Monday, March 7, 2022

Happy Daf Salamander Day!

Tomorrow, Daf Yomi reaches the topic of spontaneously generating salamanders! The Gemara says as follows:

Rabbi Avahu said in the name of Rabbi Eliezer: The fires of Gehinnom have no power over a Torah scholar; this is deduced a fortiori from a salamander. If a salamander, which is [only] a product of fire, when a person smears himself with its blood, fire has no control over him, then a Torah scholar, whose entire body is fire, as it is written, “For are My words not as fire, says Hashem,” how much more so! (Talmud, Chagigah 27a)

The Gemara here makes two claims about this creature: that it is a "product of" fire (i.e. generated from it), and that its blood (or perhaps some other bodily fluid) has fireproof properties.

What is this salamander? For millennia, the word salamander in many languages has referred to the creature still known as salamander in English. The name carried through from Ancient Greek, through Latin, through Old French. It was discussed by Rishonim and Acharonim. Therefore, it would seem to the same creature.

The description given by the Gemara, while not scientifically correct, also supports the identification of the Gemara's salamander with the creature known today as a salamander - specifically, the fire salamander. Found in Europe and Israel, this amphibian has a spectacular fiery pattern of orangey-yellow on a black background. It often hides in logs, and when these logs are thrown on a fire, the salamander will emerge. There is also reliable reports of amphibians in this family exuding liquids from glands on their skin which froth into a foam and render them temporarily fireproof. (For more details, see my book Sacred Monsters.) Thus, we have a convergence of evidence that this is the same creature being described by the Gemara.

The Rishonim and Acharonim who discuss the salamander generally took it for granted that it was generated in fire, as the Gemara says, without seeing this as at all problematic. This is to be expected, since for most of history, spontaneous generation was a universally accepted belief. In fact, Rabbi Pinchas Eliyahu Hurwitz of Vilna (c. 1790) challenges those who deny spontaneous generation by pointing out that the Talmud attests to the existence of the salamander growing from fire rather than from parent salamanders.

(Chasam Sofer, followed by the Rogatchover Gaon, suggests that the salamander lives inside volcanoes, but sorcerers are able to bring this creature out from its home. They do this by creating an appropriate habitat for it by burning a fire in the same place for a length of time. The salamanders make their way to this fire, where they breed and can be harvested for their fireproof blood. Chasam Sofer's proposal avoids the problem of spontaneous generation, but his explanation is likewise contradicted by modern science.)

What do contemporary rabbis, who are aware of modern science, have to say about the salamander?

Rabbi J. David Bleich insists that spontaneous generation has not been scientifically disproven (!) but continues to insist that the Sages did not believe in it anyway: "Aggadic references to mice arising from dirt (Sanhedrin 91a) and salamanders from fire (Hagigah 27a) have no bearing on this discussion. Quite frequently, aggadic statements involving exaggeration and hyperbole are allegorical and intentionally inaccurate." 

The problem is that this cannot remotely be reconciled with the Gemara's statement about salamanders. It's not an exaggeration or hyperbole - it is a description of how this salamander lives and dies. There's nothing which indicates it to be allegorical or intentionally inaccurate. And it was certainly understood as a factual, accurate account by all the Rishonim and Acharonim. Moreover, R. Bleich fails to cite the following source from the Midrash Tanchuma:

There are creatures that thrive in fire, and not in air, such as the salamander. How so? When glassmakers heat the furnace for seven consecutive days and nights, out of the thick of the flames emerges a creature that resembles a mouse, which people call a salamander. If a person smears his hand with its blood, or any other of his limbs, fire has no power over that part of him, because a salamander is generated from fire. (Midrash Tanchuma, Vayeshev 3)
This is clearly a non-allegorical, non-hyperbolic description that is intended to be accurate. R. Bleich ignores this, presumably because it refutes his claims about Chazal's infallibility and about their not believing in spontaneous generation.

