Friday, July 31, 2015

Lion Hunters Vs. Hyena Lynchers

Does the brutal killing of an innocent and endangered wild animal, done for no purpose other than to satisfy the blood lust of the killers, cause global outrage? That depends.

Everyone has heard about the horrible killing of Cecil the lion. A google search returns over 43 million hits. Nearly half a million people have signed a petition calling for "Justice for Cecil." Jimmy Kimmel raised $150,000 for the conservation unit in charge of Cecil.

I love lions, I have watched them in Africa, and I found the story of Cecil's killing to be tragic. Yet there was another, similar, incident in the last few days that went virtually unnoticed. A striped hyena was walking alongside a road near Hebron. Several Palestinian drivers noticed it and chased it. Finally cornering it, they got out of their cars, and stoned it to death. And the entire incident was filmed and uploaded to the internet.

Number of hits on google? Eight.



Why the overwhelming difference in interest? Striped hyenas are even more endangered than lions. And an act of brutality carried out by several people is surely more significant than one carried out by one person. To be sure, the lion was more famous than the hyena even in life. Still, that alone does not suffice to account for the enormous disparity in interest shown in these two stories. Rather, it seems that there are other, less justifiable factors.

One is that lions are more endearing animals than hyenas. While I personally have a soft spot for hyenas, especially after playing with a tame one, they don't have the same beauty as lions. That's why Disney, in The Lion King, made lions into the good guys (unless, of course, the lion has a British accent), and hyenas the bad guys. But that's not an intellectually defensible approach. If we care about animals, we should care about the ugly ones just as much as the beautiful ones.

I suspect that there is another factor at play here: the identity of the villain. With the lion, the villain is a rich, white, presumably Republican, American. That's the type of person that the world loves to hate. Whereas with the hyena, the villains are a group of Palestinians. It's not so popular to show them enjoying throwing rocks to kill.

There used to be a great television show in England called Spooks, about the counter-terrorism service known as Mi5. It was intended to be more realistic than similar shows from the US. Yet as the series went on, a bizarre pattern developed. The bad guys were almost always white Americans, British white supremacists, or the Mossad. There was almost never a Moslem terrorist. This was despite the fact that the real-life Mi5 is currently monitoring 2000 terrorist suspects in the UK, every single one of which is Moslem.

I'm currently reading a fascinating book called Catch The Jew. The author, a secular ex-Israeli, visited all parts of Israel, under the guise of being a German non-Jew. He documents his astonishment as he discovers that the vast Jewish and international effort to assist the Palestinians is largely motivated not by concern for the Palestinians, but rather by hatred of Israel. The world is perpetually up in arms about the treatment of Arabs by Israel, yet it cares little about the inconceivably worse treatment of Arabs by Arabs.

If you care about the senseless slaughter of endangered animals, then you should care about the unnamed hyena as much as you care about Cecil the lion. But for many people, it's not about caring for the victim - it's about hating the villain.

For an extensive discussion of the role of the hyena (and the lion) in the Torah, see The Torah Encyclopedia of the Animal Kingdom. And you can see specimens of both at The Biblical Museum of Natural History.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

When Leaders Err

What is the nature of Jewish leadership? Can our leaders make mistakes, and if so, are we entitled to point out when this has happened?

Over at Cross-Currents, Rabbi Yaakov Menken sets out some comments about this. Twenty years ago, I would have agreed with his words whole-heartedly, and in fact I published similar ideas to his. However, since then, my understanding of this topic has evolved. I attempted to respond to his claims in the comments section to his post, but he did not post my comments, for reasons that are unclear to me. Fortunately, I have my own forum for responding, and so I am posting my response here instead.

Rabbi Menken begins with the following claim:
"A big part of Judaism is learning to nullify our will to Hashem’s will. The leaders of our nation have always been the people who did this best — who learned Torah and let it guide them, rather than trying to superimpose their own values on the Torah." 
This claim is very prevalent in charedi circles. The simplest and most powerful way to rebut it is that none other than the Vilna Gaon clearly disagreed. After all, he said that Rambam - certainly a leader of the nation - was negatively influenced by Greco-Muslim values.

Ardent follower of Rambam as I am, I would nonetheless agree with the Vilna Gaon that Rambam was influenced by Greco-Muslim values. However, I would say that this was largely (though not entirely) positive. And the Vilna Gaon himself was also influenced by non-Divine sources. No man is an island.

Rabbi Menken then argues that while all humans, including Rabbonim, can err, we have to follow Rabbonim because "(a) the Torah tells us to and (b) They still know better than we do." This oversimplifies a very complex topic. Yes, there is certainly an important idea in Judaism of following rabbinic leadership, but not every great rabbi has the stature of the Sanhedrin. Furthermore, which Rabbonim is one obligated to follows? The Chassidim or the Litvaks? The Charedim or the Religious Zionists?

Finally, we come to a very significant and problematic claim:
"One thing that certainly cannot be done is to try to second-guess them based upon an alternate reality that never happened — e.g. saying that “the Holocaust” somehow proves Rabbonim were wrong telling people not to leave Europe. If we look at Jewish history, it happens repeatedly: appearances are deceiving. What appears to be is not the reality — which is really about where we stand with HaShem... It is well-known that people who left Europe before the war had tremendous difficulty keeping their level of observance."
Now it is indeed true that we cannot claim that we would have made any better decisions in those circumstances. It's all very well to have hindsight about what happened in the Holocaust, but who is to say that had we been there, we would have known what to expect and what to do? That is why we cannot look down on the decisions of anyone in that period.

However, we can certainly observe that those Gedolim who urged their followers to stay in Europe made a tragic mistake. The Belzer Rebbe, for example, told his followers in Budapest that they will enjoy good and tranquility in Hungary. They were all sent to Auschwitz. Yes, maybe up in Shamayim that is somehow all for the best, but down here that is what we call a tragic mistake. It is certainly not for us to say that leaving Jewish observance is worse than being massacred by the Nazis, and therefore those rabbonim who led their followers to the latter did the right thing. In fact such a sentiment is deeply repugnant, like someone making the berachah of hatov ve-ha-meitiv on the passing of a loved one.

There are clearly many Rabbonim who disagree with the notion that, since we do not know the ways of Heaven, we cannot criticize the actions of Gedolim. See, for example, R. Teichtal's Em Habanim Semecha. See too Rav Aharon Lichtenstein's famous address where, quoting Rav Hutner, he points out that Chazal clearly held that one can be a great talmid chacham and yet lack da'as. All the more so one can be a great talmid chacham and make mistakes, and there is no reason to think that other people are incapable of observing this. The Holocaust is a powerful and tragic example where, without judging the culpability of the Gedolim who advised their followers to stay in Europe, we can clearly observe that they were tragically mistaken.

