The Ever-Increasing List
Mon, Oct 25, 2010
Lichvod HaRav Aharon Feldman, shlita,
Shalom u'vrachah, I hope that this letter finds the Rosh Yeshivah well. I was recently referred to a source that I think the Rosh Yeshivah will find interesting. It is Shevilei David, by the nineteenth-century rav in Hungary, R. David Yehuda Leib Silverstein. He notes that R. Yehudah HaNasi had conceded that the Sages of Israel were mistaken in their view that the sun slips under the firmament at night to pass behind it (and points out that Rashi in several places seems to have followed this incorrect view). R. Silberstein also notes that while R. Yehudah HaNasi was correct to concede to the view of the gentile scholars, his reasons for doing so (regarding bodies of water being heated by the sun passing below the earth) were incorrect and were based on his not knowing about the existence of continents on the other side of the world. He also adds that some of the Talmud’s earlier discussions of the cosmos are also based upon their original, mistaken view of the firmament. (Shevilei David, Orach Chaim (Jerusalem 1862) no. 455, p. 96b, which can be viewed at this link.)
R. Silberstein doubtless did not think that he was saying anything radical; after all, his contemporary and colleague, Maharam Schick, wrote similarly. And he was simply following the straightforward understanding of the Gemara, which was also the approach of R. Sherira Gaon, R. Hai Gaon, Rambam, Rabbeinu Avraham, Tosafos Rid, R. Eliezer b. Shmuel of Metz, Rosh, R. Yerucham ben Meshullam, Semag, Ritva, Mizrachi, Akeidas Yitzchak, Abarbanal, Maharam Alashker, Radvaz, Remak, Lechem Mishneh, Chavos Ya'ir, Pachad Yitzchak, and Rav Hirsch, and later endorsed by Ben Ish Chai, Rav Hertzog, and my own mentor, Rav Aryeh Carmell. And, as I previously noted, there are many other Rishonim and Acharonim who wrote in other contexts that the Sages were
incorrect in some of their views about the natural world.
In light of this ever-increasing list of Rishonim and Acharonim to maintain this view, does the Rosh Yeshivah still maintain that this is "a minority opinion" which has "fallen by the wayside in the course of the centuries" and which is a "perversion of the correct approach to the Torah" (The Eye of the Storm, p. 160)? Had it already fallen by the wayside in the nineteenth century, and if so, how could R. Silberstein and the others follow it? When, and how, did it become a perversion of the correct approach to the Torah?
As the Rosh Yeshivah knows, questions such as these are greatly disturbing not only for me, but also for many thousands of sincere Torah Jews and talmidei chachamim.