Thursday, June 20, 2013

The Quest for Truth: A Fascinating Case Study

I just received a copy of Dr. Isaac Betech's new book The Enigma of the Biblical Shafan. It's fascinating and invaluable - as a case study in anti-rationalism. As a work of Biblical zoology, on the other hand, it's completely useless.

(Some background for non-regular readers: Dr. Isaac Betech is a Mexican pediatrician who is a staunch anti-rationalist - campaigning that evolution is false, the universe is 5773 years old, Chazal knew modern science, etc. He was one of the people involved in engineering the ban on my books. He is also notorious for his style of debate, in which he avoids giving direct answers to direct questions.)

I'll be analyzing several aspects of his book, over several posts. The great thing about his book is that it has lots of haskamos (approbations) from charedi rabbonim, and thus our analysis will be very revealing not only about Dr. Betech himself, but also about them. Unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately, depending on your perspective), the book is virtually unreadable - it's a messy mixture of English, Hebrew, Spanish, bold, italics, poor formatting, and poor layout, quite aside from the eccentric writing style and specious argumentation.

Upon reading the book, I was reminded of something. Several years ago, I saw a brochure that was seeking to raise funding for a book refuting challenges to the Divinity of Torah from archeology. At one point, the brochure spoke about how archeologists are blinded to the truth by their anti-religious agenda, whereas the project being funded would have no such biases and would be objective. The laughable nature of this claim was exacerbated a hundredfold by the accompanying graphic, which featured some decorative text: Moshe Emes v'Toraso Emes!

As I told the rabbi who prepared the brochure: If you want to claim that secular archeologists have an anti-religious agenda, fine. But don't pretend that you're even remotely objective!

Betech's book is the same thing. In the introduction, he stresses that any mistake is to be attributed to him alone, and not chas veshalom to the G-d given Torah and Talmudic knowledge. His clear starting point is that the Torah, and the Gemara, and even the Rishonim, must all be scientifically correct. (Thus, there must be only four animals with one kosher sign, and the European Rishonim must be correct that the shafan is the rabbit.) And in the conclusion and epilogue, Betech expresses gratitude that he has been able to accomplish his goal, of solving any "seeming contradiction" between Torah or Talmudic statements and scientific knowledge.

Well, obviously!

If your starting point is the infallibility of Torah/ Chazal/ Rishonim, and your goal is to demonstrate that belief, then obviously you will find a way to convince yourself that you have done that. In anything apart from rigid mathematics, it's always possible to contrive some sort of skewed argument, whether that the moon landing is a hoax, Christianity is true, or evolution is false. If you have a passionate commitment, then reason can go out of the window.

Note that I am not saying that because Betech is biased, therefore his arguments are wrong. (See my very important post on The Seven Principles of Bias.) I'll be devoting other posts to explaining why his arguments are wrong. Rather, my point here is that his bias is so obvious, broad and overwhelming, that it is inevitable that he will find some sort of argument, whether strong, weak or utterly fallacious. It is absurd to see this book as any kind of scientific investigation, where the outcome is not decided in advance.

You can either be committed to discovering truth - to whatever evidence, logic and reason shows - or you can be committed to dogmas. But you can't be committed to both, within the same investigation!

The rabbonim who wrote approbations don't seem to realize this. They praise the book as being a search for truth, while simultaneously acknowledging (and praising) the book having a strong religious agenda! Rav Belsky writes about how the book strives for truth, and to show how Torah sages are correct and without error. Rav Aharon Feldman claims that the book "displays both an honest quest for truth as well as reverence for the words of the Sages." Rav Aharon Schechter writes about how Betech is driven to search for truth - by his fear of God!

As discussed in previous posts, and as I will show in future posts, Betech's arguments are unreasonable to the point of absurdity. But it's not surprising that these rabbonim, hacharedim l'dvar Hashem, found them to be convincing. After all, they confirmed everything that they were desperate to have confirmed!

I'll conclude with just one example. Several of Betech's arguments for the shafan being the rabbit (pp. 79-83) are that the rabbit perfectly matches the description given by the great Rishonim of Europe - long ears, etc. This is, of course, ridiculous - naturally the Rishonim of Europe thought that the shafan was the rabbit, because they were only familiar with rabbits and had never heard of hyraxes! And not only does Betech ignore this point (which I had already raised to him before his book went to press) - he makes it into an argument as to why the shafan cannot be the hyrax! He argues (p. 130) that one of the Spanish Rishonim noted that the shafan is abundant in Spain - and therefore it can't be the hyrax, which is non-existent in Spain!

