Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Guest Post: Is Rabbeinu Avraham an Outlier in Modern Times?

Copyright 2015 by David Ohsie. All rights reserved

An Outlier in Modern Times?


In TCS, Rabbi Meiselman mentions that the discussion in the Discourse of the the scientific statements of Chazal were not often cited in until very recent times. Since the Discourse was included in many editions of the Ein Yaakov including two editions translated into English, this is strong evidence that he Discourse was, at the very least, not considered religiously objectionable.

Nevertheless, Rabbi Meiselman maintains that the position of the Discourse is unsupported by modern authorities.  We'll examine that claim here.

Rav Yitzchak Herzog strongly endorses the Discourse, as we noted in the previous post.   How does Rabbi Meiselman approach this?
Rav Yitzchak Isaac HaLevi Herzog, the first Chief Rabbi of the State of Israel, was the only serious talmid chacham of whom I am aware who ever predicated a major halachic stance upon [the Discourse], affirming both its authenticity and its accuracy. Others have alluded to it casually, but no one else embraced it as an authoritative source upon which to base a halachic position. [...] Rav Herzog gave no justification for the confidence that he placed in the published text of the Maamar. It is unlikely that he was aware of the evidence calling into question its integrity [...] We cannot know what Rav Herzog’s opinion would have been had he examined these sources. (TCS pgs. 101-102)
First, Rabbi Meiselman implies that Rav Herzog stands alone in his affirmation of the position of Rabbeinu Avraham.   In my humble opinion, we have already seen that this is not the case.   Rabbeinu Avraham's position is well supported by other modern authorities. [1a]

Next, Rabbi Meiselman also argues that Rav Herzog based his view of Chazal's scientific understanding opinion on the Discourse.  Since he has discredited the Discourse as a reliable source of information, Rav Herzog's support falls away.

There are two problems with this argument.  First of all, as we have previously seen, there is no reason to doubt the authenticity of the Discourse.  More importantly, Rav Herzog doesn’t claim that he is basing his opinion on the Discourse. In fact he says that the Orthodox approach to science of the Talmud is “best summed up” by the Discourse. In other words, he is not "relying" on Rabbeinu Avraham, but just using quotations from the Discourse to support his own position. 

In fact Rav Herzog, justifies his position in the same way that Rabbeinu Avraham and Rav Hirsch do: based on the way that Chazal themselves acted (emphasis mine):
Another point of divergence between the Jewish and non-Jewish schools is likewise mentioned in the above Baraitha, and with regard to that Rabbi Judah HaNasi says that the opinion of the non-Jewish astronomers seems to him more probable than the Jewish view. This shows, on the one hand, that in such matters the sages of Israel in the majority of cases spoke as scientists and not as religious authorities whose dicta would have to be accepted on the ground of faith in tradition; and on the other hand, it affords us an illustration of their ardent love of the truth. National pride was not allowed to interfere with the progress of knowledge.
Thus, I think that we can firmly state the Rav Herzog’s opinion is an independent confirmation of the ideas of the Discourse, not simply an endorser of the text of the Discourse itself.

How does Rabbi Meiselman deal with the support of Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach? He states in a footnote (TCS pg 101 note 293):
Some contemporary authors have asserted that Rav Shelomo Zalman Auerbach affirmed the validity of the attribution [of the Discourse to Rabbeinu Avraham].
Rabbi Meiselman then quotes the letter of Rav Shlomo Zalman (quoted in the previous post) in Hebrew without translation. Here it is again:
At this point, I don’t remember if there is anyone that actually argues with them or even if there is anyone that could argue with them. Rather it is probable that my intention was that since many bring down the reason of the change in nature (שינוי הטבע) and did not mention at all the improvement in medical knowledge in our times, therefore I noted that it is fitting to cite this position as “some say”. And in particular since with regard to Shabbos, there are those that permit violation of Shabbos even if according to the doctors there is no medical emergency.
Rabbi Meiselman continues:
There is no indication in this quote that Rav Auerbach ever took the time to examine the authenticity of these sources [Rabbeinu Avraham and Rav Sherira Gaon] or the accuracy of the inference made from them. In point of fact he never did, since he did not view the position as mainstream. As the letter indicates, he did not even take the time to investigate who disagrees with him. 
In my humble opinion, this a mischaracterization of Rav Shlomo Zalman’s letter and the inferences to be drawn from it.

To begin with, it is clear from both Rav Shlomo Zalman's approbation and his detailed notes, that he went through the sefer Lev Avraham very carefully.  Without even examining his subsequent letter Rabbi Lerner, his approbation indicates that he felt that the approach of the Discourse was well within the bounds of normative Judaism.

