Monday, December 16, 2013

Torah, Chazal & Science by Rabbi Moshe Meiselman

This volume displays the virtuosity and mastery of halacha and science by its author.  Its theme forcefully argues that Torah is a legitimate source of knowledge with its own independent system needing no confirmation from the outside.  The book addresses a new popular literature that attempts to square scientific theories with the Torah and when those theories seem to conflict then the Torah is explained allegorically to fit the theories. 

Some interesting discussions come out of this major contribution.  Rabbi Meiselman elaborates on the approach of Rabbi Joseph Dov Soloveitchik of Boston ZTz"L pertaining to the Tradition and how the age of the universe and the story of Genesis are irreconcilable. He discusses the esoteric nature of the 6 days of creation and the flood story making the scientific theories irrelevant.  For Rabbi Soloveitchik, the scientists overstep their bounds when entering cosmology.

He also explains that the tradents of tradition can not be assailed as the Rambam would classify such disparaging talk as heretical.  The Mesorah, tradition, can only be studied through the chain of authorities implying that well known personages of antiquity would only be viewed out of curiosity.  For Rabbi Soloveitchik, Philo and Josephus mean little to the Halachic tradition.  The relatively newly found Talmudic exegete, Meiri means little and the respected thinker and leader, Don Isaac Abravanel may be interesting only as a Tanach exegete but certainly not as an expert in Talmudic exegesis because they are not found in the chain of the teaching tradition.

Rabbi Meiselman distills what true Torah teaching is all about. He's concerned about what the Kiruv (outreach) movement has popularized.  Torah is not comparative literature, or any type of apologetic. Torah has its own beauty and attraction and one need not revert to fancy tricks, or manipulations or "wow!" moments.  One only is to teach simply and clearly according to the Torah's own system of logic.

This volumes dismisses the approach of many that the Rambam accommodates Greek philosophy and permits allegory when there is a conflict with current philosophic trends.  Rabbi Meiselman demonstrates conclusively that the Rambam accepts Chazal's definitive statements and rejects the philosophy.  The Rambam applies strict rules when interpreting allegorically. He also shows that the Rambam's son, Rabbi Avraham is well aligned with his father about applying allegory.

Rabbi Meiselman demonstrates his deep understanding of the sources of the Mesorah when he declares that one may not go beyond the simple meaning of the text.  When the Torah says the world was created in six days, he shows that there is no conflict even according to the science because the frame of reference of each are distinct from one another.

A major theme of the book is "emunas chachomim," having trust that the sages of the tradition were not simple ancients that can be dismissed when science or technologies change.  One must appreciate that Chazal are bearers of a Divine tradition, a source of absolute truth.  When Chazal make a definitive statement about reality one must accept it without questions.  One must surrender to the authority of the Mesorah, the written and the oral.

This book touches on an old problem.  It is not dissimilar to the conflict that occurred during the early Enlightenment period when there arose the desire to be accepted by the outside and accommodate contemporary expressions and etiquette into the traditional world. Rabbi Meiselman quotes his revered uncle, Rabbi Soloveitchik, saying the Jewish people need not have an inferiority complex about truth and knowledge.  He explains that the true scientist understands the limits of empirical science.  The Torah is the blueprint of the world; therefore, science needs to be reconciled with the Torah and not the other way around.


  1. It's nice to see an accurate portrayal of the book. I'm having a lot of trouble with the plethora of blogs I've been reading, seemingly by authors who haven't actually read the book. Here's my own review ....