Thursday, October 31, 2013

Rabbi Meiselman Tries To Hide From The Sun

Part III of a review of Rabbi Moshe Meiselman's Torah, Chazal and Science (continued from part II)
 
(This post is a long one, but it's important, since it addresses the first and only attempt to refute the most powerful demonstration of the legitimacy of the rationalist approach to Chazal and science. You might want to print it out and read it on Shabbos. And, of course, you might want to share it with any readers of Rabbi Meiselman's book.)

I. The Most Crucial Topic

As I have noted on many occasions, in any discussion about Chazal (the Sages) and science, the single most crucial section of the Talmud is that regarding the sun’s path at night, which I discussed at length in a monograph. The Talmud records a dispute between the Sages of Israel and the gentile scholars regarding where the sun goes when it sets in the evening. (This follows an earlier and more complex argument about the relative motions of the celestial sphere and the constellations, which is not relevant to our discussion.) The Sages of Israel believed that the sun changes direction at night to go back behind the sky (which was believed to be an opaque “firmament”), whereas the gentile scholars believed that the sun continues its path to pass on the far side of the world (which we now know to be correct). The Talmud continues to record that Rabbi Yehudah HaNasi observed that the gentile scholars appear to be correct. All the Rishonim, as well as many Acharonim, accept that the Gemara is recording a dispute about the sun’s path at night. The majority of Rishonim, as well as many Acharonim, accept that the Sages of Israel were incorrect.

Here, then, is the definitive demonstration that there is a mainstream approach of saying that Chazal’s knowledge about the natural world was not divine in origin, and is potentially errant. But Rabbi Meiselman, on the other hand, says that whenever Chazal make a definite statement about the natural world, or one that is based upon Scriptural exegesis, they are correct. He insists that it is forbidden to say otherwise, and his book is dedicated to rebutting, insulting, disparaging and condemning those who take a different view. How, then, does Rabbi Meiselman deal with this topic?

II. What Did Chazal Say, And What Did They Mean? Rabbi Meiselman Won’t Tell You

Rabbi Meiselman discusses this topic over six pages in the second part of chapter ten. He quotes the Gemara, but does not translate the word “rakia.” In a footnote, he accounts for this by saying that although the standard translation is “firmament,” the precise meaning is a subject of debate among the commentators. In fact, 95% of the commentators, and 100% of the Rishonim, agree that it means “firmament.” One can almost always find someone who disagrees with a conventional translation, but that’s not a reason not to use it, unless one is deliberately trying to either distort the picture regarding the situation with the commentaries, or obfuscate the entire discussion by not explaining what the Gemara is about.

Rabbi Meiselman appears to be trying to do both. He begins his explanation of the Gemara, in a section entitled “What Did Chazal Mean?” by stating that “The cryptic nature of these discussions has caused them to be given a variety of explanations.” In fact, the discussion regarding the sun's path at night is not cryptic in the least; the Talmud’s words are clear and straightforward. It only has a variety of explanations post-15th century, and the only reason for this is that many people were uncomfortable with Chazal having been mistaken on something that appears so basic to modern audiences. Rabbi Meiselman writes that “According to many commentaries they are not to be taken at face value at all.” Yes, but not according to any of the Rishonim.

Almost incredibly, Rabbi Meiselman does not make any mention of the straightforward meaning of this Gemara, adopted by all the Rishonim: that the sun changes direction to travel behind an opaque solid firmament at night. Nowhere does he present a simple, straightforward explanation of what the Gemara is talking about (or even any explanation). In a book spanning eight hundred pages, he couldn’t even spend a single paragraph explaining the meaning of the most crucial passage in the entire Torah-science discussion?! Nor does he quote any of the Rishonim and Acharonim who explain the Gemara according to its straightforward meaning. Such a long book, so many hundreds and hundreds of sources quoted, including many that are barely relevant, but he does not quote any of the Rishonim on the most fundamental topic in the entire discussion!

After making the misleading claim that according to many commentaries the Talmud is not intended to be literal, Rabbi Meiselman states that “But even among those who take them literally, explanations vary.” He proceeds to cite “The Rama, for instance,” who has a highly creative reinterpretation of the Gemara. This reinforces the impression that there is only a small minority view that explains the Gemara according to its plain meaning – whereas the fact is that all the Rishonim, without exception, as well as many Acharonim, explain it in this way.

Rabbi Meiselman then spends a paragraph discussing geocentrism and heliocentrism. But this only relates to the earlier, more complex and irrelevant discussion in the Gemara about the celestial sphere and the constellations. Rabbi Meiselman avoids any further discussion of the passage in the Gemara regarding the sun’s path at night, never having once explained either its straightforward meaning or indeed any meaning. And thus he concludes the section entitled “What Did Chazal Mean?” - without having even attempted to answer that question.

III. Rabbi Meiselman Mistakenly Attributes Mistaken Beliefs To The Rishonim

The next section is entitled “When The Commentaries Are Mistaken.” Here is where things get very strange. Throughout the rest of the book, while there is ample basis for questioning Rabbi Meiselman’s intellectual honesty and epistemology, there is no doubt that he is a highly intelligent Torah scholar. But in this section, Rabbi Meiselman appears to simply not understand what is going on in the commentaries.

Rabbi Meiselman states that the Rama and his colleagues (who attempted to explain that Chazal were not mistaken) were explaining the Gemara to the best of their abilities, but they never intended to chain Chazal’s words to their own understanding. If their grasp of science was wrong, they would prefer Chazal to be explained differently. He proceeds to state:
“What is true of the Rama is true of the many Rishonim and Acharonim who interpret this passage in terms of astronomical theories that were accepted in their day, but were subsequently rejected by science. It was never their intention that their explanations were definitely what Chazal meant. They were merely doing their best to understand an obscure piece of Gemara, using the most reliable scientific information available to them. When contemporary writers invoke these commentaries to show that Chazal’s knowledge was faulty they are making a simple error in logic. If the interpreters of Chazal held erroneous beliefs, it does not at all follow that Chazal did as well.”

It should be noted that Rabbi Meiselman provides no support whatsoever for his emphatic assertion that the Rishonim, when commented upon such sugyos, only intended their explanations to be tentative, in contrast to their explanations of other sugyos. (Nor does he explain why this would only apply to the Rishonim’s explanation of Chazal’s statements about the natural world, and not to Chazal’s explanations of the Torah’s statements about the natural world.) And since he provides no support for it, and there is no indication for it in the words of the Rishonim themselves, there is no reason to accept it as being true.

But there is a more basic problem with Rabbi Meiselman’s approach here. Put quite simply, he doesn’t understand what the whole discussion is about with regard to this passage in the Talmud. True, if you’re talking about the topic of spontaneous generation, you can say that the Rishonim explained Chazal in terms of their own erroneous beliefs. And if you’re talking about the Rama’s defense of Chazal’s statements about cosmology, you can say that he explained them in terms of his own erroneous beliefs. But you can’t say this if you’re talking about the Rishonim’s discussion of Chazal’s statements about the sun’s path at night. Here, the Rishonim do not “interpret this passage in terms of astronomical theories that were accepted in their day.” They explain it as referring to a mistaken and obsolete view!

In other words, whereas Rabbi Meiselman says that “if the interpreters of Chazal held erroneous beliefs, it does not at all follow that Chazal did as well,” he is fundamentally misunderstanding what is going on. This is not like the discussions of spontaneous generation. In this case, the interpreters of Chazal did not hold erroneous beliefs – they correctly believed that the sun goes on the other side of the world at night, not behind the firmament. They were stating that Chazal held erroneous beliefs.

IV. A Failed Attempt To Render This Topic Irrelevant

In the next section, entitled “Acknowledging the Truth,” Rabbi Meiselman backpedals from his earlier misrepresentation. He starts off by admitting that “some” commentaries take the Gemara at face value, according to which Chazal acknowledged that they had erred and the truth lay with the gentiles; at the end of the section, he finally himself acknowledges the truth, that this position is held by “most Rishonim other than Rabbeinu Tam.”

However, acknowledging that most Rishonim held Chazal to have been mistaken puts Rabbi Meiselman in a very awkward position, since it would refute his entire approach. And so he attempts to render this case irrelevant. He stresses – and this is the goal of this section - that “assuming that the Jewish sages actually retracted,” they did so despite their utter certitude that in general, their wisdom was vastly superior to that of the Gentiles, due to their having derived it from the Torah. He proceeds to claim that the fact that Chazal discussed cosmology with the Gentile scholars “means that they had no precise mesorah on this particular topic,” and that “nor were they able to extract the desired information from the Torah.” But, he adamantly insists, in every other case, where Chazal do not inform us that they are uncertain, or when they derive their knowledge from the Torah, we can rest assured that they are correct, and “they carry the full authority of Torah shebaal Peh.”

However, there are three problems with all this. First is that the fact that the Gemara records a discussion with the gentile scholars does not mean that Chazal are informing us that they are uncertain. It just means that this was an important topic in which the gentile scholars had a very different opinion and turned out to be correct. The Gemara does not record discussions with the gentile scholars about spontaneous generation, because the gentile scholars had the same view as Chazal regarding spontaneous generation.

Second is that the error made in Pesachim is with regard to something extremely basic. Whether the sun doubles back at night to go behind a solid firmament, or continues to pass around the far side of the earth, is a very fundamental part of cosmology. (It is also taken to have substantial halachic ramifications.) If Chazal did not even know something so fundamental, and could not figure it out from the Torah even though the Torah has a lot to say about cosmology, and even though the non-Jews were able to figure it out (as Rabbi Yehudah HaNasi acknowledges), then why on earth would Chazal be authoritative in much more arcane areas of knowledge (such as zoology), in which the Torah has nothing to say and in which the gentiles were likewise unaware of the reality?

But much more problematic than both of these is that Rabbi Meiselman’s premise is fundamentally flawed. Chazal did relate their views on cosmology to the Torah! This is not mentioned on this page in Pesachim, but it is mentioned on an earlier page in Pesachim, as well as in Bava Basra and in the Midrash. In Bava Basra, one of the Sages posits that the sun makes a 180 degree reversal in the evening, and another of the Sages states that it turns 90 degrees to the side, basing this on a passuk. In the earlier page in Pesachim and in the Midrash, Chazal talk about the thickness and substance of the firmament, basing their discussion on pesukim. (This also renders futile an earlier attempt by Rabbi Meiselman to get out of this whole problem, by suggesting that the "scholars of Israel" in Pesachim might not have been Sages.)

How did Rabbi Meiselman not know any of this? Did he fail to do basic research on this topic? Did he not read my monograph that he is attempting to rebut? In any case, it neatly destroys his excuse as to why this would be the only case in which Chazal were mistaken. Consequently, the case of the sun’s path at night remains as a fundamental disproof of Rabbi Meiselman’s approach regarding Chazal and science.

V. Conclusion

The bottom line is that Rabbi Meiselman’s discussion of this topic – the most basic topic in any Torah-science discussion – is deliberately vague, extremely confused, poorly researched, and self-contradictory. Although at the end he concedes that most Rishonim held Chazal to have erred in this matter (albeit with a flawed explanation as to why this case is unique), earlier he claims with regard to this topic that “The possibility that Chazal were in error was never an option for the Baalei HaMesorah” (p. 145). In fact, the vast majority of Rishonim, as well as countless Acharonim, held that Chazal were indeed in error – even though they based their view on the Torah. The inescapable conclusion is that Rabbi Meiselman is misrepresenting the nature of the Baalei HaMesorah.

125 comments:

  1. What is especially interesting in this gemara is that the proofs Chazal used to establish their case were not from pesukim, but were from scientific reasoning, i.e., the temperature of the wells and springs. This fully allows future generations to use tools available to them to establish the laws and structure of the universe, even if it contradicts earlier understandings. In other words, chazal did not bring pesukim or kabbalistic methods into this discussion, but used empirical observations and deductive logic to the best of their ability. The greatness of Chazal was their intellectual honesty to accept the truth mimi sheomro, even non-Jewish scholars. This fully conforms with the Rambam in Kiddush Hachodesh (17:24) who says that any fact proved scientifically or mathematically, even by a non-Jew, has the status of divrei neviim, because we do not go by who said it, but by the truth of the item in question. This is quintessential Jewish brilliance and honesty.

