Thursday, November 17, 2011

Why Bats Get My Goat

My post on Bat Responsa generated astonishingly diverse feedback. Some people thought that it was one of my best posts ever, while others, who are fundamentally in agreement with my approach, were nevertheless very distressed at its perceived inappropriate disrespect (or even at its perceived appropriate disrespect). Eventually, due the accumulation of criticism from those with the same worldview as my own, I decided to revise it. But I would like to explain why I wrote it in the first place, and why I think it resonated so strongly with some people.

As everyone knows, I went through a very rough time a few years ago when my books were banned. While it's mostly died down, it's not completely extinct; I still occasionally suffer from its effects. The main issue which started the entire controversy is my stating that in some cases, Chazal's statements about the natural world were not correct, such in their description of spontaneous generation of mice from mud, in their describing the sun as going behind the sky at night, of bats laying eggs, and so on.

Now, if someone were to say, "Chazal were correct; there really are mice that are generated from dirt, there really are bats that lay eggs, and Chazal never claimed that the sun goes behind the sky at night, and I reject the views of all the Geonim, Rishonim and Acharonim who say otherwise," then it wouldn't bother me. At least they would be making it very clear that they are operating within an entirely different worldview and approach to Torah.

But what really gets my goat is that those who condemn me refuse to ever get into specifics. They issue platitudes about how "there are cogent answers to all these problems," about how "on a certain level, these statements are always true," about how "every seeming contradiction can be shown to be of no consequence to a seasoned mind," and about how they are teaching "The Torah of Science." But they do not ever get into the nitty-gritty of the actual cases discussed in the Gemara, and of the actual statements of the Rishonim and Acharonim!

Rav Aharon Feldman claimed that there are cogent answers to all these problems which he will address in a future essay. He wrote that six years ago, and nothing has been forthcoming - despite the fact that these are the problems which led to what Rav Feldman considers to be "probably the public issue most damaging to the honor of Torah and to its leaders in recent memory." And he refuses to address the statements of many Torah authorities who adopt the rationalist approach in these areas.

Rav Moshe Shapiro was vehement in his condemnation of me, insisting that there is no authentic Torah view that Chazal erred in science, and turned several of my colleagues against me. But he never gets into detail about the actual cases that I dealt with! He adopts the Maharal's view as a general approach, that Chazal were always speaking about metaphysics, but does not address the fact that ALL the Rishonim and plenty of Acharonim felt differently (see my monograph "The Sun's Path At Night.") A friend of mine recently approached Rav Moshe and tried to get him to address the opinions of the Rishonim and Acharonim on the topic of the sun's path at night. Rav Moshe replied with typically cryptic platitudes and wouldn't give a straight answer.

The same can be said for all the others that jump on the ban-wagon. They are so eager to condemn the rationalist approach as being the aberrant approach of young Natan Slifkin, and to proudly espouse platitudes about Chazal's knowledge. You'd think that if that's the case, they would go through all the cases that I discuss in my books, and all the sources that I discuss, and explain what they believe to be the correct approach - but they don't.

Why do I bring all this up now? Because next week, Daf Yomi is reaching several discussions in the Gemara and Rishonim that are not scientifically correct. Bats laying eggs, mermaids, super-long gestation periods, and so on. Many, many people experience spiritual turmoil upon encountering these passages. I've actually provided an approach to dealing with them, which I received from my own mentor, Rav Aryeh Carmell ztz"l, and which is in turn well-grounded in the Rishonim and Acharonim. But few are they that even dare even mention my name. Instead, people display allegiance to Rabbonim who condemn me and who claim to have the "right" answers to these cases but who never actually address either the Gemara's cases or the Rishonim and Acharonim that deal with them!

That's what really gets my goat. I apologize if I spoke out of line. But I'm only human, after all.

(See too this very important post: The Mystique of Silence.)

97 comments:

  1. meir says
    Even I could answer some of your posts, and I dont have ordination like I answered your last one.
    The truth is you dont want to hear any answers that is why you will never come on another blog like RHM where you dont moderate it. For most of your question its really the same answer which you wont accept. I may add that alone doesnt make you a kofer, more likely its just ignorance on your part to what once went on in the world. Not that I claim to understand it. But the main thing is the world has changed.

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  2. Well apologies are always accepted and you were wronged.

    I think if you have to acknowledge the truth of every statement then it would have to be all metaphysical but the point is like you say there's plenty of interpretation. So I'm in between the positions.

    The point of religion though is really to tell us what we should we do:meaning, values.

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  3. > Rav Moshe Shapiro was vehement in his condemnation of me, insisting that there is no authentic Torah view that Chazal erred in science

    Such a different way of looking at the world. As if, absent a Torah opinion that it’s possible for Chazal to be wrong, we must assume that they are right – regardless of empirical evidence to the contrary!

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  4. Summary of this post:

    The Gadol has no clothes

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  5. As if, absent a Torah opinion that it’s possible for Chazal to be wrong, we must assume that they are right – regardless of empirical evidence to the contrary!

    No, much more than that. We must conclude that Chazal are correct - regardless of empirical evidence to the contrary.

    See also, Reich, Rabbi Uren.

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  6. Meir: "But the main thing is the world has changed."

    I have a couple of questions, because I am trying to understand your perspective:

    I presume your relying on the principle employed by Tosafos, that "nature has changed." To what extent is your belief in this grounded in data (i.e. repeat historical observations that are not likely to be erroneous) versus emunah that Tosafos received an accurate tradition regarding this scientific "fact"?

    A second question, posed by me earlier: In mesechtas Horayos we learn that the Sanhedrin could in fact err in a psak halachah. We're not talking modern Rabbis, but rather Tannaim and Amoraim were openly admitted this possibility. Does it not follow then, kal vachomer, that if they could err in issues that they were known to be expert in (halachah) that all the more they could err in issues that they were not expected to be expert in (general knowledge)?

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  7. Rabbi Slifkin:

    You are being very nice and saying in a most elegant manner what I (and others) have taken out of the entire affair:

    "Many (maybe even most) Rabbis are totally ignorant in science, don't give a hoot, and want all of us to go along with what they say - just because they said it. No further explanation given."

    What is even more distressing is the silence of the other Rabbis (who disagree with the ignoramus [in science] Rabbis) - they are too scared to open their mouths and say anything! They are out there (I have spoken to a few of them) but they are too frightened of their right-wing brethren that they won't open their mouths.

    For generations, those who passed "the mesorah" were Rabbis. It is only in recent generations that knowledge has become widespread, allowing all of us to access huge amounts of information and preventing cover-ups from going on in the community. How are we to know how many other intellectually dishonest Rabbis there have been throughout the ages - yet all of our practices are based on what they passed down?? Judaism has been based (until now) on the intellectual honesty of its Rabbis and teachers - it has now been shown that they are NOT honest.

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  8. One strategy to help people do teshuva from misrepresenting Chazal as "never-erring" is by highlighting their errors, one after the next.

    The problem however (as you're well aware!) is that people become defensive, see it as an attack, and will respond in any number of convoluted ways in order NOT to admit that you're correct.

    So perhaps it's time to take another approach.

    One possibility: Rather than focus on the mistakes per se, make the case using sources that it is entirely OK to make mistakes, and speak about Chazal's greatness - not only despite those mistakes, but in some ways because of their mistakes. Meaning, they weren't married to a certain opinion but were always open to a better argument, a fact that they were not aware of. They were willing to say "hadar beh" (he changed his position).

    Chazal's mistakes and willingness to learn are a shining example of humility, commitment to truth over ego, and strength of character. THAT is their greatness! THAT is something we should want to give over to our kids!

