Saturday, March 28, 2009

Question For The Fundamentalists...

When I said that I didn't believe that the world was created in six 24-hour periods, you asked me about the prayers that we say on Rosh HaShannah.

"Don't you say 'Hayom Haras Olam' (today is the birthday of the world) in the davening?" you asked me. "What are you saying there if you don't believe the world was created on Rosh HaShannah? If you don't believe it, you must be lying in your davening?"

Then when I stated that I don't believe that the world was created in six 24-hour periods, you asked me about the upcoming Bircas HaChammah (the blessing on the sun) which is supposed to mark the return of the sun to the spot in the heavens where it was created 5769 years ago.

"Aren't you going to say Bircas HaChammah?" you asked me. "If you don't believe that HaShem hung the sun there 5769 years ago at this time, then what are you making a bracha for?"

What I would like to ask the fundamentalist:

"OK, so which time are you wrong? Are you wrong when you say Hayom Haras Olam on Rosh HaShannah, stating that the world was created in Tishrei, or are you wrong now when you say Bircas HaChammah where you, in essence, state that the sun (and, by extension the rest of the world) was created in Nissan?

The Wolf


Anonymous said...

I would phrase it in terms of them being right. "You were right when you said RH was the birthday of the world? You're right when you're going to say BH in Nissan?" And then you can nod and go "ok, thanks." That way it can sink in and they don't immediately get defensive.

Ichabod Chrain

Anonymous said...

Wait a second before you do anything, Wolf!! I"ve given this some more thought!!

You know, now that I had a chance to think this through a little bit more, maybe it's not such a good idea to put it on the fundamentalist at all. Maybe it wouldn't hurt to put it on the authorities the fundamentalist is relying on. So just take what I said before, and phrase it as "It says RH is the birthday of the world, right? It says you make the BH in Nissan because that's when the sun was created, right?" And then you nod and say okay, and let it sink in.

Ichabod Chrain

micha said...

WADR, did you try finding out what they really do say?

Tosafos distinguish between Hashem conceiving the world and its actual creation. When we say on Rosh haShanah that "today is the beginning of Your actions" we mean the beginning of the year's judgments. To continue their thought: Hayom haras olam refers to conception (herayon), not birth. Hashem planned on founding the world on din, and thus creation would have been in Tishrei. However, the frailty of man required that "olam chessed yibaneh -- the world is built on kindnes", and so the actual creation was in Nissan.

The LR (who is a "fundamentalist") takes a different and perhaps opposite approach. He sides with the Rambam, Ramban and Ran who conclude creation was in Tishrei. However, spiritual time is marked from the time of conception -- Nissan. The sun began mid-cycle, in Tishrei, but from a spiritual sense the cycle would have begun the previous Nissan. Also, the spiritual tequfah is exactly 365-1/4 days. The point is not an estimate of the tropical year. And to reinforce the whole idea that we're not talking astronomy, note that the "location" the sun is in relates to the rule of Shabtai (Saturn) on the first hour of Wednesday (a/k/a sunset Tues eve). That has no astronomical equivalent and was never thought to be related to Saturn's location or any other astronomical event.

To quote a recent blog entry of mine: We live in a period of history in which science and technology are making great progress. The zeitgeist therefore gives them a very central role. It is natural for us to seek an explanatation for ta’am in terms of microscopic particles, even though Chazal couldn’t have shared that chemical notion of how taste works, and we know from the word’s other uses that that’s not how Hebrew reflects our relationship to taste. We also assume birkhas haChamah is speaking of the sun going back to a physical position.
This is why the approach to birkhas haChamah is mythic. In the technical sense; choosing ideas for their import, not their historicity. Some may be historical, others not, but that’s not what’s relevent because the whole thing isn’t a from scientific historian approach to the world.

It seems quite clear that the purpose of Birkhas haChamah was more pedagogic. There was a need to create a cause to bless G-d “who makes the act of creation” rarely enough for the blessing to be a major life event (unlike saying it on every thunderstorm, or when seeing the ocean, a large sea, a desert or being in an earthquake) but yet frequent enough to be remembered from one generation to the next. The thing we are thanking Hashem for is constant, He constantly creates anew and sustains us.
(Aside from the fact that many of the claims, e.g. much that is said about the “sun being exactly back in the same place” at birkhas hachamah, are just wrong. And rather than serving to advance faith, they give the scoffer straw-men with which they reinforce their skepticism. With respect to aggadic stories, the Rambam [introduction to his commentary to chapter Cheileq in Sanhedrin] identifies three categories of people, two wrong camps, and one right one. The erroneous approaches are: (1) Those who take all the fantastical claims of the stories as literal, find them absurd, and ridicule the Torah for it; and (2) Those who take them as literal, take them seriously, and therefore believe in an absurd distortion of the Torah. Here too, by confusing a mythic perspective for a scientific one, people are being pushed into two very similar camps. The correct approach is (3) to realize that the Torah convey deeper truths via hint and riddle. As Rav Hirsch would say, to use metaphore to help us internalize abstract truths.)


000646 said...

