Volume 16 Number 67
                       Produced: Sat Nov 19 23:03:34 1994

Subjects Discussed In This Issue: 

Mesorah (Historical Tradition) and the Flood
         [Yosef Bechhofer]
Nutritional Stumbling Blocks
         [Richard Schwartz]
The Flood and Mesorah
         [Yosef Bechhofer]


From: <sbechhof@...> (Yosef Bechhofer)
Date: Sat, 19 Nov 1994 20:54:42 -0600 (CST)
Subject: Re: Mesorah (Historical Tradition) and the Flood

      This is a response to some remarks of Stan Tennen:
      However my understanding is that "the  Tradition"  includes 
      more than the Pshat translation  of  Torah.  Our  Tradition 
      includes 4-levels of meaning  in  Torah  and  an  extensive 
      literature  of  kabbalah  and  meditation.

Of course it does, however, one cannot  forsake  the  level  of  Pshat  in 
pursuing the Remez, Drash and Sod levels.

      When there are valid tools that are not in  our  tradition, 
      our tradition gives us the tools to by which  we  can  make 
      these tools.

Although there is some truth to this statement, it is at the same  time  a 
dangerous one. I would be very nervous about someone inventing  tools  and 
then claiming that since he or she made  them  from  the  tongs  of  their 
personal perspective of Torah, that in and of itself is validation. It  is 
precisely for this reason that Seforim are almost  always  accompanied  by 
"Haskamos", approbations of great recognized scholars  that  sanction  the 
contents of the Sefer as Torah true. The same is  to  be  said  about  any 
"tool", not just a Sefer.

      I do not think that Marc is proposing - and I do  not  mean 
      to propose - a factual reinterpretation of Tanach. There is 
      no reinterpretation when the original interpretation  comes 
      with the stricture that for the text  to  be  properly  and 
      fully understood (as well as a human can) it  is  necessary 
      to consider all 4-levels of  meaning.  If  ONLY  the  Pshat 
      level were to be considered THE translation, that would  be 
      reinterpretation in the extreme - wouldn't it? Am I  making 
      sense here or am I missing something basic? 

I do not know what you are proposing. If you mean that there are levels of 
deeper meaning underlying the simple meaning of the text, which  allow  us 
to  understand  the  workings  of  Divine  Providence  in  an  integrated, 
holistic,  systematic  manner  based  on  Kabbalistic  and   philosophical 
underpinnings, I wholeheartedly endorse the effort. I  also  recommend  to 
you the Seforim of Reb Tzadok HaKohen of Lublin zt"l, which have led me in 
my efforts to achieve this kind of understanding, and upon  which  I  base 
many of my classes in Machashava (Jewish Thought).
If, however, you mean that  the  simple  meanings  of  Biblical  texts  as 
historical  records  is  either  insignificant,  allegorical  or,   worse, 
inaccurate, I take strong exception.
Here we must state clearly and strongly: Judaism is not just a "religion", 
it is a corpus of "Emes" - Truth, and, as such it has rigid parameters  of 
belief  and  restrictions  on  individual  flights  of  fancy.  Not  every 
spiritual pursuit, whatever turns us on, is legitimate,  and,  conversely, 
not every liberty with text and tradition is legitimate either. Certainly, 
the forsaking of the Pshat of Torah is not condoned -  except,  again,  in 
those places where Chazal engage in the practice. It is symptomatic of our 
era, when values are relative, histories are written based on the bias  of 
the historian, deconstructionism is rampant  in  literary  analysis,  that 
reconstructing Torah would come into vogue. This is most unfortunate.
Yosef Gavriel Bechhofer


From: Richard Schwartz <RHSSI@...>
Date: Wed, 16 Nov 94 13:33:52 EST
Subject: Nutritional Stumbling Blocks

     The Torah teaches that we should not put stumbling blocks before the
blind.  In that spirit, I would like to discuss two "stumbling blocks"
related to our diets, since they are having major negative effects on the
health of Jews and others.  Since I am not a medical doctor or a professional
nutritionist, I hope that others with expertise in this area will respond so
that the truth can be found out and spread widely, to the benefit of many
people and hopefully a true kiddush HaShem (sanctification of G-d's name).
     The conventional wisdom is that people should consume large amounts of
calcium, especially from dairy products, in order to have strong bones and to
avoid osteoporosis.  But, please consider the following:
1. The countries where people consume the most dairy products, countries such
as the U. S., Sweden, and Israel, have the highest rates of osteoporosis;
2. Many people in China (life expectancy 70 years) are lactose intolerant; yet,
osteoporosis is relatively rare.  Also, the consumption of dairy products in
the Black townships of South Africa is very low, and also osteoporosis is very
3. Due to their high fish-based diets, Eskimos get extremely high amounts of
calcium, more than any other people.  Yet, their women have very high rates of
osteoprosis, and it begins often when they are in their 40's.
     Many studies  have shown that the real problem is not the amount of
calcium in the diet, but how much is retained.  The culprit has been shown to
be high protein, especially animal protein diets.  While the human body can
store excess fat, it can't store excess protein.  The excess is excreted and
takes calcium and other minerals out with it.  Studies going back to the early
1970's showed that people with only 500 mg of calcium per day had positive
calcium balances, since they had low protein intakes, while others with 1400
milligrams of calcium per day had negative calcium balances, since they were
consuming very high amounts of protein. (This analysis can be easily checked
by just measuring the amount of calcium in the urine of people with various
protein intakes in their diets, and I hope that medical professionals who
have doubts will perform these measurements.)
     The most common and the most dangerous nutritional misconception (hence
stumbling block) is related to the amounts of protein that we need.  While
many people are concerned about getting adequate amounts of protein, the real
problem is that most people get far too much protein, especially animal
protein, and this has very negative effects on human health, especially with re
gard to the kidneys and osteoporosis.  A human mother's milk only has 5% of its
calories from protein, and this is the percentage that most nutritionists think
that we should be getting in our diet.  Even if this estimate was doubled to
10%, this can be obtained by a balanced diet very easily, even if there were no
 animal products at all in the diet.  Legumes, grains, nuts and seeds, and
vegetables are all rich sources of protein; even honeydoo melon has 10% of its
calories from protein.  If this analysis is correct (and again, I urge people
to carefully check it out, since so much related to human health, and other
issues, is linked to it), how did we go so wrong in believing that it is very
important to eat foods that are known as protein sources, especially animal
products?  Perhaps the answer is related to the fact that a rat's mother's
milk has almost 50% of its calories from fat, and we have placed great reliance
on animal experiments.
     At this time when we see major budgetary problems at the local, municipal,
state, and federal levels, and that soaring medical expenditure are a major
factor behind these deficits (projections are that in 10 - 12 years, total
U. S. medical expenditures will reach 20% of our GNP), I hope that the Jewish
community will use our collective wisdom, and our Torah imperatives, to
actively seek the true facts that can help move our precious but imperiled
planet away from its current path toward bankruptcy.
     I would be very glad to share further information and sources with others.
           Richard (Schwartz)     <rhssi@...>
             Author of Judaism and Vegetarianism, Judaism and Global Survival,
and Mathematics and Global Survival


