Avodah Mailing List
Volume 16 : Number 150
Tuesday, March 7 2006
Subjects Discussed In This Issue:
Date: Mon, 6 Mar 2006 20:39:46 -0500
From: "S & R Coffer" <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Subject: RE: Chazal, science, and halacha
On March 6, 2006, Marty Bluke wrote:
> R' Simcha Coffer wrote:
>> I admit that astronomers today maintain a heliocentric universe but AE
>> maintained that there are no absolute frames of reference in space and
>> thus, although we may be using heliocentric models to calculate the
>> motion of the heavenly bodies, who knows...maybe the earth is kavua?
> This is a fallacy and a misrepresentation of the Theory of Relativity.
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Date: Mon, 6 Mar 2006 17:35:58 -0500
From: "Mike Wiesenberg" <email@example.com>
Subject: source: sheker has no feet
>>I'm looking for the source of the "vort" that Sheker (Shin-Kuf-Reish)
>>has no feet - as opposed to Emes that can stand.
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Date: Mon, 6 Mar 2006 22:45:10 -0500
From: "Aryeh Englander" <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Subject: Oseh Maasei Bereishis
I've been wondering what exactly are the gedarim for when you say the
brachah of Oseh Maasei Bereishis. Is it only for those things that the
gemara talks about? Can you make a bracha on the Grand Canyon? Old
Faithful? The Aurora Borealis? Niagra Falls? Do you make a Shekocho
U'gevuraso Malei Olam on a lava flow? A whirlpool? We say you make a
bracha on a mountain, but what about a 600-foot sand dune? A mountain of
ice in Greenland or Alaska or Antarctica? And for rivers: is it only a
river that changed course by the hand of man that you don't make a bracha
on, or any river? And if any river, what about a volcano that grew up
in historical memory - that wasn't there since Maasei Bereishis so do
you make a bracha on it? Also, is there ANY river in the world that we
can say for certain has not changed course since maasei bereishis? Do
you say a bracha if you see an amazing sight through a telescope or
binoculars? How about a futuristic question: would you say a bracha when
seeing Earth from space? How about Olympus Mons on Mars?
Please respond with SOURCES, not just conjectures. Thanks.
Aryeh L. Englander
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Date: Mon, 6 Mar 2006 23:38:57 -0500
From: "S & R Coffer" <email@example.com>
Subject: RE: Chazal, science, and halacha
On March 6, 2006, Shalom Kohn wrote:
> In connection with the above topic, I wrote:
>>We can maintain the binding
>> character of established halacha without needing to make infallible all
>> chazal pronouncements on non-halachic matters.
> R. Simcha Coffer responded:
>>If you are referring to Aggadic matters, and scientific pronouncements
>>made to illustrate them, there are many precedents in the Rishonim
>>and Acharonim to adopt such a shita.
> Indeed, if I understand the point of R. Coffer's posting, notwithstanding
> his attempt to read relativity into the plainly geocentric, non-rotating
> earth posited in Pesachim 94b, he argues that we are bound by chazal's
> understanding of halacha, but not their expressions of scientific
> knowledge. R. Coffer goes on make suggestions that the scientific
> statements in the gemara are metaphors or expressions of higher truths (he
> does not purport to set forth the full explanation for each scientific
> utterance at variance with the current understanding of scientific
> reality). Others might simply say that chazal reflected the science
> of their times, but that the halacha is nonetheless immutable from
> the standpoint of process. Thus, the difference is one of premises,
> not result. R. Coffer would say that chazal concealed their true
> reasons; I might prefer a chazal more forthright and consistent with
> the intellectual integrity exhibited throughout the gemara, but neither
> of us would change the halacha. Whether that makes me charedi or makes
> R. Coffer a closest MO, I don't know.
