Sunday, May 29, 2016

The Equalizer

(This post might well seem pedantic or obsessive. But in few days I will explain why it is much, much more important than it initially appears. Trust me, it's very significant!)

For all its very real harm and dangers, the impact of the internet upon Orthodox Jewish society is quite incredible, especially with regard to the clash between rationalism and anti-rationalism.

In the past, if anti-rationalist rabbinic leaders wanted to oppose any writings or activities, they would just ban it and censor it. They would not get into any kind of debate or discussion in which they would have to justify their position. There were no press interviews or anything like that.

But the internet changes everything. Now, if people want to argue against the rabbinic establishment, they have a platform from which to do so.

The ban on my books presents a great example of this. No explanation was given by the charedi Gedolim for the ban on my books. In the past, that would have been that, but the internet enabled a large number of people to publicly voice their protest and present countless sources from Chazal, the Rishonim and the Acharonim to support the rationalist viewpoint. This caused a tremendous crisis for rabbinic authority in the charedi world.

After a few years, the Official Authorized Explanation of the ban, Chaim B'Emunasam, was published by the main footsoldier in the ban, Rabbi Reuven Schmeltzer. However, this book was riddled with silly claims (e.g. that the letters from Rav Hirsch are forgeries) and distortions, including actually editing the words of Rambam to make him say something different. I exposed these flaws in a series of posts and even printed them up in a booklet which was disseminated. No attempt was made to defend Chaim B'Emunasam, and it faded into obscurity.

More recently, Rabbi Moshe Meiselman published his 700+ page book Torah, Chazal and Science, attempting to give a detailed explanation of why my approach is heretical. In a long series of posts, I have been exposing the serious distortions, omissions, and lack of understanding of science present in that book.

Then Rabbi Yaakov Menken wrote a glowing review of Torah, Chazal and Science. I promptly published a blog post listing all the flaws in his review. Rabbi Menken responded to only the first point that I raised, ignoring all the rest. This was my criticism of his claim that one can prove (via Rambam, who notes that Pi is an irrational number) that Chazal knew that Pi is an irrational number and were thus way ahead of their time. To quote Rabbi Menken: "the Rambam’s statement itself is evidence that Chazal possessed knowledge of the physical world beyond what was known to other cultures.” I did not dispute the fact that Rambam knew Pi to be an irrational number, and nor, contrary to the straw man that Rabbi Menken set up, did I reject the possibility that Chazal knew that Pi is an irrational number. Rather, I rejected his claim that one can prove from Rambam that Chazal knew it to be an irrational number.

Rabbi Menken responded with many hundreds of words, in a blog post and blog comments, on this point. But it was all misdirection. Not once did he actually explain how one can prove from Rambam that Chazal knew that Pi is an irrational number.

This was making Rabbi Menken look rather silly. However, he had a certain advantage. All this discussion was taking place on his blog, Cross-Currents, where he enforces comment moderation with a heavy hand. If people submitted comments that he didn't have a good answer to, he could simply give an unsatisfactory answer, and then not publish their follow-up comment. He could reject comments under the excuse that people were swamping the comments section, or even with no justification at all. I tried submitting a comment, but it was not posted.

But then came Facebook! On Friday, someone directed me to Rabbi Menken's Facebook page, where he had posted his article. Now, Facebook works differently from Cross-Currents. There is no possibility of moderating comments on Facebook. Facebook is the great equalizer. So, here I had an opportunity to actually engage Rabbi Menken in discussion and ask him how on earth Rambam's statement provides proof that Chazal knew Pi to be irrational.

The only way to do so would be to prove that Rambam deduced it as a necessary inference from Chazal's words and couldn't have gotten it from anywhere else. This would be very difficult to prove. After all, we know that Rambam absorbed much knowledge from non-Jewish sources. The early Greek and Indian mathematicians were already well on the path towards concluding that Pi is irrational, and it would not be at all surprising for this to have already been guessed before Rambam's time. In fact, in an exact parallel to the Rambam case, one fifteenth century Indian commentator claims an indication from a 4th-century Indian text that Pi is irrational.

But Rabbi Menken said that he didn't know how Rambam [allegedly] deduced it from Chazal. He admitted that to claim that Rambam deduced it from Chazal saying that Pi is three would be ludicrous, because then you're saying that you can prove that Chazal were ahead of their time because they said that Pi is three! But he wouldn't say where Rambam got it from. So I kept pushing, and asking him how on earth Rambam's statement provides proof that Chazal knew Pi to be irrational. Rabbi Menken ended up saying that he didn't have time to respond and would respond on Monday.

But I couldn't resist pointing out that Rabbi Meiselman had indeed indicated where he believed Rambam had deduced it from Chazal. I posted a comment which did nothing other than quote Rabbi Meiselman:
"The Rambam gives no source for his information. Scholars have presumed that he deduced it from Talmudic passages in which it is implied. In fact, the Rambam seems to say so almost explicitly. He writes that Chazal use an approximation for Pi rather than a fraction because it is irrational. This seems to imply that if Pi were rational there would be no justification for instituting a legal approximation rather than the appropriate fraction. The very fact that Chazal did so indicated to him that they knew it to be irrational."
Rabbi Menken responded by deleting that comment.

Yes, that's right. He deleted a comment that did nothing other than quote Rabbi Meiselman. Presumably, because it showed him to be utterly wrong.

When I responded in shock that he had done such a thing, he deleted that comment too, and then announced that he was blocking me from posting any further comments as well as banning me from posting comments on Cross-Currents.

Anti-rationalists cannot tolerate open discussion, because it exposes them as being mistaken/ dishonest. Fortunately, the internet is the great equalizer, and enables me to expose this on my own website. Because I suspected that Rabbi Menken might delete the discussion, I had already copied-and-pasted the whole thing. Here it is:

...
Yaakov Menken I'll quote him [i.e. me - N.S.]: "Rambam says that Chazal knew that Pi was irrational, and therefore used an approximation. This is a reasonable position. Yet Rambam does NOT say, however, that the fact of Chazal using three proves that they knew it to be irrational." That's another straw man, no one said their use of three *proved* they knew it to be irrational. But as he finally acknowledges, the Rambam says precisely what Rav Meiselman and then I said that the Rambam said: Chazal used the approximation because the actual ratio is irrational, unable to be specified precisely.

Natan Slifkin Allow me to quote Rabbi Menken: "Chazal were ahead of their times because they knew Pi was irrational, plain & simple." "The Rambam’s statement itself is evidence that Chazal possessed knowledge of the physical world beyond what was known to other cultures.”

Yaakov Menken Both correct, and both entirely support what I said above. The straw man, which he and supporters have now used repeatedly, was and remains: "the fact of Chazal using three proves that they knew it to be irrational." This would logically require that there be no other tenable explanation for Chazal using three (e.g. claiming Chazal didn't know math). That indefensible position, rather than anything I said, is the straw man erected by RNS once I pointed out that his original attempt to ridicule RMM and myself actually targeted words of the Rambam.

Natan Slifkin How on earth is Rambam's statement "evidence that Chazal possessed knowledge of the physical world beyond what was known to other cultures", if it didn't come from Chazal? Besides, you already claimed that it did come from Chazal - you called it "the obvious implciation of Chazal's words".

Yaakov Menken Now you are trying to back out of the strawman.

Natan Slifkin Yaakov Menken no, you are avoiding answering what I wrote. Virtually everyone sees that except you.

Natan Slifkin Let's calm down. Perhaps you can just answer one question at at a time: How on earth is Rambam's statement "evidence that Chazal possessed knowledge of the physical world beyond what was known to other cultures"?

Yaakov Menken So you are accusing virtually everyone of being unable to distinguish between a strawman "the fact of Chazal using three *proves* that they knew it to be irrational" and the argument, which does not use that as a proof at all? Interesting.

Yaakov Menken I'm not going to repeat myself. You can reread my post if you were unable to comprehend it previously. Perhaps you should have done so to my original article before you posted your intemperate responses.

Natan Slifkin It's amazing. You are mamash unable to answer this. The fact is that you claimed that Rambam provides "evidence that Chazal possessed knowledge of the physical world beyond what was known to other cultures". You also claimed that Rambam derived this from Chazal, as the "obvious implication" of their saying three and not a fraction. This means that you are saying that the evidence of Chazal's advanced knowledge comes from their saying that Pi equals three, via the Rambam!

Yaakov Menken Once again, you have set up a straw man. I did not say that the Rambam used this as the obvious implication. Reread.

Natan Slifkin I quote: "their choice of such a gross approximation (rather than the much more accurate 22/7, which was apparently well known) is the because no one will ever produce the precise and final value. The obvious implication, of course, is that they knew that."

Yaakov Menken Why did you omit the opening words? "I think it is obvious from this statement that the Rambam both knew Pi to be irrational, and believed that Chazal knew Pi to be irrational." At that point, the rest is correct: the implication of the Rambam's statement is that he understood that Chazal knew that no one will ever produce the precise value. It is the "obvious implication" of the Rambam's statement, but not at all obvious from Chazal using 3 for Pi.

