Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Yeridas HaDoros

The comments on the previous post have made me realize something that I've been chewing over for a while. If there's one single issue that really strikes at the core of the rationalist/non-rationalist divide, it's yeridas hadoros.

The notion of yeridas hadoros is rarely defined, but certainly most people take it mean that Rishonim, and all the more so Chazal, were more intelligent than us. With this understanding, yeridas hadoros conflicts with two aspects of rationalism.

One, which is more the Rishonic aspect of rationalism, is that rationalism maintains that there is a basically constant order of nature over history. Mankind doesn't change in its level of intelligence. Menachem Kellner, in his book Maimonides on the Decline of Generations, uses this argument and others to show that Rambam did not subscribe to the notion of yeridas hadoros.

The second way in which yeridas hadoros conflicts with rationalism is that rationalism mandates that claims require evidence proportionate to the degree that they are far-fetched. Until a few centuries ago, all mankind believed that the ancients were more intelligent than us. That's why it was virtually unthinkable to dispute Aristotle. Today, outside of traditionalists, people do not accept that the ancients were more intelligent than us. There is no evidence for it, a lot of evidence against it, and understandable reasons as to why people used to believe it to be the case.

Within the Torah world, aside from Rambam, it's hard to find those that oppose this understanding of yeridas hadoros. There is a discussion by R. Shlomo Fisher that approaches it, based on Kesef Mishnah, which I discussed in Sacred Monsters. Also, as noted, I heard a prominent Rosh Yeshivah from YU say, "Who says there's such a thing as yeridas hadoros?" But, understandably, this is something that most people would be wary of voicing their opinion on - it is dangerous in many ways.

There are many people who are rationalist vis-a-vis evolution, or Chazal's knowledge of science, but whose views on yeridas hadoros mean that they cannot be considered as full-blooded rationalists. (Of course, my own views on certain topics would probably also disqualify me from being considered a full-blooded rationalist by others.)

56 comments:

  1. Rabbi Natan,

    I disagree with you. There are rational-natural models for yeridat ha'dotors. One is Rabbi Dr. Michael Avraham's model.
    Because revelation happened in the past, previous generations have a closer and much more intuitional and direct(synthetic) encounter with its content. Newer generations base their understanding on the previous ones understanding, and it is necessarily more analytic and therefore lacking. It's like a father describing a picture to his son. The son may recite the description, but he could never get a deep appreciation of it as his father did.

    A side note regarding this blog's name. Since you would agree that there is no strict proof for for the existence of God, I think it should be called "Rational Judaism" and not rationalist. Rationalist means accepting as true only that which was meticulously proven or can be comprehended with our senses - it is basically a deductive and reductionist approach.
    Rational means also giving credit to intuition, and accepting induction as valid argument.

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  2. Eliyahu, what you say is fine, but that's not the way most people understand the term yeridas hadoros.

    Regarding the blog's name - please see the link on the side for the post where I explain how I am using the term. It's not the dictionary definition of rationalist, but it's one that is used by many people, and I can't find a better term.

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  3. I have heard many people define yeridas hadoros along the lines of what Elyahu says.

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  4. DES, knowing you, you probably move in very refined circles! Certainly in my part of the world, most people believe that the ancients were more intelligent. In the comments on the previous thread, even a YU talmid apparently believes that.

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  5. As far as those of us who strive to be rational, I think we don't consider it so much of an issue of intelligence per se, but rather an apt illustration of the notion of "garbage in, garbage out." The smartest person in the world will reach wrong conclusions when given wrong data with which to hypothesize. The "science" of their era was far too primitive for them to reach accurate conclusions.

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  6. Talking about Yeridos Hadoros, I cam across a fascinating article in LiveScience concerning this topic...

    "Shrinking brains

    Comprehensive scans of the human genome reveal that hundreds of our genes show evidence of changes during the past 10,000 years of human evolution.

    "We know the brain has been evolving in human populations quite recently," said paleoanthropologist John Hawks at the University of Wisconsin at Madison.

