Sunday, June 26, 2011

The Nature of “The” Rakia, Part Four—How Hard Is The Sky?

 

We have pointed out that some of Chazal’s descriptions of “the” rakia refer to the atmosphere, and some refer to the celestial spheres. Sometimes it is not easy to determine which are which, and rishonim differ. However, there definitely are scriptural and rabbinical descriptions that are indisputably about the cloud region of the sky. And among these are some that clearly use terms associated to texture. Let us see, when they speak of the sky being like one or another texture, whether the terminology is meant in the unsophisticated sense Rabbi Slifkin imputes to the same kind of terminology when it is applied to “the” rakia of the sun, moon and stars.

The Chumash Describes the Rakia’s Texture

Here is what pesukim say about the sky’s texture: 

וְשָׁבַרְתִּי אֶת-גְּאוֹן עֻזְּכֶם וְנָתַתִּי אֶת-שְׁמֵיכֶם כַּבַּרְזֶל וְאֶת-אַרְצְכֶם כַּנְּחֻשָׁת

ויקרא כו:יט

And I shall shatter your proud strength, and I shall put your heavens like iron, and your land like copper (Vayikra 26:19).

Now, even if, ala Rabbi Slifkin, one were to take the reference to “iron” as an attribution of hardness—which we shall show is specifically here not the case—it would only show that this hardness is precisely not the normal, default or original state of the rakia. “Iron-like” is only a consistency with which Hashem endows the rakia at times that the people neglect the Torah. Otherwise the rakia is not “iron-like”—not hard; or not, at least, as hard as iron!

The default status of the rakia, also called shechakim is, as the word connotes, an area of the sky that looks like “pulverized” water and fire—one might say steamy or misty.[1]

As for Chazal, The Sifri comments on the verse:

ועצר את השמים"--שיהו עננים טעונים גשמים ואין מורידים גשמים אפילו טיפה אחת. ומנין אפילו טללים ורוחות? ת"ל: “ונתתי את שמיכם כברזל” (ויקרא כ"ו). (אינו אלא) בית השלחין יהיה עושה פירות ת"ל "ואת ארצכם כנחושה" (סיפרי פרשת עקב פיסקא מג). ס

[The Torah says: “If you will not keep the commandments] Hashem will stop up the heavens (shamayim)…” This means that the  clouds[2] will be bearing the rainwater, but not let them fall as rain—not even one drop. And not even dew or winds, for it says, “And I will make your heavens (shamayim) like iron. Nor will your irrigated areas produce fruit, for it says, “… [and I will make] your land like copper.

In this passage, Chazal take “shamayim” to refer to the “lower rakia,” the one of the clouds.—and its rainwaters normally have no trouble flowing through the rakia to earth.

So in reality, in what aspect do we see that the pesukim and Chazal saw the shamayim, or clouds, when “turned into” iron, to be like iron?—in the aspect that they will not exude water; not in the aspect of their material consistency or texture.

The concept is repeated with more detail by Chazal in their comments on the frightening tochacha passage (Vayikra 26:19) where Hashem tells us that if we refuse to repent,

וְשָׁבַרְתִּי אֶת- גְּאוֹן עֻזְּכֶם וְנָתַתִּי אֶת-שְׁמֵיכֶם כַּבַּרְזֶל וְאֶת-אַרְצְכֶם כַּנְּחֻשָׁה

I will shatter the glory of your strength, and make your shamayim like iron, and your land like copper.

Chazal explain:

(ג) ... ונתתי את שמיכם כברזל ואת ארצכם כנחושה. שלא יהא השמים מזיעים כדרך שאין הברזל מזיע. והארץ תהא ממזיע כדרך שהנחושת מזיע. והיא מאבדת פירותיה.

“…I will place your shamayim like iron, and your land like copper.”—Meaning, the shamayim [the region of the sky from which rain forms, or the clouds] will not sweat, just as iron does not sweat. And the land will sweat, just as copper sweats, and ruin its produce.

Again, the aspect to which the iron-like or copper-like refers is not texture. Here, again, it refers to the aspect, or lack thereof, of exuding liquid. The point being, the result will be absence of rain. (The commonality of result in a metaphor does not compel the commonality of cause. If one says that another’s brain is hard as a rock, the accuser’s point is that his message is not being processed by the accused’s thinking; it does not mean to accurately describe the texture of the accused’s brain, or even the means by which thoughts are processed or blocked.)

When metaphors and similes are made, one must investigate the aspect in which the equivalency is meant. When Yaakov calls Yehuda a “young lion (גור אריה), or Binyamin a “wolf,” one realizes he did not think his sons were animals, and one strives to understand what aspect of a lion or wolf he had in mind.—His facial appearance? His strength? His method of attack? His royalty? His cunning? His ferociousness? So too, when the rakia is referred to as “like brass,” “strong,” “like a mirror,” “a plate,” “a tent,” etc., one must ascertain in what aspects the equivalence is meant, and not attribute equivalence in other aspects.

This is of course elementary, and should not be forgotten when dealing with pesukim and Chazal, despite one’s agenda. And the place to go to see what aspect Chazal or pesukim intended by their similes and metaphors, is Chazal and pesukim themselves, guided by the rishonim—not Christian evangelists.



[1] See Addendum for an interesting suggestion that the word “sky” is related to the Hebrew “shechakim.”

[2] The Rambam has already pointed out that the Torah uses the words shamayim and rakia interchangeably regarding the two rakias. Here we have a passage in which Chazal clearly identify shamayim with the clouds.

===================================


ADDENDUM
Interesting Suggestions about the Etymology of the Word “Sky” From the Hebrew “Shechakim” (from http://www.edenics.net/english-word-origins.aspx?word=OBSCURE)
It has been suggested that the English word “sky” ultimately derives from שחק: Latin obscurus is from ob (toward) + the Indo-European “root” (s)keu (to cover, conceal).

שחק    SHaK[H]aQ is a cloud (Psalms 77:18); the plural   שחקים SHiK[H]aKiM  means clouds, heaven or "skies" (Deuteronomy 33:26) .

סכך SaKHaKH is to screen or cover over.     שחר SHaK[H]oaR is dark or "black" (Leviticus13:31); The link to SKY is OBSCURED  by the fact that   ש-ח-ק Shin-Het-Koof originally meant cloud of dust

The connection is clearer when considering that SKY, from Germanic skeu-jam (cloud), is a cognate of OBSCURE.  Sky in Danish and Norwegian. Similar in Icelandic, means “cloud.”)

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Fair is Fair

In this post, Rabbi Slifkin draws attention to the questionability of certain modern day segulos and for this he should be commended. It is not often that members of this blog find common ground with Rabbi Slifkin and his approaches to yahadus. But this blog is dedicated to an analysis of Rabbi Slifkin’s views and fair is fair. In this case, I happen to identify with his attitude to modern day segulos (I do not speak for the other members). Accordingly, I felt it should be noted.

To be sure, segulos are an important part of Talmudic literature and are discussed in halachic works such as Rambam and Shulchan Aruch. Sometimes the rationality behind them can be detected; sometimes it is difficult (see, for instance, Shabbos 67). But that’s Chazal. Modern day segulos do not possess anywhere near the level of reliability (or rationality) as Chazal’s suggestions. There is a plethora of Torah literature on this subject. I have reviewed much of the material but at this time am not inclined to examine the sugya in depth, at least not publicly.

I’d like to focus on a troublesome statement Rabbi Slifkin made in the aforementioned blog entry. He writes:

Furthermore, one person's segulah is another person's fundamental religious belief. How much more inherently irrational are segulos than, say, tefillas haderech (which I am extremely makpid about)? True, one can draw distinctions, but the efficacy of petitionary prayer may be difficult to justify on a solely rational level.

I find this statement difficult. The entire middle part of our shemoneh esrei is written b’lashon bakasha (supplication). But while it remains true that the purpose of segulos is to effect a change in the current condition, this is not the primary purpose of tefila at all. Chovos Levavos supplies five reasons for the purpose of tefila and none of them relate to "the efficacy of petitionary prayer". Even in instances where the seforim ha'kedoshim discuss tefila in the role of changing the status quo, these cases can be understood rationally. (Rav Dessler speaks about this at length). To my mind, there is no comparison whatsoever between modern day segulos and tefilos bakasha. IMO, Rabbi Slifkin pulled his punches unnecessarily.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Why can’t the hyrax be the biblical shafan?

BS"D

Update on this issue: Hyrax out of favor

Additional update: Natan Slifkin surprised by the disfavored hyrax

As the beginning of Mashechet Chulin on Daf Yomi approaches, we have been researching once again the difficult issue of the identification of the biblical animals.

Unfortunately in many books, Chumashim and Gemarot, it is written and/or illustrated with pictures, that the biblical shafan mentioned in Parashat Shemini and Ree is the hyrax.

In my humble opinion this is not correct because of the 6 reasons explained in the linked document.

Any comment or suggestion will be greatly appreciated.

VeHashem yetakenenu beetza toba milefanav.

Dr. Yitzchak Betech.

P.S. Please feel free to redistribute the linked document at your discretion.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Dialogue – The Hoax of Geology: Final

This post is the final submission in an ongoing series of posts relating to Geology.

Rabbi Slifkin writes:

Prior to the eighteenth century, geology did not exist as a historical science. The world was universally agreed to have been created several thousand earlier by God, using a dramatic process that could not be fathomed by mortal man…Additionally…it was assumed that the Deluge had wreaked havoc upon the world subsequent to creation.

But in 1793, a canal digger by the name of William Smith made a startling discovery, as described in the superb book The Map That Changed The World. He found that the same strata of rock are always found in the same order of superposition, and they always contain the same fossils. The significance of this cannot be overstated. Certain types of rock contained certain types of fossils that were unique to those beds. The layers of rock always appeared in the same order. This pattern held true everywhere that Smith checked…And thus the Meiselman theory was abandoned, and the modern science of geology was born.

