Tuesday, June 11, 2019

The Perfect Solution for Un-Banning My Books!

In the previous post, I threw out a pretty strong challenge. The charedi gedolei Torah who had banned my books, in particular Rav Moshe Shapira, had claimed that it was heretical to claim that Chazal made mistaken statements about the natural world. Rav Moshe Shapira adopted the approach of Maharal that Chazal were never making statements about the natural word, and were always speaking about "deeper" matters. I pointed out that the crucial passage in the Gemara is where the Sages of Israel state that the sun goes behind the sky at night (and R. Yehudah HaNasi notes that they were mistaken), with which all the Rishonim and plenty of Acharonim state that this is indeed speaking about astronomy, making no mention of "deeper" matters.

Now, when you push people into an intellectual corner, rarely do they respond by acknowledging error, especially not with regard to a revered leader. While I'm still waiting for a response from the various disciples of R. Moshe Shapira that I sent my email to, here on the website there were some interesting responses. Of course, none of them attempted to actually discuss the various sources from the Rishonim and Acharonim that I cited. Instead, they made nebulous claims about how I am deeply mistaken.

But how could I be deeply mistaken, if so many Rishonim and Acharonim indeed explain the Gemara as referring to a mistake about cosmology? The answer that they gave was that of course the Gedolim were in line with these Rishonim and Acharonim. For these Rishonim and Acharonim were only explaining the superficial meaning of the Gemara, but of course they also believed that it has a deeper meaning in which Chazal were not mistaken!

Now, this response is, to put it plainly, ridiculous.

It would be the greatest ever example of ikkar chasser min hasefer - the main point would be missing. If there was a "deeper level" at which the Sages were correct, and it is so heretical to think otherwise, why wouldn't any of these authorities mention that?! Instead, they write about how the Sages were indeed mistaken, and that's fine. Here is a longer citation from 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...
(He proceeds to explain how according to Ramban, the luminaries were originally suspended in the firmament and only on the Fourth Day of creation were set in motion around the world, and that the texts of the prayers perhaps refer to the pre-Fourth Day state.)
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... (Responsa Maharam Schick, Even ha-Ezer, Responsum #7)
It's nothing less than absurd to claim that Maharam Schick maintains that Chazal were correct at a "deeper level." With Maharam Schick, this is particularly ridiculous, because his whole responsum is addressing the problem of texts which refer to the sun entering the thickness of the firmament. If he believed that this is indeed true on a "deeper level," he could have justified Chazal's statements that way! The same goes for all the other Rishonim and Acharonim.

But let's go along with this absurdity for a moment. That even though Maharam Schick says nothing about there being a "deeper meaning," even though it would have helped answer his question, he really maintained that there was one. And even though he explains at length how they made a mistake in astronomy, how this was not something received at Sinai but was simply based on their own fallible reckoning, he doesn't really mean that it was just a mistake. Okay!

So why not say the same about my own writings?! Just say that even though Slifkin's books explained that Chazal mistakenly believed that the sun goes behind the sky at night, and that salamanders and mice spontaneously generate, and made no mention of there being a deeper level at which they were correct, of course he also believes in that! Why was there any assumption that my books were heretical?!

It's the perfect solution for un-banning my books! And we now have a great license for saying that Chazal were mistaken in science! We can say that it wasn't things that they received at Sinai, that it was based on their own speculation, and that science has proved it wrong. But don't worry, we're not denying (and we don't even need to say anything about) a mysterious nebulous metaphysical level at which it's correct!

57 comments:

  1. Rav Moshe Shapira's talmidim follow their rebbe in being incredibly creative in interpreting texts. They can make anyone say anything. I'm waiting for them to explain how they reconcile Rav Moshe saying that the old woman in Shaarei Chesed was a tzadekes and that he has no blame for anything that happened to her, with the video of him telling his followers to beat her to death because she's masterminding a pedophilia cult and the police won't do anything.