Natan Slifkin If it is not an implication of Chazal's statement, then how is there ""evidence that Chazal possessed knowledge of the physical world beyond what was known to other cultures"?

Yaakov Menken Nothing in your question has not previously been answered, and I have much to write and a Bar Mitzvah to make. Shabbat Shalom.

Natan Slifkin Good grief, what a cop-out. Good Shabbos.

Yaakov Menken No. I'm not going to beat my head against a wall because you ask me to. I said it was the implication of the *Rambam's* statement but you have steadfastly ignored that. It's either from using 3 for Pi, or something else in Chazal's statement, or who knows what, but the plain meaning of my words consistently escapes you.

Natan Slifkin No, it escapes everyone I know. If we don't know the source of Rambam's knowledge of Pi (as you said. "who knows what"), then how can you say that it is evidence that Chazal knew it? (Especially when all the other Rishonim say understand the Gemara differently, which you have yet to address!)

Yaakov Menken Widen your circle of friends. I have a Bar Mitzvah to make, you can debate this further on Monday.

Natan Slifkin Oh, come on! We were just getting to the crucial point, the very crux of everything that we have been arguing about! You claimed that Rambam provides "evidence that Chazal possessed knowledge of the physical world beyond what was known to other cultures". But if you admit that you have no idea what the source of Rambam's knowledge was, how on earth does it provide evidence about Chazal's knowledge?!

Yaakov Menken Yet somehow none of the reader comments on my article seem at all puzzled by this very point. I need about 3 assistants to get through today, you'll have to wait your turn nicely.

Natan Slifkin Actually, that is exactly what David Ohsie and a whole bunch of other people were pointing out is the crucial flaw of your argument. You can't use the words of Rambam to prove something about Chazal (especially when all the other Rishonim do not learn the Gemara like Rambam!)

[Note - it could be that I lost some of the comments here, but I don't think so - N.S/]

Yaakov Menken Unbelievable

Natan Slifkin I couldn't agree more. By the way, Rabbi Meiselman does indeed indicate what he believes to be the source of Rambam's knowledge. He says that it is "almost explicit" that Rambam got it from the Gemara saying that Pi is three.

Yaakov Menken That is absolutely not what he said. It's not even close. "He [the Rambam] writes that Chazal use an approximation for pi rather than a fraction *because* it is irrational." The assertion that the Rambam derived this from the Gemara saying Pi is three is your own invention.

Natan Slifkin [I responded with the direct quote from Rabbi Meiselman: "The Rambam gives no source for his information (that Pi is irrational). Scholars have presumed that he deduced it from Talmudic passages in which it is implied. In fact, the Rambam seems to say so almost explicitly. He writes that Chazal use an approximation for Pi rather than a fraction because it is irrational. This seems to imply that if Pi were rational there would be no justification for instituting a legal approximation rather than the appropriate fraction. The very fact that Chazal did so indicated to him that they knew it to be irrational." Rabbi Menken then deleted this.]

Yaakov Menken Last warning, please desist from spamming my Wall. I have multiple Divrei Torah far more needed than rehashing this with you and you are unduly repeating yourself. I will have to deny you access if you persist further.

Natan Slifkin Yaakov Menken I am not spamming. You are challenging my claim that R. Meiselman sad it is almost explicit. I replied with a direct quote from Rabbi Meiselman saying exactly that! Either respond or don't respond, but don't you DARE delete my post, which was simply a quote from Rabbi Meiselman. If you delete it again, you will only make a fool of yourself, because I will publicize that you deleted it.

Natan Slifkin Here is the direct quote from Rabbi Meiselman again. "The Rambam gives no source for his information (that Pi is irrational). Scholars have presumed that he deduced it from Talmudic passages in which it is implied. In fact, the Rambam seems to say so almost explicitly. He writes that Chazal use an approximation for Pi rather than a fraction because it is irrational. This seems to imply that if Pi were rational there would be no justification for instituting a legal approximation rather than the appropriate fraction. The very fact that Chazal did so indicated to him that they knew it to be irrational."

Natan Slifkin If you delete this again, I will write a post pointing out that you were embarrassed by my doing nothing other than quoting Rabbi Meiselman in direct refutation of your claim and you deleted it!

Yaakov Menken If you follow on your threat I will post that you have willfully lied.

Natan Slifkin Well, I am copying and pasting this entire thread, so that people can see for themselves.

133 comments:

  1. I've noticed when debating with people that they sometimes have a belief which impedes them from accepting the truth, and that I have to dig deep to unearth that. It sounds like something similar is going on here.

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  2. [preaching to the choir]

    Even if the Rambam's statement can be taken to mean that he believed CHaZaL knew Pi to be irrational, it in no way implies that CHaZaL were privy to knowledge that was ahead of their time and not derived from other cultures.

    This is very similar to the way Charedim categorically ignore that the Babylonians, amongst whom the Jews spent a number of years, had knowledge of astronomy that would have easily allowed the creation of a fixed lunar-solar calendar. In other words, the principles upon which our calendar was established were well-known to interested parties for hundreds of years. It is quite likely that CHaZaL learned them from non-Jews. Or at least, those who returned from the Babylonian exile learned them from the Babylonians, and then passed them down. There's no evidence that CHaZaL independently knew this information from solely Jewish sources.

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    1. Not to mention that the Chinese worked out the same exact thing with no contact with either Babylon or Israel.

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  3. Screenshots, though only marginally harder to forge than copy-pasted text, are generally more convincing. Ideally you could reference an archive.org link to the complete thread.

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  4. ignoring the fact that he moderates when possible and dislikes having to defend his views in the face of opposing opinions, on this specific argument I don't understand what is so important about this that the argument can get so heated to the point that he just burns the house down instead of either proving his point or admitting defeat. Who cares? Why is it so important to be able to prove, one way or the other, how the rambam derived that pi is an irrational number? if he did not tell us his source, maybe he felt that source was not important information. but whatever it was, why does it matter?

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    1. Rafi, it's all about whether he can prove that Chazal were ahead of their time.

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    2. and if they are, so what? I am happy to say that they were. how does it affect anything? how does it help him in any way? Most frum Jews probably think that chazal were pretty close to never wrong, so why is this a point to nitpick on?

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    3. That's what I'll explain in a few days.

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    4. I think the Nekudah here is the source of CHaZaL's knowledge. If they had knowledge "ahead of their time", the implication is that the source is divine. If it's divine, we can't argue with it, never mind believe they were C"V wrong! If the source is not divine, it could not have been "ahead of their time". After all, someone has to be the first to discover a principle. Being first doesn't put you "ahead of your time".

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  5. "Anti-rationalists cannot tolerate open discussion, because it exposes them as being mistaken/ dishonest." - The wording here implies that all(?) anti- (what about simply "non-"?) rationalists are mistaken or dishonest. It would be more fair (though admittedly odd) to say that *dishonest* people cannot tolerate open discussion, because it exposes them as being mistaken/ dishonest.

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    1. Agreed. Anti-rationalists just subscribe to a different epistemological methodology. It doesn't necessitate them being "mistaken/ dishonest".

      R Stefansky

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    2. But no matter what epistemology one subscribes to, there is only one system of logical reasoning and only one truth. What is being displayed is what happens when they are confronted with an argument based on facts that conflict with their conclusions.

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  6. Rabbi Slifkin: You are, of course, correct, and R. Menken is just making himself look stubborn and foolish. In fairness to R Menken, though, his stubbornly persistent misreading seems to derive from R. Meiselman's statement itself. The problem is that R. Meiselman's seifa does not support his reisha. R Meiselman begins (reisha), as you correctly point out, by arguing that the Rambam derived his knowledge that pi is irrational from Hazal. But he, then (seifa), supports that initial claim by saying that the Rambam states that the Sages knew that pi is irrational. The problem is that even if the Rambam stated that, it does not imply the reisha, namely, that the Rambam derived the knowledge that pi irrational from the Sages. So R. Menken, then, is, indeed, correct in saying that R. Meiselman's seifa, by itself, does not imply that the Rambam derived his knowledge that pi is irrational from Hazal. His problem is that R. Meiselman in his reisha drew exactly that implication!

    Lawrence Kaplan

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  7. Rabbi Slifkin, you are being treated the way I have been treated by Orthodox Jews who can control content. They have deleted whole conversations, not allowed me to respond, not posted my follow up questions or comments. I have written several posts regarding secret knowledge in Torah, Hebrew, Talmud etc: and have found no evidence for it all. If PI (allegedly) was claimed to be irrational by Chazel is the best anyone can offer it is laughable. Judaism is based on faith, specifically faith of an alleged revelation at Sinai. It is not only PI that is irrational.

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    1. Yes, but you admit in your pseudonym that you are something of a crank :). So there may be multiple forces at work here.