    ReplyDelete
  2. A slight correction to your comment: while Chazal used pesukim to establish their view regarding the suns path, Rabbi Yehudah HaNasi used scieentific arguments to adopt the view of the Gentiles.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Natan - Out of curiosity, do you rule out categorically Chazal EVER getting unique knowledge of the physical world from the Torah, or just that it is generally not the case?

    ReplyDelete
  4. Thanks for your correction. While the immediate gemara in Pesachim 94b does not reference pesukim in either of the two disputes between the Chachmei Yisrael and Chachmei Umos Holam, perhaps you are referring to discussions earlier or elsewhere. But be it as it may, it would then be all the more remarkable that Chazal would be willing to overturn something they had established via pesukim, on the basis of a physical or scientific argument. Apparently, they themselves would never tolerate any proposition that was factually incorrect.

    Similarly, we find in Sanhedrin that Rav spent 18 months on a farm to learn specifics of mum ovair vs. mum kavua. He preferred to rely on concrete physical knowledge, although it took him away from the beis medrash.

    ReplyDelete
  5. "In fact, 95% of the commentators, and 100% of the Rishonim, agree that it means “firmament.”

    Perhaps you can enlighten me - what exactly does the word 'firmament' mean? Also, can you please explain what the Rakia is?

    ReplyDelete
  6. It's an opaque covering over the earth.

    ReplyDelete
  7. R' Natan, I await your further essays on this book before attempting some 'learned' essay on the subject of torah, chazal, and science. However, I can't resist commenting on your language in response to Barry. R' Yehudah Hanasi did not use a scientific argument to reject the view of his illustrious predecessors vis-a-vis the Gentile scholars. He used an empirical argument that is based on a flat-earth assumption. This assumption is as incorrect as the peculiar alleged pathway of the sun at night that he rejected.

    ReplyDelete
  8. Can you please explain to me how we see the stars through this opaque covering?

    ReplyDelete
  9. Oh. And 100% of the Rishonim say that? What are the physical elements of this 'opaque covering'? Has it ever been sighted (or cited) in modern science? According to chazal, is it on every side of the earth?

    Is there more than one Rakia? If yes, how far is the distance from one Rakia to the next?

    ReplyDelete
  10. Reagrding the rakia, it quite possibly is more than an opaque covering. If you look in the Rambam in Yesodei Hatorah, he describes how the various planets and celestial objects are embedded in glassene hemispheres, one inside the other with no space in between. Apparently this understanding had developed to answer a very basic question: Why don't the planets (and sun and moon) fall down?! The answer at the time was that they are each attached to a hard structure, like a bunch of inverted bowls, one inside the other, and thus there was no room to fall. Perhaps the idea of a hard rakia was also for the same reason. (I realize it is mentioned in chumash, and R. Natan deals with that in his book, quoting some Rabbonim who suggest that the Torah spoke on the level of what people could process years ago.) I do note that this is somewhat problematic for people in our day and age to digest.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I vaguely recall reading the RAMBAM somewhere, perhaps The Guide, says that since the astronomical info of our tradition was lost, we do not know the real structure of the universe, and so we use a hypothesis, a model, which works for our calculations but isn't necessarily the way it is.

      Delete
  11. It is always a pleasure to read R. Slifkin's lucid prose and presentation.

    ReplyDelete
  12. occamselectricshaverOctober 31, 2013 at 9:06 PM

    Bystander -
    Do you not see the diagram in the very beginning of the post?

    ReplyDelete
  13. So in part III, he says that the Rama and other Rishonim were simply trying to fit Chazal into the science of their times, which was disproved later. So why would doing the exact same thing with the science of OUR times be kefira?

    ReplyDelete
  14. Regarding the comment by Y. Aharon: The methodology Chazal used was scientific, and not much different than what we do today. They made observations and tried to understand them on the basis of the knowledge that was available to them at that time. We also try to understand what we see and connect it to other observations which form the general body of knowledge of our times. These connections are done by forming a logical theory that can account for past observations and predict new phenomena on that basis. Sometimes it works, but sometimes a new experiment contradicts the predictions of the theory, and we go back to the drawing board to figure out a new theory. No person or community is expected to get it right the first time. It is an ongoing quest, and we constantly add to and reject previous understandings as new information comes to light. This does not minimize the work of earlier generations.

    ReplyDelete
  15. bystander said...

    Can you please explain to me how we see the stars through this opaque covering?


    Well, it's difficult to explain a flawed concept, but it would appear that either it was thought that there are holes in it which let their light through (similar to the "windows" through which the sun passes), or it was thought that the stars are embedded in it.

    ReplyDelete
  16. Weaver said...

    Natan - Out of curiosity, do you rule out categorically Chazal EVER getting unique knowledge of the physical world from the Torah, or just that it is generally not the case?


    What do you mean by "unique" knowledge? Do you mean something that humans couldn't know otherwise? I don't categorically rule out anything, but this would seem to contravene the understanding of the Torah expressed by Rav Hirsch and others.

    ReplyDelete
  17. Re: the rakia being an opaque covering:

    Anonymous observer said...
    Oh. And 100% of the Rishonim say that?


    Correct.

    What are the physical elements of this 'opaque covering'?

    Well, it's hard to precisely describe something that doesn't actually exist, but Chazal discuss its presumed thickness, etc.

    Has it ever been sighted (or cited) in modern science?

    No, because it doesn't exist!

    According to chazal, is it on every side of the earth?

    Presumably not, because they believed the earth to be flat.

    Is there more than one Rakia? If yes, how far is the distance from one Rakia to the next?

    That's something discussed by Chazal. See above.

    Observer, yesterday you accused me of hiding behind my computer rather than discussing this with Rabbi Meiselman in the Beis Hamidrash. How about you stop hiding behind anonymity, give your name, and actually address the points that I raise?

    ReplyDelete
  18. Oh. And 100% of the Rishonim say that? What are the physical elements of this 'opaque covering'? Has it ever been sighted (or cited) in modern science? According to chazal, is it on every side of the earth?

    Is there more than one Rakia? If yes, how far is the distance from one Rakia to the next?


    Observer, you are becoming Temujin's favoured pet as he detects a rebellious fellow soul thirsting for cool droplets of wisdom, albeit with the grace of chipped fingernails screeching down a dusty blackboard in your case.

    One must ask: Are you doubting Rabbi Slifkin's description of talmudic cosmology? Do you think he or anyone here is hiding such occult descriptions from you, or are you upset that the Chazal have left no details? Temujin is chomping at the bit to know where you are heading with your questions above.

    Temujin does not presume, so if you are unfamiliar with the Internet, there are a number of models and graphic depictions online he can helpfully direct you but many of questionable provenance. Any of them may pose the problem of exposing you to avodah zarah, though, assuming you have such understandable fears of unknown waters. The problem, of course is unavoidable today as it was to the Chazal, in that there never was a developed, institutionalized discipline of astronomy or cosmology among Jews, ancient and otherwise, and they tended to rely on Gentile models, which were Babylonianl, Graeco-Roman, Muslim or Chrisian. As an aside, the Hindus had by far the most sophisticated conceptions which included such recent theories as cellular and bubble universes, cyclical or pulsating ones (i.e., Big Bang, Big Crunch, Big Bang again ad infinitum), doctrines of entropy and so on.

    ReplyDelete
  19. Natan- you really need to get out and boost your self esteem. You are very insecure and have a large inferiority complex. You are inferior to Rabbi Miselman as he is a way bigger talmud chacham as well as more knowledgeable in math and science and that is ok. Get over the fact that he dominated you years ago, all you are doing is sitting and whining about it and it is pathetic.

    ReplyDelete
  20. Steve - R. Slifkin is not whining, he is issuing a calm and substantive rebuttal. You, on the other hand, are doing nothing but whine about his rebuttal. You are very insecure and have a large inferiority complex, yada yada.

    ReplyDelete
  21. Is this 'opaque covering' that 'doesn't actually exist' the same as the Rakia of the Chumash created to separate between heaven and earth on the second day of creation? It would seem that Chazal never referred to their Rakiafriend as a different entity than the one described in the Torah, so how do youu explain the Torah's Rakia differently? Does it exist?

    ReplyDelete
  22. What are you claiming? That the opaque rakia does exist? Or that it's not opaque? If it's not opaque, why did Chazal believe that it stops us from seeing the sun at night?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I think what observer's trying to say is that this entire concept is a metaphysical phenomena rather than something observed in the physical realm...

      Delete
  23. R' Slifkin,

    I'd be a bit more precise in your language re "Rakia" and "firmament".

    1) We know that "Rakia" was understood to be "firmament"

    2) We know "firmament" meant the type of fixed glassene/opaque superstructure that does not in fact exist

    3) We know that the "Rakia" in fact exists, since it is described in B'reishis

    4) We therefore know that, despite Chazal's and the Mforshim's misunderstanding, the term "Rakia" (as used in B'reishis) does not and cannot mean "firmament"

    So, to sum up: The firmament does not exist. The Rakia does. There is no particularly good source in Chazal or the Rishonim for what "Rakia" actually means.

    ReplyDelete
  24. Is this 'opaque covering' that 'doesn't actually exist' the same as the Rakia of the Chumash created to separate between heaven and earth on the second day of creation? It would seem that Chazal never referred to their Rakia as a different entity than the one described in the Torah, so how do you explain the Torah's Rakia differently? Does it exist?

    How can I be claiming something? Don't you see that every sentence has a question mark? These are simple and basic questions addressed to you. Are you afraid to answer them directly?

    ReplyDelete
  25. nathen
    why are you always harping on chazels scientific mistakes as not being based off scripture(you are implying that scriptures always got there science right), as far as i can see scripture is just as(or more) full of scientific error can you please address this topic. unless you are afraid of your honesty and rationality removing you from orthodoxy in the same manner it removed you from charidism?

    ReplyDelete
  26. "Do you mean something that humans couldn't know otherwise?"

    Yes.

    God, a spiritual "being" (or "not a non-being" to use the philosophically precise term!)created physical reality. I don't think it's unreasonable, therefore, to posit that at extreme upper levels of spiritual awareness/sensitivity (e.g., the Nevi'im, Moshe, Noach, Adam, etc.), unique knowledge of physical reality may be gained. This knowledge would naturally not be something to be shared with the masses. For example, it seems unlikely that during Moshe's constant intense prophetic experiences with God, he never gained an inkling of the physical beyond what was visually observable.

    Everyone else, however, including great Torah scholars and sages, would be bound by observable reality for pronouncements on the physical world.



    ReplyDelete
  27. Barry, making observations and drawing conclusions is as old as humanity, if not, consciousness. What differentiates the scientific enterprise from earlier such observation - inference paradigms is the systematic examination of physical phenomena and the use of mathematics to describe them quantitatively. Unfortunately, the talmudic sages tended to give greater weight to their inferences from biblical verses more than from observation. Hence the 'normative' view about the sun entering a window in the rakia in the west after sunset, travelling west to east in back of an opaque rakia and then entering another window in the east after dawn. [Another example is the inference they drew from a verse in Kings I that pi was exactly 3.] R' Yehuda Hanasi decided, however, that empirical evidence for the sun 'underneath; the earth at night (still 'travelling' westward) was more compelling. Unfortunately, he seemed to be unaware of evidence that the earth was spherical rather than flat so that his argument about the temperatures of springs vs. lakes is invalid.

    ReplyDelete
  28. Barry, making observations and drawing conclusions is as old as humanity, if not, consciousness. What differentiates the scientific enterprise from earlier such observation - inference paradigms is the systematic examination of physical phenomena and the use of mathematics to describe them quantitatively. Unfortunately, the talmudic sages tended to give greater weight to their inferences from biblical verses more than from observation. Hence the 'normative' view about the sun entering a window in the rakia in the west after sunset, travelling west to east in back of an opaque rakia and then entering another window in the east after dawn. [Another example is the inference they drew from a verse in Kings I that pi was exactly 3.] R' Yehuda Hanasi decided, however, that empirical evidence for the sun 'underneath; the earth at night (still 'travelling' westward) was more compelling. Unfortunately, he seemed to be unaware of evidence that the earth was spherical rather than flat so that his argument about the temperatures of springs vs. lakes is invalid.

