Wednesday, June 10, 2009

dealing with conflicts between science and Chazal

I am breaking this off as a seperate post for clarity because the comments to the previous one seem to range far and wide of the main point. Here is the main idea in a nutshell:

Problem: you have a gemara which contradicts empirical evidence or common sense.
There can be only three possible solutions:

1) Accept the contradiction as legitimate and conclude that Chazal were wrong.
2) Accept the contradiction as legitimate and conclude that common sense or science is wrong.
3) Explain that Chazal and science are speaking of different aspects of reality and no contradiction exists.

Can someone please explain to me why 'rationally' option #1 is a better solution than option #3?

To use the example in the previous post, taken on the merits of the argument alone, why would you prefer to say Chazal held X about the sun and the secular scientists held Y, creating an irresolvable conflict, when you can just as easily say that Chazal said X speaking about pnimiyus and knew and would accept Y as true with respect to chitzoniyus, avoiding any conflict?

The advanatages of approach #3 are obvious. It preserves emunas chachamim, which given option #1 erodes, yet at the same time gives full legitimacy to scientific inquiry and its conclusions because that is not what Chazal were addressing. You can have your cake and eat it too!

Why in the world would anyone prefer to force a choice between competing truths rather than adopt an approach that acknowledges the truth of both?

55 comments:

  1. simply put, different interpretations of gemaras *in general* have greater plausibility than others. and this is a matter of engaging one's sechel to evaluate which is the more likely possibility.

    if i see an ibn ezra talk about the number of chambers in the womb allowing a certain number of twins, and i see that his contemporary science matched that, then it stands to reason that he was making use of the science of his time.

    if i see a gemara, of mechilta, discuss spontaneous generation, and I know through historical sources that the contemporary scientists also held that belief *as science*, and that Chazal held that "yesh chochma bagoyim taamin," then it is an extremely plausible interpretation that Chazal made use of contemporary science, just as the Geonim, Rishonim, and Acharonim did. Add that to the sudden surfacing of the "pnimiyus" interpretation only when modern scientific discoveries occur, and it *feels* like what is going on is apologetics.

    The desire to avoid any conflict as a value also seems to introduce subjectivity into the process of the evaluation. Better to weigh each possibility on its merits, and then see what the repercussions are.

    kt,
    josh

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  2. To add to what R' Josh said - the reason why one would adopt approach (1) is that in many cases, it seems more likely to be the true explanation of the Gemara.

    To take the case in Pesachim 94b as an example: From the pashtus of the Gemara, it seems that Rebbe conceded that the Chachmei Yisrael were wrong. The Geonim and virtually all Rishonim (except Rabbeinu Tam) have absolutely no problem in taking that as being the case - it doesn't cause them any hashkafic grief. So what grounds are there for thinking that they were not speaking literally, and that the Gemara presented it in an incredibly misleading manner, and that the Geonim and Rishonim all got it wrong?

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  3. In other words - you say that it is "just as easy" to say option #3, but it is not just as easy by any means. You say that it "erodes emunas Chachomim," but not according to the view of emunas Chachomim that was traditionally held. Sure, it sits much better with contemporary charedi hashkafah, but that is not a reason to think that it is actually what the Gemara meant.

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  4. Contemporary chareidi hashkafa might be the best defense against the diminution of Chazal to well-intentioned and clever but simplistic and misguided primitives. The progression from correcting Chazal's mistakes in physical science to their 'mistakes' in sociology and ethics and bible scholarship is inevitable, if not in the current generation, then in the next.

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  5. barzilai:
    indeed, i agree that it might be the best defense. (i've said this myself in the past.) but the question is if this is emes.

    kt,
    josh

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  6. david a.12:06 PM

    In addition to what’s been stated about the more compelling argument of #1, i would add that if reading gemorrah text, discussing apparent scientific matters, as not being about the natural world, then it would seem to me inappropriate for those texts to reach Halacha l’maaseh conclusions related to the matters under discussion. Unless you’re going to stretch premise #3 to say that halacha need not be related to natural science, as well.

    >>>>> The progression from correcting Chazal's mistakes in physical science to their 'mistakes' in sociology and ethics and bible scholarship is inevitable, if not in the current generation, then in the next.

    barzilai,

    know ye (and it may not be a surprise to you) that this progression is well under way already.

