Ruach HaKodesh and Reason
I know that any more mention of the hyrax makes many people want to bring up the cud. But, aside from my own personal fascination and history with this topic, there's little else that better illustrates the radical gulf separating rationalism and reason from anti-rationalism and dogmatism.
Some people wonder why I waste my time with Isaac Betech. After all, this is a person who not only insists that the world is 5773 years old and distorts the words of Chazal and the Rishonim beyond belief, but also acts exceedingly inappropriately in his style of debate, and was involved in the campaign against me. However, aside from my personal interest in this matter, I think that there is something else to consider. In light of the frightening fact that Rav Belsky, who is the posek for the OU and respected by many people as some sort of scientific expert, praises Isaac Betech to the heavens, it's important to respond to his claims.
In the ongoing debate in the comment thread to the post, Where are the Pandas, Penguins and Polar Bears of Psalms?, various interesting points have emerged. Isaac Betech insists that the shafan is the rabbit. He claimed that rabbits "live and have lived in Eretz Yisrael," but he was not able to present any evidence for this; his alleged sources either referred to hares instead, or to regions outside of Israel and/or to later periods in history. But all of this was only in an attempt to refute the standard position of Biblical zoologists according to their own view, that one reason why the shafan cannot be the rabbit is that the rabbit is not a local animal. Isaac Betech himself is not at all concerned with whether rabbits did or did not live in Biblical Israel. After all, King David had ruach ha-kodesh.
You might think that the debate has to end there, but that's not the case. After all, even accepting that King David had ruach ha-kodesh, this by no means results in it being reasonable to propose that the shafan is the rabbit. There are (at least) seven reasons why it is still unreasonable:
First of all, since when does ruach ha-kodesh equate to describing the characteristics of unfamiliar animals in remote places? Rabbi Sedley and myself have been continuously requesting Dr. Betech to provide sources to that effect, but he has so far been unable to do so; he merely gave lists of references which, upon investigation, proved to say nothing of the sort.
Second, Rashi is also said by many to have been written with ruach hakodesh. Yet no Rishon, and few Acharonim, believed this to mean that he possessed knowledge about the natural world beyond that which was known in his time and place. Rashi himself certainly didn't think so!
Third, if you do interpret ruach hakodesh as meaning knowledge about creatures that cannot be obtained via regular means, then how do you ever know what animal the Torah is ever talking about? Maybe the shafan is an alien life form on a different planet? Maybe it is a creature that is yet to come into existence, and will be developed in the laboratory? The fact that Chazal and the Rishonim talk about this creature is not evidence otherwise, because they also had ruach hakodesh and could see across time and space!
Fourth, we see that the Geonim, Rishonim and Acharonim attempted to identify the animals in the Torah - and as animals that they were familiar with. Why? Why did they assume that they would know these animals, if they were described in Tanach with ruach hakodesh and could live in distant regions of space or time?
Fifth, if we look at the rest of Nach in general and Barchi Nafshi in particular, nowhere do we see that the Kings and Prophets mentioned fauna or flora that was unknown in Biblical Israel. There is no mention of polar bears, pandas, penguins, pangolins, puffins, or platypuses. Barchi Nafshi is about the wonders of all creation; yet instead of it presenting a list of examples like that which you might see in a contemporary book on the wonders of nature, it limits itself to examples that would have been familiar to a person in Biblical Israel. When David is singing about the trees, he doesn't mention the giant redwoods and sequoias of California; instead, he mentions the much less impressive cedars of Lebanon. Dr. Betech attempted to present example of unfamiliar animals that are mentioned in Tenach, but all the examples that he brought turned out to be animals that are either (a) familiar in Biblical Israel, and/or (b) not actually in Tenach. In fact, all of the descriptions of the natural world in Tenach perfectly match the perspective of people in Biblical Israel - including various inaccuracies, such as describing dew descending from heavens, the earth standing still, and the kidneys housing the mind (and hares bringing up the cud!).
Sixth, every single one of the verses in Barchi Nafshi describing the natural world has a single theme; if there are two parts to the verse, they are tightly connected. Since the verse about the shafan begins by describing how the ibex live in the high hills, the animals in the second part must have some sort of connection to the ibex in the high hills. Since hyrax live in the exact same places as ibex, this would make sense (see the video at the end of this post). There is no connection between rabbits and ibex.
Seventh, if you want to talk about an animal that hides under rocks, why talk about something thousands of miles away, that nobody else (without ruach hakodesh) knows about, when there's something that hides under the rocks right here, amongst the ibex that you just mentioned? Similarly, in Mishlei 30:24-28, King Shlomo speaks about animals that are "small, yet ingenious." If I was speaking on that topic, I'd mention the bombardier beetle, the basilisk, the pistol shrimp, or some similar extraordinary marvel. Shlomo, on the other hand, speaks about the ant, the locust, and the lizard - presumably, because he and his readers knew about such animals, whereas they did not know about bombardier beetles, basilisks and pistol shrimps. He also mentions an animal that is weak, but manages to evade predators by hiding amongst rocks. Now, if you wanted to mention an example of a small animal that evades predators by hiding amongst rocks, is it not extremely reasonable to mention the animal that lives right in your area and does exactly that? Doesn't that make much more sense than positing that Shlomo mentions an animal that lives far away, and in fact prefers to hide in burrows rather than rocks?
According to Isaac Betech, none of these objections are significant. He doesn't even concede their presenting the slightest weakness in his approach! And he's been quite explicit about why. There are no unequivocal sources explicitly refuting the notion that David spoke with ruach hakodesh about an animal living far away instead of about an animal living right amongst the ibex that he just mentioned. All my objections are merely based upon reason. They are not categorical disproofs - and therefore they are without merit at all.
And there you have it: the unbridgeable chasm between rationalism and reason versus anti-rationalism and dogmatism.