Sunday, July 30, 2006

Torah and Science II

Rav Yiztchok Izak Chaver in Magen Vtzenah (p,49) - there are people who reject Chazal's statements because the secular scientists disagree (he gives examples, such as the sun rising above the firmament at night etc), and they laugh saying that we know its not true. They are fools. The GRA, who even the scientists admit that he knew science much better than them, accepted all words of Chazal as fact, and that the philosophers and scientists (chachmei hatechunah) are all wrong, and he believed in the truth of the simple straightforward understanding of the words of Chazal. The GRA said that the scientists didn’t come to the ankles of our sages in any secular discipline or science.

Chida (Shem Hagedolim: "Seforim":5:82) - There are a minority of Gedolim among us who disagree with Chazal because of their scientific knowledge, but they do not understand that Chazal had Eliyhau Hanavi informing them, and they had Ruach HaKodesh to inform them.

Chasam Sofer -- Please see the Chasam Sofer in Beshalach I quoted above. He says the same thing in Drashos Chasam Sofer Vol. 1 p.100b. Our prophets and sages know all the sciences much better than the scientists even though all they learn is Torah. This is because the One Who created nature informs our sages of the correct facts. This is what amazes the Nations, as it says, Am navon v'chacham hagoy hagodol hazeh!

An identical interpretation to that of the Chasam Sofer's explanation Am navon v'chacham(I quoted one earlier in the name of ibn Daud regaridng philosophical knowledge) is found in the Ramak (Sefer HapPardes 13:6) regarding astronomy.

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From the Maharal (Ber Hagolah 6):

The Maharal is explaining why Chazal sometimes seem to contradict what science says:

“Some people say that Chazal were not experts in the sciences. They say this because they see things stated by Chazal regarding causes of natural phenomenon that seem unlikely to be true. But the truth is not as these people claim, because when Chazal spoke about natural causes they did not mean superficial, physically scientific causes - that is fitting for scientists or doctors, not for our sages. Our sages, on the other hand, when they spoke about the causes of nature, were referring not to causes that are natural but to what causes nature to act the way it does. And anyone who disagrees with this disagrees with our Emunah and our Torah ... the idea is this: When the Torah mentions a natural reason for something, that is the real reason, for every natural phenomenon there is a scientific cause, but for that scientific cause there is a spiritual cause – i.e. that cause of the cause – and that is what Chazal were referring to … when they discussed scientific matters, they did not mean to describe the surface-level cause, but rather the reason of the cause….there are people who misunderstand the words of Chazal who criticize them, saying that they did not know things that the non-Jewish scientists knew, but the truth is the very claim they make against [Chazal] applies to them, for they are far from the true science .. I will tell you a rule about the words of the sages: all their words are logical, and represent the true understanding of nature... and even though some people will find this idea far-flung or doubtful as an explanation of what Chazal meant, but you should know that there is no doubt at in any manner whatsoever that this is what Chazal mean … for their words are correct and reliable, and only someone who does not understand them will have doubts … I have already explained that Chazal were not discussing the physical aspects of things but rather their essence … the words of Chazal are with wisdom and logic and are not surface-level [physical] descriptions, but rather the words of our sages refer to the essence, and have no relation to the outer, material matter.”

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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.

Some people wrongly assume that since the Rambam is “more acceptable” to people whose Hashkofos are not very developed, such as in Kiruv situations, it is desirable to teach this Rambam to such people in order to “answer” their questions about scientists contradicting Chazal. This is wrong on many levels:

