When Religion Contradicts Science: What to do, Chapter VI of the Handbook

Jewish theologians have never shied away from delving into contemporary science; on occasion, they even have a religious obligation to do so. When paskining (ruling) on a halakhic matter, it is incumbent upon the Poseik (religious authority) to be aware of all the ins and outs of the relevant and contemporary scientific data in order to evaluate all the pertinent pieces of information. For example, in order to decide whether and when it is forbidden to use electricity on the Shabbat, one must first understand what electricity is and how it works. In order to declare a person halakhicly dead and authorize someone to pull the plug, one must gain an expertise in human biology and medicine, besides an expertise in halakha.

This necessity for such virtuosity in scientific matters, on occasion, propelled the Jewish theologians to the forefront of certain scientific fields. It was not uncommon for a Jew to be known as the most excellent doctor, philosopher, mathematician or astronomer of his day. These Jewish professionals, raised on the wisdom of the Talmud from an early age, always had two authoritative sources of information available to them: religious and secular. While the Talmud provides both types of knowledge, to become the world leader in an area, the Sage had to also study secular books.

To the surprise of some, secular data sometimes takes precedence over the scientific facts supplied by the Talmud. But, how could this be? The Talmud is supposed to be the authoritative book of the true religion! Furthermore, this acceptance of non-Jewish conclusions could instigate a slippery slope that leads to disaster: where is the religious practitioner supposed to draw the line? Once we could reject scientific information in the Talmud, can we not also reject its halakhic information too? In recent years, this has caused the dissemination of three types of books within Orthodox Jewish circles.

(1)   Literalist books – These books will take the creation account and all of its details literally. This approach may add details into the Biblical account, but those details can never contradict the basic understanding of the text proffered by the Rabbis in the Talmud. This approach rejects all scientific conclusions that contradict the Torah or the Oral Law propounded in the Talmud. In truth, everything (including science, metaphysics, every event in the history of the world, etc.) can be found in the Torah, if you know how to look.

(2)   Metaphorical books – These books will take the creation completely metaphorically. All of the details in its account are meant to impart some psychological or philosophical notion about the place of mankind. There can be no arguments between science and Torah for the Torah is not a science book and, accordingly, does not proffer any scientific information. Those who do draw conclusions about science from the Torah are plainly making a false assumption about the nature of Torah. Not everything can be found in the Torah.

(3)   Accommodationalist books – These books are the happy medium between the two previous approaches. They will either bend the verse or the science to fit with their own understanding of an event. This approach, generally, will assume that the Torah puts forth facts of the world’s beginnings in its opening chapters, but only to those individuals qualified to understand the minutia of astrophysics. These books trust the Torah for science only so far as their science allows. This approach will take famous rabbinic dictums out of context, as well as Talmudic and Rishonic statements to fit its purpose.

Unfortunately, once can also divide the Jewish world into one of these three categories; but instead of passing judgment on any, in this chapter, we will evaluate to what degree a Jew must trust in the scientific assertions scientific of the Talmud. Also, we will look at the efforts so far to unite the Torah with science by looking at the scholarly (and not so scholarly) books on the relationship between science and religion.

This chapter will be broken into two parts:

1)      When should a religious Jew accept or disregard the scientific claims of the Torah and the Talmud based on the Sages?

2)      Why are so many books/people put into excommunication over these topics recently?

A Jewish Approach to Science

In this section, we will explore many halakhic authorities’ opinions about how much credence an Orthodox Jew should give to scientific statements in the Gemara and to the science of his own day. The following quotes are for the most part self explanatory, but when an explanation will help to elucidate the issue, one has been provided.

At the onset, though, one should be aware that traditional rabbis have expressed viewpoints that at times support, show ambivalence or even reject modern science. Those who reject scientific conclusions which run counter to the most obvious reading of the Talmud will often claim that nature has changed since the time of the Talmud, or that science today is incorrect. This approach to science, which presently represents the majority of fundamentalist rabbis, is an approach that one could find tremendous support for throughout rabbinic literature; this is no surprise. Accordingly, we will not explore this perspective any further at it runs counter to the purpose of this book which is to show a basic harmony between Torah ad science ; instead, we will focus on the rabbinic viewpoints which respect the opinion of modern science.

