Monday, June 24, 2013

From Non-Disprovable to Possible to Probable to True

I know that many people have no interest in rabbits and hyraxes. But if you're interested in the conflict between rational and irrational thought, it's worth following our critique of Isaac Betech's book on the shafan, which is of no contribution to Biblical zoology, and of no interest as such, but is fascinating as a case-study in irrational thought.

In the first post, we discussed the fallacy of seeing his book as a search for truth. In this post, we will examine another aspect of his epistemology.

A hallmark of anti-rationalists in general, and Isaac Betech in particular, is the inability to grasp the concept of reasonability. In their mind, if something is remotely possible, then it is just as viable as something that is very probable. If something cannot be categorically disproved, then they see no reason not to believe it.

A prime example from anti-rationalists in general would be the spontaneous generation of lice. Many (though not all) anti-rationalists get around by saying that it can't be categorically proven that no insect spontaneously generates; all that can be said is that we've never seen it. Prof. Herman Branover (a physicist who was influenced by the Lubavitcher rebbe), and Rabbi J. David Bleich, made this absurd claim. Of course, we also cannot categorically disprove the existence of a giant invisible pink fairy in Manhattan, but that doesn't mean that it's reasonable to believe that it exists!

I've found three examples of this way of thinking with Isaac Betech, so far.

A) Betech asserts that the rabbit matches the description of the shafan given by the Spanish Rishonim. I pointed out that this is irrelevant, since their opinion was simply based on the local fauna with which they were familiar, not a mesorah from Biblical Israel. After I pushed him on it, Betech admitted that it's only possible that the Spanish Rishonim had a mesorah from Biblical Israel as to the identity of the shafan. (I provided arguments that it isn't even a plausible possibility.) Yet he transforms their descriptions of the shafan into criteria that must be matched! (See this comment.)

B) One major objection to identifying the shafan as the rabbit is that there were no rabbits in Biblical Israel, according to experts in the field. Betech spends several pages arguing why he believes that their conclusions, based on the fossil record and species distribution, are not conclusive. On p. 97 he writes that "...in my humble opinion an objective reader cannot find the published information sufficient to rule out the existence of rabbits' fossils from ancient Israel."

Now, let's put aside the hilarity of Betech considering himself (rather than zoologists and zooarcheologists, who have no horse in this race) to be an "objective reader." What does it mean that one "cannot find the published information sufficient to rule out the existence of rabbits' fossils from ancient Israel"? Does this mean that it is faintly possible that zooarcheologists are wrong, and that rabbits lived in ancient Israel, but it is most likely that they are correct and rabbits did not live in ancient Israel? Or does it mean that it is likely, or even near-proven, that rabbits lived in ancient Israel? It ought to mean, at most, the former - but he seems to take it to mean the latter!

C) Another major objection to identifying the shafan as the rabbit is that Rav Saadiah Gaon identifies the shafan as the wabr, which is the Arabic name for the hyrax. Furthermore, is the most authoritative classical Jewish source - from a rationalist perspective, due to where he lived, and from a non-rationalist perspective, due to his being the earliest authority to discuss it. Betech discounts this on the following grounds, to which I am appending my responses in parenthesis:
1) Maybe he originally identified it as a rabbit, and a copyist changed it to a hyrax! (Too silly to even respond to.)
2) Wabr is based on a root meaning "hairy" - maybe it refers to a different hairy animal! (And dov is based on a root meaning "movement." So maybe Elisha's honor was avenged not by two bears, but by two elephants, which are also animals that move! But in any case, "hairy" is an alternate meaning for wabr, and it is not the meaning that Rav Saadiah Gaon is using. In medieval times, wabr meant "hyrax.")
3) Even if wabr meant "hyrax" in Rav Saadiah's era, maybe the name "hyrax" meant something else instead! (This makes no sense whatsoever.)
4) Maybe he was referring to rabbits, which are also hairy! (So are yaks, but there's no reason to think that he was talking about those, either.)
5) A near contemporary of Rav Saadiah, Ibn Janach, identified the wabr as the rabbit! (Yes, because he lived in Spain! See R. Josh Waxman's excellent post, That Wascally Wabr)
6) Ibn Ezra challenges the reliability of Rav Saadiah's animal identifications! (And no doubt Rav Saadiah would do the same for Ibn Ezra. So what? The fact is that Rav Saadiah is more reliable, since he lived in the right area!)

Anyway, after listing all these weak suggestions, Betech summarizes (p. 104): "...I do not know of any decisive proof that Rav Saadia Gaon translated shafan as hyrax."
What on earth does this mean? Is he saying that while it is overwhelmingly probable that Rav Saadiah is referring to the hyrax, it is not absolutely proven? Or is he saying that there is very little reason to believe that Rav Saadiah was referring to the hyrax? He seems to take it to mean that there is no reason to believe that Rav Saadiah was referring to the hyrax! This is evident from chapters 2 and 4, where he presents the views of Spanish Rishonim as sources that must be reconciled with the shafan and are matched by the rabbit, but he does not include the view of Rav Saadiah as a source that is not matched by the rabbit!

