Saturday, March 5, 2022

The Bizarre Result

I must correct something that I wrote about Rabbi Meiselman's position. Rabbi Kornreich pointed out that Rabbi Meiselman does not, in fact, maintain that if Chazal based something on their understanding of Torah, then it must be infallible. He says that although it is overwhelmingly likely to be correct, since it is based on a deeper understanding of existence, it could still be mistaken. But - and this is the critical "but" - this is only where the Gemara itself gives some indication that there is uncertainty about it. If Chazal make a definitive statement, if they are sure that they are right, then they can't be wrong. "If they spoke definitively, it must be true."

This is how Rabbi Meiselman attempts to get around the problem of Chazal's belief that the sun goes behind the sky at night, according to the view of the Rishonim that it is to be interpreted as a dispute regarding astronomy rather than having an invented "deeper explanation." The fact the Chachmei Yisrael argued with the non-Jewish astronomers, and that Rebbi conceded to the non-Jews, is, he claims, evidence that they weren't sure about it - even though elsewhere they based this view on their understanding of pesukim. 

Of course, in my opinion, this is hopelessly contrived. "Chazal" is not a person - it is lots of people. Some of them were convinced of this position, others were not. Furthermore, why on earth would the fact of someone, or even a group of people, being certain of their own position mean that it would be inconceivable that they were wrong? There's just no rationale for it. If one person can be wrong, two people can be wrong, and if two people can be wrong, a hundred people can be wrong. Rabbi Meiselman claims (p. 123) that "just as definite conclusions in halachah carry the authority of Torah sheba'al Peh, so, too in matters of fact." But this makes absolutely no sense. Halacha is a legal system, and law can have legal authority. Statements about physical reality, on the other hand, do not have authority unless there is actual reason to be certain that they are true!

But there is something else even more bizarre going on here - the extraordinary way in which this approach plays out when you compare the sun's path at night to zoology.

According to Rabbi Meiselman, it is wrong and heretical to say that Chazal mistakenly believed that bats lay eggs, that elephants and wolves have a three-year gestation, that spontaneous generation takes place. Since Chazal expressed no uncertainty in their statements on these matters, they must be correct, even if that requires some novel and bizarre or entirely unknown way of reinterpreting what they are saying. They couldn't possibly have made a mistake about the natural world (even though such zoological mistakes were very common in antiquity).

It's incredible. When it comes to a physical phenomenon as enormous and significant as where the sun goes at night, with which Chazal, who (according to Rabbi Meiselman) were in touch with deep aspects of existence, believed they could find evidence from the Torah itself, they could nevertheless be completely wrong and fall in line with Babylonian cosmology instead of the more correct Greek cosmology. But when it comes to arcane matters of zoology, about which the Torah says nothing, they were infallible and it is absolutely forbidden to say otherwise! They didn't know where the sun goes at night, but they must have known about the birthing habits of bats!

It's not just that Rabbi Meiselman's approach is intellectually dishonest to an extreme, disrespectful of a major school of thought in rabbinic history, and anti-scientific. It also leads to the most absurd results.

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  1. Rabbi Meiselman, as a Brisker, believes in the "חפצא" of תורה שבעל פה. If I am understanding his view correctly, individual members of Chazal can be fallible, but when something is presented as the definitive view of Chazal, it doesn't only carry the weight of the individuals that expressed the opinion, but of "תורה שבעל פה". This is a very "Brisker" construct that would be foreign to a "rationalist".

    1. (a) As a system of thought, Brisk is quite rational.
      (b) There is certainly rationality to the notion that a multiplicity of channels for a masoret is inherently self-correcting, and therefore that "Chazal" are presumed to be correct in the aggregate even if individual chachamim are fallible. Indeed, this must be the case, since otherwise we could have no confidence in our traditions.
      But the understanding of the natural world is not part of a masorah; it is not a cheftza of תושבע"פ, and therefore there can be no presumption of self-correction through numbers. Entire generations can, and frequently have been, wrong about aspects of nature. Nor is there a need for self-correction; science has no need of preserving a masorah. Science just figures it out once the tools improve, something that it is impossible to say about Torah.

  2. Is rabaienu taam zamin not based on how long it takes for the sun to travel through the firemant?

    1. It is based on the amount of time the sun's like is refracted to make it look progressively flatter, as though it were traveling under a shell...

      Persian astronomy had an explanation for that phenomenon at a time the Greek's didn't. It was the wrong explanation, but it is rationalist of them to go with the contemporary theory that had the most explanatory power. Which is why, after they went to Athens and were taught the value of the Greek theory, Rebbe switched. (WADR to a rumor about Rabbeinu Tam saying otherwise...)

    2. It's a Machlokes Achronim. Maybe Minchas Cohen vs. Maharam Alshakar?

  3. It always pays to take a step back from terminology we frequently use. More than once I've appended to a discussion, "Of course, this makes more sense if you realize that 'Tosfot' doesn't actually exist."

  4. Irrationalist JudaismMarch 6, 2022 at 12:19 AM

    You can be an apikores by denying the Oral Law. But this Oral law is a two edged sword - and one very sharp edge of it is called Horayos. Horayos says that not only can a Sanhedrin err, they can also do zadonot, i.e. wilful false judgements. So to claim that the Sanhedrin was infallible is a denial of Horayos. Denial of Horayos is denial of the oral law, and hence apikorsus.

