Thursday, March 4, 2010

Kidneys: Who is "the Most Loyal and Faithful"?


In an earlier post, I discussed the references in Tenach about the kidneys giving advice. Ibn Ezra explains it as a metaphor, due to his rationalist acceptance of science, and due to his seeing that as license to take the initiative of interpreting Scripture non-literally, even against Chazal (as we shall see). But I gave it as an example of dibra Torah k'lashon bnei adam, as explained by later authorities - that God packages His messages according to the intellectual framework of the people who hear them. Rambam, as explained by Rav Shlomo Fisher, gives a similar explanation in a different context:
Rambam wrote that Ezekiel’s vision of the Divine Chariot was presented to him in a manner that accorded with the view that the heavenly spheres make sounds, and that Mercury and Venus are above the sun, even though the truth is that the spheres make no sound, and Mercury and Venus are below the sun.[1] For prophecy presents itself to the prophet in accordance with his own conception of the world. (R. Shlomo Fisher, Derashos Beis Yishai, Ma’amar Hamo’ach Vehalev, fn. 4)

In the Gemara, it's abundantly clear that Chazal viewed the kidneys as functioning to give us advice:
The Rabbis taught: The kidneys advise, the heart considers, the tongue articulates, the mouth finishes, the esophagus brings in all kinds of food, the windpipe gives sound, the lungs absorb all kinds of fluids, the liver causes anger, the gallbladder secretes a drop into it and calms it, the spleen laughs, the gizzard grinds, the stomach [causes] sleep, the nose [causes] wakefulness. (Berachos 61a)

The anonymous blogger "Not Brisk" refers to my "chutzpah" in saying that Chazal had an incorrect view of the function of the kidneys, and notes that I "don't grasp" that Chazal can have a hidden meaning. Of course, it's not a matter of "not grasping" the possibility of a deeper meaning - there are many sayings of Chazal that are obviously not intended to be understood at face value - but rather, that it is clear that this statement was meant literally, both from context and mesorah.

In this passage of the Gemara, the descriptions of the functions of the tongue, mouth, esophagus, windpipe, lungs, stomach and nose are all clearly literal, scientific descriptions. This is not an aggadic legend intended to be understood metaphorically, like the stories of Rabbah bar bar Chana. Thus, the account of the function of the kidneys is also clearly intended to be a literal description. This is entirely consistent with standard belief in the ancient world (as are the accounts of the functions of the other organs).

Not surprisingly, the mesorah is also that the kidneys literally give advice. There is no Rishon who explains the Gemara metaphorically. Ramban, Rashbash and Rabbeinu Bachya explain the kidneys as having cognitive functions. R. Yehudah HaLevi, R. Yehoshua Ibn Shuib, R. Yaakov b. Chananel Skili (a talmid of Rashba), R. Moshe ben Avraham Proven├žal and R. Yitzchak Lampronti all address the claim that this is scientifically disproved and rebut it sharply on the basis that our mesorah from Chazal trumps science. Chida claims scientific evidence that the kidneys really do have cognitive functions.

Of course, this position is more difficult to uphold today, when we have dialysis and kidney transplants. Still, the most faithful nevertheless uphold this mesorah. Thus, Rav Ovadiah Yosef advises kidney recipients to choose (where possible) to receive kidneys from Jewish donors, due to the role that the Gemara ascribes to them.

It is thus deliciously humorous that Not Brisk, who declares himself to be defending the view of "the most loyal and faithful among us," takes the approach of out-Slifkining Slifkin. He goes against the straightforward meaning in the pasuk, the clear meaning of Chazal, and the mesorah from the Rishonim and Acharonim, because due to his acceptance of science, he chooses to follow the decidedly non-mainstream opinion of Ibn Ezra (certainly not part of the charedi mesorah!) who himself, due to his knowledge of science, learns the pesukim allegorically and rejects Chazal! What will he accept next - evolution? Oh, the irony!

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[1] See Guide for the Perplexed II:8-9, with the commentaries of Efodi, Shem Tov, Narvoni, and Abarbanel in Ta’anos, 4. For further discussion, see Warren Zev Harvey, “How to Begin to Study Moreh Nevuchim,” Da'at 21 (1988) 5-23 pp. 21-23 (in Hebrew).

