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Volume 16 : Number 153

Wednesday, March 8 2006

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Subjects Discussed In This Issue:
Date: Tue, 7 Mar 2006 18:28:00 -0600
From: "Kohn, Shalom" <skohn@Sidley.com>
RE: Chazal, science, and halacha

R' Simcha Coffer wrote:
>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.

If seemingly problematic aggadic statements can be cast as metaphor
when they seem difficult, what is the basis for not concluding that
(a) aggadic statements are meant as metaphor even if not seemingly
problematic at the moment, so that we are no longer wedded to the
literal correctness of any aggadic statement, but should treat it as
metaphor generally; (b) even where chazal expressed scientific reasons
for halachic conclusions -- e.g., the viability of fetuses -- we can treat
their comments as either (i) an explanation whose apparent inconsistency
with current understandings does not change the halacha; or (ii) can be
modified based on a concept of nishthaneh ha-tevah, applied thoughtfully.
In that connection, a comment by R. Eli Turkel (I think) about violating
shabbat to save what chazal determined would be a non-viable fetus was
well taken. I would not want to say that we change halacha in regard to
science, but rather that given the advances of medical science, immature
fetuses can now survive, so chazal's takana to violate shabbat only for
fetuses of a viable maturity requires saving the fetus if it can now live.
(In other words, the halacha declares the rule given a particular umdina,
so it is the umdina which changes and not the halacha.) To me, as a
doctrinal matter, this is a very different proposition than the notion
that insects used to generate spontaneously but no longer do so, etc.
On that subject, I would conclude that if chazal concluded killing
gnats on shabbat was not netilat neshama, that is halacha which remains
applicable notwithstanding change in scientific understanding.

R. Coffer also wrote:
> 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.

Actually, my point was the reverse, that the post-Talmudical rabbis
generally did not support the old universe theory, but rather than their
statements in that regard -- prior to the expansion of archeological and
other evidence -- can be treated with the same allegorical brush as the
statements of chazal which, per R. Coffer, "are ostensibly at odds with
reality" and should therefore not be taken literally.

R. Coffer further wrote:
> 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. . . . 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. . . . 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.

Ay, there's the rub. If one's faith is dependant on a six day creation,
obviously there is no room for accommodating any different construct.
However, there is ample room to see Hashem's majesty and miracles even in
a process of guided evolution, if indeed one seeks to rely on the argument
by design. But in truth, even the argument by design is but a hypothesis,
and the scientific explanation of an evolutionary world emanating from
a godless Big Bank is an alternative, equally plausible hypothesis.
At the end of the day, emunah needs to be based on more than a choice
among debatable hypotheses.

In connection with these issues, I am reminded of the apikores who told
the chasid, "I don't believe in G-d." Incredulous, the chasid responded,
"How can you say that, the chumash clearly says 'Berishis barah elo-kim.'"
With a smile, the apikores responded, "I've afraid you don't understand;
I'm an apikores. I don't accept the chumash." "Oy, vey," said the
chasid, "Don't accept the chumash! Ok, but Rashi says...."

Saying we need to posit a six day creation without evolution in order to
support faith seems to me to have it completely backwards, WADR. If we
have faith, we can accept the six day creation, illogical or unscientific
as that might otherwise seem, or not -- but our faith remains. Hashamaim
mesaprim kevod k'eil umaasei yadav magid harakiah (among other things)
is an experiential reality, irrespective of science might explain
the same phenomena. Ultimately, emunah is an overwhelming feeling and
self-definition that transcends the notion that upon evaluation of the
competing rational arguments, G-d wins by a split decision.

Finally, R. Coffer noted about those who don't accept any allegorical
> 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.

At a certain point, R' Akiva Eiger (and others) would recognize when the
multiplicity of questions required him to offer a different peshat in
the gemara and re-examine his original premises. Nor would he refrain
from asking his questions and demanding explanations. "Tzarich iyun
gadol vaHashem yair einay" needs to be said after strenous effort and
as a last resort, and not with a shrug at this first sign of a problem.

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Date: Wed, 8 Mar 2006 06:15:38 +0200
From: "Marty Bluke" <marty.bluke@gmail.com>
Re: Chazal and Science, is Nishtaneh Hateva a realistic answer?

Most of your answers are actually difficult and do not really answer the
contradiction, these are the kinds of answers I was referring to. Again,
to answere 1 question I can see giving a difficult answer, to answer tens
we need to rethink our whole premise. Details inline about your answers.

