Thoughts on Judaism

Sunday, May 15, 2005

Miracles required for the Mabul

Godol Hador Melech HaMoshiach Shlita has a discussion on the Noah flood story. Truly, it is the most problematic of the entire Chumash. I am compiling a list of the miracles required to sustain the story. Grant that these are miracles. We are not exploring whether to believe or not believe. Please feel free to add any that I do not mention or dispute mine.

1) Fitting the number of animals in the space available.
2) Relying on two specimens to sustain the species and yet housing predators and prey on the same crowded ship (Mefarshim deal with this)
3) The mechanics of feeding the animals and caring for them for a year. How did they move around, clean the excretions (presumably by seeping them through holes in the second level) etc.
4) How did the ark sustain the weight of all of those animals, their provisions and their excrement for a year (Rashi says the 3rd level was for excrement. Why didn't they just sweep it overboard?)
5) The ark design is not seaworthy. It would have capsized or broken apart. It had no rudder, no keel, etc. It was just a box (Hebrew: Taivah).
6) How did the uniquely Australian animals get to and from the ark?
7) Where did they store all of the provisions for the people and the animals? It would have to be secure from the animals.
8) Every single one of the animals had to survive, since they would be the only specimens of their kind left. Even though they were abruptly removed from their normal habitat and living in terribly crowded zoo conditions, they all survived, even the most delicate species.)
9) Every current species and variation must have been represented (unless we believe in evolution, Heaven forfend). We can dispense with insects, mice and vermin though, as the Torah worldview allows for spontaneous generation.
10) A flood covering Ararat would have been over 3 miles high. There isn't enough water in the Earth system to do this globally, without resorting to some radical tide theories.
11) There are higher mountains than Ararat where people might have survived. According to pshat, the flood only went 15 amos above the peak of Ararat. (Granted, it would have been difficult to survive at that air pressure and temperature for any period of time in those days.)
12) How did the animals survive afterward with no exercise for a year? Their muscles would go into atrophy.
13) The water pressure of 3 miles of water left no geological evidence.
14) Radical temperature and climate changes for a full year did not wipe out the sea mammals, sharks and other near surface sea creatures, assuming that they did not need the ark. (Heartier than the dinosaurs?)
15) How did they provide the amphibeans access to their habitat on the ark? (Crocodiles, alligators etc. would need both water and land to survive.)
16) Getting elephants, rhinos, and less agile large creatures off of the mountain must have presented a challenge.
17) Presumably, they stayed with the ark since they could not move all of the provisions frequently as the water receded. Yet, once the water receded enough for them to populate the Earth, they were on a mountain 3 miles high. The climate would have gone extremely cold and the air extremely thin in a short time. Again, all animals had to have survived.
18) All animals had to be sound reproductively, yet they seem to have come on a random basis, not verified for their reproductive ability. There were no barren animals. They also must have successfully reproduced after the flood, each and every.
19) The air inside the ark must have been extremely stale and thin as it was used far faster than it could be replaced. There was a single window. Otherwise, it was closed and fully watertight, according to the pasukim, even above the water level. To make matters worse, they were transporting all of the excrement as well as the animals. Logic would dictate that they would have suffocated.
20) The second level, where the animals were housed, was not high enough to accomodate some animals. (The chumash does not require this, but it is commonly accepted pshat.)
21) After the calamity, the Earth was immediately productive for growing again. It must have replaced provisions in a timely manner as animals repopulated the Earth and traveled around.
22) The predators must not have returned to eating prey as long as the animals were repopulating the Earth. Then, the Earth must have provisioned them with vegetation, despite the calamity.
23) The digestive systems of many animals had to have been altered to accomodate digesting and processing only vegetation, while maintaining substantive nutrition. Then, they had to change back at some point well after the flood, to give the prey a chance to repopulate and survive.
24) Lots of germs (endemic to various animals), no illness.
25) There was no method of steering the ark over thousands of miles, but they arrived at the highest point of Ararat (Northeast corner of the known world) just as the water receded to reveal it.
26) A bird flew for seven straight days. Is this possible? Anyone study this?
27) The building of the ark is very detailed, and it had one single ingress/egress point (implied by Noah checking as they entered). Yet there was no passage between the levels. How did the people feed the animals?

This should be enough to begin. I call the bed on the opposite end from the skunk couple though.

I also pose the question: What difference does it make to living Torah Judaism if this story is literal or allegorical? Why is it so important to say that it is literal? This is not meant rhetorically. It is a doctrine (hashkafa) question.

The Godol adds the discussion on

There are a few here that are not there and visa versa.


