The Question of Time

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The Question of Time*

by Rabbi Moshe Meiselman
©Copyright Rabbi Moshe Meiselman

Below is the text of an article from the journal Dialogue, briefly discussed in this post: link and to which R. Natan Slifkin responded here: link. Reprinted here with permission, ©Copyright Rabbi Moshe Meiselman. The coding may get confused in this post but the full article in PDF can be found here: link

 

Introduction

 

One of the outstanding areas of contention between the Torah’s teachings and current mainstream scientific thinking is the subject of dating. The perceived conflicts associated with this multifaceted topic seem to be, prima facie, irresolvable.

 

i. Creation versus a world with no beginning

 

The issue 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. His attitude was that the world has always existed just as we see it today. In more recent times Newton’s laws together with Laplace’s work seemed to have proven this conclusively.

Neither the philosophic/scientific proofs of Aristotle, however, nor the scientific proofs of Newton and Laplace moved our Mesorah. None of the chachmei haMesorah who confronted the issue ever suggested that the received position be reevaluated. Creation ex nihilo has always remained a fundamental belief. The scientific approach has always been simply rejected, even in the face of so called proofs.

 

ii. The scientific view changes

 

The scientific view changed radically in the middle of the twentieth century so that today the overwhelming scientific opinion is that the universe did indeed have a beginning. It is believed, however, that this occurred some fifteen billion years ago, which is still completely incompatible with Biblical chronology.

 

iii. The age of the universe is not a scientific question

 

It is the opinion of this author, however, that there are serious methodological problems both with the scientific approach to this subject and with the critique of the Torah based upon it, as I hope to demonstrate in the present chapter. Therefore just as there was no reason to change our outlook on account of the “proofs” to the earlier view of the world’s eternity, so is there no reason to modify our understanding of the Torah in light of the “proofs” to the current view.

The age of the universe is an issue to be determined by the internal dynamics of the Torah itself. From our perspective it is not a scientific question at all.

 

iv. The problems of chronology

 

Another source of conflict is the discrepancy between the implied chronology of the Biblical narratives and the dates established through archeology and the dating of artifacts. This lack of compatibility has prompted some to opt for non-literal interpretations of various Biblical episodes.

However, the same methodological problems alluded to above with regard to the age of the universe apply in this area as well, very often rendering the supposed conflicts spurious. There are, in addition, many other methodological problems connected with the discipline of archeology that are beyond the purview of this work. Therefore once again there is no reason to change our reading of the Torah in response to mistaken science.

 

(a)

The Meaning of Time

i. Sequence and duration

 

Before we begin, an important observation must be made. Time can be viewed in a number of ways. It can be thought of, for instance, in terms of sequence – i.e. event A happened before event B – for example, the Torah was created before the world. But it can also be viewed in terms of duration and passage – i.e. event C lasted for twenty minutes or alternatively, event D occurred two hours ago. For example, the Jewish People wandered in the desert for forty years; the Torah was created two thousand years before the world.

It is this second way of looking at time that we have in mind when we treat it as an object of measurement, but we will have cause to refer to the first aspect as well in the course of the following discussion. Therefore it is important to take note of which aspect we are speaking of at each juncture.

 

ii. Measurement requires stability

 

One of the main points of this chapter 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.

Later on in this chapter we will cite the views of a number of Rishonim, as well as those of certain non-Torah personalities, regarding the measuring of time during periods when these stable relationships did not exist. Clearly in such periods the means by which time is measured must be very different from those in use today. Nevertheless, we see that Torah sources continue applying the same terms as they move seamlessly from one period to another, making no mention of any disjuncture.

 

iii. Dual conceptions of measurement

 

It is evident from this situation that these sources are employing 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.

 

iv. Time is coeval with the physical universe

 

The Rambam writes that time presupposes motion, which in turn presupposes a physical world. Without motion, there is no time. Time, he concludes, came into existence at Creation.[1] Time could not precede the physical cosmos because it is in fact a necessary feature of it.

The contemporary scientific view is similar. Time came into existence with the emergence of our current physical universe, i.e. with the big bang. For this reason the question, “What was the prior circumstance that precipitated the big bang?” has no scientific meaning. Similarly, to speak of a quantity of time before the big bang has no meaning. Time, both as a sequence of events and as an object of measurement, simply did not exist before the emergence of the physical universe.[2]

Questions such as, “What caused the big bang?” valid as they may seem to the layman, are relegated by modern science to philosophy – or worse, to theology – because scientifically speaking, they are meaningless. Not every question that can be formulated is meaningful, note the scientists, and a meaningless question cannot be given a meaningful answer.

In a different context Stephen Hawking illustrated this by asking, “What is five miles north of the North Pole?” Since the question is nonsensical, it has no answer.

 

v. The atomic clock

 

Time is a way of relating the changes associated with distinct physical processes to one another. Historically, it was measured by astronomical phenomena. The verse in Bereishis tells us that the day, the month and the year are all based upon astronomical movements.[3]

Currently, as a matter of convention, for all scientific and legal purposes time is measured by the behavior of the cesium atom. Since 1967 the International System of Units (SI) has defined the second as the period equal to 9,192,631,770 cycles of the radiation corresponding to the transition between two energy levels of the ground state of the Cesium-133 atom.

This definition makes the cesium oscillator (sometimes referred to generically as the atomic clock) the primary standard instrument for all time and frequency measurements. The measurements thus derived are referred to as “atomic time.” There are formulae to relate this to our astronomical time. To keep the two types of time synchronized, leap seconds must be added from time to time.

 

vi. Extrapolation presumes a stable framework

 

This entire system presumes the absolute coordinated regularity of nature. A change in any one phenomenon vis-à-vis any other would totally upset the way we measure time. Hence, the day that Yehoshua caused the sun to stand still may have been a single astronomical day, but it was surely a longer period as measured by the cesium atom. 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.

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. 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.

 

vii. Coordinating astronomical and atomic time

 

To give a practical example, suppose that the rotation of the earth on its axis were to double in speed while all other natural processes remained constant. We would then be forced to decide whether there were now more days in the year or whether the period of a day had become two revolutions instead of one.

If the latter option were chosen, the day would receive a new astronomical definition, but it would correspond to the same number of cycles of the cesium atom. Contemporary convention would choose the second alternative, but this preference is based upon a totally arbitrary formality.

