Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Rav Elya Ber Wachtfogel Shlit'a

Last month Rabbi Slifkin wrote a post criticizing Rav Elya Ber Wachtfogel’s position re Science and Torah as expressed in a haskama he wrote for a talmid. Following the link Rabbi Slifkin so graciously provided, I read Rav Wachtfogel’s haskama and for me it was a great chizuk in emunas chachamim. Unsurprisingly, it served as yet another target for Rabbi Slifkin’s ongoing smear-campaign against our gedolei Torah.

For the record, I do not claim to be aligned with every statement Rav Wachtfogel makes in his haskama but I certainly understand the thrust of his message and agree with it wholeheartedly. As such, I’d like to spend a few minutes responding to some of Rabbi Slifkin’s issues with the haskama.

Rabbi Slifkin writes:
Rav Elya Ber claims that every single utterance of Chazal was stated by Sinaitic transmission and/or by way of sod Hashem liyreyav
Actually, what he claims is that Chazal’s utterances were stated either by Sinaitic tradition or by ruach hakodesh. Ruach Hakodesh is a well known, universally accepted phenomenon in our traditions. Of course, Ruach Hakodesh does not equal infallibility. Even Moshe Rabbeinu was not infallible! (see Rashi, Vayikra 10:20). But the unanimous consensus of our Rishonim and Acharonim is that any statement by Chazal that made it to Talmud Bavli is sacrosanct. This notion has characterized all of the writings of the Geonim, Rishonim and Acharonim and has served as our derech haTorah since the chasimas haShas 1500 years ago! As Rav Yitzchok Isaac Halevi explains in Doros Harishonim, it is clear that Hashem granted Rav Ashi an especial measure of siyata di'shmaya (i.e. ruach hakodesh) when composing the Talmud. 

Rabbi Slifkin continues:
Astonishingly, in making this fantastic claim, he refers to Rambam's introduction to the Mishnah; he does not give a specific reference, presumably because Rambam said no such thing and in fact clearly held strongly otherwise.
Really? I think not. Here’s a snippet from the Pirush Hamishnayos L’Harambam that I am fond of quoting on this blog (my translation).

“And this fourth matter, that is, the exegetical sayings found in the Talmud, should not be considered trivial or of little benefit, for they are of enormous benefit in that they encompass within them the most profound allusions and wondrous ideas. When an appropriately deep examination of these sayings is conducted, the absolute good which cannot be surpassed can be gleaned from them. All of the lofty concepts and profound verities that the greatest of wise men concealed in their teachings, all of the conclusions that the philosophers toiled over throughout the generations, all can be revealed in their [Chazal’s] words…” (Kapach ed. pg. 19)

“And therefore, we must establish the truth of their (Chazal’s) words in our hearts. We must delve deeply into them and not hurry to dismiss a single saying of theirs. Rather, if something is found in their words which seems strange in our eyes, we must orient ourselves in the appropriate [corresponding] disciplines until we understand their meaning in this particular topic, assuming that we are even able to comprehend [their words] in the first place. For even our [latter] sages of blessed memory, despite the fact that they delved exceedingly into their studies, were clear of mind, were appropriately fit for the comprehension of wisdom, attached themselves to great people and entirely detached themselves from material pursuits, [and yet despite all this they] attributed a ‘lacking’ to themselves when comparing themselves to previous generations…so much more so ourselves…how can we not attribute a lacking to ourselves in comparison to them. And since they [the latter sages] knew that all of the words of the sages are well established from every angle, they were very protective of them and enjoined against slandering them and stated ‘whomsoever blandishes the words of the sages is judged in boiling feces’ and there is no worse ‘boiling feces’ than the foolishness that leads one to denigrate [the words of our sages]. And therefore, you will never find one rejecting their words but one who chases after lust, who favors materialism, who never enlightened his mind with any illumination whatsoever.” (Kapach ed. pg. 20-21)

So Rabbi Slifkin, this should clear up your “astonishment” with Rav Wachtfogel’s reference.

Rabbi Slifkin writes:
And Rav Elya Ber further claims that science has never attained the slightest insight into the universe compared to the insights that have been obtained from the Torah (alas giving no examples to support this extraordinary claim).
He doesn't need to. It’s obvious. But here are some examples. The Torah informs us that the universe was created. The Torah informs us that the universe is a relatively recent phenomenon. The Torah informs us that the universe is purposeful. The Torah informs us that there is life after death. The list is endless! Any universal insights garnered by scientists pale in comparison to the monumental significance of the Torah’s teachings about the nature of the universe. Rav Vachtfogel’s message seems clear. As he writes (my loose translation):
Scientists have been searching for information about the nature of the universe for thousands of years and they have still not managed to comprehend the smallest aspect of its phenomena. Whatever they have revealed is insignificant in comparison to the revelations of the Torah.
The revelations of the Torah are absolute. They are categorically true and are inherent to the nature of the universe whereas the revelations of science are transitory at best. Today margarine is healthy, tomorrow it’s not. Today time is constant, tomorrow its not. Today space is linear; tomorrow gravity seems to make it bend. Today the possible velocity of mass through space seems to max out at 300,000 kilometers per second; tomorrow there seem to be quantum events that result in spooky actions at a distance. The point is, science is an enterprise practiced by limited minds. It is mankind’s attempt to discover the truth of the universe. How can that compare to the revelations of the Torah which ARE the truth of the universe?

