Volume 20 Number 06
                       Produced: Fri Jun 16  0:00:13 1995

Subjects Discussed In This Issue: 

Chazal and Science
         [Turkel Eli]
Mefarshim and Science
         [Aaron H. Greenberg]


From: Turkel Eli <turkel@...>
Date: Wed, 14 Jun 1995 22:18:11 -0400
Subject: Chazal and Science

    Joe Goldstein writes
>> Therefore how can Chazal, who knew the entire Torah, including
>> Kabbala have been mistaken when is came to scientific matters They
>> understood HOW the world was created!

    I don't understand this line of reasoning. First I see no connection
between knowledge of kaballah and knowledge of science. For example,
even though Rabbi Shimon authored the Zohar we decide halakhah in
accordance with Rabbi Yose or Rabbi Yehudah against Rabbi Shimon. In
fact whenever the Talmud disagrees with the Zohar ashkenazic Jewry
decides with the Talmud.
    Even without modern science there are disagreements in the Talmud
about the size of the earth. How can this be when they all new kabbalah?
Do we decide according to Rava because he was able to revive a dead
person after killing him on purim? There are numerous debates in the
gemara about historical events, who was Mordechai, Ezra? is our script
the original Hebrew script? etc. how can this be when they all knew
kabbalah?  The only answer is that there is no connection between any
mystical knowledge chazal had and scientific, halakhic, historical

>> Chazon Ish said the Reb Avrohom ben HoRAMBAM , who said chazal may be
>> mistaken, should not even be quoted as a shita!

    I don't on what basis Chazon can say to ignore a rishon because he
doesn't like his opinion. Rav Avraham was a great talmid chacham and the
leader of Eygptiam Jewry after his father's death. When it comes to
medicine in the talmud many others including several geonim state that
the Talmud was in error and was based on the medical knowledge of their
time. Rav Abraham the son of the Rambam is not an isolated opinion.

>> If science disagrees with Chazal, I have more confidence that eventually
>> scientists will overturn their theories and eventually come to the same
>> conclusion as we find in the Gemmorah

Besides the question of a flat earth, there are problematical gemaras
with the orbit of the sun, the value of pi, birth of lice. There is a
debate in the Talmud whether a woman conceives near the beginning or the
end of her period. Are they both right? If one is sure that the Chazal
considering pi=3 does that mean we should revise our mathematics?

Basically, I don't see any necessity for assuming chazal knew every
sphere of knowledge. Chazal are important because of their knowledge of
Torah and ethics not because they were the best astronomers or
biologists or mathematicians of their time. One can take most (not all)
gemaras that talk about science and interpret them allegorically. It
bothers me because we do this once are knowledge of science
improves. Earlier generations took these gemaras literally because they
saw no problem with them. In fact if someone were to treat them
allegorically he probably would have been yelled at for not taking it
literally.  With regard to Chazon Ish I have seen several places where
he disagrees or ignores Rashi because he doesn't like Rashi's philosophy
(hashkafa).  The general trend seems to be that one is not allowed to
disagree with rishonim unless they make a statement that we
fundamentally disagree with and then we are free to disagree.



From: Aaron H. Greenberg <greenbah@...>
Date: Mon, 12 Jun 1995 15:04:57 -0400 (EDT)
Subject: Mefarshim and Science

I adamantly disagree with Yosey Goldstein's naive faith in *every*
statement in the gemara regarding science, and I will show what I feel
is an admission within the gemarah itself that they may be wrong on
matters of science.

Firstly, I'ld like to point out that Yosey, contradicts himeself.

> maharsha that nature has changed or 2) Chazal where writing this AL PEE
> SOD or with a kabbalistic meaning and their words were not meant to be
> taken at face value.

>   The truth of everything in the torah and gemorah is a concrete fact,

That which is not meant to be taken at face value, can't be considered a
*concrete* fact.  You may beleive that these statements are true in some
mystical, abstract form, but that alone implies they are not concrete
facts but only allusions to perhaps hidden facts.

This alone debunks your argument against Reb Avraham ben HaRambam.  The
Reb Avraham be HaRambam, by saying that the gemorah may be wrong in
scientific matters does not invalidate a more mystical meaning, it does
say (as you pointed out) that one should not take the gemorah at face
value, and hence don't go trying out Talmudic cures, insist that the
earth is flat, or even try to learn physics from gemara, because the
statements in the gemara just aren't true physically.