I never said that Chazal concealed their true reasons. Thus, I too
prefer a Chazal consistent with intellectual integrity. Also, I never
said that *all* scientific statements in the Gemara are metaphors. I am
merely suggesting that if we come across an aggadic saying which employs
scientific elements in its presentation that are ostensibly at odds with
reality, it can be chocked up to metaphor. I did not purport to provide a
legend itemizing all of the cases where this phenomenon applies because I
am inadequate for the task. Ramchal states that one must have the "key"
to understand exactly what is and what is not metaphor. I seem to have
> The one question is why, if we are prepared to treat chazal's science as
> metaphor or secret expression of a higher truth, we are so adamant about
> the six days of creation, since the main bar to possible reinterpretation
> of the posukim to accomodate a universe older than 5766 years are the
> statements of chazal (in this case, I think, well after the gemara era).
Chazal is a term generally used in association with members of the Talmud.
As far as your claim that post-talmudical Rabbis have made statements
to support an old universe, I do not believe your contention to be
true. The old-age universe theory was first treated in a book called
Challenge by Feldheim, then by R' Aryeh Kaplan ztz'l, Gerald Schroeder,
Natan Aviezer and most notably by Rabbi Nosson Slifkin. RNS, for instance,
uses primarily contemporary sources to advance his position such as R'
Gedalya Nadel, Rav Avraham Kook, R' Samson R. Hirsch, Rav Elie Munk,
Rav Dessler etc. Even assuming that these Rabbis are aligned with the
old-age theory, I am not bound by their interpretations. As far as
I'm concerned, Chazal and Rishonim relate to the verses in Bereishis
literally. They are my guides; they are who I follow. If you wish to
read a post delineating the above exhaustively, the seminal work on
this subject was penned by Rabbi Zvi Lampel back in 2004 and can be
found here. http://www.aishdas.org/avodah/vol13/v13n095.shtml#05 Also
Dr. J. Ostroff has written much about this as have I. R' Micha Berger
and R' Bechhofer and others have written exhaustively in support of a
possible old-age universe. There's no sense reinventing the wheel. Just
run a search on Avodah and you'll see a well-represented case for both
sides of the debate.
> As long as one accepts that Hashem did the creating, this detail seems to
> me far less important, and have far fewer implications, than scientific
> explanations for halachic outcomes, where there is a halacha le-ma'aseh.
I really don't want to be dragged into a MB debate again but I will
make one comment. As a chosid of R' Avigdor Miller, I was taught to be
aware of Hashem's presence by observation and investigation (Bechina)
into the 100's of billions of phenomena that cover the earth. The person
who pioneered this approach was Avraham Avinu, the one who re-introduced
it into klal Yisrael was Dovid haMelech, and the one who wrote a concise
book delineating its parameters was the Chovos haLevavos. This trilogy
is quoted often in Rabbi Miller's lectures and has been banged into my
thick skull over and over. What the Schroeder/Aviezer/Slifkin approach
does is to entirely destroy this construct. Once you say that evolution
is responsible for the unfolding of life on earth, although you may claim
that Hashem is behind it, you have effectively deconstructed the argument
from design. You see, you no longer have incontrovertible evidence that
an omnipotent and beneficent Creator designed and created this world
with a plan and purpose. It's your word against the evolutionist's
word. Who says you are right? Maybe his interpretation (pure unguided
randomness) is correct? It is no longer a matter of knowledge; it is
now just a matter of belief. Allegorizing MB and subscribing to the
scientific chronology of the universe, even if only in part, severely
compromises my ability to see the Boreh through His beriah. It is only
if one sees an omnipotent Creator who created the universe in a six day
rapid succession that the design argument has any meaning. Being aware
of Hashem's presence through nature is an extremely important ideal.
As far as I'm concerned, ein licha halacha l'maaseh gidola mizu. I'm
probably going to get into trouble for saying the following, but all this
kefira business, book bannings, controversy etc. is all smoke and mirrors.
AFAIC, the real problem is the one I just mentioned.
> Paradoxically, it seems to have generated far more controversy.
I've heard this argument many times before but for the life of me, I just
can't understand it. Those who assert that a young earth chronology is a
part of our ikkrey haEmunah have no choice but to voice their concern.
Whatever "controversy" ensues is merely an unfortunate side-effect of
a necessary action.