    1. To Irrationalist:
      It seems you didn't listen to the Headlines podcast, so you are a little late to the party.
      Please listen to it here before posting:
      Specifically at minute 57:20
      No-one is claiming Sanhedrin was infallible.

    2. Irrationalist JudaismMarch 7, 2022 at 1:09 AM

      Thank you R Kornreich.
      I actually asked this question many years ago, and the answer I heard was similar, i.e. Rav Ashi and Ravina sealed the gemara, and they heard a Bat Kol which said there are no mistakes.
      Your reference which sounds like Rav Meiselman, in the podcast, is apparently making the claim which you say does not exist. he is saying that Rav Ashi essentially was above any Sanhedrin, even in the lishkat haGazit,and his sealed record, the Talmud - does not fall into the category of Horayot, since it is infallible.
      How does a BD in Sura become greater than the Lishkat Hagazit, which was not infallible? Furthermore, what is the source whcih Rav MM bases his claim on ? Does Ravina say he himslef is infallible, or his rendering of the Gemara is infallible? Or did a later authority say this?
      My earlier argument was based on the Mesechet Horayot, which is part of that very Gemara, which says any BD can err - all you have done is to deny, or to quote someone who denies the validity of Horayot!

  5. "Chazal" is not a person - it is lots of people. Some of them were convinced of this position, others were not

    I don't disagree with the point, but recognize that it is common to speak of "scholarly consensus" or "public opinion." If it is wrong to speak of "chazal" as a collective voice, these and other commonly accepted notions are wrong as well.

  6. It's either intellectually dishonest or just plain ignorant to claim that a novel or unknown interpretation is "intellectually dishonest". As I pointed out in the last post, unknown or novel interpretations in order to be מקיים דברי חכמים or to answer contradictions are par for the course in ALL Torah literature for millenia. Only according to the secular academic approach that was invented ten minutes ago is this "intellectually dishonest".

    "They couldn't possibly have made a mistake about the natural world (even though such zoological mistakes were very common in antiquity)."

    Comparing Chazal to everybody else in antiquity is a secular viewpoint.

    "and anti-scientific"

    No, since he reinterprets the words of Chazal, there is nothing anti-scientific about it. Unless you consider secular academic schools of Talmud to be "science".

    This whole discussion has very little to do with science, and everything to do with whether you take a mesorah-based approach to Torah study, or a secular academic approach. The same person who says it is "intellectually dishonest" to be מקיים דברי חכמים with a dochuk approach in one place will say it everywhere else also. Such a person will have the same "intellectual dishonesty" objection with COUNTLESS Gemaros, Rambams, and halachos in Shulchan Aruch. Leading to results like this:

    1. Actually, when I described him as being intellectually dishonest and anti-scientific, I was referring to his approach in general, not specifically to this topic.

      "whether you take a mesorah-based approach to Torah study, or a secular academic approach". But the mesorah is not that Chazal were infallible in science. Unless by "mesorah" you mean that approach of the charedi world in the last few decades, rather than the approach of Torah scholars over millennia.

    2. RNS,

      I agree the mesorah is not that Chazal were infallible in science. But the mesorah is likewise not that Chazal were infallible in halacha either! Yet we try to answer them, even when there is no halachic nafka minah. This is all that RMM is doing.

    3. or, a secular academic approach may lead to results like this:

    4. Wow, a "Ben Mikra" enters the Rabbinical Judaism chat! That's a first for me! How was your Shabbat in your cold, dark hovel, Mr. Ben Mikra? Were the cold potatoes good? Still recovering?

      By the way, this is really funny

      The definitive Artscroll edition on Karaite law! Complete with gems like this
      "Although not mentioned in Adderet Eliyahu, it is worthwhile to note that Rav Anan forbade carrying only those
      things which were heavy enough to be carried on the shoulders18."
      Mamesh a groise machlokes haposkim! I guess a Ben Torah, or rather, a "Ben Mikra" should be machmir!

    5. @happy

      What is really intellectually dishonest is to pretend that there is any sort of infallibility on the part of Chazal. They were humans and therefore fallible on all matters - science, halacha, etc.
      The Talmud is a record of discussions (human) and interpretations (also human) of an earlier text - the Mishna. That text too was a human collection of other rabbis discussions and interpretations. The room for human error in all this is vast.

      Or, to put it in terms of the discussion with Kornreich and Meiselman: the Talmud simply reports how chazal tackled science and Torah. If they got things wrong, it's no big deal. What else would you expect from people (experts, yes, but still people) dealing with issues in their particular time and place. And yes, their discussions, as reported, definitely reflect their time and place.

      It isn't dishonest to say that we accept as a convention the notion that the results of their discussions as 'canonical', 'authoritative' or 'foundational' (or whatever word you want to choose).

      But to preted that Chazal had access to another level of knowledge is to make a mockery of Torah She'Beal Peh. Chazal were not super-human. They were human. Great humans, but human nonetheless.
      Even a simpleton can figure that one out. If they were super-human then they really got a lot of stuff wrong and failed dismally to get a lot of stuff right (like cures for disease).

