Friday, December 26, 2014

Eric Metaxas: Science Increasingly Makes the Case for God - WSJ

Science Increasingly Makes the Case for God

The odds of life existing on another planet grow ever longer. Intelligent design, anyone?

By Eric Metaxas

Dec. 25, 2014 4:56 p.m. ET


In 1966 Time magazine ran a cover story asking: Is God Dead?

Many have accepted the cultural narrative that he’s obsolete—that as science progresses, there is less need for a “God” to explain the universe. Yet it turns out that the rumors of God’s death were premature. More amazing is that the relatively recent case for his existence comes from a surprising place—science itself.

Here’s the story: The same year Time featured the now-famous headline, the astronomer Carl Sagan announced that there were two important criteria for a planet to support life: The right kind of star, and a planet the right distance from that star. Given the roughly octillion—1 followed by 24 zeros—planets in the universe, there should have been about septillion—1 followed by 21 zeros—planets capable of supporting life.

With such spectacular odds, the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence, a large, expensive collection of private and publicly funded projects launched in the 1960s, was sure to turn up something soon. Scientists listened with a vast radio telescopic network for signals that resembled coded intelligence and were not merely random. But as years passed, the silence from the rest of the universe was deafening. Congress defunded SETI in 1993, but the search continues with private funds. As of 2014, researches have discovered precisely bubkis—0 followed by nothing.

What happened? As our knowledge of the universe increased, it became clear that there were far more factors necessary for life than Sagan supposed. His two parameters grew to 10 and then 20 and then 50, and so the number of potentially life-supporting planets decreased accordingly. The number dropped to a few thousand planets and kept on plummeting.

Even SETI proponents acknowledged the problem.

Peter Schenkel wrote in a 2006 piece for Skeptical Inquirer magazine: “In light of new findings and insights, it seems appropriate to put excessive euphoria to rest . . . . We should quietly admit that the early estimates . . . may no longer be tenable.”

As factors continued to be discovered, the number of possible planets hit zero, and kept going. In other words, the odds turned against any planet in the universe supporting life, including this one. Probability said that even we shouldn’t be here.

Today there are more than 200 known parameters necessary for a planet to support life—every single one of which must be perfectly met, or the whole thing falls apart. Without a massive planet like Jupiter nearby, whose gravity will draw away asteroids, a thousand times as many would hit Earth’s surface. The odds against life in the universe are simply astonishing.

Yet here we are, not only existing, but talking about existing. What can account for it? Can every one of those many parameters have been perfect by accident? At what point is it fair to admit that science suggests that we cannot be the result of random forces? Doesn’t assuming that an intelligence created these perfect conditions require far less faith than believing that a life-sustaining Earth just happened to beat the inconceivable odds to come into being?

There’s more. The fine-tuning necessary for life to exist on a planet is nothing compared with the fine-tuning required for the universe to exist at all. For example, astrophysicists now know that the values of the four fundamental forces—gravity, the electromagnetic force, and the “strong” and “weak” nuclear forces—were determined less than one millionth of a second after the big bang. Alter any one value and the universe could not exist. For instance, if the ratio between the nuclear strong force and the electromagnetic force had been off by the tiniest fraction of the tiniest fraction—by even one part in 100,000,000,000,000,000—then no stars could have ever formed at all. Feel free to gulp.

Multiply that single parameter by all the other necessary conditions, and the odds against the universe existing are so heart-stoppingly astronomical that the notion that it all “just happened” defies common sense. It would be like tossing a coin and having it come up heads 10 quintillion times in a row. Really?

Fred Hoyle, the astronomer who coined the term “big bang,” said that his atheism was “greatly shaken” at these developments. He later wrote that “a common-sense interpretation of the facts suggests that a super-intellect has monkeyed with the physics, as well as with chemistry and biology . . . . The numbers one calculates from the facts seem to me so overwhelming as to put this conclusion almost beyond question.”

