Thursday, January 24, 2013

Manna and Maimonides

(A re-post from a few years back, which is appropriate for this week's parashah)

It is notoriously difficult to ascertain Rambam's view on the extent to which miracles are naturalistic phenomena. He makes comments about miracles in a number of different places, which seem to contradict each other:

A. Commentary to the Mishnah
Miracles are all preprogrammed into nature since creation

B. Guide to the Perplexed

1. Rambam professes his own view: Miracles are supernatural, and all are possible, as an essential parallel to creation
2. Praises sages’ view that miracles are built into nature
3. Extensively reinterprets many Biblical events so as to remove supernatural aspects

C. Treatise On Resurrection
1. Presents policy of only accepting supernatural as last resort
2. Categorizes some miracles as supernatural and others as natural

D. Epistle Against Galen

Explains supernatural miracles as being relatively minor modifications of nature

Many have tried to make sense out of all these statements, with differing results. See, for example, Joseph Heller, “Maimonides’ Theory of Miracles”; Hannah Kasher, “Biblical Miracles and the Universality of Natural Laws: Maimonides’ Three Methods of Harmonization”; Haim Kreisel, “Miracles in Medieval Jewish Philosophy”; Y. Tzvi Langermann, “Maimonides and Miracles: The Growth of a (Dis)Belief”; Alvin J. Reines, “Maimonides’ Concept of Miracles”; and Michael Tzvi Nahorai, “The Problem of Miracles for Maimonides.” I also have my own paper on it, which is still unpublished.

In this post, I merely wish to draw attention to Rambam's statements about manna. In the Epistle Against Galen, he describes one type of supernatural miracle as being the acquisition of new properties:
Something is innovated which is not in the nature of the present reality to come into existence, such as the entire innovation of the manna, which had the property of being hard and could be ground to make bread, but when the sun shone upon it, it became soft and melted.

The manna itself was not supernatural; what was supernatural was that it was a hard substance that turned into a liquid under sunlight. This is, to say the least, an unexpected aspect of the manna to highlight as being miraculous.

In the Guide (III:50), on the other hand, Maimonides describes the miracle of the manna as follows:
Now the greatest of the miracles described in the Law is the stay of the Israelites in the wilderness for forty years, with a supply of manna every day. This wilderness, as described in Scripture, consisted of places "wherein were fiery serpents and scorpions, and drought, where there was no water"; places very remote from cultivated land, and naturally not adapted for the habitation of man... But God knew that in future people might doubt the correctness of the account of these miracles, in the same manner as they doubt the accuracy of other narratives; they might think that the Israelites stayed in the wilderness in a place not far from inhabited land, where it was possible for man to live [in the ordinary way]; that it was like those deserts in which Arabs live at present; or that they dwelt in such places in which they could plow, sow, and reap, or live on some vegetable that was growing there; or that manna constantly comes down in those places as an ordinary natural product; or that there were wells of water in those places. In order to remove all these doubts and to firmly establish the accuracy of the account of these miracles, Scripture enumerates all the stations, so that coming generations may see them, and learn the greatness of the miracle which enabled human beings to live in those places forty years.

Here, Rambam does not say anything about the nature and formation of the manna per se being miraculous, but rather that the miracle was in its being present constantly over forty years. He certainly did not believe that this was a substance created ex nihilo, and apparently did not even believe that there was anything supernatural about its formation per se. Rambam seems to have shared the view found in certain Yemenite Midrashic texts (and see too Ibn Ezra to Shemos 16:13), that manna is essentially a naturally-occurring substance. It was miraculous in it occurring with unnatural properties (according to the Epistle Against Galen) and with constantly fortuitous timing (according to the Guide). (See the extract from Rabbi Nataniel ben Yeshayah, Nûr al-Zalâm, written in 1329, published in Y. Tzvi Langermann, Yemenite Midrash: Philosophical Commentaries on the Torah, pp. 216-217.)

The reason why I mention all this is that the New York Times just published a fascinating article about various foodstuffs thought to be the Biblical manna, which are making a comeback on modern restaurant menus (link, or you can read the reprint, with typically entertaining comments, at Vos Iz Neias). Food for thought!

129 comments:

  1. From the NYT article:
    "“It also makes the food intensely personal, because no two people taste manna the same way. I might taste a haunting minty-ness, while you might detect a whiff of lemon. No other ingredient is like that.”"

    Fascinating!

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  2. I just read the article. What Chizki quoted above comes from an english chef named Paul Liebrandt, who appears to be quite non-Jewish, and ostensibly unfamiliar with the famous midrash about manna that Chizki was referencing. If so, I can only conclude, rationalist that I am - incredible.

    DF

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  3. Thank you for the link and for the discussion of the Rambam's writings on the manna. I learned somkething new today.

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  4. fortuitous

    Sorry to nit-pick, but I think this word means the opposite of what you were trying to convey.

    (And I am using "nit-pick" metaphorically, without taking a position on spontaneous generation of either lice or manna.)

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  5. I'm not familiar with the Epistle Against Galen. What is that? A Google search doesn't turn up anything helpful. (In fact this blog post is the top entry). I presume from the title that it has something to do with medicine.

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  6. It's known in Hebrew as Pirkei Moshe and in Arabic as Fusal Musa and sometimes in English as Medical Aphorisms. The last chapter is a distinct part which is an epistle against Galen.

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  7. I don't see anywhere in the quotes from Maimonides that the very existence of the manna wasn't at all supernatural.
    That is purely your inference.

    Maimonides in emphasizing the consistency of the miracle only because to his point of view, this aspect is what pushes the limits of any miracle.
    No miracle can be a permanent change of nature. So for a miracle to continue daily for 40 years--appearing to be permanent in perpetuity-- makes the miracle much greater in quality.

    It's supernatural existence is simply not as looming theologically in Maimonides' mind compared with the duration of it. (Especially since the mishna in Avos says it was already brought into existence at the end of the extraordinary six days of creation anyway.)

    So the ONLY *striking* supernatural aspect is the consistency over time which miracles are not typically supposed to have.

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  8. I don't think that this is a reasonable reading. If the very existence of it is supernatural, then while the duration of this may be astonishing, I don't see how it could be more astonishing than the very existence of it in the first place.

    But I know how upsetting it is to think that the manna was not supernatural - just look at how upset and angry are the commentors at the VosIzNeias post!

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  9. I think you are emphasizing the wrong word in the Rambam. You quote the Rambam as saying

    "they might think ... that manna constantly comes down in those places as an ordinary natural product."

    The word to emphasize is "ordinary natural product".

    The Rambam is saying people might think a) manna always comes down b) it is a natural product.

    The Rambam then writes

    "In order to remove all these doubts and to firmly establish the accuracy of the account of these miracles..."

    Meaning, the Torah is coming l'afukei both premises.

    Also, when the Rambam writes

    "Now the greatest of the miracles described in the Law is the stay of the Israelites in the wilderness for forty years, with a supply of manna every day."

    I don't know why you feel the emphasis of the Rambam is on "every day". It isn't muchrach at all. You could just as easily learn that the Rambam understands the chiddush of manna was that it came down at all. The Rambam adds that it came every day because that l'ma'aseh is what happened.


    Also, l'shitascha, what is the manna made of? It definately came from the sky. If it is a natural product couldn't we recreate it?

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  10. "It definately came from the sky"

    Really? Like the dew?

    "If it is a natural product couldn't we recreate it?"

    Maybe, maybe not. What difference?

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  11. "It definately came from the sky.
    Really? Like the dew?"

    Very cute. However, the verse (Exodus 16:4) unambiguously states that the manna fell from the heavens. And lest you retort that the scriptural verses also state unambiguously state that the dew fell from the heavens as well, while we know that dew does not fall from the heavens, please see Exodus 16:14, where the verse speaks of the dew rising from the ground. Apparently, the scripture *is* ambiguous about where the dew comes from, while is it not at all ambiguous as to where the manna comes from - there are no verses that suggest anything but the fact the manna came from the heavens. As a "rationalist" you may not be comfortable with that, but them's the facts, sir.

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  12. The verses also explicitly state that God is up there in Heaven.

    (א) שִׁיר הַמַּעֲלוֹת אֵלֶיךָ נָשָׂאתִי אֶת עֵינַי הַיֹּשְׁבִי בַּשָּׁמָיִם: (תהילים פרק קכג)

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  13. Sources which show the manna came from the sky.

    1) Gemara Berachos 48b: Rav Nachman says Moshe was mesakein the first beracha of bentching at the "time the Manna WAS BROUGHT DOWN TO THEM"

    2) Chayei Adam in the Nishmas Adam Klal 152:1 discusses what beracha you make on an atzitz sh'eino nakuv. HE says the issue is whether you can say haomotzi on something which is not attached to the ground. As an example he says "Certainly they didn't make a beracha of HaMotzi Lechem Min HaAretz on the Manna". Clearly the Chayei Adam holds Manna was not attached to the ground. Which to me implies it never came from the ground. If it came from the ground it would have at some point been attached to the ground and you could say "HaMotzi"

    3) Bnei Yissaschar Ma'amar Shabbos 3:3 quotes the Rema MiPano that they said "HaMotzi Lechem Mim Hashamayim" on the Manna. I've seen this quoted from the Sefer Chasidim as well. The Ben Ish Chai in Torah Leshma also says this.