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  2. First you cite as strong evidence the responsum of Maharam Schick that the Gemara supposedly has no deeper meaning and challenge others to respond. After it is pointed out that you neglected to cite an important section of his repsonsum, where he explains that there are indeed deeper aspects to this Sugya, and he accepts as well the 'mystical' explanation of Ramban in Maaseh Breishis, you now backtrack and want us to believe that it is your own reading of Maharam Schick that is absolute, because one would expect that he should have written the Teshuva differently. From absolute proof we have now receded to merely your own self-serving interpretations, while others will understand the Teshuva differently. This is not called evidence. It works on the internet when speaking from your pulpit and presenting sources to those who don't know the subject matter, but it is no wonder why the Talmidim of Rav Moshe Shapira (or anyone else) won't even bother with a detailed response.

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    1. He does not give a deeper meaning to this sugya! That paragraph is entirely irrelevant to the discussion, which is why I originally omitted it. He just says that the texts from the tefilla might be referring to the pre-Fourth Day state. He does not say anything about this being the view of Chazal in Pesachim. In fact, he makes it very clear that this was NOT the view of Chazal in Pesachim. According to your creative reinterpretation, the ENTIRE second and final paragraphs of Maharam Schick are not only unnecessary, but also false and entirely misleading.
      Nobody beyond a few die-hard fans of Rav Moshe Shapira, convinced that he was infallible and consistent with all previous Torah scholarship, will ever understand Maharam Shick in accordance with your claim.

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    2. Pray tell us, Walter, what you believe to be the correct take on this paragraph:

      "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]..."

      Do you believe that this is something that Maharam Shick then backtracks from?

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  3. Simple conclusion - the charedi gedolei haTorah are ignorsmuses. I wouldn’t care except that have some kind of hold over people’s thinking and worse they influence politics. They put stumbling blocks in front of the blind! Still, mainstream ‘orthodoxy’ refused to a) give up its own cherished nonsensevand b) failed to see the threat from charedi leaders. Only solution is to consign much of rabbinic Judaism to history and for the people to move on to a new era (we had era of patriarchs, kings, prophets, exilarchs, talmudists, rabbis etc)

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  4. 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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    1. Thank you for your explanation of what Rav Moshe Shapira should have said. Perhaps he did say that, but many of his teachings may not have made it to the internet blogs.

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  5. Let's see: You have decided that a large section of the Teshuva is irrelevant. The text from the Tefila that he is referring to is 'בוקע חלוני רקיע' - which you have also determined is insignificant in this context. Maharam Schick, however, does deem the matter to be relevant. This is because the two perspectives (the Talmud and the Tefila) seem to be contradictory.

    Many commentators here (and in real life) have tried to explain that a rational perspective and a 'deeper'perspective can both be true. Not every text has to be an expression of both, especially in a discussion like this Gemara regarding the non-Jewish world. Despite your assrtion and selective citation, Maharam Schick merely corroborates this.

    Let us summarize. The Maharam Schick is supposedly evidence to your idea that Chazal refer only to natural science, and can be mistaken. Hence, your claim that Chazal can make mistakes in science is justfied, and therefore everyone was mistaken in banning your books.

    Now, let us work backwards and see if your argument is justified. No, it is not true that your boooks were banned merely because of that claim. Your books were banned because your approach to Torah - and your understanding of life and creation - cannot be approved as a valid and authentic expression of the Torah, and the public should be notified accordingly. The idea that Chazal may be mistaken is merely one example of this, but careful readers of your work of the past fifteen years can cite numerous others.

    Unable to accept this judgment, you then invent a new dichotomy - two separate Judaisms, which no other Torah scholar in history had yet to notice. The traditional point of view is that many of the apparent disputes that you cite are merely different expressions of varying persoectives, and can be reconciled when recognizing the inner core of Torah. Both the mystics of kabbalah and the Moreh Nevochim are accepted as authoritative. Yet, insisting that you were called out only for writing that Chazal can discuss mistaken science, you cite the Gemara in Pesachim, and the Maharam Schick's explanation.
    However, upon firsthand and further study of what Maharam Schick actualy writes, we see that in the same responsum that you cite as evidence, he actually cites with authority both the Rambam in Moreh Nevochim and the Ramban in Maaseh Breishis, indicating precisly what others have told you - both persepctives exist simultaneously, and not as you claim: that the two perspectives are in staunch opposition.