Theoretical physicist Paul Davies has said that “the appearance of design is overwhelming” and Oxford professor Dr. John Lennox has said “the more we get to know about our universe, the more the hypothesis that there is a Creator . . . gains in credibility as the best explanation of why we are here.”

The greatest miracle of all time, without any close seconds, is the universe. It is the miracle of all miracles, one that ineluctably points with the combined brightness of every star to something—or Someone—beyond itself.

Mr. Metaxas is the author, most recently, of “Miracles: What They Are, Why They Happen, and How They Can Change Your Life” (Dutton Adult, 2014).

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Moriya: A promising new girls'/women's group!


Exciting news! I know the founder of the group, and anticipate great things from it!

Moriya is an international society uniting Jewish girls and women in striving to become more complete Jews, through exploration of the mesora, of the world to which we apply it, and of the unique gifts each of us brings to this task.Moriya members are Jewish women and girls, ages seven to adult.In-depth study and discussion of Torah texts... discovering effective ways to help others... making shoes, beading jewelry, paddling canoes, using chemicals to blow flaming bubbles... 


Q. Mori-what?Moriya is an organization similar in form to Boy Scouts, but for girls and with Torah as well as general content. Unlike Scouts, it's also open to adults.

Q. Is Moriya a club?Yes! Members meet in groups to work toward their goals. You can also join Moriya without being part of a group.

Q. Does Moriya have a curriculum?Yes! Members choose an area of focus, like woodworking or a parsha or midda (character trait). They explore that area of focus through learning and discussing Torah texts, and hands-on activities. Finally, they design a chesed (lovingkindness) project using their new expertise.Moriya provides a detailed curriculum to facilitate all this.

Q. Does Moriya feel like school?Nope! Moriya is extra-curricular and largely open-ended. Groups can choose whether they want a scholarly focus or a theme that's almost entirely hands-on.

Q. Give me an example.One group of 4th-5th grade girls has chosen to focus on leather-working. We're learning how leather was processed and used in the Mishkan and we'll also touch on some other instances of leather in the Torah (can you think of the first one?). The girls learned how to polish shoes, and will be making their own leather ghillie brogues; and we'll see how leather is tanned (the girls will have a chance to try it). When we're all done, we'll figure out a way to use our new knowledge for the benefit of the community, and do it!

Q. Is Moriya Girl Scouts?Nope! Moriya is international and specifically Jewish. It is not affiliated with WAGGGS.

Q. Do I have to pay to join?There is no fee to join. Groups may charge a small amount to cover expenses. We try to keep the expenses as minimal as possible! Scholarships are available.

Q. How can I donate?In Canada, donations may be made via the Kollel of Ottawa, with a note that the donation is for Moriya. You will receive a Canadian tax receipt.In the US, donations may be made via the Portland Kollel, with a note that the donation is for Moriya. Donations are tax deductible.Make sure to check out the rest of the Portland Kollel website: it offers lots of great programs, even if you do not live in Portland!

Q. How can I find out more? Is there a Moriya group in my community? Contact us!

Thursday, December 04, 2014

An exchange between the author and myself on my review of “Mah She’elatekh Esther V’Te’as”

