Saturday, November 30, 2019

Why I Didn't Listen To The Gedolim

In my article about Rav Chaim Malinowitz z"l, I mentioned that he had explained to me why I was not obligated to obey the Gedolim that banned my books. A number of people asked me what he told me. Here is my official statement from fourteen years ago, taken from www.zootorah.com/controversy, about why I did not follow the ban; it is based on what I was told by Rav Malinowitz as well as others.

Why I am not following the ban

Some people have raised the question that, regardless of who is right or wrong in the central issues of Torah and science, the books must be withdrawn. The reason is that since leading rabbinical figures have banned the books, they must be obeyed even if one believes them to be mistaken. A verse cited as a basis for this is, "Do not stray right or left from all that they tell you" (Deut. 17:11) upon which Rashi cites the Midrash, "Even if they tell you that right is left and left is right, you must listen." I would like to explain why I am not doing so.

First of all, contrary to popular belief, there is no halachic obligation whatsoever for me to obey the distinguished rabbis that banned my works. The above mentioned verse is referring to the Beis Din HaGadol, a body of rabbinic authority that is no longer in existence. Nowadays, Judaism only obligates a person to follow his own rabbinic authority (in a case where he cannot determine the correct course of action himself). Furthermore, one is not obligated to follow other rabbis even if they are in the majority. The Chazon Ish points out that one need not follow the majority of rabbinic opinion, past or present, in determining a ruling. Only with the Sanhedrin was the ruling determined by majority vote. My own rabbinic authorities, who are certainly of adequate stature to render their own decisions in these matters, have ruled that my books are perfectly acceptable.

(It is sometimes pointed out that the Sefer HaChinnuch extends the above verse to include not just the Sanhedrin, but also the leading rabbinic authorities of every generation. In response to this, it should first be noted that the Sefer HaChinnuch is a minority view in this regard and is not binding. Second, even within the Sefer HaChinnuch's view, there are various criteria required that are not fulfilled in this case.)

Still, even though I am not obligated to follow any rabbinic authorities other than my own, it nevertheless is appropriate to take the opinions of others very seriously. In light of the extremely great stature of the Talmudists and Halachists opposing my works, one may wonder why I am not playing it safe and withdrawing my books. The answer is that I believe that in this particular case, my own rabbinic mentors have several significant qualitative advantages.

One: My own rabbinic authorities possess greater expertise in science.

It is easy to dismiss views as heretical if one does not appreciate the reasons why they are being presented. History has proven that unfortunately sometimes even great rabbinic authorities have rejected views that turned out to be scientifically proven. For example, Rabbi Yaakov Rischer (1670-1733), author of the Shevus Yaakov and one of the greatest halachic authorities of his era, rejected science due to its position that the world is round, which, he claimed, ran contrary to the Talmud's position that the world is flat. This clearly demonstrates that knowledge of science is important in determining which beliefs are acceptable.

Two: My own rabbinic authorities possess particular expertise in Torah scholarship on these issues.

The field of Torah and science is relatively obscure. The teachings of Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch, and even Rambam, are not widely known, even by great Talmudists and halachists. For example, few people are aware that Rambam held the view that the six days of creation were not actually time-periods. Another example is that it is widely believed that the position that the Sages were not infallible in science was the solitary view of Rabbeinu Avraham ben HaRambam. I know for a fact that some of the signatories to the ban were under the impression that there is not even a single authentic source to this effect. My own rabbinic mentors have a particular interest in these topics and therefore possess particular expertise in this esoteric area. They are, for example, aware of numerous Torah authorities of previous eras who subscribed to these views.

Three: My own rabbinic authorities are much more familiar with my books.

In evaluating a book, it is important to be familiar with it in its entirety, not just with a few extracts. For example, many people are under the impression that my book Mysterious Creatures (since republished in an expanded edition under the title Sacred Monsters) sets out to show that Chazal were mistaken about science, whereas in fact the majority of the book explains why in many cases there is no conflict. The introductions place the books in context, explaining what they are for and why they were written. The impression gotten from seeing the most extreme extracts of the books cannot be compared to that received from reading the books in their entirety. (Of course, those who believe that is is genuinely heretical to state that the Sages erred in science would not have this opinion changed even if they read the entire book. However, many of those who opposed my works did not subscribe to this extreme view.)

