DarkBlueHat

My thoughts on the Slifkin ban.

Sunday, July 24, 2005

Torah disproven by Rav Feldman

Rav Feldman's article has a wealth of information in it and whether you approve of the ban or not, it is worth rereading his letter again and again. Among the interesting things that you find is that according to Rav Feldman's understanding of the Leshem, the Torah has been conclusively disproven.

Look at the following two quotes from the letter, the first from pages 6-7 and the second from pages 7-8.
Leshem Shevo Ve-achlama writes:
The main thing is: everyone who is called a Jew is obligated to believe with complete faith that everything found in the words of the Sages whether in halachos or agados of the Talmud or in the Midrashim, are all the words of the Living God, for everything which they said is with the spirit of God which spoke within them, and “the secret of God is given to those who fear Him (סוד ה' ליראיו).” This is just as we find in Sanhedrin 48b that even regarding something which has no application to Halacha and practical behavior, the Talmud asks regarding [the Sage] Rav Nachman, “How did he know this?” and the reply given is [that he knew this because] “The secret from God is given to those who fear him….”


...As the Leshem cited above says, if even regarding matters which are not related to halacha, the Sages say, sod Hashem liyerav, “G-d reveals the secrets of nature to those who fear him,” then certainly there must have been siyata dishmaya (Divine assistance) and even ruach hakodesh (a Divine spirit) assisting the Sages in their redaction of the Oral Law. It is therefore inconceivable, to these opinions, that G-d would have permitted falsities to have been transmitted as Torah She-be-al-peh and not have revealed His secrets to those who fear Him.

In other words, if Torah is in fact true, it would be inconceivable to say that Chazal made scientific errors under any circumstances, especially in areas which have halakhic ramifications. After all - “the secret of God is given to those who fear Him (סוד ה' ליראיו)” - could it be that secular, atheistic and even idolatrous scientists could have information that Chazal HaKadosh didn't? The very notion is absurd. And since we know the Torah to be true, we know that Chazal could not have made scientific errors, especially when there are Halakhic ramifications, and even more so when those who didn't fear Hashem weren't making those errors. The inverse though is also true. If we could show that Chazal did make scientific errors, it would prove that the entire Torah is not true according to Rav Feldman's explanation of Leshem.

This may strike some of you as a tremendous chiddush, and in fact it is. It is not without some precedent though. The Gemara in Peshachim 94B relates the dispute between the Chachmei Yisroel and Chachmei Umos HaOlam. The former said the sun travels beneath the sky by day and above the sky by night. In other words, the sky is a giant curtain which the blocks the sunlight from reaching us during the sun's return trip above the earth at night. The latter held the sun travels beneath the sky at day and below the earth at night. Rebbe said that their view is preferable to ours, because the wells are cold by day but warm at night. In other words, when the sun goes beneath the earth at night, the heat from the sun rises and warms the wells better than it does during the day time.

Most Rishonim understand from this Gemara that Rebbe agreed that the wise men of the Nations of the World were correct. The Gilyon HaShas on the side of the Gemara though brings down a Shitah Mechubetzit in Kesubos that quotes Rabbeinu Tam as saying that the Chachmei Umos HaOlam may have had better arguments than the Chachmei Yisroel, but in fact the latter were correct for we say in davening “UBokeah Chalonei Rakiah”. He seems to be saying that it is inconceivable that our Tefillos would praise Hashem based on a false understanding of the heavens, and therefore Chazal must have had “the secret of God", even if they couldn't win the debate. This may be the precedent that Leshem is relying on. Now some may complain that even Rabbeinu Tam is just one shitah, and many other Rishonim held that Chazal could make astronomical errors. The fact remains though that the Gedolim don't pasken like them, but they do pasken like the Leshem.

It follows then that according to Torah the sky is a heavenly curtain which the sun hides behind in its return trip. If in theory this fact would ever be scientificly disproven, it would mean Torah has been disproven. (This also has practical scientific relevance. We should tell NASA to make sure not to crash any space shuttles into the heavenly curtain. Think of the tremendous Kiddush Hashem when they listen to us and save the lives of the astronauts.)

For those of you agree with modern scientific understanding of these matters, there are several things which make this Gemara interesting. The first is that both sides of the debate were wrong, as they have the sun going around the earth. The theory of the earth going around the sun had actually been proposed long before this debate took place. It was first proposed by Philolaus the Croton in the 5th century BCE, supported by Heracleides of Pontus in the next century, and the finishing touches were added by Aristarchus – the man who first measured the distance from the Earth to the Sun – and who was born in 310 BCE. Thus the real truth had already been revealed long ago - and had been rejected as being absurd. Neither Chazal nor their opponents had the level of insight of some of those who lived long before them.

