Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Miscellaneous Selective Citations of Authorities

Rewriting Jewish Intellectual History: A Review of Sefer Chaim Be’Emunasom

Part 11: Miscellaneous Selective Citations of Authorities


There are several sections in which R. Schmeltzer displays extreme selectivity in his citation of sources, only bringing those that are in line with his ideological goal. This is unacceptable in a work that claims to be presenting the definitive and sole authentic approach based on the writings of Rishonim and Acharonim throughout the generations.

I. Me’or Einayim

R. Schmeltzer quotes several authorities who followed Maharal in opposing R. Azariah de Rossi’s Me’or Einayim as a work of “utter heresy.” He gives the overwhelming impression that the condemnation of Me’or Einayim was unequivocal. But subsequent to Maharal’s condemnation, Me’or Einayim was still cited by many prominent Torah authorities, often positively, including R. Yosef Shlomo Delmedigo,[1] R. Yissachar Baer Eilenburg,[2] R. Avraham Gombiner,[3] R. Chaim Benveniste,[4] R. Yechezkel Feivel;[5] R. Malachi ben Yaakov HaKohen,[6] R. Yitzchak Lampronti,[7] R. Pinchas Hurwitz,[8] R. Yishayahu Basan,[9] R. Yaakov Emden,[10] R. Elazar Fleckeles,[11] Rav Shmuel Yitzchok Schorr,[12] R. Avraham Dayyan,[13] Maharatz Chajes,[14] R. Yishayahu (Pik) Berlin,[15] Chida,[16] Chassam Sofer,[17] and Netziv,[18] and even by the Maharal’s own disciples, such as R. Yom Tov Lippman Heller[19] and R. Dovid Gans.[20] Quoting the condemnation of Maharal and a few others does not give a remotely accurate picture of Jewish history.

II. The Signs of Kosher Fish


On p. 112, in a chapter devoted to showing the extent of Chazal’s scientific knowledge, R. Schmeltzer cites two views that the Gemara’s declaration that any fish with scales also has fins is an absolute statement. He does not mention the view of R. Yonasan Eibeschitz (Kreisi, Y.D. 83:3) and R. Yaakov Tzvi Mecklenberg (HaKesav VeHaKabbalah, Vayikra 11:9) that the Gemara’s statement is merely a general rule that can have exceptions. Since both these views were in my book The Camel, The Hare And The Hyrax that R. Schmeltzer arranged to have banned, he is certainly aware of these views.

III. Mermaids


On p. 113 in this chapter on the extent of Chazal’s scientific knowledge, R. Schmeltzer cites a view that the Gemara’s description of dolfins, which Rashi explains to refer to mermaids, has been confirmed by Spanish explorers who (allegedly) discovered such creatures.[21] R. Schmeltzer neglects to cite the far more straightforward view of Mussaf haAruch (which he knows of from my book, and which is brought in the ArtScroll Gemara) that the Gemara is referring to dolphins, not mermaids.

IV. Lice


On pp. 298-299, R. Schmeltzer cites Rabbi Yehudah Brill’s position on Chazal’s scientific infallibility vis-à-vis lice spontaneously generating – without mentioning that we only know of this position from its citation in Pachad Yitzchak by Rabbi Yitzchak Lampronti, who disagreed with it and felt that there may well have been a scientific error! While some attempt to claim that Rabbi Lampronti rejected his own opinion in favor of Rabbi Brill’s, this is not how it is generally understood, and with good reason; after citing Rabbi Brill’s position, Rabbi Lampronti again explains why he believes that one should be concerned for a scientific error. In any case, Rabbi Lampronti’s view should certainly be cited!

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[1] Matzref Le-Chachmah 8b; Novelos Chachmah 111a; Michtav Achuz p. 22.

[2] Tzedah leDerech, in numerous places, e.g. his comment in parashas Vayera, on tikkun soferim. My thanks to Rabbi Dr. Shnayer Leiman for this and many other references.

[3] Magen Avraham.

[4] Kenesses HaGedolah.

[5] Toldos Adam. See Shraga Abramson’s essay in Sinai 72 (1973), pp. 106-107.

[6] Yad Melachi.

[7] Pachad Yitzchak, sv. kelayos 72b.

[8] Sefer HaBris in numerous places.

[9] Lachmei Todah, no. 19.

[10] R. Yaakov Emden cites Me'or Enayim regularly, mostly to argue with him, but sometimes to praise him. For a good sample of the praise, see M. M. Goldstein, “Hagahos HaRav Yavetz KeSav Yad al sefer Me’or Einayim," Kovetz Tiferes Mordechai 3 (2000), p. 400.

[11] Meleches Ha-Kodesh 2:3.

[12] Minchas Shai, Zekhariah 14:5.

[13] Zichron Divrei Aretz, printed in Holech Tamim U’Po’el Tzeddek (Livorno 1850) p. 66b.

[14] Toras Nevi'im, 7b; Mevo Ha-Talmud in numerous places.

[15] Minei Targima, likkutim at the end.

[16] Kisei Rachamim, (Jerusalem 1990), Perush on Maseches Sofrim 1:8, p. 41.

[17] Responsa Chasam Sofer, vol. 5, hashmatos 193.

[18] Ha'amek Davar to Ex. 28:36 and five times in his commentary to Sifrei.

[19] Tosafos Yom Tov, Menachos 10:3.

[20] Tzemach David, vol. 1 pp. 7, 19; vol. 2 pp. 9b, 11a; Nechmad Ve-Na'im, no. 90.

