Sunday, July 30, 2006

Torah and Science III

In a machlokes where the posek cannot decide who is right, and cannot bring supporting proof for either side, then he has to "pasken" what to do. He will follow certain rules such as safek doraisa kechumrah, drabonon lekulah, halachah kebasrai etc.

However, if we do have compelling evidence, including superior authority, quantitative and qualitative factors considered, in favor of one opinion in a machlokes, then, depending on whose opinion it is and other factors, we will either reject it as wrong, shrug our shoulders and say we have no idea what it means, or that we don’t understand it, or he must means something else, or something like that, but we would disregard it l'maaseh. That applies to what you call facts as well.

(If you don’t like the phrase "pasken", you can use any other term you like, but it means that certain hashkofos, although stated by legitimate authorities, are not accepted.)

All the more so in a case where we are talking not about a fact such as whether the grass is blue or green but a theological belief - the question is what is the proper Torah hashkafa, and it affects the proper way to fulfill the required belief in the truth of Torah Shebal Peh, and the parameters of makchish megidehah.

There is no disagreement about this -- as I mentioned, Rav Ovadiah Yosef has a Teshuva about this, where he states clearly we pasken not like Rabeinu Avrohom; Rav Ahron Kotler ZTL stated that it is not part of our Mesorah, and Rav Elyashev has also recently stated that although Rabbeinu Avrohom said such a thing, we may not.

It all means the same thing: We don't hold like Rabbeinu Avrohom.

And so, we are not allowed to hold like Rabbeinu Avrohom.

Like we are not allowed to hold like any opinion, as legitimate as it may be, which was rejected by our mesorah.

That is not because we apply rules of psak such as sfeika doraisa lechumra and the like, but because the weight of Torah authority throughout the generations disagreed, as well as the fact that our understanding of what Rabeinu Avrohom says flies in the face of various statements of Chazal themselves.

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More on the Opinion of the Rambam:

In More Nevuchim (3:14) the Rambam writes:
(Guide for the Perplexed, 3:14)

"Do not ask me to reconcile everything that they (i.e. Chazal) mentioned regarding astronomy with what is reality, for the sciences in those days were lacking, and they did not speak about them through traditions from the prophets, but rather on their own independent knowledge or what was obtained from contemporary scientists."


The Rama in Toras HaOlah (1:2) quotes this Rambam and strongly disagrees, stating clearly that we assume rabbinic science to be infallible, and ancient rabbinic knowledge of astronomy complete. The Ramah has stated that we do not pasken like the Rambam here. As do the Maharal and the majority of our Torah authorities throughout the ages, as mentioned above.

Aside from that, it is not clear that the Rambam himself would have applied this position in actual practice. 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 – and even superiority - of the approach of the majority of our sages, 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 halchicaly acceptable one. 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.

Finally, if we take this statement of the Rambam in the context of his own statements elsewhere, what he says in Moreh Nevuchim may mean something entirely different:

In Hilchos Kidush HaChodesh, The Rambam says that in the days of the prophets, we had seforim written on astronomy that were authored by the tribe of Yissachar, regarding whom it is stated (Divrei Hayamim I 12:33), “And of the children of Yissachar, men with understanding of the times (i.e. astronomy)”, and we would normally use the astronomy of the Bnei Yissachar, not the astronomy of contemporary scientists, for Halachic matters, but unfortunately, those books have been lost. And so, the Rambam explains that he has to rely on the science of the scientists, adding that because what they write is independently verifiable and based on solid proofs, we may rely on them.

This is why the Rambam states in Moreh Nevuchim that the astronomy of Chazal was based on science “and not tradition from the prophets” – because we did have a tradition from the prophets about astronomy, but it was lost. So that is why Chazal had no choice but to rely on whatever mathematical proofs there existed in their times. But this loss of ancient tradition is described by the Rambam only in regard to astronomy, and so only in that area, Chazal had to rely on scientists. In other areas of science, our tradition from the prophets – as is described by the Chosid Yaavetz in Ohr Hachaim - was intact.

