Latest update: April 9th, 2012
I applaud you for carrying the picture of the children of the Chabad shluchim on your front page last week. It is a testament to the ongoing mission of Chabad-Lubavitch to bring Torah and Yiddishkeit to Jews spread across the globe. There is no equal in Judaism. It was particularly poignant as it roughly coincided with the yahrzeit of the Mumbai korbanos.
As The Jewish Press reported on its front page last week, regional turmoil in the Middle East is causing Israel to reevaluate its security strategies that developed when Arab governments were headed by those who valued stability and friendship with the U.S.
What I cannot fathom is how the Obama administration seems to think that Israel should negotiate in the midst of this chaos, especially given the uncertainty as to which factions will end up in control in the various countries.
New York, NY
Moved By Tribute
I was moved by Naomi Klass Mauer’s heartfelt tribute to her late husband, Dr. Ivan Mauer (“Everything I Dreamed of in a Husband,” op-ed, Dec.2). He seems to have been a wonderful human being and the kind of soulmate everyone seeks in life but doesn’t always find.
Israel And PA Funds
Re “Israel’s Economic Sanctions” (editorial, Dec. 2):
The Jewish Press got it exactly right last week. Israel’s withholding Palestinian funds in response to Palestinian policies is no different from the sanctions imposed on Iran over disagreements with its policies. Not only are there growing restrictions on Iran’s regular trading with other countries, but Iranian assets are being frozen in the U.S. and Europe.
Too bad Netanyahu gave in. Once again his word proved tougher than his actions.
Glossing Over The GOP Field?
As someone who takes the political process seriously, and who did not vote for Barack Obama last time, I found Rabbi Steven Pruzansky’s Dec. 2 front-page essay (“Presidential Racing Form”) quite disappointing.
The rabbi starts out by dismissing Obama supporters as “blacks, committed liberals, union members, and recipients of public handouts,” strongly implying that anyone voting for Obama (who won 53 percent of the vote in 2008) must be someone who just isn’t thinking and simply has a vested interest.
Apparently, wealthy individuals and corporations who are paying much less in taxes than they should, and Christian evangelicals who don’t even agree to a legal abortion in the case of saving a woman’s life, are somehow voters who do think.
Worse, the rabbi glosses over the startling inadequacies of some of the Republican candidates.
We as Jews, especially observant Jews, should do better.
Torah And Science
Talmudic Sages Were Not Scientifically Infallible
Reader Dr. Yaakov Stern writes that one who believes the Talmud erred in scientific matters is a heretic (Letters, Dec. 2). Dr. Stern’s position flies in the face of the facts. The Sages were frequently wrong regarding science; moreover, these mistakes are reflected in halacha.
We need look no further than the small change made in our prayers starting Monday, December 5, when Jews outside of Israel began saying “v’sain tal u’matar” in Shemoneh Esrei. According to Jewish law, this change commences 60 days after tekufas Tishrei, the autumnal equinox. Simple math demonstrates that whereas the equinox occurred on September 23, we should have begun saying v’sain tal umatar 60 days later, approximately November 23. Yet we wait until the first week of December, because the calendar used to calculate the equinox, devised by the Talmudic sage Shmuel, errs in its calculation of the solar year.
Similarly, the time for recitation of the Blessing of the Sun (every 28 years), which is supposed to coincide with the moment the sun was first placed in position, is based on Shmuel’s calendar and hence cannot possibly be accurate.
Among other scientific miscues, the Sages of the Talmud held the world to be flat. (This is of course not stated in the Talmud, since the Sages never considered the possibility that the world is spherical.) The halachic consequences are significant; perhaps the most glaring issue is the location of the International Dateline. The Talmud nowhere discusses a dateline, despite the fact that its placement affects the day that Shabbos is kept around the world. In a flat world, time is the same everywhere, and there is no dateline.
The Talmudic Sages believed in spontaneous generation. This too has ramifications, most famously in the law that one may kill lice on Shabbos because lice generate spontaneously. Writing in the eighteenth century, Rav Yitzchak Lampronti, in his Pachad Yitzchak, declares that whereas scientists had determined conclusively that no life is spontaneously generated, one should not kill lice on Shabbos. Does Dr. Stern reckon the Pachad Yitzchak a heretic?
Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan wrote that the universe may indeed be 16 billion years old, as postulated by scientists. Is Rabbi Kaplan a heretic?
Rav Avraham, the son of the Rambam, wrote that the Talmudic Sages were imperfect in science. The Rambam himself disagreed with certain scientific statements in the Talmud, including the cosmological view expressed therein. Dr. Stern, are the Rambam and his son heretics?
I don’t know why Dr. Stern feels he must uphold the inerrancy of the Talmud; we have no such dogma. Regardless of his motives, I suggest that Dr. Stern open his eyes to the truth: there are scientific errors in the Talmud, and many great rabbis have been unafraid to acknowledge this fact.
Far Rockaway, NY
Truth Or Heresy?
In his letter to the editor, Dr. Stern reports being scandalized when he “recently heard someone proclaim that ‘scientific statements’ found in the Talmud are not to be accepted as truth because the rabbis of the Talmud were limited by the knowledge of the times in which they lived.”
I too have heard similar rumblings of heresy. Just recently I saw the following remarks made by an alleged Jewish authority and author of several popular books. He wrote, “Do not ask of me to show that everything they [Chazal] have said concerning astronomical matters conforms to the way things really are. For at that time mathematics were imperfect. They did not speak about this as transmitters of dicta of the prophets, but rather because in those times they were men of knowledge in these fields or because they heard these dicta from the men of knowledge who lived in those times.”
The author, a certain Moses ben-Maimon (Guide, III:14, Pines translation), also known as the Rambam, clearly shows no shame in proposing that the scientific knowledge of Chazal was based on a mundane understanding of science in their own times.
Moreover, what he is suggesting – and it would be hard to read it any other way – is that if the Sages had lived in a later period they would have been informed and knowledgeable about current scientific endeavors, and their teachings would have reflected the most up-to-date knowledge in those fields. Have you ever heard a more disgraceful opinion?
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