Monday, March 14, 2016

The Rav, Cosmology, and Evolution

Rav Yosef Dov Soloveitchik, also known as Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik or simply "the Rav," was one of the seminal rabbinic figures of the twentieth century. He also raises difficulties for Charedim (at least, those who are aware of him), since he was a Gadol B'Torah by any standard, and yet espoused many views that were at odds with Charedi norms. As a result, he has been expunged from charedi history. For example, in the recent book The Legacy of Maran Rav Aharon Kotler, a photograph of Rav Kotler sitting next to Rav Soloveitchik at a Chinuch Atzmai dinner has been carefully cropped to remove Rav Soloveitchik (even though Rav Soloveitchik was the guest of honor at the behest of Rav Aharon, who asked him to give the keynote address!). Apparently, the Legacy of Maran Rav Aharon Kotler is to be so frum that you distort Rav Aharon's own worldview.

The "problem" of Rav Soloveitchik is particularly acute for Rabbi Moshe Meiselman. He was a nephew and disciple of the Rav, but later moved very far to the right, even sitting on the dais of the notorious Satmar anti-Israel rally in Manhattan where they denounced Israel as an "evil regime." Rabbi Meiselman's solution is to simply convince himself that the Rav was entirely misunderstood and was in fact a true Charedi--and to attempt to convince others of this, asserting that he possesses an "insider's view." But as Professor Lawrence Kaplan points out in his famous article "Revisionism and the Rav," this is a grave distortion:
"First, R. Meiselman's "insider's view" is, at many points, clearly contradicted by the insider views of other distinguished members of the Rav's family who were also his close disciples... Second, and even more important, wherever it is possible to check R. Meiselman's claims against the Rav's writings, it turns out that those claims are clearly and explicitly contradicted by clear and explicit statements of the Rav."
Professor Kaplan documents R. Meiselman's revisionism in the context of the Rav's positions on the value of philosophy, the nature of Daas Torah, universalism, and Zionism. (You can read Prof. Kaplan's article at this link, and his response to Rabbi Meiselman's rejoinder at this link.) In this forum, I have been documenting R. Meiselman's revisionism with regard to the Rav's positions on Torah and science, in his book Torah, Chazal and Science.

For example, in my post "Metzitzah and the Rav," I noted that Rabbi Moshe Meiselman, claiming to be presenting the views of his rebbi Rav Soloveitchik, says that whenever Chazal make a statement about realia, and do not indicate that they are speaking tentatively, then they are correct, and to doubt them is genuine heresy. Rabbi Meiselman thus states, with regard to metzitzah (pp. 239-40), that "Chazal's assessment overrides that of modern medicine," because "Chazal understood the situation better than the physicians." He stresses that "we rely upon their judgment unswervingly, even if medical opinion says otherwise." Following from this, Rabbi Meiselman states that "the mohel must suction the wound in a traditionally prescribed manner," i.e. metzitzah b'peh.

However, as I noted in that post and in a follow-up post, there are several disciples and family members of Rav Soloveitchik who attest that at brisim which he attended, Rav Solovetichik did not only not require metzitzah b'peh, he actually actively opposed it, and did not even require metzitzah at all, whether orally or otherwise! Thus, Rabbi Meiselman demonstrates that his approach to Torah and science is fundamentally at odds with that of his alleged rebbe, Rav Soloveitchik.

In this post, I would like to discuss another instance of Rabbi Meiselman distorting the position of Rav Soloveitchik. Chapter 65 of Rabbi Meiselman's Torah, Chazal and Science is dedicated to discussing the views of Rav Soloveitchik on cosmology. R. Meiselman begins by noting that "Mori veRebbi, ztz"l, was unequivocally opposed to any accommodation, however minor, to the cosmological theories of the day... One of the more outrageous distortions you will find in contemporary Jewish literature is the suggestion that his philosophical writings are based on an evolutionary conception of man." As support for this very strong charge, he cites an address of Rav Soloveitchik as follows:
"We are still at loggerheads with modern science. There is no way to somehow, to try to eliminate that conflict or to try to reconcile it. There is no reconciliation and I will tell you quite frankly that I’m not worried and not concerned that there is no reconciliation, because science has absolutely no right to make a certain statement about briyah... Of course, science has no right to say anything because it is not a scientific problem."
At first glance, that statement certainly seems to back up R. Meiselman's claims. But if we look at the full quotation from this lecture by the Rav, which is relegated to an appendix in R. Meiselman's book (and still omits a crucial sentence, which I have inserted in bold), we see what Rav Soloveitchik is actually saying:
"The foundation on which our emunah rests is Briyat HaOlam... ex nihilo, yesh me’ayin. You see here we are at loggerheads… from antiquity, with Greek philosophy, Greek science. We are still at loggerheads with modern science. There is no way to somehow try to eliminate that conflict, or to try to reconcile it. There is no reconciliation and I will tell you quite frankly that I’m not worried and not concerned that there is no reconciliation. Because, science absolutely has no right to make a certain statement about briyah. We believe in creation ex nihilo, which means that there was nothing before, there was only HaKadosh Baruch Hu… We had a lot of trouble with Greek philosophy… We were confronted many times with those who try to deny briyah yesh me’ayin. We are in the same situation and the same condition nowadays. No matter, whatever, it’s completely irrelevant what theory of evolution science accepts – whether the big bang theory, or the instantaneous birth of the universe, or it is the slow piecemeal emergence of the universe, whether it is the emergent evolution or the instantaneous so-called birth of the universe. But science will always say, as far as matter is concerned, particles were always here. Of course, science has no right to say anything, because it is not a scientific problem. It is a metaphysical problem. And in my opinion, it is just as good as the opinion of Einstein about everything. But again we are still at loggerheads... We still have something which the goyishe world has not understood. Yesh me’ayin! Yesh me’ayin is our Jewish heritage... HaKadosh Baruch Hu created everything from nothing."
The Rav makes it absolutely clear that his objection is to those who deny creation ex nihilo. It is creation ex nihilo which Torah demands - but it is irrelevant how the universe developed after that. (Modern science does not in fact deny creation ex nihilo - it says nothing about what caused the Big Bang - but there certainly have been those, especially in the past, who denied creation ex nihilo.) It is this view which the Rav is placed at loggerheads with Torah, not anything to do with the subsequent development of the universe!