    Surprisingly, based on skull measurements, the human brain appears to have been shrinking over the last 5,000 or so years.

    "When it comes to recent evolutionary changes, we currently maybe have the least specific details with regard the brain, but we do know from archaeological data that pretty much everywhere we can measure — Europe, China, South Africa, Australia — that brains have shrunk about 150 cubic centimeters, off a mean of about 1,350. That's roughly 10 percent," Hawks said.

    "As to why is it shrinking, perhaps in big societies, as opposed to hunter-gatherer lifestyles, we can rely on other people for more things, can specialize our behavior to a greater extent, and maybe not need our brains as much," he added. "

    http://www.livescience.com/history/091113-origins-evolving.html

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  7. Brain size has little to do with intelligence. (Incidentally, my head is enormous; for the twenty years that I wore a black hat, it was almost impossible to find one to fit!)

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  8. I have never seen Yeridas Hadoros as specific to "Intelligence" (whatever that means). Usually it means greater "Gadlus" (whatever that means!).

    Also, since you hold the Avos were special people, and the Neviim had Nevuah, you also believe in a form of Yeridas Hadoros.

    > rationalism mandates that claims require evidence proportionate to the degree that they are far-fetched.

    Thats the definition of Skepticism, or similar. Medieval Rationalism is something else.

    Also, as you note, you cam't be "full blooded rationalist" and also Orthodox. Maybe you should rename your blog "Partially Rationalist Judaism", or to be completely precise: "Rationalist as long as it doesn't intefere with any of the ikkarim Judaism".

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  9. Two points:

    1) Rabbi Dr. Norman Lamm has a discussion on yeridos hadoros in his book "Torah Umada." I don't remember if he denies the concept totally, but I remember it was a fairly interesting portion of the book. You might want to take a look.

    2) Re: brain size, there's some politically incorrect research out there that does connect IQ to brain or skull size (I don't remember which).

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  10. It seems to me that while past peopel may not have been more "smart" the lifestyle of a scholar back then was vastly different. There were no cell phones, interenet, tv, fast paced life tjhat we have today. Peopel could sit and contimlplate an idea for much longer than we can today. Also, back then many peopel ahd vast knoledge in thier memory due to lack of manuscripts and printing presses, many peopel had to memorize much more then we do today, exercising thier brains better.

    But besides all of that, the reshonim and chazal simply had way more access to (jewish) information than we do. They had access to manuscripts and traditions since lost, and many more of them had chains of tradition going back to chazal and before.

    Add to that the idea of Hashem becoming more and more hidden, and we must conclude there is a lowering of generations.

    That said, we do have much more knowledge of the Creation then they did. Thus, I think there is room for argument when it comes to sceince, but when it comes to tradition, we are very weak indeed.

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  11. I had a conversation this past Shabbos with a yeshivish person about yeridos hadoros. His arguments in favor were 1) that each time torah is taught, the student never understands it as well as the teacher, and 2) that he knows his rebbi is so much smarter/greater than he is, and his rebbi said that HIS rebbi was even greater…

    I think the first argument is wrong because we don’t see this in any other type of study. There is no reason that learning should be any different than any other knowledge in terms of how it is acquired.

    The second argument is wrong because his rebbi is several decades older than him, and so is “greater” because he has more experience/accumulated knowledge. The rebbi’s perception of his own rebbi is filtered through the memories he has from when he was a young man, when he was not yet as proficient as he is today. I remember how when I was a little kid the snow used to come up to my knees. Either snow storms were much bigger back then, or I’ve gotten taller since I was three. It seems that those who hold of yeridos hadoros think the storms were bigger.

    As for intelligence, look up the Flyn Effect. Performance on standardized IQ tests gets better and better as time goes by, so much so that the tests have to be renormed every few years to keep a score of 100 as average. It seems that we are, on average, getting smarter.

