Thursday, September 03, 2009



by Reb Akiva at Mystical Paths

Dear Rabbi (Censored):

Unfortunately I strongly disagree with the content of your site and therefore won't be linking to it. I was taught the Torah has 72 facets, and the Beis HaMikdash had 13 gates - all paths and understandings to fill different peoples needs, insights and approaches to Torah and Derek Hashem.

Frankly I consider a strictly dogmatic approach and literal interpretations of every pasuk to be the antithesis of the derek halimud set down by generations of our holy gedolim, all the way back to the amoraim and tanoim. They questioned and searched and dug for understanding, and never shied from making sure the truth of Torah was brought into focus for the people and the times. When we have pshat, derush, remez, and sod, why would you get stuck in pshat?

Almost humorously, the Gemorah Bavli was censored in the past by the Xian Church for statements that didn't align with the dogma of the Church. Today you would censor the world for not aligning with Midrash and Aggadah???

You may feel you can build a high enough wall around your neighborhood to block out the world and it's influences. My experiences say that's an impossibility. Rather, I try to learn how the truth of Torah applies in every situation. When there's an apparent conflict, we must learn deeper to understand how Hashem's wisdom applies, how there's a deeper truth and understanding to found - both in the Torah and in the aspect of the world.

The world is not flat, blood does circulate, lice don't auto-generate from sweat, nor mice from mud. Illnesses do come only from Hashem but doctors have been gifted with the wisdom to understand the agents of bacteria and viruses, there's no type of sheep that grows from the ground. Jews and gentiles have the same number of teeth. The earth does orbit the sun. The age of the universe has NO simple answer when time itself is relative across the universe.

No where is there a science belief test as a basis of yiddishkeit. The Ramban's 13 principles of faith do NOT include literal belief in every science statement of every gadol Torah over the last 3,000 years. I am not a kofer for believing these science principles, nor for failing to believe those science statements made in the distant past (nor can you quote a single statement from those gedolim of the past to that effect).

I assume you use a computer (after a you have a web site), a cell phone, and a microwave oven, and when sick take antibiotics. ALL of these contradict scientific or medical principles expounded by gedolim of the distant past. For me none of that causes a problem with their Torah and their wisdom from Hashem. Nor does it cause a problem with applying Torah principles to the use of these devices that never existed in the past - no pritzut, no lashon hara, kashrus of a device that cooks without heating the chamber, and taking refuot made from various substances (and/or on Shabbat).

For you, how do you deal with it?

We should be dogmatic in adhering to Torah and halacha. But when we are solid in our principles, in the Torah, and in our kesher to Hashem, we have nothing to fear from new understandings of the physical aspects of creation. Yes, there are dogmatic scientists who follow the 'religion of science' who try to bring their latest discovery of an aspect of creation as proof that they know better and there is no god. They and their ideas pass on their way, while Torah is still here.

And those who explain the incredible wonders of Hashem's creation and how it relates to Hashem's Torah are not to be reviled, they are to be lauded.


joshua said...

I liked this post. It is well-written. Keep writing!!

This is Joshua from Israeli Uncensored News

yitz.. said...

R' Akiva,

It does sound a little bit like you are too ready to dispose of Chazal's statements with regard to science.

For (a very modern and late) example Rebbe Nachman makes a number of scientific claims regarding all sorts of things. One could simply overlook them and decide to focus on the 'torah and avodah' aspects and avoid the other implications of things he says, but it does suggest to me a fundamental problem in your outlook.

As one example, Rebbe Nachman says that rain has a dual nature, it can bring life and grow crops and all the other things that we think of rain doing. But rain, he says, can also bring plague, death and suffering. Anyone who knew about acid rain even twenty, thirty years ago could have assumed that it was to that which Rebbe Nachman was referring. But more recent scientific studies (in the past couple of years) have discovered that rain also transports bacteria sometimes over tremendous distances. So rain can actually carry (literally) plague.

It wasn't that Rebbe Nachman got lucky or a fluke result, I believe (and I think it is fairly obvious) that science will eventually prove and explain all of Chazal's statements -- even the most far-fetched.

Who says there aren't sheep somewhere who have adapted 'sprouting from the earth' as some intrinsic part of their reproductive process?

Chazal said the Jewish women in Egypt gave birth even to 600,000 in one 'litter.' In the context Chazal themselves find it unbelievable at which point it is explained that Mosheh Rabbeinu was born and was the equivalent of all 600,000 of Am Yisrael.

