GUEST POST: THESE ARE NOT THE BUILDERS BUT THE DESTROYERS (Talmud Yerushalmi Hagiga 76c) – An open response to the misuse of miracles in support of a Young Earth

By Shmuel Bergenfeld



Recently, there has been an argument presented by quite a few respected rabbis and their assistants in defense of the alleged Torah viewpoint of a <6000 year old universe. This argument, in a nutshell, states that all miracles, especially the Creation and the Flood, were irrational and beyond any human and scientific comprehension, and so they invalidate any scientific method of dating the age of the earth. Whether it be geological, radiocarbon, or starlight, each method is an illogical byproduct of the great miracles described in the Torah. Any attempt to use them as indicators of the world’s age, according to this claim, is arrogant “extrapolation” by rabid atheistic scientists, and is even “unscientific.”

Those well meaning Orthodox Jews, in making this claim, essentially have three goals:

A) To make a claim which is beyond any rational discussion, and is thereby irrefutable and even invincible, because what good is it to abide by my hashkafa if there are other valid hashkafas?

B) To show that one can fully disqualify valid scientific methods as illegitimate extrapolation and still be considered loyal to “real science” (whatever that means)

C) To affirm the existence of an Omnipresent Creator who can disrupt all of nature at His will, and so the more scientific evidence I snub, the more yiras shomayim I have.

I will now demonstrate that the aforementioned argument accomplishes NONE of those goals. Even worse, the argument completely undermines those goals. Instead of defending yiddishkeit from kefira, its claimants INADVERTENTLY SUPPORT KEFIRA AND PLAY RIGHT INTO THE HANDS OF ATHEISTS!

Claim A: Miracles are beyond rational discussion. Technically speaking, I cannot use science to argue against this claim. But I can use the same Torah that they derive this proof from as evidence that this “proof” is completely bogus and taken out of context.

Ostensibly, the source that the Flood disrupted nature is in Rosh Hashanah 11b-12a, which states that Hashem changed Maaseh Bereishis in response to a far away astronomical event. This proves, they claim, that such basic phenomenon as the Earth’s axis tilt was a result of the Flood, as is a whole slew of other phenomenon which this argument arbitrarily claims.

But what exactly was this disruption of nature? That very sugya, according to Rashi, states that all of the constellations appeared as they do today in their proper seasons, except that the Big Dipper appeared a bit too early, and so Hashem took away two stars from it and caused the Mabul. Well, how did the constellations appear as they did if the Earth’s axis didn’t tilt?

In fact, Tosafos even corrects an errant text that Rashi used BY CLAIMING THAT CURRENT ASTRONOMY CONTRADICTS THAT TEXT!!! So if anything, the Talmud verifies the fact that much of nature was the same before the flood as after. There is no license to start wildly stuffing all sort of scientific phenomenon into the realm of after-Flood effects.

And about miracles. Allegedly, miracles and their effects completely disrupt nature. Unfortunately for that claim, the texts indicate the exact opposite – that as soon as the miracle is over, everything goes back to normal!

For example, after the Flood subsided, Noach had to wait some time for the Earth to dry up. Certainly something which you would expect from perfectly ordinary water! In what way was this “irrational”?

Another example: After the Jews collected the Manna, did the leftover manna vanish in a fiery chariot? No – it simply melted like any other similar substance would and was drunk by the deer in the pasture. Once the miracle, no matter how great, is over, any effects revert completely back to normal.

And speaking about the mesora, the miracles and “science” (for lack of a better word) of the Torah are completely above contemporary science, not in place of it. Why has no one has raised any objection to the Periodic Table of Elements from the four elements (earth air fire water) of maaseh bereishis as described by the Rambam Hilchos Yesodei HaTorah (although with today’s klowns, you can never be sureL) See the Be’er HaGolah, Sixth Gate for an elaboration of this concept.

Come on, you guys! Do you really think that every Orthodox Jew who believes in miracles must subscribe to this pseudo-science babble? You are insulting your own intelligence, not that of the hundreds of Orthodox Jewish scientists who belief in both miracles AND an Old Earth.

I just read the book One People Two Worlds, which is a debate between an Orthodox (Yosef Reinman) and Reform rabbi (Ammiel Hirsch). As you would expect, every Talmudic source which Hirsch brings as “proof” of his position is shown by Reinman to be completely taken out of context.