As I said, Betech's book is absolutely fascinating as a case-study in irrational thought.

71 comments:

  1. It is incredibly sad that as one moves towards the right on the Orthodox spectrum, there seems to be a greater willingness to play fast and loose with facts and logic. Not that everyone on the left uses airtight arguments either. But when you feel obligated to come to a certain conclusion(or the conclusion is an unchageable dogma), sometimes the only way to get there is a crooked path.

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  2. 6) Ibn Ezra challenges the reliability of Rav Saadiah's animal identifications! (And no doubt Rav Saadiah would do the same for Ibn Ezra. So what? The fact is that Rav Saadiah is more reliable, since he lived in the right area!)

    What's most interesting about #6 is that he is suggesting that Saadia Gaon was simply wrong! But it is impossible to doubt the Rishonim.

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  3. And now we're referring to ourselves in the first person plural? This is new.

    In philosophy there is someething called the 5 minute hypothesis which says that one could claim that the universe and everything in it sprang into existence 5 minutes ago. You and I both appeared complete with memories of a life never lived and in perfect sync with others (our mothers "remember" our being born, for instance and that time in Grade 5 when...). The fossil record is just that - fossils of animals and reptiles that never actually lived.
    And really, this is impossible to disprove. Any argument against it is based on memory and the theory says that the memory was invented.
    So why don't we believe this? Because it's simply not reasonable nor is it probable. Yet this is the exact thinking that allows people to make these irrational claims in the first place.

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  4. This made me think of Saul Lieberman's famous remark about Gershom Scholem's work on Kabbalah:

    "Nonsense is nonsense, but the study of nonsense is scholarship."

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  5. Certainly very instructive sessions, Rabbi. Not an easy subject this for some, what with advanced questions of zoology and theology interfacing and tripping over each other's tails, as it were.

    This man thoroughly enjoys Doctor Betech's posts, as they delight him with their rich array of common fallacies and anti-science strategies, all in contemporary terms, over issues that concern us here and in "real time," as they say. One detects savoury bits of narrow inductionism, flavourful eclecticism and a filling, albeit gas-inducing tcholent of reflexive, opportunistic obscurantism common to popular religious works. All this cookery is masterfully employed to prove the hypotheis that under no circumstances could the Sages have erred on the hyrax/rabbit matter. Of course, Dr Betech should be commended on his clearly stated hypothesis, as science is impossible without a hypothesis, but the good doctor then employs the power of polemics and rhetoric, with plenty of obfuscation to slay any and all opponents, including basic methodologies, entire swaths of scientific disciplines, inconvenient thoughts by Jewish theologians and thinkers and even reason itself. The scale of the enterprise is humbling.

    Of course, such discussions have a short shelf life and a predetermined outcome just as in a medieval passion play, as we shall soon witness. It will prove to be impossible to continue a debate in which one of the actors can change the rules in an Alice in Wonderland fashion and where claims cannot be falsified under any rational criterion. In the end, no amount of evidence and no reasonable argument can survive the final verdict of, "because I said so," especially when it's validated by those with the authority to rule on truth and to reject all appeals. This is how Dr Betech will "win" this debate.

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    Replies
    1. Mordechai GordonJune 25, 2013 at 9:15 AM

      Beautifully eloquent dissing, Temujin!

      Delete
  6. Temujin said..."All this cookery is masterfully employed to prove the hypothesis that under no circumstances could the Sages have erred on the hyrax/rabbit matter."

    Isaac Betech, is it possible in any case (not necessarily this one) that the sages could have erred in their understanding of the natural or physical world?

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  7. Ibn Janach quoted Saadia but had no access to the hyrax. At least that demonstrates a connection to the Gaonim. But Rashi doesnt quote Saadia, nor does admit to not knowing the identity of the shafan. He states it is the rabbit as surely as he states everything else in his commentary.

    Your suggestion is much more subversive than you let on. Rashi's Talmudic methodology and biblical interpretation do not resemble those of the Gaonim at all. If we can question his mesorah as to the definition of the terms of the Torah, why can we not question his mesora on everything else? Yet, when it comes time to pasken halacha on matters such as maachal be derosai, Rashi's opinion matters. Why?

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  8. Greetings, Mighty Garnel Ironheart. Temujin, who prefers the third person singular, believes that the first person plural Rabbi Slifkin slipped into for this discussion is also a good literary device, one typically employed in scholarly discussions and perhaps for similar reasons to this man's; to depersonalize and to avoid a forest of "I's."

    One enjoyed your reminder of the 5 minute hypothesis. Brings to mind a recent astonishing conversation with a fellow who managed to eclipse it with a pseudo-quantum mechanics hodgepodge in support of literal scriptural interpretations and infallibility of Sages. All seemingly irrational oddities or claims are physically possible, apparently... wabbit-hyraxes, mermaids, dybbuks and whatnots... simply because we live in a two dimensional universe consisting of easily editable (in Photoshop, perhaps) inter-connected quanta of binary data smeared on an endless two dimensional plane, without physicality, time or silly limitations such as a light speed ceiling. In it, the universe (er, what we think is our universe) and our lives (ditto) are continuously created or recreated in the now, ...itself a problematic concept of course, but why quibble. Our memories and all that we think we see, are artificial conceptual constructs, of course.

