Thursday, November 5, 2015

Egg-Laying Elephants and Overly-Pregnant Wolves

Of the 2,711 pages in the Babylonian Talmud, the one featuring the most conflicts between the Sages and modern science has got to be Bechoros 8a.

It begins by describing the "people of the sea" which breed like human. This, however, does not pose any conflict with science. Although Rashi explains the Gemara as referring to mermaids, which interbreed with people, the Gemara is actually talking about dolphins, as I discuss in Sacred Monsters. But after that, the Gemara gets much more problematic.

The Gemara then says that "Any species in which the male has external genitalia bears live young; any in which the male has internal genitalia, lays eggs." As a general rule, this is strikingly accurate, and the Gemara's rules are often only meant to be general. However, this section of Gemara is intending to give absolute rules, as evinced by the fact that the Gemara on the previous page names the bat as an exception to its rule that every lactating mammal gives birth to live young (ironically, the bat is actually not an exception to this rule). And as an absolute statement, it is incorrect that any species in which the male has internal genitalia, lays eggs. Whales, dolphins, elephants, giant anteaters, and hyraxes all have internal genitalia, and none of them lay eggs. If you want to avoid this problem by arguing that the Gemara is talking about genitalia that are permanently internal, then you run into a problem with the first part of the Gemara's statement, which would have to correspondingly be referring to species in which the genitalia of males are not permanently internal and can be extruded. The males of many reptiles, and even some birds, extrude their genitalia, and yet they do not bear live young.

The Gemara then states that if an animal mates during the day, then it gives birth during the day, and if it mates during the night, then it gives birth during the night. I haven't checked this one out, but I doubt that it's true.

Next, the Gemara states that any two types of animal that mate in the same position and have the same period of gestation, can interbreed. This is clearly not true. Countless species are identical in these details and yet are genetically incompatible and cannot produce hybrids.

Then comes a particularly fascinating passage:
Everything copulates front facing back, except for three species that copulate face-to-face: fish, humans and snakes. And what is unique about these three? When Rav Dimi came, it was said in the West: Since the Divine Presence spoke with them (Jonah’s whale and the primordial serpent). It was taught that the camel copulates back-to-back. 

Although the Gemara's first principle is broadly accurate, there are actually other animals that mate face-to-face: bonobos and sloths. And although a camel's penis normally points backwards, it awkwardly twists it around to the front during mating, so that they copulate front-to back, unlike as described in the Gemara.

The Gemara continues to list the gestation periods of various animals:
The Rabbis taught: A hen [lays its eggs] after twenty-one days, and corresponding to it among trees is the almond [whose fruit ripens twenty-one days after its blossoming]. The [gestation period of a] dog is fifty days, and corresponding to it among trees is the fig. The [gestation period of a] cat is fifty-two days, and corresponding to it among trees is the mulberry. The [gestation period of a] pig is sixty days, and corresponding to it among trees is the apple. The [gestation period of a] fox and all kinds of creeping creatures is six months, and corresponding to it among trees is wheat. The [gestation period of] small clean animals is five months, and corresponding to it among trees is the vine. Large unclean domestic animals [go with young] for twelve months, and corresponding to them is a palm-tree among trees. The [gestation period of] clean large cattle is nine months, and corresponding [to clean large cattle] is an olive-tree among trees. The [gestation period of the] wolf, lion, bear, leopard, cheetah, elephant, monkey, and long-tailed ape is three years, corresponding to them are white figs among trees... The [gestation period of a] serpent is seven years, and for that wicked animal there is no companion [among trees].
Many of these descriptions are accurate, but some are very far off. The gestation period of foxes and other small animals is much, much less than six months. The gestation period of the wolf, lion, bear, leopard, cheetah, elephant, and monkey, is much, much less than three years. The gestation period of the snake is much less than seven years.

So, what are we to make of all these? From a rationalist perspective, none of this poses any kind of theological problem. Following in the footsteps of countless Geonim, Rishonim, and Acharonim, we would simply say that Chazal were speculating or repeating ancient beliefs about the natural world that we now know to be incorrect.

But according to many (but not all) charedi rabbonim, such an approach is heretical. In particular, let us consider Rabbi Moshe Meiselman, because he is giving a shiur on this very page of Gemara in Baltimore tomorrow morning, at 5:50am in Kol Torah (it's open to all).

Rabbi Meiselman insists that any definitive statement made by the Sages cannot be challenged, and that to do so is heresy. Indeed, the bulk of his 800 page book on Torah, Chazal and Science serves to stress this point. He further repeatedly makes clear that he believes himself to be one of the few people (or only person) qualified to address these topics. So what does he do with the cases listed above?

Maybe he'd say that when the Gemara talks about camels and foxes and wolves, it doesn't mean camels and foxes and wolves, but rather entirely different animals that are unknown to us. That, of course, is an absurd suggestion, but is it absurd to suggest that he would offer such an absurd suggestion? Not at all, because that's exactly what he does in some of these cases!

Rabbi Meiselman claims that the atalef (bat) mentioned in the Gemara as laying eggs is not actually a bat, as has traditionally and universally been understood. Rather, he says that it is a platypus, which Chazal somehow knew about, and which they called by the same name as an animal that is birdlike in other ways, thereby misleading every single student of the Talmud for nearly two thousand years, other than him. And he claims (p. 5) that the snake mentioned by the Gemara is not any of the ordinary types of snake, referred to with that name in countless other passages in the Gemara, but rather refers to a different and entirely unknown species. So maybe Rabbi Meiselman would likewise claim that the camels and foxes and wolves and other animals mentioned on this page likewise do not refer to the animals that they were traditionally understood to refer to, but instead to unknown species!