Unfortunately, those on the opposite extreme do the exact same crime to the Talmud by distorting the very same mesora which they claim to be defending. If understanding statements in context is what differentiates the Orthodox from the Reform, according to Reinman, then I can’t help but wonder if the Young Earth creationists are somewhat closer to Reform Judaism than they are to Orthodox.

Claim B. Evolution is “extrapolation”. My dear friends, ALL of science is extrapolation. We see, with a telescope, stars trillions of miles away, and atoms, with a microscope, trillions of times smaller than ourselves. In fact, we are quite sure of many things such as black holes and certain subatomic particles which no one has actually seen but rather detected. And as relativity has shown, time is just another coordinate. From a scientific point of view, a billion years ago is almost as visible as a billion miles away.

To take the human senses as a benchmark for extrapolation shows not only an anti-scientific attitude but sheer insanity. Haven’t you ever seen a mirage or an illusion which you know does not exist? Tell me then, what is more reliable, human “testimony” or science?

Claim C. Invalidating scientific dating affirms belief in a Creator. This is the most dangerous and false claim, and even does the opposite, chas vesholom.

Why? Because each time a new method indicates an old age for the earth, one simply claims that the Creator interfered with that method. Is there a tree with more than 6000 rings? Hashem made it that way. Radiocarbon decay indicating billions of years old? No problem – Hashem changed the decay rate. Starlight billions of light years away? The heck with it – Hashem made those light rays on there own.

Gee wiz! These pathetic scientists are so important that G-D HIMSELF HAS TO INTERFERE WITH THEIR CALCULATIONS! Growing up in yeshiva, I always thought that explaining Hashem’s ways was the job of kabbalists and great rabbis. But no! Apparently, these heretical scientists see more of G-d’s handiwork than all of the gedolim combined!!!

Do we have a mesora for our pseudo-scientific explanations of the Flood and Creation? Of course not, but who cares?! Only Slifkin is a koifer for not following the “mesora” (whatever that means), but us ??!! Naaaa.

So in a sense, you are not helping Hashem, but reducing Him, keveyachol, to your PlayDough, to be retroactively interpreted at each whim of the scientists. This god who you are interpreting is not the real G-d, but a figment of your imagination. You demonstrate loud and clear, though inadvertently, that it is not G-d who controls you, but you who controls G-d, chas vesholom.

Indeed, the Talmud’s timeless statements ring true today as they did then – these are not the builders, but the destroyers.

Sincerely yours,

Shmuel Bergenfeld

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13 Comments

Filed under Guest Posts, Torah and Science

13 responses to “GUEST POST: THESE ARE NOT THE BUILDERS BUT THE DESTROYERS (Talmud Yerushalmi Hagiga 76c) – An open response to the misuse of miracles in support of a Young Earth

  1. Zeev Atlas

    There is at least one great Rabbi, whose work is published on regular basis (and is not considered to be a koifer) that has no problem with old world and is based his work on a famous accepted and widely published Massorah.
    In Drush Ohr Hachaim, published in Mishnayos Yakhin Ubo’az (after Sanhedrin), he published his drush that was said in Sabbath Hagadol of 1802. He based his claims on Bereshith Raba. The Midrash claims specifically that there were worlds BEFORE this world. By reading Drush Ohr Hachaim one could see that the remnants of those previous worlds are here with us. The dominant life forms of those previous worlds were indeed destroyed (he refers specifically to the dinosaurs and cite a scientific [specifically scientific] theory that was actually proven to be correct about ten years ago).
    As for evolution vs. Intelligent design, one should not be that wary about the possibility that both are correct. The possibility that life were randomly emerged from some organic material soup seems to me to be of very minimal scientific value. However that life forms may evolve from previous, more primitive life forms may, if absolutely proven correct, be the way the creator actually meant nature to work.

  2. Hasidim wont use the Ohr HaChayim because of that drush. And Rabbi Elyashiv ruled that “they” (i.e., the author of the drush) could say that but we cannot – for us it is kefirah.

  3. Ze'ev Atlas

    Well, I guess Rabbi Elyashiv (a.k.a HaMacharim or HaOsser or in English “The Banner”) think that we all are stupid and for our own good we should live in bliss. Long live modern Orthodoxy in whose realm I could at least just ignore his bans as much as I wish. We all have our problems but at least that one would not hold in my realm.

