Friday, November 25, 2011

"The Perfect Torah-Science Authority" - Fact or Fiction?

A reader asked me to respond to the puff piece by Rabbi Avrohom Sebrow in the Baltimore Jewish Life and Five Towns Jewish Times about Rabbi Moshe Meiselman and his forthcoming book on Torah and science. I didn't want to, because I've already posted plenty on this topic and I'll be giving a more comprehensive treatment when his book comes out. But when more emails came in with the same request, I decided to respond, point-by-point.

1. "Rabbi Moshe Meiselman is the perfect Torah scholar to tackle this subject."

This is a very strange statement. Rabbi Sebrow backs it up in two ways. First, he notes that Rabbi Meiselman attended college courses on science and has a PhD in Mathematics from MIT. However, as we have noted previously, mathematics is entirely irrelevant to expertise the natural sciences, and may even be detrimental to it. And as for the college courses on science, Rabbi Meiselman goes against the entire consensus of scientists in the natural sciences, who would consider his approach regarding the world being only 5772 years old to be ludicrous. Would we trust the credibility of a self-styled medical expert who did college courses on medicine but is deemed to be a crank by the entire medical establishment?

Rabbi Sebrow then states that Rabbi Meiselman was a nephew of the Rav and one of his foremost talmidim. However, other family members of the Rav and foremost talmidim believe that Rabbi Meiselman engages in extensive revisionism of the Rav to bring him in line with Charedi mores. Thus, not only is Rabbi Meiselman not the "perfect Torah scholar to tackle this subject," he is actually someone of whom there is great basis to be suspicious from the outset.

2. "Rabbi Meiselman posits that no Rishon ever understood the details of the Creation given in the Torah to be anything but literal."

Then Rabbi Meiselman is wrong. Rambam explicitly writes that:
The account of creation given in Scripture is not, as is generally believed, intended to be literal in all its parts. (Guide For The Perplexed, 2:29)

Furthermore, according to the explanation of Shem Tov, Akeidas Yitzchak, and Abarbanel, Rambam was of the view that the "Six Days" are not time periods at all. Here is what Akeidas Yitzchak says:
"The Rav, the Guide, gave the reason for the mention of days in the Beginning by explaining the statement of the Sages, who said that “all the products of Creation were created in their full form” (Talmud, Chullin 60a); in other words, everything was created at the first instant of creation in their final perfect form. Thus the mention of an order of Creation is not describing the sequence of days; rather, [but the days are simply serving] to differentiate the status of [the elements of creation] and to make known the hierarchy of nature. This was [Rambam’s] major esoteric doctrine concerning Creation as those who are understanding can discern from that chapter (Guide For The Perplexed 2:30) which is devoted to this extraordinary account."

Ralbag was of the same view:
"You already know from the preceding that God’s generating the universe did not occur in time, since [its generation] was from nothing to something. Likewise, our Rabbis agreed that the heavens and the earth were created simultaneously. In the chapter “One Does Not Interpret,” they said, “Both were created as one, as it is said, ‘My hand has laid the foundation of the earth, and My right hand has spread out the heavens; when I call to them, they stand up together’ (Isaiah 48:13).” It is therefore apparent that the description of creation as being completed in six days is not in the sense that, for example, the first day was [prior] to the second as one [whole] day. Rather, they said this in order to show the priority amongst various created things."

So much for the claim that "no Rishon ever understood the details of the Creation given in the Torah to be anything but literal."

3. "The Great Flood was understood by all Geonim and Rishonim to be a literal description and record of events that occurred thousands of years ago. The world was indeed flooded."

Of course the Rishonim understood it that way; they had no reason to think differently. The question is, how did recent Torah authorities - who were aware that there is overwhelming evidence for the continuity of civilization and animal life throughout that period in many parts of the world - explain it?

Rav Dovid Tzvi Hoffman, who (if I recall correctly) was on the Moetzes Gedolei HaTorah, said that the Mabul did not cover the entire planet, only the "world" of the Torah. This was also the view of Rav Gedalyah Nadel, who brought some excellent proofs from the Gemara that "olam" does not always refer to the entire planet.

4. "The accuracy of the Midrash about the dimensions of the Ark being optimally seaworthy has been confirmed many times, even in contemporary maritime engineering laboratories."


I can't for the life of me understand the relevance of this. If this is indeed a known fact amongst boat-builders (although others claim that the Ark would not be viable under ordinary natural means), then how is it significant that Torah says it, too?