    ReplyDelete
  29. observer said...
    Is this 'opaque covering' that 'doesn't actually exist' the same as the Rakia of the Chumash created to separate between heaven and earth on the second day of creation?


    According to the Pesukim, tt was created to separate between the waters above and the waters below. It was called "Shamaim".

    ReplyDelete
  30. bystander said...

    Can you please explain to me how we see the stars through this opaque covering?

    Well, it's difficult to explain a flawed concept, but it would appear that either it was thought that there are holes in it which let their light through (similar to the "windows" through which the sun passes), or it was thought that the stars are embedded in it.

    Another possibility is that the stars literally "come out" at night (Yitzias Hakochavim). Just as the sun bores through the Rakia at night (or through the windows of the Rakia) which is how it gets gradually dark, so too the stars gradually break through the Rakia at night and retreat during the day. I have no evidence that this was what they thought, but it would be consistent with the language and the way that the sun operates in that theory.

    ReplyDelete
  31. You might want to print it out and read it on Shabbos.

    Be careful. You will now be quoted as paskening that printing on Shabbos is Muttar :).

    ReplyDelete
  32. Anonymous Y. Aharon said...
    Barry, making observations and drawing conclusions is as old as humanity, if not, consciousness. What differentiates the scientific enterprise from earlier such observation - inference paradigms is the systematic examination of physical phenomena and the use of mathematics to describe them quantitatively.


    Getting far afield here, but I think that this is a bit arbitrary. The common denominator in science is that experience is the test of everything. When Aristotle proved that the earth is a sphere, and when he produced his observations and classification in biology, he was also doing science.

    It is true that for a lot of science, you need the careful quantitative measurement. I would call that a very important advance, but that doesn't mean that science done before that was not science at all.

    Unfortunately, the talmudic sages tended to give greater weight to their inferences from biblical verses more than from observation.

    This may be true, but in this they were similar to the ancients. Uniform circular motion was an idea with much elegance, but little evidence, and it lead to all sorts of problems. In general, the ancients did too much talking and not enough measuring on these topics. But the fact that they didn't know how to do science, doesn't mean that they didn't do it.

    Hence the 'normative' view about the sun entering a window in the rakia in the west after sunset, travelling west to east in back of an opaque rakia and then entering another window in the east after dawn. [Another example is the inference they drew from a verse in Kings I that pi was exactly 3.] R' Yehuda Hanasi decided, however, that empirical evidence for the sun 'underneath; the earth at night (still 'travelling' westward) was more compelling. Unfortunately, he seemed to be unaware of evidence that the earth was spherical rather than flat so that his argument about the temperatures of springs vs. lakes is invalid.

    Was it springs vs. lakes or nighttime temps vs. daytime temps? Without thermometers, I thought that they believed that the water was really warmer at night (due to the change in relative temperature to the air temperature).

    ReplyDelete
  33. observer said...
    Is this 'opaque covering' that 'doesn't actually exist' the same as the Rakia of the Chumash created to separate between heaven and earth on the second day of creation? It would seem that Chazal never referred to their Rakia as a different entity than the one described in the Torah, so how do you explain the Torah's Rakia differently? Does it exist?

    How can I be claiming something? Don't you see that every sentence has a question mark? These are simple and basic questions addressed to you. Are you afraid to answer them directly?


    Observer, R. Slifkin has actually answered your questions in a different post. But rather than asking questions, why don't you make your argument? R. Slifkin has set down his position quite carefully. Please do the same.

    ReplyDelete
  34. Akiva and v-afsi ode - You are misunderstanding my position on the nature of the rakia described in the Chumash. Observer already knows what it is, and is trying to sidetrack the discussion by bringing it up. Just search the archives of this blog for "rakia," if you want to know my view. But the topic of this post is R. Meiselman's approach to Chazal's discussion of the rakia. Which nothing raised by Observer remotely addresses.

    ReplyDelete
  35. Re Akiva's statement, "We know that the 'Rakia' in fact exists, since it is described in B'reishis": No, we don't know that. Whatever the "Rakia" is, it is described as something separating the waters above it from the waters below it. Anyone who has flown in an airplane knows that there is no such physical structure. The only way for us today to understand the Rakia is in a poetic sense as an invisible or non-physical (or imaginary) barrier that keeps the clouds afloat. I'm not convinced that this was how premodern readers of Bereishis understood it, but you know what? That doesn't matter. With regard to the creation, dibrah Torah kil'shon benei adam. The Torah tells us how to live; it is not a science textbook, nor was it ever intended to be one.

    ReplyDelete
  36. Sabi, you are falling into Observer's trap. He is trying to deflect the discussion from Rabbi Meiselman and Chazal's view of the rakia.

    ReplyDelete
  37. something i am not getting here. rav meiselman is not some chassidic yeshiva guy who only leaves meah sharim to go to kivrei tzaddikim in zefat. the man knows how science and research and evidence and history work. even if he doesn't have a degree in biology, he would not have any problem opening the necessary books and understanding the issues involved.

    so what is going on here?

    ReplyDelete
  38. Ben, intelligence and learning are almost entirely irrelevant. If someone has a deep religious (or other) desire to stake out a certain position, they will find all kinds of ways to rationalize it. You can find highly intelligent, highly educated people who believe that the universe is 6000 years old, that the moon landing is a hoax, that scientology is real, etc., etc.

    ReplyDelete
  39. Y. Aharon, I don't think we disagree on anything substantive. My point was to point out that Chazal were willing to rely on scientific observation, and not only on pesukim/religious sources for their knowledge of the world. The key question is to what extent they might be willing to overrule/reevaluate something they might have learned from religious sources, if it did contradict the metzius (observable physical reality). There are places in gemara where such a phrase is used, like ha kachazinan dlo havei kulei hai, and other ones that I can't recall offhand. A related question is whether later generations might also have that right. As far as the fact that certain people might find this upsetting, or a slight to our mesorah, we need to define what that mesorah is. If one believes that our mesorah is to look only for emes, as I do, then in fact, we are simply continuing our mesorah. Of course, this creates another problem as to what extent new physical understandings can modify traditional halachos that were based on old physical understandings. R. Slifkin has dealt with this to some extent, such as in the matter of treifa eina chaya, etc. I agree that this is a very weighty matter, and not easily resolved in an elegant way.

    But if we define our mesorah as receiving absolute scientific truths via means such as ruach hakodesh, divine inspiration, sod hashem liyereav, then we face another set of problems as to what happens when these truths appear to contradict physically observable facts. Rabbi Meiselman and Rabbi Wachtfogel and perhaps much of the Chareidi world subscribe to this second worldview. They believe that it is the most respectful of our traditions. While they are certainly well-intentioned, however, this leads to other problems, such as requiring bans on any sources of knowledge that could potentially contradict these received truths. It leads to a very paranoid, closed-off and unpleasant sort of lifestyle. Nevertheless, this is fully logically consistent with their initial premise. Rabbi Meiselman, being scientifically educated, realizes this approach has its problems, especially since we see that science has successfully produced cars, planes, GPS, radios, air conditioners, etc.

    So both sides have advantages and disadvantages. It appears that R. Meiselman is trying to shift the Ruach Hakodesh issue back further in time, to avoid physical contradictions as much as possible. But I am sure he is aware that many poskim have said that the rishonim and acharonim themselves all have ruach hakodesh. (See Maharsha Haaruch who states that this was true up until time of Maharsha.) In addition, it is unlikely he will find a satisfactory resolution, even if he works directly from Chazal, without the rishonim or acharonim.

    This whole issue is difficult, fascinating and not easily resolved. We need to keep at it.

    ReplyDelete
  40. @ R. Slifkin: Sabi, you are falling into Observer's trap. He is trying to deflect the discussion from Rabbi Meiselman and Chazal's view of the rakia.

    Perhaps so, but just to be on the safe side, someone better hurry up and invent a satisfactory answer for Observer before he straps fire cracker rockets to his back-end for an empirical observation mission. Pekuah nefesh...

    ReplyDelete
  41. Regarding how stars are visible through the rakia, it seems from the Rambam that the system of celestial spheres which he called a rakia had different layers, with the first 7 for sun, moon, and planets; and the 8th for the stars. The 9th was the opaque layer that shielded the sun at night. However, I am not sure how the sun got loose from its daytime sphere, and went behind this last curtain. Perhaps I need to reread.

    ReplyDelete
  42. I. The Most Crucial Topic


    Some brief points people should be aware of:

    1) Just because Natan Slifkin has declared that the gemara in Pesachim 94 is the most crucial section of the Talmud for any discussion about Chazal and science, does not make it so. (See point #4 below) Being banned by many Gedolim and running "a popular blog" notwithstanding.

    2) Just because Natan Slifkin has declared "in fact", that 95% of the commentators and 100% of the Rishonim agree that rakia means "firmament", does not make it fact.
    It just so happens that I wrote a lengthy post citing many rishonim who give many different translations for the word "rakia". It is also clear from this post that Chazal themselves in other contexts often refer to the rakia as a metaphysical entity or realm. But hopefully, you won't find me whining and complaining when I discover some people haven't read it. (And hopefully I won't be in the center of any major religious controversy anytime soon.)

    3) Just because Natan Slifkin asserts (as fact, mind you) that there is a straightforward meaning of this gemara does not make this gemara straightforward. Many Rishonim and poskim only make passing reference to this gemara tangentially in a halachic context. They do not make any direct attempt to interpret it. This does not imply the passage is straightforward to them. As poskim, they simply extracted the halachic relevance of it.

    The ones who attempted to interpret and explicate this gemara directly and fully are mainly the Achronim, and to many of them, by observing the extreme variety of their interpretations, one can tell this gemara appears to be far from straightforward.

    4) Rav Meiselman's evidence that Chazal did not have a mesorah specifically in this area of astronomy is gleaned by observing the clear contrast between this debate with the gentile scholars and Rebbi Yehoshua's interaction with the Greek scientists in Bechoros about the gestation period of the nachash. It also comes from the Rambam's explicit statement in the Moreh affirming that this knowledge was lost from the Mesorah, and that generally, the Jews in fact did once posses a complete Mesorah about astronomy from the Nevi'im. The exception proves the rule.
    But strangely, Natan Slifkin neglects to deal with or even mention these two sources.

    So I ask you (with tongue placed firmly in cheek):
    How could he not know this Rambam (which he and his supporters have cited too often to count)?

    Did he not read the very section of the book he was critiquing with such relish?
    Doesn't he know that this gemara in Bechoros about Rebbi Yehoshua's knowledge of the science derived from his mastery of Torah sheba'al peh is the most crucial passage in the Talmud for any discussion about Chazal and science?
    It just gets easier...
    Posted 6 hours ago by Freelance Kiruv Maniac (Mr. Hyde)

    ReplyDelete
  43. 1) It's the clearest demonstration of the disconnect between the Rishonim and the modern charedi world vis-a-vis these topics. All the Rishonim say that Chazal said that the sun goes behind the sky at night. The charedi world insists that they didn't. Most of the Rishonim say that Chazal were wrong. The charedi world says that's kefirah.

    2) It doesn't make a difference whether a Rishon believed the rakia of Chazal to be made of condensed water, or fire and ice, or adamantium. The point is that they understood the Chachmei Yisrael to be saying that the sun goes behind it at night, instead of on the other side of the world.

    3) There is a straightforward meaning of the Gemara, and it's the literal translation. It's also the meaning given by Artscroll, and that Hebrew Daf-Yomi aid whose name escapes me, and in fact every single translation/ elucidation of the Gemara.
    The Rishonim who make passing reference to it, do so in order to make the point that the chachmei Yisrael were wrong, and the sun in fact goes on the other side of the world at night. For example, with regard to mayim shelanu, this is why they mention it.

