Friday, November 11, 2016

Ten Questions On Evolution And Judaism

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Rabbi Yehuda Lave

Channeling Desires

It is impossible for a person to remove all desires. Nor is it necessarily desirable.  We are humans not angels. But we have the ability to channel our desires from physical and material pleasures to spiritual endeavors.

This is analogous to a person who went to a fancy restaurant where two full plates of food were presented to him. One was full of fish and the other was full of meat. There was too much food for him to eat both dishes. Since he liked fish better, he chose the fish and pushed the plate with meat to the side.

Another person walked by and looked at him with amazement. The second man, who liked meat much more than fish, thought to himself, "How could this person who has a plate full of delicious meat decline to eat it?" The second person made a mistake. The first person was not overcoming a desire to eat meat.

Rather he was gratifying his desire for fish, which he enjoyed more than meat. Similarly, someone who finds fulfillment in spiritual matters is not being deprived of pleasure. Rather he is gaining more pleasure than is possible in material matters.

This is a good food example because I have been struggling with my weight my whole life. People who don't have a food problem will not understand this. I have been able to get rid of over 20 pounds by giving it back to they universe, by putting my desire to be slim over my love for food. Food is a great companion. It doesn't complain, is cheap and makes you feel good initially.

But like booze too much of it is just as dangerous as liquor. The number one health improvement is to get rid of extra weight. In addition people treat you like two different human beings when you are more attractive.

That's life. Get used to it.


Love Yehuda Lave

Ten Questions On Evolution And Judaism

Evolution is feared by many as being heretical. But is this really the case? Here are ten questions about evolution and Judaism, along with brief answers. This does not substitute for the detailed discussion that this topic requires; it is merely intended as an introduction.

1) Evolution is alleged to have taken place over millions of years. But doesn't the Torah teach that the universe was created just a few thousand years ago?

There is a strong (albeit not universal) tradition in Judaism that "the account of creation is not all to be taken literally," to quote Maimonides. Rav Dovid Tzvi Hoffman (1843-1921), a member of Agudath Israel's Council of Torah Sages, suggested that the Six Days of Creation were lengthy eras rather than 24-hour periods. Maimonides himself, as the commentaries on the Guide to the Perplexed reveal, was of the view that the Six Days represent a conceptual rather than historical account of creation.

2) Why should anyone accommodate evolution? Isn't evolution just a theory, not a fact?

"Evolution" is a confusing term, because it covers two very different concepts. One is common ancestry, the concept that all animal life arose from a common ancestor - simple organisms gave rise to fish, fish to amphibians, amphibians to reptiles, reptiles to birds and mammals (without getting into how that could have happened). This is supported by a wealth of converging evidence along with testable predictions. Common ancestry is considered by all scientists (except certain deeply religious ones) to be as well-established as many other historical facts, and is thus often referred to as "the fact of evolution." It is of immense benefit in understanding the natural world - for example, it tells us why whales and bats share anatomical similarities with mammals, despite their superficial resemblance to fish and birds.

The second and very different aspect of evolution is the mechanism via which one species changes into another. This is called the "theory" of evolution. It is, however, important to bear in mind that the word "theory" has a very different meaning in science than in everyday conversational English. It does not refer to wild speculation, but rather to an explanatory mechanism. Most, though not all, biologists believe that random mutations, coupled with natural selection, broadly suffice to explain this mechanism. The issue is, however, of zero religious significance, as we shall explain in the answer to the next question.

3) How can we accept scientific explanations for how animal life came about? It was God who made everything!

We have a science of meteorology, but that does not stop us from saying that God "makes the wind blow and the rain fall." We have a science of medicine, but this does not stop us from saying that God "heals the sick." We have documented history of the process involved in winning the '67 war, but this does not stop us from talking about God's miraculous hand. God can work through meteorology, through medicine, through history, and through developmental biology. This is why it makes no difference if the neo-Darwinian explanation of the mechanism for evolution is true or not.

4) Doesn't the Torah say that animals and man were created from the ground, not from earlier creatures?

Indeed it does. But what does that mean? The blessing recited over bread is "Blessed are You... Who brings bread out of the ground." But what actually happens is that God created wheat, which man sows, nature grows, and man transforms into bread. Yet the blessing simplifies this in describing God as bringing bread out of the ground. By the same token, the description of God bringing animal life out of the ground can refer to His creating the raw material of nature and the natural processes that lead to the formation of animal life.

In any case, it is widely accepted today that we do not learn science from the literal meaning of Scripture - after all, Scripture describes the sky as a dome, the hare as bringing up its cud, and the kidneys and heart as housing one's mind. All these descriptions were interpreted literally by the Sages of old, and yet almost all recent Torah scholars interpret them non-literally.

5) Doesn't the notion of randomness in evolution contradict with the idea of a purposeful creation directed by God?

Judaism has always acknowledged that there are events which, in the physical world, appear to be random and happenstance. But it maintains that this does not rule out God's role behind the scenes. Indeed, this is the entire message of the Purim story! As it states in Scripture, "When the lot is cast in the lap, its entire verdict has been decided by God" (Proverbs 16:33).

