R. Yitzhak Herzog on Taking Creation Non-Literally

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The other day, Dr. Marc Shapiro directed me to R. Yitzhak Herzog’s book Judaism: Law and Ethics. I found the following on taking Creation non-literally, which I suspect some (including the Toronto contingent) would consider heresy. Perhaps they can clarify whether they are prepared to state, less than fifty years after his passing, that R. Yitzhak Herzog held and taught heretical views. (Part of this excerpt is available online here)

Here is what the late Chief Rabbi and widely acknowledged Gadol had to say in his flowery English about taking the Creation narrative non-literally (p. 170):

The mysterious character which the Ma’asei Bereshit evidently bore, warrants the conclusion that the interpretations of the Pentateuchal account of the Creation included in that body of esoteric lore, was not of a literal nature. It may well be that questions affecting the relation between science and religion received due treatment in those two departments of esoteric learning. The method pursued by the Jewish teachers of the Middle Ages is exemplified in Maimonides’ Guide. They did not, in the first place, accept as true everything taught by Greek science and metaphysics. Take, for instance, the doctrine of the eternity of matter taught by Aristotle. Maimonides rejects this, not because it conflicts with the letter of the Torah, but because he is not convinced of its truth. Were he absolutely convinced that Aristotle’s position was immovable, he would reinterpret the words of the Torah accordingly, but as Aristotle could not really prove his case, Maimonides sees no reason for reinterpreting the Torah. When, again, our mediaeval thinkers felt that attempts at harmonisation were absolutely necessary, they did not hesitate to explain the words of the Torah in a manner deviating from the literal sense…

I have hardly touched upon the border line of the subject, which, by the way, is only incidental to my present theme. But by way of a general remark I may say that it is well to bear in mind that already our ancient sages, to say nothing of our medieval theologians, would not seem to have insisted upon literalness in such transcendental matters as the account of the Creation.

(pp. 70-71)

Coming soon… Rav Herzog’s position on the the Sages’ knowledge of science.

About Gil Student

Rabbi Gil Student is the Editor of TorahMusings.com, a leading website on Orthodox Jewish scholarly subjects, and the Book Editor of the Orthodox Union’s Jewish Action magazine. He writes a popular column on issues of Jewish law and thought featured in newspapers and magazines, including The Jewish Link, The Jewish Echo and The Vues. In the past, he has served as the President of the small Jewish publisher Yashar Books and as the Managing Editor of OU Press. Rabbi Student has served two terms on the Executive Committee of the Rabbinical Council of America and currently serves as the Director of the Halacha Commission of the Rabbinical Alliance of America. He serves on the Editorial Boards of Jewish Action magazine, the Journal of Halacha and Contemporary Society and the Achieve Journal of Behavioral Health, Religion & Community, as well as the Board of OU Press. He has published five English books, the most recent titled Search Engine volume 2: Finding Meaning in Jewish Texts -- Jewish Leadership, and served as the American editor for Morasha Kehillat Yaakov: Essays in Honour of Chief Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks.

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