Four: My own rabbinic authorities are more familiar with my target audience

My rabbinic authorities, rather than being from the insular sections of the yeshivah world, have dealt for many years with people who have been grappling with these issues. (Rabbi Moshe Shapiro was quoted as saying that in his experience, these questions rarely arise; the experience of my rabbinic mentors is vastly different.) They are more aware of which sort of people are reading my books, of the necessity of my books for these sorts of people, and of how the style of my books and their tone is uniquely suited to this audience.

Five: My own rabbinic authorities know me as a person

Knowing the people involved in engineering the ban and approaching the signatories, there is little doubt that they did not describe me in glowing or even objective terms. The signatories probably saw me as someone out to destroy Torah under the guise of explaining it. Had they met me, I believe that they would not have been so quick to condemn me. (One of the signatories, Rav Moshe Shapiro, does indeed know me personally, but he is not typical of the signatories.) I further believe that this is one of the reasons why the zealots who engineered the ban were so determined to prevent me from meeting with any of the signatories.

Six: My own rabbinic authorities discussed the issues with me

My rabbis discussed whatever reservations they had with me, until everything was ironed out. The signatories of the ban did not meet with either me or my rabbinic mentors and were not able to discuss their concerns, which, in some cases, I may have been able to allay. The Minchas Chinnuch, commenting on the Sefer HaChinnuch's unusual view that the consensus of rabbinic authorities of each generation must be followed whether right or wrong, notes that this is only the case if the rabbinic authorities actually discussed the issue with each other; failing that, one can never know if the minority might have actually been able to convince the others of the correctness of their position.

For example, I know that one of the signatories told several people that the particular issue which made him sign was my statement that "it is only Rabbi Akiva's statement about salamanders that is problematic." He felt that this was terribly disrespectful to Rabbi Akiva, implying that he is not a significant authority. Had he met with me, I would have explained that he misunderstood my intent. The chapter began with three challenging statements; I successfully resolved two of them, and then concluded that there was only one difficulty left. The word "only" was referring to the number of remaining difficulties, not the stature of the authority. (I subsequently sent word of this to him - he refused to meet with me - and his response was that if he misunderstood it in this way, then other people are also likely to misunderstand it. My response is that if such is indeed the case, which seems unlikely, then it calls for a clarification, not a condemnation.)

Seven: My own rabbinic authorities follow a different school of thought

There have long been two distinct streams of thought within Jewish philosophy, commonly termed the rationalistic and the mystic. The rabbis who condemned my works are aligned with the latter, whereas my rabbinic mentors are aligned with the former.

For example, Rabbi Moshe Sternbuch wrote that those who seek to explain phenomena in terms of mechanical natural processes and to minimize the miraculous do so in order to minimize the greatness of God. Rambam, on the other hand, wrote that "we shall endeavor to integrate the Torah with rational thought, leading events according to the natural order wherever possible." Rabbi Sternbuch apparently follows those who criticized Rambam's approach, whereas my rabbinic mentors follow Rambam.


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Thursday, November 28, 2019

Serious Opportunities Available!

The construction of the new home of the Biblical Museum of Natural History is nearly complete! I'm pleased to announce that we have numerous unique naming opportunities available. Some have already been taken, but there are still plenty left!

We've put together a beautiful book which explains the mission, history and future of the museum, along with a detailed plan of the new building, and a description of the various naming opportunities that are available. For those that are seriously interested, we can mail a printed copy. Meanwhile, you can download it as a PDF on this page: https://www.biblicalnaturalhistory.org/new-home. Please share it with whoever might be interested in these opportunities!

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

The Impact of Rav Malinowitz

In ten years of writing on this website, I've never seen anything like the feedback that I received after my post about Rav Chaim Malinowitz z"l. The praise for my post that came in - not just online, but especially in private emails - was astonishing. Sure, there were also two people who complained - one that I was too critical, one that I was too complimentary. But the story of the role that Rav Malinowitz played in my life clearly touched people at a very deep level. Why?