Two comments are in order.

First of all, the "Meiselman theory" was not yet abandoned. The early geologists were all catastrophists. They believed that the superposition of strata occurred rapidly and was caused by major geological upheavals in earth’s past such as the biblical deluge. Only later was the science of geology harnessed in the service of the nascent theory of evolution. It is important to understand that the neat superposition of strata one on top of the next is not any more consistent with evolutionary theory than it is with "catastrophe theory".

Second of all, contrary to Rabbi Slifkin’s claim, the significance of William Smith’s discovery cannot be understated. Smith checked in England. That’s it! England, at its longest point, is less than 400 miles long. The fact that the strata are uniform in this relatively small geographical locality is entirely insignificant in the greater scheme of things. Yes, Smith’s discovery launched the current branch of science known as Historical Geology but as this science progressed, it was discovered that Smith’s observations did not necessarily hold true in other localities. One hundred years later, in the late 1800’s, professional geologists already knew that Rabbi Slifkin’s statement "the layers of rock always appeared in the same order" was simply false! But the apikorsus of evolutionary dogma is so insidious, so pervasive, so ubiquitous, and so all-encompassing, that even well informed laymen such as Rabbi Slifkin still believe, 120 years later (!), that the layers of rock always appear in the same order.

Rabbi Slifkin continues to write:

Geology is an extremely useful science; it's not an ivory-tower philosophy. All kinds of industries and activities, as well as those investigating natural disasters, employ geologists. Because geology works. The patterns that are found in the rocks, the processes that are inferred from them and are still seen happening today, can all be relied upon to be applicable universally - throughout the planet, and throughout history. Billion-dollar industries prove it so! The constancy of nature over long periods was not an assumption - it was a discovery.

And therein lays the rub. This paragraph constitutes the very essence of what is wrong with Rabbi Slifkin’s assumptions about science and all those who follow in his path. These assumptions have been the bane of our mesorah! They have even managed to lead astray some of the greatest of our nation. Yes, geology is an extremely useful science and yes it is not an ivory tower philosophy. But it depends which branch of geology is being discussed. "Historical Geology", as Rabbi Slifkin calls it, has nothing to do with the billion dollar industries Rabbi Slifkin makes reference to. These industries utilize operational geology.

Operational science is governed by an entirely different set of rules. Its theories must be tested. The results must be confirmed. Its conclusions must be based on empirical evidence. These industries, by definition, are incapable of relying on ridiculous, unproven (and actually false) assumptions such as the uniformity of rock beds over the globe. Industrial geology could care a wit if Rabbi Slifkin’s claim that "Certain types of rock contained certain types of fossils that were unique to those beds" was true or false. It is simply irrelevant to their branch of scientific endeavor.

The truth is Evolution has invaded practically every branch of science, from paleontology and geology to biology and chemistry. Even physics and astronomy have not been spared. Its theories have sullied practically every academic field with the possible exceptions of fields such as mathematics and computer science. The result is that Evolution has managed to generate a whole new branch of science. This branch of science is referred to as "historical science". (I adopted this term from ID author and scientist Stephen Meyer)

The academic world tries its hardest to conflate these two branches of science – operational science and historical science – and thus blur the distinction between them. By doing this they generate the false assumption that just as operational science is proven so is historical science. Just as operational science is dependable, so is historical science. If Rabbi Slifkin understood, truly understood, the fundamental distinction between these two branches of science, he would think twice before investing all of his faith in the materialistic, ivory-tower philosophies of the "global scientific community".

If frum Jews understood the inherently speculative nature of the historical sciences, many of the anti-masoretic "reconciliations" offered by people like Rabbi Slifkin would become obviated. If frum Jews understood the true philosophical underpinnings of historical science, they wouldn’t hesitate to scoff (our forefather’s name, Yitzchak – he will scoff) at the materialism of the savants. If they understood the categorical lack of scientific evidence which typically attends the origins-based sciences, they wouldn’t even dream of abandoning their mesorah in favor of science or distorting the verses of the Torah in the service of needless apology. The problem is, most people don’t understand and unfortunately, even when informed, are incapable of breaking free of their preconceived notions. As one of my esteemed colleagues is frequently in the habit of stating, "people simply don’t know how to think".

This concludes our treatment of the evidence, or lack thereof, for evolution from the science of geology. Comments are encouraged.

Inventing Sources

In a follow up to this post, Rabbi Slikfin writes as follows:

Yesterday, I noted how Chasam Sofer was of the view that the Sanhedrin may be mistaken in their rulings, and yet they must be obeyed, due to the importance of a centralized rabbinic authority. In this, he was following the approach of Sefer HaChinnuch (and, arguably, some others). Rav Yosef Caro, as explained by Rabbi Shlomo Fisher, takes the same approach to Chazal. Chazal could indeed be mistaken; nevertheless, we never dispute their rulings. This is because the Jewish People canonized the Gemara; we accept its binding authority, regardless of whether or not Chazal were correct. (Cases involving matters of life and death are an exception to this, as discussed previously).

Now Rabbi Slifkin has stooped to inventing sources in support of his thesis. R’ Yosef Caro does not say that "Chazal could indeed be mistaken; nevertheless, we never dispute their rulings." What he says is that although normally a latter Beis Din may dispute the halachic rulings of a former Beis Din, the chasimas haMishana and chasimas haTalmud are apparent exceptions to this rule. And he certainly does not say that matters of life and death are exempt from the "canonization" of the Talmud. Rabbi Slifkin’s blatant misrepresentation of the sources reveals the depth of his prejudice in these matters.

(For Rabbi Caro's treatment of this topic, please see Kesef Mishnah to Rambam Hil. Mamrim 2:1)

The Nature of “The” Rakia, Part Three—Accusations of Primitive Ideas

Rabbi Slifkin is wont to cite the writings of a Christian evangelist, Paul Seeley. We have already seen that Seeley claimed that standard Hebrew lexica understand the rakia to be a solid dome, as opposed to an atmospheric expanse,[1] apparently oblivious[2] to the Radak’s classic Sefer HaShorashim, which defines the “strength” of the rakia in the Iyov verse otherwise, and the commentaries of other rishonim. He also asserts that Hebrew understanding of the heavens was perhaps even more naïve and primitive than that of all others.[3] The holy texts of the Jews, he asserts, show they considered the rakia to be a hard, solid entity.[4] He takes such texts literally.

Those who want to read into Chazal’s words that they thought the rakia is a solid, metallic-like material would be happy to see the following Chazal that considers the rakia “silver”:

מדרש רבה במדבר פרשה יב:ד

"עמודיו עשה כסף" (שם י:ג) זה הרקיע כמה דתימא (איוב כו) "עמודי שמים ירופפו."

B’midabar Rabbah 12:4

“His pillars He made כסף (usually translated, “silver”) (Shir HaShirim 3:10). This [reference to “pillars”] is [a reference to] the rakia (sky), as you see it says in Iyov (26:11), “the pillars of the heavens will weaken.”

The Chazal-literalists and mesorah-rejectionists would no doubt bring this as clear evidence that Chazal, along with the ancient Hebrews, naively and primitively thought that the sky is made of silver, and that it thereby keeps keeps the heavens from from falling down.

However, they will be disappointed when they see the continuation of this passage. And—if they will be unbiased enough to study Chazal’s words with the proper mindset the Rambam and others insist we utilize—they will realize that Chazal did not understand the metaphors and similes of the pesukim the crude way asserted by the Seeleys and Slifkins of the world.

ס”עמודיו עשה כסף" (שם י) זה הרקיע כמה דתימא (איוב כו) "עמודי שמים ירופפו." ולמה קרי ליה כסף—שהוא מכסף על כל מעשה בראשית.ס

“His pillars He made כסף (usually translated, “silver”) (Shir HaShirim 3:10). This is the rakia (sky), as you see it says in Iyov (26: ), “the pillars of the heavens will weaken.”

And why are they called “כסף”? —because they cover (מכסף) over all of maaseh breishis (creation).

Note that Chazal did not understand the “pillars” to be things that support the heavens, but a poetical reference to the heavens themselves. Accordingly, "עמודי שמים" is not to be translated, “the pillars of the heavens,” but rather: “the pillar-heavens,” or “the heavenly pillars.”

More to our point, we see that when it came to applying the word "כסף" to the sky, Chazal deviated from the typical translation of כסף as “silver;” and we see how far away from the meaning of anything metallic or solid they took its meaning to be.

We should also note that Chazal speak of the “windows” of the rakia, and the “piercing of the heavens,” in an obviously poetical, non-physical way:

מדרש רבה דברים פרשה ב

... ד"ה ב: לג--“ויתפלל אליו [מנשה] ויעתר לו ויחתר לו." מלמד שהיו מלאכי השרת מסתמין את חלונות של רקיע שלא תעלה תפלתו לשמים. מה עשה הקב"ה? חתר את הרקיע מתחת כסא הכבוד וקיבל את תפלתו וישיבהו ירושלים למלכותו ...

Devarim Rabbah 20

...the angels closed up the windows of the rakia so that his prayer would not go up to heaven…....So the Holy One blessed-be-He ripped open the rakia  from under the Throne of Glory and received his prayer …

I think we can agree that by “prayer” Chazal meant the thoughts, intentions, desires, etc. of the person behind the spoken words—nothing physical, not even sound waves, that would require the literal opening of “windows of the sky” to “arise” to Heaven.

And these are not Greco-Arabic- or Renaissance-influenced rishonim rationalizing Chazal. These are Chazal themselves.

—Although academics, if they would admit to this, would no doubt turn around and proclaim that this is Aristotelian-Chazal rationalizing Scripture! But at least we can dispense with Rabbi Slifkin’s claim that Chazal thought the rakia is a hard, solid dome, and the kind of “proofs” he brings for that assertion.

