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MODERATOR Posted - 21 December 2005 16:35
This was submitted by ecilevy in the Lice and Spontaneous Generation forum. I am using it to start a new topic:

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The Rambam held that the science in Chazal was "incomplete". Why cant we just simplify matters and say that Chazal didn't know the facts about lice?

MODERATOR Posted - 21 December 2005 16:45
First: We don’t pasken like that Rabeinu Avrohom. The poskim do not accept it, and therefore, even if it is authentic (which is not at all clear – see below), it is no more useable than a halahicly unaccepted opinion of Bais Shammai for instance – 100% Torah Misiani, but we are not allowed to follow it. I discussed this a number of years ago on the site, but regarding the Rambam, (same issue though). Here’s an excerpt:

The Rama in Toras HaOlah quotes the Rambam who says that in the days of Neviim and Chazal, the science of astronomy was “incomplete”. The Rama strongly argues, stating clearly that we assume rabbinic science to be infallible, and ancient rabbinic knowledge of astronomy complete.
The Maharal (B’er Hagola 6) writes that when the sages mentioned a scientific fact, they derived it from their knowledge of the Torah and Hashem, Who is the Cause of all science. He says that science is inferior to Torah even where it comes to scientific knowledge, because scientists base their opinions on what they see, which is a finite and imperfect method of investigation, as opposed to knowledge of science through Torah, which is the root and cause for all facts in the world.
The fact that science in Chazal was gathered from “higher sources” was used by Rav Yehuda Breil ZTL, Rebbi of the author of encyclopedia Pachad Yitzchok, to refute his student’s suggestion that we reconsider Chazal’s leniency of killing lice on Shabbos because lice are spontaneously generated. The Pachad Yitzchok (topic: “zaide”) suggested to his Rebbi that now that science has refuted the possibility of spontaneous generation, we should not be lenient in allowing the killing of lice on Shabbos.
But Rav Breil did not accept the suggestion. Stating an idea similar to that of the Maharal, that Chazal’s knowledge is based on the reality, not mere scientific observation, it is certain that the rabbinic science is more accurate than the science of the scientists, and even if currently it appears one way, the rabbinic view will eventually be proven correct. He mentions that in the disagreement between the sages and the scientists regarding whether the sun revolves around the earth or vice versa, the sages conceded to the scientists, but centuries later, it was proven that the Torah sages were right all along (Moderator’s note: See Shitah Mekubetzes that the sages never conceded that the gentiles were right; they merely “lost the argument”. They knew from tradition that they were right; they just could not defend the correct position). .

(For the record, if memory serves, the Pachad Yitzchok never actually took that position in actual practice – i seem to rememrb that he prefaces his remarks with lulei demistapinah (“if I wouldn’t be scared, this is what I would say”), meaning that he thought it was a good idea, but he was not certain enough about it for him to actually take it on as his position. So he presented it to his Rebbi for feedback. His Rebbi basically told him that he was right for being scared to say it because it is 100% wrong.)

Subsequent to that post, Volume 10 of Yabia Omer was published, which points this out as well. In YD:24 he discusses a certain Rabbi Shamah who was teaching the opinion of Rabbeinu Avrohom in a Sefardic Yeshiva in Brooklyn. Rav Ovadiah writes that it is wrong to do so, because we do not pasken like that Rabeinu Avrohom. He quotes the Ramah, the Shitah Mekubetzes, and Rav Breil that I mentioned (as well as others, kdarko). After he explains how Chazal and are correct in what they say, both in Halachah and Agada, even if the scientists claim differently, and that in those places where science seems to contradict Chazal – he gives 2 examples: spontaneous generation of lice and the earth beign the center of the solar system – Chazal are correct, afterwards he writes: “And I am not unaware of what Rabeinu Avrohon ben Harambam wrote, that was printed at the beginning of the Ain Yaakov . . . but nevertheless, we [hold] that we [abide] only by Chazal, as per the Achronim that I have quoted. And indeed we see that the doctors and scientists of today, their mouths are full of laughter as they mock the scientists and doctors of previous generations. And there is no doubt that the scientists of the next generation after us will similarly laugh at the scientists and the doctors of our generation, and refute their opinions, and so why should we rely on their opinions over those of Chazal?”


