The Zionist Conspiracy
Sunday, November 13, 2005
Charedi Rabbis, Emunah Peshuta and Science
In a post last week, I wrote that when I was high school:
When an unfortunate history teacher made the mistake of mentioning that the universe was a lot more than 5750 years old, not only was he summoned to the principal's office, the principal wondered why more students in class didn't strongly object to such heresy.
The principal actually learned of the history teacher's remarks when "concerned" students informed him of them. His first public reaction was to ask who objected, and why most of the class sat silently instead of voicing their disapproval.
Then, the next day, while the teacher was teaching my class, a student came in to tell him that, "Rabbi _____ would like to speak with you."
The teacher looked ashen, as though he was resigned to being fired. He did not return to class that day.
The next day, we were surprised when the teacher came to teach our class. He cheerfully told us, "I had a very good conversation yesterday with Rabbi _____. He's a very smart person with a very good understanding of the world." He then started his class, and the matter never again came up.
I've always wondered what the principal told the history teacher. While it's speculative on my part, my sense has always been that the principal essentially told the teacher that he understood that the world was (or appeared to be) more than 5750 years old, but that Jewish tradition holds the world to be 5750 years old, and that while there were explanations reconciling the Jewish traditional belief with science, those explanations were too complicated to be offered to high school students and would lead to too many other questions, so the school felt its students were better off with their simplistic understanding.
It's hard for me to believe that even zealous right-wing charedim are unaware of rabbinical sources that deal with questions relating to science, including the age of the universe. More likely, they discourage contemporary analysis of this question because of concerns that those who delve into these kinds of issues will start questioning other challenging theological and existential issues too. Even if the end result is that those with questions generally find satisfactory answers and remain observant, many will not remain right-wing charedi.
That is generally deemed enough to strongly discourage anything that might lead to providing information beyond the simplistic emunah peshuta (simple faith) answers to complex issues.