Monday, July 27, 2015

About That Four-Legged Snake

A number of people have written to me about the new discovery of a fossil snake that had four legs. It seems that many people are under the impression that this is of theological significance. It isn't, and I'd like to explain why.

An article at the Arutz-7 website opens with this breathless announcement:
Scientists have long scoffed at the Torah account of how the serpent in the Garden of Eden walked upright before being cursed, but a newly found 113-million-year-old fossil proves that snakes indeed once had four legs.
In fact, the author is mistaken. Scientists have never scoffed at the idea that snakes once had legs. It has long been accepted that snakes used to have legs. The new fossil just affects some relatively minor aspects of snake evolution.

What scientists have long scoffed at is the notion that snakes had legs 5775 years ago, walked upright, and were as intelligent as human beings. The discovery of a 113-million year old fossil with tiny legs has no bearing on that.

Scientists are not the only ones to dispute a literal reading of Genesis. It should be noted that Rambam, Ralbag, and Seforno all understood the account of the primeval serpent not to be referring to a reptile. Instead, they understood it to be a metaphor for the evil inclination. If you'd like to learn more about this approach, I recommend my book The Challenge Of Creation!

Speaking of snakes, I find it fascinating that while there is long-standing and widespread loathing of snakes, the snakes at The Biblical Museum of Natural History are by far the most popular live exhibits!

(See too this post at "Truth And Peace")

52 comments:

  1. They enthusiastically adopt the parts of the story that confirm their literalist dogma (four-legged snake!), but they want us to ignore the part that contradicts it (113 million years). It's called cherry-picking, and Shafran's article used the same tactic.
    An objective view of natural history utterly refutes the notion of rabbinic infallibility. No surprise, then, that those whose world-view depends on that notion find it necessary to refute natural history, while simultaneously using it as proof.

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  2. If the snake was a metaphor for the evil inclination, why should he have war only with women?

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    1. He influences the men through the women, as we often see. :-)

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  3. An alternative to the notion that the incidents in the garden of Eden were allegories is the idea that a special place and experience were created for Adam and Eve. They saw and interacted with a talking and seemingly intelligent lizard (nachash) who was created for the event, just as the voice of Bilaam's talking donkey was so created. The allegorical part is the stated connection between the specially created lizard and ordinary snakes. That connection is intended to serve as a continuing reminder of the original trespass.

    Y. Aharon

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    1. The problem is that while Chazal tell us that פי האתון was created on Erev Shabbos Bein HaShmashos, they don't say that פי הנחש was created as well! Clearly, they viewed the two events as being totally different.

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    2. The problem is that while Chazal tell us that פי האתון was created on Erev Shabbos Bein HaShmashos, they don't say that פי הנחש was created as well! Clearly, they viewed the two events as being totally different.

      The Nachash could have not be created Bein HaShmashos, because the episode happened on the sixth day of creation by the Midrashic narrative. So that distinction doesn't prove anything.

      An alternative to the notion that the incidents in the garden of Eden were allegories is the idea that a special place and experience were created for Adam and Eve. They saw and interacted with a talking and seemingly intelligent lizard (nachash) who was created for the event, just as the voice of Bilaam's talking donkey was so created.

      The problem here is that you would then expect Chavah to respond "Holy cow! A
      talking snake!".

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    3. Moshe, I'm not required to accept that aggadic statement of the sages in Avot at face value. It appears to be an attempt to consider such extraordinary events as natural phenomena whose possibility was established in the creation 'week'. It doesn't appear to fit well into the conventional idea of miraculous events that are outside of natural law. Nor do I accept the statement that (metallic) tongs were created then. It is not so difficult to envisage how the first such tongs were made by men, say, by using water soaked wooden tongs to handle the molten metal. This is in addition to David's observation about the nachash incident occurring before that bein hashemashot. As to Eve's treating the talking lizard as 'normal', that just reinforces the idea that the first couple were then truly innocent. The only animals that they encountered were the peaceful ones in the garden. They had no idea of anything outside the garden, i.e., the 'normal' behavior of animals.

      Y. Aharon

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  4. One point to ponder: The one bad snake lost its legs. But the other contemporary snakes, who did not speak to Eve, kept their legs. One of those "good" snakes was just found fossilized, with legs. Correct?
    Now why did only the "bad" snake, the one without legs, multiply, and all the "good" snakes, those with legs, became extinct?

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  5. Dear Rabbi Slifkin,

    The problem is the stories in Genesis have parallels to ancient near east mythology, including a divine garden, tree of life, serpent myths.... And are those ancient near east myths also just allegory/lessons/metaphors ? Probably not, nor was Genesis likely understood as metaphor by the ancient Israelites. It was the 'science' of the times which is why there are similarities to other ancient near east stories, including the non existent firmament. And I am not sure Rambam reads Genesis as all metaphor. Chapter L the moreh discusses Udum as being the first man created ... Yet there probably was no single first Human Being created.

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    1. I would be interested in ancient NE mythologies with a similar story to the one of Adam and Eve, do you have any link/source ?
      Of course the fact that you find similar stories could be used to prove the opposite of what you say: if Adam and Eve existed, why would the Jews be the only ones to remember them ? So that's natural to find other similar stories.

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    2. Except, you cannot actually cite those parallels ever. Yes, they exist. But until you actually know what they are and what they aren't, you cannot just randomly bash a bunch of different ideas from different sources separated by thousands of years and then state a bold conclusion. You need to do actual original research to be a skeptic.

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    3. Alter Cocker, in my book The Challenge of Creation I present a slightly different view from Rambam's which takes your points into account.

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    4. The problem is the stories in Genesis have parallels to ancient near east mythology, including a divine garden, tree of life, serpent myths.... And are those ancient near east myths also just allegory/lessons/metaphors ? Probably not, nor was Genesis likely understood as metaphor by the ancient Israelites.

      This assumption seems unlikely. Why do you think that only modern cultures can recognize creation myths, but ancient societies could not? Did all members of ancient societies really believe that the earth is literally supported by a giant turtle? I doubt it.

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    5. @Jonathan Try Ancient Near Eastern Texts Relating to the Old Testament with Supplement by James B. Pritchard.
      The Babylonian creation epic Enuma Elis - is in striking correspondences in both details and order of the events with Genesis 1 Also see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Genesis_creation_narrative.

      There was no one first Human being. Its false mythology invented by non scientific ancient humans.

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    6. @ Elon Weintraub "You need to do actual original research to be a skeptic." I disagree. We must be skeptical unless the evidence is overwhelming for belief in supernaturals. As far as comparative religion, ANE myths, comparative laws and rituals, etc: the research has been already been done.

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    7. @Natan Slifkin Thank you for the comment. Are you saying you don't follow Rabam on this issue ? This is the problem known as cherry picking. Select a sage comment here, another sage there etc: etc: weave them all together to achieve an apriori opinion: The Torah is true. Is that intellectually honest ? In addition, every word becomes subject to interpretation and reinterpretation ad infinitum meaning to say the Torah is useless since it can mean just about anything.

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    8. @ David Some ancient societies most likely beleived their creation myths were true. Incorporating them into their religion, rituals, temples. Even more recently some abroginal peoples believe in their mythologies.
      "Why do you think that only modern cultures can recognize creation myths, but ancient societies could not?"
      We have a big advantage called SCIENCE, that tell us there are no Gods in heaven giving us rain in it's due season (sound familiar) , that all those ancient creation stories are false mythology. Moreover, in 6 normal days G-d creates the Universe (Ramban) and on the 7th rests. This provides justification for Shabbas. Does not at all suggest Genesis as metaphor.