> R. Coffer adds --
>>Incidentally, there are certain list-members/lurkers that are unhappy
>>with this approach and have written me to complain about me adopting such
>>a stance. They claim that every one of Chazal's scientific statements
>>must be viewed as infallible.
> I guess the gemara in Pesachim and other sources needs to be addressed
> by this group, who presumably will offer coherent arguments in support
> of their macha'ah.
Sometimes they will and sometimes they won't. I don't think there is
a human being on earth that is capable of reconciling each and every
maamar Chazal with current scientific enterprise. What distinguishes
these people from people such as you and I is that whereas we are willing
to say that not every scientific statement made by Chazal is reflective
of reality, they are not willing to countenance such an approach. The
reason is that they are aware that Chazal were spiritual giants whose
every word was weighed, whose every utterance was a pure expression of
profound wisdom. To them it is inconceivable that Chazal would make
so many scientific statements that would subsequently turn out to be
unreflective of reality. What do they do when they are faced with a
contradiction they cannot resolve? They merely shrug and say "tzarich
iyun gadol vaHashem yair einay" much like R' Akiva Eiger frequently does
in his pirushim on Shas.
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Date: Tue, 7 Mar 2006 08:28:10 +0200
From: "Eli Turkel" <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Subject: chaniging halacha
> R. Coffer goes on make suggestions that the scientific statements in
> the gemara are metaphors or expressions of higher truths (he does not
> purport to set forth the full explanation for each scientific utterance at
> variance with the current understanding of scientific reality). Others
> might simply say that chazal reflected the science of their times,
> but that the halacha is nonetheless immutable from the standpoint of
> process. Thus, the difference is one of premises, not result. R. Coffer
> would say that chazal concealed their true reasons; I might prefer a
> chazal more forthright and consistent with the intellectual integrity
> exhibited throughout the gemara, but neither of us would change the
> halacha. Whether that makes me charedi or makes R. Coffer a closet MO,
> I don't know.>
Again whether changes the halacha has nothing to do with Charedi/MO. While
REED says we do not change the halacha many other poskim do change
the halacha when Chazal's science disagree wiith our own. Usually
this is phrased as "nishtanu hateva". There is no way of knowing if
the poskim really believed that nature changed or this is a legalistic
argument. However, in many cases the halacha does indeed change given
the new facts.
The rishonim already used nishtane hateva. A more recent application
is RMF teshuva regarding the fact that pregnant women don't ovulate and
how it affects hilchot Nidah. Would you call RMF a closet MO?
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Date: Tue, 7 Mar 2006 03:25:45 -0600
From: "Marty Bluke" <email@example.com>
Subject: Chazal and Science, is Nishtaneh Hateva a realistic answer?
R' Eli Turkel wrote:
> Rishonim already noticed that science in the gemara contradicts their
> views and answered "nishtane hateva". I for one find it hard to
> believe that in the days of the gemara an 8 month fetus had a less
> of a chance of surviving than a 7th month fetus. That in the days of
> the gemara drinking a pair of drinks was really dangerous or that many
> of the wierd remedies really worked.
I agree with his point and would like to expand on it.
There are those who claim that Chazal's scientific statements are
infallible and any seeming conflicts between torah and science are
explained by saying nishtaneh hateva, nature changed. IMHO, this is an
untenable position for the following reasons.
1. There is not a shred of evidence that Nishtaneh hateva. Remember,
the Geonim who lived only a few hundred years after the time of the
gemara already stated that the cures of Chazal don't work, that is a
very short time. Here is one example of something where it is quite
implausible to say that Nishtaneh hateva.
The gemara (Nidda) states that the mother contributes the blood to the
baby (based on this some poskim didn't want to accept blood tests to
establish paternity). It is implausible to think that the whole nature
of human development changed after the time of chazal.
2. If Chazal had a kabbala (tradition) about science you would think
that they would have had a kabbala that the world is going to change and
that the science would no longer be true. Nishtaneh hateva should also be
part of Torah. After all, if you are going to claim that all of science
is in Torah then this very important fact should be there as well. Yet,
Chazal never even hint that the scientific pronouncements that they are
making are only temporary. They didn't say that remedy X will only work
for a limited time. they made a blanket statement that remedy X cures
Y. It is clear that Chazal had no idea that Nishtaneh hateva was going
to happen, why not? If Torah included science it should have included
Nishtaneh hateva as well.
