Avodah Mailing List

Volume 16 : Number 159

Thursday, March 16 2006

< Previous Next >
Subjects Discussed In This Issue:
Date: Wed, 15 Mar 2006 19:11:05 -0500
From: "S & R Coffer" <rivkyc@sympatico.ca>
RE: Creation & allegory

On February 18, 2006, David Miller wrote:
> On February 17th 2006, Simcha Coffer wrote:
>> The bottom line is that anyone claiming that the Rambam understood MB
>> allegorically is introducing erroneous notions into the text and
>> misrepresenting the Rambam's true position on this matter.

> Sometime in the twelfth century, Rambam wrote:
> The account of creation given in Scripture is not, as is generally
> believed, intended to be literal in all its parts.
> (Guide of The Perplexed, 2:29)

I don't have a MN in front of me but I'm sure he's referring only to
anthropomorphism there, nothing else.

Simcha Coffer

Go to top.

Date: Wed, 15 Mar 2006 19:09:07 -0500
From: "S & R Coffer" <rivkyc@sympatico.ca>
RE: Mabul and scientific support therof

On March 7, 2006, David Miller wrote:
> 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?

I can't speak for RJO but I certainly don't believe that the rules of teva
were entirely suspended for one year. Whatever miracles are necessary
to explain the mabul is the miracles I believe in. That doesn't mean
that everything was miraculous. After all, Noach did live in a real
boat right? The world was inundated by H2O right? Teva continued to
exist except where Chazal tell us differently.

Simcha Coffer

Go to top.

Date: Wed, 15 Mar 2006 16:37:16 -0500
From: "S & R Coffer" <rivkyc@sympatico.ca>
RE: chazal and science

On March 6, 2006, Eli Turkel wrote:
>> 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.

Simple. My description mentions nothing about Chazal hiding their real
scientific reasons. If they knew the science, they would have presented
it properly. They wouldn't have misrepresented reality.

> 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.

Then their paraphrase is erroneous. See Michtav Vol. 4 page 355 footnote #4.

> 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.

I'm sorry Eli but I think you are being overly resistant. Obviously Chazal
didn't say bacteria, a word first coined in the nineteenth century. But
they were great observers. And they observed that when a dog scratches,
there is no disease however when a cat scratches there is. They expressed
this idea by using the terminology eress as opposed to bacteria but
essentially it is the same thing. In both cases, an animal introduces
a toxic substance into its prey which comes directly from the animal's
body. What more do you want?

> 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?

Possibly but that's not our discussion. I am merely trying to show that
much of Chazal's science turns out to be amazingly true.

> As others have asked one would need to verify that
> this bacteria could indeed kill.

Did you read my link? In some rare cases, Cat-scratch disease can kill
if not treated.

>> 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".

Which goes very well with the approach that Chazal were infallible even
in their scientific statements.

> 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

It was dangerous for spiritual reasons.

> 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.

True. And actually I agree with you. One must know when the Gemara
means to prescribe a certain medical procedure or remedy and when the
Gemara does not. In the case of Abaye, the Meiri states that although
all of these amra li eim items would normally fall under the heading of
superstitious practice and be assur midarchey emoree, Abaye was being
michadesh that since his nurse, and other nurses, routinely employed
these methods for refuah, it doesn't fall under the issur of Darchey
Emori although scientifically they were meaningless.

> BTW Rabbenu Tam's shita on sunset assumes not only an ancient astronomy
> that no one believes in but also a flat earth.


> I have been told by very charedi poskim that in the crunch one does
> not use Rabbenu Tam because it is obviously wrong... 

I don't have a problem with acknowledging that the Rishonim's science
might have been wrong. We are talking Chazal here, not Rishonim.

> 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.