Monday, July 27, 2015

About That Four-Legged Snake

A number of people have written to me about the new discovery of a fossil snake that had four legs. It seems that many people are under the impression that this is of theological significance. It isn't, and I'd like to explain why.

An article at the Arutz-7 website opens with this breathless announcement:
Scientists have long scoffed at the Torah account of how the serpent in the Garden of Eden walked upright before being cursed, but a newly found 113-million-year-old fossil proves that snakes indeed once had four legs.
In fact, the author is mistaken. Scientists have never scoffed at the idea that snakes once had legs. It has long been accepted that snakes used to have legs. The new fossil just affects some relatively minor aspects of snake evolution.

What scientists have long scoffed at is the notion that snakes had legs 5775 years ago, walked upright, and were as intelligent as human beings. The discovery of a 113-million year old fossil with tiny legs has no bearing on that.

Scientists are not the only ones to dispute a literal reading of Genesis. It should be noted that Rambam, Ralbag, and Seforno all understood the account of the primeval serpent not to be referring to a reptile. Instead, they understood it to be a metaphor for the evil inclination. If you'd like to learn more about this approach, I recommend my book The Challenge Of Creation!

Speaking of snakes, I find it fascinating that while there is long-standing and widespread loathing of snakes, the snakes at The Biblical Museum of Natural History are by far the most popular live exhibits!

(See too this post at "Truth And Peace")

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Relating to Tisha B'Av - A Rejoinder

In the previous post, "Relating To Tisha B'Av," I observed that it is difficult to relate to the loss of the Beis HaMikdash and the massacres of so long ago, and that many people instead connect to the mood of the day via contemplating the Holocaust. This earned me a stinging rebuke from my sister, who called me and told me not to take the easy way out by making Tisha B'Av into Yom HaShoah. I suggested that she write a guest post about how she relates to Tisha B'Av, and here it is.

The Meaning of Tisha B'Av

Dinah Paritzky

When I was growing up , Tisha B'av really only had one meaning – do not. There was a series of "lo ta'ases" from the 3 weeks through the 9 days culminating in Tisha B'av: do not get your haircut, do not go out to a film, do not listen to music, do not eat meat, and then of course the big one – do not eat or drink. Tisha B'av was spent thinking about fasting, trying not to think about fasting, thinking about eating after the fast, trying not to think about eating after the fast etc etc.

This all changed for me when I was 17. I went to Bnei Akiva summer camp as a madricha. In the days leading up to Tisha B'Av we told the 100 or so kids that we were having a competition between the different groups as to who could build the most beautiful model of ancient Jerusalem. For hours and hours the kids worked together cutting, gluing, building and painting until each of the five groups had produced the most fantastic 3-D models of Jerusalem: houses and streets, buildings and trees, horses and carts and of course the Bet Hamikdash.

On Erev Tisha Bav the kids were told that the judging of the best model was finally going to take place. All the models were taken out into the courtyard – and they were truly beautiful. The kids waited with excitement to hear who had won the competition – who had made the best model of Jerusalem. But instead of announcing the prizewinner, we set fire to the models and burned them.

The look of horror on their faces, the tears – they have stayed with me till this day. Was it a cruel trick? Possibly. But for the first time ever I had a feeling of what Tisha Bav is actually about. And that feeling has stayed with me.

When you go to visit someone sitting shiva, you must talk about the deceased, even if it is easier to distract them by talking about something else. The only way to make the enormity of the Holocaust understandable is by reading about it, by going to Yad Vashem, by focusing on individual stories. And the only way to understand Tisha B'av is by trying to relive that time, the time when we had Jerusalem in its completeness, when he had Har Habayit, when we had the Bet Hamikdash and when we were truly "or lagoyim".

Looking onto Har HaBayit from the spot on Har HaZeitim
where the para adumah was killed.
For many years I read the book "The Voices of Massadah" by David Kossof every Tisha B'av. It tells the story of Churban Yerushalayim as seen through the eyes of a young woman who survived Masadah (we know that two women and some children were not killed). That book made the experience real to me. This year I went to a 3 week "Matan" course with the amazing Tzipporah Piltz who made the Bet Hamikdash come alive to us. Last Thursday I stood on Har Hazeitim at the very spot where the Parah Adumah was killed and looked out over the ruins of Har Habayit, at the mosques built on our holiest ground.

On Tisha B'Av we can try and make the loss real by understanding what it meant then but also what it means to us today. I listen to Eicha and the Kinnot in Hebrew but I read them in English – because they give a powerful sense of what that loss is.

What does Tishah B'av mean to me? It means the destruction of Jerusalem, the end of our sovereignty, it means the galut, it means the Crusades, the pogroms, the Spanish Inquisition, the Holocaust. It means terrorism, it means nuclear Iran. It means hatred for Israel and for Jews all over the world. It means over 6 million Jews who do not recognize that the Geulah has begun and who therefore chose not to live in Israel. It means loss.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Relating to Tishah B'Av

It's difficult to mourn the Destruction of the Temple, since most of us don't have any particular desire to engage in Temple service, and the persecution and massacres that were involved took place a very, very long time ago. Perhaps one way to relate to it is to read about the distressing phenomenon whereby our enemies today deny that there ever was a Jewish Temple in Israel - with the resultant conclusion that the Jews have no historical right to be in Israel. To quote Professor James Davila: There is an increasing practice among journalists of writing as though the existence of the ancient Jewish temples on the Temple Mount is a disputable question with two legitimate "competing narratives."

Many people tap into the mood of the day via contemplating the Holocaust. I'd like to share some recommendations for books about the Holocaust that I find particularly moving - please feel free to share other recommendations in the comments section.

Yaffa Eliach, Hasidic Tales of the Holocaust - I haven't read this in many years, but I remember it being very powerful. There's valuable mussar in the story about the survivors whom, at a wedding many decades later, asked the waiter not to clear off the table, because they still found it reassuring to see food in front of them.

Rabbi Ephraim Oshry, Responsa From The Holocaust - It's incredibly moving to see what kinds of halachic questions people were asking during this period, and how desperate they were to maintain allegiance to halachah even under the most adverse circumstances.

Victor Frankl, Man's Search for Meaning - A classic. Everyone should read this book.

Diane Ackerman, The Zookeeper's Wife - This is the true account of how a non-Jewish couple, who ran the Warsaw Zoo, used the zoo to hide Jewish fugitives during the war. What I find particularly humbling is that they had a beloved young son, who would have been brutally killed had their activities been discovered. How many of us would place our children's lives at such risk in order to help people of a different religion?

May there be no more such suffering - and may the Jewish People's right and reign over their homeland be uncontested.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Better Nuclear Holocaust than Unity?

Tolerance is a challenging concept. After all, if you want to be tolerant of different types of people, then you also have to be tolerant of people who are intolerant - at least, to some degree.

My home town of Ramat Beit Shemesh has the challenge of containing diverse communities of Jews. The latest controversy surrounds a local Matnas (community center), and it reveals the inherent difficulties of getting along. Unusually for me, I am on the fence for this one!