    4) The fact that R. Yehoshua made a drasha about snake gestation proves nothing other than that R. Yehoshua believed he could correctly extract info about snakes from a passuk. (In fact, snakes are not pregnant for seven years.) Other sages believed that they could correctly extract info about the sun's path at night from a passuk (see Bava Basra). Rabbi Yehudah HaNasi says that they were wrong.

    All Rambam says is that the Jewish People used to have amazing wisdom about astronomy - which he saw as a special branch of knowledge with religious significance - which was lost. For the life of me, I don't see how someone can try to use this to prove that according to Rambam, the Jewish People also has special wisdom about zoology and other areas of science.

    ReplyDelete
  44. That's funny, I was sure that you had claimed to be a Talmid of R Aryeh Carmell, and that you followed his approach. Well, his explanaion of the Rakia is quuite different than yours (and his metaphysical analysis, based on the Gra, is quite more intellectually satisfying than your 'firmament'. Unless your claim is that he disagreed with his Rebbe -only Rav Dessler, and accepted instead the explanation of the Christian theology professon in the Catholic journal you cite with admiration. Hard to believe that Rav Carmell would reject his rebbe's teachings on such a fundamental pprinciple.

    ReplyDelete
  45. First of all, Rav Carmell differed from Rav Dessler on a number of things. Second, you are mixing up (on several occasions) people's explanations of what they think the rakia of the chumash is, with their explanations of this Gemara.

    ReplyDelete
  46. Kiruv Maniac,

    The fact that the sugya was not engaged actually works against you since it implies that its meaning was obvious and NOT CONTROVERSIAL. in other words, it was no big deal that Chazal were wrong. But your hashkafa is different from classical, traditional Judaism and that's why you are blowing smoke. You can't accept that reality so all of a sudden there are "infinite layers of meaning" etc etc. And by the way, just think about this logically: the sugya engages in a discussion with the views of the gentile scholars, right? If so, since the Gentile scholars' view is simple and straightforward, so too is Chazal's. The former held that the sun goes on the other of the earth at night (which is correct minus the fact that it is the Earth turning) and Chazal held it goes behind the sky. That's it. There's no controversy here. It's the Haredi hashkafa, which is out of line with traditional Jewish thought, which MAKES it controversial when in fact it's simple and straightforward and UNcontroversial!

    ReplyDelete
  47. Let me just raise the point that all of science is intertwined. In order to understand astronomy, one needs advanced math, at least calculus and differential equations. Newton's second law is F=MA. But A=d2x/dx2, the second derivative of position. For a satellite orbiting another body, this is set equal to the force F=Gm1m2/r^2. As the body moves, radius r can change, thus altering the force, which can in turn alter the radius. To take all this into account and compute a trajectory, one needs to solve the differential equation exactly. This can be done for a 2-body problem, whose solutions are conic sections. For some 3-body problems, it can also be done exactly, but for 4 or more, there is no exact formula, and we approximate with computers. I am very curious how Chazal would have known or been able to do this, as calculus appears to have been invented in 17th century.

    Furthermore, when it comes to biology, we need not to solve a 4-body problem, but a zillion-body problem, as each particle (electron, proton, and neutron) interacts, and these determine how a protein will fold. How it folds will determine its active site and to which other kinds of proteins it will bind. A defective gene may have one amino acid subsituted or missing which will totally throw the structure of the protein out of whack. We have only the most rudimentary idea how to predict the exact effect. Computers are being used to try to compute all these variables, but the underlying physical laws are not even fully understood in order to be able to program them. The fellows who won the chem Nobel this year only started to scratch the surface. Ultimately, the math of biology will dwarf the math of astronomy.

    I am totally curious how those who believe all this was understood by Chazal view this. Did they know calculus and engineering? Did they have an equals sign and a fraction bar and a decimal point to aid in this? Could they build radios which are far easier than understanding biology? The Vilna Gaon's math book was mainly on a high school level without calculus. Did they have a comprehensive understanding of the chemistry of nucleic acids and proteins, or just have a mesorah of a few isolated facts, such as food X is good for condition Y, but without a specific chemical mechanism? This topic is so deep, and I think most people discussing it do not realize the extreme complexity of it all.

    ReplyDelete
  48. 1) Just because Natan Slifkin has declared that the gemara in Pesachim 94 is the most crucial section of the Talmud for any discussion about Chazal and science, does not make it so. (See point #4 below) Being banned by many Gedolim and running "a popular blog" notwithstanding.

    Debates about whose Gemara is more "crucial" are unresolvable. What is true is that if you writing a book to prove your thesis, it is incumbent upon you to address the strongest arguments of the opponents of your thesis, and Pesachim 94b is clearly one of those.

    3) Just because Natan Slifkin asserts (as fact, mind you) that there is a straightforward meaning of this gemara does not make this gemara straightforward. Many Rishonim and poskim only make passing reference to this gemara tangentially in a halachic context. They do not make any direct attempt to interpret it. This does not imply the passage is straightforward to them. As poskim, they simply extracted the halachic relevance of it.


    If this is true, then precisely how the P'shat in that Gemara is difficult? As R. Slifkin says, it is very straightforward to most readers. The problem is not that the meaning is unclear. The "problem" for some is that some don't like the fact that Gemara says something counter-factual. You can't use that to prove your point, as it would be circular.

    In fact, this is precisely the evidence against your position. If you assume, as the Rishonim did, that Chazal were great people, then it all works out. The P'shat is only problematic if you make the assumption that they were presenting some kind of Nevuah.

    The ones who attempted to interpret and explicate this gemara directly and fully are mainly the Achronim, and to many of them, by observing the extreme variety of their interpretations, one can tell this gemara appears to be far from straightforward.

    Here are the words of the Minchas Cohen, who likely laid down the principle on which are Shabbos end-times are likely based:

    Q: The first question [on Rabeinu Tam’s position that “Mishetishkah HaChama” refers the sun’s emergence from the arch of the firmament] is that this explanation of Rabeinu Tam is built on a faulty foundation and on an opinion without truth, that the sun goes at night above the cover of the firmament, because this is in conflict with reason and experience that in fact the the sun travels at night below the earth as shown by experimentation and it is impossible to disprove this
    ...
    A: It appears to me that the phrase “Mshetishkah Hachammah” that Rabbi Yehudah spoke of which is the starting time for the period of “Bein Hashmashot” is not at all difficult to explain as referring to the end of the Sun’s “Shkia” in the thickness of the firmament as Rabbeinu Tam Z”L explained. Even though, in truth, the sun does not travel at night above the covering of the firmament, and consequently does not enter its thickness; nevertheless, we are coming to explain the words of Rabbi Yehudah and here it is apparent from his explicit statement that he agrees with the words of the Wise Men of Israel,

    ReplyDelete
  49. Can you please explain to me how we see the stars through this opaque covering?

    I would say the stars are embedded in the firmament. And we know this because there is an aggada that says G-d took away two stars to allow water to pass through during the flood [being that the upper waters are literally on the other side]. There are different windows in it where the sun and moon pass through when they rise and set, depending on the time of year. So that is what Chazal believed which is similar to the Babylonians.

    ReplyDelete
  50. David, I did not state that no scientific work was done prior to the Renaissance or scientific revolution in Europe in the 17th century. Rather, the scientific method for the study of physical phenomena was formalized then. While Aristotle used keen observation and dissection in his description and categorization of zoological matters, he failed largely to do so in matters of physics. Hence the important errors in the latter field that was unfortanately accepted for many centuries afterwards until Galileo conducted the relevant experiments and measurements.

    You may be right on the spring water vs air or surface water temperatures. The simplest way of understanding Pes. 94b is as you suggested (air temperatures). I only mentioned lakes since that is relevant to an associated issue of 'mayim shelanu'.

    ReplyDelete
  51. Barry,

    Dont' confuse the Rambam's view of astronomy with talmudic conceptions. The Rambam based his exposition of the celestial spheres on the Helenistic Greek model (Ptolemaic) which had a spherical earth at the center and an outer transparent sphere that rotated in a 24 hour cycle which carried all the inner concentric spheres and celestial bodies. The sun did not enter and exit through 'windows' in this model.

    ReplyDelete
  52. The firmament does not exist. But it used to; it disintegrated in the Flood, of course.
    Flippancy aside, I have a real question: My American friend's son, about 22 years old, learns in Rabbi Meiselman's yeshiva. A really good young man from a really good family. I imagine that my friend has no idea what's going on in this discussion. Nor his son. Does anyone here think I should just let sleeping dogs lie and not say anything, or should I introduce him to this webpage? Or something else?

    ReplyDelete
  53. bNatan Slifkin,

    All Rambam says is that the Jewish People used to have amazing wisdom about astronomy - which he saw as a special branch of knowledge with religious significance - which was lost. For the life of me, I don't see how someone can try to use this to prove that according to Rambam, the Jewish People also has special wisdom about zoology and other areas of science.

    Me neither. But for the life of me I don't see how someone can try to use this (i.e. Rambam’s statements re astronomy) to prove that the Rambam believed that in the face of current scientific knowledge it is acceptable to state that Chazal erred in their statements re nature.

    ReplyDelete
  54. Natan- you really need to get out and boost your self esteem. You are very insecure and have a large inferiority complex. You are inferior to Rabbi Miselman as he is a way bigger talmud chacham as well as more knowledgeable in math and science and that is ok. Get over the fact that he dominated you years ago, all you are doing is sitting and whining about it and it is pathetic.

    Wow - that's quite a projection. The anonymous "Steve" is disparaging Rabbi Natan's critique without offering a whisper of substance. If that's not whining, what is?

    ReplyDelete
  55. Simcha Coffer, you are confusing two different sections of Rambam. Meiselman/Kiruv Maniac were referring to 2:8. But there is another source, in 3:14:

    "You must, however, not expect that everything our Sages say respecting astronomical matters should agree with observation, for mathematics were not fully developed in those days; and their statements were not based on the authority of the Prophets, but on the knowledge which they either themselves possessed or derived from contemporary men of science."

    There is every reason to believe that this would apply all the more to other branches of the science such as zoology, and no reason to believe that it would not apply to zoology.

    ReplyDelete
  56. Goldwine, I don't know your friend or your relationship with him, but is it the case that he would be upset if he finds out later about all the problems with Rabbi Meiselman, and then is upset with you for not letting him know?

    ReplyDelete
  57. @Barry jakebson & reb nathan

    It appears that R. Meiselman is trying to shift the Ruach Hakodesh issue back further in time, to avoid physical contradictions as much as possible.

    I think barrys upshot of what R mieslmen is doing is correct however I think r nathen is doing the same thing he just pushes ruach hakodesh back to the scriptures instead of chazal but the bottom line is a hard line ratinailist will still find many direct contradictions between the clear intent of the pesukim and observable mitzius at that point if you are a man of faith as r nathen is you will make some nice tortured pilul that will sufice as a possible resalution (such as the dibra torah kiloshen bnie adam trope) if the option of saying that the auther was misinformed is impossble, so essantialy r nathen and evrey other religous fantic will come down to the same one word answer, faith. So all r slifkins "critsism" of miselman is realy I think u are jummping on the self delusion train a couple stops to early. Gut voch!

    ReplyDelete
  58. Y. Aharon, thanks. My mistake. Rechecked. Rambam uses the word Rakia for the system of galgalim, but different model than chazal.

    ReplyDelete
  59. According to Rabbi Meiselman, when chazal debated the tzeddukim was it also because in those cases chazal didn't have a clear mesorah? Addarabba!
    Furthermore, debate itself implies that they believe in their own claim enough to pit it against others.

    ReplyDelete
  60. Y. Aharon said...
    David, I did not state that no scientific work was done prior to the Renaissance or scientific revolution in Europe in the 17th century. Rather, the scientific method for the study of physical phenomena was formalized then. While Aristotle used keen observation and dissection in his description and categorization of zoological matters, he failed largely to do so in matters of physics. Hence the important errors in the latter field that was unfortanately accepted for many centuries afterwards until Galileo conducted the relevant experiments and measurements.


    OK, not a lot of disagreement. But I would emphasize that the process was gradual and took time to complete. As examples, in addition to finally discovering the proper orbits of the planets, Kepler did plenty of work that was "pre-modern" in nature. He was an astrologer and also tried to relate the orbits of the planets to the five regular solids. Newton wasted lots of time and effort in alchemy.