More about the opinion of the Rambam (and Rabeinu Avrohom): Some people wrongly assume that since the Rambam is “more acceptable” to people whose Hashkofos are not very developed, such as in Kiruv situations, it is desirable to teach this Rambam to such people in order to “answer” their questions about scientists contradicting Chazal. This is wrong on many levels:

1) You cant teach someone that something against the Halachah is correct, even if you cant think of a better answer to his question;
2) This is not only a spin on the Halachah, but an unnecessary one as well. There are many other answers available that are Halachicly correct. Instead of using bad but easy answers, work harder and learn the right ones.
3) The Rambam’s answer is fraught with difficulties, which, obviously, like all difficult Rambams, have excellent answers, but until we find them, we are misunderstanding something – very possibly the Rambam itself. If we are going to accept the idea that scientists actually do understand natural science in a realistic manner, and that Chazal would have agreed with the scientists had they known the scientific evidence they know today, we will have difficulty understanding things such as the Halachah in the Yerushalmi at the beginning of Kesuvos, which says that a girl’s besulim, which develop at age three, appear and disappear in accordance with the psakim of Bais Din regarding whether to accept witnesses who testify that her third birthday had arrived (i.e. because of their sighting of the new moon). The girl’s biology, the Yerushalmi says, follows the Halachah. This is not only against today’s scientific understanding, but obviously against the scientific understanding in the days of Chazal. Yet we see that Chazal made statements regarding natural phenomena with both full awareness and utter disregard for the fact that any scientist would laugh. The Rambam’s statement is not going to help us here, and whatever explanation you will use for this Yerushalmi – such as something in the direction of Rav Breil’s words, that Chazal had an extra-scientific awareness of reality that the scientists cannot access – will also explain the other discrepancies between Chazal and scientists, such as lice. So if you use the Rambam’s answer in a Kiruv situation, it may work but only if the person asking the question is sufficiently ignorant about what Chazal say about besulim and other such statements that cannot be reconciled based on the Rambam. If he knows that, using the Rambam to answer his quesitons only makes things more complictaed, not less.

4) Also important to note, is that the Rambam’s statement is in Moreh Mevuchim, not Mishneh Torah, which means that the answer he wrote was not necessarily exclusive of other answers. The Rambam may well have recognized the plausibility of the approach of the Poskim, that Chazal are simply right in a way that the scientists are not aware of, yet he did not record that in his sefer. This is because whereas normally, we would say when a Rishon answers a question one way, he by doing so implicitly rejects other possible answers, with the More Nevuchim this is not the case. This is because the Moreh Nevuchim was written specifically for, well, Nevuchim, and so the Rambam chose to use answers to questions that would be most most understandable and productive for Nevuchim, even if they are not always the best answer objectively, nor the most halchicly accepted one. Similarly, the Poskim write that Rashi’s commentary on Tanach was not meant l’halachah, but rather to give the most straightforward explanation of the posuk. But poshut pshat is not always the actual Halachah. In a similar way the Rambam wrote Moreh Nevuchim as the most understandable pshat for confused people, even if there are other, more complex pshatim that he would pasken like, if given a halachic question. Of course, both pshatim are legitimate, but (a) the rambam never meant to say that other pshatim are wrong, (b) he never meant to say that other peshatim are not preferable objectively, and (c) he never meant that the pshat he is presenting is l’halachah. He merely meant to say that this pshat is more understandable to nevochim, who are perhaps incapable of understanding or accepting the better pshat.

Second: It is not at all clear that this statement in the Maamar al Drashos CHazal, as printed in the Ain Yaakov, was ever written by Rabbeinu Avrohom to begin with.

In the JTS collection in New York (2324.1), there is a different version of the Ksav Yad, in which it says after one paragraph, ad kan leshon HaRav (Avraham). The rest was written by someone called Eliezer Eilenburg, a kabbalist who followed R. Avraham Abulafia's teachings. The ma'amar is interspersed with kabbalistic references and a mention of R. Abulafiah's Imrei Shefer, which obviously were never written by R. Avraham. The manuscript, in fact, is catalogued under the authorship of Eliezer Eilenburg, while the title remains Ma'amar al Drashos Chazal. Everywhere that the Ein Yaakov version says “avi mori”, indicating was written by the Rambam's son, this version instead says “HaRav Moreh Tzeddek”, indicating it was someone else.