    On that note, one predicts that quantum quackeries will replace the now over-used (and abused) Einsteinian relativity arguments of time-crunching Big Bangs and such. Those have been astounding Shabbat afternoon class crowds of baalei teshuvah for far too long and them folks are starting to fidget in their seats. It is time to evolve that shmuez to quantum mechanics now.

    Temujin hypothesizes that the departure from the more physical constructs of the universe to mathematical or abstract ones is connected to our love affair with smart phones which have turned us into lazy loafs, couch potatoes who expect all existence to be available on a 2.5" x 4.25 screen, provided the battery doesn't run out. Empirical data to follow.

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    1. Mordechai GordonJune 25, 2013 at 9:23 AM

      Does the ubiquitously verbose Temujin have a blog of his own or does he just practice flowery language on the side?

      Delete
  9. Despite R' Natan's logical and expert rebuttal of the approach used by Dr. Betesh, and despite the witty remarks of Temujin, and, particularly, despite my prior characterization of the good doctor as a 'dreikopf', there is a method to his 'madness'. It really goes back to talmudic argumentation, where positions can be based on what is logically possible given the rules of the 'game' - as opposed to what is reasonable. There is, indeed, a game that was played in Babylonian academies which valued logical argumentation for its own sake. Palestinian (academies, in contrast, tended to focus on reaching valid conclusions. Fortunately, accepted halacha tends to follow the Yerushalmi approach even of not their conclusions. Here, too, we should be guided by what's reasonable and not by some artificial invokation of a kind of papal infallibility of Rishonim. The better measure of irrationality is just this tendency to invoke some idea of infallibility of prior decisors against all evidence to the contrary. Given that the topic of the identity of the shafan has no relevance to practical halacha (all the candidates for the role are non-kosher), this debate really boils down to one on how to view the statements about the world made in the talmud and Rishonim, and how much credence to give them in the face of contary evidence.

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  10. Fine points by Y.Aharon, especially on the differences of approach between the Bavli and Yerushalmi academies. Being ignorant of the historical details, one wonders speculatively whether this difference reflects differences in the lifestyles of the Sages. It seems that philosophers who lead cloistered lives without the need to work tend to scholasticism and a priori conditions, with "Papal infallibility" type of presumptions behind everything and when teaching or commenting, issue proscriptive instructions no one dares question. Those forced to work, to make calculations and plans and to interact with the wider world around them, seem to have a more prosaic, "physical" and results-focused view of the universe and accept differences of opinion as normal. If that be the case, there might be a lesson in there....

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  11. B"H
    Y. Aaron

    You wrote:
    "...artificial invokation of a kind of papal infallibility of Rishonim..."

    IB:
    Please provide a page number of my book where I wrote that.

    You wrote:
    'dreikopf'

    IB:
    Sorry can you explain the meaning of this word?

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  12. B”H
    Natan
    Thank you for your continued interest in reviewing my recently published book.

    It’s interesting that you continue to evade the main points of the book, those supporting my suggested shafan=rabbit, and specially those challenging your shafan=hyrax.

    Furthermore, even the three points you are writing about in this post are sarcastically dismissed without a systematic analytic refutation.

    Maybe some of your readers expect more from you.

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  13. I'm not continuing to evade them; I have already written the posts that address them, which I will publish on this blog in due course. I have an order in which I wish to discuss the flaws in your book.

    Meanwhile, yet again, you have failed to respond to direct objections on your book. This, despite your claim that you are will to discuss objections to your book. There's a pattern here. It's that not only is your book riddled with serious problems, but you are dishonest about your willingness to discuss the problems and concede error where appropriate.

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  14. It’s interesting that you continue to evade the main points of the book, those supporting my suggested shafan=rabbit, and specially those challenging your shafan=hyrax.

    Dr. Betech, each time that someone analyzes and questions part of your book, you claim that part is not central to your thesis that shafan=rabbit. The inclusion of irrelevant material is the fault of the author, not the reader.

    In any case, the connection to your thesis is clear. You made the bold claim at the very beginning of Chapter 2 (chapter 1 is an intro): "Throughout history, the traditional translations of shafan and arnebet have been 'rabbit' and 'hare' respectively".

    Unfortunately, the source closest in time in place to the Masorah of Har Sinai actually translates the Shafan as "al Wabr" which is "the Hyrax". This a blatant contradiction to your first sentence. So your attempted deconstruction of Saadia Gaon is very important to support the first sentence of your thesis. Obviously if R. Slifkin's is correct and your deconstruction is faulty, then the very first sentence of your thesis has been demolished.

    Are you claiming that this is irrelevant to the conclusions of your book?

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  15. Isaac, perhaps you can provide answers to the questions in this post:

    Does this mean that it is faintly possible that zooarcheologists are wrong, and that rabbits lived in ancient Israel, but it is most likely that they are correct and rabbits did not live in ancient Israel? Or does it mean that it is likely, or even near-proven, that rabbits lived in ancient Israel?

