Tuesday, June 04, 2013

halachic proof vs. archeological proof

I have not investigated the issue of techeiles enough to even begin to have a thought on the matter, but I want to just call attention to what I think is an interesting methodological point R’ Asher Weiss makes in discussing the topic.  From the response, it appears that the person writing to R’ Weiss made the argument that the vast numbers of purpura/murex shells found in Eretz Yisrael proves that this species was used to make techeiles.  Rav Weiss responds that he recognizes that this type of argument/evidence carries weight in various fields, particularly archeology, where the goal is to construct a theory that best explains the available facts.  However, a theory, no matter how plausible, is not proof.  Whatever explanation is offered for the evidence remains just one of many possible explanations, some more likely than others, but none of which can be said with certainty to be true.  Halacha demands proof – not just a logical or plausible theory. 

Sorry if this cut and paste of an image of the relevant part is a bit sloppy:



  1. Isn't this the same point the Beis haLeivi made in response to the Radziner argument?

    The Radziner Rebbe records his objection as being one of lo nir'eh, ra'ayah. If the dye was really from the cuttlefish, since cuttlefish are common in numerous parts of the world, the dye would never have been lost.

    The Brisker tradition is significantly different. Eg. R' Herschel Schachter describes how the Rav understood it in Nefesh haRav pg 93, as part of a general discussion of archeology and mesorah. I expain that section in English on Avodah vol 5 num 73.

    RYBS discusses 5 examples:
    1- the big vav of gachon is not in practice the middle letter; what does that say about the mesoretic text?
    2- whether orez is rice
    3- techeiles
    4- relying on someone who heard R' Yehudah haNavi to determine the meaning of words rather than a professional linguist.

    I think the Brisker position is that halakhah is a legal process, not a truth-seeking one. Archeology lacks the authority to establish or re-establish law, even if it's correct.

    The problem I have with this line of reasoning is that in the other cases, there is established halakhah, which someone is making an argument against. Here, there is silence, no position with greater legal weight. And so finding out what was done last time there was established halakhah would seem relevant even from an authority point of view.

  2. Not the same. The Briskers (RYBS quotes this BhL in Shiurim l'Zecher Aba Mari) distinguish between halachos that require mesorah vs. halachos that can be determined via other proofs.
    R' Asher Weiss is saying simply that archeological proof is not proof; it is a good guess based on available evidence, but halacha requires more than that.

  3. In contrast to SlZAM, RHS apparently makes it a general rule -- halakhah isn't established scietificially. You didn't give me an exact enough citation to look at the SlZAB myself, so I can't say whether there is room for him to understand it differently than you did.

  4. I don't have it with me, but I think there is a piece entitled two types of mesorah, or something similar (the word mesorah is definitely in the title). You will find it at the beginning of that piece.
    RHS's point may nonetheless be true. There is a thin Kuntres of Toras Brisk on Moadim (or some similar title) where they bring similar proof from the gemara Gittin's derashos from pesukim to prove the location of Bavel. Why not look at a map? Because of this idea of mesorah.
    Not all of these proofs are equally convincing (maybe they would have used a map, but if the same information is available from Tanach, then why not give that preference? Maybe they could have consulted a dictionary, but dictionaries do not cover every dialect and nuance -- Rebbi's maidservent had insider information. etc.) Also, as I understood it, the BhL's point is that there are certain specific halachos which are categorically dependent on mesorah -- not that all knowledge other than mesorah is suspect. Why should that be so? (A question a brisker admittedly might not ask, but which begs investigation.) The Yerushalmi asks what the machlokes whether rice becomes chametz is all about -- why not just do a test? If knowledge outside that of mesorah is worthless, the question doesn't get off the ground.
    I don't understand what you quote in the name of R'MS about counting being a "clever trick" but not Torah, but it helps answer up a Sha'agas Aryeh. S.A. is mechadesh that the mitzvah of kesivas sefer Torah does not apply because we are not beki'im in chaseiros v'yeseiros. Aruch haShulchan writes that we do know the correct text, as we pasken based on rov sifrei Torah what the correct text is. Maybe the answer is that knowledge based on rov is not enough when a mesorah is required. (Here too, the problem is that the Yerushalmi writes that they found varient texts in Toros in the Mikdash and used rov to determine the correct nusach.)

  5. Problem is that the issue here is not how one identifies a halacha, but how one identifies a metsius.

    Those who oppose murex as techeiles have no other candidate, so it's not as if there's a tug of war between the scientific view and the Rabbinnic view.

    Aside from that, Rav Asher understates -- and apparently does not realize -- just how compelling the evidence is. For instance, it's not just a "theory" backed by nothing more than a pile of shells, but a fact that is demonstrable and cross-verified across multiple disciplines, including historical accounts written at the time when the dye-making was being done.

    Even after reading Rav Asher's three teshuvos and listening to his two shiurim on the topic, one would not know any of the above.

    I am considering writing a detailed response.