Tuesday, February 23, 2021

Posturers vs. Rebbi

this link

It's D-Day! Today is the day when Daf Yomi reaches the single most fundamental topic in any discussion about Torah and science - or indeed, about rationalism vs. mysticism in general. It's Pesachim 94 - the sun's path at night.

To briefly summarize: the Chachmei Yisrael state that in the evening, the sun doubles back and travels behind the opaque dome ("firmament") of the sky. No less than Rebbi himself, Rabbi Yehudah HaNasi, observes that this is not correct. And all the Geonim and Rishonim, without any exception whatsoever, interpreted this passage according to its straightforward meaning, as a discussion about where the sun goes at night (though Rabbeinu Tam maintains that Chazal were correct because the sun does indeed go behind the sky at night). It was only beginning in the 16th century that various authorities reinterpreted the Gemara such that it is not at all talking about the sun going behind the sky at night. And even after that period, there were still plenty of authorities who maintained the classical, traditional understanding of the Gemara (which is also, of course, the one which is by far the most reasonable).

So, what happens when you present this Gemara, along with the Rishonim and Acharonim, to those who insist that it is heretical to state that Chazal could be mistaken in their claims about the natural world? Some, such as Rabbi Moshe Meiselman, respond with an enormous amount of obfuscation, in an apparent attempt to confuse the issue and overwhelm people while avoiding the clear meaning of this topic. In other cases, as you can see from the comments to my post on this topic a few days ago, people respond with a lot of posturing.

The word "posturing" refers to behavior that is intended to impress or mislead. In this case, it's both. They make a lot of claims about how only True Torah Scholars like they and their rabbis understand this Gemara properly. They issue a lot - a lot - of insults about how I don't know what I'm talking about. But when it comes to actually explaining what they believe the Gemara to be talking about, and how this can possibly be reconciled with the words of the Rishonim and Acharonim that I present - they are silent.

Of course, the reason for this is that they have nothing of substance to say. Trying to claim that all the Rishonim and Acharonim actually agreed with Maharal is like trying to square a circle. It just can't be done. 

But they can't admit that the classical approach to this Gemara is correct. Because this would mean that Chazal were mistaken about a fact of the natural world which nowadays seems very basic. Indeed, we find that no less than Rema himself explicitly admits that the embarrassment of such a possibility forced him to reinterpret this Gemara, against the explanation of Rambam and others: 

"And behold, I say that the words of our Sages, may their memories be for a blessing, are all built upon the true wisdom, and their words contain nothing perverse or crooked—even though sometimes, at first thought, it seems that they do not accord with the words of the scholars which are developed via proofs, especially in the field of astronomy. And some scholars (in saying that the Sages can be mistaken in matters of science) support themselves with that which they said that 'the gentile scholars triumphed over the Sages of Israel'; this is also with the words of the Master, the Guide, who wrote that 'the science of astronomy was not fully developed in the days of the prophets and the early sages.' But one who investigates this will be shocked to say that the Sages, may their memories be for a blessing, did not know these matters! A person who is concerned for the honor of his Creator and the honor of the Sages of the Torah will not think thus, but rather will be meticulous with their words."

And yet, as Rema himself is honest enough to acknowledge - in contrast to some people - Rambam and others did accept this Gemara according to its straightforward meaning. (By the way, it should also be noted that Rema's reinterpretation of this Gemara is completely at odds with Maharal's reinterpretation of this Gemara.) 

The greatest irony is that those who can't bring themselves to accept that Chazal were mistaken are going against the very lesson taught in this Gemara by Rebbi himself. Rabbi Yehudah HaNasi  acknowledges that the Chachmei Yisrael were mistaken. Rabbeinu Avraham ben HaRambam presents this as the crucial lesson to take from this Gemara:

"And now, consider the guidance provided to us in this passage, and how precious is the principle that they taught: Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi evaluated these opinions based on the evidence alone, taking into account neither the identities of the Jewish sages nor those of the gentile sages; and he favored the gentile sages' view on the basis of this proof, which he thought would be accepted – that the wells are cool by day and hot by night. Truly is this master referred to as "our holy rabbi," for when a man throws off falsehood, retains truth, decides in its favor and retracts from his initial opinion when its opposite is proven to him, there can be no doubt that he is holy. Thus it is clarified to us that our Sages considered different views by examining their correctness and the proofs in their favor, not based on their exponents, whoever they might be.”

I can't think of a more relevant lesson for us today. So many people decide whether they staunchly support something or fiercely oppose it solely depending on whether it is advocated by representatives of their preferred political group. They should learn from Rebbi to overcome confirmation bias and accept the possibility that one's chosen representatives can be wrong. Indeed, this greatness can be seen in the Torah itself, which is not hesitant to ascribe error and sin to its heroes!

Anyway, in honor of the day, I'm making my extensive monograph on this topic - which is also a chapter in my new book Rationalism vs. Mysticism - free for download at this link. The one-page summary can be downloaded at this link. If you're in Daf Yomi, please let me know how the discussion of this topic went!

Meanwhile, there is good news for anyone who purchases Rationalism vs. Mysticism from the museum website - you will receive via email a free audio version of the introduction! You can purchase the book at this link.


