Friday, December 2, 2011

Response, and Further Response, to Rabbi Meiselman

(In this week's edition of The Five Towns Jewish Times, I present the following response to Rabbi Meiselman's article. He presents a rejoinder, and my response to his rejoinder is at the end of this post.)


Teaching Torah and Science

Is it legitimate to distort Judaism in any way for the purpose of outreach to secular Jews? As reported in a front-page article in last week’s issue of the Five Towns Jewish Times (“Genesis: Allegory or Fact?” by Rabbi Avrohom Sebrow), Rabbi Moshe Meiselman, rosh yeshiva of Yeshiva Toras Moshe and author of a forthcoming book on the subject of Torah and Science, stressed that this should not be done, and he is absolutely correct. We should never distort Torah and rabbinic thought in order to win popularity. We have a responsibility to teach Torah honestly. If that does not gain us popularity with certain secular Jews, so be it.

Of course, this cuts both ways. We may also not distort Torah and rabbinic thought in order to win popularity with contemporary frum Jews. Sometimes, the Rishonim and Acharonim voiced opinions that are unpopular in some circles. Indeed, some legitimately feel that such views may well not be appropriate to teach in every context. However, we cannot distort these views or pretend that they were never uttered, even if some people are uncomfortable with them. In the famous article “Revisionism and the Rav,” (Judaism, Summer 1999) Lawrence Kaplan documented how even some close students and family members of Rav Soloveitchik distorted his views in order to bring them in line with their own beliefs.

Rabbi Meiselman is also correct that great expertise in Torah is required to address the sensitive topic of Torah–science issues. But we need to define the situation more precisely. As Rabbi Meiselman notes, even great Torah scholars do not necessarily possess expertise in all areas. Someone might be the world’s greatest Talmudist, but this does not mean that he is knowledgeable in hilchos gittin. As with any field in Torah, it is expertise in the particular topic that is required. Furthermore, there are different schools of thought within the boundaries of our mesorah.

Likewise, Rabbi Meiselman is absolutely correct in stressing that expertise in science is required when addressing Torah–science issues. But here, too, we need to define the situation more precisely. If someone is merely quoting and relying upon a widely accepted scientific view—for instance, that the earth orbits the sun—one does not need to be an astronomer. At the other extreme, if one is disputing the entire scientific establishment in a particular field, then even distinguished academic qualifications are entirely irrelevant if they are not in that particular field. We would not assign credibility to an astronomer who disputes the entire medical establishment about matters concerning the human body! Would a mathematician have credibility if he were to dispute astrophysicists regarding cosmology or paleontologists regarding dinosaurs?

Let us begin with the topic of Creation. To be sure, there have been many Torah scholars throughout history who insisted that the account of Creation is to be interpreted entirely literally. But it is simply not accurate to state that no Rishon ever understood the details of the Creation given in the Torah to be anything but literal. Rambam explicitly writes that “the account of creation given in Scripture is not, as is generally believed, intended to be literal in all its parts” (Guide for the Perplexed, 2:29). According to the explanation of Shem Tov, Akeidas Yitzchak, and Abarbanel, Rambam was of the view that the “Six Days” are not time periods at all. Here is how Akeidas Yitzchak explains Rambam’s view:
“...the mention of an order of Creation is not describing the sequence of days; rather, [the days are simply serving] to differentiate the status of [the elements of creation] and to make known the hierarchy of nature. This was Rambam’s major esoteric doctrine concerning Creation as those who are understanding can discern from that chapter which is devoted to this extraordinary account.”

Ralbag was of the identical view, and explicitly stated that the six “days” of creation are not six time periods at all, but instead represent the hierarchy of the natural world. Rav Yosef Dov Soloveitchik, in a little-known series of lectures on Genesis, stated, “Evolution and creation can be reconciled merely by saying that six days is not absolutely so, but is indefinite and may be longer. Maimonides spoke of Creation in terms of phases and the Kabbalah in terms of sefiros, the time of which may be indefinite.” It is no wonder that Rav Yitzchak Herzog (a rebbi of Rav Elyashiv, who was eulogized by Rav Aharon Kotler as being a “prince of Torah”), wrote, “It is well to bear in mind that already our ancient sages, to say nothing of our medieval theologians, would not seem to have insisted upon literalness in such transcendental matters as the account of Creation.”

Let us now turn to the topic of the Deluge. Rabbi Meiselman is entirely correct that the Great Flood was understood by all Geonim and Rishonim to be a literal description and record of events that occurred thousands of years ago. However, it is also true that the Scriptural description of the earth standing still was also understood by all Geonim and Rishonim as being a literal description (which is why most early Acharonim denounced Copernican heliocentrism as heresy). Of course the Rishonim understood it that way; they had no reason to think differently!

The more relevant question is, how did recent Torah authorities—who were aware that there is overwhelming evidence for the continuity of civilization and animal life throughout that period in many parts of the world—explain this topic? Nobody denies that there was a devastating flood several thousand years ago; indeed, there is much evidence of it. But to what extent is the Torah’s account literally correct in all its details? Rav Dovid Tzvi Hoffman wrote that the Mabul did not cover the entire planet, but only the “world” of the Torah. This was also the view of Rav Gedalyah Nadel (a leading disciple of the Chazon Ish), who brought some excellent proofs from the Gemara that “olam” does not always refer to the entire planet. My own mentor in these matters, Rav Aryeh Carmell, z’l, told me explicitly (based upon conversations that he had with his own mentors) that, just as Rambam stated regarding Creation, the account of the Deluge need not be literally true in all of its parts.