From: <sbechhof@...> (Yosef Bechhofer)
Date: Thu, 17 Nov 1994 09:20:19 -0600 (CST)
Subject: The Flood and Mesorah

>From M. Shamah
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 opinion. 

That is of course true, but they are "Talmudic and Midrashic sages and 
our great commentators," an dwe are not.  Yes,  we  are  smaller  less 
knowledgable and privy to less Ruach  HaKodesh  than  Chazal  and  the 
Great Rishonim, such as Rabbeinu Chananel, whom other Rishonim testify 
had direct access to the Mesorah "shekol  devarav  divrei  kabbala"  - 
"that all of his words were from the Tradition." That doesn't mean  we 
can't be creative - we just must know our limitations.

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).

I just taught Gideon's fleece of wool in my Nach class. With  all  due 
respect to you and others who commented  to  me  privately  about  the 
Rambam, Ralbag and others' approach towards such events that they  say 
were visions or conveyed by  prophets  -  THAT  IS  NOT  THE  SAME  AS 
ALLEGORY. The Rambam, who codified the reality of prophecy as  one  of 
the 13 Principles believes that this is  the  way  angels  appear  and 
signs occur - in visions. The Tanach accurately describes real  events 
that actually transpired - in the realm of prophecy. What I understood 
Marc to have said is that the Flood account is an allegory - i.e.,  it 
didn't take place in the realm of vision either - it is, according  to 
Marc, a symbolic story, much like  a  parable.  Perhaps  your  closing 
statement:  "In  conclusion  we  should  recognize  that  a  prophetic 
allegory is as true and inspiring as any "actual" history" agrees with 
me? (BTW, I would find the interpretation of the  Flood  as  a  vision 
inacceptable. Miracles do occur - no one says, or can  say,  that  the 
Splitting of the Sea or the Giving of the Torah was a vision, and  the 
Flood I place in the same category. But that is a separate issue.)

R. Yosef Ibn Caspi and others allow  allegorization  of  the 
great fish swallowing Yonah.

Rabbi Ibn Caspi was a controversial source. I  reserve  the  right  to 
reject his interpretation as beyond the mainstream.

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.

Again, not as allegory but as visions.

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. 

I fail to see why these points are relevant. Of course we  can  accept 
science where it does not contradict Torah. it is  where  there  is  a 
REAL clash that our debate begins.

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.

This is true, but it does not justify your next  statement,  in  which 
you leap to equate us with our "tools" with Chazal.

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. 

You realize that I  didn't  quote  either  of  these  concepts  in  my 
posting. I don't think they have anything to do with this  discussion, 
and I fear you bring them in to  "pigeonhole"  me  as  a  rabid  right 
winger who can be dismissed out of hand. We can do great research, and 
I hope that I do, and use all the tools at our disposal.  We  are  not 
discussing dispute  with  our  contemporaries,  however,  which  would 
bring"Elu Veelu" and "the recently-developed concept" of "Daas  Torah" 
(as an aside,  see  Rabbi  Wein's  article  in  the  November  "Jewish 
Observer" - "Da'as Torah" is an new phrase, but not a new  concept)  - 
but our attitude towards Mesorah and Chazal. I  resubmit,  one  cannot 
reinterpret as allegory that which Chazal - via the Mesorah - accepted 
as fact.
Indeed, once you question the Mabul as fact, pray tell, what leads you 
to believe that Mattan Torah and Yetzias Mitzrayim are fact?

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.

I certainly didn't mean to insult Marc. I generally agree with much of 
what Marc has to say and  respect  his  scholarship.  I  hope  we  can 
continue to discuss these matters  unemotionally  and  in  a  friendly 

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. 

I am not a member of the  "planted  evidence"  shool  of  thought.  I, 
however, fail to understand the negativism  against  literalism  where 
our Mesorah dictates it, in Torah she'bi'Ksav. I do not place  science 
on a pedestal - it is certainly as fallible, IMHO, much more, than the 
traditions of our Jewish Heritage and History.
Yosef Gavriel Bechhofer


End of Volume 16 Issue 67