  1. Is it possible to post a source for that Rema?

    1. I would like to point out that according to rabeinu tam brought in shira mekubetses bb 13, cited by Hilton hashed here, rebi never actually agreed that the chachmei umois haoilom were correct, only that the scientific evidence appeared to be like them. So according to rabeinu tam there is no proof from this gemore that it is possible to say that chazal were wrong when they said scientific facts.furthermorw itwould seem that rabeinu tam argues with this idea, because otherwise why would he have to explain the genre in this way (that rebi really held that chazal wee correct)

    2. Actually, as I discuss in my monograph, it seems that Rabbein Tam took this approach not because it was unthinkable that Chazal could be wrong, but rather because he really did believe that the sun goes behind the sky at night.

  2. RNS
    Of course any human being can err, the question is whether we are allowed to say this. The letter of Rambam on astronomy is quite clear that it was not the norm in the time of Rambam to say that Chazal erred and for that reason Rambam had to explain himself to his Talmid how he was allowed to do this. Rambam also almost bends backwards by saying that perhaps chazal when discussing astronomy they meant it in a allegorical way (which is quite astonishing). He also suggests that perhaps it was a view of the minority. This was the view of the R Elyashiv when he said "they can say it but we can't" I was once by R Elyashiv and he mentioned the story in gemoro in חגיגה page 4 where the מלאך המוות took Miriam instead of Mary. This is obviously very hard to understand how Hashem allowed this to happen. r Elyashiv then quoted R Chananel saying that this story never happened only in a dream of R Bibi. Of course if any of us would say this it would be condemned however r Chananel was allowed and we are not.

    1. Wow, you really feel you can't - on your own recognizance - determine to take an obviously metaphorical folk tale in the Talmud as allegory? Do your friends feel the same way?

      That's unbelievable.

    2. anybody care to review this link


      תורת העולה part 1 chapter 2

    3. Rambam said it, nonetheless.

    4. @Shmuel he gives 3 possible explanations 2 of them suggesting that Chazal did not err. RNS doesnt even try to do that even in cases where it can be very easily explained in a such a way much more then the allegory of Rambam in the letter on Astronomy).Take the example of the lice which one is allowed to kill on Shabbos. It can easily be explained that lice appear to the naked eye to grow spontaneously and for that reason Chazal allowed it.This was the explanation I heard from R Gedalia Nadel. he said that Chazal didn't err as Chazal and Science all come from the same source. It also appears from the gemoro that Chazal themselves had a doubt about this (whether it looks like it grows spontaneously).Finally The Rav (soloveichik) suggested that there may be a problem of
      מכחישׁ מגידיה according to Rambam to argue on Chazal ואכּמּ"ל.

    5. "It can easily be explained that lice appear to the naked eye to grow spontaneously and for that reason Chazal allowed it."
      No, it can't be "easily explained" that way. Because Chazal themselves reject the notion that "betzei kinnim" refers to eggs of lice.

      "It also appears from the gemoro that Chazal themselves had a doubt about this."
      Actually, it appears from numerous maamarei Chazal, about salamanders and mice and other insects, that they fully accepted spontaneous generation - as did absolutely everyone in antiquity.

    6. RNS
      You are asking a question on RGN however I also don't understand how Rambam could of explained all the maamarei chazal on Astronomy to be allegorical.(which suggests one should still try and avoid saying they erred)
      You say:"No, it can't be "easily explained" that way. Because Chazal themselves reject the notion that "betzei kinnim" refers to eggs of lice"
      Yes but אבּיי did ask from בּיצי כּינים and he asks that this in fact proves that they don't grow spontaneously.If אבּיי was absolutely convinced of spontaneous generation then how can this even be a suggestion just because of the other maamar chazal ,surely this would only be a question there ?(that's why I said they appear to have a doubt about this).
      It also appears even more complicated from Rashi in nazir 39 that Head lice do in fact grow from Knits "הבּא מבּיצי כּינים".
      I also find it astonishing that some people still believe in the Pool of life theory of Darwin which can only work if one believes in spontaneous generation. Someone (on this blog) even suggested that Louis Pasteur only proved against spontaneous generation of days not years!

    7. "I also don't understand how Rambam could of explained all the maamarei chazal on Astronomy to be allegorical"
      Huh? No he didn't.

      Regarding spontaneous generation, see the extensive discussion in my book Sacred Monsters.

    8. RNS
      "Huh? No he didn't"
      Marc Shapiro has explained the following which is self evident in Rambam letter on Astrology:
      Maimonides offers a “three-pronged defense” to
      deal with the astrological statements of the rabbis.25 This three pronged
      defense” is elaborated in the Letter to the Jews of Marseilles. The first prong is
      that the truth may have eluded an individual sage. Second, the sage’s statement
      which appears to support notions of astrology may be allegorical. Third, the
      statement may have been necessary for the particular time and place. This means
      that the statement was not an expression of the true beliefs of the sage, but
      means to achieving a just end. Maimonides writes in Guide 3:28 that similar
      methods are used by the Torah to establish morality and justice see hebrew version: http://www.daat.ac.il/daat/vl/rambamuvno/rambamuvno18.pdf