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  8. The part I don't understand is why he kept answering you if he had a Bar Mitzvah to make and so on. Normally, people just leave it and go do what they need to do, and he kept at it.

    I don't know what you thought you would accomplish, frankly. FB arguments never end with, "You must be right." Between very good friends, perhaps, there's an occasional, "that's an interesting way of looking at it", at best.

    I miss the forum platform. Ironically, R' Yaakov Menken founded Torah Forum, which had some very interesting people participating, and the bandwidth to actually fill out more than a handful of sentences at a time. We had some very lively discussions, respectful and source-based. I think there are people here who might remember it. At one point, he asked me to moderate it, and I did, with a handful of other folks, but several years on, he told us that we had veered away from his intended "tone". Project Genesis discontinued support of the forum, and all the backups were lost. I did try to revive it on my own, but by then, the forum platform was replaced by Facebook and blogs, and it never took off. Alas, that has happened to other forums as well, so I don't take it personally, but I do miss it.

    Oh, and the other part I don't understand is why you're stuck on this one rather subtle point of what the Rambam knew and how and not on the part where R' Meiselman mis-represents the Rav, which can be demonstrated by quoting explicit statements in his published work. That is truly beneath people of this caliber. Arguing the Rambam ... I hear your point, but it just looks like you're arguing the Rambam.

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    1. I'm not arguing with Rambam.

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    2. No, you're arguing the Rambam. Arguing how to interpret him, where he got his sources, etc. Which is what people do with the Rambam. It's not essentially anti-rationalist, even if the conclusions are. The method is standard, and the point gets lost.

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  9. Couldn't you have waited till Monday? I would expect more civil behavior from someone who claims to be interested in a productive search for the truth. (And don't tell me "but he does x,y and z." You are responsible for your behavior). Such tactics point to an immature desire to score points, rather than to demonstrate the truth.

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    1. Why would it be more civil to wait till Monday?

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    2. Because Monday is a civil holiday in the US. ;)

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  10. The man asked you for a pause to allow him to focus on his simcha. You surely could have waited a few days! Your badgering tactics are immature at best, despicable at worst.

    (And don't tell me - as you are wont to - "but he did x, y and z." You are responsible for your behavior).

    In any case none of this thread touched the substance of what R' Menken is saying: That the Rambam attributed knowledge of Pi's irrational nature to Chazal, ahead of their (and his) time. You are merely attempting to force him into the uncomfortable position of criticizing R' Meiselman's book. Yehoshua Duker already pointed out that this point could have been stated (by R' Meiselman) more clearly. But I think most intelligent people reading the passage with a modicum of objectivity would understand his true intention in context. I did, when I read it.

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  11. It's just a strong tactic. There is no reason why he can't explain in two or three sentences how you can prove from Rambam that Chazal were ahead of that time. Unless there is no explanation, because it can't be done.

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  12. "In any case none of this thread touched the substance of what R' Menken is saying: That the Rambam attributed knowledge of Pi's irrational nature to Chazal, ahead of their (and his) time."

    That is absolutely NOT what he is saying. He repeatedly said that all this PROVES that Chazal were ahead of their time. If he wants to walk that claim back, let him do so.

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  13. The entire reason why he brought up this topic in his review is to prove that Chazal were ahead of their time!

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    1. You won. Now please stop already. Thank you.

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    2. It really revolves around one point: was the irrational nature of Pi generally known in the time of Chazal and of the Rambam, or was it not. If it was, then there is nothing remarkable here. If it wasn't, then:

      a. The Rambam was ahead of his time, and
      b. Chazal were ahead of their time.

      R' Menken is merely assuming that it was not common knowledge. You may challenge that assumption if you wish, but it certainly is not a baseless or silly position, as you portray it. The pashtus is that it was not common knowledge.

      (My father is a math professor. He was astounded when he first encountered this Rambam, and he shared it with colleagues who were equally impressed.)

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    3. You're missing a crucial point. Rabbi Menken is claiming that Chazal knew that it was irrational. But there is no evidence for that!

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    4. Squaring the circle was an old question by Chazal's day. It's hard to believe they were that unaware of Greek and Persian math...

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    5. Unknown - I also mentioned it to a friend who is a mathematician many years ago - same reaction.

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    6. I believe it is true that the fact that the circle cannot be squared implies the irrationality of pi. But they didn't know that. They also believed, but could not prove, that squaring the circle was impossible.

      Again, as the Rambam himself asserts, most people familiar with math would have assumed that pi was probably irrational.

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    7. R' Menken is merely assuming that it was not common knowledge. You may challenge that assumption if you wish, but it certainly is not a baseless or silly position, as you portray it. The pashtus is that it was not common knowledge.

      (My father is a math professor. He was astounded when he first encountered this Rambam, and he shared it with colleagues who were equally impressed.)


      It is somewhat impressive to be the first to write down a correct conjecture even if lots of others believed it. As it turns out, the Rambam himself says that only fools would believe otherwise. So this is not evidence of any special divine knowledge.

      The whole notion of "being ahead of your time" is kinda screwy. Newton and Einstein were ahead of their times, but then they published and everyone else caught up. Being ahead of your time is something of a negative in that it implies that you lacked intellectual influence.

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    8. To be more explicit... I think that chazal likely knew pi was irrational, or at least may be irrational, because they were NOT working off some isolated pool of knowledge.

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    9. "You're missing a crucial point. Rabbi Menken is claiming that Chazal knew that it was irrational. But there is no evidence for that!"

      Oops. What I meant to write was:

      It really revolves around one point: was the irrational nature of Pi generally known in the time of Chazal and of the Rambam, or was it not. If it was, then there is nothing remarkable here. If it wasn't, then:

      a. The Rambam was ahead of his time, and
      b. ACCORDING TO THE RAMBAM'S UNDERSTANDING, Chazal were ahead of their time.

      To me, that seems like a very significant point.

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    10. You mean that Rambam thought that Chazal had access to a superior source of knowledge? No, he thought that it was something that every wise person knew. Remember, he writes that only fools say otherwise.

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    11. I am not saying it is internally clear in the Rambam what the source was. But if it was not generally known (again, I realize you challenge this premise, but I do not think it is unreasonable), then apparently they somehow knew better.

      The Rambam does not state that only fools think Pi is rational; he states that only fools think Chazal worked with three out of ignorance. I.e., those who would attribute their use of three to gross error are fools.

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    12. The Rambam does not state that only fools think Pi is rational; he states that only fools think Chazal worked with three out of ignorance. I.e., those who would attribute their use of three to gross error are fools.

      No, that is not what he says. Here is what he says:

      You must know that the ratio of the diameter of a circle to its circumference [pi] is unknown. It is impossible to state its value precisely. This is not due to ignorance on our part, as the foolish think, but because by its nature it cannot be known and it is impossible to know.

      At this point he is giving background material about pi and not the specific Mishnah. He later uses this as an apologetic for 3.

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    13. @David Ohsie: "the fact that the circle cannot be squared implies the irrationality of pi"
      This is not related so much to the discussion, but it's just amusing: Once Rabbi Yitzchak Ginzburgh was lecturing, and noticed that the audience was dosing off a bit. So he threw this in: Rabbi Avraham Abulafia was a Kabbalist who used to meditate on the rearrangement of Hebrew letters, and see what other combinations can be made. In the same vein, just as it is impossible to make a circle out of a square (עגל רבוע)--to make a circle with exactly the same area as a square--, it is impossible to find a patient husband (בעל רגוע)! (This is not from Rabbi Abulafia, I assume.)

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    14. David Ohsie said:

      "No, that is not what he says. Here is what he says..."

      You're right, I did not read it carefully.
      Still, I think it is a stretch to say that this was well known in his time on the basis of this diyuk alone. Were it well known, we should find much more widespread discussion of it, especially since topic of Pi itself was widely discussed. And it is certainly remarkable that the Rambam (whose rationalist credentials can hardly be challenged!) understood that Chazal knew this as well.

      "He later uses this as an apologetic for 3."

      It strikes me as deeply disrespectful to characterize a peirush of the Rambam as "an apologetic".

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    15. I think David is using "apologetic" in its meaning of "defense" or "vindication."

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    16. Then I presume you won't be offended if I say that you are a David Ohsie apologist.

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    17. Unknown: it may be that it wasn't well known in the time of the Rambam, but the Rambam considered it simple enough to realise that pi is irrational, that you would be considered foolish if you thought otherwise.
      In that case the Rambam, who had tremendous respect for חז"ל, and considered them anything but foolish could safely have assumed that they knew the nature of pi.

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  14. BTW, - it's pleasant to think that Chazal were ahead of their time, just as it's pleasant to count the Nobel Prizes won by the Jewish People. But neither one is necessary for what G-d chose us to do.