It should not be inferred from this discussion that the world could in fact remain stable if all natural processes were to speed up – or that such a thing has ever happened. The universe is a delicate mechanism and any change in one variable would demand coordinated changes in countless others. This example was only meant to illustrate the kinds of factors that must be taken into consideration when evaluating issues of time.

 

viii. Nature’s constancy is not a given

 

The assumption of the constancy of natural processes throughout the ages has been disputed by some of the greatest names in science. 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.”[4]

 

ix. Science dismisses what it cannot evaluate

 

According to our Mesorah there were at least two epochs in which the processes of nature were indeed very different from what they are today. The first was during the course of Creation while the second was throughout the period of the Mabul. Although it is certain that the differences were very great, their exact extent and nature are completely unknown to us.

Whenever an event is said to have taken place outside of ordinary natural law there is no way for science to evaluate its factuality. For this reason the report is simply assumed to be false or at the very least, distorted beyond all recognition. This is how science deals not only with Creation and the Mabul, but with all irregular events.

This is a classic example of the application of Occam’s razor.[5] Rather than positing unverifiable alternatives, science takes the familiar current situation and extrapolates it backwards and forwards in time. It has no other way of relating to the past and future.

In general this methodology has proven to be a very effective. It is also a highly reasonable one to adopt in the absence of a Mesorah.[6] The Torah tells us, however, that there were at least two periods of history – during the week of Creation and again in the time of the Mabul – when the current natural order was not functional. During these periods, therefore, extrapolation is inappropriate and leads to mistaken conclusions.

 

x. During Creation and the Mabul different laws applied

 

During the six days of Creation the world was governed by a system of laws that was totally different from the one operative today.[7] Hence it is a mistake to project our current way of measuring time backwards into that period.

Similarly, the period of the Mabul was one of cosmic chaos, involving the disruption of many natural processes.[8] For this reason we can discuss the timing of events that have transpired since the Mabul and of those preceding it (subsequent to Creation), but we cannot make any projections backward from what we currently observe into or beyond the year of the Mabul.[9]

Take, for instance, the assertion that a certain tree has been shown scientifically to be 5000 years old. There are two reasons why this statement is nonsensical from the Torah perspective:

· First, we do not understand how the chaos of the Mabul altered the natural processes operative at the time, hence we cannot know how these, in turn, affected the tree.

· Second, since the world was governed by different laws during the Mabul, the means by which time is measured today cannot be applied to this period. In other words, our standard approach to time does not provide us with the continuum of measurement necessary for evaluating the age of the tree.[10]

 

xi. More difficulties in evaluating ancient events

 

The difficulties in evaluating antediluvian events are actually much greater than may appear from the foregoing discussion. When we examine remains from the postdiluvian world we can make certain presumptions about what took place with relative confidence. We can then assign approximate dates to these events using the tools of measurement with which the continuity of natural law provides us.

This approach fails, however, when we attempt to apply it to the period of the Mabul and before. There are three reasons for this:

· First, as already noted, there is no continuum of natural law that includes the contemporary world, the period of the Mabul and the antediluvian world. Hence there are no common tools of measurement with which to construct a comprehensive table.

· Second, 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.[11]

· Third, we are incapable of evaluating the impact that the Mabul itself had upon the world.

In short, there is no sound basis for interpreting remains from epochs whose rules we do not understand. Interpreting the results of the process of Creation or the chaos of the Mabul is beyond our ability.

 

xii. An apparent conflict due to circular reasoning

 

During the period of Creation God was still engaged in putting our current system together. At the time of the Mabul He tore the world apart and put it back together again in an orderly but changed fashion. Consequently, we have no way of knowing what rules were operative during either episode. For this reason contemporary methods of interpretation and measurement break down when confronted by these two periods.

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. It is only when one denies the Torah’s version of events that the contradictions arise. The issue is completely circular.

 

xiii. Different assumptions, different conclusions

 

To sum up, there are two reasons why no definitive conclusions can ever be drawn from remains found in early geological contexts: First, during the periods of Creation and the Mabul the world was subject to different laws than those operative today. Second, during those epochs time itself had a different meaning than it has today.

By contrast, when contemporary science sets about analyzing ancient remnants it implicitly assumes the reverse of these two points – namely, a) that natural law has never changed, and b) that time has always had the same meaning.

The real dispute, then, is about the kinds of assumptions it is legitimate to make, while the differences in conclusions are merely derivative of that. 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.

 

 

* This is a shortened version of a chapter in my forthcoming book. The technical bases for much of what is
written here are expanded on there in great detail.
However, there are two issues that the context of a journal article does not allow to be expounded on in
detail.
The first is that I show in great detail that the Rambam, Ramban, Rashba and Rabbeinu Bachye,
among other rishonim, adopt a dual concept of time. Time as we know it came into existence with
Creation; however, 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. When the world operates according to
regular scientific norms, the two concepts overlap. However, at times when Divine Providence suspends
natural law, we measure time by the extra-cosmic clock. A detailed analysis of the above mentioned
rishonim is a necessary part of the ideas in this chapter.
The second is the fact that we show in great detail that just as there is such a thing as an halachic
ruling (psak halacha) in practical areas of daily life, so too there is psak halacha in issues of Torah
ideology (Hashkafah). Adopting singular opinions is as wrong in hashkafa as it is in halacha. The technical
detail that supports this position is expounded on in my book as well.

[1]

 

מורה נבוכים חלק ב פרק יג:

.ואחר כן המציא כל אלה הנמצאות כפי מה שהם, ברצונו וחפצו לא מדבר, ושהזמן עצמו ג”כ מכלל הנבראים, כי הזמן נמשך אחר התנועה, והתנועה מקרה במתנועע, והמתנועע ההוא בעצמו אשר הזמן נמשך אחר תנועתו מחודש והי’ אחר שלא הי’, ושזה אשר יאמר הי’ הבורא קודם שיברא העולם, אשר תורה מלת הי’ על זמן, וכן כל מה שיעלה בשכל מהמשך מציאותו קודם בריאת העולם המשך אין תכלית לו, כל זה שער זמן או דמות זמן לא אמתת זמן, כי הזמן מקרה בלא ספק

[2] In an address on this topic theoretical physicist Paul Davies said the following: “If the big bang was the beginning of time itself, then any discussion about what happened before the big bang, or what caused it – in the usual sense of physical causation – is simply meaningless. Unfortunately, many children, and adults, too, regard this answer as disingenuous. There must be more to it than that, they object. Indeed there is. After all, why should time suddenly ‘switch on’? What explanation can be given for such a singular event? Until recently, it seemed that any explanation of the initial ‘singularity’ that marked the origin of time would have to lie beyond the scope of science. However, it all depends on what is meant by ‘explanation’….