    In other words, your years of work is nothing but a house of cards. It will play well with Menachem Kellner or at an academic conferfence, and will win you accolades among the cynics and scoffers, but not among those who value traditional learning and have respect for Maharal, Gra, Ramchal and yes, even Rav Moshe Shapira.

    Maybe it is time to move on.

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    1. How on earth does the fact of Maharam Schick approval of a single comment of Ramban show that there is no dichotomy between rationalism and mysticism?!

      In any case, we see that Maharam Shick opposes Maharal's (and Rav Moshe Shapiro's) view. Maharal insists that Chazal did not believe that the sun goes behind the sky at night. Maharam Shick says very clearly that they did mistakenly believe this, and explains how they came to make such a mistake.

      The only house of cards here is your claim that everyone is harmonious, when it is abundantly clear that there are radically different approaches to this sugya.

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    2. I invite you again to tell us, Walter, what you believe to be the correct take on this paragraph:

      "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]..."

      Do you believe that this is something that Maharam Shick then backtracks from?

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    3. "Maharam Schick, however, does deem the matter to be relevant. This is because the two perspectives (the Talmud and the Tefila) seem to be contradictory."
      Right - and his resolution is that either the Tefila is referring to the pre-Bereishis state, or that the Tefila is going according to visual perception. Not that the Talmud does not actually mean what it says!

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    4. "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]..."

      That sounds like something Rabbi Meiselman wrote in his book - and it is idea that you have mocked repeatedly.

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    5. Well, that's because in the 21st century, it's ridiculous to make that claim about things such as the antiquity of the universe. But in the 19th century, it was a reasonable claim for a non-specialist to make. But I don't understand what you're getting at here - are you claiming that it's indeed unclear whether or not the sun goes behind the sky at night?

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    6. I invite you again to tell us, Walter, what you believe to be the correct take on this paragraph:

      "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]..."

      Do you believe that this is something that Maharam Shick then backtracks from?

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  6. Did you actually read the quote you bring there? He is your nemesis. He does not believe in the empirical method at all, and he makes that quite clear. According to the Maharam Shick, it is still possible that the sun goes above the firmament at night, nobody disproved that, according to him.

    Selective quoting indeed!

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    1. Not at all. He makes a general statement about the limitations of science (quite reasonable for a non-scientist writing in the 19th century), but later says that in this case it is actually clear - "Although scientists now agree—and it is apparent to the eye and by experimentation—that the sun travels below the earth at night..."

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    2. No, he makes a statement about the limitations of experimenting. You think that science means the empirical method and have jumped to all science, he does not.
      'apparent' does not mean true or proven, in his language.
      And he has not conceded the point about the universe at all.

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    3. By the 19th century, it was common knowledge that the sun is always visible from some point on Earth. There is no way that anyone would believe that the sun goes behind a firmament at night. The Maharam Shick may or may not have been ignorant of science in general (I don't know), but he wasn't an idiot.

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  7. At this point, are you assuming that everyone has forgotten your original assertion? It is you who cited the Maharam Schick as your strongest proof, while others claimed that it is merely your own reading. This argument only underlines that.

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    1. I invite you again to tell us, Walter, what you believe to be the correct take on this paragraph:

      "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]..."

      Do you believe that this is something that Maharam Shick then backtracks from?

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    2. If you insist.

      The actual words of the text are "קשה להכריע". This decidedly should not be translated as you do: "it is difficult to determine [that it is true]..."

      It seems that you are adept at making subtle changes to the cited text that lead the reader in the direction you want.