However, Rabbi Meiselman does not actually do so, for reasons that are unclear. Instead, when he addresses one of the passages in this Gemara (regarding gestation periods), in a footnote on p. 6, he presents two possibilities. One is that the Gemara is not talking about the length of gestation, but rather "some other aspect of the reproductive process." This vague speculation does not seriously address the issues. What other aspect could be reconciled with these statements? What aspect of the reproductive process can be said to be fifty days with a dog, six months with a fox, and three years with a wolf? Furthermore, this does not address the other problematic statements on this page of Gemara, such as that any species in which the male has internal genitalia lays eggs, or that camels mate backwards, or that any two types of animal that mate in the same position and have the same gestation period can interbreed.

Rabbi Meiselman's other suggestion is that "the facts of nature have simply changed over the years." This claim (which is ironically often advanced by those who simultaneously argue that evolution is scientifically impossible) cannot be taken at all seriously by anyone even remotely familiar with zoology. Elephants used to lay eggs, but no longer do so? Countless species used to be interfertile, but are no longer interfertile? Camels used to mate back-to-back, but now awkwardly twist themselves around to mate front-to-back? Wolves, which are genetically virtually identical to dogs, used to have a gestation period of three years?! (Perhaps someone in Baltimore would like to attend the shiur tomorrow and pose these questions, and record his response?)

As I have stated many times, if someone is determined to believe these things, I have no problem with that, as long as they don't attempt to impose their belief on others. But Rabbi Meiselman claims that he is the greatest expert on these topics, and that anyone who takes the rationalist approach of Rabbeinu Avraham and Rav Hirsch is a heretic. And, amazingly, there are many people who take him seriously (albeit not outside of the charedi world). It's important to bring these cases of the Gemara to the forefront of discussion, in order to expose how his approach simply cannot be taken seriously. Any serious person knows that the rationalist approach of Rabbeinu Avraham and Rav Hirsch is not only not heresy - it's the only remotely reasonable approach to take.

(Note: The full index of critiques of Rabbi Meiselman's book is here: http://www.rationalistjudaism.com/2013/10/torah-chazal-and-science.html. You can download a PDF of all the parts written so far at this link.)

85 comments:

  1. The Gemara's descriptions are hard to understand even from a Rationalist point of view. For instance, how is it possible that a people living in the Middle East would not know how camels mate? Wouldn't anybody have simply decided to look? Even if the rabbis themselves didn't own camels, surely they did business with people who did.

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    1. For many centuries, people were under the mistaken impression that men and women have a different number of teeth, because Aristotle had said so. Anyone could have looked, but they didn't. Once a statement was said on authority, it didn't even occur to people to verify it. And if they happened to see a contrary observation, they would dismiss it as an aberration.

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    2. I don't think it's the same. Counting teeth takes some effort (however minimal), while every camel breeder and driver and even people just passing by pens full of camels would have seen camels mate. You would think it would have been common knowledge.

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    3. @ Shamino - I think you make an excellent point! Chazal were no fools or idiots - when they said something it could be a variable of possibilities. 1) They meant exactly what they said 2) they were exaggerating 3) they are saying something, WE JUST DONT UNDERSTAND WHAT THEY ARE SAYING! (I think this point about the camels proves that something that was in front of their eyes and easily verifiable - they chose to say something different! (It would be foolish to suggest they made an ill informed statement - we are talking about responsible sages whose words we accept in Halacha as de-facto - all of a sudden we are going to say they didn’t know what they were talking about, ludicrous!)
      I think this point is what some here have a hard time accepting. Just look at the obvious fact – Chazal were geniuses and new things that science only came to acknowledge thousands of years later. Chazal were brilliant and responsible individuals with knowledge of all the worlds’ languages and wisdom why say they didn’t know the obvious?! The more rational and likely explanation is WE DON’T UNDERSTAND WHAT THEY MEANT OR WHAT THEY WERE TALKING ABOUT!

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    4. " Just look at the obvious fact – Chazal were geniuses and new things that science only came to acknowledge thousands of years later. "

      That is not an "obvious fact". In fact while I have seen this claimed many times, I have never seen any evidence for it.

      "Chazal were brilliant and responsible individuals with knowledge of all the worlds’ languages and wisdom"

      Something else that I have never seen any evidence for. In fact, there are several Gemaras that say explicitly otherwise.

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    5. "That is not an "obvious fact". In fact while I have seen this claimed many times, I have never seen any evidence for it."

      What about: # for pie, shape of the universe, kosher animals living without kidneys, grasshoppers being blinded by water, development of fetus 40 days, astronomical number of stars (berachos 32b) gluten in grains regarding chametz. etc....many many more examples. Why would someone feel compelled to try to show chazal as anything other than extremely knowledgeable? It would seem to me chazal knew much more than the few things you claim they didn’t know. Why try to "catch" them on the few things they didn’t know instead of focusing on their great knowledge and contribution to Judaism/mankind. As religious Jews don’t we follow there every word as it relates to Judaism? Why try to discredit them? If for some reason you wanted to reveal what they "didn’t" know, wouldn’t it be appropriate to do so with the utmost concern for their respect and reverence of them?
      They were great men after all with divine inspiration in many areas of chocmah.