In fact, in a series of lectures on Genesis that is currently being edited for publication, the Rav explicitly states that one can interpret the six days as referring to long periods of time, or even as stages or sefiros:
"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." (Genesis Notes, Lecture XII)
Thus, it is simply false to claim that the Rav "was unequivocally opposed to any accommodation, however minor, to the cosmological theories of the day." He was perfectly open to accommodating the discoveries of science regarding the antiquity of the universe (in contrast to Rabbi Meiselman, who claims (p. 493) that it is forbidden to believe that the world is more than a few thousand years old, and further insists that there is no legitimate scientific evidence challenging the Biblical account of creation). Rav Soloveitchik is even open to reconciling the evolutionary development of the animal kingdom with Torah - he writes elsewhere that there is no difficulty regarding "divine creation and mechanistic evolution... We could find a solution of some kind to this controversy." It is only with regard to the issue of creation ex nihilo that the Rav saw any problem.

(It is true that Rav Soloveitchik did not believe that the development of the universe was entirely naturalistic - he did insist on ten points of creative intervention by God, following the Mishnah in Avos which speaks of ten utterances with which the world was created. Nevertheless, he most certainly did not object to this development taking place over billions of years. In these areas of modern science - precisely those that Rabbi Meiselman is declaring to be at loggerheads with Torah, and invoking the Rav as support - the Rav did not see science as being at loggerheads with Torah at all.)

What about with regard to human evolution? The Rav delivered lectures and wrote manuscripts on the topic, which were recently published as The Emergence of Ethical Man. Outside of Yeshivas Toras Moshe, everyone sees this book as demonstrating that the Rav saw no problem with the theory that man evolved from animals; his point of departure from secular evolutionists was in presenting man as having the ability to transcend his animal origins (just like, on an individual level, we transcend our origins as a tipah serucha).

In a lengthy footnote, Rabbi Meiselman claims that it is very problematic to take The Emergence of Ethical Man as being representative of Rav Soloveitchik's thought. R. Meiselman claims that it was wrong to publish these manuscriptsbecause they (allegedly) reflect the Rav's early thoughts and not his final thinking. He says that the Rav didn't mean these ideas for publication, that he subsequently changed his mind, that there are interpolations by other people, etc., etc. This is similar to the same line of argument that R. Meiselman uses for another text that conflicts with his worldview, the ma'amar of Rabbeinu Avraham ben HaRambam, and is indeed a time-honored tradition for those who are uncomfortable with rabbinic texts that are at odds with their own worldview.

