Thursday, July 30, 2015


Rabbi Avi Shafran wrote an article about evolution here:

Professor Jerry Coyne wrote a response here:

A brilliant and highly educated friend of mine responds to Coyne thus (Note: Make sure to read his further elaborations in the comments section!):

Coyne's fancy math tries to obscure the question, but not very well. It is not true according to his model that only 30 speciation events are necessary to form 1 billion species. It is that 30 speciation times are necessary, in which on that day, magically, every single species split, and then went dormant for another 116 million years. Then speciation day 2 occurs, and every single species splits, and goes dormant for another 116 million years. On speciation day 30, by coincidence all existing 500 million species decided to split on the very same day, and formed 1 billion new species. But clearly, in real life, they would be happening at random times. If 500 million species split in 116 million years, that is 4 events per year. He is playing fast and loose with the word "event".
It is an example of the type of obfuscation and game playing with wildly impossible numbers in order to make evolution and formation of life via random chance seem plausible. It is as foolish as the Dawkins calculation which shows that we can get a monkey to type Shakespeare (provided that we know the sentence in advance, and help the monkey along by keeping his right guesses and throwing away his wrong ones). This actually passes as a defense of evolution.
But in fact, evolution is not science at all and is totally irrelevant to science. It should be called natural history. Science is about understanding the world right now and manipulating the forces of nature to achieve some goal. Imagine you go to get your eyes checked for a glasses prescription, and get a frantic call back from the doctor, "Come right back! The prescription I gave you was based on the assumption that you evolved from a monkey. But today, a new paper came out that claims you evolved from a squirrel. I need to redo your vision exam, immediately." You know what? It totally doesn't matter. The human body is what it is, and we need to learn about its workings right now, which we don't know that well. It's presumed past history is just fun and games.
Evolution is the art of imagining backwards what happened billions of years ago, and then imagining forwards how what may have happened billions of years ago may have affected life billions of years later, i.e., today. Much better to study the science of today, today, and leave the wild speculations to historians, as they are almost completely useless for solving the real problems of today's medicine. The problems we face today are the protein structure/function problem, the understanding of the noncoding regions of the genome, understanding complex gene regulatory networks, tailoring medicine to the individual based on his unique biochemistry, etc. These actually involve quantum mechanics and advanced math. Computer models must be devised, which can be checked against the proteins of today for accuracy. They do not involve wild pipe dreams of the distant past. Leave that to historians, and let scientists do their work, which is curing diseases of today, based on the physical laws of right now.

As Lord Ruthersford said, "All science is either physics or stamp collecting." Medicine is physics, evolution is stamp collecting.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

ישראל בטח בה'

You know friends, to tell you the truth, to tell you the truth, it’s still Yom Kippur. Until there will be peace in the world, peace in Yerushalayim, it’s still Yom Kippur.
“Yisrael betach BaHaShem” [Israel trusts in G-d]. You know friends, sometimes it makes me sad, but sometimes it makes me happy; Israel has no friends in the world. The Holy Land, the Holy People of Israel, are all alone. “Hein Am Levodod yishkon.” But you know what we have? “Yisrael betach BaHaShem.” We have one Friend in Heaven. “Yisrael betach BaHaShem.”
-Shlomo Carlebach

We sang it in '73, we put it on bumper stickers in '73. My friend and chevrusa Reb Duv Fendel shlita, used to give us little stickers with it in '73. Its still just as true in '15. Now back to the little and the bumper stickers.


Toras Purim in the Three Weeks 5775: Molech

If Amazon et al can hold "Black Friday in July" we can hold Toras Purim in the Three Weeks.

So, a brief he'oro that requires thought and expansion:

When the Gemara in Sanhedrin 64b describes the avodah zarah  of Molech, it says that it was K'mashvarta d'Puria. Rashi explains that they would not walk with the child but jump over a pit filled with fire, from rim to rim "just as the children jump on Purim."


310 Worlds

The last Mishna in Shas tells us that Hashem will ultimately reward each and every tzaddik with 310 worlds.

Many meforshim take that statement to be symbolic and metaphorical. The Bechhofer approach has always been to take it literally. This is why there are so many galaxies and planets. Every tzaddik's ultimate reward is to exercise his (or her) Tzelem Elokim by exercising his (or her) creativity in being boneh olomos.