Moreover, there is no claim that his letter to Rabbi Lerner shows that Rav Shlomo Zalman validated the manuscripts of the Discourse; what it shows is that he thought that Discourse was so mainstream that he doubted that anyone could argue with the position it espoused. He says explicitly that his assertion that it should be quoted as “some say” is not because anyone disagrees or even could disagree.

In addition, Rabbi Meiselman asserts that Rav Shlomo Zalman never examined the position of Rabbeinu Avraham very well, since he did not view the position as mainstream.  Rabbi Meiselman doesn't bring any evidence for the fact that Rav Shlomo Zalman never examined the position of Rabbeinu Avraham.    However, we can bring evidence that he did.

He explicitly analyzes the position of Rabbeinu Avraham in his approbation to Lev Avraham referenced above (emphasis mine)

העיקר הוא כשאר הטעמים, ומ״ש ״חז״ל כשדברו וכו׳״ נכון לכותבו רק בשם י״א וגם נכון להזכיר פרט למציצה דאף שלכאורה הוא רק משום סכנה אפי״ה חייבים לעשותה גם בשבת אף אם זה נגד דעת הרופאים

The halacha follows the other reasons, and that which your wrote [of Rabbeinu Avraham’s position], it is proper to write in the in name of “some say” and it is also proper to mention that it excludes metzitzah, that even though its sole purpose appears to be to avoid danger [to the infant]; even so, we are required to do it on Shabbos even if it is against the opinion of the doctors [who say that it does not prevent illness]. [1]
We see that Rav Shlomo Zalman did take the time to understand the contours of Rabbeinu Avraham’s position and to exclude its applicability to specific halachos, such as Metzitzah, already decided by Chazal even if unsupported by current scientific understanding. This matches the approach of the Rambam who accepts the permissibility of the use of some potentially "superstitious" cures even though we now know that they don’t work  (Guide 3:37):
It is not inconsistent that a nail of the gallows and the tooth of a fox have been permitted to be used as cures: for these things have been considered in those days as facts established by experiment.
Rabbi Meiselman then goes on to mention that Rav Avraham Yitzchak Hakohen Kook disagreed with Rav Herzog and opined that “Chazal’s view on proper treatment override those of contemporary medicine”. (TCS pg. 102) 

In my humble opinion, this statement is literally false.  It is difficult to believe that Rav Kook would not generally follow a doctor’s advice if it didn't correspond to that of Chazal and he that, for example, would use an incantation over the the encouragement to cough and/or the Heimlich maneuver to treat a choking victim. [2]

Rather, the Rav Kook is referring to the same case mentioned as an exception by Rav Shlomo Zalman: the use of Metzitzah for a Bris Milah. The fact that we preserve this tradition despite the fact it seems to serve no medical purpose is unsurprising and hardly indicates general Rav Kook’s position on the general interplay of Torah and Science.

However, Rav Kook did write on the general topic of possible contradiction between science and tradition and he was not dismissive of modern science.  For example here, he discusses the apparent contradiction between the age and evolution of the earth with the traditional straightforward interpretation Torah’s account in Bereishis (L’Nevuchei Hador Chapter 5)


That the account of the creation in the Torah is not completely literal, but rather also contains profound parables is an idea that the Rambam has already written of [...] And behold it is well understood that the new methods of scientific investigation that claim that the world evolved [and was not created instantaneously] do not at all violate the foundational principles of the Torah and not even the description [of creation] of scripture regarding the creation [...]
My point here is not reconcile the positions of a thinker with the depth of Rav Kook, but simply to point out that one quotation about the subject of science and the Torah is not enough to clarify his multi-faceted position.

In our next post, we’ll examine Rabbi Meiselman’s evidence of inconsistencies between the positions of Discourse and that of the Rambam and other Rishonim.

Comments are both welcome and encouraged. I'll make every effort to address any questions or arguments posted in the comments.


Notes


[1a]  It is unclear what the relevance why reference are considered unimportant if they are not the basis of a major halachic position.  There is no claim that the approach of the Discourse has a major influence on halacha, since it is not a work of halacha.  In addition, by Rabbi Meiselman's argument, any reference, no matter how "casual", which does not treat the Discourse as obviously wrong or heretical, provides strong support that the approach falls within the mainstream of Orthodox Judaism.

[1] What he means is the following:  The only reason that Metzitzah (squeezing or drawing out blood) is permitted on Shabbos as part of a Bris Milah is because is it considered essential to the health of the baby.  Even though modern medicine doesn't see a benefit in this procedure, and even though Rabbeinu Avraham's position implies that we go with follow modern medicine, in this case, where the procedure has become part of the traditional Milah procedure, we would still continue to follow the traditional practice. This can be contrasted with the traditional Lithuanian approach to Metzitzah b'Peh which is avoided when danger to the baby is suspected.

