Wednesday, March 10, 2010

How is your Knowledge of 16th century Rabbinic Anatomy?

I'm still working through the kidney topic, and I am across a lengthy discussion by R. Yehudah Muscato (Italy c.1530- c.1593), an interesting figure who learned from both R. Azariah DeRossi as well as R. Moshe Provencal. Unfortunately I don't entirely understand what he is saying! Here is the link; it begins five lines from the bottom on the right column. In particular, I don't understand what he means exactly with his references to kochos and ruchos . If anyone can translate/ explain it, I would appreciate it!

34 comments:

  1. By ruchos what he could mean is the "four humours"- http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Humorism

    If the blood isn't filtered then you have too much blood and so too with each humor. That's exactly what he explains. There is an organ that filters the body of each humor. Refer to the Wikipedia article. Spleen for the black (bile), Gallbladder for the yellow bile ( he calls it red because it is associated with anger/brazenness-"You have some gall")Kidneys for blood.
    This is why the gemara says Spleen and "Sechok" because the spleen rids the body of black bile which can build up causing sadness and depression, thus the spleen causes happiness by removing that humor. The Kidney which reduces the humor of blood is associated with thoughtfulness and better concentration than someone who has "bad blood." I think this is exactly what he is referring to.

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  2. If you translate the context I could be of more assistance. I once learned about the Kochot and ruchot of the body, but it was many years ago and have forgoten some of the details.

    A Life is certainly correct about what he wrote though. Just can't remember if the kochot or the ruchot were the humours.

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  3. Not intended to prove disprove or take sides, nevertheless the following link on the subject is interesting, and could explain why the kidneys are/were associated with brain function.

    http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/09/090928172355.htm

    All the best,

    Michoel@Chareidio

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  4. No, it doesn't!

    Did you read the article?

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  5. Close enough, in my book:

    "Ruling out the influence of factors like aging and medications, which can affect cognition, the researchers found that poor kidney function, assessed at the beginning of the study, was linked with a more rapid rate of decline in cognition over the next several years – not in visuospatial ability or perceptual speed, but in three specific areas: episodic, semantic and working memory."

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  6. I am not sure what you object to in the article cited by Michoel. At any rate, if one Googles the words "kidney" "brain" "cognition" and "decision" all together, you will find numerous scientific articles that speak of the role of the kidneys in cognition, and the relationship between renal and neurological functions. This is quite sufficient, to my mind, to leave the door open, at least, to speak of a real, scientific basis for the claim that the kelayot have the property of eitzah, and that the psukim are not presenting "faulty science." (An open door is not the same as conclusive proof). I believe that an unqualified disregard of this viewpoint would probably be due to WANTING to find the psukim and Chazal as lacking; the disregard sure wouldn't be "scientific."

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  7. What Chazal say:

    The kidneys advise us on what to do.
    ALL cognitive functions relating to making decisions occur in the heart and kidneys.
    NOTHING relating to this occurs in the brain.
    One kidney advises to do good, one to do evil (this is presumably intended literally, since it is stated immediately next to the statement about the function of the organs).
    When God wants to judge whether we are good or not, He examines the heart and kidneys, not the brain.

    What science says:

    The kidneys filter blood. Cognitive functions such as making decisions occur in the brain.
    A decline in the function of kidneys is also associated with memory loss (nothing to do with making decisions). Furthermore, this is not because the kidneys themselves affect the brain, but rather because diseases and problems that affect kidneys can also affect the brain.
    There is no difference between the function of the right and left kidney.
    A person can survive without kidneys, via dialysis, without being affected in their decision-making process.
    A person can live on one kidney without turning good/evil.
    If you want to assess someone's moral worth, you would check their brain, not their kidneys and heart.

    How on earth can you describe these positions as "close" and as "leaving the door open" for Chazal being correct?!

    And, Tzvi, for you to suggest that I am biased is funny. I have no problem with Chazal being correct- I can name plenty of occasions where they were. But do you really think that you have no bias against Chazal being mistaken?

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  8. "What Chazal say: The kidneys advise us on what to do. ALL cognitive functions relating to making decisions occur in the heart and kidneys. NOTHING relating to this occurs in the brain."