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    9. @David Ohsie "Cultures generally regard their creation myths as true.[4][5] In the society in which it is told, a creation myth is usually regarded as conveying profound truths, metaphorically, symbolically and sometimes in a historical or literal sense.[6][7]" See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Creation_myth

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    10. "Why do you think that only modern cultures can recognize creation myths, but ancient societies could not?"
      We have a big advantage called SCIENCE, that tell us there are no Gods in heaven giving us rain in it's due season (sound familiar). , that all those ancient creation stories are false mythology.


      We are not smarter than the ancients, we only have the advantage of greater accumulated knowledge. I find it unlikely that metaphors and euphemisms for ignorance could not be recognized as such.

      Moreover, in 6 normal days G-d creates the Universe (Ramban) and on the 7th rests. This provides justification for Shabbas. Does not at all suggest Genesis as metaphor.

      He also manages, as the Rambam does, to interpret the 4 "elements" into Genesis. To make it work they have to interpret Choshech to be fire.

      Besides, your argument depends on the notion that we should not interpret allegorically because no-one at the time would have done so. Bringing examples of literal interpretation doesn't prove your point.

      @David Ohsie "Cultures generally regard their creation myths as true.[4][5] In the society in which it is told, a creation myth is usually regarded as conveying profound truths, metaphorically, symbolically and sometimes in a historical or literal sense.[6][7]" See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Creation_myth

      Not that wikipedia is authoritative, but that is exactly what I said!

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    11. (Kudos and a special thank you to Rav Slifkin for publishing my comments and allowing me to respond to comments.)
      David Ohsie It is almost self evident Genesis 1 is not meant to be metaphor. Details about order of creation etc: etc: Schroeder even writes a book treating Genesis as a science textbook . Ramban says 6 real days. G-d resting on 7th day provides the basis of Shabbas. The Gemorah has discussions about a person called Udum. Rambam says there was a first human created called Udum. But science informs us so much is wrong about Genesis 1 and 2. Hence a need for apologetics. Is there any evidence in all the Tenach that Genesis was metaphor ? What about the Talmud ? So, David Ohsie - you seem to be motivated to claim Genesis 1 or 2 is metaphor. Why is that ? Is it because you also think Genesis is not consistent with Science ? Why would the Torah write a story even a metaphor that is so misleading ? Should not a divine story be consistent with reality ? Is it fair that so many sages and Jews have been duped thinking Genesis was not allegory ?

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    12. (Kudos and a special thank you to Rav Slifkin for publishing my comments and allowing me to respond to comments.)
      David Ohsie It is almost self evident Genesis 1 is not meant to be metaphor. Details about order of creation etc: etc: Schroeder even writes a book treating Genesis as a science textbook . Ramban says 6 real days. G-d resting on 7th day provides the basis of Shabbas. The Gemorah has discussions about a person called Udum. Rambam says there was a first human created called Udum. But science informs us so much is wrong about Genesis 1 and 2. Hence a need for apologetics. Is there any evidence in all the Tenach that Genesis was metaphor ? What about the Talmud ? So, David Ohsie - you seem to be motivated to claim Genesis 1 or 2 is metaphor. Why is that ? Is it because you also think Genesis is not consistent with Science ? Why would the Torah write a story even a metaphor that is so misleading ? Should not a divine story be consistent with reality ? Is it fair that so many sages and Jews have been duped thinking Genesis was not allegory ?