Until now, the activities at the Matnas have been open to children from all community sectors. However, given certain aspects of the Matnas, the charedi community has not felt comfortable going to it. This week, it was announced that certain days would be designated as being oriented towards charedim, which means that the Matnas library will be closed on those days. Charedim do not want their children to be in a place where there is exposure to literature which does not reflect their values. In addition, there seems to be an effort by the Matnas to discourage non-charedi children from attending on days that are oriented towards charedim.

The non-charedim are up in arms. They argue that there has been nothing preventing charedim from using the Matnas as it had been running until now, and there is no reason for charedim not to fully participate in activities with non-charedim.

But if you want to be tolerant, then you also have to be tolerant of intolerant people. The fact is that charedi society is fundamentally built around the idea of insulation from wider society. This includes separating themselves from other Jews who have absorbed more of modern society. You might not like this or agree with it or find it the right choice for you, but surely everyone can appreciate the motivations for it, even if you think that they are taking it too far. I'm not going to say that either side in the Matnas debate is definitively right or wrong, and there are lot of further details, but I understand where each side is coming from.

The consequence of this is that there are severe limitations on the possibility of achdus, unity. (See my post What is Real Achdus?) Just as the Orthodox worldview places certain limitations on achdus with Conservative and Reform, the charedi worldview places certain limitations on achdus with other Orthodox Jews.

But there was an incident this week which I think illustrates how this can go way, way too far.

I'm not going to get into the pros and cons of the Iran deal (and I will not allow the comments thread to go off-topic with that). Suffice it to say that a large majority of Orthodox Jews see it as being one of the greatest threats to the Jewish People in a very long time. And I am certain that an even greater majority of charedi Jews see it that way.

This week, there was a public rally in New York to protest this deal. It was supported by scores of organizations from across the spectrum, including the OU.

Now, we know that charedim are strongly against the Iran deal. And we know that they believe in the power of rallies - that's why last year they brought tens of thousands of chareidim to rally in New York against the previous Israeli government. So why couldn't they bring their tens of thousands to this rally? Why did they leave charedi representation to Neturei Karta?

The reason is that they refuse to ever join in an activity with non-charedim. They believe that the rally is an important tool to attempt to fend off nuclear holocaust, but it's still more important to have nothing to do with non-charedim.

Again, I understand and sympathize with where this is coming from. But to take it this far? That reveals a wildly skewed balance of priorities.

(Note: If anyone wants to complain about my publishing this post during the Nine Days, please first read these two posts: What is Real Achdus? and When Lashon Hara is a Mitzvah.)

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Neither Skeptic Nor Heretic

Rabbi Avi Shafran, spokesman for Agudath Israel of America, has written an extraordinary article in Tablet magazine against evolution, entitled "Skeptical About Evolution—And Not Because of Religion." The thrust of his article is to attempt to reverse the terminology commonly used in describing the differences between rationalists and fundamentalists. Rabbi Shafran seeks the coveted title of skeptic, which he uses to describe himself with regard to evolution. And he tries to describe scientific and non-charedi culture as religious fundamentalists, speaking about the "high priests of Scientism," the "masses that venerate them," and claiming that as a "real heretic" with regard to evolution, he will earn "derision and ridicule" and suffer "effective excommunication from polite society" for doubting a "deeply entrenched orthodoxy."

However, Rabbi Shafran is neither skeptic nor heretic.

His discussion of evolution is utterly muddled, mixing together three topics - the origins of the very first life form, the common ancestry of all animal life, and the mechanisms of evolution. Yet these three issues are entirely separate.

With regard to the first topic - the origin of life - most scientists freely admit that we know very little about it, and one is certainly not ridiculed or excommunicated for observing this. Similarly, with regard to the third topic - the mechanisms of evolution - most scientists freely admit that we still have oodles to learn about it. But with regard to the second topic - the common ancestry of all animal life - there is an overwhelming convergence of evidence from many different areas, including the fossil record, the pattern of homologous versus analogous similarities, the nested hierarchy of the animal kingdom, vestigial limbs, and much more. Rabbi Shafran does not counter any of these. Even advocates of Intelligent Design do not challenge this. So, yes, if you publicly dismiss all of this without presenting any counter-arguments and apparently without even understanding it, then you are not going to be taken seriously by the scientific community, and you probably indeed deserve "derision and ridicule." It's like challenging the historicity of the moon landing - you're not a heretic, you're an idiot.

And throwing out muddled objections to evolution does not make one a skeptic. Rabbi Shafran believes that his objections are scientific rather than religious, and so did I, when I used to be anti-evolution. But has Rabbi Shafran applied his professed "critical thinking" to the alternate understanding of life's development that is taught in his circles? Does he really think that the available physical evidence better supports the notion that whales were created independently, with striking internal similarities to terrestrial mammals, and an inability to breathe underwater like fish, and following a whole chain of extinct creatures that were progressively less terrestrial, rather than indicating that they are actually descended from terrestrial mammals? Rabbi Shafran has not applied critical thinking to theories of life's development - he is simply taking sides in a perceived socio-cultural battle and relishing an opportunity to mock non-charedi society.

Despite Rabbi Shafran's attempts to portray the scientific community and its followers as religious fanatics who excommunicate those heretics that challenge scientific orthodoxy, this is hardly an accurate description. First of all, as noted, he has mixed up different aspects of evolution. Second, did he not just publish an article critiquing evolution in the non-religious Tablet magazine? Would the publications of his employer, Agudath Israel, include an article arguing in favor of evolution? Arguing against deeply entrenched orthodoxies and criticizing high priests only gets you excommunicated from charedi society. As usual, Rabbi Shafran gets things exactly backwards.

(See too this post: Religion, Blinded)

Monday, July 20, 2015

Elucidating Reb Chaim

(A re-post from a few years ago)

When I was in yeshivah, one of my favorite sefarim was Chiddushei Reb Chaim on the Rambam. I was always fastidious about taking notes, and did so with this work too. Later, when I was teaching at Ohr Somayach, I found it very useful to teach Chiddushei Reb Chaim - not from the original Hebrew, but instead presenting the arguments in English. My notes came in handy, too, not just for myself, but also for my students.

Reading a post from Rabbi Gil Student reminded me that I still have these notes sitting on my computer. I am making them freely available here. The document includes ten sections of Reb Chaim's work, translated and also presented in outline form in order to make the arguments easier to follow. I converted the notes from an old Word file, so the formatting is not up to my usual standards. I haven't checked it over in the last fifteen years, either, but I probably wouldn't get around to doing so, so I am making it available as-is.

When I wrote these notes, I took it for granted that Reb Chaim was getting at what Rambam actually meant. I was aware of the Chazon Ish's glosses in which he disagrees with Reb Chaim, but I was taught in yeshivah that this was a sign that wherever he didn't write a gloss, he agreed with him, and showed that he fully supported his basic approach. I was taught the same about Raavad and Rambam.

