Thursday, January 26, 2017

Twisting Oneself Into A Pretzel

A few years ago, many people were shocked to see the respected journal Tradition publish an article by YU Professor and Rosh Yeshiva Rabbi J. David Bleich in which he claimed that there is no reason not to accept that some insects come into existence via spontaneous generation. Perhaps even more surprisingly, he proceeded to claim that although spontaneous generation is scientifically viable, the Sages did not believe in it - despite numerous clear statements in the Gemara and the universal view of the Rishonim and Acharonim throughout the ages. All this was in a determined effort to avoid saying that Chazal based laws upon incorrect beliefs about the natural world, which Rabbi Bleich dogmatically insists to be utterly unacceptable. As Professor Lawrence Kaplan commented at the time:
I trust Rabbi Bleich has the services of a good chiropractor, since he is bending himself like a pretzel using all his considerable knowledge and ingenuity to make an exceptionally intellectually perverse and twisted argument. But aren't at least some of the editors of Tradition concerned that their distinguished publication will become a laughing stock?

Rabbi Bleich has now published that article in his latest book Contemporary Halakhic Problems, vol. VII. While there are some modifications from his original article, he does not back down from his major claims. In fact, he goes even further, dismissing the Gemara's account of mice generating from dirt as being "aggada" that is "allegorical" and "intentionally inaccurate," ignoring the fact that is discussed in halachic contexts where it is clearly not allegorical and most certainly intended to be accurate!

Rabbi Bleich's original 20-page article was written as a (seemingly angry) response to a letter of mine where I pointed out that, in a previous article surveying approaches to conflicts between Chazal and science, he had neglected to mention the views of those who maintain that Chazal were simply mistaken. I wrote a lengthy response to the article, which I have now updated substantially in accordance with the new version that appears in his book. (Rabbi Bleich's article was written in a rather nasty manner towards me, which is the cause of my adopting a no-holds-barred style in my response.) You can download my response as a PDF file at this link.

(Disturbingly, when my original rejoinder was released, many people simply said that there is no comparison between Rabbi Bleich and Slifkin, and therefore refused to even read what I wrote. I hope that people will conduct themselves in the path of Rambam and other wise men, who evaluated material based on its inherent merits, not based on who wrote it.)

54 comments:

  1. I didn't get why he needs to argue *both* that spontaneous generation is possible, *and* that Chazal didn't believe in it. One of the two arguments should be enough, shouldn't it?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Right. It seems that he wants to show that there are numerous possible options to explaining the Gemara... there is no need to resort to the reasonable and correct one!

      Delete
    2. I understand why someone would want to divorce halacha from explanations. If halacha exists on its own terms, as an independent set of rules we must follow, then it is insulated from objections based on experience. Halachos cannot become obsolete. The problem is that to do this, one has to ignore the history of the development of halacha and current experiences of halacha being shaped in response to new problems.

      Delete
  2. I read the chapter in his book. He essentially accepts that lice do not come from dirt (while maintaining that the belief itself is not ridiculous on its face). What he does not accept is that a halacha can be based on a false belief. If it were, we would no longer have to keep it, he seems to say. He prefers Rav Dessler's approach that the halacha is valid independent of any reason we give for it. Chazal were simply offering one reason for the halacha. If theirs is incorrect, then another one is true.

    I do not necessarily agree with Rabbi Bleich, but considering that he agrees that Chazal made mistakes in science and considering that it is somewhat disturbing for some people to keep a halacha if its only basis is a falsehood, why do you so strenuously object to his article?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I have no problem with people wanting to believe that the halacha is not based on a mistake. But his approach is to ridicule and condemn those who believe otherwise.

      Delete
    2. I understand why someone would want to divorce halacha from explanations. If halacha exists on its own terms, as an independent set of rules we must follow, then it is insulated from objections based on experience. Halachos cannot become obsolete. The problem is that to do this, one has to ignore the history of the development of halacha and current experiences of halacha being shaped in response to new problems.

      Delete
    3. I don't know, doesn't seem all that horrible -- have seen worse in both scholarly and Halachic works. Rambam writes to accept the truth from wherever it comes, but Rambam does not deny that a senior scholar deserves a certain level of respect, even if he harshly critiques a younger scholar. Whatever your opinion of Rabbi Bleich, objectively speaking he has added very much to the world of Jewish scholarship.

      I will also add that your opening line "may people were shocked" is very Trumpian and widely ridiculed . One could also say that "many people" (even among those generally sympathetic to your positions) were offended by your way of dealing with Rabbi Bleich, "many people" find the usage of "many people" to be juvenile, and "many people" who support you and find you to be a great resource wish you would get over the giant chip on your shoulder. https://twitter.com/hashtag/ManyPeopleAreSaying?src=hash

      Delete
    4. "Your opening line "may people were shocked" is very Trumpian and widely ridiculed."

      Seems odd to criticize someone for saying "many people" think X, yet in the same breath claim something is "widely" ridiculed. (Agav, just a suggestion, concerning your particular choice of adjective - a wise man does not inject his personal politics into a comment, thereby automatically discrediting himself before he even says anything. Feel free to disagree.)