You might as well prove that olives used to be gigantic from the fact that the French Rishonim gave a huge shiur for the kezayis!

58 comments:

  1. I think that it would be a appropriate for a "scientific" like Betech to clear up why does he obligated to say that the sages did no err on science issues. He seems to be falling in a fallacy, Chazal do not err in Science because the have Ruach Hakodesh. Chazal have Ruach Hakodesh because the never err on science and even say things that could not be known by their time.

    Great post by the way, I can testify that Betech style of arguing is dishonest and usually avoids direct questions.

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  2. "Rav Belsky writes about how the book strives for truth, and to show how Torah sages are correct and without error."

    Interesting, he praised and told a friend of mine to read The Camel the Hare and the Hyrax.

    Yougerman

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  3. Yougerman - Rav Belsky was never that thrilled with my book. I had to spend a long time convincing him that it wasn't reasonable to say that David HaMelech was talking about llamas!

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  4. I think it's a reflection upon the limitless sagacity of our revered Gedolim that they would give the last word on cosmology, evolution and zoology to a pediatrician from Mexico.

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  5. "The rabbonim who wrote approbations don't seem to realize this. They praise the book as being a search for truth, while simultaneously acknowledging (and praising) the book having a strong religious agenda! Rav Belsky writes about how the book strives for truth, and to show how Torah sages are correct and without error. Rav Aharon Feldman claims that the book "displays both an honest quest for truth as well as reverence for the words of the Sages." Rav Aharon Schechter writes about how Betech is driven to search for truth - by his fear of God!

    It sounds like you are saying that the quest for truth cannot be driven by fear of God. As Jews, we believe with King David,
    "ראשית חכמה--יראת ה"
    As the Rambam says,
    וזאת ראיה שיראת ה' נעלה מן החכמה, והיא סיבת מציאותה
    To quote another rationalist Rishon, Malmad ha-Talmidim:
    ואמרו תחלת חכמה יראת י"י הוא כפי מה שאמרו ז"ל כל שיראת חטאו קודמת לחכמתו חכמתו מתקיימת כי התורה לחכמה כיסוד לבנין וכשם שהבנין כשהוא בלא יסוד מעט סבה מרוח או מזולתו יקעקענו, כן החכמה לרוב דקות העיון בה מעט ספק ידחה האמתות לולי התורה, אשר כל מחזיק בה ימלט מהמבוכה הבאה בדרך העיון

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  6. The quest for truth ABOUT God cannot be driven by fear of God.

    The quest for truth ABOUT whether Chazal were correct cannot be driven by a conviction that they were correct!

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  7. Rabbi Slifkin,
    While I whole-heartedly agree with you on this issue, it's hard to see how Chareidis can have any other position. It has become an absolute dogma for them that Chazal were infallible. What wiggle room does that leave them?

    So you can debate forever, but keep in mind that for them to admit error is asking to literally stop being who they are. Most people just arent willing to do that.

    Maybe a game-changing event will force the Chareidi leadership to abandon this dogmatism, but until it does, I'm afraid you're efforts will be unsuccessful.

    I wonder if 227 years from now, (ie. the year 6,000 on the Jewish calendar) and the Mashiach has still not come (the way most Orthodox people imagine to be) if that will force some Jews to re-evaluate some of their assumptions. Hopefully, we won;t have to wait that long


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  8. You're right, we can't expect them to ever admit any form of error. But I think that we can ask them to stop this pretense of "searching for truth" - as though their conclusions are not predetermined from the outset!

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  9. They're not searching for Truth, they're searching for their truth.

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  10. The point is that "fear of God" is a legitimate (and good) principle for interpretation, and understanding the world. Your problem w/ Betech should not be that he has the fear of God, but that he has the wrong ideology.

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  11. R' Natan, I have read enough comments by Dr. Betech on this blog to conclude that he is a dreikopf with whom it is futile to debate. In view of his contentions in the book, the rashei yeshiva mentioned as giving haskamot reveal much about their hashkafot, and it is definitely not an objective quest for truth. No surprise here, just a confirmation.

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  12. R. Belsky's position was not "predetermined from the outset" because he previously endorsed your book. Without expecting you to admit any form of error, I think you can stop this pretense as if everyone who disagrees with you is not "searching for the truth." It is off-putting even to those who agree with you.