    Your summary of Chazal's position is incorrect. Please see Gemara Yevamot 9a and Menachot 80b, where it is stated, "Anyone who says this (foolish idea) is like someone who does not have a brain in his head." Then see Rabbeinu Bachya on Shemot 25:9, and Tosfot Harosh on Berachot 6a, and Sefer Hayirah, and Derashot ibn Shuib on Parshat Bo, all of whom explain that tefillin is placed on the head because the head contains the brain which is the seat of wisdom. Then see the Iggeret Hakodesh of the Ramban, chapter 2, where he states that knowledge, wisdom, and understanding lie in the brain. Then see Derashot ibn Shuib on Parshat Emor, where he states that the soul resides in 3 places: the brain, the heart, and the kidneys. Then see Rabbeinu Bachya on Bereishit 6:6 who explains that thought comes to the heart through the brain, and he goes on the explain why the p'sukim focus on the heart. It is clear from all of the above that your description of Chazal's view is mistaken.

    "I have no problem with Chazal being correct- I can name plenty of occasions where they were. But do you really think that you have no bias against Chazal being mistaken?"

    How nice that you agree that Chazal *can* be correct. Of course I have a bias toward Chazal being correct! I remember once seeing a comment of the Rambam who, I believe, was a rationalist, and said that if one can attribute a correct notion to a chacham, despite the fact that there are ostensible objections to what the chacham said, then one has an obligation to attribute the correct notion to him. Now here, we have an open door to attribute correct notions to Chazal who DID speak about the brain, the heart, and the kidneys - we have that open door based upon scientific papers (as I mentioned earlier - Google the terms kidney-brain-cognition-decision) and yet you choose to reject the attribution of that correct notion? Why? What about the sources mentioned earlier? What about the Rambam mentioned earlier?

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  9. "One kidney advises to do good, one to do evil (this is presumably intended literally, since it is stated immediately next to the statement about the function of the organs).
    When God wants to judge whether we are good or not, He examines the heart and kidneys, not the brain."

    With All do respect Rabbi Slifkin, I do not know how you can take this position.

    Chazal also say that one does not get their Yetzer Tov until they turn 13. Do you mean to imply that Rabbis of the Talmud believed that you grow a second kidney only after turning 13 years old?

    Secondly, do the rabbis give any functionality to the brain at all? Why don't you argue that the Rabbis did not even know that the brain existed? That seems to be where your arguments point to, yet for some reason you not make that conclusion. Why not?

    Thirdly. This may or may not be the forum to discuss the intricacies of the decision making process, but we seem to be getting new books every month suggesting that the rational side of our brains are not the real decision makers. Rather, it is our emotions and gut reactions that truly inform our decision making process, and our rational brains merely filter the input which goes into the emotional process to get a result.


    Lastly, Could the brain be said to be the decision process of our body? Or is our brain the everything process? Does our nose smell and our ears listen? No the reality is our brain smells and our brain sees and our brain feels and our brain listens and our brain pushes our hands and our brain pushes our feet. Yet, without a nose or ears or eyes or hands, the smells and sights and feelings in our brain become "not real". So which one is the "primary"? Meaning, if you remove the part of the brain that is used for sight, but have eyes, you can not see. If you remove the eyes but keep the brain, you can see dreams, but not reality. So which one is primary?

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  10. Tzvi, my summary of Chazal's position is absolutely correct. I said that Chazal attribute all cognitive functions relating to making decisions to the heart and kidneys. The quote about ""Anyone who says this (foolish idea) is like someone who does not have a brain in his head" is therefore irrelevant.

    All your citations from the Rishonim are irrelevant for the same reason, aside from the fact that the Rishonim are not Chazal (and therefore were working with a relatively modern understanding of physiology)!

    With regard to your claim that we have an "open door" to understand as Chazal correct here, and your perplexity as to why I don't take it, the reason is simple - because I think there is no open door! The scientific references have no bearing on what Chazal are saying. Unfortunately, due to your self-confessed bias, you cannot bring yourself to acknowledge that.

    Incidentally, Rambam does not say what you think he says. He was certainly willing to declare Chazal scientifically mistaken, even in cases where others performed intellectual gymnastics like yours to avoid this conclusion.

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  11. With All do respect Rabbi Slifkin, I do not know how you can take this position.

    It's not me, it's the pesukim and maamarei Chazal. Have you learned them?

