Avodah Mailing List
Volume 16 : Number 149
Monday, March 6 2006
Subjects Discussed In This Issue:
Date: Mon, 6 Mar 2006 15:34:43 +0200
From: "Eli Turkel" <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Subject: chazal and science
> You seem more confident than Albert Einstein. 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 theory was discarded because it required epicycles of increasing
complexity instead of nice elliptical orbits. Though in theory the sun
could go around the moon I would not want to write the computer program
for NASA for the trajectory of their rockets using that assumption.
In the real world out there the earth circles the sun
> Chazal had a messorah as to what the halacha should be. This is the
> 'infallible' part. At the same time, Chazal searched for physical reasons,
> as presented in the current day scientific paradigms, to support the
> halachic conclusion. They did not come to these conclusions on their own.
> Rather, they borrowed them from the current scientific knowledge base
> and merely *used* them to illustrate the veracity of the halacha. If,
> Rav Dessler says, it turns out that science has made new discoveries,
> we are obligated to search out new approaches to support the halachic
> conclusions of Chazal. One thing must remain immutable and that is
> Chazal's halachic pronouncement.
I dont see how this description of REED differs from mine and Artscroll.
As an aside the conclusion is that the halacha doesnt change which most
poskim dont agree with. Would one not save a 8th month fetus on shabbat
based on the gamara's medicine? RMF has other teshuvot where the halacha
does change. My point was that if one reads the Meorit HaDaf (Sochachov)
they paraphrase REED as saying that Chazal knew many different reasons
and only used the science of their day as an explanation. This extends
REED that not only is the halacha immutable even though Chazal did not
know the true reason to the statement that Chazal knew the true reason
but didn't tell us (Gra has something similar)
> Really? See Cat-scratch disease in Wikepedia
> <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cat-scratch_disease>. The venom discussed
> in the Gemara can very easily be interpreted as bacteria transmitted
> through the claws of the animal (wolf or cat) which cause the attendant
> disease. Chazal were right on the money!
> Furthermore, R' Aryeh Carmel posits that due to the shape of a cat's
> claw, as opposed to a dog, meat gets trapped in the sheath when the
> cat whithdraws his claw after an attack....
The usual translation of "eres" is not bacteria. A more serious objection
is that rishonim debate what animals this does apply to. Would Simcha be
willing to settle the machloket by seeing which animals have bacteria
under their claws? As others have asked one would need to verify that
this bacteria could indeed kill.
> 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. In deference to them, I am mentioning
> their macha'a. Their macha'a may have merit and it may not. I am merely
> pointing out that even if it does not, we have people like the Rambam
> and the Ramchal to fall back on such that the "infallibility" of Chazal
> in aggadic matters remains intact and yet the science doesn't have to
> be correct.
This leaves me completely bewildered. 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. Remember many are from
Abaye quoting his "Em" (nurse?). Abaye does not claim a halacha mi sinai.
I will do repeat Prof. Stenberg;s lengthy exposition of many halachot in
Chullin that are based on the Greek's notion anatomy and medicine. There are
also various gemarot that imply a flat earth.
BTW Rabbenu Tam's shita on sunset assumes not only an ancient astronomy
that no one believes in but also a flat earth. Though it is not completely
clear the Gra may have disagreed also based on this physical argument.
I have been told by very charedi poskim that in the crunch one does
not use Rabbenu Tam because it is obviously wrong. By that he meant
that on motzei shabbat he holds like Rabbenu Tam (ie Minchat Cohen)
because that is a chumrah. For friday evening very few still hold like
Rabbenu Tam. However, for Chanukah one has to make a decision and there
is no chumrah position for the lechatchilah. Hence, one should light
candles at physical sunset or shortly afterwards and not at the sunset
of Rabbenu Tam. When one has to make a choice we acknowledge that the
science of Rabbenu Tam is wrong.
When it comes to rishonim there are more glaring errors. The Tosafot
Shantz denied the Pythagoras Theorem. Maharal already wrote that in a
machloket between Rashi and Rambam on anatomy we follow Rambam because
he was a doctor. When we get to Achronim there are those that attacked
science for claiming the earth was round which is clearly against the
gemara and so can't be true.
In summary when science changes we find a way to reinterpret the
gemara. No one today would claim that pi=3 based on Yam Shlomo even
though that is simple pshat. Since it is obviously wrong we find other
explanations. Gemarot that early generations understood as stating a
flat earth are reinterpreted since we know thats not true, It is very
possible that other sources in chazal imply a round earth which would
just make it a machloket.
