Lost Gemaras

Recently a Port Authority chaplain (who is also a chaplain at UMDNJ, my place of business) handed me two travel-size Gemaras he found at Newark Airport this past December. The chaplain, a Muslim, hoped I would be able to locate the rightful owner of the seforim. The name in both was in Hebrew: Eylon Yudelman. There was no other identifying feature, except a page of handwritten notes from a shiur. If any reader knows Mr. Yudelman, or, of course, if Mr. Yudelman sees this letter, please contact me at cohengs@earthlink.net and I will, b’li neder, contact you in order to return the Gemaras to their rightful owner.

G.S. Cohen
Staten Island, NY

Punish Brutal Soldiers

Re the confrontation in Amona: Not only should there be an inquiry into the shameful event, but IDF soldiers who brutalized Jews should be disciplined. Their mission is to defend Jews, not abuse them. Soldiers of the IDF should know better.

Saul Goldman
(Via E-Mail)

Great Idealist

An article in the Feb. 10 issue of The Jewish Press (“The Most Altruistic of Mitzvot”) focused on a wonderful human being named Chaya Lipschutz who donated one of her kidneys in response to a series of newspaper ads. I happen to know Chaya through her work for EMUNAH of America; she has always been a great idealist and in the forefront of every good cause.

Toby Willig
Hon. National President
EMUNAH of America
Creativity And Mitzvot

I applaud The Jewish Press for encouraging children’s artistic expression. I was very moved and impressed by the beautiful artwork, poetry and essays relating to Chanukah that were submitted by children and teenagers from all over the United States and even from abroad (special supplement, Feb. 17).

This type of forum allows children to express their individuality and at the same time fosters a love of Torah and mitzvot. I look forward to seeing similar features in the future.

Michal Azulay
(Via E-Mail)

Misplaced Priorities

It’s a crying shame that we always seem to have enough money to spend on luxurious and splendid hotels for Pesach, magnificent and exquisite cruises in the summer, and Atlantic City casinos during the rest of the year. But we never seem to have any money left for struggling yeshivas and their rebbeim. (I once overheard a person comment that he couldn’t pay full tuition because he needed the money to go away for Yom Tov.)

The Chofetz Chaim in his old age would travel all over the world for the Vaad Hayeshivas, the lifeblood of our nation. He wrote that there is no greater reward than for harbotzas haTorah. As the Beis Halevi writes in Parashas Vayigash, woe to the person who is shown to have been hypocritical when on his yom hadin he is asked, Why did you claim not to have any money for tzedaka, yet you had enough money to send your son to university?

Rabbi Moshe Shochet
Brooklyn, NY

The Evolution Debate


No Name-Calling

I have been reading with great interest the recent letters to the editor on Torah and science. Many observant Jews are able to reconcile evolutionary understanding with Torah teachings. The belief that Hashem created all natural processes, including evolution, is not incompatible with the belief that He also deliberately created unique features in humankind.
However, even though this approach works for me, I understand that some frum Jews do not accept the science of an ancient earth, or of creation longer than a 24-hour, 7-day period. I respect this belief system but take exception when pseudo-science rather than faith is used to back it up. Insulting another Jew – as was done by one of the letter-writers, Dr. Yaakov Stern – and casting aspersions another Jew’s Jewishness because he holds different views should have no place in a discussion such as this one. Let’s debate this issue, but let’s remain civil.
Helen Delson


Unimpressed By Creationist Arguments

Dr. Yaakov Stern has a rare sense of humor, or at least it’s rare to hear a “Magilla Gorilla” joke these days (Letters, Feb. 10). In any case, he is mistaken in suggesting that I am trying “to portray this debate as religion versus science.” Reasonable people can differ on how to reconcile science and religion, but that is not the issue I was addressing. Rather, my letters were in opposition to certain negative attitudes in the yeshiva world toward science and scientists, attitudes I believe reflect poorly on intellectual standards in parts of the religious community.

Dr. Stern also imagines some deep significance in the fact that I did not address Amnon Goldberg’s “brilliant” letter of January 6, which “made quite a convincing case for a 6,000-year-old universe.” The brilliant part, I gather, was the list of “solid scientific evidence” that included about 20 hasty references to magnetic fields, short-term comets, pleochroic haloes, and other obscure phenomena. I don’t know the source of Mr. Goldberg’s compendium, but I’m sorry to say I found it neither brilliant nor convincing.

