Wednesday, October 30, 2013

R. Meiselman: All The Rishonim Were Wrong, Again And Again And Again

Part II of a review of Rabbi Moshe Meiselman's Torah, Chazal and Science (continued from part I)

In the prologue to his book, Rabbi Meiselman sets out the fundamentals of his approach. He takes a very firm and devout theological position:
“We do not impose our ideas upon the Tannaim, Amoraim, Rishonim or major Acharonim, nor do we attempt to understand the Gemara without their assistance. Our goal is to try to comprehend how those previous generations understood it; to view it through the prism of their writings. We submit to the authority of our great predecessors.” (p. XXX)

Rabbi Meiselman stresses this point again and again. He cites a story about how Rav Soloveitchik said that we cannot say that Ramban was wrong about something, and he gives the principles of how we must relate to the Rishonim:
“Among those whom the Mesorah has labeled Rishonim we never pick and choose… Certainly we do not invoke criteria external to the Torah in evaluating the correctness of their views…” (p. XXXI)

And he succinctly explains why only a person who has this proper approach (i.e. himself) is able to arrive at correct conclusions in these matters:
“Only one who approaches his studies with the recognition that scholars of previous generations were incalculably wiser and more attuned to the sources than we are, can ever really understand the Torah.” (p. xxxi)

This all sounds very traditionalist, expressing the most conservative and Charedi approach. It’s presented as key characteristic of the book, even mentioned on the back cover: “Remaining true to the classic sources is the best way to let the Torah’s light shine forth.” Rabbi Meiselman engages in constant, constant, lengthy condemnations of those who do not have the right approach in such matters – as I mentioned yesterday, I’ve never seen a work spend so much time issuing condemnations of everyone who has the “wrong” approach. He stresses that :
“Whoever wishes to be considered within the bounds of the Mesorah must take it as his point of departure.” (p. xxxvi)

The problem is that when we get to the main body of the book, and actually deal with Chazal’s statements about the natural world, Rabbi Meiselman tosses this approach out of the window!

I will be dealing with each of these topics in more detail in separate posts, but for now let us briefly note Rabbi Meiselman’s approach in several cases (with some direct quotations in parentheses at the end of each paragraph):
  • Chapter 10 deals with Chazal’s statements about the sun’s path at night, which all the Rishonim understand as saying that the sun goes behind the sky at night. Rabbi Meiselman says that all the Rishonim were wrong. (“…their interpretations are evidently incorrect,” in the section boldly titled “When the Commentaries are Mistaken.”)
  • Chapter 22 deals with Chazal’s statements about the development of insects, which all the Rishonim and Acharonim explain as referring to spontaneous generation. Rabbi Meiselman says that Chazal were not talking about any such thing, and all the Rishonim and Acharonim were wrong. (“The Rishonim and Acharonim interpreted the Gemara in terms familiar to them… This does not mean that that is what Chazal had in mind, nor does it compel us to interpret the Gemara in the same way.”) 
  •  Chapter 23 deals with the mud mouse, which all the Rishonim and Acharonim understand to mean that Chazal believed in the existence of a mouse that spontaneously generates from mud. Rabbi Meiselman says that Chazal did not mean any such thing, and all the Rishonim and Acharonim were wrong. (“The Rishonim make no claim, however, that their understanding of Chazal is complete and perfect.”)
  • Chapter 24 deals with Chazal’s description of a creature that nurses its young and yet lays eggs and is called atalef, which all the Rishonim and Acharonim understand to refer to the atalef of the Torah, i.e. a bat. Rabbi Meiselman says that Chazal did not mean any such thing, and all the Rishonim and Acharonim were wrong. (“Because our mesorah passes through them, and because we are aware of their intellectual greatness, we never take what the Rishonim say lightly. But when observable facts contradict their understanding…”)

So, again and again and again and again, Rabbi Meiselman declares that the Rishonim were all wrong in the way that they explained the Gemara. He has violated the very approach that he has insisted upon at the beginning of his book!

The reason why he ends up doing this is that he has put himself in an impossible position. On the one hand, he insists that any definitive statement about the natural world made by Chazal must be true. In addition, he insists that the Mesorah, and the explanations of the Rishonim, are unimpeachable. But on the other hand, he can’t avoid the fact that the sun does not go behind the sky at night, spontaneous generation is false, mice do not develop from mud, and bats do not lay eggs. Something has to give, and rather than say that Chazal were not aware of contemporary knowledge about the natural world, Rabbi Meiselman chooses to say that the Rishonim did not know how to learn the Gemara (as well as their being unaware of contemporary knowledge about the natural world).

The result is that we have the extraordinary hypocrisy of Rabbi Meiselman repeatedly violating the very approach that he insisted upon as being required of Torah-true Jews. For all his pontificating about how we do not impose our ideas upon the Tannaim, about how we do not attempt to understand the Gemara without the Rishonim, about how they were incalculably wiser and more attuned to the sources than we are, about how we may never say that the Rishonim were wrong, he goes ahead and violates every one of those principles, time and time again!

But aside from the hypocrisy, where is the humility and respect for the Rishonim? Rabbi Meiselman has repeatedly condemned the “arrogance” of those who say that Chazal were mistaken about a scientific fact. Now, I don’t see how there is any arrogance involved; we are not positing that we are more intelligent than Chazal, just that we have the benefit of standing on the shoulders of centuries of accumulated scientific knowledge. But I don’t see any basis for claiming in these cases that the Rishonim misunderstood what Chazal were saying. On the contrary; since the Rishonim were much closer to Chazal, I think that there is every reason to believe that they understood the meaning of their discussions. It seems astonishing that Rabbi Meiselman, under the banner of humility, posits that all the Rishonim misunderstood Chazal, and only he has discovered Chazal’s true meaning!

The question is, what about Rav Elya Ber Wachtfogel, who insists that one must accept the way that the Rishonim explain Chazal, and that any other approach is heresy? Will he put Rabbi Meiselman’s book in cherem? Perhaps someone could show Rabbi Meiselman’s book to him and ask him for his response.

72 comments:

  1. This all sounds very traditionalist, expressing the most conservative and Charedi approach.

    Unfortunately, I think the word 'Charedi' needs to be replaced with 'Yeshiva', thus including most typical Dati Leumi yeshivot, which are almost as 'guilty' of all this as Charedi yeshivot.

    It almost seems as if all the institutions we have that are successful at perpetuating what we call true Torah observance - the types of institutions that seem to have stood the test of time - are successful mainly by indoctrinating our youth with the kinds of ideas and beliefs that Rabbi Meiselman supports and you reject.

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  2. Does R. Meiselman really not qualify those statements in the prologue in any way so as to justify his later statements in the book? How do you suppose he would respond to the blatant contradictions you pointed out?

    he has put himself in an impossible position

    Aptly put. People often live with logical contradictions to survive on an emotional/personal-identity level. But that only works if you don't offer it up for intellectual scrutiny, much less claim it as the one and only "correct" position!

