Monday, May 01, 2006

On The Definition of Reality

Sometimes a poster or commentator says something in such a clear and succinct manner that at once you know he's managed to capture the very essence of what he's talking about in one sentence.

Lakewood Yid did just that on Friday. His statement:

The backbone of charedism. Believing in the "metzius" defined by the Gedolim.

If that's the backbone of charedism, then I'm want no part of charedism.

Let me make it clear that I respect Gedolim when it comes to their knowledge of Torah and Halacha. I certainly can accept the fact that they know more about such subjects than I do.

But that's not what LY is talking about. It seems to me that he ascribes reality-altering powers to Gedolim - to the extent that if they say it, it's so, regardless of any independent outside validity or verification.

Just to give one example that I've used on this blog before: the validity of the heliocentric model of the solar system. I've had it out with Jewish fundamentalists (not LY) over whether the sun is the center of the solar system and that the earth (and other planets) revolve around it or whether the Earth is the center of the solar system. One of the proofs that they brought was from the Rambam (Hil. Yesodei HaTorah 3), which describes a geocentric model, with the Earth in the middle, being orbited by (in order from closest to furthest) the moon, Mercury, Venus, the Sun, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn and the stars.

As proof that this model is incorrect, I showed him the picture at right. This is a picture taken from Mars on Jan 12, 2005, which shows Mercury (that little black dot) passing in front of the sun. Now, in a strict Platonic system (as described above), such a picture should be impossible, as Mars and Mercury are on opposite sides of the sun from each other. There is no way Mercury could ever come between Mars and the Sun. (For a heliocentric example, think of Jupiter coming between the Earth and the Sun.) This is fairly clear proof that the model of the solar system described by the Rambam is flat out wrong.

Nonetheless, my disputant didn't buy it. His basic approach to the matter was that proof doesn't matter - if the Gedolim said it, it must be so.

While I haven't argued with LY about this particular item (I'm curious what he holds as a model for the solar system), he nonetheless seems to take this approach whereby the Gedolim determine reality. This, of course, is simply ludicrous. The Gedolim determine the current state of Judaism (within reason). They determine the current state of halacha. But they do not determine reality.

There are people who will quote to you the famous Midrash on the pasuk of לֹא תָסוּר, מִן-הַדָּבָר אֲשֶׁר-יַגִּידוּ לְךָ--יָמִין וּשְׂמֹאל (you should not turn from the words they [the Rabbis] tell you right or left - Duet 17:11) that you should listen to the words of the Rabbis even if they tell you that right is left and left is right. However, there is also a Yerushalmi (Horiyos 1:1) that says just the opposite:

יכול אם יאמרו לך על ימין שהיא שמאל ועל שמאל שהיא ימין תשמע להם ת"ל ללכת ימין ושמאל שיאמרו לך על ימין שהוא ימין ועל שמאל שהוא שמאל. (I might think that if they [the Rabbis] tell you that right is left and that left is right that you should listen to them, the verse, "to go right or left) comes to tell you that [you should listen to them only] when they tell you right that is [really] right and left that is [really] left.

The point is that there is a source that advocates listening to the Gedolim only when what they say is grounded in reality. If they were to tell you something that is completely counter-factual, you don't have to believe them. If they tell you that the Mercury and Mars orbit the Earth, you don't have to listen to them. Of course, one must still respect them for their knowledge of Torah and halacha. If they are known to be paragons of middos tovos, that, too, must be glorified and learned from. But blind alliegence on matters that are not Torah-related? No.

The Gedolim do a lot. But they don't define reality.

The Wolf

50 comments:

Anonymous said...

What you describe here, also known as "mystical approach", is the #1 hardest sell in all of Judaism. It is also the winner of the most widely accepted idea in modern Judaism that is not sourced in traditioanl Judaism. Lo Tasur refers to halacha, not view of reality. The Rabanim themselves learned Mes. Hurios, and hilchos Shigegos. Neither of these would exist under the "mystical approach".

bluke said...

