Friday, February 06, 2009

Think Before You Harangue

How old is the universe? Like this issue hasn’t been discussed to death yet. Nonetheless here is an answer:

There were periods of time before our period of time, and that Hashem built worlds and destroyed them. This means that on the planet Earth, Hashem created pre-historic forms of existence like dinosaurs, mastodons etc. and destroyed those life forms. Each time He created a “new” world, He built it on top of the ruined one. Hence the layers and the millions of years of existence before the form of Earth that we live on. The Talmud (Shabbos 88; Chagiga 14) also speaks of 974 generations before Adam. This may account for the prehistoric humanoid remains that have been discovered hidden in caverns and layers of time.

The Torah in Genesis 1:1 tells us that an undetermined number of years ago Elokim created heaven and earth. It then skips the history of the previous forms of life on this globe and tells us how, in six days, the chaos that the Earth was in after the latest life forms were destroyed, was ordered into the Earth as we know it. On day six, Man was created.

When we speak of 5769 years, it is, as the Rambam says, from the creation of the homo sapien Adam who was bequeathed by Elokim with the unique gift of intelligence and speech.

This very rational approach enables us to accept scientific dating methods that indicate that previous worlds may have existed on Earth billions of years ago.

The above is part of an article written in the current Jewish Star by Rabbi Herschel Billet, Rav of the Young Israel of Woodmere. It is taken from the Tifferes Yisroel whose author was a relatively recent Acharon, Rav Yisrael Lipschutz. It was mentioned along with several other explanations about the discrepancy between the scientifically determined age of the universe - and the age determined by a literal reading of the six days of creation written in the Torah.

This explanation is in part one I use practically every time I discuss the issue. But I was certainly not the first to do so. As I’ve pointed out many times, Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan did so famously in a presentation back in the seventies to an organization comprised of Orthodox Jewish scientists. And I heard it in series of lectures given by Rabbi Yosef Gavriel Bechhofer several years ago in Chicago (available online at his website).

The purpose of Rabbi Billet’s article was to respond to a recent video that surfaced on YouTube showing Rav Aaron Schechter haranguing about this same issue after a questioner asked him about it. Rav Schechter completely ignored the question and said we dare not even ask it. Unlike the Tifferes Yisroel who recognized the problem and dealt with it - he chose the ‘put on your blinders’ approach as being ideal. That has caused a huge backlash that hearkened back to the one that occurred with the ban on Rabbi Slifkin’s books a few years ago.

What Rabbi Schechter did was alienate the very people he was trying to win over in that ill fated visit to Teaneck. And now because of the video, his harangue has alienated even more people. To quote Rabbi Billet’s closing words:

Rabbis, even great rabbis, should choose the moments where they must preach faith exclusively. At other times they should take a step back and think before they speak.