Nevertheless, Rabbi Meiselman does not outrightly reject the entire book. He proceeds to quote from The Emergence of Ethical Man in order to prove that "Mori veRebbi totally rejected the conception of man implicit with evolution... a hairless anthropoid descended from animal ancestors could never be the bearer of the tzelem Elokim.... Mori veRebbi distinguished between the conception of man found in Torah thought, and to a certain extent in Greek and Christian thought, and the very different conception that emerges from modern empirico-scientific thinking." The quote that Rabbi Meiselman provides as evidence for this claim is as follows:
"What, in fact, is theoretically irreconcilable is the concept of man as the bearer of the Divine image with the equaling of man and animal-plant existences. In other words, the ontic autonomy of man or heteronomy of man is the problem. The Bible and Greek philosophical thought separated man from the flora and fauna; science brought him back to his organic co-beings." (The Emergence of Ethical Man, p. 5)
That certainly seems to back up R. Meiselman's claim that the Rav, siding with the Torah and Greek thought, "totally rejected" the notion that human bodies evolved from animals. However, once again, R. Meiselman has been selective in his citations - this time, absurdly so. For the Rav presents the above notion as being a widespread but mistaken belief, that he immediately proceeds to forcefully refute at length:
"However (emphasis added), I wish to emphasize that the widespread opinion that within the perspective of anthropological naturalism there is no place for the religious act, for the relatedness of man to eternity and infinity, is wrong. Perhaps more than man-as-a-divine-person, man-as-an-animal needs religious faith and commitment to a higher authority..."
The Rav proceeds to argue that that which he mentioned above as being presented as the "Torah position" (and which R. Meiselman presents as "the Torah position" of the Rav) is not in fact the Torah position at all!
"Our task now is to investigate the cogency of the almost dogmatic assertion that the Bible proclaimed the separateness of man from nature and his otherness. It is certain that the fathers of the Church and also the Jewish medieval scholars believed that the Bible preached this doctrine... Yet the consensus of many, however great and distinguished, does not prove the truth or the falseness of a particular belief... The sooner Biblical texts are placed in their proper setting—namely, the Oral Tradition with its almost endless religious awareness—the clearer and more certain I am that Judaism does not accent unreservedly the theory of man’s isolationism and separatism within the natural order of things... We come across a duel concept of man in the Bible. His element of transcendence was well-known to the Biblical Jew. Yet transcendence was always seen against the background of naturalness. The canvas was man’s immanence; transcendence was just projected on it as a display of colors. It was more a modifying than a basic attribute of man." 
The Rav continues in this vein at great length, vociferously rejecting the notion that Rabbi Meiselman quoted as representing the Rav's view. The Rav's subsequent resolution of this conflict with evolution is to explain that man is indeed a part of the animal kingdom, but with the power to ascend beyond it. Man’s unique identity as possessing the “image of God” does not refer to a metaphysical, other-worldly entity housed in his body, but rather to the application of his evolved intelligence. This is elaborated upon at great length, and with plentiful use of the word "ontic," in The Emergence of Ethical Man.

Rabbi Meiselman claims that it was wrong to publish the manuscripts of The Emergence of Ethical Man, because these manuscripts (allegedly) reflect his early thoughts and not his final thinking. But, in an astonishing demonstration of outright hypocrisy, he proceeds to quote part of it as presenting the Rav's view, while not revealing that this quote is actually just a hava amina that the Rav immediately proceeds to firmly reject! This is revisionism and intellectual dishonesty of the highest order.

Click here for an index to the critiques of Rabbi Meiselman's book Torah, Chazal and Science.

62 comments:

  1. "But science will always say, as far as matter is concerned, particles were always here." That shows that the Rav didn't really understand the big bang theory. *Everything*, including spacetime itself, appeared ex nihilo 13.8 billion years ago. "Before" the big bang isn't even defined. Here is a link to an entertaining and instructive video on the subject: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9B7Ix2VQEGo

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    1. To be fair to the Rav, when he was writing cosmologists didn't really understand that either. The understanding that it is possible to create a surplus of particles over antiparticles cosmologically was not understood until modern particle physics began to be applied to cosmology in the late 1970's and early 1980s (and in any event requires CP violation, first observed in 1964.) The pioneering work was done by Andrei Sakharov beginning in 1967 (yes, the Soviet physicist and later dissident) but it was just catching on when I was a grad student around 1980.

      Also, while the big bang is a singularity in General Relativity, the quantum gravity researchers have the hope of being able to both define and explore what was "before". Whether that hope is realized remains to be seen when someone develops the appropriate theory of quantum gravity, coupled with an understanding of the behavior of the other forces at those energies.

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  2. A few random notes:

    -It should be stressed that since Classical antiquity right through the beginning of the twentieth century, the accepted scientific view was that the universe had no starting point. Indeed, when Hubble first proposed the Big Bang Theory, he was mocked by his scientific contemporaries as a religious fanatic for suggesting that the universe came into existence at some point. (Indeed, the very name "Big Bang," which is rather inaccurate, was coined as part of this mockery.) This is what Judaism was arguing against for over 2,000 years (a whole book was once written that the biggest contribution of the Jews to the world was the idea that time moves in a line); this is what R' Soloveitchik is referring to; this is why the Catholic Church- which knew Classical writing quite well- accepted the Big Bang Theory almost immediately. It was only *after* it was scientifically accepted that religious fundamentalists, Jewish and Christian, began pushing back against it.

    Ironically, the Rambam himself, although obviously accepting creation ex nihilo, states that if push came to shove- that is, if the Greek idea was somehow proven scientifically- then Judaism could accommodate itself even to that. It should be a huge kal v'chomer that we can reconcile ourselves to the Big Bang.

    I suppose one lesson we should also learn from the Rambam, of course, is that we shouldn't attach too much religious meaning to *any* scientific (or religion-based scientific) theory. Just because we might accept Hubble or Darwin doesn't mean we should base our faith on them. After all, they may turn out to be wrong too. (Although in the case of the former, at least, we're getting actual physical evidence, thanks in no small part to the telescope appropriately named for him.)

    (Somewhat off topic, "tipa serucha" isn't exactly scientific either, as there's something called an egg cell that the ancients didn't always acknowledge, but certainly the concept holds true.)