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    6. "Chazal were brilliant and responsible individuals with knowledge of all the worlds’ languages and wisdom"
      Every member of the great Sanhendrin knew all 70 languages of the world. Chazal were on par with all of the nobles of the time in wisdom in fact, they usually bested them in debate as recorded numerous places in the gem rah. additionally chazal had extremely extensive knowledge in mathematics, astronomy, biology and psychology. Is there any reason to suggest that chazal were not knowledgeable? If there is then one or 2 examples of chazal “not knowing” or making “mistakes” is certainly insufficient to prove that. (Not that chazal are on trial and need anyone to defend them – it’s like the person who questions whether the painting of Mona Lisa is an artistic masterpiece. All artists accept that it is a masterpiece, that’s why in it’s the museum in France. All authentic Jews accept that the words of chazal are not to be challenged. That’s what Torah Sbaal Peh is – accepting all that chazal said. Otherwise the whole concept of Torah Sbaal Peh is down the drain if you start questioning chazal’s integrity.)
      “OK, Ok, so they knew everything but not modern day science” firstly, why would you be so hasty to write them off as observing things that modern science itself is in dispute about. Secondly modern science is constantly changing and nothing just about is an absolute truth in modern science. Thirdly, modern science has been caught deliberately falsifying “fact” in order to further agenda. (Such as climate change) Lastly, chazal were divinely inspired and much of their wisdom one could arguably suggest came from divinely inspired empirical wisdom. It’s not really relevant whether they came to the truth through their own knowledge or with divine assistance – they always came to the truthful conclusion. Besides, who has the right to say what chazal meant, since many times they spoke in riddle or exaggeration.

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    7. Uh-oh, I see that you are new here. Virtually everything that you write has been discussed here in great detail, and has been shown to not only be false, but to be inconsistent with classical Judaism.

      "# for pie, shape of the universe, kosher animals living without kidneys, grasshoppers being blinded by water, development of fetus 40 days, astronomical number of stars (berachos 32b) gluten in grains regarding chametz. etc....many many more examples"
      Not a single one of these examples stands up to scrutiny.

      "As religious Jews don’t we follow there every word as it relates to Judaism? Why try to discredit them? "
      The aim is not to discredit them. It is to point out that rationalist Jews should not be condemned as apikorsim. Instead, they are taking a position that is (a) true and (b) consistent with a strong school of thought in classical Judaism.

      "chazal had extremely extensive knowledge in mathematics, astronomy, biology and psychology."
      No, they didn't, and nor did they claim to.

      "Is there any reason to suggest that chazal were not knowledgeable? If there is then one or 2 examples of chazal “not knowing” or making “mistakes” is certainly insufficient to prove that."
      It's more like dozens of cases of their statements being inconsistent with what we know, and not a single example of their knowledge being ahead of their time.

      "Lastly, chazal were divinely inspired and much of their wisdom one could arguably suggest came from divinely inspired empirical wisdom."
      Chazal say otherwise. Why don't you start with my monographs on "The sun's path at night" and "Sod Hashem Liyreyav."

      There's really no point discussing this any further until you do some basic studying of these topics. Just use Google and add the words "rationalist judaism" to your search in order to locate my discussions of these topics.

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    8. This is all bluff and pseudo answers, just because you have hypothesis suggesting the opposite and SOME examples of such, there are just as many hypothesis and examples showing the exact opposite! My point is, it is hardly scholarly or honest to suggest a theory as absolute truth and bring some example while deliberately not quoting others that would discredit your position. If your positions aren’t backed by absolute truths, how can you claim they are! Secondly, you can’t bring theories to absolutely discredit other theories; solid and unequivocal evidence would be needed to justify that. I see as well they you have deliberately left out responding to the examples I made regarding the wisdom of chazal. You can’t sweep under the rug and ignore obvious examples in exchange for equally as obvious examples showing the opposite. This type of scholarship doesn’t stand up to honest scrutiny. If you want to suggest theories and hypothesis, that’s perfectly legitimate. But, don’t claim these as absolute truths!

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  2. Rabbi Slifkin, do you know of any ancient beliefs that these statements could have been based on?

    Some female snakes can store a male's sperm for a number of years and become pregnant a number of times from one copulation. That might be a source for the seven-year snake idea.

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    1. Snakes can also sometimes give birth without impregnation.

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  3. Elephants were around and commonly used, it's not rational they would really believe it lays eggs.

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    1. Moe, I don't think that you understood what I wrote. I never claimed that Chazal believed that elephants lay eggs.

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  4. "Any species in which the male has external genitalia bears live young; any in which the male has internal genitalia, lays eggs." As a general rule, this is strikingly accurate, and the Gemara's rules are often only meant to be general. However, this section of Gemara is intending to give absolute rules, as evinced by the fact that the Gemara on the previous page names the bat as an exception to its rule that every lactating mammal gives birth to live young (ironically, the bat is actually not an exception to this rule).

    Perhaps the did understand that these were generalizations, but opted to list obvious or known exceptions (or purported exceptions). Just because they listed the exceptions that they knew doesn't necessarily mean that they believed that other exceptions could not exist.

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    1. That's a possibility, but it doesn't help R. Meiselman. The platypus is not an obvious or known exception, and yet according to him the Gemara mentioned it. Whereas hyraxes and elephants were known animals, and yet the Gemara did not mention them.

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    2. Agreed. I wasn't trying to resuscitate R. Meiselman's theory :).

      I do think that overly literal interpretations of Chazal lead to various avoidable puzzles. E.g. Did Chazal think that they literally banished the desire for idol worship via a decree?

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    3. My Rebbeim would certainly have said so. I vaguely recall seeing a Midrash somewhere about this episode involving a Lion cub (I believe representing said desire for idol worship) coming out of the Kodesh Kodashim and being killed by the Chachamim.

