Category Archives: Science

Has The Exodus Been Proved True? Has Mount Sinai Been Found? Has The Exodus Been “Decoded”

My old friend Simcha Jacobovici, the investigative journalist and award-winning documentary filmmaker has teamed up with James Cameron, the award-winning director of Titanic, to a make a $3.5 million documentary that purports to prove the Exodus from Egypt actually happened. In the process, the two filmmakers also find what they believe is the true location of Mount Sinai.

The basic idea is that the Exodus happened earlier than scholars now accept, and that evidence to support this claim has in part been suppressed by the Government of Egypt.

The Exodus Decoded is showing now at the Jerusalem Film Festival. The last time I spoke with Simcha, I forgot to ask him for the US information – if it will be on the Discovery Channel like much of his other work, or if this is opening first in theaters. I have an email out to his assistant, an hope to have an answer later today.

Nu, GodolHador – maybe this is the emunah fix your skeptics (me included) have been looking for. Then again, maybe it will turn out to be another Bible code fiasco.

UPDATE: The American premiere is August 20, 8 PM (EDT), on the History Channel.

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Filed under Outreach, Religion, Science, Torah and Science

Stone Age Tribe Walks Out Of Jungle To Civilization

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A Nukak man hunting for monkeys outside San José, using a blowgun and darts tipped with curare. Luca Zanetti for The New York Times.



A fascinating report from the New York Times: A stone age tribe (actually, a band) walks out of the Amazon jungle to civilization. These people subsisted on monkeys (hunted with blow guns), nuts and seeds. Every day was another desperate hunt for food. This was what life was like for most humans until approximately 7500 years ago.

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Haredim Find More Food To Forbid?

Rabbi Gil Student notes that Rabbi Yisroel Belsky, a haredi gadol (and, I must add, a nice man who has stayed out of most of the recent spate of bans) has banned Quinoa and Amaranth for Passover because he considers these non-grains non-legumes to be kitniyot. Of course, this is absolutely not true scientifically.

A brief history lesson. Why was corn banned? After all, it is not kitniyot.

Corn was banned because the word for “staple grain” in many European languages is “korn.” Indeed, the corn we eat is really maize. It was called “korn” and later “corn” by Europeans because it was the staple food of Native Americans. Because maize had the same name, “korn,” as “staple grain”, it was banned.

A story is told about Rav Moshe Feinstein. A man came to him with a strong case to ban rhubarb on Passover. Rav Moshe heard the man out and then replied, “Wasn’t corn enough for you?”

Rabbi Belsky seems to hold that Quinoa and Amaranth – commonly but mistakenly called “grains” – should be banned for the same reason corn was banned. Even though Quinoa and Amaranth are not the “staple grains” of modern America, apparently Rabbi Belsky believes people will mistakenly come to eat wheat berries and the like on Passover if the eating of Quinoa and Amaranth becomes widespread.

Rabbi Student also notes that Rabbi Hershal Schachter permits Quinoa and Amaranth. So do the CRC and the Star-K. So those of you who want or need to eat Quinoa and Amaranth have what to rely on. But if you do, you need to check each grain to makes sure no wheat or other true grain has become mixed in.

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Filed under Haredim, History, Science

Rabbi Moshe Tendler Backs Intelligent Design Quid-Pro-Quo Deal To Save Son Accused Of Abuse?

Mariah Blake of the Miami New Times reports :

On a recent Tuesday evening, Moshe Tendler, an influential Orthodox rabbi and Yeshiva University biology professor, ambled onto the stage at Kovens Conference Center in North Miami. A stately figure with a wispy white beard and heavy glasses, he surveyed the 300-strong crowd of scientists and intellectuals — most clad in yarmulkes and dark suits with tallith tassels dangling about their waists — and urged them to spread the word that Darwin was wrong. "It is our task to inform the world [about intelligent design]," he implored. "Or the child growing up will grow up with unintelligent design…. Unintelligent design is our ignorance, our stupidity."

This may seem an unlikely message from a prominent Jewish biologist. After all, intelligent design theory — which holds that life is too complex to be a fluke of evolution — has been crafted primarily by evangelical Christians and spurned by most scientists.

