Thursday, February 25, 2010

The Changing Face of Ohr Somayach


Way back when I used to teach at Ohr Somayach, it was a relatively moderate, open-minded place. True, Rabbi Nathan Lopez-Cardozo was no longer teaching there. But there was still my good friend Rabbi Mordechai Becher (now at Gateways). Rabbi Dovid Orlofsky was teaching that the universe is billions of years old and Rabbi Dovid Gottlieb was saying that Chazal could have been mistaken in science. Most significantly, Rav Nachman Bulman, ztz"l, an extremely special person (pictured here), was the mashgiach. I had some discussions with him about Torah/science issues. He told me that Daat Emet, who had just started disseminating their anti-religious literature, was doing a service for the frum community in that they would force it to confront these issues. And he read my early writings on these topics, and encouraged me to publish them. Rav Bulman passed away before the ban on my writings, which, as his family told me, would have caused him much grief.

Ohr Somayach is now a very different place. Rav Moshe Shapiro is the dominant influence there; he is greatly revered and nobody would dream of disputing anything he says. The person who sells seforim there is not allowed to sell my books. Rabbis Gottlieb and Orlofsky now insist that the world is 5770 years old and that we may not say that Chazal erred in science. And now I see that my former colleague Rabbi Chaim Salenger has taken the initiative of calling me mistaken for saying that Chazal occasionally erred in science. He criticizes the approach, which he attributes to me, that the source of some of the statements by Chazal concerning spontaneous generation and the like was Greek or Roman philosophers/scientists, and he specifically mentions the case of the mouse that is half-flesh and half-dirt (which, as is universally explained and is clear from Sanhedrin 91a, refers to a mouse that is being generated from dirt and is halfway through this process).

The funny thing is that Rabbi Salenger thinks he is presenting the view of Rav Aharon Feldman, but in fact nothing could be further from the truth. R. Salenger states that spontaneous generation is "patently and obviously absurd" but that Chazal did not believe in it; when they wrote about the mouse that is half flesh and half-dirt, it was a Midrashic statement that must be interpreted allegorically.

But this is not Rav Feldman's position, and with good reason. The discussion about the mouse is not a Midrash or an aggadata - it is a Mishnah, and a halachah. Halachos are not interpreted allegorically! Which is why the Rishonim and Acharonim all understood that the Mishnah was talking about an actual mouse that is generated from dirt. Thus, Rav Feldman, in deference to Rav Elyashiv's view that it is prohibited to say that Chazal relied on the scientific knowledge of their era, insisted (in a conversation with me) that this creature must exist, not that it is an allegory.

In the comment thread there, when confronted with the fact that it is a Mishnah, R. Salenger immediately does an about-turn and insists that this creature does indeed exist. But what about his earlier statement that it must be allegorical since spontaneous generation is "patently and obviously absurd"? He does not explain. This reminds of a point that Dr. Marc Shapiro once made - that if a firm belief can be dropped in an instant when it runs afoul of the Gedolim, in what way can it be said that the person holds any beliefs at all?

Anyway, in support of his new-found insistence that the patently and obviously absurd does indeed exist, R. Salenger quotes the scientific fact that new species are constantly discovered. That is indeed true; however, the new species that are discovered invariably turn out to be variations on existing creatures, not creatures that fundamentally rewrite the laws of science. R. Salanger also cites the Tiferes Yisroel, who is adamant that this creature exists and claims scientific support. The Tiferes Yisroel writes as follows:
"...I have heard heretics mocking regarding the creature that is discussed here and in Sanhedrin 91a, and denying it, saying that there is no such thing at all. Therefore, I have seen fit to mention here that which I found written in a Western European work compiled by a scholar renowned amongst the scholars of the world. His name is Link, and the book is titled Urwelt. In volume I, page 327, he writes that such a creature was found in Egypt in the district of Thebes, and that rodent is called, in the Egyptian language, Dipus jaculus; and in the language of Germany it is called springmaus. Its forequarters – its head, chest and hands – are perfectly formed; but its hindquarters are still embedded in the earth, until after several days when it fully changes to flesh."