    Chazal also say that one does not get their Yetzer Tov until they turn 13. Do you mean to imply that Rabbis of the Talmud believed that you grow a second kidney only after turning 13 years old?

    Come on! Do you really think that this is an objection? There's any number of possible answers. E.g. that it only starts functioning then.

    Secondly, do the rabbis give any functionality to the brain at all?

    Yes, some.

    Why don't you argue that the Rabbis did not even know that the brain existed? That seems to be where your arguments point to, yet for some reason you not make that conclusion. Why not?

    See above. Incidentally, do you know what Aristotle thought that the brain does?

    Thirdly. This may or may not be the forum to discuss the intricacies of the decision making process, but we seem to be getting new books every month suggesting that the rational side of our brains are not the real decision makers. Rather, it is our emotions and gut reactions that truly inform our decision making process, and our rational brains merely filter the input which goes into the emotional process to get a result.

    Actually there are no new scientific books at all suggesting that our hearts and digestive organs truly inform our decision making process. What they say is that we are less rational than people assume, and more dictated by our emotions - which are also housed in the brain.

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  12. Actually, Tzvi, given what you said, there's really no point discussing it. After all, if you are determined to interpret Chazal as being correct, and you admit that you will take this approach even if it is not objectively accurate and intellectually honest to do so, then how can we have a rational discussion about it?

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  13. "I said that Chazal attribute all cognitive functions relating to making decisions to the heart and kidneys. The quote about ""Anyone who says this (foolish idea) is like someone who does not have a brain in his head" is therefore irrelevant."

    I don't get it. When the person to whom the gemara refers said his foolish idea, did he not come to a decision about his idea and then express it? What do you think his foolish idea was if not for a decision that he came to? So it MUST have involved his brain according to Chazal.

    "All your citations from the Rishonim are irrelevant for the same reason, aside from the fact that the Rishonim are not Chazal (and therefore were working with a relatively modern understanding of physiology)!"

    So according to you, when the rishonim that I listed said what they did, they were artificially injecting something into the p'shat of the Torah, and not explaining what they thought the p'shat of the Torah truly was? That is, when they all said that tefillin shel rosh is because of the brain, that really wasn't the Torah's true intention at all? - it's just that the rishonim forced it in due to their knowledge of physiology?

    "if you are determined to interpret Chazal as being correct, and you admit that you will take this approach even if it is not objectively accurate and intellectually honest to do so, then how can we have a rational discussion about it?"

    I kind of expected this issue to come up. You criticize people for being biased, you criticize them for thinking that they aren't biased because they really are. It's always lose-lose. Tell me, how do YOU escape this bias issue? I never said that I would take a dishonest approach - I said that I follow the Rambam's dictum of attributing truth to the chacham when one *can*. Science has left an open door here for the "when one can" as it applies to the kidneys, etc. You seem bent on showing that Chazal were wrong on this issue - period. I just don't understand that.

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  14. When the person to whom the gemara refers said his foolish idea, did he not come to a decision about his idea and then express it? What do you think his foolish idea was if not for a decision that he came to?

    1. The kidneys are involved in moral decisions, not intellectual decisions.

    2. It is also entirely possible, even likely, that Chazal differed regarding the role of the brain. Note that the Midrash says that Hashem does not check ANY organ other than the heart or kidneys when judging someone.

    So according to you, when the rishonim that I listed said what they did, they were artificially injecting something into the p'shat of the Torah, and not explaining what they thought the p'shat of the Torah truly was?

    Of course they were explaining what they thought the p'shat of the Torah truly was! But this in turn was influenced by their own worldview. You can't quote Rishonim to prove what Chazal held about physiology.

    You criticize people for being biased

    No I do not. Not ever. I just say that it's futile to argue with people who have a severe bias.

    you criticize them for thinking that they aren't biased because they really are.

    Well, in this case you admitted that you are!

    It's always lose-lose.

    That tends to be the case when debating issues of great religious significance with people who are passionately religious. It wouldn't happen if, say, a secular Jew or non-Jew was arguing that Chazal were correct about the kidneys. But I haven't come across any who argue that. Strange, no?

    Tell me, how do YOU escape this bias issue?

    I don't! I have biases just like everyone else. But in this topic, I don't think I have biases that force my conclusion.

