Volume 16 Number 59
                       Produced: Thu Nov 17  0:03:07 1994

Subjects Discussed In This Issue: 

Criticism of Marc Shapiro's submission on the Flood
         [M. Shamah]
Modern Orthodox and Houston
         [Aryeh Blaut]
Tensions within Modern Orthodoxy
         [Jonathan Rogawski]


From: <MSHAMAH@...> (M. Shamah)
Date: Mon, 14 Nov 1994 20:20:15 -0500 (EST)
Subject: Re: Criticism of Marc Shapiro's submission on the Flood

Whether one agrees with Marc Shapiro's non-literal interpretation of the
Flood or not, anyone familiar with the broad outlines of traditional
Jewish exegesis and thought must admit that the right to such an
interpretation is absolutely within the parameters of our tradition.
There have been numerous interpretations expounded by Talmudic and
Midrashic sages and our great commentators that ran counter to what at
least superficially appears to have been the previously widely-accepted

Marc's example of another case of Rishonim allegorizing was the Garden
of Eden.  Several additional examples will be helpful.  The Rambam,
primarily because of his interpretation of prophecy as occurring in a
vision, allegorizes each of the following: G-d taking Abraham outside
and showing him the stars; the whole passage of Abraham's three
visitors; Jacob's wrestling with the angel; the whole episode of
Balaam's talking ass; Hosea's taking a harlot wife; Ezekiel's
resurrection of the dead (a Talmudic controversy); Gideon's fleece of
wool; and many other Scriptural events (Guide 2: 42, 47).  R. Yosef Ibn
Caspi and others allow allegorization of the great fish swallowing
Yonah.  Many Rishonim felt science indicated that necromancy doesn't
exist and rejected a literal interpretation of the necromancer's
conjuring up of the deceased prophet Samuel and his ensuing conversation
with King Saul.  If there would have been a compelling scientific or
philosophic reason to support the Eternity of the Universe view, the
Rambam states he would have interpreted Genesis 1 in accordance with it,
but he believes Aristotle didn't truly make his point, so Mesorah came
into play.  In our century R. Kook considered the doctrine of evolution
- modified to include the Creator's role - so compelling and uplifting
that he urged Torah only be taught that way.

The "Mesorah", which some have thrown against Marc, important as it is,
should not be glamorized into something it isn't.  The Talmudic sages
and the Rishonim recognized that there are many, many matters in
Scripture that "Mesorah" even in their days did not clarify and
everybody had to do their best with whatever they could garner from
tradition, logic and available evidence.  The sages and commentaries are
constantly arguing with each other about how to understand thousands of
matters of realia, events and meaning of words, often having
diametrically opposed views, trying to reach truth.  We should continue
the process and use the great tools of science, archaeology, philology,
history, etc. that are at our disposal today.  Let us not get bogged
down with a misinterpretation of "Elu VeElu - these and these are the
words of the living G-d", and feel untraditional every time we come up
with an interpretation contrary to the view of a Talmudic sage or a
Rishon.  Great as the sages were, they were fallible and welcomed every
opportunity to clarify a matter.  The misinterpretation of "Elu Veelu"
and the recently-developed concept of "Daas Torah" are stifling
legitimate Torah research and moving Orthodox Judaism into an
unenlightened age contrary to our glorious heritage.

Yosef Bechhofer commits a personal injustice to Marc by accusing him of
stating that "G-d, Chazal and the Rishonim were "pulling the wool over
our eyes" with this blatant falsification" [of an allegorical flood
account], something Marc never even implied.  Some readers may have
received the impression from Yosef's use of quotation marks around
"pulling the wool over our eyes" that those were Marc's words.  Although
the marks indicate a colloquial phrase, the sentence demonstrates that
Yosef completely misunderstands Marc.  Marc, as great luminaries of our
tradition through the centuries, doesn't think of an allegory as
deceptive.  We may say that on the contrary, Marc is combatting the view
of those who posit literalness in the face of overwhelming evidence, who
sometimes are led to say the evidence was put there by the Creator to
fool us.

In conclusion we should recognize that a prophetic allegory is as true and
inspiring as any "actual" history. 