      Comparing Chazal to everyone else in antiquity might well be a secular viewpoint. It's also an honest Jewish viewpoint. To do otherwise is to lie to your students. And the fact that this happens a lot in contemporary Orthodox life says more about contemporary Orthodox Judaism than it says about Chazal.

    6. Also, Happy, I found your mocking of Ben Mikra to be sickening.

    7. @not a fan,

      As I mentioned in a different post, I have no problem saying that Chazal relied on the ancient science that was available to them. But I also said that this science was totally adequate for their purposes (at least for halacha). And therefore we assume the correctness of their conclusions. It is the denial of this second point, and the desire to claim that the Sages arrived at incorrect conclusions, that is the beginning of denial of Torah Shebaal Peh.

      Now, RMM takes this further, not only shouldn't we say they came to the wrong conclusions, but we shouldn't say they held of ancient science all. Whereas I have no problem with that.

      But for the purposes of this discussion the difference between RMM and I are immaterial. We both agree that Shas is full of seemingly incorrect statements, contradictory statements, statement that seemingly make no sense. And in all such cases, we try to answer them rather than saying that Chazal were simply human and erred. This is the mesorah for millenia, you know this if you have attended yeshiva, and if not, you can simply open a Gemara and see for yourself. The Amoraim try to answer difficult statements of Tannaim, the Rishonim do so for the Gemara, we do so for the Rishonim.

      Certainly, there are exceptions. The Shach sometimes argues with Rishonim. The Ibn Ezra sometimes argues with the Gemara (but it's possible aggada in general is an exception, see my statement below). But to make a shitah out of saying that any time Chazal made a difficult statement about physical reality, we can simply dismiss it- that is certainly bordering on denial of Torah Shebaal Peh.

    8. happygoluckypersonage

      Oh yeah, I forgot, it is OK to shed blood of "idolaters" who haven't formally accepted the oral law. Such people are neo nazis, just like Putin says about the Ukrainians, and the Ukranians did to the Jews.

    9. @Happy

      And there you have it. The Big Lie (TM):

      "we try to answer them rather than saying that Chazal were simply human and erred. This is the mesorah for millenia, you know this if you have attended yeshiva"

      The lie is that this isn't the Mesorah at all. It is, however, the story that we tell little Jewish kids in primary school and it is the story that most frum educational institutions are unable to go beyond. With the result that adults such as yourself think it is 'the mesora'.

      Well, I'm sorry, but it just isn't true.

      As a Jew grows in Torah learning they should think a little bit more critically about the nature of Torah She'Baal Peh: about the way the Mishna came to be edited and accepted, about the nature of the discussions recorded in the gemara and so on. They should show more sophistication. It doesn't really happen - as you demonstrate here.

      You make another big error: you conflate the challenge of contradictory statements with the challenge of incorrect statements.
      It's fair to see that we seek to reconcile contradictory statements .
      But throughout most of Jewish history, errors were treated as... errors.

    10. @not a fan,

      As I said, if you are Yeshiva-educated, you know I am speaking the truth. And if not, you can open a Gemara, or a Rashba, or a Shulchan Aruch, and see for yourself. However, this may take some work on your end. You may need to learn Aramaic/Hebrew, and may need to get used to the style of Talmudic discussions.

      "As a Jew grows in Torah learning they should think a little bit more critically about the nature of Torah She'Baal Peh: about the way the Mishna came to be edited and accepted, about the nature of the discussions recorded in the gemara and so on. They should show more sophistication. "

      You are of course referring to the secular academic approach to the Talmud espoused by the maskilim and more recently by people such as David Weiss Halivni. Exactly what I was talking about!

      "But throughout most of Jewish history, errors were treated as... errors."

      Uh, no. For ALL of Jewish history, seeming errors of greater Sages were subject to attempts to reconcile them. As I said, open any Gemara or Shulchan Aruch. Your statement smacks of ignorance.

    11. @happy - "Shas is full of seemingly incorrect statements, contradictory statements, statement that seemingly make no sense. And in all such cases, we try to answer them rather than saying that Chazal were simply human and erred. This is the mesorah for millenia"

      But the primary reason that is done is to try to learn lessons. often you learn more by finding nuance in what's being said -- in the apparent contradictions, rather than just saying "he was wrong."

      Other times, however, you can learn more by looking at what someone did or said and realize "whoops, that was probably not the right thing to do, or say, or teach, or whatever."

      that's another fully legitimate way of learning, and those mistakes are also included in the Gemara (and Tanakh) and other sources to teach us things as well.

    12. @Happy

      All you did was to attempt to reduce the debate to one of identity politics: you with your (alleged) yeshiva approach and me with my (alleged) secular approach.

      Let me disillusion you.
      I merely presented the approach I learnt in Yeshiva. In fact Yeshiva was the place where I found that learning didnt have to be as dumb as primary school (which was what learning during my high school years was like).

      It so happens that the (intelligent) Yeshiva approach jives very well with secular approaches. Probably because neither of them require you to sacrifice your sechel. And thus, being (at least on a basic level) yeshiva educated I feel comfortable rejecting your contention that I "know you are speaking truth". You may well be speaking that of which you were taught, but it is a far cry from truth (certainly from objective truth).

