Thursday, October 3, 2013

Dealing with the Deluge

It's that time of year again... so here is the slightly expanded version of my original post regarding the Deluge.

Over the years I've received numerous questions about reconciling the traditional view of Noah's Flood with modern science. There are two sets of problems. First are those concerning the scientific impossibility of such an event - how the animals survived, how they traveled to their various locations, where the water came from, etc. These can all be answered by simply positing numerous miracles, but this is not satisfactory for those who follow the approach of Rambam and others which seeks to minimize supernatural miracles. The second set of problems is based not on the scientific impossibility of such an event, but instead upon the evidence that even a supernatural event of this nature did not happen - i.e. the evidence and records of continuous civilizations throughout the entire period.

There are a variety of different ways of approaching this topic. I tried discussing some of them online back in the summer of 2004, which may well have been one of the factors leading to the ban on my books, and my comments were subsequently widely and wildly (and sometimes deliberately) misquoted. So instead of discussing it, I will just provide references to further reading material which shed light on various different approaches. Many people will condemn these approaches as unacceptable, but until they have a credible response to the scientific difficulties with the simple understanding, they would be wiser to remain silent.

First and foremost, I strongly recommend that people struggling with this difficulty read The Challenge Of Creation, preferably the third edition. I only explicitly deal with the flood in footnote 2 on page 302 (third edition), but there are many other parts of the book which are actually more relevant in terms of determining which options are available and acceptable - in particular, chapters 6-8, and 14-15.

Other relevant sources (remember, not all of these present the same approach) are:

Joel B. Wolowelsky, "Divine Literature and Human Language: Reading the Flood Story," in Bentsi Cohen, ed. As a Perennial Spring: A Festschrift Honoring Rabbi Dr. Norman Lamm (NY: Downhill Publishing, 2013), pp. 521-534. (This is a revised version of his earlier article “A Note on the Flood Story in the Language of Man,” Tradition 42:3 (Fall 2009) pp. 41-48.)

Rabbi Gedalyah Nadel, BeToraso Shel Rabbi Gedalyah, pp. 116-119.

Umberto (Moshe David) Cassuto, From Adam to Noah (Jerusalem: Magnes Press 1961).

Rabbi Dovid Tzvi Hoffman, commentary to Genesis, pp. 140-141.

Rabbi J. Hertz’s “Additional Notes to Genesis” at the back of The Pentateuch.

Nahum Sarna, "Understanding Genesis" (New York: Schocken Books 1966). (Note that this is not an Orthodox book, but it contains valuable insights.)

Rav Kook's letter on literalism, translated here.

Marc Shapiro's postings on this topic (I, II, and commentary by Rav Moshe Shamah here).

Chief Rabbi Dr. Jonathan Sacks' essay on the Deluge and the Tower of Babel (here)

Natan Slifkin, "Historical Records Vs. Dramatic Accounts"

Lorence Collins, "Yes, Noah's Flood May Have Happened, But Not Over the Whole Earth."

127 comments:

  1. > "These can all be answered by simply positing numerous miracles, but this is not satisfactory for those who follow the approach of Rambam and others which seeks to minimize supernatural miracles."

    For what it's worth, the Christian writer, John Woodmorappe, in his book "Noah's Ark, a Feasibility Study" also tried to minimize supernatural miracles in his approach.

    Even his theory of a sudden burst of beneficial mutations after the flood relies not on miracles, but on naturalistic speculation.

    I'm not necessarily endorsing or approving of his approach, or of his accuracy. (I'm aware of serious rebuttals to his analysis.) I'm just saying that the difficulties to the Flood can be tackled (not necessarily solved, but tackled)on a natural basis first, seeking to minimize supernatural miracles.

    If the Rambam was challenged by all the recent scientific problems about the Flood, would he have first adopted the Woodmorappe approach, or would he have first adopted the allegorizing-the-Torah approach?

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  2. "There are two sets of problems. "

    There's a third, very significant problem. To wit, the mabul story in the Torah has every appearance of being a combination of two stories borrowed from a non-Jewish source. Geology isn't the only science that presents a challenge to the traditional understanding of this parsha...

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  3. I did not get a chance to look at all of the sources you quoted, but I hope to soon. In the meantime, let me just note that at least with regard to one of the "problems" you mentioned {"the evidence that even a supernatural event of this nature did not happen - i.e. the evidence and records of continuous civilizations throughout the entire period") - the "problem" is not the *flood* as mentioned in the Torah - it's the Torah's broader historical account. Just to take one example, B'raishit chapter 10 mentions that Mitzrayim was born to Cham. This means that the entire country of Mitzrayim had to have been founded post-Cham. The last verse in the chapter confirms that idea explicitly. So it's not just that the flood interrupted civilizations and we see nothing about that interruption in their historical records - it's that the Torah says that the country wasn't formed at all until after the flood.

    Now with the exception of Joel Wolowelsky's article (which has its own MAJOR problems), the approaches of others (R. Nadel, et al) will not answer this problem.

    At the end of the day, it seems to me that the problem is: which evidence do we assume to be the "reality" such that the difficulty has to be explained within the context of that reality? - the Torah's account, or the absence in the historical records of the nations of the world? Of course, to someone who accepts the truth of the Torah, the veracity lies in the Torah's account, and the questions about lack of historical records in the world's civilizations must be answered within that context.

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  4. I only have the first edition. can you please post that note?

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  5. Tom - care to elaborate on the problems within Wolowelsky's article?

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  6. "So it's not just that the flood interrupted civilizations and we see nothing about that interruption in their historical records - it's that the Torah says that the country wasn't formed at all until after the flood."

    I don't see this as a problem at all.

    What reason do you have to believe the chumash when it tells you the ages of people and when things happened?

    There is plenty of reason to NOT take the tanach literally when numbers are given in general.
    So many times the numbers do not add up properly.

    Jon: What answer is that?

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  7. Ameteur -

    So the Torah is just deceiving us with regard to these issues? I am not referring to rounding numbers up or down. According to you, when the Torah says that Mitzrayim was the son of Cham, and that from Mitzrayim, the nation by that name was formed, it is an untruth? Please explain (a) how and why the Torah falsifies information, and (b) how we know when the Torah falsifies information. Thanks.

    J -

    Well, let's start out with the following. If I understand JW's article correctly, the Torah took a common wordly myth, and framed it in a way that we could learn something positive from it, and "live with it" within the nations of the world who had that myth. So the mabul never happened as the Torah said; the story was an "accommodation" for us. If that it the Torah's method, then what would JW say about common birth myths (Otto Rank wrote a whole book on this called The Myth of the Birth of the Hero), where the hero is born under adverse circumstances, is hidden, saved by being placed in a basket on the water, recovered by a great authority figure. These elements are common to hero myth stories across many varied cultures. Does this mean that Moshe's birth was not as the Torah described it, but was formulated as such, as an accommodation, so that we can adapt within the broad cultures of the world?

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  8. Lets be honest here: you are not saying the history (dates, locations, genealogies, wars etc.) described in Genesis is "allegorical", you are saying it is wrong.

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  9. Shimon - EXACTLY! Which is why I await hearing Rabbi Slifkin's response to this issue.

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  10. SQ said...
    ...the mabul story in the Torah has every appearance of being a combination of two stories borrowed from a non-Jewish source.

    What are the 2 stories? And where can I find reliable information on them? (I think one is "Gilgamesh," but where can I find reliable info on it? And what is the other story?) Thanks.

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  11. Hertz?? Really?? He was so consumed with demonstrating the relevance of Torah to modern man that he would grab onto anything in the secular, academic world, including premature conclusions from Biblical archaeologists. "Striking evidence is now at hand", "there can be little doubt which way the evidence will trend" are two of his quotes regarding his belief that Woolley had uncovered geological evidence for the flood.

    Although I enjoy the Hertz Chumash, it is dated in many ways. It offers nothing to reconcile Torah and modern science.

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  12. "Ameteur -

    So the Torah is just deceiving us with regard to these issues? I am not referring to rounding numbers up or down."
    ---

    The Torah is not deceiving us at all. Interpreting the sentence "And Enoch lived for 365 years" to mean that there once was a individual man named Enoch, and that man lived as all men did for 365 years in this world of ours, is wrong and a form of deceiving yourself.

    What we can know about enoch is that he lived a short physical life, but was with G-d always. And that dieing at a young age does not mean that said person was bad or punished for anything. And perhaps there is something else we can learn due to the fact that 365 is also the number of complete days in a solar year. But that is something else.
    ---

    "According to you, when the Torah says that Mitzrayim was the son of Cham, and that from Mitzrayim, the nation by that name was formed, it is an untruth? Please explain (a) how and why the Torah falsifies information, and (b) how we know when the Torah falsifies information. Thanks."

    According to me, the Nation of Egypt had the same traits as the founders of that nation, and the founders of that nation were derived from Cham. What we don't know from the Torah is how many real life years transpired between the foundation of "Mitzraim" and Cham, or when exactly it was in real life years that Cham was a person. Or was Cham a tribe or a prototype? I imagine the reality as we would describe it is very complicated and best allegorized into a single person for the sake of understanding the human condition.

    If you want to know what really happened, and what cham is an allegory for, you would have to become an archeologist and discover the founding of Egypt.

    (a) The Torah does not falsify information, nor is it literal. It is a shir, a song, poetry and speaks in such a way. Why else would there be a need for an oral torah to translate it?

    (b) You can know when not to read the torah literraly based on a few basic things.
    1. Narrative vs Commandment. If there is narrative with no explicit commandment you can know that the story is "as if" and not 100% literal.
    2. If numbers are used, you can know that the numbers are important but not fact, the way we modern people look at numbers and facts. I'm 99.9% certain that it was not the case that virtually every leader of the Jewish people ruled for exactly 40 years before the first monarchy. And that the temple was build 12*40 years after the exodus from Egypt.

    3. If contradictions arise in the text, you can know that those contradictions are important and meaningful. Such as 210 vs 400 years of slavery. And they are just begging you to look deeper.

    4. The closest thing that comes to being literal, (and a majority of the time even those things we don't read literally) would be commandments and instructions. But again even those things are actually very nuanced and not 100% literal.

    Also, I would caution against confusing "literal" with "the plain meaning of the text."

    The plain meaning of Noach is the impression you get from reading it, not a scientific, emotionally detached, parsing of the words.

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  13. To Tom,

    Out of the "common birth myths" which ones were verified to have been written or originated at dates earlier than the Torah?

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  14. Tom, the torah does not state that Mitzrayim, a son of Ham, was the father of the Egyptian nation. Gen. 10:13,14 states that he fathered 6 sons (or clans) with the Kaphtorim (Cretans or Cypriots) and Philistines stemming from the 2 last named sons. The fact that a son bore the name of a country may just indicate the place of his birth or career.

    Gen. 10:32, the summary statement that you alluded to, is just that a summary statement written in such manner as to convey the impression that Noah was the progenitor of 70 nations since he and his family were the only survivors of the flood. It serves a didactic purpose, but is not history. In actuality, the 70 descendants listed need not correspond to historic nations of the world or even the Middle-East. They correspond, rather, to Noachian or 'Semitic' peoples who were dispersed across the Middle-East and Greek isles.

    I have previously contended that the flood was a regional rather than global event. Then most countries of the time, including Egypt, were not directly affected by that flood. Hence, there is no problem with an uninterrupted Egyptian civilization that predates the flood.

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  15. Jon: Perhaps the genealogies have less to do with historical fact and more to do with national character. For example, Rome had little or no connection to Eisav, but the Talmud identifies them as such because they are followers of Eisav's philosophy and worldview.

    On a side note, I have a theory (in development) that the "introduction" part of the Torah (ie. everything before "Hachodesh Ha'ze Lachem") is independent of what actually happened and is rather allegorical (as the first Rashi in the Torah indicates, the account of Creation is there to teach a lesson).

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  16. It's not the best etiquette to repost a question of mine, but I thought it was such a good one that I wanted to hear some answers from the group:

    "If the Rambam was challenged by all the recent scientific problems about the Flood, would he have first adopted the Woodmorappe approach (trying to find non-miraculous solutions), or would he have first adopted the allegorize-the-Torah approach?"

    I believe the answer is the former, but I bet there are many opinions as to just how far he'd be willing to rebut the modern scientific challenges to the ark and the flood before he'd "resort" to allegorizing.

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  17. Lets be honest here: you are not saying the history (dates, locations, genealogies, wars etc.) described in Genesis is "allegorical", you are saying it is wrong.

    It is wrong if you interpret it as literal history. That does not mean that it is allegorical. Allegory is one type of code. There are others. In my understanding, the agenda of the Torah's account of "history" is to establish an eschatological year count.