      הכרעה is a concept that is most relevant in regards to learning Gemara, and it means weighing conflicting viewpoints and perspectives and deciding which side is preponderant. It is how Halacha is determined.

      This passage does not decisively say what you claim it does, but it is difficult in this venue to teach you how to learn, and I doubt that you spend too much time these days in a traditional Beis Medrash. Perhaps ask one of the disciples of Rav Moshe Shapira to explain it to you (anonymously, of course, so that they won't be subject to the same public shaming of all those who dare to disagree with you)

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    3. You seem to have a lot of time to comment here. Perhaps you can just simply explain how Maharam Schick is not saying what he very clearly seems to be saying.

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    4. "(anonymously, of course, so that they won't be subject to the same public shaming of all those who dare to disagree with you)"
      People are only shamed by what they say. I've never felt shamed by someone quoting me (except with regard to my writings from long ago).

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    5. In your case, you've shamed yourself by making endless comments but meanwhile never actually addressing what Maharam Shick says.

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    6. As I have pointed out, your own presentation of Maharam Schick is dishonest and misleading. First, you deleted a central passage in the Teshuva, and then you are loose with the translations so as to make his teaching more in line with your assertions, so an intellectually open, unbiased and respectful discussion is not possible. I wish you a refuah shleima.

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    7. I was quite happy to introduce that passage, and if you'd like to give more accurate translations, go ahead. The absolute plain meaning of Maharam Schick, obvious to everyone, is that he is saying that Chazal were wrong, because it wasn't something that they'd received from Sinai. If you have an alternate reading, go ahead and present it. Otherwise, it's obvious that you're just posturing, with nothing to back up your grandiose claims.

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    8. The actual words of the text are "קשה להכריע". This decidedly should not be translated as you do: "it is difficult to determine [that it is true]..."

      Rabbi Slifkin's translation is practically perfect. I don't know that a different translation would any better capture the meaning of the words. And I can't help but note that you do not offer any alternatives. You don't even explain why it should not be translated that way.

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    9. "determine that it is true" implies that the הכרעה is a decision to decide what is true and what is false. This is imprecise and creates a false impression.

      Rather, הכרעה in this context actually means the ability to give preponderance to one alternative among diverse perspectives, where each opinion is true in a certain sense. However, since human beings must behave in a certain defined way, a determination must be made, and halacha requires that we choose between those alternatives. The הכרעה is not implying that the other alternative is not true.

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    10. 'to determine that it is true' implies that we are judging it to be true or false. הכרעה is the ability to decide between two alternatives, each reflecting a different perspective, where it is very likely that both are correct in some way. Still, as the hanhaga must follow only one path, the Halacha demands that we be מכריע, which is to give preponderance to one side, which is not the same as declaring this to be 'true' while the alternative is 'false'. The same term is used with weights and balance. This is a different connotation than the translation provided here.

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    11. "determine that it is true" implies that the הכרעה is a decision to decide what is true and what is false.

      Incorrectly quoting also gives a false impression, so you should stop doing it.

      הכרעה is (the act of) determination. The context in which it is used gives semantic meaning to the determination being made. In הלכה, it is not always clear which opinion is correct, so a פוסק will be מכריע based on the available information and the specific situation placed before him. However, when judging the nature of reality, being מכריע means weighing the evidence and determining which explanation is more likely correct. In הלכה, there may be no objectively correct answer. In nature, there is only one right answer, also known as the truth.

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    12. As RNS made clear in his article, Maharam Shick could have simply dealt with the conflicting approaches (Tosfos in Berachot 2b and Rashi in Pesachim 93b, both of which go against the gemara in Pesachim 94b) by simply stating that Pesachim 94b was dealing with allegory/meshalim/metaphysics, as the Maharal does. The fact that the Maharam Shick doesn't even attempt this approach demonstrates that he views the gemara in Pesachim as a literal discussion, in his own words, about "chakirat ha'teva".

