Sunday, March 3, 2013

Chareidi Thought Police - "adaptation" is a dangerous word

The following indignant letter was published by Binah (Between) Magazine (February 25). Not sure which was worse - the letter demanding the avoidance of the word "adaptation" because it implies Evolution chas v'shalom - or the apologetic tone of the editor promising to be more careful in the future. 

Dear Binah Between,

I was surprised and disappointed when I read the following sentence, found in issue 317's Binah Between, regarding tropical rainforests, "lt's pretty shady down here, so plants adapt by growing long leaves to snatch whatever sunlight filters through..." Using the word "adapt'' in this manner connotes a concept contrary to that of ma'aseh bereishis, when all plant life was fashioned in the precise form necessary to support optimal existence by the Borei Olom Himself.

I think that I represent the majority, if not all, of your varied readership when I kindly request that you take more care to present our children with reading material which will benefit not only their minds, but their neshamos as well.

Thank you !
Sora Rivkah Daina
Modiin lllit, lsrael

Editors response:
Dear Mrs. Daina,
Of course during ma'aseh bereishis everything was created for optimal existence; the word adapt in this instance is merely indicating that during ma'aseh bereishis, the plant was created in a way that it would be able to adapt to whatever sunlight it was exposed to, at different times. There was no intention of minimizing Hashem's Creations, chas v'sholom.

We will be more careful with our wording in the future.


Update: The fact is that biological adaptation is an accepted fact in the gemora

Shabbos (31a):Our Rabbis taught: A man should always be gentle like Hillel, and not impatient like Shammai. It once happened that two men made a wager with each other, saying, He who goes and makes Hillel angry shall receive four hundred zuz. Said one, ‘I will go and incense him.’ That day was the Sabbath eve, and Hillel was washing his head. He went, passed by the door of his house, and called out, ‘Is Hillel here, is Hillel here?’ Thereupon he robed and went out to him, saying, ‘My son, what do you require?’ ‘I have a question to ask,’ said he. ‘Ask, my son,’ he prompted. Thereupon he asked: ‘Why are the heads of the Babylonians round? ‘My son, you have asked a great question,’ replied he: ‘because they have no skillful midwives.’ He departed, tarried a while, returned, and called out, ‘Is Hillel here; is Hillel here?’ He robed and went out to him, saying, ‘My son, what do you require?’ ‘I have a question to ask,’ said he. ‘Ask, my son,’ he prompted. Thereupon he asked: ‘Why are the eyes of the Palmyreans bleared?’ ‘My son, you have asked a great question, replied he: ‘because they live in sandy places.’ He departed, tarried a while, returned, and called out, ‘Is Hillel here; is Hillel here?’ He robed and went out to him, saying, ‘My son, what do you require?’ ‘I have a question to ask,’ said he. ‘Ask, my son,’ he prompted. He asked, ‘Why are the feet of the Africans [negroes] wide?’ ‘My son, you have asked a great question,’ said he; ‘because they live in watery marshes.’ ‘I have many questions to ask,’ said he, ‘but fear that you may become angry.’ Thereupon he robed, sat before him and said, ‘Ask all the questions you have to ask,’ ‘Are you the Hillel who is called the nasi of Israel?’ ‘Yes,’ he replied. ‘If that is you,’ he retorted, may there not be many like you in Israel. ‘ ‘ Why, my son?’ queried he. ‘Because I have lost four hundred zuz through you,’ complained he. ‘Be careful of your moods,’ he answered. ‘Hillel is worth it that you should lose four hundred zuz and yet another four hundred zuz through him, yet Hillel shall not lose his temper.’


  1. not everything about Evolution is incorrect, nor is it heretical.

    There are mutations going on all the time. That is why we keep catching colds and flu, since the virus has mutated = evolved, and hence evades our antibodies.

    Whether you like it or not, species change, or "evolve", this happened with the wolf which was selectively bred into various domestic dogs. the same thing is still happening, eg foxes are being bred into cuddly pets, which are not as violent as their wild ancestors.

    Next, the Torah wants some kind of spiritual "evolution", that is why we were given Mitzvot. We are meant to evolve from our bloodthirsty material ancestors into spiritual people. Thus was Avraham's story who came from a family steeped in idolatry.

  2. Well, I have news for her - Chareidi connotes Esav and the פיתחה של גהנום
    ויחרד יצחק חרדה גדולה

  3. As a ba'al teshuva, it has often been a struggle for me to adapt to the norms of the charedi world.

    Glad to hear that I should not do so, as chas v'sholom that I should be accused of adapting, which would chas v'sholom mean that I'm denying ma'aseh bereishis.

    Life is so much easier for me now.

  4. For people that love learning so much, its surprising how much we love ignorance.

    1. Couldnl't have said it better myself.

  5. I agree that "adapt" in this context can be read as a reference to darwinism, and I understand that it could shock people who refuse darwinism.

    On the other hand, I cannot understand why people think that reality should be denied for the sake of religion, especially if it is all about "truth"...

  6. Remark - my point was not the issue of whether Evolution is true or not. The word adapt in the context given is not evolution but it is a daily reality that needs to be acknowledged. Plants adapt to their surroundings people adapt to their surroundings etc etc.