Twelve years later, now that I am older, wiser, and more historically aware, I realize that all this was wrong. The Raavad fundamentally disagreed with Rambam's approach, the Chazon Ish fundamentally disagreed with Reb Chaim's approach, and Rambam did not have Reb Chaim's concepts in mind.

Does awareness of this fact mean that there is no value to learning Reb Chaim? Does it mean that there is less value? My initial thoughts are to say no to the former and yes to the latter, but I am open to hearing what people have to say.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

When Lashon Hara is a Mitzvah

A while ago - I forget the details - I was telling some people about how a certain person posed a harmful influence. One person objected that this was lashon hara. When I pointed out that it was leto'eles, for public benefit, this person argued that it is still only permissible if the speaker's motivations are pure. Since my motivations were suspect, then it was not permissible.

Now, the first observation to be made here is that Rabbi Yisrael Meir Kagan's "Laws" of lashon hara are not "laws" in the same sense as the laws of Shabbos found in the Shulchan Aruch. A must-read on this topic is Benjamin Brown's "From Principles to Rules and from Musar to Halakhah: The Hafetz Hayim’s Rulings on Libel and Gossip," which you can read at this link. Furthermore, while the Chafetz Chaim's conclusions became the standard for much of the Orthodox community, this was primarily simply due to his being the first person to systematically discuss the topic.

But what about within the parameters of the Chafetz Chaim's framework? Is it truly forbidden to warn people of someone's faults if one's motivations are not pure? Surely this makes no sense - why should these other people be put in harm's way just because of one's own shortcomings?

If we look at the Chafetz Chaim's discussions of this topic, an interesting discrepancy can be seen. When discussing the laws of lashon hara and cases where it is permitted in order to help others, he lists purity of intent as being an essential condition (Hilchos Lashon Hara 10:2). But later, when discussing the laws of rechilus (tale-bearing) and cases where it is permitted in order to help others (Hilchos Issurei Rechilus 9:2), while he likewise lists pureness of intent as being an essential condition, there is a footnote to his Be'er Mayim Chaim commentary. In the commentary, he notes that even if one does not have purity of intent, one must nevertheless still relate the rechilus. After all, we are discussing a case where it is in order to help others from being harmed, and there is a mitzvah of Lo Ta'amod Al Dam Re'echa, not to stand by when someone is going to be hurt. Rather, he says, when describing purity of motive as a requirement, he means that one should try as much as possible to focus on doing it for positive purposes.

Now, why did the Chafetz Chaim not make this same point in discussing cases where it is permitted to state lashon hara? I don't know, but it seem very clear that it should equally apply. Perhaps it was simply an oversight. (Alternately, looking carefully at the Chafetz Chaim's language in discussing lashon hara, it seems to me that he is talking about having proper motive insofar as assessing that there is a genuine chance of helping people, not in terms of one's inner motives. If I am correct, this is something that has been lost in the ArtScroll translation.)

One who sees the Chafetz Chaim's work as being a halachic work like the Shulchan Aruch will probably not apply this principle (that purity of motive is not an essential condition) to lashon hara, since the Chafetz Chaim didn't mention it there. But one who sees the concept of permitted and forbidden speech as being a rational matter of creating a moral society will likewise apply this principle to cases of permitted lashon hara. If it's a matter of stopping someone from harming others, then it doesn't make a difference what your personal motives are (except insofar as giving reason to doubly check that it really is a matter of stopping someone from harming others).

It is extraordinary that the works of the Chafetz Chaim, intended to make the world a better place, have often been used to make the world a worse place. Sometimes it is people not giving over harmful information about a shidduch, sometimes it is people not reporting dangerous behavior in a rabbi, sometimes it is people trying to quell frank discussion about social policies. The Torah's principles of speech are supposed to improve society. We have to use our sechel in applying them.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Deadly Water

A fascinating case study in non-rationalist Judaism occurred yesterday. Several sources, including religious news outlets and the rabbinate of Modiin, sent out an announcement that it is dangerous and forbidden to drink water. Specifically, to drink it yesterday afternoon, between the hours of 2pm and 3pm.

This caught a lot of people by surprise. The reason given was even more surprising: that this hour is the transition point of the summer solstice, which, like the winter solstice and the equinoxes, divides between the four "quarters" of the year. As such, it is a time when the angels change shifts, and while there is nobody on duty, the Angel of Death can poison the water.

Before you rush to dismiss this out of hand, you should also be aware that while this is not mentioned in the Gemara, it is mentioned by no less an authority than the Rama (Yoreh De'ah 116:5), who notes that this is a "basic" custom that is a tradition from many great authorities.

So what are we to make of this?

The original reasons for this practice are lost in antiquity (see some discussion and references at this link). The given reasons appear to be based upon a view of Judaism and the universe that is, shall we say, not shared by rationalist Jews today. And so some would say to reject it as a pagan superstition.

But on the other hand, it is codified in halachic sources. This should give it a certain degree of authority, even if the original reason for the practice is without basis. (Cf. killing lice on Shabbos.)

Yet on the third hand, this is a practice that pretty much nobody has cared about or known about in hundreds of years. In light of that, accompanied by its non-rationalist basis, I would say that it is a similar case to the prohibition against eating allegedly lethal peeled onions and eggs that have been left overnight. It's a tradition that has no rational basis, no value, and has quietly died. There's no benefit to bringing it back from the dead.

Of course, if it does end up getting a full resurrection, as seems to be happening with the peeled onions, it's going to be difficult to justify ignoring it.

I would like to add another point. Several years ago, I gave a lecture about rationalist Judaism, lamenting how the Orthodox community has gone steadily in the non-rationalist direction over the last few centuries. Dr. Marc Shapiro, who was in attendance, disagreed - he pointed out that nobody is terrified of demons today, as they used to be. I think that this is certainly the case here. People who are resurrecting the prohibition against drinking water during the solstice are not actually afraid that it is dangerous. (Note that due to the calendars falling out of sync, yesterday was not in fact the solstice!) These people just want to do what they think makes them frum.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Summer Lecture Schedule

Here is my lecture schedule so far for August:

  • Shabbos August 1 - Bais Medrash of Bergenfield
  • Sunday August 2, 10am - "The Animal Kingdom in Jewish Thought - Multimedia Presentation and Book Launch" - Beth Aaron, Teaneck
  • Wednesday evening, August 5 - K'hal Bnei Torah ("Rabbi Schiffenbauer's shul"), Marine Park
  • Shabbos August 8 - Young Israel of Lawrence/Cedarhurst

I still have some availability in early August in NY, and in LA in mid-August, so please be in touch if you would like to arrange something, be it a community lecture, parlor meeting or private meeting.

