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Twisting Oneself Into A Pretzel
A few years ago, many people were shocked to see the respected journal Tradition publish an article by YU Professor and Rosh Yeshiva Rabbi J. David Bleich in which he claimed that there is no reason not to accept that some insects come into existence via spontaneous generation. Perhaps even more surprisingly, he proceeded to claim that although spontaneous generation is scientifically viable, the Sages did not believe in it - despite numerous clear statements in the Gemara and the universal view of the Rishonim and Acharonim throughout the ages. All this was in a determined effort to avoid saying that Chazal based laws upon incorrect beliefs about the natural world, which Rabbi Bleich dogmatically insists to be utterly unacceptable. As Professor Lawrence Kaplan commented at the time:
I trust Rabbi Bleich has the services of a good chiropractor, since he is bending himself like a pretzel using all his considerable knowledge and ingenuity to make an exceptionally intellectually perverse and twisted argument. But aren't at least some of the editors of Tradition concerned that their distinguished publication will become a laughing stock?
Rabbi Bleich has now published that article in his latest book Contemporary Halakhic Problems, vol. VII. While there are some modifications from his original article, he does not back down from his major claims. In fact, he goes even further, dismissing the Gemara's account of mice generating from dirt as being "aggada" that is "allegorical" and "intentionally inaccurate," ignoring the fact that is discussed in halachic contexts where it is clearly not allegorical and most certainly intended to be accurate!
Rabbi Bleich's original 20-page article was written as a (seemingly angry) response to a letter of mine where I pointed out that, in a previous article surveying approaches to conflicts between Chazal and science, he had neglected to mention the views of those who maintain that Chazal were simply mistaken. I wrote a lengthy response to the article, which I have now updated substantially in accordance with the new version that appears in his book. (Rabbi Bleich's article was written in a rather nasty manner towards me, which is the cause of my adopting a no-holds-barred style in my response.) You can download my response as a PDF file at this link.
(Disturbingly, when my original rejoinder was released, many people simply said that there is no comparison between Rabbi Bleich and Slifkin, and therefore refused to even read what I wrote. I hope that people will conduct themselves in the path of Rambam and other wise men, who evaluated material based on its inherent merits, not based on who wrote it.)