In any case, I don’t see Rabbi Slifkin’s issue. It’s not like Rav Vachtfogel is the first person to make this argument. Aish HaTorah has been holding countless seminars demonstrating the incredibly accurate descriptions of the universe depicted in the Bible. Why is Rabbi Slifkin picking on the Rosh Yeshiva?

Rabbi Slifkin makes several more comments in his post. Perhaps for another time…  

Evolution and Space Shuttles

Over Yom Tov I had the pleasure of meeting a young man (let’s call him Zev) who follows this blog. After introducing himself he asked me if I was interested in discussing some of my positions on the blog and I agreed. He then began to pose several challenges in rapid succession. I did my best to respond to him in the limited time we had but there was one particular issue which I took special interest in and which I insisted on discussing with him at length. Unfortunately our discussion was cut short so I’d like to revisit it here.

About three years ago I wrote a series of posts on this blog describing what, in my opinion, was most disturbing about Rabbi Slifkin’s approach to science and Torah in general and evolution and ma’aseh bereishis in particular. I argued that accepting the notion that life evolved naturalistically over hundreds of millions of years effectively cripples one’s ability to discern the presence of the Creator from the beriah. Rabbi Slifkin responded that he discerns the presence of the Creator from the fine-tuned laws of nature and I countered by asserting that the denial of patent design in biological nature is logically inconsistent with the claim of patent design in the laws of nature. In short, I accused him of maintaining an incoherent theology. Zev challenged my rejection of “Rabbi Slifkin’s theology” by quoting none other than my very own rebbi, Rav Avigdor Miller!

On page 30 of Rejoice O Youth, Rabbi Miller writes as follows: 
Youth: What is the ray of hope [of convincing evolutionists that the universe cannot be attributed to chance naturalistic mechanisms and therefore clearly testifies to a Designer – sc] of which you speak? 
Sage: The Evolutionists have blinded themselves against the evidence of the organic world. But the inorganic world is full of marvels of plan and purpose which can open one’s eyes to the Truth… 
Rabbi Miller then goes on to discuss physical properties such as the force of gravity, the atmosphere, and rates of evaporation. Although there are an endless number of possible permutations, the physical laws that govern the aforementioned phenomena all cooperate with each other to allow for an infinitely complex, fully functioning world. They are “finely tuned” for our specific universe despite the fact that the probability of them being so conveniently aligned is statistically nil. This is popularly referred to as “the argument for Intelligent Design from the fine-tuning coincidences in the universe” and is endorsed by Rabbi Slifkin in his book The Science of Torah (pp 39-46) and The Challenge (pp 49-57).

Based on the aforementioned quote from Rejoice O Youth, Zev felt that my accusation against Rabbi Slifkin was in conflict with Rabbi Miller’s statement that even if one denies “design” in the phenomena of life, there is still a “ray of hope” that he will discern it from the laws of nature.

The truth is, Zev is in error. Just before this quote, Rabbi Miller writes (Rejoice, ibid):
I fear that even this (the argument from the fine-tuned laws of nature - sc) will be ignored by them. If they have the hardiness to ascribe to accident all which we have discussed hitherto, they are quite impervious to argument. Men who are not biased are powerfully impressed when they are told of an animal which is able to shoot a suffocating stench against its enemies (skunk), or an animal that is able to present javelins against its enemies (porcupine)… If men are so irresponsible as to ascribe to accident these intricately planned devices, then I fear nothing could move them. 
So, any attempt to persuade an avowed evolutionist of design in the universe is most-likely futile. If they are capable of ascribing the intricately planned phenomena of life to chance naturalistic processes, they are equally capable of ascribing the laws of nature to naturalistic processes, as they in fact do. (Stephen Hawkings’s most recent book claims that all of the laws of physics can be accounted for by the presence of the Law of Gravitation. As he writes: “It is not necessary to invoke God to light the blue touch paper and set the Universe going.”)

What does Rabbi Miller mean by “a ray of hope”? Nothing. It is a form of speech. He didn’t actually believe that there is any hope that an evolutionist can discern the trappings of design in the phenomena of the universe. Which brings me to the topic of this post.

In a recent post entitled A Breathtaking Endeavor, Rabbi Slifkin writes:    
…upon seeing it [the space shuttle Endeavor], I …feel a powerful emotion of awe…Why was it such an awesome sight?... it was what the shuttle represented… for people my age, the space shuttle was mankind's most glorious technological achievement… The space shuttle is the pinnacle of man's technological prowess, which in turn is the result of his three-pound brain. Which in turn is the single most complex entity in the known universe - the single greatest and most remarkable element of creation. 
In The Challenge Of Creation, I quoted the following from mathematician Morris Kline: 
“A study of mathematics and its contributions to the sciences exposes a deep question. Mathematics is man-made. The concepts, the broad ideas, the logical standards and methods of reasoning... were fashioned by human beings. Yet with the product of his fallible mind, man has surveyed spaces too vast for his imagination to encompass; he has predicted and shown how to control radio waves which none of our senses can perceive; and he has discovered particles too small to be seen with the most powerful microscope... Some explanation of this marvelous power is called for.” 
Who would predict a universe in which the laws of nature are able to produce a being that can figure out a way to leave its home planet? Baruch Oseh Maase Bereishis! 
Evolutionists Rabbi Slifkin! Evolutionists claim that the human brain is the end product of biological evolution over hundreds of millions of years. Actually, it's even worse than that. Evolutionists make the astonishing claim that the human brain began as a chimpanzee brain a mere 7 million years ago and evolved naturalistically to encompass mathematical concepts, ideas, logical standards and methods of reasoning! 

