Sunday, September 30, 2007

In the Beginning - an unscientific poll

This coming Shabbat is Shabbat Bereshit, and some rabbis utilize it to deliver drashot on Torah and evolution, either for or against. If your rabbi avails himself of the opportunity, please check in, i.e. write a comment, and tell us if he was pro or anti, as well as any pearls of wisdom or ignorance that stick in your mind. If your rabbi puts you to sleep, "You have the right to remain silent. . . ."

Here is a transcribed (by the rabbi) drasha delivered on Shabbat Bereshit about ten years ago in Kingsway Jewish Center by Rabbi Milton Polin (since retired and living in Israel), former President of the Rabbinical Council of America:

The Science of Creation -- A Jewish View
Rabbi Milton H. Polin

After seeing Cecil B. DeMille’s "The Ten Commandments," a young man noted, "Seeing that movie gave me new faith in God." I told him, "Read "the Book;" it's even better." This Shabbat, as we begin to read "the Book" anew, we can find new insights.
For example, one current controversy in American education is whether to teach science according to the Biblical account of Creation or Darwinian theory. Ostensibly, our yeshivot are immune to this controversy since the Torah's cosmology must, by definition, be absolutely true. Yet, taking the story of Creation literally, as the Creationists do, does an injustice both to the wisdom of our Rabbis and to science as it ought to be taught.
Rabbinic literature contains several statements that give a far more sophisticated view of Creation than the Creationists believe. Hopefully, our yeshivot include this information in their teaching of science and do not leave our young people with the view that the God's Torah does not meet the challenges of contemporary science.
Chazal were not closed to "scientific findings." For example, how does the sun "circle the earth?" According to the Talmud, our Sages changed their mind. "The Sages of Israel maintain: the sun travels beneath the sky by day and above the sky by night; while the wise men of the nations of the world maintain: it travels beneath the sky by day and below the earth at night. Said Rabbi: And their view is preferable to ours…" (Pesachim 94b). It is remarkable that our Rabbis were willing to accept the opinion of the non-Jewish scholars when they recognized that it was closer to the truth.
Another example: Which came first, fish or fowl? The Rabbis explained why the requirements of shechitah differ from cattle to fowl to fish. The gemara (Chulin 27b) brings the following claim: Cattle were created out of the dry earth and are rendered fit by cutting both organs; fish were created out of the water and are rendered fit without any ritual slaughtering; birds were created out of the alluvial mud and are therefore rendered fit by the cutting of one organ. R. Samuel of Cappadocia said: You can prove this from
the fact that birds have scales on their legs like the scales of fishes."
Finally--and these are but a few examples --R. Yehudah, commenting on, "and man became a living being" (Bereishit 2:7), tells us, "This teaches that He [God] provided him [man] with a tail, like an animal, but subsequently removed it from him for the sake of his dignity." (Bereshit Rabbah 14,10)
Does this mean that the Torah and/or our Rabbis support Darwin's Theory of Evolution? Not at all. It simply means that our Rabbis were aware of scientific clues in the Torah that explain how God created the world. Similarly, Traditional Jews need not fear scientific investigation, but should search for answers to its questions.
So, too, our yeshivot must address such issues as the age of the universe and the existence of dinosaurs, issues which will and do trouble our children. There is no reason to teach children that Creation began only 5761 years ago or that dinosaurs never existed, ideas that they will reject as they grow older.
As the knowledge of science unfolds, new questions will always arise, but ultimately there cannot be unreconcilable conflicts between true science and the Torah since God created the universe and wrote the Torah. For this reason we must study science to understand the universe and thereby contribute to our knowledge of Torah. Likewise, we must study the Torah and the rabbinic commentaries not only as a record of the authentic tradition and the knowledge of past generations but also for the insights they contain on scientific questions.

Labels: ,

Barukh Dayan Emet

The Torah world suffered an irretrievable loss the first day of Sukkot with the passing of Avraham Shapira, former Chief Rabbi and Rosh Yeshiva of Merkaz Ha-rav, at the age of 94.