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  13. R. Belsky's position was predetermined that the Torah and Chazal are correct. That doesn't necessarily mean that the shafan is the rabbit. Betech has an additional presumption, that the Rishonim are correct. (And Rav Belsky doesn't appreciate the crucial point that the shafan must be something that lives in Israel.)

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  14. >>Natan Slifkin said...

    >> The quest for truth ABOUT God cannot be driven by fear of God.

    It seems to me awe of one's Maker is a great incentive to try to know Him.

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  15. I was referring to the quest about whether He exists.

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  16. Is atheist philosopher Thomas Nagel an anti-rationalist for writing "Mind and Cosmos: Why the Materialist Neo-Darwinian Conception of Nature Is Almost Certainly False"? Or is he just a victim of his "passionate commitment"?

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  17. B”H
    Dear Natan
    Thank you for your interest in reviewing my recently published book which makes the case that the rabbit is compatible with all the descriptions published in the Jewish classic literature about the Biblical shafan.
    The book also concludes that the hyrax is incompatible even with the Pentateuchal description of the shafan as a “maaleh gerah”.
    It is interesting that in your post you mentioned the 7th incompatibility (geographical distribution according to Ibn Janach) but skipped the first one, i.e. that the hyrax is not “maaleh gerah”.

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  18. Dear Isaac,

    As I made clear in my post, I cannot critique the entire book in one post, and in this post I just mentioned two points. It's a pity that you didn't respond to them.

    But thank you so much for confirming what I wrote about you: that you avoid giving direct responses. I truly appreciate it!

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    Replies
    1. Mordechai GordonJune 21, 2013 at 2:01 PM

      Isaac and Natan: beautiful interaction there. Said the Rationalist to the Believer, Prove it. Replied the Believer, you prove this unrelated point first. Countered the Rationalist, QED.

      Delete
  19. Unfortunately, when it comes to Torah-related matters, it seems as if the word 'Emes' has very little to do with what we refer to today, either in scientific disciplines or elsewhere, as 'truth' or a 'search for truth'.

    We're constantly told, in psukim and Chazal, that Torah is Emes. Yet think of all the aspects of Torah-learning and Torah life that don't remotely meet the standard of 'truth' as we see it nowadays:

    - Divrei Torah, including ones given by esteemed Roshei Yeshiva, in which clearly inaccurate or untrue interpretations of psukim are made, that aren't really more than a 'nice idea'. Yet somehow this is called Torah.
    - Shiurim given by esteemed Magidei Shiurim, in which the Maggid Shiur will pose a 'tough question', the goal being to come up with a big chiddush of an answer. Any talmid who tries to give a simpler and more truthful answer to the
    question is often told 'We could say that but...'. The Maggid Shiur then proceeds to give a weaker and less truthful answer to the question.
    - Ukimtas in the Gemara. Does anyone even argue that these have anything to do with 'truth'?
    - The attempt to reconcile a stirah between two statements by any 'member' of Chazal, rather than accept that the person might have changed his mind in the twenty years between the 2 statements or that he might not have been
    perfect.

    The one common denominator to all of these is that they in no way represent a search for truth, unless 'truth' is loosely defined to mean any analysis of sources that is based in Yirat Shamayim and is used as an attempt to become
    closer to G-d.

    In the words of a greater person than me, 'I do not think it (truth) means what you think it means'.

    These issues disturb me greatly. I'm obviously very uncomfortable with this redefinition of 'truth' and I don't agree with it. But I believe it goes a long way to explaining how you can be committed to 'truth' while being committed to dogmas related to the same issues.

    Sigh

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  20. I had been wondering what happened to Dr. Betech. Looking forward to the drama that will unfold over the next several posts.

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  21. Read the essay in מכתב מאליהו חלק א page 94 if you want to start getting an understanding of the twisted concept of אמת ושקר in the Charedi world.

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  22. I think it's a good thing that Betech's book is so skewed off of the path of reality and is built on irrational dogmatic foundations.
    As the irrationalist literature and adherents go their way, and the rationalist follows his way, the distance between them keeps widening and it becomes easier for the observer to see that really we are dealign with 2 Judaisms here.

    The positive side of this is that there is less of an intermingling of the 2 systems and the lines becomes clearer, giving us the clarity to easily reject that which doesnt fit in to whichever of the 2, rationalist vs mystic/dogmatist/'Torah True Judaist', we personally choose to follow.