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  5. As an aside, there would also appear to be lots of factual inaccuracies with respect to the Gemara's statements regarding the Blossom to Ripening period of the various fruit. For example, in temperate climates, the average blossom to ripening time of an apple is about 5-6 months. No doubt that period is a little shorter in Mediterranean climates but its certainly not two months. Figs don't blossom externally- the blossom is in the interior of the fruit so figs don't really blossom. Almonds take about 6 months (not 21 days) from blossom to ripening. white figs take a few months (not three years) to ripen from the time the little figs buds appear on the trees, just the same as purple/black figs.

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  6. For Hebrew-speakers: http://www.net-sah.org/audio/18851 and http://www.hydepark.co.il/topic.asp?topic_id=2671503&whichpage=&forum_id=20067#R_3

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  7. Without you all these problems would have been sweeped under the rug and lots of black hatters would not have any emunna problems

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    1. Until they start doubting everything their rabbis say and go completely OTD.

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  8. Moshe Dick writes:

    Broadly, I suscribe to Rabbi Slifkin's approach that our Chazal were not all-knowing and certainly were not familiar with all of zoology, astronomy...etc. Hence, i have little time for all the mental gymnastics by Rabbi Meiselman and others. What incenses me is Rabbi Meiselman's assertion that, unless you believe that every word in gemoro -and medrash- is accurate , you are a heretic. "mi somcho l'ish?" I have read and re-read Rambam's thirteen principles and nowhere does the word "gemoro" or even "torah shebaal peh" appear. Only the "Torah", clearly meaning "Torah shebichsav". Clearly, in the sense of being the authority on "halocho',one must accept the authority of Chazal -but to call someone a heretic because one does not accept the full veracity on "aggadata' and on matters of science is just a way to curtail any debate. It will drive away well meaning Jews and increase the absurdity of chareidi thinking.

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    1. > I have read and re-read Rambam's thirteen principles and nowhere does the word "gemoro" or even "torah shebaal peh" appear.

      The words "Torah shbaal pe" may not appear, but you might want to re-read the eight principle:

      כמו כן פירוש התורה המקובל ג"כ מפי הגבורה וזה שאנו עושים היום מתבנית סוכה ולולב...

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    2. That reference in the 8th principle is to only a small part of the Torah sheba'al peh. According to the Rambam, most of the Torah sheba'al peh was not given mipi hagevura. See his intro to mishna.

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    3. All of the examples that rambam gives are halakhic details, like the identity of the lulav ama the fact that the shofar Cannot be made from a bull's horn. He never mentions that we have a religious obligation to accept talmudic zoological observations or 5th century persian folk medicine as deriving from divine mandate.

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    4. Moshe Dick writes:
      Joseph-you have it exactly right. The obligation upon us to follow the words of chazal applies only to halachic matters, not to any matters that are not deemed halachic, whether aggadata's or common daily understandings. The chareidi have foisted upon us an interpretation of "lo sossur' that is totally novel and really was never the norm. Rav Meiselman bases his entire approach to divrei chazal on this novel interpretation that every world that was ever uttered by a Tannah or Amora must be accepted. Truth is that this only applies to halachic terms and nothing else. This novel position has lee us today to sanctify every godol's words as if they were divine and had to be accepted, whereas in truth there is no such basis in our history. Halacha yes, all other sayings no,

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  9. What is amazing is not what the Chazal got wrong but the fact that they could intelligently discuss these things. I very much doubt that any Charedi rabbi of today could even begin to discuss these things. Which shows that the Chazal valued secular knowledge and were immersed within it. Unlike today, they tried to understand everything about God's world and did not limit themselves to a very narrow perspective on the world. And maybe that is a lesson to today's students as well.

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  10. To me, this entire passage sounds like aggadta. The snake has no counterpart among the trees? There's only one thing that can be referring to.

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  11. "Rabbi Moshe Meiselman, because he is giving a shiur on this very page of Gemara in Baltimore tomorrow morning, at 5:50am in Kol Torah (it's open to all).

    Anybody can report on ths ?/?/?

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  12. So what does he do with the cases listed above?

    Obviously he omitted them from his 800 page book for a good reason.

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  13. Rabbi Meiselman claims that the atalef (bat) mentioned in the Gemara as laying eggs is not actually a bat, as has traditionally and universally been understood. Rather, he says that it is a platypus,

    Isn’t the atalef (bat) one of the non kosher birds that is listed in the torah.(platypus cant fly).

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    1. Yeah, he claims that the atalef in the Gemara is not the same as the atalef of the Torah! Really makes Chazal very sneaky.

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    2. Rashi there writes:in Bechorot 7b:
      מניק - שיש לו דדים וכל המטיל ביצים אין לו דדים ומלקט פירורים ומפרנס בניו. עטלף קלב"א שורי"ץ דומה לעכבר ויש לו כנפים:

      so he disagrees with Rashi

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    3. After stating in one place that one cannot argue with Rishonim in their interpretation of Breishis, he says that we can disregard their interpretation of Chazal when it aligned with their own mistaken science.

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  14. In Daf Yomi (Sotah 11) we just learned the boys are born with their faces down and girls with their faces up. The later acharonim (Ben Yehoyada, Chazon Ish) point out that nowadays this is not true and fall back to the old nishtaneh hateva standby.

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  15. According to you Rabbi Slifkin should we cut out these type of passages because they are not real torah and would be a sin to learn them because they are just misleading and bittul Tirah,???

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    1. because they are just misleading and bittul Tirah

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    2. Why waste time on mitaken ancient science views ,better learn about human chromosome no. 2 and endogenous retrovirus.

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    3. Because knowing that chazal held x can help us understand other statements of chazal.

