Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Bat Responsa (revised)


Next week, Daf Yomi reaches a challenging passage in the Gemara:
Everything that bears live young, nurses them, and everything that lays eggs, gathers food for its young, except for the bat (atalef), which, even though it lays eggs, nurses its young. (Bechoros 7b)

In contrast to the Talmud’s statement, modern zoology asserts that none of the 950 species of bats lay eggs. It cannot be a platypus or echidna (which lay eggs and nurse their young), since these animals do not fly and the atalef is listed in the Torah as a flying creature. Even if one is to posit that the atalef is a bird, which does lay eggs, there would still be a problem in that the Talmud describes it as nursing its young, which no bird does.

It is likewise not reasonable to address this conflict by arguing that the Talmud is speaking metaphorically. The statement about bats is not aggadata (homiletic discourses), but rather part of a discussion about the natural world. No commentator has ever suggested that it is not meant as a factual statement.

Nor can one solve this conflict by positing that nature has changed. Modern science asserts not only that bats do not lay eggs today, but that they have never laid eggs. The only egg-laying mammals, the duck-billed platypus and echidna, live in Australia and are very physiologically unusual creatures. They are on an extremely remote branch of the mammalian family tree, both geographically and physiologically. An egg-laying bat would be completely contradictory to the neat nested hierarchy of the animal kingdom - and amongst all the millions of known species, no such exceptions have ever been found.

How, then, is one to solve this problem? Here is a guide to a range of different approaches that have been proposed. In some cases I am quoting directly, and in those cases there are quotation marks; in others, I am extrapolating from what they have written elsewhere:

Rav Shimshon Raphael Hirsch: "In my opinion, the first principle that every student of Chazal's statements must keep before his eyes is the following: Chazal were the sages of God's law - the receivers, transmitters and teachers of His toros, His mitzvos, and His interpersonal laws. They did not especially master the natural sciences, geometry, astronomy, or medicine - except insofar as they needed them for knowing, observing and fulfilling the Torah. We do not find that this knowledge was transmitted to them from Sinai. …We find that Chazal themselves considered the wisdom of the gentile scholars equal to their own in the natural sciences. To determine who was right in areas where the gentile sages disagreed with their own knowledge, they did not rely on their tradition but on reason. Moreover they even respected the opinion of the gentile scholars, admitting when the opinion of the latter seemed more correct than their own... Can Chazal be blamed for ideas that were accepted by the naturalists of their times?"

Rav Aharon Feldman: There are cogent answers to these questions but these will of necessity, G-d willing, have to be the subject of another article (N.S. - which was never written, nor did he ever volunteer to explain what these "cogent answers" to the questions that had perplexed so many people, and had been the source of all this trouble, actually are). In the meantime we can be sure of one thing: the answers which Slifkin proposed (N.S. - by which means Rav Hirsch et al., but he prefers to pin it on me) are not the right ones."

Rav Uren Reich: "If the Gemara says it, it's emes veyatziv. There's nothing to think about. Anything we see with our eyes is less of a reality than something we see in the Gemara. That’s the emunah that a yid has to have."

Rav Moshe Shapiro: Anyone with the slightest grasp of Chazal will realize that they were not speaking about the physical biology of bats. In the world of pnimiyus, the bat actually does lay eggs.

Rav Yisroel Belsky: "The sages of the Talmud were far advanced in all facets of wisdom and correct in every field of knowledge. They spoke only the truth and were the repository of all wisdom. So-called contradictions between Torah and science never present any problem, because there are none that cannot be resolved with ease; every seeming contradiction can be shown to be of no consequence to a seasoned mind." (He did not respond to my question as to how this actually works out in practice.)

Rabbi Moshe Meiselman: (No answer given yet - my prediction is that his forthcoming book The Torah Of Science will not address it).

Rabbi Avi Shafran: "I think there’s a level on which it’s true."

Dr. Isaac Betech: B"H Please tell me what exactly why you believe the Talmud to be problematic. Then let us discuss the protocol for an intellectual, multimedia, respectful, protocolized, neutral, public debate on the matter.

Note - In the comments below, Dr. Betech requested that I repeat that this is not a verbatim quote from him on this matter, but rather it is my own extrapolation based on what he has written in similar cases. I then invited him to present his own view on this topic. As you can see in the comments, he responded as follows:
"I am still willing to discuss in an intellectual, multimedia (sources on screen), respectful, protocolized, neutral, public forum with NS or the representative (Jewish or not) he will choose, on any scientific issue relevant to his 5 controversial books, i.e.
1. Creation of the universe (Big Bang Cosmology).
2. Chemical evolution (increasingly complex elements, molecules and compounds developed from the simpler chemical elements that were created in the Big Bang).
3. The age of the universe.
4. Biological evolution (of the species).
5. “Dr. Betech's own model of recent special creation” (as NS named it).
6. The accuracy of science-related statements made by Chaza”l.
7. After the debate on the scientific issues will be concluded, I am also ready to debate the validity of the theological sources presented by NS on these issues."
So I think that my assessment of what he would answer was pretty good!

Personally, I favor Rav Hirsch's approach, which is very well-founded in Chazal, the Geonim, the Rishonim, and the Acharonim, and which I consider to be the only reasonable explanation. Rav Hirsch also actually gives an approach that can be applied, instead of merely offering platitudes, posturing, and hand-waving. Maybe the others secretly agree with Rav Hirsch, but cannot publicly say so, due to the harm that they believe it could cause to them or to their communities; who knows?

132 comments:

  1. Maybe the others secretly agree with Rav Hirsch, but cannot publicly say so, due to the harm that they believe it could cause to them or to their communities

    Do you really believe that?

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  2. No, not really. But I thought that I should mention it as a possibility, and I'm certain that it's true for some people who espouse those approaches.

    I would also add that I suspect that while the people in this list all believe that they believe that Chazal were correct, deep down some of them don't believe that Chazal were correct. Which is probably the cause of a lot of their hostility towards me.

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  3. there would still be a problem in that the Talmud describes it as nursing its young, which no bird does.

    Weeeeeellllll, yes and no. Pigeons, doves, flamingoes and maybe a couple others feed their young crop milk. It comes from the crop (obviously) and is thicker than mammal milk, but it might be close enough.

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  4. I was wondering if someone would bring that up! OK, even if you want to rate that as lactating (which I really think is not pshat in the word), none of those are the atalef. And if you want to posit that there is some other bird which is the atalef and produces crop milk, you run into the problem that if Chazal knew about all these birds doing this and considered it to qualify, then they would not have been able to say "everything that lays eggs, gathers food for its young, except for the atalef" since there are also pigeons, doves, etc.

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  5. I think they can be mad at you without doubting that their position is true.

    It is a very popular pop psychological view that people only get mad at other people if deep down they think the other person is right. I can think of many examples where that isn't even remotedly true. I don't think it's true in this instance either.

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  6. Of course you can be mad at someone without at all secretly believing that they are right. But if you do secretly believe that they are right, and refuse to admit it to yourself, it will often make you more mad at them.

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  7. This started off as a thought-provoking post and then veered off into mocking your oponents. I undrestand that you were mistreated by them, but it seems to me, that taking the high road, and resisting gratuitous digs is the appropriate thing to do. Not only from an intellectual standpoint, but even from the standpoint of how you present yourself to the public.

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  8. "Rav Hirsch also actually gives an approach that can be applied, instead of merely offering platitudes,"

    The duck-billed platitude? (Sorry.)

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  9. > I would also add that I suspect that while the people in this list all believe that they believe that Chazal were correct, deep down some of them don't believe that Chazal were correct.

