Thursday, March 17, 2011

Reckoning with Rabbeinu Tam

(A technical follow-up to earlier material. Skip it if you want to!)

On a number of occasions, particularly in my monograph "The Sun's Path at Night," I referred to Rabbeinu Tam's endorsement of the view of the Chachmei Yisrael that the sun, upon setting, changes direction to travel horizontally through the firmament, whereupon it changes direction again, traveling up and behind the sky. Since this is clearly incorrect, some people wanted to know if this means that following Rabbeinu Tam's view - with its ramifications regarding the time of the departure of Shabbos - has no basis.

There are some authorities who make this argument, such as Maharam Alashkar. And Prof. Shlomo Sternberg argues that Rabbeinu Tam was only offering a hypothetical explanation and that his view was never followed lehalachah until a few centuries ago (see his fascinating article here - 33 meg PDF).

On the other hand, a number of Rishonim and Acharonim adopted Rabbeinu Tam’s view regarding two stages of sunset, and many of them explicitly noted that this did not mean that they believed the Sages of Israel to have been correct regarding the sun’s path at night. See, for example, R. David ben Shlomo ibn Zimra, She’eilos U’Teshuvos Radbaz, Part IV, #282; R. Hezekiah da Silva, Kuntrus Binah Ve’Da’as (also known as Kuntrus D’vei Shamsha), pp. 5b-6a; and R. Avraham Cohen Pimentel, Minchas Kohen, Sefer Mevo HaShemesh 1:10.

But if they disagree with Rabbeinu Tam's cosmological model, why are they following his view? Some, such as R. Pimentel, give no explanation. Others say that the observations of stars behind Rabbeinu Tam's view are still valid, even if the conceptual astronomical framework was incorrect, and therefore his view is still correct. (See R. Gil Student's useful summary here.)

One may therefore wonder why I said recently that Ramban adopts Rabbeinu Tam's mistaken cosmology. A few people argued that he was just adopting Rabbeinu Tam's halachah, based on his observations, not the astronomical model. But a careful reading of Ramban shows that he actually speaks about the sun traveling through and behind the firmament -
כלומר משעה שנשקעה ברקיע והיא עדיין כנגד חלונה, ולפי שלא עברה חלונה ועדיין אינה מהלכת אחורי כיפה פני הרקיע מאדימין כנגד מקומה של חמה
In light of these words, it's difficult to argue that Ramban rejected this cosmological model, without his mentioning anything about that.


Nevertheless, I still have two remaining questions. First is that R. Nissim of Gerona also follows Rabbeinu Tam and likewise refers to the sun passing behind the firmament:
 חדושי הר"ן על שבת דף לד ע/ב
 ותירץ ר"ת ז"ל דשתי שקיעות הן משתשקע החמה דשמעתין היינו מסוף שקיעת החמה כלומר משעה שנשקעה ברקיע והיא עדיין כנגד חלונה ולפי שלא עברה חלונה ועדיין אינה מהלכת אחורי כיפה פני רקיע מאדימין כנגד מקומה ומשקיעת החמה דתניא בפסחים היינו מתחילת שקיעה שהתחילה ליכנס ברקיע,
Now, I can just about accept that Ramban had not accepted the Ptolemaic cosmology, since his education was Tosafist-style. But  RaN received a Spanish education, and moreover was an astronomer - which surely means that he accepted the Ptolemaic cosmology. So how could he have believed that the sun passes behind the firmament at night - or is there something else going on in his endorsement of Rabbeinu Tam's view?

My second question is with regard to R. Eliezer of Metz (who, incidentally, was a disciple of Rabbeinu Tam). His ruling regarding mayim shelanu is explicitly based on the premise that the Chachmei Yisrael were mistaken about the sun passing through and behind the firmament at night. But in his ruling regarding the time of bein hashmashos, he explicitly bases it upon that very mistaken cosmological worldview! What accounts for this seeming contradiction?

If anyone can suggest answers to either of these questions, I'd be indebted.

57 comments:

  1. Personally, I find the answer obvious.

    They do not have a literal astronomical understanding of the Chilonim b'Rakia. Instead it is a linguistic understanding of those words and terms.

    random exmaple from a book I'm reading... an older historian says that Orion's belt held the Egyptian monarchy together. (referring to the fact that the pyrmaids are aligned to replicate the alignment of the stars found in the Orion constelation)

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  2. Just realized my example may not have been clear enough.

    Some people might think that the fictional historian believes that Orion really exists, and has a means to protecting the Egyptian society as a hunter, and that his belt has mystical powers which connects the various monarchs in Egyptian history.

    Alternatively, the historian is using allusiary language to point out that astrology was an important component of Egyptian society and by utilizing the positions of the stars in the construction of tombs they linked the monarchies post mortem.

    This would be similiar to the agadatah in the Talmud where a man places his bread into one of the windows to the rakia and it is gone, but then eventually it comes back as the windows move.

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  3. Thanks for trying, but I really don't think that that fits the context. It's not an aggadata, it's a discussion of astronomy. Chazal were speaking literally and so was Rabbeinu Tam - and so were Ramban, Ran and R. Eliezer of Metz.

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  4. "Thanks for trying, but I really don't think that that fits the context. It's not an aggadata, it's a discussion of astronomy."

    I don't understand your objection.

    The Chilonim shel Rakia are sources of Bracha and means for G-d to interact with our world. This does not mean that there are actual physical windows. But that does not also mean that they are mere agadata and not part of a halachic discussion.

    But lets look at the evidence.

    You have two options.

    1. Depending on the halachic topic, these people used two different models of the physical sky, which contradict each other.

    2. Depending on the halachic topic, these people either used a physical model for the sky, or a metaphysical model of the sky.

    You seem, for some unknown reason to just assume that never could it happen that in the topic of religious conversation that people are discussing spiritual considerations and not just physical ones.

    I guess if you really want you have 2 more options.

