Hi my Name is shlomo I live in the us and I am very very impressed by your site and your work it really made me realize that i was fooled for all my years, until I bumped in to the book called the mysteries of the creation by rabbi David Brown, and now I am even more confused I was wondering if you ever looked in to that book and what’s your opinion about it.
Please get back to me ASAP because my life is torture not knowing where I stand..
Can you please tell us what impressed you so much in Rabbi Brown’s book? After all, Rabbi Brown describes his approach in the following way:
We will attempt only to derive from the Torah what the Torah has to teach us on the subjects we will pursue, the origin and structure of the physical world. Therefore, let us not object that we are taking from science what we wish and rejecting what we choose. The charge is true. We accept whatever we find verified in the Torah shebiKsav and the Torah shebaal Pe. We reject any theory inconsistent with them” (R’ Dovid Brown, The Mysteries of the Creation [Southfield, Mich.: Targum/Feldheim, 1997], p. 28).
A book on the relation between the Torah and science based on such an approach not only creates in the reader’s mind a skewed image of the issue (avoiding the numerous fields where the statements of the Bible and the Rabbinic sources contradict clear and well-established scientific findings), but is, by definition, totally useless for trying to clarify such contradictions. What relation, then, does it bear to the topics raised on our site?
Moreover, when R’ Brown speaks of “what the Torah has to teach us,” he obviously implies his own understanding of Jewish sources — an understanding which is for the most part based on some statement in the Rabbinic literature, but which is sometimes plainly incorrect.
Consider, for example, the following statement on when, according to the Torah, Jacob’s descendants were called by the collective name Israel (as distinct from that name being used as the personal name of Jacob alone): “The nation was not dubbed ‘Yisroel’ until Sinai” (Brown, The Mysteries of the Creation, p. 46). This statement is provided by R’ Brown with reference to the Babylonian Talmud, Chullin, fol. 101b.
Now, the relevant passage from the Talmud discusses the mishnah in tractate Chullin 7:6, where it speaks about the prohibition on eating the thigh muscle (gid ha-nashe; the prohibition on eating it appears in Genesis 32:32). According to the mishnah,
[The prohibition of eating the thigh muscle] applies to clean [animals] and does not apply to unclean [animals]. Rabbi Yehudah says: [It applies] to unclean [animals] also. Said Rabbi Yehudah: Indeed, [eating] the thigh muscle was prohibited from [the time of] the sons of Jacob (with reference to Genesis 32:32), when [eating] unclean animals was still permitted to them. They replied to him: [The prohibition] was given at Sinai, although written in its proper place [in the narrative of Genesis].
Now, in the Babylonian Talmud (Chullin, 101b), there is the following discussion of this mishnah:
We have learned (in a Tannaitic source): They said to R’ Yehudah: Does it say [in the Pentateuch], “Therefore the sons of Jacob do not eat [the thigh muscle]”? No, rather, it says “the sons of Israel [do not eat the thigh muscle]” (Genesis 32:32), and they were not called “the sons of Israel” until Sinai. Thus, [this prohibition] was given at Sinai, although it was written in its proper place [in the narrative of Genesis] so that one would know the reason for the prohibition.
Rava pointed out the problem: “And the sons of Israel brought Jacob their father” (Genesis 46:5; this verse shows that the term “the sons of Israel” was used in the narrative of the Pentateuch before the story of the Sinai Revelation). [The answer is:] That verse [describes what took place] after the occurrence [at which Jacob was called Israel]. Rav Acha the son of Rava asked Rav Ashi: Why was the prohibition not enacted from that time on [i.e., from the time to which Gen. 46:5 corresponds]? He answered: Now, was the Torah given on several occasions? That time was neither the time of the occurrence itself [the occurrence at which Jacob was called Israel], nor the time of the giving of the Torah.
Now, Rava’s question points out only part of the difficulty, because the term “Israel” or “the sons of Israel” is used to refer to the whole people of Jacob’s descendants well before Genesis 46:5. Consider, e.g., the following: “And the sons of Jacob came in from the field when they heard it, and the men were grieved, and they were very wroth, because he had wrought a vile deed in Israel in lying with Jacob’s daughter, which ought not to be done” (Genesis 34:7); “And these are the kings that reigned in the land of Edom, before there reigned any king over the sons of Israel” (Genesis 36:31). Both latter verses use “Israel” or “the sons of Israel” as terms for the whole people which, in the framework of the narrative, could not exist at the relevant period (when there were at most Jacob and his family) — and this has obvious implications regarding the time when the Torah was written. But even the discussion in Chullin 101b, as it stands, shows clearly that the term “sons of Israel” was used to refer to the whole people well before the story of the Sinai Revelation, whatever the relevance of those references for the prohibition of eating the thigh muscle. Thus, R’ Brown has simply misunderstood the Talmud.
The statements of R’ Brown relating to natural science are often no less absurd. Consider, for example, his comment based on the passage in the midrash Bereshit Rabbah (Vilna edition, 10:4), which says that before Adam’s sin the heavenly bodies were moving fast on short orbits, but after the sin they were made to move slow on longer orbits. On this, R’ Brown says:
In order for the solar year to have been less than twelve months, the earth would have necessary been closer to the sun than it is now; then, the earth’s orbit around the sun would be shorter and swifter. Now, the energy, light and heat available to the earth is received principally from the sun. If the earth was closer to the sun, the energy received from the sun would be greater. Without attempting to relate specific inputs of energy to specific capabilities the earth had before the sin, we can readily believe that greater energy would result in a more powerful earth with capabilities inconceivable to us (Brown, The Mysteries of the Creation, p. 87).
Of course, if the earth’s distance from the sun were considerably shorter, the amount of solar energy reaching earth would be such that the heat would not allow any life to exist on our planet. So much for R’ Brown’s understanding of natural science. (We will leave aside the fact that according to the Rabbinic sources it is the sun that orbits the earth and that the midrashic passage used by R’ Brown as his starting point does not appear in the most reliable manuscripts of Bereshit Rabbah, as he could easily check by perusing the critical edition of Bereshit Rabbah by J. Theodore and Ch. Albeck — but can R’ Brown be expected to check such things?)