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  3. I don't have the book yet, but perhaps there is a method to the apparent madness.

    R. Meiselman, in his prologue, knows that he is about to contradict the words of the Rishonim. He is putting up a defense of this approach in advance. His defense is that only one who is (in his view) properly deferential to the Mesorah and Rishonim is able to make the necessary choices as to how to resolve the (in his view) apparent conflicts between statements of Chazal and science. Other "unnamed persons" are not properly deferential and do not therefore come to the right resolution. Thus: “Only one who approaches his studies with the recognition that scholars of previous generations were incalculably wiser and more attuned to the sources than we are, can ever really understand the Torah.”

    And how does one prove that they are among those who are capable of coming to the right resolution? By writing a very long exposition on the importance of the Mesorah and the proper approach towards it. Thus your observation that you've "never seen a work spend so much time issuing condemnations of everyone who has the 'wrong' approach." All this is necessary to establish R. Meiselman's qualifications.

    With qualifications established, then what approach is to be taken? It is not to take literally each word said by the Rishonim. Rather it is to "to view it [Gemara] through the prism of their writings". This opens up wiggle room for the "right person" to resolve contradictions.

    The next step is to disqualify "rationalist" approaches "some authors" who try to create a path through the mesorah that is most consistent with modern science, but that relies on opinions scattered through the sources. This would mean that only someone that understands science can properly interpret the Torah. Instead, he argues that we can only accept an approach which is neutral to all the Rishonim and doesn't depend on the particulars of the science involved. His "neutral" approach is that the Gemara is correct in science, but the Rishonim were wrong. Thus, "Among those whom the Mesorah has labeled Rishonim we never pick and choose". R. Meiselman's approach levels the playing field.

    So it turns out that "The Rishonim and Acharonim interpreted the Gemara in terms familiar to them… This does not mean that that is what Chazal had in mind, nor does it compel us to interpret the Gemara in the same way." This is OK because "we are aware of their intellectual greatness, we never take what the Rishonim say lightly" and because "The Rishonim make no claim, however, that their understanding of Chazal is complete and perfect.". In summary, the Rishonim were deferential to the Gemara and interpreted it according to the science available. We are equally deferential and are doing what *all* Rishonim "would have done" if they had access to the science: interpret those same Gemara's differently.

    This is not a defense of the thesis, which I strongly disgree with, but rather an attempt to understand what compelled it.

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  4. David, nice effort, but you're trying to square a circle. There is simply no way to reconcile what he does later in the book with the approach that he lays out in the beginning. At the beginning of the book, he makes it abundantly clear that we are never allowed to second-guess the Rishonim, nor to adjust the traditional understanding of the Gemara due to external considerations (i.e. scientific investigation). Look again at the phrases that I quoted, and see plenty more like that when you eventually get the book.

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  5. Atheodox Jew - In chapter 10, R Meiselman claims that the Rishonim never meant their explanations of the Gemara in these cases to be definitive. Of course he presents absolutely no evidence for that, and there is no reason to believe that the Rishonim meant their explanations of these sugyos any differently than their explanations of other sugyos. He says that such Gemaras are "obscure," but they were never considered to be obscure; that's just his way of describing perfectly clear statements in the Gemara that are contradicted by modern knowledge.

    He says that if these Rishonim knew that these things are scientifically incorrect, they would never have explained Chazal in that way. But that depends on which authorities we're talking about, and which sugya. And in any case, that doesn't change the fact that this still doesn't match what he says at the beginning of the book.

    The bottom line is that he sets out his position so strongly and clearly in the prologue that there is no way to reconcile it with what he does later.

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  6. This does not mean that that is what Chazal had in mind
    ========================
    In conversations on brain death, electricity etc. with those whose pay grade is way above mine, I generally ask if they think Chazal thought about issues that were for all intents and purposes non-differentiable or existent in their time. Have you asked this question and what answer did you get?
    KT
    Joel Rich

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  7. Good point. Actually, you could make your question even stronger, and go beyond just the contradiction cited here in the book - how can one be expected to accept the Rishonim, and then question and challenge nearly every recorded opinion of theirs? In fact, recordings of R Meisleman's Shiurim in Yeshiva, especially his Shiur Kelalli, prove that he does just that! He claims to respect the Rambam, but every time he studies a Sugya he challenges the Rambam's explanations! Not to mention the Rashba!

    Your 'impossible position' and 'square that cannot be circled' are reminiscent of the AmHaaretz who comes to the Yeshiva and questions the Rebbe in Shiur: 'I don't understand why you have so many Kushyes on Tosafos - don't you have respect? If Tosafos makes a comment, where is your Derech Eretz in asking Kushyes?'

    Your brilliant expose'once again demonstrates the point of your departure - you have forgotten HOW to learn.

    R Meiselman's point in the prologue is that Chazal are studied and understood in the light of the Rishonim. Chazal's words are a nearly infinite light, and they are refracted to us through the Rishonim. The Rishonim are the prism, and most often, one Shittah differs from the next.

    This is a well-known position of Brisk - the Chiddushim that we say are only in explaining the Rishonim, and understanding what is already written. But, we study the Sugya, and recognize that when we study the Sugya it is the Divrei Chazal that we try to understand. The Shittos HaRishonim are not isolated and independent words or opinions.

    Hence, we don't need to accept every Shitah, nor study every Rishon, and not every opinion of every Rishon carries equal weight or is authoritative or halachically acceptable.

    But, the Talmid Chacham is one who understands where all the Rishonim are coming from, and is able to find the source in Chazal for every opinion of the Rambam.

    This is the answer to the 'impossible' position you describe - actually, that is precisely how we learn always. Once you recognize where the Rishonim come from, it is possible that one opinion may not explain fully an 'obscure' Sugya, and each Shittah is just one perspective.

    Those who do not accept the classic position that R Meisleman sets out in his prologue do not recognize the centrality of Divrei Chazal and and in their abandonment of Yeshiva study and Gemara B'Iyun they merely study Rishonim independently, and create new rationalist' or 'mystical' ideologies because they failed to see the common denominator.

    In simple words: the words of Chazal are much bigger than us, and we understand what they write only through the Rishonim's explanations. What you have done is cut Divrei Chazal down to size, as if you can understand their words on your own.

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  8. Excuse me. When, in the Beis HaMidrash, we ask a kashya on a Rishon, or choose a Rishon according to which to pasken, we are not remotely saying that the Rishonim are wrong.

    Rabbi Meiselman, on the other hand, is saying that the Rishonim - ALL of them - are plain WRONG.

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  9. > I’ve never seen a work spend so much time issuing condemnations of everyone who has the “wrong” approach.

