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Sunday, January 08, 2006

Could Shlomo Hamelech have invented cars?

This sounds bizarre but this actually came up in a conversation.

Someone told me that his son came from home school and said that his Rebbe had told him the following. We shouldn't think that we are better nowadays because we have modern technology. In fact, the Rebbe said, Shlomo Hamelech was the wisest man who ever lived and he knew everything the scientists know and he could have created cars, phones, etc., anything that we have from modern technology. Why didn't he do it? He felt that a simple non-technological lifestyle was better.

I was stunned speechless. I could not respond. After this conversation I definately better understand the reaction to R' Slifkin's books and the Charedi attitude towards science and scientists.

Update


Rabbi Sander Goldberg in his defense of R' Slifkin (THE SLIFKIN AFFAIR – ISSUES AND PERSPECTIVES) wrote essentially the same thing:

...most certainly if Chazal wanted to invest the time into scientific research, after a generation or two, they could have invented an atomic bomb. But it didn’t happen. First, they spent their time plying the depths of Dvar Hashem, but second, they saw no net advantage to man. Just the opposite, although we communicate and travel more easily nowadays, and have better medicine and air-conditioned homes and have mechanical slaves to do back-breaking work, the very same technology has been abused and utilized to murder millions of people, caused a segment of mankind to live in misery and has freed up time for mankind to get into all kinds of mischief. Accordingly, perhaps Chazal, privately, were skeptical of some accepted scientific “facts and theories” of their times. However, perhaps they did not want to even hint that those facts and theories would eventually be discarded; they felt it was healthier for the world to remain in the dark and not to develop technology at too rapid a pace

This is basically the thesis that I quoted above. Chazal could have invented everything we have today, but they felt that the benefits of modern technology were outweighed by the bad that would be done with it.

32 Comments:

At 3:44 PM, Blogger ADDeRabbi said...

the ethical implications of a Melech Yisrael' who knew of but didn't make use of antibiotics are astounding.

 
At 3:56 PM, Blogger bluke said...

You are absolutely right, I find it hard to believe that anyone really believes this.

However, Rabbi Sander Goldberg in his defense of R' Slifkin (THE SLIFKIN AFFAIR – ISSUES AND PERSPECTIVES) wrote the following:

My personal theory is that most certainly if Chazal wanted to invest the time into scientific research, after a generation or two, they could have invented an atomic bomb. But it didn’t happen.

This is not that much different from the statements that I heard. Chazal could have invented atomic bombs!!!! In fact, this is what the Rebbe may really hold and he just wanted to make a point with the boys so that they shouldn't be impressed with modern science.

Just to be clear, I don't think that R' Goldberg's position is tenable either.

 
At 4:00 PM, Blogger bluke said...

To continue my previous comment R' Goldberg's position is closer to the kid's rebbe then I originally thought. He writes (same essay as above):
they saw no net advantage to man. Just the opposite, although we communicate and travel more easily nowadays, and have better medicine and air-conditioned homes and have mechanical slaves to do back-breaking work, the very same technology has been abused
and utilized to murder millions of people, caused a segment of mankind to live in misery and has freed up time for mankind to get into all kinds of mischief. Accordingly, perhaps Chazal, privately, were skeptical of some accepted scientific “facts and theories” of their times. However, perhaps they did not want to even hint that those facts and theories would eventually be discarded; they felt it was healthier for the world to remain in the dark


In other words Chazal could have come up with all our "modern inventions" but that they thought that the bad outweighed the good essentially the same thing the Rebbe said about Shlomo Hamelech.
and not to develop technology at too rapid a pace

 
At 4:02 PM, Blogger bluke said...

The sentence above and not to develop technology at too rapid a pace should have been part of the quote

 
At 4:28 PM, Blogger yitz said...

The ethical implications of your and addeRabbi's remarks about Chazal are also amazing!

If indeed Chazal could have done what is claimed & decided NOT to, who are WE to say that they did something ethically wrong??? I'm not saying that Chazal were infallible, but I don't think we come up to their ankles in our conception of what is right or wrong, or what is good or bad.

I think you need to clarify your opinions here, guys!

 
At 4:36 PM, Blogger bluke said...

You are right, we have no right to judge Chazal on an ethical level.