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  9. Judging from the conversations had on this blog regarding Kidneys and knowledge, I don't think you are capable of listening to any answer that is given. (You are still very charedi in your approach in some ways) They say that you should only teach esoteric teachings to people who are able to hear them (otherwise they would have been stated clearly the first time and not couched in natural language)
    I see no reason why both your approach and the approach that gets your goat can't co-exist (even for the same people).

    But since you don't like generalities, let me provide an example with the case of the bat.

    Rav Nachman wrote some explanations of some of these passages (but not all) and those techniques CAN be easily applied to these passages. As can the techniques of say Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan.

    Rabbi Yehuda Ashlag, compared Bats to people without faith. They fly in the heavens blind. Everything that flies in the heavens lays eggs (the gemorah tells us), and feeds their young with things they have found on earth. The bat though, being faithless, feed their young from their own bodies. They can not have faith that the land will provide for them. The faithless, like the faithful fly loftily in the heavens but can not give birth there, they too must "lay eggs". However, while the faithful use the tools around the next generation to prop them up, the faithless use the tools that they have embodied.

    It really is not all that difficult to piece together these meanings of the Gemora, as long as you know what each object in the statement is a symbol for. They also are generally things which most people do not want to hear, or can not listen to, and so there is no reason to say it clearly. Let those who understand understand.

    Now I'm sure you will argue that the context of this baraita is attempting to describe reality, and that there is nothing "spiritual" or "homiletic" about these stories, and they are merely quoted here to expand on the small piece of the relevant baraita. However, those who follow the approach of Maharal clearly find that entire bareitot are quoted only when they wish to teach extra concepts by way of a tangent.
    Secondly, you might want to argue that if this is what they meant to say then they should have just said so... however there are two reasons not to. 1. If they did so they would open up a whole line of questioning if the bat really does represent the faithless. Some aspects of the bat are very faithful? Maybe you will argue that them being blind is proof of their faith! And these are irrelevant tangents. 2. It makes it more difficult to tie the tangent into the gemora being discussed if they don't stick to the language of the topic.

    There is plenty to argue against it, and that is why it is not taught in a clear language. Making simple statements about complex topics will always result in 'much to argue about.'

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  10. "Such a different way of looking at the world."

    More like a different way of looking at religious texts. I don't think "the world" has anything to do with it.

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  11. "But what really gets my goat is that those who condemn me refuse to ever get into specifics. They issue platitudes about how "there are cogent answers to all these problems," about how "on a certain level, these statements are always true," about how "every seeming contradiction can be shown to be of no consequence to a seasoned mind," and about how they are teaching "The Torah of Science.""

    Some of us feel the same way about attacks against people who accept the findings modern Bible scholarship. There's a lot of heat, vilification, and claims that it can all be explained away, but no ever does give the allegedly available answers. It's very frustrating, and I fully understand your feelings.

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  12. Ameteur - 3 points.

    1) If someone wants to learn the Gemara your way, fine. I just object to their insisting that this is the ONLY legitimate way to learn it.

    2) I will indeed argue that the contexts of these accounts show that they are attempting to describe reality. Take a look at the accounts of the mud-mouse, of the sun's path at night, etc.

    3) If they are indeed intended to be understood allegorically, how is it that none of the Rishonim and Acharonim thought so - until the point in time at which science discovered that these things are not true?

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  13. "Daf Yomi is reaching several discussions in the Gemara and Rishonim that are not scientifically correct. Bats laying eggs, mermaids, super-long gestation periods, and so on."

    What makes them not "scientifically" correct? They're just not correct, period. Either bats lays eggs or they don't. Can something be unscientifically incorrect??

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  14. You know what I meant! Not correct according to modern science.

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  15. "1) If someone wants to learn the Gemara your way, fine. I just object to their insisting that this is the ONLY legitimate way to learn it."

    This is really an argument about Post Modernism. In some ways, it really IS the ONLY legitimate way to learn it, because it is the only method by which the text retains meaning. Much how all the texts about sacrifices must be re-read post Churban. Otherwise, people will read the Torah, see thousands of words spent on Sacrifices and decide that the Torah is meaningless and has no relevant to them.

    Obviously, it turns out that for some people (a majority? a minority?) It's the WORST way you could learn it. But that doesn't negate the fact that for those who declare it is the ONLY way, that really it is, "The only way"

    "2) I will indeed argue that the contexts of these accounts show that they are attempting to describe reality. Take a look at the accounts of the mud-mouse, of the sun's path at night, etc."

    The context about the Bat has the same issue. It really looks like they are talking about these things literally. But it also looks like they are talking about these things on a non-literal level, because the argument goes, the Gemorah is talking about EVERYTHING on a non-literal level. How do we understand that with the mitzvot? We can't really, except for the fact that mitzvot themselves 'operate' on a non-literal level. I.E. Gd doesn't "need" sacrifices but commands them anyways. Meaning the literal application of mitzvot, is the non-literal application of the message.

    "3) If they are indeed intended to be understood allegorically, how is it that none of the Rishonim and Acharonim thought so - until the point in time at which science discovered that these things are not true?
    "

    You say "none", but it's really not "none". Where do you think the Zohar, Bahir, Midrash, and it's surrounding literature came from!? From where do you think the ideas of Chasidim came from? It's from a fundamental way of reading religious texts in this manner. All religious texts, whether they conform to the latest science or not.

    Different Rishonim and different Achronim wrote things for different audiences. And the greatest of them, the ones we still have today (tongue in cheek) "Obviously, couched their language with hidden meanings as well on these topics because their audience was not ready to hear it."

    It's just a completely different approach to yours, and is more nuanced than the ones you are able to "easily ignore"

    It doesn't make it 100% emet or 100% sheker/kefira, it's just different and different people respond to it differently.

    There is a reason why this approach was, in the time of the gemora, limited to 1 teacher to 1 student.

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  16. "Not correct according to modern science."

    And what does that mean? I'm not being pedantic, I have a real point. Does the Earth orbit the sun in reality, or according to modern science? Is it a metzius or a shita?

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  17. David Meir: about making mistakes, you are very right. Who says even the greatest tzaddikim don't make mistakes? Even Moshe Rabbeinu made a mistake, and due with the decline of the generations Chazal must have been at a lower level than Moshe.

    As Rebbe Nachman of Breslov said, "The world labors under the misconception that a tzaddik cannot make a mistake. I say this is not so. A tzaddik can make a mistake. The mistake remains a mistake and the tzaddik remains tzaddik."

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  18. But it also looks like they are talking about these things on a non-literal level, because the argument goes, the Gemorah is talking about EVERYTHING on a non-literal level.

    The latter part of your statement is a belief - with no evidence. Not a REASON as to why it looks as though it is not speaking literally.

    You say "none", but it's really not "none". Where do you think the Zohar, Bahir, Midrash, and it's surrounding literature came from!?

    None of them claimed that these topics are not literal.

    It's just a completely different approach to yours, and is more nuanced than the ones you are able to "easily ignore"

    This must be some strange new usage of the word "nuanced" of which I was not previously aware. How is it "nuanced" to say that everything is allegorical?

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  19. Meir replies
    As usual Michael this time has asked me a question and you dont have the decency to let me reply on your blog. At least make it clear to him that I do have an answer but you are scared to publish it.

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  20. "Not correct according to modern science."

    And what does that mean? I'm not being pedantic, I have a real point. Does the Earth orbit the sun in reality, or according to modern science? Is it a metzius or a shita?


    Both. But the point is that whereas in ancient times they believed one thing, modern science says differently.

