Volume 16 Number 88
                       Produced: Sat Nov 26 21:54:49 1994

Subjects Discussed In This Issue: 

Allegory in the Tanach
         [Yisroel Rotman]
         [Joseph Steinberg]
Flood and Massorah (V16n82)
         [Mark Steiner]
Innovative Psak
         [Moishe Kimelman]
Isaac vs. Jacob - Correction
         [Shaul Wallach]
Tiferes Yisroel, dinosaurs, and Noah
         [Mitchel Berger]


From: Yisroel Rotman <SROTMAN@...>
Date: Sat,  26 Nov 94 18:32 0200
Subject: Allegory in the Tanach

Subject: Allegory

Yosef Bechofer has traced through the opinions vis a vis the possibility
(or lack thereof) that the "snake" in the garden of Eden was an allegory.

Question:   how can we determine what MUST be taken literally vs. what
may be taken as an allegory.  For example, the gemorah suggests that
Job never existed and the whole book may be an allegory.   On the other hand,
Yosef has stated as self-evident that the exodus from Egypt must have
literally occurred ( a position with which I agree).  A minority
of commentaries take certain parts of the third chapter of Genesis
as being allegory; however, we have had a good deal of debate about
if the chapters on Noach MUST be literal.

I repeat again:  is there some way to know when we MUST (as orthodox
jews) accept the text literally?

Yisroel Rotman

P.S.  I once had it told to me that some midrashim must not be taken
literally and some must be taken literally; when I asked how to tell
the difference, I was told it is obvious.


From: Joseph Steinberg <steinber@...>
Date: Fri, 25 Nov 1994 12:38:37 -0500 (EST)
Subject: Birthright

If the sale of Esau to Yaakov of a B'chorah is considered a valid sale -- 
why can't a non-Kohen buy the Kehunah from a Kohen? The Kehunah would be 
more esaily sold than the B'chorah -- the Kehunah is already in the world 
(Davar Shekvar Ba L'olam) while the B'chorah at the time of Yaakov was 
not (it was possible that Esau would die before Yitzhcak an never inherit 
2x -- and the avodah obviously did not exist yet!)????

  E=mc^2   |  Joseph Steinberg  |  New York, USA  |  <steinber@...>


From: Mark Steiner <MARKSA@...>
Date: Fri,  25 Nov 94 13:48 +0200
Subject: Re: Flood and Massorah (V16n82)

Yosef Bechhofer says:
>The Rishonim did not believe that SCIENCE repudiated  necromancy.  You
>would be correct, and this case would be  parallel  to  ours,  had  a
>Rishon said something to the effect of: "Dr. X has brought  convincing
>evidence that archaelogical and paleontological records indicate  that
>the  Necromancer  of  Ov  never  existed.  I  therefore  come  to  the
>conclusion that the Biblical Passage in question is an Allegory."
>     In fact, of course, no Rishon would ever say such  a  thing.  The
>very notion is preposterous. What Rishonim did say is something to the
>effect of: "My masters have taught me theology and I have learnt  more
>theology from the Bible and the Talmud. Based on my  understanding  of
>the theolgy of Judaism, I come to the  conclusion  that  the  Biblical
>Passage concerning the Necromancer of Ov  refers  not  to  an  act  of
>witchcraft, which is invariably an illusion, but  a  prophetic  vision
>that King Shaul, a known prophet, experienced."

     Rabbi Bechhofer writes as though "the rishonim" are an
undifferentiated mass of rabbis.  His words simply do not make sense for
the Rambam, who paskened in Hilkhot Yesodai Hatorah and Hilkhot Talmud
Torah that the study of physics and metaphysics is part of "gemara."
Hence, for the Rambam, the distinction between science and theology
simply does not exist.  But I don't think that the point is well taken
even for the Ramban, no lover of Greek philosophy or the Rambam's
addiction to it, who would never have stated that "science is Torah."

     Consider the following passage from the Ramban's Commentary on
the Torah, Gen ix,12:

     THIS IS THE SIGN OF THE COVENANT: The plain meaning
     (mimashma`) of this sign is that there was no rainbow at
     the Creation, and now Hashem created the rainbow...and
     [Chazal] said...that the rainbow was not made with its
     legs facing upward, looking as though from Heaven [G-d]
     is shooting with it [at humanity]...but we have no choice
     but to believe the Greeks when they say that from the
     glow of the sun in moist air, the rainbow appears as a
     natural effect [toladah], since we see a rainbow-like
     image in a glass of water standing in the sun.  And when
     we look further into the language of Scripture we can
     understand it thus, since it says I PLACED MY BOW IN THE
     CLOUD and not I PLACE...and the words MY BOW indicate
     that [G-d] had the rainbow from the beginning...

