Friday, May 21, 2010

Letter to Rav Belsky

Adar 18th 5770
To: Rav Yisroel Belsky

Dear Rav Belsky, shlita,

Shalom u’vrachah
, I hope that the Rosh Yeshivah is well. Baruch Hashem, all is well with me.

I am writing concerning a letter that the Rosh Yeshivah sent to Dr. Isaac Betech in Mexico which has since been publicized. (If this letter is some sort of forgery, please let me know, but I am assuming that it is authentic.) In this letter, the Rosh Yeshivah states that “the sages of the Talmud were far advanced in all facets of wisdom and correct in every field of knowledge,” that “the sages spoke only the truth and were the repository of all wisdom,” that “so-called contradictions between Torah and science never presented any problem” to you because you “had not come across any that couldn’t be resolved with ease,” and that “every seeming contradiction can be shown to be of no consequence to a seasoned mind.”

As I understand it, the Rosh Yeshivah is not casting aspersions on the legitimacy of the approach of the many dozens of Geonim, Rishonim and Acharonim who write that Chazal were sometimes incorrect in their statements about the natural world. Rather, the Rosh Yeshivah is claiming that while this approach is legitimate, it is not necessary for us to invoke it, since all statements by Chazal about the natural world can easily be reconciled with science.

Given this statement, I would greatly appreciate it if, for my own education and for the community at large, the Rosh Yeshivah could explain how the following three statements of Chazal can be reconciled with science:

• The statement of the Chachmei Yisrael that the sun goes behind the sky at night (Pesachim 94b). Every single Rishon that I have seen discuss this (R. Sherira Gaon and R. Hai Gaon, Rambam, Rabbeinu Avraham, Rabbeinu Tam, Tosafos Rid, R. Eliezer b. Shmuel of Metz, Rosh, R. Yerucham ben Meshullam, Semag, Ritva, R. Manoach b. Yaakov, R. Menachem ben Aharon ibn Zerach, R. Eliyahu Mizrachi, R. Yitzchak Arama, Maharam Alashkar, Radvaz) agrees that this statement should be interpreted at face value, with only Rabbeinu Tam saying that Chazal were nevertheless correct that the sun goes behind the sky at night, and all the rest agreeing with R. Yehudah HaNasi that Chazal were mistaken. (I know that Maharal, Ramchal etc. interpret it metaphorically, but there is no basis for this in the Rishonim, and nor is there any indication in the Gemara that it is metaphorical.)

• The statement that the bat (atalef) lays eggs (Bechoros 7b). Modern zoology asserts that none of the 950 species of bats lay eggs. It is not reasonable to say that there is a mistranslation here; Rashi translates atalef as bat, and no classical commentator has ever disputed this. It cannot be a platypus or echidna (which lay eggs and nurse their young), since these animals do not fly and the atalef is listed in the Torah as a flying creature. Even if one were to posit that it is a bird, which does lay eggs, there would still be a problem in that the Talmud describes it as nursing its young, which no bird does. It is likewise not reasonable to address this conflict by arguing that the Talmud is speaking metaphorically. The statement about bats is not aggadata, but rather part of a discussion about the natural world. No commentator has ever suggested that it is not meant as a factual statement. Nor can one solve this conflict by positing that nature has changed. Modern science asserts not only that bats do not lay eggs today, but that they have never laid eggs. The only egg-laying mammals, the duck-billed platypus and echidna, live in Australia and are physiologically unusual creatures that are on an extremely remote branch of the mammalian family tree, both geographically and physiologically. An egg-laying bat would be completely contradictory to the neat nested hierarchy of the animal kingdom. I understand that some people would simply say that “science is wrong,” but, as I understand your claim, it is that all statements in Chazal can be reconciled with science, not that science should simply be waved away.

• The statement that the wolf, lion, bear, leopard, elephant, and monkey have a gestation period of three years (Bechoros 8a). Again, the context of this statement dictates against a metaphorical explanation, and I have not seen any Rishon or Acharon state that it is not meant literally. Nor would any biologist that I know assert that this statement is true or was ever true.

I eagerly anticipate the Rosh Yeshivah’s response to these questions. The latter two are of particular importance, since I am currently writing a comprehensive Torah encyclopedia of the animal kingdom, and it would be helpful if I could show how these statements can be reconciled with science. Thank you for your time.