  • > We can dispense with insects, mice and vermin though, as the Torah worldview allows for spontaneous generation.


    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 10:01 AM  

  • I've mentioned this in GH's blog way in the past, but I think it belongs here as well. IF you can dispense with the fact that this is a literal story, and the timelines through Bereshit up to that point are linear, the last ice age fits tremendously well with the story of the flood.

    There's a preponderance of evidence that man has been on the face of the earth for longer than 10,000 years. There is also well tested and proven knowledge of how often parts of our RNA mutate. Given N ammount of time, there will be X ammount of mutations. Based on what we know about humans leaving their mark on the world, there isn't enough mutation in our RNA to acount for that same time period. The evidence leads back to a point near the end of the last ice age, where only maybe 5,000-10,000 individuals survived, out of the expected 500,000-1,000,000, based on estimates. Considering the primative nature of man at that point, it's easy to believe they wouldn't find much favor in God's eyes.

    Now, how would God transmit knowledge of such a thing to people who might not understand? I think the story of Noah does a very good job of communicating God's intentions, without having to be literal.

    The other option of course, is that God just made us with with the wrong number of mutations in place to fool us.

    Anyway, my $.02

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 4:45 PM  

  • I don't know Diff
    A 3 mile high flood? Without any miracles?

    By Blogger Rebeljew, at 7:25 PM  

  • If it's a flood of ice? It's not outrageous. I'm not about to rule out the causes of the ice age as a miracle myself, either. We have no universally accepted explanation for them based on orbital mechanics and pysical evidence as we know them now, but we know they happened, and semi-regularly. Even if we did, how do you rule it out as God's hand acting in the world, through the world he created?

    Again, I don't dismiss the devine nature of it out of hand, I just don't see why it doesn't work in a non-literal interpretation. This doesn't cause me the slightest crisis of faith personally.

    Of course, you may be sarcastic and I would have no way of telling, since I just started reading your blog. If that's the case, feel free to laugh at me. :)

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 8:08 PM  

  • Diff

    Once we go non-literal, we do not even need to examine the facts. They are simply not relevant. Then there is no need for the ice ages or anything else, just for drashas.

    Of course, your point that the ice ages or anything else that is a natural cause for a miraculous event is well taken. And sarcastic though I am on many occasions, I meant the question quite seriously. To think how much blood has flowed over this issue, I just wonder how important it really is to the corpus Judaica.

    As long as their are free and critical thinkers among the Jewish people, the "gadolim" or as a famous Chabad figure put it "gadolim b'ainaihem" will never be able to run amok.

    By Blogger Rebeljew, at 10:46 PM  

  • What difference does it make to living Torah Judaism if this story is literal or allegorical?

    If Torah Judaism is anything it has got to be the Judaism of chazal. They thought it was literall. As soon as you say they were wrong you can begin poking holes in the whole edifice that chazal created i.e Torah Judaism. You do that and sooner or later evrything comes crashing down.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 10:00 AM  

  • Is Sa'adia Gaon not a part of Chazal? The Rishonim who held like him?


    "Everything comes crashing down" because of the demand for a literal understanding of non-literal stories, not the other way around.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 12:01 PM  

  • Anon

    Your point is, naturally, well taken. However, there are cases, like the Motzi Shem Ra and the Ganva B'Machtera and the dates given in Yirmiya for the destruction, where even chazal abandon the literal interpretation because it doesn't make sense in pshat.

    I would not be surprised to find that there were medrashim that interpret these stories as mere allegory. In fact, the chazal presume a literal interpretation in their continuing exegesis, but they never truly DEMAND a literal interpretation of any particular story in Beraishis.

    Your argument is basically a version of "slippery slope". That is fine for "the masses" or convincing the convinced, but it is virtually useless in kiruv or in "truth seeking" of any stripe.

    By Blogger Rebeljew, at 12:06 PM  

  • Anon

    Previously, I made the point that chazal themselves deem logical problems in pshat as a reason to re-examine the direct meaning of the words.

    I would add that the implication of the chazal in every place is that there are the literal meanings and there are the "secret meanings" in each idea. I am simply asking, for hashkafa, whether the literal reality of the particular verses in Beraishis has any bearing on the "secret meanings" (obviously allegorical) or even the literal meanings. Is it the lessons we derive or the history that is primary? Obviously, in order to understand the parable, we must present the story as literal, but if it is challenged on logical grounds, does that really change the lessons derived? And if it only changes history, how much damage does it actually do?

    By Blogger Rebeljew, at 3:14 PM  

  • עיין ברמב"ן עה"ת, בראשית, ו, י"ט

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 8:30 PM  

  • Will do Chaim.