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  23. MacGyver, just look at the title of the book. He's criticizing a very, very narrow band, not evolution as a whole.

    R' Slifkin: I'm not sure why you didn't use just one word to dismiss the argument you mention: Circular. The Rishonim thought it was a rabbit, so they described a rabbit. (They probably realized that, even if they used their word for rabbit, it wouldn't be understood by all. I imagine many don't even use a word and so *have* to describe it.) So what? That's the very definition of a circular argument.

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  24. One can only wonder why you would even bother giving a critique to a book that in your words its contents are "absurd" and "overwhelmingly biased"
    Evidently deep down you feel its a threat to your book and to your notion that Chazal erred on science. Otherwise why would you get so emotional about it as was clear in your post.
    I will determine the truth by the evidence, and at the moment both you and Betech are equal. You both have evidence to back you up.
    Also please go easy on accusing Betech of not responding directly to your Questions. One just has to cross over to his blog where all those accusuations have been levelled against you.
    what a confusing world

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  25. How about this: I believe that evolution is a story, ie not true. But I also believe that Chazal could have made errors in science. What camp does that put me in?

    What do both of these views have in common, a belief in the limitations of man. I don't idolize man.

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  26. I do not understand why you use the term "anti-rational" to refer to Dr. Betech and like minded individuals. This term properly describes those who choose to live outside a rational framework, if that is possible. But, one who attempts to engage rationally, but persistently makes fundamental logical errors (ex. circular reasoning), even after these errors are brought to his attention, is better described as being irrational.

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  27. J.S. said...
    'One can only wonder why you would even bother giving a critique to a book that in your words its contents are "absurd" and "overwhelmingly biased".
    Evidently deep down you feel its a threat to your book and to your notion that Chazal erred on science. Otherwise why would you get so emotional about it as was clear in your post.'

    For the sake of argument, let's say Rabbi Slifkin is correct in all matters related to this particular topic, and Dr. Isaac Betech is wrong. If you know the truth, and someone else is publicizing a lie, it can be quite galling to see it. Just look at what Snowden did recently and why he said he did it.
    Don't assume that 'deep down you feel its a threat to your book and to your notion that Chazal erred on science', is the only reason, or even THE reason for Rabbi Slifkin was being emotional about it.

    Also, something can be 'absurd' and 'overwhelmingly biased', and yet still need to be addressed.

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  28. J.S. - One can only wonder why Betech would even bother to arrange a ban on a book that in his view is based on faulty science and faulty Torah. Evidently deep down he feels its a threat to his notion that Chazal never erred on science. Otherwise why would the Gedolim get so emotional about it...

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  29. B”H
    Dear Natan

    NS wrote:
    As I made clear in my post, I cannot critique the entire book in one post, and in this post I just mentioned two points. It's a pity that you didn't respond to them.

    IB:
    Then, I will be patient to wait to the next post where you will explain in rationalist terms why a “non-ruminant, non-caecotroph and even non-merycist species” such as the hyrax is qualified as “maaleh gerah”.
    Meanwhile regarding your “two points”, I appreciate your invitation to respond to them. I will try to respond B”N in the next comment.

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  30. Wow, yet another comment with no substance!

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  31. You can either be committed to discovering truth - to whatever evidence, logic and reason shows - or you can be committed to dogmas. But you can't be committed to both, within the same investigation!


    Sigh - this is just so plainly true. Between the Slifkin ban and the Betech lofty praise, the Haredi sages are clearly expressing their disdane for simple common sense. The ban at least can be explained, as Rav Natan himself has done. But how can they attach their reputations to such drivel?

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  32. B”H
    Dear Natan:
    It’s interesting that for you saying that the hyrax is not “maaleh gerah” because it is a “non-ruminant, non-caecotroph and even non-merycist species” is considered by you as “no substance”.
    By the way, in your hyrax book you dedicated many pages trying –unsuccessfully- to demonstrate that the hyrax practices some kind of merycism.
    According to your last comment all those pages of your hyrax book are about “no substance”.

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  33. Lion of Israel, I empathize with your discomfort about not seeing a 'true' quest for truth in some words of the sages or in more contemporary interpretations of torah verses. Life, however, is more than an objective quest for truth. Science ideally is such a quest, but its practitioners often do not conform to the ideal. Religious texts ideally are guides to proper living. The 'true' meaning of verses, or the basis for debates is sometimes secondary to that ideal.
    Think of life a a kind of complex game with rules. In a game, if you explicitly violate the rules you get thrown out - or the game collapses. In a game, you can do all kinds of strange or unanticipated things, as long as you follow the rules. The sages accepted and followed the rules governing interpretation of verses and with whom and how they could debate. Contemporaries are correspondingly free to interpret verses as long as they don't use their novella as the basis for attempting to formulate new halachic rules.