Sincerely,
Natan Slifkin

63 comments:

  1. Wow I wonder what he will say. Maybe he'll just ignore you. Either way I am waiting with bated breath keep us posted.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Why do I get the feeling that this is a form letter you have in your files waiting to be sent to wherever necessary but rarely if ever getting any response?

    ReplyDelete
  3. Yeah...I had a meeting with Rabbi Belsky back in the day. The conversation pretty much involved him going on a diatribe about how evolution is nonsense, and interrupting me virtually every time I spoke.

    Two hours of listening to his pseudoscience-filled rant was more than enough for me to realize that I was wasting my time.

    I suggest you do the same.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Nice letter, but personally I would take out Rav Belsky's address (even if it is accessible elsewhere.)

    ReplyDelete
  5. > Every single Rishon that I have seen discuss this... agrees that this statement should be interpreted at face value...

    Correct me if I'm wrong, but I think you meant to say, "should NOT be interpreted at face value".

    No?

    ReplyDelete
  6. No. It should be interpreted at face value - that they really believed that the sun goes behind the sky at night, and R. Yehudah HaNasi said that they were wrong.

    ReplyDelete
  7. But in this letter didn't you say the opposite, that Rav Hai Gaon says it shouldn't be taken at face value, that Chazal’s view about the sun travelling
    behind the firmament is incorrect?

    ReplyDelete
  8. No! Rav Hai Gaon says that it most certainly should be taken at face value - and rejected!

    When I say "taken at face value" I don't mean "considered correct." I mean that it should be interpreted literally, not allegorically.

    ReplyDelete
  9. Why do you insist on poking the bear?

    ReplyDelete
  10. Rabbi, next time you write a letter to R Belsky, can you ask him how the barrel trick in the beginning of kesuvos worked. Can one really tell if a girl is a virgin or not, by putting her on a barrel of wine and smelling her breath?

    ReplyDelete
  11. Garnel, the reason will become clear in a forthcoming post about my banned books.

    ReplyDelete
  12. That's a great letter.

    Forza! = yeyasher koach

    ReplyDelete
  13. koillel nick:
    regarding the barrel trick, I haven't tested it out myself to confirm that it works. but it is not necessarily as ludicrous as it may seem to us at first glance. the idea is not that there is a hollow, such that the aroma will move upwards towards the mouth. rather, it is that the alcohol will be more readily absorbed into the bloodstream and will then cause her breath to smell of alcohol. see my discussion of it, and of the vodka tampon, here:
    http://parsha.blogspot.com/2009/10/rabban-gamliel-and-confirmation-by.html

    kol tuv,
    josh


    http://parsha.blogspot.com/2009/10/rabban-gamliel-and-confirmation-by.html

    ReplyDelete
  14. Did you send this letter back in Adar?
    Did you already receive a response?

    ReplyDelete
  15. regarding the barrel trick, IIRC enough rubbing of garlic on the feet can cause garlic breath. my apologies if this is a piece of quackery.

    ReplyDelete
  16. If I remeber the Gemara correctly, R' Yehuda Hanasi says that Cachmei Yisrael were wrong and that Chachmei Hagoyim were right and the sun goes under the earth at night.

    Since it goes under the earth at night, we need Mayim Shelanu.

    Did I get this right?

    ReplyDelete
  17. Speaking of 'renconciliation,' I wonder how all the Rishonim you list reconcile their position that Chazal were mistaken with the contemporary notion that Chazal are infallible.

    ReplyDelete
  18. I agree with Pliny's comment about removing the address. That seems unnecessary and impolite.

    I wasn't aware of the bat laying eggs example. Is there some master list somewhere of all the points in the Gemara where there's incorrect science? I know that a lot of them are in your books, but I don't recall ever seeing something simple like a list with a one or two sentence descriptor and a citation.

    ReplyDelete
  19. Speaking of 'renconciliation,' I wonder how all the Rishonim you list reconcile their position that Chazal were mistaken with the contemporary notion that Chazal are infallible.

    I don't understand your question. You are asking how people who lived 700 years ago reconcile their views with people who live today?