M. Shamah


From: Aryeh Blaut <ny000592@...>
Date: Thu, 10 Nov 94 00:22:47 -0800
Subject: Modern Orthodox and Houston

>>From: <SAlbert@...> (Steve Albert)

After living in Houston for 3 years (as well as other communities) and being 
familiar with various personalities-- 

Looking at the real world of synagogue politics--

IMHO, it is not fair to make any statements about the policies of
synagogues.  In today's world, many Rabbis have to "modify" their
position on many issues (within the relm of Halacha) in order to stay
employed.  I have been in shules that the board told the Rabbi that if
he rules in such and such a way or demands such and such be done, then
his contract will not be renewed.

Synagogues are affiliated with national organizations.  Their
affiliation seems to define their label, not their practice.

This is my 2 cents.

Aryeh Blaut

P.S. regarding Avi's addition at the end regarding L"H -- I would prefer 
not having to read it.  When in doubt  -- ask your LCR (Local Compitent Rabbi).

>[A very difficult question. How does someone like myself walk the line
>between discouraging lashon harah (which I try to do) and maintaining a
>relatively open list discussion. Mostly I have to depend on you, the
>readership, to examine what you are posting. Mod.]


From: Jonathan Rogawski <jonr@...>
Date: Mon, 14 Nov 94 11:16:25 PST
Subject: Tensions within Modern Orthodoxy

Let me apologize in advance -- this is a long posting!  This is mostly
because I've included some long but (hopefully) interesting quotes.

Concerning the theme "tensions within modern orthodoxy", I have raised
some questions about Steve Bailey's idea of the modern orthodox Jew
taking advantage of the S-A-L (sciences, arts, and literature) to
enhance his or her life.  My LOR, Rabbi Asher Brander, showed me an
interesting 1961 article on just this topic by Rav Lichtenstein "A
Consideration of General Studies form a Torah Point of View".  This is
probably familiar to many on line -- well worth reading if you haven't
seen it.  In agreement with Steve, Rav L. affirms the intrisic value of
S-A-L as a means for developing one's spiritual personality. Of course,
"developing one's spiritual personality" is a bit more specific than
"enhancing one's life", but I think Steve and Rav L.  mean the same

Rav L.  emphasizes that there are some serious problems with "secular
studies", and recalls that the seriousness of the conflict led to the
closing of the Volozhin Yeshiva in the last century.  The conflict has
two parts: first, taking time away from Torah study and two, the
possible negative influence.  Rav L. points out that Whitman's poetry is
more problematic than St.  Augustine's Confessions or John Milton's
Paradise Lost.  So my question to Steve and others who may agree or
disagree: should we not read Whitman?  or read it and not enjoy it?
read it and condemn it?  Rav L.  quotes T.S. Eliot in saying "explicit
ethical and theological standards" must be especially applied to "works
of the imagination" since "By these, all of us may be influenced".  The
key seems to be "critical appraisal in the light of the Torah" and for
that, obviously, one needs to have a pretty good Torah background.  Can
anyone recommend more recent writings on this topic - and any comments -
either pro or con?

Now I'd like to explore the religion-science tension from a little
different point of view by quoting some excerpts from a book by the
physicist Werner Heisenberg called "Physics and Philosophy".  Of course,
Heisenberg was one of the greatest and most influential scientists in
this century -- the person who formulated the "uncertainty principle".
Again, I apologize for taking up too much of cyberspace, but I think
Heisenberg's remarks clarify some aspects of this tension.  Please note:
I am not interested in using a scientist such as Heisenberg to "justify"
Torah -- but rather to understand his views on science as a way of
shedding some light on the relation of science to Torah.  Given the
general trend of various scientific discussions on this line, his views
might at least give some food for thought.

