Sunday, April 30, 2006

Sources Indicating That Chazal Did Not Possess Perfect Scientific Knowledge

Revised November 16, 2010

Comments and update details at the bottom of the Table of Contents post.

View any section individually by clicking on one of the links below. Use the "Back" button on the screen to return to this menu.

Table of Contents

I. Introduction

I-A. Overview
I-B. Purpose of This Compilation
I-C. Some Preliminary Observations
I-D. Technical Remarks
I-E. Acknowledgements

II. Sources from the Talmudic Era

II-A. Babylonian Talmud
II-B. Other Sources

III. Post-Talmudic Sources

III-A. Not All Scientific Assertions in the Talmud Are Necessarily Correct Even If Uncontested in the Talmud

III-A-1. Explicit
III-A-2. Indicative
III-A-3. Suggestive

III-B. Not All of the Talmudic Sages' Scientific Beliefs Were Necessarily Correct


III-B-1. Explicit
III-B-2. Indicative
III-B-3. Suggestive

III-C. Chazal Relied on the Scientific Knowledge, Research and Scientists of Their Times

III-C-1. Explicit
III-C-2. Indicative
III-C-3. Suggestive

III-D. Chazal Were Not Scientifically Omniscient

III-D-1. Explicit
III-D-2. Indicative

Appendices

Bibliography

61 comments:

Eli said...

Awesome post. Unfortunately the people who put Slifkin in cheirim have an agenda and thus don't really care for anything that makes any sense.

Steve Brizel said...

This is a great collection that should be disseminated by all means available.

Anonymous said...

This is terrific. Please can you add info when you update it as to what exactly has been updated.

He Who Must Not Be Named said...

Good idea, Anonymous. I will describe future updates in comments here. The time stamp of the comment will indicate (approximately) when the changes were made.

Gil Student said...

I've been told that Rav Tzvi Tau has an article in which he embraces this view. Rav Tau is a former Rosh Yeshiva in Mercaz HaRav who created a break-off whose name I can't remember right now. He is considered one of the Religious Zionist Gedolei Torah. I'm working on getting a copy of the article.

Tzvi Freeman said...

This is a valuable resource for all involved in this debate. One of the assertions made is that a halacha psuka must be emes l'emito. This is especially according to the shita of the Rogatchover Gaon and others, that a halacha oseh es ha-metsius (makes the reality--as opposed to describing it). It would be interesting, therefore, to indicate those instances that are brought l'halacha to see whether they can somehow be settled, if b'dochek.

Ploni Almoni said...

What do you make of the statement in Midrash Rabbah 23:7? "R. Abbahu lectured: The Ocean [sc. the Mediterranean] is higher than the whole world. Said R. Eleazar b. Menahem to him: Is this not explicitly stated in a verse, He calleth for the waters of the sea, and poureth them out upon the face of the earth (Amos V, 8; IX, 6), which obviously means, like one who pours downward from above?"
Was the general belief in those times that the Ocean is higher than the land? Itis difficult to understand how they believed that.

Voldie said...

1) rambam hilchos shechitah, perek 10?

2) meiri on niddah; moshol mashlu bieeshah

3) could we please stop calling this "the shitah of r' avraham ben harambam." It's poor marketing. No one pays him any attention and it's a bone to the banners to call the shitah after some relatively obscure rishon.

He Who Must Not Be Named said...

Could you elaborate a bit on (1) and (2)? I don't know where the Meiri is, and I can think of more than one idea you might have been intending re. the Rambam.

The nice thing about calling it Rabbeinu Avraham's opinion is that there aren't many opinions named after him, and so when you make a reference to an opinion that you call his, people know what you're talking about. Otherwise a lot of sentences would get much clumsier. Also, Rabbeinu Avraham does spell out the opinion in a much clearer, broader and more general way than does the Rambam, for example. And, though I don't know to what extent people realise this, Rabbeinu Avraham was himself a Torah giant. Rishonim and Acharonim who mention him almost invariably say something like that. I would think that the widespread yichus-worship of our age would generate strong points in Rabbeinu Avraham's favour. Be sure to enunciate clearly the "ben Harambam" part.