    9. You are confusing astronomy with astrology.

    10. RNS
      1) Apologies I am not fluent in English and I meant astrology.
      2)My point is that to all the Maamarei Chazal on astrology may be allegorical according to Rambam which is not easy to explain.
      3)Rambam is reluctant just to say that Chazal Erred and gives 2 other explanations even to the extent that they didnt believe it themselves! but just said it to achieve a just end.
      4)Even the first possibility Rambam stresses that it was only a individual sage דברי יחיד which erred.He refrains from saying all sages erred! He also says that the individual sage נתעלם בּאותו שׁעה which means he was mistaken only for a short period!
      5) It appears from Rambam that one should not just say Chazal erred and they may be a issue of מכּחישׁ מגידיה.
      6) Of course any human being can err including the Sanhedrin however we have a chiyuv to accept their word Rambam also says that one is not allowed to argue on the Talmud (in the hakdomo to Mishne torah)
      7)it appears that this includes agadah as well as is evidenced by Rambam in hakdamah to peirush Hamishna where he explains that the agadot of chazal are allegorical when they are hard to explain. Accordingly if the gemoroh doesn't appear to make sense where are supposed to allegorise.

    11. Rambam stated very clearly that astrology is false. He made an apology for Chazal's statements on astrology, that some of them may be allegorical, for three reasons:
      1) Some of them may indeed have been part of some kind of aggadic allegory - which cannot be said for their statements about science which are not part of aggadata
      2) Astrology, from Rambam's perspective, is not a simple and entirely understandable error such as one in zoology.l Rather, it's an embarrassing superstition.
      3) As noted, Rambam was perfectly content to say that Chazal erred in astronomy. (And he even said that Yechzekel erred in astronomy!)

    12. 1) Rambam believed Astrology to be false but that doesn't mean that the superstition is embarrassing after all Rambam had high regards for Ibn Ezra (who'm you would call a rationalist) and Ibn Ezra fully believed in Astrology.
      2)If the only reason for the Rambam to be apologetic is due to it being embarrassing his statement that "the truth may have eluded an individual sage" would not help after all it is still embarrassing and not fit for the sages.
      3)If it is indeed a "embarrassing superstition" then the letter on astrology would not be proof that Chazal can err on a non embarrassing matter.
      4)"As noted, Rambam was perfectly content to say that Chazal erred in astronomy"according to Rambam it is not possible for a human being to fully understand Astronomy it is rather a evolving process for this reason he has no problem saying they erred. That wouldn't apply to matters which a human being is able to understand.

    13. No, it can't be "easily explained" that way. Because Chazal themselves reject the notion that "betzei kinnim" refers to eggs of lice.

      Is the above a typo ?


      — That refers to a type [of organism] which is called eggs of lice (but not that lice actually hatch from these).

  3. Aren't both views, regardless of the interpretation given them, at odds with the current understanding that the earth orbits the sun, and not vice versa?

    And Einstein's theories of relativity actually confirm this to be so, despite what Rav Schneerson said, i.e. that either the earth or the sun can be taken as a frame of reference.

    This view of Rav Schneerson implies that there is only an earth-sun system, where, from the perspective of the earth, the sun appears to be in motion or from the perspective of the sun, the earth is in motion. (Like when one is in a moving car and another car passes in the opposite direction.)

    Unfortunately, this is not the case - for we know that there are other planets in our system (not only the sun and the earth).

    Furthermore, because our predecessors assumed a geocentric worldview, they were unable to identify those planets that do not orbit the earth. Only when they assumed a heliocentric system were they able to identify the other planets. This is because everything does not orbit the earth.

    In short, from any inertial frame one will see all the planets orbit the sun, and not the earth.

    His view, therefore, is untenable.

    1. "Aren't both views, regardless of the interpretation given them, at odds with the current understanding that the earth orbits the sun, and not vice versa?"

      Yes, but so what? If Chachamim can err about science and it does not affect their spiritual authority, the same is true of Rebbe.

    2. Firstly, Hachamin have no spiritual authority, they have authority in all matters that pertain to Halachah - that is to say legal authority (which regulates matters between man and God, and matters between man and man).

      No one here questioned their legal authority. What is in dispute is whether Hachamin were infallible in matters that do not fall within the scope of Halachah, i.e. science, psychology etc.

      Some are of the view that they are indeed infallible. This view is what is being challenged in a respectful manner.

      Again, no one is challenging their legal authority. Because being an expert in law does not mean you are necessarily an expert in science, and not being an expert in science does not mean you are not an expert in Halachah.

    3. Yizhak Yerushalmi, Our predecessors (Chazal, Rambam, Ptolemy, ancient Babylonians) who accepted the geocentric model were aware of Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn.

    4. Per GR, the Sun being much more massive than Earth thus the Sun warps Spacetime much more than the Earth. So it makes much more sense to say the Earth revolves around the Sun. ACJA

    5. Lew, who said they didn't? The point is they didn't know about the other two, i.e. Neptune and Uranus; and they were oblivious to the fact that earth is also nothing but a planet.


      Warping spacetime solves gravitation issues associated with Newtonian physics.

      The fact is form an inertial frame one will see everything orbiting the sun, not the earth.

