Monday, November 4, 2013

Anti-Rationalist Mania

In a previous post, "Rabbi Meiselman Tries To Hide From The Sun," I referred to the topic of the sun's path at night - the single most powerful proof for the legitimacy of the rationalist approach regarding Chazal and science - in which all the Rishonim, as well as many Acharonim, accept that the Gemara is recording a dispute about the sun’s path at night; and the majority of Rishonim, as well as many Acharonim, accept that the Sages of Israel were incorrect. I demonstrated that when Rabbi Meiselman discusses this topic in his new book, he engages in concealment and obfuscation of the nature of the discussion and confusion of issues, and I showed that his attempt to render the topic irrelevant is flawed.

All this could not go unanswered, of course, and so in the comments to the post, some people argued back. One character, too afraid to use his real name and posting under the moniker "Observer," did not actually respond to any of my points, but repeatedly insisted that I am not remotely the Torah or science scholar that Rabbi Meiselman is, that no talmid chacham agrees with me, that I don't know how to learn the Rishonim, that I have no idea what the rakia is, that nobody cares what I say, etc., etc.

The strangest aspect of his comment is that even Rabbi Meiselman himself, at the end of all his attempts to obfuscate and mislead people in this section, is forced to admit that the Rishonim mean exactly what I say they mean! I quote: "...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). Rabbi Meiselman attempts to argue that this is irrelevant to the larger Torah-science issue, for reasons that I have and shall further discuss, but he concedes that most Rishonim do indeed say that the Chachmei Yisrael mistakenly believed the sun to go behind the sky at night - exactly as I stated!

It's truly fascinating that in their zeal to discredit me, people will argue that I am wrong even when their heroes say exactly what I am saying!

Another response came from Rabbi Dovid Kornreich, a disciple of Rabbi Meiselman whose input is acknowledged in the book, and who is known in the blogosphere by his moniker "Freelance Kiruv Maniac." In response to my charge that Rabbi Meiselman had attempted to conceal the straightforward meaning of the Gemara, Kornreich claimed that there is no straightforward meaning!

Of course, this claim is nothing short of ludicrous. There indeed is a straightforward meaning. It's the literal translation of the Gemara. It's the explanation given by Rashi. It's the explanation given by countless Rishonim and Acharonim. It's the elucidation given by Artscroll and Soncino and Koren and Shas Lublin (Machon HaMaor), which gives the illustration shown here:
 

And, as noted above, even Rabbi Meiselman eventually has to acknowledge that this is the understanding of the Rishonim!

Kornreich's second claim was that the Rishonim give a host of different explanations regarding the nature of the rakia (firmament). However, this is entirely irrelevant. First of all, some of those were not explanations of Chazal's view of the rakia, but rather of these Rishonim's own understanding of the rakia of the Torah. Second, this is a red herring. It makes no difference what they thought the rakia was made out of. All that matters is that they accepted that Chazal mistakenly believed the sun to change direction at night and go behind the sky, as opposed to the correct view of the gentiles that it passes on the far side of the earth.

Kornreich attempts to argue that the Rishonim were not explaining the Gemara, just extracting the halachic relevance that the sun goes on the other side of the world at night, as per the view of the Gentiles. The problem is that if the Gentile scholars were correct about the sun going on the other side of the world at night, then the Sages of Israel were ipso facto saying that the sun does not go on the other side of the world at night and were incorrect. So Kornreich issues the incredible claim that the Rishonim held there to be no actual argument between the Sages of Israel and the gentiles: the Sages of Israel were talking about a metaphysical reality, wheres the gentiles were talking about the physical world. In other words, even though the Gemara phrases it as a dispute about cosmology, and R. Yehudah HaNasi chooses the opinion of the gentile scholars, there was actually no dispute about cosmology! This would be a fantastically far-fetched explanation to propose for the Gemara, but Kornreich goes even further and claims that the Rishonim held this view but made no mention of it! (And, once again, Kornreich is contradicting his own rebbe, Rabbi Meiselman, who eventually conceded that according to most Rishonim, this is an example of Chazal being in error.)

Moving to the Acharonim, Kornreich claims that that "by observing the extreme variety of their interpretations, one can tell this gemara appears to be far from straightforward." Actually, by observing the extreme variety of some of their interpretations, and contrasting it with the complete lack of variety of explanations among the Rishonim, one can reach a different conclusion: that the Gemara has a very straightforward meaning, which the Rishonim were fine with, but which many Acharonim were deeply uncomfortable with.