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  14. Also, in 16:14 it is saying that the dew rose from the ground in the morning, after it had descended from the heavens at night, along with the manna.

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  15. Howard, how are those sources any more authoritative than the Torah itself?

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  16. To put it another way: I am quite certain that the Chayey Adam and Bnei Yissacher believed that the manna literally descended from above.

    And I am sure that they also believed the same about dew.

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  17. "The verses also explicitly state that God is up there in Heaven."

    Completely irrelevant. Maimonides, et al, say that "God in the heavens" must be understood allegorically since a literal understanding would involve a self-contradiction (namely, the concept of God must of logical necessity be incorporeal according to their view). There is nothing inherent in the concept of "manna falling from the heavens" that must be understood allegorically. And since the scriptural verses do not mention anything but "manna falling from the heaven," the burden of proof is upon you to demonstrate that anyone would suggest otherwise, along with why they would suggest otherwise.

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  18. "Also, in 16:14 it is saying that the dew rose from the ground in the morning, after it had descended from the heavens at night, along with the manna."

    Where does the verse state what you said it did? Nowhere does it state that the dew arose "after" it descended. That is your interpretation; it is not found in the verse itself.

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  19. The dew was coming up to reveal the manna beneath it as it dissipated. But how did the dew get on top of the manna in the first place? It didn't come from below! As many verses state, it descends from the heavens.

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  20. DO you have any sources that say the manna did not fall from the sky. Where did it come from? Teh ground? The water? A tree?

    Do you find it disturbing that the manna could come from the sky? That is the distinct impression that I receive from your comments -not just that you believe that the manna did not fall from the sky , but that the actual proposal of such an idea is not only false, but also disturbing. In my opinion thi sclearly indicates a bias on your part.

    Not that it means you are wrong because you are biased but it does mean that it is pointless to keep discussing the issue.

    This is especially true when someone wants to try to assess the relative strengths of two positions which are hard to quantify, it is definately worthwhile thinking about bias

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  21. Howard,

    On the question of what brocho did they make on manna, and with all due respect to the holy people that you quote, why do you perpetuate what seems to me to be an absurdity. You know very well that the concept of brochot was rabbinical-ly introduced many centuries after the desert experience.

    So the answer to the question on “what brochjo did they make?” is, of course, “none”.

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  22. Howard, if my position was that the Torah is not saying that it came from the sky, and I believed that this was impossible, then my interpretation would indeed reflect a bias on my part. However, while I do not believe that the manna came from the sky, I do believe that the Torah is saying that it did, just as it says that dew comes from the sky, even though it doesn't.

    My reason for saying that manna did not come from the sky is that, like Rambam, I prefer to interpret the Torah's events in naturalistic terms, where possible. There are naturally-occurring substances that are candidates for manna, so I would prefer to go with that rather than to posit something materializing ex nihilo in the stratosphere and falling like a meteorite.

    But the Torah does indeed talk about it descending. Just as it says that dew descends. This is a challenge. So I would go with my earlier discussions about Ibn Kaspi, Rav Hirsch and Rav Kook's view of Dibra Torah k'lashon bnei adam. Unless someone has something better to suggest.

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  23. "I prefer to interpret the Torah's events in naturalistic terms, where possible."

    This "preference" causes you to reinterpret the scripture contrary to its own meaning. There is nothing compelling you to do so (as indeed there was for Maimonides et al with regard to God's incorporeality), other than your preference. Isn't that odd? What if I were to have a preference, as do many archeologists, to claim that since there is no extra-biblical evidence for the existence of Abraham, I say that the entire scriptural account of Abraham is a mythologized allegory? By your way of thinking, there is nothing wrong with this.

    Furthermore, what will you do with the verses that speak of the manna being infested with worms if it was left to the next morning, but that this did not happen on the seventh day? Natural occurrence? And what will you say about the manna that was placed in a jug to be set in the sanctuary to last for generations to come, without its decaying in the slightest? Natural occurrence? Are these allegories too?

    With regard to your claim that the verse in Exodus means that first the dew fell and then it rose, I reiterate - this is your interpretation as an attempt to answer a question that you have. Fine. But it is NOT the meaning of the verse itself. I can easily submit another interpretation, which you may not like, but that is no more or less contained in the verse than your interpretation.

    Finally, I was quite surprised to see you quote ibn Kaspi as a source for your claim that scriptures present untruths to accommodate the ignorant ancients. I thought that earlier comments (specifically those by Gary and Dr. Kaplan) had exposed the claim that ibn Kaspi's words are a source for your interpretation to be thus far unfounded. How can you resurrect your interpretation, citing ibn Kaspi as a source, without any basis to do so whatsoever?

    Methinks I see some funny business going on here!

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  24. You are biased in the sense that you can not fathom interperting the Torah to refer to unnatural events.

    Yes or no, do you find it disturbing that manna could fall from the sky.

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  25. The "manna from heaven" text, to me, is quite simple to interpret.

    First, as you well know the word “shomayim” in Tanakh is very problematical in the sense that sometimes it means heaven (a non-materialistic space) sometimes it means the atmosphere, and sometimes outer space, etc.

    Also, in the language of man we find that the term used for the residence of an individual/entity is often substituted for the individual/entity himself/itself. Eg., if a king decreed some new law, people might say that the “palace decreed a new law”, or that the white house made this statement or held this opinion, etc.

    So, in this case the word heaven is a euphemism for Hashem. I see nothing wrong with translating the expression that the manna came from “heaven” as meaning that Hashem (being spiritually resident in “heaven”) was the source of what caused the natural occurrence of some substance to be more prolific and timely than normal.

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  26. The idea that the manna of the desert wanderings was the light sugary secretion of plant insects (aphids) is not new. Such occasional rains of manna had historically been reported in the Negev. The phenomenon is alluded to in Ex. 16:4, "I will rain bread from the sky". Note that manna is compared to bread, it is not a complete food. The sugary manna supplied the required dietary carbohydrates, but the protein and fat came from elsewhere, i.e., the cheeses and occasional meat from their flocks. A further indication of the insect source of the manna is from Ex. 16:20, "...some people left it (the manna) until morning and it became wormy and stank. In other words, the aphids deposited eggs in the original nectar secretions (so that the emerging larvae would have a food source at hand). The light solid produced when the manna dried was easily lifted by prevailing winds and deposited elsewhere. When the manna warmed up, the eggs developed into larvae that stank and rendered the manna inedible.

    Manna was a basically natural phenomenon, but the quantity, location, and regularity of its appearance around the Israelite camp for 40 years was not.

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  27. Thanks, I'm familiar with Pirkei Moshe.

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  28. Is there any chance that the Hebrew word for "descending" could mean the same as the word "down" in the following sentence, said by a police officer to a crook?:
    "I'm taking you down to the station."

    In other words, not much. If the police station was at a higher altitude than the scene of the crime, I don't think the crook would raise an eyebrow.

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  29. You are biased in the sense that you can not fathom interperting the Torah to refer to unnatural events.

    I can fathom it, but I prefer to believe that things do not happen that way, where possible. You can call this a "bias," but it's no different than Rambam's own bias:

    "…Our efforts, and the efforts of select individuals, are in contrast to the efforts of the masses. For with the masses who are people of the Torah, that which is beloved to them and tasty to their folly is that they should place Torah and rational thinking as two opposite extremes, and will derive everything impossible as distinct from that which is reasonable, and they say that it is a miracle, and they flee from something being in accordance with natural law, whether with something recounted from past events, with something that is in the present, or with something which is said to happen in the future. But we shall endeavor to integrate the Torah with rational thought, leading events according to the natural order wherever possible; only with something that is clarified to be a miracle and cannot be otherwise explained at all will we say that it is a miracle."

    Yes or no, do you find it disturbing that manna could fall from the sky.

    I already said straight out that I prefer not to understand things that way!

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  30. This "preference" causes you to reinterpret the scripture contrary to its own meaning.

    You've got it exactly the wrong way around.
    If my bias of interpreting events naturalistically was influencing my understanding of the pesukim, then I would be biased to say that the passuk does not actually mean that it came down from above. But I am saying that the passuk does indeed say that!

    With regard to dew, it is explicit in Behalosecha 11:9 that the dew descended just like the manna - "And when the dew descended on teh camp at night, the manna came down with it." So what do you have to say about that?

    With regard to Ibn Kaspi - there was debate regarding the exact extent to which Ibn Kaspi himself takes his principle. And of course he himself does not discuss this example. But if - if - it's an extension, then it's not a very large one.

    Again, I would like to hear your explanation of Bamidbar 11:9.

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  31. Elemir, Phil - it's a good suggestion regarding manna, but in the case of dew, there are pesukim which really seem to say that its origins are in the sky, e.g. miTal haShamayim.

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  32. First, as you well know the word “shomayim” in Tanakh is very problematical in the sense that sometimes it means heaven (a non-materialistic space) sometimes it means the atmosphere, and sometimes outer space, etc.

    Matters are not as you think, v'ain kan makom leha'arich. Let's just say that R. Moshe Taku would not agree with you.

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  33. "With regard to dew, it is explicit in Behalosecha 11:9 that the dew descended just like the manna - "And when the dew descended on teh camp at night, the manna came down with it." So what do you have to say about that?"