    I will add any further insights from there. As we have seen previously, the Ramban is a believer in the paranormal, as well as a rationalist, a far out paradox of a rishon.

    By Blogger Rebeljew, at 9:39 AM  

  • Yes, and a fine example for us today. I'm rather surprised that you would write an entire post about the Mabul without firts learning the basic mefarshim, medrash, etc etc.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 5:16 PM  

  • The questions here are simple logic, a priori questions. As I say at the beginning of the post, some of these questions are addressed by mefarshim, some are not.

    I am sure I misunderstood your praise of the Ramban in light of the fact that I said that he was both rationalist and believer in the paranormal (especially nonJewish superstition). Are you saying that Jews should likewise believe in both rationality and nonsense? I would be forced to disagree. Not that the Ramban isn't praiseworthy in many respects, but it seems from the conversation that it is that very fact that you appreciate about him and would have us emulate.

    By Blogger Rebeljew, at 10:26 PM  

  • "Paranormal" is that what we (old fashioned Jews) call Kabola?

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 11:22 PM  

  • Good question. By paranormal, I mean anything to hoaky to be reality outside of a Baal Shem Tov story. The Ramban, for instance, believed that tiarin, Arab fortunetellers who used birds as vehicles, were real. He believed that fortunetellers had real abilities. He believed the common superstitions regarding a woman who was menstruating, as in acharei 19:18. That's what I mean by paranormal.

    The Ramban also believed, in this case of Noah, that the people were giants and therefore the amos were also large, so the animals would fit. He does admit that the food and so forth was a miracle. He does not attest to the unseaworthiness of such a vehicle, which was also a miracle.

    By Blogger Rebeljew, at 11:38 PM  

  • OK So anything not provable by modern science is out. Thanks for the clarification. For myself, I'll go with the mekubolim.

    So the people were giants, so what? They lived many hundreds of years in those days too (most of them according to the Ramban and only those mentioned clearly, according to the Rambam). So what

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 11:56 PM  

  • As I say in the post Chaim, I am interested in how many miracles are required to sustain the story. I am not really exploring whether to believe them or not. The story requires many more miracles than just those dealt with in mefarshim and medrash. Teh story of Noah is special in this regard, that it requires so many more miracles, even than krias yam sus.

    As for mekubalim, I don't really have a problem with them either, as they procede from real kabalah. Hoaky goyishe superstitions, like I mention above, were considered "science" in the Ramban's time, not kabalah. That was the rationalist side of him speaking.

    Today, these superstitions have snuck into our world as kapores (no Jewish source, see responsa of Rashba), not making kiddush between 6 & 7 (astrology, Magen Avraham), and curing hepatitis with pidgeons (no known Jewish source at all, nor effacacy beyond anecdotal). I am going on a limb and saying that all of these were perceived as "science" at one time, and bronzed into "religion" later. The Ramban says as much in his mefaresh on th Chumash on "minai avodah zara".

    By Blogger Rebeljew, at 6:29 AM  

  • OK so those "superstitions" that were NOT considered as "science" but as authentic "kabola" you accept as true or possible? Somehow I don't think so. In which case, what is your point about ancient "science"?

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 6:48 AM  

  • By its nature, a couple of things can be said universally about Kabala:

    a) It is secret, accessible by few.
    b) It is steeped in parable, not necessarily literal writ.
    c) If someone claims that something is Kabalistic, he needs a way of knowing what he claims, and we need a way of verifying that he is not just telling us anything he wants. Given a and b, that is a challenge.

    But, at very least, if it has a source SOMEWHERE in Kabalah or mesora, it can begin a discussion. It is not woven from whole cloth, as they say. People tend to "know" from two sources, tradition, and observation (or "science" as we call it). As long as we declare our knowledge from "tradition", we have somethng to speak about. It when we mix the two, declaring "tradition" to be "observation" and visa verse (or apologetics, as we call it), that we run into oddities.

    By Blogger Rebeljew, at 10:22 AM  

  • But how do you know that the mekubolim did not accept what you would call superstition (witchcraft, magic etc) based on their knowledge of authentic Jewish kabola?

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 8:47 PM  

  • A better question:

    If it is authentic Kabalah, but it is also goyish superstition, and Kabalah is so secret that even great Jewish sages do not know it, then how did the goyim learn it?

    As one of those from whom Kabalah is kept secret, I have no means to determine if people claiming to be "mekubalim" are authentic or not, and presumably, I never will, nor will you, if you are in my metzav on this. I can only examine the claim against itself for consistency.

