Monthly Archives: November 2012

Dina: Yaakov’s Tragic Daughter or Iyov’s Wicked Wife? Chazal’s reaction to Dina’s Rape

Guest Post by Esther Shulkes


For girls learning Chumash, Dina is at first an amazingly exciting personage.  Boys have countless male characters to admire and model themselves after.  But for girls, Dina stands alone.  Dina is the first Biblical character introduced as a young girl, 1 the one daughter, among twelve boys. Sadly, our sense of excitement is short-lived.  Of course, by the time Dina makes her appearances in Vayeitzei and Vayishlach, we are all too familiar with the kidnap-the-pretty-female theme.  But with a difference.   Sarah was taken by Pharaoh, but returned unscathed, taken again by Avimelech, and returned, again, unscathed.  Rivka was almost taken, but not quite, and Yaakov’s wives managed to survive untouched; suddenly BOOM!  Dina: kidnapped, raped, (‘rescued’?!) never heard from again. 2

One might, perhaps, assume that this new, harsher reality could be attributed to a generational decline in hashgacha.   It seems that Hashem was not inclined to get noticeably involved with Yaakov’s children as He had on behalf of the Matriarchs.  Yosef, for instance, certainly suffered greatly, with little (if any) miraculous intervention.  This would certainly bolster the possibility that Dina was not starkly singled out for suffering, she was just in a generation with greater hester Panim.   However, a generalization like this simply does not suffice, for, while Yosef certainly knew his fair share of suffering, his end was glorious enough to make us feel that it was all somewhat worth it.  Moreover, we are offered the comfort of knowing that Yosef got married, had two wonderful boys who were granted tribal status, saw his father again, etc.   For Dina, there is no comfort.   Dina was dragged into Hell, and though she was dragged out of there by Shimon and Levi, it was too late.  And her Torah presence, and probably her life, were basically over.

In an effort to search for some closure, some healthy or righteous way to approach her shocking fate, let us first note the reactions presented in the Chumash.   First we turn to Yaakov.  As Dina’s father, he is expected to have a powerful response, to do some incredible, miraculous, superhero thing, like taking one servant who is as strong as 318, and somehow saving his one beloved daughter.   But, no.  He is silent: ‘vehecherish Yaakov ‘ (Genesis 34:5).  This is not the same as being told Yaakov said nothing.  It is a reflexive word.  He actively made himself stay silent.  3 On the other hand, two of Dina’s brothers, Shimon and Levi, took rather a different tack, slaying every male in the city, including the king and prince, and taking their sister home.  And upon being scolded by their sainted father, they strongly defended their wild vengeance, stating, ‘Shall he deal with our sister as a harlot?!’ (34:31).

Having now established the widely differing reactions of silent acceptance or brutal demand for vengeance and ‘justice’, we may now turn our attention to chazal’s reaction to the horrifying and bewildering Dina episode.  Indeed, beyond distressing comments such as ‘Dina went outside, she was a stray-out- of- bounds-er like her mother, Leah (and hence this was the consequence) ’4 , there is an irritating lack of response.  Indeed, the rabbis seem to focus more on Shimon and Levi’s misdeed in killing out the city than they do on Dina’s tragedy itself!   Do Chazal not care? Instead of written reaction, all they seem to offer is a simple balm for our curiosity: whom did Dina marry? One opinion in the Gemara suggests that she married her brother Shimon, and another says, no, she married the famous Iyov. 5

Now, setting aside the problem that one opinion holds that Iyov never really lived, and others place him in a slew of random generations, 6 one must wonder what basis the rabbis have for making such a statement at all. The unhappy source offered for linking Dina to Iyov is based upon the following:  In Sefer Iyov, Iyov has lost his children, his possessions, and finally, his health.  His nameless wife turns up, and witnessing his torture, cries, “Do you still persist in your integrity? Curse G-d, and die” (2:9).  Iyov responds to his wife, “You speak as any vile woman would speak.  (Ke’daber Ahat haNevalot Tidabeiri ) Shall we accept the good at the hand of G-d, and not accept the bad?” (2:10).   The Gemara explains that this same word was used concerning the incident of Dina, “Ki Neveila Asa B’Yisrael” (for a vile act was committed among Israel) (Genesis 34:7).

