Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Acknowledging Dissenting Views

NOTE: I wish to retract my statement in the previous post in which I described Rabbi Dr. David Shabtai's book as siding with those who do not accept brain death. I have not read the book myself and was merely relying upon hearsay. I apologize if I have given the wrong impression.

Everyone has a bias towards interpreting the views of respected figures as matching their own. But with anti-rationalists (and hyper-rationalists), this bias is so powerful that it often prevents their acknowledging the very existence of any dissenting opinions. Rabbi Bleich's article on spontaneous generation is a perfect example.

Rabbi Bleich begins the section on this topic by making a passing mention of R. Sherira Gaon and R. Avraham ben HaRambam's acknowledgement of the scientific errancy of Chazal, followed by a lengthy citation of Chazon Ish's position that one who posits such errancy is a heretic. On this, I have three comments. First, it is disturbing that in a footnote, Rabbi Bleich references Rabbi Moshe Meiselman's unfortunate theory regarding the "provenance and authority" of R. Avraham ben HaRambam's statement i.e. his belief that it is a forgery. Second, I am not sure why Chazon Ish merits a greater focus than Geonim and Rishonim. Third, there may well be here an instance of Rabbi Bleich revising the Chazon Ish's view to bring it more in line with his own, but from the opposite direction. Rabbi Bleich writes that although Chazon Ish held halachic statements of Chazal to be infallible, he assuredly "would not deny that certain aggadic statements are hyperbolic in nature and that others must be understood allegorically." In fact, this is far from clear. Rabbi Mordechai Shulman, Rosh Yeshivah of Slabodka Yeshiva in Bnei Brak, relates a story concerning the Chazon Ish (Pe’er HaDor p. 330). A student reported that he had seen a work that claimed that the account of Og involved exaggerations. The Chazon Ish told this student that such beliefs were forbidden, and did not allow that student to touch wine out of concern that it would become yayin nesech. While it is possible that this story should not be taken at face value, there is certainly no basis for being sure of it; Chazon Ish would not be the first or last to insist that Aggadata is all literally true.

Rabbi Bleich then writes as follows:

The claim that “scores of Rishonim and Aharonim are of the view that the Sages were not infallible in such matters,” i.e., in matters of Halakhah, is simply not true. Those authorities who ascribed error to Hazal did so only in the context of non-halakhic pronouncements. With the exception of Pahad Yizhak, I am hard pressed to identify any rishon or aharon who believes that, properly understood, Hazal were fallible in their specific halakhic pronouncements.

His "i.e." is somewhat disingenuous, since I was in fact referring to statements made in non-halachic contexts. However, I will let it go, since the bottom line is that I see no reason why they would not say the same in halachic contexts. The scores of authorities who said that Chazal were not infallible in matters such as basic astronomy clearly did not subscribe to the recent mystical view, itself strongly conflicting with the Gemara, that Chazal had ruach hakodesh in all matters. What basis is there for saying that they would all believe that ruach hakodesh would suddenly "kick in" when they were basing a halachah on this scientific knowledge? Besides, as Rabbi Aharon Marcus in Keses HaSofer to Bereishis 1:21 points out, we see cases (such as Niddah 22b, Chullin 63b and 77a) where Chazal relied on the opinion of scholars in the natural sciences for the purposes of halachah. Were those gentile scholars suddenly divinely inspired in such cases?

Furthermore, in at least one case there are indeed halachic ramifications of the cases where the Rishonim said that Chazal erred. The Tosafist R. Eliezer of Metz suggests that the reason why one must knead matzah dough only with water that had sat the night after being drawn is to prevent it from being heated during the night by the sun, which is passing beneath the earth at that time. He notes that this follows the view of the gentile scholars regarding the sun's path at night, as opposed to the view of the Jewish Sages which was mistaken. R. Eliezer’s view is quoted, endorsed and further explained by Rosh, R. Yerucham ben Meshullam, Semag, and Ritva.