    Or they believe that they SHOULD believe that Chazal were correct – and so are compelled to find ways to convince themselves that Chazal were correct.

    Speculating about other people’s true beliefs is dangerous though. Most people tend to think that everyone, deep down, really believes as they do, while in reality, most people, deep down, really believe what they say they believe.

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  10. This started off as a thought-provoking post and then veered off into mocking your opponents.

    And yet I was basically just quoting their own words (as you can confirm by checking the links). If that makes them look bad, then it is their fault, not mine.

    (Overall, I think that I've been pretty good at taking the high road, if I do say so myself.)

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  11. "And yet I was basically just quoting their own words (as you can confirm by checking the links). If that makes them look bad, then it is their fault, not mine."

    Basically? None of them commented on this topic. Are you really claimning that there was not a mocking tone?

    The truth is that I am getting at a bigger point. Your ideas are getting more and more exposure. Take for example the erecent appearance of your words on VIN. To me this suggests that there is a growing openess to the type of ideas you are raising. As long as you stay on topic, your message will continue to resonate and you will be one of those to whom people with questions turn. To the degree that you come across as angry, vindictive and sarcastic, you make it harder for people to turn to you.

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  12. There was no "tone," since the words were theirs, not mine. There was a POINT. They have a certain approach, which they allege is applicable for ALL such cases. But when one actually encounters such cases, their claims are seen to be empty and worthless.

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  13. But your latter point is absolutely correct and I will try to keep it in mind!

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  14. "And yet I was basically just quoting their own words (as you can confirm by checking the links)."

    Huh? Where is this quote from? Rav Moshe Shapiro: Anyone with the slightest grasp of Chazal will realize that they were not speaking about the physical biology of bats. In the world of pnimiyus, the bat actually does lay eggs, and anyone with the slightest sensitivity to pnimiyus will understand what that means.

    The link just links back to your own blog post...and says nothing of the sort!

    And where is Betach's quote from?

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  15. I do not think it is appropriate to actually put words in peoples' mouths.

    "R. Meiselman..." is an implied insult. If he did insult you, I don't suggest insulting him back.

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  16. 1. That entire sugya (in Bechoros)is replete with problems. On the same page the Gemara posits gestation periods for animals which we know to be wrong. I think you once even wrote about this, concerning the snake, although that is not the only animal discussed there. Also in that Gemara is the bnei yama [which I commented about here recently] defined by Rashi, at least, as "mermaids". So, the bat thing is only one out of many problems there.

    2. Of course RSRH is right. It's not only that they were fallible human beings, which is obvious. Its also that, as R. Shaul Lieberman points out, if chazal didnt accept the science of their time, they would have been viewed as ignorant, or as he puts it, barbarians.

    As a historical truth, there were degrees of knowledge among the talmudic rabbis, just like today. Some were educated, or exposed to Greek/Roman (and to a lesser extent, Persian) thought, and some were not. Basically nothing has changed.

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  17. Huh? Where is this quote from? Rav Moshe Shapiro:

    His mehalech is that Chazal were always talking about pnimiyus. I phrased it using his favored choice of words, with which I am very familiar, having attended his shiurim for many years.

    And where is Betach's quote from?

    It's exactly how he responds to these sorts of questions. Ask R. Josh Waxman.

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  18. "R. Meiselman..." is an implied insult.

    The point there is that I don't know what he says, and I suspect that in his forthcoming book "The Torah Of Science" he won't say anything useful at all. If I turn out to be wrong, I will gladly publicly apologize.

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  19. Unfortunately, the answers given in responses 2-8 (ie all of them with the exception of Rav Hirsch) is what drives many people away from Judaism. Judaism has gone from a thinking intelligent religion to one of idol worship (ie rabbi worship) and virtual brain death when it comes to dealing with actual issues. When no Rabbi is willing to deal with the issues and simply lies and tells falsehoods (all while evading giving any answer to the issue at hand) - what else should a thinking person do but leave the fold?

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  20. "His mehalech is that Chazal were always talking about pnimiyus. I phrased it using his favored choice of words, with which I am very familiar, having attended his shiurim for many years."

    No, you phrased it as a mockery. You are putting words and non-answers into people's mouths as if they are quotes. You seem to hate being misquoted by others, but seem to have no problem creating fake quotes here.

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  21. I am not pretending that non-quotes are quotes. I specifically wrote that only in some cases I am quoting directly, and in other cases I am extrapolating. Rav Moshe Shapiro has made his approach very clear; I do not believe that I am misrepresenting him. I think that if someone were to challenge him on the bat question, he would very likely say exactly what I said he would say.

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  22. Just to add on to what has already been said: You're explaining how these are just the opinions of these other people and so there is no inherent tone--it's merely their own words. However, given the fact that your audience is familiar with your opinions and issues you've had with alternate interpretations to protect what they perceive as the Kavod of Chazal, everyone automatically interpreted them to have a mocking tone, whether it was intended or not. I think it's completely acceptable for you to defend yourself when explicit or implicit shots are taken at you, but seeing as you are very widely read and respected by your audience, I think you need to be careful in this regard.

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  23. "Rav Moshe Shapiro has made his approach very clear; I do not believe that I am misrepresenting him. I think that if someone were to challenge him on the bat question, he would very likely say exactly what I said he would say."


    The only thing you are making clear is that you have no problem mocking other people with forced non-statements that they never made.

    I have a hard time believing that you would claim that someone is bright when said person never gives an explanation for what one of the 70 faces might be.

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  24. You don't actually know Rav Moshe Shapiro very well (or even at all), correct?

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  25. >>>> - what else should a thinking person do but leave the fold?

    not necessarily, some of us love yiddishkeit, so we simply ignore the "idiots" and go about our own derech.

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  26. "Rav Yisroel Belsky: ...The answer to the question about the bat is"

    WHAT???

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  27. That's the whole point. He made a grand, sweeping statement about how all conflicts can be resolved with ease, but did not reply to my question about specifics.

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  28. Did the people criticizing R. Slifkin actually link to the quotes he provides?

    Lawrence Kaplan

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  29. Re R. Belsky, is this on a tape or published somewhere(I've only seen his discussion in Einie Yisroel, Bereshis)?

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  30. It's on the web somewhere, I think.

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  31. R' Slifkin (or anyone who is in the know on this):

    Regarding those shittah's above, which seem to imply Chazal's infallability, how would such individuals respond to the following observations:

    The mesechta of Horayos explicitly deals with the proper procedures following errors committed by the Great Sanhedrin. If Chazal were immune to error, how is it possible to even discuss such halachos? Even according to the view that the gemara is the "real" emes, and what we see with our eyes is sheker, the "real emes" in this case would testify to the possibility that Chazal could err. Truthfully, if this is the case with a davar halachah--their primary area of expertise (that they could err)--it follows kal vachomer that we would expect them to be able to err at times in areas that were not their primary focus of study.

    As far as I'm concerned the issue is proven conclusively in favor of R' Hirsh's view by any reasonable standard of proof. It is a shame that we should have to belabor these issues--it's only due to a certain cultural inertia, backed by very prominent personalities, that this should be such a major area of contention in contemporary orthodoxy.

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  32. mismetyLet me state clearly, I am not writing as someone who rejects your type of approach, but rather as someone who accepts it. Even if I take you at your (written) word that no slight was intended, I, as well as other readers took it as such. This is not the first time that I have felt that you are being glib. While I certainly understand the resentment you feel towards the many rabbis and their followers, who mistreated you, it looks bad for YOU, when you respond in this manner. When you allow the facts to speak for themselves, you come across as thought out and intelligent. When you respond with (perceived?)sarcasm and mocking, you look petty. Being that you are, for many people, the Orthodox face of this approach, I prefer for you to come across in the former way, rather than the latter. I would hope you have the same goal.

    As such, Professor Kaplan, even if was not familar with the original sources, I would still be able to note a mocking tone. It happens howevr that as a frequent vistor to this site, I am familiar with those sources.

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  33. "That's the whole point. He made a grand, sweeping statement about how all conflicts can be resolved with ease, but did not reply to my question about specifics."

    But did he actually stop mid-sentence like that, like he was about to explain the bat specifically and decided, "M'eh, I've said enough"?

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  34. Rabbi Slifkin,
    Why can't we combine R' Hirsch and R' Shapiro, and say that Chazzal wrote with many levels of meaning. One level was the science of the time -- about which they were "wrong". But another level is that they used the science of the time to convey eternal spiritual truths. Such that even if the mashal is "wrong", the nimshal is still valid. Or is this basically what R' Hirsch would say?

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  35. I have to agree with offthederech.
    Crucial to judaism is mesorah. Mesorah relies on passing on reliable information from one generation to the next. If it is not reliable, it has little use.

    IMO, one thing that can make the information not reliable is to find Rabbis that are intellectually dishonest. If we find dishonesty in one area, how do we know it is not present in other areas? This puts a great level of responsibility on Rabbanim.

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  36. Natan,

    I encourage you to take very seriously the comments on this blog. Even those sympathetic to your views see you taking the low road.

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  37. For all those critizing Rabbi Slifkin regarding the "tone" of his post, what do you suggest he do? His detractors had no problem lambasting him when they disagreed with his approach. In fact, they labeled him a heretic. There can never be an honest debate if we have to tip toe around Rabbis who bully descent and step out of the discussion by reciting "Chazal are always right, Chazal are always right," like a mantra. This blog assures me that Orthodox Judaism still has a brain.

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  38. Rabbi,
    I know this is slightly a tangent.

    But who does the platypus (I didn't want to venture pluralizing that noun) lay eggs? What is it related to (either now or in the evolutionary past) that also lays eggs? Wikipedia wasn't too clear. Did the egg-laying re-evolve from a previously non-egg-laying mammal, or is it a holdover from some earlier form?

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  39. B"H
    Dear Natan
    Please specify in the main post, close to my name and supposed quote, that I did not write those words.
    Thanks

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  40. "I have to agree with offthederech.
    Crucial to judaism is mesorah. Mesorah relies on passing on reliable information from one generation to the next. If it is not reliable, it has little use."

    I am not in agreement with this elie. It seems to me that most bodies of knowledge (perhaps excluding mathematics, and aspects of philosophy), ultimately, require some degree of faith in the integrity of others to pass on information correctly and honestly. Since the tendency towards dishonesty can be found at all levels of society, applying your thinking, we would have no basis to trust any system of thought at all. I don't think that 100% honesty is required amongst proponents of a system of thought to permit us to believe that the system is in fact valid.

    Of course rampant dishonesty will leave in its wake skepticism, anger, and confusion. This is no small problem, and it's understandable if some people feel as if they're burning out. Unfortunately for men like R' Feldman, and R'Shapiro, but fortunately for us, men of equal and greater stature as them have already expressed views diametrically opposed to theirs. I think a close reading of the Gemara also calls their views into question. They may not feel this is so, but fidelity to truth places the ball in THEIR court to prove that what they are saying is true, rather than enforcing the power of dogma to overturn established (and more reasonable) opinions to the contrary.

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  41. To Michael:

    We do not seem to be in disagreement.
    "I don't think that 100% honesty is required amongst proponents of a system of thought to permit us to believe that the system is in fact valid."

    I never said 100% honesty is required,after all, we are humans. But like you say, when there is rampant dishonesty....

    Also, picture yourself growing up in an UO environment where RSRH's views are seen as unacceptable, and bordering on kefirah, how could that not lead to problems for certain people?

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  42. offthederech:

    Even if one were to concede your point that all rabbis are liars, incapable of telling the truth, why should it logically follow to no longer be frum?

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  43. Shlomo,
    Because being a Torah Jew involves having a mentor, a teacher. Ramchal teaches that it is impossible to exit the maze of obstacles without rabbinical guides. So, in the absence of honest guides it is natural to go off the derech.

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  44. When did Rav Hirsch's position become asur?

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  45. you run into the problem that if Chazal knew about all these birds doing this and considered it to qualify, then they would not have been able to say

    Fair enough. Translating "penguin" or "flamingo" as bat is stretching things a bit.

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  46. "I encourage you to take very seriously the comments on this blog. Even those sympathetic to your views see you taking the low road."

    I dont think that at all. To the contrary, if anything Rabbi Slifkin is being overly genteel to the other side. Tell me: would you ever tell any of the rabbis named here that they are taking the low road?

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  47. R. Natan - while I sympathize with your tone here, I am also in agreement with those who think this sort of thing may not be advisable. Firstly, this stuff is really old hat already. I don't think any of your 'followers' are any more or less convinced of the merits of your position, which to me are self-evident, by quoting your opponents' words back at them.

    Secondly, and even more importantly, as your recent article on post-charedim illustrated, you are coming to be seen as almost the leading exponent of rationalist orthodoxy, which is so vitally necessary in our day. Would it not be best to devote all your efforts to further expounding on and developing this strain of tradition, instead of still focusing on those who attack you, or (in the case of Rav Uren Reich) did so seven years ago, and haven't really been involved since?

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  48. Let us be like the nations and proclaim man can achieve new heights. We can now be deities. To state, Chazal were all knowing and infallible in all areas (even in hallacha) in any form or fashion is heresy. That is kefira.


    And if they argue the bat has changed that drastic, then they admit to mutations for the survival of species (evolution).

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  49. Why can't we combine R' Hirsch and R' Shapiro, and say that Chazzal wrote with many levels of meaning. One level was the science of the time -- about which they were "wrong". But another level is that they used the science of the time to convey eternal spiritual truths. Such that even if the mashal is "wrong", the nimshal is still valid. Or is this basically what R' Hirsch would say?

    That is not what R' Hirsch, or any of the numerous Rishonim and Acharonim to take this approach, would say. There are no "eternal spiritual truths" in the statement about bats, or about dirt-mice, or about the sun passing behind the sky at night.

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  50. B"H
    Dear Natan
    Please specify in the main post, close to my name and supposed quote, that I did not write those words.
    Thanks


    Sure thing! While you're here, would you care to tell us how you explain this Gemara? After all, you've campaigned extensively to convince people that I have the wrong approach to these issues and you have the right approach, so can you enlighten us on this one?

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  51. Here's one link for Dr. Betech:
    http://www.rationalistjudaism.com/2010/09/case-of-dr-isaac-betech.html

    Dr. Betech, You'll have to read through your letters in the comments section. You'll recognize the paraphrasing of R. Slifkin.

    Gary Goldwater

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  52. B”H
    Dear Natan.
    Thank you for the clarifying note appended to the main post, and thank you for your invitation.

    I am still willing to discuss in an intellectual, multimedia (sources on screen), respectful, protocolized, neutral, public forum with NS or the representative (Jewish or not) he will choose, on any scientific issue relevant to his 5 controversial books, i.e.
    1. Creation of the universe (Big Bang Cosmology).
    2. Chemical evolution (increasingly complex elements, molecules and compounds developed from the simpler chemical elements that were created in the Big Bang).
    3. The age of the universe.
    4. Biological evolution (of the species).
    5. “Dr. Betech's own model of recent special creation” (as NS named it).
    6. The accuracy of science-related statements made by Chaza”l.
    7. After the debate on the scientific issues will be concluded, I am also ready to debate the validity of the theological sources presented by NS on these issues.

