Monday, August 9, 2010

Three Different Perspectives on Judaism's Approach to Scientific Discoveries

"If the gemara tells us a metziyus, it's emes veyatziv. There's nothing to think about. Anything we see with our eyes is less of a reality than something we see in the gemara. That's the emunah that a yid has to have... We’re coming to hear new kinds of concepts, that we have to figure out a way to make Torah compatible with modern day science – it’s an emunah mezuyefes! ...Our emunah has to be, and will continue to be, that every word of Chazal haKedoshim is emes le’amitoh! ...And that’s the emunah that we were mekabel midor dor."
Rabbi Uren Reich
Rosh haYeshiva of Yeshiva of Woodlake Village in Lakewood
Extract from address at the Melava Malka of Agudath Israel of America's 82nd National Convention

"Judaism does not fear honest scientific inquiry. We have never had a Galileo episode. Indeed not one of our "baaley mesorah" (authentic Torah scholars) has ever suggested the denial of any scientifically demonstrated conclusions about the natural world. The most absurd idea imaginable to Judaism is to suggest that we deny our senses or our minds. It would mean the denial of the event of Sinai, the very basis of our Torah. No true Torah scholar has ever suggested the denial of what we see with our eyes and what is conclusively proven with our minds."
Rabbi Yisroel Chait
Rosh Yeshivah, Yeshiva Bnei Torah
http://www.ybt.org/essays/rchait/learntorah.html

"Historically, there have been a range of attitudes towards scientific discoveries that challenged traditional views. Many Torah scholars, especially amongst the Rishonim of Sefard, were very accommodating towards scientific discoveries, which they did not see as being fundamentally in contradiction to Judaism. They certainly accepted the evidence of their eyes and the conclusions of scientific/philosophical investigation over the words of Chazal. Others, from the many great Acharonim who condemned Copernicus, to R. Yehudah Brill's rejection of scientist's ability to prove anything in opposition to Chazal such as the non-existence of spontaneous generation, to the Shevus Yaakov's rejection of the scientific enterprise in general due to its anti-Talmudic position that the world is round, denied that empirical investigation and the scientific method is credible and can challenge traditional beliefs. This diverse range of approaches continues today."
Natan Slifkin

94 comments:

  1. Nice post--but for some reason it didn't show up on the net for a while. Try reposting it, so it's at the top for people to see. It's much more rationalist Judaism than kiwis.

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  2. Ah, thanks, I had forgotten to change the publication date from when I wrote it a while back.

    It's much more rationalist Judaism than kiwis.

    True. But kiwis are so cool! Wasn't that picture unbelievable?!

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  3. I like Rabbi Chait's quote better than yours. He very correctly points out that the very basis of our religion relies on sensory evidence (or analytical thinking).

    I'm sure you agree. I don't know why you contrast your statement with his. Your statement is simply a description of the facts as they are. His is a statement of how they should be.

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  4. He is most certainly talking about how things are/were, not just how they should be!

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  5. How can "We have never had a Galileo episode," which is simple false, be a description of "how things should be?"

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  6. Of course Rav Yisroel Chait would insist that one must be guided by the clear evidence of the senses or other convincing data. He is, after all, a strong Maimonidean. The Rambam would surely list the Lakewood rabbi in question among those foolish rabbis and ignorant folk whom he inveighs against in his Moreh.

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  7. Are you trying to imply that Rav Reich is wrong? He did not make a statement about history; rather it was a values statement, with which one can agree or disagree.

    Are you trying to imply that Rav Chait is wrong? He made his statement about the baaley hamesorah, the traditional translation of which is the sages up to the stimat hatalmud. There is no occurrence with regard to those sages that suggests a denial of the senses or mind in deference to an interpretation of Torah.

    You are correct that the three that you have presented are different approaches, but there is nothing to suggest an error in any of them (other than arguing the values of Rav Reich's position).

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  8. Rav Reich DID make a statement about history: "that’s the emunah that we were mekabel midor dor." And he implicitly denied that there was ever an authoritative view otherwise.

    It doesn't look to me like Rav Chait is only talking about Chazal. He mentions Galileo! And if you read his writings in general, it seems pretty clear that he is talking about Torah scholars throughout the ages.

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  9. I think you're right about Rav Reich - I missed the "dor dor" statement. On the other hand, Rav Chait said "we never had a Galileo episode" from which you infer that he means the time of Galileo, after the stitmat hatalmud. I think that the pshat of his statement is that we never had an incident *such* as the Galileo and the church, lehavdil, - meaning that our religious central authority, the sages of the talmud, never denied a scientific observation only because they were committed to their interpretation of the bible, as opposed to what happened with Galileo. Not that he was referring literally to Galileo's times. You said that from Rav Chait's other writings, "it seems pretty clear that he is talking about Torah scholars throughout the ages." In those writings does he talk about history or ideology? Here he is making a historical statement, which, I think, is pretty hard to deny. Ideology, of course, is subject to disagreement among different people.

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  10. Wow - Rabbi Chait's statement is a great, rational, beautiful expression of Chazal's integrity. How cool is it that there's a Rosh Yeshiva who is this "rational"!