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  7. "indeed, i agree that it might be the best defense. (i've said this myself in the past.) but the question is if this is emes."

    I disagree, because a "defense" which might not be emes is not a defense ! Better to deal with the next stage of issues to the best of your ability, rather than erecting walls as "defenses".

    We need people such as the Doros Harishonim; R Shraga Feivel Mendelowitz read and recommended Toldos Yisrael by Zev Yavetz(he spent a good part of his wedding dowry on the books). Avoiding issues, as in life in general, will not help!

    To be clear, I'm not taking sides in the Science/Torah issue and saying that "Yeshivish approaches are not emes". Rather, I'm suggesting that the issues Barzali is afraid of(I'm more interested in history, rather than the one's he mentions) will eventually have to be dealt with no less comprehensively than Halevy did. Hiding from issues and making "defenses" as a strategy doesn't help, IMO.

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  8. The Emess that is the signature of God is paramount, but, as far as I can tell, humanly unattainable. Anyway, my opinion that the progressiveness spoken of here is progress that leads to the abyss is, unfortunately, empirical, not theoretical. Sure, many people will be, and should be, frustrated by a wholesale denial of science when it contradicts Chazal; but there is no need for denial. #3 is a fine alternative. I'm told that one of the tenets of Japanese art is that reality is not necessarily truth.

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  9. To use the example in the previous post, taken on the merits of the argument alone, why would you prefer to say Chazal held X about the sun and the secular scientists held Y, creating an irresolvable conflict, when you can just as easily say that Chazal said X speaking about pnimiyus and knew and would accept Y as true with respect to chitzoniyus, avoiding any conflict?

    But what does that mean to the average person reading the Gemara?

    It's all fine and well to say that the Gemara is talking about some deep, mystical property of the sun (or whatever is under discussion), but what does that mean to the "average Joe?"

    Part of the value of learning and acquiring information is that it has some meaning and value. If someone says to me "the sun goes behind a curtain at night" and explains that it while literally it is wrong but that it has some deeper, mystical meaning, if I can't find out what that meaning is, then of what use is it?

    The Wolf

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  10. Your position leaves you with just two choices, neither one I would like to make:

    1) The GR"A, Maharal, Ramchal, etc. were unaware of the approach of the Rishonim you have adopted.

    2) The GR"A, Maharal, Ramchal etc. were aware of the approach of the Rishonim but felt the revelation of pnimiyus haTorah offered better answers.

    Choice #1 is just about inconceivable with respect to GR"A; choice #2 is exactly what I am saying in my post.

    You can't ask "Why did the Rishonim not answer like the GR"A?" because the answer is simple: historically the Rishonim did not have access to or did not want to popularize pnimiyus haTorah. You need to have lived historically at a time when both approaches were known to make a choice.

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  11. >>>what does that mean to the "average Joe?"

    Since when is the value of knowledge judged by its accessibility to the masses? You mean you don't think quantum physics has value or is false because you don't understand it?

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  12. Since when is the value of knowledge judged by its accessibility to the masses? You mean you don't think quantum physics has value or is false because you don't understand it?

    True. But no one tells me that it's my obligation to study quantum physics every day. No one says that the "average Joe" is supposed to learn quantum physics. The Gemara, OTOH, is for mass consumption.

    The Wolf

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  13. I'm not sure gemara was in fact written for the masses, but anyway... on a superficial level anyone can open a sugya and extract some value and meaning, but certainly there are deeper levels that can be understood only by experts and scholars. Forget nistar and let's talk basic pshat in gemara and Rishonim -- do you understand the lomdus of every sugya in Yevamos? I know I don't!

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  14. You can't ask "Why did the Rishonim not answer like the GR"A?" because the answer is simple: historically the Rishonim did not have access to or did not want to popularize pnimiyus haTorah.

    You don't think that they could have come up with some way of avoiding saying that Chazal erred if they had so desired? Of course they could have. They could have taken Rabbeinu Tam's approach, or said that it was allegorical (as they did with many sections of Aggadata). Why are you ignoring the much more obvious reason why they said what they did: because they thought it was true and they didn't see any reason to be uncomfortable with it.

    The GR"A, Maharal, Ramchal etc. were aware of the approach of the Rishonim but felt the revelation of pnimiyus haTorah offered better answers

    Obviously they felt it offered better answers. That doesn't mean that everyone else must agree with them. The Rishonim would have responded that those are not better answers. And there were Acharonim who felt the same way.