Looking at the feedback I received, there seem to be three elements. One is that many residents of Beit Shemesh, who had only been aware of Rav Malinowitz through his political involvement, greatly appreciated hearing about a different side of him. It was a lesson in how people are complicated and we often have little idea as to what people are really about.

More significant, I think, is my account of how Rav Malinowitz believed that even views that one disagrees with should nevertheless not necessarily be banned from public discourse. Something can be objectionable to you, even theologically objectionable, but that doesn't necessarily make it beyond the pale. Note that I am using the word "necessarily" - of course there are things that are indeed beyond the parameters of acceptable Jewish theology. But in a world where people are seeking to draw these lines ever more narrowly, it was deeply inspiring for people to hear about a charedi Rav who sought to maintain the broad parameters that were traditionally accepted.

Finally, I think that what made the biggest impact was my account of how Rav Malinowitz was willing to stand up for me even at great personal cost. We hear lots of stories about the great Torah knowledge of various rabbis, and also stories of great acts of kindness. But stories about integrity - sticking firm to one's principles even at the cost of arousing the opposition of powerful people in one's own community - are apparently thinner on the ground.

May Rav Malinowitz's legacy be an inspiration to many.


Reminder: You can subscribe to this blog via email using the form on the right of the page. Or send me an email at director@biblicalnaturalhistory.org and I will add you.

On another note: If you're doing your Black Friday shopping at Amazon, please use this link to do so, and then Amazon will make a donation to the Biblical Museum of Natural History! It also works for shopping at Amazon at any other time!


Monday, November 25, 2019

Should I Or Shouldn't I?

For many years I have been wrestling with the following dilemma: Should I or shouldn't I publish a book about the controversial ban on my Torah-science books?

I have an enormous amount of fascinating material on this. A detailed chronology of events. Correspondence received from hundreds of people - on both sides. Incisive commentaries and articles that were written by various people. And, of course, my own personal perspective on many different aspects of it.

On the minus side, such a book might well arouse no small measure of negative sentiments towards me, with all the potential consequences that that could have. And many people are just plain upset to learn about this sordid story.

On the plus side, I believe that it's an important episode in history with significant instructional value. Not that I think that everything that's true should be written and published - far from it. But this is a story which illustrated very important facts and lessons about Judaism and Orthodox Jewish society that will help people lead their lives in a more informed and beneficial way.

In addition, as those of you who have heard me speak on this topic know, I don't adopt the approach of simply rejecting the Gedolim as being wrong. On the contrary; I basically respect the parameters of the ban and justify it as a social policy, if not a theological position. And I believe that a primary lesson that needs to be learned is that when someone takes a position and you consider it "crazy," it means that you haven't properly understood their position. People might be misguided or mistaken or go about things in the wrong way, but rarely are they "crazy" - if you think otherwise, then you haven't understood where they are coming from.

So, should I or shouldn't I published such a book? And if I were to publish it, should it be for general release, or for direct sales only? I would welcome people's feedback.

On another note: If you're doing your Black Friday shopping at Amazon, please use this link to do so, and then Amazon will make a donation to the Biblical Museum of Natural History! It also works for shopping at Amazon at any other time!

And here's a reminder: You can subscribe to this blog via email using the form on the right of the page. Or send me an email at director@biblicalnaturalhistory.org and I will add you.)

Sunday, November 24, 2019

A Rav with Strength and Integrity

The news of the passing of Rav Chaim Malinowitz - senior editor of the Schottenstein Talmud (Bavli and Yerushalmi), rav of Beis Tefillah in Ramat Beit Shemesh - came as a great shock. He had been seriously ill for a while, but it was not thought to be life-threatening. But more than that - Rav Malinowitz was a larger-than-life figure, and it seems impossible for him to not be alive.

In the years 2004-2006 in particular, he was one of the most important people in my life. Over the last few years our relationship unfortunately broke off, when he became involved in political campaigning for the Abutbul administration in Beit Shemesh and took stances in various other community issues to which I (and many others) deeply objected. Fortunately, in the last few months we were able to patch things up on a personal level.

