Thursday, May 26, 2016

What A Wonderful World

Here is an amazing photo that I took at Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe. Mah rabu maasecha Hashem!



In other news, the comments section to Rabbi Menken's post is getting especially fascinating. Rabbi Menken doesn't seem to be able to decide what he is proposing, or doesn't understand the ramifications of what he is saying. Originally he insisted that "the Rambam's statement itself is evidence that Chazal possessed knowledge of the physical world beyond what was known to other cultures.” He also claimed that the Rambam derived this position (that Pi is an irrational number) from Chazal. This in turn means that Chazal's statement (that Pi equals three, rather than giving a fraction) provides evidence (in Rabbi Menken's words, "the obvious implication") that they knew Pi is an irrational number. However, Rabbi Menken simultaneously claims that he is not attempting to use the Gemara to prove that Chazal were ahead of their time! Rabbi Menken doesn't seem to realize that he is completely self-contradictory and illogical. Oh well, at least most of the blog commentators appear to recognize that.

The other interesting thing is when someone asked Rabbi Menken about Rabbi Meiselman completely misrepresenting Rav Soloveitchik's statements in The Emergence of Ethical Man, which I showed to be completely clear in black and white. Rabbi Menken first responds with an uncivil insult that I am "not a rational actor" and thus not to be trusted (despite the fact that the distortion is completely visible for everyone to see), and then says that it is easy to contact Rabbi Meiselman to find out the explanation. This is hardly a satisfactory response from someone who has praised Rabbi Meiselman's book to the heavens, claiming that Rabbi Meiselman accurately presents the view of Rav Soloveitchik!

I think that this is why I love the natural world so much. It's so genuine and authentic.

35 comments:

  1. Stop the nasty bickering over this esoteric point.
    Not Good For The Jews.

    RM

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    1. Thank heavens we have an anonymous blogger who can rule on what is good and what is not good for the Jews! I would feel lost otherwise!

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    2. ^^
      See what I mean, folks?

      RM

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  2. Beautiful picture!

    I would focus on substantive issues even though I agree that the yeshiva world, to its own detriment, treated you shabbily without an apology(FWIW, Prof. Shapiro conceded to R. Gordimer that not mentioning names is a good thing, see comments to “Response to Dr. Marc Shapiro: Good Shot, but Wrong Target”, Cross Currents, 2/19/16).

    It's important to defend the Hirschian outlook on Science and Torah which some roshei yeshiva, including R. Meiselman, apparently don't see as valuable for their communities, but which is a "lifeline to uncompromised avodas Hashem" to quote R. Adlerstein back in 2005("L’affaire Slifkin").

    I've spoken to 2 prominent rabbonim in the Charedi world, post-ban, who allow the Hirschian approach on Science and Chazal.

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    1. IIRC, R Gardimer doesn't use names to show that he is disagreeing with a movement, namely OO, rather than any particular individuals. He quotes from articles written by YCT graduates as that is indicative of what is being taught in YCT. In addition, not mentioning names diminishes the risk of litigation, as evidenced by when YCT did try to threaten CC.
      In contrast, R Menken is not attacking the entire rationalist movement, but rather specifically the works of R Slifkin. Thinly veiling his identity in creative ways IMO reduces the efficacy of his arguments.
      What I don't get is why R Aharon Feldman decided to bring up this whole topic again now. Amy ideas?

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    2. None whatsoever, nothing at all is going on, everyone just focus on the Modern Mancunian offnik. Nothing is going on in a choshuv Israeli family. I will take no MUSSAR from you! :-)

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  3. I would give up arguing if I were you. Both r' menkin and r' Meiselman know you're correct. They simply refuse to admit it.
    Better simply to state your points simply and clearly. מבקשי אמת will find the truth, and those who are too frightened to look for it will stay as they always were. Engaging in this petty squabbling is simply a waste of your breath.

    To quote Mark Twain. "There's no point arguing with stupid people. They'll simply bring you down to their level, and then beat you by shear experience."

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  4. Your steps are not accurate - R' Menken does not claim that the Rambam knew that Chazal knew that Pi is irrational from THIS gemara, he claims that he knew it from some other source.

