Monday, August 22, 2016

Chasam Sofer takes on Copernicus

An interesting tidbit in the Chasam Sofer on last week's parsha here.  He heard that there is a chacham in the umos ha'olam called Copernicus who came up with the idea that the earth revolves around the sun rather than it being the other way around.  Chasam Sofer presents the logic as follows: it is unreasonable for the great, powerful sun to serve in orbit around puny earth. 

The Chasam Sofer being the Chasam Sofer engages in a little pilpul: if you shoot an arrow straight up and the earth is moving, then shouldn't the arrow land in a different spot than the point from which you shot it?  The tietutz obviously is that not only is the earth moving, but its atmosphere, including the arrow, moves along with it.  Everything moves together, so the arrow comes back to the same spot.

Chasam Sofer goes on to say that the assumption of Copernicus makes sense only if you are one of the umos ha'olam.  L'shitaseinu, the earth's diminutive size relative to the sun doesn't matter -- earth is the tachlis ha'bri'ah, the telos of all creation.  The whole universe exists only for us.  Therefore, it's not so strange that we should be at the center of it all, the point around which all else revolves.

He weaves this into derush in the pasuk and a pshat in a gemara in Baba Basra that you can take a look at.  What I find interesting is that the C.S. lived long after Copernicus, and even long after Galileo.  I wonder why he refers only to Copernicus and not Galileo?  Could he have never heard of the latter, or maybe he saw Copernicus as the father of heliocentrism and therefore credits him?  In either case, did the Chasam Sofer really think the earth was the center of the universe?

3 comments:

  1. שו"ת חתם סופר חלק ה - השמטות סימן קצא
    regarding sanhedrin he writes כיון דלפי טבע האנושי יכולים לטעות
    (from http://www.rationalistjudaism.com/2011/06/unorthodoxy-of-chasam-sofer.html )
    also see Chasam Sofer to Niddah 18a (from http://www.rationalistjudaism.com/2011/08/but-rashi-had-ruach-hakodesh.html )

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    1. My issue is not whether it is possible to err. My question is whether the C.S. was simply unaware of scientific facts that were known for a long time already, or whether he was aware of Galileo and the facts and simply chose to reject them (like the Church).

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  2. The way I see it, it all depends on perspective. Let's say there were only two planets, sun and earth, would we know which one is revolving around which? Or let's say we'd find out that there are way more than 8 (or 9 if you include Pluto) planets, and we'd find another axis that everything including the sun are revolving around, would you still say the earth definitely revolves around the sun? Modern science, post Copernicus, believes that sun is the axis only because we're standing on the sun and looking at the 8 known planets. I think the Chasam Sofer's point is, why are you standing on the sun? You should be standing on the earth, the main planet. From the earth's perspective, the sun is revolving around it, not the other way around. The Lubavitcher Rebbe was famous for his insistence that the sun revolved around the earth. See http://www.chabad.org/therebbe/letters/default_cdo/aid/2046989/jewish/Does-the-Sun-Really-Revolve-Around-the-Earth.htm.

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