Monday, November 1, 2010

The Ever-Increasing List

Mon, Oct 25, 2010

Lichvod HaRav Aharon Feldman, shlita,

Shalom u'vrachah, I hope that this letter finds the Rosh Yeshivah well. I was recently referred to a source that I think the Rosh Yeshivah will find interesting. It is Shevilei David, by the nineteenth-century rav in Hungary, R. David Yehuda Leib Silverstein. He notes that R. Yehudah HaNasi had conceded that the Sages of Israel were mistaken in their view that the sun slips under the firmament at night to pass behind it (and points out that Rashi in several places seems to have followed this incorrect view). R. Silberstein also notes that while R. Yehudah HaNasi was correct to concede to the view of the gentile scholars, his reasons for doing so (regarding bodies of water being heated by the sun passing below the earth) were incorrect and were based on his not knowing about the existence of continents on the other side of the world. He also adds that some of the Talmud’s earlier discussions of the cosmos are also based upon their original, mistaken view of the firmament. (Shevilei David, Orach Chaim (Jerusalem 1862) no. 455, p. 96b, which can be viewed at this link.)

R. Silberstein doubtless did not think that he was saying anything radical; after all, his contemporary and colleague, Maharam Schick, wrote similarly. And he was simply following the straightforward understanding of the Gemara, which was also the approach of R. Sherira Gaon, R. Hai Gaon, Rambam, Rabbeinu Avraham, Tosafos Rid, R. Eliezer b. Shmuel of Metz, Rosh, R. Yerucham ben Meshullam, Semag, Ritva, Mizrachi, Akeidas Yitzchak, Abarbanal, Maharam Alashker, Radvaz, Remak, Lechem Mishneh, Chavos Ya'ir, Pachad Yitzchak, and Rav Hirsch, and later endorsed by Ben Ish Chai, Rav Hertzog, and my own mentor, Rav Aryeh Carmell. And, as I previously noted, there are many other Rishonim and Acharonim who wrote in other contexts that the Sages were
incorrect in some of their views about the natural world.

In light of this ever-increasing list of Rishonim and Acharonim to maintain this view, does the Rosh Yeshivah still maintain that this is "a minority opinion" which has "fallen by the wayside in the course of the centuries" and which is a "perversion of the correct approach to the Torah" (The Eye of the Storm, p. 160)? Had it already fallen by the wayside in the nineteenth century, and if so, how could R. Silberstein and the others follow it? When, and how, did it become a perversion of the correct approach to the Torah?

As the Rosh Yeshivah knows, questions such as these are greatly disturbing not only for me, but also for many thousands of sincere Torah Jews and talmidei chachamim.

Sincerely,
Natan Slifkin

35 comments:

  1. Has anyone ever pointed out that this impressive list is mostly irrelevant due to the cosmic difference between a sentiment entertained/mentioned by the Talmud and the Talmud's actual conclusions?

    These Rabbis' view is plainy uncontroversial because they are simply adhering to their understanding of the Talmud's conclusion.

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  2. But that conclusion is that Chazal did not have ruach hakodesh etc. for their statements about the natural world!

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  3. You'd be hard-pressed to find much support for a view that precludes the possibility of our sages having an ultimately incorrect הוא אמינא. The Talmud, of course, is rife with censure and renunciation, snubbing and repudiation*. By contrast, selecting a Talmudic מסקנא at random and rejecting it is obviously intolerable.

    It's pretty clear that the dispute of the Rishonim and Acharonim at hand deals strictly with (and is guided by) determining the actual מסקנא of the סוגיא in question (as per the Talmud itself), not with the question of the sages' reliability.


    (*)Although the mainstream European approach and attitude to that is enunciated clearly by R. Dovid Oppenheim of Prague (based partially on the של"ה citing his teacher, Maharshal II):

    אסור להלעיג או להתלוצץ בדברי חכמים או בד"ת. גם אסור לומר על איזה סברא הנזכר בגמרא או ברש"י או בתוספות או תירוץ שדבר רחוק הוא אלו הייתי אני אומר דבר זה היה משתומם עלי כי הוא דבר עבירה לומר כן. אסור לומר וכי היה המקשן משוגע או גרייז"ר [=משתבש] רק יאמר בלשון כבוד דברי המקשן אינם מובנים עומקם.