    -On a historical tangent, the treatment of R' Soloveitchik vis a vis R' Aharon Kotler actually began immediately after R' Aharon's death. R' Solovetichik came to the funeral with a prepared eulogy in his pocket and was not permitted (whatever that means) to deliver it. He had to sit in the back the whole time. Even that was better than most got- the students took control of the funeral and wouldn't let anyone not "yeshivish" enough in. This is discussed in R' Rakeffet's "The Silver Era" and is mentioned in the movie about the Rav.

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  3. Dr. Miryam WahrmanMarch 14, 2016 at 1:34 PM

    Yashar koach. You may be interested in Whence and Wherefore by Rabbi Dr. Zev Zahavy z"l, my father, who was one of the earliest musmakhim of The Rav. My father was a highly respected rabbi, professor and cosmologist. His book on the topic may be available in libraries in Israel. Or, when you come back to NY/NJ let me know, and I'll get you a copy.

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  4. Dear Rabbi Slifkin, B"h I have not had to deal with such intellectual dishonesty on such a scale as you have. You may have been asked this before but one question that always bothers me is this: when somebody like Rabbi Meiselman a talmid chacham and an educated man behaves in this way, is it because 1) they actually believe what they are saying and that the opposing view is absolute kefirah, and The Rav couldn't possibly have meant it therefore his writings have to be reframed? 2) Or does he not truly hold these points of view but rather believes that this is the appropriate belief for the masses in order the their emunah is not affected? I wonder what others think? Many Thanks Mordechai Harris Manchester, Uk

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    1. > this is the appropriate belief for the masses in order the their emunah is not affected

      Maybe my chumash was redacted but the posuk "And thou shalt not think for thineself for thine leaders will tell you all you need to know" isnt in it.

      How many quotes from "1984" suddenly spring to mind...

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  5. Well this helps to prove that the Rav, zt"l, was as great as the Chareidi "Gedolim". Just like them he has people misquoting him, attributing ideas to him that he never said, claiming stuff in his name which goes against what he is on record as holding...

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    1. That is nothing new - when I was in YU back in the early 80s there were a lot of stories about people saying things in his name which he never said.

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  6. I find it positively hilarious that NO ONE can mention Rav Soloveitchik, zt"l, without adding that he "was known as 'the Rav'." It's particularly amusing when they continue referring to him as "Rav Soloveitchik" and not "the Rav" - so what was the point in introducing the moniker?

    Furthermore, he was NOT known as "the Rav." He was known as "the Rov." It's humorous to hear people speak of him - "The Rav this and the Rav that" - as if they knew him and spoke to him, which they clearly didn't if they can't bring themselves to say "the Rov."

    Much laughter this Chodesh Adar!

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    1. The reference is meant to emphasize how widely and greatly respected he was, even if you don't use it in your own subsequent writing.

      The way non-Israeli Ashkenazim pronounce a kamatz gadol can be easily represented in English by an "a" instead of an "o," and if you can choose one letter that also allows for its pronunciation by Sephardim and Israelis, why not use the "a" except for trying to make a point? The Twerskys do write "Rov," and that's their right, but "Rav" also allows a distinction from R' Chaim, who's also called "the Rov."

      For the record, the Ramban calls the Rambam "HaRav." R' Ovadia M'Bartenura is called "Rav," but with an Ayin. Others referred to as such are the Vilna Gaon, the Alter Rebbe (e.g., "Shulchan Aruch HaRav"), Rav Kook, and maybe R' Moshe Feinstein. In most cases, this is usually but not exclusively among their own followers.

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    2. Boston Boy - are you nitpicking on how to transliterate Hebrew into English? Some spell it Halacha, some spell it Halocho. Most students of the Rav spell it with an A. In fact, I've never seen anyone spell it with an O.

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  7. imho the publishing of all these manuscripts is a great gift to us and future generations. Interesting is the contention that "it was wrong to publish the manuscripts of The Emergence of Ethical Man, because these manuscripts (allegedly) reflect his early thoughts and not his final thinking. "One rarely sees such a contention about earlier generations unless there is a seeming contradiction in the material we have available - one would assume that sometimes it would occur that an earlier theory was published but a later conclusion was not (or if that rav had revisited the issue he would have changed his mind)-would this mean we can assume they would have agreed with our later thought on the issue?

    In any event the caveat I would add, especially with The Rav, is that one needs to think about the entire corpus of what we have (oy, if so many tapes hadn't been lost) rather than cherry picking statements (which may be done by right and left). I suppose it takes a super human effort, but we must try to avoid looking at The Rav and seeing a complete reflection of ourselves in his work.

    KT
    Joel Rich

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  8. I'm the last person to defend Meiselman, but I don't think he is entirely wrong in claiming to be a follower of Rav Soloveitchik. RJBS was a complex figure and thinker who can not be reduced to a blog post, but one of the things he did (again, not all the time and not in all his writings) was repackage one of the most extreme and paradoxical forms of Haredi ideology - "Brisk" - in a terminology and and an ambiance suitable for middle class Americans. One possible development of his thought is that of Meiselman (another, I would suggest, is reconstructionism). Obviously, in order to develop RJBS's thoughts in a particular direction you have to ignore or re-interpret some of the things he said. That's the case with any seminal thinker. Who's the real legitimate inheritor of the RJBS legacy? That depends on which parts of his thought you think are central and which parts you think are peripheral.