Rabbi Bleich then claims that R. Yosef Kappach, whom I cited as stating that Chazal's ruling on lice was based upon a mistaken belief in spontaneous generation, held no such thing; instead, he claims, R. Kappach believed that nishtaneh hateva (i.e. that although lice today do not spontaneously generate, the lice in Chazal's era really did spontaneously generate). But the evidence indicates that this is simply R. Bleich projecting his own views upon R. Kappach. As R. Kappach's disciples will attest, he had no problem saying that Chazal erred in scientific matters. R. Kappach (unlike Rabbi Bleich) elsewhere readily acknowledged that Chazal were mistaken in their belief in the spontaneous generation of mud-mice; presumably he would have acknowledged the same regarding their belief in the spontaneous generation of sweat-lice.

Rabbi Bleich likewise claims that Rav Herzog, whom I cited as stating that Chazal's ruling on lice was based upon a mistaken belief in spontaneous generation, was instead proposing that nishtaneh hateva. Yet, again, everything that we know about Rav Herzog indicates otherwise. Rabbi Herzog fully accepted that the Sages of the Talmud were fallible in scientific matters:

The attitude of the orthodox Jew towards the scientific matter embedded in this colossal mass of Jewish religious learning may be best summed up in the words of R. Abraham Maimuni, the great son of the greatest codifier of Jewish law and the foremost Jewish philosopher of the Middle Ages. “It does not at all follow,” Abraham Maimuni declares in his classical introduction to the Haggadah, “that because we bow to the authority of the sages of the Talmud in all that appertains to the interpretation of the Torah in its principles and details, we must accept unquestionably all their dicta on scientific matters, such as medicine, physics and astronomy. We ought to be quite prepared to find that some of their statements coming within the purview of science are not borne out by the science of our times...” It is of importance to bear this in mind when we enter upon the study of science in the Talmud. (Rabbi Yitzchak Herzog, Judaism: Law & Ethics, p. 152)

In another context, he notes that a statement in the Talmud about physiology has been clearly demonstrated as false, and therefore could not have been a tradition from Sinai (see the letter cited by Dov Frimer, “Jewish Law and Science in the Writings of Rabbi Isaac HaLevy Herzog"). In light of his ready acknowledgement of Chazal's fallibility in scientific matters, and his PhD in marine biology, it is surely absurd to claim that Rav Herzog believed that Chazal were correct in their beliefs regarding spontaneous generation.

Rabbi Bleich also completely ignores my citation of Rav Moshe Glasner, the Dor Revi'i, in this section.

In summary: Rabbi Bleich refuses to acknowledge that anyone (other than Pachad Yitzchak) ever admitted to Chazal sometimes basing halachic rulings on erroneous scientific beliefs. This is opposed by all reason and evidence, and simply reinforces that which we have seen in the first and second part of this rejoinder: that Rabbi Bleich has a non-rationalist approach to this topic.

35 comments:

  1. What about the mathematical mistake in Eruvin 18a?

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  2. In summary: Rabbi Bleich refuses to acknowledge that anyone (other than Pachad Yitzchak) ever admitted to Chazal sometimes basing halachic rulings on erroneous scientific beliefs. This is opposed by all reason and evidence, and simply reinforces that which we have seen in the first and second part of this rejoinder: that Rabbi Bleich has a non-rationalist approach to this topic.
    Assuming that this is, in fact, the case, I would say that he has an intellectually dishonest approach to the topic, rather than a non-rationalist approach. It seems to me that an intellectually honest non-rationalist approach would acnowledge the authorities you cite, and disagree with them.

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  3. Are there authorities who hold that Chazal/poskim/rabbonim have Ruach Hakodesh, but that doesn't mean they are always right? I flirt with that idea periodically, and as I'm neither a rabbi nor a philosopher, there's no downside.

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  4. The sages of Israel had an argument with the wise men of athens on whether the sun goes over the earth at night. Rebbi yehuda hanasi said, "their words are nirim (seen)." The the way rishonim understand this is that the wise of Athens won the debate.
    This Gemara is in direct contraction to todays chareidi hashkafa in which the wise of the nations could not win a debate with the wise of Israel. In fact in todays hashkafa it would be impossible for the wise of Israel to be wrong in the first place much less lose a debate with a bunch of goyim.

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  5. This doesn't directly relate to this specific topic -- but does directly relate to the Rationalist Orthodox Judaism discussion in general.