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  53. Too funny! I will add this to the post, too.

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  54. Seems like some here want Rabbi Slifkin to act like some kind of super-saint, never calling out his detractors. I, for one, happen to disagree with them.

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  55. R. Slifkin, you missed out Dovid Orlofsky's response to the question about Chazal's accuracy regarding bats:

    2004: "They were wrong!"
    2005: "They were right! And anyone who says otherwise should go crying to the Gedolim and ask how to do teshuvah!"

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  56. "Because being a Torah Jew involves having a mentor, a teacher. Ramchal teaches that it is impossible to exit the maze of obstacles without rabbinical guides. So, in the absence of honest guides it is natural to go off the derech."

    Ironic. Who was the Ramchal's mentor? Aside for the angels, I mean.

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  57. "That is not what R' Hirsch, or any of the numerous Rishonim and Acharonim to take this approach, would say. There are no "eternal spiritual truths" in the statement about bats, or about dirt-mice, or about the sun passing behind the sky at night."

    The Rambam, in his introduction to Perek Chelek of Sanhedrin, gives his famous "3 categories of people who approach aggadah" perspective, in which he strongly favored looking for hidden (not necessarily mystical) meaning in the aggadah, rather than accepting things at face value. (I know that you are aware of this source, but I don't know if you are including the Rambam in your list of Rishonim in that response).

    Presumably the Rambam also did not accept the premise that the Chazal were immune to error in their statements about the natural world, as his son famously opined regarding his own views. I suspect he would adopt the "combined" approach of looking for hidden meaning whenever reasonable, and acknowledging scientific error, when we are left with no reasonable alternative explanation (i.e. halachic pronouncements grounded in scientific error).

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  58. Back to the quote from the Gemorrah are there not some toads (anuran) that bear live young but do not nurse them is this also an issue

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  59. Ari,

    You might like to read here:

    http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=whats-our-connection-to-t

    and here:

    http://www.scientificamerican.com/podcast/episode.cfm?id=E2BABE07-9B75-ED68-0E4E63EB611AFC11

    The essence is that they have a garbled set of sex chromosomes, more avian like than mammalian like, which accounts for their unique egg laying characterisitic. Scientist have interpreted this to indication that the evolution of mamalian sex genes is about 145million years ago.

    http://genome.cshlp.org/content/18/6/965.full

    "Rather, the platypus X chromosomes have substantial homology with the bird Z chromosome (including DMRT1) and to segments syntenic with this region in the human genome. Thus, platypus sex chromosomes have strong homology with bird, but not to therian sex chromosomes, implying that the therian X and Y chromosomes (and the SRY gene) evolved from an autosomal pair after the divergence of monotremes only 166 million years ago. Therefore, the therian X and Y are more than 145 million years younger than previously thought. "

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  60. Rabbi Slifkin,

    Where do you address the question of, "If we have a better understanding of science today, why do halachot that were based on science not change with it?"

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  61. I really don't understand the problem. Isn't it possible that the atalef is extinct? There are certainly many creatures which have become extinct in the last couple of millenia; why can't the atalef be among them? Isn't this a very simple and feasible way of resolving the question?

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  62. RN,

    I hope you're not expecting R' Dovid Kornreich to go to 'bat' for you on this one; if anything, he'll probably go 'batty' :-)

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  63. excellent post. Besides putting a smile on my post-haredi face, it was informative in the sense of da mah shatashiv l'apikoros.

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  64. "For all those critizing Rabbi Slifkin regarding the "tone" of his post, what do you suggest he do? His detractors had no problem lambasting him when they disagreed with his approach. In fact, they labeled him a heretic."

    What do I suggest? I suggest that he refuse to sink to the level of his detractors. In American politics there is an idea that the candidate who is leading in the polls, should act presidential. Let those who are losing throw mud. Guess what R' Natan? YOU ARE WINNING.

    "Tell me: would you ever tell any of the rabbis named here that they are taking the low road?"

    Yes of course I would. They were completely out of line and people realize. If Natan sticks to intellectual arguments, his opponents come across as bullies who won't have a fair fight. If he responds in kind, he sullies himself and stops the debate from being about ideas.

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  65. Dr. Betech,

    The "Dan lekaf zechus" side of me desperately wants to believe that there is more to you than is presented here on this site. Yet, it becomes harder and harder to take you seriously. Can you please do us all a favor and just share with us the idea of how you would deal with the problem in this post? Without this, it will become clear to many of us that your approach is one of smoke and mirrors.

    ReplyDelete
  66. one of the best posts R. Slifkin has ever written. Brilliant

    ReplyDelete
  67. > "An egg-laying bat would be completely contradictory to the neat nested hierarchy of the animal kingdom "

    I've noticed that you mention the importance of nested hierarchies half a dozen times over the years on your blog. However, I'm not so sure if you should. I have two reasons.

    1. Even flaming creationists acknowledge a nested hierarchy picture of classification without the necessity for common ancestry. Also, it is possible that Common Descent can live with or without nested hierarchies. (This is the less important of my two reasons.)

    2. They might not be so "neat". Any proposed nested hierarchy has enough hiccups to warrant eschewing the word "neat" to describe them. The July 20th 2000 issue of Nature,
    in a news feature entitled "Bones, Molecules…or Both?", says the following:

    "there are many cases where the two lines of evidence (similar physical characteristics & DNA commonality.)
    do not nest but lead to greatly different evolutionary
    trees instead. Mark Collard from George Washington University indicated
    that no matter how many ways computerized comparisons
    between the molecular data and the morphological data
    were run the data could not be made to match and the
    trees generated by each line of evidence were different.
    In fact he directly states that the morphological trees
    for higher primates are "positively misleading."

    See also: http://www.biology-direct.com/content/4/1/34 "Prokaryotic evolution and the tree of life are two different things"

    Speaking about platypi: The chromosomal sex determination in the platypus is discovered to be a combination of mammal and bird systems. The resemblance to birds is now more than just superficial. It almost sounds "chimera-cal."
    The details can be found here:
    http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn6568

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  68. Let me state a fact. Multiple commenters have clearly indicated that they considered your words to be sarcastic jibes at respected rabbonim (some supported them and some did not). How can you so glibly shrug them off, fantastically assured that you are COMPLETELY right and there is no added "shemetz" of insult in your words, and we are ALL clueless and ignorant as to their implication? How is it that a crusader for truth, openness, authenticity, and HUMANISM can so utterly disregard all other opinions so as to not even issue one word of apology (e.g. "if i was misunderstood I didn't mean it that way etc.") It continues to astonish that you can remain so infernally convinced that there is no other way of looking at it! Read all your responses regarding that point! Does that spell anything but "STUBBORN"? Even if you ARE right you don't make any concession to the MISTAKEN understanding!

    ReplyDelete
  69. Back to the quote from the Gemorrah are there not some toads (anuran) that bear live young but do not nurse them is this also an issue

    Also some snakes and lizards. But there is an egg sac that breaks just before birth, so perhaps one can wriggle out of it that way.

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  70. Rabbi Slifkin,

    Where do you address the question of, "If we have a better understanding of science today, why do halachot that were based on science not change with it?"


    In the final chapter of Sacred Monsters. Also briefly on this website, e.g. at http://www.rationalistjudaism.com/2011/06/4g.html

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  71. I really don't understand the problem. Isn't it possible that the atalef is extinct? ... Isn't this a very simple and feasible way of resolving the question?

