Controversy Over Evolution Breaks Out in Israel


evolutionThe chief scientist in Israel’s ministry of education, Gavriel Avital, sparked a furor by questioning the reliability of evolution and global warming, leading to calls for his dismissal, according to Haaretz.

“If textbooks state explicitly that human beings’ origins are to be found with monkeys, I would want students to pursue and grapple with other opinions. There are many people who don’t believe the evolutionary account is correct,” he was quoted as saying. “There are those for whom evolution is a religion and are unwilling to hear about anything else. Part of my responsibility, in light of my position with the Education Ministry, is to examine textbooks and curricula.”

Hava Yablonka of Tel Aviv University told Haaretz that Avital’s statements were tantamount “to saying that space should be given in textbooks to the view that the earth is flat and the sun revolves around it. It’s astonishing that the chief scientist of a government ministry can say such bizarre things.” Similarly, Lia Ettinger, a biologist at the Heschel Center for Environmental Learning and Leadership in Tel Aviv, called for Avital’s resignation, commenting, “It’s clear that given the nature of science, there is never complete consensus, and that disputes bring us closer to the truth. But this has nothing to do with the things Avital said. If these are his positions, he cannot promote the kind of education necessary for the environment and sustainable ecology.”

A subsequent article in Haaretz (February 22, 2010) quoted Yehoshua Kolodny, a professor emeritus at Hebrew University who recently won the Israel Prize – the country’s highest civilian honor – for his contributions to the earth sciences, as saying, “Denying evolution is like denying science itself.” Kolodny added, “When a top scientist ignores these things, it’s a cultural calamity … There are no disagreements among scientists regarding evolution. Catholics and Protestants long ago ended their war against evolution, and Avital is for all intents and purposes joining the radical fringe of evangelicals in the United States.” Jonathan Erez, a professor at Hebrew University’s Earth Sciences Institute, told Haaretz, “it is clear that Avital is not fit for the job.”

In a February 23, 2010, editorial, Haaretz called on the minister of education, Gideon Sa’ar, to sack Avital, describing him as “an obscurantist Orthodox zealot who casts doubt on the validity of scientific research and rejects both evolution and global warming” and commenting, “His proposals that curricula undergo religious censorship to cast doubt on evolution are reminiscent of the notorious ‘monkey trial’ that saw a teacher in Tennessee put on trial in the 1920s for teaching evolution.” The editorial concluded, “Sa’ar should immediately get rid of Avital, whose appointment has made a mockery of the minister’s lofty promises, and replace him with a true scientist.”

Avital’s academic background is in aerodynamic engineering – when appointed as chief scientist in December 2009, he was the head of aeromechanics at Elbit Systems and a lecturer in aerodynamics at the Technion Israel Institute of Technology – and his appointment was controversial since, as Haaretz (December 1, 2009) reported, it was “apparently the first time the ministry’s chief scientist has not come from one of the universities’ education schools.” A former chief scientist at the ministry told the newspaper, “A chief scientist do[e]s not have to know everything about education, but he should at least have extensive knowledge of the field. This is one of the most important posts in the ministry.”

Avital’s views on evolution may be shared by a sizable segment of the Israeli public. A 2006 survey of public opinion in Israel by the Samuel Neaman Institute found that “a minority of only 28% accepts the scientific theory of the evolution, while the majority (59%) believes that man was created by god,” while according to the 2000 International Social Survey Programme, a total of 54% of Israeli respondents described “Human beings developed from earlier species of animals” as definitely or probably true, placing Israel ahead of the United States (46%, in last place) for its public acceptance of evolution, but behind twenty-three of the twenty-seven countries included in the report.

{ Israel}


  1. This global warming mania is a lot of

    Bernie Sanders, wacky socialist Senator
    from Vermont, is really gung-ho about global
    warming. (Personally, I think Sanders is to
    blame—all that socialist hot air—does
    have a negative impact.)

    Seriously folks: We should protest
    Bernie’s last outburst of hot air. In effect,
    he said—to paraphrase–that
    anybody questioning the validity of global
    warming is as bad as someone questioning
    the historical validity of the Holocaust.

    Bernie said that global warming
    “deniers” remind him of those who refused
    to acknowledge the rise of Nazism in the 1930s.

    Can you believe this nonsense?
    Bernie’s ridiculous comparison insults Jewish survivors of that period. All Jews should
    e-mail that clown demanding he stop using
    the Holocaust to advance his socialist agenda.

  2. I really dont understand these “scientist” who claim Theory to be fact. The last time I checked a theory needs to be proven. There is no question that this is the theory of Amalek. Amalek reads as Amel KOF the work of the monkey. There is alot more to say about this. No room on this post.

  3. Well, Mr. Professor i know someone who is socialist and young earth creationist at the same time. A! And doesn’t believe in man caused global worming.
    May point is, what social philosophy has to do with science of creation?
    Man, you language is not rally crafted for discussion…
    Besides Bernie I not a socialist whatsoever and indeed his comparisment is farfetched but protests? Emailing?

  4. Why do we have to be exposed to the ignorant rantings of these arrogant KOFRIM?? Have we forgotten that it is forbidden to even read divrei kfira, let alone PUBLICISE it??

  5. It is not kfirah to agree with evolutionary theory, as evolution is fact. If you don’t “believe” in it, it is because you have no education in biology and life structures. Stop screaming and start reading and studying, that is, of course, in the unlikely event your yeshiva education has taught you how to read on a higher level than Yated and Hamodia.