NOTE: Please remember the new comments policy.

65 comments:

  1. "...The kidneys advise ... the spleen laughs..." (Berachos 62a)"

    This is on 61a. 62a talks about goat demons of the bathroom.

    About the spleen, Kuzari 4:25 says that the spleen cleans the blood from obscuring matter, producing cheerfulness and laughter. (Learned this from Artscroll commentary.)

    From this, it appears the Kuzari takes the gemara literally, sort of. That is, the organ contributes to X, not necessarily that the organ is the sole cause of X. If the Kuzari has a similar explanation about the kidneys, I think he wouldn't find any difficulty with your statement about dialysis and kidney transplants.

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  2. What you wrote is obvious. Alas, some people seem to insist that Chazal and all great rishonim were super human beings who knew everything before everyone else.

    I once asked one of these true believers: Do you believe the Rambam could have built an atomic bomb?

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  3. Phil, the Kuzari is trying to reconcile Chazal with science. I don't think he ends up satisfying either. That is to say, I think the Chazal were talking about a primary function in giving advice, and science denies the kidneys having ANY role in giving advice.

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  4. A well-respected physician e-mailed me the following: "There are powerful hormones secreted by the adrenal glands (that are on the kidneys) - the corticosteroids and adrenalin, which undoubtedly have psychological impact." Furthermore, there is in fact a connection with cognition. The Journal Neurology ("the most widely read and highly cited peer-reviewed neurology journal" by the American Academy of Neurology) recently published an article called "The brain and the kidney connection: A model of accelerated vascular cognitive impairment" - see here: http://www.neurology.org/cgi/reprint/73/12/916. It's now clear that there is a connection between the brain and cognition. "Psychological impact" and general cognitive functioning can surely relate to the connection with our capacity to advise ourselves and others. Do a google scholar, or just a google search, with the words "kidneys cognition" and you'll see more on this topic.

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  5. Wow, so Not Brisk betrayed the mesorah for no reason!

    Seriously, though: I think that "psychological impact" and "causing a decline in cognition" is very , very far from what the Gemara and Pesukim are saying.

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  6. "Not Brisk" seemed to think it was some sort of "dis" to write that I said that I'm a big fan of yours. The joke's on him!

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  7. So according to you, Chazal thought that the heart literally thinks? That when various p'sukim speak about the heart knowing it means literally and not metaphorically?

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  8. The gut has a mind of its own, the "enteric nervous system". Just like the larger brain in the head, researchers say, this system sends and receives impulses, records experiences and respond to emotions. Its nerve cells are bathed and influenced by the same neurotransmitters. The gut can upset the brain just as the brain can upset the gut.

    http://www.psyking.net/id36.htm

    http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=gut-second-brain

    True, It is not the kidneys, But is there not some empirical truth to the statement?

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  9. Would like to state clearly, that I generally agree that Chazal can get science wrong, with the one caveat:

    The Relativity of Wrong

    http://chem.tufts.edu/AnswersInScience/RelativityofWrong.htm

    Their wrong does not preclude them from being brilliant. They are not wrong like we are wrong rather they are "Chachomim" and should be treated as such.

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  10. I agree with you from a Chazal-ical literalist perspective. But given sod HaShem lireiov, there may be something deeper going on here, something more sublime than mere ancient science...perhaps.

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  11. To follow up on Simcha, there are some interesting ideas in psychology and and neuroscience about the role of internal organs in congnition.

    There is a bias in our common understanding that all biological processes involved in thought and cognition occurs in the brain and nowhere else. This doesn't appear to be quite true. Emotional reactions created in the viscera inform and guide our congnitive abilities, and our cognitive abilities would be lacking without them. The easiest example is that when we have a good idea, we don't just end up with new information. We often "know" we have a good idea before it can be completely dissected and spoken out. We feel something. e.g., certain elation caused by hormones released by different internal organs, changes in heartbeat, etc. These physiological phenomena aren't peripheral events. They are the signals that enables our conscious mind that an insight was made.

