Tuesday, February 22, 2011

When God Reveals His Secret Knowledge

Many times the Sages describe natural phenomena with which they could not possibly have had a personal acquaintance. The Talmud explains their amazing knowledge with this verse, ‘The secret of Hashem is for [i.e. revealed to] those who fear Him.’ (R. Avrohom Chaim Feuer, Tehillim (ArtScroll/Mesorah 1977) vol. I p. 313)

In my various writings, I have extensively explored the view that the Sages's knowledge of the natural world was based simply on common beliefs rather than supernatural sources. But what about the concept of Sod Hashem Liyreyav, which is used by the Gemara to mean that the Sages possessed supernatural knowledge of the natural world?

I am pleased to announce the publication of a new monograph which analyzes the usage of this principle in the Talmud, and its subsequent interpretation and employment by the Rishonim, Acharonim, and contemporary Orthodox figures. The results are extremely illuminating for anyone interested in the decline of rationalism, and especially for anyone seeking to understand the stance of the Charedi Gedolim regarding Chazal's knowledge of science.

You can download the monograph by making a Paypal donation here (after making a donation, it will take you to a download page). As always, feedback is appreciated.


  1. How many pages is it?
    Just want to figure out the PPD (page per dollar) price before deciding to invest.

  2. "But what about the concept of Sod Hashem Liyreyav, which is used by the Gemara to mean that the Sages possessed supernatural knowledge of the natural world?"

    I look forward to reading the manuscript , but there is another issue, namely, the mystical and miraculous examples, such as Chazal being machaye meisim, etc. Do these mean that Chazal also understood the natural world? Are they all to be understood literally? On the other hand, why did they have to study sheep, for example, b'derech hateva?

    The Charedi world seems to take the examples of miracles of not only an example of the kedushah of Chazal, but also against any type of academic approach. For example, R Shach zt'l in a 1989 letter against the Shtenzolz gemeara makes reference to the smallest of Chazal being able to be mechaye meisim, and that Chazal were like malachei Hashem[this part all agree to], and therefore aspects of the Shtenzolz gemeara are problematic.

    Other issues where Ruach Hakodesh come in are regarding giving Torah status to opinions, as well as being a source of supporting belief in Mesorah(the Stiepler in Chayei Olam lists all places where Chazal did miracles, IIRC, as a means of increasing faith).

    In summary, I think rationalists should bring examples from the likes of R Ezriel Hildsheimer and others in his Beis Midrash(in the literal and figurative sense) to understand how they interpret the greatness of Chazal and miraculous statements in a way which allows them to err in science.

  3. Chaim - it's 5000 words, that's ten words for a cent!

    Shades - I have another paper on the topic of Chazal being mechaye meisim etc., which I plan to e-publish within the next few months. If you have Rav Schach's letter, can you send it to me?

  4. Re: R Shach's letter:

    Below is a link where I saw it online this past November(in Michtavim Umamorim I recall that there is also a letter about the Steinsaltz Gemara, although I'm not sure if its the same one that I linked)


  5. can you clarify what you mean regarding the third example from nidda? Why would he praise his expertise by saying sod hashem leraov? It seems it little bit of a forced pshat. Otoh the fact that he smelled it indicates that he was not relying on any divine inspiration.

    Also, check Rav CK's sefer Orchos Yosher ch.26 for additional sources on ruach hakodesh in chazzal's time and future times.

  6. ---Chaim - it's 5000 words, that's ten words for a cent!

    I thought you'd say:
    אין הקב"ה מונה דפים אלא שעות.
    but hey, I am not God.

  7. http://www.vosizneias.com/76964/2011/02/23/israel-rabbi-arab-unrest-signals-moshiachs-coming

  8. just skimmmed the monograph so I may have missed it but the factual vs. halachic distinction is also made vis-a-vis what eliyahu can "clarify"

    When I learned through this issue a number of years ago it occurred to me that perhaps it's actually a minority opinion that there can be a sod hashem revelation and that's why there are either alternatives or the scholar himself does not state that this was the method.

    Joel Rich

  9. I was very surprised how radically opposite the Leshem's opinion is to Rambam's. Actually, it doesn't really make sense according to the very little that I know about the Leshem on various other issues, where he often supports the Gra, and even the Rambam. Rabbi Slifkin, can you clarify?

  10. I was astounded by it. All I can say is that the desire to make Chazal infallible is very, very powerful.

  11. Ok, on further reflection - there _must_ be another explanation for what the Leshem means. Does the Leshem anywhere interpret the principles of "eilu v'eilu...", and "rishonim k'malachim". If he does, would it / does it have bearing on "sod Hashem"? Please help clarify, I can't believe it's just a case of the Leshem had a big yetzer hara to make Chazal infallible.

    Also interesting fyi - http://www.aishdas.org/articles/rhsEilu.pdf

  12. I think that he would consider it a yetzer tov, not a yetzer hara. Rishonim k'malachim and all that.

  13. The question then becomes "Do they actually possess this knowledge?" When it comes to physical phenomena this is generally a straightforward matter.

    Do lice and mice spontaneously generate? We can test that hypothesis.

    Is the world flat and the sky surmounted by a rigid dome which the sun travels behind every night? We can predict what we should observe if these are true.

    If the statements of Chazal do not correspond to the observed facts and are not predictive we must reject the contention that they are consistent recipients of Divine revelation. If they are predictive and better than any other model or theory we can provisionally accept it until such time as they fall short.

    The keys here are the honesty to acknowledge inconvenient facts and the courage to say so in the face of threats and defamation. E pur si muove! said Galileo. "And still it moves." It may be uncomfortable. But who wants to go through life as a cowardly liar?