    ReplyDelete
  20. try this link..seems like someone did a lot of work

    http://torahandscience.blogspot.com/2006/04/sources-indicating-that-chazal-did-not.html

    ReplyDelete
  21. I think there's a school of thought that Chazal are always correct about science but the Rishonim not necessarily so. This allows the Gemara about the sun's path at night to be understood as Maharal against all the Rishonim. You find Maharal's interpretation weak, but this school might prioritize understanding every gemara as scientifically correct even at the expense of it fitting the text weakly.

    Your letter to R. Aharon Feldman (at zootorah) ends with a request that he resolve certain Chazal statements with science. IIRC those staements are different than the ones here. Why the change? Have the old ones been resolved during the years since you wrote to R. Feldman?

    ReplyDelete
  22. You find Maharal's interpretation weak, but this school might prioritize understanding every gemara as scientifically correct even at the expense of it fitting the text weakly.

    That is indeed what they do. But, as I wrote in the letter, there is no basis for this in the Rishonim, and nor is there any indication in the Gemara that it is metaphorical. What basis is there for saying that all the Rishonim got peshat in the Gemara wrong?

    Your letter to R. Aharon Feldman (at zootorah) ends with a request that he resolve certain Chazal statements with science. IIRC those staements are different than the ones here. Why the change?

    In the letter to R. Feldman, I specifically mentioned the cases that were in my book that he condemned. Since he said that there were other, cogent approaches to those cases, I asked him to provide them.

    ReplyDelete
  23. >>"That is indeed what they do. But, as I wrote in the letter, there is no basis for this in the Rishonim, and nor is there any indication in the Gemara that it is metaphorical. What basis is there for saying that all the Rishonim got peshat in the Gemara wrong?"

    If one views the Talmud and talmudic exegesis as ahistorical, perhaps each generation has the license to interpret gemaras about science in light of the science of their day?

    ReplyDelete
  24. Are you saying that if one views Talmudic exegesis as having nothing to do with figuring out what Chazal actually meant, then the result will be an explanation that has nothing to do with what Chazal actually meant? I guess I can't argue with that!

    ReplyDelete
  25. I read your letter and was really impressed by the orientation of what you write.

    If, scientists have already found 950 species so far, according to your letter (other references speak already of more than 1100 already found and keep counting new ones), and even though it also sounded originally very strange they have already found egg-laying mammals (like the duck-billed platypus and echidna), how can a human being 100% guarantee that a specie of bat that lays eggs will never be found ? Or that maybe is already extinct? “Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence”. When you say “Modern science asserts not only that bats do not lay eggs today, but that they have never laid eggs”, does it means that “Modern Science” have Ruach Hakodesh?

    When you say “An egg-laying bat would be completely contradictory to the neat nested hierarchy of the animal kingdom”, following that rational “the duck-billed platypus and echidna”, are also “contradictory to the neat nested hierarchy of the animal kingdom” but what can we do, they are there! They exist believe it or not! And as you know this is not the only example that questions “the neat nested hierarchy”.

    Unfortunately for me I was not lucky enough to go to Yeshiva as a young person, I did go to universities, worked as professor and worked also for top Hi-Tech companies that invest hundreds of millions of dollars in R&D and I can tell you how much you can believe in a big part of them, but you don’t have to believe me, just go to the sources: “More than a third of scientists admitted to at least one instance of engaging in 'questionable research practices' - basically scientific misdemeanors that include 'dropping data points based on a gut feeling' and 'changing the design, methodology or results of a study in response to pressures from a funding source,'
    (http://news.medill.northwestern.edu/chicago/news.aspx?id=157268)

    Please remember that the same expression you are using “Modern science asserts”, was used more than 100 years ago to refer to what it was at that time “Modern science” since then you know how much science "has changed" (I’m sure you have heard about quantum mechanics, for example) and how many science solid foundations have collapsed. B”H we don’t have a problem, if science has not found yet support for some Torah concepts we can wait for their next “version upgrade”, in the meantime we B”H keep the only and unique version that does not need amendments because it was written by the Creator of this world.

    So to conclude, by now even though science has not found evidences of an oviparous bat nevertheless it’s not a biological impossibility, and you can not state that it does not exist or did not exist.

