Friday, April 23, 2010

The Worm Controversy

A number of people have asked me for my thoughts on the current Worm Controversy. I must confess that I have not studied this current episode in great detail. However, I have extensively studied a closely related topic - that of the Talmud's license to kill lice on Shabbos due to the belief that they spontaneously generate. I strongly urge anyone who has a desire to fully understand this topic to read the last chapter of my book Sacred Monsters. Meanwhile, here are the conclusions on the lice, and my thoughts regarding its ramifications for the worm controversy.

Chazal clearly believed that lice spontaneously generate. They described them as "not reproducing," and explicitly rejected the notion that they hatch from eggs.

Based on this, Chazal granted permission to kill lice on Shabbos.

We now know that lice do not spontaneously generate. There is no reason to believe that any lice ever spontaneously generated.

There were some authorities, such as R. Yitzchak Lampronti, who therefore recommended that one not kill lice on Shabbos.

Others, such as R. Dessler, suggested that Chazal were merely giving an explanation for a law whose reason has been lost in antiquity (but there seems to be little basis for this).

Another approach is taken by R. Yitzchak Herzog, and it is one which I personally believe to be the most appropriate, for a variety of reasons. R. Herzog says that even though Chazal did apparently base their permission on a mistaken understanding of the natural world, their ruling still holds true, due to their authority.

I realize that this last approach is hard for many people to understand, which is why I recommend that people read my book Sacred Monsters, which has a lengthy explanation of the reasoning behind it. Basically, as we see from several other areas of Torah, halachah has its own priorities and protocols involved in its determination, in which conforming to objective reality is only one factor and not the highest priority. Being an Orthodox Jew means accepting the halachic authority of Chazal, period.

But aside from the innate reasons for following Chazal's halachic rulings no matter what their basis, there are also consequences to doing otherwise that people do not appreciate. Once you say that we should change Chazal's rulings in accordance with our understanding of the world, there are going to be all kinds of halachos that people will argue should be changed; most people do not realize how explosive this Pandora's Box will be. And what about the ramifications for previous generations who observed Chazal's rulings? Changing halachic practice from that instructed by Chazal has the potential to fundamentally undermine Judaism.

Now on to the topic of the anistakis worms in fish. The Talmud permits certain worms found in the flesh of fish, because "mineh gavli." This means that they are generated from the flesh of the fish rather than being swallowed by the fish. (It does NOT mean that they "reached their recognizable form in the flesh of the fish".) It is abundantly clear that this is the meaning of the Gemara - first of all, from the context of the Gemara itself (which states that if worms were swallowed, they would only be found in the gut), and second, from the fact that such spontaneous generation was clearly absolutely normative belief for Chazal and there is no reason to suspect that they meant anything else.

As with lice, we know that this belief is mistaken. But as with lice, I would again concur with Rav Herzog (and R. Dessler, though not for his reason) that Chazal's ruling still holds true regardless. Claims that Chazal "weren't talking about the worms that we see" are unconvincing, to say the least. From what I understand, there is no convincing reason to believe that the physiology and life-cycle of these worms, or the way in which fish are processed, has changed (in a relevant way) since the Gemara/ Shulchan Aruch (although I am, of course, open to being corrected on this). And it is unreasonable to say that Chazal were referring to a different species altogether, and thereby entirely misleading everyone for centuries into believing that all worms found in the flesh of fish are permitted. The Shulchan Aruch likewise gives blanket permission for worms found in the flesh of fish. Chazal permitted such worms; for thousands of years, Jews have been eating such worms; thus, it is still permitted to each such worms.

To say otherwise is, in my view, opening a very dangerous can of worms.

75 comments:

  1. Very informative and well written, thanks!
    Quick question, for clarity sake. I think I know the answer, but I just want to make double sure. Should I read the following sentence,
    "Claims that Chazal 'weren't talking about the worms that we see' are unconvincing" as
    A) "Claims that Chazal 'weren't talking about the worms that we see' are unconvincing."
    or
    B) "Claims that Chazal 'weren't talking about the worms that we see' are unconvincing."

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  2. their ruling still holds true, due to their authority

    I know this isn't the primary purpose of your post but what authority do Chazal have MORE than Rabbis nowadays. After all you know you are supposed to follow "the Judge of your generation"

    Being an Orthodox Jew means accepting the halachic authority of Chazal, period.

    Again a source would be nice


    And what about the ramifications for previous generations who observed Chazal's rulings?

    What ramifications? They were wrong about science.Period.
    Do you think they are held accountable for erring according to the science of their times?

    "Changing halachic practice from that instructed by Chazal has the potential to fundamentally undermine Judaism."

    This argument is an appeal to consequences; a logical fallacy. Lets assume we really do need to change halacha to conform w/ science. Then would you have us say "yeah well we're gonna just ignore the need to change halacha because it might have dire consequences." Also I don't think changing just the faulty science in halacha would be as disastrous as you claim. (Unless you claim that people will start questioning all of halacha)

    I'm not quite sure what is motivating you to adopt this viewpoint is it because you think halacha never changes (which it sure does)or is it because you believe in some sort Chatimat Hatalmud which stopped the halachic process in its tracks (even though there is no historical record of such a Chatimat Hatalmud)

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  3. I know this isn't the primary purpose of your post but what authority do Chazal have MORE than Rabbis nowadays.

