Volume 13 Number 21
                       Produced: Sat May 21 23:49:20 1994

Subjects Discussed In This Issue: 

Is Academic Research Legitimate
         [Daniel Friedman]
Is Academic Research Legitimate?
         [Joel Goldberg]
Legitimacy of Academic Research in Halacha
         [Hayim Hendeles]
Life Imprisonment
         [Jeffrey Secunda]


From: <TXDANIEL@...> (Daniel Friedman)
Date: 19 May 94 11:00:53 EDT
Subject: Is Academic Research Legitimate

Hayim Hendeles raised some important questions, so maybe I am
oversimplifying matters with my response. Basically, I have three points
to make, hopefully, the sum of which will be found satisfactory.

First, I'd like to point out that it is my belief that Rebbeyim are
technically not paid for teaching torah. As I understand it, they are
paid for their time spent with administrative matters for the yeshivos,
and for baby-sitting. This does not directly address your question, but
it shows the attitude that Judaism has regarding torah, being that it
should be taught le'shaim shamaim (for altruistic reasons).

Secondly, your question could be raised regarding any research. In that
case, how does the world accept any secular research. Of course the
answer is that it is subject to the scrutiny of peers and lay people
(remember cold fusion?). This alone tends to weed out the phoneys.

Finally, we all must hope that the people doing the research are doing
it for the right reasons: le'hagdil torah, u'lehaadirah. There must
always be a certain amount of trust placed in these people, and if
religion can't have a degree of faith, then who can?

From: <goldberg@...> (Joel Goldberg)
Date: Tue, 17 May 1994 04:07:05 -0400
Subject: Is Academic Research Legitimate?

The question that Hayim Hendeles raises about the Halachic acceptability
of paid witnesses, applied to salaried research workers, has to me many
aspects. My own background is physics, where the question of "cold
fusion" arose some years ago. In short, whether or not the original
research was fraudulent or sloppy mattered not to the final outcome. The
research world took up the problem and the feasability of cold fusion
was determined thusly. Moreover, it would not even require any original
claim.  It would be sufficient for a theorist to publish speculation.
The point is that science-as-institution examines claims, so that the
"paid witness" objection requires conspiracy between researchers on a
global scale.

Hayim's question actually hints at what to me seems a much more
important issue, and one that has been raised in application, but not as
theory, in Mail Jewish before. Haim's query concerns the "paid witness."
What if the witness isn't paid? Is the research of a Lord Kelvin, of
independent means, acceptable?

(Many random thoughts here. These 19th century guys used to perform in
fashionable ladies' salons. Pirkei avot warns us not to learn torah for
self aggrandisement, so no "raya" (proof) there. Our moderator made a
more detailed objection along these lines to which Hayim responded that
Rashei Yeshiva are not subject to "publish or perish" and so are more
independent.  He also made reference to the fact that many torah greats
(g'dolim) do not publish at all. To this I would comment that there is a
social pressure not to deviate from what has become accepted (and this
is itself a halachic criterion, see below) and while perhaps eschewing
formal publication, g'dolim have many ways of making their views (da'as
torah?) known. Every morning I check the wall posters in Bayit Vegan to
know what is "in" and what is "out.")

To return the main point, the question seems to me to be "is there an
objective reality, and can it be determined by our senses (experiment)?"
It would seem so, at first glance. Halacha accepts testimony. It is
possible *as a Halchic procedure* for people to report on past events
and for courts to take action based on them. Moreover, Halacha
recognises that there are physical laws, whose nature is constant and
whose influence on events is predictable. We are commanded to build a
fence around our roofs, and we are liable for pits on our property. The
halacha recognises gravity. A more interesting example is the guidelines
followed by the beit din examining the witnesses who have claimed to see
the new moon. They are told that if the witnesses report seeing the moon
there and a star here (I forget the details, someone will be able
provide them I'm sure) then the witnesses are mistaken. In other words,
there are predictable patterns of behaviour.

