Thursday, June 6, 2019

Letter to the Disciples of Rav Moshe Shapiro

Here is a letter that I just sent to about thirty people, mostly talmidim of Rav Moshe Shapiro:


Rabbosai,

Fourteen years ago, during the controversy over my books, I made several mistakes. In this email, I would like to describe two of them.

One was with regard to Rav Moshe Shapiro's characterization of his condemnation of my work, in which he presented himself as following in the footsteps of Maharal's condemnation of Azariah de Rossi. I quoted an (unnamed) rabbi, widely regarded as something of an authority on Maharal, who said that he did not believe that Rav Moshe Shapiro was correct in this. This rabbi claimed that Maharal would not have been opposed to saying that Chazal made statements about the natural world that were inaccurate.

After extensive study, I am now no longer inclined to believe that that this rabbi was correct in his assessment of Maharal. I think that Rav Moshe was indeed perfectly representing the approach of Maharal. While Maharal never addresses the cases of spontaneous generation specifically, it does seem that according to Maharal, Chazal were never making statements about the natural world, such that they could be subject to being disproved. Rather, Chazal were always talking about pnimiyus, deeper metaphysical matters.

The second mistake I made was much more significant. I thought that the topic most basic to the question of Chazal's knowledge of science was that of spontaneous generation - whether Chazal were correct in describing lice as being generated from dust, salamanders from fire, and mice from dirt. And with regard to that question, there were only a small number of relevant sources. There was the letter of Rav Hirsch (who R. Moshe Shapiro dismissed as being "not from our Beis HaMidrash") and the teshuvos of R. Yitzchak Lampronti and R. Herzog with regard to spontaneous generation in particular, as well as the famous letter of R. Avraham ben HaRambam (claimed by R. Moshe to be a forgery) and the statement of Rambam in the Moreh with regard to Chazal's knowledge of science in general.

Now, I do not believe that these are authorities to be lightly dismissed, or to be condemned as engaging in what R. Uri Silver referred to as a "bizayon haTorah." (And at this point I must comment that it is odd that some people condemned me as arrogant for disputing R. Moshe Shapiro, but consider it acceptable to describe the approach of various Rishonim and Acharonim as being a "bizayon haTorah.") However, these Rishonim and Acharonim are nevertheless a small group.

It was only a few years afterwards that I realized that the topic most fundamental to this topic is in fact a different sugya. It is the discussion in Pesachim 94b regarding the sun's path at night. The gentile astronomers stated that the sun travels beneath the world at night, whereas the Sages of Israel claim that the sun travels behind the sky at night; and R. Yehudah HaNasi observes that the Sages of Israel seem to have been mistaken.

R. Moshe Shapiro would have followed the position of Maharal, who emphatically insists that the Sages of Israel did not believe that the sun goes behind the sky at night and that they were in fact not talking about mere astronomy to begin with. Rather, Chazal were speaking about pnimiyus - deeper metaphysical matters, and they were thus not making any kind of scientific mistake. This approach is echoed by various other authorities, such as Ramchal.

However, here's where things become fascinating. It turns out that every single Rishon, bar none, understood this Gemara at face value, explaining that the Sages of Israel indeed believed that the sun goes behind the sky at night. The list includes R. Eliezer of Metz (Sefer Yere’im), Tosafos Rid, Sefer Mitzvos HaGadol, Rosh, Ritva, R. Bachya b. Asher, R. Yerucham ben Meshullam, Rabbeinu Manoach, R. Eliyahu Mizrachi, R. Yitzchak Arama, Maharam Alashkar, and Radbaz.

Now, R. Ari Bergman told me that he "doesn't like" the approach of the Rishonim, because they were "unaware of the revelations of kabbalah." Personally, I am uncomfortable with claiming that all the Rishonim did not know how to understand Chazal. But in any case, there were numerous Acharonim who likewise explained the Gemara this way. The list includes R. Moshe Cordovero, Lechem Mishneh, Maharsha, Minchas Kohen, R. Yair Chaim Bacharach, Pri Chadash, Maharif, R. Yitzchak Lampronti, R. Yisrael Friedman of Ruzhin, Maharam Schick, R. Eliezer Lipman Neusatz, R. Samson Raphael Hirsch, R. David Yehuda Silberstein, R. Yeshua Shimon Chaim Ovadyah, R. Menachem Nachum Friedman of Itcani/Stefanesti, and others, all the way down through to R. Yitzchak Herzog and my own mentor, Rav Aryeh Carmell.

