OzTorah: Ask the Rabbi.




Question.  Does Judaism believe in Evolution?

Answer.     Whole books have been written about the various aspects and permutations of the subject. I am going to limit myself to one aspect as suggested by a Midrash (B’reshit Rabbah1:9).

The Midrash notices that the beginning of Genesis uses two different words for creation, “bara” and “yatzar”. “Bara” is to create “yesh me’ayin”, something out of nothing; “yatzar” is to form something new out of pre-existent material. Both processes were involved in God’s actions in regard to man.

Man was not the first being to have body, limbs and physical features, but man had a qualitative difference, superimposed by God on the physical materials out of which man was made – “yatzar”. That qualitative difference is implied in the verse that says that God created – “bara” – the “image of God” in man. According to Targum Onkelos, the result was that man became “a speaking spirit”, i.e. possessing an “image of God” capacity for words, implying mind and morality. Man could think, reason, decide, choose between options, and express himself.

Man thus became the pinnacle of Creation, and Rav Kook and other Torah giants took up a positive attitude towards calling this Evolution. Rav Kook, whilst acknowledging his serious reservations about Evolutionary theory, said,

“Gradual evolution is one of the myriad and illimitable ways through which ‘The Life of the Universe’ reveals Himself”.

The French thinker Teilhard de Chardin, who was a scientist as well as a theologian, asks the question whether Evolution has now reached its terminus and cannot go any further. In other words, will Evolution continue to operate, no matter whether its pace is fast or slow? Teilhard argued that it was not so much in terms of physical but intellectual and moral Evolution that the process can and is likely to continue.



Question.  What substances may be used for Shabbat lights?

Answer.     In contrast to the Catholic Church which uses a spiritual criterion, requiring 51% of beeswax in candles used in its services as beeswax is seen as symbolising purity, Jewish law is concerned with practical issues.

Materials with a bad smell may not be used, as they might force people to leave the room, affecting the peace and joy of Shabbat. The wick must not be too hard or coarse to suck up the liquid fuel (Talmud Shabbat 20b/21a; Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayyim 264).


Question.  Why is there sometimes a short space between paragraphs in the Torah and sometimes a longer space, with the next paragraph starting a new line?

Answer.    The Hebrew words for the two kinds of spacing are “parashah s’tumah” (“a closed paragraph”), where there is a short space before the next paragraph begins later in the same line, and “parashah p’tuchah” (“an open paragraph”), where the next paragraph begins on a new line.

The difference between them usually depends on whether a completely new unit of thought or story is about to commence.

The word “s’tumah” comes from a root that means to stop up. In the Mishnah “s’tam” is used for a law which is not ascribed to an individual sage; “s’tam yayin” is wine whose history is not clear; “s’tam” in modern Hebrew indicates “without rhyme or reason”.


Rabbi Apple served for 32 years as the chief minister of the Great Synagogue, Sydney, and was Australia’s highest profile rabbi and the leading spokesperson for Jews and Judaism on the Australian continent. Now retired and lives in Jerusalem.

Blog: http://www.oztorah.com

Picture “Shabbat candle blessing” by Martina Shapiro is posted with her permission. http://members.shaw.ca/martisart/

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