But some Jewish leaders, like Tendler, have begun to quietly embrace the theory. And several of them went public with their support during the Sixth Miami International Conference on Torah and Science, which ran from December 13 to 15 and was hosted by Florida International University’s religious studies department, the Shul of Bal Harbour, and B’Or Ha’Torah journal of science. In an area with the second highest concentration of Jews after New York — there are 113,000 in Miami-Dade alone — the event attracted about 1000 Jewish researchers, intellectuals, teachers, and students. There was also one prominent evangelical: Intelligent design luminary William Dembski was among the event’s featured speakers.

The conversation proved divisive. Tendler kicked off the conference by attacking the idea that complex life could flow from "random evolution." "That is irrational," he said.

As soon as Tendler finished speaking, biologist Sheldon Gottlieb rushed to one of two microphones perched in the aisles. "We all know evolution is not random," he grumbled. "It goes through the filter of natural selection…. You cannot use those arguments with this audience." Tendler and Gottlieb sparred for about five minutes. Meanwhile long lines began to form at the mikes. But the moderator cut the question-and-answer session short and sent the crowd home.

Dembski, a slender man in a tweed blazer and a forest green oxford shirt, spoke the following morning, and more than 400 people packed in to see him. Besides Jewish scientists and intellectuals, the crowd included students from the Hebrew Academy and the Lubavitch Educational Center, as well as a busload of girls from Orthodox Beis Chana School, who arrived with Pumas and Nikes tucked beneath their ankle-length skirts.

Much of Dembski’s talk concentrated on the evidence of design in nature. He offered the classic example of the tiny flagella that bacteria use to propel themselves through their environment. "They can spin at 100,000 rpm," Dembski marveled. "And then in a quarter-turn, they’re spinning the other direction. Imagine if a blender could do that…. Is it such a stretch to think a real engineer was involved?"

After about 45 minutes, Dembski wrapped up his talk, and dozens of attendees swarmed the microphones again, many of them eager to air their objections. "Our speaker has fuzzied the main issue," complained Nathan Aviezar, who teaches physics at Bar Ilan University in Israel. "The whole enterprise of science is to explain life without invoking supernatural explanations. Intelligent design is not science, it’s religion, and it shouldn’t be taught in science class."

The contentious Q&A lasted 25 minutes. When it was done, dozens of scientists rushed to the front to pelt Dembski with questions. The hubbub lasted so long that Sholom Lipskar of the Shul was pushed off the agenda.

Lipskar, a soft-spoken man with a thick charcoal beard and wire-rim spectacles, ranks among Miami’s most influential rabbis. And like Tendler, he believes Jews should back the intelligent design movement. "The fundamental question the theory answers is, accidental or intentional?" he explains. "If it’s accidental, then what’s the point? But if there’s design, we’re here for a reason." Lipskar also advocates bringing intelligent design into Jewish classrooms. "It should be taught together with chemistry and physics," he says.

In fact much of the debate at Torah and Science turned to whether intelligent design should be integrated into Jewish-school science classes; Miami’s Center for the Advancement of Jewish Education even signed on as a sponsor. The organization’s president, Chaim Botwinick, says the event is a harbinger. "Many Jewish schools are beginning to discuss making intelligent design an integral part of their curriculum," he explains. Among them, he adds, are a handful of schools in Miami, a city that has long been a stronghold of traditional Judaism.

What do the students think? Many of those who heard Dembski speak said they would like to study his ideas in class. "His words make sense," commented Annale Fleisher, a seventeen-year-old senior at Miami Beach’s Hebrew Academy. "Saying life comes from evolution is like saying a library was made by someone spilling a bottle of ink."

Nathan Katz, who heads the Center for the Study of Spirituality at FIU and was one of the conference organizers, says the enthusiasm some Torah devotees express for intelligent design reflects a growing alliance between traditional Jews and evangelical Christians. The two groups have found themselves on the same side of many culture war battles. And evangelicals have funneled tens of millions of dollars into Israel. "The monstrous evangelical support for that country has led some Orthodox Jews to be willing to listen to evangelicals on other issues," Katz explains.

For his part, Dembski hopes the conversation that began at the Torah and Science conference will continue, and that some Jewish scientists will eventually lend their talents to the intelligent design movement. "It would be huge in terms of PR because it would give lie to this idea that this is just a conservative Christian thing," he explains. "It would also expand our talent pool immensely."