My relationship with Rav Malinowitz goes back over twenty years, before he was appointed rabbi of Beis Tefillah in Ramat Beit Shemesh. I was twenty-four years old, single, learning in yeshivah in Jerusalem, and publishing a weekly parashah sheet. In one of those essays, I penned a criticism of a popular icon in the wider Jewish world. A barrage of complaints ensued, and being a sensitive person plagued by self-doubt, I issued a public apology and retraction. Whereupon I received an email from someone who identified himself as one Rabbi Chaim Malinowitz. He wrote that my original article was absolutely correct, that I shouldn't have buckled under criticism, and that my parashah essays won't have much value if I just pander to the demands of others.

From his email, it was apparent that he thought I was much more senior than I actually was, so I wrote back to him and explained that I was just a 24 year old yeshivah bochur. Next thing I knew, he showed up at my yeshivah to chat with me. I was a bit puzzled at this special visit, but things became clearer when, a few days later, it turned out that he was proposing a shidduch for me! It was truly an honor, even though that shidduch was not meant to be. And subsequently we kept in touch.

A few years later, I was married and living in Ramat Beit Shemesh, and our shul at the time, Beis Tefillah, was searching for a rabbi. I suggested hiring Rav Malinowitz, as did a few other people. While there are very different views as to whether this appointment turned out to be good for Beit Shemesh (due to his political involvement), it certainly turned out to be incredibly fortuitous for me.

The story of the controversial ban on my books is well known. Perhaps not as well known is the role that Rav Malinowitz played in this story. While there were a number of rabbanim that supported me in various ways, probably none were as significant as Rav Malinowitz.

When the ban happened, which caused my family and I over a year of torment, I still saw myself very much as being a part of the charedi world. While there were rabbanim from the Centrist/Modern Orthodox communities inviting me to be a part of their world, I wasn't psychologically/socially ready to do that. And I was receiving hundreds of letters of support from people within the charedi world, so I wasn't ready to portray the controversy as being a charedi vs. non-charedi dispute (I have since mostly changed my mind on that). So it was crucial for me to have rabbinic guidance and support from within the charedi world.

Now, there were rabbis in the charedi world who were supporting me. My own mentor in the topic of Torah and science, Rav Aryeh Carmell, stood by his approbations for my works and issued a further letter of support; but by that point he was too old and weak to be dynamically involved. There were other rabbanim in the charedi world who were giving me moral and strategic support, but they were understandably too afraid to be public about it. (Reminder: don't judge people until you are in their place.) And they weren't necessarily people with big-name authority anyway.

But there was Rav Malinowitz! He played a crucial role in so many ways. He was an outstanding Torah scholar with bona fide credentials in the charedi world, and with a prominent position as editor of the Schottenstein Talmud. He made himself available by phone and by email to guide me and support me at every step of the way. He helped me draft letters and develop strategies. He gave me crucial guidance in the topic of rabbinic authority.

Rav Malinowitz had a very sensible, traditional, grounded approach to Chazal and science. He once shared with me an interesting insight - "According to those people who think that Chazal had divinely-inspired knowledge of modern science, why would it be limited to the science of 2005? It would mean that Chazal knew every scientific discovery that will ever take place in the future!"

Interestingly, although Rav Malinowitz had written an approbation to my work, he himself did not agree with all of my approaches to Torah/science topics, with regard to Bereishis. (He had no particular expertise in science, and was deeply skeptical of it.) But this made his support for me all the more potent. When people would tell him that my approach to various topics was wrong, he'd say to them: "I agree with you! But that doesn't mean that it's beyond the pale of acceptable opinions!"

Importantly, he maintained that it was completely acceptable for people to dispute my approach. People were entitled to firmly maintain that the Gemara did not contain anything scientifically inaccurate, and that Bereishis is to be interpreted entirely literally. But what they were not entitled to do was to claim that I was not allowed to take a different view and that I was alone in doing so. They were entitled to condemn my approach, as long as they made it clear that they were also condemning Rambam, Rav Hirsch, and so on.