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  21. Meir, you did not submit any comment replying to Michael's question.

    I have an idea for you: Why not write a book, going through all the problematic cases in the Gemara, and explaining them all correctly?

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  22. Meir replies again
    There is no need to write a book one answer suffices for them all.
    And that is the answer that Michael understood and you fail to.
    I could explain it further but why bother if youre not prepared to print it. Perhaps on RHM blog if he lets me. Most of my posts there need repeating and clarifying to people who have no idea how to learn gemoro and still think they can know it. I suppose you read my posts there.
    The second question is more sensible. The answer is that since 'chasimas hatalmud' there can be no further mistakes. Yes there could be before, even by the greatest people, but not anymore. This is not 'rational' well R Slifkin add it to your list.

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  23. Meir replies again
    There is no need to write a book one answer suffices for them all.
    And that is the answer that Michael understood and you fail to.
    I could explain it further but why bother if youre not prepared to print it. Perhaps on RHM blog if he lets me. Most of my posts there need repeating and clarifying to people who have no idea how to learn gemoro and still think they can know it. I suppose you read my posts there.
    The second question is more sensible. The answer is that since 'chasimas hatalmud' there can be no further mistakes. Yes there could be before, even by the greatest people, but not anymore. This is not 'rational' well R Slifkin add it to your list.

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  24. I have to get going after this response, so sorry if I don't continue the conversation.

    "The latter part of your statement is a belief - with no evidence. Not a REASON as to why it looks as though it is not speaking literally."

    It's more of an axiom. It's a method of reading text, not a statement about reality. But the truth is, that each reader will find parts that they find "obviously literal", and parts they find "obviously allegorical" and people can have great debates about this. (see Rambam vs Ramban regarding Veiyra) And so as a system you just have to declare everything in one direction or another, else you can't really communicate with eachother.

    "None of them claimed that these topics are not literal."

    Well, I'm not sure what you mean by this. I don't know which exact topics were covered by the writings and which were not. The gemorah says there are 70 faces of the Torah, but never does it list EXACTLY what those 70 faces are. Similarly, the Ari describes a system where the words are just clothing for the body, and the body is itself just clothing for the soul, which is itself just clothing for divine spark, and that system of learning Torah has existed at least as far back as the Ramban.

    "This must be some strange new usage of the word "nuanced" of which I was not previously aware. How is it "nuanced" to say that everything is allegorical?"

    The position you easily ignore is that it's all literal truth. A more nuanced position is that even those statements also have non-literal truth, and that understanding those nuances can be derived from multiple ways of doing it. Just because it's not stated directly by a previous generation, does not mean the concept did/does not exist in the text. Further, I imagine you will find people who follow this few but insist that some passage or another can not be interpreted allegorically in "that way", which is a way that they think doesn't fit everything else. It's not a simple system which can be tested yes/no, and it frustrates Engineering students to no end.

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  25. Meir carries on
    So what am I supposed to do. Write one line at a time until you fail to print it.
    Try again. In the olden times there was magic do you believe that or not.
    Or do you think it could be explained. That water turned into blood.

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  26. But the truth is, that each reader will find parts that they find "obviously literal", and parts they find "obviously allegorical" and people can have great debates about this.

    Yes, and people can have debates about whether the earth is round or flat. It doesn't mean that each position has equal merit.

    Well, I'm not sure what you mean by this. I don't know which exact topics were covered by the writings and which were not.

    Salamanders were covered. So was the sun's path at night.

    Just because it's not stated directly by a previous generation, does not mean the concept did/does not exist in the text.

    There has to be some kind of genuine reason to believe that it is in the text. Not that "it makes me feel good."

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  27. In the olden times there was magic do you believe that or not.

    The debate between Rambam/Ramban over the existence of magic has nothing to do with this. Nobody ever claimed that the sun passes behind the sky by magic.

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  28. Meir writes again
    I would rather you print all my posts than printing one twice.
    When you give some most likely non commital reply to my question or someone else does we can carry on the shiur.

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  29. Meir says
    You answer one question with another. You have to learn to keep to the subject at hand. That is not the way to learn gemoro either. I may answer that question as well but we have to start somewhe

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  30. To interject, here is how someone can turn water into blood, with no magic necessary:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DK6WgB3hU1U

    kt,
    josh

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  31. Also, magic vs. no magic is not proof that the world, or nature changed. It could well be that there IS magic today! Or that these magical arts have simply been lost and forgotten by human beings. Indeed, whether one takes a rationalist or less-rationalist approach to this question, is does not need to have any bearing on nishtaneh hateva.

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  32. Meir says
    I have to go on.
    Let us say you believe magic existed can you explain it. Next question when do think magic or similar unexplained phenomenons stopped happening. For example 'lo yachvol raichaim vorochev'. How the meforshim explain it. Or do you think someone can still do that today.

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  33. Yishai,

    That's a great quote! Where is it in Likutei Moharan?

    Also, since R. Nachman is talking about tzidkut, I would guess the "mistakes" he's referring to are aveirot/wrongdoings, as opposed to factual mistakes. Am I right?

    This actually brings up another interesting point about different kinds of errors. Those who would say that Chazal never erred, would they say this is limited to factual errors only, or does it also mean they never made behavioral errors?

    Because if it also includes the latter, then yes, what about Moshe hitting the rock? What about David and Batsheva? And the countless other places in Tanach that go out of their way to talk about mistakes made and lessons learned? Are Chazal somehow bigger than them? Errorless?

    And if the problem is ONLY with the idea of Chazal making factual errors, whereas personal/behavioral errors are acceptable, doesn't that point to a rather weird sort of veneration of "facts" over behavior?

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  34. Ameteur said...

    > The faithless, like the faithful fly loftily in the heavens but can not give birth there, they too must "lay eggs". However, while the faithful use the tools around the next generation to prop them up, the faithless use the tools that they have embodied.

    What are “the tools around the next generation” that the faithful se and the faithless don’t?

    > More like a different way of looking at religious texts. I don't think "the world" has anything to do with it.

    It’s a difference of epistemology. The scientist looks to describe the world, and assumes that what he sees is a valid way of determining how the world works. The fundamentalist looks to religious texts to determine how the world works, and assumes that is what he sees contradicts the religious texts (or implies that Chazal were mistaken) then either what he sees is wrong or the texts don’t mean what they obviously seem to mean. So it’s both different ways of looking at religious texts and at the world, the weighing the relative authority of each.

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  35. While I didn't read all of the comments on your original post about bats in the gemara, in order to understand why people felt you were being so disrespectful; I can honestly say I don't think you were being disrespectful at all. Rather, I feel you were just being assertive in your arguments in order to make your points. I don't see the problem in you posting these rabbi's opinions if they themselves are public about them. Also, it only makes sense that you would expect them to go through your books in a detailed manner in order to explain exactly why they disagree with you. That seems fair to me given the fact that they so vehemently opposed your books and put a ban on them.
    People must be made aware that there is another ideological approach to traditional Judaism than the one espoused by certain people and segments of Judaism. I think your are doing important and necessary work. Hazak u'baruk!

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  36. Ameteur: "There is a reason why this approach was, in the time of the gemora, limited to 1 teacher to 1 student."

    do you have any evidence for this statement?

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  37. It's rare for defenders of the ba'al hablog to throw around aspersions of apikorsus, but Ameteur should know that great Talmidei Chachomim of previous generations were aghast when some Chasidsher Rebbes would expound Gemoro allegorically, and stated that this was unequivocal apikorsus.