    Your translation of the verse Numbers 11:9 is fascinating - creative, if not accurate. The correct translation is, "And when the dew descended upon the camp at night, the manna would descend upon it." The verse does not *equate* the falling of the dew and the falling of the manna. The dew could have "fallen" upon the camp from the moisture in the air just above it (the ground), and the manna could have "fallen" upon the camp from the heavens. Nowhere does the verse state that "the manna came down with the dew."

    "With regard to Ibn Kaspi - there was debate regarding the exact extent to which Ibn Kaspi himself takes his principle. And of course he himself does not discuss this example. But if - if - it's an extension, then it's not a very large one."

    What do you mean "if"? Ibn Kaspi stated that the scripture accommodates the people's debilitating superstition in cases where that superstition impedes their vital, necessary functioning. The present case (manna "falling from the heavens") does not fit that description at all, and thus, as Dr. Kaplan and Gary pointed out so well, the burden of proof is upon you to demonstrate that ibn Kaspi would extend his "debilitating superstition" theorem to this case. Without that proof, the best you can say is that this is YOUR idea, inspired by something that ibn Kaspi said, not that it is ibn Kaspi's own idea.

    By the way, I notice that you ignored the following from my previous post: "what will you do with the verses that speak of the manna being infested with worms if it was left to the next morning, but that this did not happen on the seventh day? Natural occurrence? And what will you say about the manna that was placed in a jug to be set in the sanctuary to last for generations to come, without its decaying in the slightest? Natural occurrence? Are these allegories too?"

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  34. >>>> Matters are not as you think, v'ain kan makom leha'arich.

    of course we would be most appreciative if you could post on what the word "shomeiyim" means in Tenakh.

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  35. Rabbeinu Avraham ben HaRambam on Shemos 16:4:

    "'Mamtir' - cause to descend - for you, bread from the heavens: from the air. Because of its height it is called 'heavens'. Like I cause rain to fall. And with this there is an added wonder, because God, may He be exalted, could have caused a plant to grow from the ground, and so the falling of food from the air is an added wonder."

    His commentary on Shemos 16:14:

    "...it appears that the manna was formed from the mist that causes the dew, and it (the manna) thickened in the air, just like the hail and the frost and the snow. By His decree does He say and do, decree and fulfill, blessed be He - the manna then changed to a seedling, a wondrous change, outside of the natural order, as I explained in my book the Kifayah..."

    Rabbeinu Avraham ben HaRambam was a "rationalist," no?

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  36. Matthew: You are correct that Bamidbar 11:6 itself does not state that the dew descended from the same place as the manna. However this does not help you, for two reasons:

    1. It is not at all correct to describe dew as descending. It condenses from the air - in any direction, and not from more than a few millimeters, as far as I can make out.

    2. While 11:6 does not establish where the dew was descending from, several other pesukim make it clear that it comes down from the heavens, e.g. Deut 33:13 and 33:28.

    So what do you make of these pesukim?

    With regard to Ibn Kaspi - you are giving a qualification which Kaspi himself did not say was critical to the application of his principle. Whenever someone gives a principle in one case, it is always possible to find some distinction that would not apply to a different case. The question is whether it is reasonable to believe that the author of the principle would see that as reason not to apply the principle in this case.

    With regard to your other questions about manna - I follow Rambam's principle. If there is no choice but to accept something as miraculous, so be it. But the examples you give are not clear cut. Did the manna in the jar never decompose? How do you know? And besides, certain things, such as honey, do not decompose.

    Now please explain to me how you understand the description of dew descending, and the other pesukim which clarify that this descent originates in the heavens. "His heavens shall drip with dew."

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  37. It occurred to me that the idea of the dew "falling" can be explained, with complete accuracy, as follows:

    The humidity in the air that forms dew, exists as part of the evaporation-condensation cycle. (For a good description, see wcco.com/local/humidity.good.question.2.765731.html). In describing the location source of that humidity, it would be accurate to describe it as coming from just above the ground level, or as coming from well above the ground level. Any point in the evaporation-condensation cycle would be an accurate description of where the dew (i.e., the humidity that forms the dew) "comes from." Now, the Torah chooses to describe it as coming from above, since that subtly reinforces the lesson that the dew "comes from God" and it IS scientifically accurate in that any locale within the evaporation-condensation cycle is a legitimate reference point for the source of the dew. Just a thought as to how the Torah's description and modern scientific knowledge can be viewed in harmony rather than conflict.

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  38. I have to retract something I said above - it is scientifically legitimate to describe dew as descending, since the moisture comes from the air just above the ground. However, other pesukim make it clear that it is originating in the heavens. So Neil's suggestion doesn't work.

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  39. "With regard to Ibn Kaspi - you are giving a qualification which Kaspi himself did not say was critical to the application of his principle."

    I trust that Matthew will not mind if I jump in on this one. Rabbi Slifkin, you are clearly mistaken. Ibn Kaspi openly states that the reason for the Torah's statement of "lo yihyeh vahem negef..." is exactly the factor of the debilitating superstition. He posits that as the entire basis of his explanation. For you to say now that this factor is incidental, and that ibn Kaspi's principle extends to ANY "false" statement of the Torah, with or without the factor that ibn Kaspi himself used for his explanation, is a gross distortion on your part. I believe that Professor Kaplan pointed out to you that your position is "an extension" from ibn Kaspi that you are making, and that without any evidence, you cannot claim this to be ibn Kaspi's view itself.

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  40. In that case, he specifies it, yes. But firstly, he uses the principle in other cases, and secondly, I think that a case can be made for saying that it would all the more strongly apply when it is not reinforcing a belief that is actually harmful.

    Look, I agree that it is an extension, in the sense that Kaspi does not discuss my exact type of case. However, I think that it is one that Ibn Kaspi himself would have no objection to. Prof. Kaplan likewise said that it is a natural extension (or something like that).

    More to the point, I think that if people here would acknowledge that the Torah says dew comes from the Heavens and that this is not scientifically correct, they would suddenly have no problems with positing dibra Torah k'lashon bnei Adam.

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  41. I don't follow why the suggestion doesn't work. The humidity that forms the dew can legitimately be said to be just above the ground, ten feet above the ground, or five hundred feet above the ground, depending upon where in the evaporation-condensation cycle one wishes to "stop" in locating the moisture. If one points to moisture five hundred feet above the ground in the evaporation-condensation cycle hours before the dew point, it is that very moisture which will be forming the dew later - at the dew point (in most cases in the early morning hours as daylight approaches). So, it is absolutely true that the dew "descends" from the heavens, in the sense described above. It all depends upon one's reference point. You seem to be choosing a reference point just moments before the dew "falls" - I am suggesting that perhaps the Torah's reference point is a few hours earlier. Now, as to why the Torah would choose that reference point over yours, I suggest that it has to do with the subtle lesson I mentioned in my first comment.

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  42. In NO case does ibn Kaspi use the term dibra Torah... in the way you mean it. He uses it with regard to rounding out numbers, with regard to human vernacular, and with regard to debilitating superstition. He does NOT use it EVER with regard to "falsehoods" in the Torah to accommodate ignorant ancients. You are making a claim that cannot be found in ibn Kaspi himself, and to do so you need evidence.

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  43. Neil, I have been researching the topic of how dew is formed and I do not see how it is at all accurate to say that the moisture originates hundreds of feet above the ground, even many hours earlier. It doesn't! It comes from the air a few inches above the surface of the earth.

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  44. To clarify - the moisture in the air a few inches above the earth, does not originate many hundreds of feet above.

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  45. I'm not sure where you looked. The humidity in the air is not stagnant; it is part of the ongoing, continuous cycle of evaporation-condensation. The cycle starts (this is a chicken/egg issue, as the "starting" point may be said to begin anywhere) at the ground, the humidity evaporates upward, condenses and then travels downward, for the cycle to repeat. Any given "segment" of humidity in the air travels up and down, and in that sense, its origins can be said to be hundreds of feet off the ground, just as legitimately as its origins can be said to be millimeters off the ground. The reference point is one of perspective. I think that the only valid counter-argument to this would be a source that demonstrates scientifically that the humidity from which dew is formed is never ever to be found more than a few millimeters off the ground, i.e., that it is never part of the evaporation-condensation cycle. Which, as far as I can see from the research I have done, is not true.

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  46. Neil, that's just not true. Each drop of moisture does not travel all the way up to the clouds, then down to the ground, then all the way back up! There is moisture constantly in the air at all levels.

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  47. "Finally, I was quite surprised to see you quote ibn Kaspi as a source for your claim that scriptures present untruths to accommodate the ignorant ancients."

    here is an example i blogged about recently, about Ibn Caspi's take on the magic trumpets.

    kol tuv,
    josh

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  48. Josh - your interpretation of ibn Caspi here is incorrect, or at least without foundation. Ibn Caspi himself states in more than one place (see most of my previous comments) that dibra Torah..., when it comes to issues about God, means that the Torah speaks in allegories regarding God's attributes, knowledge, interaction with man, etc., since the true concept sublime beyond man's capability. This issue, of God "remembering us" fits exactly into ibn Caspi's definition of allegorical use, and so to say that with regard to His remembering us via the trumpets, he means not allegory but accommodation due to ignorance is a serious departure from what he himself says. And so, once again, we are left with no instances in which ibn Caspi says what you, R. Slifkin, or R. Twersky say that he says.

