Wednesday, July 06, 2005

R' Hirsch on Chazal and Science

This quote from R' Hirsch (taken from R' Slifkin's website) is truly amazing and sums things up very nicely.

Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch, Trusting the Torah's Sages, Chapter 4

In my opinion, the first principle that every student of Chazal's statements must keep before his eyes is the following: Chazal were the sages of God's law - the receivers, transmitters and teachers of His toros, His mitzvos, and His interpersonal laws. They did not especially master the natural sciences, geometry, astronomy, or medicine - except insofar as they needed them for knowing, observing and fulfilling the Torah. We do not find that this knowledge was transmitted to them from Sinai. …We find that Chazal themselves considered the wisdom of the gentile scholars equal to their own in the natural sciences. To determine who was right in areas where the gentile sages disagreed with their own knowledge, they did not rely on their tradition but on reason. Moreover they even respected the opinion of the gentile scholars, admitting when the opinion of the latter seemed more correct than their own.
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Imagine if a scholar such as Humboldt had lived in their times and had traveled to the ends of the world for his biological investigations. If upon his return he would report that in some distant land there is a humanoid creature growing from the ground or that he had found mice that had been generated from the soil and had in fact seen a mouse that was half earth and half flesh and his report was accepted by the world as true, wouldn't we expect Chazal to discuss the Torah aspects that apply to these instances? What laws of defilement and decontamination apply to these creatures? Or would we expect them to go on long journeys to find out whether what the world has accepted is really true? And if, as we see things today, these instances are considered fiction, can Chazal be blamed for ideas that were accepted by the naturalists of their times? And this is what really happened. These statements are to be found in the works of Pliny, who lived in Rome at the time the Second Temple was destroyed, and who collected in his books on nature all that was well known and accepted in his day.


I am absolutely amazed that anyone today, given the advances in science and the tremendous contradictions between science and Chazal, would argue on R' Hirsch's approach.

7 comments:

Yossi said...

The problem is that these Gedolim don't know enough about science to understand that there really are conflicts. They think that such conflicts can just be waved away because scientists don't know anything.

bluke said...

That may be true with respect to the Israeli Gedolim like R' Elyashiv. However, it is my understanding that R' Aharon Feldman has a secular eductaion and some knowledge of science. R' Moshe Meiselman certainly does, he has a Phd. in math from MIT.

Yossi said...

Math doesn't count. A mathematician has no training in the natural sciences.

Mississippi Fred MacDowell said...

I think Yossi is right. R. Feldman may not be completely ignorant of science but the fact that he wrote that

" Slifkin goes on to posit that the Theory of Evolution in one form or another is a fact – only mentioning in passing those eminent scientists who have discredited this theory because the discovery of the DNA molecule make it statistically impossible."

shows that he seems to accept creationist aka junk science.

Rebeljew said...

That is certainly not true with respect to the late Chabad Rebbe. Yet he defended a literalist, infallibility of sages stand in all respects. His writings and letters show that he is up to date on many scientific issues, at least from a layman's perspective. It is the mystical approach that afflicts these folks.

Zach Kessin said...

Discovery of the structure of DNA does not discredit evolution. Darwinan Evolution is still one of the major underpinnings of modern biology. While there are plenty of debates about details the basic theory is one of the most solid in science.

He Who Fights Monsters said...

DNA actually proves evolution because it gives the exact mechanism of how the traits of the parent are passed on to successive generations.