    As a scientist, I, too, am concerned about finding the kernel of truth in various statements of the sages. In other words, I read the texts with, hopefully, open - but not jaundiced, eyes. The main thing, however, is to continue to engage with the basic texts because there is much to be learned and gained from such study.

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  34. I certainly believe that Yirat Shamayim can inspire one to learn science as one of several track to know Hashem through his works. When these studies lead me to believe that Chazal or the Rishonim made mistakes in science, I am humbled that by standing on the shoulders of giants such as Newton and Einstein I am able to see further into the purely physical manifestations of the mind of Hashem than Chazal and the Rishonim were.

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  35. Isaac, that's your third comment on this post, where you yet again fail to respond to the criticism contained in the post. This despite your claim that you would be willing to respond to objections to your thesis, and your claim in your second comment that your third comment would respond to it.

    Thanks again for confirming my criticism of you as a person who consistently avoids answering direct objections!

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  36. http://parsha.blogspot.co.il/2013/06/that-wascally-wabr.html

    About mistranslations and rabbits.

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  37. here is a clickable version of the link (to my blog) that Nachum posted above.

    kt,
    josh

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  38. >>Natan Slifkin said...

    >> The quest for truth ABOUT God cannot be driven by fear of God.

    M. Broyde: It seems to me awe of one's Maker is a great incentive to try to know Him.

    Natan Slifkin said...
    I was referring to the quest about whether He exists.

    MBA: Two points:
    (1) Even a rationalist must start from premises that are not questioned. One cannot be a skeptic on everything.

    (2) Fear of God and commitment to truth should indeed be complementary for the religious rationalist, (otherwise in what sense is he religious?) so it is not as simple as you suggest.

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  39. joshwaxman said...

    here is a clickable version of the link (to my blog) that Nachum posted above.

    kt,
    josh


    Here is a clickable version of the link (to my blog) which provides a response to R’ Josh’s presentation.

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  40. i started to respond in the comments there.

    i believe that rabbi coffer's response is at least partly based on a misunderstanding of what i wrote. for instance, he believes that i was saying that there were two linguistic shifts of al-wabr, (which he deems less plausible than Betech's theory), when i said no such thing.

    that is as far as I have commented there so far. i have other points to make once he has corrected this first inaccuracy.

    kol tuv,
    josh

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  41. B”H
    Dear Natan
    It is interesting that you decided not to answer my last comment where I wrote:
    “According to your last comment all those pages of your hyrax book are about “no substance.”

    NS wrote:
    “…you yet again fail to respond to the criticism contained in the post…”

    “…a person who consistently avoids answering direct objections!”

    IB:
    Since you wrote many different criticisms in the original post and in your comments you have not specified which one is the first you expect an answer from me, let me suppose you are speaking about the paragraph beginning with: “I'll conclude with just one example.”
    If my guess was not the “direct objection” you were speaking about, please let me know, so I could try to answer it, B”H.

    NS wrote in the main post:

    Several of Betech's arguments for the shafan being the rabbit (pp. 79-83) are that the rabbit perfectly matches the description given by the great Rishonim of Europe - long ears, etc. This is, of course, ridiculous - naturally the Rishonim of Europe thought that the shafan was the rabbit, because they were only familiar with rabbits and had never heard of hyraxes! And not only does Betech ignore this point (which I had already raised to him before his book went to press) - he makes it into an argument as to why the shafan cannot be the hyrax! He argues (p. 130) that one of the Spanish Rishonim noted that the shafan is abundant in Spain - and therefore it can't be the hyrax, which is non-existent in Spain!