Having thus established a word-link which offers either a vehicle or clue regarding a suggested link in Tanakh, the Gemara has now bolstered its claim that this is a strong interpretation.  However, while we have discovered the roots of this idea, we have yet to establish its goal or purpose.  Indeed, at first glance this is rather an angering equation.  Because the word vile was used to describe what happened to Dina, she should be plugged in to play the part of a vile woman?! 7

Simply put, Chazal are not merely playing a word recognition game, nor marrying Dina off to a probably imaginary person, and certainly not chas veshalom implying that Dina had turned vile, upon emerging from the Shchem episode.   Rather, Chazal are tacitly demonstrating their reaction to the Dina story.  The point is not that this conversation is a hint that Dina was married to Iyov.  Actually, this lone conversation between Iyov and his wife is the crux of the matter, the very reason Chazal ‘marry Dina off’ to Iyov in the first place.  Chazal are purposefully inserting her into this crucial conversation between Iyov and his wife, because Iyov is the ultimate hero of the story in which Bad Things Happen to Good People.  By saying the wife talking with him is Dina, Chazal are giving Dina a chance to vent as they feel a person in her place naturally should.  Dina, as the wife of Iyov, screams out: ‘curse G-d!’  And then Chazal offer Dina an answer:  Iyov’s response.  ‘Are we to accept the good from G-d and not the bad?’ Indeed, this implied rabbinic take on how to deal with such horror is not far off from Yaakov’s reaction.  He stayed silent.  In other words, he accepted the good with the bad.  And, while Iyov’s response is not emotionally satisfying, it is comforting to discover that Chazal recognized Dina’s plight, felt her pain and equated it with the ultimate story of unmerited loss, testing and acceptance.

  1. This is not counting Rivka, who, whatever her age, is introduced as a potential wife, rather than in the role of a young daughter.
  2. Hmmm…apparently she did not have the protection afforded when married to a tzaddik?
  3. Compare to Aharon when his sons were suddenly, horribly, taken from him.
  4. Rashi on Genesis 34:1
  5. Gemara  Bava Basra 15b
  6. Ibid.
  7. Kochos of Tumah receive their power from Kedusha.  Therefore, tuma always chases after kedusha.  It was her kedusha that he lusted after and wanted to contaminate.
  8. Worse, if a source I saw quoting Rav Shimon Shwab is accurate, impurity chases purity, which is why Shchem went after Dina. And then “the traces of this contamination showed up many years later when Dina’s tzaddik husband, Iyov, held steadfast to his belief in Hashem despite agonizing punishment, and Dina spoke negatively. Iyov’s answer to her was that her words have their basis in the Nevala, in the tumah of Shchem that he put into her.”  In other words, not only did Dina go through such a nightmare, but she was apparently spiritually contaminated, according to this reading of Dina being cast as Iyov’s wife.   Ouch!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!


Filed under Parshah

What Really Happened at Chanukah? War on Shabbos

The past year, I spoke at a Modern Orthodox Conference on the topic of the permissibility of Maccabees fighting against the Greeks on Shabbos. This lecture is meant to serve as a paradigm for how to incorporate history into the halakhic debate.

Just click on the link below, and once the website arrives, click ‘play’ on the top

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Is There a Future for Modern Orthodoxy?


Check out my article for the Beacon where we ask if there’s a future for Modern Orthodoxy!

 Also, I will be following up my last post with some sources arguing that morality may be considered independent of the Torah, so that any rational person may come to moral conclusions, but that’s likely to come next week.


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Does Judaism Care About Morality?

Just a few weeks ago we read the story of how Ya’akov gained the legal right to be considered the eldest child from Eisav, but for those who need a short refresher, this is what happened1:

  1. Ya’akov was making a lentil stew when Eisav came in form the field, apparently incredibly tired.
  2. Ya’akov traded the stew to Eisav in exchange the legal rights of being the eldest son (the “bekhora”) to Eisav, who reasoned “what do I need the ‘bekhora’ for?”
  3. Eisav swore to hold by the deal, and took the stew, “belittling” the birthright.

Now, as a child, I was given to understand that Ya’akov’s actions should be considered moral and good so that even an objective bystander who is not familiar with our tradition would understand it this way. That is to say, I was taught that Ya’akov would never act in a way that is not moral according to man’s rational understanding of what morality is.