[2] A tanna recited the chapter of Amorite practices before R. Hiyya b. Abin. Said he to him: All these are forbidden as Amorite practices, save the following: If one has a bone in his throat, he may bring of that kind, place it on his head, and say thus: 'One by one go down, swallow, go down one by one': this is not considered the ways of the Amorite. For a fish bone he should say thus: 'Thou art stuck in like a pin, thou art locked up as [within] a cuirass; go down, go down.' (Shabbos 67a)

43 comments:

  1. Since he has discredited the Discourse as a reliable source of information, Rav Herzog's support falls away

    This sentence caused me pause. To avoid being quoted out of context (which is the modus operandi of some) consider rewriting:

    "Since he has claimed to have discredited the Discourse as a reliable source of information, he asserts Rav Herzog's support falls away"

    It seems to me, from the reading of this post, that once the authenticity of Discourse is verified, and (as you write) the sources for the comment are considered, Rav Mieselman's thesis collapses. Not wanting to waste my money, can you tell us, absent the alleged defects in Discourse, does Rave Mieselman make any substantive comment.

    Secondly, as I have previously written in comment, Rav Mieselman's purpose is as transparent as his attempt to obfuscate the issue. His logic, as you have described it, is fuzzy. His argument that had these authorities properly researched these Discourse they would have rejected the idea is a fallacy. He is using the same research methodology as David Irving, that is to ignore or misquote any inconvenient discovery or fact and to minimize the importance of what data that contradict the thesis. Clearly, using this approach, Rav Mieselman has started with the conclusion and has fitted the evidence to his intended outcome. Just like David Irving.

    It is thoroughly disreputable to engage in this type of scholarship, and he discredits no only himself, but the Rabbinat that endorses him.

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    1. Thank you for pointing out for the ambiguity, but I'm not too concerned about being misquoted in this way ;).

      With respect to the remainder of the comment, I have said already that I prefer to remain respectful in my discussion.

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  2. would Rabbeinu Avraham exclude metzitzah according to Rav Shlomo Zalman ?

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    1. Yes, that is what he says. So, generally, we can discard medical advice from Chazal if it doesn't align with what we know today, but we would (and do) still do Metzitzah, presumably because it embedded itself into a Mitzvah. This aligns with the practice.

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  3. Rav Kook's argument against the complete abolition of metzitzah relies on the argument that even though the doctors say it is bad for a baby to have metitzah, they cannot say that with 100% certainty, while Chazal made their statement (that someone who does not perform metzitza is a danger to the baby) with 100% certainty. So one may not undo a [possible] d'oraita requirement with uncertain data against the certainty of Chazal. He denies that medicine can ever be 100% certain about the data.

    However, he says that using tubes are not against Chazal's statement, so long as one doesn't change prevailing custom simply to denigrate Chazal.

    See his Daat Kohen 144, p 263.

    It is true that when it came to hashkafa, Rav Kook was very accepting of all views. But not in his halacha. The argument you can make is that you cannot learn anything from Rav Kook's halacha as to what he felt was acceptable hashkafically.

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  4. Rav Kook's argument against the complete abolition of metzitzah relies on the argument that even though the doctors say it is bad for a baby to have metitzah, they cannot say that with 100% certainty,

    I need to look into your reference further, but the reference that Rabbi Meiselman used was against accepting the doctors opinion that Metzitzah was useless, not that it was harmful.

    while Chazal made their statement (that someone who does not perform metzitza is a danger to the baby) with 100% certainty. So one may not undo a [possible] d'oraita requirement with uncertain data against the certainty of Chazal. He denies that medicine can ever be 100% certain about the data.

    The problem here is that you can't take Metzitzah and apply it directly to other cases easily for two reasons:

    1) The abolition of Metzitzah was a campaign of the reformers. So no quarter could be given. The result is that some have even gone to the extreme of insisting Metzitzah BePeh even though the Gemara clearly indicates that the purpose of Metzitzah is purely medical.

    2) In medical decisions, we simply don't worry about the medicine of the Talmud. We don't weigh and say "well the doctors today say X, but the Talmud says Y and the Talmud and today's medicine is only a doubt", etc.

    The question of Metzitzah on Shabbos (and generally) is purely halachic when done in a safe manner. Medicine doesn't tell you whether or not something violates Shabbos. So the idea that Rav Kook maintained that "Chazal’s view on proper treatment override those of contemporary medicine" is that remains is almost certainly false.

    It is true that when it came to hashkafa, Rav Kook was very accepting of all views. But not in his halacha. The argument you can make is that you cannot learn anything from Rav Kook's halacha as to what he felt was acceptable hashkafically.

    You said it better than I did.