    What you're fighting for is not that Chazal could or couldn't have known Pi, but that it doesn't MATTER if they knew Pi. They knew Torah. And they were heroes who sacrificed everything to pass it on, and to try to anticipate the needs of the Jewish People, and we owe everything to them, including doing the best to follow the process that they put in place. Esp the part where we use the Rishonim to understand them and don't try to back things out ourselves, because that is a slippery slope, with the tracks of many who have fallen on it.

    That is so much more important than a specific learning of the Rambam, no matter how mistaken he is.

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    1. Bravo. Well said.

      When we stop respecting Rabbonim for what they are not, we can start respecting them for what they are. Then Rabbonim will be purely a positive force in כלל ישראל, rather than the sad situation now where many cause more harm than good.

      (This is not a diatribe against Rabbonim. Its a diatribe against those people who abuse Rabbonus and use it for what it was not meant to. When you use a screwdriver as a drill it damages both the driver and the wood. But you'd be a fool to get rid of the screwdriver.)

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  15. I'm still waiting for an un-hilarious hypothesis as to why Chazal used 3 rather than 3 and one-seventh; and what Rambam would answer to that question.

    To me, it is astounding that rationalists droolingly fawn over the idea that an imaginary "ancient culture" - which was of sufficient authority for Rambam to disdainfully reject those who thought otherwise - is the source for Rambam's (and according to Rambam, by extension, Chazal's) knowledge that pi is irrational. An attitude that virtually a priori rejects the possibility of this coming from a Jewish source - be it revelation, expounding Tanach, or at least Jewish cultural tradition of unknown origin, is quite difficult to reconcile with firm a priori belief in Divine revelation per se. It is clear as day that Jewish tradition believed itself to be in possession of some general knowledge that was not widely known.

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    1. I'm still waiting for an un-hilarious hypothesis as to why many ancient and technically advanced civilisations used 3 rather than 3 and one-seventh; and what historians would answer to that question.

      To me, it is astounding that rationalists droolingly fawn over the idea that an imaginary "ancient culture" is the source for Bhaskara I(and according to Bhaskara, by extension, Aryabhata's) knowledge that pi is irrational. An attitude that virtually a priori rejects the possibility of this coming from a religious hindu source - be it revelation, expounding aincent Hindu texts, or at least Indian cultural tradition of unknown origin, is quite difficult to reconcile with firm a priori belief in Divine revelation per se. It is clear as day that Hindu tradition believed itself to be in possession of some general knowledge that was not widely known.

      Hmmm. The stuff I just wrote doesn't seem to make that much sense does it... Maybe it was just a conjecture after all?

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    2. And your point is that I ought not be astounded at the relative degree of certainty rationalist epistemology places upon Sinai versus other religions, and whether or not they can take their titular philosophical forebear at his word. I concede, maybe you're right.

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    3. Once again you completely miss the point. We are discussing evidence here. The Rambam stating that pi is irrational provides no more evidence that he had a divine source for his knowledge than it provides evidence that bhaskara did.

      I never denied the possibility that the source of the Rambam's statement is divine. I denied there was any evidence for it. As it happens I highly doubt the source of his information is divine. But that's a different conversation.

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    4. If we're having this debate while presuming that Rambam did not mean what he said (that Chazal knew it), and without the need for offering alternate hypotheses as to where they knew it from because revelation is essentially not an option, then you're right, there is no evidence.

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    5. I presume he meant exactly what he said. And I have successfully proved that there are other potential sources for his information, give that somehow or other Indian scholars new it, and they clearly did not have a divine source for their information. Hence the Rambam provides no evidence.

      Please stop setting up strawmen.

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    6. How do you know Indian scholars knew it? Because they said so!?

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    7. Yes. Because they said so. If somebody says pi is irrational, one can safely assume he knows/conjectures it to be irrational.

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  16. This post is exactly what trolling is. You proved your point and now you're hitting him over the head with it nonstop.
    I'm siding with R' Menkin here: you were intentionally spamming him. It doesn't matter whether he proved his point out not, at some point you learn to stop because you aren't getting anywhere.
    R' Menkin said he was done: that's where you should have stopped.

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    1. If his post hadn't been explicitly bashing NS as dishonest, I would agree with you.
      But when he writes an entire piece about how NS is entirely illogical, and dishonest, and claims that NS is spamming him when he tries to defend himself... I know where my sympathies lie.

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  17. This man has too much time on his hands. He had a whole discussion with me about my status condemning charedi reaction to the Dor Yesharim rap. Then when I didn't let him get away with a strawman he replied that he has a bar mitzvah to set up....

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  18. But there is a real problem as well...

    The combination of rabbi behaving badly, the internet's cynicism echo chamber, the ability to Google around for rabbis saying things you agree with and 12 years of Torah education have combined to taken down for too many people the entire concept of having a rabbi.

    Do it yourself pesaq, without shimush (apprenticeship) and the additional education, may fit the spirit of the times and its emphasis on personal autonomy, but it's not how Judaism is done.

    There are plenty of good rabbis still out there.

    Too much Equalization.

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  19. What R' Slifkin is doing is not trolling, and is not spamming. Trolling is saying deliberately outrageous, provocative, and/or obnoxious things with the purposeful intent to upset people. Spamming is flooding a thread with advertisements or other similarly unwelcome marketing appeals.

    What R' Slifkin is doing is persistently presenting rational arguments to an intellectual debate.

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    1. The RamBam is not the point. The debate is not the point.

      Control, or lack thereof is the point. Rabbinic judaism is based on control. The whole Slifkin affair is not about belief. Rather, it is about what Orthodox Jews are permitted to admit they believe in polite company.

      I'm certain that many of RNS's condemers inwardly concede many critical issues. The fact that they cannot admit it eats away at them.

      What RNS did here was to chip away at a bit of Rabbinic control.

      Well done.

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  20. Well done! don't give in to these intellectually dishonest people

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    1. The definition of "intellectually dishonest" being anyone who disagrees with me...

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    2. For some people, for sure. But it also includes people that delete arguments to which they cannot respond

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  21. RAv Slifkin: I think there's an even larger question here. Episodes like this cast doubt on the entire concept of "mesorah". The question in my mind is simple. Is the dishonesty we see of many of our current day leaders unique to our day or has it always existed? Were the leaders of yesteryear honest and yashar and we just have a problem with many "leaders" today, or were many Rabbis historically equally corrupt and dishonest and we only figured it out today because of modern technology? Our entire religion is based on trusting those who handed down the mesorah. I for one have been struggling with this issue ever since the ban on your book.

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    1. Read what they wrote and decide.

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    2. I've had these questions as well. How does Dr. Marc Shapiro's concept of "Rewriting History" impact on emunah? Why are R. Meiselman and R. Aharon Feldman making emunah more difficult than it was for RSRH? Furthermore, R. Feldman's position, itself, evolved, having originally encouraged RNS after the ban!

      Personally, I think showing all sides of an issue clearly, even on basic issues of faith,is helpful for the intellectually-inclined even if that risks skepticism, instead of giving kiruv proofs. I like this quote from R. Alfred Cohen's Daat Torah(Journal of Halacha and Contemporary Society, Spring 2003):

      "It strikes me that this is indicative of one of the major problems in the Jewish community – there is precious little objective examination of principles, but rather defensive polemic to protect a particular position. The unwillingness to consider other points of view and the lack of preparedness to counter objections with facts is an unhealthy feature of our polarized Jewish society. This turns a sober, serious inquiry about the deeper requirements of Jewish hashkafa into dogmatic argumentation, which in the long run weakens, rather than strengthens, belief."

      I would add that people could disagree whether things have gotten better since R. Cohen wrote his article(his son is now the editor of the journal, BTW), and R. Meiselman's supporters would consider his book a "objective examination of principles".

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    3. Many people grapple with that problem. That's what dragged the previous owner of failed messiah away from orthodox Judaism for one. Its a very unfortunate situation, and I fully understand why it did that.

      I think that I can offer two things to think about that may help. The first is that you may be misunderstanding mesorah. I'm going to post a conversation I had with a certain rov in gush. I had similiar conversations with many (non-chareidi, open minded) Rabbonim and they all said similiar ideas.

      Www.ajewmuses.blogspot.co.il

      I hope to post it soon.

      The second thing to think about is that which I spoke about above. The problems only start when we ascribe greater powers to Rabbonim than they have, and start respecting them for what they are not rather than what they are.

      None of these are neat answers to the question you raised. They're not even answers at all. But they're points to ponder which may help you in your journey. They certainly helped me.

      Wishing everybody who allows themselves to embark on these quests הצלחה רבה ונסיעה טובה.

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  22. Just to add another data point to this discussion, R' Meiselman himself notes (page 153 footnote 462) that an 11th century scholar by the name of Abu Rayhan Muhammad al-Biruni also states definitively that pi is irrational ("... there is no reason to assume that the Rambam saw this work.")

    I don't see how the categorical assertion of pi's irrationality by the Rambam indicates Divine knowledge, but al-Biruni's identical assertion doesn't.