    I’d like to hear your comments on this point.

    My best wishes
    Elisha Akerman

    ReplyDelete
  26. I certainly can't speak for Rav Belsky, but I can point out that the current Hirhurim post has a link to his verbal comments on the worms in fish issue. In it, he appears to concur with the established scientific conclusion that "spontaneous generation", i.e., the spontaneous generation of living organisms from non-living antecedents is not possible. In other words both the Rishonim and the simple understanding of Rav Yosef in T.B. Shabbat are incorrect. His only concession to the traditional view is that eggs or living things that are microscopic in size are treated as if they didn't exist. Hence their subsequent development is as if they came from nothing.

    I have no idea of his view on other points of conflict between our knowledge of the physical world and mathematics and that of the sages. The viewpoint expressed in that letter appears to be extreme, and it strains credulity that all such conflicts can be simply resolved. Indeed, it bespeaks a certain arrogance considering that Rabbi Yehudah Hanasi preferred the view of the Greek natural scientists on the course of the sun at night to those of the leading sages (T.B. Pesachim 94b). It is also in conflict with the view of the Ba'alei Tosafot in Eruvin 76b who demonstrate that the Gemara there and in Succah 8a,b had an incorrect interpretation of the geometrical statement of the sages of Caesaria.

    ReplyDelete
  27. Elisha Akerman:

    I'll save Rabbi Slifkin some typing and recommend that you read Sacred Monsters, since the questions you bring up are all addressed there.

    ReplyDelete
  28. Elisha, the duck-billed platypus and echidna, are NOT contradictory to the neat nested hierarchy of the animal kingdom. They are from an earlier branch of the family tree that retains the reptilian characteristic of laying eggs. There are NO exceptions to the the neat nested hierarchy of the animal kingdom - if you were to find one, you could disprove evolution on the spot.

    People who understand science are able to distinguish between that which is well founded and will not be overturned (e.g. that the world is approximately spherical and that it is much more than 5770 years old) and that which is less well established (e.g. string theory).

    ReplyDelete
  29. hey have already found egg-laying mammals (like the duck-billed platypus and echidna),

    Elisha Akerman

    May 24, 2010 1:48 AM

    Exceot platypuses and echidna are not mammals. They are monotremes, a different branch of the evolutionary tree. They have very different genetic arrangement to mammals (http://www.accessmylibrary.com/article-1G1-19225573/mammals-break-rules-genetics.html) and in some ways are similar to birds.

    Your argument, based on the falicy that Platypus are mammals, is therefore, facile. We will not find an egg laying bat, no matter how hard we look, because Bats, like other mammals are, are not egg laying.

    The real question is, will we find a flying monotreme that is not a bird.

    ReplyDelete
  30. What reason is there to believe that we will find a flying monotreme?

    (Remember too that flying mammals evolve from tree-living mammals. There aren't even any tree-living monotremes.)

    The fact that Chazal said that the bat lactates and lays eggs is not reason to believe that there is a flying monotreme in Australia.

    ReplyDelete
  31. "So to conclude, by now even though science has not found evidences of an oviparous bat nevertheless it’s not a biological impossibility, and you can not state that it does not exist or did not exist."

    I think this comment encapsulates the difference between "scientific rationalists" and faith based claims.

    I cannot prove something DOESN'T exist. (consider the flying spaghetti monster or Russell's celestial teapot). But the whole scientific method is based on inductive reasoning-- ie building a theory that explains what we see (data points), in the best way possible. Almost all of science's major leaps have been based on inductive logic (rather than direct observation, which may be impossible.)

    This goes to the heart of what people consider "evidence". Most rationalists would consider comments by talmudic scholars on natural matters to be poor quality evidence. (Unless you invoke the argument by authority). Rationalists, on the other hand, accept that inferential reasoning, while not perfect, gives us the best possible assessment of physical reality.

    In this case we cannot "prove" that there is no egg-laying bat. We can only say that it contradicts known theories of zoology and taxonomy. That's good enough for me.

    ReplyDelete
  32. What reason is there to believe that we will find a flying monotreme?