    ReplyDelete
  61. Simcha Coffer, you are confusing two different sections of Rambam. Meiselman/Kiruv Maniac were referring to 2:8. But there is another source, in 3:14:

    "You must, however, not expect that everything our Sages say respecting astronomical matters should agree with observation, for mathematics were not fully developed in those days; and their statements were not based on the authority of the Prophets, but on the knowledge which they either themselves possessed or derived from contemporary men of science."

    There is every reason to believe that this would apply all the more to other branches of the science such as zoology, and no reason to believe that it would not apply to zoology.


    R. Slifkin, R. Coffer and R. Kornreich have both convinced themselves that this Rambam clearly disproves the idea that Chazal relied on the science of their times. They reason that since the Rambam refers in the Moreh and the Yad to astronomy (or according to R. Coffer only the math underlying the astronomy), it proves that in all other areas of science, the Rambam maintained that they has special infallible knowledge.

    What is more amazing is that they have also convinced themselves that their interpretation is so obvious that people like you and I are actually intentionally avoiding references to this Rambam. Incredible.

    In your case, R. Kornreich writes the following on his blog:

    Rav Meiselman's evidence that Chazal did not have a mesorah specifically in this area of astronomy is gleaned by observing the clear contrast between this debate with the gentile scholars and Rebbi Yehoshua's interaction with the Greek scientists in Bechoros about the gestation period of the nachash. It also comes from the Rambam's explicit statement in the Moreh affirming that this knowledge was lost from the Mesorah, and that generally, the Jews in fact did once posses a complete Mesorah about astronomy from the Nevi'im. The exception proves the rule.
    But strangely, Natan Slifkin neglects to deal with or even mention these two sources.

    So I ask you (with tongue placed firmly in cheek):
    How could he not know this Rambam (which he and his supporters have cited too often to count)?


    R. Coffer wrote about a comment of mine where I quoted the Rambam thus:

    "You must, however, not expect that everything our Sages say respecting astronomical matters should agree with observation, for mathematics were not fully developed in those days; and their statements were not based on the authority of the Prophets, but on the knowledge which they either themselves possessed or derived from contemporary men of science."

    He responded as follows:

    You highlighted the latter part of the paragraph and entirely ignored the former! Your quote from the Rambam begins “You must, however, not expect that everything our Sages say respecting astronomical matters should agree with observation…”

    Oops… forgot that, huh?


    Apparently, I was engaging in a "coverup" by inappropriately "bolding" my quote !?

    One thing I can say, is that since I sincerely wish good health and mazal to my intellectual opponents, it is better that they maintain this fiction than that their heads figuratively explode from trying to simultaneously maintain their odd belief system and hold the Rambam in good stead.

    ReplyDelete
  62. לְשׁוֹן חֲכָמִים תֵּיטִיב דָּעַת וּפִי כְסִילִים יַבִּיעַ אִוֶּלֶת

    Today´s mainstream mass Judaism is back to Middle Ages again :(

    And anyone who is looking for clarification and understanding of God and the World treated like Azariah dei Rossi עזריה מן האדומים
    Check it out.

    ReplyDelete
  63. There is every reason to believe that this would apply all the more to other branches of the science such as zoology, and no reason to believe that it would not apply to zoology.

    R. Coffer and R. Kornreich's argument that the Rambam is limiting himself to Astronomy specficially is exceedingly weak. If he is, he makes his argument vary poorly. He should say that he won't defend the Sages' astronomy because that is the one place in all of Talmud where they lost their Masorah/Ruach HaKodesh. Instead he blames the state of knowledge at the time.

    But rather than go back and forth, let's use other evidence to decide. Perhaps the Rambam's son z"l can clarify:

    דע כי אתה חייב לדעת, כל מי שירצה להעמיד דעת ידועה, ולישא פני אומרה, ולקבל דעתו בלי עיון והבנה לעניין אותו דעת אם אמת אתה אם לא, שזה מן הדעות הרעות, והוא נאסר מדרך התורה וגם מדרך השכל.
    ...
    לפי הקדמה זו לא נתחייב מפני גודל מעלת חכמי התלמוד ותכונתם לשלמות תכונתם בפירוש התורה ובדקדוקיה ויושר אמריהם בביאור כלליה ופרטיה, שנטען להם ונעמיד דעתם בכל אמריהם ברפואות ובחכמת הטבע והתכונה, [ולהאמין] אותן כאשר נאמין אותן בפירוש התורה, שתכלית חכמתה בידם, ולהם נמסרה להורותה לבני אדם, כעניין שנאמר "על פי התורה אשר יורוך" וגו'.

    Know that you are required to know that anyone that wants to support a given principle by respecting the person who says it, and to accept his opinion without investigation or understanding whether or not the principle is true is following a harmful opinion. This is prohibited by the way of Torah and also by the way of rationality.
    ...
    According to this introduction, we are not required because of the great elevation of the sages of the Talmud and their great character and the perfected nature of their explanation of the Torah and its details and the correctness of their statements explaining its principles and details, to be bound to them and to support their opinions in everything that they say about medicine, and natural philosophy, and astronomy and to believe them as we believe them in the explanation of the Torah whose ultimate wisdom is in their hands and to them it was given over to teach it to the people, as it says "according to the Torah that they will teach you".

    ReplyDelete
  64. More evidence:

    R. Hirsch:

    "In my opinion, the first principle that every student of Chazal’s statements must keep before his eyes is the following: Chazal were the sages of G-d’s law - the receivers, transmitters, and teachers of His toros, His mitzvos, and His interpersonal laws. They did not especially master the natural sciences, geometry, astronomy, or medicine - except insofar as they needed them for knowing, observing, and fulfilling the Torah. We do not find that this knowledge was transmitted to them from Sinai."

    or R. Sherira Gaon via "Torah and Science blogspot".

    ודשאלתון למיכתב לכון הני אסואתא דמי שאחזו קורדיקוס מן רב ושמואל עד פסאקא דמתניתין, האיך קיבלוהו ופירושו בלשון הגדים. צריכין אנן למימר לכון דרבנן לאו אסותא אינון ומילין בעלמא דחזונין בזמניהון וכחד חד קצירא אמרונין ולאו דברי מצוה אינון הילכך לא תסמכון על אלין אסותא וליכא דעביד מינהון מידעם אלא בתר דמבדיק וידע בודאי מחמת רופאים בקיאים דההיא מילתא לא מעיקא לה וליכא דליתי נפשיה לידי סבנה. והכין אגמרו יתנא ואמרו לנא אבות וסבי דילנא דלא למעבד מן אילין אסותא אלא מאי דאיתיה כגון קיבלא דקים ליה לההוא דעביד ליה דלית ביה עקתא. וכולהו מילי לא צריכינא לפרושנון וטעמי ליכא לגלואינון אלא מילי דחזיננא דעמיקן עליכון התם. עכ"ל

    We must inform you that our Sages were not physicians. They may mention medical matters which they noticed here and there in their time, but these are not meant to be a mitzvah. Therefore you should not rely on these cures and you should not practice them at all unless each item has been carefully investigated by medical experts who are certain that this procedure will do no harm and will cause no danger [to the patient]. This is what our ancestors have taught us, that none of these cures should be practiced, unless it is a known remedy and the one who uses it knows that it can cause no harm.
    [translation in "Freedom to Interpret", by Rabbi Aryeh Carmell]

    Maybe R. Slifkin's opponent R. Feldman can summarize better than me:

    there is another opinion which [R.] Slifkin uses explicitly and implicitly in his books. This theory goes as follows. The Sages based their wisdom on the medical knowledge of their times. This would seem perfectly legitimate, for why should they not rely on the experts of their time on issues not directly addressed by the Written or the Oral Law? Therefore, when subsequently medicine indicates that these cures are ineffectual, there would be nothing disrespectful in asserting that the scientific knowledge of antiquity available to the Sages was flawed..

    This approach is mentioned by many eminent authorities in Jewish history. Rav Sherira Gaon mentions it with respect to cures. R. Avraham, son of the Rambam, mentions it with respect to all science and the Rambam with respect to astronomy. Pachad Yizchok says that statements in the Talmud which seem to uphold spontaneous generation are incorrect, even though we do not change any laws based on their words. Rav Shamshon Refael Hirsch applies this argument to animals mentioned in the Talmud which do not seem to exist nowadays. Finally, a conversation with R. Eliyahu Eliezer Dessler recorded by Rabbi Aryeh Carmel indicates a somewhat similar approach.

    ReplyDelete
  65. I would like to point out something to all the people asking what the firmament is, where the stars are, how many there are, etc., and using the Rambam or Chazal to answer: This is *not* an original Jewish idea. People have believed in such a thing since at least the ancient Babylonians* (over a flat Earth, as in Chazal's view of the path of the sun), and the whole idea of spheres and the like (on a round Earth, as in the non-Jewish view cited by Chazal) was "perfected," so to speak, by Ptolemy, a Hellenistic-era astronomer.

    Basically, the answers to all your questions are out there, because it was the sole view of the structure of the universe for at least 1400 years or so (Ptolemy through Copernicus) and was endlessly debated, discussed, and "refined" (within its mistaken assumptions, of course) throughout that period. Chazal and the Rambam are just citing it.

    In short: Want to know where the stars are? Trust me, someone asked and answered that over a millennium and a half. You can look it up without opening a Rambam.

    *The Babylonians believed the firmament was the body of a goddess who had been killed in battle with another god, skinned, and stretched out to form the sky. Want to know what the Torah is saying? I'll translate:

    "You all know (or "know") there's a thing called a "firmament." Everyone talks about it. They say that it's part of a second god. Well, here's a bit of news: Hashem made that too! No second god involved.

    Am I taking it non-literally? Pretty much. The alternative is...well, you know what it is, and it's not that there's some dome over us.

    ReplyDelete
  66. and the whole idea of spheres and the like (on a round Earth, as in the non-Jewish view cited by Chazal)

    Nit: The view as cited in Pesachim 94b has a "flat earth" twist to it. Otherwise the warming of the waters at night is not intelligible.

    ReplyDelete
  67. So all r slifkins "critsism" of miselman is realy I think u are jummping on the self delusion train a couple stops to early. Gut voch!

    Not to speak for R. Slifkin, but I think that he is criticizing R. Meiselman for claiming exclusivity for his approach, and figuratively excommunicating those who follow another approach. R. Slifkin has said that he does not think that Rationalist Judaism (the "theology" and the website) are for everyone.

    ReplyDelete
  68. David, I think that would be assuming too scientific a worldview. The initial idea of a spherical earth, with which the lower half was all ocean, would likely lead people to think that the wells were being heated at night.

    ReplyDelete
  69. David, I think that would be assuming too scientific a worldview. The initial idea of a spherical earth, with which the lower half was all ocean, would likely lead people to think that the wells were being heated at night.

    Hmmm... Maybe you are right. I hadn't thought of it in that way. I need to look at that again. The discussions about the size of the earth and Rakia seem to imply a flat earth, but maybe they are also discarded here in favor of the Gentile Sages.

    ReplyDelete
  70. David I think you are correct however just as r nosson would have to stridently condem one who took his veiw of chazal as the way to veiw the chumash az heretical so does miselmen

    ReplyDelete
  71. Vafsi's comment about the plain meaning of scripture (Tanach) got me thinking. Chazal were never bound by the plain meaning of scripture. For example look in Makos 5b, where Chazal said Vaasisem lo kaasher zamam laasos lachiv, vharei achiv kayam. They reinterpreted the pasuk Nefesh bNefesh (which seems to imply one should receive kaasher zamam after a lie actually causes the death of an innocent) to conform with their drasha of kaasher zamam vlo kaasher asa. Clearly, pashut pshat is like the Tzedukim in that mishna. Yet, for whatever the reason, Chazal have the right to completely reinterpret plain words.

    Similarly, Chazal said Iyov lo haya vlo nivra (one opinion), although it is black and white a book of Tanach. Therefore, why do Chareidim get so upset when R. Slifkin wants to reinterpret various psukim in Breishis or Noach to say they are not literal? I am not saying I agree with all R. Slifkin's pshatim, but since when were Chazal bound by the literal meaning?