    3. One of these are a forgery and he never really wrote it.

    4. They changed their minds during writing and believed in two different models depending on when they wrote what they wrote.

    Personally, I find the last 2 options outright laughable.

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  5. Ameteur, tell me which of the following you think were referring to a "spiritual firmament":

    1) Chazal
    2) Rabbeinu Tam
    3) Ramban
    4) Ran
    5) R. Eliezer of Metz

    You seem, for some unknown reason to just assume that never could it happen that in the topic of religious conversation that people are discussing spiritual considerations and not just physical ones.

    No. I think that it is outright laughable to think that in a conversation that begun with Chazal speaking about physical astronomy, and continued throughout the centuries, that people suddenly started using the very same words to be discussing spiritual phenomena instead, without giving any hint that they were entirely changing the framework of the discussion.

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  6. "Ameteur, tell me which of the following you think were referring to a "spiritual firmament":"

    All of them.

    But that isn't what your actual question is.

    What you want to know is when did people start to separate their understanding of the spiritual framework with the physical one. And I have no clue to the answer to that. (But I'm guessing it's related to when Muslim and Christian scholars started to share information.) However, by the time R. Eliezer of Metz was writing, the separation clearly existed.

    "that people suddenly started using the very same words to be discussing spiritual phenomena instead, without giving any hint that they were entirely changing the framework of the discussion."

    Again, I think you have it backwards. For chazal, physical reality was spiritual reality. If something was true spiritually, it must have also been true physically. It was the assumption of the sciences of their time. For us today, most people don't make those assertions. A person can be in love without the requisite dopamine levels. (though I'm sure there are growing number of people who will argue this point.)

    Again, when this shift happened, I don't know, I never really studied that part. But the point is, when writers split from the spiritual meaning of the terms they did make note of it, and they wrote "but nowadays", or they wrote "nature changed", or they wrote that previous generations were wrong on this point.. And the more physical reality is known to not match spiritual reality the more you see those sorts of comments.

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  7. R' Natan, I see no difficulty with the views of R' Eliezer of Metz regarding 'mayim shelanu' and 'bein hashemashot'. He may, indeed, agree with his teacher, Rabbenu Tam, about the sun's path through the 'rakia'. However, the din of 'mayim shelanu' is not dependent on the rationale given for it by R' Yehuda Hanasi in Pes. 94b. In fact, that rationale involving the sun travelling at night below a thin, flat earth and heating the underground water sources is surely mistaken. Rather, the real basis for requiring well water to be drawn the previous day and to be left in an unheated building for use in baking matzot is the observation that well water in the early springtime is warmer than the overnight air temperature. In other words, the halacha has a valid basis regardless of what we may consider to be fanciful talmudic reasons.

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  8. In light of these words, it's difficult to argue that Ramban rejected this cosmological model, without his mentioning anything about that.

    R' Slifkin:

    That entire section in Torat Ha'adam has nothing to do with science, but is rather a halakhic analysis. Why would the Ramban then all of a sudden go off topic to convey that he disagreed with R' Tam's science?

    I'm sorry but your argument to say that the Ramban (and the Ran for that matter) bought in to R' Tam's model of the sun's motion is not at all convicing.

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  9. "Ameteur, tell me which of the following you think were referring to a "spiritual firmament":"

    All of them.


    Ah, it looks like you are operating from a completely different worldview and epistemology from me.

    On what basis do you think that Chazal were also referring to a metaphysical firmament?

    But the point is, when writers split from the spiritual meaning of the terms they did make note of it, and they wrote "but nowadays", or they wrote "nature changed", or they wrote that previous generations were wrong on this point

    Right, when later generations were aware that there was something different going on, they mentioned it. And Ramban and Ran and Re'em don't make any mention of it.

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  10. That entire section in Torat Ha'adam has nothing to do with science, but is rather a halakhic analysis. Why would the Ramban then all of a sudden go off topic to convey that he disagreed with R' Tam's science?

    It's a halachic analysis which, for Rabbeinu Tam, was explicitly linked to the scientific view, and Ramban mentions that same scientific view. And those Rishonim and Acharonim who disagreed with that scientific view said so, whether or not they agreed with the halachah. So it would not be at all off-topic for Ramban to mention that the scientific view is mistaken - in fact, nothing could be more on-topic.

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  11. Isn't it possible that, since Hashem looked into Torah to create the world, and there are 70 explanations, and they don't contradict each other in terms of truth because of eilu v'eilu -- that this concept is likewise baked into the physical world that was created as a result of that Torah?

    In other words, multiple _reasonable_ scientific explanations, or interpretations, of reality exist, and they each correspond to particular spiritual ideas. The fact that one scientific view is "correct" at any given point in history is analogous to our poskining according to one shita. But we don't throw Bais Shammai out of the Beis Medrash just because we poskin like Beis Hillel. And likewise we don't discard Ptolemny: because even though we now poskin like Copernicus in terms of our scientific understanding, the moral/spiritial idea of geocentricity remains a component of eternal truth. And even though Ptolemny himself truly thought that in reality the Earth was the center, and he never even dreamed that his description reflected any kind of moral or spiritual value -- nevertheless, in retrospect we can say that the theories of both Ptolemy and Copernicus unintentionally described true aspects of the spiritual world, even though only Copernicus was correct scientifically. This way, no one needs to have ruach haKodesh -- any reasonable scientific interpretation based on facts and observations of the world has some spiritual validity even though it might be wrong scientifically. So perhaps the RaN held something like that.

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  12. Alex, the idea of there being "multiple scientific explanations that each correspond to particular spiritual ideas" is not an approach that you'll find in any of the Rishonim.

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  13. ... speaking of astronomy, this quote from a resident of Tokyo (Tokyo has instituted rolling blackouts at night to conserve power): "Nights were never this dark, and I never realized how beautiful the stars were."

    I don't know what Rabbeinu Tam saw when he looked at the night sky, but he definitely saw a lot more than we do.