There is also a sefer Imrei Yosher on Midrash which quotes the ma'amar of R. Avraham, and does not contain the controversial section.

The Arabic section found in the library of Westminster College in England also does not contain that section. (Regrettably, it is not a complete version, so it cannot offer conclusive proof.)

It is possible that Eilenburg added these ideas on his own. It is possible that he found them elsewhere as a commentary to R. Avraham and therefore, in his edition, listed the ideas as being separate from R. Avraham's own words. The other possibility is that he really was using R. Avraham's words, but lied and pretended they were his own thoughts.

Another interesting difference is that the printed editions have the signature of R. Avrohom at the end of the Maamar, which is clearly a forgery, for in all the kisvei yad of this, Rabbeinu Avraham's signature does not appear at the end.
So we know for a fact that they forged Rabeinu Avrohoms signature at the end of the Maamar. The manuscripts contradict this, and rightly so, because the Maamar Al Drashos Chazal is an excerpt from the Sefer HaMaspik L'Ovdei Hashem, written by Rabbeinu Avrohom ben HaRambam, so why would he sign his name in the middle of a sefer? The maskilim obviously had an agenda, and we know from Rav Tzaddok that they liked to tamper with Kisvei Yad in this way. There is no question at all that the Maskilm tampered wiht the Ksav Yad; the only question is how much. We see they definitely tampered with the end, they sure could have tampered with the beginning, maybe even with the ksav yad they found by Oppenheim.
The first time ma'amar odos drashos chazal was ever printed, it was printed by the Maskilim, in their publication, Kerem Chemed, year 2, in 1836. Later, in 1859 it went to kovetz teshuvos Rambam. Ein Yaakov first printed it in 1877.
Rav Tzaddok (Zichronos 51) writes that a well known tactic of maskilim was to print kisvei yad of rishonim to which they had exclusive access, adding comments to fit their agenda and claiming it was the view of this rishon. He says we should be very wary of new kisvei yad when published, checking for insertions to support the agenda of maskilim, unless you know the motzi la'or.
The manuscript with the controversial segment was in a library in Germany (I think) and may have been altered before being sent to the printer and later being placed in Oxford.

MODERATOR Posted - 03 February 2006 17:58
The following is a response to a poster in the "lice" thread who claims that Rav Shlomo Zalman AUrbach ZTL and Rav SR Hirsch ZTL held like Rabeinu Avrohom.


First, please read the above post, reagrding the Rbaeinu Avrohom.

Next: Rav Shlomo Zalman never said such a thing and never help such a thing. You are misinformed. Rav Shlomo Zalman said just the opposite --- that the shitah of Rabbeinu Avrohom is a minority opinion, and Rav Shlomo Zalman added, said you can add to the list of the the majority opposing opinion all those who use the principle of Nishtau Hativim to explain the discrepancy between the physical reality and certain statements of Chazal. The fact that they did not employ the idea that Chazal’s science was incorrect shows that they did not consider it a viable option.

As far as Rav Hirsch, nowhere in any of his writings is such a thing to be found. Nor did any of his Talmidim ever say any such thing in his name.. The idea that Rav Hirsch held that was based the discovery of an unpublished, unsigned essay written by an unknown author, who everyone agrees was definitely not Rav Hirsch - the handwriting is clearly not his – which was not signed by Rav Hirsch nor is there any indication anywhere in the content of the letter that it is the opinion of Rav Hirsch. No reference to Rav Hirsch is made in the essay at all. It was also not written in German, but Hebrew.


The letter was found among letters of Rav Hirsch in the possession of his family. Prof. Mordechai Breuer decided that based on the style of the letter, it must have been Rav Hirsch’s but transcribed by a member of his family. He also decided, based on time place and style, but no proof, that the letter was meant by Rav Hirsch to be sent in response to a specific person etc.


