Rabbi Avi Shafran On Torah & Science

Agudah spokesman Rabbi Avi Shafran wrote a book on Judaism, Jewthink: A Guide To Real Judaism for the Thinking Individual, Hermon Press, 1977, which is a collection of apologetics meant to defend Judaism from, among other things, the challenges of rational thought and science. A friend send me this PDF of Rabbi Shafran’s take on the conflicts between Torah, which posits a world less than 6000 years old, and science, which has proved a much older world, billions of years old.

Rabbi Shafran insists the world is less than 6000 years old, claims science, all of it, is poorly intentioned and incapable of ascertaining the truth, and explains the world was created to look old. This is of course the famous Gosse theory, first advanced by a Protestant theologian in the first half of the 19th century. Gosse’s work was adopted by the Lubavitcher Rebbe, and apparently Shafran picked it up from him. Neither the Rebbe or Shafran bothered to attribute the theory to Gosse.

Here is an excerpt from Rabbi Shafran’s book:

Download avi_shafran_torah_science.pdf

For a Jewish view (not derived from Christian fundamentalist apologetics) on the age of the universe, read this.



Filed under Haredim, Jewish Leadership, Torah and Science

15 responses to “Rabbi Avi Shafran On Torah & Science

  1. Anonymous

    Look Shmarya, I can’t stand Shafran and I’m no fan of the Lubob Rebbe, but you’re really getting carried away here.

    If you would have ever attended a yeshiva, you would have heard the same thing from all of your rebbeyim. It’s not because they all read up on an old theologian. It’s because it’s what’s called a “poshuta sevoro” that anyone can come up with themselves.

    The yeshiva rebbeyim do quote unspecified scientists that carbon dating has been disproven too.

  2. Isa

    One does not have to prove the world is billions of years old- just more than 7,000 years old

  3. Dear Mr. Null

    Carbon dating is only designed for short period estimates. There are many other types of scientific dating, geological, radioactive and many others. They have all INDEPEDENTLY derived a date of greater than 7000 years and even 7 million years.

    For his part, the Lubavitcher Rebbe does not propose Gosse nor Noachide date diddling, nor scientific imprecision as THE ANSWER. He proposes that if a person has problems with emunah because of scientific dating, he should rely on these types of thoughts to put the question aside and move on in Judaism, allowing that the answer is not satisfying. He never, AFAIK, proposes any of these and says that this is the ANSWER answer. On the contrary, he says that the answer is not established and that there is no time limit on finding the ANSWER answer. This presupposes that we do not have a satisfying answer.

    Carbon dates or no carbon dates, there are no clear answers yet.

  4. Anonymous

    Forget the age of rocks. Why don’t these clowns ever speak about recorded civilizations that go back 10,000 years and more?

  5. krum

    R’ Shafran never adopted the Gosse Theory. His approach has always been hat timed moved faster during the six days of creation (orsomething like that). There is an article in the JO and a post on cross currents to this effect.

  6. krum

    I posted before reading the excerpt. It seems R’ Shafran views have, um, evolved since the 1970s.

  7. zach

    My question is why would anyone listen to Avi Shafran (or the Lubavitcher Rebbe) on matters of science??

  8. Yochanan Lavie

    In an essay after the Bereishit section, Hertz’s commentary says in essence that the torah is not a science textbook, and you can imagine the latest scientific ideas, if it is helpful for you. The torah is a guide to life, and as such, is divine revelation. It is not meant to be literally true on scientific matters; the creation account is to show there is a telos.

    The Hertz chumash was used in my Reform synagogue, and I used to read that stuff when I was bored there (which was often). It infleunced me to become more observant, because I realized that one can believe in the torah and not be an idiot. Nowadays, Hertz is universally reviled, and all “denominations” have their own Chumash.

    I don’t believe that God is a deceiver who would plant evidence that would lead us to believe the opposite of the truth. He wouldn’t have given us the brain capacity to learn about it. There is overwhelming evidence that the world is very old- from fossils, geology, archaeology, atomospheric samples in Greenland ice cores, etc. If they’re all wrong then everything we know about chemistry and physics is wrong. Cars and computers wouldn’t work and airplanes would fall from the sky.

    Science cannot provide the meaning of life. For that we have religion. (Although science cannot prove or disprove God’s existence, it has proven to my satisfaction that religion is a basic human need). But Scripture is not a science textbook any more than it is an automobile repair manual. There are many ways of knowing. Embrace the paradox.