You are referring to the Mevo haShemesh. I do not necessarily agree
with his arguments there. (But in his defence, he is not referring to
a round earth. He is referring to geocentricity). Nor do I agree with
yours. We find, for instance, the term arba kanfos ha'aretz in tanach. Are
you implying that Hashem didn't know the world was round until Columbus
discovered America? Obviously dibra Torah bilashon biney adam. The sun
*looks* like it orbits the earth and this is the way it is described. The
earth *looks* like it is flat and this is how it is described. What
Chazal actually knew or didn't know, neither you nor I can possibly say
for certain. One thing I can tell you; their knowledge of science, such
as astronomy, was incredible and was far more advanced than the science
of astronomy allowed for in their day. I'll prove it to you...

The Gemara in Berachos 32b states as follows (cut and pasted from my
Soncino disk)

"But Zion said, The Lord hath forsaken me, and the Lord hath forgotten
me.19 Is not 'forsaken' the same as 'forgotten'? Resh Lakish said: The
community of Israel said before the Holy One, blessed be He: Sovereign
of the Universe, when a man takes a second wife after his first, he
still remembers the deeds of the first. Thou hast both forsaken me and
forgotten me! The Holy One, blessed be He, answered her: My daughter,
twelve constellations have I created in the firmament, and for each
constellation I have created thirty hosts, and for each host I have
created thirty legions, and for each legion I have created thirty cohorts,
and for each cohort I have created thirty maniples, and for each maniple
I have created thirty camps, and to each camp20 I have attached three
hundred and sixty-five thousands of myriads of stars, corresponding to
the days of the solar year, and all of them I have created only for thy
sake, and thou sayest, Thou hast forgotten me and forsaken me!"

Now that's pretty amazing. Until Galileo's time, mankind had no way of
knowing that there were trillions of stars in the sky. However, if you
do the math based on this Gemara, you come up with a figure of 10 to the
18th power quantity of stars in the heavens! How could Chazal possibly
know that?!

Here's some more. The existence of comets whose orbit approaches the
earth and subsequently recedes is a well known phenomenon. There are
however some comets that follow a pattern of approach and recession
in a fixed manner. In 1705, Edmond Halley stated his belief that the
comet which appeared in 1456, 1531, 1607 and 1682 was the same comet and
if he was right, it would reappear in 1758. When it did, it was named
Halley's comet.

Now let's go to the Gemara in Horiot 10a:

"Since it is stated, In the house of freedom it must be inferred that
until then he was a servant; as is illustrated in the case of R. Gamaliel
and R. Joshua. They once traveled on board a ship. R. Gamaliel had with
him some bread only, while R. Joshua had with him bread and flour. When
R. Gamaliel's bread was consumed he depended on R. Joshua's flour. 'Did
you know', the former asked him, 'that we should be so much delayed
that you brought flour with you?' The latter answered him, 'A certain
star rises once in seventy years and leads the sailors astray, and I
suspected it might rise and lead us astray."

Now if that isn't amazing, I don't know what is. Even if you would
ta'anah that R' Yehoshua was not referring to Halley's comet, how could
he possibly be aware of the idea of the reappearance of comets hundreds
of years before this phenomenon was identified by scientists?

But if this doesn't convince you, surely this will. The Gemara in Rosh
Hashana 25a states as follows:

"Our Rabbis taught: Once the heavens were covered with clouds and the
likeness of the moon was seen on the twenty-ninth of the month. The public
were minded to declare New Moon, and the Beth din wanted to sanctify it,
but Rabban Gamaliel said to them: I have it on the authority of the
house of my father's father that the renewal of the moon takes place
after not less than twenty-nine days and a half and two-thirds of an
hour and seventy-three halakin."

Now this is incredible. Comparison of this calculation to the commonly
accepted figure understood by astronomers today yields precisely the
same calculation!

There is simply no end to the wisdom Chazal apparently possessed far
before it ever materialized in the scientific world. It is examples
such as these that lead some to conclude that Chazal were always right,
whether in Torah or in teva.

Simcha Cofffer

Go to top.