      Regarding the line about "kasheh l'hachria":
      It seems undoubtedly clear that what he is saying is that "matters that are outside the realm of Torah and come from svara alone are difficult to conclude upon (kasheh l'hachria) when it comes to making Torah-related decisions ("mayim shelanu")" He then goes on to say (with the same word "hichriyu") that whenever chazal make conclusions based on svara they can easily be disregarded in a later generation that may know more than them. It is for this very reason that he says that Tosfos (in Berachos 2b) and Rashi (Pesachim 93b) do not conclude according to the conclusion of the gemara in Pesachim 94b.
      @Walter, IMHO your point that "each reflecting a different perspective, where it is very likely that both are correct in some way" is far-fetched and is a desperate attempt to say that even when something is objectively false it can still be true. Indeed, if the debate in Pesachim 94b between chazal and chachmei umot was concerning a halachic matter, then you may have a a point (which would still not be unanimous). But the Maharam Shick makes it clear that Pesachim 94b is not a halachic discussion, and it is objectively discussing the objective reality of the world ("chakirat ha'teva").

      The paragraph about the Ramban indeed IS NOT a critical point and in no way is something that RNS was trying to be sneaky about. After solving the dilemma of the Rashi and Tosfos, Maharam Shick brought in the Ramban to solve his other dilemma about the zmirot Shabbat, which the Maharam Shick ultimately solves in the same way he did for the Rashi and Tosfos.

      While the Maharam Shick concludes that the gemara in Pesachim 94b is not a conclusive one, he states explicitly that the current scientific reality follows the chachmei umot ha'olam, but we nevertheless pasken against it (the psak is in relation to the song on Shabbat). Again, he makes no mention of chazal discussing metaphysical matters; he is in fact saying the opposite.

      What I feel hasn't been stressed is the very last line of the Maharam Shick. After his beautifully engineered approach to solve Rashi and Tosfos, he himself gives his own opinion ("v'ani mefaresh") about the "contradiction" in the zmirah. He states that the meaning of the song has something to do with angels, and therefore doesn't conflict with Pesachim 94b. In essence, the Maharam Shick likely views the gemara in Pesachim 94b as absolute and conclusive, thereby supporting the opinion of chachmei umot ha'olam that he (Maharam Shick) says is the absolute reality ("hiskimu ha'mechakrim v'gam nireh kein b'ein")

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  8. You missed the obvious charedi response to your suggestion: earlier generations were greater than us, so it's possible that they meant something they didn't say, but you're not great enough for people to make those claims about you.

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    1. How embarrassing that the "obvious charedi response" is one devoid of any attempt to thoughtfully engage in a topic uncomfortable to them

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    2. They (He) could say it; we can't.

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  9. Even though Rav Moshe Shapira said to ban your books on a deeper level he really meant that they are correct and should be studied in depth

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    1. You realize of course one day your children will read or have read to them all your posts and comments

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    2. Zev, is this a promise? But why do I get the feeling no one wants you reading bedtime stories to kids...

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    3. Ouch! Zing! You really got me there!

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  10. Who will be publishing your book?

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  11. R' Natan, I'm not sure why you continue to pre-occupy yourself with those who are banging their heads against the wall. Do you think that those that you have not managed to convince until now will suddenly give in to logic after the 100th time they have heard it?

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  12. Rav Schick:

    "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."

    Rav Slifkin:

    "Yehudah HaNasi notes that they were mistaken."


    These are very different points of view. Rav Schick states that certain statements based on science are not possible. RNS sounds like the complete opposite.

    And sorry to say, but it seems to me that it is to late to lift the ban on your books, because it was signed also by e.g. Rav Elyashiv.

    According to the non-mystical point of view there is not a very big chance that he will lift the ban. That means you would have to find somebody, saying that Rav Elyashiv, was wrong here.