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  11. Dave, look at the end of this quote: "No true Torah scholar has ever suggested the denial of what we see with our eyes and what is conclusively proven with our minds." He's not just talking about Chazal. And again, I recommend that you look at his other writings, and those of his talmidim.

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  12. That last quote is not a historical statement - it's a values statement. Who is a "true Torah scholar?" That all depends upon one's definition. It would seem that according to him, a person who denies a clear fact arrived at through the senses or the mind in deference to an interpretation of the Torah is not a "true Torah scholar." (As a rationalist rabbi, do you disagree with that?) But "baaley hamesorah" is a defined term, relating to the sages of the talmud. So for the historical part of his statement, it seems to me to be absolutely true; for the values part, one could, of course, argue.

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  13. So it's the "No True Scotsman" fallacy? And the Chasam Sofer and Shevus Yaakov and R. Yonasan Eybeshutz and R. Brill were not true Torah scholars?!

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  14. Do you have the sources in the Chasam Sofer, Shevus Yaakov, R. Yonasan Eybeshutz and R. Brill where they reject the evidence of the senses?

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  15. Not handy. They are scattered around my writings. Some reject specific scientific discoveries (e.g. heliocentrism), others reject the entire enterprise.

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  16. Indeed not one of our "baaley mesorah" (authentic Torah scholars) has ever suggested the denial of any scientifically demonstrated conclusions about the natural world

    That's just not true! (Unless you're playing a No True Scotsman game.)

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  17. I am commenting only based on how I interpreted what I read. But if you are asking me what I think, then I would say, yes - if there were a red box in the middle of the room for all to see, feel, measure, etc., and the Chasam Sofer and Shevus Yaakov and R. Yonasan Eybeshutz and R. Brill all said that despite the fact that we all clearly see a red box there, since it goes against their interpretation of the Torah we must deny the red box's existence, then *I* would say that they are not true Torah scholars. (I cannot speak for anyone but myself here).

    Please note that I am going on your say-so that the Chasam Sofer, etc. all denied sense perception in deference to their interpretation of Torah. It would be great if you could cite some sources, though. Also, would you, as a rationalist, claim that anyone who denies clear sense perception in deference to his interpretation of Torah *is* a true Torah scholar?

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  18. Here's R. Brill:

    “…There is no need for the believer to seek proofs and arguments from other places, even though they are many and powerful, for the received tradition of our rabbis suffices, for they entrenched and founded the complete judgment and law on the foundations of the matter... We are not to depart from that which has been ruled in our Talmud, even if all the spirit of human investigation in the world were to blow our way, for the spirit of God speaks within us. The knowledge of the researcher is lacking, and his intellect does not reach the depth of the wisdom of nature... the wise men of the nations of the world do not know nor understand nature, other than the superficial matters that are visible to the eye, and not their inner essence, as those who have received the traditions of the acts of Creation have grasped... And if so, the law is true, established, and correct, and existing in its place, and it is not to be changed at all...”

    Shailos U'Teshuvos Shevus Yaakov 3:20:
    "...How can we learn from the works [of gentile scientists]? Their basic principles are built upon the premise that the world is round, which stands in contrast to the meaning of the passage in our Talmud... "

    The list of great Torah scholars who denied heliocentrism is very long. It includes R. Yaakov Emden, Chasam Sofer, R. David Nieto, R. Yonasan Eybeschutz, R. Pinchas Hurwitz, and at least a dozen other known authorities.

    would you, as a rationalist, claim that anyone who denies clear sense perception in deference to his interpretation of Torah *is* a true Torah scholar?

    If someone is greatly knowledgeable in Torah then they are a great Torah scholar, period. I can't disqualify them just because I don't agree with their hashkafos or epistemology.

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  19. Both R. Reich and R. Chait are taking their ideal approach to Judaism and are trying to read it back into Jewish history as being the universal mesorah. If you are passionate about a particular religious worldview, it's only natural to want all the great people in your history to feel the same way. The problem is that reality is rarely so accommodating.

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  20. Rabbi Slifkin,

    You are correct. I was imprecise in my wording. I suppose I meant what some of the other commenters meant. Rabbi Chait is making a polemical statement. He is not interested in being historical or scientific.

    I think you can compare this to statements of R. Hirsch where he makes it sound obvious that true Judaism always embraced secualar education and being part of the world. Didn't R. Hirsch know that great scholars disagreed with him? Of course he did, but he is talking about "Judasim," not "erring" rabbis. Rabbi Chait, I imagine, is doing something similar.

    And if it is the true Scotman fallacy, so what? Don't you believe that anyone who "truly" understands God and Torah properly rejects spontaneous generation? I imagine you do. You recognize that Rav Elyashiv, the Lubavitcher Rebbe and many others accept spontaneous generation, but I imagine you would say that on this particular issue they simply do not understand God and Torah properly.

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  21. Yehudah, what makes you say that he is not being historical or scientific? "We have never had a Galileo episode" certainly sounds like a statement about history.

    Don't you believe that anyone who "truly" understands God and Torah properly rejects spontaneous generation?

    That does not equate to saying that anyone who thinks otherwise is not a true Torah scholar!

