Friday, September 25, 2009

Happy Fifth Anniversay

Five years ago today, three days before Yom Yippur, I received the infamous phone call from Bnei Brak telling me that I had until the end of the day to retract three of my books and publicly apologize or face scandal and humiliation. There's been a lot of water under the bridge since then! I have learned so much about theology, Jewish history and sociology.

I was looking back at my emails and here's one that I sent to R. Gil Student that day. There are some aspects of it that today are quite amusing!

Hi Gil,


No, I haven’t been put in cherem. But three of my books have! By some rabbanim, mostly in Israel, that I had never even heard of. Apparently this has been brewing for a while. The letters speak of the terrible kefirah in my books, and give an example, that I speak of the world being millions of years old... My Rav told me to tell them that it is absolutely ossur to condemn someone without meeting them and discussing it with them. If they'll show me where I wrote something wrong, of course I'll change it, my website is full of corrections to my books. On the other hand, with regard to things such as the "heresy" of saying that the world is millions of years old, I might be able to show them some sources that might change their mind (Rav Aryeh Carmell was making efforts to phone them). But 3 of them refused to meet with me (actually one initially agreed but then later mysteriously changed his mind), and the fourth is so far unreachable by phone. One of the letters stated that the rabbanim who gave haskamos to the books have retracted them. So I called them all up to check, and it was absolutely not true! None of them had retracted their haskamos, nor will they do so! I couldn't believe what a lie they wrote. I told them and they said they would take that line out. It might have been better left in, to later expose them.

I'm told that there are some really driven kana'im behind this, apparently the same team that went after Making of A Godol. Most rabbanim have been telling me to pretty much ignore it and just do some limited damage control. I discussed it with R' Shmuel Kamenetzky and he said to ignore it, but that a letter from R' Wolbe might help. So I contacted a close talmid of Rav Wolbe, only to be told that Rav Wolbe has been senile for a while and is now being manipulated.... what a sad world.

Anyway, I would really appreciate it if you didn't blog this. (a), I don't really want all the publicity yet. (b), it makes the charedi world look extremely foolish, or evil, - again! If at some stage you do decide to blog it, I would appreciate it if you would discuss the text with me first. All my rebbe'im said that it should be allowed to just blow over.

Kol tuv,

PS Please keep this email in strict confidence, ok?

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Ask the Rationalist Rabbi

When my reputation as the "Zoo Rabbi" spread, I began to receive hundreds of questions relating to animals. Now that I have a reputation as the "Rationalist Rabbi", I'm receiving new types of questions:

Dear Rabbi Slifkin: G’Mar Chasimah Tova.
I greatly enjoy your books as well as your blogs. I was wondering if you ever heard of a segulah for a pregnant women to wear a ruby (someone tells me it is a Rabbeinu B’chaya on parshas tezaveh) and if so if there are any rationalists who object to it (or any other similar segulah). My wife wants to wear a ruby necklace and I am objecting to it.

Here is the response that I sent:

There is discussion in the Shulchan Aruch etc. about a gemstone that is a segulah for a healthy pregnancy, and Rabbeinu Bachya mentions it too (although I think he talks about eating it, not wearing it). From a rationalist perspective, this is extremely unlikely to be physiologically helpful, and some might even be opposed to it as being superstitious. On the other hand, never underestimate the power of placebo, and of making your wife happy; there may to be more to lose than to gain by objecting to it.
Check out this post and the comments to it:
Best wishes,
Natan Slifkin

Monday, September 21, 2009

The Limits of Academic Methodology: Halachah

Previously, I discussed the advantages of academic methodology in ascertaining historical realities. In this post, I want to focus on one limitation (there are others) of academic methodology. It is my belief that, in most cases, academic methodology should not be relevant to halachah.

In my book Sacred Monsters, I explained why according to some opinions, even though based on the academic/ rationalist approach we see that Chazal were mistaken in believing that lice spontaneously generate, this should not affect the halachah that it is permissible to kill them on Shabbos. I discussed the case of Tanur Shel Achnai and showed that the Torah has its own protocols which can sometimes diverge from objective reality.

There is a much more common case, which ironically was brought up in the comments to the previous post by someone opposing my viewpoint. I am referring to the prohibition of bishul, cooking, on Shabbos.

