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Thought for the Day: Evolution of the G'zeiros d'Rabanan


I saw a clear proof that evolution based on survival of the fittest is completely false: an idiot riding his bike in traffic, not wearing a helmet, smoking, and talking on his cell phone.  That creature in no way fits the description of "survival of the fittest".  I was going to point this out to my atheist co-workers, but quickly realized that that same creature is also clear proof against intelligent design.  Oh well, I am still unable to illuminate the dark chambers of their strange beliefs in evolution.

Just because evolution applied to the origin of species is false, does not mean that the word has no value.  The word has quite legitimate uses even within our own tradition.  Many g'zeiros d'rabanan underwent an evolution from their initial inception until reaching the final form (sometime before the close of the Babylonian Talmud) that we all know and love today.

Muktza, for example, was originally very much more restrictive than it is now.  N'chemia saw that his generation was being lax in Shabbos observance, so he decreed that basically anything that was not needed for an immediate (and, of course, permissible) use on Shabbos was forbidden to be moved.  Over time, as the decree had its desired effect and Shabbos observance returned to what it should be, the rules were relaxed.  In order to maintain the level of observance several categories of muktza were created, each with its own set of rules.

Another g'zera that has undergone an evolution over the ages is n'tilas yadayim before eating.  This is actually one of the earliest g'zeiros and traces its roots back to Shlomo haMelech.  M'd'oraiso, if a cohein's hands are tamei, then he must wash them before eating t'ruma.  The sages noted that "yadayim askonios hein" -- hands are busy; that is, one's hands often fly around touching and scratching all sorts of stuff and places without the owner paying too much attention.  As a consequence, Chazal gave the hands a "chezkas tuma" -- a presumption of being tamei.  Because of that, Chazal instituted that a cohein should always wash before eating t'ruma; even if he didn't know his hands were tamei.  Since much t'ruma is grain, Chazal later extended the g'zeira to have the cohein wash when eating bread, even if that particular bread was not made from t'ruma.  Finally, since bread meals are more formal and are often eaten in a group setting, Chazal decreed that every Jew should wash before eating bread

So we do believe in evolution.  We just don't believe in foolish and dogmatic adherence to beliefs and theories that are tailor built to allow our yeitzer hara to do whatever it wants.

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