    Please see my book for an explanation.

    After all you know you are supposed to follow "the Judge of your generation"

    That is talking about the Beis Din HaGadol.

    What ramifications? They were wrong about science.Period.
    Do you think they are held accountable for erring according to the science of their times?


    Of course not. But there is a general principle in halachah that we don't pasken in a way that would mean that previous generations were eating treif according to current definitions. That's one reason why we don't prohibit turkey.

    "Changing halachic practice from that instructed by Chazal has the potential to fundamentally undermine Judaism."

    This argument is an appeal to consequences; a logical fallacy.


    It's not a logical fallacy. If you read my book, you'll understand why. One of the primary principles in halachah is that stability is of great importance.

    I'm not quite sure what is motivating you to adopt this viewpoint is it because you think halacha never changes (which it sure does)or is it because you believe in some sort Chatimat Hatalmud which stopped the halachic process in its tracks

    Neither. As I wrote in the post, my reasons are explained in my book, and in this post, I gave some additional reasons.

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  4. Hi-
    Just playing devil's advocate here for a minute-
    So based on this post, if Chazal say that the world is XXXX years old, would we be allowed to refute that statement in light of scientific knowledge? Or does the point of your post only pertain to matters of strict halacha, as opposed to "hashkafa"?
    Thanks.

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  5. In this very post I said that Chazal were mistaken about science! That is why I clearly specified that I was referring to their halachic authority.

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  6. Is this discussed in Mysterious Creatures? I have that book, but haven't yet read it. I don't have Sacred Monsters.

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  7. Without (yet) getting into the worm issue, regarding lice I do know that Rav David Bar-Hayim does not permit the killing of lice on Shabbath.

    It is important to identify the essential halacha that Hazal were trying to teach as opposed to the specific example which they used to demonstrate it. Clearly, had Hazal known the science we do now then they too would have stated very explicitly that killing lice is forbidden.

    Again, it is simplistic and makes halacha to not distingush between the essential law and the example.

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  8. But, don't Chazal also say that if the worm is found in the stomach, then that shows that it was swallowed, rather than spontaneously generated?

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  9. Is this discussed in Mysterious Creatures?

    Yes, but not to the same depth that it is discussed in Sacred Monsters.

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  10. Clearly, had Hazal known the science we do now then they too would have stated very explicitly that killing lice is forbidden.

    That's not clear at all. Maybe they would have still permitted it for a different reason.

    I don't think that it's so straightforward to distinguish between the essential principle and the resultant laws. It's the laws that were canonized and codified, not the principles.

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  11. But, don't Chazal also say that if the worm is found in the stomach, then that shows that it was swallowed, rather than spontaneously generated?

    Yes, but I don't understand what point you are trying to make.

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  12. But, don't Chazal also say that if the worm is found in the stomach, then that shows that it was swallowed, rather than spontaneously generated?

    Yes, but I don't understand what point you are trying to make.

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  13. "most people do not realize how explosive this Pandora's Box will be"

    1. That is exactely what they said about questions of hashkafa and emuna, such as age of the universe.

    2. Nu, maybe you can list what the "can of worms" is. It seems to me that the only biggie would be treifos (most of chumros/kulos in hilchos niddah isn't chazal's science).

    3. We are not talking here about some cute traditions and reconstructive judaism.

    We are talking about people striving to follow the will of Creator.

    Would you say that:

    a. Would chazal have a different scientific data, they would clearly reach a different conclusion?

    b. Would you say chazal would want all jews to follow the Torah in the best possible way?

    BTW I read your book and it doesn't answer most of the questions, so I think it is time to discuss this problem in detail, come what may.

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  14. If it was swallowed, then it did not come "from the flesh," but from the "outside."

    In other words, "not spontaneously generated."

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  15. 1. That is exactely what they said about questions of hashkafa and emuna, such as age of the universe.

    Agreed 100%. Which is why I believe that they should only be addressed when there is pressing need to do so.

    2. Nu, maybe you can list what the "can of worms" is. It seems to me that the only biggie would be treifos

    Isn't that big enough? But there are others. It is easy to imagine people arguing that we have better ways of determining bishul than kli rishon/ kli sheni, or that some of the principles about women are now outdated.

    We are talking about people striving to follow the will of Creator.

    Right. And the will of the creator is not always that halachah conforms to objective reality, as the story of Tannur shel Achnai illustrates.

    Would you say that:
    a. Would chazal have a different scientific data, they would clearly reach a different conclusion?


    Most likely (but not definitely).

    b. Would you say chazal would want all jews to follow the Torah in the best possible way?

    Of course. But I disagree with you on the definition of "best possible way."