5. Is The Mud-Mouse Claimed To Exist?

According to the article, participants at the meeting with Rabbi Meiselman challenged him on the mud-mouse (good for them!). Rabbi Meiselman responded by claiming that "Chazal never stated unequivocally that such a creature exists. There were reports of such a creature, and Chazal discussed the halachic ramifications of its theoretical existence." With this, Rabbi Meiselman has classified himself as a heretic according to Rav Elya Ber Wachtfogel, Rav Moshe Shapiro and many others. However, his Talmudic scholarship is flawed. Chazal DID state that such a creature exists, at the end of Sanhedrin:

A certain sectarian said to Rabbi Ami: You say that the dead will live again—but they become dust, and can dust come alive? He replied... Go out to the field and see the rodent that one day is half flesh and half earth, and on the next day it has transformed into a creeping creature and has become entirely flesh.

How is someone the "perfect person to tackle questions of Torah and science" if their approach ignores basic source texts on the topics that they discuss?

6. Rambam and the Science of Chazal

Rabbi Meiselman makes the following astonishing blanket assertion:
"when a statement is mentioned in the Gemara as a fact, it must be accepted. The Rambam, when confronted with a contradiction between what Chazal said was possible and what contemporary medical knowledge of his time said was impossible, opted for Chazal. For almost all interpreters of the Rambam, this is implicit in his statements about treifos. Not one of the classic interpretations of the Rambam says that he was of the opinion that Chazal made a mistake. This is not an available option."

In fact, Rambam believed that Chazal's statements about science (as well as their statements about certain metaphysical matters, such as astrology and demons) were not Sinaitic and were mistaken, as he says explicitly in the Guide. What, then, is his view about terefos? Let us see Rambam's words:
With anything which they enumerated as a terefah, even if with some it is seen not to be fatal based on modern medicine, such that an animal [with such an injury] might sometimes live, we have only what the Sages enumerated, as it says, ‘According to the law that they direct you’."

As explained by Rabbi Moshe Shmuel Glasner, Dor Revi’i, Chullin, Introduction, and Rabbi Aryeh Carmell, BDD vol. 6 pp. 60-61, Rambam is saying that the laws as established by the Sages were canonized, and are thus unaffected by later discoveries. He was not denying that certain terefos can indeed live!

7. Rashba and the Science of Chazal

Rabbi Meiselman claims that "Similarly, the Rashba stated that all statements of Chazal regarding science are absolutely true. If anyone were to suggest that they were less than authoritative, that would classify him as a melagleg al divrei chachamim and subject him to serious penalty."

In fact, Rashba states that Rabbi Yochanan and the judges of Caesarea erred in a mathematical matter (Commentary to Eruvin 76b).

8. Medical Halachah


The article claims that "many halachic statements made by Chazal based on their understanding of the underlying medical situation are authoritative." For life-and-death cases, this is absolutely NOT true. As Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach says explicitly:
With regard to the fundamental words of Chasam Sofer, in my humble opinion it appears that just as with regard to the law that an eight-month fetus is like a stone and one does not transgress Shabbos on its behalf, certainly the rule has changed in our time, and forfend to rule in that way (of the Gemara)… and one is forced to say that only in the times of Chazal was the fetus given the status of a stone, because at that time they did not know how to enable it to survive, unlike in our time… So, too, in my humble opinion it appears clear that in our time, it is impossible to decide that someone as already died except via the latest techniques which establish the boundaries between life and death. And forfend to rely in our time just on the signs of breathing and suchlike, more than other checks, and to rule with someone under a collapsed building on Shabbos that if his breathing has stopped, and his heart has stopped beating, that he should be left under the rubble and Shabbos not be transgressed on his behalf… (R. Shlomo Zalman Auerbach, Shulchan Shlomo II, pp. 34-35)
The story that Rabbi Meiselman brings regarding the Rav is where he delayed doing a bris against the doctors saying it was safe to do it earlier - not when he advanced doing a bris against the doctors saying it was dangerous!

9. "We do find knowledge of medicine in the Gemara that was far ahead of its time."

No, we don't.

The example that Rabbi Meiselman gives is hemophilia, which he claims the Gemara knew was hereditary via the mother centuries before non-Jewish doctors discovered it. But as Rabbi Josh Waxman has explained in detail, there are two points to bear in mind here. First is that this fact can be discovered via simple observation. Second is that Chazal reached this conclusion fortuitously due to their mistaken belief that "the mother supplies the semen of the red substance out of which is formed his skin, flesh, hair, blood and the black of his eye."

10. The Regenerative Power of the Liver

Rabbi Meiselman claims that "The regenerative powers of the liver are part of hilchos treifos. This was unknown in the ancient world."

In fact, the ancient Greeks knew that the liver regenerates, long before Chazal.

Furthermore, as Rivash points out, the measurements that Chazal give for the quantity of liver that can regenerate are not scientifically correct and poses a great problem! Far from bring a proof for Chazal's superior knowledge of science, the liver presents the opposite!

