Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Blog Warning Meme- I'm asking the readers

I stole this Meme from At the Back of the Hill.

And I want YOU to tell me your suggestions for my blog! They can be humorous or serious, as you like.

1. What warning would you have on your blog for the unsuspecting?

2. Why do you think they need to be warned?

3. What does that say about them?

4. And who else should put up a warning?

Monday, August 28, 2006

The Heresy of Intelligent Design by Rabbi Natan Slifkin


Rabbi Slifkin arrived at Stern College for Women after the supposed session of "Meet and Greet" the students, but still before 7:00 PM, the official time for the start of the speech. He therefore had nine minutes in which to speak, and he commenced with a prelude to evolution, as evolution is (was) the main topic of the speech.

The prelude to evolution concerns the age of the universe. We have about 14 billions years to account for in the next nine minutes.

There are several mainstream approaches to the idea of the age of the universe. First, we have the Tiferet Yisrael, who talks about the previous worlds that God created and then destroyed. That's why we have fossils- because these are the creatures that were destroyed along with the previous worlds. However, this does not resolve contradictions, because these previous worlds take place BEFORE the six days of creation.

Therefore, the widespread approach is that the six days of creation may not be days as we know them. R' David Zvi Hoffman says it could have been billions of years- aeons- and this is a well-accepted approach, or at least it was until 2 years ago. R' Hoffman was willing to reconcile the Torah to that fact.

However, we still have the sequence of events that is described during the 6 days of creation which does NOT correlate to the sequence of events described by science.

For example, fossils show us that first there were fish, then land animals and then birds, but the Torah doesn't work in the same way. (He then asked us questions as to what, according to the Torah, was created when, and of course it's a different order- for example, birds before land animals.) So people try to reinterpret the Torah and psukim and suggest, for example that "rudimentary genetic matter was created in outer space" rather than grass/ plants when it says grass/plants in the Torah. The problem of course is we see no evidence for "rudimentary genetic matter" in the Torah. Some others will state, "No, of course the Torah doesn't mean birds- they mean flying INSECTS!" The problem is that the Torah has a specific word for flying insects (he might have said sheretz here) and these are not the same as the word for birds.

For those of us who accept science, the real issue to be dealt with is....the Rambam in Moreh Nevuchim says that "ma'aseh Beraishis" is not all to be taken literally. There are 2 important points to be made here- 1. Ma'aseh Beraishis is not literal 2. The Rambam had a hard time selling that to people

The 6 days of Beraishis are not really time periods- they are a conceptual hierarchy of how God makes the world. Beraishis is teaching theology NOT science; teaching theological truths. The Torah has to be understood on many different levels, by the simplest audience and by the most sophisticated audience. If you're writing a book about Barney, it's meant for four-year-olds. If you're writing Harry Potter, you aim for a twenty-five year old audience. (*laughs*) The books you are writing depend upon your target audience. The Torah has a tremendously broad audience- so there are different layers of meaning, from simplest one to apply to the least sophisitcated audience to more difficult ones (remez, sod, etc)

R' Dessler states that the 6 days of creation refer to the Sefiros.

The Torah contains theological truths, spiritual truths. From a spiritual standpoint, the existence of dinosaurs is irrelevant. R' Kook goes even further to state that the point of the Torah is that it is addressed to man, and hence man must be made to feel significant. If the Torah HAD spoken about billions of years, man would have seen himself as a being who was completely insignificant in the scheme of things. Therefore the Torah actually had to DOWNPLAY this so man would feel himself to be significant.

This thing about "everything being in the Torah"- the commentary of the Seforno on Pirkei Avos on a verse which states that we are to "Turn it over and over again because everything is in it,"- the Seforno says that all theology/ philosophy is in the Torah as OPPOSED to things like medicine which is NOT in the Torah. People tend to have a very simplistic approach when understanding this kind of statement (referencing the verse from Pirkei Avos), however.

True, there are others- I think it's the Ramban who says everything is there but it's not of much practical use if we cannot extract it; even Shlomo HaMelech couldn't extract it.

Question was if this (what Rabbi Slifkin is saying) is Rambam, how can people fight against it so strongly?