    ReplyDelete
  72. For all who dont believe, that the sages were mistaken in astronomy, just read the Rambam. Here is the 8th Chapter from the second book of Moreh, translated by Friedlander:

    IT is one of the ancient beliefs, both among the philosophers and other people, that the motions of the spheres produced mighty and fearful sounds. They observed how little objects produced by rapid motion a loud, shrilling, and terrifying noise, and concluded that this must to a far higher degree be the case with the bodies of the sun, the moon and the stars, considering their greatness and their velocity. The Pythagoreans believed that the sounds were pleasant, and, though loud, had the same proportions to each other as the musical notes. They also explained why these mighty and tremendous sounds are not heard by us. This belief is also widespread in our nation. Thus our Sages describe the greatness of the sound produced by the sun in the daily circuit in its orbit. The same description could be given of all heavenly bodies. Aristotle, however, rejects this, and holds that they produce no sounds. You will find his opinion in the book The Heavens and the World (De Cœlo). You must not find it strange that Aristotle differs here from the opinion of our Sages. The theory of the music of the spheres is connected with the theory of the motion of the stars in a fixed sphere, and our Sages have, in this astronomical question, abandoned their own theory in favour of the theory of others. Thus, it is distinctly stated, "The wise men of other nations have defeated the wise men of Israel." It is quite right that our Sages have abandoned their own theory: for speculative matters every one treats according to the results of his own study, and every one accepts that which appears to him established by proof.

    The Link to the Text: http://www.sacred-texts.com/jud/gfp/gfp095.htm

    ReplyDelete
  73. I think it would be a great idea to tell the parent of the student in Rav Meiselman's Yeshiva about this blog. If he is upset, he can talk to his son, who at 22 has likely been in the Rosh Yeshiva's Shiur for a while. Perhaps the father will then come to Yerushalayim to hear the Shiur as well (maybe he will invite you along). Then, in real life, he will be able to expose the fraud: the Slifkin-Meiselman controversy exists only in virtual reality.

    In real life, R Mesielam is busy understanding Rishonim, Acharonim, Ketzos, Nesivos; struggling with the questions of Rav Akiva Eiger, and passing this all along to his many Talmidm. R Slifkin is a nice young man, who may have been treated unfairly and is slinging mud at everyone remotely associated with a Yeshiva. He knows a lot bout animals. But, were he to actually walk into a decent level Gemara Shiur, much less Rav Meiselman's, he wouldn't have the patience or skill to work thoroughly through one chapter of one Mesechta. Your friend's son, who obviously toils hard at Gemara, doesn't have time for such IMPORTANT QUESTIONS, while R Slifkin, who doesn't have time for R Akiva Eiger or Rav Chaim Brisker is busy debating online the direction of the sun, the theory of evolution, the mayoral race in Beit Shemesh and the moment of brain death - no wonder he thinks Chazal, the Ari z'l, the Maharal, the Vilna Gaon were so often wrong and the Yeshivos have exaggerated the need to learn Torah.

    ReplyDelete
  74. So glad the Maniac is here to give us his and his rebbe's version of a reconciliation of Torah with Science which not one gadol will endorse and has no precedent, but which he claims is not kefira, while claiming that Slifkin's point of view is. Such blatant hypocrisy and hatred.

    ReplyDelete
  75. Observer/Maniac, you hit the nail on the head, sort of. R Mesielam is busy understanding Rishonim, Acharonim, Ketzos, Nesivos in the yeshivishe masechtas. But R. Slifkin is busy understanding the topics of Torah and science in great detail. That's why he demonstrates much greater expertise. (Additional explanations are needed for why R. Slifkin demonstrates greater honesty than R. Meiselman.)

    ReplyDelete
  76. For the record, R Meiselman is fully accepted and respected in the Yeshiva world, and is held in high esteem. He is one of the rabbinic board members of Dialogue magazine, together with r Shlomo Miller of Toronto and Rav Aharon Feldman of Ner Yisroel. Yes, he is an independent thinker, with a broad education and he had a very close relationship with his uncle and Rebbe, Rav Joseph Soloveichik of Yeshiva University, whom he holds in the highest regard. This shows the lie (once again) to the claim that the Yeshiva world demands absolute uniformity and does not respect secular wisdom. R Slifkin's attempt to paint the picture differently is pure slander,and should give pause to those who have been fooled by the slick arguments.

    ReplyDelete
  77. To the extent that the Yeshivah world likes Rabbi Meiselman (I'm not sure how much that is), it's because he validates them by having been to MIT and now spouting the charedi party line. They don't value the secular wisdom of MIT itself - they (and R. Meiselman) claim that all the physicists and biologists and everyone else in the sciences have no idea what they are talking about!

    But, we're getting off-topic. Observer, as a defender of Rabbi Meiselman and having read his book, either counter my arguments in this post, concede that Rabbi Meiselman was wrong, or go away.

    ReplyDelete
  78. D.E. - you have also hit the nail on the head and demonstrated why the people who are not Talmidei Chachamim have been so easily fooled by Slifkin, and all those fooled by him are not Talmidei Chachamim.

    Those familiar with Shas understand that NOTHING of true depth in Judaism can be understood well without finding its place in Shas, and studying the Rishonim (as R Slifkin does) without understanding the Makor HaDevarim in Shas will lead to the serious mistakes that he has made.

    Issues of Torah and science are matters of subtlety and depth, and skipping the steps of Torah knowledge; forgetting about the Ketzos and R Akiva Eiger, and then pretending to be at the head of the class is a non-starter. If you don't know this, you demonstrate only that you are more familiar with the discourse of public media than understanding fully a Blatt Gemara.

    ReplyDelete
  79. So it should be super-easy for Rabbi Meiselman, or his talmidim (such as yourself) to show that I am wrong. Why, then, are you unable to do so without ignoring sources, mixing up issues, and the other errors that I point out?

    ReplyDelete
  80. I and many others will be happy to prove that you are mistaken in the right forum. However, this particular platform works as well as letters to the editor - the editor always has the last word and is skilled at spinning the questions in any way that he wishes. Here, you can ignore uncomfortable questions that would weaken your position, and zing in on one small mistake in 900 pages, or ignore serious challenges to your position by trying to undermine R Meislelman's credibility, as if anyone in real life actually suspects R Meiselman's honesty, integrity or credentials. You have done the same silly trick to numerous other reputable and honest Talmidei Chachamim. It works on the internet - but it wouldn't fly in the Bais Medrash. Here, you can distort the words of those who challenge you and paint a false picture, as if you are remotely on par with those who know much more than you, and you pose as if you were on a par with the Vilna Gaon and the Maharal (if not greater and smarter). If you are truly interested in creating a forum where you can debate the issues with Talmidei Chachamim, you can contact me and perhaps we can arrange something, if I thought you could be trusted.

    ReplyDelete
  81. LOL, you're not saying anything that you haven't already said. If you want to contribute some serious arguments, go ahead. If you want to just whine about how Rabbi Meiselman is a great scientific and Torah genius who would easily prove his case if someone would just go his Beis HaMidrash, but for some inexplicable reason is incapable of doing so in print, well, we've heard that already, and nobody's buying it.

    "as if anyone in real life actually suspects R Meiselman's honesty, integrity or credentials"

    You should try speaking to people in real life who are not in the charedi world. You can start with family members of the Rav, and the Rav's talmidim.

    ReplyDelete
  82. zing in on one small mistake in 900 pages

    In this post - I have many more planned - I took one small section, which deals with the sugya that is the strongest part of my case, and showed how it was full of fundamental mistakes from beginning to end.

    ReplyDelete
  83. I know the Rav's Talmidim and I know his family members.

    I see that you have ignored my response - it is you are hiding. I have said that we can arrange a public debate for you with Talmidei Chachamim - but you are apparently afraid of facing anyone in real life, and prefer instead the innuendos and rumor-mongering that you can throw at everyone from the safety of the Internet. Yo do not have ONE Talmid Chacham in the entire world who supports or agrees with you, nor is anyone really concerned about these IMPORTANT CHALLENGES which you insist MUST BE ANSWERED NOW and with which you have fooled people. Reading the comments here, no one who reads this blog, not others who support your positions seems to have ever opened a Gemara in a serious way beyond ninth grade. Do you really want to come to Toras Moshe (or another serious Bais Medrash - I can't speak on R Meiselman's behalf) and argue there?

    ReplyDelete
  84. The sugya is an Aggadata Gemara that every Talmid Chacham in the world recognizes immediately that you have completely misunderstood. Your entire case is built upon air.

    ReplyDelete
  85. No, the issue here is not whether R Meiselman is a Talmid Chacham - the issue is whether or not YOU are. It is my claim that your entire argument is nothing more than counterfeit, and for that reason, you have been unable to persuade even one Talmid Chacham in the world that your approach is correct. Your demand that a challenge to your silliness be posted on your own internet site carries no wight other than for your readers, and perhaps the few skeptics, cynics and unfortunate souls that you may be able to pull out from the pizza shops, the Kiddush clubs or the back row or coffee rooms of the Bais Medrash.

    ReplyDelete
  86. zing in on one small mistake in 900 pages

    Not an exact match, the idea is similar:

    Einstein was attacked by some with anti-Jewish leanings. When a pamphlet was published entitled 100 Authors Against Einstein, Einstein retorted "If I were wrong, one would be enough."

    If you can disprove the premise, then it is enough.

    ReplyDelete
  87. vafsi ode said...
    David I think you are correct however just as r nosson would have to stridently condem one who took his veiw of chazal as the way to veiw the chumash az heretical so does miselmen


    Think again: <a href="http://www.rationalistjudaism.com/2011/11/nothing-to-gloat-about.html>http://www.rationalistjudaism.com/2011/11/nothing-to-gloat-about.html</a>

    ReplyDelete
  88. I have said that we can arrange a public debate for you with Talmidei Chachamim - but you are apparently afraid of facing anyone in real life, and prefer instead the innuendos and rumor-mongering that you can throw at everyone from the safety of the Internet.

    Coming from someone who is afraid to even give their name, that's ironic.

    I am perfectly willing to engage in a public debate with Rabbi Meiselman on this topic.

    But if we're talking about doing the topic justice, a written debate is far superior. It allows for more focus on substance and detail than rhetoric.

    ReplyDelete
  89. Yo do not have ONE Talmid Chacham in the entire world who supports or agrees with you

    Is this the No True Scotsman fallacy?

    ReplyDelete
  90. Oh, observer. It took so little time for your to relapse into the only thing you actually have going for you: "Look, he knows R. Akiva Eigers! MANY of them!" It is quite unfortunate that this is all you've got to fall back on, as a) it proves nothing other than that said rabbi has the potential to come up with good ideas and sharp analysis (the which he has obviously not realized), b) it's not the approach of the Chazal, actually, as R. Akiva was told to go back to "negaim v'oholos" and not mix into aggadeta, which the Menoras HaMaor sees as proof that expertise in one part of Torah does not guarantee expertise in another.

    What's most unfortunate, though, is that this is a really empty line, and it rings nowhere more hollow than in your own breast. Depending on how entrenched you are, it'll take more or less time for you to admit this to yourself, but when you do, you'll have a whole world open in front of you. It's really like a breath of fresh air. I speak as one who has, well, "been there, done that." I know you're too young and angry for this to penetrate now, but hopefully the words will remain for that point in the future at which you yourself decide to move on, and you won't despair or feel overly embarrassed. It's a route many must travel.

    ReplyDelete
  91. observer said...
    The sugya is an Aggadata Gemara that every Talmid Chacham in the world recognizes immediately that you have completely misunderstood. Your entire case is built upon air.