  6. #6 “Global worming”? You know someone who
    believes in a young earth and global
    worming under socialism? Take my advice and
    stay away from him. (“Worming”? Like “worms”? Or “warming”? You don’t know what you’re talking about.)

    “Bernie Sanders not a socialist…? He definitely is. You know him? He favors socialism.

  7. You got me on worming / warming. ?
    Rest doesn’t change.
    I read Hiomar von Ditfurth when I was 14.
    Today I don’t believe in religion of evolution either.
    It is part of my profession to explain people about those issues.
    I’m not “professor” on this topic, but something I read here and there.
    On what bases do you now that I don’t know?
    I don’t know Bernie but all kind of socialisms I studied at age of 16,
    also on my own skin.
    Except few old Bundists, there are no socialist in America my comrade.
    Now back to Purim. Freileche to everyone?.

  8. Thank-you number 8 for your advice. It happens to be that I was actually never zohe to a yeshiva education during my up-bringing but went to universities instead, up to the level of an MSc actually (so Baruh H’ Yated and Hamodia I can just about handle). Thankfully I was exposed to Torah-true hashkafa since then, enough to know at least that claiming that man descended from monkeys, which themselves desecended from spontaneously generated amoebas is not only a little problematic in terms of there being a Torah in the world but also ‘kfira’ statistically to any scientist able to see past his yetser haraa. Maybe we can do some reading and studying together…? 😉

  9. Believe it or not, but evolution and the Torah work just fine with each other. Age of the universe doesnt bother me- if G-d didn’t create sun until 4th day, then the “days” in bereshit are days in the eyes of G-d and who knows what that means.
    Evolution emanates and is set in motion from G-d- thats not kefirah to say.
    Finally, a theory in science is the body of observations that supports the hypothesis for a phenomenon. I.e the theory of gravity is the observation that if I jump, I will land on the ground instead of floating away. The reason this happens is because there is a force- gravity- keeping me there. So a theory isnt a guess, its observation. There are mekorot for Torah and evolution and how they dont contradict one another.

  10. Scientists who espouse the theory of evolution can’t see past their yetser haraa?

    That statement is just sad. I think whoever paid to send you to universities should ask for a refund.

  11. “there are no socialist in america…” That’s like saying there are no bureaucrats in America.

    We’re in control now–with Comrade Barack. “Only old Bundists…” Bernie Sanders
    is pretty close to that group.

    Comrade, we’re using global warming
    strategy to take over America. Of course it’s
    a lot of shmulke bernstein baloney.

    Don’t drink so much mashkeh & happy

  12. Hmm, I was deleted, I’ll try again.
    Dear # 11, there are legitimate hashkafahs other than the one you espouse. Evolutionary theory is consistent with torah true hashkafah, even if it is not yours.

  13. Dear Zalman, a hashkafa cannot be both ‘mine’ or ‘yours’ and simultaneously Torah true. If the evolutionary theory you are referring to (maybe like number 12, to whom I am grateful for putting his point across in a non-personal way!) is in some way compatible with Torah, that’s not the evolutionary theory that I and I daresay most other people are familiar with.

    As for number 13, my point was that the statistics necessary for man to have ‘descended from monkeys’, speaking from the point of view (if it is mutar to do such a thing!) of a non-Torah believer, are so far less than statistical impossibility that to nevertheless stick to the theory shows that there is something at work here far above logic. Hope that cheers you up!! (PS University in the UK is free 😉 )

    May we all be zohe to the truth always!

  14. Every time I hear “descended from monkeys” as the description of evolution, I know we’re talking about somebody who is uninformed about evolution.

    As far as non-Torah believers, there are many, many scientists and researchers who are not Torah believers and we listen to them. We don’t just hold by those who believe as we do. If we did, we wouldn’t be able to partake of many, many scientific discoveries and cures for disease.

    Why is it that people who are ba’al tshuva feel the need to be so extreme in their rejection of ideas and general knowledge?

  15. Dear number 18 (funny that we are still here long after this article has disappeared from the front page huh? – by the way, are you ‘Zalman’ or number 13 out of interest..?)

    Hohma ba goyim taamin, Torah ba goyim al taamin

    …if there’s knowledge out there that is in no way at odds with Torah, then the Torah itself says we can can use it. Baalei tshuva can have a sensitivity (for better or for worse!) to goyishkeit – and in particular to kfira – that comes from their active rejection of it in their own personal lives. Obviously the very fact that they are new to Torah can itself lead to opinions that are simply the product of their own as yet undeveloped hashkafa… but rejecting a theory that rejects as basic a Torah fact as man having been created directly by G-d 5770 and a bit years ago I wouldn’t say falls into that category.
    Again if you are claiming that the theory of evolution as espoused by Darwin does not need to be at odds with Torah, that is a hiddush which the original article never mentioned.

    May we all merit discussing Torah concepts le shem shamayim !

  16. I’m #13 and #18 (good guess!) but not Zalman.

    I understand what you’re saying. I just feel differently very strongly. I have my own way of dealing with the conflicts between Torah and Science, but I probably shouldn’t go into it here.

  17. Hey number 13, 18 & 20

    Before we end up turning this page into our personal chat forum I just wanted to wish you hatslaha in your hashkafic journeying. Hope that we are parting with you in a happier state then when we first met!