    R' Slifkin -- I am not even sure if you realize your "evolution." You have gone from defending the Rationalist position as a legitimate one to basically saying that the other positions are wrong, illegitimate, and should not be followed. Sometimes you seem to be just saying that if someone is not following the Rationalist position let him be clear about it, and honest about the sources. But many other times you are saying (both directly and indirectly) that the Rationalist position is THE correct Jewish approach and others are basically foolish and should not be followed. This is of course your right, is not surprising for a Rationalist (a Rationalist almost must feel this way) and Rambam certainly seemed to feel the same. But being that you are becoming an important voice in the contemporary Orthodox discussion it is important that others understand what you are doing – and again it would seem to me that since the beginning of the controversy you have moved quite a distance.

    Whether you always felt this way or just they pushed you towards it (which is pretty ironic) the reality is that you are now forcefully arguing against the majority of the Orthodox community, the overwhelming majority of its Rabbinic figures, and against a few hundred years of the most recent Jewish history.

    You know very well that the few recent sources are nice for a footnote, but not to forcefully argue against the overwhelming Rabbinic mainstream.

    Honestly – where you are today wouldn’t you say that they were correct to come out forcefully against you? Whether they saw it coming or pushed you towards it -- wouldn’t you agree that they were correct from their perspective? Not just your defense of their right to do so – but that they are correct that what you are arguing is beyond what is acceptable to them? Day before they banned you – if someone asked you if someone would come and argue the way you are today – wouldn’t you totally think the opposition made sense?

    Also, in some of your arguments against R’ Bleich – you are arguing circularly. You say things like “The whole world believed in spontaneous generation, there is no reason to believe that Chazal didn’t too.” But that is exactly the debate! There are many non-Rationalist reasons to believe so – all strong positions within Jewish tradition. That’s not an argument just a restatement of your position.

    I like your stuff and wish you continued Hatzlacha. But I wonder if you yourself realize what you are doing. And if you do, then your surprise or affront is disingenuous.

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  6. When did I ever say that the non-rationalist approach is Jewishly illegitimate? On the contrary, I am always very careful to stress that others have a right to have a different approach. The problem with R. Bleich is that people don't realize that he represents the non-rationalist approach.

    I have long said that my opponents were correct to oppose me, from their value system. See my essay "In Defense Of My Opponents." As to my evolution since the ban - it should be obvious that a large part of that is due to the ban itself.

    I don't see why the arguments for Chazal believing in spont. gen. are circular. All the Rishonim and Acharonim learned Chazal that way!

    If you want to discuss this further, please email me, or bring it up on a post that is more related to this.

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  7. Does he really say such things about HaRav HaGaon Yosef Kapach, z"l? In order to maintain anything like what he is promoting was ever even entertained by such a scholar and Maimonist as Rav Kapach, one would have to be worse than completely ignorant of anything that "Mori" (as he is referred to in Yemenite circles) ever wrote on any subject. Rav Kapach was a Maimonist to the core and the centerpiece of the rational approach to understanding and implementing the works of Chazal are the Rambam and his son, Rabbenu Avraham.

    The reason why he can get away with this is because despite Rav Kapach's works and editions of various seforim that populate the shelves of batei midrash all over the world, few have even heard his name. Thus, few know what he actually taught his students. While he was alive, he was arguably the greatest Jewish scholar in the world, yet his humility was parallel with his prolific achievements and he has only since begun to be truly discovered by the Torah - particularly Ashkenazi - world.

    Rav Kapach and his close students are one of the greatest examples of where the rational approach - if lived out in a thoroughly Jewish manner - can lead. There are deeply religious, halakhically-minded, learned, and patriotic. May HKB"H raise up more like him in this generation and those of our children.

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  8. However, I will let it go, since the bottom line is that I see no reason why they would not say the same in halachic contexts... Were those gentile scholars suddenly divinely inspired in such cases?

    I don't know why you suddenly require ruach ha-kodesh. The fact is that halacha has been built on that premise for two thousand years. I don't understand how you can be so sure of yourself- the Pachad Yitzchak himself was clearly ambivalent and he was discussing adopting a chumra!

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  9. One of the greatest errors of modern - particularly Haredi - Judaism is that they follow their leaders' halakhic rulings and teachings because they believe that these men possess "ruach ha-kodesh." However, if they would read the Rambam's introduction to the Mishnah and Hilchot Yesodei HaTorah, they would see that we SPECIFICALLY PROHIBITED from listening to someone who teaches that the halakhah is such-and-such because of some sort of prophetic ability. In fact, if a prophet woke up and told Israel that he had a dream and that it was revealed to him that the halakhah was such-and-such, that prophet is a navi sheker and is sentenced to death under Torah law. Why? Because halakhah is determined by courts and reality, NOT prophetic ability.

