Wednesday, November 10, 2021

King Solomon's Unbuilt Spaceship

We're all familiar with the relatively recent view that the Sages could not have been mistaken in scientific matters. Minimally, this could justified by saying that they had Divine assistance to ensure that anything recorded in the Talmud would be correct. But many supporters of this view based it on a much more far-reaching approach. It's not that the Sages were correct on the particular statements recorded in the Talmud; it's that the Sages, with their Divinely-based insights into Creation, knew all of science.

A post on Hirhurim, Moshe and Modern Technology, discusses various views on this matter. The Taz proves that a printing press is not considered engraving from the fact that the Shamir was required to engrave the Ephod, rather than using a printing press. Rav Yair Chaim Bacharach (Chavos Yair) says that this is not a proof, since printing presses had not been invented yet. Rav Yechezkel Katzenellenbogen, on the other hand, says that obviously Shlomo HaMelech, wisest of all men, could have made a printing press.

I've heard this expressed in many different ways. A friend of mine recently heard a shiur in which the rabbi said that Avraham Avinu could easily have made a car, but just wasn't focused on doing such things. Rav Elya Ber Wachtfogel, key mover-and-shaker in the ban on my books, argued that "the Vilna Gaon could have invented an atom bomb, do you really think that Chazal could have been mistaken about science?!" Years earlier, my own Rosh Yeshivah once pointed at some shtenders and said "the Vilna Gaon could have told you where this shtender, as opposed to that shtender, is referenced in the Torah."

During the whole controversy about Chazal and science, Rav Chaim Malinowitz ztz"l pointed something out to me. He noted that for those who take the view that Chazal knew all of modern science, why would their knowledge be limited to the particular progress of science in the beginning of the 21st century? It would have to be that they knew all science that would ever be discovered! And one cannot even begin to imagine what that encompasses! Not just spaceships of the 21st century - spaceships of the 100th century. And spaceships are the least of it.

All this may sound absurd, but it's sort of the inevitable progression of the mystical approach. Of course, according to Chazal themselves, as well as the Rishonim, such a view is utterly incorrect; they did not at all consider themselves to have supernatural knowledge of everything. For further discussion, see my book Rationalism vs. Mysticism, in particular the chapter on Sod Hashem Liyreyav.

 



110 comments:

  1. My question that I have always asked people who insist on "Those holy people of old knew everything due to their HOLY, HOLY, HOLINESS" is simple. If they knew everything, why did they not spread correct medical information and help cure the diseases of that time?

    I then put forth three possible answers: either, they thought that people should suffer, or they were utterly evil, or both at the same time. I have yet to have a satisfactory answer to this most simple question

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    1. Or it isn't and never could be literally true but is a figure of speech which simple minded literalist Rationalists blow their heads up trying to understand.

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    2. That is just like Epicurus' assertion:

      Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is not omnipotent.
      Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent.
      Is he both able and willing? Then whence cometh evil?
      Is he neither able nor willing? Then why call him God?

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    3. It is one thing to know how to cure polio oh, it is a far greater thing to be able to leverage The resources and energy required to build a sterile lab, supply and power it, fabricate the base materials, and finally resolve the cure. There's a difference between knowledge and capability. Perhaps the solutions they provided were the most efficient and affordable given the resources available to them at the time?

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    4. https://youtu.be/5xdbPhnfFEI

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    5. To zdub and Epicurus:
      Ah, but it is a different thing to be God vs to be a man and play God! We have lesser questions against the Almighty if He wants the world to develop in a certain way, He has his rules of S'char va'Onesh, etc. But a person with the power to improve the lives of literally everyone in the world who does not do so... that's a bigger problem, no?

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    6. To Matt:
      If we are positing ruach hakodesh to know about bacteria, then we can posit siyaata dishmaya in setting up a lab.

      To The Hat (real or imposter):
      if it was a figure of speech, then the non-rationalists wouldn't go bonkers anytime someone suggests it's not literally true! You cannot have it both ways. Either Chazal (and Rishonim and Acharonim and Chassidishe rebbeim and all rabbis from Europe pre-Holocaust and even modern Gedolim) really did know modern science or they didn't. If they did, then saying we know more is assur, but then we have the theological problem of why they didn't act on this info. If they did not really know, then it's OK to talk about later developments in knowledge, and the yeshivish/Chareidi velt should not get upset. You cannot say they really knew but did not really know. That makes no sense.

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    7. Yosef, you (and RNS) have created a ridiculous, reductive straw man, and and are now declaring victory.

      When some say that Shlomo or the Sages knew the deepest secrets of Teva, it is different than the science we have today. Not more advanced or less advanced, but different.

      See Introduction to Ramban Al HaTorah. Somebody mentioned the Chazon Ish, see it. See then numberous places where the *Rambam* says or implies the Sages had a very great understanding of Teva. See the countless places in halacha where Rishonim accept the practical "science" of our sages unquestioningly. See the opinions that hold that their cures worked, and we just don't know how to perform them.

      Now, you can argue with all these opinions. And you can find those who dispute some of them. But the main question is not whether the Sages could invent a computer, it is whether there is stuff in Teva that they knew and we don't. If your argument is that since there are so many areas in which we know more than the Sages, therefore it is impossible for there to be areas in which we know less, then that would just be a logical fallacy of the simplest type.

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    8. As you said in a thread below, Happy, if we understand that by reading the Ramban one cannot build a spaceship, then we are in agreement. Great! You and I are in agreement. But this is not a strawman by any stretch. EXACTLY THIS VERY POINT is put forth by critics of those who talk about science having changed since two thousand years ago. I'm happy to not "declare victory" - I'm happy to just end the ridiculous conversation with the status that we all agree that modern science and technology was not known by Chazal (or Rishonim, etc).

      But by declaring the actual argument that is actually put forth by opponents of Rationalism to be a straw man, you are obfuscating the argument.