[21] They were probably referring to manatees, which Christopher Columbus also thought to be mermaids.

14 comments:

  1. It's so obvious that you're right that it's really frustrating that Rabbi Schmeltzer can really get away with all this.

    (By the way, slightly off topic, I had a similar reaction reading the introduction of the Chabad book "Mind Over Matter" which discusses Torah "vs." science. The intro is so utterly dishonest; it's extremely frustrating. The Chabad book, on the Rambam's 8th(?) principle is also very frustrating.)

    ReplyDelete
  2. Quoting the condemnation of Maharal and a few others does not give a remotely accurate picture of Jewish history.

    It should be obvious by now that Schmeltzer does not believe that there is such a thing as Jewish history, or history at all. He views the world from a totally ahistorical perspective, as if ideas have never changed or developed or come into and out of fashion.

    Probably the majority of his problems with science come from the fact that he denies or is simply ignorant of the revolution in Western thought about the physical world which took place about 400 years ago. Again and again he conflates modern science with the ancient Greek philosophers, even though their approach to knowledge is almost diametrically opposite. (What is especially comical is how he turns so many ancient Greek beliefs into "deep secrets of the Torah" when they are quoted in Jewish sources, and then accuses the Greeks of stealing them.)

    The whole title of this series of critiques, "Rewriting Jewish Intellectual History" already assumes a viewpoint different from Schmeltzer's, since he denies that Jewish intellectual history even exists.

    ReplyDelete
  3. R. Schmeltzer cites Rabbi Yehudah Brill’s position on Chazal’s scientific infallibility vis-à-vis lice spontaneously generating

    Does he actually believe in spontaneous generation?

    ReplyDelete
  4. >>"This is unacceptable in a work that claims to be presenting the definitive and sole authentic approach based on the writings of Rishonim and Acharonim throughout the generations."

    As you write right here, R' Schmenltzer's goal is to present "the definitive and sole authentic approach." NOT give a survey of Jewish intellectual history that you would prefer.This approach is obviously to the exclusion of ALL others.

    Why does this bother you so?
    You yourself have granted legitimacy to this school's tactic to delegitimize other approaches-- even those upheld by great rabbis of the past--because of the dangers involved with the alternatives.

    It would seem to answer all your criticisms in this and previous posts. Like:

    "Quoting the condemnation of Maharal and a few others does not give a remotely accurate picture of Jewish history."

    and:

    "He does not mention the view of R. Yonasan Eibeschitz (Kreisi, Y.D. 83:3) and R. Yaakov Tzvi Mecklenberg (HaKesav VeHaKabbalah, Vayikra 11:9) that the Gemara’s statement is merely a general rule that can have exceptions."

    and:

    "R. Schmeltzer neglects to cite the far more straightforward view of Mussaf haAruch"

    and:

    "In any case, Rabbi Lampronti’s view should certainly be cited!"

    No?

    ReplyDelete
  5. Isaac, the point is that R. Schmeltzer claims that this approach is the only authentic one that ever existed. He claims that this DOES represent the collective view of Rishonim and Acharonim throughout the generations.

    You yourself have granted legitimacy to this school's tactic to delegitimize other approaches-- even those upheld by great rabbis of the past--because of the dangers involved with the alternatives.

    I accepted people's choice to pick a particular approach for social reasons. I do not renounce my right to criticize the rewriting of history which perverts the Rishonim who disagreed with that approach.

    ReplyDelete
  6. He is a dishonest person, as we can see from your citations. And since he apparently believes in mermaids, he is obviously an embarrassment.

    ReplyDelete
  7. >>"He claims that this DOES represent the collective view of Rishonim and Acharonim throughout the generations."

    What do you mean by "collective view"?
    The mainstream view? Or that it was EVERY SINGLE rishon's and acharon's view?
    If you claim it is the latter and not just the former, where in the book does R' Schmentzer claim precisely that?
    Please scan the relevant page of the book.

    ReplyDelete
  8. >>"I do not renounce my right to criticize the rewriting of history which perverts the Rishonim who disagreed with that approach."

    Of the citations listed this particular post, R' Schmeltzer does not seem to be guilty of that particular charge.
    So why are you critical of these?

    ReplyDelete
  9. What do you mean by "collective view"?
    The mainstream view? Or that it was EVERY SINGLE rishon's and acharon's view?


    Somewhere in between the two. The overwhelming, dominant, normative view. In the next post, I will be showing what he does with that which he describes as "a FEW differing views."

    ReplyDelete
  10. >>"I do not renounce my right to criticize the rewriting of history which perverts the Rishonim who disagreed with that approach."

    Of the citations listed this particular post, R' Schmeltzer does not seem to be guilty of that particular charge.
    So why are you critical of these?


    Because when you are claiming to give THE mesorah based on the collective views of Rishonim and Acharonim over the ages, it is dishonest to cite so selectively. Don't you agree?

    ReplyDelete
  11. @Anonymous, was that mermaid comment slyly supposed to criticize someone ELSE? Hmmm.
    Anyway, enjoy this video of a modern day, umm, mermaid:

    http://videos.komando.com/2009/02/16/

    ReplyDelete
  12. Any chance you could post the haskamos given to this book, or at least the names of the maskimim?

    ReplyDelete
  13. DES - see this post: http://www.rationalistjudaism.com/2009/08/rewriting-jewish-intellectual-history-1.html

    ReplyDelete
  14. The answer given to me in Telz was - Nishtane Hatevah. This was the same answer given for every question regarding a conflict.

    ReplyDelete

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