Rabbi Moshe Meiselman, despite publishing an 800-page allegedly authoritative book on Torah and science, simply doesn't mention salamanders. However, like Rabbi Bleich, he does insist that the Sages did not believe in spontaneous generation. Presumably, this is why he avoids discussing the case of the salamander, which would undermine his claim that any definitive statement by the Sages about the natural world must be correct.

For the rest of us, we can comfortably adopt the approach of all the Gaonim and Rishonim and Acharonim who followed in the footsteps of Chazal themselves. Chazal did not consider themselves to be infallible authorities about the natural world. And there is no need for us to consider themselves that way. There was a universal belief in antiquity that salamanders are generated from fire, and live within it, and Chazal likewise believed that and incorporated it into their theological worldview.

If you attend Daf Yomi shiur, please let us know how the maggid shiur addressed this topic.

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  1. What in the world are you talking about? That Tanchuma is clearly a hyperbolic, exaggerated aggada, and is not intended to be accurate, any more than the Rabba Bar Bar Chana stories. Seven consecutive days and nights? Please. It's because of people like you that the Gaonim say אין מקשין מן האגדות.

    In any case, I agree with your main point, it's possible that Chazal believed in fire generated salamanders that they never saw and have no nafka mina l'halacha. Even without this Tanchuma or Gemara in Chullin. The same way it's possible they believed in the dog-headed men of Herodotus, even though they never mentioned them. Because, why not? (I don't subscribe to the view that Chazal knew everything about the natural world in the same way we know. They knew it better in some ways, worse in others.) The problems only really arise when you say that Chazal erred in things they should have or could have known about, especially as regards halacha.

    "There was a universal belief in antiquity that salamanders are generated from fire". Can you source that? Wikipedia indicates that it was definitely not a universal or even widespread belief in those times

    1. That just happens to fit with the Gemara in Chagigah 27a, right?

    2. You clearly didn't read Rashi's explanation in Chagiga that a salamander emerges from a fire that burns for seven consecutive years. Nor Rashi's comment to the Gemara in Sanhedrin 63b where Chizkiya's mother rubbed him with salamander blood in order to save him from the fire. Rashi comments - a salamander emerges from a fire that burns for seven consecutive years.

    3. Ben, I'm not sure what you see in Rashi's explanation that contradicts what I said. He's clearly not coming from this Tanchuma. Maybe some other Medrash that we don't have.

    4. He's clearly reading the seven days/years non allegorically.

    5. Ben, he's not reading anything about this Tanchuma. He says seven years, the Tanchuma says seven days and nights.

  2. "That Tanchuma is clearly a hyperbolic, exaggerated aggada, and is not intended to be accurate, any more than the Rabba Bar Bar Chana stories."

    You're being a little too unequivocal here. That תנחומא certainly would not have been considered hyberbolic or exaggerated in its time. Many of the ancients did believe in those incredible properties of the salamander. Granted, the lesson of the תנחומא remains the same whether the salamander's properties are taken as fact or as an old wives tale. Certainly, those beliefs were in circulation, so why not use those beliefs to teach a lesson whether or not those beliefs are true?
    But it's not legitimate to compare this תנחומא to the אגדות of רבה בר בר חנה. Those are written in a very different style.

    1. "That תנחומא certainly would not have been considered hyberbolic or exaggerated in its time."

      Nah, it would have. The language of the Midrash is exaggerated, hyperbolic aggadic language. I'm not saying all Midrashim are like that. But this one clearly is.

    2. Tell me, what is the Midrash saying when you remove the alleged "hyperbole"?

    3. RNS,

      What is the Midrash saying when you remove part of it? Do you mean to ask what the lesson is? In my humble opinion, the lesson is that true Talmidei Chachamim (who are hyperbolically made out of fire, and hyperbolically deal with fire all day) are not affected by the fire of Gehinnom. One reason may be that the Torah protects them from sin. As Rabbi Meiselman said in regard to the Walder affair. But I am no expert on aggada. To reiterate, אין מקשין מן האגדות ואין למידין מן האגדות.

    4. See, you're simply completely removing the entire statement about the salamander. That's not saying that it's "hyperbole."

