Sunday, January 2, 2011

Not-So-Solid Proof About The Spheres

Referring to my pointing out that the Rambam does not refer to the spheres as solid material, and on the contrary, described them as consisting of something similar to, but not identical to, water…[yet] consisting of a weightless, colorless, unearthly matter (perhaps what we would call some sort of force field?). Rabbi Slifkin, on his blog, wrote:

He also misunderstands the nature of the spheres that Rambam describes, due to his lack of knowledge of Greek philosophy and Ptolemaic astronomy. They are certainly not "force fields"!

Look: Something has to be the cause of the planets’ motions. Either the planets are self-locomotive, or there is an external force that moves them—be it a centrifugal force, a gravitational force, a magnetic force or whatever. The ancients described the force as a belt or sphere pushing the planets as they do; and they described these forces as being non-earthly, ethereal, of elemental water or elemental fire. In our parlance, this would be called a force field, and we differ with the ancients over exactly what the forces are. But if one wants to make the ancient theory look all the more primitive, he will insist that it depicted the universe as consisting of solid, impenetrable spheres. He will make it sound like “crystalline” means not only transparent, but also “made of crystal.”

So why is Rabbi Slifkin so certain that Chazal (not to mention the mesorah) thought that the spheres to which were referring to were impenetrably solid objects? Here is his “solid” proof:

since in the ancient world everyone believed that the sky is solid, there is no question that when each of the Sages received their Torah education from their parents and teachers, they were taught that the rakia is a solid firmament - as were their parents and teachers in turn.

How convincing! (I’m not sure whether this ranks with his proof about what the Sages held about the rakia--from the writings of a 6th century monk.)

But in the little I have learned about what Greek philosophy claimed about spheres, I recall that it is not so clear that it held them to be solids. I would like to quote some sources that shed light on this subject:

Aristotle (384–322 B.C.E.) taught that the ether was a fifth element that carried the stars and planets embedded in it. Plato (428–348 B.C.E.) and the Stoics regarded it as a fluid and the source of life. In antiquity, the substance of the heaven was known as ether, although there was no general agreement on its nature or extent. When Arisototle adopted Eudoxus of Cnidus’s construction to explain the planetary motion, he began a tradition that treated the substance of the heavens as a series of shells surrounding a central earth. He regarded the substance of these shells as a fifth element, distinct from the four terrestrial elements and possessing a natural tendency to move at uniform speed in a circle. The stars and the planets (including the Sun and the Moon) did not move freely. They were merely denser parts of one particular shell, and their motions were the result of the rotation of that shell and the rotation of other shells to which it was attached at its axes. …The ether spheres of both Aristotle and Ptolemy were in immediate contact and excluded vacua. …In contrast to Aristotle’s inanimate but naturally rotating ether, Plato had taught that the heavens were filled with life-giving fire….

--Encyclopedia of the scientific revolution: from Copernicus to Newton, by Wilbur Applebaum, Garland Publishing, Inc. (Taylor & Francis Group), p. 335.

(WILBUR APPLEBAUM is Professor Emeritus, Department of Humanities, Illinois Institute of Technology, where he taught history of science for many years. He has published on various aspects of the Scientific Revolution and on astronomy in the 17th century. He is the editor of the Encyclopedia of the Scientific Revolution [2000].)

So, according to this source, Plato considered the invisible spheres to consist of the element of fire and fluid (reminiscent of אש ומים), whereas his disciple Aristotle (whose astronomical depictions the Rambam generally endorsed) considered it to be ether. Rabbi Slifkin should be aware that ether was not considered an impenetrable solid. It is, in fact, ethereal.

Another source:

It should be explained, however, that, with both Hipparchus and Ptolemy, the theory of epicycles would appear to have been held rather as a working hypothesis than as a certainty, so far as the actuality of the minor spheres or epicycles is concerned. That is to say, these astronomers probably did not conceive either the epicycles or the greater spheres as constituting actual solid substances. Subsequent generations, however, put this interpretation upon the theory, conceiving the various spheres as actual crystalline bodies.

--A History of Science, by Henry Smith Williams, M.D., LL.D., Vol I, Harper and Brothers, 1904.

To reiterate: According to this source, even considering the spheres “solid crystalline bodies” (yet ethereal?) spheres proposed by Ptolemy was only the invention of later generations. Ptolemy himself “probably” did not conceive them as actual solid substances at all.

Indeed,

At the time of the Greek philosophers…[t]he reality of the spheres was open to debate. Some thought of the spheres as nothing more than mathematical ideas that described motion in the world model, while others began to think of the spheres as real objects made of perfect celestial material. Aristotle, for example, seems to have thought of the spheres as real.

--The Solar System, by Michael A. Seeds, sixth edition, Thomson, Brooks/Cole, 2008, p.56

(Michael A. Seeds wrote Horizons: Exploring the Universe, an astronomy textbook. Currently in its 11th edition, and is used in some colleges as a guide book for astronomy introduction classes. It covers all major ideas in astronomy, from the apparent magnitude scale, to the Cosmic Microwave Background Radiation, to gamma ray bursts.)

In case it seems a bit confusing as to what kind of substance the ancients actually thought the spheres consisted of, Edward Grant, in Planets, Stars and Orbs: The Medieval Cosmos, 1200-1787 (Cambridge University Press, 1996), clarifies for us on page 324,

it is unclear what substance the ancients attributed to the spheres.

(Edward Grant (born April 6, 1926) is Distinguished Professor Emeritus, Department of History and Philosophy of Science, Indiana University, Bloomington. Before arriving at Indiana University in the fall of 1959, Professor Grant taught at the University of Maine and in the history of science program at Harvard University. Professor Grant was twice chair of his department (1973–1979; 1987–1990) where he taught courses on medieval science, natural philosophy and science and religion. Edward Grant was named a Distinguished Professor in 1983. He has received many other honors and awards, including the George Sarton Medal in 1992, the most prestigious award given by the History of Science Society that "recognizes those whose entire careers have been devoted to the field and whose scholarship is exceptional." He has published more than ninety articles and twelve books, including:

· Physical Science in the Middle Ages (1971);

· Much Ado About Nothing: Theories of Space and Vacuum from the Middle Ages to the Scientific Revolution (1981);

· Planets, Stars, & Orbs: The Medieval Cosmos, 1200-1687 (1994);

· The Foundations of Modern Science in the Middle Ages (1996);

· God and Reason in the Middle Ages (2001);

· Science and Religion From Aristotle to Copernicus 400 BC — AD 1550 (2004);

· A History of Natural Philosophy from the Ancient World to the Nineteenth Century (2007).

***

There is some background to this issue of Rabbi Slifkin insisting that the proposed spheres of ancient astronomers/philosophers were unquestionably solid..

On the Hirhurim blog a few months ago, I had commented on a mention that Rav Yaakov Kaminetzky zt”l observed that when he saw the telecast of Neil Armstrong walking on the moon, it disproved the Rambam’s position that the moon is not a physical body.

