Clergy Letter Project Expands to Include Rabbi Letter

| 18 Comments

According to a recent article in the Chicago Tribune, 235 US rabbis have signed a Rabbi Letter in support of teaching evolution since last July. The Rabbi Letter was written by David Oler, a Reform rabbi. The letter urges school boards to teach the theory of evolution and notes that those who disbelieve in it are free to teach their perspective elsewhere. The letter goes on to observe that not everyone considers the Bible as their main source of “inspiration” and further argues that the Bible is in any case open to interpretation. It concludes with the assertion that the job of the schools is to teach science and not religion.

It is hard to tell by looking casually at the list of signatories, but I estimate (speculate?) that most of the signatories are Reform and Reconstructionist rabbis (if a synagogue is named Temple Something, it is a Reform synagogue; if a rabbi has a feminine first name, she is probably a Reform or Reconstructionist rabbi). Three Conservative and Orthodox rabbis interviewed for the article stated that they had no quarrel with the theory of evolution, but it looks as though only one of them has signed the letter. One of the Conservative rabbis argued in favor of teaching alternate viewpoints, whether religious or not.

For more on Evolution Weekend and the Clergy Letter Project, see my 2007 article and 2008 follow-up.

18 Comments

Oh dear dear dear. Sorry, bad editing. They do not support “teaching evolution since last July”; they have signed it since last July.

There are also Conservative female rabbis as part of the egalitarian movement.

Yes, I know, but there are not as many; that is why I wrote “probably.”

[old joke] At the Orthodox wedding the mother of the bride is pregnabt. At the Conservative wedding the bride is pregnant. At the Reform wedding the rabbi is pregnant.

And it is certainly not the case that if a synagogue is “Temple something” that it is Reform. There are a huge number of conservative synagogues with that naming.

And what of guinea pigs, hares and such? Do dogs and cats get a say?

Yes, sorry, Mr. Utterback is correct. According to this URL, a bit over one quarter of Conservative synagogues in New York are named Temple Something. According to this URL, three quarters of Reform synagogues are so named.

I had (have?) in the back of my mind the claim that Reform first began designating their synagogues Temples, but evidently others do so as well. Indeed, one of the five Conservative synagogues in Colorado, where I live, is named Temple Shalom.

Is that why I never see a barber shop around a Synagogue? Because you’re not supposed to cut your hair about the temples? ;)

Thought it was worth noting that my parent’s congregation is on the list. It’s a conservative temple in the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, and the rabbi is a woman: Rabbi Debra Newman Kamin, Am Yisrael, Northfield, IL

Don Cates said:

[old joke omitted]

Sigh. You’re telling it all wrong.

The correct version is:

At the Orthodox wedding the mother of the bride is pregnant. At the Conservative wedding the rabbi is pregnant. At the Reform wedding the bride is pregnant.

(And in a modernized update, at the Reconstructionist wedding, the groom is pregnant.)

The point is Conservatives have officially adopted egalitarianism, but the Reforms have also adopted personal moral flexibility.

All the local Conservative Synagogues that I know of in LA support reality, Evolution is real, and religion can’t pretend otherwise.

I asked an Orthodox friend, a lawyer and a member of Chabad, a very orthodox group, a friend who sends his kids to orthodox schools in LA in the heart of Pico Robertson area. That’s an area loaded with ultra orthodox Jews, the ones in black outfits to match with 19th century Polish dress.

He said, of course, we teach Evolution. It’s reality. Modern Orthodox don’t, in essence, live in the 19th century. HE said that he, and his friends, orthodox friends want their kids to be successful in the world, and reality is reality. And that’s what taught in the LA Orthodox school he sends his kids to.

While all of the REconstructionist and Reform are living in the 21st century, most Conservative synagogues and rabbis are also, and many orthodox as well.

Jews have had too much experience with an omniscient, all powerful god as in the bible, to take it seriously, i.e. literally.

Jews have a long history of debating and changing over time, even with the Orthodox revival recently.

The recent Pew study shows American Jews as the religious group with the most atheists and agnostics, and the least likely to take the bible literally of any of the religious groups but for Unitarians and Buhdists.

So it’s no suprise that Jewish Rabbis endorse the reality and appropriateness of Evolution not just being true, but being taught in schools, even religious schools.

Bernard Kirzner, M.D. said:

So it’s no suprise that Jewish Rabbis endorse the reality and appropriateness of Evolution not just being true, but being taught in schools, even religious schools.

There are a few diehard Jewish Darwin-bashers – Lee Spetner (Perakh described his flavor of Darwin-bashing as derived from the Talmud) and that nutcase down the road in Boulder, Michael Philip Korn, who was threatening University of Colorado evo scientists. I would have thought the Feds would have picked him up but Google says little about it.

Of course, last but far from least, Ben Stein. I would say that if anything good came out of EXPELLED it was its denunciation by the ADL – worth its weight in gold.

White Rabbit (Greg Goebel) http://www.vectorsite.net/gblog.html

I don’t see the point in speculating on what proportion of the rabbis are from what movement. The assumption of the names and gender is likely wrong. In my current and previous Conservative congregations the female rabbis outnumber the male rabbis.

