Guest post by Rabbi Natan Slifkin
Rabbi Natan Slifkin is the author of several works on the interface between Torah and the natural sciences. He teaches at Yeshivat Lev HaTorah and is pursuing a PhD in Jewish history at Bar-Ilan University
The Innovation of Fundamental Beliefs
The new journal Dialogue includes an article by Rabbi Moshe Meiselman of Yeshivas Toras Moshe, entitled “A Question of Time,” which presents an approach regarding the age of the universe. But Rabbi Meiselman’s article does not just present itself as a suggestion. Rather, he entirely denies the legitimacy – not just the technical correctness – of alternatives.
Rabbi Meiselman begins his discussion with the following claim:
The issue [of the age of the universe] is not a new one. It was first discussed in our sources in medieval times. Ever since Aristotle, science had claimed that the world had no beginning… Neither the philosophic/scientific proofs of Aristotle, however, nor the scientific proofs of Newton and Laplace moved our Mesorah (transmitted tradition). None of the chachmei hamesorah who confronted the issue ever suggested that the received position be re-evaluated. Creation ex nihilo always remained a fundamental belief. The scientific approach was simply rejected, even in the face of so-called proofs.
Rabbi Meiselman claims that the issue is not a new one – thereby blurring the distinction between the question of whether the universe was created, and the question of how old it is. But these are as different as chalk and cheese. The reason why creation ex nihilo was not re-evaluated is precisely because it was a fundamental belief. As Rambam states:
The belief in eternity in the way that Aristotle sees it – that is, the belief according to which the world exists by necessity, that nature does not change at all, and that the ordinary course of events cannot be modified in any aspect – this uproots the Torah from its foundation, and utterly denies all the miracles, and erases all the hopes and threats that the Torah assures. (Guide For The Perplexed 2:25)
But Rambam makes it clear that received traditions which are not fundamental beliefs can be reinterpreted. He proceeds to say that the Platonic (as opposed to Aristotelian) view of the eternity of the universe could be accepted, and the Torah reinterpreted to match it – and that the only reason not to do so is that this theory has not been scientifically substantiated:
If, however, we accepted the Eternity of the Universe in accordance with the second of the theories which we have expounded above, and assumed, with Plato, that the heavens are likewise transient, we should not be in opposition to the fundamental principles of our religion; this theory would not imply the rejection of miracles, but, on the contrary, would admit them as possible. The Scriptural text might have been explained accordingly, and many expressions might have been found in the Bible and in other writings that would confirm and support this theory. But there is no necessity for this expedient, so long as the theory has not been proved. (Guide for the Perplexed ibid.)
Furthermore, there have indeed been cases where traditional interpretations were re-evaluated as a result of scientific proofs. One example of this is the rakia. Received tradition, from Chazal through all the Rishonim, based on pesukim, was that the rakia is a solid covering to the world. But once it was discovered that there is no such solid covering, the concept was reinterpreted.
Thus, when Rabbi Meiselman compares the topic of the age of the universe to its creation, he is ignoring and negating the very distinction that Rambam stressed and which makes all the difference in the world. It is precisely due to this very distinction that there were indeed Torah authorities who diverged from the received tradition with regard to the age of the universe. Rabbi Yisrael Lipschitz, the “Tiferes Yisrael,” argued that there were previous epochs before that described in Bereishis—an approach that was endorsed by Maharsham, as well as by one of the people on the Rabbinic Board of Dialogue, Rabbi Aharon Feldman. Rabbi Dovid Tzvi Hoffman argued that a “day” can mean an “era.” And Rambam himself, as explained by Abarbanel, Shem Tov ben Yosef, and Akeidas Yitzchak, along with Ralbag, believed that the “six days” need not refer to a period of time at all. Rabbi Meiselman does not engage in any “Dialogue” with these views, and does not even make any reference to them. In fact, it seems that he considers them religiously unacceptable. Why?
Let us now begin to address the explanation of Bereishis that Rabbi Meiselman proposes. He argues that science simply cannot measure the duration of creation:
One of the main points of this article will be that all current tools for measuring the passage of time presume stability in the relationships between natural processes, similar to what we observe today. In fact, our entire outlook on time reflects this presumption… The presumption of stability in the oscillations of the cesium atom underlies all notions of time measurement today, as well as their projection into other epochs… The assumptions made by contemporary science in this area were never provable in the first place and they remain matters of conjecture. Our Mesorah has always rejected them and there is no justification for changing that stance now.
