Darwin’s Hechsher1

There are many famous explanations in various books that attempt to “kosherize” the Theory of Evolution, and to tailor the statements of our Sages accordingly. Possibly the most famous is the “Ohr HaChaim Discourse,” written by the Gaon Rabbi Israel Lifshitz, author of the Tiferet Yisrael commentary on the Mishna.2

In that discourse, he also attempts to cite the mystics as support for his theories. I must say, that it is beyond me and many like me, where he found these ideas in any of the printed works of Kabbala.

With all due respect to his Torah knowledge, he distorted the meaning of several statements from our Sages. Eventually, because of the fact that the rest of his commentary to Mishna was accepted and publicized, a very strange thing happened:

Even though in the years since his time, and especially in our generation, the “facts” upon which his discourse is based have been scientifically disproved, there are today many truly orthodox Rabbis who state publicly that they accept the conclusions reached by that discourse because of… his interpretations of the words of our Sages.3 [In their words: The questions on many of the statements of our Sages from the theory of evolution, and Darwin’s theory, etc. have already been answered in the “Ohr HaChaim Discourse.”]

True, his words were said and printed. Yet, from the tone of these writings it is obvious that they were not written as a result of an honest belief in the veracity of those theories. They were written with a very specific goal in mind: to show the non-Jews that it is possible to find references even to their views and theories in the holy Writings and the words of our Sages.

Indeed, even the authors themselves admitted that their answers are extremely forced and often do not fit with the plain meaning of the verse. It is just that they felt it necessary to adopt these views anyway, despite recognizing their shortcomings, in an attempt to improve the outlook of the outside “world” towards our holy Torah.

One Rambam – Two Teachings

This approach has been taken by even the greatest among the Sages, for instance Rambam, about whom it is said, “From Moshe to Moshe, there was none like Moshe.” Anyone who studies his book Yad HaChazaka4 can clearly see that the approaches he puts forth in his Guide to the Perplexed — especially the reasons he writes for many of the commandments — are not his true approach to Torah.5

That being the case regarding Rambam, it is more surely the case with many of the Jewish religious philosophers of the Middle Ages6 and of our own day as well. They distorted the meaning of the words of our Sages in an attempt to tailor them to the accepted “scientific” theories. They thought that in this way G‑d’s name would be sanctified, since His words would receive greater respect from various segments of both Jewish and non-Jewish society.

When Compromise Backfires

Regarding the practical fulfillment of Mitzvot, it is obvious that compromises are not acceptable. When it comes to attitudes, and to explaining issues in Torah that may seem to be contradicted by science, some people argue that only through compromise is it possible to “conquer” the youth, who are fervent believers in science and its conclusions. The truth is, however, that we can see how many casualties fell because of this approach; casualties, not only in the sense that they are filled with false beliefs, but even with regard to a weakening in the fulfillment of G‑d’s commandments, and — even more so — in their willingness to undergo sacrifices for the sake of those commandments. This, in spite of the fact that it is specifically our generation, while truly an “orphaned generation,” that has merited a new degree of clarity in this area; today, even the scientists admit that their conclusions are all no more than theories. For instance…

Some Torah greats7 labored very hard to reconcile the straightforward meaning of the verses which deal with the movements of the sun and moon — “the sun rose, the sun set,”8 etc.— with Copernicus’ approach,9 an approach that was for many years accepted as absolute truth. They considered it a Mitzvah to distort the meaning of the verses, in order to make them concur with this theory.

Then along came Einstein’s Theory of Relativity, which proved10 that from a scientific perspective, it is impossible to verify which of the spheres is stationary and which are revolving around it; they are only moving in relation to one another. It is therefore valid to posit that the earth is stationary and the stars are revolving around it, and any challenge that is posed to one of these conjectures can be similarly posed, with slight changes, to the opposite conjecture.11

There is therefore no need to interpret the verses in a roundabout manner, or to distort their meanings with forced explanations, etc. The statements of our Sages, too, may be understood as meaning exactly what they said.