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  14. Alex, the idea of there being "multiple scientific explanations that each correspond to particular spiritual ideas" is not an approach that you'll find in any of the Rishonim.

    Rav Slifkin, you have the unfair advantage of knowing what the Rishonim actually say. Plus, you've likely eaten something by now, so please excuse my delirious ramblings.

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  15. So it would not be at all off-topic for Ramban to mention that the scientific view is mistaken - in fact, nothing could be more on-topic.

    So let me get this straight. In an exclusively halakhic discussion, the Ramban quotes an entire statement of R' Tam, part of which includes his scientific theory about the motion of the sun. Despite being a small part of the quote, the Ramban decides not to depart from his halakhic discussion to tell the reader whether or not he agrees or disagrees with R' Tam's science.

    And to you that is convincing proof that the Ramban held the sun travelled behind the rakia?

    Just out of curiosity, does this mean that every time a rishon quotes a source in its entirety that contains mutiple points (halakhic and scientific), that he subscribes to every single part of that quote?

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  16. "On what basis do you think that Chazal were also referring to a metaphysical firmament?"

    Oh nothing really.. other than the fact that we are talking about religious texts and religious teachings as applied to people following a particular religion.

    I mean, I'm sure that when Chazal read the Torah and saw that it said that if you do X,Y,Z then you will be rewarded with good rain, they fully understood that to literally be good rain, and had absolutely nothing to do with spiritual concepts such as Olam Habah.

    I have to turn the question around to you, and ask why you think that Chazal were dafka NOT talking about spiritual concepts and applying the teaching of "as above so below" to every physical phenomena they knew about?

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  17. In an exclusively halakhic discussion, the Ramban quotes an entire statement of R' Tam, part of which includes his scientific theory about the motion of the sun. Despite being a small part of the quote, the Ramban decides not to depart from his halakhic discussion to tell the reader whether or not he agrees or disagrees with R' Tam's science.
    And to you that is convincing proof that the Ramban held the sun travelled behind the rakia?


    If it was as you said, then yes, I would still expect Ramban - especially Ramban - to explain whether the science invoked in explanation of this ruling is correct.

    But in any case, it's not as you said. Ramban does not just quote Rabbeinu Tam - he elaborates upon his explanation.

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  18. "Ah, it looks like you are operating from a completely different worldview and epistemology from me."

    Curious. Because I do not think that is true. Perhaps I disagree with you in general about the belief systems of pre-medieval people and its relationship with the physical world. But I don't see how this constitutes "a completely different worldview and epstemlogy" from you. At most, it sounds like a completely different view of pre-medieval people in general and the intent of books such as the Talmud in particular. But somehow, I doubt that is true either.

    Y. Aharon, please forgive me but your explanation has me confused. Are you saying that R. Eliezer did believe in R. Tam's astronomy and despite that, his halachic ruling was correct, or something else? If it's not something else, how does that fix the problem that he knew of the ptolmey model of astronomy?

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  19. "On what basis do you think that Chazal were also referring to a metaphysical firmament?"

    Oh nothing really.. other than the fact that we are talking about religious texts and religious teachings as applied to people following a particular religion.


    Eh? What does that have to do with it? So if I tell you how many grams of sugar is a kezayis, I must be talking about spiritual, metaphysical grams of sugar?

    I have to turn the question around to you, and ask why you think that Chazal were dafka NOT talking about spiritual concepts and applying the teaching of "as above so below" to every physical phenomena they knew about?

    Because that is projecting a view of the Acharonim back on to Chazal, where there is nothing in the context of Chazal to give the slightest indication that this is what they meant, and furthermore none of the Geonim or Rishonim say that this is what Chazal meant. So hamotzi mechavero alav hara'ayah.

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  20. But in any case, it's not as you said. Ramban does not just quote Rabbeinu Tam - he elaborates upon his explanation.

    Exactly! He elaborates on the halakhic parts of his explanation, not the science.

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  21. No, he elaborates on the science!

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  22. No, he elaborates on the science!

    And where is that?

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  23. Just compare Rabbeinu Tam's words with Ramban. It's a paraphrase, not a citation, in which Ramban is explaining the science behind the halachah.

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  24. "Eh? What does that have to do with it? So if I tell you how many grams of sugar is a kezayis, I must be talking about spiritual, metaphysical grams of sugar?"

    What, may I ask, is a spiritual, metaphysical gram of sugar?

    The idea of a kezayit however, which fulfills one's holy obligation to do a mitzvah, does sound to me like something of a spiritual nature, and it's actual measurement.. is a religious spiritual question, not a scientific study authorized by the ISO. I would imagine that the answer to the question "how many grams of sugar are in a kazayit" have actually changed over time. (though let me know if this is not the case, I would be surprised.)

    "Because that is projecting a view of the Acharonim back on to Chazal, where there is nothing in the context of Chazal to give the slightest indication that this is what they meant,"

    I find this comment interesting. The concept which I refered to dates back to Greek and Egyptian mythology, as far back as the first century. I'm not sure why you think this is something from the achronim. As for proof from Chazal themselves, I believe they make this point often, especially when they talk about reward and punishment. If you want to argue that this was not a position that Chazal had, then you are essentially saying that Chazal purposefully distorted the words of the Torah to create a concept of the Afterlife, but they themselves did not actually believe that this is what the Torah was telling them. In general, I like to take accepted authors at their word, and not assume that they are really doing dishonest work on purpose. It's akin to declaring things you don't like as forgeries.

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  25. What, may I ask, is a spiritual, metaphysical gram of sugar?

    What, may I ask, is a spiritual, metaphysical motion of the sun through the firmament, then passing up behind it?

    The concept which I refered to dates back to Greek and Egyptian mythology, as far back as the first century.

