Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart

Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart

Monday, 20 July 2009

Articles of Faith

The latest post from Rav Shlomo Aviner's website is yet another reminded about how hashkafah and halacha are not the same thing although they are easily confused.
In brief, one must remember that while articles of faith are halacha, it is those articles specifically and not any later corrolaries that are of legal import. For example, it is an article of faith that God is the First Cause and that he created the universe ex nihilo. It is not an article of faith that the first chapter of Bereishis must be read literally without any room for interpretation.
As has been pointed out too many times before, this is a point that is usually lost. Nowadays a certain group has decided that if you believe that God create the universe out of nothing and gave us the entire Torah, oral and written, at Har Sinai and that the Torah we have today is essentially the same one Moshe Rabeinu was handed back then, but you also say that the first chapter of Bereshis can be interpreted in light of modern scientific and archeological knowledge, you are a kofer b'ikkar.
This is utter nonsense. There is a world of difference between hashkafah and halacha. The latter can be determined through established principles. The former, like anything ethical, lacks formal guidelines. If articles of the faith are halachic, then one cannot disagree on them. Saying that Matan Torah was allegorical or that Moshe Rabeine didn't receive the entire Torah from God is against halacha. Saying that God created the universe in six stages which He called "days" is not against halacha. It denies no article of faith to say this so how can it be kefirah?
In the words of Rav Aviner:
The Torah does not mention dinosaurs. This question is interesting from a scientific perspective but not a Torah perspective. In the book "Netivot Olam" (Netiv Ha-Toraah, netiv 14), the Maharal says that the purpose of science is to describe reality, while the Torah describes what reality should be, i.e. what is good and what is bad. What exists is interesting, but it is not Torah, which discusses halachic questions.When people ask how old is the world, if we came from apes, what happened in the distance past, I generally answer: I don't know. I wasn't born and I didn't see. But in the case of dinosaurs, I saw the skeleton of the largest dinosaur in Europe – 20 meters, so you can't tell me stories. Some say that the Atheists made dinosaurs from plastic in order to challenge us and claim that they were from long ago. This is nonsense. I saw it. There were dinosaurs. If so, why doesn't the Torah write about it? The Torah does not say that there were dinosaurs and it does not say that there were not. Some say that the large creatures mentioned during Creation (Bereshit 1:21) are the dinosaurs. How old are the dinosaurs? A few million years old. Why then according to the Torah is the world 5769 years old? This has already been asked and answered: Hashem created worlds and destroyed them before creating our current world (Bereshit Rabbah 3:7, 9:2 and Kohelet Rabbah 3:11). The worlds were destroyed but certain remnants remained. This is explained by Maran Rav Kook in one of his letters (vol. 1 #91). The author of "Tiferet Yisrael" (a commentary on the Mishnah by Rabbi Yisrael Lipschitz) also explained this at length in "Derush Or Ha-Chaim," found in Mishnayot Nezikin after Massechet Sanhedrin). He said that the mystics claim that Hashem created four worlds before creating our world. Where are these worlds? Scientists say that this idea is made up. The Tiferet Yisrael says: "This is not correct. Our Sages know what they are talking about. And after they started excavations and found bones, we see that our Sages spoke the truth!" Although we do not need proofs that our Sages spoke the truth, it is still nice to hear it. He wrote: "The pondering spirit of man, who desires to discover all of the worlds, probing, excavating and delving like a weasel into the recesses of the earth, and the highest mountains in the world, in the Pyrenees, the Carpathians, the Cardillan Mountains in America, and the Himalayas, has found them to be formed of mighty layers of rock lying on one another as if thrown chaotically… Probing still further, within the depths of the earth, they found four distinct layers of rock, and between the layers fossilized remains of creatures. Those in the lower layers are much larger in size and structure, while those in the higher layers are progressively smaller in size but more refined in structure and form… And they also found in Siberia in 1807, in the northern most part of the world, under the constant incredible ice which is there, a monstrous type of elephant, some three or four times larger than those found today…the bones of which are now housed in a museum in St. Petersburg… We also know of the remains of an enormous creature found deep in the earth near Baltimore, seventeen feet long and eleven feet high… From all this it is clear that everything that the Kabbalists have told us for hundreds of years, that the world had already once existed and was then destroyed, and then it was reestablished four more times, and that each time the world appeared in a more perfect state than before – now in our time it has all become clear in truth and righteousness."Nonetheless, there is no difference whether there were dinosaurs or not. Maran Ha-Rav Kook said that our subject is not if man came from an animal, our subject is how not to be an animal. The Torah’s purpose is to teach us how to have a gentle soul, and to be a holy and righteous person.
The argument isn't over wether there were dinosaurs or not. That's hashkafah. Where they kosher or not? That's halacha and that's what actually matters because the Torah was given to us to reveal God's Will to us as codified in the halacha. (See Rashi on the very first verse in Chumash)
It behooves us to keep the argument focused where it belongs, not on peripheral issues


David said...

