Thursday, September 6, 2012

Star Trek


When I saw a link at Hirhurim to an article by J. Brown entitled "The Sun is a Star," I assumed that the article was about astronomy and Judaism, written by my friend Dr. Jeremy Brown (who is imminently publishing a fascinating book on Jewish reactions to Copernicus). It turns out that I was only half correct.

The article is indeed about astronomy and Judaism. But it was written by Judy Brown, author of Hush, a novel about sexual abuse in the ultra-Orthodox Jewish community. In the article, she describes how when she was an innocent member of the ultra-Orthodox community, she underwent a religious crisis when a friend explained to her that the sun is a star and that stars are suns. This was followed by reading Carl Sagan's book Cosmos, and the simplistic view of the universe that she had been taught in her Chassidishe community was shattered. Thus began her journey away from that insular community.

I forwarded the article to the other J. Brown, who replied, "Thanks. I hope that I will be able to remain within my faith community, despite the fact that the sun is a star." Very funny! But I think that there is a very important concept to understand here.

I've met people who have no problem accepting that the world is billions of years old, but would suffer a religious crisis if they were ever shown that evolution is true. I've met people who think that it's the easiest thing in the world to accept that the Gemara is not always scientifically correct, but who go to pieces when confronted with scientific inaccuracies in Tenach. And I've met people who are perfectly at ease with reading the first chapter of Bereishis non-literally, but are extremely uncomfortable with scientific objections to the Deluge. Etc., etc.

Every intellectual challenge is also an emotional challenge. When that which we have been taught by revered teachers, and which is a preciously held-belief in our community, is demonstrated to be incorrect, it's hard to make an adjustment. Modern Orthodox Jews who have no problem with my books are not necessarily more open-minded; it's just that evolution and Talmudic inaccuracies about science are within their societal comfort zone.

Furthermore, because every intellectual challenge is also an emotional challenge, this is why radically overhauling one's intellectual approach can be emotionally overwhelming. There are theological approaches which I am now comfortable with, but which I was only able to reach after a long struggle, due to my long and very limiting charedi yeshivah education. There are ideas that would have been much easier for me to accept, had they not come as such a shock.

We are not robots. We are not solely rational beings. We all have our intellectual comfort zone, and find new ideas to be challenging. Being aware of this can help us be sympathetic to others, and can help us cope with our own struggles.

54 comments:

  1. Very, very true. But unlike conflicts between science and the Gemara and reading Bereishis in a non-literal fashion, there are no books in English by an Orthodox Jew that a person can turn to and find answers to biblical criticism and the findings of archeology.

    Books like yours help people whose right-wing intellectual world has been shattered. Where are the books for the rest of us?

    Is this not a huge failing on the part of the Modern Orthodox leadership?

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  2. So this is the problem in two words: slippery slope.

    I too had no problem with the "stories" in Bereishit being, well, just that: stories. Evolution... no problem. After, it's all "guided by God". Right? It has to be, because it's just too complicated to have happened on it's own. Except, it's not. Those irreducibly complex eyes are complex, but they ain't irreducible.

    Where do the biblical "stories" end the "history" begin?

    - Creation, flood, tower... all stories. Of course as they are scientifically impossible. A talking donkey! Please. Did Abraham exist? Does it matter?

    -10 plagues? Were they "miracles", natural events, or never happened?

    - Yes, we know that Jews lived in Israel, had a temple, and sacrificed animals. So what? So did everyone else.

    -Revelation? To modern man the "Kuzari principle" is just silly. No strong reason to think that some man or men wrote it over many years.

    - Every letter of the Torah has significance because it's the word of God. Right? Wrong. Read just a little and you learn that the Torah went through several periods when it got "out of synch" and Rabbis had to gather to "fix" it with their best guess.

    - And our childhood fantasy of Moses coming down with the Torah... wrong again. Even the Talmud said he sat in a tent and wrote it over months.

    - And let's not even talk about biblical criticism.

    - The Talmud. Moshe's "notes". Give me a break. It's a bunch of Rabbis, smart ones, trying to figure out how to adapt the Torah to their times. And yes they made mistakes. So what. (The biggest problem we face today was caused by the "closing" of the talmud the freezing of our ability to truly innovate.)

    - Kabbalah. Oh no, let's not even go there. The product of a very vivid imagination.

    So now we have layers and layers of lore and endless minutiae to keep us busy, so we don't think too much.