    IB:
    As explained, my recently published book makes the case that the rabbit is compatible with all the descriptions published in the Jewish classic literature about the Biblical shafan.
    As you can read in the book and even if you just see its subtitle and abstract (available in the preview), you will know that I have no necessity to state that the Biblical shafan is definitely the rabbit. For me, it is enough to say that the characteristics present in the rabbit are compatible with all the characteristics attributed to the Biblical shafan in the Jewish classic literature.
    In pages 69-79 of my book we present all the characteristics and descriptions I have found about the Biblical shafan in the Pentateuch, Nach, Talmud and Midrash. After showing that the rabbit is compatible with all of them, then, in the pages you cited (79-83), we also present all the descriptors about the Biblical shafan found in the Rishonim literature and show that the rabbit is as well compatible with all of them.
    So, please note that the Rishonim are brought only after the sources in the written and oral Torah and are not presented as a proof of the validity of my suggestion that the Biblical shafan is the rabbit, but to show that also with the Rishonim it is compatible.

    Please continue reading in the next comment.

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  42. Continuation from the previous comment.

    Now, regarding what you wrote:
    “This is, of course, ridiculous - naturally the Rishonim of Europe thought that the shafan was the rabbit, because they were only familiar with rabbits and had never heard of hyraxes!”

    IB:
    Ibn Janach (c. 990 - c. 1050), explicitly wrote about the different zoogeographical distribution between Spain and the East [probably Middle East].
    The latter is also evident from the many sources in the written and oral Torah which detail import to Yisrael of different species from distant places.
    Besides that, Am Yisrael heard (and saw) about all the different animal species on Matan Torah, as explicit in Chulin 42a, Sifra Shemini 11:62, Midrash Tanchuma Shemini 8 s.v. “veim tameah”, Vayikra Rabba 13:4, etc.

    So, it is not easy to categorically write: “…had never heard of hyraxes!”

    Finally, regarding what you wrote:
    “… he makes it into an argument as to why the shafan cannot be the hyrax! He argues (p. 130) that one of the Spanish Rishonim noted that the shafan is abundant in Spain - and therefore it can't be the hyrax, which is non-existent in Spain!”

    IB:
    Beginning from page 118 of my book we present all the characteristics and descriptions I have found about the Biblical shafan in the Pentateuch and Talmud which are incompatible with the hyrax; then, in the pages you cited (127-130), we also present many descriptors about the Biblical shafan found in the Rishonim’s literature with whom the hyrax is incompatible.
    So, the only point you cited is the last one I addressed.

    My first and main point to disqualify the hyrax as the Biblical shafan, is that a “non-ruminant, non-caecotroph and even non-merycist species” such as the hyrax is not a “maaleh gerah” animal.
    Being a “maaleh gerah” animal, is a Pentateuchal requirement.

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  43. Isaac, despite (or perhaps because of) the great length of your comments, you still manage to avoid giving a clear response.

    Let's make things simpler. Are you saying that the Rishonim
    a) definitely had a mesorah from Sinai as to the identity of the shafan
    b) probably had such a mesorah, or
    c) possibly had such a mesorah?

    Just answer a, b, or c. Nothing else, please.

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  44. Question for Rabbi Slifkin. The science on whether or not hyraxes ruminate is a little hazy, but it seems likely on anatomical grounds that their chewing motions are not rumination. If MRI scans or similar proved this conclusively, would you (a) retract - the shafan is neither a hyrax nor a rabbit (b) learn a novel peshat in 'maale geirah' as meaning 'engaging in chewing motions' or (c) engage in apostasy around Torah shebichsav? From what I understand your position is b. B is the kind of hopelessly mudlled compromise we all use to get to the end of the day without being overwhelmed by nihilism. Life is too complex to afford utter consistency between all its different spheres... I feel that you unappreciate this when you criticise Jr in the succeeding post.

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  45. I guess you haven't read my book!
    As I've said on several occasions, I adopt the approach of Dibra Torah k'lashon bnei adam, as explained by Rav Kook etc. The Torah is not scientifically accurate, as seen with its descriptions of dew, the firmament, the kidneys, etc.

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  46. Hopelessly muddled as I said, with an arbitrary definition of lashon benei Adam, albeit with rav kook for company. I'm OK with that; you should be ok with muddle in others.

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  47. B”H
    Dear Natan

    NS wrote:
    Just answer a, b, or c. Nothing else, please.

    IB:
    c)

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  48. Re: Not scientifically accurate:

    Not to mention that bats are the last item of the list of forbidden "birds". But it is interesting that the Torah lists it at the very end and not in the middle of the list.

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  49. Does anyone else find it strange that one of the signs of a kosher ("clean") animal is that it eats its own poop?

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  50. "Natan Slifkin said...


    I guess you haven't read my book!
    As I've said on several occasions, I adopt the approach of Dibra Torah k'lashon bnei adam, as explained by Rav Kook etc. The Torah is not scientifically accurate, as seen with its descriptions of dew, the firmament, the kidneys, etc."

