Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Off Topic: Tehillim Request

A young man (early 30s) in my neighborhood was
seriously injured yesterday in a hit and run crash.
He has a young wife and two kids. He is currently in
the hospital in serious condition.

Please say tehillim for Kalman Avrohom ben Malka

The Wolf

Monday, March 28, 2005

On Kids and the Museum of Natural History

Well, my boys had no school Sunday, nor did my nephew
(who attends the same school). I decided to take the
opportunity to treat the kids (and my daughter and
nieces) to a day out at the Museum of Natural History
and the Hayden Planetarium here in New York. (Yes, I
was the guy you saw traipsing around the museum by
himself with seven kids...)

In the rotunda of the museum, where you wait on line
for tickets, there are several dinosaur skeletons on
display. While we were there, my daughter (eight) and
her cousin (nine) had an interesting conversation
which I more or less stayed out of, although I did
pipe in here-and-there. They were trying, in their
own way, to determine the factuality of the dinosaur
bones that they saw before them. They were trying to
reason how dinosaurs could have disappeared before man
if they were created on the same day. One of them
came up with the "extended day" variation on their
own. When one stated that they died in the Mabul, I
corrected her and told her that the dinosaurs were
gone well before the days of the Mabul.

I tried to stay out of the conversation as much as
possible for two reasons: (a) while it is my duty to
guide the hashkafa of my daughter, it is not my duty
to do so for my niece, and I will not "overstep" my
authority as an uncle and overrule what her parents
want taught to her (which I don't know -- we never
discussed the matter) and (b) I was very curious to
see what conclusions they would come to on their own.
The only time I got involved was when they tried to
posit something that was so counter-factual that it
would have been Jack Chick-worthy.

My kids are already at the age where they are starting
to ask questions and not blindly accept what has been
told to them - which is good and bad in it's own way.
I mourn for the loss of innocence on the matter, but,
to a much greater degree, I'm happy to see that they
are using their heads to try to reason out the truth
of the matter while keeping it in the context of

The Wolf

Monday, March 21, 2005

Does Anyone Really Still Believe This?

I was perusing ChabadTalk this past week when I came across this thread. In it there is one poster who makes the quaint observation that the notion that the earth revolves around the sun is an "outdated assumption." Something that's been accepted as scientific fact for the last five centuries is an "outdated assumption?"

I seriously find it hard to believe that these people still exist in this day and age. I have to wonder just what these people think.

We've landed people on the moon. We've sent the probes to all the major planets (Pluto excepted) and even landed a probe on Titan (a moon of Saturn) within the last year. We've sent spacecraft to orbit the sun. We have spacecraft (the Pioneer and Voyager crafts) which are on their way out of the solar system. In order to do all these, you have to accept the heliocentric model of the solar system as fact. If they sent a craft to orbit the sun using a geocentric model, your craft would have disappeared long ago.

So, what do these people think of these accomplishments? Do they fall in league with the folks who think the moon landings were faked and filmed on a Hollywood sound stage? Do they think that millions of people all over the world are willfully and purposely concealing the truth of a geocentric system? And for what purpose? I would think that if someone could prove that everything we've known until now was wrong, and that the earth is the center of the solar system, they'd win a Nobel prize for it. I can't see the motive why people would think that NASA and thousands (if not millions) of professional and amateur astronomers alike would lie to cover up a geocentric system.

And what even further boggles me, is that they're willing to believe a geocentric system when there is nothing to really base it on in the Torah. It would be one thing if the Torah said in B'raishis "And God created the planets and the sun to revolve in an elipitical pattern around the Earth." But it doesn't say that! B'raishis could just as easily support a heliocentric system as a geocentric one.

So, why do these people believe what they do and what do they *really* think of NASA and astronomers of today?

The Wolf

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

On Science and Rabbis

For me, sad to say, my high school Yeshiva experience
was largely negative. I was the prototypical
"square-peg" that wouldn't be shoved into the "round
hole" that my Yeshiva tried to shove me into.

There could be several reasons for it. When I was
younger, I was a bit of a rebel. I would (admittedly)
sometimes look for ways to get on my Rosh Yeshiva's

But, more to the point, I didn't share the
fundamentalist attitude of the Yeshiva. Maybe it's
because I wasn't frum for the first nine years of my
life, but I understood, even when I got to the Yeshiva
I'm talking about at age eleven, that I had a much
different outlook on life than my classmates. I
already understood, even at that I can't take what is
told me simply on blind faith and that as statement
slide further along the unbelieveablity and
implausibility scale, they must be taken with bigger
and bigger grains of salt.

So, when I first heard the Midrash that Moshe was ten
amos high (or is it twenty, I keep forgetting), my
credibility alarm went off. When I heard the saying
that Pharoh was only one amah tall, my alarm went off
even louder, especially when, taken together, the two
teachings sound like a simple attempt to make the bad
guys look silly.

When I first heard the Midrash that Og was forty amos
tall, it boggled my mind (keep in mind, 40 amos is,
what, sixty to eighty feet? My house isn't that
tall.) But, OK, the Torah says he was a giant, so
I'll buy it for the moment, though it strains my
credulity. But then I heard that I was mistaken, that
Og wasn't forty amos tall, he was forty amos at the
ankle! That sent the alarms up so high, they have yet
to come down. I suppose that the writers of the
Midrashim did not realize that while area doubles by
the square, volume doubles by the cube and that a
creature that size could not possibly hope to move (to
say nothing of the region probably being completely
incapable of supporting such a creature, of his head
being so high up he couldn't possibly hope to take in
enough oxygen to sustain himself, etc.) The idea that
a creature that large could hang off the end of the
Ark to survive (and yet not cause it to capsize or
sink) was just too much to accept.