Tonight I noticed that in Sanhedrin 100a the statement is taken explicitly literally - as Rashi says, it is necessary for each tzaddik to have so many worlds to contain his (or her) omes. To darshen a bit further, Rabbi Clark's RSRH dictionary says that the cognate meaning of omes is to "effect graduated change" and that the phonetic cognates are chametz, chimeish, ometz, chamas and hames.

ישמע חכם ויוסיף לקח!

Friday, July 10, 2015

TorasChayim: My "Demands"

TorasChayim: My "Demands":

My "Demands"

The headline of the ad on the back page of Hamodia Magazine read: Gedolim and Rabbonim Demand: Turn off your cell phones before davening.
The first vision that entered my mind was of visiting my grandparents when I was a child and accompanying my grandfather to shul. If someone spoke during Krias HaTorah  the Rov would walk up to the bimah bang his hand loudly and shout at those who were speaking to quiet down. I can picture him standing there, his facing burning with righteous indignation, his large round eyes giving a piercingly angry look at the transgressors. I was certainly terrified to speak there.
But as my thoughts turned to the present and the issue at hand I realized that what troubled me was:Why is the ad focusing on a symptom instead of worrying about the core issue?
I would encourage you to read the introductory section to Rav Kook's Olas R'Iyah on Tefillah. See how he poetically describes over and over again that Tefillah, being an Avodah She'Ba'Lev, is meant to be an expression of one's pining desire for a relationship with Hashem. As we awake in the morning we are wanting to connect to Him before we go out into the world and engage in our mundane pursuits. As we conclude our workday and are returning home, we desperately desire to reconnect with Hashem to share with Him all the emotions and struggles that we contended with during the day. As we are about to go to sleep we once again want to take leave of Him before we lay down to sleep. If people would come to shuldesperately wanting to utilize the time to enhance their relationship with Hashem would they be taking out their cell phones in the middle of davening?!
Imagine a husband and wife who love each other who have had to be apart for a period of time. Finally, they are able to arrange to spend a weekend in a hotel together. Will anyone need todemand of them to hang the do-not-disturb sign on their door?
But when davening is a Halachic obligation that one must fulfill, or one is davening out of a sense of needing to do it in order to get what he or she wants, and one is lacking that thirst to connect to Hashem, is there any wonder that the result is people speaking on their cell phones? There needs to be a paradigm shift in the wayTefillah is being taught to children as well as to adults. Here are my "demands" to that end:

  • I "demand" that children not be taught to daven until they are old enough to understand what they are saying. (By the way, this is what Chazal teach as well.)
  • I "demand" that the emphasis on Tefillah education be moved from a Halachic based model to one that emphasizes and models the meaning of Avodah She'Ba'Lev. Even teaching the meaning of the words ofdavening, vital as that is, needs to be subordinated to the very foundation of Tefillah itself.
  • I "demand" that the concept of Tov me'at b'kavanah, that it is better to cover less ground in the siddur and to do so with a real connection to Hashem, rather than getting through the prescribed daily Tefillah but lacking any relationship with Hashem, be emphasized in all schools and shuls.
As one of the first steps for the Exodus from Egypt, the Torah says that the King of Mitzryaim died and the Children of Israel sighed from the work and they cried out to Hashem. Mitzrayim  is frequently understood to be a metaphor for being in a constricted place. It is only when we remove the constrictions that bind us, when we let out a sigh of relief from the freedom of seeing Tefillah as work, as a chore that must be done, rather than as something we are chalishing  to do, that we will truly be able to cry out to Hashem and be free.

Monday, July 06, 2015

The United States of America and Divine Providence: American Exceptionalism 101

Expanded versions of quotes from an Editorial in today's HaModia

George Washington's 1789 Inaugural Address:

 ...Such being the impressions under which I have, in obedience to the public summons, repaired to the present station; it would be peculiarly improper to omit in this first official Act, my fervent supplications to that Almighty Being who rules over the Universe, who presides in the Councils of Nations, and whose providential aids can supply every human defect, that his benediction may consecrate to the liberties and happiness of the People of the United States, a Government instituted by themselves for these essential purposes: and may enable every instrument employed in its administration to execute with success, the functions allotted to his charge. In tendering this homage to the Great Author of every public and private good I assure myself that it expresses your sentiments not less than my own; nor those of my fellow-citizens at large, less than either. No People can be bound to acknowledge and adore the invisible hand, which conducts the Affairs of men more than the People of the United States. Every step, by which they have advanced to the character of an independent nation, seems to have been distinguished by some token of providential agency. And in the important revolution just accomplished in the system of their United Government, the tranquil deliberations and voluntary consent of so many distinct communities, from which the event has resulted, cannot be compared with the means by which most Governments have been established, without some return of pious gratitude along with an humble anticipation of the future blessings which the past seem to presage. These reflections, arising out of the present crisis, have forced themselves too strongly on my mind to be suppressed. You will join with me I trust in thinking, that there are none under the influence of which, the proceedings of a new and free Government can more auspiciously commence... 

