Sunday, October 31, 2010

Dovid Kornreich's Response to Q&A

The questions posed by Dan, Yaakov, "Interested Observer" etc. are a perfect opportunity to explode a few irresponsible myths that have been generated and repeated over and over again by Rabbi Slifkin’s propaganda campaign.

I have examined all the written statements of the gedolim regarding Rabbi Slifkin’s books and they are very general and vague in nature.

They mention insult to the honor of Chazal, and an undermining of our mesorah and the foundations of our emunah.
I don’t see why I should personally accept the second- and third-hand reports of unnamed bystanders, underlings, handlers, or agitators as clarifications of what they were declaring to be kefirah.
I have seen what happens when you do that and it should teach all of us a valuable lesson regarding how unreliable such reports truly are.
(As an aside, Rabbi Reuven Schmeltzer has compiled a very useful handbook of important source material which enjoys a very solid consensus of support --regarding its publication, dissemination and popularization. These sources must be reckoned with.
But Rabbi Schmeltzer has his own ideas regarding the degree of authoritativeness of each individual citation and position which he included.
I don’t believe a haskama on a source book covers that kind of delicate assessment. He has his ideas, I have mine.
In any event, we have also seen that haskamos are virtually worthless. So we have no choice but to think for ourselves here.)

Contrary to how they have been portrayed on the internet, gedolim are not simple-minded fools. They know quite well that Chazal openly testify about their own mistakes (sometimes grave) throughout Shas, that they are in no way infallible, and that Ma’aseh Bereishis is an extremely delicate and enigmatic parsha in the Torah.
These are not subjects that can be accurately summarized and communicated in a few, short, simple public pronouncements.
(The only gadol I saw in all the kol kores addressing the age of the universe was Rav Sheiner. There is no hint of unanimity on the topic. Rav Reuven Feinstein’s views are little more than hearsay, and even if confirmed, will not establish unanimity either.)

After checking the books for myself (with permission from my Rosh Yeshivah) I quickly discovered how correct the charge of heresy was on both accounts. I could literally write a few hundred page book documenting what exactly is kefira in the books and why.
When I say that I am grateful to Rabbi Slifkin for providing me with this opportunity to delve deeply into the ikkrei emuna and achieve significant clarity, I mean it sincerely without any sarcasm. It has been a tremendous learning experience for me.

Rabbi Aharon Feldman—who I take for granted would not hold views contrary to a “unanimous view of the gedolim”, similarly took it upon himself to survey the banned books for himself to see what was heretical about them, and came up with his justifications.
Someone actually linked to it in the comments as some sort of challenge to my earlier post, but it is clear support for everything I've written here.

In the course of explaining why Rabbi Slifkin's approach to Bereishis is heretical, he sanctions many different approaches along the way.
He wrote the following:

There are two problematic theses in Slifkin’s books which brought about the ban.
These are: a) his approach to cosmology (the creation of the world), and b) his approach to the credibility of the Sages. Each of these need to be examined separately.


Most scientists believe that the world is 15 billion years old, and that the human species evolved from lower life forms. The Torah says that it is less than 6000 years and that man was created individually at the end of Creation.
It is quite obvious that the world appears older than 6000 years. One needs only
look up to the sky and see stars billions of light years away for evidence of this. On the other hand, for a Torah Jew, because his ancestors experienced a revelation by G-d of Torah at Mount Sinai and the Jewish People bears an unbroken tradition of that revelation, there is no doubt that the Torah is true. If so, the appearances which make the world seem older must have some explanation.

In truth, explanations are elusive. Creation does not follow the laws of nature.
According to natural law nothing can come into existence ex nihilo; therefore by its very definition creation is an act which defies the laws of nature. The apparent age of the universe is based on observations made after the laws of nature came into being, and applying these observations to nature as it existed during the days of Creation is therefore illogical; for perhaps during Creation time passed at a greater speed, or perhaps natural reactions proceeded at a faster pace.

In spite of these considerations, several explanations have been offered by the
great commentaries of the previous generations. Basing themselves on Midrashim which say that G-d created many worlds before ours and destroyed them, some say that the earth upon which these worlds were built was not destroyed.2 Accordingly, the world is as old

2 Tiferes Yisrael in Derush Ohr Hachayim, the end of Sanhedrin in the standard edition of Mishnayos.
Some vigorously dispute his theory, explaining that the Midrashim refer not to previous physical worlds,
Monday June 27, 2005 1130PM
as the first world created while the six days of creation of the Torah refer to our present world.
Along the same lines, sources in Kabbala state there are seven cycles in creation and that we are in the third cycle or, some say, in the fifth. Leshem Shevo VeAchlama,3 basing himself on Kabbala, states (without addressing the issue of the age of universe) that each of the 24 “hours” of the day during the days of Creation was at least a thousand times the length of present day hours. In fact, he says, longer “hours” continued, albeit at a reduced pace, until the Generation of the Mabbul (Flood). Still others have explained that though there were 24 of our present day hours in each day, but that time flowed at a different, more compressed speed during the days of creation; in other words more events occurred during the course of a day even though a day lasted from the light of one day to that of the next.4

According to all these explanations, the world could appear to be vastly old and yet would still not be older than the age which the Torah gives it. All of these interpretations do not distort in any way the plain meaning of the Torah.

