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Questions tagged [literalism]

Questions regarding the literal interpretation of Biblical or Rabbinic texts.

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10 votes
6 answers
13k views

What is the firmament?

In Genesis 1:6-8 the firmament and its creation are mentioned for the first time: And God said: 'Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it divide the waters from the waters.' ...
5 votes
4 answers
511 views

Is the story of Gan Eden Literally true?

Could it be that the story of Gan Eden, Adam, Hava and the Snake is an allegory meant to teach us lessons but not a recording of an actual event?
21 votes
2 answers
2k views

Does Judaism have a concept of holy text literalism?

Apologies if this is an ignorant, foolish or offensive question. I am not Jewish, and am asking to satisfy my curiosity. Some time ago, on a political forum online, I was discussing religious ...
2 votes
0 answers
171 views

Stories of Eliyahu HaNavi in Gemara

Throughout the Gemara there are many stories in which Eliyahu HaNavi appears in one form or another and is in conversation with Chazal. Have any commentators or scholars provided a systematic approach ...
28 votes
9 answers
3k views

Does one have to take a Midrash/Aggadah literally?

Does one have to take a Midrash/Aggadah literally?
-3 votes
3 answers
237 views

Did Og exist or was he a metaphor?

Did Og exist or was he a metaphor? I am asking this because we did not find any giant bones in the fossil record as to date. It also doesn’t seem to make sense to me since Judaism is the religion of ...
-2 votes
1 answer
91 views

Differences in Biblical literalism between different Haredi movements

When interpreting Biblical passages, some are taken absolutely literally (the Exodus), some are advised not to be taken literally (for example the days of the Creation), and some are commanded not to ...
12 votes
4 answers
570 views

Sources for seeing the Exodus as metaphorical rather than historical

Recently, someone who presents himself as a religious member of Jewish society told me that he feels it doesn't matter if the story of the Exodus actually happened, and can be viewed as a nice ...
16 votes
4 answers
2k views

Is it heresy to read the Bible literally?

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks in this debate with Richard Dawkins says: Rabbis in the 10th century laid down the following principle: If a biblical narrative is incompatible with established scientific fact,...
5 votes
2 answers
1k views

Does Rambam take the 6 days of creation literally?

I was told in this answer to another question: "The Rambam did not take the '6 days' of Bereishis literally, as well as other details." The answer linked to Moreh Nevuchim (link) but I couldn't find ...
1 vote
1 answer
755 views

Why Pinchas = Eliyahu?

The Midrash says that Pinchas and Eliyahu are the same person. According to most of the Rishonim, I believe, this (as any other Midrash) should not be taken literally. Which are some of the non-...
7 votes
1 answer
1k views

The snake slept with Chavah?

Chazal say (Avodah Zarah 22b) that the snake had relations with Chavah. Does the Gemara elsewhere ever fault her explicitly for this? If not, why not, as she was already commanded in it (Sanhedrin 58a,...
-2 votes
2 answers
280 views

Was the "three days and three nights" in the prophetic book of Jonah a complete span of 72 hours?

Was the "three days and three nights" in the prophetic book of Jonah a complete span of 72 hours? Is this "three days and three nights" to be taken literally or close to it or ...
1 vote
2 answers
207 views

Did Shem's physical body (or) Shem's teachings remain alive 600 years?

Did Shem's physical body (or) Shem's teachings remain alive 600 years? What is the correct understanding of וַֽיְחִי־שֵׁ֗ם אַֽחֲרֵי֙ הֽוֹלִיד֣וֹ אֶת־אַרְפַּכְשָׁ֔ד חֲמֵ֥שׁ מֵא֖וֹת שָׁנָ֑ה וַיּ֥וֹלֶד ...
8 votes
4 answers
948 views

Was Rachav A Harlot (Prostitute)?

It specifically says several times in Yehoshua chapter 2 and chapter 6 that Rachav was a Harlot " וְאֶת רָחָב הַזּוֹנָה". Why is it that it is accepted that she wasn't a harlot but an innkeeper and ...
2 votes
3 answers
273 views

Are there any respected rabbis who say that the Avot did not follow all of the laws of the Torah before it was given?

I am disturbed by the oft-repeated claim that Abraham, Issac, and Jacob followed all the details of Torah before it was given to us at Sinai. I suspect that it is a case of later generations ...
1 vote
1 answer
865 views

Should we interpret the Torah literally or allegorically?

I had a question regarding how we should interpret the Torah. Should we interpret it literally, or if not how far can we abstract its teachings, or should we favour a mix of both approaches? I have ...
1 vote
1 answer
171 views

Is there a midrash that says all of the water in the world split at the time of the splitting of the reed sea?

Is there a midrash that states that all the bodies of water split during the splitting of the reed sea? If yes, I would think that such an event would be recorded in some secular history book? Are ...
14 votes
1 answer
234 views

How Should I Understand Gemaras Where People Quote Pesukim that Were not yet Written at the Time the Story Takes Place?