11. The Necessity of Kidneys

Rabbi Meiselman (or Rabbi Sebrow? it's not absolutely clear) discusses the Gemara's statement that the absence of kidneys in animals is not a mortal defect. He quotes Rabbi Levinger's claim that "ruminants have an excretory system that excretes into the rumen. Hence, in fact, these animals can survive if their kidneys are removed.” However, Rabbi Dr. Shlomo Sternberg, in Bar Ilan's BBD journal, vol. 4 presents arguments that they will nevertheless die within a month. Thus, the conflict between the Gemara and our knowledge of kidney requirements remains.

Furthermore, to cite the kidneys as an example of how Chazal knew physiology beyond what others knew in the ancient world, is very strange; after all, Chazal believed that the kidneys serve not to produce urine, but rather to provide counsel to the mind.

12. Jumping Elephants

According to the article, those present at the meeting with Rabbi Meiselman challenged him about Tosafos and jumping elephants. Rabbi Meiselman conceded that perhaps Tosfos had never seen an elephant and was under the impression that they could jump. Finally, the right answer! Of course, I had already put this explanation forth several years ago.

13. Concluding Thoughts

The great tragedy of all this is not that Rabbi Meiselman is insisting upon positions that scientists would laugh at. It is not even that he is distorting rabbinic thought. Rather, the great tragedy is that there are so many people who lack the tools and knowledge to recognize this, and are taken in by a long beard and a PhD from MiT. It is important for those who also possess long beards and/or expertise in science, but who actually know what they are talking about in the field of Torah and science, to make themselves heard.

44 comments:

  1. Can someone explain why R. Aryeh Kaplan, Gershom Shcholem, or Rabbi Cardozo(can't remember if this is the correct person I'm thinking of or not), do not fit the bill of "perfect Torah scholar to tackle this subject."?

    That is, why are the Rabbis who wrote back in the 60s and 80s, not sufficient for an explanation for these issues?

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  2. "I can't for the life of me understand the relevance of this. If this is indeed a known fact amongst boat-builders, then how is it significant that Torah says it, too?"


    It is relevant, because numerous books and websites state the opposite is true.

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

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  4. Most subjects in the world have about ten people or so at the top. After that comes a very large middle range. And after that comes the bottom layer. Mathematics is like that. This particular rabbi is not in the top ten in Mathematics. Nor is he in fact in the middle area.
    And this applies to Torah also. I mean some people like Rav Shach published a very good book. So we know that he was tip top in his field. But most rabbis are not the top in Talmud study. Often they cant even unnderstand the tosphot on the very page they are supposedly learning.
    This rabbis is also not among the great Torah scholars. So what evidence is there that he knows what he is talking about?

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  5. Today's blog and the question is all the more prominent:
    What is the real goal of the blog? It seems to be that the author feels that there is a groisa mitzvah to repeatedly prove that chazal were wrong. He also seems to derive some perverse pleasure in showing that he is so much 'smarter' than them (lucky him he was born in the 20th century) Why? Let's say they were only as knowledgeble as the science of their times. OK you 'got' them. Let's say there is a big mitzvah to revere chazal (there is) so some truly religious want to believe chazal's every word. Is it really such a big mitzvah to convince them that they are wrong? To deride them if you can't convince them or they don't want that belief of theirs challenged? Maybe a little kiruv would do Judaism more good? Or just some other constructive use of one's time? I might be mistaken about the author's intent. I doubt he will publish this comment nor respond to it but I for one would like to here the justification.
    Sincerely
    Mystified Creature

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  6. Dear "Mystified Creature,"

    See the following letters in order to understand the purpose here:

    Dear Rabbi Slifkin,
    Hello. I am a yeshiva student in New York... I recently read your book Mysterious Creatures with great interest.
    While studying Yoreh Deah this year, I was baffled by the Halachos of Drusah (Y.D. 57). Several times, Chazal state that the problem with Drusah is that the attacking animal has poison in its claws. This sounds as if Chazal believed that the claws of a predatory animal inject venom into their prey thus rendering it a Treifah.
    This statement of Chazal presents us with quite a challenge. After all, taken at face value, this statement is clearly in conflict with modern day scientific knowledge. While a snake's bite can inject venom, our knowledge of the natural world tells us that an attacking animal's claws do not.

    How are we to understand instances like this where a statement of Chazal conflicts with modern day scientific knowledge? Nearly everyone whom I discussed this issue with insisted that all we could say was - nishtaneh hateva (nature has changed). While I know that there are instances where that approach must be used, I could not believe that a more rational way to solve this problem existed.

    I was so happy to have discovered your book wherein you clearly offer sources which show that other ways to deal with this matter do in fact exist, and are firmly grounded in Jewish tradition. I can not accurately describe to you how thrilled I was when you mentioned Rabbi Carmel's footnote in Michtav M'Eliyahu wherein he dealt with this very topic. Thank G-d, a rational route exists with which one can deal with scenarios where Chazal's statements are not in line with what we now know to be scientific fact.