These are sensitive and complex topics that really require much lengthier discussion than is possible within this forum. But as a general guiding principle with regard to conflicts between modern science and traditional interpretation of Scripture, we can adopt the view of Rav Yosef Dov Soloveitchik, who stated in his Genesis lectures that “the Torah is not interested in disclosing any scientific data to man. Revelation was only the revealing of the will of G‑d and not the wisdom of G‑d... Therefore, if the Bible employed the Ptolemaic description of the cosmos, it was only to present to the people of its time and not to present the true scientific view.” This is an approach that Rav Kook specifically legitimized for the early chapters of Genesis. Of course, others are free to dispute this approach—but not to deny that there were Torah giants who legitimized it.

Let us turn now to the topic of Chazal and science. To be sure, there have been many authorities, mostly in recent times, who insisted that Chazal’s statements about the natural world are all correct. On the other hand, we also find dozens upon dozens of Rishonim, Acharonim, and contemporary Torah scholars who held otherwise—for example, virtually all the Rishonim were of the view that Chazal incorrectly believed the sun to travel behind the sky at night. Rav Shamshon Raphael Hirsch expresses his approach as follows:
“In my opinion, the first principle that every student of Chazal’s statements must keep before his eyes is the following: Chazal were the sages of G‑d’s law—the receivers, transmitters, and teachers of His toros, His mitzvos, and His interpersonal laws. They did not especially master the natural sciences, geometry, astronomy, or medicine—except insofar as they needed them for knowing, observing, and fulfilling the Torah. We do not find that this knowledge was transmitted to them from Sinai.”

Even some of those rumored to have held that Chazal were infallible in all such matters are often seen not to have been of such a view. For example, Rabbi Meiselman cites Rashba as stating that “all statements of Chazal regarding science are absolutely true,” and that anyone who says otherwise is a “melagleg al divrei chachamim and subject to serious penalty.” Yet Rashba himself states that Rabbi Yochanan and the judges of Caesarea erred in a mathematical matter (Eruvin 76b) and doubtless did not consider himself to be melagleg al divrei chachamim! In fact, Rashba’s strong words about the correctness of Chazal’s science are specifically limited to hilchos tereifos, which are halachah l’Moshe miSinai. He was making no blanket statement about all statements of Chazal regarding science.

To his great credit, Rabbi Meiselman acknowledges that there is no such thing as a mouse that is generated from dirt, despite the Gemara’s discussion of it. In this, he is adopting the view of Rav Hirsch, notwithstanding the fact that many distinguished gedolim today, such as Rav Moshe Shapiro and Rav Elya Ber Wachtfogel, consider such a view to be heretical. However, Rabbi Meiselman is not correct in claiming that “Chazal never stated unequivocally” that such spontaneously generating creatures exist. At the end of Maseches Sanhedrin, Rabbi Ami asserts that such a spontaneously generating mouse exists. Rabbi Akiva likewise asserts that salamanders are generated from fire, and in several cases Scriptural exegeses were understood as referring to spontaneously generating insects.

Building upon Rabbi Meiselman’s point that it is forbidden to distort Torah for the sake of popularity, a teacher must likewise be very careful when attempting to “prove” that Chazal knew things that were unknown before modern science. As Rambam writes, if someone discovers that an argument is flawed, they lose their faith in the entire position. If a person finds out that he has been misled, he will understandably lose respect for his teacher, and potentially for Judaism entirely. In such cases of “proving” Chazal to have supernatural knowledge of modern science, it is unfortunately often the case that (a) the Gemara means something quite different, (b) it is something that non-Jews also knew, or (c) the Gemara is not in fact consistent with modern science. Regrettably, the cases that Rabbi Meiselman cites, of hemophilia and liver regeneration, fail on not just one but multiple counts.

Let us consider hemophilia, which Rabbi Meiselman claims the Gemara knew to be hereditary via the mother centuries before non-Jewish doctors discovered it. But there are three points to bear in mind here. First is that this can result from simple prudence: you don’t circumcise babies if their two brothers died from it! Second is that Chazal apparently reached this conclusion fortuitously due to their inaccurate belief that “The man provides the white from which the bones and sinews grow... the women provides the red from which the skin, meat, and blood come.”

Third is that in fact, the Shulchan Aruch rules that the law applies equally to a man whose two sons died from circumcision—even if they are from a different wife. Furthermore, the halachah states that for the third child one must wait until the child gets older and stronger before performing the circumcision. If they understood hemophilia, they would know that it would not help to wait for this.
With regard to liver regeneration: First, Chazal do not explicitly state that the liver regenerates. Instead, they use an ambiguous phrase that was never interpreted that way until a 20th-century figure, seeking to prove the existence of modern scientific knowledge in the Gemara, claimed that it carries such a meaning. Second, although some believe otherwise, many claim that the ancient Greeks already knew about the regeneration of the liver, as seen in the account of Prometheus. Third, the Gemara claims that the animal can survive even if there are only two olive-sized pieces of liver present, but medicine tells us that such an animal cannot survive; in fact, at least a quarter of the liver must remain. We do the cause of Torah no honor when presenting “proofs” of Chazal’s scientific knowledge that do not withstand scrutiny.

This leads us to the topic of tereifos and the difficulty that the Gemara’s list of mortal difficulties in an animal does not correlate with the knowledge of modern science. As already noted, there is a problem with regard to the Gemara’s statement about the liver. Another problem is the Gemara’s statement that the absence of kidneys in animals is not a mortal defect. Rabbi Meiselman attempts to resolve this based on the claim that “ruminants have an excretory system that excretes into the rumen and can thus survive even if their kidneys are removed.” However, Rabbi Dr. Shlomo Sternberg, in Bar Ilan’s journal BDD vol. 4, demonstrates that this is a short-term solution, and such animals will nevertheless die within a month. Thus, the Gemara is still inconsistent with our knowledge regarding the necessity of kidneys.