Sheilati u’Bakashati: An Exchange - Torah Musings

Read the original review here: link

Rabbanit Idit Bartov responded to R. Yosef Gavriel Behhofer’s review of the volume of responsa she co-authored. Below is her response and R. Bechhofer’s last word -Gil
I’d like to respond to several issues put forth by Rabbi Bechhofer in his review of my Halakhic responsa in “Mah She’elatekh Esther V’Te’as” published this past Spring by Ohr Torah Stone.
1) As I read the critique, I was struck by R. Bechhofer’s observation that on the one hand there was not much new in the responsa that justified their being published as we already have the collection of source material available in the Bar Ilan software. On the other hand, the reviewer claimed that there was too much innovation and not enough deference paid to prior piskei halakha of gedolei Yisrael. Perhaps the reviewer should let us know just what exact formula must be adhered to by all who dare to “pasken” – in the balance between deference and innovation?
2) I was particularly puzzled by the critique of the reviewer concerning my supposed lack of deference for gedolei Yisrael – this false accusation in the same review in which the reviewer levels a sweeping ad hominem attack on the gadol Rav Chaim Hirschenson z’l based mainly, it would seem, on the identity of the publishing house that most recently republished his works! Rav Hirschenson enjoyed a mutual relationship of respect with Rav Kook z’l and is quoted not only in my teshuvot but also in those of Rav Ovadia Yosef z’l and the late chief Rabbi Uziel z’l. Would the reviewer also criticize them for quoting someone who was republished by Machon Schechter? Perhaps we should all stop reading or quoting the Tosefta? While the reviewer may be forgiven for any disrespect for the teshuva he criticizes, it may be more complicated for him to seek mechila from the late Rav Hirschenson.
3) The reviewer criticizes my candid admission that I find puzzling and sometimes hurtful the lengths that are gone to in rereading the plain meaning of scripture thus explaining away the contradiction between what was clearly not their historical reality (i.e. women serving asdayanot) and the verse in Shoftim regarding Devora. He believes that I have shown ignorance of the acceptable style for halakhic writing and worse, have committed the cardinal sin of having an “agenda” in writing a responsum. Let me refer the reviewer to Rav Lichtenstein’s article in Tradition, “The Human and Social Factors in Halakha,” and particularly his quotation there from Teshuvot Mas’et Binyamin – which is only one of many examples of poskim sharing their emotions and dare I say, their agenda. Can any posek or for that matter, anypsak, emerge from an emotional or situational vacuum?
4) As for the teshuva on women’s achieving tahara in advance of ascending to the Temple Mount, it seems to me that the reviewer’s research and knowledge of this area of halakha suffers from a serious time lag. Yes, Rav Kook forbade this. But in the past 75 years many, many poskim have ruled otherwise – mostly based on the changing realities that have ensued – including Rav Goren z’l’s measurements and the ability to know with certainty which precise areas of Har HaBayit need not be restricted by halakha. Many halakhists are also influenced by the fact that since Rav Kook’s time there is a different issue that comes into halakhic play – that of the impact of sovereignty on the application of “Lo Techanem.” The reviewer seems also to be unaware that among the hundreds of rabbanim who allow ascent to Har Habayit are the following gedolei yisrael: Rav Chaim Druckman, Rav David Chai Cohen, Rav Yisrael Ariel, Rav Eliezer Melamed, Rav Dov Lior, Rav Nachum Rabinovitch, Rav Zefania Drori and the aforementioned Rav Goren. Note that many of these are talmidim muvhakim of Rav Tzvi Yehuda Kook – who understand that there is no guarantee that Rav A. Y. Kook would have maintained his issur if he lived today. The reviewer should note that the list includes Ashkenaziposkim as well as Sephardi ones. I’d be happy to send him the full list upon request; all this without mentioning the fact that the Rambam went up to the Mount and subsequently celebrated the date of his ascent each year on the 6th of Cheshvan.
5) As for the issue of how much time must pass before achieving “tahara” after intercourse in order to ascend the mount: The Mishna in Masechet Mikvaot Chapter 8 Mishna 4 states that “A woman who had intercourse and did not conduct a cleansing swipe – it is as if she had not immersed…” As understood by the Beit Yosef (YD 196, se’if 13) – “That is to say: It is sufficient to swipe or douche before immersion (instead of waiting 3 days)”. As for the pesak of the Rambam (Terumot 7:7), the reviewer has quoted his words partially and thus incorrectly. The case where the Rambam requires 3 days wait after intercourse and not just cleansing and tevila is a very specific case of התהפכה . All of the mefarshei HaRambam understand, unlike the reviewer, that this halakha in the Rambam begins with the usual situation in which 3 days wait is neither required nor mentioned. Only then does the Rambam move on to the unusual case of התהפכה. This is perhaps why the Shulchan Arukh does not quote this Rambam. It is also clear that the Rema does not base his chumra on this Rambam, but rather upon a presumption that the women of his time may not be effective at cleansing themselves. I believe that, upon understanding these basic sources, the reviewer will realize his own mistake and will understand more clearly why I maintain my position.
