Monday, November 21, 2011

Snake Gestation

(This is a post from a while back which is now greatly revised and re-released in time for Daf Yomi reaching this topic tomorrow).

An oft-cited example of the ability of the Sages to extract scientific knowledge from the Torah is the case of snake gestation.
(The gestation period for) a snake is seven years… How do we know this? Rav Yehudah said in the name of Rav…: As it says, “You are cursed from all the domestic animals and from all the beasts of the field” (Bereishis 3:14). If the snake is cursed more than all the domestic animals (which have a gestation period of at least five months), then surely all the more so it is cursed more than the wild animals (whose minimum gestation period is only 50 days)! Rather, it tells you that just as a domestic animal is cursed seven times more than a wild animal – namely., the donkey (which has a gestation period of one year) and the cat (whose gestation period, according the Gemara earlier, is 52 days) – so too is the snake cursed seven times more than the domesticated animal, which results in seven years. (Talmud, Bechoros 8a)

There is a different version of this story in a later source:
A certain philosopher sought to know the gestation period of a snake. He saw some mating, captured them, placed them in a vessel, and fed them. When the elders arrived in Rome, they saw Rabban Gamliel, and asked him, After how long does a snake give birth? He was not able to answer them, and his face fell. Rabbi Yehoshua met him, and asked him why he looked so down. He replied, I was asked one question, and I was not able to answer it. Rabbi Yehoshua asked, What was it? He replied, After how long does a snake give birth? Rabbi Yehoshua said, After seven years. Asked Rabban Gamliel, How do you know? Rabbi Yehoshua replied, The dog is an impure wild animal, and gives birth after fifty days, and an impure domesticated animal gives birth after twelve months; and it says, “You are cursed from all the domestic animals and from all the beasts of the field” – just as a domestic animal is cursed seven times more than a wild animal, so too is the snake cursed seven times more than the domesticated animal. Towards evening, Rabban Gamliel went out and told them. [The philosopher] began to bang his head against a wall, and said, I worked and exerted myself for seven years [to discover this], and this one comes and holds it out on a cane (i.e. answers lightly). (Yalkut Shimoni, Bereishis 3, os 30)

There are several questions to consider here. First of all, was Rav Yehudah/ Rabbi Yehoshua entirely deriving the information about snake gestation from the Torah, with no previous knowledge about this, or was this an already widespread belief? And was the exegesis his own invention, or something that he received as a tradition? There has long been much dispute amongst Rishonim and Acharonim as to the ultimate source of such Talmudic exegeses, with no less a figure than Chasam Sofer (to Beitzah 5a; also Rambam, Introduction to Commentary to the Mishnah) claiming that they are of human rather than divine origin. (Cf. the Talmudic exegeses about the nature of the firmament, which is not correct, and is thus surely not a Sinaitic tradition.)

Second of all, how does the idea of deriving facts about the natural world from the Torah fit in with the myriad of cases in the Gemara where Chazal did not have any such expectations? As I noted in my monograph on Sod Hashem Liyreyav, the Gemara does not generally believe that the Sages had any special source of knowledge about the natural world. The Talmud states that the rabbis learned agricultural information from the descendants of Seir; Rav relates that he spent eighteen months with a shepherd in order to learn about the blemishes that affect sheep; R. Shimon ben Chalafta is described as having performed experiments to discover information; Rabbi Zeira stated that his lack of knowledge of the natural sciences rendered him incapable of rendering rulings regarding menstrual blood; and we also find that Rebbi considered that the sages were proven wrong in fundamental matters of astronomy by the gentile scholars. Indeed, in the version of the snake story given in the Yalkut, we see that the Sages were not all able to derive whatever biological knowledge they wanted from the Torah. Yet on the other hand, it does seem to show that they considered themselves able to do so in some cases.

But is it actually true that a snake's gestation lasts seven years?

It has been confirmed that female snakes sometimes give birth several years after mating. In general, this seems to be due to their ability to store sperm. It has been suggested that in some extreme cases, it resulted from long term “mummification” of embryos instead.[1] In other cases, snakes have been known to reproduce via parthenogenesis, i.e., without a male.[2] Some scientists suggested in the past that all cases of isolated females giving birth are due to parthenogenesis rather than storing sperm or embryos from an earlier mating,[3] but recent genetic research has shown that in at least some cases, sperm has been stored from earlier matings.[4]

Yet although Rav Yehudah’s statement seems to be an astonishing example of scientific information being extracted from the Torah, there are some serious difficulties with it.