Rabbi Meiselman asserts that it is not an option to posit that Rambam believed Chazal to have been mistaken in their scientific assessments. Yet Rambam writes explicitly in the Guide for the Perplexed that the Sages’ knowledge of science was not Sinaitic in origin and was thus occasionally incorrect (and indeed he also disputed their statements about certain metaphysical matters, such as astrology and demons). What, then, is his view about tereifos? Let us see Rambam’s words: “With anything which they enumerated as a tereifah, even if with some it is seen not to be fatal based on modern medicine, such that an animal [with such an injury] might sometimes live, we have only what the Sages enumerated, as it says, ‘According to the law that they direct you.’”

As explained by Rabbi Moshe Shmuel Glasner, in Dor Revi’i, as well as my own mentor, Rabbi Aryeh Carmell, z’l, Rambam is saying that the laws as established by the Sages were canonized, and are thus unaffected by later discoveries of inaccuracies. Rambam was not denying that certain tereifos can indeed live! As for tereifos being halachah l’Moshe miSinai, Rabbi Asher Benzion Buchman, in “Rationality and Halacha: The Halacha L’Moshe MiSinai of Treifos” (Hakirah, vol. 4) points out that different sources list different numbers of tereifos. According to Rambam, only the root principles of tereifos were halachah l’Moshe miSinai, and it was up to Chazal to flesh out individual cases. Chazal’s final rulings on this are indeed authoritative—but this need not mean that they are correct from a scientific perspective.

Following Rambam, Rav Glasner, and Rav Herzog, we accept the authority of Chazal, regardless of the basis for their rulings. But this does not always apply to medical halachah. Rabbi Meiselman claims that “many halachic statements made by Chazal based on their understanding of the underlying medical situation are authoritative.” This is generally true, but not with cases where there is danger to human life.

For example, no halachic authority in the world follows Chazal’s principle that a fetus born after eight months is less viable than one born after seven months (on the basis of which Chazal prohibit desecrating Shabbos to help such a baby). Some claim that “nature has changed,” but physicians do not believe that eight-month fetuses were ever less viable that seven-month fetuses; it was simply one of the erroneous beliefs that existed in antiquity. Likewise, as Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach points out, Chasam Sofer’s definition of death (based on the Gemara), that a person who is not breathing is declared dead, is clearly no longer acceptable, now that we know how to perform resuscitation. The story that Rabbi Meiselman brings regarding Rav Soloveitchik is where he delayed doing a b’ris against the doctor’s advice that it was safe to do it earlier. Rav Soloveitchik did not advance doing a b’ris against the doctor’s advice that it was dangerous!

If someone is teaching Torah–science issues to students who have been entirely insulated from the modern world, then it may well be legitimate to simplify matters and accept every statement about the natural world by Chazal, Rishonim, and Acharonim as being correct. But if someone is working in the broader arena of people who are more knowledgeable in either science or Torah, this approach can dangerously backfire. It is very, very important for all such writings on Torah and science to bring kavod to Torah—by being thoroughly researched, and by being honest, accurate, and professional with regard to Torah sources as well as the scientific enterprise.

* * *

(Rabbi Meiselman's response can be found at this link. Here is my rejoinder to his response.)

Rabbi Meiselman addresses very few of my points in his response. He states that "if R’ Slifkin wishes to answer the content of my book, he should wait until the book appears and then give a complete rebuttal;" that "to do so in a newspaper article clearly does not enable me to give full demonstration of my positions." I have every intention of giving a complete rebuttal of his book when it appears. But meanwhile, he put forth his views on numerous topics in a newspaper article, and it is to these that I responded in a newspaper article.

With regard to the charge of revisionism on Rav Soloveitchik's views, Rabbi Meiselman says that "either Slifkin or Kaplan would have to be privy to a deep insight into my rebbi’s views based on closer contact than all of us. Whereas this is clearly not true, one can only wonder why they believe that there is any credibility to their opinion." In fact, we do not need closer contact; our opinions are credible based on direct evidence from Rav Soloveitchik's explicit writings and recorded lectures. In my post on this topic, I showed how Rabbi Meiselman selectively quoted from Rav Soloveitchik and thereby completely distorted his position, as can be seen from looking at the full quote and at Rav Soloveitchik's writings elsewhere.

In response to my points about the credibility of people who air views on these topics, Rabbi Meiselman stated that "My credentials lie within the book. If the book shows competence, then I am competent. If it doesn’t show competence then I am not competent." I couldn't agree more. But if so, why is Rabbi Meiselman having his PhD in mathematics from MIT trumpeted as giving him credibility? Why did he tell the Jewish Press that the value of his book lies in his "unique background" which gives him "very broad scientific knowledge"?

Rabbi Meiselman charges me with appealing to authority rather than demonstrating my positions. It's hard to know what to make of this, since much of this is indeed about what the authorities (Chazal, Rishonim and Acharonim) held about matters. If he wants to demonstrate that he understands Rambam better than Abarbanel, Akeidas Yitzchak, Shem Tov, and Ralbag, as well as all modern academic scholars, he is free to do so. However, it would be appropriate for him to clearly state that he believes Abarbanel, Akeidas Yitzchak, Shem Tov, and Ralbag to be confused, rather than stating that he believes "Slifkin" to be confused.

