Tuesday, October 24, 2006

On Noah

In honor of Parshas Noach, let me share something from a presentation I once heard from a very charismatic preacher and teacher of starry-eyed seminary girls whose name must remain Rabbi David Orlofsky.

My memories have faded, but I seem to recall 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 is a skilled clown, who 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. The rabbi makes three mistakes: (1) There is no reason to think that the waters of the Flood would distort the readering. (2) You can't prove that the Torah is true, using information that appears nowhere but in the Torah itself. Before you can suggest that the Flood distorted the readings, you need to prove that there was a Flood; and (3) Did the waters of the Flood cover the entire universe? Not according to the torah, yet moon rocks have been carbon-dated, and their levels suggest that they, too, are very old.

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 the heretics with additional ammunition.

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