1. It's in Moreh Nevuchim- not a yeshiva curriculum piece; most people, even the greatest Rabbanim, have not read it

2. Even if you HAVE read Moreh Nevuchim, you have to read the COMMENTARIES on Moreh Nevuchim. The Akeidas Yitzchak and the Abarbanel and others concur that this is what the Rambam is saying-they disagree/ don't understand, but they all concur that this is what he is saying.

3. They burnt the Rambam's books, after all

It's not an EASY approach to Torah; it's hard to grasp- many people personally object to this being taught/ or they oppose it strongly on behalf of others and how they think it will affect other people.

Now, on to the main topic of this speech- EVOLUTION.

I have called this speech "The Heresty of Intelligent Design." Now, the title is a bit tongue-in-cheek. Certainly I am not the one to accuse people of spouting heresy. However, to explain...people are defensive when they are trying to reconcile evolution to the Torah. Defending evolution, you have science on your side but are seen as being in a theologically shaky position. In truth, however, it's the other way around- to argue AGAINST evolution is theologically shaky.

The first point I want to make is we need to clarify what is meant by evolution. The word "evolution" has several different meanings.

1. Are different creatures related in one big family tree? In other words, is everything somehow related? This is not HOW did the species change into one another, but IS there a common ancestor for all life forms?

To this, I would say that there is a lot of evidence for that. (He now compares different animals) For example, the skeleton of a bat- it has wings like a bird but 5 fingers with grossly enlarged digits. General anatomical structure of animals suggests that they are descended from a common ancestor. We can tell this from residual parts that don't seem to make sense. An emu, for example, has short stumpy little wings that are of no use to it. However, that makes sense if it evolved from a bird that DOES have a use for wings. Or blind animals with tiny useless eyes- that makes sense if they evolved from animals WITH eyes.

The fossil record is also important. So some will say there are missing links. True, but the fact that it even exists, that there even ARE links should be recognized!

Whales evolved from land animals- this is suggestive by the fossil sequence. We DO have a sequence. We say that whales DID evovle from land animals, otherwise you are saying that God was constantly zapping more whalelike creatures that differed slightly from one another in the same general geographic area into existence. If common ancestry isn't true, God is certainly trying to fool us into thinking it's true!

2. So HOW did it happen?

The popular explanation is natural selection. (he gives an example here with a deer-like animal, natural selection, and evolving into a giraffe- grossly oversimplified, he says)

Does this suffice to explain how complex organs arise- eyes, for example? There is lots of scientific debate.

Now, when 2 people are arguing over evolution they are often using different meanings of the fact/ term "evolution." One of them is saying that it absolutely isn't true and is quoting scientific articles- he's talking about the MECHANISMS of evolution, the HOW it happened. The one who is saying it absolutely IS true is generally talking about the idea of common ancestry.

People will quote scientists completely out of context to try to prove evolution isn't true; when people are really arguing about the mechanisms involved.

Now, for the theological aspects of evolution:

Common Ancestry- The evidence is strongly in favor of that. It does seem to conflict with the literal meaning of Beraishis, but the Rambam deals with that, so that doesn't need to bother us. In fact, R' Kook says that the literal meaning of Beraishis is the LEAST we have to worry about- Beraishis is an esoteric book and should be understood as souch.

INTELLIGENT DESIGN: So, ideally this means that one sees a creator in nature. In practice, it means that there are certain aspects of biological organisms that cannot be accounted for by scientific explanation- therefore, some supernatural being, whether a weird green alien or God, must be involved. In a book called Darwin's Black Box it states that two things can absolutely not be explained by science and hence prove God is involved in the universe.

1. Bacterium Flagellum
2. Human Blood Clotting System

These systems exhibit irreduceable complexity- and there is not scientific explanation for how they could have evolved; that is what the Intelligent Designers claim. Therefore it must be, they hold, that they were designed.


1. Yes, we do have explanations
2. We will find good explanations- that is what science is all about; looking for answers

Now, this debate is often portrayed as being the religious intelligent design community versus the atheist evolutionists. So for nice frum Jews, intelligent design seems to be the way to go!

Now, there was a book published a few years ago about Torah and science that was supposed to give convincing evidence for a creator- for example, the author talked about bird migration, and he pokes fun at all kind of scientific explanations for it. For example, one scientific explanation suggested that birds use stars to find their way. So the author of this book made fun, saying, "How could this bird-brain" know how to use sophisticated techniquest to get there- the Little Dipper, the Big Dipper, etc...

