Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Interesting Posts and Articles #142

  1. Rav Aviner on genuine spiritual aids, and against segulot.
    People often times turn to Rabbis asking for "segulot" [spiritual aids or shortcuts] to help the sick. Besides going to the doctor, they look for spiritual tricks, recitation of a particular verse, or an amulet, just so there is some change for the better. Unfortunately, they are searching in vain for something that does not exist.

    Some will respond: “Who says? My aunt had no children, she used a 'segulah' and now, thank G-d, there are children around her table.” Yet someone else had a childless aunt who used no "segulah," and children were born to her anyway. The fact is that ten percent of barren couples experience spontaneous cures without knowing the cause.


    “Repentance, prayer and charity ward off the evil decree!” These are our spiritual resources, and there is no need to look for all kinds of strange things. Where are all of these strange things mentioned? In the Torah? In the Tanach? In the Mishnah? Is it written that when our great Sages had troubles, they used "segulot," with mezuzot and amulets? Where have we heard of such a thing? Not in the Torah, not in the Mishnah and not in the Talmud. Rather, they prayed and they repented and performed kind deeds.
    And so on. Check it out. And yet, what if the Torah, Mishnah, or Talmud had mentioned segulot? Is it the case that every belief mentioned in the Talmud, if mentioned as a segulah, has weight? What about, e.g., Shabbat 67a:
    A tanna recited the chapter of Amorite practices before R. Hiyya b. Abin. Said he to him: All these are forbidden as Amorite practices, save the following: If one has a bone in his throat, he may bring of that kind, place it on his head, and say thus: 'One by one go down, swallow, go down one by one': this is not considered the ways of the Amorite. For a fish bone he should say thus: 'Thou art stuck in like a pin, thou art locked up as [within] a cuirass; go down, go down.'
    In a recent comment on a post discussing a dream a father had of his murdered son, we have:
    There is an excellent book "Dream Interpretation" by the great Rabbi Shelomo Almoli written in the 16th century (published by Ktav) and some further info on dreams can be read here.
    I also have a sefer on dream interpretation on my shelf, and beside that, we have these books from Rabbi Shlomo Almoli, a Rav in Constantinople in the early 1500s:

    מפשר חלמין אלמולי, שלמהשאלוניקי ?רעה
    פתרון חלומות שלמה אלמוליאמשטירדאםשצז

    But just because kabbalists develop a theory of dreams, or rishonim do, or indeed the gemara does, does not mean that such is true. And it may well be within the realm of frum rationalist Jews to reject these as false. At least in the Talmud, it was a "science," which is then perhaps easier to reject. As it later developed, they presumably built upon the earlier theories. Science knows a lot more about sleep and dreams than they knew back then, and not every Talmudic theory must we adopt.

  2. Rabbi Slifkin, at his Rationalist Judaism blog, notes an article about netilat yadayim shel shacharit, and how an article claims it was originally understood by the gemara and rishonim as a hygenic measure, only to be reinterpreted by kabbalists and ritualized. Seems similar, to me, to how sefirat haOmer was coopted and reinterpreted to be all about Sefirot.

  3. Shirat Devorah notes that a recent crop circle depicted the sun, and how this is meaningful so shortly after birchat hachammah. Unless of course it is a warning about a solar storm in 2012.

    This is surprising, because I did not know that Hashem was an alien from the planet Xenon.

    That is, there are two popular explanations for crop circles. One is that aliens leave them as messages for earthlings; and the other is that farmers seeking fame, or some distraction other than cow-tipping, make these designs in fields and then watch in amusement as the public reacts. Obviously, I favor the latter explanation.

    But that Hashem is communicating with us via these crop circles, which basically just conspiracy folk and ufologists pay attention too... I've never encountered this belief before. Interesting.

  4. Life In Israel on pledging money to tzedakah to avoid jail. I wonder if that impacts their ability to appreciate the human action of the guy who let them go...

  5. Finally, via DovBear, Martha Stewart tours Streit's. Nice video, check it out.


moish said...

chazal were on a darga that you cannot even fathom, they knew toras emes, the torah contains all wisdom of the world '"hafoch boh vehafoch dkulo bo". "im heim kbnei odom etc. (i wouldn't like tl say what we are", most of the wisdom mentioned in the gemoro is likely bekabolo from sinai [such as "kach mekublani beis abba" regardng the stars which only since the hubble telescope has been revealed to be a correct statement],or else from their own intricate wisdom brought out by torah learning [as is well known about the gr"a and chazon ish], and only part seems to be from contempary science]. scientists have not even understood a drop in the ocean of the intricate wisdom of the breiah, and besides every generation disprove the generation before, you would be far better off relying on chazal than modern scientists. it is also interesting that you pick the case of a bone stuck in the throat, as pinkt that case is mentioned in hagahos r'a.eiger bshem the ramban that although we may not practice the refuos mentioned in the gemoro (which according to the maharsha at the beginning of perek mi sheochzu are from the sefer refuos of shlomo hamelech) as we are not bekiim and as such it may not work and we will be mozi laaz on chazal (the ramban was worried about people like you) this case of the bone is tried and tested and may be used, and I personally have heard that this works in practice.

joshwaxman said...

"as we are not bekiim and as such it may not work"
yes, this is one of the pious excuses we give, along with nishtaneh hateva. there is nothing wrong with saying they relied on contemporary science. they said that if someone tells you "yesh chochma bagoyim, taamin." and rabbi tendler has said that this was the only "mistake" Chazal made.

"besides every generation disprove the generation before"
this is a *strength*, not a weakness. and the modern scientific method has yielded some remarkable discoveries, as well as predictions which were born out.

"hafoch boh vehafoch dkulo bo"
while that has its place, it is also true that one can rationalize, and read-in all sorts of things into pesukim. See my recent example where Chizkuni does this. He engages in Torah uMadah, and reads a contemporary medical belief into a pasuk in shir hashirim. Do you believe that his reading was accurate? If the science *were* spot-on, would you believe his reading was accurate? Could this be a pegam in how we apply hafoch bah.

I've heard Rabbi Belsky oppose homeopathy while propounding this fish-bone cure. That is why I brought this particular example up.

there are *certainly* examples in the gemara of science which is incorrect. the most well-known is a belief in spontaneous generation, modern apologetics aside.



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