    5. "The language of the Midrash is exaggerated, hyperbolic aggadic language"

      I think your thinking is trapped in the 21st century. The Midrash may speak to us today, but its lexicon belongs to a long ago era. That lexicon only includes concepts that someone in that era could make sense of. The Midrash did not introduce the concept of a fire generated salamander. That concept was already in the reader's lexicon. Because (some) people at the time believed in these salamanders, the use of that term by the Midrash was not exaggerated & hyperbolic.
      In the mind of someone living at the time, there was nothing hyperbolic concerning a fireproof salamander. A frog the sized of a village, on the other hand...

    6. RNS,

      Let me repeat with the part that you wanted. Just like somebody who applies salamander blood, which is hyperbolically born in a glassblower's fire, will be unscathed by fire, so too Talmidei Chachamim, that are hyperbolically made out of fire itself, will be unscathed by the fire of Gehinnom.

    7. Ephraim,

      The description about how a salamander is made is clearly exaggerated and hyperbolic. I already showed from Wikipedia that it was NOT a common belief at the time that salamanders are born in fire. Certainly not the exact prescription of a glassblower's fire that went for seven days and seven nights. All this is hyperbolic. Like the part about Talmidei Chachamim being made out of fire. Like שיתין רהיטי רהוט ולא מטו לגברא דמצפרא כרך.

    8. If I say that there were a million people at the wedding, whereas actually there were 200 people at the wedding, that is hyperbole. But it's not hyperbole to say that the wedding took place in Chicago if it took place in New York; it's just wrong.

      There is nothing in the Midrash Tanchuma which is hyperbole. Look at it again:

      There are creatures that thrive in fire, and not in air, such as the salamander. How so? When glassmakers heat the furnace for seven consecutive days and nights, out of the thick of the flames emerges a creature that resembles a mouse, which people call a salamander. If a person smears his hand with its blood, or any other of his limbs, fire has no power over that part of him, because a salamander is generated from fire. (Midrash Tanchuma, Vayeshev 3)

    9. RNS,

      This Midrash is not meant to be a biology class. The point is the lesson about Talmidei Chachamim. The part about the salamander, even if really they believed it, was not intended to be an accurate description. Rather, the idea being conveyed is that there is this fiery creature that thrives in fire. Saying a fiery creature is "born in a glassblowers fire that glows for seven days and seven nights" is hyperbolic. Just like the part about Talmidei Chachamim being made out of fire is hyperbolic. Again, אין למידין מן האגדות. The point is the lesson.

    10. "that it was NOT a common belief "

      So it was believed by some, at least. Hence, not "clearly exaggerated and hyperbolic" as the אגדות of רבה בר בר חנה. Nobody believed in frogs the sized of a village. But some did believe in fireproof salamanders.

      "Yet that didn’t stop the legend of the fire-proof salamander (a name derived from the Persian meaning “fire within”) from persisting for 1,500 more years, from the Ancient Romans to the Middle Ages on up to the alchemists of the Renaissance."

      The fact that Pliny didn't dismiss the legend out of hand, but actually experimented indicates that the idea was not a "clearly a hyperbolic, exaggerated" legend.

    11. Happy, you are misrepresenting the Wikipedia article. It makes it very clear that it was a widespread belief.

      Furthermore, you are constantly misusing the word "hyperbolic." Please look it up in a dictionary.
      Chazal clearly believed that this creature is generated in fire.

    12. "Happy, you are misrepresenting the Wikipedia article. It makes it very clear that it was a widespread belief."

      I am not misrepresenting anything. You made a very specific claim that there was a UNIVERSAL belief at that time that salamanders are GENERATED in fire. None of the Wikipedia sources from that time say that. Resistance to fire, yes. Extinguishing fire, yes. Generated from fire, no. Only the Talmud. You are not being accurate. Perhaps you are also speaking in hyperbolic language.

      'Furthermore, you are constantly misusing the word "hyperbolic."'

      If you prefer, I will say "common aggadic language".

      "Chazal clearly believed that this creature is generated in fire."

      You seem to think that just because you say something makes it true. As I mentioned before, I have no problem believing that they believed it, even with no source at all. But this Midrash, with it's aggada language, is simply not a proof.