    Yes we're supposed to learn day and night. But that "learning" is in such a tight box out of which it's forbidden to step. Let's face it, most learning is just trying to figure out what those guys were saying 2000 years ago. And there's such peer pressure to learn that we get home from work at 8, wolf down some dinner and run out to shiur to "set a good example" for the kids we never see because we're so busy setting a good example for them. (And earning enough money to pay for their brainwa... learning.)

    So the "system" is great, as long as you stay inside follow the 10 commandments, the 613 mitzvot, the 13 principles... Mumble words from your prayer book 3 times a day, which lose all meaning like when you say the same word over and over again a bunch of times.

    Of course the true believers see "God's Hand" everywhere. But don't ask them to do a statistical analysis of their observations. Anyway their observations are so flexible. You can pray with all your might that your dying friend gets well. It's great. No matter what the outcome. It's God's will! How conveeenient!

    Anyway, the bottom line is that if you don't have emunah peshuta you WILL eventually lose your emunah. You may, as I have done, understand that heritage and peoplehood have a value. That our community is overall warm and loving. And that keeping the framework of the laws creates a pleasant life. But oh those details...

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  3. Excellent post. Kudos. I agree that the Modern Orthodox/Dati Leumi communities are not necessarily more open to new ideas. For example – Biblical criticism. On the whole, it is not taught in MO/DL schools, and most adults belonging to these communities know next to nothing about the topic. It is completely outside of their religious comfort zone. I can testify from first-hand experience that learning about modern Biblical scholarship was a very difficult emotional experience for me, which took years to work through – and in the end profoundly affected my understanding (and practice) of Judaism. Rav Slifkin, I’d be curious to learn if you have ever ventured into this field, or if this is still beyond your own comfort zone.

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  4. Oh, and one more thing. It was really mean of you to lure me in here with that title! :)

    But since you did, I'll mention the original Star Trek episode "Who Mourns for Adonais?". In that episode the Greek God Apollo, living on some far out planet, captures the Enterprise as it flies by. He brings the crew down to the planet and just wants to take of them while they worship and love him. After they destroy what they think is Apollo's source of power the following exchange ensues...

    APOLLO: I would have cherished you, cared for you. I would have loved you as a father loves his children. Did I ask so much?
    KIRK: We've out grown you. You asked for something we could no longer give.

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  5. IIUC you aren't advocating a wholesale shift of education in the chassidic community. chassidim's simplicity has its advantages together with the drawback of losing this member and presumably others. then this goes along the same lines of r dessler's letters at the end of MME v 3 about the pros and cons of the yeshivah 'torah only' vs. the frankfrt 'TIDE' vis a vis secular studies. if only we could provide for the specific educational needs of each individual much heartache could be avoided.

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  6. Rav Slifkin, I’d be curious to learn if you have ever ventured into this field, or if this is still beyond your own comfort zone.

    Nothing is beyond my own comfort zone anymore, in terms of myself. But I'm sensitive to what I discuss with, and teach to, other people.

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  7. "Nothing is beyond my own comfort zone anymore, in terms of myself. But I'm sensitive to what I discuss with, and teach to, other people".

    Wise practice. But my I ask why some issues you feel comfortable discussing and arguing for, while others, such as Bible criticism, you refrain from dealing with in public formats. You have certainly exprerienced the wrath of those who felt that you were trying to shake up their faith with the issues that you HAVE dealt with (i.e. conflicts between science and Hazal, evolution). Why the red line with modern Biblical scholarship?

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  8. Yehuda said: "[...] there are no books in English by an Orthodox Jew that a person can turn to and find answers to biblical criticism and the findings of archeology [...]Is this not a huge failing on the part of the Modern Orthodox leadership?"

    There ARE books on the topic, but once they are written, the author is no longer considered "Orthodox". Take for example Louis Jacobs...

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  9. Rabbi Slifkin,

    So, if I understand your point correctly, we all find different intellectual challenges - in accordance with our own emotional limits and the truths we have been taught - and yet are all willing to accept different things as acceptable results at the end of our journey.

    My question is, what does this fact tell us about the truths we are individually searching for?

    To me it implies that at least most of us do not seek high enough standards of knowledge when we go on our searches. If I go on an intellectual quest to solve my discomfort about with X and find Y (inc. a denial of X) to be true, yet you aren't satisfied with Y and conclude Z (and a denial of Y) to be true etc, (and both of us are (hypothetically) of the same intelligence, and give the same effort to our search), it implies that our method of searching is flawed, because that method would allow not only different responses, multiple contradictory answers to be true.

