Thursday, July 20, 2006

Proving Torah : Misc. II

Regarding the Refuos in Gemora, the rule is "nishtanu hativim" - refuos change, and in the days of the Gemora they worked. We do not rely on the Refuos in the Gemora today.

Scientists are constantly changing their mind about things and one would be hard pressed to use current scientific knowledge as a question on Chazal. (A while ago, they would have said that the Zohar, which states the world is round, is a strange statement, since the scientists know that the world is flat!).

On the other hand, there are inexplicable statements in Torah that have proven centuries later to be scientifically correct, such as the statement in Niddah that there are no fish with scales that do not have fins, or the Rambam's incredible calculation of the exact time of the lunar month down to the fraction of a second, which took NASA about 700 more years of technology to figure out the exact same number, to the thousandth of a second, using their technology.

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Some scientific facts were known through rabbinic tradition. The Rashba cites a rabbinic tradition from Sinai that a treifah cannot live more than 12 months. (Rav Yonason Eyebushitz (Kreisi Upleisi 40) writes that such traditions are not to be disregarded even if found to be against “all the laws of heaven and earth”, since they are part of Torah shebal peh.)

The most recent example of this is the Chazon Ish ZTL, who lived in our times, and had no secular education at all, yet showed much knowledge of math and astronomy, much of which can be seen in his teshuva on the international dateline.

To question a scientific fact that is derived from the Torah is to question the author’s understanding of the Torah, which, in the case of Chazal, cannot be done. The only question is, did Chazal derive all of the scientific facts they used from the Torah, and what do we do when we see a scientific fact in Chazal that contradicts current scientific knowledge?

The Rama in Toras HaOlah quotes the Rambam who says that in the days of Neviim and Chazal, the science of astronomy was “incomplete”. The Rama strongly argues, stating clearly that we assume rabbinic science to be infallible, and ancient rabbinic knowledge of astronomy complete.

The Maharal (B’er Hagola 6) writes that when the sages mentioned a scientific fact, they derived it from their knowledge of the Torah and Hashem, Who is the Cause of all science. He says that science is inferior to Torah even where it comes to scientific knowledge, because scientists base their opinions on what they see, which is a finite and imperfect method of investigation, as opposed to knowledge of science through Torah, which is the root and cause for all facts in the world.

The fact that science in Chazal was gathered from “higher sources” was used by Rav Yehuda Breil ZTL, Rebbi of the author of encyclopedia Pachad Yitzchok, to refute his student’s suggestion that we reconsider Chazal’s leniency of killing lice on Shabbos because lice are spontaneously generated. The Pachad Yitzchok (topic: “zaide”) suggested to his Rebbi that now that science has refuted the possibility of spontaneous generation, we should not be lenient in allowing the killing of lice on Shabbos.
But Rav Breil did not accept the suggestion. Stating an idea similar to that of the Maharal, that Chazal’s knowledge is based on the reality, not mere scientific observation, it is certain that the rabbinic science is more accurate than the science of the scientists, and even if currently it appears one way, the rabbinic view will eventually be proven correct. He mentions that in the disagreement between the sages and the scientists regarding whether the sun revolves around the earth or vice versa, the sages conceded to the scientists, but centuries later, it was proven that the Torah sages were right all along (Moderator’s note: See Shitah Mekubetzes that the sages never conceded that the gentiles were right; they merely “lost the argument”. They knew from tradition that they were right; they just could not defend the correct position).

There are others (Rav Dessler, if memory serves) who write that when the sages explain a Halachah based on a scientific fact (such as the heter to kill lice on Shabbos), they do not mean to say that the Halachah depends on this fact. Rather, the Halachah is based on deeper, hidden reasons, and they merely “clothed” their reasoning in the scientific fact. They did not even mean to commit themselves to the truth of that fact per se. So if the fact is proven wrong, the Halachah stays the same.

(I am fully aware of the statements in the Sefer Me’or Anayim of Rabbi Azariah min Ha’adumim where he states that secular scientific fact would outweigh the science of Chazal. Please note that the sefer Meor Aynayim is considered highly unreliable (see Sdei Chemed vol. 9 p.179), declared prohibited to read by many Gedolim (and even worthy of being burned); at the very least, not everything he says is considered true or authoritative. It is his statement that the Maharal (quoted above) came to refute.)

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When Chazal discuss life, or what constitutes animal, mineral, or vegetable, they are using the Torah’s definitions, not the scientists’. And the Torah’s definitions of all of the above depend not on physical characteristics but spiritual ones. An inanimate object has a Nefesh Hadomem – the “spirit” (which is a better translation than “soul”) of an inanimate object; plant life has a Nefesh HaTzomeches; animal life, a Nefesh HaBehamis, and a human being, a Neshomah.

The definition of life that is used throughout Torah is spiritual, not physical. The Halachic cut-off date for an embryo being considered not yet life regarding certain Halachos is 39 days. On day 40, that changes. Biologically, there is no way to identify the exact date of “life”. This is a spiritual, Neshama-based, assessment, because the definition of life depends on spiritual, Nefesh-based criteria, not scientific ones.