However, as I explained at length in both Mysterious Creatures and Sacred Monsters (which perhaps R. Salenger should read), Rabbi Dr. Shnayer Leiman has already proved that the Tiferes Yisrael completely misunderstood what Link was saying. Even the ArtScroll Schottenstein Talmud notes this. (And, of course, even if Link were to have believed in spontaneous generation, this would not make it true! But what happened to R. Salenger's claim that spontaneous generation is "patently and obviously absurd"?)

Of course, for a Jew who follows in the tradition of most of the Rishonim and many Acharonim, that the source of some of Chazal's statements were the reigning beliefs of the era rather than being allegories or infallible, divine statements, this Mishnah does not present a difficulty at all.Rav Shimshon Raphael Hirsch specifically applies this approach to this case:
Imagine if a scholar such as Humboldt had lived in their times and had traveled to the ends of the world for his biological investigations. If upon his return he would report that in some distant land there is a humanoid creature growing from the ground or that he had found mice that had been generated from the soil and had in fact seen a mouse that was half earth and half flesh and his report was accepted by the world as true, wouldn’t we expect the Sages to discuss the Torah aspects that apply to these instances? What laws of defilement and decontamination apply to these creatures? Or would we expect them to go on long journeys to find out whether what the world has accepted is really true? And if, as we see things today, these instances are considered fiction, can the Sages be blamed for ideas that were accepted by the naturalists of their times? And this is what really happened. These statements are to be found in the works of Pliny, who lived in Rome at the time the Second Temple was destroyed, and who collected in his books on nature all that was well known and accepted in his day.
It is sad that R. Salenger chose to condemn the approach presented by most Rishonim and specifically applied to this case by Rav Hirsch. But, as Rav Moshe Shapiro is reported to have said (after being proven wrong in his claim that Rav Hirsch's letter was forged), "Rav Hirsch is not from our Beis HaMidrash."

I miss the old Ohr Somayach. In Rav Bulman's day, Rav Hirsch was from that Beis HaMidrash.

33 comments:

  1. Shalom, Cherry HillFebruary 25, 2010 at 6:29 PM

    In response to your question "that if a firm belief can be dropped in an instant when it runs afoul of the Gedolim, in what way can it be said that the person holds any beliefs at all?" may I suggest that the person holds a firm belief in the Gedolim, and nothing else.

    Best wishes for a 'freilech' Purim, and keep up your fine and brave work.

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  2. The fact that Rav Lopez-Cardozo was not acceptable there should have been a big red flag to you.

    I was 'banned' (with a lower case 'b') from Ohr Samayach already back in the late 70s. Around 78 or 79. I used to visit friends in the dormitory who learned there. We had discussions about Religious Zionism, of which I was and am a staunch proponent. I was informed (I don't recall by whom) that this was disruptive, and I shouldn't visit anymore.

    I don't think the place was as open-minded as you seem to think; even though there was certainly some variation among individual staff members. They never liked too much of a challenge to the mold that they wanted the boys to fit into.

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  3. Perhaps it's the wording you should work on.

    Saying Chazal erred on anything sounds harsh to those raised on the concept of their infallibility and besides, it's debatable. After all, science is not halacha. In halacha there is an absolute truth out there. In science there are only the facts as we currently know them and they are considered the truth for the moment.

    I would suggest: if a physicist 110 years ago said that nothing can move faster than light, he would not be erring but rather speaking correctly based on the facts of the day. Flash forward a few years and his continuing to insist on his statement would then be an error.

    Chazal were thus not erring on science. They were correct based on the facts of the day and it is in this context that their scientific pronoucements must be seen. Instead of erring, perhaps one can say "Based on the knowledge base of the time..."

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  4. It remains unclear to me how the change in Ohr Sameach's stances will affect the new generation of baalei teshuvah.

    Certain individuals are capable of swallowing such assertions that suggest the sages had perfect knowledge of the natural world, and that the earth is <6000 years old. However, many prior BT's who entered Ohr Sameach did so from highly (secularly) educated backgrounds, and the culture clash may be too great for many to bear.

    I became a convert nearly ten years ago, and am already noticing this shift in ideology. Though I was always aware of the "literalist" approach to things, much of the BT oriented literature I read seemed to be at least accepting, if not approving, of many of the shitas from the Rishonim that are now deemed heresy.

