Thursday, December 5, 2013

Mouse Torture

Is there such a thing as a mouse that grows from dirt? The Mishnah discusses the halachos of such a creature, and the Gemara presents it as a way to convince someone of the viability of the resurrection of the dead. (See the full discussion in my book Sacred Monsters.) Due to Chazal's attestations, the Rishonim and Acharonim insisted that such a creature existed. Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch, on the other hand, said as follows:
The greatness of (a scholar's) wisdom is in no way belittled if in a later generation it is discovered that some of the things he maintained or accepted on the authority of others are unreliable. The same is true for Chazal in these areas... Imagine if a scholar such as Humboldt had lived in their times and had traveled to the ends of the world for his biological investigations. If upon his return he would report that in some distant land there is a humanoid creature growing from the ground or that he had found mice that had been generated from the soil and had in fact seen a mouse that was half earth and half flesh and his report was accepted by the world as true, wouldn’t we expect the Sages to discuss the Torah aspects that apply to these instances? What laws of defilement and decontamination apply to these creatures? Or would we expect them to go on long journeys to find out whether what the world has accepted is really true? And if, as we see things today, these instances are considered fiction, can the Sages be blamed for ideas that were accepted by the naturalists of their times? And this is what really happened. These statements are to be found in the works of Pliny, who lived in Rome at the time the Second Temple was destroyed, and who collected in his books on nature all that was well known and accepted in his day. 

There is no such creature as a mouse that grows from dirt. But it is perfectly reasonable for Chazal to have believed in such a creature, just as people today believe in duck-billed platypuses and other creatures that they have never seen.

Rabbi Moshe Meiselman, however, in his book Torah, Chazal and Science, has a different take on the matter.

You see, Rabbi Meiselman is caught in a difficult situation. On the one hand, he insists, as a matter of dogma, that whenever Chazal make a definitive statement about the natural world, it must be true, and to say otherwise is heresy. On the other hand, he believes that science has proven that spontaneous generation never occurs (though his basis for this is very unclear, due to his free dismissal of science in other areas). So, in this case, he is forced to making the astonishing claim that Chazal themselves never actually believed in the existence of the mud-mouse!

What of the Mishnah discussing its halachos? Rabbi Meiselman claims that Chazal were "merely familiar with the persistent rumors" about the mud-mouse, and wished to clarify its halachic status. But "they made no definitive statement" that this creature exists. That's true; still, it is most reasonable to say that Chazal presumed that such a creature did indeed exist. The Rishonim and Acharonim, based on this Mishnah and the discussions in the Gemara, understood that Chazal were attesting to the existence of such a creature. But Rabbi Meiselman, as is his style, claims that the "accepted understanding" (i.e. mesorah) regarding this Gemara is wrong.

But what about the Gemara, in which Rabbi Ami tells a heretic, who does not believe in the viability of the resurrection of the dead, to "Go out to the valley and see the mud-mouse"? Amazingly, Rabbi Meiselman still insists that Rabbi Ami was making no attestation as the existence of the mud-mouse. Instead, he was saying "Since you believe that mice grow from dirt, why shouldn't you believe in techiyas hameisim." Notwithstanding the fact that Chazal often consciously rebuffed heretics with weak arguments, or according to their own, mistaken understanding of pesukim, it is extraordinarily unreasonable to explain this case in such a way - Rabbi Ami actually told him to go and see it! Furthermore, Rabbi Ami precedes and follows his mouse-argument with other scientific arguments that are based on actual realities. Yet Rabbi Meiselman presents his explanation, which goes against the plain meaning of the words, the surrounding context, and the traditional understanding, as the "likely" explanation of the Gemara!