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  22. Whoa, the Shevus Yaakov argues on the Tosfos in Avoda Zara. I wasn't expecting that.

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  23. The thing is, while I agree with most of R' Chait's views and the points he tries to make, his presentation is very often way over the top and simplistic for me. I suppose I fall into the Monty Python category: "He'll be allowed to teach Marxist thinkers as well, so long as he makes it clear that THEY WERE WRONG."

    R' Reich thinks they were right.

    R' Chait refuses to admit they exist.

    R' Slifkin, I love ya, man, but sometimes, maybe to deflect charedi attacks (like that's gonna work), you seem a bit wishy washy on making it clear WHO WAS WRONG. The world is either 12 billion years old or 6,000. These are factual matters. There isn't much room to say "well, this book isn't aimed at all communities" there.

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  24. The list of great Torah scholars who denied heliocentrism is very long. It includes R. Yaakov Emden, Chasam Sofer, R. David Nieto, R. Yonasan Eybeschutz, R. Pinchas Hurwitz, and at least a dozen other known authorities.


    These Rabbanim all lived in the 17th-18th centuries. It is very anachronistic for us to assume that heliocentrism was so obvious back then that they belong in the "Uren Reich" camp. (I heard basically this idea from Rav Aryeh Carmell ztz"l many years ago.)

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  25. There is certainly some truth to that. However, it certainly contradicts R. Chait's claim that there was no Galileo episode amongst the Jews. (Incidentally, I myself made the same mistaken claim in my book The Science Of Torah.)

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  26. However, it certainly contradicts R. Chait's claim that there was no Galileo episode amongst the Jews.


    What exactly do you mean by a "Galileo episode"?

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  27. "If someone is greatly knowledgeable in Torah then they are a great Torah scholar, period. I can't disqualify them just because I don't agree with their hashkafos or epistemology."

    I ask the following question only to probe the limits, if any, of your definition:

    Would you say, then, that an avowed atheist, rabid anti-semite who is an greatly knowledgeable in Torah is a "true Torah scholar"?

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  28. What is your stance. R Slifkin? For if you accept the validity of scienctific inquiry as the best method for acquiring knowledge and truth, you now open up inquiry into "ikkar" claims as well-- the existence of a soul, the authorship and historical accuracy of biblical texts, and various other claims made in the Talmud. The knowledge gained from science is like a tidal wave and can threaten the basic underpinnings of religious faith.

    The only alternative is for a truce between science and religion: for religionists to keep their hands off of things in the realm of science, and for scientists to leave matters of faith alone.

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  29. What exactly do you mean by a "Galileo episode"?

    I assume that he meant a widespread condemnation of a scientific discovery, such as that of Galileo. Which is exactly what the Acharonim did with Galileo. (Except, of course, without any actual persecution, since they didn't have any power.)

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  30. Would you say, then, that an avowed atheist, rabid anti-semite who is an greatly knowledgeable in Torah is a "true Torah scholar"?

    Reductio ad absurdium, eh? I can't see the point of this line of questioning. But to answer: He is greatly knowledgeable in Torah, but I wouldn't stand up for him.

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  31. Dr J - your question is excellent but it is not the topic of this post.

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  32. "Which is exactly what the Acharonim did with Galileo."

    But, as I mentioned earlier, the term baaley mesorah traditionally is limited to the sages of the talmud, not the acharonim. Let's be fair here.

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  33. I am sorry for harping on this, but I don't think you answered the question. Is he a "true Torah scholar"?

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  34. And, as I mentioned, look at the end of his quote: "No true Torah scholar has ever suggested the denial of what we see with our eyes and what is conclusively proven with our minds." He's not just talking about Chazal. And again, I recommend that you look at his other writings, and those of his talmidim.

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  35. But this goes back to the definition of a "true Torah scholar." I am curious to see your answer to Elitzur's question.

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  36. Obviously this depends on whether "true Torah scholar" refers to raw data storage or includes some kind of personal characteristics. And it's completely irrelevant. The question is whether there are people that Orthodox Jews generally rate as "true Torah scholars" who denied things that have been adequately scientifically proven. And the answer is yes. Or are you suggesting that the authorities that I mentioned are not "true Torah scholars"? In which case, do you mean that a "true Torah scholar" by definition is someone who accepts that which is scientifically proven?

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  37. I assume that he meant a widespread condemnation of a scientific discovery, such as that of Galileo. Which is exactly what the Acharonim did with Galileo.

    This is where I'm not sure. Did the Achronim mentioned "condemn" anything, or were they just skeptical to a degree which may have been more than what makes us comfortable, but could have been justifiable in their generation?

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  38. They firmly rejected, and in some cases, condemned it. There are still Torah scholars today who reject things that have been more than adequately scientifically proven.

    Incidentally, I wonder what Rav Chait himself says about things such as the non-existence of a global flood, or discoveries from other branches of science such as archeology?

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  39. There are still Torah scholars today who reject things that have been more than adequately scientifically proven.

    I know that; the question is about the intellectual atmosphere 300 yrs. ago, when science was not nearly so rigorous or well-defined as it is today.

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  40. "The question is whether there are people that Orthodox Jews generally rate as "true Torah scholars"..."

