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TORAH & SCIENCE-----chazal 2

Re: The scientific knowledge of our sages.

Scientific facts in Chazal and rabbinic tradition can be divided into two categories:

(a) Scientific facts that are taken from the Torah itself, and

(b) Scientific facts that were known by Chazal based on their knowledge of science.

That scientific knowledge can be derived the Torah, there is no doubt. The Gemora in Bechoros 8a derives from a posuk in Bereishis the fact that a snake stays with its children longer than the rest of the animal kingdom. This is cited by the Ramban (Toras Hashem Temima p.159 in Chavel edition) as but one example of how Chazal knew facts of science from the pesukim in the Torah that describe Brias HaOlam. He cites more.

Rabbeinu Bachyai writes in the Introduction to Chumash that all wisdom and science in existence is contained in Torah. Some scientific facts were known through rabbinic tradition.

The Rashba cites a rabbinic tradition from Sinai that a treifah cannot live more than 12 months.

(Rav Yonason Eyebushitz (kreisi Upleisi 40) writes that such traditions are not to be disregarded even if found to be against “all the laws of heaven and earth”, since they are part of Torah shebal peh.)

The most recent example of this is the Chazon Ish ZTL, who lived in our times, and had no secular education at all, yet showed much knowledge of math and astronomy, much of which can be seen in his teshuva on the international dateline.

To question a scientific fact that is derived from the Torah is to question the author’s understanding of the Torah, which, in the case of Chazal, cannot be done.

The only question is, did Chazal derive all of the scientific facts they used from the Torah, and what do we do when we see a scientific fact in Chazal that contradicts current scientific knowledge?

The Rama in Toras HaOlah quotes the Rambam who says that in the days of Neviim and Chazal, the science of astronomy was “incomplete”. The Rama strongly argues, stating clearly that we assume rabbinic science to be infallible and ancient rabbinic knowledge of astronomy complete.

The Maharal (B’er Hagola 6) writes that when the sages mentioned a scientific fact, they derived it from their knowledge of the Torah and Hashem, Who is the Cause of all science. He says that science is inferior to Torah even where it comes to scientific knowledge, because scientists base their opinions on what they see, which is a finite and imperfect method of investigation, as opposed to knowledge of science through Torah, which is the root and cause for all facts in the world.

The fact that science in Chazal was gathered from “higher sources” was used by Rav Yehuda Breil ZTL, (Rebbi of the author of encyclopedia Pachad Yitzchok), to refute his student’s suggestion that we reconsider Chazal’s leniency of killing lice on Shabbos because lice are spontaneously generated.

The Pachad Yitzchok (topic: “zaide”) suggested to his Rebbi that now that science has refuted the possibility of spontaneous generation, we should not be lenient in allowing the killing of lice on Shabbos.But Rav Breil did not accept the suggestion. Stating an idea similar to that of the Maharal, that Chazal’s knowledge is based on the reality, not mere scientific observation; it is certain that the rabbinic science is more accurate than the science of the scientists, and even if currently it appears one way, the rabbinic view will eventually be proven correct.

He mentions that in the disagreement between the sages and the scientists regarding whether the sun revolves around the earth or vice versa, the sages conceded to the scientists, but centuries later, it was proven that the Torah sages were right all along

(Moderator’s note: See Shitah Mekubetzes that the sages never conceded that the gentiles were right; they merely “lost the argument”. They knew from tradition that they were right; they just could not defend the correct position).

There are others (Rav Dessler, if memory serves) who write that when the sages explain a Halachah based on a scientific fact (such as the heter to kill lice on shabbos), they do not mean to say that the Halachah depends on this fact. Rather, the Halachah is based on deeper, hidden reasons, and they merely “clothed” their reasoning in the scientific fact. They did not even mean to commit themselves to the truth of that fact per se. So if the fact is proven wrong, the halachah stays the same.

(I am fully aware of the statements in the Sefer Me’or Anayim of Rabbi Azariah min Ha’adumim where he states that secular scientific fact would outweigh the science of Chazal. Please note that the sefer Meor Aynayim is considered highly unreliable (see Sdei Chemed vol. 9 p.179), declared prohibited to read by many Gedolim (and even worthy of being burned); at the very least, not everything he says is considered true or authoritative. It is his statement that the Maharal (quoted above) came to refute.)

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