On Tue, 07 Mar 2006 19:37:57, Dr. Josh Backon <backon@vms.huji.ac.il> wrote:
> Not so fast :-)  I'm in medicine, teach at a medical school and also
> have a PhD in physiology. A number of remedies in the gemara (Gittin) involve
> swallowing antigenic determinants, an area that had been investigated
> by our hospital's gastroenterology dept. as a "breakthrough" in treatment
> of autoimmune disease.

There are still many remedies in Chazal that do not work. Even if a few
do work that does not prove anything.

> >b. the things that Chazal say are dangerous are not (e.g. eating or
> >cooking fish and meat together),

> I see you missed my posts on AVODAH on the interaction of stearic acid
> in beef with eicosapentaenoic acid in fish. Most of the early work on
> use of fish oil showed negative effects (Annals of Internal Medicine
> circa 1987) [e.g. diabetes] because the study conflated meat WITH fish
> rather than being studied separately.

Chazal stated that eating fish and meat is dangerous because it causes
Tzaraas. I think that you will agree that the science that you quote
doesn't agree with that. Has there been a single documented case of
Tzaraas from eating fish and meat toegther?

> >e. all things related to hilcho nidda changed - until when a woman can

> As I recently posted to AVODAH on "veset kavua": think of epigenetics
> and major environmental changes. I listed journal references !!

This is the 1 place where I agree there has been a change

>>give birth (60 if she gets married before 20), when does a women stop

> I think I once saw a journal article on age of first intercourse and
> age of menopause.

I have not seen anything like this and would like more information

>>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

> There are some interesting postpartum changes in the mother on the 3rd day:
> estrogen and progesterone [which also have immunological function] revert
> to pre-pregnancy levels; there is the start of actual milk production.

Chazal stated that there is life threatening danger to the baby if it is
not washed on the 3rd day so much so that you can be mechallel shabbos
for this. Whatever postpartum changes there are in the mother do not
explain this statement.

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Date: Wed, 8 Mar 2006 17:47:21 -0500 (EST)
From: "Micha Berger" <micha@aishdas.org>
Re: Chazal, science, and halacha

Kohn, Shalom wrote:
> 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...

Because we know that chazal were writing in riddles and
metaphors. (Rambam, Peirush haMishnayos, intro to Cheileq) And the
Ramchal even suggests why -- so that TSBP stays BP.

When it comes to TSBK, HQBH gave us the tools to find His meaning --
TSBP. You can't simply make up new peshatim in contradiction to the
spectrum of those given by or implied by the mesorah. Thus, one needs
a TSBP source for a metaphoric understanding of time (or everything)
in Bereishis 1. I believe such sources exist, RSC dimisses RYGB and
my ra'ayos (not to mention those of R' Kaplan, R' Aryeh Carmell, R'
Schwab, etc...).

R Simcha Coffer wrote:
> 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....
>                                  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.

Who was more creative: Bach, who was able to evoke emotion while sticking
to the strict rules expected of Baroque music, or Beethoven who rewrote
musical norms (thereby launching the late classical period) by violating
them? It would seem to me that -- all else being equal (and Beethoven
fans would argue that they are not) -- the ability to create while
working with in a set of rules is the greater accomplishment.

Similarly, design exists in the universe. That is
probably quantifiable, once information theory matures
to the point of giving us a rigorous measure of design. (See
<http://www.aishdas.org/asp/2004/12/argument-by-design-ver-40.shtml>.) But
given that design, which shows greater Divine Wisdom -- to set it all
up without following the laws of nature, or to reach the very same point
while conforming to them?

FWIW, in practice, most people see the Borei through his mitzvos, through
the first-hand experience of doing His Will. Kiruv revolves around
the experience of Shabbos, not philosophical proof. Experimental data
suggests Rav Yehudah haLevi was right on this one, not the Rambam. See
or the similar posts on Aspaqlaria. And (as I note in the aforementioned
Aspaqlaria post), the more rigorous we try to make the proof, the *less*
it convinces.

So I firmly deny that:
>    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....

Nor do I think the argument by design is capable of being the center of
one's faith.

> 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.

Tav sheyihyu shogegim... If you think the belief is wrong, and know no one
is going to be meqabeil, moreso, people are going to be pushed further
(as we now know with 20:20 hindsight) are you really supposed to voice
that concern? And if so, can you express it in a way of "I'm right,
and it's a lack of emunas chakhamim on your part to ask me why?" to
further reduce the change of qabalah? Not how I understood tokhachah,
when I learnt the inyan.

