Chazal vs. Science – Part 1

It must be a slow news day. Or perhaps these past few weeks have been quiet and controversy-free (heh). Otherwise what would cause R’ Harry Maryles to resurrect Le Affair D’Slifkin? To the best of my knowledge, nothing new has happened on that front: mainstream Torah Jewry continues to ignore Rabbi Slifkin while he grows more and more strident in his criticisms of Haredim. Like a jilted ex, Slifkin is determined to make Haredim pay for his rejection, even if it means losing whatever defenders he still has in the community.

Harry’s piece contains quite a few inaccuracies and misrepresentations, easily spotted by anyone in the know. I was tempted to let this one lie since it is little more than a great big perversion of Hashkafa. I will nonetheless indulge myself for two reasons: Harry “puts the ball in our court” and who can resist a hanging curveball? Second, this is a great opportunity to highlight the detour Modern Orthodoxy has taken from the true path of Torah and Yiddishkiet. They may not realize it, but they’ve fallen hook, line and sinker into the morass of prevailing Western thought, causing them to abandon much of the essence of Torah Judaism.

These truths have been known by all, from the greatest rabbis to cheder children, for millennia.

The following is a quote from the great sage and kabbalist, the Leshem Shevo V’achlama: (Credit: The Eye of the Storm, Rabbi Aharon Feldman)

The main thing is: everyone who is called a Jew is obligated to believe with complete faith that everything found in the words of our Sages, whether in Halachos or Aggados of the Talmud or in the Midrashim, are all the words of the Living G-d, for everything which they said is with the spirit of G-d which spoke within them, Sod Hashem L’Yireav “the secret of G-d id given to those who fear him”.

In other words, every word of Chazal that is quoted in their established works is 100% true. Plain and simple.

Given the above, how do we then explain statements in Chazal that appear to be inaccurate, based on the latest science or even through our own eyes? Simple, the same way we explain discrepancies in the Written Torah. We attribute the problem to ourselves, not to them. It may be that we misunderstand their intent or that our circumstances have changed (nishtanu hativim), regardless, it does not diminish the veracity of their words by an iota. No doubt, to accept this, one must believe, but we are believers, are we not? There is no need to “believe” that it is raining outside when one is getting wet nor that there is a God, both are obvious and undeniable. Belief kicks in when logic/science checks out.

Over the course of the generations there have been some great men who have taken an alternate view. Counting among them all time greats such as Rav Saadiah Gaon and Rav Avraham the son of the Rambam, they were willing to accept that Chazal could be mistaken in matters of science. It is primarily on these sources that Slifkin relys upon to build his controversial theses. Whether or not he stays faithful to these sources is a topic for another day, primarily because it is academic. For the Torah Jew, to accept these alternate views is wrong. It is not Torah. Am I calling the aforementioned Rishonim apikorsim? Ch’V of course not! They were permitted to believe it, we are not. Sounds ridiculous? Consider this.

There are endless disagreements in Chazal, both Halachic and Hashkafic. These are not merely on peripheral matters. Life and death halachos are subject to rigorous controversy. The basics beliefs of Judaism are matters of profound dispute in the Talmud. However, disputes cannot remain undecided in perpetuity since the world cannot exist in limbo forever. Hence the need for resolution.

In earlier times, the Sanhedrin was the final arbiter of Jewish law, practice and belief. Until the Sanhedrin intervened, one could act according to his understanding of the Halacha, provided he was sufficiently knowledgeable. However, after the Sanhedrin weighed in and issued a ruling, it was to be followed by all. Here we have the first example of what was a perfectly legitimate understanding of Torah today become a sin punishable by death tomorrow.

After the the Sanhedrin ceased to exist, matters became murkier. Nonetheless, the underlying principles remained the same. When a decision is reached by the consensus of Klal Yisroel, that is Torah. A Jew today who relies on a minority opinion to do work on Shabbos, work that has been accepted as forbidden by Klal Yisroel, is a Mechalel Shabbos with all the consequences thereof.

Hashkafa is no different. One can find minority opinions who dissent from the basics of Jewish tradition, including denying the coming of Moshiach and the attribution of corporeality to G-d (Rav Hillel in Chazal believed so). The existence of these divergent views is not a Heter to follow them. There are gray areas where “freedom of choice” as it were, still exists, but not on matters that are settled.

The absence of a formal and transparent mechanism to transform disputes into dogma has led some well meaning individuals to err and stray from the straight and narrow path. It has also encouraged the rise of charlatans who attempt to hijack the process toward furthering their own ends. Chazal recognized this and warned us that the Talmid Chochom who has no wisdom is worse than carrion and of the poisonous effect of those who twist Torah to fit their needs. “Whoever want to be misled, let him be misled”, Chazal proclaim, knowing that those who covet the truth can easily find it while those who don’t never will.