 

R. Yehuda HaNasi (2nd century)

The sages of the nations say, during the day the sun moves below the sky, and at night, below the ground. Rebbi said their words seem more correct than ours (the Sages) because in the day the springs are cold and at night they are warm (Pesachim 94B).

R. Shmuel bar Hofni HaGeon (9th century)

Haggadah is any interpretation which appears in the Talmud concerning a matter which is not a commandment. This is [called] Aggadah, and one need only learn from it that which seems logically correct. For you must know that whatever our Sages affirmed as being a commandment received from Moses our teacher, of blessed memory, which he in return received from the Almighty, one may not add thereto not remove therefrom. But that which the Sages interpreted, each one according to what occurred to him and what he saw fit in his mind, one learns what one finds acceptable form these interpretations and one need not rely on the rest (Mavo HaTalmud).

 

We are not required to accept the words of the Ancient ones (the Sages) if they contradict the intellect (commentary to I Samuel 28).

 

R. Sherirah Geon (10th century)

Our Rabbis were not physicians. They merely said what they observed among patients here and there. These are not commandments [to believe the Rabbis]. Therefore, do not rely on their cures… unless it was tested and definitely ascertained through skilled physicians that this remedy will not cause harm or endanger the patient (Otzar HaGeonim Gittin 68, 376).

 

R. Hai Geon (11th century)

You ought to know that the words of Aggadah are unlike the received tradition. Rather, each person expounds them as them as occurs to him, [while saying to himself] perhaps [my explanation is correct], or one can say [such an explanation], but not definitively. Therefore, one need not base oneself upon them (Aggadot).

 

R. Bahya ibn Pakuda (11th century)

Although tradition is the first thing that is taught to students, for that is what they need first, nevertheless, it would be half-hearted to rely exclusively on that tradition if one is capable of attaining certainty by way of rational argument (Intro to Duties of the Heart).

 

R. Moses ben Maimon – Maimonides (12th century)

1. Do not ask me that all that is mentioned on the subject of astronomy be compatible with the facts of the matter, because scholarly knowledge at that time (when the Talmud was written) was deficient. They (the Sages) did not speak of these matters as a tradition from the Prophets, but rather because they were the scholars of the generation in these matters, or because they learned them from the scholars of the era (Guide for the Perplexed 3:14).

2. That which exists does not conform to the various opinions, but rather the correct opinions conform to that which exists (Guide for the Perplexed 1:79).

3. I believe every possible happening that is supported by a prophetic statement and do not strip it of its plain meaning. I fall back on interpreting a statement only when its literal sense is impossible, like the corporeality of God; the possible however remains as stated (Treatise on Resurrection).

4. All these assertions (about creation) are needed if the text of Scripture is taken in its external (literal) sense, even though it must not be taken as shall be explained when we shall speak of it at length. You ought to memorize this notion. For it is a great wall that I have built around the Law, a wall that surrounds it warding off the stones of all those who project these missiles against it (Guide for the Perplexed chap. 17).

5. I know that you may search and find sayings of some individual Sages in the Talmud and Midrashim whose words appear to maintain that at the moment of a man’s birth, the stars will cause such and such to happen. Do not regard this as a difficulty, for… it is not proper to abandon matters of reason that have already been verified by proofs, shake loose of them, and depend on the words of a single one of the Sages from whom possibly the matter was hidden. Or there may be an allusion in the words; or they may have been said with a view to the times and the business before them…A man should never cast his reason behind him, for the eyes are set in front, not in back (Letter on Astrology).

Analysis: Maimonides offers three possible defenses (in his Letter on Astrology) to a Sages’ statement that contradicts science.

A.The sage might not have known the truth. The Sages were not infallible in philosophical and scientific matters; therefore it is possible that one individual Sage was wrong.