      It is not a matter of what makes more sense.

    6. @YY, are you familiar with the Tychonic System?

    7. @YY Your inertial frame being essentially outside the Sun and Earth gravity ? Why are you giving special preference to that frame (RF) ? I am free to choose any RF. Do all RF agree about the curvature of spacetime due to the Sun ? ACJA

    8. @YY alternatively perhaps you mean a RF in free fall in a gravitational field ? Anyway, do all RF agree the Sun has more mass than the Earth and thus more of a gravitational field ? Do all RF agree the sun warps spacetime more than the earth ? ACJA

  4. Allowed to?
    How low has Judaism sunk that instead of logic and truth we worry about what we are "allowed" to say.
    The irony in that many religious Jews deifie chazal giving them super human powers and knowledge. They frown at a chiloni breaking shabbat but they worship human gods in the form of mystical sages who live/d on spiritual planes beyond mere humans.

    1. This. A thousand times this. I could not possibly agree more. This is really the crux of the matter, isn't it? So much that is wrong with Orthodoxy today is precisely because of this mix of dogma and deification. If we don't overcome it, Judaism will only become increasingly obsolete and irrelevant in the face of the real and often valid challenges thrown at it by the modern world.

    2. Was Judaism ever really different? When? How do you know?

  5. I would suggest usin ga different dichotomy than rationalism vs. mysticism. While mysticism might not be empirical, it does not mean it is irrational. Ramban formulated an understanding of metaphysics which is rational. Perhaps it should simply be rationalism vs. irrationalism.

    1. Nope. Mysticism is the correct word. Mystics believe in forces one cannot see.

  6. This comment has been removed by the author.

  7. Yeah man, hierarchy is a real thing. There are some things that Rashi or the Rambam or Rebbi can say that you cannot. It is an act of pride to disregard this hierarchy and it is an act of outright heresy to challenge it.

    Nobody cares where the sun goes. Nobody cares that Rebbi disagreed with Chachomim about something. There are disputes between the Sages all the time about almost everything, why should this surprise anyone?

    The problem is, again, one of hierarchy. You do not get to tell your superiors that they are wrong, certainly in the case that they are 1500 years your seniors. We have rules in Judaism about who gets to tell whom that they were wrong about what.

    For the second time, this is not a question of science or of fact. There are a number of ways you can go about spreading whatever fact you want to spread. You need to explain away the opinions of the Elders, but there are plenty of ways to do that.

    The issue here is that you want to be able to tell Chchomim that they are wrong. In this sense, it does not matter that it is in matters of science and not Halacha. You might as well go after their Halachic authority, it does not actually matter here. You are acting as a rebel, the fact that you choose not to rebel in Halachic matters is irrelevant, as it is you who are picking and choosing where to except them and where not to. In this sense they are no longer an authority to you at all.

    This is why you get called "reformed", because you already seem to have discarded the authority of Chachomim. This insinuates that there is a proper way to be a Jew outside of the authority of Chachomim, which is why Reformed Judaism is schismatic. Conversely, it might insinuate that there are aspects of your life that you believe are outside of Judaism. If so, who decides what elements in your life are inside Judaism and which elements are outside?
    If a Jewish authority decides, than this element is not outside of Judaism, but you are choosing to submit to this authority completely, as it is the authority which dictates what authorities you follow and when.
    If it is a non-Jewish authority deciding, what does your Judaism even mean?

    I hope this has been helpful to understand some of your detractors.

    1. Rambam wrote 'the science of astronomy was not fully developed in the days of the prophets and the early sages.' Was he a rebel, too?

    2. Hierarchy is not a 'real thing', it is conventional based on agreement, norms and customs.

      Truth, on the other hand, is not subject to conventions or authority!

      Any positive or negative declarative statement made by anyone, past or present, will be either true or false. It will be true if it agrees with reality and false if not.

      There is nothing disrespectful in pointing out something which is false and incorrect.

      Since our predecessors did not know everything about reality (and neither do we) it is natural that incorrect statements about reality will be found in there works.

      For this reason you'll find that Rabbanim like Rav Saadiah Gaon and Rabbi Bahye ibn Paqud (people in the so called "hierachy") admonished us to correct any mistaken views found in their books, and not to disregard the entire book because of mistakes that may be found in it.

      Didn't Shlomo Hamelech say that there is not a man who will only do right and not sin (i.e. get it wrong at times!)? Or perhap he got it wrong?

      Now what use is there in explaining away a false/incorrect statement as you suggest?

      Would we have made any progress if we explained away all of Aristotle's mistakes in his books on physics etc.?

      And speaking of authority, why don't you rely on the Tanach and Talmud to prove your points??

    3. "You do not get to tell your superiors that they are wrong, certainly in the case that they are 1500 years your seniors. We have rules in Judaism about who gets to tell whom that they were wrong about what." Is that so? Is the Gra allowed to tell Rishonim they were wrong? (And IIRC "Chas V'Shalom" what they say!) "Oh well, you see the Gra was different because he was like a Rishon..." How about R' Moshe Feinstein? At this point we're just making it up as we go along.

    4. "It is an act of pride to disregard this hierarchy and it is an act of outright heresy to challenge it."