I don’t understand how this whole issue arises. The Rambam does not say that the moon is a non-physical body upon which a man could not walk. On the contrary, he contrasts the moon and all the heavenly bodies to angels in the aspect that—unlike angels—they do possess physical form, just as humans do. His only point is that they are not dead and inanimate physical bodies—they are life-forms, with instinctive drives. I fail to grasp Rav Kaminetzky’s kushya on the Rambam.

רמב"ם הלכות יסודי התורה פרק ב הלכה ג

כל מה שברא הקב"ה בעולמו נחלק לשלשה חלקים. מהן ברואים שהן מחוברים מגולם וצורה, והם הווים ונפסדים תמיד--כמו גופות האדם והבהמה והצמחים והמתכות. ומהן ברואים שהן מחוברין מגולם וצורה, אבל אינן משתנין מגוף לגוף ומצורה לצורה כמו הראשונים, אלא צורתן קבועה לעולם בגולמם ואינן משתנין כמו אלו--והם הגלגלים והכוכבים שבהן. ואין גולמם כשאר גולמים ולא צורתם כשאר צורות. ומהן ברואים צורה בלא גולם כלל והם המלאכים שהמלאכים אינם גוף וגויה אלא צורות נפרדות זו מזו:

Everything HaKadosh Baruch Hu created in His world can be divided into three categories. Some are things created composed of material and form, constantly decaying—such as the bodies of man and beast and agricultural produce and metals. And some things are created composed of material and form, but do not change like the former—and these are the heavenly spheres and the stars within them. But the material they are made of is not like the material of the other material things. And some of the things created are form without material at all—and those are the angels. For the angles are not [composed of] body and bulk, but [non-material] forms independent of each other.

Someone else added that the fact space ships went to the moon and further without hitting into or being slowed down by anything shows that there are no spheres. To this I responded,

the Rambam does not say the bodies of the spheres are bodies so solid that they would perceptively slow down rockets or would make an impact on them or vice versa. What he says indicates otherwise:

רמב”ם הלכות יסודי התורה פרק ג הלכה ג

כל הגלגלים אינן לא קלים ולא כבדים ואין להם לא עין אדום ולא עין שחור ולא שאר עינות וזה שאנו רואין אותם כעין התכלת למראית העין בלבד הוא לפי גובה האויר וכן אין להם לא טעם ולא ריח לפי שאין אלו המאורעין מצויין אלא בגופות שלמטה מהן:

They are colorless and tasteless, neither lightweight nor heavy. One might describe them as living forcefields with intuitive motivation

RNS wrote in saying that of course the spheres are solid, since the planets are embedded in them!

Natan Slifkin on September 7, 2010 at 2:50 pm

What do you think the spheres are made of? They are certainly solid, as the stars and planets are embedded within them!

And where do you think that Rambam got the idea of spheres from? It was standard Ptolemaic cosmology. Learn up about it, and you will understand what they thought the spheres are.

He also wrote:

Rambam clearly subscribed to the Aristotelian view that the moon is. And that’s not just a matter of the molecules it is made of; it’s a description of how the whole domain is something else entirely, which material bodies cannot exist in. This quite aside from the question of how we would penetrate the solid crystalline sphere in order to get there! He discusses his view of the cosmos in several places in the Guide, but to understand it, you have to understand the Aristotelian view of the universe.

To this I replied:

A field of force—say, magnetic, or gravitational—need not be impenetrably solid to have some objects “imbedded” in it while allowing others to pass without an impression being made on either. It is true that the Rambam followed the opinion that both the moon and the spheres are made of a fifth element of an ethereal nature unlike anything on our earth. But please point out where the Almagest or other such work writes that whereas the spheres are so solid as to be impenetrable, the moon is so ethereal that it would be impossible for man to walk upon it. Then we can mull over how a solid impenetrable substance in which the gigantic stars are imbedded can be weightless; and then we can try to explain how man’s walking on the moon disproves that it is a living, thinking thing. ..

Despite my prodding (and alluding to information he is lacking or ignoring) Rabbi Slifkin never supplied such a source. Yet he continues to confidently state that it is due to my lack of knowledge of Greek philosophy and Ptolemaic astronomy that I could deny that the Rambam held that the spheres are of solid, impenetrable material.

The sources I cited above indicate that his case is not very solid.

61 comments:

  1. Rabbi Lampel, the definitive treatment of this topic is Edward Grant, "Celestial Orbs in the Latin Middle Ages," Isis, Vol. 78, No. 2 (Jun., 1987), pp. 152-173. It's not entirely clear how to define the medieval view -but it is largely irrelevant. My point was NOT that Chazal, or Rambam, held the spheres to be solid in the scientific sense of solid as opposed to liquid or gas. Rather, it was that the sphere is something with substance i.e. it is not the atmosphere, or outer space. The point is that, as Chazal make clear in Pesachim, the sun moves on both sides of it surface and it is opaque such that the sun cannot be seen when it is behind it. Moreover, Chazal in the Yerushalmi certainly held it to be "firm" in some sense.

    And for the life of me I can't figure out why you're claiming that I'm proving what Chazal held about the rakia from the writings of a 6th century monk. I only quoted him with regard to some particular aspects of that discussion; and incidentally, Rabbeinu Avraham ben HaRambam and others explain those aspects in exactly the same way. But the fact of Chazal believing the rakia to be an opaque, substantive dome is the UNIVERSAL view of the Rishonim. It's odd that you are ignoring the big issue - Chazal's view of the rakia - and instead talking about Rambam's view of the rakia, which is not particularly relevant.

    By the way, I am still waiting for you to retract your baseless charge that I depicted the rakia in a cartoonish manner in order to ridicule Chazal. Which was especially ironic in light of your cartoonish depiction of Chazal themselves on the cover of your book.

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  2. As I said, the main issue is Chazal's view of the rakia. But since you are interested in Rambam's views on cosmology, I will discuss it briefly. I don't really understand what you are getting at - are you claiming that Rambam's view of the universe was consistent with our knowledge? That's clearly not the case. Rambam held that the earth is at the center of the universe. Moreover, he held that there is no "universe" as we conceive it, but rather a series of spheres (whatever they are made of) encompassing the earth. Moreover, he held that the entire region beyond the earth is of a fundamentally different nature than everything on earth - i.e. the moon is not a hunk of rock. Moreover, he held that the celestial bodies all have an intelligence that directs their motion, rather than their following any natural regularities.

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  3. http://paxshalom.net/2010/12/10/tuning-an-ear-to-the-music-of-gravitational-waves/

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  4. dear rabbi Lampel,
    I write this broken and confused

    I am not the ‘david” that is having the debate with SC, there seems to be two davids on this blog.

    I will past what I wrote on your letter ”how the days of creation were understood by our sages.” because you have not yet responded I would appreciated it if you would let me know if I am understanding you correctly, as I find it very difficult to keep Shabbat knowing that the Rambam would rather I left yidishkkiet


    "The Rambam (and his son) does this repeatedly, and here he even states that were Aristotle’s position true, we would have to abandon the Torah (Torah being by definition Torah as understood by Chazal). What is noteworthy with this particular reiteration of the fundamental principle of Creation ex nihilo, is that he bundles together with it the whole matter of Maasei Breishis—how, essentially, the world developed following the instance of creation."