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  5. Marc Shapiro made the statement you refer to in one of his posts for seforim.blogspot.com.

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  6. If I can just ask you to be extra-specific on Rav Feldman's belief. I'm sure he'd appreciate that:

    Did he say that the mudmouse "must exist," or that it "must've existed"? Or "must've existed and may still exist."?

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  7. Pliny, it makes no difference.

    Garnel, I can assure you that your version is also not acceptable to them.

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  8. R. Slifkin, thanks very much for weighing in on this and injecting a note of reason. I'm sure you can appreciate how absurd this sort of thing seems to a secular person.

    Jeff Eyges
    (Kelsey's narrow-minded friend)

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  9. the objection i would have is summarizing your position as "that the sages of the Talmud were bad scientists because they said things like the above statement". this appears to be a mis-characterization.

    while indeed it is an abrupt about face as to the reality of the mud-mouse, it does not seem to be an about-face about the "absurdity" of spontaneous generation. his answer is that the mud-mouse is real, but is not an example of spontaneous generation. in one easily-missed comment, he wrote:
    "Actually, it’s Chullin 9:6, and it doesn’t say that the mouse GREW from the dirt—-that’s a misquote. It says that the mouse is half flesh and half earth."

    So he seems to want to maintain that it is half earth (or looks like it). But not that it spontaneously generated from the earth.

    This claim that it is utterly absurd is unfortunate, and reflects a general frum trend of retrojecting our own positions onto Chazal. if it is absurd to us, then surely it must have been absurd to them! but it was not! spontaneous generation was not absurd to Aristotle. it was not absurd to medieval scientists. and it was still being contested until the mid-1800s.

    kol tuv,
    josh

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  10. But the Gemara is clearly talking about a mouse that is generated from dirt, as all the meforshim from Rashi and on explain. And this is also what the Tiferes Yisroel says: "...until after several days when it fully changes to flesh."

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  11. Terrific post. How sweet and sad to be reminded of the special person my father was, yachid bedoro. I wish you the best, as I know my father did. May the Ribono Shel Olam grant you hatzlacha rabba in your Torah teaching and writing and all your endeavors.

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  12. "R. Salanger also cites the Tiferes Yisroel, who is adamant that this creature exists and claims scientific support."

    This is pathetic. Let's suppose for the sake of argument that Link really did believe in the existence of this mouse. But so what?

    Apparently, many Haredim honestly believe that scientists rely on "traditional texts" exactly the same way Jews do. For example, I bet they believe that scientists believe in evolution simply because Darwin says so. I doubt they realize that Darwin relied on Lamarckian theories of inheritance of acquired characteristics (the giraffe stretches its neck to reach food, and the offspring inherit the stretched neck, etc.), whereas scientists today now know about genetics and heredity (which began with Mendel's experiments with peas). But the Haredim probably believe that scientists merely follow Darwin entirely, not deviating one iota.

    One of my friends visited a children's science museum in Jerusalem, and one of the signs there said something like, "Just as Jews have basic texts, so too the scientists", or something like that. My friend says he confronted the head of the museum and demanded an explanation. The director admitted that the sign was erroneous, but that they had to make the museum friendly to Haredim. Pathetic and disgusting.

    So even if the Tiferet Yisrael correctly understood Link, and even if Link really did believe in the dirt-mouse, so what? Are we required to believe something just because some famous scientist once upon a time did?

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  13. Mike, this is in the nature of the authoritarian personality. It's the same with evangelicals. They become invested in authority figures, accept without criticism whatever they're told, and assume everyone else's mind works the same way. This is why they consider atheism and secularism to be forms of faith, and assume every scientist reveres Darwin in the way they revere their rebbes. It's also a large part of the reason the US is in the shape it's in.

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  14. Are there new Yeshivos that took over the Hashkafic space once filled by Ohr Samayach?