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  4. The subject at hand is not halachic arguments or halachic conclusions. It's whether Chazal's beliefs about the natural world were ordinary human beliefs, or whether everything was from ruach hakodesh, sod Hashem liyreyav, etc. The Charedi Gedolim insist that the latter is the case, and has pretty much always been held to be the case. The Rishonim in my list prove otherwise.

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  5. I'm very curious. When you mail your letters to Rabbi Feldman, do you include a comment that you'll post it online if he doesn't respond within, say, five days?

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  6. Ratiowatch said: "It's pretty clear that the dispute of the Rishonim and Acharonim at hand deals strictly with (and is guided by) determining the actual מסקנא of the סוגיא in question (as per the Talmud itself), not with the question of the sages' reliability."

    Have you considered looking at (and learning) the sugia in question? Perhaps you will be surprised at what you find that particular sugia to be speaking about, but your comments indicate that you possibly haven't looked at the gemara being discussed here (nor Rabbi Feldman's argument, for that matter). Indeed, when these sources determine the maskana of that sugia, there are considerable implications, given the subject matter contained in the sugia.

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  7. Pliny - no, why would that be necessary?

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  8. Let me rephrase: the most utra-radical extremist will find it patently manifest that Chachmei Yisroel and Rebbi disagree. Everyone (including the Talmud itself) realizes that someone must be correct, and someone... wrong. Moreover, I'm unaware of anyone who insists that every utterance [= הוא אמינא] of any sage is perpetually expressing the Only Truth. [Whether it can be argued that their every utterance [= הוא אמינא] is expressing some sort of (perhaps mystical) truth is another matter].

    Assuming that a certain percentage of the sages' words reflect a personal opinion they're currently considering, while the rest is sourced in divine inspiration, their successors would rightfully face the confounding task of sorting through the contradictory information. For this reason, a work like the Talmud was composed: compiled by authorities on both wisdom and רוח הקודש, we safely rely on their arbitrations (= divinely inspired choices) on any matter in dispute.

    Ergo, some Rishonim and Acharonim understood the judgement of Rebbi as having been determined by the Talmud to represent the view of רוח הקודש (while itself rejecting the other), while others inferred the same regarding Chachmei Yisroel.

    So while your reasoning might go: "since I know X to be false, I reject a particular Talmudic view", the sources you cite operate in the reverse: "the Talmud apparently decided that Y was correct, so it must have determined (on its authority) that N harbored an incorrect הוא אמינא". While the Talmud is the subject of your equasion, it is the basis of theirs.

    [The שבילי דוד then, is merely attempting to explain the evidently faulty reasoning behind the הוא אמינא which he believes the Talmud to have rightfully rejected].

    The נפקא-מינה then is where the Talmud records no dispute: your approach to go with what you deem "correct" is at odds with the Rishonim and Acharonim (and apparently Rabbi Feldman) who would overwhelmingly go with the Talmud, and who only reject what the Talmud rejects.

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  9. Student V, why do you ask? In fact, I happened to have reviewed the סוגיא just last week. Perhaps you could be more specific.

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  10. the most utra-radical extremist will find it patently manifest that Chachmei Yisroel and Rebbi disagree.

    I wish it were so, but unfortunately, that is not true at all. Rabbeinu Tam, Rema, Maharal, R. Yonasan Eybeschitz all claim that this is not so.

    Moreover, I'm unaware of anyone who insists that every utterance [= הוא אמינא] of any sage is perpetually expressing the Only Truth.

    But the Charedi Gedolim do insist that every non-hava amina about the natural world is indeed perpetually expressing the Only Truth.

    Ergo, some Rishonim and Acharonim understood the judgement of Rebbi as having been determined by the Talmud to represent the view of רוח הקודש

    No. Most of them explain that the judgment of Rebbi did not represent the view of ruach hakodesh at all; on the contrary, it represented the fact that ruach hakodesh has nothing to do with it, and that all that matters are the scientific arguments, with which the non-jewish sages were correct.

    I take it that you didn't actually read the Shevili David, nor any of the other sources that I cite. They make this all clear.

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  11. Minor point, but it's R. Herzog, not R. Hertzog.