First of all, although in one instance it was recorded that an Arafura file snake laid eggs exactly seven years after mating,[5] this was in one case alone. The maximum on record is nine years, with a garter snake,[6] and the majority of snakes do not store the sperm at all; even with those that do, it is usually for far less than seven years. There is no type of snake that has a seven-year gestation - instead, individual snakes can give birth for any number of time after mating, from several weeks to nine years or more.

Second of all, the source for the Talmud's statement is an exegesis based on the ration of snake gestation to donkey gestation being the same as that of donkey gestation to the gestation of a cat (or, in the Yalkut version, a dog) - seven times greater. But whereas the gestation period of a donkey is indeed one year, the gestation period of cats is 61-69 days and that of dogs is 59-65 days - quite a bit more than the 52 and 50 days stated in the Gemara. In which case, the data about animals used as the very basis for the exegesis is incorrect.

In conclusion, then: It would seem that in general, Chazal did not expect themselves to all be able to extract desired information about the natural world from the Torah, but there are cases when such an ability is proposed. The Gemara engages in some polemics about how the Sages were smarter than the gentiles - while elsewhere it takes it as a matter of course that this was not necessarily the case. But even in cases where some Sages are presented as being able to extract such information from the Torah, this is not (according to many Rishonim and Acharonim) a matter of them conveying a Sinaitic tradtion or utilizing Divine inspiration, but rather their own ingenuity. In the case of snake gestation, while this initiative resulted in a claim about snakes that is sometimes valid, it is not ultimately correct, and the data used as the basis for the calculation was not correct.


NOTES

[1] R. Shine, P. Harlow, J. S. Keogh, and Boeadi, (1995), ‘Biology and Commercial Utilization of Achrochordid Snakes, with Special Reference to Karung (Achrochordus javanicus),’ Journal of Herpetology, 29 (3): 352-360.

[2] Parthenogenesis has been documented in some lizards, insects, and other species including domestic turkeys.

[3] University of Arizona herpetologist Gordon W. Schuett, in “Snake Birth An Unlikely Feat,” The Detroit News, Monday October 6th 1997.

[4] Warren Booth and Gordon W. Schuett, "Molecular genetic evidence for alternative reproductive strategies in North American pitvipers (Serpentes: Viperidae): long-term sperm storage and facultative parthenogenesis." See http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg21228355.200-snake-stores-sperm-for-five-years-before-giving-birth.html

[5] Magnusson, W. E. (1979), “Production of an embryo by an Achrochordus javanicus isolated for seven years,” Copiea: 744-745.

[6] Robert T. Mason, Department of Zoology, Oregon State University.

37 comments:

  1. The following question might be tangential to the main thrust of the post, but maybe not, depending on the answer:
    "(Rabban Gamliel) was not able to answer them, and his face fell."

    Why did his face fall (because he didn't know the answer?, or because he didn't know how to derive the answer from the Torah?), and what can we learn from that?

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  2. Well, the obvious answer is that nature has changed, so the taanaim were of course correct when they said these things…

    Or perhaps they were referring to a specific species of snake unknown to modern science…

    Which brings up another point. This gemara treats all snakes as if they were the same species and should have identical gestation periods.

    Or it could be that the taanaim weren’t zoologists…

    I wonder if the story with the Roman philosopher actually happened? It seems like too much of a coincidence that he happened to observe a snake have babies seven years after mating (which you pointed out is not typical) and this matched perfectly with what Rabbi Yehoshua figured out.

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  3. While I think that Rabbi Levi's piece on this is nice, your points are well taken. But it seems to me that while you may be able to use this in your defense there is another aspect that to my knowledge has not been acknowledged.

    It seems to me that your defenders, on this blog and elsewhere, treat it as a devar pashut that Chazal derived their knowledge of science from the non-Jews. This assertion, while I don't presume to argue otherwise, is generally stated categorically. You have in your post noted that at times Chazal derived some of their opinions from their Torah (though not everyone could or felt they could). Furthermore, this Gemara proceeds to record Chazal as claiming to be wiser than the non-Jewish scholars on a matter of biology. While I do not mean to argue that this should trump other Gemara's which may take a different approach, it does seem to me to negate the tendency of some apologists to dismiss the belief that Chazal had expertise in the natural world as without basis in Jewish tradition.