With all these Acharonim, their discussions of this topic are very clear and there is no way to reinterpret their statements. Maharam Schick in particular elaborates about how there are "matters that were not received by the Sages as halachah leMoshe miSinai, but rather which they said according to their own reasoning," and thus "there are many occasions when the sages determined, according to their own intellects, that a matter was a certain way, and the subsequent generation analyzed the matter further and disputed the earlier view," concluding that in the case of Pesachim 94b "scientists now agree—and it is apparent to the eye and by experimentation—that the sun travels below the earth at night."

It is important, even if painful, to realize that according to all these authorities, Maharal was not revealing the true meaning of Chazal's words in Pesachim. Rather, he was inventing a new meaning.

Of course, there are seventy facets to Torah, and there have long been all kinds of disputes. Maharal was perfectly entitled to dispute all these authorities in explaining the Gemara and to believe that they had a fundamentally flawed understanding of Chazal. Likewise, R. Moshe Shapiro could do the same. (In my writings, I always make it clear that there is such an approach.) And it's tremendously appealing to believe that Chazal were always talking about profound metaphysical matters rather than about the science of astronomy or zoology.

Still, the fact is that Maharal most certainly does not represent the consensus view, or even any classical approach, and he was a great innovator. Those who follow his or similar approaches should rethink their unequivocal statements about it being "kefirah" or a "bizayon haTorah" to say that Chazal made statements about the natural world that are subject to being disproved. They should realize just how many Rishonim and Acharonim they are condemning, and how they are effectively insisting that it is forbidden to explain the Gemara in Pesachim in the way that the majority of Rishonim and Acharonim explained it. R. Moshe Shapiro dismissed Rav Hirsch as being in a different Beis HaMidrash, but it's important to acknowledge that Rav Hirsch is not sitting alone in that Beis HaMidrash.

Attached are two extensive monographs which document all the above in great detail. The shorter one focuses upon the unique nature of Maharal's approach to Chazal, while the longer one is an exhaustive review of all the opinions on Pesachim 94b. They will both be included in my forthcoming book, Rationalism Vs. Mysticism: Schisms In Traditional Jewish Thought. Much as we would like to preserve a naive childhood belief that there is only one Torah-true approach to any given topic, the reality is that Jewish intellectual history is complicated, and there have long been radically different approaches to all kinds of issues. We can disagree with other approaches, but we must honestly and respectfully acknowledge their existence and history.

(Meanwhile, on a completely different note, if you'd like to come visit the Biblical Museum of Natural History, you'll enjoy a tremendously inspirational and educational experience - which doesn't touch at all on the topic of conflicts between Torah/Chazal and science!)

Sincerely,
Natan Slifkin

66 comments:

  1. The only thing you misunderstand is that the reason they go against you is because it seems you have an obsession to prove chaz"l were wrong C"V rather then to find out the truth in Chaza"l

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    1. That's hilarious. I have an "obsession"? The book was a survey of all mythical animals in Chazal. I concluded that they were mistaken in *three* cases!
      Meanwhile, those that are totally closed to the notion that Chazal were wrong, despite all evidence and support in meforshim for that, are interested in "finding out the truth"?!

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    2. I wonder if this will change anyone's mind, but:

      It's not a drive to "prove Chazal wrong," Chas VeShalom. Rather, religious rationalism - dare I say it this way: - "grants PERMISSION to Chazal to be wrong." And Chazal CAN BE wrong (on secular/scientific/historical) matters AND YET WE DO NOT LOSE AN IOTA OF RESPECT FOR THEM despite that!

      If you need Chazal to be ALWAYS RIGHT, and that is why they deserve our respect (ie "they are so holy and wise and had Ruach Hakodesh that they knew this so we are in awe of them") then it follows that Chazal potentially being wrong means that the religion is in danger.

      Therefore, it is only those who do NOT allow for the possibility of Chazal to be wrong who cause problems because then their followers, faced with modernity, may end up indeed losing respect for Chazal. This erosion of respect begins with science but rapidly spreads to religious matters. As many of the thankyou letters to RNS have documented.

      Not that the regulars on this blog need to be told this (indeed, R' Slifkin has said as much in other words many times), but I felt that spelling it out this way might be useful.

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    3. Maybe you can elaborate. Say you're correct: are you suggesting that rabbis have the right to present false arguments based on their assessment of their opponent's tone?

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    4. Um, Israel Coleman, if you are responding to my post, I have no idea what you are talking about. I did not say that rabbis lie when arguing. I said we might understand that great rabbis 2000 years ago made a mistake and yet still consider them great.

      But perhaps you were responding to aviadik. I just wanted to clarify.

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    5. Yosef, I was responding to the other fellow. Have a good Yom Tov!

