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Rabbi Goldie Milgram
Rabbi Goldie Milgram

Living Judaism

The Living Judaism feature in each issue focuses on Jewish spirituality, meaning and activism with invited columns written by rabbis belonging to the various movements of Judaism. Jewish clergy interested in writing for Living Judaism are invited to make contact with Rabbi Goldie Milgram at judaism @ 

Parashat Bereshit: Thoughts on Intelligent Design

Rabbi Neil Cooper
Notes for d'var torah given Shabbat Bereshit, October 29, 2005 at Temple Beth Hillel Beth El in Wynnewood by Rabbi Neil Cooper. Reprinted with the gracious permission of the Rabbi.


One cannot understand the Bible, Judaism or the Nature of Humanity without coming first to an understanding of the Biblical Story of Creation. 

The Story of Creation, as told by the Bible is a wonderful story, it is a "formative myth" which is colorful, dramatic and serves several crucial  purposes. Unfortunately over the past 100 years or so - and even more so over the past forty years in the American legal system - the story of creation has been both misunderstood and short-changed. 

Under the heading of discussions called Creationism, and more recently, Intelligent Design, I believe that the story of creation has been misunderstood. And I want to spend a few moments this morning presenting some preliminary thoughts  about   all of this. 


Let me begin with the following premise or assumption: When the story of creation was written, it was never composed as a story which was intended to recount all of the details of every step of creation. The purpose of the Bible was never to be an exhaustive text for the study of science and I think I can prove that. The proof I offer comes in the form of two very different, divergent creation stories, both of which are contained in the first chapters of this story of creation in the Book of Genesis. 

A. Story Number 1 - Chapter 1:27 tells us that man was created in God's image, "Male and Female he created them". According to this account, the first human beings were male and female, that is androgenous or beings that possessed both male and female characteristics. Alternately, these beings may have been something like conjoined twins. (see Midrash Rabbah - Also Schuchat The Creation p. 269). This is confirmed in Chapter 2:21 when the two are divided at the rib into a man and a woman. The Hebrew word tzela' has been translated in the King James translation as rib. Tzela', however, means side. That is, from the side of the being God divided the being into two independent beings and closed man's side at the point of "incision". This first tradition finds its parallels in Plato's Symposium and elsewhere. The story of creation beginning with androgynous beings is well-known in the ancient world. But our story has a point. The first person, male/female, was physically self-sufficient. This androgynous being had the ability to procreate with itself. But this "closed system", though physically complete, was not quite right. As we learn in 2:18 "lo tov hayot adam livado - it is not good for one to be alone." That is to say, God could have created more androgynous beings. Additional beings could have solved the problem of the first being who was alone in the world. But the deeper, more existential problem was that of spiritual loneliness. God divided the androgynous being into two, not to provide company for the first being, but rather to provide a sense of physical and spiritual completeness in a relationship of intimacy between two independent beings. Together, man and woman could endure the challenges of life and find meaning in life. The Bible's perspective is that intimacy and sex is a gift from God. Intimacy and productivity in the world are the result of two beings working together as opposed to a single being working independently. Together the two beings would tend, till and have dominion over the earth. 

B. Story Number 2: The second creation story regarding humanity is found in 2:7 (page 13 in Etz Chaim). In this story, man is formed from the dust of the earth and into that dust, God breathes life. This second tradition also has its own literary parallels, not so much in Greek literature, but in ancient Babylonian literature. 

The stories which everyone knew in the ancient world were Babylonian creation stories. Humanity was created out of the blood of the Gods. The Bible uses many Babylonian images in its stories. But, the Bible also changes the stories in order to teach different lessons in response to and as polemics against the values inherent in the Babylonian stories. 

In the Babylonian stories, there is a blurring of the line between Gods and human beings. The "blood of the Gods" as being used to create humanity is contrary to the Bible and to Judaism. We can never "become" God. We can only become like God. How? Man is a composite being. Man is made of dust. That is, of no real value to our bodies, any more than there is value to the bodies of animals. But, into this dirt, God breathes ruach elohim, God's breath. Man, in this story, is not differentiated from woman, but rather, man is distinguished from both animals and God. Man is made of dirt, like the animals, but endowed by God with God's spirit. It is God's ruach elohim which makes us different from animals, which makes our life sacred and which allows us to be like God, although not Gods. 


In the Biblical account of the creation of humanity, we find these two stories, two suggestions regarding how humanity was created. Which one is correct? The answer: both. But how can both be right? And the answer to that question is crucial. 

A. The Torah is not a book of science. Science, which by the way is a relatively modern discipline, is a form of study which is based on fact, testable theories and proofs. The Bible, however, is not a book of science. The Bible was never written to satisfy scientific inquiry. The Bible was written as a book of religious truths, a book written to answer crucial and fundamental questions of life, but not every question. 

B. Science answers questions like how? And what?: How was the world created? How could these events have happened? What happened from a historical/scientific perspective? Science answers the question of how. The answers science seeks are based in fact and facts present an objective, single reality. 

The Torah, on the other hand, answers the question of why?: The Torah answers religious questions. The Torah provides answers in the forms of religious truths. No matter how the world was created, no matter how many days or ions it took, no matter whether by big bang or by some other method, science cannot answer the question of "why?" Why was the world created? According to science, we do not know and cannot answer the question. According to the Torah, however, the world was created for the sake of humanity. God created us to take care of, to guard, to watch and to be God's agents and partners of the earth. God created us for this task. God knew it would be difficult, but God created people in order to bring God's holiness into the world. Holiness is not a scientific category. It is a religious category. God created humanity to bring God's holiness and sanctity and sense of purpose to the world. Unlike the ancient Gods who were served and fed by humans, God does not need humanity to exist. God wants us to be God's partners in creating a better world and a better humanity. Even God cannot perfect the world and its inhabitants without us. 


The new category of discussion, intelligent design, or I.D. is an attempt by those who favor the teaching of Creationism in the science curriculum to teach some form of creationism while, at the same time, side-stepping the issue of the Constitutional ban on the mixing of church and state. Instead of ascribing the creation of the world to God, a religious concept, proponents now suggest that we delete the word God from the equation and simply call the Creator, "the intelligent designer". Either way, Creation or I.D. would be treated as an alternative theory to the scientific theories of evolution. This attempt represents a misunderstanding of the difference between science and religion, the difference between fact and truth. 

A. Science does not deal with "Truth", with categories of good and evil, with existential questions such as "Why are we here? And what am I supposed to do in this world?" Religion, on the other hand, does not answer questions by looking at life through microscopes, in test tubes, on graphs, with carbon dating and in fossils. The purpose of science is to tell us how the world works, why atoms, cells and organisms grow and interact the way that they do. Religion in general, however, and Judaism, in particular, suggests to us what God expects of us. Religion is a discipline which creates for us a series of reminders of what it means, or what it can mean to be a human being. Religion places demands on our humanity and makes us into moral beings. Religion suggests to us what it means to make a moral choice. Judaism requires of us to demonstrate our choices, in part, by acting in certain ways. Our mandate is to bring holiness and morality to the world. That mandate is crucial to the world, just as understanding the world through science is crucial. 

B. To equate science and religion is to misunderstand both. To equate science and religion is not only to confuse the questions but to short-change both disciplines.

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