Seriously, though, I have to defend Rabbi (Aharon) Feldman from the attacks levelled against him for using Rabbeinu Avraham as the representative of this opinion. People attributed the opinion to Rabbeinu Avraham long before Rabbi Feldman wrote his article - regardless of whether they agreed, disagreed, or were neutral on the issue.

He Who Must Not Be Named said...

By the way, Voldie, are you DNA?

Anonymous said...

Suggestion: When you add a comment about an update, can you include a link to that source?

Voldie said...

1) mishneh torah hilchos shechitah perek yud halachah 12. (could be docheh, but al pi pashtus indicates we that chazl may have been wrong about which animals are treifos but the halachah is like them anyway b/c al pee hatorah ahser yorucha.)

2) the meiri on niddah where it describes the anatomy of the woman's reproductive organs, i believe daf 17b, says that they were mistaken. ALso, IIRC, the rambam in hilchos biyyah is also mistaken in his anatomy which the maggid mishneh says was derived from (get ready for this:) experimentation! Of course, my memory could be off here, but the meiri definitely exists.

re: calling it reb avraham ben harambam's shittah. I wasn' aware this was blamed on RAF, I just thought it was poor marketing, but I understand your point about brevity.

BTW, consider publishing your compilation when it's done.

P.S. I am ... he who must not be named :)

He Who Must Not Be Named said...

For various technical reasons that aren't worth getting into, I can't always put such a link in the comments. I will when I can. Good idea; thank you.

This might make things easier for you: at the very top of the blog webpage, there is a blank space where you can type words, to the right of which there is a "button" marked "Search This Blog". If I've updated the Rambam, for example, type "Rambam" in the blank space. Clicking "Search This Blog" should drum up a list of posts on this blog in which "Rambam" (in our example) appears. You can then click on "Sort by date", which will allow you to find the desired post (the post date of which should be clear from my original comment).

He Who Must Not Be Named said...

I have just added Rabbi Moshe Meiselman, at http://darklordsblog.blogspot.com/2006/04/iii-1-s-rabbi-moshe-meiselman.html.

Voldie said...

Meiselman? If he ever said chazal could be mistaken in scientific matters, it must have been before the ban. I can't see him not trying to be the frummest.

He Who Must Not Be Named said...

I provided a source. The first of the recordings is sufficient. And it's from after the ban.

He Who Must Not Be Named said...

Thank you for the Rambam, Hilchot Shechitah 10:13. It should be up shortly.

Voldie said...

I didn't mean to challenge you on the Meiselman quote, though the page is not loading now so I can't hear it. It just came as a nice surprise. Maybe his years at MIT taught him something.

Voldie said...

BTW, also c.f. the interpretation of tosafos on eiruvim 14a given by the tosafos yom tov on kilayim 5:5 (that you can ask a kashya on the gemarah from math) (and what he says about other sciences in not applicable to the empirical science of our day)

He Who Must Not Be Named said...

I'm sure Rabbi Meiselman learned a great deal at MIT.

Voldie said...

"I'm sure Rabbi Meiselman learned a great deal at MIT."

Yes, listening to the shmooze you posted, I can only hope that it was in MIT and not in yeshiva that he got his middos.

He Who Must Not Be Named said...

Just for the record, the recordings of Rabbi Meiselman's shiurim were not posted by me. (Note the URL they're at.)

Voldie said...

No Meiri?

He Who Must Not Be Named said...

Sorry; I'll get to it. I'm out of town right now and don't have the time/wherewithal to work on this post. I'll be back home at the end of the week.

Voldie said...

Anonymous RY at YU but no meiri, okay....

He Who Must Not Be Named said...

I have just added the long-awaited Meiri to Niddah 17b.

He Who Must Not Be Named said...

I have just added a translation of the letter of the Rogatchover Gaon quoted at http://darklordsblog.blogspot.com/2006/04/iii-c-2-b-rogatchover-gaon.html.

I must say, those last two translations were exceptionally difficult! Any feedback on errors, omissions or inaccuracies would be appreciated.

He Who Must Not Be Named said...

I have added a Hebrew table of contents, in case anyone finds it easier to use.

He Who Must Not Be Named said...