    I don't have much more to add except to say how thoroughly bored I am with the whole question of whether evolution is compatible with Judaism. It happened, it's happening, it's going to keep happening. If it's not compatible with Judaism, then it's Judaism that has the problem.

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    1. Gavriel M: You wrote something that I largely agree with (actually 2 things).

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    2. Re Gavriel M's second point (paragraph). It would really be nice to see fewer blog posts pointing out the actuality of evolution or it's acceptability to one authority or another and more on the gelling of evolution etc. with the Torah, e.g:
      - when does the historicity of the Torah begin;
      - how is the transition dealt with
      - something on the philosophical need for Torah at all given (what seems to me) a fairly reasonable materialistic explanation for all we see.
      Etc.

      R' Slifkin. I realise that some of this is what you have dealt with in tour book(s), but some has not been and it would be great to see someone explore these issues at length.

      Clearly this is your blog and you are at liberty to choose the topics posted on, but I do think that there is a lot of interest out there on these issues and little material available.

      Thanks

      Yoni

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    3. Could you clarify your comment regarding Reconstructionism, please????

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  9. Ralbag (Gersonides, 1288–1344) did not believe in creatio ex nihilo. He maintained that not even God could create something from nothing, and that He created the world out of some preexisting formless matter (see, for example, Columbia History of Western Philosophy, p. 203, and see a previous posting here, http://www.rationalistjudaism.com/2012/08/a-question-about-ralbags-reception.html). Ralbag's view was certainly an outlier in Jewish thought and may be unconvincing to many, but the fact that he held it at all is of at least historical interest.

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    1. It's not an outlier to the pshat in the pasuk, as pointed out by Chazal every now and then: Even before God says "Yehi Or," we are told that there was Shamayim (maybe), Aretz (perhaps metaphorically), Tohu and Vohu (whatever they are), Choshech, Tehom (whatever that is), the Ruach Elokim (of course), and "Mayim." We're also told that other things, like Torah, preexisted the universe.

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    2. And of course, there's the famous statement that God created the world out of the snow under the heavenly throne, and the way that is understood to mean the steady state theory, or at least the rudiments thereof.

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    3. Nachum, the 2nd verse in Genesis doesn't allude to some eternal primordial condition - just the condition at the start of the creation story. This verse and the subsequent ones can be taken as a partial elaboration of the 1st verse which is seen as a succinct summary of the creation process.

      Sabi, the Ralbag is bothered by a logical conundrum. How could something arise from its logical opposite, nothing? It appears to be a contradiction in terms, just as the proposition of a divine being willing 'himself' out of existence. However, there is an alternative resolution - that given by the Kabbalists. In that mode of thought, GOD transmuted some of His being, say energy, into physical matter and allowed a universe to evolve.

      Y. Aharon

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    4. That is certainly one way to read it. There are others, including but not limited to those the take into account what most people believed back then.

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    5. Nachum, the 2nd verse in Genesis doesn't allude to some eternal primordial condition - just the condition at the start of the creation story. This verse and the subsequent ones can be taken as a partial elaboration of the 1st verse which is seen as a succinct summary of the creation process.

      As Nachum says, you can read it that way, but the surface Peshat implies that there was an existing primordial "something" at the beginning of the story.

      there is an alternative resolution - that given by the Kabbalists. In that mode of thought, GOD transmuted some of His being, say energy, into physical matter and allowed a universe to evolve.

      I have a feeling that the Rambam would consider this solution to be worse than the problem. In fact, I think that if you introduced this idea to most people not familiar with Kabbalah, they would reject think that it was heresy from a non-Jewish source.

      I guess that is one reason why Kabbalah is not for the masses.

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    6. Kabbala is not for anyone.

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    7. David, I did not say that the 2nd verse doesn't allude to an existing primordial condition prior to the 'creation' of light, but an "eternal primordial condition". I certainly read the 2nd verse as alluding to the existence of "something" prior to light. How else could you read the verse which posits the existence of 'eretz' in a state of 'tohu vavohu', tehom, and mayim priot to 'vayehi ohr'? However, that state of affairs may not have been the 'original' condition of the earth/universe, but a later development - as per the Tiferes Yisroel.

      As to the idea of a transmutation of a godly entity into a physical entity, how else do you avoid the problem of a seemingly unbridgeable logical chasm between nothing and something (or not nothing). The suggested avenue involving energy for such a transmutation is not unreasonable - if also not provable. It seems reasonable to associate energy with the deity since it is the basis for all change. Photons are a manifestation of pure energy that can have particle products (photons of sufficient energy - gamma rays, will produce electron-positron pairs). I am not bothered by this idea having, apparently, first been broached by the Zohar. As the Rambam, himself, has stated that one should accept the truth from whatever source. My acceptance of some Kabbalistic theological idea is limited to this matter. I certainly don't accept the ideas of divine entities (sefirot) incorporated into a godhead or even the described alleged stepwise chain of existence.