    Let's quote somebody:
    "In my opinion, the first principle that every student of Chazal’s statements must keep before his eyes is the following: Chazal were the sages of G-d’s law - the receivers, transmitters, and teachers of His toros, His mitzvos, and His interpersonal laws. They did not especially master the natural sciences, geometry, astronomy, or medicine - except insofar as they needed them for knowing, observing, and fulfilling the Torah. We do not find that this knowledge was transmitted to them from Sinai... Moreover they even respected the opinion of the gentile scholars, admitting when the opinion of the latter seemed more correct than their own. In the Talmud we learn: The Jewish sages said, “By day the sun passes be¬neath the firmament and at night above it.” The sages of the nations maintained, “By day beneath the firmament and at night beneath the ground.” And Rabi said, “Their opinion seems more correct than ours.“ To my thinking, this clearly proves what I have been saying.

    Know who said that? Rav Hirsch! And do you know which book doesn't quote it? Rabbi Meiselman's!

    ReplyDelete
  92. observer said...
    The sugya is an Aggadata Gemara that every Talmid Chacham in the world recognizes immediately that you have completely misunderstood. Your entire case is built upon air.


    Have you even looked at the sources on this sugya?

    R. Eliezer of Metz, Sefer Yere’im vol. I, section 2, achilos #52; Tosafos Rid, Shabbos 34b, s.v. Eizehu; R. Avraham ben HaRambam, ma’amar al aggadas Chazal; R. Moshe ben Yaakov of Coucy, Sefer Mitzvos HaGadol, Lo Ta’aseh #79; Rosh, Pesachim 2:30 and She’eilos U’Teshuvos HaRosh, Kelal 14, #2; Ritva, Commentary on the Haggadah, s.v. Matzah zo she’anu ochlim; R. Bachya b. Asher, commentary to Genesis 1:14; R. Yerucham ben Meshullam, Toldos Adam VeChavah, Nesiv 5, Part 3; R. Manoach, Commentary to Mishneh Torah, Hilchos Chametz U-Matzah 5:11, s.v. Ela bemayim shelanu; R. Eliyahu Mizrachi, Responsum #57; R. Yitzchak Arama, Akeidas Yitzchak, Parashas Bo, Chap. 37; Maharam Alashkar, Responsum #96; Radbaz, Responsa, Part IV, #282; R. Moshe Cordovero, Pardes Rimonim 6:3; Lechem Mishneh to Mishneh Torah, Hilchos Shabbos 5:4; Maharsha to Bava Basra 25b; Minchas Kohen, Sefer Mevo HaShemesh 1:4; R. Yair Chaim Bacharach, Chavos Ya’ir, Responsum #210; R. Chizkiyah da Silva, Kuntrus Binah Ve’Da’as, p. 5b; Maharif, Responsum #47; R. Yitzchak Lampronti, Pachad Yitzchak, erech tzeidah; R. Yisrael Friedman of Ruzhin, cited by R. Menachem Nachum Friedman in Maseches Avos Im Perush Man, p. 8; R. Moshe Schick, Responsa Maharam Schick, Responsum #7; R. Eliezer Lipman Neusatz, Mei Menuchos p. 36b; R. Samson Raphael Hirsch, letter written to R. Pinchos Wechsler, published by R. Dr. Mordechai Breuer in Hama’ayan (1976); R. David Yehuda Silberstein, Shevilei David, Orach Chaim #455; R. Yeshua Shimon Chaim Ovadyah, Responsa Yesamach Levav, Orach Chaim #10, #12; R. Menachem Nachum Friedman of Itcani/Stefanesti, Maseches Avos Im Perush Man, pp. 7-8.

    All these authorities learn the sugya exactly as I presented it. Just look at the quotes from Minchas Cohen and Rav Hirsch cited in the comments above.

    ReplyDelete
  93. Observer: Yo[u] do not have ONE Talmid Chacham in the entire world who supports or agrees with you.

    R.Slifkin: "Is this the No True Scotsman fallacy?

    Our friend Observer, Temujin's naughty forum pet who appears to think exclusively in randomly joined strings of fallacies, may be too flustered preoccupied from being methodically dismantled on a public forum, rather than in his preferred venues for discourse ...a pizza shop or the coffee room of his beis midrash, with his cronies around for comfort.... so Temujin will kindly confirm on his behalf that yes, indeed, this would be a classic "No True Scotsman" fallacy in the making. For those unfamiliar with that one, the No True Scotsman Fallacy is "achieved" as follows:

    Anghus declares, "A true Scotsman is a brave warrior. No Scotsman has ever fled the field of battle in the face of danger."

    Colin objects, "Ach, but wha' aboot Lucas MacDurghan of Aberdeen? He up and fled from the Battle at Bannockburn?"

    Anghus asserts, "Forsooth then, man, he canna be a trew Scotsman now, can he be?"

    So, the way then this fallacy works is that any individual who contradicts Anghus' assertion is automatically (and conveniently) dismissed from consideration. Thus, any talmid hacham R. Natan might bring up as an example will be disqualified by Observer's self-serving "rule."

    Temujin fears that his new friend, Observer, is about to be picked up by his ears and hauled back to his beis midrash coffee room by his friends or his Rebbe (Israeli tax shekels at work), whoever they may be, as soon as they clue-in to the fact that he has made an utter donkey of himself and his cause.

    ReplyDelete
  94. R Slifkin, that is a very impressive list that you have cut and pasted. The difference between their approach and yours is quite obvious: they all understood what the Rakia is, and you have not the foggiest notion. Perhpas we can say that because they were above the Rakia, they also understood how to explain what is below, while you -who cannot even explain properly the one concept upon which the whole Sugya revolves, remains below with the 'Mayim HaBochim'.


    Rather than state simply that 'I don't know' you have chosen instead to drag all of Chazal down to your level.


    This is not at all how 'your Rebbbe' Rav +armell explained the Sugya, nor can you find anyone alive who agrees with your assessments.


    I have not claimed that R Meiselman understands science because he knows how to learn Rav Akiva Eiger's. I have said the opposite: that R Slifkin, who doesn't know how to learn Rav Akiva Eiger's, much less understand the Rishonim, has no business concocting theories about creation, the nature of the universe, matters of life and death, or anything of serious import.


    I really regret spending so much time here, I must get back to Tosafos. If you are prepared to face Talmidei Chachamim publicly, I await the opportunity. Perhaps approach R Elimelech Kornfeld in RBS (his brother once supported you) and we can arrange something.

    B'Li Neder, I will not bother you again on this site, nor visit again in the near future.

    ReplyDelete
  95. they all understood what the Rakia is, and you have not the foggiest notion.

    They all understood that the Chachmei Yisrael mistakenly believed the sun to go behind the rakia at night and thereby become hidden from us. As opposed to the gentile scholars, who believed the sun to go on the far side of the planet.

    who cannot even explain properly the one concept upon which the whole Sugya revolves

    I have explained it with great clarity. You have not offered any alternative explanation, or even any explanation as to why my explanation would be wrong, other than to insult my level of learning.

    This is not at all how 'your Rebbbe' Rav Carmell explained the Sugya,

    Sure it is. See his essay "Freedom to Interpret."

    nor can you find anyone alive who agrees with your assessments.

    You must be joking.

    Perhaps approach R Elimelech Kornfeld in RBS (his brother once supported you) and we can arrange something.

    Go ahead and arrange a debate between me and Rav Kornfeld, I'd be glad to participate. Not sure why you think it's my job to arrange it.

    B'Li Neder, I will not bother you again on this site, nor visit again in the near future.

    Well, thanks for the visit. You helped demonstrate my claims about anti-rationalist charedim - refusal to give any arguments of substance, endless shrill ad hominem attacks, and no response to Pesachim 94b.

    ReplyDelete
  96. Observer, I just realized the most bizarre thing about your comments. You claim that "not a single Talmid Chacham" agrees with my assessment of how the Rishonim understood what this Gemara was saying vis-a-vis Chazal being wrong about the sun's path at night. Well, to prove you wrong, I will cite none other than Rabbi Meiselman!

    "...Chazal's self assuredness did not prevent them from admitting error when confronted with what they recognized as truth. According to most Rishonim... the passage in Pesachim is an illustration of just such an admission." (p. 148)

    ReplyDelete
  97. observer, you know as well as I do that the general Israeli charedi world (and the Israeli world in general, including dati leumi and secular) view Americans (especially those who write English sefarim and edit English journals) as at least a bit krum. Doubly so if their uncle was the hated Rav Soloveitchik. He's valued, as much as he is, for what he isn't, not what he is.

    It's odd: Most of his cachet is among impressionable quasi-Modern Orthodox Americans to whom he's an MIT-educated nephew of the Rav. That's how he gets to write in Tradition. And yet in his own world, that means pretty much zero.

    ReplyDelete
  98. Two question:

    1) Based on R. Slifkin's quote of R. Meiselman on p. 148, it seems R. Meiselman agrees chazal could be in error about the physical world. If so, R. Slifkin and R. Meiselman bmai kamifligi?

    2) Nobody has responded to my previous post. Why is it kefira to say parts of breishis and noach are nonliteral, while in Makos 5b it is kefira to say the parsha of eidim zomemin is literal (as the tzedukim held it was literal)?

    ReplyDelete
  99. 1) That's discussed in the last part of this post, above.

    2) Off-topic (he would answer mesorah)

    ReplyDelete
  100. poseich al shtei sifimNovember 4, 2013 at 12:12 PM

    simchah coffer

    I am on your side. the trouble is slifkin argues too well.

    please do not let our side down and respond to the responses on you

    ReplyDelete
  101. Ok, sorry, may have skimmed original post too fast due to erev shabbos rush.

    ReplyDelete
  102. I have not read everything, however, I must admit. I am not understanding how the "sun's path at night" is the most important sugya on the topic of science and Chazal.

    Furthermore, I don't know how this topic can be used to understand the position of Rishonimm or Geonim on the general topic.

    It is my understanding, that except for a few people and places, or when Chazal do it themselves, the focus of the commentaries on the Talmud are on Halacha. Concrete, applicable halacha.

    The Sun's path at night, has very little halachic ramifications. (The timing of the path is important, but the path it'self seems sort of meaningless to me.)

    I would think that in areas of Kashrut, Shabbat halacha, or Medicine, the question about Chazals knowledge of science would be much more practical. As would the views of the Rishonim make more sense, as they are more likely to discuss the topic.

    For the life of me, the topic of the sun's path at night just goes by me as largely irrelevant. Tell if a sign for an animal actually reveals if it is kosher or not, or if one is allowed to kill lice on shabbat, or if it the medicine of the Talmud should be followed, and you've got my interest. But the sun's path at night? I don't see the relevance.

    It's not like science vs chazal was a major point of inquiry during the times of the Rishonim or Geonim.

    ReplyDelete
  103. Regarding the topic of disputes over of literal meaning in the Torah and Talmud, Temujin is rereading some of his old books in his collection with a new eye. Of particular interest is Fred Rosner's Medicine in the Bible and the Talmud: Selections from Classical Sources (New York: KTAV, 1977), which has a great chapter on the physician and Hebraist, Julius Preuss, sections on zoology, including dolphins and a great index on passages and references in Torah and Talmud.

    Another splendid read would be Dr Immanuel Jakobovits' Jewish Medical Ethics: A Comparative and Historical Study of the Jewish Religious Attitude to Medicine and its Practice (New York: Bloch, 1959). There too we find quite a bit on the tension between tradition, scriptural and exegetical teachings and changes in medical thought and practice through the ages.

    To proceed with the boast, Temujin has a beautifully bound, crisp original letter-press print of Friedenwald's first volume of Jews in Medicine somewhere, hopefully well protected in storage and hopes to find it this week.

    No, no point asking; none of these out-of print classics are for sale...under any circumstances and at any price.

    ReplyDelete
  104. observer said, "B'Li Neder, I will not bother you again on this site, nor visit again in the near future."

    I don't know if observer will read this, but, from the story of Rabbi Yochanan and Reish Lakish (Baba Metzia 84a), Rabbi Yochanan yearned to study with someone who can question what he says--like Reish Lakish--not just bring support for what he says--like Rabbi Eleazar ben Padat. It's better that people with different viewpoints should want to read the posts here and comment on them, rather than just tacitly agree to them.

    I wish I were able to prove to observer that the machlokes between Rabbi Slifkin and Rabbi Meiselman is לשם שמים--I'm sure that if someone's faith in Chazal or the Rishonim is weakened due to Rabbi Slifkin's writings, Rabbi Slifkin would be very distressed, and that that is clearly not his intention.

