Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Could Shlomo haMelech have invented the telephone?

I was learning the Shu”t Mahartz Chiyus and came across his suggestion (#11) that Bar Kamtzar who the Mishna (Yoma 38) says could write all the letters of the Shem Hashem in one shot was actually using a printing press. “On the Main Line” mentioned the tshuvah a few weeks ago, but in the section he scanned he left out the beginning sentences. The Mahartz Chiyus is not just saying a cutesy pshat in a Mishna, but is making a more general point about technology. He writes: “Is it possible that Moshe Rabeinu who spoke with Hashem face to face, or Shlomo haMelech who is described as the wisest of all men, could not have invented a printing press before one of the gentile nations did centuries later?” One could make the same argument about any innovation, e.g. do you think Alexander Graham Bell was smarter than Shlomo haMelech? Of course not. It’s just that the world did not need telephones in Shlomo’s lifetime or he would have invented it.

I have actually seen similar arguments in mussar seforim . I don’t have an exact mareh makom but vaguely remember an Ohr Yahel writing that the Rishonim could have advanced science as far as we have in our time but they instead devoted themselves to Torah. Anyway, this Mah”C is the first time I have seen it in a more traditional halachic work.

16 comments:

  1. Anonymous10:34 AM

    The Ben Ish Chai writes that Shlome Hamelech didn't disclose electricity because the discovery of electricity would lead to WMD and there is no way the world would of survived the past 3000+ years with WMD around.Of note the BIC died in 1910 before WMD were actually created.

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  2. Mike S11:09 AM

    This sort of thinking strikes me as flawed. Progress in science and technology depends not only on individual genius, but even more heavily on the accumulation of data and knowledge over the centuries. For an easy example, while Newton was an undoubted genius, his work on gravitation could not have succeeded if it could not build on the painstaking data collection of Tycho Brache and the data analysis (as we would call it today) of Kepler (and other progress.) And Tycho's observations required both the telescope and enough of a surplus of production to enable his patron to support Tycho and his assistants.

    While Shlomo Hamelech and the rishonim may have been smart enough to produce the scientific progress of later generation, they did not live in times and social circumstances that would have provided the needed basis.

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  3. Mike S, I imagine the response to your argument would be that the accumulation of necessary data could have proceeded at a much faster place and occurred much earlier.
    Your last point about needing the correct "social circumstances" is in agreement with the Mh"C - it's not that the technology was not attainable earlier, but simply that the social need to develop it was absent.

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  4. It’s just that the world did not need telephones in Shlomo’s lifetime or he would have invented it.
    OK, so what about medicines?

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  5. Elamdan - your comment helps prove the point. Shlomo haMelech did compose a Sefer haRefuos and it was not until the days of Chizkiyahu (as the Mishna in Pesachim tells us) that the sefer was deliberately placed in geniza for reasons the Rishonim (Rambam, Ramban) discuss.

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  6. nachumj1:20 PM

    Chaim B. said...
    Elamdan - your comment helps prove the point. Shlomo haMelech did compose a Sefer haRefuos and it was not until the days of Chizkiyahu (as the Mishna in Pesachim tells us) that the sefer was deliberately placed in geniza for reasons the Rishonim (Rambam, Ramban) discuss.

    yes, rambam says it was hidden away because it was full of non-effective nahreshkeit. that hardly advances the point you were trying to make.

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  7. Rashi Pesachim 56 d"h sheganaz holds it was real. I do not have the Rambam in front of me but IIRC the Rambam holds the issue here is because the refuous were based on avodah zarah and therefore could not be used, not that they were ineffective. The Rambam was philosophically troubled by the genizah davka because the medicine was effective and therefore in Rambam's view should have been made available to the masses (elamdan's point), not hidden away.

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  8. S. Carson. Wembley UK6:22 PM

    Why should we feel the need to believe such nonsense?? Where does it end?? Do we have to believe that Avraham could have played quarter back for Haran Giants but was too busy learning Torah? Maybe Yitzchok could have been Bill Gates but decided to daven instead...and Yaacov of course all the kfitsas haderech?? Carl Lewis eat your heart out.
    Chochma is the province of goyim. Torah is our yerusha.Wanting to be someone else indicates a lack of satisfaction in your own destiny

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  9. nachumj12:20 AM

    Chaim B. said...
    The Rambam was philosophically troubled by the genizah davka because the medicine was effective and therefore in Rambam's view should have been made available to the masses (elamdan's point), not hidden away.

    you need to see the rambam inside , preferably kafih's translation .perush hamishnayot to pesachim 4:10.i dont think the rambam would agree with the general direction of this discussion at all.

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  10. Anonymous9:49 AM

    Isn't the point that HKBH did not want us to discover all these new technologies until the past couple hundred years. Why, who knows, that is in His master plan. There is a famous Zohar widely quoted which says that the Arubos Hashomayim would open in the sixth century of the sixth millenium which roughly coincides with the industrial revolution. (Isn't it strange how very little progress was made for thousands of years and then there is this explosion of activity in the past couple hundred years.)

    In the times of old we were closer to HKBH and were able get what we needed through tefillah in a more direct way. Modern devices were not needed in those times so i agree with Chaim on this. As time has progressed and we have moved further away from Sinai and HKBH we need these devices to help us along the way.

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  11. >>>i dont think the rambam would agree with the general direction of this discussion at all.

    In do not have a Kafih Rambam at home, but in the regular edition the Rambam says the knowledge was theoretically valid, as is the view of Rashi, and see as well the Ramban in into to Torah describing a sefer meturgam known as 'chuchmesa rabsa r'shlomo' which contained vast knowledge.
    Why would we toss aside what seems the dominant view in Rishonim (and Ahcronim: see the Chazon Ish in Emunah u'Bitachon 5:3 and the mareh mekomos he cites) because of a possibly different translation of the Ph"m that Kafih has? You are building a case on a slender reed.

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  12. >>>Why should we feel the need to believe such nonsense??

    Two points: 1) I don't think there necessarily is a 'need" to accept the Mh"C's view; 2) nonetheless, I am unconfortable labelling views of gedolei achronim and rishonim 'nonsense', a point which I guess we must differ on.

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  13. As far as the sefer refuos, I remember the Rambam having a couple of suggestions. Either it was a sefer with avodah zarah healings that were really baloney or it had poisons and their remedies and it was hidden because people were using it for the poison.

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  14. But either way the Rambam says that if there was valid medical knowledge it should have been publicized. The sefer refuos was an exception because of avodah zarah or poison. So I think from the Rambam the point is proven against you.

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  15. carson, wembley uk7:44 PM

    I am unconfortable labelling views of gedolei achronim and rishonim 'nonsense', a point which I guess we must differ on.

    Dear Chaim

    1) which Rishonim are you referring to?
    2)are the Gedolei Acharonim whose words are beyind reproach
    a) Reb Leib Chasman - "vaguely remembered"
    b) Maharatz Chajes

    As for the former I have a vague recollection that he was such a great gadol that a shot was fired at him in Slabodka in 1905 after which he left the Yeshiva. He is not an unimpeachable source and is well capable of writing nonsense.

    With regard to the latter please read his Kol Sifrei and tell me what you think of his views about the unreliability of certain maamarei chazal and the lesser status of many tannaim and amoraim. Even you would call it nonsense

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