I will present three explanations as to why Rabbi Meiselman’s approach fails. In reverse order: The third explanation will show why his approach can be scientifically disproved very simply, and rests upon a fundamentally mistaken premise about the development of science. The second explanation will show why his approach is incoherent when one contemplates how prehistoric life fits in to it. The first explanation will show why his approach has no theological advantage over other approaches, and suffers all their disadvantages.
Before discussing his approach, it is helpful to discuss a similar approach, put forth by Rav Shimon Schwab, which I analyzed in The Challenge Of Creation. He posited that billions of years during the era of creation were equal to six regular days today. His explanation for this is that all the events of those fourteen billion years were sped up such that they took place in only six days. An instant difficulty with this, and its resolution, is discussed by Rabbi Schwab:
…It is obvious that if all motion were uniformly multiplied all radiation, for instance, would become lethal. The accelerated speed would turn every particle into a deadly missile. Also a multiplication of the rapidity of all motion would upset the balance of mechanical forces which function differently at different speeds. Therefore, we should rather think of a uniform nexus of changes in the entire system of the natural order which is observable today, a uniform variation in all functions within the framework of natural law in conformity with the new universal velocity, not upsetting the intricate balance of all physical phenomena and the orderly cooperation of all parts within the whole.
Although this solves the technical difficulties, it now raises another type of difficulty—if the entire system has sped up, in what way is it significant to say that any of it has sped up? Again, Rabbi Schwab raises the question, and proposes an answer:
In fact, without having at least one exception somewhere in the universe, the simultaneous uniform acceleration of all motion is in itself a meaningless concept. The fixed reference point which might give meaning to this whole concept is the Creation Light.
However, the Creation Light, even with Rabbi Schwab’s understanding that it had a physical manifestation, is an insignificant point of reference in comparison to the revolutions of the earth, the movement of the planets and suchlike. If the earth is rotating on its axis billions of times, the sun rising and setting billions of times, and countless millions of generations of animals are living their lives, then how is it meaningful to speak of this taking only six days? Imagine if last week was sped up by God so that it only took five minutes on the Cosmic clock—would this be detectable or even meaningful in any way? If fourteen billion years equal six Creation days, then it is fourteen billion years as we understand it, and the six days are being understood differently from the simple understanding. If virtually everything is being sped up, then effectively nothing is being sped up.
Now, Rabbi Meiselman appears to be at least somewhat aware of this problem. He writes as follows:
When we extrapolate backwards in time we are tacitly assuming that throughout the period of the extrapolation all natural processes maintained the same relationships. If, for example, they were all to speed up by a factor of ten we would have no way of measuring or perhaps even detecting the phenomenon.
In fact, it is not just that we could not measure or detect the phenomenon; it is that there would not be a phenomenon. But let us see his continuation:
On the other hand, if one process remained constant we would then have to decide whether the others sped up or that one slowed down.
That is correct. And it would be a fairly easy judgment to make if only one or two processes were different, and all others remained the same. But Rabbi Meiselman proposes that everything was different during creation – that there was simply no such thing as the laws of nature as we know them:
…During the six days of Creation the world was governed by a system of laws that was totally different from the one operative today… Once one accepts the Torah’s version of history—that during certain epochs current natural law was not operative—there is no contradiction at all between the Torah’s chronology and science… The assumptions made by contemporary science in this area were never provable in the first place and they remain matters of conjecture. Our Mesorah has always rejected them and there is no justification for changing that stance now.
In Rabbi Meiselman’s approach, since the laws of nature were “totally different” during Creation, there is simply no way that science can use its ordinary tools to measure its duration. Yet even if what Rabbi Meiselman writes were to be true – and we will prove that it is not true – all that it would mean is that the age of the universe cannot be precisely measured as being exactly 13.8 billion years, as modern science argues. But what is Rabbi Meiselman proposing in its place? In what sense is it remotely meaningful to describe the formation of the universe as taking six days? If the laws of nature and physical processes were completely different, then in what meaningful sense can one say that it lasted six days? It is no more six days than it is six eras or six levels of a hierarchy.