    Not if you have an advanced understanding of zoology. It's almost like positing that there used to be mermaids or griffins.

    ReplyDelete
  72. How can you so glibly shrug them off, fantastically assured that you are COMPLETELY right and there is no added "shemetz" of insult in your words, and we are ALL clueless and ignorant as to their implication?

    It's not that I'm insisting that there is no shemetz of insult. It's that I think that what they see as an insult is in fact an appropriate cutting point.

    ReplyDelete
  73. I have an idea. Maybe those who consider this post to be unacceptably rude could specify exactly which of the eight attributions are, and are not, rude.

    ReplyDelete
  74. Incidentally, someone wrote to me that the rabbonim in question were mevazeh themselves, but I am being mevazeh them simply by drawing attention to it. The question is, is that right or wrong? And even if it is right, is it strategically unwise, or important even if distressing some people? And are those people being distressed by what I wrote (which was virtually nothing), or by the uncomfortable reality of how these rabbonim address (or fail to address) such topics?

    ReplyDelete
  75. Rabbi Slifkin:
    I agree with much of your ideas but your sarcasm turns me (and many others like me) off. It seems, besides an unnecessary display of meanness, that they are also cheap shots. You asked that we delineate which of the eight we find objectionable. Off the top of my head I would say Rabbi Belsky certainly, the fact that he didn't specifically answer your question (not even a proof that he has no answer but more likely that he is far too busy to respond to someone he might consider, shall we say, somewhat "confrontational" to his POV) is no license to intimate that he is so incompetent as to not only be unable to finish an argument he had, but in fact is unable to finish sentences. He is so myopic that he doesn't even realize he is getting himself into trouble by simply beginning his sentence! Rabbi Meiselman's "answer" is also not indicating an "info n/a" but seems to be mocking him like he is irrelevantly buzzing. Rabbi Shafran's saying "on some level it's true" with zero elaboration also undercuts the nuances and substance (however wrong they might be) of his ideas. Rabbi Betech's "protocol...protocolized" is CLEARLY mocking him to the point of making his very sentence structure childish! That is not fair! This is simply not a proper portrayal of him. That is off the top of my head; if I had the time to analyze them all it seems I would have more to say.
    I must reiterate; I agree with much (most/all) of what you say, but this kind of stuff really turns me off!
    P.S. You want to know what you have written that I most agree with? "The truth is that it is very, very difficult to balance respect for others with strong disagreement....it's not easy to respect those with whom one disagrees so strongly. We would do well to learn from Ramban."
    Please answer honestly, does the above post stay true to those principles?

    ReplyDelete
  76. Off the top of my head I would say Rabbi Belsky certainly, the fact that he didn't specifically answer your question... is no license to intimate that he is so incompetent as to not only be unable to finish an argument he had, but in fact is unable to finish sentences.

    Okay, I have modified the post accordingly. But I will say it straight: I do not believe that he is able to finish his argument with regard to bats or any of the other cases that I wrote to him about.

    Rabbi Meiselman's "answer" is also not indicating an "info n/a" but seems to be mocking him like he is irrelevantly buzzing.

    Okay, I have modified it to say that I predict that his forthcoming guide on how to deal with such things will not actually tell us how to deal with this case.

    Rabbi Shafran's saying "on some level it's true" with zero elaboration also undercuts the nuances and substance (however wrong they might be) of his ideas.

    Rejected. People can follow the link if they want to see if there's nuance and substance. I don't think that there is any.

    Rabbi Betech's "protocol... protocolized" is CLEARLY mocking him to the point of making his very sentence structure childish!

    How can you have a protocolized debate without discussing the protocol for it?

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  77. I also modified the citation from Rav Feldman.

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  78. Yochanan:

    My question was why it was logical, not why it was understandable.

    ReplyDelete
  79. Meir says
    So now to gain publicity you have resorted to mocking rabbonim. I must agree with you that none of them would pass for the real thing. So at last you have realised that mermaids also exist in the gemoro. Why not make a post about them to 'mock' chazal further. You are scared to debate any issue except on your own blog where you control the comments making sure you moderate those that you cant answer. You once posted on RHMs blog but after my reply to you are scared to come back again.
    Youre not fooling anyone apart from your own chasidim and yourself. We know you have left the chareidim and are on your way down to h...
    Let us know when you get there.

    ReplyDelete
  80. Not if you have an advanced understanding of zoology. It's almost like positing that there used to be mermaids or griffins.

    Rav Slifkin,

    While the answer to Akiva's question is clearly answered by an a passing understanding of modern biology, your answer to him is unnecessarily snide and condescending. Nothing in his question suggested anything other than a sincere attempt to reconcile the Gmarra with physical reality, using an explanation he thought valid.

    I would suggest an appology is in order.

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  81. Why was it snide? I don't have an advanced understanding of engineering. Why should he have an advanced understanding of zoology?

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  82. Why was it snide?

    Because it was belittling. You assumed a superior tone to diminish him with your superior knowledge. Indeed, far from answering the question you sneered at him and said "your question is unworthy of a good answer."

    Good teachers do not need to make their pupils feel small (inferior) to make them receptive to learning!

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  83. Well, if you can think of a better way to make the same point, I'm all ears. I didn't intend any offense, just to point out that this is a technical question that requires expertise in the field in order to evaluate it.

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  84. Akiva, here is the answer that Rav Slifkin should have given you. (A snide backhand at Rav Slifkin.)

    There are several ways to answer your question.

    1) The philisophical answer: In order to posit that an egg laying flying mammal exist there would first need to be some evidence to suggest its existance. Since in our knowledge of the physical world we have no experience of such a creature, the onus of proof is on those who speculate that such a creature esxist to provide the evidence that it does. It might bw worth mentioning that at the time of the discovery of monotremes, leading Biologist of the day refused to accept their existance untill such a time as definative proof was displayed. Again, this was because the possibility of an egg laying mammal was so far beyond their expectations proof neede to be provided.

    2) There is an absence of archological evidence to support the notion of an egg laying flying mammal. Archeology has found bones of homonids that are tens to hundreds of thousand years old. Eggs of dinosaurs have been discovered. It seems extremely unlikely that no fossil evidence would exist for a species of animals described in the Talmud and has since gone extict when there is ample fossil evidence for that which is much older.

    3) Genetic Evidence: Modern molecular biology gives us some idea of what an egg laying mammals genes would look like. No such gnetic evidence esit.

    Akiva, in the absence of any physical evidence to support the exist of a flying montreme the onus is on people who postulate their existance to provide the evidence to challenge the assumption that they do not exist. There is simply no evidence in the fossil record for such creatures.

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  85. I do not agree with your answer

    You do not have to agree with my answer. At least I gave one, without being condescending to my audience.

    However, if you have issues with my answer, please provide your own.

    (Also feel free to corect mine.)

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  86. I admire R. Slifkin for modifying his post response to criticism. I do wish,however, he would explain why he disagrees with Yossi's answer.

    Lawrence Kaplan

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  87. Absence of evidence is not, in the case of an alleged aberrant species such as this, evidence of absence. Especially since bats don't fossilize very well. Besides, how would fossils show whether an animal is egg-laying or not?

    The reason why zoologists can be sure that no such animal existed is that it is so radically different from everything that we know today. Extraordinary claims need extraordinary proofs.

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  88. I totally agree that "Extraordinary claims need extraordinary proofs." But I don't think that I actually made any real claim. I'm only suggesting a *possibility*.

    As a possibility, it does not need any proof, and it does not even need any evidence. It only needs to be *possible*, and I'm not aware of any proofs -- or even any evidence, or even any arguments -- that it is not possible for the atalef to have been a flying creature which laid eggs, nursed its young, and is now extinct.