But there is an even more blatant proof that Chazal believed in the existence of the mud-mouse. It's from the third source in Chazal discussing this creature - and it's a source that Rabbi Meiselman entirely neglects to mention. The Gemara and Midrash explain that an exegesis from a Scriptural verse is used to deduce that such a creature transmits spiritual impurity: 
"I might think that a swarming creature causes impurity, but a mouse that is half flesh and half earth, which does not reproduce, does not cause impurity. But it is logical: The rat causes impurity and the mouse causes impurity; just as “rat” is as its meaning, so too “mouse” is as its meaning (and thus a mouse that is half flesh and half earth would transmit impurity). Yet alternatively, one could say, just as the rat procreates, so too the mouse referred to is one that procreates, which excludes a mouse that is half flesh and half earth and does not procreate! Therefore it teaches us, “[And this is impure for you] amongst the swarming creatures (basheretz) [which swarms on the land]”—to include the mouse that is half flesh and half earth, that one who touches the flesh becomes impure and if he touches the earth he remains pure." (Midrash Sifra, parashas Shemini 5:6; Talmud, Chullin 127a)
Chazal actually had a derashah from the Torah specifically for the mud-mouse! Now, while some people are comfortable in saying that Chazal's drashos were their own inventions, and could have a mistaken basis, I'm pretty sure that Rabbi Meiselman does not fall into that category. Furthermore, in the prologue to the book, Rabbi Meiselman insists that even in cases where Chazal make mistakes in Torah, we do not have the right to point it out. It's no wonder that Rabbi Meiselman omitted this Gemara from his chapter on the earth-mouse - there's no way that he can quote it and maintain his approach.

(As an aside, the Gemara in Chullin, which presents the mud-mouse as an opposite case to para v'rava, shows that "ain para v'rava" with regard to lice refers to spontaneous generation, in contrast to the strained apologetics of Dr Betech and Rabbi Meiselman.")

It is ironic that at the end of the chapter, Rabbi Meiselman has some weasel words about how he "makes no claim" that his approach is "definitely the correct one" and the correct approach "may be different altogether." He's made it clear that spontaneous generation of mice does not happen, and he's made it clear that to believe that Chazal made a false attestation is heresy. So which different approach is he allowing room for?

What of Rav Hirsch? Well, as noted in an earlier post, despite Rabbi Meiselman's presentation of his book as a definitive guide to Torah and science, and Rav Hirsch's essay being the most substantial pre-20th century treatment of this topic, Rabbi Meiselman omits any mention of Rav Hirsch's essay. Presumably this is because, according to the dogmas that Rabbi Meiselman sets down and claims to be based on tradition, Rav Hirsch's essay is heresy.

Chazal discussed the halachos of the mud-mouse. They had a specific drashah from the Torah to refer to the mud-mouse. They told heretics to go and look at the mud-mouse. It's unreasonable in the extreme to claim that Chazal were not convinced that such a creature exists. Yet this is what Rabbi Meiselman insists upon. And he further insists that if you agree with him that there is no such thing as spontaneous generation, then you are committing heresy if you accept the view of all the Rishonim and Acharonim who disagree with his understanding of the Gemara, and who explain that Chazal were indeed attesting to such a creature!

Perhaps even more disturbing is how in order to try to pull this off, Rabbi Meiselman omits any mention of the crucial Gemara about a derashah for the mud-mouse. Even more ironically, in the conclusion of the book (p. 673), where Rabbi Meiselman repeats why only a person such as himself is qualified to write on these topics, he says that it must be dealt with by "sincere and qualified scholars, interested only in truth." Is omitting crucial Gemaras and prominent Acharonim, not to mention bending over backwards and engaging in tortuous apologetics to avoid the straightforward meaning of the Gemara that was accepted by all the Rishonim and Acharonim, the sign of a sincere and qualified scholar who is interested only in truth?!

42 comments:

  1. > and claims to be based on tradition, Rav Hirsch's essay is heresy.

    No, no. The standard line nowadays is that it must have been a forgery. That way the "Gadol" doesn't lose his status and the stuff they do agree with continues to be taught.

    I don't know much about mud mouses but I do know I hate meeces to pieces.

    ReplyDelete
  2. To answer why Rav Hirsch's stance doesn't bother Meiselman I will quote something from a talmud muvhak of his:

    "The book does discuss Rav Hirsch and his view of evolution. But it does not discuss Rav Hirsch's letters on the Aggada. (It is clear Rav Hirsch's approach to Chazal was based mainly on the alleged position of Rav Avrohom ben HaRambam. After showing that source to be unreliable, Rav Hisrch's letters become irrelevant.)"

    Why they become irrelevant, I am unsure, but that is the reasoning.

    I honestly do not know who he wrote the book for. Anyone with half a brain could see right through his disingenuous approach. Maybe he is trying to lure baalei teshuva? Young impressionable MO kids spending their year in israel trying to "find" themselves?

