Sunday, October 18, 2020

The Noah's Ark Challenge

Question: Which home of Biblical creatures measures 100 cubits in length, 50 cubits in width and 30 cubits in height?

The most common wrong answer to this question is Noah's Ark. It's wrong because Noah's Ark was 300 cubits long, not 100 cubits.

The correct answer is: The new home of the Biblical Museum of Natural History!

Amazingly (and completely unplanned), the new museum is the exact width and height of Noah's Ark! The museum is currently closed due to coronavirus, but it is open for live online tours for groups and institutions - see details at this link. These are amazing interactive programs which have been rated as the very best online experiences!

Meanwhile, since it's that time of year again, here is the slightly expanded version of my original post regarding scientific challenges to the Noah's Ark account (which is, ironically, a topic that we do not touch upon in the museum).

Over the years I've received numerous questions about reconciling the traditional view of Noah's Flood with modern science. There are two sets of problems. First are those concerning the scientific impossibility of such an event - how the animals survived without their normal environments, how they traveled from and back to their various locations, where the water for the Deluge came from, etc. These can all be answered by simply positing numerous miracles - the animals flew or teleported to and from the Ark, etc., - but this is not satisfactory for those who follow the approach of Rambam and others which seek to minimize supernatural miracles. 

The second set of problems is based not on the scientific impossibility of such an event, but instead upon the evidence that even a supernatural event of this nature did not happen - i.e. the evidence of uniform geology (the result of which enables geologists to make a living) and records of continuous human civilizations throughout the entire period. Of course, there are anti-scientific polemicists, such as Rabbi Moshe Meiselman, who dismiss all the problems by claiming that supernatural processes took place in such a way as to conceal their occurrence (which includes undoing many of its devastating effects and sorting all the different kinds of fossils into neatly differentiated strata) - and Rabbi Meiselman condemns everyone who considers the Deluge to be a challenge as having "a mindset tainted by kefirah and skepticism." But those who understand the historical evidence realize that even this ridiculously far-fetched answer does not remotely deal with the evidence regarding human civilization.

There are a variety of different ways of approaching this topic. I tried discussing some of them online back in the summer of 2004, which may well have been one of the factors leading to the infamous ban on my books, and my comments were subsequently widely and wildly (and sometimes deliberately) misquoted. So instead of discussing it, I will just provide references to further reading material which shed light on various different approaches. Many people will condemn these approaches as unacceptable, but until they have a credible response to the scientific difficulties with the simple understanding, they would be wiser to remain silent.

First and foremost, I strongly recommend that people struggling with this difficulty read The Challenge Of Creation, preferably the third edition and onwards. I only explicitly deal with the flood in footnote 2 on page 302 (third edition), but there are many other parts of the book which are actually more relevant in terms of determining which options are available and acceptable - in particular, chapters 6-8, and 14-15.

Other relevant sources (remember, not all of these present the same approach), listed in no particular order, are:

Joel B. Wolowelsky, "Divine Literature and Human Language: Reading the Flood Story," in Bentsi Cohen, ed. As a Perennial Spring: A Festschrift Honoring Rabbi Dr. Norman Lamm (NY: Downhill Publishing, 2013), pp. 521-534. (This is a revised version of his earlier article “A Note on the Flood Story in the Language of Man,” Tradition 42:3 (Fall 2009) pp. 41-48.)

Rabbi Gedalyah Nadel, BeToraso Shel Rabbi Gedalyah, pp. 116-119.

Umberto (Moshe David) Cassuto, From Adam to Noah (Jerusalem: Magnes Press 1961).

Rabbi Dovid Tzvi Hoffman, commentary to Genesis, pp. 140-141.

Rabbi J. Hertz’s “Additional Notes to Genesis” at the back of The Pentateuch.

Nahum Sarna, "Understanding Genesis" (New York: Schocken Books 1966). (Note that this is not an Orthodox book, but it contains valuable insights.)

Rav Kook's letter on literalism, translated here.

Marc Shapiro's postings on this topic (I, II, and commentary by Rav Moshe Shamah here).

Chief Rabbi Dr. Jonathan Sacks' essay on the Deluge and the Tower of Babel (here)

Natan Slifkin, "Historical Records Vs. Dramatic Accounts"

Lorence Collins, "Yes, Noah's Flood May Have Happened, But Not Over the Whole Earth."

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146 comments:

  1. but this is not satisfactory for those who follow the approach of Rambam and others which seek to minimize supernatural miracles.

    The truth must emerge, 'those who seek to minimize', people with a bias who need things to fit their own narrative. People who shoehorn facts into their own ideologies, while condemning others for doing the same.

    We don't need more education, we need more mirrors. We need people to see themselves for what they are, ideologues not rationalists.

    The Torah writes that there was a Bris, a covenant, that allowed the animals to survive the flood. And that is why supernatural things had to happen at that time. It is not reproduceable, because it was supernatural.

    I have read the claims against the mabul and the paucity of actual logic is mind-boggling. People need to get their heads out of their own bellies and look outside of themselves sometimes.

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    1. Your approach requires one to believe that the Mabul was a world changing event that had no discernible effect, no matter where or how we look. That borders on the absurd. The other side of the border.

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    2. ZD, I somewhat agree with you although you could be more respectful and less insulting. But my problem is, where in the Torah account does it mention that there was a miracle that reversed all the damage of the mabul so that we don't see its effects today? Or protected certain things, like geological formations, from being damaged? One would expect that such a great miracle would be mentioned. Similarly for the Creation, where is the mention that Hashem created the fossils and the remnants of the town of Tell es-Sultan (10,000 BC)?

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    3. ZD, a few questions:

      1). Where is the geological evidence? Where did all the water come from and where did it go? It could not have evaporated into the atmosphere.
      2). Where is the archaeological evidence? Why do we find ruins from the Pyramids of Giza 4000 years old if there was a worldwide flood? And to say nothing about the absence of records recounting the devastating deluge? For example, Japan does not have a flood story. Why?
      3). Pandas and koalas live in China, Australia, and the rainforest, and cannot live in the region of Mt. Ararat. They feed off of bamboo and eucalyptus. And if they weren't in the Ark, how did they get here?
      4). The ocean is salt water but most fish are stenohaline and live in salinity waters. Where did the abundance of fish come from? And if they survived in the water, why were they not punished? Fish also eat warms.
      5). Since your a creationist, what about dinosaurs?

      In short, you cannot answer any of these questions because you are a fundamentalist. Were you to be intellectually honest, you would conclude that there never was a worldwide flood. Period.

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    4. HGLP
      The Ramban in Parshas Vayigash. tells us that the Torah does not tell us miracles for no reason. There are other miracles hinted and alluded to in the Torah, but the purpose of the miracles that are told is only when they are promised before by a Navi. The Torah did not have to tell us where the record of the Mabbul went. But the Torah does tell us that the Mabbul was something supernatural, and that the world was commanded to return to normal thereafter.
      I did not mention anything about the fossil record, because I don't know anything about it. I am talking strictly about the Mabbul. The proofs brought against the Mabbul are generally predicated on the reader disbelieving the Torah's account in the first place

      Turk Hill
      1. The possuk tells us where the water came from. Unlike the regular rain cycle, this water came from the תהום. The possuk tells us clearly that windows that were otherwise closed, opened up.

      2. You are being דורש השמטות, the lack of archaeological evidence is your proof.
      To which I ask, what percentage of any era is preserved and visible today through archaeology? The only intellectual answer is "We don't know and we cannot know". How will we find the answer to this question? How will we snapshot an era, nove forward 1000 years, and see how much is preserved?

      3. The possuk tells us that all animals were in the ark, as well as the food they needed. What is the problem? How did they get to their natural enviroment? I don't know, the Torah doesn't tell us. Perhaps the Teiva made multiple stops on the way home, but this question is hardly sufficient to prove anything.
      4. The fish were not punished in the mabbul, they continued to live in the water. What is the problem?
      5. What does that have to do with the mabbul? And the Torah is quite the creationist book. Literally the first verse.

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    5. @ZD

      (1) Leaving aside the improbability of the opening of gates to mythical upper and lower bodies of water, when the flood ceased, the ocean basins were already filled, the land saturated, and the atmosphere could not handle the vapor. Where did all the water go? 
      (2) The Pyramids of Giza and other ruins clearly testify to the absence of a worldwide flood.
      (3) The Bible never mentions pandas and koalas. More importantly, how did Noah bring all the animals into the Ark? And how did they return to their natural habitat? At least here you admit that you don't know.
      (4) I agree with this. rabbi Arnold Ehrlich wrote that the fish survived the flood since they survive in water. However, he asks why didn't G-d kill the fish, since they also eat worms?

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    6. @ZD

      (5) I disagree. A “day” in Genesis 1 could not mean a twenty-four hour period because that’s not the literal definition of a “day.” Creationists who insist that a day is 24hrs are actually not literalists at all! They are putting their own definition of what a day is. Furthermore, a "day" is not 24hrs necessary. A day on earth is 24hrs because that’s how long it now takes the earth to rotate around the sun on its axis. But a day on Pluto is 130hrs, for example. So the term “day” depends largely on what planet you’re on!

