- Wolfish Musings makes the point that being uninformed is not the same as being stupid. This as a reaction to a Yeshiva World Coffee Room discussion, where someone asked, in terms of arguing on various rabbis about scientific facts, whether the person arguing was:
Smarter than the Rema, the Maharal, Aruch Hashulchan, Chasam Sofer, Rabbeinu Bachyai, the Alshich, the Radvaz, and the Chida combined?
Smarter than any one of them.
- In a comment thread at Emes veEmunah, someone raises the issue of Rav Kanievsky apparently believing that gentiles have a different number of teeth than Jews, and the possible ramifications in terms of whether one should rely of him for pesak, (I would say) especially in matters pertaining to science. To which Rabbi Maryles wrote:
a) I don't believe he said or wrote that.(a) is always possible, despite it having appeared in print as an answer from him, together with a lot of additional details. (See here.) And despite that we see other frum rabbis in Israel saying the same (see here and here). There is always the danger of misattribution to Rabbi Kanievsky.
b) If he did it must have been in some sort of metaphysical or allegorical context - the meaning of which I have no clue.
In terms of (b), as I wrote there, the details of what was written make it clear that he did not intend this in some sort of metaphysical or allegorical context. (See here, again.) The Midrash Talpiyot asks it as a question based in metzius, and proving it via appeal to his relative who is an expert on medicine and halacha, and proving it via a story about an anti-Semitic dentist in America demonstrates that he intended it absolutely literally.
But I think that we can learn a lot from this reaction. And from his reaction, a little bit down, that:
I can't speak for RCK but I can't believe he would deny the actual Metzius. Would he look at the moon and say it is the sun? There has to be an explanation for this. He is not an imbecile.As Wolfish Musings noted (see previous item), one need not be stupid, or an imbecile, to get scientific facts wrong. While the very idea of a different number of teeth sounds strange to us, we are not chareidim living in Bnei Brak. We have a much greater secular education, as well as exposure to gentiles, such that they are not alien creatures, but humans just like us. And even Rav Kanievsky thought it was a bit strange, and so he did his due diligence, or what is due diligence in chareidi circles. He asked an expert, his brother-in-law who is an expert on medical halacha, and who is the rav of a hospital in Bnei Brak, who confirmed it was true by way of an actual story about an anti-Semitic dentist in the US. That we would recognize it as an urban legend is not pertinent.
Similarly, Rav Yaakov Emden was not an imbecile for believing accounts that gold grew on trees in Tokaj, because the world is a strange place, in his scientific worldview such things were strange but not impossible, and the gemara says that this very thing happened with trees planted by Shlomo Hamelech.
But there is this attitude that we are smart, and Chazal or great contemporary rabbis are smart, and so we must be in agreement. And that if we are not in agreement, either we are heretics and idiots, or else we are saying that they are idiots. And so the inclination to remake Chazal, or post-Talmudic Sages, in our own image. And so Rav Kanievsky must have meant this allegorically.
But he didn't, and similarly in many instances Chazal might well have intended literally various midrashic statements which we find implausible. This is why I am a big fan of evaluating sources on their own merits. Afterwards, if we find it implausible, we can either blame ourselves or accept that we differ from them and believe we are correct.
- At Mother In Israel, the problem of insects infesting schach, where the insect might end up being consumed. Mekubal, in the comments, makes a valid point about the tradeoff with the "solution" of spraying one's schach with pesticide.
- At Reason Online, questioning the science of shaken baby syndrome, with the end result that many innocent people may be in prison as a result of shaky science.
- At Snopes, a confirmation of a rumor of exploding Pyrex. This is a case where Pyrex is no longer borosilicate, (and being manufactured by a different company,) despite it retaining the name.
- At the Yeshiva World, efforts by various rabbonim to close the age gap in shidduchim, to help solve the shidduch crisis.
- PETA tries to discourage Jews from performing kapporos on chickens. Or at least wants to publicly decry the practice. While my sentiments are with Rav Yosef Karo and others, that this is a superstitious and possibly halachically iffy practice, I don't think that they are going to persuade frum Jews in this way. Selective citation of Rav Yosef Karo, where the Rama ruled otherwise, will not impress.
- Rabbi Slifkin answers a question about a ruby segulah, which has bases in Jewish sources, and whether there are any objections to it. He notes that this was also discussed on Hirhurim a while back. See also the discussion of this at the Zchus Avos Yagen Aleinu blog. Some aspects of it may be simply faulty scientific beliefs about the physical properties of this gem. If so, back then it might have been mere faulty science, whereas nowadays it would be buying into a superstitious practice.
- Here on parshablog, the Sun in Giveon and the Natural Order, which relates to an Ibn Ezra on this week's parsha.