Now the question becomes "does the Halacha recognise testimony on things
it has previously not considered?" This was the question raised by the
codes and false prophets, and Rambam's statement that miracles in
support of contra-tora statements are meaningless. The Halachic response
to false prophecy is that the false prophet is executed by the beit din.
However, this sidesteps the question of the meaning of the false
prophet's miracles. What happens when we are forced to address the
issue, when the false prophet invariably appears at minyan and loudly
declaims, miracuously overcoming all efforts at dislodgement, let alone
being impervious to any attempt to execute him?

So, now what about softer science, Talmudic research? Quite a while ago
we discussed the Talmud's claim that lice are not animals because they
are spontaneously generated. One idea that was generated during this
discussion is that even if this statment is wrong, we cannot overrule a
ruling based on mistaken fact becuase the sages may have had other
reasons which they wished to keep hidden. What this means, though, is
that we can never rule on any issue, because there can be no legitimate
extrapolation from past rulings. With respect to the present issue, the
hidden reasons idea is part of a more general idea that sages are
slightly more than human--ruach hakodesh. Even in our own day, as was
discussed here quite recently, modern poskim say that the Chazon Ish was
wrong in his characterisation of electricity, but that they are not
going to overrule him because "he was the Chazon Ish."

This approach means that any research is worthless, because the scholars
of old were never ordinary people with the same reactions, blind spots,
social pressures as we have. They are g'dolim, and because they are
g'dolim they have ruach hakodesh.

Another thought. Does no one today have ruach hakodesh? My understanding
is that anyone who sincerely tries to pasken (sincerely of course
includes an honest self-assesment of whether they have the requisite
knowledge) will be aided by ruach hakodesh. So, what about the Chazon
Ish's mistake? Are those G'dolim of today wrong about the C.I. being
wrong? Where is there ruach hakodesh? Or is one of the signs of being a
sincere posek that one doesn't overrule previous g'dolim, and therefore
anyone who does would by definition not have ruach hakodesh?

In summary, is there an objective reality, and are people people?


From: Hayim Hendeles <hayim@...>
Date: Wed, 18 May 94 12:10:27 -0700
Subject: Re: Legitimacy of Academic Research in Halacha

Last week, I had raised the question of the acceptability of Academic
Research in Halacha. My question revolved around the fact that Halacha
(as in our secular society) has strict guidelines as to what type
of testimony is acceptable. So, perhaps academians who are paid to publish,
are inelligible to give testimony. In addition, there is the possibility
of fraud, which is not unknown in the academic world.

After reflecting upon this issue, I believe that the question as
stands, is totally vacuous. Without having a definitive context, it is
impossibile to debate the issue, as there are an infinite number of

I have identified 2 extremes.

One extreme represents papers whose authorship is irrelevant - e.g.
mathematical papers. (Don't ask me how they are relevant to Halacha.)
These papers can stand on their own merit; and as the entire logic
is self-contained, it can be examined whether it is right-or-wrong.
If the logic is correct, then IMHO it ought to be accepted even  if
we knew the original author to be a horse-thief and a liar.

Thus, Maimonidies relies on Greek math/astronomy textbooks in his
Kiddush Hachodesh. (Calculations of the New Moon.) 

As to the other extreme, I can only think of an absurd example,
but I am sure others can supply more realistic scenarios.

Consider the case of an academian who claims (based on an expensive and
extensive analysis) to have found the original manuscript of the
Shulchan Oruch (Code of Jewish Law) buried in the archives of the
University of Timbuktu. Lo-and-behold, the manuscript contains a
"halacha" that a Mikva (ritual bath) must be painted blue.  So, this
academian claims that the texts of our Shulchan Oruch are missing this
extra law, and henceforth all Mikva's must be painted blue.

In this case, I would think, we would not rely on this testimony to
change Jewish Law. Since we only have this man's word as a basis
for this proposed change, (as it is not practical to duplicate this
academian's research), and this man was paid to do this research, 
his testimony would not be acceptable in a Court of Jewish LAw. (Besides
the possibility of fraud.)

Now, here comes the tricky part. I claim that all Rabbi's/Rosh Yeshiva's
etc. fall into the 1st category. When a Rabbi issues a Halachik ruling
or gives a Talmudic discourse, I can examine the logic to determine
whether it is right-or-wrong. If correct, then I must accept it.

