Tuesday, March 9, 2010

The Torah Speaks in the Language of Man

I will be writing a post summarizing the topic of kidneys. Meanwhile, I see from the previous posts that people are having a hard time with the application of dibra Torah k'lashon bnei adam, “the Torah speaks in the language of men,” to the kidneys. Here is a quote from Rav Hirsch that should make it easier:
Jewish scholarship has never regarded the Bible as a textbook for physical or even abstract doctrines. In its view the main emphasis of the Bible is always on the ethical and social structure and development of life on earth; that is, on the observance of laws through which the momentous events of our nation’s history are converted from abstract truths into concrete convictions. That is why Jewish scholarship regards the Bible as speaking consistently in “human language;” the Bible does not describe things in terms of objective truths known only to God, but in terms of human understanding, which is, after all, the basis for human language and expression. (Collected Writings vol. 7 p. 57)

17 comments:

  1. The problem with this approach is that the opposing camp of literalists functioning through exclusively reactionary approaches. It's well known that the non-Orthodox will happily reinterpret the Bible in whatever fashion they want to justify their non-traditional ideas. The result was a reaction by the Chareidi camp to say "You're non-literalists? Well we say it's now a principle of faith to be a literalist!"
    The difficulty with staking out a middle ground is that you wind up incurring the wrath of both sides. Defend the literal meaning of the text in instances where it's justified and the non-literalists savage you. Interpret the text where it obviously needs to be and you get tarred as a mumar. What can be done?

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  2. You only quoted part of it, leading the reader to believe R'SRH statement is far more inclusive than in fact it is. R' Hirsch is clearly not talking about human misconceptions, but rather a truth based on the view from the human perspective. To us, the sun looks like it rises and sets, so that's how the torah refers to it. A scientific mistake would clearly not fall in those parameters.

    Here is a bit more of a quote from Hirsch in the very next paragraph, "The Bible uses human language when it speaks of the "rising and setting of the sun" and not of the rotation of the earth, just as Copernicus, Kepler, and other such scientists, in their words and writings, spoke of the rising and setting of the sun without thereby contradicting truths they had derived from there own scientific conclusions. Loshon Bnei Adam, "human language", which is also the language of the Bible, describes the processes and phenomena of nature in terms of the impression they make on the human senses, without thereby meaning to prejudice, in any manner, the findings of scientific research."

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  3. Dave, I'm not sure if the geocentric/heliocentric example is any different, at least the way that Hirsch describes it. It is incorrect that the sun rises and sets. But that is what people thought, so that is how the Torah said it. (It is slightly different with Copernicus and Kepler, who used it as a convenient convention instead. People in ancient times did not use it as a convention, but rather because that is what they thought was happening.) The quote that I brought includes absolute scientific inaccuracies. Rav Hirsch describes how "the Torah speaking in terms of human understanding."

    And see his commentary to Bereishis 1:6, where he says that rakia really does etymologically refer to a solid dome encompassing the earth, even though there is no such dome.

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  5. I think I may be missing something here. Dave pointed out that even in R. Hirsch's view (a view that itself is not agreed upon by many sages) the Torah's presentation of "faulty science" is one that does accord with man's perception even after the "faulty science" is exposed. That is, even today man's senses tell him that the sun rises and sets, despite the fact that we know about Copernicus and Einstein. From the framework of sense perception, the Torah's presentation is STILL valid. This is very different from saying that the Torah presented something which is faulty science (because of ancient man's limited scientific knowledge) that does NOT accord with the framework of sense perception. There is nothing within sense perception that says that the kidneys advise in decision making. And so, if it is true that science demonstrates that the kidneys play no role in this regard, (apparently an issue that is not resolved to the satisfaction of all) then the Torah would be presenting faulty science that is not valid FROM ANY FRAMEWORK WHATSOEVER today. This is very different from what R. Hirsch said. Unless there is another source within his writings that says differently. If so, please post that source as well. If there is not, then it seems to me that you cannot bring R. Hirsch as a support for your position.

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  6. Leonard, you are correct that "sunset" can be justified in a way that would not justify saying other things that are scientifically inaccurate. But my point was that the way that Rav Hirsch justifies it is a way that WOULD work for these other things.

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  7. >It's well known that the non-Orthodox will happily reinterpret the Bible in whatever fashion they want to justify their non-traditional ideas.

    It's well known? It wasn't done in the early history of Reform. If anything, there was a distinctly Karaitic (ie, literalist) tendency in early Reform Bible interpretation.

    When did non-Orthodox movements interpret the Bible non-literally to justify their non-traditional ideas? At most I can think of contemporary non-Orthodox movements use of traditional sources (eg, a vort from the Kotzker here, a teshuva from the Tzitz Eliezer there) to justify their ideas, but I'm not aware of any such trends in Biblical interpretation.

