Monday, September 29, 2008
[Jan Brueghel the Elder. Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. 1615.]
Since tomorrow is the anniversary of the birth of Adam, I think this post is especially appropriate this week.
Traditionally, many Jews have understood the creation story in the first few chapters of Genesis to imply that the universe was created about six thousand years ago and before that nothing material existed. I have the impression that most ultra-Orthodox people would still agree with this.
There is however a problem with this interpretation.
In the 18th century, scientists began studying fossils more intensively. In 1841 three primary layers were identified by geologist John Phillips. One layer, the Paleozoic, consists primarily of extinct shellfish such as trilobites and plants such as ferns. The Mesozoic includes huge extinct reptiles, the dinosaurs. The Cenozoic includes an abundance of mammals, many huge and now extinct such as the mammoths, and flowering plants. All paleontologists since 1841 have confirmed the existence of these primary layers.
This seems to present a problem for Judaism, since Genesis seems to teach that there was one creation event and all life that has ever existed was created at that time. Any fossil layers should include modern day life as well as any species that may have become extinct since creation, however this is not the case.
Rabbi Yisrael Lipschitz, the rabbi of Danzig, Germany gave a speech in April, 1842 (published as Derush Ohr HaChayyim, found in the back pages of the Tiferes Yisrael Mishnayot Nezikin volume 1) resolving the fossil question. Midrash Rabbah Breishis 3:7 and 9:2 states that many other worlds were created and destroyed previously to this one. The commentaries on the midrash explain that the earlier worlds were gradually improved upon and refined. Furthermore, Midrash Rabbah Breishis 1:5 states that this world is like a king's palace which was built on a landfill - a garbage dump of some sort. The Talmud Chagigah 13b states that 974 generations of people existed before creation. Rabbi David Brown in his book “Mysteries of the Creation” explains these ideas in greater detail.
I believe that the following may the be correct interpretation of Genesis:
When the Torah states, for example, (Genesis 1:11) that plants were created on the third day, that means basically two things: the first time plants appeared on earth was a Tuesday and also each Tuesday, even this week, plants are being renewed by spiritual emanations from God (as it says in the literal translation of Psalms 136:7 "To Him making great lights" in the present tense; God is even now energizing them). The same is true for all the days of creation in Genesis 1. This is why Sabbath observance is so central to Judaism - even now, God ceases creating for one day each week and we affirm our belief in Him by doing so as well. The Bible's first thirty four verses are absolutely literal, however they are not describing historical events which happened one time only. Rather, they are describing a cycle of creative events which continues constantly and which did, at certain points in history, millions or billions of years ago, bring these aspects of the universe into physical form for the first time. The first plants may have appeared 500 million years ago - but they appeared on Tuesday and this week they also received renewed energies on Tuesday. The same applies to each other day of the six days of creation. This is what Genesis 1 teaches us. (This also explains why there are "two creation stories" in Genesis. There aren't. Genesis 1 is not merely history.)
History begins from Genesis 2:4. This is the day which the Jewish calendar starts from - New Years (Rosh haShanah) year 0 or Friday, September 1, 3762 BCE according to the Gregorian calendar. Adam was a real person, the garden of Eden was a real place and so on. Adam is the ancestor of all men alive today. His creation represents the beginning of the present, current world and therefore the Jewish calendar begins counting from that day.
The Aramaic translation of the Torah on Genesis 2:7 reads "And the Lord God created Adam from dust of the ground, and breathed upon his face the breath of lives, and it became in Adam a Discoursing Spirit." I would guess, based upon this, that language was born with the creation of Adam. The ability to assign arbitrary sounds to different ideas and connect them using rules of grammar I suspect began only 5768 years ago. This explains why we do not find writing until about 5,000 years ago. Cities were first established at this time. The usage of metal and other advanced technology originated at this time as well. This may have been the result of language. Early, pre-Adam men, who became extinct before Adam's creation, I would suspect were non-verbal. Therefore they only lived in small, primitive communities.
According to Midrash Rabbah Breishis 18:4, the first language was Hebrew and this is the language which Adam and Eve spoke along with their early descendants. I suspect, however that Adam and Eve could not write. There is no reference to writing in the entire book of Genesis. God spoke to people, but did not give them any documents. I would suspect that during the period from Adam until the Tower of Babel (1766 BCE) all people spoke Hebrew and if they wrote they devised various pictographic writing systems such as cuneiform and hieroglyphics. Pictographs continued to be used after the Tower as well (and they still are in eastern Asia).
The Torah was given by God to the Jews at Mount Sinai in 1314 BCE. The Torah was written in some form of the Hebrew alphabet (see Talmud Sanhedrin 21b towards the bottom and afterwards for a discussion of the various ancient Hebrew scripts). At that time writing is first mentioned in the Bible and the alphabet was first used. The earliest translatable alphabetic writing is a Hebrew inscription, found in the Sinai and dated to about 1,500 BCE. Thus the alphabet was born.