 


[1] “Standard Hebrew lexica and a number of modern biblical scholars have defined the raqia (רקיע "firmament") of Gen 1:6-8 as a solid dome over the earth. Conservative scholars from Calvin on down to the present, however, have defined it as an atmospheric expanse” (The Firmament and the Water Above, The Westminster Theological Journal 53 [1991] p. 227).

[2] Although he didn’t actually say “all standard Hebrew lexica defined the rakia of Gen. 1:6-8 as a solid dome over the earth.” But on the other hand, I’m not aware of any that do so.

[3] “Scientifically naive peoples everywhere have believed the sky was solid, and there is no reason to believe the Hebrews were any less scientifically naive than their neighbors…[O]ne might gather that the early Hebrews were possibly more scientifically naive than their neighbors, but certainly not less so. Similarly, the fact that it was not the Hebrews but their neighbors who led the technological advance from the use of bronze to the use of iron (cf. Josh 17:18; Judg 1:19) suggests, if anything, that the Hebrews were more scientifically naive than their neighbors. It certainly does not suggest that they were less so. Nor do we know of any evidence from biblical times that suggests the Hebrews were ever more scientifically sophisticated than their neighbors. Accordingly, it seems most probable that so far as the physical nature of the sky is concerned, the Hebrews, as a typical scientifically naive people, believed the raqia was solid” (Seeley, p. 234).

Seeley does not mention (at least not here) the acclaimed superior scientific wisdom attributed to King Solomon.

[4] Jews … tried to figure out how thick it was by employing biblical interpretation (Gen. Rab. 4.5.2). Most tellingly they even tried to calculate scientifically the thickness of the firmament (Pesab. [sic.] 49a [sic.—no doubt a typographical error, the reference should be Pesah. 94a).

The Nature of “The” Rakia, Part Three—Accusations of Primitive Ideas

Rabbi Slifkin is wont to cite the writings of a Christian evangelist, Paul Seeley. We have already seen that Seeley claimed that standard Hebrew lexica understand the rakia to be a solid dome, as opposed to an atmospheric expanse,[1] apparently oblivious[2] to the Radak’s classic Sefer HaShorashim, which defines the “strength” of the rakia in the Iyov verse otherwise, and the commentaries of other rishonim. He also asserts that Hebrew understanding of the heavens was perhaps even more naïve and primitive than that of all others.[3] The holy texts of the Jews, he asserts, show they considered the rakia to be a hard, solid entity.[4] He takes such texts literally.

Those who want to read into Chazal’s words that they thought the rakia is a solid, metallic-like material would be happy to see the following Chazal that considers the rakia “silver”:

מדרש רבה במדבר פרשה יב:ד

"עמודיו עשה כסף" (שם י:ג) זה הרקיע כמה דתימא (איוב כו) "עמודי שמים ירופפו."

B’midabar Rabbah 12:4

“His pillars He made כסף (usually translated, “silver”) (Shir HaShirim 3:10). This [reference to “pillars”] is [a reference to] the rakia (sky), as you see it says in Iyov (26:11), “the pillars of the heavens will weaken.”

The Chazal-literalists and mesorah-rejectionists would no doubt bring this as clear evidence that Chazal, along with the ancient Hebrews, naively and primitively thought that the sky is made of silver, or that it is kept from falling by the support of unseen silver pillars.

However, they will be disappointed when they see the continuation of this passage. And—if they will be unbiased enough to study Chazal’s words with the proper mindset the Rambam and others insist we utilize—they will realize that Chazal did not understand the metaphors and similes of the pesukim the crude way asserted by the Seeleys and Slifkins of the world.

ס”עמודיו עשה כסף" (שם י) זה הרקיע כמה דתימא (איוב כו) "עמודי שמים ירופפו." ולמה קרי ליה כסף—שהוא מכסף על כל מעשה בראשית.ס

“His pillars He made כסף (usually translated, “silver”) (Shir HaShirim 3:10). This is the rakia (sky), as you see it says in Iyov (26: ), “the pillars of the heavens will weaken.”

And why are they called “כסף”? —because they cover (מכסף) over all of maaseh breishis.

Note that Chazal did not understand the “pillars” to be things that support the heavens, but a poetical reference to the heavens themselves. Accordingly, "עמודי שמים" is not to be translated, “the pillars of the heavens,” but rather: “the pillar-heavens.”

More to our point, we see that when it came to applying the word "כסף" to the sky, Chazal deviated from the typical translation of כסף as “silver;” and we see how far away from the meaning of anything metallic or solid they took its meaning to be.

We should also note that Chazal speak of the “windows” of the rakia, and the “piercing of the heavens,” in an obviously poetical, non-physical way:

מדרש רבה דברים פרשה ב

... (ד"ה ב לג) “ויתפלל אליו [מנשה] ויעתר לו ויחתר לו." מלמד שהיו מלאכי השרת מסתמין את חלונות של רקיע שלא תעלה תפלתו לשמים. מה עשה הקב"ה? חתר את הרקיע מתחת כסא הכבוד וקיבל את תפלתו וישיבהו ירושלים למלכותו ...

Devarim Rabbah 20

…the angels closed up the windows of the rakia so that his prayer would not go up to heaven…So the Holy One blessed-be-He ripped open the rakia from under the Throne of Glory and received his prayer …

I think we can agree that by “prayer” Chazal meant the thoughts, intentions, desires, etc. of the person behind the spoken words—nothing physical, not even sound waves, that would require the literal opening of “windows of the sky” to “arise” to Heaven.

And these are not Greco-Arabic- or Renaissance-influenced rishonim rationalizing Chazal. These are Chazal themselves.

—Although academics, if they would admit to this, would no doubt turn around and proclaim that this is Aristotelian-Chazal rationalizing Scripture! But at least we can dispense with Rabbi Slifkin’s claim that Chazal thought the rakia is a hard, solid dome, and the kind of “proofs” he brings for that assertion.

 


[1] “Standard Hebrew lexica and a number of modern biblical scholars have defined the raqia (רקיע "firmament") of Gen 1:6-8 as a solid dome over the earth. Conservative scholars from Calvin on down to the present, however, have defined it as an atmospheric expanse” (The Firmament and the Water Above, The Westminster Theological Journal 53 [1991] p. 227).

[2] Although he didn’t actually say “all standard Hebrew lexica defined the rakia of Gen. 1:6-8 as a solid dome over the earth.” But on the other hand, I’m not aware of any that do so.

[3] “Scientifically naive peoples everywhere have believed the sky was solid, and there is no reason to believe the Hebrews were any less scientifically naive than their neighbors…[O]ne might gather that the early Hebrews were possibly more scientifically naive than their neighbors, but certainly not less so. Similarly, the fact that it was not the Hebrews but their neighbors who led the technological advance from the use of bronze to the use of iron (cf. Josh 17:18; Judg 1:19) suggests, if anything, that the Hebrews were more scientifically naive than their neighbors. It certainly does not suggest that they were less so. Nor do we know of any evidence from biblical times that suggests the Hebrews were ever more scientifically sophisticated than their neighbors. Accordingly, it seems most probable that so far as the physical nature of the sky is concerned, the Hebrews, as a typical scientifically naive people, believed the raqia was solid” (Seeley, p. 234).

Seeley does not mention (at least not here) the acclaimed superior scientific wisdom attributed to King Solomon.

[4] Jews … tried to figure out how thick it was by employing biblical interpretation (Gen. Rab. 4.5.2). Most tellingly they even tried to calculate scientifically the thickness of the firmament (Pesab. [sic.] 49a [sic.—no doubt a typographical error, the reference should be Pesah. 94a).

Irrelevant Conclusions

In his latest post Rabbi Slifkin attempts to recruit none other than the Chasam Sofer (CS) in his ongoing attempts to demonstrate the fallibility of Chazal.

He quotes a long portion of the CS from the hashmatos in chelek hey and triumphantly concludes that Sanhedrin is indeed capable of erring in their halachic rulings. Apparently this gives him immense satisfaction. What remains to be understood is why he needed to run to the CS for this revelation. Anyone who was ma’avir sedra this week would be able to glean this "gem" directly from the chumash (Bamidbar 15: 22-26).

For those who did not have time to peruse the CS in question, the CS maintains that the Torah was given by Hashem specifically in accordance with the opinion of the Beis Din haGadol and therefore even if they happened to err Hashem is "behind" their error, meaning, He backs them up. Their opinion becomes Torah; it becomes the Ratzon Hashem. In other words, their opinion becomes the truth! I think Rabbi Slifkin missed this point.

Friday, June 17, 2011

The Nature Of The Rakia, Part Two

A Mirror’s “Strength” Is Not Always In Any “Hardness” clip_image002[1]

Rabbi Slifkin seems to think that it is self-evident that passages ascribing “strength” (Hebrew: חזק) to the rakia connote hardness and solidity. But this is not so. “Strength” has many aspects, many of which do not relate at all to hard texture.[1]

Indeed, the Targum on Sefer Iyov, a Tannaitic work [2]directly on the verse Rabbi Slifkin cites—understands the rakia’s similarity to “a cast metal mirror” in its “strength” not in the aspect of hardness, but in the aspect of the sky’s intensity of clarity or brightness:

תרקע עמיה לשחקיא תקיפין דחזותהון כאספקלריא סנינה

—Not: “the shechakim that are strong, and [in addition] whose appearance is like clear glass;” but:

“the shechakim that are strong/intense, in [the aspect] that their appearance is like a bright looking-glass.”