      Therefore we can’t assume that a “day” was 24 hours. This only begs the question, how exactly long was a “day?” The Bible is unclear. Indeed, one could spend their whole life studying those first two sentences.

      In short, literalists deny scientific findings. However, Maimonides writes that if a scientific claim is proven true, then we must read it allegorically. 

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    7. Turk Hill
      You claim it is now 'improbable' that the Mabbul happened. I agree. It was quite improbable, in fact it was a one off, and it will never happen again. You call the upper and lower bodies 'mythical', presumably because you have never seen them. The fact that they were opened for the mabbul has already been dismissed, so the fact that the Mabbul never happened is absolute proof that the Mabbul never happened.
      2. Yes, I know nothing about the pyramids of Giza, so I will not mention anything about it. I don't know anything about the dating methods used, about their credibility or accuracy. But when I do have a clear Parsha in the Torah, why would I blindly believe archaeologists? I have not researched the topic myself, so all I can do is believe. I prefer the Torah.
      3. Yes, the Torah does not mention the specific animals. The Torah does not tell us how they went to their habitat. So we don't know, we can theorize and hypothesize, but not really know. How is anything proven or disproven from that.
      You are now bringing up other arguments. I never said anything about the length of the day of creation (although the Ramban did). I merely mentioned that Hashem's creation of the world is literally the first possuk in the Torah.
      I think the argument that the days were longer is specious, it does not address the issue. The Torah is quite clear that Hashem created a world in a certain fashion, and afterwards left it to be run by certain rules. The creation period could have been by some kind of evolution, or the evolution process could have been accelerated in seven days of 24 hours. Or something else. But the world was clearly created by Divine intervention, not by the same processes that run our world today.

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    8. The absolute blind deference provided to the Rambam is quite telling. Torah is not easy, it isn't 'read this book and all will be good'. Some people find that too difficult. Learning Talmud Bavli העם ההולכים בחשך, is a lifelong dedication, and with the shitos of the Rishonim and the final psak halacha, there is little time or energy for other matters. When people try and get out of this, they run to the shortened likuttim, or take one shita and adopt it as theirs. Many of those who call themselves Maimonideans are cut of this lazy cloth. They cannot accept the differences of opinions and pethora of understandings, and they blind themselves willfully to the full spectrum of Torah beliefs and attitudes.
      The Rambam is just one shita, not the definitive Judaism

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    11. @ZD, wrote, "I know nothing about the pyramids of Giza."
      See, that's your problem. You're not educated enough in the other fields which require your full attention in order to be intellectually honest. This disdain for science does not help your case at all. An intelligent person should have no difficulty studying science in addition to Torah study. This is what G-d wants. So while you're admitting that you know nothing about archaeology, I do. And I can tell you that the pyramids were around, before and after, the worldwide flood. Note that I believe there was a local flood.

      I saw that you mentioned faith. I dislike the notion of “faith.” It is not in the Bible. It is Christian. Faith means accepting something as true despite which science says is clearly false. Rather than accepting something as true with faith, I take a different approach. Maimonides said that we can “know” G-d by studying science and the laws of nature that G-d created. Thus, it is not a matter of belief. As belief means not knowing. So unless you can prove or derive a method in which Noah could retrieve and returned all the animals into and from the Ark, we do not need to accept it in blind faith.

      You did mention the length of "Days." You wrote "the Torah is quite the creationist book. Literally the first verse." If taken literally, you are implying that the creation account occurred literary within twenty-four-hour periods, which as I demonstrated, was impossible. I agree with your second premise though, that G-d created or formed the world out of preexisting matter. I also agree that the Torah is a very hard book to understand. It could take a lifetime to learn its secrets. But neither passive piety nor the readings of the Torah or the Talmud bring people to G-d. Near the end of the Guide, Rambam tells a parable about talmudic scholars stumbling outside the King's palace. This may sound shocking to most people, but this was his belief. Rambam explains that a Jew should know both philosophy and science. Rabbi Kook understood this to mean that revelation never stopped. It is on-going in the laws of nature. People need to study these laws, to uncover new divine revelations in order to learn what G-d is telling us. Thus, Maimonides said that “The only path to knowing G-d is through science—and for that reason, the Bible opens with a description of the creation.” As it turns out, to only submit one's life to pious piety is the lazy path and does not bring one closer to G-d at all.

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    12. You are reading things into my words.
      I know nothing about the pyramids of Giza, because I know nothing about it. No disdain, just that I don't know anything about it. I have not studied it, and I don't think perusing a Wikipedia page will make me wise enough to pontificate about it.

      I did not mention faith at all. You put those words into my mouth.

      But now that I am sitting here, having learned some Torah and nothing about archaeology, carbon dating or biology, I have a choice. I can accept the findings of scientists, without any personal understanding. I can follow them blindly, because they know better. Or I can follow the Meforshei Hatorah, who also know a lot more than me about the Torah. Either way, I do not have the ability to form a personal opinion about the topic. You seem to think I should follow the scientists and place the Torah experts on the side. You are suggesting a blind faith in people about whom I know little and in a topic about which I know little. Your system is as much a 'faith' as those whom you decry.

      I actually explained what I meant about the first verse, and I still did not give an opinion about the length of the days, because I think it is irrelevant.

      An appeal to the authority of Rav Kook is absolutely ludicrous, as is any appeal to authority in this topic. If it is authority we are following, the Rashba and the hundreds of Rabbonim with him in his famous Teshuva are the authorities over here, not the tiny amount of sidelined Rabbonim who did not accept that

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    13. To happygolucky- usually we disagree, but you seem to be arguing the rationalist side in this one. I will take the creationist side briefly then, and reply to your final question (I agree with the first few questions you raise) and say that I don't need a pasuk to say that Hashem put fossils into the ground. Hashem made the world to look old and lived in!

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    14. @Yosef, Yes, Creationist, who denies scientific findings will say that G-d planted dinosaur bones in the ground during Creation to "test our faith."

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    15. @ZD, You should really study the material. It is very relevant in your case to study archeology or the pyramids at Giza, because if you're going to argue that there was a worldwide flood, then you need to be aware and have the knowledge in archeology to be able to argue your case from an archeological standpoint. It is not good enough, or at least will convince little, to use the argument of “because the Bible told me so.” Do your homework. Do more than reading a curious wiki page. Attempt to learn something about archeology because it lends more credibility to your case. Maimonides said it was insufficient to just study the Torah. He said that in order to truly understand the Torah, one needs to study the natural sciences, history, philosophy, sociology, archeology, etc. In fact, Rambam tells us that he studied the Sabian religion quite rigorously. As an anthropologist, he hoped to better understand Judaism and the reasons for its many commandments. An investigative approach to reality is more compelling than relying upon "because the Bible tells me so." You wouldn't have to pick and choose between Torah and science.

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    16. Turk Hill

      I have shown you that you have been making things up in my name, and using them to argue me down, yet you refuse to engage. Either you did not understand a word I wrote, or you are being intentionally obtuse.

      Either way, you are not my target audience. The intellectual laziness involved in being a self-declared Maimonidean does not lend itself to true understanding of the Torah (or, in all likelihood, archaeology), and I do not see a point in further engagement.

      But to the outsider reading this, try learning Chumash, specifically Bereishis and Noach, really well. Learn the Rambans, with the knowledge that he wasn't a blogger, he worked hard and took full responsibility for his words, each and every one of them. The world's creation is a wondrous thing, it has a method and a purpose, and the Torah explains it in the most concise method possible.

      Just one thought. If Noach is a mere parable, why the level of detail, the dates and time lengths etc? Why not describe a destructive flood, without the dates and times?

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    18. Turk, you misunderstand me- while indeed I prefer the rationalist perspective for myself, it does not bother me AT ALL if someone has the perspective that Hashem put dinosaur bones in the ground to MAKE THE EARTH LOOK OLD. Clearly, since He did that, He wants us to interact with the world AS IF it is billions of years old. It matters not whether it developed slowly or poofed into existence yesterday looking like it developed slowly.

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    19. @ZD, Good question. If we accept the idea that the flood story is a parable then the Torah may have copied ancient pagan myths. However, while the pagan myths lacked any sense of morality, the Torah adds a moral twist.

      Regarding Rambam, you obviously did not study the Rambam. Or, at least this is the vibe you bring when you call Maimonidean rationalism "lazy." I can assure you that after reading dozens of books on the subject that Maimonides was a rationalist and a great Sephardic thinker in the league of greatest geniuses. Moreover, every word in his Guide was precisely chosen. You cannot say that "the Ramban contributed more to philosophy, or that Ramban's approach to Torah was superior to that of Maimonides." You accuse Maimonideans of "intellectual laziness," but it is the mystics who insist that Jews must have faith, not reason. Although Nachmanides was a brilliant biblical scholar, he held many irrational, mystical views, which are not as rational as Maimonides.