    Do you have a single argument in favor of saying that the pnimiyus approach is what is actually going on in Pesachim 94a? I mean a textual and contextual argument, not just "it will make me able to respect Chazal as infallible" or "the Gra learned it this way."

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  15. >>It's all fine and well to say that the Gemara is talking about some deep, mystical property of the sun (or whatever is under discussion), but what does that mean to the "average Joe?"

    Lets say you couldn't read Rashi. Would you say the gemara is meaningless because you couldn't understand pashut pshat without Rashi?

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  16. Chaim B.:
    is your response directed towards only BrooklynWolf or towards my response as well? if towards me, i would say that in terms of what you asked in the post, i gave a complete answer (text-internal evidence and correspondence to what we know of contemporary science), and that this is a second question. namely, given that the Gra advances it, why don't you find the general answer #3 as compelling in every gemara as answer #1? if so, i do have an answer, which i may post as a separate comment.

    kt,
    josh

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  17. Chaim,

    I agree with Josh. There is tremendous value to intellectual honesty, and when "oh, they must have been speaking of pnimiyus" crops up suddenly, as an answer to a newly discovered contradiction, there's not much of it to be found. Not that I approach this issue from a tachlis standpoint to begin with - I agree with Josh, emes first and always; we say it every day, hashem elokaychem emes - but even if you want to look at it that way, intellectual dishonesty turns off more people than a recognition that Chazal were human and could err in areas of science ever would.

    Frankly, once "there must be a hidden/deeper meaning" becomes an acceptable response to contradiction, how do you respond to the christian who waves that same magic wand to make the contradictions between Tanach and the claims of his religion disappear? Why is it a valid answer for us but not them? Just because we were raised Jewish and already believe it, but to an outside observer, there's nothing to choose from between them? Can't you see what a horrendous result adopting that proposition would cause?

    And Barzilai - accepting that Chazal can make mistakes in science does not lead to the progression you are suggesting. The halachic system has rules governing how a takanas chazal can be changed - gadol b'chachma u'b'minyan - and the Torah specifically admonishes us to follow chazal even where the halacha is based on an incorrect view of reality (see Rashi on "lo tasur yamin oh smole" - even if they tell you left is right and right is left).

    Of course, this requires an examination of what the purpose of such a rule would be, and in fact what we can learn about the mitzvos in general. And I think there is much chachma to be gained from doing that. But that's a separate discussion.

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  18. I composed an answer to that question, but it was so long I thought it work better as a post on my blog.

    http://parsha.blogspot.com/2009/06/why-would-rationalist-not-consider.html

    Above, I addressed why one would find #1 a more compelling option. In the post, I address why the Gra's maintaining of #3 does not make it a more compelling option.

    kt,
    josh

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  19. Daas Yuchid11:23 PM

    I would like to suggest a forth option to R Chaim's three:

    4) Explain that regardless of what Chazal actually thought concerning the facts, since their words are written with ruach hakodesh, we interpret them according to their inner, hidden meaning .

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  20. Littmaner1:59 AM

    What is the basis for saying that all Chazal's words were stated with ruach hakodesh? (yes, I know that you will find acharonim who claim it, but do you have anything earlier/ more authentic/ more convincing?)

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    ReplyDelete
  22. You know, there's a separate question that needs to be asked: what is the basis for ascribing infallibility to Chazal? I see absolutely no torah basis to conclude that chazal were infallible.

    In fact, the talmud itself is replete with evidence that they were not.

    Take the machlokes between Raban Shimon ben Gamliel and Rabbi Yehoshua (iirc) over the proper date for yom kippur:

    1) The machlokes was clearly over historical/scientific fact (question: when was rosh chodesh; Rashbag says day 1; R'Y says day 2)

    2) The machlokes cannot be interpreted al pi pnimiyus, because the gemara tells us that R'Y was keeping yom kippur on the day he thought was correct. That's a halacha l'naaseh, pure 'chitzyonius' machlokes

    3) The machlokes can't simply be dismissed as "they were both right"; the moon either was nireh bzmano or it wasn't

    4) Therefore, one of them must - its inescapable, must - have been wrong as a matter of fact

    And once you agree to that - once you reject adopting "papal infallibility" for one of R'Y or RSBG - you are forced to acknowledge that Chazal could in fact be wrong about science or other fact matters.

