Volume 16 Number 87
                       Produced: Fri Nov 25 12:19:52 1994

Subjects Discussed In This Issue: 

Age of the Earth
         [Moishe Kimelman]
Gan Eden
         [Yosef Bechhofer]
Gemara's use of "tav l'meitav"
         [Shaul Wallach]


From: <kimel@...> (Moishe Kimelman)
Date: Thu, 10 Nov 1994 15:35:13 +1100
Subject: Age of the Earth

I've been reading the posts on the seeming contradiction between the Torah 
and science regarding the age of the universe, and I am reminded of the 
passuk (Tehillim 92:7): "...uchtil lo yavin et zot" - a fool doesn't 
understand THIS.  Why "this"?  What DOES a fool understand?

I once heard it explained thus: The wise man enters the flight deck of a 
747, sees all the knobs, buttons , dials and lights, and is overawed at the 
complexity of the aircraft.  He then freely admits that he doesn't have any 
idea about the working of the aircraft.  A fool, however, points to one of 
the buttons, turns to his tour guide, and asks, "What does this do?"  
"Uchtil lo yavin et ZOT."

We are dealing with the six days of creation.  We don't understand how an 
electron can be created ex nihilo, let alone an entire universe, yet we ask, 
"Why would the Master of the universe have created fossils/stars billions of 
light years away/radioactive elements etc. that make it appear as if the 
world was created billions of years ago?"  And the only answer we can 
logically come up with is, "The story of creation in the Torah is allegorical".

Let me ask a better question than, "Why would Hashem do that?"  Why did 
Hashem create the universe?  Does any reader of mj know the answer to that?  
I certainly don't, but I don't therefore question the statement in the Torah 
that Hashem created the heaven and the earth.  Why should I question the 
other statements in the following sections?  Furthermore, if we are basing 
assumptions on "why would Hashem...", then the allegorists need to answer 
the following: Why would Hashem use the word "yom" (day) to mean eons when 
he could have used a less misleading word such as "et" (time), "onah" 
(period) or "zman" (time), or he could have coined a totally new word?

I would venture to say that it is because we feel inadequate in our 
understanding of things spiritual that we offer these "rational" 
explanations of creation.  We can see, examine and understand pigs, and we 
KNOW that there is nothing unhealthy about eating pork, and that is why we 
have no problem with the prohibition against eating it.  In other words, we 
only accept that pork is spiritually unhealthy because as Torah-true Jews we 
see no other option.  But when it comes to something that we can not examine 
empirically, and with which we therefore feel uncomfortable, we presume to 
be knowledgeable enough to say that since we cannot reconcile this with 
scientific knowledge then the plain meaning of the words of the Torah is 
obviously the wrong meaning.  Is this the extent of our emunah (faith)?  
There is a saying that seems to fit the situation here:  Tachlit hayedi'ah 
shenaida she'i efshar laida - the ultimate purpose of knowledge is to 
realize that we cannot understand.

A lot of people I spoke to were dismayed when someone posted an article 
claiming that the flood never took place.  But isn't this a direct 
consequence of "allegorizing" other parts of the Torah.  Where does it stop? 
 Yes, I know that chazal (the sages of Mishnaic and talmudic times) have 
shown that certain pesukim are not to be taken literally, but are we to 
presume ourselves as great as they?  Do chazal say anywhere that the "yom 
echad" of creation does not literally mean one "day".  I suppose that the 
generation of the flood also took creation allegorically, and they therefore 
assumed that Noah's warning about repentance and the flood was meant to be 
taken in a non-literal sense :-)

Furthermore, regarding scientific proof of the age of the universe.  Whether 
it be through carbon dating , radioactive decay, or through any other means, 
science offers explanations as to the age of the universe based on the 
assumption that nature as it is today is the same as it always was.  But we 
who believe that nature was not always the way it is now, and that Hashem 
created nature, have no right to accept this premise.  The Torah says "Al pi 
shnayim aidim yakum davar" - two witnesses establish a fact.  Circumstantial 
evidence is not permitted in Jewish courts regardless of how convincing it 
is, and all the hypotheses of science should not be allowed to interfere 
with our absolute adherence to the interpretation of the Torah as handed 
down by Moshe rabbainu to us via the teachings of chazal.

Finally, I would like to relate my experience as to the harm done by 
promoting these theories.  As a teacher in a religious high-school with a 
high percentage of children from semi- or irreligious homes, I am faced with 
teenagers who know little Chumash, less Rashi and Midrash, almost no 
scientific theory, and yet they "know" that "yom echad" really means "a 
billion years".  They "know" this not from any primary or secondary source, 
rather they "know" it because it seems be accepted fact.  How are we 
teachers (and parents) supposed to instill Torah-values in these children 
when the very first section of the Torah is not really saying what it means? 
 If someone out there has a TORAH BASED (not "could be reconciled with the 
Torah") reason for believing that it is possible that the six days of 
creation are anything other than six days - and I doubt that there is such a 
reason - please keep it under wraps until the person who is to hear it is 
mature and well-versed enough to either accept or reject it without it 
shaking the unstable foundation of his belief.