      Nevertheless, you still put forward a good point: "the world's creation is a wondrous thing." Yes, it is. And Maimonides emphasized that it is a religious obligation to study that world. This is what G-d wants. G-d does not want people to isolate themselves in beautiful libraries. 

      Maimonides felt that "knowing" about G-d's universe was the first mitzvah in Judaism. In fact, he felt that the command to “know” that G-d exists was not a matter of belief. Maimonides said that we “know” G-d by knowing science and the laws of nature that G-d created (Exodus 33). While studying the Torah and Talmud is good, also study science, history, and archeology. After all, He didn't make such a wonderful world for us to ignore it. As the sage Hillel said, "go and study.”

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    20. @Yosef R, Yes, we agree entirely. Even if we accept their premises, we must ask: When I see an earth that smells old, quacks old, and looks old, it's probably old.

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    21. Relying on one opinion is intellectually lazy. Learning the Rambam in context of the other Rishonim, and appreciating the different opinions, is a hallmark of true שקידת התורה and subjugation to Hashem's will, which is the purpose of learning Torah.

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    22. True, "skimming" the mystical side of Judaism is not entirely healthy. But ignoring the rest of the world that G-d created is failing to recognize G-d's brilliance in creation. G-d didn't make such a beautiful world for us to ignore it. That makes no sense to me.

      Maimonides was the most profound thinkers among Jews, said that it was insufficient to just study Torah. To truly understand Torah, one needs to study science, history, philosophy, archeology, etc. Thus, an investigative approach to reality is imperative to Torah learning.

      Greek natural law agreed. The Greeks felt that human beings were fully capable of understanding the universe and contemplating the world around them. In fact, there was an obligation, a duty to uncover the natural laws that G-d created.

      Maimonides said, “The only path to knowing G-d is through science, to that end, the Bible opens with a description of the creation.” Thus, Maimonides said that we can only “know” G-d by knowing science and the laws of nature. Thus, Genesis prompts us to learn physics.

      To ignore this is not only intellectually lazy but is a violation of G-d's plan for humanity.

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  2. Just a reminder that just as we must make sure not to assume our understanding of the Torah is definitively correct, so too our understanding of science.
    In the 1960 edition of Clark and Stearn's (a college textbook) Geological Evolution of North America, it is written:

    "The geosynclinal theory is one of the great unifying principles in geology. In many ways its role in geology is similar to that of the theory of evolution which serves to integrate the many branches of the biological sciences. The geosynclinal theory is of fundamental importance to sedimentation, petrology, geomorphology, ore deposits, structural geology, geophysics, and in fact all branches of geological science. It is a generalization concerning the genetic relationship between the trough like basinal areas of the earth's crust which accumulate great thicknesses of sediment and are called geosynclines, and major mountain ranges. Just as the doctrine of evolution is universally accepted among biologists, so also the geosynclinal origin of the major mountain systems is an established principle in geology."

    About five years later, the theory was considered dead, overtaken by Plate Tectonics.

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  3. For those who read the Bible literally, here are some questions:

    If there was a worldwide flood, where is the geological evidence? To cover the entire globe would require lots of bodies of water and this enormous amount of H2O cannot simply be evaporated into the atmosphere. Not to ask where did all this water come from and what happened to it? Secondly, where is the archaeological evidence? Surely there would be ruins? But we still find dwellings and other structures. The Pyramids at Giza are dated to be about 4000 years old. Why are they still standing and are intact? And why don't we have records from ancient Egypt recounting the devastating deluge? Interestingly, Japan does not share a flood story. Why?

    Lastly, how could animals from China, Australia, and the rainforest leave their natural habitat to enter Noah's ark? For example, pandas and koalas cannot live in the region of Mt. Ararat. They feed off of bamboo and eucalyptus, food which Noah could not have stored. And if they weren't in the Ark, how do they exist today?  And how about the fish? Our oceans are mostly saltwater but most fish are stenohaline and live in salinity waters. Nevertheless, it seems that the fish survived in the water and went unpunished despite eating worms (rabbi Arnold Ehrlich). And to say nothing about the dinosaurs. 

    In short, there is no evidence that the world is 5000 years old and there is no evidence for a worldwide flood either. At best a localized flood may have occurred.

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    1. I am not sharing this to provide a definitive answer, but only for those interested in your question to say, "hmmm, I wonder." https://www.earth.com/news/underground-ocean-beneath-earth/

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    2. Not to challenge your overall gist (for I'm as skeptical as you are on most of your questions), but just one point: Why couldn't the beefiest man-made structure, a pyramid, survive a flood intact?

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    3. @Sedgwick, Thank you for sharing that link. I did not know that about the earth and makes the worldwide flood story seem a little more plausible.

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  4. But those who understand the historical evidence realize that even this ridiculously far-fetched answer does not remotely deal with the evidence regarding human civilization.

    Why? Literalists like Rabbi Meiselman anyways have to deal with the question on Creation itself from the fossil record and the human civilization record, why is the Flood harder? They will just say Creation somehow miraculously included the fossils and human civilization remnants, and the Flood somehow miraculously excluded them.

    From Marc Shapiro: However, the entire received body of knowledge in just about every field of human study is dependant on the fact that the world is not 5000 years old and that there was not a flood. These facts are the fundamentals of biology, physics, astronomy, history, anthropology, geology, palentology, zoology, linguistics etc. etc. etc... Belief in a 5000 year old world and a flood which destroyed the world 4000 years ago is a denial of all human knowledge as we know it.

    This is a common sentiment, but I disagree, or it needs more explanation. One can easily accept parts of a field of study while rejecting others. It's obviously false that the the entire field of physics, for example, is all about things that happened >6000 years ago. One can study Maxwell's equations while ignoring the Big Bang. If this type of "cherry picking" wasn't possible, there would be no religious fundamentalist scientists or even doctors, and clearly there are.

    From Marc Shapiro: Obviously it is possible for God to lift Mount Sinai over the head of the Israelites, but must we believe this literally. The whole endeavor to allegorize aggadot is based on the fact that God (and the world) do not behave in a completely outrageous fashion.

    Needs proof that "The whole endeavor to allegorize aggadot is based on the fact that God (and the world) do not behave in a completely outrageous fashion." Even with the extreme "minimizing miracles" approach of the Abarbanel in The ten Plagues, for example, the Ten Plagues are still quite outrageous. Seems more likely that they minimized and allegorized for other reasons, eg. in the Abarbanel's case, because it fit into the pattern of the Plagues nicely. I would speculate in the Mount Sinai case, because we would have expected mention of that particular miracle in the Bible, similar to what Ramban says about Ur Kasdim.

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    1. The comments of Dr. Marc Shapiro linked to by RNS are from nearly 27 years ago, while he was still a very young student, and written in an informal primitive group "blog". Its unlikely the mature scholar he is today would say the same thing. For it is clearly not true that the "fundamentals" of all these fields "depend" on the world being more than 5000 years old and that there was never a flood.

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    2. Yeah, the science hasn't changed since then. Stating it is "clearly not true" doesn't change reality. As an aside, he was 28 when he wrote those. But he answers email, so if you want to know if he change his mind, you can just ask him.

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    3. David, thanks for the suggestion. I emailed him and received a very satisfactory response, but I didn't get permission to post it.

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    4. Also, what you (happy) call cherry picking, I call compartmentalizing. I think many, if not most, religious scientists and doctors would be offended to have their faith and understanding assumed away. While technically correct that Maxwell and Hubble are not on the same page of the physics textbook, acceptance of one should be part and parcel of acceptance of the other. What I would allow for is compartmentalizing, that we can say that bits that challenge religion are to be dealt with on another day, but they don't undermine my comfort with the scientific world.

      (Of course, there are answers with Big Bang - that's probably the easiest thing to reconcile - but that isn't your point.)

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  5. I have come to understand the flood through science and reference to a great flood in many other cultures.
    My best guess is that the cataclysmic event was the sudden opening of an isthmus into a strait causing sudden flooding and other weather events. This probably occurred at the end of an ice age, think the flooding of the mediterranean basin through Gibraltar (just smaller and more recent).
    As for the ark, I imagine it could have been a mountain top enclave with nested tiers up the slope. Noah brought in all the animals he knew, and they survived the flood waters at such altitude.

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    1. That's the Black Sea deluge hypothesis popularized by Ryan and Pitman (about 5K years before the Noah story if one is literal about early Biblical chronology). Also, there are many flood stories in ancient cultures but not all of them refer to the same event.

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    2. In addition, there is not flood story in Japanese mythology.

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    3. I suspect there are some Japanese wannabe 'apikorsim' that claim their own mythology is suspect, because they just ignore the flood

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    4. No, they didn't ignore it. They didn't write about it because it never happened. Why can't you accept that there was a local flood?

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    5. Why can't you accept that the Japanese mythology is hardly a source for accurate information?
      Because the Torah clearly tells us וימח את כל היקום. Your claim is that the Torah is misleading us, it isn't just a figure of speech. You may believe like that, but to base it on the השמטה of Japanese mythology is just frivolous and ludicrous.