    Why is this at all problematic?

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  23. >>>but do you have anything earlier/ more authentic/ more convincing?

    Your starting point for investigation should be Baba Basra 12a with the Ramban there who writes that nevuah no longer exists but the phenomenon of ruach hakodesh does and is present in Torah leaders.

    But let's put it this way -- if the Ra'avad could write in 2 places that his beis medrash has ruach hakodesh, do I need a proof with repect to Chazal?

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  24. Akiva and Josh,

    Let me return to the simple question I asked above which you haven't addressed. Let's say for a minute that your view of Chazal is correct. So do you think:

    1) The GR"A did not understand Chazal as well as you and that's why he preferred to speak of pnimiyus hadevarim, or

    2) The GR"A knew that's not what Chazal meant but foisted this distortion on us against all the Rishonim and thereby undermined the mesorah.

    I don't see how logically you have any other option, so please explain.

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  25. >>>Why is this at all problematic?

    So since most historians do not think that there was an Egyptian slavery or exodus and most scholars reject the idea of a Divinly given Torah at Sinai, do you question those ideas as well? I think it's pretty clear why this thinking is problematic. Aside from arbitrary distinctions, where Akiva do you draw the line?

    To answer your other question, where conflict is unavoidable (i.e. the case you gave) then we have to choose right from wrong (see Rashi Kesubos 60 that on disagreements of fact we do not say "eilu v'eilu") -- I have no problem with that. But where the conflict can be avoided by offering a different answer, then why do you insist on not availing yourself of it?
    onward?

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  26. Daas Yuchid - interesting point I hadn't thought of bringing into this. I'm getting too bogged down in this and to explicate your idea will take some research, but maybe it is worth it. Thanks!

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  27. Chaim,

    Josh has posted an excellent response to the question of "how do you deal with the GR"A" on his blog. But I think you're setting up a false dichotomy.

    First of all, the second option you're proposing is inherently absurd. But the first option should really be rewritten not as the GRA v. me (in which event I would easily and happily bow to the GRA's far greater knowledge) but as the GRA v. the rather fulsome and significant rationalist rishonim and acharonim. If you're asking me if I feel comfortable siding with the Rambam against the GRA on this issue, the answer is yes. Frankly, in a "battle of the titans" of that sort, an appeal to authority is doomed to failure because both sides of the issue have compelling and authoritative figures in their corner.

    Second, as to your question of line drawing - Tanach is from God, therefore definitionally infallible (on the egyptian slavery issue, btw, note the timing of the rise of Atenism). Of course, that raises the question of "how do we know Tanach is from God", to which there are whole separate answers and debates. But the dividing line is very, very clear - that which God tells us was, was. Period, end of story (though whether things are literal or allegorical is - again - a separate issue). On the other hand, that which is not directly from God - that which is from men (tzaddikim and chachamim, to be sure, but men nonetheless) - is, by definition, fallible.

    Which, in fact, you recognize (Rashi in Kesubos etc.).

    Which brings me to my point.

    Once you acknowledge that it is possible for Chazal to err in matters of fact, what is the imperative to "avoid the conflict"? Yes, if there's something in the text itself that makes clear or even suggests that the particular sugya is not meant to be taken literally, then sure, interpret it that way. But when the "pnimiyus hatorah" interpretations you're offering are driven solely by "Chazal cannot be wrong, so they must have meant . . .", the fact that you are acknowledging "Chazal can be wrong" eliminates any logical force the syllogism might have possessed.

    And that leaves us - as Josh said - with determining these issues on a case by case, text by text basis.

    And again, I'll turn the question back to you: given that you agree that it is possible for Chazal to be wrong on matters of fact, what is motivating you to minimize the number of such occasions by reinterpreting them as pnimiyus wherever possible?

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  28. The problem with reductio ad absurdum is what you think is absurd is another person's logic. It is absurd to prefer to dismiss Chazal as wrong rather than avoid conflict. Would you intentionally pick a fight with your boss or with your wife if you could find a way to meet your own needs and avoid that conflict?

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  29. Your starting point for investigation should be Baba Basra 12a with the Ramban there who writes that nevuah no longer exists but the phenomenon of ruach hakodesh does and is present in Torah leaders.