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  18. I am frankly amazed at some of the comments here. I know that Rabbi Slifkin has cited more than a few times the saying from Chazal "Chotamo shel haKadosh baruch Hu emet." It is one thing to say that the Torah rounds out numbers, and that this is still emet, since dibra Torah b'lashon b'nai adam. But to say that the Torah presents something as history (and yes, Y. Aharon, the Torah says explicitly that the descendants of Noah established the nations, not that they were named after the nations that they were born in - please give me a break!) and doesn't really mean it - that is amazing. I'm sure that some of you will try to argue that the Torah presents the story of creation and THAT isn't literal, so neither is the general history part. But fortunately we have Chazal in the second chapter of Chagiga to tell us that Bereishit and the Merkava are not literal. I defy you to find one Chazal that says that the general narratives of the Torah are not literal. But why stop there? Why not say that the laws are not literal also? Your distinction between the historical narratives of the Torah (not literal) and laws (literal) is based upon....your own opinion? I must say that some of these comments seem to cross the line away from Orthodox ideology. Rabbi Slifkin, you've been awfully quiet about this - what do you think?

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  19. I think that questioning the mabbul is hard. Most laymen have very little knowledge about the scientific knowledge and methods used to evaluate the methods. (Hence, the whole issue doesn't bother me much).
    On the other hand, in this weeks parsha, there is an important Ramban which would interest any common person. The Ramban states that at first it seems that there was no rainbow till after the mabbul. Then he writes that we must believe the Greeks who state that when sunlight hits moisture it will cause a rainbow to appear. Ramban's language is fascinating. He is not willing to entertain a position that opposes science. He is also not willing to entertain the idea that God changed His creations (either the makeup of water or the sun). Rather, Ramban answers that the rainbow always existed,and God used a preexisting idea to use as a sign.

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  20. ר"ש אמר ווי לההוא ב"נ דאמר דהא אורייתא אתא לאחזאה ספורין בעלמא ומלין דהדיוטי

    ...

    ועל דא האי ספור דאורייתא לבושא דאורייתא איהו, מאן דחשיב דההוא לבושא איהו אורייתא ממש ולא מלה אחרא תיפח רוחיה ולא יהא ליה חולקא בעלמא דאתי

    (Zohar B'ha'alotcha 152a)

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  21. But to say that the Torah presents something as history (and yes, Y. Aharon, the Torah says explicitly that the descendants of Noah established the nations, not that they were named after the nations that they were born in - please give me a break!) and doesn't really mean it - that is amazing.

    Amazing, yet basic in Torat HaSod. See my previous post.

    I'm sure that some of you will try to argue that the Torah presents the story of creation and THAT isn't literal, so neither is the general history part. But fortunately we have Chazal in the second chapter of Chagiga to tell us that Bereishit and the Merkava are not literal. I defy you to find one Chazal that says that the general narratives of the Torah are not literal. But why stop there? Why not say that the laws are not literal also?

    The Zohar I cited above explains that the narrative of the Torah is Levush, and not the real Torah. The story being Levush, the Mitzvot are the Guf. This is not to say that the Mitzvot constitute the real Torah. The Guf is also Levush, of the Neshama: אלא כל מלין דאורייתא מלין עלאין אינון ורזין עלאין

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  22. Tom, your concerns are addressed in my book, as well as in some of the comments above.

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  23. Also, this use of the word "literal" is vague and thus problematic. I think that Bereishis IS to be interpreted literally - if you are talking about how to understand what the words are describing. Please see the latest edition of my book (or all the earlier posts on this blog) for more elaboration.

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  24. " It is one thing to say that the Torah rounds out numbers, and that this is still emet, since dibra Torah b'lashon b'nai adam. "

    What is the difference?

    When a person says that they will be done in "2 seconds", are they rounding, or do they really just mean "a short while", and it might actually be 15 minutes?

    When a person says that Roosevelt started social security in America, do they literally mean Roosevelt, or do they mean the majority of the 500+ people that make up congress and the senate under the leadership of Roosevelt?

    Ramban, regarding the ages of the people in Bereshit goes to such lengths to say "not to change the plain meaning of the text.. but" that it should be obvious to anyone in the modern era, that it is not to be understood on its face value.

    In the Torah, and Judaism, numbers have meanings beyond the literal value of the number. When you see these numbers continuously repeating themselves in Tanach* yet are mysteriously absent in our modern understanding of reality it behooves a person to rethink the meaning of such numbers.

    The difference between sipurim and mishpatim in Tanach is not a distinction I made up or my opinion, but is one that Chazal teach us about.

    If you can you tell the difference between Halachic midrash and Aggadic Midrash, how are you unable to tell the difference between Halacha and Aggadatah in Tanach?


    Rav Kook said it better:
    http://www.aishdas.org/avodah/vol16/v16n110.shtml#02

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  25. Moshe Rafael -

    Your quote from the Zohar is irrelevant, since it does not say that the historical accounts in the Torah are NOT literal; it says that one who learns them MERELY as "stories" is wrong. That is to say, that they are history PLUS a lesson in "sod." (Is the Zohar really the best you can cite? What does this say to all the people who question the authenticity of the Zohar altogether?). Where is there a clear statement by Chazal that the Torah's historical accounts are not literal? You have not provided a source for that.

    Rabbi Slifkin -

    Could you please let me know which books and chapters you meant when you said that my concerns were already addressed in your books. And please remember that I am not referring to the problem of the (global/localized) flood - I am referring to the problem of the Torah's historical account about the formation of the nations of the world vs. the consensus of archeologists and historians of today.

    Ameteur -

    It is difficult for me to believe that you cannot see the difference between rounding out a number vs. saying that Cham's son formed the basis of the nation of Mitzrayim that's not to be taken literally. But be that as it may, we do have clear indications from the rishonim, and perhaps even earlier, that dibra Torah... applies to rounded numbers, but we have no such indication with regard to the historical accounts of the Torah. (By the way, which specific Ramban did you refer to in your comment?).

    Your comment seems to equate the aggadata of the Talmud with the historical accounts of the Torah. Wow! Could you please provide a basis for making such an equation. We know from the rishonim that aggadata is often metaphorical. Please provide one such source to say the same thing about the Torah's historical narratives.

    Lastly, with regard to the issue of fossils, stars at millions of light years away from earth, etc., Bible literalists typically answer that God created the world with these factors "implanted" in it. I presume you reject that answer (I know I do). The basis for that rejection is usually the challenge, why would God "fool" us with these false impressions. Yet you are doing the same thing with the Torah! For thousands of years all of the sages have assumed that any historical narrative after Genesis 1 is literal, but you are claiming that God wrote something that is not literal, and thus "fooled us" all these years, until we were fortunate enough to learn the truth from the consensus of archeologists today.

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  26. Rabbi Slifkin - In one of the recent comment threads (I forget which one it was) you provided a link for purchasing your book, and you also said that it is available for purchase through other avenues as well (amazon might have been mentioned? I can't remember). I was wondering, do you benefit more directly if we purchase it directly from your site? Thank you.

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  27. Why not say that the laws are not literal also?

    Tom -

    There ARE laws that we are told are not literal. "Ayin tachas ayin" is one example.

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  28. Student V - best for me is if you purchase it from my site (and you can request it inscribed!). Second best is to buy it from a Jewish bookstore. Amazon is way, way down on the list - they insist on getting an extra markdown from the distributor.

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  29. Rabbi Slifkin -

    Could you please let me know which books and chapters you meant when you said that my concerns were already addressed in your books.


    I wrote it in the post!

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  30. Tom:

    1. I do not know how you plan on finding a reference in Chazal that the stories in Tanach are not to be taken literally.

    The reading of Tanach in a literal fashion is an invention of the Christian fundamentalists. It did not gain popularity until the 1600s.

    2. The concept that G-d does not "fool" us has no basis in Jewish theology. The exact opposite is true. G-d is hidden from us and remains hidden. If G-d did not wish to fool us, then His presence would be felt by all of humanity. Alas, this is not something that we are merited to experience until the days of Mashiach.

    Is not the entire book of Job an example of G-d tricking his most loyal servant?

    I do not believe that dinosaur bones were placed to "fool" us however, because there is nothing that we are being fooled about. Food that looks kosher, but in reality isn't, is still considered kosher. We are not responsible if the Din that we are privy to is in fact sheker. So if the world looks billions of years old, but in fact it is not, then we are not responsible for being fooled. Further it would be breaking the Torah commandment of following the elders of our generation if we believed otherwise.

    3. "(By the way, which specific Ramban did you refer to in your comment?)." The ramban where he mentions that there was something in the air that caused people before the flood to live longer. (however, this begs the question of how the people after the flood also lived extra long lives. And why did Noach's grandchildren live more than 120 years if in parsha bereshit G-d says that man will not live longer than 120 years?)

    4. This whole "literal" or "plain meaning" of the text is a complicated issue. Especially since so many people today have been influenced by Christianity and pop culture on this issue. But I think R. Slifkin's comments earlier are accurate:

    " Natan Slifkin said...
    Also, this use of the word "literal" is vague and thus problematic. I think that Bereishis IS to be interpreted literally - if you are talking about how to understand what the words are describing. Please see the latest edition of my book (or all the earlier posts on this blog) for more elaboration."

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  31. Rabbi Slifkin -

    I DID read the chapters that you cited in your post (I only have the 2006 edition of your book - so if things have changed radically over subsequent editions, my comments here are not relevant). And there is nothing in the chapters that you cited that answers the issue being discussed here. Your chapters focus (almost) exclusively on the issue of reconciling B'reishit chapter one with science. As I mentioned earlier, this is not relevant to anything past B'reishit chapter one, since Chazal speak of the non-literalism of ma'aseh b'reishit, but they do not speak at all about non-literalism for any other historical narrative of the Torah. What basis do you have to say that just because ma'aseh b'reishit is non-literal, so too are other Torah historical narratives? Your books do not deal with that issue at all, unless I missed something.

    Michapeset -

    You have proven my point. The only way we know that ayin tachat ayin is non-literal is from the Torah sheb'al peh on that pasuk. But all other p'sukim, for which there is no Torah sheb'al peh to point out the non-literalness of the pasuk, we take as literal. Now where is the Torah sheb'al peh to show that the historical narratives of the Torah are not literal?

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  32. Tom, you have misinterpreted my comment if not also the text in Gen. 9:18 - 10:32. That text clearly gives the impression that the descendants of Noah repopulated a destroyed earth. As I see it, that is a deliberate effort to inculcate the idea that all humankind have common ancestors - first Adam and then Noah. However, the torah leaves that as a natural implication rather than an explicit statement. In other words, it is prepared to mislead if that serves an important purpose, but not to lie outright. Using exaggerated language in describing what it inundated is not a lie, but merely the way someone from the flooded area would have described the event.

    Getting back to the point of argument. The torah says nowhere that Mitzrayim the son of Ham was the father of Egypt. That is merely an implication that some people will read into the fact that he bears the name associated with Egypt. Mitzrayim doesn't appear to be what Egyptians called themselves or their land. If the torah does associate the land with this son of Ham, that is not the same as claiming that he was the actual founder.

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  33. I think that Bereishis IS to be interpreted literally - if you are talking about how to understand what the words are describing.

    So what you're saying is that the Torah's stories are literally true--if you don't take the word "literally" literally.

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  34. Ameteur -

    "Tom:

    1. I do not know how you plan on finding a reference in Chazal that the stories in Tanach are not to be taken literally."

    I don't. Since you posited the view that the historical narratives of the Torah are not (always) to be taken literally, I asked YOU to provide a source in Chazal that shows that this is a legitimate view. The fact that you cannot cite such a source is a problem for you, not for me.

    "Is not the entire book of Job an example of G-d tricking his most loyal servant?"

    I have no idea what you mean. There is a machloket among Chazal whether Iyov existed literally or not. There is no such machloket about the people (and their ages) in B'reishit.

    "The ramban where he mentions that there was something in the air that caused people before the flood to live longer."

    But that Ramban explicitly states that the narrative regarding the ages of the people is to be understood literally (and that it has a deeper meaning as well).

    Y. Aharon -

    "As I see it, that is a deliberate effort to inculcate the idea that all humankind have common ancestors..."

    That's a very nice understanding on your part. Unfortunately, it has no basis in Chazal, particularly the part where the Torah is teaching your lesson and NOT the literal meaning of its verses. Clearly, you can choose to understand the verses any way you like, but you cannot lay claim to understanding being part of masoretic Judaism if it is outside the bounds of the mesorah.

    "The torah says nowhere that Mitzrayim the son of Ham was the father of Egypt."

    - The sons of Noah who came out of the ark were Shem, Ham, and Japeth - Ham being the father of Canaan. These three were the sons of Noah and from these the whole world was spread out.(9:18-19). The sons of Ham: Cush, Mizraim, Put, and Canaan. (10:6). These are the descendants of Ham, by their families, by their languages, in their lands, in their nations. (10:20). These are the families of Noah's descendants, according to their generations, by their nations; and from these nations were separated on the earth after the flood. (10:32).