    ReplyDelete
  3. Yes, it's unbelievable. Rav Hirsch doesn't even mention Rabbeinu Avraham. Yet Kornreich decides that Rav Hirsch is based on Rabbeinu Avraham, that Rabbeinu Avraham is a forgery (something that, to say the least, is far from proven), and that Rav Hirsch's views on what is a legitimate approach should not be heard.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Yoma (21b) says King Shlomo planted trees made out of gold. Yaavetz on the spot says he has heard from reliable people that in Turkey [IIRC] there are grapes that grow with gold inside them, and other vines that grow with gold threads.

    ReplyDelete
  5. “…he insists, as a matter of dogma, that whenever Chazal make a definitive statement about the natural world, it must be true, and to say otherwise is heresy.”

    Reading through the various posts on this matter, I have been wondering how recent such a position has been “dogma.” I have always understood that the infallibility of the rabbis (initially Tana’im and Amora’im, but eventually Rishonim, and to a lesser degree, Aharonim) emerged as a reactionary position to Enlightenment trends of the 18th and 19th centuries as well as a simultaneous convergence of Hasidut element, particularly the infallibility of the “tzadik.” However, are we aware of earlier sources which suggest that the rabbis, particularly Chazal, are infallible. Moreover, it is not clear to me why this even needs to be a dogma. Is the supposition that Chazal gleaned insight from the world either from their own observations or extrapolation from Torah itself, and not external sources, such that if Chazal is wrong then the source (i.e., Torah) could be wrong. If you have addressed elsewhere, please point me to a prior post. What’s so bad about Chazal occasionally being wrong?

    ReplyDelete
  6. Can someone please enlighten me on the supposition that the works of Rabbeinu Avraham ben ha-Rambam are forgeries? From where does this claim arise, and what is the evidence for it? What do proponents allege was the motivation for the forgery (i.e. what was to be gained by it)?

    Is it just one or two works that are in dispute, or his whole corpus? Do proponents believe that Rabbeinu Avraham never existed?

    ReplyDelete
  7. What is truly unbelievable to me is the claim he makes in the comment section:

    "I'm sorry I wasn't clear. I was referring to Rav Hirsch's probable source--the alleged position of Rav Avrohom ben HoRambam in his Ma'amar al Aggados. This source has been shown to be thoroughly unreliable in Rav Meiselman's book."

    Since I would rather pluck out my fingernails than spend a penny on this worthless piece of garbage being called a "book" could you enlighten us as to how he shows this source to be thoroughly unreliable? Or does he just use the same talking points that can be found on Gil's website and you don't need to waste your time?

    ReplyDelete
  8. Great post.
    Since Rabbi Ami told the heretic to "Go out to the valley and see the mud-mouse", wouldn't that indicate that there was indeed a creature that would appear to be a mud-mouse? Do you have any idea what it might have been?

    ReplyDelete
  9. "And he further insists that if you agree with him that there is no such thing as spontaneous generation, then you are committing heresy if you accept the view of all the Rishonim and Acharonim who disagree with his understanding of the Gemara, and who explain that Chazal were indeed attesting to such a creature!"

    Isn't he essentially also calling all of these Rishonim and Acharonim heretics? Who exactly does he think he is?

    ReplyDelete
  10. Bill - they believed that thus creature existed, so they weren't saying that Chazal were wrong.

    ReplyDelete
  11. Weaver - Rav Aryeh Carmell suggested to me that it was a mole.

    ReplyDelete
  12. E-man - I will be discussing Rabbeinu Abraham in a future post.

    ReplyDelete
  13. "What of the Mishnah discussing its halachos? Rabbi Meiselman claims that Chazal were "merely familiar with the persistent rumors" about the mud-mouse, and wished to clarify its halachic status. But "they made no definitive statement" that this creature exists."

    The problem with this approach is that it conflicts with the Gemara in Menachot dealing with a two-headed baby (conjoined twins?):

    Pelemo enquired of Rabbi, If a man has two heads on which one must he put the tefillin?’ ‘You must either leave’, he replied, ‘or regard yourself under the ban’. In the meantime there came a man [to the school] saying, ‘I have begotten a first-born child with two heads, how much must I give the priest?’