    Learning it out from this gemara would indeed be hilarious and absurd. But R' Menken's claim is the Rambam's confident statement of Pi's irrationality could only have come from Divine assurance (after all, nobody else knew it to be so until 600 years later), which must have come from Chazal, so therefore Chazal knew science and were infallible. This gemara itself is a red herring - it is merely the place where Rambam makes his statement, not the source of his information.

    That being said, R' Menken's position as a whole is ridiculous. I am just pointing out what you may have missed in his argument.

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    1. No, he says that it is from THIS Gemara. I quote 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."

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    2. Ah, I stand corrected. That is indeed absurd.

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  5. I think that this is why I love the natural world so much. It's so genuine and authentic.

    L'havdil, this is why "some people" waste their time on sports. Eventually, the scoreboard decides.

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    1. Couldn't agree more. I think sports actually serve a very crucial social function in the west as the last place where the concept of fair winning by superior merit still holds sway.

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    2. Also generally true in technical disciplines such as math, science, CS, etc. But those are harder to watch and analyze :).

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  6. I am greatly enjoying the give-and-take here!

    One point: One would think that a rationalist would give greater weight to the Rambam's (the rationalist par-excellence) view of this gemara, as opposed to other rishonim; so I must say that it is intriguing that the Rambam holds that chazal knew that pi was an irrational number.(Whether the fact that chazal used 3 proves that they knew pi to be irrational or not, doesn't really seem to be the point.)

    The crucial question then seems to be: was it known in CHAZAL's time that pi was an irrational number?

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    1. Weaver, being a rationalist is not the same as being a member of a club. While the Rambam is justly considered a leading rationalist among Jewish sages, that doesn't imply that all his statements and judgments can be so characterized. A 'proper' rationalist weighs the relevant prior opinions and interpretations and comes to his own conclusions (halachic rulings work differently since authority and precedent are involved). The Gemara in Eruvin 14a is understood far more easly using the viewpoint of the Tosafot there rather than the Rambam in his Mishne commentary. As has been pointed out, the fact that pi has no representation as the ratio of whole numbers doesn't begin to justify using 3 as an approximation rather than the much superior and widely used (in secular circles) 22/7. The ratio of the diagonal of a square to its side (sq rt. 2) is also irrational and was known to be so, yet the sages used 7/5 as the approximation rather than an integer (1 or 2). while the view of the Rambam about using 3 for pi is not 'hilarious', it is problematic.

      Y. Aharon

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    2. Almost certainly not. According to Wikipedia, that pi is irrational was first proved in 1761.

      It's not at all clear that Rambam said that pi is irrational. All he said is that "it cannot be known with certitude." That probably just means "we lack a formula to calculate it past a few digits."

      Certainly the burden of proof is on those who want to claim that Rambam knew this centuries before any mathematical proof was known.

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    3. Once, again, that pi was irrational was not known until the 18th century. It was probably suspected to be irrational for 2000 years before that, but mathematics was not sufficiently advanced to prove it until the 18th century.

      The Rambam is not claiming advanced knowledge for himself or Chazal here. He is trying to find an explanation for why Chazal used such a crude estimate for pi. His answer is that pi can only be estimated but not determined exactly and that this is because it is impossible to determine exactly. (He specifically claims only foolish people think pi in not known precisely only due to our ignorance.) And since they couldn't get it exact, they could use 3 as an estimate even though 22/7 is a better estimate. The Rambam's answer is actually apologetic. He is also disclaiming that irrationality claim is something out of the ordinary. He is saying that every intelligent person believes it.

      As far as people thinking that pi was most probably irrational, it probably included all mathematicians, give then no one could get an exact representation and approximate methods were used to obtain upper and lower bounds. In any case, the Rambam says that only fools believe otherwise.

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  7. All I want to know is whether Menken had any input into the subtitle of his own book:

    "The Everything Torah Book: All you need to understand the basics of Jewish law and the Five Books of the Old Testament."

    And I'm not talking about the use of "Old Testament" here.