    If so, our intellectual searches are not searches for what is actually truth, but simply for self-comfort (which, when realised, is not very comforting in itself!).

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  10. Yehuda....
    I would recommend for starters on archaeology books like kenneth kitchen's 'on the reliability of the old testament.'

    F.F.....
    I happen to agree with you about some of the points you made but the overall tone in which you make your claims is more than bothersome - it also sounds unnecessarily pessimistic and hopeless.

    If I've learned anything with my pursuits of the more 'academic/secular' approaches to judaism it is that answers require patience. Like R. Slifkin hinted at, finding comfort can take time.

    I think that it is important to also recognize that the degree to which academia will help or hurt one's spiritual development depends largely on one's original degree of close-mindedness. People of a more insulated background, (who may have once perceived rashi to be the only perush on chumash, may have found AISH hatorah's discovery seminar the key to life's questions, or understood the 'kuzari argument' to be sufficient means of finding the answer to life's larger questions)will feel more threatened with the exposure to supplementary/conflicting opinions than will someone who started from nothing. One such example of someone who I personally find inspirational in this regard is Prof. Laurence Schiffman. Having grown up in a secular environment, his pursuit of academia and eventual achieved expertise in the dead sea scrolls and 2nd temple period brought him toward faith, not further away from it.

    I also don't perceive BC to be an ignored topic. Certainly within YU, where I'm currently studying, I find there are ample resources and people to help guide me in my pursuit of truth and spiritual growth. I do admit that the MO world still has ways to go before having sufficiently addressed these issues, but I would not say that a blind eye has been turned and the conflicts remain entirely ignored. Frum scholars have begun and already begun making good headway in the long and arduous educational process that might eventually need to take place within the orthodox community. I suppose however, that until BC becomes as accepted as scientific conflicts with the torah, the issue will remain less discussed amoungst our circles.

    The best advice I can give as having struggled to maneuver about personally turbulent years of study is to hold tight, remain patient and trust that G-d still loves you.

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  11. The condescension of this post is not as thinly veiled as your usual writing.
    Can't you contemplate the possibility that theological red lines actually exist and that people have a religious commitment to uphold authoritative views?

    Why do you always emotionalize everyone who thinks more traditionally than you?
    Why do you think it just boils down to how open you are to things beyond "your comfort zone" and not simply a well founded theological position based on authoritative sources?
    Or do you believe nothing is set in stone due to what we might discover in the future?

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  12. I'm not sure I believe the portrayal of her Beis Yaakov education. As one commenter there writes:

    most of the readers of the forward have very little exposure to charedi life or education, therefore they may innocently take this article seriously. in order to open their minds a drop i would like to point out the following:__as the son of a long time bais yaakov principle, the husband of a women who taught in a different bais yaakov for 5 years, and the father of 3 daughters who grew up in the bais yaakov system (first in the US, later in Israel), i can assure you that the portrayal of bais yaakov education in this article is utter nonsense.__the author totally misportrays how chumash is understood in normative charedi judaism, she was either a terrible student or is lying (in my humble opinion, more likely the latter). as far as how astronomy is taught, it varies from school to school, some have more of an emphasis on sciences in general than others, but even those that have a weaker emphasis on teaching science, don't falsify it, they simply cover less of it. the author apparently abandoned orthodoxy for whatever her personal reasons where, then found that there was a receptive audience for bashing her former religion that was too ignorant to realize what nonsense she's peddling.

    Can anyone weigh in to say whether this is indeed normative belief and approach in her community?

    kol tuv,
    josh

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  13. `Difficult emotional experience `is a good way to put it. When you do some basic math, and see that some medrashim hold that there were millions of B`nei yisrael living in Egypt,you have this nagging doubt.When you ask ,what exactly all of them did in the desert for forty years,and the answer is that they learned,you stifle a laugh. And ,that after all that learning,they fell into idolatry right away,you wonder how many of them cut shiur to watch the world series.

    Yes,the doubts pile up,and the absence of key archeological evidence is troubling. But.

    Why does it have such a hold on us,after all these years ? If tomorrow someone were to give you a book,tell you that this is your history and you had to believe it ,learn it and die for it, most of us would shrug or call the cops. Yet this till holds us.

    If the Torah was translated a bit before the first churban,then it freezes the date after which serious changes were possible. But we were a nation for long before that. What was it based on ? We didn`t assimilate, and we belived in something strongly enough to resist some powerful forces.