    But what does ruach hakodesh mean? Considering all the sugyas where Chazal had to engage in empirical research, it does not seem likely that it refers to infallibility in all statements including scientific ones.

    But let's put it this way -- if the Ra'avad could write in 2 places that his beis medrash has ruach hakodesh, do I need a proof with repect to Chazal?

    See the extensive discussion in Twersky's "Rabad Of Posquieres" where he proves that Raavad did not mean this literally. It certainly did not prevent his peers from sharply disagreeing with him!

    It is absurd to prefer to dismiss Chazal as wrong rather than avoid conflict.

    But there is no conflict! Rebbi himself says that they were wrong and doesn't have any problems with it, and nor do the Geonim and Rishonim!
    You are picking a mystical explanation where there isn't the slightest hint to it in the text, no basis whatsoever in the Rishonim (even the kabbalistically inclined ones), and a very obvious bias. How can you call us absurd?!

    Tell me, do you take this approach with the Rishonim too? How about the Acharonim? When the Shevus Yaakov says that the world is flat and not round like the scientists say, do you insist that he must be speaking allegorically so as to avoid a conflict?

    Wouldn't you like to avoid a conflict between me and the Gra? Maybe I'M speaking allegorically!

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  30. Would you intentionally pick a fight with your boss or with your wife if you could find a way to meet your own needs and avoid that conflict?

    No. But if my boss was a rabbi who made a common scientific error that laymen always make, and there was no reason to think that he was speaking allegorically, and all those closest to him interpreted him literally, I would feel more comfortable saying that he made a common scientific error rather than that there was a secret esoteric meaning that he didn't give any clues about.

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  31. Let's put it this way. If you find a scientific error in Aristotle, is this a conflict that ought to be resolved by interpreting it mystically? Or is it acceptable to say that he erred?

    So you'll say, Ah, but Chazal aren't Aristotle!

    Well, as far as their knowledge of science goes, most of the Rishonim didn't see any reason why they should not be like him in this regard. They were not considered to be scientifically infallible or to have ruach hakodesh in such areas. In fact the Rishonim straightforwardly interpreted Rebbi as implicitly making precisely this point.

    (By the way, I greatly appreciate your hosting and participating in this discussion.)

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  32. Sorry, that should say:

    In fact the Rishonim straightforwardly interpreted Rebbi as explicitly relying upon precisely this approach.

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  33. "I would like to suggest a forth option to R Chaim's three:

    4) Explain that regardless of what Chazal actually thought concerning the facts, since their words are written with ruach hakodesh, we interpret them according to their inner, hidden meaning ."

    I have no problem with the above.

    On Cross Currents("Ready To Be Orthodox, But No Place to Go",
    1/26/05), R. Emanuel Feldman quotes in the name of an anonymous Baal Teshuva friend the above-mentioned "tziruf", or combination, of infallible-pnimiyus plus fallible-metziyus(emphasis in quotation mine).

    According the this understanding, perhaps one makes Birchas Hatorah on medical gemaras not because of the incongruent, fallible, metziyus, but because of the pnimiyus which exists as well.

    Whether the BT in the article is an actual person, a composite of a few people, or R. Feldman's own views, we see he doesn't hold it to be kefirah, and he's been around a while. :)

    "Lately, for example, they have been banning certain books as heretical when the books dare sugest that some things are not black and white. If a writer hints that not all gedolim were born perfect, or — basing himself on solid authoritative sources - that the science of the great Sages, ***[though] containing hidden and profound truths***, is not congruent with contemporary scientific knowledge ( while fully committed to all halakhic rulings of the Sages) his material is forbidden....

    http://www.cross-currents.com/archives/2005/01/26/ready-to-be-orthdox-but-no-place-to-go/

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  34. "But what does ruach hakodesh mean? Considering all the sugyas where Chazal had to engage in empirical research, it does not seem likely that it refers to infallibility in all statements including scientific ones."

    I think that shittah would interpret the empirical research as the hishtadlus, the necessary effort which needs to be done to obtain ruach hakodesh.

    Ein hachi nami, ruach hakodesh in its purest form, would mean that there is no need to study from shepards, etc. But this already is a philosophical issue which one can deal with.