Kornreich argues that since R. Yehudah HaNasi agreed with the gentiles, it's not a case of saying "Chazal were wrong." But how is that at all relevant? The point is that several sages were incorrect about a basic fact of the natural world, due to their not having a divine source for this knowledge.

This brings us back to the way in which Rabbi Meiselman attempts to render this Gemara irrelevant to the rationalist approach. In the previous post, I noted why his attempt fails; there is no basis for concluding that Chazal's views on the sun's path at night were any different from their views on other aspects of the natural world. (In fact, unlike some of their statements about the natural world, Chazal related their view on the sun's path at night, and of the firmament, to pesukim. In cases where they did not relate their view to pesukim, they would be all the more ready to concede error.)

Rabbi Meiselman, followed by Kornreich, offers two sources to show that one cannot extrapolate from the sun's path at night to other cases. One is that Rabbi Yehoshua engages in a Scriptural exegesis in order to determine the gestation period of a snake. But what does this show? After all, the Sages also engaged in Scriptural exegesis in order to determine the sun's path at night. It might be different if we could show that Rabbi Yehoshua's exegesis was actually correct, but we can't even do that, forcing Rabbi Meiselman to claim that Rabbi Yehoshua was referring a particular and unknown species (which the Gemara, misleadingly, referred to with the generic term nachash).

Rabbi Meiselman/ Kornreich's second source is Rambam, who, when discussing Chazal's errors regarding astronomy, says that they lost the original correct Torah-based traditions in this area. For some inexplicable reason, Rabbi Meiselman (and Kornreich even more explicitly) takes this to mean that in areas where Chazal made statements about the natural world with no indication of uncertainty, these were based on the Torah and are infallible. Korneich claims that "The exception proves the rule." No, all it proves is that Rambam believed that the Jewish People originally had correct Torah-based traditions regarding astronomy (which is particularly religiously significant, and which is hinted to in a verse about the Bnei Yissacher). It proves nothing at all about Rambam believing that they had correct Torah-based traditions in areas of the natural sciences such as zoology. On the contrary; if they lacked Torah-based knowledge for something as basic and religiously significant as where the sun goes at night, all the more so did they lack Torah-based knowledge for obscure and largely irrelevant matters such as zoology.

But, to return to the points above, what are we to make of Observer and Kornreich insisting that I am wrong, even on points in which Rabbi Meiselman eventually concedes the exact same thing? Is it that the ultimate goal is not to say that Chazal were right or even that Rabbi Meiselman is right, but rather to say that Slifkin is wrong? But surely the only drive for that is precisely because I said that Chazal and Rabbi Meiselman are wrong? How does it make sense that if I am wrong, then ipso facto Rabbi Meiselman is right and Chazal are right, if he's agreeing with me that Chazal were wrong? I guess people get carried away with their anti-rationalist mania.

42 comments:

  1. Rabbi Slifkin,
    Your vain attempts to take Rabbi Meiselmans quotes out of context are ridiculous as any body who owns the book (and has half a brain) can see you are just a bitter bitter man with an agenda. I wonder if you ever learned any mussar in Yeshiva, than maybe you would have had a little humility!!!

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  2. Please feel free to provide them in context, if you think that it makes a difference.

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  3. I can definitely understand how someone with an admitted half a brain would have some difficulty with anything rational.

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  4. Somewhat connected - Gemara Yoma 20b (bottom) brings: R' Levi says people's voices aren't as loud during the day because the sun (is making a loud noise as it) saws through the rakia like sawing through wood. And a Braisa follows saying the noise from that is heard from one end of the world to the other.

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  5. For some reason, the discussions about Chazal and science always center around cases where Chazal seem to have been wrong.

    Why not look it the other way around? When were Chazal ever right?

    Is there a single instance where Chazal are clearly shown to have had scientific information not available to anyone else of the same time period? Why weren't Chazal writing books about molecular biology before anyone knew what an atom was? Were they guilty of allowing children to die because they refused to share the secret of penicillin? Was a C-section a death sentence for Jewish women because Chazal didn't want to let on that they knew exactly how to handle those situations? is there any evidence at all that Chazal had significantly more scientific knowledge than their counterparts in other developed civilizations?

    Just what exactly do people like Rabbi Meiselman claim Chazal knew?