Date: Thu, 16 Mar 2006 00:00:01 -0500
From: "Jonathan Ostroff" <jonathan@yorku.ca>
RE: chazal and science

[R Simcha Cofffer:]
> "Our Rabbis taught: Once the heavens were covered with clouds and the  
> likeness of the moon was seen on the twenty-ninth of the month. The  
> public were minded to declare New Moon, and the Beth din wanted to  
> sanctify it, but Rabban Gamaliel said to them: I have it on the 
> authority  of the house of my father's father that the renewal of the 
> moon takes  place after not less than twenty-nine days and a half and 
> two-thirds of an hour and seventy-three halakin."

> Now this is incredible....

Reb Simcha:

I would not use this raya. Ptolemy recorded this precise figure in the
Almagest before it was recorded in the Talmud. This is not to say that
Chazal did not have this as a mesora from Har Sinai predating Ptolemy,
but we cannot at this point prove it.

Also, one could work out this period to this precision merely be observing
a couple of hundred new moons in a row, even if you err quite a bit in
recording the precise time. So it is observationally possible to compute
this figure.

I applaud your attempt though and I think the raya from the stars is nice.


Go to top.

Date: Thu, 16 Mar 2006 07:01:15 +0200
From: <davidmiller@hushmail.com>
RE: Chazal, science, and halacha

I wrote:
> I truly do not understand what R' Coffer is saying. Science has a good 
> working explanation of how stars form and why they move along the 
> paths that they move along. Yet we still say "HaShamayim mesaprim." 
> Does R' Coffer deny that science has a good explanation of the 
> development of stars? And if this doesn't stop up saying "HaShamayim 
> mesaprim" in astronomy, then why should evolution stop us from seeing 
> Hashem in biology?

to which RSC wrote:
> It depends what you mean. There are obviously certain facts about
> the nature of stars which can be verified but they do not contradict
> the presence of a Designer per se as evolution does. However, if you
> are referring to a unified theory which adequately describes the motion
> of all of the heavenly bodies, scientists are far from accomplishing
> this....

So is RSC saying that "HaShamayim mesaprim" is contingent upon astronomy
never ironing out these gaps? He is saying that if there is a scientific
explanation for something, it rules out seeing a Borei? If so, that
would rule out seeing Hashem in a lot of things! No more seeing Hashem
in the wonder of childbirth, in a caterpillar turning into a butterfly,
in a tree producing a fruit, in the snowflakes...

David Miller

Go to top.

Date: Wed, 15 Mar 2006 23:11:28 -0600
From: "CBK" <fallingstar613@hotmail.com>
Chazal, science, and halacha

> Of course to even get inflation started you need
> the hypothetical inflation which is supposed to be there and yet in
> over 25 years of massive searches for its existence has not been found.

Regarding the Dark Matter which scientists have been seeking for years,
is there discussion anywhere that relates it to the "yuli" (ether)
that sefarim discuss being part of the fabric of space? Just a thought.


Go to top.

Date: Thu, 16 Mar 2006 21:12:12 +1100
From: Joe Slater <avodah@slatermold.com>
relativity and geocentrism

I'm very troubled by R' Simcha Coffer's posts on science. I hope I can
explain my concern without it appearing to be a personal attack. Please
accept my assurance that if I fail in this it is due to my inability
to clearly express myself and not because I believe him to be anything
other than misguided.

There seems to be a common thread running through R' Coffer's posts on
scientific matters. I'm thinking here of his suggestions that radionuclide
dating is intrinsically unreliable; that there is evidence of a flood
covering the tops of mountains; that the fossil record does not support a
common origin of species; and, in the post quoted below, that the earth
is the center of the universe. To avoid quibbling I make what I believe
to be a reasonable assertion: that he is to be held to these views even
when his modesty causes him to place them in the mouth of others. I hope
to demonstrate this common thread by examining his most recent argument.

We are discussing the idea of a geocentric universe. Here is the first
element of Simcha's reply: an appeal to authority:

>> Simcha writes

>>> You seem more confident than Albert Einstein. 

Of course Albert Einstein did not believe in a geocentric universe. R' 
Simcha introduces him for the purpose of the second element of his reply:
>>> 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?