    One popularizer of this kind of idea is Antonio Damasio. Here's a quick review of one of his books in Neurology today.
    http://journals.lww.com/neurotodayonline/Fulltext/2002/01000/The_Neurobiology_of_Emotion__Feeling_the_Way.19.aspx

    Of course, these ideas don't cleanly map onto the quote from Berachos 61a, or to other classical ideas regarding the role of internal organs in producing thought. Nevertheless, it goes to show that they weren't completely off the mark, either.

    I think it highlights again the idea that just because Chaza"l got some scientific facts wrong doesn't mean they were stupid.

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  12. Bochen kelayot va’lev
    It seems preposterous to believe in the kidneys being involved in thought, yet many of us still seem to hold on to the concept of the heart being the seat of emotion. Who knows? When it comes to the awesome working of the human body, it all seems to boggle the mind. Yes, in some way it boggles the mush of gray matter up in my cranium whose neural pathways are responsible for all that I am. Go figure. Somehow, and yes this may be irrational and weird, I wouldn’t necessarily be surprised if some day they find that the kidneys too are somehow involved in the thinking process. (In any case we are learning more and more about the interconnectedness of all the organs and all the processes of the body enough to grasp that the improper functioning of major organs would affect the mind and visa versa.)

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  13. To all those claiming that the scientific reports of the kidneys having some sort of connection to cognition confirms the Gemara -

    It doesn't. The Gemara does not say that there is some vague connection between the kidneys and the mind. It says that the kidneys are the source of advice - telling us what to do. It further says that the reason why there are two is that one is the yetzer tov, giving good advice, and the other gives evil advice. This is not remotely consistent with science.

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  14. I think it highlights again the idea that just because Chaza"l got some scientific facts wrong doesn't mean they were stupid.

    Who is saying that they were stupid? It's only my opponents who think that if Chazal were to have been incorrect about scientific facts, it would mean that they were stupid.

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  15. But given sod HaShem lireiov, there may be something deeper going on here

    Do you know how many times the Gemara says that Chazal knew something from sod Hashem lireyov? And do you know how many times it says that they didn't know something?

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  16. The issue is not about Chazal. It's about a prophet - Dovid HaMelech - because the source for this gemara comes from a pasuk in Tehilim (see Rashi on the gemara here; agav I think also a pasuk in Yeshaya expresses the same idea, and Rashi here brings it too). This changes the entire nature of our issue. The question is therefore not whether Chazal are right or wrong, but rather what King David and Isaiah are referring to.

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  17. Simcha - according the Rambam mentioned in the post, this makes no difference.

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  18. If these pesukim are just outright wrong, is there any purpose in learning them?

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  19. The point of the pesukim is the message, not the packaging. There is a view that Iyov never existed, but that doesn't mean that there is no point learning Iyov!

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  20. I don't understand why anyone would be bothered by this. It's not like it's obvious what the various organs do. At least I can offer testimony that I've never seen my kidneys filter my urine, and I've never seen my brain think. I also have a hunch that the only reason why I feel like my thoughts are in my head is because I am aware of what the brain does.

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  21. “It further says that the reason why there are two is that one is the yetzer tov, giving good advice, and the other gives evil advice.”
    No kid(ney)ing!?!?! (ouch)
    Now that brings up all kinds of new shailahs. How do I know which is which? If I am donating a kidney, which one do I give? Is it better to give away the ra and keep the tov, or would that be subjecting the recipient to a life of evil? Would giving away the tov perhaps turn the remaining ra into a tov by virtue of this incredible zechus. Is it ok to donate a kidney simply for the ulterior motive of ridding oneself of the yetzer ha’ra? Can we do a scientific analysis of the numerous people currently surviving on one kidney to discover which one inclination dominates their lives?

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  22. "It's only my opponents who think that if Chazal were to have been incorrect about scientific facts, it would mean that they were stupid."

    It's not just your opponents who think that. I know a lot of off the derech people who think the same way. And why do they think that? Because your opponents taught them that, and they believed it even after they stopped believing. They cannot accept that Chazal could have been wrong on some medical facts and yet be spiritual and intellectual giants. That's one belief they'll never let go of; such is the destructive nature of your opponents' position.

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  23. "Do you know how many times the Gemara says that Chazal knew something from sod Hashem lireyov? And do you know how many times it says that they didn't know something?"

    Important question. Indeed, what is the answer?