6) As for the reviewer’s declaration that it is clear that halakha is more stringent with regard to matters of purity and impurity than with matters of heter l’baal: he would be correct if it were a case of din torah and not a chumra that was first introduced by the S’mak and the Rema at a later time. Chumrot like that of the Rema (who is concerned that the women of his time were not adept at cleaning themselves), were never said with regard to matters of tevila l’shem kedusha. To suggest otherwise is a great chidush on the part of the reviewer and certainly not grounds for his uncharitable attack on my analysis. The idea that one could extend the chumra of the Rema to tahara l’shem kedushawould be tantamount to creating a new gezera which runs counter to the well-known principle that we are not authorized to create newgezerot. See Rosh Shabbat perek 2, siman 15, Beit Yosef OH, siman 13, Har Tzvi OH 2, siman 24 (and in many other teshuvot of Rav Frank z’l), Tzitz Eliezer 8, siman 14, and in many other sources. While I understand that the reviewer might maintain that this would be no new gezera but rather a logical extension of the original one – myshimush with Rav Yehoshua Reich shlit’a who had conducted ongoingshimush with several gedolei hador including Rav Zalman Nechemia Goldberg, leads to the understanding that the extension would be similar to including potato flour in a gezera of kitniyot for use on Pesach. It would be logical but nonetheless inappropriate to extend thechumra.
7) (Yes, we women in the Bradfield program have traditional shimushwith a well-regarded posek. We are in daily attendance as he receivesshe’elot from rabbanim around the world; He then shares his shikulei pesika with us.) With regard to complicated questions that I receive, I invariably seek his counsel.
8) It may interest the reviewer that Rav Shmuel Eliyahu, the Chief Rabbi of Tzefat (who is known to be very stringent in matters of heter l’baal), heard an oral version of my teshuva with interest and told me personally that I am correct in my analysis and that Ashkenazi as well as Sephardi women may rely on my pesak. I am quite aware of what is happening in this sphere as I receive many she’elot from women who wish to ascend. I know of no Ashkenazi women who purposely wait for three days after “tashmish” before ascending.
9) The reviewer generously offers advice to my teachers at Midreshet Lindenbaum’s Susi Bradfield Institute for Halakhic Leadership that they educate their students toward greater respect for the traditional methods of pesak and for deference to gedolim. I can only comfort my revered teachers that there is a long history of false accusations in the heat of milchamta shel Torah and that they are in good company with the other objects of the reviewer’s scorn – the likes of Rav Hirschenson, Rav Goren and others.
May we be zocheh to argue Torah with mutual respect l’shem shamayim,
R. Idit Bartov
To respond to Rabbanit Bartov, point by point:
1) I certainly did not question the justification for publishing Mah She’elatekh Esther V’Te’as (MSEV). One need have no justification to publish any Torah work other than that it is Torah! I noted that one could not judge the erudition of its authors based on the number of sources mustered and presented. (A side note: The term “innovation” does not appear in my review. I do not regard MSEV as innovative.)
2) To be lomdish, the reference to the current publisher of Rabbi Hirschensohn’s works was as a siman, not as a sibbah. The reference to his heter to use safety razors was more of a sibbah. As to his being quoted by other poskim – many poskim quote works that would not serve them as authorities upon which to base their rulings. As to Rabbi Hirschensohn’s personal honor, I noted the heroic role he played in fighting the good fight for Yahadut in the United States.
3) I thank Rabbanit Bartov for directing me to Rabbi Lichtenstein’s essay – which may be found at Nevertheless, its point is not relevant to this discussion. The Mas’et Binyamin notes how he felt emotionally impelled to research to the utmost of his capacity a matter of allowing an agunah to remarry. As a great posek, once he embarked on that research he restricted himself to intellectual analysis. Rabbi Lichtenstein gives no license for the introduction of emotion into the assessment of the positions taken by great authorities.
4) I am well aware of the differing positions on the ascent to Har HaBayit. My point was not that Rabbanit Bartov was taking a position, but that she did so without reference to the opposing positions. It is not appropriate – and borders on intellectual dishonesty – to write ateshuvah on a controversial issue and not acknowledge the controversy.
5) The Ra’avad (ad loc.) rules that if a woman walks at all between the time of relations and the end of the three day period, then her status is the same as hithapchah. The Mahari Kurkus (ibid.) notes that this is also the opinion of Rashi and the Ritva. The Aruch HaShulchan (Yoreh Deah 196:42) is machmir in accordance with the Ra’avad et al. TheRema is basing his ruling on the Hagahot Maimoniot (Hil. Issurei Bi’ah6:2) and Semak (cited by the Hagahot Maimoniot) which are, in turn, based on the Ra’avad. Be all that as it may, Rabbanit Bartov does not respond to my dismay at the way she describes the Rema’s ruling as “for the Jews of the European diaspora.