Now, one might counter that the earth turned on its axis six times (“And there was evening, and there was morning”), by which it can be described as six days. But is that really significant? It is six rotations; not six days in any meaningful sense. Furthermore, if sunrise and sunset is all that matters, then you might as well say that the world is billions of years old, and you can accept everything that modern science has to say, with the exception of saying that the rotation of the earth on its axis was drastically slower for all those billions of years.
The particularly strange thing is that in an earlier part of the article, Rabbi Meiselman appears to recognize that some standard of measurement is required, and argues that it exists, but completely fails to explain what it is:
[There are] two distinct conceptions of time measurement — one paralleling our own for use when current relationships are operative and another completely different conception to be used when they are not — both expressed in the same terms. In order for them to work complementarily, however, the existence of a unifying conception applicable in all epochs must be posited. It is this that serves as the true measure of time. Whenever the world is operating in accordance with ordinary natural law the true measure coincides with human convention, making it possible for us to employ the latter and ignore the former. But during those epochs when natural law is not in effect, the true measure ceases to bear any resemblance to our own and it alone has meaning.
But what is this “unifying conception”? What is this “true measure”?! Rabbi Meiselman does not elaborate. Because there is none! And it cannot be posited that God has some Cosmic clock outside of the universe, for two reasons. First of all, it would still be completely meaningless in our terms. Second, elsewhere in the article, Rabbi Meiselman himself endorses Rambam’s view that the concept of time presupposes motion, which in turn presupposes a physical world. And so Rabbi Meiselman has not only failed to explain how the universe can be proposed to have developed in six days; he has even made it meaningless to speak about such a timespan.
Furthermore, many of the theological objections that have been raised against those who accept the antiquity of the universe would equally apply to Rabbi Meiselman’s approach. In his approach, the flow of time during creation, and also during the deluge (when he claims that the laws of nature were likewise completely different), were completely different from the flow of time at other times. In his words: “…there is an extra-cosmic concept of time which is operative independently of scientific time… this operates at times when scientific time is not applicable.” But it has been objected that this undermines the Jewish calendar, as well as legal documents that are based upon it. And others, such as Rav Schwab and the late Lubavitcher Rebbe, argued that any explanation in which the six days were not six ordinary days as we have them would completely undermine the concept of Shabbos:
…The attempt to “reinterpret” the text of the first section of Bereishis to the effect that it speaks of periods or eons, rather than ordinary days… is not only uncalled for, but it means tampering with the Mitzvah of Shabbos itself, which “balances” all the Torah. For, if one takes the words, “one day” out of their context and plain meaning, one ipso facto abrogates the whole idea of Shabbos as the “Seventh day” stated in the same context. The whole idea of Shabbos observance is based on the clear and unequivocal statement in the Torah: “For in six days God made heaven and earth, and on the seventh day He ceased from work and rested”—days, not periods. (Rabbi Menachem Scheerson, Mind Over Matter, p. 110)
Now, I certainly think that such objections can be countered; I did so in my book. But once one is taking such an approach, what has been gained? If you are going to have others condemn your approach as heretical, then you might as well at least be offering a proposal which makes some sort of sense. According to Rabbi Meiselman’s approach – the approach that he deems the sole theologically and scientifically legitimate approach – the creation of the universe did not take six days in any remotely meaningful sense of the term, and the universe was not created 5771 years ago in any remotely meaningful sense of the term.
Denying the Dinosaur Eras
Let us now begin a two-pronged explanation of why Rabbi Meiselman’s theory does not even work from a scientific perspective. Before doing so, however, there is one point that I am forced to address. I have heard a popular and entertaining rabbi claim in a public lecture that I am unqualified to dispute Rabbi Meiselman’s science, since he has a PhD in physics from MIT whereas I lack any formal scientific qualifications beyond high school. And Rabbi Meiselman himself told a mentor of mine that, unlike himself, I lack the scientific competence necessary to discuss these matters.