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  24. I'll give the answer, but first I want to hear some guesses, preferably from people who think that it might be applicable here.

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  25. Tibor wrote:
    "So according to you, Chazal thought that the heart literally thinks? That when various p'sukim speak about the heart knowing it means literally and not metaphorically?"

    Yes, of course, that's abundantly clear. Why would you think it's a metaphor? At the time of Chazal, the role of the heart in the circulation of blood was not at all understood.

    I think all these references to adrenal glands are rather glib. They are separate organs from the kidneys, with different innervation, blood supply, embryonic origin, function, histological characteristics etc. Nor are they the seat of the emotions in any case.

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  26. Max,

    So which of Chazal commanded (or themselves executed) a surgical excision of the pericardium due to Deuteronomy 10:16 and Jeremiah 4:4?

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  27. The difference is that there it would be obvious even in ancient times that it is a metaphor.

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  28. One man's "obvious" is the next man's "ambiguous." At any rate, it is clear that the heart certainly *can* be a metaphor. If so, then when Tanach speaks about "bending" your hearts, or "raising" our hearts, or not "straying" after your hearts, etc., these *can* be metaphors as well, something that Max seems to deny, and claims the veracity of his position to be "abundantly clear." Now if the heart *can* be a metaphor for thought, the kidneys *can* be a metaphor for decision-making, a position that the ibn Ezra clearly adopts. Your denial of this position for the rest of Chazal is based upon what seems obvious to you as to what they meant. This, it seems to me, is an opinion, but it is not necessarily conclusive.

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  29. It is obvious that the Torah is not demanding that the Bnei Yisroel perform open heart surgery.

    In that passuk, though, the metaphor is "umaltem es arlas," not "levavchem."

    Of course the kidneys *can* theoretically be a metaphor. And Avraham theoretically can be a metaphor for middas hachessed. The question is not what is *possible*, but what is probable and reasonable. Given that the entire ancient world and Chazal thought that the kidneys function in an advisory capacity, and there are no sources otherwise from that period, it is probable and reasonable that the Torah meant it in the same way.

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  30. And if you're claiming that Chazal also meant it as a metaphor, the onus of proof is on you, seeing as the other items in the Gemara's list are clearly not metaphors, nor did any Rishonim interpret them in that way.

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  31. First, I do not understand what you mean when you say that the metaphor is for "orlat" but not for "levavchem." The "foreskin" is a metaphor, but the heart is not? Then what is to be excised? The metaphoric foreskin of what?

    Second, since it is clear that the heart *is* most definitely used in Tanach as a metaphor, as in the verses in Deuteronomy and Jeremiah, then it is "probable and reasonable" that when Tanach speaks elsewhere of the heart in the sense of either feeling or knowing that the verses means it metaphorically there as well. And so, in the list cited in the Talmud, it is not necessarily the case that *every* organ listed is literal - the "heart knowing" can certainly "reasonably" be a metaphor within that list. Since the verses in Tanach that mention kidneys speak, for example, of "bochen kelayot valev" in the knowledge/decision-making realm, then just as heart "probably and reasonably" is a metaphor, so too can its partner kidney "probably and reasonably" be a metaphor.

    This reasonable explanation removes the issue of burden of proof. You see, I am not claiming that Chazal definitely meant it this way. All I need to do is to show that this is a reasonable explanation. You, on the other hand, are apparently uncomfortable learning Chazal in this way, and therefore the burden of proof is upon you - to show that despite the reasonable explanation above, Chazal did in fact almost certainly learn it literally and not metaphorically. I would be most willing to hear your line of reasoning for that course of thought.

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  32. "Foreskin" is a metaphor for "the barrier of impurity." Now, you presumably want to say that the heart in that verse is a metaphor for the mind/soul/personality. But it doesn't need to be a metaphor for that - in the ancient world it *meant* that.
    Note how Artscroll translates it - "And you shall cut away the barrier of the heart." "Heart" is only a metaphor insofar as the modern reader does not realize that in ancient times it *meant* mind.
    Thus the rest of your argument falls away, and you don't need to start with your exceedingly difficult explanation that the Gemara gives a list of organs and their function in which some are intended as physiological explanations and others are intended as metaphors.