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  16. If it was swallowed, then it did not come "from the flesh," but from the "outside."
    In other words, "not spontaneously generated."


    No, maybe it was spontaneously generated outside of the fish.

    Or maybe it wasn't. What difference? Chazal may well have believed that some insects come from eggs, even if they believed that many do not. Just like some mice come from dirt, and others come from mice.

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  17. Spontaneous generation meas it comes from the flesh (or from "filth.)

    Why else would the Rabbonim have said that if it is found in the stomach, as opposed to the flesh, it is assur. They say that being found in the stomach indicates that it came from outside the fish, rather than from within it.

    Hence, not spontaneously generated and an independent life form, with a parent.

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  18. Because if it was spontaneously generated from dirt, it is not kosher. It's only kosher if spontaneously generated from fish (and even things that are spontaneously generated from kosher sources may subsequently become non-kosher if they move away).

    But in any case, what difference does it make if they did believe that worms that were swallowed were not spontaneously generated?

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  19. Because if it wasn't spontaneously generated, then it would be assur, like any other sheretz.

    Spontaneous generation is the mattir, just as you say it is.

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  20. Well, maybe that is exactly what the Gemara means when it says that they come from the outside.
    Or, it means that they were spontaneously generated outside.

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  21. The only way halacha can remain vital and meaningful is when we understand Hazal's words in the context of when they were saying it. When they discussed halachic principles via examples-if we canonize those examples we are perpetuating the tafel and eliminating the ikkar of the halacha. True, this approach has ramifications-but when halacha doesn't take into account new realities it doesn't get taken seriously even by Jews who were brought up observant, let alone the non-observant. The more thoughtful sometimes come to realize that "something doesn't make sense here."

    Having said this, it is important to distinguish between an approach which takes Hazal's halachic principles seriously and an approach which in essence seeks to replace Hazal with some later arbiter such as Thomas Jefferson regarding democratic values and the correct way to deal with mirnority or enemy populations in a Jewish State. Further, regarding women's issues one must tread delicately and carefully lest one impose upon Hazal principles of democratic equality which weren't exactly what Hazal had in mind.

    If we refer to Hazal's words in an intellectually honest fashion then we need not fear hearing the conclusion. Those who can't deal with such a straightforward approach can continue asking their halachic questions to certain Haredi gedolim. But if we all follow that course then we as a nation will get nowhere.

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  22. What I find interesting is that we see a conflict between two tendencies in Charedi scoiety. On the one hand minhag yisrael/authority of Chazal - on the other strict textualism/the desire for chumrot. It's interesting to see that the latter is winning here - we see that in this case the desire for chumrot outweighs the traditional acceptance of Chazal and the Rishonim's authority. Hopefully, when more things like this happen, us rationalists will be able to argue that we are actually far LESS radical than those who abandon traditional halachic practice for the sake of chumra.

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  23. "Natan Slifkin said...
    Clearly, had Hazal known the science we do now then they too would have stated very explicitly that killing lice is forbidden.

    That's not clear at all. Maybe they would have still permitted it for a different reason."

    But that was Rabbi Dessler's approach which you repeatedly disagreed with and rejected in your post.

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  24. About the can of worms I have a few sincer doubts:

    a)I am not a very knowledgable guy, so I present my excuses if I´m wrong, but I heard a shiur about the Rambam (Mishne Torah) and he stated that when there is no Beith Din Hagadol, "if one doesn´t know", then he should follow the more stringest opinions when is form the torah, and the more lenient in other areas (rabanan). So doesnt this imply that know a days a psak doesn´t have the same weight?.

    b)Don´t you think that the real can of worms is not adjusting to science. Because in the long run you might end up with a heavy back pack, and how can you expect people (or tha majority) to follow something that clearly contradictas logic, common sense or what have you?

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  25. "Would chazal have a different scientific data, they would clearly reach a different conclusion?"

    i recall from somewhere in zootorah.com that r. shlomo zalman said that when mashiach comes some halachot will have to change.

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  26. But it says that if it came from the outside, as a free-swimming creature, it is ossur!

    That's why they make a distinction between bugs found in the flesh (muttar) and that which is found in the stomach (ossur).

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  27. > Once you say that we should change Chazal's rulings in accordance with our understanding of the world, there are going to be all kinds of halachos that people will argue should be changed; most people do not realize how explosive this Pandora's Box will be. … Changing halachic practice from that instructed by Chazal has the potential to fundamentally undermine Judaism.

    I think that people understand this perfectly well, and that is why they insist that Chazal can’t be mistaken about ANYTHING. To say otherwise would, as you say, “has the potential to fundamentally undermine Judaism.” Be that as it may, you seem to accept on faith that Chazal can’t be wrong about halacha. Why? Were they infallible? Or is it just pragmatic: If we allow the possibility they were wrong, Judaism might collapse, so we have to pretend that they were right.

    > It is easy to imagine people arguing that we have better ways of determining bishul than kli rishon/ kli sheni, or that some of the principles about women are now outdated.