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    13. Alter cocker, you are making a fundamental mistake which is the source of you calling the bible inaccurate
      You are looking at the bible as a book that was made up because there is no such thing as god
      besides the argument that an authentic monotheism is the only threat to agnostic theism in specific and agnostic's and atheist's in general
      since we believe that the bible is truth and we believe that science is a truth or an educated guess's (especially when it comes to archeology and evaluation of culture)
      THEREFOR we try to figure out how the torah DOES fit with nature.
      for any contradiction you (or anyone for that matter) see between nature and torah
      our answer is "you didn't understand one of them"

      Binyamin

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    14. @Binyamin Anonymous Not to beat a dead snake !
      “You are looking at the bible as a book that was made up because there is no such thing as god...”
      I make no such assumption. I read the Torah, science, archaeology, history, comparative religion and rituals.... etc: and ask myself does evidence support the notion that the Torah is divine. I may have presented some reasons here explaining why I question the divinity of the Torah.
      “...since we believe that the bible is truth and we believe that science is a truth ...any contradiction...see[n] between nature and torah our answer is "you didn't understand one of them" “
      Exactly. Orthodoxy has an apriori assumption the Torah is divine. Given that assumption it must be made to fit with facts by hook or crook. As an objective searcher for truth I can not make such an assumption. I also find the reconciliations non convincing, not intellectually satisfying, and highly suspect. I may have given some reasons here.

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    15. Alter cocker
      You forgot this statement
      "besides the argument that an authentic monotheism is the only threat to agnostic theism in specific and agnostic's and atheist's in general"
      You better make sure you are right or else ... you will have a lot of explaining to do .. when it is to late
      You better be rely rely rely sure
      I think it would be fair to say your life depends on it

      Binyamin

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    16. Binyamin -
      I would hope that you can conceive of a G-d big enough that He would not be slighted by a person who is otherwise a fine individual but just can't bring himself to believe. I for one would have a hard time worshipping a G-d Who would do otherwise.

      ACJA -
      You are correct is saying that science has presented unique and difficult challenges to those who believe in the divinity of the Torah. However, your arguements adressed to Rabbi Slifkin are somewhat strawman in nature. Rabbi Slifkin - and I apologize if I am misrepresenting - does not argue that Genesis was intended as allegory - in particular not for those who received it. He also does not argue that it describes a scientific process (as do Schroeder and Aviezer). If you want to understand and debate his arguement, you probably should read his position first. It is in his book Challenge of Creation.
      Aryeh

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  6. Or there's the approach of the Kaballa in which the snake was just the mount for the Satan who did all the bad stuff.

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    1. It; a midrash and cited by Maimonides in the Guide 2:30.

      Lawrence Kaplan

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  7. The reference is Guide 3:50.

    Lawrence Kaplan

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  8. The Torah was written 3327 years ago. It was written in the language of man. Man 3327 years ago in comparison was on the primitive side. That is to say, sometimes we may need to wear '3327 year old primitive man's tinted glasses' to read it.
    The Torah does not cover all of creation, e.g. it does not mention God created water, the biggest substance on earth.
    The Torah is not in chronological order, there are some obvious examples, but we can't be too sure of the not so obvious.
    There are verses in the Torah that are not meant to be taken literally, some obvious, e.g. an eye for an eye, and again, we can't be too sure of the not so obvious.
    There are many halachos stated in the Torah that do not pertain to our present day, there are some obvious examples, e.g. the bring of sacrifices, and again, we can't be too sure of the not so obvious.
    There are verses in the Torah that are only meant to be understood allegorically, some obvious, and yet again, we can't be too sure of the not so obvious.
    Only through a rational learning approach, can we distinguish between the 'obvious' from the 'not so obvious'.
    All this to be considered in the understanding of the Torah.
    In consideration, the presumptions of our four-legged snake, therefore should be very obvious.
    o

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    1. > it does not mention God created water, the biggest substance on earth.

      Add one English word, and you get, "In the beginning of God creating the Heavens and the Earth, the Earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters." And then God molded that pre-existing material into the world we know.

      > There are verses in the Torah that are not meant to be taken literally, some obvious, e.g. an eye for an eye

      The same law shows up in other contemporaneous law codes, and almost certainly was meant literally.

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    2. "There are verses in the Torah that are not meant to be taken literally, some obvious, e.g. an eye for an eye, and again, we can't be too sure of the not so obvious."