  4. B”H
    Shalom everyone!

    Shmuel Bergenfeld says:
    “Why has no one has raised any objection to the Periodic Table of Elements from the four elements (earth air fire water) of maaseh bereishis as described by the Rambam Hilchos Yesodei HaTorah (although with today’s klowns, you can never be sure) See the Be’er HaGolah, Sixth Gate for an elaboration of this concept. ”

    Come on, you guys! Do you really think that every Orthodox Jew who believes in miracles must subscribe to this pseudo-science babble? You are insulting your own intelligence, not that of the hundreds of Orthodox Jewish scientists who belief in both miracles AND an Old Earth. ”

    Here is a letter from the Rebbe King Moshiach as a response to the above part on 4 elements:

    Elemental Components of Matter

    By the Grace of G-d

    18th of Teveth, 57209

    Brooklyn, NY

    Greetings and Blessings:

    I received your letter of January 10th, in which you ask my explanation of the reference of the four basic elements (Yesodoth) mentioned in Chapter 1 of the Tanya, and you ask me how it is possible to reconcile this with modern chemistry which recognizes over one hundred elements.

    Profactorily, I must make at least two corrections in your letter.

    One, the origin of that statement in the Tanya, is not as you write, but it is to be found in the Medrash Rabba Bamidbar 14:12, and at greater length and in greater detail in many parts of the Zohar, and further explained in other books of the Kabbalah.

    Two, modern chemistry does not recognize over one hundred basic elements but a considerably fewer number if matter is to be reduced to it’s basic components or particles, (for the so called elements are themselves made up of atoms, which are the smallest particles into which an element can be divided and yet retain its properties and characteristics, but the atoms themselves are further made up of further smaller particles), such as electrons, protons, and neutrons.

    Thus the answer to your question lies in the proper definition of the terms under discussion. For as indicated above, the so called element is not the basic particle matter. Even the term atom, which originally meant something invisible, is an archaism now employed only for convenience, as it no longer corresponds to its original meaning.

    Similarly when we speak of an individual as being an element of society this does not mean that the individual himself is not composite.

    This should be borne in mind when we consider the term Yesodoth in the Zohar, Medrash Rabba, Kabbalah, etc. and of course, in the Tanya and other Chabad sources. This does not mean something that under normal circumstances is indivisible or unchangeable.

    I might also mention that there is another school of learning which conceives these four Yesodoth, not in their physical aspects, but rather qualitatively, this is to say, fire in the sense of the properties of heat and dryness; water, in the sense of coolness and humidity etc.

    I hope that this will answer your question, if you have any further questions do not hesitate to write again.

    With all good wishes, and with blessing,

    /signature

    (this letter can be found here:

    http://66.102.7.104/search?q=cache:2-mZrsW7Df8J:www.chabad.org/library/article.asp%3FAID%3D112226+%22four+basic+elements%22+rebbe&hl=en&gl=us&ct=clnk&cd=1 )

  5. Ze;ev Atlas

    This responsa was given in 1961 when the Rebbe was still in his right mind (before he began to sink and misguide his Chasidim about being the Messiah.) I think that most open minded (as opposing to some aforementioned segments) Orthodox people would have no problem with that explanation. I have no problem to recomcile the two sources of knowledge (Torah and Science) with the understanding that the Yessodoth are NOT what we call elements.

  6. Franji

    can you please review your chagiga reference?
    I looked it up, and the last daf is Kaf Beit, no 76.
    thanks!

  7. abed nego

    “One, the origin of that statement in the Tanya, is not as you write, but it is to be found in the Medrash Rabba Bamidbar 14:12”,

    Our master Rambam, says of those who take such midrashim literally, that they are kssilim.
    those who follow them, are following kssilim!

    “Two, modern chemistry does not recognize over one hundred basic elements but a considerably fewer number if…. such as electrons, protons, and neutrons.”

    will all be better off, if we keep the science to the scientists. bad enough, some withold education from their kids and doom them to a life of ignorance. please, keep your hands off and at least don’t teach falsehood.

    “This should be borne in mind when we consider the term Yesodoth in the Zohar, Medrash Rabba, Kabbalah, etc. and of course, in the Tanya and other Chabad sources. This does not mean something that under normal circumstances is indivisible or unchangeable.”

    Let us learn chumash and rashi before those pseudo sciences presented here – that the sages would rather keep us away from. Let’s learn yirat hashem rather than throw sand in the eyes of the potential believers.
    We do not have to reconcile religion and science. Religion has nothing to do with science .

  8. DK

    “the more scientific evidence I snub, the more yiras shomayim I have.”