    Is he saying that while it is overwhelmingly probable that Rav Saadiah is referring to the hyrax, it is not absolutely proven? Or is he saying that there is very little reason to believe that Rav Saadiah was referring to the hyrax? Or no reason?

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  16. Well Lord Ironheart wonders what Temujin would think of reb Betech's weak response to the challenge Rav Slikins raised.

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  17. IB said: Furthermore, even the three points you are writing about in this post are sarcastically dismissed without a systematic analytic refutation. Maybe some of your readers expect more from you.

    Reb Betech, can we assume you're referring to these instances:

    1) Maybe he originally identified it as a rabbit, and a copyist changed it to a hyrax! (Too silly to even respond to.)

    3) Even if wabr meant "hyrax" in Rav Saadiah's era, maybe the name "hyrax" meant something else instead! (This makes no sense whatsoever.)

    4) Maybe he was referring to rabbits, which are also hairy! (So are yaks, but there's no reason to think that he was talking about those, either.)

    If these are the examples you had in mind, then rest assured, R' Slifkin's readers expected no more than that. He could have just copy-pasted your points alone for us to gape at.

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  18. Despite R' Natan's logical and expert rebuttal of the approach used by Dr. Betesh, and despite the witty remarks of Temujin, and, particularly, despite my prior characterization of the good doctor as a 'dreikopf', there is a method to his 'madness'. It really goes back to talmudic argumentation, where positions can be based on what is logically possible given the rules of the 'game' - as opposed to what is reasonable. There is, indeed, a game that was played in Babylonian academies which valued logical argumentation for its own sake. Palestinian (academies, in contrast, tended to focus on reaching valid conclusions.

    I think, in this analysis, that you may be applying the rules of reasoning in science to law where they are not applicable. In legal reasoning, it is completely acceptable to fashion new distinctions via close reasoning that may not have been the intention of the authors of original ruling. The conservative nature of both "law" and "halacha" demands that each new situation conform in some way to the what came before, even if not logically implied by what came before.

    In science, if you have to overthrow Aristotle to get to Newton, so be it. In law, you overrule Jim Crow by showing that "new evidence" in conjunction with old principles shows that "separate but equal" is not actually feasible in fact, rather than by saying that "separate, but equal" was the smokescreen for denial of equal rights that it was. I believe that this is the thesis of the book Rational Rabbis, although I sheepishly admit to only having read reviews of it :).

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  19. B"H

    Samuel Dinkels

    You wrote:

    "Isaac Betech, is it possible in any case (not necessarily this one) that the sages could have erred in their understanding of the natural or physical world?"

    OCIB:

    If it will first be shown an example then it might be necessary to answer that question.

    Please provide an example of "sages could have erred in their understanding of the natural or physical world".

    [Ohsie channeling IB]

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  20. Greeetings, Dr Betech, thank you for your perseverance.

    This reader who always expects more from everything, is puzzled as to why R'Slifkin's fairly systematic refutations which he even enumerated for our clarification, are actually not systematic refutations. To wit, he addresses your claim of being on a journey of scientific discovery, when it is plain for all to see that you are guiding us ever so subtly to an a priori conclusion based on the circular methodological premise in your thesis that any divergence from your particular scriptural interpretations is incorrect. In his subsequent points, R'Slifkin lists, rather thoroughly and systematically, examples of this methodology in top gear.

    As an aside, but an important aside, Y Aharon's "artificial invocation of Papal infallibility" was not, of course intended to be nor peddled as a direct quote from your book, but a personal conclusion of his. One would hope he won't be sent to the corner for this and later paraded as an example by you of how sneaky rationalists misquote your work.

    However, back to the systematic refutation bit; perhaps you can humble the Rabbi and instruct the rest by showing him how systematic refutations are done properly with a systematic counter-refutation of your own, one which addresses...ehem...the specific issues. If it's not too much to ask.....

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  21. B”H
    Natan
    You are not answering to what I wrote:

    “Furthermore, even the three points you are writing about in this post are sarcastically dismissed without a systematic analytic refutation.”

    If you want my response, please rewrite (and substitute) your post with your three examples without sarcasm and present your refutations to what I have wrote; it is not enough to copy part of my argument and then just write: “Too silly to even respond to”.

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  22. Two questions for Rabbi Slifkin:

    Who is Isaac Betech and why do you care what he thinks? I have never heard of him outside of your blog.

    Second, doesn't shafam mean rabbit in modern Hebrew?
    How did that happen if a shafam is a hyrax?

    So Cal Mother

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  23. He's an eccentric individual who has managed to fool a lot of rabbonim in the charedi world into thinking that he is some sort of expert on Torah and science.

    Yes, shafan means rabbit in Modern Hebrew. That's because it was carried through from Europe, where there were no hyraxes and the name was transposed to the rabbit.

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  24. If you want my response, please rewrite (and substitute) your post with your three examples without sarcasm and present your refutations to what I have wrote; it is not enough to copy part of my argument and then just write: “Too silly to even respond to”.

    IB: How can anyone respond to the "maybe a typist changed it" argument? The burden is on you to provide evidence for such a theory or, at least, a reason why someone would change it. There is zero evidence to support your theory.

