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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.

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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?
Avi Goldstein
Far Rockaway, NY

Talmudic Truths

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
(Via E-Mail)

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4 COMMENTS

  1. Your readers must be the most ignorant bunch. They talk about rabbis scientific accuracies and inaccuracies as if scientists don’t have this problem. Don’t they have any idea that scientific errors can fill this newspaper without a problem?

    I can’t believe a religious newspaper would print such a one-sided debate against rabbis. At least have the decency to show how fallible scientists are. Your moronic readers think your idiotic lopsided approach means they can take scientists word without a question but they should be suspicious of rabbis. Catholic newspapers have more respect for rabbis. Shame on you.

  2. The question “Is Jerusalem the capital of Israel? (Answer: yes or no)” is really stupid. What if someone honestly doesn’t know? Why not something real simple like how much is two plus seven?

  3. I think it is safe to assume that anyone reaching this paper from anywhere in the world will know that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel, and if they are visiting the site and don’t yet know that basic fact, then they’ll easily learn something important with a single click – and we’re glad to help them learn that.

  4. The difference, Mr. Schneiderman, is that scientists never made the claim to be infallible. Indeed, one of the underpinnings of the scientific method is that any theory must be falsifiable. If a theory is not falsifiable, it is not a scientific theory.

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