1) You can't teach someone that something against the Halachah is correct, even if you can't think of a better answer to his question;
2) This is not only a spin on the Halachah, but an unnecessary one as well. There are many other answers available that are Halachicly correct. Instead of using bad but easy answers, work harder and learn the right ones.
3) The Rambam’s answer is fraught with difficulties, which, obviously, like all difficult Rambams, have excellent answers, but until we find them, we are misunderstanding something – very possibly the Rambam itself. If we are going to accept the idea that scientists actually do understand natural science in a realistic manner, and that Chazal would have agreed with the scientists had they known the scientific evidence they know today, we will have difficulty understanding things such as the Halachah in the Yerushalmi at the beginning of Kesuvos, which says that a girl’s besulim, which develop at age three, appear and disappear in accordance with the psakim of Bais Din regarding whether to accept witnesses who testify that her third birthday had arrived (i.e. because of their sighting of the new moon). The girl’s biology, the Yerushalmi says, follows the Halachah. This is not only against today’s scientific understanding, but obviously against the scientific understanding in the days of Chazal. Yet we see that Chazal made statements regarding natural phenomena with both full awareness and utter disregard for the fact that any scientist would laugh. The Rambam’s statement is not going to help us here, and whatever explanation you will use for this Yerushalmi – such as something in the direction of Rav Breil’s words, that Chazal had an extra-scientific awareness of reality that the scientists cannot access – will also explain the other discrepancies between Chazal and scientists, such as lice. So if you use the Rambam’s answer in a Kiruv situation, it may work but only if the person asking the question is sufficiently ignorant about what Chazal say about besulim and other such statements that cannot be reconciled based on the Rambam. If he knows that, using the Rambam to answer his questions only makes things more complicated, not less.

4) Also important to note, is that the Rambam’s statement is in Moreh Mevuchim, not Mishneh Torah, which means that the answer he wrote was not necessarily exclusive of other answers. The Rambam may well have recognized the plausibility of the approach of the Poskim, that Chazal are simply right in a way that the scientists are not aware of, yet he did not record that in his sefer. This is because whereas normally, we would say when a Rishon answers a question one way, he by doing so implicitly rejects other possible answers, with the Moreh Nevuchim this is not the case. This is because the Moreh Nevuchim was written specifically for, well, Nevuchim, and so the Rambam chose to use answers to questions that would be most understandable and productive for Nevuchim, even if they are not always the best answer objectively, nor the most halchicly accepted one. Similarly, the Poskim write that Rashi’s commentary on Tanach was not meant l’halachah, but rather to give the most straightforward explanation of the posuk. But poshut pshat is not always the actual Halachah. In a similar way the Rambam wrote Moreh Nevuchim as the most understandable pshat for confused people, even if there are other, more complex pshatim that he would pasken like, if given a halachic question. Of course, both pshatim are legitimate, but (a) the Rambam never meant to say that other pshatim are wrong, (b) he never meant to say that other peshatim are not preferable objectively, and (c) he never meant that the pshat he is presenting is l’halachah. He merely meant to say that this pshat is more understandable to nevochim, who are perhaps incapable of understanding or accepting the better pshat.

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It is not at all clear that this statement in the Maamar al Drashos Chazal, {that the drushim, etc. said by Chazal were from their own logic ?} as printed in the Ain Yaakov, was ever written by Rabbeinu Avrohom to begin with.

In the JTS collection in New York (2324.1), there is a different version of the Ksav Yad, in which it says after one paragraph, ad kan leshon HaRav (Avraham). The rest was written by someone called Eliezer Eilenburg, a kabbalist who followed R. Avraham Abulafia's teachings. The ma'amar is interspersed with kabbalistic references and a mention of R. Abulafiah's Imrei Shefer, which obviously were never written by R. Avraham. The manuscript, in fact, is catalogued under the authorship of Eliezer Eilenburg, while the title remains Ma'amar al Drashos Chazal. Everywhere that the Ein Yaakov version says “avi mori”, indicating was written by the Rambam's son, this version instead says “HaRav Moreh Tzeddek”, indicating it was someone else.

There is also a sefer Imrei Yosher on Midrash which quotes the ma'amar of R. Avraham, and does not contain the controversial section.

The Arabic section found in the library of Westminster College in England also does not contain that section. (Regrettably, it is not a complete version, so it cannot offer conclusive proof.)

It is possible that Eilenburg added these ideas on his own. It is possible that he found them elsewhere as a commentary to R. Avraham and therefore, in his edition, listed the ideas as being separate from R. Avraham's own words. The other possibility is that he really was using R. Avraham's words, but lied and pretended they were his own thoughts.