    How far have we gone from basic Torah principles? We have turned the "gedolei Yisrael" (usually out-of-touch or senile white men) into the charismatic leaders that other non-Jewish religions possess. Judaism has in many ways been completely turned on its head.

    HaShem Ya`azor

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  10. I never had an opinion of R. Bleich, one way or the other. But a few years ago - the last time the "Bircat Ha-Hama" was recited -I was shown a book written by R. Bleich on that subject. My position is that Bircat Ha-Hama is a wonderful blessing to make, (which I do), but that we should not seriously imagine that the sun is in the exact same position as it was on (the Wednesday!) of Creation. A friend gave me R. Bleich's book, in which he insisted that this notion is scientifically accurate. Against my better judgment, I read the book. I don't remember the exact page, but I do remember coming across a passage that I found so intellectually dishonest, that just put the book down in disgust. As I said, I never had any opinion of R. Blech, but I remember thinking: "if this is a YU Rabbi, the supposed enlightened ones - what hope is there for Orthodoxy?"

    Ezra

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  11. Ezra -- go pick up the book and find the source. He clearly says that it is not the exact position -- and goes on to explain why we make the Beracha anyway.

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  12. R' Slifkin,

    Do you have or know of a list of Rishonim/Achronim who take the anti-rationalist approach, and indicate that they believe that Chazal were infallible?

    (I don't think a list of contemporary gedolim is necessary...)

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  13. I read the Birkat HaChama book but don't remember anything like the claim that the sun is in the same position. I do remember he clearly debunks all the "And Purim was a Birkat HaChama year" and all that nonsense.

    All of the points raised by Rav Slifkin are important. Is there any way to get a response from Rav Bleich?

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  14. BlackBeltStep --

    I don't have such a list, but based on my research, the list of Rishonim will be very short. It may arguably include the Rashba and Rivash as its most prominent members, though whether they (especially Rashba) belong there is debatable.

    The list of Acharonim (starting in the era of the Shulchan Aruch) will be long.

    When analyzing sources that may advocate belief in Chazal's infallibility, it is important to bear a couple of points in mind:

    (a) It's a lot easier for a talmid chacham to overstate Chazal's competence (without feeling the need to qualify the overstatement) than it is to say anything critical about them.

    (b) Praise of Chazal often appears in rhetoric defending traditional Judaism; in such cases strict fidelity to the precise historical truth may not have been the author's first priority.

    (c) Exaggeration and hyperbole were standard rhetorical devices until relatively recently. When you read literature (including rabbinic literature) from centuries ago, you must bear this in mind.

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  15. Yitzi7,

    The point is not that we need a justification to bless HAshem for the sun. My point was, I distinctly recall R. Bleich writing something that was so obviously false that it was painful.

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  16. You could also point to the Rambam about tereifos--although I know the controversy about how to interpret it, I think the best explanation is that of R. Nachum Rabinovitch, "הערכה מדעית כיסוד לפסיקת הלכה" available here: http://www.zomet.org.il/?CategoryID=290&ArticleID=384#_Toc184607710
    This article also discusses brain death here: http://www.zomet.org.il/?CategoryID=290&ArticleID=384#_Toc184607707

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  17. Mighty Garnel Ironheart: "Is there any way to get a response from Rav Bleich?"

    Have you Googled him? Based on decades of experience with academics and rabbis (I'm neither), I'd expect him to be quite easy to talk to. Faculty in clinical medicine seem to be the hardest, but even with them it's almost always just a matter of scheduling.

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  18. you have completely misread and misrepresented rabbi bleich's rejoinder to your letter.