    ReplyDelete
  105. Reb Yehuda's point about someone's faith being weakened by R. Slifkin's writing is a fair one. R. Slifkin himself reminds people that his approach is not for everyone. But one must also wonder why we should assume that it is only R. Slifkin's approach that is "dangerous." What about the damage a teacher can inflict on readers who are disturbed by boastful claims, distasteful put-downs, sloppy scholarship, obfuscations, glaring contradictions, logical fallacies, blatant appeals to authority and such?

    ReplyDelete
  106. I have not read everything, however, I must admit. I am not understanding how the "sun's path at night" is the most important sugya on the topic of science and Chazal.

    As you mention below, there aren't that many science related sugyot (maybe there are more if you include medical/biological topics). So the few which are explicit and discussed become key if you are discussing this topic.

    Furthermore, I don't know how this topic can be used to understand the position of Rishonimm or Geonim on the general topic.

    Because they say, without reservation, that Chazal had an incorrect scientific conception, which is relevant to a book called "Torah, Chazal & Science"

    It is my understanding, that except for a few people and places, or when Chazal do it themselves, the focus of the commentaries on the Talmud are on Halacha. Concrete, applicable halacha.

    The Sun's path at night, has very little halachic ramifications. (The timing of the path is important, but the path it'self seems sort of meaningless to me.)


    Some Rishonim/Acharonim do relate the path to the timing. The "second Sh'kia" is related to the path of the Sun through the Rakia. They also make halachic conclusions based on the Sun going under the earth and heating the waters.

    I would think that in areas of Kashrut, Shabbat halacha, or Medicine, the question about Chazals knowledge of science would be much more practical. As would the views of the Rishonim make more sense, as they are more likely to discuss the topic.

    On medicine, the general approach as elucidated by R. Sherira Gaon on the Gemara's cures unless they have been retested and certified.

    For the life of me, the topic of the sun's path at night just goes by me as largely irrelevant. Tell if a sign for an animal actually reveals if it is kosher or not, or if one is allowed to kill lice on shabbat, or if it the medicine of the Talmud should be followed, and you've got my interest. But the sun's path at night? I don't see the relevance.

    It's not like science vs chazal was a major point of inquiry during the times of the Rishonim or Geonim.


    Precisely, why this example is important. There aren't that many.

    ReplyDelete
  107. Reb Yehuda's point about someone's faith being weakened by R. Slifkin's writing is a fair one. R. Slifkin himself reminds people that his approach is not for everyone. But one must also wonder why we should assume that it is only R. Slifkin's approach that is "dangerous." What about the damage a teacher can inflict on readers who are disturbed by boastful claims, distasteful put-downs, sloppy scholarship, obfuscations, glaring contradictions, logical fallacies, blatant appeals to authority and such?

    More to the point, the approach of the "anti-slifkin" crowd means that any educated person who doesn't feel that the fundamentals of Astronomy, Biology, and Geology are hoaxes and conspiracies is an apostate. I would say that while their view is acceptable from a religious point-of-view, it is a minority view of the Rishonim and should not be taught to Jews outside their "Bais Medrash".

    ReplyDelete
  108. poseich al shtei sifim said: simchah coffer...I am on your side. the trouble is slifkin argues too well...please do not let our side down and respond to the responses on you

    What a shameful and insipid thing to say. This isn't a boxing match, with R.Slifkin having the advantage of longer arms and better upper cut. Neither is it about rooting for "sides." The issues are fairly clear and the debate hinges on facts, not just rhetoric.

    ReplyDelete
  109. David O, you are understandably recommending what may seem like a safe approach, but the Bet Medresh as a sealed echo-chamber presents long-term difficulties for its own future. If Temujin has been paying attention, the rationalist approach is an effective and promising research strategy for studying and understanding Torah. While ancient in some of its basic elements, in its current form and detail it is admittedly "modern" methodologically and reflects the wider world of science with its systematic logic-based inquiry. But while this may open it to charges of kefira, if one examines the past, one will notice that something very similar has been going on before as well; successful, influential Jewish thought was transmitted in the language of the times. This is evident in the literature as we see how approaches, ways of organizing information, styles of writing and teaching, and even some world outlooks have reflected their times. For example, as unique as Jewish thought is, as different as the written and oral Torahs are, mediaeval Jewish authors in Europe still communicated these differences in the manner of their times. Had they not, it is probable that Rabbinic Judaism would have weakened and gone of the way of the Karaites and other marginals who have long ago plopped off the old "event horizon."

    Modernity is challenging and dangerous for sure...witness the centrifugal fling of liberal, secular Judaism. And indeed, a big part of the danger lies in what R.Meiselman correctly noted is what one thinks he called the "democratization of ideas." The sudden impact of electronic communication is far more revolutionary than the printing press in that it exploded like a supernova, in that it's insanely cheap and fast, and so far at least, hard to stifle, limit and control by the traditional scholastic establishment. This is why R.Meiselman's book which takes its chances in the wider world is encountering trouble; by hitting the "marketplace of ideas" without the support of compulsion, authority, censorship and a cryptic mystique, it becomes another book open to critiques from any quarter. When Observer pleaded for special consideration and backroom agreements, when he boasted of special knowledge and a greater authority, he begged for the return of a rapidly vanishing and very vulnerable mental world. One is not sure that this approach has much of chance in the long term and thinks that a rationalist traditionalist one can save the day eventually. Anyhow, Temujin is thankful that there are no "emet" and "kefira" buttons...or "tar and feather" one under each comment.

    ReplyDelete
  110. Observer - time and time again R. Slifkin and others have asked for a substantive counter to the actual assertions being made here. All you can come up with are insults and ad-hominems, most of which can be summed up as "R. Meiselman is a great talmud chacham and you [R. Slifkin] are not". You haven't ONCE addressed the specifics of R. Slifkin's arguments or ONCE rationally defended the actual statements of R. Meiselman! It is quite tiring and puzzling as to why you continue your meaningless posts. All I can assume is that you are truly clueless as to the irrelevancies of your words. So put up, or shut up. (Same goes for Kornreich who posts and leaves, without addressing the rebuttal to his Maniac ravings.)

    ReplyDelete
  111. I would hope that any debate would make use of multimedia and be protocolized...

    :)

    ReplyDelete
  112. poseich al shtei sifimNovember 5, 2013 at 3:23 AM

    temujin

    for you or should I say for temujin I will attempt a rephrase.

    simchah coffer... I would like to believe you are correct. (I am allowed to have my own biases as slifkin concedes he does). the trouble is slifkin's arguments seem at first glance superior. please do not let down those who believe slifkin is wrong and respond to the responses on you

    thank you

    ReplyDelete
  113. poseich, Temujin likes your rephrasing much better and apologizes for misunderstanding. Thank you.

    ReplyDelete
  114. The initial idea of a spherical earth, with which the lower half was all ocean, would likely lead people to think that the wells were being heated at night.

    ....

    a different view here

    http://www.aishdas.org/toratemet/en_shape.html

    Rebbe's proof is that underground streams are warmed at night. This could mean that Rebbe followed the third view - that the world is round and the bottom half is immersed in water. Therefore, when the sun rounds the earth at night, the water is warmed and the warmth quickly travels throughout the attached water bodies.

    ReplyDelete
  115. david ohsie's brotherNovember 6, 2013 at 12:57 AM

    Although at this point he will never see this, for the record there is at least one person on this blog who has studied serious gemara beyond ninth grade. David ohsie studied in a yeshiva for 5 years after high school and makes learning part of his daily routine. His oldest children who are post high school also learn in yeshiva. Observer, you owe david an apology for your broad aspersion whicb at least in one case is entirely false and defamatory.

    ReplyDelete
  116. Levi (I believe also, R' Natan). Where is there an indication in talmud or midrash that R' Yehuda Hanasi accepted the idea that the earth is spherical? Attributing such a recognition to him makes his comment in Pes. 94b problematic. A spherical earth whose 'bottom' half was water could not possibly exhibit a warmer temperature in the springs at night due to the 'passage' of the sun 'underneath' the earth. That immense quantity of water would remain at about the same temperature, day or night, due to its extremely high heat capacity. Lest you argue that their concept of the planet was much smaller than reality, I cite that gemara (Pes 94b), "Egypt is 400x400 Parsa'ot (1600x1600 mil), Kush is 60 x greater, and the world is 60 x greater than Kush. The the world in their view is over 9 billion sq. mil. Now, a mil is 2000 amot and an ama is about 1/2 meter (20 in. or 50 cm). Then a mil is about a km. The area of a hemisphere (their presumed concept of the world in this model) is pi x D^2/2. This leads to D (world diameter = 77,000 km, i.e. about 6x the actual diameter. In other words, they appear to presume a very large earth rather than a small one. Another source of the talmudic concept of the size of the earth (Tamid 32a)that the east to west distance of the world is the same as the distance from here to the heavens gives a much greater estimate - even according to their concept of heavenly distance (a 500 year 'journey'). In sum, an assumed spherical earth is not consistent with R' Yehuda Hanasi's argument in favor of a solar path below the earth at night. It then becomes more reasonable to assume that the Tanna's earth model is flat (possibly plate shaped).

    ReplyDelete
  117. R.Yehudah HaNasi was not a scientist. He may well have believed that the sun could heat up the water from below, even with a spherical earth.

    ReplyDelete
  118. Can somebody please explain to me why you think that Chazal believed the world to be flat?

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

    The idea that some people thought the world was flat earth is a myth from the 1800s. Ironic really...

    ReplyDelete
  119. You are mixing up different places and periods. The myth is with regard to medieval beliefs in Europe, not ancient Babylonian beliefs.

    ReplyDelete
  120. R' Natan, now I'm unsure of what you believe to be the model of the earth in the talmud. The more evident inferred model used by R' Yehudah Hanasi in Pes. 94a is a flat earth rather than a bowl or sphere. He need not have had a concept of heat capacity to have rejected the notion of solar heating of subterranian waters at a great distance. At the least, he would not have considered the relatively warmer spring water at night to be a proof of the nightly path of the sun if he thought of the earth as a sphere or bowl. The cited Yerushalmi appears to model the earth as a 'spherical' settlement in a 'plate' of water, i.e., the earth being pictured as a bowl of water with the land rising out of it like a matzoh ball in chicken soup. It does not appear to indicate a spherical earth model.

    I see that I overlooked the view of Rava on the page. [The disproof of Rava according to the gemara involves the assumed 'thickness' of the rakia - not the length of the solar 'path'.] He posits a solar 'path' of 6000 parsang (24000 mil or km). The alleged solar path can be approximated as a semicircle. The corresponding diameter is then twice 24000/pi, or 15,300 km. That value is only somewhat greater than the actual average diameter of 12,742 km. In any case, no one seems to assume a small earth.

    ReplyDelete
  121. Ha Ha Ha,
    I must say I got a good laugh in the conversation between Natan and Observer.
    I didn't know that such arguements could be so humorous by default.

    ReplyDelete
  122. I have been researching this a long time and I truly believe the earth is flat!
    1)Polaris is always in the same place (despite our spinning and moving through the milky way)
    2)all the celestial bodies move around the earth
    3)sea level is sea level and lakes are flat with Lazar accuracy. Have you ever seen curved water?
    4)Day time moon can only happen on a flat plane
    5)a 1920's radio broadcast by the BBC world service from uk to australia could only happen on a flat plane
    6)The Nile & Amazon according to algebraic curvature calculations based on a 28,000 circumference would rise and fall on a curved apex around 500 miles. (both the Nile and the amazon are roughly the same distance) Of corse this does not happen and water takes a path from high (source) to low (Sea)

    I could go on and on and give you 200 more proofs but if you want to see a map of the plane you live on it will probably look like this

    https://www.digitalcommonwealth.org/search/commonwealth:7h149v85z

    Judaism is 100% RIGHT

    ReplyDelete

Comments for this blog are moderated. Please see this post about the comments policy for details. ANONYMOUS COMMENTS WILL NOT BE POSTED - please use either your real name or a pseudonym.