    "The Emperor once asked R. Joshua b. Hanania: ‘How long is the period of gestation and birth of a serpent’? — He replied to him: ‘Seven years’. ‘But did not the Sages of the Athenian school couple’ [a male serpent with a female] and they gave birth in three years’? — ‘Those had already been pregnant for four years’. ‘But did they not have sexual contact’? — ‘Serpents have sexual intercourse in the same manner as human beings’.‘But are not [the sages of Athens] wise men [and surely they must have ascertained the true facts about the serpent]’? ‘We are wiser than they’." Bechoros 8b Soncino trans.

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  4. wow. this is a great post!

    G*3, about whether it happened:
    my guess is that the story is fictional and a polemic. this seems like the genre, and the conclusion with knocking his head against the wall while declaring the moral is just too precious.
    i put forth this theory here.

    if he wanted to make sure that he was getting the gestational age, he should not have kept the male and female confined together. indeed, why keep the male at all? except of course that you cannot see the genitals of a snake from the outside, but one needs to probe or pop. maybe he kept them separately, but was unsure which was female until she gave birth.

    i would guess that this story is fictional. besides reading like a polemic, the philosopher and the rabbi arrived at an identical false number. to arrive at the identical true number is plausible, if both are ways at arriving at truth. but arriving at the same false number is mathematically improbable.

    if so, there are two possibilities: (1) they had the derasha which gave them false scientific knowledge, and attributed this same position to the philosopher because they believed it to be truth, and so he was duly impressed.

    (2) despite the message of being able to derive from pesukim, they took this scientific tidbit from the gentile scientists. (note how the seven years equals the other scientific statement of a spine turning to a snake after seven years.) chazal often will derive knowledge they know from elsewhere from a pasuk. even unto the direction of bavel from eretz yisrael, and that the sun rises in the east! so i would posit that this derasha was built on a known scientific fact, but then in the polemic, the derasha was made primary.

    i would favor the latter explanation.

    kt,
    josh

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  5. Very interesting subject and article: analytical, yet respectful towards Chazal(no "tone" issues in my opinion!).

    (I am wondering if R. Slifkin can post in the future on a related concept to Chazal divining nature from the Torah; ie, Chazal *controlling* nature; eg, Yerushalmi of Beis Din adding an extra month, causing a three-year old girl to become a besulah again; IIRC, it's quoted in one of the Poskim as well.)

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  6. I'm not sure if i should be grossed out or amazed at the picture. :-)

    This blog is fantastic. keep it up

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  7. With regards to Chazal 'controlling' nature, here is an interesting quote from an article (which you may not want to publish as it comes from a source which is fairly antagonistic to Torah):

    "Moreover, Chazal even thought -- and the most of later rabbis adopted their view -- that they could determine factual reality by issuing Halachic rulings. Thus they thought that if a girl under three years old had sex with a man her hymen would eventually regenerate. By "three years" they meant neither solar not lunar years, but three calendar years, the length of which can vary up to a month, and which were determined by the Sages themselves. Not only were Chazal aware of this fact, they even stated explicitly: "A girl three years old and a day, if the Beit Din determined that year as a leap year -- her hymen regenerates, and if not -- it does not regenerate" (The Jerusalem Talmud, Sanhedrin 1:2). If a girl became three years old and had sex with a man and then the Beit Din determined that year as leap, so that "according to the calendar" it would take her another month to turn three, her hymen would regenerate, and if the year was not determined as leap, her hymen would not regenerate! Thus the Sages' Halachic rulings determine biological processes in the body of a girl who may even not be aware of the Sages' existence.

    Bizarre as it is, this view was adopted almost unanimously by the Achronim. The author of Pnei Moshe, the most accepted commentary on the Jerusalem Talmud, wrote on this issue:

    "G-d agrees with the earthly Beit Din, so that if she is three years and a day old, if she has intercourse, her hymen does not return; but if the Beit Din changed their mind and ruled that year or month to be intercalated, as said above -- her hymen returns if she has intercourse, for she had not yet become three years and one day old. So the Writings teach us that even nature agrees with them [the Sages], according to His decree, glorified be He."

    And the Chazon Ish wrote in his commentary on Orach Chayim (39:15) that, in fact, whether or not a girl's hymen would regenerate depends on the decision of the Beit Din.

    I am at a loss as to how to respond to errors on matters of fact and methodological misconceptions of this magnitude. Can you help me?"