But critics in the audience at the conference chafed at the prospect of Jewish scientists contributing to a movement that has stated as its goal the "overthrow" of "scientific materialism." "We would be helping to eliminate science as a discipline," said Aviezar. "And that would put us back in the Fifteenth Century. It would be a disaster."

The Rabbinical Council of America just issued a statement in support of evolution. Rabbi Tendler was a member of the RCA but has distanced himself from the group because of the RCA’s expulsion of Rabbi Tendler’s son after multipile sexual abuse allegations were made against him. Rabbi Tendler and his brother-in-law Rabbi Dovid Feinstein have worked to damage the RCA in any way possible. Could these two issues be linked? After all, Rabbi Feinstein was a leader of the ban (start from bottom of page and read upward) against Rabbi Slifkin and Rabbi Tendler did not speak up in Rabbi Slifkin’s behalf. Perhaps we have a kind of quid-pro-quo here.

Rabbi Tendler did not answer my earlier request for comment on Intelligent Design and his participation in this conference.

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Filed under Haredim, Jewish Leadership, Modern Orthodoxy, Rabbi Slifkin Book Ban, Science

RCA: Evolution Compatible With Judaism

The Rabbinical Council of America, the largest Orthodox rabbinic organization in America, has issued a statement saying that Judaism and evolution are compatible:

Creation, Evolution, and Intelligent Design:
The View of the Rabbinical Council of America

December 22nd 2005
21 Kislev 5766

In light of the ongoing public controversy about Evolution, Creationism and Intelligent Design, the RCA notes that significant Jewish authorities have maintained that evolutionary theory, properly understood, is not incompatible with belief in a Divine Creator, nor with the first 2 chapters of Genesis.

There are authentic, respected voices in the Jewish community that take a literalist position with regard to these issues; at the same time, Judaism has a history of diverse approaches to the understanding of the biblical account of creation. As Rabbi Joseph Hertz wrote, "While the fact of creation has to this day remained the first of the articles of the Jewish creed, there is no uniform and binding belief as to the manner of creation, i.e. as to the process whereby the universe came into existence. The manner of the Divine creative activity is presented in varying forms and under differing metaphors by Prophet, Psalmist and Sage; by the Rabbis in Talmudic times, as well as by our medieval Jewish thinkers." Some refer to the Midrash (Koheleth Rabbah 3:13) which speaks of God "developing and destroying many worlds" before our current epoch. Others explain that the word "yom" in Biblical Hebrew, usually translated as "day," can also refer to an undefined period of time, as in Isaiah 11:10-11. Maimonides stated that "what the Torah writes about the Account of Creation is not all to be taken literally, as believed by the masses" (Guide to the Perplexed II:29), and recent Rabbinic leaders who have discussed the topic of creation, such as Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch and Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook, saw no difficulty in explaining Genesis as a theological text rather than a scientific account.

Judaism affirms the idea that God is the Creator of the Universe and the Being responsible for the presence of human beings in this world.
Nonetheless, there have long been different schools of thought within Judaism regarding the extent of divine intervention in natural processes. One respected view was expressed by Maimonides who wrote that "we should endeavor to integrate the Torah with rational thought, affirming that events take place in accordance with the natural order wherever possible.” (Letter to the Jews of Yemen) All schools concur that God is the ultimate cause and that humanity was an intended end result of Creation.

For us, these fundamental beliefs do not rest on the purported weaknesses of Evolutionary Theory, and cannot be undermined by the elimination of gaps in scientific knowledge.

Judaism has always preferred to see science and Torah as two aspects of the "Mind of God" (to borrow Stephen Hawking’s phrase) that are ultimately unitary in the reality given to us by the Creator. As the Zohar says (Genesis 134a): "istakel be-‘oraita u-vara ‘alma," God looked into the Torah and used it as His blueprint for creating the Universe.

___________
For articles and sources on this subject, see Aryeh Carmel and Cyril Domb eds., "Challenge: Torah Views on Science and its Problems," Feldheim, N. Y. 1976; and Rabbi J. H. Hertz, The Pentateuch and Haftorahs (Soncino Press 1960), Additional Notes to Genesis.

The statement also supports a world far older than 6000 years. These were key points found to be heretical by the haredi ‘gedolim’ who banned Rabbi Nosson Slifkin and his works. Will these ‘gedolim’ ban the RCA as well, perhaps using the Tendler case as a starting point?