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  6. I've written about this topic on a few occasions in the past. R. Meiselman does have a chapter in which he claims that Chazal were ahead of their time in knowing several things. I'll be writing a post in which I evaluate his claims.

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  7. R' Natan, I am disappointed by the lack of substance in your critique.

    First of all, I think it is a bit silly to accuse Rabbi Meiselman of trying to "hide" the opinion of most Rishonim. It is clearly stated in a short section clearly entitled "Acknowledging the Truth." The entire discussion of the Gemara in Pesachim spans less 6pages. He may very well credit readers of an 800 page book on a relatively heavy topic with the patience to read an entire 6 page discussion (neatly broken down by headings), and you should do the same!

    But, more to the point, you fail to mention the rock-solid proofs Rabbi Meiselman brings in other sections of the book that Rishonim considered Chazal's statements about the world unassailable (for example, in the discussion of treifos), even in the face of evidence to the contrary. At the outset, the most one can establish from the Rishonim in Pesachim is an apparent contradiction to their clearly stated position in other places. Rabbi Meiselman resolves this contradiction by distinguishing between definitive statements, which may be assumed to derive from their Torah knowledge, and non-definitive statements, which might be based on observations and logic- whether their own or others'. The discussion in Pesachim, by recording a debate between the Chachmei Yisrael and the Chachmei Ha'umos, and siding, based on a logical argument, with the Chachmei Ha'umos, clearly conveys to us that this particular opinion of the Chachmei Yisrael was not definitive.

    Do you address this contradiction at all?

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  8. Did you read my previous post? Nowhere does Rabbi Meiselman give a basic explanation of what the Gemara is talking about. Nor does he quote any of the Rishonim on this Gemara - only Acharonim.

    I will be addressing his other chapters in further posts, and explaining why the Rashba's views on terefos are not as relevant as Rabbi Meiselman would have his readers believe.

    There is nothing tentative about the chachmei Yisrael's statements about the sun's path at night. As noted, elsewhere the Gemara even brings a drashah in support of it.

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  9. "Rabbi Meiselman resolves this contradiction by distinguishing between definitive statements, which may be assumed to derive from their Torah knowledge, and non-definitive statements, which might be based on observations and logic- whether their own or others."

    This is an incorrect understanding of Rabbi Meiselman's position (although your mistake is understandable, since his book is unclear and often self-contradictory.) Here is a quote from pp. 107-8:

    "...Whether Chazal were speaking definitively or tentatively, they were never - in the opinion of these authorities - merely presenting contemporary science. They were presenting insights about reality derived from the Torah... Consequently, even when a tentative statement of Chazal is in error, it is not an error in science but an error in the interpretation of the Torah."

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  10. >>The point is that several sages were incorrect about a basic fact of the natural world, due to their not having a divine source for this knowledge.<<

    So? Why is it an issue that occasionally several sages were incorrect and what is the point of overemphasizing this? It serves no purpose other than setting an obstacle before a blind who may not realize that in many instances our sages did have divine knowledge about science. Otherwise, how could they know the precise duration of lunar month that let them calculate our calendar for millennia ahead or that any fish that has scales also has fins?

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  11. Regarding Lion of Israel's point, I mentioned a related idea in R. Slifkin's earlier thread. What many people miss is that even if we assume Chazal were correct when they said food X is good for condition Y, or that placing an extract from kidneys is good for an earache (as in meseches avoda zara), or that brain surgery can be performed as described in one half an amud in maseches kesuvos, it totally doesn't fit with our current scientific framework. How does the food cure condition Y? What particular type of ear condition is described? Is it an extrenal infection, internal (middle ear condition), or inner ear problem. what molecules are involved? Does it kill bacteria, or cause hair cell regeneration, and how? What conditions can be cured by this brain surgery? How do we avoid paralyzing a person by cutting critical neural connections? Which regions are to be excised? How do we avoid infection, etc.? Neurosurgery texts are probably thousands of pages, and that is after years of prerequisites. These provide context and basic scientific background, i.e., one needs to know about electrical conduction and ion channels to understand nerve impulses. How can a gemara describe neurosurgery in half a page? Even if it was completely true, it would not convey one iota of useful information. Clearly the gemara did not intend to be a science book. But the question then is why did the gemara even spend the half amud on it? What did it want the reader to take away?

    My point is that these torah/science discussions always seem to revolve about the truth or not of a few isolated, random facts. But science is not about random facts, it is about deriving laws that explain all known facts in a coherent, systematic way. And the language is mathematics. This always seems to be missing in these debates.