In fact, I don't see a single torah science conflict where it is plausible
to say Nishtaneh hateva.
I found a fascinating site Hishtanus Hatevaim
(http://www.daat.ac.il/encyclopedia/value.asp?id1=739) which has a long
list of things where what Chazal say doesn't fit the scientific facts
of today. If you look at the list (which is only partial) you will see
that it is quite large. To believe that in all of these things nishtaneh
hateva is quite a stretch for anyone. Here are just some of the changes
related to the human body. You would have to believe that the human body
changed drastically as
a. none of the remedies of chazal work
b. the things that Chazal say are dangerous are not (e.g. eating or
cooking fish and meat together), and things that Chazal say are good
for you (rotting fish) are dangerous
c. Genetics changed (it was once a good thing to marry your niece)
d. all things about birth and a baby's development changed (see 7, 8 ,
or 9 month pregnancies), the position of babies when born, women don't
get pregnant from the first sex act, etc.
e. all things related to hilcho nidda changed - until when a woman can
give birth (60 if she gets married before 20), when does a women stop
menstruating when pregnant, how long does a woman not menstruate after
birth, the whole idea of vestot and hargasha
f. various halachos related to mila such as washing the baby on the third
day, metzitza bpeh (which was considered to be necessary to ensure the
safety of the baby).
g. various foods/actions that are kashe l'shicha
To say nishtaneh hateva on one of these maybe, on all of these (and
this is just a drop in the bucket) is clearly not going to work, there
is absolutely no evidence that from the time of Chazal until the time
of the Geonim/Rishonim, who pointed out many of these, (which is only a
few hundred years), or even modern times, there were wholescale changes
in humanity such that all of these changes could have taken place.
In general, when you find yourself giving difficult answer after difficult
answer it is a sign that your fundamental approach is incorrect. Those
who hold that Chazal's scientific statements are infallible, are in
exaclty that situation. They are forced to give very difficult, forced
answers for many many statements of Chazal. As soon as you make the
paradigm shift and assume like the Rambam et al. that Chazal were not
infallible in science all of these questions fall away.
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Date: Tue, 07 Mar 2006 04:35:52 -0500
From: "david guttmann" <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Subject: To: Avodah - High Level Torah Discussion Group <email@example.com>
R.S.Coffer wrote quoting Rambam 2:25
> "Know that our aversion [lit. running away from] to maintaining
> the doctrine of an eternal universe is not due to verses in the
> Torah which indicate that the world was newly created because the
> verses which indicate new creation are not greater in quantity than
> the verses which indicate that the Deity is corporeal and so too
> [alternate] means of interpretation are not sealed from us and are
> not withheld from us regarding the creation of the universe; rather,
> we could have interpreted them [figuratively] in the same manner as we
> did regarding the rejection of the corporeality [of Hashem] and it is
> probable that this would in fact have been far easier to do; we have
> the well-established ability to reinterpret these verses and uphold
> the doctrine of the eternity of the universe just as we reinterpreted
> the verses and rejected the corporeality of the Most High.
> What has compelled us not to do this and not to maintain this
> is twofold. Firstly, that which the Deity is not corporeal is
> demonstrably proven [and thus] it is absolutely incumbent upon
> us to reinterpret any verse whose superficial meaning contradicts
> a demonstrably proven thing and it would be well understood that
> this verse must have another interpretation, but the doctrine of
> an eternal universe has not been demonstrably proven and thus it is
> inappropriate to reject the verses and reinterpret them in order to
> accommodate a view whose contrary view can just as easily be accepted
> by advancing many arguments in its support." End quote
>Well, I think this quote speaks for itself. It is clear from the Rambam
>that unless he has absolute proof that a pasuk must be figurative, his
>approach is to take the pasuk literally.