    The method of the Ramchal after his ban was, not to talk about his previous books anymore, but to publish new ones which were more acceptable to the Gedolim of his time. The outcome were books like Derech Hashem and Mesilat Yasharim ;-)

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    1. 1. Later, Rav Shick says that in this case, " scientists now agree—and it is apparent to the eye and by experimentation—that the sun travels below the earth at night." I think he was pretty certain that the sun goes below the earth at night, and not behind the sky.

      2. I was joking about lifting the ban. I'm happy that my books were banned. It helps people make more informed decisions about whether to affiliate with the charedi community.

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  13. Keep in mind that observation is not the same as experimentation. One can sense, record, and analyze information about things and events in the world. One can do the statistics. All without the artificial planning and staging needed for an experiment. Experiments do have an important use in probing and understanding a system, but not all science requires them.

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    1. @RAM

      The Maharam Shick insinuates exactly that. He says that even though the objective absolute reality is like the secular scholars, the halachic decision making process (in this instance, at least) goes according to what mankind views from his mind's eye.

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    2. Note, though, that observation can include far more than observation by the naked eye. Observation using instruments and calculations based on that are part of science. However, it's tricky to try to draw basic halachic conclusions from methods of observation that previous generations lacked. One could say that halachic conclusions drawn in the past hit the mark (because of hashgacha) even when the best tools for observation were unavailable.

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  14. It's relevant to quote this extract from an old post:

    A reader directed me to this interesting journal entry of an avreich in a kollel of which Rav Moshe Shapiro is the nasi. The kollel was studying the Gemara which speaks of there being two channels in the male genital organ, one for urine and one for semen (whereas in fact there is only one channel). Chazon Ish responded by claiming that nishtaneh hateva, people have evolved. Rav Moshe Shapiro disputed this and also vehemently objected to the notion that any Torah scholar could ever have been mistaken about the physical reality. Instead, he adopted a Maharal-style approach (though the Maharal never, to my knowledge, explicitly applied his approach to halachic topics) in which the Gemara is talking about the metaphysical reality.

    This radical approach took the kollel by surprise. The Rosh Kollel apparently realized the astounding ramifications of such an approach - בסופו של הדיון אמר ראש הכולל שהוא חש אבוד ונבוך בשאלות המעשיות הנובעות מהגישה של רבי משה ואינו יודע כיצד להתקדם. After all, if one refuses to acknowledge that Chazal possessed incomplete knowledge of the natural world, and one refuses to say nishtaneh hateva, then what does one do with, for example, the Gemara which says that one can violate Shabbos to save the life of a fetus born after seven months, but not one born after eight months?

    (Incidentally, the claim that "no intelligent person could ever have been mistaken about the number of channels in the male genital organ" is anachronistic. My friend Rabbi Dr. Edward Reichman has an excellent discussion of this topic in his article, "The Rabbinic Conception of Conception: An Exercise in Fertility." Misunderstandings about the number of channels in the male genital organ were widespread in earlier eras; even Leonardo da Vinci, in his careful illustrations, got it wrong. And great people did, and still do, make errors in matters that should be easily verifiable, such as the number of teeth that people have.)

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  15. This sort of approach will not work. Your approach will succeed by developing are more compelling and fulfilling form of Judaism. Not by persuading others that their path is flawed.

    I'll suggest you more formally create a group of thought leaders to further fill out some key elements that a rational approach must answer: how do we understand the Halacha and minhag rationally? How do we interpret the Bible from a rational perspective? What is God and Providence when we do not believe in miracles?

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  16. This is frankly astounding. It reminds me of the absurd controversy in the Mormon religion (lehavdil) regarding the “Book of Abraham”, a forgery by Mormonism’s founder Joseph Smith.

    In short, in the 1830s Smith bought some random papyrus fragments from a traveling mummy exhibition (popular in those days, apparently) and claimed he was able to translate them as records written by Avraham Avinu himself while he was in Egypt. Naturally, his church canonized his translation as scripture.

    Well, as you might expect, it wasn’t too long before professional, academic Egyptologists got a look at the papyri, which they were able to easily translate as generic Egyptian funerary texts having nothing to do with Abraham or anything else that Smith claimed they said.

