A General Response to the Condemnations of the Books

Revised May 12th

It is difficult to provide a detailed response to the substance of the attacks on my books, since they are very vague. In the several months that have elapsed since the condemnations were issued there have still not been any detailed explanations given. None of the signatories contacted me to explain their objections in any detail, and all of those whom I tried of my own initiative to contact refused to meet or speak with me. Very few of the signatories read the books to any significant degree, and several did not read any part of the books at all. Although I greatly respect these outstanding Torah scholars, I do not understand how they could condemn the books without reading them thoroughly and without discussing their objections with me first.

(It is important to note that, according to the information I have received, some of the signatures were obtained via misleading the Rabbonim as to various aspects of the books and myself, and as to what their signatures would be used for. It is also worth noting that some of the most important rabbinical figures in the world today did not participate in the condemnations.)

It goes without saying that if there is anything that is shown to be incorrect, inappropriate, or, God forbid, heretical, I will remove it in future editions of the books. But as far as I am aware, all the significant points in all three books are solidly grounded in reliable sources that are legitimate and appropriate to cite. In addition, I carefully followed proper procedure in having everything checked by many Torah scholars of high standing and possessing expertise with these topics, so that if they would find anything inappropriate, I could change it.

The primary point of contention appears to be my position that the Sages of the Talmud were mistaken in certain scientific matters. Some claim that this is the lone view of Rabbeinu Avraham ben HaRambam that is not part of our mesorah (tradition). But, contrary to popular belief, this view was held of by many prominent Rishonim and Acharonim, including Rambam, Ramban, Rav Yitzchok Lampronti, Maharam Shick, and Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch, amongst others (see the Sources page for details). It was endorsed for dissemination in our generation by many Torah scholars such as Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Auerbach z"l and is considered by all my rabbonim to be a legitimate position. I am aware that some nevertheless side with those authorities that condemned this view (notably the Leshem), but they are condemning a large number of Rishonim and Acharonim along with me.

The condemnation of me as "makchish maggideha" - denying the authority of the Sages - is especially curious in light of the fact that the term makchish magideha as a category of apikorsus was apparently established by Rambam (Hilchos Teshuvah 3:8) who himself held that Chazal were mistaken in certain scientific matters! In fact, Rambam explicitly defines makchish maggideha as "someone similar to Tzaddok and Baytus," who Rambam explains denied the very concept of an Oral Torah (Perush haMishnayos, Sanhedrin 11:3). He certainly did not intend it to refer to someone who denies that Chazal were infallible in science, as he would then have been defining himself as a heretic! As one respected rabbi wrote to me, "Since the Rambam is himself the formulator of that concept as well as the exact term it is surely a strange irony to turn the phrase on him."

The other specified charge - that I believe that the world is billions of years old (from the first moment of creation) - is one that I absolutely accept. I believe that I have provided authoritative sources to support this intepretation of Torah, and I believe that the physical evidence warrants taking this approach.

If I am a heretic, Heaven forbid, then I take my place among the thousands of other such "heretics" in the Torah community. They are the vast majority of those who toil in the physical and biological sciences as God-fearing Jews, of outreach workers, of those who for various reasons have encountered parts of secular culture, and all of whom have used the sources and the approach of my books for many decades, if not for hundreds of years.

There are people who have not been exposed to science and who may not benefit from my books. They are entitled to choose a different approach to these topics. But there are many, many people who struggle with these issues. Historically, there have always been Torah authorities who dealt with the challenges posed to Judaism and defended Judaism via a rationalistic, scientific approach - Rav Saadia Gaon, Rambam, Rav Shimshon Raphael Hirsch, Rav Dovid Tzvi Hoffman, to name some examples. There are many people who need this sort of approach, and my books help with their needs. I do not believe that anyone should reject my approach if they are not willing to provide these people with a viable alternative - by which I mean to provide cogent and sensible answers, rather than just dismiss the questions.

Some have said that the problem with the books is with the "tone," although different people mean different things with this charge. There are those who state that my books take science as a given and try to fit Torah into it, rather than the other way around. However, a careful reading of my books shows that I do not automatically take "science" as a given, only those parts which are well established. In such cases, I implement the approach of classical Torah authorities in resolving these conflicts.

Others, when they speak of the "tone," are referring to various aspects of phraseology used in the books. Let me stress that I do plan to review the books again carefully and check to see if there is anything that is inappropriate, which I will change in the next editions. But I think that most of these complaints are highly subjective; many of those who benefitted the most from the books specifically appreciated their tone. I also do not understand why people do not simply contact me and ask me to make these changes, rather than condemn the books. In any case, none of these charges render the books "heretical" and justify the condemnations received.

A potential concern of some is that I did not treat these issues with enough sensitivity for the audience that the books reached. But I do not believe that my books reached the audience about which they are concerned; I think that the only people who read these books are those who already have a prior interest in these topics and who need to learn of these approaches. I do not think that there is a single person who has been harmed by my books, and I know of hundreds who have been helped by them. Still, in order to allay concerns in this matter, I plan to republish the books in a way that will more clearly target their intended audience.

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