Friday, June 5, 2009

The Sun's Path at Night, Part II

Over at Divrei Chaim, R' Chaim discusses the topic mentioned in the previous post and writes as follows:

...Consider this: if Chazal could be wrong about science, then why did R' Akiva Eiger, the GR"A, the Ramchal, the Binyan Shlomo and others need to say anything? One sevara (Chazal did not know science) answers all the kashes -- but that's the one sevara that these achronim assiduously avoid saying.


Of course, the answer as to why they felt a need to say something is that these authorities were coming from a mystical worldview, which is fundamentally at odds with the rationalist worldview. That is how they were able to propose an explanation of the Gemara which is completely at odds with the explanation of Rambam, Rabbeinu Avraham, R' Eliezer of Metz, Tosafos Rid, Mizrachi, Akeidas Yitzchak, Maharam Alashkar and many others on this sugya. It is just like the topics of mezuzah and netilas yadayim shel shacharis, discussed in the essays linked to on the right, where we also see a radical difference between the approach of the Rishonim and the approach of the Acharonim.

56 comments:

  1. But could you explain why you reject the "mystical" view? Aren't the very conception of G-d, creation ex nihilo, matan Torah, prayer, prophecy, etc, etc, mystical notions?

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  2. Didn't you use a number of sources that were "mystically" inclined while building your case in Challenge of Creation?

    And if there is a "radical difference between the approach of the Rishonim and the approach of the Acharonim" could you elaborate on how you view the impact on the mesorah if the Achronim have made such a "deviation"?

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  3. Chaim of Divrei Chaim noted: "Anon1, it dawned on me that aside from GR"A etc., this is exactly what the Rambam refers to in Peirush haMishnayos in Cheilek when he describes three groups:
    1) Group #1 believes Chazal literally and accept the absurd even if it flies in the face of reality;
    2) Group #2 also take Chazal literally but rather than believe the absurd they assume Chazal were foolish or erred;
    3) Group #3 - there is a nistar and a nigleh to Chazal and the literal meaning is not always the truth."

    To which I would add, "You must, however, not expect that everything our Sages say respecting astronomical matters should agree with observation, for mathematics were not fully developed in those days; and their statements were not based on the authority of the Prophets but on the knowledge which they either themselves possesed or derived from contemporary men of science. But I will not on that account denounce what they say correctly in accordance with real fact, as untrue or accidentally true. On the contrary, whenever the words of a person can be interpreted in such a manner that they agree with fully established facts, it is the duty of every educated and honest man to do so." (Guide, end of 3:xiv, Tran. Friedlander)

    It would appear to me that while the Rambam may not have personally taken a mystical approach, his underlying support of charitable interpretation (particularly with respect to Chazal) would support finding reconciliation between Chazal and science.

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  4. You speak about worldviews as if any and all of them are necessarily on equal footing in terms of truth. But they're not; it's valid to ask which one is correct, or at least more correct.

    In this case, you would ask what the rabbis quoted in the gemara really meant: did they really think the Sun did those things at night, or did they mean it in some mystical sense? This is a question of historical fact, and they can't both be right. Either the thought the sun moved like that or they didn't. There aren't only the two options for what they really meant (no false dichotomy), but they either did or did not think the Sun moved a certain way.

    I think it's clear as the Sun at noon that they actually believed what they said about the Sun at night. The mystical interpretations are the work of people distorting the original intent to salvage a belief about Chazal's infallibility, a case of eisegesis, not any legitimate conclusion from the text or history.

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  5. Did Chazal have a rational world view, or a mystical world view?

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  6. Aren't the very conception of G-d, creation ex nihilo, matan Torah, prayer, prophecy, etc, etc, mystical notions?

    No. Supernatural does not mean mystical. (with the possible exception of prophecy)

    Didn't you use a number of sources that were "mystically" inclined while building your case in Challenge of Creation?

    Not that I am aware of. I used them in The Science Of Torah, but I removed them for Challenge.

    could you elaborate on how you view the impact on the mesorah if the Achronim have made such a "deviation"?

