Source Material

The sources cited on these pages deal with sensitive topics that really ought to be studied in the context either of their original works, or in the context in which I discuss them in my books. Certainly, one should not form any conclusions about the content or tone of my books based on these citations. I am quoting them only because they demonstrate that the concepts in my books which have been denounced as "heretical" are taken from authoritative sources. The claim that some of these sources are forgeries is addressed on the "rumors" page. (Note that there are many further such sources.)

Click here to download a lengthy extract from Rav Shimshon Raphael Hirsch on the science of the Talmud

The Age of the Universe

Rabbi Gedalyah Nadel, BeToraso Shel Rav Gedalyah, p. 91

: …The expression "one day" that the Torah uses, according to its literal translation, refers to one [conventional] day. Maimonides and the other early authorities truly held of this view, that each of the six days of creation lasted for one [ordinary] day, because they had no reason to believe otherwise. However, for us, there are indeed such reasons.

Rabbi Eliyahu Dessler, Collected Essays and Notes, London 1959, no. 33 (cited in Challenge; also Michtav Me-Eliyahu vol. IV p. 113):

Creation, by definition, is outside our world and outside our frame of thought. If time exists only as a mode of our thought, then the act of creation is necessarily non-temporal: "above time." Every non-temporal act is interpreted in our frame of thought as an infinite time-sequence. This is the reason why creation is interpreted by scientists as a process of evolution extending over vast eons of time. Since creation does not take place in time we must ask why the Torah describes it as taking six days. The answer is that the Torah wishes to teach us a lesson in relative values. Everything has value only in relation to its spiritual content. Vast physical masses and vast expanses of space and time are of little significance if their spiritual content is small. The whole physical universe exists as an environment for the spiritual life of the human being; this is its spiritual content. When interpreting non-temporal creation in temporal terms the Torah deliberately contracts the time-scale compared with that which presents itself to the scientist, in order to convey to us the relative insignificance of the material creation compared with the spiritual stature of man.

Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak Kook, Igros HaRe'iyah, letter 91:

We count (our history) according to the literal text of the Torah's verses which is much more meaningful than all the knowledge of prehistory, which has little relevance to us. The Torah certainly obscures the [meaning of] the act of creation as speaks in allegories and parables, for indeed everyone knows that the stories of Genesis are part of the hidden Torah, and if all these narratives were taken literally, what secrets would there be? …What is most important about the act of creation is what we learn in regard to the knowledge of God and the truly moral life. The Holy One, who precisely measures our even the revelation of the prophets, has determined that only through the images of the stories of Genesis would mankind, with great effort, be capable of drawing out all that is beneficial and exalted in the great matters inherent in the act of creation…
The crux of the matter is that the time of the appearance and the effects of every idea and thought is predetermined. Nothing is haphazard. For example, we can understand that if the fact of the globe's movement was made known to the masses a few thousand years ago, and would have feared to stand on his feet lest he fall form the force of the earth's movement, all the more so would he have feared building tall buildings. A general faint-heartedness and incalculably thwarted development would have resulted. The notion of a gravitational force would not have assured him, having seen with his own eyes that anything standing on a moving object can not be secured from falling. Only after mankind matured through experience was it proper to allow men to recognize the earth's movement, so that from it only good would come to man…
This [idea] applies to spirituality as well… It was necessary for the people of Israel to work long and hard with the various pagan sects to make them understand that despite the vastness of the universe, man is not so inconsequential that his adherence to moral directives is without value, and that the creation of man as a moral being is of great significance - incalculably greater than even the quantitatively largest creations… What would have happened if the myriad worlds of the present state of science were known then? Man would have been like a speck and his morality of no consequence, and it would have been impossible to foster within him a spirit of greatness and universal glory. Only now, after man's emergence from his struggle with an image [of a world of overwhelming immensity] is he truly no longer frightened by the vastness of creation. But all this required time and preparation.

The Non-Chronological Sequence of the Six Days of Creation

Michtav Me-Eliyahu vol. 5 p. 348

'Scripture does not teach us anything about the chronological order of events' - Rashi. The reason for this is that the ten utterances with which the world was created (see Avos 5:1) are the ten sefiros whose order is the order of distinguishing revelations (havchanas hagiluyim). The Torah instructed us according to this order in Maase Bereishis, not according to the order of physical time.


Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch, The Educational Value of Judaism, in Collected Writings, vol. VII, p. 264:

Even if this notion (evolution) were ever to gain complete acceptance by the scientific world, Jewish thought, unlike the reasoning of the high priest of that nation (presumably Charles Darwin), would nonetheless never summon us to revere a still extant representative of this primal form (an ape) as the supposed ancestor of us all. Rather, Judaism in that case would call upon its adherents to give even greater reverence than ever before to the one, sole God Who, in His boundless creative wisdom and eternal omnipotence, needed to bring into existence no more than one single, amorphous nucleus, and one single law of "adaptation and heredity" (Darwinian evolution) in order to bring forth, from what seemed chaos but was in fact a very definite order, the infinite variety of species we know today, each with its unique characteristics that sets it apart from all other creatures.

Rabbi Gedalyah Nadel, BeToraso Shel Rav Gedalyah, p.99:

The description of the formation of man from the dust is by way of allegory and parable. The Holy One did not take a spoonful of dirt and knead it with water, as children do in kindergarten. The "dust" here is raw material, from which animals were also formed.

Chazal's Knowledge of Science

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Talmud, Pesachim 94b

The Jewish sages said, "By day the sun passes beneath the firmament and at night above it." The sages of the nations maintained, "By day beneath the firmament and at night beneath the ground." Rebbe said, "Their opinion seems more correct than ours."

Talmud, Sanhedrin 5b

...Rav said: I spent eighteen months living with a shepherd in order to know which blemishes are permanent and which are transitory.

Teshuvos HaGeonim 394:

Our sages were not doctors and said what they did based on experience with the diseases of their time. Therefore, there is no commandment to listen to the sages [regarding medical advice] because they only spoke from their opinion based on what they saw in their day.

Rambam, Moreh Nevuchim 3:14:

Do not ask of me to reconcile everything that they (Chazal) stated from science with the actual reality, for the science of those days was deficient, and they did not speak out of traditions from the prophets regarding these matters…

Rambam, Moreh Nevuchim 2:8:

It is one of the ancient beliefs, both among the philosophers and other people, that the motions of the spheres produced mighty and fearful sounds... This belief is also widespread in our nation. Thus our Sages describe the greatness of the sound produced by the sun in the daily circuit in its orbit. The same description could be given of all heavenly bodies. Aristotle, however, rejects this, and holds that they produce no sounds. You will find his opinion in the book The Heavens and the World (De Coelo). You must not find it strange that Aristotle differs here from the opinion of our Sages. The theory of the music of the spheres is connected with the theory of the motion of the stars in a fixed sphere, and our Sages have, in this astronomical question, abandoned their own theory in favour of the theory of others. Thus, it is distinctly stated, "The wise men of other nations have defeated the wise men of Israel." It is quite right that our Sages have abandoned their own theory: for speculative matters every one treats according to the results of his own study, and every one accepts that which appears to him established by proof.

Rabbeinu Avraham ben HaRambam, Ma'amar al Derashos Chazal:

…The great superiority of the sages of the Talmud, and their expertise in their explanations of the Torah and its details, and the truth of their sayings in the explanation of its general principles and details, nevertheless does not obligate us to defend them and uphold their views in all of their sayings in medicine, and in scientific knowledge…

Maharam Schick, Teshuvas Maharam Schick 7

: Matters that were not received by Chazal as halachah leMoshe miSinai, but rather which they said according to their own reasoning - and with something that is not received [from Sinai] and has no root in our Torah, but rather comes from investigation and experience, it is difficult to determine [that it is true]. And there are many occasions when the sages determined, according to their own intellects, that a matter was a certain way, and the subsequent generation analyzed the matter further and disputed the earlier view.

Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch, Trusting the Torah's Sages, Chapter 4:

In my opinion, the first principle that every student of Chazal's statements must keep before his eyes is the following: Chazal were the sages of God's law - the receivers, transmitters and teachers of His toros, His mitzvos, and His interpersonal laws. They did not especially master the natural sciences, geometry, astronomy, or medicine - except insofar as they needed them for knowing, observing and fulfilling the Torah. We do not find that this knowledge was transmitted to them from Sinai. …We find that Chazal themselves considered the wisdom of the gentile scholars equal to their own in the natural sciences. To determine who was right in areas where the gentile sages disagreed with their own knowledge, they did not rely on their tradition but on reason. Moreover they even respected the opinion of the gentile scholars, admitting when the opinion of the latter seemed more correct than their own.