If you're going to be in Israel, don't forget to book a tour at The Biblical Museum of Natural History!

Thursday, July 2, 2015

From Zoologist to Rationalist

Today is my Jewish birthday. It's a big one - I am now forty years old. The Mishnah in Pirkei Avos states that forty is the age of understanding. According to some, that means that I can now study kabbalah! But I don't think that I'm going to switch from being a rationalist to a mystic.

This has been a big year for me. With much help from Hashem and others, I finally fulfilled a dream that I have had since childhood, and opened an animal institution - The Biblical Museum of Natural History. I also finally published a book that I started writing when I got married fourteen years ago, The Torah Encyclopedia of the Animal Kingdom. The next work that I hope to publish is a book about rationalist Judaism. It will include my various monographs on this topic, as well as a lengthy discussion of the topic of rationalist vs. mystical Judaism in general, and an important monograph that I have yet to write, on rationalist vs. mystical approaches to Torah study. In this post, I would like to share some thoughts which I plan to include in a preface to this book.

*   *   *

It might seem odd that someone such as myself is studying and writing and teaching about rationalist Judaism. After all, I am an amateur zoologist with a lifelong passion for the animal kingdom, and my regular job is running the Biblical Museum of Natural History. What is the connection between animals and rationalist Judaism?

My first encounter with the animal kingdom. Not very positive.
In fact, there was a direct trajectory from one to the other. The fascination that the animal kingdom holds for many people, including myself, is that it is extraordinary, and simultaneously real. It is extraordinary in its diversity of shapes and sizes and colors and forms and behaviors. Like many people, I am therefore drawn to the more unusual and exotic animals. At the same time, there is the fascination of these creatures being real. Animals are not abstract concepts – they are living and breathing creatures.

Therefore, while I was always interested in virtually all animals, there were some that were particularly interesting. Dinosaurs, for example, while no longer living, are extraordinary creatures that are still very real in that their bones can be seen and touched. And I have also long been interested in the distinction between real and imaginary creatures. Is there such a thing as Bigfoot? The Loch Ness Monster? There are some cryptozoological creatures whose existence cannot be absolutely determined one way or the other, but with others we can be sure that they do not exist.

Because of these interests, when I began exploring the intersection between Torah and the animal kingdom, I was particularly drawn to certain topics. Dinosaurs are real and exciting – how do we reconcile them with the Jewish calendar? There is overwhelming evidence that all animals are descended from a common ancestor – how do we reconcile this with the Torah? Salamanders that are generated from fire and mice that grow from dirt are captivating notions, but they certainly do not exist – how do we account for the Gemara’s descriptions of them?

The skeleton of a Tyrannosaurus rex.
When did it live?
I was naturally fascinated by these questions. And due to the scientific approach that I inherited from my father, of blessed memory (who was an outstanding scientist, as well being extremely intellectually honest), I couldn’t accept that dinosaurs never existed, or that they lived just a few thousand years ago, or that spontaneous generation really does take place, or that Chazal never actually believed in it.

These questions intensely bothered me. I was also distressed by the inability of my teachers in yeshivah to deal with them. And so I was thrilled when I got to know Rav Aryeh Carmell, ztz”l, who introduced me to the approaches of Rambam, Rav Hirsch and others who provided reasonable approaches to such topics. They stated that the account of Creation need not be taken entirely literally, and that the Sages of the Talmud, notwithstanding their greatness in Torah, held the beliefs about the natural world that were common to their era. I published books to share these approaches with others, who were likewise fascinated by the subject matter and relieved to find reasonable approaches.

Then, as is well-known, my books on these topics were banned. This came as a great shock to many people, including myself. To be sure, I knew that these approaches were not exactly common in the yeshivah world. But how could they be branded as unacceptable heresy? To my mind, these approaches were (a) of impeccable credentials, (b) unobjectionable, and (c) obviously true! How could my ideological opponents, who were far greater in Torah learning and intelligence than me, believe these approaches to be inauthentic, entirely unacceptable, and absolutely false? How could they deny that there was an age of dinosaurs, and not even be interested in thinking about this question? How could they insist that there are creatures that spontaneously generate?

I embarked upon a long process of analysis, study and reflection in order to understand this. What I finally understood was that there are two fundamentally different worldviews regarding epistemology – the nature of knowledge and where it comes from. These are the rationalist and the non-rationalist approaches. They are so far apart from each other that if a person is embedded in the non-rationalist approach, no matter how learned and intelligent he is, the rationalist approach will seem to be entirely false and heretical.

And yet, as I discovered in the course of my studies, the rationalist approach has a rich heritage to it. It was most prominently presented by Rambam, but it was dominant among the Rishonim in many ways. It is fascinating and disturbing to see how an approach that was once dominant in Jewish thought has declined over time to the point that there are great Talmudic scholars of today who do not realize that it ever even existed and vehemently oppose it. Yet this approach presents an authentic and effective lifeline to the many people who have been seriously turned off by the prevailing modes of thought in the Orthodox Jewish community.

Many people care about saving animals from extinction. Let us also save rationalist Judaism from extinction.

*   *   *

Just look at the expression on these visitors' faces
 as they encounter an amazing three-horned chameleon!
Dear Friends: Perhaps you would like to make a donation to The Biblical Museum of Natural History? The museum is a wonderful institution which inspires, educates and enthralls thousands of people, from all sectors of society. It gives them a unique appreciation for Torah, the animal kingdom, and Biblical Israel. As with cultural institutions in general, and zoological establishments in particular, our costs far exceed the revenues from ticket sales, and we are mostly funded via private donations from people who appreciate the importance of our mission. The museum is supported via The Torah and Nature Foundation, which is registered in the United States as a 501(c)(3) charitable organization. Donations can be sent to the following address:

The Torah and Nature Foundation
9200 W. Sunset Blvd., Suite #700
West Hollywood, CA 90069-3603

You can also make a US tax-deductible donation online, using either a PayPal account or a credit card, by clicking on the following link:


I would like to take this opportunity to thank all of you, dear readers, for your interest and support of my work. May Hashem bless you with health, happiness, and success!