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    1. Luckily, Daat Kohen is available on Hebrewbooks: http://hebrewbooks.org/pdfpager.aspx?req=20315&st=&pgnum=270

      I linked to the teshuva I referred to. He also refers to metzitzah in siman 55, page 145, and in siman 140, page 259.

      Very interestingly in siman 140, he argues against a certain rabbi from London. That rabbi wanted to defend metzitzah through claiming it has nothing to do with medicinal benefit, but rather it was a mitzvah itself and nothing in essence to do with medicine. Rav Kook disagreed with such a methodological approach to defending metzitzah, since it is so far removed from the pshat of the Talmud and the rishonim regarding it. You won't be able to convince your opponents through that, even if it is correct, he says. Better, he argues, to show scientifically how it is not damaging to the baby, but rather is beneficial. The people who want to undo metzitzah do so from the perspective of medicine, so the only way to successfully respond is through medicine.

      It's just another example of Rav Kook pushing his own opinions aside in order to argue for a view that he feels would speak better to his opponents.

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    2. Thank you. I need to read more, but he openly support the notion that if reformers are involved that we don't change anything, even though we might change otherwise:

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  5. Somewhere in torahandscienceblogspot there is a citation from sefer Mei Menuchos of Rabbi M Levi in the name of an outstanding “modern authority”, to use R Meiselman’s words, the great sefardi gaon, Rav Ovadia, that R Avraham is mainstream, as follows:

    אמר המחבר גם שוחחתי עם כבוד מרן הרשא"ל הגאון מופה"ד ר' עובדיה יוסף שליט"א, והסכים שאין שום דופי בדברינו וסייענו מדברי ר' אברהם בן הרמב"ם וכמש"ל. וכשהראה לו ת"ח אחד יצ"ו מכתבו של מרן ראש הישיבה שליט"א (הנ"ל) הוסיף בכתי"ק בזה"ל: "אני מסכים לכל הדברים הנ"ל". וחתים עובדיה יוסף.

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    1. The Sefer is called Menuchas Ahava. The footnotes are called Mei Menuchos. The particular quote you cite is in the milluim of chelek gimmel on page תנו. A few pages earlier (תנב) he actually reveals that R' Ovadia was actually the one who gave him the מראה מקום:

      ובשוחחי בזה עם כבוד מרן מלכא מופת הדור הגאון ר' עובדיה יוסף שליט"א אמר לי שכן כתב במפורש גם רבנו אברהם החסיד ז"ל בן הרמב"ם במאמר שנדפס בתחילת ספר עין יעקב ח"א

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  6. For the last two posts:
    Nowhere does it say "Rabbenu Abraham is a mainstream opinion". Translate it as "there is no push off to what was said, because there is a support to it from the words of Rabbenu Abraham". Which would indicate it is not the mainstream opinion- rather it is a lone opinion and there is a precedent that one can rely on and it is not a renovated made up idea.

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    1. It's time to point out once more that the vast majority of Rishonim and early Acharonim explain the Gemara in Pesachim 94b in accordance with its straightforward meaning, that Chazal were mistaken about where the sun goes at night. See http://www.rationalistjudaism.com/2010/11/key-to-everything.html

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    2. Thank you Rabbi Nosson for your comment. I know you have your list of Rishonim and Achronim on this issue which I have read over many time. I agree with R feldman that many of the sources are taken out of context or was not what they meant to say.

      The point is that Rabbi Moshe Levi and Rabbi Ovadia Yoseph in that letter did not point to any of the sources you bring, rather they only brought Rabbenu Abraham who made his comment as explicit as it was. To say Rabbi Levi and Rabbi Ovadia brought this opinion as a mainstream opinion is a mistranslation.

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    3. I'm no expert, but would go with "there is no problem" as the closest in English. It seems pretty clear that he is saying there is no issue with following this approach, i.e. precisely the opposite of what R' Meiselman believes.

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    4. Rav Feldman does not claim that they are taken out of context (since they are not) nor that it was not what they meant to say (since they clearly meant to say what they said). Instead, he claims that they are just repeating the same thing. Which is precisely my point.

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  7. >>First of all, as we have previously seen, there is no reason to doubt the authenticity of the Discourse.<<
    I have two questions.
    1. Is R' Avraham claim about Chazal not having scientific knowledge from Sinai seen in the existing portion of the original Arabic text, or only in translation?
    2. Aside from a very few places in Gemara where sages could be mistaken on scientific issues, do we have authoritative works prior to R'Avraham that support the above claim ?

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    1. I have two questions.
      1. Is R' Avraham claim about Chazal not having scientific knowledge from Sinai seen in the existing portion of the original Arabic text, or only in translation?


      I'm sorry if I didn't make that clear. It is only in the Hebrew translation. The Arabic is cut off at the beginning and the end.