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  12. Interestingly, a newly released study concluded that the human brain continues to evolve and in fact "appears to have been shrinking over the last 5,000 or so years." Perhaps this gives a pischon peh to even the most dedicated rationalist to accept the possibility that our ancestors of a few thousand years ago may in fact have been smarter that we are today.

    See here: http://www.livescience.com/history/091113-origins-evolving.html

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  13. I have never seen Yeridas Hadoros as specific to "Intelligence" (whatever that means). Usually it means greater "Gadlus" (whatever that means!).

    I can assure you that the average charedi holds that it applies to intelligence too. Furthermore, this has definitely been the dominant understanding of yeridas hadoros over the centuries.

    Also, since you hold the Avos were special people, and the Neviim had Nevuah, you also believe in a form of Yeridas Hadoros.

    Not necessarily, for lots of reasons, including that three people do not constitute a general trend.

    Thats the definition of Skepticism, or similar. Medieval Rationalism is something else.

    I'm using the definition that I've been using on this site since its inception. See the link on the side for a definition. I first saw this definition from R. Dr. David Berger.

    Also, as you note, you cam't be "full blooded rationalist" and also Orthodox.

    I didn't say that. It depends how you define Orthodox. But that would take us way off track...

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  14. Re: brain size, there's some politically incorrect research out there that does connect IQ to brain or skull size (I don't remember which).

    Wow, I guess whales must be the smartest creatures on the planet!

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  15. It seems to me that while past peopel may not have been more "smart" the lifestyle of a scholar back then was vastly different. There were no cell phones, interenet, tv, fast paced life tjhat we have today. Peopel could sit and contimlplate an idea for much longer than we can today.

    This is a viable explanation for people being more focused etc. in the era before technology and modern lifestyles. There wouldn't be any difference between Chazal, Rishonim and early-mid Acharonim in this regard.

    Also, back then many peopel ahd vast knoledge in thier memory due to lack of manuscripts and printing presses, many peopel had to memorize much more then we do today, exercising thier brains better.

    Perhaps. Again, this makes it standard until the printing press.

    But besides all of that, the reshonim and chazal simply had way more access to (jewish) information than we do. They had access to manuscripts and traditions since lost, and many more of them had chains of tradition going back to chazal and before.

    Here I disagree. We have access to way more Jewish information than them! Before the printing press and before easy transportation, it was very hard to get access to even basic texts such as all the parts of Shas.

    Add to that the idea of Hashem becoming more and more hidden, and we must conclude there is a lowering of generations.

    What idea is that?

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  16. The second argument is wrong because his rebbi is several decades older than him, and so is “greater” because he has more experience/accumulated knowledge. The rebbi’s perception of his own rebbi is filtered through the memories he has from when he was a young man, when he was not yet as proficient as he is today. I remember how when I was a little kid the snow used to come up to my knees. Either snow storms were much bigger back then, or I’ve gotten taller since I was three. It seems that those who hold of yeridos hadoros think the storms were bigger.

    G*3, superb explanation. It's well known that most people think that it used to snow more than it does, even though this is not the case. There are good reasons why the PERCEPTION of yeridas hadoros held by the rabbi you spoke to, came about.

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  17. Interestingly, a newly released study concluded that the human brain continues to evolve and in fact "appears to have been shrinking over the last 5,000 or so years." Perhaps this gives a pischon peh to even the most dedicated rationalist to accept the possibility that our ancestors of a few thousand years ago may in fact have been smarter that we are today.

    Not much of a pischon peh. Brain size and intelligence are not necessarily linked. There is no other evidence that intelligence has declined - in fact, all other evidence shows that it has stayed the same.

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  18. > Re: brain size, there's some politically incorrect research out there that does connect IQ to brain or skull size (I don't remember which).

    Brain size alone has nothing to do with intelligence. Brain size as compared to the size of the body does. Even more important is the surface area. The more folds and fissures in the brain, the smarter the creature it belongs to probably is.

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  19. By the way, there is a very important point to add. When all there is to learn is Tanach, Chazal, and a few Rishonim, it's much easier to become "knowledgeable in all Torah" than when there is a vast literature from Rishonim and Acharonim to learn, too.