Here is what Heisenberg has to say about the 19th century view of reality:

"The nineteenth century developed an extremely rigid frame for natural
science which formed not only science but also the general outlook of
great masses of people. This frame was supported by the fundamental
concepts of classical physics, space, time, matter, causality; the
concept of reality applied to the things or events that we could
perceive by our senses ...  or refined tools that technical science had

"On the other hand, this frame was so narrow and rigid that it was
difficult to find a place in it for many concepts of our language that
had always belonged to its very substance, for instance, the concepts of
mind, of the human soul, or of life... Life was to be explained as a
physical and chemical process, governed by natural laws, completely
determined by causality. Darwin's concept of evolution provided ample
evidence for this interpretation.  It was especially difficult to find
in this framework room for those parts of reality that had been the
object of the traditional religion and seemed now more or less only
imaginary. Therefore, in those European countries in which one was wont
to follow the ideas up to their extreme consequences, an open hostility
of science toward religion developed...confidence in the scientific
method and in rational thinking replaced all other safeguards of the
human mind" (endquote)

The point is that even science, which tries to look at the physical
world objectively, does so within a framework that is necessarily
limited and subject to change.  The "old" 19th century view is still
pretty much the outlook most of us were brought up on, and thus we've
imbibed the religion/science tension whether we're aware of it or not.
The tension is transmitted in the educational system. I was made
explicitly aware of this recently when I attended a lecture about the
technical subject of "Phase transitions" (going from liquid to gas,
etc).  The speaker, a prominent physicist (I don't know if he is Jewish
or not), wanted to emphasize how a group of physicists earlier in the
century had proposed some erroneous ideas, and so he referred to their
theories as "Biblical theories". To emphasize his point, he went so far
as to show a slide of the Hebrew text in the Book of Kings in Hebrew
(ch. 7, verse 23: Solomon's building of the pool) which seems to
indicate that the value of PI is 3 (instead of 3.14159...)

Now here's what Heisenberg says about the 20th century:

"One may say that the most important change brought about by [modern
physics] consists in the dissolution of this rigid frame of concepts of
the nineteenth century.  Of course, many attempts had been made before
to get away from this rigid frame... but it had not been possible to see
what could be wrong with the fundamental concepts like matter, space,
time, and causality that had been so extremely successful in the history
of science. Only experimental research itself and its mathematical
interpretation...finally resulted in the dissolution of the rigid

The two things that displaced the rigid frame were relativity theory and
quantum mechanics. Relativity theory teaches that "even such fundamental
concepts as space and time could be changed" and Quantum mechanics shows
that "the idea of the reality of matter had at least to be modified in
connection the new experience"

The last bit I'd like to quote concerns a distinction that Heisenberg
draws between what he calls "scientific language" and "natural
language". Scientific language is based on axioms and mathematics,
whereas "natural language" is less precise but has an immediate
connection with reality -- it's the language we use to express our
everyday thoughts and feelings.  Heisenberg's point seems to be that
19th century science made people very skeptical about natural language
and very confident about scientific language -- as if only scientific
language were capable of expressing truth.  However, he claims that the
physics of the 20th century also caused people to be skeptical about
scientific language.

"The skepticism [induced by modern physics] against precise scientific
concepts does not mean that there should be a definite limitation for
the application of rational thinking. But the existing scientific
concepts cover always only a very limited part of reality, and the other
part that has not yet been understood is infinite... We know that any
understanding must be based finally upon the natural language because it
is only there that we can be certain to touch reality...In this way
modern physics has perhaps opened the door to a wider outlook on the
relation between the human mind and reality."(endquote)

Now I should really stop, but at the end of his book, Heisenberg quotes
a story about a Hasidic Rabbi which I think people on line may enjoy (No
doubt there is some irony in a German scientist, who had spent the war
in Germany, quoting a Hasidic source to find some resolution to the
religion/science conflict)

 A man came to a Hasidic Rabbi in despair about all the changes that
went on around him, due to so-called technical progress saying "Isn't it
all worthless, when one considers the real values of life".

"That may be so" the Rabbi replied, "but if one has the right attitude,
one can learn from everything"

"No" the visitor replied "from foolish things as railway, or telephone
or telegraph one can learn nothing whatsoever"

The Rabbi answered "You are wrong.  From the railway you can learn that
by being one instant late you may miss everything. From the telegraph
you can learn that every word counts.  And from the telephone, you can
learn that what we say here can be heard there".



End of Volume 16 Issue 59