    In my benighted opinion, we are asked to believe in too much-all or most of the midrashim, ruach hakodesh all over the place ,stuff out of sequence ,tzadikim gemurim who sounded like thugs,and the like. If you reduce it to the basics- rejecting idolatry,or other religions,; keeping Shabbos and kosher,and that Hashem at least has us on some kind of surveillance system,then that does it for me.

    By the way,if you want a fascinating take on why we`re all here,try to get hold of a book by Jack Miles,called ` G-d ; A Biography

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  14. "I've met people who have no problem accepting that the world is billions of years old, but would suffer a religious crisis if they were ever shown that evolution is true."

    That makes no sense: if the world is billions of years old, then common descent necessarily follows! After all, the speciess around today were not around back then, and animals are born from animals. Thus, evolution must have happened.

    The answer is that they've never tried to form a coherent belief system. They just accept the age of Earth and reject evolution without ever forming a clear understanding op what they believe happened.

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  15. Rabbi Slifkin,

    If nothing is out of your comfort zone, and if you one day feel educated enough in archeology and biblical criticism (big ifs!), then I would encourage you to write a book on the topic that addresses these topics forthrightly and offers suggestions for what a traditional Jew can and should plausibly believe.

    If such a book would be too controversial, then I urge you to publish it under a pseudonym.

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  16. Holy Brother, thanks for your advice and I'm sure you mean well, but there is some built-in condescension in what you write, "pursuit of truth" and "spiritual growth" by no means go hand-in-hand and I don't need to be "fixed" because I'm not broken.

    The "tone" you may have detected was born of the lateness of the hour and the flow of stream of consciousnesses. If you're currently in YU then I'm probably old enough to be your father. (Maybe I am your father Luke!) I've been through the full gamut of observance, spirituality, etc. For me the "fog" has been lifted and in a sense I'm seeing clearer than ever. I really don't need to resolve all of those issues that once seemed so important, and are to you now.

    Right now my challenge is to learn how to live at peace with my current "clarity" while remaining part of a community I really do appreciate.

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  17. FWIW --

    I've been reading Sam Harris's "The End of Faith". He argues that the essence of religious faith is to believe things _without evidence_. [He is one of the "unholy Trinity", with Hitchins and Dawkins.]

    He also has a story about the Catholic Church, which decided that there should be a "Catholic version" of the academic work by Protestant scholars on the sources of the New Testament. This movement was called "modernism". Unfortunately, the Catholic scholars came to the same conclusions as the Protestant scholars -- Scripture was not literally true!

    "In 1907, Pope Pius X declared modernism a heresy, had its exponents with the church excommunicated, and put all critical studies of the Bible on the Index of proscribed books".

    The comment "There were such writers -- but after they published, they were no longer considered Orthodox" is precisely correct !

    When one leaves the path of pure Faith, and allows facts to influence his beliefs, it's difficult to decide when to stop. And it's difficult to exactly limit what's "inside" Modern Orthodoxy, and what's "outside".

    Can someone say:

    . . . "Of course, the Bible isn't literally true. It's _inspired_ by God, but written by men, and edited over centuries."

    and still remain inside the Modern Orthodox fold? Can someone _believe_ that (but not say it or write it) and remain inside Modern Orthodoxy?

    If he says:

    . . . "But I keep the mitzvoth, as my fathers did."

    does that change the answers?

    Charles Cohen / Richmond, BC, Canada

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  18. Charles Cohen, this is where the Rambam really messed us over. By drawing his 13 creed-based lines in the sand he effectively threw anyone who thinks as you describe out of the "camp". There's a strong case to be made that those 13 principles of faith were very much a product of the theological issues of his time and have no place in "normative" Judaism.

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  19. To "Functionally Frum", who cited the dialogue between Captain Kirk and Apollo: Captain Kirk also says to Apollo at one point, "Mankind has no need for gods. We find the One quite adequate." (I added the capital O to One.)

    So, if dialogue in Star Trek is considered proof of anything, it doesn't necessarily mean that belief in G-d is something that must be outgrown. (I must admit that Gene Roddenberry was an agnostic, however.)

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  20. Touche! (But it doesn't really change anything, because even I, a devoted Trekker, realize you can't use Star Trek for EVERYTHING!)

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  21. "I also don't perceive BC to be an ignored topic. Certainly within YU, where I'm currently studying, I find there are ample resources and people to help guide me in my pursuit of truth and spiritual growth."

    I agree, and I can testify that the same thing was true at YU 20-25 years ago. The greatest treasure I found there was the human models I found, especially at Revel: Outstanding talmidei hakhamim and God-fearing Jews who were at the very same time first rank scholars in their fields and completely open intellectually. The chance I had to study with them is something for which I am eternally grateful.

