Volume 20 Number 28
                       Produced: Thu Jun 29 23:36:32 1995

Subjects Discussed In This Issue: 

Rambam and Science.
         [Ari Belenky]
Torah and Science
         [Joe Goldstein]


From: <belenkiy@...> (Ari Belenky)
Date: Tue, 27 Jun 1995 23:07:28 -0700
Subject: Rambam and Science.

1. From Ralph Zwier:
<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.

2. From Hayim Hendeles:
<Just as the Torah was being forgotten and had to be written down,
<so did the Toras hanistar (Hidden Torah) which was also being forgotten
<also have to be written down. But as it could not be written explicitly,
<all of it was written allegorically in the form of "agadata". In
<order to express a point, Chazal borrowed from the scientific fact
<of their day, because it served as a suitable example for the message.
<Whether the science was true or not was irrelevant - because the message
<they were trying to convey with it was true.

<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.

3. From Aaron Greenberg:
<let me point out the RAMBAM says this as well in sefer Morah Nebuchim (3, 14).
        "Do not expect that everything which (our sages) have mentioned
        regarding astronomy should agree with the actual facts;

Thanks to Aaron I am reading Rambam again. "Etz Hayim Hu...".
In Part 1, ch. 71, Rambam speaks about theory of atoms and vacuum which
were seemingly "refuted by later critics".
In Part 2, Chapter 8, he speaks about the theory of noise caused by the 
movement of planets which was supported by Jewish Sages and refuted by 
Aristotle.  He says: 

      "Our Sages have, in this astronomical question, abandoned their own 
theory in favour of the theory of others. Thus it is distinctly stated: 
'Gentile Sages defeated Jewish Sages'. It is quite right that our Sages
have abandoned their own theory; for speculative matters every one treats
according to the results of his own study and every one accepts that which 
appears to him established by proof".

Having encountered this first time I was surprised.  When I read the rest 
of The Guide I felt that I was reading the work of my contemporary: 
acute analysis of the veiled gaps in logic, of the false arguments, of the
incomplete proofs done by others. And such statements. 
They are not wrong - they are senseless: no theory can be completely refuted. 
Any theory will re-surface in another guise. Rambam had to understand this.
Then why such a passionate argument?
Why this strong statement: "Gentile Sages defeated..."?

Probably: To refute Ralph and Hayim. 

1. Scientific truth is the most accurate knowledge we possess. It has
nothing to do with ultimate truth of Torah.  It is a *moral imperative*
for any scientist to tell the scientific community the facts which he
discovered (specially in Math where there are no moral dillemas like
with the atomic bomb).  To give 3 for *pi* in the 2nd century AD - two
decimal digits less than was already known to Greeks since the 3rd
century BCE (Archimedes and Euclid gave the value 3 1/7 ~ 3.14) it is a
definite step backwards, misleading those who accept this as ultimate
truth. Ralph's irony is irrelevant here: Hazal should spell out *as many
digits after decimal point as They knew*.

2. Jewish Sages might be mistaken.
The nice "aggada" about lost knowledge which Hayim mentioned makes *obscure* 
Hazal's attitude to Science. The very "aggadic" argument which Hayim 
presented itself shows that arguments and attitude are still childish.

<Whether the science was true or not was irrelevant - because the message
<they were trying to convey with it was true.

I want to see an example of such a "true" message based upon wrong assumptions!

Now, following Hayim, let us take it one step further and discuss the Calendar.
It is known (see Arthur Spier "Comprehensive Hebrew Calendar") that the 
Halakhic value for the Lunar month is a half-second more than the actual value;
that the Halakhic value for the Solar year is wrong by 12 minutes which
makes us to say Kiddush Hachamah already 17 days later than the actual Tekufa.
Additionally we say "Tal-u-Matar" later by the same 17 days because we have
to say it 60 days after Autumnal Tekufa. 
Al-Biruni in his "Chronology of Ancient Nations" mentions that on the both
days of Tekufa Jews had a custom to have fast because there might happen
problems with digestion on that day. 
Hayim's innocent hint that the wrong model of the World adopted by Sages of 
Talmud can cause only insignificant *abstract-theoretical inconveniences*
(it would be not easy to explain our children why Sages of Talmud were not
so smart) does not work here: we say Kiddush Hachama 17 days later than it 
meant to be said. We say "Tal-u-Matar" 17 days later and probably cause
problems with rain in Eretz Israel. We fast on the wrong day and cause
problems to our health. What is crucial for our discussion: 
wrong results cannot be adjusted nowadays just *because of the wrong model
Hazal chose to adopt and believe in*.

At this point I'd like to finish quotation from Rambam which was cited
by Aaron:

 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."

This how I see the legacy of Rambam: to fight obscurantism. Jewish
obscurantism.  Legacy of Moshe ben Maimon. Maimonides. The Rambam.

