In response to: Rabbi Dr. Natan Slifkin’s “Must a Jew Interpret Bereishis Literally?”
The op-ed by Rabbi Dr. Natan Slifkin (“Must a Jew Interpret Bereishis Literally?”) is misleading, to say the least.
To say, based on Maimonides, that the Torah’s account of Creation is not intended to be literal is to undermine the teachings of our Sages and their statement that all Jews are “believers the sons of believers,” which means – writes the Lubavitcher Rebbe – that they “believe in the literal interpretation of the Torah, including the Creation account with which the Torah begins.”
The Lubavitcher Rebbe’s vast collection of English letters includes many on Torah and science that address – extensively – the points Rabbi Slifkin raised. The Rebbe was not only a giant of Torah, but very well versed in the sciences and therefore eminently qualified to address Torah and science issues.
The Rebbe writes that the Torah requires us to believe 1) that the universe was created ex nihilo; 2) that immediately on the first day of Creation both heaven and earth came into being; and 3) that the six days of creation were actual days, not “periods,” since Shabbos is based on the notion that G-d rested on the seventh day.
The Rebbe writes: “I am, of course, well aware that even in certain orthodox circles there have been well meaning apologists who attempted to reinterpret the Creation account of the Torah in one way or another in order to ‘reconcile’ it with changing theories as to the origin of the Universe. But…I am speaking of the authentic time-honored traditional view, the way it has always been understood and taught…. the above-mentioned three basic points of Creation are absolutely fundamental.”
The Rebbe also writes, “[L]et me say that with all due respect to science, it has not in any way (except in a most speculative way) challenged the authenticity of the Torah account of Creation.”
I hope this letter of the Lubavitcher Rebbe sheds light on the question of accepting Bereishis literally. Those interested can read the full letter in The Letter & the Spirit: Letters by the Lubavitcher Rebbe, volume IV, p. 331.