      Delete
  3. I trust Rabbi Bleich has the services of a good chiropractor

    What is the evidence for the efficacy of chiropractic? (Wait, don't answer that :).

    ReplyDelete
  4. If you cannot figure out why we will not read something based on who wrote it, just read this blog. Taking things out of context and publishing things is symptomatic of someone with a chip on their shoulders. Just like people in marketing can make even the biggest lies look true, certain authors are experts at this.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. But you were able to detect this based on the content. So look at the content and spot the flaws.

      Delete
  5. I am curious where you see a "nasty manner" that calls for your "no holds barred" approach -- and/or your initial mocking response imitating him.
    You seem kinda ultra sensitive -- understandable considering what you have been through. But you are responding to him as if he was one of those who unfairly attacked you, banned you, used harsh language, etc. without even reading what you wrote, etc.
    What he wrote is standard for strong disagreement that did not fall to the level of mocking etc.
    Which makes your mocking responses hard to understand, and improper to someone of his stature. You definitely could and should respond and disagree -- but your lack of derech eretz was uncalled for.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Here's one quote: "Halakhic decision-making is not a matter of picking and choosing among precedents consigned to the cutting floor of Halakhah. It most certainly does not consist of seeking resolutions unencumbered by “unappealing consequences” and then engaging in sophistry to justify those resolutions." Then there's his implication that I am promoting Reconstructionist Judaism, his refusal to acknowledge that he did in fact omit relevant sources, his refusal to mention me by name, etc.

      Delete
    2. Are you serious? That's what getting your goat? That's not nasty. It's standard rabbinic interlocution, certainly when it comes to questions of Torah methodology. In the history of rabbinic disagreement what he wrote is mild. And why on earth should he have to mention you by name? Surely it makes the debate less personal, and therefore more civilised, to stick to just the issues.
      No basis for offense here, nothing to see, move on folks.

      Delete
    3. R. Bleich's article was dripping with condescension, even when he was spouting nonsense. "Anyone who has even a passing familiarity with the very basics of science realizes that spontaneous generation cannot be declared impossible..."

      Delete
    4. Joseph ShmoegensteinJanuary 29, 2017 at 10:37 PM

      You seem kinda ultra sensitive -- understandable considering what you have been through.

      Very likely you are being ultra sensitive – understandable considering that this post calls into question the legitimacy of a central tenet of your path in life, that Gedolim are in effect, if not absolutely, infallible in their interactions with non-Gedolim. This belief absolves you of second-guessing their decisions. And that is how you run your life. It is frightening to change that.

      I am curious … Which makes your mocking responses hard to understand, and improper to someone of his stature. You definitely could and should respond and disagree -- but your lack of derech eretz was uncalled for.

      Why do you begin your aggressive reprimand with sugar coated “curiosity”? Are you only curious, or do you have enough conviction to tell him in no uncertain terms what he can do and what he can’t?

      your initial mocking response imitating him

      If you ask him to let bygones be bygones, it’s amazing that you bring this up.

      improper to someone of his stature

      Recently a Gadol was publicly lambasted by his colleagues for “Kidushei Taus” despite his stature. We find מעשה בתלמיד אחד ששנה הרבה וקרא הרבה ושימש ת"ח הרבה ומת בחצי ימיו, ברוך המקום שהרגו שלא נשא פנים לתורה (השם ישמור). Rav Bleich apparently engages in perversion of the Torah, and you are silent on the substance of his words. Why is he above criticism? Because we care about the Torah he should be criticized for this detail. You should even join the critique instead of being callous.


      >>More important than all that is since you remember the initial mocking response, you should also remember that he only retracted due to outside influence. Now look yourself in the mirror and ask yourself, what did the other people do that their advice prevailed and what are you doing that your advice flopped? Think about it good and hard. Consider switching gears.

      Delete
    5. Joseph ShmoegensteinJanuary 29, 2017 at 10:39 PM

      Are you serious? That's what getting your goat? That's not nasty. It's standard rabbinic interlocution, certainly when it comes to questions of Torah methodology. In the history of rabbinic disagreement what he wrote is mild.

      What an ambiguous comment. Are you addressing the Baal Hablog, Rav Bleich, or Yitzi7? Oh wait, you also write, And why on earth should he have to mention you by name? Aha, you mean the Baal Hablog. Thanks for clarifying.

      No basis for offense here, nothing to see, move on folks.

      Same to you, sir.

      Delete
    6. Joseph - complete utter nonsense. I happen to think R' Slifkin IS correct in content.

      The only "centrel tenet" of mine that Rabbi Slifkin is going against is that one argues with everyone, especially senior Talmidei Chachamin, with respect.

      That, and my belief, that R' Slifkin does the cause no favor by being ultra sensitive.

      Delete
    7. Joseph ShmoegensteinJanuary 31, 2017 at 11:10 PM

      Joseph - complete utter nonsense. I happen to think R' Slifkin IS correct in content.