 ...I dwell on this prospect with every satisfaction which an ardent love for my Country can inspire: since there is no truth more thoroughly established, than that there exists in the oeconomy and course of nature, an indissoluble union between virtue and happiness, between duty and advantage, between the genuine maxims of an honest and magnanimous policy, and the solid rewards of public prosperity and felicity: Since we ought to be no less persuaded that the propitious smiles of Heaven, can never be expected on a nation that disregards the eternal rules of order and right, which Heaven itself has ordained: And since the preservation of the sacred fire of liberty, and the destiny of the Republican model of Government, are justly considered as deeply, perhaps as finally staked, on the experiment entrusted to the hands of the American people... 

Thomas Jefferson, in Notes on the State of Virginia, inscribed on the Jefferson Memorial:

...And can the liberties of a nation be thought secure when we have removed their only firm basis, a conviction in the minds of the people that these liberties are the gift of God? That they are not to be violated but with his wrath? Indeed I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just: that his justice cannot sleep for ever... - Notes on the State of Virginia, Query XVIII 

And, whether you agree with him or not, here is a contemporary perspective: 

Scalia defends keeping God, religion in public square 
By Valerie Richardson - The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 1, 2014 

LAKEWOOD, Colo. — 

Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia said Wednesday that secularists are wrong when they argue the Constitution requires religious references to be banished from the public square. 

Justice Scalia, part of the court's conservative wing, was preaching to the choir when he told the audience at Colorado Christian University that a battle is underway over whether to allow religion in public life, from referencing God in the Pledge of Allegiance to holding prayers before city hall meetings. 

"I think the main fight is to dissuade Americans from what the secularists are trying to persuade them to be true: that the separation of church and state means that the government cannot favor religion over nonreligion," Justice Scalia said. 

"That's a possible way to run a political system. The Europeans run it that way," Justice Scalia said. "And if the American people want to do it, I suppose they can enact that by statute. But to say that's what the Constitution requires is utterly absurd."

Justice Scalia's remarks came as part of a day of public appearances in Colorado. He lectured students on the Commerce Clause during a morning class, and then received an honorary doctorate prior to his luncheon speech from CCU President Bill Armstrong. 

"At no place on Earth does Justice Scalia have as many admirers as he does on the Colorado Christian University campus," said Mr. Armstrong, a former U.S. senator. 

Justice Scalia was slated to give the keynote address Wednesday night at a conference at the University of Colorado Law School in Boulder. The high court's longest-serving justice, Justice Scalia said that even President Thomas Jefferson, who's credited with creating the concept of separation of church and state, wrote in the Virginia Declaration of Religious Freedom that, "God who made the mind of man made it free." 

"We do him [God] honor in our pledge of allegiance, in all our public ceremonies," Justice Scalia said. "There's nothing wrong with that. It is in the best of American traditions, and don't let anybody tell you otherwise. I think we have to fight that tendency of the secularists to impose it on all of us through the Constitution." 

The biggest danger lies with judges who interpret the Constitution as a malleable document that changes with the times, he said. 

"Our [the court's] latest take on the subject, which is quite different from previous takes, is that the state must be neutral, not only between religions, but between religion and nonreligion," Justice Scalia said. "That's just a lie. Where do you get the notion that this is all unconstitutional? You can only believe that if you believe in a morphing Constitution." 

Given that he doesn't believe in the "morphing Constitution," Justice Scalia said his job is relatively stress-free. 

"If I had the other view of the Constitution — that it was an empty bottle, which was to be filed by my court, and it was my responsibility to decide . . . all these massive ethical questions — if they were all my call, I couldn't sleep at night," Mr. Scalia said. "And some of my colleagues have said, 'Oh, we agonize a lot.' I don't agonize at all. I look at the text, I look at the history of the text. That's the answer. It's not my call." 