    Can you provide some examples?

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  10. No, R Meiselman does not say they are WRONG - he says that this particular approach may not be the Peshat that fully explains this Sugya.

    It is precisely this point that explains your 'impossible' contradiction, and also explains what you have never understood - why can a particular opinion of the Rishonim have been acceptable at one point in history, but yet, we can not utilize that approach today.

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  11. No, he says that they are WRONG.
    e.g.
    “…their interpretations are evidently incorrect,” in the section boldly titled “When the Commentaries are Mistaken.”

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  12. This entry reminds me of the people who say "We only follow the Shulchan aruch", but then when it comes to analyzing the details, you find that in many places they do not follow the Shulchan aruch at all.

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  13. David, nice effort, but you're trying to square a circle. There is simply no way to reconcile what he does later in the book with the approach that he lays out in the beginning. At the beginning of the book, he makes it abundantly clear that we are never allowed to second-guess the Rishonim, nor to adjust the traditional understanding of the Gemara due to external considerations (i.e. scientific investigation). Look again at the phrases that I quoted, and see plenty more like that when you eventually get the book.

    Disclaimer: my attempts are fundamentally silly until I get the book. But this is the comments section of a blog, so I'll take the liberty.

    What I'm suggesting is that it is R. Meiselman who is trying square the circle. His position is inherently incosistent: as you've pointed out, you can't make consistent the position that Talmud is infallible in science and embracing how the Rishonim viewed the Gemara, which are both core principles of his. I'm trying to explain what R. Meiselman had in mind, when writing what he wrote to try reconcile the views as best he could. I'm not defending the position, but trying to understand what he possibly could have been intending when he wrote those two contradictory things, given that they are in fact contradictory.

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  14. Lion of Israel-
    Interesting that you use the word "indoctrinate" when you are describing the Torah education of the young. What happened to "Torat Emet"? This means searching for the truth. That's what Torah education means to me and I hope I educated my children to seek the truth (they went through a religious education).
    As I have stated before, the Haredi spokesmen have all stated clearly that their education system is inferior and ineffectual because they all admit that once a Haredi youngster is exposed to people and ideas different than that which he was "indoctrinated" with,they will inevitably abandon Torah observance and so they are demanding that the state make it possible for them to avoid all contact with "outworlders". SO what good is all this indoctrination you praise doing? You are aware that most Jews in the world abandoned Torah observance in the 19th and first half of the 20th centuries. This is because this "indoctrination" you laud simply could not answer the questions young Jews were asking at the time. Who says such a mass falling off couldn't happen again? Once people start questioning the indoctrination they received and see that it wrong on one thing, instead of learning to view things with a logical, open mind, they will start asking "what else did they lie to me about?"
    There is no question that a properly educated, logical, inquisitive NON-INDOCTRINATED mind can accept Torah, we all know people like that. This is the only Torah that can stand up to the challenges of modernity.

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  15. Temujin is lost and in what is undoubtedly a profound analysis of hitherto unsuspected methodologies in R'Meiselman's book which seem to have escaped the notice of R'Slifkin...and obviously R'Meiselman too. Observer seems to be saying that R'Meiselman's contradictions only appear as contradictions if one is an am ha'aretz, which R'Slifkin must be, having made the amateurish mistake of interpreting R'Meiselman's words literally and not anticipating a much higher level of analysis obvious to Observer. There, that rounded things tightly with trusty old circular logic. One doesn't see any way out of this one. Obviously, R'Slifkin must close-up shop now and get himself into a yeshiva. Well, it was nice meeting everyone...

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  16. Those who do not accept the classic position that R Meisleman sets out in his prologue do not recognize the centrality of Divrei Chazal and and in their abandonment of Yeshiva study and Gemara B'Iyun they merely study Rishonim independently, and create new rationalist' or 'mystical' ideologies because they failed to see the common denominator.

    In simple words: the words of Chazal are much bigger than us, and we understand what they write only through the Rishonim's explanations. What you have done is cut Divrei Chazal down to size, as if you can understand their words on your own.


    R. Slifkin, I think that "observer's" comment is evidence for my poorly supported thesis. R. Meiselman is in fact saying that the Rishonim are "wrong", and he knows that, so he must emphasize the difference between his approach and yours at a different level. Thus he must claim that his overall approach seeks to preserve Chazal and Rishonim, so his forced departures are just interpretation.

    You will answer that this is not a accurate characterization of what R. Meiselman actually does, but this is beside the point. His prologue is needed in order to convince himself and the various "Observers" that what he says is sufficiently differentiated from what you say, precisely because you both break the model.

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  17. "Chazal's words are a nearly infinite light."

    Whoever said this above should not be reading this blog. It sounds very much like avodah zara, and if you believe this, you are not practicing the Judaism of the Torah. You shouldn't be here.

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  18. R. Slifkin has been charged with taking on people much greater, more learned and wiser than himself.
    From my desultory look at various types of literature, the level of expertise, knowledge, insight, sharpness, clarity of thought, cogency of exposition and good manners that exist in scientific works and even in Christian apologetics is higher than what I have observed in the people alleged to be serious proponents of a "Chareidi" approach.

    If that is a given, Rabbi Slifkin is actually doing the opposite of what he is charged with: he is lowering himself to deal with people who are unable to debate intelligently, lucidly and logically, and instead resort to mendacity, authority and ad hominem attacks.

    Only in a "Torah-only" environment or in an environment where Torah knowledge can be conflated with personal greatness and integrity can such people's way of expressing themselves be seen as worthy of respect.

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  19. Sorry, but I repeat what I said yesterday - this is just a game, and what R Slifkin claims to be 'impossible contradictions', which of course would be rejected by other Roshei Yeshiva, is actually the traditional method of study in Yeshiva; internally consistent and mindful that Chazal's words are written in a definitive manner, though at times inscrutable and hard to decipher.

    This methodology has obviously had great intellectual success in recent years for those inside the walls of the Bais Medrash, while those outside are convinced that it is illogical.

    The reluctance of Chareidi leadership to expose youth to the Israeli culture is not - as Y. Ben David claims - because they fear the battle of ideas. On the contrary, even the secular leadership understands today that they have lost the ideological battle, it is our recognition that when one stops learning Gemara he begins to think differently and subtly approach life in the materialistic manner championed by R Slifkin.

    I am sorry for wasting my time here.

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  20. Yes, you are just repeating yourself, without rebutting what I wrote. I have clearly demonstrated a fundamental contradiction in Rabbi Meiselman's book. Saying "It's not a contradiction" is not a response.

    And it's certainly not "the traditional method of study in yeshivos" to say that the Rishonim were all wrong!