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  49. "Neil, that's just not true. Each drop of moisture does not travel all the way up to the clouds, then down to the ground, then all the way back up! There is moisture constantly in the air at all levels."

    I apologize if I am harping on this subject, but I think that your science is incorrect. The following is from the USGS website: "Studies have shown that the oceans, seas, lakes, and rivers provide nearly 90 percent of the moisture in the atmosphere via evaporation, with the remaining 10 percent being contributed by plant transpiration."

    This means that the overwhelming moisture in the air at any given time is there due to its "participation" in the evaporation-condensation process. Which means that any given "droplet" of moisture undergoes a rising and falling cycle.

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  50. No, no, no! You are misunderstanding it!

    Think about what you are claiming. Each drop of water rises to the clouds, then comes down back to the ground, and repeats this cycle daily? Do they all change direction at the same time? If so, then how do they all make the round trip? And if not, are there some drops that are going up while others are going down?!

    To be sure, there is a lot of water that makes it from the oceans to the clouds, and eventually back to earth. But that does not mean that on a daily basis, the dew is coming down from the clouds! It's coming from the moisture that is already in the air - much of which, in fact, was just on its way up from the ground.

    By the way, the word "atmosphere" in your quote does not only refer to the clouds/sky high up. It means all the air around us.

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  51. "But the examples you give are not clear cut. Did the manna in the jar never decompose? How do you know? And besides, certain things, such as honey, do not decompose."

    The manna in the jug was meant to be for generations (Exodus 16:33) - a concept that would make no sense if it were decayed. Furthermore, you ignored my question about the manna decaying only if left overnight, but not on the seventh day. Was this natural?

    And now that someone posted a statement by Maimonides' son stating clearly that the manna was supernatural, and he (Maimonides' son) was a rationalist - so clearly there was a compelling reason for him to understand this phenomenon beyond the natural order - what do you say about that?

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  52. Matthew: I did not ignore your question. As I said, if there is no natural explanation, then it is a miracle.
    Regarding it lasting for generations - first of all, how many generations is that? Second, as I said, there are substances such as honey which do not decompose. Does it bother you that this is possible naturalistically?

    Regarding Rabbeinu Avraham: First of all, I do not know if he was a rationalist like his father. Second, people had a different idea back then about what is considered natural, unusual, and supernatural. Rambam himself considered spontaneous generation to be perfectly natural.

    Matthew, I noticed that you ignored the questions that I asked you. Please answer them. The pesukim clearly state that dew descends from the heavens. Meteorologists have demonsrated that this is not what happens. How do you explain the pesukim?

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  53. I will take the liberty of answering for Neil (unless he answers first). He never claimed that every given droplet of moisture rises and falls DAILY. That was your assumption about what he said. Nor do any of the biblical verses state that the dew falls DAILY from the heavens. But it is a meteorological *fact* that every droplet of moisture that becomes the dew did descend at some point from on high since at some point that droplet was UP as part of the evaporation-condensation cycle. So the biblical description of dew descending can be absolutely literally true from a scientific point of view. And so, all of the various verses make perfect sense. I have thus answered your question which you directed to me. Now, again, I notice you still ignored the issue of the decaying manna every morning but not on the seventh day and not in the sanctuary for at least two generations. I await a response to that.

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  54. Rabbi Slifkin - I have another question to ask you: According to you, the scripture presents a "falsehood" regarding the dew (that it descends from the heavens) in order to accommodate the scientific ignorance of the ancients. But what scientific ignorance of the ancients existed with regard to the dew?? Aristotle, in his Meteorology Book 1 (MS folio 347a) explicitly states that the dew descends from the air above the ground, not from on high. So which ancients believed that dew descends from the heavens, such that the scripture had to accommodate them? Do you have any evidence that this is what the ancients believed? If not, your whole premise falls apart from the get-go.

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  55. >>>If the very existence of it is supernatural, then while the duration of this may be astonishing, I don't see how it could be more astonishing than the very existence of it in the first place."

    Rashi says the greatness of the miracle of the manna was the fact that regardless of how much or how little was collected, everyone always wound up with exactly the same amount when he reached home.

    (יז) המרבה והממעיט -
    יש שלקטו הרבה ויש שלקטו מעט וכשבאו לביתם ומדדו בעומר, איש איש מה שלקטו, ומצאו שהמרבה ללקוט לא העדיף על עומר לגולגולת אשר באוהלו, והממעיט ללקוט לא מצא חסר מעומר לגולגולת, וזהו נס גדול שנעשה בו:

    Do mean to say that you would infer from this comment that Rashi didn't think the very existence of the manna supernatural??

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  56. Lawrence Kaplan

    I agree with Gary, not Josh. Saying that ve-nizkartem is an example of Dibrah Torah is nothing special at all. Indeed, that ve-nizkatem is an example of Dibrah Torah is first mentioned by, of all people, Halevi at the very end of the Kuzari! I kid you not. People have been so preoccupied by the "Zionist" endn of the Kuzari that they have failed to note its striking rationalist features. I hope to write about this in the future.

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  57. Issac - Rashi is not saying that this was THE miracle of the manna. He is commenting on the verse speaking about that ASPECT, and noting that it was miraculous.

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  58. Matthew/ Neil - "daily" is not important. Again, it is not true to say that each drop of water goes all the way up to the clouds, then all the way down to the ground, and repeat.

    Now, it is true that eventually, over hundreds of years or whatever, each drop of water will find itself in the clouds at some point. But to use this as a basis for saying that the dew comes from heavens is ludicrous. You might as well say that I come from outer space, since the molecules in my body are of elements that were drifting in space before the earth coalesced five billion years ago.

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  59. Regarding Aristotle - he is long, long after Biblical times.

    The evidence that in Biblical times, people believed that dew comes from the Heavens, is that the Torah explicitly says that the dew comes from the Heavens! But I'll look around and see if there is further evidence.

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  60. "The evidence that in Biblical times, people believed that dew comes from the Heavens, is that the Torah explicitly says that the dew comes from the Heavens!"

    I actually thought you might say that. This is the height of circular reasoning! You posit a theory that the scripture presents scientific falsehoods to accommodate the ignorance of the ancients, and in support of your theory you cite the dew falling as an example, and when asked how you know that the ancients were ignorant in this area, you respond by saying that it must be the case since the scripture presented it in order to accommodate their ignorance!!! Your theory is baseless with regard to the dew unless you can demonstrate an extra-biblical source that this is what the ancients believed. So far you have Aristotle working against you.

    "Now, it is true that eventually, over hundreds of years or whatever, each drop of water will find itself in the clouds at some point. But to use this as a basis for saying that the dew comes from heavens is ludicrous."

    First, I suggest you ask a meteorologist how long it takes for the moisture that forms the dew to go through the evaporation-condensation cycle. I think you will be surprised to learn that it is a matter of days going into weeks, not "hundreds of years."

    Second, what makes it "ludicrous"? If the scripture uses the terminology of dew emanating from the heavens inasmuch as it is scientifically consistent AND that it teaches the lesson that the life-sustaining water cycle comes from God, is that ludicrous? One person's ludicrous is another person's sound moral lesson. By the way, the scripture apparently does exactly what you mock, when it states that God fashioned man out of the earth. Assuming you accept the theory of evolution, whereby man can ultimately trace his origins to the molecular material substance of the earth, then this is exactly what scripture presents. Why is it so difficult to accept that scripture would do the same in stating that the dew has its origins in the moisture of on high (which, again, is scientifically accurate)? Just because you would not formulate it thus makes it "ludicrous"?!

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  61. >The evidence that in Biblical times, people believed that dew comes from the Heavens, is that the Torah explicitly says that the dew comes from the Heavens! But I'll look around and see if there is further evidence.

    Did anyone else see this as being "circular reasoning" or is it just me?

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  62. I still maintain that you're interpertation of the pesukim comes from your inheerent bias. Tehrefore, it is probably pointless to argue with you.

    However, maybe you can explain one thing.

    How does dibra torah k'loshon b'nei adam explain the possuk. B'nei Yisroel walked outside and saw manna on the ground. They presumably realized (l'shitascha) that it came from an insect. Why in the world would they think it fell from the sky.

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  63. Howard, please explain how my bias to believe that it did NOT come from the sky, is the reason why I reading the pasuk as saying that it DID come from the sky.

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  64. It is has nothing to do with how you read the simple meaning of the possuk. I am referring to how you interpret the possuk. I maintain that your interpretation is due to your bias. The only reason you interpret the possuk as you do is because you are inherently biased.

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  65. I don't necessarily agree with Howard or the sentiment behind his comment, but what he wrote does prompt a legitimate question (at least in my mind). If the monn was indeed a naturally occurring thing (and what made it "miraculous" was its timing and frequency), then what purpose was served in Hashem telling the Jews "hineni mamtir lachem lechem min hashamayim"? In other words, what aspect of dibra Torah belashon benei adam necessitated the phrasing that the monn came from the sky?

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  66. OK, Matthew.
    In Ugarit they believed rain and dew came from the heavenly ocean. And Theophilus writing to Autolycus (about 181 AD) describes heaven as follows: "The heaven, therefore, being dome-shaped covering, comprehended matter which was like a clod. And so another prophet, Isaiah by name, spoke in these words: It is God who made the heavens as a vault, and stretched them as a tent to dwell in. This heaven which we see has been called firmament, and to which half the water was taken up that it might serve for rains, and showers, and dews to mankind. And half the water was left on earth for rivers, and fountains, and seas."