On the face of it this paragraph makes no sense. R' Simcha correctly
asserted that Einstein demonstrated that there are no absolute frames of
reference, but R' Simcha seems to conclude from this that maybe there *is*
an absolute frame of reference. It seems to me that R' Simcha's argument
must be something like this:
"You believe in science and hence you agree with Albert Einstein's
statement that there are no absolute frames of reference. You say that
as a consequence you do not believe in a geocentric universe. But you
yourself use a heliocentric model of the solar system, which implies that
you *do* believe in an absolute frame of reference. Hence your position
is incoherent."

> OK. So far we have seen that science is in agreement that there is no
> evidence that the universe has any center. This eliminates both the
> Ptolemaic and the Copernican view of the universe. We have also seen
> that technically speaking, Geocentrism is non-falsifiable. The obvious
> implication is that Geocentrism is possible as a model of the universe.

R' Simcha's argument is negative: all it says is "Your position makes
no sense." It doesn't give any reason to believe any other position and
therefore it doesn't support his own view, unless there really are only
two alternatives. But R' Simcha doesn't try to do this. Instead he says
that there is no logical basis for preferring either position, and that
therefore it is fundamentally a matter of belief. This is the problem
I have with his arguments in this case and many others. It seems to me
that R' Simcha simply does not believe in observable truth. I find this
enormously troubling and arguably contrary to fundamentals of Judaism.
Judaism itself claims to be based on observation: because of all the
things that the Jews saw during the Exodus and at Mt Sinai they are
justified in believing in G-d, and therefore they were justified in
making a binding agreement with Him.

I have two other issues which are quite trivial in comparison. The first
is that R' Simcha's arguments are usually very bad. For instance, he
characterizes the alternatives as including Copernican and Heliocentric
views of the universe. This has not been true since Newton (at the
latest). Newton's model (which is pretty darn accurate) says that both
celestial and terrestrial bodies follow Newton's rules of motion. If
Newton believed in a center of the universe it would be a "center" in the
sense of a "center of gravity", with no object necessarily occupying that
spot. Now we know that Newton's model isn't quite accurate: he didn't know
about relativity and therefore his model doesn't account for different
reference frames. But by and large, it's good enough for anything you
and I are likely to need and refining his model doesn't magically make it
support a center for the universe. So, for the last three hundred years
anybody with a scientific education would have been aware that neither
Copernican or Ptolemaic models of the universe are good for anything but
a very crude approximation of reality - knowing what time the moon will
rise, versus knowing what position Mars will occupy in twenty years' time.

The second is that R' Simcha doesn't seem to understand either the
nature or the viewpoint of his sources. Here he quotes the philosopher
Hans Reichenbach:
> Quote
> "If general relativity is true, then there is no way to prove that
> the Earth is not the immobile center of a non-inertial universe (see
> equivalence principle). An idea that is not falsifiable may be true,
> but it is not a scientific theory."

Hans Reichenbach was primarily a philosopher of science and not a
scientist per se. R' Simcha quotes a passage where Professor Reichenbach
is seeking to define what is and what is not a scientific statement. I
suspect that Professor Reichenbach was only introduced because it looks
like a good quote about geocentrism; he could as easily have said (and
in fact he does say elsewhere) that a person in an elevator cannot tell
whether he himself is moving, or whether the universe is being moved about
him. In other words, Hans Reichenbach would have said that \it might be
*true* that a man in an elevator is rising from the basement to the third
floor, but it is not a *scientific* truth because (given relativity) you
cannot tell whether it is the man or the building which is moving. This is
merely a coordinative truth: the man and the building are moving relative
to each other. I think it should be obvious that Professor Reichenbach's
views are no comfort to someone asserting that the universe is geocentric.