On to Harry’s post:

(Regarding Slifkin’s claim that Chazal were sometimes mistaken with regard to nature)

These views were not considered heresy in the past.

Revisionism as Harry practices so well. The overwhelming majority of Jewish scholars, books and laymen throughout the years have rejected Slifkin’s approach and maintained that Chazal were not mistaken on matters of nature. The sources are too numerous to count, chief among them are Tosafos (Moed Katan 11a, discussing nishtanu hativim), the Rivash (No. 447) The Rashba (Toras Habayis, Mishmeres Habayis, Bayis 4 Shaar 1) and the Maharal (Beer Hagolah 6).

We continue. Slifkin’s approach does raise potential problems for Harry:

The feeling now is that if one questions Chazal on a matter of science by pointing to contradictions with current scientific knowledge, then one may as well question their Halachic knowledge, too. That would of course destroy Torah Judaism as we know it.

Not to worry, he’s got a way out:

In matters of science many of these great men had the best scientific knowledge of the day. They knew Mada. But that knowledge does not always match the reality we know today. Chazal did not have the technological advantages we have to better see and understand the reality of nature.

This does not mean that their Torah knowledge was any less deficient. That was transmitted directly from Sinai through Moshe Rabbenu  to Yehoshua; then to the Z’kenim… all the way down to Chazal themselves. But nature needed to be studied independently to be understood. The very nature of science is based on the scientific method that tests hypothsies derived of observations. Sometimes long held truths are discarded when new information comes along shedding additional light on nature thus creating better and more accurate perceptions of it.

There is so much objectionable here, it’s hard to know where to begin.

“many of these great men had the best scientific knowledge of the day.” Really, and how does Harry know that? Perhaps even by standards of the day their knowledge was deficient?

“This does not mean that their Torah knowledge was any less deficient.” This is the nut of it all. If this cannot be stated with equivocation, then Harry is in trouble. As he said before, goodbye Torah Judaism.

So how does he make the distinction between science and Torah?

That was transmitted directly from Sinai through Moshe Rabbenu  to Yehoshua; then to the Z’kenim… all the way down to Chazal themselves.

Sounds good, except that it is NOT TRUE. Much of what we have in Chazal, in the Gemara, was arrived by using their own understanding, their own cognitive faculties, not through tradition. They had rules to follow (called the 13 exegetical methods by which the Torah is expounded) but other than the Gezeira Shavah, they were not received directly from Sinai (although Moshe knew it at the time). The Gemara makes this clear.

If that is the case, considering that Chazal may error in matters of nature why can’t we assume they can error in matters of Torah as well? Are we to go the Catholic route, infallibility in religious doctrine while complete idiots in all other matters?? It would appear that Harry has struck out.

But that knowledge does not always match the reality we know today.

Until tomorrow, when we’ll know a new reality. That one will be the new absolute-never-to-be-disproven-truth. Similar to the “ether” and the “flat earth” before it.

Until the Slifkin controversy – both alternatives were acceptable.

Incorrect and I challenge Harry to provide comprehensive evidence of that.

The fact that there were Rishonim who explicitly stated that Chazal erred in matters of science bolstered the view that this is a legitimate Torah perspective. But once Rav Elayshiv declared this view to be heresy, it no longer is.

Rabbi Feldman explained this apparent contradiction in the following way. Rishonim could believe that and not considered heretical. We no longer could. For them it was fine. For us it is heresy. How did he justify such a statement? By pointing to Chazal themselves. There was a legitimate opinion expressed in the Gemarah that did not believe that there would be an actual Moshiach but only be a messianic era. Today that view is considered heresy as defined in the Rambam’s 13 principles of faith. His point was that what was a legitimate belief in one era may not be a legitimate belief in another. So before Rav Elyashiv said such beliefs were heretical it was fine. Now it is heresy.

Here Harry is simply mistaken:

In Rabbi Feldman’s book, The Eye of the Storm (Pg. 161) He makes it clear that Rav Elyashiv was not the one who invalidated these opinions but rather the one who made clear the distinction cited above i.e. that the minority opinions were permitted to hold their opinions, but we are not, given that we must “follow the majority opinion and our tradition as to how we should approach Torah”. So It is not Rav Eliyashiv “deciding” new haskafa any more then when he paskens that milk and meat is forbidden that he is “deciding” new halacha

Harry, however, has a hard time accepting the rationale we’ve put forth.

I have a problem with this kind of thinking. One cannot change a person’s belief by proclamation. Belief does not develop that way. You are asking people to reject their own logic based beliefs developed over time after much thought and analysis that were perfectly acceptable a moment ago.

