allegorical.
    1. When the physical evidence clearly contradict a simple reading of the text, then it must be reinterpreted to be consistent with the facts.
    2. Without such an approach, the torah becomes a fallible human creation, or contains a collection of ‘koshered’ early myths.

    How does 2 follow from 0/1?

  120. For those of a certain age, I hear Don Adams’ Maxwell Smart “would you believe…” routine in my head when I think about this approach 🙂

  121. To Y. Aharon.

    First, I want to thank you for what you write. I’ve read your many comments and have learned much from them.

    However, I must protest your dismissal of RDK’s commenting. This is unfair, as basically he is not all that different than yourself when it comes to allowing one’s belief system to limit one’s search for the truth..
    He, despite overwhelming evidence, believes that the Torah and Chazal are infallible and spends his time explaining or dismissing the evidence against his beliefs. You on the other hand, accept the evidence that Chazal may have wrong in some of their science and history, but maintain that the Torah is infallible, and thus spend your time explaining or dismissing evidence against the Torah.

    So basically, it’s the same mental block, it’s simply a question of where each of you draw the line in the sand.

  122. david a., thanks for the compliment. I certainly did not mean to disparage RDK’s efforts to promote his viewpoint in blogs as long as he doesn’t continue his personal attack on a favorite target. He has as much right to promote his ideas as anyone else. I merely suggested that there is little point in debating someone who takes a position that is not susceptible to logical argument. While it is true that I and others here view torah as a divinely sanctioned document which, therefore, has a claim to being free of error, that is, after all, a foundation of traditional Judaism. It is, indeed, a matter of faith rather than logic. In other words, religion requires faith. It’s just a question of where to draw the line where reason must be subordinate to belief.

    The distinction between so regarding the written torah vs. the later religious works is simply that long experience has taught us that humans are fallible. Why, then, should the sages be considered infallible? In fact, we do see errors in the talmud with regard to how the world works, mathematics, and history. The talmud fundamentalists would argue that one shouldn’t read those talmudic texts literally, or that the nature has changed, or that scientists and historians are wrong. Nonetheless, a pillar of halacha among Ashkenazim, the Tosafot, demonstrate in T.B. Eruvin that both R’ Yochanan and the gemara in T.B. Succah made a significant mathematical error. In any case, one can and should distinguish between fallibility and authority. One can accept both propositions.

  123. IH, the chain of argument that you cite is not intended as an exercise in strict logic, but of reasonableness. The underlying assumption in my presentation was that the torah is both factual and not subject to human error. While it is always possible to dismiss contradicting physical evidence by some hand-waving notions such as ‘nature was different then’, that is not a reasonable approach. Therefore, statement 2. reasonably follows from the above assumptions.

  124. Aiwac,
    Re Simon vs. Elitzur – I see Simon as less dogmatic in general, and Elitzur as claiming there are certain areas of Bible scholarship that we must stay away from. Simon, even though he himself steered BIU away from teaching Humash, did this for practica, not dogmatic, reasons – he has published his preference for a gradual conquest of EY in Joshua’s time, and many of his articles use both higher and lower criticism in non-traditional ways, albeit on Nakh.

    Re R. Kula – I see him as advocating his position as a fallback, not lekhatehila. But it should be clearer in the new book, one way or the other. If he indeed advocates a wholesale rejection of historicity, I agree with you that’s not a good idea. But again, I don’t think that’s what he says.

    Re minimalism – There are many positions between Kitchen and Finkelstein. Unfortunately the minimalists are more influential, by far. I agree with you, though, that most of our students are not attracted by extreme minimalism, but many feel uncomfortable with the extreme traditionalist position. I just don’t think that the fact that Kitchen exists and convinces some of us means that we all have to accept him (same as with literary readings).

    Re the role of Orthodox scholars – I agree with you 100%.