This quote from R' Aryeh Kaplan says it best:

I remember back in Torah V’Daas many, many years ago, we were discussing sending a rocket to the moon. This was long before Sputnik. And I asked one of the people there (I won’t mention his name), “What do you think about sending a rocket to the moon?” He said that it is impossible al pi Torah. It is impossible to send anything out of the Earth’s atmosphere, because above the atmosphere is the yesod ha-aish (the elemental fire), and anything that goes through that would be burned. They showed me seforim that said that. Obviously, we know that this was not the correct hashkafah. But once you paint yourself into an intellectual corner, it is very hard to get out. As Torah Jews, we cannot afford to paint ourselves into an intellectual corner, from which we will not be able to extricate ourselves.
...
Another approach is that which many Chassidim have. They say, “What do scientists know? Do they know what’s happening? Do they know what’s going on? They’re a bunch of phonies, a bunch of bluffers, a bunch of stupidniks! Do they really have a way of finding out the truth? They find a bone and they think it’s from a monkey.” But, I think to somebody who knows what science is, this is a very unsatisfactory approach. We have some idea of what is involved in paleontology. We have some idea what is involved in geology and in radioactive dating. We have some idea of what is involved in astronomy. We can casually speak about a star being a million light years away, and we do not stop to think, “Well, that’s a bit too much!” So I would say that if someone feels that science is ignorant and false, all well and good. Many people refer not to accept science as a worthy challenge. But I think that for many of us here, such an approach would be totally unsatisfying.


For more see R' Aryeh Kaplan on Science and Torah

Steg (dos iz nit der šteg) said...

Of course, some (postmodern?) philosophers claim that we all define reality...

some guy said...

One might think that just the act of putting a spacecraft in Mars orbit would be enough evidence...

Anonymous said...

"One of the proofs that they brought was from the Rambam (Hil. Yesodei HaTorah 3), which describes a geocentric model, with the Earth in the middle, being orbited by (in order from closest to furthest) the moon, Mercury, Venus, the Sun, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn and the stars."

The ironic thing is, that the Rambam himself would be the first to agree that he was wrong with regard to the orbits -- if only the science of his time was further advanced. In addition, Rav Avraham ben Harambam makes it very clear that with regard to science and medicine, we are *not* to rely on the Gedolim but rather on the most up-to-date science. Yet somehow, I doubt this would matter to those who choose to live with their heads in the sand.

RJT

Mississippi Fred MacDowell said...

>Of course, some (postmodern?) philosophers claim that we all define reality...

I enjoy a good postmodernist vort as much as the next guy, but po-mo philosophy didn't put anyone on the moon or discover any cures for illnesses or figured out how to grow more grain to feed more people efficiently or better ways to disseminate information eg through the internet etc.

Hat 'n Srugi said...

This is the #1 reason why extreme charediism is so hashkafically dangerous and will not last long. If a central part of your theology is the fact that gedolim determine reality, then any proof to the contrary threatens your entire religious framework. Therefore, in order not to be forced to admit that the religion you live and love is a lie, you need to shut your and your children's eyes to reality. There is a limit to how long that can last.

PsychoToddler said...

Personally, I don't believe that any of you really exist. You're all an elaborate hallucination.

Shraga said...

Funny how self-righteous and knowledgeable you all are. It just so happens to be that the current cosmological model has never been conclusively proven, and that according to Einstein's general theory of relativity it is possible that indeed, the sun, moon, planets and stars all revolve around Earth. Just thought that would interest all of you. Maybe not. After all, it's easier (and more fun) to bash Charedim with scientific theories you've accepted docilely for years than actually research the issue and the science behind it all, isn't it?

BrooklynWolf said...

Shraga,

My point here isn't necessarily proving the heliocentric model of the solar system. Rather, it's the notion that Gedolim somehow "define" reality with their very opinions.