First of all, the scientific explanations are pretty good (maybe this author didn't understand them, but...) but second of all, what you are saying here is that God can get a bird to hatch from an egg, but He's somehow incapable of giving a bird the ability to be guided by the stars!?

Do we see God in nature or only, merely in the things that science is unable to explain? The Intelligent Design camp is usually for all the things that "science is unable to explain." In Judaism, there's a train of thought, especially utilized by the Rishonim, that we can see God WITHIN nature. We try to minimize the miraculous- to ascribe greater intelligence to God.

What's wrong with a miracle? This is like comparing Microsoft to Apple. Microsoft is always coming up with new patches and updates, while Apple doesn't do that so much. The reason Microsoft has to do this is because it didn't design as good an operating system to begin with!

A miracle means the laws of nature are not accomplishing God's objectives, so He has to interfere in order to make them accomplish his objectives.

A miracle detracts from God- even the most famous miracles in the Torah are therefore presented in a naturalistic way. For example, the splitting of the Red Sea- we see that it says, "A wind blew all night." God can perform miracles THROUGH the laws of nature, still.

Now, paganism saw miracles everywhere. It is actually RELIGION that brings science into play! When Avraham uses monotheism/ science began WITH Judaism and monotheism. If there is a process to the world, to the laws of nature, then we must ask- where do they come from? Who makes the laws of science- who decrees them?

They are very fortutious laws. In order to have matter formed out of energy, they have to be very complex. The laws of nature themselves are incredible testimony to God- R' Hirsch has some beautiful quotes about this.

In order to understand the concept of spiritual laws, you need to start with/ understand physical laws. To every action there is an equal and opposite reaction- this is Midah K'Neged Midah- that's not God's idea of a sense of humor! The laws of nature are testimony to God.

I used to be as anti-evolution as everyone else. In some of my earliest books, ten years ago, I was very against evolution. How did that change?

1. The Sefer Da'as Chachma U'Mussar saw this applied to animals/ natural law/ and based on what the sefarim teach, I realized that if evolution is NOT true then God was simply spending his time zapping creatures who were very similar to one another and deviated slightly into existence every few moments! And who is the better engineer- the engineer who makes 10 different robots, or the engineer who creates a PROGRAM (i.e. the laws of nature) to make the robots?

R' Hirsch actually says that if evolution is ever proven to be true it will attest to the creative wisdom of God.

Intelligent design says scientific explanations are not good enough. The implicit message of intelligent design is that you CANNOT see God in things that science CAN explain. Therefore, the Neviim (prophets) who spoke of seeing God in the majesty of the cosmos- they got it all wrong because science can explain that! Nope, instead, you need to look for God in the bacterium flagellum- this is theologically absurd! It is theologically absurd to be painting God into such a small corner.

They're so sure there's no scientific explanation for this- you think that God's incapable of creating laws to monitor the bacterium flagellum? That for some reason this is beyond God's power, so for this specific creatures He has to oversee and monitor and do it because the laws of nature- which He created- can't do it???!

Really, it's trivializing God- this movement that many people think is a friend of Jewish/ religious people. I find it theologically offensive.

We understand the science of metereology, astronomy- and yet we still see God's work in the cosmos, in the stars. We say 'Barchi Nafshi" every day- we have scientific explanations for thse things. Where is the source that differentiates biology from every other science? Why can't we see God in biology, too?

Some dislike evolution for its "randomness." We don't believed the world is random, they say. Well, hello, what about Purim- it seems like random fortuitous events, but in the end we see it's God behind the scenes! Or what about the idea of lottery in the Torah? The land of Israel is divided by a lottery, but God is in charge at the end- God works through SEEMINGLY random processes.

Evolution is not a contradiction to Judaism, but intelligent design and the claims of its members is.

Secular evolutionists also deserve blame, however. Stephen J. Gould tries to draw anti-religious statements/ conclusions from evolution. This doesn't make sense; everything depends on one's perspective. It's like history. To those who are religious, history demonstrates the will of God; to those who are not it may seem completely against religion.

