Tuesday, December 01, 2009

einei ha'eidah

In The Age of Wonder: How the Romantic Generation Discovered the Beauty and Terror of Science by Richard Holmes, the author discusses the discovery of Uranus by William Herschel, a musician turned astronomer whose theories and observations rekindled an interest in the field of astronomy and helped change the way we look at the universe. Herschel's discovery was made possible because he was able to construct telescopes that were far greater in power than anything his peers were using, but having the right tools does not tell the whole story. Holmes writes (p. 116):
The more he was challenged by professional astronomers, the more Herschel became conscious of his 'art of seeing', and how it needed explaining afresh. 'The eye is one of the most extraordinary Organs,' he repeatedly told his correspondants. Classical physiology was wrong. Visual images did not simply fall upon the optic nerve, in the same sense that they fell upon a speculum mirror. The eye constantly interpreted what it saw... The astronomer had to learn to see...
Holmes suggests that Herschel's training as a musician aided his ability to observe the night sky. Like sight reading a score, Herschel could grasp patterns in the sky without needing to observe each star individually. "Or more subtly, the brain that was trained to recognise the highly complex counterpoints and harmonies of Bach and Handel could instinctively [italics mine] recognise analogous star patternings." (p. 115)

It occurred to me that perhaps we refer to Chazal as the "einei ha'eidah," the eyes of the people, because their power of vision is characterized by these same two aspects of "seeing" that Holmes describes. Firstly, seeing is not instinctive, but is a learned behavior, a skill, and a highly trained observer who has worked on developing his vision can perceive far more than the average person. Dismissing the words of a talmid chacham by saying, "I don't see his point," just highlights the paucity of our own vision in comparison to what the talmid chachaim does see. Secondly, our talmidei chachamim and einei ha'eidah have an instinctive grasp of reality that we may not share. To attempt to reduce what can be grasped instinctively and instantly into a series of steps that someone else can follow and duplicate is not always possible.

P.S. The book is pretty interesting (so far), whether you are looking for a history of science during the Romantic age or just a good read.


  1. Daas Yochid6:39 PM

    Interestingly, Thomas Kuhn points out that Uranus was seen on at least 17 different occasions between 1690 and 1781 by a number of astronomers. Kuhn's question is, whether they saw a star or a planet, and how belief affects observation.

  2. Based on the Gemorah in Bubba Bastra that says on 4a "Some report that Baba b. Buta answered him thus: As you have blinded the eye of the world, [for so the Rabbis are called] as it is written, if it be done unwittingly by the eyes of the congregation, go now and attend to the eye of the world, [which is the Temple] as it is written, I will profane my sanctuary, the pride of your power, the delight of your eyes."

    Doesn;t it seem like that the idea of eyes has more to do with a spiritual connection? Just like the bais hamikdash gave us a spiritual connection to G-D, so too the Rabbis gave us a spiritual connection to G-D. However, this idea of accepting his ideas even if they don;t seem logical doesn;t appear to have anything to do with it. I mean, did the bais hamikdash make any rulings?

    Also, it is funny that you should mention this. I forgot exactly where this comes from, but I remember learning in class that we usually do not poskin like Rav Meir when there is an argument against him because he had a unique way of thinking and the other sages did not understand his points. When I go on break I will look it up, or when I get a chance I will call my Rebbe.

    I was wondering if you got my e-mail. I am actually curious if you asked your brother in law about what he thinks on the whole age of the universe question. Has he changed his mind since that post that I linked you to or not?

    Anyway, it is a nice idea that you say, I am just not sure it is true.

  3. D.Y. -- Holmes does mention that technically Herschel was not the first to observe Uranus, but apparently he was the first to realize that it was a planet, and certainly the first to get attention for his observation.

    I do not know my BIL's views.

  4. I realize you are not the same person. That is why I asked you to ask him about his views. If you don;t want to that is fine. I was just wondering if you could and let me know what he says. I am curious and I am sure you have better access to him than I.

  5. you reminded me of an essay I used to cover in comp. classes. It was an account of how the narrator was trained to observe in a scientific manner. You can read it online at http://philosophy.lander.edu/intro/introbook2.1/x426.html
    The box with the quote only gives half the equation there. I remember it as "Facts are stupid things until brought in connection with some general law." The text has the quote in full, but the box only half.

  6. e man, you have it backwards with R Meir. We don't usually pasken like him, because even though we know he was brilliant, we don't understand his novel way of thinking.

    Chaim, you might enjoy Malcolm Gladwell's book "Blink." I found it fascinating, and have used it to explain numerous rishonim and achronim, most recently the Nesivos that says that the reason an eid echad is not trusted is because people misinterpret or misapprehend what they are seeing, so you need two to simply know what happened. Not that an eid echad might be lying, but because he might not have correctly processed what he saw.