I do not want to bring a proof for this point of view about Judaism since I think probably most people who read blogs are familiar with it, but rather for the alternate view, which is that Judaism does not in fact abide by rational understandings of morality. This view can be found in many places, and here in particular I came across it in a quote from Rama2 in Avi Sagi’s interesting Judaism: Between Religion and Morality3. The cited quote comes from Rama’s book “Torat HaOleh”, and the translation here is my own:

“And there (are things which are) good and bad according to civility4, and (those things) are not (understood to be) good and bad according to the Torah, like killing idolaters5, as it says in the Torah “do not let even one soul live”, and this does not abide by civility, and similarly that Saul was bothered that he did not kill Agag, even though there is no good attribute like the quality of kindness, and (that) Jacob bought the ‘bekhora” from his brother with a lentil stew when he was starving6; all of these were good from a religious perspective, but are bad according to man’s rational thought…”

Thus, as Sagi explains, Rama proposes two systems of good and bad: 1) what is good or evil according to man’s rational understanding, and 2) what is good or bad according to the Torah. In Rama’s opinion, we should only pay attention to the religious system, which is our guide7.

All of this isn’t to imply Rama’s view is the only traditional Jewish view, and indeed the disagreement regarding morality and Judaism may be found in our earliest sources, so that no matter if one thinks Judaism must be moral according to human understanding8, or that it simply has its own system of good and evil, there is always a strong tradition to rely on.

Now that I’ve written this, I’m actually a bit worried that not everyone is aware that Judaism has a strong objectively moral tradition, so if anyone is interested, please either comment below or message me on facebook and I’ll post some sources next time.

1Gen. 25:29-34, in Parshat Toldot.

2Rabbi Moses Isserlis(רב משה איסרליש=הרמא), famously known for his notes on Rabbi Yosef Kairo’s ‘Shulhan Arukh’.

3Hakibbutz Hameuchad Publishing House Ltd. 1998, p. 58

4נימוס”. This word refers to “politeness” in modern Hebrew, but the connotation here refers to a moral civility arising from rational thought.


6רעבונו”. If we translate this simply as a regular hunger the passage makes no sense, as Rama assumes the sale was unfair.

7We may find that even in his opinion the two systems overlap quite a bit, as may be implied in the famous incident with the orphaned bride.

8eg. like Rabbi Sa’adia Gaon


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Vegetarianism is Immoral!

I meet vegetarians almost every day. Some of my good friends are vegetarians. In fact, my wife is a vegetarian. While there is one good reason to be a vegetarian – the reason, conveniently, that my wife espouses, which I will explicate below, many of the other reasons are either inane, insensitive, overly subjective or not very well thought through. Accordingly, we will review some of the famous reasons to be a vegetarian and analyze each argument’s merit individually.

Religious: Rav Kook said that in messianic times, people will no longer eat meat. Offerings in the Third Temple will be vegetable based, so let’s be vegetarians now.

First, no where do we find that it is a virtue to live our lives in accordance with the prophetic expectations of the messianic era. No one puts their pet fox in the lamb’s pen, smartly. Second, there is no reason to believe that Rav Kook is correct. Putting aside that Maimonides writes in the last chapters of the Mishnah Torah that we have NO authoritative tradition of what will occur during the messianic time period, save certain generalizations, many people would claim that it is heretical to believe the Torah’s commandments will change then.

Pain: We ought not pain, stress or otherwise inconvenience animals unnecessarily. Apparently slaughtering them is one of the greatest inconveniences to their lives. Therefore, moral people ought to refrain from eating them.

The “pain” argument is one that humans are specifically attune to. In truth a large percentage of the human race, as well as many philosophers, define a ‘good’ day (or a ‘good’ life) by the avoidance of pain (in addition, sometimes, to the experiencing of pleasure). Accordingly, they superimpose that definition on the animal kingdom. If it is good enough for me, they reason, then it should also be good enough for animals, and equally apply to them. Accordingly, they feel, one may not kill animals. There are many underlying assumptions in this argument, but the one that is most fraught with philosophical haughtiness (1) is that human/animal pain is special, and therefore must be avoided more than others’ pains. I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that plants HATE being killed. (2) I’ve never discussed this with a plant (or an animal for that matter, in the name of full disclosure), but I think it is a safe assumption. So, why would a vegetarian be more attune to the pain and suffering of an animal than that of a plant? Two reasons come to mind: it is more obvious (ie in your face), and the animals seem to feel the same pain I feel when I am pained. It is clear that these two reasons are self-serving, and do not exist in a vacuum.  Indeed, it is not that we care about animals, but that we truly ONLY care about ourselves. Indeed, these vegetarians would reason: I can empathize with that pain, therefore I must try to stop it from ever occurring.  Obviously, one should not make ethical decisions solely based on the fact that I can empathize with the event. If that were the case, depending on the level of empathy, a minority group could be thrown under the train tracks, and be excluded from enjoying the protections of a civilized society. Personally, I want all to feel the same care, understanding and sense of loss when they kill ANY living thing on earth. We ought to empathize with death in general. When one consumes meat or vegetables, s/he ought to care and understand that this thing has sacrificed its life in order to sustain my life: everything is part of Elton John’s ‘Circle of Life,’ not just the things I care about. If one does not feel comfortable with that fact, it is possible that s/he has chosen the wrong universe to take part of.