It is very clear that from a scientific perspective, whether or not a food becomes cooked depends on factors such as the temperature, the duration for which that temperature is maintained, the specific heat capacity of the food, and so on. Yet the halachos of bishul are based on concepts such as kli rishon, kli sheni etc. To my mind it is obvious that there is no need to change the halachic parameters of bishul, and I don't believe that anyone would ever suggest otherwise. Aside from the fact that the parameters of kli rishon/ sheni have been canonized, they make for a much more useful application of the melachah than temperature and specific heat capacity. The physical reality is used as a rough basis for the halachic concept, but the halachic concept then takes on its own reality which does not change by virture of it not being precisely matched by the physical reality.

In the same way that scientific realities generally do not affect canonized halachah, the discovery of new or more correct manuscripts of ancient halachic authorities should also not affect it. The Chazon Ish's views on this matter are well known; there is a fascinating article in an old issue of Tradition (I think) which discusses it, and notes that if an ancient sefer Torah - even that of Moshe Rabbeinu - were discovered, we would not change our contemporary sifrei Torah to match it! Similarly R. Shlomo Zalman Auerbach was opposed to using the botanical findings of Prof. Yehudah Feliks with regard to changing certain halachos of Pesach, even though he was apparently not opposed to the scientific method per se.

I am sure that some readers will be shocked by this; I recommend that you read (or re-read) the final chapter in Sacred Monsters to appreciate this point of view. (If anyone can provide the precise reference for the Tradition article, I would appreciate it.)

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Three Types of Rationalists

(Re-posted - I just discovered that Blogger posted it according to the date of when I started writing the post, not when I finished.)

There are three types of rationalists.

There are medieval rationalists.
There are 21st century rationalists.
And there are medieval rationalists living in the 21st century.

There are plenty of ideas and arguments that seemed perfectly rational in the twelfth century, but which have since been shown fallacious.

So, for example: Rambam believed that only a fool would deny spontaneous generation. That was a reflection of the scientific beliefs of his era, which a rationalist today should not accept. Many rationalist Rishonim believed that God's existence can be logically proven. But as far as I understand, in the world of philosophy, that is no longer true; at best, it can be argued to be rational to accept God's existence. Rambam believed that being a good Jew and receiving a portion in the next world is contingent on intellectual perfection, and therefore simple-minded people, children, and those making fundamental hashkafic errors simply cannot receive a portion in the next world. But this was a result of his particular hybridization of Greek philosophy with Judaism.

I have noticed a distinct group of people who consider themselves loyal followers of the Rambam, but they are medieval rationalists living in the 21st century. And as Rambam says, "A man should never cast his reason behind him, for the eyes are set in the front, not behind." Rambam did not believe Chazal to be infallible, and he would certainly not have rated himself that way, either. A rationalist today should follow Rambam's underlying guiding principles, not necessarily his specific application of them.

Monday, September 14, 2009

The Leiman Library

I once spent a memorable Shabbos at the home of Rabbi Dr. Shnayer Leiman. His library is legendary, and some of the treasures of the collection are now featured on the website An especially valuable resource on this website is a collection of over a hundred articles by Rabbi Dr. Leiman that can be freely downloaded, including such treats as The Adventure of the Maharal of Prague in London. It's a real treasure trove!

(Thanks to S. for letting me know.)

Friday, September 11, 2009

Determining What Torah Scholars Mean

Over at Machzikei HaDas, Yirmiahu quotes from a post that I wrote a while back, as follows:
Academic study analyzes the words of Torah scholars over the ages with the aid of examining the context in which they were written. What societal, cultural, intellectual, political factors could have been involved, if any?...If we are talking about reaching historical truth, then I consider the academic method far superior.
In case people are not following the link, I want to quote in full the paragraph from which the last phrase was quoted:
Note that I am not passing a value judgment on these different approaches. If we are talking about reaching historical truth, then I consider the academic method far superior. But I am not judging which approach is more valuable from other perspectives, such as for the mitzvah of Talmud Torah or for reaching psak. There is a fascinating exchange in the current issue of Hakirah on topic of whether calling a form of study non-historical means that it lacks value.

Yirmiahu finds fault with my position that the academic method is superior for reaching historical truth. He first claims that
the concept that learning Torah l'shma makes a scholar 'great and exalts him above all things' (Avos 6:1, from the Artscroll Siddur)" is exchanged for a view in which their views and opinions can be evaluated with the same suppositions we would use for any other shmo.
I don't know what that Mishnah in Avos has to do with anything. Is Yirmiyah taking it to mean that a Torah scholar becomes immune from the societal, cultural, intellectual, and political influences of his time and place? That's quite an inference! The Hebrew phrase is וּמְגַדַּלְתּוֹ וּמְרוֹמַמְתּוֹ עַל כָּל הַמַּעֲשִׂים - I don't think that this means anything of the sort.