    It has been radically altered!

    is underlying support of charitable interpretation (particularly with respect to Chazal) would support finding reconciliation between Chazal and science.

    Rambam only used that method of interpretation for Aggadata. When it comes to Chazal making scientific statements, he himself rejected them.

    You speak about worldviews as if any and all of them are necessarily on equal footing in terms of truth. But they're not; it's valid to ask which one is correct, or at least more correct.

    Of course I believe that Chazal really believed that the sun goes behind the sky, and that they were mistaken!

    Did Chazal have a rational world view, or a mystical world view?

    I am still working on that one. Martin Gordon (see articles in links at right) thinks rational, but it's not so clear to me. Chazal were very terse and cryptic with their words so it's harder to know how to interpret them. I am also not sure that the rationalist/mystic differentiations were the same back then.

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  7. "No. Supernatural does not mean mystical. (with the possible exception of prophecy)"

    I use the term mystical as in full of mystery, not clearly understood and ultimately unfathomable suing human intellect. I think that applies to all the examples I gave. It's still not clear to me why you think G-d and Torah only work in a way that is ultimately rationally within your intellectual grasp.

    At least you did agree with me regarding prophesy. So given you do accept some mysticism, even according to your own definition, why do you reject the ruach hakodesh attributed to Chazal by so many achronim?

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  8. Okay, so you are using the word "mystical" in a completely different way from me, in which case your entire question does not begin!

    And I certainly did not ever claim that "G-d and Torah only work in a way that is ultimately rationally within my intellectual grasp"!

    why do you reject the ruach hakodesh attributed to Chazal by so many achronim?

    Because it was clearly not attributed to Chazal by Chazal themselves or the Rishonim!

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  9. But you already admitted that the "mystical" view is accepted by the majority of achronim today. Certainly gedolei Lita and all the chassidim certainly did.

    I'm simply trying to understand why you don't find their view satisfying. The fact that it may not be the majority view of rishonim is, I think, a red herring. You would hardly reject a p'sak halacha accepted by achronim simply because many rishonim disagreed. After all, the achronim also realize what you know about the rishonim.

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  10. If there was a halachic view that was dominant amongst the Rishonim, and was also supported by some Acharonim, I may well follow it.

    But in any case, hashkafah is very different from halachah.

    In addition, it is by no means true that "the achronim also realize what you know about the rishonim." That is a fundamental misconception. And it has nothing to do with my being smarter than them. You might as well say, "After all, R. Akiva Eiger also realized what the Rambam knew about Chazal."

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  11. "In addition, it is by no means true that "the achronim also realize what you know about the rishonim."

    Even if you are correct regarding the mystical mitnagdim (and I am not convinced of that), this is clearly not true concerning the chassidim. The Chassidis Rebbes studied the hashkafic works of the Rishonim, even "explaining" them according to chassidus.


    Let me try a another track: Here we have 2 people, both very interested in science, both dedicated to living a life of Torah and Mitsvot.

    One passionately follows the chassidic/mystical view, contradictions with the scientific world view notwithstanding.

    The other, at great personal cost, passionately follows the rationalist school. Why the difference?

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  12. The Chassidis Rebbes studied the hashkafic works of the Rishonim, even "explaining" them according to chassidus.

    Um, that is my whole point! They were not able to see the Rishonim in the Rishonim's worldview, only in their own!
    Why do you think that there were and still are those who say that the Moreh and Rabbeinu Avraham's maamar must be forgeries, even though there is no evidence for that and lots of evidence against it?!

    The other, at great personal cost, passionately follows the rationalist school. Why the difference?

    If you are talking about people today (the difference between rationalists and mystics in the time of the Rishonim is different) I would say that the latter is motivated by his intellect. But of course, I am a rationalist so I am biased.

    How about this: some people are very much into conventional medicine, and some people are very into alternative medicine. Why the difference?

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  13. "They were not able to see the Rishonim in the Rishonim's worldview, only in their own!"