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    7. @ZD, I disagree. I think the absence of a flood story in Japanese mythology is very telling when creationists claim that every culture had a flood story. Were there a gigantic flood, the Japanese would have mentioned it. Furthermore, the Bible does not necessarily suggest that the entire world was got soaked. An argument could be made that it was a local flood. You disparage archaeology but archaeology has shown that there was once a flood in the Mediterranean region. If we must read the story literally, archaeology is your best friend here.

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    8. You are arguing with me as though I was the author of these creationist texts you are relying on. I am not, and the proof to the flood has nothing to do with the mythology of any ethnicity.

      But mythology is fairy tales, it is not an accurate historical account, even if such a thing was even possible

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    9. No, you missed the point. The absence of a flood story in Japanese mythology or historical records testifies to the absence of a worldwide flood. If the flood occurred as you say, the Japanese would have mentioned it in their chronicles.

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    10. Did the Japanese miss a single thing? Is their mythology (translated as 'fairy tales') fully comprehensive?

      Your blind belief in Japanese mythology goes hand in hand with your skepticism about the Torah. I don't think it is conincidental

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    11. Again, if there was a worldwide flood, as you say, the Japanese would have mentioned it in their chronicles. Forget mythology. Why aren't there any mention of the cataclysm in the historical records?

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    12. How do you now that they 'would have' mentioned it? Based on what?

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    13. Almost every culture mentions a flood story. Therefore, it would be inconceivable for the Japanese to leave out such a cataclysmic event in their history books.

      And I could ask you the same question flip the question: If they did mention it, how would you know it was in reference to Noah? Since flood stories vary by culture, there is no reason to assume there ever was such a cataclysmic event in the first place. The pyramids at Giza and other ruins testify to the absence of a worldwide flood. If there was a flood, it must have been local.

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    14. I never thought that the mythology of a culture was an accurate depiction of history,and I certainly never thought that the omission of something from a culture serves as proof to anything.

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    15. Reread my previous post. Japan's not your only problem. You need to explain how the pyramid exist if they were destroyed by a flood. Good luck :)

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    16. Are you conceding on the Japanese mythology proof? Are you admitting that it is utter codswallop?

      Because the proof was not just ludicrous, it showed a frivolous mindset. The idea that someone could even bring such a proof shows a primitive unsophisticated irrational mind. Which explains your ludicrous mystical backstory to the Torah. Reading your claims reminds me of The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, where beauty is truth, rendering everything ugly non-existent.

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    17. @ZD, If you knew anything about archeology, you would know that the pyramids existed long before, and after the flood. If there was a worldwide flood, why are the pyramids still intact? Second, if you knew anything about comparative culture, you'd know that the Japanese failed to mention a flood story. Your strawman about the absence of a flood in Asian mythology is disingenuous. Japanese historical records do not mention floods either. Why?

      When all secular archeologists agree that there was a flood in the Mesopotamian region, which could account for Noah. We should't disagree with them.

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    18. You are again jumping arguments. I was talking specifically about the Japanese mythology argument. Have you conceded it, or are you trying to filibuster and change the topic? It was not my strawman argument, it was yours. You used the absence of a flood fairy tale in the Japanese fairy tale list, with no background as to how we know what the Japanese fairy tale culture included in its stories.
      Japanese historical records are equally suspect. Are they complete? Are they accurate? Do you even know how to read Japanese to be able to be sure of any of this?

      Your constant trying to shoehorn archaeology into a discussion about Japanese mythology is similar to that of street missionaries who are constantly trying to change the topic to stop their customer from thinking too hard. They think that by throwing lots of arguments into the equation, something has to stick.

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    19. I brought up Japanese fairy tales and then added Japanese chronicles. I have not studied them, but those who do claim they lack any subsense for a flood myth. I asked: if a worldwide flood occurred, why do the Japanese remain silent?

      With regard to archaeology, I brought the point here because you failed to acknowledge it in our last disquisition (scroll up). If you insist that there was a worldwide flood, then how did the pyramids, and other structures remain intact?

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  6. Thanks for posting this list of sources.
    For a number of years I have found the questions posed by the Flood more challenging than questions about Creation, dinosaurs, etc. Particularly the issue that your raised that there is overwhelming evidence that there was not a disruption to civilization around 5000 years ago.

    I have seen many responses (including your own), for example that it was a localized flood and did not cover the whole world, however so far I have not read a response that I find satisfying.

    If/when I have time, I'll try to look at some of the other sources that you posted, however I think that to have challenging questions that I cannot answer today (and may never be able to answer) is not a challenge to my Emuna - rather it reminds me that as a Human being there are limits to what I can understand, and there will always be challenges and questions to grapple with.

    I think that we need to remind ourselves that human knowledge is be definition limited and we will never have answers to all questions, that should motivate us to keep looking for answers, but to know that whenever you find an answer to a question, there will always be more questions to try to answer.

    If someone thinks that they already know all the answers, or that there are no questions, there is very little room for spiritual and intellectual growth.

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    Replies
    1. I also feel like you, even though I'm much more fundamentalists and anti-rationalist. I just can't dismiss the actual evidence that I understand from fossils, geological formations, tree rings, ice cores, carbon dating, etc. The fundamentalist answers aren't very good. But neither are the allegorical or "dramatic" readings of Creation and the Flood, at least to my mind. So I have to leave it as an unanswered question, like I commonly do with particularly frustrating questions when learning Gemara.

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    2. My take is that the flood was localized. The pyramids of Giza and other ruins testify to the absence of a worldwide flood. It it happened, it happened locally.

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  7. Where can I find Rabbi Dovid Tzvi Hoffman's peirush on the Torah?

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    1. In printed books. Online, you can find his perush at:

      https://mg.alhatorah.org/Dual/R._David_Zvi_Hoffmann/Bereshit/1.1#m7e0n6

      or at

      http://www.daat.ac.il/daat/tanach/hofman/tohen-2.htm

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  8. Another challenge:
    The genetic wealth of all species is too big for having had such dramatic losses so recently.
    For example cheetahs have a unusually low genetic variability, which science explains by one or two bottlenecks, both a lot before the Deluge times (the last one 12,000 years ago, and involving a lot more surviving individuals. So the Deluge should have led to an even more homogenous genome in all species, too much to allow them to go on.
    I'm struggling with this question for a very long time already. Does one of these books speak about that?

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  9. It is futile to attempt to reconcile the literal account of a global mabul with science. One must choose either a rational approach that rejects literalism or accept a story that requires convoluted layers upon layers of miracles that rejects a multitude of scientific and historical evidence. There simply is no overlap between the two approaches.

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    1. I think it is possible that the Noah story was a parable.

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    2. that's one of zdub's suggestions

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  10. "even this ridiculously far-fetched answer does not remotely deal with the evidence regarding human civilization."

    This is a disrespectful way to talk about rabbis. Why must you use derogatory terms such as “ridiculously far-fetched” and “silly”, instead of just disagreeing respectfully?

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    1. If you look at rabbinic literature, you'll find a long history of people "calling it as they see it" regarding whether written opinions make sense.

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    2. Plus, what I wrote is positively mild compared to what he writes about others.

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    3. Sure, but do we see in the Rabbinic literature insulting and derogatory terms to describe Rabbis who were of much greater stature than the writers? Would we see K'tzos describing something the Rambam wrote as "Shtus" or "Hevel" for example? If you have any such examples, honestly, I would like to know.

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    4. I feel perfectly comfortable using such words about the writings of Rabbi Moshe Meiselman. And it's much milder than what he writes about the positions of rabbis much greater than either of us.

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    5. But why do you feel comfortable using such words about the Lubavitcher Rebbe? Was he not great enough to be worthy of, at the very least, respectful disagreement? Again, if you have a source condoning such a way of speaking without regard to the stature of the rabbis involved, I would be interested.

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    6. Do you think it's respectful for RMM to say about abarbanel that his uncle "couldn't take him (abarbanel) seriously?"

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    7. @happy:

      Malbim about Ralbag. Melachim 2:6:6.

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    8. Here's one:

      Rabad criticized Maimonides with "insulting vehemence":

      “There are many people "greater and superior" to him who adhere to such a belief [that G-d has a body like humans] on the basis of what they have seen in verses of Scripture and even in the words of those aggadot which corrupt right opinion about religious matters.”

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    9. I think the Malbim and Ralbag were roughly on the same level. Same with the Rabad and Rambam. I would very surprised if the Malbim would use the same language ("hevel") to criticized the Rambam, even though he, like the Ralbag, was a rationalist who preferred to minimize miracles. The best counter-example I could come up with is the GRA severely criticizing the Rambam.

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    10. Whoa - the Malbim and Ralbag were on the same level? You've determined with your great bekius that a 19th century Acharon is on the level of a well-known 13th-14th century Rishon, widely cited by some of the greats, like the Ran, Abarbanel, and many more? This is not an example of some manuscript of an unknown person who simply lived in the times of the Rishonim and we don't know his scholarship. He was widely revered, known and printed. What a mechutzaf you are.