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  22. Seth said:

    "I agree, and I can testify that the same thing was true at YU 20-25 years ago. The greatest treasure I found there was the human models I found, especially at Revel: Outstanding talmidei hakhamim and God-fearing Jews who were at the very same time first rank scholars in their fields and completely open intellectually. The chance I had to study with them is something for which I am eternally grateful."

    Could you maybe explain how these outstanding talmidei hakhamim provided a rational resolution to the conflicts between the concept of Torah min Hashamayim and biblical criticism? Ditto for archaeology.

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  23. "You have certainly exprerienced the wrath of those who felt that you were trying to shake up their faith with the issues that you HAVE dealt with (i.e. conflicts between science and Hazal, evolution)"

    And I was wrong. I should not have tried to present the rationalist approach in these topics to the charedi world.

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  24. Recently, here in Israel, there is a MAJOR dispute in the National Religious community regarding what we may call "the New TANACH Studies" which comes largely out of "Michlelet Herzog" which is affiliated with the Yeshivat Har Etzion in Alon Shevut. These studies have created a REVOLUTION in TANACH studies, which by fusing traditional commentaries with modern historical and archaeology have infused much new understanding of the TANACH and the sometimes very difficult to understand narratives contained in it (e.g. Yiftach, David and Bat-Sheva, Pilegesh b'Givah and the activities of the later Kings of Judah and Israel).
    Add to this the very interesting and controversial work by Rav Mordechai Breuer and his "Behinot" studies in which he accepts that there are contradictory narratives in the Torah but which he attributes to various Divine messages of different meaning.
    I wish to point out that all the people behind these are Yirei Shamayim and accept Torah MiSinai, but they have open minds and are willing to accept new outlooks on the Torah and TANACH narrratives.
    This, needless to say, is very controversial and the major proponents of these studies such as Rav Yaakov Medan and Rav Yoel Bin-Nun (among others) have come under attack from "traditionalists" within the Religious Zionist camp.
    There is a move to reform the study of TANAH in the State Religious School system along the lines of the New TANACH Studies and there was a major attempt to block it, altough it seems that it will be carried out in the end.
    Those interested in English publications giving examples should see the "Torah Mi'Etzion" books on Bereishit and Shemot.
    Examples can also be found in the Torah commentaries found at the "Virtual Beit Midrash" web site of the Yeshiva.

    A good example, in Hebrew, of a modern Orthodox scholar's approach to study of TANACH using historical and archaeological studies should read the postings of Dr Haggai Misgav on his blog site:

    http://www.misgav.blogspot.co.il/


    This is a parallel to what Rav Slifkin says regarding his views about the Talmud and Halacha....
    the importance of CONTEXT. For the study of TANACH we can learn how the events of the TANACH were perceived AT THE TIME and how, just as today, political and economic trends affect the spiritual development of Am Israel, the religious life of the time was at least partly influenced by these same factors. For me, these new approaches to study of the TANACH have been real eye-openers and have greatly enriched my appreciation of the Torah and TANACH.

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  25. I had the exact same thoughts as Josh Waxman, above. I would accept (because its a milta d'avidi ligluii, easily verifiable] her claim that at one point she was in a Beis Yakov. But it is clear, as Rav Waxman says, she was either a terrible student, or was there a short time only, or grew up in some sort of abnormal setting. If she is not outright lying to serve an agenda, she is certainly not representative.

    These types of callers/writers were identified long ago as "seminar callers." People call in to shows or write letters claiming to be former republicans who have now become democrat, for X reason. The hope is that by identifying themselves as former republicans, their current gripes will carry more weight. Upon scrutiny, the claims never hold up. An ad was released by the Obama campaign called "Republican women for Obama." Two of the women in it have already been identified as long time dems with a long history of left wing activism. What Judy Brown is doing, by identifying herself as an ex ultra orthodox woman, is the same thing

    Barry

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  26. I just want to say this post and the comments are among the best I've seen on this blog. This post and the comments (and commenters) give me hope.

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  27. peretz mann said...
    > Why does it have such a hold on us,after all these years ? If tomorrow someone were to give you a book,tell you that this is your history and you had to believe it ,learn it and die for it, most of us would shrug or call the cops. Yet this till holds us.

    It holds us because of the weight of history behind it, the culture that supports it, and the cultural indoctrination we receive as children (or as adults becoming BTs).

    > What was it based on ?