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  35. I think Ruach Hakodesh is siyata dishmaya to correctly use Torah methods of analysis to resolve the question as it is asked. We don't really care if the facts are correct; we care about the methodology of reducing the question. Nobody really cares about the Sun. What we care about is Chazal's way of dealing with the facts they were given.

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  36. The problem with reductio ad absurdum is what you think is absurd is another person's logic.

    There's no reductio ad absurdum here (at least, not that I was intentionally making; I only mentioned "absurd" because I agree - the second option you presented: "The GRA was intentionally distorting Torah" is clearly not a viable choice).

    I am simply saying that once you accept fallibility in areas of fact, you cannot logically use "but they can't be wrong" as a spur to conclude "they must be talking pnimiyus"


    It is absurd to prefer to dismiss Chazal as wrong rather than avoid conflict. Would you intentionally pick a fight with your boss or with your wife if you could find a way to meet your own needs and avoid that conflict?

    Saying that someone is wrong as a matter of fact is not "conflict". It's not a fight, it's not a denigration of their chachma, and it doesn't render any single thing they ruled, from a halachic perspective, any less valid.

    So where is the conflict?

    And how is it that you have no problem with the "conflict" that is inherent in consigning the rationalism of the Rambam and most of the Rishonim and Gaonim to the dustbin of history?

    Finally, can somebody please answer my question with regard to christianity? Objectively speaking, without simply relying on "because we're right and they're not," why is "there is a hidden meaning" a valid response from us, but not from them?

    (Of course, "we're right and they're not" is a valid response if you are discussing the issues with someone who accepts the validity of mesora to begin with. But if, for example, you are discussing things with someone having a crisis of faith, someone weighing the competing claims of the religions . . . well, "we're right and they're not" isn't exactly persuasive)

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  37. Chaim B:
    "Let me return to the simple question I asked above which you haven't addressed. Let's say for a minute that your view of Chazal is correct. So do you think:

    1) The GR"A did not understand Chazal as well as you and that's why he preferred to speak of pnimiyus hadevarim, or"



    (I dealt with this a bit on my blog, but here is another, slightly different take.)

    That question makes it into an issue of personalities and gaavah, rather than an issue of competing ideas and their merits. One solution is to appeal to the authorities promoting the opposite position, but that is taking the argument to the wrong place.

    there is an idea of lo sakir panim bamishpat and lo tehdar pnei gadol. they would typically ask the head of the sanhedrin for his opinion last. the obligation of one learning and judging is to evaluate the merits of the different theories and come up with the one *he* thinks is correct. (of course, one must be on the proper level...) of course, there also is a place for masorah and following the appropriate derech in learning, but this feels to me like an argument that we must shut off our brains and *prefer* one reading over another because of the holiness of the one promoting it.

    the brisker method was also an innovative method. but if i think (as i often do) that the Brisker derech is not the correct approach to a gemara, that does not mean that i am a baal gaavah who thinks he is smarter than Rav Chaim Brisker.

    In logic, there are many different types of proofs. There is proof by induction, proof by construction, proof by contradiction. But proof from authority is not a valid one. On the other hand, we do have the concept of masorah...

    The Gra, as I noted in my blogpost, had a particular approach he considered extremely strong, and I believe it was influenced by a particular intellectual climate. That I don't agree that the pnimiyus approach gives us an accurate picture of Chazal's intent in this or other gemaras does not mean that I am knocking the Gra. He was a genius and a tzaddik, but I respectfully disagree with him here.

    I also disagree with the Radak, Abarbanel, and Ibn Ezra about their philosophical interpretations of Chazal and pesukim.

    kt,
    josh

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  38. Chaim B.:
    "Would you intentionally pick a fight with your boss or with your wife if you could find a way to meet your own needs and avoid that conflict?"
    But I would not consider this picking a fight with them. Chazal were lovers of emes. One Tanna darshened every "et" in the Torah, but retracted it all when he came to one he deemed impossible or implausible to darshen, noting כשם שמקבלים שכר על הדרישה כך מקבלים שכר על הפרישה.

    I would not consider it respect to falsify my Rebbe's words even if otherwise he would come out to be incorrect. It is a respect to acknowledge his position as it actually exists, rather than reinterpreting it towards falsehood. Now, I know from your perspective that you consider option #3 to be entirely plausible. But for those of us who (for whatever reasons) don't, no, I would not find some interpretation that avoids conflict.