    Further, there is plenty of manuscript evidence that Rav Saadia wrote and meant the hyrax. We have ancient Yemenite manuscripts of Rav Saddia's translation. Not one has anything other than the hyrax.

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  25. B"H

    Dr. Betech,

    without having read your book, why in your view is it so important to define shafan as rabbit versus hyrax....to a yid sitting in mexico, or new York, or bet shemesh, what difference does it make??

    why spend years of your life dealing with this? why write a book and spend countless hours on Rabbi Slifkin's blog discussing it....

    thank you

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  26. If you want my response, please rewrite (and substitute) your post with your three examples without sarcasm and present your refutations to what I have wrote; it is not enough to copy part of my argument and then just write: “Too silly to even respond to”.

    IB: How can anyone respond to the "maybe a typist changed it" argument? The burden is on you to provide evidence for such a theory or, at least, a reason why someone would change it. There is zero evidence to support your theory.

    Further, there is plenty of manuscript evidence that Rav Saadia wrote and meant the hyrax. We have ancient Yemenite manuscripts of Rav Saddia's translation. Not one has anything other than the hyrax.


    Dr. Betech, rather than focusing on aspects of the post that you feel you can't answer, why don't you answer the questions that we know that you can answer, since they are just asking for elaboration of your position:

    Does this mean that it is faintly possible that zooarcheologists are wrong, and that rabbits lived in ancient Israel, but it is most likely that they are correct and rabbits did not live in ancient Israel? Or does it mean that it is likely, or even near-proven, that rabbits lived in ancient Israel?

    Is he saying that while it is overwhelmingly probable that Rav Saadiah is referring to the hyrax, it is not absolutely proven? Or is he saying that there is very little reason to believe that Rav Saadiah was referring to the hyrax? Or no reason?

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  27. You are only going to aggrevate yourself arguing with this guy. You cannot win a contest when the other guy keeps changing the rules.

    Concentrate your energy on your own work and don't pay attention to your detractors. Just make sure that you are right and then keep doing what you are doing. Believe me, you are a hero to many people.

    Just my 2 cents. (10 agarot?)


    So Cal Mother

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  28. If you want my response, please rewrite....

    An unassailable riposte. It will do for this man under the circumstances. Thank you, Dr Betech; until next time.

    Odd, but the expression "beating a dead Mongolian pony" sprung to Temujin's mind just now....

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    1. One wonders if Temujin has ever considered writing his own blog?

      Andy

      Delete
  29. That's all well and good, So Cal Mother, except that Reb Betech is a sheiss-disturber par excellence and was instrumental in orchestrating the ban on R' Slifkin's books. So it actually is important to expose Betech's views for their ignorance.

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  30. ...the inability to grasp the concept of reasonability...if something is remotely possible, then it is just as viable as something that is very probable.

    True, and this is a problem which plagues the religious world in general. But I'd venture to guess that Isaac Betech is NOT basing his thesis on things which be believes are "remotely possible", and giving them the same weight as things which are "very probable". Instead, he has rationalized the reasonability/probability of his argument.

    And rationalizing is something which rationalists and non-rationalists alike are prone to do when it suits them. What it indicates is not that the person is "anti-rational" but that they are blind to their own biases, prone to sloppy argumentation and afraid to acknowledge when they're wrong because too much of their ego/identity is tied up in being "right".

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  31. Dr. Betech Is neither a scientist nor a rabbi. He has no standing. Anyone who thinks so is an idiot.

    I am concerned that there are books yet to be written and chidushim yet to be discovered by Rabbi Slifkin while his time is being wasted by fools.

    Remember SDI? The Star Wars defense system? The science behind it was shaky but It succeeded because we financially bankrupted the Soviet Union.

    So Cal Mother

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  32. "He's an eccentric individual who has managed to fool a lot of rabbonim in the charedi world into thinking that he is some sort of expert on Torah and science." rabbi that is a very generous assumption i don't think he fooled anyone i think there haskomos are completely true to there beliefs and methodology

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  33. So why don't we believe this? Because it's simply not reasonable nor is it probable. Yet this is the exact thinking that allows people to make these irrational claims in the first place.

    Actually, a lot of people do believe a variant of this:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Omphalos_hypothesis

    R. Feldman admits that the universe "appears old" in his essay explaining the ban, but doesn't give his method of reconciliation with his view of Judaism. He could possibly believe a version of this.

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  34. David Ohsie, I agree with your distinction between the philosophies and procedures in law and science - although,in practice, such distinction may not be very evident. I was referring, however, to the argumentative style that appears to be characteristic of the Babylonian academies as reflected in our talmud Bavli.