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  21. To Gershon Pickles -

    What I wrote about Chazal's words is all clearly stated in Nefesh HaChaim

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  22. And I have explained just as cogently and clearly why it is not a contradiction at all. Pretending that my response doesn't exist and this 'contradiction' will now be cited as fact every time you mention R Meiselman is your standard operating procedure. You can fool the pop media, but your words will have no sway in the Bais Medrash.

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  23. Well, I'm sure that my words will have no sway in the Toras Moshe beis hamidrash. But everyone else appears to realize that there is a contradiction here. And good luck getting charedi Gedolim to endorse lines about the Rishonim like “…their interpretations are evidently incorrect."

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  24. Y. Ben David -

    I guess I really, really wasn't clear.

    I was lamenting the fact that when it comes to close-minded indoctrination, many Dati Leumi yeshivot are as bad as the Charedi ones. Hence the word 'Unfortunately'.

    In my last paragraph, I was essentially lamenting that it appears to me that, at least in our generation, those very same institutions, whose methods of indoctrination I'm very uncomfortable with, are the only ones that are able to keep a large percentage of the population with the program as truly committed Torah-observant Jews. This is a conundrum which seems to be a fact of life.

    Ultimately, when it comes to dogma, Yiddeshkeit needs questionable dogma as much as other religions. Which is unfortunate

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  25. If I may present an alternate possible interpretation of R. Meiselman's words, I think he would differentiate between the words of the Rishonim when it comes to interpreting halachic issues and their interpretation of the cases being discussed. Regarding the former, the Rishonim have indisputable authority, whereas in the latter they are sometimes mistaken. This is of course different than Chazal who are always infallible in their scientific knowledge.

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  26. ...this is just a game, and what R Slifkin claims to be 'impossible contradictions', which of course would be rejected by other Roshei Yeshiva, is actually the traditional method of study in Yeshiva; internally consistent and mindful that Chazal's words are written in a definitive manner, though at times inscrutable and hard to decipher.

    In other words, "internally consistent contradictions." And "definitive, though at times inscrutable." Temujin is pleased that Observer has at least for now laid aside the attack ad hominem and is exploring what appears to be Zen philosophy for the Everyman.

    Finally an explanation and perhaps an enticing publicity blurb for the better class of academies: "This methodology (i.e., The Way of the Internal Contradiction Which It Is Not?) has obviously had great intellectual success in recent years for those inside the walls of the Bais Medrash, while those outside are convinced that it is illogical. Congratulations are in order, then...assuming one understood correctly.

    I am sorry for wasting my time here. Goodness, no, Observer, not now when Temujin is finally beginning to clue-in!

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  27. Julianfamily, Rabbi Meiselman's words at the beginning of the book are specifically about the Rishonim's discussion of scientific matters. That's what the book is about.

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  28. Observer - I wonder if “the beis medrash” is where serious arguments such as those made by R. Chaim Kanievsky (surely a master talmid chacham if there ever was one) about goyim having a different number of teeth or animals not going extinct are tested.

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  29. In this context, it's interesting to consider the difference between Jean-Baptiste Lamarck and Trofim Lysenko. Lamarck (who, according to Wikipedia coined the term "biology") laid the foundations for the intellectual understanding of evolution and was an extremely important taxonomist. He had observed the inheritance of acquired characteristics and formulated his ideas of evolution to take that observation into account.

    It took over a century and a half for the following more complete understanding to even begin to emerge: The text for inheritance and evolution is indeed mainly the DNA, but recent discoveries in epigenetics have to some extent rehabilitated Lamarck's views:
    Some epigenetic changes such as the methylation of genes alter the likelihood of DNA transcription and can be produced by changes in behaviour and environment. Many epigenetic changes are themselves heritable to a degree. Thus, while DNA itself is not directly altered by the environment and behavior except through selection, the relationship of the genotype to the phenotype can be altered, even across generations, by experience within the lifetime of an individual. This has led to calls for biology to reconsider Lamarckian processes in evolution in light of modern advances in molecular biology. (Again Wikipedia)

    Even in the period in which Lamarck's theories of inheritance were completely disbelieved, he was acknowledged to have made legitimate use of the existing knowledge and to have made important advances.

    To understand where Lysenko went wrong and to place his valid work in context, it should be noted that polyploid plant genetics (much stranger and more complex than animal genetics even in terms of DNA and genes, and when you stir in epigenetic phenomena, it's more complex yet) is what operates in the species in which Lysenko and his predecessor, I. V. Michurin did much of their work. So they too were operating with insufficient knowledge in a system much larger than they seem to have realized. Both men made important and economically useful discoveries. Michurin's scientific reputation was probably preserved by his having died in 1935.

    Lysenko, however, attached himself to a system of thought in which material fact was subsidiary to a particular ideology, which was deemed to be the ultimate truth. He used the power of that ideology to suppress material facts which contradicted his concepts, and in so doing betrayed the principles under which scientific work is the most fruitful.

    That betrayal led to his fall when his political masters fell, and he has become a byword today for bad and even fraudulent science.

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  30. No, R Meiselman does not say they are WRONG

    R Meiselman: "Their interpretations are evidently incorrect".

    Can you please explain the difference between "WRONG" and "incorrect"?

    he says that this particular approach may not be the Peshat that fully explains this Sugya.

    According to R. Meiselman, their Peshat was lice spontaneously generate (and he is correct in this). Please explain how this partially explains the Sugya according to R. Meiselman who maintains that Chazal knew that lice do not do so.

    It is precisely this point that explains your 'impossible' contradiction,

    Your explanation lacks any substance. Please add more detail.

    and also explains what you have never understood - why can a particular opinion of the Rishonim have been acceptable at one point in history, but yet, we can not utilize that approach today.

    So at one point in history, the Rishonim could be relied upon to accurately explain the Gemara, but now they cannot be so relied on? This is very unorthodox of you.

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  31. You choose the wrong profession you should of been a lawyer

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  32. No, R Meiselman does not say they are WRONG

    R Meiselman: "Their interpretations are evidently incorrect".

    Can you please explain the difference between "WRONG" and "incorrect"?

    WRONG in this context means that their logic is faulty.
    INTERPRETATION IS INCORRECT can mean merely that the logic, while true, may not apply in this particular circumstance. It may be that there other, overriding principles, or, in the case of interpreting Chazal, there may be other more fuller explanations.

    Hence, there is no 'contradiction' - an idea of the Rishonim my have some elements of truth, but still fall by the wayside in light of better and more complete exlanations. In the case of varied Aggadatos, for example, both Maharal and Vilna Gaon demonstrated conclusively that the words of Chazal were often predicated upon hidden areas of Torah. The explanations of the Gaon and Maharal therefore became the accepted understanding in those Sugyos.

    "So at one point in history, the Rishonim could be relied upon to accurately explain the Gemara, but now they cannot be so relied on? This is very unorthodox of you."