    You cannot possible be serious! People like the Gro, R Schneur Zalman of Liadi, R Dob Ber of Mezritch, etc, etc, were not able to see the Rishonim in the Rishonim's worldview?? They were totally unaware of the so called "rationalist school"?
    They knew very well the poshuter pshat in the Moreh, but could learn it al pi chassidut too, just as they could learn a mishna al pi chassidut, while being fully aware of the pshat of the gemara.


    The Gro in YD disproves your point completely, when he says not to follow the Rambam regarding lechashim, since he was influences by philosophy.

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  14. The Gra confirms my point completely. He was so appalled by Rambam's writings that he dismissed him as being off the derech. Others could not bear to say such a thing, so instead they claimed that the Gra had misunderstood Rambam.

    I don't think that the Gra misunderstood Rambam. I also don't think that the Rambam was off derech.

    (When people learn a mishnah al pi chassidus, it is not in exclusion of the pashut peshat. But those who attributed mystical meaning to the Rambam were doing so in exclusion to the regular interpretation.)

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  15. "How about this: some people are very much into conventional medicine, and some people are very into alternative medicine. Why the difference?"

    Completely different. Sick people are looking for a cure, hence medicine needs to be evidence based. To the extent that alternative therapies have not been show to be efficacious, they must therefore be rejected.

    However, our debate is a philosophical one (one concerning your favorite word, epistemology). We are not arguing any empirical facts.

    "But those who attributed mystical meaning to the Rambam were doing so in exclusion to the regular interpretation"

    You need to bring proof of this.

    I would say that they understood the Rambam as being true at some level, but not ultimately true. Similar to what the Baal HaTanya writes regarding thw Rambam vs the Arizal in Tanya perek 2.

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  16. You misunderstood me (again!). My point was that the reasons why some people are into alternative medicine are similar to why some people are into the mystical approach.

    With regard to mystical interpretations of the Rambam - see the new sefer Chaim B'Emunasam by R. Schmeltzer, which I am issuing a critique of soon. Of course it could well be that he is distorting the sources, I haven't checked them. But in this case I suspect he is correct in that these acharonim really did deny the conventional interpretations of Rambam.

    You should see Marc Shapiro's "Maimonides and his Interpreters." He brings many examples of authorities who could not imagine that Rambam held what he held and were forced to creatively reinterpret him or claim that his writings were forgeries.

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  17. "My point was that the reasons why some people are into alternative medicine are similar to why some people are into the mystical approach."

    But I dispute this. The vast majority of people in my community accept the mystical approach, though totally reject alternative medicine.

    From my experience, those who accept alternative medicine and neither cleat nor logical thinkers. I know, I have tried to debate them many times ;-)

    "...brings many examples of authorities who could not imagine that Rambam held what he held and were forced to creatively reinterpret him"

    I would have to see the examples he brings, but I cannot see how one can claim this against the Gro, Baal HaTanya and similar authorities.

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  18. Talmid said:
    But I dispute this. The vast majority of people in my community accept the mystical approach, though totally reject alternative medicine.

    You are clearly misunderstanding Rabbi Slifkin. He was not saying that mystics would accept alternative medicine. His point was that Alternative medicine is accepted because it makes people feel better about the treatment they are getting from a non-rationalistic approach. Same too with mystics, they feel better about their Judaism even though it is non-rationalistic. But not that if you believe in mysticism you will believe in alternative medicine.

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  19. Thank you, E-man.

    I cannot see how one can claim this against the Gro

    I am not. The Gra was davka fully aware of Rambam's views, which is why he accused him of being off the derech!

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  20. The Gra never "accused" the Rambam of being off the derech, on the contrary, he said he could only wish to be somewhere near the Rambam in olam haba, the Gra had an issue with the Rambam view of demons and existance of magic (kishuf), something that is addressed numerous times in the gemara, and is accepted in the Gemara as "pashut" a given. It is about this view of the Rambam that the Gra said his overstudying of (Aristolian) philosophy couldn't allow him to accept the Gemaras. The Gra, or anyone else would not have any regard for someone who was "off the derech", and nobody doesn't accept the Rambam.

    About your statement about people calling the Moreh "Forged", the issue was only with (parts of) the 3rd chelek of it.