    "Mitzrayim doesn't appear to be what Egyptians called themselves or their land."

    Irrelevant. It is what the Torah called the people and their land.

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  35. Tom:

    1. My point was that something that is invented hundreds of years after the Talmud is written can not be found in the Talmud. I guess you also believe that since the Gemorah does not explicitly mention electricity it does not exist and we can not use it?

    2. Regarding Iyov. If he literally existed or not is irrelevant. Judaism believes that it is possible, and something worth learning from. Meaning, G-d sometimes "fools" people. If the story of Iyov is wholly impossible then what is the point of learning from it?

    3. I am curious how you learn from Chazal that only chapter one of Bereshit is not to be taken literally. The Chapter system in the chumash is a later Christian invention and does not help in the reading of Torah. Perhaps "maaseh bereshit" means the entire book of Bereshit. Or perhaps it means "all sections of the chumash written in the style of "bereshit" (i.e. sections written anonymously and not directly attributed to hashem or Moshe)

    4. Mitzyarim also happens to translate in Hebrew as "from sufferings." If the chumash is to be read literaly, and G-d never "fools" people, then to what do you attribute the fact that the people of Egypt and the Torah refer to the same land by different names?

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  36. Tom, What do you mean by "outside the bounds of mesorah". If one is restricted, by your understanding, to only the interpretations of the torah stated in the talmud or midrashim, then much of traditional biblical commentary could be questioned. If you mean to convey the implication that new interpretations of the biblical narrative are, ipso facto, heretical, then your words are offensive as well as wrongheaded.
    I should add that the ethical lesson to be derived from the proposed common ancestry of mankind was considered sufficiently important by a Tanna (Ben Zoma) that he labelled it as the most important principle of the torah.

    The translation of the verses that you offer doesn't disprove anything that I stated. In fact, it demonstrates that you can't find an explicit verse that calls Mitzrayim, the son of Ham, the father of the Egyptian people.

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  37. Y. Aharon -

    My starting point is that the mesorah maintains that the Torah means what it says, consistent with the interpretation of Torah sheb'al peh of Chazal. If Chazal do not speak of a non-literal interpretation of the Torah, and one offers such an interpretation, in so far as that interpretation suggests that the Torah does not mean what it says, without a basis in Chazal to say so, the interpretation is outside of the realm of the mesorah.

    "the ethical lesson to be derived from the proposed common ancestry of mankind was considered sufficiently important by a Tanna (Ben Zoma) that he labelled it as the most important principle of the torah."

    What has this to do with the idea that the verses that teach this lesson are NOT literal??

    "The translation of the verses that you offer doesn't disprove anything that I stated. In fact, it demonstrates that you can't find an explicit verse that calls Mitzrayim, the son of Ham, the father of the Egyptian people."

    I don't know how much clearer the verse can be - "These are the families of Noah's descendants, according to their generations, by their nations; and from these - nations were separated on the earth after the flood."

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  38. And there is nothing in the chapters that you cited that answers the issue being discussed here. Your chapters focus (almost) exclusively on the issue of reconciling B'reishit chapter one with science. As I mentioned earlier, this is not relevant to anything past B'reishit chapter one, since Chazal speak of the non-literalism of ma'aseh b'reishit, but they do not speak at all about non-literalism for any other historical narrative of the Torah. What basis do you have to say that just because ma'aseh b'reishit is non-literal, so too are other Torah historical narratives? Your books do not deal with that issue at all, unless I missed something.

    Since Rabbi Slifkin is remaining silent on the issue, perhaps I can suggest that the book radically revises biblical interpretation generally by proposing that:
    1) the entire book of Genesis (not just the creation story) was of pre-Mosaic origin written as folk-lore and then incorporated into the Torah text at Sinai.

    2) this book was specifically designed by its anonymous narrators to provide the proto-Jewish people with powerful myths which could counteract the prevailing pagan myths of the Ancient Near-East.

    3) Each generation needs to re-examine the Torah text and extract the necessary and relevant lessons for its time. For the Jews of the ancient times, the myth-genre was the most effective way of accomplishing this.
    For the Jews of the classical period through the modern era, literal interpretation was generally effective.
    For Jews of the scientific age (or perhaps post-modern era?), appreciation of the historical context and deconstruction of the text seems to be the most effective way to engage well educated, sophisticated Jews in serious study of the Torah.

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  39. Tom, I stand in illustrious company. According to you the Rambam and Ibn Ezra among other savants offered suggested novel intepretations of the torah that were "outside the mesorah". The Rambam didn't consider people like Hagar or Lot capable of a true prophetic experience or visitation by angels. Hence he seriously reinterpreted those passages dealing with such matters. The Ibn Ezra didn't believe that donkeys could be given the power of speech and he, therefore, reinterpreted the relevant passage in parshat Balak.

    We are also talking past each other in our divergent understanding of the text in Gen.9:18-10:32. I do not consider the general statement in 10:32 to reflect anything about whether Mitzrayim, the son of Ham, was or was not the 'father' of Egypt. For someone ostensibly concerned with the mesorah, you should not take umbrage when I attempt to resolve an apparent difference between the data generated by Egyptologists and the biblical account of origins.

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  40. To Tom:

    You wrote - "That's a very nice understanding on your part. Unfortunately, it has no basis in Chazal, particularly the part where the Torah is teaching your lesson and NOT the literal meaning of its verses. Clearly, you can choose to understand the verses any way you like, but you cannot lay claim to understanding being part of masoretic Judaism if it is outside the bounds of the mesorah."

    Your argument is starting to sound Karaitic, Tom. Interpretation is specifically within the bounds of masoretic Judaism, setting it apart from other thought systems and breakoff sects. Granted, I would love to see ideas sourced and certainly would like to see a basis for given things that have come up in this discussion, but to interpret that aspect of Bereshith in the manner Y Aharon is doing seems awfully reasonable to me. What he said about common ancestry seems a pretty obvious point since everything else died in the flood. It doesn't even exclude a literal reading. But are you really suggesting none of the interpretations or commentaries on any verses ever minimize the literal reading for the sake of conveying messages or other precepts? It would seem such a claim is not accurate.

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  41. Ameteur -

    "I do not know how you plan on finding a reference in Chazal that the stories in Tanach are not to be taken literally....My point was that something that is invented hundreds of years after the Talmud is written can not be found in the Talmud."

    So you admit that interpreting the historical narratives of the Torah is something that was "invented hundreds of years after the Talmud was written." Now, in so far as our understanding of the written Torah must be consistent with the guidelines of Torah sheb'al peh, i.e., Chazal, you are saying that a non-literal understanding of the Torah's historical narratives, which is not consistent with Chazal's approach, is beyond the pale of our mesorah. You have articulated my argument very well.

    "I guess you also believe that since the Gemorah does not explicitly mention electricity it does not exist and we can not use it?"

    I find it fascinating that you compare the issue of electricity, (which has nothing at all to do with our understanding of the written Torah as guided by Chazal, and for which Chazal are not in any position of authority) with the issue of how to interpret the Torah (which has everything to do with our understanding of Torah and for which Chazal, as the ba'aley hamesorah, are the authority).

    I have no idea what your point was regarding Iyov. God did not fool anyone here. The book was written by Moshe Rabenu, and there is a debate amongst Chazal as to whether Iyov actually existed. So? There is no such debate regarding Noach, Avraham, etc.

    "The Chapter system in the chumash is a later Christian invention and does not help in the reading of Torah."

    Irrelevant. The mishna speaks of ma'aseh b'reishit, not chapters. I introduced the chapter only as an easy reference source. Actually, I was not accurate, since it includes the first few p'sukim of chapter 2 as well.

    "Perhaps "maaseh bereshit" means the entire book of Bereshit. Or perhaps it means "all sections of the chumash written in the style of "bereshit" (i.e. sections written anonymously and not directly attributed to hashem or Moshe)"

    Yeah, or perhaps it means all of Tanach? Perhaps it means only the first pasuk of the Torah? Or perhaps it means those paragraphs in the Torah that start with the letters mem, ayin, s(h)in, hay, bet, resh, yod, and tav. Who knows? The answer is that Chazal refer to ma'aseh b'reishit as the account of the creation of the world. Not SEFER b'reishit; MA'ASEH b'reishit. Your suggestion that ma'aseh b'reishit could refer to the entire sefer is beyond any reasonable reading of the term.

    "Mitzyarim also happens to translate in Hebrew as "from sufferings."

    Only if you completely ignore the vowelization and the cognate form in Semitic language. The mem is part of the root, as seen in the Arabic name of the country, Misr.

    "If the chumash is to be read literally, and G-d never "fools" people, then to what do you attribute the fact that the people of Egypt and the Torah refer to the same land by different names?"

    I just don't understand this. The people of Egypt referred to their land by a few names, the root m.s.r. being one of them. Ask any Egyptian.

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  42. Rabbi Slifkin -

    I hope you saw my comment regarding the chapters that you cited from your books. I don't think that they address the issue that we have been discussing.

    "A Reader" suggested an approach that he derived from your work. Do you concur with his presentation?

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  43. Y. Aharon -

    Could you please provide exact sources for the Rambam and Ibn Ezra that you referred to? Thanks.

    "you should not take umbrage when I attempt to resolve an apparent difference..."

    I don't know where this comes from. I did not "take umbrage" - I merely said that your attempt to resolve what the Torah says clearly and explicitly with what the consensus of Egyptologists is, should not distort the masoretic understanding of the pasuk.

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  44. Student V -

    "Interpretation is specifically within the bounds of masoretic Judaism, setting it apart from other thought systems and breakoff sects. Granted, I would love to see ideas sourced and certainly would like to see a basis for given things that have come up in this discussion..."

    Ahh...herein lies the crux of the issue. Does ANY interpretation fall "within the bounds of masoretic Judaism"? In the middle ages, there were people who suggested that Avraham and Sara did not exist and were only metaphors for form and substance. These people were unanimously excluded from the "masoretic camp" by the rishonim. Why? Didn't they have a right to "interpret"? And don't I have a right to interpret that the exodus never really happened - after all, there is little to no archeological evidence for it? Maybe it's all a myth, and the whole thing is a house of cards. Now, I could certainly say that; but I can't say it while still claiming to adhere to masoretic Judaism. The "sources" and the "basis" that you mentioned are critical.

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  45. Tom,

    I am amazed that you are so able to miss my points entirely.

    Are you allowed to use electricity on Shabbat? How can you argue that this isn't important to the understanding of the Torah?

    My point is, just as you will not find the Talmud or Chazal discussing electricity, you will not find chazal discussing "literalism", because the concept wasn't invented yet.

    Iyov states that G-d punishes Iyov because of a bet with Satan. This is what I mean by G-d fooling people. The Authorship of Iyov is irrelevant. I'm talking about the content. And lets not even get into the hardships and deaths that befall Iyov's family.

    Regarding, Avraham and Sara... Nobody here is arguing that people in the Chumash didn't exist. What they are arguing is that how you might have read the text as a child, is not the "historical reality", nor was the Torah ever intending to give you the details of what the historical reality was.

    Just because George Washington never literally cut down a cherry tree, doesn't mean that George Washington didn't exist, or that he didn't have a reputation for honesty.

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  46. Tom, I find that bloggers who use such language as "being outside of mesoretic Judaism" are trying to exclude both the idea and the author from their camp. If that is not your intent in my case then we can continue an amicable debate.

    I don't subscribe to your apparent understanding that all statements of the sages constitute a mesoretic tradition. If that were the case, there would be little argument about those putative traditions. A more reasonable (to me) position would be that much of the content of the talmud, much less - the midrashim, is based on how the various authors interpreted the text. As long as we don't attempt to change halachic conclusions drawn from such interpretations and show reverence for the text, we should be free to disagree. This is the position of the Geonim and the subsequent rationalist halachic decisors and rabbinic leaders. Of course, there are some ideological limits to such new interpretations. I only offered those for the creation and flood stories. I have no problem with treating the narratives of the Patriarchs or those in Exodus and elsewhere in the Torah as describing real events. Even the creation and flood stories aren't treated by me as allegories, but as real events - once properly understood.

    The reference to the novel views of the Rambam and Ibn Ezra can be found in a Mikraot Gedolot Chumash in the beginning of parshat 'Vayeira' in the Ramban, and in parshat Balak in the Ibn Ezra commentary referring to the talking donkey. The Rambam's view concerning prophetic or angelic experiences are to be found in his Moreh Nevuchim, but I don't have a precise reference handy. I should add that I don't subscribe to either of those novel views, I merely used them as illustration that novel, non-literal interpretations are nothing new.