    But we do have better ways. A cheap thermometer is a much better method. And the way Judaism traditionally treats women is outdated, so much so that even the most right-wing only pay lip service to it. (Bais Yaakov, women working outside the home, women in positions of authority, all run counter to traditional conceptions of women’s roles.) Are we to hold on to Chazal’s way of doing things just because this is the way it was done back then?

    Which leads me to wonder. If hilchos kashrus were being codified today, instead of some two thousand years ago, would it be permissible to eat the worms in these fish? If the Bavli and Yerushalmi didn’t exist, and the rabbonim today were compiling a Talmud Americani, how would the gemara pasken?

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  28. "But there is a general principle in halachah that we don't pasken in a way that would mean that previous generations were eating treif according to current definitions."

    First of all, what is your source for this?

    Secondly the Gemara in Yoma (80a) seems to contradict this. It says there that one who eats less than a shi'ur should write it down because maybe the beit din will pasken that one is mechuyav a korban for that amount. Wouldn't that imply that previous generations were being matir something which was truly forbidden (being that this psak would clearly work retoactively)?

    If you will say that the previous generations weren't doing anything wrong because they still held chatzi shi'ur asur min hatorah, I could still respond that there are practical ramifications such as how much to feed a sick person at a time.

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  29. The source for saying that worms found in the fish's stomach are permitted, while those found in the flesh are permitted is Y.D. 84:16.

    Presumably, that distinction is based on a belief that the flesh-dwelling worm was sponataneously generated, while the stomach-dwelling one was not. Otherwise, why would one be muttar and the other not, just as SA says?

    Although we can take advantage of the spontaneous generation heter as regards to the flesh dwelling worms, it does not follow that we could extend it beyond where the Rabbis did.

    The only way out of this is to say that they believed Anisakis to be a flesh-dweller, rather than a stomach-dweller.

    I happen to think that there might be some other heterim, but I don't think that the spontaneous generation thing will help.

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  30. special Lice(ense)April 23, 2010 at 10:57 PM

    Out of curiosity. Does anybody suggest that lice have a different halacha because of thier involvment in the 10 plagues? Similar to the locusts?

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  31. Two things

    1) You wrote "But there is a general principle in halachah that we don't pasken in a way that would mean that previous generations were eating treif according to current definitions. "

    Is this cited in the Poskim? Can you cite a reference or two? Thanks

    2) You wrote that you are"open to being corrected on this"

    Have you seen this article?

    http://www.lakewood246.com/news/8183/delving-into-recent-concerns-about-worms-in-fish.html

    A very well written, objective piece which presents the evidence (IMO) quite fairly.

    Please let me know what you think.

    Thanks

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  32. While I agree with the conclusions drawn in this post, I disagre with some of the reasoning. First, it is not true that "chazal" attributed the permissibility of killing (body) lice on shabbat to the fact that they didn't sexually reproduce. That was the view of the Amora, Rav Yosef, as opposed to the opinion of Abaye who brings a verse in support of his contention that lice produce eggs. These Amora'im are, however, debating an halacha that was established several centuries before according to Bet Hillel. It is entirely possible, then, to adduce another reason for permitting the killing of lice on shabbat, such as the fact that these critters depend entirely on their human hosts and can't survive without them. That total dependency may place them in a different category than the killing of any animal or insect used in the Mishkan (the source for the prohibition of killing on shabbat). Such a distinction is, apparently, sufficient given the anguish these creatures cause their host. In short, Rav Dessler's position has much to commend it in this case.

    While the argument from the legal authority of chazal and precedent has merit. It should not constitute a blanket prohibition against change, if the facts warrant it and the need is sufficient. Given the natural conservative inclinations of a legal system, such change would be difficult, but not impossible.

    A possible example that should not create a general viceral reaction is the issue of how to treat stainless steel or Pyrex (borosilicate glass) cookware. According to the Rema, such metal and glassware are to be considered as absorbing the "taste" of cooked foodstuffs throughout their volume. That means that such cookware must be kashered if a prohibited substance or mixture had inadvertently been cooked, and the later batch of otherwise kosher contents must be discarded if it hadn't been kashered. However, the reality is that such materials don't absorb anything from the heated contents - as evidenced by the lack of discoloration or taste carryover of such cookware even after years of use with highly colored or pungent materials (I am specifically excluding baked on residue which, in any case, affects only the surface of the cookware). One needn't assume that the Rema was totally mistaken. It's just that the metal and glassware available in his time (16th century) and location (Krakow, Poland) were, presumably, cast iron and crude glass. These aren't smooth materials and can adsorb foodstuff matter in their cracks and irregular surface. Stainless steel and Pyrex are quite different and shouldn't be treated under the same rule. I believe that Rav Herschel Schachter is in agreement, but he represents a rather lone voice among poskim on this issue.