You are doing what you usually accuse scholars of doing, quoting a
Rambam without putting him in context. Continue the chapter (Friedlander
translation my highlights- not the best but available to copy)
Secondly, our belief in the Incorporeality of God is not contrary
to any of the fundamental principles of our religion: it is not
contrary to the words of any prophet. Only ignorant people believe
that it is contrary to the teaching of Scripture: but we have shown
that this is not the case: on the contrary, Scripture teaches the
Incorporeality of God. If we were to accept the Eternity of the
Universe as taught by Aristotle, that everything in the Universe
is the result of fixed laws, that Nature does not change, and
that there is nothing supernatural, we should necessarily be in
opposition to the foundation of our religion, we should disbelieve
all miracles and signs, and certainly reject all hopes and fears
derived from Scripture, unless the miracles are also explained
figuratively. The Allegorists amongst the Mohammedans have done
this, and have thereby arrived at absurd conclusions. If, however,
we accepted the Eternity of the Universe in accordance with the
second of the theories which we have expounded above (ch. xxiii.),
and assumed, with Plato, that the heavens are likewise transient,
we should not be in opposition to the fundamental principles of our
religion: this theory would not imply the rejection of miracles,
but, on the contrary, would admit them as possible. The Scriptural
text might have been explained accordingly, and many expressions
might have been found in the Bible and in other writings that would
confirm and support this theory. But there is no necessity for this
expedient, so long as the theory has not been proved. As there is
no proof sufficient to convince us, this theory need not be taken
into consideration, nor the other one: we take the text of the Bible
literally, and say that it teaches us a truth which we cannot prove:
and the miracles are evidence for the correctness of our view
I believe this speaks for itself and is consistent with my understanding
that the reason Rambam does not accept Eternity because it would negate
much of Torah and force us into difficult interpretations. As it is not
provable (with certainty) he rejects it. However Plato is theologically
acceptable, he therefore does not reject categorically, but again as there
is no "certainty" he sticks with the Torah view without interpretation.
To put all this in context at the beginning of the discussion on Kadmus
in 2:16 Rambam provides an introduction:
I will not deceive myself, and consider dialectical methods as
proofs: and the fact that a certain proposition has been proved
by a dialectical argument will never induce me to accept that
proposition, but, on the contrary, will weaken my faith in it, and
cause me to doubt it. For when we understand the fallacy of a proof,
our faith in the proposition itself is shaken. (apply this to your
Mabul arguments DG). It is therefore better that a proposition which
cannot be demonstrated be received as an axiom, or that one of the
two opposite solutions of the problem be accepted on authority. I
intend to show that the theory of the Creation, as taught in
Scripture, contains nothing that is impossible; and that all those
philosophical arguments which seem to disprove our view contain weak
points which make them inconclusive, and render the attacks on our
view untenable. Since I am convinced of the correctness of my method,
and consider either of the two theories-viz., the Eternity of the
Universe, and the Creation-as admissible, I accept the latter on the
authority of Prophecy, which can teach things beyond the reach of
philosophical speculation. For the belief in prophecy is, as will
be shown in the course of this treatise, consistent even with the
belief in the Eternity of the Universe. When I have established the
admissibility of our theory, I will, by philosophical reasoning,
show that our theory of the Creation is more acceptable than that
of the Eternity of the Universe; and although our theory includes
points open to criticism, I will show that there are much stronger
reasons for the rejection of the theory of our opponents.
Now this seems to support my quote is 1:50 and my interpretation. I
am not clear what you meant in your explanation. Rambam there seems to
say that we need empirical proof to make something certain. He does not
talk about Emunah at all. Emunah in Rambam's thinking deserves a paper
in itself. Mabul is at this time is not empirically provable. What is
provable is that 4500 years ago there was no global flood. There are
enough archeological and historical data to disprove it. That there
was once a glacial age and a meltdown that caused flooding is provable
but that was longer than 4500 years ago. Now all the contortions that
people try to do and copy the idiotic fundamentalists of Christianity,
is a chilul hashem and in my mind smacks of Menashe. Unless you are
scientifically trained, I am not, you have to accept what experts in
the field tell us and work with that to ontologically interpret that
information as taught by Torah and its interpreters over the generations
especially Cahzal and the Rishonim. They accepted their experts of the
day and sahowed how to view them from a Torah point of view.
