Thursday, November 17, 2005

On Jumping Elephants and Popes

Gil, at his excellent blog, brings an essay by Rabbi Slifkin (PDF) on the great debate of whether or not elephants are capable of jumping.

The debate seems to be between Tosafos, on the one side, who says that elephants can jump, and modern science, which states that elephants are incapable of jumping.

Of course, as Rabbi Slifkin puts it, some people will take the view that "if Tosafos says that elephants jump, then elephants jump!" End of story. He reasons simply that Tosafos, having lived in twelfth century France, never saw an elephant and never even saw an accurate drawing of an elephant, and so could easily make a mistake as to whether or not it can jump.

Fanatics aside, Rabbi Slifkin then goes on to ask how this matter should be presented to students. At one points, he wonders if we should just throw up our hands and say "we don't know." However, as he puts it:

One might suggest that it is better to simply state that we don't know the answer. That may sometimes work. But the odds are that the student will eventually discover the truth about elephants anyway - it's only a Google-search away.

This, of course (IMHO anyway) is the second (unstated) reason for the internet ban in Lakewood and other places (I know of someone who enrolled his son in a yeshiva here in Brooklyn and was told that an internet connection at home was unacceptale. They relented when the father pointed out that he was an IT professional and that his livelihood [and their tuition payments] depended on his internet connection). It is to prevent people from access to information which might possibly upset their simplistic world view. The same type of people who will believe that elephants jump simply because Tosafos says so, are the same ones who don't want to allow any fact that might upset the infallibility of Chazal.

I find it interesting, of course, that Catholics are castigated for their belief in papal infallibility. Yet, they only extend this doctrine to when the pope speaks ex cathedra. We, on the other hand, in some segments of our population, have extended this infallibility to not just one person, but to a whole class of people, and on just about anything that they utter. And yet, we castigate them for the doctrine of papal infallibility. Mr. Pot, meet Mr. Kettle.

The Wolf


Rebeljew said...

Bang on

PsychoToddler said...

I still find this whole infallibility thing to be bizarre. The Talmud is composed almost entirely of people arguing with each other and stating that the other person is wrong.

Otherwise the Shas would be more of a pamphlet.

Mississippi Fred MacDowell said...


That's what's scary about it! There is hardly a point of Jewish law or thought that there isn't another opinion about, sometimes there are 5 or 6 opinions.

And yet those who accept that these people are infallible apparently do not factor that mutually exclusive opinions mean that one is wrong.

Okay, in the realm of law we can say "elu ve-elu". Even in the realm of history (the Gemara applies "elu ve-elu" to studying mistaken opinions of fact by the chachamim as well). But at the same time, it doesn't preclude the element of human fallibility.

Ezzie said...

:::sigh::: Worse, there are those who bash the Catholics (or others) for the same practice - not realizing how hypocritical they sound.

Zeh Sefer Toldot Adam said...

The first sign of an oppresive regime is that they seek to control the sources of information. In Burma (Rangoon? Myanmar?) there is a punishment of 15 years in prison for having an unlicensed internet connection. See the problem?

It's all about maintaining a rabbinic authority that has lost its compass.

Hayim said...

Sharansky, in his latest book, has a very interesting passage about the two types of people he has met in his early life, the "True Believers" and the "Doublethinkers". Obviously, he was referring to communist Russia. Yet I found myself reading with the frum world in mind, and it made perfect sense. Quite frightening actually. I'm planning to blog about this in the future...

happywithhislot said...

you stole this post from me. I Said on a few blogs that the real reason for lakewood ban is not porn, but fear of information.
It could be fear of Godol Z"L


hey fonzi forget the elephant try 'jump the shark'

Anonymous said...

BTW, you can catch a great debate on Rabbi Slifkin’s book “the Camel, the Hare and the Hyrax" at:

See the sections (and especially the comments thereunder) entitled:

The Slifkin Ban- Why it happened and Why it is justified (IMHO)

Slifkin Wrap-up: Summary of the Critiques (Updated)

The Most Substantial Defense To Date- Updated