Now, aside from the fact that scientific theories are evaluated by their content rather than by the qualifications of those presenting them, it is simply not true that Rabbi Meiselman has qualifications in this area. Contrary to that which some claim about him, his doctorate is in mathematics, not physics. Mathematics is not part of the natural sciences. In fact, my father, of blessed memory, who had not only a PhD in physics but also a DSc, and who necessarily mastered mathematics to a very high level, used to tell me that devotion to pure mathematics can actually be a deficiency in a person making a statement about the natural sciences. The reason for this is that mathematics accustoms one to thinking in abstract, imaginary frameworks that are divorced from the real world. As we shall see, Rabbi Meiselman’s theory is very much divorced from reality. And it goes without saying that the global community of scientists—including many Orthodox and even Charedi Jews—would dismiss his approach as sheer nonsense. If a novice in Torah presents a radical suggestion, it would not be taken seriously if it were to be opposed by the entire gamut of accomplished Torah scholars without a single voice in support. By the same token, Rabbi Meiselman’s radical suggestion should not be taken seriously, since it is opposed by the entire gamut of scientists, without a single voice in support.
Of course, I do not have any qualifications in the natural sciences either. But I have studied them in my spare time for many years. More significantly, what I say on this topic is agreed upon by the global community of paleontologists, geologists, physicists, and everyone else in these fields. Furthermore, my arguments can be evaluated on their own merits.
Let us quote Rabbi Meiselman’s theory once more:
One of the main points of this article will be that all current tools for measuring the passage of time presume stability in the relationships between natural processes, similar to what we observe today. In fact, our entire outlook on time reflects this presumption… The presumption of stability in the oscillations of the cesium atom underlies all notions of time measurement today, as well as their projection into other epochs.
This paragraph gives the impression that the scientific assessment of the universe being extremely old is entirely based on the oscillations of the cesium atom. Most people are not very familiar with cesium atoms, which we can’t even see, so it does not sound jarring to suggest that cesium atoms used to act differently.
But what about the dinosaurs? And the therapsids? And the woolly mammoths?
Let us forget about abstract talk about events taking place on a molecular level. Let us instead think about something tangible and familiar, such as animal life. The fossil evidence clearly shows that there were dinosaurs and all kinds of other creatures which lived before people (since no fossils of contemporary creatures are found in the same strata). These animals lived and died and fought and ate and bred – we even find dinosaur nesting sites. Did all that happen in a single day? Did it happen in a universe in which the laws of gravity, the speed of light, and everything else – the very fabric of natural law – was drastically different from what we see today?
Furthermore, it is not as though there was only one period of prehistoric creatures. The fossil record shows beyond doubt that there were numerous distinct periods. The therapsids lived before the dinosaurs; the dinosaurs lived before the mammoths. And even amongst dinosaurs, different layers of rock reveal distinct eras. Stegosaurus, Brachiosaurus and Allosaurus are never found in the same layers of rock as Tyrannosaurus rex, Triceratops, and Velociraptor. The conclusion is that each existed in a different period; the former lived in a period which has been termed the Jurassic, while the latter lived in the Cretaceous period. This is not part of some evil conspiracy by scientists, nor the result of mistakes on their part. Any paleontologist could win instant fame by finding a Tyrannosaur Rex fossil in Jurassic rocks – but nobody has ever done so, which shows that T-Rex lived much later, in the Cretaceous.
So there are countless generations of all kinds of animals, living in distinct periods, leading ordinary animal lives. This is clearly a process that takes many thousands, even millions of years. To describe it as all occurring in one day is simply ridiculous, unless one is taking the word “day” to mean something other than “day.”
I was going to be assume that Rabbi Meiselman simply never even gave any thought to any of this; after all, he’s a mathematician, not a scientist. But then I noticed that he does seem to address it. This is in the context of his explaining that aside from it being impossible to use science to date creation, when there were no laws of nature as we know them, the Mabul also prevents any historical analysis from taking place:
…Although it is possible that prior to the Mabul the world was subject to the same system of natural laws as afterwards, the details of the world may have been very different. We view a world reconstructed from chaos. The laws of physics and chemistry may be the same, but features such as weather patterns and the natural characteristics of the flora and fauna may be radically different from what they once were.
In a footnote, Rabbi Meiselman adds the following:
Note also the change in animal behavior indicated by Bereyshis 9:5; cf. the Ramban’s discussion thereon.