“The essence of the Hartle-Hawking idea is that the big bang was not the abrupt switching on of time at some singular first moment, but the emergence of time from space in an ultra-rapid but nevertheless continuous manner. On a human time scale, the big bang was very much a sudden, explosive origin of space, time, and matter. But look very, very closely at that first tiny fraction of a second and you find that there was no precise and sudden beginning at all. So here we have a theory of the origin of the universe that seems to say two contradictory things: First, time did not always exist; and second, there was no first moment of time. Such are the oddities of quantum physics.

“Even with these further details thrown in, many people feel cheated. They want to ask why these weird things happened, why there is a universe, and why this universe. Perhaps science cannot answer such questions. Science is good at telling us how, but not so good on the why. Maybe there isn’t a why. To wonder why is very human, but perhaps there is no answer in human terms to such deep questions of existence. Or perhaps there is, but we are looking at the problem in the wrong way. Well, I didn’t promise to provide the answers to life, the universe, and everything, but I have at least given a plausible answer to the question I started out with: What happened before the big bang? The answer is: Nothing.

(See http://www.fortunecity.com/emachines/e11/86/big-bang.html.)

[3] בראשית פרק א פסוק יד: ויאמר א’, יהי מארת ברקיע השמים להבדיל בין היום ובין הלילה והיו לאתת ולמועדים ולימים ושנים.

[4] Dirac, Paul “The relationship between mathematics and physics,” Proceedings of the Royal Society (Edinburgh), v. 59, pp. 122-129.

[5] Occam’s razor will be explained in detail later. Briefly, it is the principle that when faced with different ways of explaining a set of data or a phenomenon one should adopt the simplest until forced to change.

[6]

ראה ספר הכוזרי מאמר ה אות יד ואין הסכמה בין פילוסוף לחברו. על כל פנים אין להאשימם על כך. אדרבה, יש לשבחם על ההשגים שהשיגו בכח ההפשטה שבהקשיהם, ועל שכוונו אל הטוב, ויסדו את החקות השכליות, ומאסו בתענוגי העולם הזה. להם אפוא היתרון על כל פנים, כי הרי לא נתחייבו לקבל את דעותינו אנו.

אולם אנחנו מחויבים להאמין בכל אשר ראו עינינו ובמסרת הדומה לעדות הראי‘.

 

[7] מורה נבוכים חלק שני פרק ל. וכל החכמים ז”ל מסכימים שכל פרשה זו היתה ביום הששי, ושלא ישתנה דבר כלל לאחר ששת ימי בראשית, ולפיכך לא יהא רחוק שום דבר מאותם הדברים כפי שאמרנו שעד עתה לא גובש טבע יציב.

 

מורה הנבוכים חלק א פרק סז

.. ואמר כי בכל יום מן הששה היו מתחדשים חדושים יוצאים מזה הטבע המונח הנמצא עתה במציאות בכללו, וביום השביעי נמשך הענין והונח כפי מה שהוא עתה

[8] בראשית רבה כה ב אמר ר’ יוחנן לא שמשו המזלות כל אותן י”ב חדש. אמר לו ר’ יונתן שמשו, אלא שלא הי’ רישומן ניכר. לא ישבותו, רבי אליעזר ורבי יהושע. רבי אליעזר אמר לא ישבותו, מכאן שלא שבתו. ורבי יהושע אומר לא ישבותו, מכאן ששבתו.

[9] This may be the intention of the Midrash stating that the period of the Mabul does not figure in the reckoning of Noach’s years.

[10] It also follows that the days and months spoken of within the year of the Mabul are reckoned in accordance with an entirely different sort of clock. Similarly, when we say that the world is 5770 years old we are again employing a different sort of clock than the one we use ordinarily, even though the units we refer to are identical.

[11] Note for example the diminution in human life spans after Noach, at least of the great leaders. Note also the change in animal behavior indicated by Bereishis 9:5; cf. the Ramban’s discussion thereon.

 

(b)

Rav Yitzchak of Acco

i. The concept of Sabbatical cycles

 

In a final note, the popular literature often cites the view propounded by Rav Yitzchak of Acco (1250-1340),[1] a medieval Kabbalist and talmid of the Ramban, which indeed seems to place the age of the universe at around fifteen billion years.[2] Rav Yitzchak is elaborating upon a position found in the early Kabbalistic work Sefer HaTemunah,[3] according to which the years of this world comprise one out of seven Shemita or “Sabbatical” cycles of 7000 years each.

The general understanding is that according to Sefer HaTemunah we are currently in the second cycle.[4] Assuming, however, as some commentaries do,[5] that we are currently in the seventh Sabbatical cycle,[6] our calendar would then begin when the entire system was 42,000 years old.

Rav Yitzchak’s innovation was that the “days” of these years are “Divine days,” of a thousand years each, so that a “year” is equivalent to 365,250 of our years.[7] 365,250 times 42,000 equals 15.3405 billion years. It is claimed that this figure corresponds roughly to the age of the universe mentioned in the context of contemporary cosmological theory.

 

ii. What clock was Rav Yitzchak using?

 

There are many flaws in this approach to the issues of chronology. Let us begin by examining whether it actually resolves the problems it is meant to address. In the schema of Rav Yitzchak, based upon that of Sefer HaTemunah, the totality of time is comprised of a number of separate segments or Sabbatical cycles, each one constituting a world unto itself. The contemporary authors who cite this view presume that all these segments can be figured into the reckoning of years elapsed since the Big Bang.

In order for this assumption to be valid, however, there must be some sort of clock running continuously from one world to the next. But if each succeeding universe is created yesh mi’ayin, as seems to be the case,[8] it is difficult to see how any single clock, based on physical phenomena, can run continuously from one to the next, or how their durations could be combined in any meaningful way.

