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January 22, 2017 / 24 Tevet, 5777

Posts Tagged ‘theology’

Darwin, Jewish Theology, And The Holocaust

Thursday, July 7th, 2016

Undoubtedly one of the most influential figures in human history, Charles Darwin (1809-1882) was an English naturalist and geologist best known for his contributions to evolutionary theory, pursuant to which he argued that all species of life descended from common ancestors and that this evolutionary pattern resulted from a process that he called “natural selection.” He published his theory in the monumental On the Origin of Species (1859), one of the most seminal scientific works of all time, which even to date is the unifying theory of the life sciences.

After Darwin published Origin of Species, many translators and publishers vied to capitalize on his growing fame. Darwin favored Swiss zoologist and paleontologist Charles Forsyth Major (1843-1923) to translate The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals, but Major was apparently playing hard to get with respect to the assignment.

Pictured with this column is the February 11, 1873 correspondence to Major, Darwin essentially threatens to award the translation project to (gasp!) a Jew:

I am very much obligated for your note, and I am sorry that you had so much trouble and have given up the intention of bringing out a translation. I will write by this post to the Jewish gentleman and inquire whether he still wishes to translate my book.


Expression of Emotion (1872), which continued Darwin’s attempt to address questions of human origins and human psychology using his theory of evolution by natural selection, was his groundbreaking work on how animals and humans express emotions using the muscles, tissues, and bone provided by nature. Even today it still provides the point of departure for research on the theory of emotion and expression.

While it is not the purpose of this article to present a dissertation on the Torah’s views on evolution, suffice it to say this is a very controversial topic and that strong arguments exist on both sides.

With the advent of Darwin’s theories, the Jewish community found itself engaged in controversy regarding the apparent dissonance between Jewish theology and modern science. Although many believe evolution is wholly inconsistent with belief in a Creator and is contrary to the Genesis creation narrative, important Jewish authorities, including the Netziv, have maintained that evolutionary theory, properly understood, is not incompatible with fundamental Jewish belief and that traditional Jewish texts are reconcilable with modern scientific findings concerning evolution.

Thus, Rav Shimshon Raphael Hirsch, while carefully noting that he did not personally agree with Darwin’s theory and that it had never been empirically proven, wrote that evolution through natural selection presents no challenge to Jewish theology because it would mean only that Hashem, rather than creating a multiplicity of species, had instead brought the incredible diversity of life into existence through the creation of a singular life-form accompanied by a divine law of adaptation.

Some evidence exists that Darwin received direct support from Jewish leaders emphasizing that his theory of evolution is entirely consistent with scripture. In one of the few recorded incidents evidencing Darwin’s contact with Jews, Naphtali Lewy (or “Halevi”), a noted writer, sent him a cover letter and his book, Toldot Adam, in which he argued that the subtleties of Hebrew vocabulary and the choice of particular Hebrew words in the Torah favored evolution, as did some passages in the Midrash Rabbah and the Talmud. As Darwin could not read Hebrew, he arranged for its translation and the letter, translated by an unknown “learned rabbi,” is in the Darwin collection at the Cambridge University library. In The Life and Letters of Charles Darwin, Darwin boasted that that “even an essay in Hebrew has appeared on it, showing that the theory is contained in the Old Testament” and, though he did not specifically cite the essay, he may well have been referring to Toldot Adam.

Saul Jay Singer

Religion’s Most Repellant Idea

Tuesday, January 15th, 2013

The most dangerous and offensive of all religious ideas is that innocent people suffer because of their sins. This notion, so easily abused, makes victims into criminals, denying them divine sympathy or human compassion.

We’ve heard it all before.

Why was there a Holocaust? Because German Jewry assimilated and abandoned their faith. They desecrated the Sabbath. They adopted Germanic names. They married out. They wanted to be more German than the Germans. In the words of one of the greatest Jewish sages of prewar Poland, Rabbi Elchanan Wasserman, who was executed by a Nazi firing squad, “The fire which will burn our bodies will be the fire that restores the Jewish people.”

Rabbi Joel Teitelbaum, the Satmar Rebbe, felt that the Holocaust was a punishment for secular Zionism. Jews can only return to Israel when God himself redeems them. Rabbi Menachem Hartom said the exact opposite. Jews were punished by God for being too comfortable in Germany and abandoning their attachment to Israel, their ancient homeland.

One Rabbi who lectured in my community not long ago said, before a crowd of hundreds of modern orthodox Jews who barely found his words objectionable, that one can see how lax Jews were in their observance in Germany from the women who were about to be gassed in Auschwitz. Pictures have them standing naked, after the SS removed their clothing, and they are not even trying to cover up in front of the German soldiers. Here was a Rabbi finding fault with Jewish women who were about to be murdered along with their children, which just goes to show that the belief that suffering results from sin can lead to shocking anti-Semitism.

Ideas like these are not only repulsive, they are factually inaccurate. The majority of Germany’s Jews, who supposedly incurred the divine wrath through sin, survived the holocaust. They knew who Hitler was and had a few years to try and get out. The people who did not know that Hitler was coming for them were the Hassidic Jews of Poland, with long side curls and beards, who had no idea that Hitler planned to invade Poland on 1 September, 1939. They were devout in the extreme. So what was their sin? And what of the 1.5 million dead children. What guilty were they?

Regardless, are these Rabbis seriously suggesting that because of assimilation, God decided to ghettoize, wrack with disease, gas, and ultimately cremate six million Jews? And if that’s true, is He a God worthy of prayer? And do we have any right to condemn six million people whom we do not know to murder in the assumption that they were so horrendously sinful that they and their children warranted extermination?

No. This theology is an abomination. It rejects the very name of the Jewish people, ‘He who wrestles with God.’ A Jew must struggle with God in the face of seeming divine miscarriages of justice.

What does Abraham do when God threatens to destroy Sodom and Gomorra, even though God had said, “Their sin so grievous.” Abraham thunders at the heavens: “Will the Judge of all the earth not Himself practice justice?” (Gen. 18:25).

The same is true of the prophet Moses. How does the great redeemer react when God threatens to destroy the children of Israel after the sin of the golden calf? Does he bow his head in submission before God’s declaration that the people are sinful and deserving of destruction?


Moses, in one of the most haunting passages of the Bible and eloquent defenses of human life ever recorded, says to God, “Now, forgive their sin – but if not, blot me out, I pray you, of the Torah you have written.” (Ex. 32:32).

The Bible is clear: “The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our children forever.” (Deut. 29:29). God is in charge of the hidden things. Why does He allow humans to suffer unjustifiably? What goes on in secret behind the partition of heaven? Well, that is of no human concern. But the revealed things, this is our area of focus. A parent is mourning the death of a child. A woman is crying over the loss of her husband. Why did they die? As far as we are concerned, for no reason at all. In the revealed here and now, their suffering served no higher purpose. Suffering is not redemptive, it is not ennobling, it is not a blessing, and it teaches us nothing that we could not have learned by gentler means. It’s Christianity, rather than Judaism, that says that someone has to die in order for sin to be forgiven. We Jews reject any idea of human sacrifice.

Rabbi Shmuley Boteach

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/indepth/columns/america-rabbi-shmuley-boteach/religions-most-repellant-idea/2013/01/15/

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