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    4. @Natan Slifkin - What sort of personal agenda do you have that you have taken up the banner of "holy war" on Rabbi Moshe Meiselman? Why cant you have intelectual conversations without knocking people and groups.....By the way - look at Birds of the Torah page 100 he rufutes your whole theroy of masseh berashis in a very compelling way. Does that mean all your wrtings are refuted?! NO! just because you have a theory and someone differs doesnt mean they are wrong about everything they say. All these posts of yours would be so much more productive and benificial if you left out all the personal attacks anger hate and vengence that still simmers from the book banning fiasco.....stop fueling the flames of hate and bigotry on this blog!

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    5. "look at Birds of the Torah page 100 he rufutes your whole theroy of masseh berashis in a very compelling way"

      That's Rav Shimon Schwab's approach. I discuss it and explain why it doesn't work in chapter ten of The Challenge Of Creation.

      "Why cant you have intelectual conversations without knocking people and groups"

      What is unintellectual about this blog post?

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    6. Of course that approach "works" it just doesn’t fit with your "world view". I have seen this kind of intolerance for the views of others, a common thread on this blog. Because you have questions on certain statements or approaches of others, doesn’t negate that they may have a good point! Did you ever ask or think how those "questions" could be dealt with? With all due respect, you can have all the questions in the world on an individual or approach, but, that’s the extent of them "questions" I challenge you to ask people your question before you jump to the assumption that they are WRONG! Not all questions and answers are black and white! (I have seen many “leaps” and “assumptions” in your writings, don’t be so hasty! Speak it over with others , before you put it in print!)

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    7. No, it doesn't work. I take it that you have not actually read my book.

      Do you think that Obama's policies are wrong? I'm pretty sure that you do, and that you say so. I doubt you just say that you have questions on them. Ditto for Open Orthodox approaches, etc.

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    8. I may or may not dissagree with people, approaches etc. the point is that I say so with respect without negating the person.. You can disagree in principal - but respect and tolerance is a must! Insuating that someone who disagrres with you is a fool or ignoramous - is just downright haughty and disrespectful. To be specific I am refering to your derogtory remarks regarding Chareidim and remarks about R' Miesselman. You can diassagree, thats fine do iit like a mench. (by the way I feel the same way about your detractors - they certainly are wrong for the way they personaly insult and degrade you)

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    9. "To be specific I am refering to your derogtory remarks regarding Chareidim and remarks about R' Miesselman. "

      Specific examples, please.

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    10. Why in the world would a world renowned author and respected public speaker feel threatened by anonymous remarks made on your blog? I feel humbled, but why would you feel a need to even reckon with me? I’d rather not provide any “in your face” refutations, I feel more comfortable offering my 2 cents and moving on. I’m not here to rip you apart and degrade you. I’m here to learn from your wisdom and knowledge. It just disturbs me to have to read on this blog negative conversations about other well meaning Jews. I just wish all the fascinating threads and conversations could be carried on without personal agendas and people bashing.

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    11. I don't feel threatened in the least, that's why I let you post your accusations!

      You leveled a criticism based on an accusation, and I'm asking you to back it up with examples. That's a reasonable request! If you don't actually have anything to back up your charge, fine.

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  16. Natan Slifkin - I would love to hear your response to R' Meir Lubans explanation of shafan, arneves and gamal. I have never seen your response to his compelling proofs that he brings. (aside from the possuck in mishlay about "harim machseh lasfanim" how would David Hamelech know? R' luban has answered that point with the gemarah in chulin that Hashem brought all animals to Moshe Rabeinu and showed him them. the same way you have heard about things that youve never seen in person. that tradition could have easily been passed down to David Hamelech from Moshe Rabeinu. All he needed to know was that it was a camal like species that takes refuge i:e shelter in the mountain which the lama indeed does)

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  17. "I would love to hear your response"

    Well, your wish can be granted! Look at my book The Camel, The Hare and the Hyrax where I explain the problems with this approach in great detail.

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    1. Explain then how these animals (hare/hyrax) have "hooves" according to the biblical definition of hooves (it can’t mean one thing for cows and another for hyraxes)? Explain as well how chewing of the cud in its strictest biblical definition could mean anything other then what bovines do? Lastly, could it be that only people in the 21st century were privy to understand what the Torah meant by hooves and cud chewing highly implausible??????

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    2. My goodness. Do you really think that I didn't look into every single aspect of this? Look at my book!
      For starters, the Torah does not claim that these animals have hooves!

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    3. I have seen your writings.....for every proof you bring to back up your assertions there are 5 other proofs indicating the opposite! My point is, you can’t claim to be the ONLY holder of the absolute truth and no one else is even remotely correct! It is absurd to make such claims! There is a reason why there are multiple's of opposing views in the Talmud, Rishonim and Achronim. Because, each and every position has tens of proofs to support it and tens of proof to discredit it! I have seen this as a common theme in your writings to discredit completely the opposing views of others. It doesn’t work like that, each view has some merit! You don’t need to fall to pieces if someone suggests an alternative approach, be a mench and respect that others can and do have differences of opinion than you!

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    4. I'm fairly sure that the Iran nuke deal is a bad deal, but I'm not certain, and I'm open to the possibility that I am wrong. On the other hand, I am 100% sure that the world is round, that man landed on the moon, and that there was an age of dinosaurs, even though there are people who claim otherwise and have "lots of proofs". I do not believe that those views have any merit, and I'm pretty sure that you agree (at least for two out of three). I also believe that I have accumulated enough evidence to reach the same degree of certainty regarding the topics we are talking about. Outside of the charedi world, pretty much everyone agrees.

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    5. Also, I am pretty sure that you would claim that your religious view that Judaism is correct is "the ONLY absolute truth and no one else is remotely correct." You wouldn't accept that "each and every religion's claims has tens of proofs to support it and tens of proof to discredit it."