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  38. David Meir: You raise some good questions! I'm not sure where the quote's from. It's cited on breslov.com as an "oral tradition," so it may be from Chayei Moharan. I don't know exactly what he meant, but here's one illustration:

    Rebbe Nachman "also said of certain Chassidic leaders of his day, 'The tzaddikim are making a mistake by praying after the z'man tefillah.'" (Chayei Moharan 487).

    About factual errors, Sefer HaIkarim says that even the prophets misunderstood some of their prophetic visions, keeping them from "comprehending the clear facts properly":

    http://daattorah.blogspot.com/2011/10/sefer-haikkarim-prophet-can.html

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  39. This is simply untrue; I myself heard from Rabbi Beslky an explanation for the question about lice and various other things. You, on the other hand don't even publish comments that disagree cuttingly with you, (notice my strange, clipped comment on the "bat blog", but my long detail-oriented comment (in which I delineate where YOU have failed to answer ME) is entirely absent. In that comment I also mention how it is obvious to any bystander that someone (such as Rabbi Belsky who has a yeshiva to run, gives shiur, and also runs the ou) is a lot busier than you or me or most people I know. Why does it surprise you that responding to you is not high on his list of priorities?

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  40. With lice, he probably claims that chazal wer referring to their eggs being microscopic (although I explain in my book why that doesn't work). What does he say about mice, and bats, and gestation periods? Considering how many people struggle with these things, then if he has answers that satisfactorily resolve them, lets hear them!

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  41. "Does it not follow then, kal vachomer, that if they could err in issues that they were known to be expert in (halachah) that all the more they could err in issues that they were not expected to be expert in (general knowledge)?"

    It would also seem to follow, kal v'chomer, based on the principle of yeridot hadorot, that gedolim in our times could err if the sanhedrin hakodesh could err.

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  42. Ameteur et al. who advocate interpreting aggadita via the Maharal’s and related methodologies. They may form a nice intellectual exercise, but in real and practical terms, it’s just plain bunk, for 2 very simple and basic reasons.

    1) It is totally unreasonable that for 1000 years all our great talmudic scholars were unaware of his interpretations and most scholars pretty much accepted the Gemorrah at face.
    2) And many of the incorrect scientific statements and even some of the outrageous claims are tied to some practical halacha (eg, Moishe and the leviim being 10 amot tall, spontaneous generation, etc.), making the claim of allegory farcical.

    so, it seems the gemorrah was literal.

    the more pretzels that are twisted the more foolish we look.

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  43. 'One strategy to help people do teshuva from misrepresenting Chazal as "never-erring" is by highlighting their errors, one after the next.'

    One can come to an incorrect scientific conclusion without having made errors at all! I give Chazal the benefit of the doubt that they were following the standard methodologies of their times. Not so today's gedolim of today who are attempting to defend Chazal's conclusions rather than their methods.


    "Does the Earth orbit the sun in reality, or according to modern science?"

    Yes.

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  44. Isn't it odd that you seized on only one part out of many in my comment? Does that mean I should conclude you have no response to the rest?

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  45. ....as per your logic?

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  46. Meir: "The second question is more sensible. The answer is that since 'chasimas hatalmud' there can be no further mistakes. Yes there could be before, even by the greatest people, but not anymore."

    My perspective is that there is a certain unique authority that the Tannaim and Amoraim were invested with, with regards to the development of Jewish law, that we no longer possess. It seems to me that this is the case not because the Chazal were immune to error, but because to overturn their legal authority in the development of Jewish law would result in complete halachic chaos, and the destruction of Torah observance (understand that I believe it is completely reasonable to assume that their knowledge of Jewish law, and correct methods of psak, vastly exceeded ours).

    The necessity of this arrangement is not in any way contrary to reason--if the citizens of a given nation disregarded its most fundamental laws, and felt they could change any given law at will, the result would be either complete anarchy, and the destruction of the nation, or the reinstatement of some coherent body of laws in an attempt to reign in the chaos.

    What your statement seems to imply, however, is that RETROACTIVELY, after the closing of the Talmud, errors are no longer errors--not just in psak, but seemingly in anything at all (is everything open to psak according to you?). And we don't just follow a psak due to the practical need to have a coherent legal system, but that the psak itself determines the metzius of a thing after the fact. In other words (and pardon me, I'm not trying to mock here)--if it was paskened that a Jew has to believe 2+2=5, then even if it was considered "debatable" before the closure of the gemara, 2+2=5 after the fact, regardless of universal experience to the contrary.

    I hope I'm not misunderstanding your views here, although I've heard similar views uttered by chareidim in the past. If I am right in characterizing them, it would follow that truth, according to you, is something that is conditional, contingent, depending on time and place, and subject to a vote (particularly a vote by great men).

    My view is that truth is something that is unconditional, non-contingent, and transcends time and place. True, we may not be able to reliably determine it, and different people may grasp different aspects of it, and not see the "whole picture" as it were, but it is something that essentially lies outside of us, and is not determined by us, regardless of how great we may be. Thus an error always remains an error, whether or not we can reliably identify it, or whether we have the legal authority to change the laws that may have developed from it.

    There’s a lot that can be said about this, but this post is getting long. One potential concern is whether or not the belief that human beings can “create” reality, or determine it, can potentially detract from our worship of Hashem in some way. As Jews we tend to conceive of Hashem as unconditional, non-contingent, and transcending time and place. And this view of Hashem seems to gel more with the version of “truth” that I have presented above.

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  47. Shai, thanks for the links.

    Charlie, I concur. I meant Chazal's errors in light of modern science, in the same way that some of today's scientific truths will no doubt be understood as errors in light of future science.

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  48. You know what I meant! Not correct according to modern science.

    November 17, 2011 5:23 PM

    Rav Slifkin,

    I am fairly sure you mean "Not correct based on the empirical data"

    Being a Modern Scientific theory by itself does not make it true, it is the measurable observations that supports the theory that science relies on.

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  49. Much how all the texts about sacrifices must be re-read post Churban. Otherwise, people will read the Torah, see thousands of words spent on Sacrifices and decide that the Torah is meaningless and has no relevant to them.

    Fine, but the text of these verses is still true at a simple and literal level. You want to tell us that the "drash" of the problematic Talmudic passages are the "pshat"?

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  50. Years ago I once heard speak Dr. Fred Rosner, who was close to Rav Moshe Feinstein and his son-in-law, Rabbi Dr. Moshe Tendler. Dr. Rosner told us of one encounter in the hospital with hasidim who were questioning some of the things he would do on Shabbat. To their objections he said, “Rav Moshe told me to.”

    “Rav Moshe!?” they responded in awe.

    “Yes. Would you like to speak with him?”…”Certainly!”…so he called Rav Moshe. The phone conversation that Dr. Rosner could hear went like this. “Yes, Rav Moshe…yes, yes, Rav Moshe… yes, Rav Moshe, yes…and so forth, until it ended. When they finished, they hung up the phone and turned to Dr. Rosner, “NO!”

    Related to this, my rosh yeshiva here in Eretz Yisrael grew up with Rav Natan Kaminestsy, and upon returning from a visit to America, he told how was visiting with Rav Natan when Rav Ya’akov walked into the house. As R.Y. passed them my rosh yeshiva noticed that Rav Ya’akov had small peyos tucked behind his ears. Astonished, he asked Rav Natan why. Replied Rav Natan, “You and I know that my father is a great talmid chacham, a genuine gadol, but without peyos today he has no nemanus [נאמנות]!?”

