Friday, March 10, 2006

From a student in Chaim Berlin to his Rosh Yeshiva, R. Aharon Schechter

I received this letter, sent to R. Aharon Schechter, rosh yeshiva of Chaim Berlin, by a talm?d of that yeshiva:
I am currently a talmid in Chaim Berlin Yeshiva. One might call me more scientifically oriented but I would call it a rationalistic orientation. A number of years ago I decided to investigate how statements in Torah and Chazal correspond with current knowledge of geology, paleontology, ancient history, archeology, biology, genetics, etc. (all this happened years before I found many of my questions answered in Rabbi Slifkin's books).Well, there is a big gap in between them. Before I proceed, I should mention that I not only read books in these subjects - I also read the evidence on which these sciences are based and also I read books (usually but not always written by fundamentalist Christians or (lahavdil) charedi scientists and laymen) which write critiques on all of the mentioned above scientific fields; at the end I compared the evidence for these sciences and against it. In many many cases I feel that geology, paleontology, ancient history, archeology, biology etc. are based on very solid grounds. I had a major problem that Torah (seemingly) says one thing and evidence/reason says completely the other. I tried to find some Jewish literature which discusses these subjects.

Here is what I found:

A) First of all, and the most unnerving, is that there is almost no material on how to deal with all these problems. I say the most unnerving" because I feel if people do not want to write about it - it means that these are real problems and we have no answers to them.

B) Second - the books that do discuss some of these issues, for example "Eye of a Needle", "Permission to receive", "Genesis and Big Bang" (which by the way was intended for the Christian public) and others have the following flaws:
a) are well written scientific works but only undress one contradiction at best and leave very many more questions unanswered.
b) I would call it pseudo-scientific (meaning they try to resolve the contradictions of Torah and science by using science which scientists themselves would laugh at and they do). For ex. so-called young earth/creation science. I do not want call these frum Jews liars but they present false information.
c) A lot of material found in this book is plagiarized from Christian writings without quoting their sources. I call it a form of theft in some sense. For example some books say that earth was created old looking (I am aware that there are Midrashim who say Adam was fully created); however this idea of old looking earth actually is called Gosse Theory who was I think was a priest and published his ideas in 1850's. I think that person who said the idea first, and somebody else took it from him, must get credit. So many book are copycats.

I was greatly distressed by these contradictions. I think that if a person knows very little about earth/human history it is very easy for him not to be bothered by these questions. To say it mildly - It's a BIG PROBLEM IF EVEN THE VERY BEGINNING of our holiest seforim contradicts everything that we know about earth history (one can only then wonder about the rest of the sefer). My general experience is that the less people are bothered, the more ignorant, uneducated they are (there are exceptions). Small point on the side - a person can have a PhD in math, physics, computers etc. and still know zero on earth science and history; and many who think of themselves as very educated really know zero in these other areas.

Now I do not think that I would become (Chas VaShalom) less frum because of this, however these unresolved contradictions made me more in doubt, nervous, especially, as I mentioned above, the deafening silence of Jewish books on these issues. I strongly suggest for anyone who wants to understand me to read a good geology or paleontology book. I think any honest person who will research these fields will have many questions.

Boruch Hashem - a few years ago I found Rabbi Slifkin's books that deal with many of these contradictions. In Rabbi Slifkin's books he answers many questions that I had - such as that the geological and astronomical facts do not correspond to the order listed in Bereshis or to the order mentioned by the Rishonim; spontaneous generation; and many other questions. Most importantly I had found Rabbi Slifkin's books to be scientifically correct and he does not "steal" from Christian writers. Rabbi Slifkin's books strengthened my belief in Torah and Chazal tremendously and eliminated most of my serious doubts.

In December of the previous year I saw my Rosh Yeshivas shlita letter against Rabbi Slifkin. I was and still am extremely hurt and disappointed by it. I am sorry that my Rosh Yeshiva again attacked Rabbi Slifkin. Finally I had found answers to a lot of my questions and now my Rosh Yeshiva shlita is attacking Rabbi Slifkin. As I mentioned above, I strongly suggest for the Rosh Yeshiva shlita if he wants to understand me to read a good geology or paleontology book. The Rosh Yeshiva shlita may not be bothered by many of these questions but I am. I always wondered if the Rosh Yeshiva shlita had been born in an good catholic, Islamic, atheistic or Hindu family would he ever recognize the truth is not what they would teach him. Or maybe he would just become instead of Rosh Yeshiva shlita a great cardinal, mullah, skeptic or Hindu priest. How would the Rosh Yeshiva know that these religions are false? I think that the Rosh Yeshiva shlita would investigate his religion and see if its true. So I think that a person is allowed to ask questions and to get answers.

I think that if the Rosh Yeshiva shlita wants to attack someone then let him first write a good scientific book that resolves these issues in a manner that is pleasing to the Rosh Yeshiva shlita and maybe only then criticize others. I think that is exactly what the Rishonim did - if they didn't like what other one said they wrote different explanations as they saw fit. Ramban did not just attack Rambam on sefer HaMitzvos - he wrote a very big commentary on it. I don't actually expect the Rosh Yeshiva to write books on this subject (I think that he is busy doing other very important things), but people will understand what I mean.

I have greatest respect for the Rosh Yeshiva shlita but I very strongly disagree. I sincerely wish the Rosh Yeshiva Shlita to live to 120 years in good health and most importantly to increase knowledge and Kovod HaTorah in the world. May it be so.

Many of my friends also agree to the points mentioned above.

Talmid of Yeshiva Rabeinu Chaim Berlin.

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