    To sign off, the pasuk states אמת, ומשפט שלום, שפטו בשעריכם. With your focus on which *result* is preferable for people's honor, and considering that up front rather than the relative merits of the ideas, is your intent to judge Emet, or Shalom?

    I don't mean this as an insult, but rather an explanation of one rationalist's mindset.

    kt,
    josh

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  39. >>>Finally, can somebody please answer my question with regard to christianity? Objectively speaking, without simply relying on "because we're right and they're not," why is "there is a hidden meaning" a valid response from us, but not from them?

    Sorry, too much to comment on, and so i apologize for not responding to everything. If this approach can also be used by the Christians to legitimize their claims, why should I be concerned? I'm not following what difficulty you see.

    >>>That question makes it into an issue of personalities and gaavah, rather than an issue of competing ideas and their merits.

    Agree with you 100% that the issue should be judged on its merits - but the judge should be gedolei yisrael who are experts in the field. Would you be the judge of the best method of performing brain surgery because you took a science class? Would you risk your life by saying that the conclusions of the majority of brain surgeons who lived in the past 200 years is wrong because they are all biased by modern science and you are in a better position to draw an "objective" conclusion?

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  40. >>>Well, as far as their knowledge of science goes, most of the Rishonim didn't see any reason why they should not be like him in this regard.

    I don't see how this is relevant to the discussion. Even if this were correct, the majority of Achronim do *not* take this approach, and that later view is what has become dominant in our community.

    The onus is not on me to explain why I read the gemara as I do; I am simply following the tradition of most chachamei yisrael of our time and the past few generations who saw the same Rishnim you did, and for whatever reason -- which is a seperate discussion -- chose to ignore them in preference to a different approach.

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  41. >>>Tell me, do you take this approach with the Rishonim too? How about the Acharonim? When the Shevus Yaakov says that the world is flat and not round like the scientists say, do you insist that he must be speaking allegorically so as to avoid a conflict?

    There is no mesorah/consensus that the Shvus Ya'akov meant anything less than what he said. With respect to Pesachim 94 there is a strong consensus of readers who do think Chazal did not mean to be taken literally. That's what I mean by relying on mesorah, otherwise chaos ensues.

    >>>I am simply saying that once you accept fallibility in areas of fact, you cannot logically use "but they can't be wrong" as a spur to conclude "they must be talking pnimiyus"

    As a general point Chazal can be wrong, otherwise we would not have a Mes. Horiyos. And Chazal in other places did rely on outside expertise (e.g. in Mes Shabbos we are told they learned agriculture from outsiders).

    >>>how is it that you have no problem with the "conflict" that is inherent in consigning the rationalism of the Rambam and most of the Rishonim and Gaonim to the dustbin of history?

    This is not a kashe on me, but on the GR"A -- I am just clinging to his coattails! I think the answer is that rationalism is a flawed and faulty system (I referred in comments to the other post to the GR"A in Y.D. 179) critiqued right down to our time by the likes of R' Soloveitchik (in part IV of Halakhic Mind), not just chassidishe rebbes and mystics. So (getting back to Josh) to say Chazal were wrong because that is what a "rationalist" reading leads you to believe would be distasteful to the GR"A and Maharal and others precisely because it is the whole system of rationalism that they rejected and found distasteful.

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  42. >>"That question makes it into an issue of personalities and gaavah, rather than an issue of competing ideas and their merits."

    >Agree with you 100% that the issue should be judged on its merits - but the judge should be gedolei yisrael who are experts in the field

    once again you end up in effect removing it to a matter of personalities -- in this case modern day personalities -- rather than ideas. whether it is correct or not, that is not the way to engage rationalists, who are the target of your remarks.

    regardless, i think we then agree that i have answered your remarks. namely, the question should *NOT* be option (1) or option (2) above regarding the Gra. Rather, you want to pose another related question: Given that *modern* Gedolim (who are those the chareidi, non-rationalist community deems gedolim) by and large support the mystical approach, how can rationalist "commoners", even rabbis who are not gedolim, dare to differ with them? Ask that formally, and you may get some interesting responses.

    kt,
    josh

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  43. Putting aside Pesachim 94, I want to throw out a completely different question (I will do it as a new post to break it off from this discussion): why are so many of you attracted to "rationalism"? Will do it as a new post sometime soon, so consider this coming attractions (of course, you can throw back at me why I am not, and I'll try to explain).