Did you see the letter Rav Kook wrote to Ze'ev Yavetz about Rambam? If
not and the moderators agree, I can post it. I have it in a pdf although
the pages are "head to toe". Mitzvah Lefarsem.
Wow. That was long! You must have touched a nerve in me.
Very stimulating discussions. Yeyasher Kochacho.
If you agree that Knowing is Believing, join me in the search for
Knowledge at http://yediah.blogspot.com/
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Date: Tue, 7 Mar 2006 06:36:30 +0200
From: "Akiva Atwood" <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Subject: RE: Mabul and scientific support therof
> Actually, this is the biggest ra'aya to the flood. The fact that hundreds of
> tribes, worldwide, all have the same tradition about a great flood proves
> that everyone existing today descended from one original family that
> survived the flood.
No, it doesn't.
There are MANY myths that disconnected cultures around the world share --
which is one reason Jung developed his theory of archetypes -- to explore
the psychological processes that give rise to these myths/images.
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Date: Tue, 7 Mar 2006 05:36:21 -0500
From: Micha Berger <email@example.com>
Subject: Re: Mabul and scientific support therof
On Tue, Mar 07, 2006 at 06:36:30AM +0200, Akiva Atwood wrote:
: There are MANY myths that disconnected cultures around the world share --
: which is one reason Jung developed his theory of archetypes -- to explore
: the psychological processes that give rise to these myths/images.
Occam's razor would IMHO lead to common ancestry of these myths,
According to the Torah's account, once we go that far back those
cultures weren't disconnected yet. The premise you give in the first
line isn't a given.
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Date: Tue, 7 Mar 2006 09:05:00 +0200
Subject: RE: Mabul and scientific support therof
Simcha Coffer retracted his support for a local flood for, amongst other
reasons, the following:
> RJO pointed out to me that without a global flood, gravity would
> have caused the waters to run off the mountain peeks. The only way
> all of the mountain peeks would have been covered is if the flood
> was global.
I don't understand this objection. Obviously RJO and RSC believe
that the entire situation was miraculous and the laws of nature
were completely different, as per various Midrashic statements in
that direction. Why would they expect gravity to function?
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Date: Mon, 6 Mar 2006 23:17:59 -0800
From: "Joe Socher" <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Subject: Re: relativity?
I'm surprised that no else has said much on this because there are those
out there with science backgrounds far deeper than mine who hopefully
will correct my errors.
1. This is just a historical nitpick (which is something I am much more
comfortable doing) Relativity of motion depending frames of reference is
Galilean Relativity and not Einsteinian, no? (E.g., dropping a cannon ball
from a crow's nest in the mast of a ship: it travels solely vertically
in relation to the ship, but moves horizontally in relation to the Earth).
2. The scientific point (or maybe meta-scientific), however, is this:
we have a unified theory of motion and forces among bodies that explains
falling apples, the movement of the Earth around the Sun, the moon
around the Earth, the moons of Jupiter, the travel plans of spacecraft,
etc. etc. etc. all with basically the same few formulae of modern physics.
We do not have any such general explanation motion that will include a
Ptolemaic (or any other geocentric) model. You can't divorce Astronomy
Just a further note on the topic of Physics and Astronomy: 2
interesting sources in the More Nevukhim are relevant to this question:
2:11, which takes a position on the nature of Astronomy that almost
seems to recognize the relativity of motion; 2:24, which states that an
Astronomy that violates the rules of physics, as medieval astronomy's
epicycles or alternatively eccentric motions violated Aristotelian
physics, is quite unsatisfactory, and leaves the Rambam himself in a
state of perplexity, and leads him to meditate on inherent limitations
of human knowledge. He does allow for the possibility that someone,
someday, will figure out the solution to this problem, though. And we,
for our part, can thank the Rebono Shel Olam, HaManhig HaGalgal, for
revealing the answer to Galileo, Kepler, Newton and their successors.
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