> 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....

Someone who takes both disciplines seriously should occasionally reach
the point of "I know there's an answer, whatever it may be" rather than
try to fit one to the other with a crowbar.


Micha Berger             A life of reaction is a life of slavery,
micha@aishdas.org        intellectually and spiritually. One must
http://www.aishdas.org   fight for a life of action, not reaction.
Fax: (270) 514-1507      		      -Rita Mae Brown

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Date: Wed, 8 Mar 2006 17:40:43 -0500 (EST)
From: "Micha Berger" <micha@aishdas.org>
Re: Re the Mabul

Rn Chana Luntz wrote:
> Bottom line, you don't need any of the narrative in Breishis at all to
> derive any of the things you refer to above. All that is really needed
> to be learnt from Breishis is that Hashem has the right to give Eretz
> Yisroel to the Jewish people.

Well... that's a bit of an overstatement. That was sufficient reason to
start the Torah at Bereishis. But most of the examples for vehalakhta
bidrakhav come from Bereishis (clothing Adam veChava, biqur choleh
for Avraham, etc...), as does the whole concept of Bereishis as Seifer
haEisanim or Seifer haYashar.

> If you postulate a global flood, that "moral" message is actually not
> so clear.

> Why? Because it is clear from the pshat of the Torah, that the numbers
> of people at the time of Noach were not really very many, compared with
> today's teeming billions....

Because my problem is with the epistomology, the "why" the belief is
posited, more than the belief itself, I have much less of a disagreement
with this argument. At least we're not limited to "we must reinterpret
the Torah to fit archeological interpretation", and RnCL offers mesoretic
reasons to question the global flood. (Again, with my definition of
"mesorah" as "given at Sinai or implied by that which was given there,
with no other synthetic judgements".)

My disagreement is therefore out of the realm of fundamentals, and into
something much more minor. Didn't Chazal already ask a related question
WRT "qeitz kol basar ba lefanai" and suggest that since the world
exists for people, human corruption influences the world at large -- so
that even animal behavior degenerated? If so, then people living in the
Middle East are the reason for dingo behavior in Australia, and therefore
"qeitz qol dingo ba lefanai".

On a different note, RnCL writes:
> ... It is a bit like flooding your entire three story house in order to
> drown a spider in the basement bathtub. ...Sure you might want to kill
> the spider, but any sense of proportionality is rather lacking.

What's the proportionality between the size of the universe and the
percentage that supports sentient life? Perhaps disproportion in space
is just the very way to teach the disproportionate value.


Micha Berger             A life of reaction is a life of slavery,
micha@aishdas.org        intellectually and spiritually. One must
http://www.aishdas.org   fight for a life of action, not reaction.
Fax: (270) 514-1507      		      -Rita Mae Brown

Go to top.

Date: Wed, 8 Mar 2006 21:16:55 -0500
From: "Zvi Lampel" <hlampel@thejnet.com>
Re: Mabul

Mon, 6 Mar 2006 "Chana Luntz" <> posted:

Quoting Zvi Lampel <hlampel@thejnet.com>: 
> Regarding the suggestion that when the narrative of the Mabul (in Torah and 
> Chazal)refers to the flooding of all the earth under the heavens, it means to 
> include only that "world" that the people were aware of (a suggestion I find 
> ludicrous), let me ask the following rhetorical questions: 

> Shall we then be able to say that when the Torah speaks of Hashem creating 
> the heaven and the earth, it may be only referring to those parts of the 
> heaven and the earth that Adam, or the people at Mattan Torah, were aware of? 

> Just how many people were there in existance at the time Hashem created 
> the heaven and the earth? ;=) 

Your original point involved the perception of whomever Hashem was speaking to when He described an event (e.g., Noach re: the Mabul). Regarding Creation, this would involve Adam and/or Moses/the people at Mattan Torah. The (by definition) absence of people witnessing Creation is irrelevant. 

> When Rambam calls this belief in creation of the universe ex nihilo an ikkar 
> hadaas, perhaps he was only referring to the parts of the earth and the 
> universe /he/ was aware of? So that one would not be a kofeir if he holds 
> that those parts of the earth and universe the people at Mattan Torah, or 
> Adam, was unaware of, were always there or created by another god (cv's)? 