6) I cannot follow Rabbanit Bartov’s reasoning here. I do not understand why tevilah l’shem terumah should be more stringent thantevilah l’shem kedushah. Moreover, this is not a gezeirah. It is true that gezeirot are not extended – even logically. We treat the chumrahof kitniot (for reasons beyond the scope of this discussion) as agezeirah, and therefore do not extend its parameters to potato flour. But here we are considering a chumrah based on pre-exisiting d’oraitaand d’rabbanan parameters that, in turn, are based on chashah tumah d’oraita – and, at the same time, contingent on specific behaviors that in themselves are in questions (e.g., hithapchah and halchah) and the relative expertise of individuals involved (e.g. beki’in). Gezeirot are treated as “arbitrary” decrees, chumrot on account of chashashot are not. Again, be all that as it may, both the discussion in point #5 above and this discussion, should have been carried on in the teshuvah, not in a dialogue between the reviewer and the author.
7) I did not use the word shimush in my review. It appeared in comments on the review. I do not question that Rabbanit Bartov didshimush under the auspices of her mentors. Which is precisely why I wrote: “Therefore, this brief critique of the work is, in essence, a critique of the derech that Midreshet Lindenbaum has inculcated in its students. Such critique is gender-blind, and applies to any and all of the instructors who have trained their students to approach issues in the questionable ways that we have touched upon.”
8) I refer Rabbanit Bartov to, in which MK Orit Sitruk notes that she does not ascend Har HaBayit in deference to Rabbi Dov Lior’s opposition to the ascent of women.
9) I wholeheartedly agree that false accusations and scorn have no place in Milchamta Shel Torah. Which is one of the reasons (it is also bad middot!) that one will find no false accusations nor scorn in my review.
B’birchat haTorah,
Yosef Gavriel Bechhofer
Read the original review here: link

Monday, December 01, 2014

Dvar Hashem Me'Yerushalmi, Lechatchila and B'di'eved in D'oraysa

The Mishnah in Terumos (2:1, Yerushalmi Vilna ed. 8b) states:

 אין תורמין מן הטהור על הטמא ואם תרמו תרומתן תרומה

A classic lechatchila and b'di'eved. One would expect the lechatchila of no separating terumah from tahor on tamei to be d'rabbanan and the b'di'eved that it is effective to be d'oraysa. But that's not what the Gemara (ibid.) says!

אין תורמין מן הטהור כו'.  רבי יוחנן בשם רבי ינאי ונחשב לכם תרומתכם כדגן מן הגורן וכמלאה מן היקב מה גורן ויקב אפשר שיהא מקצתו טמא ומקצתו טהור וזה אע"פ שאפשר למידין אפשר משאי אפשר מעתה לא יהא תרומתו תרומה ממנו כתיב

Both the lechatchila and b'di'eved are derived from pesukim!