    I concede that no physical evidence of such a creature has been found -- YET. But I'm surprised that a Torah person would conclude that such evidence will never be found in the future. I concede that finding such evidence is unlikely, but how does that lead one to be *sure* that this would continue in the future?

    Scientists should take a lesson from the discovery of the monotremes, that there are many oddities in nature still waiting to be discovered. And Torah people should take a lesson from our return to Eretz Yisrael after so many centuries, that things can change and do change.

    I must stress that I am only suggesting the extinction of the egg-bearing atalef to be a possibility. An alternative possibility is that the atalef is the same as today's bat, and Chazal were mistaken about it laying eggs. I could say which seems more likely to be correct, but I don't know any value in such a statement. Are there any halachos which would be affected by this question? I know that there are other issues where science and Chazal appear to conflict, and the conflict affects practical halacha one way or another, but I'm not aware of any such ramification regarding this question. So what is there to be lost by accepting the *possibility* that someday the archaeologists may find the fossil of a flying, egg-laying, nursing atalef?

    (By the way, I want to thank Rabbi Slifkin for the changes he made since yesterday. Today's version of Rav Feldman's views, for example, is vastly improved.)

    ReplyDelete
  89. "Natan Slifkin said...

    Absence of evidence is not, in the case of an alleged aberrant species such as this, evidence of absence. Especially since bats don't fossilize very well. Besides, how would fossils show whether an animal is egg-laying or not?

    The reason why zoologists can be sure that no such animal existed is that it is so radically different from everything that we know today. Extraordinary claims need extraordinary proofs."

    Extraordinary claims don't need extraordinary proof. We would want to exclude more prosaic ones but how extraordinary a proof do you need? If you have a film of a bat species laying eggs that's not an extraordinary proof. If we feel it really is violating some law of nature then we can say it never happened. What you seem to
    be describing is not a law of nature being violated. Suppose there were dead links in the history of species Evolution? We can certainly say that if one is insistent that on the most metzius level bats lay eggs then they certainly are wrong for any bats in the historical records of man.

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  90. Lot of things are *possible*. It's possible that UFO abductions are rampant. It's possible that I am an alien in human form. It's possible that there are invisible gremlins in your basement. It's possible that God is out to trick us and He really wants us to suffer. The question is not whether something is possible, but whether it is remotely reasonable. And an egg-laying bat is not. It is vastly, vastly more unlikely than a platypus.

    So what is there to be lost by accepting the *possibility* that someday the archaeologists may find the fossil of a flying, egg-laying, nursing atalef?

    What is to be lost by accepting the possibility that there are invisible gremlins in the basement?
    Intellectual integrity. I know that it's astounding unlikely, so I'm not going to leave it as a reasonable possibility.

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  91. By the way, I discussed at greater length the reasons for not believing in egg-laying bats in this post:

    http://www.rationalistjudaism.com/2010/05/does-this-fabulous-beast-exist.html

    and in the comments to this post:

    http://www.rationalistjudaism.com/2010/05/letter-to-rav-belsky.html

    ReplyDelete
  92. akiva, here's a good answer to your proposed *possiblity*:

    http://dovbear.blogspot.com/2011/11/search-for-more-information-about-at_14.html

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  93. "You don't actually know Rav Moshe Shapiro very well (or even at all), correct?"

    Correct. I only know of him what you have written on your blog. (and now, a bit of what google has to say as well)

    And thank you for changing your post and making the responses less of a mockery.

    ReplyDelete
  94. Lex Luthor, Ruler of AustraliaNovember 16, 2011 at 8:59 PM

    I discovered an invisible gremlin making noise in my basement last Thursday.

    ReplyDelete
  95. Y.D. has it right, you were being mean and I don't know why all those who saw the fact that you changed didn't realize it was only because Y.D. basically forced you to. Also, you haven't responded of my question that I emailed to you, why are drawing any conclusions about Rav Belsky that I shouldn't about you?! I emailed you questions regarding disproving your "many" authorities who hold Chazal could be wrong, and about bees honey and it has been almost four months without a reply. Does that mean you have no answer, and wish to rescind your bees honey post?

    ReplyDelete
  96. What email was that? I don't see it in my inbox, and I virtually never remove an email without replying.

    ReplyDelete
  97. "Rabbi Betech's "protocol... protocolized" is CLEARLY mocking him to the point of making his very sentence structure childish!

    How can you have a protocolized debate without discussing the protocol for it?"

    My point was that it is a sophomoric redundancy not indigenous to his actual writing. Thanks for (mostly) acquiescing.

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  98. Especially since bats don't fossilize very well. Besides, how would fossils show whether an animal is egg-laying or not?

    Rav slifkin I have several answers to this.

    1) Given we are postulating that the animal the flys, lays eggs and nurses its young exosted at the time of the Talmud, it is bones rather than fossils we are looking for. I see no particular reason not to believe that there would be bones that have survived 3 millneia.

    2) DNA can be extracted from either bone or fossils. We know from montremes that we would predict a micture of avian like sex genes and mammalian genes, as was observed in platypus.

    3) Dinosaur eggs have been dicovered. Again given how ancient the eggs of Dinosaurs are, we would expect to be able to find some evidence of eggs from a species that has gone extinct more recently. Especially if we were specifically looking for therm.

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  99. As a possibility, it does not need any proof, and it does not even need any evidence.

    Again this is a phlisophical question. Philosophy of science would argue that in order to postulate a hypothesis the hypothesis needs to explain some material phenomina. In the absence of any evidence suggesting the existance of a flying monotreme or egg laying bat there is no reason to hypothesise one

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  100. Akiva,

    But I'm surprised that a Torah person would conclude that such evidence will never be found in the future.

    The reasons for this are:

    a) Since no evidence exist to suppor the hypothesis, the hypothesis provides no explanatory value.

    b) the simpler explanation for the Talmud, based on all the material/physical evidence available to us today is that the Rabbis used a logic (Flying animals lay eggs, bats fly, therefor Bats lay eggs) rather than direct observation to draw their conclusions on the material/physical world. The simplest explanation, that accounts for the most of the physcial data is always the prefered explanation.

    ReplyDelete
  101. why should you or Rabbi Belsky be beholden to every persistent questioner?

    ReplyDelete
  102. I applaud your use of the phrases "the simplest explanation" and "the preferred explanation", because they allow for the possibility of change, that with additional evidence in the future, a different explanation might become the simplest and the preferred.

    Hmmm... Looking back at the blog, I see that in the final paragraph, Rabbi Slifkin wrote, "Personally, I favor Rav Hirsch's approach, ... which I consider to be the only reasonable explanation." This too, is a moderate approach, merely expressing an opinion without claiming that others are definitively wrong. Yasher koach.

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  103. I have previously wrote in the comments to this blog that i personally heard from Rav Belsky, essentially Rav Hirsch's approach.
    I don't necessarily doubt that he said what you quote, but knowing him, I can say with virtual certainty, that he agrees with Rav Hirsh.
    I guess sometimes extrapolation leads to false results.

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  104. I am a casual reader of this blog, and relatively neutral on most topics discussed. Regarding this blog post, I don't understand why many have found it to be disrespectful and mean spirited. Rabbi Slifkin is simply quoting the opinions of the various rabbis (or what they honestly would have said). Persoanally I have found the presentation to be very helpful to understanding the various viewpoints.

    ReplyDelete
  105. "It is likewise not reasonable to address this conflict by arguing that the Talmud is speaking metaphorically. The statement about bats is not aggadata (homiletic discourses), but rather part of a discussion about the natural world. No commentator has ever suggested that it is not meant as a factual statement."