      It's funny that you think that errors aren't treated as errors.
      Perhaps you open a Mikraot Gedolot sometimes. If so, try seeing how many times Ramban points out that Rashi just simply got it wrong. ואיננו נכון.

    13. "Perhaps you open a Mikraot Gedolot sometimes. If so, try seeing how many times Ramban points out that Rashi just simply got it wrong. ואיננו נכון."

      See, this is what I was talking about. You need to get used to Talmudic discussions. Or any Torah discussions. The Ramban was a בר פלוגתא of Rashi, and had no qualms about disputing him. Just like Rabbi Akiva had no problem disputing Rabbi Yishmael. When you become a בר פלוגתא of Chazal, you will be able to say איננו נכון about their statements as well.

      But the Amoraim were definitely very careful not to argue on the Tannaim. Not only that, but the later Amoraim tried to uphold the statements of the earlier Amoraim. And not only that, but the Stama D'Gemara tries to uphold the statements of the Amoraim as well. And of course, the Rishonim always try to uphold statements of the Gemara. Even when there is no נפקא מינה להלכה!

      Did you not learn any of this in your "yeshiva"? Some "yeshiva" that must have been! A "yeshiva" where they teach you that you can argue with the Gemara the same way the Ramban argues with Rashi. But I guess that's what should be expected from a so-called "yeshiva" that takes the secular approach.

    14. @Happy

      Always pleasant talking to you Happy.
      We were also taught Derekh Eretz. Not sure I absorped it all, but it was taught.

      I brought Rashi/Ramban to show that 'removing' errors is not the 'mesora throughout the millenia' that you take it to be.
      For the record, Ramban (1194-1270) was about a 100 years later than Rashi (1040-1105). Not sure if that makes them exactly בר פלוגתא.
      I mention this because errors are often revealed over long periods of time.
      You do see it within the Talmud too, but as one would expect, you have to be aware that only once secular knowledge has advanced significantly enough, can a later generation comment on the earlier error.
      As many great Talmidim have pointed out, you can't be a great Torah Scholar without good secular knowledge.

    15. "I brought Rashi/Ramban to show that 'removing' errors is not the 'mesora throughout the millenia' that you take it to be."

      It shows nothing of the sort. You think you have discovered some great revelation that there exists machlokes between Rabbis. Rest assured, we knew about that. But they are between Rabbis who are בר פלוגתא of each other. You will almost never have Amoraim saying איננו נכון about a statement of the Tannaim. You don't have Rishonim arguing with the Gemara (with some exceptions, as I mentioned). Rather, they try their hardest to explain the Gemara, even with forced explanations. Just open a Tosafos. Or a Rosh. Or a Rashba. Or a Maggid Mishnah. They are not saying איננו נכון about the Gemara. They simply don't do that.

      Comes along you, and says, "I'd rather not give forced explanations. That's intellectually dishonest. I've become more mature, and now I understand that the behavior of Tosafos, the Rashba, the Rosh, was intellectually dishonest. I'm more enlightened now. I'd rather just say the Gemara was wrong". And you claim this is what they taught you in "yeshiva". I have news for you. That was no yeshiva. That was a secular institution. Go ask for your money back.

      "We were also taught Derekh Eretz. Not sure I absorbed it all, but it was taught."

      If you gleefully participate in the lashon hara and slander about chareidim on this site (oh, sorry, I mean "regularly blogging about the faults of communities that you are not part of") then you have not absorbed much Derech Eretz. That said, I would be open to having nicer discussions.

  7. I gathered the "definitive statement" of Rav Meiselman from reading his book.
    It plays a crucial part in his system.

  8. I heard Rabbi Meiselman on a Headlines' podcast recently on this topic. (Shiur 359 – When Torah and science clashes - 20 minutes worth from 49:13)

    Rabbi Meiselman presented his position as follows:

    - Spontaneous generation and strange half-mice/half dirt - Chazal are not voicing an opinion if they exit. They are merely stating what the Halachot would be if these things exist. This can be useful for defining the edge cases of Halocho for future generations.

    - Same for the sun's path: Chazal can deal with both, from a Halachic and "text" aspect. They don't have an opinion or Mesora, but Halacha deals with both options. The Sod haIbur and our infallible calendar (i.e. the only calendar that has survived ~2,000 year without needing corrections) are proofs that they are of divine origin.

    - Snake gestation: Need not be a snake; it's some reptile. Besides, Ibur needs to be defined. It's not necessarily gestation as we define it. (Maybe the time between 2 births? he didn't elaborate.)

    - The Halachic rules in the Talmud are always 100% correct. True, Rabonim can err (and the Torah has Korbanot for Sanhedrin's mistakes) but the Talmudic Halachic decisions are always correct.

    Written from memory - but that's the impression I got.

    I didn't read his book, but the above is slightly different from from what I've read here, quoting the book.

    1. See this post regarding the Headlines podcast:

  9. To Rabbi Slifkin:
    "When it comes to a physical phenomenon as enormous and significant as where the sun goes at night,"

    As Rav Meiselman pointed out to RDL in his podcast at minute 55:53, this assumption that where the sun goes at night was always an enormous and significant question is pure projection from the present to the past.
    Who says this question loomed large in the minds of everyone before Galileo's time? Perhaps it was simply a curiosity for inquisitive minds to ponder--with no enormous practical significance to anyone's daily life whatsoever.

