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Where You Least Expect To Find It
Last week, I posted about my surprise in discovering that Ramban subscribed to the ancient belief in the sun passing behind the sky at night. But I also made a surprising discovery in the other direction.
R. Eliezer Lipmann Neusatz of Magendorf was one of the leading disciples of Chasam Sofer, who referred to him as his “son, pupil and bracelet” in his 1839 approbation to his book Betzir Eli’ezer. Kesav Sofer called him "the one of a kind and unique" of Chasam Sofer's talmidim. That should firmly establish his Orthodox credentials!
But sounding just like Rambam, R. Neusatz observes that the Sages were mistaken in their belief about the sun’s path at night, and that they accepted the opinion of the gentiles, just as “one accepts the truth from whoever says it.” It should be noted that another of Chasam Sofer's disciples, Maharam Schick, also accepted that Chazal were mistaken in this regard. But R. Neusatz also notes that this was not the only instance of their making statements about the universe which are now known to be incorrect, and explains that the Sages were simply putting forward their own beliefs, which they occasionally attached to Scriptural verses by way of asmachta. And even more interestingly, he says that there are pesukim in the Torah that are scientifically inaccurate, but "the Torah spoke as in the language of men" - an approach which was also developed by Rav Hirsch and Rav Kook in this context, but which I was not expecting to see proposed by a disciple of Chasam Sofer. This is a theme that Dr. Marc Shapiro has been discussing in a recent series of fascinating posts at the Seforim blog (see the latest installment here), and he informed me that he is also planning to discuss R. Neusatz.
All this is in Mei Menuchos (Pressburg 1884), pp. 36a-39a. You can see the sefer online at HebrewBooks.org.