Therefore, in summary:
Genesis 1 lists which days of the week different creations first appeared and are spiritually reenergized today, but it does not indicate in which era they first appeared.
We are all descended from one man who was created in 3762 BCE.
At least several other types of ecosystems existed before him and the fossils are remnants of them.
Speech began with Adam. He spoke Hebrew.
Languages other than Hebrew began after the Tower of Babel 1766 BCE.
The alphabet was given to man with the revelation in the Sinai 1314 BCE.
Posted by jewish philosopher at 3:22 PM
Friday, September 19, 2008
[Simon of Trent, allegedly murdered by Jews]
One topic that seems to be very controversial is the issue of crime and substance abuse within the Orthodox Jewish community.
To the best of my knowledge, these problems are far more rare in the Orthodox community than they are in American society in general.
In regards to violent crime, I posted several months ago a request for information about Orthodox Jewish homicides in the United States. I was able to find only one confirmed case of an Orthodox Jew ever convicted of homicide in the United States; a man in Cleveland who over twenty years ago shot his ex-wife’s father during a dispute. The perpetrator was modern Orthodox and had become Orthodox as an adult. In the United States as a whole, 8,400 Americans were convicted of murder in 2004 from a population of about 300 million. There are about 600,000 Orthodox Jews in the United States. Proportionally, there would be 17 homicide convictions per year in the Orthodox community. I would suggest that a very low rate of homicide is an indicator of a very low level of violence in general since assault often escalates, intentionally or otherwise, to homicide. This applies to child abuse and spousal abuse as well.
In regards to sexual abuse, in the National Sex Offender Registry, there are several people who appear to be Orthodox Jews. However, bear in mind that there are over 491,720 registered sex offenders in the United States, meaning that about one in every 620 Americans is a registered sex offender. Proportionally about 970 Orthodox Jews should be registered sex offenders. I don’t believe that there is 1% that number.
As far as substance abuse is concerned, I am aware of only two Sabbath observant residential rehabilitation facilities in the United States - Chabad Residential Treatment Center For Men in Los Angeles, California and Yatzkan Center in Brooklyn, NY for addicted teenage boys age 14-19. Both these centers seem to be very small and serve non-Orthodox as well as Orthodox. When I called, Chabad told me that they have 35 beds and accept non-Jewish patients as well. Over 1.46 million drivers were arrested in 2006 for driving under the influence of alcohol or narcotics. This is an arrest rate of 1 for every 139 licensed drivers in the United States. I am not aware of any Orthodox Jew ever having been arrested for driving while intoxicated, although proportionally it should be about 1,000 annually.
The rebuttal to this seems to be: These facts are deceptive. In reality, Orthodox Jews are no different than their neighbors, however they succeed in evading detection for wrong doing because they will not report each other to the police. Jewish law allegedly prohibits contacting or cooperating with the authorities and the Orthodox community will shun anyone doing so. Therefore, few outsiders are aware of the actual level of crime and substance abuse within the Orthodox community.
In my humble opinion, this is ludicrous.
Jewish law does not prohibit cooperating with the authorities in regards to violent or sexual offences.
Many people leave the Orthodox community annually and would certainly have no compunctions about reporting any complaints to law enforcement.
Homicide would be impossible to completely conceal. Large numbers of people cannot easily disappear without law enforcement becoming involved. It is difficult to dispose of bodies without attracting any attention or leaving any traces.
Law enforcement officers would directly detect drivers who are under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
In my humble opinion, this charge that “Orthodox Jews merely appear to be so good however in reality are evil” is an ancient anti-Orthodox, if not anti-Semitic, canard.
Jesus is quoted as saying (Matthew 23:27) “Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye are like unto whited sepulchres, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead men's bones, and of all uncleanness.”
Martin Luther wrote in the “The Jews and Their Lies” chapter XII: “They deny just as brazenly as they lie. And wherever they can secretly curse, poison, or harm us Christians they do so without any qualms of conscience. If they are caught in the act or charged with something, they are bold enough to deny it impudently, even to the point of death, since they do not regard us worthy of being told the truth. In fact, these holy children of God consider any harm they can wish or inflict on us as a great service to God. Indeed, if they had the power to do to us what we are able to do to them, not one of us would live for an hour. But since they lack the power to do this publicly, they remain our daily murderers and bloodthirsty foes in their hearts. Their prayers and curses furnish evidence of that, as do the many stories which relate their torturing of children and all sorts of crimes for which they have often been burned at the stake or banished. Therefore I firmly believe that they say and practice far worse things secretly than the histories and others record about them, meanwhile relying on their denials and on their money.”