Yirmiahu then claims that
The entire endeavor to "discover" a controversial position in the teachings of a Torah scholar doesn't strike me as reflecting awe of our Sage either.
It's not an attempt to make them controversial, it's an attempt to find out what they really meant. I think that respecting people means trying to ascertain what they really meant, not what would make them look good according to current standards. I know that this is how I would want to be respected! Reinterpreting someone's position to make it acceptable by today's norms does not reflect awe of them in the least; on the contrary, it reflects lack of awe. But I do agree that it is better for enhancing religious stability and inspiration amongst the masses (this is an important point which I will have to write about more at length on another occasion).

Yirmiahu then quotes Rambam:
The Rambam writes "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 3:14, Freidlander translation).
This is quite a remarkable incident of quoting something out of context. Let's look at the paragraph in its entirety:
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 possessed 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.
Let's see. Rambam could have claimed that Chazal were always speaking about the pnimiyus, or some other such contrivance, in order to have their words not be contradicted by science. Instead, he said that they sometimes took positions based on the faulty scientific beliefs of their era. So Rambam is doing exactly the opposite of what Yirmiahu is (selectively) quoting him for!

Yirmiahu continues as follows:
While I don't suspect that the Rambam would demand that only a necessary inference should establish that an erroneous position was held, to cull dispersed writings to reveal an non-obvious error (while conceding that theoretically one's entire position could crash down like house of cards by the revelation of a single statement to the contrary) is not in anyway consistent with the Rambam's maxim.
Obviously he is talking about my Rashi article. First of all, I find it amusing that he sees it as a weakness that I conceded that a single clear statement by Rashi against corporeality would destroy my analysis. Actually, I see it as a strength - I am making a clear test for falsifiability. Isn't one of the common creationist charges against evolution that it is non-falsifiable? (Which happens not to be true.)

But Yirmiahu's main point here is that it is disrespectful to Rashi to show him to be a corporealist. Well, either Rashi was or was not a corporealist. If he was not, then I am simply wrong. If he was, then I don't see it as disrespectful to show what a Rishon actually held, for the reasons explained above. I do consider it disrespectful to distort what they held, or to try and cover it up. And how is this inconsistent with Rambam's maxim? Rambam was clearly talking about not negating the significance of true statements; but he most certainly held that Torah scholars absorb the beliefs of their era, even when this has ramifications on Torah beliefs!

But why discuss Rashi's view on this? What is to be gained? This is something that will be made clear in my follow-up article, "They Can Say It, We Cannot," due to appear in the next issue of Hakirah. Aside from understanding pshat in Rashi, I think that discovering that prominent Rishonim held views that are considered heretical today forces us to carefully analyze what the entire notion of heresy means - and I think that there are some interesting and unexpected conclusions. (And please don't try to predict my views, you are almost certainly incorrect!)

Yirmiahu then quotes from Rav Hirsch about how “the result of secular research and study will not always coincide with the truths of Judaism, for the simple reason that they do not proceed from the axiomatic premises of Jewish truth.” Of course, Rav Hirsch also held that Chazal accepted the false scientific beliefs of their era, and he also condemned Rambam for being influenced by Greek philosophy - thereby showing that he did not follow Yirmiahu's policy.

Yirmiahu then states:
To apply the principles generally utilized in the humanities to those we view as atypical in their wisdom and piety is to commit the fallacy of Hasty Generalization (or betray that one does not view them as atypical in wisdom and piety)
Now, it is of course true that one should be careful about generalizations. It is certainly not impossible for a person to rise above the societal, cultural, intellectual, and political influences of his time and place, and nor did I ever claim otherwise, contrary to how some might like to falsely portray me. However, these are certainly factors that should be taken into account. Yirmiahu claims that these factors are not relevant, or are significantly less relevant, with Torah scholars, who are "atypical in their wisdom and piety." I believe that they were atypical in their piety, but I'm not sure what piety has to do with this topic. And with regards to wisdom - what does this mean? Intelligence (and if so, which kind of intelligence)? Torah knowledge? Torah values?

This will probably be one of those deep and irreconcilable differences between rationalists and mystics.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

The Torah-Science Controversy

I've added a new link to the "Valuable Resources" bar at the right - the Torah-Science Controversy. I am sure that most of the readers of this blog have visited this page, but if by any chance you haven't, check it out! And even if you have, you might want to make sure that there is nothing important that you missed. The various documents there really shed light on the differences between the rationalist and non-rationalist schools of thought.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Volunteer Wanted

I'm looking for someone to translate my critique of R. Schmeltzer's book into Hebrew. Any volunteers? Please email me at

Monday, September 7, 2009

Maharal: Creative Genius or Unoriginal Redactor?