      Actually a eye for a eye is not pretty obvious and its not a good example. A eye for a eye in ancient civilizations literally meant what it says. If it wasnt for the oral tradition we would definitely mistranslate it literally.

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    3. G*3
      "The same law shows up in other contemporaneous law codes, and almost certainly was meant literally."

      M
      "Actually a eye for a eye is not pretty obvious and its not a good example. A eye for a eye in ancient civilizations literally meant what it says. If it wasnt for the oral tradition we would definitely mistranslate it literally."

      What you say may very well be true, but fortunately we are living in the 21st century where more sensible reasoning prevail.
      From a more rational view point that revenge is an undesirable attribute and not a quality that one would assume would be of the Torah's teachings, makes it more obvious and probable that 'an eye for an eye' is to be understood, to give something, typically money, in recognition of loss, and suffering for injury incurred. The injured party is (to some degree, if you wish) compensated.
      If on the other hand the accused instead would have to suffer the loss of their own eye, not only does the victim remain with the loss of their eye but is neither recompensed. The end result, = observing the Torah would teach b'nai Yisroel to become a vengeful people. Making 'an eye for an eye' not to be taken literally, very obvious.

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    4. G*3
      "Add one English word, and you get, "In the beginning....."

      The Torah itself states "do not add nor subtract", By doing so, one could have the Torah say, or not say anything they want.
      There are a myriad of substances not stated in the Torah that God had created. If we could, we would than have to add a myriad of words, if that were the case.
      o

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    5. M said, "If it wasnt for the oral tradition we would definitely mistranslate it literally."
      I found a Karaite website (believe it or not--http://www.karaiteinsights.com/article/eye-for-an-eye.html) that says even for textual reasons of the Torah, we shouldn't interpret "eye for an eye" literally--so that's even without resorting to an Oral Tradition.

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    6. > ...Making 'an eye for an eye' not to be taken literally, very obvious.


      The Torah is often vengeful. Leaving that aside. the fact is that the Torah is from a time and place when "an eye for an eye" was common practice, and the original adherents of the Torah would have applied it literally.

      > The Torah itself states "do not add nor subtract",

      You misunderstand. I'm not adding a word, just translating a slightly ambiguous Hebrew phrase a bit differently than it is typically translated.

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    7. Isaac: Rashi accomplishes the same by interpreting "Barah" as a noun.

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    8. Isaac: Rashi accomplishes the same by interpreting "Barah" as a noun.

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    9. David Ohsie: First, Where does rashi mention this?
      And does not barah mean 'created'?
      And, he accomplishes the same as what?
      o

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    10. G*3
      An eye for an eye, etc. Shemos 21: 24-25, Now look in Shemos 21:26-27, here the Torah is giving many examples of different compensations in addition to the logical and rational understandings one may derive through their own intellect.
      If there were those who derived from an eye for an eye the law of retaliation, rather than the law of compensations, they therefore had gravely errored.

      G*3
      "You misunderstand. I'm not adding a word, just translating a slightly ambiguous Hebrew phrase a bit differently than it is typically translated."

      Yes, you are absolutely correct, I did not and still do not understand what you mean to say, sorry for that. But the main issue is, no matter how you were to interpret the Torah, without spin, in its literal translation does not state that God had created water.
      o

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    11. > An eye for an eye, etc. Shemos 21: 24-25, Now look in Shemos 21:26-27, here the Torah is giving many examples of different compensations

      Which explains how the reinterpretation of ayin tachas ayin was justified.

      > If there were those who derived from an eye for an eye the law of retaliation, rather than the law of compensations, they therefore had gravely errored.

      They didn't derive the law from the Torah, exactly. The law existed as such in that time and place, and the pasuk is confirming it as binding. Later, when lex talonis fell out of use, ayin tachas ayin was reinterpreted to mean compensation.

      > Yes, you are absolutely correct, I did not and still do not understand what you mean to say

      Sorry. What I mean to say is that the Torah can be read to imply that God didn't create heaven, earth, and water, or at least didn't create them as part of creating the world that we know.