I have removed the section on Rabbi Moshe Meiselman, pending clarification of his public position on this topic, because I have received (unconfirmed) reports that the statements of his that I had cited were not intended for public consumption. If anyone has verifiable information regarding his (or anybody else's) public position, please inform me.

Freelance Kiruv Maniac said...

Thank you for your professionalism.
Slifkin himself confirmed the lack of authorization to post the lectures.
I quote from Slifkin's website in a note next to the posted lectures:

"Rabbi Meiselman did not respond to this letter other than to send a request that I remove his lectures from my website on the grounds that "they were only intended for his yeshivah."'

y. shapiro said...

Perhaps you might want to add the Ralbag on Lech Lecha to one of your lists. (15:4 p.115) The Ralbag implies that even a navi was unaware of the scientific knowledge of his time, which the Ralbag assumes to be correct.

He Who Must Not Be Named said...

I have added Ralbag to section III-A-1. Thanks to Y. Shapiro for the reference (above).

He Who Must Not Be Named said...

I have added the Yashar of Candia, Rabbi Yosef Shlomo Delmedigo, to section III-A-1. Thanks to Dr. Marc Shapiro for the reference.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for all your work and research.
i have only just glanced at this document. Do you not include mistakes since that should also indicate no divine protection, which is the notion of BeHemTom Shel Tzaddikim. may i suggest things [even before i've carefully looked at the entire work] that at first glance appear to be omissions of mistakes recorded in Torah.

Amrom in deciding to seperate from Yocheved until Miryam told him he was worse than Pharo. BTW she was known as PuAh since whe was brazen faced HoFiO PaNeHa KeNeGed AviHa, apparently a praise for her to be so rude since it needed guts to say what she said and in the way she said it but she realised unless she shocks her father he will not get the messsage. is that a remez for bloggers to speak their words with vigour?

Avraham Avinu said Bamah Eidah, RaMBaN is critical of the wife/sister deception

YaAkov Avinu spoke harshly to Rochel, he initiated dialogue with Esav, MachZik BeAzney Kelev

The Shevatim never resolved their conflict with Yosef, R' Bachya end VaYeChi referring to the ten HaRugey MalChus

Miryam and Aharon L"Hora

Eli erred in assesing Chana and that was even with the help of the U"VeTummim. she reprimands him strongly for not having judged her favourably and he concedes giving her a BeRacha.

In Sanhedrin somwhere in the 90's Rebbi conceded to Antoninus that the YZ"Hr comes to the baby at birth not at conception.

Tos deals with BeHemTom Shel Tzaddikim means only food issues but o/wise they err and even execute innocents.

Asher Nassi Yecheta, Ashrey HaDor SheNessi'o Vayikra 4:23, Chazal understood it is nor easy admitting an error particularly for a Nassi

Sanhedrin brings Korbonos for their errors. BTW even in matters of food the classic example being Chelev, seems to contra BeHemTom Shel Tzaddikim ....unless Sanhedrin are not tzadikim ?

Rabbonim in favour of smoking tobacco and considered what beracha shuold be said.

is metzitza BePfeh also not part of this philo/emotive divide, those who insist there is no danger and others

He Who Must Not Be Named said...

Thank you for all the suggestions. If you have more, feel free to offer them.

Some of your ideas relate to great Jewish figures' specific errors in judgment about practical courses of action for themselves. (I.e., they committed, rather than taught or preached, an error.) I have decided generally not to include such references, because (a) such a list would be endless, and more importantly (b) one could argue that such people might have erred in making particular one-time personal decisions, but not in arriving at general intellectual conclusions applicable (and taught) to all.

He Who Must Not Be Named said...

I have added to the section on Rabbi Shamshon Raphael Hirsch the relevant portion of the original Hebrew text of his letter, and a new and uncondensed translation (section III-A-1).

Drew_Kaplan said...

See also Rabbi Dov Linzer's "Science and Halakhah" presentation to Rabbi Aryeh Klapper's Summer Beit Midrash last year on 18 July 2006.

He Who Must Not Be Named said...

Thank you. I know that you also referred me to his presentation shortly after he gave it, but I didn't realise that you had also linked to it. Now that I know where to find it, I'll listen to it - as soon as reasonably possible.

Anonymous said...