Rabbi Meiselman says that he has "extensive quotes from internationally famed zookeepers who claim that only someone ignorant of zookeeping would think that a local flood is scientifically tenable." Indeed, I also think that positing a local flood is also scientifically untenable, unless other details of the Deluge are taken non-literally. But I am astounded that Rabbi Meiselman is quoting from "internationally famed zookeepers" as to what is scientifically tenable. Is he interested in what internationally famed zoologists, geologists, and archeologists have to say about whether a global flood is scientifically tenable?!

With regard to the Greeks possibly knowing about the regenerative ability of the liver, Rabbi Meiselman claims that I have never substantiated that claim. In fact, one need look no further than Wikipedia to discover that Prometheus seems to discuss it - see Chen T and Chen P (1994), "The Myth of Prometheus and the Liver". A counterargument is provided by Power C and Rasko J (2008), "Whither Prometheus' Liver? Greek Myth and the Science of Regeneration." However, as I noted, even if the Greeks did not know about liver regeneration, it is far from clear that Chazal knew it either (and furthermore, an animal cannot live with a liver reduced to the amount that they specified). Rabbi Meiselman did not respond to either of these points.

With regard to the Rashba, Rabbi Meiselman rather rudely asserts that I have "again showed an inability to understand Rishonim." However, he does not provide the slightest argument to back up this claim, merely a reference to his forthcoming book.

On the topic of the mud-mouse, Rabbi Meiselman claims that I "again misunderstand the Gemara" and that Chazal did not in fact believe it to exist. Since my misunderstanding is apparently shared by every Rishon, Acharon, and contemporary Torah scholar to have addressed the topic, I seem to be in good company, although once again Rabbi Meiselman prefers to refer to me rather than to them. To be sure, Chazal often answered heretics on their own terms; but, given the wider context, it is more reasonable to propose that they described the mud-mouse to heretics (as evidence for resurrection), and discussed its halachos in the Mishnah, because they actually believed it to exist (as Rav Hirsch says, due to it being standard belief in those days). It is unreasonable to propose that while Chazal shared everyone else's belief in the spontaneous generation of insects from fruit and sweat, and in the spontaneous generation of salamanders from fire, they did not share the belief of others in the spontaneous generation of mice from dirt. Why would they have rejected that belief while accepting the others - and meanwhile talking about the mouse in such a way as to give the distinct impression that they believed it to be an actual creature?

With regard to Prof. Sternberg pointing out the flaws in suggesting that animals can survive without kidneys, Rabbi Meiselman asserts that Professor Levi Rabbi Gershon Weiss "demonstrated that Sternberg’s comments were without merit." In fact, Prof. Levi (in Torah and Science, p. 213), in a book that strives mightily to reconcile the Gemara with science, suggests that it is "conceivable" that the animal "might" survive. This hardly counts as a firm reconciliation of the Gemara.

Rabbi Meiselman concludes by saying that he "awaits everyone’s critique once the book appears in a final and complete form." I am not sure whether this means that he has any intention of responding to such critiques. Several years ago, I sent him a letter, regarding his series of lectures regarding my books. In that letter, I pointed out that almost every single claim that he made about my personal history and the contents of my books is demonstrably false, as anyone can check merely by listening to his lectures and looking at my books. I still await a response. Surely the Torah demands nothing but the truth.

76 comments:

  1. R' Meiselman's apparent failure to see how his reference to the writings of D. Kornreich -- an inveterate distorter of everything he touches -- can only serve to undermine his own credibility is a sad reminder of the reality that an even advanced degree in mathematics is no guarantee against abject miscalculation.

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  2. "Surely the Torah demands nothing but the truth."

    LOL - I take it that this is a reference to the cover of this week's Mishpacha magazine.

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  3. To put it more simply...

    Trying to force religion, especially revealed religion, to be infallible in matters of physical science or science to agree with religion leads to bad science and bad religion and does a disservice to both.

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  4. Isn't Kornreich the one who wrote an article recommending that homosexuals should consider suicide as the most halachically preferable option?

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  5. "but physicians do not believe that eight-month fetuses were ever more viable that seven-month fetuses;"

    I think you meant "less viable". No?

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  6. R. Meiselman writes: "Reb Dovid Tzvi Hoffman, Rav Gedalyah Nadel, and Rav Aryeh Carmell". I always thought that Dr. Hoffmann (2 n's) had semicha.

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  7. ahg - yes, thanks for the correction.

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  8. Both your responses were excellent. It seems that R. Meiselman bases a lot of his Torah yichus on his interactions with his uncle which we are supposed to accept by his authority. Yet, he has demonstrates an inability to internalize and respond effectively to R. Slifkin's criticism of his erroneous thinking. Why would one think that he was capable of understanding his uncle better than he is of understanding R. Slifkin? R. Meiselman misstates R. Slifkin's biography in ways that create an incorrect impression. Yet we are to accept R. Meiselmn's torah biography of his uncle? No way.

    As to R. Meiselman's claim that "Only once one has seen those complete demonstrations can one choose either to agree or disagree." Agree or disagree with WHAT? Is he saying that once we read his scintillating book, we will make believe that the erroneous notions of the prescientific world were not erroneous because they were uttered by torah authorities?

    His final statement is: "I await everyone’s critique once the book appears in a final and complete form." What? Is he publishing his findings in a peer reviewed journal? Is he handing out copies to the members of the AAAS to see what the scientists make of his insights into their fields?Or is he going to count the number of potential kiruv cases that he "turns off" because they're being told to believe a bunch of garbage in order to be "good Jews"?

    Gary Goldwater

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  9. "Third, the Gemara claims that the animal can survive even if there are only two olive-sized pieces of liver present, but medicine tells us that such an animal cannot survive; in fact, at least a quarter of the liver must remain."