      A great idea if you want to be understood is to unequivocally state your opinion on the primary point, the content, before talking about the second point, respect. But actually you disagree in content as far as the degree of perversion in the Tradition article. Where is the red line after which it is permitted to respond harshly? Rav Bleich sidelines authorities who are his seniors on a fundamental subject. Responding harshly has its gradations and Rabbi Slifkin's response is milder than you think and within range of appropriateness considering what Rav Bleich wrote.

      Anyway this thing is one big subjective mess. If someone writes, I don't know, doesn't seem all that horrible -- have seen worse in both scholarly and Halachic works it takes a moment to keep track if Rav Bleich or Rabbi Slifkin isn't all that horrible. I imagine you prefer your claims to be more decisive.

      Joseph - complete utter nonsense. I happen to think R' Slifkin IS correct in content.

      Assuming that's true we'd need to look elsewhere for the hole in your logic. Maybe it's when you write, You seem kinda ultra sensitive -- understandable considering what you have been through and many people ... wish you would get over the giant chip on your shoulder. You write *understandable* as opposed to, natural, normal, unlikely to change, and therefore Rabbi Slifkin's writing reflects a giant chip he has on his shoulder. If that's what you mean then I think you're out of touch and that's why you commented as you did.

      And again, more important than all this is since you remember the initial mocking response, you should also remember that he only retracted due to outside influence. Now look yourself in the mirror and ask yourself, what did the other people do that their advice prevailed and what are you doing that your advice flopped? Think about it good and hard and consider switching gears.

      Delete
  6. what is next that the sun goes around the earth? Really why are we arguing about fundimental questions of science that were put to rest centuries ago?

    Spontaneous generation does not happen, Pastur proved that in the 19th century

    ReplyDelete
  7. 1) Halacha can certainly be based on a false belief, a mistaken assumption or a no-longer-existence practice. We don't take pills on Shabbos for minor ailments because of the concern with grinding. No grinding happens if I take an acetaminophen (paracetamol) tablet so why does the restriction still exist? The Nishmas Avraham explains that the halacha is independent of the reason. We don't take medications on Shabbos for minor ailments. Period. Chazal explained it as per the common method of medication preparation of the day but that is secondary, not causatory.
    Similarly, it seems we're allow to kill lice on Shabbos. Maybe Chazal, using the scientific knowledge of the time, concluded it was because of spontaneous generation. We know that doesn't happen but the halacha doesn't change.

    2) The Voldemorting of your name is quite distressing. Reminds me of Stalin, y"sh.

    ReplyDelete
  8. Rabbi Bleich writes, "Quite frequently, aggadic statements involving exaggeration and hyperbole are allegorical and **intentionally** (my emphasis) inaccurate." (You also use the word **intentionally**.)

    I don't think they are **intentionally** inaccurate. Do Chazal prefer inaccuracy over accuracy? Rather they are **knowingly** inaccurate (according to this view). Rabbi Bleich is being unintentionally and unknowingly inaccurate. ;)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Rabbi Bleich seems completely out of step with the current charedi approach to all midrashim: take them literally to the letter.
      To summon the ghost of Casey Stengel:
      "Does anyone here know how to play this game?"

      Delete
  9. "While there are some modifications from his original article, he does not back down from his major claims."

    Few people ever do. That is precisely the point of the famous Talmudic passage of ר' שמעון העמסוני when he backed away from his lifelong methodology, and stated כשם שאקבל שכר על הדרישה, כך אקבל שכר על הפרישה. It is precisely the rarity of such a phenomenon - admitting a major mistake - that made his example be held up and preserved for all time in Talmudic records.

    (For what it's worth, I don't see R. Bleich's response as angry at all, just uncompromising. Being personally involved, your judgment here is likely somewhat clouded. On the merits, I share your position.)

    ReplyDelete
  10. It's all very well to decry this kind scientific and theological fraud, but it's time to take this a step further.

    I'm willing to put my money where my mouth is. If Rabbi Bleich can create a spontaneously generated insect under laboratory conditions, I will pay him $100. Anyone want to sweeten the pot?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. That's not how these things work. He's appealing to, "You can't prove categorically that (insert cherished disproven belief here) doesn't happen, so I'm going to assert that it does." Which is banally true, but he wouldn't accept for anything he didn't already believe in.

      Delete
    2. Only $100???? I'll offer up 100 million

      Delete
    3. G*3 says it correctly. R. Bleich also cannot prove that no one booby trapped his front door to spray him with water when he opens it, but that wont stop him from opening the door. The inability to disprove something, by itself, means little.

      In general, it seems R. Bleich is taking the approach of the defense attorney who says "I can't prove my client innocent, but you cant prove him guilty." That approach works in criminal procedure, but in civil procedure, we follow the preponderance of the evidence. And that tells us (obviously) spontaneous generation just doesn't happen.

