web analytics
April 18, 2014 / 18 Nisan, 5774
At a Glance
Blogs
Sponsored Post
Spa 1.2 Combining Modern Living in Traditional Jerusalem

A unique and prestigious residential project in now being built in Mekor Haim Street in Jerusalem.



Rav Elyashiv, Torah and Science

It is very troubling that there are those who say insist that it is forbidden to believe that Chazal were mistaken in matters of science. There are just too many instances of nature quoted in the Gemarah that contradict what we know today.
Rabbi Yosef Shalom Eliashiv hosting President Shimon Peres.

Rabbi Yosef Shalom Eliashiv hosting President Shimon Peres.
Photo Credit: osef Avi Yair Engel/GPO/FLASH90

Share Button

One of the biggest issues that has arisen as a result of the Slifkin controversy is the question of whether Chazal, the sages of the Talmud knew the actuality of nature. There are those who say that they did. They say that every statement recorded in the Gemarah with respect to science is an accurate reflection of nature itself. The science redacted in the Talmud is as valid as the Halacha – both being Mesorah.

There are others who say that Chazal did not know the actuality of nature but knew it only via the best science of their era. Among them are Rishonim like R’ Avraham ben HaRambam.

For many of us who have studied both the Talmud and nature via science at even a minor level the second opinion seems a lot more plausible. There are too many scientifically based statements on nature in the Gemarah that are clearly not accurate.

One of the more famous ones is the idea that lice do not sexually reproduce. This fact impacts on Halacha. One of the 39 forbidden Melachos on Shabbos is Netilas Neshama – killing an animal. The Gemarah explains that it is only forbidden to kill an animal that reproduces sexually. One is however permitted to kill an animal that reproduces asexually . This is the opinion of the Rabbanim (as apposed to R’ Elazar) and this is the Halacha today.

Lice, says the Gemarah, do not reproduce sexually and therefore one is permitted to kill them.

Rav Yitzchok Lamproti (Pachad Yitzchok) was around during the time the microscope was invented. He said that now that we know that lice do sexually reproduce, it is therefore forbidden to kill them on Shabbos. All Achronim argue with him and say that since the Gemarah says it is permitted, it stays permitted in spite of our new knowledge.

What is left unsaid in all of that discussion is the apparent assumption Chazal were mistaken about the actual science. The only question is whether this new information is relevant.

Now it should be said that there are still ways to allow for Chazal to not be mistaken about this. One way is to say that the lice that the Gemarah refers to is not the lice we know of today and that in fact it is that lice which is permitted to kill. The lice that we know of that does sexually reproduce is forbidden to kill.

Another way to look at it is that only lice that one can see with the naked eye sexually reproducing is forbidden. If one needs a microscope to see it, then for Halachic purposes it is still considered asexual reproduction.

But it seems to me that the most logical explanation is to say that they did not know then what we know today simply because they did not have the means to know it. Microscopes had not been invented yet.

There was a relatively recent Halacha Sefer published called Orchos Shabbos that discusses this Halacha (14:30) and mentions the position of Rav Elyashiv (note 47). Rav Elyashiv says that one should be Machmir and not kill lice on Shabbos as a general rule. But he also says that according to the strict letter of the law, one may kill lice on Shabbos.

Why be Machmir? It’s possible that the lice of the Gemarah are not our lice and therefore killing our lice may actually be forbidden. But the fact that he says that according to the strict letter of the law one may indeed kill lice on Shabbos, that means that he believes the lice of the Gemarah are indeed our lice. And yet we now know that they sexually reproduce.

Why then did Chazal say that they don’t? I think there is really only one way to interpret it. Chazal simply didn’t know that because they had no way of knowing it in their day. Rav Elyashiv may feels as Rav Eliyahu Dessler did – that even though Chazal were wrong in their explanation, the Halacha was indeed transmitted masoretically and remains in effect.

We may kill lice but for reasons other than those stated in the Gemarah. The point for our purposes being that since Chazal did not have the means to know they made a mistake about the reality of nature in this case. One can conclude that even R’ Elyashiv concedes that microscopes have increased our knowledge of nature beyond that of Chazal. Is there any other way to interpret that? Even if we say that Halacha follows only what we can see with the naked eye, the fact is that what they saw with the naked eye did not reflect reality.

It therefore is very troubling that there are those who say insist that it is forbidden to believe that Chazal were mistaken in matters of science. There are just too many instances of nature quoted in the Gemarah that contradict what we know today. That lice produce asexually is just one error.

Avraham Ben HaRambam must have concluded that Chazal were mistaken for similar reasons. But it isn’t only him. It appears that even R’ Elyashiv may have conceded this point. And yet it is said in his name that it is forbidden to believe it.