    In terms of relating to what ‘known rabbaim’ know, a grandson of Rav Ya’akov told me, “I always took my sheilas to my grandfather. Once I began learning in yeshiva and learned how to ‘learn for myself’, I reached my own conclusions, but I would still take my sheilas to my grandfather. Even when I was right, my grandfather always deepened and broadened my thinking and understanding. Today, however, when I go to gedolim to ask sheilas, most don’t give me an answer that is much better or different that what I’ve already figured out for myself!?”

    Something else worth mentioning is how I once had a sheilah on an important medical problem, and I went to speak with Rav Pinchas Sheinberg. I basically knew what the possibilities were, because it was a known problem, but Rav Sheinberg took the time to explain to me in greater depth and when he finished it was clear from his words that he could only pasken against me. To my startlement, at the end of our conversation he said, “You have to go to Rav Shlomo Zalman for a p’sak.” I looked at him in disbelief and replied, “But you’ve just explained to me that for you it’s an issur d’oraisa and that’s your p’sak.. How can I now go to Rav Shlomo Zalman?” Answered Rav Sheinberg, “If you think back through our conversation, you’ll realize that you never asked me. All that we did was to discuss. Since I would forbid what you need (the only solution to my dilemma was exactly what he would prohibit), then you have to go Rav Shlomo Zalman who permits it,” which I did.

    Rav Sheinberg has no illusions. He understands thoroughly that ‘he has Torah’ but he recognizes that ‘he is not the Torah’. Given that he has this clarity, he could decide according to the needs of the situation, i.e. what is possible within Torah and what my needs are. When he sent me to someone else who could help me he was ‘keeping the Torah’.

    Finally, Rebbe Leibeleh Eiger gives over that not ever Midrash can be understood in terms of relevancy, because Chazal recorded teachings that they knew would only be applicable for specific generations. That Torah can be ‘time specific’ doesn’t deny it’s eternalness; it verifies it. "אהיה אשר אהיה" – loosely translated – I’m evolving! – or, in mamma lashon, “you ain’t seen everything yet!”

    Shabbat Shalom,
    Daniel Eliezer

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  51. Rav,

    In both of your posts, you clearly show that there are some very learned rabanim that clearly knows that many rishonim/acharonim dealt using a rationalist perspective but, still, they CHOOSE to address it in another way they know that is false but they understand that is for a greater good.

    The logical question to be asked and delved into, if we want to understand these fenomena is to ask:

    Why are they are choosing to falsify history? (ranging from social to psychological reasons)

    How is it done? (both on the exoterical and esoterical level)

    Is there any boudaries to it? (which values may we sacrifice in order to uphold the "WHY")

    Each one of them, if properly investigated is a doctorate´s dissertation in itself. Still, I would ask you Rabbi Slifkin, some comments on these questions.

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  52. Rav Slifkin, would you mind giving a brief explanation as to why you feel topics such as these are so important? At the end of the day, does it really matter if bats laid eggs or not, if it's literal or allegorical? Why focus so much energy on fringe aspects of the torah. Whom does this benefit, and how do you feel you are helping the Jewish world by dealing with these issues (especially when they continue to stir up such nasty machlokes - even when nastiness is unintended)?
    I think if people understood this better they would see you in a much different light (as opposed to just a trouble-maker looking to expose things)
    Thanks

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  53. A friend of mine recently approached Rav Moshe and tried to get him to address the opinions of the Rishonim and Acharonim on the topic of the sun's path at night. Rav Moshe replied with typically cryptic platitudes and wouldn't give a straight answer.

    In farness to Rav Moshe Shapiro it is possible that while he has firm beliefs about the principles that need to be applied when learning these apparantly controversial and scientifically invalid sections, he has not done sufficient research into any specific and specialised topic to be able to address the questioner off the cuff.

    By way of anaolgy. As a University Lecturer I might suggest (not imodestly) that I am my departments expert on Neuroscience. Having given lectures on Dopamine, opiods and reward cicuits my students reasonably think that if they have question on Dopamine and psychiatric disorders, I am likely to be the appropriate person to consult. The reality is that while I know in principle what Dopamine is, how it influences mood, behaviour and movement I know little about its role in specific psychiatric disorders. I simply cannot answer some types of question on a topic I am viewed as an expert on without researching the answer in depth.

    Simliarly here. The basic principle that Rav Moshe Shapiro applies might provide a superficial explanation, but he likely needs to have the time to sit and research the specifics for each application.

    The question is, of coures, when will have that time.

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  54. The logical question to be asked and delved into, if we want to understand these fenomena is to ask:

    Why are they are choosing to falsify history?


    I explained it in this essay: http://zootorah.com/controversy/InDefenseOfMyOpponents.pdf

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  55. Rav Slifkin, would you mind giving a brief explanation as to why you feel topics such as these are so important? At the end of the day, does it really matter if bats laid eggs or not, if it's literal or allegorical? Why focus so much energy on fringe aspects of the torah. Whom does this benefit, and how do you feel you are helping the Jewish world by dealing with these issues

    Just take a look at the letters from my readers:

    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, Pacific Jewish Center, California

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  56. (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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  57. (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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  58. By way of anaolgy. As a University Lecturer I might suggest (not imodestly) that I am my departments expert on Neuroscience. Having given lectures on Dopamine, opiods and reward cicuits my students reasonably think that if they have question on Dopamine and psychiatric disorders, I am likely to be the appropriate person to consult. The reality is that while I know in principle what Dopamine is, how it influences mood, behaviour and movement I know little about its role in specific psychiatric disorders. I simply cannot answer some types of question on a topic I am viewed as an expert on without researching the answer in depth.

    Not a good analogy. It's not as though you're insisting that Dopamine cures all disorders when it actually does no such thing!

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  59. I agree entirely with this post. I would add that the would- be 'defenders' of the 'infallibility of the sages' also do not address the issue of mathematical errors in the talmud. Mathematics doesn't lend itself to the excuse that nature has changed. It should therefore require that the 'infallibility' defenders strive to account for such apparent error. Such error in T.B. Eruvin 76 and Succah 8 (or approximately at those locations) was already noted by Tosafot and other Rishonim. Nor is the error a matter of a convenient approximation such as sq. rt. 2 being taken as 7/5 (rather than 1.414..), but a basic error in confusing areas of a circle relative to its inscribed square vs. their perimeters (see Tosafot on Eruvin 76b, R' Yochanan). Nor are these aggadic type matters such as statements regarding where the sun 'goes' at night which some would like to allegorize. These are errors that have halachic implications in terms of a round hole in a dividing wall (relative to eiruv hatzeirot) or the minimum shiur for a round succah. The silence in deafening.

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  60. Not a good analogy. It's not as though you're insisting that Dopamine cures all disorders when it actually does no such thing!

    You seem to have missed the point of the analogy: Experts can claim very clear understanding of the principles behind an idea, and know how to apply those principles to specific circumstances. Yet when asked a question on the minutia of the material, will need to do research to be able announciate a meanigfull and insightfull answer that applies those prinsiples.

    Rav Shapiro, from my understanding of your writings does claim that his principles are universally applicable. You and I might disagree that that is true, but that does not a priori mean that he cannot fit the square peg into a round hole.

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  61. And actually Rabbi Belsky's explanation had nothing to do with lice eggs being microscopic. It creatively tied the louse's feeding habits to its status as either a parasite or an independent organism and it fit in quite nicely and interestingly with the gemara's shaklah v'taryah. I think you should cease to attribute non-answers or your own answers to others simply because they didn't see fit to respond to your questions!