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  20. Rabbi Slifkin,

    There's no reason to make fun. Despite the stigma of Nazi research on Jews' and Aryans' skulls, Charles Murray (a respected and serious social scientist who writes serious books, as opposed to polemics) refers to certain scholars who have done research on this issue.

    And again, despite the stigma of "Nazism," aparently size and shapes of skulls do seem to indicate certain things about human beings.

    I know this is very vague. If you're really interested, I'll get a hold of the Charles Murray book I have in mind and find the names of the professors and studies he refers to.

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  21. Yehudah, I wasn't making fun, I was pointing out that whales have the biggest brains and yet are not the most intelligent animals.

    For sure, I am interested in whatever information you have to offer. I'd love to find out the significance of my very strangely-shaped head! (There's a reason why you never see photos of me in profile; from the side, I look like the alien from the movie Alien!)

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  22. Okay, here it goes. The scientist's name is J. Philippe Rushton and he is a developmental psychologist at the University of Western Ontario (as of 1996). One of his books is "Race, Evolution, and Behavior."

    This is what Charles Murray in his Afterword to his own book, "The Bell Curve," has to say:

    "But the emperical reality, verified by numerous modern studies, including several based on magnetic resonance imaging, is that a significant and substantial relationship does exist betwen brain size and measured intelligence after body size is taken into account and that the races do have different distributions of brain size. Rushton brings this large emperical documentation together."

    Please don't assume, like some liberals do, that Murray is this red-necked racist. If you read anything he has written or watched any interview he has given, you will immediately note that this man is a)very smart, b)a serious scholar who is meticulous in his work and c)very willing to discuss and debate issues in a calm, dispassionate and scientific manner.

    He is one of the greatest social scientists alive today. I believe he received his PhD from MIT but I'm not 100% sure.

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  23. Rabbi Slifkin,

    I strongly urge you to read and make use of Rabbi Dr. Norman Lamm's book on Torah U-Madda, which has a beautiful section on yeridat ha-dorot (as a previous poster mentioned). Along with Dr. Kellner's book and further combined with your own expertise in the history of Hazal's science, you should then have more than enough material for a fantastic blog post giving a unique perspective on the issue, and perhaps enough to publish as a book (or part of a book).

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  24. "Until a few centuries ago, all mankind believed that the ancients were more intelligent than us. That's why it was virtually unthinkable to dispute Aristotle."

    On what basis do you claim that Aristotle's prestige was because of him being older? If so wouldn't Plato's philosophy be considered superior? That sure is a big claim without much supporting evidence.

    "I can assure you that the average charedi holds that it applies to intelligence too. "

    Awfully anecdotal, no? I would tend to think that the issue is more of a ruchnius one than a gashmius one. Just because we are or are not less intelligent doesn't mean we are or are not less perceptive.

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  25. Reb Natan, I think you've posted a false straw man. Yeridas HaDoros is specifically used in the chareidi world, based on what I've heard across the board, in terms of being closer to Har Sinai and being in possession of a mesora that's closer to Har Sinai, meaning less diluted. As such it's a decline in Torah knowledge and accuracy, not in intelligence.

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  26. I can't speak for your experiences, but I was in the charedi world for 20 years, and this is definitely what people meant by it. It's also the understanding of the Chazon Ish. In the last post, even a YU Talmud was arguing for this view.

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  27. My experience is that the population of the yeshiva velt understands yeridas hadoros as refering to holyness (which includes but is not limited to intelligence and knowledge of torah information).

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  28. I thought for sure someone would bring up the "Dwarfs on the Shoulders of Giants" debate that appeared on some Jewish discussion boards a few years ago.
    Hmm, I guess I just did.

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  29. I give a number of different interpretations of Yeridot Hadorot on my blog. In addition to the point raised there, the Ramchal suggests that as we approach the time of the Messiah, the average spiritual level of the Jews will rise but the heights the gedolim reach will fall.