This Targum alone refutes Rabbi Slifkin’s claim that all Chazal thought this verse in Iyov was saying the rakia is a literally solid substance; and that it was only in the time of the rishonim—who “were ignoring Chazal”!—that the verses were “reinterpreted” otherwise.[3]

And so, unsurprisingly, the talmudic sources bear out the classical commentators, who likewise never say that the terms “congealing,” “strengthening” and “strong as a cast metal mirror” ascribed to the rakia (whether taken to mean the cloud or celestial region) are meant to convey anything to do with “hardness.” Rather, they say these expressions are meant to convey one or more of the following:

(a) the process of the materialization of the rakia on Creation’s second day, from the more ethereal state to the more physical,[4]

(b) the rakia’s stabilization and/or its nature being made permanent,[5]

(c) its resistance to fragmenting,[6] or

(d) the strong degree of its transparency,[7]or

(e) the intensity of the rakia’s brightness[8]—as, we have seen, the Targum translates it.

Mizrachi

Another illustration of a Torah mindset regarding what Chazal meant by the rakia’s “frosting” and “congealing”: The Mizrachi[9] (Breishis 1:6) brings 4 proofs for the opinion that the Midrash about the "congealing" and "strengthening" of the rakia cannot be referring to the atmosphere, and must be referring to the galgalim. It is noteworthy that not one of the 4 proofs claims the idea of "frosting" or "congealing" cannot apply to the atmosphere! This shows that, to the mind of the Mizrachi, the terms "frosting" and "congealing" are easily consistent with the atmosphere and do not imply hardness or solidity.

In particular, note this proof of his that does involve texture:

וכן ממה שאמר, "לחים היו ביום ראשון ובשני קרשו", לא יתכן זה רק על הגלגלים, לא על הרקיע האויריי, כי לדברי הכל לא נברא ביום ראשון.

The concept "לחים היו ביום ראשון ובשני קרשו" is "only possible as referring to the galaglim," not the atmosphere--why? Not because the concepts fit the galgalim but not the atmosphere, but only because the atmosphere was first created on day 2, so it couldn't have been what was "לח" on day one!

It did not occur to the Mizrachi that these terms indicated that the object spoken of was considered a hard solid! Why? Because whether applied to the atmosphere or the galgalim, they simply do not connote hardness!

Yes, the rishonim knew their Bible and Talmud—better than did 2nd century Christian monks or do 20th century Christian evangelists the likes of Paul Seeley (the latter who thinks that the idea of the rakia being the atmosphere originated with 18th century conservative scholars).[10]

====================

[1] Just to provide a few familiar expressions from the Siddur as examples:

בחוזק יד

כי חיזק בריחי שעריך

ובידך לגדל ולחזק לכל

כי גואל חזק אתה

אז בקול...חזק משמיעים קול

חזק ויאמץ לבך

חלומותי...אם טובים הם--חזקם

[1] “Strength” denotes many aspects other than hardness. This is true in English usage as well as in scriptural usage. See Addendum.

[2] The online Jewish Encyclopedia dates the work’s composition to before the fall of Rome in 476 A.C.E.

[3] Temporarily backtracking from his mantra that the rishonim universally believed the rakia to be a hard, solid sphere, the Rationalist (The Big Picture of the Firmament) writes, “[D]uring the time of the Rishonim, Ptolemaic cosmology had already become widely accepted, and some of the Rishonim reinterpreted Tenach to suit it. It is possible that some of them did not believe the rakia to be a substantive firmament… But all this would mean, is that the Rishonim were ignoring Chazal (as Rambam and Ibn Ezra did on several occasions) and reinterpreting Torah in light of science…”

[4] The Rambam, taking the rakia of day 2 to be the atmosphere, and the Ramban (See Addendum on previous post) understanding it to be the non-earthly-physical star region of the sky, both quote the very Midrash describing the rakia as having been "frosted/solidified/congealed" and explain that Chazal meant by these terms the transformation of more ethereal substance into more physical, although still ethereal substance.

[5] The Ibn Ezra (בראשית שיטה אחרת - פירוש פרק א), identifying the rakia of Day Two as the atmosphere, citing the Midrash’s comparison of the rakia to a “stretched out cloth tent:

והנה הרקיע הוא זה האויר ועוף תעופף עליו. ועליו כתוב וימתחם כאהל לשבת האדם תחתיו (ישע' מ, כב) כמשפט האהלים. ונקרא שמים בעבור היותו עליון על כל הארץ

The Ralbag on Breishis explains that, in saying the rakia became “frosted/solidified/congealed," Chazal meant that Hashem endowed it with “עמידה וקיום”—permanence.

The Radak (Sefer Shorashim, under יצק) offers this as his first explanation of the Iyov verse as well:

יצק

ויתכן להיות בצקת עפר למוצק [איוב לח, לח], ענינו חזק כלומר בהתוך העפר להיותו חזק וקבוע. וכן אמר אחריו ורגבים ידבקו. וכן לבו יצוק כמו אבן (איוב מא, טו) ויצוק כפלח תחתית (שם), כלומר חזק קבוע וכן דבר בליעל יצוק בו (תהלים מא, ט) וכן והיית מוצק (איוב יא, טו) חזק, וכמוהם חזקים כראי מוצק (שם לז, יח) כלומר חזק, ואף על פי שבזה יש לנו טעם טוב מזה שיהיה מהענין הראשון, וכן פירושו אומר על השמים כי הם חזקים וברורים ומזהירים כמראה המותך כי כן עושים מראות מהנחשת המותך יפה שהוא זך ובהיר ומזהיר כמו "ויעש את הכיור נחשת ואת כנו נחשת במראת הצבאות (שמות לח, ח). ויש לפרש כראי שם שלא יהיה מענין במראות הצובאות אבל יהיה ראי מראה ממש ופירושו בהירים ומזהירים כמראה הדבר המותך שהוא מזהיר בשעת התכתו אבל לאחר ימים הוא מעלה חלודה אבל השמים הם בהירים בכל יום כבהירת הדבר המוצק בשעת יציקתו

[6] Ralbag directly on the tarkia verse in Iyov explains the “strength” of the shechakim to be referring to the non-fragmentizing of the storm clouds, which prevents the sky’s light from shining through:

רלב"ג על איוב סוף פרק לז

האם תרקיע עמו השמים שהם חזקים בתכלית החזוק עד שלא יתפרד דבוקם בשום פנים והם ספירים כמו הראי הנתך ר"ל הזכוכית שיעבור האור בו...שבקצת העתים יהיה הענן חזק עד שלא יראה האור אשר הוא בהיר וזך בשחקים....

[7] Radak, directly on the Iyov tarkia passage (see note above) and Ralbag.

[8] Ralbag (ibid.)

[9] I thank Dr. Jonanthan Ostroff for showing me this Mizrachi.

[10] “Standard Hebrew lexica and a number of modern biblical scholars have defined the raqia (רקיע "firmament") of Gen 1:6-8 as a solid dome over the earth. Conservative scholars from Calvin on down to the present, however, have defined it as an atmospheric expanse” (The Firmament and the Water Above, The Westminster Theological Journal 53 [1991] p. 227). It is a pity and a shame that Rabbi Slifkin relies upon the limited scholarship of an evangelical Christian unfamiliar with classical Jewish sources, as a basis for delegitimizing the mesorah that the Creation process was a meta-natural, 6-day event.

=============================

ADDENDUM

IN ENGLISH, TOO, “STRENGTH” HAS MANY OTHER MEANINGS BESIDES “HARD”

–adjective

1. having, showing, or able to exert great bodily or muscular power; physically vigorous or robust: a strong boy.

2. accompanied or delivered by great physical, mechanical, etc., power or force: a strong handshake; With one strong blow the machine stamped out a fender.

3. mentally powerful or vigorous: He may be old, but his mind is still strong.

4. especially able, competent, or powerful in a specific field or respect: She's very strong in mathematics. He's weak at bat, but he's a strong fielder.

5. of great moral power, firmness, or courage: strong under temptation.

6. powerful in influence, authority, resources, or means of prevailing or succeeding: a strong nation.

7. aggressive; willful: a strong personality.

8. of great force, effectiveness, potency, or cogency; compelling: strong reasons; strong arguments.

9. clear and firm; loud: He has a strong voice.

10. solid or stable; healthy; thriving: The banker predicted a strong economy.

11. well-supplied or rich in something specific: a strong hand in trumps.

12. having powerful means to resist attack, assault, or aggression: a strong fortress; a strong defense.

13. able to resist strain, force, wear, etc.: strong walls; strong cloth.

14. decisively unyielding; firm or uncompromising: She has strong views about the United Nations. He has a strong sense of duty.

15. fervent; zealous; thoroughgoing: He's a strong Democrat.

16. strenuous or energetic; vigorous: strong efforts.

17. moving or acting with force or vigor: strong winds.

18. distinct or marked; vivid, as impressions, resemblance or contrast: He bears a strong resemblance to his grandfather.

19. intense, as light or color.

20. having a large proportion of the effective or essential properties or ingredients; concentrated: strong tea.

21. (of a beverage or food) containing much alcohol: strong drink; The fruitcake was too strong.

22. having a high degree of flavor or odor: strong cheese; strong perfume.

23. having an unpleasant or offensive flavor or odor, especially in the process of decay: strong butter.

24. of a designated number: Marines 20,000 strong.

25. Commerce . characterized by steady or advancing prices: The market resumed its strong pace after yesterday's setback.

26. Grammar .

a. (of Germanic verbs) having vowel change in the root in inflected forms, as the English verbs sing, sang, sung; ride, rode, ridden.

b. (of Germanic nouns and adjectives) inflected with endings that are generally distinctive of case, number, and gender, as German alter Mann  “old man.”

c. belonging to the morphophonemically less regular of two inflectional subtypes.

27. (of a word or syllable) stressed.

28. Optics . having great magnifying or refractive power: a strong microscope.

–adverb

29. strongly.

—Idiom

30. come on strong, Slang . to behave in an aggressive, ardent, or flamboyant manner: When you're interviewed for the job, don't come on too strong.