If I were to create an android – a robot made out of human tissue – that is “programmed” to have human characteristics – to cry when hurt; to laugh when told a joke; to smile and display all chemical and physical signs of happiness when confronted by a desirable event (i.e., events that are programmed to be “desirable”) to eat and drink and burn the food as fuel; to portray in every scientifically way possible human characteristics – such a Golem, no matter what biological signs or functions it displayed, would not be a human being because it has no Neshamah; it would not even be considered “alive”. Perhaps a clone is in that category, a non-living humanoid constructed through biological matter and those biological factors that enable human functionality, copied from a real human being the way one copies a computer program, but without the spiritual components of a live creature, the Nefesh and Neshama. I don’t know whether, when you clone something, the spiritual components get cloned as well, but if they don’t, then I imagine a human clone would be considered not a human being but rather an organic robot, a humanoid, with no “life” of its own. Even if the scientists cannot tell the difference.

Should a human not have a Neshama or a Nefesh, he is not a human, but an organic construct; should someone create an organic machine that mimics plant life in every biological way possible, it may still be considered a Domem, if it lacks the spiritual Nefesh HaTzomeches.

So when Chazal say that lice do not reproduce but rather spring from sweat and dirt, they mean that lice do not impart into their eggs the same life-force that animals do, that their eggs have a Nefesh HaDomem, or partially a Nefesh HaDomem, and Halachicly their status is not that of eggs. The fact that scientists will tell you lice eggs are the same, biologically, as any other eggs, means nothing here. They see a Mommy louse, a Tatty louse, and a baby louse, but that’s just the way this construct was programmed to function. Plants also “reproduce” – the pollination process involves moving a seed (the pollen) to another "organ" (the stigma) which causes reproduction - so we have a Daddy plant, a Mommy plant, and a baby plant -- but plants aren’t animals. And plant “eggs” aren’t eggs. And Chazal had a tradition that neither are lice eggs, Halachicly, because the way lice are reproduced -- with a Mommy louse and a Daddy louse -- does not involve the result in the creation of an egg that enables an animal Nefesh the way other eggs do.
The Gemora, no matter what explanation you are going to have of it, says that dirt can produce lice. The scientists point out that it is an egg that produces lice. That’s not a big deal, because I am saying that those eggs are halachicly not eggs, but dirt. Because the difference between an “egg” and a biologically identical domem is something only Chazal could know, based on their knowledge of the Nefesh.
The Pachad Yistchok proposed to prohibit the killing of lice based on then new scientific knowledge that they are not spontaneously generated. Most achronim disagreed with him, either because (a) when the Gemora makes such statements it does not mean to link the halachah to the scientific fact but rather to "clothe" the halachah in a scientific fact, but the reasoning behind the halachah is based on spiritual reasons rather than science, or (b) the scientists constantly change their mind about things and their current position on anything is no proof that they will not change their mind.
But whatever - that’s a discussion in the Achronim. But it says nowhere that Torah she bal peh depends on the scientific statements that chazal based halachos on. As I said, that is a discussion in the achronim. Your question is not directed against torah she bal peh - for nowhere does it contradict you - but rather the interpretations of achronim.

If you prefer the Pachad Yitzchok's approach, I would disagree with you and tell you it's not necessary, but it wouldn’t make you any more of an opponent of Torah she bal peh than he was --- and he was one of the great Sefardic sages of recent history.

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Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch says that, even according to the scientists, who say today that the hare only appears to be chewing its cud, and even if it is true, it is not a contradiction to the Torah. The reason they do not chew their cud is because the hares we have today are not the same hares we had in those days (the time of the giving of the Torah). Rabbi Hirsch was not claiming to independently confirm or deny what the scientists said in his days - he never claimed to be a scientist.
He is not saying that the hares of 5,000 years ago changed into today's hares. He's saying that the animal identified in the Torah is currently extinct, and what we call a hare is not that animal.
This is a rare but altogether acceptable occurrence. It has happened. When the Torah refers to certain animals, it does not give identifying features to classify the animal. We rely on Torah shebal peh to do so, when necessary. Otherwise, translations such as these can become confused.
For instance, there is a machlokes as to what a "nesher" is - Tosfos in Chulin 63 a says it is not an eagle. (there are those who say it is a vulture).
There is a machlokes between Rashi and Tosfos regarding what "orzo" is -- rice or millet? (The question is, which one do we make a mezonos on?)
There is even a Rabbi in Eretz Yisroel - Rabbi Yitzchok Abadi - who holds l'halachah that shiboles sh'ul is not "oats", and that the real "shiboles shul is some kind of grain that we don’t have nowadays. He holds that oats are not mezonos but hadamah; that you cannot fulfill the mitzvah of matzoh with them; that they are not chometz.
So if Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch says that an arneves is no longer with us, or that it is not lepus or oryctolagus - hare or rabbit - then fine. Not anything shocking.
I would have said that when the Torah talks about chewing cud, it can very possibly include something that appears to be doing so such that you would need scientists to tell you technically it does not. The Torah was given to people, not scientists only, and if Hashem wanted to tell us about a hare, He definitely could describe it that way.