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  62. So why did the Gemara reject the notion that there could be such a thing as "eggs of lice"? And how is it that of all the thousands of Rishonim and Acharonim, nobody ever knew that Chazal meant that before Rav Belsky? And why didn't Chazal say that that is what they meant, instead of incredibly misleadingly saying that lice "ainan parin v'ravin" which everybody else quite understandably takes to mean that they spontaneously generate? And most fundamentally of all, what actual reason is there to think that that is what Chazal actually meant?

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  63. (Rabbi Geiger left Pacific Jewish Center 5 years ago.)

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  64. Meir says
    To Michael again.
    Please remember that most of my posts are not accepted, and not that I am incapable of answering.
    You are really mixing up two things. The gemoro is a law book, not a science one, and although mistakes in law or svoro could be made even by the greatest people, after chasimas hatalmud there cannot be more mistakes in law or svoro.
    How that applies to metsius questions is something different altogether.
    About gestation periods which are not in heaven like the sun, its unlikely they should be mistaken about. I am sure a lot of these things are also in PLINY and very possible taken from there.

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  65. I believe that the idea of the alleged non-sexual nature of lice reproduction that can be found in the Gemara in T.B. Shabbat is a weak example of error in the talmud. First of all, that was the view of one Amora, Rav Yosef. Abaye, his erstwhile student, raised an objection based on an aphorism which mentions lice eggs (betzei kinim). Rav Yosef was forced to respond that this must refer to an otherwise unknown creature called 'betzei kinim'. It is certainly unclear that this response must be considered the last word on the matter. Moreover, it was merely Rav Yosef's rationale for an established halacha that permits killing (body) lice on shabbat (bet Hillel). The halacha itself doesn't stand or fall based on the rationale given generations later. Other rationales could be advanced to justify the permissibility to kill lice on shabbat.

    The point is that there are numerous examples of errors having to do with nature and, even, mathematics. The glib answer to such problems that is most often given in the Hareidi world is that nature has changed. How convenient! The creation story in Genesis tends to be treated non-literally by the secularly educated types partly because there is no perceived need to assume a special creation of the individual species. The typical Hareidi response is that evolution is heresy in denying such individual creative acts. Yet, they have no problem with postulating that major changes in the body plan and reproduction of species occurred less than 2 millenia ago.

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  66. An important aspect of this post is the danger of inculcating the idea of talmudic infallibility. Once the yeshiva student or graduate becomes aware of various instances where such a deification of the talmud and the sages conflicts with common knowledge and understanding, he may come to reject the value and authority of the talmud. A prominent example of such an outcome is found in the story of Yaron Yadan, a man who was raised hiloni, found himself in Ohr Sameiach as a teen-ager, became devoted to and excelled in his talmudic studies, married a Hareidi woman and produced 7 children, and then became disillusioned by the errors that he found in the talmud. He turned away completely from his yeshiva and kollel life. Whereas he was once, apparently, close to Rav Moshe Shapiro, he then became a propagandizer for atheism and attacks on the talmud and halacha.

    The lesson appears to be that a simplistic, super-reverential treatment of the sages may be appropriate for young students and, possibly, for some older students, as well. At some point, however, realism should be introduced lest the more independent older students and graduates be belatedly awakened from their state of suspended judgment and turn on their teachers and all that they have been taught.

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  67. I'll respond to other comments later but just firstly, because I think it is important.

    "Fine, but the text of these verses is still true at a simple and literal level. You want to tell us that the "drash" of the problematic Talmudic passages are the "pshat"?"

    Firstly, No they are not 'still true on a literal level.' The torah says that the sacrifices will be done 'ad hayom hazeh', and it also says 'every day'. They have not been done in close to 2,000 years! Also if you read the tractates of the Talmud Bavli regarding these topics, you will find that they are not always taken literally either, even on a practical level.

    Secondly, who said we are talking about pshat? We are talking about 'the proper way to learn Torah today' People can spend their whole lives only looking at pshat, or they can spend their whole lives only looking at remez, or their whole lives only looking at drush, or they can spend their whole lives only looking at Sod. Or they can mix and match it.

    For some people, who look at the writings from 1500 years ago, Sod is the only relevant way to learn the words today. As is often said in some circles, "we don't pasken like the gemorah"

    Just because you don't agree with the approach, doesn't mean you can feel free to not understand it or to mock it.

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  68. "Yes, and people can have debates about whether the earth is round or flat. It doesn't mean that each position has equal merit."

    But we aren't talking about physical reality, we are discussing the meaning and intentions behind texts. There is no evidence that your selection of rationalist rishonim is has more or less merit than their selection of Maharalian achronim.


    "There has to be some kind of genuine reason to believe that it is in the text. Not that "it makes me feel good."

    There is plenty of reason to believe it is in the text. You should read the writings of the Merkavah school. They did these things all the time, and wrote during the time of Chazal. It has been a HUGE influence on our daily prayers till this day! Just because you don't like the approach doesn't mean you get to pretend the approach doesn't have it's sources. (As your opponents like to do)


    "What are “the tools around the next generation” that the faithful se and the faithless don’t?"

    Midrashim, Tradition, and stories and explanations that children can internalize. In some ways, it is a fault, because as people get older they don't go beyond their down to earth and childish educations.


    "It’s a difference of epistemology. The scientist looks to describe the world, and assumes that what he sees is a valid way of determining how the world works. The fundamentalist looks to religious texts to determine how the world works,"

    This is a huge misunderstanding. The religious fundamentalist only cares about what enter's one's brain, and does not care at all how the world works. They leave that to the doctors and the technicians. They care only about how information impacts the soul. We are looking at religious texts like the gemora and how to read it, we are not teaching engineering students who need to then go build a bridge.


    "do you have any evidence for this statement?"

    The postings of "Offthederech" and all the people who have been damaged by Rav Shapiro's education system, and the minority who have thrived from it.


    To Snag: "great Talmidei Chachomim of previous generations were aghast when some Chasidsher Rebbes would expound Gemoro allegorically, and stated that this was unequivocal apikorsus."

    I am fully aware of this. It also happened during the times of the Geonim, and during the time of Chazal. History however, has argued in favor of the Chasidim for good or ill.

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  69. @Elemeir:
    "1) It is totally unreasonable that for 1000 years all our great talmudic scholars were unaware of his interpretations and most scholars pretty much accepted the Gemorrah at face."

    Who says they were unaware? Who says that is what they accepted, vs that is what they taught to others? To the contrary, all the texts must be read with a Maharal style of reading. Even the Rambam. And if you want to prove that some point or another wasn't known, then whats the big deal? A Chidush is a Chidush.

    Secondly, how is this even an argument here? The entire premise of the opposition to this idea is that for thousands of years people were not informed of certain things.

    2) And many of the incorrect scientific statements and even some of the outrageous claims are tied to some practical halacha (eg, Moishe and the leviim being 10 amot tall, spontaneous generation, etc.), making the claim of allegory farcical. "

    What does "practical halacha" have to do with reality? Does the world fall apart when you light a fire on Shabbat? Only according to the mystics.

    Sorry if I missed anyone, and I think Yossi is spot on in his analogy. Just because one knows that a technique is true and able to be used to understand Jewish texts, doesn't mean they know the exact details off the cuff. A person can spend weeks going over a single statement. And how can one ever know if they have even finished fully understanding some story.

    Even with secular stories this has been done. See the book "The Tao of Pooh"

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  70. Y. Aaharon,
    You should always teach a student in the way that they are able to be taught. One size fits all schooling can be seen as an invention of the industrial revolution, and it harms many people in all societies.

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  71. Ameteur, what makes you think I am saying differently from you? The secret, inner meaning of my words is clearly that I agree with you entirely.