    Sorry Rav Slifkin, I was being sarcastic. My point was that if a flying egg laying bat were discovered, it would more than likely be more closely related (genetically) to Platypus than mammalian bats (i.e. a different family, not just a different genus). Of course I was also, sarcastically, suggesting that such a flying creature was more likely to be a bird. (Of course birds do not lactate, but finding one that does would justify why chickens are Fleishik.)

    ReplyDelete
  33. In this case we cannot "prove" that there is no egg-laying bat. We can only say that it contradicts known theories of zoology and taxonomy. That's good enough for me.

    May 24, 2010 9:44 AM

    Aside from the fact that the definition of "mammal" preclude such a label

    ReplyDelete
  34. "'changing the design, methodology or results of a study in response to pressures from a funding source,'"

    Wouldn't you agree that changing the results of a study is an egregious ethical offense, while changing design of a study or methodology of a study due to funding pressures (or any pressures) is not even in the same ballpark? On what grounds would it even be immoral to change methodology or design?

    So that so many scientists fit under such a broad umbrella including highly immoral acts as well as hardly questionable or simply not immoral acts - means nothing.

    ReplyDelete
  35. The reason why I have not posted several comments is that I am not going to waste my desired readers' time with arguments from people who don't understand biology or have an entirely different epistemology. Sorry!

    ReplyDelete
  36. I think all the discussion of the bat business here is missing the point. The fact is that Chazal talked about "the bat", which implies that all bats including the common ones found in Eretz Yisrael, lay eggs. There really is nothing to talk about.

    ReplyDelete
  37. I am curious as to why you are writing Rav Belsky an open letter online? Why not write him a letter, and then publish a response?
    Kol tuv,
    GN Spero

    ReplyDelete
  38. I am the person whose comments have not been posted because as you wrote I: “do not understand biology and have an entirely different epistemology”.

    Dear R. Slifkin, I want to ask the same you asked from Rab Belsky in this post: I would greatly appreciate it if, for my own education and for the community at large, if you could tell me please where is my misunderstanding in biology.

    Thank you very much for your patience.

    Elisha

    ReplyDelete
  39. So to conclude, by now even though science has not found evidences of an oviparous bat nevertheless it’s not a biological impossibility, and you can not state that it does not exist or did not exist.

    My best wishes
    Elisha Akerman


    ...if you could tell me please where is my misunderstanding in biology.

    Elisha, with Rav Slifkin's permission, I will highlight one example of how you misunderstand biology. The idea that "Oviparous bat nevertheless it’s not a biological impossibility" illustrates your misunderstanding of biology. Mammals are unlikely to be "oviparous" since we mammals lack the genes and anatomy for egg laying. Genes for egg laying ceased to exist in the mammalian genome eons ago, and the sudden re-emergence of such genes would be so statistically improbable that it boarders on the impossible. Animals that carry genes for egg laying have more distant genomes to us than other mammals. Birds, which are not, mammals, have different "sex" genes, which, remarkably, are remarkably similar to the platypus (http://richarddawkins.net/articles/2545 for the original research see http://genome.cshlp.org/content/18/6/965.full).

    All in all, believing, without evidence, and against the prevailing data, that mammals can theoretically lay eggs is demonstrative of your basic misunderstanding of biology.

    Next you will tell me that dolphins are fish not mammals (http://hurryupharry.org/2010/05/26/dolphins-are-fish-and-other-traditional-values/)

    Shabbat Shalom

    ReplyDelete
  40. Elisha, I will respond to some of your points in the comments that I didn't post:

    1. The fact that new species are discovered all the time is irrelevant. They all fall into pre-existing categories. They don't fundamentally rewrite the nature of the animal kingdom. Which a flying bat would.

    2. There is no comparison between cosmological theories of 100 years ago and the basic of zoology today. Differences include - speculative science vs. observation based on millions of specimens; and the steady-state theory of the universe being a holdover from natural philosophy rather than a product of the scientific method.

    3. The platypus is NOT an exception to the nested hierarchy of the animal kingdom. It was thought to be a hoax because it was certainly more likely to be a hoax than to be real, since hoaxes are very common and furry animals with beaks that lay eggs are not. But its beak is not a bird beak and its eggs are not bird eggs.

    ReplyDelete
  41. I am curious as to why you are writing Rav Belsky an open letter online? Why not write him a letter, and then publish a response?

