Sunday, February 5, 2017

Lord of the Flies



There's a video making the rounds, titled "Bringing a Fly Back to Life - Via Kabbalah!" It beings by showing a drowned fly floating in a cup of water. The person producing the video cites Rav Benayahu Shmueli (a disciple of Rak Kaduri and Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshivat Hamekubalim Nahar Shalom), who says that if one takes such a dead fly, and places ashes on it, it will come back to life. The person then carefully takes out the fly, puts it on the table, and scatters some cigarette ash on it. To the shocked gasps and exclamations of the onlookers, the fly returns to life! As the speaker explains, this is a kiddush Shem Shamayim, showing that the words of the Sages are true.

You can really see this on the video! Here it is (if you are reading this via email subscription, you will have to visit www.RationalistJudaism.com to see the video):


Okay, so what's going on here? First of all, the original source (or rather, the earliest rabbinic source that I know of) is in Shevet HaMussar from Rabbi Eliyahu HaKohen Itamari (1659-1729), also known for his work Midrash Talpiyot. However, he does not present it as some kind of kabbalistic insight. Instead, he just presents it as a fact of the world.

The fact that drowned flies sometimes come back to life was noticed by others, too. Benjamin Franklin wrote about it, as did others. A simple Google search shows that this phenomenon is widely known, with the slight variation of using salt rather than ashes to bring the fly back to life. The explanation of this amazing phenomenon is entirely straightforward.

Insects do not breathe through their mouths. Instead, they have tubes all over their bodies, called spiracles, via which they obtain oxygen. If the insect is submerged in water, the spiracles are blocked and the insect falls unconscious. But if you sprinkle salt (or ashes) upon it, this draws the water out of the spiracles, and the insect returns to consciousness. Of course, this is not actual techiyat hameitim; it does not work if the fly is actually dead.

Fascinatingly, this was guessed at by the one of the Moetzes Gedolei HaTorah. Rabbi Dovid Sperber (1875-1962) was a leading rabbinic authority in Romania who was appointed to the Moetzes Gedolei HaTorah of Agudas Yisrael. In his She’eilos U’teshuvos Afarkasta De’anya, vol. II, Orach Chaim 52, he discusses Rabbi Itamari's statement about the fly in light of the prohibition against killing insects on Shabbos. Rabbi Sperber asks whether it would be permissible to dispose of a fly on Shabbos by throwing it in a cup of water. He first reasons that although the fly can come back to life, this does not mean that one is allowed to kill it, just as it is forbidden to kill a person even if the murder victim is subsequently miraculously brought back to life. However, he concludes that although Rav Itamari speaks about the fly actually dying, this is not the case; rather, when the fly is in the water, it merely becomes inactive.

So, while there is something fascinating here, it's not at all miraculous, and it's not a demonstration of kabbalah, and nor was it even originally suggested to be anything of the sort. It's a simple observation of a known phenomenon with a perfectly reasonable explanation. The same, however, cannot be said for the second part of Rav Itamari's statement - where he says that if the flies are sealed in a jar of water for forty days, they turn into frogs!


שבט מוסר פי"א: זבובים שנפלו למים ומתו, אם תשימם בשמש ותשליך אפר מקלה עליהן חוזרין לחיותן, ואם תמלא צלוחית מים עד חצי' ותשליך בתוכה זבובים ותסתום פי הצלוחית עד ארבעים יום, מתהפכים הזבובים לצפרדעים.

Now, although Rabbi J. David Bleich claims that such things are not at all contradicted by reason, I beg to differ. Show me flies in a sealed jar turning into frogs, and I will give up on rationalism!

(Thanks to Rabbi Chaim Rapoport for sending me the sources)

27 comments:

  1. ספר מלכים ב פרק א
    (טז) וַיְדַבֵּר אֵלָיו כֹּה אָמַר ה' יַעַן אֲשֶׁר שָׁלַחְתָּ מַלְאָכִים לִדְרֹשׁ בְּבַעַל זְבוּב אֱלֹהֵי עֶקְרוֹן הֲמִבְּלִי אֵין אֱלֹהִים בְּיִשְׂרָאֵל לִדְרֹשׁ בִּדְבָרוֹ?

    ReplyDelete
  2. This presents a particularly difficult problem for the rationalist educator. It is extremely difficult to show the music who is impressed by this party trick why he is wrong; performing this same feat in front of him will just further convince him of the powers of kabbalah. So what are you meant to do?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The rationalist educator can point out that the producers of the video have latched on to a natural phenomenon which has no special relevance to questions of faith. An atheist, a devotee of Krishna, and a Catholic priest can all duplicate the same experiment with the same results. If someone found archaeological evidence pointing to the historicity of the Exodus from Egypt or a medical researcher demonstrated the efficacy of Jewish prayers for curing disease, that could serve as some kind of evidence for the truth of Jewish faith-claims. However, even if a genuinely dead fly were returned to life when sprinkled with ash, what would that biological anomaly have to do with Judaism? It's as if someone were to say, "We have no good explanation how certain anesthetics work - therefore, you should believe in the Torah!"

      Delete
    2. So you perform the same feat but use a sonic screwdriver to re-animate the fly. Then you say "You see? Science!"