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  2. Thanks. This is an exceptionally balanced, nuanced and interesting post. You have to a degree cleared up for me many open questions I have about the Maharal and those that came after him in a similar derech.

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  3. "I quoted an (unnamed) rabbi, widely regarded as something of an authority on Maharal, who said that he did not believe that Rav Moshe Shapiro was correct in claiming that he was following in the footsteps of Maharal's condemnation of Azariah de Rossi."
    .
    Without discussing the content of this post (which I am not qualified to do), I would like to make a comment as a sometime English teacher. This sentence is too convoluted! Your writing is usually clearer than this. You need to rewrite this sentence, perhaps making two sentences out of it. I read it twice, without comprehension.
    .
    Your second sentence could also use some editing. "This rabbi claimed that Maharal would not have been opposed to saying that Chazal made statements about the natural world that were inaccurate." Another convoluted sentence.  What does it mean, he "would not have been opposed to saying..."? He wouldn't condemn himself if he found himself saying this? He would not condemn others who said it?
    .
    The rest of your essay is fine, as usual, from a readability standard. Again, I'm not commenting on the substance.

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  4. Rabbi Slifkin, I never understood your proof from Rebbi in Pesachim 94. Rabbi Meiselmen and his group believe every final statement by Chazal is true, but not that every Hava Amina is true. So Rebbi's statement that the Rabbi's were wrong does not disprove Rabbi Meiselman, as Rebbi is the final statement of Chazal on this point (of course, putting aside that both sides were wrong in pesachim). FYI, I agree with your view, I just do not think Rebbi is proof.

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    1. The position of the Chachmei Yisrael was not their hava amina, it was their settled view, also discussed elsewhere in Shas/Midrash. Rebbi felt that they were wrong. He does not redefine their view as being a hava amina.

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    2. IIRC though, Karpas is somewhat right. R Meiselman weasels out of this problem by claiming that only the final decision of the Gemara can't be wrong through some Siyata Dishmaya. Of course that is inconsistent with his general premise that they didn't make such mistakes.

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    3. The position of the חכמי עומות העולם is not incorrect. From our perspective on Earth, the sun is indeed going "beneath" (really around) the world. The more interesting aspect is whether Rebbi thought the Earth is round or flat. From the phrasing, it sounds like he thought it was flat. The חע’׳ה would have known it is a sphere (this was common knowledge amongst the well-educated in that era).

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  5. "[I]it does seem that according to Maharal, Chazal were never making statements about the natural world, such that they could be subject to being disproved. Rather, Chazal were always talking about pnimiyus, deeper metaphysical matters."

    But using then-accepted science as a metaphor. Meaning, one can prove that they used broken meshalim. But who cares since their point was the nimshalim.

    That's not as far from your initial claim as your working made it sound.The Maharal did not imply Chazal knew all of how the universe works through revealed (rather than scientifically gained) knowledge.

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    1. No, Maharal does not believe that they were using meshalim. Rather, they were speaking about the metaphysical essences of things.

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  6. 1. The Maharal was an experimental scientist. He actually published on brewing beer. He may have been an 'alchemist', as he predated organized chemistry. It was probably his scientific experimental research that stsrted the golem legends.
    2. The Maharal was against codification, wanting Halachah to remain flexible and locally variable which the printing revolution with R. Isserles' glosses on R. Karo's code threatened.
    3. The rabbis were wrong about aoontaneous generation. However they determine Halachah. So are weavils and cheese mites Kosher?

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  7. more spell checkingJune 6, 2019 at 7:46 PM

    Reviewing the nice article here
    https://www.dropbox.com/s/12k5gt5ygg66j9o/The%20Suns%20Path%20At%20Night%20-%20new%20version.pdf?dl=0
    I found
    "Abarbanel had to reign in that concession and limit its significance"
    Shouldn't that be "rein"?

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  8. "R. Moshe Shapiro would have followed the position of Maharal, who emphatically insists that the Sages of Israel did not believe that the sun goes behind the sky at night and that they were in fact not talking about mere astronomy to begin with. Rather, Chazal were speaking about pnimiyus - deeper metaphysical matters, and they were thus not making any kind of scientific mistake."

    So is it better that Chazal made a mistake in deep metaphysical matters rather than science??? Are we to believe that the gentile astronomers better understood pnimiyus than the Jewish sages according to the view of Maharal and Rabbi Shapiro?
    Or that Rabbi Yehuda HaNassi, a member of Chazal in his own right, couldn't see what Maharal and Rabbi Shapiro see, totally misunderstood the argument the Sages of Israel were making, and therefore HE made the mistake in pnimiyus or lacked its understanding? But he is also chazal!

