Avodah Mailing List
Volume 03 : Number 123
Tuesday, July 13 1999
Subjects Discussed In This Issue:
Date: Mon, 12 Jul 1999 11:20:45 -0400 (EDT)
From: Eli Turkel <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Subject: top doctor
Dr. Josh Backon writes
As someone who teaches a course at the Faculty of Medicine entitled
"Evidence based medicine", I see a possible conflict with the literal wording
of what Rav Valdenberg wrote. The basic premise of evidence based medicine
is that one takes NOTHING for granted; nothing is obvious. Every step of the
diagnosis and therapy must be based on proven clinical trials rather than on
what an *expert* says on the basis of his clinical acumen. Thus, I would
guess that the newly trained doctors who have been exposed to evidence based
medicine are halachically required to verify and validate the standard
diagnostic and treatment protocols by accessing (through the Internet !)
the databases on clinical trials
I still suspect that interns and residents on night duty rarely consult
with more senior doctors except in very difficult cases.
Furthermore, to best of my knowledge, cases in most emergency rooms are
given out to the next available doctor rather than to the one most
expert in that area.
It is nice to compare a hospital with the court system where there is
a formal appeals court but how much doe sit really work that way?
Doctors are frequently overwhelmed and sometimes have to make snap
decisions. Especially in off hours one can not readily find more senior
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Date: Mon, 12 Jul 1999 11:40:21 -0400
Subject: Jewish Music
Some General Observations:
1) There is hardly any PURE Jewish music out there. There are perhaps a few
exceptions (Avos o Yomim Noraim which is also used in many rendentions of Kol
Nidre to end a phrase)
2) OTOH, there have very specific Judaized versions of folk music used in the
3) Both Jews and non-Jews often borrowed from common sources. And I suspect
that each group independently served to popluarize certain meoldies.
4) The issue of Maalin bekodesh comes to play, IOW using secular music for a
holy purpose. Undoubtedly some poskim opposed this practice, let us say that
using popular secular music in the litrurgy should be done in good taste. EG I
used Handel's oratoria from Judaeus Maccabbeus on Shabbos chanukoo because it is
appropriate BOTH to the occasion adn to the nature of my congregation which uses
Western Erupopean Calssical Melodies...
5) I find it a bit inconsistent that certain congregations incorporate music
from out-and-out REfroms such as Sulzer and Lewandowski BUT find the music of R.
Shlomo Carlebach to somehow be possul. Regardless of one's Opinion of R. sholom
himself, I see no reason to passul his compositions...
6) Music should be consistent with the text. EG Rosenblatt sang Massenet's
elegy with some apporpirate Hebrew words. Conversely, it would make sense to
adapt elegies or requiem type music to Yizkor, and not a bit incongrous to use
that type of music when something more upbeat is called for. To paraphrase
Kohelss there is a time for sad music and there is a time for bright music...
Furthermore, there are minhoggim of when to use what. EG, Chodesh Beching is
traditionally fregish (ahovo rabbo mode) while the mi she'oso nissim is in
major. Oshmanu is in major. There are mesoros for these. Lately, anything
goes, and popular singing has replaced traditional modes in many
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Date: Mon, 12 Jul 1999 08:37:28 -0700 (PDT)
From: Moshe Feldman <email@example.com>
Subject: Re: Nature and medicine
--- Micha Berger <firstname.lastname@example.org> wrote:
> In v3n117, Mark Feldman <mfeldman@CM-P.COM> writes:
> : R. Bloch had a more positive view of nature. Hashem has decided
> : constrain Himself and run the world according to natural law.
> : hishtadlut actually accomplishes the result, since Hashem has
> decided to
> : run the world that way. Of course, since it is Hashem who is
> : causing the result, nothing happens from hishtadlut if the person
> does not
> : merit the result.
> I"m not sure what you're saying here. Please clarify. If Hashem is
> causing the result" then how does this position differ from R'
The difference is that R. Bloch believes that Hashem wishes us to
play the rules of the game because He has guaranteed to follow them
himself. Essentially, there is not much difference, on a practical
level, between R. Bloch and the Rambam. For the Rambam, nature is a
separate force created by Hashem. For R. Bloch, nature doesn't exist
as a separate force, but Hashem has promised the exact same
consequence as would result if nature were a separate force.