In any event, please explain to me how, according to the Rambam's model of the solar system, Mercury could pass between the Sun and Mars.

You can find the relevant Rambam here.

Brooklyn Wolf

Larry Lennhoff said...

Personally, I don't believe that any of you really exist. You're all an elaborate hallucination.
Personally, I'm a solipsist. I don't understand why more people aren't solipsists.

Larry Lennhoff said...

May I also comment I find it amusing that you find it necessary in a post on how the gedolim don't define reality to find a source to support the idea? If there was not such a source would you find it necessary to believe that they do?

bluke said...

Shraga,

Does the sun go through a window at night and does the Earth have a roof? (see Chazal and Mistakes in Science). Do you believe the moon landing happened? Rav Yaakov Kaminetsky said that the landing on the moon proved that the Rambam was wrong when he described the moon as a spiritual being (see the Rambam in Hilchos Yesodei HaTorah perek 3 halachah 9 and 10).

bluke said...

Actually there is a gemara which is quoted l'halacha which supports this idea. The Gemara in Nidda 45a states that a girl under 3 who loses her virginity, the virginity (hymen) will grow back. The Yerushalmi comments that even if when she had relations she was over 3 but then the Beis Din made a leap year which in doing so made her now under 3, it will grow back. This is quoted l'halacha in the Rama Even Haezer Siman 20 sif 1 (see the Gra there). We see clearly that the Beis Din declaring a leap year changes reality. If they hadn't she would not be a virgin (the hymen would not grow back), since they did she is a virgin (it does grow back).

Mississippi Fred MacDowell said...

Bluke, a legal definition which defines personal status is not the same thing as changing reality.

BrooklynWolf said...

Bluke, a legal definition which defines personal status is not the same thing as changing reality. .

Indeed, see the comments thread (linked to in the original post) that started this thread and you'll see that LY and I discussed this in the context of milk/meat mixtures.

The Wolf

lakewoodyid said...

How do you know that the "tiny black dot" is mercury? maybe its something else.

And who said we pasken like the Yerushalmi?

BrooklynWolf said...

How do you know that the "tiny black dot" is mercury? maybe its something else.

Because what reason does NASA have to lie about something like that? Because if this was a lie and a conspiracy, it would require the co-operation of thousands of people - from professional and amateur astronomers to people who produce stargazing maps and software. And, lastly, anyone who could prove this wrong would probably win a Nobel prize.


And who said we pasken like the Yerushalmi?

And who said we pasken like a Midrash?! If it's a choice between a Midrash and a Yerushalmi, I'll take the Yerushalmi every day of the week.

In any event, I'm curious, LY. Do you believe in a geocentric model of the solar system? And if you do, how do you propose that Mercury passed between Mars and the Sun?

The Wolf

lakewoodyid said...

>Because what reason does NASA have to lie about something like that?

Why of course, to disprove the Rambam.

>Because if this was a lie and a conspiracy, it would require the co-operation of thousands of people - from professional and amateur astronomers to people who produce stargazing maps and software. And, lastly, anyone who could prove this wrong would probably win a Nobel prize.

What do you think Wolf, Should I go for it?

>And who said we pasken like the Yerushalmi?

>And who said we pasken like a Midrash?! If it's a choice between a Midrash and a Yerushalmi, I'll take the Yerushalmi every day of the week.

The Yerushalmi is in the beggining of Horiyas. I will look it up.

>In any event, I'm curious, LY. Do you believe in a geocentric model of the solar system? And if you do, how do you propose that Mercury passed between Mars and the Sun?

I have to research this issue.

BrooklynWolf said...

Why of course, to disprove the Rambam.

Do you seriously believe that NASA exists just to prove the Rambam wrong??? That the whole concept of the Copernican view of the solar system was just to prove the Rambam wrong????

The Wolf

bluke said...

It is not a legal definition but a physical one. The gemara says that the physical fact of whether the hymen will grow back or not changes based on whether the Beis Din declared a leap year or not.