Science and Certainty

These well-meaning people who felt a need to explain various excerpts from Torah in ways that contradict the traditional interpretation did so only because they (mistakenly) believed that the Torah’s views (regarding, for instance, the age of the world, etc.) are successfully refuted by scientific conclusions. If not for that, they would never have looked for new interpretations of the Torah’s words.

The body of apologetic writings, or at least a large part of it, was created as a result of this mistaken perspective. It relied on the principle that just as “One may deviate from the truth for the sake of peace,”12 so too is it worthwhile to make some “legitimate” semantic concessions to science, if that would help ensure that many people remain committed to the Torah and its commandments.

At the root of this approach is the mistaken notion that science’s conclusions are certainties.

(Possibly, we can judge them favorably and better understand their approach towards science, based upon the fact that in certain instances the Torah grants science a greater degree of reliance and trust even than modern science claims for itself. For instance, the law dictates13 that Shabbat may be desecrated when human life is endangered. A doctor is the one to render the decision as to whether a danger exists.14 There are many other examples as well.)

Apologetics Then and Now

These attempts at conciliation are a throwback to the previous century, when a wide body of apologetic literature was composed by various religious spokesmen, including some Rabbis such as Rabbi Shimshon Raphael Hirsch and his followers, in face of the dogmatic stance of the scientific community of that era. They did not see any better way to protect Torah-true Judaism in their “progressive” communities, other than to adopt a contrived and hollow interpretation of several areas in Torah, in order to fit it in with the worldview that was prevalent at the time. There can be no doubt but that they recognized the fact that their interpretations were contrary to the true Torah. In their defense, they felt that they had no choice.

Based on the damage that was caused by that approach, however — the results of which are still being suffered to this very day — it is a strong possibility that this was a mistaken approach even for their time, despite the temporary benefits that it seemed to have wrought. My reasoning is that at the root of these apologetic reconciliations lies compromise, and compromise is antithetical to truth. Eventually, the truth will out. Compromise weakens and ultimately defaces everything that is built upon it. Even the conclusions reached through this method of compromise — which in and of themselves may be true, since they happen to concur with the conclusions reached by a true approach — eventually fall by the wayside. Although my mind was made up about this long before, my experiences here in the United States have brought further corroboration from actual events, as well as from the general behavior of the youth here.

The truth is that no confirmation is needed. Since our Torah and truth are one and the same, any deviation from it, even if undertaken with commendable intentions, will ultimately cause damage — since it is not, after all, the path of Torah. Who can be considered greater than the Jewish thinkers hundreds of years ago? As mentioned, they attempted to explain several areas of our Torah and our faith in a manner that would coincide with the philosophical beliefs of their time. Their intent was definitely pure, and yet the effect on some of their disciples and their students’ disciples was the opposite of the intended result. Many of them ended up granting philosophy a central focus and final say in their lives. In fact, this result was so widespread that the leaders of the Jewish people at the time felt it necessary to outlaw the study of those Jewish philosophers’ books — at least temporarily — and the damage continued to be felt for generations.

Nowadays, there is definitely no justification to continue that inferiority complex. There is no justification to continue to support views that can now be found only in outdated textbooks. It is disheartening that the very people who should be acting as the foremost spokesmen and disseminators of the Torah’s approach, especially amongst the “younger generation” of Jews and specifically amongst academics, instead find themselves confused, and are even embarrassed to protest against what is going on. This is even more painful in our day, when science has finally managed to throw off its antiquated arrogance, and has learned to recognize its limitations and borders. As an example of this new mode is the fact that science has accepted Heisenberg’s “Uncertainty Principle.”

It is therefore now so easy for an observant scientist to proudly adopt Torah’s stance without any fear of contradiction. Yet, it seems that certain Jewish scientists have still not been freed from the chains of nineteenth century views, and from the feelings of inferiority that went along with them. There is no doubt that the time has come to consider anew whether there is any basis for such a stance in our times.

The deciding factor is the fact that science’s most recent achievements have caused a fundamental shift in science’s view of itself— they highlighted its limitations. Therefore, science has decided that there are no definites in science. The principle of “causes” has given way to the principle of “probabilities”; i.e. “The probable chain of events.”