    However, the mekubal or his adherent is claiming the magic powers. I presume I am allowed to doubt that claim until something more convincing than magic tricks is done.

    By Blogger Rebeljew, at 11:13 AM  

  • How did the goyim learn it? Who knows? How did they learn anything? Trial and error I guess.

    You can doubt any claim you wish. That’s fair enough. However there are many frummer Yidden who are quite happy to defer such questions to known and accepted mekubolim, like the Arizal and his talmidim.

    Somehow I think you are skirting the issue though. Your world view, based on the accepted western scientific model in vogue today, does not allow you to accept the "paranormal". You have witnessed the success of the "scientific method" and therefore side with the opinions of its practitioners. Again, that is your right, but somehow, I think it keep you in the minority camp of traditional Yiddishkeit.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 8:29 PM  

  • "How did the goyim learn it? Who knows? How did they learn anything? Trial and error I guess."

    Two problems. One, if that were so, what is so special about kabalah being handed down in secret? Two, the point was most emphasized in matters that are clearly observed to be false. The goyim developed them as simple superstitions.

    I would clarify that I am not into Orthopraxy, neo-conservative, or anything like that, necessarily.

    The rationalist sees truth in two lines, mesora and mada'a. Mada'a explains mesora in light of what we observe, so we have a mashal to understand it. The rationalist seeks to affirm the mesora, while weeding out the magic, superstition and nonsense that has crept in through mada'a. Mada'a is observation only, not tradition, as the Rambam and his son stated explicitly in their writings. has some excellent articles based on this principle.

    You may choose to trust mekubalim like the Ari, based on their celebrity or the celebrity of those who endorsed them. Chaim vital said that the Ari could speak to trees and animals and the stories told of the Ba'al Shem tov make that pale in comparison. His parents were 100 and 90 respectively when he was born, he learned with Achiya HaShiloni (a biblical character) and on it goes. I simply have no means to believe or disbelieve claims based on simple hearsay on subjects which are definitively secret from me. I am concerned that claims in the area of mada'a, based on this subject, tend to be demonstrably FALSE. The best that can be said is that they are not demonstrably false, but there are no wonders or world changing discoveries coming from this body of knowledge either.

    My take is that the Ramban did not derive his views on fortunetelling, reproduction, superstition and so forth from kabalah (mesora), but from mada'a. The Rambam disagrees from mada'a. He develops other models, some right, some wrong, based on mada'a. I do not see anything wrong with continuing the process with our better vantage point of mada'a. That is the Jewish way.

    That does not mean that we will lose mesora, quite the contrary. It means that we will not right the mistakes of previous era's mada'a in stone. Hopefully, our scion will not write ours in traditional stone either.

    By Blogger Rebeljew, at 10:16 AM  

  • Avi

    The boiling water is a medrash, not a scriptural understanding. Hence, even fundamentalist types are not bound to it. However, the same medrashim explain that indeed a miracle occurred and the fish had a cool pocket in the ocean where they survived. However, we must also say that the ark too had a cool pocket, which the mefarshim do not mention. Why? According to halachic assumption (see hilchos tumah in detail), pine tar dissolves in hot water. This was the watertight device of the ark. Hence, in hot water, the ark would not have been able to sustain its watertight structure in a boiling sea. I am bringing this from a halachic, rather than scientific standpoint, as even according to mesora, we need this miracle.

    Good work, Avi.

    And good work chaim. Excellent concise questions are the mark of scholar.

    By Blogger Rebeljew, at 4:24 PM  

  • RJ: "Two problems. One, if that were so, what is so special about kabalah being handed down in secret? Two, the point was most emphasized in matters that are clearly observed to be false. The goyim developed them as simple superstitions."

    You could also compare it to Chinese "medicine". That culture developed a range of treatments independently from western medicine which was kept secret (from them, due to geographical and cultural differences) Many (most). Many (most?) of them are totally useless. However some have been found to contain active ingredients verifiable by modern science. I think the nimshal is understood.

    RJ: " I do not see anything wrong with continuing the process with our better vantage point of mada'a. That is the Jewish way."

    I always love it when left wing modern orthodox claim to be the real exponents of the "Jewish way". Reminds me somehow of non observant Jews ranting about Jewish ethics to observant Jews.

    BTW if you are not orthoprax, why the name "Rebel" Jew?