    Dear Rabbi Lampel,
    You have now very clearly shown how my whole life I have been living a lie.
    For years I took Rav Carmells word for it that the age of the universe does not contradict Torah.
    The more science I studied the more awe I felt in the presents of the infinite creator I studied the laws of science the formation of stars and planets and I marveled at my very own consciousness.
    I was inspired by the beautiful understanding rav kook had on evolution
    But as beautiful and meaningful all this may be, you have shown me that it is not authentic Judaism.
    Unfortunately I believe that the universe is billions of years old, I cannot lie to myself and pretend I don’t have these views, if I can’t be sincere even to myself then who am I?

    I will have to follow the Rambams advise and “abandon the Torah” I am sure that if the Rambam was alive today, and had the same beliefs about the age of the universe as I do he would do the same.
    The Rambam does not say that if Aristotle’s position was true it would simply mean Hashem created the universe in such a way that it merely looks like Aristotle’s position, he says instead have the intellectual honest to leave Judaism.

    Unfortunately if I want to be honest I will have to follow the Rambams advice instead of trying to make the Torah fit in with my beliefs.

    If only Rav Carmell and Rav Nadel would have listened to the Rambam, and “abandon the Torah” instead of giving me false hope”

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  5. I don't really understand what you are getting at -

    I suggest you read the post again carefully and then ask questions based on what the post does say rather than what it does not say.

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  6. I will have to follow the Rambams advise and “abandon the Torah” I am sure that if the Rambam was alive today, and had the same beliefs about the age of the universe as I do he would do the same.

    Dear david:

    If you're gonna follow the Rambam's advice, you need to be intellectually honest and go all the way.
    His advice to anyone who thinks that one can attain a firm belief about issues of origin and early development of the universe which contradict the Torah, is making a fundamental error.
    The Rambam says in Book II chapter 17 very clearly that through observation of the state of universe today and extrapolating backwards (which is how modern cosmology constructs its picture of the universe's history) one cannot be sure of anything.
    Such observations are not capable of overturning the Torah's account of Genesis in principle.
    I quote:
    http://www.sacred-texts.com/jud/gfp/gfp104.htm

    We, the followers of Moses, our Teacher, and of Abraham, our Father, believe that the Universe has been produced and has developed in a certain manner, and that it has been created in a certain order.
    The Aristotelians oppose us, and found their objections on the properties which the things in the Universe possess when in actual existence and fully developed. We admit the existence of these properties, but hold that they are by no means the same as those which the things possessed in the moment of their production; and we hold that these properties themselves have come into existence from absolute non-existence. Their arguments are therefore no objection whatever to our theory: they have demonstrative force only against those who hold that the nature of things as at present in existence proves the Creation. But this is not my opinion...

    ...The principle laid down in the foregoing must be well understood; it is a high rampart erected round the Law, and able to resist all missiles directed against it.


    Claiming as you do, that the Rambam would adopt modern cosmology because of its superior tools of observation misses the Rambam's point entirely.

    The intellectually honest thing to do is to admit that you just can't be bothered to rethink your basic assumptions about the certainty of modern cosmological models of the universe, its history/age, and its development.

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  7. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  8. Dear Dovid Kornreich,

    “The Rambam says in Book II chapter 17 very clearly that through observation of the state of universe today and extrapolating backwards (which is how modern cosmology constructs its picture of the universe's history) one cannot be sure of anything.”

    Come on!!! I have looked into telescopes and seen supernova (exploding stars) thousands of light years away
    Be honest!! Even if you want to say that the speed of light was different, it takes ages for stars to explode this would mean Hashem created the star in a dying state, then the famous question is why would Hashem want to trick me on such a fundamental level? Rabbb Coffer’s answer:
    “I think it is ridiculous to say that Hashem would have created trees with rings indicating thousands of years, or millions of transitional fossils that never really existed. Why? Because none of these things are necessary in order to have a fully mature, fully functioning universe. But starlight is and therefore Hashem created the universe in a fully advanced fully mature form “ does not make sense, a black hole billions of miles away is not needed anymore then the specific number of rings around a tree. Hashem could have simply created a smaller universe and we would not have this confusion.

    And the strange thing is the laws of science seem to be functioning the same if we look 5000 light years away or 50000. Indeed Hashem seems to be teasing us.

    Indeed the Rambam would have a lot more to worry about if he was alive today.
    I am sure he would have abandoned the torah.
    The Rambam who valued intellect would regard me as foolish for still keeping Shabbat.

    But I cannot bring myself to break Shabbat, as dishonest as this may be.
    I know Hashem loves me, and I always daven from the depths of my heart, I have a real relationship with him.

    I am torn between intellectual honesty, and the deep yearning of my soul.
    In short, I am going through turmoil.

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  9. David,

    I just wanted to let you know that I admire your intellectual honesty in admitting existential turmoil :)

    Baruch Pelta
    bpelta.blogspot.com
    baruch.pelta@gmail.com

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  10. you need to be intellectually honest

    I find it amazing that Rabbi FKM entertains the notion that he can insult and browbeat an earnest questioner into obedience with his world view.

    It seems that the "kiruv" that you are pursuing is targeted to reinforcement of your own beliefs while antagonizing those who don't share your assumptions and views.

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  11. Rabbi Lampel.

    The point of this post is that Chazal in Pesachim did not necessarily believe that the Rakia, which the sun traveled behind at night, is solid, but rather they may have believed that it consists of liquid or gas.

    But there is no dome, whether solid, liquid or gas, anywhere near the sun. I understand that you don't believe that this discussion has any impact on our view of the mesorah, due to the fact that there are machlokesim about the nature of the rakia , thus discounting the possibility that there was any mesorah about the rakia at all.

    Is the whole point of this post to show that R. Slifkin mischaracterized Chazal's mistake (but Chazal really made a different mistake)?

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  12. Nachum, I really owe you and David answers. But this last comment of yours leaves me perplexed. I did not mention liquid or gas. I mentioned something else. Rabbi Slifkin introduced those substances into the discussion. Are you reading what I write, or what you think Rabbi Slifkin indicates I write? (Not that Rabbi Slifkin said I wrote that, either.)

    My main points--and soon, b'ezras Hashem, I will elaborate even more--is that Rabbi Slifkin is misleading you about what the sources say--both about Torah and about the ancient gentiles' beliefs, and (as you noted I hold) is misleading people to think one may disagree with the mesorah, by falsely calling the matter of the rakia's substance to be a mesorah.

    The nafka minnah is that there is no license to dismiss the mesorah of a meta-natural creation process in favor of a natural creation process.

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  13. Rabbi Slifkin, you wrote, “I cut-and-pasted the basic graphic from somewhere else, and modified it for my purposes.”
    http://www.rationalistjudaism.com/2010/11/ridiculing-chazal.html

    I am very curious as to where you got that graphic from. Was it scanned from a book? Was it from a website that you could link us to?

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  14. I don't even remember anymore. And frankly, I can't see what difference it makes. It's certainly much more innocuous than the cartoonish depiction of Chazal on the cover of your book. How could you say that I used it in order to ridicule them? You owe me a public apology.