Anti-theological conclusions drawn from evolution are wrong as well. It's no wonder that people feel strongly against evolution with secular evolutionists drawing these wrong conclusion sout there!

People have a tremendous desire to see everything in the's comforting but what about dinosaurs? you don't see dinosaurs in the Torah.



(I'm providing answers, not always the questions)

1. What about men coming from monkeys?

Okay, so say we disregard the literal problems with the literal account of creation. What do we dislike about men coming from monkeys? The idea that there is not much difference between us and them. We find it demeaning, degrading. What about evolving from toads, dogs? Also degrading? What about evolving from dirt? (Laughter) Why is it degrading to come from toads but not from dirt?

In truth, the problem is with saying we came from monkeys, is the idea that there isn't much difference between us and them. So what makes us different from monkeys?

1. Communication- our language skills
2. Freedom of choice, not instinctual responses

Rambam and Seforno say we were first created as humanoids WITHOUT a neshama (soul) and were no different from animals! In fact, why was man created on the same day as animals? Abarbanel says that it's to show that if you DON'T make free choices/ overcome your natural instincts, you are no different from an animal.

Rabbi Soloveitchik's "The Emergence of Ethical Man" is fundamentallyl based on evolution.

The popular conception is that Ramban says that everything is mystical miracles all the time. This is not true. Dr. David Berger writes about this. I'm trying to get this put up on my website- trying to get permission.


The idea of wastefulness seems to be a problem. However, we already have the idea of wastefulness in the idea that God created worlds and then destroyed them!

In fact, when evolution was first proposed, theologians of non-Jewish world saw it as solving problems, for example, of wisdom teeth or lower back pain. If jaws evolved into smaller teeth, that's why there are wisdom teeth- this makes the negative features of the world explainable. The negative features are the world are inevitable in this context- it's because of the system God used (Rambam.)

(Trying to illustrate his ideas) But it's the point that matters- say you go to Legoland and you see the Statue of Liberty made out of legos. So you might say it's not as smooth or as pretty- but the point is, it was made out of LEGOS and that's the genius of it! Similar with God- the genius of God is making and running the world out of natural laws.


It's nice to try to find as much support as possible, but I do try not to force meforshim to my approach.


So what I used to say is that's when Hashem put a neshama into man. But that's I'll tell you what Rav Gedalia Nadel the foremost disciple of the Chazon Ish, says. When God says, "Let us make man," does he mean man the individual or mankind? Mankind. Tehrefore, the year 5766 refers to the original evolution of homosapiens, the making of mankind. From then onward, Adam refers to that particular individual.

The Rambam also says that many sequences of events- for exmaple, the creation- is allegorical.


There are 2 approaches.

1. Just at this specific point in time in history, there had to be miracles and God had to break the laws to establish His mastery over them (from R' Yerucham Levovitz)
2. R' Soloveitchik says that even the miracles of the Exodus were performed in a naturalistic fashion- nature itself is a function of God, works to see God within nature



Not everything is "bashert." Rishonim say that. Quantum physics seems to open a way for God to interact with nature without having to break the laws of nature, or perhaps it is beyond our comprehension how God interacts with nature.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

The Looks

It's interesting, being at Stern. There's a mixture of people, and everybody here is here for different reasons. Some people are party girls; others are studious and academic. Some are here (and admit this candidly) to "catch a husband." Whatever the reason, we have a whole mix of people here.

The entertaining part is what I shall call "the looks." You see, due to a complicated set of circumstances, I attended a non-denominational, non-sectarian (in other words, non-Jewish) private school for the last two years of high school. I also opted not to go to seminary. Hence, when people ask which high school you went to, and you tell them, the eyebrows raise, the eyes widen, there is a meaningful look....and an extra look for people who didn't go to seminary...and you immediately feel demoted, or as though someone is looking down upon you.

Well, I take rare pleasure in allowing some of these people to think what they will, but I do explain to other people because I know they are confused more than they are meaning to be insulting. But it has been highly entertaining to be asked, "So how do you know Hebrew?" and the like.

Isn't it sad that even in our supposedly more 'Modern' school there are still labels, categories, sections, divisions? That there is a proper "path" to follow, and those who deviate are problematic? It's ridiculous that I should be looked at for not going to seminary, for example. The non-Jewish school I can maybe understand but the seminary/ non-seminary...what the hell? There are so many reasons I might not have gone. How do you know my parents wouldn't let me? Or maybe I don't have enough money to go?