The point that was trying to be made was that it is very hard to conceive of Chazal deciding not to invent modern medicine because they didn't see the benefits.

 
At 11:38 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

There is a Gemorah that says that the Rabbis praised King Chizkeyahu for hiding the "book of Remedies".(which was a book containing the cures for all diseases.)












c

 
At 5:19 AM, Anonymous Bill Selliger said...

Just to play devil's advocate here...How can it be that a man who can converse with the animals wouldn't know about nuclear fusion? Kol raz lo anus lei...how do we reconcile that? Maybe we can say that if he would have applied himself, than he could have figured it out, but he didn't apply himself? Anyone have any ideas?

 
At 7:07 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Marty, what's the story? You posted one version of the story here and a different version to the Areivim list. What gives?

 
At 7:39 AM, Anonymous Doresh said...

Ok, I am not going to get into the whole issue of letting people die. I suppose its a cost benefit analysis. But if lemoshol they knew that a certain cure was silly and that another one worked it made a big nafka mina to chilul shabbos. Thats just the beggining. It has many holachic implications. It cant be true.

Also I think we have to use our sechel. There is a sense in the charedi velt that the 'modernisha' velt is scary. Unfortunately many people lack sophistication and do not understand that having a circuit board or a lens in neutral. IMHO they associate it with tumah, eg television and then use various excuses to say that the whole endevour is not worth it.

I have heard people mock science in this mannor. It's sad. The only thing I can say is that its hard for the hamon am to make very subtle distinctions. I would be 100% ok with saying that its better not to have a TV in one's house and not to go the movie theater. But I would want the person to validate the big advantages that advanced kitchen appliances have or that (at least pre internet) computers had. (I remember pre internet suggesting that we could also use computers to learn torah and was given a look as if I had spoken kefirah.) I know this may sound obvious, but again IMHO its the inability for many to be unable to fine differences that cause a lot of trouble.

Another example. The torah clearly has low opinions about goyim. Chazal say so much and the roshonim explain in detail all their bad characterstics. However I have gotten nervous when yidden talk about the suffering of goyim as if its nothing. eg. I remember stating that the rwanda and burundi genocide was tragic. I got a response of 'uh....just a buch of goyim dieing...who cares ect..... I was not and do not advocate getting involved with them in any way. But going to the extreme of being calous when just under a million died was scary.

 
At 9:38 AM, Blogger bluke said...

The story happened basically as I mentioned, I changed some of the details to preserve anonymity

 
At 10:06 AM, Blogger bluke said...

Bill,

One of my Rebbiem explained Shomo Hamelech's understanding the animals, the trees, etc. as follows. Everything put here has a purpose and is part of Hashem's plan. Shlomo Hamelech was able to understand the plan, he understood why the tree was there now and why the animal was doing what he was doing. This does not necessarily translate into knowledge of nuclear physics.

 
At 10:24 AM, Blogger bluke said...

I know nothing of Kabbala and Zohar but the Zohar states (I, 117a) In the 600th year of the 6th millennium (approximately 1830) the gates of knowledge above, and the fountains of knowledge below, will be opened, and the world will be prepared to enter the seventh millennium. The "gates of knowledge above" refers to the wisdom of Torah; "the fountains of knowledge below" is secular knowledge.

This would seem to imply that this secular knowledge was unknown until now.

 
At 10:59 AM, Blogger bluke said...

The Rambam in the Peirush Hamishnayos (Pesachim 4:10) explains why Chazal praised Chizkiyahu for hiding the "Book of Medical Cures."

The Rambam brings several explanations of what this book may have been (a collection of astrological formulas for healing, accomplished by placing certain forms in certain places at certain hours or a book that listed poisons and the antidotes to those poisons). The Rambam rejects the pshat that it was a book that had medical remedies (which is how Rashi learned), composed by Shlomo Hamelech, and that Chizkiyahu hid the book because people trusted in the book for their recovery rather than trusting in God. The Rambam says that such an approach would be foolish. Why would Chizkiyahu be praised for denying the people medical treatment? If reliance on medicine were forbidden, then by the same logic, the Rambam continues, would one claim that a hungry person who ate to relieve his hunger and heal himself would be considered to be turning his trust away from God? Rather, says that Rambam, just as I thank God for the food He provided me to enable me to overcome my hunger, so too we would thank God for providing the cure that heals me when I utilize it.

