One must ask: Is Rav Moshe actually entertaining the notion that Shmuel may be right? Further, the reality is that Rav Adda’s calculation is also inaccurate. Rav Moshe was the greatest halachic authority of our generation, but true Torah study requires one to object when a view appears wrong, regardless of the view’s author. The Shvus Yaakov (3:10), writing around the turn of the eighteenth century, believed the world to be flat. Are we now not permitted to argue with this great Sage? Is it heresy to insist the world is round?
The writer also noted the affirmation by the Chazon Ish of Shmuel’s calculation. Here too we are not free of our duty to contest an untenable view. The Chazon Ish writes that Shmuel’s calculation actually originates from Sinai, that is, it was told to Moshe Rabbeinu and is part of the Oral Law. The same, he avers, is true of Rav Adda’s calculation.
This approach is mind-boggling. For one thing, Shmuel’s year is pertinent to only two practices: the date to begin “v’sain tal u’matar” and the time when Birkas HaChamah is recited. Neither of these practices is Sinaitic in origin, which would mean that God gave Moshe Rabbeinu a calendar that had absolutely no ramifications at the time!
Further, the Chazon Ish writes that Shmuel purposely rounded the length of the solar year (a claim others have also made). By contrast, Rav Adda’s solar year, also given at Sinai, is precise: 365 days, 55 minutes, and 25 and 25/27th seconds. Clearly Rav Adda is aiming for an exact figure, yet he is significantly off: the solar year is actually about six minutes shorter. If God were giving Moshe a complicated number for the solar year, why not just transmit the equally complicated, but more accurate, true number?
Far Rockaway, NY
In light of the reader responses elicited by my December 2 letter, it appears that some serious explaining is in order. Apparently my use of the “H” word – that’s heresy – offended some readers, and for this I am truly sorry. I was simply trying to make the point that some observant Jews, when given the choice between Torah doctrine and scientific “fact,” opt for the latter and this position is a dangerous one.
When someone argues that the Talmud contains errors on matters of science, it’s not that far a stretch for him to conclude that since our laws derive from that very same Talmud, we need not, chas v’shalom, observe them.
That’s a dramatic statement, but it’s the intent of the Mishnah in Avos which warns chachamim to be careful with their words lest they lead others to sin. I was taught by all my rabbis that the Torah – that’s the Written and Oral Torah – is absolute truth. It works for me and for most religious Jews.
Those who want to delve into minutiae and the possibility that errors can be found in the Talmud should speak to a qualified rabbi – but they should do it privately. Let’s put aside our differences and work together to demonstrate the unity of the Torah world. With this achdus, we will surely merit the coming of Mashiach who will answer all our questions and resolve all our differences.
Dr. Yaakov Stern