Now, those are NOT the reasons I opted for Stern over seminary. But what if they were? Who the hell gives YOU the hoity-toity sophomore back-from-Israel student the ability to judge these people? I've already met a couple people who couldn't go for those reasons. And they shouldn't have to feel as though they must immediately explain why they couldn't go to Israel. Who cares? You're here now and that's what matters. Isn't it?

God, but it's exasperating. to receive more looks! Don't worry, though, I can handle it.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Laughing and laughing again

laughing and laughing again...

I have a schedule!

It should be fabulous.

We have a trial period; I get to try out classes and see how it goes.


And tonight I go see the Blue Man Group! That's going to be fabulous as well!

I love, I love, I love New York!

And did I mention that my best friend came to see me? And someone else made me feel loved by leaving a note on my door?


Saturday, August 19, 2006

Move-In Day

Meet a very stressed, extremely harassed Chana.

Tomorrow's move-in day to Stern, and I hear conflicting information from everybody. Some people tell me to be there at 6:00 in the morning; the book says 8:30 AM. I don't know.

New York, moving large boxes up many flights of stairs, clamoring for the elevator, trying to unpack far too many things in the narrow confines of something that resembles my closet...yes, these are the joys I look forward to tomorrow.

Let's hope it all turns out to be delightful...and that my roommates don't meet a sweaty, dirty me with my hair sticking up in several directions as I bellow across the room, "NO, THAT DOESN'T GO THERE!"

Because that would be slightly frightening for them, and a rather unhappy introduction for me.

Then again...there's no way to make this entirely un-awkward, due to my school's quaintly archaic idea of introducing us to the people we are going to spend an entire year with when school starts as opposed to anytime before. My friends have already corresponded with their people, email, Facebook, the works...I'll be doing it the old-fashioned way. Which is okay, I suppose. As long as she doesn't hate me and I don't hate her. Because that would be bad.

I should go to sleep now, but it's far more interesting to worry about all the things that can possibly go wrong tomorrow.


I need a puzzled Calvin and Hobbes comic now. I shall go off in search of one.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006


Passion- that's what we want. That's what we're all looking for. Not health, happiness, love, life; none of those alone. What encompasses all of those or makes up for the lack of them is passion.

Passion is about living. Life is fierce, passion for life is a blessing. Every true feeling is inspired by some kind of passion; fierce and furious, the foundation for everything else that is to come.

This doesn't necessarily mean that one is hot-headed and outspoken. There are people who spends their lives quietly passionate, expending their energies in ways that don't attract as much attention. But they care and this is what separates them from the millions of others in the world. It's their love, their devotion, their care, their desire. I love desire. To desire is a gift, as is to be passionate.

When we are young, we are all passionate. Inflamed with passion, believing in our ideas and opinions, our views, our love, whatever it may be. We live simply to express through our being, our lives, all that is us- all our love, all our beauty, whatever flames within us and cuts through to the core. When you meet us, you may leave frustrated or angry, but we will have made an impression. And it's because of our passion.

I think, then, that possibly the worst handicap- the cruelty of all cruelties- is to be robbed of that passion, to sit silent, indifferent, not, in other words, to care. Depression, as it is described, is just this silent apathy; the depressed person is the one who lacks the ability to force himself to desire, to desire to awaken in the morning, to do the things that once made him happy, even to argue, to engage in meaningful and desperate conversation. Depression is a kind of passiveness, or at least that is how it is portrayed, but what is worse is that it is uncontrolled. I cannot "turn off" the passiveness as it were, I can only watch it as though I am disconnected, detached.

A lot of people speak about this- disconnect, detachment, and what it means. They will reference "our generation" above other generations, or suggest all kinds of reasons. I think that any disconnect on our part stems in part from fear. For example, to address Israel. To be passionate and to care about everyone is to be hurt time and time again. And for every one who dies there is a blow, cruel and harsh and heartrending, and there is doubt, and you cry out to God because you don't understand how He could allow the deaths. And for every death there is a person, an actual person who was living and breathing only moment ago, who has now passed away, shattering the lives of others as he did so. To be passionate is to care about these people, and so it is to suffer, empathically, for each one of them and all that he has been robbed of.