Experience: One ought only eat an animal if s/he kills it him/herself.

I see no merit in this argument. Should I only drive a car if I could build it? This argument is not one that modern economies can stomach easily. I think a really tough (and possibly abusive) parent thought of this once, and just went with it. Nonetheless, if one does see merit in this perspective, I encourage you to learn the laws of slaughtering, and slaughter the animal yourself. And, if that it too hard, there are bugs and fish that one can enjoy without performing the ritual of slaughtering.

Animals are treated inhumanely: hormones, poor living conditions, inefficiency, etc. By supporting the unethical treatment of animals, your actions just further this vicious cycle. Therefore, one has a moral obligation to refrain from eating meat.

I feel it makes sense to claim that one ought not support an inherently corrupt and evil enterprise (unless the good outweighs the bad). And, I think that we can all agree that one ought treat animals justly. In fact, Jews are enjoined not to pain animals unnecessarily. And, if one chooses not to support the meat industry because s/he believes that the industry is not doing enough to care for the well-being of the animal population, that is great. But, that does not mean that one ought to be a vegetarian. There are a ton of organic and “good” farms one can enjoy his/her meat from. Or, maybe it is time to start your own ‘ethical’ farm.

Health: It is healthier to practice vegetarianism.

In truth, this is not an argument for or against the consumption of animals, but that we ought to live a healthy lifestyle. I think that we can all agree to that, even if it involves eating a little red meat here and there.

Yucky: I feel meat is ‘yucky.’ Therefore, I’m a vegetarian.

This is quite the compelling argument. First, the argument is not universal; it solely applies to s/he that feels meat is ‘yucky.’ Second, most would agree that one ought to avoid yucky things in life, as long as it does not overly inconvenience one’s life. We still want people to change diapers, and doctors and nurses to do lots of yucky things to us, but regarding matters that ‘preference’ is involved, like the foods we consume, one ought to avoid the ‘yucky.’ Thank God I married the one opinion that makes sense and is ethical.

(1) AKA: wrong

(2)  I’ve actually read an article on the topic where the author explains in detail how  vegetables cringe and are pained by their removal from the ground/tree, but I cannot verify the accuracy of the article


Filed under Miscellaneous

Why the Modern Orthodox Should Suffer the Most

I’m currently in the middle of Rabbi Jonathan Sacks’ superb book ‘Future Tense’1, where he sets out a “vision for Jews and Judaism in the global Culture”. Of course, though he sets out to solve a practical problem, the Chief can’t do so without discussing Jewish theology and philosophy, which is nothing short of a joy to read.

Anyway, in a section entitled “Lowering the Bar” (page 65) he says the following, after noting that Jewish identity is a matter of a shared faith for all Jews:

“…surely to guarantee continuity, Judaism must be made as easy and undemanding as possible”, since then the most people will keep Judaism, as opposed to quitting because it is too difficult. However, Rabbi Lord Dr. Chief Best-Guy-Ever Rabbi Sacks has a very different conclusion. In fact, the more difficult the better, in his opinion, and the idea that the easier the better is “untrue and misconceived”.

In his experiences, Pesach and Yom Kippur, the two most difficult Jewish holidays are the ones most adhered to. Indeed, studies come out almost every year that confirm this.

Why is this? Rabbi Sacks quotes Leon Festinger, whose theory of cognitive dissonance explains that “we value the most what costs us the most.” More sacrifice means more commitment, and though it is true that historically Jews sacrificed for Judaism because they valued it, it is also true that they valued it because they sacrificed for it.