What is also interesting is the reason given by Rebbe for why the Chachmei Umos HaOlam are correct is itself mistaken. The heat from the Sun at night does not penetrate all the way to the surface at the other side to warm the water in wells. There is however a much better proof that the sun goes beneath the earth at night, which relies on a key insight by Anaxagoras that was subsequently used by Aristarchus to measure the distance to the sun. This key insight is that the moon is not a source of light and merely reflects the light of the sun. When we see the moon at night, it is only because it is reflecting the light from the sun which is beneath the earth. From the fact that is argument was not given, it seems from this Gemara at least that Chazal were not aware of that basic fact.

According to the current science then, not only were both Chazal and their opponents wrong – with Chazal being even more wrong, but Chazal even conceded defeat for the wrong reason. If the Torah is true though, it would be inconceivable for Chazal to have been so mistaken in so many different ways, especially when others who didn't have their level of Yiras Shomayim did have the truth, and when this misunderstanding even led to a mistake in davening! (Whether you consider the Tefillos written by Chazal to technically be Torah She-be-al-peh or not, this would still be a major problem according to Leshem.) According to Rav Feldman's interpretation of Leshem then, there is only one conclusion – The Torah is false.

Now there are other ways of viewing things, and I plan to post on them. In some ways though my attacks are a bit unfair, for it is quite obvious that Rav Feldman himself doesn't believe everything he wrote. I have several explanations for what really he is up to, and according to at least one of them he wants us all to point out the many flaws in his arguments. In no way are the many points I raise an attack on him. I'm merely showing what is inherent in the article that he wrote, as he no doubt knew that the many blogspots would.

Now some of you are no doubt thinking that even if I accept Rav Feldman's explanation of Leshem, I haven't disproven Torah. After all, who says you can accept the evidence of your senses? Maybe the sun does return above the sky every night? That is actually the most important point Rav Feldman touches upon in his article, and I have several major posts planned on that topic. Another argument is Nishtanu HaTeva. Maybe the sun used to travel around the earth and retrun back above the sky at night, but then things changed and now the earth revolves around the sun (due to environmental and nutritional differences, etc). In fact, maybe the Church was right to condemn Galileo, for at the time in which he published the sun was still going around the earth. If that is so then, how were others able to see the truth and know it was the earth that moved? You must say that they made a mistake, and then nature changed to completely conform to their misunderstanding. If that is so, they must have had a tremendous Zechus. This far outweighs any regular Tzadik Gozer V'Hakadosh Baruch Hu Mikayim. Hashem permanently changed the working of the cosmos to follow their predictions. That is far more impressive than Yehoshua merely stopping the sun for a few hours, and certainly more impressive than any miracles Chazal had ever done, for how many of them are still working and can be seen by us?

It seems that in defending a single psak by certain Gedolim, Rav Feldman has provided powerful evidence for those who want to prove that the entire Torah is not true. This may strike some of you as a bit counterproductive, so of like removing beams from the foundation of a building so that they can used to protect the top floor from nasty seagulls. Surely Rav Feldman has his reasons for doing so, but you can understand if many are deeply puzzled by it.

Once we are discussing the the earth going around the earth, it is worth revisiting another line in Rav Feldman's article. the source of all the knowledge of the Sages is either from Sinaitic tradition (received at the Giving of the Torah) or from Divine inspiration. That they were in contact with such sources in undeniable. How else could we explain numerous examples where the Sages had scientific information which no scientist of their time had? How were they so precise in their calculations of the New Moon? I already pointed out how this statement greatly insults both the Rambam and Chazal. There is however yet another problem with the statement, for it accuses Hashem of Bittul Torah. Anyone who studied Hilchos Kiddush HaChodesh is struck by how difficult the calculations are. There are actually though two things which can greatly simplify the calculations. If you know that the earth revolves around the sun, and does so in an elliptical motion, you can get better measurements with much less work. Time spent crunching numbers and balancing equations is time that could be spent learning other areas of Torah. If Hashem revealed the secret of how to calculate the new moon, why didn't he teach us the simpler and more accurate method, so that more Chachomim could have understood it with much less work? Why teach a method based on a false view of the universe, when doing so requires much more work than the correct one. According to the Rambam who said Chazal got the information from the Greeks, it is not a problem. According to Rav Feldman though, does Hashem want us to sweat our way through tedious math even when simpler methods are available? If so, this leads to many interesting conclusions with great relevance for those going to college and to those who use calculators and advanced math when dealing with Torah issues. The full scope of that discussion is beyond me, so we may have to hope Rav Feldman presents us with a follow-up on that topic.

17 Comments:

At 8:20 PM, Anonymous daat y said...

you meant in your last paragraph,I think,the earth going around the sun.

 
At 11:28 PM, Anonymous Ploni Almoni said...