  125. S. on September 25, 2011 at 5:17 pm

    Or, he could easily see how mythical it is. Heroes of old,

    I don’t see the qualitative difference between “Pre-Avraham” heroes/events and Avraham’s own episodes. He almost single-handedly wins an epic battle against FOUR KINGS (who just routed five kings) to save his nephew. He and his wife give birth to an only child in their 90’s and is later told to kill him.
    How realistic is that?!!

    Sodom and Gemmorah are completely obliterated by heavenly fire and brimstone and a woman turns into salt– while a father and two daughters are miraculously whisked off to safety by angels.
    Does all this sound like the kind of world we are living in? Why is it less mythical than:
    “super long lives, talking snakes, confounding of languages”?

    It’s not as smooth as you think.

    Its not nearly as disrupted as you make it out to be.

    So what did you gain by ignoring the crisis that lies crouching at many people’s door?

    I’m not ignoring it. I’m demanding that you people come up with something better–something more theologically and textually consistent.
    Saying we can draw the line by empirical evidence is a fig leaf that will blow away when the next round of archeological discoveries in ANE history are made. Is there any more evidence for Sodom and Gemmorah’s demise than a global flood? Could Avraham have lived 175 years?
    Who are we kidding?

  126. Dr. Alster,

    Re: Elitzur

    That wasn’t my impression from what I’ve read of his works. I recently read his work on Sefer Shmuel, and my impression is that his objection to (most, not all) source criticism of his time had a lot more to do with scholarly grounds than religious one.

    “Unfortunately the minimalists are more influential, by far”

    Influence is not the same thing as correctness. Back in the day more historical Biblical archaeology was more ‘influential’. I tend to agree with Dr. Yoel Elitzur that what has (largely) changed are not the facts, but the far greater scepticism in the scholarly community towards various issues, whether justified or not.

    “I just don’t think that the fact that Kitchen exists and convinces some of us means that we all have to accept him (same as with literary readings).”

    I never said that. My point was that it’s much healthier to have a broad range of options rather than just the two extremes.

  127. The previous comment was also meant to directly address awaic and MJ.

    The following is to Y. Aharon.

    It is also rather strange for the talmud based fundamentalists to insist on a literal reading of Gen. 1-11 when the general talmudic approach is to find alternative readings of the torah text. In fact, the creation narrative is said to contain deep secrets. What secret information could there be if non-literal interpretations are disavowed?

    I’m all for the “sod” approach to the Creation and Garden of Eden stories. But “sod” corresponds to the metaphysical realm and it does not correspond to or leave room for Big Bang cosmology!

    Rumors about the traditionalist position notwithstanding, Genesis is certainly NOT viewed by my camp as presenting a scientific description of creation. But the problem is that science assumes that there can be a scientific description of creation. This claim is what Genesis denies and this problem wasn’t invented by Chareidim. This was Rav Soloveitchik’s problem with Big Bang cosmology:

    http://slifkinchallenge.blogspot.com/2011/06/jumbled-garbled-and-convoluted_13.html

    As to the alleged impropriety of arriving at new understandings of the text based on modern science, that line of argument could also have been used against some medieval commentators such as Ramban who based their understanding of the creation process on a Greek model.

    But it was the greek model of metaphysics which is at least in the ball park of “sod”. They are talking about the same realm. You don’t get from greek metaphysics to modern science and big bang cosmology by any stretch. (Gerald Schreoder was way off on this:
    http://www.dovidgottlieb.com/comments/CommentsGenesisBigBang.htm )

    For that matter all interpretations of verses that could not be attributed to an ancient source would fall under the same criticism. The argument of “they could say it, but we can’t” will certainly not ring true to readers of a more rationalistic mindset.

    Where did I insist on or even imply any such constraint? Please do not invent positions for me to take. I have been very clear on this thread about what my criticisms are– and they did not include innovative approaches.

  128. R. Kornreich – just as a hypothetical, does the Torah really collapse because of the issue of Sodom and Gomorah and/or the long lives attributed to the Patriarchs?