    Now, here we see that the questioners is rebuked for asking about a far-fetched question. But it wasn't far-fetched, as the gemara explains a line later. Certainly, a mud-mouse is more far-fetched than a two-headed person, and yet that topic is given serious discussion. How could this be? It must be the case that Chazal felt the mud-mouse is a creature that exists, or at the very least can plausibly exist. Otherwise, Chazal would have refused to discuss the matter just as Rabbi refused.

    The above gemara reports that the Gadol haDor made what was essentially a definitive statement that a conjoined twin can't possibly exist! And a moment later he was proven wrong. Doesn't this contradict Rabbi Meiselman's thesis that Chazal were never wrong when they made a definitive statement about the natural world?

    ReplyDelete
  14. R' Slifkin: I don't usually nitpick but here I must really ask for a clarification:

    "Notwithstanding the fact that Chazal often consciously rebuffed heretics with weak arguments, or according to their own, mistaken understanding of pesukim"

    "Mistaken" understanding of pesukim? By Chazal? They have many kinds of creative, Midrashic, and out-of-context understandings, but why "mistaken"?

    ReplyDelete
  15. The heretics' mistaken understanding

    ReplyDelete

  16. E-Man said...

    I honestly do not know who he wrote the book for. Anyone with half a brain could see right through his disingenuous approach.

    E-Man said...

    Since I would rather pluck out my fingernails than spend a penny on this worthless piece of garbage being called a "book"


    So you didn't read any of the book, but you can easily see through the approach?

    ReplyDelete
  17. If I may go off on a bit of a tangent about the two-headed phenomenon, I can report that my wife, when working as a labor and delivery nurse, once witnessed the birth of a two-headed baby. Sadly, the baby did not survive, because such a condition (as she put it) is "incompatible with life." I would thus suggest that the incident reported in Menachot about a two-headed adult may have involved some kind of conjoined twin situation (since we know that such twins exist and can survive into adulthood), while the report of a newly born two-headed baby (scientifically speaking, a variety of conjoinedness) may have been more literally true.

    ReplyDelete
  18. Another angle here: Why should it surprise anyone that Chazal would believe in the existence of mud mice when Bereshit 2:6-7 explicitly mentions the creation of a "mud human"?

    וְהִשְׁקָה אֶת כָּל פְּנֵי הָאֲדָמָה...וַיִּיצֶר ה' אֱלֹקים אֶת הָאָדָם עָפָר מִן הָאֲדָמָה

    Hashem waters the dirt, producing clay, and then molds Adam out of it. And then of course in 2:19 all animals are created out of mud:

    וַיִּצֶר ה' אֱלֹקים מִן הָאֲדָמָה כָּל חַיַּת הַשָּׂדֶה וְאֵת כָּל עוֹף הַשָּׁמַיִם

    And just like the naturalists of the day may have informed Chazal's beliefs about mud mice, so too did stories about creatures being formed out of mud inform the Torah's creation narrative. So actually I'd paraphrase from R. Hirsch to refer to the Chumash itself:

    The greatness of the Torah's wisdom is in no way belittled if in a later generation it is discovered that some of the things it maintained are unreliable.

    ReplyDelete
  19. Hamasig

    If you read Kornreichs blog, you can clearly see his approach.

    ReplyDelete
  20. Rabbi Slifkin commented on Kira's question: "The heretics' mistaken understanding"
    I found a blogpost that collects various instances where Chazal gave an off-the-cuff answer to a gentile/heretic, and then gave a more acceptable answer to their talmidim: misgav.blogspot.co.il/2012/06/blog-post_29.html.
    The mishnayos in the last chapter of Yadaim also come to mind.

    ReplyDelete
  21. "The above gemara reports that the Gadol haDor made what was essentially a definitive statement that a conjoined twin can't possibly exist!"
    An alternative conclusion came to mind: Pelemo asked his question in an obnoxious way, and was kicked out for that.
    However, I'm not convinced this is the proper way to understand the gemara.

    And DF, you'll enjoy this: http://www.livescience.com/28676-plants-grow-gold.html

    ReplyDelete
  22. Hi Rav Slifkin,

    Can you please provide the source for the Ra Hirsch? I think it is a very important and helpful piece.