World English Dictionary

strong (strɒŋ) [Click for IPA pronunciation guide]

— adj , stronger , strongest

1. involving or possessing physical or mental strength

2. solid or robust in construction; not easily broken or injured

3. having a resolute will or morally firm and incorruptible character

4. intense in quality; not faint or feeble: a strong voice ; a strong smell

5. easily defensible; incontestable or formidable

6. concentrated; not weak or diluted

7. a. ( postpositive ) containing or having a specified number: a navy 40 000 strong

b. ( in combination ): a 40 000-strong navy

8. having an unpleasantly powerful taste or smell

9. having an extreme or drastic effect: strong discipline

10. emphatic or immoderate: strong language

11. convincing, effective, or cogent

12. (of a colour) having a high degree of saturation or purity; being less saturated than a vivid colour but more so than a moderate colour; produced by a concentrated quantity of colouring agent

13. grammar

a. denoting or belonging to a class of verbs, in certain languages including the Germanic languages, whose conjugation shows vowel gradation, as sing, sang, sung

b. Compare weak belonging to any part-of-speech class, in any of various languages, whose inflections follow the less regular of two possible patterns

14. (of a wind, current, etc) moving fast

15. (of a syllable) accented or stressed

16. (of an industry, market, currency, securities, etc) firm in price or characterized by firm or increasing prices

17. (of certain acids and bases) producing high concentrations of hydrogen or hydroxide ions in aqueous solution

18. ( Irish ) prosperous; well-to-do (esp in the phrase a strong farmer )

19. have a strong stomach not to be prone to nausea

— adv

20. informal in a strong way; effectively: going strong

21. come on strong, to make a forceful or exaggerated impression

Word Origin & History

strong

O.E. strang  "physically powerful, powerful in effect, forceful, severe," from P.Gmc. *strangaz  (cf. O.N. strangr  "strong," Du. streng  "strict, rigorous," O.H.G. strang  "strong, bold, hard," Ger. streng  "strict, rigorous"). Originally compared strenger, strengest  (cf. old/elder/eldest ). Grammatical sense, of noun and verb inflections, is first attested 1841, translating Ger. stark, used in a grammatical sense by J. Grimm (the terms strong and weak better fit Ger. inflections). Strong suit (1865) is from card-playing. Strong man “man of great strength" (especially one who displays it professionally) is recorded from 1699; meaning "dominating man in a political organization" is from 1859.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Dialogue – The Hoax of Geology Part 6

In Part 3 of this series, we made the following assertion:

Assertion #3: If fossils from disparate time-periods (according to evolutionary theory) are found in the same beds, the beds are arbitrarily cut up, horizontally, and sometimes vertically(!), in order to conform to the theory. Thus, the evolutionists can never lose!

This assertion, if true, clearly demonstrates the inability of geology to serve as proof for the theory of evolution. Here are a few quotes from the literature.

This first quote describes a geological survey performed in the Canadian Rocky Mountains. I have interspersed some comments for the benefit of the reader. Comments appear in brackets.

East of the main divide, the Lower Carboniferous is overlain in places by beds of Lower Cretaceous age [meaning that a bed that is 100 million years older than the one below it lies in perfect conformity above it], and here again, although the two formations differ so widely in respect to age [the author is confident that they differ in age because of the diversity of fossils found there], one overlies the other without any perceptible break [meaning that if it were not for the diversity of fossils, it would be impossible to distinguish between the supposedly different beds], and the separation of one from the other is rendered more difficult by the fact that the upper beds of the Carboniferous are lithologically [i.e. structurally] almost precisely like those of the Cretaceous. Were it not for fossil evidence, one would naturally suppose that a single formation was being dealt with. (Annual Report – Geological Survey of Canada, Volume 2, page 8. Available online here)

Well, there we go. This survey was taken over one hundred years ago which means that over a hundred years ago Geologists were already admitting that fossils which belong to evolutionary periods of time separated by hundreds of millions of years appear in what would otherwise be considered exactly the same strata!

Here’s another quote from the early 1900’s by Sir Archibald Giekie, one of the foremost geologists of the time

The strata could scarcely be supposed to have been really inverted, save for the evidence as to their true order of succession [in other words, evolutionary order of succession--sc] supplied by the included fossils…Portions of Carboniferous strata appear as if regularly interbedded among Jurassic rocks, and indeed could not be separated save after a study of their enclosed organic remains. (Sir Archibald Giekie, Textbook of Geology, p. 678)

So, once again we see that fossils normally associated with the Carboniferous period of evolution are found together in the same beds as fossils from the Jurassic period. The only reason the rock has been split up is because the theory of evolution demands it. And lest someone suspect that this type of formation is rare, Giekie goes on to state:

These examples of deceptive conformity are not merely local, but are persistent over wide areas… and are traceable over wide regions (ibid p 842)

All this demonstrates conclusively that the geologic column provides absolutely no evidence to support evolution or the antiquity of the world.

I have much more to say on this subject but I would like to hear from some readers first before composing my final post on this topic.

To be continued…

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Dialogue - The Hoax of Geology Part 5

Note to reader: This post is the latest addition in an ongoing series. In order to gain the maximum benefit, all of the posts should be read in proper sequence. Latter posts take the familiarity of data from previous posts for granted.

In this post, we made the following assertion:

Assertion #2: If the composition of the strata in question does not conform to evolutionary theory, it too is ignored.

Stratigraphic material is not directly associated with specific life-forms. In other words, any kind of fossil can be found in any kind of stratum. The beds can vary from hardened crystalline conditions to unconsolidated sandstone or shale of the loosest material. They can even be soft mud and clay. Incredibly, the aforementioned soft beds have sometimes been identified as Cambrian simply because of the fossils contained in them. One quote will suffice to demonstrate our point.
The Ordovician rocks over a large part of Russia consist of very recent-looking sediments, for the sands and clays are as soft and incoherent as the similar rocks of Tertiary age are in the south of England (Britannica Vol. 20 p. 236)

In the following post we will address our Assertion #3 and Rabbi Slifkin’s claim that contemporary species are never found together with ancient species.

To be continued…

The Nature of "The" Rakia, Part One

clip_image002Chazal (and most of the Rishonim) universally interpreted various words in the Torah to be describing the heavens as a solid firmament above us. And yet, nobody today believes that such a structure exists. …[T]his means that the mesorah was reinterpreted [actually, rejected][1] in light on modern science. Hence, we can do the same with regard to the mesorah about the nature of creation.

(Rabbi Natan Slifkin, Rationalist Judaism blog, Thursday, January 6, 2011, “The Big Picture of the Firmament”).

To grant himself license to dispute the mesorah, Rabbi Slifkin calls to evidence Chazal’s treatment of a verse in Sefer Iyov:

Chazal (and most of the Rishonim) universally interpreted various words in the Torah to be describing the heavens as a solid firmament above us. This was the universal, uncontested, view of Chazal, based on Pesukim such as that in Iyov 37:18: "Can you spread out the heavens with Him, hard[2] as a mirror of cast metal?" as well as various other usages in Tenach of the root רקע.”

Ibid., “How the Firmament was understood by our Sages,” Monday, November 22, 2010

Rabbi Slifkin (see ibid, “The Firming and Flattening of the Firmament,” Sunday, November 28, 2010”) is referring to the Talmud Yerushalmi at the beginning of Maseches Berachos (and a similar passage in Midrash Bereishis Rabbah 4:2)[3] on the verse, "Let there be a rakia."

מסכת ברכות דף ה/א פרק א הלכה א גמרא

רב אמר לחים היו שמים ביום הראשון ובשני קרשו.

רב אמר: "יהי רקיע"--יחזק הרקיע! יקרש הרקיע! יגלד הרקיע! ימתח הרקיע!

אמר רבי יודה בן פזי: יעשה כמין מטלית, הרקיע--היך מה דאת אמר, "וירקעו את פחי הזהב וגומר."

תני בשם ר' יהושע עוביו של רקיע כשתי אצבעיים.

 

מילתיה דר' חנינא פליגא דא"ר אחא בשם ר' חנינא תרקיע עמו לשחקים חזקים כראי מוצק.--תרקיע מלמד שהן עשויין כטס. יכול שאינן בריאין ת"ל חזקים. יכול שהן נתרפין ת"ל כראי מוצק--בכל שעה ושעה נראין מוצקים.

רבי יוחנן ור' שמעון בן לקיש:

ר' יוחנן אמר: בנוהג שבעולם, אדם מותח אוהל--על ידי שהות, רפה. ברם הכא, [ישעיה פרק מ כב "הַיּשֵׁב עַל-חוּג הָאָרֶץ וְיֹשְׁבֶיהָ כַּחֲגָבִים הַנּוֹטֶה כַדֹּק שָׁמַיִם] וַיִּמְתָּחֵם כָּאֹהֶל לָשָׁבֶת--וכתיב חזקים.

רבי שמעון בן לקיש אמר: בנוהג שבעולם, אדם נוסך כלים--על ידי שהות, הוא מעלה חלודה. ברם הכא, "כראי מוצק")--בכל שעה ושעה הן נראין כשעת יציקתן.

Rav says that true, Hashem created the heavens on the first day. But on the second day, by saying "Let there be a rakia," He meant, "Let the rakia become strong [which Rabbi Slifkin mistranslates as “hard”—ZL], let it become congealed, let it become encased, let it become taut."

Rabbi Yudeh ben Pazi says: ["Let there be a rakia" means] "Let the rakia become like a cloth”—as you would say, “And they stamped (“va-y’raku”) the plates of gold…”

Rebbi Yehoshua taught: the rakia is about two fingers wide.

Rebbi Chanina’s statement is at odds, for Rebbi Acha said in Rebbi Chanina’s name, [It says in the Book of Iyov] “Can you tarkia the shechakim with Him, strong as a cast iron mirror?”—“Tarkia” teaches that they are made like a metal plate. Could it be that they lack robustness?—It says, “Strong”! Could it be that they become weak?—It says “like a cast metal mirror”: every single time they are seen as if [newly] cast!

