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TORAH & SCIENCE-----spontaneous generation


ecilevy Posted - 01 December 2005 15:19

How do we explain the instances that we see in the Gemora that contradicted established facts, like when it says that lice are spontaneously generated?

It is documented that was the belief in those days, but now we can see that it is not true.

Chazal based halachos on this fact but now that it is mistaken shouldn’t we change the Halachah? (I am not trying to say Kefirah, I'm just asking)

MODERATOR Posted - 14 December 2005 8:26

When Chazal discuss life, or what constitutes animal mineral or vegetable, they are using the Torah’s definitions, not the scientists’. And the Torah’s definitions of all of the above depend not on physical characteristics but spiritual ones. An inanimate object has a Nefesh Hadomem – the “spirit” (which is a better translation than “soul”) of an inanimate object; plant life has a Nefesh HaTzomeches; animal life, a Nefesh HaBehamis, and a human being, a Neshomah.

The definition of life that is used throughout Torah is spiritual, not physical. The Halachic cut-off date for an embryo being considered not yet life regarding certain Halachos is 39 days. On day 40, that changes. Biologically, there is no way to identify the exact date of “life”. This is a spiritual, Neshama-based, assessment, because the definition of life depends on spiritual, Nefesh-based criteria, not scientific ones.

If I were to create an android – a robot made out of human tissue – that is “programmed” to have human characteristics – to cry when hurt; to laugh when told a joke; to smile and display all chemical and physical signs of happiness when confronted by a desirable event (i.e., events that are programmed to be “desirable”) to eat and drink and burn the food as fuel; to portray in every scientifically way possible human characteristics – such a Golem, no matter what biological signs or functions it displayed, would not be a human being because it has no Neshamah; it would not even be considered “alive”.

Perhaps a clone is in that category, a non-living humanoid constructed through biological matter and those biological factors that enable human functionality, copied from a real human being the way one copies a computer program, but without the spiritual components of a live creature, the Nefesh and Neshama. I don’t know whether, when you clone something, the spiritual components get cloned as well, but if they don’t, then I imagine a human clone would be considered not a human being but rather an organic robot, a humanoid, with no “life” of its own. Even if the scientists cannot tell the difference.

Should a human not have a Neshama or a Nefesh, he is not a human, but an organic construct; should someone create an organic machine that mimics plant life in every biological way possible, it may still be considered a Domem, if it lacks the spiritual Nefesh HaTzomeches.

So when Chazal say that lice do not reproduce but rather spring from sweat and dirt, they mean that lice do not impart into their eggs the same life-force that animals do, that their eggs have a Nefesh HaDomem, or partially a Nefesh HaDomem, and Halachicly their status is not that of eggs.

The fact that scientists will tell you lice eggs are the same, biologically, as any other eggs, means nothing here. They see a Mommy louse, a Tatty louse, and a baby louse, but that’s just the way this construct was programmed to function. Plants also “reproduce” – the pollination process involves moving a seed (the pollen) to another "organ" (the stigma) which causes reproduction - so we have a Daddy plant, a Mommy plant, and a baby plant -- but plants aren’t animals. And plant “eggs” aren’t eggs. And Chazal had a tradition that neither are lice eggs, Halachicly, because the way lice are reproduced -- with a Mommy louse and a Daddy louse -- does not involve the result in the creation of an egg that enables an animal Nefesh the way other eggs do.

The Gemora, no matter what explanation you are going to have of it, says that dirt can produce lice. The scientists point out that it is an egg that produces lice. That’s not a big deal, because I am saying that those eggs are halachicly not eggs, but dirt themselves. Because the difference between an “egg” and a biologically identical domem is something only Chazal could know, based on their knowledge of the Nefesh.

ruvein Posted - 15 January 2006 16:02

Isn't it more likely Chazal just thought that lice really were physically born from dirt, just like the scientists of their day did?

MODERATOR Posted - 15 January 2006 16:13

No. Chazal got their information from the Torah / by Mesorah, not from scientists.

Please see my post of Posted - 04 November 2002 14:04 at

ruvein Posted - 25 January 2006 8:04

What evidence is there that "Chazal got their information from the Torah / by Mesorah, not from scientists?"

First, on the specific topic of spontaneous generation, you state in the post of 04 November 2002 14:04 at


"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."

Clearly, Rav Dessler had his doubts about whether spontaneous generation actually occurs, and he didn't even think Chazal were necessarily saying that it does. I question, therefore, why you assert so categorically that spontaneous generation is, indeed, a scientific reality.