He noted that references to God by government officials are already forbidden in many European countries, thanks to a widespread policy of secularism. 

"There are those who would have us adopt that rule for America, and if they want us to adopt that rule, let's put it to a vote," Justice Scalia said. "But they want to do it through the Supreme Court. And that is simply not what our Constitution has ever meant." 

Appointed to the court by President Reagan in 1986, Justice Scalia joked during a question-and-answer session that he doesn't let the pressure of the bench get to him. 

"What can they do to me? I have life tenure," Justice Scalia said. "It's even better than academic tenure." 

© Copyright 2015 The Washington Times, LLC.

Thursday, July 02, 2015

Parashas Balak: Deir 'Alla Inscription - Livius

Deir 'Alla Inscription - Livius

Why is this not more widely known?

Deir 'Alla Inscription

Deir 'Alla Inscription: inscription, found in the Iron Age town of Deir 'Alla, mentioning the Biblical prophet Balaam.
Deir 'Alla Inscription
Deir 'Alla Inscription
Deir 'Alla is situated in western Jordan, about eight kilometers east of the river Jordan, and about a kilometer north of the Jabbok. The excavators found a very large Bronze Age sanctuary that had suffered in the period of wide-spread destruction in the thirteenth/twelfth centuries. Unlike other settlements, which were abandoned, Deir 'Alla remained in use well into the fifth century BCE. That is remarkable.

Even more remarkable, however, was the discovery of a painted text that contained a prophecy by Balaam, a non-Israelite prophet who is mentioned in the Biblical book of Numbers 22-24 as a servant working for the Moabite king Balak. (The site of Deir 'Alla is, technically, on the Ammonite side of the river Jabbok.) The text refers to divine visions and signs of future destruction, in a language that is close to that of the Bible. For example, we read about the "Shaddai gods", an expression that is close to the BiblicalEl Shaddai, "God Almighty". On the other hand, the setting is not monotheistic: we read, for instance, about a gathering of a group of gods. The word elohim, which in the Bible (although plural) refers to one God, refers to more than one god in the Deir 'Alla text.
Reconstructing the contents is difficult, but it is clear that Bileam learns from the gods that the world will be destroyed, an apocalyptic event that is described with metaphors from bird life. Somehow, Bileam and his people seem to have averted this disaster. There is also a description of the Underworld.
The text, in a language between Aramaic and Canaanite, can be dated to c.800 BCE. It was discovered in 1967 by Dutch archaeologists, and the first edition, by Hoftijzer and Van der Kooij, is from 1976. The scholars were able to form two large and ten small combinations of matching fragments. Since then, scholars have been able to improve their readings. The translation offered here is by B.A. Levine, who also inserted the titles. It was published in 2003 and consists of the two main combinations, minus the two first lines of Combination 2.
These two lines, and the small combinations, are offered in the original translation by Hoftijzer and Van der Kooij (1976); to discern them from Levine's translation, these lines have been printed in italics. Their book also contains photos, drawings, and the most detailed description of the fragments.


  • J. Hoftijzer and G. van der Kooij, Aramaic Texts from Deir 'Alla (1976)
  • B.A. Levine, "The Deir 'Alla Plaster Inscriptions", in: W.W. Hallo (ed.), Context of Scripture, vol.2 (2003), 140-145.

Combination I


[i.1] The misfortunes of the Book of Balaam, son of Beor. A divine seer was he.

The Theophany

[i.2] The gods came to him at night.
And he beheld a vision in accordance with El's utterance.
They said to Balaam, son of Beor:
"So will it be done, with naught surviving.
No one has seen [the likes of] what you have heard!"

Balaam Reports his Vision to His Intimates

[i.5] Balaam arose on the morrow;
He summoned the heads of the assembly to him,
[i.6] And for two days he fasted, and wept bitterly.
Then his intimates entered into his presence,
and they said to Balaam, son of Beor,
"Why do you fast, and why do you weep?"
[i.7] Then he said to them: "Be seated, and I will relate to you what the Shaddai gods have planned,
And go, see the acts of the god!"