    Ahh - now I think I see what is happening here. Your definition of a "true Torah scholar" is based upon sociology, while Rav Chait's definition of a "true Torah scholar" is based upon ideology. Neither basis is wrong; they're just different frameworks. Allow me to explain -

    You define "true Torah scholar" based upon the acceptance ("rating") of a person by a/the Jewish community as a sage. That is a sociological definition. From a sociological perspective, someone who is "greatly knowledgeable in Torah" (your quote) would still not be a true Torah scholar if their ideology undermined Torah (an avowed atheist, rabid anti-semite). But as well, from an *ideological* perspective - one whose ideology undermines Torah, even though he is "greatly knowledgeable in Torah" can also be considered as NOT a true Torah scholar. Now, Rav Chait wrote that "The most absurd idea imaginable to Judaism is to suggest that we deny our senses or our minds. It would mean the denial of the event of Sinai, the very basis of our Torah. No true Torah scholar has ever suggested the denial of what we see with our eyes and what is conclusively proven with our minds." This means that, in his view, denying one's senses and one's mind is a denial of the basis of Torah (we saw the revelation at Sinai, we hear the mesorah from our parents, teachers, etc.). So, in his view, someone who denies the senses and the mind is undermining Torah, and therefore, from an ideological perspective is not a true Torah scholar. One can argue the point on ideology, but it is certainly rooted in a clear, defensible idea.

    If my interpretation is correct, then Rav Chait's first statement, about the Galileo episode (assuming that "baaley hamesorah" means Chazal of the talmud, as is the traditional usage, and as some here have pointed out) is historically accurate, and his second statement about "true Torah scholars" is ideologically (but not sociologically) valid and sound.

    By the way, I owe you a great hakarat hatov - I had never heard of Rav Chait until reading your post, and, per your suggestion, I read some of his essays - they are fantastic!! Thanks so much.

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  41. So you think that Rav Chait would openly come out and say that Chasam Sofer, R. Brill, R. Emden, R. Eybeschutz, etc., etc, are not true Torah scholars? Fine, then let him do so.

    I think that his essay gives an extremely misleading impression of Jewish history.

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  42. Also, the statement that we have never had a Galileo episode is not true. The Acharonim were, for the majority, against him.

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  43. I obviously cannot speak for someone I have not even met. Nor do I know if he would accept your assessment of the Chasam Sofer et al, as denying the senses and the mind. So I cannot answer your question.

    I do think that the tone of what you wrote ("Fine, then let him do so") is somewhat belligerent, and I cannot understand why. Also, your comment "I think that his essay gives an extremely misleading impression of Jewish history" is, to my mind, somewhat misguided, as I don't think, from reading the essay, that he focusing on Jewish history, but rather on ideology. The history part of the statement (about the baaley hamesorah) is certainly true, and the ideology part of the statement is certainly valid - even though there is room for disagreement. I'm not sure what's really bothering you here.

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  44. Again, I'm not sure why you keep bringing up the acharonim, if the term baaley hamesorah refers (and traditionally it does) to the sages of the talmud.

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  45. Rav Chait is an impressive person with tremendous accomplishments, and I know some terrific people at YBT. But you should be aware that the overall approach is very problematic - and it's something that unites both traditionalists and academics in their opposition to it. This kind of hyper-rationalism - adopting Rambam as THE all-time authentic approach to Judaism - is historically inaccurate (aside from other problems, such as seeing the whole philosophical approach as still being viable). It's no different from Rav Moshe Shapiro seeing Maharal as the all-time sole authentic approach to Judaism, and reading Maharal into all the Rishonim.

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  46. Again, I'm not sure why you keep bringing up the acharonim, if the term baaley hamesorah refers (and traditionally it does) to the sages of the talmud.

    Why do you keep saying that? I've already explained several times why I don't think he is using the term in that way.

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  47. "adopting Rambam as THE all-time authentic approach to Judaism - is historically inaccurate."

    But isn't this a matter of ideology? That is, isn't it true that every ideological group within the Orthodox Jewish community views its ideology as authentic? Don't the Darde'im have a similar approach (based upon what you have reported)? You can obviously disagree with the ideology, but you make it sound as though it is objectively wrong. I cannot understand that. (By the way, would you say that your own approach - the academic one - is the authentic one?)

    Your second question reveals the same approach - "aside from other problems, such as seeing the whole philosophical approach as still being viable" - who says that this is OBJECTIVELY problematic? That's your opinion, and you are certainly entitled to it, but you make it sound as if this approach is objectively incorrect. On what basis?

    You don't like Rav Chait's ideology - OK, but that doesn't mean it's "problematic."

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  48. R Reich made 3 seperate statements
    1)"If the gemara tells us a metziyus, it's emes veyatziv. There's nothing to think about. Anything we see with our eyes is less of a reality than something we see in the gemara. That's the emunah that a yid has to have...
    2)We’re coming to hear new kinds of concepts, that we have to figure out a way to make Torah compatible with modern day science – it’s an emunah mezuyefes! ...
    3)Our emunah has to be, and will continue to be, that every word of Chazal haKedoshim is emes le’amitoh! ...And that’s the emunah that we were mekabel midor dor


    Like it or not apologetics has been an accepted approach to resolve conflicts of Torah and science for generations. Apologetics accepts R Reich's 1st and 3rd statements and restates his second that rather than adapting Torah to science it claims that there is no conflict. As in lomdus, the kasha falls off. R Reich just ignores the problem by accepting statements 1 and 3

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  49. But isn't this a matter of ideology? That is, isn't it true that every ideological group within the Orthodox Jewish community views its ideology as authentic?