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  44. >>>Given that *modern* Gedolim (who are those the chareidi, non-rationalist community deems gedolim)

    Josh, I don't know what "chareidi" has to do with it. R' Kook was not chareidi, but he (and his followers) was not a rationalist. R' Soloveitchik was not chareidi, and in part IV of Halakhic Mind critiques the rationalist approach of Moreh.

    Anyway, since you formulated the question you do the post. Karayna d'igresa etc.

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  45. perhaps i'll get to it eventually. but i would not want to go to all the trouble explaining my answer to a question no one is having...

    in the mean time, you have another question, in another post, so perhaps it would be better in the meantime to focus on that.

    kol tuv,
    josh

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  46. btw, in terms of
    "I don't know what "chareidi" has to do with it. R' Kook was not chareidi, but he (and his followers) was not a rationalist"
    my point was *not* that (almost) all Y are X, but that (almost) all X are Y. that there are great non-chareidi non-rationalists is beside the point. the point (if valid) is that of those who appoint Gedolim and feel one may not deviate, one is seldom considered a Gadol if he adopts a position of the rationalists. as such, it is a sociological process which feeds back on itself.

    but this is beside the point we are now discussing (in the new post) and only a small part of the greater answer.

    kol tuv,
    josh

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  47. I highly doubt that Rav Kook or Rav Soloveitchik would have differed from the RIshonim's take on Pesachim 94b.

    The onus is not on me to explain why I read the gemara as I do; I am simply following the tradition of most chachamei yisrael of our time

    Well, if you want to rely on others, in that case you have to justify why you believe that they are more likely to be correct than the Rishonim with regard to what Chazal meant.

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  48. Sorry, too much to comment on, and so i apologize for not responding to everything. If this approach can also be used by the Christians to legitimize their claims, why should I be concerned? I'm not following what difficulty you see

    Don't worry about it.

    But you can't have it both ways. You can't raise one practical concern (this might diminish emunas chachamim) while waiving away others (your approach empties any critique of missionary efforts aimed at not already strong torah jews of any persuasive force)

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  49. >>>you have to justify why you believe that they are more likely to be correct than the Rishonim

    Since when in halacha/hashkafa does one have to justify relying on Achronim who saw the same Rishonim you did and did not find the evidence compelling enough to read the gemara that way?

    Let's say you thought you had a great ra'aya from Rishonim to a din in hilchos Shabbos but the GR"A, R' Akiva Eiger, and the Mishne Berura, who also knew those same Rishonim, pasken against you. Someone who relies on those Achronim doesn't need to prove anything! So you have a kashe from a Rishonim -- even if the kashe is a great kashe, is it enough to uproot the established din? You need pretty big halachic shoulders to start saying stuff like that.

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  50. Okay, you're right. If you want to rely on the Gra school, fine. But you can't question why others rely on the Rishonim and other Acharonim - we not only have great authorities to rely on, we also have textual and contextual reason from the Gemara to believe that they were actually correct.

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  51. As I wrote on rationaljudaism, this discussion is based on a false premise, that There can be only three possible solutions:

    It is not true that there can be only 3 solutions.

    Solution 4: Accept the contradiction as a challenging puzzle and conclude that either we don't understand Chazal or we don't understand the science well enough, and hope that Eliyahu will come soon and resolve this and all of our other questions.

    Solution 5: Accept the contradiction as legitimate and conclude that we have an error in transmission of that Chazal.

    No need to sacrifice of intellectual honesty. No need to deny science. But also no need to add fuel to the fire of delegitimizing our very precious and very fragile mesorah.

    If Chazal told us that they weren't sure about all the details of physics or nature, that doesn't bother me (I'm thinking of the Gamara that discusses the path of the sun behind the earth). But if the tenor of our discussions decrease kavod ha-chachamim, then we are in trouble.

    We were all trained to say, "I don't understand Rashi" rather than, "I disagree with Rashi."

    In these discussions of Torah and science, is anything lost by pointing out a stira between science and a maamer chazal with those humble words, "I don't understand this Gamara"?

    To do so doesn't sacrifice one iota of critical thinking - nor does it sacrifice kavod.

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