    I never said that I would take a dishonest approach - I said that I follow the Rambam's dictum of attributing truth to the chacham when one *can*.

    But how do you evaluate if this is really a case when one *can*? You admit that you will discount objections, and that your goal is for Chazal to be correct. So your evaluation that this is a case where one *can* is inherently subject to bias.

    Science has left an open door here for the "when one can" as it applies to the kidneys, etc.

    Again, I disagree, for the reasons stated above. There is no correlation between what the Gemara says and what science says. Science does not attribute any role to the kidneys in moral decision making. The Gemara does not attribute any role to the brain in this. There isn't even a partial overlap (which would still not be enough to reconcile Chazal with science).

    You seem bent on showing that Chazal were wrong on this issue - period. I just don't understand that.

    I analyzed the issue and came to my conclusion. If someone has evidence or good reasons why I am wrong, I am open to them. But I do not believe that you are offering anything remotely reasonable. Hence I am arguing with you.

    With regard to your comment that I didn't post - please see the post of several days/weeks ago when I explained why there is sometimes a delay in posting comments, and why they are sometimes not posted at all. Incidentally, I am breaking my own rules by posting your comments, and I'm pretty sure it reflects a weakness on my part. Must be my left kidney!

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  15. Thank you for posting my previous comment. I will keep this comment brief and to the point.

    I do not understand your response #1 in your last comment. You had made the claim that Chazal NEVER speak of the brain in terms of cognition. I cited various sources, two from gemarot, that explicitly mention the brain with regard to cognitive function; this disproves your claim. You then responded (#1) about the kidneys. What has this to do with the issue at hand?

    In your #2 answer you mention again that the p'sukim refer to God checking only the kidneys and heart, not the brain. But in my previous comment I noted that Rabbeinu Bachya explicitly deals with this issue.

    "You can't quote Rishonim to prove what Chazal held about physiology."

    But if the rishonim were explaining Chazal, then why can't one quote rishonim to discuss what Chazal held (unless you think that the rishonim were not EXPLAINING Chazal, but reading into Chazal something that is not really there)?

    "It wouldn't happen if, say, a secular Jew or non-Jew was arguing that Chazal were correct about the kidneys. But I haven't come across any who argue that. Strange, no?"

    See the article entitled "Kidney Function and Cognitive Impairment in US Adults" (written by non-Jews) - you can get it via Google. If renal impairment hinders cognition, and cognition is critical in moral decision making (is that something that you would dispute?) then renal impairment hinders moral decision making. If this is true, then modern science is in accord with the biblical and masoretic view. Yet you insist that it is not. Why?

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  16. The brain is a central agency for EVERYTHING the human body does. You can not say that the brain is used for one thing over the other, except for processing the information that it gets from other parts of the body.

    Serotonin for example is mostly found in the gut. It is also the prime neurotransmitter used to declare something "friend" or "foe", it is also the main chemical used to treat depression. Depression is often described as an inability to make decisions and being paralyzed by the decision making process. Giving someone a pill of seretonin, which is in the gut allows one to finally make decisions. While these things eventually make their way to the brain to be sorted out with the other factors, they come originally from the gut, and they have found that changing the levels in the gut will affect your brain. So yes, there are books coming out that suggest that your brain alone is not making all the decisions, and this is why you might get a pain in your gut when you are nervous. The gut it telling you and your brain to hold off.

    I can not fathom why you do not see this as an opening, for Chazal being correct.

    Rabbi Slifkin, I mean no disrespect, but it appears to me that your bias towards thinking yourself correct has made you unable to read new ideas that people are suggesting, or using those new ideas to inform your own.

    For a brief summary of all the amazing things serotonin does and is used for, here is the wiki link.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Serotonin

    Here are some selected quotes:

    "The reason for this is that social experience alters the proportion between different serotonin receptors (5-HT receptors) that have opposing effects on the fight-or-flight response. "

    "Serotonin is eventually metabolized to 5-HIAA by the liver, and excreted by the kidneys."

    "5-Hydroxyindoleacetic acid (5-HIAA) is the main metabolite of serotonin in the human body. In chemical analysis of urine samples, 5-HIAA is used to determine the body's levels of serotonin."

