Why Bats Get My Goat
My post on Bat Responsa generated astonishingly diverse feedback. Some people thought that it was one of my best posts ever, while others, who are fundamentally in agreement with my approach, were nevertheless very distressed at its perceived inappropriate disrespect (or even at its perceived appropriate disrespect). Eventually, due the accumulation of criticism from those with the same worldview as my own, I decided to revise it. But I would like to explain why I wrote it in the first place, and why I think it resonated so strongly with some people.
As everyone knows, I went through a very rough time a few years ago when my books were banned. While it's mostly died down, it's not completely extinct; I still occasionally suffer from its effects. The main issue which started the entire controversy is my stating that in some cases, Chazal's statements about the natural world were not correct, such in their description of spontaneous generation of mice from mud, in their describing the sun as going behind the sky at night, of bats laying eggs, and so on.
Now, if someone were to say, "Chazal were correct; there really are mice that are generated from dirt, there really are bats that lay eggs, and Chazal never claimed that the sun goes behind the sky at night, and I reject the views of all the Geonim, Rishonim and Acharonim who say otherwise," then it wouldn't bother me. At least they would be making it very clear that they are operating within an entirely different worldview and approach to Torah.
But what really gets my goat is that those who condemn me refuse to ever get into specifics. They issue platitudes about how "there are cogent answers to all these problems," about how "on a certain level, these statements are always true," about how "every seeming contradiction can be shown to be of no consequence to a seasoned mind," and about how they are teaching "The Torah of Science." But they do not ever get into the nitty-gritty of the actual cases discussed in the Gemara, and of the actual statements of the Rishonim and Acharonim!
Rav Aharon Feldman claimed that there are cogent answers to all these problems which he will address in a future essay. He wrote that six years ago, and nothing has been forthcoming - despite the fact that these are the problems which led to what Rav Feldman considers to be "probably the public issue most damaging to the honor of Torah and to its leaders in recent memory." And he refuses to address the statements of many Torah authorities who adopt the rationalist approach in these areas.
Rav Moshe Shapiro was vehement in his condemnation of me, insisting that there is no authentic Torah view that Chazal erred in science, and turned several of my colleagues against me. But he never gets into detail about the actual cases that I dealt with! He adopts the Maharal's view as a general approach, that Chazal were always speaking about metaphysics, but does not address the fact that ALL the Rishonim and plenty of Acharonim felt differently (see my monograph "The Sun's Path At Night.") A friend of mine recently approached Rav Moshe and tried to get him to address the opinions of the Rishonim and Acharonim on the topic of the sun's path at night. Rav Moshe replied with typically cryptic platitudes and wouldn't give a straight answer.
The same can be said for all the others that jump on the ban-wagon. They are so eager to condemn the rationalist approach as being the aberrant approach of young Natan Slifkin, and to proudly espouse platitudes about Chazal's knowledge. You'd think that if that's the case, they would go through all the cases that I discuss in my books, and all the sources that I discuss, and explain what they believe to be the correct approach - but they don't.
Why do I bring all this up now? Because next week, Daf Yomi is reaching several discussions in the Gemara and Rishonim that are not scientifically correct. Bats laying eggs, mermaids, super-long gestation periods, and so on. Many, many people experience spiritual turmoil upon encountering these passages. I've actually provided an approach to dealing with them, which I received from my own mentor, Rav Aryeh Carmell ztz"l, and which is in turn well-grounded in the Rishonim and Acharonim. But few are they that even dare even mention my name. Instead, people display allegiance to Rabbonim who condemn me and who claim to have the "right" answers to these cases but who never actually address either the Gemara's cases or the Rishonim and Acharonim that deal with them!
That's what really gets my goat. I apologize if I spoke out of line. But I'm only human, after all.
(See too this very important post: The Mystique of Silence.)