6) Doesn't the Biblical concept of man being created in the image of God contradict the notion that man comes from animals?

Absolutely not! Classical Judaism has long maintained that man is not qualitatively different from animals in his physical aspects. Man's unique identity is in his spiritual soul, not in his physical body and most certainly not in his physical origins. The great medieval Torah scholars stated that man was created physically as an animal, but was given the spiritual potential to rise beyond that level. The Mishnah notes that on an individual level, we all come from a "putrid drop (of semen)," which is even less than an animal; yet we are defined not by what we come from, but rather by what we become.

7) Don't most rabbis state that evolution is heresy?

Very few leading rabbis have studied the science and have ever given the matter serious thought (and rabbis in the charedi world are not operating from the rationalist perspective that is the legacy of Maimonides and the great Torah scholars of Spain). The few rationalist-oriented rabbis who did study the topic, such as Rav Kook, Rav Yosef Ber Soloveitchik, Rav Gedalyah Nadel (a leading disciple of Chazon Ish) and Rav Aryeh Carmell, concluded that evolution is compatible with Judaism. Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch was personally skeptical of evolution but saw no theological problem with it: "...If this notion were ever to gain complete acceptance by the scientific world... Judaism in that case would call upon its adherents to give even greater reverence than ever before to the one, sole God Who, in His boundless creative wisdom and eternal omnipotence, needed to bring into existence no more than one single, amorphous nucleus, and one single law of "adaptation and heredity" in order to bring forth, from what seemed chaos but was in fact a very definite order, the infinite variety of species we know today, each with its unique characteristics that sets it apart from all other creatures." ("The Educational Value of Judaism," in Collected Writings, vol. VII, p. 264)

8) Doesn't evolution go against tradition?

No more so than the notion of the earth orbiting the sun. That was also rejected by many leading rabbis from the era of Copernicus through today. Yet most religious Jews have managed to come to terms with it. The same is true of evolution, which has become widely accepted by religious Jews with a strong background in science and/or rationalist Jewish theology.

9) But aren't there many secular evolutionists who use evolution to try to attack religious principles?

Yes, unfortunately there are. But this is an abuse of science; it doesn't reflect on the science of evolution itself. This, however, is why it is important for anyone teaching evolution to understand it properly.

10) You didn't answer all my questions and objections!

Of course not! Evolution is an immensely complicated topic, to which it is impossible to do justice in a brief article. Please see my book The Challenge Of Creation (available in Jewish bookstores and at for a very detailed discussion.

Adam's sin verus Eve's sin

Teach Them Well
By Rabbi Joshua Hoffman

  The snake persuades Chava to eat of the fruit of the tree of knowledge, and she, in turn, gives Adam from the fruit to eat. Why did the snake approach Chava rather than Adam? The Keli Yakar explains, based on the scenario described in the Avos deRebbi Nosson (although he does not cite the Beraisa as the source of that scenario), that Adam was commanded directly by God to refrain from eating of the tree of knowledge, while Chava only heard this from Adam. As a safeguard, Adam told her that God said not to touch it, as well as as not to eat from it. The snake, knowing this, first told Chava to touch the tree, and argued that just as no harm came to her from touching it, no harm would come through eating from it as well. We derive from here that whoever tries to add to the divine command actually diminishes it.   Rav Ya'akov Emden and others ask, what Adam did wrong? After all, he was only trying to assure that Chava couldn't eat from the fruit. Isn't it praiseworthy to make such safeguards? He answers that when one makes safeguards, he must clearly differentiate between what is a safeguard and what is the word of God. As Rambam says, the Rabbis avoided the prohibition of adding to the Torah by clearly differentiating what is of Torah status and what is of rabbinic status. Adam gave Chavah the impression that God Himself had forbidden both eating of the fruit of the tree and touching it, and that is how the snake enticed her.   Rabbi Yitzchok Knobel, in his Imrei Yitzchok, cites Rav Ya'akov Kaminetsky zt"l, who, in an address to educators, explained the Avos deRebbi Nosson in a way similar to Rav Ya'akov Emden. He went to lament the fact that we often find that students are not taught to make these differentiations, and they emerge thinking that all prohibitions are on the same level. The consequences of such confusion can be horrendous. I believe that these consequences go beyond the basic problem of not knowing the severity or relatively lighter nature of what one has done, but affect one's entire perception of Torah.   The Ba'al HaTurim points out that the words "hamin ha-eitz hazeh...." –  'did you eat from this tree,' addressed by God to Adam, are similar to the words "hamin ha-sela hazeh" – "from this rock," addressed by Moshe to the people before hitting the rock to produce water. In both cases, says the Ba'al HaTurim, death came as a consequence of what was done. What is the connection? Rambam says that Moshe's sin was that he expressed anger with the people, thereby giving the impression that God was angry with them for asking for water, when in fact, He was not. Moshe, as their leader was thereby teaching them something that misrepresented God's will, and that is why he was punished. Adam, too, by conflating his safeguard and God's command, gave a false impression of the nature of the Torah he was told to observe, and was punished severely as a result.

See you tomorrow my friends Love from Yehuda

Rabbi Yehuda Lave

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