    I read your series of posts before I read Rabbi Bleich's response to your letter in Tradition. Therefore at first I only wrote in to point out that in the quote you bring from rabbi bleich in which he writes that the pachad yitzchak is a lone source, rabbi bleich appears to be discussing only errors in halachic pronoucements and rulings and not errors in scientific fact. This looked to me like potentially a serious mis-interpretation on your part, and I next turned to see the quote in context.
    And lo and behold I read rabbi bleich's letter in Tradition and discovered that rabbi bliech doesn't begin to take the positions you ascribe to him. He doesn't say that hazal can't err on science. On the contrary, he begins by saying "there are multiple ways of analyzing
    the ostensibly contra-scientific notion of spontaneous generation expressed
    by Hazal. None of those solutions involve ascribing scientific
    inerrancy to Hazal"
    He doesn't argue that hazal didn't believe in spontaneous generation. Rather, he advances the position on the topic already ascribed to him on hirhurim blog (so much for that "stira"). Finally, in the rejoinder, R Bleich advances a possible framework whereby it's possible to accept that hazal relied on the erroneous science of their times and potentially reconcile that view with the hazon ish's (apparently) contrary one, which brings us to the last point, namely why he quotes the hazon ish at such length. No doubt he does so because in addition to the hazon ish being an important figure who wrote on the topic of chazal and scientific errors, whose views merit mention whether one adopts them or not, rabbi bleich is about to present a thesis at some length whereby someone who accepts that hazal relied on the obviously primitive science of their day may be acceptable even accepting the hazon ish. why does rabbi bleich quote the hazon ish at greater length than geonim and rishonim? Not out of bias toward the view that it's heresy to say chazal were limited in their scientific understanding and bias against the view that chazal subscribed to the science of their times. But rather because he is going to try to present a possible approach to the hazon ish's position that presumes acceptance of the position of the geonim and rishonim who say chazal relied on the science of their times. What an incredibly egregious misrepresentation on your part. (to be continued in next comment)

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  19. (continued from previous comment)
    (BTW Rabbi Bleich's approach here is IMO reminiscent of Rav Nadel's framework for understanding events like the torah's presentation of the mabul through the prism of the biblical figure's understanding... although I hasten to add that I don't know if Rabbi Bleich would accept the analogy, nor have i seen any article of rabbi bleich's that addresses issues of science and torah shebksav rather than science and torah shebaalpeh. The analogy to rav nadel's shita, for better or for worse, is my own.)

    also, to anyone familiar with rabbi bleich's writing, it's not "disturbing" that Rabbi Bleich cites Rabbi Meiselman's theory about forgery - or anyone else's theory about anything - as he routinely cites all manner of opinions on all manner of topics, sometimes without comment, even when those opinions must be far from his own. The reality is that in his rejoinder, rabbi bleich doesn't reject rav avraham ben harambam's (and the rambam's and others')thesis that chazal could err on science. What bias would there be to presenting rabbi meiselman's position that rav avraham ben harambam's maamar al hahagados was forged, only to accept the content of the position rav avraham ben harambam takes and to present only solutions to the spontaneous generation question that DON'T rely on chazal's presumed scientific inerrancy.

    This series of posts in which you mangle and misunderstand and misrepresent rabbi bleich's rejoinder, and then go on to attack his qualifications as a posek based on these egregious misreadings, call into serious question your scholarly skills and judgement.

    I await any response that you may have to the errors that rabbi bleich pointed out in your original letter.

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  20. "Third, there may well be here an instance of Rabbi Bleich revising the Chazon Ish's view to bring it more in line with his own, but from the opposite direction. Rabbi Bleich writes that although Chazon Ish held halachic statements of Chazal to be infallible, he assuredly "fwould not deny that certain aggadic statements are hyperbolic in nature and that others must be understood allegorically"

    I find your understanding highly unlikely, and Rabbi Bleich's rather more likely. As a piece of evidence, Hazon Ish famously advised students to learn gemara with the commentary of maharasha. Maharsha doesn't take all aggadic statements of hazal literally. Was Hazon Ish advising students to learn gemara with a commentary full of kefirah or - if you think he felt "maharsha can say it, we can not" that would teach them to interpret gemara in a way that was kefira for them? If such an approach is kefira, he could have stuck to advising students to learn gemara with rashi and tosfos. More likely, if the story related about his objection to the student's comment is true, he was objecting to some other aspect of the student's presentation that he felt denigrated hazal.

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  21. A.student - First of all, it is inappropriate to post the same comment to multiple threads. Pick one thread to post on. I already responded to your points on the previous threads where you raised them.

    "in the quote you bring from rabbi bleich in which he writes that the pachad yitzchak is a lone source, rabbi bleich appears to be discussing only errors in halachic pronoucements and rulings and not errors in scientific fact."