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    12. Isaac: Second Rashi on the first pasuk in the Torah. According to him the plain meaning of Barah is the noun "creation". Of course Rashi does believe that the water was created, but the plain meaning doesn't exactly say that. You can find it here.

      In the beginning of God’s creation of: Heb. בְּרֵאשִית בָּרָא. This verse calls for a midrashic interpretation [because according to its simple interpretation, the vowelization of the word בָּרָא, should be different, as Rashi explains further]. It teaches us that the sequence of the Creation as written is impossible, as is written immediately below] as our Rabbis stated (Letters of R. Akiva , letter “beth” ; Gen. Rabbah 1:6; Lev. Rabbah 36:4): [God created the world] for the sake of the Torah, which is called (Prov. 8:22): “the beginning of His way,” and for the sake of Israel, who are called (Jer. 2:3) “the first of His grain.” But if you wish to explain it according to its simple meaning, explain it thus: “At the beginning of the creation of heaven and earth, the earth was astonishing with emptiness, and darkness…and God said, ‘Let there be light.’”

      Even if you say that the word means "In the Beginning" the plain meaning is that the first pasuk is prefatory, the second describes the conditions at the start of the story and God first action is to create light in the third pasuk. This should not surprise you since the plain meaning of the pesukim has God expression emotions like regret and jealousy, and even admitting of the existence of other "gods" who the children of Israel are warned not to stray after. The Rambam talks about that fact that the plain meaning of many pesukim could lead you astray from traditional Judaism.

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    13. Isaac: Second Rashi on the first pasuk in the Torah. According to him the plain meaning of Barah is the noun "creation". Of course Rashi does believe that the water was created, but the plain meaning doesn't exactly say that. You can find it here.

      In the beginning of God’s creation of: Heb. בְּרֵאשִית בָּרָא. This verse calls for a midrashic interpretation [because according to its simple interpretation, the vowelization of the word בָּרָא, should be different, as Rashi explains further]. It teaches us that the sequence of the Creation as written is impossible, as is written immediately below] as our Rabbis stated (Letters of R. Akiva , letter “beth” ; Gen. Rabbah 1:6; Lev. Rabbah 36:4): [God created the world] for the sake of the Torah, which is called (Prov. 8:22): “the beginning of His way,” and for the sake of Israel, who are called (Jer. 2:3) “the first of His grain.” But if you wish to explain it according to its simple meaning, explain it thus: “At the beginning of the creation of heaven and earth, the earth was astonishing with emptiness, and darkness…and God said, ‘Let there be light.’”

      Even if you say that the word means "In the Beginning" the plain meaning is that the first pasuk is prefatory, the second describes the conditions at the start of the story and God first action is to create light in the third pasuk. This should not surprise you since the plain meaning of the pesukim has God expression emotions like regret and jealousy, and even admitting of the existence of other "gods" who the children of Israel are warned not to stray after. The Rambam talks about that fact that the plain meaning of many pesukim could lead you astray from traditional Judaism.

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    14. David Ohsie: "The Rambam talks about that fact that the plain meaning of many pesukim could lead you astray from traditional Judaism."

      I am very touched by your concern of my faith in God and His Torah. But mine is not to adhere to rashi's or anyone's opinions, and not so much to the plain meaning as you wrongly assume, but more to the literal words of the Torah. I am sure God had His reasons as to why the creation of water was not mentioned in His Torah. Perhaps to show that the Torah is not a history book nor a science manual, and when a phenomenon is uncovered that is not mentioned in the Torah, we can see "neither is water mentioned, the biggest substance on Earth."