    There's a world of difference between the four approaches of seeing one's approach as being most suited to oneself, most correct, exclusively correct, and seeing it as being the approach that was basically always held of by all authorities.

    Don't the Darde'im have a similar approach (based upon what you have reported)?

    Could be. I don't know.

    You can obviously disagree with the ideology, but you make it sound as though it is objectively wrong. I cannot understand that.

    Two reasons:
    1) It's historically wrong to say that this has always been the Jewish approach.
    2) It's not viable or appropriate to say that philosophy plays such a fundamental role.

    (By the way, would you say that your own approach - the academic one - is the authentic one?)

    The first factor mentioned above is a statement about history. It's something that the academic community is in agreement on.
    The second factor is about what Judaism should be. This is something that academia has no position on.

    Your second question reveals the same approach - "aside from other problems, such as seeing the whole philosophical approach as still being viable" - who says that this is OBJECTIVELY problematic? That's your opinion, and you are certainly entitled to it, but you make it sound as if this approach is objectively incorrect. On what basis?

    Go find some people who have training and expertise in philosophy, and ask them if Rambam's philosophical foundation is still sound today.

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  50. >However, it certainly contradicts R. Chait's claim that there was no Galileo episode amongst the Jews.

    I don't think he meant denial of scientific discovery. What about evolution, which perhaps most Orthodox rabbis dispute?

    I think he meant the persecution of a sincere seeker of truth for his thoughts and findings. Yes, I know that we'll need to tease the preceding sentence out, but if "the most absurd idea imaginable to Judaism is to suggest that we deny our senses or our minds" then it was most absurd to condemn, much less persecute Spinoza, and hey, that's what happened. There are numerous other examples, and dismissing all such people as insincere or small of intellect is that no true Scotsman fallacy again.

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  51. "1) It's historically wrong to say that this has always been the Jewish approach."

    But it's not historically wrong to speak about "true Torah scholars" throughout history, where the term "true Torah scholars" has an ideological definition. Another rav could equally argue, and be historically correct, that "true Torah scholars" have always held his (own, different) position about X. This is the convergence of an ideological and a historical statement. Now, you may not agree with the ideology, but within that definition, it is historically accurate.

    "2) It's not viable or appropriate to say that philosophy plays such a fundamental role."

    It seems to me that you are presenting your own opinion here as if it were a fact.

    "Go find some people who have training and expertise in philosophy, and ask them if Rambam's philosophical foundation is still sound today."

    I have two responses to this:

    1) Why should the opinions of people who have training and expertise in philosophy today be the end-all in evaluating the validity of the Rambam's philosophy? Philosophy - for the most part - unlike science, does not depend upon verifiable/falsifiable experiment, hypotheses, etc. So what if a hundred years from now the consensus of philosophers went back to thinking that Aristotelian philosophy were true. Then the Rambam, retroactively, would be correct?

    2) I do know that one of the most well-known up and coming "professional" philosophers at the University of Chicago, Jonathan Lear, is an outspoken Aristotelian. I grant you that he is in the minority, but again, what does a vote have to do with the validity/non-validity of a worldview?

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  52. >I know that; the question is about the intellectual atmosphere 300 yrs. ago, when science was not nearly so rigorous or well-defined as it is today.

    The Chasam Sofer's great-grandson died in 1980. Don't get so ahead of yourself. This wasn't 300 years ago just because some of the people listed were alive 300 years ago, too.

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  53. Insofar as judging the achronim that rejected scientific knowledge, I believe it’s important to take into consideration that pre-20th century scientific knowledge was highly theoretical, as opposed to modern science, where most theories have been proven with indisputable evidence. I’m not at all convinced that the Shvus Yaakov, et al, would reject modern scientific knowledge in the face of such evidence.

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  54. But it's not historically wrong to speak about "true Torah scholars" throughout history, where the term "true Torah scholars" has an ideological definition.

    That's true. But again, I think that the message being given over is that he is speaking about all those conventionally accepted as Torah scholars - not excluding a huge proportion of them! And there are other writings where the impression is even more strongly given that this has always been THE Jewish approach.

    "2) It's not viable or appropriate to say that philosophy plays such a fundamental role."

    It seems to me that you are presenting your own opinion here as if it were a fact.


    It's my conclusion, and it's my reporting that this is the consensus amongst experts in the field. Now you point out that this does not mean that they are correct. You are right. However, it does mean that you lack credibility in saying otherwise, and the onus of proof is on you.

    Look, if you want to believe that belief in God, the ikkarim, Torah miSinai, etc., can and should be justified by logical proofs, then gezunteheit, I'm happy for you! But most people with philosophical training, and plenty of others, think that you can't - and that it's dangerous to tell people that this is what Judaism has always been based on.

