Wednesday, June 10, 2009

More on the Gra as a Flat Earther

See my previous post on Gra as flat earther, in Gilyonei Hashas. While surely he would not hold this position in the 21st century, where we have photographic evidence, how could he have maintained this belief in the face of actual circumnavigation of the globe by Magellan, besides all the scientific proof? Mississipi Fred MacDowell gives what appears to me to be a plausible explanation on the previous post:
"despite having a mystical orientation, was known to be well-versed in scientific matters."

This is true, but misunderstood. The Gra's knowledge of science was essentially knowledge of medieval science, not (the burgeoning) modern science. He could not, after all, read texts written in European languages. At the time he lived there were few Hebrew translations of contemporary science works. the Gra, thus, was not very familiar with them.

Furthermore, in view of all this, he could not have had a modern outlook on science, and could well have viewed an issue like the nature of the earth as one to be determined by tradition and authority and not by getting into a boat and sailing into the horizon.
Now, Mishael Refael of Emet Achshav put in the time and effort to search through Aliyat Eliyahu to find the reference to the Gra's position on the shape of the earth. This way, it is less removed from the original source. He writes that it is on page 26 (which is page 25 in the PDF), footnote 82. That text reads:

82) I do not know nor have I heard where this work is hidden away, and it is fitting to search after it with a search of candles, for certainly it would be explained from it to their truth the words of Chazal in the subject matter of astronomy {?}. Also it would make clear its foundations and proofs in the matter of his, za'l, famous position based on the words of Chazal and kabbalah about the squareness of the earth (against the decision of scholars from before with many proofs about the spherical nature of the earth). And so too in Zohar, Vayikra 10 in the name of Rav Hamnuna the elder (HaRadal). And see the midrash which establishes the span of the world, etc., and it is round, see there (הר"ה הלוי). And in his {=the Gra's} commentary on the Tikkunim I saw (and it is not present with me in order to find its place) that the earth is square, for it is written {Iyov 38:13}
יג לֶאֱחֹז, בְּכַנְפוֹת הָאָרֶץ; וְיִנָּעֲרוּ רְשָׁעִים מִמֶּנָּה.13 That it might take hold of the ends of the earth, and the wicked be shaken out of it?
and they said in Sifrei {regarding the beged of tzitzit} הכנף, to exclude rounded. End quote. (Rabbi Avraham Simcha of Amcislaw {=Mtsislavl; he was the nephew of Rav Chaim Volozhin}).
We will see if we can get ahold of the appropriate excerpt from Tikkunim and from the Gra's perush on it. Gilui is working on it.


גילוי said...

It will be a problem finding this if we don't know where to look. It appears that this pasuk from Iyov is not in the Tikkunim.

joshwaxman said...

ah. oh, well...


DES said...

If someone tells me what exactly the book is called and/or where to find it (on HebrewBooks, for example), I will look for it.

joshwaxman said...

Hi. The sefer is here:

You would need to install the plugin. And it is a 227 page sefer, with smallish letters as a Biur HaGra...

If you can manage it, that would be great. But it might be too much. (An approach of OCRing the thing, and then searching, might be more productive.)


DES said...

Hum... This is a challenge.

Alex said...

It would be interesting to know whether the Gra held if the universe, as opposed to the earth, was flat. After all, science seems to show that it is.

Anonymous said...


No one here is interested in the pure truth. rather they have an agenda. Indeed, it is very possible that the GR'A and the Shevus Yaakov were talking about the universe. But hey who cares.

joshwaxman said...

It is quite rude to anonymously cast aspersions on the motivations of other people.

No, I don't think that a prooftext from the Gra from a pasuk about the **Aretz** transfers readily to the universe. Or that a discussion of the gemara in Chagiga by Shevus Yaakov, about Adam haRishon's height, etc., also does not readily lend itself to a discussion of the universe as opposed to the earth.

It is all very nice to speak in generalities. You can wave your hands and offer apologetics, and malign others along the way.

kol tuv,

Anonymous said...

hi, I don't know if anyone still looks at this blog, but if yes, can you please tell me on which page of Aliyot Eliyahu the Gra speaks of a flat earth? thanks, Avi Goldstein

joshwaxman said...

I'm not sure what you mean, but isn't it this page (25,as described above)?


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