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  47. we are at odds here -- i do believe that somehow the orthodox literalist view is not capturing the true simple (perhaps divine) Torah we read.
    I feel bad about it. we are these modern Jews, and we want to find meaning, and we encounter a religion that is ours that is, I think, very rich, no?
    And instead, we are caught in this bind -- and the most Torah scholarly we know just send us into tailspins as they tell us it is all simply, literally, the way we read it on the page.
    i have been thinking about Judaism for many years, and I have always been washed away in this sea of simple thinking that (I feel in my heart) is somehow not real.
    What is a Jew to do? I have never figured out where to go with this kind of pain -- I suppose when we pass from this earth we will gain some clarity.
    I like the idea -- have always felt -- that the wonder of Torah is in its mysterious past. even as a kid, I understood this feeling that there is a truth, but that we are not privy to it.

    there is a quote from Carl Jung in the NYC subway

    "Nature must not win the game, but she cannot lose."

    Am reminded of that -- the tension there is between our acceptance of divinity and Torah, and our frustration as modern people.

    I have never gotten a good answer on how to deal with Torah. There are those (like some family members) who just plainly accept the Torah. Period. They teach their children it is 100% true. 100% accurate. 100% reality.

    Then I have family and friends who would never entertain such ideas.

    I don't know what to do either!!

    Tuvia

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  48. "And don't I have a right to interpret that the exodus never really happened - "

    No, I'm pretty sure that's not an acceptable approach. Nor do I see reason to claim that Avraham and Sara were not real people. But why are these relevant when I never claimed them?

    I'm speaking specifically about the things you were arguing with Y Aharon. 1. common ancestry - it doesn't even preclude the literal reading.
    2. Interpretations that minimize the literal reading to convey a bigger/different message. For instance, Y Aharon's interpretation of Mitzrayim. You keep claiming that it violates "masoretic Judaism" yet there is nowhere explicit support for your interpretation - even though you consider it very nice and logical and well accepted - and Y Aharon's is reasonable and certainly plausible given the language. So the connection with making Avraham and Sarah into a parable, I can't see. But I never brought that up.

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  49. Tuvia, it appears that you could use books with titles like, "An Orthodox Guide to Perplexed Moderns". That is, in fact, what people like the blog owner are writing. You just need to feel comfortable with the idea that he and others like him are really Orthodox Jews. If your Hebrew reading skills are adequate, you should follow the link R' Slifkin provides to the book by Rav Gedalya Nadel. Rav Nadel lived in the heart of the Hareidi community of Bnei Brak and served as the rav and posek for his neighborhood which included noteworthy Hareidi scholars. Yet his understanding of the creation story is rather modern, and he fully accepted both a very ancient world and evolution. Senior rashei yeshiva at YU also accept such ideas. Hence, your statement about torah scholars rejecting a non-literal understanding of those early torah narratives is not really true - certainly not in the MO world.

    My advice is to continue to regard the torah as containing deep mysteries which may become slowly unravelled given increased knowledge of the world and much effort. Don't be persuaded by people who offer slogans instead of credible knowledge. Often definitive opinions are rendered by people who haven't really considered the matter carefully.

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  50. I think it hurts your credibility and is slightly unfair to your readers to be constantly updating and offering new editions of your book every other year. No one who buys a book wants to be told two years later that he has an old edition.

    If you don't feel you have a mastery of a topic, don't publish. If you do have mastery of it, publish, but then wait at least 10 years before offering the public a new edition.

    (On a related note regarding changing your mind which you once wrote a post on. Changing one's mind is perfectly fine but if an author does this constantly, the public loses confidence in the person because he seems not to take his own ideas very seriously.

    If you weren't sure that Perek Shirah referred to a bat, you should not have published a book claiming that to be true. Or you should have at least inserted a footnote indicating your tentativeness on the matter. Why should a reader believe anything you have to say if he sees time and again that you are changing your opinion?)

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  51. Sorry, but I completely disagree. As I refine my understanding of a topic, and discover new relevant sources, why should I withhold that from my readers?

    And it's (generally, in my post-Charedi period) not a matter of "changing my mind" - it's a matter of further refining ideas and offering additional insights.

    Regarding the bat - I never in the first place positively identified it as a bat. I always said that it was a tentative suggestion without any firm basis.

    And with regard to your basic point - I never expect anyone to believe me (or anyone else) based on authority, only on the strength of the arguments that I bring.

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  52. Once again I can't help but note how fixated people are about the notion of "historical truth". Since when is that the end-all-be-all of truths? Since when is that the primary function of Torah?

    Torah is instruction. It has something to give over, teachings which we consider valuable, "emet" in the sense of ringing true, being viable and useful over time.

    Torah began as an oral tradition, and it continues as such despite the "ktav" (written) portions. We refine our understandings and interpretations to keep the TRUTH of Torah relevant, so that its teachings remain useful, fresh, significant.

    The Flood story is one of many early oral traditions. It doesn't matter whether all/some/none of it is historically true - what matters are the TEACHINGS we glean from it. That is TORAH.

    Ad kan...

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  53. (there is a disadvantage to entering an involved discussion that basically ended a year ago, but i'll offer the following:)

    On Iyov: at least certain parts of TSBP were given at the same time as TSBK. If the TSBP tradition that Iyov never lived is as old as the book of Iyov itself, if Iyov was immediately presented as an allegory, then no one was ever fooled into thinking that it was factual. And even if the author of the view that Iyov is only allegory, came to that conclusion on his own - nonetheless, he presumably held that this was common knowledge as soon as the book of Iyov made its appearance, only that this had later been forgotten.

    On publishing something that you possibly will regret: see הקדמה לאגרות משה חלק א בשם החתם סופר ודעת הגרמ"פ עצמו

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  54. I saw this question/issue mentioned a few times (from Michapeset):

    Outside the Bible, the "flood" story appears as a major part of the "Atrahasis" story (from about the 19th c. BCE) and the Standard Babylonian version of the "Epic of Gilgamesh" (mid-first millenium). It also makes a brief appearance in the "Sumerian King List" as a major interruption between different lines of kingship (similar to how the "flood" functions in the bible).

    The two sources of the flood within the Bible are J and P.

    Best,
    Michael Singer

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  55. Oops! make that הקדמה לדברות משה ב"ק ח"א

    (This was RMF's first printed sefer.)

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  56. David Meir: "Once again I can't help but note how fixated people are about the notion of 'historical truth'. Since when is that the end-all-be-all of truths? Since when is that the primary function of Torah?"

    Primary function or not; if the divinely-authored Torah makes historical statements, then one would expect them to be true. If they are not, or seem not to be, I (and apparently many others) see this as a serious issue.

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  57. IMHO people believed the Bereishit and Noach stories to be literal. I think the author even intended this. (There may be exceptions such as Gan Eden, maybe, but for the most part it's supposed to be taken literally).
    Nonetheless, the book is a very Godly book. I think Moshe was mistaken about the history of the world. But that doesn't matter. A comparison of the Torah's account of creation and the flood and the view of other peoples is very instructive. The theological message is so clear and striking when compared to other writings of the time.
    The stories teach monotheism, God's care for His creations, His justice and kindness, man as the pinnacle of creation, man having purpose, nature being under God's control, etc. and it totally rejects the polytheistic view of the world in all aspects.
    The fact that Moshe wasn't a scientist is irrelevant. The Torah is an amazing guide to life. Still relevant to this day. How many other books from the ancient world does anyone give any respect today (in the sense that people would choose to live by it)? Zero. That's an amazing thing. Some may say Godly.

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  58. I hope all your readers click on your hyperlinks because unfortunately you (like all good ideologues) criticize both illimitable AND legitimate logic when they support the view you dispute, and enthusiastically embrace both legitimate AND illegitimate logic when they support your contention. At the moment I am referring to the sadly incoherent website of talkorigins.org. For example let us examine the first problem with the Mabul. "1. Building the Ark

    Wood is not the best material for shipbuilding. It is not enough that a ship be built to hold together; it must also be sturdy enough that the changing stresses don't open gaps in its hull. Wood is simply not strong enough to prevent separation between the joints, especially in the heavy seas that the Ark would have encountered. The longest wooden ships in modern seas are about 300 feet, and these require reinforcing with iron straps and leak so badly they must be constantly pumped. The ark was 450 feet long [ Gen. 6:15]. Could an ark that size be made seaworthy?"
    Let us analyze the assertion regarding "the largest wooden ships in modern seas". This assertion is clearly implying that in earlier times the largest wooden ships must have been smaller than 300 feet because even in modern times they only just about reach that length. (if the article does not hope to draw a "kol shekain" from modern ships to ancient ones then the article is really incoherent entirely!) The problem is that a mere cursory look into the facts turns up a 341 foot wooden ship from somewhere in the first century C.E. (Caligula's "Giant Ship")! (Another, perhaps relevant ship, would be the wooden, 19th century "Rochambeau", which was an impressive 377 feet (although perhaps it is not relevant because it was iron-clad). My point is: do the research and decide for yourself, because both sides distort.
    Just one more point:
    "SQ said...
    "There are two sets of problems. "

    There's a third, very significant problem. To wit, the mabul story in the Torah has every appearance of being a combination of two stories borrowed from a non-Jewish source. Geology isn't the only science that presents a challenge to the traditional understanding of this parsha..."

    Does you not mind posting comments that are incontrovertibly kefirah? Also, do you not wonder why you have a sizable following of koferim altogether?

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  59. For those of you who have problems with the geneologys, see Universal Jewish History volume 1 (1948) for an approach. You can get it as a free pdf on hebrewbooks.org or www.lulu.com/sumseq

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  60. An often overlooked text on this topic is what Ibn Ezra writes in his introduction to his commentary to Genesis (not the standard introduction, but the שיטה אחרת. It can be found in the Torat Chaim Chumash published by Mossad Harav Kook (Jerusalem, 1993) pp. 300-301. He writes there as follows:

    והנה אומר כלל בתורה
    גם בדברי המקרא גם במשנה
    ובכל מסכתות
    ובכל ברייתות ומכילתות
    שאם מצאנו באחד הנזכרים
    דבר שיכחיש אחד משלשה דברים
    כי האחד‚ שקול הדעת הישרה
    או כתוב מכחיש אחר בדרך סברא
    או יכחיש הקבלה הנגמרה
    אז נחשוב לתקן הכל כפי יכלתינו
    בדרך משל‚ או תוספות אות או מלה על דרך לשונינו
    ואם לא נוכל לתקן אל האמת‚ נאמר כי זאת החכמה ממנו נעלמה
    כי יד שכלנו קצרה
    ודעת בני דורנו חסרה
    והדבר שהלאנו‚ יהיה כספר מונח ונעזב
    וחלילה לנו לומר שהוא שקר וכזב
    גם לא נאמין שהוא כמשמעו
    רק נאמין כי הכותב זה הסוד הוא ידעו
    כי יש בדברי הקדמונים סודות
    על דרך משלים וחידות
    שלא יבינום כל השומעים
    ולבעל  המחקר יהיו נודעים

    The Ibn Ezra then gives an example of a Rabbinic statement that contradicts the first thing (שקול הדעת הישרה), and he goes on to give a lengthy philisophical explanation of that statement.

    He finishes of with another important lesson, whenever there's a contradiction between logic and the literal understanding of the Torah, or between two verses, or between the Meosrah and the literal understanding of the Torah, we should always accept the truth (in the case of logic vs. literalism and Mesorah vs. literalism, it's clear what Ibn Ezra considers as 'true'. In verse vs. verse, Ibn Ezra recommends to use logic to decide which of the two is true).

    I think Tom et al, who want to write out of Mesoratic Judaism people like R. Natan Slifkin and the like, should reconsider. They are just following a Mesoratic Jew's advice.

    Unfortunately, and as 'reject' said, not too many people will now see the IE (which I think is very very important).

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  61. Does you not mind posting comments that are incontrovertibly kefirah?

    I reject most (but not all) comments from absolute kofrim just as I reject most (but not all) comments from absolute antirationalists. But your definition of kefirah might not be the same as others. And there are serious problems that people want to address.

    Also, do you not wonder why you have a sizable following of koferim altogether?

    Would you prefer that they had no interest in what anyone religious had to say?

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  62. Yitznewton:

    Thanks for the feedback. I don't see non-historicity as a problem for a divinely-authored Torah. I'll try to explain why.

    My suspicion (which I think is reasonably evidenced by other ancient writings) is that in Biblical times there was far less of a hard line drawn between history-telling and storytelling. It was common for embellishments (even outlandish ones or complete fabrications) to be built into the stories of a people. Again because it's the STORY of the people, not the "history" per se, which was deemed important. The "story" is a people's self-perception, self-identity. It carries meaning-content, morality-content, a sense of mission & directive.

    Today we would call such embellishments "lies" but back then it was about telling a "proper" (i.e. captivating, memorable) story, giving honor to (or showing the faults of) the protagonists of the story, and like I said previously, the number one goal in an oral tradition is to TEACH something of value, not just to relate "facts".

    It's a different mentality, and I think it's hard for a modern person, who is typically so "fact-oriented", to wrap their mind around. But if you try to get into the ancient headspace, suddenly stories like the Flood, ages of people, etc. stop being "problematic" and simply become great gems from which to glean.