    Meaning, to CHECK the levels of serotonin in a person, we check whats coming out of the kidneys. Sounds a bit like what chazal says.

    If one were to follow your advise on this issue, and just believe that chazal were wrong, and therefore only the brain is used in these matters, they would end up with unscientific ideas about how your body makes instinctual decisions.

    They might also miss out in the language that chazal uses for decisions and moral choices as being something which comes from your inner-will and desires. Or in modern language, we might call these our sub-conscious instincts. Proper levels of 5-HIAA is important for a person to make good decisions in life.

    It's not the only factor, but it is certainly, an important one.

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  17. You had made the claim that Chazal NEVER speak of the brain in terms of cognition.

    If I said that, then I was wrong, but I think that I specified that I was referring to moral decisions.

    You seem to be ignoring the Midrash which says that when Hashem wants to judge a person, the ONLY organs He examines are the heart and kidneys.

    Rabbeinu Bechaya's way of reconciling the pesukim cannot be used as evidence of what the pesukim say! You can't use Rishonim to prove the meaning of Chazal when there are other possible interpretations.

    If renal impairment hinders cognition, and cognition is critical in moral decision making (is that something that you would dispute?) then renal impairment hinders moral decision making. If this is true, then modern science is in accord with the biblical and masoretic view. Yet you insist that it is not. Why?

    Because what you just wrote is, with all due respect, nonsense, in several ways.
    Number one, renal impairment does not directly hinder cognition. Rather, the cause of renal impairment is also the cause of hindering cognition.
    Number two, there are many, many things that hinder cognition.
    Number three, the fact that cognition is necessary for decision making does not mean that that which hinders cognition is responsible for decision making! This is a basic error of logic. There are eye disorders that are linked to a decline in cognition - does that mean that the eye makes decisions?!

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  18. Amateur, I don't think you understand what you are reading.

    First of all, being a factor in cognition does NOT equal "responsible for making decisions"!

    Second of all, the gut is NOT the kidneys!

    to CHECK the levels of serotonin in a person, we check whats coming out of the kidneys. Sounds a bit like what chazal says.

    Actually, we check the urine. I guess it's the urine that makes the decisions!

    If one were to follow your advise on this issue, and just believe that chazal were wrong, and therefore only the brain is used in these matters, they would end up with unscientific ideas about how your body makes instinctual decisions.

    Actually, people who follow the idea that Chazal were wrong here, are the medical establishment.
    But people who think that Chazal are correct, say that you shouldn't get a kidney transplant. And certainly not replace the right kidney with someone else's left. Which is what many surgeons do.

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  19. By the way, Tzvi and Amateur, I'm curious to know if you think that Chazal were ever mistaken?

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  20. To summarize: There are two reasons why your conclusions are erroneous:

    1) An organ being a factor/requirement in the brain making moral decisions does not equal the organ making moral decisions.

    2) In any case, the kidneys are not a factor nor a requirement in making moral decisions.

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  21. It's been scientifically proven that a lack of oxygen harms cognition. So in fact it's the lungs that make decisions!

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  22. I apologize for pushing this point, but you wrote:

    "You can't use Rishonim to prove the meaning of Chazal when there are other possible interpretations."

    I just don't get it! If "using" the rishonim's interpretation of Chazal results in a harmony between our current state of scientific knowledge (i.e., what we think to be empirical truth) and the p'sukim of the Torah, then why would you NOT "use" it? Because there are "other POSSIBLE interpretations"? So between the "rishonim's interpretation" and "other possible interpretations," you choose the "other interpretations," despite the fact that this results in a conflict between the p'sukim and our perception of truth - when that conflict need not exist at all, since the "rishonim's interpretation" is just as "possible"??? I just don't get it! (Or maybe I do...)

    Me: "You had made the claim that Chazal NEVER speak of the brain in terms of cognition."
    You: "If I said that, then I was wrong, but I think that I specified that I was referring to moral decisions."
    Your earlier quote: "What Chazal say: The kidneys advise us on what to do. ALL cognitive functions relating to making decisions occur in the heart and kidneys. NOTHING relating to this occurs in the brain."

    "renal impairment does not directly hinder cognition. Rather, the cause of renal impairment is also the cause of hindering cognition."

    That is not what the article says. Read the article.