      2. Aside from a very few places in Gemara where sages could be mistaken on scientific issues, do we have authoritative works prior to R'Avraham that support the above claim ?

      The Rambam and Rav Sherira Gaon at the two that we have who make general comments. And we have the Rambam's source which is Pesachim 94a, where the Talmud itself says that we follow the opinions of the Gentile sages. And as Rabbi Slifkin points out, the universal approach of the Rishonim to Pesachim 94a is to say that it means exactly that.

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    2. >>And we have the Rambam's source which is Pesachim 94a, where the Talmud itself says that we follow the opinions of the Gentile sages.<<

      I understand the above was said by Yehuda HaNasi with regard to a particular dispute, but not as a general rule. And the fact that sages held different opinion proves that it was not viewed as general rule.

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    3. >>I'm sorry if I didn't make that clear. It is only in the Hebrew translation. The Arabic is cut off at the beginning and the end.<<

      In which case we can only speculate whether or not that's what Rabbeinun Avraham really wrote.

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    4. What does "general rule" even mean here? The fact is that the Sages did not know where the sun goes at night. Even though they tried to attain this knowledge from the Torah. Which means that they were fallible in scientific matters. If you want to claim that this is the only mistake that they could ever have made, you'll have to bring some pretty convincing arguments as to why that should be so.

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    5. I understand the above was said by Yehuda HaNasi with regard to a particular dispute, but not as a general rule. And the fact that sages held different opinion proves that it was not viewed as general rule.

      You are entitled to your opinion on that. But Rambam, Rabbeinu Avraham, Rav Herzog and Rav Hirsch all said otherwise and generalized from that statement. You don't have to agree with them, but I'm not trying to prove that every Orthodox Jew or authority has a similar view on that. I'm merely stating the obvious: some of our greatest thinkers did reach the conclusion that would could generalize from the Gemara.

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    6. >>I'm sorry if I didn't make that clear. It is only in the Hebrew translation. The Arabic is cut off at the beginning and the end.<<

      In which case we can only speculate whether or not that's what Rabbeinun Avraham really wrote.


      If you believe that, I won't dispute it. But we have very few texts in the original handwriting of their authors, so you are going to be throwing out a lot of Orthodox Judaism including the Talmud. Good luck on establishing your new religion :).

      In any case, that is not Rabbi Meiselman's argument, so I won't dispute it here.

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    7. @Lazar, I speculate that your סברה חיצונה is not like R Avraham. Have you wondered about other important elements of Jewish thought, if they are earlier than Rishon X? For example, have you ever looked, no, has it ever *occurred *to *you *to *look, for earlier sources than Rambam for his 13 principles? Why only here do you ask about earlier sources?

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  8. For the last two posts:
    Nowhere does it say "Rabbenu Abraham is a mainstream opinion". Translate it as "there is no push off to what was said, because there is a support to it from the words of Rabbenu Abraham". Which would indicate it is not the mainstream opinion- rather it is a lone opinion and there is a precedent that one can rely on and it is not a renovated made up idea.


    I don't want to get into the semantics on a precise definition of mainstream, because this is beside the point. If you are a follower of Daas Torah of Rav Elyashiv and anything other that what he says is not mainstream, then you are entitled to your opinion, but I'm making a different argument.

    I'm addressing the argument that the position of the Discourse is such an outlier that it is outside the mainstream and thus not to be believed. We have Rav Hirsch and Rav Herzog making it a key element of their approach to Chazal's scientific statements. Rav Hirsch does this independently from the Discourse and Rav Herzog bring the Discourse as an summation of the Jewish approach, not as a source. Rav Shomo Zalman saying the approach is inarguable. We can add the Pachad Yitzchak and Dor Revii who go on the the next step to ask what to do when a halacha based on a scientific error of Chazal is uncovered. These authorities are not saying that it is a Daas Yachid that you can "rely on" when needed. They are saying that it is the truth. The other authorities do not make this central to their approach, but admit that our science is better than that of Chazal (at least some times). Rav Merzbach indicates that it is mitzvah to continuously increase knowledge and that this is a sign of the end times that this wondrous thing is happening.

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  9. Nowhere does it say "Rabbenu Abraham is a mainstream opinion"

    To bring this into sharper focus:

    The attitude of the orthodox Jew towards the scientific matter embedded in this colossal mass of Jewish religious learning may be best summed up in the words of R. Abraham Maimuni -- Rav Herzog

    Harder to get clearer than that...

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  10. Has anyone noted the parallel to the Rambam's position in Hil. Melakhim 12:2: וכל אלו הדברים וכיוצא בהן--לא יידע אדם היאך יהיו, עד שיהיו: שדברים סתומים הן אצל הנביאים. גם החכמים אין להם קבלה בדברים אלו, אלא לפי הכרע הפסוקים; ולפיכך יש להם מחלוקת בדברים אלו. If the details of the messianic era, which has clear religious significance, are not part of the Sages' received wisdom, but instead they are left to speculate, why would the details of the science of the world be part of their received wisdom, and not their speculation based on pesukim, as in the case of their eschatology?