Never mind that it was NOT acceptable a moment ago. This incredibly shallow and emotional response masquerading as logic is completely irrelevant. Beliefs are what they are. You’re not “ready” for them? Okay, hold the phone while we recalibrate our beliefs to what you ARE ready for. What utter nonsense. At most, the person in question is a nebach, but a nebach apikorus is also an apikorus.

The he shoots himself in the foot: (along with a snarky dig at “today’s Poskim”).

A later section of the Gemerah in Niddah (20a) tells us that the great Amora Rava and others actually admitted that they were not familiar with natural science. And he refused to Paskin a Shalia because of that… a lesson for today’s Poskim. How does one reconcile this clear admission with the belief that Chazal knew natural science better than we do today? Some didn’t even know the science of their own day!

Let’s see. So Chazal tell us sometimes that they are not familiar with the natural science and therefore won’t rule on a shaila because of that. Shouldn’t we therefore assume that when they DID rule on a shaila based on their view of nature that they were well aware of the actual conditions upon which they ruled? Not just what the “science” of the day believed, but the actual, objective truth. Wouldn’t they have had the foresight and the knowledge to refrain from issuing a psak for the generations based on science of the day? Were they not aware that today’s science is tomorrow’s punch line or is it only today’s chachomim of the mah nishtana who figured it out??

To me this Gemara is the biggest proof that Chazal based their scientific statements on the actual truth, not merely the science available at the time. When they didn’t know they told us, when they told us, they knew.

I think the ball has just been thrown into the other court. It behooves those who say that such views are heresy to explain why that is still the case. To simply declare all evidence that disputes their claims to be forgeries is a very poor argument. Unless they have proof to back that up it makes their claims about Chazal’s infallibility in matters of science look pretty tenuous at best.

Here Harry loses the “logic thread”. He starts off demanding proof that Slifkin’s views are heresy and ends up mocking “their claims about Chazal’s infallibility in matters of science” as “pretty tenuous at best”. One has zero to do with the other. Even if we were to grant that Slifkin’s views are not heresy, there is still the overwhelming consensus that “claims” Chazal’s infallibility on all matters. See the sources cited above. In essence, Harry is now mocking the majority of Rishonim and Achronim who accept this view.

In the comments he goes even further.

I know that Nishtaneh HaTeva is used a lot. But for me – that answer is just a little too convenient.

As mentioned above, Nishtanu Hativim is mentioned by Tosafos as well as numerous mefarshim throughout Shas (See Hishtanus Hatevai’im by Rabbi N.M. Gutel for a comprehensive list). But to Harry, it’s “too convenient”. Tosafos must’ve made a mistake. Hey, it’s par for the course, if Chazal can make mistakes about science, then Tosafos can make mistakes about Chazal about science!

At stake here is more than a theoretical argument. This speaks to the extent of the inroads modern thought has made into some segments of Orthodoxy, to the point that they have no clue who Chazal were and what true Torah ideology is. Modern Orthodoxy has so bought into the notions of “egalitarianism” and “rationalism” that they have become like donkeys.

Have I descended into name-calling? Not quite, this is the moniker that they have chosen for themselves, as I will explain in Part 2.

Advertisements

63 thoughts on “Chazal vs. Science – Part 1

  1. When was this consensus of klal yisrael reached? Was the Maharam Schick descending into apikorsus when he felt that Chazal could err in matters of science 150 years ago? How about Rav Hirsch 150 years ago? or Rav Dessler 75 years ago? or Rabbi Kaplan 30 years ago? When is the cut-off point where klal yisrael reached a consensus and all subsequent disagreement became heretical?

    • 1) Didn’t call anyone an apikorus, just wrong
      2) sources for the names you mention please
      3) Re: R’ Kaplan, may very well be, he believed plenty of narishkieten, despite his obvious talents (see Kotzke r Rebbe)
      4) Alas, it’s not clear cut, which is why Rav Elyashiv didn’t call Slifkin an apikorus, but that his theories were apikorsus.

      • (1/4) and similarly I didn’t use the word apikores only apikorsus
        (2) For the Maharam Schick see Sh”ut Maharam Schick (EH:7), for Rav Hirsch see his letters in the newly published Vol. 9 of the collected writings of Rav Hirsch, For Rav Dessler see Michtav M’Eliyahu Volume 4 (pg. 355).
        (3) You may disagree with Rav Kaplan all you like – such is your right. You also are perfectly free to hold that Chazal were inerrant in matters of science. Neither of those things are at issue here. The question is whether or not Rav Kaplan was forbidden to hold as he did (something far more stringent than narishkeit). Still, should you deem him to be an unacceptable example, than substitute him with Rabbi Carmel.

