Should a frum Jew believe the sun goes around Earth if the Rambam says it does?
In his “Letter on Astrology,” Rambam taught a vital lesson: “A person should never cast reason behind, for the eyes are set in front – not in back.” He insisted on the pursuit of truth. As a philosopher and scientist himself, Rambam brilliantly applied the best knowledge of his time to understanding Torah.
Our knowledge today has been dramatically enhanced by centuries of scientific advances. We now know that the earth orbits the sun, as do the other planets. We now know that the earth is a tiny planet in a vast galaxy, which itself is only one of many galaxies in the universe.
There is no credible controversy over these facts. If Rambam were alive today, he would not cast his reason behind; he would embrace new knowledge with the alacrity of a brilliant mind.
I think the Rambam would be deeply embarrassed by those who posit that the sun goes around the earth based on his writings. Such obscurantists lock themselves into medieval scientific thought rather than opening their minds to the ongoing advances in science.
One of the great dangers for religion – and for human progress in general – is for people to cling to discredited theories and outdated knowledge. Those who cast reason behind thereby cast truth behind. And truth is the seal of the Almighty.
— Rabbi Marc D. Angel, director of the
Institute for Jewish Ideas and Ideals
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The theory of relativity, as accepted by all scientists, posits that when two bodies in space are in motion relative to one another, it’s just as valid to say that the former revolves around the latter as the latter revolves around the former.
Thus, in principle, it’s impossible to scientifically prove which of the two – the sun or the earth – revolves around the other.
Needless to say, everyone is entitled to his or her personal opinion on the matter. But it remains a personal opinion. It would not be correct to say that science has resolved the question in favor of one school of thought over the other.
Ultimately, when I have the option of choosing a school of thought – when both are essentially valid – as a Jew, I think it makes more sense to side with Rambam than it does with Copernicus.
— Rabbi Yitzchak Schochet, popular Lubavitch
lecturer, rabbi of London’s Mill Hill Synagogue
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Hashem wrote the Torah and then created the world using it as a blueprint. Thus, the Torah contains all the wisdom in creation, and there are many times that the tana’im and amora’im, and even later sages, knew tremendous amounts of wisdom from the physical world beyond the scientific knowledge of their day.
However, not everything was revealed to every tanna or amora and not everything was totally understood. For that reason, we sometimes have to deal with conflicts between modern-day scientific understandings and statements in the Gemara.
However, that’s not at all the case we’re dealing with here. The Rambam was not giving us a lesson in physics. He was explaining the world according to the Torah. Everything in creation was created by Hashem for man. Man is the center of the universe, the reason why everything exists, including the planets and the constellations.
So everything is viewed from Planet Earth, from man’s viewpoint. He is the pivot of everything in creation. The Rambam was merely expressing the way Hashem created the world.
— Rabbi Ben Zion Shafier, founder of The Shmuz
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The question assumes that the Rambam, if he were alive today, would still say the sun goes around the earth. By definition, any assumption about what someone who is no longer living would have said is speculative.
We have access to the words of the son of the Rambam (printed in the introduction to the first volume of Ein Yaakov) where he explicates his father’s view that the authority of Chazal rests in halacha, not science or medicine. He quotes a passage in the Talmud in which Rav Yehuda HaNasi accepts the view of non-Jewish scholars against that of Jewish scholars on a question in astronomy.
In light of this passage, it’s likely that the Rambam – who was aware of the theories of the astronomers of his time and accepted them – would agree that we should follow the prevalent view of astronomers today that the earth revolves around the sun.
— Rabbi Yosef Blau, mashgiach ruchani at YU’s
Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary