"It's Allegorical": Kosher or Not?
When Is An Allegorical Reading of Chumash Repugnant To Torah Hashkafa?
In the recent Sturm und Drang (that is fancy-pants talk for heated controversy), many have sought to read certain parts of the Chumash which seem to contradict science as merely allegorical – i.e. they did not really happen. Now to some extent, no one can deny that, at least the very earliest parts of Bereishis are mysterious and defy a conventional explanation. For example, what does a “day” mean prior to the creation of the Sun and the Moon on Day 4? Whatever it means exactly, it certainly does not mean the Sun rose and set as we normally think of it. (R. Shimon Schwab, zt”l, once wrote an essay on harmonizing science and Torah which took this as a starting point. I found it quite worth reading, and curiosly all but ignored in the latest tempest. But that is for another post.) However, beyond these internal issues, it is clear that Chazal, and indeed cross references from the Chumash itself, understood many parts of the Chumash to be literally true.
Rav Aharon Soloveichik once gave a shiur in YU in which he stated that he had no difficulty in accepting a world that was much older than 6000 years. But, the notion that man is descended from animals he found “repugnant” to the Hashkafas ha Torah. We usually think of that word as connoting “arousing disgust or aversion; offensive or repulsive” but here I believe he meant it in the sense of “characterized by contradiction and irreconcilability” (both dictionary definitions of the word). As he explained it, the view that man is descended from animals is “repugnant” to Torah hashkafa because man was created be Tselem Elokim and has a special character above the animals.
Now without getting into whether R. Aharon had a valid complaint on that point, the broader point is certainly valid – if there are well established fundamental hashkafos of the Torah, we cannot accept a scientific explanation repugnant to those hashkafos. I think anyone who calls himself an Orthodox Jew will admit that, even if you got 10,000 scientists in a room and they claimed they could “prove” that, r”l, there is no God, we would pay them not the slightest mind. The Rambam made a similar point about the Aristotlean view that the Universe is eternal – something a religious viewpoint simply cannot accept.
Which got me to thinking, what other fundamentals of Judaism might be “repugnant” to what is the current scientific thinking and an attempt to harmonize them through relegating statements in the Torah as mere “allegory?”
Before I give a few examples, it might be useful to differentiate between “metaphor" and “allegory.” The former uses an image to describe something that happened, but gives it an extra descriptive (perhaps even poetic) character. The most obvious example is the anthropomorphisms of Hashem and his actions in the Torah. They are metaphors to permit the reader to understand what occurred. Another example is the possuk which states that Hashem carried the Jewish people ‘al kanfei nesharim.
Allegory goes beyond metaphor in that the basic story did not occur; the story is merely symbolic of a broader moral or philosophic reality. Shir ha Shirim is probably the best example. As traditionally understood, the sefer does not describe the interaction between an actual, historic pair of lovers, but rather symbolizes the relationship between klal yisroel and HKBH. Claiming that part of the Chumash is mere allegory is going beyond a claim that part of the Chumash is metaphor – it is saying that that part of the Chumash never occurred, but is a mere symbolic story, like Shir ha Shirim.
Here are a few examples where I think an allegorical reading is problematic and perhaps even repugnant to traditional Torah hashkafah:
This is an obvious one. The Torah says several times that Shabbos is every seventh day precisely because Hashem created the world in six days and rested on the Seventh. Shabbos is zecher le maaseh bereishis – precisely why a mechallel shabbos be farhesyah is treated like an oved avoda zara – he is denying one of the fundamentals of Judaism, creation.
I do not see how allegorizing the seven days of creation into seven “eras” can be reconciled with Shabbos being every seven days. The Torah emphasizes again and again that the seven days of creation is inherent in the concept of Shabbos. Indeed, the seven day cycle we follow goes back to the creation itself; it is not set (somewhat) arbitrarily the way Yom Tov is.
Acc. to the allegorizers, when was the first Shabbos? What started it? What is our seven day cycle based upon? What does ki sheshes yamim asah Hashem es haShomayim ve'es ha aretz mean?
