Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Deluge-ions of Grandeur- Was there really a worldwide flood in the time of Noach?

Last night I spoke about Noach and the flood in light of what is known today. I touched on some issues of biblical criticism, and offered three different approaches to deal with the episode of the flood. For some, the third approach, which is the one that I prefer, might be difficult to accept. I welcome all comments and thoughts as long as they are respectful. If you are uncomfortable with the ideas of biblical criticism, please do not listen, as I do not wish to challenge or damage anyone’s faith.

Here is the link to the shiur. (Running time 1:04)


  1. There is a fundamental difference between taking Bereishis 1 or perhaps 1&2 in a new direction, and doing so for with the flood.

    Before there was any scientific reason to posit that the universe is older than 6,000 without saying it was eternally old, we had plenty of Oral Torah on the subject. Whether it's Bereishis Rabba and cycles of creation, or the sources the Rambam, Rashi, Ramban, for that matter, even a mishnah that tells us it's esoteric.

    Saying the flood is local based on scientific and sociological evidence, with no reason to do so when studying the Torah (written and oral) from within, raises questions of the limits of parshanut in ways that belief in an Old Universe does not. The pre-existing opinions in Oral Torah that I know of are that the flood was either global, or global minus Israel.

    A local flood is adapting the mesorah to fit the science. I find that poses a problem you do not address in the shiur.

    For what it's worth, I believe -- following the Maharal -- that miracles involve an inconsistent reality. When water turns into blood, it only does so in the world as experienced by the Egyptians. The sun stands still in Giv'on, but for everyone but the combatants there, the earth kept on its usual spin, time went on, and nothing abnormal occured. Implied by the Maharal is that the after-effects of a miracle could or could not be in the world as I experience it, depending upon the point of the miracle. Even though it really occurred, not an illusion, in Noach's and his contemporaries' worlds.

    The Maharal was apparently caught in the same zeitgeist as Kant, speaking of phenomenological universes in contrast to an unknowable neumenal "what's REALLY out there". And this idea seemed a LOT more outlandish before both General Relativity and Quantum Mechanics also posited that different observers may have experiences of reality that seem to contradict each other. But it's still hard to swallow, and I doubt too many other people would buy into it.

    BTW, the Maharal's perspective would make the age of the universe, time before the first human (or sentient alien, perhaps), a meaningless question. Rav Dessler notes the same thing, also attributing it to the Ramban (although I didn't see the Ramban that way) in Michtav meiEliyahu vol II.

    And for some, this approach to not demanding evidence of any miracle will feel like a cop-out. Much like the simpler "the miracle took care of it" explanations. But if there is a logical reason for G-d to hide His miracles except as needed, then one's emotional dissatisfaction with an emotional answer is insufficient reason to reject it.

    The Seforno explains the justice in Hashem hardening Par'oh's heart or giving it inertia ("hichzaqti es libo" and "hikhbid es leiv Par'oh") as actually preserving rather than violating his free will. Witnessing the miraculous would itself distort Par'oh's decision. Unless one is already at that level of belief, such as R' Chanina ben Dosa's "He Who decreed oil would burn could decree that vinegar burn", one shouldn't try using vinegar for Shabbos lights. So, there is a rational for the emotionally unsatisfying answer that may mean it's true anyway.

  2. And yet there was a willingness to do so by those like Rav DT Hofman, Rav Gedalyah Nadel, possibly Rav Kook and others. For those who live in a world where science works, it is difficult to ignore it in cases like this.

    1. I get frustrated when I see people explain the Moreh 2:25 as saying that had Aristo's proof for eternity been valid, he would actually have created a new interpretation of the Torah to fit it.

      Rather, he says that the cases of anthropomorphism and eternity differ in two ways:
      1- The incorporality and Unity of G-d are decisively proven, eternity is not;
      AND (the ignored part)
      2- Eternity runs against the mesorah. Actually in 2:26 he notes it overturns everything, which is a far looser criterion. It's in 2:15,16 (right after his disproof of eternity, in which he describes its acceptance as choosing to reject the words of our prophets, as explained by our sages. (See also 2:24 about the end of time and the teachings of our nevi'im and chakhamim.)

      The bit about literal text not being sufficient reason is only the opening of the chapter, dismissing a distraction before he gives his thesis. It's also segues from a point in the previous chapter.

      The Rambam says the two cannot contradict, and therefore we could never have both criteria violated simultaneously. Asking whether the Rambam would make up a new peshat in Tanakh against all established tradition is like the old chestnut, "... but if you did have a brother, would he like noodles?" Once he denies the "if", the "then" is meaningless.

      Which is really where my comfort level stands, rather than the position of those achronim you mention. I am more comfortable believing that G-d wouldn't unduly persuade me to follow Him by showing me evidence of His miracles than I am in creating new peshatim. (Especially since this approach fits the philosophy of Kant, Mach and Einstein and the Physics of Einstein, Bohr and y"sh Heisenberg.)

      You stated in the shiur why your preferences lie the other way, basically invoking the absurdity of Last Thursdayism. (How do you know the world wasn't created last Thursday, and all the evidence including our memories of time before that is simply part of the creation?)

      While that argument has emotional weight, if reason explains why our emotional intuition might be misguiding us in this case, I am prepared to teach myself to ignore it.

    2. Eppur si muove - Meir Shinnar & I still think that's what it (II:25) says. Without knowing Arabic, I don't think any of us really will know for sure.

    3. Yeah, even before Strauss declaring open season with his splitting off an esoteric layer of the Guide, the Moreh is something of a Rorschach test.

      However, regardless of what 2:25 means, the Rambam does give contradicting "our sages and prophets" as reason for rejecting an idea in a number of places.

      Just looking at cheileq 2, here are a list of chapters where the Rambam cites chazal as his reason for rejecting an idea, or eliminates an apparent such objection: 5, 11, 24 (already cited), 26, 27 (a repeat of 24), 28.

      In 41, 42 and 47 he cites chazal to justify his insistence that stories involving angels must all be prophecies rather than physical events, and the use of hyperbole in nevu'ah.

      There are rishonim who were far more comfortable disagreeing with chazal's consensus on matters of aggadita and parshanut, where there is one, than the Rambam. I'm not writing about the acceptability of the idea; just whether the Rambam is a good source for it.

      (I think I should post the list of sources at more length on Avodah, if I haven't already. Too long for here.)

    4. Nevermind, that Avodah post already exists: vol 30, no 165, letter #5 sent 5-Dec-2012.

    5. Rav Kook was pretty open ended in terms of how far this question could go. The narrower you make the requirements of belief for members and potential members, the harder you make it.