This suggests that Rav Yitzchak himself was using a conception of time that was very different from our own. Perhaps he is following in the footsteps of his mentor the Ramban, who posited the existence of an extra-cosmic clock. Thus the various segments of time are tied together only in the metaphysical realm. If this is the case, his opinion is of very little use in reconciling the Torah with theories that measure time according to physical criteria in the billion of years.

 

iii. Rav Yitzchak’s schema encompasses many worlds

 

Even if the issue of the “clock” could somehow be circumvented, the difficulties would still not be resolved. The continued existence of physical phenomena from the distant past would remain problematic. For example, if the bones of the dinosaurs are from a previous Sabbatical cycle, why do we find them in our world?

Similarly, if each succeeding world was created yesh mi’ayin, why is the light given off by distant stars millions or billions of years ago still in transit? And why is the background microwave radiation, used as evidence for the Big Bang, still detectable? Why did it not vanish when the first Sabbatical world came to an end?

 

iv. Is this what the sources had in mind?

 

One must also ask, is this a faithful reading of the sources in question? Let us suppose that we are in deed in the seventh Sabbatical cycle. Here are some of the things that Sefer HaTemunah writes about the second cycle, which supposedly ended more than ten billion years ago:[9]

“And from this comes the power to the second Sabbatical cycle, for there to be redemptions on high and down below, after exiles, and for there to be complete healing for the penitent and for there to be from there the power of forgiveness and atonement, etc.”[10]

“And from the power of the form of the second Sabbatical cycle – at seasons and times known for exiles, and times prepared and the secret of their service in their exiles – together a nation and its God in their exile, etc.”[11]

“And from this power comes unity and wholeness to the second Sabbatical cycle and endurance to its Torah and a remainder to its people. And even with this, when they are in the land of their enemies I have not reviled them nor have I rejected them, etc.”[12]

“And from the power of this form and the second Sabbatical cycle for there to be vengeance against idols and their owners and violators of the covenant and desecrators of Shabbos and undoers of this covenant of unification, etc.”[13]

I am not a Kabbalist and do not pretend to understand the depths of these matters, yet I cannot help but ask – do these quotes sound even remotely like a description of the evolution of the galaxies in the distant past? But even if we set aside the question of which Sabbatical cycle we are in, is that what the discussions in this book are about? [14] Surely the discussions here are about spiritual matters and worlds not even remotely related to those described by the cosmologists![15]

 

v. Relying upon minority opinions

 

The theory we have been discussing grafts together the position of the sefer Livnas HaSapir – that we are in the seventh Sabbatical cycle – with that of Rav Yitzchak of Acco that the years of these cycles are “Divine years.” Since there is no reason to suppose either that Livnas HaSapir agrees with Rav Yitzchak regarding the length of the years, or that Rav Yitzchak agrees with Livnas HaSapir regarding which cycle we are in, the theory essentially involves synthesizing a new position not mentioned in any source.

What is more, it involves building a major hashkafic position upon an opinion that was rejected by the Ramak (1522-1570),[16] the Ari (1534-1572)[17] and Rav Chaim Vital (1543-1620), the three giants of Kabbalah of the sixteenth century.[18]

It is true that important later Kabbalists, including the Vilna Gaon and the Leshem, revived the doctrine of Sabbatical cycles, on the basis of a passage in Tikkunei Zohar, and resolved it with the teachings of the Ari.[19] Nevertheless, when this doctrine was first invoked to solve modern cosmological difficulties these sources were not mentioned. Instead it was claimed that in matters of hashkafah there is never a pesak and one is therefore free to accept whatever position one chooses, even if the view was rejected by the major authorities.[20]

The position of Livnas HaSapir, that we are in the seventh Sabbatical cycle, remains a minority opinion among those affirming the doctrine of Sabbatical cycles, while the innovation of Rav Yitzchak that each day of each year is a thousand years long seems to be an entirely unique view. In Chapter Eight we will discuss at length the validity of basing one’s hashkafah upon minority views and rejected positions from the past. We will also have something to say about the claim that there is never a pesak in matters of hashkafah. For the time being let it suffice to say that this approach exemplifies the kind of shoddy thinking that characterizes much of the literature of the day.

 

vi. Whatever they have, we had it first!

 

Theories of this sort hold great appeal to those who believe that whatever the non-Torah world embraces, we must show that we had it first! Especially in recent times this kind of thinking has come to replace serious analysis far too often.[21]

 

[1] In Otzar HaChaim, as of yet unpublished. The best manuscript is said to be Guenzburg (Moscow), no. 775. I thank Rabbi Mordechai Frankel for this and other information pertaining to this subject.

[2] The first person to popularize this opinion was Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan in an address to the AOJS on February 18, 1979. This address is still available online at a number of Websites. He also discusses the subject in Immortality, Resurrection and the Age of the Universe: A Kabbalistic View, Ktav, 1992.

[3] Although this work has been attributed to the Tanna Rabbi Nechunya ben HaKanah, the Ramak rejects this out of hand. He writes:

 

שיעור קומה פ ע”א:

.ולא ידענו מי מחבר הס’, זולתי שנמסר לנו שהם דברי ר’ יצחק בעל ס’ א”ז ובעל ס’ מראות הצובאות ובעל ספר הגבול ובעל ס’ סודי רזי’. הרי ביארתי לך ספריו, וצא ובדוק בהם ותמצא אס יש כדאי לסמוך על חידושיו. והוא היה אחרון

The Ari also refers to the author of the sefer merely as one of the mekubalim (Sha’ar Ma’amarei Rashbi, p. 212).

[4] For example, the Ramak in Shiur Komah, p. 80a. In fact, the Ari, who disagrees with Sefer HaTemunah, writes that what misled him was the statement found in earlier works that we are in the Shmitah HaSheniyah, which according to the Ari means something else entirely. In any event, the Ari obviously understood that according to Sefer HaTemunah we are in the second cycle.