Go to top.
Date: Mon, 6 Mar 2006 12:11:29 -0500
From: "Moshe Y. Gluck" <email@example.com>
> As for your statement that the question of evil "doesn't start" in
> Yiddishkeit is completely wrong, it seems to me. On the contrary,
> the question of the existence of evil is a constantly recurring one in
> Jewish writings through the ages. What is Sefer Iyov about?
AIUI, Safer Iyov is about the question of evil happening to righteous
people - not of the nature of evil itself. In any case, what I meant was
that theologically Judaism has no problem with one deity encompassing dual
roles of a contradictory nature. The professor was trying to demonstrate
that God is evil, otherwise he couldn't create evil; Judaism doesn't
have that problem. Therefore, although "Einstein's" solution may solve
the problem, in Judaism the problem doesn't exist.
[From RnTK's usual signature: -mi]
> Pacifism is objectively pro-Fascist. This is elementary common sense.
> If you hamper the war effort of one side, you automatically help out
> that of the other. (George Orwell, Partisan Review, 1942)
Perhaps, by hampering the war effort of one side, I just allow the other
side to be successful all by itself? I think George Orwell would agree
with me. Hashem created good and he created evil.
Go to top.
Date: Mon, 6 Mar 2006 14:16:29 -0600
From: "Kohn, Shalom" <skohn@Sidley.com>
Subject: Chazal, science, and halacha
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.
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).
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.
Paradoxically, it seems to have generated far more controversy.
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.
Shalom L. Kohn
Sidley Austin LLP
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Date: Mon, 06 Mar 2006 03:48:44 -0500
From: "david guttmann" <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Subject: RE: Mabul and scientific support therof
>I probably sound like a broken record but have you looked at the Moreh
>2:25? Other than anthropomorphism, the Rambam seldom allegorizes. All
>RZL is saying is that unless you have an ironclad proof (like the ten
>proofs the Rambam brings for yad Hashem not being literal) that the
>Mabul was merely a local phenomenon, what right have you to be motzie
>the pesukim miPashtam?
Of course I know 2:25. Rambam is talking about Kadmus Haolam which he
proceeds to explain is theologically unacceptable therefore even though
Pessukim can be interpreted according to it, we will not do so. He then
further says that Plato's approach is theologically acceptable but not
provable or necessary, which is correct because the fact that there was
Chomer eternally is only a philosophical proposition, why not stay with
the Torah approach which is just as acceptable. How does that compare
to Mabul? 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. Re dinosaurs, sediments etc. I am no geologist
or archeologist but if I recall dating of those sediments are millions
of years old as your bracketed comment says. If you want to theorize ,
I think Cassutto has a good grip on the Mabul. There were many such
floods on different continents at different times which were embedded
in the mythology of the different cultures. The Torah reinterprets them
in light of what it is trying to teach us "Letov lonu kol hayomim". (Al
kein yeomer besefer milchamos hashem " is probably a similar idea)
While you are pointing me to Moreh reread 1:50 (page 111 in Pines -
"If together with belief one realizes:
a. that a belief different from it is in no way possible and
b. that no starting point can be found in the mind for a rejection
of this belief
c. that no starting point can be found in the mind for the
supposition that a different belief is possible,
there is certainty".
Rambam here lays out what makes for certainty when it deals with belief
and should be the criteria when we discuss theological, historical and
all issues that relate to Torah and how it agrees with reality. Some of
the arguments I have seen put out in defense of Mabul are far from the
above criteria and risk being a chilul hashem.
RZL - I have no idea what you are trying to say in regards to my comment.
If you agree that Knowing is Believing, join me in the search for Knowledge
Go to top.
Date: Mon, 6 Mar 2006 08:25:46 -0500
Subject: Re: Mabul
From: "Zvi Lampel" <email@example.com>
> Continuing to play devil's advocate (Please note a BIG chas v'Shalom in
> front of the following): The Rambam was only talking about the part of
> the world he was aware of. And even if he was talking about all metsius,
> he has no source from the Torah that Hashem created and allowed for
> nissim and schar v'onesh outside the part of the world that Adam or the
> people of Mattan Torah were aware of. Thus, perhaps we can say that
> North America was created by other gods <snip>
See MN II:1 tr. Pines pp. 249-251.
Go to top.
Date: Mon, 6 Mar 2006 16:08:26 +0000
From: Arie Folger <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Subject: reverse transliterations
I have noticed a recent tendency to apply the rules of Hebrew grammar in
ways that are unwarranted. Before I continue, let me add that there is
no official Hebrew grammar text, but that we learn them by observing how
Hebrew was transmitted by the massoretes, and, where such is impossible,
we resort to grammar's version puq 'hazi mah de'amma devar.