Does Rabbi Slifkin believe in Evolution? If so, what stirred him to proclaim Baruch Oseh Maaseh Bereishis when considering the human brain?

What is wrong with Rabbi Slifkin’s theology? The answer is, it makes no sense.   

Monday, July 29, 2013

Is Rav Saadia Gaon’s “wabar” the rabbit?

Dear Readers:

This week we read Parashat Ree where the issue of the shafan is again mentioned.
As you probably know, after the publication of the book “The Enigma of the Biblical Shafan” many blogspots and comments have been published in the Jewish blogosphere.
Now I would like to concentrate only in a specific point.

In the book we have tried to demonstrate that the rabbit is compatible with all the descriptions of the shafan that have been published in the Jewish classic literature, including Ibn Janach and Rishonim.
Rav Saadia Gaon expressed his identification of the shafan very shortly. In our book this issue was elaborated on chapter 5 (d).

In the short Arabic explanation to the Pentateuch (Leviticus 11:5) attributed to Rav Saadia Gaon, who lived over one thousand years ago, [1] we find the word shafan translated to a three (وبر[2] or five (الوبر[3] letter Arabic word, which can be transliterated to “wabar (literally meaning “hair, wool or fur”) or “al-wabar” (“the hair, the wool or the fur”). [4] [5] [6]
This word (وبر) is also the modern common name in certain Arabic countries to describe the hyrax (Procavia capensis).
It is thus understandable that in the last 150 years, some Torah commentators and some researchers have claimed this source as evidence that Rav Saadia Gaon considered the hyrax, and not the rabbit, the Biblical shafan.
However, the results of our extensive research show that there is no conclusive evidence that this necessarily was Rav Saadia’s opinion, for the four reasons explained in the book.

After the book went to press, I found B"H the description of the “wabar” in Tafseer Ibn Katheer (Damascus, Syria 1301-1373) on Surah 103:1 where Ibn Katheer wrote the following two paragraphs:

"O wabar, o wabar! You are only two ears and a chest, and the rest of you is digging and burrowing...''

"And the wabar is a small animal that resembles a cat, and the largest thing on it is its ears and its torso, while the rest of it is ugly." [7]

I think we could use this medieval source -whose description of wabar (“big ears” and "digging and burrowing") seems to match with the rabbit and not with the hyrax- as evidence that when Rav Saadia Gaon translated shafan as "al-wabar" perhaps he was speaking about the rabbit and not the hyrax.

As you remember the source of Ibn Janach -elaborated elsewhere- indicates the same.

Kol Tuv!

[1] Born in Egypt in 882; at the age of about thirty he moved to Israel and Syria, until 921, when he returned to Babylonia, where he remained until his death in 942 CE.
http://vbm-torah.org/archive/parshanut/02parshanut.htm  accessed 28/jul/13
http://archive.org/stream/saadiagaonhislif00malt/saadiagaonhislif00malt_djvu.txt accessed on 28/jul/13
[2] ערוך השלם, ד"ר חנוך יהודה קאהוט, חלק רביעי דף נ"ט ערך טפז, בהערה.
[3] פירוש רבינו סעדיה גאון ע"י יוסף קאפח מוסד הרב קוק, ירושלים, תשנ"ד על ויקרא י"א ה' ע' ק"כ
[4] http://www.angelfire.com/hi/UAECAMELS/group.html
accessed on 16/jul/06
[5] http://ummah.com/forum/printthread.php?t=61361  accessed
on 16/jul/06
[6] Stevenson Thomas B. "Domestication" of hyrax (Procavia capensis), in Yemen. J. EthnobioI. Summer 1990;10(1):23-32.
[7] See Tafsir Ibn Kathir Juz' 30 (part 30): An-Nabaa 1 to An-NAS 6, 2nd edition, London 2009. By Muhammad Saed Abdul-Rahman. Page 221

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Were there Rabbits in Biblical Israel?

(Click here, for a revised version of this post; an earlier version appeared in Dialogue Fall 5774, No. 4)

Could the shafan be the rabbit?

R. Slifkin's answer is no. He concedes that many rishonim understood the shafan to be the rabbit, but summarily dismisses their position. He claims that, as Europeans, the rishonim were unaware of the fauna of the Middle East. On his blog R. Slifkin has written that:

The original study was by Tchernov [2000], who notes that the hare is "the only endemic species of lagomorph known from the Middle East since the Middle Pleistocene".
Lagomorphs include hares, rabbits and pikas. So the study by Tchernov claims that hare remains have been found in the Middle East, but not the remains of rabbits.  On the other hand, R. Slifkin claims that early authorities such as Rav Saadia Gaon (who lived in the Middle East) and Ibn Janach (about 100 years later) identified the shafan as the hyrax.
Traditional sources for identifying the shafan as the the hyrax include Rav Saadia Gaon (882-924CE), Ibn Janach and Tevuos Ha-Aretz. [N. Slifkin, The Camel, the Hare and the Hyrax, p88, 2011, 2nd edition]
R. Slifkin thus concludes that the shafan is the hyrax. Even though the hyrax does not regurgitate its food, the Torah calls it ma'aleh geira because its chewing motion superficially resembles that of ruminants, even though the chewing action is not needed for nutrition. 