[5] Kaplan cites the 14th century work Livnas HaSapir, by R. David b. R. Yehuda HaChassid (Jerusalem, 1913), which he calls, “the most authoritative interpretation of the Sefer HaTemunah. In fact, Livnas HaSapir does not mention Sefer HaTemunah by name at all. Nevertheless, he does discuss the idea of Sabbatical cycles (p. 1a), apparently from an independent source. According to him we are currently in the seventh cycle.[6]  Kaplan says sixth in his lecture, but this is clearly a mistake. For our calendar to begin at 42,000 years six cycles must have already been completed, which is in fact what Livnas HaSapir says.[7] Tikkunei Zohar (Tikkun 36) uses the principle of “Divine days” to arrive at the figure of seven thousand years per “week” in the first place, thus Rav Yitzchak’s position apparently involves invoking it twice.[8] The Ramak writes:[9] Assuming that we are now in the seventh cycle, four complete cycles of 7000 Divine years would have passed since the end of the second cycle. Multiplied by 365,250 human years per Divine year that comes to 10.227 billion.[10] ספר התמונה (לעמברג תרנב) נג ע”ב: ומזה הכח לשמטה שנית להיות גאולות עליונות ותחתונות, אחר הגליות, ולהיות רפואה שלימה לבעלי תשובה, ולהיות משם כח סליחה וכפרה לנצח, שהוא יום כפרה וטהרה כלולה ברחמים.[11] שם נט ע”א: ואז הכל נסתלק והאדם שב למקומו אשר לוקח משם. כי הולך האדם אל בית עולמו, העפר למקומו, הרוח תשוב אל מקומה אשר ניתנה, כי הכל נתעלה. ומכח הצורה לשמטה שנית בעתים וזמנים ידועים לגליות ולזמנים מתוקנים. וסוד עבודתם בגליותם יחד גוי ואלקיו בגלותם, מדובקים, מיוחדים בצורת האות, סגורים בגלותם עד עת זמן אשר יפדה גוי ואלקיו.[12] שם סב ע”ב: ומזה הכח יחוד ושלימות לשמטה שנית וקיום בתורתה ושארית בעמה, ואף גם זאת בהיותם בארץ אויביהם לא מאסתים ולא געלתים וכו‘.[13] שם סה ע”א: ומכח זו הצורה ושמטה שנית להיות נקמה בע”ז ובבעליהם, ובעוברי ברית ומחללי שבת והמיפר ברית היחוד זה.[14] The discussion in Livnas Sapir is no more compatible with modern cosmological theory. The author of that work spreads the “thousand generations” of humanity mentioned in Tehillim 105:8 over all seven Sabbatical cycles:[15] In his lecture Rabbi Kaplan also harnesses to his cause a number of Midrashim, including one stating that, “there was an order of time before this.” When the Steipler Gaon (1899-1985) was told of his theory, or one like it, he responded in a letter:[16] שיעור קומה עט ע”א-פ ע”א: ואולם מצאתי בדרוש הזה להקת מקובלים שהרחיבוהו, ראשון לכלם הוא בעל ס’ התמונה, בתמונה השלישית, ז”ל, ראשונה אמ’ שהם ז’ שמטות הקפת העולם ז’ אלפי שנין, שית וחד חרוב וכו‘.[17] Rav Chaim Vital quotes the Ari to this effect in a number of places. Here are two:[18] As Rabbi Kaplan himself acknowledged. In the lecture referred to earlier he says: [19] לשם שבו לאחלמה, דרושי עולם התוהו, חלק ב דרוש ג ענף ז: ודע, כי כל מה שאמרנו כאן מענין סוף כל התיקונים, שהוא עד אלף העשירי, כי משם ולמעלה הוא בעולמות דא”ס כנז’, הנה אין זה סתירה כלל לענין השמיטות הנמצא בדברי הראשונים, ספר התמונה והקנה והרמב”ן והמערכת והרקאנטי והציוני ורבינו בחיי והרדב”ז. וכן הרמ”ק ז”ל בפרדס בשער הנתיבות פ”ב ובשער פרטי השמות פ”ג האמין ג”כ בזה. אמנם בספר שיעור קומה מיאן בזה הרבה, וכן בדברי הרח”ו ז”ל בלק”ת פ’ קדושים. אך הגר”א ז”ל לא דחה דברי הראשונים כלל, ועשה סמוכות לדבריהם ואמר בתיקונים תיקון ל”ו, זה לשונו, מכאן משמע כדברי הראשונים דשבע שמיטות, ואנן בשניה עכ”ל.[20] After noting that the Ramak and the Ari rejected the theory Kaplan asserts:[21] I will add as an epilogue to this discussion that in the same lecture Kaplan makes specific reference to the words of Mori veRebbi, ztz”l, in his address of October 20th, 1971, to the Rabbinic Alumni of Yeshiva University. Mori veRebbi observed on that occasion that those who are convinced of the Torah’s veracity are at loggerheads with modern science and that there can be no resolution of the conflict:

 

 

 

 

שיעור קומה עט ע”ב:

. ועתה ראה שאין אתה יכול לקלע אל הקדמותיו באומרך שהרי העולם קדמון, שהוא (ספר התמונה) דעתו אינו אלא שיתחדש יש מאין בכל שמטה ושמטה, ואין השמטה החולפת מחייבת קדמות

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

לבנת הספיר א ע”א:

. עוד ראי’ דהאי שמטה בתריתא פועלת מדכתי’, דבר צוה לאלף דור. והם חמשים אלף שנה. ולפי סדר השמטות הוו להו תת’ף דורות לששה שמטות, נשארו לשמטה שביעית ק’ך דורות

 

 

קריינא דאגרתא ח”א מכתב מו:

‘. וע”ד שנמצאו מאחז”ל שמשמעותן לכאורה כמו שעולה ע”ד הריקים, באמת ח”ו חלילה וחלילה, אין משם שום זכר לזה כלל וכלל וכו

 

וכן מה שאחז”ל במדרש רבה (בראשית ג ז) יהי לא נאמר אלא ויהי, מכאן שהיה סדר זמנים קודם לכן. א”ר אבוה מלמד שהיה הקב”ה בונה עולמות ומחריבן עד שברא את אלו. ע”כ לשון המדרש. ולא נתבאר כלל שהעולם הזה הלז היתה מלפני ששת ימי בראשית ח”ו, חלילה וחלילה. אלא שהיה סדר זמנים ובריאת עולמות אחרים, אם באופן רוחני כענין שדים וכיו”ב, או באופן גשמי. ובכל אופן אינו קאי על עולם הזה. היעלה על הדעת שח”ו חז”ל יכחישו חלילה פרשת מעשה בראשית

?