Therefore, man can effectively treat nature as a separate force (but
from a hashkafic perspective remember that everything comes from
For R. Dessler, OTOH, nature is a farce and our nisayon on this world
is to recognize this farce. Therefore, ideally a person should
ignore natural laws.
Do You Yahoo!?
Get your free @yahoo.com address at http://mail.yahoo.com
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Date: Mon, 12 Jul 1999 19:36:48 -0400
From: David Glasner <DGLASNER@FTC.GOV>
Subject: Chief Rabbi Dr. Isaac Herzog on Maimonides, Aristotle, hokhmat yevanit, secular studies, etc.
Herewith some excerpts from essays by the late Rabbi Dr. Herzog collected in Judaism, Law, and Ethics (Soncino, 1974).
It is worthy of note that whilst now and again we hear a voice raised against the exclusive addiction ot scientific pursuits, we hardly hear in the Talmud and Midrash an echo of a conflict between science and religion. . . The Talmudim and Midrashim have preserved very little, if anything, of the teachings of the ancient masters on many a matter dealing with the deepest and most abstruse aspects of both science and metaphysics. These were included in the two branches of esoteric lore known as Ma'asei Bereshit and Ma'asei Merkabah, which were never taught publicly. . .
The mysterious character which the Ma'asei Bereshit evidently bore, warrants the conclusion that the interpretations of the Pentateuchal account of the Creation included in that body of esoteric lore, was not of a literal nature. It may well be that questions affecting the relation between science and religion received due treatment in those two departments of esoteric learning. The method pursued by the Jewish teachers of the Middle Ages is exemplified in Maimonides' Guide. They did not, in the first place, accept as true everything taught by Greek science and metaphysics. Take, for instance, the doctrine of the eternity of matter taught by Aristotle. Maimonides rejects this, not because it conflicts with the letter of the Torah, but because he is not convinced of its truth. Were he absolutely convinced that Aristotle's position was immovable, he would reinterpret the words of the Torah accordingly, but as Aristotle could not really prove his case, Maimonides sees no re!
ason for reinterpreting the Torah. [As an aside, I would just observe that Rabbi Bechhoffer's quibble in his MJ posting on the flood about whether Maimonides was really referring to Plato or Aristotle is irrelevant to the main point. The point that Rabbi Bechhoffer quotes is not a disagreement about a factual premise but a disagreement about a philosophical doctrine. There is every reason for Maimonides not to defer to Plato or Aristotle on a philosophical doctrine that is incompatible with belief in miracles even if he had been perfectly willing to accept as valid a factual premise that was inconsistent with a literal reading of Genesis. - DG] When, again, our mediaeval thinkers felt that attempts at harmonisation were absolutely necessary, they did not hesitate to explain the words of the Torah in a manner deviating from the literal sense. ("The Talmud as a Source for the History of Ancient Science", p. 170)
On the whole the allusions to Greek wisdom, or to the "wisdom of the nations" - hakhmat Yevanit - or hakhmat umot haolam - give the impression that the aversion felt by the ancient teachers for these non-Jewish branches of knowledge, was chiefly grounded upon the fact that the pursuit of such studies constituted a serious rival tot he intensive study of the Torah.
It would be, however, entirely unjust to charge the old masters of the Torah with a hostile attitude towards secular knowledge in general. Although in the interests of national self-protection and preservation our ancient sages at times had to erect barriers for the purpose of keeping away Greek influence from the rising generations, they yet displayed a breadth of view and a fairness of judgment sufficient ot obviate any ground for suspecting them of a tendency towards narrowness and exclusiveness.