    Thanks

    ReplyDelete
  23. "An alternative conclusion came to mind: Pelemo asked his question in an obnoxious way, and was kicked out for that.
    However, I'm not convinced this is the proper way to understand the gemara."

    I thought of that too, but the flow of the narrative precludes such a reading. That the narrative continues with the report of an actual case of a two-headed baby is an indication that Rabbi rebuked the questioner for asking a crazy far-fetched question.

    ReplyDelete
  24. "An alternative conclusion came to mind: Pelemo asked his question in an obnoxious way, and was kicked out for that.
    However, I'm not convinced this is the proper way to understand the gemara."

    The flow of the gemara implies that Rabbi thought that the question was far-fetched. That's why the narrative continues with an actual example.

    ReplyDelete
  25. "An alternative conclusion came to mind: Pelemo asked his question in an obnoxious way, and was kicked out for that.
    However, I'm not convinced this is the proper way to understand the gemara."

    I forgot the תוספות:
    או קום גלי כו'. בעולם הזה ליכא, אבל יש במדרש

    Tosfos clearly explains that Rabbi thought that a two-headed person simply couldn't exist. The traditional story involving a two-headed person is just a מדרש and never actually happened. (i.e. Rabbi was aware of the Midrash but didn't consider it to reflect reality.)

    ReplyDelete
  26. Thanks for the link, Pliny, you're quite the naturalist.

    Someone actually mentioned, when I mentioned the Yaavetz in a class last week, that he had seen something on the topic recently. I'm sure this is one of those things that are destined to be quoted by the "chazal knew everything!" crowd. However, it clearly, as the kids say, has no shaychus.

    ReplyDelete
  27. Ephraim, thanks for sharing that Tosfos.

    ReplyDelete
  28. LOL, that would be funny if the Hensel twins were reading this!
    I have an extensive discussion of single-bodied twins, the case of Rebbi and Plimo, and the issue of discussing impossible cases, in my book Sacred Monsters.

    ReplyDelete
  29. I just found the following in the introduction of Duties of the Heart, and it's related to my tentative suggestion above: "One of the Sages was once posed a bizarre, hypothetical question, relating to the laws of divorce. He answered his questioner as follows: 'You who ask concerning that which brings no harm if one does not know it, do you know all that you are obligated to know of commandments which may not be ignored or neglected, such that you have time to think of strange questions which will further you neither in Torah nor in faith, and which will not help you overcome the faults of your personality I swear that for 35 years now, I have working on what I need to know of the Torah's commandments -- you know what great an effort I put into my studies and all the books I have access to -- and yet I have never had the time to think of the question which you have posed.' He carried on at length in admonishing and deriding him for this."

    ReplyDelete
  30. Natan,
    You write: "some people are comfortable in saying that Chazal's drashos were their own inventions, and could have a mistaken basis, I'm pretty sure that Rabbi Meiselman does not fall into that category."
    Do you? If yes, please show where there is a precedent for such a claim in your sources (R Avraham, Rambam, R Hirsh etc). If not, how do you explain your approach when Chazal bring a pasuk?

    ReplyDelete
  31. Hi Rav Slifkin,

    Can you please provide the source for the Rav Hirsch? I think it is a very important and helpful piece.

    Thanks


    Here you go:
    www.zootorah.com/controversy/hirsch.rtf

    ReplyDelete
  32. Pliny said...
    I just found the following in the introduction of Duties of the Heart, and it's related to my tentative suggestion above: "One of the Sages was once posed a bizarre, hypothetical question, relating to the laws of divorce. He answered his questioner as follows: 'You who ask concerning that which brings no harm if one does not know it, do you know all that you are obligated to know of commandments which may not be ignored or neglected, such that you have time to think of strange questions which will further you neither in Torah nor in faith, and which will not help you overcome the faults of your personality I swear that for 35 years now, I have working on what I need to know of the Torah's commandments -- you know what great an effort I put into my studies and all the books I have access to -- and yet I have never had the time to think of the question which you have posed.' He carried on at length in admonishing and deriding him for this."


    Pliny, that's what you get for reading the introduction. You are supposed to skip that. Don't tell me you are going to read Sha'ar HaYichud too?