This weakened criterion poses a problem as it would apply to other animals not mentioned in the Torah's exhaustive list (e.g. the kangaroo). As a consequence, R. Slifkin is forced to assert that the Torah's list is limited to just those animals in the general region surrounding the land of Israel. This contradicts Chazal's exegesis of the applicable verses in the Torah in which the Almighty (the "Ruler of His World") uniquely identifies the four types possessing a single sign of purity (according to one opinion in the Talmud, there is a 5th species called shesuah).

What is the shafan according to Rav Saadia and Ibn Janach?

Dr. Betech's recent book (here) has raised important challenges to R. Slifkin's thesis. First, R. Slifkin erred when he wrote that Ibn Janach identified the shafan as the hyrax.  This is what Ibn Janach actually wrote:
"And the shafan". It is the wabr, an animal the size of a cat, which is found [only] a little in the East, but is abundant among us. Nevertheless the masses do not know it by that name, but by the name conilio, a Spanish name (for rabbit). [Ibn Janach, Sefer Hashorashim, translated from the Arabic]
R. Slifkin's error is significant. Ibn Janach unambiguously identifies the shafan (Arabic: wabr) as a rabbit. R. Slifkin's response is that Ibn Janach (living in Spain) did not know of the hyrax, but he did know of the rabbit, and that some people called the rabbit by the term wabr, and so he assumed that this was the meaning of R. Saadia's term.

Now, it is possible that the term wabr was used for both the hyrax and the rabbit. But, we also note that Ibn Janach was a Torah authority, a grammarian, and an expert in Arabic.  He lived soon after the times of Rav Saadia Gaon. Was he unaware of the fauna of the Middle East? Apparently not. He writes that the wabr (rabbit) is abundant where he lived (in  Spain) but scarce in the East (where Rav Saadia lived). This matches the rabbit very well, but rules out the hyrax, which is hardly found in Spain. 

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Truth in Advertising: What is the Yesh Atid Agenda for Educational Reform?

By, Rabbi Eliezer Breitowitz, Rosh HaYeshiva, Darchei Torah
(Posted by Rabbi Korobkin, BAYT, 5 July, 2013, pdf version)

The recent visit of Chaver Knesset Rabbi Dov Lipman to Toronto raised a myriad of questions. To many, however, all of these can be reduced to a single question: The positions of Yesh Atid seem so reasonable and so progressive; why is the Chareidi community so blind to its own self-interest? The Chareidi community, rather than vilifying party leader Yair Lapid, should instead embrace him as the leader who will bring the Chareidim to enlightenment, prosperity, and full participation in Israeli society.

This question presumes that the Yesh Atid platform has been correctly presented and that Chaver Knesset Lipman's statements accurately represent the Yesh Atid platform. But is this the case?

The Identity Of The Israeli People Is At Stake

Wednesday, May 08, 2013
By Rabbi Moshe Boylan
Yated Neeman 
"The Identity Of The Israeli People Is At Stake” - Understanding The Current Situation In Eretz Yisroel

An Interview with Rav Moshe Meiselman
Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshivas Toras Moshe, Yerushalayim

The chareidi community is currently grappling with the plans of the recently elected Israeli government, particularly the efforts to draft bnei hayeshivos into the Israeli army.

As rosh yeshiva of Yeshivas Toras Moshe in Yerushalayim, Rav Moshe Meiselman is directly affected by the situation. His insight and perspective can help us understand the root causes of the current reality and the mindset we must have in standing strong against the proposed legislation of the government coalition.

Friday, June 21, 2013

The Shafan

Dear Reader;

After a much-anticipated arrival, we are happy to announce the publication of the book The Enigma of the Biblical Shafan by Dr. Yitzchak Betech and Dr. Obadia Maya. The material contained in this book is the result of decades of research and is accompanied by the haskamos of a number of gedoley Torah.

The following is the Abstract as found on page 3 of the book.

The Torah included the shafan and the arnebet among the non-kosher animals with only one kosher sign. Throughout the centuries, the traditional translations of these terms were, respectively, rabbit and hare.
Indeed, current science shows that all the characteristics Jewish classic literature attributes to these animals do occur in the rabbit and the hare. 
This publication will make the case that the Torah/Talmudic definition of “maaleh gerah” includes a qualified form of cecothropy practiced by the rabbit and hare. 
The following essay B”H refutes different options (like the hyrax, the llama and the pika) suggested and published by some as the identity of the shafan. And additionally, it answers in a systematic approach, the published challenges to our conclusions regarding the identity of the shafan. 
 After extensive research, as presented in a comprehensive chapter (which analyzes the kangaroo and the capybara among other animals), we did not find any additional species with only one kosher sign besides the four enumerated in the Torah, and we can recognize with admiration, today as always, that only the Master of the World could state this accurate information thousands of years ago.  

Dr. Betech is a frequent contributor to this blog and has graciously consented to respond to any queries relating to the conclusions of his thesis.