Moishe Kimelman


From: <sbechhof@...> (Yosef Bechhofer)
Date: Thu, 24 Nov 1994 22:47:12 -0600 (CST)
Subject: Gan Eden 

I certainly do not claim to have done exhaustive research,
but  I  would like to present what  I  have  found  concerning  Gan  Eden 
account  as allegory.  

In the first place, there is no source that I could find that holds that
the whole of the Gan Eden account is allegory.  Such as opinions
concerning an allegorical interpretation exist, they pertain only to the
nature of the "Nachash", the serpent in the story. The opinion that the
serpent was not a real live creature, while distinctly a minority view,
is the view of the Sfornu on the episode (Bereishis 3:1) with the
serpent and the "Efodi" Commentary on the Moreh Nevuchim (Ibn Tibbon
edition, II:30, pp. 51-52).  In my opinion, this is clearly not the
Rambam himself's position, and I invite readers to peruse the Moreh
themselves (p.  356 in the Pines English translation).

I note that the Abarbanel mentions that the Rambam himself holds the
episode allegorical, but he clearly was influenced by the Rambam's
commentators, whom he calls the Rambam's "friends."  The Abarbanel
himself, however, is critical of the Rambam (according to his
understanding of him).  The Abarbanel, in fact, uses reasoning that I
used in my previous postings: It is incorrect to take texts that the
Torah conveys as actual factual description and interpret them
allegorically! He does give some novel interpretations of the events in
Gan Eden, but all true to a factual perspective.

The Sfornu's view does have legitimacy, however, because it has a source
in Chazal: "And the serpent: Rabbi Yitzchak said, this is the yetzer
hara [evil inclination]. R. Yehuda said, the serpent was an actual
serpent.  They came befor Rabbi Shimon [b.  Yochai].  He told them,
certainly both opinions are one. The serpent was Samael and he appeared
on [in?]  the serpent, and the visage of the serpent is that of the
Satan and all is one..." (Zohar Chadash 35b; Torah Sheleima vol. 2
p. 252) (readers not familiar with that work should understand that it
is an exhaustive, comprehensive and encyclopediac compilation of all
Chazals and most Rishonim and many Acharonim on Torah she'bi'ktav)

(We see, BTW, from the Zohar Chadash that those that equate the serpent
with the evil inclination thus need not dismiss its actual existence,
but rather see it as "evil incarnate" (see the Nefesh HaChaim 1:6 in the
note there).

Now, to me it seems quite clear that R. Shimon b.  Yochai rejected
R. Yitzchak premise that it was only the yetzer hara and R.  Yehuda's
premise that it was only an actual serpent, but rather explained to them
that it was both.  Nevetheless, the Sfornu is perhaps entitled to adopt
the opinion of R.  Yitzchak.

I could not find any Chazal or Rishon that takes the rest of the account
of Gan Eden as allegorical. Indeed, the Ramban in his commentary 3:22
and in the "Toras HaAdam" (Kisvei Ramban vol. 2 p.  295 in the Mossad
HaRav Kook edition) takes great pains to stress that Gan Eden and all
the events that occured therein actually existed in this world, and that
references to a spiritual Gan Eden in Chazal, refer to a parallel
spiritual realm that also really exists, and that the events that
transpired in Gan Eden below also transpired in that Gan Eden on high.

Again, I only checked Rishonim at my ready disposal, but these seem
pretty clear.  Rabbinu Bechayei takes the view of the Ramban, of
course.The Ibn Ezra as well is adamantly opposed to allegorical
interpretation (See Nechama Leibowitz's "Iyunim" p. 14 as well).  So is
R. Sa'adia Gaon.

I admit that I did not see Marc Shapiro's original posting on Gan Eden,
but so far the Sfornu is all I found. Bear in mind: a) that he too takes
the rest of the Gan Eden account as literal; b) that he was not adverse
to the surreal (see his link of "Tumah" and demons in his "Kavanos
HaTorah"; c) the Sfornu himself weaves in and out of the allegory in
3:14. The last point causes me to wonder if the Sfornu is actually
engaging here in exegesis - perhaps this is actually homiletics?