  129. “I don’t see the qualitative difference between “Pre-Avraham” heroes/events and Avraham’s own episodes. He almost single-handedly wins an epic battle against FOUR KINGS (who just routed five kings) to save his nephew. He and his wife give birth to an only child in their 90′s and is later told to kill him.
    How realistic is that?!!Sodom and Gemmorah are completely obliterated by heavenly fire and brimstone and a woman turns into salt– while a father and two daughters are miraculously whisked off to safety by angels.
    Does all this sound like the kind of world we are living in? Why is it less mythical than:
    “super long lives, talking snakes, confounding of languages”?

    1. Kings? Chieftains. Avraham didn’t do anything single-handedly. I seem to remember 318 men. The Torah doesn’t go into detail how Lot was being held.

    2. I’m not sure what the point of bringing up that he was later being told to kill his son is. The age thing is special, but not like living to 900. Sometimes very old people have children. Anthony Quinn (b. 1915) had a child in 1997. While it does say that Sarah was past menopause, it doesn’t say her age, and I’m sure this is not the only case in all of history where there was a surprise like that. Unlikely? Yes. Special? Yes. But it’s not like a talking, tempting snake.

    3. Sodom and Gomorrah? Volcanoes, earthquakes, tsunamis.

    4. Angels? Messengers.

    Yes, it seems a lot less mythical than the first part of Bereishis – even with Divine intervention and inspiration, which I suppose one ought to believe continues to this very day – but I doubt you sees this present world as similar to the beginning of Bereishis. Correct me if I’m wrong?

  130. “Who are we kidding?”

    While I disagree with where this takes him, I am sympathetic to: Dovid Kornreich on September 26, 2011 at 4:23 pm. The position expressed by several of dogma amended as needed through fallback positions seems to me both intellectually dishonest and leaving hostages to fortune. If one accepts fallback positions in light of archaeological evidence, the dogma does not reasonably remain whole.

    My own view, the more I think about it, is the way of reconciling our beliefs with the archaeological/literary evidence is in the oral-literary transitions that occurred over time in addition to the traditional apologetics (e.g. dibra Torah k’lashon bnei adam).

  131. R. Kornreich – just as a hypothetical, does the Torah really collapse because of the issue of Sodom and Gomorah and/or the long lives attributed to the Patriarchs?

    You can ask the very same question about the binding of Issac as a real event or very existence of the Patriarchs.
    Does anything really collapse without them? Isn’t the most important thing to uphold Divine revelation at Mt. Sinai and the 613 commandments? Nothing really collapses when you take away any narratives, right?

  132. R. Korenreich,

    The existence (or the plausibility of existence) of the Patriarchs, as well as the binding of Isaac, are easy to explain and defend rationally. Sodom/Gommorah and/or unnaturally long life spans are harder, but manageable.

    I think you’re stuck in an “either-or” mindset that is not constructive. As you can see from my discussion w/Dr. Alster, there are a range of options of plausibility and evidence. Things often need to b examined on a case-by-case matter. I realize it’s more complex and requires more hard work than just saying everything’s X or Y, but it’s also less of a gamble.

  133. Correct me if I’m wrong?

    Aside from the Garden of Eden, I don’t see any qualitative difference between a pre- and post- Abrahamic world. There are differences, but they are all in quantity. Numbers of years, (and yes, Sarah’s age at Issac’s birth is given in Gen. 17;17) scope of supernatural disasters, and extent of G-d’s direct intervention in human affairs.
    It goes from global to local, but that’s it.

  134. Aiwac:
    I asked you a direct question and you are avoiding it.
    In your view, what will collapse in Judaism when you remove the historicity of ANY narrative besides Mt. Sinai?

  135. R. Kornreich,

    You know what? You’re right. My question of what will collapse was not apt. In theory, one could throw all historicity out the window save Sinai (in truth it’s Massa, Sinai and Arvot Moav but that’s another story).

    However, I don’t really feel any need to deny historicity from anything post-Dor hapalaga. There is no overwhelming evidence against any of the Patriarchs, just a lack of direct external documentation, which I don’t expect to find anyway.

  136. “Yet.”

    You really have a low opinion of me, don’t you?