      Y. Aharon

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    8. As to the idea of a transmutation of a godly entity into a physical entity, how else do you avoid the problem of a seemingly unbridgeable logical chasm between nothing and something (or not nothing).

      Y. Aharon: this is not a logical conundrum, but an empirical one. In fact "empty" space is constantly generating pairs of particles and anti-particles that live for short periods of time, IIUC. Our incapacity to envision how to get something from nothing comes from our experience, it is not a theorem of logic (which has not empirical content).

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    9. Sorry, David, the postulated evanescent or virtual particles in 'empty' space is not nothing. Besides, as I understand Einstein, there was no space (or some singularity in spacetime) at the start of the 'big bang'. My contention is that 'something' is merely a way of saying 'not nothing'. The logical conundrum is then how can 'nothing' become its logical opposite, 'not nothing'.

      Y. Aharon

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    10. Sorry, David, the postulated evanescent or virtual particles in 'empty' space is not nothing.

      They aren't postulated; they are there. But they come from "nothing". At least they would have very much confused the medievals. So there is no "logical" barrier to there being nothing and then something. It defies experience by not logic. Logic has no empirical content and so has nothing to say about this. As Bertrand Russell once said "Geometry throws no more light upon the nature of space than Arithmetic throws upon the population of the United States".

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    11. David, while the existence of 'pseudo' particles in 'empty space' is used to account for the attractive Casimir force between very flat plates very closely spaced (in addition to the more conventional Vanderwaal force), we were dealing with the start of the universe where space and time didn't exist or are not describable in physical theory. The state of affairs then is not something amenable to scientific probing or induction - as per RYBS view. Speculations by physicists and cosmologists are just that - speculations without the possibility of verification. Other than that, our differences are a matter of semantics - the connotation of the word 'nothing'. I mean it in an absolute sense while you allow for things like very short lived particles coming in and out of existence. In your conception did that particle 'dance' always exist. If so then it shares a key divine characteristic of eternal or necessary existence. The Rambam would likely greatly disapprove of such a contention.

      Y. Aharon

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    12. Y. Aharon, I think that you missed what I'm getting at. I'm not in any way asserting that anything at all always existed. I was saying something much simpler. You asserted that there was a logical problem with creation ex nihilo which is potentially solved by a kabbalistic idea of God using a par to himself, so to speak, to create the universe.

      I assert that creation ex nihilo involves no logical conundrum at all. Our experience (empiricism) tells us that something always comes from something, but this is not a logical necessity. I pointed out that before quantum theory, the notion of particles generating themselves out of empty space would have been considered logically impossible. In fact there are a lot of phenomena at the quantum level that would formerly be considered logically impossible.

      So it Kabbala as you describe it is right here, it is not right because it solves a problem in logic. There is no logical objection to creation ex nihilo.

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    13. David, I said a logical "conundrum" not a logical contradiction. To assume that 'something' can also be 'nothing' would be a contradiction. To assume that 'nothing' can become 'something' is not a contradiction, but poses a conundrum. It is equivalent to the question of whether or not GOD could create something whose state He could not change (the creating a rock that He can't 'lift' issue). If He could then such a creation would limit His omnipotence; if He couldn't, that would limit his creative power. The resolution is to posit that the proposition is meaningless since it requires the deity to create another deity in the sense of possessing permanence. A more graphic proposition would require the deity to create an equal or to 'terminate' His existence. Not-god (a creation) can't become GOD and vice-versa (GOD being defined as a necessary existence). Similarly 'nothing' in the absolute sense can't become its logical opposite 'not nothing' or 'something'.

      Y. Aharon

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  10. At a hesped for the Rav, the Bostoner Rebbe zt"l said that just as there are chilufei girsaos in the Rambam so too with Rav Soloveichik.

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  11. It should be noted that Penzias and Wilson's discovery of the cosmic microwave background radiation not only proved beyond any reasonable doubt the existence of a "big bang" but also provided an approximate time for the big bang: over 13 billion years ago. Penzias and Wilson would receive the Nobel Prize for their work.

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    1. CHarlie Hall- Why should that be noted? I often wonder if people who feel a need to post things like "proved beyond any reasonable doubt the existence of a 'big bang'" are writing them more to convince themselves than anyone else.

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    2. Anon - the people you refer to, like the one you commented upon, write their *opinions* in the terminology of *facts*, as a rhetorical device. It's a very common device among liberals (to proclaim their opinions as facts.) Some of them are so ignorant of other viewpoints that they don't even realize that their own opinions are just that, opinions. The lack of exposure to other ideas is rampant within the left, and one of the reasons for the poor state of political discourse today.

      [I'm speaking in general terms, and not concerning the beginning of time. I have no idea if there was a big bang, a small bang, or no bang at all. I wasn't there.]

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    3. DF: is that your opinion or a fact? It can be so hard to tell with all these rhetorical devices floating around.

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    4. DF: Do you understand that undermine your argument every time you bring politics into the discussion? I identify more with the right than the left, but that is not because people on the left are more ignorant. It is because I think that I have good evidence for certain notions that happen to be held by people whom we term "of the right". Your argument is ad hominem writ large.