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  12. Firstly, I wish to apologize if my comments are perceived as an "invasion" of your turf, as I can't quite claim that they are intended to support your enterprise; I assure you however, that they are certainly well-intentioned and aren't mean-spirited in any way.

    I wish it were so, but unfortunately, that is not true at all. Rabbeinu Tam, Rema, Maharal, R. Yonasan Eybeschitz all claim that this is not so.

    I'll admit that I'm unaware of that approach, and I haven't located any source citations on your blog which attempt to reconcile the two views so as to render Rebbi's words resolvable with Chachmei Yisroel's. I was certain that some choose one over the other while the Maharam Shick maintains that "עכ"פ בש"ס שלנו אינו מוכרע לא לכאן ולא לכאן".

    But the Charedi Gedolim do insist that every non-hava amina about the natural world is indeed perpetually expressing the Only Truth.

    And I believe that this particular view is more or less founded on generations of the Talmud-centric approach (which I use to include the decisions of Rishonim too). The Maharam Shick, for instance, appears to be bothered less with actual science than as by why the Talmudic (or Tosafot-ic) sources appear contradictory. His entire theory appears driven by those contradictions, and what he perceives to be the Talmud's unwillingness (the Talmud again!) to arbitrate this question, presenting us with yet a third Talmud-centric understanding of the סוגיא\ות, not a rejection of it.

    Most explain that the judgment of Rebbi did not represent the view of ruach hakodesh at all; on the contrary, it represented the fact that ruach hakodesh has nothing to do with it, and that all that matters are the scientific arguments, with which the non-jewish sages were correct..

    I suspect that this is your subjective interpretation of said authorities. R. Avraham ben Harambam, for instance, writes: "והוא העיקר כדאמרינן התם בפרק מי שהיה טמא", citing the Talmud as the authority. Even those who explicitly refer to the logic of the gentiles winning out, usually do so in the context of the Talmud's own assertion that this is the case, not through their own supplied scientific knowledge. Even those who refer to the possibility that the sages erred temporarily (no surprise, as I've already explained), do so only in the context of that particular interaction at that particular time, not as a reflection on Talmudic authority at all.

    I take it that you didn't actually read the Shevili David, nor any of the other sources that I cite. They make this all clear.

    I do in fact claim to have examined a significant amount of the relevant material; I'm merely interpreting it differently than what you've consistently attempted. [My understanding of the שבילי דוד is that he's mostly concerned with reconciling various Talmudic statements. He does add that Rebbi is correct due to the fact that civilization spans the entire globe, and he does suggest that Rebbi himself was unaware of this; Is that disturbing? No, איפכא מיסתברא! Many of the very Rishonim and Acharonim which you cite (never suggest that the sages lacked crucial information, rather they merely) argue that our sages were not aware of knowledge which was useless to them, the truth of which is evident by the Talmud's "correct" conclusion in the absence of that knowledge!].

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  13. I'll admit that I'm unaware of that approach, and I haven't located any source citations on your blog which attempt to reconcile the two views

    I will be e-publishing an essay on this topic within the next few weeks.

    I believe that this particular view is more or less founded on generations of the Talmud-centric approach

    But they claim that it is based on kabbalistic considerations.

    Even those who explicitly refer to the logic of the gentiles winning out, usually do so in the context of the Talmud's own assertion that this is the case, not through their own supplied scientific knowledge. Even those who refer to the possibility that the sages erred temporarily (no surprise, as I've already explained), do so only in the context of that particular interaction at that particular time, not as a reflection on Talmudic authority at all.

    However you spin it, the bottom line is that it means that the Chachmei Yisrael made a statement about the sun's path at night based on (mistaken) human assessments rather than a supernatural source of knowledge. Which directly contradicts the claims of the Charedi Gedolim.

    Look, they themselves don't claim that such sources as these are compatible with their approach; that's why they try to argue that such sources are a discarded, aberrant minority view.

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  14. I think it's clear that R. Feldman was not speaking of minority by count but in terms of being outside the Yeshivishe mesorah. An unknown Hungarian rabbi is irrelevant to that. The Maharam Schick is slightly relevant, because his pesakim are used in the Yeshivos. If you find something by a major Lithuanian figure -- R. Chaim Ozer Grodzinski, the Alter of Slobodka, R. Itzelleh Volozhiner -- then you'd have something that would interest R. Feldman.

