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August 28, 2014 / 2 Elul, 5774
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Posts Tagged ‘Creation’

My Problem With Dogmatic Evolutionists

Tuesday, May 20th, 2014

Originally published April 19, 2006

Why, oh why, are the curricula of the schools the business of the courts? If Pennsylvania wants to mention creationism, or to require three years of French for graduation, it seems to me that these things are the business of parents in Pennsylvania.

Yes, I know: In practice, both freedom of expression and local government are regarded as ideals greatly to be avoided. The desire to centralize government, impose doctrine, and punish doubt is never far below the surface, anywhere. Thus our highly controlled media, our “hate-speech” laws, our political correctness and, now, Evolutionary Prohibition.

The Catholic Church once burned heretics. The Church of Evolution savages them in obscure journals and denies them tenure and publication. As a heretic I believe that I would prefer the latter, but the intolerance is the same.

CONTINUE READING…

The Almighty’s Supreme Call to Man

Wednesday, September 25th, 2013

It is the most famous, majestic and influential opening of any book in literature: “In the beginning, G-d created the heavens and the earth.” What is surpassingly strange is the way Rashi – most beloved of all Jewish commentators – begins his commentary:

Rabbi Isaac said: The Torah should have begun with the verse (Exodus 12:1), “This month shall be to you the first of the months,” which was the first commandment given to Israel.

Can we really take this at face value? Did Rabbi Isaac, or for that matter Rashi, seriously suggest that the Book of books might have begun in the middle – a third of the way into Exodus? That it might have passed by in silence the creation of the universe – which is, after all, one of the fundamentals of Jewish faith?

Could we understand the history of Israel without its prehistory, the stories of Abraham and Sarah and their children? Could we have understood those narratives without knowing what preceded them: G-d’s repeated disappointment with Adam and Eve, Cain, the generation of the Flood, and the builders of the Tower of Babel?

The 50 chapters of Genesis, together with the opening of Exodus, are the source book of biblical faith. They are as near as we get to an exposition of the philosophy of Judaism. What then did Rabbi Isaac mean?

He meant something profound, which we often forget. To understand a book, we need to know to what genre it belongs. Is it history or legend, chronicle or myth? To what question is it an answer? A history book answers the question: what happened? A book of cosmology – be it science or myth – answers the question: how did it happen?

What Rabbi Isaac is telling us is that if we seek to understand the Torah, we must read it as Torah, which is to say: law, instruction, teaching, and guidance. Torah is an answer to the question: how shall we live? That is why he raises the question as to why it does not begin with the first command given to Israel.

Torah is not a book of history, even though it includes history. It is not a book of science, even though the first chapter of Genesis – as the 19th-century sociologist Max Weber pointed out – is the necessary prelude to science, because it represents the first time people saw the universe as the product of a single creative will – and therefore as intelligible rather than capricious and mysterious. It is, first and last, a book about how to live. Everything it contains – not only commandments but also narratives, including the narrative of creation itself – is there solely for the sake of ethical and spiritual instruction.

Jewish ethics is not confined to law. It includes virtues of character, general principles and role models. It is conveyed not only by commandments but also by narratives, telling us how particular individuals responded to specific situations.

It moves from the minutest details to the most majestic visions of the universe and our place within it. But it never deviates from its intense focus on these questions: What shall I do? How shall I live? What kind of person should I strive to become? It begins, in Genesis 1, with the most fundamental question of all. As the Psalm (8:4) puts it: “What is man that You are mindful of him?”

Pico della Mirandola’s 15th century Oration on the Dignity of Man was one of the turning points of Western civilization, the “manifesto” of the Italian Renaissance. In it he attributed the following declaration to G-d, addressing the first man:

 

We have given you, O Adam, no visage proper to yourself, nor endowment properly your own, in order that whatever place, whatever form, whatever gifts you may, with premeditation, select, these same you may have and possess through your own judgement and decision. The nature of all other creatures is defined and restricted within laws which We have laid down; you, by contrast, impeded by no such restrictions, may, by your own free will, to whose custody We have assigned you, trace for yourself the lineaments of your own nature. I have placed you at the very center of the world, so that from that vantage point you may with greater ease glance round about you on all that the world contains. We have made you a creature neither of heaven nor of earth, neither mortal nor immortal, in order that you may, as the free and proud shaper of your own being, fashion yourself in the form you may prefer. It will be in your power to descend to the lower, brutish forms of life; you will be able, through your own decision, to rise again to the superior orders whose life is divine.

 

Homo sapiens, that unique synthesis of “dust of the earth” and breath of G-d, is unique among created beings in having no fixed essence – in being free to be what he or she chooses. Mirandola’s Oration was a break with the two dominant traditions of the Middle Ages: the Christian doctrine that human beings are irretrievably corrupt, tainted by original sin, and the Platonic idea that humanity is bounded by fixed forms.

It is also a strikingly Jewish account – almost identical with the one given by Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik in Halakhic Man: “The most fundamental principle of all is that man must create himself. It is this idea that Judaism introduced into the world.” It is therefore with a frisson of recognition that we discover that Mirandola had a Jewish teacher, Rabbi Elijah ben Moses Delmedigo (1460-1497).

Born in Crete, Delmedigo was a Talmudic prodigy, appointed at a young age to be head of the yeshiva in Padua. At the same time he studied philosophy, in particular the work of Aristotle, Maimonides and Averroes. At 23, he was appointed professor of philosophy at the University of Padua. It was through this that he came to know Count Giovanni Pico della Mirandola, who became both his student and his patron. Eventually, however, Delmedigo’s philosophical writings – especially his work Bechinat ha-Dat – became controversial. Other rabbis accused him of heresy. He had to leave Italy and return to Crete. He was much admired by Jews and Christians alike and, when he died young, many Christians as well as Jews attended his funeral.

This emphasis on choice, freedom and responsibility is one of the most distinctive features of Jewish thought. It is proclaimed in the first chapter of Genesis in the most subtle way. We are all familiar with its statement that G-d created man “in His image, after His likeness.” Seldom do we pause to reflect on the paradox. If there is one thing emphasized time and again in the Torah, it is that G-d has no image. “I will be what I will be,” He says to Moses when he asks Him His name.

Since G-d transcends nature – the fundamental point of Genesis 1 – then He is free, unbounded by nature’s laws. By creating human beings in His image, He gave us a similar freedom, thus creating the one being capable itself of being creative. The unprecedented account of G-d in the Torah’s opening chapter leads to an equally unprecedented view of the human person and our capacity for self-transformation.

The Renaissance, one of the high points of European civilization, eventually collapsed. A series of corrupt rulers and popes led to the Reformation, and to the quite different views of Luther and Calvin. It is fascinating to speculate what might have happened had it continued along the lines signalled by Mirandola. His late 15th century humanism was not secular but deeply religious.

As it is, the great truth of Genesis 1 remains. As the rabbis put it (Bereishit Rabbah 8:1; Sanhedrin 38a): “Why was man created last? In order to say, if he is worthy, all creation was made for you; but if he is unworthy, he is told, even a gnat preceded you.” The Torah remains G-d’s supreme call to humankind to freedom and creativity on the one hand and, on the other, to responsibility and restraint – becoming G-d’s partner in the work of creation.

Adapted from “Covenant & Conversation,” a collection of Rabbi Jonathan Sacks’s parshiyot hashavua essays, published by Maggid Books, an imprint of Koren Publishers Jerusalem (www.korenpub.com), in conjunction with the Orthodox Union.

Fundamentalist Exhibit of Noah’s Ark Awash in Red Ink

Thursday, June 6th, 2013

A Kentucky museum’s attempt to build a  replica of Noah’s Ark, along with the Tower of Babel, Abraham and the 10 Plagues, is going to need a modern miracle to come to life as money runs out.

Fundamentalist Christians are trying to teach the Bible to the world in the Kentucky city of Hebron, without the Cave of the Patriarchs, which would have been a much more logical project but not Christian enough.

The park’s design director Patrick Marsh told Reuters, “We’re basically presenting what the Bible has to say and showing how plausible it was.”

The Creation Museum in nearby Petersburg was opened six years ago  and was supposed to be the source of funds for the Noah’s Ark project, but it got hit by the recession. Since then, visitors have been staying away in droves, denying the proposed new park the funds that wren supposed to finance the project that will cost nearly $150 million. If the Noah’s Ark project is not completed by next May, it will forfeit tax incentives and leave a further gaping financial hole.

The backers are a part of the same Bible thumping ministry that built the Creation Museum, which sticks to a literal view of the Creation.  It is headed by Ken Ham, who is at war with Darwin and scientists who claim the world is older than almost 6,000 years.

Building Noah’s Ark has raised some interesting questions, such as what is the “gopher wood” that is mentioned in the Biblical description of the building of the ark.

If the 160-acre project ever is completed, it will include a full-scale replica of Noah’s Ark, the Tower of Babel, and a first-century village, along with a theme ride that will take visitors through the 10 plagues of Egypt, according to the Christian Post.

The ride is not a thrill ride, it’s a seven to 11 minute ride through the nation of Israel, where visitors will see the plagues portrayed,” “Mike Zovath, senior vice president and co-founder of the Ark Encounter, told the publication.

God, of course, is part of the project, and the newspaper wrote that Zovath “feels like God is part of their plan and their effort to teach the biblical position.”

But God has not come up with the money.

The Noah’s Ark project has come up with a way to raise funds by encouraging people to buy a plank or a beam.

Why didn’t Noah think of that?

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/news/fundamentalist-exhibit-of-noahs-ark-awash-in-red-ink/2013/06/06/

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