Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Is סוד ה' ליראיו a reason to believe that Chazal didn't err in science?

IMHO the answer is no.

R' Feldman writes

As the Leshem cited above says, if even regarding matters which are not related to halacha, the Sages say, sod Hashem liyerav, “G-d reveals the secrets of nature to those who fear him,” then certainly there must have been siyata dishmaya (Divine assistance) and even ruach hakodesh (a Divine spirit) assisting the Sages in their redaction of the Oral Law. It is therefore inconceivable, to these opinions, that G-d would have permitted falsities to have been transmitted as Torah She-be-al-peh and not have revealed His secrets to those who fear Him.

In other words we have to believe that Chazal got their science from Torah because how could Hashem have hidden these things from them. Hashem would not have allowed them to transmit falsities as Torah.

However this just moves the question to the next stage. No one denies that the remedies found in Chazal don't work today. R' Feldman himself offers the following answer The most widespread explanation offered for this is nishtanu hatevaim, “nature has changed” - cures that worked in the times of the Talmud are no longer effective.

If we think about it we can ask exactly the same question that he asked above about nishtanu hatevaim. Is it conceivable that Hashem would reveal scientific facts in Torah and then change nature to invalidate that revealed Torah? Moreover, if he did that, would he do so without telling Chazal (after all Chazal in their scientific pronouncements never even hint that things will change)? Would Hashem put Chazal in a position where they wrote things down in the Gemara (e.g. remedies) as part of Torah Shebaal Peh that are no longer true?

The questions that I raise are in IMHO at least as inconceivable as the question R' Feldman asked. In both cases falsities end up in the Torah Shebaal Peh (bottom line, the remedies don't work nowadays). This in essence destroys his whole argument. In other words, just like he can't conceive that Hashem would let them err in science I can't conceive that Hashem would give them scientific facts and then change nature to invalidate those torah revealed scientific facts in any case, and especially without even telling Chazal.

You tell me which is more inconceivable.
1.Chazal could make a mistake in science because they relied on the science of their day
2.Hashem would reveal scientific facts (e.g. remedies) as part of Torah Shebaal Peh M'Sinai, and then change nature so that these Torah scientific facts are no longer true, all without any hint that they will change.

I for one believe that 2 is much more inconceivable.

Bottom line, using his logic, how could it be that hashem didn't reveal the secret that nature was going to change? How could he have allowed Chazal to put remedies and other scientific facts in the gemara that were going to change?


Anonymous said...

Where and when was R' Feldman's letter printed? Is it online in it's entirety?

bluke said...

The letter is online in it's entirety here

Anonymous said...

I don't think the sod hashem l'yireyov is some kind of rule that ALWAYS applies. It applies to specific instances; God transmits certain things lyireyov at his pleasure.

Anonymous said...

The truth is that the explanation of סוד ה' ליראיו as opposed to being transmitted from Sinai, would not make the statements itself Torah,only information relevant to Torah. This would take away some of the sting of your questions, because the Torah itself is not changing.One can argue that Hashem revealed to them only what was necessary for the psak of their time.However, it would also detract from R' Feldman's point that everything in the Gemara is Torah & part of the transmission of Torah She-be-al-peh.
The only purpose then of such a statement would be to say that Hashem would not let the sages err in Torah by not having the facts needed to pasken.
It would not explain why they made statements about the world which was not relevant to Halacha or explaining the written Torah, such as their statements in Bechoros about the gestation period of animals. It would also not explain why Hashem would reveal to them all those matters, especially since many of them are not true, at least nowadays. The bottom line is I agree that the approach is problematic on many levels.

Anonymous said...

well thought out and good answer rather than just polemics.

Anonymous said...

What "secrets" did Hashem give them? That mice are half mud? That salamanders come from fire? That lice are spontaneously generated? Those aren't heavenly secrets; they're 5th century observations which were false when they were "observed" and false when they were written. Nu, "nishtaneh hateva" and therefore they no longer exist? Must I leave my brain at the front door to stay in this religion?