    Yes, good morning to you. Halacha is determined by the Poskei Hador, and not merely by the text. Often, they weigh conflicting and competing Shittos HaRishonim in determining the Halacha. Prevailing circumstances may change the Pesak and cause a minority opinion to hold.

    I am sorry, but I have not read carefully R Meiselman's section on lice and cannot comment on that.

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  33. "The Rishonim make no claim, however, that their understanding of Chazal is complete and perfect"

    Oddly enough, Chazal also make no express claim - ever, anywhere - that their understanding of science is complete and perfect.

    Hasn't stopped some from asserting that it must be. So why the difference?

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  34. Someone who has the bookOctober 31, 2013 at 12:34 AM

    It is interesting that in all your examples you never quote a single sentence or group of sentences from the book which actually assert the rishonim were wrong. This is how you describe R. Meiselman's view and then use the out-of-context quote to support your description.
    But you never really let the book speak for itself in any of your examples.

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  35. “…their interpretations are evidently incorrect,”

    He can say it, you can't...

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  36. You may think that R Meiselman is wrong but he is not an idiot. You claim that as he was writing this book he could not keep track of his initial premise and kept reverting back to a position he roundly rejects in his introduction. Would you really have us believe that he is so dense?
    If a rov teaches many shiurim about hilchos Shabbos an attendee will hear numerous times about the prohibition against desecrating Shabbos. The suddenly when they learn the halachos of administering medical treatments he will hear numerous times that one must violate Shabbos. Is the rov contradicting himself? Absolutely not!! If one wishes to grab some "sound bites" to make it seem as though the rov can't decide whether one must observe Shabbos or not, could he do so? Absolutely! But we all know that there is no contradiction and one must understand all things in context. perhaps this is a model you and others could use to try and understand what R Meiselman means rather than trying to "catch" him contradicting himself and coming across as a mindless fool who writes a lengthy treatise and can't even keep track of his position. ודו"ק.

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  37. I am starting to get the impression that your detractors are either desperate or crazy. Does observer really believe that he resolved the contradiction?

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  38. "INTERPRETATION IS INCORRECT can mean merely that the logic, while true, may not apply in this particular circumstance."

    These are not issues of "logic." They are issues of saying which physical phenomena the Gemara is talking about. Once you say that the Rishonim were incorrect in saying that the Gemara was talking about spontaneous generation, or bats, etc., there is nothing significant left of what they were saying. It is saying that the Rishonim were wrong.

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  39. "It is interesting that in all your examples you never quote a single sentence or group of sentences from the book which actually assert the rishonim were wrong."

    Because the book is extremely lengthy and verbose and I haven't got the patience to type it all out. Nor do I want to encumber the post with extremely long extracts. But I quoted the relevant sentences (which is much more than Rabbi Meiselman ever did when rebutting others, in either his lectures or his book.)

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  40. You claim that as he was writing this book he could not keep track of his initial premise and kept reverting back to a position he roundly rejects in his introduction. Would you really have us believe that he is so dense?

    It's not that he "couldn't keep track" or "is dense." It's that it sounds very frum and holy to stake out a position in this way in the prologue, all the better for putting others down.

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  41. Akiva said...

    "The Rishonim make no claim, however, that their understanding of Chazal is complete and perfect"

    Oddly enough, Chazal also make no express claim - ever, anywhere - that their understanding of science is complete and perfect.

    Hasn't stopped some from asserting that it must be. So why the difference?


    Akiva, that was the best comment on this thread!

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  42. i am more than willing to bet that the strictest, most conservative (small c) adherent to chazal's authority, or believer in chazal's correctness, drops all of their beliefs the second a doctor tells them that there child needs a treatment (which may be contradictory to what chazal would prescribe).

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  43. David Ohsie:: Can you please explain the difference between "WRONG" and "incorrect"?

    Observer: WRONG in this context means that their logic is faulty...INTERPRETATION IS INCORRECT can mean merely that the logic, while true, may not apply in this particular circumstance. It may be that there other, overriding principles, or, in the case of interpreting Chazal, there may be other more fuller explanations.

    For incorrigible pedants like Temujin, dry and dusty types who find joy in etymology, semiotics, grammar and such, the words incorrect, wrong and false differ stylistically, but are essentially interchangeable. English, a composite of a number of languages and dialects is particularly fruitful in making available a great number of synonyms, idioms, extinct terms, neologism and all sorts of confusions which bedevil us all.

    In current usage the main difference between these words..."wrong" and "incorrect"... is in their emotive impact, their connotations, or as some grammarians call it "user-friendliness" (sorry, no fancy Latin term this time). These are "weak force" differences in nuance, in that in common contemporary use "incorrect" generally, sorta-kinda, implies a factual "wrongness," if one may abuse English thus, and sounds more objective or impersonal, whereas "wrong" connotes or just suggests a kind of a moral "incorrectness."

    So, Observer is essentially and substantially wrong, incorrect and in error, his argument being unambiguously false and utterly bogus to boot. His explanation commits the grievous fallacy of equivocation and he is deemed guilty of the capital crime of obfuscation or, as some would say in some parts of the world, playing silly-buggers with his audience. To wit, Observer's preposterous claim that "incorrect interpretation in this case means...(whatever Observer waffled about)" is particularly galling, for Temujin took the two words, "incorrect" and "interpretation," turned them this way and that, even cracked them open and sniffed them and nowhere within or without could he find anything to even hint at such conclusions. Neither could he understand how Observer was able to guess at or divine R'Meiselman's meaning, since Observer is neither clairvoyant, nor does it appear that he has the book in question.

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  44. O, and Temujin would like to commend Observer for returning to the field of battle. Observer appears outnumbered and his weapons do seem a little creaky. Temujin salutes him for his courage and tenacity...qualities which greatly mitigate Observer being wrong, or incorrect, most of the time.

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  45. Reb Natan, I have seen the book and, with all due respect, your attack is off-base. Rabbi Meiselman never claims that Rishonim are infallible, only that we may not suppose that our reasoning abilities in general, and our interpretations of Gemara in particular, are superior to theirs, or are even in their league. If, on the other hand, we have access to clear facts that Rishonim didn't, and which directly contradict what they have said, we may conclude that they appear to have been mistaken. They were simply explaining the words of Chazal to the best of their ability acc. to the information available to them. This is in contrast to the statements of Chazal themselves, which were not interpretations of someone else's statements, but rather part of Torah shebaal peh (a point that Rabbi Meiselman develops at great length). As such they are derived from the Torah itself, and must be assumed to be correct.

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  46. But there is no way to reconcile what you just wrote with the statements from R. Meiselman that I quoted in the post. According to what you wrote, we do NOT view Chazal exclusively through the prism of the Rishonim; we do NOT always submit to their authority; we DO invoke criteria external to the Torah in evaluating their views; etc.