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  67. I suggest you ask a meteorologist how long it takes for the moisture that forms the dew to go through the evaporation-condensation cycle. I think you will be surprised to learn that it is a matter of days going into weeks, not "hundreds of years."

    You're missing the point. It is not true to say that every drop goes all the way up to the heavens, and then all the way down, as part of the cycle. It's only true that over a very long period, each drop will likely at some point be up in the heavens.

    If the scripture uses the terminology of dew emanating from the heavens inasmuch as it is scientifically consistent AND that it teaches the lesson that the life-sustaining water cycle comes from God, is that ludicrous?

    To say that this is peshat in the pesukim is ludicrous. I refer you back to my mashal of saying that someone comes from outer space, because that is where his constituent molecules originate.

    Assuming you accept the theory of evolution, whereby man can ultimately trace his origins to the molecular material substance of the earth, then this is exactly what scripture presents. Why is it so difficult to accept that scripture would do the same in stating that the dew has its origins in the moisture of on high

    That is not how I would explain the pasuk about man being created from the earth.
    But in any case, that is much less ludicrous, since that passuk is talking about ultimate origins, whereas the pesukim about dew are talking about its regular source. It is no more true to say that dew descends from the heavens than it is to say that dew comes down from the ocean.

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  68. I maintain that your interpretation is due to your bias. The only reason you interpret the possuk as you do is because you are inherently biased.

    So you're saying that the reason why I interpret the manna as a naturalistic event is because I am biased to interpret things naturalistically? OK, that sounds about right. (Of course, the exact same charge applies to Rambam.)

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  69. "In Ugarit they believed rain and dew came from the heavenly ocean."

    Pardon my skepticism (rationalists should be skeptical as part of their overall approach), but can you cite a source for that?

    The source from Theophilus is irrelevant. Why would we care about someone with no expertise in the meaning of Hebrew scriptures from a Jewish vantage point to interpret what Isaiah meant? Do you use Theophilus as a source in interpreting scriptures in general? Furthermore, Theophilus wrote a good four hundred plus years after Aristotle, whose science was almost universally accepted at that point.

    "You're missing the point. It is not true to say that every drop goes all the way up to the heavens, and then all the way down, as part of the cycle. It's only true that over a very long period, each drop will likely at some point be up in the heavens."

    I never claimed that EVERY DROPLET goes all the way up to the heavens and then all the way down. I simply said that according to the United States Geological Survey, approximately 90% of all humidity, among which is the source of the dew, is part of the evaporation-condensation cycle, and that over the course of days / weeks (not hundreds of years!) that cycle goes from ground to "heavens" to ground etc. Thus, the dew can legitimately be said to come from the "heavens." You dispute this point, but have not demonstrated any source as the basis for your dispute.

    And speaking of which, this is the fourth request that I am making to ask you to respond to the selective decay of the manna as a natural phenomenon (it decayed every morning if left over, but not on the seventh day, and it did not decay for at least two generations in the jug in the sanctuary).

    "That is not how I would explain the pasuk about man being created from the earth. But in any case, that is much less ludicrous, since that passuk is talking about ultimate origins, whereas the pesukim about dew are talking about its regular source. It is no more true to say that dew descends from the heavens than it is to say that dew comes down from the ocean."

    Ah...now we get to the heart of the matter. I have offered a valid explanation as to how the verses are consistent with science, and at the same time teach a moral lesson. (Since the moisture that forms the dew is part of the evaporation-condensation cycle which includes being in the heavens (over short intervals of days, not hundreds of years), the reference point of dew coming from the heavens is just as legitimate as saying that dew comes from just above the ground. So why choose the high reference point and not the low one? To subtly teach that God is the provider of the dew "from on high").

    Now you may not LIKE this explanation (and for reasons beyond me choose to call it "ludicrous" - who says that the verse is dealing with the "regular source" of dew rather than its "ultimate origin"? That is your assumption; there is nothing in the verses that suggests "regular" versus "ultimate"), but it is entirely consistent with science and with moral teachings of scripture. So I have to wonder: given the choice between interpreting scripture as consistent with science and teaching a moral lesson, versus scripture presenting a falsehood to accommodate the ignorance of the ancients (a theory which has no direct support in the writings of the classical commentaries to which you subscribe) why would you choose the latter over the former?

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  70. Rabbi Slifkin,

    I have to say that I think Matthew's explanation sounds really good. You may not agree with it in your opinion because of your general approach, but why do you persist in calling it ludicrous? It seems like a perfectly rational explanation.

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  71. It's like saying that babies come from outer space. Their constituent molecules do indeed come from outer space originally, but nobody would ever describe them that way.

    Or, to put it another way, it's like saying "may the ocean provide you with much dew." Sure, at some point in the cycle, all water is in the ocean, but that just wouldn't be a way to describe it.

    And given that, in ancient times, people did believe that dew descends daily from the heavens (like rain), I think that is what the Torah is talking about.

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  72. Just a brief follow-up to my previous comment: Theophilus was the seventh bishop of Antioch, writing to the heathen Autolycus as to why he should embrace Christianity. As part of his argument, he cites various verses and ideas from scriptures. His interpretation of Isaiah is what you cited, to indicate that this is how the verse was understood. Agreed. This is how the verse was understood by Christian evangelists in the 2nd century.

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  73. But what if there were some important moral lesson conveyed by saying that humans come from "star stuff"? Then it would make sense. And the point that man comes from the earth, which is scientifically true in an ultimate sense, and teaches a moral lesson, is expressed in that way for that very reason! So why not also with regard to the water cycles which provide life to man - expressing it in such a way as to say that Hashem provides them.

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  74. "Mital haShamayim u'mishmanei ha'aretz." Why not say it's all from Shamayim?

    Look, I just don't think that your explanation is reasonable. And I think that the reason why you find it reasonable is that you don't want the Torah to be scientifically inaccurate. Are you willing to cite any instance of the Torah being scientifically inaccurate?

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  75. I don't see what you asked as being a problem. The pasuk says tal hashamayim for the reason that Matthew explained (dew whose moisture comes from on high in the evaporation/condensation cycle - that Hashem provides) and mishmahei ha-aretz since you need aretz to qualify shmanei: the fat of what? the fat of the land. Had the pasuk said mishmanei hashamayim we would not know what it's referring to at all.

    I don't know how to respond to "Look, I just don't think that your explanation is reasonable." To me, that sentence just says, "I don't like what you're saying." That's fine; but it isn't an objection.

    To respond to your last question, I would say as follows - I believe that the Torah is the word of Hashem. I therefore believe that it is 100% true. I therefore believe that the true meaning of the Torah cannot contain falsehood. I will cite the rationalist Rambam as an example of what I mean. He said that had Aristotle proven that the universe is eternal, we would need to understand that the true meaning of the Torah in Bereishis perek aleph, regarding the creation, is an allegory. Note, he did not say that we would need to understand that the Torah presented a falsehood. I follow in the path of the rationalist Rambam in this regard. Do you not?

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  76. Rabbi,

    You posted my follow-up comment without the earlier one to which the posted one was a follow-up.

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  77. The water in the dew does NOT come from high as part of the regular cycle.

    But there's no point in discussing this. You just admitted that on principle, you refuse to accept that the Torah could contain a scientific inaccuracy. Hence there is no point in me trying to convince you of it.

    Regarding Rambam - he did hold that the Torah presents untruths. He called them "necessary beliefs."

    Matthew - I didn't post your comment because it added nothing new and I already answered your question.

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  78. You did not answer my question. Please show me where you dealt with the issue of the selective decay of the manna. You have consistently avoided that issue. You have not provided a source for your claim about the Ugarits. And while in the deleted post I explained more clearly how it can be said that the moisture that forms the dew goes through the evaporation-condensation cycle in a short time, and thus has been high up, you keep insisting that "the water in the dew does NOT come from high as part of the regular cycle" without any factual basis or backing. Can you please respond to all of these issues?

    Please provide a source where Maimonides says that the bible presents falsehoods as necessary beliefs. Thank you.

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  79. Wow! So you're chewing a guy out for attempting to present a legitimate explanation of how the Torah is correct, rather than saying that the Torah presents a lie?! I am shocked!

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  80. >>"Issac - Rashi is not saying that this was THE miracle of the manna. He is commenting on the verse speaking about that ASPECT, and noting that it was miraculous."

    But he *is* saying it implicitly (according to your logic) because he fails to identify virtually any other aspect of the manna as being miraculous in his commentary to this entire passage.
    (with the exception of the double portion falling on Friday--this also has nothing to do with a supernatural existence)

    This was exactly the logic behind your inference in Maimonides to assert that the very existence of it was not considered supernatural.

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  81. Rabbi Slifkin: I think you are being unnecessarily harsh here against those who have a viewpoint different from yours. You have every right to disagree with their interpretation. You have not, in my opinion, explained why what they say is demonstrably wrong, other than to merely assert that it is. It's more than OK to disagree. But to shut people down and to call their explanations ludicrous without clearly demonstrating why they're wrong is impolite. Why can't you just say, "OK, that's your opinion, but I disagree"?