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  21. "Rambam only used that method of interpretation for Aggadata. When it comes to Chazal making scientific statements, he himself rejected them."

    The quote I gave was specifically about scientific statements, i.e. astronomy, so I fail to see how your distinction holds.

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  22. "Because it was clearly not attributed to Chazal by Chazal themselves or the Rishonim!"

    Bava Basra 12a?

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  23. The Gra "had an issue"? That's a bit of an understatement. The Gra said that the Rambam was "drawn after the accursed philosophy" to deny many phenomena, but he has been "hit on the head" by counter-proofs from the Gemara. Yes, he professed personal respect for Rambam, but I don't think that it's so inaccurate to colloquially speak of the Gra saying that Rambam was "off the derech" = he was led by the accursed philosophy away from the correct derech of believing the Gemara. If you would prefer for me to say, "partly off the derech," fine.

    The Gra was of course correct that Rambam was heavily influenced by Greek philosophy and that substantially influenced his approach to Torah, including denying many things that had been accepted until then.

    With regard to your claim that "nobody doesn't accept the Rambam" - that's only because people are in denial as to what he holds. For example, Rav Moshe Shapiro holds that it is absolute kefirah to speak of scientific statements in the Gemara that are false. He also holds that Rambam never made any such statements, so he does not disqualify Rambam. However, pretty much everybody else holds that Rambam did indeed make such statements.

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  24. "Because it was clearly not attributed to Chazal by Chazal themselves or the Rishonim!"

    Bava Basra 12a?


    Okay, what do you think that I am saying, and what do you think that the Gemara is saying?

    I'll answer the first one. I am not saying that Chazal denied the possibility of ruach hakodesh to know scientific facts. I am saying that they did not see it as normally operating.

    Now, what do you see that Gemara as saying?

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  25. "I'll answer the first one. I am not saying that Chazal denied the possibility of ruach hakodesh to know scientific facts. I am saying that they did not see it as normally operating.

    Now, what do you see that Gemara as saying?"

    My only point was that it attributes, at some level, ruach haKodesh to Chazal. If you mean to say that they do not have ruach hakodesh with respect to scientific matters that is one thing, but your statement as given initially did not make any such qualifications.

    (But I'm more interested in you thoughts on my other comment :) )

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  26. סוטה י

    א"ל מר זוטרא בריה דרב נחמן לרב נחמן היכי דמי פדגרא א"ל כמחט בבשר החי מנא ידע איכא דאמרי מיחש הוה חש ביה ואיכא דאמרי מרביה שמע ליה וא"ד סוד ה' ליר

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  27. I was wondering when someone would cite that Gemara... I just finished writing a study of Sod Hashem Liyreyav. Tell me, without looking, how many times do you think that Chazal invoke Sod Hashem Liyreyav to (a) definitively explain how somebody knew something and (b) to possibly explain how somebody knew something? And how many times was it NOT available?

    (Incidentally, PLEASE use a name rather than "anonymous," even a pseudonym. In future I will not be permitting anonymous comments to be posted.)

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  28. But I'm more interested in you thoughts on my other comment :)

    Rambam said that an honest person should interpret their words favorably. But obviously he did not mean dishonestly. Nor did he mean that one should assume that they had a mesorah from Sinai for their scientific information. Nor did he himself kvetch a mystical/ allegorical explanation in these cases; he said that Chazal were mistaken.

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  29. Why did you ignore my question about the Zohar?

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  30. "Tell me, without looking, how many times do you think that Chazal invoke Sod Hashem Liyreyav to (a) definitively explain how somebody knew something and (b) to possibly explain how somebody knew something? And how many times was it NOT available?"

    How many times does it take for a statement to count?

    "Rambam said that an honest person should interpret their words favorably."

    So do you concede that the statement was not limited to aggada to the exclusion of science?

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  31. "His point was that Alternative medicine is accepted because it makes people feel better about the treatment they are getting from a non-rationalistic approach. Same too with mystics, they feel better about their Judaism even though it is non-rationalistic."