As I said above, these two issues are relatively minor - although I
wince whenever I see R' Simcha write about fossils on mountain tops
and ratios between radioactive elements. The major issue is that R'
Simcha does not seem to believe in observable truth. If we're talking
about science the issue is "Does the evidence support the assertion?" R'
Simcha treats it as being like a machlokes where all you need to do is
drag out a quotation that lets you reframe the question. This is very
frustrating, and somewhat frightening. I do not believe that it is a
method which is consistent with Judaism.


Go to top.

Date: Thu, 16 Mar 2006 05:29:31 -0500
From: "david guttmann" <david.guttman@verizon.net>
intelligent design

RMB said:
>My understanding is that [ID] is simply the claim that regardless of how
>everything came to be, what actually exists is provably designed and
>not accidental

A consequence of ID is defined as follows: The theory does, however,
necessarily reject standard science's reliance on explaining the natural
world only through undirected natural causes, believing that any theory
that relies on such causes alone is incapable of explaining how all
biological structures and processes arose (Wikipedia)


My question to you is can Judaism, according to your understanding
accommodate "explaining the natural world only through undirected natural
causes" ? My point was that it can.

RMB wrote:
>Except the Rambam proves that, too.

He does without the argument of Creation. In other words Metzius Hashem
can be proven even if HKBH and the physical world were both eternal thus
no Rotzon (see 2:25 "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 ", ) and consequently no ID. He goes to great length to say
that and repeats it over and over in the last few chapters of the first
Chelek. In the Midrash you are quoting the heretic was not questioning
God's existence only that He created the universe. He was Aristoteleian
(at least how Aristotle was understood by Rambam and other medieval
philosophers). R. Akiva's answer was similar to Rambam's . He only said
that it is more probable that there was Creation and a Creator rather
then that things came to be without one just like a garment is made by
a weaver.

RMB said:
>But a a Divine Willed exolution /is/ ID! You have me so lost at this


My point is that because we believe HKBH is transcendant, we therefore
accept that every one of His attributes are just that. In their essence
they are totally different then what we imagine them to be, in fact
we use an attribute to explain a result knowing that the attribute,
or the cause for the result(effect), is definitely NOT what we think it
is. The fact that God willed and created the world does not mean that
He designed it. Designing is a human concept. That being the case "the
natural world only through undirected natural causes" is not a problem.

If one reads Rambam's arguments there is one consistent theme - every
attribute that we try to append to HKBH are only words without meaning.
Yediah, Dibur, Rotzon, time, existence etc. are just words we use to
explain results that we observe. In reality HKBH has nothing to do with
them. If this is properly understood then all scientific data that we as
humans discover cannot conflict with our concept of HKBH and His beriah.

Let me finish with one more quote in 1:59 - "There may thus be a man who
after having earnestly devoted many years to the pursuit of one science,
and to the true understanding of its principles, till he is fully
convinced of its truths, has obtained as the sole result of this study
the conviction that a certain quality must be negatived in reference to
God, and the capacity of demonstrating that it is impossible to apply
it to Him". (read R.Kafieh or Pines for a clearer translation.)

RMB I see that you are very Desslerian and my approach is totaly
different. I have read R. Dessler occasionally and I have a hard time
understanding him just as I have difficulty understanding Maharal. I
imagine others have the same problem. I am suggesting an alternate
approach and understanding that will help resolve the perceived conflicts
of science and religion. I suggest that anybody interested in this issue
should read very carefully the Ohr Sameach in Hilchos Theshuva on Hakol
Tzofui vehareshus Nesuna. As usual his language is difficult but it is
worthwhile. It is in a way an introduction to his machshava in Meshech
Chochma and points out the difference between Maharal's derech and Rambam.

Thank you for letting me share my thoughts.

David Guttmann

Go to top.


[ Distributed to the Avodah mailing list, digested version.                   ]
[ To post: mail to avodah@aishdas.org                                         ]
[ For back issues: mail "get avodah-digest vXX.nYYY" to majordomo@aishdas.org ]
[ or, the archive can be found at http://www.aishdas.org/avodah/              ]
[ For general requests: mail the word "help" to majordomo@aishdas.org         ]

< Previous Next >