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  15. R. Lampel:

    I have been eagerly awaiting some clarification regarding Chazal's understanding of the Rakia, but feel like I've been getting the run around and distractions.

    I hope if you don't mind if I cut to the chase.

    Are you positing that RMBM and Chazal believed the Rakia to be a "force field" which cannot be seen or detected, but can obscure the sun if the sun were to travel behind it?

    And you would further argue that there is indeed such a force field?

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  16. Rabbi Slifkin wrote:

    I don't even remember anymore. And frankly, I can't see what difference it makes.

    I was wondering what other choices of graphics you had to choose from, that you decided against, in favor of the cartoonish one you picked.

    It's certainly much more innocuous than the cartoonish depiction of Chazal on the cover of your book.

    Rabbi Slifkin, the art style of your graphic is cartoonish. The art style of the cover to my book (which my publisher chose, not I, although it was to my delight) is not cartoonish. For a more elaborate explanation, I suggest you click on this link:

    http://www.toriah.com/pdf/misc/TalmudDiscussionArtLesson.pdf

    How could you say that I used it in order to ridicule them? You owe me a public apology.

    I did not say you ridiculed Chazal. I said I could not think of any reason you would use such a cartoonish graphic other than to produce or reinforce a sense of riducule; meaning ridicule of that model of the sun's path. You could have created a serious version of that model while still saying that it has been disproven. I did not take it the step further that you are accusing me of.

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  17. Nachum, I'm I'm also frustrated over the circumstances that I have not properly responded to you. I've been working some time on it, but I try to be careful and clear and thorough, and the downside of that is that it takes time.

    To cut to the chase on your question: I don't understand the Gemora Pesachim. I have internal difficulties with it, multiplied by various girsaos. For example, as I mention on a blog entry I just posted: If the sun is not visible at night because it travels above an opaque rakia, how does one account for seeing the moon at night, since the moon's light is but a reflection of the sun's (which the Babylonians and Chazal held to be the case)?

    The thing with the "force-field" is meant to

    (a) realistically understand what the people who held of spheres meant by them, and to show that it was not really so different from what we believe today,

    (b) show that Rabbi Slifkin was exaggerating the difference, creating the impression that the mesorah maintained something one would now find bizarre. By doing this,

    (c) he could dismiss the factual mesorah of a meta-natural Creation, in favor of a "natural" evolutionary model.

    There was no universal theory among Chazal of the substance, or movement, of whatever is responsible for the movements of the heavenly bodies; and it certainly was not a mesorah Chazal had.

    The Rambam and other rishonim explained that the words "rakia" and "shammayim" are used in the Torah and Maasei Breshis interchangeable. But the real location of the stars are in what is primarily considered the shammayim; the primary rakia is the atmosphere. When Hashem made the stars visible "in the rakia" on Day Four, they say it means that although the stars are really located in the shamayyim, they appear to be in the immediate sky to earthlings.

    I hope this is helpful, although admittedly there remains much to be understood of this matter, the physical reality of which was not, according to the Rambam, handed down to us through the mesorah.

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  18. I was wondering what other choices of graphics you had to choose from, that you decided against, in favor of the cartoonish one you picked.

    None at all.

    Rabbi Slifkin, the art style of your graphic is cartoonish. The art style of the cover to my book (which my publisher chose, not I, although it was to my delight) is not cartoonish.

    Sorry, but I think this is crazy.

    I said I could not think of any reason you would use such a cartoonish graphic other than to produce or reinforce a sense of riducule

    And not that it was something that I cut-and-pasted, or that it's simply a clear way of displaying the model? Y'know, if it was anyone else, you'd have been able to think of a reason.

    There was no universal theory among Chazal of the substance, or movement, of whatever is responsible for the movements of the heavenly bodies; and it certainly was not a mesorah Chazal had.

    There most certainly was a universal theory that the rakia was composed of firm substance that blocks whatever is behind it (such as the sun, if it goes there).

    When Hashem made the stars visible "in the rakia" on Day Four, they say it means that although the stars are really located in the shamayyim, they appear to be in the immediate sky to earthlings.

    Which Abarbanel points out is a real dochek in the pesukim, as well as being against the mesorah from Chazal.

    the physical reality of which was not, according to the Rambam, handed down to us through the mesorah.

    Rambam says nothing about Chazal not believing that the rakia is a solid dome.

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  19. Now that Rabbi Slifkin's conversation has moved over to a more recent post, we can continue where we left off.

    Come on!!! I have looked into telescopes and seen supernova (exploding stars) thousands of light years away.
    Be honest!! Even if you want to say that the speed of light was different, it takes ages for stars to explode this would mean Hashem created the star in a dying state,


    It takes ages for starts to explode? Well, how do you know that? If light travel can be different, the rate of stars dying and exploding can also be different.

    You don't seem to be grasping the Rambam's approach.
    Please provide me with a single natural phenomenon that does not require extrapolation from present observations in order to calculate the nature of its origins.

    If you cannot provide me with any such phenomenon, then you have no logical reason to reject the Rambam's approach and no reason to assume that Rambam wouldn't keep Shabbos today.

    I don't see how this is browbeating.
    Either you respond with a logical argument with evidence that does not rely on extrapolation, or you admit that you simply cannot stand up to the scientific zeitgeist which deceptively touts theories as established empirical facts.

    Hashem could have simply created a smaller universe and we would not have this confusion.

    How do you know what Hashem needs galaxies and black holes for?
    How can you know?

    And the strange thing is the laws of science seem to be functioning the same if we look 5000 light years away or 50000. Indeed Hashem seems to be teasing us.

    The complaint that we don't observe any radical break in the progression/effects of natural processes from within the six days of creation to the post-six day period is based on something you haven't established. You are assuming that we should be able to directly observe the effects of anything that went on during those six days.

    Given the meta-natural character of those six days, this assumption is simply unfounded.

    Indeed the Rambam would have a lot more to worry about if he was alive today.
    I am sure he would have abandoned the torah.
    The Rambam who valued intellect would regard me as foolish for still keeping Shabbat.


    Again, you fail to fully comprehend the subtlety of the Rambam's approach.
    I challenge you to find one natural process that does not invoke any need for extrapolation...

    ReplyDelete
  20. I posted a translation of the Rambam's piece on the illegitimacy of extrapolation, along with the KPCH Hebrew translation of the Arabic original.

    I also recommend a piece by Rabbi Micha Berger on the Rambam's statement about the impossibility of conflict between the mesorah and reality. It clarifies what may otherwise be misunderstood. He writes, in part,

    As I see it, the often-asked question, “Would the Rambam have found a new interpretation of the Torah if the philosophy was sound?” is meaningless — the Rambam denies the the possibility of that happening. We would never require a new interpretation in response to real proofs, as the hypothetical — a solid proof of something which doesn’t fit the Torah as our mesorah explains it — cannot occur.

    Please copy and go to this link:

    http://www.aishdas.org/asp/2010/12/when-science-and-torah-conflict.shtml

    Regarding the issue of the days of Creation, Rabbi Berger and I disagree; but his approach (detailed in other places, included in his Avodah website) remains within the framework of loyalty in principle to the mesorah. He understands the Maharal and Ramban as understood by Rav Dessler and Midrashim to include Time as one of the things during the Creation process that worked meta-naturally, and therefore there could have been some sort of coexistence of a 6-day and 15-billion-year period. (This does not address the evolution process, only the time issue.) My understanding of the sources does not support this, but David may find some solace in this approach.