    13. I believe the word you're looking for is "allegorical".

      I'm glad to see that you are not a Aggadic/Midrashic literalist, though. Now, on to ma'aseh breishis . . .

    14. "Generated from fire, no. Only the Talmud."

      "There is too a popular belief that if a fire has been burning for seven years there will be a salamander produced from it..."
      (BELFAST NATURALISTS FIELD CLUB Annual Report 1885-1886)

      "...salamander (an animal said to be generated in fire)..."
      (William Elder, Our Corner, Vol. 2, 1883)

      "the notion prevailed amongst certain superstitious people down to the latter end of the last century and later that if any fire were kept burning continuously for seven years a salamander would certainly generated in it"
      (SALAMANDERS AND BASILISKS, The Leisure Hour, Nov 1, 1867)

      "...he salamander of fire came from an inaccurate observation of nature. Somebody picked up some sticks or chips in which a lizard was found put them into the fire saw the animal crawl out and then supposed it to be generated in the fourth element"
      (The Quarterly Christian Spectator, December 1834)

      "Should a glass house fire be kept up without extinction for more than seven years there is no doubt but that a salamander will be generated in the cinders" (James Pettit Andrews, Anecdotes Ancient and Modern, 1789)

      "The Salamander.. The ancients have described a lizard that is bred from heat.."
      Augustus Addison Gould, A System of Natural History, 1834)

      "Popular Superstitions.. If a fire in a glass house or any other building is suffered to burn for seven years without being once extinguished during that time a salamander will be thereby generated or produced"
      (Francis Grose, A Provincial Glossary, 1790)

      "Fire an Element the most infertile of all the four no Animal being generated in it nor permitted to subsist the Salamander onely excepted"
      (J. Flesher, Annotations to Homer's Iliad, 1669)

      "SALAMANDER A Sort of spotted lizard, by some said to be generated in and by the Fire... tho' very erroniously "
      (Thomas Dyche & William Pardon, A new general English dictionary 1735)

    15. Wow Ephraim, very impressive research if you collected these sources yourself! Unfortunately, none of them are from antiquity, which was the claim. All of them over 1000 years after the Talmud. Certainly none of them prove that such a belief was "universal in antiquity".

      Now, if you can provide a similar collection from the times of the Gemara ("antiquity"), I will reconsider.

    16. Weaver, you're out of luck. מקרא לחוד ואגדה לחוד. There is no principle of אין למידין מן חמשה חומשי תורה, the opposite in fact. Except in some cases where metaphor is possible. I would have no issue saying the Six Days took much longer if that solved our problems.

    17. "none of them are from antiquity,"

      "The Salamander.. The ancients have described a lizard that is bred from heat.."

    18. "The Salamander.. The ancients have described a lizard that is bred from heat.."

      Sorry, with all due respect to Mr./Dr./Professor Augustus Addison Gould, he does not count as a source from antiquity. Well, unless he really had arichos yamim!

    19. "he does not count as a source from antiquity."

      Here's where I find your argument strained. Remember, I'm not convinced that the gemara is clearly hyperbolic and exaggerated akin to those אגדות of רבה בר בר חנה.
      Your make a distinction that while people believed in a fireproof salamander, they did not believe in one that was bred in fire. And because of that distinction, that gemara is catapulted into the hyperbolic רבה בר בר חנה type category. This is strained, since that additional belief is not so far fetched given that at the time people believed in magical creatures, "spontaneous" generation & the generative capabilities of the four elements, fire included. Given that people already had that mindset to believe all that, what's so hyperbolic of believing in a fire born salamander too? In addition we do see that fire bred salamanders would certainly have been believable centuries later. So you have the additional strained distinction between believing an ancient belief & a medieval belief. In addition, Rashi inserts the medieval belief (the seven year fire) into his explanation of what fire born meant. You claim that fire born salamanders was only considered fantasy in antiquity- and only in medieval times did people believe it. Yet Rashi equates the medieval seven year belief with the ancient fire born fantasy! That's very strained! Has Rashi glossed over the distinction you claim to be so clear? And even if you claim that Rashi was also only dealing with fantasy, but not belief, despite what contemporaries believed, you still end up with a strained argument. That's because you would have Rashi explaining the fantasy with additional fantasy. Why? If "born in fire" is clear fantasy why elaborate it? Why not leave it alone?
      In order to justify your assertion that the gemara is clearly hyperbolic you have to pile up strained chilukim, and you end with up with something which is at best not obvious, nor clear.