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  15. There is paragraph from Seder Hakabala L'Ravad that comes to mind after reading your post,

    ובא השליש לקרטובא ומכר שם ר' משה ור' חנוך בנו ופדאוהו אנשי קורטובא וכמדומין היו שהוא עם הארץ והיתה בקורטובה בית הכנסת ששמה כנסת המדרש והיה שם דיין ששמו ר' נתן וחסיד גדול היה אבל לא היו אנשי ספרד בקיאין בדברי רבותינו ז"ל ואעפ"כ באותו מעט שהיו יודעין היו עושין מדרש ומפרשים ועולים ויורדים ופירש ר"נ הדיין על כל הזאה טבילה והיא במסכת יומא ולא ידע לפרשה ור' משה יושב לפאה אחת כמו שמש וקם אל ר' נתן ואמר לו רבי פשו להו טבילות וכששמע הוא והתלמידים את דבריו תמהו זה אל זה ושאל ממנו לפרש להם ההלכה ופירש להם ההלכה כהוגן וכל אחד ואחד שאל ממנו שאלות בכל הספיקות שהיו להם והשיב תשובות ברוחב חכמתו והיו בעלי דינין מחוץ למדרש שלא היה להם רשות ליכנס עד השלמת התלמידים פסיקתם ובאותו היום יצא ר' נתן והלכו אחריו בעלי דינין ואמר להם אני איני דיין וזה הלובש השק והאורח הוא רבי ואני תלמידו אהיה מהיום ואתם מנוהו על קהל קורטובא דיין וכן עשו ועשו לו כל הקהל פסיקא גדולה וכבדוהו במלבושים יקרים ובמרכב ורצה השליש לחזור בו במכירתו ולא הניחו המלך כי שמח המלך על הדבר שמחה גדולה כששמע שאין היהודים שבמלכותו צריכים לאנשי בבל והקול נשמע בכל ארץ ספרד וארץ המערב. ובאו תלמידים לקרות וכל השאלות שהיו שואלים מן הישיבות שאלו ממנו ודבר זה היה בימי רב שרירא גאון קרוב לשנת ד' אלפים תשנ"ה הן פחות מעט הן יתר מעט.

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  16. When I quoted the Tifferes Yisroel I was not aware of Rav Hirsch's piece concerning the mouse in question, which is very interesting and quite reasonable. My mistake.

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  17. R' Salenger,

    Hi! I hope all is well! I apologize for not being in touch before now. If I may ask a question, I do not understand what you are saying. The position which R' Hirsch espouses is the position you lchora attacked R' Slifkin for espousing. R' Hirsch asks, "can the Sages be blamed for ideas that were accepted by the naturalists of their times?" This is how I have understood R' Slifkin's position and what I understood you meant by saying R' Slifkin considers Hazal to be "bad scientists." It would seem to readers, I assume, that you maintain it is only rational because R' Hirsch said it. Is that true?

    Btw, have you checked out http://torahandscience.blogspot.com/2006/04/sources-indicating-that-chazal-did-not.html ?

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  18. Baruch,

    It's not only rational because Rav Hirsch said it, it's rational because it's rational---but Rav Hirsch was a major talmud chacham and thinker and was certainly wore qualified to promote a Torah hashkafa than a relative ignoramous like myself. If this is indeed what Rabbi Slifkin is basing himself on than my critical statement was incorrect--he does not believe that chazal were bad scientists.
    Purim samaech

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  19. Chaim,

    No one claims that Hazal were bad scientists. There is an article in the back of one of the volumes of the Soncino Gemara, analyzing the scientific merits of Hazal's science as depicted in the Gemara. Now, that article is quite outdated, being now many many many decades old, but if I recall correctly, the author of this article was himself a medical doctor, and he was quite respectful of the outdated and erroneous views Hazal had. He tried to put them in the context of Hazal's times, and he tried to figure out reasonable reasons why Hazal would have believed what they did, based on either empirical evidence or the generally-held beliefs of the time. His treatment was the same as would be given to any Greek scientist; Greek science is outdated and obsolete by our standards, but everyone agrees that they were not "bad" scientists, only that their methods were less correct than what we know, hundreds or thousands of years later.

