Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Did Chazal know the moon's light was reflected light through ruach hakodesh?

I saw the following gem recently:
i saw in the kuntres that the breslover chassidim in my neighborhood put out on birkas hachamah entitled 'tizrach hashemesh', a medrash that says 'lo nivroh leho'ir elah galgal hachamoh bilvad - the zohar in parshas veyakhel(reish-tes-vav) 'delais nehorah leseharoh elah nehora di'shimshoh' - this fits exactly with what was discovered about the moon, that it has no light of its own, and that it receives light from the sun - it only looks like it's shining by itself. chalk this one up to the list of things chazal would have had no way of knowing without the torah being from hashem.
You don't need to go to a late 13th century work such as the Zohar to show this. As someone notes there, you can read this into the assumptions of the gemara in Bava Basra 75 about Moshe's countenance being as the Sun and Yehoshua's as the Moon.

But someone can really only say the above, that one should
chalk this one up to the list of things chazal would have had no way of knowing without the torah being from hashem
if he has no idea of the history of science, and just what was known by the Greek scientists in the days of Chazal. To cite a website discussing this in terms of possible Koranic knowledge of this phenomenon:
It is correct that the moon does not emit its own light but only reflects the light of the sun. But this was known already at least a thousand years before Muhammad, for example to the ancient Greek astronomers, and can hardly be called miraculous knowledge.

For example when Aristotle (384-322 B.C.) discussed the shape of the earth. One of his arguments to prove the earth's sphericity was the fact that during a lunar eclipse, as the moon enters or emerges from the earth's shadow, the shape of the shadow seen on the moon is always round. Only a spherical object always produces a round shadow. If the earth were a disk, for example, there would be some occasions when the sunlight would be striking the disk edge on, and the shadow on the moon would be a line.

It is clear from this information that Aristotle understood that the light coming from the moon was reflected light.
That it, in this case it is the shocking ignorance of the history of science that leads to this conclusion that Chazal must have known this true fact via Divine sources, and resulting awe. Yes, scientists back then knew things, some by direct observation, and some via reasoning from observed facts. Some of those things they knew were wrong, and some were right.

But it is an unfortunate pattern of finding a correspondences between what we now know to be true, and what Chazal know to be true, and attributing it to ruach hakodesh, without seriously asking the question, "Well, what did contemporary scientists know?"


BrooklynWolf said...

"Well, what did contemporary scientists know?"

Good question, but even if you show that the ancient Greeks (or whatever group) knew a particular factoid, the true fundamentalist then turns it around and says that they stole it from Chazal. :)

The Wolf

Anonymous said...

All of Aristotle's wisdom came from Shlomo Hamelech (except where he was wrong)
I'm surprised you didnt know that ;)

joshwaxman said...

indeed; see this post, where i cite Torat HaOlah from the Rema, who says this.



Anonymous said...

Similarly, I've seen the preciseness of the molad or new moon calculation used as proof of ruach hakodesh of chazal when this also was known by the ancient greeks.


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