This actually reminds me of something that Yeshayahu Leibovitz was fond of saying: The people of Israel, who felt the hand of God when He took them from Egypt, and heard the voice of God when He spoke at Sinai, soon worshiped the golden calf. So too, the Judeans who heard the words of the prophets Jeremiah and Ezekiel continued to sin. In contrast, however, the Jews who were tortured throughout history readily sacrificed their lives rather than convert to another religion, which would have made their lives incomparably easier.

Why is this? Obviously a strong commitment to Judaism is greater even than hearing the voice of God.

So what does this mean for us?

Rabbi Sacks points out that the groups in different religions who have the most difficult form of religion are the ones who remain the most committed. Is Modern Orthodoxy this version?

Now, all of this is not to say that we should make our lives as difficult as possible so that we can feel more committed to Judaism. Therefore, we might say, let’s stop using electricity to power our lights at night, and instead have evening prayers by candle light. So let’s be clear, we are Modern Orthodox because we think it is right, and this will not depend on the answer to our question. It is not a mitzvah to suffer by any means, and we want to avoid confusion about this.

But, having asked the question, I still think we might say that Modern Orthodoxy is the most difficult version of Judaism, if it is understood in a certain sense.

For many, modern Orthodoxy is the Orthodox way of life for those who do not really wish to commit to traditional Orthodoxy. Perhaps because they do not want to give up on movies, or dunkin donuts, or working for a big pay check, they water down our religion -but not too much- so they may ensure that the next generation does not abandon Judaism.

In this sense, modern Orthodoxy is nothing other than a way to make our lives more convenient.

However, the founders of great Modern Orthodox institutions had nothing like this in mind, and there are many among us who still view Modern Orthodoxy as an ideal to be adhered to and striven for. And this is the most difficult form of Judaism in my opinion.

As opposed to saying we will water down Halakha, we affirm our commitment to it 100%. As opposed to denouncing the secular world completely we say we will take a nuanced approach to questions of faith, and philosophy, and art, and emotion. Living a life that questions and affirms while truly living according to our faith is to my mind much more difficult than simply practicing when it is convenient, or avoiding the modern world entirely.

A person who works with non-Jews either in science or fashion or education has to grapple with what someone different has to offer, and has to ask how this changes our view of ourselves and Judaism, of our relationship with God. To pray with the same fervor after asking if God truly answers prayer is more difficult than doing so without acknowledging that the question is valid.

Modern Orthodoxy is the ideal of searching and questioning while affirming 100%. I cannot imagine something that would require more of us than this.

1Hodder and Stoughton Ltd, 2009


Filed under Miscellaneous

Super Duper Science Rabbi? On the Relationship between Genetics and Torah

Dr. John D. Loike and Rabbi Moshe D. Tendler co-authored an article for the Torah U-Madda journal (“Molecular Genetics, Evolution, and Torah Principles,” The Torah U-Madda Journal 14: [2006] 173-92). The article can be viewed at this link:,%20Evolution,%20and%20Torah%20Principles.pdf

Their expressed goal was to “approach the issue of how molecular genetics should be viewed within the perspective of Torah” (173). While the reader receives a clear, detailed introduction to both how the process of evolution works at the DNA level and to the molecular genetics revolution, a number of fatal flaws undermine the authors’ exposition of the relationship between science and Torah. As the authors’ method of relating Torah to science is indicative of an unsettling trend becoming ever more common in the field of science and religion, after we identify a few particular issues in their article, we will turn to the larger challenges that are specifically endemic to the authors’ approach.

In the section entitled Religious Principles and Themes in Molecular Genetics, the two authors show the “perspective of Torah” by “propos[ing] three examples that illustrate how specific ideas and themes in molecular genetics reinforce moral and religious values and principles” (184). We will focus on the latter two points. (1)

In their second example entitled ‘Individuality and yet community,’ the authors observe in the genetic world what social scientists, doctors and theologians have noticed elsewhere since time immemorial: that human beings enjoy individualistic and communal qualities that are intrinsically intertwined. Leaving aside that this fact is so obvious its clichéd, they go on to conclude that “[t]his idea raises complex questions about the treatment of other creatures” (185). I must admit that I was shocked by this conclusion, and was left wondering what exactly was “the complex questions” I was supposed to brood over, especially in light of the fact that the authors claimed earlier that they intend to “reinforce moral and religious values,” not that they would establish new ones. Given that the Mishneh Torah (Hilkhot Avadim 9:8), Rema (Oreḥ Ḥayyim 223:6), QiẒur Shulḥan Arukh (42:1) and countless other halakhic authorities have already incorporated the “proper” approach to animals in their writings, what was the mysterious point the reader was intended to grasp?