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  30. Mind sharing where the Ramchal writes that? Thanks.

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  31. "The notion of yeridas hadoros is rarely defined, but certainly most people take it mean that Rishonim, and all the more so Chazal, were more intelligent than us."

    Is "intelligent" a catch-all term to include wisdom, knowledge, understanding, analytical reasoning, etc? Does it refer mostly to worldly things, or spiritual things, too. (I'm thinking of the statement, "a maidservant saw at the Yam Suf more...")

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  32. The problem with these kinds of fuzzy concepts is that there isn't necessarily an official definition. Evidently some people have been taught/ figured out on their own, that "yerida" refers solely to an erosion of the purity of the mesorah, caused by distance from Sinai, while others have been taught/ figure out that it means a decrease in intelligence or wisdom or greatness as well. Dov says he's heard the first definition "across the board." Others, such as myself, have not heard this "across the board," so it must be a doctrine specific to the specific people Dov has been exposed to.

    Since the concept is somewhat fuzzy, it is very easy to dismiss anyone's pet definition, as in so many other things.

    The truth is that a case could be made that the increase in quantity to be mastered creates a garbage-in garbage-out phenomenon now, like Ahavah said about earlier times. There isn't going to be a talmid chochom who hasn't mastered Shulchan Aruch and the nosei kelim, but maybe all that is a distraction from mastery of the Talmud.

    As for the question of Plato being older than Aristotle, the issue isn't who is chronologically the first, but the idea that "the ancients" were in possession of better wisdom. The truth is that in whatever era people have found themselves in they've been very impressed by the remnants of antiquity, and rightfully so. The question is what conclusion is to be drawn about it.

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  33. I sort of naturally came to conception of yeridas hadoros as implying a certain lack of feeling, or awareness of, the Divinity found in creation. This, coupled with a marked attenuation of oral transmission of Jewish tradition, feelings, and values, would underlie this phenomenon. Although he probably has his own explanations for the decline of Jewish "feeling," Chaim Soloveitchik in "Rupture and Reconstruction," is, in my opinion, arguably describing a manifestation of yeridas hadoros.

    I distinctly recall sitting in a college class on Jewish ethics, taught by a Lubavitcher rabbi, and hearing him say that he was quite certain that Aristotle was smarter than Einstein, due to his belonging to a much earlier generation. So R' Slifkin's observations may ring true in certain circles.

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  34. Regarding the point about Aristotle, the time period in which it wasn't acceptable to question Aristotle was surprisingly small if it ever really existed. Oreme for example was writing in the mid 1300s and had no problem tearing Aristotle into little tiny pieces (although he generally accepted Aristotle's conclusions). Earlier than that in the Islamic world there was also no problem. So the attitude really seems to have been only true for a brief time among Christians and that's pretty much it.

    Incidentally, regarding intelligence. If one has better nutrition than brain function will improve. This has nothing to do with brain size. So you could even have brain size decreasing in a way that harmed overall intelligence and yet still have intelligence increasing. And it is pretty clear that nutrition has gotten better over time.

    There's also an interesting related effect- the Flynn effect. This is the tendency for IQ levels to go up. However, this is a short term effect from the last sixty years or so and so much too short term to say anything that helpful about history.

    Moreover, there's another problem: Even if one believes that the Amoraim and Taanaim were very smart, much smarter than most people today, it doesn't make their opinions inherently more reliable. Newton was clearly much smarter than I am. But there are still things I know that he doesn't. It doesn't make me smarter. It means that I live in a time that has access to data and ideas that he did not. People do not live in vacuums.

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  35. Also, just a pointer, although not directly on this subject, a lot of Kuhn's "The Copernican Revolution" discusses medieval attitudes towards Aristotle and ancient knowledge in general. It is a very good read and gives a nuanced description of what was happening with attitudes to what beliefs at what times.

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  36. I believe that we have to dig a little bit deeper to look at various aspects Yeridas Hadoros.