 

After giving several pages of proofs against the view of Sefer HaTemunah the Ramak concludes:

 

ואחר שטיהרתי רעיוניך מכל הסברות הזרות האלו, רצוני להעמידך על תוכן הדברים כלם, עד סוף אימות הדבר בלי ספק כלל ועיקר. ובכלל דברי אעביר דעות זרות גם מהדרוש הזה, בע”ה. וראשונה תקבע בלבך כי תחלת מציאות הנאצלים ע”ס הנקודה האחרונה היא היא המציאות הזה ואין זולתו

. 

 

 

שער מאמרי רשב”י (ירושלים, תשמ”ח) מד:

.ואמר, ושמרו בני ישראל את השבת לעשות את השבת, הרי כי בכל פסוק תמצא מוזכרים שתי שבתות ביחד. ובכלל הדבר הוא להודיעך ענין טעות אחד, נפל בפי קצת המקובלים כמו ספר קנה וספר בעל התמונה, האומרים כי שבע שמיטות יהיו בעולם, וכל שבעה אלף שנה הם שמיטה אחת. וכבר עברה שמיטה ראשונה, ואנחנו עתה בשמיטה הב׳, הרומזת אל ספירת הגבורה, וכיוצא בזה האריכו בדברים אשר לא כן. ועתה אודיעך, כי אין להאמין בדברים האלו, וסיבת מי שהביאם לידי טעות הזה, יתבאר בדברינו אלה

 

ספר הליקוטים (מודפס עם שער הפסוקים, ירושלים, תשמ”ח) קצא-קצב:

‘. הנה תמיד תמצא ענין שני שבתות. גם בזה תבין היטב מהיכן טעו אותם שאמרו זו שמטה שניה. והענין, וכו

 

הרי איך שני שבתות הם, א’ ביום שבת שנאצל הדר העליון, וביום שבת שני שנאצלה המלכות. ואלו הם סוד שני שבתות הנז’ בכל מקום. ובזה תבין סוד מה שאנו קוראים לז’ אלפי שנין שמטה שניה, כי הם שניים בערך המלכים דארץ אדום. אמנם מזה טעו ואמרו דא”כ שזו היא שמטה שניה, א”כ ודאי צריך שיושלמו עד הז’ שמטות

. 

 

“Before going any further, I must mention that most recent Kabbalah texts do not mention the shitah of Sefer HaTemunah. The reason is that two of the greatest mekubalim disputed it. The first was the Ramak, Rabbi Moshe Cordevero, at the end of his sefer Shiur Komah, who says that we do not follow the shitah of Sefer HaTemunah. Also the Ari in his Likutey Torah on BeHar says that the Sefer HaTemunah is incorrect. In fact, in the hakdamah of Sefer VaYak’hel Moshe, the author says, ‘Look at the greatness of the Ari. There was a shitah that was upheld by all the early generations of mekubalim, but the Ari said that he was wrong.’”

 

This does not have any bearing, however, on any of the other criticisms above. Note also that the Gaon states explicitly that we are in the second Sabbatical cycle, not the seventh.

 

“But still, as I have said, this involves a question of hashkafah, and no pesak is possible. Therefore, one has every right to make use of this shitah.”

 

“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.”

In his own talk Kaplan barbed, “This approach is very different than that of many frum Jews who see Torah and science at loggerheads with each other.”

 

About Moshe Meiselman

23 comments

  1. The age of the universe is an issue to be determined by the internal dynamics of the Torah itself
    ======================================
    and thus no issue of reason vs. revelation and we can stop there.
    KT

  2. What Rav Meiselman says of physics is purest sophistry. For example, physics is perfectly capable of dealing with the fact that the length of the day (the Earth’s rotational period) is not in constant ratio with the oscillation of cesium atoms. Both short term variations and long term variations are observed and measured. Indeed, one can find all kinds of measurements and attempted measurements of the variability of basic laws and constants of physics in the scientific literature. Now Rav Meiselman is certainly correct that an omnipotent God could perform miracles that will let physics work correctly for everything current and seem to work completely for everything back to the big bang, while hiding the fact there is some discontinuity such that the apparent success of physics extrapolating through it is an illusion. (To me, that is more theologicvally troubling than to interpret parts of Chumash metaphorically, but my opinion doesn’t really matter.) However, if R. Meiselman will concede that science works back to the Mabul, he still has a problem. The genetic variation within humans (and other sprecies) is far too great to allow descent from a single breeding pair 4000 years ago. Thus at some point either the success of scientific method in the present is one big Divine joke, or the beginning of Sefer Breishit cannot continue to be interpreted literally.

    The Ra’avad points out that there were those great rabbinic scholars, in his words “greater than the Rambam”, who took the pesukkim describing God’s body parts literally. I have no doubt we will, a couple of hundred years from now, look on those who insisted on a literal understanding of the creation story in Chumash the same way we now look upon those scholars who believed in a corporeal God.

  3. Reading silliness such as this emanating from the pen of an otherwise intelligent individual leads me to despair of humanity. Positing last Thursdayism from one’s armchair is nothing more than a cop out. It is simply the supposition that we there is no point in trying to find out anything about the history of our world at all. When we discover a fossil showing patterns of daily growth in teeth or remnants of civilizations that existed continuously well before and throughout the period under discussion, R. Meiselman wants us to simply throw our hands up (and our brains out) and posit that all of this is simply meaningless. It is most surprising, according to the Meiselman theory, that we find any order whatsoever in the fossilised and geological remnants of times past (there are no fossil rabbits in the Precambrian for example, to quote JBS Haldane). Accoridng to him, geologists might as well close up shop, biologists can go home and anthropologists should ignore their findings. What is most upsetting is the unseriousness of this entire pseudo-intellectual project – its proponents have no plans for how we should reorder human knowledge in light of their theories. All told, there is something distinctly ungrateful about enjoying the benefits of all the conveniences that modern science has brought us, whilst disparaging the intellecual foundations that make it possible.

  4. What I find amazing is that the author is taking on the opinion of what is arguably rov rishonim in the name of defending tradition. Easiest example, the Ramban on the first pasuq is representative of a large tradition of the idea that there was time between Bereishis 1:1 and 1:2 before the substance we live among took its current form. This notion that the universe is not 6 millenia old yet didn’t gain much traction until after science posited a finite but much older universe. It’s part of the post-Enlightenment Counter Reformation, and not classical Judaism. For that matter, the publication of Challenge and its long section presenting a variety of opinions on the subject faced no opposition in 1978.

    It’s the literalists who carry the burden of proof, and a measure of their ability to carry off revisionist history that the conversation doesn’t bear out that tenor.