Anonymous said...

Shraga

Welcome to 2006. Here in our century, we can show that the solar system is heliocentric, independent of the theory of relativity, using pendula, lense thirring, the fact that earthquakes like the Dec '04 monster can affect the rotation of the Earth (or would you say that a local event affected the entire universe, in contravention of the theory of relativity?). Even the Ptolemaic model on which the Rambam based himself, was not geocentric. It never worked with observation until they adjusted the position of the Earth away from the center. Interestingly, the Rambam cares about sustaining the observed facts. He doesn't claim that his halchas change the reality.

Anonymous said...

I refer you to observantastronomer.blogspot.com where he discusses the matter at length.

Ezzie said...

>Because what reason does NASA have to lie about something like that?

Why of course, to disprove the Rambam.


Wow. That may have been the most ridiculous comment I've ever seen... and I read DovBear!

Anonymous said...

bluke

When the gemara discusses whether the hymen grows back or not, it is referring to halachic chazaka, not physical fact. Until age 3, we can ASSUME that the hymen will grow back and that therefore, we make that assumption in affected areas of law. According to mystical approach, they would say that the fact that they paskened age three causes the hymen to grow back for an extra month. That isn't how halacha works. It does not matter if the giorl is a virgin or not, only that we can assume that she is.

bluke said...

A few points:

1. The Darkei Moshe in Even Haezer Siman 20 quotes a Yerushalmi which quotes a pasuk in Tehilim which is the source of this Din. If this was just a chazaka who needs a pasuk in Tehillim, it is obvious.
2. That is not what the gemara said. The Gemara doesn't say chazaka, the gemara says it grows back. 2. In addition the Yerushalmi there talks about Simanim and gadlus, how the Simanim come later if Beis Din declares a leap year, again the Gemara talks about a Metzius

FrumGirl said...

I had no idea this concept was still being disputed. I took it as a given that the sun is the center of the solar system. what an eye opener. I feel like I just walked back 300 years.

Ben Avuyah said...

Thank goodness for people like lakewood yid...

No one would believe these ideals still existed if not for his unabashed insistence.

The difficulty for even the modern othrodox out there who are watching this conversation unfold, is the realization that full adherence to the mesorah produces gedolim who spout nonreality, and require a flock of sheep ready to ingest the same. It makes the idea that the mesorah is a guideline to truth, all that much harder to swallow.

Anonymous said...

See the chinuch etc. on Lo Soser to see how we pasken.

Anonymous said...

bluke
Good points all

1. Ipcha Mistabra. I need a source for a chazaka. Observed fact is obvious

2. Not muchrach. The rambam, in hilchos shchita, states that if the chachamim state that an animal is kosher, even if we see medically that it cannot live, than "efhar tichiya". But it is clear from the next siyif that he does not mean that this is fact, but only halachic chazaka. This is a similar overly medayek diyuk.

3. I will have to review the Yerushalmi there, but a betting man would again put his money on halachic chazaka rather than physical fact, and that these diyukim are not muchrach.

lakewoodyid said...

>Do you seriously believe that NASA exists just to prove the Rambam wrong???

For the sake of arguing,

Remember the Midrash that the Satan created an image of Moshe Rabbeinu being carried in the sky to make the Jews think that Moshe died?

The Satan could be utilizing NASA to try to prove the Rambam wrong.

bluke said...

Anonymous,

If it was a chazaka there would be no need for a pasuk to be mechadesh the din that if they make a leap year, it would just work based on the chazaka. The pasuk is clearly teaching us that the physical facts change based on the psak.

bluke said...

Anonymous,

Look at the Yerushalmi inside (Kesuvos 1:2) especially the Pnei Moshe. The Pnei Moshe writes: אף הטבע מסכמת עליהן. Even nature agress with the psak. This is explicit that the psak changes reality.