    There have to be other factors at play which led to literalism.

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  8. The Yerushalmi says that in reality Jerusalem was attacked on the seventeenth. The only reason why the Prophet wrote down that it happened on the the ninth is because this is what the people thought, due to the confusion brought about by the situation. Here is a clear example where the reality and the perception of the people are at odds. The prophet chooses the perception of the people as his primary Objective.

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  9. For those of us less knowledgeable, could you please provide the specific sources (in the navi as well as in the Yerushalmi). Thanks.

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  10. Yerushalmi, Tannis 4:5

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  11. and the pasuk in the navi...?

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  12. Yeshivish - thanks for the source in the Yerushalmi. I looked it up and it doesn't say what you claim it does.

    You wrote, "The only reason why the Prophet wrote down that it happened on the the ninth is because this is what the people thought, due to the confusion brought about by the situation. Here is a clear example where the reality and the perception of the people are at odds. The prophet chooses the perception of the people as his primary Objective."

    All the Yerushalmi says is "kilkul cheshbonos yesh kan." The simple p'shat is that the navi himself was included in that kilkul, due to the great tragedy and horrific sadness. He wrote down the wrong date (not as a conscious accommodation to the people's mistake, but rather) due to the collective confusion, including his own. One can easily suggest that the reason that the navi's own mistake is included permanently in the kitvei hakodesh is that it is a testament to the horrible situation - so much so that even the date was confused - and that the Torah shebe'al peh would clarify and explain. Nowhere does the Yerushalmi say that the navi himself knew the correct date and consciously wrote a mistake to accommodate the people's perception. Sorry.

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  13. Perhaps "understanding" should be replaced with "experience".

    Paranthetically, in the helocentric/geocentric debate, it seems to me that from the perspective of the observer (who percieves themsevles as motionless) the sun does indeed rise and set. It is only from absolute space that we can determin that infact the earth is moving.

    Yossi

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  14. Srulie,
    I had some extra time to look at the Yerushalmi in Taanis. There are two parts to the Gemmarah. The first part of the Gemmarah is talking about the verse in Jeremiah which ostensibly has the wrong date. The Gemmarah explains that due to the dire circumstances of the time people lost track of time which in turn caused the real date to be confused with a wrong date. This is why it has the the 9th of Tammuz as apposed to the 17th of Tammuz. You said that the pashut peshat is that the Navi had the date confused along with everyone else. I understand this and agree that this is the most cogent explanation. However, the second part of the Yerushalmi is talking about the verse in Yechezkel where the 1st of Av is used as apposed to the 9th. Yechezkel could not have been confused by the battle that occured since he was not there, in fact, he was in Babylonia. The Yerushalmi says that the two occurrences were twenty days apart so yechezkel chose the already mistaken date and counted twenty one days, hence the 1st of Av. There was a need to to do this because as far as the people were concerned this was the reality. From this it is seen that the prophet is concerned primarily with the outlook or perspective of his constituency and considers the reality secondary.

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  15. The "ninth" was already recorded in the pasuk, and it was more important to keep the space of 21 days consistent in both places, so therefore it was record as on the first to show that only the date was confused in the past, but now we have the correct dates in our calendar. That is what the yerushalmi says.

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  16. Yeshivish,

    Thanks for following up in terms of the Yerushalmi. Still, I think that your conclusion from the Yerushalmi is unwarranted and not convincing. Allow me to explain. The verse in Jeremiah (39:2) describes the breach of the city as being on the 9th of Tammuz, due, as we both agree, to the confusion of the tragedy. Now Ezekiel (26:1-2) receives a prophecy about the destruction of the Temple, and records it as being on the 1st of Av, while the destruction definitely happened on the 9th of Av. Why did he record the wrong date, and why did he make the wrong date part of the prophecy from God (unlike the verse in Jeremiah)? This matter is what the Yerushalmi addresses. As the Korban Ha-Edah explains it there, it means the following: Jeremiah records the wrong date because of the confusion of the tragedy, and Ezekiel continues with the wrong date in order to teach a lesson - that God Himself, so to speak, is with us in our tragedy. That is, the Shechinah uses the wrong reckoning purposely, knowing that we will figure out the correct date as soon as the tragedy is over, in order to teach us that He is with us, so to speak, in our confusion. This is different from drawing the conclusion that "the prophet is concerned primarily with the outlook or perspective of his constituency and considers the reality secondary" - particularly if you are going to draw further conclusions from that, i.e., that the Torah records "faulty science" in order to accord with the ancient people's limited knowledge of the time. This latter claim does not at all follow from the Yerushalmi at hand, since the Yerushalmi's "faulty date" was to teach a specific lesson to everyone by using the recorded mistake and the knowledge of the correct date in contrast with each other for all to see something about God's concern for His people.

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