    20. Ephraim, RNS made a very specific, unequivocal claim. A claim which turns out to be unsourced, and is totally his own sevara, as you explained. If you make claims like that, expect to be called out on them.

      Now, I have no problem believing that the ancients believed in fire-generated salamanders, or cloud generated unicorns, or little green men. Why not? My point was that you can't prove anything about what they considered accurate biology from an aggadic medrash. That is simply a fact according to the many many authorities who say אין למידין מן האגדות. What you decide they believed based on something Augustus Addison Gould said over 1000 years later may or may not be true. But it is not sourced in the Medrash. And even if they did believe it, the Medrash is not intending to give accurate details.

    21. "My point was that you can't prove anything about what they considered accurate biology from an aggadic medrash."

      I thought your point was that the gemara was clearly exaggerated & hyberbolic. That's different than saying that the "Medrash is not intending to give accurate details."

    22. Ephraim, I think it's the same thing in this case. The part about seven days and seven nights is clearly exaggerated and hyperbolic. When Midrashim use these convenient numbers like 7 or 60 it's usually like that. The part about talmidei chachamim being made out of fire- clearly hyperbolic/figurative. The part about the salamander being generated in fire- maybe they really believed it. Maybe they tentatively believed it. Maybe they were just being figurative. After all, it is an aggada.

      And then to say unequivocally, without a source "There was a UNIVERSAL belief in antiquity that salamanders are generated from fire"- that's just too much, I'm sorry. He might have good reason to think that, but this type of unsourced statement won't win any debates.

    23. "The part about seven days and seven nights is clearly exaggerated and hyperbolic. "

      Why? Because it should take less time to generate a salamander?

    24. "The part about seven days and seven nights is clearly exaggerated and hyperbolic."

      Blast furnaces will continuously burn for years. Even for decades. I don't know how glass was made in ancient times, what kind of fire was used, or how long the fire burned. But neither do you, until you research the subject. Without any knowledge in the subject, you can't proclaim what's clear & hyperbolic.
      When you consider continuously cooking perpetual stews (popular in medieval times), the concept of a seven year fire is not that hyperbolic.
      And there are mine fires that burn for decades.
      And consider this "Glass Blowing 101...The furnace consists of high temp ceramic castable and it takes about 6 days to reach the correct temperature, so if it ever goes out, we're out of commission for a few weeks.". Sure that source is contemporary, but again it indicates that the concept is not hyperbolic.

    25. "Why? Because it should take less time to generate a salamander?"

      I explained why. Not because I don't think blast furnaces can go on for years!

      Meanwhile, Rabbi Slifkin still never explained where he got the following assertion, which is central to his argument: "There was a UNIVERSAL belief in antiquity that salamanders are generated from fire". Wowee, a UNIVERSAL belief, he says! He is going to need a good, solid source for a claim like that!

      Needless to say, it is unlikely that a source is forthcoming. Ephraim's amazing research has turned up fruitless, except for "sources" from well over 1000 years later. Oh dear, what shall we do? To be dan lekaf z'chus, rather than say he made it up, instead, like the Midrash, I would assume he is also talking in a hyperbolic and exaggerated way.

    26. Correct. I spoke in a hyperbolic and exaggerated way. It would be more accurate to speak of a widespread belief.

      That is the correct usage of the words hyperbolic and exaggerated. But it's not accurate to describe the legend of the salamander that way, unless you have a non-hyperbolic way of describing it also.

    27. You don't even have a source for a "widespread belief". You are taking hyperbolic and exaggerated to a whole new level.