  2. “To the best of my knowledge, nothing new has happened on that front”

    Did you read his post! He was inspired by the new publication of RSRH’s writings on this subject by Feldheim. This is nothing really new, as his views have been publicized before, and have been quoted extensively by Slifkin and Prof. Leiman, but apparently R. Harry wasn’t aware of that. But even if he was, no doubt his view will be more available to the public now and hence his rehashing. Nothing wrong with that.

  3. “Revisionism as Harry practices so well. The overwhelming majority of Jewish scholars, books and laymen throughout the years have rejected Slifkin’s approach and maintained that Chazal were not mistaken on matters of nature”

    You really need to check out Torahandscience.blogspot. You are so wrong in this that you should stop shooting from your mouth before you research the topic. The fact that you aren’t even aware of the sources mentioned to you above clearly indicates that you are not proficient in this area and are just regurgitating whatever chareidi propaganda that you’ve picked up somewhere. The MO clearly have the upper hand in this debate.

    • The MO have no hand at all.

      The overwhelming consensus is and has always been that Chazal said the truth always.

      For the life of me, I can’t figure out why MO wants to adopt modernity at the expense of tradition, while convincing themselves that this is what tradition always believed! Ridiculous.

      • It’s not hard to figure out at all. They are not claiming it’s the only tradition that chazal could err in scientific matter, just that it is a legitimate approach followed by many in the past. If you choose to ignore the sources ( check website above for the exhaustive list) then I can’t help you figure it out.

        Also, the consensus of the past doesnt mean too much in this area because there was no compelling reason to accept science back then. You can’t deny that science works differently now basing theories on empirical evidence etc. and many gedolim such as RSRH, Rav Hertzog, Rav dessler

      • It’s not hard to figure out at all. They are not claiming it’s the only tradition that chazal could err in scientific matter, just that it is a legitimate approach followed by many in the past. If you choose to ignore the sources ( check website above for the exhaustive list) then I can’t help you figure it out.

        Also, the consensus of the past doesnt mean too much in this area because there was no compelling reason to accept science back then. You can’t deny that science works differently now basing theories on empirical evidence etc. and many gedolim such as RSRH, Rav Hertzog, Rav dessler realize that. Nothing hard to understand.

        • We can go round and round all day on this.

          1) Consensus rules
          2) The consensus has been, by overwhelming majority, toward the position stated above (the 5-10 sources you state are dwarfed by those in opposition)
          3) You think it’s not wrong, fine bring in his books. We know this is some more revisionist MO stuff, so we’ll call it as it is: wrong.

  4. “After the the Sanhedrin ceased to exist, matters became murkier. Nonetheless, the underlying principles remained the same. When a decision is reached by the consensus of Klal Yisroel, that is Torah. A Jew today who relies on a minority opinion to do work on Shabbos, work that has been accepted as forbidden by Klal Yisroel, is a Mechalel Shabbos with all the consequences thereof.”

    In your typical fashion you are oversimplifying everything. Without a Sanhedrin, how is it accepted by klal yisroel? Do you mean it was codified in Rambam? Sh”a? M”b? There is no consensus on anything. There are numerous instances where achronim argue with Sh”a, or the minhag is not like the Sh”a. Too many to start giving examples. I honestly have no idea of what you are talking about. Of course, someone could rely on a minority. Prove to me otherwise. Don’t just make sweeping statements without any backup.

    And kal v’chomer in hashkofa. Are you unaware of what the Rambam says about there being no psak in non-halachik issues.

      • In order for that argument to be valid here, there needs to have been a historical consensus. If the Rabbanim I mentioned indeed held as it seems to me that they did, than its hard to argue such a consensus has been reached. Certainly it was never the consensus of the rabbis in the Modern Orthodox sphere. If Rav Hirsch held as he appears to have, than Yekkes never reached consensus either. The Yemenites always hold like the Rambam, in preference to later poskim, so it seems likely (and indeed is indicated by the writings of Rabbi Kafach) that they would also hold like one side of this dispute. Many Sefardim consider the Ben Ish Chai to be the final word on halachic shailot, and he also held chazal to be fallible in halachic matters. In the religious zionist sphere, various gedolim such as Rav Herzog and Rav Zalman Nechemia Goldberg all hold chazal to be fallible in matters of science. Rabbi Sacks and his predecessor Rabbi Jakobavitz both held similarly, along with the numerous Brittish Jews who follow them. Even within the narrow walls of the Litvishe velt, there does not seem to be consensus- as rabbis such as Rav Dessler attest to. How then can there be a claim of consensus?

          • That is a pretty serious claim. On what grounds do you say that??? (particularly considering the fact that the Jewish people are a lot broader than just litvaks, and numerous kehillot such as sefardim, yekkes, yemenites, and anglos would very likely view one of the rabbis from my list as being more authoritative than the chazon ish).