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  33. Natan Slifkin

    Whats your take on 8 month old babies
    (who the gemara says are "unviable" in most cases)should we mantain the outdated halachot that pertain to that assumption. (I ask because as far as I know nobody follows this anymore)

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  34. "that Chazal were merely giving an explanation for a law whose reason has been lost in antiquity "

    A slight varient on this opinion, and one I think should be mentioned is that Chazal based thier laws on thier observations, not on the absolulte reality of those obseservations (Torah was given in the language of man), and therefore since it appears that the worm comes from the flesh of the fish because it is microscopic when it enters the fish, it is considered by halachah to be "from the flesh" and does not count as the Torah's 'things that swim in the waters' (since it was never in the water). Thus it is not nessesarily a tradition that the worms are ok it is a halachic decision based on the definition of what is a "swimming thing", and the observation of the worm.

    A similar idea can be used for the "dome of the sky" issue. I.e. that it is observed that the sky does not get pitch black right after sunset, and therefore there are halachic issues as to when night begins. Whether you say that is because of the horizontal dome travel-time or due to refraction/reflection does not effect the halachah.

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  35. That's not clear at all. Maybe they would have still permitted it for a different reason."

    But that was Rabbi Dessler's approach which you repeatedly disagreed with and rejected in your post.


    No, I am saying that while they permitted it due to spont. gen., there can be other reasons for permitting it. R. Dessler's approach was that they did NOT permit it due to spont. gen.

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  36. Have you seen this article?

    http://www.lakewood246.com/news/8183/delving-into-recent-concerns-about-worms-in-fish.html

    A very well written, objective piece which presents the evidence (IMO) quite fairly.

    Please let me know what you think.


    It's a good essay. But the bottom line is that the clear corollary of those who forbid the fish is that it is also forbidden to kill lice on Shabbos. Ultimately, they are saying that we are changing the halachah because Chazal were wrong (even though they would never actually say that, chas v'shalom!) Chazal did not make any of the distinctions that they are making.

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  37. Whats your take on 8 month old babies (who the gemara says are "unviable" in most cases)should we mantain the outdated halachot that pertain to that assumption.

    Pikuach nefesh trumps everything.

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  38. "Whats your take on 8 month old babies (who the gemara says are "unviable" in most cases)should we mantain the outdated halachot that pertain to that assumption.

    Pikuach nefesh trumps everything."

    i think the proper answer is that in this case, science didn't change, rather our medical capabilities did.

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  39. Be that as it may, you seem to accept on faith that Chazal can’t be wrong about halacha. Why? Were they infallible? Or is it just pragmatic: If we allow the possibility they were wrong, Judaism might collapse, so we have to pretend that they were right.

    I made it clear that the argument from consequences is only supplementary. When I stressed in my post that you have to read Sacred Monsters to understand why we follow Chazal even if they were wrong, what I meant was, you have to read Sacred Monsters to understand why we follow Chazal even if they were wrong.

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  40. Rabbi Slifkin said: "That's not clear at all. Maybe they would have still permitted it for a different reason."

    I said:
    "But that was Rabbi Dessler's approach which you repeatedly disagreed with and rejected in your post. "

    Rabbi Slifkin said:
    "No, I am saying that while they permitted it due to spont. gen., there can be other reasons for permitting it. R. Dessler's approach was that they did NOT permit it due to spont. gen. "


    But your explanation has exactly the same problem as Rabbi Dessler's. If they had other reasons, why didn't they tell us those? Chazal were not exactly hiding things from us in the gemara. I don't think you are suggesting they were not being honest?

    Or they had multiple reasons and only chose one? Then why would the discussion hinge on that one reason and that would be the only one discussed? Logically one would think they would surely include the "other reasons" to trump the other side of the argument with multiple angles, especially considering that often times the purpose of a sugiya is to uphold a certain halachic position or a certain side of a machloketh in the mishna. I'm not sure I understand this speculative point of view that "They may have had reasons that they hid from us." - and that we should be paralyzed from dealing with scientific reality because of that. Whatever was "hidden" (Not that I accept that chazal were hiding things), we do not currently have available to us, so there is no point in speculating about it. We only have the texts in front of us. Similar to the subject of the "proto-mishnayot" or "The Rabbi Akiva mishna" - ridiculous to speculate about because we don't have any text of any such thing and it is all guesswork. We have the current mishnayot in their current form as they were compiled and passed on to us.

    The idea of "textual truth" and adherence to it is actually what separates Orthodox Judaism from other forms of scholarship and heretical sects according to Rabbi Saul Lieberman.

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  41. I didn't say that they HAD other reasons. I am saying that even if their reason wasn't true, there might be grounds for another.

    But I can't even remember how we got on to this point.

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  42. Pikuach nefesh trumps everything.


    Ahem Pikuach nefesh itself is a halacha last time i checked. Chazal tell us when to apply it and when not you can't say pikuach nefesh trumps chazal unless you are willing to admit that we should change their halachot!

    i think the proper answer is that in this case, science didn't change, rather our medical capabilities did.
    That would be great except chazal believed a 7 month old baby had a better chance of survival.