Former Chief Rabbi Avraham Shapira, zt"l, Passes at 94
by Hana Levi Julian

( Rabbi Avraham Elkana HaCohen Shapira, the head of the Merkaz HaRav Kook Yeshiva and a former Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi of Israel, passed away on the first day of the Sukkot holiday at the age of 94, leaving a legacy of Torah greatness and leadership.
The funeral procession began with a series of heartfelt and erudite eulogies at 10:30 a.m. on Friday at the Merkaz HaRav Kook yeshiva in Jerusalem. Addressing the tens of thousands who gathered in and around the yeshiva were many leading rabbis, including current Chief Rabbis Metzger and Amar; former Chief Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau; former Chief Rabbi Mordechai Eliyahu, who served alongside Rabbi Shapira in the Chief Rabbinate; Hevron and Kiryat Arba's Chief Rabbi, Rabbi Dov Lior; Ramat Gan Chief Rabbi Yaakov Ariel, and others. Following the other speakers, Rabbi Yaakov Shapira, the late rabbi's son and a recognized scholar in his own right, offered a tear-filled eulogy for his father as well.
if (sCountry!='IL') {var cD=new Date();var cR=(new Date()%8673806982)+Math.random(); var c = ''; document.write('');} else {document.write(''); sZones+=",17";sIDs+=",InContentAd"}
The procession then made its way to the cemetery on Har HaZeitim (Mount of Olives), an ancient cemetery overlooking the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, where the rabbi was to be laid to rest. Tens of thousands of Jews from across the country were on hand to bid the Torah giant a final farewell.
Rabbi Shapira was born in Jerusalem in 1913. He learned in the Etz Chaim Yeshiva and later in the Hevron Yeshiva. After his marriage he moved to the Merkaz HaRav Kook Yeshiva where he later remained as a teacher. In 1956, Israel’s Chief Rabbi Yitzhak HaLevi Herzog appointed the 45-year-old Torah scholar to serve as a Dayan (Rabbinical Judge) in the Beit Din HaGadol in Jerusalem (the Supreme Rabbinical Court). In 1971, he was appointed head of the Beit Din HaGadol. In 1980, Rabbi Shapira was appointed as a member of the Chief Rabbinate Council. Through all these decades, Rabbi Shapira continued to teach regularly in the Mercaz Harav Kook Yeshiva, and then, in 1982, following the passing of Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda HaKohen Kook, zt”l, Rabbi Shapira was appointed as his successor as Rosh Yeshiva (Dean). The following year, the spiritual giant was also elected to serve as Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi of the State of Israel, a position in which he served from 1983 to 1993.
A recognized Posek (expert arbiter of Jewish law) by such Torah luminaries as Rabbi Tzvi Pesach Frank, Rabbi Isser Zalman Meltzer, and Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, among many others, Rabbi Shapira was also considered by a large segment of the religious public as “the Gadol HaDor” (greatest Halakhic (Jewish law) authority of the generation). Despite great political pressures against him, his rulings held steadfast to the letter of Torah law forbidding the transfer of any parts of the Land of Israel to any foreign rule or entity.
When former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon implemented his 2005 Disengagement Plan from Gaza and northern Samaria, Rabbi Shapira issued a ruling forbidding Jewish soldiers to take part in its implementation and in the destruction of Jewish towns anywhere in the Land of Israel, comparing it to eating treif (non-kosher food) or violating the Sabbath.
Son Named His SuccessorRabbi Shapira asked that his son, Rabbi Yaakov Shapira, succeed him as head of the Merkaz Harav Kook yeshiva, according to Rabbi Avraham's nephew, Rabbi Shlomo Shapira, and according to former Chief Rabbi Mordechai Eliyahu.
"Four and a half years ago, on his 90th birthday, he called me to his home in order to give me part of his will, and he told me that he is appointing and bequeathing the yeshiva to his eldest son Yaakov Shapira," Rabbi Shlomo said.
Speaking to Arutz-7's Hebrew news service, Rabbi Shlomo said: "This is a grave loss for the nation of Israel in general and for the Merkaz Harav Kook yeshiva specifically..."
High Alert in the CapitalPolice officers and IDF soldiers were placed on high alert Friday in Jerusalem due to the tens of thousands of mourners expected at the funeral for Rabbi Shapira. Major thorughfares in Jerusalem were closed down for the funeral procession.
Protection was needed as well for the tens of thousands of celebrants who were streaming into the capital for the Sukkot holiday, and for the tens of thousands of Moslems praying at the Temple Mount for Ramadan.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Six years

Today is the anniversary, on the Gregorian calendar, of the attacks on our city and country by Osama bin Laden and his Arab butchers. Amid the unmitigated evil of that day there were deeds of bravery, from police, firefighters and other first responders from whom we expect as much, but also from ordinary people rising to extraordinary heights. One of these was Abe Zelmanowitz, who could have escaped but chose instead to stay with his quadriplegic friend, a Gentile, until help could arrive. It never did, and they perished together.

Here is his story.

Hat tip: Emes ve'Emuna

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Mizmor l'Assaf

Asafa Powell of Jamaica just lowered the world record for the men's 100 meters to 9.74 seconds (link) in Rieti, Italy. No, Asafa's not Jewish as far as I know, but his feat is a thing of surpassing beauty. Our tradition prescribes a special brakha on seeing something or someone of surpassing beauty:

ברוך אתה ה' אלוקנו מלך העולם שככה לו בעולמו.

Asafa Powell, world record holder in the
100 meters

Munich 11

Today (26 Elul) and tomorrow is the 35th yahrzeit of eleven Israeli athletes, coaches and officials murdered by Arab terrorists of Black September. Take a look at my post from this time last year:

Remember Black September


Thursday, September 06, 2007

This is a hijacking. . . .