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    11. Shlomo I reconsidered and you are correct, the Ralbag was indeed very great and I shouldn't assign levels to great Rabbis. The precedent from the Malbim is good. Still, I think there are limits. I can't say exactly what the limits are, but I would horrified if my shul rabbi used insulting language to denigrate the gedolim of this or previous generations, no matter what their persuasion (chareidi, dati leumi, chasidic, chabad, sephardi, etc.) Wouldn't you?

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    12. It seems to have been a Spanish pastime to insult the sefer you were commenting on. Ramban arguing against the Baal HaMaor is scathing!

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    13. (That is not an OK to do it today :) )

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  11. Hi,
    what are your thoughts on how the epic of Gilgamesh plays into the historicity of the flood. I presume it is easy to deflect it and say "they got the story from us" though use of history and archeology i suppose would render that argument useless. I've often felt that this connection should undoubtedly show that our flood story is clearly influenced by that and therefore clearly not depicting actual historical events...
    What are your thoughts?

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    1. If the story is indeed true, there's no reason there shouldn't be two or more roughly similar accounts of it, gradually evolving in different directions.

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    2. If the story is indeed true, there's no reason there shouldn't be two or more roughly similar accounts of it, gradually evolving in different directions.

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    3. @Ezra, My understanding is that the Noah story was influenced by the Gilgamesh plays. However, the Torah adds a moral twist which the pagans did not. Although we might consider the flood story to be a parable, (i.e., that is, that there is no evidence for a worldwide flood, save a localized version), it is superior to the pagan myths which lacked a moral message, making the Torah version timeless.

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  12. Rabbi Slifkin likes discussing bereishis and noach because the rationalist viewpoint seemingly makes more sense and is more appealing than the typical charedie approach. I’m still waiting for the rational explanation of the the time spent in Egypt, the Exodus, Sinai etc of which due to science, archaeology etc the rational approach tends to leave one to not believe in it at all.

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    1. @Charedi Zionist
      Here is your rationalist approach to the exodus: https://drive.google.com/file/d/1-wOg4jA6PIQ4h8AZMkMWnh12xYwE8SBx/view?usp=drivesdk

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    2. BM, this is a nice attempt to deal with the narrow population problem, but doesn't really touch on many of the main scientific objections to the Exodus. To quote a summary:

      The history of Rameses is exceptionally well documented but there is scant evidence of any such event.
      Further the scriptures tell us that Moses took his followers, numbering in the tens of thousands on a 40 year trek around what we today call the middle east.
      No archeological evidence of any such diaspora has ever been found in any of the likely locations that this long event would have been situated and no historical documentation exists from any of the many different peoples that such an event would have affected.


      These objections would exist whether the number of Jewish slaves was 3 million or 40 thousand, which was still a huge number for ancient times (as the author of your piece shows).

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    3. Exodus and Sinai stories may have happened but with small population. On the other hand there is no evidence for them. ACJA

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    4. 40 thousand wasn't a small population, as the author shows. The consensus of science is that the absence of evidence is indeed evidence of absence is this case.
      One of the reasons I like that piece is because the author doesn't make it a strictly Torah vs. science issue, he brings sources from the Torah itself that contradict the traditional meaning of "elef". But his conclusion is still pretty radical. And some of his questions explicitly assume the (traditional) Torah is untrue, such as his assumption that the Manna was natural. My feeling is that science failed in this case, and the population estimates are way off.

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    5. Exactly. Which is why all those who mock literal meanings should be left with little reason to believe at all

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  13. While I am no expert in archeology or geology, I do recall something interesting from a visit to Tel Arad a year or two ago.
    The original settlement at Tel Arad is thought to date more than 5000 years back. It was a huge, walled and fortified city. However, the archeological evidence indicates that the city was abandoned about 4000 years ago for an unknown reason (i.e. no signs of war, earthquake, etc.). This would be about the time of Noah in the Biblical chronology...

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  14. Also check out R' Chaim Hirschensohn:
    https://hebrewbooks.org/pdfpager.aspx?req=2498&st=%d7%9e%d7%91%d7%95%d7%9c&pgnum=106

    "כי ידעו חז"ל כי המבול לא ירד בכל העולם כולו"

    Then again Rav Hirschensohn often had a unique perspective on things.

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  15. I like these two articles about the flood:
    https://ncse.ngo/yes-noahs-flood-may-have-happened-not-over-whole-earth
    and
    http://www.godandscience.org/apologetics/localflood.html even though it is a Christian source explains how even the original meaning of the Torah is for a local flood.
    So we can imagine the Torah writing a version of the myth of what happened in peoples collective memory of a man being saved from the flooding river.
    The moral jist of it is that a man being moral saved him from the destruction that was around him.
    All of the things that seem impossible are removed when you understand that it is a local flood. Only the local animals had to be brought on the Ark. And building a ship/Barge of those dimensions could be done, it just means the size to fit the local animals, We don't really talk exact large numbers in the Torah, like the counting of the tribes all ending in zero, most ages ending in 5 or 0.
    So, with the evidence for a local flood in the sediment, both points are answered.
    These days we have critical theory that says there is obviously no evidence for the way the Torah tells the story.
    But the story itself when interpreted correctly and the way it was likely understood for the first 100s of years of it's telling doesn't have any miraculous elements.
    Even the details of the story make sense in telling the story how it was originally written. Those two articles also answer many questions that I had in my youth about a the flood specifically how "the tops of the mountains became visible." and then later "the water was on the surface of all the earth". According to the local river flood, indeed the hills became visible in the horizon first but still afterward "the water was on the surface of all land within flying distance around the boat". In the regular understanding of a global flood or even a local flood in a mountainous area such an explanation seems farfetched, just fly to the mountain you see. But if we are only talking about distant hills because we are in a very flat area, it is still reasonable to say that "the water was on the surface of all the earth". Either way you have to be little bit of a biblical critic and a rationalist to get it, but it answers so many puzzling questions about this story.

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  16. Rabbi Slifkin, I recommend you have a look at this if you didn't yet:
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=38GRURRszaY&list=WL&index=10&ab_channel=HenryAbramson
    I think you'll like what he says at 4:02

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  17. Ark shape seems like it would tip over in water. ACJA

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    1. @ACJA, Actually, studies have shown that the Ark would have floated safely in the water. I've watched too many History Channel documentaries to dispute that fact.

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  18. "but this is not satisfactory for those who follow the approach of Rambam and others which seek to minimize supernatural miracles."

    It seems that you always talk about what miracles weren't actually miraculous but never address what miracles were actually miraculous.

    1. Could you please explain the rationalist (perhaps Rambam's) approach of when G-d DOES/DID perform a "clear, open and obvious miracle"?

    2. Are there rationalist "rules" to explain when G-d will and won't perform miracles?

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    1. If you think about it what is the big deal between rational and mystical/literal/charedei approach? They seemingly all believe in the possibility of a miracle. the only difference is if miravles happens when it can still be explained scientifically. As I pointed out previously that is probably why Rabbi Slifkin chooses not to write about the topics that can’t be understood rationally

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    2. Charedi Zionist, I hear you.

      But a rationalist who takes seriously the minimization of miracles should also have rules or guidelines that explain when G-d DOES perform miracles (even if the rationalists tend not to discuss those miracles much).

      It seems a little egotistical to say that something is a miracle only if I can't explain it. Also, that would mean that what was a miracle last year may not be a miracle next year. And ultimately, why would G-d ever need to make an miracle since He could actually always do things within the rules of nature if he so desired. And in that case why should a rationalist believe in miracles at all.

      RD Slifkin, I'd really appreciate if you could answer this question: What are (according to Rambam or rationalist Judaism) the guidelines that delineate when G-d does and does not perform miracles that break the rules of nature?

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    3. @Zach, I know you asked for RNS's opinion, but here is mine. I understand Maimonides to say that G-d works through nature. Therefore, there is no need for Him to perform miracles since that would imply that G-d failed to create correctly, as the Bible states, “very good.”

      The only miracle I can think of that ever occurred, occurred before there were laws of nature and that was at the very beginning when "G-d created the heavens and the earth." Genesis 1בְּרֵאשִׁית בָּרָא אֱלֹהִים אֵת הַשָּׁמַיִם וְאֵת הָאָרֶץ ׃.

      When G-d created the world He arranged it to function throughout eternity according to the laws of nature. G-d, all-knowing and all-powerful, already took into consideration all that could occur and provided everything with these perfect rules. What people mistake as miracles are unusual, but perfectly natural events that G-d preprogrammed to occur in history.

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    4. There is an old joke about how a talmid boasts about his rabbi, saying "when my rabbi stands on a chair, he can see to the ends of the earth!" The listener then asks that if the rabbi's sight is so great, why does he need the chair? Responds the talmid: "My rabbi wants his miracles to look natural!"