    Sorry, I was referring to the sugya about astronomy. With regard to rain, the case is a little different, since it's not Chazal themselves who originate the discussion. But in any case, you'd have to see if Chazal make any reference to rain being a metaphor for other things, and if not, then you'd have the onus of proof to claim that Chazal did not understand the passuk to be referring to actual rain. But let's not get too off-topic.

    Let me put it another way: Those who rejected Rabbeinu Tam (such as Maharam Alashkar), and those who accepted his halachah but stressed that his science was wrong, certainly did not look at things the way you are suggesting!

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  26. "and furthermore none of the Geonim or Rishonim say that this is what Chazal meant."

    Again, this is not surprising, since the separation of physical reality from spiritual reality within language and writing is a much later development in Europe. Though I'm a bit surprised that you say no Rishonim, as I believe their years overlap with this development.

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  27. "and if not, then you'd have the onus of proof to claim that Chazal did not understand the passuk to be referring to actual rain. But let's not get too off-topic."

    Sorry, I don't see this as off topic, as I see I'm still not explaining myself properly.

    Ofcourse, in my view, Chazal understood the pasuk to be referring to actual rain. The point is, that there is conceptually no difference between "actual rain" and "olam habah". I'm not quite sure how to explain it... All I can say is that its a function of how we catecogrize concepts in our brain. A bit perhaps similar to how in the pavlav experiment, "ringing a bell" and "food" became the same thing, even though the dog will never actually try to eat the bell. Boy, I never realized how hard this concept is to put into words using clear modern language.

    Anyway,
    "What, may I ask, is a spiritual, metaphysical motion of the sun through the firmament, then passing up behind it?"

    It's the manifestation of bracha that hashem gives to the world during the day, and then retracts at night giving way to dangers as understood by the "hiding his face", but then comes forward again and gives bracha.
    In essence, we enter shabbat as we see the bracha, and we don't leave shabbat until we see that the manifestation of bracha is completely gone.

    When it comes to the waters, it's not a hidden bracha comming from behind the rakia, but something else entirely, though the rabbis of Israel thought it was.

    Point being, as time goes on you have some who use this language, and others who don't as the world around them changes. For Jews "on the ground" its important that the halacha is conveyed in a way they understand and can follow it. And certainly as people separate the spiritual manifestations from physical reality and start to know the actual workings of the world, the issue becomes more complicated.

    " certainly did not look at things the way you are suggesting!"

    It is hard to know if that is true or not without knowing the way they use language. But why is so hard to imagine that different people in different places and different times understood their cultural history differently? I am fairly certain that Ramban used langauge this way, as this is how he was taught to me.

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  28. "What, may I ask, is a spiritual, metaphysical motion of the sun through the firmament, then passing up behind it?"

    It's the manifestation of bracha that hashem gives to the world during the day, and then retracts at night giving way to dangers as understood by the "hiding his face", but then comes forward again and gives bracha.


    No, that's the corollary of the sun retreating behind the firmament at night. What's the corollary of the sun traveling through the thickness of the firmament, before it goes behind it?

    And, more to the point, what is the actual basis to think that Chazal and Rabbeinu Tam mean anything more than what their words seem to mean and what all the Rishonim seemed to understand them to mean?

    And if this is what is going on, why didn't Maharam Alashkar and Radbaz and R. Chikziyak da Silva know about it, and instead reject Rabbeinu Tam's scientific explanation as having no basis?

    But why is so hard to imagine that different people in different places and different times understood their cultural history differently?

    I'm all for that. But what I'm not in favor is positing a very forced interpretation which makes no sense in the context of the discussion and which has no evidence for it and which nobody would ever think of positing, were it not for the fact that it is very comforting to think that Chazal and the Rishonim weren't plain mistaken.

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  29. Ameteur, I was only responding to R' Natan's question about an apparent inconsistency in the view of R' Eliezer of Metz regarding 'mayim shelanu' and 'bein hashemashot'. I don't have his text before me, but I suspect that R' Natan may be referring to a citation from talmud Yerushalmi Berachot which mentions the sun going through the middle of the heaven. What I do recall is that R' Eliezer has a unique definition of 'shkiya', and a corresponding interpretation of the sugya in T.B. Shabbat, which places shkiya before physical sunset (a view followed in J'lem). In other words, he greatly differs from his rebbe, Rabbenu Tam, on the definition and time of 'mishetishka hachama'. In any case, his understanding of the phenomenon of dusk has no necessary effect on his view of 'mayim shelanu'. Whatever the given talmudic reason for drawing well water the day prior to baking matzot - that is the halacha. As I stated, the halacha does have a definite physical basis - albeit not the rationale used in Pesachim 94. R' Natan should only have a problem with an apparent inconsistency if R' Eliezer stated that the sun goes beneath the earth at night regarding the gemara in Pesachim ('mayim shelanu') and goes through the heavens at dawn and dusk in the gemara in Shabbat ('bein hashemashot').

    On second thought,even then he may have a model in mind where the 'rakia' is a hemisphere bounding a flat earth. The sun at sunset would start going through the rakia and continue moving west to east underneath the earth. At dawn, the sun would move through the rakia to the side facing us. It would then continue an east to west course across the inner face of the rakia until sunset.

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  30. " were it not for the fact that it is very comforting to think that Chazal and the Rishonim weren't plain mistaken."

    First of all, let me comment that I think I've made it very clear that chazal were mistaken. It is not the case that spiritual teachings match up with physical reality, even though they assumed that they did.

    "What's the corollary of the sun traveling through the thickness of the firmament, before it goes behind it?"

    I'm not sure what you are asking. Are you asking why "through the thickness" and not "infront of"? There are 365/6 chilonim. These are the days, and the positive mitzvot. Bracha only comes through the involvement of the mitzvot which involves study and toil. Presumably, it does not go infront, because you can't just pass by/over mitzvot and pretend you have done them by glancing.. you have to be deeply involved.