      Er, no it isn't.

      "What are the meanings of the anatomical terms mentioned in this Mishna? After I researched medical books and medical writers as well as scholars and surgical texts, I have concluded that we cannot deny the fact that reality is not as described by Rashi, Tosfos and the drawings of the Maharam of Lublin. We have only what the Rambam wrote in the Mishna Torah and his Commentary to the Mishna - even though the latter has statements which are unclear. However, you will find correct drawings in the book Maaseh Tuviah and Shevili Emuna…. Therefore, I did not bother at all with the commentaries of Rashi and Tosfos in this matter since it is impossible to match them with true reality. You should know this." (Chasam Sofer to Nidah 18a)

    5. Rabbi Isaac, yours is the correct take here, including some of the same points I said in the previous post. With some reservations.

      We cannot deny the fact that many great Rabbis, from the Gaonim all the way to the present, said that Chazal were not experts in scientific matters. I really have no problem using their words to explain Chazal when they say something seeming incorrect scientifically.

      But there is a difference between using their words to explain Chazal and saying "I know Chazal is wrong because of my advanced scientific knowledge". It may sound like a small difference, but it is actually a big difference. The first way, one is relying on opinions of great Rabbis to explain other great Rabbis, which is the traditional derech of Torah learning for millenia, all the way from Chazal to the present. With the second, one is saying he just knows better than Chazal, because it is obvious to him. Now look at the last post, where Rabbi Slifkin says we don't even need the words of RABMBM and Rav Hirsch to say Chazal were wrong, we can just say it ourselves.

    6. Rabbi Isaac the Blind
      Not a credible argument after witnessing mass defiance around the world by some within the tent (and critically remaining so), of those very "1500 years your seniors", never mind the Torah itself, of pikuach nefesh. Is this schismatic like Reformed Judaism? The emperor has no cloths - no longer can one argue against RNS with a straight face about "outright heresy", "picking and choosing" or historical "hierarchy".

    7. Happy,
      The point is that if the Geonim etc. say Chazal can be wrong - based on their OWN primitive medieval science - then kol sh'kein we can do so based on our much more advanced science. The whole point RNS is trying to prove is that Chazal's science wasn't from Sinai - as soon as that is proven, there is no conceivable reason to give their scientific pronouncements special weight.

    8. Shlomo, that's fine. But I really think it depends how you say it. One could say, if we see an inexplicable scientific gemara, a valid mehalech would be to say that Chazal didn't understand science as well as us, since we have precedent from RABMBM + others who said Chazal weren't scientists (of course, this is also not so simple since there is no bright red line between halachic gemaras and science gemaras. But I'll leave it at that.)

      But if one says "My greatest mistake was relying on RABMBM, instead I should have just brought a gemara where Rebbi argued with the Chachmei Yisrael, so too, I, like Rebbi, can also argue with Chazal whenever I see fit"- not OK!

    9. Shmuel. I love the Rambam, study him daily, his books were burned for a reason.

      Yizhaq. A lot of points there, will try to get to them in another comment.

      RNS, this is a really odd answer. Maybe it is just a misunderstanding on my part (likely). You talk about being a Rationalist, relying on one's own senses and intellect, and then you appeal to all of these authorities. So which is it?

      Are you saying you are a rationalist, that you lean only on your own senses and intellect?
      Or are you saying that Judaism has a tradition of Rationalism?

      To be more exact, are you a Rationalist because you find your own faculties to be a more trustworthy than those of Chachomim, or because the Rishonim were Rationalists and you trust the Rishonim?

      Do you see why this is unclear?

      If you can clarify this, that would be really nice.

      Sorry for being inflammatory, but I thought it might get your attention better.

      side-note, Chasam Sofer is an authority, he also gets to decide on Halachic matters, why should it surprise me when he concludes that Rashi was not accurate and Shvilei Emunah was?

      Happy, I have no problem with the idea that Chazal were not scientists. Science was not their job. My issue is with the refusal to go the way of many Rishonim and Achronim and actively point to this fact, insisting that they were speaking literally and "dunking on them" for not being scientists.

      For the third time, no problem whatsoever with teaching science.

      Anon, Your comment was not clear at all.

    10. Okay Yizhaq, so hierarchy is as real as it gets. Hierarchy has existed since our evolutionary path split from that of crustaceans, that is older than most things currently in existence. The existence of hierarchy defined the course of our evolution, it shaped our bodies and minds. If you think that hierarchy is a social agreement, I know a certain Canadian who would like a word with you.

      My point is, hierarchy is literally older than your mind. You cannot think without hierarchy. Things need to be more important than other things. Authority needs to exist in order for you to think, otherwise you collapse into infinite regression.

      This is to say, Truth only exists within hierarchy and the value of Truth can only exist within a hierarchy of values.

      There absolutely can be disrespect in calling out the false statements of others. But that's not even the problem here. The issue is the insistence on taking Chazal literally, only pointing out those whom were "wrong", dismissing the Maharal on the matter of the sun, using the Chossom sofer to show that Chazal are "wrong", not focusing on the ones who were "right" and wrapping it all up in Rationalism. This kind of logic just brings Yuval Harary and Sam Harris to mind. It's a bad attitude.