And so, I am somewhat bothered by overcorrections that seem to make
littele sense. Before I give actual examples, I shall note that I, too,
am probably guilty of that, and I do not mean to single out anybody.
On Friday, 3. March 2006 19:12, Avodah wrote:
> R. Avraham Auerbach's letter against the printing of the sefer: Talks
> about the fact that the answers to R. Stapansky's
The name is stefansky. If the poster wanted to apply rules of Hebrew
grammar, why spell RSZA's name as Auerbach, when it is spelled O'erbakh
or Oyerbakh? But we know that the name is Germanic and comes from
Auerbach. So too with Stapansky, who is most likely Stephansky or
Likewise, I am a bit stunned by Narvoni, since in Spanish, the b and
the v are not two forms of the same letter, but different letters
altogether. Thus, since said person did not come from Naravanne or
some similarly named place (makes me think of the Navarro Indians :-))
but from Narbonne, his name should rather be Narboni, as his namesakes
(one of them a former classmate of mine) call themselves.
On that line of thought, I'd like to inquire about Rabbi Don Yitz'haq,
whose last name is sometimes spelled Abravanel and sometimes
Abarbanel. Which one is more likely correct and whyat does it mean?
Go to top.
Date: Mon, 6 Mar 2006 17:15:27 -0500
From: "S & R Coffer" <email@example.com>
Subject: RE: Mabul and scientific support therof
On March 6, 2006 David Guttmann wrote:
> R.S.Coffer wrote:
> >I probably sound like a broken record but have you looked at the Moreh:25?
> Other than anthropomorphism, the Rambam seldom allegorizes. All RZL is saying
> is that unless you have an ironclad proof (like the ten proofs the Rambam
> brings for
> yad Hashem not being literal) that the Mabul was merely a local
> phenomenon, what
> right have you to be motzie the pesukim miPashtam?
> Of course I know 2:25. Rambam is talking about Kadmus Haolam which he
> proceeds to explain is theologically unacceptable therefore even though
> can be interpreted according to it, we will not do so. He then further says
> Plato's approach is theologically acceptable but not provable or necessary,
> which is correct because the fact that there was Chomer eternally is only a
> philosophical proposition, why not stay with the Torah approach which
> is just as acceptable. How does that compare to Mabul?
It doesn't but apparently you didn't read my comment above and thus
missed a very important point in Moreh 2:25. Allow me to translate the
first several lines. [Note: bracketed insertions are my own, otherwise,
it is a literal translation based on Kapach's edition]
"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.
As I mentioned to you in my last post, RZL quoted a pasuk to me which
demonstrated that the mabul was global and thus I MUST believe that it
is global unless you demonstrate conclusively to me that it was not. Thus
far, you have not done so.
> 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?
What happened to determining the truth? Would it not bother you if you
understood something in the Torah in a false manner? Nobody's squandering
capital here. I see it as an investment, not a waste.
The truth is, I was the one who initiated this thread and initially took
your position. However, posts by RMB and RZL convinced me that I was
wrong and I retracted. Here're some of the reasons. IIRC, RMB quoted
the following verse - (7:19) "And the waters prevailed very very much
on the earth and covered all of the tall mountains that exist under all
of the heavens". This sounds global! IIRC, RZL quoted - (8:9) "And the
dove could not find a resting place for her feet, for water covered the
entire face of the earth..." This sounds global! 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.
> Concentrate on
> learning the lessons Torah is teaching us in how it interprets the Mabul.
I appreciate the advice but I have a comment to make. Although you may
be correct that "Whether the Mabul was on the whole world or on a portion
will not have any effect on theological or philosophical issues" per se,
it is reflective of a tendency towards allegorizing the Torah whenever it
conflicts with theoretical science. Remember that the Rambam's criterion
is "hochacha", demonstrable proof, nothing less. The truth is that this
issue, IMO, is at the heart of the controversy that has plagued klal
Yisrael for the past year and a half. There is no way to resolve it
unless there is a meeting of the minds regarding this issue. And as long
as there isn't, if you choose to allegorize episodes in the Torah, such
as the mabul, without any demonstrable proof, people will invariably
relate to you as an allegorist. You may not necessarily mind this,
but don't be surprised if some list-members on Avodah, such as myself,
protest this approach. (my impression is that most members would not but
I happen to be a card-carrying member of the fanatical, close-minded,
incorrigible, whacko right wing Avodah crowd - we're few in number but
I'm working onchanging that :-)
> dinosaurs, sediments etc. I am no geologist or archeologist but if I
> recall dating of those sediments are millions of years old as your
> bracketed comment says.