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  72. Ameteur:

    The difference is obvious. It's possible to use Derash, Remez and Sod to illuminate the Torah, because it is the work of the Ribbono Shel Olam, and thus can contain multiple layers of meaning within the same words.

    If you use these methods on the Talmud, which was written by men, you are endowing these men with, kaveyocheil, the same level of intelligence as the RBSO, which is surely a no-no, even for a chossid.

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  73. "Ameteur, what makes you think I am saying differently from you? The secret, inner meaning of my words is clearly that I agree with you entirely."

    It's very possible that you do. However the words you have written are verbose, not terse, and you have not established or even utilized a known system of symbolic words.

    It's very similar to how Brisk will take certain words in the gemora and apply to them entire legal constructs behind what those words truly represent. Since those specific terms are used constantly they are able to do so.

    However if you think such a system is used by you, I would be happy to look through your posts to find it. But you are always using synonyms, so I find it unlikely.. except in a few cases that I can think of, but those words and the consistent meaning behind them does not seem to be relevant to this specific discussion. They would most likely reveal information about you rather than information about how to study Torah. Or they might just give over wisdom about how to conduct ones self in a rationalistic manner. Again, irrelevant to this discussion.

    But thanks for trying to mock other people's ideas, and making no attempt whatsoever to understand them.

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  74. Btw, I was first introduced to this manner of reading texts when learning the Great Gatsby and the importance of colors in the story.

    It is not a means of reading texts which is unique to Jewish sources.

    http://www.lesekost.de/amlit/hhl252c.htm

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  75. "Simliarly here. The basic principle that Rav Moshe Shapiro applies might provide a superficial explanation, but he likely needs to have the time to sit and research the specifics for each application.

    The question is, of coures, when will have that time."

    No, the question is how one can be confident of his principles if they have never been tested. Had you claimed RMS solved 75% of the problems but was asked about the 25% as yet unexamined, you might have something of a point. Not enough of a point to justify his anti-slifkin diatribe but at least a point. As it is, you are basically claiming that he creates principles from thin air, or darker places, declares anyone who disagrees is wrong and likely a heretic, and never bothers to see if the principle pans out. Not a very strong defense.

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  76. "The difference is obvious. It's possible to use Derash, Remez and Sod to illuminate the Torah, because it is the work of the Ribbono Shel Olam, and thus can contain multiple layers of meaning within the same words."

    Snag, you don't need the Ribbono Shel Olam to have multiple meanings. You don't even need ruach hakodesh. All you need a human brain.

    http://faculty.goucher.edu/eng211/hidden_meaningstheory_101.htm

    http://www.endicott-studio.com/rdrm/forseus.html


    " and never bothers to see if the principle pans out."

    And how would you ever know if the principle pans out or not? What makes sense to the author may not make sense to you, and visa versa.

    I'm not sure when reading the Talmud became a case of bridge building, but I think people need to spend more time learning about literature.

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  77. No offense, but we're simply living in different universes. This is the point at which I gave up on trying to have a serious discussion with you:

    "To the contrary, all the texts must be read with a Maharal style of reading. Even the Rambam."

    While the Rambam davka may well have an esoteric reading, this is because he himself says that one should read him this way. To say that ALL the Rishonim and Acharonim should be read this way makes the whole thing into a joke. Hence my rejoinder.

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  78. "Natan Slifkin said...

    No offense, but we're simply living in different universes. This is the point at which I gave up on trying to have a serious discussion with you:

    "To the contrary, all the texts must be read with a Maharal style of reading. Even the Rambam."

    While the Rambam davka may well have an esoteric reading, this is because he himself says that one should read him this way. To say that ALL the Rishonim and Acharonim should be read this way makes the whole thing into a joke. Hence my rejoinder."

    You are operating from the premise that if the Rambam didn't say that so then we would have to say he had no esoteric readings but others if they didn't say that must not have? I would say rather examine the texts to see if there are esoteric readings. The Rambam only let us know that we would discover contradictions in his Guide of the Perplexed and that that is because there are secrets but if we discovered the same contradictions we would deduce it anyhow.

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  79. "No offense, but we're simply living in different universes. This is the point at which I gave up on trying to have a serious discussion with you:"

    It is impossible to respond to such a statement. If you wish to ignore a well established method of reading literature, I guess that is your prerogative.

    If you want to make wild generalizations, and oversimplify my statements by implying that any series of words can contain any meaning whatsoever, again that is your prerogative. However it is insulting, and childish and well below the behavior of someone who wishes to have other people take their words seriously.

    I guess you would rather people ditch the Torah and Mitzvot then have them be able to relate to the texts as something which has meaning.

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  80. Does your slew of questions mean Rabbi Belsky has no answers? Why do you write b'shmo that he has no answers? Do you think people cannot tear apart your own works when you are not there to defend them? I myself have heard devastating attacks particularly on your chapter regarding the pro-chronic approach. I would write some of them to you except that you never responded to my other arguments that I emailed you!

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  81. If you wish to ignore a well established method of reading literature, I guess that is your prerogative.

    Ignoring all the Rishonim, or claiming that they mean something other than what they say they mean, is a "well-established method of reading literature"?

    I guess you would rather people ditch the Torah and Mitzvot then have them be able to relate to the texts as something which has meaning.

    I have absolutely no idea what you are talking about.

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  82. Does your slew of questions mean Rabbi Belsky has no answers?

    No. But he has no answers.

    Why do you write b'shmo that he has no answers?

    I didn't write it b'shmo. I'm saying it b'shmi. Rav Belsky does not have incredible answers that reconcile all these Chazal/science conflicts and which nobody has ever thought of (and which do not involve saying that Chazal are wrong, or ideas that are unscientific, or which for other reasons are clearly not what the Gemara is talking about).

    Of course, it could be (as someone who claims to know him suggested) that he admits that Chazal were wrong in these cases. In which case I'm wondering why he made the claims that he made.

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  83. "Ignoring all the Rishonim, or claiming that they mean something other than what they say they mean, is a "well-established method of reading literature"?"

    Yes, because that is exactly what I wrote isn't it? I said that Ignoring the Rishonim is a well established method of reading literature. No twisting or ignoring my words there right?

    I provided 3 links where you could read what they teach in Universities these days about reading literature, but I see you chose to ignore them.

    Please apologize, and actually respond to what I wrote, instead of purposefully ignoring my statements and twisting my words.


    "I have absolutely no idea what you are talking about."

    Clearly not, because you are not willing to spend 10 minutes to read what I am writing.

    But when somebody who you describe as intelligent says that there is ONLY one way to learn Torah, I suggest you spend a bit more time thinking about trying to tear down that method. Else, clearly your goal is to have people ditch Torah unless they do it your way. Truly, very Charedi of you.

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  84. No. But he has no answers.

    Why do you write b'shmo that he has no answers?

    I didn't write it b'shmo. I'm saying it b'shmi. Rav Belsky does not have incredible answers that reconcile all these Chazal/science conflicts and which nobody has ever thought of (and which do not involve saying that Chazal are wrong, or ideas that are unscientific, or which for other reasons are clearly not what the Gemara is talking about).


    Aha! So he does have answers after all. Just ones that don't personally satisfy you, or people like you.
    Does that give you the right to say --even "bishmi"--that he "has no answers"? How condescending!

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  85. There is a very strange habit that you embrace when dealing with confrontation. You quote one easy line of your opponent's to refute and then you consider their entire point refuted.
    You have done this again and again to my comments and still you always ignore the main thrust of the questions. Considering that you do seem to have much time to discuss and opine with the commentors who agree with you, I do conclude that you have no meaningful answers to give.

