This week, we present one of several in an exchange of letters between Prof. C. Domb and the Rebbe, in which the Rebbe encourages him to clear up confusion among misguided individuals which have resulted from misconceptions created by modern technology. The topic of the age of the world and “evolutionary cosmology” are briefly discussed. The letter, written originally in English, is from the archives of the Rebbe’s personal trusted secretary, Rabbi Nissan Mindel.
By the Grace of G-d
29th of Tishrei, 5722,
Professor C. Domb
37 Green Lane
Hendon, London N.W.4
This is to acknowledge with thanks receipt of your letter of 25th Menachem Av, in reply to my suggestion that you publish a series of articles, or a comprehensive monograph, on the subject of “Religion and Science”. Pressure of my duties and the Intervention of Tishrei compelled me to postpone my reply to your letter.
You mention your preoccupation with other Torah projects at this time, and express the hope that you may perhaps find time on some future occasion to act on my suggestion.
Permit me, therefore, to observe that while the public dissemination of Torah merits a high priority, as the first Mishnah of Peah states, I cannot share your view that this applies to the present instance. My authority for this view is the Gemara (Moed-kattan 9 a/b) which rules that “A mitzvah which cannot be performed by others takes precedence over all else.”
As I pointed out in my previous letter, and as you well know, the present state of confusion besetting the minds of so many of our brethren, a confusion which is not limited to theoretical issues, hut which touches upon fundamental principles and attitudes, down to the very observance of the mitzvoh in the daily life, urgently calls for an authoritative clarification by a recognized authority in the field of science. I am confident that if the cobwebs of misconception attending the advancement of modern technology could be cleared away, numerous misguided individuals would be induced to re-examine their position, while others still clinging to their beliefs and traditions, yet are troubled by doubts, would have their confidence restored.
I realize, of course, that the undertaking which I am suggesting requires time and attention. Nevertheless, I feel that the encroachment on other important projects would not be so drastic, and in the longer run, perhaps, it might even turn out to be a contribution rather than an encroachment, in the light of the Mishnah, “one Mitzvah brings another in its train”, especially a Mitzvah that cannot be performed by others, and where there can be no fear of duplication or excess.
Now to refer to some points raised in your letter.
Regarding our date, namely the present year 5722 since Creation, you write that you were told by a Rov that this date is somewhat arbitrary, and its use in Jewish legal documents is qualified by the phrase – כאן מונים שאנו במנין.
I am surprised that the Rov did not mention the fact that the very same phrase contains the unequivocal words – העולם לבריאת. In other words, this dating is not conventional, as for example, in the case of “Minyan Shtorot“, which was adopted and ordered to a certain convenient date in the past. Our annual dating is historic, beginning with the Creation of the world, and its use in legal documents explicitly substantiates its authenticity.
You cite certain Rishonim in this connection, hut since I have not at hand these sources, I must withhold comment. However you surely know that there is general agreement among our authorities of the essential point that this dating is based on the Creation. Whatever reservations have been made by some authority (on account of the Flood, or other adjustments – תוהו שנת ,המבול שנת) the whole difference in the date would not exceed 3 years. (The Machlokes whether it was in Nissan or Tishrei that the world was created represents only a difference of six months.) The basic fact that our dating is related to the Creation of the world is not challenged by our authorities.
With reference to the view of “evolutionary cosmology”, i.e., an evolution preceded by creatio ex nihilo, it is “difficult” to reconcile this view with the evolutionary theory, since it is impossible to cram within a period of 5722 years a process of evolution as conjectured by the evolutionists which, if it be true at all, would require millions and billions of years.
You mention the difficulty of understanding the account of creation literarily, specifically how it is possible to define days before the sun was created. But I do not see the difficulty at all. The literal meaning of the words “And it was day and it was night” is inescapable, for the very same words are used in the text before as well as after the sun was created, i.e., in each of the six days of Creation. It would surely be illogical to assume that the very same expression, used in identical context and in the very same section, should have different meanings! This still leaves the question, how is the passage of a day to be measured before the sun was created? But this question, too, has no basis in so far as the text is concerned. For we are told at the outset that G-d created light, and separated between light and darkness, that is to say, the Creator at once set the limits of the day and night. As for the source of this light, surely no-one will claim that the sun is the only possible source of cosmic light, especially if we accept the view of science that light has to do with electro-magnetic waves, surely there could be other sources of light and energy besides the sun. Whether we accept the corpuscular theory of light, or the wave theory, or the theory combining the two, our position is not affected thereby.
One final remark, a propos of your mentioning that in these matters you do not rely on your own judgment but consult with Rabbonim, etc. Unfortunately, the majority of Rabbonim stand too much in awe of scientific theories, for they still adhere to the attitude of bygone generations, when science was regarded as an absolute truth, as something apart from human intelligence and speculation, in other words, that scientific laws are not produced, but merely “discovered” by the scientist, and are infallible and immutable. This attitude was fostered even by the Moreh Nevuchim that where “science” appears to contradict statements in the Torah or Talmud, the latter must be reinterpreted to conform to the scientific “truth”. So deep rooted is this attitude, having received the sanction of such eminent authorities in the past, that even now, when scientists themselves recognize that they are dealing not with independent “truths” and immutable laws, but merely with theories, formulated only for the convenience of systemization, and classification advancement, – many a well -meaning Rov still finds it difficult to change his attitude in regard to science.
That is why I consider it so necessary in the present day and age to clear away these widespread misconceptions not only from the minds of religious skeptics, but also from the minds of believers.
I trust you will take the lead in this important task.
The above letter is from The Letter and the Spirit by Nissan Mindel Publications (NMP).
These letters were written originally in English and were prepared for publication by Rabbi Dr. Nissan Mindel, whose responsibility it was the Rebbe’s correspondence in English and several other languages.
We thank Rabbi Shalom Ber Schapiro, who was entrusted by his father-in-law Rabbi Mindel with his archives and who is Director of the Nissan Mindel Publications (NMP), for making the Rebbe’s letters available to the wider public. May the merit of the many stand him in good stead.