    Rabbi Slifkin, I basically agree with your approach. Having said that, I believe that the statement about bats is aggadata. (At the same time, being aggadata doesn’t automatically mean it is not meant as a factual statement.) – for 2 reasons:

    1- The famous words of R Shmuel haNagid’s definition of aggadata (where he says that aggadata isn’t from Sinai, we rely only on what is עולה על הדעת) include the following words:

    הגדה היא כל פי' שיבא בתלמוד על שום ענין שלא יהי' מצוה זו היא אגדה

    This seems to say that the Talmud has only 2 parts, mitzvah=halacha (and everything subsumed by that – questions, answers, proofs, etc.) and aggadata. Since the statement about bat eggs is irrelevant (I think) to halacha, they are part of aggadata.

    1b- R Shmuel haNagid lists the various components of the Talmud but has no special entry for ‘statements about the natural world’. Such statements fall into 1 of his other components, presumably aggadata.

    2- Shmuel’s statement about the natural world that נהרא מכיפי' מבריך is categorized by הר"ן במס' שבת דף כט: ד"ה אבל הר"ח והרב אלפסי as aggadata.
    [וע"ש שצ"ע]

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  106. Reject- the word "Aggadata" is used with two different meanings. One is "all non-halachic material", as in the sources that you quoted. The other is "homilies, legends, etc." which is how I was using the term.

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  107. Let's not kid ourselves here. Rav Belsky does not have some secret solution to this problem that nobody else has ever thought of. He either believes, as Yosef said, that Chazal were mistaken - in which case he was making false claims in the letter quoted in the post - or he has an answer which is inconsistent with our knowledge of zoology (e.g. that they are extinct) or otherwise irrational.

    ReplyDelete
  108. "Natan Slifkin said...

    Too funny!"

    No. You disagree with the Maharal MiPrague on the issue of reconciliation of science and Torah. Is his opinion funny? No. So you just sound negative. As a more generous person towards others you aroused a lot of sympathy and was stronger not weaker. Here nice guys finish first.

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  109. What was funny was that Betech objected to my assessment of how he would respond - but then when he actually responded, he said the same thing!

    ReplyDelete
  110. What you say makes sense. As a matter of fact, I think the Ran in my #2 uses the word Agadah, not Aggadata as I thought.

    Still, what would be the source to limit allegory to Aggadata as opposed to Agada?

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  111. It all depends on context. In some cases, the context indicates that Chazal are speaking literally.

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  112. B"H
    Dear Natan
    If you think that I "said the same thing!" would you like to read again the two statements?

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  113. Dr. Betech,

    I read the two statements. They are identical in meaning and mostly identical in wording.

    Why would anybody in the world have a debate with you if you can't even admit to something that you wrote just previously? There is absolutely no point.
    ---------
    R. Slifkin hypothesizes: "Dr. Isaac Betech: B"H Please tell me what exactly why you believe the Talmud to be problematic. Then let us discuss the protocol for an intellectual, multimedia, respectful, protocolized, neutral, public debate on the matter. "

    Dr. Betech actually writes: "I am still willing to discuss in an intellectual, multimedia (sources on screen), respectful, protocolized, neutral, public forum with NS or the representative (Jewish or not) he will choose, on any scientific issue relevant to his 5 controversial books"
    ---------
    I would suggest that if you want to be taken at all seriously, you publish your revolutionary works in some mainstream, peer reviewed, biology journal.

    For those readers who want to read about the kind of person Dr. Betech is and his real agenda....I suggest this well written link:

    http://www.zootorah.com/controversy/BetechAffair.pdf

    Gary Goldwater

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  114. I actually thought this post was helpful to have all of the claims in one place.
    I had no issue with the tone.

    JK

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  115. I would suggest that if you want to be taken at all seriously, you publish your revolutionary works in some mainstream, peer reviewed, biology journal.

    That is a tired suggestion. We all know that those journals are run by a bunch of atheist hacks that won't evaluate the evidence objectively and honestly.

    Not only that, but Dr. Betech's evidence and arguments cannot be published in any journal, book, or even an online blog. If you want to get the benefit of his teachings and thereby save yourself from hell fire, then you will have to engage him in a multimedia (sources on screen), respectful, protocolized, neutral, public forum.

    Alternatively, perhaps he will provide this presentation as a lecture if you agree to organize 100 intelligent participants to attend.

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  116. B"H
    Dear Gary

    You wrote:
    They are identical in meaning and mostly identical in wording.

    IB:
    Maybe you are interested in reading the two previous posts of Y.D. on this comment threat.
    Thanks

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  117. Yitz Waxman, Your post is an example of the logical fallacy called "special pleading". You make a plea that the standards that apply to others in evaluating scientific subjects will not apply to your point of view.

    Frankly, it sounds real desperate. You think you're saving people from fires of hell? Is that the take home message you got from Dr. Betech's multi-media show? If so, you've had your critical thinking hijacked. Think about it, anyways.

    Dr. Betech,
    You refer to YD whose point revolves around R. Slifkin's use of the term "protocol... protocolized" It seems that what you didn't like was being characterized without flattery. I'm sorry your feelings were hurt. It must have been very painful to see that a man whose works you have tried to suppress does not flatter you the way you would have liked in this small matter. But, I appreciate that he responded to your pain [no joke] and added the text the way you wanted it.

    Will YD be writing to your blog that your informal greeting of "Natan" is not as flattering as "Rabbi Slifkin"? Or, that your perseveration on trying to get R. Slifkin's haskama to promote your multimedia show makes it look, unflatteringly, like he's a big enough sucker to do it?
    Are these forms of your humor really so terrible? I don't think so. They're cute or funny or have a little bite. Why can't you take the return without complaining that the rules of humor that you follow can not be followed by your opponents?

    Sweet dreams,
    Gary Goldwater

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  118. Gary, Yitz Waxman was being sarcastic.

    ReplyDelete
  119. Yeedle,
    This Shabbos I learned about Poe's Law which, according to a wikipedia article, states:

    "Poe's law states:
    Without a winking smiley or other blatant display of humor, it is impossible to create a parody of fundamentalism that someone won't mistake for the real thing.[2]
    The core of Poe's law is that a parody of something is by nature extreme. That makes it impossible to differentiate from sincere extremism.
    A corollary of Poe's law is the reverse phenomenon: legitimate fundamentalist beliefs being mistaken for a parody of that belief.[2]
    A further corollary, the Poe Paradox, results from suspicion of the first corollary. The paradox is that any new person or idea sufficiently extreme to be accepted by the extremist group risks being rejected as a parody or parodist." [from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Poe's_law]

    I learned that a satire along these lines is called "a Poe" in reference to Poe's law.

    Thanks for the lesson.

    Gary Goldwater

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  120. Rabbi Slifkin: On Nov 16 at 6:34 PM you posted, "Lot of things are *possible*. ... The question is not whether something is possible, but whether it is remotely reasonable. And an egg-laying bat is not. It is vastly, vastly more unlikely than a platypus."

    Let me point out that I accept your knowledge of zoology to be far superior to mine, and I understand that this is why an egg-laying bat is vastly less reasonable than a platypus. I also understand that your knowledge of zoology leads you to consider egg-laying bats as impossible, given our current understanding of such things.

    My point has been that future discoveries might bring such things into the realm of possibility, but if I understand you correctly, you cannot envision such a thing ever happening. I would like to suggest that you find someone who you consider to be knowledgeable about physics, and ask him if it is possible for anything to travel faster than light. Be sure to ask him how confident physicists were about this last year, as compared to their confidence today.