    I had the letter hand-delivered to him a long time ago. When no response came, I posted the letter online.

    ReplyDelete
  42. Rabbi Slifkin,

    On the related issue of the age of the universe, I know that you have quoted many rishonim with regard to the possibility of non-literall interpretation of bereishis.

    I'm wondering if you have any commnet on Rabbi Tzvi Lampel's essay wherein he purports to demonstate that virtually all rishonim - including the Rambam and his son - understood the six days of creation to be litersal 24 hour periods.

    His research seems sound.

    I'd very much appreciate your thoughts.

    ReplyDelete
  43. Anonymous - In my book I prove that according to Rambam and Ralbag, the six days are not actually time periods at all. I agree that according to most others, the six days are indeed 24 hour periods. I also agree that not a single Rishon held of evolution. Or that the earth orbits the sun.

    ReplyDelete
  44. Dear R. Slifkin.

    I am a little confused. Let me summarize:
    1. Initially I sent a comment to your blogspot and you kindly published it (May 24, 2010 1:48 AM).
    2. Many bloggers, including yourself, wrote against my post, and you published them.
    3. I promptly sent (and resent) to your blogspot a detailed answer (including bibliographical references) to the different posted commentaries against mine.
    4. After 48 hours of total inactivity in your blogspot, you publicly recognized that deliberately you did not publish my post (May 27, 2010 11:31 AM).
    5. When I kindly asked you to give me “another opportunity” (May 27, 2010 8:20 PM), you agreed, but instead of publishing my omitted post, you wrote a few lines “commenting my points”, but without publishing my questions… (May 28, 2010 4:21 PM).
    6. So I have a question: Is this a blogspot? A public discussion forum, where the public has the opportunity to read both sides of the discussion?
    Or this “blogspot” is just the forum for publishing one-sided information without giving the chance to refute them?
    Of course I remember that you wrote that I do not understand biology, but as I am able to demonstrate my scientific achievements in the Academic International World, maybe at least I deserve a scientific refutation of my “wrong” arguments.
    Regards.
    Elisha

    ReplyDelete
  45. Elisha, if you have been following this website since the beginning, you will see that I have repeatedly stressed that this is NOT an open discussion forum. Rather, it is intended as a forum for those of the rationalist mindset as I understand it. So, for example, I do not allow endless argument about the merits of evolution. The internet is free for all, and you are welcome to open a website insisting that bats lay eggs. But this website is for those who respect the modern scientific enterprise and who understands how it works, and who do not want to read comments from people who are saying "but physicists were wrong about steady-state theory 100 years ago so maybe zoologists are wrong about this!"

    ReplyDelete
  46. Incidentally, regarding "scientific achievements in the Academic International World," I know many Chabad scientists with whom I would likewise not be interested in their posting on the topic of evolution etc. Scientific achievements do not make a rationalist or a zoologist.

    ReplyDelete
  47. To put in another way: Based on your first comment, you maintain as a matter of principle that the Gemara is NEVER mistaken about science. If so, then there's no point discussing any given case; no amount of evidence will convince you otherwise.

    ReplyDelete
  48. "not a single Rishon held... that the earth orbits the sun."

    I read somewhere that Ralbag challenged the geocentric assumption. Unfortunately, in his "Milchamot Hashem", the chapter on astronomy is missing.

    ReplyDelete
  49. Rabbi Slifkin,

    You explain at length why 'Nishtaneh Hatevah' in the case of bats wouldn't work - it goes against the zoological hierarchy. How would 'Nishtaneh Hatevah' fare as a solution for the gestation periods of the other animals? I think shorter gestation periods can facilitate survival in that gestation weakens the animal. Doing it more quickly shortens the vulnerability period. Also certain animals give birth at a particular time of the year which might be best for their cubs, the 3-year system might not have been as healthful.