    Yes, but that's not what I was discussing in the comment that R. Bleich cited (aside from the fact that pachad yitzchak is not a lone source).

    When R. Bleich says that "None of these solutions involve ascribing scientific inerrancy to chazal," it's like those who will concede that the Gedolim are not infallible, but refuse to ever conclude in any given matter that they were actually wrong. He is most certainly saying (in I.3) that Chazal did not believe in spontaneous generation. That's why he has to reinterpret the Gemara's challenge from betzei kinnim. And that's why he has to say that the Gemara is not talking about the lice we know, whose eggs are not microscopic.

    As for the speculative theory that he puts forth at the end of section V, he ultimately describes it as problematic due to its novelty, and superfluous due to the existence of other cogent theories.

    "Maharsha doesn't take all aggadic statements of hazal literally."

    Yes, he does! Maharsha stresses in a few places that the deeper meanings that he gives are IN ADDITION to the plain meaning, and that it is the way of heretics to deny the plain meaning.

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  22. "In summary: Rabbi Bleich refuses to acknowledge that anyone (other than Pachad Yitzchak) ever admitted to Chazal sometimes basing halachic rulings on erroneous scientific beliefs. This is opposed by all reason and evidence, and simply reinforces that which we have seen in the first and second part of this rejoinder: that Rabbi Bleich has a non-rationalist approach to this topic."

    I beleive you've misunderstood his point regarding rav kapach and rav herzog, which i think is not that they didn't believe that hazal subscribed to the scientific views of their time, but rather that when it came to discussion of halacha based on science, they write in a way consistent with nishtane hateva, not error. He therefore provides quotes from both about spontaneous generation l'halacha. IMO possibly rav kapach
    and rav herzog take this approach in the interests of brevity, so as not to advance a lengthy explanation as to why the halachic is binding regardless of its rationale, but the issue at hand is not whether they accept hazal as infallible regarding science, but rather how they approach their halachic authority in situations where the halacha rests on ostensibly erroneous science. You
    might be forgiven not understanding his point, or make an arguement for your approach here if not for the rest of
    this post and your summary statement, which is disingenuous.
    Before Rabbi Bleich discusses rabbis kapach and herzog, he presents Rav Dessler's approach to the issue. As you have cited Rav Dessler favorably on this issue in the past, you and your readers know that Rav Dessler says that while hazal may have had a mesorah on a halacha, and the halacha itself is correct and true, the reason they give for it, such as a scientific rationale, may be incomplete or inaccurate. The halacha remains binding even if the empirical or scientific grounds given by hazal for the halacha are false. Thus even before rabbi bleich continues to say that that he pachad yitzchak is the sole authority to ascribe halachic fallibility to hazal, he's presented the position of rav dessler that the scientific rationales for halachot may be mistaken, yet the halacha binding, a position you characterize as "rationalist" since it accepts the scientific fallibility of hazal. Clearly, he means something other than what you take him to mean wrt the Pachad Yitzchak being a lone authority. The Pachad yitzchak differs from rav dessler even though they both assume that the scientific basis for a halacha may be inaccurate, in that rav dessler still assumes that hazal are halachically authoritative and correct regardless of their scientific premises, while the pachad yitzchak overturns hazal's halachic position, at least lechumra.
    Rabbi bleich also presents the dor revi'i's approach at length, even if not in the section of his response that you would prefer he include it in,
    (continued in next comment)

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  23. (continued from previous comment)
    which apparently is sufficient to make him an "anti-rationalist." Still, even though it's in the "wrong" section of the article in your opinion, Rabbi Bleich writes about the dor revi'i's approach to the binding nature of torah shebalpeh, and his assertion that a halacha may be based on faulty science of hazal's times and still are binding. In the context of dor revi'i's approach to the binding nature of tsb"peh, it appears that he believes that the halacha, even if decided on "False scientific premises" and if it were decided today, would be decided differently, reflects the divine will brought to reality by hashgacha.
    Just as one might have difficulty classifying rav dessler's "hazal's reasoning may be incorrect, but the halacha is correct" as an example of hazal's fallibility in halacha, it is also difficult to classify the position that "the halacha hazal promulgated
    reflects hashgacha and retzon haboreh" as an example of hazal's fallibility in halacha. Presumably that's why these positions are not in the section you wish to find them in. Additionally, rabbi bleich asserts that even if a halacha were decided based on faulty science, he disputes that the reason it would remain binding is the one that rabbi slifkin argues for, the "nationwide acceptance of halacha" and points out that the dor revi'i doesn't advance this rationale - and also why the dor revi'i is in the later section in which he argues on your "nationwide acceptance" rationale. But Rabbi Bleich does present his own approah for how to understand that hazal relied on the science of their day even as relates to halacha, an approach that alone refutes the claim that he "refuses to acknowledge that anyone (other than Pachad Yitzchak) ever admitted to Chazal sometimes basing halachic rulings on erroneous scientific beliefs" given that his own approach does just this, albeit while explaining that these beliefs are valid for halachic purposes.