    I suspect you will find that a year ago, they were very confident that nothing could go faster than light, and that their confidence level was similar to your confidence level about egg-laying bats. But a few months ago, news broke about an experiment which shook that confidence, and a few days ago, that experiment was repeated with similar results. (For more information about it, search for "neutrino" in Google News.)

    To repeat my original point: I am not saying that egg-laying bates *did* exist, only that they *might* have.

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  121. First of all, it is not clear if the physics shocker is even true; see http://news.yahoo.com/study-rejects-faster-light-particle-finding-233533888.html

    Second, basic zoology is a much more solid science than particle physics.

    Third of all, the real question is this: Is it more likely that Chazal were mistaken, or that there is something that completely undermines all our knowledge of the animal kingdom?

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  122. My point has been that future discoveries might bring such things into the realm of possibility, ...I would like to suggest that you find someone who you consider to be knowledgeable about physics, and ask him if it is possible for anything to travel faster than light. Be sure to ask him how confident physicists were about this last year, as compared to their confidence today.

    Akiva,

    I suspect you have the wrong end of the stick here. Despite that hyped publicity that these experimental results received, in the scientific (physics) community these results have been treated with significant skepticism. The reason for this is not just that the Theory of Special Relativity is so robust (i.e. has been tested and withstood challenge) but also because Science requires reproducibility, that is that the results can be verified by other people attempting the same of similar experiments. A single report does not overturn a century of empirical data. If other scientist cannot observe the same phenomena than alternative explanations such as experimental error become the more likely explanation.

    I suggest that you look at the controversy around the work of Fleishmann and Pons and their cold fusion experiments. Here you have two experienced chemist/physicist publishing claims that were unable to be consistently verified by other scientist doing the same experiments.

    Akiva, as I have mentioned before, in order to establish a hypothesis one must first have a observation that can only be explained by that hypothesis. With regard to egg laying bats, where is the data to support such a hypothesis

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  123. Akiva Miller, even if some egg-laying bat-like animal were found one day, it would not justify the talmudic dictum in question since the talmud must be referring to a known animal.

    Second, your attempt to derive suport from some recent and current news that would serve to upend the world of physics is misguided. I dare say that most physicists are extremely skeptical about the claims of a faster-than-light neutrino. Although the scientists involved have now repeated their experiment with tighter conditions, they still haven't demonstrated, as far as I know, that they have a very accurate measure of the straight-line distance between the neutrino source which is underground at the CERN facility in Switzerland and the detector located under a mountain in Italy. Their results could be rationalized if that distance were 18.6 meters shorter than the nominal 730,000 meter distance between those 2 points. That's an uncertainly of 25.5 ppm.

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  124. Sigh... To repeat my original point: I am not saying that egg-laying bats *did* exist, only that they *might* have. I concede that there's no evidence for them today; I'm only suggesting that some evidence *might* be found *tomorrow*.

    I concede that recent developments in particle physics are still being studied and might turn out to be no big deal -- But the people doing that research are willing to accept the possibility that it WILL turn out to be a big deal, and that current beliefs will be disproved. Unfortunately, it appears to me that some zoologists are less open-minded than those physicists.

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  125. What does it mean to be "open-minded"? No zoologist would refuse to look at evidence that was presented to them. But we are talking about whether one should think that there is a distinct/likely possibility that such evidence will show up. Should one think the same about evidence for leprechauns and griffins? Are zoologist being "closed-minded" for flatly saying that they never existed?

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  126. I read the article and propose a different solution - learn the science:

    Female bats use a variety of strategies to control the timing of pregnancy and the birth of young, to make delivery coincide with maximum food ability and other ecological factors. Females of some species have delayed fertilization, in which sperm are stored in the reproductive tract for several months after mating. In many such cases, mating occurs in the fall, and fertilization does not occur until the following spring. Other species exhibit delayed implantation, in which the egg is fertilized after mating, but remains free in the reproductive tract until external conditions become favorable for giving birth and caring for the offspring. In yet another strategy, fertilization and implantation both occur but development of the fetus is delayed until favorable conditions prevail. All of these adaptations result in the pup being born during a time of high local production of fruit or insects.
    (from Wikipedia, so pls if this incorrect - notify them).
    ======================
    Now here is a scientific description of chicken reproduction:

    The sperm live inside the female reproductive system and each time an ovulation occurs (every 24-26 hours in good egg producers) the egg can become fertile. (http://www.ruleworks.co.uk/poultry/reproduction.asp)

    So, a specific element of the reproductive process (i.e. sperm are stored in the reproductive tract) is the same for chickens (egg laying) and bats (nursing mammals).

    In essence, using terminology from the time of Chazal (and not modern scientific jargon) the majority of animals, do not have delayed fertilization. This is a unique situation. Both reproductive methods are similar, and different from regular mammal fertilization.

    If you look at the information, it sounds like Chazal actually had a pretty good idea of the correct reproductive system of bats.

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  127. You must be joking. How on earth can you seriously say that this is what the Gemara was talking about?

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  128. Sorry that you don't get it.

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  129. Following some questions and comments off line, I want to clarify the issue.

    IMHO, Chazal are not using the terms "nursing" and "egg-laying" as end-result descriptive but rather as titles [i.e. the names] of 2 distinct reproductive processes, which we can generally speaking differentiate between b/c they have distinct end results:

    Process A results in nursing;
    Process B results in egg-laying.

    Then there are the bats. Bats are the exception. Their reproductive process is like the "egg laying" animals, but their issue is a baby bat that is nursed by its mother, so if you want to use the visual end-result to determine which process of reproduction is used by the bat, Chazal are telling us that in this case, despite the end-result of a nursing young, the reproductive process is like the case of the egg-laying animals.

    What are the differences?
    Mammals have a single stage process: male meets female; sperm attempts to penetrate the egg and if successful there is a pregnancy that ends in the birth of a nursing young one (or more). This is called by Chazal the "nursing" reproductive process.

    Most egg-laying birds, OTOH, have a 2 stage reproductive process:
    Stage 1: male meets female, sperm is transferred and STORED by the female SEPARATELY from her egg(s).
    Stage 2: At an appropriate time (minutes/hours/days/months later) inside the female body the sperm meets the egg (the male is long gone at this point...) and the egg is impregnated. Usually, the egg is laid, and this is the indicator that this reproductive process has occurred.

    Bats are different: They start with the reproductive process of "egg laying"
    birds, storing the sperm for a period of time (even 6 months!) and only when there is sufficient food and the weather is appropriate does the sperm meet the egg and a pregnancy and nursing young is born.

    I would like to note that there is a fourth reproductive process, used by a minority of bats and by some other species where the first part of the process is like the mammals, sperm meets egg immediately, but at this point the female sends the fertilized egg into a hibernation-like stasis. The fertilized egg remains in this way until conditions are favorable, and then it matures and a nursing young is born. As in this case the process is similar to the regular mammalian process and the result is a nursing young, Chazal did not differentiate it in this section of the G'mara.

    Shoshana L. Boublil

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  130. If you'd to see an orphaned bat being nursed to health, check out this heartwarming video:
    http://wimp.com/fruitbat/

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  131. I know I'm very late to the discussion, but I really felt the need to comment here. I've started reading a lot of R' Slifkin's work lately, and it seems to me that he is very serious and professional about what he writes. In this post, he is doing nothing more than quoting or paraphrasing the opinions of other rabbis on this subject. If their own words are embarrassments to them, why sweep it under the rug? I think R' Slifkin's attitude here was funny and refreshing from the heated arguments that I usually find here.

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