    Lets try and get something straight. Those who believe in the "mystical" approach are not arguing about empirical facts. This is and argument about how to relate to the words of chazal. Neither way is provable, as the mystics are making no testable claims. This is completely different to alternative therapies, where they are making (unsubstantiated, to my mind) factual claims.

    What the mystics are talking about here is a particular outlook on Torah, Mitzvot, the Jewish soul, and G-d Himself. This is an all encompassing hashkafa, that goes way beyond the Torah/science debate.

    Regarding the "feel good" claim. I could equally throw that back on the rationalists. It makes them feel good to come down on the same aide as western academic scholarship. They feel less primitive in the observance of Yiddishkeit, etc etc.

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  32. Why did you ignore my question about the Zohar?

    For reasons that I stated in the comments to this post, in a previous post, and on the side of the blog. Please read!

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  33. How many times does it take for a statement to count?

    Count for what? To establish that they viewed it as a possibility, or that they viewed it as normative?

    So do you concede that the statement was not limited to aggada to the exclusion of science?

    Yes.

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  34. Neither way is provable, as the mystics are making no testable claims.

    Well, it depends what you mean by provable. I would say "hamotzi mechevaro alav harayah." Since the straightforward understanding of Pesachim 94b and numerous other topics is that Chazal made a scientific error, I would say that the onus of proof is on those who wish to claim otherwise.

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  35. I'm hoping that the following tentative defense of the sages' scientific knowledge is treated as a rational, even if unusual, approach, not a irrational one:

    חכמי ישראל אומרים, ביום חמה מהלכת למטה מן הרקיע...

    Are we positive that the חכמי ישראל refers to Torah Sages? Could the term simply be referring to the Jewish scientific scholars of the age? IE, Rebbe was perhaps talking about Jewish scholars, not Jewish Torah scholars. If that's the case, then the only thing "negative" we can say about the Torah Sages' opinion about the path of the sun is that they had no tradition about it at all. However, they were willing to debate it out.

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  36. Nice try!

    However in nearly 2000 years of commentary on the Gemara, nobody has proposed your answer. There was no "Association of Orthodox Jewish Scientists" back then. The learned people were the sages of all knowledge, including astronomy - ki hi chachmaschem.

    Also, if I recall correctly, the view expressed here by the Chachmei Yisrael was also expressed by Tannaim in Bava Basra.

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  37. "I would say that the onus of proof is on those who wish to claim otherwise.

    I'm unfamiliar with the passage, but it would seem that in Berachos 8b Chazal claim to have a superior grasp of [certain] biological facts than the men of Athens.

    Furthermore, insofar as it is considered noteworthy, perhaps this passage should be understood as exceptional rather than normative, particularly in view of Shabbos 75a teaching that astronomy is our "wisdom and understanding in the sight of the peoples".

    While these passages may not support a claim that Chazal were infallible in the area of science, perhaps the burden of proof is on one who wishes to establish that it is not necessarily true or true necessarily that Chazal possessed a degree of expertise in these areas as consistent with Talmudic teaching.

    "Yes."
    Gotta love intellectual honosty.

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  38. Which Gemara in Berachos are you referring to?
    If you look at all the Gemaras cited at www.torahandscience.blogspot.com you see that the absolute normal situation was that they had no ruach hakodesh/ mesorah on these things.

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  39. "Why did you ignore my question about the Zohar?

    For reasons that I stated in the comments to this post, in a previous post, and on the side of the blog. Please read!"

    Sorry.

    Do you care to share with us your opinion on the authenticity of the Zohar?

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  40. In fact, all discussions of demons in the talmud, (of which there are many) seem to indicate the mystic leanings of the Sages was quite normative.
    Maimonides is clearly playing the role of the revisionist in this crucial respect.

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  41. "If you look at all the Gemaras cited at www.torahandscience.blogspot.com you see that the absolute normal situation was that they had no ruach hakodesh/ mesorah on these things."

    You have not simply argued that they have no mesorah/ruach hakodesh, you have argued that they have no special experitise when on a number of occasions (including some cited at T&S) they seem to claim such experitise.