      "Would we have made any progress if we explained away all of Aristotle's mistakes in his books on physics etc.?"

      Of course we would have, we basically did that with Newton once Einstein came along. This is how science works (on the paradigm level). We don't throw away useful theories just because they appear to have things wrong with them. Science is a conservative force. If a theory is useful for explaining something, we use it, even if it does not explain everything. And even if older theories go out of vougue in one field, we use them, or analogs to them in other fields.

      in the case of Newton, we created an Okimso, just like the Gemara does all the time. This is the "Talmudic" approach - the Sages are not wrong, their statements just need to be put into context. This is all I am advocating for.

      "And speaking of authority, why don't you rely on the Tanach and Talmud to prove your points??"

      My points were intended for a self-described "Rationalist", someone who is not supposed to believe in authority or hierarchy. The fact that RNS both espouses "Rationalism" and simultaneously appeals to authority is a mystery to me. I asked him about it directly and I hope he clarifies.

    11. Blind,
      What is your point about the CS? He isn't rejecting Rashi/Tos. based on his halachic expertise, he says explicitly that it's based on the science books he saw (which may have been wrong in the final analysis FYI). This seems beside the point though, because (Happy, correct me if I'm wrong) very very few think that even the RISHONIM's science is divinely inspired. Only the furthest reaches of rightwing hasidic thought (and perhaps unfortunately influenced fringe yeshiva velt) can even entertain such a thought.

    12. The whole point is (although caution is warranted) you don't need the Rambam to tell us when chazal have their science wrong. The Rambam is only brought as a proof to the principle. It is clear, for example, that when the gemara wonders what causes thunder on Berachos 59a, they have no idea what the scientific cause actually is, etc., etc.

    13. Blind

      Hierarchy is a series/packing order. It can be natural or conventional. But, in either case, it has nothing to do with truth whatsoever.

      Examples of hierarchy are in masecheth horayoth 3:8 - Cohen, Levi, Yisrael, Mamzer, Natin, Ger, Eved Meshuchrar; or the hierarchy of Qorbanoth; or the Rambam's ordering of the angels. You also have a hierarchy in the Roman catholic Church, the feudal system, an army, a corporation and many other things. There are, obviously, also taxonomic classifications which treat of similarities of organisms.

      How do these examples relate to objective truth?? It is clear that some of them are solely based on conventions and agreement, and others on a natural packing order/power structure (as is the case with the Rambam's ordering of the angels). Even when looking for similarities amongst organisms, one can hardly call that looking for objective truth.

      Some forms of hierarchy do become obsolete. Can truth become obsolete?

      As far as evolution is concerned, suffice it to say that Darwin was concerned with genera and species, genetics and heredity, breeding and the obstacles to it. This should not be confounded with an ambiguious/equivocal term such as "hierarchy". (And no this is not just semantics).

      As far as authority is concerned, one grants authority. Just like when we vote and agree to give authority to one political party. This is obviously something conventional. One can hardly call it something "true".

      Yes, there is also "authority" (if you want to call it so) in nature, such as being subject to the law of gravity. Clearly one can not reason from this that we are subject to the scientific opinions of the Hachamim to the same degree as the laws of nature.

      Just because we imitate real and true things, such as the powers that we are subject to in nature, does not mean these imitations/conventions, norms and customs are true and real. (Just like a picture of water is not real water.) This is not based on whoever those guys are you mentioned, it is based on common sense.

      Concepts, ideas and other abstract notions such as authority are not independent realities (as Plato reasoned) they are only found IN reality. Just like justice is not an independently existing real thing, but is nevertheless (or ought to be) part of our societies.

      Truth is objective. It is subject to nothing. The truth of the existence of God, for example, does not depend on hierarchy or the existence of any other being.

      We didn't "explain away" Aristotle's incorrect views, we rejected them for being false, wrong and not true! That is precisely why we made progress.

      You can make "Okimsos" and engage in dialectics in the Gemara, but you can't do that in the real scientific world which is based on research, observation, facts and love for the truth. (Not that Hazal didn't love the truth, rather its those later zealots who want us to believe that for the last 2000 years, we have made absolutely no progress in our understanding of ourselves and the world because everything is contained in the words of Hazal, these zealots are the ones who don't love truth.)

      Your other points are either trivial or fallacious, so I'm not going to address them.

    14. Blind

      The above anonymous comment is my reply to your comments.

    15. Thanks for the thoughtful reply, Yizhaq.

      It is not easy to make a nuanced point in a comment section, but I'll try to sharpen the point I was making about hierarchy.

      1. Hierarchy and Truth.

      The basic idea is one that reality cannot be observed without an a-priory structure. This is to say that thought, and even perception must have a structure. Otherwise, we would not be able to create stable categories at all. If we did not have a structured perception, we would not be able to observe objects at all, as we would have no way to organize what we are seeing. Everything would just be undifferentiated nonsense.

      The reason I equate this structure with hierarchy is because our perceptual structure implies a hierarchy in that some things are perceived and some are not. If it were not hierarchical, all things would be perceived equally, and we are back at undifferentiated nonsense.