    At the end of the day, with all of your reasons as to why my claims and those of "Amateur" are incorrect, you neglected to deal with Amateur's point, cited from a scientific article: "Serotonin is eventually metabolized to 5-HIAA by the liver, and excreted by the kidneys." The kidney secretes something that is directly responsible for the decision-making process. You have failed to address this (as has Dr. X). Amateur's citation shows that it is not merely the kidney's impairment that adversely affects decision-making, but that the kidneys positively affect decision-making. And so Chazal can clearly be scientifically correct, not just metaphorically correct.

    "By the way, Tzvi and Amateur, I'm curious to know if you think that Chazal were ever mistaken?"

    I do not know Amateur and therefore cannot speak for him/her. But for myself: you would need to define "Chazal" here - if you mean non-neviim, then I maintain that yes, they can be mistaken. Certainly in the areas of science and worldly knowledge. The gemara has numerous examples of "hadar beih" with regard to halacha. If you mean neviim who are relating nevuah, then no, they cannot be mistaken in their nevuah.

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  23. I hate to burst anyone's bubble here, but no one ever claimed that the kidneys make decisions. The gemara stated that they are "yoatzos" meaning that they ADVISE in the decision making process, not that they actually make decisions themselves. Just trying to be precise here. This could well be consistent with the point that Amateur and Tzvi have made with reference to the scientific article about serotonin and the kidneys.

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  24. "By the way, Tzvi and Amateur, I'm curious to know if you think that Chazal were ever mistaken?"

    Certainly, I think they were mistaken in most things.

    "Actually, people who follow the idea that Chazal were wrong here, are the medical establishment.
    But people who think that Chazal are correct, say that you shouldn't get a kidney transplant. And certainly not replace the right kidney with someone else's left. Which is what many surgeons do."

    1. The medical establishmen has no voice in the correctness or incorrectness of Chazal. I have yet to see the press release from the ADM stating an opinion one way or another.

    2. Please show me where Chazal said that you can not get a transplant because of the issue of the kidneys.

    You are confusing Charedim with Chazal, and you were just finished berating someone for confusing Rishonim with Chazal...



    "1) An organ being a factor/requirement in the brain making moral decisions does not equal the organ making moral decisions.

    2) In any case, the kidneys are not a factor nor a requirement in making moral decisions."

    1. Isn't that the whole point of this argument? What evidence do you have to say that something being a factor, is not equivalent, to Chazal, as being the main source.

    2. You are wrong. Without the metabolizing affects of the Kidney's we would be unable to make decisions that can be labeled as being affected by the Yetzer tov vs the Yetzer Harah. (Whatever that means)


    Lastly, based on the way you phrase this:
    "An organ being a factor/requirement in the brain making moral decisions does not equal the organ making moral decisions."

    Is it your belief that Chazal thought the Kidneys made all moral decisions and the soul had no part in the decision making process? Or are the Kidneys just one factor in giving counsel which your soul can finally decide with? I.e., are you arguing here that Chazal felt there was no role of the non-physical in the actions of a human being?

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  25. "It's been scientifically proven that a lack of oxygen harms cognition. So in fact it's the lungs that make decisions!"

    Lungs? You mean vegetation!

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  26. If "using" the rishonim's interpretation of Chazal results in a harmony between our current state of scientific knowledge (i.e., what we think to be empirical truth) and the p'sukim of the Torah, then why would you NOT "use" it? Because there are "other POSSIBLE interpretations"? So between the "rishonim's interpretation" and "other possible interpretations," you choose the "other interpretations," despite the fact that this results in a conflict between the p'sukim and our perception of truth - when that conflict need not exist at all, since the "rishonim's interpretation" is just as "possible"???

    You first cited RIshonim (IIRC) to prove what Chazal's position/ the Torah's is. I responded that you cannot use Rishonim to PROVE what Chazal's or the Torah's position is. That's all. If there are different possibilities, they each have to be weighed up on their merits. You may not take that approach, but that is the rationalist approach: arguments are evaluated on their own merits, not based on who said them.

    "Serotonin is eventually metabolized to 5-HIAA by the liver, and excreted by the kidneys." The kidney secretes something that is directly responsible for the decision-making process.

