Monday, July 11, 2005

Is there psak in hashkafa?

The Rambam writes in 3 places in the Perush Hamishnayos (Sanhedrin 10,3, Sotah 3,3, Shavuos 4,1) and in the Sefer Hamitzvos lo taaseh 133 that there is no psak on hashkafa which is not relevant to halacha. The last point is a crucial one, namely the Rambam is talking where there is no practical difference in halacha. Here is a quote from one of the Rambam's (Sotah 3,3 the language is almost the same in all of them)

וכבר אמרתי פעמים רבות כשיש מח' בין החכמים בסברת אמונה אין תכליתו מעשה מן המעשים שאין אומרים שם הלכה כפלוני

As I already wrote many times when there is a dispute between the chachamim on a matter of faith that has no relevance to action we don''t say the hakacha is like ploni

Let us now analyze the Slifkin affair in light of the Rambam.

The creation story/age of the world has absolutely no relevance to halacha, there is no difference in halacha whether we say that it was 6 days of 24 hours, 6 long days, or 6 time periods. The dispute is purely in terms of ideas (hashkafa) and therefore as the Rambam says there is no psak on such a dispute. And therefore R' Slifkin as long as he finds some source (which he has, R' Dessler) is fine.

Whether Chazal made mistakes in science would also seem to not affect halacha at all. As R' Dessler and others said, the halacha doesn't change even if the reason given is wrong in science, we assume that the halacha Chazal had a kabbala on and they made a mistake in the reason. Therefore, again the principle of the Rambam should apply, since there is no practical relevance to halacha there is no psak on such a case. Therefore, we cannot say that there is psak against the Rambam as this is not something that we pasken on.

One note, according to this Rambam there could be a psak regarding the ikkarei haemuna as that is relevant to halacha, who is a kofer. However, in any case, this is not relevant to the Slifkin affair because neither the order of the creation story/age of the world nor whether chazal made mistakes in science is one of the ikarrei haemuna and therefore they are not relevant to halacha.


Nobody said...

With regards to Chazal and mistakes in science, the question of is something Torah is a halachic question. There is an obligation to learn and know the whole Torah. Does it include those things? Once we say that it is Torah, then Torah is true, and we are obligated to believe it. To deny a part of Torah is true is Kefirah.

We may say that it isn't meant literally (as it sometimes clearly is not), we may say it is a parable (as it sometimes is), we may argue about how it is interpreted, as we often do, we may say that statement A is one opinion, but the conclusion is different, but we can't just reject it as wrong.

Now, if we interpret it as a parable, or otherwise, because "science" (that is the prevailing philosophy of the day) or any other philosophy, thinking, etc. outside of Torah, disagrees, then we are engaging in apologetics.

Apologetics has good pedigree, from Moreh Nevuchim on, with the best of intentions; but it isn't Torah.

Regarding the age of the world, that would seem to tie into the above. If in order to come to your opinion on the age of the world you simply rely on a valid opinion in Torah, great, it is apologetics at worst. But often that is not the case. It is rather by rejecting large chunks of Chazal, kabbalah, etc. as wrong, leaving open enough space to shoehorn in some "scientific" view. That becomes problematic and open to at least the question of is this Kefirah? And the answer may well depend on the P'sak of the question of do Chazal make statements about science outside of Torah.

bluke said...

No one is denying that anything is not Torah. Just like the gemara's hava amina that is completely rejected is torah Chazal's medical statements are Torah as well even if they are mistaken. When the amoraim have a debate about what a given tanna said or about a metzius one is wrong and one is right, yet both are Torah.

The rest of you comment I didn;t really understand.

bluke said...

Are you saying that the Moreh Nevuchim isn't Torah???

bluke said...

To continue my previous comment, if Chazal's medical statements are still Torah (which I believe they are even if they are mistaken just like an Amora's foolish statement (בדותא) is Torah and just like the statement in Sanhedrin that there is no mashiach is torah) then your whole argument falls apart. There is no halachic relevence to the question of whether Chazal made mistakes in science.

Nobody said...

"if Chazal's medical statements are still Torah (which I believe they are even if they are mistaken ...) then your whole argument falls apart. There is no halachic relevence to the question of whether Chazal made mistakes in science.

I don't think anything in Chazal is mistaken in the sense that you mean (אלו ואלו דברי אלקים חיים). However, it is way beyond a comment to try to explain that.

When you say "Chazal made mistakes in science." You are saying that they said something which is not true. Not that it is true spirtually, it was true for a time, it was meant as a parable. You simply mean they said X they meant X and X is wrong and it was wrong when they said it, and that this is their conclusion.

That, to me, is saying that Torah is mistaken, so I find holding the two positions rather contradictory. If it is not Torah, it can be wrong. If it is then it can't.

"Are you saying that the Moreh Nevuchim isn't Torah???"