(Regarding the discussion in the Mishnah about a mouse that grows from the dirt:)
Imagine if a scholar such as Humboldt had lived in their times and had traveled to the ends of the world for his biological investigations. If upon his return he would report that in some distant land there is a humanoid creature growing from the ground or that he had found mice that had been generated from the soil and had in fact seen a mouse that was half earth and half flesh and his report was accepted by the world as true, wouldn't we expect Chazal to discuss the Torah aspects that apply to these instances? What laws of defilement and decontamination apply to these creatures? Or would we expect them to go on long journeys to find out whether what the world has accepted is really true? And if, as we see things today, these instances are considered fiction, can Chazal be blamed for ideas that were accepted by the naturalists of their times? And this is what really happened. These statements are to be found in the works of Pliny, who lived in Rome at the time the Second Temple was destroyed, and who collected in his books on nature all that was well known and accepted in his day.

Shemiras HaGuf VeHaNefesh p. 54:

I saw in the work Nishmas Avraham 14:4 that he brings the words of Rav Sherira Gaon and Rabbeinu Avraham ben HaRambam, and rates this view as one of the reasons why we cannot use the medical cures brought in the Talmud; and the gaon Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach raised the point that it is appropriate to bring this view as "some say," but the main approach is with the other views. I asked Rav Shlomo Zalman who are those views that argue with Rav Sherira Gaon and Rabbeinu Avraham ben HaRambam. He wrote to me as follows: "At the moment I do not remember if there is someone who actually argues, or even if there is anyone who is able to argue with them. But it could be that my intent was that since many have given the reason of nature having changed, and did not mention at all the aspect of improvements and increased knowledge in medical methods in our time, therefore I raised the point that it should be written as 'some say'..."

Evidence for the position of Rambam and others that great Torah scholars can err in science

Shailos U'Teshuvos Shevus Yaakov 3:20:

...How can we learn from the works [of gentile scientists]? Their basic principles are built upon the premise that the world is round, which stands in contrast to the meaning of the passage in our Talmud...

Reinterpreting Torah in Light of Scientific Discoveries

Ramban, commentary to Bereishis 9:12

"This is the sign of the covenant that I give" - It would seem from this sign that the rainbow which appears in the clouds is not part of the acts of creation, and only now did God create something new, to make a rainbow appear in the sky on a cloudy day… But we are compelled to believe the words of the Greeks, that the rainbow is a result of the sun's rays passing through moist air, for in any container of water that is placed before the sun, there can be seen something that resembles a rainbow. And when we look again at the wording of the verse, we will understand it thus. For it says, "I have set my rainbow in the cloud," and it did not say "I am setting it in the cloud," (in the present tense) as it said, "this is the sign of the covenant that I am giving." And the word "My rainbow" indicates the rainbow previously existed.

Ramban, commentary to Vayikra 12:2

"When a woman gives seed (tazria)" (Leviticus 12:2) …They said with regard to the meaning of this, "If the woman produces seed first then she will give birth to a boy..." (Talmud, Niddah 31a). And their intent was not that the child is formed from the seed of the woman, for a woman, even though she has ovaries like the testicles of a male, these either do not produce any seed, or the seed does not do anything for the fetus; but they said "produces seed" with regard to the blood of the womb that is collected at the conclusion of intercourse in the mother and attaches itself to the seed of the man, for according to their opinion the fetus is formed from the blood of the woman and from the white substance of the man, and these two together are called the "seed"… and the opinion of the doctors regarding formation is likewise. But according to the opinion of the Greek philosophers, the entire body of the fetus is formed from the woman's blood; the man contributes nothing other than the force that is known as hyuli in their language, which gives form to the substance… and if so, the word tazria is like, "[as a garden that] sprouts forth its seedlings" (Yeshayah 61:11)…

The Exclusivity of the Talmud's Principles

Rabbi Yonason Eybeshitz, Kreisi, Yoreh De'ah 83:3:

"Anything that has a scale, has a fin" - It seems that this is with the majority of fish. For with everything - and especially with the nature of creatures - it always follows the majority. With all creatures there are many things that are exceptions from the usual nature, as the naturalists have attested regarding the nature of animals. But the Torah and mitzvos all implement the principle of following the majority, and the majority of those that possess a scale, have a fin. And if a creature is discovered that lacks a fin, this does not present a contradiction to the principle, as it is from the minority, and the Sages spoke concerning the majority of fish. Therefore, the Spanish fish that is venomous, which possesses a scale but lacks a fin, is no contradiction to the words of the Sages; and there is no need to draw a distinction between aquatic animals and fish, as this is forced, for all aquatic creatures are included in the name "fish." Rather, they are a minority.

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