    Dead on!

  9. Hello all,

    I pose to you and others that the context and meaning of these ancient texts have been lost on those confused by the assertions of religious leaders and founders. Ancient wisdom has been purposely recast and obfuscated into religion and mysticism. Consequently, the interpretations presented about the sources and meaning of these texts and the philosophy and cosmology of ancient Hebrew sages is completely wrong. Before you scoff and write me off, you should understand that I speak from personal experience…

    Understanding the Fatal Flaws in Judeo-Christian-Islamic Prophecy

    Remember the saying that “the truth will set you (and others) free?” How does “opening one’s eyes to the truth” relate to “making the blind see again” or “shining the light” or “illuminating a subject?” Notice the inherent symbolism associated with this supposed New Testament “miracle?”

    As certain world leaders strive to instigate a fabricated “battle of Armageddon,” it is vital to understand and spread the truth about these ancient texts to help bring about an end to such abominable evil. You can never expect philosophies based on lies and great error to lead to peace and harmony. How many more millennia of terrible proof is necessary before humanity finally gets a clue that most have been utterly deceived by the very concept of religion.

    Without it, Bush, the Neo-Cons, and their cohorts could never have gained and retained political power by manipulating an already deluded and susceptible constituency. Likewise, their thinly veiled partners in crime, Bin Laden and his ilk, could never have succeeded in their roles in this centuries-old Vatican-led grand deception.

    We are all trapped by a web of deception formed by money, religion, and politics. The great evils that bedevil us all will never cease until humanity finally awakens, shakes off these strong delusions, and forges a new path to the future.

    Here is Wisdom…

    Peace…

  10. Paul Freedman

    Dear Stephen, thank you for contributing your anti-Jewish, anti-Vatican obfuscation discussion. By Bush and the Neo-Cons of course you mean Bush and Zionists–but fear not, the truth is out there!!!!

    Try to understand something. You will die, as we all will die, a mortal man, most likely before the end of days, and, as we all must, facing what lies beyond this mortal coil, in some dimly understood way, profoundly alone. “I am caught in a fathomless conundrum,” my father said, “and I cannot unravel it.” Too true. The sages taught that it is foolhardy and dangerous to dabble in first and last things and you would be well to start treating this life as a challenge to be lived to your full potential and with as much grace and wisdom and “menchness” as you can summon from your heart and soul when confronted by its challenges, rather than as some Bazooka gum acrostic to decipher.

    Tafsik labalbel et ha moach.

  11. Paul Freedman

    ‘xcuse that is “Seven”–I would consider the downside of continuing to post messages that the Jews in the White House worked with Bush to back Al Qaeda’s 9/11 attacks.

  12. Charles B. Hall

    ‘Miracles are beyond rational discussion. Technically speaking, I cannot use science to argue against this claim.’

    Science does not include supernatural miracles in its paradigm. If a modern day Joshua were to suceed in stopping the sun today, “Nightline” would have a panel of astrophysicists that night explaining to us scientifically how he did it.

    Many of those with limited faith feel threatened by this. But is the fact that we basically know how a baby is created make it any less miraculous? Does the fact that we know how electricity is generated make the computer that I use to write this any less miraculous? We need to see the miraculous hand of HaShem everywhere, not just in a few past unusual events recorded in our mesorah.

    ‘ Evolution is “extrapolation”. My dear friends, ALL of science is extrapolation. ‘

    Indeed. It is called inductive logic. And it is accepted by scientists because it predicts other scientific observations. Regarding evolution in particular, it predicts so many things accurately that to call it a theory is misleading.

    ‘Invalidating scientific dating affirms belief in a Creator. This is the most dangerous and false claim, and even does the opposite, chas vesholom.’

    I think that an attempt to invalidate scientific dating might make the one who does it a heretic. If you really believe that belief in a 6000 year old universe is necessary for your religion, by attempting to show that it is consistent with scientific observation, you have just admitted the possibilty that it isn’t true! You should ban your own writings rather than those of Rabbi Slifkin.

    There is another possibility, which is that you are dishonest and you never planned to investigate with an open mind. In which case you do not belong in this conversation.

  13. LE

    HalleluYah…the veil is being lifted…the wisdom of man is NOTHING compared to the Creator’s…time for humbling is increasing…in wrath HE does remember mercy…but then judgment if one does not repent…may the hearts be soft to hear HIS name and receive HIS love, before it’s TOO late. Thank you.

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