Rabbi Yochanan and Rabbi Shimon ben Lakish [speak about this]. Rabbi Yochanan says: Normally, when someone stretches out a tent, it eventually sags. But here [regarding the rakia, Isaiah the Prophet (4:22) says, “[G-d is The One Who sits on the Circle of the Earth, and its inhabitants are like grasshoppers. He is One Who stretches out the heavens like a tent for dwelling—and [here in Iyov it says: “[they are] strong!”

Rabbi Shimon ben Lakish says: Normally, when someone casts a vessel in a mold, it eventually rusts. But here [with the rakia], “it is [always] like an iron mirror that is being cast.”—Every moment the heavens look as they were at the time they were cast.

מדרש רבה בראשית פרשה יב:יג

ר' יצחק ור"ש בן לקיש:

רבי יצחק אמר מלך ב"ו בונה אהל ומותח אהל אננקי על ידי שהות הוא רפי קימעה ברם הכא (איוב לז) תרקיע עמו לשחקים ואם תאמר שהן רפים ת"ל (שם) חזקים כראי מוצק

ר"ש בן לקיש אמר ב"ו מוצק כלים אננקי על ידי שהות היא מעלה חלודה ברם הכא חזקים כראי מוצק נראים כמין תרקיא...

Rabbi Yitzchak and Rabbi Shimon ben Lakish speak about this:

Rabbi Yitzchak says: A king of flesh and blood constructs and stretches out a tent. Eventually, it weakens a little. But here [regarding the rakia, it says, [in the Book of Iyov], “Can you tarkia the shechakim with Him, strong as a cast iron mirror?” And if you will say they are weak, it teaches, “strong as a cast metal mirror.”

Rabbi Shimon ben Lakish says: A man of flesh and blood casts vessels. Eventually they rust. But here it says, “Strong as a metal mirror being cast.” They appear as when they were tarkia.

It is based on these descriptions that Rabbi Slifkin asserts, “Chazal (and most of the Rishonim) universally interpreted various words in the Torah to be describing the heavens as a solid firmament above us. This was the universal, uncontested, view of Chazal, based on Pesukim….”

Rabbi Slifkin’s Poor Job

But Rabbi Slifkin’s house of cards falls apart upon the realization of a simple fact:

The “tarkia” verse in Iyov about the שחקים being “strong as a cast metal mirror” is about the cloud region--the region of the sky where the clouds form, and are moved about by the wind [4]—obviously not a region that is impenetrably solid and literally metallic-like!

It is therefore implausible that Chazal had in mind the coarse, superficial sense of impenetrable solidity Rabbi Slifkin imputes, when they ascribed “strength” “like a cast metal mirror”—derived from the “tarkia” verse in Iyov—to the formation of the rakia. They used these terms in a more sophisticated way. There is every reason to recognize that the descriptions of the rakia, created on the second day, of being “congealed water,” “a plate,” “like a cloth tent” “encased,” “rusting ” and “non-sagging” were meant not in a superficial, coarse sense. Rather, we see the clear-headedness of the rishonim, who—in consonance with, and (despite Rabbi Slifkin’s accusations) not in opposition to, the mesorah—indeed indicate a more sophisticated understanding of these ascriptions.

To elaborate:

What Rabbi Slifkin promotes as a definite proof for his position is actually a total contradiction to it. The verses at issue in Iyov read—

טו הֲתֵדַע, בְּשׂוּם-אֱלוֹהַּ עֲלֵיהֶם; וְהֹפִיעַ, אוֹר עֲנָנו

15. Dost thou know wherewithal G-d placed them, and causeth the light of His cloud to shine? יח תַּרְקִיעַ עִמּוֹ, לִשְׁחָקִים; חֲזָקִים, כִּרְאִי מוּצָק

18. Canst thou with Him spread out the skies/clouds, strong/intense as a molten mirror?

Now, the object of the verb tarkia is שחקים, the region of rain-bearing clouds, or the clouds themselves. The entire context of this[5] and other such passages in Iyov is the grandeur of G-d’s present-day manipulations of the skies, the awesome and majestic phenomena of the formation of thunderclouds bringing mighty thunderstorms, and their eventual clearance. And the commentators reflect this. The Book of Iyov itself refers to the shechakim elsewhere, too, and it obviously means by that term the clouds or cloud region of the sky:

איוב לו:כז כִּי יְגָרַע נִטְפֵי-מָיִם יָזֹקּוּ מָטָר לְאֵדוֹ

27. For He increases the water drops; they pour water [up] into his cloud.

כח אֲשֶׁר-יִזְּלוּ שְׁחָקִים יִרְעֲפוּ עֲלֵי אָדָם רָב

28. That the shechakim drip; they fall upon a great [or: many a] man

איוב פרק לח

כא וְעַתָּה, לֹא רָאוּ אוֹר--בָּהִיר הוּא, בַּשְּׁחָקִים; וְרוּחַ עָבְרָה, וַתְּטַהֲרֵם

21. Just now, men had not seen [the sky’s] light. It is patchy[6] in the shechakim; the wind passeth by [the clouds] and clears them.

לז מִי-יְסַפֵּר שְׁחָקִים בְּחָכְמָה; וְנִבְלֵי שָׁמַיִם, מִי יַשְׁכִּיב

37 Who [else] can number[7] the shechakim by wisdom? Or who [else] can pour out the flasks of heaven?

Indeed, throughout Scripture, שחקים is a reference to the clouds and/or the cloud region of the sky.[8] Chazal naturally recognized this, and they saw as well the clouds to be vaporous in nature, formed by water rising from the earth and/or descending from higher points in the sky.

That Chazal understood shechakim to be the clouds or cloud region of the sky can be seen from the Targum on Isaiah 45:5. The verse reads:

הַרְעִיפוּ שָׁמַיִם מִמַּעַל וּשְׁחָקִים יִזְּלוּ-צֶדֶק תִּפְתַּח-אֶרֶץ וְיִפְרוּ-יֶשַׁע וּצְדָקָה תַצְמִיחַ יַחַד אֲנִי יְהֹוָה בְּרָאתִיו

And it is rendered by the Targum:[9]

ישמשון 'מיא מלעלע וענניא יגדון טובא...

And likewise, in the Talmud:

מסכת תענית דף ז/ב

"בהיר הוא בשחקים." תנא דבי ר' ישמעאל אפילו בשעה שרקיע נעשה בהורין בהורין להוריד טל ומטר רוח עברה ותטהרם.

The fact that Chazal saw the שחקים (clouds) to be the result of water vapor—either arising from the seas or descending from higher areas of the sky—can be seen in Midrash Rabbah:

מדרש רבה בראשית פרשה יג:י

ומהיכן הארץ שותה? רבי אליעזר אומר: ממימי אוקינוס, דכתיב "ואד יעלה מן הארץ.".. .מתמתקים הן בעבים, דכתיב (שם לו) "אשר יזלו שחקים... ואין טיפה נוגעת בחברתה, דכתיב (שמואל ב כב)" חשרת מים עבי שחקים."

The point of all this is: Once one recognizes that the object of the verb tarkia can be the thin atmosphere the clouds occupy—or even the vaporous clouds themselves—it becomes manifest that the verb tarkia cannot by definition connote that the object of the verb is solid, and the noun rakia cannot by definition be limited to something that is impenetrably solid.

Therefore, it is not surprising that the Rambam,[10] Ralbag,[11] who both cite for their explanation the Midrashic passage (MR 4:2) about the rakia of day two coming from a “drop of water that congealed” identify it as the earth’s atmosphere. The Ibn Ezra also identifies the rakia of Day Two as the atmosphere, citing the comparison of the rakia to a “stretched out cloth tent”:

אבן עזרא בראשית שיטה אחרת - פירוש פרק א

והנה הרקיע הוא זה האויר ועוף תעופף עליו. ועליו כתוב וימתחם כאהל לשבת האדם תחתיו (ישע' מ, כב) כמשפט האהלים. ונקרא  שמים בעבור היותו עליון על כל הארץ

Neither is it surprising that even the rishonim who identify it as the rakia containing the stars (Rashi, Ramban,), still do not describe it as a hard substance. Indeed, how hard would one expect a small drop of water that was stretched out and spread over the entire world to be![12]

And it is only natural that the Aruch, Ibn Ezra, Ralbag and Radak do not make solidity part of their definitions of rakia and shechakim. It is defined by the concept of “emptiness,” from the root ‘רק,”[13] or as “something flattened out to be made to expand”[14] –not solidity.[15] Chazal see the connection between “cloud” and “shechakim to be based upon the concept of “grinding” the salty sea water from which the clouds are formed.[16] And perhaps one can relate the clouds to the word “שחק” by taking it as a reference to their appearance of “powdery,” or “pulverized material.”[17] Of course, when the verb form of rakia, spreading something out, is applied to solids, it is talking about doing so to something solid. But when applied to non-solids and nebulous phenomena, such as clouds, skies or ethereal spheres, it is not.[18]

How does all this affect the claim that when Chazal applied the terminology of “congealing” and “strengthening” and “cast metal mirror” to the formation of the rakia, they likely meant the rakia is an impenetrable, solid, hard substance? It exposes the assertion as uninformed foolishness (whether one takes rakia as a reference to the cloud region or the celestial region).


[1] See above, note 1.

[2] See paragraph in this series titled, “Mistranslation…Again.”

[3]מדרש רבה ד:ב

"ויאמר אלהים יהי רקיע בתוך המים." רבנן אמרין לה בשם רבי חנינא, ור' פנחס, ורבי יעקב בר' אבין, בשם רבי שמואל בר נחמן: בשעה שאמר הקב"ה "יהי רקיע בתוך המים," גלדה טיפה האמצעית, ונעשו השמים התחתונים ושמי שמים העליונים. רב אמר לחים היו מעשיהם ביום הראשון, ובשני קרשו. "יהי רקיע"-- יחזק הרקיע. ר' יהודה בר' סימון אמר: יעשה מטלית לרקיע היך מה דאת אמר (שמות לט) וירקעו את פחי הזהב.

