web analytics
April 21, 2015 / 2 Iyar, 5775
At a Glance
InDepth
Sponsored Post


‘Modern Science Is Discovering What The Torah Said Thousands Of Years Ago’: An Interview with Rabbi Yosef Bitton

Rabbi Yosef Bitton

Rabbi Yosef Bitton

You cite an interesting mashal by the Rambam about the limits of human knowledge in your book. Can you give a shortened version?

I adapted the Rambam’s mashal for the modern reader. I said: Imagine if robot-like scientists from a different planet would come to Earth, kidnap a three-year-old boy, and study him for two months to learn about the human species. They would see him grow one inch and, working their way backwards, would conclude that he was originally only one inch tall or less.

From studying this boy for two months, they would never be able to deduce the processes of pregnancy and birth. Why? Because they never saw a woman, and all the laws of pregnancy contradict what they know about biology. This boy, after all, has to eat and breathe, and so they would never be able to conceive – or even imagine – that this boy was in somebody else’s body with no air, food, or water.

Similarly, we have to understand that information about creation might not only be beyond our knowledge, but also beyond our imagination.

You quote a British philosopher who compares human knowledge of electrons to that of monkeys and concludes that not only will monkeys “never be able to understand an electron the way we do,” but they are “cognitively closed to it.”

Yes, there are limits to our epistemological capabilities.

You often quote the Sephardic sage Menashe ben Yisrael in your book, the man who was largely responsible for the return of Jews to England in the mid-1600s. Why?

Many reasons. First of all, because I happen to love his style. Second, because I’m trying to do a kind of techiyat hameisim with him and other unknown writers. His book was translated into English in the 19th century by E. H. Lindo, so I used it in the hope that this book and others like it will become better known to the general public.

On your website, you post mini biographies of various Sephardic rabbis. Why?

Because I think Sephardic rabbis are unfortunately unknown to mainstream Judaism, and they have a lot to say. In my opinion, they represent a model of integration between erudition in Torah and general knowledge. They never saw a contradiction between the two, so I think they are a model that is very necessary today to inspire other Jews to follow Torah 100 percent without feeling antagonized from the modern world.

One of these biographies is of Rabbi Eliyahu Hazan who, you write, was the first rabbi to institute a bas mitzvah ceremony in the Sephardic world (and possibly even in the Ashkenazic world).

Yes, this was in the beginning of the 20th century in Alexandria, Egypt. He saw that there was a need for it due to the strong European influence in Alexandria. So Rabbi Hazan designed a ceremony and preparatory course in which the girls would learn more about Judaism. [The ceremony] consisted of the recitation of some prayers, and a test – answering questions dealing with the basic principles of Judaism. I think for his time it was revolutionary. [But he did it] so that girls would be stimulated to have a deeper knowledge of Judaism.

In another post on your website, you write about Rabbi Refael Aharon ben Shimon (1847-1928), who issued an interesting ruling regarding suicide.

He was a rabbi in Cairo at a time when there was, what he described as, an epidemic of suicides [“because of small problems, illusory matters of honor or frustrated romantic expectations”]. So what he did was ban people who committed suicide from a normal burial [even though standard halachic practice is to be lenient on this matter]. And it worked.

But he didn’t only discuss suicide. He discussed and ruled on so many things, and it’s unfortunate that he’s not better known in the halachic world.

What’s your family’s background?

I’m half Syrian, half Moroccan. I was born in Argentina to Argentinian parents. My grandparents, though, came from Tetouan, Morocco, and Damascus, Syria.

How would you describe your present synagogue?

Ohel David & Shlomo mainly serves the Syrian community in Manhattan Beach. It is a very special, warm, highly organized, and very traditional and knowledgeable community. People love to study Torah, people come to shul every Shabbat, and practically every Syrian family sends its children to Jewish schools. The community is also extremely active in chesed.

About the Author: Elliot Resnick is a Jewish Press staff reporter and author of “Movers and Shakers: Sixty Prominent Personalities Speak Their Mind on Tape” (Brenn Books).


If you don't see your comment after publishing it, refresh the page.

Our comments section is intended for meaningful responses and debates in a civilized manner. We ask that you respect the fact that we are a religious Jewish website and avoid inappropriate language at all cost.

If you promote any foreign religions, gods or messiahs, lies about Israel, anti-Semitism, or advocate violence (except against terrorists), your permission to comment may be revoked.

No Responses to “‘Modern Science Is Discovering What The Torah Said Thousands Of Years Ago’: An Interview with Rabbi Yosef Bitton

Comments are closed.

Current Top Story
President Rivlin delivers  Yom Ha'Atzmaut greetings to Jews in the Diaspora.
President Rivlin Independence Day Message Thanks Jews in the Diaspora
Latest Indepth Stories
Author back in his Hollywood days

An Israeli actor pal asked me why I knew nothing about Judaism-The question hit like a thunderbolt

Iran’s aggressively expanding posture across the region. (Google map; author annotation.)

Iran is like the film “The Matrix,” where people live in an illusory world that seems entirely real.

Rav Aharon Lichtenstein

What was supposed to have been a 15 minute interview, turned into an intense learning session and intellectual battle, the likes of which I had never experienced in my entire life.

Rabbi Lichtenstein (z"l).

Rav Lichtenstein did not learn Tanaim, Amoraim, Rishonim and Achronim, rather he learned with them

How can NIF claim they don’t support BDS when they try to repeal laws forbidding boycotts of Israel?

“Rav Lichtenstein’s vision and inspiration served to guide the development of Tzohar.”

As Holocaust survivors decline rapidly attacks on the veracity of the Holocaust rapidly escalates

The Constitution created history’s most powerful legislature & inherent foreign policy power battle

The S-300 poses a major problem; Israel will have to get creative as to if, when & where it strikes

“The resentment towards us (Jews/Israelis) was really intense. They clearly hate Zionism & Zionists”

Egypt has been more effective against Gazan smuggling tunnels than Israel’s military operations

She had many names and was many things to many people, but to me she was just Babineni.

Is ISIS in Gaza? “No, but there are ISIS loyalists here..we pray to God they unite under ISIS’ flag”

Rabbi Portal was that great “inspirer,” changing people for the better, enriching the lives of all

Iran knows Obama, Putin, and the Europeans don’t have a Red Line beyond which they will go to war

There is no way to explain the Holocaust. I know survivors who are not on speaking terms with G-d. I know many who are the opposite. I have no right to go there…

More Articles from Elliot Resnick
Dr. Mitchell Bard

Mitchell Bard is nothing if not prolific. He has written and edited 23 books, including “The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Middle East” and “The Arab Lobby: The Invisible Alliance That Undermines America’s Interests in the Middle East.” Bard, who has a Ph.D. in political science from UCLA, is also the executive director of both the […]

Rabbi Yaakov Dov Bleich

You have to understand that Ukraine was really a very, very Jewish place for many years.

What I think is going on here is the Midrash is making a comment about Rut’s love for Naomi being some sort of reflection of how we have to love God.

HarperCollins’s omission was especially egregious because it is a major general and educational publisher.

I said to myself, “This story has got to be told. We’re losing this generation of World War II and if we don’t listen to them now, we’ve lost it.”

Nouril concluded he had no choice: He had to become more observant.

I was very pro-Israel, I was very proud of being Jewish, and I was living in New York at the time as a single man in my 20s and I was just looking for a little bit more.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/indepth/interviews-and-profiles/modern-science-is-discovering-what-the-torah-said-thousands-of-years-ago-an-interview-with-rabbi-yosef-bitton/2013/09/17/

Scan this QR code to visit this page online: