Tuesday, January 18, 2005

Orthodox Judaism's Evolution Controversy

The controversial site in question, ZooTorah.com, is hosted by rabbi Yaakov Menken's Capalon company.
Rabbi Ari Kahn writes to the Areivim discussion group: The ongoing saga of Rabbi Slifkin is quite disturbing on many fronts. Part of his “mistake” was naively believing he can educate the chareidie world – and that they are open to such education.
As was noted here, Aish.com has removed many science and religion articles,
this is not very encouraging news.
I would like to share a couple of anecdotes on both fronts.
Many years ago in my capacity of educational director of Alyenu (Aish’s outreach arm) I hired Dr. Gerald (Yaakov – as he prefers to be called) Shroeder. When I first heard his material. I was impressed with the novel approach. He then delivered a lecture to senior staff including myself, and Rav Motty Berger and Rav Shmuel Veffer. In order to protect Aish from the type of attack it is experiencing now I introduced Dr Shroeder to Rav Yitzchak Berkovitz, and then Rav Noach Weinberg, neither had objections to his basic approach. Later when his first book came out we gave a copy to Rav Yaakov Weinberg, and then arranged a meeting, I was there together with Rav Yaakov Weinberg and Dr. Shroeder, anticipating that one day people will claim that Rav Yaakov Weinberg never could have approved his approach I came
armed with a tape recorder. Somewhere in my house I have a tape of the meeting.
Rav Yakov’s first concern was that the science was valid – while he was extremely well read and conversant in science Rav Yakov was humble enough to feel that he could not judge the book scientifically, and wanted to know that the science was indeed acceptable. Dr Shoreder assured him that the book went through scientific peer review at Bantam books. Rav Yakov was satisfied. Rav Yakov then gave some guidelines and advice. A major point was never to teach his approach in yeshiva – but if yeshiva guys with questions came to Aish he should teach them. Rav Yakov felt that teaching this approach while valid, would be counter productive for yeshiva students because it would hurt their emunas chachamim. Secular people on the other
hand he felt should be taught this material.
A number of years later some of the more zealous elements in Israel decided that they did not like Dr Shroeder’s approach and soon a din torah was setup. Presiding was Rav Moshe Shternbuch, representing Aish was Rav Yitzchak Berkovitz –charges of kefira were hurled, ultimately Rav Berkovitz asked Rav Shternbuch which ikkar in emunah was being denied, Rav Shtenbuch was silent and then turned to the petitioners – who also could not articulate the exact kefira. In the end Rav Shternbuch who did not like it at all had to admit that this was not kefira – even though he did not like it at all.
More recently when Dr Shroeder cites certain opinions regarding prehistoric man he has given me as his rabbinic source. A few months a go I received a phone call from a friend who would also be happy to be defined as someone who lives in the zealous camp. He heard Dr Shroeder speak and quote me, my friend was incredulous. I told him of the following conversation which I had with Rav Yaakov Weinberg on another occasion. I asked Rav Yakov – if it was kefira to say that Adam had parents. He responded by saying that as long as you can show a spiritual difference between Adam and those preceding him then in terms of Hashkafa this would be fine. I could not tell if Rav Yaakov Weinberg himself accepted this approach or merely thought it was
hashkafcally acceptable (I later heard from a very close talmid of Rav Yakov that he heard Rav Yakov suggest this 40 years ago and was comfortable with it). My friend wrote a terse postcard to Rav Chaim Kanifsky who told him that it is kefira [heresy] to believe that there were men before Adam. (I thought the formulation of his question was unfair – because to paraphrase the Rambam – these are not men – just animals in human form. He should have asked could there have been animals in human form before Adam?)
I also showed my friend several sources in chazal which indicate that Kayin and Hevel had different fathers – while I would agree that there are several ways to read this – including only speaking about spiritual forces – how can one call the other approach based on Chazal – kfrira?
I maintained that based on Rav Yakov’s psak I felt such an opinion could be taught – moreover – if it is hashkafically acceptable then to deny this approach to the Jew who is searching would be breaking the law of placing a stumbling block in front of the blind – and of lying about torah which according to the Yam Shel Shlomo is yohorag val yavor.
My point which is really an echo of Rav Yakov - this should not be taught to Yeshiva guys, but if this is acceptable in terms of hashkafa than it should not be denied to the yeshiva guy who questions – or to the searching nonreligious individual who can not reconcile science with Torah by rejecting all science.
I later spoke with Rav Zev Leff about the entire episode and he agreed with me completely.
In the realm of science and Torah the chareidi world has a narrow approach this is neither good nor bad – this is a fact. If RNS thinks he will “educate” them he is in for a rude awakening. He has no right to negatively impact their emunas chachamim.
I spoke with a well known Chassidic posek about this issue he was amused (this was 6 weeks ago – long before the cherem) he said that the approach is not kefira yet not the yeshivish way and therefore – no one will come out and defend RNS. I hope he is wrong.
As on aside has anyone on this list read the sefer by Rav Neriah Guttel? It is not all that different, yet is accepted. (I hope I am not causing him problems now)
On the other hand Poskim have been approached about teaching certain non-yeshivish ideas in outreach and they have been encouraged – not because you can lie for outreach quite the opposite – because you must tell the truth.