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  82. Professor Lawrence Kaplan,

    As an acknowledged expert on the works of the Rambam, perhaps you can help to inform this discussion. I remember that years ago I read a quote by the Rambam to the effect that if a person comes across the words of a chakham and those words can be interpreted in two ways: one such that the chakham would be correct, and the other such that the chakham would be incorrect, it is incumbent upon the person to choose the interpretation such that the chakham is correct. Do you know where this quote can be found in the works of the Rambam?

    Also, do you think that the Rambam's notion of "necessary beliefs" as Rabbi Slifkin cited it, is relevant to the proposed theory that the Torah presents falsehoods in order to accommodate the scientific ignorance of the ancients such as kidneys providing moral counsel and the dew falling from the heavens?

    Thank you for your kind attention to this issue.

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  83. Just to be fair...June 15, 2010 at 7:47 AM

    >Matthew - I didn't post your comment because it added nothing new and I already answered your question.

    If the question referred to here is what Matthew asked:

    "Now, again, I notice you still ignored the issue of the decaying manna every morning but not on the seventh day and not in the sanctuary for at least two generations. I await a response to that" -

    may I respectfully point out that this question was not dealt with. I'm pointing it out only to be fair in the discussion.

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  84. (I don't know why all the comments ended up out of order)

    >"In Ugarit they believed rain and dew came from the heavenly ocean."

    Pardon my skepticism (rationalists should be skeptical as part of their overall approach), but can you cite a source for that?


    The internet, I forget the source.

    The source from Theophilus is irrelevant. Why would we care about someone with no expertise in the meaning of Hebrew scriptures from a Jewish vantage point to interpret what Isaiah meant

    It presumably reflects standard belief.

    I simply said that according to the United States Geological Survey, approximately 90% of all humidity, among which is the source of the dew, is part of the evaporation-condensation cycle, and that over the course of days / weeks (not hundreds of years!) that cycle goes from ground to "heavens" to ground etc.

    And I don't think that you are understanding it correctly. The cycle does not mean that it all goes all the way up and down. If you were to hang a plastic sheet ten feet above the ground, there wouldn't be much difference in the dew below it.

    And speaking of which, this is the fourth request that I am making to ask you to respond to the selective decay of the manna as a natural phenomenon

    I already answered it a bunch of times. If there is no naturalistic explanation (which in the case of Shabbos, there probably isn't, and in the case of the manna in the jar, there may well be), then it is a miracle.

    the reference point of dew coming from the heavens is just as legitimate as saying that dew comes from just above the ground.

    I don't think that it is, for the reasons stated.

    who says that the verse is dealing with the "regular source" of dew rather than its "ultimate origin"

    It is not true that the ultimate origin of the dew is in the heavens. It is there at some point in the cycle, just as it is in the ocean at some point. And it is not there right before it is on the ground. The pesukim indicate that the heavens are the direct source, not a stage on the way that could be weeks earlier. "May God grant you the dew of the heavens." "The heavens drip with dew."

    given the choice between interpreting scripture as consistent with science and teaching a moral lesson, versus scripture presenting a falsehood to accommodate the ignorance of the ancients... why would you choose the latter over the former?

    Good question! And the obvious answer is that I don't think that yours is a reasonable interpretation of the pesukim.
    The only reason you are interpreting the pesukim in the way that you are is out of your religious conviction that the Torah cannot clash with science. Can you name any instance where the Torah is scientifically inaccurate? Could this happen?

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  85. Avi:

    I don't know how to respond to "Look, I just don't think that your explanation is reasonable." To me, that sentence just says, "I don't like what you're saying." That's fine; but it isn't an objection.

    So let me rephrase it: I think that the only reason why you find your explanation reasonable is that you have a religious conviction that the Torah cannot clash with science. If you didn't believe in Torah, you wouldn't see your explanation as reasonable.

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  86. So you're chewing a guy out for attempting to present a legitimate explanation of how the Torah is correct, rather than saying that the Torah presents a lie?!

    There's nothing wrong with attempting. But I do not believe his explanation to be legitimate. I apologize if I come over as harsh. The truth is, I am never thrilled when people get into these arguments with me and refuse to use their name.

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  87. I remember that years ago I read a quote by the Rambam to the effect that if a person comes across the words of a chakham and those words can be interpreted in two ways: one such that the chakham would be correct, and the other such that the chakham would be incorrect, it is incumbent upon the person to choose the interpretation such that the chakham is correct. Do you know where this quote can be found in the works of the Rambam?

    It's in the Moreh, immediately adjacent to where he interprets Chazal (Pesachim 94b) as being incorrect about something, despite others having interpreted Chazal as having been correct. Obviously Rambam did not believe that one adopts such interpretations when he considers them unreasonable.

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  88. But to shut people down and to call their explanations ludicrous without clearly demonstrating why they're wrong is impolite.

    I didn't shut anyone down (yet) and I believe that I clearly demonstrated them to be wrong. I can't help it if they disagree with me. Furthermore I demonstrated why, on principle, they will never agree with me. So at this point, I think it's time to shut the discussion down. Nobody has convinced me, and it is clearly impossible to convince others, since they a priori believe that the Torah can never be scientifically inaccurate! So any further discussion would be a waste of time, just like the endless evolution/creation arguments.

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  89. One more thing: You can check out this article for some interesting experiments with dew:

    Experiments Respecting Dew, Intended to Ascertain Whether Dew Is the Descent of Vapour
    during the Night, or the Perspiration of the Earth, or of Plants; Or Whether It Is Not the
    Effect of Condensation
    Author(s): Noah Webster
    Source: Memoirs of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, Vol. 3, No. 1 (1809), pp. 95-
    103
    Published by: American Academy of Arts & Sciences
    Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/25057887

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  90. You cited in your post (parenthetically)ibn Ezra to Shemos 16. There he takes a vehement position against Hivi who was of the opinion that Manna was a natural phenomena. He begins 'may the bones of Hivi rot for saying..." Did you use this source to show that the Karaites (which it seems Hivi was one) also believed that the Manna was a natural phenomena? Wouldn't that hurt your point? In fact, one blogger actually misunderstood you to be saying that Ibn Ezra himself believed this! http://finkorswim.com/2010/06/10/what-was-the-manna/
    Is there a reason that you chose not to mention how Ibn Ezra felt about this topic - since having a rishon who condemns the position in an outright way certainly makes the Vosisnaiesz (i can never spell that!) comments a bit more understandable. It seems that Ibn Ezra's comments might have been posted on that blog if her were around today!

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  91. Oy, that's a misunderstanding!

    I would think it is obvious that there have been many Torah scholars who have been opposed to naturalistic explanations. These days, it's the rationalist approach that many people haven't heard of.

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  92. Rabbi Slifkin,

    I expect that this comment will not see the light of day, but I felt that I had to send it to you nevertheless. I am profoundly disappointed and saddened. It seems as though you have simply closed off this discussion because you do not want to engage with people of a mindset different from yours. If one believes that the scriptures can contain falsehoods, you are willing to talk; if not, then there is nothing further to say. That is, of course, your right. However, I was under the impression, apparently mistaken, that you wished to engage in a meaningful, thought-provoking, and open exploration of important topics. You have chosen not to post my latest comment, which itself was a response to things you had written. By any account, I believe, my comment contained new information (about the Ugarit tablet, about a conversation with a scientist from NOAA), responses to issues that you yourself had raised and/or questioned, all done in a tone that was certainly not disrespectful in the least. To disregard that comment simply because you do not wish to engage anymore with someone who thinks that the scriptures do not contain falsehoods is, in my opinion, a disservice to open intellectual advancement. When asked by a few commenters what you found objectionable about Neil's original explanation, you responded by claiming things that were disputed by scientific experts, or by saying "I don't think your explanation is reasonable" citing your opinion, but without proof for why that should be. If this is the approach of rationalist Jews, then I think there is much to be concerned about. Oh well... I wish you every happiness in your future.

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  93. Matthew:

    1. I didn't receive any comment with new information about the Ugarit tablet. Maybe you didn't post it, or maybe there is a problem with Blogger (as seems to be the case; the comments arrive in a strange order).

    2. I don't believe that I claimed anything that would be disputed by scientific experts. Rather, I believe that the position that you and others were advancing is scientifically incorrect. And I believe that I offered adequate reasons for why Neil's explanation is inadequate. But I don't expect you to agree with that.

    3. I have never claimed that this blog is an open forum for discussion with people of different mindset. In fact, I have always made it clear that I do not have time for endless arguments with people of different mindsets, and this blog is in fact intended only for people of similar mindsets. If you want to pay me for my time, I will be glad to discuss the topic of manna with you for as long as you want!

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  94. Rabbi Slifkin:

    Thanks for your response. The following is a copy of the e-mail that I had sent earlier:

    "In Ugarit they believed rain and dew came from the heavenly ocean."

    >can you cite a source for that?

    The internet, I forget the source."

    I checked. The only source I could find via Google, and this presumably was the source to whcih you referred, is the Baal creation myth tablet. It was written approximately 3350 years ago in what is presently the coast of Lebanon. This means that the tablet was written in the area that the Israelites entered at approximately the time that they entered it. The phrase "tal hashamayim ush'manei ha-aretz" appears at least once in the tablet.