      Now, about the modern values thing, that's a different kettle of fish. There are those who say, "They didn't, therefore they couldn't because if they could have, they would have, and if they could have and didn't they were horrible people." So you want to call the last part into question: that maybe they still could have and chose not to because of some reason that does not make them out into uncaring people. Eh, I'll buy that they didn't do certain things like make spaceships bc it didn't fit in the world at the time, but things like personal hygiene, crop rotation, quarantining sick people, one would hope would have been utilized simply out of chesed and kavod habriyos. I don't think that this is a solely modern value at all - this is based on traditional Jewish values too!

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    9. Yosef, it is a strawman. The main argument in Torah/Science debates is not whether Shlomo could or did build a computer. It is whether the Sages knew what they were talking about. That is, whether when they spoke of something that seems to be against what we know, do we simply say they were wrong, or do we assume that they knew what they were talking about and try to come up with an answer, or simply say tzarich iyun. A completely different question than if they could build a computer, right?

      I am not sure what you mean by personal hygiene, crop rotation, and quarantine. All of these were practiced by ancient Greeks, Romans, and other civilizations. Why would this require special knowledge from Chazal? The Gemara is full of hygiene advice. Bava Metzia 9th perek mentions crop rotation. The parsha of Metzora talks about quarantine.

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    10. Happy, do you deny the following:
      Rav Elya Ber Wachtfogel, key mover-and-shaker in the ban on my books, argued that "the Vilna Gaon could have invented an atom bomb, do you really think that Chazal could have been mistaken about science?!" Years earlier, my own Rosh Yeshivah once pointed at some shtenders and said "the Vilna Gaon could have told you where this shtender, as opposed to that shtender, is referenced in the Torah."

      Do you believe that Rav Wachtfogel and the Rosh Yeshiva never said these things? Or do you believe that they said them and were aware that those receiving their words would misunderstand them but said them anyway? Or something else?

      But if they said it and meant it then it's not a straw man. And you're acting like an apologist.

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    11. Anon,

      Maybe they did say those things. I don't need to defend everything everybody said since time immemorial. And don't worry, I can find much more ridiculous things that secularists have said. I'm just pointing out the main dispute of the Torah/science debate has nothing to do with atom bombs.

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    12. Maybe they did say those things. I don't need to defend everything everybody said ...

      Yes you do. You can't dissociate from him. His opinion holds great sway in the community (which derives from his incredible shiurim and general reputation and brilliance). If you open your mouth differently you're liable to be attacked. And thanks to his influence and that of others, if you ever ask a public figure for confirmation of your (Happy's) opinion that it's not literal etc., no one will give you a straight answer confirming it. This is the society people would like to coexist with. Don't cite some vague 'everybody knows', that's irrelevant in real life. What's with the here and now?

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    13. Anon,

      Everything that you just wrote is nonsense. Sorry.

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    14. I suppose I should elaborate a bit more. You ask "What's with the here and now?". You ask about things that are "relevant in real life". All regarding some exceedingly strange, impractical, irrelevant statement a Rosh Yeshiva made fifteen years ago. The question answers itself...

      Now, I'm sure R' Elya Ber's opinion holds great sway among his talmidim. And he and his yeshiva have a great reputation, that much I know. But I am not his talmid, neither were my rebbeim. I have attended several "chareidi" yeshivos and have never heard him quoted. Neither in lomdus nor hashkafa. There is great diversity of thought among the various "chareidi" communities in America. The idea that R' Elya Ber is some kind of Sanhedrin HaGadol that nobody can argue with is just complete, utter nonsense. And I certainly don't need to defend everything he said. Got it?

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    15. And don't worry, I can find much more ridiculous things that secularists have said.
      Me too. But recently you argued "Just because non-chareidim do it regularly is no excuse for chareidim...."
      http://www.rationalistjudaism.com/2021/11/how-i-helped-yanky-kanievsky-buy-his.html?showComment=1636045043149#c8113707010403706074

      when they spoke of something that seems to be against what we know, do we simply say they were wrong, or do we assume that they knew what they were talking about and try to come up with an answer,...
      Rabbi S's method is pretty close to this.

      ... or simply say tzarich iyun.
      Many Rishonim do not say tzarich iyun. They say conclusively that Chazal weren't scientifically infallible. Can their view be condemned c"v, even if others on their level argue?

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    16. @Happy, I sent my previous comment before seeing your next one, so it's out of order. Bl"n I'll get back to you.

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    17. I also said, And thanks to his influence and *that *of *others,(i.e., not only REBW) if you ever ask a public figure for confirmation of your (Happy's) opinion that it's not literal etc., no one will give you a straight answer confirming it. I would like to change that to no one will *go *on *record giving you a straight answer confirming it. But either way, I believe that your Rabbeim (where did they learn, BMG/MTV/MRCB/NIRC/YBY/RSA/MYCI ..?) will not be comfortable answering this question straight. Have you asked them?

      You point out a few times that the *main question/argument/dispute is about something else.

      Yes, but if there's nothing inferior if the Gra couldn't make an a-bomb why is it inferior if Chazal were wrong about for example spontaneous generation? This might also prevent your Rabbeim from conceding that the Gra couldn't build an a-bomb, because it will entangle them in the next question about Chazal and spontaneous g and similar issues.

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    18. "Many Rishonim do not say tzarich iyun. They say conclusively that Chazal weren't scientifically infallible."

      All Rishonim agree that Chazal were fallible and able to be mistaken with regard to everything. Halacha, aggada, hashkafa, science, history. It says as much on basically every page of Gemara. Heck, even Moshe Rabbeinu made mistakes! That is not the question. The question is what our general approach vis a vis our Sages should be, when we find their words difficult. How do we approach the difficulty? Do we *assume* they knew what they were talking about, or is there no such assumption?

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    19. "Yes, but if there's nothing inferior if the Gra couldn't make an a-bomb why is it inferior if Chazal were wrong about for example spontaneous generation?"

      I thought I already explained that it's a silly comparison, the two have nothing to do with each other? Maybe you would also have me believe that the Satmar Rebbe could ride on a flying carpet, based on this poor attempt at "logic"?