    Ah, I think I see where you are misunderstanding things. The kidneys do not make serotonin, nor store it. Rather, serotonin is made, stored, and operates elsewhere in the body. It is eventually disposed of via the kidneys. The kidneys are not more related to serotonin than the urinary tract.

    (Not to mention that whatever part of the body makes serotonin, that part cannot be correctly described as "the organ responsible for advising on moral decisions!")

    Again, there are two main points, and the first one is one that you keep ignoring entirely:

    1. Chazal are not talking about organs that have some very minor effect on decision making. They make it clear that ALL (or at least the most fundamental) aspects of moral decision making are done between the heart and kidneys.

    2. The kidneys do not even have a minor role in moral decision making/ advising, let alone a fundmental or exclusive role.

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  27. Please show me where Chazal said that you can not get a transplant because of the issue of the kidneys.

    You are confusing Charedim with Chazal,


    The poskim who say this (Tzitz Eliezer and Rav Ovadya) are just following the clear meaning of Chazal, who explicitly state that the right kidney advises for the good and left for the bad. It's stated immediately adjoining other literal statements. The only reason to think that it's not literal is that it is not scientifically accurate - which is not a valid reason.

    What evidence do you have to say that something being a factor, is not equivalent, to Chazal, as being the main source.

    Because the Gemara clearly means that they are the main source of advise, and the Midrash is explicit that Hashem does not examine any other organ.

    Without the metabolizing affects of the Kidney's we would be unable to make decisions that can be labeled as being affected by the Yetzer tov vs the Yetzer Harah.

    Baloney! Do you think that people with one kidney don't have bechirah? What about people with no kidneys, living via dialysis!

    Is it your belief that Chazal thought the Kidneys made all moral decisions and the soul had no part in the decision making process? Or are the Kidneys just one factor in giving counsel which your soul can finally decide with? I.e., are you arguing here that Chazal felt there was no role of the non-physical in the actions of a human being?

    They thought that these are housed in the kidneys and heart (and blood). Equivalent to how we would say today that they are housed in the brain.

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  28. "You first cited Rishonim (IIRC) to prove what Chazal's position/ the Torah's is. I responded that you cannot use Rishonim to PROVE what Chazal's or the Torah's position is. That's all. If there are different possibilities, they each have to be weighed up on their merits. You may not take that approach, but that is the rationalist approach: arguments are evaluated on their own merits, not based on who said them."

    So if I understand you correctly here, in interpreting the Torah, the rationalist thing to do is to place equal weight upon the interpretation of the rishonim, (people of immense genius who have mastered - through long training and almost exclusive dedication - the intricate methodology of Torah and Chazal) and the interpretation of anyone who comes along, lacking the above characteristics. He must weigh the evidence simply as he sees it. Not only that - but after applying equal weight, the rationalist approach says that one can (ought?) to choose whatever he wishes, and then he can use his choice of interpretation to make the claim that since the chosen interpretation shows that the pasuk is faulty science, then we see that the Torah presents false information as it sees fit to do so. This, to mind, is akin to someone saying that in looking at a medical problem, one can place equal weight upon the interpretation and teachings of experts (who have trained arduously for years and who have demonstrated that they are the best medical minds of their day) and his own, amateur interpretation. Then, when his own interpretation shows that medical science is taking the wrong approach, he can use his interpretation to come to conclusions about the agenda of medicine as a discipline.

    This is the rationalist approach?!

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  29. It seems to me that in order for an approach to lay claim to being within the bounds of authentic (read: masoretic) Judaism, it must be consistent with the methodology and tenets of the masorah. The core of the masorah is the written and oral Torah, i.e., from Moshe Rabbeinu through the s'timat hatalmud. Now, the notion that a pasuk can be literal and true is certainly within the methodology and tenets of the masorah. The notion that a pasuk can be metaphorical and true is certainly within the methodology and tenets of the masorah. You are now presenting a third notion: that a pasuk can be literal and false (as a means of presenting ideas to ancient people within their limited, what-turns-out-to-be-false framework). In order for this notion to lay claim to being within the bounds of authentic Judaism, it must have a basis in the masorah (Tanach and/or the Talmud). Can you please provide such a basis?

    This is a fundamental issue with regard to the claims and boundaries of "rationalist Judaism" and so I think it is of the utmost importance. Thank you very much for your attention to this question.