    But I am much more astounded by your belief that what is considered correct or incorrect in halacha is merely a matter of legal authority and has nothing to do with the truth!
    It would mean the פר העלם דבר brought by the Sanhedrin which erred on a matter of koreis makes no sense. If Sanhedrin is the ultimate authority and they made a ruling, how can it be later considered incorrect? How can it require atonement?
    According to you, the Ramban's famous dilemma of a sage who is sure the Sanhedrin ruled incorrectly on a matter of koreis and should not be compelled to follow them makes no sense. How can he claim the Sanhedrin erred? Since they are the ultimate legal authority in halacha and there is no objective right or wrong ruling!

    Apparently you have been unduly influenced by the Dor Rivi's position and have taken it way too far. There is certainly objective truth to be found in halacha. A טעות בדבר משנה is simply an invalid psak because it is objectively false.

    1. @kornreich

      "But I am much more astounded by your belief that what is considered correct or incorrect in halacha is merely a matter of legal authority and has nothing to do with the truth!"

      A ruling being a matter of legal authority is such an obvious description of reality that it needs no defending. Suggesting a legal ruling is 'truth' is really the astounding statement. Astounding as in 'how could an intelligent adult really think that???'

      Both the 'problems' you brought are not problems at all. The פר requires atonement because it's (obviously!) the possibility of erring in a legal matter exists when humans are making the ruling. Any Sage, even one who disagreed with the Sanhedrin, would still be forced to comply. That's how any legal system works. Once the law is decided, then, right or wrong, you follow it or you face penalties.

      There is no objective truth in halacha. To hold otherwise is to both delude yourself and to insult Hashem. He knows objective truth, we humans don't.
      All halacha is, in effect, 'the best that we humans could do in interpreting what it is that Hashem wants from us'.
      Whether it is true or not is a question we cannot answer.

    2. "It would mean the פר העלם דבר brought by the Sanhedrin which erred on a matter of koreis makes no sense. If Sanhedrin is the ultimate authority and they made a ruling, how can it be later considered incorrect? How can it require atonement?"

      Because the later ruling of Sanhedrin is binding.

    3. Well, as a great thinker once wrote, "legal fictions are sacred things." Quite literally, in the case of halacha.

    4. ועל משמעות דעתם נתן לי התורה אפילו יטעו וזה כענין רבי יהושע עם ר"ג ביום הכיפורים שחל להיות בחשבונו (ר"ה כה)
      רמב"ן דברים יז יא
      As for the חכם who is convinced the סנהדרין made a mistake see רמב"ן השגות לספר המצוות שורש א and קונ' דברי סופרים who explain that as long as the סנהדרין are not טועה בדבר משנה he is in fact compelled to listen.
      I don't see any proof from a טועה בדבר משנה that there is objective truth in הלכה. It may just mean that an accepted ruling is deemed authoritative, not that it represents objective truth.

    5. Irrationalist JudaismMarch 7, 2022 at 2:14 AM

      @ not a fan -

      The way I understand Horayos, and the Torah verses it is based on, and Hil Shogegot - is that there is human infallibility, and since Sages, judges, Sanhedrins wee human, they were also infallible.
      If the judgement is correct, then is it necessarily objectively true? We know that if it is incorrect, then it must be false. Or could it even be objectively true but halachically incorrect?

      There are different types of judgement. If the judgement is whether X killed Y, then there is the question of objective truth. X killing Y is an objective factual statment or even, which either occurred or did not occur.
      A question eg about tefillin shel Rosh might not be ojectively true - it might not arrive at the truth of How Moshe wore his tefillin, but how the halacha has defined it. Or perhaps we should take the view of Rambam on halacha l'Moshe miSinai, where there are around 19 cases of these (tefillin being one of them). So a question on how to make an eruv , or something not in that list of L'Moshe Misinai would not necessarily be objective truth but halachic truth.
      These are how in my limited understanding I try to make sense of halacha vs objective truth.

    6. Frum kiruv monotoneMarch 7, 2022 at 4:16 AM

      "If Sanhedrin is the ultimate authority and they made a ruling, how can it be later considered incorrect? How can it require atonement?"

      If the Sanhedrin could err and make incorrect rulings, how could the rulings of men of lesser stature, who were not even the level of a Sanhedrin, be infallible?

    7. Irrationalist JudaismMarch 7, 2022 at 12:11 PM

      @ monotone _

      Absolutely correct.
      In fact, the argument brought earlier, is about following the later authority. It says nothing about right or wrong.
      Later authority can be wrong as well. Horayos has no statute of limitations.

    8. Irrationalist JudaismMarch 7, 2022 at 1:37 PM

      @ yeshivish

      " as long as the סנהדרין are not טועה בדבר משנה he is in fact compelled to listen. "

      Who does the compelling? There are other ways of responding, one is to privately rebel.

      Also, in רבי יהושע עם ר"ג case , they ended up rebelling against Rabban Gamliel. he was removed from office. This is how I heard it in shiur.

    9. It's very simple that a legal ruling can be both authoritative (at the time) and objectively wrong. Two famous U.S. Supreme Court rulings (as well as others) show this clearly.