Rav Malinowitz was the one who explained to me exactly why I was not under the slightest obligation to obey the ban. He explained to me both why the rules of rabbinic authority do not require one to always listen to the Gedolim, and why their opposition to my work was mistaken. But it wasn’t just personal guidance that he gave me – there was no shortage of people doing that. Rav Malinowitz was one of only a handful of people in the charedi world who actually went on record as publicly supporting me.  He wrote an official letter, on shul letterhead, explicitly reiterating his support.

The significance of this should not be underestimated. In the charedi world, publicly going against the Gedolim is virtually unthinkable; the strength of character required is immense. It wasn’t just a matter of people badmouthing him (though, for people outside of the charedi world, it's hard to conceive of just how much pressure this can create). Rav Moshe Shapiro called him in to castigate him for undermining his stance against me - and Rav Malinowitz stood his ground. Rabbi Meir Zlotowitz at ArtScroll – Rav Malinowitz’s primary employer – threatened to fire him if he didn't repudiate his support for me. At that point, I told Rav Malinowitz that he could sell me out, as I didn’t want him to lose his job. But he told me that on principle he could not do such a thing. (Fortunately, as he predicted, the threat fell through.) 

As the controversy over my books stretched out beyond a year, the toll became unbearable. My wife and I went to meet with Rav Malinowitz together to discuss the situation. He said to us: "Why not just leave the charedi community? Switch your kippah, send your kids to different schools, and that's that! You'll be much happier." We took his advice and were immensely better off for it. (Ironically, a few years later, Rav Malinowitz told me that he was upset that I followed his advice so completely as to even leave his shul - he hadn't meant for me to go that far!)

As I mentioned, several years later, Rav Malinowitz took positions on various communal and political issues that aroused much opposition in the non-charedi religious community, including with me. At one point, our dispute became very public. And yet, consistent with his own approach to rabbinic authority, he had no problem with my publicly disagreeing with him. He continued to email me over the years with various sources of interest. And while I was still upset by the communal positions that he had taken, and his public claims about there being a "War on Torah" in Beit Shemesh, I always told him that my gratitude for what he did for me in my hour of need would never falter.

Will there ever be such a figure in the charedi community again, with such integrity and strength of character? Rav Malinowitz's passing leaves a great void. May his memory be for a blessing.

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

A Secondary Miscommunication

In the previous post, I described how the term "yeshiva ketana" has completely different meanings in Israel and in the United States regarding the presence or absence of secular studies. Several people pointed out that there was another misunderstanding going on. The term "yeshivah ketana" in Israel and the US refers to very different age groups.

In the US, yeshiva ketana is grade 1-8, mesivta is 9-12, and yeshiva gedolah is post-high school age. In Israel, on the other hand, grades 1-8 are called cheder, 9-11 is yeshiva ketana, and post-11th grade is yeshiva gedolah.

Thus, what Americans call "yeshiva ketana" is that which in Israel is called "cheder." Accordingly, some claimed that my post was baseless, because cheder in Israel does include secular studies.

But this is not the case. Even comparing cheder in Israel to yeshiva ketana in the US, which is what the comparison should be, the differences are profound.

Yes, cheder in Israel includes secular studies. But the amount of secular studies is absolutely minimal. Forget about academic excellence in secular topics - the chadarim are very, very far from the core curriculum. The contrast to a "black hat" yeshivah ketana in the US is enormous.

But they are not only different in terms of how much secular studies exist. An even more profound difference is with regard to the trajectory on which the differing institutions place the students.

At a yeshiva ketana in the US, once the boys finish eighth grade, they proceed to mesivta - high school. At this institution, they will continue to received secular studies, at a higher level, preparing them for college and a career.

In Israel, on the other hand, once the boys finish cheder, they are off to a yeshivah ketana that has no secular studies at all. Yes, there are some exceptions, such as Maarava and Mesivta of Beit Shemesh. Still, in general, this is the case. And even with the exceptions, they are often still institutions which, while providing a level of secular studies, directs the students towards long-term kollel rather than college and a career. See this very important post, Maarava - Not Enough, Or Too Much? in which Rav Leff says he regrets Maarava offering any secular studies!

