Volume 20 Number 16
                       Produced: Sun Jun 25  9:56:23 1995

Subjects Discussed In This Issue: 

Chazal, Nature,Science and Miracles
         [Mr D S Deutsch]
Incandescent and Fluorescent Light Bulbs for Havdalah
         [Arthur J Einhorn]
Rav Avraham ben Harambam
         [Mordechai Perlman]
Sand Grain Number
         [Mike Gerver]
Science and Chazal
         [Joel Goldberg]
Science and pi
         [Jonathan Katz]


From: Mr D S Deutsch <dsd3543@...>
Date: 22 Jun 95 15:34:00 BST
Subject: Chazal, Nature,Science and Miracles

Aaron Greenberg (MJ 20 #6) makes a reasonable point that Chazal may have
subscribed to the prevailing scientific theories of their time. However
the fact that they appear to have recorded for posterity statements which
they knew were insufficiently proven (See for example the statement by
Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai in Bereishis Rabboh 6,8) is in itself an
indication that their purpose was an underlying message or that we have
misunderstood the statement.

Either way when talking about Chazal we must remember that they were
intellectual and spiritual giants possessed of unfathomable (to us)
knowledge. A look at the Gemara in Eruvin (53B) where the Amoraim compare
themselves with the Tannaim should encourage us to have the humility to
acknowledge that our understanding may be at fault.

We must equally avoid the pitfall of reading into the words of Chazal
meanings that correspond with contemporary science unless it is quite

The examples quoted by Mr Greenberg do not all fall into this category.
The Ramban in Bereishis (1,5) does not refer to the spherical *Earth*. The
'Galgal' he refers to is the notion of thin walled spheres surrounding the
Earth in which the heavenly bodies are said to be embedded and are
maintained in orbit by the rotation of the said spheres.

The Talmud Yerushalmi (18B in our editions) which refers to the earth
being like a ball is actually quoting a Greek legend (see P'ne Moshe) in
which Alexander is said to have flown at a height at which he saw the
earth as a ball in the centre of a plate, the plate representing the sea.
This, says the Gemara, is the reason why Alexander was depicted in statues
at that time as carrying a ball, symbolising his dominion over the earth
but not the seas. HKBH on the other hand has dominion over both.
I don't remember seeing any similar satellite pictures. Nevertheless the
essential point of the Gemara is well made.

I couldn't find the reference in the Ramban to primitive Man. He does
refer to the several levels of characteristics which distinguish the
creation of Man. There is an interesting passage in Bereishis Rabboh 24,6
and Eruvin 18B which discusses how Adam was unable to reproduce in his
form until the birth of Sheth. There is no suggestion that the human race
was descended from these beings.

Finally to identify the Big Bang theory with the statement of Ramban
referring to a 'sublime point without substance' as the point of creation
is to misunderstand both the Big Bang theory and the Ramban. The former
requires the initial point to be of incredible density and the latter
refers to the point where creation was Yesh Meayin as opposes to later
creations which were Yesh Miyesh.

I would like to dwell briefly on a couple of other statements.
> One who argues that the nature of the world changed after the Flood..is
on shaky ground.

The explanation of Sforno and Malbim on Bereishis 8,24 (referring to the
change in the relative orientation of sun and earth) clearly refutes this

>Arguing that nature changed from the time of the Gemara is way off

This statement does not bear scrutiny. There are numerous reference to the
changes that have taken place since then. Tosafos in MK 11A refer to two
such changes and go on to generalise that the changes in Nature are
responsible for the lack of efficacy of Talmudic medicine nowadays.

Further proofs may be found in the following references:
Tosafos AZ 24B (DH Parah).
Magen Avrohom OC 173,1, also quoting several other sources including the
Bach in the name of Rambam (should read Bash= Sefer Be'er Sheva).
Chasam Sofer YD 101 who quotes numerous sources including the Rambam.
Tiferes Yisroel in Mishna Shabbos 19,2 in his supercommentary, also
quoting several sources.
There are several examples from Hilchos Niddah and also the decisions of
the Chasam Sofer (OC 127) and Tzelach (Pesachim 115B) regarding the size
of a standard egg as it relates to the determining the volume of a

Three final points: The reference to the creation of the calf by Amoraim
is in Sanhedrin 67B. It is clearly not a natural phenomenon as we know it
but is the application of practical Kabbalah. This too is part of the
'Teva' as Rashi explains there (hence is not forbidden).
The revival of Rav Zayra by Rava related in Megilla 7A is clearly
unrelated to anything medical science is currently capable of as may be
seen from straightforward reading of the text.
The apparent conflict between miracles and the Laws of Nature as
determined at Creation is resolved in the Bereishis Rabboh 5,5.