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  42. Would you care to give examples rather than simply tossing out accusations?

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  43. "Would you care to give examples rather than simply tossing out accusations?"

    Accusation is a big word, but I would suggest that in addition to your black/white response to my comment which specifically did not attempt to establish Chazal possessed infallibility in these areas, there is:

    "The answer is to develop a halachically valid third option, one which accepts that Chazal were, in fact, incredibly expert in the science of their day...I don't see why this is necessarily true nor truly necessary. After all, in Pesachim 94b we see that the non-Jewish scholars were superior in astronomy."

    May 22, 2009 5:42 PM
    https://www.blogger.com/comment.g?blogID=6906205856510467947&postID=8700532338516459534

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  44. Although in retrospect I can see how "you have argued" might have been better stated more passively.

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  45. And where do we see that they claimed "special expertise" there? On the contrary, Rebbi's concession explicitly shows that they didn't!

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  46. Baruch - What's your opinion about the Zohar?

    I have to say that I am not thrilled about unidentified people using the comments section to ask me sensitive and complex questions about my personal beliefs.

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  47. The parts of the Zohar attributed to Rashbi, were taught by him, although they may have been recorded at the end of the amoroic period, possibly the very very beginng of the geonim, (just like the gemara was transmited orally until rav ashi), there probably was things added to what he said by latter Tanoim and Amoroim, just like in the gemara/medrash. Some of the parts not attributed to him directly (or his son and immediate talmidim) were too taught by Tanoim/Amoroim, who continued an oral mesora of the general teachings of Rav Shimon.

    Parts were most likely written in the time of Rav Shimon himself such as the Idra, where he tell Rav Abba to record what he is saying. The Sifra Ditzniusa was around before that as Rav Shimon quotes it and explains it.

    Sorry for the run-on, that's my general opinion of the Zohar. What is yours?

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  48. Let's just say that it's not the same as yours.

    I don't think that this website is the place for you. It is intended for rationalists, not mystics.

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  49. "I have to say that I am not thrilled about unidentified people using the comments section to ask me sensitive and complex questions about my personal beliefs."

    I'm asking, because the question directly pertains to whether or Chazal had an overtly mystical approach to tammei hamitzvos (and much more)

    I can't imagine why this should be a sensitive issue, and about it being your personal beliefs, is that what this blog is all about? I don't think your personal beliefs can be separated from %95 of the topics discussed on this blog.

    Can one still be a rationalist, while accepting the legitimacy of mysticism?

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  50. OK, I understand where you're coming from.

    There were some people who seem to have been both mystically and rationalistically inclined - Rav Kook comes to mind. However I personally don't really see how such a synthesis works in all areas. In the future I plan to discuss this in more detail.

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  51. "Let's just say that it's not the same as yours."

    So you don't beleive it's Chazal as much as Medrash Rabba is Chazal for example? Not even %75 of it?

    You use Rav Dessler as a primary source of your explanations of the six days of bereshis, how can you use him if his explanation is completely based on the Zohar?

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  52. "There were some people who seem to have been both mystically and rationalistically inclined - Rav Kook comes to mind."

    On that topic, what to say about the Malbim, who explains things very rationalistic, but on the other hand has a strong "mystical" streak to his pirushim?

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  53. So you don't beleive it's Chazal as much as Medrash Rabba is Chazal for example?

    Do you mean Midrash Bereishis Rabbah, Shemos Rabbah, Vayikra Rabbah, Badmidbar Rabbah, or Devarim Rabbah?

    You use Rav Dessler as a primary source of your explanations of the six days of bereshis

    No I don't.

    what to say about the Malbim

    I don't know enough about him to comment.

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  54. Any and all including the megillos. But for specifics, Bereshis and Vayikra Rabba (and if you want devarim too).

    The question is, were the statements attributed to the tanoim in the medrash actually taught by them? Is them medrashim "Chazal"?

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  55. Some of them are more authentic, since they were printed much closer to that time, others less so. For example, the midrashim printed before and after Perek Shirah were attacked by some Acharonim as being complete fabrications.

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