      In terms of the aggada, yes, if they did not know exactly how long it takes for a salamander to form, and where, there would be nothing wrong with them saying "seven days and seven nights at a glassblower" figuratively. Seven days and seven nights at a glassblower sure sounds figurative. Well, unless you are accustomed to reading aggados literally.

  3. Here's a fun source on the subject:
    ספר חסידים, תתרי״ד
    "מעשה היה והביא נכרי אחד חלוק ואמר לנכרים שהוא היה חלוק של הנצרי אמר אם אינכם מאמינים תראו מה אעשה השליך החלוק באש ולא נשרפה. ואמרו הכומרים ליהודים הרי תדעו כי יש קדושות בחלוק אמר החכם תנו אותו אלי ואני אראה לכם מה יש בו לקח חומץ חזק ובורית וכיבס החלוק לעיניהם אמר השליכוהו עתה באש ותנסו והשליכוהו באש ונשרף אמרו לו מה ראית לכבסו אמר להם מפני שהיה משוח בסלמנדריא והוצרכתי לכבס הבגד וכשלא היה על הבגד נשרף"

    Compare with:
    "Asbestos seemed to belong more to the realm of fairy-tales than to real life. Some believed that it was derived from the wool of the mythical fire-resistant salamander... But asbestos was also turned to less scrupulous uses. The wondrous properties of the material made it a prime tool for the creation of false relics: its incombustibility served as proof of authenticity. "

    Now for speculation: Maybe all these tales about salamander treated clothing/people actually involved asbestos, which people only thought came from salamanders.

    1. Nope. Asbestos was known in the Ancient world. The folklore around it had nothing to do with salamanders.

    2. "Asbestos was known in the Ancient world. The folklore around it had nothing to do with salamanders."

      Asbestos was known in the Ancient world, and people believed it came from salamanders. Asbestos was also called "salamander wool". The folklore around it had plenty to do with salamanders

      For example:
      "In c. AD 1250, Marco Polo also gives an account of a garment with similar properties but with a more fantastical origin, reportedly made of salamander skin. The salamander has been portrayed as possessing this mythical ‘fire-proof’ quality for centuries; Marco Polo countered that:

      “For the real truth is that the Salamander is no beast, as they allege in our part of the world, but is a substance found in the earth; and I will tell you about it. "

    3. Mmm just read an interesting history of the stuff. There was a huge variety of theories about what it was. Notably the Greeks and Romans believed it was a mineral, which is in fact th truth. Marco Polo was more than a thousand years later. Which is like a sixth of the age of the Universe according to the literalists

    4. Tellner,
      I stand corrected. It appears that the folklore conflating salamanders and asbestos did not exist in antiquity, but did in the middle ages. (Apparently, another conflation also developed connected the salamander with the phoenix.)

      I still stand by my theory that the ספר חסידים story really happened except that the garment was treated with asbestos and not salamanders. Perhaps this sheds light on what contemporary Rishonim were writing about the subject at that time.

  4. The Talmudology blog also discusses this topic today, at

  5. see the latest

  6. Same story as always. If religion agrees with current understanding it's proof that religion is divinely revealed. If it doesn't, then science must be wrong or we engage in furious backfilling to "prove" that religion didn't really mean that. But the reasoning is always after the fact. The proponents of this approach are never brave or honest enough to say which bits are hyperbolic metaphors IN ADVANCE.

    1. "The proponents of this approach are never brave or honest enough to say which bits are hyperbolic metaphors IN ADVANCE."

      Uh, actually, we are. Just one example of hundreds:

      ופושעי אומות העולם בגופן — יורדין לגיהנם ונידונין בה שנים עשר חדש. לאחר שנים עשר חדש — גופן כלה, ונשמתן נשרפת, ורוח מפזרתן תחת כפות רגלי צדיקים, שנאמר: ״ועסותם רשעים כי יהיו אפר תחת כפות רגליכם״

      I'm perfectly fine saying that this is mostly hyperbolic metaphor/figurative, even though science has not yet disproven it. At some point, you will probably find out what it means.