The abhorrent idoltatry, crass superstitiion and appalling social and moral corruption characteristic of the contemporary heathen world, coupled with its Jew-baiting policy, were calculated to inspire the teaches of Israel with an utter contempt for, and an absolute horror of, all that was distinctively non-Jewish. And yet despite all this, the Jewish sages declared that the just and righteous of the gentiles would have a share in the world to come, and they enjoined the dispensing of charity and benevolence without discrimination of race or creed. The ancient authorities of the synagogue entertained the highest regard for knowledge and learning irrespective of nationality. "Should someone tell you that there is no wisdom - hakhmah - in Edom (i.e., the gentile world) believe him not." On seeing a gentile eminent in science and learning, so the sages ordain, one should pronounce a thanksgiving unto G-d for having imparted of His wisdom to His creatures.
The Talmud quotes two important point in astronomy regarding which the sages of Israel differed with the gentile scientists. With reference to one of the matters in dispute Rabbi Judah HaNasi, the compiler of the Mishnah, frankly declares, "the opinion of the wise men of the gentiles is more probable than that held by our own astonomers." The cosmopolitan character of the republic of knowledge here finds ample expression.
The reaction against Greek literary and philosophical culture, or against Greek - hakhmat Yevanit - or leshon Yevanit - now and again set up by the exponents of the Torah, should on no account be misconstrued into a reaction against secular knowledge in general. In the first place, even in its acutest form the opposition to Greek learning, as already indicated, never exceeded certain limits. Nor would the aversion to such studies on the ground of the menace they offered to the assiduous study of the Torah, seem to have represented the majority view. The general tendency was hardly to take the Scriptural injunction, "Thou shalt study it (the Torah) day and night" in its absolutely literal sense. And thus we find masters of the Torah, even outside the family circle of the Nasi, proficient in Greek learning.
That the movement against Greek culture was in no way directed against secular knowledge as such, must be obvious to any one who has the slightest acquaintence with Talmudic literature. Medicine, astronomy and mathematics were favourite studies of the sages of Israel, and formed, in a certain measure, auxiliary and ancillary branches of the Torah itself. ("The Ban Pronounced Against Greek Wisdom" pp. 190-91)
In Eretz Yisrael, on the other hand, Greek culture found the Jewish spirit enveloped in an atmosphere of its own, and too self-concious to allow a foreign substance to become integrated with its own essence. Had the movement which strove to effect the fusion of Greek philosophy with Judaism gained a footing in Palestine, giving rise to thinkers and teachers of the type of Philo-Judaeus within the ranks of the successors of the men of the Great Assembly . . . the history of Jewish though might have been enriched by a chapter of absorbing interest adumberating, to some extent, the conflict between the Maimonists and the Anti-Maimonists during the Spanish period. This, however, was not to be. Greek philosophy and ethics failed to entice the lofty minds and noble hearts of Palestinian Jewry. The successors of Ezra and Nehemiah, determined to guard and cultivate Israel's own vineyard, resolutely refused to admit Plato and Aristotle into the sanctuary of Judaism.
Hellenism in Judaea, failing to gain admission into the circle of Israel's spiritual nobility, had of necessity to wind its course along lower levels, and finding its votaries in spheres of Jewish society characterised by the grossest materialism, the deepest moral corruption, and the most insatiable worldly ambition, it quickly dropped its nobler elements, retaining and emphasising precisely these constituents of the complex culture of Hellas which exercised a powerful fascination over the depraved minds of materialists and sensualists of all nations.
The aristocracy of wealth, a class which had been growing in numbers and influence ever since the days of the royal tax-farmer, Joseph ben Tobias, would seem to have been the first to embrace the new culture with all its evils and vices. The reasons are not far to seek. "Poverty," say our sages, "admirably befits Israel." "The Holy One, praised be He, found no better quality with which to endow Israel than poverty." The greatest of the prophets in his parting message to his people declared, "When Jeshurun grows fat he kicks . . . foresakes the G-d which made him and lightly esteemeth the Rock of his Salvation." Material opulence is a condition hardly conducive to that frame of mind which joyfully submits to the spiritualising discipline and austere morality inculcated by the Torah. And, again, their frequent intercourse and intimate relations with Hellenic gentile society, both in Palestine and abroad, naturally brought the richer Jews into the closest contact with Helle!