And so, notwithstanding my misunderstanding of the different age groups, the basic point is still valid. Black hat Jews in the US and black hat Jews in Israel are living in completely different worldviews, especially with regard to education. But the superficial similarities of dress and language lead to problems of people not realizing this.

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Under the Black Hat

Yesterday I had the most fascinating miscommunication. Some of you might laugh at me, but it's really a powerful testimony as to the disparity between Israel and the US.

The daughter of a good friend was giving me a ride in New York. She mentioned that her son attends yeshivah ketana. And I was utterly shocked. After all, she had a Master's degree and she was a college graduate from a family that places a very high regard on academic excellence and secular education. How could she be entirely depriving her son of any kind of secular education?

I mentioned something in this regard, and now it was her turn to be surprised. She had no idea what I was talking about. Of course her son receives a secular education! To a very high level, no less. The school does all the State examinations, and participates in science fairs, etc., etc. And her son will eventually proceed to college and to a professional career.

It was at this point that it dawned on me that the term "Yeshiva Ketana" has a very different definition in the US than it does in Israel.

In Israel, if you send your kid to yeshiva ketana, that means, by definition, that there is not only no participation in State examinations (bagriyot), but that there is no secular curriculum at all. Nada, nothing. And the notion of an eventual progression to college and a professional career is absurd - not only do the students not have the necessary academic training, but they have been taught that it is wrong to go to college and to work, and that they should ideally be in kollel long-term and be supported by their wives and others.

Of course, this is highly significant in that it shows just how far apart black-hat Judaism is in the US from Israel. It's not just one term with two meanings - it's one superficially homogeneous sector of Orthodoxy that in fact is living in two utterly different worlds. That which is considered normative, admirable, responsible, and religiously appropriate in the US is rated as unacceptable, shameful, and religiously inappropriate in Israel.

Inevitably, the confusion of distinctions resulting from language and dress can lead to all kinds of dissonance and problems. Many graduates of a fine yeshiva ketana in the US will end up in a yeshiva gedolah which teaches them that they should not go to college and their kids should not receive a proper secular education. And many people who emigrate from the US to Israel mistakenly insert themselves into a community of people who dress like them, instead of a community of people who think like them. Indeed, much of the confusion and distress experienced by many people over the banning of my books was a result of their being under the misconception that certain rabbinic figures were their own rabbinic leaders, instead of being from a completely different worldview.

The lesson: Don't assume that two communities of Jews wearing black hats are anything at all alike.

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Which Threat Is Scarier?

My two youngest children, ages 10 and 6, had a scary day at school in which everyone was talking about the missiles falling in various parts of Israel. After school, as they were walking home from the bus-stop, a car alarm went off. Unfortunately, they thought it was a missile alert siren. Terrified, they ran to a nearby shul, but it was locked. They stood next to the shul, shaking in fear, until they finally saw people in the streets and decided that it was safe to come home. My wife and I spent the last few hours trying to calm them down and put them to sleep; they are deeply traumatized.

I am crying inside for my children's pain. But personally, I don't feel so scared about missiles, because Beit Shemesh is in a relatively safe region, and in the unlikely event that there is a siren, we will go to our protected room. Furthermore, Israel's massive military advantage means that not only do we have early-warning systems, but we also have ways to shoot missiles down.

I'm personally much more scared about the headline on the front page of The Jerusalem Post today: "Israel Under Threat." Published before the missiles started falling, it's speaking about a different and broader threat: the fact that a rapidly expanding portion of the population does not receive any kind of meaningful secular education. This does not only affect the economy; it will also result in Israel no longer possessing a military advantage. Here's the money quote:
“Being situated in one of the planet’s most dangerous regions, Israel requires a first-world army to simply continue to exist. Maintaining a first-world army requires a first-world economy. But roughly half of Israel’s children (not just the ultra-Orthodox) are receiving a third-world education, and they belong to the fastest growing population streams. As adults, they will only be able to maintain a third-world economy, with all that this entails regarding Israel’s future physical existence."

