Adam and Eve – A Postscript

In the posts Adam and Eve – A Parable? and Adam and Eve – Part 2, I challenged a statement by Rabbi Jonathan Sacks that Adam and Eve were not real people, but rather a parable for the emergence of human culture. Danny wrote a response, which readers can read in the comments section on the second post. In this post, I respond to Danny’s comments.

***

Dear Danny,

I appreciate your ardour and sincerity. At the same time, I do think that you misunderstood my posts. I did not address the eternity of the universe, the age of the universe, Plato, Aristotle, Rabbi G. Nadel, Biblical exegesis, or correct punctuation. I made one point: Rambam says that it is a fundamental belief of Judaism that Adam and Eve were real, flesh-and-blood people:

It is a fundamental belief of Judaism that the world was created ex nihilo and that a specific human being, Adam, was initially created and that from his creation until the time of Moses approximately 2500 years elapsed.

In contrast, Lord Sacks claims that Adam and Eve are mere parables for the emergence of culture. These two statements are mutually-exclusive.

The second post was about the view of Rav Sa’adiah Gaon. After writing the post, I finished reading The Great Partnership by Lord Sacks. In an appendix to the book (page 353), Sacks explicitly refers to Rav Sa’adiah Gaon to justify his claim that the rabbis of the tenth century established a rule that if a Biblical narrative is incompatible with reason or observation, it is not to be understood literally. So your appeal to other authorities, such as Ralbag, is irrelevant. If Sacks claims – in a televised debate and in his book (and his statement in the book cannot be written off as a result of nervous flutter) – that he is relying on Rav Sa’adiah Gaon, he has to substantiate that statement without reference to other authorities. So my challenge regarding Rav Sa’adiah Gaon’s words stands by itself.

In my second post, I explained Rav Sa’adiah Gaon’s position, and provided (in the footnotes), the original Hebrew text. Readers can ascertain for themselves that his position cannot be co-opted by Lord Sacks to justify his position. Rav Sa’adiah Gaon is an extreme literalist. Lord Sacks uses broad words like reason when describing Rav Sa’adiah Gaon’s view, without providing the original Hebrew text to justify his translation. Rav Sa’adiah Gaon referred to verses being contradicted by common experience (like seeing that women only give birth to human babies) or simple syllogistic logic. There is no doubt whatsoever that Rav Sa’adiah Gaon understood that Adam and Eve were real people. Claiming otherwise is a distortion of his words.

***

Danny: Rabbi Sacks feels that evolutionary science is very compelling, yet he is still an observant, believing Jew, if you believed in evolutionary science, how would that influence your religious belief?
My response: The fact that one believes passionately in some notion and also considers oneself an observant Jew does not automatically legitimate the belief. As I wrote in Genesis and Genes:

Jonathan: How do you respond to someone who says that he is comfortable being a Jew and believing in evolution?
YB: I have been involved in kiruv for many years. In that time, I have come across many Jews who profess being comfortable with a variety of notions. You’ll hear people saying, “I am comfortable being a Jew and a homosexual.” Or “I am comfortable being a Jew and believing in Jesus.” Or “I am comfortable being a Jew and practising Buddhist meditation.” This situation only proves that there are lots of Jews who are comfortable being Jewish and ignorant. Whether you are comfortable or not is beside the point. The only relevant question is whether a given position is consistent with normative Torah positions.

 

One cannot justify any and all beliefs by claiming that one is a practising Jew. Judaism itself determines what its beliefs are, and that determination happens through the Torah’s own dynamics and methodologies, not by looking over one’s shoulder to see what the host culture considers to be intellectually or scientifically compelling. That’s why I wrote in the first Adam and Eve post,

That’s a curious statement [about Adam and Eve being a mere parable]. Lord Sacks is an observant Jew; as such, he is bound by certain axiomatic beliefs and allegiances to certain texts and methodologies.

To claim that a position is consonant with normative Torah beliefs, one must justify the belief with reference to traditional Torah texts and methodologies. In the case of Adam and Eve, Lord Sacks has failed to do so, at least as far as Rambam and Rav Sa’adiah Gaon are concerned.

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2 Responses to “Adam and Eve – A Postscript”

  1. Menachem Says:

    Re your sardonic comment about Jews and gays, you might want to read the following book by a Jewish software mogul:

    http://www.amazon.com/God-vs-Gay-Religious-Equality/dp/0807001473/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1363201604&sr=1-1&keywords=god+vs+gays

    Jay Michaelson (born 1971) is a writer, teacher, and scholar in the USA. His work involves spirituality, Judaism, sexuality, and law. He is a contributing editor to The Forward, associate editor of Religion Dispatches, and a featured blogger for the Huffington Post He has written four books, God vs. Gay? The Religious Case for Equality (2011), Everything is God: The Radical Path of Nondual Judaism (2009), God in Your Body: Kabbalah, Mindfulness, and Embodied Spiritual Practice (2006) and Another Word for Sky: Poems (2007). Michaelson has been a leading voice in “New Jewish Culture,” alternative Jewish spirituality, and LGBT activism. He is openly gay and Jewish and often works in the intersecting fields of LGBT people and Jewish traditions. He has written 200 articles for The Daily Beast, Salon, The Jerusalem Post, Slate, Tikkun, Zeek, Reality Sandwich, and other publications.

    Jay Michaelson is the author of three books and two hundred articles on the intersections of religion, sexuality, and law. Jay is a contributing editor to Religion Dispatches, the Forward, and Tikkun, and a regular contributor to the Huffington Post. His work has been featured in the New York Times and NPR. Jay is the author of God vs. Gay? The Religious Case for Equality (2011), God in Your Body: Kabbalah, Mindfulness, and Embodied Spiritual Practice (2006), Another Word for Sky: Poems (2007), and Everything is God: The Radical Path of Nondual Judaism (2009). In 2009, he was included on the “Forward 50” list of the fifty most influential American Jews.

    Jay is a longtime advocate for gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender (GLBT) people, particularly in religious communities. He has taught for the Human Rights Campaign, Empire State Pride Agenda, and many other organizations, and founded Nehirim, the largest national provider of community programming for GLBT Jews, partners, and allies. His work on this subject has been published in anthologies including Righteous Indignation: A Jewish Call for Justice (2007), The Passionate Torah (2008), and Queer Religion (2011).

    Jay holds a J.D. from Yale, an M.A. in Religious Studies from Hebrew University, and an M.F.A. from Sarah Lawrence College. He is currently completing his Ph.D in Jewish Thought at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Jay teaches across the country, and has held teaching positions at Boston University Law School, City College of New York, and Yale University.

    A practicing Buddhist in the Theravadan tradition as well as a student and teacher of Kabbalah for fifteen years, Jay lived in Jerusalem for three years, and in 2008-09 spent five months on silent meditation retreat, mostly in Nepal. In 2011-2012, he is crisscrossing the country and appearing on national media to combat the devastating and false dichotomy of “God vs. Gay.”
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