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  43. Changing halachic practice from that instructed by Chazal has the potential to fundamentally undermine Judaism.

    Hasn't this already happened? I mean, anyone who sits down and reads the Rambam's Mishne Torah will immeditaly see that normative Orthodox practice today has many significant differences from normative practice in Rambam's time. And not just in the realm of minhag and chumrot, but in the negation of Torah commandments. One of the most popular examples is not putting Teffilin on chol hamoed. I've spoken with Baladi Yeminite scholars who say there are hundreds if not thousands of such significant differences in the way modern normative practices have changed. This not even to mention bombshells like that apparently the majority of the Geonim held that a gezira from Talmudic times could be ignored if it was determined that the reason for the gezira no longer applies. See the discussion of Givinat Akum in the MT. This of course is the famous case where Rambam disagrees with the Geonim and rules differently than they do, although some other Rishonim held the same way as the Geonim on this issue. IIRC, it was Rabbenu Tam in France that held according to the Geonim on this issue. My point is, that halachik practice has significantly changed at least over the past 800 years, and especially since the introduction of the Zohar. I will agree however that this fundamentally undermines Judaism.

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  44. Dear Shilton HaSechel,

    Please see the introduction to Rambam's MT for some enlightening information regarding Rabbinic authority.

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  45. Hasn't this already happened?

    Of course it has. And it can happen in a way that does not undermine Judaism. In fact, I can certainly see that a case can be made for saying that the worm-prohibitors are not undermining it, since they are doing it under the claim that Chazal were talking about a different type of worm. But there is nevertheless a potential here to fundamentally undermine things, rather than things developing a natural, organic way.

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  46. Reb Noson, while I agree with your overall principle about Chazal's view of science, I think that the science in this case is more complex than you're giving credit.

    This applies not only to fish, but also to bugs in vegetables (as I think the Taz in YD discusses, IIRC).

    The issue is whether bugs or worms are born when inside the fish or vegetable. Many worms and bugs have a very short life span, and many "generations" go by from when they enter the fish/vegetable and when they (or their offspring) are then in existence inside a killed fish or a picked vegetable. If the bugs or worms that are found inside a fish or vegetable were inside that fish or vegetable their whole life, they're not in the category of "remeses al ha'aretz" and should not be assur min ha'Torah.

    Bringing this back to the terminology in your post, the phrase "yetzira" in this discussion includes "born," and can in fact be accurate.

    I can't speak for how often this happens, or for the exact science on the subject (my PhD is in another area of science :-) but this is my understanding of the scientific claim behind the psak for both fish and for vegetables.

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  47. I cannot understand your logic:
    If chazal drew an erronous conclusion based on an erronous assumption, you have the mitzwah to rectify as soon as you are sure the assumption was wrong...

    Because as long as they erred because their assumptions were wrong, they were Beshogeg. If now we know their assumptions are wrong and still apply their rulings, it would be "bemezid"...

    Of course, I agree with you: what with the prohibations based on erroneous assumptions? Will those things become permitted or just stay forbidden because they were for so and so many centuries now...

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  48. Reb Natan:

    I wonder whether you might wish to respond to my question as to how you would understand YD 84:16, which says that worms found in the stomach are considered sheratzim and are assur.

    Therefore, whether or not they based their understanding on a belief in spontaneous reproduction, they still hold that a parasite found in the stomach is a sheretz and is assur.

    Anisakis, as you know, is found in the stomach.



    Thanks

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  49. שו"ע יורה דעה - סימן פד
    והנמצאים בדגים במעיהם, אסורים; בין עור לבשר או בתוך הבשר, מותרים.

    It seems pretty black-and-white to me. Anisakis found in the stomach are prohibited, those found in the flesh are permitted.

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  50. Fine.

    I just wanted to clarify that something found within the gut is not spontaneously generated and is assur.

    The heter for anisakis would therefore have to come from some other rationale.

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  51. The reason why worms in the gut are ossur is not because they are not spontaneously generated. It is because they are not spontaneously generated *from the fish.*

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  52. It seems to me that Chazal ruled that (1) spontaneously generated worms in fish flesh are permitted, not that (2) all worms in fish flesh are permitted, nor that (3) all worms in fish flesh are spontaneously generated. All scientific progress aside, #3 is unacceptable because rabbis do not get to "rule" on science, and #2 is unacceptable because Chazal themselves accepted that non-spontaneously generated worms were not kosher, and we happen to know that the ones in fish flesh today are of this, their non-kosher variety.

    I understand the impulse to not open the can of worms in other cases, but not this one. Chazal forbade a type of worm that exists, and permitted one that does not exist. Sure, the non-existent worms are still permitted, out of our respect for Chazal, but it doesn't matter because the real, really forbidden ones are in our fish.

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  53. I will try to clarify how we got onto the subject, Rabbi. Originally, 'Emeth' had said: "Clearly, had Hazal known the science we do now then they too would have stated very explicitly that killing lice is forbidden."

    Rabbi Slifkin, you responded by saying: "That's not clear at all. Maybe they would have still permitted it for a different reason."