The dating of these strata is subjective. It is based on the idea of a
geological column which automatically dictates the age of strata based on
the fossils found therein. Geochronology has been profoundly affected by the
theory of evolution. Without this theory, a global mabul would have sufficed
to displace and subsequently deposit many sedimentary layers in rapid
> If you want to theorize , I think Cassutto
> has a good grip on the Mabul. There were many
> such floods on different continents at different times which were embedded
> in the mythology of the different cultures.
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.
> While you are pointing me to Moreh reread 1:50 (page 111 in Pines - my
> formatting)"If together with belief one realizes:
> a. that a belief different from it is in no way possible and
> b. that no starting point can be found in the mind for a rejection of
> this belief
> c. that no starting point can be found in the mind for the supposition
> that a different belief is possible,
> there is certainty".
> Rambma here lays out what makes for certainty when it deals with belief
> and should be the criteria when we discuss theological, historical and
> all issues that relate to Torah and how it agrees with reality. Some of
> the arguments I have seen put out in defense of Mabul are far from the
> above criteria and risk being a chilul hashem.
The Rambam is discussing the concept of Deah, as opposed to Emunah, which
requires a real and internal awareness of the concept being grasped.
However, in order to attain Deah, the first step is the formulation
of a clear musag in one's mind, as the Rambam states there. We are
currently attempting to develop a clear musag of the Mabul and thus
arguments pro and con must be weighed and considered and either rejected
or accepted. This is the natural process which ensues on the way up to
attaining Deah. Besides, I haven't seen any convincing arguments on your
part for a local Mabul, or no Mabul at all. Why knock an attempt by some
to support a literal reading of the pesukim? Especially perplexing is
your characterization of said attempt as a Chilul Hashem.
> RZL - I have no idea what you are trying to say in regards to my comment.
I do. He was trying to satire the approach that we can limit the verses in
the Torah to our pre-conceived notions. It was an attempt to demonstrate
the egregiousness of allegorizing the Torah unnecessarily.
Go to top.
Date: Mon, 6 Mar 2006 23:24:57 -0000
From: "Chana Luntz" <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Subject: Re the Mabul
Quoting Zvi Lampel <email@example.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? ;=)
> 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)?
More seriously, and not to treat your question rhetorically, this raises
the fundamental question that is asked implicitly or explicitly by
various meforshim, why does the Torah bring and discuss Breishis at all?
Why does it deal with any of the generations before the mabul?
Here is Rashi on the subject - first Rashi on the Torah:
Rabbi Yitzchak said it was not necessary to begin the Torah except
from "hachodesh haze l'chem" because this is the first mitzvah that
Israel was commanded and what was the reason that that it opens with
breishis because of [Tehillim 111:6] "the power of his deeds he has
made known to his people to give to them the inheritance of nations"
- because if the nations of the world will say to Yisroel, you are
robbers, because you conquered the lands of the seven nations, they
can say to them: all the land is HKBH's, he created it and gives it
to whoever seems right in his eyes, it was his will to give it to
them, and his will to take it from them and give it to us.
And the Ramban takes up the theme, after quoting this Rashi:
And one could ask on this that there was a great need to begin the
Torah with Breishis bara Elokim because this is the root of emunah
and one who does not believe in this and who believes that the world
has always existed is kofer b'ikar and has no Torah at all. And the
answer is because ma'aseh breishis is a very deep secret [sod amuk]
and cannot be understood from the verses and its depths cannot be
known except from the kabala from Moshe Rabbanu from the mouth of the
Almighty and those who know it are obligated to conceal it therefore
Rabbi Yitzchak said that there was no need to begin the Torah from
Breishis bara. And the story as to what was created on the first
day and what was created on the second day and the rest of the days
and the long account of the creation of Adam and Chava and their sin
and punishment and the story of gan eden and the expulsion of Adam
from it because all of this cannot be totally understood from the
text and even more so the story of the dor hamabul and the haflaga
there isn't any great need for them and for those who believe in the
Torah it would be enough without them and they would believe in the
principle which is written in the aseres hadibros "ki sheshes yamim
asa hashem es hashamayim v'es ha'aretz es hayam v'es kol asher bam,
v'yinach b'yom hashvi'i". And the rest would be known to yechidim that
was transmitted from Moshe rabbanu with with rest of the Torah she
baal peh and [therefore] Rabbi Yitzchak gave a reason for this that
the Torah began with Bereishis bara Elokim and told the whole story
of creation until the formation of Adam and how he gave him rulership
over the work of his hands and all things under his feet, and how
gan eden which was the choicest of the places that were created in
this world was made to be his dwelling place until his sin caused
his expulsion from there and when the dor hamabul sinned they were
expelled from the world in total and the righteous one amongst them
only was saved, him and his children. And when his descendants sinned
this caused them to be scattered in the places and dispersed in the
lands and they seized for themselves places for their families in
their nations as they were able, so that it is proper that where a
nation adds to its sins that it should be destroyed from its place
and another nation should come to inherit its land because this
is the judgement of Hashem in relation to land from the beginning
and even more so in relation to that which it told that Canaan ws
cursed to be sold as a slave forever and it was not fitting that he
should inherit the choicest places but rather it should be inherited
by His servants, the descendents of his loved one as it is written
"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 -
that is to say he expells from there those who revelle against him
and puts thre his servants who that they know by serving him that
they will inherit and if they sin against him the land will vomit
them out as it did to the nation that was before them ... "
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.