    In sum - I think we're missing the boat (sorry, bad pun!) by focusing on questions of "fact vs. fiction". The true spirit of Torah is found, I believe, in the teachings/ideas/directives these stories are intended to impart.

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  63. David Meir:
    "Today we would call such embellishments "lies" but back then it was about telling a "proper" (i.e. captivating, memorable) story".
    It is hard to call this "Toras Emes" if its goals are mutating over time.

    Independently: Sadly enough, we are the first human generation to be confronted with so much scientific info about our Torah.
    This info trickle eventually will turn into a dam burst, creating wide spread havoc with 3000 years of "Emunah Peshutah".
    This is heart breaking for me.

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  64. For those who have difficulties dealing with issues of historicity I think that David Meir's last comment may be helpful.

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  65. Plonisalmonis said: "Does you not mind posting comments that are incontrovertibly kefirah?"

    Do you mind explaining what's "incontrovertibly kefirah" in what SQ wrote?

    SQ wrote that "the mabul story in the Torah has every appearance of being a combination of two stories borrowed from a non-Jewish source."

    Does it not have this appearance? If not, can you explain why not? If it does have this appearance, do you mind explaining why asking about it (even if it's a hard question) is considered kefira?

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  66. David Meir:

    I do not disagree with you, but just subscribing to this type of theory and saying "Torah is instruction" is not sufficient in my mind to allow us to brush aside those opinions that the text must be true in some absolute sense even if not literal. This, because we traditionally assume that the text is of divine origin, and to me it's difficult to say that the divine followed storytelling paradigms in setting out what ought to be absolute truths, even if the storytelling embellishments are only incidental to the actual truths in question.

    Or maybe I'm just colored with philosophical approaches to religion, and Judaism is at heart more folk-oriented.

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  67. lo fidalti:

    One can posit that the Torah has a story-orientation and still say it carries a fixed set of goals. But yes, I think part of a "living Torah" means it is supposed to evolve over time. I'm not sure it's the "goals" per se which change - maybe just the set of strategies. Certainly interpretations change over time in direct response to people's mentality, cultural norms, etc.

    yitznewton:

    I'm not sure why "absolute" truths couldn't be conveyed in a storytelling format. If we assume that the more profound truths are "moral" or "life-choice-oriented" (as opposed to "facts"), it really doesn't matter whether the package used to convey these truths is historical at all - what is important is that they get conveyed effectively.

    A quick perush on the word "emet".

    We tend think of emet in terms of factual truth, but really the word is related linguistically to the word "emuna". Just as emuna is the quality of "being faithful to" (holding steady, not deviating), emet means "being true to" (holding to one's course/word over time). Hence the notion of someone doing "chesed v'emet" - it means kindness and being true to their pledge, following through. And "Torat emet" - meaning Torah is true to its pledges, has staying power, does not evaporate over time. (As opp. to sheker, which relates to hevel, something that evaporates quickly.)

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  68. "it's difficult to say that the divine followed storytelling paradigms in setting out what ought to be absolute truths"

    The Gemara itself records an opinion that the story of Iyov never happened.

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  69. Riker: to my mind creating the story of a guy to teach about the God-man relationship is still different than fictionalizing a historical account of the destruction of life on earth. But touché nonetheless.

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  70. >>>> One can posit that the Torah has a story-orientation and still say it carries a fixed set of goals.

    And how does one know where to draw the line, which stories are real events and which not?

    >>>> But yes, I think part of a "living Torah" means it is supposed to evolve over time.

    Obviously, this view does not concur with traditional Judaism’s beliefs. So, why not go the more rational route and agree that the Torah was human authored, (possibly with some divine inspiration, a la, the prophets)

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  71. elemir:

    Obviously, this view does not concur with traditional Judaism’s beliefs

    I don't see it that way at all. Chazal themselves probably did the most to evolve/adapt Judaism to help it/us survive the exile. There are plenty of ways to evolve that don't involve throwing off the yoke of mitzvot or bypassing halacha.

    why not go the more rational route and agree that the Torah was human authored

    I'm not touching the question of divinity of authorship - though I would say that we also have to try to think past our modern notions of "authorship" - of someone sitting down and writing original material. Torah was not "authored" - it was recorded. The stories of Creation, the Avot, etc. were known, most likely existing for centuries as oral traditions before they were finally recorded.

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  72. In contrast to Plonisalmonis, I don't find the Talk Origins website to be "incoheret". While not all of the arguments presented there against a literal reading of the flood story are equally valid, it presents a spectrum of rather persuasive arguments from geology, geography, meteorology, genetics, etc. Picking on one point made in the long essay is hardly a valid way to dismiss its entire thesis.

    Furthermore, the argument from Caligula's boats is irrelevant. Those giant houseboats were never meant to sail the seas. They were built and floated on a small crater lake. They were also coated with lead and had bilge pumps.

    Nonetheless, the argument against there being such a massive wooden boat as the ark described in the torah is weak. The ark need not have been constructed from wooden planks, but from the straight trunks of the very tall Gopher tree. These massive timbers, once the contact surfaces were planed, bonded, and coated with wood pitch - together with tight clamping by vertical wood or bronze rods, could have withstood the effects of wave motion. It is probably a mistake to think of the ark as a ship of sea. It was, more likely, a giant house boat that merely floated on the sea.

    I can, furthermore, envisage the animal cages on the 2nd level as having a lattice type flooring to allow the wastes to fall into the bottom level (hold). Only the top leve would have had a solid floor to control the odor of the animals and their wastes. Such speculation tends to remove another objection raised in the essay.

    I agree with Yitz Newton, as per Yeedles citation of the Ibn Ezra, that we should endeavor to find a way of rationalizing the flood story as a real event. The more obvious way of doing that is to posit that the flood was regional rather than global. The Talk Origins essay states at the outset that such a scenario doesn't conflict with any scientific evidence. It is then a question of reinterpreting certain phrases to make them locally valid rather than globally so. In other words, from the perspective of the ark's residents, their entire world was flooded and made desolate. All the descendents of Adam and the local fauna not gathered into the ark thus perished. However, the remainder of the world and its peoples were not directly impacted by the Mesopotamian flood. The ark then came to rest on a hill in a region adjacent to the flooded Mesopotamian plain. Noah's grandchildren later intermarried with those other people.

    The torah is neither a scientific work nor a general history of the earth. It is focused on the origins of the Jewish people and their experiences. It is, however, written in a way which emphasizes the connectivity that we have to the rest of humanity - as if we were one huge family. The point is to treat everyone as such.

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  73. elemir - forgot to relate to your first question...

    how does one know where to draw the line, which stories are real events and which not?

    The bad news is that we'll probably never know. The good news is that it doesn't really matter!

    I know it sounds strange, but it's possible to live as a frum Jew, believe in a God-given Torah, and yet predicate NONE of those practices/beliefs on the basis of "historical reality".

    Clearly there IS a great deal of historical content in the Torah. But when one's locus of "reality/truth" in Torah is its meaning/instructional content, any historical corroboration is just icing on the cake. And any "evidence against" historicity just rolls off the shoulders, presenting no burden on one's faith or intellect whatsover.

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  74. The real problem with dismissing the importance of the Torah’s historical accuracy is not the mabul or even maaseh bereishis, but yetzias Mitzrayim and mataan Torah. It’s all good and well to say that the mabul didn’t happen exactly as described, that the story was adapted from earlier myths in order to give the Bnei Yisroel a familiar story on which to hang important teachings, etc. In the end, whether or not the mabul happened doesn’t really matter.

    BUT we are supposed to follow the Torah in large part out of gratitude to Hashem for taking us out of Mitzrayim. We are the special nation that received the Torah at Har Sinia. If that didn’t happen, if it is just a myth to teach us lessons, convey a general sense of the trend of what happened, and an exciting story, then why should the mitzvos be binding?

    Natan Slifkin said...
    > I reject most (but not all) comments from absolute kofrim

    I’m curious, what’s the definition of an “absolute kofer?”

    > Also, do you not wonder why you have a sizable following of koferim altogether?
    > Would you prefer that they had no interest in what anyone religious had to say?

    Most people Plonisalmonis considers kofrim are very interested in what religious people have to say: religious people like those calling little girls whores because they wear short sleeves, religious people who with their silence condone terrorism and attempted murder in New Square (and then try to blame the victim), religious people who insist that “science” is a conspiracy to delegitimize the Torah… and so on.

    While I don’t always agree with you, especially on religious issues, it’s good to see that someone can be a religious person without being nuts.

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  75. >>>>> I don't see it that way at all. Chazal themselves probably did the most to evolve/adapt Judaism to help it/us survive the exile.

    Well, of course YOU won’t see it that way. And as much as YOU or I believe that some of the narratives were simply recorded stories THIS view is absolutely NOT what we are mandated to believe. Normative traditional Judaism (AKA Orthodox Judaism), sadly, has adopted the Rambam’s 13 ikkarim of which one states that God wrote/authored the Torah by dictating each and every word to Moishe. YOUR or my view is irrelevant if one wishes to remain “in the fold”.

    Also, you didn’t explain how, under your view, one would distinguish between actual events or simply “stories”.

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  76. Hey Rabbi Slifkin I just wanted to let you know Rabbi Sacks posted a great article on the Noach that i think may be helpful. I think everyone should take a look.
    http://www.chiefrabbi.org/ReadArtical.aspx?id=1823

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  77. Mitch. Thanks for the citation to Rabbi Sack's article. He states:

    "However, the stories of the Flood and Babel are not merely historical, because the Torah is not history but “teaching, instruction.” They are there because they represent a profound moral-social-political-spiritual truth about the human situation as the Torah sees it."

    Does the good Rabbi mean to tell us that the mabul may not have occurred as dipicted in the Chumash? If so, I'm jumping for joy because as an Orthodox Jew, I've never heard anyone in the frum community question the veracity of the story, other than to say the flood may have been local. But that doesn't address all the other devastating arguments that make us Orthodox folks look foolish for accepting a literal version of the narrative. I would love to hear how Rabbi Sacks deals with people living 900 years or civilizations dating back 10,000 years or more.

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  78. elemir:

    God wrote/authored the Torah by dictating each and every word to Moishe

    Two points on this. 1) You can say that Moshe took dictation from God, but that it was known beforehand as a set of oral traditions. (After all, is it logical that people would have heard about the Flood, etc. for the first time only after Moshe wrote the first Sefer Torah?) 2) The Torah itself does not say that Moshe took dictation of the entire Torah from Bereshit to Yisrael. This is an oral tradition!

    YOUR or my view is irrelevant if one wishes to remain “in the fold”.

    Don't be too quick to write ourselves off! Traditional sources discuss the topic of non-literal reading, what exactly Moshe wrote down and when, what the Avot knew/practiced before the Torah was written down, etc. Moreover, the tradition focuses 99% of its energy NOT on these kinds of questions, but on the ideas, concepts, teachings, and directives of Torah. THAT is the "meat and potatoes" of Torah.

    So despite what contemporary frum hashkafa would demand we believe (and I grant you that many if not most would find what I'm saying to be unacceptable), I think people are unnecessarily painting themselves into a box - there's a lot more "breathing room" in traditional Torah than we typically utilize.

    And if we start to utilize it more often (as in the Flood story), people will gradually get out of the box - and feel liberated for not having to always be on the defensive vis-a-vis Torah.

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  79. Elemir: "And how does one know where to draw the line, which stories are real events and which not?"

    Marc Shapiro quotes R. Kook on precisely this question. R. Kook, in a letter to his student Moshe Seidel (who was encouraged by R. Kook to study Semitic languages) writes as follows (אגרות הראיה, ii, 478):

    ואם אין כל יחיד יכול להציב גבול מדויק בין מה שהוא בדרך משל בתורה ובין מה שהוא ממשי - בא החוש הבהיר של האומה בכללה ומוצא לו את נתיבותיו לא בראיות בודדות כי אם בטביעות עין כללית.

    I find this view is very similar to the Chazon ish's view about Hashgacha Alyona being the driving force behind the evolvement of the Mesorah.

    And regarding your second point: to paraphrase James Kugel, The divintiy of any given word in the Torah can neither be proved, nor disproved. To believe that the Torah was "Divinely inspired" is something we just have to accept with faith.

    You wrote: "Normative traditional Judaism (AKA Orthodox Judaism), sadly, has adopted the Rambam’s 13 ikkarim of which one states that God wrote/authored the Torah by dictating each and every word to Moishe". You and I both know that's not entirely true, there is even a book on it I'm sure you've heard of (Limits of Orthodox Theology, Marc Shapiro). And I also agree with what David Mier said regarding what's the "meat and potatoes of Judaism".

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  80. "God wrote/authored the Torah by dictating each and every word to Moishe"

    Except for some of them... as we all know.

    In your fanaticism you reject the Gemora.