  5. While he cites the Ramak that “But if each succeeding universe is created yesh mi’ayin, as seems to be the case…” there is either ignorance or a lack of intellectual honesty in noting the Bahir and Tif’eres Yisrael managed to disagree. RSRH rejects literalism altogether. In fact writing this article without even mentioning or attempting to respond to the Tif’eres Yisrael or RSRH requires some explanation. Or R’ Mordechai Schwadron’s support for this shitah in “Tekheiles Mordechai”. I guess it is much easier to limit oneself to “Kaplan” (R’ Aryeh), who he can more readily treat as a bar pelugta.

    He also ignores the Maharal’s and R’ Dessler’s approach but then, most people do. People want an answer, not something saying maaseh bereishis is too alien for us to really understand what happened, what time was, etc…

  6. R. Berger,
    Ye’yasher kochakha for your critique of R. Meiselman. At the same time, in defense of R. Meiselman, his opinion seems to be shared by RMF (IM YD 3:73).
    http://www.hebrewbooks.org/pdfpager.aspx?req=920&st=&pgnum=326

  7. R. Meiselman’s opinion is also shared by R. Menasheh Klein.
    http://www.hebrewbooks.org/pdfpager.aspx?req=1874&st=&pgnum=120
    Although not available online, this also appears to be R. Jacob Israel Kanievsky’s view (Kraina D’Iggarta, 1:115).
    Thus, this dispute has tzaddikim on both sides (-B”H, like all cases of milchamtah shel Torah).

  8. oh, that kind of dating.

  9. Just to be fair to both righteous sides in this illuminating debate, I must say that – while it was a brilliant oral disquisition – I possess a minor objection to the analysis of HaRav HaGa’on R. Aharon Moshe Schechter on this subject. [R. Schechter’s remarks are recorded at http://www.zootorah.org/controversy/RavSchechter.html ] My minor objection is that R. Schechter applied the verse “kevod melakhim chakor davar” (Proverbs 25:2) to the instructions that HKB”H gives us in the Torah, seeing as HKB”H is the *melekh*. With all due respect to R. Schechter, his interpretation of Proverbs 25:2 strikes me (katalmid ha’yoshev bakarka vedan lifnei Rabbo) as one that might benefit from modification. “Melakhim” is in the plural; surely we cannot apply such a verse to Melekh Malkhei Hamelakhim, Who is One and Only. I think what R. Schechter should have said (if I may have the hubris to suggest a minor modification to his speech, in the spirit of the “lechadudei” principle bespoken by the gemara in Berakhot 33b) is that “melakhim” refers to the Sages. Indeed, this is Rashi’s elucidation to that verse.
    http://www.hebrewbooks.org/pdfpager.aspx?req=14259&st=&pgnum=153
    And then R. Schechter’s thesis becomes coherent.

  10. RSS, I have no problem with people holding like a mi’ut of rishonim. My problem is with their misrepresenting the rov and making it look like a bunch of moderns, in response to science, are trying to fit something new into the Torah.

    I agreewith RMM that “The age of the universe is an issue to be determined by the internal dynamics of the Torah itself” in the sense that if we think we have to make up new shitos solely because of science (or another external dynamic) we know we either didn’t understand the old shitos or the science.

    But here that whole issue doesn’t even come up. There were rishonim arguing an old universe and a non-literal take on Bereishis 1 back when “science” (really Natural Philosophy, in those days) argued the universe had no begining, and adding time to history didn’t resolve any external issues.

    RMM, in that one sentence summarizes his distortortion of the history of the machloqes. And that is what I’m objecting to.

  11. To Micha:

    What I find amazing is that the author is taking on the opinion of what is arguably rov rishonim in the name of defending tradition.

    Where do you see this? All I see is that the author is illustrating the lack of dependability of modern science to determine the age of the universe and the nature of a antediluvian world. But I did not see that the author attempted to flesh out in any detail what the internal dynamics of the Torah does produce. (See the asterisk not at the beginning of the footnotes)

    I can understand your disappointment in seeing that this aspect was left out, but where you do see that it was “taking on” any rishon?

  12. In fact writing this article without even mentioning or attempting to respond to the Tif’eres Yisrael or RSRH requires some explanation. Or R’ Mordechai Schwadron’s support for this shitah in “Tekheiles Mordechai”.

    Who do you think has better expertise in Kabbalah? The Remak? Or the Tifferes Yisroel and RSRH?
    If the source for an ancient universe comes from a statement that has classically been understood to be kabbalistic, then I think it is wholly justified to cite the kabbalistic authorities on the issue and omit the non-Kabbalistic moderns who developed their shitos and re-interpreted the sources to conform to modern science.

  13. But here that whole issue doesn’t even come up. There were rishonim arguing an old universe and a non-literal take on Bereishis 1 back when “science” (really Natural Philosophy, in those days) argued the universe had no beginning, and adding time to history didn’t resolve any external issues.

    Again, Rav Meiselman isn’t arguing in favor of either an old or young universe in this article. He is simply arguing that modern science’s conclusions regarding age cannot be considered a relevant factor in the discussion from a mesorah-based stand-point.

  14. R. Berger,
    Thank you for your kind and valuable response. It is definitely food for thought.

    Thank you and ye’yasher kochakha, also, R’ Dovid Kornreich, for your illuminating insights.

  15. Whenever I read articles of this ilk, I truly pray to God that the “outside” world does not bother to read them. This one, as other commentators have noted quite politely, is replete with nonsense.

    What I would like to know is:
    Do the defenders of the honorable Rabbi, herein, ever think of the tremendous Chillul of God’s Name that results in when “talmidei Chakhomim” undertake discussion of science and do such a lame job of it?

    In the case of the Mabul, basically, let him just say that he has faith that
    1. nature was radically different and therefore measurements mean nothing
    2. God miraculously preserved all history prior to the Mabul (for what, to fool us?)
    3. God miraculously erased all scientific evidence of the Mabul
    4. God miraculously created a history of the middle east that shows a thriving population the day after Noah stepped out of the Tevah.

    Personally, it would be a lot less embarrassing.

  16. >a lot less embarrassing

    For whom? For us, the general Jewish population who lives in the outside world? Or for R Meiselman, who, if he admitted what you want him to admit, would feel pretty stupid.