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). Which is as it should be, because these are *halachic*
concepts, even though hashkafic, and so not surprisingly are and should
be learnt out of the halachic portions of the Torah. Hence R' Yitzchak's
objection, these bits aren't there for us to derive our ikkurei emunah
On the other hand, once we have learnt the basic principles regarding
creation ex nihilo from the places we are meant to learn it, then not
surprisingly the discussion in Breishis will conform with that- and there
may be additional, what might be termed moral, for want of a better word,
lessons to be learnt from Breishis as the Ramban ennumerates, 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.
Well at least such lessons can be clearly learnt if you postulate a
If you postulate a global flood, that "moral" message is actually not
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. Nor were they very spread out (the spreading
out, according to the explicit text of the Torah came after the mabul).
And they were a society where it might reasonably be expected that,
without mobile telephones, the internet, supersonic areoplanes 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)
- ie you are talking about a relatively closely packed society where
violence and immorality were endemic and easily available, and which
could as an entire society laugh at Noach for building the teva.
Thus it seems fairly clear that the geographical area inhabited by the dor
hamabul was pretty small - at least according to the pshat of the Torah.
Now postulate a global flood over the entire world as we now know it.
Relatively speaking, the area you are talking about flooding is huge.
The area inhabited by the dor hamabul would, under any such measure,
be batel to the total global area of the earth. It is 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 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, and so it and
all it had corrupted was destroyed - except for one righteous man, and
maybe, or maybe not, the one portion of land that has intrinsic kedusha,
and which therefore might (or might not) be subject to the same rules,
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.
As I said to somebody in a back channel email, I think that, if we did
have archeological evidence for a global flood, and for the limited
geographical spread of the dor hamabul, in fact it could be quite
damaging to emunah. Because the moral equivalence would be lost, and
scientists would no doubt go around postulating, I don't know, a meteor
or something, because it clearly couldn't have anything to do with human
beings - given their relative insignificance.
Of course, most people don't realise the lack of equivalence, because we
all tend to imagine the mabul as occurring in our own dor; and in our own
dor, if one did want to wipe out all of mankind, there is no option but to
flood the whole world, because we are literally all over it. And I think
people automatically tend to superimpose our world on the dor hamabul
- and I don't know that that is wrong, because, to the extent that, as
the Ramban articulates, the point of bringing the mabul is precisely to
teach us a lesson about the evils to which people can sink, then we all
ought to be learning the lesson in a way that is meaningful for today -
and if we can only think of all of mankind in terms of what that means
today, then mida kneged mida means the destruction of all of that mankind.
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;
b) lose the pshat of the Torah in terms of the spread of society of the
time, and hence the moral lesson learnt from spreadings and scatterings,
and rather impose on the time a global spread of human beings - most
of whom presumably had no hope of knowing about Noach and the teva,
and hence were never offered the chance of teshuva; or
c) lose the global flood and rather make it a local flood proportional
upon the spread and corruption of human beings.
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.
So while if you want to postulate a global flood, do so, it certainly is
one way of understanding the simple pshat of the text. But understand
what it is that you are losing if you do so and why it may not be so
ludicrous for others to believe that the other pshatim and teachings
that are thereby destroyed might be more fundamental and important.
And why a fairly simple and straightforward explanation which meshs
easily with other portions of commentary and which retains the full
force of the moral lesson has certain attractions/
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