Speculation, of course, and certainly not compelling reason to attribute to Rav Hirsch a position that flies in the face of Halachah and Hashkafa as we know it. Perhaps, in balancing the evidence of authorship, Prof. Breuer did not realize what a radical position he is attributing to Rav Hirsch. Prof Breuer moreover does not claim to have any evidence from any of the myriad of Rav Hirsch’s known writings that he held anything in the direction of what this letter says.

And even if the words themselves were dictated by Rav Hirsch, we have no compelling reason to believe they were intended to represent his conclusive position. For all we know, Rav Hirsch could have put what passed for a 19th century version of a post-it on the letter that said, “Apikorsus that I need to refute.”

More: If you read the letter carefully, you will find that its content is so parallel to the writings of the Meor Anayim on the same topic so as to smack of plagiarism.


So no, I don’t believe for a second that this was Rav Hirsch’s position. And even even even if it as, it is still a small minority opinion that hs been rejected in the strongest terms possible by the overwhelming body of sages throughout the generations.All you would have is a kasha on Rav Hirsch. You do not overturn an entire body of Torah principles accepted throughout the generations because an individual Achron seems to contradict it. You have a kasha on the Achron, not a cause to change the principle.

Benj613 Posted - 04 July 2006 17:11
"First: We don’t pasken like that Rabeinu Avrohom."

How can you not "pasken" (i.e. decide that statement x is followed legally) a question of fact? How can you say we follow the opinion that, e.g., the grass is not green but blue, if an analysis of the wavelengths reflected off of the grass determines that those reflected are those that cause the eye to see the color we describe with the word "green"? Paskening has to do with what actions are legally required, not what facts are true or false. Right?

MODERATOR Posted - 04 July 2006 17:50
Youre confusing two meanings of "pasken". If youre talkign abotu a machlokes where the posek cannot decide who is right, and cannot bring supproting proof for either side, then he has to "pasken" what to do. He will follow certain rules such as safek doraisa kechumrah, drabonon lekulah, halachah kebasrai etc.

However, if we do have compelling evidence, including superior authority, quantitative and qualitative factors considered, in favor of one opinion in a machlokes, then, depending on whose opinion it is and other factors, we will either reject it as wrong, shrug our shoulders and say we have no idea what it means, or that we dont understand it, or he must means something else, or something like that, but we would disregard it l'maaseh. That applies to what you call facts as well.

(If you dont like the phrase "pasken", you can use any other term you like, but it means that certain hashkofos, although stated by legeitimate authorities, are not accepted.)

All the more so in a case where we are talking not about a fact sucvh as whether the grass is blue or green but a theological belief - the question is what is the proper Torah hashkafa, and it affects the proper way to fulfill the required belief in the truth of Torah Shebal Peh, and the parameters of makchish megidehah.

There is no disagreement about this -- as I mentioned, rav Ovadiah Yosef has a Teshuva about this, where he states clearly we pasken not like Rabeinu Avrohom; Rav Ahron Kotler ZTL stated that it is not part of our Mesorah, and Rav Elyashev has also recently stated that although Rabbeinu Avrohom said such a thing, we may not.

It all means the same thing: We dont hold like Rabbeinu Avrohom.

And so, we are not allowed to hold like Rabbeinu Avrohom.

liek we are not allwoed to hold like any opinion, as legitimate as it may be, which was rejected by our mesorah.

That is not because we apply rules of psak such as sfeika doraisa lechumra and the like, but because the weight of Torah authority throughout the generations disagreed, as well as the fact that our understanding of what Rabeinu Avrohom says flies in the face of various statements of Chazal themselves.

taon Posted - 04 July 2006 19:10
we do disagree with what other poskim say even in non-Halachic situations.
MODERATOR Posted - 04 July 2006 19:11
Absolutely correct.
MODERATOR Posted - 14 July 2006 1:44
More on the Opinion of the Rambam:

In More Nevuchim (3:14) the Ranbam writes:
(Guide for the Perplexed, 3:14)

"Do not ask me to reconcile everything that they (i.e. Chazal) mentioned regarding astronomy with what is reality, for the sciences in those days were lacking, and they did not speak about them through traditions from the prophets, but rather on their own independent knowledge or what was obtained from contemporary scientists."