Furthermore, modern science has reached the conclusion that scientific theories are not absolute or final truth. They merely represent the best possible summation of experimental knowledge to day; any theory may be overturned as more data becomes available.

First and foremost, therefore, it should be explained to the younger generation that it doesn’t make sense to ask questions from areas of scientific knowledge on areas of religion and faith, just as it would be ridiculous to use a possibility to question a definite certainty. When this point is clarified, there is automatically no longer any push or need for apologetic material. All that will be left is to correct the damage caused by the existent materials — the damage of compromise, which mutes the person and compromises the truth, and which is in fact, as mentioned, the opposite of truth.

For those that may hesitate to completely reject the foundations that those Jewish philosophers worked so hard to build upon, it would be worthwhile to remember the oft-quoted wise saying (which the Tzemach Tzedek mentions in a letter to one of the reformers of his day): “Love Plato. Love Aristotle. But love the truth even more!”

Judaism Without Miracles?

By the Grace of G‑d. 5731 [1971]

Dr. ________,

Association of Orthodox Jewish Scientists

Sholom uBrocho,

Although I do not know you personally, I am taking the liberty of writing to you, having just received the Av, 5731 (Aug.'71) issue of INTERCOM, with your article in it. I find myself in agreement with some points brought out in your article, which encourages me in the hope that as Editor and influential member of your Association you may be able to give new impetus to the Association and its members, and, especially, help clear up once and for all certain misconceptions which - as it seems to me - are still troubling some orthodox Jewish scientists.

Specifically, I find it incomprehensible and regrettable that some of our orthodox Jewish scientists still evince an apologetic attitude vis-a-vis science and certain scientific theories. This is evident also in some articles in the present INTERCOM and I have seen it also in personal discussions with some genuinely frum scientists.

To put it bluntly, some orthodox scientists seem to be ashamed to declare openly their adherence to such basic tenets of the Torah as, for example, that G‑d created Adam and Chava, or the possibility of a miracle (Ness) in the present day and age, as a Ness is defined in Torah, namely, an occurrence in defiance of the (so-called) laws of nature. When I asked them, squarely, how do they reconcile this lack of conviction in basic Torah-matters with what every believing Jew believes and professes, the answer was that they have managed to "departmentalize" their day -Tfila and Torah, etc., being one "department", science another.

Needless to say, such an attitude is untenable. For, when a Jew declares daily, Hashem hu hoelokim, ain od Milvado, it is plainly meant that this is for the whole day, not part of the day. Moreover, a scientist with such a split personality is a contradiction also to the concept of Hashem echod, as the Chazal interpret "echod" - aleph, ches, dales - that aleph, i.e. alupho shel olom, rules not only in the seven heavens but also on earth (ches -"eight"), and in all the four directions (dales) (SeMag, quoted in Beis Yosef, Tur Orach Chaim, par. 61).

As for the matter of miracles, as it affects the daily life, the Torah view is clear: It rules that "one should not rely on a miracle," but at the same time it requires every Jew to be permeated with complete faith that G‑d acts through nature, and also "above" nature. This is also the plain meaning of the posuk: "And G‑d, your G‑d, will bless you in all that you do." It is necessary to do (not rely on miracles), yet ultimately the blessing comes from G‑d. To think otherwise would also be contradictory to the three daily Tefilos. The blessings of Shemone-esrei are clearly based on the conviction that G‑d can interfere with nature, e.g., heal the sick and bless the crops, etc., even where the natural factors are unfavorable. Unless one believes in G‑d's omnipotence and personal interest in every individual's daily life, there is no sense in praying to Him, and asking Him for His blessings.

Of course, when a Jew finds himself in an environment of non-believers, it is difficult to be different and face possible ridicule. But this too has already been forewarned by Shulchan Aruch. At the beginning of the very first volume, the Shulchan Aruch lays down the basic principle for the fulfillment of all the four volumes: "And let him not be ashamed in the face of men who may scoff at him in his service to G‑d."