In volume 4 of the journal "Hakirah" there is an article by Rabbi Chaim Eisen on the Maharal and aggadata where he lists many sources in the Rishonim who held that Agadata is not from Sinai. If the Agagatta is not from Sinai, then by extension the science of chazal is not from Sinai, since those are agadata. See his list of sources throughout his article maybe there are a few that you don't have.

He Who Must Not Be Named said...

Thank you. I'll look into it when I next get access to that publication (which unfortunately will probably not be until mid-summer).

Kenobi said...

Yasher koach! keep it up!

He Who Must Not Be Named said...

Upon reflection, I have expanded the section on Rabbi Eliyahu Dessler (Michtav Mei'eliyahu) , and I have moved it to section III-A-1.

He Who Must Not Be Named said...

Starting December 1, I think I will begin deleting update announcements more than three months old.

NS said...

"I have added Rabbi Chaim Abulafia to section III-A-1."

You mean III-B-1.

He Who Must Not Be Named said...

Oops! Thank you. For the record:

On November 11, I added Rabbi Chaim Abulafia to section III-B-1.

DES said...

I have listed all of the III-A sources in III-B as well, in order to illustrate the actual size of III-B.

DES said...

I have added Rabbi Aharon Marcus to section III-A-1.

DES said...

I have added Rabbi Moshe Shmuel Glasner to section III-A-1.

DES said...

I have added supplemental information in the section on the Teshuvat Hageonim appearing in III-B-1.

DES said...

I have updated the Bibliography.

DES said...

I have added Mishneh Lamelech to section III-B-2.

DES said...

I have added Rabbi Aryeh Leib Feinstein to section III-B-1.

DES said...

I have added the Ben Ish Chai to section III-B-1.

DES said...

I have added Ra'anach to section III-B-2.

DES said...

I have added a new subsection (3) to section I-C, and I have relabelled the old subsection (3) as subsection (4).

DES said...

I have updated the bibliography.

DES said...

I have rewritten section I-A.

DES said...

I have updated section I-B.

DES said...

I have added Shevilei David to section III-B-1.

barryfadams said...

I am not certain but it seems to me that there are either a dearth of true Torah scholars contributing to this discussion or true scientists.
Chazal and scientists are are driven by different things. Chazal's focus is on the truth of Torah and in conveying that truth to the Jewish people. A scientist does not focus on the truth. This is not a malicious statement. Rather, a scientist focuses on discovering the correct conclusion based on the evidence available and on his estimation of what evidence is deemed important. Should the evidence or its importance change, the conclusion is bound to change as well. This does not reflect poorly on the scientist. That is just how research progresses.
Chazal's focus on the truth does not mean that every and any meaning that one will attach to their words is the truth that they wish to convey.
Therefore, if one finds an instance or some physical reality and the statement of Chazal and some scientists do not concur, probably either the scientific evidence is lacking or its importance is misunderstood, or the statement of Chazal is being misunderstood. Chazal did not intend to teach us science as much as the Torah does not intend to teach us history. They meant to teach us truth so that we would fulfill our obligations and become closer to Hashem. At the same time, it is conceivable that they were also first-rate scientists and their knowledge of the physical world may have surpassed that of the gentiles. One thing though is clear. The scientists were never first-rate Talmudists.

DES said...

Response to barryfadams:

A scientist does not focus on the truth. ... Rather, a scientist focuses on discovering the correct conclusion based on the evidence available and on his estimation of what evidence is deemed important. Should the evidence or its importance change, the conclusion is bound to change as well. This does not reflect poorly on the scientist. That is just how research progresses.

I disagree. A scientist does (hopefully) focus on the truth. The scientist believes that the best means of arriving at the truth is to draw the most likely conclusion based on the evidence available and on his estimation of what evidence is deemed important. Should the evidence or its importance change, the conclusion is bound to change as well. A scientist is pursuing the truth just as much as Chazal did.

Therefore, if one finds an instance or some physical reality and the statement of Chazal and some scientists do not concur, probably either the scientific evidence is lacking or its importance is misunderstood, or the statement of Chazal is being misunderstood.

Why? Maybe Chazal were wrong. That's a logical possibility too. You haven't provided any reason to think that it should be ruled out.