Yet, be that as it may, the Sfornu only makes this jump here where he
can cite verses from Nach (and where we find basis in Chazal) in which
the tern "Nachash" is used as an express allegory for the Evil
Inclination and the Power of Fantasy. The Sfornu certainly did not take
the Flood as allegorical - there is no basis for that, even according to
the Sfornu's non-mainstream approach here. Thus, although according to
Tradition, as previously mentioned by other MJ posters, there is
precedent - albeit slim - for an "allegorical" interpretation of a
highly specific aspect of the Gan Eden account, there is no such
tradition in the case of the Flood.

In closing, I note tangentially Mechy Frankel's long attack on Rabbi
Wein's article on Da'as Torah. Because my name figured prominently at
the beginning of that posting, I feel that I should state explicitly
that I care not one whit whether Dr. Lawrence Kaplan or Rabbi Wein was
correct in either of their assessments, and have not pursued the matter
at all. I have no interest in the "Da'as Torah" debate, and might indeed
concede inaccuracy in Rabbi Wein's JO article were I to be interested
enough to pursue the matter.  Rather, I repeat something I said
previously: Da'as Torah has absolutely no relevancy to our current
discussion, and I fervently hope the two threads here on MJ do not
become intertwined!

Yosef Gavriel Bechhofer


From: Shaul Wallach <F66204@...>
Date: Thu, 10 Nov 94 15:45:21 IST
Subject: Gemara's use of "tav l'meitav"

     Jeff Mandin has presented some well thought out comments on two
of the passages in the Talmud that mention Reish Laqish's saying "Tav
Lemeitav...". Although the points he makes don't seem crucial for
the original issue, it is worth considering them for their own sake.

>> 1. Yevamot 118a:
>> Since she has a dispute with him, is it an asset for her; or perhaps
>> is she content since being with a body is preferable?
>> ..
>> From this we see she views the divorce as a liability even though she
>> has a quarrel with her husband, and she would not be considered divorced
>> until she actually receives the Get.
>The gemara's question considers the possibility that the divorce is
>an unqualified "zechut" [asset].  The gemara's answer, then, is that
>in fact the woman _might_ view it as a liability, so that "zachin
>l'adam shelo b'fanav" does not apply.  There is a statement about
>psychology here, but I don't think it is as sweeping as you make it
>out to be.

    The way I read the Gemara here, the question is an "either/or"
proposition - does she view it either as an (unqualified) asset or
as a (unqualified) liability? The standard language of the question
("O Dilma"...) indicates that we are in doubt. The answer citing
Reish Laqish implies that we no longer have any doubts - that she
always views the divorce as a liability.

     So far, this is according to the Tur (Even Ha-`Ezer 140) and the
Beit Yosef thereon who explains it this way, based on the Rashb"a and
the Yerushalmi. The Beit Yosef brings an opinion that even if the
wife had actually sued for divorce, it doesn't matter and she is not
considered divorced if the husband appointed a messenger to bring her
the Get and he died before she received it. (Of course, this whole
discussion is about the case where the husband appointed the messenger
to bring her the Get. But if she appointed a messenger to receive it
for her, then she is divorced the moment her messenger receives the Get
for her, provided the husband is alive at that moment.)

     The Beit Yosef, however, also cites the Ra"n who explains the
Talmud the way you do - that the answer in the Talmud means that we
are still in doubt. In his Shulhan `Arukh too, he adds that "there is
someone who says she is possibly divorced" (Safeq Megureshet), referring
to the Ra"n. So I went by the first opinion and you went by the Ra"n.

>>4. Qiddushin 40a (The Mishna says that either a man and a woman can
>>   send a representative for the Qiddushin.
>>	...
>>Here also we see that what Reish Laqish said is being applied to a
>>woman getting married, that she is not required to see her marriage
>>partner herself, since she is content with any husband at all.
>The gemara does _not_ state that she is content w/ any husband at all:

     True, but I followed Rashi who did say "Ba`al Kol Dehu..." (any
husband at all...).

>Tosefot there demonstrates that the point is that while a man must
>see his bride before the marriage, lest he come to violate "you shall
>love your neighbour as yourself", the woman is considered more readily
>able to accept a flaw in the person that she has accepted.

     I don't see this in the Tosafot, but rather in the Gemara itself.
Reish Laqish's statement is accepted as the rationale for the ruling
that (after the fact) the woman does not have to see her groom before
the marriage. What the Tosafot do explain (in the 5th comment on the
page, starting with the language "Asur Le-Adam Leqaddesh Et Bitto
Keshehi Qetana") is that this applies only to an adult woman who marries
out of her own will and can thus choose not to see her future husband in
advance. Nevertheless, the Talmud does say that it is a Mizwa for a
woman to be sanctified to him (Qiddushin) in person, not by a messenger.




End of Volume 16 Issue 87