‘Ultimately, Scientists Always Realize The Torah Is Correct’: An Interview with Rabbi Moshe Meiselman
Latest update: July 2nd, 2012
Why did you decide to open Yeshivas Toras Moshe?
Yeshivas Toras Moshe was founded to enable young men who were coming to Eretz Yisrael for a certain period of their lives to experience guidance in a close manner by gedolei talmidei chachamim in a structured environment. All of the rebbeim are world-class talmidei chachamim who give themselves completely to their talmidim. The yeshiva follows a very thought-through plan of structure in which the talmidim can climb step by step in Gemara, halacha, mussar, and machshavah.
Baruch Hashem, our talmidim have gone on to become very accomplished talmidei chachamim and bnei Torah, and we feel we have accomplished our original goal.
Returning to your book, what are some of the specific aspects of Torah and science that you discuss?
The book discusses many aspects of this subject. One topic that is discussed is what parts of the Torah are to be taken literally and what parts are to be taken as allegory. Throughout the generations there have been people who have been very loose with the literal translation of the Torah, and the Rishonim have been sharp in rejecting this approach completely. Nowadays there are individuals who, in the name of science, would like to have a license in terms of taking many aspects of Torah not literally. Our job is to understand the Torah under the guidelines and rules set forth by the Rishonim. In the book I go through various opinions of Rishonim on this topic, and each of the Rishonim gives strict limitations as to when the Torah is to be taken absolutely literally and when it is to be taken as allegory.
In another part of the book I discuss the fact that the Torah contains all of the chachma, wisdom, of Hashem on this world. Torah can be understood on many different levels. The deepest level of understanding includes in it all of the chachma of the world. It is for this reason that one can find many aspects of the briah (physical world) within the Torah. This concept was universally accepted by all of the Rishonim.
This point is conveyed through the following story brought in both a Gemara in Bechoros and a Midrash in Bereishis: Rabban Gamliel was in Rome and met a Roman scientist. The scientist asked Rabban Gamliel if he knew how long the pregnancy of a nachash is. Rabban Gamliel replied that he did not, and they departed. Rabban Gamliel subsequently met Rabbi Yehoshua who immediately noticed that something was bothering Rabban Gamliel and inquired as to what it was. Rabban Gamliel told him he had met a Roman scientist and that he was unable to answer his question concerning the pregnancy of a nachash. Rabbi Yehoshua responded that it is seven years and derived it from a pasuk. Rabban Gamliel returned to the scientist and told him the answer was seven years, as derived from a pasuk. Upon hearing this, the scientist began banging his head against the wall and said he had spent many years studying this subject and in a matter of minutes “you figured it out by expounding on the Torah.”
There are many lessons one can learn from this story. One thing to note is that Rabban Gamliel was disturbed by the fact that he did not know the answer to this scientific question. He could have brushed off the question by responding that he is not a scientist and not thinking twice about it. The reason Rabban Gamliel was disturbed when he did not know the answer is that this was an indication that he was lacking in his Torah knowledge. He felt if he had a more complete understanding of the Torah he would know this as well. Indeed, Rabbi Yehoshua deduced the correct answer from the Torah itself.
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