            • Gavi, you’re falling into a trap. It makes no difference how great the Chazon Ish was. He still does not determine what everyone else must accept! As Rav Moshe Feinstein wrote, just because the Chazon Ish was the gadol hador, that doesn’t mean that everyone has to follow him!

      • Also, of course I can rely on minority views when it comes to shabbos, and so can you, if they are the views of my/your rav. A talmid is allowed to pasken like his Rebbi whether or not the Rebbi’s views are a daat yachid.

          • So a talmid of Rav Heinemann, who is a recognized (Charedi) gadol shebeyisroel, is violating shabbos if they rely on Rav Heinemann’s opinions on Shabbos Mode Ovens? A talmid of the Seridei Eish who follows his psak on shechita is violating hilchot treifot? A talmid of Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach who follows his leniencies in regards to electricity on shabbos is violating halacha?

          • HAP, your statements about halachah are simply unbelievable. Do you really think that all poskim always follow the consensus on everything? You should speak to some poskim and learn some seforim.

      • The overwhelming majority of rishonim concurred with rabeinu tam’s tzais. That was the minhag for generations in Europe. Do you have a problem with someone who follows the minority view? It’s a question of chillul Shabbos etc.

  5. “Until tomorrow, when we’ll know a new reality”

    The Ramban wrote regarding the rainbow, על כרחינו נאמין לחכמי היוונים, because what they said was scientifically proven, and then he went on to reinterpret the pasuk. Notice, he didn’t say it might change tomorrow.

    Are we allowed to accept a heliocentric universe or is that against the consensus? Do you follow Rav Chaim Kanyevsky’s psak on this? Is that also going to change tomorrow? Was that an example of nishtana hatevah?

    • See what the Gr’a wrote about the Rambam. The Rambam’s approach on these matters is also a minority view.

      The sun is irrelevant. The words of chazal are true, if they appear th contradict the metzius that we see, then either we are seeing incorrectly, or they meant something else. Still the truth.

  6. Let’s clarify things. You say that we are all obligated to follow the consensus. Well, the near-universal consensus of Rishonim on Pesachim 94 is that Chazal mistakenly believed that the sun goes behind the sky at night. So aren’t you obligated to believe that?

  7. > In other words, every word of Chazal that is quoted in their established works is 100% true. Plain and simple.

    I think Chazal would be ashamed of us. “You took everything we said literally? You think we were that superficial? You really think the sun revolves around the Earth? We valued intellectual honesty and seeking out the truth of God’s creation and you turned that into a sin?”

  8. Above, Gavi asked:
    “When was this consensus of klal yisrael reached? Was the Maharam Schick descending into apikorsus when he felt that Chazal could err in matters of science 150 years ago? How about Rav Hirsch 150 years ago? or Rav Dessler 75 years ago? or Rabbi Kaplan 30 years ago? When is the cut-off point where klal yisrael reached a consensus and all subsequent disagreement became heretical?”
    You replied:
    “Alas, it’s not clear cut, which is why Rav Elyashiv didn’t call Slifkin an apikorus, but that his theories were apikorsus.”
    So when did these approaches become apikorsus? 500 years ago? 150 years ago? 75 years ago? 30 years ago? 5 years ago? How is it that there are so many Rabbonim today who still think that these approaches are a valid part of the mesorah? Didn’t they get the mail about the vote?

    • Yissacher, you have to understand that in the last few generations the term “Chareidi” has changed from denoting a religious approach to worshipping God to a political definition. The “Gedolim” of today are not so much “Gedolim” because of their vast Torah knowledge but because of their political leadership positions within the community. And like any good political party they presume to possess a platform that defines the nation at large. So if the Chareidi leadership declares that the rationalist position is suddenly apikorsus and that “they could say it, we can’t” then it’s a political statement, not a religious one.
      As a a result there are lots of very well-educated rabbonim out there who disagree with the absolutist and literalist position being foisted on klal Yisrael as the only acceptable thought pattern. But since they’re not members of the Chareidi Party, they simply don’t count. That’s how people can say things like “All Gedolim today say that…” or “It’s a universal position that…” because anyone who disagrees is discounted.
      So no, they didn’t get the mail about the vote because they weren’t eligible to vote in the first place.

      • Yes “well educated” rabbonim who adopt hashkafs that are not the way of the Torah are wrong.

        You know garnel, I fail to see how we’re any more “exclusive” then MO. You do reject the well-educated “rabbonim” of YCT, Conservative and reform, don’t you? Methinks I see quite a bit of hypocrisy here.

    • Few rabbonim, plenty of those who have bowed to secular ideology though.

      Again, I ask you, do you accept the 13 ikarim of the Rambam? Is someone who doesn’t beleive in Mashiach wrong? Why, he’s following a minority opinion?