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    1. You have a point, but even if the Rambam worked this out on his own, it is nonetheless significant that he thought it reasonable to assume that Chazal had this knowledge, and were working with it. If (as seems to be the case) it was not common knowledge, why would he assume they knew it?

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  23. Yup. Answering a comment in a debate or making a point is NOT trolling or spamming, no matter how much the author doesn't want your point to be made. Inaccurately/dishonestly accusing someone of trolling and spamming as a way to deflect an intellectual challenge and not answer a question.... well, there must be a word for thay, right? Help me out with a good descriptor.

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  24. This post has convinced me that Redemption will come only via Jewish women.

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    1. Are you predicting that a later Beis Din will come and uproot the limmud Melech V'lo Malkah? You may very well be right.

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    2. Or maybe they will go with R' Chaim Hirshenson's explanation.

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  25. This debate appears to miss a key point. The Rambam in his Peirush Hamishnayot offers two reasons for the Mishnaic use of 3 for pi. The debaters have only discussed the first, that pi is an irrational number and no ratio of integers can fully represent it. This argument appears to me to be apologetics. The irrationality of the ratio of the diagonal of a square to its side (sq. rt. 2) didn't keep the sages from using the generally accepted and adequate (it's off by 1%) approximation of 7/5 (instead of 1 or 2). Why, then, not use the prevalent and far superior approximation of 22/7 for pi? If the sages knew that pi was irrational they would have surely known of the 22/7 approximation. The second argument appears to be the key. The sages found a verse in Kings I (and Chronicles I) relating the circumference of the huge bronze temple basin to its diameter (30 to 10 amot, respectively). This is the real and explicitly stated basis (Eruvin 14a) for the use of 3 for pi in halachic matters. The irrationality of pi is irrelevant.

    Y. Aharon

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    1. Y. Aharon: That may be true, but Rambam is not bound by the reason given in the Gemara. He doesn't mention the other reason. Besides which the reason in the Gemara is also difficult: how can a limmud override reality? We still fall back to the fact that they said that if you have a round beam of circumference 3 you can round the diameter up to 1 even though it is actually smaller.

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    2. @Y. Aharon
      I don't see where you found the second reason in Ramabm. Fundamentally, I agree that the reason Chazal used a flat shiur wrt to pi, as opposed to a more precise albeit still inexact shiur like they used in other measurements, is due to the fact that they found a verse to rely on, and that this is the peshat in the gemara. Tosafot Rosh ad loc makes the same argument.
      However, I think both points are necessary - and thus Rambam is not giving an alternative reason to that of the gemara, but rather complementing it. The irrationality of pi - at least acc. to Rambam - is the REASON why Chazal chose such a flat number, and the reliance on the verse is why the felt that it was within their halakhic power to give such an inexact shiur. Without the first reason, they WOULDN'T have done it; and without the second, they COULDN'T.

      R. Shimon b. Zemach - שו'ת תשב"ץ קס"ה - discusses pi and other talmudic approximations at length, and asserts that Chazal knew their given measurements were inexact, and he also raises the above rationale, among other things that may be of interest:
      אלא יש לנו לומר אחד משני דברים או שקבלתן כך היתה ללכת ע"פ דרכים אלו ואף על פי שיש בהם קירוב דהא שיעורין הלכה למשה מסיני הם כדאי' בערובין (ד' ע"א) ובסוכה (ה' ע"ב) ובדוכתי אחריתי. ואפ"ל שכך נאמרה הלכ' למשה מסיני כמ"ש בקדושין (ל"ט ע"א) על ענין אחר והטעם בזה לפי שלא ניתנה התורה למלאכי השרת כמ"ש בברכו' (כ"ה ע"ב) ובקדושין (נ"ד ע"א) על ענינים אחרים ושמא כך נמסרה להם הלכה שיתנהגו על עיקרים אלו אף על פי שיש בהם קירוב כאלו הם מדוקדקים ויש סמך בזה מים שעשה שלמה שהלך בו הכתוב על דרך קירוב כמו שביארתי זהו אחד משני דברי' שאפשר לומר בזה או שנאמר שהם כשנשאו ונתנו בזה על עיקרים אלו עשו זה לקרב ההבנה אל התלמידים לפי שלעולם ישנ' אדם לתלמידו בדרך קצרה כדאיתא בפ"ק דפסחים (ג' ע"ב) ובפרק אלו טרפות (ס"ג ע"ב) אבל לענין מעשה יש לנו לדקדק הענין ע"פ הדקדוק האמתי ומסרוהו לחכמים יודעי השיעורי' נמצא כי ההלכה מסור' לתלמידים המתחילים והמעשה מסור אל החכמים לדקדקו על פי האמת וזה הדרך ישר בעיני לתקון דבריהם ז"ל וכן יוכיח מה שהקלו בזה בעמוד המוטל לאויר במס' אהלות (פי"ב מ"ז) שאף על עיקריה' לא דקדקו והקלו בהם ואף על פי שהקשו בסוכה (ח' ע"א) ובמקומו' אחרים (ב"ב כ"ז ע"א) אימר דאמרי' לא דק לחומרא לקולא לא אמרי' זה הוא כשהוא הרב' אבל דבר מועט לא יחושו בו שלא לבלבל התלמידים דומה למה שאמרו אימר דאמר /תיבת דאמר מיותרת/ דאמרי' לא דק פורתא כולי האי מי אמרי' ואפשר דבפורתא אפי' להקל כשהוא בלתי מורגש לא יקשה להם אי לא דק ביה והרמב"ם ז"ל פירש בפי' המשנה פ"א (מערכין) [מעירובין] כי לפי שדקדוק השביעי אינו ג"כ מדוקדק לפי שא"א לידע יחס קוטר העגולה אל המקיף לא שיהא זה מחסרון שכלנו אלא שטבע הענין יחייב כן והמהנדסים יודו בזה שא"א לדעת זה אלא ע"י קירוב וכיון שסוף סוף נצטרך לקירוב לקחו החכמים זה השרש עיקר והשתמשו בו בכל שיעוריהם זה כתב הרב ז"ל וי"ל עוד כי מצאו סיוע לזה בים שעשה שלמה ובודאי מאשר ראינו עומק שכלם בפי' המשניות ובכל דבריהם יש לנו לומר שא"א שישיגו חכמי העכו"ם במחקריהם מה שלא השיגו הם וכבר הפליג בעל ספ' הכוזר ז"ל להראות ליאות שכל היונים מהשיג מאשר השיגו חכמי ישראל בענין הטריפות ובנגעי אדם ובגדים ובתים ובענינים אחרים כמו שהרחיב המאמר בזה בספרו וכ"ש בעניני השיעורים דבחושבנא ושיעורא תליא מילתא שא"א לומר שתקצר יד שכלם מהשיג מה שהשיגו אוקלידס וארשמידש להבדיל בין החול ובין הקדש

      R Stefansky

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    3. Rabbi Stefansky and David Ohsie. I based my statement about the 2nd argument of the Rambam on wording at the end of his paragraph on "hayeta shel kash v'shel kanim.." Peirush Hamishnayot Eruvin chap. 1. My translation is "and they relied on what was required for the measurement in the torah". I know of no other verse in Tanach dealing with the ratio of the circumference of a circle to its diameter other than Kings I 7:23 and the reflected verse in Chronicles I 4:2. Admittedly this is only 1 line whereas the rest of the paragraph deals with the irrationality of pi. However, the Rambam was aware of and explicitly mentions the value of 22/7 (3 + 1/7) that was accepted by the relevant scholars as the approximation for pi. If not for the verse, why not use 22/7 to more accurately approximate the irrational pi just as they used 7/5 to approximate the irrational sq.rt. 2. Perhaps Rabbi Stefansky's argument is valid that the Rambam required both reasons for the use of an inaccurate value for pi. I maintain, however, that the primary reason was the verse that appears to use 3 for pi in practical measurements. The reason for his elaboration of the irrationality of pi 'reason' may have been its novelty for talmudic scholars - the other reason having been explicitly given by the Gemara in Eruvin 14a.


      Y. Aharon

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    4. @Y. Aharon
      All of the hebrew translations of his perush I've seen, (including Kafih) render the last line something like: and they sufficed with/relied on this for all the measurements the Torah required. Do you have an alternative translation of the Arabic?

      R Stefansky

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    5. Chazal were giving the measurement of 1:x. They could say 1:3 for pi, but could not very well say 1:1 for the diagonal.

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    6. Rabbi Stefansky, I have no access to the Rambam's original Peirush in Arabic, nor do I know Arabic - classic or modern. I only attempted a translation from the Hebrew in the standard Vilna Shas rendition (really an interpretation bssed on the use of the word "torah"). The translation that you supplied may, indeed, be more correct than mine. If so, then the Rambam is problematic in that he totally neglects the explanation in the Gemara in favor of some debatable hypothesis. The argument that "Still wobbly" makes that using a whole number for pi makes more sense than using a whole number for the ratio of the diagonal of a square to its side is true (although R' Yochanan in Eruvin 76a does appear to use a value of 2, i.e., the sum of the sides). It is obvious that the diagonal is greater than the side but less than twice the side. They could have split the difference ans used 1.5 (or agreed with R' Yochanan's, 2). Instead, they used a known, reasonably accurate approximation of 1.4 (7/5). Why not do the same for the other irrational number, pi?