It appears that our authors intimate that “the complex questions” that the genetic similarities between humankind and the animal kingdom suggest lie beyond those already pasqined (ruled) issues throughout halakhic literature. (2) While it is not at all evident how this claim follows from the fact that we share genetic similarities with the animal kingdom – for example, atomically, we share similarities with most things in the universe! –  we have another reason to challenge such an approach: it does not coincide with Orthodox thinking. On the contrary, this approach would more closely fit in with the “Positive-Historical” approach sometimes connected to Conservative Judaism. The authors advocate redefining our relationship to animals based on extra halakhic considerations. While integrating modern scientific findings into the halakhic matrix is essential, legislating acceptable halakhic praxis based upon science based theology is wholly unacceptable.

In the authors’ next example entitled ‘Faith,’ they put forth a most shocking claim. The authors attempt to draw a parallel between the “randomness in DNA mutations” and the actions of God which “appear random.” While the authors posit a notion of ’emunah’ (faith) unknown in the classic Jewish sources – one that “bridge[s] the gap between knowledge and the unknown, so that we can persevere and progress in a world full of random events” – the most disconcerting point that escapes the authors’ attention is the subtle difference between the “randomness” proposed in the evolutionary theory and the appearance of randomness in our daily lives. (3)

While Jewish tradition ostensibly recognizes that the randomness occurring in our lives only appears that way, the processes of evolution are really random: unpredictable, non-teleological adaptive processes. Accordingly, the authors cannot employ the word ‘random’ to both ‘evolution’ and ‘faith’ equally when the word clearly connotes different things in the two cases. In order to observe exactly how the authors equivocate in their employment of the word ‘random,’ we will turn to the approach they espouse when dealing with the similarities between humans and the animal kingdom. As we mentioned in the last example, they explain that the similarities between humankind and animals exist also at the genetic level and that human genes exhibit a close affinity, not only to chimpanzees, but to worms and mice as well. But, almost as a disclaimer, they are quick to point out that:

…this does not conflict with the Genesis account. We may simply say that God, the architect of the world, in some way used the molecular biology of DNA as His blueprint in planning the physiological design of all His creatures. Does this mean that God created each species separately using a unified DNA codex, or did God allow speciation to occur by natural processes as proposes by the evolutionary theory? Some rabbinical authorities would insist upon the former theory while others would be wiling to embrace and maybe even insist upon the latter (178).

In the footnote appended to the final sentence of this quote, the authors lead us to believe that such luminaries as R. Samson Raphael Hirsch, R. David Zvi Hoffman and R. Abraham Isaac ha-Kohen Kook could espouse the latter theory today. But, in truth, one would draw the opposite conclusion from their writings. None of these rabbis would embrace, and certainly not insist upon the latter formulation of God’s influence in the world. This is because the latter theory – “that God allow[s] speciation to occur by natural processes as proposed by the evolutionary theory” – cannot mean anything but that God has no hand whatsoever in the events of the world. The reason the authors feel justified in putting this theory into the mouths of the abovementioned rabbis is because they fail to grasp the full impact of the phrase “natural processes.”

While the authors meticulously explicate many of the fine points of how evolution works at the DNA level in the opening sections of their article, they abstain from addressing how God could act in the worlds of evolution and DNA respectively. One reason for this lacuna is that the authors do not differentiate between evolution and theistic evolution. In light of this fact, we will momentarily digress in order to define and explain theistic evolution and why it is incompatible with any model which the authors propose. We will follow the categorical scheme developed by Ian Barbour (4) in which he enumerates three models of theistic evolution, all of which espouse a pseudo-naturalistic world in which God pulls the strings behind the scenes ensuring that the world proceeds according to a certain course.

Proponents of the first model advocate that God controls events that appear to be random. For the most part, this approach appeals to either Quantum Mechanics or Chaos theory for the mechanism of God’s interaction. They maintain that there is genuine randomness to nature (as Niels Bohr proved) found in microscopic systems (like atoms), yet God can interact in the world through this physically undetectable randomness. In other words, God influences the physical world at the subatomic level and controls events that appear to be random. As a result, God could (somehow) even control evolution ensuring His desired results.

