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Guest Post: Summary and Conclusion [Can we "pasken" the age of the universe? (Part 8)]
Copyright 2014 by David Ohsie. All rights reserved
“[This] is a principle (klal) that the Rambam makes in his Perush HaMishnayos. When one has a question of historical fact or hashkafah – there is no p’sak. In a question of halachah, after there is a discussion of different opinions, we must come to one conclusion. Anyone not abiding by that conclusion is going against halachah – ke-neged halachah. However, in the case of hashkafah, or historical questions, this is not true” -- Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan, “The Age of the Universe: A Torah True Perspective”
“Say a great Sage comes to a conclusion opposed to that of the Sanhedrin, but the Sanhedrin rejects his reasoning. The Sage is entitled to keep his opinion; there is no ‘thought control’ in the Torah.” -- Rabbi Aryeh Carmell, “Freedom to Interpret”.
In prior posts, we have seen that in his book, Torah, Chazal, and Science, Rabbi Moshe Meiselman attempts to counter the approaches of Rabbi Kaplan and Rabbi Carmell to resolving potential conflicts between Torah and Science. Both Rabbi Kaplan and Rabbi Carmell leveraged the principle that P’sak does not apply outside of halacha to enable us to pursue novel interpretations of pesukim in order to reconcile such potential conflicts. They both based themselves, in part, on the repeated, explicit statements of the Rambam supporting the view that there is no P'sak in hashkafa or any other theoretical matter.
Rabbi Meiselman, in my humble opinion, attempts a radical reinterpretation of the Rambam’s words in order to assert that hashkafah is just like halacha. Just as in halacha, we follow the system of P’sak and do not allow each individual to follow his own opinion of which Tanna, Amora or Rishon he prefers, so to, in Rabbi Meiselman’s opinion, our opinions in hashkafah must conform to a “haskafic” decision making process determined by great authorities. According to Rabbi Meiselman, “There are times when a person must serve God through the use of his logic, but there are times when he must serve Him through the relinquishing of his logic.” (TCS pg 689).
In this series of posts, I believe that we have successfully shown that the Rambam simply doesn't admit of this interpretation. His plain language (אין מקום לפסוק כאחד מהם) says that he doesn't allow for P'sak outside of Halacha. The Rambam would theoretically admit of interpretations of pesukim that are consonant even with an eternal "Providential" universe; he emphatically rejects the eternity of a "Providential" universe due to a lack of evidence. And when the Rambam discusses the possibility of the universe's eventual destruction, an area which Rabbi Meiselman takes as an example par excellence of p’sak in Hashkafah, the Rambam himself says “those who [...] reject our view [...] are at liberty to do so. [...] Their faith, however, does not suffer by it.” I believe that we’ve established that, at least according to the Rambam, it is valid to say that we cannot "pasken" the age of the universe.
I’d like to to take the liberty to make a few more comments about Rabbi Meiselman’s book as a whole and to bring one more argument from his book that is relevant to this topic. In general, while I personally disagree with many of the book’s conclusions, I respect the fact that Rabbi Meiselman does not simply bring his own interpretation of his sources, but instead quotes large sections of the sources themselves. This gives a reader like myself the ability to more easily form his own conclusions on the topic. A large portion of the sources for these posts were in fact derived from Rabbi Meiselman’s book. I hope that I've similarly provided the reader with sufficient source material to form their own judgement.
Rabbi Meiselman repeats many times in his book that the interpretation of the Torah is not a “free for all”. I want to emphasize my agreement with Rabbi Meiselman on this point. I believe strongly that Rabbi Carmell, Rabbi Kaplan, and others are also not advocating a “free for all”. Rather, they are attempting, as the Rambam did before them, to interpret the Torah in a manner that fits with the basic observable facts of the world around us. In fact, I believe that this essay supports the conclusion that Rabbi Carmell and Rabbi Kaplan are engaging in the farthest thing from a "free for all"; they are following the plain meaning of the Rambam's words quite closely.
These posts have targeted the Rambam’s position on P’sak in hashkafah. However, Rabbi Meiselman also brings a source outside of the Rambam to prove that there is P’sak in hashkafah:
Our Rabbis taught: For two and a half years were Beth Shammai and Beth Hillel in dispute, the former asserting that it were better for man not to have been created than to have been created, and the latter maintaining that it is better for man to have been created than not to have been created. They finally took a vote and decided that it were better for man not to have been created than to have been created, but now that he has been created, let him investigate his past deeds or, as others say, let him examine his future actions. (Eiruvin 13b).
I’m sure that there is much to be said about this Gemara, but I’ll leave that to others. What I will say is that I believe that one’s interpretation of this Gemara is a kind of litmus test for their approach to this topic. Rabbi Meiselman sees in this Gemara a straightforward and literal explication of of his principle: when you have a philosophical dispute, it is to be resolved authoritatively by a vote of the authorities. I believe that we’ve shown clearly that the Rambam simply does not interpret this Gemara literally, and I believe it clear from the rather abstract issue that Beit Shammai and Beit Hillel were arguing about, that neither side ever envisaged a definitive solution, let alone a “P’sak”.
I’d again like to thank Rabbi Slifkin for allowing me to be a guest poster on his blog. I’d also like to thank him for his continual support in providing important source material such as Rabbi Carmell’s essay as well other sources that he’s made available to me in the past. And of course for all the hard work exemplified in his books and his blogs which we've all benefited from. And finally, for standing up, at a not inconsiderable cost, for some important principles.
I'd also like to thank the various commenters who have helped to sharpen by my views and added important sources. I encourage further comments and will continue to answer questions and comments to the best of my ability.