    To tell you the truth, before seeing your book, I had suggested a similar structure as Ray Dessler's in order to approach this problem. However, no one I communicated with was willing to grant that such an approach was even a valid option. After reading your book, and especially the piece from Rav Dessler, I felt a sense of vindication, as well as a sense of sadness that more people in a teaching position are not aware of the legitimacy of this approach. I find it most unfortunate that when struggling with this issue, students may often find themselves forced to fall back on nishtaneh hateva or to feel like some sort of heretic. I imagine that so many others' minds would be at ease if they only knew of this approach.

    Thank you Rabbi Slifkin for publishing your book. I hope that I am but one of many whose minds your book will help put at ease...

    Sincerely,

    P.A.. New York

    Dear Rabbi Slifkin,
    I just read Mysterious Creatures... I enjoyed every page. Being that my background had a more secular and science based thrust, the issues you raised (and dealt with) were particularly troubling to me. Your honest and intellectually consistent search for the amiso shel Torah is refreshing and badly needed in today's tumultuous times.

    Rabbi Ben Geiger

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  7. (Continued)

    Dear Rabbi Nosson Slifkin shlita,

    I write to congratulate and thank you for your recent book "Mysterious Creatures", which has been a great help to me in trying to understand the occasional instances in which Chazal appear to be contradicting what we know about Nature. As a baal teshuva and a professional biologist, I would think I probably speak for many others like me who were brought up among non-Jews and schooled in the sciences, and are now finding our way back to Torah and mitzvos.

    The problem is exactly as stated in your chapter on Sages and Scientists, that we sometimes get the impression that our Torah teachers are unable or afraid chas v'shalom to confront these difficulties. We are required instead to suspend our natural disbelief and trust implicitly that Chazal's knowledge of the natural world was perfect and literal. The first of these requirements is not too difficult for an honest scientist, since that is what science itself often requires of us. But the second is not so easy to believe and can probably (for us) be no stronger than a working hypothesis, albeit strengthened by the occasional cases when new research shows that they did indeed know better. I think you have summed up the various possible solutions honestly and admirably.

    I can well believe that your work may not be entirely acceptable to Jews brought up in (or who have achieved) emunah shleimah. Such fortunate Jews have neither taste nor need for your approach. For those of us who are less fortunate, particularly for us professional scientists who spend our lives earnestly seeking to understand the ways of G-d in the workings of His universe, it can be quite trying to discover that we are generally despised by the Torah world to which we aspire. Honest answers to sincere questions are what we need. Your books provide those and a healing balm for the needless and harmful chasm between Torah and science.

    Yours sincerely
    Dovid L.J Freed MB, ChB, MD, CBiol, MIBiol

    Dear Rabbi Slifkin,
    As a person who has studied their entire life in the daled amos shel halacha and can't tell you how much I gained from your works. When I read your book Nature's Song, it arouses my neshama with yiras shomayim the same way it does when I read the mussar works such as Shomer Emunim, which I am very attached to. Very few books inspired me in that way.
    There were matters in hashkafa which had always been troubling me which I had no one to talk to about. Thanks to your sefer 'Mysterious Creatures' you brought to my attention the mekoros from Rishonim and Acharonim which explain matters in a light which was mechazak my emunas chachamim. It was specificly the approach of those Rishonim which I haven't been exposed to in yeshiva, which was helped being mechazak my emunah in a way I could accept.
    With hakoras Hatov,
    Eliezer Green

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  8. (Continued)


    Dear Rabbi Slifkin,
    It has been a few weeks, now, that I wanted to write this message to you. I have read three of your books (“Mysterious Creatures”, the “Science of Torah”, and “the Camel, the Hare and the Hyrax”, respectively).
    I discovered them when my Chavrusa, here at the Kollel of Geneva, Switzerland, where I live, showed me the sugya in Bekhoros 8a to prove to me that mermaids exist; I was having a very hard time to believe that “Dolfinin” can be other creatures than dolphins, but lacked any basis to argue on Rashi’s and Tosafos’ words. I searched the Web for discussions on the topic, and discovered your website. I acquired the 3 books I mentioned at my first passage in a bookstore with English books.
    I found myself enjoying them immensely. Apart from the fact that they are very well written, and that you are obviously extremely proficient in both the Torah and the Science worlds, I value above all your open-mindedness in dealing with these issues.
    Too often, unfortunately, I feel that the authors dealing with the vast topic of the relationship of Torah and Science try to avoid, more or less astutely, the questions they are not comfortable with. He is a rare theologian (or, for that matter, scientist) the one who will admit that his personal theory does not solve all problems. You never beg the question and are the first to admit when an issue remains open for discussion at the end of your analysis.
    I wanted to thank you for providing us with such masterpieces.
    Best regards,
    Emmanuel Bloch, Switzerland

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  9. Does R Meiselman think that it's ok to lie about these subjects, or has he convinced himself that the things he's saying are actually true?

