Wednesday, May 2, 2018

The Skeleton In My Closet

I have a skeleton in my closet. I've been keeping this secret from many, many people. And I think that my reasons are absolutely justifiable. But in light of some protests taking place both nationally and internationally against a colleague in a similar situation, I've decided to come out and explain why I've been keeping it in my closet.

There are currently protests raging against The Natural History Museum in Jerusalem, because they were found to be covering over the human evolution exhibit when they receive ultra-Orthodox school groups. People are standing outside the museum with placards. Prominent American biologist Jerry Coyne has issued a public letter, writing as "an evolutionary biologist of Jewish ancestry," slamming the museum for censorship and lying by omission. And the director of Be Free Israel, a non-profit which aims to promote religious pluralism in Israel, has condemned the museum as for engaging in "self-censorship that seeks to tell its visitors half-truths and complete lies.”

You don't have to agree with me, but in my view, the evolution of all animal life, including humans, is an adequately proven scientific fact. And I don't see it as presenting any kind of conflict with the Bible. As Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch wrote in the 19th century, when evolution had just been proposed as an explanation of life's development, the truth of it would demonstrate God's "creative wisdom" in forming animal life not by separate acts of creation, but via a profound system of natural law. I even published a book about reconciling evolution and the Bible, which was promptly banned by three dozen of the top ultra-Orthodox rabbis, who called for it to be burned. You don't have to convince me to be passionate about getting people to accept evolution!


And yet, in my own museum, The Biblical Museum of Natural History in Beit Shemesh, we do not have any exhibits about evolution. We don't have any skeletons of dinosaurs. We do have the skeleton of a 100,000 year old cave-bear, a wonderful donation to the museum, but the sign merely states that it is an extinct species from the Pleistocene, which most people probably think is a type of clay.


Why don't we say anything about evolution or prehistoric animal life? In part, it's because that's simply not part of our museum's mission; our museum is about the animal world of Biblical Israel. But another reason is that it would severely damage our educational mission.

We want to teach as much as possible about the natural world to as many people as possible. And Israel is home to an extraordinarily diverse range of people, not to mention the tourists that visit. There are Jews and Christians and Moslems and Hindus and people who are not attached to any faith. All of them visit our museum. And within the Jewish people, there are secular Jews, modern Orthodox Jews (who generally accept modern science), and ultra-Orthodox Jews.

The latter group itself in turn contains many diverse communities - Lithuanians, Chabad, Gerrer, Belz, and so on. Many of them are completely insulated from the outside world. They've never watched television. They've never even been to visit the zoo, because the zoo is open on Shabbat. They're certainly not going to visit a museum that has exhibits about evolution.

Does it make sense not to create institutions that these communities will ever visit, and to continue to deprive them of knowledge about the natural world? Or does it make sense to have a variety of institutions available for the general public - some that teach the full range of modern scientific knowledge, and others with a mission that is more limited, but which will reach all communities?

The ultra-Orthodox schools that visit our museum are among our most valued visitors. The impact that we make upon them is extraordinary. I recall seeing one visitor, an adult, standing in front of our lion exhibit, marveling at it. "It's amazing!" he said to me. "Yes, it is," I agreed. I was completely  unprepared for his next question: "What is it?"

What is it? It's a lion, for goodness' sakes! One of the most instantly recognizable animals in the world! But not if you've never been on safari, never been to a zoo, never watched a wildlife documentary, and barely ever read any books or literature outside of rabbinic scholarship.

It's incredibly rewarding to watch our ultra-Orthodox visitors marvel as they hold a live chameleon for the first time, as they gasp at the skull of the Biblical behemoth (a hippopotamus), as they learn about the differences between herbivorous and carnivorous mammals. Wouldn't it be a terrible tragedy to deprive all these children of this experience, out of a stubborn desire to teach a lot more than people are willing to learn?

I have a skeleton in my closet. It's the skeleton of an archaeopteryx, a prehistoric dinosaur-bird. And I plan to keep it there.


Dear Reader,
There are just 12 hours remaining of our Quadruple Matching Campaign to help us acquire a new home for the museum. Please donate now, and be a part of this amazing project! And please share it with others! Thank you!

https://www.causematch.com/en/projects/newmuseumhome/
 

48 comments:

  1. Agreed thoroughly. Despite one's rock solid belief in something, other people - who are just as smart, and just as passionate, as the other - may have an entirely opposite opinion. To recognize that takes an intellectual maturity that many of us never reach. Kudos to you and the museum for having the good sense to know its limitations. And shame on those protesters, who are merely this week's reminder that the left is just as intolerant if not more than any on the right.