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  55. I believe it’s important to take into consideration that pre-20th century scientific knowledge was highly theoretical, as opposed to modern science, where most theories have been proven with indisputable evidence.

    That's a very valid point. But in the case of the shape of the earth, I think that the arguments and evidence were readily available even in the Shevus Yaakov's era!

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  56. Maybe it's true that science was more iffy in the 18th century. But it's also true that contemporary European science was completely inaccessible to most of the authorities mentioned. They did not read Latin, they did not read science books. They did not know very much about what it was they were passing judgment on. This isn't the case for all the names listed, but it is for some of them.

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  57. "I think that the arguments and evidence were readily available even in the Shevus Yaakov's era!"

    The question isn't whether they were "available" - the question is whether the Shvus Yaakov knew them for what they were - sound scientific proofs - and then rejected them.

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  58. Good point!

    But the bottom line that it's just not true to say that Torah scholars always accepted that which is proven within the framework of science. They don't even do so today. (I doubt that even R. Chait does so.) Unless, of course, you are claiming that all such people are not actually Torah scholars - which is not the impression that is being given.

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  59. "But the bottom line that it's just not true to say that Torah scholars always accepted that which is proven within the framework of science."


    "framework of science" is a changing thing.
    However,
    " denial of what we see with our eyes and what is conclusively proven with our minds."

    is NOT the same thing as "framework of science." It has become more analogous in recent years, but it is not always so.

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  60. If so, then what does "conclusively proven with our minds" mean? Whose minds? Does the statement just mean that "there are things that I personally accept to be proven true, and I will consider any other Torah scholar who accepts these things to be a true Torah scholar"?

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  61. Don't the Darde'im have a similar approach (based upon what you have reported)?

    I don't know if there really is any group called "Darda'im" since the time of R. Kappach's grandfather in Yemen, but I do know that many hard core Rambamist's ( from corresponding with them ) consider his writings, and especially the Mishneh Torah, to be the be all and end all of both halacha and Jewish philosophy. Even outside this hard core group, there are still large numbers of Yeminites who never accepted Shulchan Aruch and still practice more or less according to Mishneh Torah.

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  62. Interesting. Do they claim that all great Torah scholars from time immemorial were of a similar mindset to Rambam, or do they acknowledge that he was a distinct innovator?

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  63. Check out this page by a protege of YBT: http://www.mesora.org/shadim.html

    He denies the existence of demons as actual entities - as does Rambam. But he goes further and claims that Chazal also didn't believe in them, and nor did Rashi!

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  64. How can anyone ignore Rav Saadya gaon in sefer Emunot and Daot who clearly says not to ignore observation of our own senses but to change our understanding of Torah. Rav Saadya is a major figure in Halacha We can't say that he was wrong but at the same time he can't be right.

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  65. If I may offer some history of science:

    1) Although heliocentrism won out fairly quickly, I think because of its simplicity, one could have made an intellectually respectable case against it until Newton supplied a dynamic (i.e. explaining the relationship between forces and motions) explanation in the mid 1600's. After that one would have to be a crank.

    2) The Earth was known to be round in Greek times. Indeed, Eratosthenes made a decent measurement of its size. The (American) schoolchild's tale of Columbus arguing with the point with the Portuguese court astronomers is a deliberate lie introduced in the late 1800's to pull American schoolchildren away from a dogmatic acceptance of Christianity. What they were arguing about was not the shape of the Earth but its radius, and Columbus was wrong but lucky. The astronomers were correct that he would have run out of fresh water to drink before reaching China. And if he hadn't found an unexpected continent in the way, he indeed would have died of dehydration. The Shevut Ya'akov, writing not only long after the shape of the earth was known, but also over 100 years after Magellan, either was unaware of the strength of evidence for a round Earth or suggesting that our senses are utterly untrustworthy.

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  66. I've had some conversations with a few hardcore Rambamists (the ones who only follow the Mishneh Torah) and from what I've gleaned from them, they regard Rambam as the representative of historical Judaism before it was corrupted by foreign influences.

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  67. For all those who don't know, the Lubavitcher Rebbe -- and hence, almost every Lubavitcher -- believes the sun revolves around the earth.

    Second, I have done some very, very amateur research into this subject (wikipedia article etc.) and was surprised at the evidence for a sun-based system. Apparently, one of the main profs is that all calculations are easier if you assume the planets revolve around the sun. It's nice for math to be simple, but does this constitute evidence?

    Mind you, I believe we revolve around the sun, but according to my surface-level rersearch (which I did to argue with a Lubavitcher), maintaining that the sun goes around the earth is far less crank than maintaining that the earth is flat, for example.

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  68. There's a lot more to it than that!

    For example, if the earth is the stationary center of the universe, then most of the universe is orbiting us as a speed faster than the speed of light - which is impossible.

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  69. "f so, then what does "conclusively proven with our minds" mean? Whose minds? Does the statement just mean that "there are things that I personally accept to be proven true, and I will consider any other Torah scholar who accepts these things to be a true Torah scholar"?"

    If I had to make a guess, I would say that "conclusively proven with our minds" refers to Logic and/or/combined with? Philosophy.