If the ‘gedolim’ do not do so, their silence will be further proof of their duplicity. If they do act, it will force many in the right wing Modern Orthodox and left wing haredi worlds to take sides. Neither of these outcomes bodes well for the haredi world and for those small men who lead it.

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Filed under Haredim, Jewish Leadership, Modern Orthodoxy, Rabbi Slifkin Book Ban, Science

Aish HaTorah On Creationism

Aish HaTorah’s Rabbi Yakov Salomon has made a short flash video on creationism in the classroom.  His basic thesis is as follows:

  1. "Evolutionists" only allow one way of teaching – Darwinian evolution.
  2. "Creationists" are flexible – teach evolution and other opinions like creationism side-by-side.
  3. "Evolutionists" hold creationism in the classroom is unconstitutional.
  4. "Benjamin Franklin" wrote in the Declaration of Independence that "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights …" (He actually garbles the quote. See the video.) "Is the Declaration of Independence unconstitutional?" Rabbi Salomon asks.

Of course, Rabbi Salomon is very poorly informed (or he’s lying – take your pick). In order:

  1. Scientists will allow any scientific, peer-reviewed theory to be taught as science.
  2. Creationism and Intellegent Design are not peer-reviewed because they are not science.
  3. Scientists hold Creationism is a religious teaching and not science, and therefore cannot be taught as science. (It could be taught in a compararative religion class, though.)
  4. Thomas Jefferson wrote the Declaration, not Benjamin Franklin. The Declaration is not now, nor was it at the time of its signing, science, and no one is attempting to have it taught in the classroom as such.

Stupidity and deceit seem to be dominating the outreach business in this post-Rabbi Slifkin ban era.

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Filed under Haredim, Lies, Spin and 'Creative' PR, Rabbi Slifkin Book Ban, Science

Toronto Orthodoxy In “Uproar” Over New R. Slifkin Ban

The Canadian Jewish Tribune reports:

Toronto’s Orthodox community was in uproar this week following the circulation of a letter by one of the city’s leading Rabbinic authorities, Rabbi Shlomoh Eliyahu Miller, head of the Kollel Avreichim (an advanced institute of Talmud study for married men).

The letter condemned the books of Rabbi Noson Slifkin, the ‘Zoo Rabbi’ as “words of heresy and denial…and ignorance,” for apparently suggesting that scientific knowledge could ever take precedence over rabbinic lore in explaining the origin of the world, astronomy or the laws of nature. Rabbi Slifkin lectured to capacity audiences in the city this weekend as a guest of the ‘Torah in Motion’ program.

Rabbi Slifkin’s books, which discuss various aspects of zoology, evolution and the animal kingdom in the light of rabbinic tradition, stress the rabbinic authorities through the ages who have welcomed scientific thought as illuminating – not contradicting – traditional Judaism. As such, he has been under sustained attack for more than a year by ultra-Orthodox leaders in Israel and the United States.

The attempt to ban his books and ostracise him, further fanned by what have been identified as clumsy attempts to attack modern science, provoked a huge crisis of confidence in Orthodox circles. The attacks on Slifkin were criticized as attempted ‘thought control’ in the Orthodox community, aimed at enforcing one interpretation of tradition, and intimidating anyone holding – or approving – alternative views. The Internet, and particularly the ‘blogs,’ were major forums in publicizing and discussing the unfolding of events.

Local orthodox leaders expressed concern regarding both the content and the tone of Rabbi Miller’s letter. Rabbi Miller criticizes Rabbi Slifkin’s views, defines him as a heretic, compares him to the ‘wicked son’ of the Pesach Haggadah, and explains that it is obligatory for Jews to believe in Rabbinic traditions, giving as an example the belief that Cain and Abel were born on the sixth day of creation, without any gestation period.

He then says that he will “strengthen the hearts of those who may have heard the words of denial (divrei kefirah)” by giving examples (apparently unrelated to Slifkin) of how the Torah has proven astronomy wrong, and how the Talmudic rabbis knew advanced science from biblical exegesis.

He further points out that in discussing the nature of light, the rabbis define darkness not as the absence of light, but as a real substance, and that in this “scientists are wrong.” In the letter he refers to Galileo, Quantum Mechanics, ‘Non-local reality’ and Bell’s Theorem as perhaps offering confirmation of his views. A local Orthodox Jewish scientist termed the scientific content of the letter “perplexing.”

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