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    20. Happy, to answer what you said to me:
      The position put forth by rationalists (those you demean by calling secularists, which is unfortunately not the truth) is that Chazal and Rishonim could be wrong about science. They might make errors in understanding the natural world. This does not detract one iota from the respect that they deserve.

      The response from [some in the] antirationalist camp [we can say Chareidi or not, it doesn't matter] is typically: how dare you say that Chazal/Rishonim/Acharonim didn't understand science! Why, they understood ALL of science! The Vilna Gaon could have built an atom bomb if he wanted to! [evidently, someone actually said that!]

      How is this a straw man? This is EXACTLY the argument. If this is no longer the argument, then why isn't everyone standing down?

      I don't know R' Wachtfogel's story here, and sure, maybe you don't learn from him personally any more than I learn from every single one of the YU Roshei Yeshiva or Yeshivot Hesder or whatever, but you are defending the position that he is holding. Granted, you want to say that his statement is extreme and you disagree with it? Then say so.

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    21. As far as the specifics, perhaps tzarich iyun IS indeed said at times. And sometimes it does not matter. And many people are happy to handwave problems away - that there were no dinosaurs or kangaroos in the Torah for dibrah Torah reasons or whatever, and it is the antirationalist side that gets upset and digs in! It is very Christian Evangelical of them.

      The examples I chose were specific developments in the Middle Ages and beyond that do not require technology:
      -quarantine is a word developed in Italy during the Black Death meaning 40 days. Isolating a Metzora is different bc isn't tzara'as a spiritual malady? And even if not, quarantining as a strategy is not generalized to all sickness.

      Personal hygiene is tricky, and yeah I should backtrack that one - I was referring to the "discovery" in the last 200 years that doctors should wash their hands in between doing autopsies and delivering babies. But perhaps the plethora of reasons to do netilas yadayim and go to the mikvah, Judaism had this sorta covered. But the invention of soap by one of the other commenters could still be a question.

      Crop rotation was a medieval invention. Ancient Israel had shemittah, land lying fallow completely. Now, I'm not suggesting to violate shemittah in Eretz Yisrael, but perhaps in Bavel crop rotation could have been instructed if Chazal really knew about it and wanted to benefit the common folk.

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    22. Yosef,

      I am not sure what your point is. I already said I disagree with the idea the GRA could make an atom bomb. I see no reason to say such a thing. I don't know why you say this is the "typical" response, it's definitely not. You bristle at the "secularist" broad brush, but have no projecting the most ridiculous things onto the "anti-rationalists" and "chareidim". Rabbi Slifkin is the opposite extreme, that our Sages didn't even know what was in front of their noses because "empiricism hadn't been invented yet". This position is infinitely more ridiculous than R' Elya Ber.

      I think I have sufficiently explained my position here and in other posts, but I will briefly restate. It is even more rational than yours. Not only can Chazal err in science, they can err in halacha, aggada and everything else as well! But similar to the way we *assume* they didn't err in halacha, we also assume that they didn't err in their "science". Not that they understood modern science. They had a completely different science which worked for their practical purposes, similar to other ancient societies. This is what they used for halacha. They also had the Torah, which includes deep insights into the nature of Creation, none of which necessarily corresponds to anything in modern science. This is in Aggada/Kabbala, rarely halacha. I think my view is close to Rabbi Meiselman, although not in all the particulars. My view is closest to that of the *other* Rationalist Judaism website.

      As for quarantine, hygiene and crop rotation, you are simply incorrect. The ancients knew about transmissible diseases and isolated the sick when they could. You need to stop learning history from Monty Python and the Holy Grail. Ramban and others say tzoraas (on people) was a physical malady with spiritual causes + effects. Crop rotation was practiced by ancient civilizations. My reference to Bava Metzia discusses actual crop rotation, not Shemitta.

      https://classicalwisdom.com/science/medicine/quarantine-in-the-ancient-world/

      https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Crop_rotation

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    23. Read more about the Plague of Athens (430 BC)

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Plague_of_Athens

      In his History of the Peloponnesian War, the historian Thucydides, who was present and contracted the disease himself and survived,[5] describes the epidemic. He writes of a disease coming from Ethiopia and passing through Egypt and Libya into the Greek world ...The sight of the burning funeral pyres of Athens caused the Spartans to withdraw their troops, being unwilling to risk contact with the diseased enemy.... Those who tended to the ill were most vulnerable to catching the disease. This meant that many people died alone because no one was willing to risk caring for them.

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  2. Why would one need a printing press for the ephod? The idea of casting letters and putting ink on them is not what was invented in the 15th century. That idea is fairly straightforward. The invention was movable type, which Shlomo would not have needed.

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    1. In defense of the TAZNovember 11, 2021 at 12:14 AM

      Yehoshua, your point makes Taz even stronger. If Shlomo could have engraved by means of non-movable type, which existed even before Gutenberg, but instead searched for the Shamir, then it seems that printing does not constitute engraving.

      I would point out that this sugyah starts with the TAZ arguing that Shlomo must have known how printing works.

      Note that he only mentions Shlomo. This seems to be because Shlomo was very different than anyone else. The psukim state that Hashem placed vast intellect into Shlomo's heart. Shlomo spoke about the trees down to the grasses that grew out of the walls. Hashem had downloaded vast intellect into his mind. People all over the world travelled to listen to the wisdom that Hashem planted in his heart.

      With this in mind the TAZ is understandable especially in light of the fact that movable print which - while a great advance - wasn't an invention in the sense that it required new information. Gutenburg was creative. He wasn't developing a new theory or chancing upon some unknown law of physics.

      My feeling is that Shlomo knew the laws of physics and how electricity worked. Hashem gave him vast scientific knowledge.

      (If he knew, he did not necessarily implement. Perhaps he feared evils that could be unleashed upon the world if
      information fell into the wrong hands. He writes in Mishlei "A wise man sees harm and hides...)

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    2. I am not attacking the Taz. I am questioning those who think that this relates to the discussion of whether Shlomo (and others) could have come up with later inventions had they so desired.

