Pulling Teeth and Presenting Opinions
This is part five of my response to Rabbi Bleich's 9000 word article in Tradition that responds to my 1000 word letter. (Links: My letter, Rabbi Bleich's article (not free), Part one of my response, part two, part three, and part four.)
I. Like Pulling Teeth
We now reach Rav Moshe Shmuel Glasner, author of Dor Revi'i, who acknowledges that Chazal were mistaken about spontaneous generation, but considers their ruling to be nonetheless binding. In my letter, I voiced my surprise that Rabbi Bleich did not mention his position in his lengthy survey of halachic opinions in this matter. I added that Rav Glasner's position is particularly valuable because he acknowledges that Chazal were really talking about spontaneous generation (as all the Rishonim and Acharonim observed, but as Rabbi Bleich disputes), that there is no such thing as spontaneous generation (as is adequately scientifically proved, though not according to Rabbi Bleich), and yet maintains the halachah.
Rabbi Bleich begins his discussion of Rav Glasner by saying that "Rabbi Glasner’s comments are similarly not apropos." However, he does not show this to be the case. Instead, he begins with a lengthy description of Rav Glasner's position. Then, Rabbi Bleich claims that according to Rav Glasner, the Oral Law could not possibly contain a false statement, such as that the moon is made of green cheese. As evidence for this, Rabbi Bleich engages in a lengthy presentation of Rav Glasner's idea that the Torah was given to the Jewish People due to their intellectual honesty (yes, I know what you're thinking), and concludes this presentation by saying that "Rabbi Glasner would claim that God bestowed upon the people of Israel the intelligence necessary to ensure that, in expounding the Oral Law and committing it to writing, they would not rely upon specious reasoning."
After all this, though, Rabbi Bleich is forced to admit the truth, since it is stated unambiguously in black-and-white in Dor Revi'i, and observes that "Rabbi Glasner, in the introduction to his Dor Revi’i, s.v. u-temiha, does concede that, were present-day scientific information available to the Sages, they would not have permitted the killing of kinim on Shabbat." I.e., that Chazal based their ruling on a mistaken belief in spontaneous generation. Well, there you go! That is precisely the position I was reporting! Rav Glasner believed it to be the case that, in expounding the Oral Law and committing it to writing, the people of Israel relied upon mistaken scientific beliefs. Which makes all Rabbi Bleich's discussion about the moon being made of green cheese and the people of Israel not relying on "specious reasoning" either irrelevant, misleading, or incorrect. And which means that, contrary to Rabbi Bleich's claim, Rabbi Glasner’s comments are entirely apropos. And that Rabbi Bleich's statement that "Even if the view of Dor Revi’i... would lead to the conclusion attributed to them in the letter to the editor..." is wrong - his view is exactly as I cited it.
Why does it take so much effort, distraction and apparent attempts at obfuscation before Rabbi Bleich actually admits that Rav Glasner says precisely what I reported him as saying?
II. Presenting Opinions
Rabbi Bleich then explains that Rav Glasner's view is a singular position, and that he is "rejecting the views of numerous highly-respected and more authoritative predecessors." He adds that "Halakhic decision-making is not a matter of picking and choosing among precedents consigned to the cutting floor of Halakhah. It most certainly does not consist of seeking resolutions unencumbered by “unappealing consequences” and then engaging in sophistry to justify those resolutions.
First of all, I was not making any halachic decisions. My letter pointed out that in an article purportedly presenting a thorough discussion of this topic, the view of Rav Glasner and Rav Herzog should also be presented. Rabbi Hershel Schechter gives their view a prominent role in his discussion of this matter. I do not see how Rabbi Bleich has remotely justified leaving out a discussion of their view in his much lengthier discussions. He certainly discusses many other views that are even older and more obscure.
Second, while I was not making any halachic decisions, I did write that their approach is the most salient, cogent, historically accurate, and avoids the unappealing consequences of Pachad Yitzchak (who says that the halachah should change). Rabbi Bleich does not like "picking and choosing among precedents consigned to the cutting floor" - but Rav Glasner's and Rav Herzog's interpretation of the Gemara (i..e. that Chazal were talking about spontaneous generation of lice) has the precedent of all the Rishonim and Acharonim, whereas Rabbi Bleich's favored interpretation (that Chazal knowingly dismissed microscopic lice eggs) has zero precedent! And unlike the other approach endorsed by Rabbi Bleich, Rav Glasner and Rav Herzog acknowledge that spontaneous generation does not and never did occur. Surely salience and cogency should be factors in evaluating halachic decisions! And I don't see why halachic decision-making does not consist of seeking resolutions unencumbered by unappealing consequences - the anarchy that would result from allowing halachah to be constantly re-evaluated is no different from the anarchy that Sefer HaChinnuch uses to justify Lo Sasur.
"Engaging in sophistry in order to justify seeking appealing resolutions"? To me, that sounds like a perfect description of someone who claims it cogent to believe that Chazal never believed in spontaneous generation, and who misrepresents those who observed otherwise.