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  21. Rabbi Slifkin, the art style of your graphic is cartoonish. The art style of the cover to my book (which my publisher chose, not I, although it was to my delight) is not cartoonish.

    Sorry, but I think this is crazy.

    See http://www.toriah.com/pdf/misc/TalmudDiscussionArtLesson.pdf

    I said I could not think of any reason you would use such a cartoonish graphic other than to produce or reinforce a sense of riducule

    And not that it was something that I cut-and-pasted, or that it's simply a clear way of displaying the model? Y'know, if it was anyone else, you'd have been able to think of a reason.

    It issomething you cut-and pasted. If the one choosing to use this graphic were anyone else, I would kindly attribute the choice to unfortunate and unwitting irresponsibility or lack of taste.

    There was no universal theory among Chazal of the substance, or movement, of whatever is responsible for the movements of the heavenly bodies; and it certainly was not a mesorah Chazal had.

    There most certainly was a universal theory that the rakia was composed of firm substance that blocks whatever is behind it (such as the sun, if it goes there).

    You are ignoring or distorting the sources, both Jewish and secular, that I brought.

    ReplyDelete
  22. When Hashem made the stars visible "in the rakia" on Day Four, they say it means that although the stars are really located in the shamayyim, they appear to be in the immediate sky to earthlings.

    Which Abarbanel points out is a real dochek in the pesukim, as well as being against the mesorah from Chazal.

    That is his revered opinion against a larger majority; but you should be ashamed to invoke the Abarbanel who minces no words in his charges of apikorsis against the kind of approach you suggest.

    the physical reality of which was not, according to the Rambam, handed down to us through the mesorah.

    Rambam says nothing about Chazal not believing that the rakia is a solid dome.

    The Rambam, like the secular sources I quoted, describes what those who subscribed to the theory of the spheres thought they were: the ethereal things that contained the sun, moon and stars, that were colorless and weightless.

    The sources I brought show that your representation of what the spheres were, to those non-Jews who held of them--whose views you falsely assert were adapted by all of Chazal--does not match what the ancienct Babylonians held, what the pre-Aristotlean Greeks held, possibly what Aristotle held, nor what the Rambam held.

    But, more relevant is the fact that the Rambam--whose position that the sages may have been wrong about non-mesorah matters you invoke for your faulty application to the mesorah-matter of the meta-natural characteristic of Maasei Breishis--simultaneously holds that,

    of the things in the heavens man knows nothing except a few mathematical calculations, and you see how far these go. I say in the words of the poet, "The heavens are Hashem's, but the earth He hath given to the sons of man" (Ps. cxv. 16): that is to say, G-d alone has a perfect and true knowledge of the heavens, their nature, their essence, their form, their motions, and their causes; but He gave man power to know the things which are under the heavens: here is man's world, here is his home, into which he has been placed, and of which he is himself a portion. This is in reality the truth. For the facts which we require in proving [anything about] the existence of heavenly entities are withheld from us: the heavens are too far from us, and too exalted in place and rank. Man's faculties are too deficient to comprehend even the general proof the heavens contain for the existence of Him who sets them in motion.

    So, the Rambam does not only say that the mechanics of the stars’ movements—something not specified in the pesukim of Maasei Breishis—is something for which there is no extant mesorah (—and by the way, the Rambam was not the first to declare this: Rav Saadia Gaon said this as well—); he also says that we do not really know what causes the stars to move—despite his tentatively following Aristotle in attributing this to some spheres--and that we do not really know the composition (nature, essence, form) of the heavenly bodies—despite his confident description of the same.

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  23. and therefore there could have been some sort of coexistence of a 6-day and 15-billion-year period

    OK, so we see that strong advocacy of literalism of the six days of creation is not appropriate for all the people all of the time. Thank you!

    Now that we have broached this, we're either going to have to flesh it out all the way, or remain hopelessly confused.

    I assume that these postings by Rabbi Micah Berger are what Rabbi Lampel was referring to?
    http://www.aishdas.org/asp/category/machashavah/science-and-torah

    We then need to clearly explain why Rabbi Berger remains "within the framework of loyalty in principle to the mesorah" and RNS does not. At first glance, this is not at all clear to me.

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  24. Dear Yitz,

    Rabbi Slifkin's approach promotes saying that the mesorah can be wrong. It advocates that contra the mesorah, the Creation process (except for the first moment of Creation) was a natural one, following the same processes of nature in effect today.

    Rabbi Berger insists that legitimate interpretation must be backed by mesorah and Chazal. He insists that the mesorah cannot be wrong. He insists that the Creation process was meta-natural. We differ in what is plausible interpretation of the mesorah, specifically regarding whether Chazal meant to include Time within those things that were meta-natural in behavior.

    The link you provided is the same I referred to, and I thank you for making access to it easier. I also referred (without linking) to other writings by Rabbi Berger where he expresses his ideas about Time during Maasei Breishis, and his view that we have an utter inability to comprehend what went on, both science's version and my version being off the mark.

    I agree with him half-way.

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  25. Also, Yitz, please recognize that literalism was never the issue. The issue is fidelity to the mesorah as understood by Chazal and the rishonim.

    ReplyDelete
  26. Rabbi Lampel, Shalom,

    I have given consideration to your comments here and perhaps this indeed touches upon the crux of the (or perhaps 'my') issue. And that is, what exactly are the parameters of 'אמונה' or emunah. If we have a clear mesorah regarding a physical phenomenon, and this contradicts a clear observation 'פוק וחזי' that is available only to the modern generation, so what do we do?

    By sending David over to Rabbi Berger who entertains the notion that an ancient universe is within the bounds of our mesorah, you have only slightly moved to point of altercation.

    I have this notion in my head that following the evidence to where ever it leads is a good thing. I do not think that it is a good thing to force a person to decide between objective physical observation and the mesorah.

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  27. Dear Yitz,

    First of all, did you read Rabbi Berger's piece? It directly addresses your issue.

    ReplyDelete
  28. I suppose that you mean his concluding line:

    Reinterpreting something allegorically because of non-Torah arguments isn’t on the table. Either things work mesoretically, or we disproved prophecy as understood by the Oral Torah, and the whole enterprise of Yahadus would be undone. Since that is an absurdity, the Rambam concludes with a Reductio ad absurdum.

    I also opine that rejecting objective modern physical evidence is also absurd. We are left with a choice of absurdities.

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  29. "Look: Something has to be the cause of the planets’ motions. Either the planets are self-locomotive, or there is an external force that moves them"

    What moves the planets is inertia. Rabbi Lampel, do you agree that the "sphere" model of the Universe described by the Rambam is totally wrong?

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  30. It is obvious that Chazal thought there is a Rakia, of whatever "material". It is also obvious that they were wrong. Yishar Koach to Rabbi Slifkin for stating the obvious, and for fighting the spirit of deceit.