      In 1954 the Supreme Court issued Brown v. Board of Education. it rejected decades of precedent: since at least the 1890's (if not earlier) there had been a belief in the doctrine of "separate but equal." In 1954, the Court unanimously ruled: any "contrary [precedent] is rejected. We conclude that, in the field of public education, the doctrine of 'separate but equal' has no place. Separate educational facilities are inherently unequal."

      Also in 2018, the Court explicitly rejected other law that was on the books for decades. During WWII Japanese Americans were placed in concentration camps and the Supreme Court upheld the validity of that in a 1944 case called Korematsu v. U.S. Finally over 70 years later, the Supreme Court finally said: "The forcible relocation of U. S. citizens to
      concentration camps, solely and explicitly on the basis of
      race, is objectively unlawful... [we] make express what is already obvious: Korematsu was gravely wrong the day it
      was decided, has been overruled in the court of history,
      and—to be clear—'has no place in law under the Constitution'"

      There is objective right and wrong even when legislators and Courts and Sanhedrin and Batei Din and Poskim make decisions that are contrary to what is objectively right. But that does not detract from the fact that the law is the authoritative while it exists because those who make the law, made it in a particular way. There is no difficulty.

    10. For the record, Brown did *not* declare "separate but equal" illegal; it just ruled that it could not be enforced in practice.

    11. Actually what I quoted was “separate educational facilities are inherently unequal” Inherently being the key word - in that it is objectively wrong; just like “ forcibly relocating U.S. citizens to concentration camps solely and explicitly on the basis of race is objectively unlawful”.

      These are both examples of laws that have been determined to be objectively wrong which were nevertheless authoritative.

      And the Sanhedrin could make such mistakes as well. Their laws could be at once fully authoritative and at the same time objectively wrong.

  10. Here is what I believe can be a non-secular, Torah-based alternative to RMM's IMO very dochuk attempt to explain these aggados (I think he would agree they are dochuk):

    There is a strong tradition in the Geonim that אין למדים מאגדה ואין סומכין על אגדה, or אין מקשין באגדה. They are basically saying that there is no need to be meyashiv difficult aggados or medrashim. I am not sure if this fits with Rambam's approach to aggados, that they are full of deep philosophical wisdom and the secrets of creation, and we should strive to understand them. However, a rationalist need not be tied to the Rambam. Going with the Geonim is fine.

  11. Since you saw fit to out a picture of RYBS on your post rather than a picture of Rabbi Meiselman, I will take the liberty of telling me what he told me about the subject, which is basically what the Rambam and RSRH say, that HQBH never taught science to Moshe Rabbeinu, just as He did not teach him linguistics. So what Chazal say that something is binding, that means regarding the halakhic aspect. In other matters, Chazal are not considered infallible.
    However, since Chazal were exceptionally talented observers of the world, we must take what they say seriously and not just dismiss it off the bat because "now we know better."
    This is just like what the Rambam says about the animals that reportedly were half alive and half in ink in a book. The Rambam says that many people have assured them that they have seen such things. As a scientist, he cannot say about anything that it is impossible, but if it indeed exists it would go against everything we know.

    1. It would be great if you can write this as a guest post, under your own name. People with knowledge of RYBS's position on these issues need to reclaim his true legacy from Rabbi Meiselman's distortions.

  12. Seeing Rabbi Slifkin’s tendency to repeatedly misconstrue and mischaracterize Rav Meiselman’s positions (albeit perhaps unwittingly), I would prefer making a rule that no-one post comments reacting to posts about Rav Meiselman’s book unless you can check it for yourself. Since that’s probably not going to happen, I figure quoting long excerpts from TCS referenced in questions 3, 4&5 posed earlier should probably go a long way in helping people stay honest. (Maybe I’m being too optimistic.)

    3) Did Chazal necessarily believe in the half-dirt half mouse?

    Topic II Chapter 23, sec. 3-4
    Establishing the framework 3
    Regardless of the correct identification, however, when one reads carefully what is written in the Mishnah in Chulin, one sees that Chazal never made any definitive statement that the earth-mouse exists; they merely recorded what the halachos would be of such a creature.76
    As I have noted repeatedly, no one claims that Chazal were omniscient.
    Our claim — as well as that of the Rishonim and Acharonim — is that when Chazal made definitive statements, it is a sign that they knew them to be true. In the case of the earth-mouse, they made no such definitive statement.
    It is quite possible then that they were merely familiar with the persistent rumors of the creature’s existence and wished to clarify its halachic status. Chazal did not limit their analyses to actual cases arising from everyday observance. They discussed the halachos of countless issues that have never occurred and may never occur. Their interest lay not merely in responding to practical inquiries, but in establishing the Torah’s conceptual framework.
    It was completely immaterial to them whether all the details of that framework would ever find expression.77
    It is partly for this reason that they continued to discuss issues pertaining to the Beis HaMikdash long after its destruction.78 Similarly, they spent much time analyzing the halachos of situations that they themselves acknowledged would probably never arise.79 Such investigations help to round out the conceptual framework.