A look at these references should succeed in showing how a good
understanding of Chazal and indeed later Chachomim, can be greatly helped
by perusal of the original texts.



From: Arthur J Einhorn <0017801@...>
Date: 21 Jun 1995 12:34:12 GMT
Subject: Incandescent and Fluorescent Light Bulbs for Havdalah

Several posts in vol. 20 #9 discussed the differences between
incandescent and fluorescent light bulbs for havdalah. I would like to
point out that the sefer chasmal behalach has a discussion on the
subject of lightbulbs for havdala.  There is a reference in one of the
footnotes to a shita that one can use the stars(probably if a candle is
not available). The source of light from stars are plasmas (which some
consider a fourth type of matter) which also the phenomenom that
generates light from a fluorescent bulb. This is not meant to be a psak.

Ahron Einhorn


From: Mordechai Perlman <aw004@...>
Date: Fri, 23 Jun 1995 02:29:05 -0400 (EDT)
Subject: Rav Avraham ben Harambam

     Regarding whether R' Avraham ben Avraham is to be considered a shita 
or not, one of my good friends showed me the following in a sefer called 
"Sh'miras Haguf V'hanefesh".  For those who have it it's on Page 54 of 
Chelek 1.

He writes (translation mine and brackets) "And I saw in the sefer
Nishmas Avraham, perek 14 se'if 4, that he brings the words of Rav
Sherira Gaon and Rabbeinu Avraham ben HaRambam and counts this reasoning
(that the Chachomim only were writing as per the knowledge of their
times but had no other reason for writing it and now since that science
is outdated, we need not accept their words) as one of the reasons not
to use the cures mentioned in the Gemora.  Hagaon rav Shlomo Zalman
Auerbach shlita (now deceased) remarks on this in the front of the sefer
that it's proper to bring this opinion just as a "Yesh Omrim" (Some say)
and the real p'shat is like the other reasons (changing of nature,
mystical concepts, etc.).  And I asked Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach shlita
'Who can argue on Rav Sherira Gaon and Rabbeinu Avraham ben HaRambam?'
And he wrote to me as follows.  'Right now I don't recall if anybody
relly argues with them or if anybody can argue with them but it's
possible that my intention was that since many quote the reason of
changing of nature and don't mention at all because of the change in
scientific knowledge, therefore I remarked that it is proper to write it
only as 'Some say'.  Especially since regarding the Laws of Shabbos
there are those that are allow work to be done on Shabbos even though
according to the doctors there is no danger,' That is the end of the
words of Rav Shlomo Zalman."

Mordechai Perlman
P.S  I still haven't heard the source of the Chazon Ish.


From: <GERVER@...> (Mike Gerver)
Date: Fri, 23 Jun 1995 1:08:58 -0400 (EDT)
Subject: Sand Grain Number

Moishe Halibard, in v20n09, asks how, in my posting in v20n08, I
estimated the number of grains of sand on all the beaches in the
world. Before getting into specifics, I would like to recommend that
Moishe, and anyone else interested in this question, read Douglas
Hofstadter's "Mathemagical Themas" column ("On Number Numbness") which
appeared in the May 1982 issue of Scientific American, and was reprinted
in the anthology of Hofstadter's columns "Mathemagical Themas: Questing
for the Essence of Mind and Pattern," published by Basic Books in 1985.