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  47. I wonder if all this means that Rabbi Meiselman would agree that a kezayis is the size of an olive?

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  48. Natan Slifkin said...
    "But there is no way to reconcile what you just wrote with the statements from R. Meiselman that I quoted in the post. According to what you wrote, we do NOT view Chazal exclusively through the prism of the Rishonim; we do NOT always submit to their authority; we DO invoke criteria external to the Torah in evaluating their views; etc."

    One must distinguish between external "criteria" and directly observable facts. Rishonim themselves often adjust their interpretations of Gemaras based on directly observable facts that seem, on the surface, incompatible with the Gemaras statements (See, for example Tosafos Chullin 108b dibur hamschil "shenafal".)Such facts are never disregarded as external.

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  49. We do not directly observe that there were never any mice or insects that spontaneously generated.

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  50. Naar,

    This is in contrast to the statements of Chazal themselves, which were not interpretations of someone else's statements, but rather part of Torah shebaal peh (a point that Rabbi Meiselman develops at great length). As such they are derived from the Torah itself, and must be assumed to be correct.

    With all due respect, your distinction makes no sense.

    First, much of the Gemara is Chazal (Amora'im) interpreting the statements of others (Tana'im).

    Second, the idea that Chazal had access to a direct channel to God such that all of their statements were correct in all of their particulars is demonstrably false; were that the case, it is evident that there would be no machlokes; it makes no sense at all to argue that Chazal received, through mesora mi'Sinai, perfect knowledge of all scientific facts, but sufficiently imperfect knowledge of halacha to allow for differing shittos. (The concept that Chazal received principles of interpretation, from which they derived shittos, far better explains the existence of machlokes [and is consistent with Amar R' Yishmael, which we say every day!] while both honoring the greatness of Chazal and acknowledging that they could err as any humans could).

    Indeed, the Aggadata in Bava Metzia regarding the machlokes R' Eliezer and Chachamim regarding Tanur Achnai seems to make this point expressly. First, R' Eliezer attempted to prove his position by being "[m]aishiv kol t'shuvos sheba'olam", and when that did not convince the other Chachamim, called on God himself to prove R' Eliezer's opinion correct by performing various miracles: uprooting a carob tree, etc. - even a bas kol expressly saying "the halacha is like R' Eliezer" - and the Chachamim rejected all of that because "Acharei Rabim L'Hatos" and "Lo Bashamayim Hi".

    All of that seems to make very clear a few things:

    1) Chazal had different opinions of whether Tanur Achnai was Tamei or Tahor. R' Eliezer believed it was tamei. If his position was, as you posit, not "an interpretation" but part of his mesora and directly provided mi'sinai, and the contrary position of the Chachamim were likewise not "an interpretation" but part of their mesora and directly from Sinai, then only three possibilities are open: (a) R' Eliezer's mesora was inaccurate, and did not completely transmit to him what had actually been elucidated at Sinai; (b) the mesora of the Chachamim was inaccurate; or (c) the mesora of both were accurate, because two contradictory halachos were both given at Sinai. (Of course, then the mesora of both would actually be inaccurate, for not transmitting both portions of the ruling)

    2) You see (as is clear from the Gemara as a whole) that the method for resolving Halachic disputes is argument and proof, which directly contradicts the claim that Chazal received everything from Sinai. Why? Because anything that is put forward as a Halacha L'Moshe Mi'Sinai cannot, by definition, be contradicted with argument or proof. Indeed, while there are many times the Gemara responds to questions/challenges by asserting that a particular psak/exposition is a Halacha L'Moshe Mi'Sinai, I am unaware of any source in the Gemara where that answer is followed by even a single further question or comment. If it is Halacha L'Moshe Mi'Sinai, all discussion stops.

    3) That Chazal rejected "direct instruction from Shamayim as to what the Halacha was" in that aggadata. Given that, how can you argue that Chazal in all other cases operated on direct instruction from Shamayim?

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  51. Naar,

    continuing my prior post, since this was too long to fit in a single comment:

    Finally, and to get back to the larger point, the claim that Chazal had perfect understanding of science essentially turns Chazal into Santa Claus.

    What do I mean by that? I mean that - like the claim that Santa visits all goyishe houses in the world in a single night - the claim that Chazal knew all of science through mesora is a pure physical impossibility. There isn't enough time in 100 lifetimes to transmit all of current scientific knowledge - let alone the additional advances that will undoubtedly occur going forward. That's especially true for Chazal, who could not spend all of their time first receiving that scientific knowledge from the prior generation and then transmitting it to the next, because they had the time consuming task of learning Torah and receiving and transmitting the actual mesora.

    Your position makes no sense at all

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  52. Akiva - the first part of your comment was really excellent. With regard to the second part - R. Meiselman does not claim that they knew all science - just that whatever they recorded, was what they knew definitively. (He does not provide a source for that.)

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  53. --do not impose our ideas upon the Tannaim, Amoraim, Rishonim or major Acharonim, nor do we attempt to understand the Gemara without their assistance--

    That doesn't quite make sense. The Tannaim and the Amoraim are the Gemara.

    These guys are so obsessed with hyper-authoritarianism that they start to trip over themselves.

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  54. --we do not impose our ideas upon the Tannaim, Amoraim, Rishonim or major Acharonim, nor do we attempt to understand the Gemara without their assistance. Our goal is to try to comprehend how those previous generations understood it; to view it through the prism of their writings. We submit to the authority of our great predecessors.” (p. XXX)--

    It is not necessary to go this far. We can attempt to understand Gemara without their assistance. Just, in the end, we submit to their authority.

    Interestingly, Rav Soloveitchik, Meiselman's rebbe, often studies this way. He'd discuss the Gemara before going to the Rashi or Tosfos. I'm sure he'd get to them, but you don't have to start that way.

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  55. Akiva said...
    "Naar,

    continuing my prior post, since this was too long to fit in a single comment:

    Finally, and to get back to the larger point, the claim that Chazal had perfect understanding of science essentially turns Chazal into Santa Claus.

    What do I mean by that? I mean that - like the claim that Santa visits all goyishe houses in the world in a single night - the claim that Chazal knew all of science through mesora is a pure physical impossibility. There isn't enough time in 100 lifetimes to transmit all of current scientific knowledge - let alone the additional advances that will undoubtedly occur going forward. That's especially true for Chazal, who could not spend all of their time first receiving that scientific knowledge from the prior generation and then transmitting it to the next, because they had the time consuming task of learning Torah and receiving and transmitting the actual mesora.