    Rabbi Isaac Herzog has a series of articles on Hazal's science in his book Judaism: Law and Ethics. If I remember correctly, his basic conclusion is that Hazal's science was on par with that of the Greco-Romans, and that in some cases, their science was actually quite advanced. Especially in anatomy, Hazal excelled over the non-Jews in obtaining empirical evidence. Because Hazal were so concerned with tereifot, they had a large amount of data (and conclusions) which far surpassed the non-Jews' knowledge at the time.

    I have seen this point often: in most areas of science, Hazal merely followed the non-Jews (for example, when they admit that the non-Jewish understanding of astronomy is superior), but in anatomy in particular, Hazal far surpassed their non-Jewish contemporaries.

    But there's nothing wrong with simply relying on the non-Jews. Rav Hirsch, in an article of his about some book called "Isis" (my memory's a bit fuzzy), he prefaces his scathing review of the book, with a general analysis of the state of knowledge amongst laymen. Rav Hirsch says, in remarkably approving terms, that the state of knowledge amongst laymen (Jewish and non-Jewish) in areas of history, science, etc. is advancing, and that laymen are more interested in learning than ever before, and that they have greater access than ever before. Moving on to his book review, he laments that so much poor scholarship exists (such as in the book he is reviewing) because, he says, a layman cannot be reasonably expected to know more than the experts of his day. In fact, says Rabbi Hirsch, an expert in one field can be expected to simply rely on his colleagues in other fields. Thus, a biologist is expected to be an expert in only biology, and no one can blame him if he merely takes for granted everything the physicists say. All the more so can laymen be expected to simply believe what the scientists and historians of their day say, without question.

    I think we can say the same of Hazal. Their focus was on Torah, after all, and they never claimed to have any other expertise. So if they relied on the non-Jewish scientists, and simply asked how what the halakhic ramifications of non-Jewish scientific knowledge would be, who can blame them?

    No one ever said that Hazal were bad scientists, any more than the Greeks were. But Hazal's science was limited by its time. Sometimes Hazal conducted their own scientific investigations, and sometimes, they simply relied in good faith on the non-Jews. (After all, rabbis today rely on non-Jewish scientists, so why shouldn't Hazal have done the same?)

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  20. Rabbi Salenger: Please forgive my referring to you merely as "Chaim". I simply read your comment (which was from "Chaim Salenger"), and I didn't realize you were Rabbi Chaim Salenger.

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  21. So, Rabbi Salenger, what people like Rabbi Slifkin are doing, following Rabbi Hirsch, is to say that Hazal were good scientists for their time and/or that they followed in good faith the Greco-Roman non-Jewish scientists of their time.

    This does not impugn Hazal at all, any more than if Rabbi Moshe Feinstein were to rely on a scientist in his day, only for us to find out that the scientist was wrong. Rabbi Feinstein would have done the best he can, after all!!

    Similarly, any frum Jewish scientist today, such as Dr. Fred Rosner or Rabbi Dr. Yehuda (Leo) Levi, if they are proven wrong someday in the future, it doesn't mean they were bad scientists; it just means they were limited by their own time.

    So whether Hazal were scientists in their own right, or simply relied on non-Jewish scientists, this doesn't mean that Hazal were bad scientists. It just means they were limited by the knowledge of their time. And since, according to RambaM, their science wasn't from Sinai, we have no problem declaring them wrong.

    In fact, RambaM himself said that Hazal's medical and astronomical knowledge was limited by their time. He said something like, "Don't ask me to justify their medical advice, because it was based on the best knowledge of their time, but that knowledge is today outdated." If I recall correctly, I read somewhere that furthermore, much of RambaM's laws on the calendar are based on Arab knowledge which Hazal did not have; he felt that the astronomical knowledge of his time was more reliable than Hazal's, and so he based his laws in the Mishneh Torah on the newer science. (When and how we may change the halakhah in accordance with newer science is a controversial subject. My point is simply that RambaM recognized that newer science IS more reliable than Hazal's science. Whether one may change the halakhah to suit the newer science is a whole separate subject.)

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  22. Rabbi Salenger, I am perplexed and assume other readers will be too. Am I missing something?