But more fundamentally, on the issue of Chazal's scientific knowledge, you quote, in the above-cited post, that the Rambam "says that in the days of Neviim and Chazal, the science of astronomy was “incomplete”." It is known that the Rambam's son, R. Avraham, and many other great rebbeim throughout history, including Rav Hirsch and Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach, agreed that Chazal's knowledge of science was not all derived from the Torah, and thus was not all necessarily correct. Obviously, they saw no evidence indicating that Chazal knew science perfectly, or that they had derived all of their science from the Torah. Where is the evidence?

MODERATOR Posted - 04 February 2006 20:06

Please read my post again. I am not saying spontaneous generation happens. And neither did Chazal. Lice come from eggs, but whether those eggs are considered like plain animal eggs or dirt depends on their spiritual components, not their biological ones. A human without Nefesh-Neshama is not alive, even if he could walk and talk, and mimic totally all biological symptoms of humanity, and so too eggs without a Nefesh are only unliving robots, albeit organic ones, programmed to sprout forth lice.

The same way Chazal say a fertilized human egg, i.e. an embryo, is unliving water regarding certain Halachos up until the 40th day of development, and that is because of its lack of Neshama, not its lack of any biological factors, so too they said lice eggs are unliving dust because of their lack of a Nefesh.

The criteria for life is spiritual, not biological. It’s the Nefesh and Neshama that always determine life, not biology. If Chazal had a Kabalah that lice eggs are not living, that statement is meant to be consistent with the Halachic definition of life all over. It is a statement about the Nefesh of the eggs, not the biology.

You can have any number of explanations for what Chazal said about the lice, but this is simple and consistent with the classic responses to the science/lice issue – those of Rav Breil and the Maharal – who say that when there is a contradiction between Chazal and the current scientific belief, Chazal are correct because whereas the scientists only know what they know through external, observable factors, Chazal knew what they knew through the essence of the item, which is discernable through Torah/Ruach HaKodesh, which is not limited to “observable” phenomena. What I said in my post is a perfect example the scientists' limitations to observable phenomena, as opposed to Chazal’s understanding of the essence of a thing. We all understand that an organic Golem without a Neshama or Nefesh would not be considered truly living, even if the scientists could not discern any difference between it and a live person. So too if Chazal said that they knew that lice eggs are not living, then the fact that the scientists cannot see that is not a problem. It is due to the limited scope of scientific observation, which does not extend to the determining factor here, namely, the Nefesh.

As far as your statements about alleged shitos that say Chazal’s science was not part of Torah, please see the "Rambam and Rabeinu Avrohom" forum. I will address them there.

As far as where it says Chazal's science is from the Torah, please see the forum you referenced. I quoted there the Ramban (quoting the Gemora about snakes) and Rabeinu Bachya. The earliest source I know for this, however, is the Medrash Tehillim 19. It quotes Shmuel as saying he is an expert in the streets of Nehardea as much as he is an expert in the 'streets' of the heavens. the Medrash asks how Shmuel knew all of that, and it answers he knew it all through the Torah. It then quotes a R, Hoshea as saying there is "space" between the upper waters and the firmament, and the Medrash asks how R, Hoshea could know this unless he traveled to space. It answers, he knew it from the Torah.

The Maharal, too, states that all science is included in Torah, as Chazal says "hafoch bah hafoch bah d'kulah bah". (Chidushei Agados Menachos 64b)

The Chosid Yaavatz (Ohr Hachaim) says that chazal knew science form a Mesorah that goes back all the way to the Neviim, who knew it from Hashem, without any effort at all.

Similar statements are found in the Gra, Chida, Chazon Ish, and many many more sources.

But particularly interesting is a statement on this topic in the Aruch Hashulchan (EH 13). Quote:

"I am telling you a big rule - Chazal, besides their holiness and wisdom in the Torah, were also greater scholars in the natural sciences those savants("mischakmim") who would argue against their pure words. And someone who disagrees with them testifies about himself that he does not believe in Torah she bal peh, even though he would be embarrassed to admit it outright."

tipo Posted - 05 February 2006 11:46

Mod, its ironic that your simple easily understood explanation uses science to explain Chazal, because without science we would not be able to conceive so easily of clones, robots, or "organic constructs".

Because we live in a modern scientific society you’re explanation is very easy to understand. Instead of using science to say Chazal were wrong, you’re using very modern day science ideas to explain that chazal were 100% right.

MODERATOR Posted - 05 February 2006 11:59

That is true - science helps us understand things, sometimes including Chazal, but you have to know how to do it the right way. I am going to address this in the "Does science and nature relate to Torah" forum.

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