Rabbi Shmuel Bar Nachman said: When Hashem said "Let there be a rakia in the midst of the waters," the middle drop frosted/congealed (גלדה) and the lower heavens and higher “heaven of heavens” were made. Rav said: The way they were made on the first day, they were in fluid form, and on the second day they congealed (קרשו).—”Let there be a rakia” means: the rakia should become strong. Rabbi Yehuda Bar R. Simon said: [It means] A plate should be made, to be the rakia--just as you say, “they beat out thin sheets of gold.”

[4] In his blogs, comments and monographs about “the” rakia, the “Rationalist” confuses and conflates the atmospheric rakia with the rakia of the stars. Just one example among many: In the January 27 2011 comments on his blog, when some noted that it seemed perfectly acceptable to understand the rakia as [sometimes] meaning the earth’s atmospheric layer, the “Rationalist” insisted that the word rakia always refers to a solid, flattened layer, wherein the stars are located:

Commenter: While there are limits to reinterpretation of torah phrases and descriptions, interpreting 'rakia' as the atmospheric layer seems perfectly acceptable to me. The “Rationalist”: Aside from the word always referring to a solid, flattened layer, there is also the fact that the stars are placed IN the rakia.

[5] See Addendum II

[6] “Spotted” can either be referring to the clouds that had been blocking the sky’s light or, on the contrary, the spots of the sky’s light that eventually shine through when the wind lightens the clouds.

[7] מי-יספר is given various interpretations by Radak, Rashi, Ibn Ezra, Ralbag: “Who [else] commands” (Rashi), “who else can: “number,” “make the skies like a book,” “can sufficiently describe the wisdom of,” “make [clear—Ibn Ezra] like sapphire.”

[8] Throughout Scripture, שחקים is a reference to the cloud region of the sky:

תהלים יח:יב

יָשֶׁת חֹשֶׁךְ סִתְרוֹ סְבִיבוֹתָיו סֻכָּתוֹ חֶשְׁכַת-מַיִם עָבֵי שְׁחָקִים

תהלים עז: ח

זֹרְמוּ מַיִם עָבוֹת קוֹל נָתְנוּ שְׁחָקִים אַף-חֲצָצֶיךָ יִתְהַלָּכוּ:

משלי פרק ג

יט יְהוָה בְּחָכְמָה יָסַד-אָרֶץ כּוֹנֵן שָׁמַיִם בִּתְבוּנָה: כ בְּדַעְתּוֹ תְּהוֹמוֹת נִבְקָעוּ וּשְׁחָקִים יִרְעֲפוּ-טָל:

[9] The online Jewish Encyclopedia dates the Targum’s composition to before the fall of Rome in 476 A.C.E.

[10] See Addendum III: The Rambam and Ramban both understand the Chazal about the “congealing” of the rakia to mean that the original ethereal created matter was transformed to a less ethereal, but still not earthly-physical, substance.

[11] The Ralbag specifically comments on the tarkia verse in Iyov:

רלב"ג איוב פרק לז

האזינה זאת איוב עמוד והתבונן נפלאות אל. התדע הסבה איך גזר השם על העננים שיסודרו מהם אלה העניינים בזה האופן. הידעת מה הסבה אשר קבל בה האור והתלהבות האד הקיטורי הנעצר בעננו... האם תרקיע עמו השמים שהם חזקים בתכלית החוזק עד שלא יתפרד דבוקם בשום פנים, והם ספירים כמו הראי הנתך--ר"ל הזכוכית שיעבור האור בו ...שבקצת העתים יהיה הענן חזק עד שלא יראה האור--אשר הוא בהיר וזך—בשחקים. ר"ל שאין סיבת העדר האור, שילקה הככב.--כי הוא בהיר בשחקים. אבל רבוי העננים יהיה סבה שלא יראה האור עם חזקו. ועם כל זה, לא יהיה מהם מטר. אבל תעבור הרוח ותטהר העבים ותפזרם או תוליכם אל מקום אחר, ובזאת הסבה ישלם, על הרוב, ענין המטר.

I.e., the shechakim are the skies whose clouds, when they form a mass, are strong in their ability to block out the skies’ strongly radiant skylight. Yet at other times, when the wind disperses them, the clouds also turn translucent as a clear alloy, and the skylight shines through.

[12] The “Rationalist” almost realized this in his admission that “’Congealed water’ is not ice, and is not a scientifically-acknowledged phenomenon, so it can be misleading to describe it as a ‘solid.’ However, he reverts to confusion by continuing: “But it [the rakia] is substantive, by which I mean it is firm. Unlike the atmosphere, which while being substantive in the modern scientific sense of being made of molecules, is not firm, and is not what Chazal were describing when they spoke of the rakia, which the sun travels on both sides of.” (Comment on Blog, Analysis of Rabbi Slifkin’s January 6, 2011 11:24 PM .) He has not yet provided evidence that it is universally maintained by the rishonim that it is the rakia which the sun travels on both sides of, that Chazal were describing when they spoke of the rakia being firm. As I have shown, there is strong basis to say, and several rishonim indeed hold, that the rakia is the atmosphere, and it is indeed the atmosphere’s nature to which Chazal referred to as “firm”; and several rishonim who describe the celestial rakia as ethereal, still say that this entity is accurately described by Chazal as being “firm.”

[13] Ibn Ezra associates the word rakia to the word רק, “empty,” being that it is such a דק (thin/delicate/nebulous/ethereal substance( and identifies it as the cloud region of the sky:

תרקיע עמו. בחסרון ה"א התימה. והשחקים הם על העבים ונקראו כן בעבור היותם אויר דק והוא מן ושחקת ממנה הדק וכן נקראו רק ורקיע והם תחת הגלגלים והענין האתה תעזור אותו להרקיע השחקים ולשום אותם חזקים ולהיותם כראי מוצק על כן יראה האור מהם:

[14] Radak:

רקערוקע הארץ (ישעיה מב, ה), פירוש פורשה, כלומר שתקן שטחה להיות הצאצאיה עליה. לרוקע הארץ על המים (תהלים קלו, ו), עדקם ארקעם (שמואל ב' כב, מג). והשם: "ויעש אלקים את הרקיע" (בראשית א, ו). וכן בענין זה.

In the overwhelming bulk of his comment, Rav S.R. Hirsch treats the rakia as the atmosphere. He ends by noting that the usages of rakia elsewhere refer to solid objects. But even he, who was no doubt exhibiting that “bias” (as do all our teachers) that the “Rationalist” eschews, stops at attributing the idea to Chazal that the rakia is a metallic substance, or any solid one.

[15] HaAruch:

מחברת הערוך לר׳ שלמה בן אברהם הידוע ן פרחון נב״ת

רקע רוקע הארץ על המים (תחלים קלו) פ' מותח ומודד. ומזה נקראו שמיס רקיע...

שחקים...ובגאותו שחקים (דברים לג) פי׳ אויר העליון הקרוב לשמים...

[16] Midrash Tanchuma Mikeitz siman aleph:

מי אוקינוס מלוחין הן... מתמתקין מן העבים שברקיע, דאמר ר"ש בן לקיש למה נקרא שמן שחקים שהן שוחקין את המים וממתקין אותם ואח"כ הן יורדין

The ocean waters are salty… [but] they are sweetened by the clouds in the rakia. As Rabbi Shimon ben Lakish said: “Why are the clouds called shechakim?—Because they scrub the waters and sweeten them, and afterwards the waters descend [to the earth].

(Also, Midrash Rabbah Breishis parsha 13.)

[17] Rakia and Shevakim may share the meaning of “pulverized material”—an entity with the appearance of something that had been rubbed, grounded, or pounded into what it is.

ביצא ב:ח, שולקין את הפלפלין.

ירושלמי ברכות א: ויין לאו שחוק הוא...שאר [כמו שמן זית]...אע"פ ששחוקים הן

Powderized water and fire=vaporous mist. This would obviously be a reference to the resultant appearance of the clouds, not the method by which it became so. After all, no one would say the sky was originally a hard material on day two of Creation, but became a looser substance as of day four!

=======================================================

ADDENDA

ADDENDUM II

THE CONTEXT OF THE IYOV PESUKIM IS THUNDERCLOUDS

יד הַאֲזִינָה זֹּאת אִיּוֹב; עֲמֹד, וְהִתְבּוֹנֵן נִפְלְאוֹת אֵל14. Listen carefully to this, Iyov. Stand, and make yourself contemplate the wonders of the Almighty!

טו הֲתֵדַע, בְּשׂוּם-אֱלוֹהַּ עֲלֵיהֶם; וְהֹפִיעַ, אוֹר עֲנָנוֹ15. Dost thou know wherewithal God placed upon them, and maketh shine, His cloud’s light? טז הֲתֵדַע, עַל-מִפְלְשֵׂי-עָב; מִפְלְאוֹת, תְּמִים דֵּעִים16. Dost thou know about the balancings of the clouds, the wondrous works of the One of perfect knowledge? יז אֲשֶׁר-בְּגָדֶיךָ חַמִּים--בְּהַשְׁקִט אֶרֶץ, מִדָּרוֹם. 17. Thou, whose garments are warm--when the earth is quietly still, because of the south wind-- יח תַּרְקִיעַ עִמּוֹ, לִשְׁחָקִים; חֲזָקִים, כִּרְאִי מוּצָק. 18 Canst thou with Him spread out the skies/clouds, strong/intense as a molten mirror? יט הוֹדִיעֵנוּ, מַה-נֹּאמַר לוֹ; לֹא-נַעֲרֹךְ, מִפְּנֵי-חֹשֶׁךְ. 19 Let us know, what we can say to Him? We cannot organize, because of darkness. כ הַיְסֻפַּר-לוֹ, כִּי אֲדַבֵּר; אִם-אָמַר אִישׁ, כִּי יְבֻלָּע. 20 Shall it be told Him that I would speak? Or should a man wish that he were swallowed up?