    When asked what you meant by saying R' Slifkin felt Hazal are "bad scientists," you elaborated:
    He (Rabbi Slifkin) assumes that the source of some of the statements by Chazal concerning spontanious generation and the like was Greek or Roman philosophers/scientists, who had an extremely limited and primitive perspective, and that they (Chazal) bought into these perspectives and simply gave them over, not realizing they were entirely false.
    That seems to be essentially the message R' Hirsch is delivering...

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  23. It is an old sin. When the ten brothers sold Yoseph, they did so via a Din Torah. The Zohar explains that they involved, as it were, HaShem in their sin. The other aspect of the sin is brotherly hatred. Perhaps the hatred led to the truth being trampled in the Name of G-d. Perhaps fighting the truth in the name of G-d led to hatred. In profane term, hatred and extremist ideology are often opposite sides of the same coin.

    "Apparently, many Haredim honestly believe that scientists rely on "traditional texts" exactly the same way Jews do.

    I have found this to be true. Frum ignorants of science tend to cite Einstein or Darwin as if citations of such "gedolim" would have implications. The verbalizations of Einstein and Darwin mean next to nothing. What counts are their achievements. What escapes these people is that Science is about something. Torah is about achievements too, and I fear that also that escapes them.

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  24. > Frum ignorants of science tend to
    > cite Einstein or Darwin ...

    You've reminded me of a Haredi citation of Sinatra I read once, but first, I have to tell the whole story. Sinatra will come in at the end of the story.

    A Haredi friend of mine once showed me a pamphlet that was supposed to prove that rock was assur. The pamphlet went something like this:

    (1) Historical evidence that rock is ultimately derived from "black" or "African" or "voodoo" music.

    (2) Scientific studies from India in the 1950s that rock music stunts plant growth, while classical music promotes it.

    (3) Testimony from Frank Sinatra and others that rock music is degenerate and inferior.

    The first section was beyond belief. The pamphlet kept saying that rock music is derived from the blacks, but it left it at that. Sometimes, it even referred to the blacks as "jungle bunnies" or "niggers", and this was in an English-language pamphlet printed in our present decade!! Apparently, the authors assumed that it was enough to prove that rock music is African, and that this was enough to condemn it as evil and assur and repugnant. So regarding this section of the pamphlet, I told my Haredi friend that because I'm not a flaming racist, this section did not impress me. Furthermore, the pamphlet kept referring to classical music as "dignified" and "refined" (in contrast to vulgar and animalistic rock music produced by jungle bunnies), which is strange coming from a community that professes to be directly descended from pre-Holocaust Eastern-European communities.

    As for the second section, I said I wasn't even sure that any 1950s studies in India ever found (even erroneously) that music affects plant growth, because the claim sounds so bizarre and primitive even for 60-year-old science. So I wasn't sure that these studies, even if false, were real in the first place. But be that as it may, I said; even if th studies were real, nevertheless, if no one since 1960 has replicated the results, then I didn't care. I told my friend that I prefer that my science be up-to-date.

    As for the third section, I replied that I didn't care what Frank Sinatra had to say. At this point, my Haredi friend was aghast. "What???!!!", he cried. "I thought you were supposed to be Modern Orthodox and believe everything the gentiles say!" (He was serious.) I responded that Modern Orthodoxy means I trust the gentiles the same as I trust the Jews in matters that are true and proven. But just as I don't trust Jews when they are wrong, I don't trust gentiles either. All Modern Orthodoxy means is that we m'qabel et ha-emet mi-mi she-amrah and that we are modeh al ha-emet. But it doesn't mean that we worship the gentiles, bow down before them, burn incense to them, and trust every word they say like it's written in the Bible or was proclaimed at Sinai. In any case, I said, Sinatra's expertise was in singing, and so while I might trust him, I said, were he ever to rise from the dead and give me singing or vocal lessons, I said that Sinatra had no expertise (as far as I know) in musical criticism, and so I don't care at all whether Sinatra preferred rock or classical music. Furthermore, even if I were to trust every gentile unquestioningly with absolute faith, why should I trust one gentile more than another? Why should I trust Sinatra more than some random black person or some random rock singer - after all, even if Modern Orthodoxy meant absolute faith in gentiles, still, aren't all gentiles equally unholy devilspawn derived from the sitra ahra? ;) But seriously, why should I trust Sinatra more than a rock singer?