    More correctly if saying Dibra Torah k'lashon bnei adam applies to saying wrong science it would mean the Torah would not be really saying scientifically inaccurate things but just using a way of talking like when we say the sun rises and sets.

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  51. So, Isaac, you think that Ibn Janach and the Spanish Rishonim POSSIBLY had a mesorah that the shafan is the rabbit. I.e. he also possibly, or even probably, was merely making his best assessment, or repeating an assessment made by others.

    If that is the case, then it was completely wrong for you to present a list of descriptions of the shafan given by the Spanish Rishonim alongside the Biblical clues as to the shafan's identity. They are not clues as to what the Biblical shafan is. They are possibly, or probably, clues as to what people in Spain thought that it is. This was exactly my point in this post.

    I will also add that there is every reason to believe that the Spanish Rishonim had NO mesorah as to the identity of the shafan. After all, we see in Chullin that they didn't even have a mesorah as to the identity of the tzvi - a kosher animal! Kal v'chomer that they didn't have a mesorah as to the identity of a non-kosher animal, for which there would be no particular reason to know its identity, since it lacks both kosher signs!

    Finally, your claim that Ibn Janach might have heard of the hyrax is without any basis. The fact that he said that there were less rabbits in the East, and that he knew that there was such a thing as animals only existing in certain places, is not evidence that he had heard of the hyrax!

    ReplyDelete
  52. B”H
    Dear Natan

    NS wrote:
    So, Isaac, you think that Ibn Janach and the Spanish Rishonim POSSIBLY had a mesorah that the shafan is the rabbit. I.e. he also possibly, or even probably, was merely making his best assessment, or repeating an assessment made by others.

    IB:
    You are right.
    If you read the first page of Chapter two, you will see that this is my original approach in the published shafan book and furthermore, we brought support to that citing Tosfot Chulin 59b s.v. Vehare tzvi.

    NS wrote:
    If that is the case, then it was completely wrong for you to present a list of descriptions of the shafan given by the Spanish Rishonim alongside the Biblical clues as to the shafan's identity. They are not clues as to what the Biblical shafan is. They are possibly, or probably, clues as to what people in Spain thought that it is. This was exactly my point in this post.

    IB:
    You would be right in case I would have presented the list of descriptions of the shafan given by the Rishonim as a proof for the truth of my suggested shafan=rabbit, but I did not.
    As explained, my recently published book makes the case that the rabbit is compatible with all the descriptions published in the Jewish classic literature about the Biblical shafan, including the Rishonim.
    So, please note that the Rishonim are brought only after the sources in the written and oral Torah and are not presented as a proof of the validity of my suggestion that the Biblical shafan is the rabbit, but only to show that also with the Rishonim it is compatible.

    NS wrote:
    I will also add that there is every reason to believe that the Spanish Rishonim had NO mesorah as to the identity of the shafan. After all, we see in Chullin that they didn't even have a mesorah as to the identity of the tzvi - a kosher animal! Kal v'chomer that they didn't have a mesorah as to the identity of a non-kosher animal, for which there would be no particular reason to know its identity, since it lacks both kosher signs!

    IB:
    Please see what I wrote on this at June 23, 2013 at 7:31 PM
    You may think that there is every reason to believe that the Spanish Rishonim had NO mesorah as to the identity of the shafan, but what I objected is that you confidently wrote:
    “…had never heard of hyraxes!”
    You may think that, but you cannot categorically write: “…had never heard of hyraxes!”

    NS wrote:
    Finally, your claim that Ibn Janach might have heard of the hyrax is without any basis. The fact that he said that there were less rabbits in the East, and that he knew that there was such a thing as animals only existing in certain places, is not evidence that he had heard of the hyrax!

    IB:
    Please see what I wrote on this at June 23, 2013 at 7:31 PM
    I am only saying “that Ibn Janach might have heard of the hyrax”, as he might have heard of any other species.
    But you are now saying: “is not evidence that he had heard of the hyrax!”, and I agree with you on that.
    As you may know, my recently published book is being discussed simultaneously in many fora, so maybe I am confused, but I do not remember writing that I have any evidence “that Ibn Janach might have heard of the hyrax”.
    If you remember, please remind me where.