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    6. Are you 100% certain that the idendification of the Gamal , Shafan and Arneves are as you claim and imposiible for them to be other creatures other than those you claim them to be?
      Are you as certain to this "fact' as you are that the world is round?

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    7. I don't know if I am 100% or 99.99999%. But there's no practical difference.

      I don't know why it's so hard for you to understand that people can study something and legitimately conclude that there is only one remotely reasonable answer, even if many people think differently. Aren't you certain that Jesus was not divine, even though many people smarter than you think differently? And you are probably also sure that climate change is a hoax.

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    8. So you 100% certain that chazal had no clue what the Torah was talking about when it used the words cud chewing?! And 2000 years later you understand the simple reading of the Torah that they somehow missed?! A scholar such as yourself claiming to understand simple peshat in a passuk and that chazal had no clue?!!!!!!! Are you for real, are you impersonating the “real” Natan Slifkin?!

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    9. Yes, it is quite hard to fathom how the only person in the world since the six days of creation that truly got the Torah right and understands the meaning of all the brilliant writings of all volumes of the Talmud Bavli is a man named Rabbi Natan Slifkin. Do you have Prophecy or something is there any compelling reason why anyone should believe that you know better than all the previous Rabbis of all generations?! Not only that but somehow God made this generation smarter in comprehending his Torah correctly than all preceding generations?!

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    10. No, I'm not the only person by any means. My views are shared by lots and lots of people.

      What makes this generation smarter? It's called "progress." That's why people live a lot longer nowadays, and how we can send man to the moon, etc.

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    11. Last I checked, the early generations before the flood lived lots longer than anyone in recent history.....
      As far as "progress" only science and secular knowledge has that phenomenon. By the Torah it’s the exact opposite, the further we are disconnected from matan Torah the less connected to the Torah we are and the less we actually comprehend of its wisdom.

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    12. OK. So I guess you believe that the sky is a solid dome, the sun goes behind it at night, and the earth doesn't move, because that's what the ancient Torah scholars said. And as for the fact that later Rishonim and Acharonim said that the earlier Torah scholars have been proved wrong by science - well, I guess you'd wholesale dismiss them as Reform/Conservative.

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  18. Ok, so let me understand this: You goal is to show that we shouldn’t to take the Talmud Bavli seriously, and all Jews should second guess the Rabbis of the Talmud? So you write these fabulous books exposing the inaccuracies of the Rabbis and how little they actually knew of modern science. The Rabbis of the Talmud were apparently not familiar with the simple understanding of the Torah’s account of creation and of the identity of important animal species mentioned in the Torah. Those who study Talmud (I.e. normative mainstream Judaism) are wasting their time with old inaccurate and outdated information. Somehow all of Judaism was lacking until Rabbi Slifkin comes along and opens the eyes of the Jewish Nation to what real authentic Torah and Rabbinic Judaism should be about?!

    Ok, Ok, so R’ Avram ben Harambam had these identical views. Somehow his important writings were lost to mainstream Judaism and you came along and uncovered them, exposing them for the whole world! Somehow for hundreds of years Judaism lost the true tradition. Apparently, R’ Avram ben Harambam was such an essential Rishon in understanding Talmud and the Torah but somehow Jews for hundreds of years refused to accept his writings! How do such things happen?!

    Apparently, you feel as well, that the entire Jewish Nation has somehow strayed off course. The people who study Torah diligently day and night are bench warmers. They hold not, the authentic tradition of Judaism and are completely misguided. While it is a serious issue that many in the Religious circles don’t have an occupation. Rather, they learn all day. This may or not be wrong (depending on which community you ask). That is certainly irrelevant though to our discussion. For argument sake, even if the entire Orthodx community is wrong for devoting there live to Torah to the exclusion of science and working. Does this make them somehow not the bearers of the Torah true tradition? While it may cast doubt on a group if they all got it wrong in one area, I would still insist that the Jewish tradition in general has not been lost.

    What is beyond my comprehension however, is how somehow you feel that you have the Torah true tradition to the exclusion of all others and somehow everyone’s lifestyle other than yours is incorrect. Anyone not willing to join the IDF is somehow violating Jewish tradition and can’t be relied upon to transmit any forms of Jewish Tradition.

    Forgive, Rabbi Slifkin for my harsh critic, however I feel you have gone a bit too far. I understand the whole book ban thing really affected you immensely. However, I think your GPS needs some recalibration. I think the first step to accomplish this, is to differentiate between movements and people. While you may take issue with some or many in the Chareidi world. I would say, the vast majority of adherents to the Chareidi movement are wonderful, good and well meaning individuals. We are all part of Am Yisrael after all…..

    Good luck to you Rabbi Slifkin!

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  19. "You goal is to show that we shouldn’t to take the Talmud Bavli seriously, and all Jews should second guess the Rabbis of the Talmud?"

    Nope.

    "Those who study Talmud (I.e. normative mainstream Judaism) are wasting their time with old inaccurate and outdated information."

    Nope, never claimed anything even close to that.

    "Ok, Ok, so R’ Avram ben Harambam had these identical views. Somehow his important writings were lost to mainstream Judaism and you came along and uncovered them, exposing them for the whole world! "

    Nope, that WAS mainstream Judaism until quite recently. And even then it was still mainstream outside the charedi world.

    "is how somehow you feel that you have the Torah true tradition to the exclusion of all others and somehow everyone’s lifestyle other than yours is incorrect."

    Nope, just many charedim.

    "I would say, the vast majority of adherents to the Chareidi movement are wonderful, good and well meaning individuals."

    Absolutely! As are the vast majority of adherents to the Modern Orthodox, Open Orthodox, Conservative and Reform movements. Don't you agree?

