Facing Up To The Facts
This is the final part of my response to Rabbi Bleich's article in Tradition regarding spontaneous generation.
At the very beginning of his article, Rabbi Bleich insists that any and all approaches to the issue of Chazal vs. science are irrelevant to the case of Anisakis, since Anisakis worms are demonstrably spawned outside fish and swallowed by them, and are thus clearly not the subject of Chazal's permissive ruling. At the very end of his article, Rabbi Bleich reiterates this claim, and then addresses the objection to it which I presented in my letter: If Chazal were not describing the Anisakis, what were they describing?
Rabbi Bleich first argues that he is under no obligation to answer this question; it is enough to establish that Chazal could not have been referring to Anisakis. I strongly disagree. The fact that we know that Anisakis worms are born outside of fish does not mean that Chazal knew that! If no viable alternative can be suggested, then the conclusion would be that Chazal were indeed describing the Anisakis worm.
Rabbi Bleich then says "Nevertheless, I did answer that question in my article and it is disingenuous to pretend that I did not." Actually, it is disingenuous to pretend that I pretended that he did not - instead, I addressed his proposed answers and disputed them. Here are the possibilities that he presents in this article:
"Among the possibilities are: 1) the parasite they described is extinct; 2) it has mutated into the present-day sexually reproducing Anisakis; 3) some Anisakis may arise in the flesh of the fish and others spawn in water; 4) Hazal were referring to other piscatorial creatures of which there is no dearth."
The first three approaches rest on the presumption that spontaneous generation does or has taken place. As I pointed out in an earlier post, I think that there is more than adequate reason to reject this. I am, frankly, disturbed that a scholar at YU is presenting such claims as being viable.
The fourth approach appears to be that which Rabbi Bleich describes in greater detail in his original article, "Piscatorial Parasites": that Chazal were referring to parasites that are imbibed by fish at a stage when they are microscopic and thus halachically insignificant, whereas Anisakis are imbibed at a stage when they are visible to the naked eye.
But there is no reason to think that this is what Chazal actually meant, and every reason to believe that they did not mean this. Chazal gave a blanket license (as did Shulchan Aruch) that worms found in the flesh of the fish are permitted without qualification - whereas according to Rabbi Bleich, no such permission exists in an overwhelming number of cases. Chazal did not insist that we determine where the worms were generated. They did not know the biological details of the life cycle of parasites. They believed that salamanders and mice spontaneously generated from fire and mud - and they likewise believed that insects are generated from sweat, fruit, and fish.
Rabbi Bleich claims that one who believes that Chazal were simply wrong "should be intellectually honest" and must necessarily conclude that all parasites are forbidden, "unless, of course, that person rejects the canons of halakhic methodology." I do not think that either Rav Herzog or Rav Glasner, who were of the view that Chazal's permissive rulings regarding the spontaneous generation of lice have been canonized, rejected the canons of halakic methodology, or were intellectually dishonest.
(Let me be clear: I am not insisting that the only valid approach is that of Rav Herzog and Rav Glasner. I am certainly sympathetic to those who would follow Rav Lampronti's approach and forbid them - as long as they face up to the ramifications of this for other areas of halachah.)
Rabbi Bleich concludes his article with an extremely revealing citation, from Maharal in Be'er HaGolah, where Maharal says that even if one does not accept his explanation of difficult passages in Chazal, one should not ascribe any defect to the words of the Sages. This is incredibly ironic, since Maharal's approach suffers from exactly the same drawbacks as Rabbi Bleich's article. In my monograph on The Sun's Path At Night, I showed how all the Geonim and Rishonim, bar none, understood the Gemara in Pesachim 94b according to its plain meaning, that Chazal believed the sun to travel behind the sky at night. Maharal, however, insists that Chazal were most definitively not talking about any such thing, due to his 16th century belief that they couldn't possibly have been wrong about such a matter, and simply does not address the fact that he is going against all the Geonim and Rishonim (amongst other problems with his approach). If Rabbi Bleich wishes to castigate me for my criticism of his article as being anachronistic and intellectually dishonest, then citing Maharal is hardly helping his case.