    R' Meiselman obviously holds that this Gemara is speaking about a Chazon Ish size kizayit. :-) (written with tongue firmly planted in cheek)

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  10. The standard attack on people by orthodox rabbis is, "They don't understand the Talmud or the rishonim."
    They always are hiding behind this instead of actually dealing with facts and what the Talmud actually says. I can only say that you don't have to answer these lunatics.

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  11. Nice rebutals

    Rav Slifkin,

    You opened the article with this question:

    "Is it legitimate to distort Judaism in any way for the purpose of outreach to secular Jews?"

    Interestingly we could also ask:

    Is it legitimate to distort science in any way for the purpose of outreach to secular Jews? (books like The Coming Revolution comes into mind)

    Or, even further:

    Is it legitimate to lie in any way for the purpose of outreach to secular Jews?

    The rabbis who distort science and torah could use a Sokal hoax.

    What do you think?

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  12. Listening to R' Meiselman's lectures, what amazes me is not so much his take on Torah/science, but more his sheer nastiness. How can a Rosh Yeshiva talk this way?

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  13. Rabbi Meiselman wrote:
    " Furthermore, as I pointed out in a recent article in Mishpacha, since the only real influence I had in my life was my rebbi, and I fashioned my life around that influence, to claim that I am lying is to say that my life is a lie. It is interesting that those who had tangential contact with him are the ones who accuse the talmidim muvhakim of revisionism."

    It is fascinating that he ignores that many major talmidim of RJBS make similar claims either as an open critique or when expressing their understanding. He picks on the light weights, not Roshei Yeshiva. Rabbi Meiselman does not point out to those reading his response that Rav Aharon Lichtenstein differed in many views. (See his fairly new book Mevakshei Panecha written with R H Sabbato, where he expresses his understanding of RJBS's views on secular studies, Zionism, women learning Gemarra, and a lot of other topics.) R Meiselman ignored Rav Hershel Schachter's Nefesh Harav, and Rabbi Yosef Blau's open critique of R Meiselman's expression of the Rav's Zionism in Tradition mag.
    It is a given that different students will differ, and more so when the master was a complicated, multi faceted individual. Still R Meiselman differs so much from other respected students, that he is leaving us with the possibility of accusing him of, in his own words,"his life being a lie."
    Furthermore, even if we give him credit, and believe him that since he was an "insider" he heard the Rav's personal opinion, which differed from what he expressed publicly. Still it is irrelevant. One can justifiably argue that since the Rav expressed himself publicly differently, he wanted the tzibbur to view him that way. As Rav Lichtenstein stated in Mevakshe Panecha, the Rav was not the same Zionist as Rav Zvi Yehuda Kook, but he was part of Mizrachi.
    It is irrelevant if privately, he agreed with the Aguda or even netture karta. It IS relevant that he wanted the tzibbur to think that he identified with Mizrachi. I do believe that R Meiselman's "insider" status makes him a less reliable judge, as he seems to ignore many of the Rav's writings, speeches, and actions.

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  14. The most obvious flaw with R. Meiselman's claim that RYBS was the only influence in his life, is that R. Meiselman himself has clearly undergone an enormous transition. After all, I'm sure that he's not sending his sons and students to do PhDs!

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  15. "R. Meiselman writes: "Reb Dovid Tzvi Hoffman, Rav Gedalyah Nadel, and Rav Aryeh Carmell". I always thought that Dr. Hoffmann (2 n's) had semicha. "

    Whether that's a Freudian slip or deliberate on Rabbi Meiselman's part, that is breathtaking in its - I don't even know what the right word is.

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  16. "How can a Rosh Yeshiva talk this way? "

    Is there a licensing organ for people who wish to open a yeshiva?

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  17. Good marketing by R. Meiselman. Everyone should be angry enough to buy the book so that they can comment on it.

    Love it.

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  18. In the famous article “Revisionism and the Rav,” (Judaism, Summer 1999) Lawrence Kaplan documented how even some close students and family members of Rav Soloveitchik distorted his views in order to bring them in line with their own beliefs.

    Was this line really necessary? Quoting RYBS's actual writings is sufficient proof that his views dont match R' Meiselman's.

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  19. R' Natan, I respect you & I feel for all that you have gone through.

    However, what do you hope to gain by getting into a shouting match with RMM?

    Do you really expect him to conceed?

    I hope you'll think this through.

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  20. R. Gancz, the problem with a Sokal hoax is that it would run right into the teeth of Poe's Law.

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  21. R, Natan - I would really appreciate it if you would respond to this week’s English Mispacha feature spread of Rabbi Meiselman. I am new to the rationalist Judaism school of thought after going through years of confusion and growing up in a charedi environment reading blogs like yours and R’ Harry Maryles have been with no exaggeration life altering. That a point of view exists that is not extreme and is balanced and based on firm Jewish principles and not a new invention (like the Gedolim would have us believe) is giving me purpose to my religion once again. The article by R’ Meiselman contains many inaccuracies; I however do not possess the knowledge to accurately refute them. I am sure without doubt that what he writes about the views of R’ Solevitchik is charedi manipulation and revisionism.
    I was until very recently under the (misguided) impression that they are more moderate than other Charedi publications however, beneath all the glitzy ads and some borderline articles they are still black & white charedi.
    There seem to be many pictures in recent weeks featuring the Skever Rebbe – perhaps they are being paid for this or they feel the need to do a Rebbe PR. And this week’s article by R’ Grylak that charedim are now joining the army and out there in the high tech workforce would make it appear that this is widespread, which is blatantly not true, they are a tiny minority.

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  22. " "but physicians do not believe that eight-month fetuses were ever more viable that seven-month fetuses;"

    I think you meant "less viable". No?"