    On a more serious note, I think that Rabbeinu Bachya is bringing that story to emphasize that rather than spending all your time studying arcane cases in Talmud, you should be spending time on "Duties of the Heart". It is not that example was impossible or absurd, but that it was rare and thus not practical, and thus not worth spending so much time on.

    ReplyDelete
  33. Natan,
    You write: "some people are comfortable in saying that Chazal's drashos were their own inventions, and could have a mistaken basis, I'm pretty sure that Rabbi Meiselman does not fall into that category."
    Do you? If yes, please show where there is a precedent for such a claim in your sources (R Avraham, Rambam, R Hirsh etc). If not, how do you explain your approach when Chazal bring a pasuk?


    From R. Hirsch:

    A Dangerous Approach
    You are of the opinion that the agados were received [by Moshe from G-d] at Sinai, and that there is no distinction in this respect between them and the halachic statements that were transmitted. As far as my limited mind can grasp, this is a dangerous approach that poses a grave danger for the pupils who grow up believing this concept. For it very nearly opens the gates of heresy before them.
    What should these wretches do if they hear from their teach¬ers today, “Agadic statements were transmitted at Sinai just like the main body of Torah,” and then they discover the dec-larations of the greatest of our early talmudic commentators (rishonim) upon whom all of Jewry relies - in which one of them says, “Agadic statements are not articles of faith but rea-sonable assumptions,” and another says, ‘They were stated as exaggerations,” or “as one man speaks to another, making statements that are not intended to be true but to entertain their listener for a while,” or “They narrated what they had dreamed,” or “Learn from [Agadah] only things that make sense,” and so on? What are these wretches to do when they read these and similar declarations about statements they were taught by their teachers to believe came from Sinai with no dif¬ference between them and the main body of Torah?

    ...

    Nevertheless, to my limited intelligence, it seems impossible to swear that all those stories are true and to compare them to those told by Moshe and the other prophets. Some of them may have been stated as parables for some mussor or intel¬lectual purpose. And even if someone were to say that the tales of Avrohom’s early life with Terach and Nimrod in Ur Kasdim were parables inferred from Avrohom’s having recognized his Creator at the age of three and from HaShem’s statement “I am HaShem who took you out of Ur Kasdim,” one could not invalidate his position. I can demonstrate that. According to the opinion in Chazal that Avrohom did not convert until he was 48 or older there is no room for any of these stories; if they had been accepted by Jewry as Torah truth, there would be no way to set his conversion at so late a date. Do not be surprised at this [contradiction], for even about the story of Iyov some of Chazal maintain that it was only a parable to teach wisdom, mussor, and fear of G-d in the form of a lofty story that tugs at people’s hearts.

    ReplyDelete
  34. I am not talking about Agadic statements. I am talking about drashos from pesukim, sometimes for halachos as in the case of Chulin 127.

    ReplyDelete
  35. David Ohsie quoted Rav Hirsch: "For it very nearly opens the gates of heresy before them."

    Indeed, the Da'at Emet pamphlets use exactly that devious approach: they lure the reader into thinking that the scientific statements from Chazal are from Sinai--the next step is to show that the science is faulty, and that leads to doubting the veracity of Mattan Torah, and the entire Torah itself.

    ReplyDelete
  36. Yes, the issue with R' Meiselman's suggestion bothered me as well, but I do not see how you are in any way addressing it. It is obvious from Chazal that they were discussing a specific animal. There are some very basic questions to be asked, how can the Gemara in Chulin 127a say it's not משריץ and yet the Gemara in Sanhedrin 91a says tomorrow it will be משריץ". Rashi gives no explanation in Sanhedrin, but his approach is obviously very dachuk in how he will have to explain that phrase (and assuming he explains the word משריץ means it grows from the ground; why couldn't the Gemara in Chulin say that it is משריץ b/c it grows from the ground). Furthermore, Rashi's reading in the Gemara would mean that the moment it "sprouts" from the ground it has lost all its "earth" and is fully meat, yet the Mishna in Chulin discusses touching the "earth" that is opposite the "flesh", obviously Link's mouse and what not has no shaychus to the עכבר שחציו אדמה because the mouse has "earth" even after it "sprouts" from the earth. And to say they could touch part of it and feel that it was "earth" while the underside of that earth was flesh (which according to Rashi would mean this is while it's still attached to the earth!) is very hard to understand. From the Gemara it's obvious they are conversations discussing a real creature they are familiar with. You should explain what creature you believe it's referring to, as Rashi's explanation seems incomprehensible. You seem to be dismissing this Gemara as much as R' Meiselman, please explain what creature you feel it's referring to (and how you work that with Rashi)