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    1. If חז׳׳ל were speaking of deep metaphysical matters, you can't tell they were wrong just because they used a natural-world description that is incorrect. This is the basis for much of the מהר׳׳ל's understanding of אגדתא. His apologetics in באר הגולה is replete with examples.

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    2. Avi, I'm not the one who said they were wrong. Rebbi Yehuda Hanasi is.

      That's the second paragraph I wrote above which starts with the word Or. Either you are telling me the sages of Israel were wrong about these metaphysical matters (according to Rebbi) - Which in that case, I have no problem with great men being wrong, but you need to explain to me why that is somehow better than them being wrong about the science of the physical world, and why them being wrong about the science of the physical world isn't an equally valid perspective given yours.

      OR, you are telling me that Rebbi was wrong in saying that they were mistaken. In that case, why is Rebbi, an esteemed member of chazal, being accused of being wrong and that's suddenly ok in your view?

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    3. student v: Rabbi Yehudah haNasi according to many readings. See our host's "The Sun's Path at Night", pp 18-21 for other readings. In fact, there is a long history there with multiple sides to it.

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    4. student v,

      the way that i was taught the gemara as a young un (and i think this is pretty much the standard way of understanding it) is that chazal and chachmie haumot were debating metaphysics. this is obvious since this particular statement is one in a long list of obviously metaphysical statements/debates. rebbee stated that superficially the chachmie haumot appear to be correct regarding the metaphysics, although even rebbee agrees that ultimately that is only the appearance not the actual truth. that's why he states "their words appear better than ours" including himself as among those believing as did the chachmie yisroel.

      however, even if one wants to understand that rebbee actually thought that the chachmie haumot were correct regarding the metaphysics (which is not the simple reading of the gemara), what's the big deal? is this the first time that you ever heard of a disagreement among chazal regarding some metaphysical detail?

      none the less, even the metaphor that rebbee uses to demonstrate why the chachmie haumot appear correct, does have practical significance regarding mayim shelanu. as is frequently the case, when chazal discuss metaphysics, incidentally they teach us important points regarding the physical world as well.

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    5. I didn't read your first comment correctly. Sorry for the confusion. After reading it again, but carefully, I essentially agree with your questions.

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    6. "chazal and chachmie haumot were debating metaphysics. this is obvious since this particular statement is one in a long list of obviously metaphysical statements/debates."

      Why is it "obvious" or even remotely plausible that it is referring to metaphysics? Especially since all the Rishonim and Acharonim here did NOT believe that it refers to metaphysics!

      It amazes me that the entire point of this post is that people are ignoring what the Rishonim and Acharonim actually say - and this commentator has done the same thing again!

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  9. Chazal were humans, mere mortals, not gods or demi-gods. Which means they were fallible, like all humans. To believe otherwise is to put them on a level greater than the Neviim and put them on par with demi-gods. That doesn't exist in Judaism. It's unclear to me why we cannot accept that the Rabbi's of the past (and today) are mere mortals and therefore operate with the best intentions and confines of the knowledge of their time. As time passes we learn more, correct mistakes of the past, and create mistakes of our own. It's what humans do and Rabbis are human.

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    1. You summed it up best! Ought to be a hakdama to shas & meforshim...

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  10. The rationalist approach to this topic has always made the most sense to me. I am always confused to hear such intelligent people trying to learn otherwise. Aside from just chalking it up to them "being silly or stubborn", do you have an approach as to what is driving them to learn the way they do in the face of what seems to be overwhelming evidence against them?

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    1. You are asking the crucial question. Indeed it has nothing to do with being silly or stubborn. In the case of the talmidim of R. Moshe Shapiro, it's because they draw a lot of their own self-esteem from being talmidim of a brilliant scholar, so they are naturally reluctant to acknowledge that he could be mistaken about anything. Likewise, I'm sure that they would studiously avoid even thinking about the video of him telling someone to beat a certain woman to death.

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    2. While that may be true for some, there are non-rationalists who are better than this.
      The main reason they deny the rationalist approach is that it is dangerous to religious continuity. Once we accept that chazal were just human beings and made many mistakes, people will begin to question and evaluate countless practices which seem to make no sense anymore. What keeps the system going is a mentality that chazal were working on a level far above what we could possibly imagine, and certainly beyond our critical eyes. Even learning Gemara (the main point of life in the non-rationalist view) becomes less meaningful when one admits that much of the gemara was just opinions created by some- even great- rabbis living hundreds of years ago, and not 'dvar Hashem' delivered to Moshe on Har Sinai.

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    3. RBS Friend, I am not so sure... Halakhah is law, not scientific determination. Something could be based in error, and as long as it's not a leniency that shouldn't exist, it could still be binding due to the legal standing of the one who made the statement.