  137. Not at all. I just want you to see that you are teetering on the brink of the abyss and you don’t even realize it.
    The issue of eliminating the historicity of the Torah narratives (either gradually, chapter-by-chapter, or all at once) has a long and tragic history and we should be wise enough to learn lessons from it.

  138. “The issue of eliminating the historicity of the Torah narratives (either gradually, chapter-by-chapter, or all at once) has a long and tragic history and we should be wise enough to learn lessons from it.”

    I am not familiar with this history. Please explain.

  139. The way I see it is that once you accept what academia has decided to consider empirically proven, then you have essentially given up on Judaism as a theologically autonomous system.

    The Rambam didn’t take anybody’s word for it that the eternal universe was proven. He became an expert in the relevant field and decided for himself if it was proven or not.
    He discovered that it wasn’t proven and he rejected academia’s most scholarly opinion. We can’t afford to leave our theological red lines for scientists to draw for us.

  140. Others before and after the Rambam followed academia to their conclusions and decided to accommodate it. Philo, and philosophical-minded Jews in the Rashba’s time came to conclusions about the Torah’s narratives which put them out of the pale of the traditional Jewish community. This scenario is replays itself periodically from what I see.

  141. “The way I see it is that once you accept what academia has decided to consider empirically proven, then you have essentially given up on Judaism as a theologically autonomous system.”

    You are entitled to your view, of course; but, I don’t agree. As I stated above, thus far I have not found an unbridgeable gap in reconciling our beliefs with the archaeological/literary evidence if one accepts differences due to the oral-literary transitions that occurred over time in addition to the traditional apologetics (e.g. dibra Torah k’lashon bnei adam).

    Nor do I see it as any more far-fetched than rationalizing that Sefer Milchomot Hsshem (Num 21:14) was simply lost as Ibn Ezra does which seems to be the accepted explanation: “כי ספרים רבים אבדו ואינם נמצאים אצלינו”

  142. Theologically far-fetched, that is.

  143. Aiwac,
    I guess I have to go back to reading Elitzur…
    I totally agree we need a broad range of opinions, and I think that realistically that’s what exists in most of the scholarly world in Israel and America (not Europe, and Haaretz doesn’t count :-)). The question is IMO an educational one – how we present history to our students in general (IMO as maximalist as possible, mostly, but leaving room for the independent-minded) and how we deal with the problems curious individuals face in their quest for truth (on an individual basis, with a broad range of tools, trying to direct each student in a way appropriate for him/her).
    BTW, the influence of the minimalists is relevant from this perspective. My own (non-professional – I do literary readings and parshanut, not history) opinion is heavily on the traditional side. But in dealing with students who have issues with academic Bible and history, I think that even radical tools are sometimes necessary.

  144. The brand new Israel Museum & Google collaboration to make the DSS accessible is breathtaking. There is also a succinct summary of Bible versions aimed at someone with no background on the page introducing The Great Isaiah Scroll: http://dss.collections.imj.org.il/isaiah

    No Chumash on the site yet…

  145. Speaking of fallback positions, the DSS website reminds me of something I discovered in my own learning last year. An interesting property of Isaiah 9:6 (Haftarat Parshat Yitro) is the Mem Sofit in the middle of the word לְמַרְבֵּה that is theologically explained in Sanhedrin 94a:

    דרש בר קפרא בציפורי מפני מה כל מ”ם שבאמצע תיבה פתוח וזה סתום וכו

    But, the Qumran “Great Isaiah” scroll has the mem patuach — you can see for yourself…

  146. i find these posts fascinating. i wish i were learned and intelligent enough to follow all your arguments.

    i do wonder – this is a theoretical question – how it is that what we call factuality is so much a basis of faith for many posters, even to the point that many would reject well-based scientific principles in order to retain a young universe, for example. why is factuality seen to be the determining factor in truth? do we really see reality as an is/is not dichotomy? or do we interpret our reality in terms of the truths that the Torah and sages teach us, to create a coherent understanding of ratzon hashem? i can hear kuhn in the background saying that our dati reality is socially constructed (there’s an interesting dissertation there, is one is so inclined. i am not). we know that our understanding is socially constructed (lo bashamayim he), and that concept draws its validation from torah she’bichtav). do posters here really fear that factuality will invalidate truth? that if we see torah cosmology as an account of why the world was created rather than how the world was created that we somehow discount its transcendent truth? i admit to having a hard time understanding this POV.

