Belief in the literal meaning of the Torah – including the creation of the world, is a premise for our belief and observance of the mitzvos. In this letter, the Rebbe reassures the writer that there is no need for “novel analysis” nor for apologetics of those who try to interpret Torah to fit science. The letter, written originally in English, is from the archives of the Rebbe’s trusted secretary Rabbi Nissan Mindel.
By the Grace of G-d
14th Elul, 5739
Greeting and Blessing:
This is in reply to your letter in which you write about, what you call, a novel analysis and rendering of the Genesis Recording in the Torah.
I trust you know that every so-called “orthodox” Jew (the reason for the quotation marks is that according to our Sages all Jews are “believers the sons of believers,” in other words, “orthodox,” even though this essential nature of a Jew is in some individuals eclipsed in actual practice) believe in the literal interpretation of the Torah, including the Creation account with which the Torah begins. You might say that Jews are the original ‘fundamentalists,” to use a familiar term in this country.
The immediate consequences to this literal interpretation are: (1) that the Universe was created ex nihilo; (2) that immediately on the first day of Creation both the heaven and the earth came into being, as distinct from the so-called “big bang” theory which you mention, or other cosmogonist theories); (3) that the six days of creation refer to actual days, not “periods,” as clearly evidenced by the “seventh day” in the same context, which the Creator blessed and sanctified as the day of Shabbos, and which He commanded us, Jews, to observe every seventh day of the week. And while we also have a Sabbatical Year, Shmitta, which is the seventh year of a seven-year cycle (incidentally, the hew year, 5740 is such a year), the seventh day of each week – Shabbos – which Jews have observed for countless generations to this day is living testimony that “in six days G-d made heaven and earth.”
I am, of course, aware that even in certain orthodox circles there have been well-meaning apologists who attempted to reinterpret the Creation account of the Torah in one way or another in order to “reconcile” it with changing theories as to the origin of the Universe. But since I am speaking of the authentic time-honored traditional view, the way it has always been understood and taught to Jewish children, the chedarim and yeshivos, as it is still understood and taught today, the above-mentioned three basic points of Creation are absolutely fundamental; and there are other corollaries, which cannot be entered into here.
In addition to plain text of the Torah she’bi’Ksav(Written Torah) there are numerous teachings in the Torah she’be’Al-Peh (Talmud, etc.) reiterating and expounding the Creation account, which is the very foundation of our religion and belief. The Rambam (Maimonides), the Great Codifier of Jewish Law, clearly rules that our belief in the Divine origin of both the Written and Oral Law is indivisible and if one is denied, G-d forbid, in whole or in part, so is ipso facto the other.
As for your statement that scientific data were not available generations ago, etc., let me say that with all due respect to science, it has not in any way (except in a most speculative way) challenged the authenticity of the Torah account of Creation. Be it noted that the Torah itself gives science a strong validity (in the so called exact and empirical sciences), as for example when a physician rules that a person must not fast on Yom Kippur, in which case the doctor’s opinion assumes the validity of a Torah rule overriding the fast.
Unfortunately, most contemporary scientists seem to conceal one of the inescapable consequences of the relativity theory, according to which neither the principle of Ptolemy that the earth is the center of the Universe, nor that of Copernicus that the sun is the center of the “solar system,” is relevant any more since modern science cannot, a priori, rule on this question definitively. From the viewpoint of modern science, either of them could be right, and if one of them is rejected on any ground, the same objection would apply to the other, as anyone who is familiar with the theory of relativity knows.
A further point that has bearing on the subject matter of your letter has to do with the various theories of dating the age of the Universe according to the theory of evolution. The various hypotheses that attempt to set the date, are not only speculative, but are full of contradictions, depending on the criteria used for dating, whether geologic, astronomic, and atomic and the like. They are also mutually contradictory by virtue of the fact that the maximum age according to one theory is smaller than the minimum age according to another. Besides and this too is an essential point, according to the principle of probability which is now universally accepted in modern science, the evolution from simple to the complex, not to mention from the inorganic to organic, would require such a fantastic number of years that would far exceed the various maximum evolution theories.
This is not the place to present a bibliography where all the above can be verified, but a practical bibliography may be found in the book by Avigdor Miller.
I am very sorry that what has been said above is quite categorically at variance with your interpretation, in which you evidently invested great deal of time and thought. But surely you wished to hear my candid opinion and not some equivocal palliative remarks, especially as there is no room for palliatives in matter that are basic to our religion and beliefs.
Wishing you a Kesivo vachasimo tovo for a good and sweet year,