      A constitutional amendment that was made in error is still American Law.

      Wouldn't the same be true of a Sanhedrin? Again, assuming the error makes you go beyond what would otherwise be required?

      The declaration makes the law, not finds it.

      It is for this reason I am not sure that statements about olives should change accepted practices about a kezayis. Common practice can create binding halachic precedent.

      Both the Gra and R AY Kook provide either a slightly different line of reasoning, or perhaps a philosophical motivation for the one I just gave.

      For every reason given for a law, there might well be numerous other motivations that we don't know of. (I would add, they could even have legislated based on a "feel" for the topic in ways they never articulated even to themselves.)

      So, when a scientific assumption of Chazal is proven wrong, we have to assume we may have only eliminated one reason among many. If the new finding implies stringency, we must be stringent. If the reality implies leniency, though, we cannot safely adopt a more lenient position as we cannot rule out their being other motivators behind the original ruling.

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    4. These are interesting theories, but speculative at best and I suspect it's somewhat of a projection of our own opinions. Have you ever actually asked any of them? I'm not referring to the "blind" followers, I mean the real leaders about whom we can all agree are highly intelligent

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    5. it's because they draw a lot of their own self-esteem from being talmidim of a brilliant scholar


      I don't know all these students of RMS, and certainly not what they're thinking inside, but my guess is a combination of some other factors.
      -The general notion of Daas Torah.
      -To borrow *very* loosely from a famous Rambam, "when a person sees amazing wisdom, he immediately loves the author of that wisdom." I'm not sure of the mechanism, perhaps we should compare the introduction to Eglei Tal's citation of a Rashi that מתוך תענוג בא לידי דביקות, and RAMHH's view that מצות לאו ליהנות ניתנו אבל תורה ליהנות ניתנה, שהמצוה ליהנות. So of course countless people will be in love with a brilliant Rav over his novellae, I can think of many such brilliant Rabbanim over the course of recent history, and among them, many will have a hard time absorbing that he made a spectacular error.
      -They are so absorbed into his way of thinking, that they "know" viscerally that he's right.
      -They're posturing, lest the "troublemaker" bring down the whole house.
      As to self-esteem, I think some of them are *humbled* when they think of him.

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  11. Why do you keep coming back to the well of R. Hirsch and R. Avraham ben HaRambam? Go read (or re-read) Marc Shapiro's The Limits of Orthodox Theology. There are many more Rishonim and Achronim who held the rational point of view.

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    1. Huh? He doesn't quote any sources relevant to this topic.

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    2. I think the lack of communication is because you don't present a clear definition of what you mean by "rationalism". To many, "rationalism" implies eschewing any list of dogma, as you should believe according to your reason, not by dictate. Perhaps RMS's collection of rishonim who questioned the iqarim (or, more often, questioned not the claims but their "iqar" status) is a list of rishonim who followed reason over dictate.

      You really need a post saying what you mean by the blog's title. It's LONG overdue.

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    3. The point is that you are unnecessarily limiting yourself. You keep returning to R. Hirsch and R. Avraham ben HaRambam (as did R. Leo Levi in his work of 30 years ago) for propositions that agaddos weren't meant literally or that chazal were not infallible in science. But those are just part of larger, rational positions these men held. And there have been countless Rishonim and Achronim who also held rationalist positions. By consistently referring to the same narrow few authors you make it seem as their opinions are mere outliers, when in fact it is part of a historic and well represented rationalist point of view. Perhaps a minority view, sure, but a large and significant minority.

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    4. But where does Marc Shapiro relate to rationalism in his book?

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    5. DF: The issue is not aggados in general, it is statements made about the natural world.

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    6. The whole book is filled with rationalist viewpoints. The eighth principle confronts readers with verses which a rational person would say clearly indicates post-Mosaic authorship, but traditional/mystical viewpoints hold otherwise. Dr. Shapiro's book lists many who held the rational point of view.
      Likewise, the 11th Principle. Will God actually reward and punish, or will this be accomplished merely by closer encounters to the divine? These are questions in which rationalists and mystics will part company, and they are all discussed in Shapiro's book.
      The key point is, as you learned in your doctoral studies, phenomenon have to be placed within their larger contexts.