    Your position makes no sense at all"

    Akiva,

    As Natan has already pointed out, Rabbi Meiselman does not claim that Chazal knew all of science. In fact, he explains at length (based on Gemeras and Rishonim) that although ALL scientific knowledge can theoretically be derived from the Torah (from the inside out- Torah is the blueprint of the universe), we do not assume that even Tannaim and Amoraim were that proficient in Torah. They themselves did not claim a complete understanding, even of all Halacha (example: teiku). But just as we accept their definitive statements regarding Halacha, we accept their definitive statements regarding the world, as these are derived from their understanding of Torah. If they state it definitively, they claim to KNOW it. He bases this understanding on a number of statements of Chazal themselves, and of Rishonim. It is way too long to do justice to here. I would suggest however, that readers not simply dismiss this book without giving it a serious read. Perhaps you will disagree with Rabbi Meiselman's conclusions, but the book is a highly sophisticated well thought-out piece of work.

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  56. There is a long history of Torah scholars stating things about the natural world definitively - and yet being wrong.

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  57. Akiva,

    But there are Medrashim and Agados that have Chazal manipulating nature or receiving wisdom from "acharei hapargod" or speaking in dreams with the dead, etc. For those who follow the opinion that these can be taken literally, isn't it a small jump to say they knew all of science?

    I don't think you have any analogous writings in Rishonim.

    This fight reminds me of a Winston Churchill line, which I'll paraphrase: "A young man who doesn't defend his Rosh Yeshivah to the end has no heart. And an older man who isn't open to the idea that his Rosh Yeshivah might have been incorrect on some issues has no head."

    Andy

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  58. Na'ar - and R' Slifkin - the difficulty with the "they only knew those parts of science that were relevant" argument is that "what is relevant" is an every changing, ever expanding field.

    For instance take geo-centricism v. helio-centrism, the age of the universe, spontaneous generation, or any of the other highlights of the "science-torah" arguments. The foundational issue underlying the arguments is that the scientific discoveries that appear to contradict portions of Chazal's statements are relatively recent; i.e. they were not known at the time of Chazal, or, in some cases, when the Rishonim wrote their pirushim.

    In other words, whole reams of statements about the natural world which went unchallenged/unexplored for generations (because nobody dreamed they were inaccurate) suddenly became focal points for controversy and contradiction.

    Fast forward to today. Is there any reason to believe that future scientific discoveries won't place other statements of Chazal into the "science-Torah" hopper?

    For those who approach such issues with the understanding that Chazal were humans, exercising human faculties according to the principles handed down from Sinai, and that the Halachic system is designed to require such human endeavors and to support them so long as the conclusions are the result of the Halachic process even where the conclusions are not "correct" in some objective sense (see Rashi on "Lo Tasur Yamin o Smol"), this is a non-issue. That Chazal erred in science is neither a cause for concern nor an invalidation of Torah or the halachic system - and therefore a new error poses no particular challenge.

    For those who think Chazal had perfect knowledge of all relevant science, on the other hand, each new contradiction requires the claim that Chazal really understood the underlying science and that years of contrary interpretation by various sources (including, inevitably, the very Rabbanim the Chareidi world now defends as infallible themselves) were - as with the Rishonim - "evidently incorrect."

    And incorrect not in their understanding of the physical world, but of how to correctly interpret Torah She Ba'al Peh!

    Do you not see that this approach is akin to killing a fly on your door by smashing it with a sledgehammer? The fly of "Chazal erred in science" is gone - at the cost of the door to your home (Rishonim understand the words of Chazal better than current generations)! How, in the Chareidi mind, is this a beneficial tradeoff??

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  59. Rabboisai, if what I understand from what has been presented here about R. Meiselman's view is correct (not having the book), there is an obvious question. The gemara brings the pasuk Mkarnei reamim ad beitzei kinim to show that kinim do lay eggs. But since that was deemed impossible at the time, the gemara puts forth a tremendous dochak to say that the pasuk refers to a species named beitzei kinim, not to the beitzim of kinim. Now, leaving aside any interpretations of Rishonim, and just working from the gemara, how is it possible to posit that Chazal did not believe in spont gen? Otherwise, why alter the simple meaning of the pasuk?

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  60. I'll be dealing with spontaneous generation in a future post; please let's keep on topic here.

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  61. Naar Ivri said, I would suggest however, that readers not simply dismiss this book without giving it a serious read. Perhaps you will disagree with Rabbi Meiselman's conclusions, but the book is a highly sophisticated well thought-out piece of work.

    Mr Ivri, just as in the pre-World War II years, the world of Judaica publishing is awash with an incredible amount of books, any of which can be called by anyone "highly sophisticated" and "thought-out works." But not all of them are, nor can be, of equal value and meaning of course. This is where, in the growing deluge of publications, other means of evaluation such as broad and specific background information, author interviews and book reviews, come in very handy. It is not true that one must always read a work from cover to cover before judging it. Speaking for himself, as always, Temujin will say that he is unlikely to invest time and money on R. Meiselman's book for two important-to-him reasons.

    First, the author began, in interviews and public statements by haughtily dismissing all other authors on the subject as incompetent and theologically misguided and proceeded to set himself up as the best authority, claiming superior Torah learning and scientific credentials on the subject of Torah and science.

    Secondly, as R. Slifkin pointed out, R. Meiselman clearly and unambiguously contradicted himself in a key area of his thesis, not only with statements, but in the very titles of some of his chapters. This contradiction which he failed to notice, explain or defend, was instead defended by his supporters, who made a horrible mess of it. They began by attacking the critics as ignorant and insufficiently learned or pious and then, when that approach failed to shame or frighten, by playing mendacious games with meanings of words, attempting to obfuscate or obscure.

    Books cost money and take time and a man's responsibility to himself and his education involves ability to discern, prioritize and select. If one had more time and money, one would purchase the book and at least peruse through it, but such luxuries seem to always hover beyond Temujin's grasp. Another important facet in selecting whom to admit into one's head is a subjective sense, a "taste," based on previous experiences, cultural values, ethics and comfort levels. Perhaps unbeknownst to R. Meiselman, vague attacks and boasting do not sit well with many among today's readers, as the more discerning among them rightly or wrongly consider such unpleasant "qualities" as hallmarks of the self-serving polemicist and the obscurantist or pseudoscientist. One who mucks around on a "lower level" and must work cannot read everything, sifting for nuggets, especially when the two very essential requirements for a good book...the author's integrity and logical consistency in his work...appear to be absent.

    But have no fear; one can be certain that political views will congeal and coalesce and that R. Meiselman's book will become a virtual textbook in many a seminary and a feature in many a home library of sforim in some quarters...if for no other reason than R. Meiselman's group membership, reputation, stature and position.

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  62. Temujin, excellent comments, though I am unsure regarding what you say in the final paragraph. You might be right. But I wonder if perhaps it won't become mainstream amongst charedim; maybe they will notice its disparagement of the Rishonim.

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  63. Thank you, Rabbi; much obliged!