    (One point: Your seem to be drawing a lot of conclusions about Charedim based upon isolated interactions with children. Even assuming your reports are accurate [Bc you are sharing your impressions, not actual interviews] these are obviously extreme cases and unrepresentative. I have plenty of charedi family in the heart of Bnei Brak and elsewhere, all very ordinary people in their communities, and I assure you, the kids know quite well what a video is, what a lion is, etc.

    ReplyDelete
  2. "I have a skeleton in my closet"
    I have clouds in my coffee

    ReplyDelete
  3. I tried donating with two different cards but it tells me "error in transaction".

    ReplyDelete
  4. The lion story, as well as the one about the boy waving to you in the video, is pretty remarkable. I never really realized the extent of the isolation.

    ReplyDelete
  5. One other thing you might consider keeping in your closet is your ridicule of the way many Chareidim pronounce a cholem ("choilem").

    Or better yet, might be good to clean out your closet, from this and any other elements of sinas chinam that have become mixed in with the valid points that you have made.

    Andy

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. What are you on about? When has Rabbi (Doctor, Lord, Gaon) Slifkin ever done that?

      Are you projecting?

      Delete
    2. http://www.rationalistjudaism.com/2017/06/when-snails-attack-gedoylei-toyrah.html

      But the truth is, I'd like to retract my comment. It was inappropriate, given that:

      a. R' Slifkin has not repeated this mistake since then (as far as I know);

      b. his post above was about helping Chareidim, so I should not have brought up an instance of distancing them;

      c. my own ahavas yisroel is far from perfect.

      My apologies,

      Andy

      Delete
  6. The story about the Chareidi man not recognizing a lion does not make sense. There must have been a misunderstanding somewhere. While this fellow may never have seen a documentary about lions or seen them in the zoo, he has certain seen drawings and pictures of them! Every Chareidi child has seen drawings of lions in relation to Noah and the ark, non Kosher animals, the mishnah that instructs us to be strong like a lion, Yehudah who is compared to a lion, etc. etc. Parshah sheets, children's chumashim, Shul walls and paroches' all show images of lions. The visitor may not have immediately identified the stuffed animal (he probably hasn't seen one before, and that may have been his question), but he certainly knows what a lion looks like! Many Chareidim definitely lack knowledge about the natural world, but let's not exaggerate it too much!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes it was weird. And the guy didn't even seem so charedi.
      But there are lots more stories, some of which are even more extreme. For example, in our shofar exhibit, we have shofars from lots of different species, with two-inch plastic figurines of each animal next to its shofars. Frequently, the charedi kids ask if the two-inch toys are real animals.

      Delete
    2. Quite, there are even lions on the title page of every vilna gemara, albeit somewhat sad looking ones

      Delete
  7. About your skeleton: are you sure it isn't a Compsognathus,

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It looks like a Slifkinosaurus rex to me...
      But then what do I know?

      Delete
  8. I live in Beith Shemesh now. It seems the only way anyone communicates the ultra-charedi community is through the posters on all the walls. What about a poster campaign I propose 3 posters.

    1. A picture of someone doing Kiruv and asking everyone to make that person's job easier, since if Charedi behave badly people will turn away from Judaism (I am BT and call tell you I knew nothing about this kind of stuff when I was exploring Judaism but can imagine not wanting to if I knew then what I know now).

    2. A picture of a lamp shade or soap from the holocaust made from a Jew. Reminding the charedi that is what Nazi means not a soldier walking home to their mother or a police officer doing their job. I would also have a poster with real victims of concentration camps wearing their uniforms compared to the well-fed kids who wear those uniforms and asking what the first group would think of the second.

    3. Pictures of religious Israeli soldiers and quotes from them how they learn Torah, are shomer shabbas all while in the army.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You can't do kiruv with lies. The lampshades story is a myth. The Nazis did not make soap or lampshades out of Jews.

      Delete
    2. You can't do kiruv with lies.

      I think you mean shouldn't. Have you seen the stuff Aish publishes?

      Delete
    3. "The lampshades story is a myth"
      although i don't know how well documented the story of jews being made into lampshades is, there is definitely a well documented story of the wife of a senior nazi commander having a lampshade (and other commodities) made from the skin of russian POWs. she chose the russian POWs based on how she liked their tattoos, so perhaps jews were spared this indignity, as very few jews sported tattoos.

      Delete
    4. BaltJew,
      based on your suggestions numbered 2 and 3, you seem to be very unaware of why some (tiny) streams within the charedi world refer to police/soldiers as nazis. this is not the forum, but if you care to find out, feel free to contact me at amcha613@gmail.com
      sincerely,
      a fellow resident of bet shemesh

      Delete
    5. Zichron Devorim, I think you are confusing "lampshades and soap" with "the *mass production* of lampshades and soap."