In various places in Talmud Bavli, there are stories told that take place during the times of Torah or Neviim where people in the story quote verses from prophetic books that did not yet exist at the ...
4 votes
1 answer
157 views

Migdal Bavel during the times of the Gemara?

In the Gemara Sanhedrin 109a, it states R. Yonatan said: A third of the tower was burnt, a third sunk, and a third is still standing. Rav said: The atmosphere of the tower causes forgetfulness. ...
10 votes
6 answers
618 views

Rashi and Corporealism

Shemos 7:4- וְלֹא-יִשְׁמַע אֲלֵכֶם פַּרְעֹה, וְנָתַתִּי אֶת-יָדִי בְּמִצְרָיִם; וְהוֹצֵאתִי אֶת-צִבְאֹתַי אֶת-עַמִּי בְנֵי-יִשְׂרָאֵל, מֵאֶרֶץ מִצְרַיִם, בִּשְׁפָטִים, גְּדֹלִים There, Rashi comments-...
-1 votes
1 answer
263 views

Jeremiah 29:6 - encouragement of intermarriage? [closed]

It is written to take wives and husbands, and then in the next verse to think of the welfare of the city where the Jews reside. Is it possible to see from here an encouragement of mixed marriage? I ...
7 votes
4 answers
329 views

Age of Universe and Shabbat

If one believes that our world is billions of years old, i.e. accepting the idea of each day in Sheshis Imei Berieshit (the Six Days of Creation) as eras and not literal days, then how does one ...
2 votes
3 answers
232 views

Did the Avos light the menorah? [duplicate]

The Gemara Yoma 28b says that Avraham Avinu kept the whole Torah including Eruv Tavshilin. We see that Avraham kept the Rabbinic laws. Does this mean he lit the Menorah as well? אמר (רב) ואיתימא רב ...
6 votes
3 answers
345 views

Non-literal Midrashim [duplicate]

Sometimes I'll hear a Midrash and sometimes people might say, "Well, I don't know if it's meant to be taken literally." When do we know when Midrashim are speaking metaphorically or when they are ...
1 vote
2 answers
194 views

Allegory vs. Literalism in Judaism and How to Tell the Difference [duplicate]

In the following article, the author makes a compelling argument for why Judaism doesn't always approach scripture literally. However, although there are many examples throughout the Bible for the use ...
2 votes
3 answers
2k views

Biblical description of the firmament vs. round earth in the Zohar

Zohar Vaikra 10a [quotes the Book or Rabbi Hamnunab Sabah]: וּבְסִפְרָא דְּרַב הַמְנוּנָא סָבָא, פָּרִישׁ יַתִּיר, דְּהָא כָּל יִשׁוּבָא מִתְגַּלְגְּלָא בְּעִגוּלָא כַּכַּדּוּר, אִלֵּין לְתַתָּא, ...
3 votes
1 answer
282 views

Did manna really fall from heaven according to Rambam or Gersonides?

What does the Rambam or Gersonides, who were both rationalists, have to say on the miracle of manna falling from heaven? Did they believe such an event took place?
0 votes
2 answers
454 views

Do Angels (Still) Keep the Torah?

Both the pious pre-Talmudic Book of Jubilees1 and the Talmudic Gemara2 agree that Angels kept the Torah in Heaven long before it was finally revealed through Moses to the people of Israel.3 My ...
4 votes
1 answer
131 views

Copper mining in ancient Israel

The Torah promises [successful] copper mining in Israel's mountains: אֶרֶץ אֲשֶׁר ... וּמֵהֲרָרֶיהָ תַּחְצֹב נְחֹשֶׁת׃ a land ... from whose hills you can mine copper. (Deut 8.9) I tried to ...
3 votes
2 answers
708 views

Where is Gehenom located?

Where is Gehenom located? After Korach and his followers got swallowed up by the Earth, they fell right outside the gates of Gehenom, and are (presumably) till this day yelling משה אמת ותורתו אמת (...
1 vote
1 answer
191 views

Deceased individuals appearing after death

Inspired by this answer: Are there any documented stories of deceased people appearing after death to live people? [I am not looking for stories where someone dead appeared in a dream] The Gemara in ...
6 votes
2 answers
213 views

Praying for the Moon to "fill the defect"

During Kiddush Levanah, a brief prayer is recited: וִיהִי רָצוֹן מִלְּפָנֶיךָ ה' אֱלֹקי וֵאלֹקי אֲבוֹתַי לְמַלֹּאת פְּגִימַת הַלְּבָנָה וְלֹא יִהְיֶה בָּהּ שׁוּם מִעוּט. וִיהִי אוֹר הַלְּבָנָה ...
8 votes
3 answers
2k views

Is the midrash about the moon and sun being the same size intended literally?