    This fact has not, of course, prevented Mormon apologists from twisting themselves into rhetorical pretzels for almost 150 years to defend their prophet’s “translation”, including the assertion that Smith’s work was never meant to be a literal translation of the actual texts written on the papyri (I mean, seriously, why would anyone think that?) but rather that “revelation” enabled him to produce a spiritual “translation” of the papyri’s “deeper meanings” completely divorced from what was actually written. Sound familiar?

    A Mormon position paper on the subject contains this gem: “‘The veracity and value of the book of Abraham cannot be settled by scholarly debate concerning the book's translation and historicity.’ Rather, the truth of the book is sought in ways that cannot be verified externally, relying exclusively upon traditional faith: ‘a careful study of its teachings, sincere prayer, and the confirmation of the Spirit.’”

    The similarity between this narishkeit and what is being claimed by these ostensibly Orthodox Jews about “secret meanings” in the writings of the rishonim/acharonim is more than a little unsettling.

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  17. בן בג בג אומר, הפך בה והפך בה, דכולה בה.

    It must be dizzying to live in a world where convoluted reason on top of convoluted reason is needed to explain away the most simple of matters. Avraham Avinu’s rigorous application of Occam’s Razor shattered the avodah zara of his time while the promoters of the infallibility of Chazal regrettably reverse all that he achieved. It must be how Copernicus felt trying to rationalize hundreds of illogical epicycles when a heliocentric universe made them all break away like Abraham’s unforgiving hammer (yes, I know, the rabbis always knew the solar system was heliocentric and spoke of a geocentric world in metaphysical terms only).

    Adherents to the notion of the infallibility of Chazal have placed themselves in this absurd corner. If the source of all rabbinic knowledge is torah and torah is true then rabbis can never be wrong and apologetics, to be mild about it, will always be needed with layers upon layers of gesticulated clarifications to hold up this bandaid and bubblegum edifice. But if the source of rabbinic knowledge is both torah and otherwise, then what’s the issue when there is an error? Periodically, halacha reverses positions over time with more information, without impugning prior generations. Rabbis changing views has historically not been an issue. What has been a source of consternation is managing the masses once they get their hands on alternative views and sources.

    Daas Torah in its current guise is a convenient invention to solve this problem but at the cost of respectable rabbis looking like fools. It’s just amazing how we pride ourselves on logic as a people and fail to apply it on this issue as the revisionists rework our own intellectual history to keep people frum. To Rav Slifkin’s point - Rishonim and early Acharonim didn’t bat an eye to these errors in the gemaras cited because there was no agenda. But with the need to control a certain subset of the masses, we find that while David HaMelech can say “chatati” there are those that refuse to countenance Chazal ever being wrong, which IMHO, is more offensive to the legacies attempting to be preserved than the so called errors themselves.

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    1. some say that copernicus had more epicycles than ptolemy
      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nicolaus_Copernicus

      (As Copernicus still maintained the idea of perfectly spherical orbits, he relied on epicycles.)

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    2. The funny thing is that modern computation can allow one to quickly describe all planetary motions using the "epicycle method." Great computational power can make achieving the most elegant solution a low practical priority.

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    3. Until the discovery of the ellipticsl orbits of the planets in terms of making actual calculations for celestial events the Ptolemaic system gave better results. While the Maharal was big on allegorizing something the Rambam believed in doing with Aggadatas and contemplated putting his explanations in one book, the Maharal actually wrote down his allegorizations of them. However since he believed that with the calendar the sun revolving around the earth was revealed to Moshe so he sided with the Ptolemaic theory. He was however friends with Kepler and Tycho Brahe and in Prague they point to where they say the Maharal looked through his telescope.

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  18. "In his commentary to the Mishna, Rambam describes the great power of the human mind to make decisions, a man must use his own mind, do not denigrate your own intelligence."

    Does anyone know that citation for this? Thanks.

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