    Incidentally, I would appreciate hearing why you think it is likely that Chazal did not believe that the kidneys give advice, seeing as everyone else in the world believed that.

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  33. And by the way, the meforshim on the pasuk all explain how "foreskin" is a metaphor, but they do not explain that "heart" is a metaphor.

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  34. "The question is not what is *possible*, but what is probable and reasonable."

    Once you take that approach, apikorsus is inevitable. I'm not trolling, I'm dead serious. Have you seen how assiduously Gil Student says the exact opposite? He has good reason.

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  35. (A) It depends on how you define Apikorsus.

    (B) It depends on the individual. Different (rational) people have different ways of evaluating things, and many people (rightly or wrongly) have different approaches to the basis of their Judaism than to the specifics within Judaism.

    But you are correct in that exercising critical thinking and evaluating what is most reasonable is part of what makes the rationalist approach so dangerous. Still, for many people, being obscurantist or intellectually dishonest about topics such as kidneys is also dangerous.

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  36. I am sorry - your explanation just does not make any sense to me. It is also in contradiction to the Sefer Shorashim of the Radak, who explicitly states that the definition of "lev" is the heart, and that as a metaphor it means center, mind, feelings. Furthermore, your explanation is in contradiction to the meaning of the word "lev" in ancient Akkadian, where, as Professor Hayim Tawil points out in his latest masterpiece (Dictionary of Akkadian in relation to biblical Hebrew) the definition of "lev" is the heart, and as a result, metaphorically it means emotions, etc. Your theory that the word had two definitions as opposed to one definition and a metaphoric usage, is nice, but completely speculative, and openly in opposition to the statements of a medieval sage and a modern universally recognized expert on ancient Akkadian.

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  37. Intellectual dishonest? One minute. As far as I'm concerned, Tibor has a brilliant point. Furthermore, just because the ancient world used the terms as you explain it does not immediately mean that they thought of them as literally functioning as such - it is equally likely that *they* used them as metaphors as well. However - and I want this to be emphasized - even that is not the case, one could still argue just as strongly that the Torah uses them as metaphors. See Rav Hirsch on Tehilim - kidneys are "desires" (16:7) and heart forms wishes (Bamidbar 15:39).

    Secondly, the kidneys secrete renin, which is intimately involved in blood pressure regulation, which is inversely related to cognition (http://aje.oxfordjournals.org/cgi/content/abstract/138/6/353). Think about this. There is something going on here more than meets the eye and one's first impression. Hevu mesunim b'din.

    My point is this: To argue one way or the other is not open-minded. Both sides of this debate have validity to them, and that is what rational thinking is about - seeing the truth behind both sides of the debate. That's my 2 cents. Have a great Shabbos.

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  38. Mistake: *Untreated* blood pressure level is inversely related to cognitive functioning. "With age, education, occupation, cigarette smoking, alcohol consumption, and gender controlled, blood pressure levels and chronicity of hypertension were inversely related to the composite score and measures of attention and memory."

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  39. "Who is saying that they were stupid? It's only my opponents who think that if Chazal were to have been incorrect about scientific facts, it would mean that they were stupid."

    No need to get defensive!! I was merely using the discussion at hand to point to a theme that you frequently raise. As far as I can tell, we're in total agreement. I made it quite clear in my original post that Berachos 61 doesn't mean that chazal new modern neuroscience!

    This confusion does lead to an interesting point to a general confusion in science/torah discussions. Many frum Jews, I think, WILL run with Berachos 61a and declare that the mind/viscera connection being discussed in modern Neuroscience, in all its details, was already known by chazal over a thousand years ago. People have also argued that because Tehillim 90 says "even a thousand years in Your eyes are but a bygone yesterday", chazal certainly knew about the theory of relativity.

    Interesting parallels between ancient ideas and modern science pop up all the time. A very popular book in the 70's was "The Tao of Physics", which presents many parallels between the new quantum physics and Eastern mysticism. The parallels are intersting, but as the book's critics pointed out, to then say that the mystics knew all along what Bohr and Heisenberg, among others, discovered would be a vacuous conclusion.