      Y. Aharon

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    7. @Y. Aharoni
      I am not terribly bothered by this Rambam. It is not uncharacteristic of him to provide the logical rationale for a ruling of the gemara, whereas the gemara itself seeks its legal-halakhic basis, asking מנה"מ and providing a passuk. Indeed, at times he does in the MT as well.

      R Stefansky

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    8. "They could have split the difference ans used 1.5 (or agreed with R' Yochanan's, 2). Instead, they used a known, reasonably accurate approximation of 1.4 (7/5). Why not do the same for the other irrational number, pi?"

      That's the Rambam's whole point! If you have to use a fraction for an irrational number anyhow - why not get close? But if you don't - why bother?

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  26. Don't know much about Pi, and whether or not it's all in the Rambam. And not sure I learnt much more now either. But I did learn much about the rabid way one can flay about in response to a damaged ego. Slifkin, let's face it.. You don't care much for Torah, chazal and the search for truth. To you these are mere topics of discussion by which you hope to stroke your own giant but hurting ego. Maybe you weren't always so. I feel bad for you man.

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    1. Don't know much about you, Nate Shapiro, but the fact that Slifkin allows yout comment to appear shows a character a lot higher than Menken. I posted a goofy comment on Menken's facebook page, and it was deleted. Like, really, his wall would be 'spammed', lol. The more divergent comments allowed, the more willing the owner of the blog/facebook page/etc. is usually willing to accept the truth wherever it will lead, and that's why the internet is the stake impaling knuckledragging neanderthals like you, Nate, who are no longer able to control your flocks with your lies and self-delusions.

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    2. Nate Shapiro: No one will disagree with your first sentence.

      Lawrence Kaplan

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  27. Wow, everything that I thought, and more, on Friday (when Rabbi Menken deleted some of my comments, as well, from his Facebook post) seems to have been written above.

    So I won't add anything except: Yasher Koach to Rav Natan Slifkin for pointing out intellectual dishonesty, even if those who practice it are so engrossed in their own world that they are blind to what they are doing!

    Bivrachah,
    Catriel Lev, Ramat Bet Shemesh-Alef (in an apartment about 100 meters away from Rav Slifkin's)

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  28. Dear R Slifkin,
    I must admit that I am a talmid of R Elyashiv, and that I was quite fascinated by your essays about science and Chazal, as I like learning Rambam and I thought you had a point.
    However I have recently come across a few Rambams which seems to contradict R' Hirsch's position that Chazal did not have knowledge on scientific matters:
    1) on Hakdomo to Perek Chelek ( I have mentioned it on a previous post) when he discusses the second group of people he mentiones that these doctors and astronomers thought that Chazal where:סכלים בכלל המציאות (according to R Kafih translation) which means natural science, he then curses these people and says that these things have a hidden meaning ,this proves that the Rambam held that Chazal where very knowledged in science (and inferior to other scientists even than doctors in the days of Rambam), It seems that the Rambam would explain these contradictions as alegory's with hidden meanings.( I am not sure whether the Rambam first called them in to hear their argument and whether the people the Rambam attacked where upset with him as you were upset with R Elyashiv).
    2) The Rambam on perek 3 and 4 hilchos yesodei Hatorah says that maaseh Bereishis mentioned by Chazal is Natural Science, this would also seem that Chazal knew natural science.
    3) The Rambam in Hakdomo to Mishnayos says that there were two sages in Chagige 13 where one taught the other sage Maaseh Bereishis (meaning natural science according to him).
    I am aware of the letter on Astronomy which you mention where the rambam seems to contradict this, however if one reads carefully he will see that the Rambam held that it was only a minority of sages which held that view on Astronomy, and even then the Rambam prefers to say it was a allegory. With regards to the rambam in Moreh where he clearly argues on Chazal on science and on a agaddete of Pirkei derabbi eliezer ,one must say that the Rambam held that he was allowed to do that and we are not as he writes to us in perek Chelek. I heard from R Gedalya Nadel Z"TL with regards to Chazal on spontaneous generation and lice that Chazal did not err in that matter, but the reason they allowed to kill lice is because it looks to people as if the lice grow by them self.
    He also said they they can't err in natural science as it all comes from the same origin.

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    1. The Rambam is pointing out that חז"ל were not country bumpkins who didn't know anything. Rather they were extremely intelligent thought out people. Certainly one would expect them to make what the Rambam considers basic mistakes.

      NS point is that the source of חז"ל's knowledge was not divine, and nor is it necessarily correct. There is no contradiction between the two.

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    2. You misunderstand the Rambam in the beginning of Chelek. He is criticizing mispalesefim - pseudo philosophers, which he says one finds them often among doctors. Nowhere there does he say that Chazal knew sciences more than anyone else of their times. Rather that this kat, group, reads the Agadda literally, declares it as an impossibility, and writes off the whole thing. Rambam is saying that there is a deeper truth to a story or Aggada that may not be a literal truth. For example, Aesop's fable of the tortoise and the hare. The story is not literally true, as no tortoise ever raced a hare, yet the story has truth as it comes to teach us an idea, a hidden truth. Same with Aggada. There are many Aggados that are too impossible to be true in a literal sense, yet the Rambam tells us that there are 3 groups of people that read it. The ignorant read it an say it is literally true. Rambam says that these people diminish the Light of Torah, and are doing the opposite of what Chazal want. The second group think that they are philosophers and they write it all off, they are the cursed group. The final group which Rambam swera are very small amount of people (like calling the sun a group as there is only 1 sun), understand that the Agadda is wisdom and riddles, chidos.

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    3. The Rambam is saying they knew Artistotilian Physics, like he did. Not that they had some supernal source of physical knowledge. He is telling you not to think they only studied Torah, and were ignorant in matters of Philosophy, including Natural Philosophy.

      RGN's statement, and R' Dovid Lifshitz said something similar (but not identical), would be true whether or not Chazal erred in science. Once you say halakhah depends on the world as humans perceive it, the science and their accuracy in it is irrelevant. They were describing the world-as-perceived, and were correct whether the world really works the way it looks it does or not. In fact, it might be anachronistic of us to assume they were even trying to discuss science.

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    4. http://www.rationalistjudaism.com/2013/01/here-comes-lice-day.html

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    5. However I have recently come across a few Rambams which seems to contradict R' Hirsch's position that Chazal did not have knowledge on scientific matters

      No one really argues that Rambam and Rav Hirsch had the same position here. Where they line is up that their scientific knowledge is not Mesorah and can be wrong.

      on Hakdomo to Perek Chelek ( I have mentioned it on a previous post) when he discusses the second group of people he mentiones that these doctors and astronomers thought that Chazal where:סכלים בכלל המציאות (according to R Kafih translation) which means natural science

      1) He means that they consider them foolish about reality as a whole. For example, taking literally the notion that Moshe Rabbeinu was over 15 feet tall.

      2) Yes, you are correct that he would agree that Chazal were foolish in Science. That doesn't mean that they couldn't make mistakes.

      I am aware of the letter on Astronomy which you mention where the rambam seems to contradict this

      Not really a contradiction since he is saying that the parts about astrology were wrong, not that everything that they said was wrong.

      however if one reads carefully he will see that the Rambam held that it was only a minority of sages which held that view on Astronomy, and even then the Rambam prefers to say it was a allegory.

      Rambam often attributed things that he disagreed with to a minority whether there is any evidence of that or not. So in the end he went with his own opinion on science.

      In addition, his point there is that eventually, whatever answer you give, you can't abandon reason. Thus he concludes: "A man should never cast his reason behind him, for the eyes are set in front, not in back"

      With regards to the rambam in Moreh where he clearly argues on Chazal on science and on a agaddete of Pirkei derabbi eliezer ,one must say that the Rambam held that he was allowed to do that and we are not as he writes to us in perek Chelek.

      He makes no such distinction and your "one must say" is actually unfounded speculation. There in fact is no contradiction. In Chelek his is telling you that if you come across a story with obviously impossible things it it, then interpret it an an allegory. Where they are telling you plain facts and they don't match reality, then you can discard them.

      Your prescription does not match at all his dictum "A man should never cast his reason behind him, for the eyes are set in front, not in back" or "it is not proper to abandon matters of reason that have already been verified by proofs, shake loose of them, and depend on the words of a single one of the sages from whom possibly the matter was hidden. Or there may be an allusion in those words; or they may have been said with a view to the times and the business before him." In that letter he is telling his listeners to apply critical thinking skills to anything they read and not to accept that which the intellect determines is incorrect. He is not saying "I, the great Rambam can tell you this, but you should not think it yourself".