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  86. What is the "main thrust" of your points that I have not responded to?

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  87. Ameteur, I see in your comments to the latest post that you believe that (A) there is no way to know what a person actually meant when he wrote something, and (B) that "you must find a way for those texts to have meaning to you, no matter how you end up interpreting it in the end." There's just no common framework for us to have a discussion.

    (But I don't think that any Torah authority would say that "there is no way to know what a Tanna/ Amora/ Rishon/ Acharon actually meant when he wrote something.")

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  88. "Ameteur, I see in your comments to the latest post that you believe that (A)"

    You see, this is where you fall flat. You are 100% wrong about what *I* believe. What I believe is that Torah and Judaism are only applicable in Israel, and trying to apply halacha outside of Israel is just a fun game in education and was good for keeping us around until we returned. Trying to reconstruct what was intended by the Talmud and Chazal, in Eretz Yisorel is very important and a worthy goal, it's been 2,000ish years since we were last home, we better put as much effort as we can into finding what we are supposed to be doing here... but this isn't about me, it's about ideas and rationalism and you attacking people and ideas that are not given a voice of their own.

    And this is exactly the problem with trying to divine what some author intends by their words. It is 100% appropriate, and reasonable for person to argue a position that they do not believe in if those who do believe the position are not around to do so themselves.

    However, this is not about what I believe, this is about what the experts in the field make very clear.

    "There's just no common framework for us to have a discussion."

    And here I thought you respected the findings of Experts.

    To quote: " how is one to know what a Medieval writer truly meant to say in a poem? If Medieval literature still has value today, it is at least partially because of how we understand it to produce meaning, not by virtue of what the author meant to say. Modern literary critics argue that this new found meaning is not merely a curious quirk, but an equally legitimate interpretation of the work."
    And of course by modern, they mean from the 1940s onward.

    Oh well, gzunt g'heit.

    Like the rest of your cheredi brethren, I see that you only really rely on experts when it agrees with your original assumptions regarding your agenda.

    Also interesting is how with the wave of your hand you throw out thousands of years of midrash. The very act of Midrash is to add meaning to texts while ignoring the authorial intent of the Torah.

    I find it laughable that you think you still follow a Rationalist approach to texts when you are willing to just ignore all that Universities today have found to be true.

    I suggest you try reading the 1967 essay "The death of the Author" if you ever decide to to have a rational conversation with people.

    There is even a nice website devoted to the essay, with counter essays and other related information. Death of the Author

    If that didn't work I'll try just pasting the link for you. http://www.deathoftheauthor.com/

    I'm sure you will immediately read the counterpoint and find it convincing, but recognize that it makes few if any actual arguments but rather just attacks the idea without backing up why the idea is nonsense.

    But finding a daat yachid, will not remove the fact that the consensus of the experts is that divining Authorial intent is truly impossible, and that Texts only exist with the meanings that readers give to it.

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  89. Hey, I have nothing against creative drush, and making new layers of meaning. But to claim that Chazal were DEFINITIVELY speaking metaphorically, in cases where the context and all early interpretation clearly shows otherwise, is absurd and is certainly not supported by modern scholarship. The sources that you cite are discussing poetry, not Aristotle's Historia Naturalis. Nobody would claim that Aristotle was only speaking metaphorically!

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  90. Firstly, you are wrong about, nobody and Aristotle.

    Hidden meanings of Aristotle

    And while Aristotle might have been against such readings of his work, (or did he just write that way for the sake of his students?) his writings existed in a world where this form of communication was common, and it's ramifications debated.

    Aristotle and Myth

    Even in the modern era, these sort of texts are open to new ideas and ways of reading.
    Hidden messages in Plato



    Secondly:
    " But to claim that Chazal were DEFINITIVELY speaking metaphorically, "

    This is NOT what I claimed. What I claimed was that for some people, Learning Torah/Chazal metaphorically is the only valid approach to learning Torah.

    You may not recognize the difference, but the difference is huge.

    Thirdly, why would you try to compare Talmud or the works of Chazal to a book about natural history?

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  91. Thirdly, why would you try to compare Talmud or the works of Chazal to a book about natural history?

    Just the parts that are actually about natural history. As understood by ALL the Rishonim.

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  92. What I find odd about this back and forth about other possible readings of the Gemara is that it is backwards. R. Slifkin's reading is not interesting. In fact the Gemara is not interesting at face value except to naturalists or historians or combinations of both (count me in). The only reason the Gemara is broadly interesting is because there are people who feel that Chazal can NEVER say something wrong about anything (or maybe only if it is quoted in the gemara - I am not sure). If Chazal can say something wrong - if they are able to be fallible for whatever reason - and there is good reason in these examples - then the Gemara ceases to be interesting and we can all go back to living our lives of being Shomrei Torah U'Mitzvot. So what does it matter if there is some other metaphysical reading or some universe where animals as described in the Gemara existed. To someone like R. Slifkin I dont see the value of admitting that these alternate possibilities exist if the simple and rational reading causes no religious damage? Why choose a reading which goes against your own sense of historical truth if a reading which fits the truth also fits your hashkafa?

    The only really interesting questions are for the other side of the debate. Why cant Chazal be fallible? Do you really believe that they always knew and spoke the truth even when speaking about science? Is it just a slippery slope argument or does it come from true deep down belief? These kinds of people are interesting and exploring their beliefs are interesting. And then each case where Chazal seem to contradict scientific reality becomes interesting. If the plain meaning is wrong then what is the real meaning? This is true up to a point. When it becomes clear that there is no common ground then it might be time to move on.

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  93. why do you ask me questions and then not publish or answer my responses?
    e.g., on this post you asked (in all honesty I assumed)"What is the "main thrust" of your points that I have not responded to?" To which I responded with a lengthy comment that was summarily stricken from the record. You also asked in the first "bat blog" "What email was that? I don't see it in my inbox, and I virtually never remove an email without replying." To which I also responded with a lengthy comment that was entirely ignored and went unpublished. If you cannot stand the heat get out of the business!

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  94. I have not received any such comments. Maybe there's a technical problem. Blogger rejects comments that are too long.

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  95. Yaakov F.,instead of attributing misfeasance to the blog owner, first check that you have followed the instructions on how to send a response. Note the random word in red. It must be copied exactly in the word verification box (sometimes that word is hard to read due to weird font used). Sometimes the random word prompt doesn't appear. In that case, your comment won't be immediately sent when you hit the 'publish' box. You need to wait for the prompt to appear, then copy it, and try again to send. Second, you need to identify yourself in some manner (I use the name option). Third, if your comment is too lengthy, it will be rejected by the system, as R' Natan has written.

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  96. Aharon Haber,

    You make very good points.

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  97. Avi writes:

    "What I claimed was that for some people, Learning Torah/Chazal metaphorically is the only valid approach to learning Torah" -- Ameteur


    I realize that I am jumping on an old (ancient by Internet-reckoning) thread, but I can't help myself.

    The ultimate conclusion to the quoted belief is that the entirety of Rabbanic Halachah must be disregarded. This is simply the logical conclusion of anyone who believes the words of Torah are entirely metaphorical. This is exactly the position of the Karaites regarding Tephilin. They feel that the "signs" must be metaphorical, therefore they do not wear Tephilin. This is the world that Ameteur seems to be advocating.

    To claim that only non-Halachic statements of Chazal are metaphorical is simple sophistry. It's another way of saying that anything you don't understand must not have been meant literally. That's putting words in Chazal's mouths. It's a rationalization, not being rational.

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