    Note that I'm not endorsing this attitude. I'm just trying to explain what I think is his approach.

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  15. "He also adds that some of the Talmud’s earlier discussions of the cosmos are also based upon their original, mistaken view of the firmament"

    To be fair, Chazal's view of the firmament is the one in the Torah. So while they were wrong, at least they had authority and tradition on their side.

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  16. Gil,

    Maharam Shick was the closest thing to the recognized successor of the chasam sofer. I think you are downplaying his significance as an authority, even in the litvish yeshiva velt.

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  17. Listen to Gil and focus on the accepted figures. If you can show that rambam, rosh, and ritva agree on something, leave R' David Yehuda Leib Silverstein out of it.

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  18. R' Slifkin, my original question was really this: Do you write Rabbi Feldman privately so that he can respond without having to concern himself with the stressful fact that your letter is already online for all to see (and then give him some time to respond before you post your letter online) -- or do you just post the letter to him at the same time you mail him the letter?
    Thanks.

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  19. Yes, of course. I emailed him on the date on the letter.

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  20. Blogger Gil Student said...

    I think it's clear that R. Feldman was not speaking of minority by count but in terms of being outside the Yeshivishe mesorah. An unknown Hungarian rabbi is irrelevant to that. The Maharam Schick is slightly relevant, because his pesakim are used in the Yeshivos. If you find something by a major Lithuanian figure -- R. Chaim Ozer Grodzinski, the Alter of Slobodka, R. Itzelleh Volozhiner -- then you'd have something that would interest R. Feldman.

    Note that I'm not endorsing this attitude. I'm just trying to explain what I think is his approach.

    November 1, 2010 5:18 PM
    __________________________________
    I hust want to point out that the rabbi in question was not a minor rabbinic figure in his day. He was rav of the Orthodox community in Vac (Veitzin), which was a very important kehilla in Hungary. He was the first of thre generations of rabbis who served in that pulpit. At it's peak, Vac had some 2000 Jews. It's a shame the Litvaks don't recognize Hungarian gedolim.

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  21. ratiowatcher: "while the rest is sourced in divine inspiration, their successors would rightfully face the confounding task of sorting through the contradictory information. For this reason, a work like the Talmud was composed: compiled by authorities on both wisdom and רוח הקודש, we safely rely on their arbitrations (= divinely inspired choices) on any matter in dispute."

    I don't quite understand the manner in which you relate to the Talmud. "Divine Inspiration?" What does that mean exactly, and why do you view it this way? From where did you get the term "divine inspiration" to describe Talmudic arguments or even this argument in particular?

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  22. >Maharam Shick was the closest thing to the recognized successor of the chasam sofer.

    Huh? What about R. Avraham Shmuel Binyomin Sofer who was his literal successor?

    >I think you are downplaying his significance as an authority, even in the litvish yeshiva velt.

    If anything Gil is playing it up.

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  23. I think it's clear that R. Feldman was not speaking of minority by count but in terms of being outside the Yeshivishe mesorah.

    Rabbi Student,

    What WAS the "Yeshivish mesorah" at the time of the Ge'onim, Rishonim or R' Yehudah HaNasi? I think you would agree that such a catagory did not exist.

    I'm asking because I'm wondering if this "Yeshivishe mesorah" to which you refer is something that was recently created, or something which is part of actual "mesorah"? Is it a new cultural attitude which was simply agreed upon by a few rabbanim who dismiss age-old “mesorah”? If this is the case, how is this different than Conservative Judaism whose few rabbis take a vote for or against popular or unpopular upholding of “mesorah”?

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  24. As you have said before, having a discussion with someone is worthless if they believe they MUST follow the view you are arguing against. Regardless of what ANY previous great Rabbi has said, since the modern "gedolim" say it is heresy he MUST believe it is heresy NO MATTER WHAT. Continuing the dialogue is pointless and a WASTE of your time.

    However, if you were to write a book that outlines all the different opinions that support you, that would not be a waste of time and very beneficial for those of us that are interested in the subject.

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  25. I think the letter is not a waste of time. If rabbi Feldman is sincere, he might come to reconsider and abandon his assumptions. He would not be the first to do so. It is relatively hard for him, because he is well known. But that goes two ways. If he would change his views, it would be a huge Kiddush HaShem, and others would follow him.

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  26. Lawrence Kaplan Comments:

    While the Kesav Sofer succeeded to his father's position, the Maharam Shick was widely considered to be the leading diciple of the Hatam Sofer, and his halakhic stature is universally acknowledged to be greater than that of the Kesav Sofer.

    To use a modern analogy: rabbi Meor Twersky succeded to his grandfather's Leib Merkin Chair in Talmud. Now who is recognized as the greater authority and leading disciple of the Rav: Rabbi Twersky or Rabbi Hershel Schachter?

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  27. >>"However you spin it, the bottom line is that it means that the Chachmei Yisrael made a statement about the sun's path at night based on (mistaken) human assessments rather than a supernatural source of knowledge. Which directly contradicts the claims of the Charedi Gedolim."<<

    Can you list the names of these Chareidi gedolim and where I can find this exact claim written in their words and not what someone else surmised to be their view?
    Thanks.

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  28. Can you list the names of these Chareidi gedolim and where I can find this exact claim written in their words and not what someone else surmised to be their view?

    Isaac –

    1 - See Rabbi Slifkin's website where he gives the details of the public banning of his books by Chareidi Gedolim and Rabbanim. Chareidi Gedolim signed the ban on Rabbi Slifkin’s books which stated those statements in the books which the Chareidi Gedolim found to be unacceptable (even though Rabbi Slifkin was quoting the statements of Rishonim and Acharonim, and not innovating new views of his own).

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

    2 - In Rabbi Aharon Feldman's book "The Eye of the Storm" there is a chapter called "The Slifkin Affair" in which Rabbi Feldman relays the views of Chareidi Gedolim with whom he spoke first hand and whom he represents. (Rabbi Feldman, as well, is an accepted and recognized Chareidi talmid chacham and Rosh Yeshivah in the USA.)

    That’s all just for starters…

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  29. Sorry, Michapeset, that doesn't suffice.
    According to RatioWatch's brilliant exposition here in the comments, the Chareidi gedolim could just as easily condemed Rabbi Slifkin's works for the reason he gave while accepting the long list of rishonim and achronim who only reject Chazal where Chazal themselves rejected Chazal.

    As he succintly put it:

    So while your reasoning might go: "since I know X to be false, I reject a particular Talmudic view", the sources you cite operate in the reverse: "the Talmud apparently decided that Y was correct, so it must have determined (on its authority) that N harbored an incorrect הוא אמינא". While the Talmud is the subject of your equasion, it is the basis of theirs.

    I challenge you to show me a statement of the banning gedolim which declared that even the rejected הוא אמינה of Chazal couldn't be mistaken.

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  30. I didn't think that Ratiowatch's exposition was "brilliant" at all. As I pointed out, the bottom line is that the sources in my list are saying that the Chachmei Yisrael made a statement about the sun's path at night based on (mistaken) human assessments rather than a supernatural source of knowledge. Which directly contradicts the claims of the Charedi Gedolim. And these Gedolim themselves don't claim that such sources as these are compatible with their approach; that's why they try to argue that such sources are a discarded, aberrant minority view.

    Ratiowatch cites R. Dovid Oppenheim of Prague about how it is unthinkable to argue with Chazal's halachic arguments and he says that this is the normative view. But that is a very different topic. I am not talking about halachic discussions, but rather statements about the natural world.

    (Incidentally, the buch Chaim B'Emunasam, which has greatly enthusiastic haskamos from the Gedolim who banned my works, does indeed claim that even the rejected הוא אמינה of Chazal couldn't be mistaken. But that's beside the point.)

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  31. And with regard to my sources for saying that this is the position of the Gedolim, here are some:

    Rav Aharon Feldman's claim that all Chazal's statements were based on either Sinaitic tradition or ruach hakodesh

    Letters that I have from Rav Lefkowitz and Rav Sheinberg that all Chazal's statements about nature were based on ruach hakodesh

    A transcript of a shiur from Rav Moshe SHapiro where he says that Chazal were never speaking about the natural world, only the metaphysical world, and hence were never wrong.