According to the Rambam then, Chizkiyahu's hiding of the book is not a question as it was not a book of remedies. According to Rashi who learned that it was a book of remedies we do see that Chazal hid remedies.

 
At 5:38 PM, Anonymous aaron said...

Do the people who hold this view have a written mekor for it?

 
At 5:42 PM, Blogger bluke said...

I think it just follows from the view that Chazal or Sholom Hamelech were great who knew everything.

 
At 6:07 PM, Anonymous aaron said...

There also seems to be a difference in saying they could have invented these things if they wanted to as opposed to they knew all these things, but didn't reveal it.

 
At 6:09 PM, Anonymous aaron said...

I meant to say that they could have invented these things if they would have spent the time to investigate it, as opposed to knowing these things already, but not revealing it.

 
At 11:49 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I know nothing of Kabbala and Zohar but the Zohar states (I, 117a) In the 600th year of the 6th millennium (approximately 1830) the gates of knowledge above, and the fountains of knowledge below, will be opened, and the world will be prepared to enter the seventh millennium. The "gates of knowledge above" refers to the wisdom of Torah; "the fountains of knowledge below" is secular knowledge.

This would seem to imply that this secular knowledge was unknown until now.
*******************************

It could mean that until the 7th millenium it would only be known to a select few of the generation i.e. the Gedolei Hador. After that year, the gates would break open and it would be learned by the masses

 
At 5:00 PM, Blogger Mississippi Fred MacDowell said...

Is that why the gedolei hador don't know it now?

 
At 10:26 PM, Blogger dilbert said...

The best quote on this is in(I think) an article by R. JJ Schacter on da'as Torah. He said something like- I am sure that the Torah contains all knowledge, and even the details of plumbing are containted there, although I know of no one who has the capacity to find those plumbing details in the Torah. Until I find someone who does, I will hire a plumber for my plumbing needs and not a Torah scholar.

 
At 11:43 AM, Blogger Frummer????? said...

I am astounded at this story!

Do these people live on the same planet as I?

 
At 1:30 AM, Anonymous Rabbi Sander Goldberg said...

Let me clarify what I said. I don’t believe Chazal knew modern science. However, they had the intellect and the analytical skills that had they decided to develop advanced machines and mechanisms (technology) instead of learning Torah, the pace of that development would have been so rapid that instead of these things emerging 1900 years later, perhaps they would have emerged in 100 or 200 years. Truth be told, if not for the draconian suppression of knowledge by the Catholic Church for 1500 years, even the goyim would have developed modern technology perhaps 1000 years sooner.

At the time of Chazal, governments such as Rome and Persia, were not democratic nor concerned about human rights. Thus, if my conjecture is accurate, it would have been perfectly responsible not to endeavor to develop technology, which inevitably would have been abused and misused by the powers that be. Even in our day and age it could be argued the costs outweigh the benefits. But now that it is here, it is foolish to think going back to the cave will resolve the world’s problems.

As for modern medicine, that too is only beneficial to an economic base that is geared for it. In the West, medicine developed contemporaneously with technology and modern economies. However, when modern medicine was introduced in Africa, the average lifespan dramatically increased and infant mortality dramatically dropped. This resulted in an unnatural population explosion. However, the economies of those nations remained “stone age”, the masses of population sunk into abject poverty and must exist on handouts. In addition, living space was cut contributing to factional wars (such as in Rwanda and Somalia), and life became miserable for the vast majority.

 
At 6:28 AM, Blogger bluke said...

Rabbi Goldberg,

That is a very interesting comment. I would like to understand further. It sounds like you are saying that Chazal could have invented modern technology because they were so smart and had tremendous analytical abilities. You did not say because they would have figured it out or that they received it from the Torah. With all due respect to the greatness of Chazal I don't see where we see that they were any smarter then the smartest Goyim of their time. My understanding of the greatnesss of Chazal was that they were much closer to the revelation and they were on a much higher spiritual plane. That does not mean or imply that they were super geniuses. Therefore, I don't understand why you think that Chazal could have created modern technology any faster then the Goyim did.