    Mind you, Logic and Philosophy do not strictly employ the scientific method.

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  70. 1. Speaking of innovations, authentic Judaism over the ages, and true Torah scholars, how does this all apply to the Chassidic Rebbes, and the whole “Chassidish” movement in general, beginning with the Ba’al Shem Tov, on to the Ba’al HaTanya, and onward until today? Wasn’t the whole “Chassidus” thing new to Judaism without a time-honored mesorah? And yet, how many litvish/yeshivish rabbis today would dismiss some of the more academic Rebbes who were clearly “true Torah scholars”?

    2. Regarding what Adrian wrote:

    I've had some conversations with a few hardcore Rambamists (the ones who only follow the Mishneh Torah) and from what I've gleaned from them, they regard Rambam as the representative of historical Judaism before it was corrupted by foreign influences.

    That’s fascinating! The whole idea of “historical Judaism before it was corrupted by foreign influences” is very interesting. I, personally, have tried to imagine what Judaism looked like without the “corruption” of the past 500 years, 1,000 years, 1,500 years and even 2,000 years. There was so much infighting during the time of the Second Beis Hamikdash, how much “true Torah” and “mesorah” survived that period? The victors write history. What of the groups who were good Jews but against Rabbinical Judaism? The Dead Sea Scrolls were not kept by people who “went off the derech” and discarded Judaism. They were clearly Orthodox, but seemingly of a different variety than what seem to have been the “winning” group.

    And then there is our day and age. In the “battle” for Orthodoxy, the “Chareidim” seem to be “winning”. There are many, many more of them than of the Modern Orthodox. And the number of Chareidim keep growing exponentially higher than do those of the Modern Orthodox. Their restrictions abound, they constantly add more restrictions and successfully oblige the masses of Chareidim to follow. How much of Chareidi Orthodoxy resembles Modern Orthodoxy or vice versa? And which one will “win”?

    Stay tuned. These questions and more will be answered in the next 300 years.

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  71. If I had to make a guess, I would say that "conclusively proven with our minds" refers to Logic and/or/combined with? Philosophy.

    This still raises the question of "conclusively proven to WHO?" People in the field would say that it has been conclusively proven with logic and philosophy that you cannot conclusively prove God, Sinai, and the fundamentals. So again, the statement would just mean that "there are things that I personally accept to be proven true (even though the consensus of professionals in the field disagree), and I will consider any other Torah scholar who accepts these things to be a true Torah scholar" (even though many people generally rated as true Torah scholars do not accept all of them)?"

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  72. Interesting. Do they claim that all great Torah scholars from time immemorial were of a similar mindset to Rambam, or do they acknowledge that he was a distinct innovator?

    Well, the ones I spoke to ( associated with Mechon Mamre and the Ohel Moshe Beit Midrash in Beit Shemesh ) seem to consider everything in MT to be mesoret and not innovations of the Rambam. I say this because when I suggested in a discussion that certain things in MT are innovations of the Rambam such as his advice regarding nutrition and exercise and his details of Maaseh Merkavah / Breisheet in Sefer HaMada they seriously freaked out on me.

    But it's better to just read what they have to say about themselves rather than my interpretation of what I think they think. Mechon Mamre has a quite lengthy and detailed about us section which discusses their haskafa / methodology.

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  73. If I had to make a guess, I would say that "conclusively proven with our minds" refers to Logic and/or/combined with? Philosophy.

    I think that this is one of those cases where people are asking the wrong questions because they have an incorrect understanding of the underlying system. Science ( outside of pure mathematics ) generally doesn't try and prove thing true. In my understanding science tries to build up evidence that some is unlikely to not be true. There's a big difference. You build a theory that could be experimentally proven false, then design experiments to try and prove it false. Every time an experiment fails to prove the theory false, you have more evidence that it might be true, but you never really have proof of truth, just an ever shrink probability that it's false.

    Now there are certain things that eventually become self evident through direct observation such as that the Earth is round or things that become accepted as true because there is such a massive amount of evidence showing them not to be false, such as Relativity.

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  74. How would Rav Reich understand the Tosafos (in Sukkah, IIRC) who points out that the gemora's value of the square root of 2 as 1.4 is incorrect? The Tosfos Yom Tov there explains that since mathematics is an exact science, it is not possible to simply say that the mathematicians are wrong.

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  75. "This still raises the question of "conclusively proven to WHO?"

    I think it is very clear from the statement who the "WHO" refers to.

    A person and his/her community. What else would "our minds" mean?

    Philosophy and Logic are not things which appeal to a person's mind as being "true" equally to everybody. If they did, you would not have competing ideologies in any field.

    But that does not negate his statement regarding True Torah Scholars and their rejection of things which have been proven conclusively to their minds.

    Just because you say "all the experts agree", is no reason for me to believe you unless I already trust in the veracity of those particular experts, and trust in you to be accurate about what all the experts agree on.

    However, if you use logic and philosophy to argue a point to me, I will be able to verify its veracity in my own mind. If I find in my mind that the statement is true, and I then reject it, then I could not be called a True Torah scholar.