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  40. "Incidentally, I would appreciate hearing why you think it is likely that Chazal did not believe that the kidneys give advice, seeing as everyone else in the world believed that."
    "I think the Chazal were talking about a primary function in giving advice"

    Why primary?

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  41. Tibor,

    Does Rav Elyashiv know more about physics than Stephen Hawking? If not, why do you assume that Chazal knew more about anatomy than the best scientists in their day?

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  42. Tibor, of course that is a metaphor. However, as Rabbi Slifkin stated, the metaphor only works if you assume that the physical heart is the seat of thought/emotion.

    Similarly, if I say someone "should get something through their head", "has a good head for business", or I want to "pick their brains", I am speaking metaphorically, but the metaphor relies on the head/brain being the seat of intellectual activity.

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  43. Tibor - you seem to have misunderstood me. I did not say that "lev" has two definitions.
    Furthermore, you cite Sefer HaShorashim, but he explicitly says that the heart is the seat of the intellect. So he is a support for me, not you.

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  44. Furthermore, just because the ancient world used the terms as you explain it does not immediately mean that they thought of them as literally functioning as such - it is equally likely that *they* used them as metaphors as well.

    How on earth do you get to "equally likely"? We know from ancient scientific texts that the ancient world thought of them as literally functioning in this way. Why would Chazal be any different?

    However - and I want this to be emphasized - even that is not the case, one could still argue just as strongly that the Torah uses them as metaphors.

    How? If a metaphor is not going to be understood as a metaphor by anyone, then how can it be argued that it was intended as a metaphor?

    Secondly, the kidneys secrete renin, which is intimately involved in blood pressure regulation, which is inversely related to cognition. Think about this.

    I have thought about it, and it does not mean that the kidneys give counsel! And that the right kidney gives positive counsel, and left gives negative counsel! And that when Hashem examines us, He checks our kidneys!

    that is what rational thinking is about - seeing the truth behind both sides of the debate.

    No, that is not what rational thinking is about. Rational thinking is about seeing if there IS truth behind both sides of the debate.

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  45. "I think the Chazal were talking about a primary function in giving advice"

    Why primary?


    Because that is how they describe their function, and nowhere do they speak about their function vis-a-vis urine. But the truth is that it doesn't matter whether they saw this as the primary function of the kidneys; the point is that they saw the kidneys as the source of advice, one in each direction, and thereby being something that God examines when judging us.

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  46. Simcha, I have a question for you. You're not staking a specific position; you say that one should be open to the possibility that the kidneys really do give counsel (and the Torah/ Chazal were thus speaking literally), and also (if it turns out to have no scientific basis) to be open to the possibility that Chazal were speaking metaphorically. Are you open to the possibility that there is no scientific basis, and the Torah/ Chazal were nevertheless speaking literally?

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  47. You wrote, "We know from ancient scientific texts that the ancient world thought of them as literally functioning in this way." Please cite some sources.

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  48. I wish I had the time and energy to keep up this dialogue, with all the back and forth. I'll respond to the last question for now: Yes of course - but each issue must be considered in its own light. Massive generalizations typically do not work.

    Secondly, what about being open to the possibility that there is somewhat of a scientific basis, and Chazal were even speaking metaphorically yet somehow were mechaven to the at least partial scientific basis?

    PS Sorry to all for any confusion or creation of difficult to understand phrases. That's the way I think - I often state something and end up having to refine it for clarification. Not necessarily rejecting my original position, however. Just clarifying it.

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  49. The source of advice is non-physical. While it has corresponding neural activity, it is ultimately rooted in the neshama (just like consciousness, etc.). Now, is it true that the 613 parts of our body correspond to the 613 mitzvos, which correspond to the 613 parts of our eternal body (neshama I think)? If so, perhaps the pshat in this gemara is that each body part listed is actually a reference to *those* parts of our "bodies"...the non-physical correspondent to our physical body. (Natan - this is just a suggestion. I'm not implying that Chazal were flawless in their knowledge of science. Saying so is virtually heresy according to various Rishonim and Acharonim!)

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  50. I must confess to not being the swiftest person on the planet - so it doesn't pain me to say that I just don't get what you're saying at all. You now claim that "I did not say that "lev" has two definitions." Yet, earlier you stated, "you presumably want to say that the heart in that verse is a metaphor for the mind/soul/personality. But it doesn't need to be a metaphor for that - in the ancient world it *meant* that."