    "And if this is what is going on, why didn't Maharam Alashkar and Radbaz and R. Chikziyak da Silva know about it, and instead reject Rabbeinu Tam's scientific explanation as having no basis?"

    I'm going to ignore your first assumption that they didn't know about it. I'd rather assume that they found it irrelevant to the conversation.. because it is, and its impossible to know if somebody didn't write about something because they are ignorant of it, or if because they felt no need to write about it. I am sure you know about the symbolic use of the unicorn on the British coat of arms, even though you didn't mention it in your books.

    However, to Ramban and apparently Rabeinu Tam, this sort of thing is very much relevant in the decision making process, but for most it is icing on the cake, not the cake itself.


    " favor is positing a very forced interpretation which makes no sense in the context of the discussion "

    I fail to see what is so far fetched about a rabbi being concerned with the spiritual ramifications of the halachot that he follows, while others are more concerned about giving people a way to follow the halacha, and let the spiritual chips fall where they will. Beit Hillel and Beit SHamai have very different priorities on what goes into picking the halacha, be it a forgiving attitude towards human feelings or a strong sense of required discipline no matter the outcome. Both are important, but they result in different considerations and thus different opinions. And certainly, neither of them expressed these as being the driving aim of their decision making process. (even though its obvious to anyone who compares them.)

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  31. Y. Aharon, thank you for explaining that, makes sense now.

    However, I could be wrong, but I thought R. Slifkin was more concerned that R. Eliezer uses the "rakia model" in one instance even though we have obvious proof that he had access to and used the scientific model of his day in other issues.

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  32. To: Amateur

    while I appreciate the need by a "fundamentalist" for finding a way to interpret aggaditah by maybe alluding to spiritual explanations or such, but I have read and re-read the gemorrah in Pesachim 94 many, many times and there is no way that they are discussing anything but the actual reality of the earth and the sky around it.

    after all, if the discussion was allegorical, mystical, or spiritual, what relevance would the non-jewish sages’ opinion have in the matter.

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  33. "But if they disagree with Rabbeinu Tam's cosmological model, why are they following his view? Some, such as R. Pimentel, give no explanation."

    Actually, R. Pimental explictly addressed this topic:

    http://hebrewbooks.org/pdfpager.aspx?req=19373&st=&pgnum=39

    See the statement starting in the second column starting with the bolded "Nireh Li". Here is very rough draft translation that I was meaning to work more on:

    It appears to me that the phrase “Mshetishkah Hachammah” that Rabbi Yehudah spoke of which is the starting time for the period of “Bein Hashmashot” is not at all difficult to explain as referring to the end of the Sun’s “Shkia” in the thickness of the firmament as Rabbeinu Tam Z”L explained. Even though, in truth, the sun does not travel at night above the covering of the firmament, and consequently does not enter its thickness; nevertheless, we are coming to explain the words of Rabbi Yehudah and here it is apparent from his explicit statement that he agrees with the words of the Wise Men of Israel, that the Sun enters into the thickness of the firmament in the evening, as he says (regarding the time from dawn until sunrise and from sunset until the emergence of the stars), “we find that the [time of the sun’s travel through] the thickness of the firmament is one part in ten of the day”. If so, it appears clearly from these words [of Rabbi Yehudah] that Rabbi Yehuda holds that the sun enters in the evening into the thickness of the firmament and according to this, it must be, according to this opinion, that the sun undergoes a “second descent”; that is when the sun finishes crossing the thickness of the firmament. And if so, is it really forced to explain the phrase “Mshetishkah Hachammah” of Rabbi Yehudah, from which we begin the time referred to as “Bein HaShmashot” as the end of the sun’s descent into the thickness of the firmament since he holds that the sun travels through it [the firmament] from sunset until the emergence of two medium stars, and that from the power of the contradiction in his words on the length of “Bain HaShmashot” [add footnote], it appears clearly that that it is impossible to explain [the words “Mshetishkah Hachammah”] as referring to the beginning of [sun’s] descent, that is when it [the sun] descends below the horizon and begins to enter the thickness of the firmament, according to his opinion?

    Continued...

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  34. ...continued

    And furthermore, since the opinion of our Rabbis Z”L is that until the emergence of the starts it is considered daytime without doubt (or until the time of “Bein Hashmashot” when there two stars have appeared] and they hold that the time of that sun travels through the thickness of the firmament is daytime without doubt according the to the Torah just as when the sun is traveling below the arch of the firmament and it is not considered nighttime until the sun travels above the arch [of the firmament] that is from the time that the stars emerge until dawn and the Scripture supports them in that it calls daytime the period from dawn until the emergence of the stars, and also as it says “and Elokim called the light, day” and from dawn until the emergence of the stars this is light in the world, and if so, the [time of the sun’s travel through] the thickness of the firmament is considered part of the day and they say in the Yerushalmi “the thickness of the firmament is given to the day in both the evening and the morning”. And if so, because of the these arguments it appears that that which Rabbi Yehuda said that “Meshetishkah HaChammah” begins the period of “Bein HaShmashot” that he was not referring to the descent of the sun below the horizon when it becomes hidden from sight, but rather on the end of its descent into the thickness of the firmament and all the more so, since the phrasing “Meshetishkah HaChammah” (from the time that the sun has descended) implies that the sun has already descended as Rabeinnu Tam Z”L wrote. And one should not ask that if, according to the truth, the sun does not enter the thickness of the firmament and there [therefore] is no “Sof Sh’kia” (completion of its descent), how can we explain the words “Meshetishkah HaChammah” as referring to completion of its descent into the thickness of the firmament, because we have proved that Rabbi Yehudah held so and according to his opinion in this matter he wrote “Meshetishkah HaChammah” with the intention to refer to end of the descent of the sun in the thickness of the firmament and, at any rate, even though there no such “end of the descent” we know that the beginning of the time of “Bein HaShmashot” is, based on what they wrote in the Gemara, ¾ of a Mil before the emergence of the stars (according to the explananation of Raba and according to the Rav Yosef it is 2/3 of a mil) and if so, before that it is daytime without doubt. And since the time from the sunset until the emergence of the stars is a period of 4 mil, as Rabbi Yehuda said in Pesachim, and as it appears in our experience, we know that the period of 3 ¼ mil after sunset is daytime without doubt and ther rest [of the time before the emergence of the stars] is period of “Bein HaShmashot”. And therefore one should not make the period of Bein HaShmashot begin at sunset because that which Rabbi Yehuda said “Meshetishkah HaChammah” begins this time [“Bein HaShmashot”] since we know clearly that he did not intend to refer to the setting of the sun under the horizon, but rather to the second descent of the sun because of the reasons that I mentioned above. And even though in truth, the sun doesn’t go into the thickness of the firmament and there is no second descent of the sun, nevertheless, the law of Rabbi Yehuda is correct and we follow his rule in practice [lit. we write according to him] to make the [starting] time of Bein HaShmashot a period of ¾ of a mile before the emergence of 3 medium stars and the time remaining [beforehand] from sunset is considered daytime without a doubt, that is 3 ¼ mil as I have written. And this is the principle that arises from the explanation of R”T whether the sun enters into the thickness of the firmament or it descends below the earth and this [distinction] does not affect our ruling this in matter as we have explained.