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  12. אדם אשר לא למד לימודי חול ברמה גבוהה לעולם לא יעמוד על כך שהויכוחים מגוכחים וודאי עם אדם כמו הרב נתן סליפקין שליטא שניכר בעליל שידיו רב לו בכל התורה וכן להבדיל בשאר חכמות אך לצערנו בציבור מקובל שכל רב מבין בהכל (ראה ערך רטלין) ודי למבין מכן ראיה נוספת שלימודי חול בסיסים הינם צורך השעהן

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  13. Otherwise, how could they know the precise duration of lunar month that let them calculate our calendar for millennia ahead

    The same way that other ancients knew it.

    or that any fish that has scales also has fins?

    According to Rambam, it was a general rule-of-thumb extrapolated from the fish that they saw.

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  14. Why is it an issue that occasionally several sages were incorrect and what is the point of overemphasizing this?

    The point is so that people who recognize this are not disenfranchised from Judaism.

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  15. why no link to RDK's blog? http://slifkinchallenge.blogspot.com/2013/11/my-job-made-easier-part-ii-problem-with.html

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  16. I remember seeing a RASHB"A that says that not all statements attached to pesukim in the Gemara are necessarily drashos - even if they sound like it. Sometimes, Chazal look for a scriptural basis for an preexisting argument they are trying to make.

    This could account for the apparent drashos made in the Gemara for facts that later turn out to be incorrect.

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  17. I have a question. If in pretty much all the cases that chazal darshened pesukim for things that can be scientifically checked, it turns out to not be right, then why do we trust their darshening? I mean the question sincerely, not to be difficult.

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  18. Well, just saw Weaver's comment. Perhaps that's a derech to answer my question. Any other thoughts?

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  19. >>According to Rambam, it was a general rule-of-thumb extrapolated from the fish that they saw.<<

    Not everyone accepts this opinion. Since unlike the discussion about the Sun this was a case of a Torah law, it is inconceivable Chazal would take such a risk unless they were absolutely sure. Since the Torah requires both fins and scale for kosher fish, a “rationalist” should’ve concluded that there must be fish that has only one of these two features. Yet in 2000 years no such fish was found, which makes a good case for this Talmudic statement being based on tradition from mount Sinai.

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  20. While Weaver's statement about the ad- hoc nature of some talmudic derashot is true (such alleged derivations are called 'asmachtot'). Only a relatively small number, however, are considered by the early authorities to be of that nature. Your question remains, therefore. Some would argue that there is divine assistance for the talmud reaching correct halachic conclusions - regardless of how such conclusions were derived. My own contention is that we need not believe derivations from the torah text to be necessarily true (even if there is no talmudic argument about it), just authoritative.

    Let's take a contemporary example. The majority of the current Supreme Court ruled that a corporation is an entity like a citizen and entitled to 'free speech' (no limit may be imposed on political contributions). That is the law of the land regardless of how strongly people may object to the justification, and how much violence this decision may do to the democratic process. Of course, a later Supreme Court can overrule the ruling of an earlier one (although there is normally some reluctance to overturn precedent). Our problem as halachic Jews is that there is no current system available for overturning any seemingly problematic derivation and law. That would require the establishment of a legitimate (accepted)Sanhedrin.

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  21. R' Slifkin, I thought your essay was perfect up to the last sentence, "I guess people get carried away with their anti-rationalist mania." While these people might be anti- (or just non-) rationalist (or rational), I don't think their mania is davka anti-rationalist. I think it has more to do with "I refuse to believe that I was taught wrong." People from all camps can suffer from that malady.

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  22. Otherwise, how could they know the precise duration of lunar month that let them calculate our calendar for millennia ahead

    As R. Slifkin notes, the value for a mean lunation was known in ancient times. In fact, the value used in the Hebrew calendar is most likely derived from non-Jewish sources, as the value of the mean lunation is exactly the same as that found Ptolemy's Almagest, although expressed in different units. Ptolemy's value, in turn, matches prior Babylonian values.

    See Sacha Stern's "Calendar and Community", page 207ff.

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  23. Since unlike the discussion about the Sun this was a case of a Torah law, it is inconceivable Chazal would take such a risk unless they were absolutely sure. Since the Torah requires both fins and scale for kosher fish, a “rationalist” should’ve concluded that there must be fish that has only one of these two features. Yet in 2000 years no such fish was found, which makes a good case for this Talmudic statement being based on tradition from mount Sinai.