    Although I would have phrased the question more respectfully, it is still a valid question, and the difficulty is that here it is not so easy to use the approach that 'Chazal relied on the faulty science of their times', since Chazal here are explicitly deriving a rule regarding physical reality. It would be interesting to see if and how the Rambam codifies this.

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  8. The 800 pound elephant in the room that nobody wants to talk about is the many pesukim in nach that without creative explanations clearly contradict current knowledge in science and nature. Until this is properly addressed the cannot be any truthful dialog. Are we to say that everything is nach is infact perfectly in tune with science, while accepting that this is not the case for hazal a mere 350 years later?

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  9. Steve, elephants don't weigh 800 pounds. I think you mean "400 pound gorilla."

    I certainly discuss scientific problems in Tenach. Just not in this post. Let's keep the discussion focused.

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  10. Shalom, Cherry HillJuly 3, 2009 at 6:58 PM

    To Joseph,

    Rabbi Akiva Tatz has some fascinating online talks that discuss this topic. He gives examples that make the point that
    nature is a mask, and that people on a certain level are basically beyond nature. For more detail than I can give here, you can listen at http://www.simpletoremember.com/authors/a/rabbi-akiva-tatz/
    A couple of talks that deal with this issue are: World Mask- Torah- The Cause of Reality, and World Mask- Nature and Miracles: the 4 levels.

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  11. Rabbi Tatz's approach does not represent the rationalist worldview. The goal of this website is to explore the rationalist worldview.

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  12. How about as a foil, like several other posts at your blog do?

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  13. Shalom, Cherry HillJuly 3, 2009 at 9:58 PM

    To Rabbi Slifkin,

    You are certainly correct in that Rabbi Tatz does not reflect the rationalist worldview; that is one of the reasons that I didn't elaborate in my post (along with constraints of time and space). I do think that it is worth noting, however, as one possible way of approaching the issue, even if it's not one that would be pursued in this forum.

    Have a Shabbat Shalom

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  14. > Steve said... The 800 pound elephant in the room that nobody wants to talk about is the many pesukim in nach that without creative explanations clearly contradict current knowledge in science and nature. Until this is properly addressed the cannot be any truthful dialog. Are we to say that everything is nach is infact perfectly in tune with science, while accepting that this is not the case for hazal a mere 350 years later?

    This is off-topic, but I think this is why the mainstream frum community reacts so strongly against a rationalist point of view. If everything in the Torah is mystical and metaphysical inconsistencies with what we observe can be hand waved as things we don’t understand; as mystical concepts outside the physical realm; or in the extreme cases as explicitly denying that there is such a thing as natural laws.

    Once we try to reconcile Torah with the world we observe we run into all sorts of problems, and it is a very short step from saying Chazal were wrong in places to saying Tanach was wrong in places to dismissing the entire thing as iron-age mythology.

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  15. I think the simple meaning of the yerushalmi is not metaphysical. Rather, that halachically, three years are necessary, and this follows chazal's setting of 3 years. So if it's an ibur shana, it takes place after an additional month. According to this, the gemara is describing a legal-halachic reality, not a physical-metaphysical one.

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  16. G*3--
    "Once we try to reconcile Torah with the world we observe we run into all sorts of problems, and it is a very short step from saying Chazal were wrong in places to saying Tanach was wrong in places to dismissing the entire thing as iron-age mythology."

    If it's wrong, it's wrong, and you have to deal with it, not poke your head into the sand. And why is "the obvious answer" that "nature has changed?" It's not obvious to me. What possible scientific basis could you have for suggesting that wolves ever had a 3 year gestation period?

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  17. Meir says
    I cannot believe that chazal got the cat and dog a common animal wrong. The regular answer must be given here as well.

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  18. The fact that you personally cannot bring yourself to believe it does not mean that we must invoke another answer. After all, great people got the number of human teeth wrong for a long time - some even get it wrong today.

    Incidentally, nishtaneh hateva doesn't work here either - wolves, from which dogs are domesticated, have the same gestation.

    (Ah, I get it - both wolf AND dog gestation periods changed!)

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  19. Josh Waxman,

    "G*3, about whether it happened:
    my guess is that the story is fictional and a polemic."

    You are most likely correct. Given that the story never happened, what is the purpose about this drasha and the gestation of the snake?

    Why did the Roman not ask about the donkey or cats or lions?