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    6. Many Thanks for all your reply. I will briefly try to reply to each one.
      Yavoy.
      I never said Chazals knowledge was divine in Rambams opinion ,it just seems from Rambam that Chazal were super clever and we are not as clever even in science and we should apply allegory to these difficulties. This is also proven from the letter of Rambam on astronomy where he says it may have a hidden meaning.
      R' Micha,
      As above I did not say they had supernatural powers in science according to Rambam.
      Regarding RGN he said clearly that Chazal did not err in science as it all comes from the same origin. I assume he would say on other scientific contradictions that it was a allegory.
      David Oshie,
      1) I am not sure what you mean by reality as a whole, do you mean that they knew that light outside means day? I don't think the second group of people accused Chazal of not knowing basic reality which uneducated people also know. Regarding your example of Moshe being 15 feet tall I think one needs education in science to know that there would be a issue with balance and blood flow. You also agree in point 2 that Chazal were educated in scientific matters so why will you not explain כלל המציאות accordingly?
      2) The contradiction is that in perek chelek Rambam says that the difficult agada ,one has to explain it as a hidden meaning and in Moreh he argues on Pirkei derabbi eliezer and on scientific matters. I understand this that it depends how great of a Torah Scholar one is.
      I agree that Rambam went with his own opinion in science on astronomy, however he only did that where he could say that it was a minority opinion, and even then he says it may be a allegory.
      However on the issue of spontaneous generations where it is a majority opinion that we may kill lice and we pasken that way I prefer the explanation of RGN, I don't think Rambam would contradict a majority opinion of Chazal. I think R Hirsch who says Chazal did not especially master natural science is not like Rambam.

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  29. FACEBOOK is the Great Equalizer??? Your website statistics show 5,517, 351 visits. You think Cross Currents gets anything like that??

    Don't make the mistake conservatives make. They are forever whining about the left-wing bias of the media. They are right, but in worrying so much about that, they forget that their own media dwarfs anything from the left. They worry about magazines read by at most a hundred thousand people or so, when Rush Limbaugh is heard by many millions. Fox News viewership is three times as large as CNN. So why do they worry so much? They would do much better to harness their own power, rather than worrying what the other side is saying.

    You too, Rabbi Slifkin. Is Rabbi Menken a fool? Of course! His posts are nonsense. But you reach many more people on your own website, with or without Facebook. In fact, I would venture that the great majority of cross currents readers also read this site! So don't worry so much about what he says. You just focus on what you have to say.

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  30. Natan - Your arguments are well taken, but one point I think you are eliding is the the *Rambam is of the opinion that Chazal knew that pi was irrational*. (I think you even conceded this point is a previous comment.)
    As other commentors have pointed out, the crucial question is whether it was known that pi was irrational in CHAZAL's time. My cursory research has indicated that it was NOT commonly known in Chazal's time.
    This, of course, doesn't prove that they knew it from a divine source, but it is noteworthy.

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    1. CookieFiend, whether it was known that pi was irrational in Chazal's time is only important if it turns out that Chazal actually said Pi is irrational. But we have no evidence that they did.

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    2. It seems to me the R Menken et al consider the Rambam's statement itself as evidence that Chazal knew, while the rationalist position is that the Rambam could be mistaken.

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    3. There is no external evidence that they did, but I think that fact that the Rambam (the arch-rationalist, remember!) felt that Chazal knew pi was irrational should give the idea some weight.

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    4. CookieFiend, while the Rambam may be the leading model of rationalist Rishonim among halachists, that doesn't imply that all his opinions can be so justified. His focus on the irrationality of pi to account for the use of 3 to represent it is a case in point. The notion that the sages of the Talmud were as well versed in mathematics as any Gentile predecessor or contemporary can be refuted from the evidence in Talmud. Not only is 3 a poor value for pi, the sages totally misunderstood a rule that they used about the relationship between a circle and the enclosed and outer (circumscribing) squares. The rule is that the outer square is 1/4 greater than the circle, whereas the circle is 1/2 greater than the inner (inscribed) square. This rule, attributed to the scholars of Caesaria is true of the areas involved - not the perimeters. However, the Gemara under discussion (Eruvin 14b) correctly takes the volume of a cylinder to be 2/3 of the corresponding rectangular solid (taking pi as 3). Rashi attempts to rationalize that rule by considering the perimeters: that of the circular area is 3(pi)x the diameter, whereas that of the enclosing square is 4x the diameter. In reality, the perimeter is not directly related to the volume and just happens to give the correct relationship. Rashi didn't invent this approach, it is reflected in the Gemara's conclusion in Succah 8b. There the discussion deals with the other part of the rule that a circle is 1.5 x the enclosed square. The Gemara in Succah assumes that this rule applies to perimeters and calculates a perimeter of 3x(1.4)S or 4.2S for the circle and 4S for the square. The result of their calculation is that the circle is only 5% greater than the square in perimeter - rather than 50%. Hence they throw out that rule. However, as Tosafot in Eruvin 76b point out and demonstrate, the rule was meant for areas - not perimeters.

      Micha Berger, if the mathematics of shiurim is also 'halacha leMoshe miSinai' and not just the objects used for minimal quantity determinations (olive, fig, date, and eggs), as you appear to suggest, why is there a dispute as to how to measure the diagonal of square relative to its side? The prevalent Talmudic position is that it is 7/5 of the side, which is only off some 1% from an accurate value (say 1.414). However, the view of R' Yochanan in Eruvin 14a would appear to take the diagonal of a 4 tephach square as 8 tefachim giving a circumference of an enclosing circular hole as 24 tefachim. Not only is this supposition at odds with logic (how can the straight line distance between 2 points be as great as the sum of the horizontal and vertical components), but an assumption of a Sinaitic tradition to consider it so is at odds with the general treatment of the diagonal as 7/5 the side.

      Y. Aharon

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    5. RYA, I did not suggest that "the mathematics of shiurim is also 'halacha leMoshe miSinai'" as much as raise the possibility.

      It could be that the shiur for circularity is round enough that the circumference is at least as close to pi as 3 times the diameter, and the shiur for which quadrilaterals are square enough for tefillin is where the diagonals are at least as close to the sqrt(2) as 1.4 of the sides. Viewed this way, precision is itself a shiur, and not only the math for doing shiurim.

      Delete
    6. Sorry about the error in relating the volume of a cylinder to its corresponding outer rectangular solid. It is the same as the ratio of a circle to its outer square, i.e., 3/4 (with pi taken as 3) - not 2/3.

      Parenthetically, the Gemara there (Eruvin 14b) calculates that the great basin of Shlomo had a volume of 150 minimal mikva'ot. While the Gemara uses a geometric slicing and dicing method, the volume is a matter of simple arithmetic together with a knowledge or volume relationships. The volume of the basin is given as 2000 baths in Kings I. A bath is 3 seah so that the volume is 6000 seah. A minimal mikvah is 40 seach. Hence there are 6000/40 minimal mikva'ot volumes, or 150. The slicing and dicing method is more germane to rationalizing the 2000 bath volume from the measurements given. A simple cylindrical volume won't do since that gives a volume of 250 cubic amot. However, a minimal mikva is also 1x1x3 ama (3 cubic amot). To get a volume of 150 mikva'ot you need a volume of 450 cubic amot (450/3 = 150). To get that, the Gemara assumes that the bottom 3 amot of the basin were rectangular giving a volume of 10x10x3 or 300 cubic amot. The top 2 amot were cylindrical giving a volume of 50xpi or 150 cubic amot. The total volume is then the required 450 cubic amot to give 150 mikva'ot in volume.

      Y. Aharon

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    7. While the above comments about the geometry of the temple basin required to give a volume of 450 cubic amot may seem to be arrived at by trying different heights of rectangular and cylindrical portions, it is actually a matter of solving simple simultaneous equations. The volume of 450 is equal to 100Ha + 75 Hb, where a is the rectangular portion; b is the circular one, the units are cubic amot, 100 is the square of the 10 ama diameter and 75 is 3/4 * 100 (3 being used for pi and pi*d^2/4 is the circular area). The equation is simplified to Ha + 3/4* Hb = 4.5. We also now that the total height (Ha + Hb) is 5 ama (Ha + Hb = 5). Subtracting the first equation from the second gives 1/4*Hb = 1/2, or Hb =2 ama. Then Ha = 3 ama, and the matter is solved.
      This is a good example of the virtue of having an adequate secular high school education in yeshivot where an adequate math background makes the mathematical sugyot in shas more accessible (besides the preparation for living in the greater world). Those not so educated will tend to have their eyes glazed as they try to make sense of the material.