  147. On reflection, after reading RDK’s further comments, I may have been too judgmental in dismissing his earlier comments. The following are the types of comments that don’t, in my opinion, warant a reply:

    I’m not shouting dogma or kefirah here–just a demand for simple theological consistency and intellectual honesty.. To Aiwac and Y Aharon et, al.
    You can’t credibly propose that we can have one form of interpretation for chapters 1-11 and then a completely different form of interpretation for the rest of the Torah if this radical shift cannot be sustained by any consistent methodology.
    To my limited knowledge, the Torah’s narrative does not drastically alter its style between chapt. 11 and 12 and there is a seamless chronology from Adam till Abraham. Does anyone in the R’ Yoel Bin Nun/Herzog school argue differently?
    Your attempt to artificially split the Torah is a sham and a farce from a purely literary viewpoint. – RDK

    Of course, he considers perfectly reasonable his attempt and that of his mentor to artificially split the world into ante and post-deluvian phases having totally different rules and behavior. You just can’t do that to torah verses.

    However, some of his later comments require a thoughtful response.

    “I don’t see the qualitative difference between “Pre-Avraham” heroes/events and Avraham’s own episodes. He almost single-handedly wins an epic battle against FOUR KINGS (who just routed five kings) to save his nephew. He and his wife give birth to an only child in their 90′s and is later told to kill him.
    How realistic is that?!!
    Sodom and Gemmorah are completely obliterated by heavenly fire and brimstone and a woman turns into salt– while a father and two daughters are miraculously whisked off to safety by angels.
    Does all this sound like the kind of world we are living in? Why is it less mythical than “super long lives, talking snakes, confounding of languages”? Saying we can draw the line by empirical evidence is a fig leaf that will blow away when the next round of archeological discoveries in ANE history are made. Is there any more evidence for Sodom and Gemmorah’s demise than a global flood? Could Avraham have lived 175 years?” -RDK

    As far as we know, there is no specific age limit to life. The remarkable ages assigned to Adam and some of his progeny may be associated with his unique creation. In other words, he may have been genetically programmed by his Creator for potential immortality. That genetic trait was successively diluted after the flood by intermarriage with humans of normal lifespan. As to Sarah giving birth at age 90, that is most unusual but no contradiction to scientific knowledge. Nor is her lifespan of 127 years. In fact, if one considers the two ages, it is equivalent to a woman giving birth at age 50 and living for another 20 years – unusual, but not contraindicated by science.

    Nor is the story of the defeat of the 4 kings by Avram and his band of retainers all that unusual. We aren’t talking about national armies that were defeated, but of a large band of raiders led by the 4 kings. They may have outnumbered Avram’s forces by a factor of 10, but a determined group attacking a weary (they must have traveled many hundreds of miles at that point) larger force in the dead of the night, can achieve victory. Gideon did something similar to an even larger force using a comparable number of men.

    The story of the destruction of the 4 cities in the Jordan valley (Sodom and 3 sister cities) is difficult to understand on geological/archaeological level, but is not impossible. I maintain that serious attempts at finding the cities have not been ventured. For example, I am unaware of any extensive coring done in the Dead Sea or surrounding areas. I am, however, also unaware of any volcanoes in the region that could have erupted about 4 millenia ago. Earthquakes in that region are not uncommon, being part of the great rift stretching from the Afar region of Africa to Turkey. Yet that wouldn’t account for the fire and sulfur raining down from the skies. Perhaps there was a meteoric hit that devasted the region. In sum, there is a mystery here that needs to be unravelled. If extensive geological and archaeological studies don’t provide an explanation of the text, then we will have to consider revising our interpretation of the text, but not before.