This is a grave long-term threat to Israel. And it's very difficult to address, because the charedi community is so resistant to providing an education to their children, and because as the charedi community grows, so does their government power.

There is no single or simple solution to this very serious problem. I do have a strategy to partially address some aspects of it, and if there are serious people out there with the resources and desire to do something about it, I would like to meet with them. If you fall into that category, please be in touch; I am flying to the US tomorrow.

Thursday, November 7, 2019

Be Our Friend!

Great news for people in the NY/NJ area! We have decided to do a special event in Teaneck, a week from Sunday:


This is an event for those who join the Biblical Museum of Natural History as Friends or Patrons, and I will be presenting various fascinating topics relating to Biblical Natural History, as well as revealing some behind-the-scenes secrets of the museum! (And, yes, there will be some small but very special exotic edibles, though this is not a "food" event.) Please RSVP to office@BiblicalNaturalHistory.org. I look forward to seeing you!

(If there's interest, we might also repeat the event the next night, in the Five Towns.)

And even if you can't make it, perhaps you'd like to become a Friend or Patron of the Museum? It's a way to really make a difference. Sign up, and I'll give you a call!

Tuesday, November 5, 2019

Is Rationalist Judaism Going Extinct?

A few readers asked if Rationalist Judaism is going the way of the woolly mammoth and the dinosaur. They weren't referring to the rationalist school of thought, but rather to this website. As you may have noticed, there has been a virtual absence of posts over the last few weeks.

It's not that I don't have anything to write about. On the contrary; there are a very large number of topics that I would like to write about, including recent claims of heresy-hunting regarding certain educators, new sources regarding science and Torah that have come to light, and much more. In fact, I have an entire folder of ideas and raw material for posts.

The reason for the sharp decline in output is simply this: my responsibilities as director of the Biblical Museum of Natural History, in particular with regard to our impending move to our magnificent new home, are overwhelming! It's an incredibly momentous project, which takes up a lot of time, and even more so, my mental and emotional energy.

We are trying to figure out how to expand the team so as to be able to transfer some of what I do, especially the fundraising work (which I find especially taxing), to others. If and when that happens, hopefully I will be able to return to writing more in this forum. Alternately, perhaps there is a way to make my writing this blog more directly beneficial to the museum - I would welcome ideas regarding that.

Meanwhile, if you've appreciated the 1500 posts that I've written over the last ten years, and/or you would like to participate in the amazing work that we are doing at the Biblical Museum of Natural History, please make a contribution at this link: https://www.biblicalnaturalhistory.org/donate/ We are especially keen to expand our society of Friends and Patrons - the people whose annual donations help with our ongoing subsidized educational programs for many thousands of schoolchildren from across the spectrum of society. Please see https://www.biblicalnaturalhistory.org/support/ for details!

If you're interested in making a more significant impact and dedicating an exhibit at the museum, please write to me at director@BiblicalNaturalHistory.org - we have some amazing and unique opportunities available!

Note that I will be coming to New Jersey/ New York and then Los Angeles at the end of next week, and I am available for meetings with donors - if you are interested in such a meeting, please be in touch. There will also be an event in Teaneck (and possibly also the Five Towns) for Friends and Patrons of the Museum.

We are also looking to expand our Board of Directors (both for our US and Israel foundations) with serious individuals who would like to contribute resources, guidance and passion to this groundbreaking project. And I would also like to ask all of you for any helpful ideas and suggestions that might have for the development of the museum.

Thank you for your support!

(And if you'd like to be updated as to when the posts here pick up again, you can register by email on the side of this page to receive all posts to your inbox, or write to me and I will register you.)

Friday, November 1, 2019

Riddle Me This

Question: What's fifty cubits wide, thirty cubits high, a hundred cubits long, and is a Biblical home for all kinds of animals?


Answer: The new building of the Biblical Museum of Natural History! (Noah's Ark was three hundred cubits long, not one hundred. But the width and height are identical!)


This is the most amazing thing that I have ever realized!




Torah & Dogmatism

"Torah & Rationalism" (Feldheim 2020) is the title of a new book consisting of collected writings of Rabbi Dr. Aaron Chaim Zim...