Now, Bereishis 9:5, which speaks about God holding animals accountable for killing humans, doesn’t really indicate anything remotely definitive, but Ramban suggests that it might mean that before the Mabul, animals were all herbivores. That might have been a reasonable suggestion in Ramban’s time, but it’s simply laughable to propose it seriously today. Is Rabbi Meiselman claiming that Tyrannosaurus rex, veloceraptor, and saber-toothed cats all ate grass and leaves?! Aside from the fact that their physiology clearly shows that they were carnivores, we actually have fossilized remnants of their stomach contents and excrement, which show that they were carnivores.
Contrary to Rabbi Meiselman’s claim, we know that the natural characteristics of the flora and fauna of prehistory were not radically different from today. We know a tremendous amount about them. We know what they ate and how they reproduced. We even have whole mammoths, frozen in ice, from which DNA has been extracted and sequenced – and it shows (unsurprisingly) that they are not too different from elephants. Their basic bodily processes functioned in the same way as that of modern animals. They lived in a world that was fundamentally the same as ours – not some bizarre scenario in which the very laws of nature were different, and in which complete lifecycles occurred in a nanosecond.
There are no indications that animal and plant life used to be fundamentally different. There is, however, an overwhelming mass of evidence that animal and plant life used to be fundamentally the same. And that there were countless generations of it. To denounce the claim of the world’s antiquity as being mere “conjecture” predicated upon baseless assumptions, is simply revealing of ignorance.
Presumptions or Conclusions?
Let us now give a precise explanation of why Rabbi Meiselman’s theory is utterly wrong from its very conception. To be honest, this whole exercise is bizarre, since his theory was already neatly been refuted in my book The Challenge Of Creation several years ago. Now, Rabbi Meiselman might well disagree with my refutations. But surely he should at least address them—especially in material to be published in a book whose title parodies the title of my own book! Anyway, I will present them here again, at more length. Let us first quote Rabbi Meiselman’s theory:
One of the main points of this article will be that all current tools for measuring the passage of time presume stability in the relationships between natural processes, similar to what we observe today… The assumptions made by contemporary science in this area were never provable in the first place and they remain matters of conjecture.
But Rabbi Meiselman has it exactly backwards! The notion of stability in the relationships between natural processes is not a presumption of modern science by which it deduces the antiquity of the universe. It’s a conclusion.
Prior to the eighteenth century, geology did not exist as a historical science. The world was universally agreed to have been created several thousand earlier by God, using a dramatic process that could not be fathomed by mortal man – just as in Rabbi Meiselman’s theory. Additionally, just as in Rabbi Meiselman’s approach, it was assumed that the Deluge had wreaked havoc upon the world subsequent to creation.
But in 1793, a canal digger by the name of William Smith made a startling discovery. He found that the same strata of rock are always found in the same order of superposition, and they always contain the same fossils. The significance of this cannot be overstated. Certain types of rock contained certain types of fossils that were unique to those beds. The layers of rock always appeared in the same order. This pattern held true everywhere that Smith checked.
And thus the Meiselman theory was abandoned, and the modern science of geology was born. Geology is an extremely useful science; it’s not an ivory-tower philosophy. All kinds of industries and activities, as well as those investigating natural disasters, employ geologists. Because geology works. The patterns that are found in the rocks, the processes that are inferred from them and are still seen happening today, can all be relied upon to be applicable universally – throughout the planet, and throughout history. Of course, there are occasional aberrations, which certain religious people seize upon and claim to disprove the entire enterprise. But such minor <>kashyas are no more significant than the occasional kashya in Judaism. Overall, the neat patterns that William Smith discovered hold true. Billion-dollar industries prove it so! The constancy of nature over long periods was not an assumption – it was a discovery.
The flip side of the coin is also the case: Rabbi Meiselman’s model can be positively disproved. Rabbi Meiselman’s model predicts that the historical sciences will break down beyond 5771 years – in fact, beyond the Mabul, 4000 years ago. He alleges that because the natural order was entirely different before creation, as well as during the catastrophe of the Mabul, it simply isn’t possible to use the tools of science from our own era for those periods, where everything was different.