As for the nature of the world changing: One who argues that the nature
of the world changed after the flood during Noah's time is on shaky
ground, but arguing that nature changed from the time of the gemara
(about 1600 years ago) is just way off.  As you acknowledge, Rishonim
and Achronim can be wrong; The Maharsha is wrong.  Hashem created the
world with a fixed nature, 'teva'.  Only in an extraordiary situation
does Hashem do something outside of the 'teva', yet less change it.
(Off the top of my head I don't have sources for this but I should be
able to get) In any case, the principle that the teva does not change is
widely accepted in both Torah and Science, a statement otherwise
requires an explanation as to 1) what exactly this change was, and 2)
Why Hashem would change the teva.

Now, while you mentioned that Reb Avraham be HaRambam mentions that the
gemara may be wrong on matters of science, let me point out the RAMBAM
says this as well in sefer Morah Nebuchim (3, 14). It is translated

	"Do not expect that everything which (our sages) have mentioned
	regarding astronomy should agree with the actual facts; for the
	theoretical sciences were deficient in those days, and they did not
	speak of them on the basis of a tradition received from the prophets,
	but rather because they were scientists by the standards of their
	times, or because they had heard about these matters from such
	scientists. Nevertheless if we do find opinions which are correct,
	we should not say that this happened by mere chance; rather, to
	whatever extent possible to explain a person's statements so that
	they agree with experimentally determined facts, it is incumbent upon
	us to do so."

So while one should not wantonly toss off what is said in the gemara,
clearly there are times where we can say they are wrong.  This also
indicates that we should not attribute them to some hidden truth.  If it
can't be explained physically to fit the experimentally determined facts
then it is wrong.

***  A look at Gemara's that talk about science: 

(Baba Basra  25 a-b)

	R. Eliezer says that the world is like a porch (exandra), with its
	north side not enclosed, and when the sun reaches the northwest it
	stoops and rises above the sky.  R. Joshua says the world is like a
	box, and the north side (too) is enclosed; when the sun reaches the
	northwest it goes roundabout behind the sky.

Here we have different opinions on what happens when the sun sets.
Unlike differing explanation of Torah matters, where we say Shivim Panim
L'Torah (The Torah has seventy facets), we are dealing with a physical
phenomena here; only ONE can be right. So one of the Rabbis must be
wrong! (This is aside from the fact that they are both wrong) The fact
that the science in the gemara is disputed is reason enuogh to beleive
that it can be wrong.  In this case both Rabbis indicate that the sky is
a solid dome above the earth, and seem to imply that the world is flat
(like a porch).

*** Admission within the Gemara that it may be wrong:

(Pesachim 94 b)

	The sages of Israel say that during the day the sun travels
	below the sky, and during the night, above the sky; the sages of
	the nations say that during the day the sun travels below the
	sky, and during the night, below the earth.  Rabbi (Yehuda
	ha-Nasi) said: Their view is more plausible than ours.

This is an admission that the scientists of the world may be correct in
their observations.  If the sage's theory had been based on Torah
knowledge, I don't think Rabbi Yehuda Ha-Nasi would have made his

*** Places where our sages do agree with scientic theory and stunningly so.

There those Rabbi's (Tanaim, Amorai, Rishionim) who did get science
right.  And, as Rambam says, we should not just call it mere
coincidence, that they possibly were granted by Hashem hidden insights
into the nature of the universe.  However, I think it is reasonable to
say that Hashem did not grant this to every Taana.  Some examples are
given below.

* Example 1
Nachmanides, (The RambaN NOT RambaM) in his commentary of Parshat Beraishit
says on the phrase "And it was evening and it was morning, one day"
(Chap 1 , 5) that some scholars explain that "one day" is a reference to the
rotation of the spherical earth in 24 hours, and every moment there is
morning somewhere on earth and night in the oppisite place.  The scholars
he is reffering to are the Ibn Ezra's commentary on this same verse and
Rambam (Moreh Nebuchim, 2, 30).  A commentary on the  Ibn Ezra sights a 
gemara in Sandhedrin Perak Chelek (Chap. 11), but does specify the page 
number so I did not have time to look it up.

In any case, this is amazing!  Not only do we have here, the idea that
the earth is a sphere and not flat, but that sunrise and sunset is
caused by the earth's rotation, not by a moving Sun, -many years before
science discovered this.  However, obviously not all the Taanaim were
aware of this knowledge.  The Talmud Yerushalmi (Avodah Zara Chap. 3, 1)
also says the earth is round like a ball. It specifies the source of
this knowledge as coming from Alexander (of Macedonia) who is to have
flown high in the sky, until he saw the earth as a ball.  However this
maybe, this knowledge of our sages is very impressive.