  7. I've read Gladwell, and since you bring it up, did you see Steven Pinker's review of Gladwell's latest book in the NY Times? I don't know how else to put it other than to say Pinker just destroys him.
    (BTW, I've read one of Pinker's books and he is brilliant, but reading him takes more zitsfleish and machshava than Gladwell.)

  8. Barzilai, that was the point I was trying to make. Since we do not understand his thinking therefore we can not poskin like him.

  9. E man, sorry. I misread what you wrote.

  10. It's ok Barzilai. If you remember where this idea about Rav Meir is from I would greatly appreciate it. Also, this idea does seem to contradict the whole idea of accepting something even if it makes no sense. Unless of course it is something written straight out in the Torah. However, when a Rabbi says something it seems like we don't hold like him unless we can understand what he is saying.

  11. Eiruvin 13b.

    You should know that I overcame a big yetzer hara by telling you the mareh makom. I usually tell people that I don't know, or I make them beg.

    I am fully aware of what a abysmal failure I am at being a decent human being, and it grieves me endlessly. But so it goes.

  12. >>>However, when a Rabbi says something it seems like we don't hold like him unless we can understand what he is saying.

    That criteria applies to fellow talmidei chachamim who are bar hachi to understand in the first place. Imagine someone like me saying I don't hold like a chiddush of R' Chaim Brisker because I don't understand it -- that would be a joke.

    For a hesber of the gemara re: R' Meir see Doveir Tzedek of R' Tzadok haKohen, #7. Remember that Rebbi said that he was sharper than others because he saw the back of R' Meir in shiur (seeing the back = remember the pasuk "v'ra'isa es achorei...") and stam Mishna all over shas is R' Meir. So things are not so simple - ayen sham in R' Tzadok.

  13. Anonymous6:14 PM

    Thank you, R Chaim. I looked up the R Tzadok at hebrewbooks.org/pdfpager.aspx?sits=1&req=9619&st=%u05e2%u05d9%u05e8%u05d5%u05d1%u05d9%u05df+%u05d9%u05d2, and am no smarter now than I was five minutes ago.

  14. ignorance is temporary, but . . .

  15. Barzilai, thanks and you are a good person in my book.

  16. Anon- How did you read it, number 7 is not on the pages that are available on hebrew books.

  17. Anonymous11:02 PM

    It's on page 7, beginning at the bottom half of the first column.

  18. Chaim said
    "That criteria applies to fellow talmidei chachamim who are bar hachi to understand in the first place. Imagine someone like me saying I don't hold like a chiddush of R' Chaim Brisker because I don't understand it -- that would be a joke."

    Well can't you say you like someone elses explanation of the Gemorah better because the other explanation makes more sense to you? I don't think that would be a joke.

    Also, at what point do you reach a level when you can come up with your own chiddushim? Do you have to know all of Shas by heart? Half? Shas and Yerushalmi?

  19. You do realize that R' Chaim argued with Rishonim's pshatim all the time. In fact most of his explanations were completely innovative and had never even existed before. Why was he allowed to do that. Was he on the same level of Rishonim? I am just unsure of what your criteria is.

  20. >>>You do realize that R' Chaim argued with Rishonim's pshatim all the time.

    You do not understand the R' Chaims you are learning if you think that. R' Chaim is being masbir the Rambam and other Rishonim, not building castles in the air.

    >>>Well can't you say you like someone elses explanation of the Gemorah better because the other explanation makes more sense to you?

    Because if you are stupid then what makes sense to you will be stupidity, not toras emes.

  21. Talmid9:38 AM

    R. Moshe Feinstein frequently argued with earlier Acharonim and even Rishonim. In one of his teshuvos, he discusses this.

    There's no reason to think that an Acharon/ Rishon must be right and you must be wrong. It's like saying that Barak Obama must be correct in his policies because he is much more intelligent and knowledgeable about politics than you.

  22. Talmid,
    Frequently? I beg to differ. You are generalizing from the exceptions and ignoring the rule. Im Rishonim k'malachim, etc. But more to the point, unless you are a gaon atzum (like R' Moshe) there is nothing to even talk about. If I say a sevara against Tosfos, it means I don't understand Tosfos.

  23. No R Chaim argues sometimes. Also, his explanations of rishonim are often much different than his predecessors.

  24. Also, take a look at the Maharal's hakdama to tiferes yisroel where he talks about the challenge of learning, but how everyone can do it with siyata dishmaya.

  25. I wonder what pieces in R' Chaim you are thinking of that argue on Rishonim, but anyway, to return to the same point yet again: you are not R' Chaim.

    Everyone can theoretically become a gadol b'yisrael with siyata d'shemaya. L'ma'aseh, it doesn't happen. Halevay it should. If only the people who thought of themselves as R' Chaim were 1/100th of he was...