      I think the same is true of HKB"H (and therefore, our joke rabbi models himself on God :) ) - He wants his miracles to fit the confines of nature. Sure, having the sea split seems miraculous, but in a shallow area, during the drier season, after a whole night of a hot east wind blowing, one can make the case that it is something that is within the realm of possibility of happening. The Miracle is that it happened when Bnai Yisrael were fleeing for their lives.

      Whatever one does with this information/perspective, is up to the individual. One can choose to use this info to dismiss the miracle (note that in the movie The Ten Commandments, Rameses at one point comments to Moses that he heard of a river putting forth red mud that killed the fish and made the frogs leave the waters, thus rendering HIS belief in the miracle zero) or we can choose to have it strengthen our belief, that we do NOT live in a clockmaker's universe, but there is Hashgacha and Intervention.

      (I believe that even Rambam excludes Maamad Har Sinai from this.)

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    5. Turk Hill, from what I've seen from RNS's writings, I don't think he would agree with you, because he usually speaks about rationalist Judaism "minimizing" miracles. I don't remember him ever denying them outright as you do. So I think he needs to be clearer and
      either
      (1) deny miracles outright
      or
      (2) explain when G-d does and does not make miracles - rare as they may be.

      In any case, there are occurrences in the Tanakh which seem to be miraculous and they are called "signs" either by the name "nes" or "ot"; if they are natural occurrences then what makes them a sign?

      And even when those words (nes and ot) are not used, there are numerous cases that would be difficult to explain naturally. For example, what did the devout prophets of baal actually see that made them declare "HaShem is the G-d; HaShem is the G-d"? If it was not really a fire coming down from the heavens to consume a sacrifice that had been thrice doused in water as the verses say, what DID they see that made them repent? Something natural?!

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    6. @Yosef R, I think that all the miracles happened but that they were unusual, but natural events. Exaggerated events that were preprogrammed into nature. What people mistake as miracles can often be explained by science. The world operates according to the laws of nature that G-d created. The only truly miraculously event ever to occur was at the very beginning before there were natural laws: “In the beginning G-d created the Heaven, and the Earth.”

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    7. The miracles were unusual, but natural events. For example, the historical consensus is now that sometime around 1300 BC, the Minoan civilization (who pre-dated the Greeks) was wiped out due to massive volcanic eruption of ash 100- 450 miles north from an island called Santorini in ancient times and Thera today. Interestingly enough, archeologists are now linking the blast to the ten plagues in Egypt. When the Bible speaks about a “great darkness” spreading over Egypt, it is likely that this was a volcanic cloud. (Could this be the same cloud that led the Israelites out of Egypt)? About the time of the eruption, the Nile turned red due to bacteria and volcanic dust, resulting in algae, rotting the fish. One thing leads to the next and the frogs left the Nile and died; attracting huge swarms of insects and flies, killing cattle and wheat. Eventually, the bacteria spread to humans, as in the tenth plague of Egypt, and kills all the "firstborn," which means many, or that in addition to striking everyone else it also struck them.

      Israeli filmmaker, Simcha Jacobovici explains in his film Exodus Decoded that it is possible that the ancient Hebrews were explaining the conditions of Egypt, similar to those that befell the inhabitants of Crete.

      Israeli Egyptologist Galit Dayan cites an Egyptian papyrus as evidence for the plagues. The Admonitions of Ipuwer papyrus describes a time of social upheaval in Egypt: “Plague is throughout the land. . . . the river is [has turned to] blood . . . and the hail smote every herd of the field . . . there is a thick darkness throughout the land . . . the Lord smote all of the firstborn in the land of Egypt (including) the first born of Pharaoh that sat on his throne . . . .”

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    8. Turk Hill, can you scientifically explain why this volcanic cloud affected only the rest of Egypt and not affect the Jews? Likewise for all the other plagues as explicitly stated in the verses? Or were the Jews not being affected by the plagues non-literal?

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    9. Zach, according to TH's way of "learning", there were no real miracles at all. What is explicitly stated in the verses is no object to him, anything can be explained away as non-literal or a dramatization. One can explain that the Jews were less affected because Moses, a very wise man who had a good understanding of the natural world, warned them beforehand of these natural event. He also warned the Egyptians, but they didn't listen.

      Since all miracles in the Torah can be explained as natural events or dramatic accounts, the same could be said for prophecy and the giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai itself. Those are even easier to explain than the Plagues. Therefore there is no reason to believe or follow the Torah at all, unless one thinks that it is inherently rational to do so. Which is an absurd position given that we live in an age of unparalleled scientific knowledge, why would one follow Bronze age superstitions for "rational" reasons?

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    10. Mr. Lucky
      Are you sure that the Rambam, according to whom we believe in the Torah ONLY because of matan Torah and not the other miracles since they were less impressive, would agree that prophecy and the giving of the Torah are even easier to explain than the plagues? I don't think this is even a very controversial Rambam, other Rishonim agree with that.

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    11. Shlomo I don't think the Rambam was referring to TH's or RJ type of "explanations", where Sinai could indeed easily be explained by a big thunderstorm that sounded like God "talking". Rather, Rambam says other miracles could be explained by magic, but not Sinai. Even that is difficult to understand, why is it harder to magically create a Godly voice than to create Plagues?

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    12. Mr Lucky,
      So based on what you're saying, why do you feel someone should believe and follow the Torah?

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    13. Raymond, for somebody who has a mesorah that the Exodus and Sinai indeed occurred as stated, my question doesn’t start. There was a Godly voice that wasn’t a thunderstorm, so one ought to follow it. My question was only for rationalists who a priori don’t accept real miracles at all, and for whom all such accounts must be read as dramatizations of natural events. For them there was only a dramatic thunderstorm, why must they follow a thunderstorm?

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    14. @Zach, Yes, I agree with RNS that Maimonides at least minimizes them. Miracles are a natural phenomenon. I found that the biblical style exaggerates to make a point. For example, the plagues in Egypt were natural events. The other miracles are similar exaggerations. They are unusual, but natural events. The Torah does this.

      To answer your second question, some say only one out of five Jews left Egypt, or between 80-99.8% of Jews died, presumably in the ninth plague (darkness).

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    15. @Lucky Yes, Moses foresaw that by an unusual concatenation of natural forces the Red Sea would split. Contrary to popular opinion, Maimonides held an Aristotelian conception of prophecy and revelation. For example, Maimonides explains that prophecy is a natural event. He felt that prophecy is a high level of intelligence. Thus, even non-Jews can be prophets. Guide, 2:45 says that all prophecies, with the exception of Moses, were dreams.

      And since Rambam explains that anything attributed to G-d, whether it is speech, action, or thought, is metaphorical, this would mean that G-d literally did not give us the Torah. Since miracles are less fantastic, Maimonides says that we don't know how the Torah was revealed. It is possible that Moses meditated on nature and produced the Torah (theory of telos: Aristotle and Greek natural law felt that human beings could arrive at certain truths through contemplation of the world around them). Or, it is possible that G-d caused a voice emanating from fire. What exactly is revelation? We simply do not know. Nevertheless, Rambam writes that we should observe Judaism as the rabbis explain it.

      According to Maimonides, all of the commands are rational. Maimonides writes that the purpose of the Torah is threefold: (1) to teach some truths, and (2) helps improve people and (3) society (Guide 3:27).

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    16. Lucky,
      Your response demonstrates that you don't understand the Rambam's (and the Rishonim's) view on the matter, particularly with regard to what "prophecy" entails, as you refer to it as a "Godly voice"(!). Which is why of course you find this Rambam "difficult."
      I wasn't defending TH's position, just your statement that matan Torah would be even "easier" to explain. That is incorrect (at least according to the dominant view of the Rishonim).

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    17. TH, as I said before, it’s absolutely bizarre that you, a self-proclaimed rationalist, would follow a religion just because some medieval Aristotelian considered it rational. Doesn’t seem very rational of you, does it? Like, following something just because some guy who lived a thousand years ago, with no knowledge of modern science or modern anything, considered it rational… that is like, the polar opposite of rationalism.

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    18. Turk Hill,
      1. The fact that 4/5 of the Jews died during the plague of darkness does not prove your point. The other nine plagues (1-8, and 10) did NOT affect the Jews, and if the plagues were natural events, there is no way to explain how they did not affect the Jews.
      2.
      You contradict yourself. You think that Moses foresaw all the splitting of the see because of his intelligence in the workings of nature, an event which modern meteorology can't predict (remember the tzunamis since 2005?). But you also hold that the ancients weren't as smart as today's scientists. I know that I have oversimplified your position, but any significant conversation about these two points will reveal that the contradiction is there.
      (By the way, the fact that all prophecies were dreams is a non-sequitur; it does not mean that prophecy is dependent on intelligence and that they are not communications with G-d.)

      R. Slifkin, it would be nice you would chime in when you disagree with Turk Hill or at least to express a true rationalist approach, because your arguments are much better.