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    1. "Nope, that WAS mainstream Judaism until quite recently. And even then it was still mainstream outside the charedi world."

      This is an unsubstantiated claim; unequivocal evidence would be needed to assert this. Not conjecture, which is what the vast majority of history books provide. (I don’t think this is something that is possible to conclusively demonstrate) Since that is the case, I find it hard to accept that a rational person such as yourself would build a skyscraper on such shaky foundations

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    2. "This is an unsubstantiated claim; unequivocal evidence would be needed to assert this."

      Okay then, here you go!

      http://torahandscience.blogspot.co.il/2006/04/sources-indicating-that-chazal-did-not.html

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  20. "Nope, that WAS mainstream Judaism until quite recently. And even then it was still mainstream outside the charedi world."

    How do a dozen or so names indicate this was mainstream and normative Haskafah? (we are talking about a period of 2,000 years thousands of Rabbis lived during this span - not just 12) I would say the fact that these scholars felt they need to speak it out, perhaps suggests that this was NOT normative Jewish Haskafah. Bottom line I don't see anything conclusive.

    As an aside, why do feel so compelled to push this route of Judaism? And why feel so threatened when large groups of Orthodoxy don’t accept your assertions........I just sense there is more here......the previous responses of "nope" didn’t ring very strong......

    Why did you feel so compelled to publish your books as if to unearth something so integral and important to Judaism? With all due respect why is so integral and important to know that chazal weren’t proficient in modern science? Why has this become your life’s call? This whole thing of discrediting the chareidi world, what is this all about?

    If I recall correctly, about a dozen or so years ago, when your books started to become popular. You weren’t out to denounce the chareidi world. If this whole thing is a response to the “Ban” that would be really sad. Why define your life as a mission to get back at those who “banned” you? If your books have merit keep writing them. Why the need to respond and fight back so vehemently against all your detractors. The more a victim shouts that he’s been wronged – the more suspect that call is. If you are correct then emes will prevail……..

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  21. "How do a dozen or so names indicate this was mainstream and normative Haskafah?"

    Dozens and dozens. And there are barely any on the other side, especially as you go further back in history.

    "And why feel so threatened when large groups of Orthodoxy don’t accept your assertions...."

    I couldn't care less if people want to believe that Chazal and the Rishonim were infallible in science. The problem is that they don't let the rest of us take the rationalist approach. Instead they condemn us as heretics, even though we are following a mesorah.

    "Why the need to respond and fight back so vehemently against all your detractors"

    Why the need to post so many comments vehemently protesting this blog? Makes it suspicious... If you are correct then emes will prevail……..

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    1. "Instead they condemn us as heretics, even though we are following a mesorah."

      This is no "mesorah" you went digging for this stuff so you could write books. I challenge you to prove that you "received" this "mesorah" before you set out to write your books. My point is - this NOT a mesorah issue. You somehow felt that science was challenging the Torah and it didn’t make sense to you to believe in stuff that you felt was "disproved" NOT the other way around - the 'mesorah" did not come first!

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    2. I had questions, I went to ask Rav Aryeh Carmell, and this is what he taught me. Got a problem with that?

      Meanwhile, what about all these Rishonim and Acharonim that you have labelled as heretics?

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    3. Science never has and never will threaten Judaism. Questions on accepting or not accepting the words of the Talmud stem from a lack of trust and belief in the Jewish tradition. Science doesn’t challenge the Torah's account of anything. Judaism has prevailed for thousands of years over all sorts of onslaughts and "challenges" to it. The Torah and the Jewish people aren’t going to cease existing. Starting with these premises, questions don’t exist! On the other hand if one starts with the notion that Torah is not eternal and can be challenged, then these are not questions - but rather answer as to why you don’t need to accept the Jewish traditions way of life.

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    4. You are very welcome to live in your bubble. But please don't come here and accuse Rishonim and Acharonim of having a lack of trust and belief in the Jewish tradition.

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    5. The Rishonim and Acharonim that you quote, in very minor instances take issue with ideas ventured in the Talmud Bavli. Not one Rishon and Acharon ever suggested the notion, that we need not accept the words of the chacmei hatalmud. Rather, in certain rare instances they have disagreed with or suggested alternative understandings, of the chacmei hatalmud. None have gone so far as to suggest that in general we need not heed their words since they made consistent errors in observation and judgment. I have on the other hand seen your writings lean in that direction.

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  22. Normative Judaism was always to highly respect and honor the words of the chacmei hatalmud. No Gaon, Rishon or Achron EVER went digging through the Talmud Bavli or other Torah sources looking for inaccuracies and faulty observations. If in fact these greats found anything during the course of their learning that they took issue with, they discussed it. Never has any sage within the fold of Torah true Judaism ever attempted to make a movement out of finding "mistakes' or inaccuracies in the Talmud.

    This point and this point alone is where the vast majority of the Torah world takes issue with you. Whether there are Rishonim, Acronim who disputed points in the Talmud, They never “rejoiced” at having uncovered mistakes nor actively sought them out. More than that, they never in their wildest dreams sought to publicize such findings and expose them to the masses literate and illiterate alike.

    The most basic tenet of Judaism is Torah S’Baal Peh. If you seek to discredit or in any way lower the esteem of those who transmitted this vital link of Judaism – you have weakened the chain. This is a terrible travesty and unforgiveable. Why would anyone call the ideas you suggest apikorsis if Rishonoim said like you? Right? Wrong! Because those Rishonim never presented those views to discredit the chacmei Hatalmud.