    RDK continues quoting me:

    “It is also rather strange for the talmud based fundamentalists to insist on a literal reading of Gen. 1-11 when the general talmudic approach is to find alternative readings of the torah text. In fact, the creation narrative is said to contain deep secrets. What secret information could there be if non-literal interpretations are disavowed?” – YA

    “I’m all for the “sod” approach to the Creation and Garden of Eden stories. But “sod” corresponds to the metaphysical realm and it does not correspond to or leave room for Big Bang cosmology!” -RDK

    RDK’s approach to ‘sod’ is not that of the Rambam who treated much of the ‘sod ma’asei bereishit’ as Aristotelian physics. In any case, we have no compelling reason to consider esoteric knowledge as being confined to the ‘spiritual’ realm. If ‘sod’ means things that must be kept secret, then the ‘metaphysical sodot’ weren’t treated that way, as witnessed by the publishing of the Zohar, the ideas of the Ari, and other Kabbalistic works.

    He continues to quote me:
    “As to the alleged impropriety of arriving at new understandings of the text based on modern science, that line of argument could also have been used against some medieval commentators such as Ramban who based their understanding of the creation process on a Greek model.” – YA

    “But it was the greek model of metaphysics which is at least in the ball park of “sod”. They are talking about the same realm. You don’t get from greek metaphysics to modern science and big bang cosmology by any stretch…” – RDK

    The Ramban and others clearly used the, then, current understanding of origins and mechanisms to interpret the creation narrative. Of course, knowledge of such things has advanced greatly since then, and we should be at liberty to interpret the verses in a way consistent with our knowledge – just as they did.

    RDK continues to cite me:
    “For that matter all interpretations of verses that could not be attributed to an ancient source would fall under the same criticism. The argument of “they could say it, but we can’t” will certainly not ring true to readers of a more rationalistic mindset.” – YA

    “Where did I insist on or even imply any such constraint? Please do not invent positions for me to take. I have been very clear on this thread about what my criticisms are– and they did not include innovative approaches.” – RDK

    I’m glad that RDK has now ‘allowed’ innovative interpretations of the text. I had been under the clear impression that neither he nor his mentor sanctioned interpretations not found in ‘mainstream’ traditional sources. If he now disavows, “they could say it, but we can’t”, then we may be not as far apart as I had thought.

  148. do posters here really fear that factuality will invalidate truth? that if we see torah cosmology as an account of why the world was created rather than how the world was created that we somehow discount its transcendent truth? i admit to having a hard time understanding this POV.

    Rav Saadia Gaon states that the Torah deeply respects factuality (as revealed to the human senses and the human capacity for syllogistic logic). SO we are in trouble if our senses tell us something that contradict the Torah.
    And if you are saying that the Torah is ONLY telling us the why and “transcendent truth”, then you might as well say Judaism can accept Aristotle’s eternal universe and that revelation and miracles never really happened, which you can’t.

    So its simply untrue to claim that we can make do without a factual Torah.

  149. כתבו לכם את השירה (דברים ל”א)
    יש להבין היאך נקרא כל התורה שירה. והרי לא נכתבה בלשון של שירה, אלא ע”כ יש בה טבע וסגולת השירה. שהוא דיבור בלשון מליצה… שבשירה אין הענין מבואר יפה כמו בספר פרזי, וצריך לעשות הערות מן הצד…כך הטבע של שירה אפ’ של הדיות. ומוסכל עוד דמי שיודע בטוב ענין שהביא לידי מליצה זו שנתחבר עליו, מתוק לו אור לשון של השיר ודקדוקה הרבה יותר מלאיש שאין לו ידיעה ורק בא להתבונן מן המליצה – תורף הענין…ומזה עלול הוא להשערות בדויות, מה שלא היה מעולם ולא לזה התכוון המשורר. כך הוא טבע כל התורה… יש לעשות הערות ופרושים לדקדוקי הלשון. ולא נקרא דרוש אלא כך הוא פשט המקרא. -העמק דבר (הנצי”ב)