nistic life, led them to introduce Greek culture in its manifold aspects into their homes and to give a thoroughly Greek education to their children. ("The Attitude of the Ancient Palestinian Teachers of the Torah towards Greek Culture, pp. 203-04)
This last observation of Rabbi Dr. Herzog calls to mind the followoing observation of the Dor Revi'i in his essay on Zionism. Comparing the opposition among the religious Zionism to the earlier opposition among the religious to emancipation, he wrote as follows:
even if we should know that Emancipation contained within it definite dangers for complete faith, this conclusion could not serve as a reason to deny, or even postpone, the granting of natural rights to the nation . . . The Holy One Blessed Be He does not demand of a man not to be a man, nor does He demand of him, in anticipation of dangers that are liable to weaken the completeness of his faith, that he suppress his ambition for success.
Prosperity and wealth can be a great danger to religion, as is explained in many places in Scripture and as everyday life experience teaches us. Accordingly, it would have been necessary to forbid the ambition for prosperity, in view of the dangers it holds. But we see that it is not so, and the pious among us not only pray for wealth and honor, but seek with full energy to enlarge their wealth and property without fear of bad consequences. And there is no explanation for this except that the Divine law cannot forbid this inclination without thereby destroying the natural development of mankind . . .
If it is so for individuals, why would the Holy One Blessed Be He demand of a whole nation such a denial, which would be like deliberate self-destruction? Even if our holy Torah demands of us not to deviate from its ways, either as the result of the persecution or the enticement of the gentiles, and even if it demands of us to give over everything dear to us, even our lives, to uphold the Torah -- it would not demand what is unnatural: to forego, out of fear of ourselves, the rights and advantages that we could otherwise attain. The first demand is human and natural; the second is inhuman and unnatural. (Ha-Tsionut b'or ha-emunah)
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Date: Tue, 13 Jul 1999 14:05:16 +0200
From: "Stokar, Saul (MED)" <STOKASA@euromsx.gemse.fr>
Regarding Rav Bechhofer's post of the mail-jewish correspondence on the
allegorical interpretation of the Biblical account of the Flood (the
original m-j posting is in V16 no 36), I'd like to ask one question which
didn't seem to be addressed therein. Granting Rav Bechhofers's claim that
the overwhelming majority of ancient and medieval commentators understood
the Biblical accounts of the Flood and Gan Eden literally, why is that
relevant? It should not be surprising that in the absence of any obvious
contradictions with science, the Biblical story was understood literally.
However, nowadays, the situation is quite different, as the original poster
"However, the entire received body of knowledge in just about every
field of human
study is dependant on the fact that the world is not 5000 years old
and that there was not a flood. These facts are the fundamentals of
biology, physics, astronomy, history,
anthropology, geology, palentology, zoology, linguistics etc."
Thus we inexorably arrive at the question, "what would sage X have thought
today, given our current state of knowledge?". Though I am generally quite
skeptical about such speculations, perhaps in this case we can shed some
light by examining Chazal's response to other such "paradigm" changes in the
past. Before continuing, I would like to emphasize that examples from before
the rise of modern science (i.e. before the 15-th-16-th century) shed no
light on Chazal's response to such contradictions. In, say, the Rambam's
time, science was qualitatively different from modern science, inseparably
bound up with philosophy (just like in Rambam's Sefer Madda) and scientific
theories were much less compelling, even in contemporary eyes. (The first
half of the pervious sentence is undeniably true; the latter half is
probably debatable, but I believe it to be the case.) Thus, we should only
consider examples that post-date the medieval period. Andre Neher published
a very interesting paper in the Journal of the History of Ideas (I believe
in the 1970s) which analyzed the response of Chazal to the Copernican
revolution. As I recall, he contrasted the ease with which contemporary
Jewish sages acclimated the heliocentric model of the solar system (or
universe, as it was then thought) with the Biblical text, as opposed to the
difficulties the Christian Church had with this. For example, while the
Church had a problem with Joshua 10:12 ("Shemesh BeGivon Dom"), the Jews had
no problem "reinterpreting" the verse in light of the newly discovered
science. I am not claiming that after Copernicus Chazal began interpreting
Joshua 10:12 allegorically; however we see that Chazal were willing to
change their understanding of the Tanach to avoid a disharmony with
newly-discovered science. They were apparently undisturbed by the claim that
their reinterpretation of the verse could be misconstrued as implying that
"G-d, Chazal and the Rishonim were pulling the wool over our eyes with this
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Date: Tue, 13 Jul 1999 03:48:54 -0400
From: Sholem Berger <email@example.com>
Subject: Science and the Mabul
Rabbi Bechhoffer commented (if I understand him correctly) that those with a
more sophisticated understanding of the scientific process than that taught
in "High School Textbook[s]" realize that its results are untrustworthy
on long time-scales. First of all, is it not possible to have emunah and
bitokhn while avoiding such unsubstantiated (one might say unsubstantiable)
generalizations? Or is Rabbi Bechhoffer possess some proof of this claim?