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    1. WFB, I think that they would answer that we have a tradition that the "end time" is hidden. But think you for the reference. He does seem to reiterate here that those thing about which there are arguments are ones where there is no tradition.

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  11. From here
    http://slifkinchallenge.blogspot.com/2015/05/quick-notes-on-kosher-switch.html?showComment=1431859765139


    AnonymousMay 15, 2015 at 2:01 AM

    I'm curious if FKM will respond to David Ohsie's series of posts on Rabbeinu Avraham ben ha-Rambam. Some of his criticisms of R. Meiselman are so devastating that for the life of me I cannot figure out how R. Mesiselman could have read some of Rabbinu Avraham's statements the way he did.

    Lawence Kaplan
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    Freelance Kiruv ManiacMay 17, 2015 at 1:49 PM

    I'll wait till he's finished and see what there is that actually needs responding to.

    So far he has not even addressed a significant fraction of the evidence mounted by Rav Meiselman in his book.
    ...
    After reading David Ohsie's posts and then reading the chapter in the book again, I detected a recurrent theme which seems to be designed to mislead the reader.

    Right there in the book, Rav Meiselman often presents a line of evidence, evaluates it, scrutinizes it, and then ranks it as either a major or minor point contributing to his overall thesis.
    Now David Ohsie seems to be taking all these lines of evidence that Rav Meiselman already demoted to being a minor, arguable point, tries to build up the arguments against the point to the extreme, and then touts this as a refutation of Rav Meiselman's supposed line of evidence. Making it seem as if these were Rav Meiselman major points that are vital to his thesis.

    It's a lot of smoke and mirrors to give the perception that the book's core arguments are under serious attack when in reality, its a serious attack on a point that Rav Meiselman already identified in his book as being subject to debate and of minor significance.
    shaul shapiraMay 19, 2015 at 9:35 PM

    What are Rabbi Meiselman's core arguments against the Ma'amar's valididty?
    Freelance Kiruv ManiacMay 19, 2015 at 9:48 PM

    I listed What seemd to me to be the most compelling arguments in the last post responding to Iarwain's critique.
    I'll paste the summary here, but to really appreciate it, you should read those posts in full.

    "I myself am not sure how to rank each argument individually.
    But putting together the fact that this ma’amar differs significantly with the Rambam on 1) the Rambam’s girsah in Pesachim (and Chuillin), 2) the Rambam’s pshat in the gemara Chullin, 3) the Rambam’s approach to accepting statements based on authority, 4) either the Rambam’s approach to the efficacy of segulos or his understanding of Chazal’s approach to the non-efficacy of segulos—all in the space of a very short section of text, seems to very a very powerful argument against attributing its authorship to Rav Avrohom Ben Horambam.
    ...
    And then combine that with the fact that it contradicts a teshuvoh of Rav Avrohom which says one may not argue on Rav Ashi and that no original Arabic fragment or comprehensive synopsis of this ma’amar has a record of this controversial section.

    To my mind, adding all this up would indeed serve to make Rav Meiselman’s case extremely compelling."

    Note that even before David Ohsie started picking apart the discrepancies between the original arabic and the hebrew translation, that line of evidence did not make my list. It's obviously a very minor point in the overall argument against attribution to RABHRMBM.

    (So far, David Ohsie hasn't tackled any of the items on my list, which supports my suspicions about his tactics, but you never know what the future will bring.)"


    Can you respond? Thanks very much,

    Also, can you pdf this whole thing? Thanks again.

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  12. @Eddie, ok i take back the word “mainstream”.

    “The point is that rabbi moshe levi and rabbi ovadia yoseph in that letter did not point to any of the sources you bring, rather they only brought rabbenu abraham who made his comment as explicit as it was….”

    (earlier) “Rather it is a lone opinion and there is a precedent that one can rely on and it is not a renovated made up idea….”

    Although rav ovadia typically would bring many sources, i wouldN’T assume that he necessarily did so in every conversation. R avraham is the best known and most easily accessed source for this view, so he mentioned it.
    (people complained when rav feldman referred to this view as “r avraham’s” when many others also held of it. If he merely used the popular name i don’t think that’s the worst problem.)

    Please allow me to ask you or anyone else a few questions.

    1- According to rav ovadia,"Is Rabbeinu Avraham an Outlier in Modern Times?"