    There is no doubt that in the ancient world, the word "lev" meant heart (the physical organ, as the Radak and Professor Tawil's work clearly attest). You claim that it also *meant* mind/soul/personality - not that "lev" is a metaphor for those terms, but that is its definition. That means that according to you, one definition of "lev" is heart and another definition is mind etc. That means that the word has two definitions. That means that when you claim now that you never said the word had two definitions you must have meant........?

    I mentioned the Radak to prove only that the *definition* of the word is heart (the organ) and that the use of the word mind is a metaphor - which the Radak states. Therefore, he does not prove your point (that the word "lev" *means* mind) - he refutes your point.

    I also do not understand your last question to Simcha. In fact, I saw a post on dated March 5, that addresses the issue that you asked Simcha, and I am eager to hear a response from you as to the point that the blogger raises. It is very much to the "heart" of the issue of this entire post.

    Thank you for your effort and attention in this ongoing conversation.

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  51. what about being open to the possibility that there is somewhat of a scientific basis, and Chazal were even speaking metaphorically yet somehow were mechaven to the at least partial scientific basis?

    I'm open to any possibility that has evidence and reason supporting it. The context of the statement shows that Chazal were not speaking metaphorically. As a literal statement, there is no scientific basis. The very minor links between cognition and kidneys are not a "partial scientific basis" for the Gemara's statement.

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  52. is it true that the 613 parts of our body correspond to the 613 mitzvos, which correspond to the 613 parts of our eternal body (neshama I think)? If so, perhaps the pshat in this gemara is that each body part listed is actually a reference to *those* parts of our "bodies"...the non-physical correspondent to our physical body.

    Very Maharal-esque! But is there the slightest evidence/argument/reason that this is what Chazal actually meant? Certainly none of the Rishonim understood it that way!

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  53. There is no doubt that in the ancient world, the word "lev" meant heart (the physical organ, as the Radak and Professor Tawil's work clearly attest). You claim that it also *meant* mind/soul/personality - not that "lev" is a metaphor for those terms, but that is its definition. That means that according to you, one definition of "lev" is heart and another definition is mind etc. That means that the word has two definitions.

    No! The heart *was* thought of as being the mind! Lev=heart=mind.

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  54. You seem to assume that Torah teachings can only have one meaning which must be understandable to the people at the time of its giving.

    I do not understand why you hold to this so strongly. Isn't it possible that Hashem would write something in the Torah that has a meaning to those who recieved it, but allows for alternate meanings as human knowledge of the world increased over the generations (somthing that Hashem obviously knew would happpen)?

    The same could be said for Chazal's statments if they were based on mesorah. That meaorah could have hidden meanings that are only applicable once certain knowledge is achieved.

    If you are not bothered by the fact that Hashem did not give us quantum mechanics at sinai, and rather let humans figure it out on thier own, why is it so hard to beleive that Hashem could give us teachings both written and oral that have multiple meanings for multiple periods of knowledge?

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  55. The question is, in what sense is it meaningful/ significant to say that this is the "meaning" of the word, if nobody ever understood it that way before modern science? You're reading into the words, not out of them. Can a word carry any meaning that you want it to have? Prof. Aviezer claims that we can now say that "taninim hagedolim" means 18-inch Edicarian fauna. I say that the words simply do not hold that meaning from a philological standpoint. Shall we take the ancient Babylonian text of the Enuma Elish and read it as expressing 21st century physics? Or how about claiming that when the Torah said "don't have chometz on Pesach," it originally meant "don't have bread," but now it means "don't have impurities in your heart."
    Isn't it much more straightforward to say that words have a single meaning?

    The same could be said for Chazal's statments if they were based on mesorah.

    But what is the basis for saying that they were based on a mesorah from Sinai?

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  56. Two more comments:

    You say "Isn't it possible that..." As I said above, yes, anything is possible. But the question (on this website) is what is reasonable and probable, not what is possible.

    "but allows for alternate meanings as human knowledge of the world increased over the generations" - so what meanings are possible? Can we say that Bereishis bara Elokim might one day mean something entirely different? And if so, why can't we read it that way now? Which words might have their meanings completely changed?
    You see the problem?