      Delete
  11. Further to the link, I was able to read the article discussing Rabbi Bleich
    and his original article. There is a lot of "strum und drang" here. For thr life of me, I cannot understand the position espoused BY Rabbi Meiselman and, apparently, by Rabbi Bleich that the Gemoro is always infallible, even in scientific matters. This was never the view of Chazal themselves and the Rishonim. This is the modern result of the fantasy mantra that has engulfed the chareidi world,namely "daas torah", making every utterance from every Godol virtually infallible. Sadly, the rational views are being made into an anti-Torah bogeyman !

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. "For thr life of me, I cannot understand the position espoused BY Rabbi Meiselman and, apparently, by Rabbi Bleich that the Gemoro is always infallible, even in scientific matters. This was never the view of Chazal themselves and the Rishonim."

      Maybe you should read Rav Meiselman's book instead of going off of the rails with all kinds of crazy assumptions.

      Here's a quick explanation of their position:
      we must accept the definitive conclusions of Chazal about nature because their conclusions *most likely* reflect the infallible wisdom of the Creator. It is because those conclusions are arrived at by applying the tools given by the Creator Himself (Torah Sheba'al Peh) to correctly analyse His law and His world *to the best of their ability*.

      The textual sources for following Chzala's conclusions about science--even though they weren't scientists and they weren't infallible--is clearly laid out by the following:

      1) Rishonim (like the Ramban in his intro to his Torah commentary) believed all the wisdom of the universe is somehow encoded inside the Torah we have. This seems to come from the Midrashic idea that the Torah was G-d's blueprint for creation of the entire universe.
      2) Then we have gemaras which record that some members of Chazal claimed they were able to figure out things about the natural world through analyzing verses in the Torah.
      3) We have other gemaras which clearly say it is blasphemous (or at the very least, forbidden) to cast aspersions on the truth of non-halachic statements about the nature of the world, made by Chazal.
      4) Then we have the Rashba --a very mainstream rishon-- who cites these gemaras and draws very practical halachic conclusions from those gemaras which say Chazal could not have erred in their scientific pronouncements.
      That's our basis.

      Additionally,
      Rav Meiselman used the Stincus Marinus controversy as a case in point. We see a common theme emerge from how each posek approached the problem. "None of the great Achronim thought the integrity of the mesorah about fins and scales was at stake. No-one suggested that perhaps Chazal had erred. Their reaction was instead that one had to understand the halacha better, that one had to understand the facts better."

      In every generation, gedolei poskim are faced with facts that seem to contradict the halacha. Their responses may vary, but none (except a very tiny handful) resort to the approach that Chazal were simply mistaken -- yet we have to follow it anyway. Again, please familiarize yourself with Rabbi Bleich's article. He is an undisputed expert in halachic literature and he certainly knows what the consensus holds.

      Delete
    2. "Rav Meiselman used the Stincus Marinus controversy as a case in point. We see a common theme emerge from how each posek approached the problem."

      Well, that's not a good example. R. Slifkin doesn't suggest that Chazal erred in that case either. It's not a conflict between Chazal and science, it's just a generalization that doesn't need to be absolute.

      Delete
    3. Dovid Kornreich: your approach is incredibly dangerous. If Chazal were able to use drashos to figure out scientific truths and if those truths turn out to be wrong, it would imply that chazal really weren't very good at making drashos. What would that say about all the other drashos Chazal made?

      Delete
    4. I am not sure what the words "right" and "wrong" mean in terms of drashos of Chazal. They derived halachos from the pesukim using the system of the 13 (or however many) middos. Al least according to the Rambam's understanding, when someone would suggest a derasha, the Sanhedrin would decide whether or not to accept that derasha and implement the halacha so derived. If they accepted it, it does not mean that the derasha was "right," and if they rejected it, it does not mean that it was "wrong." The halacha was decided according to the majority. In a case involving a capital transgression, no one would suggest that if the majority of the courts finds the accused innocent or guilty that means that this was necessarily the reality. Either the decision to accept a derasha or reject a dersha could be reversed by any subsequent Sanhedrin.

      Delete
    5. @Dovid Kornreich:

      Feh.

      Maybe your theoretical analysis is correct, maybe it isn't (definitely the stronger side). But that's all irrelevant, because it clearly isn't true in practice.

      Anyone who has learnt more than 50 blatt of gemoroh can tell you that chazal make mistakes left right and centre. Rabbi meiselman tries to weasel out of a few. He generally spends an entire chapter for each one, and is about as convincing as a lecture from Donald Trump on particle physics. And for every one he pretends to address there are another hundred in the same masechta which are untouched. As they say, wake up and smell the coffee.

      So if your theoretical discussion is correct, all that means is that Judaism has gone seriously wrong at some point, because your theory clearly isn't true.

      Delete
    6. I'm not asking that people who are ignorant of the sources in the classic literature agree with this approach.

      Just don't make the ridiculous claim that it isn't the traditional approach to Chazal's definitive statements (especially in halacha) based on Chazal and Rishonim.
      And don't make the ridiculous claim that it's really all about "daas Torah" and the infallibility of Gedolim.

      Delete
    7. I'm not asking that people who are ignorant of the sources in the classic literature agree with this approach.