  26. Who decides who is a Gadol Biyisrael? The masses? But how do they have the authority. What if the masses accept a shabtai tzvi type of personality, is he a gadol biyisrael? I would like to know the criteria for a gadol biyisrael.

  27. There's a machlokes in I think Mamrim about why Amora'im do not argue with Tannaim. What's the bright line cutoff about? Either because there was something we accepted as Chasimas Hamishnah, or because they realized they couldn't argue because they weren't as smart-- rishonim kemalachim. I remember the Chazon Ish holds the second way, I think the Magid Mishnah holds the first way. Could also be a machlokes Rambam and Raavad. Whatever. In any case, the same ideas could apply here. It's not as if there was a convocation to canonize the Mishnah, it was a recognition of a de facto circumstance.

  28. Sorry, there is no test for admission where if you pass you become a gadol. Your life would be easier if instead of playing "What if..." you dealt with reality. Isn't it amazing that with hundreds of yeshivos spread across the US and Eretz Yisrael and thousands of bnei Torah and talmidei chachamim who are smart and capable scholars in their own right, there is still a small group who stand out from the pack and who all these people turn to for direction and advice on the really hard issues? This small handful weren't elected, never were given a formal test, yet have managed to glean the respect and admiration of colleagues and peers from across the spectrum of orthodoxy. Even those who take issue with their views still treat their opinions with deference and respect. You don't think there's a reason why these people have the weight of the world on the shoulders and are trusted by so many?

  29. Well, there are different reasons for each Gadol being well known. Most people that ask Shailos have no idea how really capable these Gedolim are. Most are famous because they became Roshei Yeshiva. There might be many other Rabbis out there just as smart or even smarter, but they chose not to publicize themselves. I think you put too much stock in people because they are famous. Just because they are famous does not mean they are the smartest.

    Rav Moshe Feinstein was famous because of his books and role as a Rosh Yeshiva. However, what about all the people that are not Roshei Yeshivas or do not write books, does that make them less knowledgeable?

    Here is a good example. The Gra thought the Chassidim were Rashayim Gamurim, but you consider them Gedolim. Why? Because they are famous and shared a lot of ideas that they thought was Torah, but the Gra thought was Kefira? The Chassidim had a massive effect on thousands of Jews, but the Gra thought it was all kefira.

    Also, Shabtai Tzvi was adorned by thousands and was asked questions from all over the world. However, in the end of the day he was a complete apikorus. Fame and people asking Shailos has nothing to do with gadlus in Torah.

    Another idea, Chassidim follow the children of their Rebbe. That Rebbe becomes the leader of so many chassidim, but was he the brightest and best of all of the Chassidim? Maybe and maybe not, but he became the leader and the Gadol of his chassidus.

    All of these examples are not meant to downgrade anyone. They are meant to prove the point that fame and acknowledgment from the masses means very little.

    My overall point is this, an idea in lamdus or learning in general should not be accepted based on the person saying it, it should be accepted based on its own merits. Meaning, how logical it is and if it fits well with the gemorah, mishna or whatever is being explained.

    To bring back up Rav Meir, he learned Torah from Acher. Why? Because the Torah he said was true and he didn't care who said it, but what was said. This is an extreme example, but I think it drives home the point that Torah should be accepted based on the ideas and not the people who say it.

  30. Of course ideas are accepted based on their merit, but a stupid person who does not see the merit of what brilliant people agree is true only reinforces the impression of his own stupidity.

    If you give up the agenda of disregarding all Torah authority as suspect and accept the possibility of others being wiser than onself and therefore deserving of respect and deference, then this idea is really simple. You sadly seem to have a block on accepting these ideas, so I give up.

  31. What are you talking about? I never said anything about rejecting the ideas of Rabbanim. I am questioning your post that says we must listen even when their ideas make no sense. What I am trying to say is that if you have a Rav that is not considered one of the "GedolimL that should not detract from his ability to argue with their ideas. One can follow his own Rebbeim and not worry what the "gedolim" saym

    This idea is not my own but Rav Schechter from YU has said this to me and I have heard him say it several times in speeches.

    I do not know why you have to make snide remarks to me. What am I not listening to? What stupidity are you referring to?

  32. Talmid1:07 AM

    If I say a sevara against Tosfos, it means I don't understand Tosfos.

    The Rishonim were more intelligent than people today? And Chazal were more intelligent than them?

    Were goyim also more intelligent back then?

    And does this mean that our descendents will be less intelligent? Will they end up as monkeys?

  33. You can take it as angels to people as people to donkeys; it is your choice. (Actually, people started resembling monkeys a while back, according to Midrash, though we do not progressively devolve into another species.)
    Yes, we do believe that those who came before us were greater-- it's not a question of just IQ but real sichliyus.