With regard to some of the items he mentioned, such as the “still ‘unwrapped’ state of the arms of the great spiral galaxies,” I could find no independent references. Other listed items, such as the “complete dearth of any human record or artifact older than 6,000 years,” are just factually in error. (Many weapons and tools have been found that are over 100,000 years old.)

Still other listed items, such as “human population statistics,” refer to extrapolatory mathematical analyses which are so naive as to be comical. Those items in the Goldberg list which have any prima facie plausibility are already discussed at www.talkorigins.org in far greater detail than is possible here. Scientifically literate readers willing to invest the effort of studying each example in detail will conclude, I think, that the “evidence” provided by these phenomena is of the most dubious possible character.  

In general, the proof-lists often compiled by young-earth creationists provide a wonderful illustration of what we typically call “missing the big picture.” A motley collection of ambiguous (and usually internally inconsistent) phenomena is held up as refutation to the massive converging evidence from biology, geology, paleontology, archeology, and astronomy, all indicating an ancient earth and an even more ancient universe. The big picture gets similarly neglected when Dr. Stern observes that “many outstanding scientists repudiate evolutionary theory” but fails to note that these individuals represent only a small and steadily diminishing proportion of working scientists.
Moreover, isn’t it a bit odd that the few scientists who reject evolutionary theory are considered credible, reliable, important, even “outstanding,” while the vast majority of scientists are dismissed as corrupt, misguided, incompetent, and deceptive? Strange how that works.
David Fass
Highland Park, NJ


Science Neither Invokes Nor Denies God

Regarding Dr. Yaakov Stern’s misrepresentation of evolutionary theory as “gazillions of accidents [that] somehow produced an ordered system with all elements in perfect harmony and function,” I’d like to point out that the ordered system on which evolution is based is the fundamental ordered system of the universe itself. Now, evolution does not account for the natural laws of the universe but it does indicate what those laws would produce given certain conditions.

Darwin’s breakthrough was to see that the natural world does not need a direct caretaker to produce complex systems. Evolution works like a ratchet – i.e., it can go easily in one direction but it’s much more difficult for it to go back. So if an accidental mutation is beneficial to the individual it will prosper and mate and spread its beneficial mutation throughout the species, but if an accidental mutation is detrimental then that individual will either die or not be competitive in nature and his genes will not be passed on. So, you see, natural selection selects for those individuals who are best fit to survive and mate thus retaining the improvements while keeping the failures out of the equation. Individual mutations may be accidental, but the path of evolution is progressive.

Furthermore, “perfect harmony and function” would certainly not describe the bodies we all have or the natural world in which we live. Granted, it’s pretty good and the system works, but human bodies frequently suffer from backaches, poor eyesight, morning sickness and a host of other physiological imperfections.

But if you were referring to the natural world in general in terms of ecosystems and interspecies relationships, here we see species always at odds with each other. It may be highly complex but at its root lies simple interactions in terms of things like competition, predation, and parasitism. Each species is looking for its own success and survival in contest with other species. A balance is inevitably met. This is hardly a harmonious arrangement when you get down to the nitty gritty where you see that organisms must kill other organisms to survive and where you must note that species extinction is a common event.

Now let’s take a look at evolutionary theory in general. While there are some theists who believe that the theory itself implies that there is no God (or that it is some sort of secular religion) and there are some atheists who believe that the theory gives them the freedom to say that no God exists, the fact of the matter is that evolution from science’s point of view does not talk about God at all.

To use an example, when one is discussing how water evaporates, a theist could claim simply that God is responsible while an atheist could say that no God exists because the water evaporates according to these laws of physics. But logically, both of these claims are found outside of strict science. Science neither invokes nor denies God. The physics of water evaporation merely explain how it happens, not the ultimate cause, nor does it tell us the foundation for the laws which are in operation. Likewise, evolution explains how species arose on this planet but not any add itional information.

Is Judaism threatened by the fact that the direct hand of God is not found in the physical equations determining water evaporation? I think not. Similarly, Judaism should not feel threatened when the direct hand of God is not found in our determinations of the evolutionary process. As Albert Einstein once said, “The Lord God is subtle, but malicious He is not.”

Space constraints make it difficult to write a full-bodied response too all the various issues raised here, but for those who seriously contemplate a young earth or for whom evolution just does not make any sense, I’d suggest taking the time to read a couple of books in geology and biology. And I do not mean the sensationalist kinds of titles that you hear about all the time (and after which readers feel comfortable to call themselves experts in the field) but a “boring” serious college-level book which can actually give you a feel for what this is all about.

Daniel Hagler
Brooklyn, NY