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  81. Yeedle,

    WADR to Rav Kook, how exactly is what he states supposed to happen. Who gets counted in the “umah”. Currently i would estimate that over 80% of Jews that identify as “religious” (whether reform, conservative, etc.) do not believe in Torah Min Shomeiyim

    Also, it’s a bit amusing that you reference the Chazon Ish in the context of what Reuven Meir espoused above. I’m sure the CI would’ve supported RM’s view wholeheartedly.  Are you saying that the CI view is that in time the “true” method of interpreting narratives in the Torah will be revealed and maybe forget about what we’ve been taught the last 2000 years.

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  82. Amateur

    what gemorah...the only one i know says that Moishe wrote his book, except for the last 8 verses, that Yeshua wrote.

    and the gemorrah in Sanhedrin says that Moishe wrote only what hashem told him.

    is there more in the gemorrah??

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  83. You write that one should only read your arguments and disregard the person. However, I, the reader, do not only rely on you for arguments. I rely on you for basic information as well. I accept all the facts that you write about on trust. I accept your statements about the animal world on trust. I know you are not quoting people out of context because of trust.

    It's not at all so simple to say: ignore the man, pay attention only to his arguments.

    Besides, I think all of us can't help but psychologically identify with an author. It is hard, for example, to accept advice in a book -- even if it is great -- on marriage if one knows the author has been divorced ten times. Separating the man from his book is not so simple.

    None of these analogies are meant to be perfect. I'm simply saying that what you, Rabbi Slifkin, do as a person reflects how many people will read your books.

    (And I still stand by my other point. I do feel "cheated" in a sense to own two books by you, for which I paid good money, which you now say are to some extent outdated. You disagree, fine. But I don't think I'm the only one, and I don't know of other authors who have issued two versions of their three most important books in such a short span of time.)

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  84. the only plonisalmonisOctober 27, 2011 at 1:32 AM

    "Natan Slifkin said:

    I reject most (but not all) comments from absolute kofrim just as I reject most (but not all) comments from absolute antirationalists. But your definition of kefirah might not be the same as others. And there are serious problems that people want to address."

    Allow me a brief digression from the normal methodology of Judaic question-answer style (i.e. reverse order):
    -If you wish to contend that the comments are not kefirah that is one discussion, but your final statements sounds as if you are justifying the reading (and publishing) of kefirah withOUT the heter of "da ma shetashiv", simply because these are "serious problems that people want to address". If your words meant to convey "da etc" please clarify as such. If you did not mean that then what did you mean? What new heter are you introducing?
    -My definition of kefirah is nothing special, I thought all would agree that the idea that the Bible is actually a bunch of ancient myths erroneously cobbled together is 100% certifiably kefirah? Do you disagree with this definition? If so, can you please explain what it is?
    If "SQ" meant as Sir G*3 contends, that "the story was adapted from earlier myths in order to give the Bnei Yisroel a familiar story on which to hang important teachings, etc.", then I completely withdraw my comment because I do not believe that to be kefirah. My understanding was (and still is) that "SQ" was intimating that significant portions of the Torah were not composed by G-d, not as a question to be addressed and answered, but as a fact.
    As for the rest of Sir G*3's comment I have very little to respond because I am frankly baffled by it. All my comment indicated was that I consider anyone to believe significant portions of the Torah not composed by G-d to be a kofer. What is offensive about that and what does that have to do with little girls and violence in New Square? I am fascinated by your Holmesian intuition!
    To Yeedle, I assume the above makes my point clear.
    To Y. Ahron, my point was not (obviously) to present a thoroughly researched scholarly refutation of talkorigins.org or even this specific article. You'll notice I said even a "cursory" investigation reveals etc. My point was to show that within the first few lines there was a blatant error which even a cursory investigation would reveal. As to the "irrelevancy" of one of my examples, I point out that the article states, "Wood is simply not strong enough to prevent separation between the joints, especially in the heavy seas etc." The first part seems to exist on its own, regardless of the placement of the ship. I'm not certain if my understanding is correct; I never took the LSATs as Sir G*3 could probably tell you. After all, I don't believe in such goyishe zachin, it's pushit kemat kefirah to be oisek in such inyanim, right Sir Sherlock G*3?

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  85. Elemir: "Who gets counted in the “umah”."

    Good question. IMO, If we're talking about problems that affect only Jews who believe in Torah min Shomayim, then in this case, Umah refers to the Umah who is concerned with this question, excluding anyone who denies Torah Mi-Shomayim and likewise excluding those who deny the findings of Modern Science. (Although I must note, that אומה in R. Kook's lexicon has usually a much broader definition).

    "Also, it’s a bit amusing that you reference the Chazon Ish in the context of what Reuven Meir espoused above. I’m sure the CI would’ve supported RM’s view wholeheartedly."

    כמאמר החכם: קבל את האמת ממי שאמרו

    "Are you saying that the CI view is that in time the “true” method of interpreting narratives in the Torah will be revealed and maybe forget about what we’ve been taught the last 2000 years."

    I believe this was to CI's position, and he repeated this idea many times. For example see Kovetz Iggerot U-michtavim vol. 1, pp. 57-60 where he writes:

    כ'[תבת] לפרש סוגיא... ולהגיה ע"פ כת"י מינכן‚ וכי כל חכמי הדור מזמן הראשונים עד עכשיו כולם לא עמדו על האמת מפני שסופר אחד טעה והוסיף דברים בגמ' מלבו‚ והכשיל את כל החכמים?! ואני לא מהם ולא מהמונם‚ ... והשגחתו ית' שלא תשתכח תורה מישראל הגינה עליהם... השגחתו ית' הוא בכל דור ודור על היחידים ששתלן בכל דור להורות חוקיו ומשפטיו לישראל‚ ... ועל פיהן נקבע הלכות באישות החמורה ובשבת ובשאר הלכות החמורות

    In other words, even if they are mistaken it's all controlled by Hashgacha. The course Jewish halach and thought takes is - according to CI - tightly supervised by God. (I will admit that I don't entirely agree with this, but there is a certain rationale to the idea that the [learned within the] nation in general have a healthy sense of truth and falsehood.)

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  86. your final statements sounds as if you are justifying the reading (and publishing) of kefirah withOUT the heter of "da ma shetashiv", simply because these are "serious problems that people want to address". If your words meant to convey "da etc" please clarify as such. If you did not mean that then what did you mean?

    I do not post comments from people who are just out to destroy Judaism. But when people are bothered by serious problems, I permit them to raise them here for discussion. What would you prefer to do?

    -My definition of kefirah is nothing special, I thought all would agree that the idea that the Bible is actually a bunch of ancient myths erroneously cobbled together is 100% certifiably kefirah?

    As far as I can see, nobody has yet said this in the comments.

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  87. G*3 - I know we're already a couple of posts back by now, but I wanted to respond re: Yetziat Mitzrayim/Matan Torah...

    if it is just a myth to teach us lessons, convey a general sense of the trend of what happened, and an exciting story, then why should the mitzvos be binding?

    If a person believes the Torah is God-given, they will keep the mitzvot because they see it as God's will. Unlike history, a mitzva is not a "fact" or a "claim" to be proven or refuted. You need no evidence for its existence - only emuna that this is what HKB"H has asked you to do.

    Therefore the question of exactly what happened in Egypt and the desert is not what the system hinges on. The story of Yetziat Mitzrayim is how God wants us to think about ourselves as a people. This is our story, our national narrative. It's meaningful, potent, and a fitting backdrop in which to present the mitzvot - our God-given national directive.

    In sum: If you believe that the story of Yetziat Mitzrayim is God-given, and the mitzvot are God-given, then the system is binding. Going further to require an historical literalist approach is completely unnecessary - it might even be seen as a lack of emuna!

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  88. Yehudah: FWIW RNS has offered PDFs of new chapters to holders of older editions in the past; I'm thinking of CoC. New editions is a fact of life in scholarly publishing. This is nothing unusual.

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  89. the only plonisalmonisOctober 27, 2011 at 4:58 PM

    Natan Slifkin said:

    "I do not post comments from people who are just out to destroy Judaism. But when people are bothered by serious problems, I permit them to raise them here for discussion. What would you prefer to do?"

    Let me reiterate, I am addressing a halachic concern. I am not an expert in these halachos but if it IS indeed assur to publish certain comments then obviously I would prefer you didn't publish them! Your first argument does not appeal to the fact the comments are NOT indeed kefirah, but rather seems to be appealing to some sort of socio-humanistic set of of rules. Please explain how "what would you prefer to do", not as a question but as an argument is relevant in this discussion.

    Concerning your second point, I admit I was exaggerating, but SQ seemed to be implying that the entire parsha of the Mabul is non-Mosaic in origin. (If you don't see the inference I would be happy to elaborate.) Your most recent post seems to question whether that is indeed kefirah. But the Rambam (who certainly qualifies as a nice example of a "rationalist medieval scholar", the opinions of whom your banner proudly proclaims you are intent on exploring,) explicitly states that someone who says the Torah is not from G-d, even one verse, or even one word, is a kofer b'torah!
    Now, if you meant by "non-Mosaic" in origin, that G-d conveyed the Torah through some other means than Moses, you once again fly in the face of the Rambam who counts the opposite view as the "Yesod Sh'mini".
    If you meant by "and various other notes", that when the "rationalist medieval scholars" prove inconvenient you disregard their opinions, please clarify as such!
    (Btw, as far as spurning antirationalist comments are concerned, Sir G*3's furious and wild accusations are entirely antirationalist in nature. Which rational being would throw such diatribe and invective at a party they have no logical reason for assuming is guilty of any of it!

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  90. Yeedle said
    >>>> IMO, If we're talking about problems that affect only Jews who believe in Torah min Shomayim, then in this case, Umah refers to the Umah who is concerned with this question, excluding anyone who denies Torah Mi-Shomayim

    Thanks for clarifying, but do you realize what you are saying and how circular reasoning this is; let me re-phrase.

    “The action/beliefs of the “Umah’ in time will decide a certain position and the criteria for who is be included in the Umah is determined by those who already hold this certain position…”

    >>>>> In other words, even if they are mistaken it's all controlled by Hashgacha.

    What happened to the concept of “lo b’shomayim hee.”

    >>>> The course Jewish halach and thought takes is - according to CI - tightly supervised by God. ….. but there is a certain rationale to the idea that the [learned within the] nation in general have a healthy sense of truth and falsehood.)

    In others words… leave it up to “Daas Torah”, they will know what’s what. [LOL]
    BTW, was it the “Umah” that decided relying on Daas Torah is THE course

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  91. Plonisalmonis,
    Thanks, but I’m not a knight. And I don’t think Holmes was, either.

    I was responding more to R’ Slifkin’s comment than to yours. People outside the frum community, especially those who used to be part of it (and so would be “qualified” to be kofrim) tend to hear more negative than positive news about the community. Some gleefully. It’s good for the Orthodox world to have a voice of reason. It’s unfortunate that R’ Slifikin represents a tiny minority within Orthodoxy.

    I certainly did not mean to imply that you are personally responsible for similar actions, which seems to be the way you took it. Merely that R’ Slifkin was 1. Wrong that “kofrim” don’t pay any attention to religious people, and 2. Well justified in supplying a reasonable voice.

    David Meir said...
    > If a person believes the Torah is God-given, they will keep the mitzvot because they see it as God's will.

    Yes, but HOW do we know the mitzvos are God-given? Because He gave them to us on Har Sinia! If Matan Torah didn’t happen, then when exactly did we get the Torah? Who wrote it? Where did it come from?

    > Unlike history, a mitzva is not a "fact" or a "claim" to be proven or refuted.

    No, but “mitzvah” means “commandment,” and the act of commanding IS amenable to historical investigation.

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  92. PlonisAlmonis - you are lacking a lot of information regarding the range of theological views in Jewish history. Please read my book The Challenge Of Creation and see Marc Shapiro's posts on the Seforim blog.

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  93. David Meir, the problem with your approach to the Exodus is that it would make no sense to the generation that left Egypt. They would assume that Moshe is halucinating, and that anything he said was to be questioned or disregarded. Unless, you assume that there was no mass exodus or that the torah was written much later than that event (and, therefore, not by Moshe). Then either Moshe or the Deity are lying. In which case, the torah becomes more like an epic novel which carries primarily cultural significance.

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  94. elemir: "do you realize what you are saying and how circular reasoning this is; let me re-phrase.
    “The action/beliefs of the “Umah’ in time will decide a certain position and the criteria for who is be included in the Umah is determined by those who already hold this certain position…”

    You misunderstood. To better rephrase myself: the actions/beliefs of the Umah in time will decide a certain position, and the criteria for who is to be included in the Umah is determined by those who are concerned with the question of what is the right position. Excluding those who are not concerned with the question, precisely because they already accepted a priori a certain position.

    > "In others words… leave it up to “Daas Torah”, they will know what’s what. [LOL]"

    When I said "learned of the nation" I simply meant to imply what I said above about who is included in the Umah who decided. Those who aren't interested in finding an answer to the question (because they a priori accept that torah isn't min hashomayim or because they accepted a priori accept that science can't be trusted), cannot be the ones deciding what the correct answer is!

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  95. the only plonisalmonisOctober 28, 2011 at 4:39 AM

    "Natan Slifkin said...
    PlonisAlmonis - you are lacking a lot of information regarding the range of theological views in Jewish history. Please read my book The Challenge Of Creation and see Marc Shapiro's posts on the Seforim blog." I have in fact read your book and Marc Shapiro's blog post on the Seforim blog. I don't remember your book perfectly, but I don't recall any significant source averring that parts of the Torah are non-Mosaic in origin. As for Shapiro's blog, the only relevant source he mentions is an Ibn Ezra regarding the last chapter in Deuteronomy (and a possible leaning of a Chasam Sofer he refers to in his book) without explaining where it can be found. Am I missing something?

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  96. Yes, you're missing a lot. (Also, the phrase "non-Mosaic in origin" is misleading - wouldn't everyone agree that the second part of Bamidbar 21:14 is of non-Mosaic origin?) See the third edition of my book, end of chapter fourteen. And see the comment thread in the latest post: http://www.rationalistjudaism.com/2011/10/is-it-acceptable-to-believe-that.html

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  97. "David Meir, the problem with your approach to the Exodus is that it would make no sense to the generation that left Egypt. They would assume that Moshe is halucinating, and that anything he said was to be questioned or disregarded."

    Y. Aharon,
    That is quite a large leap of degree. There are 4 or more possibilities of the accuracy of what Moshe wrote and the people's response to it.

    1. Much of what is written is what happened in Pharoh's court, or events that did not take place in front of the majority of people. People could just assume they were not there, and someone else was, and if there was an error they would have spoken up about it. (and possibly they did and things were changed then and there.)

    2. Moshe wrote a good story, and the people found the basic facts to be mostly true, and liked the added theatrical content and felt it was "close enough".

    3. Everything that Moshe wrote is exactly how it happened.

    4. Moshe wrote words that in those days, with their idioms, and their cultural references, ended up describing everything exactly how it happened. However as time went on and the meaning of words changed, the impressions that people got regarding the events also changed. (For example, arguments about the details of the plagues)

    5. Other various subtle differences and options about what happened and how it was recorded.


    I remember as a child not believing that the stories in the Torah happened as they said they happened. I also remember believing that "perhaps if I was there, that is exactly how I would have described it, if I didn't know modern science." I also remember getting into many arguments with my teachers about this over the years in attempts to have these thoughts purged. Thankfully,I was blessed with a good memory for my internal feelings, and was able to recapture my first impressions of the Chumash as read by a child to help be part of my internal conversation regarding future and further understandings.

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  98. Y. Aharon:

    They would assume that Moshe is halucinating

    If we assume it was common/acceptable to create embellished stories out of history as a pedagogical device, to teach and to inculcate a certain national self-perception, then the people would not have thought Moshe was halucinating. They would have rejoiced over the story as a narrative befitting the people of Hashem, at the same time being fully aware of what they actually lived through. As I say, it's a different mentality, where the line between storytelling and history-telling is much more blurry than the way we draw it today.

    G*3

    If Matan Torah didn’t happen, then when exactly did we get the Torah? Who wrote it? Where did it come from?

    In the traditional model, you have to say that there was some sort of Matan Torah, where God transmits to Moshe, and Moshe to the people. As long as you say that, the details of the Torah's narrative don't have to be taken literally.

    the act of commanding IS amenable to historical investigation

    Technically, you're right. Realistically, there's no investigation we could undertake which would prove/disprove a transmission from God to Moshe. It's an emuna category.

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  99. There is another approach to all this: "Chalosin".

    Halacha is built on the "chalos" ("chalut"), the concept of legal status. To be "kosher" is a chalos. To be a "talmid chacham" is a chalos. To be a "kofer" is a chalos. Every chalos has preconditions for becoming "chal" (in effect), and presents halachic consequences once it is chal.

    And here's the thing - a chalos is simply a legal status. It doesn't necessarily imply a physical reality. So for instance according to the basic halacha, if you mix up a non-kosher hot dog with two otherwise identical kosher hot dogs, ALL THREE hot dogs now have the chalos of "kosher", because the preconditions for "bitul" of non-kosher food were met - it's dry, min b'mino, rov kosher, etc. (There are different shitot about when/how to eat the hot dogs, but that is the ikar hadin.)

    Why do I bring this up? To show that there is precedent in the Torah system for chalosin/legal statuses which DO NOT require corresponding "existence" in physical reality. (You don't have to believe that something magical happened physically/spiriturally to the hot dog to "kosherize" it.)

    And now to the point...

    Matan Torah (and HKB"H for that matter) can be seen as a "chalos". It is a legal status, a "given" in the Torah system whose consequences are that the mitzvot are binding. You can accept this chalos and its consequences WITHOUT having to claim any corresponding "existence" (historical, supernatural, etc). In other words, I can say "I accept HKB"H/Matan Torah" (as the axiom of the system, NOT as an existence) and will have 100% fulfilled the preconditions for the chalos of "kosher Jew".

    The benefit of this approach is that it is ultimately a lot "cleaner" - i.e. maintaining the systematics of Torah/halacha without having to postulate any events or existences whatsoever.

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  100. > The benefit of this approach is that it is ultimately a lot "cleaner" - i.e. maintaining the systematics of Torah/halacha without having to postulate any events or existences whatsoever.

    Okay, but why bother? It would seem necessary to posulate God’s existence and a historical matan torah of some sort in order for there to be a point to accepting the system. The fact that the system can be made internally consistent through the use of a legal fiction is clever, but beside the point.

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  101. David Meir, using Brisker jargon to rationalize a heterodox view of torah is not very persuasive. The notion that the torah's narratives don't reflect actual events, including the Exodus and the described theophany at Sinai, goes counter to what people define as Orthodox beliefs. Similarly, the notion that people of Moshe's generation were prepared to accept what they considered Moshe's tall tales, as long as they sounded good, goes counter to all the complaints listed in the torah that the people had about his leadership. Why would they and we accept the teachings of a man who is prone to telling tall tales? He may claim that GOD commanded such and such; why believe it?

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  102. "In the traditional model, you have to say that there was some sort of Matan Torah, where God transmits to Moshe, and Moshe to the people. "

    What so many people today fail to remember is that "Matan Torah" happened in 3 different places.

    Har Sinai, The Ohel Moed, and the Plains of Moav.

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  103. The link to Rabbi Sack's article is broken.

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  104. Here is the correct link to Rabbi Sacks' comment: http://www.chiefrabbi.org/2011/10/29/covenant-conversation-5772-noach-individual-and-collective-responsibility/#.UIRSnW_29EA

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  105. Thank you for bringing up this interesting topic and allowing such a robust discussion. Two things the link to Rabbi Sacks still doesn't work for me, and is the occurances of multiple mass extinction events relevant here. On a side point these extinction events guided the evolution of our planet such a allowing mammals and thus humans to evolve

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  106. Natan, I've seen you criticize a picture of the Teiva your child got from school {I think it was last year} Is the picture you posted an alternative? Is portraying Noach half naked, and his wife Na'ama in a Greek like style OK?

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  107. Sorry, I didn't inspect/ogle the picture very carefully.

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  108. How would the Rambam approach this issue? Would he just look at what the scientific experts say on the matter and then allegorize the Torah, or would he put on his skeptical glasses, perform his own study, with the goal of trying to explain the flood in a naturalistic way, wrangling with the experts up until the point when he decides that the experts are right?
    I suspect he would do the latter. Unfortunately, I don't see anyone today doing that. The conclusion is stated first: "the experts are right". I find that so unsatisfying.

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  109. The problem I always have with these modern religious approaches that say, "Of course that story is allegorical; it was never meant to be taken literally," is: Why didn't you say that BEFORE science left with you no other choice?

    As soon as you discover scientifically that the world could not have been created in 7 days, humans could not all have come from one human ancestor, a global flood could not have taken place, etc, it seems to me you have two choices at that point:

    1) The one who wrote those stories was a human living at a time and place where people believed these things, or

    2) G-d wrote those stories, but He always intended them to be allegorical and in no way literal.

    There's a very good logical basis for choosing Option 1; we have many other examples of other stories written by humans living in a certain time and place with certain beliefs about the world. But what logical basis do you have for choosing Option 2 instead?

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  110. "Of course that story is allegorical; it was never meant to be taken literally,"

    That's not what (all) of the modern approaches say.

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  111. This might be worth reading http://ncse.com/rncse/29/5/yes-noahs-flood-may-have-happened-not-over-whole-earth

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  112. Rabbi Slifkin, that's what Shapiro seems to say in the sources you provided. Sarna writes that the story could not have literally happened and must have been man-made, so not sure exactly why you included that one.

    The Collins article you and Moshe Laymore also concedes the story must have been man-made: "...the authors of these epics were likely survivors who lived in a village on natural levees ... and their 'whole world' would have been under water." Collins was writing for the NCSE, whose whole mission is to get Bible believers to accept science, and even he couldn't find a way to reconcile the Flood story, which says that the entire Earth was flooded and that all living beings everywhere died, with what we know today. (FYI: Collins' article adds nothing to the discussion. We already know there are flood traditions in places that got flooded, and we also know there are no flood traditions in places that didn't, e.g. Egypt.)

    I haven't read your book or the other sources.

    And so, as I wrote before,
    it seems to me you have two choices at this point:

    1) The one who wrote those stories was a human living at a time and place where people believed these things, or

    2) G-d wrote those stories, but He always intended them to be allegorical and in no way literal.

    There's a very good logical basis for choosing Option 1. But what logical basis do you have for choosing Option 2 instead?

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  113. First of all, I'm not talking about whether option 1 or 2 (or anything else) is more reasonable, especially in isolation from everything else.

    My point is that your option (2) is not the only alternative. See The Challenge Of Creation, 4th edition, for a discussion of different possibilities. It's similar to the discussion of the six days of creation - which is not intended to be allegorical, but is not factually correct either.

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  114. There is a basic flaw common to many posts on this blog, and will continue while you persist in this myth that there are Rationalist vs Mystical streams of thought in Jewish Tradition.

    The Rambam gets repeatedly cast as a pure rationalist. Despite Yesodei haTorah 2 being as mystical as anything in the Zohar. Despite his acceptance of Aristo based on the latter's authority, rather than independent confirming reason. E.g. did the Rambam count teeth?

    Who said the Rambam minimized the role outright miracles played in history? The Ralbag did, but the Rambam?

    Besides, minimization means getting the number as small as possible but no further. So, if you need numerous miracles to get the flood story to work with current evidence, perhaps all those miracles are within the concept of minimization.

    But for whatever reason... The Rambam knew the dimensions of the teiva, the amount of time Noach could possibly have gathered the animals, knew something of the size of the earth and the distance to where numerous species are indigenous and the number of species -- and yet he himself does not question the historicity of a global flood.

    On a different note... Given a historical flood, the presence of earlier recorded retellings of the story doesn't show that those myths are the origin of the Torah's narrative.

    Last: If the flood were local, what does one make of 7:21-22, G-d's covenant in which he promises not to repeat the deluge. Given things like the 1004 tsunami or the 1931 Chinese Flood (2.5mm - 3.7mm dead!) And not stopping the seasons -- the Little Ice Age anyone?

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  115. Freethinking Jew said, "Of course that story is allegorical; it was never meant to be taken literally," is: Why didn't you say that BEFORE science left with you no other choice?"

    There was no need to before!

    The Torah had to be relevant to ancients as well as moderns. To the ancients who had little/no science AND who were very aware of flooding events from Enuma Elish and other traditions/myths passed on as fact, let them accept the stories at face value as well as the lessons learned. For us moderns, contrary to what Jews think the understanding of Torah is constantly evolving. And when scientific truths clash with our understanding, we look for other deeper meanings that can apply to us. So we can accept the story as allegory and gain enlightenment. The Torah teaches through story rather than textbook analysis but the beauty of the story is the ability to work for a 'child' with simplistic reading and for an educated 'adult'. Haven't you ever read a story that isn't literally true yet imparted deep insights or values?

    Much of Genesis is a paradigm for the human condition conveyed through parable and allegory (As R. Slifkin noted in sources). The Torah was written for us as a guide not as a history course or a theological, philosophical, scientific work (although obviously some of these factors invariably are incorporated into the stories). I suspect that the WAY the story was told in the Bible and the lessons it conveys is directed more for us in order to inform us about who we are, how we act, and what is appropriate.

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  116. oops meant Gilgamesh rather than enuma elish

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  117. the only plonisalmonis said...
    ...

    I am addressing a halachic concern. I am not an expert in these halachos but if it IS indeed assur to publish certain comments then obviously I would prefer you didn't publish them! . . ."