Ari Belenky

P.S. This is an observation which must be interesting for future sociologists
of this  JD.

1. All people who quote Rambam have "edu" on the tail of their email address.
2. Others "defend" Rambam using Midrashic and Kabbalistic sources.

A historical remark: This reminds me the well-known story of how The
Guide was burnt and banned.  Since then arguments became more civilized
even both parties still do not understand each other.

P.P.S. Allying myself with the position of Eli Turkel and Aaron
Greenberg I would like to point out certain inconsistancies in their
replies which make their (our) position vulnerable.

Both Eli Turkel and Aaron Greenberg 
(regarding debates between two Jewish Sages on scientific matters): 
<"Are they both right?!"

It does not matter. Joe Goldstein never spelled out this point clearly
but he never talked about opinion of *individual* Sage (otherwise his
position would be immediately defenceless) but about Hazal - collective
Jewish mind.  Here he is right: wrong opinions of individual Sages are
of no importance.  Important is the final ("halakhic") decision and
ability of Hazal to clear itself from occasional mistakes.

Eli Turkel:
<there is no connection between any mystical knowledge chazal had and
<scientific, halakhic, historical knowledge.

It is the wrong contraposition. All four are mutually orthogonal and should 
be thoroughly distinguished. What is "historical knowledge" per se is a big
question. So let us talk about other three.
When Joe Goldstein talked about Kabbalist's "insight" he was in his right.
Aaron proved it quoting Ramban's view on Creation where the Big Bang
theory might be discerned by modern scientists.
I can give another example. "Breaking of vessels" in Arizal's theory
remarkably reminds me "breaking of symmetry" in the Gauge theory.
And even though Aaron is right: solitary "insights" of some Kabbalists
had very little in common with contemporary scientific views - still...

However the problem under discussion is quite different (and much more
serious): what is relation between Halakhic and Scientific knowledge?
Could Rabbi say to Scientists what they should do and how?  Is it up to
Rabbi to define "good" science and "bad" science?  I know at least one
example of such an effort: the last Lubavitcher Rebbe spoke in this
spirit with a group of Hasidim College students.  Rambam gave us another


From: Joe Goldstein <vip0280@...>
Date: Tue, 20 Jun 95 14:10:57 
Subject: Torah and Science

In response to Mr Turkel volume 20 number 6, I am not sure there can not       
be arguments in Nistar the same way there is in Nigleh.  (The rule             
of AYIN PANIM LATORAH, the torah has seventy facets, amy apply equally         
to Nistar) hence arguments about the size of the earth etc.                    

 As far as ruling according to the gemmorah over the Zohar, it was
pointed out by another writer, the GRA says there is no contradiction
between our Halcha and ZOHAR! Any "contradiction" is based solely upon a
lack of understanding of 1 or both texts.

> Do we decide according to Rava because he was able to revive a dead          
> person after killing him on purim?                                           

   We have a Klall, general rule, that any Tanna or Ammorah mentioned by
name in Shas had the ability to be mechaye MAYSIM, resurrect the dead So
Rava was not any better than anyone else!

>There is a debate in the Talmud whether a woman conceives near the
>beginning or the end of her period. Are they both right?

   Yes, theoretically. what I mean is, since they are arguing in Torah
and we have a rule of AYLU VO'YLU DIVRAY ELOKIM CHAYIM, they are both
the words of Hash-em, they can both be right. Remember the torah is a
manifestation of the thoughts and the RATZON of HASH_EM YISBORACH.  And
as such it is not restricted by the physical world.  Therefore,
logically, or in the abstract, can both be true? Are both logical, Then
they are both torah and they are both true. However we live in a
physical world where, in halacha we can only POSKIN one way and follow
on halacha, and physically there can only be one physical form,
Therefore, in the physical world we "POSKIN" one way, and that is how
Hash-em runs the world!

>If one is sure that the Chazal considering pi=3 does that mean we
>should revise our mathematics?

I have wondered the same thing.  I think that when Chazal said Pi=3 they
may not have meant exactly 3. However, the fractional portion is just
being rounded off.  We find through out the torah the rounding of
numbers, MALKUS is 39 lashes. However the Torah says "Hit him 40 times"
Chazal told us that meant 39. Sefirah is only 49 days, yet the torah
says "count 50 days" Reb Yehuda Assad in his teshuvos (Very first one
has a list of rounded numbers in Chazal) so their rounding of Pi is not
a problem at all. I have been told by a dear friend and fellow poster
that the Rambam says CHAZAL KNEW PI is not exactly 3 but Chazal rounded
of the number.

> Basically, I don't see any necessity for assuming chazal knew every          
> sphere of knowledge. Chazal are important because of their knowledge o       
> Torah and ethics not because they were the best astronomers or               
> biologists or mathematicians of their time.                                  