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  3. Regarding atom bombs, I'm reminded of the Jewish joke I heard around the mid-1960s (Cold War and home bomb shelters -- this was Scarsdale). Anyway, with all the talk about the Russians and atom bombs, what would be for "The Jews"? Not to worry -- we've got the "V'dibarta bam".

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  4. No Rabbi Doctor.

    A mystical approach is less pedanticaly literal. Only Rationalists make such a drama about nothing.

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    1. So you're saying that Chazal were NOT Divinely endowed with special understanding and we're, in fact, fallible? Then perhaps we should re-examine binding opinions which are based on errors of fact or conditions which no longer apply.

      Welcome, friend, to the exciting and vibrant world of Rationalism. It isn't always easy. It requires hard work more than memorization. But I think you will find it's worth the effort

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    2. You are obviously new here.

      I am certainly and consistently of that view. I contend that any Jew responsive to both empirical reality and Jewish tradition must necessarily embrace mystic abstractions.

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    3. “I contend that any Jew responsive to both empirical reality and Jewish tradition must necessarily embrace mystic abstractions.”

      Why?

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    4. For example: if you feel that the existence of some hairless apes on a middling planet somewhere in the vastness of space has real significance, even though said apes in question are scientifically animals in all respects, then you must find some other way of expressing that significance other than personal creation from the dust of all known earth.

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    5. The Hat - see my comment in the thread above about trying to have it both ways. Which option to do you endorse?

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    6. Yosef R

      I think that for even the most observant Jews, this is a question they answer minute to minute by making use of modern technologies - voting with their feet.

      It is childisly fantastical to suppose that King Shlomo (if in fact he historically actually existed....) knew of 19th century or later technologies. When he is described as the wisest of all men l, that is not a literally true statement, it is obviously a non-literal figure of speech.

      I am suprised that Rabbi Student is spending time analysing this narrischkeit. The Acharonim who try to draw conclusions from this proposition come across as Purim Torah, and I note none have used the theory in a way that would be halachically consequential.

      The fake hat is far frummer than I am and would mantain that Shlomo HaMelech also used to blog on Rationalist Judaism back in the day.

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    7. Rabbi Student? I don't know of his opinions on this issue.

      Rationalists completely agree with your statement about Shlomo being the wisest of all men. But it is exactly this kind of thing that the people who argue against dinosaurs and an old Earth bring up! If you feel that those who say that Shlomo - or Rav Ashi or the Gra - could have build an atom bomb are saying ridiculous things, that's wonderful, and we agree. But don't deny that that opinion exists, and that position is highly highly influential, and it is EXACTLY people with this opinion who caused the book ban and the general religion-science dichotomy that we have even today.

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  5. I'm not sure if anyone takes the concept of Chazal having access to all future science literally - even if they play lip service to that claim.

    If that was literally true, it would make Chazal the most immoral people who ever lived, it would mean that they would have the science behind vaccinations and preventative medicine which could have prevented the Bubonic Plague, but didn't share it with other people and as a result millions of people died.

    It would mean that they knew of a cure for Cancer, knew that Asbestos would be dangerous as a construction material, and knew how to build safer cars to prevent road deaths, but decided not to share that information with anyone.

    I don't understand why anyone thinks that Chazal having access to science or inventions that were to come in thousands of years time makes Chazal into wiser or more moral people.

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    1. I was reflecting how much misinformation has been spread about COVID, in our modern era, with modern medicine and so much information literally at our fingertips.

      Is it outlandish or heretical to say that perhaps the "cures" that Chazal suggest (such as in Avodah Zarah 28) were more from hearsay, of what people thought works, rather than from actually consulting medical experts of the time? (I think some of the Sages were themselves doctors, such as Mar Shmuel.)

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    2. Not that I agree with those who think that Chazal knew about modern technology, but this is clearly just a case of projecting modern, secular values onto Chazal. The Gemara says it was a good thing Chizkiyahu (I think) hid the Sefer Refuos.

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    3. Exactly. They don't literally mean it is true.

      If someone says their spouse is the best person in the world that isn't a literally true statement either.

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    4. Well it's stated very clearly in the Talmud (Pesachim 56a) that Hezekiah hid away the book of all cures and the sages agreed with him. So I guess that does indeed make all of them the most immoral people who ever lived?

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    5. The Rambam on that Mishneh says that the book of cures that Hezekiah hid must have involved some sort of process or practice that people could mistake for avodah zarah. That was his reason for destroying Moshe Rabbenu's copper snake.

      He writes that if it was just cures to illnesses, people would naturally be grateful to Hashem for the cure, just as hungry people are thankful to Hashem after eating a loaf of bread.

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    6. Yehudah,that was exactly my point. Ok, so he had a good religious reason to withold the Sefer Refuos. By the same token, maybe Solomon had good religious reasons for not curing cancer or building spaceships (not that I think he could). But by modern, secular standards, he would seem monstrously immoral.

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    7. But by saying "not that I think he could" it undoes the whole position! It now permits us today to say that yes indeed, we know more science.

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    8. Huh? The point of contention was whether we could use modern, secular morals to declare what Chazal/Shlomo would or would not have done. I pointed out that this is anachronistic, they certainly didn't conform to the most recent modern, secular values that were made up five minutes ago. And I believe the example of Chizkiya proves it, among countless other proofs.

      That said, I think the idea that Shlomo Hamelech could have designed spaceships is wrong, for other reasons.

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    9. Curing diseases and easing suffering are "modern secular values made up five minutes ago?"

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    10. The "modern secular values made up five minutes ago" refers to the assumption that there cannot be anything more important than curing diseases and easing suffering.

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  6. I once asked someone who told me that Chazal knew everything if they could tell me the location and vector of an electron. When he told me that of course they could, I asked (trying to look at innocent as I could) if they also knew that you cannot know both at the same time?
    I am still waiting for the answer.

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    1. This is one clear example of " Ha nistaros LaShem Elokeinu v' ha niglaos lanu ul'vaneinu ad olam." HaShem's serets are His alone. No amount of study, cavanah or imrsions in a miqvqh can reveal them. That whis revealed, however, is available and knowable to all.