      No worries there. The ignorant people are the ones who believe (or, more accurately, state without actually believing) that "none (except a very tiny handful) resort to the approach that Chazal were simply mistaken".

      Delete
    8. And don't make the ridiculous claim that it's really all about "daas Torah" and the infallibility of Gedolim.

      You know it's ridiculous, of course it is, your Rosh Yeshiva told you so. But if he ever changes his mind, so will you.

      Delete
    9. "I'm not asking that people who are ignorant of the sources in the classic literature agree with this approach"

      Dovid Kornreich. I don't know you, although I have heard about you. You may well know more than me about the classic sources on this matter, and in general, although I am not convinced.

      However I think that calling all those who disagree with you ignorant is a rather sad approach, especially when it happens to be wrong.

      I have devoted many hours of my learning time to this topic in particular. And before you say that learning a sugya is a waste of time if you don't know how to learn in general, I will state this rather mildly. I have been accused of many things in my life. None has ever been not being able to learn.

      I hope you stop there with the putdowns, as I hate sounding as if I am blowing my own trumpet.

      Delete
    10. 1) Rishonim (like the Ramban in his intro to his Torah commentary) believed all the wisdom of the universe is somehow encoded inside the Torah we have. This seems to come from the Midrashic idea that the Torah was G-d's blueprint for creation of the entire universe.


      Hinted at and not encoded. Ramban also lived before the modern explosion of knowledge. Did he really thing that Shroedinger's equation or the structure of DNA was hinted to in the Torah? I doubt it.

      2) Then we have gemaras which record that some members of Chazal claimed they were able to figure out things about the natural world through analyzing verses in the Torah.

      But then they seem to come to conclusions inconsistent with what we know to be true today, like minimum snake gestation being 7 years.

      3) We have other gemaras which clearly say it is blasphemous (or at the very least, forbidden) to cast aspersions on the truth of non-halachic statements about the nature of the world, made by Chazal.

      Statements which many Rishonim themselves don't accept, such as the creation of miraculous pearls many cubits in diameter at the time of the Mashiach.

      We also have gemaras that clearly state that the non-Jewish sages had bested the Jewish sages.

      4) Then we have the Rashba --a very mainstream rishon-- who cites these gemaras and draws very practical halachic conclusions from those gemaras which say Chazal could not have erred in their scientific pronouncements.

      And came to the wrong scientific conclusion as a result.

      In every generation, gedolei poskim are faced with facts that seem to contradict the halacha.

      Not so much until modern times, but changing halachah is a different issue. Many Rishonim, including Ramban, were will to disagree with both midrashic and scientific statements of Chazal.

      BTW, apologies for the delay. My batphone must be on the fritz :).

      Delete
  12. Our saintly rabbis made many, many mistakes in science and, indeed, there are so many that there are more scientific falsities than truths in the rabbinic literature. Their telescopes didn't see very far and their microscopes saw even less. They knew geometry but calculus wasn't discovered until the 1600s, and that transformed the world. No one today would step foot in a Talmudic hospital, and the rabbinic rocket will never reach the moon, let alone Pluto. Sorry, but geocentrism, spontaneous generation, dirt mice, adnei Ha sade must all be tossed overboard.
    Again, sorry. Infallible? Try a comedy blog. I'm trying to be serious here.

    ReplyDelete
  13. Rav Bleich's efforts in this area can be described as obscurantist. He appears to toss out various and contradictory arguments to overwhelm the reader and to convey the idea that the sages weren't incorrect in their beliefs about the physical world. The extrapolation of his rationales, however, to the issue of brain death (he apparently doesn't accept that criterion) is missing an important point, I believe. Death, as manifested until recent times, was noted by the cessation of breathing. A heartbeat, as I read the sugya, was, at best, an alternative means of establishing death if access to the nose was unavailable. Hence, brain death which is also manifested by the cessation of spontaneous breathing, is as valid an indicator as it was then. The still beating heart is irrelevant, as is the continuation of other cellular processes for a time after death.

    Unfortunately, Rav Shachter, who appears to be more of a rationalist has, apparently taken the same position with regard to brain death. His disparagement of the idea of nishtana hateva with regard to lice procreation is of interest, however. If he disputes the notion of basic biological changes in historical time, then what does he do with the portion of the Shulchan Aruch dealing with tola'im in foodstuffs. If they aren't spontaneously generated from the foods, but are merely the maggots developed from tiny eggs laid by flies, how can they be permitted? While detecting such eggs in most foods would be very difficult or impossible using the unaided eye, they can be so seen given a smooth dark background. I don't believe that they can fall under the heading of microscopic and insignificant. While eating such critters would be considered disgusting to modern sensibilities (and therefore forbidden under lo teschaktzu), is he willing to rewrite the relevant halachot and remove those traditional heterim?