    First of all there is a big difference between information, understanding and wisdom. I think most people today would agree we have access for much much more information then ever before. I think that this also applies to the world of Torah and Talmud. We have found and disseminated kitve yad, books, memoirs, manuscripts responsa, etc. that were simply inaccessible for the vast majority of any previous generation; wonderful, we have factoids.

    Now how this information is understood is a whole other layer and I believe that these generations (recent past, present and into the future) are processing it by learning facts, understanding the inter / intra relationships between facts and developing the wisdom regarding what this all means and how it applies to us. Hopefully what we learn and understand may / will develop into wisdom.

    On the other hand let me bring in a mathematical concept from Information theory. A basic axiom in that field is that you cannot transmit more information then was originally present. The game of broken telephone is a wonderful example of this in action; after repeated transmissions you can only have the original information or something less / distorted. From this perspective, we can't help but know less then generations that were closer in time to Sinai.

    So do we have More information, a Different set of information or Less information then past generations. If you say More, then the understanding developed should / can be more complex and thus a deeper (i.e. better) wisdom should eventually develop. If you say Different, then everything that flows from it is different and it can not be termed better or worse. If you say Less then the understanding is impaired and the wisdom can not reach the same level of the past.

    Let me also touch on a non-rational perspective; Emotion. Does Yeridas Hadoros refer to Torah information only, our emotive feelings for Torah or the combination of the two. As a rationalist, you can learn all the facts that exist and understand all the connections between seemingly unrelated bits but so what. What does it mean? What do you do with it?

    I think that without emotion rationalism is a computer, it is strict justice without mercy, it is raising a child without love. I am far from a Chassid but in the last year or two I’ve come to appreciate certain aspects of Chassidism. I wish I had been exposed to it earlier in life; I think it would have made be a better person and a better Jew.

    It has been noted many times that once the decision was made to ‘reduce’ the oral torah to writing, it was still done in an esoteric manner. You still needed someone to explain it to you. I don’t think you can be auto didactic (self taught) in Torah. An interesting shiur regarding emotion was given by R’ Rakeffet (see 1998-02-03 Emotion on the YUTorah web site (especially ~ 1 hour in)) based on the Rav’s lectures and stories.

    As much of a rationalist as I am, I can’t help but wonder at the emergence and evolution of Chassidic concepts in parallel with the Vilna Goan leading to the Brisker Method. A split that intensified and thus perhaps helped preserve the emotive and the analytical aspects of Torah learning prior to the Holocaust.

    Perhaps bringing back together (healing?) that split is the task of these generations.

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  37. >I don’t think you can be auto didactic (self taught) in Torah.

    You say this and then mention the Vilna Gaon in the next paragraph?

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  38. To say that yeridat hadoros is specifically talking about intelligence I think is wrong.

    Certainly, in common conversation or in colloquial talk we will conflate the two, but that is just out of laziness, not philosophy or theology.

    We say they are smarter because they are "closer to the source" or "have a better connection", not because they can solve math problems faster. Infact, I would wager that any charedi would laugh at you if you suggested Yeridas hodoros applied to math! Now they may suggest that the gedolim are better at math, or previous gedolim are amazing in every regard, but if you speak specifically about non-gedolim I think they will agree with Yerdias Hadoros in general, and laugh when you try to apply to math or science.

    The common story/commarison on this topic about people being decadent from monkeys isn't about intelligence it's about humanity.

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  39. I did not take the time to read all the comments posted here, so forgive me if I am just restating what someone has already said (take it on whatever level you want).

    In my mind, the understanding of Yeridas Ha'Doros is that perhaps the potential and individual people do not degenerate, but the world itself is moving further and further away from a purely spiritual existence and toward a more physical and structured existence. Many generations ago we had a direct connection with God and had the ability to tap into to various spiritual practices (prophecy, use of Divine names, etc.) which allowed us to expand out consciousness and understanding beyond the realms which we currently have access to...
    The potential is still there, but we don't have access to all the tools we once did.

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  40. Rabbi Slifkin,

    Who was the prominent YU rosh yeshiva? Can you say?