This is a good example of the case in hand, Chazal said things about the world that may seem fantastical, but in the end there is a logic and solid basis for their claims. If you say they were mistaken you ultimately undermine their teachings. It forces people into a defensive 'daas torah' argument that is ultimately faulty, because Chazal explain these very realities of nature in the context of Torah, if it wasn't Torah, it would be bitul Torah and it would certainly not have been included in the Talmud, or in other halachic works that involved so much mesirut nefesh not only in their composition but also in their preservation throughout all these generations.

Yes, we have to recognize science and live in the world, not hide from it, but unless the censured Rav's website is much more freaky than his even, pleasant sounding and appropriate reply, then perhaps you are mistaken?

The approach to the Torah as the absolute truth and the belief that a logical argument should still be founded on Torah principles is very valid and very Jewish. Yes there are other opinions, but it isn't anathema. The only reason we know that sometimes s'vara outweighs halachic rov is because Chazal taught it to us. That's the source of the power of a logical argument -- not because it's logical.

I imagine your viewpoint is based heavily on the teachings of the Lubavitcher Rebbe and I had hoped that you would have shared them to illustrate the strength and foundation of your perspective. (and to enlighten me as well!)

kol tov v' shanah tovah :D


Akiva said...


In this case I speak only for myself, my understanding and synthesized approach meshing a scientific background with my Torah learning.

Part of your comment illustrates my position very well. In your 600,000 argument, the example you bring from Chazal jumps from pshat to d'rush. There was not literally a single birth of 600,000, there was a soul-level spiritual equivalent. This they derive from the fact that the physical was indeed not the situation and other statements of the pasuk.

Not only do I have no problem with that, I accept that completely. That's exactly the type of Torah wisdom for which I rely complete upon Chazal.

However, if you try to argue that the birth rates of Egypt resulted in 72 BILLION yidden being born (at 600,000 per birth) because that's what one statement of the Chazal said - and everything Chazal said is the literal truth, I have a problem with that. And as you said, other Chazal had a problem with that.

I learn Tanya and bits of Likkutei Mohoran. If I remember correctly, Tanya discusses a person's soul having an affinity for one of the 4 elements - fire, air, earth, water. That's spoken in the science language of the day, and used as a mashul to demonstrate a truth of personal tendencies.

Similarly Rebbe Nachman teaches that aveyrot are etched on one's bones. Now I have serious doubts that if we open some kvurim we're going to find actual writing on the bones - or that such writing would be found on an x-ray or bone surgery exposing the bones. Now was Rebbe Nachman making a moshul about the internal and soul level impact of aveyrot, or speaking literally?

Because, and here's my big problem with this: if he's speaking literally and it's found to be inaccurate, are we not required to throw away the rest as inaccurate? After all, if we're operating in the literal and something is proven wrong - well if a rav starting quoting halacha wrong we'd certainly discard his teachings. If we're going to operate such that every statement (Torah, science, medical) of every gadol Torah over all time must be the literal truth - then there's a lot open to challenge.

The positions and discussions of Chazal, particularly in the Gemora, have amazing and clearly divine value for every generation and the future. And indeed, discussions of sheep growing from the ground may have halachic relevance in the future if a kosher animal has DNA splicing with plant genes - a not unrealistic near future scenario (recent similar scenario, pigs with florescent skin from jellyfish DNA splicing).

But an argument that "nature changed" is a cop out. And do you mean to say that literal belief in aggadic statments of Chazal are required to be a frum Jew?

BTW, the rav spends a bit of time attacking people who try to reconzile such positions of Chazal with science of today. Again, not accepting literal belief in science or medical statements of Chazal make one a kofer???

yitz.. said...

@R' Akiva,

I quoted the 600,000 aggadata purposely to pinpoint the subtelty involved. But I think it will backfire on you -- if such a contention was readily challenged and others just as fantastical were not, are we to assume the others were accepted as literally true?

The Tanya's usage of the four elements is not referring to the chemical make up of the world, but the spiritual makeup of the world.

(water being hesed, fire gevurah, air keter, and earth malchut. -- though it is a moot point as י"ח know that the spiritual is the foundation of the physical.)

and why are sins inscribed on your bones so hard to believe? it's more a question of what 'inscription' or 'writing' means in the context of aveirot & bones :)

Recently I learned that most fat ingested by the body is readily stored in more or less its original form, meaning ten years from now, we can remove an accumulation of fat from a person's body and know almost exactly what they ate. If our actions/moods affect our ability to use and digest food, then those actions and feelings could very well leave clear and obvious traces -- even in our bones which outlast us by many years. (we all know hair can be used to test for drug use long after drugs have 'left the system') The Ba'al Shem Tov was said to be able to know every thought that went through the carpenter's mind while making a piece of furniture simply by examining the furniture.