    Dovid – of course there is a text. any interpretation which ignores the text is not an interpretation, but a distortion or a separate text. one cannot make the Torah say what it does not say. But the Netziv says (if I understand him correctly) that simply reading and understanding the words on the page (a literal reading) is also a distortion of the text. not only are we not required to cleave to a literal understanding, even to arrive at what he would call pshat requires employing the same interpretive tools one uses for poetry. I would contend that, as with poetry, we are always involved in an inter-textual activity, comparing the text of the Torah to the text of the world (hetzitz b’oraita ubaree alma) – both have the same author, both are expressing the same truth, and our work of interpretation is in reconciling these texts.

    n.b. – factuality is not always what our senses tell us. our senses tell us the sun revolves around the earth. If the earth is in fact rotating at approx. 1000 m/h at the equator, we would expect our senses to experience catastrophic winds. We do not experience this, so either the earth is stationary or our sense perceptions are “lying” to us.

  150. that simply reading and understanding the words on the page (a literal reading) is also a distortion of the text. not only are we not required to cleave to a literal understanding, even to arrive at what he would call pshat requires employing the same interpretive tools one uses for poetry.

    You are attacking a straw man. I never insisted on hyper-literalism in reading the Torah. But Traditional Judaism has definitely pegged certain historical events and facts to the Torah’s narrative and if one denies their historicity, he is simply separating himself from the traditional Jewish community.

    I would contend that, as with poetry, we are always involved in an inter-textual activity, comparing the text of the Torah to the text of the world (hetzitz b’oraita ubaree alma) – both have the same author, both are expressing the same truth, and our work of interpretation is in reconciling these texts.

    But how has that reconciliation been achieved throughout the history of interpretation? Conflicts between the two sources of truth have always been encountered and dealt with in our literary history. But which methodologies and which standards have been successfully employed and which have been eschewed?
    Again, if one wants to maintain his or her membership in the traditional Jewish community, one cannot simply interpret as one sees fit. It is not and cannot be a free-for-all. We have seen routinely in our tradition that we need to reinterpret the science to fit with the Torah and not visa-versa.

  151. “Again, if one wants to maintain his or her membership in the traditional Jewish community, one cannot simply interpret as one sees fit.”
    – Nor did I ever say that, or anything near to that.

    “But how has that reconciliation been achieved throughout the history of interpretation? Conflicts between the two sources of truth have always been encountered and dealt with in our literary history. But which methodologies and which standards have been successfully employed and which have been eschewed?”

    – This, of course, is exactly the point. And the answer is not in a single monolithic approach to which one adheres or otherwise is “counted out,” but a multiplicity of approaches, some of which stand the test of time and therefore authenticity, and others which do not. I know you agree with this. I might define that spectrum of authentic interpretive tradition somewhat differently than you do, although we would both agree that there are interpretations that go beyond the pale of the legitimate and the authentic. Understanding the first chapters of Breshit as an illustration of *why* the world was created and not *how* is based upon a lesson I heard from Prof. Nehama Leibovitz (z”l). While one could claim that this approach has not yet stood the test of time, Prof. Leibovitz’s erudition, her yirat shamayim, her firm grounding in traditional Biblical interpretation, and her standing among the best minds of Torah study on our generation would lead me to believe that this approach is in consonance with an authentic approach to understanding Torah. Would you agree?

    “We have seen routinely in our tradition that we need to reinterpret the science to fit with the Torah and not visa-versa.”
    – I believe you err here. What you are saying is that the truth is baseed upon a narrow and literalist interpretation of one source of truth (Torah) to the exclusion of the truths expressed by ma-ase breshit and understood using the best tool Hashem has given us. I do not believe that our tradition adopts the posture of a literalist interpretation of either source, Torah or the world.

    I know that this is a rather cold thread, but I thank you for responding both so forthrightly and without animus, and I hope you respond. Hatima tova.

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