    ReplyDelete
  31. משה רפאל said...

    What moves the planets is inertia.

    Aren't forces of gravity also involved in why the planets move as they do? (By the way, I erred in referring to plants, alone. Under discussion are also the sun, moon, and stars.)

    Rabbi Lampel, do you agree that the "sphere" model of the Universe described by the Rambam is totally wrong?

    Yes, it is wrong according to current scientific thought, which I have no reason to deny, and strong reason to accept. But neither the Rambam's description of the nearer rakia as atmosphere, nor his description of the rakias wherein the heavenly bodies are located, as consisting of transparent, weightless, ethereal, unearthly substance, match the crude, solid dome description Rabbi Slifkin deceives you into thinking was the way Chazal thought of the rakia.

    And the attempt to equate non-mesorah matters--for which there is license to disagree, with mesorah matters (such as the meta-natural character of Maasei Breshis)--for which there is no license to disagree, is also a matter of deceit.

    And I suspect you are also being misled by mistranslation of sources. (More of that in later comments either on this post or on the "Backtracking" post)

    משה רפאל said...

    It is obvious that Chazal thought there is a Rakia, of whatever "material". It is also obvious that they were wrong.


    Of course there is a rakia. What definition by Chazal of rakia are you referring to? (Quote the source, please. Not Rabbi Slifkin's rendition of the source.)

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  32. Me: Rabbi Slifkin, you wrote, “I cut-and-pasted the basic graphic from somewhere else, and modified it for my purposes.”

    I am very curious as to where you got that graphic from. Was it scanned from a book? Was it from a website that you could link us to?

    Natan Slifkin said...

    I don't even remember anymore. And frankly, I can't see what difference it makes.

    Me: I was wondering what other choices of graphics you had to choose from, that you decided against, in favor of the cartoonish one you picked.

    None at all.

    So, you are sure that there was no other graphic you could have chosen from where you got your cartoonish one, but you simply cannot remember where you got that graphic from. Well, frankly, that sounds suspicious to me. How about this: If you were presently interested in obtaining a graphic to illustrate your view of what the Jewish sages thought the sun’s path at night was, where specifically would you turn?

    If you refuse to answer specifically, I will have to conclude that you are hiding something.

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  33. "Of course there is a rakia. What definition by Chazal of rakia are you referring to?"

    I refer, for instance, to the following, from Pesachim 94a:

    מן הארץ עד לרקיע - מהלך חמש מאות שנה, ועוביו של רקיע מהלך חמש מאות שנה, ובין רקיע לרקיע מהלך חמש מאות שנה, וכן בין כל רקיע ורקיע, אך אל שאול תורד אל ירכתי בור! תיובתא

    There is no Rakia five hundred years up. Therefore the Rakia has no thickness. There are no further Rakias, and therefore there are no distances between them. All concepts are wrong.

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  34. משה רפאל said...
    Yishar Koach to Rabbi Slifkin for ... fighting the spirit of deceit.

    ח ויתן אותם אלהים ברקיע השמים כיצד גלגל חמה ולבנה שוקעים ברקיע ר' יהודה בר אלעאי ורבנן רבנן אמרין מאחורי הכיפה ולמטה ור' יהודה בר אלעאי אמר מאחורי הכיפה ולמעלה א"ר יוחנן נראין דברי ר"י בר אלעאי דהוא אמר מאחורי הכיפה ולמעלה בימות החמה שכל העולם כולו רותח ומעיינות צוננין ומלהון דרבנן דאמרינן מאחורי הכיפה ולמטה בימות הגשמים שכל העולם כולו צונן ומעיינות פושרין אמר רבי שמעון בן יוחאי אין אנו יודעין אם פורחין הן באויר ואם שפין ברקיע ואם מהלכין הן כדרכן הדבר קשה מאד ואי אפשר לבריות לעמוד עליו:

    The last words of this Midrash translate, Rabbi Shimon ben Yochai says, “We do not know if they [the stars] fly in the air, or if they scrape the rakia, or if they go their own way.

    Why do you think Rabbi Slifkin in his paper instead translates it:

    R. Shimon b. Yochai said: We do not know if they fly up in the air and scrape the firmament, or if they travel as usual;

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  35. Though I did not read the paper, I don't think his argumentation depends on the "and". As I said, in my view rabbi Slifkin states the obvious. People make mistakes. Your finding an error of translation does not make me withdraw my Yishar Koach.

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  36. Though I did not read the paper, I don't think his argumentation depends...

    Are you serious? How can you rationally conclude whether his argumentation depends upon a statement without reading the paper? And accuse others of deceit who disagree with its assertions?

    משה רפאל, the paper is full of "innocent" mistakes. But as long as you do not base your opinions and accusations of deceit on the facts, I can see why you side with its writer. When you do read the paper, I suggest you also read and duly consider the critiques of its critics.

    Do you think the Geonim, rishonim and acharonim, who say that many of Chazal's scientifically-framed statements were not meant for their literal, physical meaning, were also forces of deceit?

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  37. I do not need to see the paper to accept the thesis, and so I did not read the paper. I have a history of thinking for myself, Baruch HaShem. I do not KNOW whether his argumentation depends on the error. I ESTIMATE that it does not, knowing the general thesis and in view of the fact that you did not explain the import of the "and" error. I am not going to read the paper to find out. It seems a very minor issue.

    I agree that very many Agadic statements of Chazal are intended to be metaphorical.

    It seems to me that you understood very well what I meant by deceit. A good way to discern the deceivers is by their disingeneous behavior. One can generally observe from disccusion techniques who are seekers of truth, and who are not. Case in point: If the "and" error is material, say why. If not, do not bring it up. Do no insinuate in vain. That is deceit.

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  38. Dear Moshe Raphael, you write that "What moves the planets is inertia." (emphasis added). Would you care to elaborate?

    Also, I did delete a comment that you made about Rav Miller. This is the only time I have ever had to remove a comment on this blog, and I do appreciate the generally civil tone that our readers have adopted.

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  39. R. Zvi, you ask why Rabbi Slifkin in his paper translates MR6:8 as R. Shimon b. Yochai said: We do not know if they fly up in the air and scrape the firmament, or if they travel as usual;

    Now I missed this innocent mistake of R. Slifkin which I hope he will correct. Am I correct that this mistranslation gives the impression that the rakiya is a solid (and thus would make a scraping noise?).

    Now looking at the use of the word "shaf" in MR6:7 it seems that it rather means to glide (megalgel, see Mahraz"v) quietly in the rakiya. Would this mean that R. Shimon is not committed to the idea that the heavenly bodies make a noise as they move in the sky?

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  40. I hadn't focused on Rabbi Slifkin's chiddush that Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai holds that the stars scrape the firmament. As I understand it, the Pythagorean theory was that the spheres themselves produced noise/music through their movements and, as the Rambam says, is connected to the idea that the spheres move and take the stars with them, as opposed to the idea that the spheres are motionless and the stars travel along them.

    What I do focus on is that by conflating Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai's first two possibilities, Rabbi Slifkin has deftly eliminated the first possibility that RSbY proposed, namely that the stars "fly in the air."