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  57. Doesn't Tanach have pshat, drush, remez, and sod? If so, then here we have yet another way to understand these pesukim...Don't forget, we are dealing with more than ruach hakodesh, but prophecy. We do not need evidence or even sound reasoning to defend a position or propose a new one - we merely need facts from our mesorah on how texts are interpreted. Furthermore, just because Chazal may not have meant something doesn't mean they were't mechaven to it and not realized it...Again, I'm just suggesting possible ways to not lock oneself into the position that Chazal erred in scientific matters across the board, for, we know there are aspects of Chazal's science that is more than outstanding, such as certain astronomical calculations and even physiological facts (even a famous secular textbook I have testifies to the latter).

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  58. Doesn't Tanach have pshat, drush, remez, and sod?

    Probably not according to Rambam. But in any case, I am discussing peshat.

    Don't forget, we are dealing with more than ruach hakodesh, but prophecy.

    I didn't forget. And that is why I cited Rambam that even prophecy can be scientifically incorrect.

    Furthermore, just because Chazal may not have meant something doesn't mean they weren't mechaven to it and not realized it...

    You sound pretty desperate!

    we know there are aspects of Chazal's science that is more than outstanding,

    I wasn't aware of that, and I've been studying Chazal's science for a while.

    such as certain astronomical calculations and even physiological facts (even a famous secular textbook I have testifies to the latter).

    Please provide the quotation and citation.

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  59. Three quick questions:

    1) "No! The heart *was* thought of as being the mind! Lev=heart=mind."

    Incorrect. The heart is a physical organ, and was recognized as such. That organ was viewed as the "seat" of the intellect (a part of the human soul) but it is not synonymous with it. Hence the Radak says that the heart is the "mishkan hasechel" and not the "sechel" itself. If you want to claim that the heart as a physical organ is itself the mind/feelings, etc., then you are attributing to Chazal the idea that man's soul dies with his physical death.

    2) Why did you change my post? I had included the name of the blog with the March 5 comment? Why did you omit it so that the readers don't know what I was referring to?

    3) Can you please address my question? That is, can you please respond to the March 5 blogger's challenge?

    Again, thank you very much.

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  60. "I didn't forget. And that is why I cited Rambam that even prophecy can be scientifically incorrect."

    The Rambam never said such a thing. Look up the Moreh that you cited on the original post. You will not find the Rambam saying what you claimed, whatsoever. Your claim is R. Shlomo Fisher's interpretation of the Rambam. That's nice - but please don't say that it is the Rambam himself, as if it is the only definitive reading. It is a creative reading indeed, but not the words of the Rambam himself.

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  61. Tabor:

    1) Correct, the seat of the intellect. But it's not a metaphor.

    2) I didn't change your post. In fact I have no way of doing so, I can only allow comments or block them, I can't edit them.

    3) What are you referring to?

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  62. Michoel - agreed. Still, as far as I recall, that is the standard understanding. Can you cite an reliable source who explains the Rambam differently?

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  63. In my comment I had asked if you could please respond to the March 5 post of who raised the issue that you broached in your question to Simcha. Thanks so much.

    As to your other point: "Correct, the seat of the intellect. But it's not a metaphor" - we may be arguing semantics here. In modern parlance the term "brain" and the term "mind" are different, yet the brain is acknowledged to be the "seat" of the mind. Therefore, when someone says about a very smart person that he is "brainy" the term is a metaphor - since "brain" is the "seat" of the "mind," a person with a great mind is said to have "a lot of brains." But brain and mind are not the same definition. One is a metaphor for the other. This is what the Radak says about "lev" whereas you seem to be saying that the definition of "lev" *is* mind.

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  64. Tibor, regarding your first point, I still have no idea what you mean, please specify.

    As to your other point: When we say that someone has "lots of brains", the idea of "lots" is a metaphor, because a bigger brain does not correlate to more intelligence. But if we say that someone has an "excellent brain" or something like that, brain is *not* a metaphor. More to the point, the brain is the seat of the mind, not a metaphor for it.

    But I can't even remember how we got onto this!

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  65. The comments on this topic are apparently continuing on the next post. Tibor, I answer your question there.

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