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  12. With all due respect (and more), you unfortunately have no concept of humility. I mean NO concept. This has been the issue since the beginning. Part of the humility that Chazal so often remind us is integral to the absorption of Torah is the avoidance of belittling the earlier generations of talmidei chachamim and certainly Chazal. By "belittling" I mean not only the 1st definition of disparaging (see Merriam Webster), but also, and of equal importance, the second- to cause to seem little or less. Meaning, to focus on or to emphasize that which may reflect negatively, even in a subtle way, on their reputations. This is the mesorah (something for which you also seem to have little respect, at least in regards to the large cheilek without written sources) and it is one of the most beautiful aspects of our Torah. Natan, we (of the "chareidi" philosophy) do not all hate you, as you assume. But we do all pity you, for your obliviousness to the true nature of limud Torah, where intellect and emunah peshutah are fused together to penetrate the soul, unlike any experience, intellectual or otherwise. I have a feeling you (and likely most of the "academic" Torah scholars) have never engaged in this life-altering endeavor, or that it's been quite a while since you have. Natan, drop all the baggage, drop all the ga'avah, and come home. Come be mekabel the Torah with your nation, your family, the "ama pezizah" of legendary na'aseh v'nishma IRRATIONALITY. Come home.

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    1. Gosh, if I had a dollar for every time I heard this. And the person issuing such a charge is always unwilling to face up to some obvious questions.

      Is it a "lack of humility/ respect for Chazal" to say that they were mistaken in science? If that's a crime that I'm guilty of, then it's also a crime that scores of Rishonim and Acharonim are also guilty of.

      And that, in turn, means that you, dear Yid, are sorely lacking in your humility and respect with regard to these Rishonim and Acharonim.

      After all, saying that someone was lacking in their knowledge of 21st century science is not disrespectful. But you're claiming that these Torah authorities didn't even have the properly respectful understanding of Chazal.

      No wonder you prefer to remain anonymous.

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    2. Bro, can't you just be humble? Hmm... Where have I heard this before?

      Oh yeah, it was that antivax nutjob woman who was cursing you in your blog comments a few posts back.

      It's funny how these fascists always get on the "Be humble!" train, the "Show some humility and stop having opinions I don't accept!" train, whenever you express an opinion that strays from their controlling dogma. Of course it's only your lack of humility that prevents you from seeing things MY WAY. It can't possibly be anything else, certainly nothing that should ever cause me to rethink what I'm saying.

      It's MY WAY or the highway because that's really what humility is all about, and Wrongthink will be stamped out, one way or another! So close your eyes, let my right-think seep into your brain cells and turn off your critical thought processes because humility requires that everyone ADOPTS the way we say you must think... that's real davekus and emunas chochomim. I am the world's most humble, 2nd only to Moshe Rabenu, but he's not here anymore, so I'm the humblest of them all.

      Oh mirror mirror on the wall, who is the most humble of them all? Me! It's ME! Not you, "Natan!"

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    3. I think that this commenter's remarks provide some answer to Raymond's question above. Perhaps not a reason (which is what Raymond was looking for) but the emotional side.

      Um, Mr. A Yid? Did you read my comment above (responding to the first comment, timestamped June 6, 2019 at 5:53 PM)? Please read that. You might disagree with the position, but you have to allow for the validity of its existence.

      And while R' Slifkin did not mention this here, we all know that he WAS in the yeshivish-chareidi world for the first part of his life and so probably did experience limud HaTorah in a "pure" form.

      Of course, the idea that emuna peshuta and intellect go together in any way is hilarious given that EP is (I thought) supposed to be the faith that the uneducated have. (Of course, I humbly admit my incomplete knowledge of all aspects of Jewish philosophy and so will back off of this if there are other interpretations of this phrase.)

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    4. It's also interesting how this "Torah True Yid", who fancies himself an expert on how to approach Torah, has no actual response regarding the dozens of Rishonim and Acharonim that I referred to in this post.

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    5. RNS, if instead of having a dollar every time you heard it you would think about it without preconceived ridicule and dismissal, you would be a truly wealthy man indeed, as in happy with your lot instead of bitter and hateful. BTW, I don't fancy myself an expert in anything, but I do have a mesorah from undeniably wise and humble men on how to approach Torah, and yes, it does exclude SOME alternative systems of thought (as does any actual system). As for my anonymity, though it is always appealing to "opponents" to chalk up to cowardice, I hope you can agree that there are instances where it is simply a smart decision (if you are rolling your eyes, just be aware that I don't deeply care if you understand or not, so save the sarcasm for a better time). In any event, I wish you an enjoyable and meaningful chag.

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    6. "but I do have a mesorah from undeniably wise and humble men on how to approach Torah, and yes, it does exclude SOME alternative systems of thought."

      Pray tell us how your mesorah tells you how to approach Pesachim 94b and all the Rishonim and Acharonim on it.