    The issue of the anisakis worm in wild salmon and other sea-going fish is more than a question of a possible misinterpetation of the sages in Hulin upon finding the worm in the flesh. It is also a question of identification. The gemara in Hulin concludes that certain worms, kukiani, found in fish flesh (the Tosafot make that argument)is forbidden despite Rav Ashi's view of permitting them. Only a different worm, durni, is permitted according to Ravina. The latter appears to refer to sea lice that attach themselves to the skin and burrow beneath it. That description doesn't fit the anasakis who may then be considered as a kukiani type worm and forbidden. The finding by the late OU chief posek that anisakis is permitted even when found in the gut of sardines is therefore very puzzling.

    I have long maintained that the permissibility of killing body lice on Shabbat doesn't rest on Rav Yosef's rationale of their allegedly not engaging in sexual reproduction. It is an ancient halacha debated by Bet Hillel and Shamai, centuries before Rav Yosef, without a given rationale. That rationale may well be that body lice are entirely dependent on their human host for survival. This lack of any independent existence could remove them from other living categories whose lives can't be terminated on Shabbat. At most, according to this view, their killing would be a rabbinic generalization which, according to Bet Hillel, wasn't applied to these creatures because of the anguish they cause the host.

    Y. Aharon

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. While the simplest read of the sugya in Yoma is that life is defined by respiration, especially according to the majority of Rishonim and early manuscripts that have the text "tabbur" instead of "Lev", that isn't the way Rashi reads the sugya. But even if you will read the sugya that way, it does not follow that one accepts brain death as death. To get there one, has to add the additional assertion that breathing by means of an external device doesn't count. And we will all agree, I think, that some people who can not breathe without a mechanical device because of neurological problems below the brain stem, for example, polio victims on an iron lung, who could both speak while on the device and recover, are nonetheless alive.

      In any event, neither R. Bleich nor R. Schachter bases his opinion of brain death on the scientific inerrancy of Chazal. And both would tell you to perform CPR (or call an EMT to do so) for a patient who just had a heart attack and is neither breathing nor has a heartbeat. Even though Chazal would have thought such a person dead because they were unfamiliar (or at least failed to disclose any familiarity)with CPR.

      Delete
    2. I should add, for those inclined on the basis of the iron lung to favor a cardiac definition of death, that there was a story of a fellow who led an active life for a year an a half with his blood being pumped by a device in a backpack while he awaited a heart transplant.

      These are very complex matters which is why gedolei poskei zmaneinu have such vigorous debate about the boundary cases. As do secular ethicists and lawyers. And one suspects that medical progress will only increase the difficulty.

      Delete
    3. Mike S., That is not the way that I read Rashi in Yoma 85a. Rashi there comments on the concluding view of Rav Pappa that if one encountered the head of an individual buried by a fallen structure on Shabbat then one checks on whether there is an indication of breath in the nostrils. If there is none, no further digging is done until after Shabbat because the victim is surely dead. If, on the other hand, one encounters the heart first, then one checks for a pulsation in the heart. If there is none, then there is a debate among Tana'im. One holds that no further digging is necessary since the victim is dead, while the other holds that one must uncover the face and check for breath there before concluding that the victim is dead. No one in the sugya has the view that lack of breathing is not a sign of death. One view just maintains that even lack of pulsation in the heart is also such a sign. Rashi merely comments that, based on the mistaken physiology of the time, breathing can be detected as a pulsation in the heart, and the debate was whether the nose was a more sensitive gauge of breathing, i.e., there was no awareness that the heart pumped blood - much leas that it was partly independent of breathing. The biblical verse used in that sugya to define life was, "kol asher nishmat chayim be'apo.." (all who has the breath of life in his nostrils).

      Of course, in modern times we undertake greater rescue efforts in such cases if there is any hope of resuscitation using modern techniques. Consequently, we are able to keep people alive today who would have been declared 'dead and buried' in the past. We also look for more signs than cessation of breath to declare someone dead such as lack of pupillary response and lack of signs of circulation. That is from an abundance of caution similar to what was argued by the Chatam Sofer and Chacham Tzi in the 19th century. They argued for checking the pulse as well as breath. The case of complete cessation of brain stem activity is different, however. Modern medicine knows no way of recovering spontaneous breathing and consciousness under those conditions. The continued functioning of the heart is then due to the autonomous functioning of the cardiac pacemaker nerve center for a while. That doesn't fit into the Talmudic definition of life. At least that's my understanding of the issue - not that I'm in a position to render halachic judgment on the topic.

      Y. Aharon

      Delete
    4. Of course, in modern times we undertake greater rescue efforts in such cases if there is any hope of resuscitation using modern techniques. Consequently, we are able to keep people alive today who would have been declared 'dead and buried' in the past.

      Of course this brings us back to the essential question: Does our greater understanding of science, nature and our environment mean halacha based on a faulty understanding of reality is superseded by our greater empirical knowledge? Can I kill those blood thirsty lice or not?

      In one case the halacha stands despite knowing now that only fools (yes I know who I am calling a fool) believe that spontaneous generation is possible. On the other hand, rescue work to recover potential survivor buried underground continues despite the halacha, unaware of cardiopulmonary resuscitation, instructing us not to.