      Y. Aharon

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  31. I think that the real problem here is that neither RMM nor RAF nor YM actually believe in their position. I sensed in RAF's essay that he does not believe in what he is writing. RMM's book is just plain weird. There must be some psychological syndrome of how knowing one is incorrect forces the person to double down and causes expressions of and frustration. RMM and RAF feel this intense need to explain a position that they do not agree with it. YM is stuck, as his job it to promote positions dictated by others, hence the frustration. He must try to promote a view, silence and sensor the opposing view all while acting like a true journalist. You should ask him for the right of reply on cross currents. It is the usual journalistic courtesy.

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    1. When Prophecy Fails: A Social and Psychological Study of a Modern Group That Predicted the Destruction of the World is a classic work of social psychology by Leon Festinger, Henry Riecken, and Stanley Schachter which studied a small UFO religion in Chicago called the Seekers that believed in an imminent apocalypse and its coping mechanisms after the event did not occur. Festinger's theory of cognitive dissonance can account for the psychological consequences of disconfirmed expectations......

      Festinger stated that five conditions must be present if someone is to become a more fervent believer after a failure or disconfirmation:
      A belief must be held with deep conviction and it must have some relevance to action, that is, to what the believer does or how he or she behaves.
      The person holding the belief must have committed himself to it; that is, for the sake of his belief, he must have taken some important action that is difficult to undo. In general, the more important such actions are, and the more difficult they are to undo, the greater is the individual's commitment to the belief.
      The belief must be sufficiently specific and sufficiently concerned with the real world so that events may unequivocally refute the belief.
      Such undeniable disconfirmatory evidence must occur and must be recognized by the individual holding the belief.
      The individual believer must have social support. It is unlikely that one isolated believer could withstand the kind of disconfirming evidence that has been specified. If, however, the believer is a member of a group of convinced persons who can support one another, the belief may be maintained and the believers may attempt to proselytize or persuade nonmembers that the belief is correct.

      kt

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  32. >>...This caused a tremendous crisis for rabbinic authority in the charedi world.<<

    This assertion is baseless, but it reveals what seems to be your goal.

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    1. R. Aharon Feldman referred to the crisis of confidence in his letter:

      "Blogspots, Internet sites (mostly anonymous) where anyone with access to a computer can express his spontaneous, unchecked and unedited opinion with impunity, became filled with tasteless, derogatory attacks on these authorities, at times to the accompaniment of vulgar caricatures.As a result, many thoughtful, observant Jews were beset by a crisis of confidence in the judgment of the signatories. This was an extremely vital crisis since these authorities constitute some of the greatest Torah leaders of our generation, authorities upon whom all of the Jewish people rely for their most serious decisions. More important, it threatened to make any of their future signatures on public announcements questionable."

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    2. It refers to "observant Jews", but not charedi, who by and large are not using internet. With regard to non-charedi, I think it might affect only so-called traditional, but not mainstream orthodox don't seriously take bloggers.

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    3. "It refers to "observant Jews", but not charedi, who by and large are not using internet."

      Lazar what planet are you living on? More than half the Bochurim in mir have smartphones with unblocked Internet. And almost every avreich has a laptop connected to wifi.

      And orthodox mainstream Jews don't take bloggers seriously? Well who do you think are the people on this blog? The bloggosphere is choc full of Jews from every denomination.

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  33. I assume Rabbi Menken has trapped himself and can't get out.
    Hopefully this the last word.
    Solve the problem, by re-placing one character.
    XX11/V111=11

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  34. Aren't we getting too caught up in the details here? Whether or not we can show Chazal knew, can't we at least agree that the Rambam is asserting that Chazal knew that pi is irrational? That would seemingly be a challenge to the rationalist viewpoint that Chazal did not have any advanced knowledge.
    If we can get that far, then e/o can debate whether or not this particular piece of knowledge was prevalent - and I think the burden of proof would be on the rationalists.
    Thank you

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    1. I addressed this above. Rambam did not see it as advanced knowledge. He thought it was something that every wise person would know.

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    2. I hear what you are saying, but do you know that for sure? I would say that point is debatable. We would all benefit if you and RYM could cleanly debate such points in the ways of beis Shammai and beis Hillel. Seems we are getting something more similar to Donald Trump style debates.
      btw, you can be the beis Shammai side - minority and sharper :-)

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    3. He doesn't need to know for sure: seeing as r' menken is trying to use the Rambam as evidence, the burden of proof is firmly on him.

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  35. Two comments (without reading the preceding 96 comments!):

    a) Knowing that pi is irrational has nothing to do with "knowledge of the physical world". That fact is mathematical, not scientific.

    b) Why are you wasting your time, arguing with people who will never be convinced?

    . Charles

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  36. One might say the only "irrationality" here is exhibited by Rabbis Menken and Meisels. As for absolutely refusing to admit to anything, well his behavior to Rabbi Slifkin doesn't surprise me at all. When we had the tragedy of the stabbing and murder during the Jerusalem Gay rights parade he came out swinging, refusing to concede that the Chareidi community had any blame to share despite proofs that I and other's posted repeatedly to his Facebook page showing again, and again how the stabber was given hero status and a soapbox media stage by the Chareidi community when he was released from prison after his first crime. Finally, we were blocked from commentating. So ya, his actions here and using Torah as a shield to avoid answering doesn't surprise me in the least.

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  37. Unless the precision of estimates is a matter of shiurim, and therefore halakhah leMoshe miSinai, and discussing what it shows about what Chazal knew is pointless. (Again, taking the discussion beyond the Rambam.)

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  38. David Ilan, I take it that you are not American.

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    1. You take it wrong Snowbird, Native NY'er, Upper West Sider, and Mets over Yankees.

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    2. Oh. Then that leaves me with just one other "take".

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  39. You're pretty lucky Rabbi Slifkin, Menken let you off easy, at least he didn't call you Goebbels for calling him out on his inaccuracies.....
    .....
    Yaakov Menken: Josef Goebbels could hardly do better. You're persisting in attempting to drag us off topic with needless slander. You'll find any dirt you can drag up... and never mind that Teddy Kollek created a needlessly hostile environment in Jerusalem by attempting to quite literally cage in the charedim, or that the army was for decades used as a cudgel to drag religious soldiers out of religion. No more of your bigotry, thanks.

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  40. I personally think RNS and R menken are both biased which makes it difficult for both to be intellectually honest. I think the truth is as always ,somewhere in the middle. I agree that Rambam doesnt say that their knowledge was divine. However it appears from many places that Rambam held that they were far superior than us even in natural science, that's why he refrains from arguing on chazal on scientific matters in cases where it is a majority view of chazal and even if it is a minority view he says it may be a allegory. With regards to pi it is hard to speculate whether Rambam knew that it was unknown to be irrational in times of chazal (by the gentiles), however I personally think he would of realised that it is not mentioned in the books of those days. This doesn't mean they knew it with supernatural power it just means they were far more clever and bigger than us

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    1. But it IS mentioned in math books of those days that pi was irrational. The open question at the time was whether it's the sum of square roots (including irrational ones).

      The Rambam almost certainly knew this, since he knew Archimedes (about 550 years before the talmud bavli) suspected but couldn't prove that pi was irrational.

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    2. I'm afraid I see no source for anything you're saying in the Rambam. All the Rambam says is that חז"ל weren't stupid. You're building an entire theory out of that. You could be right, but I don't see any evidence for it.

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    3. Yavoy,
      I would encourage you to look at rambam hakdomo to mishneh letter 7 where he says clearly that chazal where far more clever than us.
      see also letter of Rambam on astronomy where he is very reluctant to say chazal erred ,he only says it due to it being a minority view in chazal and even then he prefers to say it was a allegory

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    4. Talmid, that isn't what he says at all in his letter on astrology.

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  41. I have held off on bashing this post as just another childish, self-absorbed, unrelenting display of irrational fixation and rumination because I am waiting for the bombshell revelation that NS had promised us. It was a very hard stretch to give the benefit of the doubt for this long. I give up.

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    1. Go ahead and bash. What are your top three specific critiques?

      Does (R)NS make any valid points despite it all?

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  42. Seriously, Isaac? It reads like a continuing tantrum. NS promised that this time, it was not merely an obsessive tantrum, and that he would reveal why in a few days...

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  43. "Yes. Because they said so. If somebody says pi is irrational, one can safely assume he knows/conjectures it to be irrational."

    Your forward-slash tap dance doesn't help your case.

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  44. "After a few years, the Official Authorized Explanation of the ban, Chaim B'Emunasam, was published by the main footsoldier in the ban, Rabbi Reuven Schmeltzer. However, this book was riddled with silly claims (e.g. that the letters from Rav Hirsch are forgeries) and distortions, including actually editing the words of Rambam to make him say something different. I exposed these flaws in a series of posts and even printed them up in a booklet which was disseminated. No attempt was made to defend Chaim B'Emunasam, and it faded into obscurity."

    He has a new book out that seems to selling well as far as I can tell
    https://www.google.com/?gws_rd=ssl#q=the+heart+of+emunah

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    1. Indeed. That's the one with the sentient pig. See http://www.rationalistjudaism.com/2016/07/strengthening-emunah-via-denying.html

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