About Moreh Nevuchim per se, I'm not sure. My comment was more directed at more modern apologetics. I referenced Moreh Nevuchim to show the important pedigree of apologetics. It (more modern apologetics) may be permissable (although not necessarily a good idea), even if it isn't Torah.

Anonymous said...

To Nobody,

The problem that you are struggling with is the aphorism that "Torah is Emes". What bluke is trying to say is that everything in Torah is not necessarily Emes.

bluke said...

There are clearly things that are found in chazal that aren't true. The gemara has many many statements that were hava amina's that are completely rejected. In other words after examination they were found not be true.

Nobody said...

"In other words after examination they were found not be true."

But you are rejecting things decided as conclusions by Chazal, not things that they themselves rejected.

As I said, the truth of a rejected opinion, let alone a hava amina, is much too much to go into, and if you don't accept it about conclusions of the gemarra, there isn't really any point in discussing hava aminas.

bluke said...

I am going to post an example of a hava amina that is completely wrong (the gemara rejects it otu hand as pshat in the mishna). You can then explain to me whether it is Torah and whether it is true.

Nobody said...

"I am going to post an example of a hava amina that is completely wrong"

I would much rather hear your comments on conclusions, and why they are wrong, but still Torah.

bluke said...

If a hava amina that is wrong is part of torah why not a scientific fact that is wrong?

We do not say elu v'elu divrei elokim chayim on a hava amina that is rejected as wrong. Yet it is still torah.

Nobody said...

"If a hava amina that is wrong is part of torah why not a scientific fact that is wrong?"

None of the Rishonim you quote say that. They say it is not Torah. To quote them as you quoted them:

"they did not speak out of traditions from the prophets regarding these matters"

"their expertise in their explanations of the Torah and its details ... does not obligate us to defend them and uphold their views in all of their sayings in medicine, and in scientific knowledge"

"they only spoke from their opinion based on what they saw in their day."

Anyway, getting back to the core question here, you asserted that the machlokes Rishonim and Geonim of if Chazal statements about science can be mistaken is not subject to psak.

Can we agree that it is Kefirah to deny the Torah (leaving to be determined exactly what that encompases) is from Hashem, and that it is true?

Can we agree that if someone denies statement X in the Torah is true, that becomes relevant to the question of Kefirah? That is, we have to know if statement X is something in Torah that it is Kefirah to deny?

Then, finally, can we agree that this machlokes Rishonim will affect what we say about denying some statements?

DarkBlueHat said...

Great posts! Keep up the good work.

Anonymous said...

"One note, according to this Rambam there could be a psak regarding the ikkarei haemuna as that is relevant to halacha, who is a kofer."

Their argument is that besides the ikarim, the rambam lists makchish magideha as something that makes you a min, and they are claiming that makchish magideha is therefore something there is a p'sak on...they are effectively using it to add on to the ikarei emuna over time.
The irony is that the rambam obviously didn't consider that saying chazal erred on science is part of makchish magideha, so they are in the absurd position of arguing that anyone who subscribes to the rambam's shita is a kofer by the rambam's own light.

Just reporting...:)

Anonymous said...

The real question is whether and how there came to be p'sak about the ikarim.
The argument is that the ikarim were accepted by klal yisroel (or their poskim) just as the Shulchan aruch and bavli were, so that they became useable for p'sak.
They say that nowadays, the p'sak is that the world is not ancient, and that chazal didn't err on science.

Some seem to be saying that until this is universally accepted, there's a machlokes, so that someone who believes these things believes kefira, but we can't say they're a kofer personally until "Everyone" agrees to them, as they did w/ the ikarim.
Some seem to be saying that everyone agrees to them now (or only waiting for a majority and claiming a majority agrees to them) and that people who espouse these views are kofrim, but if they are shogegim, then they don't count as a min (and they further appear to be saying that Slifkin is a shogeg, b/c he thinks he has who to rely on, etc)

I think this is absurd of course, as the ikarim were voluntarily accepted and one can't just wake up in the morning and start paskening that view A is kefira and view B isn't on any hashkafic issue...but they seem to think one can.

The difficulty is that it's hard to see if one can defend the ikarim as a benchmark for kefira, unless one posits that in theory, if everyone starts accepting that chazal couldn't err on science, and everyone who thought so was mistaken, then belief that chazal could err on science could become kefira too. It's virtually inconceivable that everyone would ever accept this, but still, the notion that what is kefira can change radically is very troublesome.

Anonymous said...

IOW, what they've accomplished with this ban is revive the idea that the ikarim may also not be mandatory, b/c they base their whole idea of the nonacceptablity of these views (ancient universe, chazal erring on science) on the same process that got the ikarim accepted. They've revived the acceptability of the notion that maybe people can reject the ikarim too, which is just another way the ban has boomeranged. There are now many more MO who believe the ikarim are not mandatory than there were before the ban.