    4 Clarifying principles
    It is also possible that Chazal had a particular interest in discussing this creature precisely because of its extraordinary nature; not, as with Pliny, out of a love of the marvelous, but because extraordinary cases often bring out subtle halachic principles and distinctions in ways that ordinary ones do not.80 This idea is stated explicitly by the Ba’alei HaTosafos in Shabbos. Their subject is the status, with respect to the laws of purity and impurity, of a
    living animal used as the cover of a coffin(!). They write that numerous unlikely and even impossible scenarios are discussed in the Gemara to clarify halachic principles.81 The principles thus clarified may subsequently find application in circumstances that were not even imaginable at the time.
    By way of illustration, the Gemara mentions the possibility of a woman conceiving through semen remaining in bathwater from a previous bather.82 Many consequences of this unlikely situation were discussed by the early authorities. Some of them even reported that Ben Sira, author of the sefer bearing his name,83 was conceived in this manner.84 It was only many
    centuries later, however, that this piece of Gemara and the related tradition became the basis for the rulings of contemporary poskim regarding artificial insemination.85 Perhaps one day the case of the earth-mouse will serve a similar function with respect to some as-of-yet unimaginable technological innovation of the future. In any event, there is no positive affirmation in the passage in Chulin of the creature’s existence.86”

    See also “Mysterious Creatures” by Nosson Slifkin, (Targum Press 2003) pp. 228-229 where we find a very similar reason given for why Chazal in the Mishna in Chullin would have discussed the legal status of a creature without being personally convinced that it existed.

    The irony here is quite rich.

  13. 4) Gestation period of other animals given by Chazal:
    Addressed directly in TSC page 6 ft. 11 and indirectly in the first paragraph on page 358 (found at the end of Topic III-- the entire chapter 27 is very important).

    Page 6
    11 Rebbi Yehoshua’s figures in this midrash conform with those given in the Tosefta:
    תוספתא בכורות פ״א ה״י: אף על פי שאמרו בהמה טהורה דקה יולדת לחמשה חדשים, בהמה טהורה גסה לתשעה חדשים, בהמה טמאה גסה לשנים עשר חדש, הכלב לחמשים יום, חתול לחמשים ושנים, חזיר לששים יום, שועל וכל שרצים לששה חדשים, הזאב והארי והדוב והנמר והברדלס והפיל והקוף והקיפוד לשלש שנים, והנחש לשבע שנים.
    In contemporary experience gestation in dogs is said to range from 60 to 67 days. Since humans have lived in close contact with dogs throughout history it is unlikely that the correct gestation
    period was not commonly known in the time of Chazal.
    The Tosefta’s figures for many of the other species are similarly at variance with current observations.
    One possible explanation is that these facts of nature have simply changed over the years, as have many details of biology. (It is well documented, for example, that the average age for the onset of human puberty in the West has dropped significantly over the past several generations. For one discussion of this phenomenon see: Rosenfield et al, “Current Age of Onset of Puberty,” Pediatrics 106 (2000): 622–623. In Chap. 18, sec. 3 we will discuss the changes in the maturation of cows due to climate, genetics, disease and diet.
    Alternatively, Chazal ’s inquiry lekamah molid — “After how long does it give birth?” — may not refer to the length of gestation but to some other facet of the reproductive process. In any case Rabbeinu Shimshon of Sens (c.1150–c.1230), for reasons entirely unrelated to our discussion, states explicitly that the figures in the related Braisa in Bechoros 8a do not all refer to the same aspect of the reproductive process (Demai 1:1).


  14. 4) continued:

    From page 358
    "I have not tried to cover the entire topic of apparent contradictions between Chazal and science, nor do I claim that the answers I offer are my original discoveries. Many of them can be found in the writings of other authors. I have formulated them here in a way that I understand. I readily acknowledge that there may be issues that remain without a satisfying solution.
    I have tried to discuss some of the more famous questions and to offer possible solutions. In addition, in Topic I we saw that some that were once considered intractable, such as those involving the removal of the liver and the kidneys,178 no longer seem so, due to recent advances in scientific knowledge.
    As for any that may remain, they may pique my interest but do not trouble me.
    The Rashba’s reaction, when confronted with a contradiction between halachah and the observed reality, was that we must try to understand both domains better. The answer was not always forthcoming, but the Rashba was unperturbed. A solution exists somewhere, even if it is today inconceivable. There is nothing wrong with leaving an issue unresolved.
    Scientists live with apparent contradictions all the time. They remain confident that a solution exists and hopeful that it will yet be discovered.

    When discrepancies arise 2
    All the Ba’alei HaMesorah agree that definitive statements by the Chachamim are to be taken as authoritative no matter what the topic. If we notice a discrepancy between what they tell us and some indisputable fact, we examine their statement more carefully. In some instances it is the biological reality that has changed. There are also freaks of nature. In any event, we do not approach their teachings as the products of a primitive worldview based on
    the local culture.

    Contradictions between any part of the Torah and mere theory are simply dismissed. On this point all the Rishonim are agreed.

    On questioning Chazal 3
    We have previously discussed at length the Rashba’s view on questioning Chazal.179 The Ba’alei HaTosafos take a similar position. When the Gemara tells of an Amora who performed an experiment to verify a pasuk in Mishlei, Tosafos wonders how he was allowed to so. Is this not a contradiction to the passage in Bava Basra in which a talmid is punished for questioning a statement by Rebbi Yochanan pertaining to the natural world?180
    Tosafos answers that the Amora was not questioning the pasuk. He was merely trying to see whether Shelomo could have known the relevant fact through observation. The implicit assumption in this Tosafos is that it is forbidden to question teachings about the natural world not only in Tanach but also in the Talmud.