    Regarding your assertion - Random Evolution is not obviously reality or true. It is however clearly the working assumption of the scientific establishment to explain many things which don't have a clear rational (i.e., non-Divine) explanation. It can be a useful tool in scientific studies - but that doesn't mean that it is necessarily true.

    When I was taking biology at RPI the professor was explaining how sloshing chemical eventually produced organic molecules which eventually became cells and life and eventually became multicell creatures.

    I raised my hand and asked the simple question "how did you get from step A to step B to step C"?

    The professor stared at me like I was an alien and said, "But if you don't believe that that is what happened then you are a Creationist!"

    Obviously he viewed that as such a horrible possiblity that it served as clear proof of the truth of Evolution.

    Evolution is an article of faith - not knowledge for most scientists. In fact is clearly a necessary article of faith because otherwise they would have to acknowledge the existence and activities of G-d.

    I personally don't have a problem with saying that G-d created the world in an evolutionary manner. I also don't have a problem with saying that it was literally created in 6 days. On the other hand I find it impossible to conceive that the world we have today is the result of random processes.

  7. Well, now we know why science is not taught in "Charedi" schools. You might actually learn about the Creation that Hashem has made and actually sound intelligent when speaking about it. Horrors. What would the Goyim think?

  8. well, again, I can see why an obscurantist fundamentalist would be shocked by the notion that plants "adapt". And since this seems to be a review for obscurantist fundamentalists, the letter-writter is right to voice her concern!

    1. Again the obvious problem is the misuse of the word adaptation. Adaptation is not the same thing as evolution

  9. Is it heresy to say that halach says the size of a zayis changes because the actual item changes over time? Or even the size of a finger as RMF says in the Igros Moshe

    1. obviously not. However that is not a case of adaptation to environmental factors.

  10. The zayit then didn't change size because of the olive species' needs in response to its environment, but because we need to eat more matzah on Pesach?

    1. There is a science of epigenetics, a friend of mine is a Professor in this field. It actually shows that environmental pressures can make certain changes to our genes.

      In terms of the fruits of Eretz Yisrel, there is a also a possible explanation that because of the hurban, the fruits are less productive.

      The date fruit in the time of the first commonwealth (Bayit Rishon) and most likely Bayit sheni , was much larger than any dates around today.

      Scientists found some 2000 year old date pips in Massada, and have generated new seedlings from them, and these are being grown in some labs in Israel - hopefully they will give an astounding fruit.

    2. Eddie where did you read that dates were much larger in Bayit Rishon? There was a single date pit from Massada that germinated four years ago - there was no mention in the several article I saw about it that said the pit was a much arger size.

  11. I agree that adaptation generally refers to evolution and the reader had a right to be upset. The mutations we see nowadays are no direct proof to evolution because they come about through overall lose of genetic information. Nothing new is added. As for the Gemara in Shabbos, it may be referring to the expression of characteristics already existent in the genome, which is why you get Eskimos in the Arctic and and pygmies in rain forests, and hundreds of varieties of dogs and cats. I see nothing wrong in not believing in evolution. Creationists and evolutionists have equal standing in my club.

    1. Avraham1 I am not sure why you think your agreement means that that is the meaning of the word adaptation. Please cite sources that adapation refers to evolution? Also not sure of the significance of your not seeing anything wrong in believing in Evolution.

    2. "Nothing new is added..." or maybe not. Here's an interesting paper

      And this article:

  12. I think where she's coming from is not "thought police" but sensitivity to staying far away from evolution, which is very praiseworthy. So she didn't know that Gemara, and she misunderstood the meaning of the word adapt in context. I'd much rather people err on the side of staying away from evolution than allow numerous expressions that imply evolution to creep into their vocab. See, for example, here:

  13. I understand adaptation as referring to evolution because it is often, perhaps mostly, used in that context. The issue is not semantics but usage. I have nothing against believing in evolution because it unites many elements of biology into a cohesive whole, and nothing against not believing in it as there is it is not solidly proven and there are holes in its theory. There are rabbis on both sides of the argument.

    1. Don't see any anti-religious significance in any of the definitions below including the idea that those who can successful adapt to their envirnment are more likely to reproduce and thus increase the liklihood that their offspring will become more numberous in succeeding generations.

      From Biology Online



      noun, plural: adaptations


      The adjustment or changes in behavior, physiology, and structure of an organism to become more suited to an environment.


      The ability of the eye to adjust to various light intensities by regulating the pupil of the quantity of light entering the eye.


      The decline in the frequency of firing of a neuron, particularly of a receptor, to changed, constantly applied environmental conditions.


      (1) The proper fitting of a denture.

      (2) The degree of proximity and interlocking of restorative material to a tooth preparation.

      (3) The exact adjustment of bands to teeth.


      (ecology) According to Charles Darwin's theory of evolution by natural selection, the organisms adapt to their environment to become better fitted to survive and passing their genes on to the next generation.