Certainly individual theories and facts are often in question from one week
to another, but the broad course of scientific thought is a more complicated
matter than Rabbi Bechhoffer lets on.
Even if one grants the truth of this philosophy, one questions its relevance
to the Mabul. While the doctrine of catastrophism had its ups and downs in
popularity during the 18th and 19th century, with the rise of the modern
science of geology in the late 19th century the notion of a worldwide flood
fell out of favor with scientific practiioners -- I believe for good, but if
there is currently controversy with regard to the matter I apologize for my
ignorance. In other words: science does not recognize the Flood as a geologic
or climatological event. If this means you must reject science, gezunterhayt,
but do not tar the practice of science itself with your philosophical brush.
(A side-note on the ups and downs of scientific theories: it has occasionally
been suggested in this forum that such-and-such a fact is an example of
science's instability and untrustworthiness, since it was predicted by
Chazal, mocked by apikorsim, and brought back into favor by current scientific
thought. This is comparing apples and oranges; Chazal's broad-based scientific
theories were mostly not written down, and as such their scientific ideas were
empirical in nature; it was not necessary for them to tie them to a theoretic
structure. On the other hand, modern science concerns itself with tying facts
together, and would not satisfy itself with individual empirical claims such as
those made by Chazal. The scientific needs of koydesh and khol are different.)
Ad kan my scientific thoughts, motivated by at least some modicum of training.
Now a comment lefi aniyus dati on the difference between allegory and vision
as employed in the interpretations of the Rishonim: could you explain it?
If a vision is seen in the mind's eye of the prophet and does not play itself
out in the sensory world to which we are privy, how is it different from
an allegory? The visions of the prophets are indeed truth, but to call them
"literal truth" seems a bit of a misclassification, like calling Matan Torah
an "accurate description." These are transcendentals we're talking about!
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Date: Tue, 13 Jul 1999 09:15:01 -0500 (CDT)
From: "Shoshanah M. & Yosef G. Bechhofer" <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Subject: R.S.R.Hirsch - Myth & Truth (fwd)
This message is in MIME format. The first part should be readable text,
while the remaining parts are likely unreadable without MIME-aware tools.
Send mail to email@example.com for more info.
Content-Type: TEXT/PLAIN; CHARSET=us-ascii
From Prof. Levi. The attachment was an MS Word file that I cannot read. If
someone volunteers to convert it to DOS and post it to the group, I would
be most grateful!
Yosef Gavriel Bechhofer
Cong. Bais Tefila, 3555 W. Peterson Ave., Chicago, IL, 60659
---------- Forwarded message ----------
Date: Tue, 13 Jul 1999 10:45:58 +0300
From: Leo Levi <firstname.lastname@example.org>
To: "Shoshanah M. & Yosef G. Bechhofer" <email@example.com>
Subject: R.S.R.Hirsch - Myth & Truth
Tnx for sending me the correspondence re the above. I tried to show that
Rav Hirsch was strongly nationalistic & simultaneously would be strongly
anti-Zionist today. A clear definition of Zionism is prerequisite to a
proper understanding of this statement. Attached I send you one chapter
from my recent book, which should help clarify this position.
Bevirkat Kol Tuv Yehudah Levi
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