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    19. Shlomo, nope. According to TH's naturalistic mangling, the Rambam's arguments aren't true, there's no real prophecy, and nothing to understand. "Eneinu ra'u v'lo zar"?? "Anu shomin Moshe Moshe"?? Never happened! It was just a big thunderstorm! That IS easier than 10 naturalistic plagues.

      For the other point, since you claim to understand the Rambam so well, please enlighten me. Leave Godly voices out of it, why is [Whatever Rambam thinks happened at Sinai] impossible to fake with magic, moreso than the Plagues? Or if he's not saying that, what is he saying?

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    20. @Zach, I don't see a contradiction. True, Maimonides rejected the notion of the decline of the generations. Maimonides felt that the earlier generations were not intellectually superior to their descendants. However, even Maimonides considered Aristotle a prophet because of his immense intelligence. He wrote, in a letter to Samuel ibn Tibbon, that Aristotle reached, “the extreme limits of human intellect… to the extent that it reached the level of prophecy, there being no level higher.” Aristotle was an empiricist. Maimonides explains that prophecy is not a communication from G-d, but a higher level of knowledge. Thus, the prophets were Aristotelian philosophers. In fact, according to Maimonides, Moses reached the greatest cognitive achievement in human history. Moses understood nature better than anyone else (Guide, 1:54). However, these exceptions prove the rule. Thus, there is no contradiction.

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    21. @Lucky, There are many reasons why we should observe Judaism. Among others, I find that these "medieval Aristotelians" held a rational perspective of G-d and religion.

      If we accept the view of Aristotle that everything has a purpose, then nature itself has a purpose. If we accept the view that man also has a telos, and that according to Aristotle, that is to reason, then by using our reason we could determine the purpose of everything. And since the theory of telos relies on the presence of a designer, and since it is our duty to investigate the universe, then we can assume that Moses did so as well. And in doing so, Moses translated his scientific understanding of the world and produced the Torah. Since Torah is an imitation of nature, a divine creation replicated in the Torah, it follows that the Torah is divine. Thus, all the Torah commandments, the mitzvot, are rational. The Torah helps improve people and society.

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    22. TH, wow. Just wow. “Moses translated his scientific understanding of the world and produced the Torah.” So Moses was a scientist now?! And not only that, but he knew more than everything scientists know today? Wonders never cease! “Torah helps improve people and society”: There is absolutely no empirical evidence for this, certainly nothing that modern science would accept, and yet you accept this statement blindly?? And you call this rationalism?? I don’t know what to call these bizarre historical fantasies, but rational it ain’t.

      But I think I understand the psychology here. You are somebody who deeply wants to believe in Judaism, but you can’t let go of the rationalist idol, just like the Israelites couldn’t rid themselves of the Baa’lim. So to justify this dissonance, you come up with this bizarre Frankenstein, making the wackiest claims, like that the Rambam or Moses knew more science than we do today.

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    23. @Lucky, Moses was more of an Aristotelian philosopher than a scientist, but he must have understood physics to a degree in order to write the Torah. The Torah is an intellectual achievement. (See Micah Goodman's book about Maimonides, chap 6). And the Torah does help aid people and society to improve themselves (Guide, 3:28). For example, the Torah teaches preventive medicine. Thus, the Torah contains wisdom, which brings personal and social benefits. In fact, Maimonides felt that all of the commands are rational. 

      And please don't equate rationalism with idolatry. They are not the same. The opposite is true. Maimonides rejected the existence of demons, devils, magic, and other superstitions which many Jews still believe. He considers them akin to idolatry. In fact, Maimonides said it was insufficient to just study the Torah. In order to truly understand the Torah, one needs to study science, history, philosophy, etc. Your psychology here is that if the Torah is true, then science is wrong. However, Gerald Schroeder proved that the Torah does not have to conflict with science.

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    24. @Lucky Well, it was not me but the Rambam who wrote that Moses understood nature better than anyone else (Guide, 1:54). Moses’s prophecy was unique because Moses prophesied without imagination. In fact, according to Maimonides, Moses reached the greatest cognitive achievement in human history (Guide, 1:54). No one will ever reach this again. Maimonides explains: “As for the difference between his prophecy and that of all those who came after (see Deut. 34:10),” (Guide, 2:35). If we accept Rambam's view, then it's far from crazy. Besides, you will admit that Moses's prophecy exceeded all others, won't you? 

      Lastly, I don't "believe" in Judaism. It is not a matter of belief. "Belief" means not knowing. Maimonides said that we should “know” G-d by knowing science and the laws of nature that G-d created. 

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    25. TH, lol, you are a true believer. When asked why you follow the Torah, you haven’t provided any empirical, scientific evidence that anything in the Torah is true, besides constantly quoting Maimonides. And yet you believe in it. This isn’t rational at all, not a single, tiny, eensy, weensy bit. It’s completely irrational faith in Maimonides’s opinion. Not that that is necessarily bad. I suppose it's no worse than any Hassid who trusts the opinion of his Rebbe. Just that it’s the total opposite of rational.

      But I wouldn’t indict you personally, your desperate grasping is really just a symptom of the absurdity of the entire rationalist Judaism idea. It’s easy enough to be “rationalist” when dealing with Creation and the Flood, claiming the Torah didn’t really mean what it said. It’s impossible when dealing with 613 commandments that you actually follow, having to finally admit that the Torah did mean what it said, yet justifying it rationally. The reform Jews were the original rationalist Jews, and they got rationalism right, discarding any commandments that weren't worthy of a modern rational society. The orthodox Jews who call themselves rationalists now are just fakers (actually a good thing). Get back to me when the “rationalists” come out with 613 empirically supported peer-reviewed papers proving that each commandment not only is good for society, but better than the alternatives. And remember, Maimonides’s opinion does NOT count as empirical, scientific, rational evidence!

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    26. @Lucky, According to Maimonides, all – yes, all – of the commands are rational (Guide, 3:26). Rambam explains: The Law as a whole aims for two things: the welfare of the soul (intellect) and the welfare of the body." (Guide, 3:27). Maimonides listed three goals of the Torah: teaching some truth and helps improve people and society [Guide 3:27]. Thus, the Torah leads humanity to perfection. But is it possible to do so without the Torah? Yes. Theoretically. But the likelihood of non-Jews reaching intellectual perfection without halakhah is very hard, if not impossible in most cases. Even if they did reach it, they would be unlikely to exist there for very long. For Rambam, the primary purpose of the mitzvot was to perfect human beings. The Torah does this.

      The ramifications here would mean that he Reform Jews were mistaken. Since the Torah is a perfect imitation of nature, it follows that its commands are rational. For example, studies show that a kosher diet is more kosher (healthy) than a non-kosher diet. Jews survived much of the Black plague because of all the strict rules and regulations of purity. Judaism encourages Jews to think and place a large emphasis on education. This is why Jews are overrepresented in intelligent jobs and win a lot of the Nobel Prizes. I agree that we should not base our lives according to one opinion, but unlike some Rebbes, Maimonides was a rationalist. 

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    27. Sorry TH, neither Maimonides's nor Aristotle's philosophical musings are rational at all by today's scientifically rigorous standards, which require empirical evidence. If you wish to rely on them, you are no better than a hassid who relies on his Rebbe. I assure you the hassid also thinks his Rebbe is very rational.

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    28. @Lucky, Aristotle was an empiricist, and Maimonides was a rationalist. True, both Aristotle and Maimonides would modify some of their views, but overall, they would be very pleased with modern science. Thus, for example, Maimonides would have accepted the theory of evolution. In fact, the Aristotelian premise of the investigative scientific study of the universe led to the birth of science. Science owes its foundations to Greek telos.

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    29. Again TH, neither Aristotle's "empiricism" nor Maimonides's "rationalism" mean squat by today's standards. Whether they would have modified their opinion is anybody's guess. I think Maimonides would most certainly NOT have accepted the theory of evolution considering how one has to twist the Torah to make it fit. The "rationalism" that Maimonides had in his time, which was nothing more than philosophical rhetoric, easily fit with the Torah. Not so the rationalism of today, which requires rigorous empirical evidence that the Torah doesn't have AT ALL.

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    30. @Lucky, The Torah does have empirical evidence in the sense that Judaism claims national revelation.

      I disagree. I think he would have accepted it. He accepted the investigative scientific empiricism of Aristotle. In fact, Maimonides wrote that if a scientific claim is demonstrably true, then we must read it allegorically. In this sense, science helps us interpret the Torah. 

      PS Two Jewish scientists, Theoretical physicist Roger Penrose and American anesthesiologist, Stuart Hameroff peer-reviewed, a scientific model attempting to prove Maimonides' view of the soul as "pure intellect."

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    31. Ah, you finally bring empirical evidence! But unfortunately, you have already said that there was no real prophecy at Sinai = no revelation. And even if there was, modern science would require empirical evidence that said revelation actually happened.

      I don't think that he would accept science today where it contradicts Torah. In his days, the pitiful excuse for "science", which was nothing more than philosophy, was easily reconciled with the Torah. Not so now.

