Rav Kook On Evolution

Dr. Marc Shapiro blogs:

He mentions that Maimonides assumes the eternity of the world when he seeks to prove the existence, unity, and incorporeality of God. Maimonides adopts this model so that his proof will be acceptable to everyone. R. Kook states that this is also how we should deal with the issue of evolution. In other words, even if we don’t accept it, we should, for the sake of argument, assume that evolution is correct and explain the Torah based upon this. This will mean that even people who accept evolution will see the truth of Torah. By rejecting evolution, and declaring that it is in opposition to the Torah, right from the start you are stating that Judaism has no place for those people who accept one of the major conclusions of modern science.

…Another early statement of his with regard to evolution is found in Shemonah Kevatzim 1:594. Here he says that it is very praiseworthy to attempt to reconcile the Creation story with the latest scientific discoveries. He says that there is no objection to explaining the Creation, described as six days in the Bible, to mean a much longer period. He also states that we can speak of an era of millions of years from the creation of man until he came to the realization that he is separate from the animals. This in turn led to the beginning of family life, in other words, “civilization”.

What R. Kook is saying is that the entire story of the creation of Adam and Eve is not to be viewed as historical. Rather, it is a tale that puts in simple form a long development of man’s intellectual and spiritual nature.

…Anyone who has studied in a yeshiva knows that it inculcates a certain amount of condescension for the masses. For what could the masses, the typical am ha-aretz, possibly have to offer the scholar? Yet R. Kook saw matters differently, and recognized that there was an element of natural Jewish morality in the masses that was no longer to be found among the scholars, and the scholars ignored this to their own detriment.

…Obviously, if you are prepared to say that great prophets such as Abraham and Ezekiel were wrong in scientific matters, it is only natural to assume the same thing when it comes to the Sages.

…In other words, the book of Jeremiah records mistaken information, but that is because it chooses to reflect the mistaken view of the people, rather than record the accurate facts. As the final words of Korban Edah explain, there are more important considerations for the prophet than to be accurate in such matters. R. Kook sees the lesson of this talmudic passage as applicable to elsewhere in the Bible, namely, that absolute accuracy in its descriptions (both scientific and historical) is not vital and can therefore be sacrificed in order to inculcate the Bible’s higher truths.

…The fourteenth-century R. Eliezer Ashkenazi ben Nathan ha-Bavli has an even more radical approach, as he believes that there are inaccuracies in the Torah itself.

…If people never lived so long, why were these number included in the Torah? R. Eliezer claims that Maimonides’ approach is to regard the lengthy lifespans as simple figures of speech, not meant to be taken literally any more than the statement that the Land of Israel was flowing with milk and honey or that the cities in Canaan were “fortified up to Heaven” (Deut. 1:28)

…He also offers another explanation for the lengthy lifespans, namely, that the Torah recorded what the popular belief was, no matter how exaggerated, and Moses was not concerned about these sorts of things. In other words, just like today people say that the Torah is not interested in a scientific presentation of how the world was created, R. Eliezer’s position is that the Torah is not interested in a historically accurate presentation. In his mind, this has nothing to do with the Torah’s goals, and therefore there was no reason for the Torah not to present matters as they were believed at the time, even if these perceptions were inaccurate.

…R. Jehiel Jacob Weinberg would later argue against trying to “prove” Judaism in the medieval fashion. In the post-Hume and post-Kantian world I thought that this was pretty much agreed upon by everyone. How wrong I was can be attested to all who attended my lecture on Maimonides at the 2008 New York Limmud conference and recall the dispute that took place afterwards. An individual who is involved in kiruv adamantly insisted that the major doctrines of Judaism can be proven to the same degree of certainty as a mathematical proof, and that these truths can thus be proven to non-Jews (who if they don’t accept the proofs are being intellectually dishonest). In this conception, there is no longer room for “belief” or “faith”; since the religion has been “proven” we can only speak of “knowledge”. The notion that Judaism could not be proven in this fashion was, I think, regarded by him as akin to heresy. I have had a lot of contact with “kiruv professionals” and had never come across such an approach. Yes, I know that people speak about the Kuzari proof for the giving of the Torah. However, I always understood this to be more in the way of a strong argument rather that an absolute proof, with the upshot of the latter being that one who denies the proof is regarded as intellectually dishonest or as a slave to his passions. I also know R. Elchanan Wasserman’s strong argument in favor of the viewpoint expressed by my interlocutor (see Kovetz Ma’amarim ve-Iggerot, pp. 1ff.), but before then had never actually found anyone who advocated this position, lock, stock and barrel. So the question to my learned readers is, is there a kiruv “school” today which does outreach based on the “Judaism can be proven” perspective?

…In his latest book, God According to God, [Gerard] Schroeder—who according to his website teaches at Aish ha-Torah— “goes off the haredi reservation” in a much more serious way than Slifkin. Here is how his website describes the book: “In God According to God, Schroeder presents a compelling case for the true God, a dynamic God who is still learning how to relate to creation.” See here. I daresay that one would be hard-pressed to find even a Modern Orthodox rabbi who would not regard this view of an imperfect God as a heretical position.

…Baruch, what soldiers do in wartime is not the same as saying that it is officially permissible. In recent decades, other than the Serbs and some African warlords, is there any country in the world, even the most uncivilized, that has told its soldiers that it can rape the women of the other side? Look at the uncivilized countries, Iran, Iraq, Lebanon, Syria, North Korea, have they ever told their soldiers they can do this?

And since you don’t think it is absolutely horrifying to rape women, I guess we don’t have much to talk about in this area. Chazal themselves were troubled by this law, which is why they said that it was a concession. In other words, soldiers in those days were going to rape no matter what, so by requiring the man to then have a relationship with the woman, rather than just throwing her away, the Torah was helping to prevent at least some of this behavior. In other words, the Torah’s morality was on a higher level than the time.

But R. Kook’s point is that in an era when this is not a concern, when we don’t expect our soldiers to do things like that, and it is an exception, not the rule (not to mention being a war crime), then this law is no longer relevant as we must “rise above it”. My point was that today, I don’t think this is to be regarded as a midat hasidut, but rather basic halachah.

… The majority view is that rape is permissible. That at least is how it is portrayed in the Encyclopedia. Yet I think that perhaps the Encyclopedia does not describe the complexity of the issue. There are a few different approaches.

1. The soldier can rape the woman on the battlefield. He then converts her.

2. He cannot have sex with her until he converts her, but after her conversion he can forcibly have sex with her (i.e., rape).

As for point no. 2, there are those who say that the woman is forcibly converted, and that is the chiddush of yefat toar.

However, there are also those who say that the woman cannot be forcibly converted.

My point was that there are probably authorities who hold that one cannot have sex with the woman until she is converted, and that this conversion has to be carried out with the woman’s free will. In other words, this would prevent any rape.

I haven’t gone through all the sources and made a chart, but I think that there will be some of those who hold that conversion cannot be forcible who also hold that the first sex can only happen AFTER conversion (and there will be some who hold that it can happen before the conversion). As I said, one would need to make a chart and figure this out, and I don’t know if what I say is correct, but since there are so many positions out there, I think it is likely the case.

But I repeat, the majority view is that she can be raped.

…How for your second comment, that sex is only permitted if the woman consents, let’s be real here. You have a situation where a woman’s land was just conquered, and her family killed. In what sense can there be consent? She clearly hates the Israelites but in order to save her life consents to have sex with one, hoping that this will prevent a gang rape or her being killed. Even if there is no physical coercion, there is enormous psychological coercion and her action is not carried out by her free will. To give the reverse scenario, can you imagine a Jewish woman willingly having sex with a German soldier after he town was just exterminated?

So however you look at it, R. Kook’s point is that this type of behavior is very low on the scale of morality and we must rise above it.

re. the comparison yefat toar being theoretical, I am referring to post-biblical times, in an era where you don’t have miraculous victories where there are no prisoners.

…When you say chas ve-shalom that the Torah should permit injury of an innocent human being, what do you think slavery is, or extermination of the Canaanite children? I have already dealt with R. Kook and slavery and in a future post I will discuss R. Kook’s understanding of why we were permitted to kill the Canaanites, even those such as children who were innocent. Chazal already say that yefat toar is not a “good” thing, but this is the best thing that could be achieved at that early period.

About Luke Ford

I've written five books (see Amazon.com). My work has been followed by the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and 60 Minutes. I teach Alexander Technique in Beverly Hills (Alexander90210.com).
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