    Let me give 2 examples. Rav Zeira, a Bavli scholar made aliya and is said to have fasted 40 days so that he could forget what he learned in Bavel. Now, that can't mean to forget the real knowledge accumulated. Rather, he meant the style of learning. This point is made more clearly in T.B. Menachot, Perek Hatecheilet which relates that the later Amora, Ravina, left Judea for Bavel and Rav Ashi's yeshiva. He was confronted by a senior student of Rav Ashi who questioned Ravina wearing tzitzit on a garment with a torn corner. Ravina ended the conversation by observing that such a situation is a problem only when the tzitzit are first emplaced, not if there are in place and an accident causes the tear. No argumentation and citations - just the halachic conclusion. Said student, who was apparently crestfallen that his would-be dialogue was quickly squelched, was comforted by Rav Ashi. "One of them (Palestinian sages) equals two of us" (we reach conclusions only after extensive argumentation - they reach it more directly).

    Temujin, its possible that the difference in style between academies in the 2 countries was related to differences in economics and social circumstances. Jews in Babylon were much freer and more prosperous than their bretheren in the 'west'. Those conditions would provide more time for discussions and promote a more explorative mindset.

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  35. "Natan Slifkin said...

    Isaac, perhaps you can provide answers to the questions in this post:

    Does this mean that it is faintly possible that zooarcheologists are wrong, and that rabbits lived in ancient Israel, but it is most likely that they are correct and rabbits did not live in ancient Israel?"

    But if you are right that may not be enough to establish that the Israelites were unaware of the existence of rabbits.
    They were slaves in Egypt and rabbits were in North Africa. The Egyptians hunted them (http://teacher.scholastic.com/activities/globaltrek/destinations/popups/egypt_history.htm). The Egyptians also ruled over Canaan and King Solomon's top wife was Egyptian. Why should the Ancient Israelites be assumed to have been ignorant of rabbits? Rabbits also lived in Southern Europe and in Western Mediterranean Islands. The Canaanites were great seafarers and colonizers in those areas.

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  36. Ancient Egyptians hunted hares, not rabbits.
    But in any case, as I shall explain in a future post, the point is whether rabbits lived in Israel, not whether the Jewish People could have been aware of their existence.

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  37. The thing I find hard to accept around the Shafan = Rabbit hypothesis is this:

    When it comes to saying that "the only animal with mafrisei parsah but not maalei geirah is thechazer" the common objection is what about warthog etc. and the response given is that they are all included in Chazir.

    However when it comes to shafan / arneves they are supposed to mean rabbit / hare. Surely if a warthog etc. are all considered pigs and llamas etc are considered camels then a hare would just be considered another type of rabbit!!

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  38. Needless to say, Betech manages to contrive a way to explain why rabbits and hares are different types, even though alpacas and vicunas are camels, etc.

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  39. Needless to say.

    But depressing nontheless.

    I must say R' Natan, that though much of what you write seems to make a lot of sense, it only serves to further disillusion me to our whole lifestyle.

    If pretty much every major Gadol is so very wrong about their entire world view then.....

    I know it's a very charedi approach, but it's just what I feel.

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  40. Yoni, you are falling into the common trap of assuming that charedi gedolim are the true Torah sages and leaders. There are many much greater theologians and scholars outside of the charedi world.

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  41. "Natan Slifkin said...

    Ancient Egyptians hunted hares, not rabbits."

    But they ruled an empire that included North Africa and rabbits proper lived in North Africa.

    "But in any case, as I shall explain in a future post, the point is whether rabbits lived in Israel, not whether the Jewish People could have been aware of their existence."

    I will love to see why for a people whose point of reference had just been Egypt.

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  42. "Yoni, you are falling into the common trap of assuming that charedi gedolim are the true Torah sages and leaders. There are many much greater theologians and scholars outside of the charedi world."

    - And who are they (perhaps the academics at TAU?) and what mesora do they have and why should we turst them over the leadership who do have a mesora which goes back and has stood the test of time?

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  43. Rabbi Slifkin, I appreciate your going after irrationality, as always, but why don't you go after the rabbis of the Talmud for using the same exact logical errors as Dr. Betech's?
    When the Talmud says, "Chasurei mechsera v'hachi katani (the way the Mishnah is worded doesn't fit our thesis, so we're going to assume it has additional words)" or resolves contradictions in Biblical verses or Rabbinic statements by saying, "Statement 1 was referring to this specific case, and Statement 2 was referring to that specific case" with no evidence, they are just as guilty as Dr. Betech of what you described in your post when you wrote: "In their mind, if something is remotely possible, then it is just as viable as something that is very probable. If something cannot be categorically disproved, then they see no reason not to believe it." No?

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  44. NS said...
    "Yoni, you are falling into the common trap of assuming that charedi gedolim are the true Torah sages and leaders. There are many much greater theologians and scholars outside of the charedi world."

    could you give some names please.

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  45. Another way of framing the argument that "if something is remotely possible, then it is just as viable as something that is very probable," is from the perspective of Bayesian inference. In predicting the likelihood of an event (e.g., that we will some day identify lice that have been produced by spontaneous generation), Bayesians begin with what is called the "prior probability." I.e., they ask what the likelihood of such an event is on the basis of existing knowledge. Given that no example of spontaneous generation has been documented, and there are strong scientific reasons to believe that it cannot occur, the prior probability would be extremely low. In making predictions, the prior probability is then adjusted by whatever new information is available to yield the "posterior probability," essentially the prediction of the likelihood that the event will occur. The Bayesian approach formalizes the argument R. Slifkin makes in this post, andmay be helpful in connecting it with a substantial body of work on probability.