Therefore the accusation of secret Jewish criminality is far from original. Through out the Middle Ages, Jews were constantly accused of murdering Christian children and abusing communion wafers. As recently as 1989, a woman appeared on Oprah claiming to have participated in Jewish human sacrifice. The woman, according to some websites, was in fact Vicki Polin, who now operates a website dedicated to alleged rabbinical sexual abuse.
Posted by jewish philosopher at 12:34 PM
Tuesday, September 16, 2008
[We are always up to something.]
This may come as a surprise to many Americans, however in the Islamic world, a great many people believe that the attack on the World Trade Center was in fact coordinated by Jews. Of course, most people in the United States would scoff at such a conspiracy theory; for one thing it seems to be improbable that so many people could have been involved in the conspiracy without anyone revealing the truth (“whistle blowing”). Muslims brush this objection off “because it clashes with their bedrock conviction that Jews are behind many of their troubles”. In other words, they simply deny the inconvenient truth.
I see a parallel between the 9/11 conspiracy theories and attitude that many atheists have about the origins of Torah.
We know that about 2,000 years ago, there were several million people who believed that the events described in the first half of the book of Exodus had actually occurred to their ancestors. The question is; how did they come to believe this?
The obvious answer is because it did happen.
The atheistic answer however seems to be: It was a conspiracy. Nothing really happened, however about three thousand years ago Israelites began making up stories about their ancestors. Then at some point, most likely during the time of Ezra, all Jews decided on one identical, yet fictional, version of their origins. All previous versions mysteriously disappeared without a trace. Even the Samaritans for some reason were also loyal conspirators. Although it seems to be improbable that so many people could have been involved in the conspiracy without anyone revealing the truth, atheists brush this off because it clashes with their bedrock conviction that there is no God.
There is no physical evidence, no whistle blowers, but the Jews simply MUST have fabricated the Torah from thin air. Just like they must have destroyed the World Trade Center. Whatever.
Posted by jewish philosopher at 11:15 AM
Thursday, September 11, 2008
Wednesday, September 10, 2008
Tuesday, September 09, 2008
[Hatzolah Helping Injured Man]
The Torah is the first book to advocate altruism. I am happy to report that this tradition is still alive and well in the Jewish community.
There is a network of volunteer ambulance corps in Jewish communities known as Hatzolah - “rescue” in Hebrew. Thousands of men volunteer their time to participate in saving lives. Together, the combined New York State branches have grown to become the largest all-volunteer ambulance system in the United States. The work these people do is incredible. Their response time is lightning fast and the work is done with genuine concern and caring.
One Saturday afternoon about two years ago, my son Samson, who has cerebral palsy, was riding his gait trainer on our home’s second story deck. Unfortunately, he attempted to ride the gait trainer down the stairs that lead to a concrete patio. He crashed face first into the concrete. My wife heard this happen and then ran into the house carrying him and screaming. I jumped up from my Sabbath afternoon nap and speed dialed Hatzolah on my cell phone. Within a few minutes an ambulance was in our drive way and two paramedics were in the house. They decided to transport my son to the emergency room at the Westchester County Medical Center. Fortunately, my son only suffered a black eye, and a damaged gait trainer. The obvious concern and caring of the Hatzolah volunteers was amazing and made this difficult experience much easier for everyone. I have no doubt that in many cases it makes a life or death difference.
I wonder why atheists seem so concerned for the Midianite children killed by the Israelites over three thousand years ago, yet seem unaware of all the children helped by Hatzolah today. It’s also interesting that atheists have committed so many atrocities in modern times, however they don’t seem to have any organization equivalent to Hatzolah as far as I know. Perhaps we do need God to be good.
Posted by jewish philosopher at 11:06 AM
Wednesday, September 03, 2008
The following is a text of the Kaddish prayer, which is repeated many times each day during the synagogue services:
Glorified and sanctified be God's great name throughout the world which He has created according to His will.
May He establish His kingdom in your lifetime and during your days, and within the life of the entire House of Israel, speedily and soon; and say, Amen.
May His great name be blessed forever and to all eternity.
Blessed and praised, glorified and exalted, extolled and honored, adored and lauded be the name of the Holy One, blessed be He, beyond all the blessings and hymns, praises and consolations that are ever spoken in the world; and say, Amen.
This prayer is associated with bereavement, however it is actually one of the most often recited Jewish prayers in general. It makes no reference to mourning, but rather it is a prayer fervently asking that people should glorify and praise God. This is a Jew’s greatest wish – that all mankind will recognize the sovereignty of God and love Him wholeheartedly.
This blog is my own small effort to bring that about.
It is mindboggling that some other "Jews", raised in Orthodox homes, are busily writing articles attempting to accomplish the opposite – to persuade people to deny God or to hate Him.
Posted by jewish philosopher at 2:59 PM