    As I recall from my shabbos reading, there were some other errors as well. One was a discussion of the scriptural description of the earth standing still instead of the sun standing still. A strong response would be made even stronger with careful review.

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  23. "R. Meiselman writes: "Reb Dovid Tzvi Hoffman, Rav Gedalyah Nadel, and Rav Aryeh Carmell". I always thought that Dr. Hoffmann (2 n's) had semicha. "

    How about Prof. Dr. Lawrence Kaplan and Prof. Dr. Yehuda Levi? And it's R. Dr. Meiselman, BTW.

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  24. I love the distortions! Why did you mention (at least twice) that rabbi Meiselman's credentials are his Phd in Mathematics from MIT and never ONCE have I seen you mention that he studied various relevant sciences in Harvard?! Why do I need Wikipedia and other sites to learn that when I expect you to be squeaky-clean and honest!

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  25. "However, what do you hope to gain by getting into a shouting match with RMM?

    Do you really expect him to conceed?

    I hope you'll think this through."

    I don't think he intends for Meiselman to concede. He intends to persuade some Haredi-lite people and make a name for himself. He's been successful at both.

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  26. The Mishpachah article (ironically entitled "Nothing but the Truth") was a PR puff piece, presumably written to promote R. Meiselman's book and his yeshiva's forthcoming dinner. I thought that some of the rabbi's comments (quoted in the article) were unusually boastful and self-serving for a rosh yeshiva. Check it out.

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  27. Leshem in 'שערי לשם חלק ב סי ז
    - r abahu is the sole view that not everything was given on Har Sinai...It seems to me that he only made this statement for the sake of heretics who he used to debate. In order to prevent them from making disparaging comments about traditions of the Sages, he said things that he did not believe personally...

    So maybe acc to Leshem who holds that sages never can make any mistake in science, one can still teach that view in kiruv (to secular jews/ heretics).

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  28. there were some other errors as well. One was a discussion of the scriptural description of the earth standing still instead of the sun standing still.

    That's not an error. I meant the earth.

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  29. Why did you mention (at least twice) that rabbi Meiselman's credentials are his Phd in Mathematics from MIT and never ONCE have I seen you mention that he studied various relevant sciences in Harvard?

    Because it's not his undergrad courses in sciences that are flaunted. It's his PhD.

    But as R. Meiselman himself conceded, it's the content that matters, not the credentials.

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    Replies
    1. He has conceded no such thing! He calls you an amateur, sophomore and dilettante repeatedly, to this day. Methinks he doth project too much.

      Delete
  30. Why did you mention (at least twice) that rabbi Meiselman's credentials are his Phd in Mathematics from MIT and never ONCE have I seen you mention that he studied various relevant sciences in Harvard?

    Because it's not his undergrad courses in sciences that are flaunted. It's his PhD.

    But as R. Meiselman himself conceded, it's the content that matters, not the credentials.

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  31. "However, it is also true that the Scriptural description of the earth standing still was also understood by all Geonim and Rishonim as being a literal description (which is why most early Acharonim denounced Copernican heliocentrism as heresy)."

    Read your sentence again and tell me you do not mean sun.

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  32. There is no error, but I guess you thought I was referring to Shemesh B'givon dom. No, I'm referring to pesukim which speak about the EARTH constantly standing still. In the heliocentric model, the earth moves.

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  33. "There is no error, but I guess you thought I was referring to Shemesh B'givon dom. No, I'm referring to pesukim which speak about the EARTH constantly standing still. In the heliocentric model, the earth moves."

    You correctly diagnose my misinterpretation. I would, however, view the pesukim describing the sun's motion and, conversely, it's miraculous resting, as the better indicators of a geocentric biblical view.

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  34. Actually, the Acharonim cite both arguments pretty much equally.

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  35. I am also looking forward to the Rosh Yeshivah's upcoming book. In fact, I will be pleasantly surprised if and when it ever sees the light of day.

    Many have hinted at soon to appear published responses explaining the charedi stance. None have yet hit the bookshelves.

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  36. No, this one is coming (unless someone explains the negative consequences to Feldheim Publishers). Rav Meiselman is driven (I won't say by what).

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  37. What negative consequences could accrue to Feldheim by publishing R' Meiselman's book? They have clearly long ago selected as their niche market the very demographic to which R' Meiselman's book will appeal.

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  38. I think you might have misunderstood Meiselman's comment about a local flood being scientifically untenable.

    He probably holds that every aspect was a miracle. Therefore, nothing is gained by limiting the Flood to a specific location.

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  39. But even if you hold it was a miracle, isn't there always an idea of bringing it closer to the natural? Why would Rabbi Meiselman be against that?

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  40. R Meiselman attended science courses at harvard/ MIT over 40 years ago and has since then rejected much of what he studied there.
    In his recent Mishpacha article R Meiselman recalled a physician he knew as a child in Boston that had studied in Europe and knew the 3 Bavas w Rashi and Tosaphot baal peh yet was no longer observant. I would argue that R Meiselman should be given equivalent credibility as a science student as he would give that doctor credibility as an expert in Nezikin.

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  41. David T. --

    Because Meiselman would say that there was nothing at all that was natural about either the Flood or the teivah. Therefore, no reason to depart from the "whole earth" scenario traditionally given by the Rabbis.

