There is a long chain of comments (many written by me) over at Dixie Yid regarding women and their place in halacha and in the world which I recommend having a look at. One point raised deserves elaboration in its own right. Are Chazal legislators who formulate laws from scratch based on their interpretation, or are they scientists who discover truths that are immutable elements of reality? A commentator who is the author of a book writes, “G-d’s laws - which include the laws of the Sages whom He appointed to be his agents - cannot be changed to our likes and dislikes, any more than one can change the laws of physics or chemistry….Just as the scientist cannot change the laws of nature, he can only learn to understand and apply them, so the rabbi cannot change the laws of the Torah, he can only show us how to understand and apply them.” I find this claim striking. While I wouldn’t dismiss it as completely untenable, the is not at all something I would assert so confidently as being self-evident. In fact, the opposite position seems far more consistent with sources.
What immediately comes to mind is the famous question of why according to the Rambam who holds Rabbinic laws must be followed because of “lo tasur” is there a difference between a safeik d’oraysa and a safeik derabbanan. The answer which many suggest is that Torah prohibitions are inherently wrong. A piece of safeik neveilah is like a piece of safeik poison – why chance eating it? However, Rabbinic laws are not inherently wrong, they are not like laws of chemistry which will have an effect willy-nilly. The only problem with Rabbinically prohibited food is that eating it undermines the legislative authority of the Rabbis. The existence of doubt justifies acting without violating anyone’s authority.
Clearer proof to the distinction can be found in a recent daf-yomi. The Ran explains (Nedarim 8) that a shevuah cannot be taken on what the Torah has already commanded – ain shevuah chal al shevuah. However, one can take a shevuah on a law derived from one of the 13 middos (and certainly a Rabbinic law). In the former case the Torah law is inherently assur already; a shevuah adds nothing. In the latter case, since the law stems from Rabbinic interpretation, it is not inherently wrong – what makes it wrong is the violation is deemed a challenge to Chazal’s authority. Therefore, a shevuah which defines the act itself as inherently to be avoided can work (see Sha’arei Yosher 1:7).