    Using this text as a proof that the ancients believed in dew from the heavens is guesswork at best, since there is good reason to think that the Ugarit text was influenced by phrasing in the scriptures. So there is no clear evidence that the ancients believed that the dew came from the heavens, other than the scriptural verses, which is the subject at hand, and therefore cannot be cited as a proof without employing circular reasoning.

    ">The source from Theophilus is irrelevant.

    It presumably reflects standard belief."

    From where do you derive this presumption? Moreover, as was pointed out, this "standard belief" was in the 2nd century. Five hundred years earlier, Aristotle wrote about the "standard belief" that the dew falls from moisture at ground level.

    "The pesukim indicate that the heavens are the direct source, not a stage on the way that could be weeks earlier. "May God grant you the dew of the heavens." "The heavens drip with dew."

    Where does the verse suggest that the heavens are the DIRECT source of the dew? That is your assumption, not something stated in the verse. I have already explained that the "dew of the heavens" could very well refer to the reference point of the heavens (which is as legitimate as any other reference point in the evaporation-condensation cycle) to teach a moral lesson.

    "If you didn't believe in Torah, you wouldn't see your explanation as reasonable."

    And in the same way, if you didn't believe in Torah you would never see the historicity of Abraham, the Israelite exodus, the parting of the sea, etc. etc., as reasonable.

    You may be interested to know that I spoke to a meteorological scientist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, who confirmed that the moisture that forms the dew is not stagnant at all, and that it goes high up and low down as part of the evaporation-condensation cycle in a matter of DAYS (not "hundreds of years"). Parenthetically, he also noted that it is not common at all for desert sands to ever reach the dew point (rocks - yes, sand - rarely), so that dew in the desert altogether is a rarity. Perhaps the dew in the desert was also part of the miracle of the manna.

    I would welcome your comments on all of the issues above, in the interest of a comprehensive and open discussion.

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  95. Here's a link to some relevant statements by some meterologists:
    http://www.newton.dep.anl.gov/askasci/wea00/wea00084.htm

    When the Torah states that the heavens shall drip with dew, this indicates that dew is stored in the heavens (not that it comes from moisture that is present throughout the air). The Gemara speaks of the dew being stored in one of the firmaments. When the Torah says that the manna descended daily on top of the dew that descended, this indicates that the dew is descending from the heavens daily.

    Yes, I know that you do not find this convincing. But what on earth do you mean when you say that you want to have an "open discussion"? You have already said that no matter what argument I bring, you will refuse to find it reasonable that the Torah is describing the dew descending daily from the Heavens, since you consider it a priori impossible that the Torah has scientifically incorrect information. I am not interested in having allegedly open discussions with people who refuse on principle to allow any argument to change their mind!

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  96. "I am not interested in having allegedly open discussions with people who refuse on principle to allow any argument to change their mind!"

    You know, Rabbi, I can turn these very words around to you as well. You apparently refuse, on principle, to consider the possibility that all the verses of the scripture, as God's word, must be true.

    I suppose we each have our basic assumptions here - mine being that the word of God, whose seal is Truth, given as an eternal sacred text to His people, must all be eternally true. Yours being that the scripture was given to a specific group of people at a specific time, and therefore addressed their specific level of knowledge, with no exact demand for eternal truth - only that of the specific people addressed at the time.

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  97. I do not refuse on principle to say that verses can be scientifically true! That's a ridiculous allegation. There's plenty of statements in the Torah that are scientifically true!

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  98. You twisted my words, or did not read them carefully. I wrote "You apparently refuse, on principle, to consider the possibility that ALL the verses of the scripture, as God's word, must be true."

    Did you receive my other comment that deals with the questions and comments of your last post before this?

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  99. I dealt with what I thought was the relevant question: Am I fundamentally biased against saying that the verses we are discussing are scientifically accurate? To which the answer is, of course not.

    Now, with regard to the charge that I refuse, on principle, to consider the possibility that ALL the verses of the scripture ARE true - that is likewise ludicrous. Why would I have a problem with them being true? That would be great!

    With regard to the charge that I refuse, on principle, to consider the possibility that ALL the verses of the scripture MUST BE true - This is a false charge, for a different reason. It's not that I refuse to consider this possibility - it's that I already held this view, and eventually rejected it. For the first thirty years of my life I believed this, but eventually I decided that an objective evaluation reveals otherwise. I think that this attests to my ability to overcome bias, at least to some extent.

    But you refuse to consider the possibility that the verses could be scientifically false. Hence there is no point arguing about it.

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  100. Matthew, I did not post your other comment, for reasons that I have explained at length. But here is a response to one relevant part:

    The bottom line is that you claim that scripture is presenting a falsehood based upon your assumptions which you insert into the verses, and as a result, the verse must be wrong. I ask again, can you prove that my readings of the verse are incorrect? If so, I will admit that your position is the correct one. But if in the end, your proof is nothing more than "the reading that you propose is just not reasonable to me" then while I understand that you would want to go with your own preference, I do not understand your refusal to state that it is possible that the verse presented in the scripture as God's word is indeed true.

    This is not a matter of mathematics, where one can present categorical proofs. This is a case where the question is whether something is faintly possible, plausible, likely, reasonable, very reasonable, overwhelmingly likely, etc. So the very notion of being able to "categorically prove you" wrong isn't going to happen. It's like Dr. Nathan Aviezer's explanation that Taninim HaGedolim refers to 18-inch Edicarian mollusks. Can I categorically prove this wrong? No. But I think that it's unreasonable to the point of absurdity. Likewise, I cannot categorically prove your explanation incorrect. But I don't think that it is at all a reasonable explanation of the pesukim, and I think that you only believe it to be so because you are not at all objective about it.

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  101. "Teacher" - please email me. If people have questions for me, especially of a sensitive nature, I do not like to deal with them on a blog. That is why I didn't post your comment.

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  102. Matthew, if your dates are correct, the Ugaritic literature was written around the time that Yitzchak blessed Ya`akov, in any case long before Yehoshua.

    (Actually, based on the relative importance of the Hittites in Ugaritic literature and in the Torah, one can conclude that the Torah was transmitted significantly afterward.)

    The scribes in Ugarit were not influenced by the Torah's phrasing.

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  103. JXG:

    They're not MY dates; they are dates listed in the internet site that Rabbi Slifkin referenced. And based upon that, please forgive the following math/history lesson:

    "The Baal Myth of Ugarit, was written circa 1400–1200 B.C.E." (from the aforementioned website).

    1400 BCE corresponds to the Hebrew calendar year 2360. This is 88 years prior to the revelation at Sinai, i.e., during the Israelite enslavement in Egypt, well AFTER the blessing of Isaac to Jacob. 1200 BCE corresponds to the Hebrew calendar year 2560. This is 112 years after the revelation at Sinai, and 72 years after the entrance of the Israelites to their land.

    I therefore do not understand how you can say definitively that the Ugarits did not take their phrasing, which corresponds EXACTLY to Genesis 27:28, from the scriptural reference.

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  104. "For the first thirty years of my life I believed this, but eventually I decided that an objective evaluation reveals otherwise. I think that this attests to my ability to overcome bias, at least to some extent."

    This is not the first time you have used this argument, and I think it is important to note that the argument does not hold. I will give an example from a commonly known phenomenon. (Please note that this is only an analogy). People who used to smoke cigarettes, but who subsequently quite, are often very intolerant of smokers. Now, they could easily say, "I don't have a bias against smokers, after all, I used to be one myself." For the many intolerant ones, that claim, of course, would be false. My point is that saying, "Of course I am not biased against saying the Torah must ALWAYS be true; I used to think that myself" doesn't hold. On the contrary - it may well be a cause FOR a bias on your part.

    If, on the other hand, you are arguing here that "since I changed my mind from what I used to hold, that shows that I can overcome bias," people often change their views when experiencing something new; does that always indicate an ability to overcome biases in other areas in their lives?

    NOTE: I am not claiming that you *are* biased in this way; I am merely saying that your claim from your past is not a good argument.

    As to the issue itself of the Torah's veracity, I think it is important to state what the "default" position of expectation is. That is, what should we start off assuming, and where does the burden of proof lie. It seems to me that an acceptance of the idea "u-devarcha emes ve-kayam la-ad" and similar such statements mandate that we start off assuming that everything in the Torah is true. If you want to claim that the Torah presents statements that are false in order to accommodate the ignorance of the ancients, the burden of proof is upon you to show that indeed the Torah does operate like that. Citing ibn Kaspi does not satisfy that requirement of burden of proof since in his case (the plague and the counting) the reason for the accommodation is an area of truth that comes into conflict with another area of truth. That is, the "truth" of the need for the Jews to function militarily etc. overrides the "truth" of the fact that counting does not induce plague. It is analogous to pikuach nefesh overriding a mitzva. In your case, what "truth" overrides the need to be truthful about how the kidneys or the dew function? Absent any answer to that question, I think that your position is not viable, unless you can demonstrate that indeed the Torah does lie just to accommodate the people's false notions, even without an "overriding" factor.

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  105. I would phrase it differently.

    If it is proven that something in the Torah is scientifically incorrect, then you either accept Dibra Torah or some variant thereof, or conclude that Torah is false.

    Now, I'm pretty sure that most people here refuse to conclude that Torah is false. So they must either accept Dibra Torah, or refuse to accept that the Torah is saying something scientifically incorrect. Not surprisingly, they are opting for the latter.