    2- The context of r levi’s teshuva is that “now some men calling themselves “avrechim” rose against me because of jealousy and resentfulness ... regarding what i wrote in the book regarding lice, ... starting a major storm about this matter; and the evil inclination left happy and contented. Immediately some fine avrechim ... asked that i relate to this….” And eventually he went to rav ovadia, who defended him to whatever degree....
    So do you believe that r slifkin and the rest of us qualify for that degree of defense from r meiselman’s attack (or whatever you want to call it) based on r ovadia’s view, that he gave to r levi?

    3- What is your סברה חיצונה, like this “r avraham’s view” or not? (i find that when people read the sources they very very often manage in their own eyes to maintain their סברה חיצונה. I’ve also found people who get very stressed when they hear the “r avraham’s view”. For this reason i don’t impose it on anyone who isn’t on the offensive.) This might shed light on your improbable translation of והסכים שאין שום דופי בדברינו וסייענו מדברי ר' אברהם. Even google translate had a more likely translation.

    (bear in mind also the context. Men calling themselves avreichim thought he wrote דופי so rav ovadia said there’s no דופי…. If yourסברה חיצונה is against the “r avraham’s view” you’ll naturally explain that to mean it’s little better than non-דופי but otherwise you wouldn’t read too much into those words. These are r levi’s words, not r ovadia’s)

    4- Allow me a wild guess—did you live near r avigdor miller?

    ... But it doesn’t matter whether you did or didn’t, the main question is, does he qualify for you as a “modern authority” such that if he repeats the sentiment of the “r avraham’s view” it has any meaning to you? (this again depends somewhat on your סברה חיצונה.)

    thank you for your time.

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  13. Ken, thank you for your comment.

    I'd prefer not to engage in shadow boxing, but the chapter is 34 pages long and I've gone through approximately the first 17 so far. I'll get some of the other topics next.

    I'll make it available on google docs once it's all done.

    Thank you for reading.

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  14. Please see Yabia Omer volume 10 siman 24 for Rav Ovadia Yoseph view on Rabbenu Abraham. While it's not "kephira" it's okay for kiruv and we shouldn't push these people who teach it away with two hands.
    This question was asked by the chief Rabbi of the Brooklyn Syrain (Rabbi Yaakov Kassin) community what to do with a specific rabbi that was relying on the Rabbenu Abraham (even he had to ask Rabbi Ovadia what to do in this situation).

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    1. I looked up the Yabia Omer. I don't know what Rav Ovadia held exactly, but his emphasis is on not changing the halacha. He quotes Rav Herzog's Tshuva to that effect (that even though we know that spontaneous generation is false, we still are allowed to kill lice on Shabbos). That the underlying science was mistaken is apparently at least acceptable and maybe more.

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  15. You can also see what Rabbi Ovadia holds on Metiza in Meor Leyisrael (Shabbat daf 133) against medical science or Halichot Olam 4 page 19 that we can kill lice on Shabbat against scientific evidence of today.

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  16. David. Please explain what you are trying to say about Rav Shlomo Zalman. The situation is very simple. Imagine the following scenario:
    Someone asks you to approve an article they wrote and its main support is for Hillel in the gemara Sanhedrin that says there is no Messhiach for Yisrael. What will be your response? You know there is another mainstream opinion but you can't remember who and this opinion should be placed in Yesh Omrim. You yourself are not allowed to argue with Hillel without support of another Tanna.
    In this situation Rav Shlomo Zalman clearly say Rabbenu Abraham as a minority opinion even though he couldn't remember who argued and he himself would not be allowed to argue unless it was another Rishon. We see we are posek in this Hashkafa view and while Rabbenu Abraham is not an apikores we should not follow his view. And this was before (R Mesielman) that anyone challenged the authenticity of this document.

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  18. Rav Shlomo Zalman clearly say Rabbenu Abraham as a minority opinion even though he couldn't remember who argued and he himself would not be allowed to argue unless it was another Rishon.

    But that isn't what he said at all. He didn't say that "he couldn't remember who argued"; he said that he couldn't remember if anyone at all actually argued with Rabbeinu Avraham (אינני זוכר אם יש מישהו שממש חולק). He also didn't say that "he himself would not be allowed to argue". He said that he didn't know if *anyone* could argue (אפילו אם יש מישהו שיכול לחלוק עליהם). He then goes on to explain that he didn't mean that anyone argued with Rabbeinu Avraham; rather he meant that many others did not bring Rabbeinu Avraham's reason for disregarding the medical advice in the Talmud.