B.T

  • he statement was not meant to be taken literally. Throughout the Torah and the Talmud, we find countless statements that obviously were never meant to be taken literally. When the Torah states that God took out the Jews from Egypt with an “extended right hand,” does that mean that God has a physical right hand? When the Talmud tells an historical account, it does that mean that the event must have taken place exactly how the Talmud described. To claim such would relegate the Talmud to a simple history book, instead of a religious guide to life. (Se‘adya Gaon, R. Sherira Geon, R. Hai Geon, R. Hananel, R. Nissim, R. Isaac Alfasi, and R. Judah ha-Levi all upheld the principle אין סומכין על דברי אגדה – that Aggadata may be explained figuratively and could even be dismissed altogether.)

C.The Sage did not believe his own statement, yet some external factor deemed it necessary to teach the idea anyways for political or religious reasons; this is sometimes referred to as a “necessary belief.”

6. It is my intention in this chapter to draw your attention to the ways of research and belief. If anybody tells you in order to support his opinion that he is in possession of proof  and evidence and that he saw the thing with his own eyes, you have to doubt him, even if he is an authority accepted by great men, even if he is himself honest and virtuous. Inquire well into what he wants to prove to you. . Do not allow your senses to be confused by his research and innovations [stories]. Think well, search, examine, and try to understand [the ways of nature] which he claims to know. Do not allow yourself to be influenced by the sayings that something is obvious, whether a single man is saying so or whether it is a common opinion, for the desire of power leads men to shameful things, particularly in the case of divided opinions (Pirkei Moshe, the Medical Aphorisms of Maimonides).

 

The Destruction of Science

1. They (Kalam theologians) assert that when a man moves a pen, it is not the man who moves it; for the motion occurring in the pen is an accident created by God in the pen. Similarly the motion of the hand, which we think of as moving the pen, is an accident created by God in the moving of the hand. Only, God has instituted the habit that the motion of the hand is concomitant with the motion of the pen, without the hand exercising in any respect an influence on, or being causative in regard to, the motion of the pen.

2. If the above-mentioned doctrine were true, then all our scientific notions concerning the nature of the world would be destroyed. This is because it makes it such that everything is dependent upon the direct action of God at every instant. Because there is no assurance that He will choose to sustain that world at every moment the way He had chosen the moment before, all empirical data, all inductive logic and all assumptions based on prior information will be worthless. Even though there is no way to prove that this is not the case, Rambam believed that the concept of a fixed natural order in the sub-lunar world is the opinion of Judaism (Guide for the Perplexed 1:73).

3. If a boor is not content with having his doubts about this, so that neither view prevails, but chooses to adhere to the popular opinion, and finds fault with my view and damns me for thinking that the angels and the members of the world to come are separated from matter and free of it, I hold no grievance against him. I forgive him and freely admit my “fault.” There is no limit to the number of homilies that serve as refutations of my opinion, and I am not surprised. There are just as many biblical verses and even prophetic passages that refute me, since their simple meaning teaches that God is a body with eyes and ears. However, since the intellectual proofs and the incontrovertible deductions that rule this out are valid, it becomes clear, as the Sages say, that “the Torah speaks in the style of people.” …Those who presume that they are corporeal cannot appreciate these proofs (Essay on Resurrection 216).

4. Everyone knows that scholars are not expected to rehearse homilies and the curious tales of the sort that women tell one another in their condolence calls. What is wanted is their interpretation, and an exposition of their implied meaning, so that they conform to a rational position, or at least approximate it (Essay on Resurrection 218).

5. Everything that has been demonstrated does not increase in validity or become more certain because all the Sages agree on it, nor will its validity decrease because the whole world disagrees on it (Guide for the Perplexed 2:15).

R. Avraham ben HaRambam (13th century)

He who wishes to support a particular position and to exalt the person who said it and to accept his view without examination or understanding… as to whether it is true or not… Such… is forbidden both by Torah’s path (me-derech HaTorah) and by way of reason (me-derech ha-sechel). It is inappropriate from the perspective of reason, because [by doing so] he causes lack and deficiency in the reflection of what one should believe. And it is forbidden by the Torah’s path because he deviates from the way of truth and from the straight line… It does not matter whether one accepts that opinion as justifies without proof, or whether one believes he person who says it, honors him and claims that the truth is with him without any doubt because he is a great person… For all this is not proof, but is forbidden (Sefer HaMaspik Le-Ovedei Hashem).