    ReplyDelete
  53. "So, please note that the Rishonim are brought only after the sources in the written and oral Torah and are not presented as a proof of the validity of my suggestion that the Biblical shafan is the rabbit, but only to show that also with the Rishonim it is compatible."

    Isaac, you are being dishonest.

    On page 42, you write that "in Chapter 4 we will analyze whether the rabbit fulfills all these criteria, therefore determining if indeed the rabbit is the Biblical shafan."

    And on page 70, you write that you will "prove" (emphasis mine) that the shafan is rabbit "by analyzing whether the rabbit fulfills all the characteristics (emphasis YOURS) describing the shafan that have been published in the classic Jewish literature, as enumerated above in Chapter 2 from (a) to (p). These are the criteria a creature called shafan must meet..." Letters m to p are descriptions from the Spanish Rishonim.

    So you do indeed claim that making the rabbit match the description of the Spanish Rishonim is part of proving that the rabbit is the shafan.

    Thus, the point that I made in my post was correct.

    ReplyDelete
  54. B”H
    Dear Natan
    Thank you for your response.
    I will assume that the fact that you are answering only the second of my four points elaborated in my previous comment, means that you agree with all of them except this one.
    If my assumption is incorrect, please address the additional points you disagree and explain why.

    NS wrote:
    Isaac, you are being dishonest…

    IB:
    If some of my words are ambiguous or imprecise, I am ready to correct them B”H for the next edition; nevertheless these do not change the main line of thought presented in the shafan book as expressed in the subtitle (front cover), abstract (page 3 and back cover), Chapter 1 (introduction) and conclusion of Chapter 4 (The identity of the Biblical shafan and arnebet), which are the most relevant places to this issue.

    In the subtitle of the book I wrote:
    “Torah and scientific research suggesting a solution…”

    Suggesting means only suggesting, not a proved statement.

    In the abstract I wrote:
    …Indeed, current science shows that all the characteristics Jewish classic literature attributes to these animals do occur in the rabbit and the hare.

    I only wrote “do occur”, I did not write that the rabbit and hare are the shafan and arnebet.

    On Chapter 1 (introduction) it is written:
    In this essay, we would like to share, Beezrat Hashem, conclusions we have arrived at. Needless to say, these conclusions are tentative, as are all scientific conclusions, and as new scientific information will be available, these conclusions may naturally be subject to review.

    I wrote that the book’s conclusions are tentative, not definitive.

    And in conclusion of Chapter 4 (The identity of the Biblical shafan) it is written:

    To summarize, we suggest that there is no objection to the traditional thought that the Biblical shafan is the rabbit.

    I only wrote there is no objection; I did not write that I have proved that the shafan is the rabbit.

    Finally, as a book author, you know how difficult it is to have a mistake-free book. Even if you check again your book “The camel, the hare and the hyrax”, you will see that there are some recurring mistakes present in the first edition that were not corrected even in the second edition.
    This is the reason I appreciate so much everyone’s help in correcting minor errors. And kol sheken, if anyone would find a major mistake.

    ReplyDelete
  55. ScienceArt,

    R' Slifkin's point all along has been that we are not faced with a binary choice: there are degrees of reasonableness, and therefore, one freely admits, there are degrees of muddle. But if one alternative is 90% probable and the other is 10% remotely possible, the reasonable person should find the 90%-probable alternative more convincing. It is a peculiarly anti-Rationalist, Charedi instinct to insist that anything not categorically disproven is equally acceptable.

    The point being, when you line up the reasons for and against interpreting the shafan to be the hyrax vs. the rabbit, you find the argument for hyrax, though not flawless, to be far less muddled.

    ReplyDelete
  56. If some of my words are ambiguous or imprecise, I am ready to correct them B”H for the next edition

    I am not referring to words that are ambiguous or imprecise. I am referring to words and arguments that are flat-out wrong. And we would like you to acknowledge them now.

    And I am not interested in whether you claim, or pretend to claim, that your overall conclusions are only tentative.

    What I am discussing is your REPEATED claim that any proposed candidate for the shafan MUST match the descriptions given by the Spanish rishonim.

    Are you ready to concede that this was an error?

    This is the reason I appreciate so much everyone’s help in correcting minor errors. And kol sheken, if anyone would find a major mistake.

    Well, now we'll be able to see if you really mean this, or if you are just being deceitful again.

    ReplyDelete
  57. If you have a passionate commitment, then reason can go out of the window.

    Don't all truly frum people have passionate commitment including your self ?

    ReplyDelete

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