This is cute, and it's nice to see frummies struggling to acknowledge that reality is, in fact, real. Still, doesn't the amount of twisting and squirming that needs to be done in order to square science with hashkafah (or, as needs be, halakha) give you pause? Some inbred imbecile in a streimel paskens that there were no dinosaurs; Aviner claims that the discover of dinosaur bones "proves" that the Kabbalists were right. Yeah, whatever. The problem here is that kiruv folks never tire of pointing out clever gimmicks that purport to show how the Torah predicts reality or squares with modern science... if you're going to argue (with Aviner) that Torah has nothing to do with science, that's fine. But then you need to give up on the "proofs."

The Leader, Garnel Ironheart said...

No, I'm not twisting and squirming, at least not from my perspective. I understand your point: you've personally decided that since reality doesn't fit a literal reading of the Torah, and anything other than a literal reading is apologetics and an illegitimate attempt at reconciliation so we don't have to give up our faith, then I must be squirming to reconcile the two.
From my perspective, Torah is deep and multi-facted and a simple literal reading, while important, is only one way of understanding the text. Thus reconciliation allows me to understand the Torah in a different fashion than a simple reading of the text would otherwise imply. And my point is that from a halachic perspective, this is not a bad thing.

DrMike said...

Garnel, I think it's fascinating that whenever you put up a post like this, you get an immediate response from the skeptic/atheist crowd. It's almost like they feel threatened by this.
Is is a simple dichotomy? If you're religious you must have simplistic and disproveable beliefs?

David said...

I find it telling that the "reconciliations" only come up when the science proves that the Torah was wrong about something.

And, DrMike, how on earth would a skeptic feel threatened by anything in Garnel's post? Your post is a great example of a phenomenon that has become increasingly popular among frum apologists. When your views are threatened by science or skeptics, you claim that science or skeptics are threatened by your views.

Another good example of this includes Avi Shafran's claim that people who believe in evolution are "fundamentalists."

DrMike said...

> "reconciliations" only come up when the science proves that the Torah was wrong about something.

This is a loaded statement. For example, the Torah never denies dinosaurs existed. It just never mentions them. Further, it is well established in halachic literature (despite assertions at Cross Currents) that the first chapter of Genesis isn't meant to be read as is. It's only the fundamentalist crowd today that wants you to believe that non-literal understandings of Genesis are limited to fringe authorities.

So to say that the Torah was prove wrong? No, you can't say that. What Garnel is saying, and I agree with this, is that as science reveals more about the natural history of the universe, we have to look at the Torah not as a definitive history or science text, which is fine because that's not what it is.
The article by Rav Aviner amply points it out. The Torah has been hijacked by people who want to present it as a science and history textbook. Rav Aviner is just pointing out that it isn't and to read it as one will cause problems.

David said...

DrMike, you can't have it both ways. From Aviner's article:

"The Tiferet Yisrael says: 'This is not correct. Our Sages know what they are talking about. And after they started excavations and found bones, we see that our Sages spoke the truth!'"

When something in the Torah coincides (more or less) with a scientific understanding, the Torah people are all over it as some kind of "proof." When it turns out that the Torah is shown to be in error or to lack information, they hasten to inform us that it's not intended as a science text.

All well and good, but, surely you realize that you've adopted a standard by which everything in the Torah is either a dramatic proof of the accuracy of the Torah, or merely an example of why the Torah can't be taken literally.

The Leader, Garnel Ironheart said...

I don't think that's quite accurate, David.
When Rav Aviner is saying the Sages were right, he isn't referring to dinosaurs but to their received tradition that world we live in today was preceded by other ones which passed from the scene. The Torah itself never directly mentions this so one is not relevant to the other.

David said...

Oh, I don't know, Garnel. I think people play pretty fast and loose with the concept "Torah," and certainly make it broad enough to include things said by the sages (after all, you'd still make a bracha before studying the sages' commentaries on this).

In any case, Aviner's argument is silly. The fact that there were dinosaurs hardly establishes that there was a different world.

The Leader, Garnel Ironheart said...

As Bill Clinton famously (didn't actually) say: It depends what "is" is.

You're right that the word Torah has multiple meanings. I wouldn't call it fast and loose though. As an analogy, consider the word "medicine". It has multiple meanings, like the stuff you take to feel better, the field of knowledge itself and as a short form of Internal Medicine. All usees are equally legitimate but it helps to know which meaning you're intending.
Same with Torah. In this case, I would be using Torah to refer to Chumash when talking about the first chapter of Bereshis.

As for Rav Aviner's agrument, change the word "world" for "era" and it actually makes perfect sense.

E-Man said...

To quote the Rambam (loosely), "One can not understand the Torah unless they first understand science." This would seem to say that the Torah is congruent with science, but one has to first understand science to properly read the Torah. Showing that the torah never conflicts with science, but the person reading it reads it subjectively according to what they think science dictates.