Discover more from Rationalist Judaism
Chalk Up Two More
I recently discovered two more Rishonim to chalk up to the list of the alleged "minority view" that Chazal were not infallible in their statements about the natural world - a list now numbering around fifty Rishonim and Acharonim. Both relate to the topic of Chazal's statements about astronomy.
First is R. Todrus ben Yosef Abulafia (Spain, ca.1225 - ca.1285) - not to be confused with his cousin Todrus b. Yehudah Abulafia (and if we were to judge people by their relatives, then Yitzchak Avinu and Yaakov Avinu would be in serious trouble!). He was an important rabbi in Castille, and he was also a kabbalist. In arguing how the esoteric knowledge of sod ha-ibbur could not refer to astronomy, he points out that gentile scholars were more accomplished in this field than the Sages of Israel, as evinced by their triumphing over the Sages with regard to the dispute in Pesachim 94b regarding the spheres and constellations (Sefer HaKavod to Kesuvos 111a). In a particularly sharp comment, R. Abulafia adds that “anyone who has tasted even a little knowledge knows that there is not a fool in the world [today] who believes that the sphere is stationary."
Second is a better known figure - Rabbeinu Bachya ben Asher. In his commentary to Bereishis 1:14, he also notes that the Sages of Israel had to concede to the gentile scholars regarding the stars being fixed in the spheres. Significantly, he adds that the passuk itself supports the view of the gentiles - in other words, he believes that Chazal were not previously able to deduce the correct understanding from the passuk.
It's abundantly clear to me that the Gedolim who rate it as heretical to believe that Chazal had any mistaken beliefs about the natural world, are entirely unaware of how many Rishonim and Acharonim subscribed to this view.