In my view it is a gross error to say that it is heresy to say that Chazal were mistaken in science. Not that one must have this view. But to say it is forbidden to believe it is a huge mistake.

Visit Emes Ve-Emunah.

Share Button

About the Author: Harry Maryles runs the blog "Emes Ve-Emunah" which focuses on current events and issues that effect the Jewish world in general and Orthodoxy in particular. It discuses Hashkafa and news events of the day - from a Centrist perspctive and a philosphy of Torah U'Mada. He can be reached at hmaryles@yahoo.com.


If you don't see your comment after publishing it, refresh the page.

Our comments section is intended for meaningful responses and debates in a civilized manner. We ask that you respect the fact that we are a religious Jewish website and avoid inappropriate language at all cost.

Leave a comment (Select your commenting platform)

3 Responses to “Rav Elyashiv, Torah and Science”

  1. IdentifyUS says:

    Although a microscope will certainly help to view them, one need not use such a device to see lice or to witness them mating. What is a microscope, but a set of lenses? Such a device – or even a pair of reading glasses for that matter – doesn't change the object being viewed, but changes our ability to view it. Do the lice really care whether or not we can see them (with or without a microscope)? They'll just go on mating (sexually), regardless of what people may proclaim.

  2. Anonymous says:

    the question is why there is a differ. betw. the s.- and the a-s.- reprod. and you may also understand that the caracterization of the "s" and "a-s" reproduction was not meant physically but otherwise, maybe in a sense of mentally or some kind spiritually (i refer to the description of spirit-soul and body of zohar)…

  3. So, if you are walking to shul, and wolf attacks you, aren't you permitted to kill it, even though they reproduce sexually?

    Lice, like wolves are predators. They cannot kill you with their teeth, but they transmit diseases that can kill you. Why is their mode of reproduction relevant to killing them on shabbat?

Comments are closed.

SocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

Loading Facebook Comments ...
Loading Disqus Comments ...
Binyamin and Chaya Maryles, uncle and aunt of Emes Ve-Emunah author Harry Maryles.
Current Top Story
Flyers ordered Jews to appear at a designated location in Ukraine, in Sept., 1941. The next day, the Jews lined up at the Babi Yar Ravine.
‘Jews Must Register’ Flyer in Ukraine an Echo of Babi Yar
Latest Blogs Stories
Church of the Nativity, beseiged and desecrated by Arab Palestinian terrorists in the spring of 2002.

World Council of Churches expresses solidarity with “Palestinians” ‘languishing’ in Israeli prisons.

Haggadah for the Passover Seder.

The Seder: We starve (during the sometimes endless recitations and discussions) and we feast.

Unit 9900 is an intelligence unit that utilizes the unique capabilities of soldiers on the autism spectrum.

The unique skills of people on the autistic spectrum adds great breadth to IDF intelligence work.

Jews are no longer slaves, but many are still plagued with a slave mentality.

Passover is a road that we still travel, a long journey from slavery to freedom.

In Iran, 131 offenses are punishable by death, including blasphemy, adultery and homosexuality.

Women must eat Matzah on Pesach too but that is also a time bound positive commandment.

Pro-Israel leaders on campus are as important as the troops in the IDF and professional hasbaraniks.

The seder reminds us of our freedom now that we are home again in the land of the Nation of Israel

IDF helicopters are ready to act on a moment’s notice to defend the State of Israel.

The Samson Super Hercules aircraft ensures the IDF can safeguard Israel from far beyond her shores.

Rudoren and the Times are determined to go the extra mile to humanize Barghouti.

Gazans are among the principal victims of the terror-addicted Hamas Islamists.

Factors that you need to take into account when deciding whether to rent or buy a home.

Intelligence organizations seek enemy’s secrets; for the past 35 years, all secrets are on computers.

Guest Blogger Robert proves that one must not eat any Matzah on Pesach based on an article in Vosizneias.

More Articles from Harry Maryles
This 18th Century handwritten Passover Haggadah was discovered in a heap of rubbish.

Women must eat Matzah on Pesach too but that is also a time bound positive commandment.

Dejected student

Students most in danger of going OTD are those with damaged egos from teacher inattentiveness.

I see less unity between religious factions than between religious Jews and secular Jews

There is never an excuse to withhold a Get from a woman. NEVER!

So much for honest disagreement in the Charedi world.

Just because I have a Hashkafa that differs from them, that does not mean I do not respect them.

I could not believe what I was reading. It made me angry!

He is willing to destroy other Torah institutions – NOT to save his own – but as an act of revenge?!

    Latest Poll

    Now that Kerry's "Peace Talks" are apparently over, are you...?







    View Results

    Loading ... Loading ...

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/blogs/haemtza/rav-elyashiv-torah-and-science/2012/10/16/

Scan this QR code to visit this page online: