In “Survivor: A Meditation on Remembering the Shoah” (front-page essay, July 7), David Mandel, challenging us to view ourselves as bnei haShoah (children of the Shoah), writes: “The image I want to leave with readers is that of a potato. A common, everyday potato.”
So many Jews survived on potatoes or just potato peels. For the last six months of World War II, my father, a rabbi and a member, along with my mother, of the French Resistance, had to leave France for Switzerland after being warned that he was on the hit list of the Gestapo.
My mother and my oldest sister remained in France. My mother had previously secured a safe place should the need arise to hide. When that day came, she was turned away, told it was too dangerous. She had nowhere to go until she found refuge in a Catholic convent. My mother and my sister survived on water and potatoes.
In our family, we never forgot those potatoes.
Dr. Elie Feuerwerker
Highland Park, NJ
I really enjoyed Rabbi Simcha Weinstein’s “Jewperheroes!” (front-page essay, June 30). As a comic book aficionado and student of Jewish history, I’d long been aware of the dominant role played by Jews in the invention of the comic book superheroes. Rabbi Weinstein ably brought together the various strands of that underappreciated story in a most readable manner.
Reader Zalman Bloom (Letters, June 23) wrote an excellent rebuttal to Rabbi Pinchas Rosenthal’s views on pedagogical methodology. Although Rabbi Rosenthal has good intentions (“Shortchanging Our Children By Teaching Midrashim Literally,” op-ed, June 2), he offers generalizations without focusing on the proper grade level of his students. In addition, he assumes his extremely intellectual approach would meet the needs of all students.
The discussion of pshat and drush is rather advanced and complicated. (It is an important subject, but it could easily turn off many students who are not ready for such an academic approach.) It should certainly be mentioned in response to students who ask probing questions in that regard. It is not clear whether Rabbi Rosenthal is talking about Tanach or Mishna or Gemara. Perhaps he means hashkafa.
One other point. While sharpening the minds of our students is generally a sound educational principle, such an objective should not be the exclusive focus of a Torah education. Dialectic argumentation would seem to be inappropriate for Chumash, Midrash, Mishna. Rather, the development of moral excellence should be given priority. The aforementioned classic texts do emphasize the proper development of character. Of course, such decisions have to be made by dedicated educators who should strive to develop a curriculum that would be appropriate for their students. There is no one correct method.
Rabbi Joseph Bernstein
Unfortunately, Rabbi Simcha and Chaya Feuerman attack religious people who say: “It rains because God wills it.” Apparently, they are perturbed that such people do not speak about the scientific principles of rainfall. (Of course, there is nothing wrong with science; there is nothing, however, wrong with pure faith.) Even Feuermans concede that the laws of nature are Hashem’s creation. Why are these social workers so disgruntled?
Inexplicably, they bash religion. They call it fundamentalism, which they say is on the rise in our community. What are they talking about? This type of liberalism, which posits moral equivalence, cannot be accepted by normal people. (I thought the problem was in the Islamic world. Isn’t that where violence is preached and practiced? Hey, Jews and Christians aren’t doing it – the violence is coming from Islamic countries that have been hijacked by radical hatemongers and murderers.)
The Feuermans make a sweeping generalization: “History appears to be telling us” that society goes down the tubes because of fundamentalism – whatever that means. I am not going to discuss the history of the world, but Jewish history shows that Jewish society declines when we start to idolize secular thinking as opposed to the lessons of pure faith taught in Hashem’s Torah.
We do not need the pseudo-science of psychology. We need to return to our pure faith by placing our trust in Hashem.
Rabbi Simcha and Chaya Feuerman Respond: Our series on exploring psychological components and Torah ideas regarding the yetzer hara and yetzer hatov utililizes scientific observations about the nature of the world to enhance our appreciation and hakaros hatov to the Creator. This is an approach espoused by the Rambam in Hilchos Yesode Hatorah (the end of chapter four).
The Rambam states: “When a person reflects upon these things [in the previous chapters he described various scientific observations about the wonders of nature, the elements, and the planets]…and he sees the wisdom of the Creator … it increases his love for the Omnipresent and induces his body and soul to yearn for Him.”
It is regrettable that Mr. Helfman derived another message. We suggest that anyone with similar concerns read the entire series carefully and in context, so that they may judge for themselves. The series is available by request via e-mail at Simcha_Chaya@excite.com.
Evolution: The Never-Ending Debate
In trying to reconcile evolution’s age of earth with our Torah’s age of earth being close to 6,000 years, many people seem to be missing some crucial points.