    Wrong on all counts. I'll be writing a post on this, but if you can't wait, you can see my book The Camel, The Hare And The Hyrax.

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  24. I see that Rabbi Meiselman's chassidim are out in full force. They are very scared right now, very scared indeed. Sad to see these poor egos getting demolished just because Rabbi Slifkin shows the weaknesses in their rebbi's arguments. Why is self-esteem built on such shaky and artificial ground these days? If you see Rabbi Slifkin's rebuttal to your rebbi's views as a personal attack on your manhood, perhaps it's time to recalibrate your self-identity.

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  25. When I hear these detailed discussions, I keep wanting to come back to the basic question:

    Why should it possibly bother a person that ANYONE - from Moshe Rabbeinu through the Achronim and everyone in between - was occasionally WRONG? How can anyone learn, change or grow without it? Realizing one is wrong, admitting as such, and coming around to a new point of view doesn't diminish a person's greatness, their Godliness and piety - ADARABA, it's a testament to their greatness!

    Is the problem the "therefore" - i.e. Chazal was occasionally wrong and "therefore" we don't need to accord them with the same degree of respect, veneration and authority? If that's the case, then I understand the point, but let's at least be honest where we're coming from and tackle the problem accordingly.

    And if that's not the problem, can someone explain to me what it is?

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  26. The majority of the current Supreme Court ruled that a corporation is an entity like a citizen and entitled to 'free speech' (no limit may be imposed on political contributions). That is the law of the land regardless of how strongly people may object to the justification, and how much violence this decision may do to the democratic process.

    [response redacted to avoid political discussions on this blog] :).

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  27. When I hear these detailed discussions, I keep wanting to come back to the basic question:

    Why should it possibly bother a person that ANYONE - from Moshe Rabbeinu through the Achronim and everyone in between - was occasionally WRONG? How can anyone learn, change or grow without it? Realizing one is wrong, admitting as such, and coming around to a new point of view doesn't diminish a person's greatness, their Godliness and piety - ADARABA, it's a testament to their greatness!

    Is the problem the "therefore" - i.e. Chazal was occasionally wrong and "therefore" we don't need to accord them with the same degree of respect, veneration and authority? If that's the case, then I understand the point, but let's at least be honest where we're coming from and tackle the problem accordingly.

    And if that's not the problem, can someone explain to me what it is?


    I'll take this one step further. I don't understand how anyone who has opened up a Gemara could possibly think that Chazal considered themselves infallible on anything. The entire enterprise revolves around continued questions of every premise. Sometimes the question is answered, sometimes the premise is discarded, sometimes doubt remains.

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  28. In an introductory chapter to Rosner's Medicine in the Bible and Talmud, "Medicine in Ancient Israel," Suessman Muntner notes that, "that talmudic pathology seems to have had no impact on medieval medicine, not even on the great Jewish physicians of the Middle Ages, such as Moses Maimonides and Isaac ben Solomon Israeli." In fact, these and most medieval physicians--Jewish and non-Jewish-- appear to have followed Galen rather slavishly. Muntner notes that the Talmud was regarded as a "purely religious code and not as a medical treatise of any kind," citing commentators who saw talmudic medicine as outdated (e.g., Tosafot, Mo'ed Katan, Hilkhot Deot, Or Hayim and Rabbi Yehuda Segal's Yalkut) the latter which even warns that "one should not try any of the medicines, prescriptions or exorcisms recommended in the Talmud because no one today knows how they should be applied," and if they were to be tried, "the words of our Sages would be exposed to ridicule."

    This warning seems to be well-heeded in the Orthodox world, as talmudic medicine, unlike talmudic cosmology, astronomy and zoology, is conspicuously exempt from the impulse to declare everything in the Talmud as absolute truth and are not deemed to be sciences which no one today knows how they should be applied.

    On this note, Temujin has observed over the years that while no one in the Orthodox world seems to want to review and revive talmudic medicine, a surprisingly large number of people believes in a variety of trendy quackeries, many of which stem from obvious Pagan and modern occult sources. Mention to some any doubts about homeopathy, chiropraxy, acupuncture, Chinese herbalism, "organic" and a host of other dietary oddities, however, and one is liable to get an earful from a passionate defender.