    I imagine you using one hand to wag your finger while you type with the other hand.

    If R. Slikin posts Kefirah, I have no doubt it is forbidden for you to visit this site. Yet you continue to do so.

    I doubt you asked a Rav and got a specific heter to visit this website. You don't seem all that concerned about Halacha after all.

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  118. Natan, I am truly moved by your humility. I know how you would react to my comment about your picture last week, but now that I see you made no issue of it and changed it, I respect you more. Thank you

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  119. My views about the mabul remain as they were (cited in the 2011 comments). I would only add that an important Hareidi rabbinic figure (albeit of an independent stripe) whose posthumous sefer is linked by R' Natan, Rav Gedalya Nadel, also takes the view that the mabul was a regional phenomenon - not a global one. He also states that there were many people contemporary to Adam and his offspring of whom those in more distant lands were unaffected by the Mesopotamian deluge. It is then a matter of reinterpreting some phraseology in the biblical text that ostensibly points to a more global phenomenon. This is also the view of R' Aryeh Kaplan in his posthumous book on immortality and resurrection. In my view, this is far more satisfactory than treating the flood story as allegorical or a monotheistic reworking of Mesopotamian myths.

    R' Micha's objects to such reinterpretation, based on the text wherein GOD ostensibly promises never to repeat such a flood. In reality, there appear to have been regional floods of comparable destructive power. Examples are the monsoon that drowned several hundred thousand in Bengladesh (then eastern Pakistan) and the tsunami that drowned a comparable number in Indonesia and other lands bordering the Indian Ocean. However, the torah is not a world history book. It is focused on the Israelites and their antecedents. Those antecedents largely perished in Noah's flood, and the promise to Noah was that such a destruction of his descendants would never be repeated. The language of the torah is deliberately general as to convey the impression that all men are descended from Adam and Noah. Such a putative family connection is deemed important for the sake of healthy relations between people of different nations, and to further Israel's mission in the world.

    Micha's other critique about the alleged dichotomy between the Rationalist and Mystical thinkers in Judaism is overdone, in my opinion. Of course, no one who claims adherence to basic Jewish beliefs and traditions can claim to be a thoroughgoing rationalist. There is much that we take on faith or intuition. Furthermore, the Rambam devotes part of a book in his Mishneh Torah to discussing such "unscientific" matters as categories of angels and an evolutionary chain of Intelligences of which humans are at the bottom rung. Yet, there is a fundamental difference between such speculation which is based on an attempt to systematize various biblical, talmudic, and midrashic traditions about angels, with speculation about the constitution of some divine 'persona'. The latter attempt at 'divine deconstruction' would be considered heretical nonsense by the Rambam - in my view.

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  120. .. and by some Qabbalists, like the Ramchal. The Maharal was a mystic but not a mequbal. Jewish thinkers did have tendencies, but "rationalism" vs "mysticism" doesn't describe any of them. M's metaphysics is just as mystical as the Zohar's. Rihal and R' Chesdai Crescas are anti-philosophy, both discuss Yetzirah, and yet both have less room for mysticism than the Rambam's notion of prophecy. Etc... The categories being used simply don't work.

    I agree it's overdone, because it's silly for me to repeatedly make a complaint that is being ignored anyway.

    In any case, I don't see how you reply to my objection about a regional flood. If we believe G-d kept His promise, then we know Noach's flood was of a different scale than any other flooding event in recorded history (since).

    Comments about "the Torah is not a history book" has nothing to do with the matter at hand. I'm not discussing whether or not the Torah itself records larger floods. I'm saying Hashem promised the people being portrayed as Noach's descendants (historicity of that claim aside) that nothing that bad would ever happen again. If the Bangladeshis are not receiving that promise, then they aren't in the covenant and don't have to be taught the 7 mitzvos either. Alternatively, G-d either broke his promise, or the flood of Noach's day was different in kind than the one that killed some 3mm Chinese people in 1931.

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  121. R' Micha, I don't wish to say much about mysticism since that is not among my fields of interest. I will only repeat and somewhat amplify my previous remark. The issue is not whether or not there is a mystical element in the Rambam's Mishneh Torah. You can call his statements about angels and celestial spheres mystical, if you insist. I would rather consider them to be an attempt to harmonize and rationalize some traditional Jewish ideas with Aristotelian or neo-Aristotelian notions. My objection to your attempt to minimize or disregard the difference between rationalism and mysticism comes into play in the dichotomy between how the Rambam views the divinity with that of the classical mystical Jewish (kabbalistic) works. The Rambam insists that the unity of the Deity is absolute and unigue. Even attempting to distinguish between the Deity and His knowledge is to create 2 deities. Yet, the kabbalists appear to have no problem with creating or accepting the notion of the existence of various 'personalities' in the godhead. The Rambam makes distinctions between different levels of spirituality as manifested in angelic beings, but these are not divine - only immaterial. In any case, the more basic distinction being made by R' Natan and others is between rationalism and fundamentalism rather than the former and mysticism. Fundamentalism, in the sense of accepting arguments and ideas based solely on authority, has come to include kabbalistic notions.

    Our difference in understanding the nature of the mabul also involves an apparent difference in understanding the nature and implication of the prehistory recorded in Gen. 1-11. I maintain that the torah deliberately uses language that would lead believers to assume that all men are descended directly from Adam and Noah (i.e, we are 'family'); that all of humanity except for Noah and family were drowned in the mabul; and that all humanity is obligated in the Noachian laws. That is how we are bidden to act. That need not be the actual truth. When evidence to the contrary becomes so well established and plentiful, then a revision is needed in our thinking. Our obligations don't change - only our perceptions. So, yes, the Bengalis, Indonesians, and Chinese are obligated in the Noachian laws despite there being no mention of their existence in the torah.

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  122. On the Rambam's Rationalism:

    The Rambam believes that Hashem had a Thought which had a thought, which had a thought.... all of which are called "mal'akhim", until you get to the Active Intellect, after which you have things within our universe -- the spheres, etc...

    It's not just that he talks about angels. He talks about each type of angel being contingent on the prior one.

    This causal chain of existence isn't any less mystical of a metaphysics than positing an Or Ein Sof (a "Light" of the Infinite One) which gets ever more "course" as it goes through layers down to our universe.

    For that matter, the Leshem claims that the Rambam and the Zohar are actually describing the same metaphysics in different idioms! And he has four sefarim of Qabbalah (his take on the Gra's understanding of the Ari) which heavily quote the Moreh Nevuchim proving points. The fusion actually works.

    There is a reason why many classify the Rambam more as a Neoplatonist than an Aristotilian. (My own belief is that this is due to Ibn Sina [whom westerners used to call "Avisina"]. When Ibn Rushd translated Artistotle's Metaphysics into Arabic, he included large parts of Plotinus's Enneads 4-6 under the title "Theology". So, anyone who studied Aristo in Arabic during the period was likely to think that these ideas were Aristotilian.)

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  123. On the subject of the Flood:

    You're not addressing my question on your position. If, as you say, "the torah deliberately uses language that would lead believers to assume that all men are descended directly from Adam and Noah (i.e, we are 'family'); that all of humanity except for Noah and family were drowned in the mabul; and that all humanity is obligated in the Noachian laws. That is how we are bidden to act. That need not be the actual truth."

    Then the same is true for the rest of the covenant. And all of humanity would be spared of ever "again" experiencing a flood of the same kind as the mabul.

    My question isn't about the history. I got the idea about the Mabul being myth -- either whole or in part -- well before this blog post; even if I can't subscribe to it.

    BTW, RZY Kook refers to everything up to Lekh-Lekha, the "2000 years of tohu" as "para-history" (pre-history?) and nistar (esoteric). I have problems with the pesuqim if they're making non-historical claims. But my bigger problem is with the epistemology of most of the people who end up at the same place RZYK does.

    I am no more sure of contemporary scientific understanding than mesoretic understanding of the Torah. I am also no going to dismiss scientific findings. When the two seem to conflict, I don't whittle the mesorah nor poo-poo the evidence to make them fit. I instead admit I have a question that I can't yet answer, and then get on with life.

    If you decided the flood were local for reasons internal to understanding the Torah, I would be much more comfortable with that line of reasoning. Even though the conclusion is the same. My specific question about pesuqim that make a point of denying locality would still exist, but as I said, I can live with questions.

    But I am unhappy with the popularity of the epistemological stance that gives so much more credence to science than the Oral Torah.

    A metaphor:

    QM works well in the domain of the very small, relativity works well with the very large. But they are based on contradictory assumptions. Figuring out quantum gravity — a theory of gravity that fits both QM and relativity, is a challenge. Because each works so well so often in answering questions that weren't yet posed when it was proposed, the typical physicist is sure some resolution of the two that will preserve nearly all of both theories is out there, waiting discovery.

    For that matter, we have chips of semiconductors designed using QM in our GPS systems carrying out computations that include compensating for the relativistic effects of the satellite being in motion relative to earth.

    So why does a conflict between Torah and science necessitate arbitrarily choosing one to modify to get them to fit? And why is it alway's Torah? Do we have that little emunah in the 8th and 9th principles?

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  124. R' Micha, you have thus far managed to avoid answering my point about the Rambam's view of the absolute and unique unity of the Deity vs. kabbalistic ideas of varying stages or 'persona' in the godhead. However you may characterize the Rambam's articulation of the stages of creation leading up to a material world, he does not extend such ideas back to a 'divine' level.

    I attempted to briefly mention the rationale, as I see it, for the torah's suggestive language about Adam, Noah, and the extent and effect of the mabul. The narratives contain what appears to be a sufficient indication that it does not describe the real state of affairs relative to the existence of others. For example, of whom is Cain afraid, who does he marry, for whom and with whom does he build a city, who does Seth marry, or the grandchildren of Noah? Who is available apparently soon after the flood to undertake a large building project (tower of Babel) and to disperse into separate peoples? This internal conundrum is quite apart from the substantial and varied scientific evidence for a truly ancient earth and a lack of evidence for the remnants of a global deluge 4 millenia ago - not to mention problems with animals reaching the ark from the far reaches of the planet and being contained in a vessel of that size. Of course, there is also the issue of where did all the water needed to flood the planet to the highest mountains originate, and where did it go?

    This is why I feel forced to accept the idea of a regional rather than global deluge - despite the language of the text. Incidentally, the same expansive language (under the entire heavens) is used in Deuteronomy to describe the fear engendered in peoples who hear of the miracles done for the Israelites. In context, it clearly describes only peoples close enough in proximity to have heard of such events.

    The point of rationalism, it seems to me, is that reason should trump tradition if there is a true conflict. It then becomes a question of how far to deviate from tradition. I, too, used to defer such points of conflict, but no longer. The evidence as I see it is much too strong to maintain a traditional viewpoint on Gen. 1-11. On the other hand, treating it as mythology is also unacceptable to my mind. Hence, the effort at reinterpreting the language of the text to conform to the established scientific findings. I fail to see how this effort has anything to do with the Rambam's credo about the torah - much less, conflict with it. It's not as if reinterpretation is a 'modern' approach to the text.

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  125. Please keep comments on topic. I.e. not about whether or not there is a rationalist-mystic divide.

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  126. I asked the question here:

    http://judaism.stackexchange.com/questions/35059/how-to-reconcile-biblical-flood-story-vs-science-and-history/35193?noredirect=1#35193

    You do not believe ALL OTHER religions because of some reasons. These reasons are that some of the religion's claims contradict what you already know. Or that you simply didnt care enough to investigate that religion. The latter reason is simply laziness, and cannot be used to disprove something to someone else who is willing to investigate. But the former reason is what people use.

    Now, don't you have a double standard with your OWN religion? Every time science disproves some claim, such as a worldwide flood that killed everyone, you simply say "oh, well MAYBE our tradition is wrong about THAT, but it's true about all the other stuff." It's like whack a mole. Aren't you in effect giving your own religion much more benefit of the doubt that you are giving any other? After all, the other religions ALSO can jettison some of the beliefs and keep the others.

    The other approach is to simply dodge the disproof by sophistry. For example, Jews say to Christians, that Jesus couldn't have been divine because G-d said he is not a man. Christians may say that, well, you simply misunderstand that scripture. The same way, Jews can say scientists misunderstand their data.

    What would it take to disprove Judaism? At which point do you stop reintrepreting the stories that were interpreted literally before? If there is absolutely no way to disprove it, if it's not falsifiable, then how can we prove to others that the best way to connect to God is through observance of halacha? How can you then look at Protestants and their threats of hellfire for not believing in Jesus and say "oh whatever, those guys are clearly wrong"? What if their religion cannot be falsified in any way either?

    That doesn't seem like a very rational basis for action, it seems completely faith based. And moreover, this faith can never be challenged by any argument from studying the real world.

    Do you really believe that religion is similar to russian roulette, where you don't know which chamber is safe and which isn't?

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