All Jewish passengers please get off at the next stop. This joke made the rounds 31 years ago, after Israeli commandos on July 4, 1976 swooped down on Entebbe airport in Uganda and rescued Jewish hostages that had been hijacked by Arab and German terrorists and brought to Uganda with the active cooperation of its maniacal dictator Idi Amin. It was an electrifying fulfillment of the verse we read in last week's parsha, "All the peoples of the earth will see that the name of Hashem is reflected in you, and they will fear you." No, the peoples of the earth do not fear (and respect) us because we can learn a blatt Gemara, but because we can kick butt, and when we do so God fights by our side.

Thirty-one years later we are still beset with the same enemies we fought then, only now all of Western civilization is in their crosshairs. The world sowed the wind then (it's only Israel, not our problem) and is reaping the whirlwind now. And where are we? When I was growing up it seemed that all our friends' fathers (including my own father a"h) who were not recent immigrants and refugees fought in World War II. Every block in every Jewish neighborhood sported a chapter of the Jewish War Veterans. Today those JWV chapters either no longer exist or are gathering places for the elderly. What part of "Islam or death" don't the American liberal elite, the Democratic Party and the mainstream media understand? More to the point, what part of "Islam or death" don't we understand? Today, kaf-gimmel Elul, is the sixth yahrzeit of over 3000 good Americans, many of them Jewish, murdered by Arab butchers for the crime of going to work in the morning or boarding a plane. The largest Jewish community in the world is centered right here in New York, the city that was attacked by a foreign enemy, and young Jewish men go about their lives as if nothing happened. Shabbat and kashrut in the American military? This is as much pikuah nefesh as World War II, the enemy is going after Americans in general and Jews in particular, and those restrictions fall away. If we learned anything from World War II, it is that when an egomaniac with the power of a modern state says he is going to wipe us off the map we have to take him at his word and deal with him accordingly. And how politically stupid can we get if we don't see that when Orthodox Jews are seen as beating the war drums and leaving the fighting to others, the result is likely to be a spike in anti-Semitism? Or isn't the freedom we enjoy here, and the ultimate security of the State of Israel and Jews around the world, worth fighting for?


Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Missing Person Alert

Garnel Ironheart has gone missing. At least his blog has, if you follow the link. Has anybody reading this been able to contact him? He had interesting things to say that others are afraid to say. Has he simply burned out or lost interest, or is something more sinister (or tragic) afoot? Have threats been made against him or his family that are keeping him off the blogosphere? Lest I be accused of being paranoid, there are accounts of a rosh yeshiva attempting to design a vocational track for students who are not cut out for sitting and learning all day, and being threatened by "gedolim" that if he went through with his project they would see to it that none of his children got married.
If anyone within the sound of my cybervoice has information, please let us know if he is alive and well and, if he is, what is keeping him off the air.

Letter in Jewish Press

The following letter to the editor appeared in the Jewish Press on August 29, 2007 (link):

Rude Shiva Intrusion

I wish to call attention to a phenomenon I suspect is widespread in our community and is causing it undue embarrassment. Last week my wife and father-in-law were sitting shiva for my mother-in-law, a”h. As is customary, the house door was open.

At one point, when I was not in the house, a complete stranger walked in and asked, “Is this the house where they’re sitting shiva?” When my wife answered in the affirmative, he deposited two aluminum pans with tzedaka signs, one of them in Yiddish, and walked out. He neither asked permission nor expressed any sympathy for my wife and her father.

Hardly an hour after shiva was concluded, the same man showed up and demanded the tzedaka money. When told by my wife that she was mailing a check for the proceeds, the man became indignant and demanded the aluminum pan. When my wife informed him that the pan had been discarded, he left in a huff, again without expressing any condolences or thanking my wife for keeping the pan out during shiva.

This was hardly the first time someone ostensibly Orthodox and wearing the haredi “uniform” has exhibited rude and inconsiderate behavior, but given the circumstances it was one of the most egregious.

What makes these people think that a shiva house is public property simply because the door is open as per custom (a custom that will be discarded if this kind of behavior is allowed to continue), and that they can barge in and leave items without as much as a by-your-leave?

And if he expected the aluminum pan to be returned, shouldn’t he have said so when he left it there? Had I been in the house, I would have refused the pan with the Yiddish sign, since my guests for the most part do not read Yiddish and deserve to be spared the impertinence of being asked for money in a language they do not understand.

I also wonder how this stranger knew that we were sitting shiva and when it would be over. The neighborhood was not plastered with signs as is the custom in parts of Israel, nor was a notice published in any newspaper.

One of the organizations for which the stranger was collecting is doing very good work in the community and we had donated to it in the past, but no more. Shiva is a time for a family to grieve and be comforted by relatives and friends, not to be harassed by professional mendicants. If we are to keep our young people in the fold, let alone be a “light to the nations,” the least we can expect of one another is common decency.

Zev Stern
Brooklyn, NY