    One was mulling over that possibility of hareidim distancing themselves as well, as you had mentioned this previously, and as you also pointed out the glaring absence of endorsements from his peers. However, one feels this is a close one because the troops may yet be rallied and sudden alignments may be made for political reasons alone and content and substance difficulties can be obscured, smoothed over, explained away, tackled with all sorts PR...and perhaps we already had a little taste of this strategy and its funny tactics in this comment section! Certainly a suitable subject for a friendly wager, what?

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  64. Is it possible to add a "like" button to the comments?

    Just so I could "like" Temujin's comments.

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  65. temujin
    this wiil never be popular amangost us real charidim becuase we have no need for this only ppl like r miselman who's minds were poisned by the secular universty's and are not suficently certian of the corectnes of there mesorah need this kind of stuff to convince them that there beliefs are 100% secure from the threat of thinking logicly

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  66. No, R Meiselman does not say they are WRONG

    R Meiselman: "Their interpretations are evidently incorrect".

    Can you please explain the difference between "WRONG" and "incorrect"?

    WRONG in this context means that their logic is faulty.
    INTERPRETATION IS INCORRECT can mean merely that the logic, while true, may not apply in this particular circumstance. It may be that there other, overriding principles, or, in the case of interpreting Chazal, there may be other more fuller explanations.


    So while "they" are not wrong, their "interpretation" is wrong. So you have to follow the Rishonim, but you don't have to follow their interpretations. Frankly, I don't see the difference. I think that when someone interprets something and is "incorrect/wrong" in their interpretation we say they were "incorrect/wrong".

    "So at one point in history, the Rishonim could be relied upon to accurately explain the Gemara, but now they cannot be so relied on? This is very unorthodox of you."

    Yes, good morning to you. Halacha is determined by the Poskei Hador, and not merely by the text. Often, they weigh conflicting and competing Shittos HaRishonim in determining the Halacha. Prevailing circumstances may change the Pesak and cause a minority opinion to hold.


    We were discussing this statement: "and also explains what you have never understood - why can a particular opinion of the Rishonim have been acceptable at one point in history, but yet, we can not utilize that approach today."

    What example are you thinking of when you say that the approach of the Rishonim is not longer valid? Whe we pasken something according to a rishon (or many), we always still consider the other rishonim. We learn and understand their Shitos, we use them B'Shaas HaDchak or B'Dieved, or we use them to make a S'fek S'feika, etc. We never just discard them.

    In addition, the Poskei Hador need not agree. If one decides differently based on the prior decisors, and he is your Rav, you need to listen.

    But getting back to the book, the only way this can help you here is if you say that the Rishonim did know how to learn the Gemara, but now R. Meiselman has decided otherwise. But then that can't be used as evidence to support his position, since that is just his opinion. And his opinion turns out out to be that the Rishonim were mistaken.

    I am sorry, but I have not read carefully R Meiselman's section on lice and cannot comment on that.

    Since this whole argument depends on these kinds of details, please read that section carefully and let us know how you reconcile.

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  67. Kira said...
    Is it possible to add a "like" button to the comments?

    Just so I could "like" Temujin's comments.


    Uh oh...

    This is going to go directly to Temujin's head. Who knows what he is liable to post next. I hope no more spooky hyrax pictures.

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  68. I think I might have an idea about the motivation behind the kind of thinking that endangers the entire Halachic enterprise by assigning supernatural knowledge of science to Chazal.

    "Hafoch bah uhafoch bah de'kula bah"

    If Chazal knew science, then you don't have to study it from external sources.

    You don't have to teach secular subjects, you definitely don't have to go to university, it's all in the Torah: proof is that Chazal knew everything. The Rishonim, not so much, because of yeridat hadorot. Except the Vilna Gaon, who derived all of modern math in the bathroom.

    But now everyone is a Talmid Chacham, the training of Gemara learning teaches you enough that you can catch up on your entire h.s. education in a couple of months. In the bathroom.

    But if Chazal turned to current scientific authorities for their knowledge, that means it's not part of the Torah. That means that you have to study it, as its own discipline.

    Better for the Rishonim to be "incorrect".



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  69. Akiva said...
    "Na'ar - and R' Slifkin - the difficulty with the "they only knew those parts of science that were relevant" argument is that "what is relevant" is an every changing, ever expanding field."

    The argument is not that they knew only those parts of science that were relevant. It is that:(1)
    All knowledge of nature is, in principle, contained in the Torah (not in the manner of modern science, but from the "inside out"- Torah is "blueprint"). (2) Whatever DEFINITIVE statements Chazal made regarding nature/the world were derived from their very deep understanding of Torah, and we must therefore accept them as true, just as we accept their halachic conclusions. (Rabbi Meiselman clearly demonstrates that Rishonim understood this to be the case.)

    That which they were incapable of deriving from the Torah, even if it were relevant, would not have been recorded as part of Torah shebaal peh. (Tannoim and Amoraim themselves did not claim complete mastery of all areas of Torah, even regarding halachah- e.g. teiku).

    This does not mean we should ignore apparent conflicts. It DOES affect our approach to resolving them.


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  70. Mr Slifkin you wrote:
    Rabbi Meiselman, on the other hand, is saying that the Rishonim - ALL of them - are plain WRONG.
    October 30, 2013 at 4:12 PM

    You have misrepresented the words. Meiselman writes in his book:
    "What is true of the Rama [an Achron] is true of THE MANY Rishonim and Achronim who interpret this passage in terms of astronomical theories that were accepted in their day....When contemporary writers invoke these commentaries to show that Chazal's knowledge was faulty they are making a simple error in logic. (emphasis mine) Meiselman's point is that when there is a Chazal that presents us with a debate on a particular relia issue, and Rishonim/Achronim explain it according to their scientific knowledge known to them, all that we can do is acknowledge that we are incapable of knowing what Chazal actually mean because we do not have all the information. All we can say is that we lack information on how to understand it. What he is also saying is that as a result of our impaired knowledge we have to be careful in our analysis of the Rishonim. What you have done is misunderstood Meiselman.

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  71. Miss Deedee, I wasn't talking about that case. I was talking about spontaneous generation. Where Rabbi Meiselman says that the Rishonim - ALL of them - are plain WRONG.

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  72. YacovDovid said... "... From my desultory look at various types of literature, the level of … good manners that exist in scientific works … is higher than what I have observed in the people alleged to be serious proponents of a "Chareidi" approach."

    I have shown at least some prominent exception to what you’ve seen, on my blog at my “recent” posts “A Tale of Two Persecutions” and “More on Persecution… More on Howler Monkeys”.

    See also Dawkins on Milton here

    http://web.archive.org/web/20071028190957/http://www.simonyi.ox.ac.uk/dawkins/WorldOfDawkins-archive/Dawkins/Work/Reviews/1992-08-28shattering_the_myths.shtml

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