What is even more surprising - and as yet I have not received any answer from those with whom I had occasion to speak on the matter - is that the said apologetic attitude is completely out of harmony with the view of contemporary science. If a century ago, when scientists still spoke in terms of absolute truths, it was "understandable" why a person who wished to adhere to his faith might have been embarrassed to challenge "scientific" claims, this is no longer the case in our day and age. Contemporary science no longer lays claim to absolutes; the principle of probability now reigns supreme, even in practical science as applied in common daily experiences. Certainly in such realms as the origin of the universe, the origin of life on earth, and the origin of the species, where theories are based on speculative extrapolation, and even more so in the realm of pure science, where everything is based on assumed premises (IF we assume that, etc., then it follows, etc.) - scientists do not deal with certainties.

Need one remind our orthodox Jewish scientist, who still feels embarrassed about some "old fashioned" Torah truths, in the face of scientific hypotheses, that Heisenberg's "principle of indeterminacy" has finally done away with the traditional scientific notion that cause and effect are mechanically linked, so that it is now quite unscientific to hold that one event is inevitably a consequence of another, but only most probable? Most scientists have accepted this principle of uncertainty (enunciated by Werner Heisenberg in 1927) as being intrinsic to the whole universe. The 19th century dogmatic, mechanistic, and deterministic attitude of science is gone. The modern scientist no longer expects to find Truth in science. The current and universally accepted view of science itself is that science must reconcile itself to the idea that whatever progress it makes, it will always deal with probabilities; not with certainties or absolutes.

Needless to say, it is not my intention to belittle science, applied or speculative, and especially for quite another reason. For, as a matter of fact, the Torah bestows upon science - in certain areas at least - a validity much greater than contemporary science itself claims. The Halacha accepts scientific findings, in many instances, not as possible or probable, but certain and true. There is surely no need to elaborate to you on this.

In the light of what has been said above, there is no basis whatsoever for any religious Jewish scientist to be embarrassed, since modern science cannot legitimately (and I mean "legitimately" even from the viewpoint of science itself) challenge Torah from Sinai.

It follows that there is no need whatever - however well intentioned - to attempt to reinterpret passages in the Torah in order to reconcile them with scientific theory, not to mention "reinterpretations" which do violence to the letter and meaning of the Torah. Thus, for example, the attempt to "reinterpret" the text of the first section of Breishis to the effect that it speaks of periods or eons, rather than ordinary days, or to apply indiscriminately the dictum that "the Torah speaks in the language of man," etc., is not only uncalled for, but it means tampering with the Mitzvah of Shabbos itself, which "balances" all the Torah. For, if one takes the words "one day" out of their context and plain meaning, one ipso facto abrogates the whole idea of Shabbos as the "seventh day" stated in the same context. The whole idea of Shabbos observance is based on the clear and unequivocal statement in the Torah: "For in six days G‑d made heaven and earth, and on the seventh day He ceased from work and rested" - days, not periods.

Such attempts at reinterpreting the Torah are, of course, the outmoded legacy of the 19th century and before, when in the face of the dogmatic and deterministic view of science prevailing at that time, a whole apologetic literature was created by well-meaning religious advocates and certain Rabbis, who saw no other way of preserving the Torah heritage in their "enlightened" communities except through tenuous and spurious reinterpretations of certain passages of the Torah in order to accommodate them to the prevailing world outlook. No doubt they knew inwardly that they were suggesting interpretations in Torah which were at variance with Toras Emes. But, at least, they "felt" they had no alternative. But surely there is no longer any justification whatever to perpetuate this "inferiority complex!" Certainly there is no basis for holding on to views which have come down in outdated elementary and high-school textbooks on science.

It is very saddening to think that those who should be the champions of the Torah-hashkofo and its advocates, especially among Jewish youth in general and academic youth in particular, are timid, or even ashamed to expostulate it. This is all the more regrettable precisely in this day and age, after science had finally come out of its Medieval wrappings, and accepted the Heisenberg principle of uncertainty, etc., etc., which makes it so "easy" for an orthodox Jewish scientist to espouse the Torah-hashkofo boldly and forcefully, without fear of contradiction. Yet some Jewish scientists apparently have not yet managed to free themselves from the fetters of the 19th century approach and inferiority complex. Surely the time is ripe for a reassessment as to where they stand.

