Discover more from Rationalist Judaism
Rav Schachter on Chazal and Science
I've been inundated with emails in the past few days, linking to this recent shiur from Rav Hershel Schachter, shlita, on the topic of "When Science Contradicts The Talmud." Since I'm already backed up with e-mail, I decided to write a post about it, which will hopefully save me time with e-mails!
If you're looking for a close talmid of the Rav who has a more rational approach to these topics than that of Rabbi Meiselman, then this is the shiur for you! Rav Schachter does not shy away from acknowledging that some things are impossible from the perspective of modern science. Nor does he pretend that rabbinic thought on this topic is monolithic; he freely discusses the diversity of opinions that exists. (Those who were at the shiur tell me that there was also a lot of "body language" that is lost in the audio recording.)
Having said that, I should probably note that I did not entirely agree with the presentation:
I personally side with the approach of Rav Glasner and Rav Herzog (that Chazal's authority is binding even if based upon mistaken beliefs), which Rav Schachter rejects.
It wasn't clear to me if Rav Schachter was saying that it is permissible to kill lice on Shabbos because even though Chazal's reason of spontaneous generation was incorrect, the fact that such eggs are microscopic means that they are halachically irrelevant, or if he was saying that Chazal themselves actually meant that the eggs are microscopic and thus halachically irrelevant. I don't agree with the latter, for reasons explained in Sacred Monsters.
Rav Schachter seemed (though this was not entirely clear) to take the position that Chazal discussed cases of spontaneously-generating creatures and chimeras not because they believed in their existence, but rather because they were laying the ground for future scientific experiments. While in Sacred Monsters I discussed how new scenarios can be resolved via such discussions in the Gemara, I do not believe that Chazal had this in mind; rather, they believed that such creatures existed, as did everybody back then. But again, Rav Schachter's position is not clear to me from the recording.
Notwithstanding these reservations, the shiur is very valuable, for the reasons stated earlier. Perhaps someone should inform Eytan Kobre and Mishpachah magazine that other leading talmidim of the Rav have very different views on these topics from that of Rabbi Meiselman.
On a different note, my forthcoming lecture tour to the US in February is almost entirely booked up, except for Shabbos February 4th. If you would like to arrange a program for your community, please write to me.