  14. I dont understand the fuss about the Leshem. If you think that the Gra or the Leshem were rationalists you are very very very mistaken. Their entire world view was based on kabalah and mysticism.

  15. Check out this Tosafos it clearly refutes your whole thesis:
    Tosafot on Chullin 66b:3:1:

    כל שיש לו קשקשת יש לו סנפיר. וא"ת מנין היה להם זה לחכמים וכן לעיל (דף סג:) דתניא שאין במיני דגים טמאים אלא ז' מאות מנין היה להם שהתירו בכך את השאר וליכא למימר מאדם שקרא להם שמות קים להו הכי שמסר לדורות כך שהם טמאין שכן הוא הכיר את כולם דהא לא משמע במקרא שקרא שמות אלא לבהמות ולעופות שאע"פ שידע שמו של הקב"ה כדדרשינן (במ"ר בראשית פי"ז) אני ה' (הוא) שקרא לי אדם הראשון בדגים מיהא לא אשכחן ויש לומר מכל אשר יקרא לו האדם יש לרבות אפי' דגים ואיכא למימר דמאדם קים להו ואם תמצא לומר שלא קרא להם שמות יש לומר דהכי קים להו הלמ"מ:

    One see's clearly from this Tosafos that the sages possessed scientific knowledge either by tradition or Halacha L'Moshe M'Sinai

    1. No! One sees that SOME RISHONIM were of the view that CERTAIN knowledge was known via tradition. Which I have never disputed.

    2. Read the Tosafos again and the context that Tosafos is going on. The Gemarah's from around Chullin 59a-67a are replete with examples of things that the sages couldn’t have know from observation, yet Tosafos chose to ask on only one example towards the end of those pages. Secondly, if the sages could've known scientific facts from tradition how do you know that they didn’t get most/all of their scientific knowledge from tradition? The point being, if you can assume the opinion of Tosafos, why would you want to dig up some obscure Rishon to try to create a counter position to Tosafos. It doesn’t make sense to build a whole thesis by picking out only opinions that seem to support your conclusion. Thirdly, the Gemarah Chullin 59a clearly says that Tana D'Bai R' Yishmael held that the knowledge came from tradition. No one argues on Tana D'Bai R' Yishmael! What you do see from Tosafos is that NORMATIVE Judaism was to accept that the sages knew their ideas from tradition! Unless perhaps you want to argue that Tosafos didn’t represent normative Judaism…….

    3. Is Rambam an "obscure Rishon"? He says that the rules given in Chullin were extrapolated by Chazal from observation.
      Again, I have never claimed that no Rishon said that Chazal knew things from mesorah/ ruach hakodesh etc. The claim is that plenty of Rishonim said that Chazal sometimes had incorrect beliefs about the natural world. Your Tosafos does not refute this!

    4. It's quoted in my book, The Camel The Hare and the Hyrax.

    5. "With anything which they enumerated as a terefah, even if with some it is seen not to be fatal based on modern medicine, such that an animal [with such an injury] might sometimes live, we have only what the Sages enumerated, as it says, ‘According to the law that they direct you’."
      Where do you see the Rambam holds that ALL or for that matter even a significant portion of scientific knowledge was gleaned from observation?! Additionally these are not “scientific facts” the triefos – rather they are merely conditions, big difference. How in the world does this demonstrate what the Rambam held across the board for the source of the sages scientific knowledge? You are reading way too deeply into this.

    6. Good grief. I am not talking about that quote.

    7. So what Rambam are you talking about? You made a statement now back it up.

    8. It's in my book. If you're interested in learning about this topic, look it up. But you're probably just interested in trolling.

    9. This it?
      Moreh 3:14.
      ואל תבקשני לתאם כל מה שאמרו מענייני התכונה צם המצב כפי שהוא, לפי שהמדעים באותו הזמן היו חסרים, ולא דברו בכך משום שיש להם מסורת באותם הדברים מן הנביאים, אלא מצד שהם ידעני אותם הדורות באותם המקצועות, או שמעום מידעני אותם הדורות, ולא בגלל זה נאמר על דברים שמצאנו להם שהם מתאימים עם האמת שהם בלתי נכונים או שתאמו במקרה . אלא כל מה שאפשר לבאר דברי האדם כדי שיהא תואם את המציאות שהוכחה מציאותה, הוא יותר עדיף ונכון לבעל הטבעים הנעלים ואיש הצדק

    10. That's his general statement about Chazal and science, but he also has a specific statement relating to Chazal's principles in the dafim that you quoted.

    11. Rambam's introduction to this commentary on Perek Chelek
      "They know that [the Sages] did not talk nonsense. It is clear to them that among their words are some that are meant literally and [others] with hidden meaning, and that everything they said which is impossible, is only by way of riddle or parable. Such is the way of the very wise…."

      I don't think the Rambam agree's with you.....

    12. Oy vey, you are so quick to trash me, and yet you are really an am ha'aretz in this area!
      Tell me, how do you think Rambam's statement here should be reconciled with the Moreh that you cited above?

    13. NO! I think that this shouldn't be the turf of "amei haaretz" like me and you! Stay away from "Moreh" (that’s clearly not mainstream Judaism)! Since when does "Moreh" determine mainstream Judaism?!
      Stick with Tosafos.......

    14. Maimonides is not normative Judaism? His books are not normative Judaism? He wrote the Guide, which was the talk of the scholastic world! His halachic works set the standard ever since.

    15. @zfriend since when is Moreh nevuchim normative judaism - find me more than a minyan of Jews TODAY that study it........Yad Chazakah is mainstream but not Moreh Nevuchim.

    16. If "normative" is a popularity contest then whole blocks of TaNaKH must not be normative, and prior to the institution of Daf Yomi whole Masekhtot must not have been normative.


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