One is not obligated, as a consequence of the greatness of the Sages of the Talmud… to accept their views in all their sayings in matters of medicine and natural science and astronomy… as we believe them in the interpretation of the Torah (Sefer HaMaspik Le-Ovedei Hashem).

 

R. Moses ben Nachman (13th century)

At the disputation between Nachmonides and the Christian clergy in 1263, one of the many lines of attack that Fray Pul utilizes to illustrate that the Messiah has already come is a literal understanding of Midrashim. Fray Pul contended that an Aggadah states that the Messiah was born on the same day that the Temple was destroyed. Nachmonides responds:

“Truly, I do not believe that the Messiah was born on the day of the [Temple’s] destruction. Either this homily is not true or it has another meaning, [which lies] among the secrets of the rabbis. Yet [even if] I would accept its literal meaning as you have expressed it, then it is a proof for my contention, for …” (Dispute in Barcelona 11)

When Nachmonides was faced with a Midrash that he found difficult to accept at face level, he offered three lines of attack towards Fray Pul:

  1. To deny the historical truth of the Midrash
  2. To assume that it has a deeper meaning that only a trained rabbi could decipher
  3. To repudiate the challenger’s position based on a literal interpretation of the Midrash

Many would find Nachmonides’ first contention hard to stomach, yet he further explains:

I said, even though, I do not believe in this, that passage would support my words. I shall now explain to you why I said I do not believe in this [passage]. You should know that we have three kinds of books. The first is the bible… The second is what is called the Talmud… We have a third book called Midrash meaning sermons. It is just as if the bishop would rise and deliver a sermon, and one of the listeners who the sermon pleased recorded it. With regard to this book [of sermons], if one believes in it, it is well and good; if one does not believe in it, he will not be harmed [spiritually]. We have Sages who wrote that the Messiah will not be born until the time near the end [of the exile], as which time he will come to redeem us from the exile. Therefore, I do not believe the statement of this book that he is born on the day of the destruction. We also call [the Midrash] the book of Haggadah, meaning Razionamiento. That is to say, it is nothing more than matters which one person tells another (15). KH308-9

Even though one should keep in mind that this statement was said at a tremendously unfair dispute between the dominant religion and its predecessor, one can still learn of the Ramban’s approach from it.

Interpretation of Problematic Verses and Midrashim

When one faces a problematic Midrash, one in which science, logic or common sense shows it to be unfounded, one must choose between two poles. On the one hand, one could reject all secular and logical claims that run contrary to revealed truth, or on the other hand, one could take a less anti-secular approach and interpret the Midrash accordingly. The Ramban employs a very interesting methodology in such cases. When the Greeks or modern science shows that the literal understanding of a verse is problematic, he first assumes the scientific point to be true, then informs the reader what the Torah or the Midrash really meant. Two examples will be offered, but countless others exist.

1. The verse (Genesis 2:17): And from the tree of knowledge of good and bad, you may not eat from it, for the day that you eat from it, you will die.

The problem: Adam was forbidden to eat from the tree. This implies that eating was something that he would normally do. The only reason one would have to eat is because his body needs nourishment. But once we admit that, then it is clear that Adam would have one day died. Accordingly, from mankind’s very inception, he was destined to die; the very composition of his body testifies to this fact. If this is true, then how could it be that God punished man with death, when he was already destined to die nonetheless?

Nachmonides’ comments:

He further states in (3:22) that one of the reasons that man is forbidden to eat from the tree of life is because the decree that he must die would then be nullified. Or according to the opinion that he was destined to die anyways, the possibility that someone’s sins would cause an earlier demise falls away.

His answer:  When the Torah said that he would die, it actually means that he will die sooner, as he was always destined to die. In other words, Nachmonides reinterprets the phrase away from its normative, most-obvious translation.