      • It was a single aberrant view that was NEVER endorsed by anyone else. There is no comparison to the view that Chazal were fallible in science, which has been the approach of dozens and dozens of geonim, rishonim, and acharonim, right through to rabbonim of today.

  9. I’ll tell a story. Years ago I’m on a plane to Israel and I had a conversation with a Rabbi Keller from Telshe. This and that, we get to Science and Torah. Me being me, I say “I go with the guys who say the earth circles the sun.” He agrees. “But the straightforward peshat of many pesukim amd maamarei chazal seem to imply the sun circles the earth. It creates a problem.” He seems ok with that, and we drift on to something else. When the conversation is over and I am on my way back to my seat, the rabbi says “But laamitiyus shel Torah, the sun ‘tahke’ goes around the earth.” I say inwardly “Cheater! Now you tell me.” I shake my head, give him a wink and we’re done. But he does have a point. When, immersed in the world of Torah, Copernicus is clearly problematic. When Rabbi Keller and I launch our next spaceship to the moon, it might be best if we went with Copernicus. The main point is to block the idea that there is one page and we must all agree what is to be included in the page. Philosophically these ideas involve a good measure of pragmatism, some dualism, a smidgen of postmodernism. Exactly how this might be put together might require more than I know, but I have no doubt such ideas are compatible with current trends in analytic philosophy. (H&P linked to my ranting in around these ideas in his post of the 13th?, though he used it for other purposes. I have no fight with MO, I just don’t think much of certain kinds of MO apologetics that feels compelled to eliminate all contradictions.)

    • I’ll elaborate in my next post, but the bottom line is we have no hasaga in Chazal, they were like malachim. Would you say a malach was mistaken or would you have the humility to either farentfer or bleib by a kushya, knowing the measliness of our minds and capacities compared to these greats.

      • “In my opinion, the first principle that every student of Chazal’s statements must keep before his eyes is the following: Chazal were the sages of God’s law – the receivers, transmitters, and teachers of His Toros, His mitzvos, and His interpersonal laws. They did not especially master the natural sciences, geometry, astronomy, or medicine – except insofar as they needed them for knowing, observing, and fulfilling the Torah. We do not find that this knowledge was transmitted to them from Sinai… We find that Chazal themselves considered the wisdom of the gentile scholars equal to their own in the natural sciences. To determine who was right in areas where the gentile sages disagreed with their own knowledge, they did not rely on their tradition but on reason. Moreover they even respected the opinion of the gentile scholars, admitting when the opinion of the latter seemed more correct than their own.”
        – Rav Shimshon Raphael Hirsch

  10. Okay, you want sources that the near-universal consensus of Rishonim on Pesachim 94 is that Chazal mistakenly believed that the sun goes behind the sky at night. Here we go.

    R. Eliezer of Metz, Sefer Yere’im vol. I, section 2, achilos #52; Tosafos Rid Shabbos 34b, s.v. Eizehu; R. Avraham ben HaRambam, ma’amar al aggadas Chazal; Sefer Mitzvos HaGadol, Lo Ta’aseh #79; Rosh, Pesachim 2:30 and She’eilos U’Teshuvos HaRosh, Kelal 14, #2; Ritva, Commentary on the Haggadah, s.v. Matzah zo she’anu ochlim; R. Bachya b. Asher, commentary to Genesis 1:14; R. Yerucham ben Meshullam, Toldos Adam VeChavah, Nesiv 5, Part 3; R. Manoach, Commentary to Mishneh Torah, Hilchos Chametz U-Matzah 5:11, s.v. Ela bemayim shelanu; R. Eliyahu Mizrachi, Responsum #57; R. Yitzchak Arama, Akeidas Yitzchak, Parashas Bo, Chap. 37; Maharam Alashkar, Responsum #96;

    You say that we are all obligated to follow the consensus. So aren’t you obligated to believe the consensus of Rishonim in this issue?

    • I love, absolutely love, how you guys twist and distort everything to fit your needs.

      I looked up just one of the “sources” you quoted, Rabbenu Bachya. You’re completely off the mark.

      1) He never says chazal were “mistaken”
      2) he says that chazal “hodu” to the chachmei umos haolam. which does NOT mean they were mistaken (there’s a gemare that says the same thing). there are many explanations for this gemara that don’t involve chazal being mistaken.

      Once again, please provide sources that explicitly say that chazal were mistaken in matters of science.

      • Have you even learned the sugya? They were hodu that they were wrong about the sun going behind the sky at night. The only Rishon who says that this doesn’t mean that they were mistaken is Rabbeinu Tam, who says that they only acknowledged that they couldn’t prove their view, but the sun really does go behind the sky at night. Do you believe that?

        Learn the sugya, and look up all the other sources on the list. The consensus of views amongst the Rishonim is in accordance with the straightforward meaning of the Gemara – that, as Rebbi acknowledged, the chachmei Yisrael were mistaken in their view as to where the sun goes at night.