If you would like to preview the book, please visit this link

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Lacking in derech eretz and in knowledge

Lacking in derech eretz and in knowledge

This post is the continuation of the previous

If someone sent a letter by electronic means, how long is it reasonable to wait until it is acceptable to say: I did not receive an answer?
Of course it is relative, but I have Natan Slifkin’s own criteria, i.e. two days (January 29, 2013 at 7:06 PM)

So I will use the same one.

After hundreds of comments in NS’s rationalist blogspot, I sent the following:

Dear Natan,

My latest questions that you have not answered are:

IB: 17.1 My insistence that you have to provide the source is based on common sense (whoever presents a piece of information, has the responsibility to give the complete and precise reference to it) and in what I wrote above on 7.1 IB

And specially now, when you are still refusing to give the page number on your book where the names of the two zoologists that said what you claim they said are written, seems to be another evasive strategy to cover YOUR lie.

IB: Do you agree or disagree with the following:
Whoever presents a piece of information has the responsibility to give the complete and precise reference to it.
If you disagree, please explain why.

IB 19.1 … If you think they are incompatible please explain why.

IB 20.1 ... Please tell me where you wrote in your book your definition of maale gera?

IB 21.1 Could you please give me your definition of “compatible”?

Are you planning to answer the unanswered questions?

The latter could be summarized in my posts dated:

February 1, 2013 at 5:09 PM (20.1 IB) 
February 2, 2013 at 1:44 AM
February 5, 2013 at 1:07 AM (first and second part) 
February 11, 2013 at 8:24 AM (first and second part)
February 11, 2013 at 8:27 PM
February 14, 2013 at 12:09 AM
February 14, 2013 at 7:20 PM
February 18, 2013 at 7:52 PM (first and second part)
March 3, 2013 at 8:36 PM (first and second part)
March 4, 2013 at 7:46 PM
March 4, 2013 at 8:39 PM
March 8, 2013 at 5:22 PM
March 8, 2013 at 5:28 PM
March 8, 2013 at 5:33 PM

Dear Natan:
Are you planning to answer all the unanswered questions?
More than two days after that, I did not receive any answer from Natan Slifkin, so it seems that he is not ready to provide answers to my challenges against the letter he sent Dialogue Magazine in response to my article on the Biblical shafan = rabbit.

A few days ago, in response to one of NS’s comments, I wrote an answer that I am now expanding with additional bracketed recent developments:

13.1 There is no need now that I would try to operate as a “religious polemicist”, since as everyone knows, about thirty leading Great Talmidei Chachamim already signed letters disqualifying the religious contents of your books. 
On the other hand, meanwhile you have not published letters of support of leading Great Talmidei Chachamim.

Additionally, there is no need now that I would try to operate as a “religious polemicist”, since as everyone knows, you have publicly acknowledged that you do not believe in a basic Chapter of the written Torah, as you wrote:

“Sorry to shock you, but I don't believe in a global flood, either!...”
February 20, 2013 at 11:21 PM

[Additionally, there is no need now that I would try to operate as a “religious polemicist”, since as everyone knows, you have publicly shared your pictures eating locust which reveal your hallachic standards...]

[Additionally, there is no need now that I would try to operate as a “religious polemicist”, since as everyone knows you have not answered the following public challenge:

Anyhow, the entire conversation with xxx and Natan Slifkin is fruitless until we determine one fundamental point – do you believe that Torah study contributes to the security and the economic wellbeing of the Jewish people?
If your answer is no, I would like to know how you explain the Gemara in Sanhedrin which seems to declare you Apikorsim. We can then move forward.]

Now, I am operating in the framework of an academic approach because people probably do not know that even your publications in zoology-related-issues, are not easy to support in light of modern zoology (as written in the front cover of your hyrax book).

Incidentally, an additional facet is becoming public, that instead of intellectually defending your two books on the hyrax, and defending what you wrote in your recent letter to Dialogue Magazine, you are evading and making false accusations against an academic opponent.
Recently, when NS’s locust-eating was publicly challenged, NS wrote the following:

... It's just a pity that almost every time I am attacked from the right, my opponents reveal themselves to be somewhat lacking in derech eretz (aside from lacking in knowledge).
lacking in derech eretz
If the reader is interested, he could check the lack of derech eretz of NS’s writings the same dates in his rationalist blogspot...

lacking in knowledge”
Let me present three examples of lacking in zoological knowledge by the “zoo-rabbi” as evident from NS’s letter to Dialogue magazine and the subsequent comments thread:

NS wrote:
“But rabbits do not, and did not, live in Eretz Yisrael or anywhere nearby.”

This is not true.

NS wrote:
“With the hare and rabbit, interpreting ma’aleh gerah as caecotrophy requires going against all classical interpretations of ma’aleh gerah.”

This is not true.

NS wrote:
“Some zoologists, however, have observed that hyraxes do in fact regurgitate small quantities of food for remastication...”

NS wrote:
“Well, you can find the names of two zoologists in my book, and I could add two or three others...”

IB published many days ago:
Please provide me the page number of your book where the zoologists have observed that hyraxes do in fact regurgitate small quantities of food for remastication, and please add the two or three others that you are offering me.

NS is still refusing to give the page number on his book where the names of the two zoologists that said what he claims they said are written.
This seems to be another evasive strategy to cover NS’s lie.

Nevertheless, I am still willing B”H to continue this interchange with Natan Slifkin (the author of the letter to Dialogue Magazine) immediately after he publishes the names of “the two zoologist appearing in his book” and answers the unanswered questions.