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  41. Yeridas hadoros can be explained simply as the fact that once an issue is settled we don't want to reopen it. Thus, we don't disagree with a gemara on a halachic issue, even if its conclusions are based on bad science because the issue has been settled.
    However,where the scientific mistake is obvious, the gemara's conclusion can be rejected on the grounds of nishtanu hativim.

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  42. I always understood Yeridas HaDoros to refer to the Spiritual sensitivity of the previous generations not intelligence, or breadth of knowledge in Torah which is dependant on an individuals learning and genetic abilities. However a persons ability to connect with the divine - as in prohecy/ruach hakodesh - is G-d given and that does seem to have decreased - in the entire world, not just Judaism - in the last few thousand years.

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  43. This YU Rosh Yeshiva is prominent? Did he really remark: "Who says there's such a thing as yeridos hadoros?" I fail to believe this. Here: "Rabbi Zeira said in the name of Rava bar Zimna 'If the earlier Sages were the sons of angels, then we are the sons of men; but if the earlier Sages were the sons of men, then we are donkeys - and not the donkeys of Rav Chanina Ben Dosa and Rabbi Pinchas ben Yair but like the other donkeys.'" (Shabbos 112b)

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  44. That Gemara can be interpreted in all kinds of different ways. See Kellner's book for details.

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  45. This maamer is traditionally understood to refer to yeridos hadoros. There may in fact be other interpretations. Kellner - is he a valid source? If so, great. That just means there are other valid interpretations. But the traditional interpretation is still just as valid.

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  46. I don't think that Rav Schachter meant that nobody believes in yeridas hadoros!

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  47. Fine so there are those who understand the gemara differently. Name one authority who would not admit that yeridos hadoros exists. Do the majority of scholars hold that this is *not* pshat in that gemara? I would be surprised if so.

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  48. Who do you define as authority? And who do you define as scholar?

    And why don't you sign your name?

    By the way, Kellner makes a good case for showing that Rambam did not believe in yeridas hadoros.

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  49. Why are you both arguing about "belief" in "yeridas hadoros", define your terms please. Also what does this have to do with belief? Bring historical proofs as to how the generations have changed.

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  50. From http://wordnetweb.princeton.edu unless otherwise noted in [].

    Authority - an expert whose views are taken as definitive [i.e. views are accepted by the masses].

    Scholar - someone who by long study has gained mastery in one or more disciplines.

    Is Kellner both a scholar and authority?

    (I'm watching Winnie the Pooh right now with my Mom, wife, and daughter. So please forgive me for any sarcasm. Oh, it's me - "Craig".)

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  51. It depends which community you are talking about. He is very much respected in the academic community.

    Rav Hershel Schachter is also very much respected.

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  52. At any rate, my point stands.

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  53. "One, which is more the Rishonic aspect of rationalism, is that rationalism maintains that there is a basically constant order of nature over history."

    I thought you might appreciate this latest news:

    For One Tiny Instant, Physicists May Have Broken a Law of Nature

    http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/03/100329214740.htm

    Yes, I did notice you added the word "basically."

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  54. It doesn't really matter how intelligent someone is. I have little doubt that Rambam was much, much cleverer than any of the commentators on this blog, but that doesn't mean we can't argue with him. In the Rambam's own words "kabel haemet mimishehamrah". Accept the truth from whoever says it. Who says it isn't important.
    There's also the dwarf sitting on the head of a giant. He's taller than the giant even though he's much shorter than him. We can learn from our ancestors and move forward with it.

    Eliyahu said:
    "Because revelation happened in the past, previous generations have a closer and much more intuitional and direct(synthetic) encounter with its content. Newer generations base their understanding on the previous ones understanding, and it is necessarily more analytic and therefore lacking. It's like a father describing a picture to his son. The son may recite the description, but he could never get a deep appreciation of it as his father did."