Ploni Almoni said...

I think that most of us who hold that Chazal made errors in science would say that those statements are not Torah. It is different from hava aminas because they are part of the method of reaching the truth on a Torah issue. However if you hold that Chazal erred on science, it means that they did not receive it from Sinai. The subject matter also has nothing to do with Torah. In some cases is is not even relevant to Torah. Even when it is relevant such as the issue of how lice reproduce, since their knowledge came from a source outside of Torah & it isn't directly part of what the Torah discusses, it is at best a Hechsher Mitzvah. So I agree with Nobody's point that it has some Halachik ramification whether one has an obligation to study it & whether one can make a Birchas Hatorah on such study.
It can be argued that it falls under Psak for another reason. Rabbi Feldman writes that that R. Eliashiv believes that they can be rightfully categorized as heresy (apikorsus) ... I believe this is because they diminish the honor and the acceptability of the words of the Sages, which has the status of apikorsus. Therefore it is an issue of Ikarim which is under the purview of psak. In addition he could have said like Nobody did that if you deny part of Torah being true, it is Kefirah. However one can counter this last argument by saying that firstly even R' Feldman is not sure whether they got this knowledge directly from Torah or סוד ה' ליראיו. If it is the latter, I don't think that it would be part of Torah with which one fulfills the Mitzvah of Torah study & denying it it would not involve denying part of Torah. This is because the knowledge did not originate from Torah or any of the hermenutical methods with which Torah is derived, but rather Ruach Hakodesh on a matter external to Torah.
An additional point should be made that there is concept that the Sanhedrin can make an error in Torah & in some cases must bring a Korban when they discover that error. The Rambam writes that the Bais Din Hagodol is the great pillar of Torah She-Bal-peh. I don't see the Gemara'a authority being any greater than the Sanhedrin. Therefore ,even if one argues that Chazal derived their scientific knowledge from Torah, it does not preclude the possibility of error. Considering that the evidence is cogent that they did make errors in these areas, I don't see it as being Kefirah to believe that.
Regarding Rabbi Feldman's statement that it diminishes the honor of the words of the sages, it is obvious to many of us that that argument is not true. Saying that Chazal were human & made statements regarding scientific matters based on the knowledge of their times, does not take away from their Gadlus in Torah.

Ploni Almoni said...

In addition, if people mistakenly attribute to Chazal things that are not true, does that obligate everyone to believe it, because otherwise we are taking away from their honor? To use an analogy, because some people believe that the Lubavitcher Rebbe or some other Rebbe had great powers, does that obligate me to believe it because otherwise I am being Mevazeh a Talmid Chaham?

bluke said...

Ploni Almoni,

I disagree. We can ask why did chazal include scientific statements in the gemara at all? The gemara is not a science textbook? How did they decide which facts to put in?

The answer I heard from my rabbeim is that science is never brought only for the science, rather, there is also some kind of Torah message as well. Therefore, even if the science is wrong, the underlying torah message is still there. Therefore even if Chazal made mistakes in science it is still Torah.

reuven manber said...

I recently reread Slifkin's book on Nysterious creatures. In it he discusses references in the Gemara and Rishonim to Unicorns,Phoenix's, mermaids, Dragons,Fire Salamanders,Spontaneous generation and cratures which are half alive and half earth.A ccording to current science such creatures never existed and in many cases couldn't exist, even theoretically.I am sure any high school teacher, including those
teaching in US Haredi high schools would agree. Does R' Feldman's letter imply that not believing in the existence of all these creatures is K'firah, Does that mean all the biology and physics being taught in the High schools is also K'firah. Actually assuming that creatures can live forever and are regenerated in fire (Phoenix) and adherence to the Scientific method are probably self contradictory, and thus, IMHO, all of modern science is K'firah and all science textbooks should be immediately bannmed as a logical consequence of R' Feldman's letter and R'Eliashiv's Psak.
Have Ii misinterpreted R'Felman and R'Eliashiv.In what way?

Ploni Almoni said...

Even if the science recorded in the Gemara is meant to have some Torah message as well, or to be a Moshol for some mystical concepts, I would argue that one who does not understand the message, has not fulfilled the mitzvah of Torah study. As is well known,one does not fulfill the mitzvah of learning Torah she-bal-peh unless one understands it.

bluke said...


No you haven't, that is a big part of the problem with the psak. We would have to ban a heck of a lot of books (and sefarim as well).

elie said...

Moreh Nevuchim 3:14
“You must, however, not expect that everything our Sages say respecting astronomical matters should agree with observation, for mathematics were not fully developed in those days: and their statements were not based on the authority of the Prophets, but on the knowledge which they either themselves possessed or derived from contemporary men of science.”