    ReplyDelete
  37. I see you have mentioned Aryeh Carmell's notion that Chazal are referring to a mole. Obviously that is not possible (whether according Aristotelian knowledge of that day - and according to Chazal). In his defense, he probably did not have access to the numerous books published on the various mammals (nor to the internet) and [I assume he] probably meant to say that there is some species of mole where this might work out [though your language does not imply that].

    I assume you have taken the subject seriously and researched it well and [with the internet and many more available books] you have much better explanations (or at least possibilities) on the subject. Could you inform us or at least reference where you have published these explanations?

    ReplyDelete
  38. To answer Z. Holzer's questions:
    Here is an older article by Rabbi Slifkin treating the Mud-mouse:
    www.aishdas.org/toratemet/dongchong.html

    ReplyDelete
  39. Norm has left a new comment on the post "Mouse Torture":

    I am not talking about Agadic statements. I am talking about drashos from pesukim, sometimes for halachos as in the case of Chulin 127.


    Answering quickly, I think that this comment that I made in a different context applies:

    The Rambam in the introduction to Peirush HaMishnaos explicitly says that the Chachamim of each generation did their best using the 13 Midos to learn new halachos according to their understanding, and when they disagreed, there was an argument and they would go according to the majority. And also that there was little argument between Bais Shammai and Bais Hillel, but that "when the studies of their students were reduced, and the ways of deduction became weak in their hands compared to that of Shammai and Hillel their teachers, there arose among argument in the give and take of discussion on many topics because each of them deduced according to the strength of his knowledge and according the principles known to him." It's quite clear that the Rambam holds that the bulk of these Halachos were based on each great man using his intellect to the best of his ability to find the answer, and that there was disagreement and practical methodology (majority rule) for deciding Halacha. And that that argument was a result of a lower level of understanding (relatively speaking) so that ambiguity crept in to a greater degree; ambiguity that would have been avoided if they knew more. This is clearly an intellectual process with human limitations playing a role.

    ReplyDelete
  40. Yehuda P.

    That has no relevance and in no way answers any of the questions. Does that explain the lashon of chazal and the difficulties with Rashi? I pointed out that Obviously Link's mouse [and the jerboa, and definitely the frog!] could not have been what Chazal were discussing.
    Maybe that was written years ago, but any serious reading of the mishna and the Gemara will show that none of those could be what Chazal were referring to. We would need some radical new approach to try to explain the Gemara [and Rashi]

    ReplyDelete
  41. Z. Holzer:

    I, personally, am more interested in the much broader questions regarding the permitted aproach to Torah learning in general:

    Was Chazal's knowledge/belief in the science that they cite based on a direct Mesorah from Moshe Rabainu, or on Ruach HaKodesh/intuition, or was it based on the common beliefs of their times?

    Can we trust that the Rishonim know how to interpret the words of Chazal without making any huge gross errors?

    These are much more important, fundamental questions, which R. Meiselman sets out to answer (as the only valid answer). This series of blog postings seeks to address R. Meiselman's approach.

    You have good kashyas on the sugya of the mud mouse.

    Don't lose too much sleep over it though; "funn a kasha schtarbt men nisht."

    ReplyDelete
  42. Nachum, the first thing you have to understand is that before a person can answer those questions, a person must go through the topics carefully, intelligently and thoroughly. For example, in this case wouldn't it be ridiculous to come to any conclusions when a person doesn't have an approach as to which animal Chazal were referring to as the mudmouse?

    Regarding your question:
    "Can we trust that the Rishonim know how to interpret the words of Chazal without making any huge gross errors?"
    This is a very basic question relevant to every part of Shas. Consistently one Rishon says one explanation and another Rishon demolishes it and says a totally different explanation. Which one occurred? Which one is true? Is one group of Rishonim making "huge gross errors"?
    If you are attempting to resolve there are much more pertinent sources to look at, and I don't believe these posts will help you in the least.

    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.