You cant ask questions on people who think making no sense is a good thing.

i live in lakewood and alot of these nut-jobs actualy think the sun orbits the earth! There is even a book called machzor hachama that thinks it proves it. LOL!

There is also a thred on yeshiva world's cofferoom that claims the same thing its called "science and astronomy in the torah" check it out if your bored or not convinced that most of these fundamentalist's are completely delusional

Anonymous said...

You call skeptics "scoffers" but they really aren't the same things. Scoffers just scoff for no valid reason. Skeptics have reasons for skepticsm.

The problem with the reason you give for Birchat Hachama is that it has traditionally had a certain meaning. Now you say it's not really for that reason but actually for a mythic reason. But then when you talk about a mythic reason, it's one that speaks of rationalization. Why was there a need to create a cause to bless G-d , when we daven three times a day, and say all kinds of brochos through the day. What's the point? And if there is a reason, why do we need to do it for something that's so artificial?

As for the dispute between whether the world was created in Tishri or Nissan, how do we even approach that issue if we're dealing with a lunar year (or solar/lunar year) and the sun and the moon (or the world for that matter) haven't been created yet?

And then there's another question that maybe the physics experts can answer. As I understand relativity theory (it's been a while since I took physics) we can talk about times in Shomayim in comparison to Earth times, only if we have some basis for assessing the motion of Shomayim in relation to motion to the Earth. But if the Earth hadn't been created yet, and the world hadn't been created, then how can we talk about relative motion of Shomayim and the Earth. And if we can't talk about relative motion, then aren't any comparisons between the time in Shomayim and the time on Earth, arbitrary?

If that's right, then the answers you've given haven't refuted Wolf's point.

mlevin said...

I have a question for micha, you said that world was conceived in Tishrey and created in Nisan, but how is that possible if there was no Sun/ Moon and Earth to count time to determine how much time has passed since conception and until creation. Time is a measurement relative to us, but if there was nothing to measure against how could anyone determine how much time there was between conception and creation, or in which month conception happened.

Wolf - great question, do you have a real answer to it? And not some none sense spewed by ignorant.

micha said...

Someone wrote (but it seems wasn't confident enough to stand behind his words): The problem with the reason you give for Birchat Hachama is that it has traditionally had a certain meaning. Now you say it's not really for that reason but actually for a mythic reason.

Where do you get the idea the original reason wasn't the mythic one? My whole argument is that this assumption that the cause of the berakhah is supposed to be understood in scientific ascronomical terms is a consequence of our zeitgeist.

I also brought evidence that it was never understood as a historical claim: the rishonim who said creation was in Tishrei who still said birkhas hachamah in Nissan, those who said the "week" of creation wasn't a week and didn't have a problem with the berakhah, when we standardized the calendar on Rav Adda's estimate of the year we didn't dismiss birkhas haChamah as a non-event -- so clearly no one was looking for physical accuracy, and most of all the fact that the "location" of the sun is defined in terms of a system of hourly astrology that was never understood as corresponding to anything physical.

I am not redefining the event over which we make the berakhah. I am trying to prevent people who live in an era where scientific and technological progress take center stage from doing so.

As for the difference between sarcasm and scoffing... Many of those fundemantalists are bright people who know more Torah than you are I. Regardless of what you think of their conclusion, to summarily dismiss it with a question a grade-school student could come up with goes beyond sarcasm. It underestimates the depth of what you're disagreeing with.

I would almost say you're dismissing a strawman of your own making, except that the guy on the street really doesn't have a grasp of things. And for him, the question Wolfe poses should be devastating. (But wouldn't, because this hypothetical guy is probably relying on authority, not personal intellect.)

MLevin wrote: I have a question for micha, you said that world was conceived in Tishrey and created in Nisan, but how is that possible if there was no Sun/ Moon and Earth to count time to determine how much time has passed since conception and until creation. Time is a measurement relative to us, but if there was nothing to measure against how could anyone determine how much time there was between conception and creation, or in which month conception happened.

Actually, I didn't say that -- I said Tosafos say that. I also quoted the Lubavitcher Rebbe who pretty much says the opposite as well as giving the opinion of the Maharal and Rav Dessler's take on the Ramban -- that time during creation is meaningless. (Two more authorities who must have understood birkhas hachamah in mythic terms.)

It is actually the last opinion which is my own. Since Tosafos lived before Einstein, they never address your question. They had no reason to view time as relative.

Perhaps they simply took it as implied by the meaning qabbalah gives to each month, that they were speaking about Hashem making a concession to human nature. That ideally the world should be founded on strict justice, and thus created in Tishrei, but to accommodate humans and give us a chance to reach that ideal, it was creating in Nissan symbolizing chessed. Perhaps not; as they didn't address the question themselves, I'm just guessing.

But it's irrelevant to birkhas haChamah, since the event in question was treated by everyone as mythic. The whole thing is a pedagogic device. I should point out that R' Bleich in his seifer on Birkhas haChamah makes the same statement, and suggests that perhaps birkhas haChamah was based on tequfas Shemu'el specifically because much of the world was using the Julian calendar, and thus this estimate of the solar year was ingrained in the public's minds.