(I will admit that R. Shimon Schwab’s essay does a brilliant (IMO) job of dealing with this while still permitting a long creation period.)
2. Man Was Created As A Singularity
לפיכך נברא אדם יחידי בעולם, ללמד שכל המאבד נפש אחת, מעלים עליו כאילו איבד עולם
מלא; וכל המקיים נפש אחת, מעלים עליו כאילו קיים עולם מלא. ומפני שלום הברייות, שלא יאמר אדם לחברו, אבא גדול מאביך. ושלא יאמרו המינים, רשייות הרבה בשמיים. להגיד גדולתו של
מלך מלכי המלכים, הקדוש ברוך הוא, שאדם טובע מאה מטבעות בחותם אחד, וכולן דומין זה
לזה, מלך מלכי המלכים הקדוש ברוך הוא טובע את כל האדם בחותמו של אדם הראשון, ואין
אחד מהם דומה לחברו. לפיכך לכל אחד ואחד לומר, בשבילי נברא
This is why Man was created as the only one in the world, to teach you that whomever destroys one soul, he is treated as though he
lost an entire world; and one who saves one soul, is treated as though he saved an entire world. And because of peaceful relations, that one should not tell his fellow, my father is greater than your father. And that the
heretics should not say, there are many powers in the heavens. And to
relate the greatness of the King of Kings of Kings, the Holy One Blessed be He, for a man mints one hundred coins with one seal, and they are all alike; the King of Kings of Kings, the Holy One Blessed be He mints every man with the seal of Adam, and no one of them is similar to the other. For that reason it is incumbent upon each and every person to say, for me the world was created. (Sanedrin 4:5)
This Mishna, which presents us with several fundamental hashkafos, clearly understands that part of the creation story literally – i.e. one man was created, who was the progenitor of all mankind.
I find this Mishna impossible to reconcile with the notion that man evolved from the apes – meaning that thousands or tens of thousands of human beings evolved from tens of thousands of apes somewhere in Africa.
Some have tried to harmonize the story about the creation of man with the evolutionary view by theorizing that Hashem picked an evolved hominid (i.e. a rather intelligent ape) and breathed a neshama into him, and that was Adam ha Rishon. Putting aside that the possuk says that Hashem did this to a pile of dirt, not an ape, I don’t see how this helps anything.
Let’s say there were 10,000 of these advanced ape-men in Africa thousands of years ago. Then Hashem picks one and breathes a neshama into him, and BANG we have Adam ha Rishon. Well, what happened to the rest of them? Did this Adam ha Rishon go back to his ape-friends and interbreed? If so, how was the neshama passed on to Adam’s progeny? Since it takes several generations to introduce new genes into the gene pool, did that mean that a few generations later you had some ape-men with and some without a neshama? Has the Divine neshama now spread to all mankind through intermarriage? Or do we still have some ape-men running around?
Or, alternatively, did all the ape-men (except Adam) suddenly die, and mankind descended from that one Divinely blessed fellow? That explanation would contradict both peshuto shel mikra and scientific evidence, so I don't see what is accomplished by adopting it.
The words LeMino, Lemina or LeMinehu appears numerous times in the story of Creation – each plant, bird or animal was created “unto its kind.” Most people, myself included, usually just skip over these words without giving them much thought, but they convey an important meaning both hashkafically and halakhically.
Chazal in Chullin (60a-b) darshen on the fact that in Ber. 1:11-12 leminehu appears with regard to the command only as to the trees but not as to the other plants, but when the creation was implemented even the herbs grew leminehu:
דרש רבי חנינא בר פפא (תהילים קד) יהי כבוד ה' לעולם ישמח ה' במעשיו פסוק זה
שר העולם אמרו בשעה שאמר הקב"ה (בראשית א) למינהו באילנות נשאו דשאים קל וחומר
בעצמן אם רצונו של הקב"ה בערבוביא למה אמר למינהו באילנות ועוד ק"ו ומה אילנות שאין
דרכן לצאת בערבוביא אמר הקב"ה למינהו אנו עאכ"ו מיד כל אחד ואחד יצא למינו פתח שר
העולם ואמר יהי כבוד ה' לעולם ישמח ה' במעשיו בעי רבינא הרכיב שני דשאים זה על גב
זה לר' חנינא בר פפא מהו כיון דלא כתב בהו למינהו לא מיחייב או דילמא כיון דהסכים
אידיהו כמאן דכתיב בהו למינהו דמיא תיקו:
R. Chanina b. Papa expounded: May the Glory of Hashem endure forever,
May Hashem rejoice in His works. (Tehillim 104) This verse the Angel of the
World (see Rashi) said at the time HKBH said leminehu for trees, the herbs (i.e.