    A lot of the stories in the chumash are typical of ANE myths.

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  28. Prof. Nissim Vidal has a series of books on astronomy entitled צבא השמים (I have the first three volumes, there are more now) which present ideas of modern astronomy, peppered with all sorts of statements of Chazal, Rambam, Kuzari. The science presented in the books is not different than in Cosmos--he discusses the expansiveness of the universe, our position in the Milky Way, etc. I think any charedi person can comfortably read his books without having his faith shattered.

    As one commmentor pointed out in another recent post on this site, Carl Sagan's Cosmos would be a shock on a philosophical level to an Orthodox Jew--Prof. Sagan paints it as if we are here pretty much by chance, living out an existence on a very ordinary star, with very little chance of being of any significance in anything. The same science facts can be presented in a way to give a person a sense of religious awe as well--that is what Prof. Vidal set out to do.

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  29. @G*3

    I didn`t explain myself properly. Going back to the Roman Wars, we fought fiercely against lousy odds. Yes,there was a huge element of national pride, but also a strong sense of religious differences. We refused to let our belief be counted in their pantheon. That means that our religion had already developed deep roots. How far back do you go to where we became a nation with a unifying religion ? Nobody else seems to have hung on to their beliefs.

    Like a lot of us here, this is all disturbing, but not to be avoided,either.

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  30. +1 To the comment about this being one of the best posts.

    Also, I too wonder about the Revel professors who know much more than most of us, yet still stay frum. I know that one of the Rabbi Drs. from there got burned when he was open about his views on Chanukah as became a bit gun shy about discussing these type of issues. I suspect that few if any would commit something to writing, but might be open to answering some questions in a private discussion.

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  31. To Josh Waxman and Anonymous,
    Judy Brown said that she attended a Chasidic school called Beis Yaakov. That is very different from the standard (Chareidi, but not Chasidic) Beis Yaakov, where the girls do receive a science education (albeit one that dismisses evolution and the age of the universe).

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  32. I wonder if, given the nature of the internal conflict surrounding this issue, if "Star Wars" would have been a better metaphor. Not to characterize particular groups as "evil" or of the "Dark Side" per se, but the Empire in that sci-fi universe runs on propaganda that limits the understanding of the masses, twisting and distorting beliefs about who and what is true and right - all for the purpose of establishing an ultimate form of control over the people who are not allowed to question the establishment.

    Then there is the "Rebel Alliance" who is trying to free the people of the galaxy, both intellectually and physically from such servitude. They don't believe in anarchy, but an existence of political freedom and knowledge available to all within an appropriate system that is not a dictatorship which removes the rights and freedoms from the masses.

    Anyway, back to real life. ;)

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  33. "I should not have tried to present the rationalist approach in these topics to the charedi world."

    You speak of "approaches" as if they're all equally valid, mere matters of taste. But what about what's true? Evolution really did happen. Evolution isn't "rationalist"; it's true. Do chareidim have less of a need to know the truth then you do? And why do you get to decide that they be kept in the dark? You didn't like it for yourself, so why are you advocating it for others?

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  34. I think there are many emotional components to religion and not everyone is using their "rational" side when it comes to looking at the bible, age of the universe etc etc. That being said, I for one would rather not believe in so-called "miracles" and super natural events if I can avoid it. But miracles and belief in the supernatural do appeal to children at a time when emotions and brain patterns are being influenced and formed. Thus I think it does hit a lot of people very hard later in life when their emotional life is shaken up with a disconnect in their belief system. Throw into the mix some poor teaching and/or parenting styles and you have a perfect storm for someone going "off the derech" totally so to speak. Or the surrounding secular society is just too tempting to emulate.

    At this point in my life, I appreciate the many positive aspects that Judaism has to offer. Do I believe that it was all revealed to Moshe in one fell swoop ? No. Do I see value in having a halachic system for transmittal purposes ? Yes. However, once you accept that religion and halacha are man-made, then yirat shamayim goes by the wayside and it becomes easier to "rationalize" not keeping every halacha as they were intended to be kept by the rabbis who instituted them.

    I guess that is why its called "faith" or "belief" because its not "rational" if you really analyze what you are taught to believe from a young age.

    Now since I was "frum from birth" in the modern orthodox world, what always puzzled me is why so many people are baalei teshuva ? Perhaps its that emotional component again working in reverse. People who are raised without a firm belief are seeking that missing component on an emotional level.
    Mark

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  35. Shavua Tov,

    "Could you maybe explain how these outstanding talmidei hakhamim provided a rational resolution to the conflicts between the concept of Torah min Hashamayim and biblical criticism? Ditto for archaeology."