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Guest Post: Responding to a Response on the Discourse and TCS

Copyright 2015 by David Ohsie. All rights reserved

Rabbi Dovid Kornreich [1], on his blog, has countered some of our posts on Rabbeinu Avraham's Discourse and TCS.   These counter-arguments fail to address the evidence and in some cases introduce further misinterpretations of Rabbeinu Avraham's writings.  Since they come from a student of Rabbi Meiselman, they are worth addressing and we'll address them here. [2]

Purported Variant Texts


To recapitulate, TCS notes that the Rambam in Guide 2:8 references the text "The wise men of other nations have defeated the wise men of Israel" with respect to their theory of the motions of the stars.  In contrast, the Discourse, cites the softer text "their words appear correct".  This is a purported contradiction [3] and thus evidence of forgery [4].   We showed however, that Rabbeinu Avraham himself quotes the same phrase "their words appear correct" in another work of his, Milchamos Hashem.   Rabbi Kornreich concedes that TCS's argument is refuted by this observation. [5]

However, Rabbi Kornreich then attempts to resurrect the argument from TCS by noting a purported contradiction between the Discourse and Milchamos Hashem. [6]  In doing so, Rabbi Kornreich repeats and redoubles TCS's faulty approach.  By the thesis of TCS, Rabbeinu Avraham would never have quoted the phrase "their words appear correct".  Since he does, the thesis and method is proven faulty.  Repeating the same method on a different text doesn't fix the demonstrably broken methodology. [7]

Nevertheless, let's examine this new supposed contradiction. Rabbi Kornreich returns to the Discourse's interpretation of R. Ammi's exclamation "even if Yehoshua bin Nun had told it me by his own mouth I should not have accepted it!" (Chulin 124a).
If the author [of the Discourse] understood Rav Ami had the ability to openly contradict a halachic statement of Yehoshuah Bin Nun because he wasn't personally convinced of the cogency of his logic, it means the author of this ma'amar did not subscribe to the doctrine that an Amoraic sage could not --on his own authority--openly contradict a statement of a higher ranking sage-like a Tanna--and certainly not one of the earliest Chachmei Hamesorah like Yehoshuah Bin Nun! [7a]
We should note here that we've already demonstrated that this claim is false.  Everyone who has picked up a Gemara knows that Amoraim don't argue with Tannaim.   In fact, TCS makes the claim that "It is hard to imagine, therefore, that any mainstream halachic authority could have penned these words."  In other words, if there is a contradiction here, it applies to all authorities, not just the Rambam.   Yet we showed that the Chasam Sofer writes [8] that not only could R. Ammi have disagreed with Yehoshua, he could even have disagreed with Moshe Rabbeinu on a matter of Sevara, in complete agreement with the Discourse. [9] So this argument has already been foreclosed.

Nevertheless, let's keep at it.  Rabbi Kornreich goes on to reproduce a couple of pages of Milchamos Hashem and summarizes it as follows:
[N]o amora can stand in contradiction of a tannaic statement on his own authority, with his own logic. The author of the Milchamos Hashem adds for good measure that amoraim must bow to the collective authority of tannaim on ANY topic discussed in the Talmud-including the purely hashkafic ones like the nature of the world-to-come that he is currently discussing.
Does Rabbeinu Avraham really claims that the Tannaim have the final say on "hashkafic" issues? Let's look at it.  I presume that Rabbi Kornreich refers to the following:
... It is a well know fact that among the sages who involves themselves in the study of Talmud, that whenever an Amora makes a statement, and a contradictory statement is found in a Mishna or Beraisa authored by a Tanna, either an answer must be found to align the words of the Amora with those of the Tanna, or else the Amora's words are nullified by the statement of the Tanna.  And if there is a dispute between the positions of two Tannaim, for example when a Mishna and a Beraisa or another Mishna disagree with one another, the sages of the Talmud will discuss this until they either resolve the conflict or else one of the Tannaitic statements is rejected in face of the other.
Rabbeinu Avraham goes to on state that Rav is considered a Tanna.  And since Rav states openly that the world to come does not involve any physical activity [10], the Talmud must be endorsing the view of Rav over the various Midrashim that indicate that the world to come involves a physical reward. [11]  Thus Rabbeinu Avraham seems to be endorsing the use of halachic reasoning and authority in a non-halachic context.

Unfortunately Rabbi Kornreich has misunderstood Rabbeinu Avraham and reversed his meaning. The context of the quotation above demonstrates Rabbeinu Avraham's own position is completely the opposite of what Rabbi Kornreich argues for here.  To unravel this, let's look at what is hidden by the introductory ellipsis in the quotation above:
Behold we will explain this to him and those like him using the Talmudic method of give and take (משא ומתן) and question and answer which they are familiar with, and not using the methods of intellectual judgement such as the evaluation of logical deduction and principles which they are not familiar with ...
Thus, Rabbeinu Avraham prefaces his "halachic" discussion of the nature of the world to come with a disclaimer: he is speaking to those unsophisticated people who can only think in halachic terms and don't really understand how to interpret the depths of Chazal's statements in non-halachic areas. [11a]  However, since he wants his reasoning to be universally accepted, he shows that even under the assumption that halachic reasoning is appropriate, one can still come to the conclusion that the world to come is of a non-physical nature.  His own position, explained earlier, is that all of the statement of Chazal which appear to imply a physical world to come are allegorical. [12]   Moreover, he states repeatedly that halachic reasoning is not appropriate in non-halachic contexts.  For example:
[The Rambam] did not write that book [the Guide] for the multitude, and not for those beginning in their study of wisdom, nor to teach those how have only learned give and take reasoning (משא ומתן) from which you can only learn the ways of Halacha. (Milchamos Hashem)" [13] 
Thus, Rabbi Kornreich has mistakenly attributed to Rabbeinu Avraham a position which he explicitly rejects.

R. Ammi Redux


Rabbi Kornreich also attempts to resuscitate Rabbi Meiselman's argument that the Discourse's interpretation of R. Ammi conflicts with that of the Rambam in the introduction to his Commentary on Mishnah .  Rabbi Meiselman apparently [14] maintains that the Rambam's position is as follows: R. Ammi's exclamation referred only to statements made by Yehoshua through prophecy; had Yehoshua stated the objectionable halacha based on his own opinion, then R. Ammi could not disagree.  [15]

Rabbi Kornreich writes:
Despite the logical difficulty in explaining Rav Ami's "rhetorical point", Rav Meiselman's reading is clearly supported by the Rambam's concluding words immediately after citing the gemara: כוונתם בכך שאין תוספת וגרעון בתורה מצד הנבואה בשום פנים
The phrase starts with "Kavanasam be'kach" meaning--this was the point they were making by referring to a Navi. The point they were making was that nevuah plays no role--not as David Ohsie claims--that their greatness+ nevuah plays no role.
There are a number of problems with this argument:

1) If your explanation makes a hash of the Gemara, then it is uncertain at best.  You certainly don't have an explanation strong enough to be evidence of forgery.  Rabbi Kornreich admits that the flow of the Gemara is not consistent with his explanation.

2) Rabbi Kornreich's narrative is inaccurate.  The phrase "כוונתם בכך שאין תוספת וגרעון בתורה מצד הנבואה בשום פנים"  follows a discussion of a different Gemara which discusses how we would ignore Eliyahu HaNavi if he state something contrary to halacha.  (See graphic below).  [15a]



3) The Rambam here states that there is "no addition or subtraction to the Torah on the part of prophecy in any manner whatsoever".  This can easily encompass the case where a prophet states his own opinion.   The fact that he possesses prophecy does not give any greater weight to his arguments.  They must stand on their own two feet.