    continued...

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  35. ... final part

    And the proof is that the Rav Hamaggid who was a great expert in the science of astronomy and knew that the sun does not travel at night above the arch of the firmament and does not enter in the evening into its thickness, and even so, he agreed with the explanation of Rabbeinu Tam and wrote that his [R”T’s] words appear to be correct, and it was not problematic for him that this explanation does not agree with the facts; rather it is definite that there is nothing forced about this [R”T’s opinion] because Rabbi Yehudah wrote this language [“Meshetishkah HaChammah”] according to his understanding [of the sun’s path] and nevertheless, this law is truthful and it is as I have explained above and this appears firm and correct to me as the explanation of the words of Rabbi Yehuda.

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  36. Anyhow, what I believe that R. Pimental is saying is that we need to translate "Mishetiskah Hachammah". Does it refer to sunset or to a specific level of darkness that happens after sunset?

    R. Pimental agrees with R"T that it must refer to a specific level of darkness that would have been associated *by Chazal* with the sun completing its path through the firmament. Even though this level of darkness is not in fact associated with any actual astronomical phenomena, since there is no firmament, it is still remains that this level of darkness would be the start of the Bein Hashmashos period according to his opinion.

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  37. Ameteur said...
    Personally, I find the answer obvious.

    They do not have a literal astronomical understanding of the Chilonim b'Rakia. Instead it is a linguistic understanding of those words and terms.


    I think that is clear from R. Pimental's words that he did think that Chazal were being literal. His words are some of the strongest evidence that this opinion is firmly "part of the Mesorah", inasmuch as the M"B quotes the Minchas Cohen in his discussion of the general topic of B"H (but not with regard to the contradiction of firmament theory contradicting current scientific knowledge).

    What is even more interesting is that R. Pimental makes strong statements about the incorrectness of the firmament theory without resorting "Nature changed" or any kind of explanation of how Chazal's view could have been wrong. In fact, it appears not to bother him at all.

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  38. What makes you so sure the Ran was a Ptolemaic loyalist? The Rambam critiqued Ptolemy in his Moreh Nevuchim and he was Spanish too. Aristotle earned the Rambam's loyalty more than Ptolemy.

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  39. Astronomy is a different matter from philosophy. No astronomer in the medieval period believed in a flat earth and a sun going behind the sky at night.

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  40. "while I appreciate the need by a "fundamentalist" for finding a way to interpret aggaditah by maybe alluding to spiritual explanations or such, but I have read and re-read the gemorrah in Pesachim 94 many, many times and there is no way that they are discussing anything but the actual reality of the earth and the sky around it.

    after all, if the discussion was allegorical, mystical, or spiritual, what relevance would the non-jewish sages’ opinion have in the matter."

    First of all, I imagine most people in this blog are more "fundamentalist" than me, so please stop thinking that you know who I am or what my world view is.

    But that(regarding spiritual) isn't the point I'm trying to get across. I am not saying that Chazal had some sort of prophecy and they are talking to us in code that only the wisest people in the world can understand, and then you will be granted magical powers by knowing it. So, please, do us all a favor and stop reading these things into my words.

    Maybe a thought experiment would be more useful.

    Imagine you live in a time before the concept of the scientific method. Imagine you live in a time when the concept of "truth" is defined by heartfelt belief, and not by its objective verification by other means. Now, imagine you have cultural "truth" that the sky is a source of blessing, that nighttime is a time of dangers. That your source of life grows from rain and water, but does not flourish or thrive without the sun. Now imagine you are looking at the sky, observing the astronomical events, and from that trying to decipher how the whole thing works. Now remember, to you the absolute truth is by definition that which your society teaches, because if your society was wrong about some knowledge then you wouldn't be able to live from the crops. You also assume that what is true in things you can't see, is also true in the things you can see, since they all come from the same single source.
    Can you understand now how something you say regarding actual observations also become statements about your spiritual understandings? Can you understand how the two concepts can not be separated?

    part 1...

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  41. part 2... .

    "I think that is clear from R. Pimental's words that he did think that Chazal were being literal. His words are some of the strongest evidence that this opinion is firmly "part of the Mesorah", "

    Again, the idea of "chazal were being literal" is an anachronism. They did not separate being literal from being spiritual. But I disagree with understanding of one of the bolded parts.. and maybe this will explain my position better.