The Rama in Toras HaOlah (1:2) quotes this Rambam and strongly disagrees, stating clearly that we assume rabbinic science to be infallible, and ancient rabbinic knowledge of astronomy complete. The Ramah has stated that we do not pasken like the Rambam here. As do the Maharal and the majority of our Torah authorities throughout the ages, as mentioned above.

Aside from that, it is not clear that the Rambam himself would have applied this position in actual practice. The Rambam’s statement is in Moreh Mevuchim, not Mishneh Torah, which means that the answer he wrote was not necessarily exclusive of other answers. The Rambam may well have recognized the plausibility – and even superiority - of the approach of the majority of our sages, that Chazal are simply right in a way that the scientists are not aware of, yet he did not record that in his sefer. This is because whereas normally, we would say when a Rishon answers a question one way, he by doing so implicitly rejects other possible answers, with the More Nevuchim this is not the case. This is because the Moreh Nevuchim was written specifically for, well, Nevuchim, and so the Rambam chose to use answers to questions that would be most understandable and productive for Nevuchim, even if they are not always the best answer objectively, nor the most halchicly acceptable one. Similarly, the Poskim write that Rashi’s commentary on Tanach was not meant l’halachah, but rather to give the most straightforward explanation of the posuk. But poshut pshat is not always the actual Halachah. In a similar way the Rambam wrote Moreh Nevuchim as the most understandable pshat for confused people, even if there are other, more complex pshatim that he would pasken like, if given a halachic question. Of course, both pshatim are legitimate, but (a) the rambam never meant to say that other pshatim are wrong, (b) he never meant to say that other peshatim are not preferable objectively, and (c) he never meant that the pshat he is presenting is l’halachah. He merely meant to say that this pshat is more understandable to nevochim, who are perhaps incapable of understanding or accepting the better pshat.

Finally, if we take this statement of the Rambam in the context of his own statements elsewhere, what he says in More Nevuchim may mean something entirely different:

In Hilchos Kidush HaChodesh, The Rambam says that in the days of the prophets, we had seforim written on astronomy that were authored by the tribe of Yissachar, regarding whom it is stated (Divrei Hayamim I 12:33), “And of the children of Yissachar, men with understanding of the times (i.e. astronomy)”, and we would normally use the astronomy of the Bnei Yissachar, not the astronomy of contemporary scientists, for Halachic matters, but unfortunaltey, that book has been lost. And so, the Rambam explains that he has to rely on the science of the scientists, adding that because what they write is independently verifiable and based on solid proofs, we may rely on them.

This is why the Rambam states in More Nevuchim that the astronomy of Chazal was based on science “and not tradition form the prophets” – because we did have a tradition from the prophets about astronomy, but it was lost. So that is why Chazal had no choice but to rely on whatever mathematical proofs there existed ain their times. But this loss of ancient tradition is described by the Rambam only in regard to astronomy, and so only in that area, Chazal had to rely on scientists. In other areas of science, our tradition from the prophets – as is described by the Chosid Yaavetz in Ohr Hachaim - was intact.

In summary:
1) The Rambam is opposed by the Ramah and a majority of our sages, and is not accepted l’halachah

2) The Rambam is written in More Nevuchim and therefore not necessarily meant l’halachah to begin with, and proper halachic due procvess is to minimize halachic machlokes as much as possible

3) The Rambam only stated that Chazal relied on the science of their times regarding astronomy, about with the Rambam himself states that we had a tradition from the prophets but it went lost, and that is why we must rely on the science of the gentiles.