* Example 2
The Rambam in Moreh Nebuchim (part 1 chapter 7) makes a remarkable 
statement.  In the time of Adam, there coexisted animals that appeared
as humans in shape and also in intelligence but the lacked the "image of god"
(tzelem elokim) that makes man uniquely different from other animals. 

Nachmanides, (The Ramban) makes a similiar statement in his commentary
of Breishit, (Gen. 2:7) that there existed an animal who had the
physical structure of man, speech, and reasoning of man.  Man became
unique when Hashem blew in the into his (Adam's) nostrils the Neshama.

This is likely reffering to Neanderthal Man (or Cro-Magnon).  This was
written long before the fossils of this primitive form of man were

*** As for Yosey statement's on what Chazal knew since they performed
*** amazing acts.

> Kabbala have been mistaken when is came to scientific matters They
> understood HOW the world was created! We have gemmorahs where Tannaim
> brought people back to life, or the gemmorah in Sanhedrin where an
> ammorah created a 3 year old calf to be eaten for shabbos! This is

You do not back your claim of "They understood HOW the world was created".
You seem to rely on the performance of miracles to back this statement.
The performance of miracles throught the aid of Hashem does not require
an understanding of the nature of the world.  I hope you do not
think that the ammorah CREATED this calf, as if from nothing; This would
be a violation of the 1st principle of faith which tells us that Hashem
created everything that ever was and ever will be.  As I have indicated
above I beleive that some of our sages did have a deeper knowlegde of the
creation of the world, but saying they knew HOW the world was created is
inaccurate, I beleive we are told by many of our sages that the creation
of something from nothing is beyond human comprehension.

Since you did not provide sources for these various miracles I could not
look them up, but some of these things may not have been as miraculous
as you lead one to beleive.  Did the ammorah pull a goat out of the air
or did perhaps he ask Hashem for a goat and one came out of the woods to
his front door; -not a natural occurrence, but not outright miraculous.
Secondly, regarding bringing people back to life, the Rabbis in the
gemara may not have performed a "miracle" but some had hidden medical
knowledge, such as CPR, that enabled them to save lives.  This is the
more likely scenario, since, again, Hashem does not do things out side
of the teva (nature).  Sometimes he will bend it, but only rarely in a
blatant manner.  Many Jews, including myself view the existence of the
state of Israel and its military victories as miracles, something that
seems somewhat illogical, but happened, although it is not out-right
miraculous.  Similiarly, the people then regarded what some Taanaim did
as miraculous.

To back the idea that the ammoraim probably did not perform outright
miracles, aren't we told that after the destruction of the second Temple
there would no longer be out-right miracles???  (I remember hearing
this, does anyone know the source)

* An addition example showing that our sages did have hidden knowledge of
* the world and the nature of creation.

Both the Ramban (commentary on Gen. Chap 1, 1,2,4,26) and the Rambam
Moreh Nebuchim (part 1, Chapters 27 & 29) agree that there was only a
singular act of creation, at the first moment of the 'six days', and
everything else, (light, stars, moon, life) was created from that
primordial creation.

The Ramban, who refers to what he write on creation as coming from
"hidden" knowledge, says that this initial creation was something so
small and without physical form.  This idea that everything orginated
from a singular point in the universe is what science calls The Big

In conclusion, one does Judaism no good by naivly clinging to ideas that
are clearly wrong, and derived from past scientific ideas from the sages
as well as the nations of the world.  We must view the science of the
Talmud critically, and only accept as true those which can be made to
fit our knowledge of science, and triumph those that show that indeed
our sages did have hidden knowledge of the universe.  This will
strengthen Judaism.  Fanatical belief in ideas that are so clearly wrong
will only cause people to lose respect for Torah Judaism.  Pirkei Avot
(???) says "one who is wise is he who learns from all people" Our sages
followed this and learned from the scientists.  We should follow this
too, and not make the same mistakes as the church has made through out
the ages by claiming to have divine, indisputable, complete knowledge of
the nature of the universe.

Aaron Greenberg

I would like to acknowledge two books I used as refernece to provide some
of the sources I cited above:

1) Proceedings of the Associations of Orthodox Jewish Scientists. 
	The Torah in the Space Age; Azriel Rosenfeld
	Feldheim Publishers, 1977, Jerusalem
2) Genesis and the Big Bang 
	Gerald L. Schroeder.Ph.D.
	Bantam Books, 1990, New York


End of Volume 20 Issue 6