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  10. The methods and aims of mathematics are much closer to philosophy than to experimental science, and I fail to see how expertise in mathematics automatically qualifies someone as an expert in biology, geology, etc.

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  11. Here's another example of someone trying to prove that the knowledge of chazal was ahead of their time. In this week's Yated in the center section there is an article about the calculation of the Molad. In it the author states that it is mind boggling that without modern instruments chazal were able to reach such an accurate number of the average time between two lunar cycles (29d 12h 44m 3.33s). In fact this number was already known by ancient babylonian astronomers. See here http://books.google.com/books?id=hhmw-WxZAvQC&lpg=PA207&pg=PA207

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  12. Anonymous:

    Are you suggesting that we deceive our brethren for the sake of kiruv? I find that disgusting. Imagine that being said about anyone else, and how disgusted you would be. But because it is the sages whom you were likely raised brainwashed into believing were infallible, you not only accept that deception is ok for their sake, but are a proponent of it? Not to mention, who would be mekarev through this deception who wouldnt eventually see the truth? You want orthodoxy to be full of easily brainwashed individuals who dont seek truth?

    Our Sages did make mistakes, MANY, and I think its about time this was better known throughout orthodoxy.

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  13. The story about Rav Soloveitchik tells us that this was his opinion at that time regarding this particular issue (whether a bris should be postponed in deference to Chazal).

    Given that Rav Soloveitchik himself would be the first to recognize that other poskim are free to disagree with him -- which many do in this particular case -- how does one extrapolate from this story (as Rav Meiselman does) that no other opinions about Torah/Science are valid?

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  14. "It is important for those who also possess long beards and/or expertise in science, but who actually know what they are talking about in the field of Torah and science, to make themselves heard."

    In this regard, I have created a group on facebook called Torah Observant Scientists.

    It is open to any Torah observant Jew (or Benei Noach) who has at least a bacholars degree in the sciences.

    The group can be found at

    http://www.facebook.com/groups/torahscience/

    I invite all Torah observant scientists to join!

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  15. Re the claimed need to take all statements of Chazal as literally true, the following passage from the Rambam's introduction to this commentary on Perek Chelek come to mind:

    “Concerning the works of the Sages, people fall into three groups:

    “The first group – and they are the majority of those whom I have met, and whose works I saw, and of whom I have heard – understand [the Sage’s words of agadata] according to their literal interpretation, and they do not explain them at all. For them, all that is impossible has become necessary. They believe this because of their ignorance of wisdom and their distance from knowledge, and they lack the perfection which would have made them aware of this on their own… . This unfortunate groups is to be pitied for their ignorance, because, in their own opinion, they have elevated the Sages, while they in fact lower them to the ultimate depth, and they are unaware of it. I swear by G-d that this group destroys the glory of the Torah and tarnishes its radiance, and they pervert G-d’s Torah into the opposite of what it was intended to be. …

    “The second group also numbers many, and they are those that saw the words of the sages or heard them and understood them literally. They thought that the intention of the Sages was only the simple literal meaning of the words, and consequently they made light of it and defamed it, and considered strange that which is not strange. They frequently mocked the words of the Sages and considered themselves wiser than them and possessed of greater clarity of thought. [They considered the Sages] unintelligent and foolish, ignorant of all reality and totally lacking in understanding… They are an accursed group who revolt against people of lofty stature, whose wisdom is known by the wise….

    “The third group, by G-d, they are few in number…. They are the people to whom the greatness of our Sages and the excellence of their intelligence is clear, because their words show great truths… Furthermore, the impossibility of that which is impossible, and the existence of that which must exist is also clear to them. They know that [the Sages] did not talk nonsense. It is clear to them that among their words are some that are meant literally and [others] with hidden meaning, and that everything they said which is impossible, is only by way of riddle or parable. Such is the way of the very wise…. Why should we wonder that they composed their wisdom by way of parable, and compared it to lowly, common matters? They themselves interpret the verses of Scripture and remove them from their plain meaning, and turn them into a parable; and [indeed] this is correct. Similarly, one of them said that the entire book of Job is a parable, but did not explain what the moral was. In a like manner, one said that the incident of the dry bones at the time of Ezekiel (Ez. Ch. 37) is a parable, and there are many such instances.”

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  16. "The world was indeed flooded."

    Not according to Rabbi Yochanan in Zevachim 113. Are today's rabbis at the level to argue with Rabbi Yochanan?


    "Maybe a little kiruv would do Judaism more good?"

    Promoting falsehood is not the best way to do kiruv.


    "While a snake's bite can inject venom, our knowledge of the natural world tells us that an attacking animal's claws do not."

    There actually is an animal with venom in its claws: The male duck-billed platypus. But Chazal did not know about it.


    The real question here is how someone who distorts the words and intent of Chazal and Rishonim in this way can still be called Orthodox. But I guess the Far Right can do anything they want.