    Once you declare that the story never happened, all sorts of questions pop up regarding the details of the story. The questions also go away if someone declares that the story is real.


    " a common animal wrong. "
    perhaps common, but also disliked. Chazal had nice things to say about cats, but not nice things to say about dogs.

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  20. meir says
    since you are unlikely to put an answer from artscroll on your blog I have put it on Josh's blog.
    Next time before you ask 'silly' questions you should check there.

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  21. The really fascinating aspect of this gemora for me is not the comment about the snake, but rather the comment that the curse was regarding giving birth, as well as the stated curses of eating the dirt and being an enemy of women.

    In my mind, that deviation from the Torah requires more study than snake gestation periods.

    Also of interest to me, is that being pregnant itself is seen as a curse, and not just the pain of giving birth. (If I remember correctly this aspect of the curse is stated in the gemora elsewhere by promising that woman will only be pregnant for 1 day in yimai hamashiach)

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  22. meir says
    since you are unlikely to put an answer from artscroll on your blog I have put it on Josh's blog.
    Next time before you ask 'silly' questions you should check there.


    No, you didn't put it on R. Josh's blog. You just wrote a comment there saying that Artscroll answers it, and you further claimed that I am "unwilling" to post their answer on my blog, without a shred of evidence. And why on earth would you not actually post what Artscroll says, either on R. Josh's blog or on mine?

    You're now banned from this blog. For being dishonest, and for acting like an idiot.

    (After I saw your comment, I went to a nearby Beis HaMidrash to check the Artscroll. It's a completely lame alleged diyuk in Rashi which does not remotely fit into the Gemara.)

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  23. Ameteur:
    "You are most likely correct. Given that the story never happened, what is the purpose about this drasha and the gestation of the snake?"

    Well, since we see the derasha independent of the story, it is quite possible that the derasha itself WAS an attempt at discovering the truth. Or perhaps there is indeed a pnimiyus/allegorical meaning here, in the initial derasha. (Note, however, the relative chronology of the two attributions, with Rav later than Rabban Gamliel.)

    Why did the Roman not ask about the donkey or cats or lions?
    This one is readily answered, which you will like, since you agree that I am most likely correct.

    1) Because it is a polemic, and it is a better story if it is extremely difficult for a scientist to observe this. Donkeys are domestic, as are cats. They had lions for the gladiatorial combats, and the mating, pregnancy, and birth from lions are readily observable. A snake is a wild animal, where it is not easy to even check whether a snake is male or female from the outside. One needs a probe, and luck that the snake doesn't bite you! And then, you need to wait seven years (which indeed they held WAS the gestational period for a snake.) Making it really **difficult** for the naturalist (and the rabbi) to find out this information makes for a better polemic, don't you think?

    2) Because they already had the derasha in place. They are not going to make up a story about donkeys if there is no convenient derasha for donkeys to demonstrate the superiority of Torah learning over experimentation as a means of discovering facts about reality.

    Once you declare that the story never happened, all sorts of questions pop up regarding the details of the story. The questions also go away if someone declares that the story is real.
    True. But I don't think, at this point, that the questions rise to the level of more than mere queries; indeed, the responses even reinforce the idea of it being a polemic.

    kol tuv,
    josh

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  24. "(Cf. the Talmudic exegeses about the nature of the firmament, which is not correct, and is thus surely not a Sinaitic tradition.) "

    Surely? I thought you didn't have a problem with the Sinaitic tradition being inaccurate as far as science is concerned

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  25. I don't think that Dibra Torah Klashon Bnei Adam, even acc. to Ibn Kaspi or Rav Kook, means that there would also be Torah SheBaal Peh given at Sinai as to the exact nature of the firmament!

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  26. The snake is the yetzer hara. One year is 1000 years (from Tehillim). After 6000 years, the world enters into shabbos mode, the 7th millenium. Thus it takes 7,000 years for the snake (the yetzer hara from Gan Eden) to give birth (to a world of perfection in which the yetzer hara serves the yetzer tov).

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  27. After 6000 years, the world enters into shabbos mode, the 7th millenium.

    But not literaly "6000" literal "years."

    Rather, 1000 denotes a complete cycle; 7 complete cycles is a cycle of cycles.

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  28. Even the Talmud seems to be saying that the philosopher worked out that the gestation period of a snake is 7 years. So it's not necessarily that incredible to know that the period is 7 years (even assuming it is scientifically accurate), if others knew it too, from non-Torah sources. I agree that according to the Gemara the rabbis source does seem to be from a passuk.