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  76. It is nice to throw two completely contradictory views up on the blackboard and say that the tent is big enough to contain both. In some sense, this would be a way of allowing for diversity. Unfortunately, many of the followers of these two schools don't view it that way. They consider views different from their own to be heresy (as you know). As a result, you have to choose your approach and defend it or run the risk of being steamrollered.

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  77. They consider views different from their own to be heresy (as you know). As a result, you have to choose your approach and defend it or run the risk of being steamrollered.

    Or you can just opt out, which is what this situation causes many to do. How many formerly frum people do you know who couldn't take the hypocrisy, condescending self-rightousness, and attempts to out frum the neighbors via chumrot and just threw their hands up in the air?

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  78. ‎"It's no different from Rav Moshe Shapiro seeing Maharal as the all-time
    sole authentic approach to Judaism, and reading Maharal into all the
    Rishonim."

    I've been very, very curious about R. Moshe Shapiro's views. But there's nothing on the web, and no one I know personally, to find out more about them. Could you elaborate on this? Maybe in a post?

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  79. Here is the info:

    http://zootorah.com/controversy/ravmoshe.html

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  80. And this:

    www.zootorah.com/controversy/chaim.html

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  81. dlz, I rather doubt that Rabbi Reich would consider attempting to demonstrate his viewpoint from the talmud. It's an article of belief for him; no proofs are necessary, nor, apparently, is logic.

    Actually, the Tosafot on Sukkah 8 and in Eruvin 76 offer a beautiful geometric demonstration that the talmudic approximation of 1.4 for the square root of 2 (the ratio of the diagonal of a square to its side) is a bit low (it's about 1% low). That is close enough for practical halachic considerations, and is not an error. However elsewhere in Eruvin, they show that the Amora'im considered the ratio of the circumfrence of a circle to its diameter, pi, to be exactly 3 based on a verse in Kings. Of course, pi is some 4.7% greater than 3. They note the discrepancy without further comment. In Eruvin 76, they point out an error made by the gemara there who misinterpreted the view of the sages of Caesaria about the relationship of circle to its enclosed square. Those sages stated that the circle is 1.5 times the square. The gemara believed that those sages were erroneously referring to perimeters, whereas the Tosafot show that the relationship holds true for areas (assuming that pi is 3). While it's acceptable to the Tosafot to demonstrate that Rav Ashi and co., and R' Yochanan were mistaken in mathematics on a halachic matter, we have a contemporary rosh yeshiva who considers that such ideas, even on non-halachic issues, are unacceptable and absurd.

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  82. > "For example, if the earth is the stationary center of the universe, then most of the universe is orbiting us as a speed faster than the speed of light - which is impossible."

    Perhaps these people believe the center of the earth is stationary, but that it still rotates.

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  83. (a) No, they don't.
    (b) it doesn't help much.

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  84. Y. Aharon:
    I realize that the difference between 1.4 and ~1.414 is not very much - however, Tosafos did point out the difference, and an inaccurate number is not "emes l'amitah". My point wasn't that Rav Reich should prove his point from the gemora - rather that from Tosafos we can apparently prove that it is not correct.

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  85. Are you familiar with the kuntres "HaShemesh Bigvuroso" published this year or last by someone in Monsey on the occasion of bircas hachamoh? It is an attack on Copernicus and the heliocentric theory (in addition to other supposedly anti-Torah ideas, like quantum mechanics). Somewhat scary.

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  86. as another example of Rabbi Chait's approach, also from YBT, see my analysis of an essay asserting (incorrectly IMHO) that the one and only true Torah approach, maintained by Rashi, is that there is no such thing as a magical object.

    kol tuv,
    josh

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  87. Are you familiar with the kuntres "HaShemesh Bigvuroso" published this year or last by someone in Monsey on the occasion of bircas hachamoh?
    Is it available online?

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  88. Is it available online?
    Not that I know of. They were selling it at Bais Hasefer in Williamsburg.

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  89. If there is no evidence supporting God's existence or that Torah was given by God at Sinai etc. Why is it rational to follow Judaism?

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  90. The fact something cannot be logically or scientifically proved, does not mean that there is no evidence for it.

    Plus, it can be rational to be Orthodox even without evidence.

    But can we stay on topic, please.

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  91. "an inaccurate number is not "emes l'amitah". "

    the very gemara which tosfos addresses (in succah) works with the concept of "lo dak" - he was imprecise. the allowance for "lo dak" is emes l'amitah" and the number 1.4 is not, and wasn't necessarily intended to be.

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  92. I am still amazed at how few really care what "the galileo affair" was about. Actual history of the events abound, published and republished - but as it is the norm in apologetics for even the most rational of Judaisms, the popular myth - like columbus and the flat earth - is far more useful for kiruv than the reality. It blinds people to how much of a REAL Galileo affair R. Slifkin's saga has been.

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  93. I'm sure there's more complexity behind R. Chait's comment, but I think the statement of there being no "galileo affair" in Judaism ignores R. Slifkin's experience for what it is - and ALMOST appears like a common Charedi technique of alluding to a popular myth, claiming Judaism agrees, and denigrating a "competitor" to Judaism. Here is an astronomer on The Church and Galileo's trial;

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ShSDNj7wUTU

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