Do I need to Reconcile Science and Torah?

Most people ask “How do they reconcile science and Torah?” I ask, “Do I need to?”

As a BT, I grew up in the secular, science-based world. I even went to Bronx High School of Science and got my undergraduate degree in archaeology.

You would think the question about science and Torah would be a burning issue for me. It isn’t. Why? Good question. I think the answer is that Chazal (our sages) have answers for us. My main focus in this article is the age of the universe.
Out of the two major answers, science jives better with one of them. However, I recognize what science is and what it isn’t. It isn’t perfect, far from it. Second, it consists mainly of theories that change by the day and I will take Rabbi Akiva over any scientist, any day.

One answer is that the universe really is 5767 years old in “real years” and everything that shows differently according to science is either mistaken or made to look that way by G-d to test our faith. Many of our sages held and do hold by this.

The second answer is that the universe is really 15 billion years old. The Jewish calendar only starts from forming of Adam, which is on the 6th day of creation. The previous days are not “our” days. Rather, each one represents thousands of years. This theory is well explained by some of our sages. Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan has an excellent discussion about this in his book entitled “Immortality, Resurrection, and the Age of the Universe”. Professor Schroeder also discusses the issue in his book “The Science of G-d”. Numerous other authors have discussed tgis theory as well.

For me, either answer is valid and assuaging. If you “need” science and Torah to match then you have an answer. If you don’t, you also have a possibility. Yes, I lean a certain way, but if in the end of days I find out the answer was the other one, no big sweat. Hashem existed before anything, designed the world as he saw fit and that is ok by me. G-d is all powerful, so he could definitely make some rocks look older than they really are. G-d help me if I base my emunah (faith) on what scientists tell me.

Let’s remember that Moses received the Torah from G-d and Mr. Scientist received a grant for his research from so and so foundation. I know whom I trust more.

The Man Chasing the Chicken (A True Story)

On my way home from synagogue last week, I stumbled across a most humorous sight.

Here I am, living in an up-to-date city in Israel, a city comprised of many Americans who work in the high tech field and I see a small crowd of people (mainly Americans) gathered around an electric generator building talking about a chicken. When I look closer, I see a chicken running around the building. I inquire as to whom the chicken belongs and I am informed that a Russian couple living around the corner keeps him and he obviously escaped.

There is my neighbor, American born sopher (torah scribe) chasing the chicken, trying to catch it to return it to its yard. The sopher thought up a plan. Send his little daughter around the small fenced-in building to chase the chicken towards him and then he’ll catch it. That chicken knew how to run.

Its little things like this that make me laugh and say, only in Israel would such a scene happen and Baruch Hashem I live here.

I went on my way, plugged in my palm pilot, turned on my cell phone and rejoined the 21st century. I hope they caught that chicken……

Have We Burned Out?

I am sitting at my desk thinking, “what do I write about?” I could write about my feelings about the war since I live in Israel. I could also write about Elul. I then realized that I am not supposed to be writing a regular torah column. It is supposed to be for Baalei Teshuva and their issues. I ask myself have we burned out in our mission?

The website started off with a bang and has continued over the last year. It has evolved into something, but what? Is it fulfilling its goal? Have we come up with workable solutions to the Baalei Teshuvah issues? Does anyone really care anymore? Have we become just another torah blog on the web? I leave that for you to think about.

What about the solutions for all the issues that have been brought up here on BeyondBT? Here is one more go at it. After careful thinking of the issues at stake, I would think to identify that one of the biggest issues facing BTs today is the lack of access to Rabbanim and mentors to help them transition and grow throughout their frum lives, ie: from “the cradle to the grave”.

I originally thought the answer was to focus on the macro and bring it to the micro. However I am convinced that it needs to be done in the micro and that will then spread to lots of little micros across the world and that will then make up the macro. Let me explain what I mean. Every community/synagogue needs to establish a mentor system, various members of the community who have the ability and time to mentor BT families. They wouldn’t be their halachic poskim however they would be there to model Torah Judaism and show them how to deal with the issues that BTs didn’t grow up with. They would be their “surrogate” parents. The Rabbi of the community would try to identify who the mentors should be and they would undergo so called “Sunday” training sessions. The community itself would pay their Rav extra $$$ so he doesn’t need to have a second job so he can be more involved in the daily life experiences of the community. Being that the mentors are local, shabbos could be a shared experience by all on a regular basis.

I think by approaching it from the micro level, there is no need to wait for some fundraisers to raise “big” money to establish another organization, which probably won’t happen and might not be the solution either. Being that many of the issues that BTs face are ones that need regular personal attention, the local community is nearest and hopefully dearest. There are a lot of nice communities out there that I am sure have qualified mentors and Ravs and also the ability to do what I am saying.

The biggest question to be asked is then what about the people that don’t live near one of these communities. It is a question that I don’t have an answer to other than move. I don’t mean that sarcastically. The Talmud tells us in various places the importance of living in a torah community. I realize it isn’t always so simple to pick up and move but I’ll leave that for a different article.

We need the 1st community to stand up and say that they’ll do it. There are various Rabbis that can help get it started. Then, once going this would be the model for all other communities. Do we have any takers out there…………

Is Tolerance a Dirty Word?

The subject of tolerance is a tricky one. What does it mean? The standard dictionary definition is as follows: “The capacity for or the practice of recognizing and respecting the beliefs or practices of others”.

We need to ask ourselves if we are “tolerant” enough of other types of Orthodoxy. I am not going to deal with other types of Judaism in this essay. That is a topic by itself. The problem with the standard definition of tolerance is how can I respect something that is against Halacha. There are 70 faces to Torah. Not everyone needs to wear a black hat, knitted kippa, etc… As long as they are keeping halacha, then they have a legitimate orthodox expression of Judaism.

With that said, what happens when a group keeps halacha in their eyes, but not in the eyes of others? That opens up a can of worms. I think the standard has to be that as long as someone is following an accepted halachic opinion then that is valid. That doesn’t mean I have to accept their view, but I must consider them “dati”. What is considered an accepted halachic opinion is a whole discussion by itself.
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Are We Self-Defeating?

Here we stand, almost ½ a year later from the establishment of the Beyond BT blog. The question that we need to ask ourselves is “have we changed”? Have we incorporated those ideas presented here that made sense to us?

I don’t want to scare anyone, but I am afraid that just like people’s “new year’s resolutions” never get fulfilled, the good possibility that many of us didn’t take the good advice offered here, is a reality.

I think that one major piece of advice given by many of the writers and commentators here has been to find for yourself a spiritual guide. A Rav/ Rebbbetzin that you feel you want to learn from & grow with. In fact, many complaints by many BT’s that I have encountered over the last 16 years has been this: “I don’t have a Rav”. I would venture to say that most FFB’s also don’t have a Rav to guide them. Sure, most people have Rebbeim for Kashrut questions, but what about how to really “live” their lives, help with the school issues since BT’s don’t have that frum parental and grandparental wisdom to rely on, and shalom bayit issues.
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Am I Getting Into The Groove?

This essay is not going to discuss the kabbalistic outlook on secular music or its effects. I leave that for others greater than I. I realize that the topic of listening to secular music is a very touchy topic with people. It can get heated. I am just going to share my own thoughts regarding the subject of listening to our past-music.

Going into Wal-Mart or Walgreen’s can be a trip down memory lane. I am guaranteed to hear some songs from my past. In fact, many of them I can still sing the words to, when I hear the music. What happens when a person hears music from their past? We know that the mind (our memory) keeps most things in storage. It is next to impossible to completely rid the memory of stored information. Forgetting something doesn’t mean it is erased, just misplaced or buried. As the music flows into our ears, the mind recalls the previous times when we heard that particular song. The music is a trigger for thoughts from the past. Whether it was a tznius time or not, kosher or treif. Granted, not every song we ever heard is associated with an “unkosher” time; however my personal jukebox doesn’t know how to differentiate between the two. This I see as one of the biggest problems with listening to secular music from the past.
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Tachlis-Where Do We Go From Here?

I have to give my “hats off” to the people who decided to start this website. I wish that the Baalei Tsheuva world would have just melted and mixed with the FFB world to the point where you wouldn’t know the difference between any Yid. However, we all realize that that isn’t true.

I see the number one problem of BTs is that they don’t have a Rav, thereby having no guide through the process of life. Many BTs studied somewhat in Yeshiva or seminary but then once they moved on they never kept in “real” touch with their Rebbaim or Rebbetzins (I am not dealing with who’s to blame, that’s not the purpose of the article). Then there are those who never learned in Yeshiva. What’s a Yid supposed to do? Many times the local shul where you daven doesn’t have a Rav who can handle the issues of the FFBs, let alone the BT whom he doesn’t really understand.
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Sibling Rivalry-BT Vs. FFB: How Do We Stop It?

I’ve noticed along with others that there sometimes is an anti FFB sentiment running through some comments. I’d like to dispel people’s beliefs for a moment.

First of all let’s realize that if it wasn’t for the FFB world, we wouldn’t be here today on this website (obviously Hashem is the ultimate reason we are here). After all, the first BT’s of this past generation were merkaraved by Aish, Ohr Samayach, Neve, etc. All started by FFB’s. So we owe a tremendous hakaros hatov to the FFB world. Did we ever stop and think who kept the light of Torah burning the last 2000 years? That’s right, those FFB’s.
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Heaven to the Right, Hell to the Left, One Size Hat Fits All

What often happens in the frum world is everybody is forced to pick sides, or so it appears. Can you imagine you just gave up eating shellfish, pork, and watching cartoons on shabbos and you now feel like you are on a holy journey to serve the creator of the universe and boom, you are pressured to define yourself: black hat, knitted kipa, jean skirts, stockings or bandanas. Sounds frustrating but we all felt the pressure somewhere along the way.

Does it really mean who you are because of your hat or lack of it? Because your skirt goes to your ankle but it is a jean shirt? I think Hashem laughs at anyone who believes that is Yiddishkeit. Now, with that said, what should we be thinking? How do we define what a good Jew is?
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