2. The verse (Genesis 9:12): And God said, ‘This is a sign of the covenant that I am giving between Myself and between all of you, and between every living creature that is with you, for all generations.

The problem: A cursory read of the Torah would seem to imply that the rainbow was a new creation; so before the covenant between God and Noach was forged, rainbows had not been created yet. Contrary to this belief, Greek scientists have shown that rainbows are a consequent of physical reality and should have always existed.

Nachmonides’ comments: “This is the sign of the covenant that I give.” It would seem from this sign that the rainbow which appears in the clouds is not part of the acts of creation, and only now did God create something new, to make a rainbow appear in the sky on a cloudy day… But we are compelled to believe the words of the Greeks, that the rainbow is the result of the sun’s rays passing through moist air, for in any container of water that is placed before the sun, there can be seen something that resembles a rainbow. And when we look again at the wording of the verse, we will understand it thus. For it says that “I have set my rainbow in the cloud,” and it did not say “I am setting it in the clouds”…

His answer: When one reads what the Torah says, he will come to the same conclusion as the Greeks. No where does it says that God created the rainbow at this junction in the world; rather, the rainbow always existed, but before the time of Noach, it did not act as a sign for mankind.

Rabbi Avraham ben HaRambam (again)

One who wishes to maintain a certain opinion and honor the one whom expresses it, and accept his opinion without examination and comprehension of this opinion and whether or not it is true – this is one of the worst attitudes, and it is proscribed both from the standpoint of the Torah and the standpoint of reason… We are not obligated… to defend them and uphold their opinion in all their statements regarding medicine, science and astronomy. (Ma’amar Odos Derashos Chazal).

Excommunication

Several years ago, Rabbi Natan Slifkin’s three books, Scienceof Torah, Mysterious Creatures, and The Camel, the Hare and the Hyraz, all books that will fall into our accommodationalist category, were deemed heretical and even forbidden, by a few, from being touched on the Sabbath (though they are all being reprinted). He made the mistake of taking positions in favor of modern science over traditional viewpoints and reinterpreting the Torah to fit with his assumptions. This bold decision to excommunicate his books was taken by several formidable Israeli rabbis and subsequently agreed to by many rabbis abroad. In the following we will examine what it is that these rabbis found so damaging to the foundations of Judaism.

What happened?

R. Natan Slifkin, also known as the “Zoo Rabbi” is both an ordained rabbi, as well as a trained zoologist. He decided to use his knowledge and love of animals for the benefit of Jews world wide. He wrote three books in English specifically designed to answer hard science questions that seem to oppose the teachings of the Torah.

Upon the publication of his third book, certain rabbis including Rabbi Michel Yehuda Lefkowitz, Rabbi Moshe Shapiro, Rabbi Yitchak Scheiner, Rabbi Elya Ber Wachtfogel (These rabbis are specifically listed because they wrote original criticisms of Rabbi Slifkin.) came out with an extremely strong voice against his books. The various claims against Rabbi Slifkin’s books include:

  • He believes the world to be millions of years old.
  1. He claims that Chazal can err in worldly matters.
  2. His books are full of heresy, misrepresentation of Chazal’s words and disparagement for the foundations of Emunah (faith).
  3. The publication and distribution of these books present a spiritual danger.

Rabbi Aharon Feldman, the Rosh Yeshiva of Ner Israel, argues that the two points that brought upon the ban were Slifkin’s approach to cosmology and his approach to the credibility of the Sages. On the first issue, he shows how R. Slifkin misapplied Talmudic principles and misinterpreted Rishonim. He offers the example of how R. Slifkin misuses the principle “There is no chronological order in the Torah” to reject the order of creation put forth by the Torah; R. Feldman argues that R. Slifkin rearranged the days of creation to fit better with evolutionary theory. No one can deny that R. Slifkin applied this principle in a way that no person before him ever had. But that in of itself is not blameworthy. Many great Sages have taken famous rabbinic phrases and applied them in ways or situations that they were never intended. For example, Maimonides famously employed the phrase “The Torah speaks in the language of man” and applied it to his anthropomorphic agenda. Also, the Hatam Sofer ironically reapplied the phrase “Hadash (new) is biblically forbidden” to include within the prohibition the creation of novel interpretations of the Torah, even though that interpretation itself was novel. No one would deny that R. Slifkin had an agenda in the writing of his book, a book which at the onset declares that it will show the creation account in Genesis and evolutionary theory could coexist.