Monday, February 18, 2013

And the “Zoo-Rabbi” did not answer!


Chazaka” in Torah literature means that if something happened three times in a similar way, you may presume that it was not an accident but follows a particular pattern.

Natan Slifkin (NS) in his “rationalist blogspot” explicitly refused three times to answer my questions which challenged his published position.

A brief background:

1. I published an article on Dialogue Magazine No. 3 (Fall 5773) about the identity of the Biblical shafan, where 15 reasons are presented to support the rabbit as the Biblical shafan and 6 reasons to disqualify the hyrax as a candidate.
Being that it is a short article, I did not include in it an analysis of the objections that could be presented to my identification of the rabbit or against my suggested definition of “maale gera” and my response to them.

2. NS published in his blogspot an extensive but non-systematic response to it.

3. I asked if he was ready to discuss the contents of his letter.

4. He initially agreed.

5. I decided to begin the discussion by pointing out to one of his published erroneous statements written in his response, i.e.
“But rabbits do not, and did not, live in Eretz Yisrael or anywhere nearby”.

6. Since I think that the above statement is not accurate, I posted a comment including nine sources, among them, six supporting the existence of native rabbits in Egypt.
The latter is particularly significant -even according to my opponents’ position- for the following reasons:
a) Bene Yisrael lived in Egypt for more than two hundred years.
b) Egypt is very close to Eretz Yisrael and both countries were connected by a common trade route.

7. Then, a long comment-thread developed, where most of my questions and challenges were repeatedly ignored.
Many evasive strategies were used by NS, including omissions, distortions, taking texts out of context, citing mutilated paragraphs, inadequate generalizations, unsupported claims, faulty cause-effect connections, “appeal to authority”, proclaiming premature conclusions, sarcasm, “straw man arguments”, etc.

8. Although NS initially agreed to discuss, now despite a long list of unanswered questions, he has decided to stop answering my challenges, questions and comments.
The unanswered points could be summarized in my posts dated:
February 1, 2013 at 5:09 PM (20.1 IB)
February 2, 2013 at 1:44 AM
February 5, 2013 at 1:07 AM (first and second part)
February 11, 2013 at 8:24 AM (first and second part)
February 11, 2013 at 8:27 PM
February 14, 2013 at 12:09 AM
February 14, 2013 at 7:20 PM

Additional thoughts:

9. An important point is that even if no evidence of rabbits in the ancient Middle East could be found, that would not be a challenge to my suggestion that the Biblical Shafan is the rabbit, since Bene Yisrael got acquainted with the rabbit when Moshe presented it to them.
The inherent difficulty[1] in identifying these species and their signs is evident from the very first moment when Hashem instructed Moshe Rabbenu regarding them, and told him (Leviticus 11:2):
Zot hachaya asher tochelu (This is the living thing that ye may eat among all the beasts that are on the earth).
The Talmud (Chulin 42a) reports that, as indicated by the words “this is”, when enumerating the various species, the Almighty miraculously showed Moshe each and every species[2] and exclaimed, “this one you may eat” or, “this one you may not eat”.
It is also reported that Moshe did the same with Bene Yisrael.[3]
Thus, even in the remote case that Bene Yisrael were not yet acquainted with the rabbit in Egypt, and even if there were no rabbits in Eretz Yisrael, nevertheless David HaMelech and Shelomo HaMelech were not speaking about an unfamiliar species.

Even if rabbits were absent in Eretz Yisrael in Biblical times, and even in the whole Middle East, Am Yisrael -in any case- would become familiar with them in their journeys through the exile-long centuries; thus it would be necessary to warn them against their consumption.

10. Besides questions regarding rabbits in the ancient Middle East, NS refused to answer additional important questions, among them:

a) NS wrote in his response to my article in Dialogue Magazine:
“Some zoologists, however, have observed that hyraxes do in fact regurgitate small quantities of food for remastication”,

Could you please provide the sources supporting that?

NS never published any support to his questionable statement. Nullius in verba.

b) IB: The hyrax cannot be the shafan, because even the proponents of identifying the hyrax as the shafan acknowledge that there is no evidence that the hyrax practices rumination, caecotrophy or even merycism; thus, the hyrax is not “maaleh gerah”.
In any case, as explained elsewhere, merycism (practiced by the kangaroo) is not equivalent to “maaleh gerah”, because nutritionally it does not resemble rumination or caecotrophy.

NS never tried to engage in discussing with me to refute this argument.

11. More challenges against NS’s response could not be presented because the discussion was abruptly aborted by NS on February 14, 2013 at 12:13 AM.

12. As a side note, it should be emphasized that NS’s refusal to debate is very significant, because I agreed to debate with NS in a clearly non-neutral environment, i.e. in his blogspot, a forum where comments are moderated by NS himself, where he can decide what to publish and what not, when to publish, when to erase a comment, allowing or not bloggers using simultaneously double identities, etc. All this censorship and manipulation is done without the public’s awareness.

13. Sadly, the number and intensity of ad hominem attacks made by NS and other “bloggers” (not filtered by NS), were a big hindrance to the flux of ideas. Needless to say, these attacks were not reciprocated by me.

14. With NS´s refusal to continue the discussion on the Biblical shafan we could integrate another “chazaka”.
In the past NS declined to debate the scientific evidences in favor of “his” evolution of the species, then he refused to debate the reproductive characteristics of lice and now the zoological characteristics of the biblical shafan.