Getting rabbis to sign has three counts against it. One is the perception that this is a Christian problem that a rabbi shouldn’t get in the middle of. Next, a problem for clergy of all sorts, is the perception that promoting science and evolution is the province of atheists. Third is that Jews are not inclined to confront other people’s religious faith and “give witness”. What the project has going for it is the Jewish appreciation of the First Amendment. Assimilation via public school is a huge annoyance. I’ll have to work on it from that perspective to get my current rabbi to consider it. My previous rabbi in Ohio was one of the first, if not the first, rabbi to sign the letter, but my current rabbi prefers to avoid anything related to politics.

Rabbi Feit, quoted in the article, is an immunologist at Albert Einstein as well as a Yeshiva U professor, and has been speaking at universities, synagogues and schools across the country on the Jewish acceptance of evolution, trying to counteract the reflexive adoption of the Christian fundamentalist anti-science campaign.

Bernard Kirzner, M.D. said: He said, of course, we teach Evolution. It’s reality. Modern Orthodox don’t, in essence, live in the 19th century. HE said that he, and his friends, orthodox friends want their kids to be successful in the world, and reality is reality. And that’s what taught in the LA Orthodox school he sends his kids to.

For those on the outside, “Modern Orthodox” is a two-word phrase, the catch-all name of the more liberal side of Orthodox Judaism.

Evolution denial is so strong in the rest of Orthodoxy that it can be barely be mentioned. For example, the Summer 2006 issue of The Jewish Observer had a cover story on the Dover trial. Naturally enough, it was highly incompetent on the scientific and legal issues. And as is usual with JO, the article presented half of the relevant traditional Jewish sources, leaving its 100% gullible readership with the impression that the extremest of heresies are running loose.

The punchline: numerous major rabbis banned the issue. The topic was not to be mentioned, period. As you can confirm, there is a “missing link” in the link above to JO back issues.

william e emba said:

Evolution denial is so strong in the rest of Orthodoxy that it can be barely be mentioned.

I don’t know if it is actually that simple. Something is going on in Orthodox leadership that might be a generational shift. When I had occasion to ask Carl Feit about his good friend Rabbi Moshe Tendler’s participation in a Florida Dembski event Feit denied that Tendler supported creationism, and wouldn’t elaborate. Rabbi Natan Slifkin (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Natan_Slifkin) has also received mixed signals from Orthodox leadership. Something highly political, secretive, and protracted is going on. The more defense of evolution education becomes preceived as an atheism cause the less likely it will be that any clergy will want to be associated with it.

A few things ought to be mentioned concerning evolution and Orthodox Judaism:

1. Where there is opposition to evolution, this isn’t so much because of foundational creeds (like Christianity’s “No Death Before The Fall” issue), but reflects the general “struggle with the Enlightenment” Judaism has been in since the 18th century. Put it another way: Orthodox Jewish rabbis who oppose evolution do so because they think it opens the doors to disregarding the authority of the sages (of the Talmud).

2. Jewish creationism among Orthodox Jews is overwhelmingly of the mature-earth persuasion (Omphalos; world created nearly 5770 years ago, but with the appearance of millions of years). OEC gap creationism (“Ruin-Restitution”) can also be found.

Mike said:

william e emba said:

Evolution denial is so strong in the rest of Orthodoxy that it can be barely be mentioned.

I don’t know if it is actually that simple. Something is going on in Orthodox leadership that might be a generational shift.

You’re right, it’s not actually that simple, but it’s close. I frequently talk science and politics and culture and the like (also Judaism) with an up-and-coming rosh yeshiva (son, son-in-law, grandson, etc of Very Important Rabbis).

He doesn’t want to hear all the details, but he does understand that it isn’t AuthenticTradition-versus-HereticsAndAtheists. He is also aware that many of the design arguments are now pretty empty. (To my surprise, he once refuted his own 12-year-old son making the design argument, saying “time”.) He’s aware of the concept of “quote mine”.

On a related matter, while I’m sure he’s going to vote for McCain, I’ve made sure that he’s going to be very unhappy about doing so, heck, he’s possibly even scared at the possibilities.

But on the other hand, you’ve noted that I’m pointedly not naming names.

Something highly political, secretive, and protracted is going on. The more defense of evolution education becomes perceived as an atheism cause the less likely it will be that any clergy will want to be associated with it.

More simply, the yeshivawelt has been tilting towards no secular education whatsoever for a few decades now. The chassidim, of course, are utterly hopeless.

Anon. Jewish Reader said:

A few things ought to be mentioned concerning evolution and Orthodox Judaism:

1. Where there is opposition to evolution, this isn’t so much because of foundational creeds (like Christianity’s “No Death Before The Fall” issue), but reflects the general “struggle with the Enlightenment” Judaism has been in since the 18th century.

While true, a goodly fraction gets literalist out of nowhere on these issues.

Put it another way: Orthodox Jewish rabbis who oppose evolution do so because they think it opens the doors to disregarding the authority of the sages (of the Talmud).

I’d suspect it is more due to fear. Sticking your neck out puts your children’s and grandchildren’s future education and marriage prospects at great risk in the yeshivawelt. So why bother actually understanding the issues?

2. Jewish creationism among Orthodox Jews is overwhelmingly of the mature-earth persuasion (Omphalos; world created nearly 5770 years ago, but with the appearance of millions of years). OEC gap creationism (“Ruin-Restitution”) can also be found.

The banned Jewish Observer issue I referred to had a footnote that referred to million year gaps, but then declined to elaborate for lack of space. I was amazed.

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This page contains a single entry by Matt Young published on September 20, 2008 5:53 PM.

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