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    2. Momentum and location are both vectors. But I appreciate the lomdus of the shtech.

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    3. Can I play the piano anymore? Of course you can. Well I couldn't before!

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    4. they knew Pi to thousands of decimal places, but rounded it down to 3....

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    5. The only reply you're likely to get besides incomprehension or anger is "God would tell them if it were important."

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    6. Dan,
      Luxuriating with like minded people in the a vast cotton cloud of superiority predicated on a spurious and self serving fantasy of what a hypothetical member of a poorer and less privileged group than your own might say - it isn't the great look you think it is.

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    7. Mr. Hat,

      Dan’s self-satisfaction notwithstanding, I’d like to observe (as I often have when reading your comments on this blog) that you write well in service to a bad cause.

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  7. You would also have to assume that NONE of the rebels who wanted to surrender to the Romans knew any of modern science. A few machine guns would have finished off those pesky Romans. I appreciate the 'standard' answer is that Chazal knew the beis hamikdosh's time was up, so they didn't want to use such technology. But that wouldn't apply to the rebels who thought little of 'chazal'. Why would they want to surrender when they could have used a few machine guns? You would need to say there wasn't a single 'shoneh u'pirush' from their ranks.

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  8. Love it. You’re using the wrong example. The ignorance of the rabbis about science shows in their examples - the question isn’t whether Abraham could have made a car. The question is whether he could have made vaccines, or pest-resistant wheat like Borlaug’s innovation, which saved an estimated one billion lives and counting JUST IN THE 20th CENTURY. So these rabbis have to explain, if Abraham could have invented such wheat c. 1800 BCE (give or take a century or two), WHY DIDN’T HE? Can they explain why the father of chesed chose to feed dozens, while letting billions starve to death throughout history?

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  9. Why did chazal consult with doctors if they knew everything

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  10. http://jewishworker.blogspot.com/2006/01/could-shlomo-hamelech-have-invented.html
    https://jewishworker.blogspot.com/2007/07/could-shlomo-hamelech-have-invented.html

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  11. http://jewishworker.blogspot.com/2006/01/could-shlomo-hamelech-have-invented.html
    https://jewishworker.blogspot.com/2007/07/could-shlomo-hamelech-have-invented.html

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  12. The beliefs you speak of are out there, but it's not a relatively recent view (as you state), and it doesn't stem from mysticism - it comes from exaggeration. Chazal, as did other people of the period, often spoke in exaggerated terms and numbers. In truth, the Torah itself is replete with exaggerations. The belief that the Rabbis know not just Torah, but everything, is part of this tendency.

    Now, you can SAY chazal were aware that they were speaking in exaggerated terms, unlike people of today - but I'm not sure either proposition would be true.

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  13. A certain Haggada writes in the name of a sefer that the Migdal Bavel may have been a space rocket.

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  14. Are we certain Shlomo didn't build a spaceship, but with advanced cloaking devices?

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  15. Spontaneous generation...fire salamanders...a geocentric universe....every night the sun travels back behind a thick firmament and cooks the water beneath the earth...and calculus, discovered 100 years before the Vilna Gaon and he never heard of it...yeah, they're sure knew everything.

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  16. It is easier to say Chazal could have anticipated/knew about scientific advancements 500 years ago, when they primarily consisted of relatively crude mechanical inventions like the printing press, although that still has serious flaws. Yes, maybe if R' Akiva had spent his entire life experimenting with wooden blocks and ink, he would have come up with moveable type. But he didn't.

    I recall also that R. Chavel has a note in the Ramban saying it was easy to believe - Christians included - that all science was in the Bible in an era when science didn't know very much, and the science they thought they got from the Bible was mostly wrong.

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  17. "...but it's sort of the inevitable progression of the mystical approach"

    Silly.

    Just because someone believes in mystical Kabbala, or believes that Chazal/Neviim knew certain things about "teva", doesn't mean he believes that they could build spaceships.

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    Replies
    1. knew "certain things." Similar to Weaver's comment immediately above, saying that the wisdom of Chazal could have led to discover and to build and to extrapolate to science and technology somewhat into their own future.

      But not that they had ruach hakodesh about purine synthesis, quark spins, and quasars.

      Delete
    2. Not sure what your point is... Do you think that reading (and believing) the Ramban in the introduction to the Torah inevitably leads one to conclude that Shlomo Hamelech could have built spaceships? If not, we are in agreement!

      Delete
  18. This discussion is somewhat unfair in failing to distinguish between science and technology. It's possible to understand a scientific topic without having the ability to build a product or implement a solution based on that knowledge. So in some absurd sense, it's conceivable that Chazal could understand all of modern science and still not be able to build a spaceship or cure cancer.

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    1. I think it is uncontroversial to suggest that chazal could understand modern science (or, for that matter, technology) if it existed and was explained to them. To be sure, there is no reason to believe that ancient people were any less intelligent than we moderns.

      At issue is the claim, current in certain mystically-oriented strains of Judaism, that chazal (or even certain rishonim and acharonim, like the Vilna Gaon, as above) were magically endowed with knowledge of concepts (or inventions) that had not yet been discovered.

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    2. "Mystically oriented?"

      All the Rabbis that the Rabbi Doctor complains of are miserable Yeshivish Litvaks. They are literalists not abstracted mystics.

      Rabbi S R Hirsch's response to the theory of evolution was to recognise the significance of mythos and ethos as opposed to literalism. That was also the response of the deeply mystical Rabbi Kook the elder to a material world of increasing technological change. So too the late Rabbi Dr Lord Sacks.

      The only mystics of note that I can think of who embraced literalism was Rabbi Schneerson, who had benefitted from sufficient secular education to know better, yet insisted that the Sun did orbit the Earth or that Nidda couldn't render some women infertile, and Rabbi Shapiro, who didn't approve of the Rabbi Dr.

