Readers’ Feedback – Peretz

Peretz wrote:


PAGE 15: “Evidence for this continuing growth comes from observations suggesting that most galaxies are receding from us.” Two questions stemming from ignorance: 1. Is it ‘most’ or ‘all’?  2. Could these observations suggest that most galaxies were receding from us? (i.e. from the observations, can one still posit that the expansion stopped, and that we’re mistakenly (even though reasonably) extrapolating from light-years ago, saying it’s still expanding?)


My response:


Most galaxies are believed to be receding from us, but not all. For example, the twenty-six or so galaxies belonging to the Local Group – including Andromeda, The Milky way and their satellite galaxies – are believed to be moving towards one another. The standard explanation is that the local gravitational attraction of these galaxies outweighs the Hubble expansion.


As far as the second question, I am not sure. As I stressed in Genesis and the Big Bluff, there is a lot of uncertainty in cosmology. But the consensus is that if you look far enough – beyond the Virgo Supercluster – you will see that the superclusters of galaxies there are receding.


Peretz wrote:


PAGE 20: “sixth chapter of Pirkei D’Rabbi
Eliezer, … On the fourth day, He created the two great luminaries”


I recommend the following link concerning whether “created” is the correct word to use:


My response:


I did not find anything on the website to suggest that created is inappropriate. I am not sure whether you mean that according to פרקי דרבי אליעזר created is not the most appropriate word or that this is true in general.


At any rate, I pointed out in Genesis and the Big Bluff (page 20) that there are numerous traditional sources that make the same point:


This is a commonly-found description in the Talmudic literature. Many traditional sources indicate that when they were created, the Sun and the Moon were of equal size. Thereafter, the Moon was diminished.


See, for example, the commentary of Rashi to the fourth day of creation, where he cites the Talmud, as opposed to פרקי דרבי אליעזר.


Peretz wrote:


PAGE 20: “If Nahmanides would have written that we inhabit an ever expanding
universe, would that be sufficient to claim harmony
between Biblical tradition and modern science?”


Does Schroeder claim full harmony, or just some harmony? If he says the latter, then he might accuse you of misrepresenting him. (I suspect that his book was vague on this.)


My response:


If I told you that I would sell you some item for a fraction of the price that is usually charged, would you not expect a substantial discount? Strictly speaking, though, I could claim that is also a fraction…


Genesis and the Big Bang is subtitled The Discovery of Harmony between Modern Science and the Bible. One could argue that by harmony Dr. Schroeder meant harmony-lite. Such an argument takes kvetching to new heights.


Peretz wrote:


PAGE 23: Is there any opening to translate barzel (ברזל) as anything other than iron? See


PAGE 23: “That is primarily because copper and its
alloys have a much lower melting point than iron.”


One might argue (nitpick?) that it’s not the melting point that matters, but the temperature at which the smith can hammer the hot metal into shape. (Actually, come to think of it, the verse doesn’t mention shaping; it mentions sharpening.)


My response:


Both targumim (יונתן בן עוזיאל and Onkelos) on Genesis 4:22 render ברזל as פרזלא, which is the standard translation for iron throughout the Bible. For example, when the Torah lists the pure metals in Numbers 31:


אך את הזהב ואת הכסף את הנחשת את הברזל את הבדיל ואת העפרת


Onkelos renders ברזל as פרזלא.


Besides, on whom does the onus of proof rest? Dr. Schroeder is the one trying to establish a particular historical period on the basis of the word נחושת (which he takes to mean bronze). I am pointing out that his failure to quote the relevant verse in its entirety is misleading. The omission of ברזל (which is usually taken to mean iron) leaves the unwary reader with the unjustified impression that Dr. Schroeder has successfully established that there is complete agreement between Torah chronology and modern archaeology.


Peretz wrote:


PAGE 29: “Dr. Schroeder claims that In the time of Adam, there coexisted animals that appeared as humans in shape and also in intelligence but lacked the “image” that makes man uniquely different from
other animals, being as the “‘image” of God.”


For the next several pages after this point, you talk about the descendants of Adam before Seth. However, I think Schroeder is talking about hominids that were originally created before Adam, along with these hominids descendants that lived concurrently with Adam.


My response:


Genesis and the Big Bang, page 151:


In The Guide for the Perplexed, Maimonides makes a remarkable comment. In the time of Adam, he writes, there coexisted animals that appeared as humans in shape and also in intelligence but lacked the “image” that makes man uniquely different from other animals, being as the “‘image” of God.


The source cited by Dr. Schroeder is Maimonides, The Guide for the Perplexed, part 1, chapter 7.


There is a clear claim here about what Maimonides said and where he said it. My lengthy discussion demonstrates that Dr. Schroeder’s claim is balderdash and poppycock.


Peretz wrote:


PAGE 39: “But Dr. Schroeder never
ponders the possibility – and consequences – of contemporary scientific theories turning out to be wrong.”


On page 45, you write: “And it is not as if Dr. Schroeder is unaware of this possibility. On page 22…” Contradiction?