But even that wasn't the final straw. The final
straw, in my mind, came from a Rebbe I had in the
ninth grade. I don't remember how the conversation
came to the subject, but he asserted that any of the
Tana'im or Amoraim could have built anything that we
have today - that they were technological geniuses who
understood the world better than the greatest
scientists of today. To me, that was so far off the
deep end that it was the point of no return. I think
I can date to that very day my skepticism in anything
that sounds utterly beyond the pale. The idea that a
Tanna or an Amora could have built an airplane, or
could have cured cancer or smallpox, or built a
telephone and *chose not to* is just so... I'm at a
loss for superlatives to use. You know what I mean

And I find this same anti-intellectualism still goes
on today. A perusal of several "frum" boards found
people who honestly believe that the sun revolves
around the earth. I always wonder what these people
think; that NASA faked it all? For what purpose?
(Oh, yes, because they are evil and want to turn the
world away from God.) There are those who believe in
spontaneous generation. When asked why it's not
observed today, the glib answer I get is "Nishtana
Ha-Teva" - "Nature has changed." Why creatures would
spontaneously generate seventeen hundred years ago but
not today is beyond me.

I don't know why people simply cannot accept the fact
that while our Torah leaders of the past may have been
experts at the Torah, they simply weren't scientists.
It's not taking anything away from any of them to say
otherwise - I don't think Rabbi Akiva was any less
great because he couldn't build a nuclear power plant
- but let the man's accomplishments stand in the
context of the time period that he lived in. Don't
turn him into something that he wasn't and could not,
in his time, ever hope to be.

The Wolf

Monday, March 14, 2005

On Evolution, Gallileo and Lilliput

Why does it always seem like religious disputes arise
over the smallest and most unimportant details?

Take this whole controversy over Rabbi Slifkin and his
books. As I understand it, the reason why his works
were banned was because he postulated that animals may
have evolved from earlier creatures and that the
universe may be more than 5765 years old.

But is it really so important? It's not like Rabbi
Slifkin is saying that God doesn't exist. It's not
like he's saying that Creation wasn't a Divine event.
If you asked him, I'm sure he'd say that yes,
creatures evolved, but did not do so randomly, but
under the plan and guidance of the Almighty.

In short, is it really so important whether God pulled
a chicken out of the "dust of the earth" or from an
ancient reptilian ancestor?

The point of Beraishis (Genesis), and the point of
Yiddishkeit in general, is that God created the
universe and all the wonders that exist therein. It
really doesn't make that much of a difference whether
He did it with a Big Bang or if He did it by waving
some magic wand. It's missing the point entirely.

The whole dispute and debate reminds me of Jonathan
Swift's Gullviers Travels. In the book, Gulliver
visits the land of Lilliput. The Lilliputians are
engaged in a terrible war with their neighbor
Blefescu. And what was the war over? It was over
whether eggs should be opened on the narrow end or the
wide end.

Of course, Swift had some organized religions in mind
when he wrote Gulliver's Travels. :)

At least I can take comfort in the fact that Judaism
alone isn't subject to this irrational madness. After
all, Gallileo was persecuted by the Church simply for
expressing preference for the Copernican model of the
Solar System. Nowhere did Gallileo state that God
didn't exist or that the Christian Messiah wasn't his
son. All he did was observe the evidence that he had
and concluded that the model of the Solar System as
postulated by Copernicus was correct. And for that,
he went through all his troubles.

So, did animals evolve from lesser animals? Have
there been millions of years since the Big Bang, or
only 5765 years since the Creation of the World?
Truth to tell, it probably doesn't matter all that
much. The point of Beraishis is that there is a
Creator and Someone who guides the world in Creation.
Anything else is niggling over small details and
missing the forest for the trees.

The Wolf

Sunday, March 13, 2005

Yeshivos and College and Professionals

One thing that has always struck me is the insistence of our Roshei Yeshivos (in the Yeshivish world) that boys don't go to college, but remain learning. While, in theory, it's an admirable goal, in practice there are severe problems that come from such a policy - problems which, I'm sure, the Roshei Yeshivos must be aware of - and yet, I don't see how they can follow such policies.

When asked what such young men will do for a living, inevitably, the answers go to Chinuch or private enterprise. But what about professionals? Surely no one can argue that the Jewish community is only richer for having doctors, lawyers, accountants, professors and other professionals in our midst. Not only do these professionals provide Torah-based insight into thier areas of expertise (it's a lot easier to discuss halachic ramifications of medical procedures with a frum doctor than with a non-Jewish one), but such professionals also provide needed funds for our Torah-organizations to continue.

But the question that arises is, how can one become a doctor, a lawyer, etc. without going to college. The answer, of course, is that you cannot. These professions are licensed by the states (here in the U.S.) and it is 100% impossible to go to medical school without having attended college. No law school in the U.S. will accept a person who does not have a Bachelor's degree.

So, then, what do these Roshei Yeshiva propose? That there be no frum doctors? Somehow, I don't think that that's really the aim that they going for. I'm fairly certain that if you asked any of them if we should ban frum doctors and lawyers, you'd not get a single yes from the lot.

So, how do they face this contradiction? How do they reconcile their wish that no one goes to college with the wish to have frum professionals?

The Wolf