    The Rishonim lived 1500+ years after the end of nevuah. We live 2500 years after the end of nevuah. It seems to me, that using your metaphor, both us and the Rishonim are like sons being described things to us by our fathers. I don't think they had more information than us. If anything we have a lot more info to base our opinions on. (And I don't just mean science. I mean Torah too. eg. the Yerushalmi, not to mention that we can build off of the Rishonim's work).

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  55. <>

    The accuracy and percentage of ancient knowledge which has been transmitted does NOT make us unable to know more than our antecedents.

    Modern scholars have ready access to a much wider selection of ancient knowledge than was available to any specific individual or group amongst the ancients; this is an _increase_ in knowledge.

    Additionally, we can and do take pre-existing information and draw new insights and conclusions from that information. This new information is not information which was transmitted from earlier times, it is an _increase_ in knowledge, and is called 'progress'.

    The more base information one has, the more new information may be derived from it. The more base information one has, the more accurately one may evaluate that information and derive an appreciation of its intrinsic value, or lack thereof.

    Some original information has certainly been lost to the ravages of time. Nevertheless it is a serious error to believe that much of the information extant in ages past was accessible to most scholars of those days. It was not. Information was very expensive, scarce, and often inaccurate. Text was copied, very slowly, by hand. Transport of texts, as with all other items, was slow, and successful delivery uncertain.

    For scholars of those times even the very names and existence of many texts would have been unknown. Of those which were known, many would have been inaccessible due to the scholar being unaware of the physical location of a _spare_ copy, or even of the original. Lack of available funds to purchase costly texts, or to commission the copying of a text, was another serious barrier to their access.

    More recently, mechanical printing of texts massively reduced costs, increased availability and, concomittantly, widened somewhat the knowledge of their source and existence.

    The ability to analyse, deduce and synthesize is significantly greater for those who are better informed. This is clearly much more the situation in modernity than it was in ages past; today we have the ability to access many, many times the amount of source material available to the scholars of the past, to do so far more rapidly, more cheaply and more productively, especially when using tools such as computers, DVD ROM and the Internet. It is a simple matter to learn of texts which we might like to study, and to determine where and how they may be accessed.

    The digital texts which we have today provide a quantum leap in speed, affordability (often free), and accessibility. We have the ability to effortlessly search for words and phrases, even across multiple documents. Comparisons between selected portions of texts are very easy, and can reveal differences, similarities, subtractions and additions, some of which will have evaded all of the ancient scholars.

    It is rationally unavoidable: we can know more, although certainly not all, "then[sic] generations that were closer in time to Sinai".

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  56. My grandmother lost her family in the holocaust.
    My father lived his life surrounded by holocaust survivors.
    I lived with my father.

    I have noticed the difference between my reactions to the holocaust and those of friends who did not have survivors somewhere in the family.

    This gap was incomprehensible to me. To me the horror of it was, in some sense "real". To them it was stories.

    There is a gap between my understanding and my father's understanding, between my father's understanding and my grandmother's understanding. and my children will understand even less.

    ---

    There were the people who experienced nevuah.

    There were the people who experienced those people.

    There were the people who experienced the people who experienced the people.

    And onwards, downwards.

    I cannot tell how much of the gap in instinctive appreciation of what G-d really is between myself and my mother has to do with a gap of life experience, I suspect some rather largish part of it is.

    But I do not think the gap between my awareness of the Holocaust is explained solely by life experience. Firstly, because I have seen people older than myself-- but not /personally/ acquainted with survivors (and I mean even people who specialize in holocaust studies) who lacked the level of sensitivity I'm describing. Secondly because it seems obvious that's not the main source of the difference.


    To have lived with nevuah, versus to only have met once a man who had lived through nevuah, vs having only met once the man who had once met a navi?


    (final thought: i feel, although perhaps i don't have justification for this, that reading through the sources over time also shows a yeridah. obviously such exigencies as the printing press also neatly explain the expanding and expanding length of anything written. but i do feel there is a difference in the level of insight displayed by a prominent rishon vs a prominent acharon vs a prominent writer nowadays...)

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