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  46. YA: I will love to see why for a people whose point of reference had just been Egypt.

    Because they were about to enter Israel, where they would be observing the Torah. Why would the Torah instruct them not to eat an animal that they'd seen before but will never see again? It's a lot more likely that the Torah was giving them instructions about the animals they were about to encounter.

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  47. No, that's not it!

    See the pesukim about the shafan in Tehillim and Mishlei.

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  48. Are you talking to me? Hate this blogger format. You need something with replies already!

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  49. Rabbi Slifkin, I appreciate your going after irrationality, as always, but why don't you go after the rabbis of the Talmud for using the same exact logical errors as Dr. Betech's?
    When the Talmud says, "Chasurei mechsera v'hachi katani (the way the Mishnah is worded doesn't fit our thesis, so we're going to assume it has additional words)" or resolves contradictions in Biblical verses or Rabbinic statements by saying, "Statement 1 was referring to this specific case, and Statement 2 was referring to that specific case" with no evidence, they are just as guilty as Dr. Betech of what you described in your post when you wrote: "In their mind, if something is remotely possible, then it is just as viable as something that is very probable. If something cannot be categorically disproved, then they see no reason not to believe it." No?


    Please see my comment at June 24, 2013 at 9:51 PM where I explain (or try to explain; you be the judge) that legal and scientific reasoning are not the same. It is important in legal reasoning to be conservative.

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  50. So let me back up a second. You had said, "the point is whether rabbits lived in Israel, not whether the Jewish People could have been aware of their existence." So someone asked why that should be if the Jews had just spent hundreds of years in Egypt and would have been better aware of the animal life there. To which I answered that it would make more sense for the Torah to instruct the Jews about the animals they would be encountering in Israel than the animals they had seen before but would not be in a position to eat now anyway.

    And you're saying that's the wrong answer? I feel like I've heard you give that answer before.

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  51. Yes, that's the wrong answer. The right answer is at http://www.rationalistjudaism.com/2013/02/ruach-hakodesh-and-reason.html

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  52. I think I'm saying awfully similar to your fifth answer there. Even the third and fourth, while we're at it.

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  53. Y. Aharon, thank you for your reply. This is an area of some interest to this man; the question of how the material circumstances affect culture and intellect, and how they guide the course of Jewish history. He has come to suspect that each traumatic episode in the history of world Jewry, each dislocation and rebuilding, brings about economic, cultural and intellectual revolutions in those communities which succeed in retaining the bonds of family and peoplehood and authentic Torah traditions, while rapidly and creatively responding to all the new difficulties, a pattern which uncannily resembles the mechanisms of natural selection. Not an original notion, of course, but one which deserves to be appreciated.

    Regarding the question of does Temujin have his own blog, the short and honest answer is "yes." Alas, he remembers not where it is and under what title, identity and login he started it up, or even the year he did so. He vaguely recalls writing two or three lackluster and rather inane posts about something or other and then giving up for lack of ideas and perseverance. The world is made of two kinds of people; bloggers and commenters, and Temujin is of the latter sort.

    Yoni, this man is, God be willing, on his last stretch of a journey of becoming a Jew, a process filled with numerous moments of sublime inspiration, but also of dispiriting times of frustration, deep doubts and dark feelings of defeat. 'Nuff said about that. His recent "discovery" of past and living rationalist Jews and Judaism, though, (not to mention a gift of a full set R' Slifkin's books) has unexpectedly filled him with joy, energy and that empowering sense of newness one feels on the first sun-lit morning on a posh vacation. Having encountered an energizing "zing" of deep authenticity in the Orthodox rationalist approach, Temujin's sense of purpose and renewed capacity for joy spur him on in his difficult studies. That being said, Temujin's burdens are lighter than yours by far, for he is without a past and its powerful pulls and entanglements. He can only imagine his brother Yoni's struggles and can think of no words of wisdom for him, but wishes him all the best on his own, very different, journey of discovery.

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  54. Being a jewish rationalist i find myself torn between Slifkin & Betech.
    One the one hand i have read Rabbi Slifkins books which i find informative & facsinating, however with the arrival of Betech's book since he does have some strong points to make (on the bit i have read) would it not be more rational for me as a jewish rationalist to follow a theory compatible with a 2000 year mesora of talmud and rishonim. Obviously the theory must work but at this moment in time i see no more holes in Betech's theory than i do in slifkins
    Its a hard one for me

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  55. being a Canadian Hindu with three doctorates, i find myself torn between Slifkin and Betech as well.

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  56. Majorie, there is no 2000 year mesorah that the shafan is the rabbit. There is only a mesorah from medieval Europe, where there were no hyraxes.
    Canadian Hindu - Betech's theory fails, because there were no rabbits in Biblical Israel.

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  57. Canadian Hindu - Betech's theory fails, because there were no rabbits in Biblical Israel.

    R. Slifkin: please see the "name" that the "Canadian Hindu with three doctorates" posted under. I think that you have missed his/her point :).