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  19. Your version of the story clearly differs with the way it was written in Reb Shlomo Zalman (biography) by Stern. On page 94 it says that Reb Shlomo had forgotten the original sources. "I don't remember who argued..." I would assume he researched this story well and you just made a derivation from his words. I have some questions on your version of the story.
    1) If Reb Shlomo didn't think anyone CAN argue then why would he tell Dr Abraham this opinion was a minority? (If nobody can argue it would be a Kole Alma).
    2) Why did Reb Shlomo tell Rabbi Lerner to publish his letter (that he doesn't know if anyone could/does argue) in order for other Talmedi Chachamim to read it and find out the opinions of the contrasting side if he didn't think that anybody actually argued?
    3) Didn't he say the opinions who holds "change in nature" are arguing with Rabbenu Abraham?
    Bottom line anyway you want to phrase it- Reb Shlomo still meant for this to be a minority opinion.

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  20. Your version of the story clearly differs with the way it was written in Reb Shlomo Zalman (biography) by Stern. On page 94 it says that Reb Shlomo had forgotten the original sources. "I don't remember who argued..." I would assume he researched this story well and you just made a derivation from his words. I have some questions on your version of the story.

    Thank you so much for the reference. I'm going to see if I can track this down in Hebrew. This is your best comment yet.

    My analysis is not based on any "story". I'm basing myself on the text as written. The story as you present it contradicts the text as written.

    1) If Reb Shlomo didn't think anyone CAN argue then why would he tell Dr Abraham this opinion was a minority? (If nobody can argue it would be a Kole Alma).

    He explains that while the principle is true and inarguable, as an explanation for the reason that we disregard medical advice from the Talmud, it is brought down by only a minority of opinions.

    Here is an analogy. If I seek to explain why people desire political office, I could claim that it is a result of the fact that people desire money, and political office is a way to make money. Someone who argues with me and says that the reason is that people desire power is giving an alternative reason but is not arguing with the fact that people want money.

    2) Why did Reb Shlomo tell Rabbi Lerner to publish his letter (that he doesn't know if anyone could/does argue) in order for other Talmedi Chachamim to read it and find out the opinions of the contrasting side if he didn't think that anybody actually argued?

    The statement as published does not align with this story.

    3) Didn't he say the opinions who holds "change in nature" are arguing with Rabbenu Abraham?

    They are arguing perhaps on whether this is the dominant reason for disregarding the medical advice of Chazal. But, according to his statement, they can't argue the underlying truth of the principle.

    Bottom line anyway you want to phrase it- Reb Shlomo still meant for this to be a minority opinion.

    1) Not really, as I explained.
    2) If true, this still refutes the approach of TCS.

    BTW, is this book a true biography or hagiography? If the latter, then it is pretty easy to explain the contradiction.

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    1. OK, I downloaded that section from Oztar.

      1) It's definitely a hagiography. It describes how the doctors were amazed at his medical knowledge despite not him not studying any medicine.

      2) It presents a text of his letter which is not the same as the printed version as reported by both TCS and the Torah and Science blog (I don't have the book and can't find it on Otzar). I assume that it is attempting to summarize and not be completely accurate or else they didn't like the letter as it was an changed it up a bit.

      Here is the translation from the book for comparison. It is quite different:

      "...That I don't remember now who argues on them [Rabbeinu Avraham and Rav Sherira Gaon] aside from the fact the there is no one now that has the power to argue with them. But since we find that it was paskened in the Shulchan Aruch that we violate Shabbos for many types of disease which the doctors of our days say that there are not a danger at all, perforce the halacha is that we don't consider at all the knowledge of medicine in our days in opposition to the words of Chazal."

      I suppose that if you are willing to change the text, then you can draw all kinds of conclusions.

      3) The story about him asking for people to send in letters identifying who argues is again to teach a lesson, so I don't know how seriously to take it.

      Do you have a copy of Rabbi Lerner's book? I'd like to see it.

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    2. Every book of a Gadol is a hagiography, if it was a biography it would be banned like "Making of a Gadol". But that doesn't mean the facts weren't true.

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    3. Yes I do. The text is in the 6th part of the introduction and it is similar to TCS and the way you quoted it. Not like the translation from the biography/hagiography. But it does change the story the way they translated/summarized it. I will ask someone close to Reb Shlomo if they knew the precise details of the story.

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    4. Every book of a Gadol is a hagiography, if it was a biography it would be banned like "Making of a Gadol". But that doesn't mean the facts weren't true.

      There are academic treatments of some Gedolim. In any case, since this subject is hardly viewpoint neutral, it is difficult to get anything out of the book on this score, especially given the apparent change to make the text more amenable to the Charedi viewpoint.

      Yes I do. The text is in the 6th part of the introduction and it is similar to TCS and the way you quoted it. Not like the translation from the biography/hagiography. But it does change the story the way they translated/summarized it.

      Can you copy/photograph the relevant sections and email them to Rabbi Slifkin so that I can see them myself?

      I will ask someone close to Reb Shlomo if they knew the precise details of the story.

      Unfortunately, this method is subject to the same influences as the book.

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