Discover more from Rationalist Judaism
King Solomon's Unbuilt Spaceship
We're all familiar with the relatively recent view that the Sages could not have been mistaken in scientific matters. Minimally, this could justified by saying that they had Divine assistance to ensure that anything recorded in the Talmud would be correct. But many supporters of this view based it on a much more far-reaching approach. It's not that the Sages were correct on the particular statements recorded in the Talmud; it's that the Sages, with their Divinely-based insights into Creation, knew all of science.
A post on Hirhurim, Moshe and Modern Technology, discusses various views on this matter. The Taz proves that a printing press is not considered engraving from the fact that the Shamir was required to engrave the Ephod, rather than using a printing press. Rav Yair Chaim Bacharach (Chavos Yair) says that this is not a proof, since printing presses had not been invented yet. Rav Yechezkel Katzenellenbogen, on the other hand, says that obviously Shlomo HaMelech, wisest of all men, could have made a printing press.
I've heard this expressed in many different ways. A friend of mine recently heard a shiur in which the rabbi said that Avraham Avinu could easily have made a car, but just wasn't focused on doing such things. Rav Elya Ber Wachtfogel, key mover-and-shaker in the ban on my books, argued that "the Vilna Gaon could have invented an atom bomb, do you really think that Chazal could have been mistaken about science?!" Years earlier, my own Rosh Yeshivah once pointed at some shtenders and said "the Vilna Gaon could have told you where this shtender, as opposed to that shtender, is referenced in the Torah."
During the whole controversy about Chazal and science, Rav Chaim Malinowitz ztz"l pointed something out to me. He noted that for those who take the view that Chazal knew all of modern science, why would their knowledge be limited to the particular progress of science in the beginning of the 21st century? It would have to be that they knew all science that would ever be discovered! And one cannot even begin to imagine what that encompasses! Not just spaceships of the 21st century - spaceships of the 100th century. And spaceships are the least of it.
All this may sound absurd, but it's sort of the inevitable progression of the mystical approach. Of course, according to Chazal themselves, as well as the Rishonim, such a view is utterly incorrect; they did not at all consider themselves to have supernatural knowledge of everything. For further discussion, see my book Rationalism vs. Mysticism, in particular the chapter on Sod Hashem Liyreyav.