    The claim of the Leshem that all Chazal's statements stemmed from Sod Hashem Liyreyav.

    I have many more.

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  32. You place the word ALL in each of those sources you cite.
    But I have not seen where Rav Feldman says he is referring to ALL statements of Chazal including those rejected by the gemara itself.

    Clear indication that Rav Feldman was NOT referring to ALL is that he cites the Rashba as one of the authorities who supports this view of the banners:

    "The Rivash,27 the Rashba 28 and the Maharal29 write, as well, that it is forbidden to
    say that the Sages erred in matters of science."


    Yet we find that the Rashba is among those rishonim who confirm that the gemara in Eruvin 76 recorded an amorah who erred in a geometrical calculation and was refuted by other members of Chazal.

    Thus, The Rashba--Rav Feldman's source-- is not prohibiting Chazal from rejecting Chazal. Nor is he prohibiting that straightforward understanding of the gemara as others may.
    This is why Rav Feldman has easily dismissed 90% of your sources.

    The Rashba (and the banners)are clearly forbidding US who came after Chazal from rejecting Chazal by our own lights.

    This was RatioWatch's trenchant observation.

    This would seem to be elementary.

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  33. I quote from Rav Feldman:

    "the source of all (italics in original) the Sages' knowledge is either from Sinaitic tradition... or from divine inspiration... Kabbalah made it clear that when the Sages spoke, they based themselves on their knowledge of the mysteries of creation..."

    You can't cite the Rashba in Eruvin as evidence that Rav Feldman must have meant otherwise. The Rashba in Eruvin is a kashya on Rav Feldman, and proof that he is misrepresenting the Rashba! (the source in the Rashba that he refers to, about our obligation to accept Chazal's statements, is talking specifically about things that are halachah l'Moshe miSinai.)

    You might as well just say that since I have proved that the Gedolim's position is untenable, it couldn't have been the Gedolim's position!

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  34. By the way, I don't think that you can describe Pesachim 94b as a case similar to a hava amina that is rejected. The chachmei Yisrael put forward their view, not as a tentative hava amina, but as what they believed - which, according to Rav Feldman, means that it was based on ruach hakodesh and/or mesorah from Sinai. The standard Charedi response is to say that Rebbi's rejection of this view was either not actually a rejection (as per Rabbeinu Tam) or that the whole discussion needs to be interpreted differently (a la Maharal).

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  35. "the source of all (italics in original) the Sages' knowledge is either from Sinaitic tradition... or from divine inspiration... Kabbalah made it clear that when the Sages spoke, they based themselves on their knowledge of the mysteries of creation..."


    I had a feeling you would quote this line out of context.
    There is the scope of the ban and there is the view of Rav Feldman.

    Rav Feldman may very well adopt the Leshem's view that every single Statement in the Talmud is correct, but he does not imply that to argue with the Leshem's extreme view is heretical.
    He only lists a handful of authorities which are deemed to be agaisnt the mainstream:

    Therefore, when subsequently medicine indicates that these
    cures are ineffectual, there would be nothing disrespectful in asserting that the scientific
    knowledge of antiquity available to the Sages was flawed..
    This approach is mentioned by many eminent authorities in Jewish history. Rav
    Sherira Gaon19 mentions it with respect to cures. R. Avraham, son of the Rambam,
    mentions it with respect to all science and the Rambam with respect to astronomy.
    Pachad Yizchok20 says that statements in the Talmud which seem to uphold spontaneous
    generation are incorrect, even though we do not change any laws based on their words.
    Rav Shamshon Refael Hirsch applies this argument to animals mentioned in the Talmud
    which do not seem to exist nowadays. Finally, a conversation with R. Eliyahu Eliezer
    Dessler recorded by Rabbi Aryeh Carmel indicates a somewhat similar approach.21


    This is a narrow list of authorities who allow post-talmudic opinions to overturn the Talmudic position.
    That is why this list being singled out as opposing the mainstream and has been rendered heretical.
    He is mounting an argument agaisnt this specific list because of this unique feature.
    He is not declaring that anyone who disagrees with the Leshem's extreme opposite view is going against the mainstream!
    That is simply too absurd.

    Since you are sending letters to Rav Feldman anyway, why don;t you write to him to clarify which one of us is reading his letter correctly?

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