    The very notion that modern science is challenging Torah is a dangerous route to go. One needs to start with the unalienable fact that every word of Torah from the sages is from Sinai, which is irrefutable. We don’t need to be apologetic to science if things don’t seem to jive. We can ask that it would seem modern science see’s certain things differently than the Talmud. But it no way does something modern science says today negate an age old tradition that comes from Sinai. The chachmei hatalmud didn’t put scientific information into the Talmud for vain reasons and if they did they must have had a very good reason. (and it wasn’t to write a science book)

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    1. "No Gaon, Rishon or Achron EVER went digging through the Talmud Bavli or other Torah sources looking for inaccuracies and faulty observations."

      And nor do it. I just look for statements about the natural world, which is a topic that fascinates me. And I also look for Rishonim and Acharonim who discuss whether it is permissible or forbidden to say that Chazal's statements about the natural world are not always correct.

      Please stop issuing false and defamatory accusations against me. It's an aveirah, you know.

      "One needs to start with the unalienable fact that every word of Torah from the sages is from Sinai, which is irrefutable."

      You really should spend more time learning what the Geonim and Rishonim actually say.

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    2. There is a concept in the Talmud "Halacha aval ein morin kain" I think this point is where the contention is. Every single Rav and Gadol in the Torah world will agree (BUT NEVER EVER PUBLICALLY ADMIT OR EXPRESS) that there certainly are Rishonim and Achronim who hold that chazal can error in natural observations and scientific facts.

      The point is, since exposing that kind of stance on chazal may harm the image of chazal, they have refrained from "admitting" such. More so they have taken on the opposite stance, namely that chazal can never be challenged or questioned, as a mechanism to protect the honor of the Talmudic sages.

      Perhaps a similar analogy to this would be the concept of a maclokes like that of Shamai and Hillel. We pasken like Hillel but don’t say that Shamai is an apikores or wrong. The Torah world accepts these Rishonim and Achronim that made statements which are at odds with the Talmud. That’s perfectly legitimate and acceptable. What cannot be tolerated however is when such ideas are broadcasted as mainstream Judaism.

      We can’t have a religion where we go looking for ways to show how the sages who we rely upon in all areas of Jewish life erred. In a similar vein, there is an age old tradition, if a typographical error occurs in the Talmud we don’ erase it. Rather we make a footnote on the side indicating apparent typos. We don’t go broadcasting to the world that the Talmud is full of typos and inaccuracies.

      We can’t have a movement challenging Torah based on scientific evidence. Whether the “evidence” indeed appears to conflict or not, just make a footnote. You can write books about Torah and science and how science can complement Torah, that’s great. However, don’t find all the sources in the Talmud where science seems to be in conflict with and publish this as L’Chatchilah. Halacha aval ein morin kain – this is true, but we don’t encourage activities where the honor and esteem for the sages can God forbid become compromised.

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    3. "Every single Rav and Gadol in the Torah world will agree (BUT NEVER EVER PUBLICALLY ADMIT OR EXPRESS) that there certainly are Rishonim and Achronim who hold that chazal can error in natural observations and scientific facts."

      Wrong on all counts. Some don't agree, and others agree and will publicly express it.

      " More so they have taken on the opposite stance, namely that chazal can never be challenged or questioned, as a mechanism to protect the honor of the Talmudic sages. "

      OK, so you want to be dishonest about the history of rabbinic thought as a mechanism to protect the honor of the Talmudic sages. While the appropriateness of such a strategy can be debated, one thing is clear: In the 21st century, for many people, such an approach has exactly the opposite effect. It drives them away from Judaism.

      "You can write books about Torah and science and how science can complement Torah, that’s great. However, don’t find all the sources in the Talmud where science seems to be in conflict with and publish this as L’Chatchilah."

      I don't do either. What I do is in the middle.

      Here are the words of a Gadol B'Torah who disagrees with you completely:

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

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  23. You haven't found me any Rishon or Achron that made a platform out of seeking inaccuracies and scientifically conflicting ideas to the Talmud. Much of your writings on the other hand seek to demonstrate how the sages erred. As a matter of fact, nearly all your books on the subject of science and Torah seek to do just that. Namely, to expose and uncover all instances where the sages and science don’t jive. The reason why no Torah scholar wanted to debate you on the subject of science and Torah is because there is no debate. You simply insist that the “Tradition” is to expose to the world all areas in which the Talmud and science don’t jive. The problem with this is, no author has ever had the impudence to seek to prove the sages wrong!

    Let’s be real here, you have used your vast knowledge of zoological and scientific knowledge to expose inaccuracies in the Talmud. In fact, no Torah scholar to date ever possessed the knowledge of science you have to demonstrate these “contradictions” between Torah and science. You are the source and originator of the vast majority of these very “contradictions” between Torah and science!

    The mere fact that no other books on these topics were ever published aside from yours certainly underscores my very point! You dug this "dirt" up not the Rishonim and Achronim of the past thousands of years!

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  24. " As a matter of fact, nearly all your books on the subject of science and Torah seek to do just that. Namely, to expose and uncover all instances where the sages and science don’t jive. "

    OK, now you are just repeating the same false and slanderous accusations over and over again. Goodbye.

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    1. "OK, now you are just repeating the same false and slanderous accusations over and over again. "

      No, I have actually demonstrated instead that you are the source of all these so called "contradictions" between Torah and science. Let's see what you can respond to that! These "issues" didn't come up you FOUND them!

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  25. Who on earth is this babbling idiot "Modern_Orthodox"?! I understand allowing his comments through for total transparency, but this person a) hasn't seriously read any of your works, b) hasn't read any of your opponents' works, c) doesn't respond coherently to any point in your discussion, and d) hasn't got the IQ to deal with any of these topics!

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