Balaam Describes the Celestial Vision and Its Aftermath in the Land

"The gods have banded together;
[i.8] The Shaddai gods have established a council,
And they have said to [the goddess] Shagar:
'Sew up, close up the heavens with dense cloud,
That darkness exist there, not brilliance;
Obscurity and not clarity;
[i.9] So that you instill dread in dense darkness.
And - never utter a sound again!'
[i.10] It shall be that the swift and crane will shriek insult to the eagle,
And a nest of vultures shall cry out in response.
The stork, the young of the falcon and the owl,
[i.11] The chicks of the heron, sparrow and cluster of eagles;
Pigeons and birds, [and fowl in the s]ky.
And a rod [shall flay the cat]tle;
Where there are ewes, a staff shall be brought.
Hares - eat together!
Free[ly feed], oh beasts [of the field]!
And [freely] drink, asses and hyenas!"

Balaam Acts to Save the Goddess and the Land

[i.12] Heed the admonition, adversaries of Sha[gar-and-Ištar]!
... skilled diviner.
To skilled diviners shall one take you, and to an oracle;
[i.14] To a perfumer of myrrh and a priestess.
Who covers his body with oil,
And rubs himself with olive oil.
To one bearing an offering in a horn;
One augurer after another, and yet another.
As one augurer broke away from his colleagues,
The strikers departed ...

The Admonitions are Heeded; The Malevolent Gods are Punished, the Goddess Rescued, and the Land Saved

[i.15] They heard incantations from afar 
Then disease was unleashed
[i.16] And all beheld acts of distress.
Shagar-and-Ištar did not ...
[i.17] The piglet [drove out] the leopard
And the ... drove out the young of the ...
.. double offerings
And he beheld ...

Combination II

[ii.4] .. a girl those who were used? to be saturated with love ...
[ii.5] .. a blinded one and the whole moistened? soil? ...

(A) El Builds a Necropolis

[ii.6] El satisfied himself with [lovemaking]
And then El fashioned an eternal house;
[A house ...]
[ii.7] A house where no traveler enters
Nor does a bridegroom enter there

(B) A Half-existence in Sheol

[ii.8] Worm rot from a grave.
From the reckless affairs of men.
And from the lustful desires of people.

(C) The Rejection of a Seer

[ii.9] If it is for counsel, on will not counsel with you!
Or for advising him, one will not take advice!

(D-E) More on Conditions in Sheol

[ii.10] From the bed they cover themselves with a wrap.
If you hate him, he will be mortally afflicted.
If you ...
[Worm rot] is under your head.
You shall lie on your eternal bedding,
To pass away to ...

(F-G) Kings and Other Corpses in Sheol

[ii.12] ... in their heart.
The corpse moans in his heart,
He moans ...
... a daughter.
There, kings behold ...
[ii.13] There is no mercy when Death seizes a suckling.
And a suckling ...
And a suckling ...
A suckling ...
There ... shall be.
[ii.14] The heart of the corpse is desolate
As he approaches [Sheol]. ...
To the edge of She[ol],
And the shadow of the hedge ...

(H-I) An Oracle: The Quests of Kings and Seers Come to Naught

[ii.15] "The quest of a king is moth rot,
And the quest of ... ... seers.
[ii.16] Your quest is distant from you.
To know how to deliver an oracle to his people.
You have been condemned for your speech
[ii.17] And [banned] from pronouncing words of execration.
[Lines ii.18-29 are incomprehensible.]
[ii.30-37] El will be wrathful ... ...
he will eat ... ...
my heart is a heart? ...
... for three?...
She? will drip of abundant? rain ...
She? will drip of dew and ...
... look for fodder and he? will eat ...

Other Combinations

[iii] iv.a.3 ... for heat? ...
iv.g.i ... green herbs ...
v.c.3 ... she? will faint ...
v.c.4 ... he was pulled down? ...
v.d.2 ... sprinkle ...
v.d.3 ... they came in crowds ...
v.f.2 ... hasten ...
v.q.1 ... horse and ...
vii.c.3 ... bone/strong/strength...
viii.b.1 ... head ...
viii.b.2 ... desire ...
viii.d.2 ... and Balaam, the son of Beor ...
ix.a.3 ... he is not cursed, his hands ...
x.b.1 ... is my lady?, Shagar? ...
x.d.2 ... for? him/her, his/her hands will wither. Take? ...
x.d.3 ... brother and chieftain? ...
xi.b.1 ... in the depths ...
xii.c.2 ... Balaam, the son of Beor, saying you/she will...
This page was created in 2009; last modified on 1 February 2015.