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  58. Canadian Hindu - Betech's theory fails, because there were no rabbits in Biblical Israel.

    R. Slifkin: please see the "name" that the "Canadian Hindu with three doctorates" posted under. I think that you have missed his/her point :).

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  59. just to be clear, this Canadian Hindu was joking. (he is actually an Albanian iguana who is a non-rationalist, who maintains that the shafan is an octopus.)

    the point being that i can declare myself a rationalist and make sweeping statements about the relative strength of unnamed points.

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  60. Rabbi Slifkin's suggestion to Mr Rubin to revisit this February's "Ruach HaKodesh and Reason" at http://www.rationalistjudaism.com/2013/02/ruach-hakodesh-and-reason.html should be taken up by all of us. It's a real eye opener to be sure and very germane to this post here.

    Another window to Dr Betech's mind and ways is his own blog manifestly devoted to attempts at demolishing Rabbi Slifkin is titled Analysis of Slifkin's Rationalist Blog and graced with the accompanying description, This blog presents opinions that question how "rational" R. Slifkin's positions really are, and the accuracy of his interpretation of the Rambam's approach. Rabbi Slifkin provides a link to a post in its entries, where one can wince over the able but ultimately futile attempts by Mr Rafi Miller and others to elicit to-the-point answers from Dr Betech. They are answered with the familiar barrage of rhetorical fallacies in the form of evasions, moving of goal posts, off-topic musings, questions answered with questions and such. This quite amusing read is to be found at http://slifkin-opinions.blogspot.ca/2013/01/lice-response-to-ns.html?showComment=1360157897766#c81120621421422718.

    Whilst reading the above exchange, Temujin couldn't resist the comical image of Mr Miller trying to grasp and hold a frightened and angered slime eel (a.k.a. Hagfish, class of Myxini/Hyperotreti) on a slippery ship's deck. The eel, of course, wins in the end by exhausting and nauseating his nemesis.

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  61. We at Ptil Tekhelet have a similar problem in terms of people mistaking possible for logically acceptable (let alone probable). For example, one thing that supports our identification of the chillazon source of tekhelet with the Murex trunculus is the statement in the Gemara that fake tekhelet (plant based indigo) is identical with real tekhelet. This is true about our murex based tekhelet, as the dye pigment of the two are molecularly identical.

    A well known and very accepted Rabbi recently published an objection to this line of support claiming that the fake tekhelet of the Gemara (known as Kala Ilan) may not have been indigo. The Rishonim who use the word indigo as a translation of kala ilan may have been mistaken in their identification. Taking this further, in order to maintain that position the following must be true:
    1. As mentioned, everyone who ever identified kala ilan as indigo must have been mistaken. That includes many great commentaries over a thousand years and every scholar who ever approached the subject.
    2. Indigo and murex dyes are the only known fast enduring dyes that were known of in the ancient times - based on archeology and other scientific evidence. So one would have to assume that everything accepted in this regard by every archeologist, chemist, and historian must be wrong.
    3. From the standpoint of physical chemistry, there is no molecule known to nature other than indigo (plant or snail based) that is formed by organic, natural processes that is capable of being a blue dye. So everything we know about chemistry and physics must be wrong.

    Bottom line, there are many reasons to claim that from a halachic position one should not wear murex based tekhelet - and there may even be arguments that can be suggested claiming that it is not the source of the ancient tekhelet. BUT this particular argument - namely that murex tekhelet is not identical with kala ilan - is a perfect example of irrationality where some abstract possibility (i.e. everything we think we know based on science may be wrong) becomes a workable hypothesis, then probable, then logical.

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  62. NS said:

    Canadian Hindu - Betech's theory fails, because there were no rabbits in Biblical Israel.

    Why must Shafan be native to Israel to be prohibitted by the Torah?

    The Torah is a document for all time, therefore it should prohibit animals that may be encountered by the Jewish Exile, in any part of the world.

    Especially interesting is the fact that the Shafan was taught in the future tense, signifying in my mind that it is specifically an animal which was unknown at the time.



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  63. Why must Shafan be native to Israel to be prohibitted by the Torah?

    The Torah is a document for all time, therefore it should prohibit animals that may be encountered by the Jewish Exile, in any part of the world.

    Especially interesting is the fact that the Shafan was taught in the future tense, signifying in my mind that it is specifically an animal which was unknown at the time.


    Please see R. Slifkin's post Primary Reason Clarified. There are of course many prohibited animals such as the llama which were unknown at the time to the Israelites. It is the references to Shafan that make no sense in the abstract. See that post and put any questions in the comments there.

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  64. NS said...
    "Yoni, you are falling into the common trap of assuming that charedi gedolim are the true Torah sages and leaders. There are many much greater theologians and scholars outside of the charedi world."

    could you give me some names of theologians and scholars you are talking about please. i'm interested in this. thanks.

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  65. Rav Aharon Lichtenstein, for starters.

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  66. Why would the Torah list the hare (aleph-resh-nun-bet-tuf) and the rabbit ( shin-pheh-nun) ? I have seen the later translated as cony a type of Lagomorph (rabbit family). Could it have been a Pika ?

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