    Don't be silly, they didn't try provide anyone with a "resolution." This is a graduate school. Rather, they dealt with scholarship as scholars, seriously and openly with a critical approach. At the same time they also dealt with it on a personal level as Jews, each in his own way. And their example encouraged their students to do the same.

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  36. Some commenters mentioned examples of Modern Orthodox/Dati Leumi attempts to deal with modern Biblical Scholarship ("the New TANACH Studies" in Israel – associated with Herzog College in Alon Shevut, and the approaches of some Y.U. rabbis).
    I have yet to find any of the above seriously engaging with modern Biblical Scholarship. The one exception, Rav Breuer, presented a solution to the Documentary Hypothesis which simply does not stand up to scrutiny, and is not taken seriously (i.e. is ignored) by the world of Biblical scholarship. His approach hasn’t gained much of a following in Orthodox circles either. The “New Tanach Studies” approach does not deal with higher Biblical criticism at all, nor does it question the historicity of biblical narratives, and yet is lambasted as heresy by the mainstream Dati Leumi yeshivot because it approaches the Biblical characters as human beings instead of as other-worldly saints.
    I am not aware of any Y.U. rabbis or professors who have seriously engaged (in writing) with faith issues relating to higher Bible criticism. There was an uproar within YU a few years back when Prof. James Kugel was invited to speak there – not because he was going to lecture about Bible criticism but because he had recently written a popular book (“How to Read the Bible”) embracing it.
    The Bible department at Bar-Ilan University (a nominally Orthodox institution) does not teach higher biblical criticism of the Pentateuch (the rest of the Bible is fair game there).
    What I see is that the Modern Orthodox world has yet to make any serious attempt at engaging in modern Bible scholarship. It’s not as if the educated there are unaware of its existence. For some, the solution seems to be to ignore it – the cognitive dissonance is simply too great. Others, I would guess, have come to terms with it privately, knowing that if they came out of the closet as denying “Torah from Sinai” – they would be ostracized from the Orthodox community.

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  37. In response to Functionally Frum's comment on the question "How far back do you go to where we became a nation with a unifying religion?":

    The example of the "Palestinians" looks good on the surface, but don't forget that 1/6 of the world is Muslim, and looks at the state of Israel as an affront to Islam--once land has been under the rule of Islam, they believe it has to stay that way. That's why the Palestinian cause has such weight--as a wedge to destroy Israel.

    The situation of the Jewish people was exactly the opposite--a tiny nation, being overrun by superpowers like Egypt, Assyria, Babylon etc., still maintaining a separate identity and language, despite all the pressures of just mixing in with the rest of the population. Why would anyone of the surrounding nations then be interested in maintaining some odd monotheistic religion, if it was suddenly "fabricated", as you're implying?

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  38. Between the Lines of the Bible [Hardcover]
    "Yitzchak Etshalom initiates readers into the world of the New School of Orthodox Torah commentary in a series of compelling studies of Genesis. Over the past few decades, Orthodox Jewish scholars have carefully embraced many of the methodologies of modern Bible study. History, archeology, linguistics and many other disciplines - especially literary analysis - can serve to enhance our understanding of the Book of Books. Traditional students have much to gain by utilizing all of the tools available in studying the Divine word. However, this burgeoning genre of scholarship has been almost entirely in Hebrew. In this book, Yitzchak Etshalom provides the first English introduction to the methodologies of the New School. In a number of popular essays, Etshalom analyzes the familiar stories of the Bible and demonstrates the powerful tools of modern Torah commentary. In the process, Etshalom undermines many of the arguments of biblical critics and defends the Torah, through literary and historical methodologies, against attacks."

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  39. Explorations: In-depth analysis of the weekly parasha through the prism of rabbinic perspective

    By Ari D. Kahn

    "In this ... collection, Kahn also bravely tackles issues of belief and Jewish dogma, along with classical problems of Bible exegesis and criticism, such as the biblical status of Deuteronomy, the authorship of the last eight verses in the Bible, the nature of revelation..."

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  40. Josh, my three daughters graduated from Beis Yaakov of Boro-Park on 15th ave and 45th street. Except for evolution and reproduction topics, which were skipped, the regular Regents curriculum for Biology, Chemistry and Math was followed. I'm not sure why it should be a problem for anyone if the Sun is considered a star astronomically.