    So if that pamphlet represents the intellectual state of the Haredi community then thank you, but I'll sooner drink Kool-Aid (v'ha-meivin yavin).

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  25. This would appear to be a reference to Rabbi Luft's pamphlet, "The Torah Is Not Hefker".

    Blog in Dm had a 9 part critique of that work, available here.

    kt,
    josh

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  26. Yup, that looks like the right pamphlet. I only skimmed through the nine blog entries, but it appears that my memory was basically correct about it.

    The whole pamphlet was so completely abitrary and idiotic, not to mention disgustingly racist. I felt dumber after reading it. Luckily, I can salve my conscience by telling myself that even study of nonsense is scholarship. ;)

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  27. For whatever it's worth, I think that experiments on musical effect on plant growth have been reproduced. My memory is that calm and melodious music has a positive effect. But that's from memory, I may be wrong.

    In any case, I personally do not confuse my kids with germaniums, and do not pasken assur/mutar based on what leads to growth or plants or of kids. If we did that, all the junk food with the strictest badatzes would all be trief.

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  28. i haven't heard of any such experiments that confirmed this. but it is, after all, an empirical question, and it certainly is possible.

    mythbusters did this experiment, though, and discovered that heavy metal was more conducive to plant growth than classical music:
    part one here:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CMiVNPXR5qw

    and also see here:
    http://www.straightdope.com/columns/read/427/do-plants-grow-better-if-you-talk-to-them

    kt,
    josh

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  29. Part of the misfortune with the changing of attitude in the Ohr Somayach Beis Midrash is that not only is Rav Moshe Shapiro’s approach is exclusive, which denies the legitimacy and validity of other Torah approaches, it is also totally counter-productive to Kiruv. If you had to approach the average university or college student today and tell him that Evolution is inaccurate and the universe is 5770 years old, he would laugh at you. The rejection of modern scientific thinking (and therefore the vast majority of the scientific community) is an insult to the intelligence of the average thinking person. This approach is so destructive to Kiruv that it boggles my mind to think of how Ohr Somayach ever adopted this attitude.

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  30. I "enjoyed" this posting very much, as someone who used to hang around Ohr Somayach quite a bit, and had the privilege of being close to Rav Bulman zt"l, I can attest to the validity of what you write.

    Perhaps I am wrong, but it seems to me that Rav Moshe Shapiro himself has moved hard right from what I used to hear in his name 20-30 years ago. At the time he seemed far more open to secular ideas; if I am not mistaken both his wife and his daughter have university degrees. I used to enjoy attending his very thought provoking lectures, but felt increasingly uncomfortable with the message over the years.

    Can you provide a citation to the quote from Rav Hirsch? I would love to read it in the original.

    Thank you, and Chazak V'Ematz!

    Yehuda Leonard Oppenheimer

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  31. Rav Hirsch has this interesting thing to say:

    "One who visits the Dead Sea region today and sees the sulphur springs and the volcanic terrain will interpret the destruction of these cities as an ordinary natural occurrence... The causes would then appear natural, without need to refer to God... But the words from God, from Heaven show that this view is incorrect... You are confusing the cause with the effect... You hold that the catastrophe was caused by the character of the terrain as you see it now, when in truth the present form of the terrain is only an effect of this catastrophe... The geological theories of the origins of the Earth are probably based on similar errors. The visible phenomena upon which these theories are based are real, but the conclusions based upon them are false. These theories, too, confuse the causes with the effects. The phenomena which they interpret as the causes of
    geological upheavals are in reality only the effects of upheavals called forth by God when He formed the Earth."
    The Pentateuch T’rumath Tzvi, The Judaica Press 1986, page 96 (commentary on Genesis 19:24)

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  32. I find this article very interesting. My son became Orthodox at Ohr Somayach while visiting Israel. I visited Ohr Somaych in 1984, while my son was learning there, sat through a number of lectures, met two or three Rabbis and found all to be intelligent, rational and sensible. The big bad face of Orthodoxy was laid to rest for me. I have yet to journey into Orthodoxy and but I must say, my greatest surprise about Orthodoxy are the number of versions of it.

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