15. All the above, should give us something to think about...

Finally, I do believe I have partially presented my case for any objective reader.

Yitzchak Betech

P.S. Nevertheless, I am still willing B"H to continue this interchange immediately after NS will start answering the unanswered questions.

[1] Bamidbar Rabba 15:4
[2] Midrash Tanchuma Shemini 8 s.v. “veim tameah
[3] Sifra Shemini 11:62

Monday, January 28, 2013

Torah MiSinai

Professor Martin Lockshin teaches Humanities and Hebrew at York University in Toronto. In a recent article in the Canadian Jewish News, Lockshin reviews a “courageous new book” by Rabbi Norman Solomon entitled “Torah from Heaven: The Reconstruction of Faith”. This is not the proper forum for a detailed refutation of Rabbi Solomon’s thesis, but some of Professor Lockshin’s comments do call for a response.

Lockshin writes as follows:
Usually “Torah from heaven” in Orthodox circles is understood to mean that God dictated the entire text of the first five books of the Bible (with the possible exception of the last eight verses of Deuteronomy) to Moses, who then wrote it down.
So far, so good.  
Furthermore, the text of the Torah scroll that we have in our synagogues today is precisely what Moses wrote.
Unfortunately, this idea is not part of the doctrine of “Torah from Heaven” and is, most likely, not correct. Anyone possessing even a passing familiarity with Rabbinic literature (Talmud, Midrashim, and subsequent halachic texts), knows that the Torah scrolls we possess today are not necessarily identical, letter for letter, with what Moses wrote. Yes, the sentences – along with the message they convey – are indeed the same. However, the precise spelling of the words has, in some cases, been lost to us. The biblical phenomenon of Defective and Plene Spellings (chaseiros v’yisairos) is well-known to students of the Talmud and is clearly not dogmatic to the doctrine of “Torah from Heaven”. This point cannot be overemphasized. Its assumption renders the vast majority of issues raised by Solomon/Lockshin irrelevant.

Lockshin continues:
But Rabbi Solomon notes that the Hebrew word “torah” in the Bible just means “teaching” or “instruction.”… Only many centuries after Moses did people begin to use the word Torah to refer to the first five books of the Bible and did anyone write down the claim that Moses was the author of the so-called Five Books of Moses.
This remark is a product of rank ignorance. The very first book after the Torah makes several references to the “Book of the Torah of Moshe” and the “Book of the Torah”. When Joshua (chapter 8) gathers the people to fulfill the covenant at Mount Gerizim and Eival, he does so in conformance with the “Book of the Torah of Moshe” and the “Book of the Torah”. Joshua built an altar at Mount Eival “as was instructed in the Book of the Torah of Moshe” and wrote the “Repetition of the Torah” on large rocks “as Moshe wrote down for the Jewish nation”. He then “read all of the words of the Torah, the blessings and the curses in conformity with all that was written in the Book of the Torah”! Jews have been referring to the teachings of Moses as the Book of the Torah from the day he died. The claim that it took centuries for this to occur is patently false.

Lockshin writes:
Rabbi Solomon argues further that historical scholarship makes it impossible to believe that Moses was the author of Genesis to Deuteronomy, or that our text of the Torah today is identical to the original one. The Talmud often quotes biblical verses whose wording or spelling differs from our own (as do Rashi and basically every other Bible commentator who lived before the days of the printing press).
Ever since Julius Wellhausen and the advent of biblical criticism, modern academia has been on a mission to undermine the historical authenticity of the Torah. In line with this attitude, Lockshin quotes the same old tired canard of the Bible critics, to wit, “historical scholarship makes it impossible to believe that Moses was the author of Genesis to Deuteronomy”. He then repeats his original error of conflation by attempting to identify “absolute textual identicalness” with the doctrine of “Torah from Heaven”. As we noted above, there are several examples of defective and plene spellings in our traditional rabbinic literature. This phenomenon was fully acknowledged by our sages. The doctrine of Torah from Heaven is in no way compromised by this fact.

There is much more to say on this topic, perhaps for another time. Comments welcome.

Simcha Coffer
Toronto, Ontario                     

Monday, January 21, 2013

Lice: response to NS

Dear Natan
A few days ago I published a very short version of my approach regarding the biological characteristics of lice as related to the Talmudic statement in Masechet Shabbat 107b (http://www.toriah.com/pdf/Betech-MesechtaShabbos-On-Lice.pdf).
In your blogspot you said that the four refutations you wrote on your website refute my approach.
I will copy your four claims verbatim (emphasis mine) and I will try B”H to analyze them by interspersing my comments:

NS: Some have attempted to defend the notion of the scientific infallibility of the Talmud, or at least the applicability of this ruling, by reinterpreting this statement about lice. A popular argument is that the Sages actually meant only that the eggs of lice are halachically insignificant due to their small size, not that they do not exist.

1.1. IB 20/Jan/13:
I did not claim that.

NS: Similarly, some claim that the life-force of a louse is not halachically classified as an animal life-force (just as a plant is alive and yet is not classified in a halachah as a living creature). An alternate claim that is advanced is that since the eggs or larvae require this particular environment in which to develop, it can be said that they are generated from there.