      In the Rambam's days I'm sure traditional Judaism meant a whole lot different than what it means today. It all depends on whom you ask, some would say it means burning down churches, stabbing gays at a gay pride parade, and burning Palestinian babies. For others it would mean cursing zionists and spitting on 8 year old girls on their way to school. Whatever Torahs the people committing these acts are learning, no matter who's opinion they are from, are definitely not from God's Torah.
      o

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    15. David Ohsie: "The Rambam talks about that fact that the plain meaning of many pesukim could lead you astray from traditional Judaism."

      I am very touched by your concern of my faith in God and His Torah. But mine is not to adhere to rashi's or anyone's opinions, and not so much to the plain meaning as you wrongly assume, but more to the literal words of the Torah. I am sure God had His reasons as to why the creation of water was not mentioned in His Torah. Perhaps to show that the Torah is not a history book nor a science manual, and when a phenomenon is uncovered that is not mentioned in the Torah, we can see "neither is the creation of water mentioned, the biggest substance on Earth."

      In the Rambam's days I'm sure traditional Judaism meant a whole lot different than what it means today. It all depends on whom you ask, some would say it means burning down churches, stabbing gays at a gay pride parade, and burning Palestinian babies. For others it would mean cursing zionists and spitting on 8 year old girls on their way to school. Whatever Torahs the people committing these acts are learning, no matter who's opinion they are from, are definitely not from God's Torah.
      o

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    16. G*3
      "Which explains how the reinterpretation of ayin tachas ayin was justified."
      vs.
      "They didn't derive the law from the Torah, exactly. The law existed as such in that time and place, and the pasuk is confirming it as binding. Later, when lex talonis fell out of use, ayin tachas ayin was reinterpreted to mean compensation."
      Are these two statements not seem to contradict each other???
      As for the latter. Interesting, from where do you know this from? Would not Moshe explained to the Jewish people when he wrote the Torah that an eye for an eye is to mean the law of compensations, rather than the law of retaliation.
      What would lead you to believe Moshe would overlook this important teaching or worse yet teach it to mean as you put it, as the teaching of lex talionis. If you are assuming this because of what the rest of society practiced in those days, it is strongly disputed by the examples given by the Torah itself, (Shemos 21:26-27,) of different compensations, directly following the verse of an eye for an eye, as you seem here to acknowledge.

      G*3 "Sorry. What I mean to say is that the Torah can be read to imply that God didn't create heaven, earth, and water, or at least didn't create them as part of creating the world that we know."

      It seems you had misunderstood me. In no way was I implying that because the Torah does not state that God created water, that I believe He didn't. The point I am making with this particular example is plain and simple, "not all aspects of creation that God had created is stated in the Torah."
      o

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    17. I agree with David's comment about the 'proper' translation of the first verse in Genesis. Rashi gives an interpretation of 'bara' - not a translation (I, therefore, strongly object to the Artscroll translation - it's almost as bad as the JPS). The word is clearly a verb in the past tense - not a participle. Rashi had a problem with understanding the creation sequence: light, sky, etc. with the presumed implication of the 1st verse that the ostensible creation of heaven preceded that of light. He therefore interpreted the 1st verse as not teaching about creation order. The Ramban, instead, treats the 1st verse as a general statement. According to the Ramban and other classic commentators, there is no need to reinterpret 'bara' from its normal grammatical sense.

      The issue of a non-literal interpretation of an 'eye for an eye' formalism that is found in various verses has its basis in the torah. Ex. 21: 18,19 deals with a fight causing an injury to the victim. It stipulates payment for the injury. This is in contrast to the nearby verses 21:24,25 which invoke, "eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, and foot for foot. Burn for burn, wound for wound, and bruise for bruise." The implication of first verses is that the causer of the injury isn't made to suffer the same injury as his victim, and that monetary payment is sufficient. A bit further, Ex. 21:29, it addresses the issue of a known goring ox whose owner has been warned but did not guard his animal. The ox gores and kills someone, then the ox is stoned and the owner 'killed'. The very next verse, however, says, if ransom is laid upon the owner then he must pay whatever is demanded. Is he killed, or does he pay ransom. It appears that the court may have discretionary power in the matter, presumably dependent on the degree of the owners culpability. In any case there is biblical precedent for not taking the 'eye for an eye' formula literally.