    This innocent mistake just happens to eliminate the fact that not all of Chazal thought that the movements of the stars had anything to do with spheres.

    Now, this would merely destroy Rabbi Slifkin's thesis, but perhaps he can find a girsa that reads as his translation, and declare it the correct one; or claim there must be one, since all the other evidence points that way, as all the rishonim agree. All that is missing is documentation that all the rishonim agree. But that is a mere technicality.

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  41. Moshe Baruch, if you were familiar with the paper,and its thesis claiming a consensus of Chazal that there is a solid rakia, you would have seen the significance of this mistranslation. Your unfamiliarity with the issues being discussed doesn't make my comments on them "vain insinuations."

    At any rate, I spell it out in my previous comment.

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  42. "Dear Moshe Raphael, you write that "What moves the planets is inertia." (emphasis added). Would you care to elaborate?

    Also, I did delete a comment that you made about Rav Miller. This is the only time I have ever had to remove a comment on this blog, and I do appreciate the generally civil tone that our readers have adopted."


    I noticed the removal. I think you removed the comment only because I commented on a writing of rabbi Miller. If someone had written the same about a work of rabbi Slifkin, you would not even have lifted your eyebrows. Again, I do not know rabbi Miller and only honestly presented how I assessed the letter at the time.

    The comment about inertia was regarding the statement:

    "Look: Something has to be the cause of the planets’ motions. Either the planets are self-locomotive, or there is an external force that moves them"

    This sounds like a pre-Newtonian Kasha. No "force that moves them" is needed for motion.

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  43. "This innocent mistake just happens to eliminate the fact that not all of Chazal thought that the movements of the stars had anything to do with spheres."

    But this is not true. Rashbi gives three possibilities. Rabbi Slifkin makes them into two, erroneously, indeed. But still, one of the two is not related to the spheres. It still follows that Rashbi did not accept the Sphere theory of star-motion.

    Further, no matter what translation, it does not follow from this text that Rashbi did not see the structure of the Rakia in the same fashion as the followers of the Sphere theory of atar-motion.

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  44. Dear Moshe Raphael, you wrote that "What moves the planets is inertia" and even with your clarification I still do not understand what you mean. Sorry.

    What moves planets (orbiting the sun) is not inertia -- as you seem to say. An orbiting planet is accelerating and thus a net force is needed to account for the acceleration. That force is gravitation (in Newtonian physics).

    The principle of inertia (Newton's first law) states that an object not subject to a net external force moves at a constant velocity. It addresses an object that is not accelerating.

    Take the moon. Something has to account for its acceleration (orbit) around the earth. Ptolemy would have said that the celestial sphere accounts for its orbit. Newton would have said that it is the force of gravitation that attracts the moon at each point in the orbit of the moon towards the earth. And Einstein would tell us that the earth causes a curvature in spacetime thus coercing the moon to move through the bend in spacetime.

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  45. The Rabbi did not write about orbits or about accelleration. He suggested that motion needs force. If he meant accelleration, he expressed himself poorly. My suspicion was that he is stuck in pre-Newtonian concepts. Not uncommon among rabbis nowadays. FYI, I know physics very well.

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  46. Dear Moshe Raphael, I am not addressing the comments of the Rabbi--I am addressing your comment. You say you know physics well. How then do you explain your statement that "What moves the planets is inertia"?

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  47. The apparent movement a planet, the relative velocity between us and the planet, does not need a force. That movement is inertia "at work". Pre-Newton it was thought that all movement needs force, as is the case in daily life on Earth. I wanted to point out that this is not the case for planets, because it seemed to me that the rabbi does not know this. Very simple.

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  48. Sorry Moshe Raphael, I don't have the slightest clue of what you are talking about. See my earlier comments.

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  49. I understand you work in an academic world. I suggest you make a Petek that says

    **********************************************
    "Look: Something has to be the cause of the planets’ motions. Either the planets are self-locomotive, or there is an external force that moves them"

    What moves the planets is inertia.
    **********************************************

    and ask some physicist around you if the bold is a reasonable response to the italic, and what it could mean.

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  50. I invite rabbi Lampel to reply to my posts regarding the Rakia and Rashbi.

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  51. I would like to mention here something that I also mentioned to Rabbi Slifkin. Chazal's mentions of Rakia are loaded with Kabbalistic understanding. Likewise, Chazal's mentions of the Sun are loaded with Kabbalistic understanding. The suggestion that the Sun moves behind the Rakia at night a fortiori has a Kabbalistic background, one that is even quite obvious. Now, they tried to apply this in reality, by suggesting a Hakbala, but it did not work out. The Gemara itself acknowledges that it was wrong. The corollary is that Chazal should not be taken lightly, but they can be wrong. Also, where Chazal are "wrong", look for the deep lesson by asking why they are wrong.

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  52. In the absence of an answer by rabbi Lampel, I conclude that the rabbi insinuated without any justification that rabbi Slifkin mistranslated Rashbi on purpose. I think apologies are due.

    On the other hand, it is good to see that YSO ceased his embarrassing interrogation about the meaning of my inertia statement.

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  53. What moves the planets is inertia.

    Gravity from the Sun is what keeps the planets in orbit around the Sun, just as gravity from the Earth is what keeps the Moon and satellites and the space shuttle in orbit around the Earth.

    source: http://helios.gsfc.nasa.gov/qa_plan.html#planorbit

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  54. In first approximation, the movement of the planets as we see them, hour by hour, is determined by the rotation of the Earth, i.e. by inertia. A correction to this comes from the instantaneous relative velocity of the planets with respect to the center of the Earth. This correction is also due to inertia. A second-order correction is due to the apparent acceleration of the planets with respect to the center of the Earth. In Newtonian terms, this comes from a force, the gravitational force, acting on both the Earth and the planets. Since Einstein's General Relavity, however, this is an inertial effect also (see below).

    Note that I reacted to rabbi Lampel's statement

    "Look: Something has to be the cause of the planets’ motions. Either the planets are self-locomotive, or there is an external force that moves them"

    Though I wrote my statement such that it is true absolutely in General Relativity, I wrote it to to point out to the Rabbi what I estimated was not clear him: Not all motion needs force. Even forgetting about Einstein's insight, in first approximation, the motion of the planets is not the result of any force. Only on a time-scale long enough for the planets to travel a non-negligable portion of their orbits, in Newtonian terms a force comes in. As I said, according to Einstein's General Relativity this force is inertial in nature: The apparent acceleration of freely falling bodies, such as the Earth and the planets, has the same status as the relative motion of two bodies floating freely in a space far away from any gravity.

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  55. משה רפאל said...
    In the absence of an answer by rabbi Lampel, I conclude that the rabbi insinuated without any justification that rabbi Slifkin mistranslated Rashbi on purpose. I think apologies are due.

    Has Rabbi Slifkin corrected his mistaken and misleading translation? If not, it indicates that he wants it to remain in its erroneous form, which hides the damage the real translation does to his thesis. An apology on his part is certainly due. You concede it is erroneous. But you are not Rabbi Slifkin.

    And you think that mistranslation was an accident? Honestly?