      Word origin: Latin: adaptare = to fit

  14. Rabbi Oliver I am surprised at your assertion about the desirablity of suppression of the topic even to the degree of denying awareness of elementary biological processes - especially since the Lubavitcher Rebbe saw fit to write about the subject and Chabad has it on its website.

    Consider, for example, the so-called evolutionary theory of the origin of the world, which is based on the assumption that the universe evolved out of existing atomic and subatomic particles which, by an evolutionary process, combined to form the physical universe and our planet, on which organic life somehow developed also by an evolutionary process, until homo-sapiens emerged. It is hard to understand why one should readily accept the creation of atomic and subatomic particles in a state which is admittedly unknowable and inconceivable, yet should be reluctant to accept the creation of planets, or organisms, or a human being, as we know these to exist.[...]

    What scientific basis is there for limiting the creative process to an evolutionary process only, starting with atomic and subatomic particles - a theory full of unexplained gaps and complications, while excluding the possibility of creation as given by the Biblical account? For, if the latter possibility be admitted, everything falls neatly into pattern, and all speculation regarding the origin and age of the world becomes unnecessary and irrelevant.

    It is surely no argument to question this possibility by saying, Why should the Creator create a finished universe, when it would have been sufficient for Him to create an adequate number of atoms or subatomic particles with the power of colligation and evolution to develop into the present cosmic order? The absurdity of this argument becomes even more obvious when it is made the basis of a flimsy theory, as if it were based on solid and irrefutable arguments overriding all other possibilities.

    The question may be asked, If the theories attempting to explain the origin and age of the world are so weak, how could they have been advanced in the first place? The answer is simple. It is a matter of human nature to seek an explanation for everything in the environment, and any theory, however far-fetched, is better than none, at least until a more feasible explanation can be devised.


    If you are still troubled by the theory of evolution, I can tell you without fear of contradiction that it has not a shred of evidence to support it. On the contrary, during the years of research and investigation since the theory was first advanced, it has been possible to observe certain species of animal and plant life of a short life-span over thousands of generations, yet it has never been possible to establish a transmutation from one species into another, much less to turn a plant into an animal. Hence such a theory can have no place in the arsenal of empirical science.

    The theory of evolution, to which reference has been made, actually has no bearing on the Torah account of Creation. For even if the theory of evolution were substantiated today, and the mutation of species were proven in laboratory tests, this would still not contradict the possibility of the world having been created as stated in the Torah, rather than through the evolutionary process. The main purpose of citing the evolutionary theory was to illustrate how a highly speculative and scientifically unsound theory can capture the imagination of the uncritical, so much so that it is even offered as a scientific" explanation of the mystery of Creation, despite the fact that the theory of evolution itself has not been substantiated scientifically and is devoid of any real scientific basis.

  15. for those who want to read an intelligent discussion of the issues and problems posed by Evolution see

  16. I never said that she meant to deny awareness of biological processes. Nor did she say to "suppress a topic." She said that reading material for children should be pure. All I said was that she meant to avoid leshonos of evolution, and that's proper, because such leshonos are rampant in the frum world because of secular influences. As for the quote from the Rebbe, with which I'm very familiar, that's a "da ma she'tashiv" answer, not appropriate for children, so I see no connection. On the contrary, the Rebbe taught the opposite even with regard to teaching youth:

    “With even a cursory thought it is obvious that Rabbi Shimshon Raphael Hirsch’s approach is not at all fitting for the Holy Land today, or even for the United States. In fact, it can bring great harm. It involves confusing youth with questions and doubts that are totally removed from their frame of reference, and then attempting to answer those questions. Nobody was interested in the whole complication in the first place; they were seeking the truth directly. In our Sages’ words: “The simpler, the better.” Even someone who was himself educated in this approach, may have been far better off without all of these falsified questions and long, complicated, and dangerous responses. Rather, one should follow directly in the straight path—the study of the Torah of Israel, just like our ancestors who are called ‘believers the sons of believers,’ without dabbling in foreign fields and secular studies.” (Igros Kodesh, vol. 19, p. 144.)

  17. What about all those responses in the halakhic literature to the Rambam's medical halakhos, the ones that assert that that pereq (H' Deos 4) is no longer halakhically relevant because "nishtanu hateva'im" - our physiology has changed since the times of the early Rishonim:
    Ramah, Even haEzer 156:4
    Magen Avraham 173:1
    Yam shel Shlomo, Chullin pereq 8
    Shulchan Arukh haRav 179

    Sounds like adaptation to me....

    1. Seems that it is not the idea which is problematic but the word. And if you can't use the word "adaptation" then surely the "E" word itself is prohibited. Obviously "Darwin" is also prohibited.

    2. the title of this post is "chareidi-thought-police-" - obviously the author is familiar with Orwell.
      Perhaps you could expand on thougth crimes, what is prohibited halachically, and what is not.

      I see idolatry as being prohibited, but not science or philosophy.

    3. There are authorities - such as the Rambam who say that anything that can lead you into thinking heretical thoughts is prohibited.

      However others such as the Maharal have a different approach.

    4. right, so according to Rambam, one shouldn't study Kabbalah :)


please use either your real name or a pseudonym.