    reading rabbi bleich's letter and reading your posts about them - wow is all i can say. truly shocking performance on your part, rabbi slifkin.

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  24. Sorry, I think that you are desperately trying to save Rabbi Bleich, but not coming to terms with what he actually says and the problems with it. Rav Kappach and Rav Herzog "write in a way consistent with nishtane hateva, not error"? Both of them believed that it was error, not nishtaneh hateva. I haven't got patience to respond to the rest of what you wrote, and frankly, I don't see a point, since I haven't heard anyone else make the claims that you make.

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  25. Thank you, DES.

    You make it sound like the concept of Chazal's infallibility was possibly pulled out of a hat by the Achronim. But where did it come from? Where/who is the first source that even a firm rationalist could point to and say, "now there's a reputable opinion that is clearly opposed to mine (and all the Rishonim, etc.)"?

    I recognize that my question might be better served on an anti-rationalist blog, but I am not aware of one so this is all I've got!

    Moreover, after all, the title of this post is, "Acknowledging Dissenting Views". :)

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  26. It seems to me that there is little difference between saying Nishtane Hateva and that Chazal made mistakes in science. In fact Nishtane Hateva when you really think about it has a number of major problems:
    1. If Chazal had a kabbala (tradition) about science you would think that they would have had a kabbala that the world is going to change and that the science would no longer be true. נשתנה הטבע should also be part of Torah. After all, if you are going to claim that all of science is in Torah then this very important fact should be there as well. Yet, Chazal never even hint that the scientific pronouncements that they are making are only temporary. They didn't say that remedy X will only work for a limited time. they made a blanket statement that remedy X cures Y. It is clear that Chazal had no idea that נשתנה הטבע was going to happen, why not? If Torah included science it should have included נשתנה הטבע as well.
    2. There is not a shred of evidence that נשתנה הטבע. Remember, the Geonim who lived only a few hundred years after the time of the gemara already stated that the cures of Chazal don't work, that is a very short time. Did the nature of human being change (e.g. the Gemara says that the blood comes from the woman)?

    For a more comprehensive analysis see Is נשתנה הטבע a viable answer for conflicts between Torah and science?

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  27. BlackBeltStep:

    The very first source that clearly sounds "anti-rationalist" in regard to this topic will, of course, be the first source only until someone finds an earlier one. However, I don't recall having come across anything that predates the long teshuvas ha-Rashba that discusses tereifos. For references, see R. A.B. Buchman's article at http://hakirah.org/Vol%204%20Buchman.pdf.

    (This does not constitute an endorsement of that article.)

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  28. "I haven't got patience to respond to the rest of what you wrote, and frankly, I don't see a point, since I haven't heard anyone else make the claims that you make."

    and I will not respond to your response, except to point out that I appear to be the only person who's writing here who's read rabbi bleich's rejoinder to you. I suggest others read it.
    I note also for the record that you once again judge the worth of an argument by how many people of a certain ilk adopt it. You are a proponent of rationalism, again?

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  29. "Yes, he does! Maharsha stresses in a few places that the deeper meanings that he gives are IN ADDITION to the plain meaning, and that it is the way of heretics to deny the plain meaning."

    Maharsha gives allegorical, non-literal interpretations of chazal in a number of places, a fine and relevant example is on the accounts of og melech habashan Brachos 54b, where he cites the rashba approvingly that the pshat is very strange and goes on to offer allegorical kabbalistic interpretations. If the story you relate is even true, it's more than a little difficult to interpret CI reaction as a response to the students belief that chazals account of og is not to be taken literally which is a position to be found in maharsha instead of a response to something else in the students behavior.

    yes you can find maharsha polemicizing that one should accept hazal at literal face value, but this is not his consistent position. CI would say "m'darf lernen yeder maharsha" - "one must learn every maharsha."

    next: was CI accusing the gra of kefira?