My response:


What I wrote on page 39 is this:


But Dr. Schroeder never ponders the possibility – and consequences – of contemporary scientific theories turning out to be wrong. If you claim congruence between Torah sources and scientific theories, and those theories are eventually rejected, what are the implications for the Torah?


It is true that Dr. Schroeder ponders the failure of a scientific theory in Genesis and the Big Bang (once). But he never applies this to his methodology of linking contemporary physics theories with Torah notions.


Peretz wrote:


PAGE 46: “Dr. Schroeder believes that this phenomenon, too, was presaged
by the Bible:”

I just want to clarify whether the style of Dr. Schroeder is more like: “I say that the Bible presaged this phenomenon” or more like: “I believe that one way of interpreting the Bible is that it presaged this phenomenon.” I generally am way more tolerant of those who take that second approach. I think I see some examples of the former in Dr. Schroeder’s book, but maybe he does some of the latter, too.


My response:


Here is the relevant quotation page 59 of Genesis and the Big Bang:


To form the universe, God chose from the infinite realm of the Divine, ten dimensions or aspects and relegated them to be held within the universe. These dimensions are hinted at in the ten repetitions of the statements “and God said…” used in the opening chapter of Genesis. The cabalists believed that only four of the ten dimensions are physically measurable within today’s world. The other six contracted into submicroscopic dimensions during the six days of Genesis…


With an amazing congruity, particle physicists now talk of the String Theory, a unified description of our universe in ten dimensions… These dimensions according to the physicists are the four that we know, length, width, height and time, plus six others. These six are contracted into a size far too tiny ever to be observed even by the best of microscopes…


You tell me what impression Dr. Schroeder meant to convey…


Peretz wrote:


PAGE 48: “We do not
interpret traditional texts on our own.”


This statement will be attacked, for sure. “What about chiddushim?!”, you’ll be challenged.


PAGE 48: “The very fact that no
traditional authority for the past three-thousand years identifies the
spirit of God hovering on the waters with an expansion process means that Dr. Schroeder’s reading is wrong.”


Although I think his reading is wrong too, I’m not yet convinced of your claim. I’m pretty sure we can find at least one rishon who was willing to interpret a verse differently from all his predecessors. Would that make this rishon wrong?


My response:


This is an important point, and I should perhaps have elaborated on it in Genesis and the Big Bluff. I am quite familiar with the statement of the sages that there is constant innovation in Torah (אין בית המדרש בלי חידוש). But that does not mean that the Torah is a free-for-all, and any “interpretation” is as valid as any other. Let us use English writing as a rough analogy. Obviously, original poetry and prose are being written in English all the time. But they are written in English. That means that the writing is constrained by English grammar, syntax, and vocabulary. If one programmed one’s computer to spew out random symbols (#%ü¶±ڨڲℓ↕∆♣♂) this would not count as innovation in English poetry…


Novellae (חידושים) are insights into the Torah literature. They represent a fresh perspective on a given problem. But they are always constrained by a basic framework. When the sages referred to various scoffers and apostates as world-class fools (שוטים שבעולם) for reading verses incorrectly, they were not worried about being challenged regarding חידושים.


This issue is addressed by אור החיים הקדוש:


First comment


פירוש אור החיים על בראשית פרק א פסוק א 

דע כי רשות לנו נתונה לפרש משמעות הכתובים בנתיבות העיון ויישוב הדעת הגם שקדמונו ראשונים ויישבו באופן אחר, כי שבעים פנים לתורה (במדבר רבה נשא יג טז), ואין אנו מוזהרים שלא לנטות מדברי הראשונים אלא בפירושים שישתנה הדין לפיהן, ולזה תמצא שהאמוראים אין כח בהם לחלוק על התנאים במשפטי ה’, אבל ביישוב הכתובים ובמשמעות מצינו להם בכמה מקומות שיפרשו באופן אחר.


Second comment

אור החיים על בראשית פרק מו פסוק ח


וכדי שלא לסתור ח”ו דברי רבותינו ז”ל שאמרו יוכבד נולדה בין החומות, אולי שרמזה הכתוב באומרו כל נפש וגו’ ובנותיו, ולא מצינו לו אלא בת אחת, אלא זו יוכבד שנולדה בין החומות, אבל לא כללה בחשבון כי יעקב הוא המשלים כמו שכתבתי.

ויש עוד טעם בדבר שלא תכלל בחשבון כי אם נולדה בין החומות וצריכה שלשים יום, כדי שתצא מכלל נפל, ולא היתה ראויה לימנות בכניסתם, ולא יקשה בעינך שיהיה פירושינו היפך דברי רבותינו ז”ל, כי כבר הודעתיך כי בפשטי התורה שאין הלכה יוצאה מהם רשות נתונה לתלמיד ותיק לחדש, ועליהם נאמר (שיר השירים ה טז) חִכּוֹ מַמְתַקִּים וְכֻלּוֹ מַחֲמַדִּים, ויש ליישב מה שהקשינו לדבריהם ז”ל והוא דחוק, והפשט כראי מוצק, והדרשה תדרש.