Another interesting difference is that the printed editions have the signature of R. Avraham at the end of the Maamar, which is clearly a forgery, for in all the kisvei yad of this, Rabbeinu Avraham's signature does not appear at the end.
So we know for a fact that they forged Rabeinu Avraham’s signature at the end of the Maamar. The manuscripts contradict this, and rightly so, because the Maamar Al Drashos Chazal is an excerpt from the Sefer HaMaspik L'Ovdei Hashem, written by Rabbeinu Avrohom ben HaRambam, so why would he sign his name in the middle of a sefer? The maskilim obviously had an agenda, and we know from Rav Tzaddok that they liked to tamper with Kisvei Yad in this way. There is no question at all that the Maskilm tampered wiht the Ksav Yad; the only question is how much. We see they definitely tampered with the end, they sure could have tampered with the beginning, maybe even with the ksav yad they found by Oppenheim.
The first time ma'amar odos drashos chazal was ever printed, it was printed by the Maskilim, in their publication, Kerem Chemed, year 2, in 1836. Later, in 1859 it went to kovetz teshuvos Rambam. Ein Yaakov first printed it in 1877.
Rav Tzaddok (Zichronos 51) writes that a well known tactic of maskilim was to print kisvei yad of rishonim to which they had exclusive access, adding comments to fit their agenda and claiming it was the view of this rishon. He says we should be very wary of new kisvei yad when published, checking for insertions to support the agenda of maskilim, unless you know the motzi la'or.
The manuscript with the controversial segment was in a library in Germany (I think) and may have been altered before being sent to the printer and later being placed in Oxford.


Rav Shlomo Zalman never held like Rabeinu Avrohom. Rav Shlomo Zalman said just the opposite --- that the shitah of Rabbeinu Avrohom is a minority opinion, and, Rav Shlomo Zalman added, you can add to the list of the majority opposing opinion all those who use the principle of Nishtau Hativim to explain the discrepancy between the physical reality and certain statements of Chazal. The fact that they did not employ the idea that Chazal’s science was incorrect shows that they did not consider it a viable option.

As far as Rav Hirsch following Rav Avrohom’s opinion, nowhere in any of his writings is such a thing to be found. Nor did any of his Talmidim ever say any such thing in his name. The idea that Rav Hirsch held that was based the discovery of an unpublished, unsigned essay written by an unknown author, who everyone agrees was definitely not Rav Hirsch - the handwriting is clearly not his – which was not signed by Rav Hirsch nor is there any indication anywhere in the content of the letter that it is the opinion of Rav Hirsch. No reference to Rav Hirsch is made in the essay at all. It was also not written in German, but Hebrew.


The letter was found among letters of Rav Hirsch in the possession of his family. Prof. Mordechai Breuer decided that based on the style of the letter, it must have been Rav Hirsch’s but transcribed by a member of his family. He also decided, based on time place and style, but no proof, that the letter was meant by Rav Hirsch to be sent in response to a specific person etc.


Speculation, of course, and certainly not compelling reason to attribute to Rav Hirsch a position that flies in the face of Halachah and Hashkafa as we know it. Perhaps, in balancing the evidence of authorship, Prof. Breuer did not realize what a radical position he is attributing to Rav Hirsch. Prof. Breuer moreover does not claim to have any evidence from any of the myriad of Rav Hirsch’s known writings that he held anything in the direction of what this letter says.

And even if the words themselves were dictated by Rav Hirsch, we have no compelling reason to believe they were intended to represent his conclusive position. For all we know, Rav Hirsch could have put what passed for a 19th century version of a post-it on the letter that said, “Apikorsus that I need to refute.”

More: If you read the letter carefully, you will find that its content is so parallel to the writings of the Meor Anayim on the same topic so as to smack of plagiarism.


So no, I don’t believe for a second that this was Rav Hirsch’s position. And even even if it was, it is still a small minority opinion that has been rejected in the strongest terms possible by the overwhelming body of sages throughout the generations. All you would have is a kasha on Rav Hirsch. You do not overturn an entire body of Torah principles accepted throughout the generations because an individual Achron seems to contradict it. At most it is a kasha on the Achron, not a cause to change the principle.

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2 Comments:

Blogger em5750 said...

And what about the Rambam who wrote in the Guide (II:14) that "[t]he sciences at that time were deficient, and their statements on these matters are not based on prophetic tradition but on what was available to them at that time" ?

2:14 PM  
Anonymous taon said...

Sorry it took so long to put your comment up. See the replies to the comment of Rav Avrohom, who said, or seems to have said, the same thing basically.

3:08 PM  

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