      That is my prescription for understanding the torah even in its evident sense. That evident sense is valid provided that it is consistent with the context and is not directly contradicted by what we know of reality.

      Y. Aharon

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    18. With spin, many many interpretations can be derived from all words. Barah, can be interpreted to mean, He created water, this, that and all the other stuff, is my spin on the word. But its all opinions and assumptions, and everyone has their own. It is the -literal-, the surface translation, if you will, that everyone must acknowledge and can not deny that is stated in the Torah and of which I am making reference to in my comment.
      o

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    19. The phrase, "An eye for an eye" predatez matan Torah. It was in the Code of Hammurabi and was written and understood literally.

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    20. EML:
      You are just quoting code 196 of the Codes of Hammurabi, which states "If a man put out the eye of another man, his eye shall be put out."
      But when seeing codes 198 and 199, the rule becomes not so cut and dry.
      198. If he put out the eye of a freed man, or break the bone of a freed man, he shall pay one gold mina.
      199. If he put out the eye of a man's slave, or break the bone of a man's slave, he shall pay one-half of its value.

      For an explanation you can see http://www.ushistory.org/civ/4c.asp, Link to, 4c. Hammurabi's Code: An Eye for an Eye

      Which states: "The phrase "an eye for an eye" represents what many people view as a harsh sense of justice based on revenge. But, the entire code is much more complex than that one phrase. The code distinguishes among punishments for wealthy or noble persons, lower-class persons or commoners, and slaves."

      And: "Hammurabi's own words illustrate this point: "If a man has destroyed the eye of a man of the gentleman class, they shall destroy his eye .... If he has destroyed the eye of a commoner ... he shall pay one mina of silver. If he has destroyed the eye of a gentleman's slave ... he shall pay half the slave's price." The Babylonians clearly did not live under a social system that treated all people equally."

      The question here is, does the Torah distinguish between the classes as did Hammurabi?

      Shemos 21:26 does state , "if a man strikes the eye of his slave..., he shall set him free as compensation for the eye." Whereas nothing is mentioned about the non-slave. Is this preferential treatment for slave owners, or is this a kal vachomer, "as in, being that the Torah rules a slave shall be compensated, how much more so shall one who is not a slave be compensated." ?
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  9. For some reason clicking Reply is not working so I'm writing a new comment instead. This is actually a reply to Y. Aharon and David Ohsie re their responses to my comment that Chazal obviously did not see the mouth of Bilaams ass and the mouth of the snake in the same way.

    First, David, I did not write that if Chazal viewed them the same then they would have included the mouth of the snake in those things created Bein HaShmashos. That's obviously ridiculous as you point out. I wrote that they would have said that it was created. As far as I know, they don't. So, they must have viewed the two differently.

    Y. Aharon, of course you are not required to accept the aggadic approach of Chazal. However, you are required to accept that Chazal viewed the mouth of the ass and the mouth of the snake differently since they relate the the former and not to the latter.

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  10. There's a lecture on YUTorah entitled "A Snake Cannot Talk, But A Donkey Can?"
    http://www.yutorah.org/lectures/lecture.cfm/725468#
    as well as a treatment by Rabbi Josh Waxman on his parshablog:
    http://parsha.blogspot.co.il/2011/07/talking-snake-vs-talking-donkey.html

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  11. First, David, I did not write that if Chazal viewed them the same then they would have included the mouth of the snake in those things created Bein HaShmashos. That's obviously ridiculous as you point out. I wrote that they would have said that it was created.

    But there was lots of stuff created before that Bein Hashmashos. I think that the idea of Chazal is that in the final closing chapter of the creation, God created a few extra special things that would only useful later on. After that, no more creation.

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