1.2. IB 20/Jan/13:
Although these are not my claims, some could think that my approach can be categorized together with the two above. Thus, I will try to analyze the continuation of your “refutations” as they could theoretically apply to my approach. Please continue reading.

NS: However, there are numerous problems with such explanations, notwithstanding their obvious appeal.

1.3. IB 20/Jan/13:
I agree that “appeal” is not enough.

NS: First, there is no independent evidence for these explanations; they are presented simply on the grounds that there could not be a scientific error in the Talmud.

1.4. IB 20/Jan/13:
Although absence of “independent evidence” is not an evidence that Chaza”l did not mean that particular suggested explanation on their statements about lice, nevertheless I want to present the following that could be an independent evidence.
I have found three[1] [2] [3]  Rishonim that clearly spoke about the “nits” (the eggs of lice), so they understood that there are lice and additionally there are egg-lice (besides the “betze kinim” a type of organism which is called eggs of lice).

NS: Yet, as we discussed in the introduction to this work, most authorities understand that the Sages of the Talmud did make a scientific error in believing that the sun passes behind the sky at night.

1.5. IB 20/Jan/13:
Undoubtedly this is an important issue I have also written about; but by now, it is beyond the scope of this short analysis on the reproduction of lice.

NS: And since the Sages spoke of a mouse that grows from dirt, they clearly did believe in spontaneous generation.

1.6. IB 20/Jan/13:
I do not agree that it is so “clear” in the case of the mouse that you have mentioned.
I will write B”H my view on this specific case you mentioned. But it should be clear that a detailed discussion of the mouse, is beyond the scope of this short analysis on the reproduction of lice.
In the case of this Talmudical “half-mouse” we are not discussing inanimate matter transforming into animate matter, but soil that is already an integral part of a preexisting living entity, which transforms (by an unidentified process) to organic material.
In this soil, maybe there were already organic residua, or certain organic material migrated from the flesh-part to the soil-part, and then became flesh.
Today we know from the cloning of Dolly, that from a single cell, we may obtain a complete organism, not only from a zygote, but even, a differentiated cell may recover its totipotentiality.
Therefore the case of the half-mouse is not a “clear” case of spontaneous generation (ד"ע).

NS: Thus there is no reason to accept that they could not have believed that lice generate this way, which was the common belief in their era.

1.7. IB 20/Jan/13:
We have found some cases where Chazal “scientific” statements were independent from which was the common belief in their era.

NS: Second, the words of the Talmud say nothing about the eggs being halachically insignificant, or about the life-force of lice not being like that of other animals. It simply states that they do not reproduce sexually.

2.1. IB 20/Jan/13:
I could not find the latter in Chazal writings.

NS: While it is not impossible that this could be a shorthand reference for something else, the burden of proof is certainly upon those who would make such a claim. Especially since, in Talmudic times, the entire world believed that lice spontaneously generate, it is highly unreasonable to state that when the Sages spoke of lice as not reproducing sexually, they intended a different meaning entirely.

2.2. IB 20/Jan/13:
See above 1.7 and 2.1

Third, such explanations are inconsistent with the views of the traditional Talmudic commentators. Rambam, Rashba, Ran, Tosafos and others all state that lice spontaneously generate from sweat or dust. True, it is not impossible that they misunderstood the nature of the Talmud’s ruling—indeed, we posited similarly in the case of mermaids. Yet in the case of mermaids, there was compelling textual evidence that the Talmud was referring to dolphins instead; here, no such evidence exists. Furthermore, those who posit that the Talmudic statement about lice must be scientifically correct are usually the same people who are reluctant to posit that the traditional commentators all erred in their understanding of the Talmud.

3.1. IB 20/Jan/13:
The apparent inconsistency between my approach and the Rishonim’s commentaries is addressed in the Hebrew expanded version of my article on lice.
Please see the linked document.

NS: The final objection to such reinterpretations of the Talmud’s statement is that there is a straightforward refutation from the continuation of the Talmud: 
Abaye said: And do lice not reproduce? Surely it was said, “God sits and sustains from the horns of aurochsen to the eggs of lice” (which shows that lice come from eggs)? — That refers to a type [of organism] which is called eggs of lice (but not that lice actually hatch from these).
If the Sages were not denying the existence of lice eggs, why do they reject the simple meaning of the statement that speaks about God sustaining the eggs of lice, and resort to difficult explanations instead? Let them simply state that although lice do hatch from eggs, these are too small to be halachically significant! It therefore seems that they did not consider this possibility. (I am aware that some claim that the Talmud means that since the eggs are halachically insignificant, they cannot be the subject of the statement about lice eggs. However such a reading is highly contrived, lacks any evidence, and is certainly not how the Rishonim and Acharonim understood the Talmud.)

4.1. IB 20/Jan/13:
The apparent inconsistency between my approach and the Gemara-text is addressed in the Hebrew expanded version of my article on lice.
Please see the linked document.

P.S. IB 20/Jan/13:
I am ready B”H to analyze comments directly related to our issue:

[1] ע' רבינו חננאל על שבת דף ק"ז עמוד ב' (נמצא בדף ק"ח.)
[2] ספר הרוקח הגדול, רבינו אלעזר מגרמיזא. הלכות שבת, ס' ע"ח וע"ט
[3] ראבי"ה (רבי אליעזר בן יואל הלוי) ח"א - מסכת שבת סימן רל"ו