Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Bored with Berayshis?

Achar, our favorite on-line apostate, has tired of Slifkin and the creation story and moved on to the mabul(flood.)

I think this is because Achar finally understands Slifkin's thesis: the Rabbinic Judaism of our fathers (pace the paranoid pretenders in 21st century Meah Sheorim and B'nai Brak) isn't as hostile to the idea of an old universe as first imagined. Well done, Achar! You win a DovBear Star of Acheivment. This entitles you to a gift certificate from Yashar Books, and a round-trip ticket to Yeshiva University in Washington Heights where you can mingle with other flexible, open-minded Orthodox Jews. Congratulations!


Achar's flood discussion recalls a presentation I once heard from a very charasmatic preacher and teacher of starry-eyed seminary girls whose name must remain Rabbi David Orlofsky.

My memories are weak, but I seem to remember Rabbi Orlofsky being asked "How can you say the age of the universe is 5000 odd years in the face of evidence such as radiometric dating?"

Rabbi Orlofsky can make you laugh by reciting the Pledge of Alleigance, so his reply was probably funnier, but it sounded something like this: "Carbon dating only seems to indicate an old Earth because Noah's Flood changed the radioisotope concentrations on the young Earth. As a result, the readings we get are distorted."

Actually, when you think about it, that is pretty funny.

Anyway, at the time I was both young enough and arrogant enough to scream "Facts not in evidence!" As I was being dragged from the room (I said I was young) I tried to explain that you can't prove that the Torah is true, using information that appears nowhere but in the Torah itself. I was ignored. Later, I wrote a letter asking Rabbi Orlofsky to explain moonrocks and meteorites, objects that yield radiometric dates of around 4.5 billion years, which is approximately the age of the earth posited by standard geology, and Yitzchak of Acco. Did the flood waters cover the entire universe? If not, why are space rocks distorted in the same way that terrestrial rocks are distorted?

Rabbi Orlofsky never answered, or perhaps I discovered girls and neglected to send the letter. As I said, my memories are weak.


Achar's article decries "genre mistakes" but he makes one of his own. No one says the flood story is a fundamental of faith. You can reject it without being a heretic. In fact, license for rejecting the literal interpretation of the flood story was given to us over 1000 years ago by Saadya Gaon, who said [Emunot v'Deyot 7:2]:

There are four conditions under which the Torah is not to be taken according to its literal meaning (1) When the plain meaning is rejected by common experience, or your senses; (2) When it is repudiated by obvious logic; (3) When it is contradicted by scripture; or (4) When it is opposed by tradition.

I'll never understand why acrobatics like those performed by David Orlofsky are preferable to Rav Saadya's old and wise counsel. Their silly games do nothing but discourage Jews like me, and provide Jews like Achar with additional ammunition.