LchapesEmes Posted - 02 October 2008 14:25
Rabbi Moderator, I thought until a few days ago that I had no problem with believing that every letter of chazal and all the rishonim's science was true. But am I mechuyav to believe everything in hilchos yesodei hatorah perek gimel? Is it torah l'moshe misinai that the earth is 40 times bigger than the moon, and that no star is bigger than the sun, and that everything is made of a combination of four elements and four qualities (lach, yavesh, kar, cham) ? Do you? Especially when the rambam himself says he got his info from Aristotle and other goyishe astronomers. Do our eyes looking through the telescopes deceive us? Is the table of elements a fable? (I saw today from kovetz tshuvos chasam sofer siman 26 that although he rejects what scientists say that there are more elements, he implies that if they had stronger proofs then he would agree.) I'm just not sure what to think. I don't want to chas v'shalom be an apikores for one second. I'm a kollel yungerman. I just want to know if I have to basically forget about all modern astronomy and, for simplicity's sake, not think about it at all. I heard on a tape once from Rabbi Avigdor Miller ztvk"l that the four elements are a Greek fable and when we find it in sforim we should consider it a moshol, as well as stuff like tzuros and chomer and hiuli. These things appear in places like perush ramban on chumash, etc. I have no problem believing that these are real inyonim in kabbalah and oylamos haruchni'im, but to desribe the physical world? ham'yachel l'tshuvah lifnei yom hadin; Yasher koyach!
MODERATOR Posted - 02 October 2008 17:03
While you are correct about what the Gra said, we today are not on the level to say what is the influence of philosophy and what is not. Even many commentators refrained from doing so. Even what you quoted about the four elements, it is similar in ways to a simpler statement which science fits into very well. Many such comments of the Rambam and others such as the Meam Loez are completely understandable when properly explained (There is one statement in particular I am thinking of, where the Meam Loez mentioned several things about the planets and other celestial bodies, which seemed not to fit with what scientists knew even when I had first learnt it; up until a few years ago, when scientists suddenly announced their "discoveries" of these things in contrast to what they had originally "known", and used almost the same terms as in the sefer).

While many commentaries skip over the perakim you are speaking about, there are some that go through them in brief, and others at least have introductions giving general explanations, and many of the relatively recent printings have similar introductions and explanations. Hopefully, these will clear up your questions. If you have specific questions after that, feel free to post them if you wish, in the Torah learning section.

yaavetz Posted - 20 October 2008 15:22
Moderator-- I don't understand. How do you explain the fact that many rishonim, not just the Rambam, used Aristotle's celestial spheres theory, including Ran, Ralbag, and Abarbanel, when clearly that is not the view of modern science. The Malbim in Bereshis even asks that we know this configuration of the universe is incorrect, and is forced to explain differently.

Regarding the four elements (mayim, avir, afar, aish) is this also to be beleived as reliable? Didn't Abarbanel write an entire kuntres on the subject, citing the major philosophers of his time? It definitely doesn't sound like a mashal. Can this concur with modern science?

MODERATOR Posted - 20 October 2008 16:29
We already explained that the Torah - including Talmudic sages as well as Rishonim - may say things that the scientists will not agree with because the Torah literature is referring to the most internal root cause of the science, whereas scientists are only able to decipher "observable" science, which is a different chochma totally. See my post of 2/26/06 in:

http://www.frumteens.com/topic.php?topic_id=8893&forum_id=59&topic_title=Chazal's+Knowledge+of+Science:+Wherefrom%3F&forum_title=Torah+and+Science&M=0&S=1

Matisyohu28 Posted - 20 October 2008 17:59
Rav Mod, a chavrusa of mine said in the name of Reb Yakov Kaminetzky that he held that certain statements in yesodei hatorah, like about the moon being gas, were not torah, but were what the rambam held, independent of mesorah - is this so? he (my chavrusa) said not to quote him on it, and that he had no reliable source to base it on other than what he had been told.

Mussar teaches you how to live. But learning bava kama is living! - Rav Avigdor Miller ZT'L

MODERATOR Posted - 20 October 2008 18:02
This was discussed:

http://www.frumteens.com/topic.php?topic_id=1262&forum_id=13&Topic_Title=Science+and+the+Gemara&forum_title=Basic+Judaism

yaavetz Posted - 31 October 2008 0:47
R' Moderator, I still don't understand how that answers the question. I'm not asking about chazal. Agreed, the words of chazal do not have to be explained literally, or as referring to physical things. But what about the rishonim? They quote their science straight from Aristotle and Ptolmey. I do not see a way to say that the rishonim are not to refering to the physical world. As I mentioned, even the malbim understood them literally.
If we are to say such a thing that the rishonim are refering to something beyond the physical, were the scientists they quoted refering to that spiritual world as well?
MODERATOR Posted - 02 November 2008 0:50
You need to give me some information- like what Rishonim's quotes are you referring to?


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