Today is the 400th yahrzheit of Rabbi Yehudah Loew, the Maharal of Prague. In a special feature on the Maharal in Jewish Action, Rabbi Matis Greenblatt writes as follows:

Perhaps Maharal's greatest contribution was his innovative approach to interpreting the Aggadic portion of the Talmud...

Maharal's innovative approach was not merely in the way that he interpreted Aggadah - as metaphysics rather than metaphor - but also in his applying this approach to passages in the Talmud that were not formerly interpreted as Aggadah. A striking example is the dispute on Pesachim 94b, which before Maharal was never interpreted as anything other than a dispute about astronomy.

In sharp contrast to this view of Maharal is the view of Maharal that emerges from the teachings of another creative genius: Rav Moshe Shapiro, as reflected in Chaim B'Emunasam. According to this view, Maharal's approach was not innovative in the least. Rather, the Rishonim always interpreted Chazal this way and only this way. Maharal was merely the first one to put it into writing.

(If you haven't yet read Rabbi Chaim Eisen's superb essay on another innovation of Maharal - his elevating Aggada to dogma - as well as how Maharal did not become popular until recently, read it now!)

Saturday, September 5, 2009

The Complete Review of Sefer Chaim Be’Emunasom

I have compiled the previous dozen or so posts, with some minor revisions, into a single document which you can download in PDF format here. Please circulate it as widely as possible. If you have a way of delivering it to the rabbonim who wrote approbations for the book, that would be helpful, and especially if you can encourage them to actually read it. Anyone concerned for the rationalist legacy, or anyone concerned with the honor of the Rishonim and Acharonim whose opinions have been rewritten by R. Schmeltzer, should strive to circulate this critique and to protest this book.

Thursday, September 3, 2009


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

Part 14: Summary

Historically, there have been several approaches to various statements of Chazal that are apparently scientifically incorrect. Some have asserted that such statements are all nevertheless literally, physically true (aside from there being deeper layers of meaning). Some have interpreted them allegorically. Many have stated that they are indeed simply incorrect. And Maharal innovated the approach that such statements are literally true, but at a metaphysical level. R. Schmeltzer makes the staggering assertion that the last approach is the only legitimate approach and is historically the only one to have existed!

The fundamental message of Chaim B’Emunasam, repeated again and again and again, is that it is obligatory to accept the truth of all the words of Chazal, whether in halachah, aggadah or science, and that this is historically the only legitimate mesorah. Yet while Chaim B’Emunasam includes countless citations from Maharal and Ramchal, there are virtually no citations from the Geonim and few from the Rishonim. Critical sources from prominent authorities that refute R. Schmeltzer’s perspective are either ignored or selectively quoted in such a way as to pervert their meaning. The implicit bizayon towards many of the most prominent Rishonim and Acharonim, categorizing their approach as being heretical, is shockingly offensive.

In the introduction, on p. 17, R. Schmeltzer claims that “the book is nothing other than a compilation of sources which represent the mesorah.” This is false on two counts. First is that he adds in plenty of his own material and editorial comments on the sources that he brings. Second, and more egregiously, is that he is not providing quotes which represent the mesorah, but rather engaging in selective quoting, suppression, distortion, and manipulation of the numerous sources which do not fit with his view.

If the mesorah is defined as the acceptable view regarding these issues in the Charedi yeshivah world today, then it is perhaps correct to state that this book is a presentation of the mesorah. But if the mesorah is defined as the collective views of the Geonim, Rishonim and Acharonim over the ages – which is how this book claims to present it – then it is not a presentation of the mesorah; it is a gross perversion of it. The fact that this book contains glowing endorsements from several prominent rabbanim, who describe it as presenting a “fundamental principle of faith” from “virtually every possible perspective” and insist that there is no other mesorah, is exceedingly disturbing.

(After Shabbos I will post a PDF with the complete critique.)

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Dealing with Inconvenient Sources

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

Part 13: Dealing with Inconvenient Sources

The introduction to Chapter 60, which is entitled “I shall consider that I did not understand their words,” addresses “a few statements of the Rishonim that initially appear to oppose the mesorah which obligates us to interpret everything literally” (emphasis added). Of course, it is not a mere few statements, but let us see how R. Schmeltzer deals with these inconvenient sources that undermine his entire message.