      Delete
  19. I remember a cheder rebbe explaining to us that, of course, Abbaye and Rava knew all science and could have invented cars, electric power and antibiotics, but they realized that it was not the right time. When it came time for such knowledge to be disseminated, H' vouchsafed it to the world through his chosen messengers - or, I suppose, perhaps the Satan did, as in the case of television which couldn't have been a product of Divine inspiration, being wholly evil....

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    1. Your rebbe may be on to something profound. There's a fun analogy to space-and-or-abyssal aliens-or-advanced-humanoids. If they exist and have very advanced technology, why haven't they quietly shared it with us to, for example, cure dread diseases and provide less-polluting energy? Well, if you were in their shoes and shiny jumpsuits, would you? The negative externalities of "violating the Prime Directive" might make it a Very Bad Idea. Advanced medicine might cause overpopulation (and might be causing it right now...), advanced weaponry might cause massive damage and depopulation (it's a risk right now, ch'v...), and cheap clean energy might create the chaos of the Resource Curse worldwide. I'm not willing to accept that Shlomo haMelech could build a spaceship, but I could imagine our sages knowing about the aeolipile but deciding that humanity wasn't ready for steam engines.

      Delete
  20. If the sages could make mistakes, how much more so does Rabbi Dr Slifkin. His biggest mistake is probably in regards to respecting our sages, enough said.

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    Replies
    1. מנקודת מחלוקתך והעדינות שבדבריך אדמה שהנך מוכר מכבר, וזה כמה שרציתי ליצור עמך קשר אלא שנתעלמת מכאן לתקופה, הבה קשר בדוא"ל דלהלן שחדשתי היום מדוא"ל שתחדש אתה היום ואולי נוכל לפעול איזה כבו"ש. בתומ"ר. adineidel123@gmail.com
      (Thank you Moderator for allowing this.)

      Delete
    2. I'm sorry, make that adineidel1234@gmail.com.

      Delete
  21. If you believe that then it means chazal stood by silently doing nothing as half of all children died before reaching adulthood of infectious diseases all the while they knew how to cure it??

    And does this also mean that today's "infallible" “Gedolim” know of all future medical cures and know how to cure all diseases but they keep it a "secret" only to have Goyim scientists spend millions and decades of research to figure it out and of course take credit for it and weaken our Emunah, when they could easily prove they that have a cure for just a handful of uncurable diseases… just imagine how many Baalei Teshuuvah they can make by proving it as opposed to just claiming it….

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  22. The more pathetic bit is the squealing and raging followed by ritualized backfilling when scientific knowledge progresses. There is always a long period when the progress is denied, often violently. Then, after contortions which would make a yoga master envious, the new Revealed Wisdom is that the latest scientific discoveries have proved that the Authorities (since this isn't just a Jewish issue) were right all along and predicted what science would later uncover.

    Heck, some of our brethren are still choosing to die on the hill of a flat Earth at the center of the universe with the Sun orbiting around it, fixed stars, waters below.

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  23. Jadaues and MS,

    You both seem to be making the same point. On the surface it seems to be a rather silly argument. Put aside chazal for a moment and consider the implications of your argument. Presumably the host of this blog would agree that g-d knows all of the science that will be discovered until the end of time. Is g-d therefore immoral for not revealing it right at the beginning of creation? After all, by not revealing it from the beginning did he not deprive mankind of the benefits that could have been obtained thereby? If you accept that g-d is not immoral then why pick on chazal? If you think that g-d is immoral you have removed yourself from the Jewish conversation, but in any case still why pick on chazal if your complaint is against g-d?

    those who argue that this is a modern idea are simply ignorant of how ancient jewish scholars thought about these things.

    from medrash rabbah beginning of bereshit:
    דָּבָר אַחֵר אָמוֹן, אֻמָּן. הַתּוֹרָה אוֹמֶרֶת אֲנִי הָיִיתִי כְּלִי אֻמְנוּתוֹ שֶׁל הַקָּדוֹשׁ בָּרוּךְ הוּא, בְּנֹהַג שֶׁבָּעוֹלָם מֶלֶךְ בָּשָׂר וָדָם בּוֹנֶה פָּלָטִין, אֵינוֹ בּוֹנֶה אוֹתָהּ מִדַּעַת עַצְמוֹ אֶלָּא מִדַּעַת אֻמָּן, וְהָאֻמָּן אֵינוֹ בּוֹנֶה אוֹתָהּ מִדַּעַת עַצְמוֹ אֶלָּא דִּפְתְּרָאוֹת וּפִנְקְסָאוֹת יֵשׁ לוֹ, לָדַעַת הֵיאךְ הוּא עוֹשֶׂה חֲדָרִים, הֵיאךְ הוּא עוֹשֶׂה פִּשְׁפְּשִׁין. כָּךְ הָיָה הַקָּדוֹשׁ בָּרוּךְ הוּא מַבִּיט בַּתּוֹרָה וּבוֹרֵא אֶת הָעוֹלָם, וְהַתּוֹרָה אָמְרָה בְּרֵאשִׁית בָּרָא אֱלֹהִים. וְאֵין רֵאשִׁית אֶלָּא תּוֹרָה, הֵיאַךְ מָה דְּאַתְּ אָמַר (משלי ח, כב): ה' קָנָנִי רֵאשִׁית דַּרְכּוֹ.
    in other words the principles that underlie creation are derived from torah. to argue that chazal were unaware of those principles is to argue that they were unaware of torah. a person who believes that but still accepts torah shebaal peh is simply being dishonest with himself. this is true even if one fails to understand the deep theological message of the medrash, all the more so when one begins to appreciate what the medrash is saying about the relationship between creation, revelation, and the nature of divinity.

    on the other hand there is quite a distance between understanding the underlying principle and being able to apply it to technology. although the underlying principles of biology are to be found in physics, Einstein wasn't much of a physician.

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    1. Because my complaint is not against G-d. I believe that it is impossible to understand G-d, for the simple reason that G-od is omnipotent, and given that current science gives hypothesizes eleven dimensions (I believe, it could be more), and we can only perceive four, then it would be sheer madness to believe that we could understand something that thinks in those eleven dimensions, perceives the totality of them completely all the time, and precedes the existence of them. It is quite frankly impossible to understand the complete 'Will of God'

      My issue is with the people who assert that rabbis and leaders of previous generations, going back to the bronze age, would be able to know all modern technology of all sorts, simply because they 'studied torah'....

      Delete
    2. Duh, you are correct. Jewish thinkers (and Gentiles too) have struggled with the question of where evil comes from and. Have given no satisfactory answer.

      Delete
    3. "in other words the principles that underlie creation are derived from torah. to argue that chazal were unaware of those principles is to argue that they were unaware of torah."

      You made a big jump there. You cite a Midrash that describes the PRIMORDIAL Torah as the blueprint for creation- as used by G-d. The midrash does not make any claims that Chazal had access to this Primordial Torah or that their understanding of it was sufficient to derive all the secrets of creation. The Midrash is talking about G-d and you're using it to makes claims regarding Chazal. Sounds a little heretical to me.

      Delete
  24. Rav Asher Weiss said something similar to Rav Malinowitz, that science and Torah are two different realms. Science is constantly advancing, whereas Torah, while applying to new situations, is constant. He was arguing that it was impossible for Chazal to know all of Science.

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  25. However one tries to rationalize it -- e.g. Chazal just didn't want to tell all they knew -- it seems to me that it simply comes down to the fact that we have no evidence that they knew everything.

    One thing we do know at this point is that it has been impossible for a few hundred years for a person to know all there is to know. The assumption is that Chazal knew all the we know, and perhaps more, but we see that has to be a false assumption.

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  26. “But many supporters ….that the Sages, with their Divinely-based insights into Creation, knew all of science.” It is telling that the supporters chose Science. Why ? Most likely because science has prestige. Why not claim the sages knew everything about any subject ? Come to think of it, I think some have claimed that too. These sort of claims are used for psychological reasons. ACJA

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  27. Set aside inventions that require technology. There are more simple inventions that do not. For instance, sign language for the deaf, low-tech composting toilets, washing one's hands with soap, low-tech water filtration, artificial resuscitation, Heimlecher maneuver.

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    Replies
    1. Good point - especially in light of the Gemara which says that if a person under a collapsed building is not breathing, then he is dead.

      Delete
    2. Ties in to what I said before . . .

      Delete
    3. YD Shulman

      Your point is of course valid.
      But the distinction between Technology and Science made by the frum folk (see Jason Elbaum above) who are desperate to retain their false image of hyper-intelligent chazal is so dumb that it really shouldn't even justify a rebuttal. I offer one here just so that the people who make this distinction shouldn't feel that they have us over a barrel on this one.

      First, even if the technology didn't exist, they should have been smart enough to document and publish their knowledge of science so that humankind could advance the technology more quickly.
      Second, forget the technology. They didn't understand advanced science either. It's obvious from what scientific statements they do make that they shared the same level of knowledge of the world that everyone else of their time did.
      Third it's obvious that this argument (the distinction between Chazal's knowledge of science vs their capabilities of technology) is purely a way of allowing the holders of this argument to maintain their hollow false fiction. It doesn't hold any water. But it must be maintained so people come up with a stupidity in order to do so. A parallel example is the way that some people believe in the idea that G-d created an 'ancient world with dinosaur bones' in order to still believe the world is 6,000 years old. It's a fig leaf.

      Shabbat shalom all.

      Delete
    4. Has nobody shown you the Gemara that Chazal did have a sign language. It was not universal, because nothing was universal in those days. But they used sign language to communicate with the deaf and mute. See Gittin and Menachos.
      A rudimentary piece of information missing, yet people pontificate as though they knew something.

      Delete
    5. Fozziebear has some instructions for Chazal. He knows what they 'should have' done.
      I was looking for adjectives for this kind of logic and someone provided them for me.
      purely a way of allowing the holders of this argument to maintain their hollow false fiction. It doesn't hold any water. But it must be maintained so people come up with a stupidity in order to do so. It's a fig leaf.

      Perfect! Thank you Fozziebear for doing the job for me.

      Even without any understanding or even knowledge of Torah, that argument is ludicrous. It supposes Chazal living in a world like ours, with values and capabilities like ours. How does he know that Chazal did not write down their knowledge? Because we don't have any of it nowadays?! How much of the knowledge extant 2000 years ago is available nowadays? How is it possible to measure such things? Who quantified the knowledge then, and compared it to what is available to historians?
      The whole idea is wishful thinking, it has nothing to do with reality

      Delete
    6. @zichron your point about the rudimentary sign language is correct, but it totally misses the wood for the tree and it displays poor logic on your part. You end up up reinforcing YD Shulman's solid point.
      You would have to show that chazal had solutions for all similar non-tech-based issues to rebut YD Shulman.

      Delete
  28. It seems to me much of this has to do with epistemology. Namely, the we know the Torah by divine revelation; that is, as an argument from from authority, so knowledge from revelation must be better than empirically derived knowledge. Therefore, Chazal's knowledge must be superior to that of scientists in particular. That God chose to reveal Torah and left us to learn about God's creation by observation doesn't seem to make sense to some people. Despite the general principle that the Torah never uses two words where one would suffice, it seems they don't think the Torah could possibly have remained silent on matters where empirical observation and reason would suffice.

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  29. Also musical notation, so that we would have preserved the music of the Beit Hamikdash.

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  30. And Braille so that the blind could learn Torah.

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  31. Whenever I hear some Chareidi apologist rant on and on about how Chazal could've invented rocket ships and cured cancer blah etc., I am reminded of a Chuck Norris "fact":

    Chuck Norris' tears can cure cancer, it's just that he never cried.

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  32. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  33. Isn't there a Gemara about how even Moshe Rabbeinu didn't understand the Torah of Reb Akiva?

    Why is it so hard to understand that while neviim could have been showed everything that will exist but were not given the tools to realize it for their own Era.

    How many of us are able to reproduce a Tesla just by watching how it's done on YouTube? (I can't even mop a floor properly :) )

    My point is, knowledge doesn't equal capability.


    Moreover, many good questions exist relative to the way the universe and life etc. work. Why can't we accept that G-d has a plan and is directing everything accordingly?








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  34. משנה יומא ג יא
    ואלו לגנאי: של בית גרמו, לא רצו ללמד על מעשה לחם הפנים
    של בית אבטינס לא רצו ללמד על מעשה הקטורת
    הוגרס בן לוי היה יודע פרק בשיר ולא רצה ללמד
    בן קמצר לא רצה ללמד על מעשה הכתב
    על הראשונים נאמר, זכר צדיק לברכה
    ועל אלו נאמר, ושם רשעים ירקב

    See also the parallel תוספתא. If Chazal knew all the sciences, then these families did not have a monopoly on these trade secrets. So what was the fuss about?

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  35. Rambam, The Guide (see משנה on שבת סז): "It is not inconsistent that a nail of the gallows and the tooth of a fox have been permitted to be used as cures: for these things have been considered in those days as facts established by experiment." (Friedlander translation. Pines has "derived from experience.")

    So Chazal permitted these things in the משנה because they established by experience/experiment. The implication is that Chazal didn't know these things to be effective by virtue of their Torah knowledge.

    And this is not just the Rambam. The Rashba analyses this section of the Guide at length in a famous תשובה. Nowhere does he protest that these remedies were known effective to Chazal by non-scientific means.

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  36. 1) Are there any explicit sources in Chazal that they gained perfect knowledge of the sciences by non-natural means?

    2) Suppose you could find such a claim in a Rishon- what that claims actually mean? And how great would such praise of Rishonim actually add up to at that time? What science was available to early Rishonim that was not available to non-eastern (e.g. Chinese or Indian discoveries/advances that were not yet disseminated west) scholars during the time of Chazal? And what difference would it make? The early Rishonim wouldn't have said that Chazal knew about telescopes, calculus, gravity or printing since they themselves didn't know about such things!
    The claim by early Rishonim that Chazal knew all sciences is not a radical claim, since such knowledge would not have been much different than knowledge developed a thousand years later. And it's not likely that such advancements from the time of Chazal till the early Rishonim would have been the prime content of such praise of Chazal. Suppose that 95% of science known during the era of Rishonim was also known at the time of Chazal. Do you think that Rishonim would make much of making claims for the remaining 5%?

    Example: The horseshoe was developed in the 9th century. Who in that era would have the chutzpah to say- Chazal were so great that they could have developed the horseshoe?! How would anyone who could learn Gemara without Rashi be in awe of a blacksmith?!

    (Did scholars of that era had a clue of the potential advances that were to come?) Contrast that with today, where maybe 5% (made up number) of science known today was yet known before the printing press! The remaining 95% would indeed be the subject of praise if attributed to some ancient people.
    The same claim- the same words uttered by an early Rishon would have a very different implication when repeated verbatim by someone today.

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  37. If memory serves me, a Gemara suggests the sages DID NOT KNOW at least some ‘sciences’. That the gentiles have wisdom BUT WE have TORAH. Implying the gentiles knew stuff the sages DID NOT know about. ACJA

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  38. Why has the Chazon Ish not been mentioned? He deals with these questions and posits more than had been mentioned here. In אמונה ובטחון near the end.

    Cue - irrelevant comments about the CI's intelligence and lineage

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  39. I read the Gaon miVilna's "Ayil Meshulash" on geometry.
    Pretty basic stuff, not mechudash'dik at all.
    If I would extrapolate from this work to the rest of science the Gaon supposedly knew, he really didn't know any more than any average person in his time.
    That pretty much puts the debate to rest.

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    1. He certainly knew more about math than the mathematicians of his day knew about Gemara

      Delete
    2. Zichron - even if what you say is true, all that shows is that he valued mathematics more than mathematicians valued Gemara.

      Delete
  40. We were only zoche to these inventions in recent years because our nashim are great tzidkoniyos, as can be seen by the fact that the number dying in childbirth today is tiny.

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  41. Many are asking if Chazal had advanced or perfect scientific knowlege how could they keep it from the public, is that not murderous?, etc.

    FWIW, I don't lend especial credence to that view in the first place, and I believe it to be a 'necessary truth' for many people, but this particular question, how could they keep it etc, does not seem to be working with the mystic (or some other word) view of history.

    The world used to be a scientifically primitive place and later it advanced. Why? Why not let it be always this way or that? Why the change?

    But this is part of G-d's plan for reasons known to Him. That earlier in history people suffer from small pox, polio, etc. but not later is part of His plan--for His reasons.

    It stands to reason that He did not want anyone interfering and whoever was privy to it was forbidden to share it; it was classified.

    So I say in defense of a necessary truth that I can make do without.


    --
    I heard from a knowlegable older friend who has since passed on z"l, that someone came to a Roman emperor with a model steam engine and demonstrated it to him. The emperor said this is bad for my empire and had the inventor executed.

    This is consistent with the Ben Ish Chai cited in the "Hirhurim" article's first (and so far only) comment.


    --
    Another point is that according to certain rationalist authorities Shlomo wasn't the wisest in history.

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  42. There is a similar story of an Arab ruler executing someone who invented a hot-air balloon (because who knew what he would do next).

    Here is article explaining the Rashba on Treifos and more:

    https://rationalbelief.org.il/%D7%9B%D7%97-%D7%9E%D7%A7%D7%95%D7%A8%D7%95%D7%AA%D7%99%D7%94%D7%9D-%D7%A9%D7%9C-%D7%97%D7%96%D7%9C-%D7%91%D7%A0%D7%95%D7%A9%D7%90%D7%99%D7%9D-%D7%9E%D7%93%D7%A2%D7%99%D7%99%D7%9D/

    And here is a brief comment on Chazal not knowing all science:

    https://www.hyehudi.org/how-come-chazal-didnt-know-all-of-science/

    ReplyDelete

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