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  42. R' Slifkin said
    "Because it's not his undergrad courses in sciences that are flaunted. It's his PhD."
    Actually you are wrong. Interestingly, I went back to your original article about Rabbi Meiselman and the inaccuracies started there. You wrote that Rabbi Sebrow backs up his claim that Rabbi Meiselman is uniquely suited to address these issues in two ways: That he has a Phd in Mathematics from MIT and secondly that he is a nephew of the Rav. But the interested reader who would look up the original article would see that Rabbi Sebrow actually writes he is suited because "He attended Harvard College and also received a doctorate in mathematics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. At the same time, he also studied privately with his uncle, Rabbi Yosef Ber Soloveitchik etc." Does your omission remind you of a certain Rabbi Shimshon Sherer incident?

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  43. How does the fact that he mentioned the science courses negate the fact that he mentioned the PhD?

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  44. I sent following letter to the "mishpacha" magazine;
    Dear Sirs,
    Sorry, but you are not checking up on your sources.
    Rabbi Meiselman is currently embroiled in a vitriolic controversy with his critics.

    They accuse him of majorly distorting the teaching of his uncle, the "Rav" (Rabbi J.B. Soloveitchik).
    They accuse him of intellectual dishonesty in dealing with torah vs.science matter.
    They accuse him of personal nastiness when dealing with criticism.
    They accuse him of changing his outlook of live by 180 degrees and being contemptuous of his Alma Mater, the YU.

    Please, again, check your sources before you publicize a hugely self serving write up.
    Would you not think twice before calling this person an "Ish Emmes.?

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  45. College classes now establish scientific credentials? Cool. Well, not really... I hope this is some kind of a joke.

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  46. Isn't Kornreich the one who wrote an article recommending that homosexuals should consider suicide as the most halachically preferable option?

    Not exactly right. He claimed it was the LAST resort IF conversion therapy or life-long abstinence fail-- and he is about to commit the homosexual act.

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  47. It doesn't! But you unfairly OMITTED an important point! It is fine for you to argue that the Phd is irrelevant but you said Rabbi Sebrow backed his claim up in TWO ways (the Phd and his familial connections) that is to the exception of more reasons. I believe that is ingenuousness. Do you disagree with me and think that was an honest portrayal of what Rabbi Sebrow wrote?

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  48. You are correct. I overlooked that part. Probably because I was distracted by the PhD. Which is frequently offered as evidence that he is an "authority on science."

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  49. "It is irrelevant if privately, he agreed with the Aguda or even netture karta."

    The idea that the author of Kol Dodi Dofeik could agree with AI or NK regarding the state of Israel is absolutely preposterous.

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  50. And maybe Rabbi Shimshon Sherer was distracted by the other provocative comments that he overlooked part of your sentence (besides for the fact that it was in parenthesis) just as you overlooked part of the same sentence (you only quoted the second half!). Additionally, just as your own error, the claim without the parenthesis is the oft made argument against yeshiva deans.
    Either way why don't you issue a more public apology and correction not just in the comments but in the posts proper? I have noticed around here that some people seem to find you better than the other side precisely because you publicly acknowledge your errors...

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  51. "And maybe Rabbi Shimshon Sherer was distracted by the other provocative comments that he overlooked part of your sentence"

    He was reading from the page.

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  52. right and he skipped over it just as you did. I assume you were writing your "quotes" from the page as well.
    You say "you did!" But did you read what I had asked of you?!

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  53. He was reading directly from a sentence that I had written. I was writing a response to an article that I had read earlier.

    I had an explicit apology/clarification in my post "Agudah Follow-Up."

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  54. im talking about the blog about Rabbi Meiselman!

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  55. Oh, I misunderstood you. OK, I'll fix it.

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  56. Good marketing by R. Meiselman. Everyone should be angry enough to buy the book so that they can comment on it.


    I assume that this was meant sarcastically, and I beg to disagree with that (sarcastic) point of view.

    I intend to buy a copy of R. Meiselman's book (assuming it's not outrageously overpriced) even though I probably differ with almost everything he writes there. He and Feldheim richly deserve the few shekels they make from the sale of the book for making a step towards bringing the debate out in the open and making statements which can be pinned down and discussed.

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  57. I'm not sure that insisting on the inadmissibility and illegitimacy of all others viewpoints counts as "bringing the debate out in the open."

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  58. I'm not sure that insisting on the inadmissibility and illegitimacy of all others viewpoints counts as "bringing the debate out in the open."


    Well, let's just say "making himself a visible target".

    In any case, the money should not be the issue. It is well known even (or especially) among the non-revisionist talmidim of Rav Soloveitchik that he gladly donated to Jews who treated him with disrespect.

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  59. I also bought Reuven Schmeltzer's inane book, and I don't regret spending the 35 shekels (of which he made maybe 10 shekels profit). Now I have in print all the far-out beliefs current among today's frummies, and no one can claim that I'm exaggerating when I say that people believe this stuff.

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  60. This sentence from R. Meiselman's rebuttal jumped out at me:

    [S]ince the only real influence I had in my life was my rebbi, and I fashioned my life around that influence, to claim that I am lying is to say that my life is a lie.

    How is it possible that the only real influence in his life was RJBS? I believe that most people, while perhaps strongly influenced by one person, are also influenced by other people, things they read, and their own natural inclinations.

    If R. Meiselman had a few ideas of his own, or was influenced (unbeknownst to him) by other rebbeim, sefarim, chevras, etc., how would that make his life a lie?

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  61. Not to mention what others have pointed out - that R. Meiselman has changed drastically over the course of his life! (He isn't sending his children or talmidim to do PhDs!)

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  62. If R. Meiselman had a few ideas of his own, or was influenced (unbeknownst to him) by other rebbeim, sefarim, chevras, etc., how would that make his life a lie?

    My point is that this is extreme hyperbole on his part.

    The fact that he was influenced by non RJBS influences (like, duh) wouldn't make his life a lie, it would make his claim or belief that his only influence is RJBS a lie.