Anonymous said...

bluke

There is no means to determine the matter of her status conclusively. The metzius is of no relevance to the din. She can say this or that, he can say this or that. The only question is can we reasonably assume her status or not?

In the din of a motzi shem ra, the gemorra has to reinterpret the matter of the bedsheet for precisely this reason. Even the sheet is not proof of anything (Yaakov was fooled for instance), and this is the Torah's own example. "Kayom" is an impossible burden of proof. That is why we must make an assumption as to what she is or isn't. We can assume that a 3 year old is a virgin, and the gemorra merely adds gravy for the daykanim. You can even assume so if the year is m'ubar. It is melitza, not a statement of daas Torah.

But it raises a very good point. This is the level of proof that they are reduced to in order to defend the concept in tradition.

bluke said...

You didn't answer the gemara nor the explicit language of the Pnei Moshe. The gemara doesn't say chazaka, it states a physical reality. The Pnei Moshe explains the Yerushalmi (which is the simple pshat ) that nature agrees with teh Beis Din, how do you explain that?

holy hyrax said...

The Satan could be utilizing NASA to try to prove the Rambam wrong.

You can't compare the two. I can see why falsifing the death of Moshe would be detremental for the Jews back then, but what significance does Rambam being wrong here have? So Rambam was wrong LY, get over it. It has no bearing on Torah Min Shamayim or anything else. Why are you fighting so hard to hold on to this? Rambam himself would have been more than happy to let his opinions go if it were proven wrong. Why can't you?

bluke said...

One of the mefrahim on the Yerushalmi there brings another example that psak affects reality from the Tosefta in Rosh Hashana (1:10). The Tosefta assumes that the מן did not fall on Yom Tov. The Tosefta says that how long the מן that fell on evev Rosh Hashana lasted depended on the psak of Beis Din. If Beis Din made the 30th Rosh Hashana then the מן lasted 2 days (the 29th and Rosh Hashana). However, if Beis Din made Rosh Hashana on the 31st, then the מן had to last a third day (29,30 because it didn't fall because it could have been Yom Tov, and Rosh Hashana). Again, we see that the psak of Beis Din affected the reality of when the מן rotted away.

bluke said...

I expanded my comments here into a post on my blog.

lakewoodyid said...

> So Rambam was wrong LY, get over it. It has no bearing on Torah Min Shamayim or anything else. Why are you fighting so hard to hold on to this?

Holy Hyrax,

Actually I don't have an opinion between the Rambam's view vs the scientist as I've never researched the issue. (The Rambams view isn't part of the Charedi High School curiculum....)

My point of arguing is simply to defend the assumed notion that science is automaticly correct.

Anonymous said...

bluke

The man is itself above nature, so natural laws cannot be applied to it. And, I do not even disagree with with your premise that someone somewhere might have defended mystical approach. But it certainly cannot be deemed a normative or pervasive principle in traditional Judaism.

Why don't the Rabbis just pasken more leniently on treifos and cause the diseases and injuries at their core to be irradicated? Can't their strictness be regarded as cruelty to the dying and invalid, as they can save lives and refuse to do so?

lakewoodyid said...

Anonymous,

We have a Mitzva called Mechiyas Amalek.

Cruelty in Halacha isn't defined by limited human intellect, its defined by the rules the Rabbi's were given as to how to define the laws of Torah.

holy Hyrax said...

My point of arguing is simply to defend the assumed notion that science is automaticly correct.

Its never automatically correct. Science like anything else goes through refinement till it reaches its conclusion through some evidence.

Anonymous said...

"1. The Darkei Moshe in Even Haezer Siman 20 quotes a Yerushalmi which quotes a pasuk in Tehilim which is the source of this Din. If this was just a chazaka who needs a pasuk in Tehillim, it is obvious."

- the posuk is necessary to tell you it's hadar dina.

- The posuk in question, "Ekra le-elokim elyon, le-kel goimar alei." The yerushalmi is taking le-kel goimar alei literaly. But what is god maskim to? You can understand this that the rbs"o is maskim to the beis din shel maata, to make her a besula again.