But it wasn’t different. We see that it wasn’t different. There is no discernible difference, in any of the many fields of science relevant to the age of the earth or universe, between materials less and more than 4000 years ago. The very same ice layers that are laid down each year in Greenland continue uninterrupted for tens of thousands of years into the past. The very same sedimentary layers that are laid down each year in lakes continue uninterrupted for tens of thousands of years into the past. The very same layers of bark that trees grow every year, which can by synchronized between living and dead trees to produce longer chains, continue to produce chains stretching 12,000 years into the past. And all these processes, as well as many more, synchronize with each other. Fossil pollen and volcanic ash gets trapped in ice layers and provides ways of cross-checking with radioactive dating. Ice layers record past climate changes which correlate with discoveries in astronomy. In short, geologists don’t find that the physical history of the world changes dramatically past 4000 years ago – they find precisely the opposite. The same processes that occur in the last 4000 years are seen to continue in the same way as we look further back in history.
In an attempt to lend scientific credibility to his theory, Rabbi Meiselman alleges that there is support for it from great scientists:
The assumption of the constancy of natural processes throughout the ages has been disputed by some of the greatest names in science.
Rabbi Meiselman’s usage here of the terms “natural processes” and “throughout the ages” is extremely misleading. Let us see who he invokes for this claim:
In 1939 the English physicist and Nobel Prize laureate Paul Dirac wrote, “At the beginning of time the laws of Nature were probably very different from what they are now. Thus, we should consider the laws of nature as continually changing within the epoch, instead of holding uniformly throughout space-time.”
That is indeed what Dirac said, and it is something that has had somewhat of a resurrection in recent times. But what does it mean? It does not mean that a few thousand years ago, there was a completely different natural order! Rather, it means that there was an extremely minor change in some extremely subtle aspects of the natural order over an extremely long period (and more of a change during the first moments of the formation of the universe, billions of years ago). The very same methodology and techniques used to show this, also show that there is overwhelming stability for the vast majority of the natural order for most of history!
Dirac made his claim seventy years ago; more recent reports by scientists in the field clarify matters. John Barrow reports that they found an average increase in the fine-structure constant of close to six parts in a million over the period from six to twelve billion years ago (in the last six billion years, there was no significant change). Others found no increase at all. None of this has anything to do with the billions of years on planet earth in which there were countless generations of prehistoric life. As John Webb notes, “the geological results do not conflict with the quasar results or the atomic clock experiments because they probe very different epochs in the history of the universe.” For Rabbi Meiselman to claim great scientists in support of his approach is rather like someone claiming that Redak’s view of kri/ksiv (that they were not both given at Sinai) means that he held that there is no textual integrity to the Torah and provides support for the Documentary Hypothesis.
Revisionism and the Rav
Rav Yosef Dov Soloveitchik was one of the seminal rabbinic figures of the twentieth century. But he also presents a difficulty for many people in the Charedi world, since he espoused many views that were at odds with Charedi norms. Rabbi Meiselman’s response is to claim that the Rav was entirely misunderstood, asserting that he possesses an “insider’s view.” But as Professor Lawrence Kaplan points out, this is a grave distortion:
First, R. Meiselman’s “insider’s view” is, at many points, clearly contradicted by the insider views of other distinguished members of the Rav’s family who were also his close disciples… Second, and even more important, wherever it is possible to check R. Meiselman’s claims against the Rav’s writings, it turns out that those claims are clearly and explicitly contradicted by clear and explicit statements of the Rav.
Professor Kaplan documents R. Meiselman’s revisionism in the context of the Rav’s positions on the value of philosophy, the nature of Daas Torah, universalism, and Zionism. To this list, I would like to add another item, based upon R. Meiselman’s article in Dialogue: the Rav’s position on the age of the universe.
At the conclusion of Rabbi Meiselman’s article, he discusses the view of Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan that Rav Yitzchok of Acco, a medieval Kabbalist, wrote that the universe is fifteen billion years old. R. Meiselman argues that Rav Yitzchak of Acco does not actually support this view. In this, he is quite correct. In fact, in The Challenge Of Creation, I gave additional reasons as to why Rav Yitzchak does not support such a view – as well as citing a report that Rabbi Kaplan later acknowledged his error and retracted his claim.
But there are two deeply disturbing problems in Rabbi Meiselman’s presentation. One is that he claims that when Rabbi Kaplan described this approach as being “very different than that of many frum Jews who see Torah and science at loggerheads with each other,” he was “specifically referring” to Rav Soloveitchik and making a “barb” at him. As evidence for this accusation, Rabbi Meiselman notes that Rav Soloveitchik gave a presentation to the rabbinic alumni of Yeshiva University in 1971 in which he spoke about Judaism being “at loggerheads with modern science.”