I trust that you will use your good influence to the end that the articles appearing in the future issues of Intercom be permeated with the Torah hashkofo, and that the same approach should be reflected in all public lectures and private discussions. By closely adhering to the Torah, Toras Emes, one can rest assured of walking the path of truth, and truth does not admit compromise. I sincerely hope that you will take up this matter with your colleagues, and "words coming from the heart, enter the heart," especially a Jewish heart, and find a ready response in terms of action, for the essential thing is the deed.

May I conclude on a note, which is of course in no way meant as a disparagement, that every Jew engaged in any scientific field will be characterized as a "truly believing Jew and also a scientist," rather than as a “scientist and also a believing Jew.”

With blessing,


Torah Trusts Science - Not ScientismFollow-up to the previous letter

Greeting and Blessing:

Perhaps this is an opportunity to reemphasize several basic points:

1) Those well-meaning persons who felt impelled to interpret certain passages in the Torah differently from the time honored traditional interpretation, did so only in the mistaken belief that the Torah view (on the age of the world etc.) was at variance with science; otherwise they would not have sought new interpretations in the Torah.

2) The apologetic literature - at least a substantial part of it - that was created as a result of this misconception, relied on the principle that, as in the case of “mutar l’shanos mipnai darkei shalom,”16 there was no harm in making an “innocent” verbal concession to science, if it would be helpful in strengthening commitment to Torah and Mitzvos of many.

3)At the bottom of this attitude was the mistaken belief that scientific “conclusions” were categorical and absolute.

4)Parenthetically, some explanation for this attitude to science may be found in the fact (pointed out in my previous letter), that the Torah accords to science a higher status of credibility than contemporary science lays claim to, as is evidenced from the rule in Halacha that the prohibition of Chilul Shabbos may be waived on the opinion of a physician in the area of Pikuach Nefesh and many similar rulings.

5)The crucial point, however, is that the latest conclusions of science introduced a radical change into science’s own evaluation of itself, clearly defining its own limitations. Accordingly, there is nothing categorical in science; the principle of cause and effect is substituted by “probable sequence of events” etc.

6)Furthermore, contemporary science holds that scientific judgments and descriptions do not necessarily “present” things as they really are.

7)Science demands empirical verification: "conclusions" are considered "scientific" if they have been investigated experimentally - but certainly not in relation to conditions which have never been even known to mankind and can never be duplicated.

8)In view of all that has been said above, there is no reason whatever to believe that science (as different from scientists) can state anything definitive on something which occurred in the remote past, in the pre-dawn of history. Consequently, there is no need to seek new reinterpretations in the Torah to "reconcile" them with science, as stated in the beginning of the letter.

9) Apropos of your special reference to Shabbos Breishis, it is astonishing that those who attempted to reinterpret the Six Day Creation account in terms of eons etc. failed to even mention the contradiction of such a view with the text of a Get.17 It is well known how punctilious the Halacha is in regard to a Get. The text of the Get begins with the unequivocal dating of it "according to the creation of the world" (eg. in the current year it would read: “Shnas Chameshes Alafim Sheva Meios U’shloshim V’shalosh L’vrias HaOlam”.18

In the words of the Megillah which we read this week, “there is one people … and their laws differ from those of any other people” - may G‑d grant that just as in those days our people felt justly proud of their uniqueness and difference and made no attempt to reconcile their laws and customs and views with those of the people among whom they were “dispersed and scattered,” so may every Jew now also display the same courageous spirit, based on the one and the same Torah, since “this Torah shall not be changed or substituted” - one of the basic 13 Principles of our faith, as formulated by our Sages.

With esteem and blessing,


*See also Hulin 27b: "dochisi... bekash..

Bereshit Rabba 8, 9:"dochisi… bekone..