It does not say anywhere in Torah shbal peh that the arneves is what we today call a "hare." These things sometimes get confused, as I pointed out above. Today, in Israel, they call a tiger "NOMER" (as in "Tony HANOMER" on the box of Frosted Flakes), but we know that NOMER is a leopard. I would not be surprised if in many years from now, there will be some innocent Talmidei Chachamim that mistakenly confuse nomer for a tiger because of the colloquial usage. In fact, regarding the arneves itself there is clearly an error in "common knowledge". See Professor Yehuda Felix's "Chai v'Tzomeach B'Torah" p. 23, where he insists that the arneves in the Torah - the species that chews its cud - is NOT the domestic house rabbit that people think it is. It is only the wild species. He says this mistake happened because in ancient times they brought to Eretz Yisroel house rabbits from outside the land and grew them IN Eretz Yisroel (you can tell the difference because of their smaller body and legs). He adds that mistakenly people commonly refer to the domestic rabbit as "shafan", but clearly, he says, that is a totally different animal (i.e. the hyrax).

Point to a cougar and ask an average person what that is. "Leopard" he will likely say.

That’s how these things happen.


I don’t know where this idea came from. The subtle insertion of false assumptions into an if-then pattern of logic is a typical tactic of the "misinformation professionals" who try to "prove" falsehood. They arrange their falsehoods in such a way as to sound as if some transitive formula is being stated when in reality it’s just a bunch of hogwash. The listener gets so caught up in the "if A then B so if B then C" pattern that they are distracted from the falsehood of the entire sequence.

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The earth revolving around the sun is only relative. Nobody has proven nor even claims that it is absolute. In other words, if the Earth is the center of the universe, and the entire universe revolves around the earth, it will appear from the vantage point of anyone located within the universe that the sun is revolving around the earth, when in reality it is the opposite.

In other words, if you throw a ball in the direction of north at 60 MPH, you are stationary but the ball is moving.

However, if at the time you threw the ball you were on a bus traveling south at a speed of 60 MPH, you were actually moving, but the ball was stationary.

It wouldn’t seem that way to you, though, because you’re on the bus throwing the ball.

But someone outside the bus would see the ball stay in the same place, and you move.

However, if that outside observer were standing on earth, which was (for the sake of the argument) rotating North at 60 MPH, then even though to him it would seem like the ball was stationary and you were moving, the truth would be that the ball is moving, you are stationary, and he is moving.
Movement relative to another object depends on your perspective. And in order to know, ultimately, whether the earth revolves around the sun, because the earth is moving, or the sun revolves around the earth because the universe is moving and earth is stationary, you would have to measure form a vantage point outside of the universe, and nobody has been able to do that yet. At least not scientists.

So the idea that the earth revolves around the sun is like saying that the ball is moving inside the bus. Maybe. Or maybe everything is moving in your immediate area except the ball. You'd have to be outside the bus to know that.

Same thing here. To know whether it is the earth or the sun that is moving, you would have to take into consideration the entire universe's movement, which no scientists has been able to do.

The scientists themselves do not claim to be able to determine what goes around what, except from the vantage point of being inside the universe. The Torah is talking absolute.


So the scientists, and everyone else in this universe, are "on the bus". From their vantage point, it does indeed seem like the earth moves and the sun is stationary. But they are not, nor do they claim to be, able to determine whether the entire universe is moving around the earth. People merely tend to assume that is not so, because of all the quadrillions of planets and stars in the universe, why would everything be revolving around this particular planet earth?

Except for the fact that Chazal tell us that the entire world was created for the sake of Klall Yisroel and the Torah, and that the sun in fact revolves around the earth, as does the entire universe, of which the earth is the exact center.

And no scientist in the world is going to tell you that he can disprove that.

From our perspective, we who are "on the bus", it looks like the "ball is moving".

But from the ultimate perspective, the complete perspective, stepping so far back that the entire universe is in view, the earth is smack in the center.


The idea that stopping the sun is not literal will not help, because the Gemora says explicitly that the sun travels around the earth.

The scientists today do not even claim to know that the earth revolves around the sun except in a relative way as I mentioned before. The Torah is speaking in absolute terms.

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The "four corners of the earth" is not taken by anyone literally nor was it ever. It was, and still is, an expression. Kind of like when the Torah says Hashem took us out of Egypt "with an outstretched arm."

Jews always knew the world was round even when the scientists said it was flat. The Zohar speaks about "kadur haatrez" - the ball of the earth. Of course, if "secularists" were there, they would have said the Torah doesn’t mean "globe of the earth" literally, or something messed up like that.

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