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    32. Prophecy is a natural event. However, something did happen at Sinai that shaped the world forever. The Torah is certainly holy.

      Again, I think he would have accepted it. I already showed two scientist who accept Rambam's science as true.

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    33. Just because something happened that shaped the world forever doesn't mean the Torah is true. Christianity shaped the world forever. So did the French Revolution. Doesn't mean they're saying true things. And that's even assuming something did happen at Sinai, which requires evidence.

      It's very nice you brought those two scientists. Unfortunately, whatever they say is very far from claiming the Torah is true. BTW, I could also bring you two scientists who deny evolution.

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    34. The evidence is the national revelation that affect Jews over millennium.

      The scientists who deny evolution are either not real scientists or ignorant. 

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    35. One could say Christians had a revelation that affected them over millennium. Or Hindus. Or Zoroastrians. Is that evidence of their truth?

      And one could just as well say that scientist who accept Rambam's "science" are ignorant. Also, one could say scientists who agree with evolution are ignorant.

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    36. @Lucky, The problem, of course, is that the Christians, Hindus, and Zoroastrians are all based off individual revelation. What masses today claim the purported events as their history? None. Thus, no proof. However, Judaism, in contrast, is the only religion to claim national revelation.

      What makes evolution more credible is that there is more evidence.

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    37. Ah, but you just said a few comments ago that we don't even know what happened at Sinai. So, mass revelation of what?! How could you call a claim from the masses empirical evidence if you don't even know what is being claimed? And furthermore, real science wouldn't accept an alleged claim from the masses thousands of years ago as empirical evidence.

      As for evolution, I agree by scientific standards there is evidence. Such evidence is lacking for the Torah, and by your standards, you should only accept that which is accepted by real science. Is it not remarkable that you think there's scientific evidence for the Torah, yet 99.99% of scientists don't agree with you?

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    38. @Lucky, Maimonides says that we don't know how the revelation occurred. Other commentators differ. But if mass witnesses agree that an event took place, it probably happened.

      I do accept what real science teaches. However, this does not mean you should abandon the Torah. Rambam felt that the Torah does not have to conflict with science.

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    39. "Some event probably happened" doesn't equal evidence the Torah is true. Rambam saying something doesn't equal evidence the Torah is true. Especially since Rambam didn't know science at all. You are one of the only two people I have heard claiming there is scientific evidence for the Torah. You and your hero, Yossi Mizrachi, on numerous videos.

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    40. @Lucky, I don't claim the Torah has scientific evidence. I disagree with Yosef Mizrachi's interpretations. When you wrote scientific evidence, I thought you meant that the Torah can be proven using the scientific method. No, I do not think the Torah has modern scientific knowledge nor do I accept Torah codes as proof. 

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    41. Not Torah codes. Yossi Mizrachi proves it "scientifically" with the alleged mass revelation, the same as you. Hey, accept the truth where it comes from, right? At least his version of the "proof" is better because he claims to know what happened during the mass revelation.

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    42. @Lucky, You seem to be arguing here as if we cannot use the Torah to verify revelation because it is self-affirming, circular argument? Rambam and Kuzari seem to say that national revelation is the only way we know Judaism is the truth. They argue that there were 600,000 Israelites at Sinai because the Bible tells us so, and the Bible is telling the truth because thousands of Israelites could not have been wrong. 

      Of course, one could argue that we should not verify religious claims as we verify scientific claims. The Torah is a divine and authoritative text. It is an eternal because it has the capacity to speak to us even today.

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    43. The Torah is a divine and authoritative text. It is an eternal because it has the capacity to speak to us even today.

      How very scientific and rational. I'm sure Yossi Mizrachi would approve.

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    44. Strawman again. Yes, Mizrachi probably would agree with that but he would virtually disagree with almost everything else in the rationalist position. For example, don't literalists, like yourself, claim that G-d created the world within six 24-hour periods, rejecting evolution, etc. Don't you have more in common with him than me? 

      An even better question: what do you find more compelling about Judaism, as opposed to all other religions? What happened at Mount Sinai? What exactly is revelation, in your view?

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    45. Huh? I am not a rationalist. I think there absolutely were real miracles in the Exodus and Sinai. That's what I find compelling about Judaism. And that's my understanding of Rambam's position as well. And unlike YM and yourself, I don't make the mistake of conflating this with science.

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    46. "I think there absolutely were real miracles in the Exodus and Sinai."
      Yosef Mizrachi can agree with that!

      PS Yosef Mizrachi believes in Torah codes. I do not.

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  19. Before I begin, I like to make some facts clear.

    I consider myself a talmid of Rav Meiselman.

    I do not agree with everything Rav Meisleman says. In fact, I fondly remember Rav Meiselman on a few occasions when I was in his shiur publically expressing our disagreement, and it was not simply about which commentary explained the Gemara correctly.

    I have attended lectures from you. And, I publish a newsletter on various articles and videos I think will be of interest to those who receive the newsletter, and I have included on many occasions links to your postings.

    Finally, I am fully aware of the antagonistic relationship between Rav Meiselman and yourself.

    With that being said, I found it offensive what you wrote about Rav Meiselman, because it was unnecessary. To quote his view and to oppose it, I have no issue with. Nor do I have an issue with mentioning Rav Meiselman’s name as the proponent of this idea, and that you reject that position. Instead, you not only expressed that opinion in Rav Meiselman’s name, but you added the point from Rav Meiselman that anyone who disagrees has a mindset of kefirah and then replied that such a viewpoint is ridiculous. In the context of this posting, it was improper and was written in a way to embarrass Rav Meiselman. That is wrong. Unless necessary for the posting, which was not necessary here, you should refrain from personal attacks.


    Gerry Burk


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    Replies
    1. There was no "personal attack" here. A personal attack would be for example, saying that he is an arrogant person. What I wrote was a harsh criticism of his book. That's not a personal attack.

      "you added the point from Rav Meiselman that anyone who disagrees has a mindset of kefirah and then replied that such a viewpoint is ridiculous." Which of these two statements do you object to? Why is it wrong to quote his view? And why is it wrong to describe it as I see it?

      Let me explain where I am coming from. I have absolutely no problem with people who want to believe that the universe is a few thousand years old, that there were no dinosaurs, etc. What I have a problem with is someone such as R. Meiselman who disparages, condemns and delegitimizes those who believe otherwise. When he does that, I believe that it is entirely appropriate to point out that he himself is presenting an approach that is absolute nonsense.

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    2. To remind you, you wrote "So what do advocates of the prochronic approach think about such problems? I'll tell you the truth: they've never thought about them...if people want to have such silly ideas or lack of ideas, it really doesn't bother me." This is extremely offensive, and is not just about Rabbi Meiselman. There's absolutely no problem if you disagree with the approach, but it is you who disparages, condemns and delegitimizes those who believe otherwise.

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    3. Thank you for posting my comment and your reply.

      In response to your first point. You could have easily accomplished your objection to that opinion by leaving it nameless. You didn’t. You could have easily left out the part from R. Meiselman about kefirah as it was not relevant to the posting. You didn’t (which answers the point you raised why was it wrong to quote that view - not relevant to the matter under discussion.) Or the use of the word ‘ridiculous’ as used therein, implies a belittlement not only against the opinion, but on the person who holds that opinion. You could have achieved the same goal with different words or qualified the statement to make it clear it refers only to the opinion. You didn’t (which answers the point you raised why is it wrong to describe it as you saw it. It's how you describe it and the term used. No how you see it.)

      In response to your last point. You raise the issue that R. Meiselman delegitimizes people such as yourself who hold that opinion and that you have a right to point out the person who does that is presenting an approach that is absolute nonsense. I have no problem you criticizing that approach or opinion. However, the structure, tone and wording as presented speaks to me as an attack against the person and not simply against the idea. That is why I objected. If I was mistaken, then I apologize.

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    4. "You could have easily accomplished your objection to that opinion by leaving it nameless." No, because one of my objectives is to delegitimize R. Meiselman!

      "You could have easily left out the part from R. Meiselman about kefirah as it was not relevant to the posting." Ditto. I want to criticize him for calling it kefirah.

      "Or the use of the word ‘ridiculous’ as used therein, implies a belittlement not only against the opinion, but on the person who holds that opinion." Well, I guess anytime one harshly critiques a viewpoint, one is effectively critiquing the person who believes that such a viewpoint is correct. Does it bother you when R. Meiselman harshly critiques a viewpoint?

      Let me explain my position in a different way. I think that people can have completely mistaken, ill-thought out opinions and still deserve to be treated with great respect. But someone who holds a ridiculous, ill-thought-out opinion, and based on that, presents himself as the only real authority and condemns and belittles and delegitimizes those who believe otherwise - I don't think that such a person deserves much respect.

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    5. I agree with RNS here. Someone who insults others does not deserves respect.

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  20. You have expanded my knowledge, in your blog of valid interesting information that I previously did not know about.

    ReplyDelete

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