R. Schmeltzer provides three paths of guidance. He first refers the reader back to the previous chapter, which states that with the kabbalistic revelations of the Arizal and so on, all previous alternative approaches to Torah have been disqualified. He then cites Rav Simcha Zissel that one should consider oneself not to have understood their meaning. As a third course of guidance, he quotes the Chazon Ish that one should not think about such things.

Words do not suffice to fully describe how nonsensical this is. However, I will make some remarks. First of all, there is the extraordinarily offensive assertion that an entire school of thought in the Rishonim, the Golden Age of Sefarad, has been rendered not only obsolete by the kabbalah, but even heretical. Second, this ignores the fact that even subsequent to the spread of kabbalah, there were numerous authorities – and even kabbalists, such as Rabbi Yair Chaim Bacharach, Rabbi Yisrael Friedman of Ruzhin and the Ben Ish Chai – who stated that the Gemara contains scientific errors.

Then, with regard to R. Schmeltzer’s citation of Rav Simcha Zissel that one should consider oneself not to have understood their meaning, it should be pointed out that Rav Simcha Zissel explicitly states that he is speaking about statements that contradict the fundamentals of faith, which he surely did not define in the same way as R. Schmeltzer. With regard to the statements of the Rishonim and Acharonim concerning the scientific errors in the Talmud, they are explicit, unambiguous, and often verbose. They said what they meant and meant what they said. There is no basis for saying that we have misunderstood their meaning.

With regard to the final piece of guidance, that it is better not to think about such things – I fully agree that there are potential dangers involved in these views. But in a work which claims to be a work of Torah scholarship, reflecting the views of Torah scholars throughout the ages, and defining the limits of authentic and legitimate approaches, it is unacceptable to use this as a basis for ignoring or distorting these views.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Peshat and Penimiyus

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

Part 12: Peshat and Penimiyus

The message of Chaim B’Emunasom is that every Jew is obligated to accept that every single word of Chumash, Gemara and Midrash as true. But not only does R. Schmeltzer insist that every word is true; he also repeatedly insists that every word is literally true (כפי פשוטו). Now, even R. Schmeltzer has to admit that this certainly does not appear to be the case. After all, we can see that the sun goes on the other side of the planet at night, not behind the sky. And he is probably not willing to accept the physical factual reality of the astounding creatures described by Rabbah bar bar Chanah, such as a baby goat forty miles in length, or a frog the size of a village that was eaten by a snake which was eaten by a bird, and so on. But R. Schmeltzer gets around this problem by defining literally true to mean “literally true in a metaphysical sense,” i.e. referring to the factual reality of the spiritual roots to our universe that we cannot see with our eyes. (See chapters 62, 72 and 73.)

This was indeed the approach of Maharal and some others who followed in his footsteps. But R. Schmeltzer claims that it is the only authentic approach! This not only means ignoring, dismissing or distorting all the Geonim and Rishonim and Acharonim who stated that certain statements of Chazal are not true at all. It also means distorting the words of those Rishonim and Acharonim who held that all the words of the Torah are true in the literal physical, not metaphysical, sense. It means fundamentally ignoring and/or distorting all the debates that raged in the medieval period between various Rishonim concerning the literalness of various statements in the Aggadah. The ferocious quarrel between Rabbi Shlomo ben Avraham of Montpellier and Rabbeinu Avraham ben HaRambam concerning whether the Leviathan is an actual giant fish or an allegory for spiritual concepts, the sharp words of Rabbi Moshe Abulafiah for Rashi’s literal interpretation of certain Aggadatas, the enormous controversy over Rambam’s allegorization of several parts of Scripture – according to R. Schmeltzer, there were no such debates; every legitimate Torah scholar always held that everything in Torah is literally true but in a metaphysical sense!

Astonishingly, R. Schmeltzer even cites Rambam in these chapters. On p. 340, R. Schmeltzer cites Rambam’s instructions on how one should attribute any difficulties in Aggados to one’s own intellectual shortcomings. However, it is abundantly clear from the sources cited earlier that Rambam did not consider this to apply to Chazal’s statements concerning science, which he freely rejected. On p. 362, R. Schmeltzer quotes Rambam about how he is interpreting the Torah’s description of creation ex nihilo literally. But Rambam certainly interpreted many other parts of the Torah non-literally, which is exactly why he was sharply criticized by Ramban, Abarbanel and many others!

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!


[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.