> Bottom line [from the first Rashi in Chumash and the Ramban]... All that
> is really needed to be learnt from Breishis is that Hashem has the right
> to give Eretz Yisroel to the Jewish people.

Can you seriously accept this at face value? Why then all the word-by-word
commentary in TSBP, Midrashim and rishonim on these pesukim? The Ramban
himself invests quantities of ink in explaining the pesukim of the Mabul,
analysing them and inferring lessons from them. How can he say that the
only lesson to be gained from all these passages is R. Yitzchak's?

Another question: Just as the Ramban says the ultimate lesson to
be gained from Breishes 1-2 could be learned from the one posuk in
asseress hadibros, couldn't R. Yitzchak's lesson from Breishis 1-11
also be learned from just the pesukim the Ramban referenced (Tehillim
111:6): "and he gave to them the lands of the nations and they inherited
the work of the peoples that they might keep his laws and his Torah"
and/or Vayikra 20:22-23, "And you shall keep all my chukim and all my
mishpattim andperfrom them, and the land will not vomit you out...and
you shall not follow that chukos hagoy who I am sending from before you,
because they did all these and I abhored them")? So how does Ramban's
explanation explain why, after all, parshas Bereishis 1-11 was written?

Whatever the answer is, the fact remains that our ba'aley mesorah,
including the Ramban, certainly do invest time and effort in understanding
and analyzing Breishis (including the first posuk) to derive from the
pesukim true history and ideas, nigleh and nistar, ikkarei ha-da'as
or not.

> That does not though mean that anybody can deny that creation ex nihilo 
> is an ikkar hadaas, and that there are no other gods. These things 
> are clearly learnt out of other portions of the Torah (eg the Aseres 
> Hadibros). 

I can assure you that just as I can mangle the words "the heavens and
the earth" regarding Creation to mean only the parts of the heavens and
the earth known by Adam or the people of Moses' time --good grief; it
doesn't even say "all" the heavens and the earth!-- (and just as you can
tweak the meaning of "all the heavens and the earth" to mean only those
parts of the heaven and earth Noach knew about), I can similarly mangle
the same phrase in the Asseress Ha-dibros. (And as far as mangling
"not having other gods [or is that angels, or judges?] before Me"
[which, any apikoris can tell you, doesn't necessarilly mean that the
other gods don't exist...] -- that can easily be done as well, once
we pervert the meanings of words and abandon the sense of pesukim our
mesorah has instilled in us [even without the benefit of the Rambam's
philisophical proofs]). So we're back to where we started.

Even R. David Riceman's (Mon, 6 Mar 2006) citation of MN II:1, where the
Rambam brings 25 propositions to logically prove Hashem's existence and
properties (for lack of a better word), cannot escape a similar hatchet
job. For example, take proposition 18, "Everything that passes over from
a state of potentiality to that of actuality, is caused to do so by some
external agent..." If you can say (in spite of the plain meaning of
the pesukim and Chazal and Rishonim) that by "All the mountains under
the heavens" Hashem meant to convey just the mountains that Noach knew
about, then I can say that by "Everything" Rambam meant to convey things
in Egypt and its immediate surroundings, and that when he says . Yes,
I know it's ridiculous. That's my point.

> On the other hand, ... there may be additional...lessons to be learnt
> from Breishis as the Ramban enumerates, namely, that if you sin (whether
> as individuals or collectively, as a nation or a people) you are liable
> to be expelled from your land.
> If you postulate a global flood, that "moral" message is actually not 
> so clear. ...Because it is clear from the pshat of the Torah, that
> the numbers of people at the time of Noach were not really very many,
> compared with today's teeming billions.

You don't know that. Each of the parents begot, in addition to the male offspring named, additional unnamed and unnumbered "bannim ubanos." You don't know the population results over the 1600-or-so years in question, begotten by people who lived and procreated over extremely long lifetimes (although evidently only after an unusually late start!). 

> Nor were they very spread out (the spreading out, according to the
> explicit text of the Torah came after the mabul).

You must be confusing what the Torah says about the centralized population /after/ the mabul with the widely-spread (Breishis 6:1) geological distribution of population /before/ the mabul. 

> And they were a society where it might reasonably be expected that, 
> without mobile telephones, the internet, supersonic aeroplanes or even 
> writing, people could potentially be influenced by a man staying in 
> one spot and building an ark (that was the whole point of the teva) ... 