      Delete
    6. Anonymous at 1.50
      Do you mean that it is justified to call the Israeli police 'Nazis'under certain circumstances?
      If I have correctly understood you, then please leave Israel and go elsewhere.
      If I misunderstood then perhaps you could take a second to make it clear to all that wasn't your intention.

      Delete
    7. Fozziebear,
      in my post above i didn't take a stand on whether or not it is ever justified to call police/soldiers nazis, i merely noted that based on his suggestions, BaltJew seems unaware of why some people do so. once he understands the worldview and specific history that led to certain people adapting such terminology, he can decide for himself whether or not he thinks it's justified.

      Delete
    8. I'm a little concerned that you didn't just take the opportunity offered to make clear your stance (hopefully not one that condones such atrocious behavior).
      Wouldn't it have been easy just to say "of course it's disgusting..."

      Delete
    9. My point in all this is to communicate directly with the Charedi public that I keep hearing is the silent majority.
      Jewish Guilt has been a tool of every Jewish mother for the last 3500 years, it seems to be very effective and we should use it. I don't have the money or Hebrew knowledge to do it myself.
      1. I don't care what their reason is, they are wrong. The reason is obvious control over their population, to keep them from leaving the plantation. My wife's grandmother, of blessed memory, was in the death march from Auschwitz. When my time comes I will ask her opinion and if she its OK for these people to call cops Nazi's I will change my mind, until then asking me if these "Rabbi's" are disgusting or not is like me asking if the Earth is flat.
      2. In the book "Tales out of Shul" the rabbi (who is in Atlanta) talks about having a funereal for a bar of soap that was made from Jews. He only allowed Holocaust survivors to be there. So if I was wrong about the lamp shade change it to the bar of soap. Same point.

      Delete
    10. "I don't care what their reason is" etc.
      essentially you are saying that because of your strong emotional reaction to the holocaust (i get it, the holocaust is indeed an emotional subject) you choose to suppress all intellectual curiosity. that is common and understandable, but not wise. in general you should never argue against something until you understand it first. if you happen to find that once you understand something your emotional response to it changes, so be it. that's how a rational person behaves.
      regarding your point about the teenagers who yell "nazi" wanting to keep control over "their population" i am wondering which population they control, and how they maintain that control by yelling "nazi" at police or soldiers.
      also, how did you come to that conclusion? did you sit down with one of these teenagers and discuss it with him? is that what he told you? if you didn't, was it because your emotions regarding this issue are so strong, that you couldn't have a rational conversation?

      Delete
    11. Anonymous,

      In other words you want to convince BaltJew (and others), that just perhaps there is a good reason for calling Israeli police officers or soldiers 'nazis'.
      But you want to do it quiet and offline. And you want to create the impression that a reasonable rational person might be able to understand why you think they are Nazis.
      My initial reaction is to tell you to go to hell and take all who think like you with you.
      It's also my second reaction.

      Delete
    12. "And you want to create the impression that a reasonable rational person might be able to understand why you think they are Nazis"
      i am an IDF officer, and i don't think that i or my colleagues are nazis. none the less i was mature enough to realize that if others who's sincerity, yirat shamayim, and ahavat yisroel was at least on the same level as mine, thought that there was something that i had in common with nazis, i thought that i ought to find out why. so i sat down with such people and they explained their point of view, which i found eminently reasonable.
      i recommend to BaltJew that he do the same thing, since it appears from his original posting that this issue pains him, and he is truly at a loss when trying to understand where it comes from.
      if you, Fozziebear, decide to let go of your anger and broaden your horizons, so that you can understand people and ideas that are outside of your immediate experience, you might want to consider doing something similar.

      Delete
    13. Sometimes you have to realize that even adults can believe all sorts of stupid things.
      Your friends can be as sincere as they want but they are also way way way out of line.
      It as got nothing to do with maturity. It's to do with making moral choices rather than a rather sweet but ultimately invalid 'everyone is entitled to their opinions'. They aren't always. This is one example of that.

      Delete
    14. And if I was to make a suggestion to BaltJew, it would be to humbly submit he visited Holocaust survivors and was solicitous and a good listener to them. That's how you find out what the Nazis were like.
      Not by listening to some idiot in a streimel whine like a baby because he can't face up to his responsibilities to society.

      Delete
  9. "Why don't we say anything about evolution or prehistoric animal life? But another reason is that it would severely damage our educational mission"..
    Please.
    I'll just say what everyone is thinking.. It's because Charedim ( surely those who are blissfully unaware of who you are and what you represent) form a signifacnt portion of your visitors. And entrance fees. Let's not pretend you are as charitable to the Charedim, money wise as you are in giving them "a piece of your mind".