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  17. "the great tragedy is that there are so many people who lack the tools and knowledge to recognize this, and are taken in by a long beard and a PhD from MiT."

    I have a short beard and a PhD from Johns Hopkins. I have 94 peer-reviewed publications. Why do people listen to Rabbi Dr. Meiselman on scientific matters rather than me?

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  18. "Rav Dovid Tzvi Hoffman, who (if I recall correctly) was on the Moetzes Gedolei HaTorah, said that the Mabul did not cover the entire planet, only the "world" of the Torah. This was also the view of Rav Gedalyah Nadel, who brought some excellent proofs from the Gemara that "olam" does not always refer to the entire planet."

    1. I seriously doubt that you believe that a localized flood covered a significant portion of the middle east for about a year around five thousand years ago, any objection one would have against a global flood would apply to a local one of that significance.

    2. I seriously doubt that you believe a literal, localized flood is a plausible way to understand the story of Noah building an ark for decades and gathering up all the species to escape the floodwater.

    In other words both of these opinions uphold a literal interpretation, while opting for an alternative meaning of the word 'olam (resulting in an meaning incongruent with the storyline). Based on my recollection of your discussion of this topic this is neither your opinion, nor in any significant way analogous to you opinion.

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  19. "The concept of time during this period may have been different than our concept of time. Our way of measuring time began with the Shabbos on the seventh day. However, this in no way changes the literal reading of the Torah that the Creation lasted six days." This makes no sense. If the concept of time was different at the Creation, then by definition the "six days" are not literal.

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  20. The Jewish Press has an interview with Rabbi Meiselman this week. Whoever interviewed him obviously liked him because he asks no tough questions whatsoever.

    I suggest, Rabbi Slifkin, that you write a letter to the editor. The Jewish Press is very centrist in many regards and I'm fairly sure it will publish your letter to the editor if you write one. As large as your blog readership is, I venture to say that The Jewish Press's readership is larger. I think it's a worthwhile endeavor.

    (Amazingly, in this interview, Rabbi Meiselman uses the snake gestation period as proof of Chazal being able to derive all knowledge from the Torah!)

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  21. "It is open to any Torah observant Jew (or Benei Noach) who has at least a bacholars degree in the sciences."

    Does a BS in computer programming count? I would think it wouldn't :)

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  22. Yirmeyahu,

    " while opting for an alternative meaning of the word 'olam "

    The word that the Torah uses is "Aretz" not, "Olam".

    Also, the presumed flood is 7,000 to 10,000 yeas old, not 5,000 years old. See, this short wiki article on it. Local flood theory

    So, try not to conflate what one group of people are saying with what another group of people are saying.

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  23. I'm no expert on anything, but I feel strongly about this: There is clearly room for discussion about how to understand portions of B'Reisit such as the six days of creation, Adam and Chava in Gan Eden, and the Flood. The Rishonim differed on how to understand some of these matters, and modern science, at the very least, casts very serious questions on whether some of the parshas in B'Reshit can be understood literally. By attempting to make a literal belief in these matters a halachic duty, as I believe people such as Rav Elyashiv, Rav Shapiro, and the others that signed onto or support the ban on Rabbi Slifkin's books, are doing, is completely unnecessary, and will eventually blow up in their faces and in the face of Orthodox Judaism as a whole as scientific knowledge becomes more and more widespread and accessible. An intellectually dishonest approach will never succeed in the long run, and if our faith in God and the Torah is based on a halichic obligation to believe that every word in the Torah represents historical and scientific truth, then I think our faith is on very, very shaky grounds.

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  24. I will not ask why you post comments that are kefirah because I am well familiar with your tactic to marginalize the definition of "kefirah" into oblivion, but i will ask a simpler one, why do you post comments that are straight out loshon hora? I know you will feign ignorance so I will tell you now, for example, " Student V said...
    Does R Meiselman think that it's ok to lie about these subjects, or has he convinced himself that the things he's saying are actually true?" I am sure there are more of a similar nature but that is one sample and I think you will have a very hard time explaining that it is l'toeles. Is it permitted to post loshon hora?

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  25. Also sprach Maimonidies:

    רמב"ם הלכות קידוש החודש פרק יז הלכה כד

    וטעם כל אלו החשבונות ומפני מה מוסיפים מנין זה ומפני מה גורעין, והיאך נודע כל דבר ודבר מאלו הדברים, והראיה על כל דבר ודבר, היא חכמת התקופות והגימטריות שחברו בה חכמי יון ספרים הרבה והם הנמצאים עכשיו ביד החכמים, אבל הספרים שחברו חכמי ישראל שהיו בימי הנביאים מבני יששכר לא הגיעו אלינו, ומאחר שכל אלו הדברים בראיות ברורות הם שאין בהם דופי ואי אפשר לאדם להרהר אחריהם, אין חוששין למחבר בין שחברו אותו נביאים בין שחברו אותם גוים, שכל דבר שנתגלה טעמו ונודעה אמתתו בראיות שאין בהם דופי אין סומכין על זה האיש שאמרו או שלמדו אלא על הראייה שנתגלתה והטעם שנודע.