        • So your quote goes down the drain, on to the next distortion. Again, mistaken doesn’t mean what you think it means. All it means that in practical terms it is as if it were a mistake. Being that chazal had much more in mind with their statements then one pshat, it is not a mistake.

          Why else would chazal even bother telling us this? They based it on faulty science, were corrected, why even bother with the whole shpiel? As usual the wrods of chazal have endless meaning attached to them. But you don’t believe that, do you.

          The question regarding mistakes is this. If chazal were alive today would they change a word of what’s written in the gemara? Answer 100% not.

          According to you, they would. In fact, you would, or should, considering that it was just a “mistake”.

          • “Being that chazal had much more in mind with their statements then one pshat, it is not a mistake. ”

            Where do you get that from? Not one Rishon here says any such thing. Besides, the fact is that a pshat level, the Rishonim virtually all agree that the chachmei Yisrael were wrong.

            “Why else would chazal even bother telling us this?”

            Because, unlike you, Chazal were honest.

            “If chazal were alive today would they change a word of what’s written in the gemara? Answer 100% not. ”

            This Gemara shows 100% that they would. What is your counter-evidence?

            • Really? the gemara includes their shittah while saying there were modeh. according to you, if chazal were around today, shas would be significantly smaller.

              utter rubbish. the fact that you view chazal the same way as the Hellenists did is illuminating. the same chazal who know maaseh merkava and sichas dekalim, didn’t know a silly bit of science? the same chazal who eliyahu visited every day and told them what was going on in Heaven couldn’t get sccurate information on human anatomy? Ryishmael, when tlaking to the malach Matat, couldn’t ask him, “hey, can you give me a hand with these science stuff”? the many statements of chazal that were way ahead of thier times re: science, where’d they get that from?? The yeriushalmi states that the physical world changes when chazal make a leap year, how does THAT jibe with science?

              and again, you refuse to answer, why not change halachos which are based on their “mistakes”? In fact, why can’t we argue with chazal generally as well, so long as it’s not a gezerah shavah?

              your ideas are not just wrong. the’re foolish. feel free to believe them, but don’t act surprised when we distance ourselves from you. in fact we want nothing to with people who believe such narishkiet. if you’re so confident in your beliefs you’d just laugh us off, but you constantly go after us, because deep down you’re insecure. you know your grandfathers didn’t believe this so you’re constantly in angst.

              go ahead continue believing in the supremacy of secular thought, the passing fad of enlightenment, which has people marrying horses and eating each other up. anything that keeps you comfortable, man.

              • “Really? the gemara includes their shittah while saying there were modeh.”

                Right, because they were honest.

                “why not change halachos which are based on their “mistakes”?

                that’s a different topic. Machlokes Pachad Yitzchok and Dor Revii.

                I notice that you haven’t remotely even attempted to refute anything that I wrote. All you did is hurl out irrelevant objections and lots of insults. This blog perfectly confirms the charedi stereotype.

              • In terms of changing halachot, you are not the first person to have this kashya. Rav Dessler builds as system of thought for explaining why chazal can be wrong in matters of science while right in matters of halacha. There are even, a few, poskim such as Rav Yehuda Lampronti who, at least when it was lechumra, advocated changing halacha when chazal were clearly wrong in a matter of science. In regards to why we can’t argue on the Gemara, this is an issue which has been heavily addressed going all the way back to the Rambam, who argues that the reason the Gemara is binding is because all of Klal Yisrael accepted it as binding.

          • “As usual the wrods of chazal have endless meaning attached to them. But you don’t believe that, do you. ”

            The reason why I don’t believe it is that there absolutely no hint of any such thing in the Geonim and Rishonim. Nothing, nada. Not a single RIshon says “well, at a pshat level Chazal were wrong about the sun going behind the sky at night, but that’s not really what they were talking about.” It was made up by a few Acharonim who, like you, were intensely uncomfortable with the Rishonim’s view that Chazal were simply incorrect.

              • Not in this topic, they don’t.

                I don’t have a hard time acknowledging that there were plenty of Acharonim, possibly even some Rishonim, who held that Chazal were infallible in science. If you want to follow their view, go ahead. It’s you that has the problem with the existence of alternate views!

  11. “Wouldn’t they have had the foresight and the knowledge to refrain from issuing a psak for the generations based on science of the day? Were they not aware that today’s science is tomorrow’s punch line or is it only today’s chachomim of the mah nishtana who figured it out??”

    Obviously not. Or do you follow Chazal’s medical advice?
    and what about “nishtaneh hateva” which is the standard yeshivish answer for when things in the gemara are plainly incorrect. Wouldn’t Chazal had the foresight and the knowledge to refrain from issuing a psak for the generations based on the teva of the day? Were they not aware that teva changes?