Slifkin has a totally different explanation. Rather than saying that the six days of creation were literal days, i.e. periods of time extending from the beginning of one day to the next, which is the position of the above explanations and of virtually every commentary on Torah, he posits that they refer to actual 15 billion literal years during which the world evolved from the first Big Bang until the creation of man.
The six days of creation, explains Slifkin, do not refer to the real world but are concepts of creation which existed in G-d’s mind.5 Accordingly, there were no six separate acts of creation, as the Torah teaches, but a seamless evolution put into action at the first moment of Creation, a single act which expressed six Divine concepts…

These cosmological explanations have no basis in any commentary or Midrash
and clearly violate the plain meaning of the Torah. Like the famous archer who painted the targets after the arrows landed and thereby ensured himself a perfect bulls-eye each time, Slifkin uses questionable sources as proofs for his a priori belief that the theories of modern science which he cites are indisputable fact.
Interpretations which have no basis in the Written or Oral Torah and which contradict the tradition of the Midrashim and the commentaries are perversions of Torah ideas and may be classified as megaleh panim baTorah shelo ke-halacha (distorted interpretations of the Torah) which are forbidden to study. Even if the Torah authorities who signed the ban based their ruling on excerpts which were translated before them, it would therefore appear that they were not misled. They were perfectly justified in terming his views inauthentic interpretations of Torah.

The upshot, I believe, is as follows.
There are points regarding Ma’aseh Bereishis about which there is a clear and unanimous mesorah, and there points which are unclear.
Special creation of all the major biological life forms and of Man from the primordial Earth is one of those points which have a clear, unanimous mesorah starting with Chazal, through the rishonim till the achronim. The Rambam in the Moreh declared that Man's creation without biological parents is a foundation of the Torah. (Guide III 50)
It is this clear, unanimous aspect of the Creation narrative which Rabbi Slifkin's approaches have run afoul.
But the time scale of existence before (and perhaps during) the period of Divine creative activity is one of those points which, as Rabbi Feldman points out, are unclear and have no single normative approach that Orthodox Jewry needs to defend.

For even more elaboration, consider the following:
Rabbi Zvi Lampel has written an excellent, though narrowly focused summary of the positions of the rishonim regarding the topic of the six-days of Creation.

What he emphasizes as emerging as unanimous among rishonim is not that the universe is a total of 5771 years + six days.
What he emphasizes as emerging as unanimous among rishonim is that the six days of Divine creative activity can in no way be stretched or distorted to accommodate billions of years of gradual evolution and natural development of the biological (plant and animal) world as described by modern scientific hypotheses of the origins of life on Earth.
I believe this is the basic position of the gedolim--formulated in response to Rabbi Slifkin’s eviscerating and fossilizing the Jewish position regarding Bereishis in order to avoid any conflict with modern scientific speculations.

But regarding the age of the inanimate substance out of which the Earth and the fullness thereof was fashioned directly by G-d, is a completely open question among the rishonim. Indeed, some have contemplated the hypothetical possibility of its infinity!
In all honesty, I don’t think any gadol will object to the Rashbam’s view that the period of Tohu VaVohu was left by the Chumash as an undefined amount of time. The Seforno, Ibn Ezra and Rabbeinu Bachye also leave room for this possibility. Especially since there was apparently no consistent rate of change—and perhaps no discernable change whatsoever—regarding this matter, making estimates of time elapsing during this period completely futile.

So again, I’m afraid Mr. Pelta was quite mistaken in assuming that he can find an easy target in the 5771 issue in general, and he is seriously mistaken in assuming freelance debaters like me need to pay some kind of price in terms of credibility for the fact that there are others who uphold such a view.
If he wants an easier target, debate them, not me.
No where in my article is the date 5771 mentioned.
One need not be a "young earth creationist" in order to debunk the validity of the scientific extrapolations that under-gird "old earth" evidence. Debunking that evidence is useful in a number of ways, as we shall see in the final summary. (Note: I just realized there will be no final summary, so it will have to wait for another time...)

In summary, contrary to the repeated mantras of Rabbi Slifkin, there is no single definitively normative opinion of the banners to speak of in regards to the age of the universe issue.
As Rabbi Feldman said, if you can conform to the meaning of the pesukim, midrashim and rishonim, you have a normative approach.
Rabbi Slifkin's approach of mythologizing the entire narrative of Ma'aseh Bereshis (and perhaps beyond) cannot even claim that much for itself--and that’s why it was banned as "megaleh panim baTorah shelo kehalacha. I am not an official spokesman for him, but I believe my Rosh Yeshiva generally concurs with this assessment.

I will try to post responses to the remaining excellent questions in the coming days. Either as a separate post or in an update to this one.