    He is overblowing the importance of sourcing all his beliefs and attidudes in this one gadol. It seems that this has become such a strong part of his identity, that any suggestion that things are otherwise would actually render his life a "lie."

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  63. Fine. If Rabbi Meiselman says that if not x than his "life is a lie" and x is not the case then his life IS a (self admitted) lie . So why debate him?

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  64. Help me Rabbi Slifkin!December 8, 2011 at 9:20 PM

    Please help me Rabbi Slifkin! I am a firm follower of your blog but i have some friends who make fun of me for it. They told me the Rashba in Eruvin says R' yochanan was wrong based on a gemara in Sukkah, not that after the talmud was finished the Rashba himself discovered it to be wrong. I am none too learned but when i looked at the rashba that seemed to me as well what he was saying. also they said you criticize rabbi Meisleman's credentials saying he's only a mathematician and yet you rely on Professor Sternberg who is also "only" a mathematician! Please help me out to know what to answer them!

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  65. Correct, that is what Rashba says. So what? The point is that he acknowledges that those Sages made an error, and did not have ruach hakodesh or some other supernatural source for their knowledge.

    I don't claim any credibility for Prof Sternberg based on his being a mathematician! I pointed to the substance of what he said. This is in contrast to the way that Rabbi Meiselman is proclaimed to have great credibility because of his PhD in mathematics.

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  66. your quote from the rashba is that he quotes a gemara that says R' yochanan was wrong? Why don't you simply quote the gemara itself? Doesn't everyone agree that within the gemara they can make mistakes (hava aminahs etc.) it's just at the conclusion that there is no mistake?

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  67. oy now i am embarrassed, they were right! what should i say now?

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  68. No, not everyone agrees that within the Gemara they can make mistakes. People attempt all kind of apologetics and reinterpretations with the Gemara. So when the Rashba admits that the Gemara means that a mistake was made, it is significant. Especially since Rabbi Meiselman claims that Chazal possessed great wisdom not just in Torah, but also in other matters.

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  69. Help! said... Doesn't everyone agree that within the gemara they can make mistakes (hava aminahs etc.)

    The apparent error here is particularly acute - it can be shown up by a child using a ruler. [The Gemarah says that the diagnol of a square is twice the square's side. A child using a ruler can show that it's a ratio of about 1.4:1.] Other Hava Amina's can be justified by ברייתא לא שמיע לי' or that the author of the Hava Amina maintains his position despite the סברת המקשן. This won't hold water here where we're talking about a simple measurement.

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  70. reject - I believe that you are mistakenly referring to the gemara on daf 8 of sukah which states that the ratio of a square to its diagonal is exactly what you claim. You can see a rough translation at http://www.dafyomi.co.il/sukah/points/su-ps-008.htm point (f)1

    The mistaken measurements in that sugyah are based on the ratio of a circle to a sqaure.

    @Help! - if you want to see the original gemara look at the aforementioned daf. The sugyah ends with the Gemara rejecting the formula of Rabannan D'kesari due to it being factually incorrect. Correct me if I'm mistaken, but that would be a tanna correcting an amora based empirical evidence. Since the amoraim would never allow themselves that right with halacha, isn't that clear proof the Rabbinic opinions about scientific matters have no halachic significance in the face of the simple statement 'דהא קחזיון דלא הוי כולי האי'

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  71. Reject and YaakovYisrael, I had a lengthy comment on the subject that got lost in the 'ether'. Let me try again more briefly.

    As YY noted, the gemara in Succa 8 and in Eruvin 76 correctly approximates the diagonal of a square as 1.4 times the side (its about 1% too low). It uses that approximation to invalidate R' Yocanan's opinion about the minimum circumfrence of a circular succa or opening in a wall separating 2 yards (Eruvin). It assumes that R' Yochanan based his view on the rule offered by the sages of Caesaria that a circle is 1.5 times its enclosed square. That rule is rejected by the gemara since it treats the diagonal of said square (which is also the diameter of the circle) as being 1.4 times the side rather than simply adding the sides.

    Unfortunately, the gemara confuses perimeters and areas. The sages of Caesaria based their rule on relative areas, as Tosafot demonstrates, while the gemara considers only the perimeters. The confusion may have originated, or at least been exacerbated, by the coincidence in the numeric value of the perimeter and area of a 4x4 square (they're both 16, while the circle is 24). It is possible that R' Yochanan in Succa was refering to a minimum area of a circular succah. While that is a more difficult proposition in Eruvin, there is a circular geometry that leads to the correct results.

    In sum, R' Yocanan may not have been ignorant of the rule about the diagonal of a square. However, the conclusion of the gemaras in Succa and Eruvin appears to involve a misunderstanding of the sages of Caesaria and, possibly, R' Yochanan, as well.

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  72. You once wrote: "The cause for taking this approach is the impossibility of reconciling the
    order in Bereishis with the order of events that has been scientifically
    proven to the satisfaction of the overwhelming majority of scientists,
    both religious and secular, in a broad range of disciplines."
    I suppose there's always the hold-out that the minority of scientists are right:

    "Australian Multicellular Fossils Point to Life On Land, Not at Sea, Geologist Proposes

    Dec. 12, 2012 — Ancient multicellular fossils long thought to be ancestors of early marine life are remnants of land-dwelling lichen or other microbial colonies, says University of Oregon scientist Gregory J. Retallack, who has been studying fossil soils of South Australia."

    http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/12/121212134050.htm

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  73. Sorry, that's entirely irrelevant. If anything, it makes the problems worse!

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  74. just an aside could not possibly be a snail as that is not one of the 8 rodents that are tameh

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