     Although the Ramban very often upheld the plain meaning of
Scripture against allegorical interpretations based on philosophy (for
example, he condemned interpreting the stories of communication or
confrontation betweem human beings and angels as dreams), we see here
that where Greek science was backed up by publicly available empirical
evidence, Ramban was willing to reinterpret the plain meaning of the
text, and uphold the non- "pshat" interpretation as the deeper meaning.
That is, science, including Greek science, could be a key to
understanding Torah itself, since if it hadn't been for Greek science,
presumably the Ramban would not have thought of using the words I PLACED
and MY BOW as referring to the creation of rainbows at the beginning of

     At the same time, the Ramban could easily have turned aside the
evidence from the glass of water in the sun.  He could have said, for
example, that this effect was created together with the rainbow.  He
obviously chose not to do this.  In a real sense, then, science--even
for the Ramban--was indispensable to understanding Torah.


From: <kimel@...> (Moishe Kimelman)
Date: Sat, 26 Nov 1994 22:39:53 +1100
Subject: Innovative Psak

In response to my post Isaac Balbin writes in mj #86:

>Seriously, there is ample precedent for innovative psak [decision] 
>based on a new understanding of a Gemora which goes against Shulchan Aruch 
>(I assume you mean against the Mechaber [R' Caro]  for Sfardim and against 
>the Ramoh [R' Isserles] for Ashkenazim).

I suppose I was guilty of being imprecise.  I meant the Shulcahn Aruch, 
nosei keilim (commentators on Shulchan Aruch) and other Poskim of those 
times.  The Magen Avraham, for example, may pasken differently that did the 
Rema on the basis of his own interpretation of the Gemara, and we consider 
that acceptable.  But if a Rabbi today paskened differently to the Rema 
based not on one of the earlier poskim, but merely on his interpretation of 
Gemara his psak would not be considered within the bounds of legitimate 
halacha.  Do you disagree?

>Reb Moshe paskened almost out of the Gemorah!

Yes, but did he pasken against Shulchan Aruch et al based solely on his 
interpretation, or did he base his psak on earlier poskim?  If he was 
innovative in the former way, I would be very interested in seeing a source 

>Are you a subscriber to the (non-grain) dictum of Chodosh Assur Min HaTorah
>[anything new is forbotten]?

If it is like the Melech Chodosh that did not know Yosef, then the answer is 


From: Shaul Wallach <F66204@...>
Date: Sat, 26 Nov 94 19:29:43 IST
Subject: Isaac vs. Jacob - Correction

    This posting was submitted well before Zvi's criticism and our
subsequent citation of R. S. R. Hirsch ZS"L on Rachel and Leah, so it
should be viewed in light of what has since transpired. One passage,
however, still requires slight modification:

>     We have already seen that Ya`aqov's love for Rachel preceded their
>marriage. The Torah emphasizes that Rachel was attractive (Gen. 29:17)
>and gives no other reason why Ya`aqov chose her over Leah. We also note
>that after their marriage, Rachel is barren and pleads with Ya`aqov
>(30:1): "... and Rachel said to Ya`aqov, 'Give me sons, and if not, then
>I die.'" At this Ya`aqov gets angry and answers her rudely (30:2). Our
>Rabbis took Ya`aqov up on this and said "That is how we answer women
>in distress??" Such was the fate of his love for her that lasted for
>7 years until their marriage.

     The last sentence in this paragraph is obviously imprecise. Jacob
loved Rachel not only before their marriage, but afterwards as well.
As Zvi has pointed out, the Torah always refers to Rachel as "Jacob's
wife", even after her death. All I meant to point out above was that
Jacob's relationship with Rachel did not always go smoothly even while
she was alive. Rabbi Hirsch has also pointed out the circumstances of
her death and burial and the fate of her children. And as we have noted,
Jacob's relationship with Leah, as far as can be gathered from the
Torah, was in a constant state of upward momentum, until he finally
recognized her primacy on his deathbed, according to the Midrash.




From: Mitchel Berger <aishdas@...>
Date: Fri, 25 Nov 1994 12:30:20 -0500
Subject: Tiferes Yisroel, dinosaurs, and Noah

The subject of the Tiferes Yisrael's position on dinosaur fossils came
up on this list recently. He felt that the fossils' existance is
evidence of an ancient idea in Kabbalah of "shmittos" -- cycles of
creation and destruction of "olamos". The bones, eggshells and other
remains (fossil feuls?) are remainders of the previous cycle.

I had to think about this, since I understood olam in this (and many
other) context to mean "universe". This would mean that the Zohar
describes the creation and destruction of entire universes. I can't
picture how objects would persist from one universe to another, since
physical existance depends on space, time, laws of physics, in other
words, a universe.

Then, I thought perhaps "olam" means "planet". But then why would the
fossils show up here, on earth?

It would seem that shmittos are eras in the history of this planet.
This severely reduces the importance of the first chapter of Genesis,
but it reads well into the first couple of verses of the Torah.

    In the begining G-d created heaven and earth. [Then a bunch of
    shmittah cycles. When the previous one was destroyed...] The earth was
    empty and chaotic, and there was darkness on the face of tehom 
    untranslatable). And the Spirit of G-d travelled across the water. [The
    planet existed, but was dark and covered in water.]

Later (day 2), we notice that the globe isn't created, but uncovered from the
water upon it.

Two problems with this idea:
1- What then happened on day 4? If the universe stars, and planets were still
   around, what did Hashem make?
2- Why isn't the story of Noach considered the start of yet another shmittah


End of Volume 16 Issue 88