On the second issue, R. Feldman’s comments are much in line with the approach that countless other Achronim have carved out before him: one must believe that Daas Torah are the authentic and authoritative spokesmen for traditional Judaism, and ipso facto, for God Himself; hence they unceasingly carry out the will of God on earth. Though this is not the place to argue the philosophical merit of such a point, it is worth noting that the Rishonim, of which we have analyzed earlier, did not believe in their own infallibility or supreme righteousness in the eyes of God. The Geonim and the Rishonim were willing to accept truth no matter where the source was. Maimonides says that if anyone could prove to him the world is eternal, he would accept it. Nachmonides discarded the traditional viewpoint about the inception of rainbows in favor of the Greek’s opinion. R. Hai Geon used to consult with the head of the Syrian church about biblical lexicography. The Jew would goto the Goy for Torah knowledge! Maimonides famously proclaims in his commentary on Ethics of Our Fathers called Shemoneh Perakim that one should accept truth no matter what its source.

R. Slifkin, relying on many authoritative sources, explains that the Rabbis in the past relied on others for their scientific knowledge and are fallible. In response, Rabbi Feldman explains that “although these [Torah] giants did indeed espouse this view, it is a minority opinion…”, and “we are enjoined to follow the majority opinion.” Really, there is no reason to believe that an opinion expressed by a minority should be rejected as long as it comes from a reliable source. Otherwise, world Jewry (the minority) are in trouble of their own religion forcing them to convert to Christianity (the majority) solely based on the numbers. Really, according to one approach, the biblical principle of “After the majority you should sway” does not apply to biblical interpretations; it is to be solely invoked when deciding halachic matters. In its most limited sense, according to Maimonides, it refers to the fact that a person must follow the rulings of the Great Sanhedrin in Jerusalem, not the rulings of individual rabbis, and not in matters of philosophy and science. Maimonides goes so far as to say that one may personally hold how ever he wishes when given a situation where Chazal did not rule on a non-halachic matter. He states in regards to the assertion that the generation of the deluge has no share in the world to come (Mishnah Sanhedrin 10:3) that “all arguments between the Sages that have no practical [halachic] consequent to the dispute, for they are only arguing reasoning (S’vara), there is no reason to rule like either of them.” Obviously, R. Feldman is not explaining the principle in line with Maimonides’ approach. Accordingly, we must assume that he is relying on the Sefer HaChinuch’s formulation of the principle in Mitzvah 495. He holds that this principle enjoins one to follow the greatest sage of his generation.

In this book, we have striven to focus on the approach of the Rishonim with the basic premise: they must have understood the true Jewish approach. If they didn’t understand Judaism, we have no hope, for they were the authentic interpreters and conveyors of our religion. Once we enter the sixteenth century, Judaism becomes so compartmentalized and differentiated that it would be wrong to say that any one figure epitomized Judaism and its values as did the Rishonim. Accordingly, we will look at only two more famous personalities to further our understanding.

Rabbi Moshe Shternbuch commenting on evolution states an opinion very much in line with R. Feldman’s approach:

I do not know whether all those who accept the view of the scientists – that the world is very ancient – are heretics. However I do know that only heretics have such views against our Sages – who are fully accepted by us. I want to note in addition that those who accept that the world is ancient also prefer to hear and accept the words of the scientists. Furthermore, these people mistakenly think that they have found support for their views amongst our traditional sources. In fact, however, we are obligated to always give precedent to Da’as Torah. These are the mainstream accepted views expressed in the Talmud as well as the writings of the great writings through the ages. Only those views which are widely accepted are valid – and not minority views that have been rejected or ignored. Only after we fully accept the Torah understanding of an issue, can we consider the words of the scientists and accept that which is compatible with the words of our sages.