    In addition to the fact that the machloketh hinges precisely on this reason, it is difficult to square this with how you replied just now: "I didn't say that they HAD other reasons. I am saying that even if their reason wasn't true, there might be grounds for another."

    Since Chazal are not alive today, you must be talking about a hypothetical in the past (As Emeth was, only where chazal have today's scientific information). And it seems you are speculating about unknown additional hypothetical reasons Chazal have/had to permit killing lice on Shabbath, other than the reason given, that we all know from the Talmudh - and beyond that entire discussion which appears in the Talmudh. So I am very perplexed now at what exactly you mean other than postulating "unknown reasons" that are not borne out in our existing texts. I'm not sure I understand how your reply addressed my comment that engaging in speculations about "unknown reasons" has exactly the same drawback and questionable believability as Rabbi Dessler's position, that the din was really for some other reason lost in ancient times.

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  54. I'm not a scholar. I'm a simple Jew. And currently, a searching one.

    As I see it, if my grandparents in Europe were allowed to eat this fish (with the worms), and every other halachic Jew was allowed to eat this fish (with the worms) for the past 1,500 years, then I should be allowed to eat it as well.

    To my eye, the only thing that has changed is thuggery, manipulations and power grabs dressed in the clothing of halacha, piety and religious stringency.

    It appears that the chumra-of-the-month club is winning in the popularity department.

    Even Modern Orthodox are becoming more extreme and taking on things from the "Yeshivish" which is taking on everything it can from the "Chareidi" of Israel, which is being manipulated by the power-hungry, who are changing the face of the religion I grew up with. Chadgadya...

    Mark my words - they WILL assur Turkey if this trend continues - and if nothing significant changes - it will continue. My Yeshivish friends will not eat in my house if I don't filter the water, being that I live in New York City, because halachically there are supposedly bugs in the water, even though I have yet to see any.

    Very simply, this assuring of fish due to the worms issue is the straw that is breaking this camel's back.

    I want to stay frum. I really do. But I don't want to be controlled by the rabbis running after the chumra of the day. But in order to be a part of the club I have to submit to their whims.

    I remember when Shabbos elevators came out. It was a big "controversy". And I thought that it was beautiful that there were people who worked towards and found a halachic way to make the lives of people easier - like the elderly or disabled or just the weak and the sick who couldn't walk up or down the many steps they would have to in order to go to shul or engage in any other frum activity on Shabbos.

    The goal seems to be making our lives harder, asserting more control, and gaining popularity by coming up with a good, new, and more stringent halacha.

    I've come to loathe the religion that I loved.

    This is causing an extreme crisis of faith for me. And something tells me, that I'm not the only one.

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  55. "it seems pretty black-and-white to me. Anisakis found in the stomach are prohibited, those found in the flesh are permitted."

    But if you are rationalist and devoted to zoology, this argument must make you cringe.

    The Anisakis in the muscles is the same as the anisakis in the guts, just that it migrated from the guts to the muscles.

    Therefore, it defies all logic to allow the Anisakis as soon as it migrated away from the guts.

    Furthermore, I think it is OK to ask for fish that was properly gutted in time, where anisakis has no time to migrate to the flesh.

    People make sushi out of salmon. In this case, the Anisakis might be still alive and migrate to the human body, and this is really, really dangerous.

    I cannot understand how a rationalist can argue against properly cleaning fish...

    Or do you defend rationalist points of view just as long as it suits you, but as soon as it becomes complicated, you'd rather rely on errors made several centuries ago?

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  56. And it seems you are speculating about unknown additional hypothetical reasons Chazal have/had to permit killing lice on Shabbath, other than the reason given,

    No, I'm not. I am saying that there can be other good reasons to maintain the halachah, aside from the (mistaken) reason that Chazal had in forming it.

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  57. The Anisakis in the muscles is the same as the anisakis in the guts, just that it migrated from the guts to the muscles.
    Therefore, it defies all logic to allow the Anisakis as soon as it migrated away from the guts.


    Let me ask you a question. Have you read the last chapter of Sacred Monsters? You know, the part that I recommend people read if they want to understand why I believe that Chazal should be followed even if they based their halachos on a mistaken understanding of science.

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  58. PS: if you want to argue in favour of ignoring Anisakis, I would rather take the "cannot be seen with the naked eye" line.

    I cannot identify a piece of Anisakis in a piece of salmon with the naked eye.

    So I suppose that it is the same as with spinach: I learned you are allowed unchecked spinach if it was minced before you bought it, since the vermines are "botel be shishim".

    I suppose this line of argument would also work for a piece of salmon...

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  59. "Let me ask you a question. Have you read the last chapter of Sacred Monsters?"

    I do not have the book, so I cannot read it.

    But I cannot see any rationalist argument that would defend allowing worms that are forbidden in the guts, provided they migrated to the flesh.

    If you argue they are allowed, you implicitely defend the sage's theory that they were created from the fish's flesh.