Now, unless there is something that Rabbi Meiselman is not telling us, this seems like an extraordinarily slim reed on which to pin an accusation that Rabbi Kaplan was making a “barb” at Rav Soloveitchik. Rabbi Kaplan uses this phrase after discussing how R. Yisrael Lifschitz (the Tiferes Yisrael) was thrilled about the discovery of dinosaurs and sees it as vindicating the kabbalistic belief in previous worlds. The full paragraph reads as follows:
This approach is very different than that of many frum Jews who see Torah and science at loggerheads with each other. Many of us feel that whenever science makes any statement with regard to paleontology or geology, we must get our bristles up and fight it. The Tiferes Yisroel, on the other hand, sees it as a vindication of an important Torah shitah.
The phrase “being at loggerheads” is surely not so unusual that one can assert that Rabbi Kaplan must have been referring to Rav Soloveitchik – especially since Rav Soloveitchik’s speech was not published and took place eight years earlier!
Furthermore, there is additional reason to believe that Rabbi Kaplan was not referring to Rav Soloveitchik, which brings us to the second problem with this part of Rabbi Meiselman’s article: Rav Soloveitchik was not saying that the scientific view of the age of the universe is at loggerheads with the Torah view! He was talking about the creation of the universe, not the age of the universe. (As noted in the first part of this critique, Rabbi Meiselman has already blurred the two in order to claim that that latter is a fundamental of faith for which the mesorah may not be reinterpreted.) Let us look at Rav Soloveitchik’s words:
We are still at loggerheads with modern science. There is no way to somehow, to try to eliminate that conflict or to try to reconcile it. There is no reconciliation and I will tell you quite frankly that I’m not worried and not concerned that there is no reconciliation. We were confronted many times with those who try to deny briyah yesh me’ayin… Science has no right to say anything because it is not a scientific problem; it is a metaphysical problem… But again we are still at loggerheads… We have something which the goyishe world has not understood.
The issue here is briyah yesh me’ayin – creation ex nihilo. In fact, it can be argued that modern science does not deny this – most scientists would say that it says nothing about what caused the Big Bang – but there certainly have been those, especially in the past, who denied creation ex nihilo. It is this view which the Rav is placed at loggerheads with Torah, not the idea of the universe being billions of years old! If we look at a more extensive quotation from this lecture by the Rav which I transcribed from an audio recording, as opposed to Rabbi Meiselman’s truncated citation, this becomes even clearer:
The foundation on which our emunah rests is Briyat HaOlam… ex nihilo, yesh me’ayin. You see here we are at loggerheads… from antiquity, with Greek philosophy, Greek science. We are still at loggerheads with modern science. There is no way to somehow, to try to eliminate that conflict, or to try to reconcile it. There is no reconciliation and I will tell you quite frankly that I’m not worried and not concerned that there is no reconciliation. Because, science absolutely has no right to make a certain statement about briyah. We believe in creation ex nihilo, which means that there was nothing before, there was only HaKadosh Baruch Hu… We had a lot of trouble with Greek philosophy… We were confronted many times with those who try to deny briyah yesh me’ayin. We are in the same situation and the same condition nowadays. No matter, whatever, it’s completely irrelevant what theory of evolution science accepts – whether the big bang theory, or the instantaneous birth of the universe, or it is the slow piecemeal emergence of the universe, whether it is the emergent evolution or the instantaneous so-called birth of the universe. But science will always say, as far as matter is concerned, particles were always here. Of course, science has no right to say anything, because it is not a scientific problem. It is a metaphysical problem. And in my opinion, it is just as good as the opinion of Einstein about everything. But again we are still at loggerheads… We still have something which the goyishe world has not understood. Yesh me’ayin! Yesh me’ayin is our Jewish heritage… HaKadosh Baruch Hu created everything from nothing.