The second model of theistic evolution is exemplified through the Anthropic Principle, which propounds that God designed the world, from the onset, with built-in potential, such that it was capable of self-organization and transformation. All the amazingly precise conditions that allow for human life to be sustained – the strength of gravity, the mass of a proton, the distance of the earth from the sun, the charge of an electron, etc. – were all fixed by God from the onset in order to ensure the production of life, in general, and the human race specifically. While this approach may at times slide into versions of functional deism, it does, nonetheless, create the necessary opening for a Divinely influenced physical universe.

Advocates of the third model maintain that God influences events without controlling them. This approach is associated with Alfred Whitehead’s model of “process thought” in which all physical events include three components: law, chance and God.

The problem, however, with all three of these models is that they are, by their very nature, teleological. When the aforementioned rabbis first encountered evolution in its nineteenth century guise, there was no inherent contradiction between evolution and teleology. Their contemporary scientists were unable to explain certain key points of evolution, and, for that reason, those rabbis were justified in positing a concordance between the two. But, as contemporary evolutionists have shown, evolution through natural selection no longer must appeal to orthogenesis or any other teleological explanations in order to account for the adaptations in living organisms; in other words, earlier scientists only tolerated such God infused approaches because they lacked the proper science to exclude them. Consequently, the god of the gaps was able to rear his wily head. But, today it is universally recognized by the scientific community that evolution is inherently anti-teleological and theological evolution is an oxymoron. It is no coincidence that Richard Dawkins parabolically refers to the naturalistic processes of evolution as the “blind watchmaker.” The moment one invokes God, metaphysical forces or energy (5) not only does one violate the founding principle of Occam’s razor, one ceases to be practicing science. Which is OK, as long as you know what you’re preaching is not science, or, at least, you refrain from trying to convince others that your claims are scientific. Which leads us full circle to the fatal flaw in the authors’ article: when one mixes theology with science without upholding the integrity (basic assumptions) of both fields, conclusions on both sides of the track are bound to be skewed.

In conclusion, the most destabilizing issue is the authors’ ambiguous employment of key terms and ideas. It allows them to make sweeping scientific and theological claims that, if they were forced to define the terms and arguments more concisely, they would necessarily recant. While this issue could be attributed to the fact that they are dealing with exceedingly complex issues in a limited space, their shortcomings are really indicative of a greater problem found specifically in science and religion pieces. The most obvious explanation for this field’s weakness is the inherent lack of objectivity on the part of scientists and theologians alike when dealing with the topic. Mediators of science and religion are expected, and counted on by their religious communities to broach a harmony between two seemingly incongruous topics. Sometimes they ram together two issues that have nothing to do with one another or from time to time they may pursue connections that are unmistakably absent, as is evident in this article. While this method may prove to be beneficial in philosophy, and – I should stress – could even lead to correct conclusions, it has no place in the world of science. So, while these authors, virtuosos in their respective fields, set out to glorify the Torah U-Madda approach by bringing their knowledge of science and love of Torah together,  regrettably, in the end, they merely watered down both to the point that neither science nor Torah were accurately communicated. (6)

1. It appears that the authors’ first example is simply a non-sequitur. The authors first quote the Talmud (Sanhedrin 38a) evincing that arrogance is an unwarranted trait for humans to entertain. Yet, immediately following this citation, they comment on “[t]he remarkable genetic similarities between human beings and animals” (185), contending that this aspect of genetics “teaches us that human beings have the propensity to behave like animals if they are not in possession of morals and values that give them true human dignity and enable them to realize their zelem Elokim” (185). While both of the authors’ points are clearly true, there is no obvious connection between these insights and their alleged Talmudic antecedent. While the Talmud highlights the importance of humility, the authors’ emphasize that we must overcome our animal instincts. This is not to suggest that the authors cannot find some connection between the two points, but it is not at all apparent to the reader what it might be. While this issue is not as egregious as the next examples, it is indicative of a larger problem found throughout this article that I will soon explain.

2. It seems to me that the authors’ are advocating some type of vegetarianism.

3. See also Carl Feit’s “Darwin and Drash: The Interplay of Torah and Biology,” The Torah U-Madda Journal 2: [1990] (25-36)

4.  Ian G. Barbour, Religion in an Age of Science (San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1990)

5. The authors refer to a mysterious “energy received from all the other creations” (181).

6. ‘Torah U-Madda,’ not ‘Torah im Madda’

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