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    7. natan,
      in several comments over the course of this discussion you keep returning to the same point, namely that the way this gemara is taught in yeshivot ignores the fact that "all of the rishonim and achronim" understood chazal to be referring to physical matters.
      but that is exactly the issue in contention. traditionally the way this gemara is understood in the light of the mefarshim (both early and late) is that it refers to metaphysics. again, in context it is almost impossible to read the gemara any other way. you are alleging that the mefarshim agree with you, but everyone who disagrees with you thinks that the mefarshim agree with them. you can't prove your point by repeatedly arguing your point, just saying the mefarshim think that this is discussing physics rather than metaphysics, doesn't make it so.
      the only point discussed in it's literal sense is rebbee's argument from the relative temperature of spring water compared to the surrounding environment, and that's only because it has practical halachik relevance. other than that, most people understand the meforshim to interpret the discussion to be one of metaphysics.
      in general the messora is that the gemara was carefully edited, and there are no secular conversations included. therefore any agadita that was retained must be referring to a torah matter, regardless of the external metaphor that was used. in the case of this gemara, it doesn't really require a messora, as the context makes it obvious that it is a metaphysical discussion. again, you can't appeal to the meforshim, as that is the very issue under contention.

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    8. "traditionally the way this gemara is understood in the light of the mefarshim (both early and late) is that it refers to metaphysics." Nope. That is how the Gemara is understood in light of Maharal.
      If you look at those who understand the Gemara in light of the Rishonim (and numerous Acharonim), they explain it exactly as I do.

      The Mefarshim are 100% clear. I invite you to address the Maharam Shick that I quoted, and explain how he is actually saying like Maharal that Chazal did not actually mistakenly believe that the sun is going behind the sky at night.
      Also, please use a pseudonym, if you're not going to use your real name.

      "in general the messora is that the gemara was carefully edited, and there are no secular conversations included." You realize that you are engaged in circular reasoning? This is only the mesorah according to those who completely disregard the Rishonim and numerous Acharonim. It's not my mesorah.

      " again, you can't appeal to the meforshim, as that is the very issue under contention."
      Great. So go through the Meforshim, starting with Maharam Schick.

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  13. Proud of you slifkin. You withheld from getting feisty.

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  14. The Maharam Schick, as well as nearly all the sources that you cite in support, do nothing to prove your point. It is very common for a passage to be explained at a material level, while simultaneously containing a deeper understanding as well. In one paragraph of Maharam Schick (that you conveniently leave out while citing him in your monograph), he leaves open this possibility, and expressly states that there are different dimensions of creation.

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    1. Instead of waffling about "deeper understandings," just answer this: Did Maharam Schick believe that the Chachmai Yisrael mistakenly believed that the sun goes behind the sky at night?
      (By the way, feel free to cite the actual text of the paragraph that you feel indicates otherwise)

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    2. Here's the link:
      http://hebrewbooks.org/pdfpager.aspx?req=1494&st=&pgnum=260&hilite=

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  15. This seems to be typical - you cite sources in Rishonim as evidence, but when we look there for study, the evidence is not there, merely your own assertion. This one is not nearly as egregious as your previous post, where you claim that Rambam denies the Torah exists before creation. Upon analysis, we see that your claim is based upon nothing but Menachem Kellner's assertions, misrepresenting a passage in Moreh Nevochim (as he does in all his writings) to support his bizarre and novel claims. He can get away with it, because his secular audience doesn't know how to learn one page of Gemara, but your readers might actually choose to study the sources.
    By the way, you neglect to mention the writings of R Yitzchak Chaver, who explains at great length how the metaphysical explanation of this passage can be understood in conjunction with a more rational perspective - the contradiction between the two is your own invention.

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    1. Here is the full text of Maharam Schick:

      Regarding the question concerning what is written in Tosafot, Berachot 2b, s.v. “dilma,” in Rashi, Pesachim 93b, s.v. “mei’alot hashachar,” and in several other places, that the sun enters into the thickness of the firmament [at night]—which contradicts the conclusion of the Gemara on Pesachim 94b, where Rebbi says, “Their view (that the sun travels beneath the earth at night) appears more correct (nir’in) than our own”; and where the word nir’in is used, Tosafot on Eruvin 46b, s.v. “Rabbi Eliezer etc.” writes that we rule accordingly, and the Rosh, in Chapter Kol Sha’ah, and the Tur and Beit Yosef (Orach Chaim 455) concur, as they quote from Rabbi Eliezer of Metz that the sun travels beneath the earth at night, and we therefore knead matzah dough only with water that has sat at least one night since being drawn. Even more perplexing (than Rashi and Tosafot’s contradiction to the Gemara’s conclusion) is the statement established in the Shabbat prayers: “He who opens daily the doors of the gates of the east and breaches the windows of the sky; He brings the sun out from its place, and the moon from its resting-place, and illuminates the world”—which implicitly concurs with the view that the sun enters the thickness of the firmament at night.
      It seems to me that matters that were not received by the Sages as halachah leMoshe miSinai, but rather which they said according to their own reasoning—and with something that is not received [from Sinai] and has no root in our Torah, but rather comes from investigation and experience, it is difficult to determine [that it is true]. And there are many occasions when the sages determined, according to their own intellects, that a matter was a certain way, and the subsequent generation analyzed the matter further and disputed the earlier view. Any conclusion drawn from experimentation can only be considered probable, [not certain]. Indeed, in the dispute on Pesachim 94b, Rebbi said that the gentile sages’ view appeared more correct, but he did not express certainty; for a matter like this, which is investigated only by finding evidence [of one view or the other], cannot be resolved with certainty. In truth, according to the reading of the Gemara found in The Guide for the Perplexed, the Jewish sages recanted their position; but according to our reading, Rebbi said only that the gentile sages’ view appears more correct...
      Regarding the fundamental issue: the text of the [Shabbat] prayer quoted above has already been questioned in Sefer HaBrit, ma’amar 4 – Shnei Me’orot, Chap. 20, where he explains that it is the poetic style to describe things based on how they appear to the human observer [as opposed to how they really happen]. Regardless, in our Gemara it is not decided one way or the other, and we must therefore observe the stringencies resultant from each view. Therefore with regard to water passing the night we implement the stringency resulting from the gentile scholars’ view; while Rashi and Tosafot described the sun’s movement according to the Jewish sages of the time of the dispute in the Talmud. Although scientists now agree—and it is apparent to the eye and by experimentation—that the sun travels below the earth at night, the Shabbat prayer describes it based on how it appears to us...

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    2. I am ready and waiting for you to demonstrate how this is perfectly harmonious with Maharal's claim that Chazal certainly did not believe that the sun goes behind the sky at night.

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  16. Your citation of Maharam Schick is incomplete. Perhaps you are lifting this only from a secondary source (a very common flaw in modern academia). In the original, which is Even HaEzer 7, he discusses at length the position of Ramban in Breishis, and the Ramban's view of creation, and how the apparent contradictions between the Talmid and our Sabbath morning prayers can be reconciled - taking into full consideration the 'mystical' perspective of Ramban. Your citation leaves that out, though you insist you have cited the full text.

    It seems that there is good reason why the disciples of Rav Moshe Shapira do not take seriously any of your radical claims, nor do they believe that the position of the Rishonim supports your readings.

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    1. You are correct, I didn't cite the full text, I just cut-and-pasted the citation. But his discussion there to which you refer has nothing to do with Chazal actually bring correct! On the contrary - he says that this supports the view of the Chachmei Umos Ha-Olam!

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    2. Here's the link, for anyone who wants to check:
      http://hebrewbooks.org/pdfpager.aspx?req=1494&st=&pgnum=260&hilite=

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    3. His claim is that the various texts from the tefillah can perhaps be justified by saying that they are in reference to the state before the Fourth Day of Creation. But that with regard to the present situation (which is what the dispute in Pesachim is about), the Chachmei Umos Ha-Olam were correct.

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    4. In other words, Walter, according to your claim, Maharam Schick shouldn't have had to write anything about how Chazal's view was not based on Sinaitic tradition and was just based on fallible human speculation. He could just have said that Chazal were speaking about a "deeper meaning" based on the pre-Fourth Day state! But he didn't.

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  17. It's obvious that people such as Walter are not actually reflecting the true approach of Rav Moshe Shapira. After all, if Rav Moshe took Walter's approach, he wouldn't have needed to dismiss the letters of Rabbeinu Avraham ben HaRambam and Rav Hirsch as forgeries/ not from our Beis HaMidrash, he would have said that they were only saying that Chazal *appeared* to be wrong, but that they were actually correct.

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  18. Why create this letter now, all of a sudden? You completed this study on Pesachim years ago.

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    1. Rabbi Dr. Slifkin is trying to drum up interest in his forthcoming book on this topic, obviously. He can't let the issue drop - only a controversy will keep him relevant. It's not as if Gemara students come to him to teach them how to learn Tosafos, or for a peshat inrebbe Akiva Eiger.

      His efforts are sort of like the Reform movement, to whom no one in the USA pays any attention without a press release. They focus their efforts towards generating controversy in Israel - where at least Judaism is on people's minds, and their heresy becomes a rallying point.

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HaRav HaRasha, Shlita

Back in 2005, Rav Aharon Feldman wrote that the ban on my books was "probably the public issue most damaging to the honor of Torah and ...