    Better to blather about how all science is wrong and all scientists are evil liars (like R Avigdor Miller a”h in “Rejoice O Youth”) and neatly excise all the Rishonim and Acharonim who disagree with you. It’s so much more satisfying to create a self-consistent fantasy world by ignoring inconvenient truths, than to admit the truth of what you believe and realize how stupid it sounds. This way you get to have your fantasy, and lord it over those poor benighted scientists.

  17. R’ David A and R’ Thanbo,
    Thank you and ye’yasher kochakhem for your important responses.
    I think that those who share R. Meiselman’s opinion will say is that science is of course true, but there is a need to distinguish between science and history. They believe that the stories their parents and grandparents told them about the events of history (like Creation, the Flood, the Exodus, the Revelation at Sinai) are true, even if not corroborated by archaeological evidence. Arguably, this is a point rendered by Chatam Sofer in his last responsum on Yoreh De’ah.
    http://www.hebrewbooks.org/pdfpager.aspx?req=1839&st=&pgnum=294
    Chatam Sofer writes (paragraph that begins “ve-yesh ve-yesh”, and next 2 paragraphs) that we can epistemologically assume that parents do not bequeath lies to their children, and therefore we know that all the events of the Torah are true. The sole episode in the Torah where we lack such epistemological evidence, continues Chatam Sofer, is the episode of Balak, where all the events happenned “behind the scenes”, unwitnessed by any Jew. There, we have to simply accept on faith that the events happenned.

  18. r’ shalom spira – “we can epistemologically assume that parents do not bequeath lies to their children, and therefore we know that all the events of the Torah are true’

    please read biblical myth and rabbinic mythmaking by michael fishbane. stories told by elders does not make them true (as a historical fact).

  19. R’ Ruvie,
    Thank you for your kind response. [And many thanks, once more, for rescuing me from error regarding R. Aharon Lichtenstein’s position in the definition of death discussion.] Regarding the aggadot in the gemara, I agree with you that reasonable talmidei chakhamim can agree to disagree whether or not they need be accepted as historical fact. R. Aharon Feldman discusses the various opinions on this in his “The Juggler and the King”. By contradistinction, regarding events in the Pentateuch, the Chatam Sofer felt that belief in their historicity is a prerequisite for the Jewish faith, as we see from his responsum.

  20. To reb shalom:
    You said: >>>> I agree with you that reasonable talmidei chakhamim can agree to disagree whether or not they need be accepted as historical fact.

    To paraphrase a famous American politician. “every reasonable talmid chokhim is entitled to his own opinion but nobody is entitled to their own facts”

    Every day that passes the evidence grows that there was NO global flood 4000 years ago.
    And IMHO, if this reality is not recognized by traditional Judaism, sadly, it will end up competing with the flat earth society for membership.

    >>>> By contradistinction, regarding events in the Pentateuch, the Chatam Sofer felt that belief in their historicity is a prerequisite for the Jewish faith, as we see from his responsum.

    With greatest respect and reverence for the Chatam Sofer, he is wrong about his requirement for faith. You cannot base your beliefs on anything that can be shown to be false.

  21. There is little point in my adding objection to RMM’s article. R Natan Slifkin, Mike S., Micha Berger, and Mechy Frankel have already done so. In truth, RMM’s article and, presumably, book aren’t intended for the scientifically literate MOs, but for Hareidim who may begin to question what they have been taught when there are reputed conflicts with scientific knowledge. I am willing to have those young Hareidim retain their innocence until such time as they can better handle the grey issues that characterize life. However, I should respond to some statements by RMM which appear to be mischaracterizations.

    It seems to me that a talmid chacham should take a scholarly approach to issues rather than that of a trial lawyer. In that sense, I find his implication that Newton accepted the idea of an eternal, unchanging universe to be incorrect. In fact, Newton was a deeply religious man – albeit of a very unconventional type for a Christian (he rejected the Trinity, and refused to take the oath to that effect in taking up his chaired professorship in Cambridge). He believed that GOD created the universe. His contribution, as he saw it, was primarily to illuminate one mechanism of its operation, that of gravitational attraction [Of course he made other vital contributions to math, mechanics and optics].

    More importantly, the thesis that “our Mesorah” has always rejected the scientific objections to the traditional beliefs about the creation and flood periods is weakened by the very sources that he cites for support. The issue of the physical laws governing the Mabul period is a matter debated by both Tana’im and Amora’im – as per his citations. According to R’ Eliezer and Rav Yonathan, natural law was unchanged during this period. If he finds later sources that take the opposite position, that does not invalidate the views of those who uphold the naturalistic position. The same can be said of the citation in Midrash Bereishit Rabba from Rav Avahu that GOD is the builder and destroyer of worlds. The evident meaning of this statement is that the desolate and chaotic state of the world (tohu va’vohu) described in verse 2 is a reflection of the destruction that preceded the creation of the world described in the subsequent verses. [The original creation of a physical universe that had no prior existence is alluded to in the first majestic verse.] That fact that some later savants disagree with such an interpretation doesn’t ipso-facto invalidate it. Despite RMM’s allegations, such matters don’t fall into the same category as physical mitzvot when it comes to the mechanisms for acceptance or rejection. I should add that Rav Yisroel Lifshitz in his essay on resurrection at the end of the Tiferes Yisroel commentary on Mishnayot Nezikin elaborated such an interpretation of Rav Avahu and wrote about an immense collision that destroyed the prior world and inaugurated the start of the current one. In his time (mid 19th century) such a proposal was largely speculative. Now we have concrete evidence that such was the case 65 million years ago when the world of the dinosaurs was destroyed and the world of mammals, birds, and, ultimately, humans could take shape.

  22. I find his implication that Newton accepted the idea of an eternal, unchanging universe to be incorrect. In fact, Newton was a deeply religious man – albeit of a very unconventional type for a Christian (he rejected the Trinity, and refused to take the oath to that effect in taking up his chaired professorship in Cambridge). He believed that GOD created the universe.

    No such implication was intended. Later scientists were in fact led by Newton’s laws to arrive at the conclusion of an eternal, unchanging universe. The attribution regarding the eternal universe in the article was to Newton’s LAWS. Not to Newton himself.

    That fact that some later savants disagree with such an interpretation doesn’t ipso-facto invalidate it.

    I dealt with this objection above in my response to Reb Micha Berger

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