 
At 7:59 AM, Anonymous Rabbi Sander Goldberg said...

Of course Chazal were smarter; they were on a much higher spiritual plane also. That doesn’t imply that they possessed greater knowledge of the physical world. But the greater the brain power, the more capable one is able to study Torah, understand its principles and put them together in a meaningful way that is most likely to reflect the Ratzon Hashem. A great component of the Syata D’Shmaya that Chazal, and Jews throughout the generations were endowed with is their superior intellects. The Gedolim of all the generations were usually geniuses. Once in a while an individual, who perhaps not considered an intellectual genius, but who worked super hard and with great Kavana, made up for his lack of brain power and became a Gadol anyway. I don’t believe it was too common.

We see in general Jews are smarter than goyim. Perhaps more importantly, forgetting the bell curve, more super geniuses have come from Jewish ranks than from goyim. You will notice that historically speaking, science and technology took off starting in the early 19th century. It was exactly at this time when the gates to the ghettos were opened and Jews, who departed the Torah world, started investing their brain trust in the world of secular scholarship. We all know about Einstein and Freud, many are familiar with the Manhattan Project, whose top scientists were mostly Jews, but if you study the history of science of the past 150 years carefully, you will find a Jew behind almost every corner. I am not saying that was particularly a good thing, just a fact. Certainly Hashem chose Avraham and his progeny because of his Midos of loyality, kindness, and humility, et al. But it was also absolutely necessary for the Nation who would bear and teach the Torah to be brilliant in mind as well. Once that is the case, that brilliance is not somehow Min Shomayim restricted to Torah learning. It has helped the Jewish people survive in a hostile world, it has helped them to earn a livelihood, and even become rich, and when the doors to the universities opened up for them, Jews capitalized on their innate abilities and started to flow in. Chazal, in their day had the vision and discipline to direct their brainpower for Inyanei Kedusha exclusively and that is why we have much of the Torah Sh’baal Peh intact today. For this we must praise and thank Hashem, and commend and extol Chazal, but I don’t think it is healthy or beneficial to fantasize and exaggerate about anything. Keeping the true picture in perspective is a greater accolade to Chazal than to attribute to them powers and knowledge that paints a false picture.

 
At 3:12 AM, Blogger The back of the hill said...

Ah, so modern science and technology are basically a Jewish plot?

What a refreshing perspective. I was getting so very tired of that previous conspiracy theory ("modern banking and capitalism are a Jewish plot").

Next, I expect someone will say that Hollywood and the media were invented by the Jews.

Perhaps now is the time to compare skull-sizes - you know, that good old fashioned row that most museums at one point had in the anthropology exhibit: negritos (tiny little skulls), natives (small skulls), Asians (somewhat larger skulls), Western Europeans (large skulls) and Ashkenazic Jews (very big skulls).

 
At 8:21 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Only ashkenazi Jews have a higher avg. IQ. if it's jewish genes the sefardim should have it also. (unless intermarriage or something somehow got it lost.)
One explanation is the emphasis on torah study made it more likely for someone not-as-smart to leave the derech, but i don't think that's nessarilly true. You would also have to explain why the same thing didn't happen to sefardim.

 
At 8:30 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

some rebbeim say stories about how the chazon ish knew how to do brain-surgery from learning torah. I pointed out that if the chazon-ish could know it, surely chazal, who were much greater, should'v known at least basic medical knowledge of nowadays! the 'answer' i got was that they did, but didn't use it. I said there's no way they would have let thousands of people die,etc. so the 'answer' became "it wasn't revealed to them." things only get revealed once scientists discover it, I'm not sure the point (also learning torah is not at all nevuah.)
Chazal were very great in torah, not science. (how smart they would'v been if they went to MIT is irrelevant.) To say they knew modern science is ridiculous.

 
At 8:31 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

btw its 1:30pm, idk y it says 8:30pm.

 
At 4:50 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

(once i start blogging, I'll put my name) They did know the science of the time perfectly (which wasn't that hard then) and they also had a very deep understanding of human psychology, etc. (better than modern-day phsychologists) but technology? no.

 
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At 9:26 PM, Blogger Binyomin said...

Wisdom does not equal knowledge.

 

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