    No cause for anxiety 4
    The explosion of scientific knowledge in the 19th century presented continual problems for the Torah scholars of the day, who were generally not trained in science. It was an atmosphere where they felt overwhelmed and under attack. Few if any had the tools to properly evaluate assertions made in the name of science as proven fact.
    In the face of these challenges some may have felt compelled to concede the imperfectness of Chazal ’s factual knowledge.181 When they did so, however, it was always in response to some specific issue. Moreover, they made no attempt to square this concession with the overwhelming consensus to the contrary. Had these scholars been more sophisticated in scientific matters they might have felt less intimidated. For one thing, the distinction
    between different levels of proof would have been clearer to them. For another, they would have been more aware of the tendency of researchers to overstate their case.

  15. 5) Who is a "serious talmid chochom"?
    Addressed in Topic X chapter 76 sec. 4 "members of the club". (see also ft.25)

    Members of the club 4
    "Just as Mori veRebbi, ztz”l, did not brook any attempt to detract from the Mesorah, so did he oppose adding onto it newly discovered or newly circulated sources. His attitude towards texts that were not widely accepted throughout the centuries by the chachmei haMesorah is well known. Whereas he considered himself part of the chain of the chachmei haMesorah, he never took seriously new manuscripts that had not previously been included within that chain.
    It was for this reason that the commentary of the Meiri was never more than a curiosity to him.23 In the more than twelve years that I learned with him, the only time I remember him consulting the Meiri was the summer we studied Maseches Horios. Since the works of the Meiri had not been a part of the Mesorah that he believed he was continuing, they could never become an integral part of his intellectual universe. In the same spirit, he used to say that there are countless Teshuvos HaGe’onim, but we may rely only on those that come to us through the Rishonim.24

    The chachmei haMesorah, of whom he spoke continually, were those talmidei chachamim upon whom we rely for the transmission of the halachic Mesorah. Thus he was unable to take the Abarbanel seriously because he did not perceive him as one of the chachmei haMesorah.25 Only someone whose views on the Talmud were considered authoritative could be taken seriously in other areas as well. Only he was deserving of membership in the exclusive club of the chachmei haMesorah.26 He often said that his grandfather, Reb Chaim, would not accept someone as an expert in Kabbalah unless he was also an expert in Shas.27

    26 Certain works such as Chovos HaLevavos came to be accepted even though their authors were not well known, but these were brought into the Mesorah by other scholars noted for their expertise in Talmud.
    27 The Arizal, for example, was a disciple/colleague of Rav Betzalel Ashkenazi and contributed to the Shitah Mekubetzes. Similarly, Rav Chaim Vital was a posek and dayan.

    Mori veRebbi, ztz”l, enounced his views on the Mesorah constantly. He
    had absolute confidence in the tradition of study that had been passed down to him by the scholars of all the previous generations, both in terms of its methodological validity and its content.

    25 The Abarbanel was known as a commentator on Tanach but not on the Talmud. He was accorded great respect by the chachmei haMesorah throughout the centuries (see the Kesef Mishneh on Hilchos Brachos 3:8 and the Beis Yosef, Orach Chayim 168:10), but there is an important difference between respect and authority. For Mori veRebbi, ztz”l, the Abarbanel was an esteemed thinker and commentator, but not a rabbinic authority.

    1. Irrationalist JudaismMarch 9, 2022 at 12:08 AM

      Amazing - quite amazing what RYBS ztl is quoted as saying regarding Mesorah. Also quite irrational. Since techeles, or Beit Mamikdash were not part of the Mesorah he was part of, perhaps they have no relevance whatsoever?
      (BTW, this is not too different from what rav Shach said - we have been Stateless , and without an army for 2000 years and done fine, we do nto need either of these new inventions!

      Also, Zohar was not part of any known or mass mesorah for 1200 years, or if as claimed it was from Sinai, for 2000 years. So is it ignored or rejected too?

    2. Irrationalist JudaismMarch 9, 2022 at 4:47 PM

      There is actually another fallacy in the remarks attributed to RYBS - it assumes that his own Mesorah is the total mesorah of Torah from Sinai. Which is a false assumption.
      Not every law, tradition, understanding has been preserved, nor has it all been handed down through his family and teachers. Even the Talmud itself is missing gemaras on a number of Mishnas, so it is not complete!

  16. "In the face of these challenges some may have felt compelled to concede the imperfectness of Chazal’s factual knowledge.181 When they did so, however, it was always in response to some specific issue."
    What is that supposed to mean? Both Rav Hirsch and Rav Herzog say, as a general approach, that Chazal did not master science and were mistaken about such things as spontaneous generation.

    "Moreover, they made no attempt to square this concession with the overwhelming consensus to the contrary."
    What is that supposed to mean? They present this as a perfectly legitimate approach.

    "Had these scholars been more sophisticated in scientific matters they might have felt less intimidated."
    What "sophistication in scientific matters" enables one to say that spontaneous generation does indeed occur?

    Besides, it's a bit rich for Rabbi Meiselman to claim to have such sophistication, when he can't even say anything about salamanders.


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