    ReplyDelete
  50. R’ Natan

    After I read how you answered to Elisha, I am wondering what would happen if Rab Belsky will answer something similar to what wrote Elisha, i.e. even though science has not found evidences of an oviparous bat, nevertheless we have surprisingly found that there are oviparous mammals like the platypus, so you cannot state that certain kind of oviparous bat does not exist today or did not exist in Talmudic times…
    Would you also answer to Rab Belsky that “that this is NOT an open discussion forum. Rather, it is intended as a forum for those of the rationalist mindset as I understand it. ”? Or “you maintain as a matter of principle that the Gemara is NEVER mistaken about science. If so, then there's no point discussing any given case; no amount of evidence will convince you otherwise. ”?
    Just curious…

    PD: By the way where is Elisha’s original “omitted post”, I think it’s fair we give them an opportunity to talk openly, after all we are “the rationalist”.

    Dan Rosemberg

    ReplyDelete
  51. I read somewhere that Ralbag challenged the geocentric assumption.

    Sort of. He did raise several difficulties with Ptolemy’s geocentric model, that would ultimately be answered by Copernicus, but he did not reject the geocentric model entirely; even though he was aware of the heliocentric model, which had been proposed much earlier, he rejected it in favor of a modified version of the Ptolemaic system.

    ReplyDelete
  52. How would 'Nishtaneh Hatevah' fare as a solution for the gestation periods of the other animals?

    It could change it by a few weeks. Not by several years!

    ReplyDelete
  53. I am wondering what would happen if Rab Belsky will answer something similar to what wrote Elisha, i.e. even though science has not found evidences of an oviparous bat, nevertheless we have surprisingly found that there are oviparous mammals like the platypus, so you cannot state that certain kind of oviparous bat does not exist today or did not exist in Talmudic times…

    If that would happen, I would publicly explain at length why this reflects a lack of understanding of zoology and/or of the scientific enterprise in general. Rav Belsky is a great Torah scholar and an important person whose statements about these areas are of great communal significance - with him, it would be worthwhile for me to do this.

    ReplyDelete
  54. By the way where is Elisha’s original “omitted post”, I think it’s fair we give them an opportunity to talk openly, after all we are “the rationalist”.

    He has an opportunity to talk openly - it's called the Internet. And I even gave him a limited opportunity here. But I'm not going to let this website be hijacked by anti-rationalists. Elisha's subsequent posts were just rehashing the same mistaken claims again and again - that the platypus contradicts the nested hierarchy of the animal kingdom (it doesn't), that the fact that people thought it to be a hoax at first means that zoology does not have credibility to deny the existence of certain creatures (whereas the truth is that people simply had not examined the platypus carefully; plus, our knowledge has increased a millionfold since then), that because scientists were wrong to deny the Big Bang theory therefore they are wrong to deny egg-laying bats (whereas the belief in steady-state theory was actually not science but rather a holdover from philosophy), etc. And he believes that the Gemara's statement is the divine word of God, not the scientific belief of people, so there's no arguing with it.

    ReplyDelete
  55. I think you let too much through.

    FWIW, if I were you, I'd reformulate your blog policy. Something like this:
    "It's my blog and you can cry -- elsewhere -- if you want to. I'm trying to create a discussion between like minds on certain issues. If there's a comment which I believe may lead to a derailing of that conversation, I reserve the right to delete it without comment."

    Baruch Pelta

    ReplyDelete
  56. You quote Rabbi Belsky that “so called contradictions between Torah and science never presented any problem” to him because he “had not come across any that couldn’t be resolved with ease…”, then Avi Biederman tells us that Rabbi Belsky went on for two hours about how evolution is nonsense. This would seem to be an internal inconsistency on Rabbi Belsky’s part.

    However, George Gaylord Simpson is quoted in “Darwin on Trial” chapter 10 (page 126 first ed., second ed. page 128) that “I take as now self evident, requiring no further special discussion, that evolution and true religion are compatible.” “Darwin on Trial” goes on to contend that Simpson’s idea of true religion is very limited. Likewise, Rabbi Belsky’s idea of science, true science, or whatever other term you want to use, might be very limited compared to how yourself and others use it, and might not include evolution. It seems to be a question of semantics.

    (As you probably realize, this doesn’t address your three questions, nor am I taking sides on the semantics.)

    ReplyDelete
  57. Dear Rabbi Slifkin,

    This is the first time I am writing on this blog.