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  29. http://innate-differences.blogspot.com/2011/11/zionist-attempts-at-speciescide-fails.html

    A little off topic, but certainly worthwhile for a good laugh. Honorable mention to yours truly. Seen on Lifeinisrael.blogspot.com.

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  30. Towards evening, Rabban Gamliel went out and told them. [The philosopher] began to bang his head against a wall, and said, I worked and exerted myself for seven years [to discover this], and this one comes and holds it out on a cane (i.e. answers lightly). (Yalkut Shimoni, Bereishis 3, os 30)

    Could this be interpreted as the philosopher expressing exasperation at the fact that s/he had spent seven years devising and carrying out controlled experiments, and Rabban Gamliel comes out and completely dismisses his/her carefully compiled data on the basis of theological/philosophical arguments that ignores the best available empirical evidence?

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  31. Joseph, please study carefully the Hakdomah to Emunos veDeos. Sorry, I don't have a second more to elaborate.

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  32. " Because it is a polemic, and it is a better story if it is extremely difficult for a scientist to observe this"

    Philospher... but is the snake really the most difficult of the animals to learn about? I would think ants or other underground animals would be more difficult.

    It seems to me like the story is built around the verse in question, rather than the verse being inserted into a story about being smarter than philosophers.

    Sort of like, "Hmm this is a good drash, how can I tell it over in a memorable way and make it believable?"

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  33. FWIW, I engaged my daf maggid shiur (who is a card carrying full time kollel charedi avreich) on this. He offered Rav Hirsh's approach as perfectly acceptable to adapt, even if others strenuously object to it.

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  34. Yes, I to agree, this is an excellent post.

    As I see it (given all the facts) the curse was either meant to be cast only upon the serpent who actually commited the original offense or for a set amount of it's generations.

    I would also like to point out that from this event we learn that animals are as well subject to punishment for their aggressions as humans are.
    o

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  35. This post raises an important point that the sages of the talmud considered that scripture has all or much knowledge encoded in it. It is then considered a matter of decoding in order to arrive at such knowledge. An example of explicitly stated knowledge of the world in scripture is the ratio of the circumference to the diameter of a circle (pi). In Kings I, that ratio of the brazen reservoir in the Solomonic temple is given as 3. The gemara in Eruvin 14a treats this as an exact determination of pi, not as an approximation (see Tosafot, "veha'ika mashehu"). That value for the ratio is carried through elsewhere in the talmud. Of course, pi is really an irrational (trancedental) number written as 3.14159..,i.e., some 4.5% larger than 3. The verse in question then merely gives approximate values for the circumference and diameter of a very large vessel (30 and 10 amot, respectively).

    The situation with regard to matters not explicitly stated in scripture can be even more problematic in that the use of derash can lead to wildly inaccurate measures of natural or historical things.

    The situation with regard to relying on book knowledge rather than observation became worse over time. The Tana'im and some Amora'im had occupations which lead to their using observation in addition to transmitted information. In Europe, book knowledge had virtually supplanted observation. As an example, the talmudic sages provided physical signs to detect if dough had become leavened. Such signs were disregarded by the later decisors in favor of a dough residence time that was also given (the time to walk a mil). Now, the latter is but a qualitative measure of the time for leavening which depends on the concentration of yeast organisms in the environment, temperature, and other factors. Yet, that is the only measure now used.

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  36. please read what the likutei moharan talks about the snake.

    http://www.aishdas.org/articles/snake.txt

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  37. Chazal seems to get a lot wrong with snakes. If you compare this (from Berachot) to that of mesechet avodah zera, they tell us that you should not leave your wine glass unattended, lest a snake come by and drip venom in it, for you will be poisoned. Also, do not eat fruit with punctures in it, lest they bit and injected venom in there as well.

    Problems: Snakes don't bite fruit, they don't drip venom, and venom is not poisonous and is easily digested in some countries that use it as a food additive. Venom needs to enter the blood stream as neurotoxins or hemotoxins..

    So you either need to do as some have done: transform "snake" into some sort of metaphor (especially given the dynamic of Rabban Gamliel and R' Yehoshua in this post's example), or accept that their views of what was going on in the world was not based on science, but based on ideology that was intermixed with teachings of respected teachers that transformed reality into something else.

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