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    5. Yoni2 - What I said is a fact, not an opinion. And yes, at times I also employ rhetorical devices.

      David Ohsie - you obviously didn't read what I wrote.

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    6. @DF I read what you wrote and you once again ascribe the worlds evils to your political opponents. Yoni2 is right; most of you wrote is unsupported opinion.

      Every group tries substitute their opinions for facts. It is those on the right that have problems with some forms of basic science and try to substitute their opinions for what we know to be true. Those on the left have their own delusions (about the laws of supply-and-demand, for example). Mercantilism seems to appeal to the fringes of both groups as evidence by the confluence of Sanders and Trump on trade.

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  12. "Modern science... says nothing about what caused the Big Bang"

    That's not actually correct (e.g. https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pre-Big_Bang_physics but just google "before the big bang for more). Probably better would be "... says nothing definitive about..."

    Actually modern science can't say anything definitive about anything in the very early universe post big bang either (https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chronology_of_the_universe). It is certainly far to early to have any serious conviction from a scientific perspective on the ex nihilo question.

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  13. Modern science does not in fact deny creation ex nihilo

    Some physicists think it does. Most notably there's Lawrence Krauss, who wrote a book a few years ago that stirred up a "tiny brouhaha."

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    1. I don't think that Lawrence Krauss quite denies creation ex nihilo. It would be nice to get an expert opinion on that, but it seems to me that he basically says that the universe arose from a quantum vacuum, whic is basically the same as ex nihilo.

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  14. I chuckle to myself when I read your rejoinders to what is obviously broken logic and intellectual dishonesty.
    However Rabbi Meiselman is a respected scholar, author and expositor of his brand of hashkafa. He is highly regarded as a great talmud chacham and is widely esteemed by thousands of his followers.
    So you and he are having a dispute about what the recently deceased Rav meant, said or didn't say. From what I see and have read, his writings and lectures are clearly not ambiguous and offer little room for interpretation. Yet Rabbi Meiselman insists that the Rav didn't say what he in fact he did say and what he did say, he didn't mean.
    The Rav passed away in 1993, less than a quarter of a century ago and was considered one the greatest gedolim of his generation. Yet you and Rabbi Meiselman vociferously reject each other's attestations regarding the Rav's positions on various philosophical, ethical and scientific topics.
    So please tell me ... if you can't agree on what this recently deceased Gadol's positions were, despite his clearly spelled out writings, why should I lend any credence to any of the disputations of tanaim, amoraim, rishonim, etc, etc. of long past generations. If you can't even decide what the Rav said or meant based on the evidence at hand, why should I believe the sages of the talmud and their heirs. Who really knows what they really said and meant when they created all these halachas?
    Do you really expect me to consider whether God mandates it a sin to carry my keys outdoors on Shabbos when you can't even decide if the Rav denounced Metzitzah B'peh?

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    1. I have no idea what on earth you are talking about. What does R. Meiselman's dishonesty have to do with the disputes of Tannaim? That's like saying that because there are people who accuse NASA of hoaxing the moon landing, we shouldn't give any credence to any astronomers!

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    2. If NASA had hoaxed the moon landings or if the people accusing it of doing so were among the world's elite astronomers then that may well be a logical conclusion.

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    3. N. Slifkin- Machlokes Lsheim Shomayim. Rav Meismelman will say your misrepresenting and he knows from conversations with the Rav etc. Stop with the self righteousness.

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    4. Anon Charedi - you can look up The Emergence of Ethical Man and see for yourself. What R. Meiselman quotes is the Hava Amina that the Rav immediately proceeds to firmly reject. It's black-and-white.

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    5. Anon Chareiedi... it's very post-modern of you to suggest that all texts are in the eye of the reader. do you apply the same approach to talmud study? #justasking

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    6. Rav Meismelman will say your misrepresenting and he knows from conversations with the Rav etc.

      Here argues here from the text, so he can be refuted with the text. There are a lot of places in the book where he inverts the meaning of a quoted text.

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    7. David-
      When are you posting the rest of your critique of R Meiselman?

      (I couldn't find your email address so I'm asking here.)

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    8. I did leave off a bit of the end of the R Avraham Ben HaRambam part, didn't I :). Unfortunately I need some time that I don't have and then a break in our generous host's posting schedule to come together.

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  15. "Here argues here from the text, so he can be refuted with the text. There are a lot of places in the book where he inverts the meaning of a quoted text."

    Don't you find it extremely disturbing that so many of your co-religionists either lack the capacity for critical thinking or deliberately engage in intellectual dishonesty to justify their hashkafa ?

    What does say about the direction of Orthodoxy?

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    1. I have long said that cynicism is a form of naivete. I'm not concerned about coreligionists who argue in bad faith because the human race as a whole argues in bad faith. "The first thing a man will do for his ideal is lie".

      Yet the world goes, people are fed, and I have the leisure to sit on this computer and post comments on RJ threads. So, no, I'm not disturbed at all about that. I'll leave that for the naive cynics who thought that they were promised a rose garden.