- in general, the yerushalmi brings psukim for many, many things on the same dinim that the bavli learns misavra, and they probably should be interpreted as asmachtas, not as a derusha gemura.

- The point here is that if all the yerushalmi is saying is that the reality conforms to what beis din says, it's not necessary for the yerushalmi to say "v'nimlichu beis din" - the same thing is true on years the shana is not meuberes. Normally, besuloseha chozros in three years, 36 months. This time, it's chozros in 37 months. The yerushalmi is not stressing that it this time takes 37 months! RAther, it's saying, her status is changed, and she's already considered a beula. Now, nimlichu beis din, and it's changing back.

"2. That is not what the gemara said. The Gemara doesn't say chazaka, the gemara says it grows back."

see above

2. In addition the Yerushalmi there talks about Simanim and gadlus, how the Simanim come later if Beis Din declares a leap year, again the Gemara talks about a Metzius"

#3 is a raaya that the pashtus is that we are discussing dinim, not chazaka.

lakewoodyid said...

>My point of arguing is simply to defend the assumed notion that science is automaticly correct.

>Its never automatically correct. Science like anything else goes through refinement till it reaches its conclusion through some evidence.

OK, I'll 'refine' my statement.

My point of arguing is simply to defend the assumed notion that scientific conclusions are always correct.

Anonymous said...

>> Cruelty in Halacha isn't defined by limited human intellect, its defined by the rules the Rabbi's were given as to how to define the laws of Torah.

At least Heshy was ludicrous to the point of absurdity. You, LY, are positively scary.

Romach said...

Never knew of that Yerushalmi. Thanks for pointing it out!

lakewoodyid said...

>You, LY, are positively scary.

Should I take that as a compliment?

HSB said...

Make this really simple for LY...

The Rambam was also a physician. If you became seriously ill, what treatment would opt for, the treatment the Rambam might have prescribed hundreds of years ago or the treatment prescribed by your 21st century physician? Do you take any modern medicines for ailments? Why would you do such a thing; after all, the Rambam didn't know of these pharmaceuticals and obviously would have prescribed different treatment.

Anonymous said...

Read "The Wager":

In the summer of 1975, an encounter took place between Rabbi F.R., a Lubavitcher chassid, and Mr. A.P., a "modernized" American Jew. Rabbi R. was seeking to influence Mr. P. toward a greater commitment to Torah observance, which the latter dismissed as "archaic" and dismally outdated. In the course of the conversation, Mr. P. said, "Are you telling me that every law and practice mentioned in the Torah, written thousands of years ago, must be accepted at face value today?"
"Certainly,” replied Rabbi R. "The Torah is eternal, and is equally pertinent to every day and age."
"The Torah states that the sun revolves around the earth," countered Mr. P. "Do you believe that as well?"
"Yes, I do," replied Rabbi R.
"Well, you might believe that," said Mr. P., "but no rational, self-respecting inhabitant of the 20th century does. I’m sure your rebbe, Rabbi Schneerson, doesn’t!"
"I’m sure he does," said the rabbi.
"I’m willing to wager anything that he does not," said Mr. P. "In fact, I’ll say this: If the Rebbe states that he believes that the sun revolves around the earth, I will become a Torah-observant Jew and convince everyone I know to do the same!"
"Would you put that in writing?" challenged Rabbi R.
"No problem," said Mr. P.

see the Rebbe's response here:

http://www.chabad.org/therebbe/article.asp?AID=73253

Anonymous said...

Wolf

This proof of the positions of the planets is no Ra'aya. Mars can be on the far side of its orbit around Earth, Mercury and the sun on the other side and Mercury will interpose between the sun and Mars.

However, a good proof is the fact that Venus and Mercury are often found on the far side of the sun from the Earth. Now, that cannot happen as the Rambam says that the Galgalim do not cross.