"If we could show that Chazal did make scientific errors, it would prove that the entire Torah is not true according to Rav Feldman's explanation of Leshem."
Not necessarily. It is possible to say although the Leshem thinks it unplausable, what those of us who believe that Chazal were mistaken in science would say. Some things Hashem revealed to the Chachomim as part of sod Hashem liyerav. Other things he chose not to reveal for reasons known only to him. We are not in a position to understand & predict Hashem's way of thinking.

 
At 12:27 AM, Blogger DarkBlueHat said...

While that may be a nice explanation, I don't see how it would fit into the words of the Leshem, let alone Rav Feldman's explanation of it.

Leshem Shevo Ve-achlama writes:
The main thing is: everyone who is called a Jew is obligated to believe with complete faith that
Everything found in the words of the Sages whether in halachos or agados of the Talmud or in the Midrashim, are All the words of the Living God, for Everything which they said is with the spirit of God which spoke within them, and “the secret of God is given to those who fear Him (סוד ה' ליראיו).”

Rav Feldman therefore said it is not merely implausible but Inconceivable to say that Chazal transmitted scientific falsehoods within Torah She-be-al-peh.

Now that is admittedly a Daas Yachid – or at least it was until nearly two dozen Gedolim not only paskened that way but said the alternatives are all kefirah, which is what happened according to Rav Feldman. According to such a position you can believe in Torah, or you can believe the earth moves around the sun. You can't believe both, for that is Inconceivable! Unless that word doesn't mean what we think it means...

Now this only disproves Torah if you accept Rav Feldman's argument. Since he himself doesn't believe it though, it would really be Lifnim Meshuras HaDin to abandon Torah because of it. This may be what the Shlomo HaMelech meant by "Al Tihi Tzaddik Harbei.."

 
At 6:04 AM, Blogger bluke said...

I discussed this point extensively as well on my blog.

I can tell you right away what the answer will be from R' Feldman and his ilk, Chazal were talking metaphorically, they were not really describing the movements of the physical sun etc. That is their only way out, even R' Feldman understands that to say nishtane hateva on this is completely untenable and would be laughed at.

Here is a great quote from R' Arye Kaplan ( R' Aryeh Kaplan on Science and Torah) about space travel:

I remember back in Torah V’Daas many, many years ago, we were discussing sending a rocket to the moon. This was long before Sputnik. And I asked one of the people there (I won’t mention his name), “What do you think about sending a rocket to the moon?” He said that it is impossible al pi Torah. It is impossible to send anything out of the Earth’s atmosphere, because above the atmosphere is the yesod ha-aish (the elemental fire), and anything that goes through that would be burned. They showed me seforim that said that. Obviously, we know that this was not the correct hashkafah. But once you paint yourself into an intellectual corner, it is very hard to get out. As Torah Jews, we cannot afford to paint ourselves into an intellectual corner, from which we will not be able to extricate ourselves.

 
At 9:06 AM, Blogger DarkBlueHat said...

Bluke - Rav Feldman would love to give that answer, especially since he wrote an excellent book which takes that approach. Unfortunately, it won't work here, for how can you explain Rabbeinu Tam rejecting Rabbe's concession and saying in point of fact the sun goes above the sky? Such answers can create far more problems than they solve.

 
At 9:50 AM, Blogger bluke said...

I know that that answer doesn't work, it is ridiculous. What were they arguing with non-Jews about? In addition, all the Rishonim who discuss when tzeis hakochavim is (l'halacha) talk about the sun going out the window.

 
At 10:48 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

In answer to them arguing with non-Jews about deep metaphysics, maybe the whole discussion is a metaphor? What I find most damning is the last paragraph. They do their mathematical calculations based on the sun moving around the earth. It is so complicated that many Rishonim couldn't follow it. Why give a false tedious method to calculate the new moon at Sinai when a much simpler one was available? Why waste time, hurt learning and corrupt the Mesorah by introducing extraoridinarily difficult math based on false physics when there was a much easier way? It defies common sense.

 
At 4:25 PM, Blogger Rebeljew said...

bluke and dbh

"I can tell you right away what the answer will be from R' Feldman and his ilk, Chazal were talking metaphorically, they were not really describing the movements of the physical sun etc."

This answer, the mysticizing of physical facts, is more absurd than the rest. Look at the Ramban in Aharei Mos 19:18. So many try to write the silliness out of this by mysticizing it, but the Ramban uses terms implying that you can see that it is so. Perhaps, being a great mystic, he can see it but we can not. Teh same is true of his defense of Arab fortunetellers, tiarin. He says we cannot deny WHAT WE SEE WITH OUR EYES!

 
At 11:20 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

gadol hador has a link to a letter criticizing Rabbi Feldman's letter

 
At 10:43 PM, Blogger DarkBlueHat said...

I didn't care for that last letter. It had a few good points and several bad ones. If I had to respond to a letter on Rabbi Feldman's behalf, that's the one I would choose. GH didn't seem to be too fond of it either.

 
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