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  8. Dear R.Dr.Slifkin,
    I know how much you appreciate R.Dr.Sacks.
    For years he was viciously(verbally) attacked by many.
    Did you ever hear him attack back? Instead he keeps writing, speaking and in the process influences thousands and thousands, whilst his enemies disappear in irrelevance, (or begrudgingly acknowledge him).
    Do the same starting today.Cross-Currents has become a laughing stock.
    I wrote a comment(that won't get published) on R.gorblimy's piece, saying Yasher Koach for an unconditional apology to Chabad.Now perhaps you can say the same to those on the left of you,and R.menken can apologise to R.Dr.Slifkin, and Cross-Currents can return to it's mission.
    Full confession, I am honoured to be a student of both R.Sacks and R.Adlerstein

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    1. Dr Sacks actually went to apologise to Rabbi Rakow of Gateshead for this statement.

      "No one creed has a monopoly on spiritual truth"

      To avoid being put into cherem (in today's sense) he agreed to amend this offensive statement in future editions.

      His whole life message is counter to the novi

      Veas eisav soneisih

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    2. Yes it is, and thank goodness.
      Not sure R.Sacks went to Gateshead to apologise. He didn't apologise at all, but did edit future editions(not just this line, there 6 others I believe) but at the same time published some 100+pages of footnotes supporting his position.

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    3. Esau means Esau, not "everyone who isn't Jewish."

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    4. ******************May 29, 2016 at 2:32 AM

      David,

      Nope, read through haftora's Toldos in context. And anyway, we have a rule that all Novi is relevant for generations, otherwise it would not be 'published'. The gemoro says only a novi shehutzrucha ledoros is nitan liksav.

      The problem with Rabbi Sacks is his attempts to portray Judaism as always consistent with modern Western liberal, democratic, humanist values. Unfortunately chazal are quite clear, as epitomized by Malachi, that not all of the West's values are appreciated by Hashem - Euthanasia is accepted in some Western countries as is abortion.

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    5. David,
      Have you ever read anything by R.Sacks?

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    6. I have read the Haftarah. Have you read Rashi on the verse fragment you cited? Because it's quite clear that according to Rashi, Esau means Esau and his descendants, not lehavdil as a certain former queen who identified her enemies as "anyone who isn't us."

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    7. "that not all of the West's values are appreciated by Hashem - Euthanasia is accepted in some Western countries as is abortion."

      You do know that there are even charedi Poskim that allow abortion, at least for Jews, right? Also that the west takes the position that some things should not be legislated even if they are wrong. And that according to Rav Henkin, they have a right to set up whatever punishments and system they want to enforce Laws as part of their mandate to establish justice.

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  9. So according to you, why did Chazal use 3 rather than 3 and one-seventh? What would Rambam answer to that question?

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  10. why are people here getting orgasms about pie all you need is high school math to figure out that pie is an irrational number ????

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    1. You may have learned calculus in high school, but I doubt the Rambam did (as it was not yet invented). Proving it in his day would indeed have been impressive (although noone is suggesting that he did)

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    2. No, the proof that pi is irrational is higher than high school level math. The proof that the square root of 2 is irrational can be done with high school level math. Also, it's spelled "pi" :).

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    3. About pie? Sure. Pi? not so much.

      Much of what is taught as high school math is of relatively recent discovery, and was unknown to the ancients. For example, X-Y graphs were invented by Descartes, and calculus was discovered by Newton and Leibniz.

      High school math should enable you to follow the proof. But that's something quite different from saying "you'd have discovered this if only you took high school math."

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  11. My favorite is that he says about you כל הפוסל במומו פוסל - as though that applied only to you, but not to him! I guess he doesn't realize that "defense" only works when only one side is being פוסל.

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  12. Meiselman and his ilk are not just lying about you, or writing mendacious books. They are falsifying the Torah itself, by making it say things that are demonstrably false.

    That they are repeating the opinions of earlier authorities is no excuse. In those days it wasn't known that these opinions were false. Today it is.

    The Torah is true. What is not true is not Torah.

    I find it hard to believe that Chazal didn't know that pi was more than three; this must have simply been a case of rounding. That's not because I believe that their Torah learning somehow taught them advanced mathematics, but because it is a simple thing to prove. All you need are two sticks and a rope.

    Stick one stick in the ground. Tie a rope around it. Tie the other end around another stick. Use the second stick to draw a circle. The span of the rope between the two sticks is the radius. Mark that on the rope. Untie the rope and wrap it inside the groove of the circle for the circumference. If the circumference > 6x the radius, then pi > 3.

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    1. Right. You've just strengthened Rambam's point. Let's try it again - why did Chazal not say 3 and one-seventh?

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