4) In fact, as Professor Kaplan pointed out in the comments, the Rambam is explicit that we would not give any special weight to a prophet who states his own opinion whether or not supported by prophecy.  Thus, R Ammi's statement includes the case where the prophet states his own opinion, according to the Rambam.

Rabbi Kornreich writes further:

In addition, at the beginning of the excerpt, the Rambam makes an important qualifier when demoting a Navi's position in the realm of Dinei Torah:
הרי הוא כשאר חכמים הדומים לו שאינם נביאים.  A Navi can only be treated like any other non-prophet chacham by those who are on his level of chochma.
This clearly contradicts the author of the Ma'amar's interpretation of Rav Ami, and it also explains why the Rambam did not interpret Rav Ami as making a rhetorical point.
This is because the Rambam tells us in this very passage that Rav Ami could not argue on Yehoshua Bin Nun in sevara because Yehoshua was certainly was a greater chocham in Torah. Only a sage on the same level as Yehoshua could argue on Yehoshua in Torah.
Rabbi Kornreich is correct in his first statement.  Torah study is not completely egalitarian; there are greater and lesser figures.  So even if we ignore his prophecy, Yehoshua is not the same as Rabbi Kornreich or David Ohsie or even R. Ammi.  Which was precisely why R. Ammi exclaimed that he would not admit to the mistaken halacha even if Yehoshua stated it.  It would have made little sense to say "even if Rabbi Kornreich had told it me by his own mouth I should not have accepted it!".

So while Rabbi Kornreich is correct in his interpretation of the Rambam, this is an idea that everyone agrees to including the Chasam Sofer who explicitly disagrees with Rabbi Meiselman's interpretation.  So this statement of the Rambam proves nothing about whether the Rambam's position aligns with that of the Discourse.

 [Update: Commenter "Yoni2" points out that I misread Rabbi Kornreich's statement as "A Navi can only be treated like any other non-prophet chacham who are on his level of chochma.".   But he actually wrote "A Navi can only be treated like any other non-prophet chacham by those who are on his level of chochma.".  Those bolded words are added by Rabbi Kornreich and are not in the Rambam and simply read Rabbi Kornreich's position into the Rambam.  What the Rambam wrote is "behold they are like other sages similar to them who are not prophets" as we described in the previous two paragraphs.]

Furthermore, we have already mentioned that the Rambam rules explicitly (Mamrim 2:1) that any court can overrule a previous court's ruling based on reason, even if the later court is lesser in wisdom than the prior court.   So the Rambam has no principle that a lesser figure cannot disagree with a greater one. [16]  His statement that some figures are greater than others is obviously correct, but not contradictory to the Discourse.

While we've dealt with the bulk [17] of Rabbi Kornreich's objections, we have a few more arguments in TCS to examine before we conclude our discussion of the Discourse.  Stay tuned.

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

Notes


[1] Rabbi Kornreich is Talmid of Rabbi Meiselman.

[2] We'll avoid addressing the bare polemics in Rabbi Kornreich's post. For example: "I want to acknowledge but decline to comment at length on the disturbingly misleading and obfuscating phrases Mr. Ohsie employs", "I also want to acknowledge and decline to comment at length on David Ohsie's mis-characterization of this particular piece of evidence", and "I couldn't find much that wasn't misguided, trivial or highly subjective about Mr. Ohsie analysis". Since these kinds of comments do not break any new ground but simply express opinion without foundation, we'll leave them alone.

[3] As we noted in this post, there is no contradiction at all, since the Discourse also cites the Rambam's text.   Rabbi Kornreich merely characterizes this argument as consisting of  "disturbingly misleading and obfuscating phrases" without further analysis.  Rabbi Kornreich addresses this issue in a comment: "I would certainly think significant contradictions and textual variants are indeed troublesome-- something every serious scholar should be concerned about when trying to ascertain the real intent of the original author--whoever it may be. I don't see how pointing out that this problem is widespread in Medieval manuscripts at all mitigates the seriousness of the problems they create."  Rabbi Kornreich seems to miss the point here: of course we study such contradictions (and we call it Talmud Torah).  What we don't do is dismiss texts out of hand.

[4] Of course an apparent contradiction in an author's writings doesn't provide evidence of forgery, let alone a contradiction between and author and his Father or Rebbi.  A significant fraction of both Talmudic and post-Talmudic halachic discussion revolves around the discovery and resolution of contradictory texts.  If we simply resort to the attributing contradictions to forgery, then these discussions become senseless.

Rabbi Kornreich addresses this issue in a comment: "I would certainly think significant contradictions and textual variants are indeed troublesome-- something every serious scholar should be concerned about when trying to ascertain the real intent of the original author--whoever it may be. I don't see how pointing out that this problem is widespread in Medieval manuscripts at all mitigates the seriousness of the problems they create."  Rabbi Kornreich seems to miss the point here: of course we study such contradictions (and we call it Talmud Torah).  What we don't do is dismiss texts out of hand.

[5] "This would seem to make a definitive case that if Milchamos Hashem was authored by Rav Avrohom, there is no evidence whatsoever-- on the basis of this textual variant-- that the author of the Ma'amar al Drashos Chazal  was not Rav Avrohom. Scratch Exhibit A."

[6] "However, once we have the Milchamos Hashem essay brought to out attention, then in addition to similarities, we can check to see if there might be any significant discrepancies between what David Ohsie safely assumes to be Rav Avrohom's writing and the Ma'amar in question. If we do find such significant discrepancies, then I maintain, this would be further evidence against attributing the ma'amar to Rav Avrohom."  Rabbi Kornreich implies that there is some doubt as to authenticity of Milchamos Hashem, but doesn't discuss this further.

[7] By way of analogy, suppose that Rabbi Kornreich had invented a gold detection machine.  He sets up the machine and it gives a reading that indicates that gold will be found at a depth of 100 meters, but digging that far deep is very difficult, so the claim is hard to verify.  Luckily, at that very moment, there is an earthquake that tosses the machine aside while at the same time exposing a 100 meter deep fissure.   But no gold! 

Rabbi Kornreich then responds as follows: "it was serendipitous that the earthquake moved the machine to its new location.  The machine is now giving an even stronger signal now that there is gold at 150 meters depth at the new location".   Do we still expect the machine to work?

[8] Chasam Sofer Commentary on Chulin 124a.

[9] We also showed that the Rambam's position is that a later court can uproot the decision of an earlier court even if the later court is of lesser stature.

[10] A favorite saying of Rav was: [The future world is not like this world.]  In the future world there is no eating nor drinking nor propagation nor business nor jealousy nor hatred nor competition, but the righteous sit with their crowns on their heads feasting on the brightness of the divine presence, as it says, And they beheld God, and did eat and drink. (Berachos 17a)

Note that Rav Meir ben Todros HaLevi Abulafia interprets Rav's statement to mean that the world to come will be of a physical nature, but that our bodies will no longer requires nutrition.