      • Whatever. The point is that the suggestion of nishtaneh hateva totally refutes your line of argument. Wouldn’t Chazal had the foresight and the knowledge to refrain from issuing a psak for the generations based on the teva of the day? Were they not aware that teva changes?

        • They were, their words have multiple levels of meaning and for that purpose were said, knowing that some levels would not apply at different times in history. Similar to the written torah, which has many levels of meaning, and many pesukim which appear to be redundant based on the simple meaning alone.

          • Do you just make this stuff up off the top of your head, or do you actually have any sources in the Rishonim for this?

  12. And let’s look at the view of Maharam Schick, who says that Rebbi acknowledged that the other members of Chazal were probably mistaken, and that even though Rebbi wasn’t sure if the view was definitely wrong, nowadays we can be sure that it is:

    Regarding the question concerning what is written in Tosafot, Berachot 2b, s.v. “dilma,” in Rashi, Pesachim 93b, s.v. “mei’alot hashachar,” and in several other places, that the sun enters into the thickness of the firmament [at night]—which contradicts the conclusion of the Gemara on Pesachim 94b, where Rebbi says, “Their view (that the sun travels beneath the earth at night) appears more correct (nir’in) than our own”; and where the word nir’in is used, Tosafot on Eruvin 46b, s.v. “Rabbi Eliezer etc.” writes that we rule accordingly, and the Rosh, in Chapter Kol Sha’ah, and the Tur and Beit Yosef (Orach Chaim 455) concur, as they quote from Rabbi Eliezer of Metz that the sun travels beneath the earth at night, and we therefore knead matzah dough only with water that has sat at least one night since being drawn. Even more perplexing (than Rashi and Tosafot’s contradiction to the Gemara’s conclusion) is the statement established in the Shabbat prayers: “He who opens daily the doors of the gates of the east and breaches the windows of the sky; He brings the sun out from its place, and the moon from its resting-place, and illuminates the world”—which implicitly concurs with the view that the sun enters the thickness of the firmament at night.

    It seems to me that matters that were not received by the Sages as halachah leMoshe miSinai, but rather which they said according to their own reasoning—and with something that is not received [from Sinai] and has no root in our Torah, but rather comes from investigation and experience, it is difficult to determine [that it is true]. And there are many occasions when the sages determined, according to their own intellects, that a matter was a certain way, and the subsequent generation analyzed the matter further and disputed the earlier view. Any conclusion drawn from experimentation can only be considered probable, [not certain]. Indeed, in the dispute on Pesachim 94b, Rebbi said that the gentile sages’ view appeared more correct, but he did not express certainty; for a matter like this, which is investigated only by finding evidence [of one view or the other], cannot be resolved with certainty. In truth, according to the reading of the Gemara found in The Guide for the Perplexed, the Jewish sages recanted their position; but according to our reading, Rebbi said only that the gentile sages’ view appears more correct…

    Regarding the fundamental issue: the text of the [Shabbat] prayer quoted above has already been questioned in Sefer HaBrit, ma’amar 4 – Shnei Me’orot, Chap. 20, where he explains that it is the poetic style to describe things based on how they appear to the human observer [as opposed to how they really happen]. Regardless, in our Gemara it is not decided one way or the other, and we must therefore observe the stringencies resultant from each view. Therefore with regard to water passing the night we implement the stringency resulting from the gentile scholars’ view; while Rashi and Tosafot described the sun’s movement according to the Jewish sages of the time of the dispute in the Talmud. Although scientists now agree—and it is apparent to the eye and by experimentation—that the sun travels below the earth at night, the Shabbat prayer describes it based on how it appears to us…

    (Responsa Maharam Schick, Responsum #7)

    Note how he clearly states that modern science has shown that Chazal were mistaken. And he certainly does not take the view that “Chazal really meant some obscure deeper meaning that we will make up.”

    (This and plenty more sources can be found at torahandscience.blogspot.com)

      • What on earth are you talking about? He quotes the view about poetic style to justify the tefilah, not to justify the machlokes in the Gemara, where he explicitly says that the Gemara is wrong! Didn’t you read it?

  13. It is clear from all this give and take, that you are not interested in truth. If you are not willing to learn the sources and being intellectually honest about what they mean there is no point in discussing things with you. It’s one thing to keep your personal beliefs bc you are uncomfortable with the ramifications of believing chazal could be wrong, but to state that it’s unacceptable for anyone to follow the many gedolim who endorsed this approach is simply foolish and arrogant.

    This is the danger of you being on the Internet. You will either be exposed to some uncomfortable truths that are hard to deal with or you will make chareidim seem very foolish or backwards. I also had to go through this stage.

Comments are closed.