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  60. If I want to go on eating herring or salmon, my argument would be:
    - I assume that the fish I buy was gutted/treated appropriately so that no Anisakis could creep in.

    - I did not see any Anisakis with my eyes

    so I eat it.

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  61. I cannot see any rationalist argument that would defend allowing worms that are forbidden in the guts, provided they migrated to the flesh.
    If you argue they are allowed, you implicitely defend the sage's theory that they were created from the fish's flesh.


    And I also argue, like Rav Herzog, that it is permitted to kill lice on Shabbos, even though the Sages permitted this due to them believing that they spontaneously generate, and thus you could say that I am implicitly defending spontaneous generation, even though I insist that it never happens.

    As I wrote in my post, and repeated several times in the comments, you'll simply have to read my book to understand the reasons.

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  62. PS: what I find more outrageous is that I was told to buy my fish at the kosher fishmonger's because of "some worms", and now it turns out that the kosher fishmonger's fish might contain exactely the same worms.

    So as long as the kosher fishmongers cannot guarantee absence of "those worms", I buy my fish whereever I want...

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  63. Well, if I once have an occasion to find your book, I might well read it and understand what you mean.

    In my view, this worm controversy could be an interesting precedent where it is declared that chazal could be mistaken.

    So we could perhaps bring along other topics where they took decision based on wrong assumptions and correct them.

    As far as lice are concerned: I propose you thoroughly get rid of lice on a day other than shabbat and abstain from killing them on shabbat. If you do not have any, it will not be too difficult to follow.

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  64. You might have arguments in your book.

    But I doubt they are compatible with rationalism.

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  65. "And it seems you are speculating about unknown additional hypothetical reasons Chazal have/had to permit killing lice on Shabbath, other than the reason given,

    No, I'm not. I am saying that there can be other good reasons to maintain the halachah, aside from the (mistaken) reason that Chazal had in forming it."



    I see. So please share them.

    And there is a big difference between saying there are reasons we can find (related to other halachot or issues, etc) to still keep the incorrectly-arrived-at law, and saying we *MUST do so, ie that we are obligated to still keep the incorrectly-arrived-at law. It seemed your article originally was saying the latter, not the former, and yet your latest comment indicates moreso the former - just that perhaps there are other suitable reasons to maintain the same din (of course opinions will vary and this is subjective once we scrap hazal's actually stated reasoning). Please clarify. Thank you.

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  66. You might have arguments in your book.

    But I doubt they are compatible with rationalism.


    I'm always astounded at how people can pass judgment on things that they admit that they have absolutely no knowledge of.

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  67. Student V - My position is that we should keep the halachah even if there are no other reasons. I was merely pointing out that sometimes there can be other reasons. For example, with lice, one can say that they are lower life-forms.

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  68. I claim no expert knowledge of the anisakis problem in some fish. However, I have read the Wikipedia article on the subject as well as what some rabbinic types have been saying, pro and con. It seems to me that there is a general lack of expert opinion on the facts of the matter. For example, Rabbi Yair Hoffman, who supports the proposed ban, keeps referring to worms located originally in the gizzard. However, very few fish have gizards, which is a characteristic of birds. He then claims that inadequate gutting of the fish leave the anisakis worms which then migrate into the flesh. Rabbi Yudel Shain, in contrast, attributes that migration to the fact that salmon stop eating on their way to their spawning grounds. I suspect that neither is correct. In any case, there is no need to assume that a given fish has not been adequately gutted prior to presenting it for sale. In fact, banning a previously permitted foodstuff would require establishing that a change in processing has now lead to the expected presence of a prohibited material in that foodstuff. No one has presented evidence, thus far, that wild salmon and some other fish have such an expected presence of the anisakis worm. What is reasonable is to suggest that the consumer carefully examine the salmon filet for signs of worms and to wash of the surfaces. It would help to tear off the skin in this inspection process.

    This assumes that either the worms are problematic or merely something distasteful. Rav Yisroel Belsky, a leading American posek used by the OU, has been quoted as stating that such worms are not problematic based on Chulin 67b and Yoreh Deah 84:16. As Rav Shlomo Miller, a leading N. American posek has further noted, if the fish is ground up - as in gefilte fish, the problem is obviated since any possible worm parts would be nullified by 60 times that amount of ground fish. Moreover, one is allowed to grind up such fish as long as it is not known to definitely harbor the worms.

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  69. "even though Chazal did apparently base their permission on a mistaken understanding of the natural world, their ruling still holds true, due to their authority."

    Now what about the determination of the state of death? According to the above principle we still should wait till the breathing stops, no matter that the person is brain dead for some time!

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  70. I already answered that point above.

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  71. I see, you mean since it is a matter of life and death, different rules apply.
    Another question, what about a worm that is half in the flesh, half in the emptied belly of the fish, like the case described in the article you refer to?

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  72. Rabbi Slifkin,

    Did you read the article about this subject in last weeks Jewish Tribune?

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  73. I don't get the Tribune. Can you scan it and send it to me?

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