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 6:00 PM  

  • Magic medicine is an interesting example. Yes, by coincidence they happened upon things that actually worked on wide occasion (like red yeast rice and Mevacore). But, that is not because they were more learned in their craft. IOW, it was not that they learned about herbs and when they learned more, they built upon knowledge until they came to a real solution. They simple bumbled through 100 fields, one of which happened to have real wheat growing in it. But the wheat is real. In this nimshal, the superstitions are still just superstitions, not kabalah. As I said, the Ramban held his views on fortunetelling, reproduction, and the powers of a basilisk from mada'a, not from kabalah. The Rambam disagrees, based on mada'a as well. By their own words, the mada'a is not from mesora. Thus, you are trying to couch an uncomfortable, but obvious truth, in some deep dark wisdom. But it simply doesn't go in p'shat. They simply brought examples from mada'a which have to be updated due to better mada'a. That does not change the underlying principle that they were trying to illustrate, just the example.

    Your second question, why am I Rebel if I am not orthoprax is a very good one, given the current state of debate. But, a rebel is only someone who bucks the mainstream and wishes to change it. It is someone who distrusts the authorities and believes that they have gone outside their mandate to lead. A rebel is only your enemy if your loyalty to those in power is beyond reason. Most rebels depend on winning the people for success.

    Read the introduction to Moreh Nevuchim. The Rambam has assessed the problem exactly, especially as regards the "gedolim" and "chinuch" of his time, and it was just as prevalent or more so in his times than in ours. They burned his books, slandered him and called him kofer. But he stayed the course because he understood that Jews would eventually win back Judaism to a liveable form. He certainly did not advocate "orthopraxy", but learning Torah better, radically differently than others in his time. He sought to sort out the parable from the literal or misunderstood. That is what the entire book is about.

    Rebels are not always right or wrong. Today's Judaism is being driven into the direction of the magical, the superstitious and the absurd. The Rambam proposes that if yoou learn and reach an absurd conclusion, you must accept that you have gone wrong along the line. Yet, today, we simply defend the absurd conclusion to death. Rav Moshe, the closest thing we had to a Rambam, (a man who was willing to learn a REAL Torah heter to help a fellow Jew, when others would feed that Jew to the wolves for no halachic reason other than fear of losing power) said that he did not want fillings in his teeth because if the Sanhedrin were reestablished, he did not want to be a ba'al mum, though he was unworthy to serve, HE MIGHT BE ASKED IN THIS GENERATION! To the falsely humble, this sounded like the typical false humility, but I think Rav Moshe said volumes.

    There is more lots, lots more. Orthopraxy is the plague that follows from Charedishkeit. That for another post.

    Hatzlacha friend.

    By Blogger Rebeljew, at 11:33 PM  

  • RJ, you have put your shita eloquently. My only problem is that you are NOT the Rambam, and even if you were, the Rambam's views even in his time were a minority position, and today is held to only by the modern orthodox. The vast majority of Torah Scholars have rejected them in favor of the more mystical view.

    If for whatever reason you cannot accept the prevailing majority view, and clearly you cannot, I think that is your right and privilege.

    However, to denigrate and disparage the Chareidi view (as did our dear departed friend GH, OBM) is IMHO beyond the pale and indeed a chutzpah.

    Hatzlacha to you too.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 12:25 AM  

  • To denigrate the fact that people ask questions from common sense an to answer with Peter Pan logic "Use your imagination" is exactly what the Rambam was dismissing. To propose, as the charedim do, that this is the only way to understand things and that you must sacrifice your common sense to the say so of someone else, unknown to you except by reputation, is not chutzpah in your book? Based on what? Professionalism? I second guess my doctor, lawyer and contractor all the time, nor do they expect me to consider them infallible. Based on their heightened sense of spirituality? Show me any evidence of that, PLEASE! Based on WHAT?!

    No I am not the Rambam. Nor has his work been completed in this matter. But to dismiss him as a "minority opinion" is similar to dismissing Einstein a minority. His opinion is clearly removed from the klal of kofer, orthoprax or whatever other categories you force rationalists into.

    Yes the "mystical view" is popular now. Yes, its only defense is to demonize its opponents and hope some of the mud sticks so the "masses" aren't drawn to the same obvious questions. Because, to paraphrase, anyone with a lick of common sense and education will ask these basic questions. The mystical view, as it is known provides no useful answers in this regard. The Rambam did!

    By Blogger Rebeljew, at 11:27 AM  

  • Isn't this a lonely blog, just you and me?

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 11:42 PM  

  • This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

    By Blogger Rebeljew, at 1:44 AM  

  • And what are you? chopped Liver?

    By Blogger Rebeljew, at 2:03 AM  

  • "Orthopraxy is the plague that follows from Charedishkeit. That for another post."


    By Blogger M-n, at 12:46 PM  

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