This is very true.  However, that does not preclude their knowing the
most astronomy etc!  and in fact because their knowledge came from the
torah they did in fact know the most in all of those fields.

>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.                 

   As I have posted previously, I hope Avi posted it, I have stated that
The statement I made in the name of the CHAZON ISH was in fact made by a
contemporary rosh yeshivah and the quote was we just should not teach it
because it is not the accepted view as we have been taught!

   You will have to show me this! CHAS VESHOLOM the CHAZON ISH should
ignore Rashi! He may say a different explanation than Rashi, But IGNORE?
NEVER!  We find through out the ages Rishonim and Acharonim giving
explanations not said by previous generations. In fact the Ramban asks,
How can we explain a posuk differently than the explanation given in the
gemmorha? and he says we can do it because RASHI in his commentaryy on
Chumash did it!

    Everything we say or do must be consistant with what we learn in the
gemmorah, Rishonim and Acharonim, and the proper YIRAS SHOMAYIM, fear of
heaven. However we have the right to give our own slant and
understanding of what HASH-EM says in the Torah but in MUST be
CONSISTANT with the views of our GEDOLIM!!


In reponse to  Aaron h. Greenberg, in the same issue                           

> 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.                                                          

  I am very sorry Mr. Greenberg feels my belief in Chazal is Naive.  I
am just relying on the explanations of the Rishonim and Acharonim and
THEIR views on Chazal and science! When I see one of the gedolim such as
the Maharsha whose greatness in Torah and Yiras Shomayim drawfs our puny
understanding. I believe it! To say a Maharsha is wrong without the
support of the great ACHARONIM, much less to say the gemmorah is wrong,
is dis-respectful to say the least! Blasphemous would be a better term!

I will not address every point he brings up, just one or two to clarify
and show the view of GEDOLIM. In Torah just because someone has a
question and does not understand EVERYTHING that does not invalidate the
truth! We must know the basic rules and truths. If we do not understand
a gemmorah and have a problem with it, DO NOT MAKE UP NEW RULES TO
FIT. OUT TRADITION IS BASED ON OUR GEDOLIM!  They had questions and did
not understand everything either. Reb Akiva Eiger, left many areas with
a note THIS NEEDS MORE IYUN and he continued without ever answering the

>(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             

   Reb AKIVA EIGER on that Gemmorah quotes a RABBEINU TAM, that says
when Rebbi says "their view seems correct" it does not mean therefore
that is the halacha. Rather, it may be more palusible, And Chazal could
prove to the Chacmey umos haolam that they were wrong.  However, CHAZAL,
and Rebbi KNEW that Chazal was correct, NOT the scientist!  Reb akiva
eiger meant, according to the explanation of the GODOL I spoke to, that
even when they look directly at the world thru their own eyes they are
mistaken!  We all believe, I hope, in the splitting of the red sea!  We
KNOW that the RIBBONO SHEL OLOM split the sea.  Chazal said this
occurrence happened all over the world.

There was a book that came out in the 30's or 40's that stated the
author who happened to be jewish did not believe this.  He checked
legends and history over the world and found references to water
splitting at the same time. He therefore concluded the was a tidal
change due to the alignment of the planets!  Man can see a fact and
still not know what he sees without Torah!

>(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           

  YOU are mistaken sir, As noted earlier, The meaning of TORAH DEFINES
the physical world, And even though in the physical world we PASKIN one
way and therefore the world is one way, however they are BOTH

>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     

  Do you think the RAMBAN was not aware of the Gemmorahs that says "the
world is flat", a box or whatever? Why did he not make a reference to it
whan he sais the world is a sphere? Why did he not say the germmorah was
based upon an obsolete idea? The Ramban had no problem with any of the
gemmorahs mentioned.  Even though he said is was a sphere!  Why because
he understood what the gemmorah meant and what it was referring to and
he knew he was not contradicting the gemmorah!

> *** 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 Tannai       
> > 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

  I MOST CERTAINLY DO! This is a Gemmorah in Sanhedrin 65B. Please see
RASHI on the gemmorah just before this where the gemmorah says Rava
created a "person", after learning SEFER HAYETZIRAH, Rashi explains he
learned the meaning and the powers of the letters of the ALEF BAIS that
Hashem used to create the earth. (see RAMBAN in BERAISHIS for a more in
depth explanation of this)

  I am sorry but I do not have the time to answer every point seperately
I will conclude by saying, one should live by the torah and not be so
impressed by science and scientists to make one want to "justify" and
align our Torah with their chochma.  Where they match, great! the
scientist did a fine job.  Where they don't and there is a contradiction
I say the scientist have not yet reached the right answer yet!

 Yosey Goldstein                                                               


End of Volume 20 Issue 28