You don't even know that. (And from where did you get the idea that
they couldn't write?) I know it's hard to pull oneself away from
common storybook conceptions, but that fact is that we have no idea
about the status of technological advancement gained by the pre-mabul
generations -- who had more time for such development than we've had
since the Industrial Revolution, lived longer lives, and possibly had
no language or geographic boundaries to contend with. You don't know
about any of these things before the mabul, because whatever was there
was destroyed. (Did you by any chance see my post about the clothing
styles of the pre-mabul society? :-))

> Now postulate a global flood over the entire world as we now know it.
> ... It is a bit like flooding your entire three story house in order to
> drown a spider in the basement bathtub. ...Sure you might want to kill
> the spider, but any sense of proportionality is rather lacking.

> Instead of a sense of mida kneged mida, ie that mankind corrupted itself
> and all the nature it reached to touch...

Actually, not all: There are meforshim who say the trees (miraculously)
were not affected. That's why the dove could find a leaf afterwards, and
that's why the Torah never mentions that the trees were destroyed. (And
that's how we may still see trees that were created and formed at Ma'aseh
Braishis in an advanced stage -- but that's another subject...)

> you have an enormous flood over vast vast expanses of virgin land mass,
> which incidentally picked off the few humans that were clustered in one
> tiny geographical area.

On the contrary: Without the global event of the Mabul, one might think
that the misdeeds of humans (regardless of their numbers or geographic
spread) are not something the Creator of the entire Universe would be
very obsessed over.

So they misbehaved; is that the end of the world?

Yes, it's the End of The World.

Without a mankind that obeys Hashem's Will, there is no reason for
the continued existence of even the animals, even the birds, even the
earth (a third of whose depth the floodwaters eroded), even the normal
function of the constellations. (I'm referencing Chazal, not my personal
philosophy.) The more encompassing the destruction of G-d's world,
the greater the lesson. The spider to three-story house analogy is
symptomatic of a philosophy that contradicts Judaism's insistence on the
profound importance of Man and his deeds. This importance is a central
hashkafa taught by Chazal and rishonim, and they see it illustrated in
the Mabul event.

This is also my answer to RDG's 06 Mar post (Subject: RE: Mabul and
scientific support therof) which asserted: "Whether the Mabul was on the
whole world or on a portion will not have any effect on theological or
philosophical issues. So why waste precious capital defending something
that is lo ma'aleh velo morid? Concentrate on learning the lessons Torah
is teaching us in how it interprets the Mabul."

> So you really seem to have three alternatives: ... 

> a) lose the proportionality and the mida kneged mida aspect of the
> mabul and Ramban et al's lesson as to the whole purpose for which the
> first section of the Torah was written, which seems to me to be such a
> fundamental and key part of the mesorah;

The lessons to be learned are derived from the meaning of the words. We
do not change the meaning of the words to fit our concepts.

> ...But whichever way you turn, it seems to me, you lose something due
> solely to our current awareness of the sheer size of the globe. ...[I]f
> you want to postulate a global flood...understand what it is that you
> are losing if you do ...

Hmmm... too bad Chazal and rishonim missed out on the true proportionality
and the mida kneged mida aspect of the Mabul. Ramban (on 8:5), for
example, assumed that the Mabul was global and therefore covered the
mountains of Greece. Too bad he thereby minimized the moral lesson he
himself taught the Torah meant to teach, by failing to suggest that the
Mabul was only in Mesopotamia.

I have a secret. (Said Rebbi Yochonon, '...Oy li if I say it oy li if
I don't say it...Said Rav Shmuel bar Rav Yitzchak: 'Say it! "For the
ways of Hashem are straight: tsadikim will go in them but the posh'im
will trip up in them. -- BB 89b.) I did come across a single commentary
that says a detail of the flood given in the narrative is describing
Noach's perception, but not reality: Chizkuni on Breishis 7:24 ("And the
waters prevailed upon the earth 150 days") writes: The posuk is speaking
according to Noach's perception ('acher machashvaso shel Noach'), as
if the waters did not [begin to] diminish until the ark rested on the
mountains of Ararat. But the truth is that they began to wane from the
28th of Sivan, when the rains ceased, as [the Torah] goes on to explain
the sequence."

But of course this concept is a tool used sparingly to maintain the sense
of the Torah account as it has always been understood, and to conform
p'sukim. Not a hatchet to bludgeon what the p'sukim as understood by
the mesorah mean.

Zvi Lampel 

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