Rebellion in the Ranks of Rav Moshe?
One of the most intriguing Torah scholars in the world today is Rav Moshe Shapiro. He is utterly brilliant and, in certain ways, has a breadth that is not often seen in the Charedi world. On the other hand, he is single-minded about the Maharal's approach to Chazal - according to which Chazal were always speaking about metaphysics rather than the material world - and considers it to be the only legitimate and authentic approach to ever have existed, rather than a peculiar and unique 16th century invention. As a result, Rav Moshe Shapiro was one of the most outspoken opponents of my books (see his letter of condemnation, and my response, at this link).
Rav Moshe's disciples - many of whom teach in various American yeshivos and seminaries - were thrown into confusion. The weaker of them decided to be mevatel da'as to him. Others broke away from him. Still others simply opted to remain with their bewilderment. Then, when my critique of the notorious Chaim B'Emunasam was released, illustrating how Rav Moshe had warmly endorsed a book that literally re-arranges the words of the Rishonim in order to distort their meaning, this was a source of great embarrassment to Rav Moshe's disciples.
And now for the latest update. A reader directed me to this interesting journal entry of an avreich in a kollel of which Rav Moshe Shapiro is the nasi. The kollel was studying the Gemara which speaks of there being two channels in the male genital organ, one for urine and one for semen (whereas in fact there is only one channel). Chazon Ish responded by claiming that nishtaneh hateva, people have evolved. Rav Moshe Shapiro disputed this and also vehemently objected to the notion that any Torah scholar could ever have been mistaken about the physical reality. Instead, he adopted a Maharal-style approach (though the Maharal never, to my knowledge, explicitly applied his approach to halachic topics) in which the Gemara is talking about the metaphysical reality.
This radical approach took the kollel by surprise. The Rosh Kollel apparently realized the astounding ramifications of such an approach - בסופו של הדיון אמר ראש הכולל שהוא חש אבוד ונבוך בשאלות המעשיות הנובעות מהגישה של רבי משה ואינו יודע כיצד להתקדם. After all, if one refuses to acknowledge that Chazal possessed incomplete knowledge of the natural world, and one refuses to say nishtaneh hateva, then what does one do with, for example, the Gemara which says that one can violate Shabbos to save the life of a fetus born after seven months, but not one born after eight months?
(Incidentally, the claim that "no intelligent person could ever have been mistaken about the number of channels in the male genital organ" is anachronistic. My friend Rabbi Dr. Edward Reichman has an excellent discussion of this topic in his article, "The Rabbinic Conception of Conception: An Exercise in Fertility." Misunderstandings about the number of channels in the male genital organ were widespread in earlier eras; even Leonardo da Vinci, in his careful illustrations, got it wrong. And great people did, and still do, make errors in matters that should be easily verifiable, such as the number of teeth that people have.)
I'm glad that people are starting to realize that, as creative and brilliant as Rav Moshe's approach is, it cannot be used as a methodology for understanding what Chazal were actually trying to say, let alone rated as the sole legitimate authentic approach.