    KT
    Joel Rich

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  26. On the difficulty of calculating the Moled see ...
    http://pseudoepiphany.blogspot.com/

    >>>>> I have a short beard and a PhD from Johns Hopkins. I have 94 peer-reviewed publications. Why do people listen to Rabbi Dr. Meiselman on scientific matters rather than me?

    To Dr. Hall … obviously your beard is not long enough.


    To Baruch Gitlin:
    Thank you very much, it couldn’t be said more clearly.

    Chareidi Judaism faces an existential crisis and they don’t even know it.

    As I repeatedly say.

    A fact of life is that any religion that forces people to believe in creeds that can be shown to be untrue will eventually succumb to the truth.

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  27. To be blunt about it, Rav Meiselman is prostetuting the fact that he has an advanced degree (Ph.D.) from a prestegious university to muddy the water. He is claiming an argument from authority, and intendes to decieve people about his authority by waving his diploma's in their faces (Ph.D. and Smicaha) to decieve his readers.

    Since Rav Meiselman lacks an accademic career, he has no fear of loosing his reputation in the secular accademic field.

    I have already heard people argue that since Rav Meiselman has a Ph.D. what he is saying about science and secular matters must have authority. Nevermind that the Kollel Rabbi I was talking to was completely dismissive of my own Ph.D. and continued career in Science and accedemia.

    Rav Meiselman's approach is completely analogous with the scientist who argue against anthorpomorphic climate change. Using their credential to prostitute themselves for apolitical cause.

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  28. "The word that the Torah uses is "Aretz" not, "Olam"."

    Of course, my bad, but doesn't really change the argument.


    "So, try not to conflate what one group of people are saying with what another group of people are saying."

    I'm not discussing the opinion of a "group of people", I'm discussing the opinion of R' Hoffman zt"l and R' Nadel zt"l in comparison and in contrast to that of R' Slifkin. So while the link you provided didn't work I'm not sure that it is particularly relevant unless it shows that they take such an approach.

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  29. I just heard a recent shiur from R' Hershel Schachter where he clearly said that we have a Chiyuv to follow the best medical advice of our time. The Tanoim had the same Chiyuv as did the Amoroim and those that followed. Simply because you read them writing down what was the best medical advice of their time doesn't make that advice the one we should follow. We have the same chiyuv as they do, and that means we must ignore incorrect medical information recorded anywhere!

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  30. After reading the Jewish Press interview, I couldn't blame Dr. Betech for feeling that he's getting some serious competition for the title of Official Spokesman for Irrationalist Judaism.

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  31. > I can't for the life of me understand the relevance of this. If this is indeed a known fact amongst boat-builders (although others claim that the Ark would not be viable under ordinary natural means), then how is it significant that Torah says it, too?

    Perhaps he imagines that the ancients had no knowledge of boat-building, therefore if the tevah was “optimally seaworthy” that shows that it must have been designed by Hashem.

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  32. why do you post comments that are straight out loshon hora? I know you will feign ignorance so I will tell you now, for example, " Student V said...
    Does R Meiselman think that it's ok to lie about these subjects, or has he convinced himself that the things he's saying are actually true?" I am sure there are more of a similar nature but that is one sample and I think you will have a very hard time explaining that it is l'toeles.


    Actually it may be an accurate explanation of what's going on. R. Meiselman's talmid, Dovid Kornreich, once wrote about how it's OK to distort the views of Gedolim in order to protect their kavod (i.e. when they said something "unacceptable.") So it might well be that R. Meiselman has a shittah that it's okay to lie about these subjects.

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  33. The word "utilitarian" caught my attention. They don't have a rights based viewpoint. There are no natural right from where they come from and although i enjoyed many of the good points of john student mill i don't think i can accept a doctrine that does not have natural rights in it.
    As for your basic point-it seems to me to be based on the question of intention as opposed to consequence. consequence here would mean the value of the mitzvah depends only on how much of the needs of the poor man were fulfilled. Intention means how much you really meant to help. from what i can tell the rambam probably held that charity is a mitzvah in which both matter

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  34. Since Charedi leaders are so keen to misinform us about known scientific matters I will assume they're keen on misinforming us about Torah matters as well.

    Plonisalmonis, it is not loshon hara to "call out" a chillul hashem such as Dr. Meiselman's pseudoscience. I, and many others, find it important to have someone familiar and active in observant Jewry, like R. Slifkin, "speak truth to power".