The Rambam in his introduction to perek Chelek discusses midrashic literalist, and classifies different approaches of different groups to midrash. He writes: You should know that as to [...
4 votes
0 answers
108 views

Rashi on Adam and on the Snake cunningness

The snake was able to speak from its creation (Likutei Sichos (10) p. 13) so why is man singled out as being capable of speech (דעה ודבור acc. to Rashi) if the snake already had it?
0 votes
1 answer
141 views

Why did Moses have a ten-cubit-long axe?

The Talmud in Berachot 54b relates the following tale: אבן שבקש עוג מלך הבשן לזרוק על ישראל גמרא גמירי לה אמר מחנה ישראל כמה הוי תלתא פרסי איזיל ואיעקר טורא בר תלתא פרסי ואישדי עלייהו ואיקטלינהו אזל ...
1 vote
1 answer
261 views

Moshe's Weapon Against Og

Is there anything particularly special about the weapon Moshe used against Og? The Gemara Brachos (54b) records משה כמה הוה עשר אמות שקיל נרגא בר עשר אמין שוור עשר אמין ומחייה בקרסוליה וקטליה. ...
37 votes
9 answers
4k views

Avot keeping Mitzvot

How are we to understand the tradition that the patriarchs kept all of the mitzvot in the Torah (see for example: the last mishna in Kiddushin (4:14), Rashi on Bereshit 32:5, etc.) in light of the ...
12 votes
2 answers
615 views

What causes a person to remain in this world as a ghost?

A baraita on Berakhot 18b relates a story where a pious man sleeps in a cemetery and hears two spirits talking. One of them suggests they wander the world, and the other says she can't because she ...
5 votes
2 answers
598 views

Why did the angels object to the Torah being given to Moshe – what did the angels think?

The well-known Gemoro Shabbos 88b reports the angels protesting against HKB”H giving the Torah to Israel. HKB”H tells Moshe to answer the angels and Moshe shows that the Torah is only applicable to ...
0 votes
1 answer
260 views

Age of Universe [duplicate]

What is the most plausible way to reconcile the traditional dating of the universe (now 5779) with science's understanding that the universe is billions of years old?
1 vote
2 answers
269 views

Does the story of R. Bena'a in the Cave of Macpelah imply that G-d has a physical form?

On Bava Basra 58a it says (from Sefaria): כי מטא למערתא דאדם הראשון יצתה בת קול ואמרה נסתכלת בדמות דיוקני בדיוקני עצמה אל תסתכל הא בעינא לציוני מערתא כמדת החיצונה כך מדת הפנימית ולמ"ד שני בתים זו ...
3 votes
1 answer
244 views

Are there any sources that translate the term "a land flowing with milk and honey", as being literal rather than a metaphor?

The first usage that I can find that refers to Israel as a "land flowing with milk and honey" in Exodus 3:8: וָאֵרֵ֞ד לְהַצִּיל֣וֹ ׀ מִיַּ֣ד מִצְרַ֗יִם וּֽלְהַעֲלֹתוֹ֮ מִן־הָאָ֣רֶץ הַהִוא֒ אֶל־...
-1 votes
1 answer
68 views

Where is there a rabbinic recipe for milk and honey?

Where is there a rabbinic recipe for milk and honey? Shir HaShirim 4:11 "honey and milk are under your tongue" דְּבַ֤שׁ וְחָלָב֙ תַּ֣חַת לְשׁוֹנֵ֔ךְ From this passage, which to me seems to suggest a ...
2 votes
2 answers
331 views

Why does HaShem say, "I rebuke you Satan" in Zech 3:1-2.?

If Satan is obedient to G-d and works under his authority, why did HaShem reprimand him in Zechariah 3:1-2?
23 votes
3 answers
4k views

Is belief in Midrashim optional?

The Ramban in Sefer Havikuach (page 32, the bottom of the first column ) asserts with regard to Midrash: מי שיאמין בו טוב. ומי שלא יאמין בו לא יזיק ‏ Whoever believes in it, good, he who does not ...
4 votes
1 answer
213 views

Do we know of any animals that behave this way? (Bava Basra 16a)

The Gemara in Bava Basra 16a explains certain pesukim in Sefer Iyov to be referring to a conversation between Hashem and Iyov in which Hashem rebukes Iyov for denying or complaining about Hashem's ...
22 votes
7 answers
5k views

Is there "Torah Inerrancy"?

Is there Torah inerrancy? In other words, does the Torah contain no factual errors: the Noah flood did occur, Garden of Eden did exist, Adam and Eve did live there and were subsequently expelled, etc ...
2 votes
1 answer
263 views

Can Angels "fall"?

According to this answer, the Pirkei D'Rabbi Eliezer (among other works) references an idea that angels "fell" -- were somehow separated from their holiness and "became" human. This answer states ...
7 votes
1 answer
160 views

Chronology of Shofetim

Where can I find a diagram or timeline showing the chronology of the Shofetim according to different commentators? For example Rashi on Shofetim 11:26, Ralbag nearby and Abarbanel on Shmuel 1 chapter ...