[11] For example, "Rabbah said in the name of R. Johanan: The Holy One, blessed be He, will in time to come make a banquet for the righteous from the flesh of Leviathan;" (Baba Basra 75a)

[11a]  Professor Kaplan points this out in the comments section of Rabbi Kornreich's previous blog post and writes "This is a le-shitatkha argument."  However Rabbi Kornreich seems to have failed to grasp the meaning of the comment.

[12] In the case of the feast of the Leviathan, Rabbeinu Avraham equates the Leviathan with the evil inclination and eating with it's destruction in the world to come.

[13] A couple of other examples:
And these blind of heart do not understand wisdom and judgement.  Therefore they cannot understand the answers for their complaints and their foolishness based on judgement and intellectual assessment .  So that whoever provides an answer to them which relies on judgement, intellectual assessment or logical argumentation provides an answer that they will not understand ... rather it is fitting to provide an answer the in manner of wisdom that they are familiar with and that they understand and by bringing forth matters which they are capable of comprehending.  (Milchamos Hashem)
... 
These people speak of hidden things which they don't know and don't understand as if they are speaking of the height of an alley or a tall Sukkah. (Milchamos Hashem)

[14] "Apparently" because Rabbi Meiselman doesn't spell this out.  However, Rabbi Kornreich interprets Rabbi Meiselman in this manner.

[15] As pointed out above, Rabbi Meiselman maintains that no authority could think this, but we already showed that the Chasam Sofer explicitly states that R. Ammi can disagree even with Moshe Rabbeinu's non-prophetic opinion.

[16] One can also point to the first Mishnah in Horayos: "[IF, HOWEVER, WHEN] THE COURT ISSUED [AN ERRONEOUS] RULING ONE OF THEM, WHO KNEW THAT THEY HAD ERRED, OR A DISCIPLE WHO WAS HIMSELF CAPABLE OF DECIDING MATTERS OF LAW, PROCEEDED AND ACTED IN ACCORDANCE WITH THEIR RULING ... HE IS LIABLE,"

[17] While we've dealt with Rabbi Kornreich's main arguments, we pick up a few odds and ends here:

A: 'I also want to acknowledge and decline to comment at length on David Ohsie's mis-characterization of this particular piece of evidence as one which is merely "judging the text to be out of character" or "surprising". '    Yet Rabbi Meiselman writes on this same piece of evidence: "It would be very surprising if Rabbeinu Avraham knew of both variants of the Gemara, yet chose to ignore the one cited by his father..." (emphasis mine)

B: So it would seem that Mr. Ohsie has a rather unpleasant choice in reconciling this blatant inconsistency between the Ma'amar al Drashos Chazal and the Milchamos Hashem regarding this fundamental doctrine about Talmudic authority. He can either claim that:
1)  The Ma'amar al Aggados Chazal is the more likely of the two to be true work of Rav Avrohom ben HaRambam and the Milchamos essay is a forgery/mis-attribution. But this in turn will resurrect Rav Meiselman's evidence against the Ma'amar based on the textual variance with the Rambam. 
2) The Milchamos Hashem is the more likely of the two to be the true work of Rav Avrohom Ben HaRambam and this sub-section of the Ma'amar is a mis-attribution. Again, this will directly support Rav Meiselman's overall thesis.
(Of course, Mr. Ohsie is at liberty to claim that there is no significant contradiction here whatsoever and move on. As far-fetched as that might seem to me, it's his prerogative.
Of course, we showed that there is no contradiction.   But Rabbi Kornreich's list of possibilities presents a false choice, skewed towards his own preferred conclusion.  Even if we could not explain this "contradiction" that would grant us no license to assert that either of the texts is a forgery.

Ironically, one of Rabbi Kornreich's comments proves this point.  Commenter "A Careful Reader" spotted a contradiction in TCS itself:

A Careful Reader June 27, 2015 at 10:48 PM
Actually, in footnote 186 on p. 237, Rabbi Meiselman claims to have shown in chapter 8 that "it is IMPOSSIBLE to maintain that the relevant statements in Maamar Odos Drashos Chazal were actually penned by Rabbeinu Avraham" (emphasis added). So much for your claim that it is a "cautious proposal that there is reasonable doubt", and his claim that "there is some evidence... that it may not be... etc."
Freelance Kiruv ManiacJune 28, 2015 at 2:36 PM
Well, if Rav Meiselman wrote the pages I cited and they aren't a forgery, then my claim still stands.

Joking aside, we have a problem where a footnote cross-referencing the book itself overstates the actual text in the book. In such a case, I would think the actual text in the book overrides the cross-referencing footnote.

C: From the comments section: When I approached Rav Meiselman about David Ohsie's "discovery", he told me that he knew of it and that he simultaneously knew of the contradiction between the Milchamos Hashem and the ma'amar regarding Talmudic authority when he was researching the book.  He explained that although this contradiction with Milchamos would have been the better point of the two options, to make it in a definitive way would have required investing another huge amount of time, effort and money to do a thorough investigation of the authenticity of the Milchamos Hashem.  So he resigned himself to only presenting the textual variant problem knowing that if anyone would pull the Milchamos as a counter-point, he could respond with a "mimoh nafshoch".

This explanation is most disturbing and I don't accept that it represents Rabbi Meiselman's viewpoint.  Presenting a false argument because you have another argument available if the falsity of your argument is discovered is not an intellectually honest way to proceed.

In addition, I'm not aware of any doubts as to the authenticity of Milchamos Hashem or why it would take huge investments to present the evidence that it is not reliable.  So the whole "Mimoh Nafscoch" is difficult to comprehend.

D: Indeed, such a doctrine would fly in the face of the entire thrust of this sub-section of the ma'amar. Namely, the Mama'ar insists we may not concede any authority to the Talmud merely on the basis of the stature of the Talmudic sages alone. Their authority --on any subject, legal or scientific--must be earned by passing the scrutiny of our own contemporary expertise! (The wording I employ here in describing the Ma'amar's position vis-a-vis authority is specifically designed to correct David Ohsie's latest misunderstanding of Rav Meiselman's argument about the Ma'amar. That was rather painless, wasn't it?)

Rabbi Kornreich's "explanation" is difficult to understand.  Rabbi Meiselman appeared to claim that the Discourse lends no credence to authority at all, since he tries to refute it with a statement from the Rambam that authority is a source of knowledge.  If all the Discourse means is that we don't accept a statement based entirely on authority regardless of whether or not it makes sense, then this is no contradiction to the Rambam.  We showed in the post that he puts reason ahead of authority as a source of knowledge, and rejects Talmudic statements with which he disagrees.

A Miraculous Transformation

Several weeks ago, The Biblical Museum of Natural History received a gift from an entomologist friend of ours: a cluster of eggs. They were ...