      Delete
    3. Berel Dov Lerner :

      Everything you say is entirely correct. However, unfortunately the sort of people who go in for these sorts of things don't tend to be the most philosophically astute. In all probability they will simply dismiss your points as attempts to rationalise away obvious evidence of the power of kabbalah.

      Delete
  3. My first guess was that it wasn't dead, but frozen, as this demonstration with a "dead" fish coming back to life shows: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zOJZaGUx9JM

    ReplyDelete
  4. This is similar to the Rambam and the Shunamite where he claims the boy was not dead but suffering a known condition which makes a person appear to be dead or in extremely deep sleep without noticeable breathing .
    This condition is known in modern medicine however I forget its name.

    ReplyDelete
  5. I would like to see that tried on a fly that has been dead for a day or two.
    For those who scoffed at my referncnes to climate fraid heres the evidence http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-4192182/World-leaders-duped-manipulated-global-warming-data.html
    You really have to take science with a large pinch of salt. That's Really being rational!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Wow. This is really impressive. The Daily Mail is a distinguished scientific journal and results reported therein have never failed us. I've completely changed my mind on this.

      Delete
    2. Yeah, y'don't prove any points by quoting the dailymail. Instead, here are the scientist's own words: http://climatechangedispatch.com/john-bates-climate-scientists-versus-climate-data/

      Delete
    3. Now that you're done being sarcastic, perhaps think about the fact that academia is ruled by leftists and that academics, too, are human beings who have biases.

      I'm shocked the following author works for The New York Times, but perhaps read his take on science and the Left:

      https://www.city-journal.org/html/real-war-science-14782.html

      Delete
    4. I can't tell if he's being sarcastic in citing The Daily Mail as an authoritative scientific source-- are you sure he's serious?

      Delete
    5. Is academia ruled by leftists, or is the sort of mind that is attracted to academia also attracted to left wing thought?

      And whilst we're on the topic, what does climate change have to do with the right wing - left wing split? It is in no way connected to the traditional issues that divided the two sides.

      The fact that nowadays more left wingers than right wingers believe in climate change tells you more about the difference between the mentality of the right winger and the mentality of the left winger than it does about climate change.

      Delete
    6. Yay you guys just got backed up by none other than that paragon of a neutral POV Wikipedia and also the Guarniad https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2017/feb/08/wikipedia-bans-daily-mail-as-unreliable-source-for-website

      BTW he wasn't being sarcastic, global warming oops climate change (aka weather) is a total fraud.

      Delete
    7. A mere 30 years ago they were telling us we are headed for an ice age. One should consider the scientific view prevelant now but not act on it as it is Torah from Sinai. https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=0mPP8NoSnmQ

      Delete
  6. And if you sprays bees in the sukkah with vodka they fall to the ground and stumble around. Best to call them a cab to get them home at that point.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. There are a number of websites that give odd uses for WD-40. One of them is using it to kill cockroaches--Rabbi Slifkin's explanation seems to work there as well: the lubricant suffocates the roach, by not allowing any air to pass.
      --Yehudah P.

      Delete
  7. " from Rabbi Eliyahu HaKohen Itamari"

    ...who (according to many) was a (moderate) Sabbatean. So much for this latter day beelzebub...

    ReplyDelete
  8. If flies can turn into frogs does that mean across species evolution is min hatorah

    ReplyDelete
  9. וכן האוחז את העינים ומדמה בפני הרואים שעושה מעשה תמהון והוא לא עשה הרי זה בכלל מעונן ולוקה:
    הלכות עבודת כוכבים יא:ט

    ReplyDelete
  10. another fact that the Midrash Talpiyot (מדרש תלפיות אות א' ענף אברים) presented to the world, that a jew has one more tooth in his mouth than a gentile

    ReplyDelete
  11. Yes I remember that from a previous post here. Yes, Jews have one extra tooth. Except....surprise... they don't.
    Takeaway: Don't learn dentistry from midrashim.

    ReplyDelete
  12. Rabbi Slifkin. There's a typo on line two. I think you want 'begins' not 'beings'.

    ReplyDelete
  13. "The same, however, cannot be said for the second part of Rav Itamari's statement - where he says that if the flies are sealed in a jar of water for forty days, they turn into frogs!" This sure can happen back. The water already contained a tiny frog egg(s) which may not be visible. That or you need to wave Moshe's magic stick. Oh ye of little faith.

    ReplyDelete
  14. Regarding the frogs, I think what he meant was what you see in this video - in a fly trap with water left to sit for a long enough, you'll eventually see maggots swimming around:
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HZSi8RsNuRI

    ReplyDelete
  15. R. Slifkin,

    What is your position on this critique of Modern Orthodoxy:

    http://jewishlinknj.com/features/17158-from-the-desk-of-a-18-year-old-yeshiva-student-a-heartbroken-mother-and-a-overnight-charedi

    ReplyDelete
  16. If I may, I'll handle this:
    1. Modern Orthodoxy could use some more rebbeim who believe in supporting Israel, engaging meaningfully in the world, and who are rigorous in observance and deep in Torah knowledge.
    2. Charedi yeshivas in Israel ought to be honest and upfront with MO parents: yes, we want your children; yes, we will bombard them nonstop to reject you and your worldly values, yes, we have been dishonest up until now about this but henceforth we'll be straight: send us your kids and they'll be in the Mir in four years and forever after that. Got a problem with that?

    ReplyDelete

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