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  29. When I hear these detailed discussions, I keep wanting to come back to the basic question:

    Why should it possibly bother a person that ANYONE - from Moshe Rabbeinu through the Achronim and everyone in between - was occasionally WRONG? How can anyone learn, change or grow without it? Realizing one is wrong, admitting as such, and coming around to a new point of view doesn't diminish a person's greatness, their Godliness and piety - ADARABA, it's a testament to their greatness!

    Is the problem the "therefore" - i.e. Chazal was occasionally wrong and "therefore" we don't need to accord them with the same degree of respect, veneration and authority? If that's the case, then I understand the point, but let's at least be honest where we're coming from and tackle the problem accordingly.

    And if that's not the problem, can someone explain to me what it is?


    I believe that there are 2 complementary explanations for this interesting phenomenon:

    1 - In many walks of life and in many fields of discipline, people have a tendency to look back nostalgically and unrealistically and to lionize the 'greats' of the recent and distant past. Some examples include sports and politics.
    2 - To a certain extent, the long-term success of all religions is dependent on certain kinds of questionable dogma, one of which is that the idea that the founders and people of past generations were unfathomably better people than 'us'. Without this dogma, the only difference between us and them is revelation, which we don't claim Chazal had. It certainly appears that many people think that unless we can convince you that Chazal were unfathomably great beings, there's no reason for anyone nowadays to subjugate our own logic and observations to that of people who lived 2,000 years ago.

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  30. >>>> I don't understand how anyone who has opened up a Gemara could possibly think that Chazal considered themselves infallible on anything. To D):

    First I wish to thank you for the excellent reading material you provide over at that anti-RNS gang’s blog.

    To address your point, many years ago somebody coined a term defining a mental syndrome, FIIC, acronym for “faith-induced impaired cognition. I believe he was referring to the inexplicable attitude in certain matters of well-educated Christian fundamentalists. I truly believe that such very intelligent people like Rabbis Meiselman, Coffer et al. suffer, harshly, from this syndrome, as we likely all do to certain degree.


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  31. Not everyone accepts this opinion. Since unlike the discussion about the Sun this was a case of a Torah law, it is inconceivable Chazal would take such a risk unless they were absolutely sure. Since the Torah requires both fins and scale for kosher fish, a “rationalist” should’ve concluded that there must be fish that has only one of these two features. Yet in 2000 years no such fish was found, which makes a good case for this Talmudic statement being based on tradition from mount Sinai.

    Lazar, cases of rov in the gemara make this claim obviously unjustifiable. If Chazal had no problem stating that it was halachically acceptable to eat three pieces of meat, consecutively, even when you know that one treif piece was mixed up with two kosher pieces (i.e. you are guaranteed to be eating a piece of non-kosher meat, objectively, but are allowed to eat each individual piece based on rov anyway), there certainly should be no fear of articulating a general rule based on observation that, if later proven wrong, could be corrected.

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  32. "While Weaver's statement about the ad- hoc nature of some talmudic derashot is true (such alleged derivations are called 'asmachtot'). Only a relatively small number, however, are considered by the early authorities to be of that nature."

    Since the number of drashos that contradict science is relatively small, I think my explanation does help here.
    For some reason, I recall the Rashba even talking about cases that are widely accepted as drashos, not asmachtos or ramazim. I'll try to track down that Rashba . . .

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  33. First I wish to thank you for the excellent reading material you provide over at that anti-RNS gang’s blog.

    Thanks, I usually imagine that the discussion is taking place in the proverbial empty forest, not making a sound :).

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  34. Akiva said...
    Not everyone accepts this opinion. Since unlike the discussion about the Sun this was a case of a Torah law, it is inconceivable Chazal would take such a risk unless they were absolutely sure. Since the Torah requires both fins and scale for kosher fish, a “rationalist” should’ve concluded that there must be fish that has only one of these two features. Yet in 2000 years no such fish was found, which makes a good case for this Talmudic statement being based on tradition from mount Sinai.


    Lazar, cases of rov in the gemara make this claim obviously unjustifiable. If Chazal had no problem stating that it was halachically acceptable to eat three pieces of meat, consecutively, even when you know that one treif piece was mixed up with two kosher pieces (i.e. you are guaranteed to be eating a piece of non-kosher meat, objectively, but are allowed to eat each individual piece based on rov anyway), there certainly should be no fear of articulating a general rule based on observation that, if later proven wrong, could be corrected.