      What does this have to do with Truth? simple. If our perception of the world, in order for it to be perception at all, carries within it an implied hierarchy, Truth can only exist within this hierarchy. In other words, if the ability to observe reality is contingent upon a hierarchy, any Truth that is comprehensible or even observable, is judged as true or untrue according to its being observable, or it's place in the hierarchy of observation.

      This is why you can have statements that are more or less true than others. for example, the statement "the sky is blue" is more true on a sunny day than on a cloudy one. in both cases it true, but on one occasion, relevant information might be omitted. Another example is the statement "the earth is blue". Is that true? well, in general, a person would correct you if you said that, stating that the earth is brown and has many colors. However, from space, the earth has been famously depicted as the "blue marble". This is a demonstration of how, in different scenarios, different statements are more or less true depending on the perceptual structure being used.

      You might say that a question of the color of the earth is subjective, however, this is false. In general, when people sa that the sky is blue, others do not answer "compared to what?". This is not the same as claiming that something is "big" or "small".

      The point that I was making is that fundamentally, everything is like this, to some degree. Truth and Falsehood are not binary, but a hierarchy. Some statements are more true than without the former being false.

      This is what the Rambam is referring to when he says that God is the only thing that exists as non-contingent, whereas every creation is contingent. In other words, he is positing that God's existence is the thing that is "the most true", where as other things exist, but they, in a sense, "exist less" than God.

      unfortunately, I have to stop here. I am very tired.

      If you are interested in hearing the rest, I can finish this up later. Otherwise, I already wrote a whole lot for a comment that no-one is going to read anyway.


  8. Would you recommend this book for an intelligent 12 year old? What age, as a general matter, do you think one has to be to understand and appreciate this book? Thanks.

  9. He doesn't say the Gemara is wrong on everything. He prefers the Gemara's description of dolphins as opposed to Rashi and mermaids.

  10. No-one ever noticed how footnote 4 on p. 19 of the linked PDF went missing…

  11. This link: Anyway, in honor of the day, I'm making my extensive monograph on this topic - which is also a chapter in my new book Rationalism vs. Mysticism - free for download at this link.
    doesn't work. Link is: https://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=&cad=rja&uact=8&ved=2ahUKEwjwr8DHrf_uAhXIy6QKHSD9BvUQFjAAegQIAhAD&url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.zootorah.com%2FRationalistJudaism%2FTheSunsPathAtNight.pdf&usg=AOvVaw1bh_3i5I1gUL99QuoXN283

  12. My apologies. It seems to be a"Chrome" problem re: the link. The internet explorer browser works fine. Keep up your good work.

  13. My maggid shiur was clearly uncomfortable quoting Rebbi as saying the gentile scholars were correct and brought a Shitta Mekubetzes (who goes along with Rabbenu Tam's view) that of course chazal were correct, but on a deeper level that couldn't be explained to the gentile scholars....

    1. You should point out to him that that's not what Rabbeinu Tam says at all. He says that Chazal were correct because the sun DOES go behind the sky at night.

    2. @Sol

      How comfortable do you feel learning from a Maggid Shiur who evades the truth rather than dealing with it?
      There isn't a 'deeper level'. That's just a lie to avoid giving a real answer because he feels 'uncomfortable' with the truth.
      Perhaps the answer is to find a different Maggid Shiur.

  14. This just seems to be such an odd hill to die upon. There are two realities at play here, Legal reality and physical reality. Legal reality is the idea that at 17 years and 364 days I am forbidden from voting, purchasing firearms, serving in the military, etc. while the next day I am able to do all of those things even though the physical difference between yesterday and today is nearly imperceptible. Chazal have the absolute ability to create legal reality. This is why we can kill lice on shabbos. Chazal may have been mistaken on the physical reality of spontaneous generation, but from a legal perspective, lice are not truly alive, so one can kill them on shabbos because Chazal say so. Similarly, changing physical reality, such as industrial production of pharmaceuticals does not affect the legal reality of Chazal's proscription of medicines on shabbos. Furthermore, no amount of proclamations can change physical reality. Lice do not care one bit that Chazal say they spontaneously generate. They will stubbornly lay eggs and hatch from them regardless of how many statements are made to the contrary. But it is irrelevant that Chazal are in error about spontaneous generation because that is a statement about physical reality, which is not an area that Chazal have power over. What is relevant is that Chazal created the legal reality that you can kill lice. Since Pesachim 94b is not discussing any legal issue, but instead is a debate about the physical reality of how astronomy works, not only are Chazal able to be in error, but it is irrelevant if they are.

    1. Your points are valid.

      However, it does not make it irrelevant if they were wrong or not as far as the science/reality is concerned. A lot of people do believe they were infallible, hence the current debate/controversy.

    2. Completely agree, with Joseph and Yizhaq. This IS an odd hill to die upon. And there ARE people who feel that the Chachamim were completely infallible. And these people feel that the infallibility extends to descriptions about physical reality as well as legal reality and therefore get very threatened when this issue is raised.

      Or at least, as happygolucky said elsewhere (if I understand him correctly), there is a matter of modern hubris for us to say that Chazal were wrong. It's OK for R' Yehuda HaNasi to say it, but not us.