Therefore, to be passionate is above all things to feel. To feel every slight, every hurt, every joy and every moment as though it in itself were integral, important above all else. Even the most mundane things- the meal around the table, the spaghetti on the plate- these, too, must be felt, accepted, seen as important and necessary. Life includes everything, not just the exciting or the romantic. We are like children, curious and fascinated and frustrated by our inability to do the things we wish to do, but we haven't given up hope on anything- on the world- on anyone, because we still believe in ourselves.

Children don't doubt themselves. It's adults who instill the doubt. A child will keep on trying to walk even though he's fallen down hundreds of times; he will continue to try to lift something that is too heavy for him because he believes in himself. It's a kind of passion, the passion of belief. And so I think passion is part of religion as well. This can be stretched or pushed in any direction- for example, what is fundamentalism if not a passion for oneself at the expense of others? Many have admired, in a twisted way, the way in which many Palestinians care for the land of Israel- care so much that they will kill themselves and their children in terrorist attacks if they believe they will get it back.

Of course, however, this passion is destructive, as passion can be, terrible and awful, a whirlwind and a storm. Destructive passion can serve a purpose, if it serves to destroy AND to rebuild, but to merely destroy, to take the lives of others- for this one is cursed, for this one is damned.

In the eyes of someone caught within a frail and twisted body you may still see a heady light, something fervent and beautiful- and that is passion. What is the passion for? Passion for learning, or for singing, for dance, for God, for anything and anyone. Constructive passion transforms the person because you have been placed in the role of Creator. One can only create out of passion, out of desire to form new things, to begin anew.

We want to share passion, to transfer it to others, to make it contagious like a strong, heady, wine, glowing in our veins, hard and wiry and ropy in our muscles. This is what makes us live. Take away our cause, our ideals, our ideas, our passion, and we are no longer anything- we are shells, dead, dying. Even victims can be passionate, when they fight against their captors or symbolically rebel. We feel pity for those who lose their passion, but we feel admiration for those who persist.

Do you notice that Holocaust movies play to two types of audiences? There's the kind of Holocaust movie that shows you the victims, dejected, bald, unhappy, tortured, and you feel for them a vast and great sorrow and pity, even fear because you could have been them. But then there's the kind of Holocaust movie that is all about passion- the idea of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, for example, the few fighting against the many, or Schindler saving men while at the same time seemingly destroying himself. Oh, you may not see fire, as it were, in Schindler, but it is a cold fire, a cold resolve to do what he would- because it gave him amusement, or workers, whatever the reason, there is still passion embedded there.

The Passion of the Christ is successful as a movie not because of the mere victimization of Jesus- which is brutal and violent and ugly, as are his oppressors and the cruel, terrible Pharisees portrayed there- but because of the enemy whom Jesus is pitted against, Satan. Satan is terrible and cruel, he taunts Jesus and states that Jesus will never be able to save his people, one man cannot possibly atone for an entire people's sins. Satan walks amongst the Pharisees and spits at Jesus; he torments Judas. It is the fact that Jesus is struggling for his people...that he persists in the face of Satan and all the cruelty that is shown him...that is earth-shattering. This kind of sacrifice is for a cause, an idea, and thus passion is evoked.

All the most dynamic characters in the Bible have been men of passion. Moses, arguing with God, fighting for his people, issuing ultimatums, pleading for his sister. Abraham, destroying his father's idols, leaving his people's way of life, setting out for a new country, lying to Pharoah to save his life. Job, issuing challenges to God, wishing He could hear him speak, facing down those who attempt to console and instead lambaste him. Jeremiah, tormented by his people and by God, seemingly adrift, trying to contain his prophecy but feeling it as fire in his bones, forced to speak and still having the compassion to wail over his city and the very people who hurt him so.

Men of passion, these are the men of our Bible; the men who fascinate us. Some characters are more dynamic than others, some seem more alive, more interesting. "Ka'nai" is applied to Pinchas, a man of passion, a zealot, also to Elijah but Elijah is reprimanded because he, unlike Jeremiah, has difficulty reconciling himself to his people when they do not heed him.

Passion, passion, all is passion....until we die and crumble into dust, we are spurred on, egged on, driven, only through passion.