Many academic studies, revolve around expensive grants ($$$) and what nots.
This to me is the difficult issue. Since the rest of us do not have
the same resources available to us, we must - in some shape or form -
rely upon the integrity of the researcher. This, to me is the
difficult issue. (I am not saying researchers do not have integrity ---
only that Halacha may not accept their testimony.)

(The Talmud has a principle (Yevamos 115) that one does not lie about
something which will ultimately become known. On this basis, the
Talmud accepts certain types of testimony which would otherwise be
problematic. However, it seems difficult to apply this to the
academic situation since the numerous case of fraud that does exist
imply researchers feel they can lie and get away with it.)

The primary difficulty I have is with Hashgacha (Kashrut
certification).  Here we must rely on the testimony of a Rabbi paid to
say the product is Kosher. On what basis can we accept this testimony,
even from the most reliable Rabbi in the world?

I hope someone has a good answer to this question. Otherwise, we will
never be able to buy commercial food again, and would probably all be
doomed to starvation. :-(  :-(   :-(

"Food for thought" (Pardon the pun)

Hayim Hendeles


From: Jeffrey Secunda <SECUNDA@...>
Date: Thu, 19 May 1994 10:37:00 EST
Subject: Life Imprisonment

I am posting this for my friend Mitch Klausner. Responses may by sent
to me [<secunda@...>] or to the list. 

Is there a punishment of life imprisonment in Torah law?

Until yesterday afternoon (second day of Shavuoth), I would have
answered "no".  I knew about the halacha of "kippah" -i.e. the locking
up and indirect killing of a known murderer of at least 2 people who
couldn't be put to death directly because of technical problems with the
witnesses or their testimony (e.g. the 2 witnesses saw the act one after
another instead of simultaneously, or the murder was committed without
warning, etc.) as described by the Rambam in Hilchot Rotzayach, 4:8.
However, the halacha immediately preceding that of kippah (4:7) says,
"...A murderer whose sentence for the death penalty has been pronounced
(for death) who gets mixed up with others (kosher people) and it is not
known who is the murderer, they are all exempt from the death penalty.
A murderer whose sentence has not been pronounced by Beit Din who gets
mixed up with other murderers whose sentence has been pronounced by Beit
Din (for death), they are all exempt (from the death penalty) because
Beit Din can pronounce a death sentence only when the accused is before
them (and now the Beit Din cannot determine who this non-pronounced-upon
murderer is)."  The Rambam adds however at the end of halacha 4:7, "And
all of them are tied up (asurim)."  According to the Kesef Mishnah, this
means they are all put in jail.  The Kesef Mishnah adds that when the
Rambam says "they are all put in jail," he is alluding to halacha 4:3
where the halacha is that if "someone hits his another person and that
person doesn't die immediately then the court estimates whether or not
he will die. ... If they estimate that the person will die, they put the
"hitter" in jail immediately and wait.  If the person dies, then the
hitter is executed.."  The Kesef Mishnah says that the Rambam in the end
of halacha 4:7 follows the Tanna Kama of a disagreement on how to
interpret a Mishnah in Sanhedrin (79b) and that they are all exempt from
the death penalty (i.e. the Rambam does not follow Rabbi Yehuda who says
that in such a case they all get "kippah.")  Thus, regarding the
incarceration which the Rambam adds in halacha 4:7, when does the group
of murderers (sentenced murderers together with a non-sentenced
murderer) get released?  In 4:3, the hitter is released if the struck
person's health recovers fully.  However, in 4:7, we know that this
person has murdered, his sentence simply has not yet been pronounced
(and apparently from the discussion of the judges, his judgment will be
guilty).  Thus, it seems to me that all of the murderers are locked up
for life terms!

Is my reading of the Rambam correct?  

Of note, the Rambam in Hilchot Sanhedrin (14:7), has a similar halacha
in the general case of one whose verdict has not yet been pronounced for
the death penalty who gets mixed up with many whose verdicts have been
pronounced for the death penalty, the Rambam does not add that "they are
put in jail."  Hence, this sentence of life imprisonment may be limited
to the case of murderers.

Thanks for your responses in advance.

Mitch Klausner
Sharon, MA


End of Volume 13 Issue 21