    This is an excellent example. Morever, the Tannaim and Amoraim argue over Biblical prohibitions and requirements all the time. They don't just pasken L'Chumrah, and yet clearly they are using post-Siniatic logic to derive their conclusions. According to you (Akiva), we should always go L'Chumra on every argument. How could we take a chance otherwise?

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  35. I asked kiruv maniac

    http://slifkinchallenge.blogspot.co.uk/2013/11/epiphany.html

    if he would be prepared to debate slifkin with recordable skype.
    http://www.evaer.com/

    should be zero cost and miminimal hassle. so far he has not published the post.

    if he agrees then it can be published on dropbox or somewhere.

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  36. Sorry, I wouldn't be interested in debating Kornreich. Frankly, it's beneath my dignity, which is why I generally don't even acknowledge him on this blog.

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  37. I HAVE NOTICED THAT THIS POINT WAS RAISED BY AT LEAST 2 COMMENTATORS HERE ALREADY, i have an older version of r mieslman's manuscript (only 324 pages very incomplete) and on page 299 the sixth page of epilogue (brackets are my own insertions) he raises this point "When reading this literature, [r slifkins books] I often wonder why these
    authors [r slifkin] don't prove from Shas itself that Chazal didn't know
    halochoh from Torah. There are many issues and questions
    that end in taiku. There are many questions in halochoh and
    in Shas that remained unresolved. There are countless issues
    that are an abayoh delo ifshitoh? There is no difference
    between one area of Torah and the other. Torah, when given
    at Sinai, was an overwhelming amount of factual material
    and a total methodology for retrieving this material from the
    text of Torah. It was a veritable ocean. Immediately upon
    the death of Moshe Rabbeinu, the process of forgetting
    began."

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  38. "Lazar said...
    >>According to Rambam, it was a general rule-of-thumb extrapolated from the fish that they saw.<<

    Not everyone accepts this opinion.
    I just have to comment on this piece of flawed logic."

    He gave you an answer that you did not like so you say that not everone agrees? SO? Rabbi Slifkin quoted the Rambam, that should, at the very least, be AN answer that is acceptable in orthodox circles that tells you chazal's knowledge is not derived from some supernatural event or place.

    "Since unlike the discussion about the Sun this was a case of a Torah law, it is inconceivable Chazal would take such a risk unless they were absolutely sure."

    Who says chazal wouldn't take that risk? You? What religion are you living in because I am pretty sure I have never seen a source for that logic.

    "Since the Torah requires both fins and scale for kosher fish, a “rationalist” should’ve concluded that there must be fish that has only one of these two features. Yet in 2000 years no such fish was found, which makes a good case for this Talmudic statement being based on tradition from mount Sinai."

    A "rationalist" (something that you clearly have no way of relating to) would not say that. A rationalist would say "that hypothesis (that all sea creatures that have scales have fins) is possible." However, a rationalist would be open to the possibility that this statement might not be true. (btw, there are fish that have fins but no scales)

    I try not to get involved in these ridiculous conversations anymore since my time is limited, but I couldn't help myself.

    It hurts me so much that our religion is just like every other religion, filled with blind followers. Judaism is supposed to be a thinking religion where we ask questions and try to figure things out in intelligent ways. Why is this no longer the standard? SOme people just say they could not care less about science and such (that is a fine attitude), but why do others, who clearly don't understand science, act like science is the anti-Judaism?

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  39. would you accept a debate from any of these if challenged. meiselman, coffer, ostroff?

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  40. If I can add one other fairly unoriginal thought, the premise of da'as Torah representing the periphery of prophecy (i.e., a supernatural conveyance of knowledge) almost necessarily implies that earlier, inherently greater ba'alei da'as Torah had even more supernaturally conveyed knowledge. I suspect that this contributes to the belief that Chazal "knew science".

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  41. @ Pookie Number 2 -- the idea that preceding generations exceeded ours in knowledge and piety is one that pervades traditional Judaism. Where scientific knowledge is concerned, this is in direct contradiction to Enlightenment thinking (which questions the authorities of old and encourages first-hand observation and experimentation). Obviously the Enlightenment approach has been astoundingly successful in science -- and in the spirit of "know how to respond", that part of the Jewish world that distrusts science ends up answering with the circle-the-wagons / chazal-already-knew-science-and-you'd-realize-it-if-you-weren't-such-a-koifer hybrid approach.

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