non-tree plants) made a kal va chomer on themselves: If the will of HKBH
is with a mixture of species [irbuvya] why did he say leminehu for trees,
for trees do not have a nature to grew all mixed together, HKBH commanded
leminehu, for us all the more so. Immediately each one [of the herbs] grew
to its kind [lemino]. The Angel of the World opened and said May the Glory
of Hashem endure forever, May Hashem rejoice in His works.
Ravina asked: one who grafted two [types] of herbs one onto another
according to R. Chanina b. Papa what is the din? Since it is not written
leminehu he is not liable [for grafting kilayim] or perhaps since [Hashem]
agreed with them it is as though it is written by them leminehu.
The Maharal explains this Gemara in that the creation of the world was according to a Divine plan which followed a certain logic – Torah logic. (Compare istakel be oraysa u’bara alma). Inherent in a command that the trees should grow leminehu is that this should apply also to all plants – using the logic of kal vachomer. This kal vachomer was a great glory and simcha to HKBH -- the natural world indeed followed this Torah “logic.”
The repeated use of leminehu, lemina or lemino is are a clear statement in the Chumash that, at the time of creation, Hashem set certain types (minim) among the plants and animals, and commanded them to reproduce in kind. Indeed, such a commandment is akin to a mitzvah, since a kal va chomer can be (indeed was) learned out from this commandment from the trees to all plants. As Chazal state, Hashem did not want an irbuvya. He commanded that an apple tree should produce seeds that grow another apple tree, not grow an orange tree. Likewise, a wheat plant produces seeds that produce other wheat plants, not barley plants. Same for animals.
Now this of course does not mean that there is no variation within a min. Obviously no two trees or animals, even of the same type are identical. And, in fact, the idea of a min appears to be broader than what biologists call a species. If you learn Kilayim, it appears that min is a broader concept than species. (I once heard that the Chazon Ish, a great expert in Zeraim, paskened that all citrus fruits are one min and permitted grafting one on another.) But it does mean that there are set parameters for each min which were determined at creation, and it is the Divine Will that plants and animals reproduce within their type.
IMO this simply cannot be reconciled with the Darwinian view that species gradually developed from one another and all species have a common ancestor -- i.e. macroevolution. (Leave aside microevolution for the moment.) Acc. to the Darwinian theory, all life forms are one big irbuvya and, given enough time, a fungus could evolve into an oak tree or an elephant.
Before one dismisses the above as mere aggadata, the concept of minim has clear halakhic implications. All the laws of kilayim are based on the premise that there are different minim of plants and animals which we are forbidden to combine in certain proscribed ways (for animals, harbaah and hanhagah, for plants, harkavah and zeriah.) The quoted gemara expressly links the commandment of leminehu with the issur kilayim. For animals and trees there is a direct textual commandment and hence kilayim applies; Ravina’s unresolved question is whether a leminehu not directly commanded but derived from a kal va chomer counts.
This issue was a major one for Xtians in the early 20th century -- it was called "Fixity of the Species." My quick Googling of that terms revealed some interesting approaches, but none that are acceptable (IMO) of the Orthodox view of the Chumash and the Torah she be al Peh. Only one "Jewish" writer addressed the issue, and all she said was (1) there is no strong evidence for macro-evolution and (2) we can "darshen" away the problem, i.e., not follow pshat. Didn't really deal with the issue, IMO.