I understand your desire to head off the problem of faith in our Rabbis, but I think there is a more elegant approach.

I know I came to it as a teenager, when i was excited by the thought that Avraham Avinu could've super-heated sand, thrown it into the air at his enemies and it could have cooled into shards of glass during its descent. So there was a way to understand the midrash about Avraham Avinu's throwing sand and it becoming spears/knives/arrows literally. Some time after that, I realized that if I was comfortable with Avraham Avinu knowing the secret art of superheating sand at that time in history, why couldn't I just be comfortable with Avraham Avinu throwing sand that became literally spears/knives/arrows?

So after considering it for a while I was comfortable with the little bit of information I did know informing my simple faith that there was much more information I didn't know.

The truth is that if someone wants to throw out Chazal, they will find their excuse. But, if they truly want to believe, they will merit to see how every word of Chazal is emet.

Thank you for clarifying your position, I just wanted you to understand that because you barely quoted the Rav in question, you created a situation in which your opinion looked less defensible than his.

again kol tuv,


ps. I think a very literal interpretation of Chazal likewise is a disservice because Chazal were much more thorough and well-reasoned than a mistaken 'literal' interpretation would make them out to be. (which I take to be your real point)

Isaac said...

lice don't auto-generate. The earth does orbit the sun. The age of the universe has NO simple answer when time itself is relative across the universe.

It would be healthy for you Akiva to learn what the Rebbe says on these matters. Buy the book "Mind Over Matter", or read it free at

... In reply to your question relating to the matter of the motion of the sun and the earth, whether the sun revolves around the earth or the earth around the sun,

It is my firm belief that the sun revolves around the earth, as I have also declared publicly on various occasions and in discussion with professors specializing in this field of science.

First and foremost, the third possibility definitely does not stand up to scrutiny. The literal meaning of Torah’s words must always be upheld. Terrible damage has been caused by the attempts in the past — and that are again being made — to “smooth” some people’s inner confusion and perplexity by arguing that the words of Torah should be understood non-literally.

This is especially forbidden when dealing with areas that are relevant to practical Halacha. The question that you mentioned is of this variety: The existence of spontaneously generated worms is mentioned with regard to the laws of Shabbat, since such creatures1 may permissibly be killed on Shabbat. It is therefore obvious that there is no issue of a parable here; we are talking about real, live, and factual entities.

Same with age of the earth, etc.

yitz.. said...

one more short addendum:

Rav Nebenzahl (referred to by R' Gutman Locks in his latest post) also subscribes to the universe being only 5769 years old.

(Not that the Lubavitcher Rebbe needs any backup)

Akiva said...


I'm aware of the Rebbe's position on these matters. His argument with regards to orbits and relativity is most elegant.

So from the quote you provide let me challenge you, what is "the literal meaning of the Torah's words"??? Written Torah, Oral Torah, Mishnah, Gemorah (including aggadah???) Every statement and story of every one of the tanoim and amoraim is literal? Every statement of every one of the commentaries?

Statements that conflict with each other? Argued positions that conflict with each other are both accurate and true? Every MIDRASH is literally true?

We clearly don't learn that way.

Now on age of the earth. Since TIME itself is a creation, and one aspect of time is relativity - it actually flows at different speeds depending on the motion relation of different planets - there's a difference between the question of age of the UNIVERSE and age of the EARTH, since time does not move at the same speed in all parts of the universe.

Even in Berashis itself, the pasuk says day before the creation of the sun and earth. Day by what measurement - physical aspects of time measurement (and perhaps time itself) didn't exist yet!

Simple answers, the pshat, aren't so simple in such matters.

Yosef said...

There is quite a diversity of opinions in the rishonim, etc. about the physical age of the universe. In any case, calculating time before the sun, moon and stars existed is far more involved than many people assume. Of course, many gedolei Yisrael understood in a straightforward manner as well. The truth is that it doesn't really matter so much what "the answer" is. I feel comfortable enough saying "I don't know", since the Torah comes to tell us how to live in this world, and the physical history is not so relevant to my success in doing so in the end.

Yosef said...

btw: about letters on bones, etc.-
There are lots of kabbalistic sources that speak about the letters of the Torah being in everything, as the basis of that thing's existence. What is the problem with letters on bones? Just because I can't see them doesn't mean they aren't there.
The higher world (Yetzira, Briah, Atzilus) described in Kaballah are also right here. We are just not "tuned in" to them, since we are too gashmi to comprehend are relate to them. But they are here, a deeper layer of the reality all around us.

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