Monday, July 11, 2005

SlifKings and Queens of the Stone Age II

or: Back and There Again

Yesterday I made the long trek back out to Queens by subway, subway and bus, to attend more of Rav Natan Slifkin's lectures — this time at Congregation Etz Chaim of Kew Gardens Hills (who don't seem to have a website). I arrived about half an hour late to the first lecture (I blame the MTA, but it was really my fault), and was pleasantly surprised when R' Slfkin 'randomly' inserted stegosaurus into a list of extinct animals as I walked in the door. That was pretty cool.

The first lecture, entitled "Untangling Evolution", dealt with disentangling the various separate concepts and issues involved in Evolution, and how different philosophical stances within the Jewish tradition react to them. Sure, people can say "I accept the scientific findings that point towards evolution" or "I am unconvinced by the scientific findings"; or even "As Jews, we strongly oppose the teaching of the myth of evolution" or "Evolution is a Satanic plot to destroy our faith!" But when they say any of those things, what do they actually mean?
Rabbi Slifkin pointed out that they could potentially be talking about only one particular facet of evolutionary research, or confusing multiple aspects, including:
  • the development of life from (mmm....) primordial soup
  • common descent (species evolving from each other)
  • the mechanisms of evolution (random mutation, survival of the fittest)
  • evolution of the human race from earlier primates
So for instance, someone might be fine with the idea that animals in general can evolve new species, but object to the idea that humans (with our qualitatively different souls) could have evolved from other animals.

There was one guy sitting off to the side who seemed to like arguing with R' Slifkin. After the lecture, he went up to debate some more and it came out that he's a mathematician, and mathematicians have a habit of looking at the world differently than other scientists do, and so that's why he was so hostile to the lecture. Suffice it to say that my mathematician friend, on the other hand, is actually a big fan of Rav Slifkin, and introduced me to his books in the first place (and he's probably going to kill me when he finds out that I completely forgot to tell him about R' Slifkin's lecture tour... d'oh! ...uh, put down that battle ax, okay?).

Then there was an hour-long break for lunch, and me and RNS went to one of the many kosher pizza places on Main Street named "Someone's". In the interests of bloggy discretion, however, I will not reveal what Rav Slifkin ate for lunch. Suffice it to say that this whole "blog world" and Real Life 'worlds colliding' thing is getting to my head. As we were waiting on the line to get our food, some guy in a white shirt, dark pants, and a dark blue baseball cap entered the pizza place. My first thought: Maybe that's Dark Blue Hat! DBH, do you have a British accent?

The next lecture was on the topic of conflicts between Hhazal's descriptions of natural phenomena and what we know from science today. Like in his book Mysterious Creatures, he discussed the various responses to the conflict — Hhazal were right and science is wrong; Hhazal were wrong and science is right; nishtaneh hateva‘ ("nature has changed"); Hhazal were speaking in allegories for aggadic purposes, etc. — and how different answers can be more or less appropriate for different problems. One very important point he made is that simply dismissing all of our Ancestors' and Sages' scientific pronouncements as primitive mistakes isn't just disrespectful, but can be downright wrong. There are a number of phenomena described by Hhazal (and other illustrious people of the past) that were dismissed in modern times as impossible which then became known more recently as accurate.

I had to leave after that, but the final lecture of the day was on animals with kosher signs. During the short break between lectures two and three, a young couple involved in Qiruv work told Rabbi Slifkin and the rest of us a few horror stories of qiruv workers using the fallacious 'proof' to the divinity of the Torah that "the animals listed as having only one kosher sign are the only such animals in existence". A number of these qiruv workers, it seems, were so sure of this assumption that they made claims like "if someone showed me another animal with only one kosher sign, I would eat next Yom Kipur"!

Anyway, I had to leave so I didn't get to attend the last lecture. But when I was walking back to the bus stop, I stopped into a random sefarim store, and guess what they had a pile of out in the center of the store? Rav Slifkin's Mysterious Creatures and R' Tzvi Hirš Chajes's The Students' Guide Through The Talmud! Way to go Yashar Books!

In conclusion, Rav Natan Slifkin is a brilliant, knowledgeable, and brave talmid hhakham, and the Jewish world would definitely be a lot richer in Torah if there were more people like him out there. Maybe, thanks to his books and the philosophic traditions that he preserves in them, there soon will be. Someone just needs to come up with a better system for publicizing his lectures!


Blogger DarkBlueHat said...

Was that a Mets cap or a Yankees cap? Thanks to Groundskeeper Willie I can do a decent imitation of a Scottish accent, but I don't think that's what you're asking.

I heard that previously when people asked R' Slifkin about the E-word he would simply change the topic. You would think that when he finally addresses the issue he would get a larger crowd.

7/11/2005 11:49 PM  
Blogger Steg (dos iz nit der šteg) said...

Sorry, don't remember. It could have been a non-baseball baseball cap with a corporate logo or something even, i don't remember for sure.

Well, i'd think that he'd get larger crowds for all of his lectures in the first place. Maybe people thought that he wouldn't get into the really controversial areas.

7/12/2005 12:13 AM  
Blogger DarkBlueHat said...

I think people care more about Slifkin the principle than Slifkin the man. That is a fundamental error, and one that goes against Torah. I hope to post on it when I get the chance.

7/12/2005 1:08 AM  
Blogger AMSHINOVER said...

btw, i'm not insane though the lady behind me was NOT mirty the one behind you was Orthomum.

7/12/2005 3:09 PM  
Blogger Steg (dos iz nit der šteg) said...


7/12/2005 4:33 PM  
Blogger Mar Gavriel said...

If you are so maqpidh about transliterating the letter qoph as a Q (as you rightfully are), you should know better than to spell the word qeiruv (or qêrûv) correctly! There is a Seire (or, in Ashkenazzis, "tseire" under the qoph. If you want a more detailed grammatical explanation, just holler.

7/20/2005 8:20 PM  
Blogger Steg (dos iz nit der šteg) said...

Ahah, crazy semi-guttural rēš... So it's like seiruv, where the R tashlum dageishes the hhiriq + dageish into tzeireh? I think. But everyone pronounces it kiruv, so as a [descriptive] linguist i'm going to call on the "common usage" card to justify my non-prescriptive-diqduqliness. ;-)

7/24/2005 11:35 AM  

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