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  30. I see you didn't post the rest of my comment, but responded to it all the same, which is odd. Were you trying to hide the fact that I believe that chazal were wrong in many areas?

    anyway...

    "Baloney! Do you think that people with one kidney don't have bechirah? What about people with no kidneys, living via dialysis!"

    I'm not sure why you think that Chazal would treat actual kidneys any differently than dialysis. What is it about the kidney that dialysis does not do that makes you think this is a valid argument?

    Also, why do you believe that Bechira is dependent on the Yetzer Harah or the Yetzer tov? I notice that you left out that aspect of my comment as well.

    Again, you seem to be forgetting that Chazal believed that you do not get your yetzer tov untill you turn 13. Do you believe that a 12 year old does not have bechira? Do you believe that Chazal thought that a 12 year old does not have bechira?

    "They thought that these are housed in the kidneys and heart (and blood). Equivalent to how we would say today that they are housed in the brain."

    If you replaced a brain with a computer chip, or parts of a brain with some electronic system, do you think a person would not have a soul? I find it hard to believe anyone would hold of this position, even chazal.

    I honestly and truly do not understand how you can be reading Chazal so litterally. Where is the rationalism in that? Again, just because Cherdim like to think everything is literal, doesn't mean Chazal thought themselves as being literal!

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  31. Rabbi Slifkin - just a reminder, if you get a chance - if you could please address the question in my previous comment. Thank you very much.

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  32. Chayim - the idea that a pasuk can be literal and false (as a means of presenting ideas to ancient people within their limited, what-turns-out-to-be-false framework), is supported directly by Rav Kook, and less directly by Rav Hirsch and some of the Rishonim.

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  33. Amateur:

    "I'm not sure why you think that Chazal would treat actual kidneys any differently than dialysis. What is it about the kidney that dialysis does not do that makes you think this is a valid argument?"

    Dialysis does not contribute to making moral decisions. Which Chazal believed the kidneys to do.

    "why do you believe that Bechira is dependent on the Yetzer Harah or the Yetzer tov? ...Do you believe that Chazal thought that a 12 year old does not have bechira?"

    Maybe one could argue that it isn't. However, they seem to be fundamental factors in it. In other words, one reason why a katan is not a bar onshin is that he is not considered capable of making proper moral decisions. Whatever the case, the point is that according to Chazal, each of the kidneys has a significant role in influencing our bechirah - one for good, one for evil. The fact that people can live with one kidney, or with two right or two left kidneys (after transplants), with no visible effect on their being good/evil, disproves Chazal's belief.

    "If you replaced a brain with a computer chip, or parts of a brain with some electronic system, do you think a person would not have a soul? I find it hard to believe anyone would hold of this position, even chazal."

    If you removed a person's entire brain and replaced it with a computer, I think virtually everyone would agree that they no longer have a soul!

    "I honestly and truly do not understand how you can be reading Chazal so litterally. Where is the rationalism in that? "

    What's "rationalism" got to do with it? Do you mean "rational"? It's perfectly rational. We find the same views present in non-Jewish medical texts, and everyone agrees that those are literal, so why is it irrational to read Chazal the same way?

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  34. "This, to mind, is akin to someone saying that in looking at a medical problem, one can place equal weight upon the interpretation and teachings of experts (who have trained arduously for years and who have demonstrated that they are the best medical minds of their day) and his own, amateur interpretation. Then, when his own interpretation shows that medical science is taking the wrong approach, he can use his interpretation to come to conclusions about the agenda of medicine as a discipline. This is the rationalist approach?!"

    Your mashal is poor on several counts.
    First of all, Torah interpretation is not like medicine. It is much more influenced by personal outlook, cultural setting, etc. For example, Rambam was much more intelligent and learned than us - but he saw everything through the lens of Greco-Muslim philosophy. So it's perfectly reasonable to dispute his interpretation of pesukim in line with that philosophy. And that's why so many people do so!

    Second of all, Galen "trained arduously for years and demonstrated that he was the best medical mind of his day." But I would trust my own knowledge of physiology over his.

    Third of all, one trusts experts in cases where one has no choice but to rely on authority. But in a case where evidence is being weighed up, expertise has nothing to do with it. If a teenager were to bring evidence disputing the world's greatest scientists, it would be accepted.

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