      Delete
    5. Chacham Tzvi (by the way, 17th and 18th century, not nineteenth) reads Rashi as saying that the heartbeat is a definitive criterion (i.e. if you got one you're alive), but because breath is external and the heart internal breathing is sometimes a more sensitive test.

      What the Chasam Sofer meant is a matter of hot dispute because in one place he says that the criterion for death is respiratory and nothing (not even all the winds of the world) can change that, citing the gemara in Yoma, and elsewhere in the same tshuvah he lists a three criteria of "he is still like a rock, has no pulse and is not breathing" Modern posekim who favor brain death cite the former, those who oppose the latter. He was, however, arguing not for more caution but against the laws promulgated by various German rulers of the time requiring a three day delay or signs of decomposition before burial. Also against allowing a doctor who was a cohen to go into a room to certify that a patient was dead, which had recently been required before burial in some countries.

      We are more cautious now not because of what these tshuvot say, but because we have more sensitive medical tests now, and the ability to revive and sometimes heal people who were at best dying in former times.

      I was arguing neither for nor against accepting brain stem death as a criterion. Rather, that the matter is not dependent on one's views of Chazal's science. Every posek, on either side of that debate, will tell you to perform CPR and other medical interventions, even on shabbat, on people whom chazal would have considered dead. Also for babies of 8 month gestational age. Because we can revive people they couldn't.

      Delete
    6. As do secular ethicists and lawyers. And one suspects that medical progress will only increase the difficulty.

      At least in the US, total irreversible cessation of brain activity (brain-death) is considered death by both secular authorities and physicians.

      Delete
    7. @Y. Aharon: As many others have pointed out, there is a problem with trying to derive the definition of death from the Gemara. The Gemara was most likely using an intuitive definition of death: the person irreversibly loses consciousness, stops moving, becomes cold, starts to decay, etc. Then the questions is a practical one: is there a signs to indicate that attempts at revival are not worthwhile on Shabbos because the person is already dead.

      The issue of whether the person is dead at the moment that they are not breathing, but do have a beating heart was not considered. Practically, there was little point in considering it, since the heart of a non-breathing person was going to stop soon after. It is only in modern times that we have the possibility of both reversing various kinds of cessation of function or replacing various functions via artificial means. Thus the Gemara simply doesn't tell us much about how to answer the question.

      Delete
    8. Mike S., I don't know that we are disagreeing. It's been a few years since I saw the teshuvot of the Chatam Sofer and Chacham Tzvi cited by disputants in the 'brain death' issue. I acknowledge my error in assuming that both lived in the same era (Rav Tzvi Ashkenazy (Chacham Tzvi) was much older, as you stated). I don't understand how the latter reads Rashi who only mentions detecting breathing in the heart pulsations. The distinction between the heart beating and merely reflecting the movements of breathing is important in that the gemara ties everything to breath as the sign of life.

      The way to avoid a self-contradiction in the responsum of the Chatam Sofer, it seems to me, is to assume that his criteria of no movement and no pulse are added to the basic life criterion of breathing, as a precaution. It may also be a means of warding off intervention or disdain by the civil authorities that you mentioned. It seems that Jews were attacked for their practice of quick burials with the argument that they could be guilty of burying unconscious or comatose people who were still alive. The counter argument would then be that we check for different signs of life and bury only if there are none.

      Y. Aharon

      Delete
    9. Yossi Rathner, If it is a question of possibly saving life, we do it, even if the sages assumed that the effort was futile, since we have means that were unavailable then. This includes digging out someone without life symptoms from a freshly fallen structure on Shabbat, or providing care and medical treatment for a baby born after an 8 month pregnancy. Other such issues are more complex. I believe that the permissibility of killing annoying body lice on Shabbat still stands (its not a problem under ordinary circumstances in modern life due to frequent bathing and clothes changing). The rationale for such action given by the Amora, Rav Yosef in T.B. Shabbat that they do not sexually reproduce is mistaken. Lice, as is the case with all complex creatures, do sexually reproduce. The issue is, however, an ancient one debated between Bet Hillel and Shamai centuries before Rav Yosef. The permissibility according to Bet Hillel, as I see it, is different. Body lice are entirely dependent for their existence on the human host. As such, they don't fall into the same category as other creatures who have some independent existence. While their killing might otherwise be considered a rabbinic extension of the biblical act, it is not so treated due to the anguish these critters cause the unwilling host.

      Worms in cheese or other foodstuffs may have been halachically permissible due to some spontaneous generation rationale, but modern knowledge has eliminated that rationale. It's not my call, but I wouldn't treat such worms differently than those that are halachically forbidden as creatures of the earth, air, or water. Besides such considerations, one would ostensibly be guilty of violating a biblical 'al teshahtzu' prohibition since these critters normally arouse disgust.