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  30. By the way, re: R. Rabinovitch's article about
    using science to pasken halakhah,

    in addition to his Torah qualifications (e.g., 19 volumes of commentary on the Mishneh Torah, 2. vol. of
    responsa
    ), he also has a PhD in the philosophy of science. Since he is a proponent of both the Rambam's philosophy and appreciative of science and the scientific method, I would think he should be a prominent member of your roster of "rationalist rabbis."

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  31. Shalom Shushan, “Emunah BeMidrashi Chazal—Peshuto,” Ohr Torah, Cheshvan 5751, 2:33, insists that every single aggadata is literally true, and cites various authorities in support, including Chazon Ish. Maybe Chazon Ish really held that way, maybe he didn't. I see no way of being certain either way.

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  32. what evidence does he bring that CI held that position (if his evidence is the story you cited in the post, he wouldn't be contributing to the discussion). does he have any evidence? What level of certainty are you aiming for - I remember your posts on areivim regarding what level of certainty is necessary to allegorize torah, and your dismissal of what you felt was an arbitrary requirement that you be 99 or 100 percent sure of the scientific basis for rejecting literal pshat rather than 98 percent or some such figures. Right now, I'd guess that I'm about as certain that CI doesn't hold that position as you are about various scientific issues that prompt you to allegorize (and I'm not disagreeing with any particular position you've taken on allegorization here). I'm willing to revisit if confronted with new evidence, just as i'm sure you would revisit if confronted with new scientific evidence. But more to the point, what level of certainty is required before charging R Bleich with misinterpretaion due to bias? Less than for allegorizing torah, ok, but what is it, fifty fifty? forty sixty in his favor? actually 2 percent your favor, 98 his, but has he proven his contention beyond shadow of any doubt, and put any lingering implausible stories circulating in ponevitz to rest before daring to make an assertion that can be judged free of bias?
    the evidence is with him right now. the odds that CI was accusing not a specific group of thinkers of adopting heretical positions, but the widest possible circle of non-rationalist and anti-rationalists and those who study their works of the same is pretty low. he talks in that letter of those who view chazal's pronouncements as fallible and came to a bad end = that includes everyone who assumes that when hazal describe something physically impossible that they meant it allegorically? much of the haredi world of his times in fact? everyone influenced by e.g. the gra? or was he warning about a specific group that adopted a particular position and sofom mochiach al techilasan. which reading of the letter stands to reason?

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  33. "What bias would there be to presenting rabbi meiselman's position that rav avraham ben harambam's maamar al hahagados was forged"

    Rabbi Meiselman is out on two limbs here. First, Maamar al HaHagados is part of our mesorah and Rabbi Meiselman can't change that anymore than the folks who think Rabbi Moshe De Leon wrote the Zohar can remove the Zohar from our mesorah. Second, it is accepted as the basis for understanding aggadata as it is the introduction to every copy of Ein Yaakov, and Rabbi Meiselman can't change that, either. Questioning the authority of universally accepted sources are the kinds of arguments that Conservative rabbis make.


    "But Rabbi Bleich does present his own approah for how to understand that hazal relied on the science of their day"

    The problem here is that Rabbi Bleich goes far beyond not relying on the science of any day, he rejects the entire empirical basis of science! The rabbis who have been misled into endorsing the "Torah declaration" on homosexuality that includes an endorsement of reparative therapy that is factually incorrect have simply erred -- and possibly been over the issur of geneivat daat b'shogeg. Rabbi Bleich, however, has rejected the entire basis for determining whether such an endorsement is factually incorrect. Given how important is empirical evidence to the practice of Judaism, this is highly problematic! Would Rabbi Bleich reject the entire concept of chazakah because it isn't logical?

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  34. R. Bleich points out in his article that halakhah relies on rov and chazakah, the point that he makes is just that the results of scientific inquiry are not "logically compelling" by which he means they are not the same as mathematical proofs. I don't know why he thinks this is relevant, but it is unfair to present his position as not believing in science altogether. He seems to just be making this point לרווחא דמילתא.

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