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  56. The Rabbi … suggested that motion needs force. … My suspicion was that he is stuck in pre-Newtonian concepts. Not uncommon among rabbis nowadays. FYI, I know physics very well.
    משה רפאל, January 17, 2011, 8:32 PM

    משה רפאל, I am but a layman regarding physics, and I concede that since Newton (or maybe even Galileo?), the need for external or internal force to maintain a body’s motion was eliminated (together with the sphere theory of star movement). Nevertheless, I thought that inertia was something that continued carrying a body only after an initial thrust put that body into motion in the first place. And wherever I look, I see academia proposing that the Big Bang was that thrust that put the heavenly bodies in motion (and afterwards inertia keeps it in that motion). That would be an external force on those bodies, no? And that would mean that the bodies’ motions are due to an external force, no? And gravity, an external force, (in whatever “approximation” you’re talking about) contributes to the direction of the motion, no?

    I had written:

    Either the planets are self-locomotive, or there is an external force that moves them—be it a centrifugal force, a gravitational force, a magnetic force or whatever.

    Note that my first example was centrifugal force. I have learned that centrifugal force arises due to the body’s resistance against changing its speed and direction, known as inertia.

    So when, in response to my statement (“Either the planets are self-locomotive, or there is an external force that moves them—be it a centrifugal force….or whatever), you say, (Jan. 18, 2011 12:02) “What moves the planets is inertia,” and you suggest asking “some physicist around you if [this] is a reasonable response,” I would imagine the physicist, if he is capable of logical thinking, would say something to the effect of, “Why repeat what the rabbi just said?”

    In any case, the context of my remark was the ancients’ beliefs, not ours. So the issue of pre-Newtonian thought vs current thought is irrelevant. I was not claiming that the astronomy of Chazal—which, as per the Rambam and others, Chazal recognized as non-mesorah in origin—is identical to today's theories, or is factual. I was defending my stand that the ancients’ beliefs about star movement and spheres were not as crude as Rabbi Slifkin describes them. In my post, I showed this to be so. I therefore attempted to translate the concept of spheres into terms that are more in tune (no Pythagorean pun intended) with how they would have been expressed in contemporary parlance. By referring to the spheres academia once believed in, in terms of force fields, rather than in terms implying solid, opaque glass structures, I was attempting to more accurately and respectfully express their concepts.

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  57. משה רפאל said...
    ...There is no Rakia five hundred years up. Therefore the Rakia has no thickness. There are no further Rakias, and therefore there are no distances between them. All concepts are wrong.

    January 16, 2011 10:06 PM


    Okay, let's pretend we know what the Gemora is talking about. Let's take it for granted that it is not talking about any part of the atmosphere, stratosphere, magnetosphere, etc. If, as the Rambam describes the spheres, the rakia in question is ethereal, without any color or weight at all, what instruments of detection did you attempt to use, to see whether this rakia exists? A telescope? A microscope? A radio wave receiver? An instrument that detects gamma waves? How are you able to determine whether or not there is a rakia there, if you have no inkling what it is supposed to be or how it can be detected? Are you sympathetic to the mindset of the Russian cosmonaut who declared that he did not see G-d when he ascended into space?

    Of course, the existence of something invisible and weightless, whose attributed substance is by definition close to non-material and unknown, is not falsifiable by material means. I am not out to prove that such a thing exists, but your insistence that it doesn’t is nothing but dogmatism.

    An intelligent response would be that the only reason the existence of a rakia 500 “years-up” was postulated, was to explain some phenomena (and then you would explain what that phenomena are); but since that phenomena can be explained using physical agencies whose existence is proven, it is reasonable to attribute the phenomenon to the latter, and dismiss the former, evidence of, for or against, we do not have. Unless, of course, there is strong reason outside of physical detection methods, to uphold the former.

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    1. Of interest:

      http://torahexplorer.com/2013/03/07/missing-mass/

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  58. משה רפאל said...
    ... Chazal's mentions of Rakia are loaded with Kabbalistic understanding. Likewise, Chazal's mentions of the Sun are loaded with Kabbalistic understanding. The suggestion that the Sun moves behind the Rakia at night a fortiori has a Kabbalistic background, one that is even quite obvious. Now, they tried to apply this in reality, by suggesting a [Ka]bala, but it did not work out. The Gemara itself acknowledges that it was wrong. The corollary is that Chazal should not be taken lightly, but they can be wrong. Also, where Chazal are "wrong", look for the deep lesson by asking why they are wrong.

    January 18, 2011 4:20 AM


    I've thought of this possibility as well. It would fit with the principle that Chazal could be mistaken about astronomical matters, since there was no mesorah about them. But there is no reason to deny that Chazal themselves realized that the kabalistic concepts are not necessarily translatable to the physical world. The fact the Chachmei Yisroel were willing to discuss such matters in the forum we see in Pesachim shows they were open to discussion about these matters and, as you say, exercised eventual consent. This supports the idea that they were aware it was a matter of speculation and not mesorah. And the fact Rashbi—the paradigm kabbalist!—considered such matters unknowable, proves it. Why insist that Chazal were unable to determine what was mesorah and what was not? Why should one attribute erroneous conclusions about this to them, unless one is biased by an agenda to compromise the integrity of mesorah in general—the goal being to deny that, in contrast to astronomical matters, the fact that Maasei Breishis consisted of a meta-natural, shortly run process, is universally accepted by the baalei mesorah.

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  59. "I am but a layman regarding physics, and I concede that since Newton (or maybe even Galileo?), the need for external or internal force to maintain a body’s motion was eliminated (together with the sphere theory of star movement). Nevertheless, I thought that inertia was something that continued carrying a body only after an initial thrust put that body into motion in the first place."

    I have no time continue the discussion here and now. Just wanted to point out that our understanding of inertia is amazingly wrong.

    "You concede it is erroneous. But you are not Rabbi Slifkin.

    And you think that mistranslation was an accident? Honestly?"

    It is not much of a concession. It is obvious. I see no reason why the mistranslation would not be an accident. You guys are hopeless. Translating a Hebrew text into English is not such a simple task. Errors are human and occur all the time.

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  60. משה רפאל writes:
    I have no time continue the discussion here and now. Just wanted to point out that our understanding of inertia is amazingly wrong.

    Now, that I concede was a slip. But your accusation without evidence is not worth very much.

    "You concede it is erroneous. But you are not Rabbi Slifkin.

    And you think that mistranslation was an accident? Honestly?"

    It is not much of a concession. It is obvious. I see no reason why the mistranslation would not be an accident.

    You left out, and did not respond to, my point that if Rabbi Slifkin does not correct his mistaken and misleading translation, it indicates that he wants it to remain in its erroneous form, which hides the damage the real translation does to his thesis.

    You guys are hopeless.

    For pointing out that someone uses a mistranslation to support a thesis damaging the integrity of the mesorah; and noting what failure to concede the mistranslation entails?

    Translating a Hebrew text into English is not such a simple task.

    In this case, I'm sorry, this is a poor and disingenuous excuse.

    Errors are human and occur all the time.

    And admissions to error are much less frequent, but in this case called for, nevertheless.

    Moshe Raphael, I'm sorry, but I do not think you are allowing yourself to be intellectually honest.

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