    2. I'm not sure that Gehennom is scientifically provable...

      (Not disputing Happy's point here, just the example)

  7. Occasional conflicts between chazal and nature are nothing new. What, Natan Slifkin thinks he's the first to discover that the salamander doesn't actually come from fire? And there have always been fundamentalists who explained away the conflicts. The only difference today is that "science" no longer has a פתחון פה, having been exposed to one and all during Covid as the fraud it is. (This is just the latest, its been a joke since the 1960s). Today it's a religion like any other, complete with dogmas, censorship, high priests, and heresies. That's where you'll see the fundamentalists who explain away - or suppress, if they can - the conflicts with reality. So you want to throw in your lot with them? Geseundeheit. See where it gets you. I'll stick with my millennia-old religion, thank you very much.

    1. Way to miss the point, buddy.

      The issue is not "Wowsers! Ancient rabbis sure didn't know modern science!" The issue is that some people feel that acknowledging that Chazal did not know modern science is generally fine and does not detract from their greatness, and others believe that this is heresy.

      Also, talk about "fundamentalists" - are you the pot or the kettle, with your ranting about "science" being a fraud?

    2. Like I said, the religion of science has plenty of true believers, and obviously you're one of them. When it comes to faith in your respective religions, what exactly is the difference between you and Rabbi Meiselman?

    3. I cannot comment on Rabbi Meiselman as I know nothing about him other than what I read here. I do know that science (a thing that is NOT a monolithic entity the way you make it out to be) is always in a state of checking and rechecking, confirming what seems to be right and discarding what seems to be wrong. Sure, there are scientists with agendas, like in everything.

      Looking at the response to Covid, scientists were on the groun in China at the end of 2019. there was some difficulty with policy decisions for the subsequent months because not only was the knowledge still only coming in at the time, but there was politics and real life that interfered. If we were strictly scientific, we would have locked down in February 2020 and stayed that way until May or June and then probably have been in better shape than we were for the rest of 2020 in actuality. Anyway, recommendations fluctuated over the following months as to how best to handle the situation - which masks were good in which situations, with the understanding settling on regular surgical masks being better to stop someone from transmitting but it's not worthless against receiving, and an N-95 being a better guard against receiving. Some recommendations were deemed unnecessary, like quarantining the mail or washing the groceries. Scientists then worked tirelessly for the following 9 months, building on 20 years of knowledge and experimentation to bring out vaccines. And some vaccines had problems, like J&J. And then some idiots refused to vaccinate, resulting in various flare-ups.

      So I fail to see either "true belief," but rather trust in a system that has proven itself and recognition of mistakes when they happen. I also fail to see how science proved itself a "fraud" during Covid. The problems arose when people did not listen to health recommendations. If people deliberately do not wear seatbelts properly, then the seatbelt manufacture should not be blamed for accident victims.

      As far as your 1960's comment, I can only assume that you are referring to social science, which indeed is plagued by people who have agendas to prove. There still is "real" science being done, but the nature of social science is that it is much much harder to do well and easier to make nonsense results popular and to make popular nonsense results. So I acknowledge your point there.

      Otherwise, true unbeliever, do you honestly believe that science is completely failed since the 1960's? Other than creating the modern world, "what have they done for me lately?" Really?

  8. Does practicing Rationalist Judaism entail eliminating non-rational ritual practices, such as candle lighting for sabbath (and refraining from work), tefilin, kosher, etc...?

    1. @hi Stan

      No, it doesn't. Rationalist Judaism (as opposed to Mystical Judaism) is one of the main streams of Jewish thought since at least Medeival Times (and many Rationalists argue - with good reason - that the Pharisees were pretty Rationalist too.)

      Don't be mislead, as many are, by the title.
      Do buy Rabbi Slifkin's book on the subject.
      And buy Menachem Kellner's book on Maimonides Confrontation with Mysticism.
      Both will outline the divide between the two streams of thought (and how the rabbinic line-up breaks down. ) It's very Captain America's Civil War.

  9. Is there a reason you think that only Gemaras can be allegorical according to R. Bleich, but not midrashim?

  10. Spontaneously generating salamanders is too controversial a topic for these guys!


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