The Rav makes it absolutely clear that his objection is to those who deny creation ex nihilo. It is creation ex nihilo which Torah demands – but it is irrelevant how the universe developed after that. In fact, in a series of lectures on Genesis that is currently being edited for publication, the Rav explicitly states that one can interpret the six days as referring to long periods of time, or even as stages or sefiros:
Indeed, one of the most annoying scientific facts which the religious man encounters is the problem of evolution and creation. However, this is not the real problem. What actually is irreconcilable is the concept of man as the bearer of a divine image and the idea of man as an intelligent animal in science. Evolution and creation can be reconciled merely by saying that six days is not absolutely so, but is indefinite and may be longer. Maimonides spoke of Creation in terms of phases and the Kabbalah in terms of sefiros, the time of which may be indefinite. However, our conflict is man as a unique being and man as a friend of the animal.
And the Rav’s subsequent resolution of this conflict with evolution is to explain that man is indeed a part of the animal kingdom, but with the power to ascend beyond it. Man’s unique identity as possessing the “image of God” does not refer to a metaphysical, other-worldly entity housed in his body, but rather to the application of his evolved intelligence. (This is elaborated upon at great length in The Emergence of Ethical Man.) It is true that Rav Soloveitchik did not believe that the development of the universe was entirely naturalistic – he did insist on ten points of creative intervention by God, following the Mishnah in Avos which speaks of ten utterances with which the world was created. Nevertheless, he most certainly did not object to this development taking place over billions of years, and he forcefully argued for the Torah authenticity of the view that man was fundamentally created as part of the animal kingdom. In these areas of modern science – precisely those that Rabbi Meiselman is declaring to be at loggerheads with Torah, and invoking the Rav as support – the Rav did not see science as being at loggerheads with Torah at all.
I will conclude this part with another citation from Professor Kaplan’s article, which is equally applicable to this case:
…The fact that a distinguished rabbinic scholar like R. Meiselman, despite his having been a close disciple of the Rav and despite his having been “privileged to be part of his family and household,” could write such a flawed article, an article that presents such a narrow, distorted, and almost unrecognizable picture of his uncle, only serves to underscore the dangers of the revisionist drive on the part of the “right” and the impossibility of refashioning the Rav to fit a Haredi mold.
Rabbi Meiselman’s article blurs critical distinctions in theology. Furthermore, although he claims his approach to be consistent with true knowledge of the scientific enterprise, every scientist in the relevant fields, including Orthodox Jews, would say that his approach reveals utter ignorance. Finally, Rabbi Meiselman distorts the statements of both scientists and Gedolei Torah in support of his case. If all this were only part of a tentative suggestion regarding the age of the universe, it would not be so bad; but when it is presented as the definitive view, this only compounds the chillul Hashem.
 I will acknowledge from the outset that I certainly did not approach this article without bias. Of all the people involved in the notorious campaign against my books, Rabbi Meiselman acted by far the most offensively. He attributed to me positions and statements that were completely fabricated, and engaging in slander about me on a personal level. Recordings of his lectures about me, and a letter that I wrote to him in response, can be found at http://www.zootorah.com/controversy/ravmeiselman.html. Nevertheless, I ask that people evaluate my critique of his article on its own merits.
 Midrash Bereishis Rabbah 4:2; Talmud Yerushalmi, Berachos 1:1.
 Rabbi Yisrael Lipschitz, Derush Ohr HaChaim, found in Mishnayos Nezikin after Maseches Sanhedrin.
 Techeles Mordechai vol. I to Bereishis, section 2.
 Rabbi Aharon Feldman, The Eye of the Storm, pp. 149-150.
 Rabbi Dovid Tzvi Hoffman, Commentary to Bereishis, p. 48.
 Abarbanel, Commentary to Bereishis, p. 10.
 Shem Tov to Moreh Nevuchim, 2:30:9.
 Akeidas Yitzchak, Bereishis, Shaar 3.
 Ralbag, Milchamos HaShem 6:8.
 Rabbi Simon Schwab, “How Old Is The Universe?” in Challenge, p. 169.
 Lawrence Kaplan, “Revisionism and the Rav: The Struggle for the Soul of Modern Orthodoxy,” Judaism 48 (1999) pp. 290-311.
 I found it disturbing that Rabbi Meiselman refers to Rabbi Kaplan as “Kaplan.” I understand that this is the norm in academic journals, but this style was not used anywhere else in Dialogue.
 Genesis Notes, Lecture XII.