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"How Can You Cite Him?!" Plus, publishing woes
Here is an interesting anonymous objection that I received recently, regarding my book "The Challenge Of Creation":
"You quote certain people in your books that I do not usually see quoted. What are your requirements for someone to be considered a Jewish authority? To be more specific, I am most bothered by your quotation from Elijah Benamozegh who (it is attested in Wikipedia at least) "even considered the Gospels to be a highly valuable Jewish Midrash, comparable to the Talmudic Aggadah". Does this not make him suspect regarding anything he says? Why should you pay attention to him at all?"
The anonymous letter-writer is, I think, under two misconceptions - one regarding the nature of my book, and another regarding people such as Benamozegh.
Although my book The Challenge Of Creation certainly has an ideological slant rather than being merely an academic history of views, it is also intended to provide a history of views. One of my goals in this book was to cite everything of relevance to Judaism and evolution, no matter who said it. At the same time, I try, within the confines of available space, to put the person in context, to explain what larger approach he represents and how he is viewed by others. I make no claim that every person cited is a religious authority to be relied upon.
Thus, for example, I quote non-Jewish atheists on various points - not to claim that they themselves reflect the overall approach of the book, or that they are not atheists, but only insofar as the specific point that they are making. I cite the approach of the Lubavitcher Rebbe that God created fossils, not that I agree with it (in fact I explain at length why I don't agree with it), but because it should be discussed. I briefly describe how leading rabbis in the Reform movement, such as Abraham Geiger and Isaac Mayer Wise, were hostile to evolution, and how this subsequently reversed itself in the Reform movement - not because I am Reform, but because I am documenting Jewish approaches to evolution. And I describe how certain 19th century religious Jews such as Rabbi Eliyahu Benamozegh, Naftali Levy and Yosef Yehudah Leib Sossnitz, accommodated evolution. But at the same time I noted that some of these figures were associated with the haskalah and that the overall attitude to evolution from the Orthodox Jewish community was hostile.
With regard to Rabbi Eliyahu Benamozegh specifically, I had never heard of his view about the Gospels. However, in my experience, it is often possible to find views amongst accepted Torah scholars that sound very strange to us - especially with rabbis from Italy.
While on the topic of "The Challenge of Creation," I should mention that it is currently out of print, and has been the subject of publishing woes beyond that of the overall disastrous situation these days with publishing in general and Jewish publishing in particular. My nine years of publishing and distributing with Targum/ Feldheim were wonderful, but came to an end with the ban on my books. Rabbi Gil Student rescued me with Yashar Books, but as a tiny Jewish publishing operation it was doomed and he had to close down. I then took up with another distributor, which was a very poor choice and worked out badly, and so now I have to republish "The Challenge Of Creation" yet again - this time distributing with Gefen Books. (There are a few very minor changes from the third edition.) It's ready to go to press, but I still have to raise about half the funds for publication. If you value the Rationalist Judaism enterprise, and are interested in sponsoring this project, please write to me.