Mike S. said...

even if you grant a literal interpretation to G-d creating the Sun on the 4th day, the length of the solar year used in the computation we use for Birchas haChama (The tekufah of mar Shmuel, aka the Julian calendar)is one that that the Rabbis of the gemara knew to be less accurate than the one used for the regular Jewish calendar (tekufah of R. Adda). They chose it for some calculations so they would be simple enough for the masses to follow. This makes it hard for me to give any credence to the notion that a literal understanding of the nominal calculation is central to the purpose of the brachah.

Jewish Atheist said...

LOL, did you really think they wouldn't have a rationalization for that one? There's one thing you always have to keep in mind when dealing with fundamentalists: Never, ever, underestimate the power of denial.

micha said...

I had thought this blog had value. I see that the comments section at least is a moshav leitzim.

Or, to paraphrase a famous Rav Chaim, "One can answer questions, but there is little value in trying to answer answers."

Jewish Atheist doesn't want Torah to work, so he predecided that any answer, not matter how valid, is an excuse. Notice that I'm not in favor of the fundamentalist position, yet my attempt to present their side is similarly dismissed. Another person with no courage in his convictions asks me to distinguish between skeptics and scoffers, but here there is really no point.

The truth is, what convinces someone that the Torah is right is not some silly debate on a blog comment stream, it's keeping Shabbos (or kashrus, or .... but Shabbos is IMHO the strongest example). This is the secret of "na'aseh venishmah", of "ta'amu ure'u ki tov Hashem". These discussions are just ways of people justifying the decisions they already reached based on their experiences. If the contributors by and large don't want Torah, that's how the discussion will go. And is going.

Reb Wolf, I would recommend disallowing anonymous posts. At least this way people won't say things they aren't serious about. It's your call. But until your blog is fixed, I'm outta here.


BrooklynWolf said...


I'm not sure what the problem is here. We obviously agree that creation didn't happen as we learned in first grade. We both agree that the either (or perhaps both) the davening on R"H and birkas hachammah don't reflect a physical reality. As such, the question doesn't really apply to you. The question is for those who sadly fall into the first two categories of the Rambam which you quoted.

As for your request, I would find it somewhat hypocritical to ban anonymous comments as I, myself, am, more or less, anonymous. Furthermore, it won't stop someone from just signing up with a Blogger account and posting the same thing anyway. And it certainly won't stop established bloggers such as JA from posting.

I could always disallow comments altogether, but since this blog acts as a "sounding board" for me and some of my ideas, it would, in many ways, defeat the purpose of the blog to close commenting altogether.

The Wolf

Joshua said...

I've been told (although never seen in a reliable source) that the calculation for Birchas Hachammah relies on the Ptolemaic system. In particular, the alignment is when the various epicycles all complete a full revolution if the numbers given in the Algamest are correct. I've been meaning to verify this at some point but haven't had a chance to. Can a more knowledgable reader comment?

bluke said...

Birkas Hachama has more serious problems. It is based on the assumption that the solar year is exactly 365.25 days (like the Julian calendar). However, the year is slightly shorter and therefore the whole calculation for Bircas Hachama is wrong astronomically. Bircas Hachama is supposed to be said on the Wednesday after the vernal equinox, however, true vernal equinox was already on March 20, 11:44 UTC.

Zach Kessin said...

I've not actually seen the Almegest, but the Orbit of Saturn is 29 years and change. So its not when all the planets come back to the same place.

Joshua said...

Zach, right it should be when the epicycles for the sun come around to the same time, not the planets as a whole.

Shalmo said...

A question I have for the frummies who are trying to rationalize this nonsense, is where do you get the idea that the first 6 days of creation aren't 24hour long days, but the rest of the days in the 6000 year old universe are 24 hour days.

Where did the distinction come from and is this from Judaism, or is this simply a convoluted attempt by all of you to rationalize this nonsense.

Even if you don't believe in 24 hour days, it still doesn't help because archaeology, paleotology and records from all gentile civilizations surpass far beyond 6000 years of age for this world.

Please get a better, more rational religion and leave Judaism in the dustbin of history where it belongs.

micha said...


My problem isn't that I feel criticized. It's that I don't like criticism. Even if the L Rebbe and R' Avigdor Miller (etc, etc, etc...) have an approach I disagree with, I refuse to simply dismiss it out of hand as silly. They were brilliant rabbanim who knew more Torah than I. Their mistakes aren't going to be stupid ones.

As for Ptolmey and epicycles... The do describe the motion of the heavenly bodies across our sky. In fact, if you allow for enough epicycles within epicycles you can do a fourier expansion of any path across the sky. So it's hard to say it's "wrong" -- from a "how the universe looks" perspective.

Not everything has to be science. After all the role of halakhah is to elevate people. How we experience something is more important than the thing-in-itself.


PS: Sorry for the delay in replying to a Mar 30th comment,'s email was down and I didn't get Haloscan's notifications.

Reb Chaim HaQoton said...