So, how we do reconcile the Bereshit story of creation with science. Is the world really 5782 years old? When it is scientifically “proven” that the world is 15 billion years old?
I remember a talk by Dr. Gerald Schroeder who writes that there is no contradiction between science and Torah. He brings various proofs.
But, probably a more interesting question is — was Adam the first of the Homo-Sapiens?
“Adam was the first human, the first Homo sapiens with the soul of a human, the neshama. That is the creation listed in Genesis 1:27. Adam was not the first Homo sapiens. Maimonides in The Guide for the Perplexed (part 1 chapter 7) described animals co-existing with Adam that were identical to humans in shape and intelligence, but because they lacked the neshama, they were animals. The Guide for the Perplexed was published in the year 1190, seven centuries before Darwin and long before any evidence was popular relative to fossils of cavemen and women. So from where did these ancients get the knowledge of the pre-Adam hominids? They learned it, correctly we discover, from the subtle wording of the biblical text. Those animals in human shape and intelligence would be the “adam” listed in Genesis 1:26, when God says “Let us make Adam.” But in the next verse, God creates “the Adam,” the Adam, a specific being [a nuance in the Hebrew text first pointed out to me by Peggy Ketz and totally missed in the English translations!]. The Mishna in the section, Keli’im, discusses “masters of the field” that were animals but so identical to humans that when they died one could not tell them apart from a dead human. Masters of the field implies farming — a skill that predates the Adam by at least 2000 years according to pollen studies in the border area between Israel and Syria. Nahmanides (year 1250; the major kabalistic commentator on the Torah), in his long discussion of Genesis 2:7, details the flow of life that led to Adam, the first human. He closes his comments there with the statement that when this spirituality was infused into the living being, that being changed to “another kind of man.” Not changed to man but another kind of man, a homo sapiens/hominid became spiritually human. The error in the term “cavemen” is in the “men.” They were not men or women. Though they had human shape and intelligence, they lacked the neshama, the human spirit infused by God. Cavemen or women were never a theological problem for the ancient commentators. And they did not need a museum exhibit to tell them so. It is science that has once again come to confirm the age-old wisdom of the Torah! (For a detailed discussion of the ancient sources cited here, see the two relevant chapters in my second book, The Science of God.)”
So, what is clear is that Adam was infused with a Neshama — a soul, a moral conscience — the ability to discern between Good and Evil. This is clear from the readings of the Bereshit. This ability led Man to work and co-operate together and indeed Dr. Schroeder also brings an interesting idea that the oldest city in the world was in Mesopotamia was started some 5,000 years ago. The backs up our Belief that Man in its current form was infused with a Neshama, speech.. and this reflects a new beginning. Hence, the phrase “In the beginning”
So, here we have the fusion of science and the Torah. This week the world lost a great Torah Sage and these thoughts of Rabbi Ian Pear in which he wrote on the passing of Rabbi Tendler this week are very applicable to the questions raised.
Rabbi Moshe Tendler, z”l, was a major influence on my life. Not only did I benefit tremendously from his Talmud class — which was as much a philosophy of Halacha/Judaism class as it was anything else — but more importantly, he took me under his wings and personally mentored me in a variety of important ways. I would travel with him to conferences he spoke at, and he generously shared with me his time, wisdom and support. Here are a few things I gained from my experience with Rabbi Tendler: 1) Science and Judaism do not conflict. If they do, either your science is wrong, or your Judaism is. God’s signature is truth, so science that is true cannot be in conflict with religion. 2) Relatedly, if you want to become a better Jew, you better become a better scientist. I remember in one of our first meetings I jokingly told him how I chose to attend Georgetown University’s School for Foreign Service (SFS) partly because there was no science requirement, and how we joked that the SFS actually stood for Safe from Science. He immediately chastised me. How can you be a good Jew if you don’t know how God chose to organize the world. How can you be a good Jew if you don’t know how God chose to create the body? The pursuit of knowledge is the pursuit of God, and you would proudly minimize this field?! As a result of that conversation, as well as his personal example of living at the highest levels of both scientific discovery and Jewish wisdom/observance, I did my best to read/learn/discover as much as I could about the scientific world. And, as was often the case, Rabbi Tendler was right. It has improved my commitment to Judaism and understanding of God. 3) About that chastisement … Rabbi Tendler was sharp, both his mind as well as his retorts. He did not suffer foolishness and was brutally honest. Sometimes this was difficult to hear, but it almost always was spot on and an important step to improvement. His commitment to absolute truth was inspiring and motivating. 4) And he was funny. He made learning not only meaningful, challenging, intellectually inspiring … but also enjoyable. I never wanted to miss a class, mostly because I didn’t want to miss out on his wisdom, but at least partly, because I didn’t want to miss out on an additional encounter with such a compelling personality. 5) He was a link to the past. Rabbi Tendler, of course, was the son-in-law of the great Rabbi Moshe Feinstein. And much of his wisdom he humbly credited to his father-in-law. Learning directly from him helped me to feel connected to the mesora of Rav Moshe, and by extension, to all the greats before him. As a ba’al teshuva, I am incredibly grateful to have this link, both as a recipient of the mesora, as well as (hopefully) a faithful and humble transmitter of it to the next generation. There is much more to say about Rav Tendler, and over the next little bit perhaps I’ll share some of my favorite stories about him, but I will leave it here for now. Rabbi Tendler, after all, was also a fan of getting to the point, saying what you had to say, but not more.