    Where's the brave trailblazer gone? What's happened to the fearless maverick revolutionist? Why can't we hear his usual courageous posturing in dedicated search of truth?

    Rabbi Natan sir, why don't we call a spade a spade. It's not so easy to have courage of one's convictions when one's "bottom line is at stake.
    Oh, and we don't believe your lion fable either.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Danny, you are showing yourself to be a hate-filled and ill-informed fool.
      Rabbi Slifkin has maintained this line for years - way before the museum. Read the introductions to his books and you will see he has long advocated a standard of education that is appropriate to the audience. He has been consistent as to his unwillingness to forcibly confront harem with scientific knowledge where he deems it inappropriate.

      Your comment reeked of spite.
      'Everyone' is not thinking what you are thinking.

      Delete
    2. Danny, No. The way for RDNS to make money is to *keep* other places treif so they have to come to his kosher place....
      You might argue (but I won't agree) that RDNS's response was misguided, but it certainly was honest and sincere.

      Delete
  10. My thoughts exactly. Thanks for saving me the time. (Although lately I haven't bothered - whats the point?)

    ReplyDelete
  11. I get your point. Funny I should read this today because on Shabbos I was meditating on the Law of Entropy vis a vis Evolution and was thinking that if we accept that all ordered systems naturally tend to revert back to a state of disorder, this suggests that the reason that the universe doesn't fall apart is because something is investing energy to keep it together. On the other hand evolution appears to be a process where systems left to themselves naturally become more complex over time. So we can conclude that evolution is false because it contradicts this basic law of Thermodynamics, or we can conclude that an entity is investing energy to move it forward. The latter is compatible with Torah, so what is the problem?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. @ Eric good kasha, Here is what some experts write
      http://altercockerjewishatheist.blogspot.com/2015/12/proof-of-god-from-thermodynamics.html and see http://altercockerjewishatheist.blogspot.com/2013/08/proof-of-god-through-design.html IN THE VERY long run many experts do think we are headed for heat death and een without the second law everything will rip apart due to dark energy. Dont worry, it will be billions of years from now.

      Delete
    2. @ Eric good kasha, Here is what some experts write
      http://altercockerjewishatheist.blogspot.com/2015/12/proof-of-god-from-thermodynamics.html and see http://altercockerjewishatheist.blogspot.com/2013/08/proof-of-god-through-design.html IN THE VERY long run many experts do think we are headed for heat death and een without the second law everything will rip apart due to dark energy. Dont worry, it will be billions of years from now.

      Delete
    3. you may be correct, but that would undermine the "purpose" of evolution. as such, an evolutionist would counter that the the second law of thermodynamics only requires that the entropy of the entire system increases, not that it increase in every part of the system. therefore evolution can capture energy from the overall system and lead to ever greater complexity (or organisation, which is probably a better term) within a subsystem, while overall the total universe is decreasing it's organisation and increasing it's entropy. in other words the average of all chemical reactions in the universe tends toward disorder, but any given subgroup of reactants may increase their order, and as long as they have a mechanism to capture that increased order, they can hold on to it.

      Delete
  12. On the day one of those kids wakes up and realises the lies chareidi society taught him, will he view your actions as acceptable or part of the lie
    Either way, there is a betrayal of trust in you and your museum to him
    Suddenly everything you have said is called into question.
    Better to be 100% honest from day one

    (I was one such kid)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Nu, staying mum on a controversial issue isn't lying...

      Delete
    2. wake up it's not all lies you know.

      Delete
    3. But once some of it is revealed as lies, how can you now know the truth?
      Everyone you betrayed that trust

      Delete
    4. Can you be more specific? Did you accept evolution and reject Orthodoxy? Would you like R Slifkin's museum to help others also do that?

      Delete
  13. you know, that Archaeopteryx skeleton alone would pay for your new building.....

    ReplyDelete
  14. Why can't you have an exhibit featuring quotes from Netziv in Noach etc and other reputable Charedi sources that don't disapprove of dinosaurs?

    ReplyDelete
  15. FYI, in Herzog's panel on Evolution, they mentioned you with regard to the question of censoring for Haredi audiences https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o6lNo7sB4PM

    ReplyDelete

Comments for this blog are moderated. Please see this post about the comments policy for details. ANONYMOUS COMMENTS WILL NOT BE POSTED - please use either your real name or a pseudonym.

Missiles, Measles, and Missives

At this time, the Jewish People are being bombarded with three very different, yet perhaps related, things. Hundreds of missiles have been f...