      There are people who have real problems: disease, famine, war, death, etc. They have a right to be happy, sad, cynical or whatever helps them through the day. If I was to be disturbed about anything, it's that there are human-caused atrocities going on every day and natural ones that we can probably do something about, yet we go along posting to RJ and ignore them. But this also relates back to the limitations of the human mind. Unfortunately, very few of us have the capacity to spend their days saving the world.

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  16. Rabbi Slifkin:

    I find your objection quite puzzling. If Rav Soloveichik claimed that his dispute with modern science was a result of 'Brias Yesh MeiAyin' he certainly was referring to that idea in context of the explanation of Nefesh HaChaim, who explains that creation ex nihilo is constant and ongoing, a concept that forces us to see the physical creation from a different perspective, one that is being created anew constantly. From that perspective, the very nature of physical reality is understood differently, and hence, our divergent views on any theory relating to the creation of this world.

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    1. @Afrumrrabbi: you have lots of assumptions packed in there. But riddle me this: How does the fact that "creation ex nihilo is constant and ongoing" tell you whether the universe is 6000 or 14 billion years old?

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    2. Interesting argument Rabbi, but the doctrine of the Almighty's ongoing involvement in the world, including the process of creation, appears to be a majority opinion that predates and is independent of the Nefesh ha Chaim. Morover, this doctrine dominates in Christianity and Islam, non-Orthodox Judaism and some modern "fusion philosophies" (e.g., Franz Rosenzweig). There is, really, no logical alternative to this position if one rejects Deism.

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  17. David Ohsie: that is precisely my point - from the Torah's perspective, the physical creation is merely one small aspect of Breishis, and is merely part of a much deeper picture. The Torah's account is not contradicted by the view of science, because science is defining only the physical aspect, while the Torah refers to the essence.

    Temujin: I have read your comment three times, but cannot really figure out what you want. Of course, Nefesh HaCbaim did not initiate that view. My point was merely that Rav Soloveichik undoubtedly refers to Yesh Mei Ayin from that perspective, which would render moot Rabbi Slifkin's own differentiation of before and after creation.

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    1. Apologies for being unclear, Rabbi. You may take comfort in that this man is way behind you, for after reading your initial and latter posts on this over a dozen times, one is still unsure about the source for your certainty in your assertion that Rav Soloveitchik must have understood yesh mei ayin "in context of the explanation of Nefesh HaChaim"...i.e., not as the plain meaning would have it, ex nihilo, out of nothingness. And even if so, why Rabbi Slifkin's traditional and still-acceptable interpretation would be rendered moot. Ah, and one sees that Mr Aharon asks a similar question, so perhaps two birds with one stone...

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    2. Nefesh HaChaim is a classic exanatiom of fundamental Jewish belief, which has been accepted as authoritative by all those who followed the path of the Vilna Gaon. He is a revered ancestor of Rav Soloveichik, who took great pride in following that tradition. It is inconceivable that he would veer from that path on such a basic issue, which is fundamental to an understanding of the entire Sefer, without an explicit statment that he was doing so.

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    3. As far as Rav Slifkin's explanation being irrelevant - this is because the physical reality, as perceived by modern man and defined by science - is not the same as that defined by Maaseh Breishis, which is ongoing. In other words: a basic principle of Jewish belief is that only G-d and His Word are of eternal and lasting substance, while the physical existence that we humans sense is temporal and ephemeral. This is the first principle of the Rambam, elaborated upon in Hilchos Yeosdei HaTorah, where he states clearly that all other principles are founded and predicated upon this idea (Yesodei HaTorah 1:6). The evolution that Rabbi Slifkin promotes relates only the physical earth and its corporeal inhabitants, so it is not relevant to Maaseh Breishis, which is G-d's eternal Word.

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    4. Thank you for your reply. Perhaps so, but also conceivable that Rav Soloveitchik's views might not be easily or with great certainty triangulated, given that he was a great admirer of the Tanya as well.

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    5. David Ohsie: that is precisely my point - from the Torah's perspective, the physical creation is merely one small aspect of Breishis, and is merely part of a much deeper picture. The Torah's account is not contradicted by the view of science, because science is defining only the physical aspect, while the Torah refers to the essence.

      That is a nice thesis, but R. Meiselman rejects that approach in the book. You are basically agreeing with R. Slifkin (not saying he agrees with your thesis, but by positing that thesis you are rejecting R. Meiselman's approach in the same way).

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  18. afrumrabbi, I don't know why you believe that RYBS was referring to some continuing creation 'ex nihilo' - a radical interpretation of GOD sustaining and renewing His creation daily. That is certainly not the classical view of the world's continuation which regards ex nihilo as a one time event. What does a continuing creation from 'nothing' even mean? Is it postulating that everything is continually being totally destroyed before recreation? Even the dead are not 'nothing'. Why totally destroy someone only to bring him back as a corpse. If it means that there is always something totally new being formed where is it? Or are you referring to the physical theory that even 'empty space' contains a world of very short lived particles coming in and out of existence? That is a relatively new theory that the Nefesh Hachaim would not have known, and I don't believe that RYBS was privy to prior to his debilitating illness.

    Y. Aharon

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