      Y. Aharon

      Delete
  14. I don't have your email address so sending you this as a comment:

    בעלון 'בית נאמן' להגר"מ מאזוז (נאמן ס"ט) שליט"א פרשת שמות (גליון מספר 46) ה'תשע"ז ישנה תשובה נצחת לבעלי שיטת האבלוצי', וז"ל: "אי אפשר לומר כמו שאומרים הכופרים שהאדם בא מהקוף, שהרי הקוף יש לו זנב ולאדם אין זנב. ואחד כתב לי שזה לא נכון כיון שיש סוג של קופים שאין להם זנב (ולכן הוא רצה לומר שהם מ"דור הפלגה" שנעשו קופים. סנהדרין דק"ט ע"א). זו באמת "קושיא עצומה"... אתם יודעים מה התשובה לזה? הם טוענים שהאדם בא מהקוף, והרי בין הקוף לאדם יש הרבה הבדלים ולכן לדעתם במשך מליוני שנים (ואולי מיליארדים...) הקוף השתנה לאט לאט ונעשה "בן אדם". אבל איך יכול להיות שהקוף הקדמון נשאר והבן אדם ישנו ואילו כל "קופי הביניים" נעלמו, איפה הלכו הקופים האלה? הרי צריך להיות קוף שיתחיל לדדות וקוף שיתחיל להגיד אבא אמא וקוף שיאמר אחד ועוד אחד זה שניים, והרי במציאות אין שום קוף כזה בעולם - כולם בהמות, אלא ודאי שהאדם ברי' בפני עצמה והקוף ברי' בפני עצמה, וכי יש ספק בדבר הזה?! אלא הם רשעים ורוצים לכפור לכתחילה, מה לעשות להם?! אמרו לי שהיו אנשים שעמדו להשתגע מכל מיני דברי כפירה, וכשקראו את עלון 'בית נאמן' קיבלו תשובות לכמה מהשאלות ונרגעו מזה. ויש כאלה שאמרו לי: אל תשאל ואל תגיד ואל תדבר בענייני אמונה, אבל הם לא יודעים שהעולם כולו מדברים דברי כפירה כאלה, ולכן אנחנו באים לעצור את המגפה הזאת (ויש אחד שמלמד לחילונים "קבלה" וחושב שככה הם יחזרו לאמונה, אבל מה ענין חילונים ל"קבלה"? מה הם מבינים בזה?! וכבר רבי ינון חורי זצ"ל אמר לו: אל תעשה ככה. אבל צריך להחזיר אותם ע"י הפשט), כי יש דעות כאלה שמתהלכות בעולם וזו מגפה וצריך להלחם בה, ואמנם לא להלחם בכח אלא לעשות מהם צחוק ולהפוך אותם ל"סמרטוטים". והרי מתי התחילה הדעה הזאת שהאדם בא מהקוף? לפני 150 שנה, שהי' משוגע אחד ושמו "דרווין", ובשגעונו ראה בחלומו שהקוף נעשה בן אדם, ומזה הוא בנה את התאוריה שלו. אבל הוא בעצמו אחרי שחיבר את כל השגעונות שלו, אמר: כשאני מסתכל על העין של האדם כל התאוריה שלי מתפוגגת, כי היא נבראה בחכמה רבה מאד שאי אפשר שתבוא במקרה! והעין היא המצלמה הכי משוכללת בעולם, והלב הוא המשאבה הכי משוכללת בעולם, והרגלים הם הכי משוכללים בעולם, רק שאנחנו לא מודעים לעומק הבריאה, כי אם היינו מודעים לזה אז כל מי שהי' אומר דברים כאלו היו לוקחים אותו לאשפוז. וגם את 'משרד החינוך'. אחד דיבר איתי ובמקום 'משרד החינוך' אמר 'משרד החינוח' (כי הוא ידע שאני רוצה שיבטא חי"ת אז במקום 'חינוך' הוא אמר 'חינוח') אמרתי לו: 'משרד החינוק', כי הם חונקים את השכל של הבן אדם.

    Thought you would enjoy

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. What is interesting is that this always comes down to Rabbi in question not understanding the science very well.

      Delete
  15. I think it would be helpful to try to identify the true cause for the beliefs of people like Rabbis Bleich and Meiselman, and the yeshiva-world in general. Obviously, there are going to be a number of different reasons for this, but it’s worth analyzing.
    For example, is the main reason simply the fact that the Maharal and others say so, combined with the allure of believing in a perfect Chazal, which would be somewhat parallel to the blind adulation with which we tend to treat athletes, politicians and philosophers from previous generations? Or is it a more calculated thing – namely, that the only way to get people to continue to practice a religion that so clearly developed during a very different era, when people knew less science, when attitudes towards non-Jews , women, slavery etc. were so different, to the point of making their dictates seem irrelevant to us, is by putting these people on an unrealistic pedestal?


    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Dear Lion of Israel,

      Please see this comment above:

      http://www.rationalistjudaism.com/2017/01/twisting-oneself-into-pretzel.html?showComment=1485689857299#c6758348542286804003

      Delete

Comments for this blog are moderated. Please see this post about the comments policy for details. ANONYMOUS COMMENTS WILL NOT BE POSTED - please use either your real name or a pseudonym.

Devastating

The news of the murders in Neve Tzuf is devastating. I knew the father, Yossi Salomon; he was my sister's next-door neighbor. I don...