In summary:
1) The Rambam is opposed by the Ramah and a majority of our sages, and is not accepted l’halachah

2) The Rambam is written in More Nevuchim and therefore not necessarily meant l’halachah to begin with, and proper halachic due process is to minimize halachic machlokes as much as possible

3) The Rambam only stated that Chazal relied on the science of their times regarding astronomy, about with the Rambam himself states that we had a tradition from the prophets but it went lost, and that is why we must rely on the science of the gentiles.

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Rav Sadiah never said you could allegorize Pesukim if they seem to contradict with science. That's a distortion of his position. See it inside. What Rav Sadiah did say has no bearing on any of the issues we are discussing.

Rav Sadiah did not say all methods of direct and indirect proofs are sufficient to reinterpret the Torah. And surely he did not say scientific evidence is reason. Neither Rav Saadiah nor anybody else ever said such a thing.
Your senses are what you can feel and taste and touch such that it becomes impossible for it not to be so. Scientific evidence is not that. There is a margin of error in these things that has been proven time and time again in the past. Especially since there are other explanations, such as the "world was created old" idea that explains things just fine. Never mind that more often than not, the "proofs" start with the assumption that the world was NOT created by a creator.

Take, as an example, the “proof” to evolution of "vestigial" organs found in animals. This proof is based on the assumption that the scientists already have uncovered sufficient knowledge of science such that if they cannot find a reason for an organ, the reason does not exist. Not only has this assumption not been proven, it has been disproven in the past. Whale fins (and other organs) were once upon a time served up as evidence of vestigial limbs by scientists only later to discover that they indeed did not realize that they have in fact an important purpose.

That is a far, far, far cry from the touch-and-taste first-hand sensory intuitive proof that Rav Saadiah mentioned.

So Rav Saadiah’s statement clearly does not apply here. On the contrary - from the narrow scope of Rav Sadiah's flexibility, it indicates clearly that anything outside of the scope of black and white logic and intuition can not be used to reinterpret a posuk.

In addition, Rav Saadiah never said that your senses are the only factor involved in assessing the acceptability of your interpretation. Rav Saadiah was a gaon, and he was talking about interpreting the Torah in an acceptable, reasonable manner, using all the yegiah and ameilus that one uses to interpret any difficult passage. He is saying that your senses can be invoked to determine correct pshat in the Torah but he did not say that satisfying your senses is the only requirement for an acceptable pshat. Rav Saadiah did not say that you can interpret the Torah - allegorically or literally - in a way that contradicts our Torah shebal peh, Mesorah, or the Halachah, for instance, just because you cannot think of a pshat that agrees with the Mesorah. So even if theoretically something in the Torah would go against our senses, we would have to interpret the Torah according to the halachic and hashkafic due process. If we are unable to think of a pshat that squares with torah shebal peh, then we simply do not know the pshat. Not a big deal. There are a lot of difficult passages in the Torah. And as Rav Chaim Brisker said: "It is better to remain with a good question than to give a bad answer."

So even if someone had seen Hashem create the world with the mammals first and fish later, which is what he would have to do to meet Rav Saadiah’s criteria, he would still not be entitled to answer by saying the Torah “doesn’t really mean it.” He would have to say "I don’t know what the Torah means here."


Plus, Rav Saadiah said not only that you may reinterpret a posuk if it contradicts simple logic and intuition, which is not justification for reinterpreting the Torah here, Rav Sadiah also says that license to reinterpret comes if the posuk seems to contradict rabbinic tradition.

So avoiding an absolute logical and intuitive impossibility is one reason to reinterpret, but contradicting rabbinic tradition is another.

So even if you have a posuk that meets Rav Sadiah’s criterion of being against basic logic and sensory facts, by reinterpreting it in a way that contradicts rabbinic tradition you have not followed Rav Sadiah. All you have done is traded one impossibility for another, which is not what Rav Saddiah is allowing.

To fulfill Rav Sadiah, you’d have to reinterpret the posuk in a way that squares with Rabbinic tradition. If you can’t, then you simply must say "I don’t know."

To take scientific evidence and theories – which is NOT within the scope of Rav Saadiah's criteria –and reinterpreted pesukim to make them contradict Rabbinic tradition, is not only outside of the scope of what Rav Sadiah said was permitted, but, according to Rav Sadiah’s statement, it is making things much worse than they were before.

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