  9. rebeljew


    That would be fine if the Chumash did not demand a specific worldview that includes rejection of obvious observations. It is not the Torah is not a science book, it is that the Torah has a chapter that cannot co-exist with current scientific understanding. Call me whacky, but there are certain things in science that I think are not going change any time soon, like heliocentric solar system model, refutation of common spontaneous generation, history of human civilization going back farther than 6000 years, paleontology, human anatomy as it differs from the talmud, like the positions of the larynx and esophagus, and female reproductive anatomy, and astronomy.

  10. Yochanan Lavie


    I don’t put any store at all in the talmudic rabbis’ view of science. It did not come from Sinai, and are the opinions of ancient men. Unlike the rabbis, I don’t equate the mishnah & gemara with the chumash. So it doesn’t bother me one bit that stuff in the talmud is incompatible with science.

    As for “scientific understanding,” that is a seperate epistemeological category that did not exist when the torah was given or compiled. It is a product of the 18th century Enlightenment. Historically contextualizing doesn’t make the scientific method wrong, or the torah wrong. They reflect different ways of knowing.

    Call me wacky, but I don’t think you have to throw out the baby with the bathwater. Just because the geocentric theory is bullshit doesn’t mean you have to drive out to McDonald’s on Yom Kippur to order a bacon cheeseburger, while running down an old lady. See “When Heaven and Earth Changed Places” to understand how the mythic way of knowing is different from our own.

    BTW, the Catholic church has quietly embraced science. They have rehabilitated Galileo, and accepted evolution. The problem is our “rabbis” haven’t evolved, themselves.

  11. Baal Hamikhtam

    somebody used my ID to make it appear that I had retracted my posted comment, and apologised for it.
    velo hee. never happened!
    I stand by my earlier posting.
    these pretend sanhedrin “rabbohys” are meenim ‘okhrei yisroel and should be treated as such.
    tippoch nishmossan!
    vedeirekh reshoeem ssoyved!

  12. The basic critique of the Gosse theory, as explained by Asimov, is that the same argument can be used to “prove” that the world was created last Tuesday.

  13. Yochanan Lavie

    Heretic! It was created last Wednesday.

  14. Eliezer

    The hostility to science reflected in Rabbi Shafran’s work — a work that he composed when he was still in his teens, I believe — is matched by the views on non-Orthodox forms of Judaism that are contained therein.

    In “Jewthink” (which is available on-line, in a version that omits some of the more vindictive statements, at http://www.vtc.net/~cdgoldin/r'avi/jewthink.htm), Rabbi Shafran states that
    Conservative and Reform leaders “qualify for the infamous titles of min and
    apikoros” and “are the followers of Korach;” states that “these man-made
    ‘religions’ [Conservative and Reform] are the most destructive forces in the
    history of the Jewish people and all those who seek to spread their noxious
    heresies are mesisim, instigators whose aim is to lead astray the masses;”
    and contends, with regard to Conservative and Reform leaders, that there is
    “a law which orders loyal Jews to kill these types of people if at all
    possible,” a law which was declared inapplicable today by the Chazon Ish but
    which “remains valuable for the light it sheds on the way Real Judaism”
    regards such people. Rabbi Shafran then elaborates on this last point:
    “These people are not so much meant to be hated as enemies and wished dead
    for the sake of ‘revenge’ or to see them dead. The way we hate such people
    is not like the ‘cat hates the mouse,’ but rather like the ‘storekeeper hates
    the vermin’ which infest his store, not hating the vermin themselves but
    wanting them gone in order to arrest the damage they are causing. We resent
    their existence. So, in lieu of the fact that we are not allowed to
    physically harm these people today, we should still treat them with utter
    contempt and disrespect, avoiding contact with them as one would with any
    destructive fiend.” (These quotations are from Chapters 15 and 18 of the book in its original, published version).

  15. shmuel

    BTW, the Catholic church has quietly embraced science. They have rehabilitated Galileo, and accepted evolution. The problem is our “rabbis” haven’t evolved, themselves.
    —Yochanan Lavie

    See “How the Catholic Church Built Western Civilation” by Thomas E. Woods, Jr. (Regnery Publishing, 2005) and especially Chapter 5, “The Church and Science,” p. 67-114. Who knew that so many priests were involved in so many areas of science? Every page is a revelation to me. I also thought the Church kept science down. I don’t anymore.

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