    I wanted to refer back to your letter to Rav Belsky Shlita. When it comes to the Gemara's statement that the Atalef lays eggs you said it is unreasonable to say that Atalef is not a bat because Rashi says it is a bat. Is it not possible - just a thought - that Rav Belsky could respond that Rashi made an error in translating Atalef as a bat? If Chazal do not error in science (which I understand was Rav Belsky's position) still a Rishon obviously can as you have pointed out in your books that the Chinuch writes that no species can become extinct. Moreover, even if you are correct that Chazal erred in saying that the bat lays eggs does the onus not fall to you to explain how Chazal made such an error? Surely there must be some logical explanation. Chazal's errors were not at random. If they never saw a bat lay an egg then what influenced them to think that it does?

    ReplyDelete
  58. Likewise, Rabbi Belsky’s idea of science, true science, or whatever other term you want to use, might be very limited compared to how yourself and others use it, and might not include evolution.

    This is probably true. But even assuming that this is legitimate, I would like to hear how his understanding of science explains monkeys and lions having a gestation period of three years. And if the explanation is nishtaneh hateva - well, this is more extreme evolution than any Darwinist would consider viable.

    ReplyDelete
  59. Is it not possible - just a thought - that Rav Belsky could respond that Rashi made an error in translating Atalef as a bat?

    Sure! They may have been speaking about a bird. But then they were still in error, as there is no bird that lactates. So it doesn't help.

    Moreover, even if you are correct that Chazal erred in saying that the bat lays eggs does the onus not fall to you to explain how Chazal made such an error?

    I wouldn't say that the onus is on me (which implies that if I can't explain it, then they are not in error). Still, I can explain several possibilities. One is that since bats were assumed to basically be in the bird family, it was assumed that, like birds, they lay eggs. Do a Google search and you'll see lots of people wondering if bats lay eggs.
    Alternatively, see R. Josh Waxman's excellent post at parshablog where he argues that Chazal were actually speaking about a type of owl, which was widely (and mistakenly) believed to lactate.

    ReplyDelete
  60. Question - with regard to Evolution. I notice that quite a few rabbis like to wax lyrical about the special propensities God created in animals. Like the special hook on a baby bird that falls away, the special fur flap on emperor penguins, the bumps on an alligator's back that keep it warm, etc. They write about these feautures in rapturous terms, as testaments to niflaos habora.

    Something bothers me about this, but I dont know enough to articulate it. It seems to me that speaking about these special feautures implicitly recognizes evolution, but I cant put my finger quite on the reason. So my question is, is it reasonable to speak of the unique features God instilled in certain animals while simultaneosuly denying evolution? [as many of these rabbis do.] Is it wrong and/or illogical to simply say that God created each animal with the unique feautures that such animal needed to survice and thrive? Must we posit that the existence of such feautures is evidence of animals evolving?

    I would appreciate your insight.[ Derech agav, we communicated years ago by email before you wrote the sacred mosters book. i sent you a certain reference.]

    DF

    ReplyDelete
  61. Rabbi Slifkin - I learned in Yeshiva Torah Vodaas for many years and I know for a fact that Rav Belsky believes that it is possible that Chazal erred in matters of science. You have to understand his letter to Dr. Betech as an exxageration, or as flowery prose (if written in Hebrew) of the general wisdom and knowledge of Chazal. If Rav Belsky felt that regarding the issue at hand Chazal were correct, from what I understand of Rav Belsky's personality (and I don't mean that derisively) he could write superlatively of the omniscient wisdom of Chazal in science, without literally meaning it. Don't mistakenly put Rav Belsky in the camp who believes in the inerrancy of Chazal in all matters, he is not in that camp.

    ReplyDelete
  62. i am rabbi belsky's son, i personaally wonder why u,"rabbi", consider yourself smarter then most rabbis out there.
    also why are your books banned?
    and thirdly, if you find someone that has more knowledge than my dad,who u know personally and who can have a debate so we all can trully see, il admit that you are right.

    ReplyDelete
  63. R' Yehuda haNasi was Chazal. Thus, if he held a position, it is not "heretical" to agree with him, even if other Rabbis didn't hold by it.

    ReplyDelete

Comments for this blog are moderated. Please see this post about the comments policy for details. ANONYMOUS COMMENTS WILL NOT BE POSTED - please use either your real name or a pseudonym.