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  41. The topic of this post is NOT the ins-and-outs, and pros-and-cons, of specific arguments/ books about religion. Comments in that vein will not be posted, sorry.

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  42. Yehuda said" there are no books in English by an Orthodox Jew that a person can turn to and find answers to biblical criticism and the findings of archeology."

    You could try James Kugel, "How to Read the Bible." As far as I know (and what he says publicly), he is an observant Jew. Also, Marc Zvi Brettler, "How to the Read the Jewish Bible" (there is also a Modern Hebrew translation of this).

    Shana Tova,
    MS

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  43. Natan Slifkin said...
    Kugel doesn't give answers!

    True, but that is not his goal. At least, in those titles, we have Orthodox (or "prax") serious modern biblical scholars who present the major issues in a serious, thoughtful, and digestible fashion. The problem is taht faith is a completely separate issue that good biblical studies cannot and should not address (just like "science" and "religion" answer different questions).

    However, reading those books CAN assist a person in their own faith journey.

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  44. David Weiss Halivni does give answers, and since Kugel apparently crossed the lines (according to a wide spectrum of Orthodox Rabbinical authorities), why is UTJ worse than Orthoprax? Does anyone question DWH's personal observance of halacha?

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  45. Joshua Berman edals with certain aspects of Biblical Criticim, for instance in "Created Equal".

    http://www.amazon.com/Created-Equal-Ancient-Political-Thought/dp/0199832404/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1347225667&sr=8-1&keywords=joshua+berman

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  46. When I read the article, I did not believe it.

    It would seem that some charedi institution Deified the sun as a supreme being that other stars can not be.

    To me, the article sounded like an author trying to look back in their life for when they "first changed".
    The author looks far as back as possible, and memory being the fickle thing it is, they impose current ideas about how they view the new "other", onto themselves.

    It would be like if a Repulican said, "I used to be a liberal Democrat, and would you believe it? I thought that america should get rid of the two party system and create a communist single party system."

    I would not believe such a person for a second. They probabbly once toyed with the idea, asking themselves "hmm, would it be so bad if...", but in their emotional state of a "convert", they amplify that one thought into some serious position of the people they "used to hang out with."

    Never trust a "convert" regarding their past life which they have a need to fight against.

    It's like those ex-hammas folk in Israel who are always talking about how they were such monsters. I take it all with a grain of salt.

    As for what Functionally Frum wrote, I'll just say that I myself fully believe in the scientific process. I'm also skeptical of religion and science. I also fully believe that the Jewish people felt a revelation of Gd.

    And to be honest, living in Israel, I feel the revelation myself very often. It's very easy for me to connect to the Talmud and the great ideas of the sages.

    The only hard part, and for me it wasn't very hard, was to learn and remember that Gd is not a fairy tale, and the Torah does not describe a world that is any different from our own. It's understandable that some people might think it does, but that's only because they have yet to learn or study how people back 3,000 years ago understood literature.

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  47. Rabbi Slifkin wrote: " When that which we have been taught by revered teachers, and which is a preciously held-belief in our community, is demonstrated to be incorrect, it's hard to make an adjustment."

    I heard that the Vilna Gaon respected his alef-beis teacher the most, because he was the only teacher he had that didn't teach something that he later found to be incorrect (or inaccurate)!

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  48. I agree this is one of the best posts and a very interesting comment section. I commed the author and all the participants.

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  49. "Kugel doesn't give answers!"

    Sure he does. His answer is "Orthodox Judaism isn't true." You just don't want that answer, but it's an answer, and it's what he gives. Maybe you meant that he doesn't reconcile.

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  50. I was addressing Yehudah's question.

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  51. Maybe I'm missing something here, but I don't understand the controversy. First, I've never heard any claims that Torah is a book about science, so when it doesn't agree with science, what is the problem? Is it supposed to be authoritative about everything? Second, in order to have a debate or a discussion, you have to first agree on a few ground rules. Well, as I see it, not only are Torah and science unable to agree on the ground rules (e.g. what constitutes evidence, what is the role of authority, etc.), but they can't even agree on the very definition of the word "truth". What a truth is to Torah is not anything like what a truth is in science. I think philosophers would say that science and Torah are two different epistemologies, which I think means something like "knowledge system". So, I don't think there is any point in arguing over things like the age of the earth or evolution.

    When I am in shule, and we are talking about the age of the universe, I hold it is about 5700 years. When I'm tutoring Earth Science, I say it's more like 14 billion. It is like two board games. You can play either game and do a good job of it, but you can only play one game at a time.

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