    Many of us who entered the observant world expected to find an open and honest intellectual atmosphere. Instead, we too often find Meiselman's kind of belabored dishonesty...what can only be characterized as deliberate deception... paraded about as "emes".

    I know it turns many, many people away from observant Judaism. And, it should. People have the duty to maintain their intellectual and personal dignity. To be told one is a kofer for objecting to pseudoscience is really more than a person needs to endure. There are plenty of more useful things for most people than getting involved with a crowd that insists pseudoscience is a necessary prerequisite to participation.

    Gary Goldwater

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  35. "It seems to be that the author feels that there is a groisa mitzvah to repeatedly prove that chazal were wrong"'.
    Ever heard of an "iconoclast"?
    Avrohom Avinu was one.
    Did he think he was doing a "Mitzva"?
    He thought wrong is wrong, whoever says it.
    On the other hand, is it a Mitzva to believe in medieval medicine?
    Or medieval astronomy?
    Or medieval women's anatomy?

    "Pessi maamin be'chol dovor".

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  36. " Is it permitted to post loshon hora?"

    Yes, in a case where someone is promoting falsehood. It may be a mitzvah! Would you be complaining about someone calling out the author of a sefer that distorted established halachah regarding hilchot Shabat?


    "To Dr. Hall … obviously your beard is not long enough. "

    LOL!


    "He is claiming an argument from authority"

    Argument from authority is really pretty irrelevant in science. What matters is empirical observation.

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  37. Gary, well said!
    Problem is, that when you shake this whole oral law building on one side, the whole house of cards comes tumbling down.
    Of course I have no answer for that.
    Sorry.

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  38. "Problem is, that when you shake this whole oral law building on one side, the whole house of cards comes tumbling down."

    "Oral Law" has been accompanied by "written texts" for well over 1500 years. I'm not sure what house of cards you are talking about, unless you are only referring to Charedi Judaism.

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  39. "N. Slifkin said Actually it may be an accurate explanation of what's going on. R. Meiselman's talmid, Dovid Kornreich, once wrote about how it's OK to distort the views of Gedolim in order to protect their kavod (i.e. when they said something "unacceptable.") So it might well be that R. Meiselman has a shittah that it's okay to lie about these subjects."
    It's quite hard to respond to this comment when I find it entirely disingenuous. You are essentially arguing it is "davar hamishtama l'trie api" (a very tenuous claim in this instance to be sure), can you pasken this is an appropriate application? You threw out your svorah off the top of your head but would you eat a questionable piece of meat based on a boich svorah? You quoted no precedence in halacha, and provided a very poor explanation of your svorah altogether, forgive me but you seem to be approaching this question rather cavalierly, are you really taking your chiyuvim seriously? I will not respond to the other boich svoros thrown around; you didn't employ them so you obviously think of them the same as I do. Can you please provide a more researched and properly sourced response?

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  40. lo fidalti,
    Oral law is clearly its own social construct and it is specifically set-up to accept the argument from authority. It SHOULD be a shaky house of cards and the new generations of scholars should be involved in constantly reframing that house. Seen historically [and allowed to grow with the knowledge of the cultures within which it exists], it holds together fine. It's only when we insist that the oral law NOT be reframed throughout history that it can be laid waste.

    One of the points of oral law is the conservative principle. That is, one can only preserve the essence of tradition by understanding that essence and then reframing it for the newer generations. This is not to be confused with the present fashion of coming up with new chumras on top of the old. The notion that we can't reframe oral law so that it balances tradition and the current state of evidence-based knowledge is very destructive to the traditional Jewish system as a whole.

    Gary Goldwater

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  41. I think that much of your critique of this article is valid but other parts are not.

    I realize that I might be coming into the middle of a long standing feud, but your tone disparaging Rabbi Meiselman as a person weakens the intellectual force of your arguments.

    I agree with you that the initial statement that no Rishonim said that the details of Creation are not literal is absurd. Ramban (with regard to everything but the 6 days) and Rambam (with regard to everything) both write that the verses are not meant to be taken literally.

    I can't believe that Rabbi Meiselman does not know this and therefore he must have been misquoted or misunderstood.

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  42. Charlie Hall said...
    "The world was indeed flooded."
    "notaccording to Rabbi Yochanan in Zevachim 113. Are today's rabbis at the level to argue with Rabbi Yochanan?"

    You mentioned this already at rationalistjudaism.com/2011/10is-it-acceptable October 27, 2011 8:48 PM .

    But i took issue with you at [ibid] November 3, 2011 2:4 AM [#2]

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  43. On point #5: I agree with most of your conclusions, but how does Rav Ami's personal belief that mud-mice exist prove that it was a majority opinion among Chazal–especially given the claims of some today who say that rabbis may have given somewhat less-than-accurate answers when pressed by heretics, in order not to appear ignorant. If you know Rabbi Dovid Sapirman, that's one of his lines.

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  44. See the end of my latest post for the answer.

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