Our Sages say that the first woman, Eve, conceived and gave birth in one day. Vegetation that takes days, weeks or months today, grew in a matter of hours or days then. Adam lived close to a thousand years. The people of the Flood were of such immense physical size that they (erroneously) thought they could stop the Flood waters. Years later, our Matriarch Rivkah was presented for marriage at age 3.
Obviously, nature was different then. Birth in one day versus nine months is an increase of roughly 270 times what we call natural today. At that rate, a mere 2,000 years may appear to be 54,000 years. This means that bones and artifacts found from only 5,000 years ago could very well appear to be more than 50,000 years old.
Scientists’ time scale for the past is nothing more than an extrapolation of nature as we know it today. As they have no evidence of the nature described by our Sages, scientists have no reason to believe other aspects of nature (radioactive decay, for example) may have proceeded at a faster rate, in sync with the rest of nature at that time.
Inasmuch as Creation itself may be steeped in mystery (and we’re not sure what’s literal and what’s allegorical), I believe the time frame from Adam on, as described by our sages, must be literal. So if you believe in the truth of the Torah – and I’m assuming the majority of people reading this do – we’re actually privy to knowledge of ancient phenomena that scientists are not.
No, we don’t need to reconcile absolutely everything scientists say with the Torah.
While scientists’ extrapolation methods may be correct, their depiction of earth’s history could conceivably be very wrong.
I’m not sure what Rabbi Harry Maryles meant by “… radioactive dating methods … have been demonstrated to be remarkably consistent” (response to readers, Letters, July 7). Consistent with what?
The fact is, radioactive concentrations in the atmosphere, the cornerstone of radioactive dating, have been proven to fluctuate. A bristlecone pine tree believed to be over 4,000 years old was cut down for scientific research. Comparing the radiocarbon readings within the tree’s year by year rings showed that radioactivity in the atmosphere does fluctuate. This could conceivably make something only thousands of years old seem like millions of years old.
Furthermore, the results of a dating system that analyzes the structural changes in a body’s amino acids after death was used in comparison to the results of the radioactive method – they showed discrepancies of between 39,000 and 59,000 years. These are serious inconsistencies.
Radioactive dating doesn’t even seem consistent with what scientists themselves believe about the earth. The evolution of the earth and its atmosphere have undergone such drastic changes since the earth’s formation, according to scientists, it’s hard to image that atmospheric bombardment remained consistent throughout these years.
Besides, for anyone who seriously believes in the story of the Flood, there is absolutely no way of telling what the Flood’s laundering effects were on the traces of radioactive elements in the bones of the annihilated life forms. It could very conceivably have accelerated the radioactive decay process, again, possibly making an age of thousands of years seem like millions.
In response to a request for sources, I’m surprised Rabbi Maryles did not mention the excellent read Immortality, Resurrection, and the Age of the Universe by Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan (KTAV Publishers). It contains essays by Rabbi Kaplan on the topics in the title, including his analysis of Tiferes Yisroel and Sefer HaTemunah. The volume also contains the entire text of the Derush Or Hachaim by the Tiferes Yisroel.
Boruch Yonah Lipton
There have been many non-pshat attempts to reconcile the Torah with the 13.7 billion years claimed by evolutionists. They will all fail, however, because even if you can find justification for not accepting pshat in the first chapter of Bereishis, you will run into other problems later on in Bereishis with the Mabul, Tower of Bavel, and the principle that all people are related to Adam.
Ideas have serious consequences. Hundreds of Aborigines were killed, stuffed and displayed in museums by Darwinians as examples of the “missing link.” This was even justified by theistic evolutionists because the Aborigines were considered to be merely soulless pre-Adamites.
T he key to reconciling the Torah to the data is to realize that scientific theories are based on the assumption of uniformitarianism – that the present is the key to the past. We believe the Torah is the key to the past, so what does the Torah say? The Torah says that everything was created complete and ready made.
We find eleven places in Tanach that speak of Hashem stretching out the heavens. So we should expect astronomical distortion. After Adam’s sin, the Torah says the earth was cursed. Next, we see that people used to live to be around 900 years before the Mabul, and after the Mabul we see a gradual decline until it stabilized at a maximum lifespan of around 120. Ramban states that this was due to changes in the post-flood environment.
So we see that while the world is young, it aged prematurely. But because science rules out these major changes and decay, it comes to the false conclusion that the world is older than it really is.
Letters to the Editor