      I think that by creating THAT sub-hill we cause further problem. It's fine and not bad to say that something that we see with our own eyes today is not what Chazal said. Does it change the halacha - the legal reality? No! And that is OK!

    3. Yosef, I agree it's fine and not bad to say the earth is round, even if Chazal seems to say it's flat. I'm only objecting to saying that it's obvious that Chazal were ignorant. We shouldn't say that, rather we should treat it like any other difficulty.

      If one wants to rely on RABMBM who says as a general rule that Chazal had no special science knowledge, that's a different story. That's in the category of "resolving a difficulty using one of the shitos rishonim", and is a perfectly valid way to learn (although I have my own difficulties with that shita, ואכמ"ל).

    4. @Happy The "ignorance" of Chazal is similar to Newton's ignorance of atomic theory. Isaac Newton is universally considered a great physicist despite the fact that he was incorrect about several things that even small children are aware of now. He thought matter was continuous and infinitely divisible and that light travels through aether. He also did not know about relativistic and quantum effects. None of these things make him a worse physicist. They were simply discovered over two centuries after he died. He did the best with what he had and was a brilliant scientist. Chazal are the same way in this regard. The heliocentric model was developed over a millennium after Ravina and Rav Ashi finished compiling the Bavli, and Chazal cannot be faulted for being unaware of something that would not be developed until many centuries in the future. Their lack of knowledge does not impact their greatness one bit. The other problem is that no amount of proclamations to the contrary can change reality. The sun does what it does and does not particularly care what Chazal say it does. No amount of Chazal talking about a solid firmament can will it into existence just as no number of Chassidic rebbes making havdalah on Tuesday afternoon will stop shabbos from ending on Saturday night.

    5. Joesph, I have seen this lecture, many, many times in various forms. And it is basically the point of RABMBM. Which is fine, nothing wrong with that.

      However, there are (IMO, many) authorities who disagree, and hold that Chazal knew what they were talking about regarding whatever statements made it into the Talmud. Just like they knew what they were talking about in halacha. And if there are statements we cannot explain, we admit the lack of understanding lies with ourselves. (All of this is as regards to us, however the Sages of the Talmud frequently disputed and disproved each other.) So therefore, unless one qualifies which authorities one is relying on, it is disrespectful to say Chazal were "obviously" wrong about any particular thing.

    6. Joesph, Sir Isaac Newton, nonetheless, was a great scientist, possibly smarter than Einstein. Though he delved into alchemy and was an anti-trinitarian. He believed that the tails of comets served as food for the sun as fuel. He spent his life searching for the philosopher's stone. He attempted to turn any metal into gold. He believed metals were alive and grew like plants. He felt the earth was alive. But he discovered that light was created when a stream of particles hit the eye (he literally stuck needles, a bodkin into his eye) and he discovered the force of gravity that held the moon in orbit and which caused apples to fall.

      I agree with your statements about Chazal, too.

      @Happy To say Chazal were stupid because they did not anticipate the heliocentric model is dumb. almost no one guessed it right, save a few Greeks. Even Aristotle was doubted. Listen, Chazal had to work with the science of their time, and that's ok. There's nothing wrong with that. On the other hand, we should not say they guessed it right, either. They didn't. But we can't fault them for it. If it weren't for Galileo Galilei, we'd still believe the earth was the center, too.

    7. Shmuel, you are just repeating what Joseph wrote, you haven't added anything. As I said, that is indeed a good summary of RABMBM's position. You are free to rely on him if you wish.

  15. It's not so much "confirmation bias" as it is the "Semmelweis reflex." It easily explains lots of the behavior in the Charedi community.

  16. While I'm personally on your side in this debate, I think the position of your detractors is fairly simple, and there does not have to be a contradiction between the Maharal approach and the Rishonim. It goes like this: the Gemara comes to teach us two things - halacha and kabbalah (as well as mussar). All (or at least, most) agadic material, even when discussing the nature of the physical world, is included in the Gemara to teach kabbalah, but it is encoded in the form of discussions regarding the physical world, etc in order to hide the true meaning from the masses. The Rishonim correctly understood the pshat in the Gemara, and were even (possibly) aware of the sod meaning, but mistakenly thought that Chazal were using correct science to convey their kabbalistic ideas, when in fact they were simply using the accepted ideas of their times. Thus the Rishonim were correct in the pshat, but mistakenly thought that the pshat was literally true and not just a mashal for the nimshal as explained by the Maharal, et al.

    1. That still leaves you with all the Rishonim holding that Chazal erred.

  17. Instead of another round of the same posts about the issue, RNS asked us to report how things went during Daf Yomi shiur and so far no one shared anything. Is there anyone out there that took the challenge we are all curious as to what happened. I’m in middle of speaking to the different people and will try to get an idea. BH, there are a few DY shiurim in my neighborhood and although most are given by charedim it’s not exclusive and I look forward to hearing their responses.

  18. you refer to R. Yehuda Landa of Prague ( Maharal, 1529-1609)
    when was he ever called Landa?

  19. Just got there (fairly behind in the daf). The whole thing seems silly to me. Anyone who can get that far in the daf and still have a belief that the tanaim / amoraim's views on cosmology (or even basic physics) was anything like accurate is delusional.


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