    "And even though in truth, the sun doesn’t go into the thickness of the firmament and there is no second descent of the sun, nevertheless, the law of Rabbi Yehuda is correct and we follow his rule in practice [lit. we write according to him]"

    You translate, "we Write according to him" as a way to explain that "we follow the rule in practice."
    But I read "we write according to him" to mean the following. Even though, in reality, the sun does not act the way Rav Yehuda says it does, his description of the suns path is important for our mesorah and so we continue to explain it in those terms. Now the question is, why is this wrong science important for our mesorah? I would argue, it is because this model also teaches spiritual ideas, and even though the model is wrong physically, we believe that the model is still important spiritually/culturally/linguistically (take your pick).

    So you might still ask, if this is true, why are the ideas of the non-Jewish sages relevant.. the answer is because the model they explain, better groups the ideas together, even though they come from a different culture, they still make a good point. The idea of the sun being a source of blessing, and the important of the heavens in giving blessings is not a unique concept to the Jewish people, nor even necessarily a concept given over by the prophets. (Most likely it existed even before Abraham)

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  42. Natan Slifkin said...

    "Astronomy is a different matter from philosophy. No astronomer in the medieval period believed in a flat earth and a sun going behind the sky at night."

    Weak argument. You are assuming what you are trying to prove in the face of a piece of contrary evidence.The stronger proof for a person's belief is what he says. Arguing that someone's view could not have been different than others needs backing. Your statement about astronomers is true enough as a generalization for the Christianized and Islamicized world but it cannot just be applied to everyone despite contrary evidence. Scientists until a few hundred years ago were people who devoted themselves to science even if they had no formal education or even a job in science. Even today someone can be a heretical scientist. How much more so in the past then.

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  43. We all know what the truth is here in the movement of the sun.

    So what do we learn from all this dialogue?

    Well, to answer my own question, this is what we learn.

    First, we learn that the more secular knowledge one knows the better one is able to understand his spiritual studies.

    And then we see from all this well meant but fictitious teachings by these equally well meant Rabbis and Sages that as Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzatto (the Ramchal) as stated in is book, The Ways of Reason, at the end of chapter one,

    "we never judge a statement by its author, but only on its own merit."

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  44. >>>>> First of all, I imagine most people in this blog are more "fundamentalist" than me, so please stop thinking that you know who I am or what my world view is.

    Whoa…i had no intention of insulting or disparaging you. i simply used the term as description of a general mind-set…not you personally. I certainly apologize if you felt offended.

    >>>> Imagine you live in a time when the concept of "truth" is defined by heartfelt belief, and not by its objective verification by other means. Etc ….

    OK, I grant what you say is sensible even if a bit esoteric, but please explain how this plays out “l’maaseh” in general, where halakhah depends on describing the real world, and how it fits in with the discussion in the gemorrah in Pesachim.

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  45. Ameteur said... You translate, "we Write according to him" as a way to explain that "we follow the rule in practice."
    But I read "we write according to him" to mean the following. Even though, in reality, the sun does not act the way Rav Yehuda says it does, his description of the suns path is important for our mesorah and so we continue to explain it in those terms. Now the question is, why is this wrong science important for our mesorah? I would argue, it is because this model also teaches spiritual ideas, and even though the model is wrong physically, we believe that the model is still important spiritually/culturally/linguistically (take your pick).


    The phrase is "V'Naktinan Cavasaih" and it means "we pasken like him" in every place I've ever seen it used.

    Morever, he could have drastically shortened his presentation and said

    "Even though, in truth, the sun does not travel at night above the covering of the firmament, and consequently does not enter its thickness, [Rabbi Yehuda was correct in a spiritual sense, so there is no question.]

    Instead, he goes to pains to explain that while this idea is false, since Rabbi Yehuda believed it, it is a valid explanation of what he meant by the words "Mishetishka HaChammah".

    Finally, earlier in the book, he states the question even more strongly:

    "The first question [on Rabeinu Tam’s position that “Mishetishkah HaChama” refers the sun’s emergence from the arch of the firmament] is that this explanation of Rabeinu Tam is built on a faulty foundation and on an opinion without truth, that the sun goes at night above the cover of the firmament, because this is in conflict with reason and experience that in fact the the sun travels at night below the earth as shown by experimentation and it is impossible to disprove this. And according to this, there is no room for the answer of Rabeinu Tam because the in fact the sun does not enter the thickness of the firmament and there is no second descent [Sh’kia] as Rabeinu Tam wrote; rather there is only one descent [Sh’kia] which is when the sun descends below the horizon and is hidden from the eye and it appears that this is the meaning of the “descent of the sun” [Sh’kiat Hachama] in all places [in the Talmud]."

    Your view is that we can split the difference, but R. Pimental gives no indication that he felt this way.

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  46. "OK, I grant what you say is sensible even if a bit esoteric, but please explain how this plays out “l’maaseh” in general, where halakhah depends on describing the real world, and how it fits in with the discussion in the gemorrah in Pesachim."

    First you are asking two(maybe three?) very different things.

    1. L'maaseh, I have no idea how this works out today. A lot has changed in the world in the past thousand years or so, and the way we think and communicate and make decisions is worlds apart from how we used to do it. I cant even begin to fathom how you would bridge the divergent schools of thought in modern day Orthodox Judaism.

    2. In general, I believe pure halacha only cares about what we can actually observe. Not what we can calculate or deduce. What theories we use to describe what we can observe, I believe, are really irrelevant to the halacha. Because of this irrelevance, Halacha has mostly not broken.

    3. For the gemorah in psachim, it just tells us that both our spiritual understanding of things, and our observational understanding of things, needs to be open to all sources of knowledge. It is sometimes possible for us to make conclusions that are incorrect, because we created a model which deceives us. When we discover a more accurate model (for both spiritual and physical things) we should adopt it.

    Over shabbat, I think I came across a better example of what I was trying to say.

    In the gemorah, we are told that "geulah" has to be attached to tefilah. So in actuality, we say the bracha for geulah right before we start shemoneh esrei and moke no hefsek... However, the truth of the reality is, that we do make a hefsek.. just not in shacharit. We make a hefsek in both mincha, and marriv though. But despite the physical reality, that we dont link geulah with tefilah, we still teach the axiom, and use it to describe various ideas. Such as in pesach and hallel, and other dvar torahs Ive heard.