כא וְעַתָּה, לֹא רָאוּ אוֹר--בָּהִיר הוּא, בַּשְּׁחָקִים; וְרוּחַ עָבְרָה, וַתְּטַהֲרֵם 21. And now men see not the light [of the sun], it is mottled through the [heavy and dark] clouds (shechakim); but the wind passeth by, [moves the clouds away] and purifies them [the skies]. כב מִצָּפוֹן, זָהָב יֶאֱתֶה; עַל-אֱלוֹהַּ, נוֹרָא הוֹד. 22 Out of the north, golden splendor will come, alongside G-d is awesome majesty. כג שַׁדַּי לֹא-מְצָאנֻהוּ, שַׂגִּיא-כֹח; וּמִשְׁפָּט וְרֹב-צְדָקָה, לֹא יְעַנֶּה. 23 The Alm-ghty, whom we cannot find out, excels in power, [yet out of] judgment and plenteous justice, He doeth no violence. כד לָכֵן, יְרֵאוּהוּ אֲנָשִׁים; לֹא-יִרְאֶה, כָּל-חַכְמֵי-לֵב. 24 Men do therefore fear Him; He regardeth not any that are wise of heart.

Chap. 38

ח וַיָּסֶךְ בִּדְלָתַיִם יָם; בְּגִיחוֹ, מֵרֶחֶם יֵצֵא. 8 Or who shut up the sea with doors, when it broke forth, and issued out of the womb;

לז מִי-יְסַפֵּר שְׁחָקִים בְּחָכְמָה; וְנִבְלֵי שָׁמַיִם, מִי יַשְׁכִּיב. 37 Who can number the clouds by wisdom? Or who can pour out the jugs of heaven

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ADDENDUM III

Rambam and Ramban understand that by “strengthening” of rakia, Chazal were referring to the process of the materialization of the rakia on the second day from a more ethereal state to the more physical, but still not earthly-physical, substance. (The Rambam, however, understands—in accordance with his understanding of Chazal--the rakia of the second day to be the atmosphere, whereas the Ramban--in accordance with his understanding of Chazal—understands the rakia of the second day to be the celestial spheres and their contents.)

מורה נבוכים ב:ל

והרקיע עצמו מן המים נתהוה, כמו שאמרו: "הוגלדה טפה האמצעית."...הנה כבר התבאר שחמר אחד היה משותף וקראו מים, ואח"כ הובדל בשלש צורות, והיה קצתו ימים, וקצתו רקיע, וקצתו על הרקיע ההוא, וזה כלו חוץ לארץ.

Rambam, Moreh Nevuchim 2:30

The rakia itself came into being from the water, as Chazal said, “The middle drop congealed” (Breishis Rabba, 4:2).* …It is therefore clear that there was a certain common matter, and He called it “Water.” And afterwards, it was divided into three different forms: one part became the seas, another the rakia, and a third part is something above the rakia, all of it beyond the earth.

[The Rambam continues that the “ ‘water’ above the rakia,” meaning the “water” above the atmosphere, is a mysterious phenomenon.]

*Breishis Rabbah 4:2

"ויאמר אלהים יהי רקיע בתוך המים." רבנן אמרין לה בשם רבי חנינא, ור' פנחס, ורבי יעקב בר' אבין, בשם רבי שמואל בר נחמן: בשעה שאמר הקב"ה "יהי רקיע בתוך המים," גלדה טיפה האמצעית, ונעשו השמים התחתונים ושמי שמים העליונים. רב אמר לחים היו מעשיהם ביום הראשון, ובשני קרשו. "יהי רקיע"-- יחזק הרקיע. ר' יהודה בר' סימון אמר: יעשה מטלית לרקיע היך מה דאת אמר (שמות לט) וירקעו את פחי הזהב.

Rabbi Shmuel Bar Nachman said: When Hashem said "Let there be a rakia in the midst of the waters," the middle drop frosted/congealed (גלדה) and the lower heavens and higher “heaven of heavens” were made. Rav said: The way they were made on the first day, they were in fluid form, and on the second day they congealed (קרשו).—”Let there be a rakia” means: the rakia should become strong. Rabbi Yehuda Bar R. Simon said: [It means] a plate should be made, to be the rakia--just as you say, “they beat out thin sheets of gold.”

Ramban

רמב"ן בראשית פרק א

אם כן יהיה פשט הכתובים על נכון. משמעותו, בתחלה ברא אלהים את השמים, כי הוציא חומר שלהם מאין...והנה בבריאה הזאת, שהיא כנקודה קטנה דקה ואין בה ממש, נבראו כל הנבראים בשמים. ... וכן אמרו רבותינו (ב"ר א יד) את השמים לרבות חמה ולבנה כוכבים ומזלות...

The correct peshat teaching of the verses implies: In the beginning, G-d created the heavens, for he brought out their material ex nihilo….And behold, in this Creation, which was like a miniscule, ethereal, non-physical point, all the created things in the heavens were created. And so Chazal said, (Breishis Rabbah 1:14): “Ess HaShamayim” means to include the sun and moon, stars and constellations….

רמב"ן בראשית פרק א פסוק ו

יהי רקיע. החומר ההווה בתחלה שבראו מאין, אמר שיהיה רקיע מתוח כאהל בתוך המים, ויהיה מבדיל בין מים למים. ושמא לזה כוונו באמרם (ב"ר ד א) רב אמר לחים היו שמים ביום הראשון, וביום השני קרשו, רב אמר: יהי רקיע יחזק הרקיע. רבי יהודה ברבי סימון אמר יעשה מטלית הרקיע, כמה דאת אמר (שמות לט ג) וירקעו את פחי הזהב וגו':

Breishis 1:6

“Let there be a rakia.” He said that the matter brought into existence originally, which was created ex nihilo, should be a rakia, stretched like a tent, within the “Water,” and it should separate between one “Water” and the other “Water.” Perhaps this is what Chazal meant when they said (Breishis Rabbah 4:2) “Rav says the heavens were moist/liquidy on the first day, and on the second day they “frosted,” Rav said, “Let the rakia be” means, “Let the rakia become strong.” Rabbi Yehuda b’Rabbi Seemon said, “Let the rakia become a plate,” as you would say, “They flattened the gold plates.”

Ibid. 1:8

והנה בארו הכתובים כי הנבראים הראשונים הם מאין, והשאר מוצאם מן החומר הראשון הנברא. ואל יקשה עליך מאמר רבי אליעזר הגדול (פרקי דר"א ג) שאמר שמים מהיכן נבראו מאור לבושו של הקב"ה, וכן הוא בבראשית רבה עוד, כי בעבור שירצו החכמים עוד להעלות החומר הראשון עד תכלית ולעשותו דק מן הדקים, לא יראו שהשמים--שהם גוף מתנועע בעל חומר וצורה--הם הנבראים מן האין. אבל אור הלבוש הוא הנברא הראשון, וממנו יצא חומר הממש בשמים. ונתן לארץ חומר אחר ואיננו כדקות הראשון, והוא "שלג שתחת כסא הכבוד," כי כסא הכבוד נברא, וממנו היה השלג שתחתיו, וממנו נעשה חומר הארץ, והנה הוא שלישי בבריאה:

And behold the verses made it clear that the first things were created ex nihilo, and all the rest was extracted from the first created matter. And [so] do not be troubled by Rabbi Eliezer HaGadol’s statement (Pirkei D’Rebbi Eliezer 3), “What were the heavens created from?—From the Light of the Holy One Blessed be He’s Garment.” (And Breishis Rabbah has more [such statements.]) For Chazal wanted to describe as fully as possible, in terms reaching the most non-physical description, the first material’s high degree of etherealness. They did not see that the heavens, which are a moving body consisting of material and shape, were created directly from nothing; but the Light of the “Garment” is what was created first, and from that came the [more] physical material in the heavens. And He gave the Earth a different material, not as ethereal as the first, and that is [what Rabbi Eliezer HaGadol went on to describe as] “the ‘Snow’ under the Heavenly Throne.” …

פסוק ח

ואמר בשני שיהיה רקיע בתוך המים, כלומר שיתהוה מן המים הנזכרים, שהזכיר בריאתם, דבר מרוקע מבדיל ביניהם, וקרא גם לאלו הכדורים שמים כשם השמים העליונים הראשונים, ולכן יקראם בפרשה (בפסוק יז) "רקיע השמים" ויתן אותם אלהים ברקיע השמים, לבאר שאינם הנזכרים בשם השמים, רק הרקיעים שקראם שמים:

On the second day it says that there should be a rakia inside the Water. This means the from the Waters spoken of before as being created, there should come into existence something spread out that separates between them. These spheres [of the celestial bodies] are also called “heavens,” just as are the original upper [spiritual] heavens ….

וגם זה דעת רבותינו, הזכירוהו בבראשית רבה (ד ב), אמרו כל רבנין אמרין לה בשם רבי חנניה ברבי פנחס ורבי יעקב ברבי אבין, בשם רבי שמואל ברבי נחמן, בשעה שאמר הקב"ה "יהי רקיע בתוך המים" גלדה טיפה האמצעית ונעשו שמים התחתונים ושמי השמים העליונים. ומאמר זה יתפשט לכדורי הגלגלים שבהם תחתונים ועליונים, נקראים "שמי השמים"... אבל השמים הנזכרים בראשון ששם כסאו של הקב"ה....

This too is the position of Chazal mentioned in Breishis Rabbah (4:2), …When The Holy One Blessed be He said “Let there be a rakia inside the Waters,” the middle drop “frosted” and the lower heavens, and the higher heavens of heavens, were formed. This statement applies to the celestial spheres that have within them “uppers” and “lowers,” called “heaven of heavens.”…But the Heavens originally mentioned are the [spiritual] ones with the Throne of the Holy One blessed be He.