The first comment gives licence to offer alternative readings provided:


1. They are based on the rules of the language and traditional

     methods of exegesis; and


2. They do not affect halacha.


The second comment qualifies this by saying:


1. The novel readings may not contradict factual/historical

     conclusions of Chazal;


2. The novel readings are on the level of peshat (פשט), whereas

    Chazal’s reading is on the level of derush (דרוש).


Thus, Ohr haChaim’s licence to innovate is restricted to a subset of readings on the level of peshat (those that do not change הלכה or contradict factual statements of Chazal), which is distinct from the level of derush of Chazal.


Ohr haChaim’s methodology is identical with that of Ramban and Rashbam, who regarded peshat and derush as distinct levels of interpretation, governed by separate sets of rules. (Rashi had a different view which is not relevant to the present discussion.)


The Torah is an extremely ancient document. The language is part of a larger spoken tradition which is now largely lost to us. The language is highly nuanced, idiomatic, and often technical. Chazal’s understanding was anchored in the rules of the language that govern its use.


On the above analysis, Dr. Schroeder’s explanation of the wind of G-d as an expansion process fails to meet condition א 1 because it is inconsistent with the language and follows no traditional rule of exegesis.


Peretz wrote:


PAGE 68: Unless he lifted it from you, I think you lifted some sentences not quite word from word, but still very noticeable from the site: 


Better that I nab you for it than Cornelius. Part of me wants to suggest that you should quote absolutely no fellow from the Discovery Institute anywhere in your paper. In the eyes of many of the people you’re trying to reach, their reputation stinks. I’d hate to see people reject your essay for that reason alone.


My response:


When writing Genesis and the Big Bluff, I consulted with several people. One of the scientists with whom I corresponded is Dr. Cornelius Hunter. Knowing that he has done fine work on the phenomenon at hand (i.e. evolutionary biologists using meta-physical arguments) I asked him for some of the best examples. He obliged, and I included them in the essay. My source was clearly pointed out in a footnote (in the current version, this is footnote 80):


The quotations in this section are taken from:


As far as your suggestion that I should refrain from quoting anyone in the Discovery Institute is concerned, I disagree. I stated my objectives clearly in the introduction to Genesis and the Big Bluff. I intended to provide a comprehensive critique of Genesis and the Big Bang, and to provide a readable introduction to the Torah and science intersection. I did not set out to convert Richard Dawkins or his disciples. I am writing for people who do not have a knee-jerk reaction to anything that emanates from the Discovery Institute. In my humble opinion, fellows of Discovery do a fine job of exposing the mortal weaknesses of evolutionary biology. The fact that they are scorned and vilified is not a reflection on their professional abilities or integrity, but quite the opposite. It reflects the lack of decency and honesty in the other camp. One would do well here to read about the experiences of Alfred Wegener, who pioneered continental shift.


Peretz wrote:


PAGE 78: “Nobody today accepts a figure
of 95 million years as an accurate estimate of the age of the Earth.
The consensus figure in scientific circles is about 4500 million years.”


But Joly didn’t give that number for the age of the earth; he gave it for “how long it would take to bring the total volume of ocean water to its present level of saltiness, assuming no loss of salt.” 

My response:

Joly took this to be an accurate approximation of the age of the Earth.

Peretz wrote:


PAGE 79: “The very term that he employs to describe reaching a
conclusion – a leap of faith – is alien to the Torah community.”


I wouldn’t be so absolute about that. This frum site uses the term “leap of faith”:

My response:


What I wrote is:


The very term that he [Dr. Schroeder] employs to describe reaching a conclusion[1]a leap of faith – is alien to the Torah community. It has no equivalent in traditional Talmudic literature.


The fact that some Jews use it nowadays is unremarkable. After all, doesn’t Dr. Schroeder say that Nahmanides wrote about the ever-continuing expansion of the universe? Does that mean that this is a Torah notion?


Peretz wrote


PAGE 81: “Even a rudimentary acquaintance with
traditional Torah sources reveals the breathtaking superiority of
those individuals over our impoverished abilities.”


I agree, but wasn’t the issue only about scientific superiority? I have no qualms saying that we, today, are far superior to the generation of the desert in terms of science. In terms of “thinking power”, I’d suppose that even Schroeder would agree with you that that generation was superior.


My response:


My comment was made in the context of a claim by Dr. Schroeder. That claim is that the generation of the Exodus was not capable of understanding the concepts of bacteria and billions of years. (Dr. Schroeder also made a broader comment on page 175: It [the Bible] had to be meaningful to the just-freed slaves standing at Sinai, while retaining the depths of meaning intended for generations yet to be born. I am ignoring it because it is vague).


My claim is that the onus is on Dr. Schroeder to demonstrate that דור דעה were not capable of understanding bacteria and billions of years. Broader issues are not relevant to my point.


[1] Page 144 of Genesis and the Big Bang.



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