    The rabbis of the gemorah tried to make this as much of a physical reality as possible, even though they were really teaching religious concepts.

    As for R. Pimental, Ill just have to take your word for it. Ive never studied his writing, nor do I even know what era he wrote in. But the phrases he used, is a phrase that is used in many places, and it means both that we pasken that way, and that the verbiage that was used is still important.

    Also, I would argue that your alternative summary is not actually more clear, and causes more confusion than what he actually wrote. Spiritually true, is a strange phrase with really no meaning at all.

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  47. As for R. Pimental, Ill just have to take your word for it. Ive never studied his writing, nor do I even know what era he wrote in.

    He published the Sefer in 5428 (1677-1678) in Amsterdam. You can read it yourself on hebrewbooks.org or you can get a copy here: http://www.greenfieldjudaica.com/minchas-cohen-im-perush-shemen-hamincha-S121753.html. He writes in an pretty easy and standard Hebrew-Aramaic in a very easy to understand tutorial fashion. He is quoted by the M"B and others on the topic of Bein Hashmashot; it is not an obscure Sefer.

    But the phrases he used, is a phrase that is used in many places, and it means both that we pasken that way, and that the verbiage that was used is still important.

    Not really. I'd appreciate some examples.

    Also, I would argue that your alternative summary is not actually more clear, and causes more confusion than what he actually wrote. Spiritually true, is a strange phrase with really no meaning at all.

    I agree 100% with you. What R. Pimental really wrote is that notion of Rakia is false "in a way that is impossible to contradict", but since R. Yehudah believed in it, we interpret the words of the Gemara "Mishetishkah HaChamma" as R"T did (starting 3 3/4 mil after sunset) accordance with his understanding that sun got through the firmament at this point (even though it doesn't).

    *If you are right* that he really means that "spiritually/culturally/linguistically", Rabbi Yehudah is correct, then he should have written "there is no problem here, because R. Yehudah was spiritually/culturally/linguistically correct." He writes nothing of the sort.

    This doesn't prove you wrong, but R. Pimental doesn't agree with you.

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  48. Last post on this :).

    I found the hebrew text and a more elegant translation of the important part here:

    http://torahandscience.blogspot.com/2006/04/minchat-kohen.html

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  49. "He published the Sefer in 5428 (1677-1678) in Amsterdam."

    Ok, so he is already writing post renaissance. He is more of a modern writer/thinker then. So what I said earlier really doesnt apply to him.

    "*If you are right* that he really means that "spiritually/culturally/linguistically", Rabbi Yehudah is correct, then he should have written "there is no problem here, because R. Yehudah was spiritually/culturally/linguistically correct." He writes nothing of the sort."

    If I was correct, that is not what he would have written. He would have written something like.. Rabbi Yehudah's information was mistaken, as I wrote, however the results of the mistakes are still correct, and so there is value in the phrasing of the sugya in accordance with our tradition." He would then have to go on and explain to the reader what is correct, and what is the value.

    Or he could stick to the shorthand as he did.

    I find it a bit ironic, that here in this phrase, you feel compelled to look at the metaphorical meaning of his words instead of the face value of them. I should have realized it myself, that he was a more modern writer when I saw that.

    Also, I appologize, I cant remember where else Ive seen that phrase off the top of my head.

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  50. I would like to attach two pages from the Tosfas RI”D by Reb Yeshya D’Trani a Talmud of the Rabeinu Tam. Can you tell me how I can do this.

    Pages 53b 54a on Maseches Shabos
    http://www.hebrewbooks.org/37894

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  51. Do you mean this page?

    http://www.hebrewbooks.org/pdfpager.aspx?req=37894&st=&pgnum=114

    How is it relevant?

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  52. And please use your name or a pseudonym. Anonymous comments are not usually posted.

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  53. Pages 53b 54a on Maseches Shabos
    this is the link

    http://www.hebrewbooks.org/pdfpager.aspx?req=37894&st=&pgnum=120&hilite=

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  54. Although I realize that this is not your approach I would like to hear your comment on the following reading of the gemorah Psachim 94b.
    1. The gemorah is referring to when night begins, so we add this introduction “when is night” then we start Chchmai etc.
    2. Rokea is referring to the atmosphere.
    3. Chama is referring to the light of the sun i.e. its rays.
    4. The reason that there is light after sundown is because of the reflection of the sun rays on the atmosphere. On the moon there is no twilight as soon as sundown it is completely dark.

    Chacmei umos haolam say by day the sun (the light of the sun) is beneath the atmosphere. Day is when the rays of the sun reach below the atmosphere and shines on the earth.
    By night below the earth. Night is when the rays of the sun do not shine directly on the earth only from below the horizon. This is at sundown.
    Chacmei yisroel say (day is the same), by night above the atmosphere. Night is only when none of the rays of the sun are illuminating the atmosphere, and all of the rays of sun only reach behind the atmosphere (from the position that we are observing). This is to say that night is only when it is completely dark. Agrees with the rishonim that follow the perush rabainu tam.

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  55. YH,

    Interesting, but why are bothering to twist yourself into a pretzel to explain what the Gemorrah in Pes. means.

    The one line that counts and it unambiguously says that there is chochmo by the goyim (even when chazal’s view is otherwise) is really all that matters.

    Wait, i know that line is probably a forgery.

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  56. Elmir
    see reb Akivah Eiger in Gilyon H'Shas in the margin on daf 97b pesachim

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  57. "The point is, that there is conceptually no difference between "actual rain" and "olam habah"."

    It would seem to me that only someone who lives in modern society AND whose livelihood and survival does not depend on actual rain could possibly say this. And seeing as chazal did not live in modern society, it only makes this statement more spurious than it already was as a logical claim.

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