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  106. By the way, Jordan, with regard to your smoking parable - I think that that case shows that the person is capable of making a difficult transition i.e. quitting smoking. In my case, I have demonstrated my ability to make a difficult and discomforting intellectual transition. (Of course, that doesn't mean that I am always able to do so. But it counts for something, especially versus people who have not demonstrated any such ability.)

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  107. "So they must either accept Dibra Torah, or refuse to accept that the Torah is saying something scientifically incorrect."

    But this is begging the question! How do you know that the notion of dibra Torah... as you explain it is a legitimate Torah methodology? Your application of the concept is not found in the Torah itself, nor in the Shas, nor in the geonim, nor in the rishonim. If the concept is legitimate, should it not be mentioned somewhere? It seems to me that you (or others recently) "invented" this concept in order to deal with a problem that you picked up on. But if the concept has no validity on its own, it cannot be a real solution to a problem.

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  108. 1. The notion that dibra Torah explains Scriptural anthropmorphisms is not said anywhere in the Torah or the Gemara. How is it legitimate?

    2. Are you saying that if there is something scientifically inaccurate in the Torah, then this means that Torah is not divine?

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  109. I believe that when the rishonim posited it, they had a mesorah for that concept. At any event, the rishonim did maintain that their concept was legitimate.

    With regard to your second question, my assertion is that if something in the Torah can be demonstrably shown to be scientifically false (something that I think was not done with regard to the dew, and something that was arguably done with regard to the kidneys - others on this site cited the hormonal influences, etc. - although I didn't really buy it) then it must be allegorical, or something presented for a greater good (like the plague-count issue). But I assert that it cannot be a falsehood just to cater to what that generation knew/didn't know with no other reason. Unless you can show that there is a mesorah for the approach that you want to take, which so far, you have not shown.

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  110. I believe that when the rishonim posited it, they had a mesorah for that concept.

    I am sure that you believe that, but there is no evidence for it.

    At any event, the rishonim did maintain that their concept was legitimate.

    Of course they did, but how is that relevant?

    You know, there is no mesorah from Chazal for saying that the references in Tenach to kidneys are allegorical. So how can it be justified?

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  111. Your last paragraph is nothing more than an application of your first paragraph, so there is only the one issue for me to respond to over here. When the Rambam used the phrase dibra Torah... to explain the idea of allegories in the Torah, he attributes that phrase to Chazal, and claims that his explanation is included in what they meant. Do you think that the Rambam invented this on his own, and lied when he attributed his meaning to Chazal? Does this not mean that he had a mesorah as to that meaning?

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  112. Rambam believed that the Neviim and Chazal were all espousing Greco-Muslim philosophy! Of course he didn't have a mesorah for his approach. But he was genuinely convinced that the Neviim and Chazal thought the same way he did.

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  113. "Of course he (the Rambam) didn't have a mesorah for his approach."

    To borrow from a question asked above, would you say that the Rambam would agree with the statement above?

    "But he was genuinely convinced that the Neviim and Chazal thought the same way he did."

    OK - so do you have a source among the rishonim who are genuinely convinced that the approach that you are taking is the same as the Neviim and Chazal took?

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  114. would you say that the Rambam would agree with the statement above?

    Rambam believed that Chazal also viewed the Torah as speaking k'lashon Adam. However he wouldn't have claimed that he heard this from his rebbe.

    do you have a source among the rishonim who are genuinely convinced that the approach that you are taking is the same as the Neviim and Chazal took?

    No. And I don't have a source in the Rishonim for evolution either.

    Do you have a source in Chazal for saying that the references to kidneys are allegorical?

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  115. "No. And I don't have a source in the Rishonim for evolution either."

    First, the two issues are not comparable. The rishonim did already recognize that the Torah says things that on the surface cannot be literal, and there is a concept of dibra Torah.... They defined its parameters. Those parameters do not include your theory. This has nothing to do with scientific theories of which they had no knowledge and did not discuss whatsoever. (But please see below...)

    Second, I think I once heard a tape of a shiur from Rabbi Dr. Yirmiyahu Luchins who cited a Ramban, if I'm not mistaken, (it may have been a different rishon - I can't remember) whose explanation of the number of species on the teiva point to the idea of mutations, etc. (But this is parenthetical to your point).

    I don't know whom you mean when you say "Chazal" here, but there is an open ibn Ezra which states that the kidneys are allegorical in these p'sukim.

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  116. "However he wouldn't have claimed that he heard this from his rebbe."

    And you know this......how?

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  117. Jordan, the issues are exactly comparable. None of the Rishonim (including Ramban) accept evolution, or the six days being billions of years. They all interpreted Bereishis differently. Yet this has not stopped Torah scholars of our time from saying it.

    The Ibn Ezra saying that kidneys are allegorical is breaking from the mesorah and from Chazal. As plenty of Rishonim and Acharonim point out, Chazal clearly held it to be literal.

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  118. "However he wouldn't have claimed that he heard this from his rebbe."

    And you know this......how?


    Because Chazal didn't use dibra Torah in that way. Rambam was motivated by his philosophical education to create a new meaning for this principle. See Ukshi, Zion. “The Torah Speaks Like the Language of Men—The Development of the Expression and its Nature” (Hebrew), Derech Efrata 9-10 (5761) pp. 39-59.

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  119. Again, I ask what was asked before, do you think that the Rambam would agree with your assessment of him ("Because Chazal didn't use dibra Torah in that way. Rambam was motivated by his philosophical education to create a new meaning for this principle"). Clearly, the Rambam presented his interpretation as it being what Chazal meant. Now you are saying that the Rambam changed Chazal's meaning. So he lied when he said that this is what Chazal meant?

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  120. Rambam wasn't lying! He believed that Chazal were likewise not corporealists. He also presumably believed that they would have accounted for the Torah's corporealist expressions by saying Dibra Torah. But the fact is that Chazal never used the expression in that way.

    You didn't answer my question to you about kidneys. You don't have a source in Chazal for saying that it's allegorical; in fact Chazal clearly understood it literally, as many Rishonim and Acharonim stress. So what is your basis for disagreeing with them?

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  121. First, please show me a source in the rishonim that clearly states that the psukim with kidneys are to be understood literally, not allegorically. I have already shown you that the ibn Ezra clearly understood it allegorically. Second, if there are such rishonim as you claim, then there are 2 possibilities: 1) they are correct, the kidneys are responsible for moral counsel, in the form of glandular releases, etc., the way that some commenters claimed earlier, 2) they understood it that way because their knowledge of science conformed to that idea, but since that is not true (if indeed it is not true), then they were mistaken in their understanding of the psukim.

    So, in answer to your question, I don't disagree with them according to the first possibility, and I disagree with them according to the second possibility if science unequivocally shows that their understanding is not factual. I see no problem in either side. You, however, seem to be saying that the first possibility is wrong, and the the second possibility is correct - so the rishonim must be right and the pasuk must be wrong. Your excuse to say this is that the psukim lie in order to accommodate for the ignorance of the ancients, an idea that you have not demonstrated has any basis in Judaism earlier than the 20th century.

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  122. I'm not going over all this again, you can check the archives for the sources. My point is that most people today interpret the pesukim about kidneys allegorically, even though Chazal held it to be literal. Innovation does happen. In the same way, Rambam used Dibra Torah with regard to anthropomorphisms, even though there is no source for that in Chazal, and Rav Hirsch and Rav Kook extended this to scientific phenomena, even though they had no earlier mesorah for that. Again, I recommend that you read Zion Ukshi's article, which documents this in detail.

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  123. Just one question. Isnt' the very fact that the manna was put in a jar to show later generations suggestive of the miraculous nature of the actual substance? What would be the point otherwise?

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  124. Rabbi, in my humble opinion you seem very inconsistent.
    Last week you explained to me the reason you are against a kollel lifestyle is because we do not find that way of life advocated by chazal or rishonim.
    Yet this week you are happy to interpret the manna in a way not found in the chazal or rishonim.
    Ah, so you are going to respond by saying that the rambam learns manna in that way, but Rabbi with all due respect that is YOUR interpertation on the matter, which would then allow our Gedolim to also interpret chazal in a way they understand that a kollel lifestyle is ligit.

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  125. Obviously the Gedolim don't themselves believe that they are going against Chazal and Rishonim and tradition!

    What each person has to do, is to evaluate the sources and the situation and decide who is really following Chazal and Rishonim and tradition.

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  126. Rabbi i give you full credit in answering a tough question sensibly.
    I understand from your response that you agree that in the same way its ok for Rabbi Slifkin to interpret a rishon/chazal in a fashion that departs from tradition, it is also ok for the Gedolim to interpret a chazal/rishon in a way that departs from tradition.
    RNS on manna, Gedolim on kollel.
    Thanks for your time and have a great shabbos

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  127. I don't understand what you are saying.

    1) I do not believe that I interpret Chazal and the Rishonim in a way that departs from tradition.

    2) Even if I did, parashanut is different from halachah

    3) In any case, what matters is the harm that it causes. Mass open-ended kollel causes catastrophic harm. The people that you are supporting in kollel and encouraging in their lifestyle - who is going to support their children and grandchildren?

    Did you look into Kollel Torah MiTziyon? Why not redirect your $1000 a month from Mir to there?

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  128. Well I'm happy to find out that I'm not the only one that was slightly confused about the Rambam's approach to miracles!

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