I made the estimate as follows: The coasts of the world are well
described by a fractal of dimension 1.3 (see Mandelbrot's book
"Fractals", for example).  On a scale of the earth's radius (6.e+6
meters), the length of the coasts of the continents is roughly
4*pi*6.e+6 meters. Beaches typically extend a distance of about 100
meters inland from the ocean, so the relevant length of the coastline is
the length on a scale of 100 meters, which is 4*pi*6.e+6 meters times
(6.e+6/100) raised to the 0.3 power, which is 2.2e+9 meters.  The area
of all the beaches is this times 100 meters, or 2.2e+11 square meters.
But a lot of the coast is rocky, not sandy, so let's say 7.e+10 square
meters.  If the average beach has sand to a depth of 3 meters, then the
volume is about 2.e+11 cubic meters. If each grain is 1 cubic millimeter
in volume, which is 1.e-9 cubic meters, and the fill factor is 50%, then
there are 0.50 * 2.e+11 / 1.e-9 = 1.e+20 grains of sand. I think this
estimate is probably correct to within a factor of 1.e+2 or so, but not
much better than that. It remains an open question whether the number of
grains of sand on all the beaches of the world is greater than or less
than the number of stars in the universe, for which the best estimate is
about 1.e+21.

Mike Gerver, <gerver@...>


From: <goldberg@...> (Joel Goldberg)
Date: Wed, 21 Jun 1995 10:54:04 +0200 (WET)
Subject: Science and Chazal

  In discussing science and Chazal, Ralph Zwier <zwierr@...>
  writes that any finite representation of Pi is incorrect, and ....

> Therefore Chazal "can't win" in their evaluation of Pi. Even if they 
> stated Pi to 200 decimal places Eli could [theoretically] say: we see 
> that they only knew an approximation of pi. The rhetorical question to 
> put to Eli is: To how many places do YOU think Chazal should have stated
> Pi in order to satisfy the world that they really knew? 3, 4, 5 ..??
> The answer is that it really doesn't matter, so long as they did not say 
> 3.0 which is clearly not the best representation of Pi to one decimal 
> place.

   I think that this is not true. We can demand of Chazal as many decimal
 places as would correspond to the accuracy of a measurement they could
 make. The "Yam shel shlomo" was very big. If one were to take a piece
 of string, stretch it across the diameter and call that length "1", then
 one could use this "1" to make a much longer piece of string into a ruler.
 Using this longer piece of string, one could measure around the circumference
 of the "Yam" and see that it is significantly greater than 3. In fact,
 since Pi is about 3 and 1/7, and 1/7 is greater than 1/8, which in turn
 is easy to achieve by having the "1" three times, and 1/8=.125, it is
 not at all unreasonable to demand a value of Pi between 3.1 and 3.2.

  By saying Pi=3, chazal are simply denying the merit of observation.

  Similarly, <hayim@...> (Hayim Hendeles) writes:

> If you allow me to go a step further, when I was learning Hilchos
> Kiddush Hachodesh in Maimonodies, which revolves around complex
> computations computing the position of the sun and the moon - which seem
> to be based on the assumption that the Sun circles the Earth - it took
> my study partner (yasher kochacha to Dr. Jeff Ungar) a long time to
> impress upon me the understanding that the factual basis behind these
> assumptions are totally irrelevant. The point behind this assumption was
> to provide a mathematical model which can be used to determine the
> positions of these celestial bodies - which this model does.

   Except that it doesn't. The sun does not pass behind the sky during
  the night, as a simple phone call to one's antipodal point will establish.
  Again, a crude device, such as an hour glass, would suffice to prove that
  the time of sunset has changed measurably between eretz yisrael and

  But this is all part of a larger problem, which is whether reality
  is what we experience or what the mesora (tradition) states it to be.


From: Jonathan Katz <jkatz@...>
Date: Wed, 21 Jun 95 09:53:06 +0300
Subject: Science and pi 

I disagree with Ralph Zwier's recent assessment of the truth of the
statement "Pi is 3". 
I see the point you are trying to make (i.e. to how many decimal places
_should_ chazal have quoted pi), but I think there is a much simpler solution.

It is one thing for chazal to say "Pi is 3" and quite another to say "we 
approximate pi as 3" or "for halachic purposes, we take pi as 3".

To say "Pi is 3" with no qualification whatsoever is NOT true under any 
normative definition of truth.
-Jonathan Katz


End of Volume 20 Issue 16