In the end, one must decide whether what R. Slifkin did was so bad. Is presenting unsubstantiated information and rejecting Daas Torah’s conclusions about science enough to say that a book should be burnt and be declared heretical?

Do Not Stray after Your Heart

There is a prohibition of “straying after your heart.” Included in this prohibition, according to Rabbi Ya’akov Weinberg (as well as Rabbi Moshe Feinstein) is that it is forbidden to objectively compare Judaism against other religions. R. Weinberg shrewdly points out that this proscription is meaningless if someone already harbors a theological doubt. You cannot answer a person marred with doubts regarding Judaism’s fundamentals by telling him that Judaism prohibits harboring such doubts. The real prohibition of “Do not stray after your heart” is to put yourself into a position where the doubt can arise; once you have doubts, there is a religious obligation to deal with them.

Using R. Weinberg’s advice, we can understand what the great chasm that divides the two camps. The “Gedolim” feel that it is their God-given job to protect the Torah, their Mesorah, and their way of life. In our generation, and in the past, this has taken on the form of fundamentalism hallmarked by literalism towards the Torah, towards aggadah and laden with anti-secular polemics. Some of them argue that the every words of the Gemara is the word of God as given to Moshe at Har Sinai. Accordingly, the greatest lesson that they could impart to the next generation is a certain fortitude in their attitude towards Torah and the “other.”

But when someone is not raised in this fundamentalist way, under this umbrella of comfort and protection from heretical viewpoints, the philosophical Pandora’s box flies open, one has a religious obligation to eradicate ideas and thoughts that in any way undermine belief in the true religion. Whether science, math, astronomy, philology or biblical criticism is the key to unlocking one’s lost faith, the person must traverse this path to God. One cannot not just play the “Emunas Chachamim” (Belief in the Sages) or “Daas Torah” cards to questions that seriously undermine one’s faith. Labeling a Jew a “heretic,” “apikoris,” or “goy” for ideas that he reasonably accepts as true does not lead a lost soul back to Judaism; it only ensures that he will reject Judaism forever without fail.

Other Bans

Besides R. Slifkin’s books, some have tried to ban Professor Schroeder’s “Genesis and the Big Bang.” Upon the realization of the benefit and impact that Prof. Schroeder’s book could have on the Kiruv (outreach) movement, he was invited to lecture at Aish HaTorah (the world’s leading Kiruv movement). After hearing Prof. Schroeder’s compelling understanding of the creation narrative, in an effort to derail any possible debacles of the likes of the Slifkin affair, the Rabbis at Aish HaTorah felt that they should receive an official approbation from a Gadol HaDor (leading Sage). So before they officially associated with him, after Schroeder presented a lecture to all he senior staff and heads of Aish HaTorah, they arranged a meeting between Prof. Schroeder and the late R. Ya’akov Weinberg of Ner Israel. First, R. Weinberg asked is all the science material in his book and lectures were accurate, to which Prof. Schroeder assured him that the book went through scientific peer review at Bantam books before being published. Second, R. Weinberg insisted that this approach to creation never be taught in Yeshivas. R. Weinberg felt that even though this approach to creation is valid, it would be counter productive for Yeshiva students because it would diminish their Emunas Chachamim.

Similar to the Slifkin affair, some fundamentalists in Israel decided that Prof. Schroeder’s book really is heretical; therefore a Beit Din (court) was established to evaluate whether his book was truly heretical and forbidden for a Jew to read. In the end, no one on the court, nor the rabbis casting aspersions at his books, could point to the principle in faith that was being denied. R. Shternbuch, presiding over the case, unhappily agreed that Prof. Schroeder’s book did not uproot any of the fundamentals of belief.

From R. Weinberg, we can learn two important facts. One should ensure that the science he learns is true. Second, one has no religious obligation to uproot the simple faith of others. Non-creationist theories should only be imposed upon those that are in need of a Genesis theory that they can accept. To most Jews, the method that /god employed in creating the world is not especially interesting. The most important thing for a Jew is to know that the Torah is true. Without Torah, there are no rabbis, nor debates, nor bans.

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